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Archive for August, 2019


I’m glad that a magazine like Blue Collar Review exists, that poetry with a caring point of view has not vanished, that not all attempts at poetry are simply academic, or intellectually driven.

There are some fine poems in this issue. I liked “So Far Away from the Nightingale,” by Fred Voss. “It is 6:05 am and still dark in the L.A. basin and one of the men / on the shop floor has… thrown open the big overhead tin / doors…” it begins. “we tap / with hammers turn screws lock cutters… and no one mentions the drought / or global warming…” A poem about hard work in the context of our larger world, of the larger troubles we all face. “we handle parts that will fit into spaceships.” The irony inherent in blue collar work geared at helping someone, someday, escape the mess our world is becoming. We need work like this.

Al Markowitz gives us a poem comparing a person’s life to a butterfly’s in “April Butterfly.” “Emerging / from the wintered-over chrysalis… to be born / under a bad sign… emerging flawed.” It’s a straightforward poem, which gives it a strength and even a touch of humor, and a smile of recognition for the reader.

“Windscreen Washer,” by Christopher Palmer, recognizes a moment many of us have experienced. “A footy shirt zigzags / among all the passers-by… working the corner of Northbourne and Hunt… this intersection; it’s his patch, his beat.” We feel the vulnerability of the fellow hustling for a few scattered dollars. “questioning with his eyebrows.” A fine understatement here.

Boy, I liked “Over Broken Bottles and Rivers,” by Millicent B. Accardi. Such a wonderful voice. “We sailed, unequaled amid / a stupid sea of hard knocks. / You were no sharp match / for me, a somber artifact…” This poem is an education in how to use adjectives as spice, to accent or invert meanings just enough to make the story interesting. Very nice.

Finally, Joan Colby’s “Blame,” has a real bite. “It was not secured therefore it toppled / When the child tried to climb.” An indictment of carelessness among manufacturers. “An innocent object, a dresser…” The actual moment of disaster is not pictured; instead, the author turns to a larger view of our lives. “Who can sleep through storms? / Who finds relief in changing passwords?” A reflection of the dangers of our modern world, of how little we can protect ourselves from, at last. Powerful.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at a love that builds through a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Nimrod – Spring-Summer 2019

The Missouri Review – Spring 2019

Rattle 64 – Summer 2019

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It generally takes me days to read the poetry in each Nimrod, a deep pleasure. This issue is like a waterfall of different points-of-view, different approaches. Mind-expanding. This issue opens with “Performance Day in the Vaulted Theater,” by Myronn Hardy. “Because this is an ending   they / stand in the stage’s center.” The subtitle explains this is “for my… Moroccan students.” The images bring forth the culture. “You’ve prepared the rice salad   that / signifier of ending   that tradition.” Ironically, the poem serves as an opening into a new world, a beginning in that way. “Farewell to locks,” it says. A worthy start to an issue dedicated to Middle East and North Africa voices.

Many poems bring the sense of an extra dimension, a sideways space. Nashwa Gowanlock exhibits this in “The Story of Ka.” “I was born when an African bracelet burst / and its stacked record beads scattered….” The notion of record beads makes me pause, wonder what is being saved, what transmitted. It adds to the impact of the poem. “I learned to watch war / with the volume down.” Which, excuse me, reminds me of a senryu I wrote some years ago: “the war / on the TV / in the background.” I feel the shock of solidarity, of fellow-feeling across years and space. We hear ourselves in other voices.

Aiya Sakr gives us “Broken Ghazal: Seven Hijabis.” “Fabric enfolds you hair to elbow, respects your mother’s modesty.” A meditation on modesty, among other things, with each stanza of the ghazal containing the word. And arresting language. “Your unloosed curls glow in the new sun, a twisted rope ladder to God.” And a little mystery, in that there are eight stanzas to describe the seven hijabis. A beautiful poem.

Often, the world depicted has hard edges, harsh rules. “Welcome the Night, in Which We Are Hidden,” by Sara Elkamel, touches on this. “You ask if the lingering… of the / (police) is the reason I let go of your hand.” But while the tension is clear, the answers are not always so. “(I want to ask) who was it that let go of whose hand, and… why.” The uncertainties of youth, of situation.

Poetry, when done well, unifies us, reminds us we face the same situations, maybe not every one, but so many, so many. Lori Levy brings this forth in her poem, “Nursing Home Lies.” “We begin to lie when we visit… just to cheer her, or ourselves. / You’ll walk again, we say. You’ll go home.” The naivete of youth, not understanding that their elders have seen much more, survived much more than they, thinking the old must be protected from how life truly is. From the truth of their own dying, which they feel in their bones. I have seen this play out, the concern and the cost, and the poet seems clear about it as well. We share a life, in these acts and feelings.

Lastly, let me mention “Spaciousness (al-Inshirah),” by Mohja Kahf, a tremendous sonnet in not-quite-sonnet form. “You would have liked a poem strict as you… exacting in its form… as you were precise.” It’s a kind and gentle poem: “A spaciousness, I wish for you, an ease… a move from fear to joy.” Each word fits perfectly, like a prayer. This poem alone is worth getting this issue for.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at a love that builds through a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The Missouri Review – Spring 2019

Rattle 64 – Summer 2019

The New Yorker – May 20 2019

 

 

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