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Archive for October, 2019


The first poet in this issue of The Missouri Review, Allison Hutchcraft, seems to feel the world in herself and herself in the world. “Swale” starts: “In my winter by the sea, I fashioned / a new habit… walking… through mud and leafless alder, their branches // cupped by the plush green of mosses…” I like where the enjambment of the first line happens. Not after winter, when we are struck by decline; not after the sea, where we would pause to imagine the landscape; but in a place that drags us along to see what is being created here. Subtle and cool. And I like that word ‘plush,’ not the perhaps more expected ‘soft,’ or some other more commonplace word. So, what is being created here? “the marshy banks transformed / by that lunar clockwork // on which my hours turned.” The narrator puts herself in this world, she is changed as it is changed. She belongs. “the water looked like the creek I felt in me.” The dissolving of the separation between self and world becomes powerful, mysterious, beckoning us into a place where not all can be understood by the mind, it must be channeled through the body. “When I swale,” she says, becoming the landscape, a landscape that acts on its world. A fascinating poem.

Chris Hayes’ world is also front and center in his poetry. “Heartland” starts, “I’m talking to R. about… wildfires, Trump, Nicaragua, / moving from one slice of unnatural disaster to the infinite next.” This world is more jumbled, encompassing a wider swath, and perhaps forming more judgments as it goes. I admire the adjectives chosen, ‘unnatural’ and ‘infinite.’ Not words I expected, and I like a surprise or two in poetry, when they fit the line, and deepen the meaning. His world flows past, perhaps surprising the narrator as well. “It occurs to me that we haven’t heard from Kansas in a while.” There is a gap here between ideal and reality. “we all have to get along but don’t really.” And of course, there is humor. “where else might we go besides ecumenical Wichita.” A light touch about serious subjects: how we live with each other, and can we remain as one.

The third poet in this issue is David Kirby, one of our most esteemed poets. His poem “High School” starts, “It would have been a joke if prisons were jokes.” Certainly most of us have felt that about school at one time or another. The shared experience draws us along. He has sympathy for the teachers. “our science teachers meant well…” but “As far as / social studies, forget it.” It’s a poem about limitations. “None of us could / sing at all. We should have practiced more…” And, being about a high school boy, of course it veers into fantasy before the end. A fun, sweet poem that made me smile.

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:

Iconoclast – Issue #118

Plainsongs – Summer 2019

The New Yorker – Aug 19, 19

 

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I like the positivity with which the poem, “The Cup,” by Marvin Glasser starts. “It’s all right to keep going on. / There’s no guilt attached… Nature after all is playing a strong hand.” It’s like having an old friend on your side, speaking in a commonplace tone with commonsense words. But there’s a quiet edge to this poem that soon sneaks out. “…aware the while of the vial in the drawer.” Is life too much for the narrator? Is the grief too great? The poem does not quite answer that.

Vernon Waring gives us a poem that serves as both paean and elegy to Whitney Houston, “almost home. ” “and now we sing of whitney…nothing can / contain her.” Poems that remind us of beauty, and of what we lost, serve a common purpose, to bring us together. “beading like quicksilver / in constant motion.”

t. kilgore splake can surprise us. Here’s it’s “wilderness surprise,” which starts “black clouds rapidly moving / taste and smell of rain.” A familiar moment to us all, perhaps as we rush for shelter. And then, more appears. “suddenly feeling strange presence / invisible mysterious being.” That moment where we feel we are only a small part of a larger whole, that more is out there. “light raindrops falling.”

Lyn Lifshin is always good for a professional poem. “The Mad Girl Goes Into the Mist” is her contribution to this issue. “and for what reason, disappears / inside dreams of stained glass and shadow.” A poem of shifting identity, and uncertain perceptions. “She / could have gazed at magical / women behind glass.” Who is this person? The narrator? Perhaps not: “…consider, I don’t live / anywhere near those trees…” We are left with the mystery. Fun.

“Deviant, obsessive me — a conversation” is a poem by Pamela Thomas to make us think. “The insides are untrustworthy. / Aren’t they?” The narrator seems uncomfortable, agitated. “I need anarchy / Careful.” Then there is a turn to another, with a shared worry. “the mirror you’ve created / Is it unpleasant still, now?”

Finally, nancy l. dahl gives us a poem of solidarity, one of the main themes mined by this magazine. Her poem is “Let us never forget…” which starts: “where we came from / wherever we go to… that we take a look behind.” Not that we are all in lockstep, but that we care for one another. An uplifting poem.

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:

Plainsongs – Summer 2019

The New Yorker – Aug 19, 19

Blue Collar Review – Spring 2019

 

 

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