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Archive for the ‘Poetry Overview’ Category


Has anyone else noticed that we seem to be having a steady changing of the guard in poetry? It may be that a generation’s worth of editors has been retiring, and now we are seeing… if not new blood, at least younger blood… in the pages of our periodicals. The Yale Review, Prairie Schooner, there are many mags where this is happening.

The New Yorker is part of this change, at least on the editorial side. We’ll see how it plays out with new poets, and maybe new approaches. I like it, myself.

The first poem in this issue is “Girlhood,” by Cecily Parks. “was when I slept in the woods / bareheaded beneath jagged / stars.” I like jagged stars. They seem like that, at night. Not cuddly, but alien and maybe a bit inimical. Parks does not sustain this arms-length approach however: “when I was known / by the lilac I hid beside.” We are so enthralled with the pastoral stuff that the essential mystery of such a line may pass us by. But her insistence that more is going on here finally catches us up: “when that lilac, / burdened by my expectations of lilacs, / began a journey…” And the essential alien nature of her world returns with a jolt. We have to jump into a metaphorical reading. Is it the memory of the lilac going away? Is it childhood itself that is passing? Puzzling out the meaning of what had seemed a plain, straightforward poem casts us back again and again over the lines, so that when the heartbreaks of the last line appear, we are ready. A deeply meditative poem.

The second poem is “June,” by Alex Dimitrov. “There will never be more of summer / than there is now.” Boy, it’s fun to have a first line to just stop and reflect on, like that. It’s like we get to dive deep into the season, which let’s face it by this time of year we are more or less yearning for. But the narration carries us forward. “Walking alone / through Union Square I am carrying flowers… to a party where I’m expected.” Such a sense of belonging here. This city, the familiar city, whose quirks are referenced (with a smile) in passing. “It’s Sunday and the trains run on time.” The narrator is charmed, though there may be a bit of a question whether he can be happy alone. But he participates fully. “People do know they are alive.” A celebratory poem, that acknowledges the city’s difficulties, as the world’s difficulties, but shrugs them off for the moment. In this poem, hope and possibility also have a central place. A joy of a poem to read.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The Cape Rock – 46

Apple Valley Review – Spring 18

The New Yorker – Apr 2 2018

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I think we can call J.D. McClatchy a wily old veteran at this point, and he certainly shows it with the opening to his poem, “My Plot,” in this issue of The New Yorker. “It seemed as good a time as any to buy / a cemetery plot.” Yep. You’re going to read on after that opening, a jar, a fascinating and maybe terrifying subject, a fine use of enjambment between those first two lines. And the humorous tone is set somehow by the mundane phrases chosen: “The price is bound / To spike.” The poem contemplates his chosen resting place, then the narrator learns who is to be planted next to him: “a woman I’ve known, / Good God, for decades…by chance assigned… second harp at the stand right next / To mine.”

One should always look for value-added with the grand master poets, and sure enough, McClatchy delivers, by writing the 16-stanza poem in a complex rhyme scheme, ABCxCBA, mostly perfect rhymes, a challenge to maintain as interesting and focused. Of course he sprinkles in plenty of excellent lines, and aren’t those what we really read poetry for? “it was life itself — fizzy and full / Of contrivances to keep itself afloat.” And, “I watch us wamble down Water Street between / The moment and the mortuary.” No, I didn’t know the word wamble, yes it is perfect once I look it up, and different in meaning than what I thought.

The other poem in the issue is “Medium,” by Jennifer Grotz. “In the nineteenth century, / I’d have found a medium… a crystal ball, // but to conjure him in 2016 / I go online and Google.” This sounds pleasant and amusing, oh the differences and all that, but another key component of most top-notch poetry is the skill with which the writer twists and jars the reader. By the third stanza we begin to understand there’s something wrong. Someone important is missing in the narrator’s life. “but still there’s his handle on Skype…” and for all our technological savvy, we still have no better answer now for when someone is gone, only the question, why? And the remorse, reliving little moments where we didn’t know. “…that e-mail… at 3 AM… words of such / love… out of the blue / that I… didn’t query.” Then the twists and the plunge to the very last word of the poem, ironic, powerful, and ineffably sad. A powerful work.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Rattle 58 – Winter 2017

The New Yorker – Nov 20 2017

The New Yorker – Oct 30 2017

 

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I love the poem, “They Said It Couldn’t Be Done,” by Natalie Shapiro, in this issue. “So sorry about the war,” it begins. What a hook. I’m into the work instantly, and swept along. “…wanted to learn how to swear / in another language…” the narrator explains. “the top method…open / fire and listen to what people yell.” What an original, horrifying statement. The next statement then goes in a completely different direction, bringing in a kind of cranky God. The combination of originality and sudden twists of tone and direction make this such a worthy poem. And funny. Not many poems successfully manage humor at this level, but Shapiro does it nicely. She has a third thematic braid as well, people in their homes. Finally, she circles the poem around to reference its beginning. All done in seven stanzas of one to three lines each. Efficient. Very much how one does it at the top level. Brava.

The other poem in the issue is “My Mother, Heidegger, And Derrida,” by John Skoyles. “Educated in a school in Queens…my mother knew little about art.” Then the narrator’s mother sees the painting, ‘The Potato Eaters,’ which reminds her of her own mother. “The shoes resembled my grandmother’s / high-topped boots.” From there the poem becomes sort of a meditation on the mother’s visceral, memory-driven reaction to the shoes in the painting, versus the high-toned, high-minded reactions of Heidegger: “the dark opening of the worn insides…” and Derrida: “what constitutes a pair of shoes.” The great thinkers come out somewhat as fools here, less wise and less well-seeing than a simple woman of the earth. The poem leaves us with a sense of satisfaction and a sense of the worth and wisdom of plain toilers, from generation to generation. Great poem.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, is a sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful look at love in a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as other fine e-retailers.

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In the Winter 2016/17 Blue Collar Review, Kyle Heger gives us a tough little poem, “Look Me in the Name Tag” “…when you say that, Brother. / Don’t bother with my eyes.” The narrator feels like a cog in the machine of his company. “The / name tag is the only game in town.” The play on the idea that men should look women in the eyes when they speak, for me adds to the irony and weight of the poem, that the eyes “…might as well be blasted sockets.”

I very much enjoyed the poem, “I Was That Man You Saw,” by Flo Oy Wong. “moving around on the palleted floor of the…restaurant…my glasses greasy, slipping down my nose.” Two people here see each other at a distance. “That was you I saw on Wednesdays…with your Baba and Mama…after going to see the Lone Ranger.” It’s a prose poem, and very effective. The sadness is understated, the loneliness palpable, but the poem flips some reader expectations on their heads: “In my room I did not mind the thick musty air.” Such foreshadowing makes the reverse at the end much more effective.

“Floor Scrubber” by Victor Pearn raises a smile, but a rueful one, not amused. “mopping floors for a / home improvement store // is like…trying to row across the ocean // dirt rises in swells.” A short poem with a very punchy ending.

“Merging,” by Alice E. Rogoff,” also struck me. “In Bolerium Books, / I find old union documents…The Women’s Bindery Union.” The poem records differences between those times and ours. “In 1917 the women didn’t have the Federal vote.” But some things do not much change. “Men per week $51 Women per week $25.” A very effective commentary on a struggle far older than the 100 years this poem reaches back to reference.

Finally, I liked the poem, “The Teeth of Jesus,” by Fred Voss — maybe worth it for the name alone? ;-> “we file back into the factory where the little plastic Christmas / tree…sits unplugged.” Such common images, plainly stated, give this poem great effectiveness. “Rex says, ‘You’ve heard of sleepwalking? Well. I’m sleepworking.'” There is much poignancy, and a sense of what has been lost. “Once / we had unions, once we got raises, once…our children could afford to move out.” But life marches on. “We grit our teeth and grab our wrenches.” A powerful poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ and with other fine retailers.

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Indie Writers Blessing

May your sales all come without refunds
and your discount days be few.
May your covers shine, your rankings climb,
and reviewers flock to you.

PMF Johnson

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So in the spring 2015 Blue Collar Review (the latest one I have, bet I get another soon) the first poem is by that famous writer, Anonymous. “9 AM Break, Line 3, Engine Assembly” tells us of a worker on the line who can’t take a bathroom break due to the team being shorthanded. “The horns sounds and the line freezes / and your first five free seconds are wasted…” We are very much there in the moment with the narrator, and the tough life. “…you want to run to the phone / to call your girlfriend and apologize / for not calling last night…because you woke up in a chair / with the TV blaring at 11:30 / and that was just too late to call…” A very powerful poem in its simplicity.

Then Carol V. James gives us “Automobile Mirror Assembly Line,” which starts “All we want is time to live…And all we have to buy time with / are lives…” It pairs well with the previous poem. There are pithy turns of phrase here, and wise ones. “My past is tailgating me.” A very worthy poem.

Gotta like Mike Faran’s “Are We Robots Yet?” The introduction throws us right in the deep end: “The last time I scratched my ass, / felt like skin…” The narrator is lost in a world rapidly vanishing. “I’m simple as a Remington / typewriter.” And yet there’s much sly fun here. “I / told you that Pac Man was a form of / Devil worship.” A poem worth looking up.

As promised, this is poetry that takes sides. Stewart Acuff’s poem, “Richest Member of Congress” makes that clear. “America’s richest member of Congress / said America’s poor are the envy of the world.” You know where this is going. “Our poor can’t miss a step in their whirl / of two jobs and days that go 12 to 14 hours / and kids that feed themselves on less and less…” If you don’t agree with that point of view, this may not be the magazine for you.

But ultimately, these poems ask questions more than they give answers. They dig into issues that may not have simple answers, and the poets know that. But still we get calls-to-action, as with Robert Edwards’ “Manifesto # 94.” “Now is the time / to make a few enemies / to burn a few bridges / of my own.” A great didactic effort: “Now is the time / to set the wind free in the house…and take the safety off my hand.”

I enjoyed this issue very much.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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There are two poems in the Aug 24 issue of The New Yorker. Ellen Bass gives us “The Small Country,” which starts, “Unique, I think, is the Scottish tartle, that hesitation / when introducing someone whose name you’ve forgotten.” It’s a poem about two people in love, and the difficulties in describing the relationship. “What words reach the way I touched you last night…” And ultimately, how we cannot know the same meanings. “Even touch itself cannot mean the same to both of us…” An honorable theme for a poem, the two of us in our own world. Straightforward.

In contrast, Eileen Myles gives us nearly the opposite in “Dissolution.” She starts, “sometimes I forget what country I’m in…I got this bug bite / that could be anything.” It’s kind of a scribble drawing of a poem “scribbled version / of empty… A kid could draw this world” and “My coloring book / why not is so / like a movie.” Do commas belong around that ‘why not’ — which would imply a gamble, a dare? Or should ‘not’ be underlined, so we are talking of rejection and emptiness? What may be the key verse is jumbled in among the others: “You forgot / to call your family / & now you’re ready to write an / explicit / bible of love.” This is a poem one has to go back and reread to dig out meanings. It does seem to be about the damage to a relationship, metaphorically: “You left / it outside  now you want to save / it?” But that bug bite does not reduce simplistically, and there are other depths hinted at: “It’s still good / and that’s your secret.” Ultimately, a fun poem.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Bass And Beyond

The New Yorker – Nov 20, 17

The New Yorker – Oct 30, 17

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