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Archive for the ‘Poetry Overview’ Category


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

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starts with a poem by Amy Newman, “Howl,” a riff on Ginsberg’s breakthrough work. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by wedding / planners, dieting, in shapewear…” An amusing rewrite, with depth (as all the best humorous writing will have, I think). “who left the university…for the rez and the old alcoholic lover family father temper crack…” A somewhat updated view of our world, though with many references to drug lists the old Beats would likely recognize (methaqualone i.e. quaaludes… “speed crank coke & codeine”). An interesting and brave work.

Paul Batchelor gives us “The Discoverer’s Man,” quite a long poem. “His handkerchief, a pin or coin he’d touched…Men came to shake his hand, or rub their warts / upon his famous skin…Blood of a witch!” The story of a witch hunter and his effect on a boy he hires as a scribe, the narrator of the poem. The poem is set in 1645, and tackles the theme of what is the truth. “Ask not what justice mercy can afford.” It’s a spooky, unsettling poem, with heightened language. “Touch a needle, watch it scent about, / quivering after its true north…such was I.” I love declarations of truth in a work, evidence the author has thought about things, and isn’t just shooting off the mouth to impress. Such depth is definitely the case here. “We are as we were made.” Worth the price of the magazine. A wonderful poem.

We get a bunch of Edward Lear’s limericks served up with commentary by Anthony Madrid, none of which impressed me much. “There was an old man with a backpack: / No body could beat him at blackjack.” I seem to recall Lear doing a better job with many of his limericks than the ones quoted here.

There are a number of poems by teens, which seems to be getting to be a thing with this mag. Of these, Britney Franco gives us “Inward.” “I am the broken bones you find on the beach / on your lonely vacation.” A nice image.

So, quite a bunch of different stuff this month.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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The latest issue of Nimrod has a theme of Circulation, and it starts with a poem by Linda Neal Reising called “Navigation.” “…there are many poems / in circulation today, // and I picture them / in their little paper boats…” She muddles together the images of paper boats and blood circulating in the body. “sailing through sixty thousand miles / of blood vessels.” It’s an interesting statistic. One I will not look up. I care more about the verisimilitude of facts in a poem, the ‘truthiness’ of them, rather than the exact accuracy. Maybe that’s just me. ;-> Anyway, the boats become types of poems, and the nautical theme is brought back to close out the poem, a tight, well-crafted work.

A couple poems later, the editor brings us back to the blood theme with Florence Weinberger’s “The Prescription.” “he says / when your blood / turns sluggish / and sleepy / eat something salty.” Again the verisimilitude, which is nice for lending the poem authority, and a reason to read on. ‘Does that really work?’ I ask myself. Weinberger continues: “I’d forgotten salt. / No Chinese food.” We descend farther and farther into salt references, then return to the blood reference at the very end. There are some nice lines here, that make the poem worth reading. “It bites me like a loving old / toothless dog.” And I like to see how the editor is arranging poems, leading us from theme to theme via similar images.

August Donovan gives us “The Tiger of Newton, Kansas,” wherein the poor narrator has an encounter with said tiger, and gets off a few good lines before he is devoured (or not. I won’t tell you the ending). “if something happens once, it will again. // Sneaking out at lunch to get a Scotch. / Sex with my ex who’s like the news: all bad.” Roll those lines around on your tongue a bit. They have flavor.

Then again, Marge Saiser gives us “Beauty With Cat.” A love poem, or love lost. “He gave this gold cap…promised pearls which never came, / painted them falsely here around my neck…He could have placed / roses under my hand… But here instead is Vladimer, his cat. / You know how cats are: …never giving the whole of the heart.” The poems ends with the narrator’s emotions, which I very much liked as a technique, and, happily, a little more cat.

Tina Schumann’s “Overture (anticipation) hits close to home for me. “When my father dies, it will happen / as it always happens; a midnight drive across the desert, tumbleweeds / over headlights…” Such a powerful beginning. And the rest of the poem follows, logically. “it will have nothing / and everything to do with me.” Such a sad, true poem.

Joan Colby has a disturbing take on “The Bones.” “Old bones. My mother shrinking / into half a parenthesis…Or Ron, his spine / rebuilt with cadaver bone, / a half-corpse until he shot himself.” Images that stick with us long after the poem is over.

But maybe my favorite poem in the issue is by Stephen Gibson, “The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory.” And no, not just because it’s such a fun title. “You will go down through memories that…will disguise themselves to protect you” An elaborate, complex sonnet. “you’ll be looking for that one tool….(it will be missing). It becomes a poem about loss, rooted in concrete imagery, beautifully rhymed, with a breathtaking ending, the last word unexpected and obvious once it’s given.” Bravo.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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