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Archive for the ‘Poetry Techniques’ Category


I think I am starting to figure out Rattle‘s approach. They like plainspoken poetry, easy to understand. They don’t buy things for the flashy language alone, generally each poem has to have a point, though fine language is key as well, of course. This approach makes for some very good poetry reading, of course.

The first poem, “Canis Interruptus,” is by Jose A. Alcantara. “We put him outside; / he claws the paint off the door.” A poem about trying to civilize a puppy. Easy to relate to, if one has ever had a young dog. It’s a fun poem: “he’s on the bed… shoving his nose / in the most noseworthy places.” A fine poem, indeed.

Denise Bell gives us a powerful poem, “I Am The Shit AKA Used To Be / A Bop.” “my man slow down / drinking fast gets you high.” A poem about a man who has lived life on his own terms. “i was never on my knees begging / counting chump change…” But there is a cost to the way he has lived, and the reader has to wonder if he is even aware. “my son is… ungrateful… he had the guts to tell me i was never around… i put him through college…” A magnificent rendering of character, by a proven master of language and observation.

David Berman gives us a slice of life with his poem, “The Cat’s Fancy.” “…he knows — the sink is where I rinse / off dishes… Yet I can’t convince / him… to take postprandial rests away from there.” Ah, life with a cat, who sees what one is doing and wants to redirect the energy. Often to the cat. More a sweet poem than a humorous one, with the cat giving its human insight into life.

Elizabeth J. Coleman turns an unpleasant encounter on its head, in “The Errand.” “…a guy in an old car turned left into / my path.” They exchange shouts, he calls her an epithet, then we get the reversal. “I was glad he spoke, found a way to say hello.” Irony? We are not sure. The narrator then discusses how her child is learning to communicate. A subtle put-down, but also a way to enlarge our thinking about such encounters. It gives the poem an unusual depth, and us a reason to reflect. And let me just mention in passing this is a good example of how putting a reversal in the storyline of a poem can make it more powerful. Fiction techniques can be helpful in poetry as well.

I’m going to mention Susan J. Erickson’s “Antique Road Show,” a longer poem discussing the narrator’s fascination with the TV show. “He hands the appraiser two vases, explains in a voice like chipped crockery that his wife bought (them).” Erickson does a wonderful job of letting the poem unfold at its own pace, bringing us into the stories the participants on the show tell of the pieces they have, the knowledge she has gained from watching (and thereby the love she has for it all). “By now I know someone / will show up with a stone sculpture purchased as a relic / from the Yucatan…” Once she has fully set the hook, she reels us in by turning the tale to her own self and the humble things she owns, that her father collected. And then gives us a sudden twist revelation, and ends the poem. Purely professional work, this poem, open and revealing, and tender and sorrowful. Delivering the emotion a fine work of art can deliver.

Deborah P. Kolodji, a wonderful haiku writer, gives us four haiku. “sandblasted / by your words…” one starts. Powerful images.

Finally, Charlotte Matthews gives us “Kmart’s Closing.” “and everything’s on sale. / Even the bathmats look beleaguered.” Wow. The power of the exact right phrase. Having just seen a Macy’s close in our neighborhood, that word beleaguered is perfect. It’s true, raises that lost emotion, and keeps us reading for more. The tone is exquisite here. “Me and the plum tree are done for.” Folksy, as a discussion of Kmart should be. And then with a beautiful turn at the end, and an expansion to a larger view. Worth the candle.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

Blue Collar Review – Summer 2018

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2018

Rattle 61 – Fall, 2018

 

 

 

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I like “The Cog in the Machine,” by Burt Raabe, the poem that opens this issue of The Blue Collar Review, among other reasons because it starts in such a blunt, unapologetic way. “I hardface worn Cogs. / It’s a living.” What does ‘hardface’ mean? It could almost be a science fiction poem, but there is no air of the exotic. “A forklift delivers them / in a tub…” We get no background; we are left with the raw facts, some of which we don’t understand, and a sense of the toughness of the life, by how much is left out. Nicely done.

Regina M. Elliott’s “Their Funeral Is Their Retirement Party,” starts with a rhyme scheme: “American workers’ refrain, / sinew and bone some days bound to pain…” But just as the workers in the poem are shown growing older, so that their physical aches start sooner in the day, “his hands and legs start to ache / in the mornings…” so the poem itself seems to get tired, and the rhyme becomes too much to sustain, changing to a near-rhyme in the second verse, then vanishing altogether by the third. A nice trick.

J.C. Alfier has a poem empowered by sound, “Mojave Music.” “…the Union Pacific hammers out of its railyard, / gaining speed toward Barstow.” We feel the heat the narrator endures. “I wake each hour to a sleepless / cadence.” There is a profound alienation here, the the narrator doesn’t know exactly why. “Haven’t picked up the wrong woman at a bar.” It’s very lyrical. “One a.m. / Sounds ripen.” I like that. An eerie poem.

Lanette Sweeney talks about the gulf between classes, in “Code Cracking.” “They’ve got all the / foreign names / you need to know — / artists, opera singers…” The narrator must learn the alien code of a different class: “names you must know / like passwords / to gain entry…” It’s a beautifully rendered description of the dilemma of those trying to rise up. “Like any ex-pat, you don’t fit / in either country…”

Finally, Andrena Zawinski confronts the gun violence in our country, with “Irregular Pulse Beat Sonnet.” “The relentless drone of the daily news, / sends the pulse racing…” It’s a hard-eyed view of our culture. “In days of the dead, the gunman cackled / loading, reloading, riveting bodies…” A powerful, sad indictment of our country’s choices.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2018

Convergence – Summer 2018

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

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The two poems that begin this issue have gotten into my head and resonated. Always good. “An Architect’s Life,” by Harry Compton, begins “Life itself is / a continuous remodeling job… trying to keep options open / in case we discover a structural surprise.” Very apt, to my way of thinking, as the surprises contractors discover when they tear out the old walls or pull out the old concrete can be suddenly, horrendously expensive, and “the only certainty seems to be our / inexhaustible personal ignorance.” An enjoyable poem, with a wry, pointed ending.

The next poem is “Coney Island,” by Eugene Carrington. “The mind drifts to Coney Island / the scent of ocean waters / the joyful shrieks… the high-pitched squeals…” A poem of deep place, bringing in the sights and sounds, the people, the temporary nature of it all. A poem to make us turn back to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island of the Mind,” with its similar sense of loss, time passing…

I like the dialectical nature of “Headlines From The Times,” by E.P. Fisher. “He said: lay-off, pay-off, one-way ticket… / She said: beauty, color, innocence…” A poem chock-full of images, and thoughts to bring you up short. “But after Pentagon budget loopholes for top-secret holocausts…” There’s a lot going on here that’s worth the price of entry.

Matthew J. Spireng presents us with “Black Vultures, New Paltz.” “The view at breakfast / on the second floor / of the Bakery is… roofs where black vultures / perch on each chimney.” What a great image. I can see those heavy, clumsy, patient beasts, waiting like death for the next mistake. And Spireng has a strong image to finish.

“Brother William’s War” is a poignant offering from Amy Sparks. “My brother William / Lives in my garage… His wife kicked him out / After he threw a bowl of potato salad.” A delicate, indirect look at the cost of war on a personal, practical level. “We talked and fished / Before purple scalloped clouds / From the west / Filtered in.” I love that image. A great poem.

Finally, let me mention Rhoda Staley’s “Upon Seeing a Ripe Fig.” “I doubt the apple. // Passionless / a woman can caress / the puritanically austere.” What a great beginning. It shocks you into paying attention. Staley has a deft mastery of the powerful punch, and though the poem is short, it fully satisfies.

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 – Aug 13, 18

The New Yorker – July 23, 18

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

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In his poem, “Bottle Of Wine,” Carl Dennis cannily uses emotion to draw us through the work. “I like to park a few blocks from the house… and walk… the tree-lined streets,” he begins. We understand right away this will be a jaunty, happy little poem, no terrible angst and world-changing despair. And working the emotions is central to the work: “A bottle of wine showing… that I’m grateful / to be included… eager to do my part.” A narrator living within himself. “I’ve set aside the need for transcendence.” The immediate, the quiet, pleasant emotions matter in this poem, and how we each fit within our world. “traditions once honored / are… adhered to… with patience, with pride.” A master work in how to structure a poem on an emotional arc, ending, of course, with hope.

A.E. Stallings uses a difference approach, drawing us in to her “Swallows,” with details of the natural world, viewed with a tone of amused sympathy.  “Each year the swallows… put their homestead in repair… A handsome pair.” The steadily surprising choice of words is one technique that keeps us intrigued: “the two conspire // To murder half the insect race…” And Stallings raises similarities between the swallows and ourselves. “They seem to us so coupled, married, / So flustered with their needful young… harried.” And again, the use of emotion to connect with the reader. But she is going somewhere more archetypal. “Ovid swapped them in the tale… the sister who was forced / Becomes instead the nightingale.” And now we’re in the midst of the seemingly unending battle of women against cruel realities. But Stallings is deft enough not to linger there, and her emotions keep us connected. “These swallows… don’t have the knack / For sorrow… spend no time mourning.” Business, industry, duty even, underpin her subjects, and continuity is the final blessing. Marvelous poem, with an effortless rhythm and rhyme scheme.

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 – July 23, 18

The New Yorker – July 2, 2018

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

 

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Gabrielle Calvocoressi has a real challenger in this issue. “Mayflower Cistern I Feel My Pilgrim Worry” starts out: “All day long I feel my pilgrim / worry. Crude and unforgiving / as the buckle on my boots.” Certainly a opening to get your attention. Her pilgrim does not seem to be a particularly nice, nor lovable person, I must say, starting out his/her town by building a fence, a pillory and a scaffold. There are strange lines in here to keep us guessing: “I hurl / my brittle body at the pines.” Not an image I can quite picture, though. Lot of undirected rage. “…my heart. Which I hate / for its hopeful sounding.” Calvocoressi definitely could hear the voice of her narrator here, clearly and powerfully. But at the end, ya feel like telling the guy, ‘Hey, lighten up. In a couple hundred years around here, it’ll be a lot better.’ A poem I went back to a few times, to chew over the ideas.

The other poem is by Robert Pinsky, “Repetition.” “Writer, blighter fighter — what do you want? / I want to repeat myself.” This is not quite a villanelle, as we revisit thoughts, lines, and sounds (as above). But often, what we revisit has already changed. The Chorus of the Many becomes The Chorus of the Money (I love that). The mixed chorus on every page becomes the mixed chorus on the cover and every page. And the meaning/purpose of all this? The poem does turn off from a list of repetitive desires with this line: “The prophecy says you turn your back on the ocean…” From there, hauling your oar inland to where folks have never seen an oar before. Does this mean the narrator wants only something new? Some peace? It’s a poem that leaves the reader with various such questions.

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 – July 2, 2018

Hummingbird – 28.1

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

 

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There are so many good poems in this issue. The “Anxiety Monster” series of poems by Emilie Lindemann made me think. In “Anxiety Monster 8,” we get “there is nothing but body. / seaweed-sponge surface / the kicky legs.” Many images that make you stop and think. Why does this make the narrator anxious? Just watching her children swim, maybe? Or, in 12, “But even wheelbarrows of thistles / can’t cover her up (not for keeps…)” So engaging. In 14: “…you trail a kick-line of women…” I very much enjoyed revisiting these little poems.

The danger of reviewing such short poems (Hummingbird is “The Magazine of the Short Poem,” after all) is that many wonderful poems cannot be quoted to show their beauty, as that would pretty much reveal the whole work. But let me mention “Circle Ceremony at the Highground,” by Jane-Marie Bahr. It shows us an awkward moment, a touching act of kindness and respect despite a tongue-tied instant. All in 5 lines.

Jane Vincent Taylor’s “The Woman Who Makes More of Everything.” “I say I’m tired of this shade of red. / She says that color used to sing / at night.” This poem reveals a beautiful, touching moment. Spare and elegant.

Chet Corey gives us “Field Note,” an observation about birds any one of us could have made, but he is the one who did. And we can only say ‘yes, that’s true, you are right. Thank you for pointing that out.’ How fun.

Hummingbird wants to challenge and stretch the form of poetry, and the poem of Kim Kayne Shaver, “Thirty Minute Backyard Rensaku” does so as presented. Rensaku are a series of haiku that contemplate a single subject from different angles. The fun thing about these three haiku is they may be four haiku instead. The middle poem is divided down the middle by the page break; so the reader does not know whether to read the words as two haiku, one on the left page and one on the right, or as one haiku stretching across the pages. Joining two spaces. I choose to believe it must be read both ways at once, a Shrodinger’s cat of a haiku. One is left not knowing if the poet intended this, the editor intended this, or they collaborated. One is left with a happy uncertainty, and a sense of incompleteness, that fits with the aesthetic of haiku nicely.

The juxtaposition of Frederick Wilbur’s “Autumn Leaf,” and Joan Halpin’s “First Week of Spring,” seems so exact and correct. From his “At the verge of the darkened forest,” to her “beneath the heavy sky / I teeter around pools of / slush.” Just wonderful to read them one after the other, back and forth.

And there are many other good poems (Bruce Ross’ two haiku) in here. Definitely worth picking up and enjoying.

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 60 – Summer 2018

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

The Nation – Apr 9 2018

 

 

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Let me start with “Elemental Intelligence,” by Conrad Geller. “What interests me… is how a raindrop / nibbles down the windowpane…” Just the precisely correct word, ‘nibbles.’ Such a drop does seem alive, hesitating and darting as it moves. “contemplating when to make / the next, best move, then coursing… in seeming triumph.” And the poem has us consider what makes something alive. What patterns do we share with the inanimate world? Or not inanimate exactly, for there is life in such a drop. I love poems that arrest me, make me think about the world in a new way.

Maybe the most original and creative poem in the issue is by Caroline N. Simpson. “Choose Your Own Adventure: The Galapagos Mating Dance.” “You are a single woman, about to embark upon your most challenging and dangerous mission.” The header explains what ‘you’ are to do — discover a useful mating ritual. Then it’s on to Chapter One: “You are a blue-footed booby. / A male approaches you… He offers you twigs and grasses.” The tone is so fun, the parallels with human rituals so apt. There are several chapters in this long poem, each describing the rituals of a different creature, with many laughs, but often rueful ones. There is such a loneliness underneath — they say true humor arises from the truth, and that is true here. Ms. Simpson is very much an ecologist of the heart. As the Chapters unfold, the reader is allowed at points to choose to move to a different section, depending on whether this current ritual appeals or not. What a genius structure. And the ending Chapter, Seven, has a most satisfactory conclusion. A poem worth hunting down this issue for.

Anne Starling has a moving poem, “Compassionate Friends.” “Almost immediately, we feel / we are too advanced for this group / of grieving parents, his father and I;” What a brilliant use of tone. Bringing the attitude of competition to a grief group. Shocking the reader with the commonality, and the recognition that we, too, have had such inappropriate reactions in gatherings. And then the buried pain buried with this approach, that we are there for grief as well. But we deflect notice from that. We do not ourselves work on that. And yet we are still going to such a group. We still need it. We don’t know how to participate in a straight manner, using this sort of sideways superiority as our defense mechanism. Wow. All that delivered in three lines. But the narrator does rally, is able to speak of her child, is able to touch her grief, for a moment anyway.  Just a first-water effort, all around.

The theme for this issue is Athlete Poets, and there are intriguing poems in this section of the magazine. My favorite here might be “Strangers,” by Lazlo Slomovits. “A man is running hard / to catch the bus that just left… the driver… stops // and opens the accordion door.” So it starts, and yes, we see the man as an athlete. But as the poem unfolds we rethink that into athlete in service of: “…the man does not get on– // he points back to an old woman / who has not run a step // in a very long time.” We are witnessing an act of kindness. “…then walks back slowly / still breathing hard // toward us…” The moment hangs suspended. “What can a group of strangers / do at a time like this?” It is a question gratifyingly answered, and a poem of unity of strangers with each other. Bravo.

The last poem I will discuss is by Stephen Dunn, who is the poet interviewed in this issue as well. (A marvelous interview.) The poem is “Little Pretty Things.” “As insects go, lacewings seem to have nothing…” Well, that’s an intriguing start, fun and challenging. And it quickly develops: “I imagine they envy / wasps…” And deepens: “…lacewings have nothing to do but be beautiful, / and so are dangerous.” Now we are in human territory. “I’ve known a few / of their human counterparts, and… have forgiven a meanness.” The parallels are enlightening, and disturbing. A great use of metaphor, a thought-provoking 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:

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

The Nation – Apr 9 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

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