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Diane Seuss has an interesting series of prose poems in the Spring 2019 issue of The Missouri Review, starting with “My first crush was Wild Bill Hickok not the actual guy but the guy who portrayed him…” Seuss does a deft job of moving from thought to thought, keeping the poem fresh and interesting as we go. “I was wise enough at age three to know…” then it’s “My mother didn’t hover… Her best friend made a particle-board lid for the crib.” Each line follows closely enough upon the previous one so we feel comfortable following her lead. There’s an independent, amused tone here, rare in poetry and very enjoyable.

The next poem, “His body was barely cold when the suitors swooped in on the young widow, the ground” also maintains a focus on the narrator’s mother. There is again a sort of macabre humor, with the suitors acting in strange ways. “an oval-headed man from across the road with dirty phone calls the night / after the funeral…” and “while his wife was strapped down getting shock treatments…” One gets a sense of the mother as hero, battling to raise her children, to have a worthwhile life. Wonderful poetry.

The next poet is Vanessa Stauffer, who gives us “Queen Anne’s Lace.” “In the meadow across the road… the girl wades / hip-deep in weeds… each fiber makes / a wick or a stem.” Original language to set the scene. “Nights she is afraid of the sky / hollowed cobalt at its center.” It’s a pastoral scene, but not without its strangeness. “Her mother… poses her in the meadow with a flower… so she can take a photograph.” Afternoon turns to evening. “She thinks she sees Mars like a punched hole.” Understated, subtle, intriguing.

The final poet is Zachary Lunn, and the sensibility is wrenchingly different. “In the Lead Humvee on MSR Tampa” begins “There is nothing like / blazing / through sunburnt desert,…” I like the desert itself being sunburnt here. Red, in pain. “…scanning blistered earth for… the thing that will / peel the skin off your / bones.” The scene is real, it’s frightening, it puts us right there. Even the enjambments add to the jumpy feel, the discontinuity. Poetry that’s alive in a terrible way. “You can hear the bomb / whisper your name.” What a surprise that word ‘whisper’ is, and how apt. And the turn to another metaphor is terrifying. “It’s a little like your first love, // the way you know how / things will end…” Important work.

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:

Rattle 64 – Summer 2019

The New Yorker – May 20 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018


Sandy pointed out, after reading the Summer 2019 issue of Rattle Magazine, that many poems are basically little short stories. An interesting observation, I thought.

Certainly we can follow along to “How To Date A White Boy,” by Amy Alvarez. “Never be the first. You are no one’s enigma / or experiment.” I’m sensing a certain bite behind the words already. “If you meet his parents, prepare / for disappointment.” It’s not a narrative exactly, but more a commentary on a narrative subtext. A very understated, powerful, work, with a perfect ending.

Marvin Artis gives us a fun, sexy little metaphor poem, “Poetry.” “Right now we’re polyamorous… I have to find my own way with her.” So many dual-meaning statements, each one more amusing than the last. My favorite is probably: “I told her that most of the time… she’s confusing and all over the place. / She told me I was supposed to love her mystery.” Or maybe, “…tell me who you are, she said. But don’t preach to me…” Great fun.

I liked the linkages in Catherine Bresner’s “Canvasser.” “And in the middle of my grief / a puddle — / and in the middle of a puddle / a penny…” Sort of the structure of the Mockingbird song. She goes some very intriguing places, and the images strike up a great resonance.

Matt Farrell’s “Sky Blue” is another story poem. “That summer after high school we did nothing / of use to anyone.” Love where he placed that enjambment. “We skateboarded along the flat streets.” It’s a lazy poem of youth and lost moments, small triumphs and dares that fizzle away. And then a deep shock. Beautifully written.

Stephanie A. Hart gives us a poignant poem, “The Purse,” about a mother emptying out her purse and reflecting on what she finds. “The purple / matchbox car / hit the table / hardest… errant pencil tips / and battered / baby barrettes…” It becomes a search of the mother for herself, in that most intimate of places, her own purse. “Nothing was hers.” Even the discovery at the end fits the theme perfectly.

Finally, let me mention Morgan Kovacs’ “An Abecedarian For The Unmentionable.” “About the time I turned 20 / babies began looking cute… I imagine someday / cuddling my own baby to my chest.” I love how the first word of each line is especially resonant to the theme of the poem, yearning, hope, disappointment, loss. “…I felt comfort in my / period, and I / quit hating my body.” Such a powerful, sad poem. Very much worth reading.

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 New Yorker – May 20 2019

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

 

 

 


Stanley Moss’ poem, “I’m Sorry,” in this issue of The New Yorker, riffs on the idea of debt. “I’m sorry, exhausted, except for funds. / I wrote a check, the date October 18…” The narrator reflects on how making amends is like owing a debt, on how the process of writing a check can be a metaphor for the debts we owe our friends, and on how the process always seems messy, when filling out a check or saying I am sorry. “I don’t get it right, I leave off years.” The turn moves to considering the way someone else handles their life’s debts. “I’m sure a poet I love… never bounced a check.” And the whole poem ends with an image reflecting on loss. A crisp, professional poem, worthy of the New Yorker.

Anna McDonald has the other poem in the issue, “Cairn At 4 A.M.,” which starts, “Not the Snoo or the Dock-A-Tot or / the Moses basket… no, if you are a small, new human, the full-grown / human body is the best place to sleep.” A paean to the narrator’s child, sleeping on her lap. What it feels like, the weight, the discomfort, the joy. How the mother becomes completely in service to the child. “I have learned what my body is for.” I love the image of the parent as cairn onto which the child is placed as top rock of the pile, together, touching yet independent, slowly creating a marker for the world to see, as guidance, perhaps. There’s a fun sweetness to this poem, the power and completeness of what really matters in life, with a wonderful ending, alien and familiar, shocking and true, and quiet but profound. What else can we ask of a 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:

The New Yorker – Apr 29 2019

Apple Valley Review – Spring 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018


I very much enjoyed the poem “The Perfume I Never Gave To My Mother,” by Gail Peck in the Spring issue of Apple Valley Review. It begins, “I bought in France… Her lungs had worsened, / and… I knew / she’d never wear the perfume…” We experience the power of what is left unsaid. Peck creates this effect, I think, by having the poem remain very image-specific, very in the moment. “Think flowers — rose, violet, jasmine… think desire — someone holding you.”
And the little quirky details keep us entranced. A sweet poem.

Doug Ramspeck gives us “Overuse.” “My mother used to say she lived for… wonder. She meant birds… And always it seemed she clotted wounds with words.” There is a smile underneath these phrases, early in the poem, that draws our sympathy. Then comes a revelation of the more difficult side of life. “The dead / know the names… not the soft names / but the hard ones.” Such original, concrete images. And the relationship between the narrator and his mother remains in the foreground all through the work. A powerful poem.

Somehow many of these poems deal in silence. Take “The Platter,” by Idris Anderson. “Time to seek old objects in thrift shops… prowl the spew / from garages.” (Always there appears a surprising turn of phrase like that. An unusual word, but the right one). How does she bring silence into this poem? I think through phrases like this: “everything else / was closed. Sleet and gray air. It was cold…” Situations and moments where no one is speaking, no one would be speaking. There is a power in such silence to make us reflect on our own world, on how our lives intersect with the author’s own. “The grating withdrawal of memory.”

“Agoraphobia, The Fear Of The Gathering Place,” by Christopher Todd Anderson, also begins with a sharp smack: “I hate the sky: that crisp blue sheet / never wrinkles, hides nothing.” The poem proceeds clearly, and simply, from stanza to stanza. “Earth is no better: soil churns up artifacts.” The chaos of life, the uncertainty, the finality are all here. “dirt / washes from the eyes of the dead.” A poem to raise the hackles on your neck. “The ocean harbors too many arms / and eyes.” Masterful work.

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 New Yorker – Apr 29 2019

Plainsongs – Winter 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

 


I always get a little glad feeling in my heart when I am reading a poem and realize it’s going to be fun. In the April 29th New Yorker, Lee Upton’s poem, “Privacy,” starts: “I like a private life… sometimes… so private if I say anything that’s even a little bit / arguably private / I feel disdain for myself.” As with many New Yorker poems, the moment such a thesis, or in this case tone, is presented, the author backtracks, goes another direction, keeps us guessing. “I remember how cruel people were to my mother…” This poem examines privacy in different aspects, from doctors keeping important news from their patients, to friends bragging on themselves, to how even this poem reflecting on privacy gives up a bit of privacy… and we’re back to the lighter tone. “Today I’m wearing a big CONFIDENTIAL / sign around my neck.” I like this mix of approaches, and the depth it creates.

The other poem in this issue, “April,” by Sandra Simonds, also has a light-hearted sensibility. “The red bird falls from the tree, lands on / its head, rolls / right back up.” We worry about the bird, but no, it’s fine, saying, “Hello, Spring. / Hello, sanity.” It’s good to have a little danger, a little worry, to hook the reader. A poem of joy, of embracing the unexpected, and going with the flow. We should all have such light-hearted moments, and spring is the best time to have them.

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 – Winter 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

 


Dwight Marsh, one of the long-time editors of Plainsongs, is departing. In honor, the magazine published his poem, “You Can’t Just Look,” which tackles the theme of reading the slush pile to find good work. “you gotta read your way / through forests of pulp… that darken the sunlight.” It’s a loving view of his job, and gives worthy insight to those who do not know the point-of-view of an editor. Clear, concise, even fun: “an inner monkey swinging / from phrase to phrase.”

I was touched by the opening line of Beth Paulson’s “The Red Barn: Watercolor on Paper.” “The barn, before it fell to its knees, / stood tall and strong…” I have seen my share of decaying barns, and there is something magical and mournful about them. I could see how they would make great subjects for painting. “…it leaned, / one wall mostly gone, smelled of dust, rusted tools.” There is a continuity about a barn that lives in few other structures. Nicely captured here.

I loved Shuly Xochitl Cawood’s “If.” “If I were an avocado I could stop rot with the simple pit / of my heart.” It’s a deeply thought-through metaphor that unfolds through the poem, creating a resonance far beyond the words themselves. “I could rise from where my mother once took root.” Wow. “I would cost more / than you would want to pay.” The multiple meanings in each line are worth studying, worth savoring. A brilliant poem, actually.

Holly Day is always solid, and once more so here, with “Whispered To A Mason Jar.” “I’m in love with the little midges / that dance in the sunlight.” It is always a nice change of pace to read a poem not about suffering, death, loss (themes, let me hasten to admit, I delve into myself). This is a beautiful reflection on the world, with layers of meaning and joy. No wonder the editors chose it. “I want to become a creature like that / cavorting in sunbeams.” A wonderful poem.

Then again, Phillip Howerton’s “The Pasture Cemetery” is definitely about dead people, but he keeps us entertained with their attitude about the living, shall we say. “These dead chose their place of rest.” The dead in his poem display some attitude, though not to the extent of any zombies. “No great-grandfather rises from soil / with rotted overalls and collapsed face… perhaps these dead are practical folks.” But it is the last lines of the poem (though I try not to give away endings as a rule) that will raise the hair on the back of your head, even without the rattle of one chain.

And lastly, let me mention Joan Colby’s “Loner.” “I cantered down the bridle path / Along the lake shore.” Again, a poem about a moment, skillfully rendered. “The waves rollicking against the breakwater.” And an epiphany deepens the poem, makes it memorable. “I knew then that being alone did not mean loneliness.” Such strong work.

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:

Star*Line 42.1 – Winter 2019

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

 


Star*Line is sort of a phantasmagoria of a magazine. So many poems are packed into this issue, of so many types, the reader is bound to find something to like.

We begin with Mary Soon Lee’s “New Year’s Resolutions.” “1. For novices // Huddle in the Antarctic Dark / with Emperor penguins / for sixty-four days.” A poem of crazy, fun ideas. “2. For journeymen… Circumnavigate the Moon by hot-air balloon.” It’s the little shocks of recognition for literary and cultural references that makes this truly work.

There are many haiku and haiku-style poems, tucked in here and there, several by Christina Sng. These generally rely on twists, or thought-puzzles. “pets / on the International Space Station…” starts one. The third line of the poem provides the ‘ah, of course,’ ending.

Any speculative market is going to rely heavily on making the reader think. “On a Dead Spaceship,” by Robin Helweg-Larsen certainly furthers this aim. “…drifting round a star / The trapped inhabitants are born and die.” An allegory of earth? That this is not clear makes the poem more interesting, and shines a deeper light on our own lives, aspirations, and boundaries, with references to artists, the rich, and plebs.

There are poems from the point-of-view of monsters, or their lovers. “Not Tonight,” is an amusing example by Kathleen A. Lawrence. “Oh, darling, you tease / in wispy tears of gauze.” Quick and delightful.

Finally, let me mention “Giants in the Earth,” an irreverent, earthy poem by Deborah L. Davitt. “Pish, there’ve always been giants around! / It’s just that we tune them out, / pretend that we can’t see them.” In the logic of this poem, there are good reasons we all pretend not to notice. Fun, and even a bit shocking.

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 – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019