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Posts Tagged ‘Amit Majmudar’


Two poems in this issue, the first by Amit Majmudar. This guy is absolutely one of my favorite poets going. He varies between excellent and breathless. In “The Beard,” he begins, “What was I like, before this beard? … what was I not like.” The language is plain, the idea seemingly simple. He runs through the relationship between self-chosen image and identity, with a hint of the religious. “Among believers and atheist, / among atheists a skeptic… all emphatic on the apophatic.” I love words I never knew. Apophatic is the idea of describing God by what God is not. But that’s just a way-station in this poem, where the narrator next finds a man on the TV at his gym club accused of terrorism, who he thinks looks very much like him. “Judging from…glances of flat-footed accountants running / for their lives / to either side…I was not the only one who thought so.” I love that running for their lives aside, the resonance it brings. Because the narrator is running as well, one of them and yet suddenly separate. Now the beard puts him in danger, by its existence. And separates him, an American, from other Americans. Then he adds one more symbol, the shaver: to use it or not, what that means. A deep and thoughtful poem.

The other poem is by Chana Bloch, “Dying For Dummies.” “I used to study the bigger kids — / they’d show-and-tell me / how to wiggle my hips, / how to razz the boys.” So the poem begins with being young, and learning about life. But at the turn it becomes a poem about what old people are learning, including the narrator now. “…watching my cohort / master the skills… of incapacity.” And yet the narrator still is looking to those older than she, though she is old herself. The final line brings the whole theme home very nicely. A poem by turns wistful and disturbing.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is a sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful look at a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, as well as at other fine e-retailers.

Related Blogs:

The New Yorker – Hollow Tin Jingles

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

 

 

 

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A double issue of the New Yorker gives us, first, “Invocation” by Amit Majmudar, who has built a powerful reputation brick by brick over the last few years. This is one of his more powerful. “Sing the arms of kids, / the ones with pustules all along their veins…” The rhymes are in couplets, but the stanzas are in triplets, and this mismatch, things not fitting, is a theme of the poem, a peroration of the many victims one sees in emergency rooms. “The arms imprinted…as if the dad who grabbed…had dipped // his hand in black paint first.” A sobering work.

“Diminution” by Charles Rafferty discusses just that: Socrates taught Plato and…Aristotle taught Alexander the Great who founded a city…until it was burned.” This raffish collapse winds through the short poem, a sort of ‘I told you so…’ in a hundred words. Fun, in an evil way.

“Fast” by Jorie Graham requires time to work through. The language may be quick, but the reader must backtrack, pause, absorb at a snail’s pace to see what is going on. “Too much. Or not enough. Or. Nothing else? / Nothing else.” There’s a recurrent reference to a bot. “To download bot be / swift…to load greatly enlarge / the cycle of labor — to load abhor labor…” There are many verbal tricks, and many internal rhymes luring the incautious reader on, but then once again the reader must backtrack, to see how the words jigsaw together. Intriguing.

Now I’m gonna twist it up a bit and review a book that just came out from Main St. Rag. Don’t know the poet, but I reviewed a few of his poems a while back. The book is called Hollow Tin Jingles, the poet is Fred Rosenblum, and the poems center around the narrator’s experiences in Vietnam. The opening poem, “the final episode of leave it to beaver” lays out the situation: “two months prior to my enlistment in the Marines / my brother Wally and me / dropped two hits of Owsley White Lightening / in a run-down Victorian two-story…I was fresh out of high school / and confused with the script / of a satirical deity / who would manipulate his characters / from The Summer of Love / to The Eve of Destruction.” Cultural touchstones are woven throughout the poems, serving as comment on the narrator’s situation, often in ironic tones. This technique creates an atmosphere of sadness, and the sense of someone caught up in something far larger than himself. These references reveal how we don’t always understand our own culture, why some things are considered important. There are many beautiful lines here: “we were just the carvings of youth…” from “drunk and inoculated at kadena,” and “the gunner was a madman…he muscled-off a line of lead / asserted himself upon us / with very scary acne / and a feverish enthusiasm” from “cherries.”

But overall, this is very much a book of characters. “an obese porcine caricature / shaven head and handlebars // bouncing at the breech of a fifty caliber / he was careless with the lives of men / yet careful in his efforts to gain official notice // I remember him / firing into the shops / by the side of the road…” We know this man. He horrifies us, terrifies us, makes us afraid we could be him if we grow careless.

As much as anything else, it is a book about a place and time that we think we know, that will always be unknowable. “daylight / the five hundred pound / bomb-cratered…rainwater rice terrace — / flooded epitome / of wartime Indo-China…homestead of dung beetle / & royal blue / water buffaloes / immersed to their bellies…”

This is a moving portrait of a young man in a searing time, who comes back changed in ways that send shivers down your spine, that make you feel proud, and sad. A book of understanding and wisdom won in a very tough place. I highly recommend this book, Hollow Tin Jingles.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is a sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful look at a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, as well as at other fine e-retailers.

Related Blogs:

The New Yorker – Aug 21 2017

The New Yorker – July 31 2017

 

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The new New Yorker came in today.  Maybe the most visible poetry in the country; the mag certainly gets its share of submissions .  So the first poem is “Black Rhinoceros,” by Edward Hirsch. Can’t say as I understand the digression in the middle about his parents buying his shoes on discount.  Though without that, and the last stanza, this is more essay than poem.  No epiphany, no sparkling language, no fine quotes to take away, no real reason for being.  Maybe I just hold this magazine to a higher standard.  Or maybe I don’t get the point.  Do you ever feel like there’s this whole secret way of reading poetry everyone else gets and you don’t, and that’s why all these poems are being published you don’t understand at all?  I get that way sometimes.  ‘Course, even if it is true, there’s room for us all, I guess.

Anyway, Sharon Olds did “The Green Duck,” next, and this is definitely an improvement, having more a poetic feel, even if it’s a bit of a gross-out in parts: “I have eaten // brains, my tongue loves to probe // the delicate folds…”  Eewww.  Gotta love it.  But is there then another digression?  “There are homes where children are used as toothpicks…”  I mean, a good line, sure, but at first glance it’s like it’s just there to give the poem import: “see, there is abuse in the world, I mention it, therefore I am an important poem.”  Ah, but rereading the poem, I guess it does fit in, as the theme of the work is really a narrator growing up, and the duck speaking to her.  Yeah, I guess I’d say this poem is overall a success.  Worth rereading.

Nextly, and finally, “Dothead,” by Amit Majmudar.  Who we heard from the other day in The Threepenny Review reviewing Kay Ryan’s “The Best of It.”  Now it’s Amit’s turn to shine, a poem about being a small boy, whose mother is different than other mothers.  I very much enjoyed his rhyme scheme, which he has employed before (his poem, “Instructions to an Artisan,” is one of the best poems to appear in Poetry Magazine in the last decade, in my view.  Just a staggeringly good poem.  Hunt it down.   It’s worth it).  I like the climax of the poem:  “I said, hand me that ketchup packet there…”  A boy feeling very much a boy.

So, all in all, another good effort by Mr. Muldoon, culling these poems from the prospects — my respect for him as an editor climbs each time.

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 – Oct 30, 17

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

More New Yorker Poems

 

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