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 poems, Against The Night, is a sometimes sweet, sometimes rueful look at love in 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.

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