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Posts Tagged ‘Art Elser’


I was very pleased with all the good poetry in this season’s issue of Avocet, starting with the first poem in the issue, Peter C. Leverich’s “Guadalupe.” “So many sentinels / silent and spirited / shrouded in mists / and myths of antiquity.” It’s a description of a shrine, and gives a sense of respect and honor. We come away with marvelously serene emotions.

This is a very sense-oriented magazine. “I Miss Winter in New York City,” by Sara McNulty, stays very concrete. “Roasting chestnuts hawked / by scarf-wrapped vendors…” puts us right in the scene, and we shiver along with her characters: “East River gusts creep up / pant legs…” And I like the ending very much.

Many of the pages of this magazine have a short little poem to complement the longer poem at the top. Several of these poems are by Holly Rose Diane Shaw, and they are always short, very image-oriented, and chipper little things. “Lighting up the dark day sky / filigree star flakes” begins a little six-line poem, “Snow.” It gives a nice, upbeat flavor to the whole issue.

Not all winter has to do with snow, of course. Richard Peake gives us a poem about shell-collecting, “Winter Beachcombers,” with nary a snowflake in sight. “Frantic sanderlings skitter back and forth / while willets stand stolidly on the sand.” Nice sound to that.

“Virtual Footprints” is a meditation on the results animals leave in nature, by Mike Rydock. “A footprint is the character / An animal inscribes / In the ground.” Much stuff happily to contemplate.

I liked Jean Moody’s “Trading Winter.” “I’ve traded winter as I knew it, / gloomy skies, dampness of air…” The narrator’s gone south. Maybe that’s what I like so much, the fantasy of being warm this time of year. ;-> “many mountains bristled / with green trees.”

“A Murder Of Crows,” by Art Elser entertained me. “A large, pompadoured crow / struts, stiff-legged, across the street… A slick-haired punk, / showing off for his peers…” Oh boy, can I see that bird. And the poem develops very nicely, from one bird, to two, to thousands, to a larger question.

But my favorite poem to discuss was “A Midwinter’s Dream,” by Janet A. Hopkins. “There was a wedding late last night, / the groom in black, the bride in white. / The union of two Gods of old, / one the Wind and one the Cold.” Such a supple use of rhyme, surprises waiting around each stanza, marvelous images, and a great ending. Worth the magazine all on its own.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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It seems to me the poetry in The Avocet is steadily improving. More and more the poets seem to be delivering a brawny language bereft of curlicues and purple passages. Certainly I enjoyed a goodly number of poems this issue, starting with Art Elser’s “Hope in early March.” I like the immediacy of the images here. “The road washboards to the horizon…the arid land…is pinned there / by barbed wire, dirty snow and tumbleweeds.” Then we turn from the land to life on it, and the precariousness comes through: “She’s just given birth, the blood-red placenta / still hanging. Nearby a teetering calf…falls, struggles back up…” a bracing work, the specificity of the images giving it power.

t. kilgore splake delivers a poem by stringing together the briefest descriptions: “season opener / veteran graybeard hunter / old heart wearing out…” Maybe I like this especially since I’m a bit of a graybeard hunter myself.

Joan Colby mixes Latinate words with an Anglo-Saxon landscape to interesting effect in “Winter Trees” — “essentials / Baring every angle, each fork / Of twisted logic. Abnegation / Of symmetry. Burls / like hideous tumors.” A cool way to look at trees.

“Early Morning Oklahoma Stroll” by Jim Spurr I found spare and strong, but short enough that I can’t riff from it without revealing too much (short is generally my favorite kind of poem — it often means the poet has cut all the pudge).

James Hudson’s “Early Ice” starts with such an evocative image, it makes me re-read the poem a few times: “Grandmother’s quilt / has lain on the land. / They came up from Atlanta, /Kansas City, New York / to see it.” and later: “dusk begins its march / at three in the afternoon.” A very clean poem, delivering the images with no confusion. And a strong ending.

Christine Swanberg’s “January Rain, 2002” is powerful on several levels. “No one, not even the cat / craning to see it, knows what / this renegade filigree can be.” I like “can be” there rather than the simple choice of “is.” And later: “Seeing his frown, his wife asks what’s wrong. / Global warming, he says. If you look deeply, / you can see Illinois turning into Mississippi.” I find it hard to tackle such large themes successfully, I think the poet does so successfully here, with deft language. Kudos.

Charlotte DiGregorio, whom I know more for her work with haiku, delivers a spare poem, “The Sun Over Lake Michigan,” that shows how a haiku sensibility can work in a longer piece: “a gull cries, tilting / at lake’s edge.” Just enough to give us the scene, and ’tilting’ resonates. But she’s bound for deeper water here: “I unspool my memories / of his breezy smile.”

Finally, let me mention “Spellbound,” by Mary Jo Balistreri. It starts with ponderous, powerful images: “the dark trunks of oaks / that pillar a cerulean dome, snow glazed like marble…” I like that last especially. It’s a supple evocation of winter, the heft of the words magnifying the silence she refers to in a lighter sentence at the end.

A worthy issue all around.

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:

Missouri Review – Fall, 2018

Iconoclast – #117

Rattle 62 – Winter 2018

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