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Posts Tagged ‘Chad Parmenter’


Issue 46.1 of The Laurel Review opens with Chad Parmenter’s “Edward Weston In Louisiana,” a poem evidently about (it’s the subtitle) the narrator “Taking Pictures for a 1941 Edition of Leaves Of Grass.”  Yes, well.  Despite the somewhat offputting title, it’s an interesting poem.  “This is someway // I have never travelled…over water so full of trees…”  opens it up, gives us setting, narrator, direction (yes, someway is one word).  But what works for me is the little lines: “the road pours us toward New Orleans…” which sounds like it should be a cliche, but I don’t ever remember hearing the phrase.  Those may be the most successful lines, ones that sound as if they should always have existed.  “The cypress leaves shiver apart, so the knees // they shade glow.”  I get a picture from that one.  But I see the heart of the poem as: “So why do I carry this feeling with me — // dark-filtered thrill framed by such a numb, sweetening…”  This is an accessible poem, with striking images, and I like to encourage that sort of thing ;->

Bruce Bond has a good poem as well, “Phantom Joy.”  “After the phantom pain fades out // into the common grave of air…”  A very resonant beginning to a resonant poem.  “you might discover // something older, some ghost core…”  The ending confuses me a little, doesn’t give me that surprise smack I love best, but that’s a quibble with a poem that gives us: “something of the child // you were skeletons your dreams…”  That might be my favorite line in the whole issue.

Hannah Gamble’s “It Was Alive, Though Differently,” is a sort of riddle poem, making the reader work to figure out what she means: “It had a poverty hand // and a riches hand.  They were // the same hand.”  Something to chew on.

Aby Kaupang & Matthew Cooperman, with their poem/something “from NOS” (A novel?  Essays?  Doesn’t matter) managed to get this cynical reader to follow all through their experimental style, and even approve of the vast use of empty space.  Mostly I see that as a waste of resources and my time — doesn’t affect me, seems pretentious and overused.  But here, in a work that struggles through drug addiction and relationships, they pull it off.   “we love drugs   we used to not love // drugs…”  There is a pang in this work: “the daughter doesn’t … eat doesn’t sleep doesn’t talk…”  It’s a poem about a world that rarely appears in our literary magazines, from the point of view of writers who have seen the suffering, understand the struggle to escape it, and have created a cry-from-the-heart, a work that matters. It makes almost all the other poems I read this week seem shallow, gabbling items of technical prowess, rather than attempts to communicate something useful.  I deeply believe that in order to have something useful to say, the author has to have advanced through pain, discovered some soul epiphany, and worked out a way to communicate that.  So many times we can fall into the idea that literary epiphanies are sufficient.  Lean on someone else’s revelations, appropriate them for our own.  Not the case here.  This poem is worth reading and re-reading.

And maybe that’s really my quarrel with so much language poetry, academic poetry, and so on —  it’s just such hollow, boring work, and while going through it, critiquing, or even simply taking it in, we forget…I forget… how powerful a poem can be.  How it can communicate the punch of life, how it can matter.  I suspect getting a language poem to matter is actually much more difficult than a linear poem — John Ashbery maybe does it, but very few others — and the best route to success in the non-linear is through laughter.  Not the only route, though, look at Dylan.

I’ve gone on too long, but let me quickly also mention Rosalynde Vas Dias’ “Model,” in this issue, a clever metaphor of a poem.  “You agree to sit for // the miniaturist…he shows you // yourself, very small.”  A little smile of a poem, and may she give us many more such.

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.

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