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Posts Tagged ‘Hailey Leithauser Minnows’


There are some amazing poems in issue 88 of River Styx, starting with the first of the issue, “If the World Ends,” by Bruce Bennett.  “One day it came into my head to say, // If the world ends, I want to be with you…” a simple emotion, and a clean, brief poem.  Beautifully rendered, with an exactly right ending.

Since the theme of the issue was the end of the world, many other poems followed up on this idea — from those with a high tone, like Juliana Gray’s translation from the epic of Gilgamesh, “The Story Of The Flood,” “why should I not be starved and burned, bereft // of clothing, my body wrapped in stinking skins?  My brother Enkidu, my friend has died.”  Such a powerful, straightforward expression of wrenching grief —

— to those with just a strange approach, like Albert Goldbarth’s “An Isosceles Triangle Was the Same On Earth Or Mars,” (I like it though) with its twist on alien archeologists wondering about the human eternal love triangle.  “Two of their skeletons // are buried // side by side…as if death were a form of elision…” great images.

My favorite poem of all the apocalyptic ones was Rachel Christilles’ fun poem, “Hormone Apocalypse,” about teenage girls in the mid-80’s forming the final disaster.  “Maybe it rains down as a pack of popular eighth grade girls from 1984…”

This issue also contained the winners and finalists for the River Styx Contest.  And A.E. Stallings chose very well, here.  I dug into several of these poems to see what they were doing to be interesting, and to catch the reader; each used a different combination of rhyme and metaphor, theme and irony, location, even mystery and delay (e.g. Brian Brodeur, in his excellent and sad poem “Cousins,” introducing a third character in the poem suddenly, me, you and now ?, but not telling the reader right away that the third character is the “you” character’s brother until the third stanza).  None of these poems used all these tools, but all use at least three, and in the top poems, each thread is developed — in one of them there were three themes/motifs, for instance.  And always the surprise, the metaphor I did not expect, the striking description.

The winning poem, “Minnows,” by Hailey Leithauser, used internal rhymes, and combined hi-falutin’ references to Homer and the Bible balanced with understatement: “I sing to your inch length” then “I name you nothing bright or numinous…” and did a great job of choosing the exact right word, and multiplying rhymes throughout the short poem.

“Ground Oregano,” by Debra Marquart, used a powerful attitude by the narrator to almost overwhelm the ostensible theme, cooking with oregano, in describing her relationship with an ex.  “he insisted he was allergic, although I’d used it in the the lasagna..he’d eaten with relish, without illness…”  To keep us hooked with amusement at the evisceration of the fellow.

All complex, interesting stuff.  A lot to learn from.

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:

Rattle 58 – Winter 2017

The New Yorker – Nov 20 2017

The New Yorker – Oct 30 2017

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