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Posts Tagged ‘Henri Cole’


We are, in the modern world, of course forced by our calendar bravely to ignore superstitions and so the New Republic bravely published on the 13th. Fortunately not a Friday, right? But luck seems to be with them anyway. The poems are good. ;->

First comes “The Crazy Dog Lady Recognizes Spring and Is Momentarily Bouyed by a Joy She Had Wholly Forgotten,” by Renee Ashley. Now a title like that implies run-on sentences, but not so here, except that she does dispense with periods. “The dogwood bracts horizontal on their boughs The iris still in its / papers” I don’t get the purpose of losing the periods, and I don’t know how the poem is benefited by forming a square visually on the page, but neither really bothers me. The images are surely interesting: “the one eighteen-wheeler the color of night’s blue sky with its / cab the starry green of a sea beneath foam.” I’m failing to picture that green, though. The sea beneath a night sky is generally black, except maybe when lit from within in a painting. I’ll grant you phosphorescence, but I don’t get to green. Still, the poem has me thinking. Always good. There’s a nice balance of flowers and dogs early on, and then repeated at the end, with differences: e.g. we go from dogwood to woodchuck. There’s probably more in this poem that escapes me, but it entertained me, anyway.

“Gnawa Boy, Marrakesh, 1968” is by Charif Shanahan. “The maker has marked another boy to die…” it starts, and the poem is uncompromising. “black legs jutting out…the tips of his toenails translucent as an eye.” Our focus is kept firmly on the boy dying, through the first half of the poem. Then we turn to the moment of death. “he passes…into the blue / porcelain silence…no song of final parting, no wailing / ripped holy from their throats.” It is a somber elegy, and very moving.

Wendy Salinger gives us “January,” which contrasts the narrator’s daughter first encountering the world with her father at the end of his life. “she took my hand / to see the houses outlined / in their Christmas lights. // ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ she said.” Then, “He kneels before my mother / and he weeps.” A great image to end with, as well. An effective, affecting poem.

The last poem is “Tears,” by C.K. Williams. I have had my difficulties with some of his poems, and I am no fan in general of ghazals, but this is a good poem. (And Mr. Williams has certainly hit his share of home runs in the past). My wife especially liked this one. It follows the theme of young and old that Henri Cole seems to have quietly selected for this issue. “Baby next door crying, not angry crying… _hungry_ crying…sweet to think of her at filling station of bottle or breast.” Williams then considers the implications and resonances arising from the idea of “our” for narrator and child. He gets to believing: “Too late for that — too late even for _please_ — please stay…” And the last stanza is very delicate. He shows a great balance and breath control throughout this poem — not overstepping his images anywhere, not growing too heated. It’s a poem of that resonant sadness we feel when living too much in the world, the loss of things. Almost like a haiku that way.

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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This issue starts with a few Ashbery poems, my fav of which is “Bunch Of Stuff.” As far as I can tell, Ashbery’s technique is to take a phrase and invert one or more words into some analogous word that casts light on the original. So this poem starts: “To all events I squirted you / knowing this not to be this came to pass.” Well the first phrase could be “At all events.” But being squirted to events makes a loopy sense. ‘Squirt’ gives this an irreverent feel, as we might feel going anyplace where someone would bring us “at all events”. Of course squirt could have been squired, but wasn’t, here. (And other readings come to mind). Deconstructing “this not be be this” might give us ‘not to be that…’ It’s an unexpected twist that keeps the poem fresh. A little later, “Why wouldn’t you want a fresh piece / of outlook to stand in down the years.” Well, people DO come to stand in an outlook. (Sometimes with their feet hardening in concrete.) ;-> An outlook that might flavor how they feel about going to the above event. And creating a resonance between a fresh piece of outlook and tail, say. Which gives another flash of irreverent amusement. And joining up with a new person generally does change our outlook, of course. He even tells us to “Poke fun at balm…” as he is doing it. A first-water poem, for me, with all those meanings crashing down one after the other.

Henri Cole’s poem, “Dandelions (II)” keeps bringing me back to reconsider it. “He drew / these dandelions…when the only // solace / was derived / from the labor / of getting / the…stems / and… seed heads / just right.” I don’t know who the artist might be, but I guess it doesn’t matter. “‘Nobody there,’ / the new disease / announced…” It’s a sad poem, sketching the death, evidently, of an artist, then turning to a surprising exterior image in the last stanza. As though the grief were too great to face directly, but must be angled toward, hinted at only. Very powerful.

D. Nurske has a fun, not particularly linear poem called “Venus.” Which is about the planet, at least at first: “Death is coming / and you must build a starship / to take you to Venus. // Make it from a catsup bottle…” It rattles on goofily like that for a stanza, then turns more serious, and in the last stanza again goes off on a complete tangent. I’m guessing Don Share likes that finishing technique, as generating something original, though I admit I’d like a final stanza resonating more with the rest of the poem. Maybe the moth image in the last stanza symbolizes the spirit, and so we (maybe) transcend after death. A bit oblique for me, but the editor obviously liked it.

Let me end with Kay Ryan’s “In Case Of Complete Reversal.” “Born into each seed / is a small anti-seed.” She always has such subversive ideas, and works them out in ways I rarely expect, with breathtaking language. “If we could crack the…shell / we’d see the / bundled minuses…” I cannot imagine anticipating that phrase, ‘bundled minuses,’ and yet it feels perfect to me. That’s harder than it seems, I have come to believe from years of trying to do it myself. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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The Feb 3 issue of The New Republic has only two poems this time. First, “Lay,” by Liam Hysjulien, a young poet that Henri Cole is championing for obvious reasons. “After your organs disintegrate, / your cells recite poems to one another.” A poem about the process of cellular death, intellectual at first, but then taking a turn to the intimate. “I’m the one holding your hand as your last cells unravel.” And with that, obliquely, grief slips in, and the inevitability of loss. We are gifted with a great ending as well. A touching poem.

The other poem is by Louise Gluck, who is appearing everywhere now, burning that candle as brightly as she can. Here, it’s “Theory of Memory,” a poem looking back to a moment of prescience. “…before I was a tormented artist…” (love the little joke pasted in there) “I was a glorious ruler…so I was told by the fortune / teller…Great things are ahead…or perhaps behind…” a poem of confusion, of the past sliding into the future, of a single moment in time being clear when all else was uncertainty. A very tricky poem, with much to reflect on.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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The poems in some magazines seem to reward deep study more consistently than others. That’s sure true for the December 9 issue of The New Republic, starting with the poem James Longenbach gives us, where he discusses his first experience with a horse. The poem, appropriately, is called “Horse.” “Though I come from a long line of people intimate / With…horses, / Today, for the first time, I touched a horse.” He quickly goes deeper: “I’m speaking here of things that come to feel essential…You’ve never done it, then you’ve done it before…You can’t imagine your body without it.” He shifts to an experience with a drink, giving us a tiny rest from his main slant, then goes back to the horse. “the horse seemed all the while / Perfectly happy…” The last couple of lines deliver a summation/epiphany that powers the poem home, really a zen moment, letting us know this poem can be read as the larger self meeting the Other, the connection between people, oh, we can read things into this poem all night. Very satisfying.

C. Dale Young gives us “False Start” and tells us it’s “After Jasper Johns.” It starts “There is red, there is / red there is red and some / yellow.” The enjambment gives us the circularity of a Jasper Johns’ painting, the uncertainty, the surprise move in a new direction. He shifts from a simple discussion of paint and color to a metaphor of a relationship: “the brush…knows the canvas the way I have / learned to know your chest / among between” The narrator seemingly tries to control his lover, then still working within the metaphor of the colors, seems to admit rage, violence, and even cowardice. Beautifully handled.

In “Catwork,” Tim Nolan must come to grips with his cat being imperfect: “The old cat keep peeing / around the house…” It’s a sign the cat is growing old, his imperfections deepening: “…manages to place / himself always in my path…Right where my bare foot falls / on him — and he cries…” There’s a gentle sadness and pathos to this work, a turning of the idea that we are all improving through our lives on its head.

Finally, Henri Cole (the magazine’s editor) translates a poem by Claire Malroux from the French: “Not A Hair Of Your Head Shall Be Harmed.” This also starts as a meditation on getting older: “These hairs that the wind used to caress on my nape / fall from my brush now.” But the poem darts from metaphor to metaphor, discussing the travels of the hair, and makes reference to the Holocaust, even: “man himself / has fabricated lampshades and soap / out of his own body.” Which brings us to the depths of pain, in understanding that it was not out of his own body, but the bodies of his victims that such items were wrought. Then, more, that “man” encompasses both perpetrator and victim, revealing how we have both aspects in us. Then we’re given reassurance that such will never happen to us, reiterating the title. But we don’t believe the narrator, trust is lost. Finally, the poem’s ending backs away from this raw view to a delicate finish. All done in a few deft lines. Wow.

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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The summer issue of Threepenny Review seems to have even more poetry than usual, maybe because of a marvelous essay by Philip Levine on his beginnings (so much of the story familiar) or the review by James Fenton on “The Complete Poems” by Philip Larkin, or the discussion of Orlando Furioso, but let’s talk about the actual poems, starting with Justin Rigamonti’s “His Own Myth.” “The birds gathered, as always, at his feet…No one else / could see them there” a great thesis for a poem, staying in the moment of his imagination, a conversation with the red birds at his feet. Why red? I don’t know, but it feels right, like blood, like a flag: “Pooled around his ankles” we can see these birds, and feel the meaning of them for him. I like this poem.

Another poem based firmly in nature, “Flat-Spired Three-Toothed Snail,” by William Kelley Woolfitt brings the Book of the Apocalypse sideways into a poem about a snail: “he has sensed warnings / in his four horns…has felt in his soft parts // pangs of dryness…” and skirts the holy: “basilica of gritstone, its aperture / scarcely bigger than his own.” An excellent work, worth meditating over, with a fine ending.

Henri Cole does a marvelous job with “City Horse,” about a boy confronting tragedy. “Facedown in dirt, and tied to a telephone pole, / as if trying to raise herself still.” A straightforward lament, grave and delicate.

I’ll mention Dean Young’s “Berkeley Summer Rental,” which I enjoyed for the loopy details: “the best way to be heard / by someone in the shower / was by shouting in the open refrigerator…” Gotta love a poem written so slant as that.

And of course Kay Ryan’s “Criss Crosses, (Chiasmus)” about a crow walking about “as though / each step / checked the / last.” As you can see, with a rhythm like the hopping of bird’s feet. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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