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Posts Tagged ‘mainstream poetry critique’


Has anyone else noticed that we seem to be having a steady changing of the guard in poetry? It may be that a generation’s worth of editors has been retiring, and now we are seeing… if not new blood, at least younger blood… in the pages of our periodicals. The Yale Review, Prairie Schooner, there are many mags where this is happening.

The New Yorker is part of this change, at least on the editorial side. We’ll see how it plays out with new poets, and maybe new approaches. I like it, myself.

The first poem in this issue is “Girlhood,” by Cecily Parks. “was when I slept in the woods / bareheaded beneath jagged / stars.” I like jagged stars. They seem like that, at night. Not cuddly, but alien and maybe a bit inimical. Parks does not sustain this arms-length approach however: “when I was known / by the lilac I hid beside.” We are so enthralled with the pastoral stuff that the essential mystery of such a line may pass us by. But her insistence that more is going on here finally catches us up: “when that lilac, / burdened by my expectations of lilacs, / began a journey…” And the essential alien nature of her world returns with a jolt. We have to jump into a metaphorical reading. Is it the memory of the lilac going away? Is it childhood itself that is passing? Puzzling out the meaning of what had seemed a plain, straightforward poem casts us back again and again over the lines, so that when the heartbreaks of the last line appear, we are ready. A deeply meditative poem.

The second poem is “June,” by Alex Dimitrov. “There will never be more of summer / than there is now.” Boy, it’s fun to have a first line to just stop and reflect on, like that. It’s like we get to dive deep into the season, which let’s face it by this time of year we are more or less yearning for. But the narration carries us forward. “Walking alone / through Union Square I am carrying flowers… to a party where I’m expected.” Such a sense of belonging here. This city, the familiar city, whose quirks are referenced (with a smile) in passing. “It’s Sunday and the trains run on time.” The narrator is charmed, though there may be a bit of a question whether he can be happy alone. But he participates fully. “People do know they are alive.” A celebratory poem, that acknowledges the city’s difficulties, as the world’s difficulties, but shrugs them off for the moment. In this poem, hope and possibility also have a central place. A joy of a poem to read.

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:

The Cape Rock – 46

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The first poem in the issue is “Lettres D’Amour,” by Brittany Ackerman, a prose poem about two people not meeting due to reluctance, various misunderstandings and mere chance. “You came because I never answered your letters, all your letters. I had asked you so long ago to stop writing. I did this by not writing back. I had asked by not saying.” Were the two once lovers? Is the one stalking the other? It’s a bit mysterious, but enjoyably written.

In “Past Tense,” Katherine Gekker relates a story of loss, in three brief stanzas. “You begin to speak of me / in the past tense… As if to know and to let go / are simultaneous events.” A somber poem, leaving a deep resonance.

“Remnants,” by Christopher Todd Anderson, is a dense poem, but worth exploring. “Mixed weather. Shale-gray banks of clouds / obscure the horizon, then fragment overhead” it begins, and just rolling the words around gives a taste like burgundy. But then comes the shock of the next stanza. “I find the crooked foreleg of a deer hanging / from a… sapling… hooked at the gristled remnant of a knee.” Just like that, we are now examining the strange and macabre ways of humankind. The narrator tells tales of other findings out in nature, reflects on a daughter, and finishes more wary than at the beginning. A fine poem.

Simon Perchik gives us the poem “*”. Which, if you have followed him, has been the name of a number of his poems over the years. Anyway, this iteration of the poem starts out fun: “More restless than usual this nail / is eating its prey :the wall.” I like that brain twister. How can a nail be more restless than usual? How can it eat the wall? The nail evidently holds up a painting of a woman, who also does not stay in place: “a make-shift ritual / where she is passed wall to wall.” A truly strange little poem, worth a few reads.

Finally, let me mention “Rocks From The Black Sea,” by Claudia Serea. “Kids always like to pick rocks, /
and we did, each year, / carrying pounds of heavy mementos.” It’s a quiet poem about memories, returning, and family. “I remembered how my father told me / he picked up some rocks and dirt / from his parents’ grave.” It leaves us with a sadness and yearning and, at the very end, a bit of hope.

Here’s the link to the magazine: http://www.applevalleyreview.com/

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:

The New Yorker – Apr 2 2018

Convergence – Winter 2017

Blue Collar Review – Fall, 17

 

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The first poem in this issue is “Essay On ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,'” by Catherine Barnett. “John Locke says children don’t understand lapsed time, / and when I was a girl it was true.” Is it just me, or does that start out kind of dry and serious? But we are promised amusement by that title, an essay on an essay, and soon enough, Barnett delivers: “It’s been three hundred years and still my feelings for Locke / must pass unrequited.” Our narrator goes on to try impressing her friends with bad French, and ends meditating on a view of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, and on human history. The focus on Locke keeps the poem hanging together, and thinking about the human condition is the organizing theme. A light-hearted poem, with a marvelous ending, that I enjoyed re-reading.

The other poem is “Fidelio,” by Geoffrey G. O’Brien. “It’s so narrow here. And kind of falsely / Shining with the return of spring.” Google is often helpful with such erudite poetry, and sure enough, Fidelio turns out to be Beethoven’s only opera. Knowledge of the story helps us understand the poem. The opera is set in a prison, and involves a man falsely imprisoned, with his wife trying to save him from unjust execution. “There are prisons both sides of the walls.” and, “No one can sing that music but all / involve themselves…” I really don’t follow the logic of the poem, but it keeps pulling me back in anyway. Just the chewiness of the lines, I guess. “…a garden, it’s wet petals still / Clustered shy of being individual.”

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 59 – Spring 2018

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The New Yorker – Jan 22 2018

 

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I think we can call J.D. McClatchy a wily old veteran at this point, and he certainly shows it with the opening to his poem, “My Plot,” in this issue of The New Yorker. “It seemed as good a time as any to buy / a cemetery plot.” Yep. You’re going to read on after that opening, a jar, a fascinating and maybe terrifying subject, a fine use of enjambment between those first two lines. And the humorous tone is set somehow by the mundane phrases chosen: “The price is bound / To spike.” The poem contemplates his chosen resting place, then the narrator learns who is to be planted next to him: “a woman I’ve known, / Good God, for decades…by chance assigned… second harp at the stand right next / To mine.”

One should always look for value-added with the grand master poets, and sure enough, McClatchy delivers, by writing the 16-stanza poem in a complex rhyme scheme, ABCxCBA, mostly perfect rhymes, a challenge to maintain as interesting and focused. Of course he sprinkles in plenty of excellent lines, and aren’t those what we really read poetry for? “it was life itself — fizzy and full / Of contrivances to keep itself afloat.” And, “I watch us wamble down Water Street between / The moment and the mortuary.” No, I didn’t know the word wamble, yes it is perfect once I look it up, and different in meaning than what I thought.

The other poem in the issue is “Medium,” by Jennifer Grotz. “In the nineteenth century, / I’d have found a medium… a crystal ball, // but to conjure him in 2016 / I go online and Google.” This sounds pleasant and amusing, oh the differences and all that, but another key component of most top-notch poetry is the skill with which the writer twists and jars the reader. By the third stanza we begin to understand there’s something wrong. Someone important is missing in the narrator’s life. “but still there’s his handle on Skype…” and for all our technological savvy, we still have no better answer now for when someone is gone, only the question, why? And the remorse, reliving little moments where we didn’t know. “…that e-mail… at 3 AM… words of such / love… out of the blue / that I… didn’t query.” Then the twists and the plunge to the very last word of the poem, ironic, powerful, and ineffably sad. A powerful work.

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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One of the joys of the Blue Collar Review is the straightforward, emotional nature of the poems. You know where you stand, no fadiddling, as my Dad would have said.

Michael Collonnese starts this issue out with a great poem, “In Concrete,” about an early job. “When the motor on the ancient cement truck quit turning its tub.” it begins. We’re given the problem, then the challenge. “Someone had to crawl inside…and scrape the sides… As I was the youngest…I was the least valuable.” There is something satisfying about poetry that confronts life like this, its conflicts and ironies, not often available in more academic tomes. But this poem is not simply a recitation of a situation, the poet turns this into a larger reflection of life, in a beautiful deepening at the end.

Fran Markover also reflects on work she had in “Jelly Doughnuts.” “I once was in charge of them, thick pillows…” Very apt. Never thought of doughnuts as pillows, but the metaphor feels perfect. We’re brought in the moment with marvelous details. “I’d carry the metal pastry syringe,” and “the cauldrons and spillage of Albert’s Bakery.” Then she compares that work to current work: “when patients reveal…psychic wounds… I wish I could offer / something more satisfying than nods.” A good way to reveal the practical worth of such work.

We also learn of work maybe we’d never thought much about, as in Winston Derden’s “Thieves.” “The light head, sense of spinning / come from heat and dehydration…” I like that, starting with the danger, pulling us into the poem. Only then do we begin to catch a sense of what the work is: “detached stingers add / their heart-rending toxins… robbing bees in July Texas / down a brown loam trail.” We feel ourselves there, we empathize. Then a cold-hearted moment at the end gives us a jolt of irony, a sense of injustice. Nicely done.

Al Markowitz has a tough little poem in here about the current scene, “Gigged.” “Have you been gigged? / You know, the post jobs / gig economy…” It’s tough out there, I know it, this poem says. Listen to us, hear the need for change. “no sick pay or holidays, no / x-mas bonus…” We’re left with sadness after the closing double-meaning line.

Finally, Mary Franke gives us “Can’t Work For Nothing, Can’t Live On It,” which uses humor to make her point. “I do it myself or don’t get it done / it kills cars and me?” Love the kind of painful amusement in that. The mechanic does not seem helpful here. “we don’t even touch / the dipstick we pass a / wand over your junker and it / twinkles if we want to sell / you a Twazzen…” Of course, how often won’t they want to sell you a Twazzen? But the poem reveals a relatively desperate situation, the humor only highlights the trouble. Well done.

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:

Hummingbird 27.2

The Missouri Review – Fall 2017

Blue Collar Review – Spring 17

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