Posts Tagged ‘Michael Robbins’

Lot of worthwhile poems in the April Poetry Magazine this month. I was struck first by Adam Kirsch’s triptych, “Revolutionaries, 1929,” “The Butcher’s Apprentice, 1911-1914,” and “Professional Middle-class Couple, 1922,” each a rhyming poem reflecting on photos by August Sander. I actually read them backwards in the magazine, and liked the result — the poems consider how economic justice affected each of the subjects. “What justifies the inequality / That issues her a tastefully square-cut / Ruby…” begins one. The strongest of the three for me was “The Butcher’s Apprentice,” maybe because Kirsch explores the tension between how high-tone the apprentice looks in the photo, and the gore he normally would have been covered with: “The starched cuff and the brandished cigarette / Are what..we will see, / Though in the closet hangs an apron flecked / With bits of brain…” A good theme for exploring economic justice, as well. Straight-punching poetry.

Michael Robbins brings us a few humorous poems, playing with words in interesting ways. “Big Country” is the first one. “Fiddle no further, Fuhrer. Rome is built.” And “My stigmata bring out my eyes.” Oh, these are not politically correct poems. But how can you not like someone who subverts a board game? “Charles Simic, in the gloaming, with a roach…” That’s from “That’s Incredible.” Even his titles are refreshing.

Gwyneth Lewis also has fun with her poem (in past years, Poetry has featured humorous poems in the April issue — though it is undeclared, I’m thinking that’s what they are doing here as well) “Fooled Me for Years with the Wrong Pronouns.” “You made me cry in cruel stations, / so I missed many trains.” and “Have pity / Kill it.” Kind of a fierce little poem, underneath.

But I found nothing funny in J.T. Barbarese’s poem, “The Dead House.” “mid-corridor, / a rotting cat / furry and fey / in a nap / of gore / glued flat…” Powerful images, disturbing, about a place the narrator once loved someone, which has now gone to ruin. Gave me shivers.

Finally, I must mention Randall Mann’s “Order,” a poem where after each line scrolls out to the middle of the poem, the lines pop up again in reverse order back to the first line, with an interesting result. Christian Wiman has always liked trick poems, and I pretty much go along with him on that. This is a good example why. “Sorry to think / what thinking has done to landscape,” becomes by the second half of the poem, “he loved…what thinking has done to landscape.” Not all the lines work, which is a flaw for me, but enough do work to make it enjoyable for me. And aren’t challenges like this part of what poetry is all about, at its best?

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson


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