Posts Tagged ‘Mike Faran’

Haven’t seen a newer issue, so there’s still time to blog this, right? ;->

I like the poem, “Not Impressed,” by Mike Faran, a poem that holds up the paraphernalia of success for a squint-eyed view. “I told my wife…they had given me my own office.” “She asked if I had my name on the door…I told her they couldn’t remember my name…” It’s dryly amusing, as the narrator and his wife go back and forth about how he’s doing in the work world.

Susan Yarborough gives us “Onion Rings,” a sweet poem about working a hamburger joint. “Behind the plate glass…The air is thick with the shout / Of orders and hot oil.” That nice turn of phrase puts us in the scene instantly. Then the central character is introduced: “she stands / Before the shiny metal table, / Long knife in hand…Sweat circles her armpits.” It’s a blunt, blue collar view indeed. Which gives it power. In the second stanza, she leaves her work. “the odors / Stalk her to the bus stop / Like a jealous lover.” Great phrase. So far this is a beautifully drawn rendition of her life. But it’s at the end of the poem, with the sudden expansion of her life, that we truly see the power of the poem, and how moving it is. Very nice.

Winston Derden has a poem that gives us two characters living together, in “Living Wage.” Part of the power of the poem arises because the relationship between the two is not clearly spelled out, so the import of the narrative becomes ambiguous. And the definition of character through understatement is very slick. “I was surprised to find Clyde / on the … couch in the middle of the afternoon….’Got fired again,’ he exhaled.” The explanation of why Clyde got fired seems to put the blame on Clyde’s cantankerousness. “I had to broach the question, / ‘Got a job lined up…?” Such a realistic scenario, delicately handled. Great poem.

It’s difficult, I think, to pull off a longer poem without getting gassy, but in “Lake County,” Joseph S. Pete takes a good shot at it. “Steelmaker for the world, / Or at least North America, / Forgotten appendage of Chicago…” And indeed, the poem reminds us of Sandburg’s “Chicago,” rolling out a similar list of attributes, but updated for a new century. “Flourescent-lit warehouse floors glisten.” It is a more tentative world now, and the poem reflects this, but still there is pride of place. “Lake County, / You built 20th century America…You boned the skeletons of skyscrapers.” And the defiance is still there. “Indiana wants no part of us…” And a most satisfactory ending.

Lastly, let me mention “The Tet Offensive,” by J.R. Connolly. “All that winter, snow owned the valley.” So the poem begins in a conversational, confident tone, a rural tale, leavened by irony and understatement. “We thought we were rich and the Walkers poor. / I worked our farm every day after school.” It shows what I like to call breath control, the ability of the poet to pace the poem beautifully, to a rising effect. And I love this: “My mother…prayed for the country. / She prayed for the ‘Papists and Jews.’…She tended her husband till the tumor took him.” We know this woman, we know these people. It is a sad poem, ultimately. “Donny came home in a flag and the salute of rifles…” So powerful. And the images deepen at the end, and the loss grows deeper. And the last line is heartbreaking. A poem very much worth reading.
Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

P.S. My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available widely, including on Amazon at http://tinyurl.com/AgainstTheNight


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Reading the Winter issue of Blue Collar Review, I was struck once again by how raw the poetry is, how rooted in common troubles. This is not a place to find erudite abstractions, nor the faint irony of a delicate metaphor. It’s a place for blunt truths and shared emotions. The first poem I’ll mention here is “The Three Personalities of Water,” by David Gross. “In our coal town, insulation was / a luxury…water lines froze.” I love the immediacy of the narration. “With propane torches stuffed under our coats…we crawled through drafty…crawlspace.” The shared memory of doing practical things around the house. Wriggling through small areas, a seriousness of purpose. For me it creates a sense of solidarity, that we’re all in this together, with hope out in front: “Listening closely for sounds of melting ice…”

Kyle Heger has a wry take on the world in, “I Haven’t Pleased Enough Machines Today.” Who has not felt at the mercy of the machines in our world? “My fingers couldn’t / make themselves understood on / my cell phone’s touch screen.” As I get older, I am struck by how many machines seem designed by the young, for the young. Arthritis is not taken into account, nor palsy. It leaves millions alienated, and doesn’t improve their view of the young tyros living without consideration of others, I suspect. “God help me: Even though / I had dutifully checked out all my / books…the alarms went off.” The machines watch us, suspicious, resentful, unforgiving. Does anyone else feel this? A great poem.

I like Matthew J. Spireng’s short poem, “Five Minutes.” “It only takes five minutes, my boss / tells me… as he adds another duty.” A quick-in, quick-out poem that quickly wrings emotion out of us, along with recognition. Yes, we all know that feeling.

“Chasing Rainbows in Scranton,” by Mike Faran, is another poem worth checking out. It starts out, “Thunder was kicking in the / corner…” What a great, ambiguous image. We can stop right there and get a sense of the earth of the place, of people at the mercy of greater powers. In this case, it’s a dog. “my girl laughed / and said “wonder what…he’s chasing now.” But there’s a true poignancy to this tale, as we follow it deeper. “she looked down at her coffee cup, / her laughter and smile gone…” But ultimately a story of hope, and love. Very much worth a good rereading.

Ryan Peeters brings back an old memory for me with his poem, “Hard To Work For.” It starts, “Prompt Staffing asked for an immediate drug test.” You know right away this is going to be a poem with the bark on. “At week six and a half, payday, / the big boss handed out checks… ‘you are all being let go.’ // Leonard…took his check and left before the big boss was done talking.” I also have the memory of layoffs, of coworkers who had been through the mill enough to be scarred. Such experiences leave a certain feeling behind, one this poem gets at very well.

All in all, a worthy issue, one that chews over the difference between those sheltered by money, and those fighting not to be at its mercy. I’m glad this viewpoint is still out there.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson


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Lot of good poems in this issue. The first I’ll mention is “Adorn,” by Gabriella M. Belfiglio, a Plainsongs Award winner. “Daughter, / we bought you a dress…covered in little / violets.” A sweet, sad song, eulogy for a child who passed in childbirth. If you haven’t read Plainsongs it is notable for the commentary the editors make on their Plainsongs Award poems (one editor for each Award). Especially insightful on this one.

“Total Immersion,” by Mark Hiskes, itself immerses us into the scene, a boy who loves to read, his teacher awed by his intensity. “Brandon, too, walked the old tracks.” Such a resonant opening. (Paraphrased from Bradbury. Always riff off the masters!) He walks railroad tracks while reading. The hint of danger and foolishness in this act gives the poem an extra interest that carries us through to the delightful ending. To put such tension in a poem, and hold it unresolved throughout, is an advanced trick, stolen from storytelling I think, and makes any work better.

“Nadine” may be the most fun poem of the bunch (it’s by Mike Faran). “Nadine Funderhouse is our new Poet Laureate / up here in Ax, Alaska.” Kind of a shaggy dog poem, with such a powerful voice.  “Not too many know it but poetry is a / pretty big deal up here…” The line enjambments support the conversational tone, the comfort we feel in the hands of an expert. The interplay between Nadine and her woodsmen admirers forms the power of the poem, and the ending is extremely satisfying. Bravo!

“The Ghost of Tammy Thompson,” by Robert L. Penick gives a grim tale of aging. “…dragging / her pitted, bent aluminum walker.” Great images here. “With a reptile’s precision.” Never thought of how precise a reptile must be, but it’s one of those lines that always should have been, that Penick found and gave us as a gift.

I like “Packing,” by Lin Lifshin. She’s written a lot of good poems, and here’s another one. “tho my birthday is under / the sign of the crab, who / takes his whole house / with him when he goes…” So let’s review just this much (as Arlo Guthrie once said). She implies, humorously, in these few lines that she can be crabby when she has to move, and she is out of her element when moving, and she may be a bit of a packrat, making it worse. All that in the same few lines. Now that’s packing a lot into a very few words. ;-> And the very next words do it again: “…I swear…” Wherein we see her cussing as she works, and vowing to do better. Wow.

And while I am run out of time here, still I must mention Phillip Howerton’s “A Shelf Of Old Hammers,” which is one of those poems that after you’ve read it, you would swear has been around forever. It has that deja vu quality of a great poem. “They had their heads knocked / hard for too many years…now they have scarred, blunted faces.” Subtle use of rhyme, and a perfect ending.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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I think I’ll start reviewing the Winter 2015 Atlanta Review from back to front. No reason. The last poem in the mag is a sonnet, “Sunday Morning in His Workshop,” by Duane K. Caylor. “…a button-headed brace / rests on the bench awaiting… to spin once more. A poem about a workshop. Things of the hands. “augur bit in place, / it translates languages of mind and hand / into solid, runic poetry.” I am a big fan of poetry that arises out of the practical world, concerning items and tasks nothing dependent on classrooms, teaching, arcane academia. Maybe because I am so far from that world myself. So the power of this poem arises from the knowledge of someone’s workshop, the things he or she intends to build.

In the poem, “Profession of Flora,” Jane Varley reimagines the Nicene Creed in flowers. “We believe in flax, the pearlwort, and coneflower, / maker of heaven and earth.” It’s a one-off idea, and the fun comes in seeing how she rewords the ancient prayer to fit a floral language.  It is by turns, or by reflection, maybe I should say, amusing and mildly blasphemous: “eternally begotten of the fleabane…” It generates the shocks a good poem will, and I hardly think any deity should look askance at such a beautiful effort.

“Outsourcing My Grief,” by Peter Krass,” also has a spiritual bent: “the year after my father died /…I discovered a Chinese factory / where I could outsource my grief.” Again, the shock of the weird adds flavor to the poem. “Now, for just $39.99 a month, the workers mourn / on my behalf, performing graceful lotus kicks…” Of course such an idea must be developed and twisted, and Krass does so skillfully. “I’ve upgraded for an additional $19.99…” What a hopeful poem, kicking death in the eye as it were.

Mike Faran gives us an entirely different theme, in “Santa Monica Sunrise.” “I woke up — bolted up / in a panic / felt for my dog tags…little stamped poems read by / proud parents…” but the narrator is in an unreal place, and gradually realizes it. “I hadn’t worn them in twenty years…” there are beautiful lines in here that add to the disorientation of the PTSD. “The sun speared through / heartshaped curtains.” And there is a moving ending. The power arises so much from understatement, the immediacy of the description. Powerful and sorrowful.

Barbara Lydecker Crane does a great job with a triplet poem (tercet stanzas which all lines follow the same rhyme): “Kicking the Bucket List.” “…here’s a bucket list / (not complete, but it’s the gist) / of things I think are better missed.” You get the idea. Humor is hard to do well, and so much to be appreciated, I think anyway. And the ending plays on the triplet structure perfectly, with the narrator’s fear of disappearing. Brava!

“Barracuda,” by Ron De Maris is great and shivery: “Shadows edge forward in a slow languid mass like a / Cloud of logs…”

“Chestnut Mare,” by Dion O’Reilly, speaks beautifully of loss. “I have no reason to walk / to the pasture anymore…”

There are a few excellent horse poems in a row, actually. Barbara J. Mayer gives us “From the Horse’s Mouth,” St. Paul’s horse on the road to Damascus, specifically: “it’s always / the horse’s fault when his rider / hits the ground with such bone-cracking / force…”

Way too many great poems in this magazine to mention them all. That’s not unusual with the Atlanta Review, of course, but let me mention one last one, Tracy. K. Smith’s “Transit.” “Someone is waiting for us / Down through that grove of ferns,” a subtle and complex pantoum about death, about rebirth, about magic and a grove. “And the season shifts now slowly to the east / where whatever must begin beings.” Wow.

Get this mag as you can.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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So in the spring 2015 Blue Collar Review (the latest one I have, bet I get another soon) the first poem is by that famous writer, Anonymous. “9 AM Break, Line 3, Engine Assembly” tells us of a worker on the line who can’t take a bathroom break due to the team being shorthanded. “The horns sounds and the line freezes / and your first five free seconds are wasted…” We are very much there in the moment with the narrator, and the tough life. “…you want to run to the phone / to call your girlfriend and apologize / for not calling last night…because you woke up in a chair / with the TV blaring at 11:30 / and that was just too late to call…” A very powerful poem in its simplicity.

Then Carol V. James gives us “Automobile Mirror Assembly Line,” which starts “All we want is time to live…And all we have to buy time with / are lives…” It pairs well with the previous poem. There are pithy turns of phrase here, and wise ones. “My past is tailgating me.” A very worthy poem.

Gotta like Mike Faran’s “Are We Robots Yet?” The introduction throws us right in the deep end: “The last time I scratched my ass, / felt like skin…” The narrator is lost in a world rapidly vanishing. “I’m simple as a Remington / typewriter.” And yet there’s much sly fun here. “I / told you that Pac Man was a form of / Devil worship.” A poem worth looking up.

As promised, this is poetry that takes sides. Stewart Acuff’s poem, “Richest Member of Congress” makes that clear. “America’s richest member of Congress / said America’s poor are the envy of the world.” You know where this is going. “Our poor can’t miss a step in their whirl / of two jobs and days that go 12 to 14 hours / and kids that feed themselves on less and less…” If you don’t agree with that point of view, this may not be the magazine for you.

But ultimately, these poems ask questions more than they give answers. They dig into issues that may not have simple answers, and the poets know that. But still we get calls-to-action, as with Robert Edwards’ “Manifesto # 94.” “Now is the time / to make a few enemies / to burn a few bridges / of my own.” A great didactic effort: “Now is the time / to set the wind free in the house…and take the safety off my hand.”

I enjoyed this issue very much.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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