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Posts Tagged ‘P M F Johnson poetry blog’


Poems in The Sun tend to be straightforward, easily understood, with a bite to them. Such is the poem “Jewish Enough,” by Emily Sernaker. “The morning after my fourth-grade teacher / taught my class about the Holocaust… I approached my father.” The thesis is stated right up front, the power of the poem taken from our identifying with a young girl discovering some of the horror of the world, and how powerless each of us is before larger forces. Not a metaphor in sight, no sparkle to the language, just the pile-driving truth. Thank God there is still room for such poetry in our world; a reminder of what we can strive for when we communicate… to change the world, just a little bit, to open a touch of understanding. Not that all poetry should be like this, but some of it always should be. A good poem.

The other poem in the issue is much lighter in spirit, delivering a sweet moment in time. “That Summer Abroad” is by Margaret Hasse. It starts, “Joanne, have we ever been so free as then? / We’d change destinations / on a whim.” A portrait of two young adults, free as they never would be again, discovering. And later, the narrator wishing to go back. “I want to call you up right now, / buy a one-way ticket to Athens…” Again a simple poem, though this one ends with a beautiful image that gives a glimpse into the yearning the narrator feels, the sense of standing apart, being part of a little eternity. It reminds me of journeys I’ve enjoyed, and of why they were so precious.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Rattle 61 – Fall, 2018

Iconoclast – #116

The New Yorker – Aug 13, 18

 

 

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I just love this magazine. There are semi-goofy story-poems, like Travis Burke’s “Uncle Ivan and the Last Dog Race,” which starts, “‘Well hell.’ / Uncle Ivan always said that after a loss… never hit me like I’d seen some other men there.” Uncle Ivan sounds like a character indeed. “Sometimes we’d go out for a beer… when I was older and Uncle Ivan was dying / one of those long old man deaths.” Wow. Here is a poem that exemplifies why tone matters so much.

And there are poems of indirect emotion, powerfully felt, like Barbara Campbell’s “Tangles.” “…I came home / to find my husband waiting… for his ride an hour / and a half early / and on the wrong day.” The emotion powered by the sudden turn. “Here’s what I love / about ivy. / It’s relentless…” There is a rushing forward feel to this poem, life changing, our being not ready, living in the moment because what else can we do? It is a powerful, touching poem.

Gotta like Kevin Clark’s “Elegy.” “I’ll never forget that punk Cagney jabbing words / like shivs as if he knew everything.” Face it: cool phrases matter in poetry, maybe more than anything else. Made me smile.

There are slice of life poems, like Jackleen Holton’s “Jesus Is My Flu Shot.” “I tried it once, the being saved, /my devout older cousin standing / before me…” The moment when a growing girl gets an insight into the world, the ways of those who claim to be devout.

I’m deeply a fan of Judy Kronenfeld’s “Letter to the Ministry of Loneliness.” “I take round trips on the Tube… I stand up, / for maximum contact… and inhale the steam of coffee and cigarette breaths.” Again the perfect little phrase, yielding insight, emotion, a catch of the breath. It’s a quiet poem, but no less effective for that.

I guess I like these poems so much because they are human poems. They don’t rely on abstractions, or leaps away from whatever engages the writer, they plow forward, exploring the moment, the heart of whatever is happening.

We are carried along as the writers interact with, and come to understand, those in their lives, as Kathryn Petruccelli’s narrator does in her poem, “Lamps.” “My mother used to tell me / there was a time / she kept a closet full of lamps / so whenever one of her kids / broke one…” They are poems about the things that matter. Memories of our family, experiences with them, coming to grips with loss, with the zany humor of life.

One last poem I’ll mention, “Meditation On A Dining Room Table,” by Marvin Artis. “She wanted warm wood. He wanted the sleek and gleam / of glass and steel. They compromised…” The table becomes a way to understand the relationship between this couple, maybe why they break up, maybe how they are still connected in a sort of reflected manner, all these years later.

The latter poem is the first of a section in the magazine dedicated to poets who have never had a poem published before. The way I see it, that takes a certain amount of courage on the part of the editor, hoping the audience will go along with such a concept, to see what appears. I love a magazine that takes such risks.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a hopeful-but-wry look at love in a long marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Iconoclast – #116

The New Yorker – Aug 13, 18

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

 

 

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The two poems that begin this issue have gotten into my head and resonated. Always good. “An Architect’s Life,” by Harry Compton, begins “Life itself is / a continuous remodeling job… trying to keep options open / in case we discover a structural surprise.” Very apt, to my way of thinking, as the surprises contractors discover when they tear out the old walls or pull out the old concrete can be suddenly, horrendously expensive, and “the only certainty seems to be our / inexhaustible personal ignorance.” An enjoyable poem, with a wry, pointed ending.

The next poem is “Coney Island,” by Eugene Carrington. “The mind drifts to Coney Island / the scent of ocean waters / the joyful shrieks… the high-pitched squeals…” A poem of deep place, bringing in the sights and sounds, the people, the temporary nature of it all. A poem to make us turn back to Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Coney Island of the Mind,” with its similar sense of loss, time passing…

I like the dialectical nature of “Headlines From The Times,” by E.P. Fisher. “He said: lay-off, pay-off, one-way ticket… / She said: beauty, color, innocence…” A poem chock-full of images, and thoughts to bring you up short. “But after Pentagon budget loopholes for top-secret holocausts…” There’s a lot going on here that’s worth the price of entry.

Matthew J. Spireng presents us with “Black Vultures, New Paltz.” “The view at breakfast / on the second floor / of the Bakery is… roofs where black vultures / perch on each chimney.” What a great image. I can see those heavy, clumsy, patient beasts, waiting like death for the next mistake. And Spireng has a strong image to finish.

“Brother William’s War” is a poignant offering from Amy Sparks. “My brother William / Lives in my garage… His wife kicked him out / After he threw a bowl of potato salad.” A delicate, indirect look at the cost of war on a personal, practical level. “We talked and fished / Before purple scalloped clouds / From the west / Filtered in.” I love that image. A great poem.

Finally, let me mention Rhoda Staley’s “Upon Seeing a Ripe Fig.” “I doubt the apple. // Passionless / a woman can caress / the puritanically austere.” What a great beginning. It shocks you into paying attention. Staley has a deft mastery of the powerful punch, and though the poem is short, it fully satisfies.

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 – Aug 13, 18

The New Yorker – July 23, 18

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

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The two poems in this issue of The New Yorker couldn’t be more different. First is Safiya Sinclair’s “Gospel of the Misunderstood,” a breathless fever-dream of a poem. “I want to be the blade striking / knotted brown, to kiss the nape of any hunger…” Words twist under our eyes, morph into something else. Meaning detaches and reattaches in strange ways. There is huge desire underneath the words: “warm branch / of man pinning me here…” and, “Nameless, I haunt for god and love / in extinct places.” One must keep going back to the words, revisiting lines, to keep from vanishing into the poem. Desire mingles with religious fervor, and in the latter half of the poem the narrator’s brother and father appear, seemingly unable to fathom her. And in the end, a frustrating angel appears. Very worth reading.

The second poem is by Barry Gifford, a far more grounded offering called “American Pastime.” “When I was a little kid… Jimmy Yancey, the great blues… piano player, / worked as a groundskeeper / at Comiskey Park.” The poem states the irony of such a talent in such a mundane job, and doubles it in declaring that even the narrator, who honors Yancey by trying to learn his piano style, does not know Yancey’s parallel history and greatness as a ballplayer in the Negro Leagues. “…throwing down / his best curves… on both / the black and white keys.” That sentence becomes a keystone of the whole poem, resonating between the worlds he occupied, black and white, sport and music, showing how they integrate each into the other, forming a whole man comfortable in many worlds. (Love that ‘throwing down,’ btw). A declaration of the power of the human spirit. And a poem that we can hope gets more people to search out his music.

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 – 28.1

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

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Two poems appear in this issue of The Nation, the first by Jose A. Rodriguez: “Translating an Autopsy, or To the Man Autopsied Into 99 Pages.” Kind of a clunky title, but I liked the beginning. “Please know that I read them all and could not weep…” The poem dances between two tones, that of describing a murder scene from an amused and cynical novel, and the more subtle horror of realizing that scenes like this appear every day, they are no exaggeration. “…the rudimentary outline of a / male body the size of an action-figure with wounds / marked X on your torso.” The further into the poem we go, the more the horror becomes real. “splatters on the wall dripping every synonym / of pain.” The ending comes as a shock, twists the meaning of the poem from a murder due to some drug deal gone bad, or a violent turf struggle, into something else. The epiphany catches our heart. A powerful poem.

The second poem is “Courage,” by Nate Klug. “Stillness until six, the yards and porches / giant toy sets…” This is a poem that rewards close attention. A short poem about the briefness and fragility of life. “Each sleep a baffling practice / for leaving you behind…” Well, when we think about it, yes, sleep can be seen as a practice for death. But the poet stays in the moment, with images that almost fragment the scene, giving us only brief clues to what we are seeing. So much erased, but with the essentials remaining. The poem lured me into a sort of meditation. Pretty cool.

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:

Convergence Online Journal – Spring 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

The Cape Rock – 46

Apple Valley Review – Spring 18

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This issue of Convergence Online Journal contains a wonderful sestina by Carol Louis Moon, “Accepting The Temporary.” “I stared at the cat for hours,” it begins, “… with all that means. // But meaning is only temporary…” Moon goes beyond the minimal requirements of a sestina (to reuse the final words of each line of a stanza in each subsequent stanza) adding much circular complexity, doubling back, mulling things from different perspectives. “…the cat circles round itself.” It’s a great use of the form, to keep coming back to touchstones, which touchstones shift on us, in a poem with a theme of the temporary. “one considers the way // life spends itself away.” This poem alone is worth looking up. I give the link to the magazine below.

Viola Weinberg gives us “Spirit Garden,” chock-full of wonderful images. “the 8′ cannas / blazing red, with firecracker throats… and a tepee of willow / in a sea of tomatoes.” Makes me ache and long to get out in the garden, digging my fingers into loam. Sometimes, it’s enough for a poem just to celebrate. “O, the song of it, the symphony / and happy chaos of growing things.”

I liked Darren C. Demaree’s “Poem for Katie, Queen of Ohio #49,” which begins, “I could
canister // my ghosts…” What a great way to start. It’s a short poem, worked out beautifully.

“Fish Tank,” by Scott Laudati, tells of an absurd moment in an otherwise sad incident. “i believed in everything… except when you told me / your tree had been cursed.” Such naiveté of course often leads to misunderstandings at best, disaster at worst. This tale might fall somewhere in the middle, though it has dour moments. “and the crowd cheered as the noose tightened.” Very worth reading.

Many poems in Convergence have a seasonal theme, and one I liked was “Renewal,” by Ann Wehrman. “Through the windows of the bus… bones of winter trees interminable.” But spring does appear, and with it a burst of fun images. “Magnolias bloom like coy southern belles.”

And finally, “Locks Off,” by John Zedolik. “The hasps of March / have swung, knocking / the rust of winter…” An excellent way to start a poem about changing seasons.

The link to the magazine: Convergence Online Journal

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 30 18

The Cape Rock – 46

Apple Valley Review – Spring 18

 

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New Poetry Mag in the mail today, always a joy.  I have to admit I went through all the commentary first, which I am often fas’kinated by — gets me leaping up and down sometimes, always satisfying.  This is the 100th year anniversary issue, evidently.  Been a while since Harriet Monroe started something down there in Chi town.  ;->

Stephen Dunn starts out the issue with “In Love, His Grammar Grew,” kind of a strange little ditty, a stirring of metapoem into a love poem, and reasonably funny, all things considered.  “His grammar grew // rich with intensifiers, and adverbs fell // madly from the sky like pheasants…”  Okay, amusing more than funny, but I liked it.  Though I’ve seen a lot more pheasants fly off into the sky than fall out of it, but then I never really was a good wing shot, humbling as that is to admit.  “Light a candle behind a sentence // named Sheila…” Which is a really cool little image, if you try to picture it, the glow appearing through the cut-out letters, or something.  It’s Sheila the love centers around, you see.  I like Dunn’s way of looking at things, honestly.

I enjoyed the Michelle Boisseau poems, “Among The Gorgons” and “Death Gets Into The Suburbs.”  The former talks about the relationship between the narrator and the sea.  “I loved it, // mostly,  the need, how I fed the frantic.  // I’d skipped into that sea.  Certainly not // a girl, but I could still turn a head…”  Then, “Hiss of a match // snuffed with spit.  The sea had trotted off. // I stood in the stink of flapping fish.”  There’s a sexy undertow to all this, which I am not conveying here, but adds some fun as well, and another layer is added when it is read as it were written by a gorgon.  The latter poem maybe I like most because of the title.  Kind of a “who by fire,” recitation of the ways you can buy it in the suburbs.  “It whirls in the egg whites…death by taxi, by blood clot…”

Michael Ryan has a poem worth reading, “Hard Times,” which centers around a poor kid eating tiny pigs-in-a-blanket and wanting to get away from his family.  “They’re doom and shame and dumb pig fate. // I tell my Mom I think they’re great.”  One strength of the poem is the dynamic between the young-boy tone and the formality structure of the rhyme, and the tug-of-war between a formal rhythm and a colloquial language.

And my fav of the A.E. Stallings poems here is “After a Greek Proverb,” a villanelle that sticks religiously to the formal structure and rhyme, and yet is rewarding to read as the repeated lines take on added resonances through the poem.  “Nothing is more permanent than the temporary.”  Very hard to do, having written my share of failed villanelles, let me tell you.

Brava

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 – Aug 13, 18

The New Yorker – July 23, 18

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

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