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Posts Tagged ‘P M F Johnson poetry blog’


Star*Line is sort of a phantasmagoria of a magazine. So many poems are packed into this issue, of so many types, the reader is bound to find something to like.

We begin with Mary Soon Lee’s “New Year’s Resolutions.” “1. For novices // Huddle in the Antarctic Dark / with Emperor penguins / for sixty-four days.” A poem of crazy, fun ideas. “2. For journeymen… Circumnavigate the Moon by hot-air balloon.” It’s the little shocks of recognition for literary and cultural references that makes this truly work.

There are many haiku and haiku-style poems, tucked in here and there, several by Christina Sng. These generally rely on twists, or thought-puzzles. “pets / on the International Space Station…” starts one. The third line of the poem provides the ‘ah, of course,’ ending.

Any speculative market is going to rely heavily on making the reader think. “On a Dead Spaceship,” by Robin Helweg-Larsen certainly furthers this aim. “…drifting round a star / The trapped inhabitants are born and die.” An allegory of earth? That this is not clear makes the poem more interesting, and shines a deeper light on our own lives, aspirations, and boundaries, with references to artists, the rich, and plebs.

There are poems from the point-of-view of monsters, or their lovers. “Not Tonight,” is an amusing example by Kathleen A. Lawrence. “Oh, darling, you tease / in wispy tears of gauze.” Quick and delightful.

Finally, let me mention “Giants in the Earth,” an irreverent, earthy poem by Deborah L. Davitt. “Pish, there’ve always been giants around! / It’s just that we tune them out, / pretend that we can’t see them.” In the logic of this poem, there are good reasons we all pretend not to notice. Fun, and even a bit shocking.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

The Missouri Review – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

 

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The first poem in this issue is by Catherine Pierce, a poet I was not familiar with. Her “The Horse Girls,” starts: “The horse girls were writing novels. / The horse girls were dreading flag football.” A poem about growing up, at that awkward age where boys are interesting but embarrassing. The author anthropomorphizes to make this point. “Their hair embarrassed. Their shirts ruffled / with anger.” Other girls are the beautiful ones, clique-insiders who canter around them. Reading this, I realized how often young adults growing up is a theme of poems in The Missouri Review. Enough to consider it part of their world view. Many of these poems are very slickly written, and Ms. Pierce certainly delivers as well. At the end of this particular poem, the girls become horses themselves, or at least yearn to win in life the way horses do. This sort of synthesizing of two realities is a very satisfying way to end a poem, making the two views one, if you will.

I’d also like to mention her poem “Vespers,” because of the powerful way she uses language here. “Mississippi at the end of March / is a chaos of wisteria.” (Okay, maybe part of why I wanted to talk about this is really my own yearning to see wisteria after a long winter. Well, there you go.) “birds / insistent and fierce. It’s easy / to forget we’re only pretending / their language into song.” I have to ask, Wait, don’t you mean pretending their song into… no… Oh, how I admire that line, how it makes us stop and think, twist and re-twist it into differently braided thoughts. Or, “generously dividing the lushness / into manageable segments.” What a fun poem.

Miho Nonaka gives us “Through the Willows,” which starts, “Bless the cherry that must still bloom in April / its trunk scarred with initials, hasty students’ hands.” How that ‘must still’ brings us up short, wondering why must it still bloom, then realizing after the second line that it blooms in spite of the damage humans have done to it, and with that we have the sorrow that our species can be so thoughtless, inconsiderate not only of other species, but even of other humans who might lose their own chance at beauty because of us. For we all have been careless in some way or another. Sorrow is endemic to life. And the mix in this poem of a touch of the ancient reverence expressed by attending the cherry blossom festival, alongside the modern notions of the young. “on our way home at dusk– / everyone’s secret stop the local 7-Eleven.” And even how that mundane irreverence actually forms part of the ritual, and we can dimly sense how in one way or another it always has. When a poem can bring all that up, it’s a home run for me.

Finally, Brian Swann, in “The Return of Coyote,” gives us his own take on irreverence and the wild: “Yeah, that’s me, spiky hair blowin’ in the wind, tight black / fishnet stockings…” From the point of view of Coyote, coming back to Central Park. And the reference to Bob Dylan’s song, written within a stone’s throw of the place, long ago. Then, further on, “a world made of installations like a hedge fund…” almost stream-of-consciousness, looping along crazily, dangerous language here. “until a cab flattens me, wipeout, / but I pop back up, a bit wobbly…” Mixing the news headlines of coyotes coming back into the city with Coyote of the roadrunner cartoons, and the Native trickster Coyote in a happy mash-up. Effective, fun, and worth re-reading.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Mar 25 & Apr 1, 19

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

 

 

 

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“Ambition,” by Tess Gallagher in the Mar 25 issue of The New Yorker, is the best poem of hers I’ve read to date. “We had our heads down / baiting hooks — three wild salmon / already turned back…” A slick and subtle opening: Absolutely immediate, but from those first words we anticipate something about to happen. And boy, are we rewarded. “under our small boat the sea / gave a roll… lifting us so high I thought / an ocean liner…” A moment of confusion, perfectly described, then the rapture: “a pair of gray whales not two hundred / yards away.” The shift from this in-the-moment to the greater view gives us shivers. “It was all beauty and / mystery…” She displays great skill here in connecting that short moment to the profound, then just as quickly lets it pass, returning to the common world. That’s how epiphanies happen, how the sacred touches our world. A brilliant poem, to capture that truth.

The other poem here, “Pickpocket, Naples,” by Angela Leighton, slides rapidly through many more images to make her point. “Lost for a subject… among flaking billboards, unemptied bins, / pickings for a light touch… an angel’s wing flexed at my back.” We get a sense of how quickly such a moment goes by, a sense of the desperation of the world that might incite such a theft, as the poem’s form highlights its intent. What’s fun, though, is that in the next stanza she then goes right back and… well, not re-imagines the moment, but revisits it, or maybe has the moment repeat: “Or think another: I walk in a dream / past double-parked lots, boarded-up shops… chase the ghost of a child… and so miss the touch.” Just so we might ourselves repeatedly revisit such a moment in our memories, reviewing what happened from different angles, trying to understand what may be unknowable. Brava.

In the April 1 issue, Carol Muske-Dukes presents us with “Daphne, After.” “So Spring blossomed in spite of itself. / Uniform skirts up-rolled high by wild girls,” she starts. Note how the slight tilt of the language keeps us intrigued, the words come in a slightly different cadence than we are used to, emphasizing the wildness. But in fact, these are school girls, centered in their usual world. “two of us, heads // together, translating. Our selves as Stoic / teens.” We sense the yearning of these two to find adventure, to experience change, something important. And then, without warning: “He demanded her name first. Just / steps from the bus stop.” So the poet interleafs the current world with the classic myth. How beautifully it is done: “She told me only. The great wings of / aloneness closed in on us.” Wow. Boy, that’s why we read poetry, for moments like that.

Finally, Christian Wiman has “I Don’t Want To Be A Spice Store.” A much lighter, but no less notable work. “I don’t want to carry handcrafted Marseille soap, / or tsampa and yak butter.” The exotic nature of the goods giving us the sense of how the narrator rejects the exotic, the arch, for a more common usefulness: “I want to be the one store that’s open all night.” It’s a sweet way to characterize, and our imaginations flow right along with him. “I want to wait / brightly lit… for my father to find me open on Christmas morning in his last-ditch… drive for gifts.” And just like that, we have a greater depth, a poignancy, a loneliness. And the last line is especially brilliant (so go look up the poem and see what it is!)  A whole pile of great poems in these two issues.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Feb 11 2019

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

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Blue Collar Review has some very nice poems this issue. I like “Church of the W2” by Zara Raab. “My first job following the divorce, I helped a semi-invalid.” It’s an interesting meditation on what counts as spiritual work, and what the intersection is with working for money. “I was there / to keep her company, though she wasn’t / terrifically old…” The narrator characterizes the woman she works for, then works on her own approach to life. “I say my mantras, / ‘Don’t rush… check your work.” Some good insights here.

“Trust the Machine,” by Mary Franke, starts out “The machine / is our enemy / it’s things / it grinds out // Never mind…” The narrator seemingly has trouble even coming to grips with how profoundly machines alter our world, rule us, change us, impoverish us, even. “Not everyone has / things   enough / things.” And what, ultimately, are we to do? “I try to trust the / body.”

Antler gives us “Housepainter Lunchbreak Story,” a tough look at what working class people have to do, sometimes, to earn a buck. “As we sat on the steps… on our lunchbreak, / One of the crew told how on one job…” It’s a very sad story, purely told, with a moving ending.

“Thanksgiving,” by Carol V. James, starts with a starling premise. “If I’m not mistaken about teh smell… my neighbor made meth for Thanksgiving.” Boy, that’s almost our whole world caught up in that beginning. Knowing what the smell of cooking meth is, living in a tough neighborhood. The narrator has had a fighters’ life. “We were equally poor and equally angry… but she was bolder, wilder, not my friend.” I appreciate such clarity, the compression into few words. “she invited me to fight.” The poem handles emotions and situations deftly, has us rooting for the narrator straight through, while shaking our heads at the realness of it all.

“Surviving Background Checks,” by Matthew Feeney, confronts the difficulties and insanity of our criminal justice system. “I applied for a job in the prison library… but… What the heck am I gonna do for / a living on the outs?” “Felons can’t be teachers. / I have a teaching degree. // Felons can’t drive cabs… I drove a cab.” It’s a tale of all the things we prevent felons from doing, what little that leaves, how difficult going straight is, even for those who hope to.

Finally, “Inauguration Odet” by Jean Tucker made me smile, painfully. “You’re the snake’s pyjamas… and the Hyde in seek…. You’re what can never happen.” Clever lines, powerful ending.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

Rattle 63 – Spring 2019

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Feb 11 2019

 

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There are always so many tasty, resonant poems in Rattle Magazine. One poem I read over and over was C. Wade Bentley’s “Recalculating.” What a wonderful title, taking a word come into our consciousness these days and using it to explore larger ideas. “So Google Maps has me somewhere west of Evanston,” it starts. Quickly, it turns out, a journey to help his daughter, who is in some trouble. Not just with her car. “an excuse to get caught up / on her life and the status of her sobriety.” Easing into the big issues casually. The poem becomes a meditation on his relationship with his daughter overall, his status as father, as friend, letting go, not trying to interfere, all those parent things. I like that ‘get caught up,’ the use of colloquial language, the ear for how people actually speak. It is not quite stream of consciousness, but many ancillary images pour in the sides of the poem: “a brace / of pronghorns racing me along the fence line,” to remind us he is searching for his daughter in a real world, not just in thoughts and dreams. She needs his help. A stirring poem.

I like the working class flavor of Jesse Bertron’s “Arc,” also a poem about a father. “My dad worked the trades for fifteen years. / He learned… that nails measure in pennies by their length.” We get a great sense of who he was, and how the family interacted. “we all asked him to be better than he was. // It doesn’t work like that.” Such wisdom in a plain package. And a nice easing-out ending.

I haven’t often brought up my old habit of mentioning my favorite poem in an issue, but here it just might be “The Book of Fly,” by John Philip Johnson. “1:1 / Feeding on the living is good, / but feeding on the dead is better” Oh, we immediately get the gleeful sense, this poem is going to be fun in a evil way! And yes, yes it is. Each stanza is numbered in the above way, and the ending fits as perfectly as Barry Bonds’ batting glove.

Loved Linnea Nelson’s “Counting to Twelve at Willamette Park.” “first what i notice / is predictable / the water…” and we are at the park, looking around, listing what catches our eye, what matters. Oh, but as the list goes on we discover we are not at the park, we are actually meditating, and the park is only the image we (the narrator, that is) are centering on. “i am still / clueless about how / to meditate well.” The universal experience of meditating, I think. By the end, we may be back in the park, we certainly went unexpected places. A great poem-in-the-moment experience.

Okay wait, wait maybe Katherine Barrett Swett’s poem, “City of Refuge” should win the best poem of the issue argument (I am remembering why I don’t list that anymore). It’s a brilliant sonnet. “I dream we’re exiled to a distant land.” There is a reason by the end of this poem why being in a dream is a cushion, gives a certain distance, becomes essential. “for in the waking world we hesitate.” A touching poem.

Finally, Stephen Harvey also brings a sonnet, the amusing “Petrarch Looks for Laura at Holiday World.” “High noon and ninety-nine in Santa Claus / Indiana.” Well, there is a Santa Claus in Santa Claus, and the narrator has to tease him. “Ho-ho-ho-ly sh*t it’s hot!… he’s not / amused.”

Great issue.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

Nimrod International Journal – Winter 2018

The New Yorker – Feb 11 2019

Convergence Online Journal – Winter 2018

 

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There is so much poetry in Nimrod every issue, it’s like bathing in words. This is the Awards issue, and I love the first poem by the winner: “Dry Season,” by Emma DePanise. “In the swamp, bald cypress roots globe / like curved fingers learning to play / piano” Having seen cypress in a swamp, I know exactly what she means, and the metaphor makes me eager to learn which way she will jump. “We scour the green… hoping to see our first / gator.” So, tourists? But instantly there is a recasting of this idea: “How, after a diagnosis, / there is a searching, a cataloging / of bruises.” There are so many resonances already early in this poem. A hurting narrator, a quiet spot in nature, but danger lurks under the water. A moving juxtaposition of images. “How after, Dad tells her / to put Ovaltine in her milk…” We want comfort, but things must change, now. Things have already changed and we must adjust. A wonderful poem, deep and thoughtful and sorrowful.

Another wonderful poem, deeper in the issue, is “If I Say My Body Is Grieving,” by Susan Nguyen. “Is it American or Vietnamese? … My father said: In our language, the same word means green and blue, xanh” A sort of dialogue between two traditions. “My mother said: Don’t translate me / My grandmother said: Don’t speak lest your tongue rush like a river” We feel the narrator trying to absorb it all, make sense of who she is in this world, find her own place. Very powerful, and much to think about.

Caroline Berblinger gives us, “Interviewing My Grandfather / Lincoln County Kansas (1938).” “I was seven or eight… when the rural electrification admin / came to our town.” The narrator lays out the anticipation of the family. “They wired our house in a day. My father sent / us out into the night.” We await alongside the family for the moment the lights turn on in their house, watching from the cornfield. “My father stood at the door, all the lights on / illuminating his body.” Almost a religious experience. Very moving.

Josephine Yu has a poem, “Dog With Cataracts,” that exposes the ambivalence, the lack we can all feel inside that may lead us to tiny cruelties, needing our own redemption. “Tonight I leave the kitchen light on… so she can see her water bowl — small apology for when I crossed the park today to wait in shade.” What the narrator does, such a small thing, we can imagine anyone doing, as much out of hesitance as cruelty. It’s a simple poem in words, but raises all sorts of deep resonances and regrets; a rueful recognition.

Finally, Kelly Michels presents us with “What I Mean When I Say He Went Peacefully,” which starts, “When I say there was no pain, what I really mean is:” The narrator tries to unpack and decode so many feelings and impulses at the dying of a grandfather. It’s not a gentle poem. “the day I saw him cry, the day a drug dealer left / a death threat on his answering machine.” And oh, suddenly this poem isn’t really about the grandfather directly, or entirely, but instead confronts the ambivalence and troubles when one has a drug addict in the family, the dealing with thefts, and dependence, lies, the pain, the cost to everyone. Such a beautiful, sad poem.

So many of these poets actually have multiple poems in this issue, which gives the reader a chance to see various sides of the authors. Very nice.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

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

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Feb 11 2019

Convergence Online Journal – Winter 2018

Missouri Review – Fall, 2018

 

 

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“My Father In English,” by Richard Blanco, is a beautiful homage to the narrator’s father, who came to the U.S. from Cuba. “First half of his life lived in Spanish: the long syntax / of montanas that lined his village…” What a wonderful idea, and Blanco works it splendidly. “the second half… in English — the vernacular of New York City sleet, neon, glass.” I love those nouns one two three, punch punch punch, presenting such a contrast to his Cuban life. The narrator then focuses on his father’s favorite English word, indeed, and what that word might have meant to him. “the man who died without true translation.” A sweet, powerful poem.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths has the other poetry slot in this mag, which she fills with “Heart Of Darkness.” “Years ago I went to Noho Star / with some poets & Cecil Taylor… Cecil died yesterday. I walked / to Union Square and watched black / men play chess.” I love the enjambment there. Black what? We have to wait that extra half moment to learn. Think of how the possibilities open up there, the challenge the poet accepts: ‘can you fill this beautifully?’ and then she surprises us as she does, doing something we all might do when mourning someone, walking, taking in the world. Very much a yes. “a face so musical / I could hear the notes blunting / & banging.” It is a precious thing to know someone who can encompass, become the apotheosis of an entire art form. There is so much beauty and loss in this poem. “I remembered / later when we stood on the sidewalk, / sugar & poetry.” He is sugar, she poetry? So many ways to read that line. A moving, important poem.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the way love builds through time, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Convergence Online Journal – Winter 2018

Missouri Review – Fall, 2018

The New Yorker – July 23, 18

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