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Posts Tagged ‘P M F Johnson’


Gabrielle Calvocoressi has a real challenger in this issue. “Mayflower Cistern I Feel My Pilgrim Worry” starts out: “All day long I feel my pilgrim / worry. Crude and unforgiving / as the buckle on my boots.” Certainly a opening to get your attention. Her pilgrim does not seem to be a particularly nice, nor lovable person, I must say, starting out his/her town by building a fence, a pillory and a scaffold. There are strange lines in here to keep us guessing: “I hurl / my brittle body at the pines.” Not an image I can quite picture, though. Lot of undirected rage. “…my heart. Which I hate / for its hopeful sounding.” Calvocoressi definitely could hear the voice of her narrator here, clearly and powerfully. But at the end, ya feel like telling the guy, ‘Hey, lighten up. In a couple hundred years around here, it’ll be a lot better.’ A poem I went back to a few times, to chew over the ideas.

The other poem is by Robert Pinsky, “Repetition.” “Writer, blighter fighter — what do you want? / I want to repeat myself.” This is not quite a villanelle, as we revisit thoughts, lines, and sounds (as above). But often, what we revisit has already changed. The Chorus of the Many becomes The Chorus of the Money (I love that). The mixed chorus on every page becomes the mixed chorus on the cover and every page. And the meaning/purpose of all this? The poem does turn off from a list of repetitive desires with this line: “The prophecy says you turn your back on the ocean…” From there, hauling your oar inland to where folks have never seen an oar before. Does this mean the narrator wants only something new? Some peace? It’s a poem that leaves the reader with various such questions.

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There are so many good poems in this issue. The “Anxiety Monster” series of poems by Emilie Lindemann made me think. In “Anxiety Monster 8,” we get “there is nothing but body. / seaweed-sponge surface / the kicky legs.” Many images that make you stop and think. Why does this make the narrator anxious? Just watching her children swim, maybe? Or, in 12, “But even wheelbarrows of thistles / can’t cover her up (not for keeps…)” So engaging. In 14: “…you trail a kick-line of women…” I very much enjoyed revisiting these little poems.

The danger of reviewing such short poems (Hummingbird is “The Magazine of the Short Poem,” after all) is that many wonderful poems cannot be quoted to show their beauty, as that would pretty much reveal the whole work. But let me mention “Circle Ceremony at the Highground,” by Jane-Marie Bahr. It shows us an awkward moment, a touching act of kindness and respect despite a tongue-tied instant. All in 5 lines.

Jane Vincent Taylor’s “The Woman Who Makes More of Everything.” “I say I’m tired of this shade of red. / She says that color used to sing / at night.” This poem reveals a beautiful, touching moment. Spare and elegant.

Chet Corey gives us “Field Note,” an observation about birds any one of us could have made, but he is the one who did. And we can only say ‘yes, that’s true, you are right. Thank you for pointing that out.’ How fun.

Hummingbird wants to challenge and stretch the form of poetry, and the poem of Kim Kayne Shaver, “Thirty Minute Backyard Rensaku” does so as presented. Rensaku are a series of haiku that contemplate a single subject from different angles. The fun thing about these three haiku is they may be four haiku instead. The middle poem is divided down the middle by the page break; so the reader does not know whether to read the words as two haiku, one on the left page and one on the right, or as one haiku stretching across the pages. Joining two spaces. I choose to believe it must be read both ways at once, a Shrodinger’s cat of a haiku. One is left not knowing if the poet intended this, the editor intended this, or they collaborated. One is left with a happy uncertainty, and a sense of incompleteness, that fits with the aesthetic of haiku nicely.

The juxtaposition of Frederick Wilbur’s “Autumn Leaf,” and Joan Halpin’s “First Week of Spring,” seems so exact and correct. From his “At the verge of the darkened forest,” to her “beneath the heavy sky / I teeter around pools of / slush.” Just wonderful to read them one after the other, back and forth.

And there are many other good poems (Bruce Ross’ two haiku) in here. Definitely worth picking up and enjoying.

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 60 – Summer 2018

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

The Nation – Apr 9 2018

 

 

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Let me start with “Elemental Intelligence,” by Conrad Geller. “What interests me… is how a raindrop / nibbles down the windowpane…” Just the precisely correct word, ‘nibbles.’ Such a drop does seem alive, hesitating and darting as it moves. “contemplating when to make / the next, best move, then coursing… in seeming triumph.” And the poem has us consider what makes something alive. What patterns do we share with the inanimate world? Or not inanimate exactly, for there is life in such a drop. I love poems that arrest me, make me think about the world in a new way.

Maybe the most original and creative poem in the issue is by Caroline N. Simpson. “Choose Your Own Adventure: The Galapagos Mating Dance.” “You are a single woman, about to embark upon your most challenging and dangerous mission.” The header explains what ‘you’ are to do — discover a useful mating ritual. Then it’s on to Chapter One: “You are a blue-footed booby. / A male approaches you… He offers you twigs and grasses.” The tone is so fun, the parallels with human rituals so apt. There are several chapters in this long poem, each describing the rituals of a different creature, with many laughs, but often rueful ones. There is such a loneliness underneath — they say true humor arises from the truth, and that is true here. Ms. Simpson is very much an ecologist of the heart. As the Chapters unfold, the reader is allowed at points to choose to move to a different section, depending on whether this current ritual appeals or not. What a genius structure. And the ending Chapter, Seven, has a most satisfactory conclusion. A poem worth hunting down this issue for.

Anne Starling has a moving poem, “Compassionate Friends.” “Almost immediately, we feel / we are too advanced for this group / of grieving parents, his father and I;” What a brilliant use of tone. Bringing the attitude of competition to a grief group. Shocking the reader with the commonality, and the recognition that we, too, have had such inappropriate reactions in gatherings. And then the buried pain buried with this approach, that we are there for grief as well. But we deflect notice from that. We do not ourselves work on that. And yet we are still going to such a group. We still need it. We don’t know how to participate in a straight manner, using this sort of sideways superiority as our defense mechanism. Wow. All that delivered in three lines. But the narrator does rally, is able to speak of her child, is able to touch her grief, for a moment anyway.  Just a first-water effort, all around.

The theme for this issue is Athlete Poets, and there are intriguing poems in this section of the magazine. My favorite here might be “Strangers,” by Lazlo Slomovits. “A man is running hard / to catch the bus that just left… the driver… stops // and opens the accordion door.” So it starts, and yes, we see the man as an athlete. But as the poem unfolds we rethink that into athlete in service of: “…the man does not get on– // he points back to an old woman / who has not run a step // in a very long time.” We are witnessing an act of kindness. “…then walks back slowly / still breathing hard // toward us…” The moment hangs suspended. “What can a group of strangers / do at a time like this?” It is a question gratifyingly answered, and a poem of unity of strangers with each other. Bravo.

The last poem I will discuss is by Stephen Dunn, who is the poet interviewed in this issue as well. (A marvelous interview.) The poem is “Little Pretty Things.” “As insects go, lacewings seem to have nothing…” Well, that’s an intriguing start, fun and challenging. And it quickly develops: “I imagine they envy / wasps…” And deepens: “…lacewings have nothing to do but be beautiful, / and so are dangerous.” Now we are in human territory. “I’ve known a few / of their human counterparts, and… have forgiven a meanness.” The parallels are enlightening, and disturbing. A great use of metaphor, a thought-provoking poem.

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:

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

The Nation – Apr 9 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

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I got this issue of Blue Collar Review a little late and I’m a bit tardy on getting to the review. But here we go. I like the incantatory aspects of the poem, “Lament of the Shade Tree Mechanic,” by T.K. O’Rourke, which opens this issue. “These hands are not hammers but craftsman’s hands / meant to hold a knife or file…” It’s a meditative poem about hands, very grounded in the specific. “…meant to move across the face of rock… for splicing lines on sailboats.” A worthy poem, with a proper ending.

I like Adele Gardner’s “Grip,” a story-poem about a construction worker, working high steel. “I never got to thank him, this man perched / on the end of a girder.” It tells a story of loss, despair, and support, with the danger of such work constantly looming. “High steel work isn’t for everyone.” Though the poem is long, to give away more I feel is to give away too much. It’s a good read, worth looking up.

This is Blue Collar Review, so there are plenty of tales of a hardscrabble life. Such is “Better Buy Blue Bell,” by David Gross. “My father worked there when he was a kid, / shaking hides of cattle, some already maggoty.” Tough bosses, unions and strikes, such is the life in this world. “a greasy union boss brought back / their final offer — fifty cents.” And such stories often have a tough ending, as does this one. A solid poem.

I liked Joan Colby’s “New Year’s Eve.” “It’s midnight, New Year’s Eve / So on our road all the neighbors / Are shooting.” I first ran into this tradition many years ago in Santa Fe, and it is startling to hear. “They celebrate the curve / Beyond the solstice with / A barrage of bullets.” Great language in a taut poem.

#MeToo has its place here. Sarah M. Lewis gives us “Memo To Men.” “You don’t own women. // You don’t punish women / if they don’t like what you do.” A stark, blunt piece.

There are just a lot of really good poems in this issue. But the last one I’ll mention is “The Power of Peace,” by Bernard M. Jackson. “Not from the crank / who would pose with a tank / to further his future career…” it starts. The rhyme scheme gives it a lilt and a catchiness that rewards the reader. It is a poem of hope, as many are in this issue, and I’m glad to see that. “Only in time, by the people who rhyme, / will a moral be found for the story…” A fine work of art.

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 Nation – Apr 9 2018

Convergence Online Journal – Spring 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

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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

Apple Valley Review – Spring 18

The New Yorker – Apr 2 2018

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Magazines like this represent a deep dive into the U.S. poetry scene. Hundreds, if not thousands of poets speak out in the small press, a groundswell of metaphor and insight. Many of these poets will burst out into wider view soon, if history is prologue. ;->

Laurie Sewall’s contribution to The Cape Rock is “The Last Temples Left,” which starts, “My soul appeared to me as a giant — legs long / as the Hudson… I wasn’t ready / for this.” Great fun. A poem about things lost, things altered, with an amused voice.

Paula Brancato muses about all the stuff her ex-boyfriends have left behind, in “The Ex-Boyfriend Drawer.” “a man’s tie behind my sofa… a man’s belt under my bed.” She is bemused by where all these things show up, how they got there, and what is to be done with them. “It’s not like I can call each man / and ask, ‘did you lose a tie…'” In the end, she does find a happy resolution.

Suzanne O’Connell has great fun in “Nude Descending A Staircase Without Laundry.” “I wish he would wait, / just once, / at the bottom landing. / I’d glide down the stairs… No squirmy infant under my arm.” Ah, the jarring dissonance between romance and reality! “I would take my time, / head held high.” A joyful work.

In “The Beavers At Rehab,” Nathan Graziano explores the power of distraction to help us weather tough times. “the counselors led us / down a hiking path…to observe / the night work the beavers did.” A poem of careful observation and epiphany, as the narrator comes to correlate the tedious work the beavers were doing with the work he has to do himself, and the lessons he can learn. “…those beavers / didn’t need booze to build their goddam dams.” Once again, this poem ends with a laugh, always a good way to finish.

Finally, Adria Klinger gives us a plain-spoken poem about a tough moment, with “Spring And Cancer.” “OMG, it’s Spring again, / and I’m losing my hair from chemo.” We root for the narrator, and wish her well, empathizing with her situation. “I shed hair and cells… until all is laid bare.” A poem of hope and openness.

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:

Apple Valley Review – Spring 18

The New Yorker – Apr 2 2018

Convergence – Winter 2017

 

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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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