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Posts Tagged ‘P M F Johnson’


I am captivated by the concept that underlies Holly Day’s “My Safety Net,” which opens this issue. “…if I pretend I am a machine, I can stay calm, I am // just a washing machine humming to myself…” So real, so personal. No idea if it’s true, it doesn’t matter. It says so much about human interaction, about the desire to connect, the fear and shyness that can raise, all done in a quick, short poem. Brava!

Reese Conner writes “Bring Flowers to What You Love,” which starts, “I am aggressive tonight. Bring flowers / to the cemetery.” And indeed this is an aggressive, jagged poem, taking sudden corners, hurt and hurting. “Let’s dance on the graves of men… bearing the funniest names.” But this is not a poem of limited palette: “no one will know / how to hug when it matters.” Both of those lines show a sly use of enjambment to surprise us, throw us off track. Very much a smiling through the pain poem; one is left with compassion and sorrow.

Paul Bone’s “Recurrences” uses the trick of repetition to hint at the subject of his poem. “It is the one in which my kids are gone… It is the one in which my ex-wife is / my now-wife and my now-wife never was.” My answer to the riddle is recurring dreams, but of course it’s more complicated than that. There is a progression of characters and place, from stanza to stanza. “…my son is lost / but there is no one to help in all of Tokyo.” The narrator morphs into Everyman, and reading along, we become all of these refugees, these children, these seekers, lost and helpless. A complex, beautiful work.

Catherine Swanson does a great unwinding of a poem, “It Will Be As If We Never,” and indeed, the poem is about erasing things. “First, I’ll take my footsteps / from the dirt.” Stones will skip backwards / to the shore.” We start with external, physical items, but of course the narrator soon turns to memories, and actions. “I’ll reclaim my breathless phone calls… you’ll think / you hear knocking… but no one / will be there.” So it’s about the ending of a relationship, which as we understand that, feels just exactly right. Fiendishly clever ideas, worked out one after the other, with a satisfying final line.

And finally, Brandon Hansen gives us “When We Saw Coyotes,” which starts, “They blitzed the path, pumped / their strung-out legs.” Great image for me, because there is a sense of the junkie about coyotes, though I never identified it before this poem. Another spiky, dangerous-feeling poem. The coyotes find a fawn and attack it. And in so doing, give the location itself an emotional presence. “we hate it there, / that grove where we go / to burn pictures of ex-boyfriends…” Our actions correlate to those of the animals, we even identify with them. “we get it… we are all hungry.” A shivery poem, indeed.

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:

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I very much enjoyed the poem, “Intervention,” by Holly Day, in the Fall issue of Convergence. “I dream / of running away and joining / a cult,” it starts, and this half-yearning, half tongue-in-cheek attitude persists. It’s a delicate balance, but that ambiguity makes the poem human somehow, gives us the shock of recognition: yes, if it were only that easy. “I can lose myself completely in / fake religion…kissing snakes…found on the stoop of kind / missionaries.” There is something almost wistful here (though a bit subversive as well, as you can tell by that last line), and definitely worth revisiting.

Since this is an online journal, I can include a link to the relevant page.
http://www.convergence-journal.com/fall17/p2.html

The next poem, “Mama Doesn’t Go To Church Anymore,” by Erren Geraud Kelly, continues that sense of alienation, of things not being as they should be. “Fascism covers the world like an eclipse…” the poet states, and we worry that it’s true. This is a villanelle, and the form, continually bending back upon itself, gives us a trapped feeling, a sense that we cannot get away. “The economy, like a concerto, rises and dips / People are looking for a rainbow at the end of the road…” A deft use of language here, in this crafty poem.

We get a frisson of recognition in “Hotel Room,” by Erica Goss: “The bed is always center, / and it’s never dark enough. / Dry cold whispers / from the air conditioner.” To have spent a night in any hotel room is to connect with this poem. And in beautiful language, the poet explores those resonances, even giving dispensation for our universal failings: “Go ahead / and take… the soap, / the little bottle of lotion. / They are charms against / anonymity.”
http://www.convergence-journal.com/fall17/p3.html

In “The Stair-Counting Poem,” by Arthur Russell, he examines a gap in reality, trying to make sense of it. “The number of stairs between the first floor and the landing has changed. It was ten, / now it’s nine.” The narrator searches for confirmation of his memory, finds it in a photograph. “There’s a photo with your / daughter and three girlfriends sitting on the stairs.” But to know a truth, is not necessarily to understand it. “You will go into the living room and count again. Nine. You count the stairs in the photo. / Ten.” It’s just a fact, indigestible. A great trick, to reveal without trying to explain. It gives the poem power.

And finally, “Tarantella,” by Viola Weinberg, is a fun poem, in a creepy kind of way. It probably helps to know that tarantella is a dance, named after the movements of a tarantula. But you knew that. ;-> “A black velveteen river of tarantulas / coming down El Valle Grande…cracking on our tires like eggs…Flying up the vents and smacking / the little metal doors, dear God…” Makes me smile just to go back over this poem. I know I’m glad I wasn’t on that little drive, where the riders get ever-more freaked out by the flood of spiders, destroying them, fleeing them, not understanding, just wanting to survive, to have the horrible dance end. A marvelous 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:

Apple Valley Review – Fall 2017

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The latest issue of The Apple Valley Review opens with “Nova,” a poem by Grant Clauser. “This car’s still good, / I tell the mechanic. / Please do what you can.” A lyrical poem, relying on the narrator’s nostalgia to draw us in. It stays grounded in observed detail all the way through: “snowflakes filled every / space in my vision.” The greatest power comes in the last lines, as the storyteller reflects how the old car figured in his romance, two characters trying to keep a necessary object running.

“Sunken Town,” by P. Ivan Young, is a long, complex poem, about a community lost under water when the dam on Lake Murray was built in 1930 (according to a note to the poem). “when water builds behind the dam / and the last chimney tops slip / beneath the surface like mythical beasts…” There’s a wonderful sense of language here, of images revisited, of people imagined. The narrator scuba dives to the lake, looks through the old houses, reflects on who may have lived there. “A woman lies back in a tub… There are fish, bright colored fish / she knows don’t belong.” The last sentence of each stanza is repeated, or reworked, somehow revisited in the first line of each next stanza, and this gives a sweep and movement to the tale, a sense of how we are all connected to what was lost, long ago. A very satisfying poem.

“In Lisbon,” a poem by Milla van der Have, stanza after stanza explains what we encounter there: “They keen for ships, I suppose / that are always docked beyond.” and “The houses have souls… that peer into the street…” and “Things fall apart. It’s simple…the sea loses its wine-dark despondency /
in the arms of the river.” With each new facet explored, the city becomes deeper and more interesting. But Ms. van der Have explores further than simple images, building her poem on myth, and the divine, as well: ” the gods are assembled in a garden… They don’t care for fate anymore.” What an intriguing line. And she ties it all together with a fun metaphor in the last line.

Finally, let me mention “What We Learned / At Boy Scout / Summer Camp, Southern Utah, 1982” by Floyd Cheung. The title is almost as long as the poem, but the spare power of the words in the work made me want to go back and meditate on this poem. It’s fun more than portentous, but there is an underlying eeriness that gives it depth. And the last couple lines are perfect.

Since The Apple Valley Review is an on-line magazine, you can look over the poems yourself, here. Enjoy!

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 Magazine – Fall 17

Blue Collar Review – Spring 17

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

 

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This magazine restores my faith in poetry (actually, several magazines do, but this one especially today). Here are powerful poems that do not intend to slip and dodge their own challenges like some aging boxer against younger competition. These are poems that say, ‘here I am, this is what I am doing,’ with nowhere to hide. And of course it helps that they are good!

The issue starts with Joseph A. Chelius poem, “Stockboy.” “sent like a shepherd / after a herd of carts…strayed / from the pasture of the parking lot.” Now I’ve been a stockboy, and corralling carts is exactly what that part of the job feels like. Unsung cowboy, and all that. But what I really like about this poem is its wry humor. “To have the honor of going out again in his zippered fleece…” I love humor in poetry, when well-done with a deeper meaning, beyond simple verse, and I want to cheer it on here. “…empty boxes of Contadina tomato paste…So lucky for him.” Fun, and a little bit wistful.

The delivery of emotion matters to these poets. Heather Finnegan gives us, “When I Run An Art Museum I  Will Feature / Every Artist I’ve Ever Slept With.” It’s bawdy, it’s funny, and there’s an underlying toughness, an underlying tear or two. “When I run an art museum, whoever calls me slut / will not be standing by the nightstand.” “I know the woman in the red / sweater will probably say, I just don’t understand…” Well, the enlightenment is a bit shocking and disconcerting, that’s for sure.

These are poems we can relate to, they speak to our shared experiences. In “Rambler,” Donna Hilbert meditates on a first car. “the color of dirt / and stick-shift to boot, / but cheap.” And a great tone. “‘It’s transportation,’ said / the husband.”

Michael Sears, on the other hand, gives us a very sad poem, “My Mother And I Beat A Dog.” “There was something my mother and I hated in that dog.” The power of this poem comes from its irony, juxtaposing comments like that with the story of the narrator’s babysitter, Maggie, who is murdered. A sort of we-are-our-own-enemy reflection. Something deeply disturbing hides here, a helplessness in the face of evil. The narrator’s family go to see Maggie’s family after the funeral. “Eventually, during one of those silences, Maggie’s father began to speak about her.” Grief flows through this poem, for the dog, for the girl, for us all, but it is partnered with fear.

There is a section of Rust Belt poets in this issue. I love the grittiness of the poems. They show a world where things matter. People are fighting to improve, though often it’s more of a rear-guard action.

In “This Should Be A Good Poem,” Steve Abbott’s narrator is a poet who never quite fits in. “I’d never heard of a fire tornado until a late summer newscast…My wife looked up. Said, ‘That would make a good poem.'” But it’s everyone around the narrator who lives on a different wavelength; over and over, they catch a bit of news and tell the narrator that would make a good poem. “Most…are normal people, largely immune to poetry / except as a courtesy to me.” Such a wonderful idea, deftly handled. In the poet not fitting in his world, somehow, it helps us fit better into ours.

Let me mention “New Fruit Humming,” by Cameron Barnett. This is a relationship poem, and again, the poet’s ear for subtleties is what makes it so good. “I’m here to say sorry. / Because you definitely said splotchy.” Now, is the narrator really thinking their partner said something else, and is saying this to make peace? Is this perhaps admitting wrongdoing, or is there a passive-aggressive element underneath? The ambiguity of tone whirls us along. “Because I was wrong to believe you were afraid / of anything.” Then in unwrapping that statement, the depth of the poem staggers us. They have broken up? Lies ruined their life? There is a final revelation, that opens up a world of grief.

I don’t have enough room to mention all the good poems. But George Bilgere gives us a wry “Pancake Dilemma,” Eric Chiles does a wonderful villanelle about registering for Medicare in “Medi-Maze,” Todd Davis nails the carelessness of teenagers in “Cracks,” (How many meanings can that title have?) and Kelsey Hagarman documents an awkward parental moment in “The Visit.” Every poem has an irony, or a sadness, or some other sharp point-of-view. There are no poems that confuse the heck out of us hoping we’ll be impressed by the muddle. I’m going to be glad to read more of this magazine.

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 – Spring 17

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The more I review poetry magazines, the more I can see editors lead with what they consider their best poem. Makes sense. In this issue, that’s “Working the Register at K-Mart” by Zara Raab. “She angles just so her forceps / in the black threads that tangle / around the action DVDs.” Blue Collar poems show people at work, probably more so than all the other magazines I read put together. I like how the word order highlights the meaning… the ‘just so’ in a spot not exactly unnatural, but considered. It’s an ode to a retail clerk, and its language is plainspoken. “coughing up the phlegm / of a last cigarette.” But it’s tender, too. “enclosed in what I might call love.” A wonderful, quiet poem.

Scott Blackwell gives us “Footnote,” continuing a theme of poems about the retail experience. “I run into this small grocery store… to make an excellent soul food feast tonight…rice, greens, yeah.” These poems bathe in the specific. “is it only / my own surly glum and boredom?” A nice play of words, as well. The focus of this poem is the resonance between today and previous times, though, as presented in an old photograph. “I walk past the large blow-up / of an old black and white photograph, circa 1930.” The narrator feels history alive today: “I feel somehow that we here… are already up there on that wall.” A nice elegy of days gone by, we might think, except the shared experience is more how difficult life was then, and still is. A grounded poem, and all the more powerful for that.

In “Hear the Wind Blow,” Krikor Der Hohannesian riffs on the ecological effects of the steel industry. “1953, westbound from Boston…we hadn’t yet reached Gary but / you could smell it for miles out…” I remember driving past Gary back in the day, with its hovering plumes of pink and green and brown smog. It was a ghastly stench. “the sickly sweet / of sulfur and God knows what else.” But the narrator gets closer to the action than I ever did. “the blast furnaces / aroar with white-hot heat…the Bessemer converters / ridding pig iron of impurities.” Such attention to detail gives the poem great effectiveness. The poem is dedicated to John Beecher, an activist poet who worked in the steel industry, and that plays in at the turn. “I think of Beecher, his poems…who knew good steel by the look of it.” And it concludes with a encapsulation of Beecher’s life, a shout-out to the struggle of labor against overlords.

Paired with that poem is the next, “Smelter Shelter,” by Neal Wilgus. “I was probably eight or nine / when I began to understand… the smoke was down / and we had to stay inside.” It is interesting to consider how often blue-collar labor and environmental degradation went hand-in-hand, and how the hardest costs were so often borne by the workers and their families. “the thick cloud / of sulfur dioxide…from the copper smelter.” A poem to make you think.

Gil Fagiani wrote “Don Antonio,” about how the travails of labor carry on from generation to generation. “Don Antonio sits on a bench…He talks about working in a fireworks factory.” It is rough work. “Sometimes the ball overheated / and Don Antonio… asked if it was OK / shut shut down the machine / to…cool off…the boss always shook his head no.” And the cost? “workers with their clothes on fire…their skin melted.” The heartbreaking part of this poem isn’t just the cost to him and his coworkers, but that his daughter has gone to work in the same factory, and faces the same unimproved dangers.

Finally, roibeard gives us “Sticks & Stones,” which is a mix of fun and grim. “Friday night, / a skeleton is arrested for quietly protesting.” Seems the skeleton has a social conscience, but knows his rights. “He’s…vigorously exercising his right to remain silent.” Not that it helps. “everyone can identify him.” Using humor to advance the cause is an old-time tactic, of course, but nevertheless doesn’t grow old.

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, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ and at other fine e-retailers.

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The first poem in the issue, “Privilege,” by Elly Bookman, seems to discuss white privilege, but indirectly. “Into this sky which has / more airplanes… (I) see half a dozen / small whitenesses passing / like tired stars.” Is the narrator a lifeguard? An observer? We have to hunt for clues. “I watch them instead of…the woman… in an oversized T-shirt that clings / to her body like slime…” There are a number of arresting images like that, giving the poem power. It’s hard not to read this as allegory, with white people being the tired stars, the introduced child with some protections and some distant dangers, and so on. But it is kind of fun to solve the poem as such a puzzle, and there is a depth that rewards close reading: “planes fly / low and heavy…practicing war.”

The other poem is by Bob Hicok, “Origin Story.” It starts, “Metal shavings on the bottom / of his wingtips, my father / would come home in the dark…” A poem about a boy admiring his father, missing his father, doing what he can to make his father’s life a little easier. His father works hard for the family, leaving in the dark in the morning, even. Then there’s a shock of a turn: “My father the vampire. / My father the bank.” Wow. Summing up the boy’s resentments and small selfishness as slick as that. His father evidently worked in the auto industry. The boy’s mixed feelings about that continue through the poem. “…which is how I got addicted to wind…became a bird… who rejected gravity, steel, middle management.” It’s the jostle of images placed one beside the other that create the power and depth of this poem, give us a poignant tweak, and a feeling of sadness mixed with hope for the narrator, by the end.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is a sweet, rueful look at a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, as well as with other fine e-retailers.

Related Blogs:

Best After The Best

Convergence Online – Fall 2017

The Apple Valley Review – Fall 2017

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