Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Muldoon’


My favorite recent poem in the New Yorker is “African Grey,” by Benjamin Landry in the June 15 issue. “Listening to the wind when you / have gone…an African Grey…who at night speaks…in your voice” It’s a poem about loss and the little reminders of those who are gone. “One picks up constantly after / the departed.” Such a spooky image, the voice of a loved one only heard now in the intonations of a bird, who may or may not have any scrap of the shared awareness we long for. And the changes that come upon us after such great change. “I try to move carefully, now…” A great poem.

In the same issue, “The Lordly Hudson,” by Adam Fitzgerald uses the repetition of the word ‘replacement’ for an incantatory effect. Paul Muldoon (the editor) seems to like repetition in poems. “After my family died there was a replacement family.” There are also enough strange little constructs in here to keep the odd among us happy. “the replacement version // doesn’t really do much for my replacement brain’s / chronic synaptic degradation.” I especially like those last three words. As a minimalist poet, this sort of work is not my strong suit, but I can appreciate those who do it well. The ending of this poem seems especially tangential, but I liked it.

In the June 22 issue, “Poem in the Manner of William Wordsworth,” by David Lehman, also uses repetition. “I ran with the wind like a boy…when joy surrounded me like an ocean…thus was born my theory of joy.” The references to Wordsworth are not elusive: “a hill of high altitude…” “lonelier than a cloudless sky.” And having read Muldoon’s book, The End Of The Poem, this poem seems very much filled with what he likes — references to a canonical poet as examined from a different angle.

Finally, extending our discussion of repetition, Cecily Parks gives us “Morning Instructions for the Doctor’s Wife,” which again brings in much repetition of phrase: “Accept the window / that gives you glass, the dawn / that gives you the maple branch…” The reader pictures someone sitting at the window, awake all night, as dawn slowly returns the sun. Parks creates theses and then develops them: “Only at certain times / can the body be sexual. The doe…in the meadow / isn’t sexual. When surgeons split / the coughing man’s chest…his body wasn’t sexual.” Another technique here is the use of words with similar sounds in close juxtaposition. Split and scalpel here, Curtains and certain. It’s not quite rhyming, but it brings a unity of sound. Interesting techniques. This is a poem to mull over for me, yielding more upon more thought.”

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 21 17

The New Yorker – July 31 2017

Poetry Poetry

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


While I am convinced profundity in poetry can be obtained, or at least improved, mechanically, depth for depth’s sake seems of little interest to the powers-that-be who edit our flagship journals. For any office processing hundreds of thousands of poems a year, as the New Yorker must, a surprising and arresting beginning is easier to spot, while profundity takes mulling. Best to filter out first based on a level of surprise, then take profundity into account later, perhaps.

Take Terese Svoboda’s “Contrail” in the current issue. When a poet muses on contrails, what is the first image that comes to your mind? For that matter, what’s the first word? I’d guess Svoboda threw those initial images out, when they occurred to her, looking for something more shocking, original, intriguing. So she starts her poem, “Whereof fluff rushes,…” Now, I didn’t see that phrase coming, and doubtless neither did Paul Muldoon, the magazine’s editor. We can imagine his interest: okay, where’s she going with this? Here it is: “…muscles through, / pre-pendulous…” I especially love that pre-pendulous. It gets us thinking of movement, of development. We have all seen contrails slowly become pendulous in the sky, and we wonder how she is going to use that shared experience. She gives us: “about to come apart…like // stitching you soak in the rain.” Again, she is not developing the poem in any linear fashion we can expect, and yet she is making sense in hindsight. We have seen contrails come apart as well. Now, I argue that profundity comes from words and phrases that have multiple interpretations. Puns, to be blunt. And in a reference that comes late in this short poem, Svoboda brings in the Bible, directing us to back up and look for those places of multiple meaning in this work, for an extra metaphorical sense to clouds, for instance. The depth comes later, in other words. Then in the last line, she brings us up short one last time, with another phrase that revisits meanings. It’s a slick, professional-level poem that could serve as an example of what it takes to crack the top markets in American poetry these days.

Robert Pinsky, the poetry editor at Slate, is the recipient of many thousands of poems a year himself, and such an experience is going to inform his poetry as well. But his poem “Genesis According to George Segal” starts out less elliptically: “The Spirit brooded on the water…” A straightforward reference to the beginning of the Bible. In fact, his entire first stanza plays it straight. But fear not, in the middle of stanza two we veer off: “What was the Spirit waiting for? /An image of Its nature, a looking glass?” Quickly, Pinksy gets into the nitty-gritty of glass composition, and a series of elliptical references: “a tangle of bodies / made out of plaster, which plasterers call mud.” See the twist: had Pinsky just said ‘bodies made out of mud,’ we would lose interest, learning nothing new in a tired biblical reference. There’s no intrigue. The poem, for me, has a very delicate sense of balance, when to move the argument along, when to surprise with another factoid. The images generally (but not always) take a a biblical tack: “Men in a bread line…waiting / at the apportioning-place of daily bread.” This serves to tie the poem together, as do multiple references to particles, early and late, as does starting with water and dust and then referencing mud, returning to ‘clouds of dust,’ then ending, or nearly so, with a reference to “moist with life.” One could consider this poem a development of images in parallel, rather than a progression of logical argument. Again, I believe many such poems are finding homes in the top markets, simply because they are more interesting to editors who have seen so many poems that are nothing more than an extended metaphor, or a captured, lyrical moment. Honestly, I myself find it very tricky to write interesting poems with such requirements/structures. But it’s sure fun to try. ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Read Full Post »


A few posts ago I noted a Szymborska poem in the New Yorker that catalogued various things in her life. Well, evidently Paul Muldoon is on a bit of a kick, because in the March 10th issue, Jane Hirshfield weighs in with a very similar poem, “My Life Was The Size Of My Life” (which doubles as the first line). “Its rooms were room sized, / its soul was the size of a soul.” Fortunately for our sanity she starts mixing it up: “It wore socks, shirts, its own ears and nose.” All with a light-hearted tone: “I told my life I would like some time…to try seeing others.” Then it ends in a sexy way, keeping our interest right through. Reminds me of a Philip Glass song, subtle variations that bring you slowly along to somewhere else.

Gary J. Whitehead in the same issue gives us “Making Love In The Kitchen,” which compares love to cooking: “We do it with knives in hand…Hearts are made to be carved / out…” A solid effort.

Last week (Mar 17) we got “Manatee,” by John White. Don’t know his work, but I like this poem (my wife actually first called its subtlety to my attention). The narrator flies to Florida, evidently as a parent is passing away: “This is the way your life began to end…” “my memory / is not of you in a diaper gonged on morphine…but a manatee approaching the window…” It’s a powerful subsumation of that underwater feeling as a loved one passes, and our helplessness in the inevitability. “transfixed behind the cloudy glass”. A very powerful poem, and I admire all the resonance in that word gonged.

Then this week, John Ashbery gives us “East February” — “Out there the air is moist I /can tell…” — with his usual swoops and reversals: “Not expecting friends / that you don’t know yet are coming…” Going back over this one, I notice the shape of a sonnet hiding underneath it, and surely the last two lines are sonnet-esque — for those new to this blog, I try never to give away the ending, which is why I’m not quoting it here. I hope those interested will track the poem down, maybe even buy the mag. ;->

P.S. I worked my way through Paul Muldoon’s book, “The End Of The Poem.” As someone trying to crack The New Yorker, I think it’s an interesting book, and would recommend it to other folks in my position (okay, and to folks who just like linguistic detective stories). My takeaway is that Muldoon sees poets as being in an ongoing conversation with past poets. He discusses poems by various poets, discussing how they were, or may have been, in a dialectic with poems in THEIR past, and why he thinks so. It’s really not so much a historical treatise as a treasure hunt through the language. For instance, Yeats in using certain words in “All Soul’s Night” was responding to lines in “Ode To A Nightingale” by Keats.

Whether Muldoon is right or not in any given argument intrigues me less than the fact that he thinks this way. It’s like psyching out your teacher in college — if he thinks this way, then this is the sort of poem he might be interested in reading: a poem that derives atmosphere from a well-known poem, and uses words that riff off (though maybe don’t directly repeat from) that poem. Were I to try this (and I’m not saying I won’t) I would probably focus on poets he discusses in his book. Again, I won’t give you a list of names, because it seems fair to have you buy the book to give Mr. Muldoon the support. Anyway, the subtlety of how he thinks is beyond what I can convey here.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Read Full Post »


C.K. Williams is a poet I approach only on tip-toes, my hand on the throttle of the jet-pack. When he’s good, I find myself delighted. Otherwise, I’m somewhere out in orbit, blasting. I imagine this reaction doesn’t bother Mr. Williams too much. ;->

In this week’s New Yorker, he gives us “The Economy Rescued By My Mother Returning To Shop.” It commences: “I sleep as always these dark days aquiver I awake atremble…” So, it’s a comedy. The financial world is collapsing — fortunately, there is Dear Old Ma, spending us back from the brink. The many Latinate words give the whole work a faux weight, the archaic constructions add even more garrulous gravitas “with a vigilance keen and serene and hands entities sentient and shrewd cunningly separate / from her // evolved to analyze things’ intrinsic or better overlooked worth…” Note the internal rhyming as well. It all adds up to an amusing work — more evidence Paul Muldoon likes to hire his poetry funny.

The other poem this week was Maya Janson’s “Pushing The Dead Chevy.” “I’m trying to remember the name of the mountain / where the monkeys lived…” A riff on Chinese influences with a couple anyway references to Bob Dylan. “Dylan’s bootlegged sessions complete / with barking dog.” It’s not a straightforward poem: she shifts around a bit — e.g. the barking dog came on a Dylan demo of “Forever Young,” while the Queen Anne’s Lace that shows up later references his song “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go.” (An Awful Truth about your reviewer — I didn’t have to look either of those references up. Sad, but true!) The latter song seems more to the point, as the poem is in part about remembrances — “Whatever happened to…” is repeated a couple times. I kinda liked this poem though — the loose flow of images let my imagination wander a bit, and the ending has a cool enough image and metaphor to make the whole poem worth the price of entry.

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 – Oct 30 17

Convergence Online – Fall 2017

Today’s New Yorker

Read Full Post »


I’ve never played fantasy baseball, but wouldn’t it be a kick to join a Fantasy Poetry League? Competitors could draft a list of poets for a year, and then receive points based on appearances in each of a set series of magazines. A home run of 4 points might be, say, an appearance in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Poetry Magazine and…part of the hot stove discussion would be which magazines deserved 4 bases (points). The New Republic, maybe, Paris Review? Not more than a short handful. Hudson Review, Threepenny Review and Iowa Review might be triples — see all the editors I’m incensing right now? Cold day in a hot place before I sell to them after this blog! ;-> Does Nimrod deserve to be a double? Does Atlanta Review count for a single or a double? What of the honorable magazines with small press runs like Plainsongs? Do we define a single to include them? Or does any mag deserve a single? I would probably have a bottom end limit, but I don’t know where. Speculative magazines and haiku magazines have very good press runs, but maybe shouldn’t count as highly as smaller-press-run-but-more-competitive joints. Or maybe they should (it ain’t so easy to crack Asimov’s either). ;->

Obviously, one could not draft oneself, nor would selections from one’s own magazine count. So Paul Muldoon is doubly at a disadvantage there.

Wendell Berry would surely be a reasonably high draft choice. In the Fall Threepenny Review he has a poem, “From Sabbaths, 2013” talking of himself, perhaps, in the third person: “This is a poet of the river lands…where gravity gathers / the waters, the poisons…” An effective, interesting start. Or heck, maybe it’s a reworking of Dante: “His grazing animals look up / to watch in silence as he departs…without even / a path or any guidance…” A plain, straightforward poem that I like for the underwriting it contains. “…by luck or grace he will be given / another day to try again…”

Gaetan Brulotte has written a poem, “Directions for Use,” about which I’m sure many of us will immediately feel: ‘wait, I wrote that myself. Or something very similar.’ When a poet taps a well that essential and deep, where the reader gets such an immediate frisson, it’s a good thing: “Human being. All-purpose. Keep in a cool, dry place. Do / not freeze.” Well done!

Philip Levine has been hitting lots of triples and home runs recently. Here he bangs “Urban Myths” off the wall: “Slow learner though I am, it took me one night / to discover rain in New York City / is just like rain in Detroit.” He develops that theme, a comparison between the feel of the two cities: “as for midnight walks in the rain, in Detroit / they’re regarded as urban myths like dance halls…” There’s a lot of humor here. I certainly chuckled at the last line.

And, of course, the poet I would draft first, Kay Ryan. She gives us “Erasure.” “We just don’t / know…much about / the deep nature / of erasure.” As always, a great poem, with a lot to think about, and a twisted word at the end for fun.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Read Full Post »


So, this week in the New Yorker Dora Malech gives us “To The You Of Ten Years Ago, Now.” One thing I notice about New Yorker poems is they tend to approach themes differently (and often have different themes) than standard conventional poems (“the usual suspects”), and this work is no exception. A lot of internal rhymes here, “I know the difference between / arteries and ardor… a weak-kneed need…” Again Paul Muldoon has chosen a fun poem, something a general reader will “get” and enjoy. And only after we get much of the way through it do we see it IS a standard theme, in fact it’s a love poem — I’m starting to realize he has a weakness for such. As do I. “your body has a few ideas / so bright we might meet some night and render / a dark room light…” I like this poem very much.

The other poem from this week is “From The Canal,” by Matthew Dickman. I think this poem could serve as a primer for people who write nature poetry and want to crack the big time. It starts out in a non-linear fashion: “small fistfuls / of green lights hang / from your every / word” I like that last enjambment the best. But this is not, ultimately, a non-linear poem, it’s a poem about being down at the canal, just like it says, and we get lots of images therefrom: “The box turtles stack up one on top of the other…” and “The blue heron looks back one million years…” as though each image the poet saw at the canal becomes a jumping-off point for a very brief meditation, and because the images are all canal images it all hangs together in some crazy way. The ending is this way as well, only even more so.

Last week’s poems took a little more work for me to get into. “Beach Wedding,” by Simon Armitage, seems a relatively straightforward description of a certain spot on the beach. “Being… a stone’s throw from the pretty church / they often tumble out onto the beach…” there are slant rhymes galore here, and somehow Armitage mixes up the image of the wedding party with a beachcomber: “Each empty evening a figure arrives / in a shooting jacket and combat trousers.” It’s a solid poem, but only after chewing on it more do we see that the beach comber becomes the devil, and this is juxtaposed with the husband and wife discovering life after marriage is not perfect. So a poem about Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden, subtly done.

Lia Purpura gives us the poem, “Beginning,” also with a biblical theme: “In the beginning, / in the list of begats, / one begat / got forgot…” It presents this theme, it develops it, then it bounces off somewhere else entirely for its ending. Not a very long poem, not easily gotten into. Am I missing something and Muldoon chooses them like this for each week, biblical this week, love poetry next? I’ll have to keep an eye on that. He DOES like biblical themes, and rhymes, for those of you trying to appeal to his sensibilities… ;->

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

 

P.S. 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 21 17

Doubling Down New Yorker – June 15

Rattle Magazine – Fall 17

Read Full Post »


Back in the March 18 issue of the New Yorker, Gibbons Ruark presented us with a poem, “Lightness In Age,” that I am still trying to get my head around. “It means not having to muscle your bag / Onto the baggage rack…A girl your daughter’s age will do that for you.” A poem about the irony of getting old, then. The slight bitter flavor that comes, but the appreciation as well: “Those lightnesses are not to be taken lightly…” After the description of moments in the narrator’s life that define the narrator’s age, the poem turns to detailed images of birds — “the goldfinch feathering down at morning…” then ends with a consideration of the love the narrator has for his/her person. And it IS a poem of light touch, a love poem, nothin’ deep. Why did Muldoon choose this poem? It’s skilled, surely enough, and does a nice job of handling a moment hard to describe without getting klunky. Sometimes the editor just likes to include a simple, straightforward poem done very well, we’ve seen that before.

In the April 1 issue, Yusef Komunyakaa gives us “Night Gigging,” a poem about spearing frogs. “A silhouette lingers, cleaved from the kneeling man, / back to hunger & simple philosophy of the spheres…” Komunyakaa tends to go thoughtful about little moments like this, at least that’s my impression of his approach. It gives us something to chew over, to unwrap in the poem. “There’s a ghost poised between free will & the gig, / waiting for the song…” I like the images of this poem, and I like the ending. Can a sign of success in a poem be simply the willingness of the reader to linger on the language, after it’s done?

And the other poem in this issue is by Louise Gluck, “An Adventure,” almost a bookend poem with the one in The Threepenny Review I discussed a couple blogs ago. Like that one, this poem deals with end-of-life issues. “It came to me one night…that I had finished with those amorous adventures / to which I had long been a slave…” The second stanza develops this idea — “The next night brought the same thought, / this time concerning poetry…” The third stanza goes into the land of death and the dead. “Now I could hear them because my heart was still.” She rides into/through the land of death. “All around, the dead were cheering me on…As we had all been flesh together, // now we were mist.” Note the pun there. But it is all just a dream. She ends by waking from the vision, and in referring to a second person, the narrator’s love, we assume, wraps the poem up in a satisfying way. And the reader is left with…

Well, the direct confrontation with death gives the poem a weight and grandeur that’s rare these days. But the poem twists away from conclusion. From taking a stand. Are conclusions not to be a part of top-end American poetry anymore? Do editors feel they would be fools to buy such a work? Must today’s poems always wear their cloak of irony, be elusive, duck away from the ineffable? As though our whole culture still were terrified of meaning, of taking a stand? Of the grand failure?

For me, that unwillingness to go that last step, to lay out the fear that nothing is there on the other side of death, or the faith that something is…to grab for that melting sense of something more, a connection with us, with something, is a sad loss for poetry.

I want to shout out, what is poetry for, if not such moments? I want to argue, this unwillingness is a failure of courage.

Whether or no, Gluck refuses to go that last step in either of these poems, even at what seems the end of her life. Is that refusal one of the reasons she has done so well in today’s poetry environment, where more bold visionaries would be rejected? Is this unwillingness endemic to the many, many editors who do not seem to ever buy such work, from her or anyone else?

I do conclude this: unlike her other poem, this poem feels as though it had another step to take. In current American poetry, who may be willing to take it? No, let me say instead, who has the courage to publish a poem that did take it?

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

The New Yorker – Jan 22 2018

The New Yorker – Nov 20, 17

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »