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Posts Tagged ‘poetry commentary’


If you want to plumb the depths of American poetry, a great place to search is in the latest Rattle magazine. There’s so much good stuff in every issue.

Ariana Brown gives us “In Defense of Santana’s ‘Maria Maria’…” which starts, “when i heard the lyric, ‘growing up in spanish harlem,’ / i had no idea it was a real place.” An identity poem, the narrator working out her place in the world, finding the culture that speaks to her, the joy of discovering an artist to whom she matters. “the blackest track on supernatural.” I love poetry that exults, that celebrates, and there is such joy here. “whole islands and coasts of people with my hair & tongue.” and “this is as much about music as it is permission.” A moving poem.

Claudia Gary meditates on math, computers and love in her poem, “In Binary.” “001 / What brought them together were gifts without number, / but binary digits enticed them to stay.” You would think a binary poem might be set in iambic, but here it’s all anapests, a brilliant choice. It keeps the poem rollicking along, fun and sweet. “Of course people have only so many digits. / Removing their shoes would be gauche…”

Gotta love the poem by Richard Prins, “Bless Me Editor,” which starts, “For I have sinned. It has been six months since my last submission.” You can see where this is going, and Prins does not disappoint. Again, this is about fun. “Editor, I do not recall taking your name in vain…”

Natalie Solmer has a pantoum, always one of the trickiest forms. “What Did My Baby Daddy And I Do To Each Other In Past Lives?” begins, “a week after conception   I felt the sphere of cells / gnaw a notch   into the dead center of me.” A poem about being pregnant, awaiting a baby, with some interesting lines. “I could pretend   to condense him to a raindrop.”

Finally, let me talk about the Rattle Poetry Prize-winning poem, “Heard,” by Rayon Lennon. “I move out / Of my doc’s Cave-like office… I learned / I am dying.” He goes to share his news, share his life, with people in his life. “The sunny / Jamaican / Cashier who / Looks me /Dead in / The eye / And tells / Me love / Is not dead… I say / I learned / I am dying / And she laughs / And says good / One.” Such misunderstands and missed communications are at the heart of this poem. With his father, his stepbrother, even his mother. With his new perspective he sees how they, too, have gaps where they should have connections. An insightful, sad poem, very much worth the honor it has received.

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 – Summer 17

Hummingbird 27.2

Rattle Magazine – Fall 2017

 

 

 

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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

Rattle Magazine – Fall 17

Blue Collar Review – Spring 17

 

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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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Translation Issue of Poetry Magazine this month, and some marvelous work.  It’s always the temptation of course, when a translation is beautiful to give all credit to the original poet, and when it is muddled to place all blame on the translator.

Well, with Geoffrey Brock’s poem, “Alteration Finds,” we can discard that concern; he claims this poem of three parts is basically just inspired by the originals, rather than direct translations of them.  And I do admire the result.  “What I was wondering: why you yearned to evade // the real.”  From the first stanza, after Rimbaud.  “The head we cannot know, // nor its bright fruit, the eyes.”  What a great little metaphor in the second stanza, after Rilke.  And “We thirsted in the glare // but couldn’t drink the water.”  Which stanza (after Seferis) weaves it all together so well.

It’s not surprising to me that A.E. Stallings gets in here with a translation of an A.E. Housman poem (originally written in Latin).  She is arguably our greatest living translator, as I see it anyway.  Greek, Latin, old English, she seems to get it all.  “To My Comrade, Moses J. Jackson, Scoffer at this Scholarship.”  Just listen to the lines: “And planets too, that fret with light // The icy caverns of the night.”  “Mine not to exhort the gods // Or stars that vex our mortal odds.”    What an ear she has!

Stephen Edgar gets a wild sway and richness out of Marina Tsvetaeva’s “Bound for Hell.”  “Hell, my ardent sisters, be assured, // is where we’re bound; we’ll drink the pitch of hell.”  Such fun:  “strike up the songs of paradise // Around the campfire of a robber’s lair.”

And did I mention all the above three translations rhyme?  Uff-da.

Finally, let me mention “The Poor,” by Roberto Sosa, translated by Spencer Reese: “They // can steady the coffin of a constellation // on their shoulders.”  Wow, there’s an image to inspire a poet to stretch for that next phrase, I’ll tell ya!

These are not the only good (even great) translations in this magazine.  Way worth buying.  Jonathan Monroe Geltner translating Paul Claudel.  Tony Barnstone translating Borges.  And oh my gosh, a whole section of translations of Kabbalah.

Peace be upon you, indeed.

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 – Nov 20, 17

The Missouri Review – Fall, 2017

Falling New York

 

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The new New Yorker came in today.  Maybe the most visible poetry in the country; the mag certainly gets its share of submissions .  So the first poem is “Black Rhinoceros,” by Edward Hirsch. Can’t say as I understand the digression in the middle about his parents buying his shoes on discount.  Though without that, and the last stanza, this is more essay than poem.  No epiphany, no sparkling language, no fine quotes to take away, no real reason for being.  Maybe I just hold this magazine to a higher standard.  Or maybe I don’t get the point.  Do you ever feel like there’s this whole secret way of reading poetry everyone else gets and you don’t, and that’s why all these poems are being published you don’t understand at all?  I get that way sometimes.  ‘Course, even if it is true, there’s room for us all, I guess.

Anyway, Sharon Olds did “The Green Duck,” next, and this is definitely an improvement, having more a poetic feel, even if it’s a bit of a gross-out in parts: “I have eaten // brains, my tongue loves to probe // the delicate folds…”  Eewww.  Gotta love it.  But is there then another digression?  “There are homes where children are used as toothpicks…”  I mean, a good line, sure, but at first glance it’s like it’s just there to give the poem import: “see, there is abuse in the world, I mention it, therefore I am an important poem.”  Ah, but rereading the poem, I guess it does fit in, as the theme of the work is really a narrator growing up, and the duck speaking to her.  Yeah, I guess I’d say this poem is overall a success.  Worth rereading.

Nextly, and finally, “Dothead,” by Amit Majmudar.  Who we heard from the other day in The Threepenny Review reviewing Kay Ryan’s “The Best of It.”  Now it’s Amit’s turn to shine, a poem about being a small boy, whose mother is different than other mothers.  I very much enjoyed his rhyme scheme, which he has employed before (his poem, “Instructions to an Artisan,” is one of the best poems to appear in Poetry Magazine in the last decade, in my view.  Just a staggeringly good poem.  Hunt it down.   It’s worth it).  I like the climax of the poem:  “I said, hand me that ketchup packet there…”  A boy feeling very much a boy.

So, all in all, another good effort by Mr. Muldoon, culling these poems from the prospects — my respect for him as an editor climbs each time.

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

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

More New Yorker Poems

 

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