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Posts Tagged ‘poetry commentary’


Two poems appear in this issue of The Nation, the first by Jose A. Rodriguez: “Translating an Autopsy, or To the Man Autopsied Into 99 Pages.” Kind of a clunky title, but I liked the beginning. “Please know that I read them all and could not weep…” The poem dances between two tones, that of describing a murder scene from an amused and cynical novel, and the more subtle horror of realizing that scenes like this appear every day, they are no exaggeration. “…the rudimentary outline of a / male body the size of an action-figure with wounds / marked X on your torso.” The further into the poem we go, the more the horror becomes real. “splatters on the wall dripping every synonym / of pain.” The ending comes as a shock, twists the meaning of the poem from a murder due to some drug deal gone bad, or a violent turf struggle, into something else. The epiphany catches our heart. A powerful poem.

The second poem is “Courage,” by Nate Klug. “Stillness until six, the yards and porches / giant toy sets…” This is a poem that rewards close attention. A short poem about the briefness and fragility of life. “Each sleep a baffling practice / for leaving you behind…” Well, when we think about it, yes, sleep can be seen as a practice for death. But the poet stays in the moment, with images that almost fragment the scene, giving us only brief clues to what we are seeing. So much erased, but with the essentials remaining. The poem lured me into a sort of meditation. Pretty cool.

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:

Convergence Online Journal – Spring 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

The Cape Rock – 46

Apple Valley Review – Spring 18

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A fun poem by Scott Beal opens this issue of Rattle, “Ambiguous Antecedents.” “When the kid tells you their new pronoun of choice / is it… you try to see / the kid as the kid sees itself.” I love the tongue-in-cheekiness. Beal goes over how the language is changing. “Partner seems like such an unloaded word… that should make / a harmless click when triggered.” Seems like it’s more rare to see a poet playing with the language recently. But isn’t that what poets are supposed to do? And I relish the joy of the irreverence: “Nick becomes quadratic.”

The next poem also relies on fun, George Bilgere’s “Big Thing,” which starts: “Did you hear about Gary? His new book is supposed to be big. / People are… talking Badger Prize. / Maybe even the Bexley.” It’s a poem about jealousy, and the competitive world of poetry, and how we don’t really know each other well. “And now we have this sense of… being bit players in the Larger Drama of Gary.” Very enjoyable.

Transcending the commonplace might be the theme of “Miraculous Stardust,” by Bonnie Buhrow. “The girl couldn’t speak English… couldn’t whistle or hum, let alone sing… no one paid attention to her at the factory.” The girl remains separate from those around her, everyday workers at everyday jobs. But at noon, “the girl stole outside…where / she practiced levitating… until she reached / a flawless buoyancy.” And the language grows more buoyant along with her. “She was like a flake of cork, a molted feather.” An inspiring, uplifting poem, with an ending that grounds it nicely.

Megan Falley starts “Ode to Red Lipstick,” with: “Cleopatra crushed beetles / to make red lipstick / because… even in 30 BC… speaking 12 languages / would be… more impressive / when the words jumped / through a ring of fire.” This is a poem that grabs your lapel and says, listen to me, here’s some great language, even contemplating a commonplace item. But of course, lipstick, being so intimate, so close, in some places and times has taken on a weight and profundity beyond what we might expect. A poem to make us think.

This issue has a section on immigrant poets, which I enjoyed very much. Julia Kolchinsky Dasbach presents us with “In Praise of Forgetting.” “Forget to turn off the lights and wash the dishes and empty the tub. // Forget the standing water and let it bring ghosts into the home.” Already we know something is going on underneath this list of things to forget — consequences in a life, perhaps, or those who are now gone. “Forget the names you gave them once. How they were taken away.” A melancholy poem, made more powerful by its indirect approach.

Finally, Alejandro Escude writes in “The First Time I Took My Gun To The Range,” “I looked at the gun and it fired… the bullet went… high / so that it left a poof-dust on the ceiling.” The incident spurs the narrator to contemplate the danger a weapon has, the ease with which one can make a mistake. “I thought, what if the gun / had been aiming at me?” But the poem’s conclusion may surprise you.

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 – Fall 2017

The New Yorker – Jan 22 2018

Rattle 58 – Winter 2017

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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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