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Posts Tagged ‘Poetry Magazine’


In the current issue of Poetry Magazine, Swanie Morris meditates on “Clothespins on the Line.” They “look like birds…Some look west… Stiff in the cold & / remote. They haven’t been loved.” So, a fun poem. But I do believe what editors at the top magazines yearn for most is something new and unusual, and this poem does not disappoint. Soon we are off on a meditation on birds. “Each day / your thumbs grow paler, nails coarser, evolving / toward the ptero- / dactyl.” Ptero being derived from the Greek word for wing/feather, dactyl from the word for finger. (And of course it is a measure of poetic meter.) So the playfulness goes on. The poem grows goofier and goofier, rambling through dreams, therapists and Druids before ending with a sudden, delightful conclusion. Long, but satisfying.

S.J. Fowler also gives us a poem quite unlike the usual work, in “Violence on the Internet.” It’s drier than most poems, or maybe I should say technical. “A circle. / What was needed was a circuit, / and a good operating system.” And then a sentence that brought me up, made me go back and study its meaning: “What’s within is without being seen / to be so.” Huh. It does apply to the Internet of course, as does the next line: “Optical anomaly as unexceptional.” It’s intriguing to apply each line back to the title, seeing how each applies. “Similarity wars upon their lines, / planes…” comes further along, maybe nudging us towards the violence. I don’t know that there is a lot of linear logic overall, but the poem certainly does get one to fiddling with the ideas behind the phrases.

George Bowering’s poem, “Taking Off from an Old WCW Poem,” is very much shorter than the previous poems, but powerfully gripping for all that. I love the beginning. “Imagine that — my last words / might have been spoken to the dog.” It’s the sort of beginning that will get you to read the whole poem. And this one does not disappoint. The narrator considers what that last phrase might have been. Implying, thereby, he does not remember. Then there is an ambulance, and a doubling of images in a skilled and effective way. I really admire this work.

Finally, Maria Hummel gives us an amazing poem, “Recess,” describing the life of a lone child. “This is the sound of the bell,” it begins, a deceptively simple beginning. And in the same way, the first stanza follows a straightforward AABBA form. But the second stanza subverts that, like a jazz master playing against the melody, then the final stanza riffs even further on the form before bringing us abruptly back to the start. But I have little power in such a limited space to describe the amazing places we visit in between. “Time should hold no meaning / for him yet. You don’t learn / how to play; you forget.” The pain of childhood is all implied here, and it’s the more powerful for the indirection. There are so many lines to cherish, to sit with and be amazed. Gosh, I like this poem!

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of love poems, Against The Night, is available at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/

 

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starts with a poem by Amy Newman, “Howl,” a riff on Ginsberg’s breakthrough work. “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by wedding / planners, dieting, in shapewear…” An amusing rewrite, with depth (as all the best humorous writing will have, I think). “who left the university…for the rez and the old alcoholic lover family father temper crack…” A somewhat updated view of our world, though with many references to drug lists the old Beats would likely recognize (methaqualone i.e. quaaludes… “speed crank coke & codeine”). An interesting and brave work.

Paul Batchelor gives us “The Discoverer’s Man,” quite a long poem. “His handkerchief, a pin or coin he’d touched…Men came to shake his hand, or rub their warts / upon his famous skin…Blood of a witch!” The story of a witch hunter and his effect on a boy he hires as a scribe, the narrator of the poem. The poem is set in 1645, and tackles the theme of what is the truth. “Ask not what justice mercy can afford.” It’s a spooky, unsettling poem, with heightened language. “Touch a needle, watch it scent about, / quivering after its true north…such was I.” I love declarations of truth in a work, evidence the author has thought about things, and isn’t just shooting off the mouth to impress. Such depth is definitely the case here. “We are as we were made.” Worth the price of the magazine. A wonderful poem.

We get a bunch of Edward Lear’s limericks served up with commentary by Anthony Madrid, none of which impressed me much. “There was an old man with a backpack: / No body could beat him at blackjack.” I seem to recall Lear doing a better job with many of his limericks than the ones quoted here.

There are a number of poems by teens, which seems to be getting to be a thing with this mag. Of these, Britney Franco gives us “Inward.” “I am the broken bones you find on the beach / on your lonely vacation.” A nice image.

So, quite a bunch of different stuff this month.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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Well, it’s still technically December, so I’m comfortable blogging this issue, right? Anyway, a poet whose work I did not know, Tom Clark, has a couple of poems here, starting with “Then And Now.” This is a play-with-language poem, a kind the mag runs occasionally. “Then it was always / for now, later / for later…years of now / passed, and it grew later.” The turn later gives us a confused sardine with an attitude, then an experiment at which it seems to take umbrage. A reasonably weird little poem. His second poem is a quick-hitting little rhyming number, “Blown Away,” which starts “ephemeral as tinkerbell, / unmoored yet not unmoved…” I like that. These are fun works, nothing too deep. It’s good to make room for work like this.

Robyn Schiff has a poem, “Dyed Carnations.” “There’s blue and then there’s blue. / A number, not a hue…” This is an exploration of falsity, underneath its merry tone, and it grows dark down there. “I held the bouquet / in shock and cut the stems at a deadly angle.” “The white flowers…have a fake laugh / that catches like a match.” A strong ending as well, to a strong poem.

Melissa Broder has three sexy, rebellious poems. First is “Salt.” “How can you go swimming in another human being?” “The forests of disappearing moans / which were rich in in sap but lacked dissolve.” I like ‘dissolve’ replacing ‘resolve’. “Like A Real Flame” seems to follow right along, like another section more than a separate poem. “I want the hole in my ear to be quiet….or I will go to my lover’s mouth / and say oh, my quiet.” Broder does not seem to live in a serene universe. It is instructive to review her opening sentences, and see how creative and original they are. Here is the opening to “Lunar Shatters” — “I came into the world a young man / Then I broke me off.” The point more than anything seems to be to say something that no one could expect. This last poem is more incantatory. “And how I begged him turn me Pegasus colors / And please to put a sunset there… / And me I had to de-banshee / And me I dressed myself…” It has a real ring to it, an attention to the sound of the language that I enjoy very much.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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This is the translation issue, which means a chance to see what an American magazine thinks is worthy of support from overseas. And I have to agree with them on the poem, “The Wind,” by Dafydd Ap Gwilym. “Skywind, skillful disorder,” it begins, “rowdy-sounding, / world hero…” A poem to be read in a stentorian tone. “north wind of the cwm, / Your route, reliable hymn.” (I believe that cwm should be pronounced like coom, same vowel sound as loon, and so a near rhyme, not a perfect one. It means valley, or coomb as in Tolkien’s use). It’s a loud bark of a poem, muscled and alive. Translated by Gwyneth Lewis.

Liu Xia gives us “Transformed Creatures,” a strange, aggressive little poem. “You have a strange pet — / one eye is a cat’s, the other a sheep’s.” I memorized that first line quickly, always a great sign with a poem. The strange creature operates by its own rules, quickly laid out, quickly ended, as the poem is short. The ending gives the poem its great power. Ming Di and Jennifer Stern, translators.

Ko Un is a Korean poet who wrote “Ear”, a very short poem, translated to comprise of a couplet, then a single line verse, then a couplet, by Suji Kwock Kim and Sunja Kim Kwock. “Someone’s coming / from the other world.” A spooky little work.

Finally, Matthew Rohrer writes a series of short poems inspired by the great Japanese haiku artists, Buson, Basho and Issa. None of these are haiku, but they are very interesting and resonant: “The sound of the water jar / empties in the open graves…” wow, what a line, from “Poem Written With Basho.” And from “Poem Written With Buson,” comes “a urine-stained quilt / is the flag of / early summer rain.” Shocking images, even. Definitely poems to return to.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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I’ve always liked Les Murray’s poetry, and I like his poem, “Vertigo,” in the latest Poetry Magazine. Such a common-sense view of the world: “Last time I fell in a shower…the hotel longed to be rid of me….I tripped on a steel rim / and found my head in the wardrobe.” There’s that sly sense of humor underneath that makes him so worth reading. “When, anytime after sixty…you stumble / over two stairs…that’s the time to call the purveyor / of steel pipe and indoor railings…” There’s the quick bait-and-switch. Buy steel pipe, one thinks, for what violence and why? Then you realize he means for installing grab-bars. Gotta like the guy.

Dan Chelotti’s poem, “Compost,” is just the sort of nature poem I can dig into (sorry). “There is magic in decay.” A great start. And he presents a few nature images, then switches it up: “Just today / I was walking along the river / with my daughter in my backpack…” I like the surprise image that suddenly makes sense. “Selma started / Yelling Daddy, Daddy, snake!” Implying that Daddy is a snake, of course. But then we go to deeper images of decay. “the coroner / calling to ask what color / My father’s eyes were….Why can’t you just look? …Decay.” A beautiful poem, worth re-reading.

April Bernard does poems associated with (printed alongside) illustrations/ visual images. Can’t show you the images (buy the mag. ;-> ) but her poem “Anger” is worth reading, for the first grin at least: “I hoisted the shotgun…but did not fire it at the man / who had just taken my virginity like a snack, / with my collusion, but still –” There are other worthy lines (none so funny, but still enjoyable). “Decades go by / when all I can muster is absent-minded invective, / you know, directed at the news…” Well, that hits home. Her sense of timing makes this poem work. And a good ending.

Finally, Solmaz Sharif gives us “Vulnerability Study,” a short little poem of four non-rhyming couplets and a single line stanza. Each stanza lists a moment of vulnerability, from the local and intimate: “Your face turning from mine…” to the more external, “8 strawberries in a wet blue bowl,” then suddenly to images of people vulnerable in war: “baba holding his pants / up at the checkpoint.” With a great and haunting ending.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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Let’s pass over the first poem (or whatever you want to call it) in the May issue of Poetry Magazine, which begins with a few pages of meaningless scribbles then devolves from there (2 & 1/2 pages filled with the letter “t”, for instance) and proceed to the next poem, which is Joshua Mehigan’s “The Fair,” a short work of three stanzas. “The fair rode into town…like a plate unbreakable because / it has been dropped and glued so many times.” What a creative simile, one of a series of fun lines. “The fair was no fair.” There are deeper meanings here if you dig for them, but they do not become onerous. I just want to quote line after line because they are so chewy, but I’ll limit myself to one more: The fair slid into town…as a clown / slides into pants.” And the ending is maybe the best part of the poem.

Jessica Greenbaum also delivers an excellent poem, “For A Traveler.” In the first line: “Let me tell you the shortest story.” A good grabber, which matters with poetry as much as fiction, I have come to believe. It’s a straightforward poem: “when I was their son’s girlfriend…” about the narrator first harvesting from a rich garden. “the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini / lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their / minions…” Dig that quick rhyme. “That day the lupines received me.” The sort of poem one can dig into, to learn more about the craft. And again, a powerful ending.

Bob Hicok deconstructs and rearranges words and phrases to most satisfying effect in “The pregnancy of words.” “…times. Which is smite / for you violet types, a flower / that says ‘love it’ if you listen. Me, I…don’t feel it matters that evil thrives / in live.” and “with slips and slides / and elide’s eally ool.” Again, such fun. He goes on for maybe 40 lines of such language play, which seems a central task for poetry, to me anyway. “the tools I use / are the stool I stand on.” Enough! On to the next poem.

Jacob Saenz gives us a powerful one, “Forged.” “My brother wore bags over his boots / to keep the grease…from the steel mill off the carpet & steps // he mounted…” a gritty, blue-collar poem, the likes we don’t see enough of. “to control the two-ton bundles / held by a buckle above the heads // of hard-hatted men that could snap” notice how the ambiguous antecedent there adds meaning to what could snap, and what it means to control. Brilliant.

Vievee Francis gives us a bawdy poem, “Intelligent Design,” which is also great fun, though I can’t quote most of it without blushing. “I would worship at the fount / if I had more faith” is as far as I will go. Read it yourselves!

Lots of other good poetry in this issue, one of the stronger recent issues.

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.

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The April Poetry magazine starts off w Sarah Lindsay’s “Rain Of Statues,” written from the point of view of soldiers in the Mithridatic Wars in the 1st century BC. So, some ambition here: “Our general was elsewhere, but we drowned.” Not the strongest vote of confidence in a leader I’ve ever read. The dead soldiers are shipped home, but a storm comes up… “and made us offerings to the sea floor — / a rain of statues, gold and men.” Now this is cool poetry. “we fell through streams of creatures / whose lives were their purpose.” Lindsay has a delicate sense of language, always surprising. “Little crabs attempt to don rings…” and a wonderfully understated ending. Probably worth buying the magazine for alone.

Gabrielle Calvocoressi presents a marvelous poem, “Captain Lovell,” with a sly sense of story: “”Dad calls her the Dowager but I call her Aunt G….She doesn’t like me very much. I know it.” Very few poets have the confidence to write such straightforward lines. Too bad, because it gives such a power to the poem, a tale about the narrator’s aunt trying to give her a gift she does not want. “when she placed the ring inside my hand / I just said, ‘No, thank you.'” I love the interplay between the two characters. I love what’s left out of the poem, giving it more power. I love the ending. Oh, but I’m warning you, Calvocoressi has three poems in this issue, ALL named “Captain Lovell,” (including the comma).

Dorothea Lasky has a thought-provoking poem, “Lilac Field.” Many of my readers will remember she was the respondant in an interview I culled from a few blogs back, who cracked open the secret evil underbelly of American poetry for us. ;-> Here she gives us a straight-no-chaser poem, with fun twists: “To perform death is something only humans would do / No animal would sit there / With a blank look…Just because the camera is there” Soon the narrator is becoming an animal in return: “were my wings iridescent” and the turn has the narrator enter into a one-sided dialogue: “I came back…to help you // And that I did” And we are left, finally, with a poem meditating on death, on the loss of a companion, on our own survival.

Various of the poems in the issue are just for fun. Echoing, maybe, the idea of April being the humorous issue from a few years ago. I like Matthew Sweeney’s “Gold.” “After the murder, I called a meeting to see if we were happy.” It goes on loopily from there.

And Charles Bernstein has an equally offbeat (okay, maybe a lot more offbeat) poem, “Me And My Pharaoh.” A lot of circular and spiral reasoning here: “Poetry has // no purpose // & // that is not // its // purpose…” That sort of thing. Fun, in a weird way, and much goofier on the page than I have represented.

The last poem I am going to mention is Karen An-Hwei Lee’s “On Heirophany.” Again, there is a lot of fun in the poem, a sort of thirteen ways of looking at the sacred: “an untidy / fleshliness of the ordinary.”

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

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