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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.

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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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Katie Bickham leads off the poetry in this issue with her “Nice, France, 1890.” “In the night, Josephine dreamed of saints and monsters.” A poem about midwives at work, grounded in specific images, freighted with the import of their duties, in a time different from ours. “St. Gerard’s blessed handkerchief settled on a dying mother’s / belly… the baby came, the mother saved.” But this is not a carefree world, the girls are often in trouble. “She’d…thrown herself from a terrace to crush / the quickening life.”

This is the first of a series of poems here by Bickham about births over the last hundred years, in different cultures. In “Magdeburg, Germany, 1912,” she writes: “The American woman knew that bodies had withstood / the agony for ages…This was a new world for women: a blessing, too…not to be home howling by the hearth.” Now the doctor has ether, and puts her under. “like a child herself, led // into fitful slumber.” And then, “A child born…from the flame of her forgetting.” There is a poem set in Tehran in 1941, during the war, and one set in Los Alamos in 1945 focused on Elizabeth Graves, who is having a baby while working on “The bomb she built.”

The effect of having a series of poems about childbirth, for me, is to honor the act, this most holy moment, in the very earthy reality of it, among all the circumstances of life. They are very powerful poems, taken together, and the images, because they stay so close to the physical, “we cannot outrun our bodies,” give these works a gravitas not found in most poetry. They remind us what matters most, and what the costs are, far too often, of making life in defiance of this world of death.

Joyce Schmid gives us deceptively simple poems, staring with “Slow Motion.” “A breeze is blowing on…sun-flashed hills / splotched…with trees.” The metaphors are almost like sleight-of-hand. Look quick, or you’ll miss how slick they are, how apt. These are poems of transformation in a different way, transformation brought about in tiny increments. “A boy is standing at the water’s edge,” we learn, and he lives out the day, immersed in summer. At the end, “his mother thinks / he is the boy he was, but he is not the same.”

In “The Idle Ants,” too, the changes are subtle and you have to watch quick to see. “Not the ones who clean the colony, / not the ones who go outside… I mean the other ants, / the ones who only stand and sense // the universe.” The world is a large place around us, and through indirection, these poems reveal some of its power and purpose.

Rebecca Macijeski is the final poet here. She starts with “The Long Cold.” “The world remembers how to drink the sun, how to become earth…” Every one of these poets is deeply grounded in the sensual, making sense of the world through the world, not lost in abstractions: “a bear’s monolithic hand hungers through that sweetness.” Such an apt image, once again. But Macijeski does use more facile images, which work in her approach. In “Theories of Light,” she writes, “the light that moves like speech across street signs.” It takes a moment to understand yes, that is actually what we see in when looking at a stop sign. “the firm hum in a streetlight.” This is our world, these poems proclaim, this is what matters, though we may not see it in a casual glance. Pay attention, the poets seem to say, there is much of wonder here, but you have to be awake and aware to see it.

A wonderful magazine, all in all.

Peace in Poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, is a sweet, rueful look at love in a long marriage. It’s available on Amazon, at https://www.amazon.com/Against-Night-Poems-PMF-Johnson-ebook/dp/B01LXQX9Y5/ as well as other fine e-retailers.

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It seems usual these days for The New Yorker to feature two poems, and so it is here. “American Sonnet for My Past and Future Assassin,” by Terrance Hayes, certainly has an intriguing title. “The black poet would love to say his century began / With Hughes… but… It began with all the poetry weirdos & worriers…winos falling from ship bows.” Okay, I don’t know where this poem is going — which is pretty much required in poems at this level. And then, “In a second I’ll tell you how little / Writing rescues.” Of course, the previous sentence can already be used as a guide for that. This is not a linear narrative. We skip from thought to thought, from Sylvia Plath to Orpheus. We do get a reference to Orpheus inventing writing, which then becomes a source of confusion between him and his girlfriend. There is no reliance on metaphor here, no epiphany.

So, not finding any easy way into this poem, I go to the Poetry Foundation website, where the poet is quoted as saying, “how close can you get this language to be like music and communicate feeling at the base level in the same way a composition… communicates meaning? … Language is always burdened by thought. I’m just trying to get it so it can be like feeling.” Hmm. Perhaps we do better to think of this as a sort of song, where the noises made by the words form a sort of melody. And surely the words are melodic, rhymes and near-rhymes abound. But the rhymes and assonance fades away by the end of the poem. Right around when the confusion between Orpheus and his beloved is laid out. That just somehow seems right. An interesting poem to chew on.

Then Vona Groarke gives us “This Poem,” a list poem, self-referential. “This is the poem that won’t open / no matter where you press.” An intriguing challenge, and a little intimidating. “This is the poem that cries on street corners…” Now, I’m a fan of poems that deliver emotions, so I go through to see how the emotion is developed. “…that plays itself out / in dives…” And the poem is starting to gain a persona, a list of fun attributes that weave a kind of goofy logic, right up to the end. “…with a teensy tattoo.”

I don’t give endings of poems here, I want you to hunt down the original work, but that said, the ending of this one is surprisingly satisfying. The repetition builds us up, then the poet resolves the images with a certain understatement that fits the rest of the stanzas. I love the fun in the poem, a sort of wary humor that just may turn dangerous, but never quite does.

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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