Posts Tagged ‘Rattle Magazine’

Let me start with “Elemental Intelligence,” by Conrad Geller. “What interests me… is how a raindrop / nibbles down the windowpane…” Just the precisely correct word, ‘nibbles.’ Such a drop does seem alive, hesitating and darting as it moves. “contemplating when to make / the next, best move, then coursing… in seeming triumph.” And the poem has us consider what makes something alive. What patterns do we share with the inanimate world? Or not inanimate exactly, for there is life in such a drop. I love poems that arrest me, make me think about the world in a new way.

Maybe the most original and creative poem in the issue is by Caroline N. Simpson. “Choose Your Own Adventure: The Galapagos Mating Dance.” “You are a single woman, about to embark upon your most challenging and dangerous mission.” The header explains what ‘you’ are to do — discover a useful mating ritual. Then it’s on to Chapter One: “You are a blue-footed booby. / A male approaches you… He offers you twigs and grasses.” The tone is so fun, the parallels with human rituals so apt. There are several chapters in this long poem, each describing the rituals of a different creature, with many laughs, but often rueful ones. There is such a loneliness underneath — they say true humor arises from the truth, and that is true here. Ms. Simpson is very much an ecologist of the heart. As the Chapters unfold, the reader is allowed at points to choose to move to a different section, depending on whether this current ritual appeals or not. What a genius structure. And the ending Chapter, Seven, has a most satisfactory conclusion. A poem worth hunting down this issue for.

Anne Starling has a moving poem, “Compassionate Friends.” “Almost immediately, we feel / we are too advanced for this group / of grieving parents, his father and I;” What a brilliant use of tone. Bringing the attitude of competition to a grief group. Shocking the reader with the commonality, and the recognition that we, too, have had such inappropriate reactions in gatherings. And then the buried pain buried with this approach, that we are there for grief as well. But we deflect notice from that. We do not ourselves work on that. And yet we are still going to such a group. We still need it. We don’t know how to participate in a straight manner, using this sort of sideways superiority as our defense mechanism. Wow. All that delivered in three lines. But the narrator does rally, is able to speak of her child, is able to touch her grief, for a moment anyway.  Just a first-water effort, all around.

The theme for this issue is Athlete Poets, and there are intriguing poems in this section of the magazine. My favorite here might be “Strangers,” by Lazlo Slomovits. “A man is running hard / to catch the bus that just left… the driver… stops // and opens the accordion door.” So it starts, and yes, we see the man as an athlete. But as the poem unfolds we rethink that into athlete in service of: “…the man does not get on– // he points back to an old woman / who has not run a step // in a very long time.” We are witnessing an act of kindness. “…then walks back slowly / still breathing hard // toward us…” The moment hangs suspended. “What can a group of strangers / do at a time like this?” It is a question gratifyingly answered, and a poem of unity of strangers with each other. Bravo.

The last poem I will discuss is by Stephen Dunn, who is the poet interviewed in this issue as well. (A marvelous interview.) The poem is “Little Pretty Things.” “As insects go, lacewings seem to have nothing…” Well, that’s an intriguing start, fun and challenging. And it quickly develops: “I imagine they envy / wasps…” And deepens: “…lacewings have nothing to do but be beautiful, / and so are dangerous.” Now we are in human territory. “I’ve known a few / of their human counterparts, and… have forgiven a meanness.” The parallels are enlightening, and disturbing. A great use of metaphor, a thought-provoking 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:

Blue Collar Review – Winter 2017-18

The Nation – Apr 9 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18


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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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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.

Related blog posts:

Blue Collar Review – Spring 17

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

Sticking With Styx


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