Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘The New Republic’


We are, in the modern world, of course forced by our calendar bravely to ignore superstitions and so the New Republic bravely published on the 13th. Fortunately not a Friday, right? But luck seems to be with them anyway. The poems are good. ;->

First comes “The Crazy Dog Lady Recognizes Spring and Is Momentarily Bouyed by a Joy She Had Wholly Forgotten,” by Renee Ashley. Now a title like that implies run-on sentences, but not so here, except that she does dispense with periods. “The dogwood bracts horizontal on their boughs The iris still in its / papers” I don’t get the purpose of losing the periods, and I don’t know how the poem is benefited by forming a square visually on the page, but neither really bothers me. The images are surely interesting: “the one eighteen-wheeler the color of night’s blue sky with its / cab the starry green of a sea beneath foam.” I’m failing to picture that green, though. The sea beneath a night sky is generally black, except maybe when lit from within in a painting. I’ll grant you phosphorescence, but I don’t get to green. Still, the poem has me thinking. Always good. There’s a nice balance of flowers and dogs early on, and then repeated at the end, with differences: e.g. we go from dogwood to woodchuck. There’s probably more in this poem that escapes me, but it entertained me, anyway.

“Gnawa Boy, Marrakesh, 1968” is by Charif Shanahan. “The maker has marked another boy to die…” it starts, and the poem is uncompromising. “black legs jutting out…the tips of his toenails translucent as an eye.” Our focus is kept firmly on the boy dying, through the first half of the poem. Then we turn to the moment of death. “he passes…into the blue / porcelain silence…no song of final parting, no wailing / ripped holy from their throats.” It is a somber elegy, and very moving.

Wendy Salinger gives us “January,” which contrasts the narrator’s daughter first encountering the world with her father at the end of his life. “she took my hand / to see the houses outlined / in their Christmas lights. // ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’ she said.” Then, “He kneels before my mother / and he weeps.” A great image to end with, as well. An effective, affecting poem.

The last poem is “Tears,” by C.K. Williams. I have had my difficulties with some of his poems, and I am no fan in general of ghazals, but this is a good poem. (And Mr. Williams has certainly hit his share of home runs in the past). My wife especially liked this one. It follows the theme of young and old that Henri Cole seems to have quietly selected for this issue. “Baby next door crying, not angry crying… _hungry_ crying…sweet to think of her at filling station of bottle or breast.” Williams then considers the implications and resonances arising from the idea of “our” for narrator and child. He gets to believing: “Too late for that — too late even for _please_ — please stay…” And the last stanza is very delicate. He shows a great balance and breath control throughout this poem — not overstepping his images anywhere, not growing too heated. It’s a poem of that resonant sadness we feel when living too much in the world, the loss of things. Almost like a haiku that way.

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 Fall 17

Remote New York

Poetry’s Poetry

Read Full Post »


Only a couple poems in the Jun 30 issue. First is “Father’s Day,” by Jeffrey Harrison. “My first father- / less Father’s Day came / a little too soon.” It’s a short meditation on being a father, on losing a father, and on the narrator’s place in the family, with a gentle sadness suffusing it. There’s a beautifully ironic ending, a poem very much worth hunting down. An excellent example of the generally high quality of The New Republic’s poetry.

The other poem I knew I was going to like as soon as I saw the name: “Baseball.” It’s by Lauren S. Cook, with whose work I have not been familiar. “Summon: a baseball field / and forty thousand bodies…” such a confident beginning. That bold tone continues: “the players hook into pose, / and alike we slant toward // the plate.” A great image, but with a subtlety worth noting: pose, not poses. They are all part of a unity in this moment, a single tableaux vivant. There’s even a reference to William Carlos Williams: “So much hinges / on the placement of a pitch…” So, a little amusing irony underneath there. Then the turn brings us up a level: “This is the day I marry a man…” after which the changes come one after another, like the pop pop of a pistol: “maybe…he says he doesn’t want the baby…” A deft, powerful work, with a trailing-off ending that feel just right. Brava!

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 – July 23, 18

The New Yorker – July 2, 2018

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

Read Full Post »


The Feb 3 issue of The New Republic has only two poems this time. First, “Lay,” by Liam Hysjulien, a young poet that Henri Cole is championing for obvious reasons. “After your organs disintegrate, / your cells recite poems to one another.” A poem about the process of cellular death, intellectual at first, but then taking a turn to the intimate. “I’m the one holding your hand as your last cells unravel.” And with that, obliquely, grief slips in, and the inevitability of loss. We are gifted with a great ending as well. A touching poem.

The other poem is by Louise Gluck, who is appearing everywhere now, burning that candle as brightly as she can. Here, it’s “Theory of Memory,” a poem looking back to a moment of prescience. “…before I was a tormented artist…” (love the little joke pasted in there) “I was a glorious ruler…so I was told by the fortune / teller…Great things are ahead…or perhaps behind…” a poem of confusion, of the past sliding into the future, of a single moment in time being clear when all else was uncertainty. A very tricky poem, with much to reflect on.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

P M F Johnson’s book of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the way love builds through time, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

Hummingbird 28.2

Missouri Review – Fall, 2018

Iconoclast – #117

Read Full Post »


The poems in some magazines seem to reward deep study more consistently than others. That’s sure true for the December 9 issue of The New Republic, starting with the poem James Longenbach gives us, where he discusses his first experience with a horse. The poem, appropriately, is called “Horse.” “Though I come from a long line of people intimate / With…horses, / Today, for the first time, I touched a horse.” He quickly goes deeper: “I’m speaking here of things that come to feel essential…You’ve never done it, then you’ve done it before…You can’t imagine your body without it.” He shifts to an experience with a drink, giving us a tiny rest from his main slant, then goes back to the horse. “the horse seemed all the while / Perfectly happy…” The last couple of lines deliver a summation/epiphany that powers the poem home, really a zen moment, letting us know this poem can be read as the larger self meeting the Other, the connection between people, oh, we can read things into this poem all night. Very satisfying.

C. Dale Young gives us “False Start” and tells us it’s “After Jasper Johns.” It starts “There is red, there is / red there is red and some / yellow.” The enjambment gives us the circularity of a Jasper Johns’ painting, the uncertainty, the surprise move in a new direction. He shifts from a simple discussion of paint and color to a metaphor of a relationship: “the brush…knows the canvas the way I have / learned to know your chest / among between” The narrator seemingly tries to control his lover, then still working within the metaphor of the colors, seems to admit rage, violence, and even cowardice. Beautifully handled.

In “Catwork,” Tim Nolan must come to grips with his cat being imperfect: “The old cat keep peeing / around the house…” It’s a sign the cat is growing old, his imperfections deepening: “…manages to place / himself always in my path…Right where my bare foot falls / on him — and he cries…” There’s a gentle sadness and pathos to this work, a turning of the idea that we are all improving through our lives on its head.

Finally, Henri Cole (the magazine’s editor) translates a poem by Claire Malroux from the French: “Not A Hair Of Your Head Shall Be Harmed.” This also starts as a meditation on getting older: “These hairs that the wind used to caress on my nape / fall from my brush now.” But the poem darts from metaphor to metaphor, discussing the travels of the hair, and makes reference to the Holocaust, even: “man himself / has fabricated lampshades and soap / out of his own body.” Which brings us to the depths of pain, in understanding that it was not out of his own body, but the bodies of his victims that such items were wrought. Then, more, that “man” encompasses both perpetrator and victim, revealing how we have both aspects in us. Then we’re given reassurance that such will never happen to us, reiterating the title. But we don’t believe the narrator, trust is lost. Finally, the poem’s ending backs away from this raw view to a delicate finish. All done in a few deft lines. Wow.

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 – July 31 17

The New Yorker – Aug 21 17

New Republic – Oct 2014

Read Full Post »


In The New Republic for September 16th, I started out a bit lost with the poem “Otro Color Mas Negro” by Jesse Garces Kiley. (‘The other color even blacker’ is how I would translate that). It seemed much had to be brought to the poem that I did not have. It begins, “Lola Beltran, you’re not the only one.” No idea who Lola is. Which is why God invented Google: she’s a way famous Ranchera singer. Being a fan of Ranchera, I should have known this. With this context, the poem opens up. “My grandmother…asks for more black tea…She wants / to hear you beg, Lola.” Some nice stuff in here: “binding dry her tea bag / like a tiny heart.” The last line is very poesy though; I vote for the poet to contemplate dropping that line when the poem comes out in a book.

“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” is a poem by Christopher Kempf addressing the video game and its relationship to bombing the real Baghdad. Pretty cool stuff here too: “the pealing / guns of which split / the walls of our bedroom for months…” a line to be read in multiple ways, always the most powerful sort of poem for me. He goes into what the game skips about war: “Not the …boxes / of dead…Not / the wedge of flag our neighbor / David came back as.” What a powerful line. Muchos Kudos.

Claire Woodard does a poem, “Summer on the Lake” about the time the Shelleys and Byron spent together and what came out of it (a kid and Frankenstein, among other things). “three men, / two women, one pregnancy / and many rolls / of thunder.” a very fun enjambment there! Much chewy poetry.

Mary Jo Bang’s “An Individual Equinox Suitable for Framing” demands much attention and consideration. “Light under the sky, the window not open…” it begins. I like the complexity of her near-rhymes: ‘times’ with ‘dime-sized’ and so on. But much of it simply puzzled me: “a surrender to / what is in vain to rest from…” “the architecture isn’t only belated…” I mean that’s an interesting line, and worth mulling over, so maybe just taking each individual little part is all we need to do. “Everything said not once but several times.” Surely there is meaning there, if only we work at it long enough. the poem talks of loss, of changes, what was and is no longer, the rolling confusion we all suffer. Maybe the fact that I can say that about this poem is enough, and explains why I like it in spite of itself.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

My eBook of poems, Against The Night, a wry look at the love that builds throughout a marriage, is available on Amazon, and at other fine e-retailers.

Related blog posts:

The New Yorker – Aug 13, 18

The Sun – Sept, 2018

Rattle 61 – Fall, 2018

Read Full Post »


The first poem in the March 25th issue of The New Republic is “Appraisal Theory,” by Julie Sheehan. The first line starts: “My son’s in his Watch This years.” And this is the first of the two threads in the poem, the child wanting his mother to watch him at various antics. The second thread relates more closely to the title: “the house, bought just before the bubble burst, / loses value by the hour.” The poem ends by bringing the two strands together in a simple simile. Powerful and effective. Not the trickiest poem, but I always like poets who show courage in putting the innards right out there for anyone to analyze. In this case, we are rewarded by the resonance between small boys showing off and bankers who have damaged our economy, damaged real people in real houses, by their unrestrained childish behavior. One likes the small boy more. ;->

“White Ashes” by Liam Hysjulien takes a similar approach, opening with “My dentist tells me about his dying white ash trees…” The narrator then relates his own teeth to the trees. “The tooth, he says, has its own widening rings…” The dentist reminisces about the trees, the narrator feels apologetic. The closing line, as above, ties the two motifs together, though not in as simple a simile. This is more a feeling poem — that is, it brings up a sense of nostaglia and loss. An interesting compare and contrast moment between the two works.

The third poem in the magazine is Mary Jo Bang’s “Rude Mechanicals.” This poem sort of plays tag from image to image throughout, each image wandering off in its own direction. “Against a white wall / someone’s hair was a treetop.” From there, “It was a time / when everyone said, / behind every great veil is only a human…” Then the poem goes off to: “I don’t know how / the stage curtain caught fire…” …you get the idea. It’s maybe most profitable (fun?) to relate each image to the previous image it springboards off, without looking at the larger context of the poem. In fact, when I try to view the larger context, I run into difficulty. What is the larger whole here? We get only scattered clues — a machine sucking air in the early part of the poem could relate to the rude mechanicals mentioned at the end. We’re left with emotions of sorrow, and helplessness, in a rather unpleasant world. Honestly, the whole does cohere, for me, in a non-verbal way, and certainly gives the reader plenty to dip into. I suspect simply taking the poem as is, without trying to draw too many conclusions, is the least frustrating approach: it is what it is, don’t worry your pretty little head. It does seem typical of other poems of hers I have read recently — not easy to read literally, but swept by undercurrents and feelings that reach indirectly to something lacking in the narrator’s life. Worth a couple reads, anyway.

Peace in poetry,

P M F Johnson

Read Full Post »


“It is not miraculous.  Only a handful of silica, fire, // and then the blower twirls another knob of gold.” So begins “Murano,” a poem by Paisley Rekdal in The New Republic magazine this week.  Interesting how beginning with a denial makes the material more intriguing.  If it’s not that, what is it, then, we wonder right away.  The poem describes the work of a glassblower, deliberately shunning any larger derivations, in an almost Imagist way sticking to the concrete.  Almost.  This makes the slightest commentary so much more powerful: “It must be dangerous, this // material, or why else would we watch.”  And because the fripperies are so stripped down, other meanings resonate out — what material might this be a symbol for, what else in life gives us this power of the specific wedded to the unseen?  “Only a spark of heat and then the inevitable // descending numbness.”  Such a choice of words for glassblowing.  So correct and yet surprising, adding shades of meaning.  And of course there’s lots more in this poem, including a splendid ending that turns the rest of the poem on its head.  Reminds me of a fine haiku, in the tying to the concrete, and the turn in the last line, and the stripped down nature leading to reverberations.  Hie thee to a bookstore and find this one!

And so, will the poem “Coupons,” also in this issue, by Jose Antonio Rodriguez hold up to the quality of the first poem?  Well, it’s very different, not a description of a single long process, but a meditation on a history.  “That was the year I wished // our sentences had no periods.”  See how the enjambment of that first line allows us to stop and take the first line on its own, and because we have done so, we can derive two ways to look at this sentence — as a whole, and where the second line somehow makes the first come true.  This is the year he wanted.  When the boundaries have been discarded.  The next line also twists because of the enjambment, maybe in a little crueller a fashion: “The year you said something meaningful // about a constellation.”  Really?  Only in one year of your relationship did your companion ever say anything meaningful?  Ooh, that’s cold.  ;->  But then, he pokes fun at himself the same way, a little later: “That was the year I thought //…”  So let’s forgive him.  And then the turn of the poem reveals the narrator and his companion were very young back then, and the various proclamations and insecurities suddenly make more sense, and as do the sadness and limitations wrought on them at the end of the poem.  A touching ending, after all that.

Peace and poetry,

P M F Johnson

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »