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Posts Tagged ‘The New Yorker Poetry’


The two poems in this issue of The New Yorker couldn’t be more different. First is Safiya Sinclair’s “Gospel of the Misunderstood,” a breathless fever-dream of a poem. “I want to be the blade striking / knotted brown, to kiss the nape of any hunger…” Words twist under our eyes, morph into something else. Meaning detaches and reattaches in strange ways. There is huge desire underneath the words: “warm branch / of man pinning me here…” and, “Nameless, I haunt for god and love / in extinct places.” One must keep going back to the words, revisiting lines, to keep from vanishing into the poem. Desire mingles with religious fervor, and in the latter half of the poem the narrator’s brother and father appear, seemingly unable to fathom her. And in the end, a frustrating angel appears. Very worth reading.

The second poem is by Barry Gifford, a far more grounded offering called “American Pastime.” “When I was a little kid… Jimmy Yancey, the great blues… piano player, / worked as a groundskeeper / at Comiskey Park.” The poem states the irony of such a talent in such a mundane job, and doubles it in declaring that even the narrator, who honors Yancey by trying to learn his piano style, does not know Yancey’s parallel history and greatness as a ballplayer in the Negro Leagues. “…throwing down / his best curves… on both / the black and white keys.” That sentence becomes a keystone of the whole poem, resonating between the worlds he occupied, black and white, sport and music, showing how they integrate each into the other, forming a whole man comfortable in many worlds. (Love that ‘throwing down,’ btw). A declaration of the power of the human spirit. And a poem that we can hope gets more people to search out his music.

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:

Hummingbird – 28.1

Rattle 60 – Summer 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

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The first poem in this issue is “Essay On ‘An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,'” by Catherine Barnett. “John Locke says children don’t understand lapsed time, / and when I was a girl it was true.” Is it just me, or does that start out kind of dry and serious? But we are promised amusement by that title, an essay on an essay, and soon enough, Barnett delivers: “It’s been three hundred years and still my feelings for Locke / must pass unrequited.” Our narrator goes on to try impressing her friends with bad French, and ends meditating on a view of the Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Paris, and on human history. The focus on Locke keeps the poem hanging together, and thinking about the human condition is the organizing theme. A light-hearted poem, with a marvelous ending, that I enjoyed re-reading.

The other poem is “Fidelio,” by Geoffrey G. O’Brien. “It’s so narrow here. And kind of falsely / Shining with the return of spring.” Google is often helpful with such erudite poetry, and sure enough, Fidelio turns out to be Beethoven’s only opera. Knowledge of the story helps us understand the poem. The opera is set in a prison, and involves a man falsely imprisoned, with his wife trying to save him from unjust execution. “There are prisons both sides of the walls.” and, “No one can sing that music but all / involve themselves…” I really don’t follow the logic of the poem, but it keeps pulling me back in anyway. Just the chewiness of the lines, I guess. “…a garden, it’s wet petals still / Clustered shy of being individual.”

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 59 – Spring 2018

Blue Collar Review – Fall 2017

The New Yorker – Jan 22 2018

 

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Long poem from J.D. McClatchy, “Cagaloglu,” in the New Yorker today.  Pretty wild rhyme scheme, ABCACBA.  Tough to pull off, but he does so very well, in terms of getting a very conversational tone.  And somehow from it we can deduce the poem is going to be fun.  “Gods, whenever they annunciate, // long for romance…”  Maybe I just like that line because I went to Annunciation School, a million billion years ago, and never would ‘a thunk to have fun with it that way.  It’s a long poem, covers two pages, has its earthy, eeww moments, “So I put it in my mouth and taste // two dank gobbets…” Always good.  It then builds to a traditional climax: “Encumbered by the weight of a tear” (still pretty tongue-in-cheek) and a quiet pool after the waterfall ending.  Very slick, very pro.  Showing us how it’s done.

I’d like to say analyzing the poem for the blog has given me a deeper appreciation for McClatchy, who has puzzled me some in the past, and maybe it has, but I do think this is also one of his finest hours.

I’ve taken a couple runs at discussing the other poem in the issue, “Country Songs,” by Dora Malech.  First, I admit it is over my head.  Language poetry, I guess, by which we mean it doesn’t make any hooting sense.  It has rhymes.  It has cool lines.  “…close // enough for their color together to make // a kind of ringing.”  But it doesn’t cohere.  Take all these cool images, string them together, put a resonance with a little boy shouting “You and what army” at the beginning, then “This army, but not me.” at the end, and ring-a-ding, we have a poem.  Ohhhh-kay.  Whatever you say, folks.  Someone please pass me the secret decoder ring, please, cuz I’m lost in the fruit loops here.

Finally, I ask my wife, who does much decoding for me, and she points out there’s a sense of rage running through the poem, an anger at what is going on, a helplessness.  “No secret that the sun and // moon have always slept in separate beds.”

The poem reads better through the glass of that pop bottle, but there is still much in it that doesn’t support that theme.  So be warned  — unless you like that sort of thing, in which case maybe you should be alarmed.   ;->

Enlightenment through 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 Nation – Apr 9, 2018

The New Yorker – Apr 30 18

The New Yorker – Apr 2 2018

 

 

 

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