Wow, we’re celebrating five years of Connotation Press! Five years, my goodness. It’s hard to believe how much we’ve done in just five years. I’ve read some of the best poetry being written from across the world, reflecting all kinds of experiences. Reading those poems has connected all of us who read the magazine to the people who wrote the poems, to the experience of those poems, and to the feeling of those experiences. It has been an amazing five years. I’ve come to truly admire people, as people and as poets, whom I’ve met through the magazine in that time, and for that, I am grateful. Every year, choosing the poets for the retrospective issue is always a nice reminder of all of the stunning work we’ve had the good fortune to read and share with you. This has been an extremely busy year for me, and it’s pretty cool to get the chance to slow down and look back through what we’ve accomplished here at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact. And rereading some of the work that floored me the most always makes me happy. So, without further ado, I’ll name some of our absolute favorites from the last year so you can share in our admiration for some great poets!
We had the pleasure of publishing Katherine Soniat twice this year, the first time with an interview. Her poetry feels both mythic and personal. It navigates the wonder of life and the pain of separation and loss in a way that feels like we share at least the basics, including the feelings, of our own journeys with everyone in the world. Rarely have I seen poems this concrete and chock-full of feeling – and rarely have I been able to relate to poems – when the context is left nearly entirely up to the reader, as here. These poems tap into archetypes, at least of a type: archetypal, cyclic experiences and feelings. These poems surrounded me like water before I even realized what was happening.
Of all of the poets we published, I may have been most excited to publish poetry by my friend, Alvis Minor. Alvis’s work is subtle, beautiful, and chillingly powerful. I highly suggest reading it more than once – it gets even better every time you read it. Alvis’s word choice and imagery are brilliant. Music permeates the poems. And the tension in this work is sublime – sad but also full of beautiful possibility. Mr. Minor is a brilliant thinker, and his interview is rich and honest, as well as playful. I’ve admired Alvis’s work since I first read one of his poems in an undergrad workshop we were taking, and I could not been happier to have been able to share his work with you.
I came to greatly admire Karen Skolfield this year. Her poetry is subtle and powerful; it struggles, fights, and hopes; it takes hot cocoa in the kitchen and coffee from the microwave. What I love best about it is the way it remembers – these poems reveal how things feel. I often notice that I remember the way a time or event felt even though I don’t remember the details, and I love these poems for the way they embrace the memory of feelings. This is not to say these poems lack detail; rather, they are packed with wonderful imagery and sounds. And the stories and thoughts she shares in her interview are lovely – I especially like her Halloween snow storm story. I love the recognition that sometimes a little hardship can bring us closer, can be beautiful.
Tim Mayo’s work brought me joy. Associate Editor Julie Brooks Barbour brought us his work and an interview with him. Ms Barbour wrote, “The physical and spiritual merge in these poems through narratives as different as the act of trapezing or the washing of feet. I found these poems as meditative as the movements of their subjects. In his interview, Tim Mayo speaks further about these poems in a discussion of the mind and body and the issue of surrender, as well the subject of truth in poetry.”
Ms Barbour also brought us wonderful work and interviews with talented poets Barbara Presnell, Lauren Camp, and Wesley Rothman. One of my favorites that Julie brought to the column was Michael Levan, about whose poem she wrote, “Throughout his poem, we feel the necessity of connection, whether it’s with a sleeping child down a hallway or with alien beings light years away. These lines take us through the desire to reach out and be heard, to feel a sense of purpose, that we’re not just casting light on an empty shore.”
Joe Mills’s work was a lovely, gentle reminder to step back and appreciate the life and time we have. Former Senior Associate Editor JP Reese introduced his work, writing, “There must be something in the water in North Carolina that makes for great poets. Joe Mills’ poems are gentle hymns to everyday life. His work is empathetic and genuine, with a twist. These three poems demonstrate the poet’s intuitive knowledge of and appreciation for the human condition, in all its complexity and flawed beauty. Read these poems and enjoy the poet’s take on ‘this life, so tiring and wonderful…’”
I was also stunned by the work of Joanna Grant. Of her work, Ms Reese wrote, “When I first read “Getting Hot Out There Now It Looks Like: FOB Shank, Afghanistan” by Joanna Grant, it reminded me of the brilliant work of Brian Turner’s Phantom Noise. This poem by an author who has been to war is immediate and real. It captures a time and place no one who has not directly experienced it could possibly conjure.”
Michael Miller’s poetry brought me to a kind of sepia-tinted calm. I love the kind of Mayberry tone of his poems, the retrospection and introspection, the lens of adulthood understanding keeping childhood activities at a distance but also giving them focus and clarity, keeping them alive. One of the best parts of being a kid is the possibility inherent in so many things. These poems capture that mystery sublimely, and they remind me of the also sublime freedom and excitement of that mystery. Better yet, these poems remind me that that’s something we don’t have to lose.
Lisa Low graced our column dedicated to emerging poets with lovely, stunning work. I love the way her poems speak in series of beautiful, surprising, fresh images. The associational logic of these poems, one image often leading to another memory’s image, and so on, is relaxing and beautiful to me. The water-like, honest tone enraptured me. Low’s poetry shows maturity in the way images and memories evoke multiple feelings, sometimes at once, sometimes in strings. Please, swirl your fingers through these poems for a while. Linger on the phrases that catch your attention. They will lead you deeper.
This year, I also had the thrill of sharing three stunning prose poems from our friend Danielle Mitchell, who has done very well since working as our first Intern here at Connotation Press back in 2009. Her work knocked my socks off. I recommend reading all of them, then starting over and reading them all over again because, for me at least, I got deeper into the poems the more I read. The stacked images, the firm command of shifting time, and the thought-provoking insights left me impressed and looking forward to more. I’m excited about Danielle’s very promising poetry career.
We published so much wonderful work this year! In case you missed it, be sure to check out the work by Colin Pope, Andrew Koch, and Ellen McGrath Smith. It’s a bit early to be retrospecting about last month, but if you haven’t, be sure to check out the chilling poetry there by Claudia Serea.
Finally, we got to share with you work by Paul Scot August, our soon-to-be newest Associate Editor here at the Poetry Column! I am so excited that Paul is joining our team. Of his work, Associate Editor Julie wrote, “These poems by Paul Scot August are haunted by desolate structures: a ‘shuttered canning plant’ and the twisted pier on a lake. There is also spiritual desolation in these poems, but the speaker faces it head on—plunging feet into icy water or standing on the rails just after a train passes, ‘prepared for the darkness ahead.’ Here is the risk of failure. Here’s a ticket out but the speaker dares to stand still and look back.”
Thank you to all of our contributors. An especially huge thanks to Ken Robidoux, whose extreme diligence and dedication makes all of this possible. And thanks to my team, without whom I couldn’t shoulder this column: the great Julie Brooks Barbour and long-term Associate Editor JP Reese, who we’ve just said good-bye to. Best of luck to you. And a hearty welcome to Paul Scott August, who will start as an Associate Editor this fall. Woohoo! And thank you, readers, for sharing in this journey with us. Here’s to five years!
Kaite Hillenbrand has many loves. Most of her love goes to her family, notably her fiancé. Did she mention that she is engaged? That she has the best fiancé in the world? It's true. She also loves exercise, beauty, relaxing boat rides, and connections forged by powerful poetry. Sam, Anarchy Bunny, gets filed under family members. He is loved. She is proud to say that she has been with Connotation Press since before it launched, and it and what it stands for have her love, too. She is an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson PLLC. She loves her fiancé, Mr. Ken Robidoux. She trusts in respect.