We have an impressive collection of poetry in the Poetry Column this month. I love it when themes show up in a group of poems selected only for their individual strengths. This month, I’m calling the theme survival: physical survival, emotional survival, hospital-induced attempted survival, sexual and sensual survival, economic survival, survival of the individual and of the family, survival in the woods and in the desert, survival of what the child was shaped into as he grew into an adult, survival of the body and its needs as its physicality and experience changes, survival of memory. We have all instinctively survived, and it fascinates us. We wonder what will continue to survive. We write so that some part of us will survive. As long as our survival is not harmful, we survive shamelessly; maybe we survive shamelessly regardless. But we survive, and we seek beauty and love; we seek some comfort. It causes suffering, of course, but so does everything. So we survive, and we fight for what makes survival worthwhile. Sharing that struggle is part of the journey, and so I am honored to be able to share these survival stories with you.
First off, Connotation Press super-fan Valerie Nieman sent us five breathtakingly beautiful poems to share with you this month. The language in them is stunning, and the impact of each poem gives me chills each time I read them. Their themes are gentle but deep – survival’s link to memory, self-sufficiency, and love; submitting to incomprehensible glories; and the creeping quickness of time. These are lovely poems to sit down with. Their world is not free of sadness and pain, but it is beautiful and rich. The voice in “Catechism,” presses forward and interacts with itself, letting us in on its processes and emphasizing the importance of each train of thought, but all internally, privately, and kindly. Ars poetica or guide for life – the lines get blurred here, as now it seems (of course) they should. And “Lore II: Tap’s Tips” is a delectable but gritty poem about physical survival in the wild which seems, to me, to be a metaphor for emotional survival in a world impossible to plan for. But in all of it is so much beauty – don’t miss this poetry.
Associate Editor Paul Scot August brings work to the Poetry Column for the first time this month, and he starts off with two very strong poets. Of their work, Mr. August writes:
In his four poems set in California cities, Colin Dodds slogs his way through a growing isolation and decay yet still sings of its beauty. Palm Springs, Indio, Yucca Valley, Needles: deserts but not quite deserted. Dead palms, the homeless, road kill rats and empty for-sale double-wides inhabit this landscape, and the speaker in these poems looks down the truck-filled highway, looking for escape, for the weight of prayer.
There is a haunting sort of loneliness in these two poems by Marc J. Frazier, a nostalgic yet realistic telling of the past, of incidents filled with beginnings and inevitable endings. The poem Body Speak is split into two encounters, one past, one near-present, with that word ‘encounter’ chosen like a blade to cut through any desire to whitewash the results. The poem The Weight of Each Word struggles to find the right words to leave that past and speak of the now, sudden images adding layers.
We also have the fortune of having work by Kevin Ridgeway in the column this month. Mr. Ridgeway’s narrative poem is both playful and heartfelt. Most of all, without making excuses, it is understanding of the ways we cope with this often unjust world. Its perspective zooms in and out, forward and back, giving us a glimpse at the bigger picture surrounding one moment in time and reminding us there’s more than one perspective from which to understand a happening. “The Downey Bob's Big Boy, August 1983” tells a great story, too, and Kevin’s fun, irreverent reverence made me want to ask for a beer and more stories. I do love a great story.
Associate Editor Julie Brooks Barbour, as always, brings wonderful work to the column. She writes:
In the poems of Michele Pizarro Harman, we find the domestic living spaces of Samantha Stevens and Mary Richards. With Samantha and Mary, we “divine the possibilities” of each home, whether the spaces are interior or exterior, or both. I spoke with Harman about her uses of domestic setting within these poems and was presented with a fascinating discussion of the roles of women in the 1960’s and ‘70’s, and the value our culture places on exterior appearances.
Vince Trimboli’s poems explore the need to be attached as well as to be “un-fettered.” In one poem, a child peers into a crane and claw machine, wanting a toy that is too difficult to grasp. In another, the speaker sounds out the names of birds to reflect migrating emotions. The beauty of these poems is that they yearn both within and outside the physical world, reminding us of how closely emotion is attached to experience.
If reading encourages empathy, it is the writer who first opens the door, and Matt Terhune’s poems do just that. In one poem, a young man stands in an elevator “running his fingers / over the red moon of each button” after a phone call to his mother. In another poem, a man on an airplane “rock[s] a book like a child in his lap / for two hours.” These pieces may open the door to moments of distress, but they also offer comfort through understanding.
Carlton Fisher’s poem “Tin Foil” is the story of a grandmother who is “accustomed to conservation.” She saves everything, not as a packrat would with an eye for a gleaming bauble, but as someone who fears having to do without. She washes and folds tin foil. She mends and reuses clothing. At the heart of this act of preservation runs a deep loss. Fisher has crafted a fine story within these lines, one that had me returning to this poem over and over again.
D.M. Aderibigbe’s poem tells a story of absence through what is present: food, music, and a cold sun. The tones of these lines are warm as well as harsh, juxtaposing elements to reveal a poem that reverberates with honesty.
Michelle Bonczek Evory’s poem “In Hidatsa” draws me in instantly and gives me chills each time I read it. Here is a struggle between two kinds of survival, one, survival of body, and the other, survival of something more akin to self and identity – a terrible choice to have to make. The physical details in Ms. Evory’s poem are striking and pervasive, and the longing is heartbreaking.
The voice in Julia Paganelli’s poem “Vinegar”, which tracks post-break-up geography/choreography, is tender, soulful, and resilient. Without didacticism, it shows a growing confidence rising from the ashes. The speaker in this poem takes ownership of her mourning and, without callousness, begins cutting ties to a former lover. What I love most is that, in contrast to the lover, the speaker experiences the hurt, including the memory of touch, with her whole body, and it affects her experience of the rest of her day-to-day life. The other parts of life then become instruments in the song of the break-up and recovery – and, the poem hints to me, eventually, the break-up and recovery will be just an instrument in the song of something larger.
Rebecca Givens Rolland’s poem “Dream of Jaundice” affected me with its hospitalized tone, its white breaks in mechanical sound, its speaker’s loving attempt to dig (or wing) through to a true, beautiful connection between the cores of people in a place dedicated to the body’s infrastructure. The helpless feeling in this poem is countered with fight, hope, and flight. But inescapable in this poem is the harsh reality that, sometimes, the mind is stayed and the body submitted to the mere mechanics of survival, the joy of living uncertain.
Davette Buckhannon was in one of Editor-in-Chief Ken Robidoux’s literature classes, and he liked one of her poems so much that he asked her to send it in to the Poetry Column. I love Davette’s interest in people and things with a history, with a story to tell. In life, she owns an antique store. In her poetry, youth shines brightly and draws the eye. The speaker, though, is acutely aware of and focuses on age and its stories, which others fail to attend to – and mourns the admiration of others, which has moved unfaithfully from the no-longer-sparkling-new speaker to the sight of a young, “perfect” body.
It’s a big column this month, but worth every word. Vive poetry!