It’s August, which means it’s time once again for our yearly retrospective at Connotation Press! Davon, Ösel , and I love all of the work we publish in this column, and to choose from this work is a difficult thing. It never gets easier. September 2018 will mark the beginning of my sixth year as an editor in this poetry column, and my fourth as Poetry Editor. I love the work I do and am grateful that so many poets trust us with their work every year. I also have the best team in the world. Davon and Ösel always bring stellar work to the column and I’m honored to have the privilege of working with them.
The first poet we revisit is Shayla Lawson, whose poems intricately weave the lyrics of Frank Ocean with lines about the self, using collaboration in intriguing ways. One of my favorite poems is “Nights” in which the speaker states, “Some Days / the only way being a black girl feels / magic is that it isn’t / real.” Lawson says in her interview, “ The Black experience in contemporary America is fraught with peril,” and these poems echo this statement in brilliant ways.
Associate Poetry Editor Davon Loeb says that Caroline Rash’s poems “ invite you inside her home, where she wants you to listen to her kettle whistle, and peruse her bookshelf, and sit and eat breakfast with her.” He adds, “ And while these poems are the candid views from inside the window, they are also the revelatory explorations into intimate relationships.” These lines resonate in spaces familiar to us while making them new.
Kirk Schlueter’s poems are reminders to us to take care of ourselves—“ never say anything/to yourself you wouldn’t let someone say to you”—even though we don’t always follow through. What I love about these poems is their willingness to show us how imperfect and vulnerable humans are: the bod y is “ a slow, sagging ruin” and “brittle metal.” The world Schlueter creates is stark, but it’s also beautiful, leaving us with what could very well be a song: “ the sharp calls / of the night herons in their sandbar nests.”
Associate Poetry Editor Ösel Jessica Plante brought us poetry from Octavio Quintanilla that “ walks around in a desert by itself and finds the strangest things,” she says. “There are no absolutes in his work so we get used to standing in a kind of imagistic and linguistic quicksand.”
These poems include stunning, musical lines like “ I see my future move ahead without me / and no one comes to explain what I am / ceasing to be.” This is necessary work that I keep rereading.
We published poems by Anita Olivia Koester this year that use the persona of Venus to discuss the ways in which the male gaze distorts the female body and how women might reclaim this gaze. Koester’s poems reclaim the image of the female body by breaking then rebuilding it: “ We begin again. I photograph the pieces of her, her torso more beautiful than any Apollo.” These prose poems are startling and stunning.
Ösel says about James Dunlap’s work, “ We are relieved that his narrators are not us, because their stories make us want to close our eyes, to turn away. But then we encounter language like, ‘the moon is bright and the night strung together / with strings of bullfrog song,’ so we keep reading, keep watching. These luminous moments adorn a skeleton of trauma.” I deeply admire the unflinching honesty in these poems. Dunlap is a powerful poet I can’t wait to see more work from.
Ananda Lima’s poem “Cleaning the Colonial” put us in the mind of a speaker who cleans a house while ruminating on colonialism. The dialogue in this poem coincides with a domestic act which resonates within the house and outside of it. In these lines, Lima confronts an idea by drawing out its complications: “ By now we understand / you don’t really belong / to me / and I don’t really belong / but we have come to accept / that our histories have commingled.”
I found Kristene Kaye Brown’s poems vulnerable and heartbreaking: “Love, not even the mountains know / true permanence.” Brown’s use of lineation is entrancing as well: “ When everything burns we must / set fire to the self, the crabgrass / seem to say.” This poet folds loss into lovely images, creating a landscape of storms, “a small stuttering space.”
One of the poems by Ron Riekki that we published this past year, “ I Sometimes Write about the Helicopter on Fire When I Was in the Military,” ends with a stunning line: “ As if you read this poem and could feel the heat that’s in me forever.” Davon notes that Riekki’s poems, “ are stark depictions of the ongoing struggles within and outside of us. He writes of post-war, and the realities that follow—unemployment, PTSD, silence, rage.” I’m proud that we published this excellent, important work in our poetry column.
We end our retrospective with the poems of Dan Albergotti. I’ve been a fan of his poetry for years, and was thrilled when we included his work in our column. Among the work we published was a love poem, “Elision,” that departs from the traditional love poem by entertaining issues of sound and form. Yet it still is a poem about love, and this is what Albergotti does so well: using form to discuss larger ideas, which is also the case in his poem, “No Freedom.” Visiting these poems again, they’re even more powerful.
And this is true of all the work in our retrospective: these poems were powerful when we published them, and they’re powerful now. Thank you for taking a look back with us, and we’ll see you again in September for the start of our tenth year of publication.