SCARRIET’S HOT POETRY ONE HUNDRED 2019—“BEST LINES”

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I don’t know any format—except this one, Scarriet, now in its tenth year—which attempts to bring together every kind of poet in one place.

There are four kinds of poets who never touch each other and exist in separate universes: the formalist poet, the colloquial poet, the professional, and the amateur. Poets of radically different styles insult one another, stylistically, that is—the novelist is more like the poet than different kinds of poets from each other. I can no longer go to a library or a bookstore and seek “poetry” without entering a shooting zone of competing forms and sentiments.

The colloquial now dominates the professional; the beautiful and well-made book cover of the contemporary poet hides more f-bombs than rhymes.

The professional, with their prizes and book deals, wants nothing to do with the amateur—who posts their accessible love poems online. The gulf is such, that a person “who hates poetry” will sooner read, and even like, the amateur’s efforts, before the well-connected professional will deign to glimpse what, in their opinion, is trash (or perhaps to their jealous consternation, good) given away too easily.

One delightful thing I’ve noticed: how a few selected words from a poet’s work can explain the entirety of the kind of poet they are; as much as this is true, it validates this list, and makes it more than just an exercise in which a formalist amateur like myself attempts to ram together, in a feverish fit of schadenfreude, things which do not belong.

These poets do belong together—or, rather, they do not.

Yet here they are.

Thomas Graves, Salem, MA 12/4/2019

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1) Laura Foley “to look back and see, on the hilltop, our life, lit from inside.”

2) Luke Kennard “I take the murderer for coffee.”

3) Ilya Kaminsky “What is a child? A quiet between two bombardments.”

4) Kathleen Jamie “Walking in a waking dream I watched nineteen deer pour from ridge to glen-floor”

5) Linda Ashok  “the moon licked up the landscape with her fervent tongue”

6) Fiona Benson “How light I was. How doubtfully safe.”

7) Ben Mazer “Some must be publishers, and some must be spot on, in a horse drawn carriage, taking in the dawn”

8) Sushmita Gupta “She gave a last look at her solitary car, in her garage, with seats folded down so paintings could lay, the slope that rolled down the hill that ended in a roundabout, with palms and coloured grass that looked like hay.”

9) Stephen Cole “You still disturb the meadow with your words.”

10) Julia Alvarez “I’ve broken up with my true love man after man”

11) Brian Rihlmann “nail guns pop pop pop I heard stilettos on concrete the lady of old Reno wandering”

12) Patricia Smith “Who shot you, baby?”

13) Joie Bose “I see you in all the faces I see, crisscrossing the pavements aimlessly.”

14) Indah Widiastuti “Who is the poem I wrote? He speaks a language I never use; read by those I never know.”

15) Kevin Young “We curl down the slide one at a time, blue light at the end.”

16) Joy Harjo “I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun.”

17) Jill McDonough “I am not interested in makeup. I am interested in jail.”

18) Chelsey Minnis “People in their nightgowns, smoking cigarettes, they give great speeches.”

19) Nabina Das “It’s in love that we wait & let all other loves wither & waste.”

20) Eliana Vanessa “impediment of roses: and this is not the sort of thing you can control, no, how our bodies trembled, post-love, nor the way I will keep falling, to explain it, just so.”

21) Adeeba Shahid Talukder “Splinter the sun, wake all its ashes.”

22) Dorianne Laux “Broken the days into nights, the night sky into stars”

23) Sharon Olds “I caught bees, by the wings, and held them”

24) Alicia Ostriker “there are no pauses in this game”

25) Tishani Doshi “to fall into that same oblivion with nothing. As if it were nothing.”

26) Vidyan Ravinthiran “this isn’t the right kind of snow.”

27) Glyn Maxwell “he goes his way delighted”

28) Anne Carson “During the sermon, I crossed my legs.”

29) Peter Gizzi “I guess these trailers lined up in the lot off the highway will do.”

30) Li-Young Lee “From blossoms comes this brown paper bag of peaches”

31) Blake Campbell “And he entered, great spelunker, the resonant and ancient darkness”

32) Diana Khoi Nguyen “You cannot keep your brother alive.”

33) Marilyn Chin “I watched the world shrink into a penlight: how frail the court poet’s neck, how small this poetry world.”

34) Fanny Howe “We are always halfway there when we are here”

35) Babitha Marina Justin “It is rolling from roof to roof”

36) Meera Nair “You set us up against each other. Men against Women. We are all bovine.”

37) Anthony Anaxagorou “is that your hand still on my elbow?”

38) Tracy K. Smith “We wish to act. We may yet.”

39) Wendy Videlock “He watches ball. She throws a fit. She cannot stand to see him sit.”

40) Daipayan Nair “Autumn leaf! Nothing to keep—apart from beauty.”

41) Mary Angela Douglas “and let the tiny silver trumpets blow”

42) Carolyn Forché “What you have heard is true.”

43) Martin Espada “No one could hear him.”

44) Tina Chang “love is crowding the street and needs only air and it lives, over there, in the distance burning.”

45) Danez Smith “I have left earth.”

46) Ocean Vuong “this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue turning into a tongue.”

47) Eleanor Wilner “the blood that is pouring like a tide, on other shores.”

48) Marge Piercy “a woman is not made of flesh: she is manufactured like a sports sedan”

49) Yusef Komunyakka “My muse is holding me prisoner.”

50) Naomi Shihab Nye “Each day I miss Japanese precision.”

51) Terrance Hayes “I love how your blackness leaves them in the dark.”

52) Carl Dennis “Lending a hand, I’d tell him, is always dignified, while being a hero is incidental.”

53) Jeet Thayil “Some are sweet and old, others are foul-mouthed and bold. Mine is dead and cold.”

54) Victoria Chang “Her last words were in English. She asked for a Sprite.”

55) Kushal Poddar “ferns, orchids, hyacinths sprawl like insomniac veins.”

56) Karen Solie “We itch and prosper heavenward on bands of grit and smoke”

57) Richard Blanco “Stare until the trembling leaves are tongues”

58) Paul Muldoon “putting its shoulder to the wheel it means to reinvent.”

59) Safiya Sinclair “Isn’t this love? To walk hand in hand toward the humid dark”

60) Frank Bidart “Fucked up, you know you’d never fall for someone not fucked up.”

61) Nick Flynn “My therapist points out that fifteen minutes of movie violence releases as many opiates into the body as if being prepped for major surgery.”

62) Jennifer Moss “all beauty turned hostile”

63) Fatimah Asghar “your lantern long ahead & I follow I follow”

64) Hannah Sullivan “All summer the Park smelled of cloves and it was dying.”

65) Jamal May “The counting that says, I am this far. I am this close.”

66) William Logan “Don’t be any form’s bitch.”

67) Juan Felipe Herrera “No food. No food no food no food no food!”

68) Hera Lindsay Bird “it was probably love that great dark blue sex hope that keeps coming true”

69) Ae Hee Lee “She asks your husband to step in.”

70) Jay Bernard “I file it under fire, corpus, body, house.”

71) Sophie Collins “pails full of oil all dark and density and difficult for a girl to carry”

72) Hollie McNish “I let myself go cycling slow as I unbutton my clothes jacket unzipped helmet unclipped”

73) Zaffar Kunial “I didn’t know the word for what I was.”

74) Paul Farley “he fell up the dark stairwell to bed and projected right through to Australia”

75) Deryn Rees-Jones “The movie I’m in is black and white.”

76) Roger Robinson “he picks you up in the hand not holding the book”

77) Lloyd Schwartz “or if not the girl, then Vermeer’s painting of her”

78) Nalini Priyadarshni “but I love tea and so do you.”

79) Raquel  Balboni “Come off as harsh even if I’m friendly”

80) Robert Pinsky “When I had no temple I made my voice my temple.”

81) Emily Lawson “I step out to meet the wanderer: its black-veined hindwings”

82) Bruce Weigl “Why do we murder ourselves and then try to live forever.”

83) Steph Burt “I want to go home, paint my nails until they iridesce, clamp on my headphones, and pray to Taylor Swift.”

84) Merryn Juliette “There is no ceremony to her—she was simply there when yesterday she was not”

85) Thomas Sayers Ellis “It’s entrancement, how they govern you. The entertainment is side effect.”

86) Amy Gerstler “Here on earth, another rough era is birthed.”

87) Rupi Kaur “i change what i am wearing five times before i see you”

88) Forrest Gander “What closes and then luminous? What opens and then dark?”

89) Justin Phillip Reed “when you fuck me and i don’t like it, is that violence.”

90) Franny Choi  “i pick up the accent of whoever i’m speaking to. nobody wants to fuck a sponge.”

91) Emily Skaja “when night came, an egg-moon slid over the steeple.”

92) Mary Ruefle “Night falls and the empty intimacy of the whole world fills my heart to frothing.”

93) Aaron Smith “If a man is given dick, he’s never full.”

94) Donald Revell “Time might be anything, even the least portion of shadow in the blaze, that helpless Hare of darkness in the hawk’s world.”

95) Dan Sociu “people have infinite capacity for transformation, into anything, and I know that I myself can transform”

96) Ben Zarov “There are many, many wrong ways.”

97)  Adil Jussawalla “Twenty years on, its feet broken, will its hands fly to its face when a light’s switched on?”

98) Steven Cramer “no matter how we plead they won’t come down.”

99) George Bilgere “My father would take off his jacket and tie after work and fire up the back yard grill. Scotch and a lawn chair was his idea of nature. Even Thoreau only lasted a couple of years.”

100) Ravi Shankar “I watch, repose, alone.”

LET’S DO IT AGAIN! ANOTHER SCARRIET HOT 100 POETRY LIST!

 

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Yone Noguchi and Joaquin Miller: How curiously they would gaze on us today!

This latest Hot 100 List is mostly comprised of very brief quotes from poems in BAP 2015—now the most collectible volume in David Lehman’s “best” anthology series, due to its Yi-Fen Chou controversy.

The “molecular” display presents fragmentary glimpses of “hot,” and we must say it is an interesting way to see the poets—can we know them by a few of their poetry molecules?

We may be living, without knowing it, in the Age of the Fragment.  The best prose-poems often produce dull fragments. That’s the bad news. The good news is that fragments from dull prose-poems may intimate genius; if future ages can only read the fragments we produce today, some lucky poets, who wrote mediocre prose poems, may be hailed as geniuses. Since the lyric of unified metrical accomplishment is really not our strength today, the Fragment may be our era’s ticket to lasting fame.

Is it the goal of the fragment to be fragmentary?  Is it ever the goal of the poem to be fragmentary?  Are there different types of fragments?  Is there not a rush to completion by every poem itself that makes even a fragment seem complete, beyond even the knowledge of the poet?

Getting to know David Lehman on Facebook…he loves rhyme, especially the rollicking sort, and we believe those sorts of poems in BAP are his selections.  Lehman is also a ‘free-speech-er;’ he sanctions the racy; the BAP poems often strive to be popular in the attention-getting sense, which I suppose is admirable—or not.

The non-poem exceptions in the Scarriet list are recent remarks by the hot Alexie, Lehman, Perloff, and Mary Karr. We are proud to include the quotation from Perloff—who chose to break her silence on the “racist Avant-garde” controversy by addressing Scarriet—on Facebook!—as she admitted her book Unoriginal Genius and its final chapter on Goldsmith’s Traffic may have had a part in bringing on the racist label. Are we not interested in my discussion of Yoko Tawada in Unoriginal Genius, Perloff asked, because she’s Asian-German, rather than Asian-American? “What xenophobia!”

The question we asked Perloff was, “Is the non-creative nearly racist by default?” The question was not meant to put Perloff on the spot; it was as much about the current race-conscious atmosphere as it was about Perloff, or the avant-garde. Were an avant-garde poet to tweet “red wheel barrow beside the white chickens” enough times, just think what might happen. And speaking of Williams (and Pound) and their Imagiste schtick: Scarriet, in its five year assault on Avant-Garde Modernism as a reactionary clique of white men, should get some credit for opening up this whole discussion.

Scarriet has written of Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) in the context of Imagism ripping off haiku, the importance of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war, and Noguchi’s important contacts: Yeats, Hardy, Symons, and John Gould Fletcher—the Arkansas poet who, along with Ford Maddox Ford, was the connecting link between Pound’s circle and the equally reactionary and highly influential circle of New Critics—the group of men who brought us the Writing Program Era—and its “difficult” Modernist flavor.

Scarriet, which trailblazes often, found the secret to the Red Wheel Barrow poem: WC Williams had a brother, Edgar, who married the woman he loved, Charlotte (Bill married her sister). “So much depended on” this: and Ed can be found in “red,” Charlotte in “chickens” and “white” symbolizes the bride.

But here we go. Controversy and hot go together; let’s get to the hot list. No mention of awards this time. Enjoy the list—and the poetry.

1. Yi-Fen Chou –“Adam should’ve said no to Eve.”

2. Derrick Michael Hudson –“Am I supposed to say something, add a soundtrack and voiceover?”

3. Sherman Alexie –“I am no expert on Chinese names…I’d assumed the name was Chinese.”

4. David Lehman –“Isn’t giving offense, provoking discussion…part of the deal?”

5. Terrance Hayes –“Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours”

6. Marjorie Perloff — “Scarriet poses the question…I have so far refrained from answering this and related questions but perhaps it is time to remind Scarriet and its readership…”

7. Amy Gerstler –“…live on there forever if heaven’s bereft of smell?”

8. Jane Hirshfield — “A common cold, we say—common, though it is infinite”

9. Mary Karr — “[John Ashbery is] the most celebrated unclothed emperor…an invention of academic critics…the most poisonous influence in American poetry”

10. Mary Oliver — “June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter.”

11. Rowan Ricardo Phillips — “It does not not get you quite wrong.”

12. Lawrence Raab — “nothing truly seen until later.”

13. Patrick Phillips — “Touched by your goodness, I am like that grand piano we found one night”

14. Dan Chiasson — “The only god is the sun, our mind, master of all crickets and clocks.”

15. Willie Perdomo — I go up in smoke and come down in a nod”

16. Katha Pollitt — “Truth had no past. It was wordless as water, a fall of shadow on stone.”

17. Tim Seibles — “That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger”

18. Marilyn Hacker — “You happened to me.”

19. Charles Simic — “I could have run into the street naked, confident anyone I met would understand”

20. Louise Glück — “…the night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.”

21. Laura Kasischke — “but this time I was beside you. …I was there.”

22. Michael Tyrell — “how much beauty comes from never saying no?”

23. Susan Terris — “cut corners    fit in     marry someone”

24. Cody Walker — “Holly round the house for a Muhammad Ali roundhouse.”

25. A.E. Stallings — “the woes were words,     and the only thing left was quiet.”

26. Valerie Macon — “coats fat over lean with a bright brush”

27. Jennifer Keith — “…bound to break: One the fiction, one the soul, the fact.”

28. Ed Skoog — “Its characters are historians at the Eisenhower Library.”

29. Terence Winch — “I’m in the emergency room at Holy Cross hoping all is not lost.”

30. Chana Bloch — “the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.”

31. Natalie Diaz — “Today my brother brought over a piece of the ark”

32. LaWanda Walters — “And we—we white girls—knew nothing.”

33. Raphael Rubinstein — “Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else”

34. R.S. Gwynn — “How it shows, shows, shows. (How it shows!)”

35. Robin Coste Lewis — “how civic the slick to satisfied from man.”

36. Andrew Kozma — “What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.”

37. Melissa Barrett — “—lines from Craiglist personal ads

38. Mark Bibbins — “He’s Serbian or something, whole family wiped out”

39. Chen Chen — “i pledge allegiance to the already fallen snow”

40. Patricia Lockwood — “How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel marry Across…on a Tightrope?”

41. Ron Padgett — “Old feller, young feller, who cares?”

42. Bethany Schultz Hurst — “Then things got confusing for superheroes.”

43. Natalie Scenters-Zapico — “…apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.”

44. Sandra Simonds — “Her little girl threw fake bills into the air.”

45. Donna Masini — “Even sex is no exit.  Ah, you exist.”

46. Dora Malech — “paper mane fluttering in the breeze of a near miss, belly ballasted with…kisses”

47. David Kirby — “Pets are silly, but the only world worth living in is one that doesn’t think so.”

48. Ross Gay —  “One never knows does one how one comes to be”

49. Meredith Hasemann — “The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.”

50. Madelyn Garner — “working her garden…which is happiness—even as petal and pistil we fall.”

51. Wendy Videlock — “like a lagoon, like a canoe, like you”

52. Erica Dawson — “I knocked out Sleeping Beauty, fucking cocked her on the jaw.”

53. Hailey Leithauser — “Eager spills eel-skin, python, seal-leather, platinum and plate, all cabbage, all cheddar.”

54. Monica Youn –“the dead-eyed Christ in Pietro’s Resurrection will march right over the sleeping soldiers”

55. Tanya Olson — “Assless Pants Prince High-Heels Boots Prince Purple Rain Prince”

56. Jericho Brown — “But nobody named Security ever believes me.”

57. Danielle DeTiberus — “In a black tank top, I can watch him talk about beams, joists…for hours”

58. Rebecca Hazelton — “My husband bearded, my husband shaved, the way my husband taps out the razor”

59. Dana Levin — “I watched them right after I shot them: thirty seconds of smashed sea while the real sea thrashed and heaved—”

60. Evie Shockley — “fern wept, let her eyes wet her tresses, her cheeks, her feet. the cheerlessness rendered her blessed”

61. Alan Michael Parker — “Rabbi, try the candied mint: it’s heaven.”

62. Aimee Nezhukumatahil — “I wonder if scientists could classify us a binary star—”

63. D. Nurske — “Neils Bohr recites in his soft rapt voice: I divide myself into two persons”

64. Afaa Michael Weaver — “inside oneness that appears when the prison frees me to know I am not it and it is not me.”

65. Marilyn Chin — “She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove”

66. Candace G. Wiley — ” My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.”

67. Joanna Valente — “Sometimes, at night, I wish for someone to break into me—”

68. Jeet Thayil — “There are no accidents.  There is only God.”

69. Kate Tempest — “It gets into your bones.”

70. Alice Notley — “To take part in you is to die is why one dies Have I said this before?”

71. Eileen Myles — “Well I’ll be a poet. What could be more foolish and obscure.”

72. Major Jackson — “When you have forgotten the meaningful bop”

73. Dawn Lundy Martin — “And Olivia, the mouth of his children from the mouth of my vagina.”

74. Kiki Petrosino — “We sense them shining in our net of nerves.”

75. Jennifer Moxley — “How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.”

76. Juliana Spahr — “There is space between the hands.”

77. Ada Limón — “just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

78. Kevin Young — “I want to be doused in cheese and fried.”

79. Dodie Bellamy — “what is it have I seen it before will it hurt me or help me”

80. Juan Felipe Herrera — “Could this be yours? Could this item belong to you? Could this ticket be what you ordered, could it?”

81. Joy Harjo — “The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits blew deer magic.”

82. Saeed Jones — “In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back”

83. Sarah Arvio — “The new news is I love you my nudist”

84. Desiree Bailey — “how will I swim to you when the day is done?”

85. Rachael Briggs — “Jenny, sunny Jenny, beige-honey Jenny”

86. Rafael Campo — “We lie and hide from what the stethoscope will try to say”

87. Emily Kendal Frey — “How can you love people without them feeling accused?”

88. James Galvin — “Where is your grandmother’s wedding dress? What, gone?”

89. Douglas Kearney — “people in their house on TV are ghosts haunting a house haunting houses.”

90. Jamaal May — “how ruined the lovely children must be in your birdless city”

91. Claudia Rankine — “What did he just say? Did she really just say that?”

92. Donald Platt — “Someone jerks his strings. He can’t stop punching.”

93. Denise Duhamel — “it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires”

94. Jane Wong — “A planet fell out of my mouth”

95. Derrick Austin — “Will you find me without the pink and blue hydrangeas?”

96. Dexter L. Booth — “The head goes down in defeat, but lower in prayer”

97. Catherine Bowman — “From two pieces of string and oil-fattened feathers he made a father.”

98. Jessamyn Birrer — “Abracadabra: The anus. The star at the base of the human balloon.”

99. Julie Carr– “Can you smell her from here?”

100. Mary Angela Douglas — “music remains in the sifted ruins”

THE JANUARY 2013 ISSUE OF POETRY REVIEWED, PART I

Is Poetry magazine the place where American poetry happens, today?

We certainly think so.

How did Poetry gain this eminent place?

It has a history—so people want to publish there, an important first criterion.  Secondly, it has elevated criticism, honest, democratic criticism—rather than puffing—to an equal place with the poems.  Thirdly, it has no editorial bias for a certain kind of poetry.  Lastly, Poetry has a cheery, accessible, web-site, chocked with poems.  Blog Harriet is mere cut-and-paste and does not allow reader comments, but one can read the entire issue of Poetry on-line (and make comments).  Kudos to the editors.

Here’s our review of the most recent issue:

Sara Miller is first with five poems and she is one of those poets too clever for her own good, stating confidently in the abstract what actually makes very little sense; “Cairo” is plain-talk mysticism with metaphor inside of metaphor inside of metaphor:

CAIRO
The evidence was in and it went to the contrary.
The contrary wound around us rather like a river.
The river reacted, spider-like, tangling up its legs
with other wet parts we thought we knew,
such as creeks and fjords and deltas and such.
A beaver sits on the riverbank watching all of this unfold.
He doesn’t know what a fjord is, and he doesn’t care
for other waters, or even other beavers, or the merest
hint of other business, so he removes this evidence.
Then he builds a structure which for years he is rehabbing.
Inside it is hollow and there is his nest.
He is a dark little bastard, all the same.
The water had a fine way of   being, now it is tortured
by these nests and their vassal.
Yet the river doesn’t overthrow the beaver.
Quite the contrary. The river goes around polite as a snake.
It argues a tiny bit at the edges of the lodge,
where young beavers could be napping.
You and I would let loose a flood of tears. Not the river.
You and I would seep hotly into our darkest places.
Not the river. It is a long way from home
and has that on its mind, the day of rising,
when the temples will all be cleansed
and the whole unfathomable truth will out.
According to the waters. According to their book.

Yes, we get it, Ms. Miller.  The river and the beaver represent cooperative, unsentimental nature, and “you and I,” the humans, weepy and word-obsessed, will be cleansed.  The faster Miller’s waters clean us, the better.  Her poem rebukes us like a flood.  Oh, and hurray for the beaver. And we pray those young beavers are napping still.

The best of her five poems is perhaps the third one, “Gravitas:”

The overweight, overnight parts
that came to me in a dream.
Their clothes no longer fit,
it was this that brought them
to me crying, their faces twitching.
That had to end. No, they said,
it didn’t. So I rolled over to ghosts
that couldn’t dent a pillow.
The clock shed. Night pulled its
burdens into harbor and I woke,
glad for the day, its telltale light,
its flying minute, that genie work,
and the everlasting perturbations
of my people, their glories,
their heavy last words,
and for these, I rose.
Miller, like many modern poets, seems to have more faith in words themselves than how they ultimately fit together.  The poet should make the words obey the poem: the words themselves ought not to dictate what the poem is; Sara Miller is a little too enamoured of the words she manages to gather together in her poems. Her poem, “Gravitas,” unlike the others, manages to prevail, with a certain unified lyric grace, over the poet’s wordy education.
A poem should have an existence outside of its words, but since words naturally point to something outside themselves, a complacency too easily sets in:—mad moments of word-play become substitutes for poems.
I wish I could keep my thoughts in order
and my ducks in a row.
I wish I could keep my ducks in a thought
or my thoughts in a duck.
My point is that we all exist, wetly, in the hunt.
This is how “Countermeasures” opens, and one sees how much Miller is in love with words—which is all very nice, indeed.
Cairo C-
Spellbound D
Gravitas B
Countermeasures D
Moves In The Field C
Nocturne C-
Barbara Hamby has one poem, “Letter To A Lost Friend,” which reveals the modern poet’s faith in words—which can lead the poet astray.
Auden once said that ‘a love of words’ serves a poet better than ‘having something to say.’  We see the point—no one wants a poem to boss them around—but we believe the advice has done much mischief.  Poets have been erring in the other direction for quite some time: too modest to ‘have something to say,’ they aren’t shy about making ‘the words’ everything.
Hamby’s poem begins: “There must be a Russian word to describe what has happened between us…”
We see here, in Hamby’s opening, the modern poet’s obsession with words.  Poetry, however, is not Scrabble.
Hamby then rambles deliciously, impressionistically, nostalgically, with quotes from Pushkin anchoring a poem that feels like it belongs to its references more than to Hamby, the poet—but this, of course, is the modern sensibility, the 100 year old reaction against the Romantic ego: quote Pushkin (who ‘had something to say’) but don’t dare be a poet yourself who has ‘something to say.’  Pushkin’s dead.  Don’t be a Pushkin. Hide behind your references, your education, your words…  It’s all very humble and nice.  Poetry, however, has nothing to do with humility.
We give “Letter To A Lost Friend” a B.  We don’t love Hamby. But we feel this is the best poem she could possibly write.
Brad Leithauser gives us a rather long poem called “A Vase,” invoking a grandmother’s memory of a seventy years old purchase; the poem threatens to pierce our hearts, but never quite does, because Leithauser is finally so informative—lovingly informative, of course: Detroit and Japan figure prominently, but the ‘lovingly informative’ has ruined many a poem because even in subtle ways the information becomes a little too important; Poe’s ‘didactic’ warning is lost on so many. They say one avoids sentimentality in a poem by supplying it with concrete details; but everyone knows the realist is a secret sentimentalist.
“The Vase” earns a B
Fanny Howe has a lovely phrase early on in her poem, “Three Persons:”
the diamonds that pelt Neptune
But as a whole, the poem is mystically detached, drifting from vague observation to vague observation.  We like this:
Be like grass, she told me,
lie flat, spring up.
But why doesn’t Howe say,
Be like grass:
lie flat, spring up?
Why the “she told me?”
Is it that she doesn’t, as herself, want to be caught saying something so obviously quotable in a 19th century sort of way?
The poem provides no context for the “she;” the rest of the poem is “we,” “I” and “you.”
This is the problem: in Howe’s poem we get half-context. 
We want to advise the poet: Either give a full and necessary context, or give none.
Either tell us who the “she” is, or get rid of “she told me.”
We give “Three Persons” a C-
Julian Stannard’s poem, “The Gargantuan Muffin Beauty Contest” is meant to be social commentary by way of the ridiculous, or the reverse; we chuckled a couple of times upon first reading it, but we were tired of it by the second reading.  Fate plays a cruel trick on the poet who can entertain but once.
…We were hurtling back
to the 1970s and sometimes the 1970s are almost
as good as the 1930s
We can’t argue with this.
I saw Leonard Cohen crooning with a couple
of octogenarian muffins and I’m telling you now
the lobby was pleasantly disturbing.
I have two words for Mr. Stannard:  Mad Libs.
We give his poem a D+ and we think a D+ in the 1930s and the 1970s is about the same.
Matthew Neinow has four poems which are all self-conscious, carpentry lyrics.  They fail when too pretentious; they succeed when “song” and “shaped wood” manage to casually cohere.
Ode to the Belt Sander & This Cocobolo Sapwood B-
Ode to the Gain C+
Ode to the Steam Box B-
End Grain C-
The two poems by Barbara Perez have that bruised, confessional tone which forces you to sit up and listen, even though you don’t really want to.  We like “A mind, when playing tricks is at its most sincere,” but too often her poems do just boss you around.
Strange Little Prophets C
Not For You, Not For the World D
Shann Ray’s two poems feature one preachy little thing (“We need to know in America…”) called “My Dad, In America” and then a delightful poem, “Hesperus,” written by his daughter, really.  It’s about words, again, but it works in this case because it’s in the realm where it belongs.  We need to quote it in full:
My four-year-old daughter handed me a card.
To Daddy written on the front
and inside a rough field
of  five-pointed lights, and the words
You’re my favorite Daddy in the stars.
In this western night we all light the sky
like Vega, Deneb, Altair, Albireo,
the Summer Triangle,
Cygnus the Swan, our hair
tangled with wood and gravel,
our eyes like vacant docks
that beckon every boat.
Tell me about the word
stars, I said.
Oh, she said. Sorry.
I didn’t know
how to spell world.
We love this.  Who could not love this?My Dad, In America D+
Hesperus B+
“The Fisherman’s Farewell” by Robin Robertson is hewn from Old World craft:
and black in the undertow, blue
as the blue banners of the mackerel, whipping west.
Who can resist the elegance of the pirate, or the finesse of the fisherman?
to dream the blank horizon and dread the sight of land
*
Their houses, heeled over in the sand:
each ruin now a cairn for kites
Arrgh.  We give Robertson a B-
Wendy Videlock clearly belongs to the Kay Ryan/Heather McHugh School.  She has five poems and here’s two of them:
Bane
Full of strength and laced
with fragility:
the thoroughbred,
the hummingbird,
and all things
cursed
with agility.
I Don’t Buy It
I don’t buy it, says
the scientist.
Replies the frail
and faithful heart,
it’s not for sale.
The line “It is always darkest before the leopard’s kiss” from “Proverbial” reminds us of Kim Addonizio, and then Videlock makes it a couplet: “Where there’s smoke there is emphasis.”  Videlock doesn’t fear ‘having something to say.’  For instance (again from “Proverbial”): “He is not wise that parrots the wise.”  “Better late than suffer the long introduction.”  She at least deserves points for clarity.
I Don’t Buy It D
Bane B-
If You’re Crowish D
Proverbial B-
A Lizard In Spanish Valley C-
“Their Pleas” by Kelly Cherry dares the reader to feel something, to care, but we’ll go out on a limb and admit we don’t understand the poem—and therefore we don’t care.  We have to give the poem a D-.
Those are the poems of the January 2013 issue of Poetry.
Next we’ll turn to the prose.
(To be continued)

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