Thursday, September 25, 2014

Angie Estes

Angie Estes has a great poem in Plume issue 3 from 2011 called "Che Fai Di Bello", it's very 'Italiana'-esque if that made-up word can be used. It's a great piece, very grounding, ancient and resounding; here's an excerpt:

They are burning the fields in
Assisi, unearthing tartufi from beneath Umbrian oaks
for the umpteenth time. So slow

they don’t even shuffle, black
and swelling, tartufi think

Linda Pastan

Some poems are best savored line by line, and others are made with cleanly drawn lines. Few poems of that type survive well today, other than the popular American writers Whitman and Poe. Plume issue 2 from 2011 had a great piece in this vein called "Late in October" by Linda Pastan, here's an excerpt--if you like it, read the whole thing because the end is interesting and dangerous, a subtle moment:

Late in October, I watch
it all unravel–the whole
autumn leafery
succumbing to rain.
At the moment
of their most intense beauty,
reds and yellows bleed


Peter Meinke

There's a great poem by Peter Meinke in Plume, issue 2 from 2011 called "A Fable: The Floss-Silk Tree and the Philodendron". It's mystery is what makes it great, here's an excerpt:

In Brazil they call the floss-silk  palo borracho
“drunken tree”  because each blossom opens
like a provocative dancer at Carnaval
and though the philodendron’s
a low and homely vine  it still winds along
the thorny trunk   toward the swaying flowers
Orpheus straining for Eurydice
its small leaves enlarging alarmingly
like the hearts of wanton gods

Christopher Kennedy

Americana is on the rise at the moment, and in honor of that, let's take a look at a great poem, "Poem for Shang Qin" by Christopher Kennedy, from Plume issue 1, 2011. Americana encompasses many things, from the Puritans and Nathaniel Hawthorne to Whitman and Lana del Rey. In a way, it's a huge spiral of connections both old and new. This poem has an incredible feel to it, one that resonates in a way with this theme:

I’ve been digging my way toward you since the day I was born. I watch the lamplight outside my window turn to diamonds and think of you. A dog barks in my sleep, and I dream of you eating figs under a banyan tree. In the morning, I look at the hopeful yellow sun. I think, What is the old master doing right now? Cursing the darkness? 


Friday, September 19, 2014

Kristin Roedell & Jeremiah Burrow

Kristin Roedell has a great short piece in 4and20Poetry, from Oct. 2012, vol. 5, issue 10, called only "*":

Hushed and holy 
beauty comes in on white feet 
and the smell of hyacinth.

Both pieces highlighted here today have a sense of Shelley transfigured by the Beats. They're excellent work. The other great short piece is one by Jeremiah Burrow, in the same journal issue, called "Boulder":

I saw black sun rising out of earth to eat the last golden rays of day.

Amanda Schoen

Usually I don't highlight truly narrative poems, ones with a clear story that could be spoken or told in prose, but Amanda Schoen's "Dún Aonghasa" from Dialogist, vol. 1 issue 3, is an exception, it's great and works on multiple levels. It's interesting and eerie, it has a story but is more than that simple tale. It provokes without being cliche or into shock; it raises real unanswerable questions, almost philosophically.

Here's an excerpt:


Was it always so? Did wind and rain see the break of these stones?

Call it watchtower. Oracle. Garrison. The names we offer say more of us
than those who came before. No one’s sure what to make of these stones.


Robert Davey

Short poems are enjoyable in a different way than long or middle-length ones. You don't have to read the Japanese haiku masters Basho or Buson, though they are incredible. For something more modern try Robert Davey's "Bronze Age" from Sept. 2012, vol. 5 issue 9 of 4and20Poetry. This piece is great, it captures how haiku are still a form with incredible potential and can be really moving and eerie:

morning sun on 
standing stones 
the dark symbol in 
the horse’s eye

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Caroline Knox

One great modern poet is Caroline Knox, for her poem "Year after Year" for example. It's up at SuperstitionReview, issue 5. Her poetry has a baroque feel often, a type of Neal Stephenson feel to it with a very earthy, dark grounding. There is yet a feeling of lightness and magical realism, almost like Uruguay's great poet Marosa di Giorgio.

Here's an excerpt:

The mower releases a scent
of autumnal flat creeping thyme.
Not only thyme but salt, magical seasonings.
Among those present,
the fox's bark, the sound of owl's wings

Hence this set piece [...]

Monday, September 15, 2014


Fall is coming around the corner, so we should feature a neat poem by the writer of Anne of Green Gables, "An Autumn Evening" by L.M. Montgomery, the famous female writer. It's quite sweet.
Dark hills against a hollow crocus sky
Scarfed with its crimson pennons, and below
The dome of sunset long, hushed valleys lie
Cradling the twilight, where the lone winds blow
And wake among the harps of leafless trees
Fantastic runes and mournful melodies.

The chilly purple air is threaded through
With silver from the rising moon afar,
And from a gulf of clear, unfathomed blue
In the southwest glimmers a great gold star
Above the darkening druid glens of fir
Where beckoning boughs and elfin voices stir.

And so I wander through the shadows still,
And look and listen with a rapt delight,
Pausing again and yet again at will
To drink the elusive beauty of the night,
Until my soul is filled, as some deep cup,
That with divine enchantment is brimmed up.

Friday, September 12, 2014


A great classic that non-Italians should read more of is the famous Giacomo Leopardi's [1798-1837] The Canti. Here's an Italian site for his work, in mostly Italian, if you want to read more of his other work. Here's one poem from the book, translated by A.S. Kline [read more here]; the Italian is from the Italian site:

Moon-set [XXXII]

As on a lonely night

the moon descends,
over the silvery waters and fields,
where the breeze sighs,
and distant shadows make
a thousand vague aspects,
and deceptive objects,
among the tranquil waves,
the branches, hedges, hills, and villages:
and, lost at the sky’s end,
behind Alps or Apennines, or 
in endless Tyrrhenian deeps,
sets, and dims the world,
so that shadows scatter, and a single
gloom darkens valley and mountain,
so night remains alone,
and the carter on the road salutes,
with mournful song, the last gleam
of vanishing light that led him on:

so youth melts away,
and leaves
our mortal state. The shadows
and the forms of delighted
illusion flee: and all the distant
hopes our mortal nature
trusts in, grow less.
Life remains, dark,
abandoned. The uncertain traveller
strains his eyes, blindly, in vain,
to find some goal or reason in the long
road ahead: and sees
how human habitation becomes
truly foreign to him, and he to it.

Our wretched life
would have seemed
too happy and joyful, up there, if youth,
whose every good brings a thousand ills,
had been allowed to last a lifetime.
The law that sentences
all creatures to death, would be too mild,
if half of life
had not first been made
harsher than the vilest death.
The eternals made a worthy discovery
of immortal intellect: old age,
worst of all evils, where desire
clings, but hope is quenched,
the founts of pleasure run dry, pain
often grows, and good will not return.

You, hills and shores,
the glory in the west, that silvered
the veil of night, has died,
yet you will not
be widowed long: from the east
you’ll see the sky
whiten anew, and dawn will rise:
then the sun will quickly follow
and, shine out
with powerful flames,
flooding you, and the eternal realms,
with torrents of light.
But mortal life, will not brighten
with new light, or new dawn,
once lovely youth is gone.
It will be lonely to the end: the gods
have set no limit to the gloom
that darkens old age, except the tomb.



Quale in notte solinga,
Sovra campagne inargentate ed acque,
Là ‘ve zefiro aleggia,
E mille vaghi aspetti
E ingannevoli obbietti
Fingon l'ombre lontane
Infra l'onde tranquille
E rami e siepi e collinette e ville;
Giunta al confin del cielo,
Dietro Apennino od Alpe, o del Tirreno
Nell'infinito seno
Scende la luna; e si scolora il mondo;
Spariscon l'ombre, ed una
Oscurità la valle e il monte imbruna;
Orba la notte resta,
E cantando, con mesta melodia,
L'estremo albor della fuggente luce,
Che dianzi gli fu duce,
Saluta il carrettier dalla sua via;

Tal si dilegua, e tale  
Lascia l'età mortale
La giovinezza. In fuga
Van l'ombre e le sembianze
Dei dilettosi inganni; e vengon meno
Le lontane speranze,
Ove s'appoggia la mortal natura.
Abbandonata, oscura
Resta la vita. In lei porgendo il guardo,
Cerca il confuso viatore invano
Del cammin lungo che avanzar si sente
Meta o ragione; e vede
Che a se l'umana sede,
Esso a lei veramente è fatto estrano.

Troppo felice e lieta
Nostra misera sorte
Parve lassù, se il giovanile stato,
Dove ogni ben di mille pene è frutto,
Durasse tutto della vita il corso.
Troppo mite decreto
Quel che sentenzia ogni animale a morte,
S'anco mezza la via
Lor non si desse in pria
Della terribil morte assai più dura.
D'intelletti immortali
Degno trovato, estremo
Di tutti i mali, ritrovàr gli eterni
La vecchiezza, ove fosse
Incolume il desio, la speme estinta,
Secche le fonti del piacer, le pene
Maggiori sempre, e non più dato il bene.

Voi, collinette e piagge,
Caduto lo splendor che all'occidente
Inargentava della notte il velo,
Orfane ancor gran tempo
Non resterete; che dall'altra parte
Tosto vedrete il cielo
Imbiancar novamente, e sorger l'alba:
Alla qual poscia seguitando il sole,
E folgorando intorno
Con sue fiamme possenti,  
Di lucidi torrenti
Inonderà con voi gli eterei campi.
Ma la vita mortal, poi che la bella
Giovinezza sparì, non si colora
D'altra luce giammai, nè d'altra aurora.
Vedova è insino al fine; ed alla notte
Che l'altre etadi oscura,
Segno poser gli Dei la sepoltura.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Louise Glück

Typically, I do not feature poems that are really narrative-like, where a 'story' is all that matters--but this poem both includes a tale and transcends it. Louise Glück's piece "Sharply Worded Silence" is incredible, from the Spring 2014 ThreepennyReview.

It has a serious Borges feel to it, but it makes it all the poem's own. The poem is works on many, many levels and draws you in--and leaves you wondering. And trying to parse it. Here's an excerpt that only hints at the real mysteries in it:


The park was my consolation, particularly in the quiet hours
after sunset, when it was often abandoned,
But on this evening, when I entered what was called the Contessa’s Garden,


Because it is the nature of garden paths
to be circular, each night, after my wanderings,
I would find myself at my front door, staring at it,
barely able to make out, in darkness, the glittering knob.


Matt Donovan

We need to feature the incredible piece "Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii" by Matt Donovan from the ThreepennyReview, 2012. If you love Borges or Pound, be sure to try it--and of course if you're interested in Dionysus, Bacchic cults, ancient religion and Pompeii's art, read it too. It's got quite the poetic edge to it, really, and a bit of a memoir feel, but it's also interesting in the purely historical way; it's just got something for everyone.

It's both eerie and fascinating, here's an excerpt:
Over a century of guesses have been flung at the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. This here, many have written, look just here, this.

That woman being whipped, the pinecone-tipped staff, bodies mid-spin, heads mid-turn, cymbals, and that peculiar peaked shape about to be unveiled from beneath a velvet-like tasseled cover (most in-the-know folks insist “phallus”). Among the twenty-one almost life-size figures occupying the room, there are women delivering loaves and laurel, pouring water and brushing hair.
So what kind of red was it?

One with a luster the ancients were desperate to preserve. Never allow, Vitruvius advised, either the moon’s splendor or the sun’s harsh rays to steal or lap up its brightness. [...]

Beneath Mount Bermois, in a garden where branches sagged with blossoms, Midas laced a stream with wine, knowing that the chubby follower of Bacchus couldn’t resist. [...]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bernardo Atxaga

I want to focus on Basque writer Bernardo Atxaga's "Mystery of Four Birds" in ThreePennyReview, it's a very interesting piece that defines boundaries. Usually modern types of hard to classify writing are shock-value focused and outré, and tasteless, but this is incredible. It is translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. I love how it all ends, suddenly veering into Hammett and Nero Wolfe in a sense. It makes you suddenly re-evaluate the piece in a little, different, interesting way.

Here's an excerpt:

It was a very short song, and the birds that were mentioned, four in number, were only small; but the secret the song concealed, the clear meaning it contained for anyone able to see beyond its absurd surface, had a great deal to do with what we term the “major themes.” The song was a traditional song and widely known, sung over and over by generations of Basque children, and it went like this:

Txantxangorria txantxate,
Birigarroa alkate,
Xoxoa dela meriante,
Txepetxa preso sartu dute.

Which means:

The robin sings his song,
The song thrush is the jailer,
And, with the blackbird’s help,
They’ve put the poor wren in prison.

It obviously wasn’t pure nonsense, nor was it a folk version of some English limerick, since, albeit obscure, it did make some kind of sense. But the idea that a bird—the poor wren—should have ended up in prison on the orders of the authorities—the song thrush—and to the great delight of Robin Redbreast, was not much help in gaining an overall understanding of the story, nor did it answer the fundamental question: what had gone on between the robin and the wren?

Iain Bamforth

We have to highlight Scottish poet Iain Bamforth's work, he's incredible and unique--especially for people who love nature, the earth, the sciences and zoology/biology. His piece "Metazoa" in ThreePennyReview is a great example of this. It's quite like the famous Argentinian short story writer Jorge Luis Borges [1899-1986] and even a bit like famous Italian novel writer and semiotician Umberto Eco. It's both lovely, interesting and strange.

Also read his "Flying Garuda over Java", a great poem, here's a tiny excerpt:

[...] These are the twenty cones of Java.
They could be those of Io,
mooning around Jupiter –

and a little farther away
Bromo and Semeru
swimming in their violet haze.[...]

Here's an excerpt of "Metazoa":



In his poem “Amenaza” (Threat), the Mexican poet Gerardo Deniz modifies the English verb “jeopardize” in order to create a terrifying new feline creature, the jeopard.


Our unexceptionally torpid meeting at the Ministry of Health on the Castries waterfront was enlivened by one of the beautiful local crested hummingbirds hovering in a flash of madder and indigofera for a few moments outside the plate glass. It made me think of the fabulous plate in Ernst Haeckel’s nineteenth-century bestseller Kunstformen der Natur, which shows about a dozen of these gorgeous creatures in the same poster-space; and then I recalled reading that hummingbirds are only ever hours away from starving to death, such are the metabolic demands placed upon them by the very rapid beating of their wings. At night they reduce their basic metabolic activities to a minimum in order to conserve energy. I left the meeting with inconsequential bits of conversation in my mind, much as in Paul Muldoon’s poem “Humming-bird,” an ornithon of gossipy phrases seemingly snatched on the wing. That was my St. Lucia epiphany.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Maureen Alsop

Maureen Alsop has a great short piece in Diagram issue 14.4 called "Matins for Juliet". It's very interesting. Nature-focused poetry often falls short, but this piece does very well. It's got a real eye for style and particular branches of emotion. Since it's so short, I'll just excerpt the first line:

Temporal, the deer, your animal self curled down, moss sheltered & tenuous. It 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Gerald Schwartz

Usually I don't feature very short, almost Japanese [like tanka poems] pieces, but Gerald Schwartz's piece "Through Winter" in issue 1, 2008 from NuminousMagazine is great; it has a fast, hard, intense recall of a particular slice of winter life.

Here's a tiny excerpt since the poem is so small itself:

Glorious, rigorous, sun-drenched, snow-iced morning,
scoured [...]

Rebecca Suzanne Miller

We have to feature the great piece "The Effort of Still Life" by Rebecca Suzanne Miller in BlastFurnace. It's a great piece on emotion, life, and the physicality of the body. Usually we don't feature pieces about this type of direct topic, but here the piece really transforms the entire situation and asks Derridean questions about it all--about life, safety, death, anger, violence and the soul.

Here's an excerpt:

This stare into a sunlit apple,
I long for nothing.


that will quiet such anger,
distill the lightning clash;
and because I am still, I survive,
but don’t mistake my stillness for your victory.

There is greater judgment than broken skin
or a bruised apple
and I am still
until your death
allows me to rest.


"Sonnet of Autumn" [Sonnet d'automne] by famous French poet Charles Baudelaire [1821-1867] is a great one--lots of medieval imagery and hot emotion. Read more here; also, Baudelaire translated E.A. Poe, how apt!

THEY say to me, thy clear and crystal eyes: 
"Why dost thou love me so, strange lover mine?" 
Be sweet, be still! My heart and soul despise 
All save that antique brute-like faith of thine; 

And will not bare the secret of their shame 
To thee whose hand soothes me to slumbers long, 
Nor their black legend write for thee in flame! 
Passion I hate, a spirit does me wrong. 

Let us love gently. Love, from his retreat, 
Ambushed and shadowy, bends his fatal bow, 
And I too well his ancient arrows know: 

Crime, horror, folly. O pale marguerite, 
Thou art as I, a bright sun fallen low, 
O my so white, my so cold Marguerite.

OR the original:

Ils me disent, tes yeux, clairs comme le cristal:
«Pour toi, bizarre amant, quel est donc mon mérite?»
— Sois charmante et tais-toi! Mon coeur, que tout irrite,
Excepté la candeur de l'antique animal,
Ne veut pas te montrer son secret infernal,
Berceuse dont la main aux longs sommeils m'invite,
Ni sa noire légende avec la flamme écrite.
Je hais la passion et l'esprit me fait mal!
Aimons-nous doucement. L'Amour dans sa guérite,
Ténébreux, embusqué, bande son arc fatal.
Je connais les engins de son vieil arsenal:
Crime, horreur et folie! — Ô pâle marguerite!
Comme moi n'es-tu pas un soleil automnal,
Ô ma si blanche, ô ma si froide Marguerite?


One great poem by famous English Catholic [and Reverend Father] Gerard Manley Hopkins [1844-1889] is "I wake...", it has both a simple lyrical line and a truly creepy underpinning all stuck together. It's quite effective and moving, very accessible. Read more by him here.

What's so neat about this piece is really the fact that it captures something very personal, that feeling you have when you wake up and there is no sun, it's totally dark out. It feels hushed, confused, and strange. Almost like you're 'out of time', somehow transported to another world of mist and darkness.

Here it is:

WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
    With witness I speak this. But where I say        
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.
  I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;        
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
  Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.


One great classic fall poem is "After Apple-Picking" by famous American poet Robert Frost [1874-1963], though really many of his are great. He often has a refreshing clarity with a nicely light symbolic style, without falling into the trap about being repellant or obvious.

Here it is:

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.
And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it’s like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.