Wednesday, October 29, 2014


Many people avoid the greats, the classics. They are too hard, too strange, too out-of-date--and even a poetry and literature lover can understand that. Balzac and Hardy are people writing in their own time periods, about issues during that time and in styles of their period. They are reacting to their world, and sometimes what they are doing is more Dickensian 'pointing out injustice/evil' than what we are used to in our literature today.

Despite this, always (try) be willing to give them a second. A good example is the famous English long poet Alexander Pope [1688-1744]. I myself do not easily turn to him for fun, but then I read this excerpt from his poem "An Essay on Criticism" [read it all here]--so dip in and out of the classics once in a while, it might turn out you find something you love; doesn't this sound like Keats? :

A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

Joan Houlihan

We have to be sure to highlight Joan Houlihan for her excellent work. Her poetry volumes The Us and Ay are incredible. Here are more poems by her, and an interview, and a short/quick interview. While the first volume The Us is great, it has a nature-poem and simple/old fashioned country living appeal, a type of ancient, pre-historic vibe.

I myself enjoy it, but love the sequel Ay even more, here's an excerpt from the TaosJournal review, which has more excerpts if you like this one:

xSUMMER RIPE in the ground, deer fled
xxxxxxxxred-gold in the wood. Sticks put sharp
xxxxxxxxin the side bled the trail. 


And another excerpt from the Ay volume website:
As spark on spark fed sky-cold stars, smells bramble the fire. Powders of hazel-shell flare.

Richard Wilbur

If you love poetry, one great place to read critical discussions of it is at Critical Poetry Review Magazine. There's a nice, general essay about modern poetry here and a great one about different styles of modern poetry [and why people like or dislike them] by the excellent poet Joan Houlihan here.

Also, I want to make sure to highlight the great Ted Hughes-like [he was a poet laureate of England and Sylvia Plath's husband] work of Richard Wilbur, a poem called “Hamlen Brook” [scroll down to read it]. Here's an excerpt:

        And a white precipice
      Of mirrored birch-trees plunges down
Toward where the azures of the zenith drown.
      How shall I drink all this?

            Joy's trick is to supply
      Dry lips with what can cool and slake,
Leaving them dumbstruck also with an ache
      Nothing can satisfy.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

R. Nemo Hill

Just one more, we have to focus on R. Nemo Hill's incredible piece "The Girls Are In The Trees" in LavenderReview, issue 1: Sappho from 2010. The language is so close to ancient Greek lushness, similar to Shelley--it's just an amazing poem. Excellent work; it is something with an undertone of the baroque, something bejeweled that would get people sucked into poetry's lure. Very alluring, to wit.

Here's an excerpt:

Up from a crown of green break free these three
bright blossom-crusted branches, and from these
ascends a music pitched past anarchy: [...]

Mad bird song yields a carnage all its own,
a crop of bruised pink petals, shaken free


Jan Steckel

Despite having to rush off today, we have to make sure to feature Jan Steckel's great poem "Behind the Palisades" in LavenderReview, issue 1: Sappho, from 2010. The beginning and ending are superb, you rarely see this kind of great work. What an excellent control of language; all the layers here are amazing and intricate like Borges' work.

Here's an excerpt:

A Spanish hummingbird and I
staggered laughing over the cobblestones
clutching cut-glass cordial glasses of anisette
in Oxford May Day three in the morning.
Taste took me back twelve years
to a California canyon, filled with ferns.
How I chewed licorice in the green spray
of forbidden fennel for the first time,

For home was a
hollow of hurt burned worse than an iron,
and I ventured to England, to France and to Spain,
to stay away from that plain pain.

Frank X. Gaspar

Frank X. Gaspar has an excellent piece in Perihelion, issue 6 [vol. 2, ii from 2000] called "The Olive Trees". We rarely focus on 'straight narrative/explanation' poetry, but he has a great style and perfect subject matter--and a lock on beauty in words.

Many poets try to simply describe terrible scenes and dreary, rundown places, but there is nothing to look at there but the detritus of destruction, war, suffering and evil. While that type of poetry can help get people motivated to fix the world's problems, it is more a call to action than simple 'poetry' alone.

Here's an excerpt:

In the courtyard, in the center of the oldest building
among the old Spanish buildings, among the white 
stuccoed walls, among the ochre tiled roofs, the olive trees
are preparing to leave this world. They are dropping 
the dark boles [...]

[...]  how they leave the morning sun unperturbed?

Lynne Knight

We must feature Lynne Knight's great piece "Strange Crossings" in Perihelion, issue 6 [vol. 2, ii, from 2000]. It has a great aesthetic that makes you think of Pound's short Parisian-style poems. Knight has a great sense of imagery and style.

Here's an excerpt:

Black branches, rinsed with rain,
their blossoms a cross of dogwood 
and magnolia, so bright at dusk  

could reach you? I might as well 
have spilled the ink on water, 
watched it swirl and disappear. Besides, I was young in the dream,

too young to know how death would take your name like ink, 
make of it strange crossings, unearthly black-branched trees


Friday, October 17, 2014

Cynthia Atkins

This poem is one we had to highlight--it's Cynthia Atkin's piece "Proba Vitae" in TinderboxPoetryJournal, vol. 1 issue 2. It's got both a very Parisian and American cross-country roadway flavor--one or the other, or even both at the same time. It's reminiscent of Wyeth paintings [all of the painters] in a strong tonal way. What an amazing piece.

At the end, it veers sharply into American future/technology ideological hovering territory, which is more to the taste of perhaps people reading sci-fi or steampunk inspired work, but there's something older and classic in her work; something timeless.

Here's an excerpt:

Because it’s a snapshot
of spring, a bitten plum is open
on a table like a ripe mouth,
               next to a girl reading a book
from the library—stamped return.

Because flowers are here to serve up
the hard facts, petals are only
for show or blush? 

Lauren Camp

Sometimes when you read modern poetry, you see voices that would be great in full length, long poem formats--ie. an entire volume of one piece of work. One of these types of people is Lauren Camp, especially for her piece "Motion" in TinderboxPoetryJournal, vol.1 isssue 2.

This particular poem has an incredible voice that seems to emerge at the end, it's a type of Plath-like yet shuddering, eerie Poe inspired tone. Modern poetry can blend older distinct styles or famous thematic tones together to create amazing new work.

Here's an excerpt:

I watch from the window as night keeps loosening and coming down
with its charcoal heavy body, cloud-stretched and moon-stamped,
then drag-around dark with sunset off in a corner. Dead-ahead lightning
and long shadows of winter. The ground shoulders each hour of cold.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Mary Darby Robinson

One great gothic-esque poem for fall is Mary Darby Robinson's "The Trumpeter, an Old English Tale". It has some excellent stanzas, very reminiscent of The Song of Roland. Here's an excerpt:


And here sat a Baron, and there sat a Knight,
And here stood a Page in his habit all bright,
And here a young Soldier in armour bedight
With a Friar carous'd, one and all.

Some play'd on the dulcimer, some on the lute,
And some, who had nothing to talk of, were mute,
Till the Morning, awakened, put on her grey suit--
And the Lark hover'd over the Hall.

It was in a vast gothic Hall that they sate,
And the Tables were cover'd with rich gilded plate,
And the King and his minions were toping in state,
Till their noddles turn'd round, one and all:--
And the Sun through the tall painted windows 'gan peep,
And the Vassals were sleeping, or longing to sleep,
Though the Courtiers, still waking, their revels did keep,
While the minstrels play'd sweet, in the Hall.

Nettie McDaniel

We have to highlight Nettie McDaniel's great piece "One in the community" in StorySouth, from 2008. It's quite unique and has a lovely, radiant quality that has this strange depth, this bottom in which things are not dormant. It's incredible.

Here's an excerpt:

A flock of egrets twinkle like the distant stars
as they fly above the golden stubble in the rice field.

[...] On the day you lay
with your eyes sewn together under a spray
of woody French mulberry, masses of egrets
stood [...]

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Allison Seay

We stopped what we were doing to feature Allison Seay's great piece "The Queen", which we saw at FishhousePoems. It's lovely and dark and gothic while still retaining a classical, almost Romantic or Shelley-like sense of reality and earth.

Here's an excerpt:


Wild gold and dark red.  The color of snow under a streetlamp.
Or of smoke pluming [...]

I want to ask her
which is worse: dying
or being dead.  And then I can see her floating away

as down a hill of ice. [...]


Fall is a great time to highlight Sylvia Plath's work. A famous poet in death, her work in the early 1900s is intense, emotive and raw. It's also still very popular, despite the lack of poetry in modern life.

One great poem for autumn is "The moon and the yew tree", a piece that is quietly eerie and strange. It's almost neo-gothic in a sense:

This is the light of the mind, cold and planetary
The trees of the mind are black. The light is blue.
The grasses unload their griefs on my feet as if I were God
Prickling my ankles and murmuring of their humility
Fumy, spiritous mists inhabit this place.
Separated from my house by a row of headstones.
I simply cannot see where there is to get to.
The moon is no door. It is a face in its own right,
White as a knuckle and terribly upset.
It drags the sea after it like a dark crime; it is quiet
With the O-gape of complete despair. I live here.
Twice on Sunday, the bells startle the sky –
Eight great tongues affirming the Resurrection
At the end, they soberly bong out their names.
The yew tree points up, it has a Gothic shape.
The eyes lift after it and find the moon.
The moon is my mother. She is not sweet like Mary.
Her blue garments unloose small bats and owls.
How I would like to believe in tenderness -
The face of the effigy, gentled by candles,
Bending, on me in particular, its mild eyes.
I have fallen a long way. Clouds are flowering
Blue and mystical over the face of the stars
Inside the church, the saints will all be blue,
Floating on their delicate feet over the cold pews,
Their hands and faces stiff with holiness.
The moon sees nothing of this. She is bald and wild.
And the message of the yew tree is blackness – blackness and silence.

Lawrence Schimel

We have to highlight Lawrence Schimel's great piece "But I, daughter of my daughters" at FishhousePoems, from 2001, which he translated from the Galician into Spanish and English. It's a great intense, long, compact work--like Thomas Pynchon's books, a type of long, stuffed block poetry. It's a great moody, atmospheric, rich work. It makes you think of the Baroque wildness of Neal Stephenson's books as well.

Here's an excerpt:

But I, daughter of my daughters, will dismantle by sheer dazzle this unfortunate conformity of a yolanda émigrée. 
It is me in the crypt and my name etched inside with chalk. Concentric rooms. That my intellect may not bribe my sense. The touch, the privilege, the need to hurl oneself. Nor will my head pander to my pride. Yolanda the soldier, the trader. Because neither am I she who waits. I am the driver of the flaming chariot. 
I will proclaim: “I am the sole scion of Adnaloy, she who will stretch her flaming fingers over the horizon, who will descend, discard her gown, clothe herself in sackcloth, and thereafter lie down, rendering her heart to the appetite of beasts.”