I had hoped to review Pedestal and perhaps another journal but since there are an astounding 12 poems in the latest issue, I must restrict myself to that magazine.
Overall, Marge Simon and Bruce Boston did an incredible job of choosing wildly different poems. There is something for everyone in this set: the political, the sweeping narrative, the clever, the cunning, the lyric.
For any who find the prospect of reading 12 poems daunting, I’ll suggest that you read Notes from a Time Traveler; Nursery; Ahura Mazda. These poems were my personal favorites both for their strong lyricism and hint at larger ideas. If you want something cute and light, I recommend Neil Armstrong. If the thought of futuristic wars is more your style: The Complete Text of the First Ten Volumes of Dr. Fleckwain’s Very, Very Short Steampunk Novels; Weapons of Mass Destruction. If you just want something short and haunting: The Pleistocene Extinction; Voyages of the H.M.S. Whitechapel. Quirky and perhaps a bit confusing? Singed and Soaked; Magneto. Scary prospect for the future? How the Frogs Survived, the Last Time the World Ended. Astronauts? Bad Yea for Astronauts.
And now, the discussion:
Notes from a Time Traveler by Benjamin Myers
This is truly an exceptional poem. Beautiful line breaks and enjambment that push the poem along in tiny, well kept vignettes as the speaker moves from city to city hoping to find, or that he will by joined by his lover. In the fifth ‘scene’ the speaker seeks to compare his lover–here a less experienced writer would seek to describe an emotion, perhaps beautifully but somewhat unsatisfyingly. Not Mr. Meyers. Instead, he gives us yet another scene of our speaker and his father coming to a stream in a clearing.
It is not the most original of images (“sunlight shattered all around”) but this is what good poetry does. It evokes in bits of shorthand what the common experience is, and then imbues that tone in an unrelated situation. It’s the metaphorical leap. Or perhaps it’s something else–I confess I am not very good at writing about poetry, these posts are as much of a learning experience as anything else.
The notes are all signed ‘Pascal’ which I assume is meant to refer to the French mathematician. I am afraid I don’t know enough about Pascal to find any new layers to the poem–though perhaps I could find them if I looked.
The Pleistocene Extinction by John C. Mannone
I confess I did not like the first 9 lines of this poem. ‘Mastadons’ is a fun word, but it’s hard to squeeze into a poem where the first line only has 7 syllables, the next two have 10.
Hmm. Let me back up a moment. I’m going to write each line but rather than the words, I’ll do it by numbers–specifically, how many syllables each word has:
One two one one one-one: 7
one one one-one two two one one: 10
two, one one two one one two: 10
one three two one one one: 9
This is being truly, unequivocally, needlessly picky but it never occurred to me until now to count the syllables in each word to see what types of syllabled words I was using in a poem. Mastodons threw me the first two times I read this poem, and I would be that it’s because it’s a three syllabled word in a poem mostly filled with one syllable words. Now I love me some long syllabled words–but you have to be so careful rhythmically, particularly in these little short lines.
Beyond that, there were a couple of other little things that put me off: ‘new Sol’. Why is it Sol? Why not sun? Oh wait–because it’s not a sun, it’s a comet or a meteor…
Except you snagged me with Sol so not only are you being coy with your language, you’re being doubly coy because ‘Sun’ isn’t what you mean at all. So say sun, or say comet or say whatever it is. That’s my opinion. Oh yes, it’s because you say ‘thousand cindering suns’ in the last line and you don’t what repetition, right? Well cindering is a great word… but it’s a thousand cindering suns is a bit overdone.
‘Diamonds in the sky’ is also a little overdone.
And then we get to the last line. The best line. The line that makes this poem worth harping at tiny little pieces because when I got to this line I was so flabbergasted that I actually went ‘Oh. Wow’.
I would personally appreciate that anyone reading this right now would stop and read the poem in full so that I’m not spoiling the suddenness of this image.
of buttercups in the mammoth’s mouth.”
By itself, that line (technically one and a quarter lines) is nicely written, but doesn’t stir much emotion on its own. What makes it work is the same thing that makes ‘Icarus drowning’ so memorable. It’s a line that is so stark against the rest of the images: easy to picture and representative of an entirely different tone of what’s going on in the poem, that it really takes you by the throat and pinches. It’s really beautiful. It’s so beautiful I actually want to forgive the rest of the poem for it’s nothing-specials.
How the Frogs Survived, the Last Time the World Ended by Geoffrey A. Landis
This is a poem where, sadly, I liked the payoff and the idea far far more than the poem itself. There are two moments in this poem worth remembering: The frogs in the Mojave and the end where the frogs are digging deep.
It’s in a conversational tone, which I often like, but I think what can make a conversational tone work for you is to make some fantastic leaps. One moment you’re discussing frogs, the next the unifying theory of physics. Why not go to plagues of frogs–or Cairo, Illinois where they fall from the sky. Let the frogs take on seeming supernatural powers based on real anecdotes. Get specific! This poem doesn’t leap around as much as I would like and so I’m left only with the simple language.
I suppose the poem doesn’t because it wants to stick with that ominousicity (not a word). Should we worry?
Also, the poem had too much random rhyme for my taste. If you like the rhyme, and you like that simple message, I’d be curious to see if the poet could rewrite this in a Villanelle form.
Bad Year for Astronauts by Robert Frazier
Robert Frazier knows control. The first two verses are chock full of strong nouns and some rapidly shifting descriptive clauses and phrases that manage to not confuse. Quite the feat.
What I don’t get is the payoff. It’s late, and perhaps I’m just being dense–but is ‘for astronauts it’s 1967’ supposed to be a surprise? In early poetry critiques we talk about the ‘So what?’ question. It’s something you ask of a poem to see why it was written–what’s important about it–why should I care. This poem is not a ‘so what?’ poem, it’s more of a ‘And?’ poem. The first two verses set the stage, the first three lines of the last verse seem to be building to something–emphasizing the bits of badness around the world but then it falls off completely. You gave me the year? A year I already kindof new–not the exact date but around about–because I’ve seen Tom Hanks geek out on space stuff. If someone else has another reading on this–I’d like to hear it just so I know what I’m missing.
Neil Armstrong by Bryan D. Dietrich
This is a cute, clever poem. I didn’t like the last line–it felt too… punnish and I hate puns. I’d say more but there’s not much to criticize. It was a funny idea, it has some funny lines.
Voyages of the H.M.S. Whitechapel (a poem by Captain Jack Ripper) by Robert Borski
Jack the Ripper as a sea captain in a William Carlos Williamsesque poem. The whole thing is 10 lines long and maybe 50 syllables. It’s clean, it’s tight. It’s a small, perfect poem that you can’t really say much about because it doesn’t really say much at all. That’s not a criticism–I liked the poem, but there was nothing I’ll remember about it tomorrow.
The Complete Text of the First Ten Volumes of Dr. Fleckwain’s Very, Very Short Steampunk Novels by Steven L. Peck
The poem slowly and teasingly unravels a complicated plot of battles between airships and robots (at least I think). There’s romance, there’s danger… but alas, I am not so enamored with steampunk that I would have read the novels and so while the poems are more to my style, they didn’t thrill me. It’s an ambitious poem and other than some thickness of language here and there, quite smooth to read.
This poem was lovely, imaginative, surprising and was the first poem that I felt reach for more. It’s strange because looking it over for the third or fourth time, there aren’t any lines that really stand out to me as truly memorable, and there are a couple of places where I stumble: ‘such a shade that wasn’t already dead’ falls flat for me. The poem is almost all narrative action. But that closing sentence. Wow.
Singed and Soaked by Valerie Loveland
I’ve read this poem a couple of times now and I still don’t know whether I like or dislike it. Perhaps after so many narrative poems, I am surprised to find one which, by default, must be lyric. However, it’s not as lyrical as I like my lyrical poems and so I’m pushed back into a state of limbo. It begins more in the style of a clever idea poem: “Did you know classics and first editions are most flammable?”
And moves on from there quite smoothly and nicely–I’m not truly surprised by any of the images or ideas, but they’re done well enough. I feel the poem working towards some sort of pay off and then we get “fire ledges”. I’m still puzzling over this. What’s the significance? And fire ledges is hard rhythmically: stress stress unstressed.
The next section of the poem is a bit better: the idea of books turning into flowers, blooming and remembering what they were is a chancier leap. I still think there are a couple of rhythm problems ‘line up so flatly’ is quite dissonant. But the pay off of “we were once alive” is a well constructed line in terms of language and sound and rhythm plus it’s an interesting idea on which the reader can puzzle.
First thought: as in the X-men?
The poem refers to a ‘he’ of some kind–lots of description and thick words that I didn’t really follow, partly because I’m thinking the whole time ‘Who is the he?’ and then we get the last line ‘all this as my neighbor passed me / listening to private music.’ So now I must assume that this is someone the speaker sees on the street–I’m guessing someone who is a little alternative with piercings.
Or rather, since this is a speculative poem, maybe this is an image of our future: what listening to private music will look like in fifty to one hundred years.
Sometimes I use a trick to try to like a poem that keeps pushing me out. I try to read it in a good poet voice: Rodney Jones or Albert Goldbarth or my friend Kerry James Evans. I try to think of what words they would emphasize in order to help me find the music of the line. This poem, I think, is more of the Goldbarth variety–thundering through the skinned jelly, the wetted dust, molecules compounded.
If it had been my poem, or if it had come up in a workshop I was in, I would have asked for a stronger title. Tell me what I’m looking at. Tell me so that when you go off on your merry word chase, I’m not sputtering behind you choking on nouns.
Weapons of Mass Destruction by Elizabeth Barrette
I’m afraid to say that this was not my type of poem. To start, I’m not overly fond of political poetry. Of the little I’ve read I find it tedious, so engrossed with its own message that it forgets that it’s also supposed to be poetry. This likely means that I’m just simply not well read in political poetry.
This poem does try to be a poem–the narrative in it is quite complex. My problem is the language just did not sing to my ears. There was nothing surprising in the imagery, nothing extraordinary in the word choice. It just didn’t do it for me. But sadly, it’s also late–I’ve been reading many, many poems trying to view them with a critical eye and so I may just be a little overtired.
This poem travels, and it travels well. “Begin as a god / deep in the velvet / myths of Persia if you must” is where I fell in love with this poem, though I’m still not entirely sure I understand all of what’s going on. My thought is the speaker is speaking of reincarnation–the difficulty is as soon as I think I get that part, it moves into vehicles as metaphor, then the speaker is in a vehicle and sees the present (which is more like future) and past around him. At any rate, there’s a lot to love here–particularly in the lists of things: what the slaves carry, the parts speaker has played. Quite well done and enjoyable–a good way to end of the poetry section.
Dear Reviewer:If you find the thought of reading a measly twelve poems “daunting,” you
probably ought not to choose poetry to critique.If you’d said:”120″perhaps. You don’t read any
poetry collections? None? I prefer to think generously, that you DO, of course read a good deal of poetry-it was just the fair critique of this specific twelve that seemed “daunting.” Read Stafford’s “Serving With Gideon.” It is searingly beautiful. Blessings. fyoosha
Hi. You sound like a spambot, moreso because you obviously cannot read.
“For any who find the prospect of reading 12 poems daunting” != “I find reading 12 poems daunting”
Thank you and good day.