My apologies for the delay. Better late than never though, right?
This week’s review is devoted solely to Stone Telling. I wasn’t familiar with the magazine before it was recommended to me–but I am impressed with the web design. It’s quite clean and easy to read. At first I thought it was a print magazine with an online presence but that does not appear to be the case. At any rate, on with the poems.
Aside: In the middle of each poem review, I start to draft an aside. Since this is severely slowing down my review–I thought I’d do it up front.
I write poetry–I’ve been writing for a long time, but I don’t have a background in criticism. I don’t read enough, I don’t write enough. These reviews are an attempt to fix my inner editor. As such, I am going to stumble around a lot when trying to express why a poem tickled me or didn’t. I would appreciate if people could take issue with my reviews and carry on the conversation about aesthetics in the comments, on other blogs. It’d be nice to have some counterpoints to all my rambling into the ethertubes.
Celestial Celebrities by Meena Kandasamy
Halfway through the poem I realized that every clause began with because. I mention this only because it’s impressive that a single word (particularly a word like ‘because’) could be repeated so many times without my noticing earlier. The poem takes a feminist look at–what I’m not sure. The line ‘the rivers here bear the names’ indicates that there’s a real place to which the author is referring, and based on the other lines my first guess is that she’s referring to comets or astroids of some kind. The poem has a nice rhythm and I like the feminist sentiment, but overall I find it to be just… okay.
I think part of my ambivalence comes from lack of surprise: “mellowed and became maternal / when they were carrying” is nicely phrased, but “lacked secrets and loved catfights” is mundane. The biggest leap of imagination is the idea that she’s speaking of physical, celestial objects and personifying them, but personification of heavenly bodies isn’t exactly new either. “Too bloody hot to handle” is funny if she *is* talking about stars or comets or what have you, but I’m feeling a sap of energy rather than a jolt.
This poem woke me up with the word ‘suppurations.’ I learned ‘suppurative’ a couple of years ago and it has since become one of my favorite words. Thus alert, I found myself drawn to the images in the poem: the crow (cliched but classic), the manskin coat, the nice rhthym of “the guns have stopped” and when I reached the end I thought “my god, I think he’s done it.”
Then I started to reread, and unfortunately it started to fall apart again.
There is a great deal that this poem is trying to do: Establish two characters in a scene, where one of the characters is having a crisis of conscience of sorts, or at least a deeply reflective moment. This is a strong image and idea, and the poet knows that he needs to make more metaphoric leaps and associations, but if you don’t have great control over them the poem comes out a bit disjointed.
The poet uses ‘digits’ as opposed to ‘fingers’. Why? To be poetic? One of the first mistakes I made in my early workshops was to use synonyms instead of the proper nouns. ‘Twin swells’ is fine if the breasts are identified and then you move onto the sea imagery, but ‘twin swells beneath a manskin coat’ has too much going on. Manskin coat is the key image. ‘The swell of breasts beneath a manskin coat’ has a creepy sexuality to it. No need to be coy here.
“Some feelings, he imagines, are only fit
for the interval between muzzle-flare
I have a rule for myself–or I have one now. Identify your subject in the poem first. The poem ends with the feelings the assistant feels, so looking back to the top of the poem–the assistant is the one I should meet first. But he isn’t. It’s the Necromancer. I have to read the poem twice in order to get the narrative straight. Poems are short–rereading isn’t exactly a terrible thing. But the reason I *should* be rereading the poem is to enhance my understanding of the images, the themes, to increase my love of its imagination. NOT to figure out who the main character was or what happened. I didn’t have to read ‘Faint Music’ by Robert Hass twice for the story. Charles Wright doesn’t have any narratives in his poems, but I always know what they’re about within the first couple of lines. Of course, that’s Hass and Wright. They are brilliant and special–but they are also the standard to which we should hold ourselves.
In sum: good attempt. Great attempt even. But try for better control.
Transbluency: An Antiprojection Chant
As I think I said in a previous reviews, I am a sucker for direct address. I don’t really know who the speaker is–or what the title, ‘Transbluency’ means, but since I’m only dealing with the speaker as the character, I don’t mind. It’s a strong voice: “I am the drain, the trap, the grating.” The voice stays strong throughout–based on the second half of the title, it appears that the speaker is the abstract concept of projection–the things we say about ourselves. It ends particularly well with “Until I am no longer your shadow, no more the rag you clean with. Until I am my own new color, my own whole cloth.”
However, as a personal matter–I felt similarly about this poem as I did the first. My leaning is towards a strong lyrical poem with a bit of narrative. I approve of the sentiments in this and Celestial, but they don’t feel like poems to me. More… poetic musings?
Tricks of the Mind by Valentina Cano
Before I could stop myself, I clicked the link at the bottom where the author discusses the poem in a Roundtable discussion. Ms. Rios asks “‘Tricks of the Mind’ explores perception and the pain that can come with forcing a change. The narrator worries that making a personal transformation will erase ‘the tumbleweeds I’ve been sewing.’”
Things like that make me question what it is I’m doing when I read. My personal feeling is that I should have a stronger sense of what the poem is about by the first read. It doesn’t need to be crystal clear, merely a sense of the larger shape. Then I go back, feel the edges and the whole picture fills in slowly, like eating Tiramisu bite by slow bite.
But a poem like this is more of a draped sheet and I have to guess at what the poem is by eliminating what it is not.
“If I contrive this”: contrive what?
Maybe I can / make myself believe it: Believe WHAT
Yes, I get a sense that there’s some kind of mental game that the speaker is playing with herself, but I have no solid puzzle pieces. If the poem is about the process of making mental changes, then I would expect some throwaway examples.
Some fun moments here, but the lack of specificity leaves me hanging.
Mother Frankenstein by Liz Henry
I can’t review this poem. This is a type of poem I avoid–one without punctuation and consists of tightly woven lines of crisp, clean nouns in which I get lost. It is well done; it’s just not the type of thing I can read enough times to get some coherent thoughts on it. I dare someone to comment and post an articulate review
A charming poem. ‘Done just a bit of hovering‘ is unfortunately a bit flat for a conclusion–but much of the poem is lovely. ‘An appendage so numinous / might one day have tempted you beyond yourself.‘
These reviews are getting a bit short–so I’m going to call the review for now, and pick up in a part 2 tomorrow. Yes, I did it a bit out of order–Sistern should’ve come before ‘My Son’ but ‘My Son’ was an easily likeable charm poem that didn’t need much more discussion (Sistern is lovely–but it also has a narrative which will require at least a paragraph… and thought). In other words: my blog, I get to cheat. 🙂 See you next time!