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J. Allyn Rosser
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Okay, face it: the academic year is about to begin. This ain’t no party. This ain’t no disco. This ain’t no fooling around. Put away the sunscreen, dump all those plans you had for the Summer of Continuous Industry and Focus out back with the compost. For many of us reading this blog, the creative writing workshop is heading straight at us, whether we’ll be teaching or taking one. So I can think of no more appropriate poem to post today than this beauty by Rodney Jones, the tongue-in-cheek raconteur I am always eager to read, because just as you start to think you’re having way too much fun to be reading a serious poem, he plunges into the depths of something. “The Ante” first appeared in New Ohio Review 10, Fall 2011. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - THE ANTE First Workshop A few sonnets about nature and the Greek gods. Many free-verse poems in all lowercase letters. Huey wrote of madness, Maddox of possums. John played the sadness of empty stadiums. Two berets, one silver-tipped cane, tweedy blazers. In most Natalie poems, she took off her clothes. The year of the Tet offensive. Wallace in Montgomery. We read James Wright, Richard Wilbur, Anne Sexton. One Friday an ex-guidance counselor from Jasper leapt through the window of a cafeteria, shouting “I am the son of Jesus Christ! Behold the rapture!” But nothing much happened in Poetry Writing 301 until Walter C. Avery wrote that a black swan, born in the infralapsarian brain of a garbage dump, would crack the codes of the Southern Baptists. And for this jack-surreal, mildly apocalyptic truffle was taken for near genius material, practically a second Edgar Allan Poe, until Sam Maisel submitted his “Poem for The Worksheet Typist,” which made everyone consider how scandalous it must have seemed for her, a local woman, a seamstress, and mother of Christian athletes, to run across “I know you think you’ve seen it all before, but this is duck rape, feathered love.” And some in the critique afterward, praised the line-endings; one person even mentioned “The Second Coming,” which, admittedly, made me blanch with envy, so I had wanted to say something about how sometimes the subject is not what you think or the ones you imagine you are talking about stand abruptly and begin to talk back to you, but spring was bearing down on the workshop, ripping out pages, grinding the opinions to nubs. So much energy in the streets—demonstrations, happenings, awakenings—so many instances of sudden and involuntary enlightenment, though mostly my friends and I spent our nights on Sixth Street drinking beer at The Chukkar or crouched in a huddle around a record player. By the time I thought of Sam’s duck again, May had slipped into June and June into July, and what is poetry in a copper tubing factory? A cloud would fan out around the tubes... Continue reading
Posted Aug 26, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Whoops, thanks for the correction, David! --Jill Sent from my iPad
“A Mile In” was selected by 2011 judge Nancy Eimers as the winner of our annual New Ohio Review Poetry Contest, and was published Fall 2011, in New Ohio Review 10. What grabs me about this poem is the non-event it describes: a sudden and inexplicable hyper-awareness, prompted by an inherently insignificant announcement. A Mile In The snow had been with us for awhile and was dingy and not well lit. But the sun promised to come out. The light fog lifting against the skinny tree trunks and the grounded limbs they’d lost and the thick, half-detached vines would lift off, dissolved, by the end of our walk. We’d taken the footbridge across the creek and followed the bend away from traffic and toward the west ridge. We’d gone a mile in, to where usually I begin to listen to our progress in the twigs and gravel of the path, and past this, and past my own periodic reminders to the dog to the short, uncomplicated songs of winter birds. And there, near the spill of rocks in the creek where the fog was still passing through branches and a little farther and to the right where a stretch of tall grasses received a wide gift of sunlight and several cows, the air that stood still between the trees and shimmered over the grasses filled with sound— a big voice moving through a hundred thousand habitats— and it said, “Attention in this area. The following is a regular monthly test of the Outdoor Warning System . . .” It spoke from the west first, sounding closer than it could be. And it spoke from the southeast next. This is a test,” it said, “only a . . . “This is a test . . ." it began again from somewhere else. The dog returned to me, cowering. I’d wondered before without much curiosity, where were those speakers housed, were they towered, did they revolve? Ordinarily heard in the yard while I stood pinning laundry to the line, the broadcast soon plunged and sank into the noise of passing cars and blown and rolling garbage cans and faded like the little ringing that emanates from construction sites. But here, it seemed full minutes long before my breath was back again in my chest, and my dog’s breath, steady and rough, was back in hers when the voice had left the air between the trees, as had the fog. At last a bird sounded from a twig. At last a squirrel came down and sent the dog. And then, made up of other sounds I could not have singled out, a normalcy rolled in. Infinitesimal bits is all it was —quick beaks breaking up the peat, the slow collision of a leaf landing, scooting half an inch along a big flat rock, a splat of excrement in white, a flinch, a flap, a flick. But as it came it felt to be a counter-vigilance. Or like the sound of consciousness. The is.... Continue reading
Posted Aug 19, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Last week’s posting of Kevin Prufer's “A Giant Bird” put me in mind of “Little Bird” by Lawrence Raab, which first appeared in New Ohio Review 4, Fall 2008. “Little Bird” has a deceptively straightforward movement, yet the steps taken are in effect stationary – that is, if a poem is a walk (as A.R. Ammons has eloquently argued), then this one’s a moonwalk. Those two clouds passing unsuggestively, literally, passionlessly, seem to be props in a kind of still-life video that, by poem’s end, has turned itself inside out. The speaker of the poem splits in two (just as a single cloud may have produced the two in the first line) and the reader is left wondering which one now has the floor. - - - - - - - - Little Bird One cloud was following another across a blue and passionless sky. It was the middle of summer, far enough from December for a man to feel indifferent to the memories of cold, not yet close enough to autumn to be caught up in all its folderol about death. Neither cloud looked like a whale or a weasel, or any kind of fanciful beast. All morning I’d felt my life dragging me down. The view from my window refused to lift my heart. The sight of a blank piece of paper filled me with sadness. I wanted to set my life down in a comfortable chair, tell it to take a long nap, and walk away as if I were somebody else, somebody without a house or a family or a job, but somebody who might soon feel with a pang precisely the absence of everything I had. A cool breeze lifted the curtains in the room where I was sitting. A bird was singing. Had it been singing for long? Far off there were mountains, but I didn’t wish to go there. Nor did I yearn to be standing by a lake, or walking beside the tumult of the sea. The little bird kept repeating itself. I filled a glass with water and watched it tremble. - - - - - This has to be one of the best descriptions of depression, and coming out of it (more or less), in contemporary poetry. Elizabeth Bishop’s “Five Flights Up” also narrates that fragile emergence beautifully – also while looking out a window. In Raab’s poem, everything is weighted down, and most of the motion is directed downward, until the turn: the breeze lifts the curtains, a bird sings, mountains rise in the distance, the glass fills. Has the “I” of the first half of the poem in fact left the building? Is the speaker who becomes gradually conscious of his contentment (can we call it that?) none other than the “life” that has been patronised, set down in a comfortable chair? Has the restless spirit left the second speaker behind to sit and take small pleasures in quotidian ordinariness? Is the repetition of birdsong an irritant or... Continue reading
Posted Aug 12, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Today’s poem is an eerie parable, fairly characteristic of Kevin Prufer’s recent work. His poems are haunting because they are genuinely and fascinatingly haunted. His speakers don’t seem to be thinly disguised versions of Prufer – rather, they seem to express different moods of a postmodern Tiresias, emoting with a stunned but mutedly down-to-earth credibility. They speak with a dual awareness of their isolation and the fact that their feelings and impressions must also represent those of others. Perhaps the best introduction to my favorite kind of Prufer voice is to imagine a Greek play’s chorus collapsed into a single omni-reflective persona, placed in the context of a recently collapsed political/cultural system, in an alternately snowy or sooty landscape stripped of natural fertility and even stability on the geological, planetary level. I could go on – but I’d rather you just read the following poem, which appeared in New Ohio Review 8, Fall 2010. - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - A Giant Bird Its great heart pounded like the distant sea wounding itself against the cliffs. + We lived in its shade. Sometimes, my daughter ran her fingers along that part of the breast that swagged low over our camp. It’s beautiful, she said, smoothing a feather’s twig-like barbs, gazing past our mountain toward the burning cities. + What kind of bird is it? Some feathers were tawny, others tinged a perfect white. Is it a sparrow? It may be a sparrow. Is it an owl? I can’t see its face. An eagle? I think it’s an eagle. We often played this game. + The breezes made trails of the smoke that rose from the distant burning cities. Those people worshipped golden eagles. We saw the statues winking on their plazas in the sunset. + Sometimes, it would soar beyond the mountains to the sea, its black shadow slipping over the valleys. But always it returned by evening, settling gently over us again. + I knew it was an eagle from the talons curling beneath its down, and the set of its enormous wings. + I’d become accustomed to the fingers of smoke that rose on windless summer days. What are they doing? They’re killing each other. Why are they killing each other? The bird shifted on blood-stained talons, resettled itself. Why are they killing each other? Their golden eagles glistened in the sun. + Sometimes, one city had acquired all the golden eagles. Sometimes another city had them, or a third. Sometimes, the golden eagles were distributed evenly among them all. + Those days, we did not worry about the rain, nor the heat of the sun, except when the bird rose from our cliffs and vanished in the direction of the sea where, we knew, it ate. + Later, we learned it fed on men who fished in boats along the shore. Later, it ate captured soldiers chained to highly decorated rafts and set adrift. + You will... Continue reading
Posted Aug 5, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
The following poem by Steven Cramer first appeared in New Ohio Review 6, Fall 2009. - - - - - - - Bad It got bad; pretty bad; then not so bad; very bad; then back to bad. Jesus, let’s let things not get even worse. A weird fall. Nearly ninety one day, leaf mold making our house all red eyes and throats. Don’t think about Thanksgiving, but hope for a decent Halloween. Everywhere gas-powered leaf-blowers growling— Christ, let’s let things not get even worse. - - - - - - - - The first stanza demonstrates what I feel to be the semicolon’s natural tendency to drain drama out of any expression. The semicolon always seems to need a lift, maybe a cup of coffee, or Zoloft. Whatever the mood may be, a semicolon stunts it, patiently, by increments. It's so drably un-final, just an incomplete full stop without any conviction. It tells you something more needs to be said, but not urgently. Just wait; there’s more; I’ll get there, it seems to say. Maybe I’ve changed my mind, it dithers. Enough of my antipathy toward a perfectly useful punctuation mark, but you must admit that first stanza’s failed efforts at precision feel dispirited, as though the speaker is so worn out by the relentless nuances of badness (“not so bad” is as good as it gets) that he can’t muster the energy to come up with another negative word. And of course we expect something momentous: genocide, icecaps melting, famine… Whereas the only example revealed to the reader is a few bad cases of hayfever. I like being surprised by the mundanity of the condition that worsens. Surely that’s not the only “it” referred to earlier? Maybe; maybe not; but the other accruing bads are probably just as pedestrian. It’s the accumulation without full respite that overwhelms. The increasing intensity (however wan, however enervated) of the speaker’s dread is marked by the progression of “Jesus” in the third line to “Christ” in the final line, as we move from the figure as man to the figure as deity. Are both names taken in vain? I don’t think so – there’s palpable, prayerful misery behind each utterance, reinforced by the faintly biblical echo in the use of “let” in both lines. Then there’s the lovely low parade of growling w’s in the penultimate line that helps to augur the apparently inevitable worse. But the clincher that makes this poem memorable for me is Cramer’s exquisite syntax in “let’s let things not get even worse” as opposed to the more idiomatic “let’s not let things get even worse.” The latter suggests we have agency; whereas the poem’s syntax reminds us that we have little if any control; all we can do is let things happen and hope for, well – not the worst. Maybe we can’t fully engage in true Thanksgiving, but at least we can have a decent Halloween, scaring ourselves with things that are more dreadful even than... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
The poem I’m presenting today is by Denise Duhamel, one of America’s most distinctive voices in contemporary poetry. I love the way she’ll grab hold of a thought that looks straightforward, then turns into an ornery comet – the way she’ll hang on while it whips her all over the place, into Barbie-littered playrooms, thumping down escalators, into classrooms, through ditches, careening along the waxed floors of hospitals, whizzing past billboards, and swooping back into the bathroom where she’s quietly washing her father’s hair. These veerings appear at first digressive, but Duhamel always finds, and finely renders, their harmony. She hands over the uncensored workings of her mind with a fidelity to truth that is every bit as hard on her as it is, finally, redemptive. Here she contemplates the transcendence of love over its invariable – well, in some cases – most cases – surely not mine – ephemerality. - - - - - - - - - OLD LOVE POEMS I can burn the pictures, but not the poems since I published them in books, which are on shelves in libraries and in people’s homes. Once my cousin told me not to write anything down because the words would be there forever to remind me of the fool I once was. My cousin was the little dog on the Tarot card, barking at the Fool’s heels as I headed right towards the cliff. When James Taylor and Carly Simon broke up, I was shocked. Taylor’s drug use or not, couldn’t they work it out? I was in college and, though I didn’t really believe in marriage, I believed in them. How could they part having written those love songs? And how could they go on singing those love songs after the divorce? But now, I know. After time, when they reached for those notes, there wasn’t really a beloved there anymore, just a strand of hair each left behind on the other’s scarf or pillow, a cologne trigger that transcended into something more real than they were, the lovers themselves ephemeral muses. It’s still hard for me to accept the notion of love outliving the lovers— a notion so romantic, it’s unromantic. Hard to accept that those big lumps of affection would find alternate places to stick, that Simon and Taylor would be swept away and marry others. That need is not so much a deficit as an asset, like a wallet that keeps manufacturing its own dollar bills even after it’s been robbed of everything. Or to say it another way: the plant that will bloom despite being uprooted. The new seedling that will pop up. It’s hard to believe when you are down to your last penny, when the soil is dry and rocky and full of weeds, when your love is freeze-dried into a metallic pouch and you are full of snarky rage. You look back at a love poem you wrote and ask: did I really feel this way? Even if you no longer... Continue reading
Posted Jul 22, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
The Associated Press just reported that so far during the year 2012, more soldiers have committed suicide than have been killed in combat. I can’t think of anything more depressing than that. Reading this fact reminded me of a poem by Laura Read we published in the Fall 2010 issue of New Ohio Review: - - - - - - - - - How to Be Sad You’ll be heavier in the mornings, waterlogged. Don’t try to put on anything from the upside down clean clothes basket. Just wear yesterday’s pants. There’s no need to bring in the paper. Or sweep the dead bees from the windowseat. When the doctor asks for your pain number, stick with 2—it’s best to leave everything as it was. Wish again that you could live in that prefab house you tour at the fair. It doesn’t matter what it’s made of. You love the vacuum stripes in the carpet, which is taupe, always difficult to describe. There’s a plasma television, a microfiber sectional, and in the kitchen plastic steaks on each plate at the table, covered in fake hollandaise sauce. After you eat, you’ll still have dinner for tomorrow, and you can just go to bed where there’s a book already chosen for you on the woman’s side. Apparently, you like romance. And if you’re not tired, the fair’s always there. You love the ferris wheel, the funnel cakes, and especially the goldfish man, but you never thought you’d win one of those bags with the small fish swimming inside it, his life hanging in the balance of your hands. And there’s no bowl back at the house. So you’ll have to stay up all night holding him, in case he panics. - - - - - - - - - Only after reading the whole poem did I become fully conscious of those unsettling line breaks – the phrases seem to turn away abruptly and scoot to the other side, like fish seeking egress from their bowl. Or bag. This poem is utterly convincing in its rhetorically instructional description of a woman so overwhelmed with despondency she can’t muster the energy or motivation to do anything, make food, change into clean clothes (they’re clean, she managed that, but only to dump them, as if she’d collapsed before the Herculean prospect of putting them away); she can’t make any decisions, decide how much pain she’s in, even choose what kind of person she is, which book she might like. “Apparently, you like / romance.” The forced cheeriness of the fantasy is devastating: “And if you’re not tired, the fair’s always there.” It brings to mind that awful Petula Clark song, “Downtown.” When you’re alone, and life is making you lonely, you can always go… Downtown! The lights are much brighter there, you can forget all your troubles, forget all your cares, and go DOWNtown! I first heard this song as a child of six or seven, and I remember thinking how odd grownups were,... Continue reading
Posted Jul 15, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Jill Allyn Rosser presents a poem by Angie Estes from New Ohio Review 7 on the Best American Poetry blog. Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Thanks, Ryan! More where those came from. Check out and note our free-copies-for classrooms program while you're there. Sent from my iPad
Perhaps the hardest thing to do when on a roll is to get off it with panache. I’ve read work by so many poets who can beautifully deliver a riveting description of something occurring between humans, without knowing quite how to make an exit, and stick their landing. The following poem by Mark Kraushaar does so beautifully. It originally appeared in New Ohio Review 7, Spring 2010. - - - - - - - - Cake She’s in the first booth left of the planters. She’s been waiting an hour now. She’s been waiting at the Watertown Family Buffet with her little girl who’s dreamed up some kind of a costume: giant glasses, backwards cap, taffeta gown which is clearly for him, for Al who’s just now arriving, finally, and now he’s seen them, and now he’s walking over, and now he’s standing there, standing there, husband and father, or boyfriend and father, or boyfriend and father figure, except he’s way too late, he’s too late times two and the party’s over thank-you, and, no, they’re not having, not the grin, not the story, not the hug. The woman gets up, and then, face baggy with patience, she nods to the girl who scoots out too, and they exit together. So over the chips and spilt dip, over the drained Pepsi and big white cake with “AL” in caps and quotes he watches them go, looks out at the parking lot, opens his book. Here’s the waitress with her pad and pen. And what in hell is he reading? - - - - - - - These details evoke far more backstory than you’d think possible in a mere 28 lines. I feel I know this Al, this long-suffering woman and her keen-to-please daughter, and I can guess how many times Al’s pulled this sort of thing before. What interests me in particular is the way the final line suddenly foregrounds the speaker and his emotional involvement without going so far as to detract from the power of the scene itself. This has also been done brilliantly by Thomas Hardy and C.K. Williams (several in Flesh and Blood come to mind). We see that Al is not opening the book to save face, because he has not been glancing self-consciously at the people around him in the restaurant, but rather looking out at the parking lot. Apparently he really is able to reenter his book after such an event, with such a cake still sitting there. Is he so callous as that, or is the book that good? Is the speaker judging him, or envious? I admire the open-endedness of the final line as much as I do the casual richness of description that precedes it. Mark Kraushaar’s poems have appeared in Best American Poetry as well as Poetry Daily. His first collection, Falling Brick Kills Local Man, was published in 2009 by University of Wisconsin Press, and a new collection, The Uncertainty Principle, appeared from Waywiser Press this year... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Alex Green’s poem “Blue Door Option” was first published in New Ohio Review 6, Fall 2009. It’s wonderfully paced and narrated with an authenticity of weirdness that I find terrifically appealing. When students ask how to know if one’s poem should be lineated or in prose format, I invariably say a lot of words that amount to a mystified shrug. What I want to do is point to a poem like this one and say, See? When it is a prose poem it just IS one. Prose poems aren’t distinguished just by the primacy of narrative, though certainly that’s part of it. They tend to create a headlong momentum and upwelling, an unstoppable sweep, which is a bit more difficult to achieve in lines. The very act of lineating can promote a sense of decelerating deliberation -- a somehow more measured effect. (Of course it’s foolish to generalize, therefore I’m compelled to do it.) I love the fear expressed in this poem that an unwell magician might leave a trick un-undoable; and the idea of a magician’s falsetto “you could feel across your shoulders,” as if he could palpably throw his voice. If that’s true, then surely Roy Orbison was a magician too. Actually, I thought immediately of Andy Kaufman when I first read this poem, so it was gratifying for me to learn today that Kaufman also went by the name of Nathan McCoy. Here’s Alex Green’s poem. Blue Door Option Everybody knew the magician was dying and this would be his last party. And it was too bad because all of his ex-girlfriends were there—even Stacey Mitchell, the news anchor who he had lived with on a houseboat when he held his breath for the whole summer. He was taking requests. He would do whatever we wanted. He would make birds explode from his chest, steal wallets from anyone in the room, build a house of cards on the back of his hand—all we had to do was ask. But no one did, because everyone was sure he would crack in the middle, fall to the floor and leave something suspended they could never fix. So instead of magic, he sang an old Nathan McCoy song about losing something in Hawaii. He had a falsetto you could feel across your shoulders. His hands were thin, he hadn’t slept in two months, and you were the only one who knew a few weeks earlier he had parked his car somewhere and never saw it again. When he was too sick to come out for his own garage sale, he told you to give everything away. You watched people take his couch, his television, his doves, and you felt like you were officiating a robbery. If you’re a decent magician, he once told you, when you die people will miss you. But if you’re a really great magician, they’ll always think you’re alive and in the middle of the best trick of all time. Even though you watched him fade... Continue reading
Posted Jun 24, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Susan, Glad you're enjoying the poems, even when they unsettle! Jill (Rosser) Sent from my iPhone
Today's offering is perhaps not the usual Hallmark take on Father's Day, okay. Tony Hoagland as usual slashes right through convention with the straight razor he keeps in his back pocket even when he's sleeping. This poem rides on a wave of brutal honesty that is riveting, disturbing, and perversely satisfying, the way the person at the funeral who stands up and tells an unflattering anecdote about the deceased is the only one who makes you finally break down and weep. I have admired Tony Hoagland's work since I first encountered it for his absolute, Lawrentian insistence on candor at all costs. Hoagland's voice characteristically plunges and swerves through the rapids of our culture's amorality, all the while "simply" telling you about something that happened to him one day. His is a crafted and deeply thoughtful recklessness. Which sounds contradictory until you read, for example, this poem, which first appeared in New Ohio Review 5, Spring 2009. - - - - - - - - My Father Tells Me A Story I had heard that one before, several times over the years--how some wealthy couple in El Paso hired a woman from over the border then kept her hostage for seven years by filling her brown head with the whispered menace of la migra-- --And with that gringo cunning and common human greed they kept themselves a slave for minimum wage. But when my father tells me the story, the name of the housekeeper turns out to be Rosalina, and the rich bastards in El Paso turn out to be Dave and Beth, old family friends of ours-- and he still remembers the amazing enchiladas on Friday nights she would bring in on a big white plate. A cloud slides over the sun, and I can see the scabs and lesions on my father's scalp, the pink square shaped like Kansas where the skin graft struggles like a crop to take; I can see the slight tremble in the hand that holds his drink, where the melting cubes are watering the Scotch. Why does he bring up the story of the Mexican housekeeper? and why does he tell it with a smile on his face, like a naughty joke he is ashamed of liking, but likes too much to keep it to himself? Maybe for my father it is a story about how ignorant a human being can be--how frightened and cheap, how easy to deceive, maybe for him it is a story of how some people are just destined to be used by others, and how it is better not to be those people-- maybe he wants to teach me that again. Or maybe he wants to get under my skin, to rile me up, or make me ashamed of listening, maybe he is giving me the story like a little cup of bile to watch me struggle with the taste, to see if I will spit it out and make a scene or bend the knee to him... Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Somehow, Sunday seems an appropriate day to present this poem by Claire Bateman, a fine and under-recognized poet from Greenville, South Carolina, with six books to her name: Coronology (2009); Leap (2005); Clumsy (2003); Friction (1998); At the Funeral of the Ether (1998); and The Bicycle Slow Race (1991). We often hear the word quirky applied to contemporary poets (just glance at five random blurbs, you’re sure to find quirky), but perhaps no one writing today inhabits the word quite as fully as Bateman. The premises of her poems are apparently beamed into the atmosphere at a slant from another, logically slippery dimension -- yet once you step inside, life there seems more cogent, more comprehensible, more carefully thought out than the one you’re turning her pages in. “Unearthing the Sky” first appeared in New Ohio Review’s third issue, Spring 2008. I love the way Bateman will seize on an idea and pursue it all the way in the most natural, credible terms. The excavation draws all kinds from the woodwork – not just the genetically engineered ants that chew up the undissolved stitches, but the vandals (“long-distance pissers”), artists, evangelists, the full spectrum of fanatics and romantics, and yes, even corporate representatives. She has so thoroughly (I want to say accurately) imagined the literal dilapidation of the sky, the media attention, the complicated restorative procedures and precautions and pitfalls, the responses of onlookers and the aftermath, that we readers almost forget that the broken body of the sky is figuring forth a whole cornucopia of ideals that our civilization has chosen by turns to pillage, smudge, neglect, batter. Almost, I say. What follows is a deft and intelligent poem that may well be our century’s companion poem to Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur.” - - - - - - - Unearthing the Sky It was filthy, of course, with red clay streaks & embedded chips of loam, as well as boulder-scored, chipped, and even fractured in places, a great big glorious suffering thing further damaged by the very means of its rescue, the violence of pulleys & clamps. Areas that had been dredged from under water were warped & bowed where detonation had been necessary to dislodge them. But there it was for everyone to behold. Toddlers wearing tiny government-issued hard hats were told, Look, honey, it’s the sky! Older children were bussed on field trips to the dig site where yellow tape kept them from the rim so that the sign could continue to announce, DROWNINGS AT THIS SITE: 0. Round-the-clock floodlights discouraged those who might have attempted to make their mark on the sky’s broken body -- graffiti artists & would-be inscribers of the Ten Commandments, corporate representatives & long-distance pissers, as well as those who longed to plunge into it -- scuba divers, suicides, mystics, & lovers. Everything was so lit-up, in fact, that the sky would have been glad of some darkness, but it was not yet well enough to generate nighttime & other weathers. There had... Continue reading
Posted Jun 10, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
Note: This week we revive our practice of having a Sunday poetry editor, chosen from the ranks of lit mag editors, to pick a poem from a recent issue and add a comment on it. The poet J. Allynn Rosser doubles as Jill Allyn Rosser at the helm of New Ohio Review, and it is to her (with thanks for her editorial acumen and her willingness to take on this task) that we turn for the summer of 2012. -- DL I don’t know about you, but there are times I truly can’t claim to know the first thing about me. I mean which of me is the dominant self, the one I like or the one other people tend to like? Which is writing this? And what's the other one writing while I do it? Does dominant mean the self I recognize instantly as making my kind of mistake, which is actually what I was hoping it would do all along, or the one who covers it up? Is there some sinister or simply too-incredible fact I’ve been kept unaware of, or which I’ve refused to discover, that will explain, as in one of Kipling’s Just So Stories, all the allegedly out-of-character gestures, statements, and acts committed under my name, uttered with my lips, lifted or smashed with my hands? A fact that would explain all the times I have been certain that scenes of my life were lesser, rejected takes in a set of rushes for the real movie of my genuine life? When I have felt like my own understudy, who never gets a chance to show her stuff because the public one never gets around to literally breaking a leg? Is the one I keep under wraps in the green room of my soul going to get her revenge, and exactly when, and how? These are questions that swarm like a hive unqueened each time I reread today’s poem by Todd Boss. I have selected this poem because it haunts me, and because it is so beautifully orchestrated. Boss achieves an uncannily light balance between familiar mundanity and Twilight Zone fabulism. “That’s when/we moved to Minnesota” gets me every time: the way that matter-of-fact sentence begins on the same line as the alarming discovery. Because the parents have been living with this secret such a long time, they’re a bit weary and perfunctory in their account of the chronology, hence that tone-perfectly placed “of course” tossed into the mix when the murder is first mentioned. (Because Boss restrains his speaker from saying or thinking, "So that’s why we moved!" we hear it all the more clearly.) The recurring dream is related fairly far along in the poem -- right after he nearly pinches himself -- where it serves to remind us that this moment with the parents is extra-oneiric: the dream has reified, fulfilled itself. I admire the syntax- and diction-hop of “from out its only portal” that helps elevate the revelation to, if not Cain-and-Abel... Continue reading
Posted Jun 3, 2012 at The Best American Poetry
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Jun 2, 2012