No, this is not some abstract rumination about poetry. It’s more a brief review/advertisement for the July/August 2007 volume of the venerable publication of the same name. It’s a really good read, from cover to cover, with very few exceptions. I often find much of the poetry between the covers of the magazine to be not exactly to my taste, but there was enough of a variety of form and semi-form and humor and literary reference and ingenuity in this issue that even where things weren’t precisely to my taste, my overall judgment of this issue’s poetry was one of approval.
Particular favorites were Joan Murray’s parodies of Yeats and Hopkins, of which I’ll quote the latter in full (minus special Hopkins accent marks) until somebody tells me to take it down:
Brush and Floss: To a Young Child
Margaret, are you grieving
Since your gums are not yet teething?
Teeth, all the ones you lost, you
Miss, especially those front two?
Ah! as the mouth grows older
It will earn a dental folder
Year by year, nor shed a tear
Though mounds of molars disappear;
And yet your mouth will gape in fear.
Oh the horror! child, the pain,
Though dentists jab novocaine,
Nor mouth knows, no nor gums, can say
The last laugh of tooth decay:
It is dentures man was born for,
It’s your baby teeth you mourn for.
I also really liked poems by Todd Boss, of which one, in excerpt, follows (it’s one of those annoying poems whose title is also the first line, but in this case, I forgive it):
How Smokes the Smolder
at neck, at
stokes a man
as he grows
fumes, No one
It goes on like that for another dozen lines or so, just yanking you down the page in these staccato phrases packed with oddly laconic but visually rich description. It’s really good stuff, really different than a lot of the abstract, boring stuff I’ve read in the pages of Poetry.
I can’t help myself. Another one, in its entirety, from X.J. Kennedy (spacing screwed because I’m too lazy to make it work, though the spacing makes it better):
Blues for Oedipus
You’d come a cropper,
Gods dished you the shit
Like you deserves —
Now your eyeballs
From they optic nerves.
The prose in this edition is good as well. Many bemoan the space the magazine has dedicated to prose and to letters to the editor over the last couple of years, but I’ve really enjoyed this shift (if only because the poetry often escapes me). One thing I really liked the concept if not the execution of in this issue was a brief Q&A with poets about particular poems. There are a half dozen or so of these scattered throughout the issue, and I only wish the editors had selected better poems to publish and do the Q&A on. Still, the idea of an occasional Q&A interests me.
The issue includes funny story/essay things by Naeem Murr (a probably at least partially fictive memoir-type thing about life as a novelist dating a poet) and Michael Lewis (a faux diary entitled “Poetry In Motion: A Diary of the Collapse of the 2006 New York Giants” that’s funny enough to merit a few quotes below; it’s told from the perspective of a presumably fictive Giants trainer).
I lingered outside long enough to hear Eli [Manning] say, “I’m not saying poetry will make us a better football team.” I’m saying it will make us a more meaningful football team.
Finally! I whispered to myself, a little fire! But instead of throwing punches, they just jabbered away at each other. Words, words, words. I didn’t understand all of what was said but one of the assistant coaches filled me in later. It started when Plaxico refused to rhyme or scan, and our center Shaun O’Hara called him “a narcissist who fails to grasp the artistic power of constraints.” That led all the receivers — even Shockey! — to get pissed off. They gathered into a little group in the end zone and mocked the sonnets the O-line has been working on. The O-line screamed that pentameter was the natural length of a spoken English sentence; the receivers screamed back that pentameter was for fat guys who are easily winded and that the poet in peak condition spoke hexameter, if not octameter.
The defense met to talk about their fourth-quarter collapse. One of the coaches asked Mathias what the fuck he was thinking when he just let go of Vince young. “Coach,” says Mathias, “I couldn’t help it. Just when I grabbed hold of him, a clerihew popped into my head.”…
Your Fu is not yet Kung
Your hop ain’t hip, your juke don’t jive
I’m gonna eat your rookie ass alive
It’s hard not to quote the whole fake diary.
One more rave before I close this out. The issue includes a set of mini-essays entitled collectively “Poets We’ve Known,” of which my favorite was a little piece by Sven Birkerts about informal joke-telling gatherings in Boston of Walcott, Heaney, and Brodsky that itself includes most of a joke that made me laugh out loud and try to re-tell it immediately to M. Then there’s a little essay by recent newsmaker Christopher Hitchens about meeting Auden’s partner shortly after Auden’s death. James Merrill’s former trainer writes to talk about what it was like to guide Merrill through his workout. The only essay I’d remove from the set is by Joseph Epstein, who laments the self-absorption of poets before going on to drop names and establish himself as part of the literary elite as he makes his way through an otherwise pleasant encomium to John Frederick Nims.
And did I mention poems by Edward Hirsch, Billy Collins, Tony Hoagland, W.S. Merwin, John Updike, Richard Wilbur, and Robert Wrigley?
All in all, definitely worth picking up at your local library, if your library happens to carry it, Possibly even worth $5.00 for a back issue.
On the whole, I’ve really liked what Poetry has become over the last few years. The editors seem to be trying to promote a diversity of style and content while engaging the magazine’s audience by accepting and publishing letters to the editor. The annual translation issue is always a treat, as is the annual humor issue. The editors also seem to be interested in hearing new voices. For the next two or three months, they’re considering submissions only from poets previously unpublished within their pages.
Every time a new issue comes in, I’m glad I’ve subscribed.