In the Fall/Winter 2020 issue of Concho River Review, two ekphrastic poems can be found one after the other. First is “Abraham Preparing to Sacrifice His Son” by David Denny about Marc Chagall’s “Abraham Preparing to Sacrifice his Son, According to God’s Command,” and the second is “Telephone in a Dish with Three Grilled Sardines at the end of September” by Paul Dickey about Salvador Dali’s painting which the poem is titled after.
Denny’s poem describes Chagall’s piece and then slides the focus out of frame, to those not pictured. The speaker states, “[ . . . ] while the men / play out their little dramas of heaven and earth, / it’s those left out of the official portrait that make / the real sacrifices.” Denny then paints a picture of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, imaging the heartbreaking grief one would feel seeing her husband “tie her beloved boy to the saddle, / tuck his best knife into his belt.” I enjoyed this focus on the emotion the portrait fails to include.
Dickey’s poem questions the meaning of Dali’s painting again and again, walking us through the detail as his attention slips from one to the next. While Denny focuses on what’s not in the portrait, Dickey becomes focused on discovering what is presented to us and what it means.
These two poems work as great companion pieces for one another, well-placed within the pages of this issue.
The Fall 2020 issue of The MacGuffin is the Formal Poetry Issue featuring 43 formal poems. The issue is introduced by retiring Poetry Editor Carol Was. Sonnets, pantoums, villanelles, quatrains, and more make up the poetry portion of the issue.
Among these is “Coyote in Town,” a sestina by Marla Kay Houghteling. The speaker wakes one night to see a coyote through their window in the city, their new home not as removed from the “wild / watchers” as they once thought. This poem reads easily, both the reader and the speaker stalked by wildness and shadows throughout the piece.
In Terry Blackhawk’s villanelle “No Callous Shell,” the poetry speaks to Conrad Hilberry and wonders if she can even write a villanelle. This is a fun, good-humored poem that felt relatable thinking back to my own questionable attempts at penning a form poem.
The poets in this issue, however, have all done a great job of taking on form poems, introducing me to forms I was unfamiliar with and serving inspiration to maybe try my own hand at writing one again.
Holly Day has two pieces of work in the Fall 2020 issue of Tipton Poetry Journal. “The Last Days of the Flu” are rich with imagery as Day describes that feeling of breathlessness when sick: “gears almost catching but slipping again and again.”
“The Day the Leaves Start to Change” builds a church up around the reader and we’re suddenly sitting in a pew, watching a preacher react to a bird flying overhead.
Each poem ends with a stark finality. While they each cover separate subjects, the endings draw them together, unmistakably written by the same poet with the ability to craft a strong poetic ending. Both are lovely reads.
Not to be missed in Issue 212 of The Malahat Review: “It’s Here All the Beauty I Told You About” by Shane Rhodes.
This piece is an excerpt from a manuscript in progress. In it, Rhodes explores Shane, a 1949 Western pulp novel by Jack Schaefer; the origins of given names; and the ways in which Western novels continue to “obscure and rewrite the history of North American colonization and settlement and the racism that fuels them.”
This excerpt combines written work, cut-outs of overlapping book pages, and handwriting. Rhodes collects copies of Shane and is drawn to “the most abused copies” with writing in the margins, underlined words, browning pages, and this excerpt adopts this feeling of a much-used book. Each page offers something new and arrests the eye, a real treat to read through.
The Main Street Rag forwent their usual beautiful photographic cover art for a cartoon version of Donald Trump behind bars with the Fall 2020 issue. It seemed pretty appropriate, then, that I ended up opening the issue at random to find Bethany Bowman’s “Sometimes After Getting Off the Phone,” which begins with the speaker getting off the phone with their father “who confesses to voting for / Donald Trump to reverse Roe v. Wade” and observing a friend being confronted about her right to choose with her abortion in the 70’s.
The poem begins in a tense spot but we’re given relief, along with the speaker, in the form of animal facts given by the speaker’s son. These facts lead to biblical lessons and connections being “fed to the dogs” as the speaker realizes “you’ve always been filled with the spirit— / no external male force, no deity can grant it / or take it away.” There is power in this realization, a freedom granted from the sins stacked on women’s shoulders from the beginning of time.
While Trump may be behind bars on this issue’s cover, there is freedom to be found in the writing which Bowman graciously reminds us of.
During the first few months of the pandemic, I couldn’t read anything. My attention span was gone and anything I did manage to read left my mind immediately. But that ended when I sat in the park and read Dorothy Chan’s Revenge of the Asian Woman (Diode Editions, 2019) from cover to cover. My locked-away ability to read had found its key. Already a fan of Chan’s work, this just helped solidify my love for her poetry even more, and I’m always more than happy to check out any of her newly published poems. The October 2020 issue of Poetry gives the gift of her poem, “Ode to Chinese Superstitions, Haircuts, and Being a Girl.”
The poem flows in a rush, like a held breath finally exhaled. Chan begins with the Chinese superstition “it’s bad luck / to get a haircut when I’m sick” and leads into the role the speaker fulfills as a daughter, as a girl, as someone who “always bring[s] / the party, cause[s] the trouble . . . .” While there are specifics tied to her own self, culture, and family—her brother’s fate, her mother’s thoughts on her future, her father’s opinion on how “good Chinese girls” wear their hair—Chan leaves the reader plenty of room to relate to her words. If we don’t feel like her, we can still root for her and her “short skirt,” her “forehead forever exposed.”
The Spring 2020 issue of Cimarron Review is a slim one, but here is still plenty in its pages to keep a reader company, including a fine selection of poetry.
This selection includes Ethan Joella’s ruminations on the titular magazines that his “wife’s mother read in the hospital,” and a desire to destroy them to protect his wife in her grief. Joella creates a tender piece that focuses on his wife’s love for her mother, as well as his love for his wife.
Leslie McGrath asks one eight-word question in “Pink Inquiry,” a poem that makes impact with its simplicity. Christopher Brean Murray reflects on his childhood dogs “Duke & Pam,” and the way he has “never been able / to get into a poem the way” he felt about them. What results is a sweet poem about the three finding warmth and comfort in one another.
William Reichard in “Tinnitus (in Four Movements)” describes his relationship with the ringing in his ears, using the sound of cicadas as a way to lead this exploration. I read the fourth movement repeatedly, pulled in. “There was no escape from / the pulse of his own blood,” it reads, the stanza itself feeling as inescapable as the sound.
Take some time to visit the poetry in this issue of Cimarron Review, as well as the five pieces of prose also inside.
Now more than ever it’s important to find the beauty in whatever is around us. As writers, as artists, and as humans struggling through a traumatic period of time, it’s necessary to find bright spots. The Fall 2020 issue of Still Point Arts Quarterly puts this into practice, the theme of the issue being “The Secret Life of Objects.”
Throughout the pages, writers and artists look at what’s around them and capture their beauty. Adrienne Stevenson writes an ode to a “Kitchen Timer,” an appliance one doesn’t have to think much about until it’s gone. Kathleen Miller draws pared-down sketches of telephones, boats, pitchers, eliminating the details to follow Georgia O’Keeffe’s sentiment of “get[ting] at the real meaning of things.” Most of MJ Edwards’s compelling photography focuses on treasures of trash found on the beach, as they wonder about the “untold stories” the objects carry with them.
Art can be found in the everyday items around us, the objects easily overlooked. Don’t forget to look around you and find the beauty and inspiration they can hold.
Since March, we’ve been relying heavily on service workers, those operating the essentials while the rest of the country slows or stops. The second half of the Fall 2020 issue of Rattle features work by poets who have served long periods of time as service workers.
In this section, readers can find Marylisa DeDomenicis’s “Excuse Me” and Jackleen Holton’s “The Hunter,” both of which discuss working in a restaurant. DeDomenicis writes of the prevalent racism in the kitchen where the speaker works, and Holton focuses on the sexism and harassment the women face at the restaurant where her speaker works. In both of these, the other workers advocate for each other when the higher-ups either do nothing or contribute to the problem. The speaker in DeDomenicis’s piece sticks up for the bullied Mexican bus boy, and the waitresses in Holton’s piece work the buddy system together so they’re never alone, lessening the severity of their harassment.
Laurie Uttich’s “To My Student with the Dime-Sized Bruises on the Back of Her Arms Who’s Still on Her Cellphone” stuck out to me most starkly. In this poem, the speaker notices her student’s bruises and implores that she put down her phone, her abusive boyfriend on the other end, so she can trade it for a pen and “Take a piece of the dark and put it on a page.” Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf stand by as supporting characters, offering comfort and a room of one’s own. Uttich’s use of language as the poem addresses the student is clever and flows quickly, familiar images flashing through the lines.
While we continue to rely on service workers to keep the world running, make sure to take time to hear their voices and their stories in their own words.
With September 11 close at hand, I’ve found my thoughts turning back to another time in American history in which our country suffered. I found myself reflecting back on September 11 and pictures.
In the poem “Photography from September 11,” Wisława Szymborska captures my thoughts as she describes the figures, forever frozen in history, as they jump from the twin towers. Her solemn respect and care for these souls resonates throughout the poem as she describes their flight, rather than their demise. This poem helps me to remember the tragedy of September 11 without the political connections—just understanding that humans were hurt and that I still have a country to love and care for that is full of people that care for each other in their own way.
Reviewer bio: Autumn Barraclough is a college student studying English. She is a Virginian at heart and loves to delve into the connections between France and Virginia, aspiring to create a written work that expresses that relationship.