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ABRAXAS – 2010

Volume 47


Lesley Gouger

ABRAXAS describes itself as an “irregular, independent poetry magazine” from Wisconsin and introduces readers to contemporary writers of lyrical poetry.

ABRAXAS describes itself as an “irregular, independent poetry magazine” from Wisconsin and introduces readers to contemporary writers of lyrical poetry.

Its name stems from ancient Gnostic texts as the name of a supreme deity, suggesting a magazine filled with supernatural and esoteric content, as though the reader will be charmed into a mystical state of mind through the poems themselves. ABRAXAS is saturated with simple yet multilayered texts. In the Greek fashion, many of the poems personify the natural world in mystifying and refreshing ways.

This issue features a wide range of poets including: Roselyn Elliott, prospero saiz, Jami Macarty, marcia arrieta, Tom Kryss, Lee Ballentine, Warren Woessner, Joseph Stanton, Grace Butcher and the editor herself, Ingrid Swanberg. There are also a series of abstract nature photographs by Andrea Moorhead. The images work well with the poems, capturing both the simplicity and eeriness of the natural world.

ABRAXAS opens with “August” by Roselyn Elliott, a vivid depiction of summer sea life, followed by “December,” where the poet directly addresses the reader, in true lyric fashion, with the lines,

You are much more than an abstraction,
but these trees will forget you.
You are meant to be forgotten.

From here, we venture into prospero saiz’s journey of lost love in an untitled piece that dances between natural imagery and fading romance. He drips delicately placed phrases in front of the reader, like, “your scent is fading from my fingers” and “the unheard bird of nothing flies over.”

Jami Macarty breaks in with unexpected form and truly ambitious style in “Flight Hours.” Like the other poets, Macarty weaves together the almost divine quality of the natural world and our growing alienation from it. We move “across the chessboard” into marcia arrieta’s minimalist writing, where she questions the nature of myth in observations of animal migration to reach a sequence of poems by Swanberg.

“I have come a long way / to dissolve here,” she says in “you don’t know me.” Swanberg returns to Greek undertones in her transformation into nature, becoming the starlight and the angel that she had mistakenly assumed were outside of her. This coincides nicely with a shift into the intricate and dense work of Tom Kryss. His poems are strikingly different in both tone and form; at times, he seems to be tapping his foot into the land of prose poetry and quasi-narrative styles. He introduces the reader to strange characters, like an emperor who gives up his throne to a box, and startling scenarios. Take the opening line of “Venice,” “Quite unexpectedly he wandered into an ensemble of mimes.” His work stands in strong juxtaposition to the rest of the pieces in this magazine. I appreciated a break from some of the overly simplistic poems in the beginning of the publication.

As we near the final portion of this hefty volume, Lee Ballentine erupts on the page with “fifty.” Here the poet has become enmeshed in the world and speaks from an almost divine point of view:

when I was in the womb
the light was red
when I burst through my membranes
solidifying eventually to lead, to disks of lead.

With Warren Woessner, we return to more traditional lyric fashion, with a dash of narrative thrown in for kicks. His poems combine graceful nature descriptions with biting commentary on the traumas of old age and medical mishaps. We emerge from the heavy and serious world of Woessner into Joseph Stanton’s reflections on a Japanese ghost story and a classic children’s fable. Despite life’s enduring brokenness and isolation, Stanton chooses to “wash my weeping / in shadow / and dream myself a demon / dancing in the dangerous corridors / of your heart.” He ends his collection in laughter and joy at the “miracle” of undone death.

On this promising note, we enter into the final section of this volume, a series of 6 poems by Grace Butcher. Recollections of a childhood horse haunt the poet in her dreams. “And all his bones still call my name,” she says as they “lean into / each other until he dissolves / into darkness again, and I wake / to wait for him.” In her next poem, she portrays the charmingly storybook romance between a bear and a girl, which bounces nicely off Stanton’s earlier work. The series ends with “The Lonely Ones,” in which the poet loses herself again in the eyes of her horse.

While its title may be a bit ambitious, deeper readings of ABRAXAS offer a solid payoff well worth its price. The reader can enjoy a multitude of talented writers as they tackle the tenuous realms of emotional complexity.

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