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Free Lunch – Spring 2009

The 20th anniversary issue of Free Lunch is so chock full of delicious goodies for the main course, that dare I say there won’t be much room left for dessert, as the cover attempts so successfully to convey. To continue with the food metaphors and analogies, this journal is comparable to a three-course dinner. It is well balanced with poets of great renowned interspersed with poets of lesser acclaim, and poets somewhere in the middle who balance the plate out just right. The poems in this issue are joyful, ironic affirmations of poetry combining a great lyrical acuity with a strong sense of narrative.

The 20th anniversary issue of Free Lunch is so chock full of delicious goodies for the main course, that dare I say there won’t be much room left for dessert, as the cover attempts so successfully to convey. To continue with the food metaphors and analogies, this journal is comparable to a three-course dinner. It is well balanced with poets of great renowned interspersed with poets of lesser acclaim, and poets somewhere in the middle who balance the plate out just right. The poems in this issue are joyful, ironic affirmations of poetry combining a great lyrical acuity with a strong sense of narrative.

“On the Poetry Line,” by Philip Dacey describes how a father views his son’s poetry: “When he called me a poetry factory, / I suddenly saw a tall brick smokestack / sticking up out of my head / and great black clouds of poetic smoke / belching forth from it across the town.” This poem utilizes the character of the father to show how anything becomes possible on the shoulders or through the support of another. In “Advice to a Young Poet” by Ron Koertge, he recommends against writing poetry that is confessional employing a dose of the expletive for emphasis:

Fuck all the gloomy insight.
Fuck the high seriousness.
And fuck those whispers in the night.

No goddamned ebbing of the light,
either. Tell me about your mattress and how it’s not quite right.

Did you break your kid’s new kite?
Good. That’s all you get to confess to.

This poem uses the pose of the anarchist to make us laugh at the status quo, the rigid stereotyped constraints that can stop the progress of the young writer of poetry.

Stephen Dunn uses his cat, Cloud, to speak about the significance of little things intruding upon the mysteries of the larger world in the poem “Cloud in Snow,” and how once he would have seen him as one of these interminable mysteries as well: “Years ago, I might have seen him / as an agent of ambiguity, / his already vanishing footprint / a little intrusion into this, / the sudden of purity / of a season’s first snow.” Ultimately, this poem is a miniature treatise about the world of the living, being animals or humans, destroying the serenity of nature’s various states.

The poems in Free Lunch also carry a somber weight in such poems as “So What (for my brother)” by Mark Perlberg: “‘He was a drunk,’ a relative snapped / when I phoned to tell her you had died, / and so unexpectedly. So what? / So what if you put down two or three martinis for dinner?” It is rare that a poem of such complexity, manages to balance humor and truth convincingly. The narrator of this poem then goes on to defend his brother and criticize his brother simultaneously without demeaning his memory, offering absurd comparisons to make his sins seem minor.

Free Lunch’s anniversary issue also offers up other poems of narrative and subtle laugh track splendor with poems by poets Cathy Song, James Reiss, and the venerable Billy Collins. When you are finished dining on these juicy, wacky, melancholy, satirical words, you won’t go away hungry. Maybe thirsty, perhaps, but by the end after stuffing the last bit of cheesecake, you will have so many sensations running through your mind and body, you will have to have a bit of chamomile tea just to come down from the experience.
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