In the 64 pages of this issue, John Zheng gives us 27 poets and 49 lyric and narrative poems; not surprisingly, one page is often enough to include the entire poem. Brief bios of contributing poets appear at the end, along with a page to mention a handful of noteworthy books of poems published since 2007 in the U.S. In the 64 pages of this issue, John Zheng gives us 27 poets and 49 lyric and narrative poems; not surprisingly, one page is often enough to include the entire poem. Brief bios of contributing poets appear at the end, along with a page to mention a handful of noteworthy books of poems published since 2007 in the U.S.
Although I did not expect to see any work by the editor, I was pleasantly surprised by the inclusion of three translations he did of centuries-old Chinese poems. Each of them is typical of the poems selected for this issue. For example, in “Night Rain: Letter to North,” by Li Shangyin (813-858), we have someone writing a letter: “You asked about / the date of my return, but / there is no date yet.” The letter writer remarks on the weather and then asks, “When can I return…and talk [with you] about / this night rain […]?” The “slice of life,” at once ordinary and special, is enhanced by our attention to it.
A few of the poems revolve around grief, as in Rodger Martin’s “Lullaby for My Mother;” Ted Haddin’s “Shoveling” and “Lines for Maurice McNamee, S.J.” I enjoyed being surprised by “Lines for Maurice.” The narration comes from an experienced baseball player as he recalls a particular game:
There I was, at the Jesuit Residence,
out on the Diamond, playing center field.
I could see the pitches as they rose or curved
toward the plate. It was the freshest…
The entire poem follows this narrative line until we have the result of Father Mac’s “mighty swing”:
I saw a ball coming up over the Diamond
rising in my direction and I prepared to receive it,
but I had no glove and the ball was turning
marvelously fast and went up over my head
out of sight. We weren’t playing the usual way.
The next three lines of the poem clarify the experience, and the poem concludes, “Somebody had won.”
Several poems rejoice simply in observing a particular event, as in Mack Hassler’s “The Building Inspector and I,” Katsue Suzuki’s “Self-Portrait,” and June Huang’s “Black Friday.” These are delightful poems! For starkly honest poems, see Susana H. Case’s “Three Thousand Days of Evil Tongues,” Charles S. Kraszewski’s “Terminat Auctor Opus,” and Maybelline D. Gonzalez’s “Antidepressants Make Me Dream.” Also starkly honest is Violetta Ekpe’s “This Is Famagusta,” although this poem is more concerned with bearing witness to the widespread poverty that resulted from ongoing political conflict rather than with reflecting on one person’s experience during an afternoon. To these we can add Meredith Trede’s “The Willowware Sings,” a poem of anxiety; Margo Taft Stever’s “Step-Mother,” a moralizing poem; and Angela Ball’s imaginative “Beauty Is Not Big.” In still other poems, God shows up.
Once you begin reading this issue, you will see for yourself the variety “slice-of-life” poems are capable of, and you will want to continue reading straight through to the end.