Spoon River Poetry Review – Winter 2014
Volume 39 Number 2
Lovers of poetry, readers, and writers alike, will find much to swoon over in the Winter issue of Spoon River Poetry Review (SRPR). The issue opens with the winner, the runners-up, and the honorable mentions of the Editors’ Prize for 2014. I suggest that readers take in the prize winners and all of the poems in the issue as if drinking quality wine and measure each poem for the appropriate acid, body, and finish it exhibits, for each has the right structure, power, and lingering aftertaste that makes reading poetry so satisfying. Lovers of poetry, readers, and writers alike, will find much to swoon over in the Winter issue of Spoon River Poetry Review (SRPR). The issue opens with the winner, the runners-up, and the honorable mentions of the Editors’ Prize for 2014. I suggest that readers take in the prize winners and all of the poems in the issue as if drinking quality wine and measure each poem for the appropriate acid, body, and finish it exhibits, for each has the right structure, power, and lingering aftertaste that makes reading poetry so satisfying.
The judge’s introduction to Emma Bolden’s prize-winning poem “It was no more predictable” is a promising first sip that sets the bar high for the rest of the glass to follow. Judge Joshua Corey’s elegant analysis of the poem is not to be passed over; reading it before or after the poem adds more to the poem’s essence. The body of Bolden’s poem circles around the words “god was at the / same time never & always & any way,” and takes readers through an unexceptional moment that she makes exceptional. No more can be asked of any poem.
Additional prize winners reveal the unenviable position the judge was in when accomplishing his mission in selecting poems that showcase craft, control, and capacity for writing poems of significant impact that leave readers willing to read them over, to roll their tongues over the words, the lines, the stanzas, the metaphors—all in search of meaning and value. Tori Grant Welhouse’s “mor · bid” is loaded with value in its transmission of statements of impact in six stanzas, each illuminating another aspect of a classroom, a speaker leaving behind “proofreader’s marks,” somehow connecting the reader, the text, and the poem in experience and distillation of the experience. Lynne Knight’s “Sex” also offers much value in the connections made between what is real and what people see in art. “Reality was hard to see, the artist insisted,” and Knight blends the art and sex and painting in tercets that explain the difficult task of the artist rendering what is real into art and having viewers see sex in every image, thus raising the question of sex existing in art from its inception, irrelevant to the artist’s intentions. In following the process, Knight has created her own work of art that links base human instinct to higher purpose. Jonathan Wertheim-Soen’s “Fragments from the Book of Place” aspires to its higher purpose, “The pine sways and is its swaying.” Each of these poets have rendered new the metaphors, symbols, and images that make up human lives.
Other poems in this issue offer oaky notes of image and sound that remain on the tongue. Nate Pillman’s “Making Cliffs” narrates a Grand Canyon scene that ends with the speaker’s contemplation “and somewhere water / cut through stone, / making cliffs,” in a majestic acknowledgement of the small hugeness of life’s intimate events. In another intimate view of life, J.F. Spillane’s “Depression” walks readers sadly through a life with mental illness in which the speaker offers a glass-half-full scrutiny of what a person with depression goes through. In defending depression as somehow helping the planet, the speaker declares “I’m saving money and the world. / My footprint, in the end, is small.” In keeping with comments on smallness, Sally J. Johnson’s “Keeping” contemplates the small places where people lock away treasures and how important it is to humans to keep and enslave others in a streaming list of images:
captivity]enslaving][slavery][holocaust][trees wrapped tightly]noosed with rope][the trope of that distressed damsel tied to tracks of railroad]to chair]to bed]other atrocities]
The enclosing brackets elicit a profound claustrophobia marrying function to form. The echo power of many of the lines in these poems adds much to the body of language throughout the issue and resounds longingly on the palate.
In each issue, SRPR highlights a poet with an Illinois connection with a picture and bio preceding a number of poems and an interview. In the winter issue, the highlighted poet is Jacob Saenz, a Chicago poet, librarian, and associate editor of RHINO. His poems, he states in the interview, are “driven a lot by rhyme and sonic devices,” and he uses assonance, consonance, and alliteration, “deploying those devices as a way to give the poem a musicality that, perhaps, the narrative might lack.” Saenz’s influences are varied from Sharon Olds to Erika Sanchez to CantoMundo, a community of Latino poets who gather annually for a workshop. Saenz’s poems in this issue are filled with images that seem everyday, but that he uses to expound on weightier themes. In his elegiac poem, “Doing Your Dead Father’s Dishes,” the speaker empathizes with a friend who has lost his father:
which held fruit so old & moldy
the apple & orange hardened
into a plastic feel & the last bits
of his spit clinging to a cold
metal spoon tongued smooth
The ten poems in this issue bring the necessary structure and full-bodied style of Saenz to readers; the interview complements the poems by providing a deeper insight to understanding the poet.
The final piece included in this meaningful tasting of poetry is the SRPR review essay “Inventions of a Barbarous Age: Contemporary Rhyme in Poetry,” offering an analytical finish to the issue with a review of four books of poetry published in 2013 and 2014. After writer Robert Archambeau offers some historical perspective on the place of rhyme in contemporary poetry, he examines each of the collections with this perspective in mind. Connoisseurs and dabblers alike will find Archambeau’s writing informed and telling about the state of rhyme in contemporary American poetry.
This has been only a taste of the poetry in the Winter issue of SRPR with the hope that readers will sip and swirl the well-crafted poems in this issue as they would a fine wine that lingers on the palate for a long and gratifying finish.