If I were a better thief, I’d steal this entire sentence from “Zodiacs,” by William Doreski, one of a handful of stellar poems in the most recent Burnside Review: “I’m afraid / to live in the suburbs, afraid / that no one loves anyone / without consulting the zodiacs / half occluded by pollution / from coal-fired power plants.” Maybe Doreski will let me have it if I say these lines are transcendent, which, pretty much, they are.
A few other poets achieve similar heights of clarity. Kate Nurenberger, who manages to write a near-poem with just a title (“The Strange Girl Asked Politely to be Called Princess”), spins loose images like a mobile. Nuremberger’s protagonist, Sally Lida (the strange girl), collects “things that melt and things that tick” until she’s pinned on the playground, and cockroaches spill from a drawer in her navel: “She gathers up as many of the carapaces / as she can, tells them she is sorry / there is no lock, but the teacher says / good children don’t have secrets.”
Some works were hard to decipher, such as Richard Robbins’s vituperative villanelle, “To Those of you Deserving,” and Zach Savich’s “City (4)” and “City (12).” Virginia Mix’s interview of poet Linda Bierds digressed too frequently, and the premise of Paul Shepherd’s short story fiction seemed gimmicky to me. Still, most poems met “the task of the poet,” as Richard Jones puts it in “Grace”: namely, “to provide poems / that will help people live.” Jenny Browne’s work does this as well as any in this issue. In “Like the Universe,” she ranged (without rambling) from children’s thoughts on a school class as “a mighty family,” and her adult persona’s “feeling of being / so many others, small and learning / how to spell February or lightning.” The best poems in this issue answer some variation of the question that Browne’s persona asks a classroom of children: “Have you ever gone inside your poems?”