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burntdistrict - Winter 2014

  • Image: Image
  • Issue Number: Volume 3 Issue 1
  • Published Date: Winter 2014
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual
One of the best young journals out there is burntdistrict, each issue promises tons of beautiful, thought provoking, and unique contemporary poetry and this issue is no different from all the rest. In its third year of publication, burntdistrict is still going strong and publishing some of the best up–and-coming and well-established writers from across the world.

One of the most interesting poems in this issue is Alexander Lumans’s poem “What We Don’t Know About Natalie Portman Can Still Hurt Us.” This poem masterfully uses the narrator’s obsession with the actress and the narrator’s lack of knowledge about her to reflect how obsessed society is with things unknown. The poem begins, “Natalie Portman is a calving glacier. She is not.” From the get go, Lumans is letting the reader know that while this poem seems to be about Natalie Portman, it isn’t. It sets a strong foundation for Portman to be representative of all things mysterious. The poem continues:
And me? I was born late with the distinct desire
                 to collect all things porcelain:
                        1) Dolls
                        2) Natalie Portman’s zygomatic bone
                        3) Butter dishes
While early on, Lumans refers to very distinct human features, such as her “zygomatic bone,” the poem continues to make her less human and more something else:
The truth about Natalie Portman is that her heart is growing
on the outside of her body. I believe this is it.
If Natalie Portman’s heart is growing on the outside of her body then what is she? If what we knew about anything turns out to be something else, then what do we know? Lumans is raising important questions. As the poem comes to a close Lumans compares Natalie to ice, seemingly the thick layer of ice that has been protecting Lake Vostok—an untouched body of water— for more than two million years. Scientists’ obsession with it have led to a two–decade ice drilling, despite the potentially dangerous geological ramifications. The poem ends: “A thousand thousand years ago / Natalie turned to ice. Watch closely as I extract a core sample.” The depth, eloquence, and uniqueness of this poem are refreshing for any reader; it is definitely a must-read.

Sally Houtman’s “Pivot clockwise, watch your footing on its fragile crust” speaks to how fragile life is and can also be read as an ars poetica and elegy. The poem begins by reminding the readers that they live on a physically broken and unstable “island” or in a more ethereal interpretation, life. Houtman has masterfully laid the groundwork for the reader to interpret this poem in a number of ways.

The second stanza speaks to the delicacy of life by invoking such delicate visions of preparing a meal, slicing onions, and weeping, all in the serene backdrop of a winter kitchen. It also speaks to the act of mourning with “winter” representing death, “weeping” representing the actual act of mourning, and the “wounds” as the memories of the dearly departed. As the poem comes to a close, it reads, “and fruit will ripen off the vine, because a hole requires an edge to exist / and because this edge might, at any moment fall away—”

For most of the poem lines or stanzas tend to begin with “because,” but here Houtman chooses to start both lines with “and” that gives the effect of a some final gasps for air before losing your footing or life. These final lines also serve a very strong purpose for the ars poetica side of this poem. The poem ends with an em dash, signaling a continuation when it in fact ends. Houtman is states you should write poetry “because this edge might, at any moment, fall away—” At any moment your life may be taken, and you could never write again.

This issue of burntdistrict contained many artfully constructed pieces. Each poem has such depth that a person could spend hours picking apart each poem, including new poets such as Francesca Bell and John A. Nieves. A lot of journals claim to pride themselves in finding new and unique voices, but rarely deliver; burntdistrict is not one of these journals. It is apparent that the editors work hard to find the fresh voices out there that have something important to say to their readers.
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Review Posted on September 14, 2014

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