This issue of Poetry East is absolutely a pleasure to physically handle. Every page is of glossy finish, it is roughly the dimension of a medium-size paperback, and it is lightweight enough to pack anywhere without being in the way.
No page numbers in this issue make it difficult to reference where to locate some of the poems I found most enjoyable. Linear structure seems to have lent itself to the editor's preference in selecting which works to include. Most of the poems included follow a very reasonable, almost philosophic arc toward endings that do not surprise so much as fulfill the reader. In response, since it feels good to go against the grain sometimes, I am going to employ reverse linear structure in presenting this review.
Interspersed throughout the issue are photographs by Kevin Bauman as part of his Abandoned Houses project. At the very back of the issue there is a complete description of his cataloging 100 of the 12,000 empty residences in Detroit. Each picture provides some spark of an idea as to the former people who lived there, a fantastical generator for what might have been, and a sadness regarding loss. No embellishments are added to the photographs; they simply present what is. They are a perfect accompaniment to the written words found herein.Former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a pair of poems included in this issue, including one titled "Looking West." It is arguably the most surreal poem presented in the magazine and is not delivered until nearly the end of the issue. A man is described as looking completely around the curvature of the world, eventually seeing himself standing on the lawn. The poem is delivered flawlessly and serves as a wonderful reminder that famous writers get that way for a reason.
A couple of other famous poets also pop up in the pages of Poetry East: Charles Bukowski (“So Now?”) and Philip Levine (“Rain”). Both pieces of work edge in the direction of melancholy and reflection on a stark life. Nothing wild or outlandish jumps off the page, in normal Bukowski fashion, and it is no surprise that the one foot in front of the other style of Levine is included.
Working our way closer to the front cover of this issue, translated words really shine brightly! I found it a pleasure to encounter universal themes in work by poets of whom I had never heard. Many thanks to editor Richard Jones for presenting so many poems by foreign language authors.
In Nazim Hikmet’s heartbreaking poem “Optimistic Man,” metaphors of animal torture, especially children versus bugs, are laid out as if perpetrated against a man, who on his deathbed, proclaims his belief in the beauty of people. This twist is not a surprising one, especially based on the title of the poem, but it's refreshing to encounter.
Wislawa Szymborska's first poem of two presented is probably my favorite piece in the entire issue. “Nothing's a Gift” aims to remind readers that the body does not own the soul. Perhaps it is that I live with a failing body that makes me associate with this work, but I believe the following lines will reach beyond my personal interest and intrigue other readers as well:
The heart can be repossessed,Maybe we will not all be sliced and diced, but these things will happen to everyone, and it's good to remember.
the liver, too,
and each single finger and toe.
Too late to tear up the terms,
my debts will be repaid,
and I'll be fleeced,
or, more precisely, flayed.
Now we come to the end, or rather beginning, of this safely poetic issue. Everything is started off by rhyming couplets by one William Shakespeare. Modern poetry may very well have begun with him, so why not this issue? They are philosophic in bend, dealing with the power found in rage, how beautiful acts often lack in strength. They are not even listed in the table of contents as being among the 28 poems in the issue, and I suppose that is in itself poetic, because Poetry East feels very much like they are trying to convey what is not said in a most subtle fashion.