Forgive me. For some reason, I was expecting delicate. Reserved. Stuffy. Polite. But my assumptions about a journal of “metrical works, including well-rendered blank verse, sonnets of every variety, villanelles and triolets” were way off. The Raintown Review is kind of a badass.
Edgy verse and strong opinion—fierce, even—reign supreme in this publication. Even the cover defied my expectations, with its garbage-and-graffiti photo and its yellow title-letters against a backdrop of bright green (working nicely with Marybeth Rua-Larsen’s leadoff poem “Nothing in Between,” which begins and ends with the line “the bluest blue is green”).
One of the issue’s first poems, Karen Kelsay’s “Called Out,” is a seething address “To Rena, with your unseen tentacles / that slithered secretly against my Dad.” The speaker chides: “You were an ugly version of my mother”—a mother who, for years, “lulled unanswered questions into slumber, / allaying past suspicions—unlike me / who checked through every call and had your number.”
Bam. And speaking of vicious let me just flip all the way out to page ninety, where Raintown Associate Editor Quincy Lehr holds back nothing in his essay “Think Journal, Poetic Form, and a Sunny Afternoon I’ll Never Get Back.” Granted, I probably shouldn’t spend too much time reviewing a review of a review, but I’ll share a couple shards, at least. Lehr calls the journal he’s reviewing an “egregious violation” of a person’s right “not to be bored out of one’s skull,” opining that “its symposium on form may well be one of the most solipsistic and superfluous discussions in a little magazine in years.”
While Lehr does concede that “by and large, the [symposium’s] comments were not unintelligent,” he promptly goes on to eviscerate certain contributors—one of whom, he says, “like her work itself, goes on about herself too damn much before going on worse and yammering about Louise Gluck.” Another “elicited a ‘fuck you’ from this reader,” says Lehr, for “[his] reference to Aristotle as ‘The Philosopher’ in otherwise lucid remarks.”
Well! Okay! But let’s get back to the poetry. Despite what’s been said before, Raintown certainly isn’t without its kinder, gentler side. Observe Nausheen Eusuf’s “The Problem Child”: “I’m tired of my surly mood, / of being sad and mad and rude.” And Fani Papageorgiou, who, in “Give Us,” pleads: “Give us compassion and a wholesome way to talk / Imaginary lives, / The red-orange beak of a giant stork.”
One interesting missive from the department of imaginary lives is Austin McRae’s convincing portrayal of “The Caricaturist,” who’s aware of what a tricky business it is to accurately capture a person on paper: “The trick is knowin’ where to leave some space / for light to shine,” the speaker states. “You got to find a spark / that catches, flickers, gobbles up the dark / around the eyes.”
Sometimes the caricaturist cracks jokes to crack his clients’ shells. Sometimes, it doesn’t work. And sometimes, other issues arise: “There’s things you can’t leave out that make you slip. / This shy girl had a mole above her lip.” Then, “I drew it extra-large and she got red.” But rather than the girl storming off and leaving the drawing behind with the collection of “rejects” that hang in the artist’s trailer, something else happens altogether. (You’ll just have to buy the magazine.)
Another compelling portrait comes in the form of David Mason’s “Tribes,” an exploration of memory and loss and how the stories of others can become a part of our very make-up:
In another town
I meet a toothless man who knew my father,
his mind a web of streets and names and stories
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
He ran a liquor store and saw all things
men say and do go in and out his door.
When he is gone a town will disappear.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I shake his hand and listen to what he says
Timothy Murphy, in his heartbreaking poem “Interment,” gorgeously conveys a shared life, from the two lovers’ first meeting (“One boy with a guitar and dreadful novel, / another, poems crammed inside his head”), on through their years of finding “seven hundred trees to tend / and eighteen types of apples to be grafted, / dogs to be fed and watered” and “manuscripts of poems to be crafted,” to a time, decades later, when the speaker finds himself digging beside two teenage trees, “slim oaks, their leaves yellowed by last night’s freeze”:
I delve a deep hole in the orchard soil,
singing my lover’s favorite Latin song,
Tantum Ergo. The digging is no toil.
My friend? Let me pretend he did no wrong.
It’s one of many poems in Raintown that employ end-rhyme to excellent effect, driving the piece home powerfully through repetition. Another perfect example is found in John Foy’s “Deer Rifle,” a tribute to someone who taught the speaker not just the art of shooting, but:
the craft of clarity and range, and how
to hit the target cleanly and destroy.
I see it in my mind so clearly now,
you helping me to stand steady, breathe,
and look upon what’s out there and believe.