This 35th anniversary issue is editor Bruce Guernsey’s last after four years. He will be succeeded by Kristin Hotelling Zona, associate professor of English at Illinois State, where the journal is published. This issue’s Illinois Poet (an interview and a dozen poems) introduces the work of Cathy Bobb; the Poets on Teaching column presents Wesley McNair’s exercises for introducing students to free verse; translations include work from Brazil, Spain; and poems by 20 poets.
Featured poet Bobb’s work is informed by three difficult life events/situations: her own experience of schizophrenia; her son’s experience of schizophrenia; and her daughter’s murder. While many poems do address these experiences directly (“Daughter,” “Lunch with My Son”), others, such as the quiet poem, “Gleaner,” do not (“I stand in the great quiet / of a wheat field past harvest. // The lark has fled the land / with her young, // the earth lays down her labor for bread, / five generations deep”).
Denise Preston’s poem “The Level” is representative of much of the poetry in the issue, unadorned diction and approachable images as in the following excerpt:
When he died my father became
a donor of sorts,
not of corneas or kidneys
but of parts just the same:
hammers, pliers, saws.
I gave them all away
except the level.
Impressive is Alexis Levitin’s translation of work by Brazilian poet Salgado Maranhão. The originals do not appear here, but the English versions would suggest that both the poet’s vocabulary and his reliance on sound would pose significant challenges for translation. Here are excerpts from “Sea Drift”:
Then will we follow the zither
that whips words
that bewilders the gaze
How to contain the sea
that overflows salt
and that lashes
towards lovers the spark
that will bear fruit?
Lyrical in this same manner is a poem by Jed Myers, “This Remains.” A poem by Cathy Linh Che is a spare and lovely tribute to her mother:
What does she say
to make her mother so afraid?
That night she’ll be sent away
to Da Nang, for safekeeping.
She will return home, only once,
to be given to my father.
Her hair long, dark, and uncut.
Ruth Hoberman’s “Learning Latin” recalls an adolescent encounter with the classics, which concludes:
But now I know
what Aeneas knew: how heavy history is, but even so,
how sentences pull along to somewhere,
and you go.
The Spoon River Poetry Review has been pulling us along for 35 years. Here’s to 35 more.