The most recent issue of Field, Oberlin College Press’s magazine of poetry, begins with a symposium on Phillip Levine’s work, including some of his most famous poems, like “Animals are Passing From Our Lives,” along with short essays analyzing each. Even those readers who are not interested in the analysis of poetry will find the poems themselves excellent. The strength of this issue, however, is in the original contributions, many of which take inspiration from nature and are full of references to wolves, foxes and various birds, including ravens, crows and swans.
Jesse Lee Kercheval’s “Blackbird,” like many of the included poems, explores the effects of death on a partner and examines the power of memory. After her partner’s death, she writes, since “all memory is fiction,” he is what she makes of him. Thus, the man afraid of birds becomes a blackbird after his death. She can describe the two of them together as swans, mated for life, even if he “hated all things avian / in life.” He becomes something else in her memory, not a different person, but someone who matters less in himself and more in what he meant to her. For Kercheval and the other poets in this magazine, poetry and memory are less about the truth of what is and more about the truth of feeling and emotion.
The strongest contribution was Chana Bloch’s “A Mantle,” a poem about a recently widowed woman finding both that “she wants to hurt / the world back” and that “When he lived / she was smaller.” It explores the multiplicity of feelings in the face of death, both the lifting of constraint as well as the depths of grief. The best of the poems in this issue face complexity head on, and in taking this stance, are ultimately hopeful. They encourage the reader to find a place to stand and create new directions.
If the magazine is somewhat plainly produced, it is still sturdy, laid out cleanly and pleasing to the hand and eye. Its lack of visual art is no fault in this publication. The focus of the magazine is excellent poetry, and at that goal it certainly succeeds.