Smartish Pace is exclusively a journal of free verse poetry. It was a treat to read translations from Hindi – to have, as renowned translator Elliot Weinberger might say, “the news” of a faraway country brought to me through poetry. In Katyayani’s darkly-playful poem, “A Woman Hiding in Language,” a woman seems to disrupt language itself by hiding inside of it, such that, “. . .the dictators / didn’t get a wink of sleep all night. / That day the poets couldn’t play / with words searing as a mass of fire.” Shrikant Verma’s “Hastinapur” reminds me of how anyone might feel about a city or village in times of war or simply rapid change: “Just think / about that person / who comes to Hastinapur / and says: / “No, no this can’t be Hastinapur!” Though the average reader, like myself, probably speaks no Hindi, I thought it would have been illuminating to see the original poems – how they look on the page – as well as a read a translator’s note on the challenges in translating from Hindi to English. I’d have favored fewer poems in the issue to make space for this (several poets have 5-6 poems included).
In general, I found the issue to be a mixed bag. Some poems use flat language to try to “tell us” something. In others, highly elaborate language play or intellectual exercise seems to be the poet’s main motivation. Then, there are also plenty of the kind of poems I like best, which open the heart and mind freshly to the world. Among the latter are Rosanna Warren’s “Le Silence” which considers love while viewing two sculpted figures: “crystal figures in a / mineral world call forth // Ionic orders and / a spherical, halogen, blinding / deity clearly deaf.” Robert Wrigley, in four poems, manages to capture that intangible surprise we sometimes glimpse in ordinary love or in nature. Finally, Suzanne Roberts’s “Hesitation – Cuernavaca Mexico,” one of the finalists for the 6th annual Erskine J. Poetry prize, is one of my favorites for its subtle capturing of infidelity through a landscape’s details and a few human gestures.