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Poetry East - Spring 2009

  • Issue Number: Numbers 64 & 65
  • Published Date: Spring 2009
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

This double issue of the journal begins with an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, titled simply “The Poet,” the magazine’s “Past Masters” feature. And Emerson begins with a definition of those who are “esteemed umpires of taste”: “often persons who have acquired some knowledge of admired pictures or sculptures, and have an inclination for whatever is elegant; but if you inquire whether or not they are beautiful souls, and whether their own acts are like fair pictures, you learn that they are selfish and sensual.” First, I am struck by the lovely internal rhymes (acquired, admired, inquire). Then I am simply worried that reviewers are self-proclaimed “umpires of taste.” Finally, I am convinced that the “beautiful souls” are the poets who have contributed to Poetry East where, for the most part, the poems are “personal,” heartfelt, earnest, sincere, and, for lack of a better term, accessible (as in approachable, read with apparent ease).

There are a number of poems describing a tender personal encounter with “nature,” such as “Emily” by Margo Fortunato Galt, excerpted here:

It must mean something –
Hordes of ladybugs, one
down my shirt,
October’s buzz of colored scales.

And “Late Winter” by Laura Donnelly, which begins: "And already, almost Easter. Lillies / droop full blown in the blue vase, / spilling their copper pollen." And “Blue Vase” by Mifanuvy Kaiser, excerpted here in its entirety:

She brought flowers
to my classroom
early this morning
arranged in a royal blue vase:
the stargazers among the ferns,
petals arched back
toward their stems
stamens curled upward
open mouths
waiting for things
terrifying or sweet.

There are a number of heartbreak or break-up poems, including Maura Stanton’s “Blue Dress Shirt”; Patricia Kirkpatrick’s “The Rabbit”; and Margaret Lloyd’s “Magdalen.” And several about grappling with sickness or ill health (physical or mental), including Sharon Finn’s “Shrine,” “Silver Tide” by Clifford Paul Fetters, and “First Day at the Nursing Home” by John Kru.

A number of poets contribute compact philosophies or metaphysical revelations, capturing vast concepts in economical verse, including “Structure” by Jodie Childers:

cannot stop
staring at the bridge
unfolding in the water.
then you realize
that all bridges are collap-
sing. You are on one,
you are fall-

Not all of the poems in the magazine are quite so earnest and some edgier and more cynical voices emerge. These include work by David Shumate, whose prose poem “Revising My Memoirs” begins: “I’m taking out all references to mosquitoes. And volcanoes. I’m eliminating 1959”; and by David Lee, whose poem “The True Story of Susan Birchfield, Deputys Thidbodeaux and the Texas Rat Snake,” a long poem in five sections, starts: “Susan Birchfield said the move / actually went better / than she expected / even though it took 432 trips / between the old house / and the new one on Silk Stocking / 9 calls to the bank / 4 to the preacher / 1 to the J.P. / 3 to Joseys to reborrow / their big truck and trailer / and 2 to the marriage counselor.”

A very pleasing feature is work by the distinguished Latvian poet Knuts Skuhenieks, translated by Bitite Vinklers. Here is an excerpt from his poem “Konstanty Ildefons Galczynsky”:

Yes, Konstanty Ildefons knew how to fantasize!
In his soul he carried three loves:
the fugues of Johann Sebastian Bach,
a full moon, and Madame Natalia.
What a magician! The whole world
bowed to his green, crystalline will.
a fairy tale king, an unpaid laborer,
with his own holy trinity.

Skuhenieks, like Emerson, is concerned with beautiful souls (Galcyznksy was a Polish poet [1905-1953]). I’d say a beautiful soul is one who makes me interested in another’s. Skuhenieks has certainly done that!


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Review Posted on August 18, 2009

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