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Tar River Poetry - Fall 2011

  • Issue Number: Volume 51 Number 1
  • Published Date: Fall 2011
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

I’m the type of girl who crushes on poets, hard. If Robert Frost was still kicking, I’d be tripping through his shrubbery as we speak. So I was pretty excited to open the Fall 2011 issue of Tar River Poetry (TRP) and see Sherman Alexie hanging out in the contents. Yes, please, I thought. Little did I know I’d close this magazine with a handful of new love interests. Yup, I’m that girl.

TRP has been around for thirty years and boasts lots of awards and honors. This should be enough to perk your interest. But we all know from contemporary movie awards shows that the good guys and girls aren’t always the winners, so we’re wary of these titles. Place your fears in a cozy padded envelope and listen up. TRP is unassuming, a slim volume with a simple, pretty cover. While not every poem in this issue has me swooning, there are several that make me pine for more.

The style of poetry in TRP is diverse. Short poems. Long poems. Image-driven poems. Narrative-like poems. Mysterious poems. Poems that tell you exactly what they want to say. For me, I am most drawn to poems that use everyday language (not hoity-toity) and poignant images. For instance, “Night on Your Sailboat” by Debra Shirley is a fifteen line poem with gorgeous images. And let me tell you, the sailboat is not a sailboat. Shirley doesn’t have to tell us what she’s talking about (she’s talking about sex, or not having sex). She just has to say “Our longings pitch, / starboard to port, / loose marbles.” The desire and longing captured in this one short stanza is phenomenal. When a poet tells you without telling you, you know you’ve stumbled onto something good.

Shirley is an excellent poet, but I want a date with this guy: Adam Houle. His two poems, “The Garden Envies the Lot” and “A Sapling on the Plains,” appear mid-journal and are clever and thought-provoking. In both poems, the speaker addresses non-human objects, an empty lot in the first and a bird in the second. Line one of the second poem has me chuckling and envious of this dude’s poetic prowess. “Bad place for a nest, bird.” I think this can be read in so many ways: sarcastic, worried, indifferent. And then Houle goes on to council the bird about what to watch out for:

watch you aren’t plucked
from flight and impaled
on a gaunt picket, your birdy guts
bleeding down the grimed paint.

You want to say eewww, but really, “birdy guts”? You have to laugh. Lastly, Houle advises the bird to emulate smarter birds and ends the poem with this mysterious line: “Stay, and your song will lose its mind.” I think some might write-off this poem as being simply light, quirky, and humorous, but don’t. This is one of those poems that you will want to read many times. Ponder the possibilities.

Okay, you knew it was coming. Sherman Alexie’s poem rocked my world. It’s called “Interstate 5,” and it is broken up into four smaller sections titled “Fog Blind,” “Snow Blind,” “Sun Blind,” and “Window Blind.” It is driven by intense, mysterious images, like:

The drivers abandon their cars
And walk home, but leave their headlights
Burning and howling like wolf stars
Who know they won’t survive the night.

I’m not sure what a wolf star is, but I’m totally there. I see wondrous beings of light in the shapes of wolves, howling. And I’m okay with that. There’s a passion here that defies logic, and he ends the poem with: “How can it be so goddamn glorious and surprising / Every time that volcano appears on the horizon?” This poem takes an ordinary, usually tedious and boring event (driving on the highway) and turns it into a wild and magical appreciation of life and nature. Alexie blinds us with his language until we are star-struck and elated.

After closing the Fall 2011 issue of TRP, I’m ready for another date.

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Review Posted on April 15, 2012

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