It’s always intimidating to review a journal of the stature, prominence, and historic importance of Poetry. Consider this issue’s Table of Contents, and you’ll see what I mean: a portfolio of poems by Jack Spicer (who, during his lifetime, never appeared in the journal) introduced by Peter Gizzi and Kevin Killian; poems by Kathryn Starbuck, Albert Goldbarth, Bob Hicok, Heather McHugh, Dean Young, D. Nurske, among other great and notable talents; a radio play in translation by the late and utterly remarkable Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, introduced by playwright Adam Seelig; and the “Comment” section, “Poets We’ve Known,” featuring nine near geniuses, including Fanny Howe and Eleanor Wilner. This issue, “Summer Break” (there is something of a break-from-the-standard-poetry-routine about this issue), also includes seven delightful poetry cartoons by Bruce McCall, and, finally, a series of Letters to the Editor that makes me very sorry, indeed, to have missed the Marilyn Chin translations of Ho Xuan Huong’s poetry that sparked such charged responses.
The Spicer poems are pleasingly irreverent (“Imagine Lucifer / without angelness” from “A Poem for Dada at the Place April 1, 1958) and sometimes caustic in a 1950’s kind of way (“It is not easy to remember that other people died / beside Dylan Thomas and Charlie Parker”). The new poetry ranges from smart and clever (“Variable, changeable, yes, there are days when / people like us are like that. Maybe under // some other sky something like glory smiles on us” from “Song That Can Only Be Sung Once” by Tom Sleigh; and “My books are full of mistakes / but not the ones Tony’s always pointing out” from “Selected Recent and New Errors” by Dean Young) to playful (“They’re worse than weak links / in chains, which we can blame / on blacksmith’s fire, and chinks / in armor made by rain” from Jason Guriel’s “Soft Spots”), to dark and sly “(It’s the last day, but I’m keeping the news to myself.” from “Silent Prophet” by Carl Dennis.)
Amichai’s play is an amusing little parody of the way in which poets often take themselves too seriously. Nonetheless, I must confess I was most impressed by the engaging prose in the “Comment Section.” Here is Robert Pinsky on Czeslaw Milosz: “That expansive kettledrum of hilarity, with blue eyes firing laser probes to check for accompaniment from his companions, allowed Czeslaw to express a simultaneous enjoyment and shame that he was himself” from “No Tiara, No Crown.”