My heart leapt at the title of this poetry journal, at the thought of one of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems granted prominence in the title, promising readers a connection to this master. The poets granted space in this issue exhibit a level of skill bordering on Dickinson’s inimitable greatness, some stopping just short of poems that endure and take the breath away.
Most of the poets in this issue have contributed two or three poems, and two, Sean Dougherty and Elisabeth Wood, have been given space for four and five poems respectively. As I read through each group of poems, I found myself anxiously awaiting the next poetic voice to come.
Elisabeth Wood’s opening poem “Dining Room” is recognizable as a tribute or homage to William Carlos Williams even without the epigraph. The five couplets present the reader with a table after a dining experience adorned with a letter and an empty wine bottle. The mood is set at the start with the “Two curled wicks / candle wax pooled // on linen cloth,” evoking the empty feeling of oneness in the room. We know what is coming. Of the five poems in Wood’s collection, the voice is truest in “superfly,” a poem that flows on natural waves in a verbal sea of nostalgic images that surprise and comfort:
me and johnno we talk to each other like we are colors
other than pastry and putrid cuz we like to hide behind
words that make us feel as cool as we wish we were but
me and johnno know better.
I recognize this voice of freedom and reality; it feels true.
More experimental and almost cryptic are Dougherty’s poems in the next largest grouping in the issue. These poems need to be read a few times to grapple with the images, allow them to gel or come into focus clear enough to sense a movement from beginning to end. I am unsure of the end of “Breakfast After Long Love.” The lines, “gazing and glowing counterpoint / of your sorrows sleeping / soundly, in the Mountains of So Long You,” shake the thematic flooring under my feet, and I am caught off balance in the tremor.
The rest of the poems in the collection come in pairs or triplets without regard to thematic cohesion. The issue is a compilation of poets who have distinct voices and who focus on images, leaning on them for meaningful support. Rikki Santer’s “Dangling Avant-Garde” offers an “upside-down Butoh dancer / dangling avant-garde, / eyes rimmed in red / ankles bound by hemp.” Ending in a question, this poem leaves me wondering what the collected images mean or if they coalesce in some kind of extended metaphor. If I sound unsure, I am. As with other poems in the issue, I am on unsteady ground.
A number of poems are brief, minimal glimpses from a variety of voices. Some appear as momentary thoughts on the pages as in Tim Suermondt’s “Paris” and Mary M. Brown’s “Today.” The glimpses show readers what the poets see, smell, taste, hear, and touch, much as Dickinson does with her images and metaphors.
As a tribute to her, then, is inclusion of one of her poems, “The Lost Jewel,” on the back page and a brief biography in the list of contributors—an honor and yet a leveling of the playing field in which she is listed alongside contemporary poets and raising the standard. I am not certain if this aim is true or if it is a charming ploy.
The enduring feature of effective imagery is that it shakes us to the core and moves us to ponder meaning and even existence. The poetry in this issue of A Narrow Fellow is worth the time it takes to savor the fresh use of sensory images and to view the world from the poets’ perspectives, from their vantage points that approach Dickinson’s and are equally contemplative and certainly mindful.