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The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review - Winter 2009

  • Issue Number: Number 35
  • Published Date: Winter 2009
  • Publication Cycle: Annual

A great balance of prominent poets (Carl Phillips, Lawrence Raab, Kate Daniels, Jim Daniels, David Wagoner, John Burnside) and lesser knowns (Rhett Iseman Trull, Jessica Greenbaum, Luke Hankins, Martin Arnold). Editor Nathaniel Perry categorizes these poets’ work (“the poems that really began this thing, and they are still the boss of it”) as poems that “come to my door thundering and insistent, or quiet and strong, or sneaky and sidelong,” and I’d say all of these types make an appearance in this issue, along with two new features, book reviews and 4x4, in which four of the issue’s contributors answer the same four questions, resulting in “a hybrid between essay and interview.”

I can’t help but begin with Blas Falconer’s “Song,” as I am writing this review just six weeks after fracturing my hip and sitting with the laptop literally on lap in bed:

They set the bone
and pin the plate,
sew the skin
and tell me how
your leg will heal:
Awkward at best.
Even the acrobat
gains a pound
or grows an inch
throws the physics off.
You must walk with care,
less jumping down,
less dreaming. But
speckled birds
sweep across the lawn,
and the steady growl
that never seems
to start or end
grows loud enough
to hear…

What I appreciate about this poem is its unexpected protagonist (the little bird), its precise and quiet tenderness, its ability to make the best use of poetry’s power, the power to use language with the ultimate economy.

The same could be said of an entirely different style of poem, a family narrative told in sparse precise language by Sidney Wade “Dream Autobiography” (“I was born / in a church // basement. / My dad // had a case / of the canaries. // My mother / was a gypsy // with high / blood bones”). And also of “As if Lit from Beneath, and Tossing” by Carl Phillips (“forgetfulness was but a form / of precision”), and John Burnside’s “Cartographers” (“no page in the inventory of how / the dreaming body dwindles to a blade // of pendulum”).

On the other end of the spectrum, though no less expertly composed, is prose poetry by Kate Daniels, “Dogtown 1957.” Here are the opening lines:

In the piney, pink stria of summer morning skies, we awoke to the muted, moan-like howling of the hungry redbones locked in their chain-like compounds. They lived their lives like that: locked in wire cages until released to hung, fragmented images of earlier expeditions flickering in and out of whatever consciousness they possessed, exciting them to live.

Lawrence Raab, John Burnside, Dan O’Brien, and Regan Good respond to this issue’s four questions, three of which have to do with the world of poetry teaching and publishing, and the fourth of which asks about the poets’ relationship to the natural world. What interested me, above all, was Good’s response to this fourth question: “The problem of nature – death – moves me more consistently than other things like politics or other traditional poetic themes…Someone recently referred to my writings as ‘weird nature poems’ that exhibit a ‘skeptical awe.’ I love that description and took it as a compliment.”

And I love this feature and look forward with curiosity to the next 4x4.

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Review Posted on June 14, 2010

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