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Potomac Review - Spring 2011

  • Issue Number: Issue 49
  • Published Date: Spring 2011
  • Publication Cycle: Annual

This journal is a joy, and my only critique is that it’s not pages and pages longer! I found Ted Kooser's "A Farmhouse in Winter" instantly. This edition opened to this poem, as though I were assigned to encounter a chilly personality, first. As one who worships summer heat, I forgot that when I read, “It's taken weeks but at last the cold / that poured down out of Alberta / has found its way into the old rock cellar / and up the steps to the kitchen door.” This spirit drifts into homely, hidden spaces, and somehow is expected. All is well. Are those "shelves of canned tomatoes" and "dusty rags of cobweb" prepared to move aside for this icy, temporary guest Kooser's touch is simple, not simplistic. How I cherish the sweet power of image at the end!

In the exquisite "Exposure," by Edgar Kunz, you want memory to be different for the wistful speaker, but the poem triumphs without a scintilla of self-pity: “I wish I could say that when I was young, / my parents gave me a camera, that I held it // in my hands, shiny and angular, admiring.” In this honest piece, the narrator begins with history that might have been. What if the parents had been kinder, better? This, what-really-was poem, reveals them as neither well-off, healthy nor wise. Violence rules. They don't know how to escape circumstances. The speaker and his brothers savor the gift of "silence," their only solace, needed more than any mere camera. Kunz's poem might well bring back loss for readers with rocky childhoods.

I was right there in the "Azalea Diner" by D.M. Ross. I was present for:

Closing time at the Azalea Diner:
even diners have to sleep
curl up with a pillow near their heads
and dampen the noise of the day.

The kitchen is unpreparing itself: "the clatter of the night cook" ushers out daily calls for: this, with this and that, please. Then, the chorus of orders is suddenly done. I love the racket of details; they make the Azalea a place to lounge about in, or to leave reluctantly. The tiresome clean-up continues:

…but the manager stops
near a side window
looks toward the parking lot
where new plantings are taking root,
azaleas around the lip of the earth…

The manager, the cook, and the people who keep this iconic place running, dream at times of richer lives. Still, the manager covets "the jukebox selections.” She finds it hard to envision other posts, no better, no worse, but lacking her Azalea's: "miraculous patches of color." I have favorite eateries as well, also graced with those homey "patches" this Ross piece remembers for us all. This poem pays homage to the smallest things. It’s a grand success!

I deeply enjoyed the dispassionate narrator in "Posted at Elsinore" by Joe Mills. Here's a story of the accident which unfolds in front of witnesses. This piece cleverly concentrates on reportage. What has poor "Gertrude," revealed as a useless bystander, seen? A drowning we learn, and the victim, "Ophelia," the innocent:

…picking cowslips,
bluebells, marigolds, and these details
make it clear people were watching.

I loved and laughed at:

the writers wouldn't ruin a good story
with direct action. "Girl Falls in Stream"
doesn't sell many magazines…

No. Not a hundred years ago, yesterday, not ever. This smart offering is whimsically presented. This poem will be read more than once, along with the author's companion pieces. I wanted more! There's humor, drama and vision in this tale, re-imagined, neatly wrenched in time. Readers are part of the scene, guilty, there in the narrative. They are also onlookers. Witnesses are too busy, faced with tragedy, to know action means now!

Holly Day's magical poem, "The Quilt," is quirky, sweet and satisfying from beginning to end. The speaker's family: "thinks she's nuts." They can't come to grips with her plan to form a quilt from loved objects, useless, unsanitary perhaps, to some:

other things she wants to keep
find their way into the blanket's folds:
snips of hair taken while her children sleep
a piece of the dog's collar
the tail of a mouse the cat drops at her feet.

The quilter isn't fussy and wants preserved memories. She doesn't give a whit whether these odd items are sanctioned components. I was thoroughly amused by the notion of the "tail of a mouse" getting older, older, ossifying into and becoming part of the blanket's weave. Day's poem is a bright penny, and I'm glad to have found it.

In “Slag,” Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum looks at a rough, near-the-railroad childhood. One boy races through the heat of August. Here, “the Stanley brothers” pursue him relentlessly. Why? He fears. He runs, confused. They’ve:

…organized the neighborhood’s ten-speeds,
hallooing like Pawnee
over the crests of every back-alley I knew,
bareback and hungry for my dirty-blond scalp?

Even the railroad trestle landscape threatens. To be anything, but prey, to escape is the goal. Could he shape-shift? If only.

It’s no great leap into the folds of the wings of the crows,
to perch with them on the power lines,red-eyes open,
then closed

Or perhaps:

The goldfish that lives without a single memory?
The pit viper that strikes without ever having heard a sound?
Make me one.

Nearly every child can recall ridicule, risk, being taunted and tortured, in some year. Here, there seems no escape, except into alchemy, to avoid being recognized again.

This issue of Potomac Review is a rich collection! I reveled in the diversity of vision found and have read many of the pieces more than once. The stories are an eclectic assemblage to treasure.

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Review Posted on June 14, 2011

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