The American Poetry Review is an old school classic. Like the New York Review of Books, its large, newspaper sheets enchant readers who nostalgically yearn for the days of yore before Wasteland iPad apps and “liking” poems on Facebook (or the social media engine of your choice). This is not to say that APR is a musty old rag littered with obscure and dank Poundian cantos. Intriguing interviews and poetry grace its pages.
Ernest Hilbert’s interview with Donald Hall delighted me—a reader who is generally interested in the molding and evolution of American poetry, and a fledging poet (aren’t we all?) who gladly accepts poetry advice from masters. Hall, who was the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2006, gives an engaging and insightful interview. He shares his memories of Robert Frost and Ezra Pound, discusses working with George Plimpton on The Paris Review, and his late wife Jane Kenyon. His advice to young poets includes “be willing to revise” and “lie—for the sake of assonance.” He encourages young poets to “for God’s sake, read the old poets.” I’m no Byron, Shelley, and Keats fan (a trio of lyrical treats? I think not), but from his interview, I trust Hall. If he says read Chaucer, this I will do.
Readers who have little patience for interviews and want only the beef, do not worry. APR showcases exquisite poetry from writers such as Matthew Dickman, Stanley Moss, D.A. Powell, and Kazin Ali.
One of my favorite poems was Ditta Baron Hoeber’s “rose rising.” Composed of nine free verse poems, this larger poem functions as a unit to capture the speaker’s anxiety about a departed lover. Hoeber implicitly and explicitly invokes Samuel Beckett—she recalls the author, stating “beckett writes without any punctuation at all words are strung so that pauses fall when needed” and then utilizes this same lack or disregard for punctuation by only occasionally placing periods or commas. Hoeber is successful, the pauses fall when needed, but this is in part due to the white space incorporated within the poem. This same white space evokes the speaker’s alienation and disconnect.
The set of “three poems” by Kazin Ali captivate. He shares the same surname as Agha Shahid Ali (I know, I know, it’s as common as Smith) and his poems share the same haunting, elegiac quality. In “The Fortieth Day,” within four two-line stanzas, Ali captures rebirth from within destruction. Invoking the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark, Ali writes:
Seeing your way clear
Of endless storm
A raft carries you across
The unstruck sound
You leave off the body
No one’s playing
Every body looking for something
Newer than death
The startling nature and purity of Ali’s little poem remind me why I read poetry to begin with—to find something strange within something familiar and old. But I suppose, this reminder is not only exclusive to Ali’s poem, but the entire journal. The American Poetry Review is a celebration an examination of poetry and poetics.