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New York Quarterly - 2007

Reading the NYQ, founded in 1969 but new to me, I felt as I used to when I met a man I’d later love. At first it was not terribly attractive; I did not think it was my type. These poems were not what I’m usually drawn to – new formalism, or free verse in which formal elements break the surface like shark fins, or tight lyrics that startle like a butterfly rising, or narratives that travel some scenic route, climaxing, not toward resolution but breath…

If the poems in this issue are not the above, exactly, then how to define them? Most are free verse with no shark fins apparent (which is not to say there are no sharks below). Rhythm and rhyme don’t knock on the door, and many poems are confessional or philosophical. They are New School or Beat (but not Jazzy Kerouak) or, they simply are. They fulfill Raymond Hammond’s editorial promise to publish the kind of poem he likes best – unpretentious. They are accessible, but not “dumbed down”; they would most certainly not give comfort to a Hallmark audience. A few, such as Andrea Lockett’s “America I Want” and Laura A. Ciraolo’s “Ode to the NYQ” are rants; if they don’t go anywhere new, they touch the reader like a call-and-response. You find yourself nodding, “Yes, um-hmm.”

Other poems are sublime. Douglas Goetsch’s “First Time Reading Freud” is one of my favorites for its exploration of that amorphous thing called sexuality. The speaker expresses the inexpressible about coming-of-age through the conceit of a college freshman who studies Freud with his “bleak head floating on the cover / half stark in shadow, monocle in place, / then gaze[s] across the room at the Korean beauty / [who] promised her mother she’d wear pantyhose / every day, to help keep out the boys-- / as if we’d get in there by accident.” The scent of his textbook plagues him. What is it? “A mother’s breast dusted with talc?”

Cuban poet Victor Rodriguez Nuñez’s “Epilogue” (translated by Catherine M. Hedeen), is an elegy for a “pure blue jacket poet / communist / in sum / with his thirty-three years-- / [who] wanted to carry a bit of sky in his look.” It is eerie and reminiscent of Cesar Vallejo. And it’s not the kind of poem you’d find in many other journals. Like Matthew Yeager’s “Black Socks, White Socks,” a loosely constructed villanelle defining a life by the speaker’s sock drawer. The poems here have a rawness that some say is no longer permitted in published poetry; you sense that some of the initial adrenaline of poem-making remains.

I had to keep reading NYQ until I’d read it all. Poets I’d been familiar with, including W.D. Snodgrass, Timothy Liu, Bob Hicok and Lyn Lifshin were in good company with the lesser-known. Despite the magazine’s pride in its monthly craft interviews (this time with F.D. Reeve and Gene Fowler), the poems in NYQ make you forget current raging debates: what makes a poem meritorious? What should poets be doing and not doing when we write? You just read it and want to read some more.

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Review Posted on January 06, 2008

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