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The Bitter Oleander - 2008

  • Issue Number: Volume 14 Number 2
  • Published Date: 2008
  • Publication Cycle: Biannual

Finely etched is how I would define the work in this issue of The Bitter Oleander. Take Carolyn Gelland’s poem, “Wild Cat,” for example:

How many years now
has the wild cat
sat by my fire,
seven moons in her eyes,
the wind kneeling
at the door
in furious adoration
while Tintoretto’s angels
purr at
the flickering
mirror of her milk,
snowing all those faces.

Or these lines from a poem by Samantha Stiers (winner of the magazine’s 2008 Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award) titled “Finish Your Dinner”: “Scraping the moonlight into the garbage / is like separating two magnets.” Or these from “Missed Goodbye,” a poem by Sandy Green: “She hurries to the lake / beneath arching, naked trees – whale ribs – // bent over snowy paths.” Or this passage from a word of sudden fiction by Rob Cook, “Spring Break, Misery Season”: “The man scratches at his throat where he can feel the heat of the next day approaching. The girl puts her dragonfly voice against his neck and tells him it’s okay to die at night, even as he sits there trying to listen and keep the car from disappearing.”

Work in translation is precise and sharp, too, such as a poem by Nicaraguan poet Blanca Castellón, translated from the Spanish by J.P. Dancing Bear, titled “Estación Lluviosa” (Rainy Season): “Mira la lluvia como se me viera dibujando el paraíso.” (“Look at the rain as you saw me drawing paradise.”); a story by Simon Frueland, “Unsettled,” translated from the Danish by Kyle Samuel: “Tobias had sent five poems to his old teacher…One of them was about the moon: a man had been unfaithful to his wife and he cursed at the moon because he felt guilty every time he looked at it”; poems in Spanish from Rafael Jesús González with his own translations: “Tengo un ángel encinta dentro el ojo” (“I have a pregnant angel in the eye”).

This issue’s feature, an interview with scientist/poet Robert Pesich and a series of his poems fit perfectly with the issue’s overall refinement and precision. “All I have is my language…to describe or construct a path to that greater awareness,” Pesich explains. He says it’s “paradoxical and a big mess” (he’s trying to sort out the relationship between poetry and science), but his work is not at all messy. It manages to be both vast and focused all at once, like so much of the fine and sophisticated work in this issue:

Country of my blood
carving into itself
new borders
shaped like a gun
the trigger
a river
of insomniac children


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Review Posted on January 16, 2009

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