In the latest issue of the New York Quarterly, we are reminded why it has survived for over 40 years while so many other literary journals of import both large and small are now defunct. The diversity of poetry in this journal makes it extremely inviting as if many disparate voices are having an energetic conversation so stimulating there is no need of a proper segue.
The poems in this issue cover a wide range of subject matters, from the political to the personal to the humorous to the profane. Before we get to the poems though, we are greeted with an unexpected treat, two Craft interviews, first with the poet Bruce Weigl, the second with Steve Cannon, founder of Gathering of the Tribes, who both address and offer their unique perspectives on the writing process.
Poet Michael Cirelli finishes off the poetic dialogue with an analytical essay titled simply and seriously, “the State of Contemporary American Poetry: Hip Hop,” which accounts with great aplomb how the musical genre has gone above and beyond the American poetic tradition, as the poems in the journal do and argues for its further recognition and respect in the poetry world.
“A Correspondence” by Jenna Le uses a letter between friends in which the friend discusses her dog Claudia’s romantic proclivities to speak to the loneliness of the narrator. “As the days passed, I began to believe / that I was an umbrella, tasked with sheltering / a wet, hairy creature.” Here, the metaphor of dog is both funny and solemn.
Michael Eastbrook’s “Memories have minds of their own” takes a subject matter wrought in nostalgia and extracts seemingly precise slow motion movies we associate when recalling the narrative of a first meeting with a loved one.
Patti comes out of the backroom
in her thick white bathrobe,
white towel piled on her head
and I am immediately thrust back 45 years:
I see her young and sweet and vibrant,
high up in the stands of the football stadium
excitedly watching the game.
As the narrator in this poem points out that memories are unreliable, they also display power and value in their simplicity and in the accuracy of their emotive truths.
The lyrical hip hop poetic playfulness comes through in the poem, “Finale: A Manifesto” by Elisavietta Ritchie, a poem inevitably about poets and how they are now omnipresent and forever pouring forth words of all shapes and sizes. She states,
Their ashes form processed manure for more poems.
Old angst transforms each crop of new seers
into souls who spill evermore soul-guts to print.
Ultimately this poem is about poetry as a continuous cycle of invention born of us and the earthly things and subjects that we write about and that enshroud us.
“Dawn” by P.M. F. Johnson is a feast of nature and its relationship with human senses and feelings often brought on by this particular time of day: “bring me breath from other rooms, / fire me into your day, / eyelid tickler, watcher at the window / from which pools of darkness retreat / bitterly into the alleys.” When you read this poem, it is as if dawn is so rapidly approaching with its onslaught of images and activity on this earth emanating from the cities we live in.
Sometimes farewells are painful but especially so in Kate Murphy’s poem “Bidding a Breast Good-bye,” an ode to her lost breast. In the poem, the narrator tries to convince the breast to stay, instead remembering the good times she had with it along the way, (a method to release the pain): “Remember / those blond boy heads / Nuzzling, catching hold. / Baby mouths full, drizzling.” It is as if she’s writing a love note to her now lost body. The emotion expressed here is raw and natural and although invoking clichéd imagery does not come off as clichéd but instead a touching dialogue between two friends.
And finally although lighter in subject matter than the last poem discussed, “Auto Biography” by Loren Goodman also deals with the erosion of something dear from a distance, albeit this item is a car and not flesh and bone:
under living last Russia’s car
rolls mechanic drizzled butter
the gym is actually quite peaceful
where at 7:52 a.m. I am writing this
to avoid being home…
This last poem’s unique combination of humor, escapism, surrealism and serious craft shows the diversity and range of voices and styles represented in this journal.