Whenever I pick up an issue of The American Poetry Review, I inadvertently stop whatever else I’m doing and am drawn into other worlds, and the current issue is no exception. These poems are beautiful but concrete, challenging yet not esoteric.
In Joanne Dominique Dwyer’s opening seven poems, she uses well-known cultural beings or phrases, like the Loch Ness monster, “Scantily clad,” “The Irish are the Mexicans of the British,” Winnie-the-Pooh, and Helen Keller to draw the reader into her poems about love. “We have all held up crosses, / cowering like the crawling man / in Dali’s The Temptation of St. Antonius,” she writes in the final poem, “Alchemy,” “But not all of us have been gifted / with the erotica of answers.”
Placed back to back are Benjamin Alire Saenz’s “Arriving at the Heart of Tragedy” and Aaron Balkan’s “Verbatim.” Saenz’s poem begins, “There are certain things that cannot be / Undone,” and Balkan’s poem begins, “A woman is dying and the view / Doesn’t change,” and they both make the reader think, and maybe cry, at the unjustness in this world. Also poignant, is Fred Marchant’s “Conscientious Objector Discharge,” a poem Marchant wrote based on his discharge from the Vietnam War, encouraging some hesitant soldier who wanted to take the same step out of Iraq: “Knock on the doorframe and step out. Your feet as they hit the gravel / will make it chatter. / You should listen to it – listen hard to this path you are on. / It will sound as if you are walking on water.”
Len Roberts’ elegant essay, “Rooms Within Rooms,” could be a footnote on Kafka’s quote about writing: “You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet, still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.” Roberts describes the room in which he writes, the objects in the room in which he writes, and the stories and poems within the objects in the room in which he writes. Some objects have been used as an impetus for poems, others have not; some which have been used once may be used again. The beautiful cadence and images almost make this essay an elongated prose poem.
Also in this issue are poems by W.D. Snodgrass, Jordan Davis, and Ed Skoog, among others. Unlike most journals – which I buy haphazardly or read only at bookstores – I intend to subscribe to American Poetry Review. It’s just that good.