The Hampden Sydney Poetry Review offers up an eclectic mix of familiar names (David Wagoner, Moira Egan, Lyn Lifshin, Philip Dacey, Cathryn Hanka), and lesser-known poets, though most have published widely – 43 in all in this issue. Two poets’ bios stand out for their unusual claim to fame. Meredith Picard “has published more poetry than any other American geologist.” (Her poem does consider the natural world but is not geology-themed.) And Fred Yannantuono “who was fired from Hallmark for writing meaningful greeting-card verse, and who once ran 20 straight pool balls, insists that Paul Newman claimed to have known him for a very long time.” His poem, “Frog World,” is about ridding oneself of the “money, the gardener, the rankness, the murk” required to provide frogs who have inhabited one’s yard with the means to thrive.
The journal’s editorial vision is generous, with poems ranging from casual (images of pop culture, easy-going, conversational voices) to arch and heightened (unusual diction, creative syntax), to narrative (story poems). “Didn’t you love it when the Gods came to our parties, Gina?” (from Myron Ernest’s “On a Painting in the Whitney Museum of Art”) alongside “Lightning over the water, / over the docks where inboards / are moored in their slips, / sailboats battened down for / the inevitable storm” (from “Summer of Love” by Alan Catlin).
Lewis Turco’s poem, “Writer’s Block,” reminds us just how challenging it can be to do the painstaking work of making poems:
Trying to write is like trying to dive
through ice. All you can do
is slide on the slick surface of the paper
until you hit something…a snow bank,
a stump, a patch of open water.
The poet goes on to lament the mystery novels his wife buys at the supermarket, supplanting the potato chips on the shelves. “Bring back the potato chips, I say!” Indeed. But only if we can crunch between verses.