Tomatoes, children, cats, drinks, and boats. Reading a poetry journal in one sitting can be problematic. You notice odd, inconsequential connections between poems, like those listed above. An excellent categorization of this issue of Bateau is that which the editors put forth: transformation and morphology. Themes aside, the charm of Bateau is in its understatement and uniqueness. Including the work of thirty well-accredited poets, this issue is a mish-mash of inventive, quirky poems that play with form and content, impressively pinpointing elusive emotions and giving artistic value to the most banal moments.
Fani Papageorgiou’s “How to boil an egg” was like no poem I’ve ever read. Reading it is, at first, like hovering over someone watching both the news and a cooking channel. Then the TV mutes and you hear just their own raw, unprocessed thoughts:
Remove your egg from the fridge
There is a story about a small girl lost in a blizzard
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Peel off the shell and enjoy
Intimacy is not a fusion but a conversation.
Between these, Papageorgiou teasingly walks us through the cooking process much more thoroughly than the emotional one.
Prose-poems “Fernando” by Anna Moriarty Lev and “Exoskeletal” by Robert Glick both capture children’s tales with a strong visual bent. In just over a page, “Fernando” follows a young boy into adulthood. The poem reads like a series of simple sentences, but it’s not hard to understand the implied emotional depth within the spaces between. Lev also succeeds in capturing a young child’s perception of the world: “Fernando had once tried to build a [fort] that touched the sky, one that he could reach out of and brush his fingers against what he imagined to be blue pudding, with wet cotton clouds moving around in its surface.”
“Exoskeletal” is equally refreshing (and keen on detail) in its descriptions of a boy’s escapes into nature: “Ascending to an upper branch, Bernard reached the object of his desire, a three-clovered plant that he wanted to bestow on his intended, a curly-haired girl named Marie, whom he had once spied squat-peeing in the jungle jim sandpit.”
Michael Earl Craig has five poems in the issue which often blend humor and anger, or humor and sadness, or humor and reflection; but throughout, there is the wonderful sense that writing these poems is fun for him—no matter how serious or angry his speakers are. In “Tomatoes Disrespect Us,” he leaves the humor up to the title and lets the poem itself zoom in on one man’s hostility. The scope of this poem, both in length (about thirty words) and image (limited to the kitchen table), makes for a short but powerful sequence of snapshots.
In Craig’s “What Will I Call This Poem,” a similarly unfriendly speaker on a plane scoffs at fellow passengers. One of the funniest lines is also the one in which the speaker’s hostility is most intense as he decides to concentrate his anger on the peanuts the stewardess distributes:
A man ahead of me has had his psyllium husk
confiscated—he’s relaying this with emotion.
It seems peanuts have made their complicated way
back into our lives. I am rehearsing the words
Adam Clay’s poem “What’s Left When Memory Unravels?” was especially unique in format. The poem itself brings to light the circumstances that brought our distraught speaker to undefined “madness”:
that nothing lasts
might be a cliché,
but it makes perfect
sense in the middle
Clay’s line structure and his language work together in this direct discussion of an identity crisis.
Visually pleasing throughout, this journal’s minimalist poems often share a page’s layout with more detailed forms. Not only does this allow for an agreeable visual palette, but it’s also one of many manifestations of the issue’s sensitivity to poetry as a visual experience. Paula Koneazny’s “Speculatrix in Red Shoes” employs a hectic mish-mash of italics, line breaks, indents, slashes and dashes that overpowers any message in the words themselves. It is sandwiched between two very unfussy forms by Dennis Saleh and Maureen Seaton. It is these short poems, in which the words almost become invisible, that I found most powerful.