The spring issue of Birmingham Poetry Review (BPR) is an assemblage of numerous pieces to inspire and stimulate. Form and function bestow imagery and metaphor in new and distinctive ways. The issue contains sixty-eight poems plus seven from featured poet, Gerald Stern, in addition to essays, reviews, and an interview, so there is much to savor and revisit at every reading.
The first section of the spring issue of BPR presents an essay by Lucy Biederman on Gerald Stern’s “Poetics of Protest.” For Stern, Biederman writes, “the political emergency is old news—it’s been going on for nearly a century.” This leads to Biederman’s search “to identify ongoingness as a central quality of [Stern’s] work.” She points out that the poet “blurs distinctions other writers might make between the personal and the political, the private and the public.” Her essay is a significant introduction to the seven poems by Stern that follow in the issue. The tone has been set and puts readers on notice that poetry is private, public, political, and personal.
Stern’s poems are followed by an in-depth interview that further engages and enlightens readers to his poetics. The interviewer, Will Durham, asks about one of the poems included in this issue of BPR, “Up on Blocks.” It is a heartbreaking narrative in which “This family lives in an old Chevy / up on blocks and as often as not / eats wrinkled apples for breakfast.” Stern’s response to Durham is that his students “would say that this poem is based on a true story. Or a dream.” Stern goes on to qualify that with “Two of the stupidest reasons to write a poem.” He admits the poem is based on a true story though, and we are fortunate that he ignored his stand on dreams and true stories as impetus to create poems.
Also included in this issue is an essay by Ryan Wilson in which he explores the classic tradition of poetry as influence for modern poets who represent what he calls the “polyvocal poet,” one who learns from and leans on past poetic conventions and schools in order to create something new. Avoiding prescription, Wilson urges poets to acknowledge tradition and take from it those tools that may be used to fashion new poetic inventions. The essay also serves as a forecast of the poetry that appears in the issue from poets who are keenly aware of poetry past and present.
Among the poems are closely observant narratives replete with particular imagery and description of nature and the humans who exist with varying degrees of complexity within it. “Doppler Radar” by Stephanie Bryant Anderson and Andrea Spofford is form and function meticulously matched on the page to create meaning. The speaker asks:
What do we know about Jupiter’s song? There is
no answer except
associations we make, trying to feel
unknown in the known.
These lines near the end of the poem refer back to the beginning reference to “NASA’s recording of Jupiter,” in a way that fuses a relationship among humans, nature, and the cosmos, connecting everything in sensory reflective experience.
Narrative detail is also an important component of Susan de Sola’s “Cedar Closet,” a poem that makes associations between the contents of a closet and family history. The speaker offers a survey of “her clothes the only story that she tells” and shows how knowing someone through the things they have chosen to keep and relinquish to others is a way of passing on meaning and memory. In another poem evoking memory, “La Mer” by Cecilia Woloch, the speaker imagines the sea as a shining floor, speculates where her mother has gone, and turns to memories to find regretful sadness and the declaration that “I would have / given you all my breath.” The sea metaphor carries emotions through the poem on waves of reflection. The poets have used the knowledge and tools of literature to invent new works that thrive on their pages.
These are only a few of the poems in this spring issue, and all the poems in this issue of BPR are not to be passed over too quickly. They are thoughtful and at times profound in their observance of the natural world where humans continue striving to save and remold environments and live in relative peace within them.