The cover of Hiram Poetry Review’s 78th issue features a photo of two young men who look like they are turn of the century bohemians, one holding a mandolin in his hands, the other with an open book, neither looking into the camera or at each other. They look kind of baffled by their own existence, like they’re thinking about the passage of time. Maybe I’m projecting a little, but regardless, I felt it captured the themes of this edition nicely. The pieces in this edition seemed particularly interested in growing older and how we change or fail to change.
When cracking into a journal, I like knowing where the poets are in their careers. In this edition, it seemed that most of the poets had previously published and/or forthcoming books. They had long lists of publications in journals and many had awards, and come from a very interesting collection of backgrounds, from dance critic to translator to currently incarcerated (though that writer, Dan Grote, asks that you “please don’t hold that against him” in his bio). So, all that said, while Hiram Poetry Review doesn’t seem to be the place for emerging writers to submit, they sure do have some quality writers to learn from in their pages.
The Spring 2017 edition opens with “The Big Life Downstairs” by Jack Anderson, which sets the reader up to compare childhood and adulthood. In the poem, a young speaker plays piano for adults at a parent’s party, until they are sent upstairs for bed. Listening to the party, the speaker longs for inclusion. Anderson writes:
all that mounting laughter
made you want to grow up
so big you could stay up
with other big folk [ . . . ]
It’s a poem of short lines and small words, evoking the innocence and simplicity of childhood. In reading this poem first, I was encouraged to consider the following poems from both a child’s point of view and my current place as an adult. The tension between those two perspectives made everything that much more urgent.
Another poem I found particularly striking was “Christ” by Holly Day. The speaker in this poem is watching poets at a bar, inching her way towards them, hoping to befriend them. The poem ends with the lines “thirty years past childhood / and I’m still waiting for the popular kids / to invite me to play.” This poem, in contrast to the hopeful, excited view of adulthood that a child has, highlights the ways in which we never escape some troubles of childhood. We still want to be accepted and loved just as desperately. When we aren’t, it is devastating. It makes me want to say “Christ,” too.
The loss of innocence, the anxiety of adulthood, the uncertainty. These concepts seem to come up again and again in these poems in the worries of the speakers. Death looms in the margins, like how it seems to haunt the eyes of the people in the cover photo (Am I projecting again?). Still, there is growth, as we see in the poem “Hair” by Lyn Lifshin. After years and years of suppressing her hair she eventually lets it go, like “milkweed, wild / flowers, poems, / animals, a dream.” So don’t worry: this journal isn’t one big existential crisis waiting to happen. It has some glimmers of hope as well.
This issue also has some wonderful reviews of poetry from 2016, like a review of Small Crimes by Andrea Jurjević, whose poetry is included in the journal as well, and a review of Paul McCartney’s Blackbird Singing by Sara Shearer, which really sent me down a Beatles-induced nostalgia trip.
The poems in the Spring 2017 issue offer some unique perspectives on growth and childhood. As Willard Greenwood writes in the editor’s note, “poetry is cool as ever.” The poetry of this edition of Hiram Poetry Review came from a handful of accomplished contributors, and I would say it’s all pretty cool.