Sheila-Na-Gig and I share a couple things in common, I recently discovered. We both came into the world in 1990, and neither of us can get enough poetry. The journal has grown and adapted in the past twenty-eight years, now an online magazine with quarterly contests for poets. The latest issue of Sheila-Na-Gig online features two poems by the latest winner, Rebecca Dettorre, as well as work by eighteen additional poets.
Rebecca Dettorre’s poems immediately grab readers with their rich imagery. “Encounter” tells of a day in the woods which ends in a meeting with what sounds to be a fawn with “placid eyes, softly mottled, heedless, curious.” Dettorre writes about the fresh awe of an animal meeting humans for the very first time, and “the stillness / honored between us.” Dettorre’s appreciation toward nature continues in “What If,” painting a magical picture of “a small house with a great backyard,” the speaker reveling in their “what if” fantasy. One can’t blame the speaker for wanting to go back to their idyllic backyard:
We rearrange plants and switch curtains—white for yellow,
yellow for red, then back again—when the other’s not looking.
The hummingbirds love us, fluttering close to our sugary lips
on weekend mornings when we splurge on donuts.
Full moon lighting our patio just above the pine,
In both her poems, Dettorre draws readers into the setting and brings it to life. We are there under a “flawless sky” with the speaker as the fawn wanders over. We are the friends who “feel welcome when they stop by” in the beautiful backyard.
Dettorre isn’t the only poet whose work boasts a strong sense of place. Abby Caplin, Thomas Reed Willemain, Donna Reis, and Marjorie Moorhead also draw readers into a particular place and time, building a world around them.
Abby Caplin brings readers back in time to L.A. during her childhood in “L.A. Rain.” Using street names and store names to cement the area, Caplin then uses food to fully bring the moment to life. As a kid, getting hands on special treats was always a highlight, and this poem captures that childlike feeling of consuming Sno Balls, glazed crullers, mouthfuls of Reddi-wip, and chocolate malts, the desserts becoming anchors for memory. Like Dettorre, Caplin’s poem hinges on a feeling of nostalgia and a wish for simpler times. Even if readers are unable to fully relate to the poets’ specific memories, the occasional wish to go back to an easier or better time is one we can all understand.
In “Portal,” Donna Reis goes back in time to the speaker’s “husband’s family’s / home, long ago burned and buried.” Ghostlike, the speaker moves through the yard and the house, the property coming into existence as she walks among the details:
of lawn, crossing a back porch toward
an absent screen door—the gardener placing
wicker chairs, maids swatting carpets—no one
noticing as you let yourself in—Persian rugs
hush your steps as they crush underfoot.
We can imagine the house as she gives us a quick tour, and although the some of the images are that of a warm home—a radio playing, bread baking, plush carpets—there is the overwhelming feeling of being an intruder, of being a voyeur peeking in from the closet instead of having an invited place inside the home.
Instead of bringing us to the past, Thomas Reed Willemain brings us forward in one-hour increments. The speaker of “Morning Streets” walks us through the progression of a neighborhood’s morning, starting at six when wild animals disappear and “the hardest / of the hard core humans,” rule. The poem moves forward to seven when dog walkers and trash collectors arrive, an hour later when everyone leaves for work, and then ending at nine when everyone else exists:
They don’t rule the streets.
They share them
with small breezes.
The faintest exhilaration in the air.
Each hour, we’re shown a new snapshot of activity, the progression very real as it mirrors what changes happen in my own neighborhood every morning.
Marjorie Moorhead also explores familiar changes in “Impermanence,” reflecting on the way the waves constantly reshape the beach. Beach season may be coming to an end, but Moorhead’s writing is rich enough to make readers feel like waves are lapping over the tops of their feet as they stand at the edge of the water.
Readers, visit Sheila-Na-Gig online and escape for a little while. Whether you’d like to travel back in time to LA, to be an intruder in a loved one’s childhood home, or to just look out the window and see the everyday world within your neighborhood, the poets in this issue are ready to guide you there.