The Fall 2016 issue of Tar River Poetry is filled with the work of experienced poets; each piece reveals an attention to form and function in a linguistic mélange of technique containing a bounty of literary treasures. The issue is one to keep by the bedside for easy access to multiple reads.
There are so many poetic gems in this issue that I recommend, even insist, that readers not pass by. Dallas Crow’s “The Age of Miracles” is one not to miss. This poem addresses modern fears and the miraculous in the mundane without sentimentality and with linguistic aplomb. The speaker, a high school teacher, notes the miracles so often overlooked in daily life, such as cellphones and cars, then moves on to include students in the list of miracles leading up to discussing “one of / Kafka’s finer miracles, The Metamorphosis, while / outside beautiful white miracles fall from the sky.” The poem observes the seemingly small miracles taken for granted and comes to an affecting end.
Another gem is Gail Martin’s “Neither Surefooted nor Agile.” This first-person narrative of the peculiarities of goats that make them advantageous to own is at once cheerful and a little heartbreaking. The couplets are as agile as those the speaker has seen “with their toes like pliers scaling mountain faces.” The speaker’s own story is carefully revealed, with the significance of comparison divulged in the progression presented in the poem.
Metaphor is abundant throughout the issue and a number of pieces skillfully lead readers through extended metaphors loaded with significance and worthy of numerous second looks. Nancy Mitchell’s “Night Vandals” makes use of extended metaphor in describing a storm and explains how the “we” in the poem “slept while tempest / thugs ravished the camellia bush,” and, “as hooligan hurricane gusts hijacked / the canoe and flew it to a crash.” Richard Krohn’s “Egrets Only” seems to stumble upon the metaphor as a result of what the speaker tells us is a joke. The birds are guests at a cocktail party, and Krohn skillfully handles the metaphor to the end, comparing guests to herons, cranes, and egrets “flapping off to freshen their drinks.”
Kathleen Corcoran’s “Jo’s Bed” explores memory with images of strawberries and a garden in a sonnet that ends with a metaphor with Christ’s heart as the vehicle. In searching for a ripe strawberry in her aunt’s garden, the speaker “poked beneath thick leaves, uncovered nubs, / green and hard, others deceptive red / on top, white shiny undersides like grubs.” The final discovery is the one “riper than the rest” that is most significant to the “I” in the poem.
Moments of ostensibly lighter verse are no less hefty in their substance. Martha Silano’s “Ballads will be written about the heat experienced today” is humorous in its offering of poetic forms to characters experiencing record heat. Underneath these narratives lurks climate change and how we ignore scientists at our peril “for who knows how high / the mercury must rise before we heed their warnings?” Jackie Fox’s “An Alien Walks into a Bar” speaks from the perspective of the alien who wonders “why the rest of them / want to land in a farmyard / and risk getting shot.” His presence goes unnoticed except for a comparison of his ship to a car once owned by a patron. The alien neatly observes humans in this natural habitat, the poet never breaking character.
A third poem that seems to fit this ‘lighter verse’ category is Donovan McAbee’s “Dishes in the Sink.” The poem reads like a letter or recording of a conversation from one spouse or partner to the other, ending as a love letter to the one who has been away, the result being a leave of daily chores and responsibilities that although has been “a reprieve from order” will be traded for the return of the beloved who is missed and who keeps the speaker’s “train on the tracks.” These poems use language in a way that lets readers know there is so much more underneath the words.
Every poem in this issue is one not to be missed. The craft in each is evident. The language tackles immense issues with what seems to be commonplace language. On further investigation and after careful reading, the skills of these writers become apparent in whatever form they have chosen for their piece. Just like Sisyphus in Bill Glose’s “Boulder Rolling, Outsourced,” I say, “Keep them coming.”