Poetry East


I just finished reading the latest copy of Poetry East, one of my favorite poetry magazines.

One could criticize it by saying that it publishes too little work by new and emerging poets and too many by dead poets (like, Shelley levels of dead). But when you read it… well, it’s hard to criticize such a well put together publication with so much great poetry and beautiful (if not original) artwork.

This one (actually from Autumn 2017) features Carvaggio paired with passages from the Gospels (do you consider that poetry?). Ovid and Bernini. Facing pages with the Italian and English translations of Petrarch. Selections from American writers who visited Rome. English writers (the earlier mentioned Shelley, for example).

And yes, some new poetry. As part of three short poems collectively entitled Storyflowers, Suzanne Rhodenbaugh included this small gem, called Iris:

Once I was all lips and tongue.
Now I am a fist.

Can’t wait until the next issue.

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#Instapoets


I have picked up copies of books by Rupi Kaur and Lang Leav and leafed through them. Like the alliteration of ‘Lang Leave and leafed,’ I am not convinced by their quality. Actually, I’m pretty convinced of their quality and don’t think they have much. I have seen, in magazine articles, screen shots of work by other ‘instapoets’ and it has made me think that the genre as a whole is pretty lacking.

I also don’t have much affection for slam poetry. If we are ranking these things, slam poetry ranks orders of magnitude above instapoetry in my estimation.

Me? I learn and comprehend best through interaction with the written word. I like to read, is what I’m saying. More than that, reading is how I engage in dialogue with the world around me.

So neither forms are really aimed at folks like me.

And I really don’t know what to say nor what to add to the current kerfuffle over instapoets and, to a lesser extent (mostly because of this article, which singled out a particular, recently published in book form, slam poet), slam poets. It’s not the first kerfuffle and it won’t be the last. Or, more likely, it’s all the same kerfuffle, which has been going on for a couple of years, at least.

But my two cents. It’s not good poetry. I haven’t read deeply into the genre, but I feel like I’m on pretty solid ground. Both in terms of my critical evaluation of what I have read and as regards the follow up question as to whether I’ve read enough to form a valid opinion.

But… I’m glad poetry is selling. I didn’t think the poetry collection by the singer, Jewel, was very good either (though, of course, I listened to her first  album constantly in the mid-nineties and nursed a mild crush on her in my early twenties). But I believe that having read one poem, people may read another. Having bought one book, they may buy another.

Also, though we may feel resentful that someone has achieved success with what we believe to be pretty shoddy work, most of these folks are in their twenties and I think we must forgive people their awful youthful poetry, even if it does get published, sell in the millions, and make them rich. And we should try not to be too bitter about it.

Death By Sex Machine


I am too lazy to go into too much detail, save to say the poems are better than the titillating title. And power through the first quarter of the chapbook, which was so disappointing that I almost put it down without finishing it, because the rest is three quarters awesome (still a few stinkers, but the ratio is good).

It’s also worthwhile because in a post Trump, post Weinstein environment, her interrogations of the desiring gaze targeting women in various positions of psychic weakness feels more than usually relevant.

Poetry Aloud


I was in Chicago and decided to re-read Wordsworth’s great epic, The Prelude. Some two hundred odd pages of genius and I chose to… not exactly to read it aloud, but more to mutter the words to myself, so I could hear them (my child noticed me doing that and began doing that herself, stealing my copy of Ben Jonson’s poems and pretending to mutter the words aloud in an Old Navy; luckily, she doesn’t actually understand the lecher’s saucy and scatalogical jibes).

For Wordsworth, it wasn’t about rhyme, but meter. I needed to hear the meter.

The Ben Jonson I mentioned, was about the rhyme, because pronunciations are different.

I love Byron’s elegiac, So we’ll go no more a roving, but unless your accent is much different than mine, you don’t naturally pronounce ‘roving’ and ‘loving’ with the same ‘o,’ but Byron did. For me, only by reading it somewhat aloud, so I can hear myself tweak the sound to make the rhyme truly work, can I appreciate it.

Ben Jonson, being some two hundred years before Byron, requires it even more.

It slows my reading down, but that’s not such a bad thing.

Empedocles On Etna


I’m going to admit that I am liking Matthew Arnold’s poetry better than I would have thought. I still have no desire to go back and re-read Dover Beach again, ever, for any reason, but if you’re willing to adjust yourself to the rhythms of nineteenth century verse (and Arnold, a traditionalist), then you can definitely enjoy him.

Empedocles on Etna, especially, I enjoyed.

While I won’t question Arnold’s knowledge of the classics, you still shouldn’t read him for a detailed and accurate understanding of Empedocles’ philosophy.

But, the worried friend (Pausanias) and the musician-cum-pastoral poet, Callicles following the melancholy Empedocles on part of his journey makes for a nice philosophical narrative.

Even after the suicidal Empedocles asks for quiet, he can still hear snatches of Callicles’ carefree poetry and music as he contemplates his own theories and the lack of job in his life. Arnold makes the philosopher’s decision a little bit political (exile having made him depressed), though he shifts back to the idea of someone maybe too smart for his own happiness (one can imagine Arnold thinking there’s a little Empedocles in himself, too).

If you like poetry, if you have immersed yourself in poetry, so that the style of Matthew Arnold isn’t foreign or anathema to you, you might enjoy it, too.

No, thou art come too late, Empedocles!
And the world hath the day, and must break thee,
Not thou the world. With men thou canst not live,
Their thoughts, their ways, their wishes, are not thine;
And being lonely thou art miserable,
For something has impair’d thy spirit’s strength,
And dried its self-sufficing fount of joy.
Thou canst not live with men nor with thyself—
Oh sage! oh sage!—Take then the one way left;
And turn thee to the elements, thy friends,
Thy well-tried friends, thy willing ministers,
And say:—Ye servants, hear Empedocles,
Who asks this final service at your hands!
Before the sophist brood hath overlaid
The last spark of man’s consciousness with words—
Ere quite the being of man, ere quite the world
Be disarray’d of their divinity—
Before the soul lose all her solemn joys,
And awe be dead, and hope impossible,
And the soul’s deep eternal night come on,
Receive me, hide me, quench me, take me home!