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The Power of Poetry

Poetry

There is something natural about poetry. Something in the descriptions, how lines flow from one to the next. It can make you want to take to the nearest patch of nature, the closest tree or blade of grass. It can recall memories of places you have never visited or visited long ago. Poetry has power over our senses in a way that is unique to the genre. For some of that power, read one of the six books reviewed in our May/June 2017 issue.

This Sweet Haphazard

Book Cover
Gillian Wegener
Sixteen Rivers Press
Softcover $16.00 (96pp)
978-1-939639-13-4
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

In her consistent ability to write a perfect line of poetry—and the river rose thirty-three feet above the highway and took what it wanted, and it wanted nearly everything, and left just the sidewalks—Gillian Wegener upsets the idea we’re all in this together. Since the turn of the century, she has won the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize (twice), the Zocalo Public Square Prize for Poetry of Place, and other awards. A junior high teacher, she has served as the poet laureate for Modesto, and published two other books.

After Dry Lightning

Eight hundred fires are burning, and
we are all advised to stay indoors.
The sun is an electric pink disc.
You could almost hold its pink light
in your cupped hands, malleable as clay.
The black lizards of the forests
burrow deep. The air becomes
opaque, a world of ghosts,
and I, disobeying good advice,
run from backyard to front to see
the raging colors of sunset—odd,
fiery gift—and taste the smoke
on the back of my parched tongue.

MATT SUTHERLAND (May 9, 2017)

Figuring in the Figure

Book Cover
Ben Berman
Able Muse Press
Softcover $19.99 (88pp)
978-1-927409-71-8
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Stand your ground and make thoughtful observations—carefully, and with aplomb. Ben Berman repeatedly delivers on this not-so-easy dictum. He ain’t no bum.

A fan of Dante’s terza rima rhyme schemes, Berman’s early book, Strange Borderlands, won the Peace Corps Award for Best Book of Poetry. He edits Solstice Literary Magazine and teaches around Boston.

The Game

Matopos, Zimbabwe

The jungle, to us, was this big carnival
where you could shoot photos of gnus
snuggling with their adorable calves,

but our cameras must have looked like guns,
and those wildebeests stopped grazing on ferns
and began instead to snort and moo and grunt.

Still, not until one hunched down on all fours,
lowered its gangly mane and then charged
did we see not furry but fury,

realize the game had suddenly changed.

MATT SUTHERLAND (May 9, 2017)

daughterrarium

Book Cover
Sheila McMullin
Cleveland State University Poetry Center
Softcover $16.00 (112pp)
978-0-9963167-5-0
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

No, we won’t find much comfort here, or words pretty for pretty’s sake. Sheila McMullin scores the flesh of her observations and sears them with ponderous, mostly unanswerable questions about pain and anger, consequences, finality. Avowed feminist, and youth and animal advocate, she received an MFA from George Mason.

ACT IV
KNOT WHO?

With blood and black stripes all over. She began her first cycle.
Felt like wet sand caught in the crotch of her bathing suit when
she was younger and at the beach. Chunky and gooey and rose
is a rose is a rose is a rose-colored. The daughter showed her
mother. For a moment she couldn’t realize what it was. The
mother smelt it. Yes, you could have babies now. But don’t until
you have a good job. You’re doing a good job now. You did the
right thing telling me. Mark the phase of the moon on your
calendar. Vitamin C can help if you bleed too heavy. It will be
good to remember that.

MATT SUTHERLAND (May 9, 2017)

Trophic Cascade

Book Cover
Camille T. Dungy
Wesleyan University Press
Hardcover $24.95 (92pp)
978-0-8195-7719-1
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Tension. Simmering. —Beneath her matter-of-fact, easy-going, sit-yourself-down, let-me-tell-it-like-it-is chatifying. And her power we take deadly seriously.

Camille T. Dungy is a Fort Collins, Colorado, essayist and author of three acclaimed collections of poetry. She edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry.

Ultrasound

I will wait for you as cicada wait
through winter, their August song
harbored in the last thunder clap
of the season. I will wait, as I wait
through any drought, for the lesson.

I will wait for you as the colloquy waits
on polyphony; wait for you as the bunting
waits on the berry. I will wait for you,
as I wait through all the hedgerows.
I will wait for the clearing.

I will wait as the tide pool waits. I will
wait as the upturned leaf before dawn.
The hangar for its zeppelin. The student
for her marks. I will wait. I will wait,
untying lace, for the double binding.

As I wait for the green grandeur of luna moth,
wings once apprehended then gone
out of sight, I will wait for you. I will
wait as your infant tongue will wait,
Unacquainted, for the first taste of cherry.

MATT SUTHERLAND (May 9, 2017)

Luz Bones

Book Cover
Myrna Stone
Etruscan Press
Softcover $16.95 (112pp)
978-0-9977455-1-1
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Myrna Stone’s depth of historical knowledge and talent for storytelling should not in any way suggest that her technical skills don’t reach the paygrade of poetry’s big leagues, far from it. Wherefore art thou wherewithal to learn, listen, and savor? God help the inattentive reader. An Ohioan, Stone has five other collections in circulation and counts Poetry, The Southwest Review, Quarterly West, and numerous other journals as friends of her work.

The Anatomist, Dr. Antonio Maria Valsalva,
Converses with His Young Bride Over Supper

Bologna, Italy, 1709

My initial foray into human terrain
was spawned, Elena, by my father’s ear
out of which quite often flowed a strain
of viscous pus-filled fluid. Yes, my dear,

of course I tasted it, for I fathomed
even then that physicians should use every
sense in their diagnostics. Yet imagine
the sour tingling on my tongue no slurry

of oak bark blunted until the day grew
late…. Yes, yes, I see…. You now aim
to prevent my testing any cadaver’s glue
if I wish to kiss you? How shall I claim

cures for the living with such a constriction?
Are you ill, wife?—or having a tantrum?

MATT SUTHERLAND (May 9, 2017)

Stray

Book Cover
Adam Houle
Lithic Press
Softcover $17.00 (80pp)
978-0-9975017-1-1
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

The tickling of ivories, or birdsong, how one note relates to the next and amounts to something more—that’s the initial impression of Adam Houle’s lines, as they go about their work describing outdoor trades, chores, and pursuits. A Pushcart nominee, Houle’s poems have appeared in Poet Lore, Blackbird, Shenandoah, and other journals. He has a PhD from Texas Tech.

SOMNILOQUENCE ON THE HIGH PLAINS

When dreams rise from you familial past
of tongue-speakers seared in Holiness
I listen for some sense in the gamboling
vowels and consonants as they spill
from the headwaters of your lips.
The Pentecostal Spirit inflames you.
Come daybreak, you are drawn and wan,
changed, the way Oklahoma’s red dust
must have stained the hand-spun hems
of dresses worn by the stalk-thin women
you weigh yourself against, reckoning
nightly in your attic glossolalia a faith
that compels you to seek more rousing fires,
first through grace then by sore travails.
Wet your brow. The lenient city admits you now
from off night’s furnace of creosote and shale.

MATT SUTHERLAND (May 9, 2017)

Matt Sutherland

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