Thursday, April 9, 2015

Garden of Verse: Poems Bloom in the Spring

            April is a poetic month, not merely because in the USA it's officially "National Poetry Month," a designation intended I think to give libraries and other institutions an excuse to hold poetry programs. It's also because April is the month referenced in the first line of "The Canterbury Tales," which itself is often regarded as the first great poem in the English language (though composed in the somewhat foreign looking Middle English). It's a month of beginnings.
            April also famously appears at the start of T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland," often thought of as the first great poem in the 20th century modernist school of literature. When Eliot wrote "April is the cruelest month," it made sense to anyone living in the northern hemisphere, because we know it's the month when our pent-up desire for balmy spring weather is cruelly, and repeatedly, thwarted by April's regression to nasty days like today (high of 38 degrees, cold rain all day).
            But Eliot was actually going for a different point. It's hope itself that's cruel -- to those who have given up on life.
            The poets who contributed to the April issue of the online literary magazine Verse-Virtual have manifestly not given up. In fact they have given us some of their best in the many pages of this packed journal.
            I'd like to point out some examples. Uche Ogbuji's "At Work in the Foothills" considers the contrasting pulls of work and pleasure on a working vacation:
I should be uphill,
Should be on the downhill rush
Where pow hints at slush.
I'm trapped with my commerce mates
Wise to the profits of spring.

            The apt phrase "Wise to the profits of spring" sets up the very nicely composed conclusion:
Upon livelihood
Comes the why where life is good
Which calls through the churn
So I'm impatient to turn
My back on the marketplace
            Joe Mills's poem "Standing Before Shelves of Cookbooks" turns the enduring question of what to make for dinner into a meditation on a recipe for a good life, drawing on themes already raised in the poem:
...and I will murmur a kind of prayer: May you recognize the wheel
of your days.  May your faith
and friendships be flavored
with tears  May you find love
like a lever and a place to stand
together.  May you have a life as
satisfying as a good Italian dish.
The poem left me with the thought  that love is after all a place to stand.
In Luis Neer's poem "so he really did like me after all," he recalls a high school teacher who edited his list of classroom topics by erasing the name Walt Whitman:
and with one swipe of his hand
America's World Poet
from the list.
          I too think Walt Whitman is America's World Poet and am surprised that more of the world (particularly more of America) doesn't appear to know it. 
            Kenneth Pobo wrote two 'owl' poems. The first one treats an owl blind in one eye, ending superbly: "I catch her eye./ She stares me down." 
            In the other he describes a woman's laugh "as if several owls had gotten loose,/ all hooting at once." Another woman visits her in a hospital and wonders what's happened to that laugh: "She thinks she hears it, sobs,/ starts laughing herself,/ freeing the owls."
            In Ed Werstein's "Anthony's Hands," I particularly loved the imagery and line breaks in these sentences that describe those hands:
While exploring
they offer up acorns, bottle caps
and other found things for identification.
Clenched tightly,
arms rigid,
they are prelude to a scream.

William Trowbridge wrote a poem titled "Stark Weather," beginning with a quote from the long-ago Plains state mass murderer Charles Starkweather. It's a haunting name. It's like a whole poem in a name.

Andrea Potos's poems about Greece come with photo illustrations. They made me want to visit Greece.
Frederick Pollack wrote a  poem about Weldon Kees, a poet I read some years ago and liked his severe, quiet voice. I like the part in this poem where Pollack writes:
 Since it’s always
about me, I sit, late
one night, on the eve
of her departure, listening, half-
listening, the way one does
where response
is futile, observing the furniture
of a kitchen and life.

C.A. Allen's poems have a quiet, sacred feel, abetted by looking at certain moments from unexpected angles. I particularly liked the phrase "rounding it feels like a secret" in "organ."  He describes a church basement:
there is a thin film of light coming
under a door to my left, around a partition—rounding it feels
like a secret.

Robert Wexelblatt's poem brings us back to April:
Plenty of people die in April, the
elderly not so much holding on to
see one last as not imagining the
cycle will stop one daffodil dawn with
sparrows and forsythia, terminal
patients bent in too much agony for
irony, as if to prove parturition
postulates parting, space cleared, that
in the beloved grandchild the old
kiss both abstract immortality and
particular death.

The poems comes back to that cruelest month at the end, evoking:
dreamy young women finally engaged,
fumbling with cell phones, planning for June,
unmindful of some fatal far-off Apri

            All of these poems are easy to find in Verse-Virtual's sensible, handsome layout. Go to You'll find a list of poets' names. Click on the ones you want.