Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Garden of Verse: Verse-Virtual's Octoberists

            Verse-Virtual's October poets packed whole worlds into a few lines.
            Below I'm sampling some of the many instances of strong writing -- imagery, diction, the telling detail -- that called to me in the October issue of Verse-Virtual.com.
            Van Harmann's positively haunting "Nevada Test Site" (a reference to atom bomb tests conducted there in 1957) includes this intensely evoked moment in a personal, family, and national drama:

I am twelve, have just begun to sprout
a map of sinews, muscles, veins,
have not yet found a voice
within my strange unstable throat,
too young to know the cause
of his howling wind
that can erupt without warning
from a man who can coax
a bluebird to take a peanut
from his open palm.

            Steve Klepetar's "Li Bo Drinks From the Well of Forgetfulness" draws on the experiences of a fictional character who appears to be a combination of poet, avatar, and explorer of human consciousness. The poem shines with vivid imagery, including this depiction of life's precious, concrete, sensual thereness:

He is a watchman on the road to midnight
who recalls how coins feel as they fall
into his hand, silver jingling against copper 

and gold.  He remembers a brown house
with windows blinking like a hundred eyes,
a yellow dog circling and dragging its chain,

a tall girl painting in a meadow beyond the pines.

            Frederick Pollack's tight-lipped, hard-eyed sketch of postwar life in these United States (in "Carl"), a history book in a few unadorned stanzas, begins with these short lines that sum up an era:

 The war, marriage
(on leave) to Evelyn.
Back, saying little,
to wholesale,

driven, unloaded,
inventoried, loaded …
A narrow house, a yard
with zucchini.

Two kids.  The two-bus
commute till ’53 and
a first Chevy.  Half of
everything saved.

            Robert Wexelblatt makes provocative use of rhyme and meter in two poems in the October V-V. From its lovely first stanza -- with its great leaf/word comparison: "each falling leaf a scarlet word that carves/ the air then fetches up against the fence" -- "In October" measures its way through a stirring month to its imagist conclusion in which the rhyming of 'voluminous' and 'numinous' yields the apt picture of fallen leaves turning leaves turning numinous.
            In "The Emperor's Nose," which the poet calls a "patter poem," I particularly enjoyed seeing "Mikado" pop up and get paired with "avacado." A connection that I can honestly say has never once crossed my mind. Great fun and ingenuity throughout this poem.

            Joyce Brown's powerful poem, "Trip Home" from its opening invocation of the Book of Common Prayer -- deliver us "from dying suddenly and unprepared" -- through various premonitions of a sudden and unwelcome end to this transitory existence (perhaps on the city transit), to its concluding sidelong glance at a certain river, or current of thought, we all glimpse now and again:
            At home, the dogs paddle through the grass
to greet me. In the corner of my eye,
the River Styx slides by.

            A few more memorable images, evocations and depictions from Verse-Virtual's Octoberists.    In David Chorlton's "Entering Desert" we are lead to a place...

where you’re spinning around your own finger
that points at the sun
as if offering directions.

            Tony Gloeggler's gritty, concrete summation (in "Reading and Writing") of the failure of a literary evening to achieve liftoff:

she read stepped on
the subway with you,
leaned over, whispered
into your ear anything
that made a difference.

            Barbara Crooker's "Sceilig Mhichil: A Glosa," a poem about the hardy souls who clung to an island of rock in the Irish Seas during the Norseman raids in the Middle Ages:

            ... the steps rise
between fangs of rock, a space
to chasten or elevate souls. Feel
how it was to live in a clochán,
nothing but obdurate rock above and below.
In Europe, books burned, but here were concealed.

            You can open these poems and scores of others currently up on Verse-Virtual.com. Click on the current issue and a list of poets' names will appear, numerous as the nameplates in a New York City high-rise. Then click on a name, and step into a poem.