Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Garden of Verse: And Lots of Verse on Gardens in May's Verse-Virtual

The theme for the May edition of Verse-Virtual was gardening (or gardens, or flowers), though the online poetry journal is always open to poems on any subject.
"I wasn't too sure about the appeal of the FLOWERS theme for May (because it's so simple and perhaps overused)," editor Firestone Feinberg writes. "[But] the flower poems in this issue are amazing. What a display of pure creativity and profound inspiration."  
                After a first sampling of May's garden of verses here are some of the poems that stay with me. I'll plant them in my memory and hope they root.

Dick Allen delivers an entire flower garden in his three poems. "Homefront" offers us the chilling picture of sunflower heads cut off by a storm and discovered by children hanging on wire cages. 

"They frightened us  ... as if they were children who become
adults too soon, the darkness at their roots/
sensed by other children..."

What an insight! Something eerie but true here. Children's powers of perception differ from their elders', especially when it comes to sensing the macabre. When we grow up we 'know better.' We know the grotesque sensation is not 'real,' and we're unlikely to share it. I think I must have slept through childhood; other people have such interesting things to say about it.
Lively descriptions in an amusing poem about the poet's settled dislike mark "African Violets." Personally I like them fine, but I'm impressed by the language of the indictment here: "over-propagating,  squirming in their pots,
their Disney mouse-ear petals fluttering..."
Allen also gets the essence of "Black-eyed Susans," an ubiquitous and ambitious native plant that, just as the poet says, arrives uninvited "traipsing
over meadows and fields,
trailing the borders of our neighbors’ gardens,
into the green apron of every summer,
their dark domed eyes
all wide open,
(as they waver under our mailbox,
scatter their different heights across our yard)..."

A beautifully vivid and apt evocation of something I see every summer.
I was delighted to encounter a poet familiar with "plumeria," a flower word I've been meaning to run down for a couple of years. Donna Hilbert depicts it (in words and an excellent photo) "by the front door" blooming "velvet yellow among/ green leaves."
I'm also much affected by her poem ("Flowers") implicitly comparing plants to women as embodiments "of a certain age." Certain flowers, the poet writes, "have a languorous grace
leaning over the lip of the vase
as if standing straight were too much
trouble.  (Think hookers in a humid city.)"

William Greenway's poem "Heart" gets to the heart of the matter with memorable language. After a visit to the doctor, he pictures (recollects? imagines?) his father's desperate response to an attack, and then turns to his own sense of vulnerability:
"You see yourself as glass
for the first time, transparent,
shaken and fizzing, and start
watching for potholes.
Or maybe you just learn to live
with a cart with square wheels
thudding in your breast
trying to carry whatever it is
before it's too late."
Some very apt and moving images here.

Laura Kaminski offers a bouquet of three poems written in response to three poems published previously in Verse-Virtual. Since one of them is a poem I wrote, I'm a biased reader. But I can't help sharing my pleasure when (in "Rough Beast") the poet compares our attempts to guard our emotions to "Cerberus-class security." Cerberus (that mythically attentive watchdog), the poem continues, was "charged with
keeping those already in the chasms
of the underworld from leaving the Hades,
shades of our own making, dark caverns
of stagnation."

This potent way of describing Hades reminds me of Milton's Satan discovering "myself am hell."

Another Greek myth makes an appearance in Jim Keller's poem. After you read the title "Zeus as Oncologist" (which is pretty funny already) the kick you get from the first two lines
"So how do you feel today Prometheus?
Is the pain any better?"
makes me believe that laughter is indeed the best medicine. It turns out that Prometheus has to deal with what our ghoulishly cheerful oncologist calls "your type of cancer," Aetos Kaukasios. After a search, I learned these words mean the giant eagle that is eating Prometheus's liver. What a guy, that Zeus.

Back to flowers, wildflowers in particular. Joan Mazza's "May Wildflowers in Virginia" shows us that a lot of knowledge can be a good thing. The poem includes a fine photo of lady slippers with (as the poem says, quite accurately) "their pink scrota.” Names have their magic. Here are a few:
"We peer into common elder, scarlet clover,
dead nettle, white and pink dogwood,
count twenty-six species,
lose track of time,
surrounded by wild purple azaleas."

Robert Wexelblatt shares two poems about a Mrs. Oleander, the name of a flowering shrub I will never grow outdoors in New England. The poems are about cultivating relationships, or perhaps a "cultivated" attitude toward them. In the first Mrs. Oleander enjoys Martinu's music (a learned taste for a modern composer) and relies on "something fragrant on the stove" to maintain the appearance of love with a compliant, perhaps not very observant husband. In the second ("Adieu"), a lover ultimately rejects a relationship with Mrs.O. based on appearance and canniness, but not really love, concluding, "you are what you love not what you pay."

Victoria Melekian has written a poem I can relate to ("The Sentinel Node") about watching the dye that identifies which node has to be examined to see if a cancer has spread. I can't help wondering (since this is the 'garden' issue), will it blossom, flower, branch? (Has anybody written a poem called "The Garden of the Self"?)  I won't ruin the ending but I will quote one beautiful image:
"The white dot on the screen looks like
the first star in a blue-black dusk."

Robbi Nestor introduces us to flower royalty in her precise portrayal of "The Queen of the Desert," who rules her kingdom for one perfectly blooming night. This is clearly, the poet writes:
"an effort to employ olfactory wiles
in service of the seed, attracting
avid Sphynx moths and bats,
metallic scarabs like bouncers
in their glittering regalia.
A scent strong as a snare,
tangible as the bug-eyed peepers’
insistent shrilling in the sodden leaves."

After reading lines like these -- and so many others blooming on the pages of May's Verse-Virtual -- can we doubt that the world of the garden is really a place to grow metaphors, harvest images, and feed the senses to grow the imagination?

Here's the link to the May issue of Verse-Virtual.
In April the journal received more than 20,000 page views.