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Poetry Friday: “Hive Boxes” by Megan Snyder-Camp

The sounds in this poem! I love its compactness and humming—its slender shape on the page, just like a tower of hive boxes. Bookended by two phrases that particularly sing—“lit hum” and “known oak”—this poem concentrates its gaze on the compelling paradoxes alive in our world, visible and audible in those very phrases. The hive box hums with an otherworldly aliveness that the speaker registers as light—it is simultaneously ordinary and extraordinary. The oak tree is clearly familiar to the speaker, and yet its proximity to the wonder and novelty of the bee hives exposes its transcendent nature, too. In the light of the hive, the tree is “risen / from its place.” In between these two arresting images, the speaker seems to receive a vision of her place in this mystery, this suspension between the divine and the daily—a division that finally turns out to be illusion. In this place, the “split panic” of a mother’s mind is no different from the intense purpose of the bees. Here, the “wild distance / folding” reveals that human work is not separate from the beauty of the natural world, whether we are walking the “vacation road” or back in the city. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Nothing More” by Todd Davis

by-mdaines-on-flickrWhenever I first meet a long skinny poem, I ask myself: Why has the poet chosen these very brief lines for the poem’s shape? In Todd Davis’s “Nothing More,” the effect of these short lines is a sort of staccato: short phrases punched out in succession and often snapped by startling line breaks. Yet what fascinates me is that the content of this poem is contemplative—so a tension is set up between the poem’s shape and its substance. How perfect for a poem where the substance itself is a play of opposites: death and life, sleep and waking, “lucid dreaming.” And how intriguing that all this goes on within the genre of ars poetica: a poem about the art of poetry. Poetry, Davis writes, is “nothing more / than lucid dreaming.” Yet that “nothing more” becomes much indeed when Christ himself enters the poem as the “composer” (the poet) of a parable which the child he wakes from near-death has been dreaming.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Intercession: For My Daughter” by Brett Foster

flowersWe pass into this world at birth. We pass out of it at death. And in between: holiness and horrors. This is probably the largest of themes that a poet could take on, and in “Intercession: For My Daughter” Brett Foster wraps his mind and language around it with consummate craft. First, to keep us grounded, there’s the reassuring pentameter beat. Then the three-line stanzas hold the expansive topic in a visual shape. And throughout: wordplay and stunning line-breaks elaborate the theme of our many “passings.” In stanza 1, the play with “helpful / and perfect, perfectly helpless.” In stanza 2, the play with “just being, / in being known.” “Still” in stanza 5 plays a double role: at line’s end it’s an adjective meaning quiet (“long and still”); but swept down into the next line it’s an adverbial “still / not length enough.” There’s more of this reverberating richness, but I want to point finally to the way the poem’s end (“The only place, this passing. There are so many”) circles back to its beginning (“There pass so very many”). Look at what Foster manages to do with the simple word “many”: there are so many passings, so many ways we pass into and through and beyond this life; and “so very many” of us enact these passings. All of us, in fact. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “After” by Marjorie Stelmach

by Rin Johnson on flickrGrief is a state of being that almost defies articulation. When you’re in it, it consumes and seems present in everything. Marjorie Stelmach focuses the lens of this poem on small scenes from the natural world—frames at once ordinary and suffused with loss, as befits the claustrophobia of mourning. The speaker here admits to wanting out, to feeling done-in by sadness— “Today, the last thing I would wish / is another emblem of grit and continuance”—and yet each effort to observe something outside the self becomes an act of hope and faith. I love the gaps in this poem. I’ve read it multiple times and suspect it hasn’t finished telling me all of its secrets. I’m struck by how each of these images so tenderly reflect the mystery of human suffering: not even a willow tree can escape “a keening that leaves it chastened, / loose-limbed, compliant.” God feels far away, yet so close, in the “available healing” of creation described here so beautifully.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Visitation Rights” by Jeffrey Harrison

funeral flowers by Elvert Barnes on flickr_with writing edited outI sometimes talk to friends who have died. Especially to friends who acted as spiritual guides for me during their lives here. I continue to ask their advice when I’m in distress or need guidance.  I believe there’s a very thin and permeable line between mortal life and eternal life. This is why Jeffery Harrison’s “Visitation Rights” resonates with me. The poem melds the living and the dead, past and present, in ways deeply true to psychological and spiritual reality. I also like the poem’s play with the word “visitation.” Its primary meaning here is the appearance on earth of someone who has died. But hovering within the word are always its supernatural reverberations—its meaning of an appearance to us of the divine—as well as its etymological kinship to “vision.” So it feels right that the poem closes by appealing to “visions,” expressing a desire for them that (the poem has argued) is fully justified.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]