Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Ibbetson Street 45

Ibbetson Street 45

Review by Wendell Smith

Ibbetson Street #45 is unique in my experience, a poetry magazine that may be picked up and read cover to cover. The editors lead us into the issue and catch our attention with three poems about craft, about the skills and observation needed to achieve and to perceive visual meaning. I think this arrangement serves a purpose; it provided an esthetic preparation for what follows. The first poem, “Song of Three Skies” by Eileen McCluskey, links this discussion of the visual arts to poetry.

You didn't usually talk
about your art, but this triptych,
you explained on the day you hung it,
was called The Song
of Wandering Aengus,
after the Yeats Poem.

The second poem, “Portrait Lesson” by Jesse Brown, is a humorous note on the frustrations of learning any craft when her instructor concludes her lesson, “Don't worry. I'm just giving you/everything in one shot.” But it is the third poem, “A Still Life” by Jennifer Barber that introduces the importance of paying attention. It speaks of attention to detail in the preparation before one even picks up a brush, and it follows through to the reward that may come to a viewer for paying attention when in the last two stanzas It happens[*] to Jennifer and, because of her use of the second person, to us:

the instant of your trespassing
the layers of the visible
to watch the painter’s hands

arranging three oranges
that glow like coals in you
before you disappear in them.

The clue that this opening arrangement has been intentional is the editorial decision not to interrupt this sequence by placing a second poem by Jesse Brown, “Eve Astonished,” alongside “Portrait Lesson,” where it would have been in most poetry collections, but to insert it some six poems later. Because of that decision these three poems become an invitation to pay attention to the poetry that follows them and let It happen. Some of these poems will have more of It than others and some less of It, but all of them have some of It. And, of course, which of those poems is which, when it comes down to It, will depend upon taste, upon what flavors of It trigger our receptors; here are a few selections that triggered mine.

I thought It happened in the contemplation of a central story of our classical heritage, “Stealing Troy i.,” by Gary Metras, which ends:

Blame a father’s honor, a brother’s honor.
Blame the lust and love the gods
inspire and envy so that, today, neither

the blood of passion nor the blood of
courage stain this soil, these broken stones
the rains of ages blotch without mercy.

 I felt It happen in “A Quiet Afternoon,” as Beatriz Alba del Rio told us that a marriage may end in divorce, but love doesn’t:

it is a benign summer day
we just had a light dinner at the Museum
we laughed while drinking our beloved Chianti
we reminisce of our times in Florence…

and ends,

it is dark
you say     i want to get divorced
i look at you     i answer softly     it's okay     it's okay

it is irresistibly dark.

When It happens, It is not sentimental. In fact It may be quite unpleasant as It is in “That’s My Story and I’m Sticking To It” by Claire Scott.

I was abused as a child. Period.
My body foraged. Period.

and ends

I know full well if the ice melts
his hands will be there – again.
Waves of shame will flood – again.
The cold stings, my face is numb.
there is frost on my fingers.
Suspended in ice, frozen forever.

One innovation of Ibbetson Street #45 compared with earlier issues is its inclusion of longer poems. This allows us to enjoy It happening in the 91 lines of humor, “Walking Backward Along the Path of the Promenade,” by Ravi Teja Yelamanchili. These ten lines occupy the middle of the poem:

                                           I laughed when I saw the bags
of frozen chicken in the supermarket.
Some people asked me what was so funny,
and I replied saying, “What tragedy has befallen
Plato’s man!” as I walked away, I heard someone
whisper, “There’s all sorts of crazy at this time of night.”

Plato defined man as featherless biped and was applauded
for his clever definition. Diogenes plucked the feathers
from a cock, let it run loose on Plato and his crowd
and proclaimed, “Behold Plato’s man!”

The issue itself ends in humor with a superb parody of Robert Frost, “Awaking by Words on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Whelan. As It happens in this poem Ibbetson Street #45 ends its survey by anchoring itself to a corner post of American poetry, with a comparison that leaves us wondering about the price of progress.

Whose words these are I think I know.
His name is in my contacts though;
He will not see me waking here
To watch his words display and glow.

My little phone must think it queer
To call without a voice to hear
Because the words make devices quake
Their insistence in the evening, clear.

It rings its bells and starts to shake
I wonder if there’s some mistake.
The annoying sound disrupts my sleep
With noises its vibrations make.

The words are shallow, hardly deep,
Tell of appointments I must keep,
And now awakened I can't sleep,
And now awakened I can't sleep.

So there you have It; the satire directed, not at Frost, but at us. Wouldn't we be better off thinking about the promises we have to keep than being annoyed by this technology, which only leads to insomnia?
Go for IT.

---Wendell Smith

[*] Whether or not “It happens” is a critical criterion I have purloined from Ramon Guthrie’s poem and guide to what's important in art “It Happens,” Maximum Security Ward and Other Poems, Persea Books, New York, 1984, p. 56.

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