Saturday, May 16, 2020

Poem During the Plague: Poem 42

Karen Friedland

A nonprofit grant writer by day, Karen Friedland’s poems have been published in Nixes Mate ReviewWriting in a Women’s Voice, the Lily Poetry ReviewVox Populi and others. She currently has a poem hanging on the walls of Boston’s City Hall, selected by Boston’s Poet Laureate. Her book of poems, Places That Are Gone, was published in 2019 by Nixes Mate Books, and she has a chapbook forthcoming in late 2020. Karen is a member of Cervena Barva Press, and is a founding member of the Boston-based Poetry Sisters collective published in Nixes Mate ReviewWriting in a Women’s Voice, the Lily Poetry ReviewVox Populi and others. She currently has a poem hanging on the walls of Boston’s City Hall, selected by Boston’s Poet Laureate. Her book of poems, Places That Are Gone, was published in 2019 by Nixes Mate Books, and she has a chapbook forthcoming in late 2020. Karen is a member of Cervena Barva Press, and is a founding member of the Boston-based Poetry Sisters collective.

A COVID Spring                                                                                            
The new pale green leaves are holy,
are hanging in there,
whipped as they are by the cold May wind.

The sun still sets
between the same two houses,
and the same evening trees
still get shot through with gold.

I joked with my favorite teller
about her artistic sister
who lives in Colorado—
we laughed and nodded through our masks,
understanding about half
of what was said.

It’s 2020,
and the spring robins

still stand their ground.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Poem During the Plague: Poem 41

Elizabeth Wolf
Elizabeth S. Wolf ’s recent books are the Rattle Chapbook Did You Know? (Rattle, 2019) and When Lawyers Wept (Kelsay, 2019). Elizabeth’s poetry appears in multiple journals & anthologies and has been nominated for several Pushcarts. Her first haibun was a winner in the Third Wednesday 2020 Poetry Contest.

The Cameras Turn Off When the Press Conference Ends

Here we go round the prickly pear
At five o'clock in the morning. 
— TS Eliot, The Hollow Men

Between the droplets and the mask
Falls the shadow.

Between the test and the results
Falls the shadow.

Between the truth and the tweet
Between the rabble and the rage
Falls the shadow.

Between the forecast and the lonely
Lonely drowning death;
Between the cold concrete wall and the
Lowing of refrigerated trucks
Falls the shadow.

This is the way the world ends.
This is the way the world ends.
Not with a bang but a bluster.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020



 Review by Michael Steffen

Playfulness, observation and contrast are guiding muses in Pam Rosenblatt's new book of poems, Looking for Camelot (ISBN 978-1-67801-029-4) released this year by Wilderness House Press. There could hardly be a time more needful of a spirit which, as Molly Lynn Watt has noted, "hums with delight in her immediate world and her cheerful imagination." This liberality of good intention is made vivid by the inclusion of the author's witty and attentive drawings and a preface piece, "Philosophy of Words," which affirms that language is "the proof that our minds are working efficiently" with encouragement to use our words "positively, not negatively, to help and not to hurt." Seemingly simple, we may well find ourselves listening to how language is used around us in our time, as well as to the news - even beyond the items of our current crisis with the virus - and realize how sorely needed and well taken Rosenblatt's Philosophy of eulogy is. That follows with the 11 limericks the poet has layered into the collection, with both their lighthearted and evocative, not to mention transforming - "There once was a..." - charms.

Yet the author shows depth and consideration. Folded in with these lighter verses are substantial meditations that extend beyond the half-page standard poem - often to a page and a half, showing a turn of mind for oppositions simple as "Cat and Dog", and reversals as complex as "The World is an apple Or is an apple but the world?" in which the poet intriguingly holds an apple (the fruit) in one hand while typing at a laptop (another "Apple" we suppose, with the Internet, the "world") with her other hand.

Whenever our attention is summonsed, especially quietly through the senses, challenging the mind in its capacity to make a sensible order of even our most familiar perceptions, life's moments take on a luminous and memorable character. This is true of the ordinary yet vivid contrast Rosenblatt draws in the two-part poem "Outside-Inside." It is a day under a regional rain outdoors set sharply against the subtle yet poignantly solicitous scent of an uncut pineapple inside the cottage, which "rules all/As it waits on the kitchen's/Marble countertop..."[pages 8-9].

Humdrum as a rainy day may normally leave us, the poet brings the event of the shower outdoors (which is being allowed inside just a little through "the half-closed screened/Glass door") to life with an array of active verbs deepening the portrait of the moment:

Rain falls, clings onto
The trees, the shrubs,
The browning grass,

Pierces, splatters
The dirt driveway
Makes cloudy puddles...

An element of time, "the browning grass" - autumn, early winter - will enhance the poet's perception of the "uncut pineapple" on the kitchen countertop along with another exotic yet in our time not so extraordinary occupant of a "bonsai plant," the scent of which is being dominated by the fresh tropical pineapple and its tough yet perishable (time) being, as the fruit

Lives longer than the wilted rose
In a silver vase on the living room's
Wooden chess table,

But is eaten before the plastic daffodils
In the wicker basket on the hallway's
Round three-legged table are tossed out.

From meditations on early bedtimes, observing a doe leap amid a hunter's season, and walking in the woods, to the more involved themes of our evolutionary link to the simplest creatures ("We are starfish") and "Botticelli's Venus," the author's concentration throughout the book maintains an engaging and enjoyable balance between levity and caution that we all need and can appreciate. With her overriding credo of affirmation -

Yes, I am here. Yes, you are here...
You sustain a reaction,
You lightly question remarks, and
You powerfully inquire about them.

Yes, I am intrigued...

Yes, I will always remember you...

Rosenblatt brings a convincing voice of inspiration in a time of so much uncertainty. Looking for Camelot shines especially in its attention, tenderness, thoughtfulness and encouragement.

Poem During the Plague: Poem 40

Chad Parenteau

Chad Parenteau is the author of Patron Emeritus, released in 2013 by FootHills Publishing. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tell-Tale Inklings, Queen Mob's Tea House, What Rough Beast, The Skinny Poetry Journal, Ibbetson Street, Molecule and RĂ©sonance. He serves as Associate Editor of the online journal Oddball Magazine. He has hosted the long-running Stone Soup Poetry series in Boston since 2004. His second full-length collection, The Collapsed Bookshelf, is forthcoming.

Week-Old Mask

Empires do
crumble, sure

to dust.


comes from

Towers make

leave us with
smaller streets

to stand in

Please give
to support

in progress.

Poem During the Plague: Poem 39

Elizabeth Hanson

Series Pandemic

So to enthrall
an entrance to his interest
you work with the senses
 smell / taste
so very obvious
this Odyssey of sight

the body does languish
and in the walled garden one may pick
a rare fruit
from off the vine

no proper
child of any place
but here & now
would sigh
just short of being considered
task in hand
mask ?
gloves ?

but  tedious of mind
and a spendthrift of ways
was the suitor for our ladys
me thinks that this villain remains unseen
he has the ability to take ones breath away
meeting in public
but rue to all who would suggest
more than bumping elbows
nay that Intimacy is presuming too much
or strolling seaside in past numerous
a vastness, to account ....

but things had a way of coming about
She surmised
The plot thickens
always in the final hour ...
Guinevere has
 her tower
 to battle
and the king has vanquished & Admonished
all / Six feet apart ...Please wash your hands ! 

---- Elizabeth Hanson

Monday, May 11, 2020

Everything in Motion, Everything at Rest: A Gallery of Photo-Poems John Bradley

Everything in Motion, Everything at Rest: A Gallery of Photo-Poems
John Bradley
Loveland, Ohio: Dos Madres Press, 2020
83 p. ; $18.00
ISBN: 978-1-948017-72-5

Reviewed by David P. Miller

One of the fascinations of ekphrastic poetry – poems that respond to visual artworks, pieces of music, or works in other art forms – is the range of relationships between the poet’s work and the source work. “Ekphrastics” can focus on description, bringing the source before the reader’s eye or ear. They may be vehicles for the poet’s individual responses to the work itself, its sociopolitical background and the like. They may consist almost entirely of narrative/imagistic excursions with little or no explicit reference to the work beyond a mention in title or epigraph. They may act in between any of these categories or go entirely beyond them. The point is that ekphrasis is a varied, even slippery genre.

In Everything in Motion, Everything at Rest, John Bradley explores the multiple possibilities of ekphrastic responses to photography. Organized in four “galleries,” the poems are titled in a consistent form. Photograph title, place, date, and photographer’s name if known appear in that order, as in “Retired Man and His Wife in a Nudist Camp One Morning, Mays Landing, New Jersey, 1963, Diane Arbus.” This neutral frame reinforces the idea of a reader moving from picture to picture, from one wall or gallery to the next.

Many of the photographs are well-known, even infamous, including the subject of the first poem, “Saigon Execution (General Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executes a Viet Cong Prisoner, Nguyen Von Lem), Saigon, Vietnam, February 1, 1968, Eddie Adams.” This photograph shows a street shooting, point-blank to the temple. It was one of the most prominent images to inflame the war at home over the United States’ engagement in Vietnam. Bradley’s approach here is a mixture of description, quotations from other texts, and something about the photograph’s impact on the general himself (rather than the prisoner). The poem begins with “Try.  Try not to look away.” – a motto which could serve for much of this collection. The voices, given in italics, include the general’s and photographers’ own words, a sentence from the Geneva Convention, and an anonymous threat:

These guys kill a lot of our people,
the general explains. I think Buddha will forgive me. No
comment from Nguyen Von Lem. No comment from
Buddha. [ … ]
After the war: We know who you are.
Written in a bathroom stall of the general’s pizza parlor.
Two people died in that photo, observes Eddie Adams.
The recipient of the bullet and General Nguyen Ngoc Loan.

Throughout the volume, Bradley uses italicized quotations to thicken the interplay of voices, given that each of these photographs is already a public entity.

In one instance, the source image is so well-known that the poet’s separate voice drops away altogether: “Jack Ruby Shoots Lee Harvey Oswald, Underground Police Garage, Dallas, Texas, November 24, 1963, Robert Jackson.” This is one the book’s few persona poems, presenting Ruby as stammering, desperate: “Our Jack.  Bits of his brain.  Oh God.  All over Jackie.  And that / cute sonofabitch smirking.  Sometimes only a bullet.  A .38 Colt / Cobra.  Dear America.  What else would you have me do.”

When source photographs are known less well, or hardly at all, the matter of how readers visualize becomes more acute. The title, “Billy the Kid and the Regulators Playing Croquet, Tunstall Ranch, Lincoln County, New Mexico, 1878, Tintype,” suggests the cognitive dissonance a viewer might experience with this image: “Is that you, Billy, darling? Striped sweater. Undertaker hat. / Leaning on a croquet mallet.” The poem steadily questions the reality asserted in the title: “Could this really be / you, darling Billy? On John Tunstall’s land? For Charlie and Manuela’s / wedding? You armed only with croquet mallet.” Similar to how photograph swallowed General Nguyen Ngoc Loan’s life, the camera’s action can’t be undone: “Posing / for the one-eyed monster. Infernal machine: Devourer and preserver / of memory and flesh.”

In contrast, Bradley’s approach to “Bomb Shelter, Garden City, New York, 1955” is almost entirely descriptive. If we’ve forgotten or never seen the image, this gives us what we need. Parents (dressed up for company), daughter, and kitten occupy a space with

[ … ] a flashlight; General Electric Radiation
Monitor; bag of noncombatant gas masks, large; and four books. Hard
bound, in case of turbulence.  Stacked beside an army shovel: bland
cans of spam, Nestle’s Sweet Milk Cocoa, and a boxed cook stove.
No sign of a commode.

This nearly neutral treatment foregrounds the misery that lay right beneath the surface of national prosperity post-WWII and into the 1960s, and that still infects the belief in American “exceptionalism.” The impossibility of actual survival – like the “duck and cover” delusion – is further mocked by the Arthur Crudup song Bradley imagines on the shelter radio: “I’m gonna dig myself a hole, move / my baby down in the ground. You know when I come up, there won’t be / no wars around.”

The Corpse of Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara, Vallegrand, Bolivia, October 10, 1967, Freddy Alborta” evokes a photograph I recall seeing – and which others surely know well – but the poem brought it forward again for me. Bradley brings multiple strategies to the brutality of the image, Guevara’s body on a slab in a hospital’s laundry room, exulted over by members of the Bolivian military. Descriptive elements (“They tilt Che’s head forward / that we might better view his corpse”) make the appearance of analogies to artworks all the more disturbing. It’s as if the assassins were demonstrating their high culture by referencing “Mantegna’s The Dead Christ” or “Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Doctor Tulip” –paintings that feature corpses in similar postures, surrounded by observers. Guevara’s blatant abjection gives way to his murderers’ voices: “Proof: We exterminated. We rid the world of Ernesto ‘Che’ / Guevara. See His cadaver on a concrete laundry slab. Displayed for you / to view. At your convenience.”

Certain photographs require us, if we look, to see something we may wish we hadn’t. Questions arise regarding ethical breaches or invasions of privacy. Several of the poems in this collection approach this question, never with simple answers. In “The Hand, New York, New York, September 11, 2001, Todd Maisel, ” Bradley looks hard at what Maisel saw:

there in the gutter, a human hand, forefinger pointing
directly at him.  He shot what he found: The yellowing wrist.
White bone shank.  Shredded red tissue.  Pebbles, cigarette butts,
a small chunk of Hersey’s milk chocolate nearby.

The image aroused outrage, given the “unwritten agreement” not to display photographs of 9/11 victims. The photographer’s act was condemned as sensational and voyeuristic, but Bradley doesn’t settle for that, emphasizing Maisel’s experience:

Because he’d witnessed
a fire fighter hit and killed by a falling body.  Because in his lungs
he breathed the dust of pulverized flesh.  He took the photo
because one frayed finger pointed directly at him.  Because
the photo says: This is how it was.

As readers, we may or may not wish to entertain this insight into motivation. Regardless, just as one cannot un-see a photograph, it’s impossible to un-read what Bradley provides us.

In sharp contrast is “Emmett Till, Chicago, Illinois, 1955, David Jackson.” It’s well known that Till’s mother insisted on an open casket at her son’s funeral, so people would be forced to look at his mutilated body. “Let all the world see what I’ve seen, Mamie tells the photographer.” Shielding the outside world from brutal evidence may be the obverse of family privacy; Till’s mother, the photograph itself, and the poem combine to make this impossible. But even here, we find the opportunity to look away:

How quickly our gaze shifts from Emmett’s
swollen face to the anonymity of the shrouded body in the back.
To the comfort of an empty corked bottle.  To the solace of a gold
necklace dangling from a wooden peg.

The poems discussed so far may make it seem like this “Gallery of Photo-Poems” consists entirely of difficult, violent imagery. If so, the reviewer’s own fascinations are to blame, because such is not the case. Some of the poems in this ekphrastic gallery respond to non-documentary visual artworks, including “Detail of Tina Modotti in Diego Rivera Mural, Chapingo, Mexico, circa 1926, Tina Modotti,” “Object (Fur-Lined Tea Cup, Saucer, and Spoon), 1936” (picturing a surrealist work by Meret Oppenheim), and “Dali Atomicus, Life Magazine, 1948, Philippe Halsman.” Twentieth-century popular culture appears in poems such as “Mohammed Ali Meets the Beatles, Fifth Street Gym, Miami Beach, Florida, February 18, 1964, Harry Benson” and “Bob Dylan at the Typewriter, The Minnesota Daily, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, 1959.” The latter, with its triple “Minnesota,” is perhaps my favorite instance of John Bradley’s unvarying treatment of titles. There’s a vintage hoax photograph as well, “Alice and the Fairies, Cottingley, England, 1917, Elsie Wright.”

This collection’s seventy-nine poems provide readers with so means of considering photographs as representations, as works of visual art, as means or honoring or violating their subjects, and/or as pointers to the photographers’ motivations. In consequence, we’re prepared for the final two poems, which stand out by providing barely any image descriptions at all. In “Boy Reading to Elephant, Mexico City, Mexico, 2008, Gregory Colbert,” it seems that only the title provides objective information: a boy reads to an elephant. Here, the speaker enters into a third-person imagining of the child’s experience –

On the shore, the boy gathers word scraps. He builds an elephant
with trees for legs.  He builds a cottage inside the elephant, with a tiny
elephant inside a cage.  He builds a gun, which fires the phrase: I Too
Am a Piece of the Sky.

Finally, one might guess that “The Moon Belongs to the People!!!, Brooklyn, New York, 1971, Stephen Shames,” shows a Boomer countercultural response to the Moon landings. The poem’s opening confirms it while immediately venturing into the interiority of unspecified “those”:

Those who spray the word moon with anonymous black paint
on a faceless brick wall in a shiftless lot say the moon belongs
to the soundless vowel birthed without end.
[ … ]
Those who have seen the moon
impaled by a flag say the moon belongs to those clutching
broom, mop, spatula, potato peeler.

In a Preface, John Bradley points out that the titles provide the information a reader needs to find the images online if needed. It’s a testimony to his power or evocation, and the vitality of his language throughout, that I never felt the need to do so, even for those photographs I have probably never seen.
Everything in Motion, Everything at Rest is an enlivening tour through not only the possibilities of ekphrasis but also our complex responses to visual imagery, whether shatteringly public or bemusingly private. This volume is a remarkable accomplishment.

Poem During the Plague: Poem 37

Tim Suermondt

 Tim Suermondt is the author of five full-length collections of poems, the latest JOSEPHINE BAKER SWIMMING POOL  from MadHat Press, 2019. He has published in Poetry, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Stand Magazine, december magazine, On the Seawall and Plume, among many others. He lives in Cambridge (MA) with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.

EASTER, 2020

No poet can write a better Easter poem
Than the one by Yeats—Connolly and Pearse
Have nothing to worry about. And with
The pressure off I can write simply of the return
Of the sun, and while waiting for a sort of daily
Resurrection of things recall how in my thirties
I walked from Queens to Manhattan and back
Just because I could. Outside the empty churches
Saints must be lingering, having already made
The condition into a form of art for centuries.
“How is your poem coming?” my wife, who’s
Boiling eggs in the kitchen, says. “I’ll ask a saint,”
Leaving her and them as confused by the answer
As I am, adding a dab more of the sun before I finish.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Poem During the Plague: Poem 36

Carolynn Kingyens lives in NYC with her beautiful family. Her poems have been featured in Boxcar, Word Riot, The Potomac, Glass Poetry Journal, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and her poem, Washing Dishes, was nominated for Best New Poets by Silent Press.


I remember the big top –
the big, white tent
we could eye
from as far
as Knights Road;
me in the middle seat
of my father’s black, 70’s Buick,
on the lap of one
of my older siblings –
a hard stop
away from going
through the windshield.

The big top had been
a mirage though –
No circus.
No bag of peanuts.
No fire-eaters.
No pungent smell
of elephant dung.

Instead this big top
was erected for Northeast 
tent-revival –
some of that old time religion;
to induce the fear of God;
shake up the complacent life.

I still recall
those scary sermons
on the plagues –
the loud locusts;
the bloody Nile;
the death of Egypt’s
beloved, first-born sons,
including Pharaoh’s own.

On the last night,
the preacher’s sermon
turned to the plagues
to come, “end times” –
Wars and rumors of wars.

As in the days of Noah.

40 years after the big top revival,
and 102 years after the Spanish flu,
COVID-19 plagues the planet
like an ominous shadow
in the shadows.

People are dying alone.

People are slowly drowning
from a build-up of fluid
in their lungs,
an immune response
called ‘cytokine storm.’

People are dying horrible deaths.

I see no big top in the distance,
only white, refrigerated trucks 
and the vultures circling above –
this time, it’s no mirage.