This issue includes new poems from Robert Morgan, Bruce Bond, Laurie Blauner, Gary Soto, Leslie Ullman, Alice Friman, and many others. Also included are book reviews of Creatures Among Us by Rebecca Lilly, Tarzan’s Jungle Plane by Michael Malan, and One Small Sun by Paulann Petersen.
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Issue introduction by Michael Malan
Here Comes the Sunset
The sun slips its arm through the window
I always said there was nothing like smoking to create a few fine mirages
So I light my cigarette with a sunbeam
When Apollinaire lit his cigarette with a sunbeam [“Hotel,” circa 1914] a light, you might say, went on in the poetry world. The image links the reader’s imagination with the event and different realms merge into something new. Years later, James Wright would end “A Blessing” with “Suddenly I realize/ That if I stepped out of my body I would break / Into blossom.”
Sunbeam and cigarette lighter. Human body and blossom. These aren’t images we normally associate with one another. This might have something to do with people disassociating from their imaginations in order to think more clearly about satisfying material needs. Living a life of art and, at the same time, being a good citizen in society might not be easy to pull off.
Reacting to this sense of “spiritual” disassociation after World War I, André Breton proposed that “Instead of accepting the idea of the necessary separation of man’s inner and external reality, desires and the world, or dreams and hard facts, we consider the possibility of effecting a unity.” He also wrote, “Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, cease to be perceived as contradictions.” [Michael Benedict, The Poetry of Surrealism]
So things got mushed together. Odd images were juxtaposed, hybrids created. The association of disparate images and concepts was a staple of Surrealist writing. “The image is a pure creation of the mind. It cannot be born from a comparison, but from a juxtaposition of two or more less distant realities. The more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is both distant and true, the stronger the image will be—the greater its emotional power and poetic reality.” [Pierre Reverdy]
Surrealist writers had a huge impact on poetry and fiction, which is still evident in journals like Fence. In a recent issue (#32), Amanda Nadelburg’s “Kennebunk, Kennebunkport” starts out like this: “If it’s not a cloud, man / it’s a wave. Boston / where I belong not / exactly either, like / you I like the window / and in 1970 it would / have been Saturday.” and continues:
Carrot in the kitchen
yellow hair and a bell
sharpened digital armory
if ever was, if interested.
So what, money, and
your dumb hue. Star,
star star star you can’t
do that on a train, the
people have decided for
The first lines suggest that the speaker is traveling on a train and prefers the window seat, but doesn’t actually feel at home anywhere. Carrot associates with “yellow hair” because carrots are orange and the leap from one color to another seems to make sense. The “bell-sharpened digital armory” is interesting because the leaps are more far-reaching. Each reader will probably bring something different to an interpretation of these lines. Here’s mine: Paul Revere placing a signal in the North Church belfry to ignite the American Revolution.
Money and “your dumb hue” recall the title, “Kennebunk, Kennebunkport,” which I associate with the wealthy residents of these two towns in Maine, who are probably mostly white. Four “stars” suggest 1) Paul Revere, the central figure in one of Longfellow’s poems; 2) Ted Kennedy, who lived part of the year in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts (“Kennedy” and “port” are linked here by “bunk” which might reflect the author’s attitude toward the senator and his travails); 3) “star of their own lives” could be how some self-centered people think of themselves; and 4) a starving artist (or poet), who is a star-to-be, but not yet recognized as such.
So here are four things the four “stars” probably can’t do on a train: 1) Paul Revere can’t ride a horse and warn people that the British are coming, 2) Ted Kennedy can’t drive his car into a canal, 3) star-struck, ego-centric people can’t get somewhere quickly; and 4) the starving artist, like Thoreau, can’t afford a train ticket.
I may be reaching here, but part of the fun is interpreting (or reacting) to this sort of poetry. In this case, my reading is based partly on the voice and tone of Nadelburg’s poem. Is it irritating and, if so, why? Does it have a unifying influence? Does it bring the real and imagined and/or the past and future closer together?
Yes and no. Yes, because it tends (in my reading) to deconstruct bourgeois values and argue in favor of art and imagination. No, because some will think it’s irritating.
What’s intriguing about “Kennebunk, Kennebunkport,” I think, is that it’s up to the reader to provide meaning for the poem. The writer isn’t telling us how we should feel or react or relate to the content. It’s open to a variety of interpretations.
Another example of associative poetry (which is cozier and more accommodating), is from Emily Dickinson: “Bring me the sunset in a cup.” This reminds me of the cigarette and sunbeam association in “Hotel.” Dawn in Apollinaire’s poem morphs into another brilliant light image—and all is well.
He Wakes Up Every Morning to the Bray of Wild Burros by Thomas Mitchell
The Wilderness and the dry land shall be
glad, the desert shall rejoice.
My brother writes from his hammock in the desert,
says the evening blush has gone from red to magenta,
says Yuma’s tough terrain is now soft with color,
the smell of sage. Sparrows follow one another
across the sky. He says this is a place where clouds
are easily confused with mountains, where
the occasional raptor reminds him of his proper size.
He’s not afraid of rattlesnakes or being alone.
There’s a simple satisfaction in the glow of a cigarette,
the last light of the stars sputtering like a dying
campfire, watching the Chihuahuan moon drift gently
away from Jupiter, the Seguro cactus fading
into the landscape. And when it’s time to dim the lights
on his camper, the night wind lulls him to sleep,
while the wild burros scuttle in the underbrush,
and he dreams the incomprehensible dream
of another day. Knowing there’s so much to live for,
so much one can live without.
Poets and writers in Cloudbank 14
V. Joshua Adams
Milton J. Bates
Elaine Fletcher Chapman
Stuart James Forrest
Lyndsey Kelly Weiner