Sunday, February 3, 2008

Review: Poetry February 2008

I recently finished the last issue of my subscription to Poetry, the February 2008 issue. And what an issue. It features poems by Louise Gluck, Samuel Beckett (trans. Philip Nikolayev), Heidy Steidlmayer, Lynn Emanuel, Jorie Graham, Jeffery Schultz, Lisa Williams, Larissa Szporluk, and Molly McQuade. Also included is a portfolio of poems by George Szirtes based on photographs and commentary by Peter Campion, Alexei Tsvetkov, and D.H. Tracy. The issue is packed with great poetry and great commentary on poetry.

Easily my favorite poem of the issue was Jorie Graham's poem, "Full Fathom," and I commend the editors for their creative use of pagework to fit the poem into the issue (the poem is aligned sideways, moving from the bottom to the top instead of from the left to the right, and is placed on a fold-out page). The images are striking and exciting and the momentum of the lines is incredible.

Jeffery Schultz' "J. Learns the Difference Between Poverty and Having No Money" is equally as impressive, with powerful lines and momentum. But this, for me, was the most emotionally powerful poem of the issue.

I also recommend George Szirtes' portfolio. Though I think Poetry emphasizes formal poetry too much, these rhymes and rhythms never felt forced to me. The images that accompany the poems (or do the poems accompany the images?) are incredible and "Ross: Yellow Star" is an absolutely incredible poem.

But the highlight of the issue for me was Peter Campion's essay, "Sincerity and Its Discontents in American Poetry Now." It is a smart essay about the battle between "truth" and "art", between emotion and beauty, between ... well, between the basic questions of art: should we be "true" (whatever that means), can art be emotionally charged or must it me cold, ironic and distant, and must poetry, in its role as the conscience of the nation, be cynical and caustic or can it be inspirational and (dare I say it) sentimental? I'm not sure Campion ever answers his questions (not sure anyone could) but his commentary does give us the best poem in the entire issue: Maurice Manning's "Where Sadness Comes From."

It's Poetry, so do I need to say that it is good? No, all I need to say is I will certainly miss my monthly fix of good poems and good poetry commentary.

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