Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Daniel Johnson, "Do Unto Others"

Daniel Johnson's "Do Unto Others," presents a child's response to "getting tripped up on the mixed messages that one encounters as a child in church--those of the Old Testament and those of the New, some urging compassion, some revenge." Using a bible passage from the pastor's sermon (How many rocks would you stack on your brother's chest?), the young narrator answers the query with brutal honesty. Aside from the usual aggravations of a sibling, the narrator takes issue with that which makes his brother so different, perhaps mirroring (homophobic) fears about himself.

"How many rocks would I stack/ on my brother's chest? A rock/for his beauty, a rock for his trust,/and two for lips redder/than a boy's should be./...For singing on car trips,/...and flouncing/down Oak Street in my mother's dress"

"Do Unto Others"
The Best American Poetry 2007

Guest Editor Heather McHugh

Guest Editor of The Best American Poetry 2007, Heather McHugh, arranged the collection with cleverness and flow, one poem ends with an un-facing while the next begins with a beheading and so on. One hilarious example is the pairing of "Crimble of Staines" followed by "Scumble."

Jeannette Allee's "Crimble of Staines" reads at first glance as a biting indictment against England. "Jolly 'ol brims with againstness/ 'anti-clockwise,' 'ante-natal' if you will/the 'crumbling masonry' of/your 'anti-relationship structure' you once called it before/you went away." The question that arises is what does language usage say about a culture. At heart the deeper question from a romantic wronged in love is how does one ever comprehend a lack of ethics. The title, "Crimble of Staines," does not refer to the car business of the same name but by the poem's end represents the crumpled values and wrinkled condom left on the narrator's bed. This dovetails perfectly with Rae Armantrout's "Scumble," of which the author writes: "part of the rather strange pleasure of poetry is calling one thing by another's name" and she wonders what is the "psychology of this phenomenon? What is the kick in the substitution? Is it covertly erotic?" "What if I were turned on by seemingly innocent words such as 'scumble,' 'pinky' or/ extrapolate'?/...What if 'of' where such a hot button?/'Scumble of bushes."

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Lihn Dihn, "Continuous Bullets over Flattened Earth"

Linh Dinh's "Continuous Bullets over Flattened Earth," astutely describes the divisions of war as a subtraction. "I went as one and came back as two./I went as one and came back as zero." His second poem, "A Super-Clean Country," is riotous and insightful, closing with a Bukowskian rant but I found his Contributor's Note greatly detracted from the merits of his writing.

"Continuous Bullets over Flattened Earth"
The Best American Poetry 2007

Stephen Dunn, "Where He Found Himself"

Stephen Dunn continues his tradition of "holding the quotidian and the transcendent simultaneously in view" with humor and tenderness in, "Where He Found Himself." "The new man unfolded a map and pointed to a dark spot on it. 'See, that's how/far away I feel all the time, right here/among all of you.' he said. / 'Yes,' John the gentle mule replied,/'alienation is clearly your happiness."

"Where He Found Himself"
The Best American Poetry 2007

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Galway Kinnell's "Hide-and-Seek, 1933"

Galway Kinnell's "Hide-and-Seek, 1933," reads as stark and beautiful as haiku. It concerns a young boy whose playmates have given up on the game before it's finished and have returned home. "I remained hidden as a matter/of honor until the moon rose." It's unclear if the boy is honoring the moon or the gentleman's rules of the game but lyrically it works both ways. He is the shaman whose good manners bring about the moonrise. He is perhaps the last of his generation to combine respect for nature with love of morals. He is witness.

"Hide-and-Seek, 1933,"
The Best American Poetry 2007

Mary Jo Bang, "The Opening"

Mary Jo Bang masterfully draws an eerie calm in, "The Opening." The author said, "I wanted to suggest a small door one might open to look in and glimpse a shallow stage where a play continued ad infinitum." This hushed diorama of dysfunction reveals that all that is tucked in by the hum of the old time radio is not well. Girls thumb through books where the faces that have been cut out of the illustrations are their very own cartoon visages, and as for the bird in the cage, "He's nature, but he also seems nervous./Sing us a song, Pet, and he does. He sings of arson." The message is that art and the comforts of home may never protect us from our own neuroses and those that we create around us.

"The Opening"
The Best American Poetry 2007