Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: May 2019

Here’s a short selection of some of the best new poems hitting the web this April. These five poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from: Kayleb Rae Candrilli in The Normal School, Samantha Frank in Cotton Xenomorph, Emilie Yardley-Hodges in Small Orange, Larry Eby in THRUSH, Julia Shipley in AGNI, and Trace DePass in Wildness. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.


Transgender Heroic: All This Ridiculous Flesh

by Kayleb Rae Candrilli in The Normal School


            I have worked so hard

to feel sustained by smallness.


Read! This! Poem! Utilizing the form of the sonnet crown, poet Kayleb Rae Candrilli has crafted a brief epic, beginning with rebirth imagery following the narrator’s top surgery. The narrator then grapples with their place in the world that seems to be changing as much as they are: “I spend so much time / worrying for the Earth and its hurricane / complexion, all its cyclone acne, / that I rarely consider my own skin / and all it holds.” The poet is determined to maintain a constant orientation towards joy in a world that sometimes is determined to wage war against their body. What the poem asks of us cannot be too much: “Love is the hottest summer. Let it in.”


Knife Skills

by Samantha Frank in Cotton Xenomorph


It’s not his handiwork he marvels at but the julienne itself

and I know this is not a man with a broken heart.


Conflating seemingly unrelated topics has always captured my interest. Although this juxtaposition is usually done in the form of creative nonfiction, poet Samantha Frank performs the collision of ideas exceptionally well in her poem, “Knife Skills,” discussing culinary practices in terms of heartbreak, heartbreak in terms of learning, and learning, back again, in terms of culinary practices. How these topics are interwoven creates startling moments of blunt honesty—”Notice how the blade obeys his hand, the grip loose but comfortable / the cold steel whispering in the service of order. // I can’t figure out how to say that my ex-husband is getting married”—each of which are so surprising that they serve to orient and disorient the reader of the poem all at once.


A Deliberate Spring

by Emilie Yardley-Hodges in Small Orange


                        …silver and sparked like a god

filling me with what I had begged for again


and again in my endless hour,

the salt of its neck stinging my tongue.


Forgive me my illusions—I have been

in my bones too long.


In the usual tropes of spring, we expect newnesses, rebirth, things to be awed by budding and growing; instead, the poet Emilie Yardley-Hodges presents flowers withering, birds plummeting from the sky, death in the still reflections of water, or glass. The language in “A Deliberate Spring” also captures this tension, as the violence of the poem is clouded by its lyric diction. Recovery, the poem reminds us, proceeds slowly. Little victories must be recognized and rewarded: “To the doubtful, // know that I have tried¾count the scissors in their drawers, / note how undulled they are by blood.” I’m in awe of this poem’s dedication to the symbolism of its imagery, how each fleeting figure is placed at a considerable distance from its potential beauty.



by Larry Eby in THRUSH


                                       Do I

spark a flame with bedeviled

trees, heaps of dried

leaves, a discharged winter

solstice with a leather glove

soaked in water?


Although this poem would be fascinating even without the paratext of the poet Larry Eby’s Artist Statement, its import nonetheless lends context to an array of possible interpretations. Eby writes: “On one hand, art without humanity is difficult to connect with. On the other, is artificial intelligence anything more than a construct of the human mind? The work here is a collaboration between the two in attempt to answer that question. I’ve created a program that has read about 10,000 poems…The initial text, like all texts, is an aggregation of the texts before it.” This prompts innumerable dilemmas to think through—the one I am most preoccupied with is the question of the poetic “I.” The poem declares, “I’m / a mirror deep in battle / with interpretation,” raising the issue of the identity of the speaker. Who is undergoing this battle? The poet or the machine? Is it both? Does it matter? The technique employed by Eby poses new layers to the crafting of the unreliable narrator, and I am excited to see how this, and similar techniques, can be pushed.


My Grandfather, the Reincarnated Sword Swallower, Explains:

by Julia Shipley in AGNI


I started gargling a child’s paintbrush.


Progressed to a spoon. Then, a coat hanger, re-bent

into something like a sword.


Poet Julia Shipley balances between the lands of persona and elegy in her work in the most recent issue of AGNI. There is a certain fondness in the recollection of the grandfather figure, enabling the voice of the poem to utilize humor in a typically grandfatheresque way; after ‘the reincarnated sword swallower’ recounts his death, he then asks, “So what became of those things for me under the tree, bearing such tags as, / “Dear David, I thought you’d love a cutlass.” / I still brandish my wit, albeit differently.” This tone grounds the poem and, through one-sided conversational snippets, causes the phenomenon contained therein to feel real despite their erring towards the realm of the extraordinary. This is a perfect balance for describing the nearly fantastical trick of sword swallowing—something that shouldn’t be real, but is, we can see it right before our eyes.


Self-Portrait as The Space Between Us

by Trace DePass in Wildness


objectiveness objects,                    ‘his’ [ name —                     each Black congregate;

                                                        of noun known such        there was

a subject                                         in ‘his’ education,             history, wherein

‘he’ was so                                       much of the subject,        his body was considered

biased, relative                               if not subjective,              and could not be

but, beforehand,                            a literal object;                       so much so

              they skinned & scorched his whole name & ‘he’]


The title poem of his debut poetry collection, out now from [PANK] Books, “Self-Portrait as The Space Between Us” is a remarkable poem, one that explodes into a triptych and negotiates with the interior and exterior of the Black body. Trace DePass invokes Zora Neale Hurston (“I feel most colored when I am thrown against a sharp white background”) and seeks to understand what he holds in these moments: “a / dark brush against my / canvas, cracking it open, ’til i was / devoid of some uniquenesses // but not of my Black.” A gorgeous catalog of reckoning, “Self-Portrait” advances on answers to the difficult question: what does it mean to not only gaze but also to be gazed upon?


Bailey Cohen

Bailey Cohen is an Ecuadorian-American poet studying at NYU. A finalist for the 2018 Boulevard Contest for Emerging Poets, the runner-up for the 2018 RR Laux / Millar Poetry Prize, and a Best of the Net nominee, he serves as the editor of Alegrarse: A Journal of Close-Readings and as a contributing writer for Frontier Poetry. Bailey's work has been published or is forthcoming in Boulevard, Raleigh Review, The Penn Review, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, The Shallow Ends, Boiler Journal and more. He loves everyone Latinx.

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