Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: September 2019
Here’s a short selection, from our own Bailey Cohen, of some of the best new poems hitting the web this September. These six poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from: Erin Jin Mei O’Malley in The Shade Journal, Willy Palomo in THRUSH, Gabrielle Bates in The Offing, Vanessa Angélica Villarreal in POETRY, Stephanie Chang in Kenyon Review, and Chase Burke in DIAGRAM. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.
by Erin Jin Mei O’Malley in The Shade Journal
I know you
are as real as the son
to forsake. But I have only you
I’m most attracted to the metaphor that this poem revolves around, the Biblical imagery in its beginning leading to the lines: “You are my father, / and I am as man-made / as any lake in Pennsylvania.” Upon first encountering this poem, I read this line as lighthearted, somewhat divergent, and nearly comical. Yet there is so much work that this line accomplishes. It serves as a turning point in the poem, as the imagery abruptly shifts from praiseful to literal. It also is the last moment in the poem in which a father figure is mentioned. This gives an uplifting, conclusory feeling; the narrator has managed to orient themselves in the context of the poem. Erin Jin Mei O’Malley has written some extraordinary work!
by Willy Palomo in THRUSH
Call her hillbilly mango,
Hoosier banana, another anchor baby
hailing from somewhere deep in jungle heat.
Imagine tongues hungry for everything
but your name.
In “Mariposa Song for Assemina,” poet Willy Palomo takes a microscope to the delicious and erroneously-named fruit, the pawpaw. I’m fascinated by the way that rage enters this poem, how the language shifts between sarcastic but lyrical reportage to blunt and straightforward colloquial speech: “He returned / to Europe once he tired of enslaving // centroamericanos with centuries / of indio blood drying on his beard. // Peep this: he only came back to our Americas / angry not enough white people knew // his name.” This poem discusses the way historical violence mirrors itself in the way that language changes over time, how even everyday speech deserves to be examined. This is an intense, fantastically written poem.
by Gabrielle Bates in The Offing
I saw the beer on the counter. I saw myself drink it.
There are so many haunting, chilling moments in this poem. Poet Gabrielle Bates writes viscerally, giving exactly as much detail as necessary. The poem alternates between two settings, one of domesticity and one of a violence resulting in grief. She allows us to understand this grief by only describing what happens before the tragic event, yet does not allow us, as readers, any space for assuming anything other than the literal occurrence: “The tunnel the train must pass through leaving the station / is a perfectly calibrated, unforgiving fit.” Despite using suggestiveness as an important part of the poem’s craft, there is no room for interpretation in this poem. The dog died. It is irreversible. This is a gorgeously devastating poem.
by Vanessa Angélica Villarreal in POETRY
If someone is going to make it out of this dream alive, let it be
you, unbraiding from me.
I cannot stop wondering about this poem. Vanessa Angélica Villarreal writes, “Time was never a line, but a field & you are occurring alongside the past,” a phenomenon mirrored in the form of the poem, which is half-graph, half-expanded function, half-explored-timeline, half-. In this poem, everything is happening at once. Language is dissolved and re-encountered, optimism is challenged and complicated, and lineage is reckoned with and respected. This single poem contains as much complexity as an entire collection. This is an incredible feat.
by Stephanie Chang in Kenyon Review
I am searching her eyes
for knife wounds, places where the dogs
colonized first. This is what every good
daughter should do: I practice eating
pork dumplings in the hotel suite,
stomach ginger root to keep parasites
from whitening my body.
In the morning, we remember the ocean
I am fascinated by what this poem does to time. “(It’s midnight in my head again.),” the poet Stephanie Chang writes, as if whispering, or confessing, and this is the only part of the poem that the speaker prioritizes their own narrative. The rest of the work centers around the speaker’s mother, and images of past migration intermix themselves with the everyday. The result is a haunting affect: “The train arrives, // hued blue by waves bruising her breast. / Inside: a red sanctuary. All the seats // are occupied with ghosts.” Memory, then, overlaps with the present. What a beautiful and honorable poem!
by Chase Burke in DIAGRAM
Only a few of you will move on. Honesty is worth more when it’s blunt.
I was struck most by this poem’s (flash fiction? essayette? genres are for bookstores.) closing demand: “Better yet, get a lighter.” Chase Burke offers deconstructions of the movie Jaws in innumerable partially sardonic interpretations; by the end the source film is nearly unrecognizable: “The monster is what’s inside humanity: Freudian reading. The monster is what’s disappearing from the the water: ecopoetic reading. The monster is the water, encroaching on man-made shores: anthropocentric reading.” I was also intrigued by the decision to envelop the whole block of text in quotation marks, implicating the assignment of the language contained therein to someone other than the speaker, who, logically following, has no presence in the text at all. This technique puts the speaker of the piece in the same position as the reader: we are only witnesses. This elegantly written prose is surely something to study.
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.