Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: January 2020

Here’s a short selection, from our own Felicity Sheehy, of some of the best new poems hitting the web this January. These five poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from: Sam Cheney in The Missouri Review, Safia Elhillo in Shenandoah, David Butler in The Irish Times, Natasha Rao in Narrative, and Emma Hine in Colorado Review. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.


Football Game

By Sam Cheney in The Missouri Review


I’m watching ghosts from the wet bleachers,
night sky glowing in that way darkness can glow especially
when it’s cold and that’s why I’m here,
because tonight a chill is blooming like in the fall
back home, football mattered, fall mattered, stars at night mattered,
the stands seated people and the cold
killed the leaves and forced everybody closer


The way this poem moves is beautiful. There’s such pleasure in its procession down the page, as one long sentence, which pauses, engages, and surprises. I love its reverence for the particular – “right now it’s all midnight blue— / call it that for a reason, like this camel-colored sports jacket”, Cheney writes – an attention that gently ushers in the elegiac. This is a poem that, in its own words, “[makes] everything/ reverent and unified.”


Rhapsody in Pink

By Safia Elhillo in Shenandoah


at brunch the waiter brings me a drink i did not order
frothed inside a tiny cup                 another hands me

the smallest fork             dainty & infantile beside my
boyfriend’s full cutlery


There’s such delicacy and such fire in this poem by Safia Elhillo. Note how her lower-case lines seem to seethe at their own “smallness,” and how her “dainty” couplets rebel at the poem’s close. There are turns of phrase here that will stick with me forever, from “my damsel choreography” to “my womanhood a second and eternal childhood of its own.” This is thrilling, powerful stuff.


The Empty Sound

By David Butler in The Irish Times


Along the way, the enterprising set up stalls. Things lost
are found: storm-lanterns; lobster-pots; lorgnettes;
cavernous hulks; the U-boat a squid engulfed.


This Saturday Poem in The Irish Times is a delight. Whatever its title, “The Empty Sound” is certainly not empty of sound: rather, its fourteen lines unspool a variety of sonic pleasures, from the “corrugated floor stretched out past eyesight” to the “migrant seabirds coast in ghostly shoals.”  I love the gentle retraction of form, as four-line stanzas retreat into three lines, and the “deepening unease” of its ending. The sea – such a familiar subject – seems richer and stranger under Butler’s gaze.


The Truth

By Natasha Rao in Narrative


In another world

I would go down the stairs
to where my father is sitting alone

with his wine glass and I would tell him
I’m sorry. But I am a woman

the same way my father is a man: always
a little embarrassed.


“The Truth” is a poem about love, as much as it is a poem about truth. Rao understands the power of the conditional, and her poem considers what would be true, or what could be true, “in a different world.” It amounts to a remarkable portrait of a father and a daughter. I love this graceful, lyrical, and moving work.


All the Old Answers

By Emma Hine in Colorado Review


I took the dollhouse
for my future children. They’ll move
the little figures from room to room.


I love this gentle, strange poem, which grows stranger and gentler as it moves down the page. Hine has a gift for telling, transformative description: her great-uncle is “a different man in every story”; history is “a legion of beating creatures / that seem, from a distance, like one great storm.” There’s such lyricism to Hine’s lines, which breathe and which break in all the right places. This poem is included in her debut collection, Stay Safe (forthcoming 2021), which promises to be excellent.


Felicity Sheehy

Felicity Sheehy's work appears in The New Republic, The Yale Review, Narrative, The Adroit Journal, Poet Lore, Blackbird, Shenandoah, Southern Indiana Review, The Greensboro Review, and elsewhere. She has received an Academy of American Poets Prize, a scholarship to the Kenyon Review Writers' Workshop, a Tennessee Williams Scholarship to the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and the Jane Martin Poetry Prize for U.K. residents under 30. In 2019, she was listed as one of Narrative's 30 below 30 writers.

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