Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: March 2020

Here’s a short selection, from our own Felicity Sheehy, of some of the best new poems hitting the web this March. These five poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from: Ross Gay in Poetry Daily, Jacqueline Balderrama in Blackbird, Leila Chatti in The Missouri Review, Patrick Slevin in Poetry Ireland, and Jeffrey McDaniel in The New Yorker. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.


ode to drinking water from my hands

By Ross Gay in Poetry Daily


bringing forth
from what sounded like the gravelly throat
of an animal
a frigid torrent
and with his hands made a lagoon
from which he drank
and then I drank


This poem pours down the page in one long, gushing stanza. Gay seems interested in the forward rush of memory, the sudden “bringing forth” something once forgotten. There’s a touch of Pablo Neruda here, and his odes to onions or socks or tuna, but Gay keeps his poem tender and personal, praising his grandfather, “mostly the freshest graves,” and other things “unfinished and patient.” As an “ode to drinking water,” the poem is itself refreshing: quick, clean, and beautiful.


Canción de Cuna

By Jacqueline Balderrama in Blackbird


And there, the chicks in the cold are saying, pío, pío, pío.
There, the branches of wild plums let fall
their little fruits for crickets and a hungry mouse.
And there, somewhere your mother is singing to you


I love this hushed and tender poem. Balderrama writes a lullaby for children affected by the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy, which blends English and Spanish, and which is structured around ringing, resonant repetitions. Note how “And there” opens succeeding lines, while “there” and “their” fold into a chiasmus. Its final lines become a small prayer: “may we all grow a little more by daylight/ as does the olive, as does the orchard.” In troubling times, this poem is a blessing.



By Leila Chatti in The Missouri Review


My feet are cold and the radio plays its little sounds.
I do the small thing I know how to do
to care for myself. I am trying to notice joy,
which means survive. I do this all day, and then the next.


I’ve loved Leila Chatti’s work for a long time, and this poem does not disappoint. Like other poems I’ve selected for this month, “Tea” is interested in “care” and “prayer,” a rhyme that anchors the poem: “I think to care for the self,” Chatti writes, “is a kind of prayer.” Images rhyme here as well – the poet’s “little sounds” at the beginning with the radio’s “little sounds” at the end – and there are lines of thrilling ambiguity: “I wouldn’t kill anyone for love,/ not even myself – most days/ I can barely get out of bed.” These pleasures are enhanced by Chatti’s own commentary, available online.


Night Boat

By Patrick Slevin in Poetry Ireland


Dawn pushes in, pale with Dublin.
Laughter drifts through the swing doors.


This is an eerie little poem. In four quatrains, “Night Boat” captures the disembodied atmosphere of a night boat, when “the exchange” has been “closed,” “the seats” are oddly familiar, and an unnamed “someone” has been “at the volume.” There’s a dreamlike confusion throughout, as the poet’s attention drifts from “the children no one’s watching” to the couple who repeatedly “pick up the same toy,” only to circle the closed shop again. At last, Slevin seems to delight in human foibles: the final laughter “drifts through the swing doors” and out of his poem.


Wooden Bench

By Jeffrey McDaniel in The New Yorker


Death is confusing. Is my father the bones
that sit inside a box on a hillside

in Odessa, Delaware? Or is he on the other side
of that keyhole in my mind that I talk into sometimes?


“Wooden Bench” is a carefully constructed poem interested, it seems, in construction. In neat couplets, which mime a bench or a coffin, McDaniel wonders exactly what else can be made up “the way twelve step programs tell you // you can make up God.” The poem maps a mind at work, moving from moments of frank admission – “Death is confusing” – to gentle lyricism: “God can be a ribbon / on the door. A nail in the wall // A nail in the coffin.” This is moving, resonant work.


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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