Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: June 2020
Here’s a short selection, from our own Felicity Sheehy, of some of the best new poems hitting the web this June. These five poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from Jericho Brown in The Guardian, W. Todd Kaneko in POETRY, Prince Bush in Puerto Del Sol, Melissa Crowe in The Adroit Journal, and Carlos Andrés Gómez in The Yale Review. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.
By Jericho Brown in The Guardian
I will not shoot myself
In the head, and I will not shoot myself
In the back, and I will not hang myself
With a trashbag, and if I do,
I promise you, I will not do it
In a police car while handcuffed
“Bullet Points” is suffused with the memory of black men and women murdered by the police. As Brown has written, the poem is deeply personal, “born out of a sense of desperation that comes from a fact of [his] life.” “Bullet Points” gains its power through rhythmic repetitions – “I promise,” “I trust,” “I will not” – as well as this plainspoken frankness: “When I kill me,” Brown writes, “I will/ Do it the same way most Americans do.” At last, Brown asserts the dignity of black bodies in the face of intolerable violence: “my body, which is, / No matter what we’ve been taught, / … / more beautiful than the new bullet/ Fished from the folds of my brain.” The poem is beautiful and devastating.
Elegy for Bruce Lee
By W. Todd Kaneko in POETRY
There is no fight
where there is no spark, no wretched cock crow
in the dark, just this cha cha chá—grief is a fist
and a promise to hurt someone. Just give it
an inch between knuckle and breastbone.
It will punch through everyone.
As “a love poem for the dead,” to quote Kaneko’s line, this poem packs the punch of a roundhouse kick, unfurling in “one twos” down the page. Here, Bruce Lee collapses with the poet’s father, who is imagined as “emerging victorious/ from the hall of mirrors” or “hustling // on the dance floor,” not as a “body [which] stopped // acting like it was alive.” It’s little phrases like this — “grief is a fist/ and a promise to hurt someone” or “somewhere in the dark sky is a beautiful fight” — that make this poem so stunning, and so special.
I’m Offered to Officiate a Plantation Wedding
By Prince Bush in Puerto Del Sol
She will not be shot
For sleeping, praying, eating, writing, or reading.
Shackles, and chattel; slaves shuttlecocks between
Slaveholders, costed based on who thrives best
On cold bacon; scanty cornmeal, half a pound of salt pork
Appears solely in books for her.
This is powerful work. In couplet after couplet, Prince Bush refuses any romantic approach to plantation life, instead telling the truth about a place whose “cruelty” “depend[ed]” on one’s color”: slaves “had no milk, suffered rickets and calcium deficiency, /Faced impairments, had no repairers, prepared corn-// Ucopias for families.” Bush’s form is as striking as his content, thanks to careful repetition – note the craft of “crawl” over “her crawlspace” – and alliteration: “fragments in fraction,” “the lash that is lightning.” Puerto Del Sol includes an excellent interview with Bush, in which he discusses the freedom and “infinity of the page,” and the poem as a “channel” for powerful emotion.
Poet Loves Hunter Though She’ll Eat No Meat
By Melissa Crowe in The Adroit Journal
No way to hear the word merganser
and not think about my father
who spoke it so tenderly, by which
I mean precisely, just the way
he schooled his retriever to hold
the bird itself—in a soft mouth—to prevent
the dog’s developing a taste for flesh
As a love poem, “Poet Loves Hunter Though She’ll Eat No Meat” is sensory, sensuous, and strange. Note Crowe’s attention to the touch and taste of words: the tender mouthing of “merganser,” or the “wing of a partridge,” with its “hinge still tinged.” The poem feels wonderful in the mouth. These pleasures are enhanced by Crowe’s beautiful reading, available on The Adroit Journal website.
By Carlos Andrés Gómez in The Yale Review
Sometimes I search for the exact day
I stopped dreaming in the language
that sings my name. What it felt like
to watch something slowly drift
away without knowing if it might
ever find its way back.
“Native Tongue” is lush with lyricism. Like a dream, these lines “slowly unfurl” and “slowly drift” down the page, following Gomez’s particular music. Note the series of “assembled pairs” that underlie the poem’s structure: the native language and the current tongue, the speaker’s father and the “man with / [his] father’s name.” The result is this subtle masterpiece, which loops without ever quite “find[ing] its way back.”
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.