Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: July 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 Kate Gaskin in Waxwing, Matthew Gellman in Colorado Review, Benjamin Garcia in The Missouri Review, Heather Treseler in The Missouri Review, and James Davis May in Quarterly West. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.


Domestic Taxonomy

By Kate Gaskin in Waxwing


I didn’t tell him, then, what’s lost often stays

lost, though it was past time to fess up
about moths and their summer dives

into streetlights, or the cat that carried the bird
from the box in a grip that was also love.


Gaskin’s “Domestic Taxonomy” is a veritable menagerie of wonderful writing about animals. Note her description of a whale calf as an “exact/ miniature looped to his mother’s side,” or her attention to the “blue button jellies the color of sea” or a “dog shriveled […] / to a bag of wet leather.” In the loving “grip” of Gaskin’s verse, even these omens of death and despair become something beautiful. This is lush, lyrical work.


My Family Asks Me to Speak

By Matthew Gellman in Colorado Review


I am thinking tonight I would like to go out
to the forest and try to join them. I am thinking
most of my life I have wanted to give up to the snow.


“My Family Asks Me to Speak” is a carefully woven tapestry. Note how the fishbones on the poet’s fork anticipate the “hardened antlers and torsos” of forest animals — those “geometries of winter,” to adopt Gellman’s lovely phrase — or how the “tapestry” of his sexuality echoes the “print” on the his plate. The fabric of this poem is rich and strange, shot through with a kind of tender steel.


Keeping Home

By Benjamin Garcia in The Missouri Review


But we are growing old, and we are growing
together, like the wild vine along our fence
that, nameless, appeared to have been planted
overnight, when in truth it fed on our neglect,
crept, link by link, until it was the only thing,
link by link, holding the fence together


“Keeping Home” is tender, chatty, and intimate. I love its quotations, its asides, and its witticisms: take “You have a large/ heart. It sounds sweet unless it’s/ a doctor who says it.” Garcia achieves a kind of vulnerability that seems rare and touching, even in a love poem. According to Garcia, “Keeping Home” was one of the last poems written for his debut collection, Thrown in the Throat, which promises to be excellent.


The Lucie Odes

By Heather Treseler in The Missouri Review


Twenty-seven bucks got you as far as St. Louis,
once the gambol of young Thomas Stearns Eliot,
an indoor creature, his double hernia delicately

trussed as he daydreamed his mahogany future
staring into the glass of Prufrock’s Furniture,
plotting revenge against the failure of his flesh.


This stunning poem won The Missouri Review‘s Jeffrey E. Smith Prize in 2019. Treseler shows a remarkable attention to language: note “the tumid August heat,” or “the carmine soil,” even “his double hernia delicately/ trussed.” And the poem is suffused with love. As Treseler explains in her Author’s Note, she wrote in honor of a dead beloved, Lucie Beaudet: “while there is no way to sing a beloved back into being, to summon presence from absence or transcendence from nonbelief, the poem was a way to continue a conversation that spanned a decade.”  With its unflinching honesty — and its terrible beauty — this is the elegy I’ve waited years to read.


Fish Rain

By James Davis May in Quarterly West


Before, life was so much hunger
and short-lived satisfaction,

but mostly buoyancy
without knowing that word
or any word. Yes, they’re dumb,

but surely they know or sense
something is ending,
one eye focused on the ground

the other on the lost sky—


“Fish Rain” is an exercise in empathy. May considers a strange natural phenomenon — a fish rain, the kind of event that would normally prompt “human sounds of wonder” — and takes the perspective of a fish. I love the poem’s conversational tone, its strong imagery, and its sudden moments of transcendence: “What must it be like,” May wonders, “to die after that ascension?” Sensitive and subtle, the poem exemplifies much of what makes May’s body of work so 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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