Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: October 2020

Here’s a short selection, from our own Felicity Sheehy, of some of the best new poems hitting the web this October. These five poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from Jodie Hollander in The Hopkins Review, Peter Markus in Kenyon Review, Maya Phillips in The Baffler, Suzannah V. Evans in The London Magazine, and Craig van Rooyen in The Cincinnati Review. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.


The Sock-Off

By Jodie Hollander in The Hopkins Review


All this went on until one Saturday evening
the phone rang, and the angry voice of some wife
started screaming and crying at Father into the phone.
At first Father stood there dumbfounded,
and then he began scratching his psoriasis
that you could see creeping up from his shorter sock.


I’ve long been fascinated by Jodie Hollander’s poems. There’s an undeniable power that builds within each of her smooth, supple narratives. In “The Sock-Off,” a poem in the current Hopkins Review, a childhood game leads, slowly and disturbingly, to the discovery of an affair. Hollander’s final line is electric in its intensity: after lines of calm description, the betrayed wife suddenly snaps “keep that damn loose wife of yours at home.” All of which is to say: there are few more subtle chroniclers of family dysfunction than Jodie Hollander.


What I Know is Not My Father

By Peter Markus in Kenyon Review


                                       So much of what
remains with us is just the husk or skin
of what once was. The urn in my pocket
is mostly just something small for me to hold.
I know it’s not my father even though
it is his bones ground down to a fine white ash.


This poem gave me goosebumps. “What I Know is Not My Father” marries subtle lyricism with firm narrative command. Note the beauty of Markus’s descriptions — the catfish “sucking at summer’s cruel air” or “flar[ing] its boned fins” — which build to his final, bracing image: the fish still “refusing to die,” “its black eyes opened wide, staring up from the ground / at a sky that was suddenly radiant with light.” I’ve focused here on “What I Know Is Not My Father,” but “What My Father Did Not Have to Say” (also published in this edition of The Kenyon Review) is equally gorgeous, at once elegant and sad.


Theory of the Disappeared Man

By Maya Phillips in The Baffler


Why can’t we all just stay in our homes,
lock the doors, grow old with clasped
hands in safe quarters?


There are a fair number of poems published today about the pandemic, but few of them seem as successful as “Theory of the Disappeared Man.” There’s something bracing and unsentimental about it, as Phillips describes a world “grown accustomed to loss,” with her speaker “saunter[ing] through empty rooms, / arms spread, saying ‘Just look // at all this space.'” And yet the work is still profoundly moving. At last, Phillips imagines “the unseen space where [she] can’t follow” her lost beloved, but where she “could/ love him, have loved him before, all my life.” Read this delight of a poem.


Almost Heartwood

By Suzannah V. Evans in The London Magazine


The rosy almost-heartwood of larch,
which sounds like lark, which sounds like singing,
which sounds like the wood could open its rosy throat
and pour forth the song of boats sighing in the harbour,
swimming onto slipways, knocking against pontoons


“Almost-Heartwood” is a beautiful poem. It works via a series of onomatopoeic associations, as “larch” cues the word “lark,” which itself “sounds like singing.” And this attention to sound pays off: note the pleasure of phrases like “grainy planks of teak” or “cleats and chines and carvels.” Rather like “Respair,” my next selection, “Almost Heartwood” makes a form out of its own facility with language. This is whimsical and wonderful writing.



By Craig van Rooney in The Cincinnati Review


Who says there’s no use anymore for woolfell,
the skin of a sheep still attached to the fleece?

And when did we stop calling tomatoes love apples?
I need somewhere in the world for there still to be

a fishwife who understands the economy of flesh
grown taut under shimmer-skin laid out in open air.


This poem in The Cincinnati Review is delightful. There’s the simple dictionary pleasure of all these wonderful words, recovered and redefined on the page — “Piepowder, drysalter, slugabed” — but Rooney is also interested in other kinds of loss. Another “victim of […] inattention” is the speaker’s grandfather, whose own decline was itself first marked by the loss of a word: his “mother’s name.” In its careful attention to language, the poem at last makes its own contribution to “respair,” or, Rooney defines it, “the return of hope after a long period of desolation.”


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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