Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: November 2020

Here’s a short selection, from our own Felicity Sheehy, of some of the best new poems hitting the web this November. These five poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from Benjamin Gucciardi in THRUSH, Diannely Antigua in The Cortland Review, Francisco Márquez in The Common, Doug Ramspeck in The Florida Review, and Jamie McKendrick in The Times Literary Supplement. Enjoy, and be grateful, knowing so many talented poets and magazines are making our community beautiful.


A Sketch of Happiness in Winter

By Benjamin Gucciardi in THRUSH


One of those nights where the wind
unbinds the stars from their constellations
and Cassiopeia bends to collect her crown
like a mother on a train
gathering spilled mints back into her tin


This is a perfect little poem. There’s a remarkable warmth and charm to its descriptions: here, the wind “unbinds the stars,” while the speaker “ambles through the foothills.” I love its central, stunning simile: “Cassiopeia bends to collect her crown / like a mother on a train/ gathering spilled mints back into her tin.” And it is not without a touch of danger, as the speaker acknowledges that, despite his attempts to avoid the poison oak, he “probably” still “brushes” “against the red/ and jagged leaves.” This is a true sketch of happiness, as happiness is, transient and ephemeral.


Diary Entry #13: Being Sick Is a Romantic Idea

By Diannely Antigua in The Cortland Review


                                       I’d like to pretend
God called on the phone every day—
a worried Father—or perhaps
disguised as a nurse, brought her water
and pills. To say I’m not afraid of dying
is to admit I want to be stared at
like something to lose.


Like all her poetry, Diannely Antigua’s “Diary Entry #13: Being Sick Is a Romantic Idea” is supercharged with moments of intimate poetic invention. Note how perfectly Antigua describes the all-encompassing experience of being ill: her speaker recalls “the summer / of becoming the rhythm / of spasms down my cervical spine.” Or how the divine and mortal collapse in striking similes: “the unbuttoned shirt felt like a grave, / and the grave like practicing the Bible / in a basement, or like being Achilles/ in reverse.” The poem forms its own world, built up out of this lush, lyrical, layered complexity.



By Francisco Márquez in The Common


There was more a strangeness

in the dark square of water lifting
from a mallard having submerged,

like the sun into water, than there was
to that wooden place.


It’s easy to see why this poem won the 2020 Disquiet Prize. “Provincetown” is majestic and ambitious, focused on its subject with Hopper-like intensity. Here, “a blue wooden shack” “fixed at sunset” acquires its own gravity, image after beautiful image, as Marquez “think[s] of it// in exile, in its solitude of water,” “turn[ing] significant /against what could destroy it.” At last, this poem is not written so much as “conjur[ed],” polished and solitary and strange.


He Be Me

By Jamie McKendrick in The Times Literary Supplement


A vaguely startled look patrolled his eyes

as if his confidence was just a bluff.
I could have told him that what lay ahead

would test a sturdier nerve than his
but why waste words – he’d find out soon enough.


This poem is an acid little missive. McKendrick’s speaker imagines meeting his younger self at a bar, “waft[ing] in” late “with an insouciant air and the feeblest excuse.” The pair are paired in neat couplets, too alike to like one another: the speaker buys his younger self a drink “as it was clear he had no money, no job, no staying power / — none of which” he has himself. And the poem’s final rhyme “he be me” – the same as its title – contributes to this sense of fatal inevitability. This is dark, funny work.


Long Marriage (Parable of the Skull)

By Doug Ramspeck in The Florida Review


Over years we lifted it sometimes
from its cardboard box, studying

the fifty teeth and gazing into the open
eye sockets, this possum skull we found

in our sixth year, half-buried in the dirt
behind the rental house.


This slim, smart poem doubles as a parable. Here, a possum’s skull offers a portrait of a marriage: unexamined, half-buried in the dirt, but carried everywhere. Note Ramspeck’s careful, even tone, and the beautiful form of his sentences, which only “now and again” slip into dreaminess. And yet the poem ends with a striking resurrection: the possum’s “moon face” and “moon tail,” “formed once more,” “waddl[ing] again along the river.” Read this little delight.


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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