Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: January 2021
Here’s a short selection, from our own Jose, of some of the best new poems hitting the web this January. These five poets, both established and emerging, deserve your attention and support—featuring work from Aria Aber in Poetry Magazine, Noor Hindi in Triquarterly, January Gill O’Neill in Kenyon Review, Ada Limón in The Cincinnati Review, and Steven Espada Dawson in Booth. Hope everyone enjoys these exceptional poems; we are truly living in a thriving poetry age.
By Aria Aber, published in Poetry Magazine.
America I don’t know what to make of my ordinary cruelty
Or my newly bourgeois pain
Venom lacing each crack of the historic apartment
Venom lacing the porcelain plates we hand out at parties
This stunning poem by Stegner fellow Aria Aber embarks upon a journey to make sense of the poet’s relationship with their new country: America. America has become (or always was) toxic to the poet’s psyche yet is all of this ordinary? “America I don’t know what to make of my ordinary cruelty/ Or my newly bourgeois pain.” Aber, reminiscent of Ginsberg’s epic poem with the same title, skillfully/artfully unravels details of her painful relationship with America as experience and expectation, ultimately finding in her schools of Art and Poetry a sort of destiny or “fate,” as many Americans before have come to also realize.
By Noor Hindi in Triquarterly
After my best friend died I became jealous of the fireflies and kept smashing them against my forehead. I wanted my loneliness to be visible to those I loved.
A striking tribute or Ode to Life or confessional prose poem by Noor Hindi. Unfolding in a stream of consciousness, the poet reveals how a friend’s death has left her pondering the fragility of life. The poet’s friend’s death causes them to remember or experience death after heavy death: a goldfish, a daily Palestinian child, an old man. The free ranging form of the prose poem allows the reader’s sentiments to pour out freely yet also confined to a box-like paragraph: one might say a coffin. Ultimately, the poet just wants to lounge in a garden with sunflowers, which may seem whimsical compared to the heaviness of the poem, but who among us hasn’t truly wanted to fall asleep in a garden, forever?
By January Gill O’Neil in Kenyon Review.
the sound of a cello’s drawn breath,
the clatter of branches like the chatter
between old, coupled voices
when no one is around.
This is a poem of subtlety and nuance. The lines are written with a deceptively simple brush and there is a quiet musicality to the poem. At one point we have: “etiolation,” “elation,” and “elongation.” The command of tone is masterful. The final lines are quite memorable and make me want to rush and buy her full-length books: “the sound of a cello’s drawn breath, // the clatter of branches like the chatter / between old, coupled voices // when no one is around.” Such skilled detail. Such a finely executed simile. So excited to have come across this poet’s work for the first time!
The Three Deaths
By Ada Limón in The Cincinnati Review.
In Mexico, he told her once, there
are three deaths. First, the one
where you learn you will die.
Then the one where you die.
And the last is the last time
someone says your name.
The poem is written entirely in slender couplets and utilizes enjambment and allusions to Mexican folklore and culture. The final couplets rhyme (near rhyme). I’m a fan of these deceptively simple lines that seem effortless, but when you look under the hood, they are actually quite intricate and profound, whether because of skillful use of enjambment, word play, or soft musicality. The brilliance of the poem is the hybridity of simplicity and intricacy combined with a heavy subject matter: death. The poem is multifaceted and can be enjoyed on various levels by numerous readers. Limón is accessible, yes, but also rigorous and polished. The poem has a nostalgic relationship to Mexican culture and highlights the fascination with death within our diverse culture.
Elegy for the Four Chambers of My Mother’s Heart
By Steven Espada Dawson in Booth.
And because I am selfish it ends with your
words and a memory of just you and me
standing above your kitchen sink, pouring
water into an ice cube tray. You tell me
to watch as the water fills up one corner,
then overflows into every empty square.
This, you say, this is how I love you.
The calm tone of the poem seems light at first and we get a sense of the mom’s sarcastic personality: “Did you know, you ask, //that Orville Redenbacher died sleeping/ in a jacuzzi? That’s how I want to go.” In the middle of the poem we hear more of the mom’s mundane struggles to keep the lights on. The ending of the poem, where the mother describes her love for her son being like pouring water onto an ice tray, is one of the more beautiful moments I’ve read in a while. Such a powerful, perfect image and symbol for a working-class mother’s sacrifice and love for her children. This is a must-read, memorable poem.
Jose Hernandez Diaz
Jose Hernandez Diaz is a 2017 NEA Poetry Fellow. He is from Southern California. He is the author of The Fire Eater (Texas Review Press, 2020). His work appears in The American Poetry Review, Boulevard, The Cincinnati Review, Georgia Review, Iowa Review, The Nation, Poetry and in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2011. Currently, he is an Associate Editor at Frontier and Guest Editor at Palette Poetry.