Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: May / June 2022
Good morning, good afternoon, good evening wherever you are in the world when this finds you. This is I.S. Jones, Frontier’s Editor-in-Chief and I’m back. I hope you will pardon my being gone for all of May (Covid got me at last, but I am feeling much better & grateful all things considered). During May, I graduated & finally received my Masters (*throws confetti*). And I enjoyed being a person in the world. This time post-graduation has given me a lot of space to reassess poetry’s place in my life. While there will always be more good poems in the world than hours in the day, I want to share with all ten poets and poems that have moved me deeply.
Featuring the works of Sophia Al-Banaa in Cobra Milk, Ernest Ogunyemi in Peppercoast Lit, Jessica Nirvana Ram in The Hellebore, Matt Mitchell in Passages North, Frontier’s very own Saba Keramati in Passages North, Gisselle Yepes in W the Trees, Aurielle Marie in Split Lip Magazine, Dare Williams in HAD,, and Makshya Tolbert in The Night Heron Barks. I hope all enjoy and thanks for reading & supporting living poets!
by Sophia Al-Banaa in Cobra Milk (flip to page 77!)
they line lips in glass mirrors,
teeth sharpened by knives in sisters’ backs,
falling from mouths like croissant crumbs
on black turtlenecks.
each doorframe remembers cracking
words smirked with blood red–
pomegranates a prophet preached
would bring blessings.
A poem strung together by a constellation of disjointed memories, Al-Banaa moves her readers through the unspoken rules and rituals of girlhood–the adornment of beauty and who has access to it. The speaker of this poem pieces together the expectations and pitfalls. Smiles become sharpened knives, red lips becomes words anointed in blood. Al-Banaa is able to balance the delicate lace of language one associates with girlhood against a hidden violence.
by Ernest Ogunyemi in Peppercoast Lit
But for you, frothing, wanting body
Language appears a mute door, pure
Absent salt. The rhythm inside me
I cannot name; nude animal air.
I name the roses by their dusk, and
The lantern by its lost, the bitter melon
By its promise. My eyes a cold coin.
“I have a hymn, a hymn has me” ends the opening stanza, a poem is that part dirge and part ode, the speaker negotiates the fraught relationship with their body and the way they see themselves. So much of this poem situates itself in what is unnameable and what resists the confides of language, rather this poem leans fully into the heart. And the language in Ògúnyemí’s poem is so rich and decadent that one never knows what is coming next.
By Jessica Nirvana Ram in The Hellebore
I wonder sometimes if her insistence on my
taking time pushed me towards impatience. Even
if I knew she was right. Because of course, mothers
are almost always right. But I was restless, never
learning how to hold onto things, how to let them
grow. Even now, I kill nearly all the plants I touch.
A magical gestures of a good poem is the gesture to give its readers a window gazing into a deeply intimate moment. One of the most emotionally charged scenes in a domestic setting is the kitchen–cooking, dancing, lineage, recipes as a vessel for tradition–all exists and encompasses the delicate moment of recounting memories.
By Matt Mitchell in Passages North
“garland of smokestacks bellowing above
rubber cities in rubber states in rubber countries outside hospital
windows. from: insulin syringes caught in subcutaneous fat.”
In the form of a dictionary entry, Mitchell reimagines the word “rust” through a language ecosystem that guides us from one image to the next. In this poet’s hand, rust becomes redness from a scar, a coast of corpses, a garland of smoke stacks, flakes of Ohio. Each line serves as a beginning without the poem feeling like it’s starting again.
By Saba Kerameti in Passages North
“Listen: once, I was afraid to jump
but my mother did not know.
Our hands clasped; my knees buckled
while my arm went with hers. My elbow
popped out of its house, still creaks
like a rusty door hinge when I try to use it.”
So much of what makes this poem so vibrant and brilliant is its ability to make earnest space for joy and hope against the backdrop of a kind of violence that forever reshaped America and embolden xenophobic in the American imagination. Each clause that has a colon in it holds the same power as a threshold: who one is before and after they walk into the other side, and this becomes evident from the poem’s opening line: “Remember: we have done this / before.” I feel more possible in the world with Kerameti’s words.
By Gisselle Yepes in W The Trees
“you a body part I miss
I’ve never felt / you thorn my thigh / there is something dying t/here
at our altar where t/here / are many offerings today / I kneel
at our grave with flowers t/here are petals / already dying.”
Here, language exists as a body within a body. The double-jointness of “t/here” feels reflective of the trans body, how by virtue of being, resists inflexible boundaries. Slashes throughout the poem guide its readers while bending the possibility of language itself. And its evident in the parallels Yepes makes between a penis and a garden of flowers. It’s a love poem to the self, to the body’s possibilities, as well as a story about ache and longing. Clearly influenced by the work of Akwaeke Emezi, the poem reminds us the body owns multiple layers both in flesh and spirit. A gorgeous and impressive poem.
By Aurielle Marie in Split Lip Magazine
“all this to say, I been
tryna find a way to tell my father his life wasn’t no
gospel, but saved me just the same. I mouth Langston’s last song into a crystal
vase, weep silently into my hands”
I sure love a poem that punches me in the jaw from the first line: “an unresolved sestina is a father”. The physical body of the poem swerves and careens, much like the events of the poem itself. I love a poem that is able to confront the fraught nature of gxrlhood–negotiating the body’s natural transformation against the clawing eyes of married men, a violent father figure and how that complicated relationship affects what the speaker holds close in lieu of the father’s death. Despite such strained emotions, at the center of this poem is love.
By Dare Williams in HAD
“Let’s face it, I am a shadow.
A golden halo-ed penumbra
a beard in the midday sun like
sweetgrass between your lips.”
I believe some of the very best poems are the ones in which the speaker can both implicit themselves and still navigate the work with a complex understanding of compassion. Part love poem and part elegy, the speaker recalls a coveted love affair, its sweetness, and the speaker’s refusal to be docile. The wife throughout the poem serves as a faceless and nameless foil, of sorts, to the speaker. If she is the “branch in a raging river” then the speaker is both the raging river and the “field in the hell”. What becomes clear during the work’s progression is the lover knew what exactly what they were doing, knew eventually they would return to their life, and that lover felt behind was a tempest “leaving no sign of life”.
By Makshya Tolbert in The Night Heron Barks
“Tonight i think about all the nights
i’ve had a person i love pressed
beneath me: tender / giving planets
where we have managed to fit into
each other: half-wooden parts, memories
of home, fragile exoskeletons made
Though the poem doesn’t explicitly state this, it feels like a summer night. The kind where it’s too hot to sleep and you’re awake alone with yourself in every direction. Here, the body and mind are wild with want. Yet, the poem doesn’t flinch away from its most difficult concerns. At the intersection of love and race, the speaker acknowledges the tenderness of affection reciprocated.
That’s all for now! Goodness, I feel so fed. I hope that you discovered a new poet or poem to love on. I’ll write to you next month.
Yours In Letters,