Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: January 2023
I always crave poems that surprise me. But entering into a new year and in the midst of some life transitions, I’ve found this to be extra true. I want to spend time with poems that shock me out of tunnel vision and efficiency-mindset–that, as the speaker in Arah Ko’s poem says–“shock me alive.” These poems all do that in very different ways, ranging in topic and tone from meditative to revelatory to resolute to lamentful to inquisitive to light.
My hope is that this is something you, dear writers and lovers of poetry, also are seeking this January. Here are five poets who have startled me into newness this winter, and who are writing and publishing other exciting work I hope you’ll explore after reading this. Please join me in celebrating poems by Abbie Kiefer in Tinderbox, Arah Ko in New Ohio Review, Marissa Davis in Quarterly West, emet ezell in Muzzle, and Shannon Pulusan in Underblong.
by Abbie Kiefer in Tinderbox Poetry Journal
Let’s praise minor
inconveniences. The onions quick-
slipped from your sandwich, set
down on your sweetheart’s waiting
plate. In the kitchen they made the line cook
I love a poem that catalogues in some way, and as this poem accumulates, so does my sense of wonder. Abbie Kiefer writes a praise song for the things we consider “minor,” which, in this poem, become shining and central, jumping from association to association in a widely-ranging list which eventually locates itself in a particular place and moment. I am drawn to a poem that shifts my gaze, and this poem does just that–the reader is invited to consider what it would look like to praise even “minor inconveniences.” I’ll be keeping this one with me through the new year.
by Arah Ko in New Ohio Review
I eat it to feel alive, a man confessed to me,
teeth crunching through a golden reaper so hot,
my eyes watered to be near. When did he feel alive?
Lazarus, I mean, after he died and then came back
In a startling juxtaposition of topics, Arah Ko’s “Lazarus” reminds me that the poem can take me anywhere at any time: from a father’s encounter with a ghost pepper to the Biblical account of resurrection. Offered with a balance of narrative anecdote from the speaker and gorgeous flashes of image, the questions at the heart of this poem continue to multiply, lingering like the burn of spice.
By Marissa Davis in Quarterly West
None of us knew, no one knew
then, we had been born
too near the end of days.
All that ageless sky gone smart
as a crow, incandescent
with long memory:
Apocalyptic in tone and moving with a whirlwind of sound, Marissa Davis’s “Twister Tri-State” is not about a destructive future that awaits so much as it is about the pasts and present that have been and continue to go forgotten. These live-wire, quick couplets carry the reader like a violent wind as a natural power is brought into conversation with the gale force of systemic, human power, and the ways it barrels forward, visible on the horizon.
By emet ezell in Muzzle Magazine
the shape of god on the brink of spring. black rooster curdles the morning hum.
between mockingbird and red finch, a memory of brothers.
i haven’t spoken to them in eight years. how to explain it, other than this–
we inhabit different questions.
emet ezell’s “Exercise in Remembering Home” begins in motion, entering into the questions of distance and diaspora at its heart with an image of windblown handkerchiefs. What’s really moving to me is that the poem also maintains a core of stillness–the measured and practiced voice of a speaker who is slouching, waiting, “learning to migrate and never to hustle.” This poem, though it contains desires that tug, also feels at home with itself, and I trust this speaker to ground me right here, right now.
by Shannon Pulusan in Underblong
bb home text? have you eaten?
it’s raining over here i’m glad
we picked gingko leaves yesterday
i’m glad you’re my person bb—
I am always on the search for poems with whimsy to them, and this one has whimsy in bounty. This poem by Shannon Pulusan is a feast of wordplay, delighting in alliteration and accumulating into tenderness. A patchwork yet full sense of speaker emerges just from the overflowing associations with the letter b, and the turn to care and gratitude at the end culminates finally in a line that can be read both as a question and an affirmation.
I so enjoyed putting together these poems for you, and I’ll write again next month with some more. I’m wishing you a healthy start to 2023.