Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: March 2023
March, and spring in the midwest is more of an idea than a reality until months down the line. With weather that swerves between snow and almost-t shirt-wearing levels of warmth within the span of a week, it has a hectic feeling to it. Something energized, yet unpredictable. I suppose this may also be related to being on an academic calendar, but it’s very consistent. I’ve decided to just lean into it, and I’ve been meditating on movement, broadly (in seasons, within communities, and so on), but more specifically for our purposes here, in writing.
Two friends recently told me how they associated the word volta (that fun Italian term meaning a turn of thought, historically in the sonnet) and the image of a lightning bolt, that jagged, zigzagging movement of electricity. It feels so apt, so accurately conveying the charge of the turns in a poem, the moment when something changes direction, when something emerges or is hidden where once it was the opposite.
These poems stand out to me for their turns, in particular. I hope to get you hooked on a writer whose work creates that lightning bolt in your brain. Please join me in celebrating poems by DeeSoul Carson in Narrative Magazine, Amanda Maret Scharf and Hannah Smith in Dialogist, April Lim in Honey Literary, Destiny Hemphill in Poem-a-Day, and Steven Espada Dawson in Passages North.
by DeeSoul Carson in Narrative Magazine
In a reality void of heat, the dark
is the light, & we are full of it.
This is a poem that brims with speculative imagination grounded in the context of a very real present, glimpses of which are offered through negation. What many, many realities does this speaker choose to invite us into in the course of a poem that swerves again and again within the confines of its tercets? The visions we are offered are not at all predictable and in spite of the brevity in which we learn of them, they create portals toward vastness, daydreams so big that the final one excludes the speaker entirely. I keep coming back to this poem and each time it yields something I missed before.
by Amanda Maret Scharf and Hannah Smith in Dialogist
It was a thing between surety
and nightfall: birthday geraniums,
I’m drawn immediately to poems written in collaboration. What possibility and surprise can find us in entrusting the next line to another? “Anniversary” is a poem that eludes prediction, as the best poems do. A strange entry into images of a domestic, intimate space, this poem, like its speaker, declares itself not “comfortable under the rule of organization,” inviting us to enter, poised somewhere outside of “surety,” into the discovery of whatever relationship, day, event, etc, it marks.
by April Lim in Honey Literary
Did you know
when a river dies, the earth does not forget. It remembers
each depleted stream’s body like a keepsake. Buries them
away but never completely moves on.
A poem that begins in the natural world, with the speaker declaring a relationship to the water, Lim’s “Vein” moves like a river, full of turns that bring us to the bathroom of a gas station and into the tides of a lost love. Hinging on essential but mysterious connections between things and threaded through with the flow of life and death, as brought out by the speaker’s associative imagination, it ends in an image that points to a loss or surrender of control. This final line loops us back to the beginning, if with a different inflection: “If the sun shines all the same, then let me bask.”
our own names
by Destiny Hemphill in Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day
come through. let’s be each other’s oracles.
we can hold hands, craft a shrine in the gap
of our palms, in the ocean of our breaths
at the shore of our oil-shined flesh. listen:
this is my oath to you
“This is a love poem to my kindred, my beloveds,” the poet writes in her blurb for this poem. “I wanted to write towards a commitment to operations of Black care, which necessarily push beyond and against the state…” What can I add to this but that this poem, to me, does more than succeed at this intention. Contained in form but overflowing in richness, it generates the feeling that careful direction and shape have been given to the speaker’s ideas of care. I want to continue to bask in the light that is Destiny Hemphill’s poetic voice, and I’m so excited for her book, motherworld: a devotional for the alter-life.
Portrait of My Missing Brother Caught in a Spiderweb
by Steven Espada Dawson in Passages North
twilight pearls strangled
by a spiderweb I wait for you
to rematerialize a coin behind the ear
of my childhood with these eyes
Unpunctuated lines cascade into each other and enjambments constantly provoke shifts in meaning in Steven Espada Dawson’s aching portrait. Talk about a poem that turns and keeps turning: each moment sparkles with a possibility we know from the title is also lined by the fabric of grief at the heart of this poem. “I believe in / his return like I believe in bay leaves,” declares the speaker, candid and brief, succumbing then to memory’s redirections. The small–the eyes of the arachnid, the raindrops on the window pane, the coin–become large in this poem, become objects with agency born from the speaker’s gaze, which “will not let you leave.”
I so enjoyed putting together these poems for you, and I hope you’ll continue to seek new work by living poets. Until next month!
Wishing you sunlight,