Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: August 2023
I’m Cavar, Frontier’s new associate editor. I’m excited to be taking over Frontier’s Exceptional Poetry column, and can’t wait to share some of my favorite poem-finds with you. For the last few years, I’ve published a Substack with brief personal updates as well as a lengthy list of media recommendations, but I haven’t until now had the opportunity to delve into individual pieces, and what they mean to me. As a writer and poet myself, I’m hoping that this column will help me to better approach my own craft. If you’d like, feel free to follow along with me in your own notebooks/Word docs –– after all, we all know that reading is, next to actually writing, the best way to improve your practice.
I speak often to newer writers, particularly poets, who see (or sometimes, don’t see/can’t find) a literary community online. One of their most frequently-asked questions is, “what and where should I be reading?” I try to tailor my recommendations to their individual interests, but tend to find myself saying “just read peoples’ bios in this mag, and see where that takes you!” In my mind, this column serves to make the journal/poet/style-discovery process a bit easier, and perhaps a bit less intimidating, for people looking to dip their toes into poetry.
So, go ahead. Take a dip, see what you think. And, most importantly, enjoy the rest of your August (and/or have a smooth start to your semester!)
by Jarrett Moseley in Baltimore Review
Ellipsis is (like) haunting. This is certainly true in “A Possible Exit.” The speaker sets their gaze on “Mary,” who accompanies them through both thwarted attempts at self-killing and successful ones at grocery shopping. The steep, near-comical juxtaposition of suicide and shopping constitute the first of several twists that this brief poem makes. Both the speaker, and Moseley as a poet, have a keen eye for the entanglement of the mundane and the catastrophic, the notable and the overlooked.
After narrativizing a world of hurt and pleasure between Mary and the speaker in a few short sentences, Moseley abruptly turns his attention to us, the readers: “I don’t know how to tell her—whenever I write her into a poem, people think she’s dying,” he writes of Mary, who just characters ago was holding a soup can to the poemroom’s light. He continues, self-assured, into a concluding moment of startling clarity: “They have it reversed.”
by Felicia Zamora in West Branch.
In Zamora’s “Mujer Mala,” the titular “wicked woman” possesses a womb filled with utilities, questions, and possible comforts, artifacts from her grandmother’s ring, to dead batteries, to bleach for her unwanted facial hair. Her seemingly-limitless uterus allows her not only to care and carry (for) herself, but also for strangers:
my storage uterus with me wherever
I go :: when the woman at the crosswalk
sneezes, I say, I have a handkerchief for that
in my womb
Double-colons, used several times throughout the poem, set up intriguing, and, in this case, tender, equivalences: the speaker can choose to use her storage uterus to help others when they least expect it.
With each passing line, the tale of this “storage uterus” becomes a meditation on autonomy, of ownership lost and sought. The speaker’s uterus, clear after a recent yard sale, is under attack with the overturn of Roe v. Wade, and the poem itself is overcome by news interventions, headlines that scream, in stark contrast with Zamora’s measured, conversational engagements with Gloria Anzaldúa and June Jordan.
Yet undeterred, however, the speaker’s uterus transforms from a storage space to an agent in its own right: “I know / my body is mine, I tell my flesh :: Mine, I whisper / to my uterus :: she knows.” By the closing line, we come full circle in a poem that begins as a story of shopping, giving, and making room. Bolstered by comrades in the fight for bodily autonomy, the speaker asserts: “the space I save is choice.”
Slice, Snap, Smash, Crunch, Puncture, Mash, Split, Splinter, Chop, Mangle, Macerate, Mince, Shatter, Pulverize, and Amputate: 15 Ways to Lose a Finger.
by Gretchen Legler in Maine Review
Legler’s list, filed not as “poetry” but as “nonfiction,” constitutes its own fractal poetics: we, as readers, look slantwise at a quotidian moment in/of rural life –– the chopping of wood –– only to find that, when slanted, this moment is anything but typical. The titular sounds of woodwork intervene in the speaker’s thought process, forcing them simultaneously to be present with their tools, and yet distracting them from the task at hand. The aural experience of the poem (what the hell, I’m calling it a poem!) only deepens with each choice to rhyme,
You employ the sledge and wedge to separate gigantic rounds of hardwood into smaller logs that can then be addressed with an ax. One hand steadies the wedge, the other grips the sledge behind its iron head. You tap the wedge into a crack in the log until the wedge stands upright. Tap. Tap. Tap.
and to toy, viscerally, with grammar.
Replacing lichened stones that have toppled from the rock wall running through the beech woods, you stumble and fall. Rock finger rock. A flesh and granite sandwich.
Legler sends us reeling toward the piece’s inevitable end: a fingerless figure, body carvecrunched like wood.
by Nora Hikari in Graphic Violence Lit
In this poem, Hikari’s fictive speaker responds stridently to a dangerous assertion: I know you are not who you think you are. Fictives, members of a multiple, or plural system (wherein multiple persons share a single body) based on fictional source material, face myriad claims of their own nonexistence, whether trivialized as “imaginary friends” or pathologized as “delusions.”
For Hikari’s speaker, however, this instance of quotidian bullying lets them turn accusations of “pretending” on their head –– first and foremost, calling attention to the limitations of singlet existence (or, existing as only one person occupying one body):
“You are pretending to be Vriska Serket on the internet.” And you would question this, fiction that you are? You, yourself, who are a figment of a mind, but only a single figment, the only dream that mind is capable of dreaming?
The singlet is “kinless…lonely” and, more importantly, devoid of the imaginative politic in which fictives are themselves higher powers, deities of and for their own invention: “So I am a golden calf. So be it. For a moment, that calf was God.” Here, indeed, is the core of this fast-moving poem, as much a tribute to the creative process that is multiplicity as a fictive’s manifesto.
Dreams, truth, and matter dance as one, and the fictive’s existence takes on a poetic power, not least because they are on purpose: “I was created by force of will, like a curse,” the speaker asserts, “You are just an accident.”
Thank you all for reading my first ever post for Frontier –– I hope you liked it. I can’t wait to share more of my favorite poems with you soon.
[sarah] Cavar is a PhD candidate and transMad writer-about-town. Their debut novel, Failure to Comply, is forthcoming with featherproof books (2024). In addition to being an associate editor at Frontier Poetry, Cavar is editor-in-chief of manywor(l)ds.place, and they have had work published in CRAFT Literary, Split Lip Magazine, Electric Lit, and elsewhere. More at www.cavar.club, @cavar on BlueSky, and @cavarsarah on twitter.