Exceptional Poetry From Around the Web: September 2023
Cavar here, to bring you my second entry into the Exceptional Poetry archives (find the first one here, in case you missed it) I’m here to bring you four more poems (well…in this case, more than four; you’ll see below!) I’ve found around the web and want you to see. If you want to see more of the things I’m finding and reading, subscribe to my monthly Substack for a big list of recs (albeit without my detailed commentary).
At the beginning of September, I officially moved into my new apartment. I live in Davis, CA, where I’m also a PhD Candidate, and for that reason was only moving across town. Still, I hadn’t remembered just how grueling a move could be, especially in the California heat. Fortunately, my mom came with me to hang out in Davis and to help me move, and her support was invaluable as we unloaded the storage pod, built furniture, and generally hyped each other up during five long days of preliminary unpacking, building, cleaning, and decorating. Now that I’m settled, I’m able to re-devote my thinking to my academic and writerly interests, and it’s hard to believe that less than a month ago, I was carrying overstuffed boxes up the stairs!
As many of us finally settle into our quarter/semester routines, I hope we can keep a small space open to read for pleasure, whether that’s poetry, prose, neither, both, or something else. I often hear that “no one reads literary magazines!” whether as a sneering gotcha or a fellow writer’s lament. Regardless of who is saying it, I don’t think it’s particularly true, and even if it were, I don’t know that it’s a useful thing to be concerned about. I read literary journals. You do too. We both read journals we probably won’t submit to, as well as many more that we will or have. Literary journals offer something that longer works don’t: the ability to read pieces in a few minutes, between tasks or after a long day. That is, they’re perfect for busy people who don’t want to give up their reading lives. If you’re looking for a way to get more reading done, or just to be exposed to more poems, try reading one or two of these poems. You never know, it might become a habit!
by Benjamin Niespodziany in Ursus Americanus Lit
I have chosen to discuss these three hybrids as one entry, as they function as a trilogy of sorts. With these pieces, we immediately find ourselves in the realm of the uncanny, an American West in which the human and inhuman, the dead and the alive, and the past and the future, are unsteady at best.
Indeed, this selection of poems reads as if beginning from its conclusion: in “Extinct Swamp Light,” we stand alone beside a plague doctor and a “praying” man and coyote. “Sexually Transmitted Spinach, or Awaiting Rabies on Ice” brings us back toward a moment of action, still dotted by landfills and bodies. In moments of heat-induced pause, we find landmarks:
An old pierogi in a Polish gut. A cold war formed between the two four star hotels. Years later, a clown buys a high chair and a space heater and eats a deer. The feathers were everywhere. One hundred husbands who want my blue shoes. Maroon moon rocks consumed by rude gods. A stick bug eats a pill bug as the slug watches from the tree.
These isolated figures form a chorus, telling microstories within the poetics of a long moment –– a time in which our guide “boil[s] [their] compass and call[s] [their] mom.”
At the brief end-qua-beginning of this work, “Worm,” comes a kind of brutal confirmation: our speaker suffers from a time-mismatch, a temporal desolation. “The wormhole in my skull is aging in reverse,” they write, compelling us to shrink back in despair, for we know what is to come. This suite of pieces offers a brief, compelling, and image-rich walk backward into a site of desolation.
by H.M. Cotton in Press Pause Press
“Forecast” is a winter poem broken into two halves: split open, it functions like a spell, with half for looking back toward autumn and half forward toward spring. “Quick, my love,” the poem’s speaker calls, calling their lover to strike a tree or a body, burying not only their blade but their “scruples” in its “heart rot.” At this moment of consummation and abandon, the speaker promises: a cleansing, a reading, the seeds of foraged fruits.
We reemerge with an eye toward spring, where the lovers will split the seed and choose the course of their lives. A calm has settled over the poem: scruples gone, seeds procured, the time has come to marry and to grow again. “We will plant our lives in spring,” the final line reads, standing alone.
by Sara Judy in Ghost Proposal
Sara Judy’s abstract poems conjure the narrative voices of plants, of light, of earth, and of water, acting in chorus to produce this five-poem, five-image suite. The first section of text opens with a mixture of verbs, nouns, and adjectives, many doing double-duty to add to the poem’s portrait-like ambience: rather than following a lyric trajectory, multiple moments occur simultaneously:
go gold come cutting orange light
gold dust rise August light
drive through again toward sky
The sole gap in the text, between “smear” and “rain,” is covered by the umbrella of “through again toward,” prepositions offering rare legible guardrails to a poem dominated by more-than-human perceptions.
In the third section of text, the spacing choices between the text offer a look into more-than-human temporalities:
wheat waves wildly
while cut down
while the sundog waits for
for winter waits for
waits for snow
The experiences of the waving wheat cut neat columns of text, standing straight in the visual field. The sundog’s waiting, likewise, contains repetition to illustrate atemporality: a world of waiting that does not understand clock time is a world in which waiting is forever, until it has never been.
With each section of text, Judy comes closer to identifying a/the “voice” of the nonhuman beings that populate her poems, bringing the reader close, but not quite inside, the lived realities of other species. In the final section, the ache of anthropocentrism, environmental destruction, and disregard for nonhuman lives. “Mown” becomes “moan,” and herds remain unheard beneath the strike of the knife. Mixed with the simple, elegant images of plant life in a human hand, this collection turns tenderly to a form and language suitable for the pluriversal worlds we walk through every day.
by Kim Hyesoon in The Drift
Full disclosure: Kim Hyesoon is my all-time favorite poet, and I’m head-over-heels for the shisanmun (which Jung translates as “poetry-prose”) form. Hyesoon is my greatest influence in the misty, murky, overlapping worlds of scholarship, poetics, opacity, and emotional-conceptual rigor. This poem is no exception.
n’t, whose name is itself a negation, speaks with a young, bleeding interlocutor, who begs n’t to take them to a hospital. But n’t does not cure, n’t negates, and walks the child into a Mad dialogue on crisis, abjection, and vengeance, scolding, “Everyone bleeds inside their heads!” Rather than submitting to the siren call of healing, of reconciliation, n’t imagines a future where revenge reigns:
A child lay still wanting to take revenge against their friend, and lying beside the child
n’t imagined a revenge that dug into grave’s embrace.
This is a revenge that takes death as a given, whose justification need not be stated. The two figures conclude, still sitting in their imagining. We readers remain / covered in blood.
I’m writing this in early-mid September, just as the Jewish High Holidays crash into my life like a truck. They always seem to sneak up on us! If you’re celebrating the High Holidays, or anything else, when this newsletter comes out, I hope you find meaning, joy, and peace with the people you care about. See you next month!
[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.