A chronicle of a crocus, a lesson in squid anatomy, an embarrassing reminiscence, some esoteric Virginia history, an anecdote about an eccentric history teacher, a pinch of existential despair, and a fact about walking from Florida to Newfoundland: if I told you that Virginia Bell could fit all of this into a single poem, would you believe me? Enter Crocus Vernus, a poem that cannot, for the life of it, focus on one subject but which enslaves the reader’s attentions. How creative, how inventive, how judicious of a poet Bell must be to pull this off! Such precision, such imagination, such poise! Crocus Vernus is a triumph, a triumph only a poet as experienced and skilled as Bell could accomplish. Dare I compare her to Ashberry? I do. Dare I call this poem genius? I do.
David Earl Williams picks up where Cummings left off and continues on from there, soliloquizing like an enlightened maniac as he goes. He can be absurd and whimsical, serious and surreal, and even somber and reflective in his syntax-twisted musings, a hard skill to master, one which even the method’s pioneers seemed to struggle with. Yet Williams pulls it off with ease. Walking the streets of his contorted fantasies, he wallows in the mud and mire, fornicates with the women, and as Lowell with his callous proclamations at the end of The Dolphin, is aware of and yet unmoved by the blood on his hands. And so Williams joins the ranks of this publication’s favorite contemporary poets, not just with this example of his poetic prowess, but with an overwhelming majority of his work.
Jeneva Stone’s Old Couple is an expertly executed, existentially explorative, and exhilaratingly extramundane example of what a prose poem can and should be. Stone’s imagination is exhibited masterfully in her explosive metaphors, and her imagery imbues this noctilucent scene with a supernatural flair that dazzles the reader with its immediate visibility. Her sly mythological allusions are the maraschino cherry on top of this magnificent poetic masterpiece. Frankly, one should read all of the poet’s work in the latest issue of Ginosko, as Stone’s talents should not be tasted piecemeal, but subsumed in their entirety.
Bathing in the miasma of urban decay, Theophilus Kwek transmogrifies ingeniously the disillusion of Zhou Hongxing. As time’s corrosion taints the trajectory of a tedious existence, sedative vices stand tall against the city’s towering wastes, attempting to lead man astray, and yet still, through all the refuse and decadence, the sublimity of the earth worms through. Hongxing and Kwek come together to form a poem that is thematically ubiquitous. As man struggles to make sense of a world so inexorably flawed, some way, somehow, one still finds himself flabbergasted by its overwhelming beauty.
H. Stuart, presumably (though not conclusively) Jesse Hilton Stuart, Kentucky’s former poet laureate, is yet another bard whose name I hadn’t heard of before coming across it in a few magazines from the early 1920s. Being the first non-expatriate poet to appear in this series, it seems Stuart has, in the years since his death, garnered even less interest than those who orbited some of the twentieth century’s literary greats. Of the vast catalogue of Stuart’s work I can comment little, as I’ve read only a handful of his poems, but “Night Arrival” is undoubtedly a fine addition to our catalogue of love poems. Quotable, melancholy, and succinct, “Night Arrival” is perfect for any reader wishing to wallow in their romantic woes for a few soul-stirring stanzas. Go, hop into the poetic time machine and weep for your own wayward flapper.
RJ Lambert sings the brawls of the bucolic scene, where cocks fight with men and time is measured by the lifespan of meat. This poem is memorable all the way through, strutting down the page with the swagger of a rooster and roosting in one’s mind like a catchy tune. Lambert’s herky-jerky rhythm is a knock-out punch, accentuating the weight of the verse’s many quotable lines while still floating effortlessly off the tongue. The poet has gained himself a new reader, and the English language a new puissant power ballad from the American pastoral.
Continuing our series of forgotten masterpieces with another Parisian expatriate, Evan Shipman was a poet I had only recently gotten down to reading. I was not disappointed. Having only read a handful of his poems, I’m convinced Shipman is a worthwhile endeavor to any lovers of modernist poetry. Unlike Cheever Dunning, Shipman very much embraced the tenets of vers libre, composing succinct verses with a rhythm that resembles the early lyrics of T.S. Eliot, those “Portraits”, “Prufrocks”, and “Rhapsodies”. “Untitled” takes a stroll on a street ravaged by time, a harrowing journey that sees Shipman embody a stone cold, time-transcendent narrator, Virgil guiding Dante’s descent. All of this being said, it is truly a forgotten masterpiece, one very much worth the read.
Cat Woodward is playing cat and mouse with the reader, though whatever the poet is hiding, the music makes it worth the chase. Her voice is strange, a wary whisper, unwilling to let the reader put the puzzle together, to gather anything beyond the immaculate and cryptic symphony, but therein lies the poem’s magic. It’s a cacophony of images and sensations united in a swift movement, though something almost sinister seems to be diffused throughout the stanzas, something animal and alert; Joyce in a slasher film, monologuing. This is just to say, Woodward has composed a poem of extraordinary depth, one that I will be rereading for years to come.
Much has been said of the late Ralph Cheever Dunning, though all that was said has not been repeated for what is now nigh a century. Since his death in anno Domini 1930, Dunning has been wholly forgotten save for those familiar with his inclusion Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. Whether or not Dunning deserves to be remembered is a topic for a full length essay, one which is currently being written by the editor of this review, but for now, a look at one of Dunning’s better poems should suffice. “Meditations” is surprisingly moving piece composed by the infamous dope fiend of Montparnasse, and is definitely worth a read, even if solely for curiosity’s sake.
Gabriel Antonio Reed’s fanatical love resembles one of Caddy Compson’s soliloquies disassembled into stanzas. I am by no means saying that the poem is derivative, in fact, Reed composes with such a tactful distinction that the poem seems to teeter perfectly on a tightrope between chaos and order. It takes a rare talent to form a coda from platitudes, but Reed manages it with a poetic savoir faire I’ve only seen in Faulkner. The poet knows when to slip and when to punch, and when to flurry like a drunken lunatic. Such a poem is truly a radical burst of emotion rendered immaculately on the page.
A toe seems like an odd subject for an elegy, but then again, Arielle Kaplan is writing abecedarians about amputated digits, so she must be fairly confident in her skills. Her confidence is not misplaced. Kaplan has given herself a handicap, though one might easily have mistaken it for pair of wings. “Abecedarian” flows so effortlessly, the absurdity of mourning a toe made natural by Kaplan’s exquisite use of alliteration to drive the poem’s rhythm, giving it a feeling of bounciness rather than a dole that would clash with the poem’s more playful aspects. Such tact deserves recognition, and I’ve yet to even mention the magnificent imagery. A toe “quivering quiet as a maggot,” what grace! Kaplan checks all the boxes, and I could ramble on about it for days.
Jessica Purdy’s breathtaking ekphrasis of Rippl-Rónai’s “Woman with Birdcage” sets a new standard for the medium. The poet’s manner encapsulates perfectly the mood of the painting, adding new life to the art with stanzas that create motion, lore, and unity. Usually an ekphrasis plays second fiddle to the subject itself, but Purdy composes so succinctly, so imaginatively, so elegantly, it’s as if they were created by the same synthesis of mind. Thus, a lover of verse cannot help but ask the question; which came first, the painting or the poem?
María Leticia del Toro García brings Zheng Xiaoqiong to English speaking audiences with a masterful flourish that brings, yet again, another amazing poet to my attention. Writing from the merciless assembly lines of China’s industrial sectors, Xiaoqiong gives us a glimpse into the laborious life of a teenage girl attempting to make a living in the horrendous conditions. The verses are almost Apolliniarian, with their broken rhythms and seemingly imprecise composition, stoic (though somehow surreal) critiques of modern life, but all this forms so perfectly an image of defiant persistence. It’s Ann Hyde Greet translating Apollinaire, and it is truly astounding how both translator and poet pull it off. Xiaoqiong and del Toro are two of the rare and gifted few, and they form quite a magnificent duo.
With a name that needs no introduction, Natalie Shapero continues to impress with this poetic synthesis of Plath and Faulkner. Flippant at the gate of the unrepentant world, Shapero falls first upon a fellow flawed member of humankind before commiserating in her own remembrances of a bright-eyed youth turned cold. Full of comically callous observations on the daily rat race and the monotonous plight of modern man, Shapero demonstrates courage in her survival, creating a reverse coming of age poem that is as innovative as it is flawless.
Bernardo Villela masterfully translates Maria da Cunha in this fervid ode to the kingdom of dreams. In a voice that invokes the exultant vehemence of Jules Laforgue, Villela renders a wholly unique and timeless piece of music that recalls the Symbolist age with a beautifully modern flair. Though previously unaware of Maria da Cunha’s poetry, Villela’s impeccable diligence in translation will have me scrambling to find more of her work, all the while awaiting anxiously the translator’s next endeavor.
Shari Lawrence Pfleeger escapes into nature, away from the perfidy of man and into the temples of rock, the etchings of water, shielded by shadows. Balance is the focal point of this poem, breathtakingly illustrated in the dichotomy of light and dark, the idea that one cannot exist without the other, both being defined by the existence of their opposite. This is a poem of disillusion eclipsed by universal wisdom, the serenity of virgin earth and the continual upheaval of man, and amounts, of course, to an absolute masterwork of art.
T. Clear has shown that not all “COVID poems” have to be self indulgent slogfests of victim-in-verse and vexing political gobbledygook. The concept of “Autobiography” is simple enough, but it’s the execution that sets this poem apart from its peers. Instead of a tottering mess of adolescent melodrama that bumbles on about anxieties and bellyaches, “Autobiography” is vibrant, jouncy, whimsical and alliterative. The evocative and absurd images swerve around seriousness and cruise on in sharp turns of phrase and light self deprecation. It’s a lot less exhausting to go out when one doesn’t have to worry about their appearance: it’s as simple as that. This poem is a perfect example of a straightforward idea elevated to art through flawless composition.
Matthew Thorburn’s At Eighty is a harrowing portrait of an artist with dementia, managing to exhibit both the horrific effects of the illness and the hard-nosed defiance of human dignity. The end is bitter-sweet, succinct, a balance of sorrow and acceptance: this is a poem of life, not death. Timeless in theme and flawless in composition, it is ready to be read for ages to come.
In this flashback from 2007, Adelle Stripe writes pure punk rock and levity. With a voice that makes one want to throw on a Libertines record and go prowl some piss-smelling alleyway, Stripe recounts the day to day of her own Chelsea Dagger, and really, this poem reeks of the garage rock revival of the early 2000’s, but it pulls it off with the ease of a needle piercing skin. This is an aesthetic time capsule from the last true bloom of rock and roll, sin and heroin in old London.
Sylvia Chan, though I pray her poem is not confessional, takes after the more acclaimed confessionalist Mrs. Plath in her incredible ability to express horrific events and traumatic emotions. The latter labels may conjure in one’s head one of the many melodramatic ink slicks currently clogging old father poesy’s gills, but seeing how rare it is for me to be actually disturbed by anything I read (Homes’ Alice or Nabakov’s Ada), I am extremely impressed by not only this poem’s construction, but its ability to hold and horrify in such a sparse and purposely elusive manner.
Naieka Raj does darkness well, which is a rare compliment in an art currently stuffed plug-ugly with melodrama and half-baked lyrical self harm. Succeeding in its experiments and floating along effortlessly on its foreboding tone, surreal images and stark body horror elevate this poem to the apex of contemporary fear. Not to mention Raj’s use of repetition makes edentata almost hypnotizing.
Kristen Garth seemingly has an unhealthy fear of swans, and so naturally, she constructed this slasher film en vers, with swans filling the role of the main antagonist. Despite what some may tell you, a poem needn’t be composed of ecclesiastical revelations and meditations on mortality. In fact, sometimes the best poems are just plain old fun. Garth has proven this by weaving together a magnificent display of her poetic talents by way of the most unlikely subjects… a pair of bloodthirsty swans. It’s absurd, tongue-twisting, brooding in the most humorous of manners, and yes, absolutely enthralling to read.
Steve Sibra has crafted quite a compelling tale from the blood stained barstools of the heartland. Born from a dying breed of classic Americana, this is small town skulduggery in terrific verse, western mythos and piss drunk cowboys with a pinch of paternal angst. Whether manufactured or based in fact, Sibra has constructed a mini-tragedy, almost absurd in nature, but utterly captivating nonetheless.
What if Cinderella smoked methamphetamine from her glass slipper? If by some extremely strange coincidence you’ve ever asked yourself that question, then you’re in luck. Enter the world of Georgina Titmus’s step-sisters, a tongue-twisting tidbit that turns this classic fairytale into a fragment of dark foreboding and uncanny (possibly suggestive?) horror. If Finnegans Wake and The Autobiography of Red got blasted together at the ball, then eight months later this Cronenbergian masterpiece of a poem would be born.
Every now and again there is a poem that sticks in one’s head, a catchy tune, an ear worm, a poem that will undoubtedly outlast the others. dg nanouk okpik’s Warm Water Fish Moving In is one of those poems. It taunts and terrorizes the reviewer with its sheer magnanimity. It is beyond summary, and to put it candidly, is simply a fantastic work of art.
Penelope Pelizzon sails the sea of self-loathing and picks up some friends along the way, mainly various sea related detritus that accompany her on this dystopian beach stroll. Nevertheless, her imagery and rhythm are exquisite, horrific, surreal, and the tactful use of her sprawling vocabulary builds marvelously on the absurd setting.
Tori McCandless proves yet again that the sonnet is immortal. A clever lesson in virtue is combined with surreal imagery and stunningly absurd turns of phrase to composite a fresh take on a classical form with more than its fair share of glitz to close the show. McCandless is a striking talent, one worth watching.
Adam Houle has produced a scathing, cunning, hysterical rebuke of modern language, and how accurate his depiction is! Published alongside this critical masterpiece are two other impeccable poems both worthy of mention in their own right. All of that to say, Adam Houle a garnered a new reader, and this reviewer will be studying his work from hereon out.
Robert L. Dean Jr. has crafted a flawless meditation on mortality and aging. Rife with allusions to film and classical literature, death is not denied its twisted horrors but made beautiful in its reality. Dean weaves the threads of a life before severing them for all to see, to read, and to mourn.
Superlatives to the editors Kathleen Volk Miller, Marion Wrenn, Jason Schneiderman, Bryan Dickey, Daniel Driscoll, Miriam R. Haier, Andrew Keller, Samantha Neugebauer, Rachel Wenrick, and all plaudits to the poets James Harms for Make Muffins, Pier Wright for Driveway Poem and The Hibiscus, Key West, Sarah A. Chavez for Dear Carol, I look out the window, William Palmer for He Pours a Small Glass of Milk, and to all other poets for their contributions. It is a fantastic issue from back to front, and was both a pleasure and a breeze to read.
Mara Adamitz Scrupe has crafted two exemplary passages of gritty, reflexive, dynamic music. Scrupe means business, and her verse, though clad in iron, hovers so effortlessly across the page, and flits through the mind with a guttural magniloquence. These twin poems are triumphs, and should be subsumed with all warranted relish.
Laura Mullen’s fraught, fevered, and frenetic epic jaws into the jazz of perspective with a consummate arrangement of syntax and onomatopoeia. Her pace is radical, inventive, zealous, and her use of footnotes as both a stanzaic insertion and extension amounts to an expert synthesis of transitive verse.
Isabelle Baladine Howald is expertly translated by Elena Rivera in this agile, frantic, and beautifully fallible work of music; the voice of a mother protecting her young.