Review: Our Sudden Museum

Our Sudden Museum

Robert Fanning

Salmon Poetry

The title for Fanning’s new book comes from the poem “Staying the Night,” which witnesses the poet visiting his sister’s house the day after her death. The house is a “sudden museum” in that it represents its former occupant, though the museum is perishable: scents will fade, the produce will need to be thrown out. The poem is a moment of heightened awareness that invests everyday objects with intense significance: “I chose to eat / the peach she chose from the grocery’s / produce rows, not knowing it would outlive her.”

The poems in this collection are museum pieces in this sense. The title object in “The Beam” is from where the poet’s brother hung himself. “Go Ask The Lobsters” considers how to tell children the purpose of the live lobster tank at the grocery store. “Cuttings” observes “my children’s commingled curls” on a porch after home haircuts.

These otherwise mundane objects form a sort of museum of impermanence in that Fanning is struggling with the inexorable march of time. But it’s not all deadly serious. In fact, the persona throughout faces these existential questions with a mix of intellect, dread, and humor, best exemplified by the title of my favorite poem: “A Consideration of Potential Afterlives and the Ontological Interrelations of All Beings at Bedtime, or, The Ladybug Friend.” The poem ends with a child’s eulogy for a ladybug which resonates through the rest of the collection: “We love you. Please come back.”

Review: In Which We See Our Selves: American Ghazals

In Which We See Our Selves: American Ghazals

Eric Torgersen

Mayapple Press

The Ghazal is an ancient Arabic form that uses two-line stanzas, the second of which ends in a refrain: a repeated phrase. Like other refrain poems such as villanelles and pantoums, the point is to play with the refrain, to give it new meaning and context each time. Because Ghazals have so many refrains, the repetition itself is not exact, but playful, using rhymed substitutions for example. Besides the technical aspect, Ghazals traditionally are associated with love and lamentation.

Torgerson’s poems do all that and seem quite American as well. Consider the opening lines to “Before”:

I’ve heard the ringing of this bell before,
I never dreaded what it might foretell before.

Living with real if ordinary dangers,
I never had such fears I couldn’t quell before.

A bell here is a fitting subject for the droning sound of a refrain poem. The poems are more playful then melancholy on the whole. The poet imagines himself an imposter superhero in “Eric America.” Other poems visit the edge of cliche, such as “For a Change” which begins with the banal lines: “Let’s refuse to play the game for a change. / Suppose we live what we proclaim for a change.” And it ends with the self-deprecating persona departing on a horse: “Your poet mounts his tottering white horse / and hobbletrots off, not speaking his name for a change.” (And sadly, none of the refrains contain the word “hobbletrots.”)

But it’s difficult to represent the poems with mere snippets. The form depends on the sum total of the refrains, the net effect of the tone of the poem: these poems are meant to be read aloud.

Michigan Poet Anthology Fundraiser

This year marks 5 years of The Michigan Poet. To celebrate the occasion, we are publishing an anthology of all of our published poems to date.  We’re running a gofundme campaign right now to fund this project:

Our goal for The Michigan Poet is to bring great Michigan poets to local communities.  We fund the publication out of our own pockets and rely on donations to offset some of the cost.

The money raised will be used to send copies of the finished book to each of our contributors.  Any extra money will put toward the cost of running The Michigan Poet.

Please help us broaden the audience for these talented local poets. Even $5 will make a difference.

Thanks for your interest in local poetry!

Review: Dutiful Heart

Review: Dutiful Heart

Poems by Joy Gaines-Friedler

Broadkill River Press

The people in Gaines-Friedler’s collection are often stumbling through the poems, not hearing one another, or in the wrong place and time, and always running up against loss. The poem“Test Trials,” for example, laments that a friend’s AIDS reached its end before “the cocktail” of new drugs “caught up to you.” Or the lovers in “Universal Paradox”: “He said I love you, meaning, / I have a plan for showing you. // She heard, I need you, meaning, / she’s no good at folding sheets.” The poems are accessible yet often take a startling turn in imagery to let us know that Gaines-Friedler does not settle for conventional wisdom or melodrama when it comes to writing of loss. In “The Year of the Horse,” friends unwilling to talk about difficult subjects (while in a Chinese restaurant) are said to “bring ther mothers with them / breaded and covered in a tender wrap.”

Ironically, one of the few people at ease in the poems is a dementia-afflicted mother: “Mom’s mind is untangling. / Someone said she’s become delightful,” in the poem “One Has a Mind of Spring.” And in “Cigar Smoke Lifting,” a father is described as “Surprised . . . that forgiveness would come to you / in your last days.” These lines speak to a paradox that motivates many of the poems, that the meaning of our lives change as our lives evolve and to fix the meaning in place is to do so temporarily, and that there is no final place for us to stand and reflect because our stories outlive us. The speaker of the poems, then, craves a lasting connection, such as in “Luna Moth”: “I want you to think what I think, / see it as amazing…”

Note: Gaines-Friedler’s poem “Truth Be Told” appeared in The Michigan Poet in 2011.

Dutiful Heart cover

Review: The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door

The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door

Poems by Ken Meisel

FutureCycle Press

Somewhere in my memory is a poet I knew who would complain of “thou poems”: unsuccessful poems about love harking back to Shakepeare’s sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day….” I, too, am suspicious of love poems because most of the time they lack the intensity that they supposedly intend to express. How are love poems that don’t even try to say something new supposed to demonstrate passion? Or devotion?

By contrast, Ken Meisel’s collection successfully takes on the challenge of the thou poem. While the poems here do not all fall into the ode mode, they do as rule center on the otherness of love: what it’s like for one person to love or lust another in many iterations, from teenage boys leering through windows at literally unattainable girls in “The Girls at the Vista Maria Home for Truants,” to a nun (sort of) teaching sex ed (“Love was joining./Death was letting go./ Life was the math of it.”), to the composer Robert Schumann desolately telling his wife among war ruins “you are not the red rose / anymore,” to the poet’s own connections and disconnections to love/lust interests. For Meisel, “Devotion is the aerobics of love,” i.e., it has to be exercised regularly, and the poem of that title embodies the otherness explored in the whole collection: “A woman is another country and so is a man” and marriage is “yet another Country that two / must walk sure-footed in.”

Even though there are plenty of lovey-dovey stock props (violins, roses, chocolate, and, well, tongues) they are employed in unexpected ways, such as the aforementioned nun caressing a rose during the “math” lesson thus confusing the heck out of the young narrator. In fact, the collection prevents itself from falling into clichés by not always taking itself too seriously. The poem “My Wedding” starts as such:

My wedding was a fish. It roused itself awake

by leaping out of calm water.

It flip-flopped all over the grass

on a steamy August morning in 1988.

The oddly apt metaphor serves to offset more declarative lines such as “A wedding ceremony is a healing” and says that Meisel has conviction enough to look (and love) deeply.


Review: Mended


Chapbook by Kathleen McGookey

Kattywompus Press

In the title poem, the narrator says, “today my life seems mended,” but this collection suggests otherwise. This chapbook of prose poems belies an uneasy truce with death, disease, and dying. The word “ache” recurs throughout. The poems are unsettled by unanswerable questions, such as in “Grief III,” where the poet asks of Grief “wherever my mother and father have gone, do you leave them alone there?” The collection varies from works that read like flash memoir to more surreal works that use the odd juxtapositions of dream logic. For example, the poem “Dear Death” asserts “I have had enough of you. I’d rather learn facts about penguins….”

The subjects of the poems are often aging and dying parents and the vulnerability of an infant daughter. Also, the poet’s dislike of possums: “After I hear the possum eating garbage in the garage, I plan to kill it. It’s no comfort knowing the killing gets easier each time.” Many of the poems are direct and accessible, and many of the others take more work to read, circling the subject. As a whole the poems take on fragility from many different directions. In the best moments, McGookey melds the surreal and the direct, in poems like “Another Ache,” which ends as such:

Then the suitcase fell off and the tire exploded. Then the driver got out to look at the lake, it’s calm expanse. Everyone felt worse because nothing had been predicted, no sign of trouble on such a sunny day, while road salt glittered its million cheap promises, and strands of videotape flashed down, then bright, in that clean light.