Congratulations to Karen Carcia, whose poem “Slant” won first place in The Michigan Poet’s GLCL benefit contest! She will be featured at our upcoming reading on February 5th at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids.

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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.


Review: Magnolia & Lotus

Review:Magnolia & Lotus

Selected Poems of Hyesim

Translated by Ian Haight and T’ae-Yŏng Hŏ

White Pine Press

Chin’gak Kuska Hyesim’s Buddhist poetry survives from 13th century Korea and arrives in this present translation, which includes tightly-phrased imagistic poetry that draws its spiritualism equally from nature and social settings. This collection offers layers of meaning, both from the Buddhist unfolding of significance and from the pairing of the introductory notes with the text of the translated poems.

The opening notes are instructive in how poetry seeks to embody meaning through image and metaphor instead of through direct statement. For example, Haight explains how the boiling tea kettle is a frequent metaphor for meditation in Hyesim. With that one bit of information, the deceivingly simple poems take on new layers. Many water images appear in the nature poems: flowing, frozen, and misty. It’s an easy leap to see water as states of consciousness. “Tea-Spring” brings these images together:

Old moss conceals pine roots–

From a granite hole, a spring gushes its spirit-fountain.

Opportune refreshment is not easy to find–

in this place, I’ll try to brew tea.

Translation in poetry is not transliteration; it is always a creative act, and especially so given the distance from Hyesim’s time and language to contemporary English. The end notes reveal this distance: one poem contains a “six-eyebrowed monk” about whom the translators say “the meaning of ‘six-eyebrowed’ is unknown at this time.” This and other notes offer insight in the meaning of meaning, in terms of both translation and the nature of the universe.


Meet Michigan Poet Tracy Morris

For our November/December issue, Tracy Morris, a poet from Detroit, shares “How Not to Cry.”  Tracy says of her work:

My writing is innately personal; my way of communicating with loved ones who have made their transition, sharing stories about loved ones still with me, and creating word sketches of people who touch my heart on a daily basis. It’s my hope that my work inspires others to do the same.

The broadside features Tracy’s poem set against the backdrop of English Romantic painter J.M.W. Turner’s Rain, Steam, and Speed.

Take a look on our home page.