Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Poetry Review Special Feature: "The Dickinson Dialectic" by the Editor

Editor's Note:  The following essay was written in fulfillment of the open response exercise for week 1 of Harvard University's month-long Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) Poetry in America:  Dickinson currently being offered by edX.

The Dickinson Dialectic
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

Emily Dickinson’s choice not to choose a “final” version of some of her poems both empowered and disempowered her as poet when her works were brought to print.  This dialectic has become more apparent over time as more editions of her work and the manuscripts themselves have become available to readers.  The different versions of Dickinson’s poems disempower her as a poet when editors choose one version over another at the risk of choosing the “wrong” version.  However, the fact that a choice of versions must be contemplated by editors forces the editors, at least the conscientious ones, to examine Dickinson’s handwritten manuscripts carefully--the definition of empowerment as a poet. 

Likewise, the more “cryptic” elements of Dickinson’s works both enhance and detract from Dickinson’s poetic autonomy.  On the one hand, Dickinson took to her grave the reasons for and intended meanings of her dashes, capitals, and punctuation choices.  On its face, this impossibility of being understood for certain by anyone but Dickinson herself enhances Dickinson’s poetic autonomy.  However, by the same token, the mystery stimulates her readers and editors to dig deeply into what the possible reasons for and meanings of her “cryptic” elements might be to a degree that would likely not be undertaken otherwise.  This increased scrutiny can only detract from Dickinson’s poetic autonomy.

Poem of the Day: “Companionship” by Mary Soon Lee, Poet of the Week

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Companionship” by Mary Soon Lee, Poet of the Week.  A brief biography of Ms. Lee may be found here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2015/03/poet-of-week-mary-soon-lee.html.

Mary Soon Lee

Fall. Winter. Spring.
The birth of their first child.
Quiet days that quickly slip behind them.
His hand reaching for hers
after supper is cleared.
Her arm reaching for him
in her sleep.

A strategic marriage,
a political marriage.
Unasked-for, unnegotiated,
this friendship.

Shazia softly singing to their soft-cheeked son
in her own language, the words unknown to Xau,
but the string of sounds stored in his memory,
so that one night,
far from her,
on the eve of his second war,
he will remember each rolling syllable,
the way she smelled,
his son's hand fisted
round his finger.

Poet's Notes:  “Companionship” is part of my current work-in-progress, a novel-length heroic fantasy poetry sequence. This poem takes place after King Xau's first war and is meant to express the tenderness between Xau and his wife Shazia, a tenderness that extends to their baby son once he is born. Several other poems from the sequence may be read at http://www.thesignofthedragon.com.

Editor’s Note:  What lovely imagery here!  The poet cleverly uses references to all five senses to enhance the emotional impact of the piece.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Poem of the Day: “Sizing Up” by Mary Soon Lee, Poet of the Week

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Sizing Up” by Mary Soon Lee, Poet of the Week.  A brief biography of Ms. Lee may be found here:  http://eretzsongs.blogspot.com/2015/03/poet-of-week-mary-soon-lee.html.

Sizing Up
Mary Soon Lee

I sat in my son's classroom
for the first hour of his first day
while he measured away
with a red and yellow tape measure,
finding the length of the rooms,
the width of the dividing wall,
the height of a train tunnel.
He might have been a builder,
an architect, an artist:
so serious, so engrossed
as he checked the dimensions
to make sure there was room
for him.

Poet's Notes:  This poem is about my son's first day in Pre-Kindergarten when he was four years old. He is fifteen years old now, but I still remember that morning.

Editor’s Note:  The last two lines really make this poem sing, for what room could possibly contain the curiosity and intellect of such a boy? 

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Poet of the Week: Mary Soon Lee

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that the Poet of the Week for the week of March 29, 2015 will be Mary Soon Lee.  A poem by Ms. Lee will be featured daily in the Review from March 30 - April 4, 2015.

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but has lived in Pittsburgh for the past twenty years. Her poetry credits include Atlanta Review, Ideomancer, and Star*Line.  Her poem "Interregnum" won the 2014 Rhysling Award for Best Long Poem.  She has an antiquated website at http://www.marysoonlee.com.

Current Events Poetry: "Natural-born Citizens" by the Editor

Natural-born Citizens
Steven Wittenberg Gordon

A Cuban fathered Ted
who was born in Canada
to an American mother.
Like that story?  Here’s another:

A Kenyan fathered Barack
who, let’s say, was born in Kenya
to an American mother.
Like that story?  Here’s another:

Legal experts say Ted and Barack
are “natural-born” citizens whether
born in this country or any other
each having been born to an American mother.

So, why all the “birther” fuss?
Shame on US.

Poet's/Editor's Note:  Barack Obama is a self proclaimed Constitutional scholar.  It is unthinkable that he does not know that he would be a "natural-born" citizen by virtue of being born to his American mother, regardless of where his birth took place.  Since Obama has not once made that argument, it is safe to conclude that he knowingly allowed the country to become embroiled in a silly controversy in order to make his birther opponents look silly.  The liberal media, happy to make their ideological enemies look silly, silently went along with the charade.

The birthers and their Republican supporters are equally to blame.  It is unthinkable that not a single one of them knew the truth of the matter according to Constitutional law.  Not even the Heritage Foundation has spoken up on behalf of the Constitution in this matter.  Why?  Politics.  They disagree with Obama's politics and are willing to support any silly cause that might have hurt Obama's chances for re-election or that might lead to his impeachment and removal from office.

Isn't it interesting that Obama's first opponent, John McCain, was not born in the United States either?  Little was made of that by either side.  Even more interesting is how Ted Cruz's birthplace is being handled.  The birther Republicans were quick to change their birther tune (and experience/qualification point of view--but that would be a subject for another essay) when someone with whom they agreed ideologically decided to run for president.  

Even more interesting is that the liberal media and Obama administration have not pointed out this recent birther Republican hypocrisy.  One would think that they would pounce on it.  I guess they did the political math and decided that it is too late for Obama and/or the liberal media to make a Constitutionally scholarly argument, as doing so at this point would betray their ongoing collusion in what amounts to a practical joke.

So, as my poem concludes, "Shame on US."  Shame on the United States and every citizen it in--except for me.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Poem of the Day: “red light” by John Reinhart

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “red light” by John Reinhart.  One-time beginner yo-yo champion, state fiddle and guitar champion, tinkerer, and certifiable eccentric, John Reinhart lives in the Weird, between now and never, collecting and protecting discarded treasures, and whistling combinations of every tune he knows. His poetry has recently been published in:  Apeiron Review, Black Heart Magazine, FishFood & LavaJuice Magazine, Liquid Imagination, Star*Line, and Vocabula Review. You can listen to him fiddle at http://reinhartbrothers.bandcamp.com/.

red light
John Reinhart

stop, check the rearview--
unlike Snow White’s stepmother, I saw not
myself, but like her mirror,
my rearview reflected a gorgeous visage:
my life’s love,
my one and only true soul mate long lost better half
checking her lipstick in her own rearview,
a comfortable yet cozy six feet behind my bumper,
a safe and reasonable distance according to driver’s ed

her car was clean, six cylinders, not ostentatious
with good gas mileage according to the sticker at the lot, practical
dependable strong loyal independent spontaneous when necessary
attractive a good listener - all the same characteristics she
would see in me and many I value in a woman, this woman
the one behind the wheel behind my wheel stopped, as if by
chance or fate at the same red beacon of universal karmic law

in the same effervescence of diesel fumes CO2 eroding
asphalt and anxious morning coffee please-don’t-let-me-be-late
sweat of the modern workforce wage roundup
she glowed like the check engine light on my dash,
conjuring images of Thursday nights turned Fridays out sick

oh, the collaboration of all those features in her
face, forming the look of the girl next door or the
house one over or the one who could have been an actress
or a model or a porn star or maybe one of those waitresses
you meet in the corner bistros with good food and decent prices
who are probably working in the family biz but just until they make the break

not a waitress you know for only ten minutes but one who sits
down for a drink during lunch rush, ignores the boss the clock the customers,
gazes into her cup reading the entrails of foam then quits quietly,
walks out with dignity, arm in arm out of work
without a care into sunlight into the sunset into
the rest of her life into the end credits into the car behind
mine at the red light on 17th and Sheridan where our lives
meet, mingle, and progress instantaneously into eternity
wedded by the rearview mirror, never looking back,
writing our futures intuitively

we make love with our eyes with our eyes closed on the beach in the elevator in the backseat of my car just out of view of the rearview mirror on the floor on the table, at red lights while traffic
passes like buffalo or mosquitoes at dusk, horns ablaze yet weaving past our hazards,
blocking the road and paving another, our road,
the road, the superhighway of all time where
speed has no limits and time has no speed and the
grass is always green, where we recline in the moss, together
inexplicably indelibly improbably inexorably inevitably
by a chance fated necessary meeting in mirrors at a light
that said stop: stop and notice, see the roses,

then I saw her waving, motioning, gesturing,
communicating – it was all overwhelming – crying, laughing,
both at once, in cryptic code –
a moment passed
and then another
then I realized, I knew, I understood:
the inevitable

as I looked behind me, she turned the wheel, redirected
fate and like the energizer itself, reconfigured my molecules
before dumping my newly configured body into another reality,
she passed me, still gesticulating with more animation than classic
Looney Tunes on Saturdays past, followed by an overweight Ford
with an accountant, lust in his eyes and a coffee perched perilously
on an attitude of eternal defeat, then station wagon with a woman
off to man a desk and phone and listen to people complain about
a service she knows nothing about

I looked up
to see the light
once red was adamantly green
and the horns of passing cattle prodded me to go

I leaned on the accelerator, only faintly realizing
the loss of truth, beauty, and love,
but the light turned red again –
this time my mirror revealed a haggard man with three kids in the
car, a ringing in his ears, a bald spot growing on his forehead,
and no love or longing or lust or even recognition
in his heart for me, stuck at the red light at 17th and Sheridan

Poet’s Notes:  Is hindsight really 20/20? Not if the future is behind us.

The idea of holding infinity in the palm of your hand is the beauty of Romantic transcendence caught in the web of modern conceit. There is more than a little bit of self-mockery in this poem, as a Romantic, a man, and a devoted husband and father, interlaced with commentary about expectations, dreams, and the Mitty-fold potential of the infinite instants that compose the nine-to-five countdown to Taps.

Keats was exceptional at elegantly capturing this sense of eternal moments. I tried to capture a similar sentiment with the exception that not only is this a fictitious moment, but the fictitious dream never came to be, and the poet whose head we enter is in fact holding up traffic. What a nuisance!

I composed the basis for this poem in my head during my daily commute, which takes me past 17th and Sheridan twice daily six days a week. When I sat down to write this, I poured in every commuting image and sound, and then punctuated with deadly seriousness and sardonic humor, both of which are in easy reach when I ponder early morning traffic.

Editor’s Note:  The most beautiful and enduring possibilities in life can be denied in a moment--in the duration of a red light.  What a thought-provoking and moving poetic conceit!  The final four stanzas, where the narrator snaps out of his reverie, hit me like a bucket of ice water to the face, with the final stanza, whether interpreted as foreshadowing or not, leaving me stunned.  "red light" first appeared in the November 2014 issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Poem of the Day: “Mortifying Thoughts” by J. J. Steinfeld

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Mortifying Thoughts” by J. J. Steinfeld.  Mr. Steinfeld is a Canadian fiction writer, poet, and playwright who lives on Prince Edward Island. He has published fifteen books, along with five chapbooks, including: Disturbing Identities (Stories, Ekstasis Editions), Anton Chekhov Was Never in Charlottetown (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Should the Word Hell Be Capitalized? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), Curiosity to Satisfy and Fear to Placate (Short-Fiction Chapbook, Mercutio Press), Would You Hide Me? (Stories, Gaspereau Press), An Affection for Precipices (Poetry, Serengeti Press), Where War Finds You (Poetry Chapbook, HMS Press), Misshapenness (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions), A Fanciful Geography (Poetry Chapbook, erbacce-press), A Glass Shard and Memory (Stories, Recliner Books), and Identity Dreams and Memory Sounds (Poetry, Ekstasis Editions). His short stories and poems have appeared in numerous anthologies and periodicals internationally, and over forty of his one-act plays and a handful of full-length plays have been performed in Canada and the United States.

Mortifying Thoughts
J. J. Steinfeld
sure is mortifying
when you turn around
and a snarling wraith
sucker punches you

sure is mortifying
when you start praying
and you hear laughter
from above

sure is mortifying
when you meet God
and are mistaken for a character
who has lost his way

sure is mortifying
when you are asked
to spell mortifying and you get
two of the letters wrong

sure is mortifying
when you meet yourself
and neither one of you
has anything profound to say

Poet’s Notes:  First of all, let me say it sure is mortifying to be asked to write about a poem written over four years ago. Second of all, I’ll hop into my Muse’s poetic time machine and attempt to describe the formation of "Mortifying Thoughts." I was taking a late-night walk through an outwardly tranquil and orderly neighborhood, my questioning, wandering thoughts hovering between the absurd and the existential, the meaningless and the meaningful, the senseless and the senseful, when a group of disorderly words, not all that pleased with my intrusive presence, seemed to jump at me from all metaphoric sides. I began to gather these words while attempting to reconcile my late-night contradictory thoughts. By the time I returned home, "Mortifying Thoughts" was formed in my mind, and I quickly wrote out the words. Then the real existential grappling began, as I shaped those disorderly words into an orderly albeit mortifying poem.  

Editor’s Note:  I love the sardonic humor in this poem, accented by the poet’s adroit use of anaphora.  “Mortifying Thoughts” was first published in the poetry chapbook A Fanciful Geography by J. J. Steinfeld (erbacce-press, Liverpool, UK, 2010) and reprinted in the August 2014 issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry Review.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Poem of the Day: “Kitchen Carcharodon” by Robert Borski

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Kitchen Carcharodon” by Robert Borski.  Although he did not start writing poetry until he was well into his sixth decade, Robert Borski has published over 200 poems, a good portion of which have appeared in:  Asimov's, Dreams & Nightmares, The Magazine of Speculative Poetry, and Star*Line, as well as a collection from Dark Regions Press, Blood Wallah. He has been nominated for the Rhysling Award nine times and the Dwarf Stars Award thrice, and still lives in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, the town of his birth, where he works for the local university.

Kitchen Carcharodon
Robert Borski

Last year sharks killed nine people globally--a mere driblet compared to defective toasters, which killed 781.
--AP Newswire

No primordial killing machine
by nature could be this singularly

harmless looking, with neither fins
nor teeth,
its long black cord functioning not

so much as a tail -- to balance
or locomote --
but as lifeline to the sleekly-built

appliance with its open gills of
chrome, spring
jaw, and burnt-crumb breath.

And yet despite these deficiencies,
it swims,
if statically, in a current strong

enough to carry away an Olympian,
its boxlike
form dictated by function, if not

the fetished mind of Martha Stewart.
Hidden in
plain sight, usually in the cove or bay

of a kitchen, it waits to strike down
the unwary,
the unsuspecting innocent

who, hungry for a pastry or bagel,
but distracted
by the menialness of the task,

does not notice the frayed cord,
blissfully placing
his hand too close to the open slits

or the shiny body of the appliance
anticipating the sweet butter-and-jam

taste in his mouth, the delicious chew
of crust,
completely oblivious as to what lays

in wait for him, deadlier than any
even if able to make perfect toast.

Poet’s Notes:  Every year, usually just before summer begins and real news is somewhat slow, the cable networks are wont to trot out one of their more staid fright stories--how a shark somewhere in the world has dared to take a bite out of some swimmer or surfer. Small matter that we are trespassing on their milieu or that sharks might confuse us for food. Nor will you ever hear a talking head tell you how relatively few people are killed by sharks annually or that you're much more likely to die from a bee sting, lightning, or trying to retrieve a stuck English Muffin from your toaster.

So to be fair to the shark--the networks' primordial killing machine inching ever closer to shore, hoping against hope for a taste of human sushi--I wrote "Kitchen Carcharodon." In terms of challenges, it also does what many of my poems attempt to do: compares and contrasts two disparate subjects, and then show how much alike they really are.  In addition, though not my first poem accepted--Marge Simon, then-editor of Star*Line, had previously accepted two--because Strange Horizons had a faster turnaround time, "Kitchen Carcharodon" was my first published poem and so retains a special place in my heart.  And just for the record, while I wouldn't think twice about stepping into the ocean, every time I make toast I do so with caution, trepidation, and maintaining some distance.

Editor’s Note:  The ironic humor here is, well, delicious.  “Kitchen Carcharodon” was first published in Strange Horizons, and was reprinted in the November 2013 issue of Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine.