Friday, August 18, 2017

"Because You Asked About the Line Between Prose and Poetry" by Eric McHenry, Guest Contest Judge

Because You Asked About the Line Between Prose and Poetry
Eric McHenry

"Crows" Watercolor on Paper, by J. Artemus Gordon
I’ve seen the local news: it’s prose.
I prefer to look at the big picture
window — not because it shows
events exactly as they happen,
but because of the two recurring crows.

There’s tragic laughter in the way they fly.
Some flaw in their understructure
compensates the most emphatic flapping
with very little loft. One barely goes
over and the other just gets by.

Poet’s Notes: This poem was inspired by Howard Nemerov’s superior poem of the same title and by a big window in the apartment where my wife and I used to live. 

Editor’s Note:  The use of enjambment in the first stanza is masterful.  Splitting “picture” and “window” creates two meanings for “big picture / window” while setting up an intra-line rhyme.  Splitting “shows” and “events” continues an end-of-line rhyme, while lending “shows” two direct objects, “window” and “events”.  I also enjoy the way that “goes”, the last word in the penultimate line, harkens back to the rhymes in the first stanza.  “Because You Asked About the Line Between Prose and Poetry” was first published in Potscrubber Lullabies.  Howard Nemerov's poem may be read here https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/because-you-asked-about-line-between-prose-and-poetry.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

"This Is Your Hometown" by Eric McHenry, Guest Contest Judge

This Is Your Hometown
Eric McHenry
"Return" Watercolor on Paper by, J. Artemus Gordon

Some who made
good choices chose
to stay here or
to come back for
the sake of those
who stayed.

Poet’s Notes: Moving back to my hometown after many years away was such a strange experience that for a while I could write about nothing but it.  “This Is Your Hometown” was first published (in a different form) in Flint Hills Review.

Artist Notes: When I was a kid, I always wanted to include every color of the rainbow in my art. Now that I've trained in actual illustration techniques I know that it is often best to use a limited color palette. However, I still sometimes try to include at least a hint of every color in my work. In this piece, I experimented with reverting to my old habits, while combining it with my newfound knowledge.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

“Please Please Me” by Eric McHenry, Guest Contest Judge

“Please Please Me”
Eric McHenry

I don’t love the Beatles. No one need
ever publish or anthologize
this poem now. To those who manage to read
this far into it, I apologize.
"Bug" Ink & Watercolor on Paper, by J. Artemus Gordon. 

My girlfriend has said, not knowing she’d
end up in a fifth line, “Them’s fightin’ words.”
I know. I know they gave me Alex Chilton,
who gave me the best of Big Star, through the Byrds.
I know their sound and am not ignorant of
their catalogue. I know it begins with “Love
Me Do” and takes a slow turn for the sallow,
maturing toward those white and mustard-yellow
albums everybody says are golden.

That’s why I’m confident no one will see
this stanza. By now I’ve lost even readers
of poetry, who love their losing battles,
but not quite as much as they love the Beatles.

I believe in the many primacies of taste,
and in doing nothing to dislodge its nest
from a dependable cleft in the soul’s one tree.
That’s really why I don’t love them: because
they make me feel like it’s only me,
which is so unlike what so much music does.

Poet’s Notes: I really do like the Beatles, a lot. “Here Comes the Sun” was our wedding processional. But I remember seeing a sentence about them in the Rolling Stone album guide — “Not liking them is as perverse as not liking the sun” — and being irritated. “Perverse”! It made me want to write a poem about feeling lonely and marginalized by taste-consensus. 

Editor’s Note:  I am not a big fan of the Beatles.  As far as I am concerned, the Beatles ruined rock n’ roll, taking it away from its honky-tonk, rockabilly roots.  “Please Please Me” was first published in Harvard Review.

Artist's Note:  This poem made me think of the "thought police" from 1984. Despite the negative subject matter of this illustration, I do enjoy the Beatles.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Immediate Past Kansas Poet Laureate Will Be Our Guest Contest Judge

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that the immediate past Kansas Poet Laureate Eric McHenry (pictured) will be the Guest Judge for the Fourth Annual Songs of Eretz Poetry Award Contest.  The contest is open NOW for early submissions but will officially run from September 1 to October 15, 2017.  The winner will be awarded a one thousand dollar honorarium and will be announced in early 2018.  The contest guidelines may be found here http://www.songsoferetz.com/p/songs-of-eretz.html.  As a run-up to the official contest opening, one of McHenry's poems will be featured in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review every day beginning tomorrow, August 16.  As a special treat, a Guest Artist, J. Artemus Gordon, will provide original illustrations to accompany each poem--see below for more information about the artist.  

McHenry was the Poet Laureate of Kansas from May 2015 through May 2017 and teaches English at Washburn University in Topeka. Waywiser Press published McHenry’s newest book of poems, Odd Evening, in 2016. His previous collections include Potscrubber Lullabies, which won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award in 2007, and Mommy Daddy Evan Sage, a children’s book illustrated by Nicholas Garland. He also edited and introduced Peggy of the Flint Hills, a memoir by Zula Bennington Greene.

McHenry’s poems have appeared in: The New Republic, Yale Review, Cincinnati Review, Field, Poetry International, Gulf Coast, Poetry Daily, and Poetry Northwest from whom he received the 2010 Theodore Roethke Prize. His poetry criticism has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Slate, and other publications.

McHenry lives in Lawrence, Kansas with his wife and two children. For information about his books, visit https://waywiser-press.com/eric-mchenry/.  


Our Guest Artist J. Artemus Gordon received his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Columbus College of Art & Design in Columbus, Ohio where he honed his skills as a portrait and landscape painter, illustrator, sculptor, and jewelry maker.  He currently resides in Kansas.  Gordon invites you to connect with him on LinkedIn and Facebook and to explore his website JasonArtGo.com.

Portraits are one of Gordon's specialties--one of the things for which he is known is his uncanny ability to capture a likeness.  Two examples may be found here in this post:  Gordon's portrait of McHenry is composed of ink and watercolor on paper;  his self-portrait is watercolor on paper.



Monday, August 14, 2017

"elusive red sprites" by Lauren McBride

elusive red sprites
dancing atop
thunderstorms

--Lauren McBride

Poet’s Notes: Red sprites are extremely brief, rarely observed electrical bursts that occur high above powerful thunderstorms. Although witnessed for at least a century, it wasn't until 1989 that they were first photographed leaving no doubt of their existence. The word "sprite" inspired my hay(na)ku personifying this space weather phenomenon as fairies or pixies evading detection while dancing on storm clouds.


Friday, August 11, 2017

"Feral" by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Feral” by Yoni Hammer-Kossoy. His poetry is forthcoming or has most recently appeared in Picaroon Poetry, Right Hand Pointing, Lunch Ticket, Cacti Fur, and Poetica's 2017 Mizmor L'David Anthology.

Born and raised in the US, Yoni Hammer-Kossoy now lives in Israel where he works as a software engineer. Follow him on Twitter @whichofawind.

Feral
Yoni Hammer-Kossoy

Three green parrots
I could never spot 
on a lush summer day

stick out in the March sun
like neon scribbles
where apricot blossoms

have fallen away.
Atop their slender perch
the birds are silent as an old photo

until one blurts out
an absurdly loud cry
neither song nor silly tale

but the ragged screech
of an escaped prisoner
then flies off 

followed by the other two
leaving bare branches to sway
in the wind.

Poet’s Notes:  I am often struck by the gap between perception and the actual reality of what is being perceived. This is an obvious challenge when it comes to building meaningful relationships between people, but it also feels true for just about anything else I experience. Every sight or memory that seems beautiful on the outside may be hiding something dangerous. Or the opposite could also turn out to be true. I like how writing poetry gives me a chance to engage with these dynamics of perception and sometimes even reach a better understanding of the world around me.

Editor’s Note:  There is a William Carlos Williams feel to this piece that is especially pleasurable.  The images are stark and crisp, in full color, and engage all the senses.  The arrangement of the stanzas recalls the best of short Japanese form poetry. 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

"Elemental" by Mary Soon Lee

Elemental
Mary Soon Lee

To him, she was hydrogen,
lighter than air,
the stuff of stars.

To her, he was fluorine,
a toxic temptation,
atrociously attractive.

Together in the dark,
they were first explosive,
then corrosive.

She left him for a woman
who gave her breathing space,
turned her to water.

Poet's Notes: This is a light poem with a science flavor using chemical elements to describe characters in a relationship. After working for several years on an epic fantasy told in poems (several of which have appeared in Songs of Eretz Poetry Review), it's been a change of pace to write short, stand-alone pieces. I've been having fun, though I miss the tie I had to King Xau and the other characters in my epic fantasy. 

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

“Demonic Duo” by Jennifer Lagier

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to present “Demonic Duo” by Jennifer Lagier, PhD.  Dr. Lagier is a teacher with California Poets in the Schools and co-editor of Homestead Review. She holds a PhD in Computing Technology in Education from Nova Southeastern University, an MA in English from California State University at Stanislaus, and an MLIS from the University of California at Berkeley. She currently serves as an instructional librarian at Monterey Peninsula College.

Lagier’s work has appeared online and in print, nationally and internationally. She has published thirteen books, most recently: Scene of the Crime (Evening Street Press), Harbingers (Blue Light Press), and Camille Abroad (FutureCycle Press). FutureCycle Press will publish Like a B Movie, a full-length collection of her poetry, in 2018. Visit Dr. Lagier at www.jlagier.net.

Demonic Duo
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, July 2015

Don’t let cartoon eyes
and toothy smiles fool you —
these soulless, skirted demons
relentlessly track and torment
not-so-innocent victims.
Get on the wrong side of their deity,
and they’ll transform you to insects.

A former incarnation of myself
must have outraged an Indian god
by eating filet mignon,
drinking too much wine,
refusing to cover my head
inside a temple.
Despite protective art museum glass,
I feel them plotting a take-down,
tracking me as I pause to examine
a multi-armed Vishnu.

Marked, a woman on the run,
I’ll be dismembered if apprehended,
payback for irreverence—ritualistic reprisal.

--Jennifer Lagier

Poet’s Notes:  This poem was inspired by a trip to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco during a writing retreat with other poets from Blue Light Press. I loved the whimsy of inventing a fantastical, humorous story to accompany solemn, ancient artwork captured in the accompanying digital image.

Editor’s Note:  While most ekphrastic pieces stop at mere description, this one goes a step further and makes it personal.  The speaker tells an interesting story, and what goes through her head as she gazes at the artwork goes through the head of the reader too.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

"Bird of Prey" by Sierra July

Bird of Prey
Sierra July

Sword talon-sharp with glint of eagle eye,
Takeshi was ordered: Cut down your prey 
His prey were the weak, his prey were the starved
Those who stole to eat, while he killed to breathe

Though that didn't stop tears from spilling
Along with the blood of those he felled

Though he felt pain for his stifled brethren,
With feathers too oiled or screwed to fly
He, mere slayer, was just a bird of prey
His only solace was his victims' breatk

Eyes dark, hearts stilled, they would find their wings
And would return to the sky again

Poet's Notes: This is the story of a samurai, inspired by the many Edo period tales I've heard and loved, from live-action movies like Seven Samurai to manga series like Rurouni Kenshin. I decided on the bird metaphor to show the samurai and his victims are still brethren, while not blatantly saying a human is a human. Also, I like that while the samurai's prey were featherless or too sullied to take flight in life, in death they fly again. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

"Ave Maria" by James Frederick William Rowe

Ave Maria

Beneath bare boughs
In citrine light
Illumined
A statue of the blessed virgin
In a cool, spring night
Passing by
I raise a hand
Ave Maria
     Hail Mary

-- James Frederick William Rowe

Poet’s Notes:  This is a simple poem that captures an actual moment as I was walking past my local church and its statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was struck by the peculiar beauty of the statue contrasted with the bare tree, the evening sky, and the light that shone on the statue. As per my usual custom, I raised a hand to pronounce an ave Maria, and the poem naturally followed from that.

The poem was written as soon as I returned home. I briefly considered adding two more lines but chose instead to preserve the poem’s simplicity. I did agonize over that choice, but sometimes one must know when to be done with something. I am not always laconic, but this poem is succinct. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

It's Elementary for FC Lee

Songs of Eretz Poetry Review is pleased to announce that Frequent Contributor Mary Soon Lee has had 119 haiku-like poems published in Science, one poem for each element in the periodic table! The poems are available online either in a wonderful interactive periodic table at http://vis.sciencemag.org/chemhaiku/ where different poems appear as you move a mouse over the elements or, more conventionally, at http://science.sciencemag.org/content/sci/357/6350/461.full.pdf.  Lee was also featured in last week's Science podcast, available at  http://www.sciencemag.org/podcast/biology-color-database-industrial-espionage-and-link-between-prions-and-diabetes.

Friday, August 4, 2017

"The Waters and the Wind" by James Frederick William Rowe

The Waters and the Wind
James Frederick William Rowe

The river again flows
Through the dry and desiccated gully
That long ago had marked its path
And now once more conveys
The surging onrush of the waters
From ice crowned crags
To the frothed seas

This is the ancient way
Made fresh through time
The great river returned
Which once watered the horses
Of our ancestral kin
Come down from the North
To ravage and rapine

As a single wave of wind
Bends the heads of the flowered fields
So did they cow their foes
Unchallenged, we shall likewise gust
Unresisted, they shall beg our mercy
And give up as ransom
Their lives and land

Soon the sky shall mark our dominion
The horizon our only borders
The cerulean posts of our domain
The river shall have given us this
Its current a stream of blessings
And we shall pray our gratitude by its banks

What is now desert
Will again be a fertile plain
Meadows of tall grass and many flowers
The time of kings returns
As again we drink the river's strength
And refresh our conquering hearts
Our swordsmen souls

Poet’s Notes:  “The Waters and the Wind” started off on the subway, and I struggled finishing it for quite a while.  It was only when I moved the third stanza to the final position that I was satisfied with the poem being complete. 

The poem is inspired by the Aryan invasion of India, as well as the notion that the fight between Indri and Vritra dragon, where Vritra is said to have held back the rivers, is a mythologized account of an ancient river drying up for a time, perhaps due to the glaciation of its headwaters. Of course, there is no serpent here, nor a hero for him to battle, but simply the idea that a conquering people have felt renewed by the return of a river to ride once more onto victory. 

Each stanza is seven verses in length, and, as the title implies, the ideas of the water (in the form of the river) and the wind (the people) are recurring themes. The influence that these natural forces have on the land is constantly referenced, such that the land becomes a passive object of action, as reflected in the effect of the waters and the wind to shape and control the life of the fields, as the conquering host will soon do by way of the sword.

The narrator is unidentified, but I think of him almost as a priest-king amongst his people, making sense of the divine hand at play in the return of the river. His voice is the rallying cry for the others, the call to arms that will see their future success, promising them the glory that he foresees in the river's refreshed course. No other characters are present, but I almost feel as if this poem is his address to his people, a speech or statement of intent for their future conquests.  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

"American Saga" by David Pring-Mill

American Saga
David Pring-Mill

Atop golden, parceled earth,
the sun came in with a bright mist,
with the electric vibration of dawn,
with shadows reaching out like long fingers;
Starting at the remaining cultures
and extending over the nudity of a partial harvest.

It lit everything with equality,
Until the soft blush of a virgin sunset
made the hills seem modest.

There were workers sorting through bushels of lettuce.
There were cattle walking near the fence without
Any inclination of panic or doom, with in fact all
postures of idle satisfaction, of slow complacency,
Assigning indifference to all things, including their very existence,
The twisted span of this existence.

The man walked over
his homeland, remembering
the girls of his American youth.
He envisioned them all
with heavy impressions:

There was the blonde.
She wore a one-shoulder top with a ribbed knit,
Solar hair falling over her bare and small shoulder.
There was profoundness to her feelings, and
Although she would never admit it,
she needed all the feelings of her heart
to be reciprocated with exactitude.
She needed every shared thought to be
identical in his mind, as if
This uniformity was necessary
not only for their love
but to make her content
within herself.

There was the brunette.
Her tunic, draped loosely,
had a black slit and button closure,
offering a thin line of disclosed skin.
Her skin there was soft and in its palest shade,
There where her spine dipped as she stood
maintaining a straight posture,
conveying fundamental uncertainty
and an attempt to hide it.

There was the redhead.
Her excess of heart was apparent,
her dance was contagious,
and her, he really remembered —
The buoyancy, the lifting,
the subtle sadness that flaked from her
in little pieces of her actions,
The goofy laugh that revealed her completeness.

Her hair, orange like a jar of marmalade
on the windowsill in morning light.
Her spirit, determined
like California poppies with cup-shaped blooms
marking dry, tilted earth with the insistence
of vivid wonder.
Her composed smile, such a careful thing;
Her eyes bright, her lips pursed
only slightly in a compromised pose.
And those eyes, so big and green,
how they looked at him and also seemed open
to the world.

She played in those moments,
contained by her pink sweater with eyelash yarns;
The tree’s shadow keeping them apart
from light brushing over the valley.
And they would explore each other in sand
by an aqua-blue hourglass body.

They watched the sparrows fly
like bullets out of bramble,
startled by the moans
of two young lives at their peak of being.
They laughed at the frantic flight of birds,
while falling in the arms and breasts of one another.

He wished then
That there could be a flicker of her in all things,
And all the colors so richly poured onto every patch of earth.
Looking back, he thought:
“Isn’t youthful love so big and dramatic?
Isn’t it the most innocent lover who, ironically, declares,
“You are the world, and for you I’ll give the world;
Yourself, to you?’”

He would return from the Middle East
with salt and pepper hair, seasoned too soon.
He approached her house along a weed-choked path.

When they met again, they held hands
and he recalled her light and delicate size
and she studied leather skin, his scars.
And they did this for a while, intently,
like bees fussing over the minuteness of their task,

Until she told him:
“Come home, forever.
There is never a sacred act of violence.
Love is sacred. Art? Yes.
And anything associated with creation:
beautiful and continual creation!
God was not the answer to ‘how do things die?’
But to ‘why do we live, and for what?’”

A heavy sigh preceded his reply:
“What’s the flame?
The same flame that illuminates the idea
reveals the heart and its attractions.
It is a flame that some can barely contain
while others laboriously try
to re-ignite it, till they decide
They are creatures of the cold
As owls and raccoons are born nocturnal,
never regretting their lack of daylight,
As birds belong to sky
never thinking to complain
about tempers of the wind.
And so these people put a name
on the coolness they know well:
Contentment,
It is called.

What lights the unknown spark?
It’s unanswerable
but there is divinity in fire.
Because bodies can grow,
But souls? They burn.
And they burn wild.
This is why I fought and why I now explore,
That’s why I left the fields and left you here,
Alone.”

And she commented then that she
had not been alone.

She also said that she’d changed,
But it seemed to him that she had
more words than meaning,
more opinions than wisdom,
A searching and disruptive self,
which made sense to him:
To search is to overturn all things.

When he last saw her,
she splayed out on the sand
and whispered,
“Now it’s my goal
To make my breath like the waves
lapping against the coast,
To completely fall
within this world, because
to keep any distance from it
creates tension, and that
I can’t bear any longer.”

He said, “When we were young
that was all
I tried to do.
But I abandoned that goal,
Somewhere in aging.”

She insisted this was all that anyone
could ever fully achieve, but he
persisted in his attempts for power,
even when rebuffed,
even in bleak times.

He would explain it as follows:
“Hope is the suspension of an unwanted reality
And so the mind welcomes the better tomorrow
before the horizon allows it;
As if this globalized crescent might succumb
to the dictations of fiery imagination wires!
Yes, hope is the deliberate blitzing of ruin
with seeds that fall from airplanes and bloom in ash.
Hope is security locked inside the chaos.
Hope is the justification of the heart for recovery.
A reason to fight again, to hit walls and love a million times.
The hope in you, the unity in you, the fervent motivation,
It would not exist were it not mirrored elsewhere
in the outside world,
Even if only in a distant future…
Do you see now why I must fight?
Why I must wander? Why my life
is always conquest, not contentment?”

And there would come a time when he
could no longer see what he proclaimed then,
When he would do anything
To feel her gentle breath
against his neck.

Poet’s Notes:  There are critical junctures in our lives in which sacred values compete for prioritization. Perhaps the stakes are never higher than they are in love. There are profound and expansive ripple effects to the decisions we make in our relationships.

“American Saga” aims to offer up a quintessentially small town mythology. It is both a poem and a short story. It is about the love we pursue and the love we discard. The narrative pits chaos and hope against contentment. This poem prompts the reader to think deeply about the logic that underlies all choices and the impacts that can never be predicted or understood. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

"Tower of Silence" by James Frederick William Rowe

Tower of Silence
James Frederick William Rowe

Scavenger,
Pluck the meat
With your gore-fleckt beak
Strip the flesh
Strip by strip
And make a feast 
Of my innards
I have need of the denudation
Of my bones
For only when my skeleton
Is in sight of the sun
Shall my soul be free to soar
Then the heights which you fly
With fingered wings outstretched as if
To grasp the winds 
Shall seem as mere hoverings
Compared to my empyrean heights
How else am I to reach heaven
If not by the winged climb
Of my soul? 

Poet’s Notes:  Tower of Silence is my take on the Zoroastrian practice of sky burial, where the dead are placed atop towers that their flesh might be stripped by scavengers. After reading a particularly fascinating article about the vulture in National Geographic, I've taken a certain liking of this creature and, paired to my pre-existing interest in Zoroastrianism, I thought to write something that spoke of them in a positive light.

I was inspired by the fact that the Parsi actually have to keep vultures on hand in order to denude the bones properly, given the vast decline in the number of vultures owing to environmental degradation and other measures. If they don't keep the birds on hand, the bodies can take weeks upon weeks to be stripped bare, when previously they'd be nothing but a skeleton in a matter of hours or a day.