Poetry Magazine : November : 2011


Easily the best issue of the year.

Some lines from Dean Young:

Once an angel has made an annunciation,
it’s impossible to tell him he has the wrong address.
God…doesn’t much like being created/ by ilk like us.
The mountain thinks it’s the same
without you but it’s wrong.

Todd Boss : The World Is in Pencil

A line from Joanie Mackowski:

a freakish postage stamp mails//our envelope outside time

J. Allyn Rosser : As If

Many agreeable things said about the tongue in Ray Amorosi’s Ode

Economic, but powerful, John Rybicki : If 

Andrea Cohen : Brutal

A very strong showing from this year’s Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship award winners:

Olivia Clare’s Enoch’s Blocks builds a great playing with words + Don Giovanni

T. Zachary Cotler : Clover

Marcus Wicker : The Way We Were Made & Bay Window Lauds

Allison Seay writes a poem of living things in dead love, Town of Unspeakable Things and of dead things and living love Time of Need

Two quotes from David Shapiro:

“Make it new is a quotation”
“I love the moments when poets at last try to explain their work —and fail, of course”

Lovely, Raspberry : Aaron Belz

There is an uneasiness about comedic poetry, that it is neither poetry nor comedy; that their aims are too different to be bred together, a bastardization of pigs and petunias, but nothing could be further from the truth. Poetry, like comedy, makes the world strange again; it breaks through the quotidian whitewashing, making us alive to smack talking worms and the fun of saying the word “banana”. Poetry, like comedy, is about misdirection; the getting you to look one way, then surprising you from behind.

Few poets understand the serious business of sacred hilarity better than Aaron Belz. There is a wryness running through the entire book, from the title to the authorial photo (its preening stoicism in knowingly bathetic grandiosity). The first poem is titled “Direction” but in its pseudo-mathematical tri-irregularity it confounds any rational solution. It begins:

You expect me to tell you about the interior of the room
in which I’m typing this, and connect that to my feelings,
but I’d rather tell you about the interior of your room
and use that as a symbol for something less abstract.

But this is nixed in the very next line with: “Actually, here’s a better idea.” and ends with the speaker as a dime store manager and the reader as a movie director.

This comedic misdirection makes for a lot of missed jokes if you’re looking for a certain type of poetry. Perhaps the worse fate is the one who must endure the dreariness of explaining the jokes to others. But do not mistake me, dear reader, this is no pony of one trick. If you cannot find what you are looking for in “Lovely, Raspberry” then you aren’t looking hard enough. There is romance (La Vie) and lost romance (Alberto VO5); you could get lost in the philosophy of “Reinventing the Wheel” and the Ars Poetica of “Asking Al Gore About the Muse”. If you are a collector of lines, you will find plenty with which to line your pockets.

“Lovely, Raspberry” is full of math word problems and unfinished jokes. It is the challenge of otherness and the thinking man’s silliness. Few books will expand your ability to see the world and chuckle anew.

Lorin Stein on NaNoWriMo

Q:All of my friends are trying to get me to participate in NaNoWriMo. Have you heard of it? Apparently November is National Novel Writing Month, and theres a service that allows you to publicly pledge a high page number, logs your word count every day, and sends you inspirational writing tips. Like many people, I do feel I have a novel in me. Is now as good a time as any to try to write it? Something about the idea of writing with the help of a social media Web site is off-putting. Maybe Im just jealous that so many of us feel we have novels in us. Do we?

A: No. No, we don’t. Resist!


Instead of  NaNoWriMo try NaNoTweeMo instead. Details here.

Deviled : Rae Armantrout : a reader’s guide

My dreams are cruel
children. They taunt me.

I dream I’m telling a story
the punch line of which
will involve deviled eggs.
I’m saying
some idiot
asked me where they originated.
I found that funny
or unfair.
Launched into this anecdote,
this dream, this poem,
I’m already worried. Now I see
the pair I’m addressing
have put their heads together,
hatching something,
over the crosswords.

-Rae Armantrout

The key to interpreting a poem is to follow its pictures and suggestions. Ask questions of this word or phrase. Ask why certain things are mentioned and others not. Sometimes a word is unusual or surprising and asking yourself why may lead you to an answer. Not all questions will help with the poem, nor all answers integral to understanding them poem, but the mere asking them might open up the meaning of the poem. The following questions are designed to help you work through the poem.


  1. What are the likely attributes of cruel children?
  2. What would be a situation wherein cruel children taunt?
  3. What are cruel children likely to say when they’re taunting?
  4. What type of stories have punch lines?
  5. What is a joke whose punch line is “deviled eggs”?
  6. Any clues as to why the other speaker mentioned is an “idiot”?
  7. Where what “originated”?
  8. Why is that question “funny”?
  9. Why is that question “unfair”?
  10. What is an “anecdote” and how is it different from a joke or a parable?
  11. Why is the speaker of the poem “worried”?
  12. How many people is the speaker addressing in the dream?
  13. What does it mean for two people to “put their heads together”?
  14. Could “put their heads together” indicate another act?
  15. What does it mean to “hatch” something?
  16. Does the idea of “hatching” connect with any other image in the poem?
  17. The two people put their heads together over what?
  18. Are you sure? That thing you’re thinking of is what is mentioned in the poem?
  19. Could the final word indicate something else?
  20. Do you think I’d make you spend this much time on a poem if I didn’t think it were a deep and weighty poem?
Other Close Readings: