A Review of Sundown At The Redneck Carnival By John Dorsey

Chase Dimock Reviews

Sundown at the Redneck Carnival

By John Dorsey

With his trademark spare and exact style, John Dorsey’s latest book of poetry guides us through a carnival of characters that stretches across the country in space, and deep into his decades on the road. What sets Dorsey apart from the other geographers of trailer parks, small town diners, and dollar stores is the balanced empathy of his writing. There isn’t anything sensationalized or exploited. What he reports may shock, but his work never relies on shock value or gratuitously gruesome description to strike its blow. The power of his work is in his ability to make his readers empathize with the marginalized and grotesque without straying into the cheap pathos of pity.

In a poem about a man who lost part of his nose to cancer, Dorsey concludes in the final stanza:

but he’s not pretty enough for heaven
or the silver screen
& not ugly enough
to hide his face
& let some lonesome dirt road
forget he was ever there

This liminal space between beauty and ugliness, between heaven and hell, is where Dorsey’s redneck carnival is located. Beauty is always tempered by the constraints of the environment in which it lives, and what gets written off as ugly is infused with humanity, glowing with careful understanding. At this carnival, the “prettiest girl in town,” “pours drinks/ &becomes a wingless canary/ singing for tips/ in a cage filled with smoke.” Later, Dorsey’s poem for his grandmother similarly envelops us with smoke, describing her with the following:

I never remember you looking young
shaky hands lighting one cigarette
off the other
black rings under your eyes
but your smile was magic
talking about tv preachers
by their first names
as if they really did care
about your salvation

Cigarette smoke is the before and after: beauty destined to shrivel in its environment and the unsinkable beauty deep within an already withered face. As you thumb through Dorsey’s poems, the question is always, who is living in the before and who is living in the after? Who is the young and beautiful destined for pain and age, and who is the weathered soul whose beauty still flickers from inside a battle scarred body?

Take his short “Trailer Park Song, 1982” for example:

my brother
angry
red faced
screaming
& beautiful.

Brief, simple, yet unexpected. Dorsey hands us the unanticipated connection of anger and beauty without a treatise on their causal relationship. In another poem, “Love Letter for Jana Horn”:

the mailbox is full of postcards
from hipster boys
&aging dreamers
who just want
to be swallowed whole
by a desert rose

The young who are destined to become old, and the old who cling to what makes us young in spirit all desire to be consumed by beauty. In Dorsey’s poetry, beauty is as much an aspiration as it is a physical state. Physical beauty is fated to fade, which in of itself is beautiful, but the aspiration toward beauty is what remains after flesh fails.

The only time Dorsey is explicit in labeling true ugliness, is ironically, when he describes a young woman asking “for donations/ for a baby beauty pageant”:

$10 here
$5 there
for a twirl
at the baton
of immortality

sometimes there
is nothing uglier
than
hope.

It’s here where Dorsey draws somewhat of a line where his appreciation of the aspiration toward beauty stops. There is an inherent ugliness in these pageants that exploit the bodies of young people and inculcates in them a belief that beauty should be subject to the judgment of others. Yet, even in his distaste for the pageant, Dorsey isn’t judgmental of the young woman asking for donations. She has bought into the ugly side of hope when our culture commodifies our aspirations to be beautiful. The same is implied in the earlier poem about his grandmother and the TV preachers who pretend to care about her salvation. It’s not the women having hope that is ugly, but instead, the ugliness is in the cynical hope sold to them by institutions that promise what they won’t deliver.

Dorsey never patronizes his subjects by lapsing from empathy to condescension. Sympathy can often be a temporary license we give ourselves to gawk at someone’s misery. While Dorsey doesn’t shy away from presenting the sad circumstances of someone’s life, he also never infringes on their agency by flattening them into one-dimensional victims. Even the aforementioned cancer survivor:

says we are all ravenous locusts
at the same overcrowded trough
as he explains his theories on women

We can only imagine what these “theories” might be, or what he might be expressing with the locusts comment. What is sure is that these complicating aspects of the man’s personality play against any impulse to use his cancer as a thin premise for sympathy. He is not the perfect victim, just a human whose cancer is part of his story. 

Dorsey’s poems are all honest reports on the damage we all live with, and whether this damage is a circumstance of birth or self-inflicted, the damage is inextricable from our stories. For example, Dorsey bluntly spells this out in his poem “Young Man”:

david
i’m not saying 
you were no good
just rotten on the inside
like a bag of sour apples
who left us too young.

Dorsey does not fear pinpointing the rot inside this young man, but also avoids any kind of judgment on him or blame on anyone else. It is taboo to speak ill of the dead, but our culture’s fear of this taboo often leads us to invent a fictitious version of the dead that paints them as blameless and brightsides their darkness. This is more of a dishonor than providing an accurate record of the life they led because it erases all their choices and every mark they made, good or bad. It doesn’t remember the dead; it forgets them immediately and entirely.

This leads me back to what I refer to as John Dorsey’s balanced empathy. Empathy doesn’t mean excusing or ignoring the faults and failings of an individual, but understanding the trauma residing in someone’s scars, including the self-inflicted.  Dorsey’s balanced empathy calls attention to the ugliness of the sour apples rotting in all of us, but in just a few words, he makes the pain of carrying this rot momentarily beautiful.

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Sundown at the Redneck Carnival is available via Spartan Press

About the Reviewer: Chase Dimock is the Managing Editor of As It Ought To Be Magazine. His debut book of poetry, Sentinel Species, was published in 2020.

Mike James Reviews James Dickey: A Literary Life

Mike James Reviews

James Dickey: A Literary Life

By Gordon Van Ness

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In his essay, “Reflections on Wallace Stevens,” the poet and critic Randall Jarrell wrote, “A good poet is someone who manages, in a lifetime of standing out in thunderstorms, to be struck by lightning five or six times; a dozen or two dozen times and he is great.” James Dickey was fond of quoting Jarrell’s line to students and in interviews. The quote encapsulates Dickey’s ambition as well as the luck involved in literary reputations. 

Gordon Van Ness offers the definitive biography of James Dickey and reviews how the reputation of Dickey’s work has collapsed since the 1960’s when he was, with Robert Lowell, considered one of the two most important poets in America. For those who are familiar with Dickey’s life, either through literary gossip or from the previous hatchet work of Henry Hart’s biography, it offers a familiar rise and fall. 

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, James Dickey published an extraordinary number of well received poems, essays, and book reviews. His work regularly appeared in magazines such as the New Yorker and the Atlantic. His 1965 collection, Buckdancers’s Choice, won the National Book Award. Then, in 1970, he published his first novel Deliverance. The adventure story of four men going down a river was a tremendous best-seller. Two years after the novel’s publication it became a hit movie. Dickey wrote the screenplay and even had a memorable role as the sheriff. It was at this point that celebrity began to replace the artist. 

Van Ness makes clear that Dickey enjoyed fame. He wrote several lucrative coffee table books and accepted commissions for a few occasional poems. One of these, “The Strength of the Fields,” was read by Dickey as part of Jimmy Carter’s 1976 inaugural. (The poem is one of the best examples of a “public poem” and has aged better than similar pieces from other inaugural poets.)

What Van Ness also makes clear is that after the summation of his work in Poems: 1957-1967 Dickey became interested in a different kind of poetry. Dickey’s work, in what he referred to as his “early motion,” ranges from the narrative to the lyric, from the mystic to the confessional, from the formal to the experimental. A reader would be hard pressed to find a more various or successful book of poetry and Poems: 1957-1967 remains comparable to Pound’s Personae and Steven’s Harmonium.

The later poetry (the work after 1967) is both more rhetorical and more visual. The poems often range across the page with word and image clusters which sometimes mirror a speaker’s breath units and sometimes mirror high energy synapses firing. While many individual passages often stand out, the poems are less successful and more indulgent. Dickey’s later work often asks more of the reader than it gives. 

Van Ness does a fine job of covering the later work and how it relates to Dickey’s life. He reviews the critical and public reception of Dickey’s two later novels, Alnilam and To the White Sea, as well as the wildly mixed response to his late poetry collection Puella. He also spends a considerable amount of time discussing Dickey’s role as a teacher at the University of South Carolina. Van Ness was a student of Dickey’s in the 1980’s and the exuberance Dickey often brought to the classroom is apparent. 

Exuberance is a key word for describing Dickey’s best work. In poems like “Cherrylog Road,” “On the Hill Below the Lighthouse,” “Adultery,” “The Performance,” “The Lifeguard,” and “To Be Done in Winter” Dickey’s work seems bathed in vitality and life joy. His poetry is not concerned with mundane, small moments. It is concerned with transcendence. 

There are many reasons why Dickey’s reputation has dimmed over the last fifty years. Van Ness covers all of them. His womanizing and alcoholism wrecked many of his friendships and some readers and critics remain willing to dismiss his work based on the numerous misbehaviors of his life.  Also, unlike one of his contemporaries, James Wright, Dickey outlived most of his best work. To quote Nietzsche out of context, Dickey did not “die at the right time.” Finally, the type of masculinity Dickey publicly embodied (think John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway combined with erudition and southern twang) is now out of fashion. 

Van Ness does a fine and necessary job of separating Dickey’s indulgences from his art. He focuses on key early works and adds understanding and appreciation to later, overlooked gems. As someone who has edited two volumes of Dickey’s letters, his early notebooks, and a posthumous collection of late poems, Van Ness is a worthy guide to Dickey’s work. In writing this biography he sends the reader back to Dickey’s poetry and fiction. Dickey remains a poet with a lightning rod, wide awake as he walks through a crackling summer field.

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James Dickey: A Literary Life, by Gordon Van Ness

Mercer University Press, 2022

Biography, $45

About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His most recent book, Portable Light: Poems 1991-2021, was published by Red Hawk in April 2022. Mike’s previous poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog.) 

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Image Credit: Digitally remixed image of a public domain James Dickey photo

Mike James Reviews “Erotic” by Alexis Rhone Fancher

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Mike James Reviews

Erotic

By Alexis Rhone Fancher

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Some poets bring a very cerebral enjoyment. Think of the pleasure of watching John Ashbery’s mind work as he leaps from surprise to surprise, tossing out great lines as extravagantly as a child tossing candy from a parade float at Christmas time. A reader comes away from his work with a voyeur’s amazement akin to watching a skilled acrobat do trick after trick.

Alexis Rhone Fancher’s work offers a different enjoyment. Though her poems display tremendous skill, it’s the stand out nearness of her images and the relatability of her stories which are most striking. She writes about break ups and disappointing relatives, about first lusts and “the regret that hides outside.”

As the title suggests, this collection is broadly concerned with sex. There’s a lot of it, with men and women. The narrator seems aware of every desire and records them with vividness. Her often long titles are a lot of fun and prepare the reader for what’s ahead. For instance, the collection’s second poem is titled, “Tonight I Will Dream of Anjelica, My First Ex-Girlfriend, Who Taught Me the Rules of the Road…” The title ties into Angelica’s T-Bird and what takes place there, which is a lot. The narrator tells us, “I’ve always been driven to sin.”

She writes poems about one night stands where, “We are each bodies, hard-wired for pleasure, / destined for momentary blooming / then extinction.” And she writes poems about relationships which linger past their shelf life. She tells us, “Tonight I am ripe for forgiveness.” She tells us, “We had a history / all dead ends.”

What’s most exhilarating about this collection is the number of risks it takes. So many of these poems would not work for less talented poets. Fancher is fearless in her approach to subject and form. This collection contains prose poems and free verse. It contains litanies and Americanized haiku. Fancher reinvents them all.

One of the best poems in the collection, “White Flag”, is based on an Edward Hopper painting. Fancher adds a sensuality to the occupants of Hopper’s world. Loneliness is what can come the night after a hook up or during the weeks after a break up. She tells us “No one paints loneliness like Edward Hopper paints me, missing you, apologies on my lips.”

Thankfully, no apologies are needed for these stunning, life-filled poems.

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Erotic; New & Selected by Alexis Rhone Fancher
New York Quarterly Books, 2021
Poetry, $21

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About the Author: Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee. He has published in numerous magazines, large and small, throughout the country. His 18 poetry collections include: Leftover Distances (Luchador), Parades (Alien Buddha), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog), He has received multiple Pushcart and Best of the Net nominations.

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More Reviews by Mike James:

Mike James reviews Mingo Town & Memories by Larry Smith

Mike James reviews “Dead Letter Office: Selected Poems” By Marko Pogacar

Mike James reviews Beautiful Aliens: A Steve Abbott Reader and Have You Seen This Man? The Castro Poems of Karl Tierney

Tim Heerdink: “Storm is Chasing [sic]”

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About the Author: Tim Heerdink is the author of Somniloquy & Trauma in the Knottseau Well, The Human Remains, Red Flag and Other Poems, Razed Monuments, Checking Tickets on Oumaumua, Sailing the Edge of Time, I Hear a Siren’s Call, Ghost Map, A Cacophony of Birds in the House of Dread, and short stories, The Tithing of Man and HEA-VEN2. His poems appear in various journals and anthologies. He is the President of Midwest Writers Guild of Evansville, Indiana.

Image Credit: “Alphonse Legros “Storm” (French 1837-1911) Public Domain. Image courtesy of Artvee

Poetry Soundbite: A Reading and Interview with Agnes Vojta

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Agnes Vojta author photo 2

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Welcome to AIOTB Magazine’s fifth Poetry Soundbite, an on-going series of poetry readings and interviews. For this edition, we welcome Agnes Vojta, a poet who grew up in Germany and now lives in Rolla, Missouri where she teaches physics at Missouri S&T and hikes the Ozarks. She is the author of Porous Land (Spartan Press, 2019) and The Eden of Perhaps (Spartan Press, 2020), and her poems have appeared in a variety of magazines.

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More By Agnes Vojta:

Legend

Sisyphus Calls It Quits

Flotsam

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: NOME EMEKA PATRICK

By Nome Emeka Patrick:


MONOLOGUE IN A ROOM WITH THE PORTRAITS OF MY DEAD BROTHER

You were my brother until your eyes wore a dragon’s breath until your hands grew into an orchard of blood until your mouth unwound into a coffin. May the blood that hums in our veins like a river knifing past a dark forest bear me witness. I love you brother with all the birds psalming in my bones. I love you o brother. In this sanctuary that’s my mouth, brother there’s a prayer burning wild –a lamp in the wrinkled hands of a monk searching God in a dark room. You were my brother until the ten o’ clock news says a young man walks into a market with explosives strapped to his body like a life jacket. On the TV your face appears like a surprise & so it is. A scar glitters like a promise on your neck & so it is. How you got the scar: we were god’s descendants in a garden one afternoon when you said let’s play a game –a game of stones. Everything always started with you even the morning fajr. You hurled your stone but I ducked. Mine stabbed your neck into spittle of warm blood. We both knelt like two unfurling hibiscuses. We both cried like a night wind behind a chariot until the ambulance came. & today the scar glitters on every neighbour’s screen. That’s your lips o brother where prayers & ablutions grew wings & flew into the heavenly nest of a whistling God beyond. O brother the dancing firefly in a dark museum. O brother the lonely lamb where the forest is wildest. Until your eyes wore the skin of night & your hands grew into a garden of cold fallen leaves, you were the vision I never had. You were all the places I always dreamt of. You were the only prayer I learnt to keep in my heart before opening it into Allah’s eyes. O you were my only dear brother. How do I pray for your soul when every song that leads me to you is a dirge stuck on a raven’s beak?



Reprinted with permission from the author. This poem first appeared in the Winter 2019 issue of Flapperhouse.


Nome Emeka Patrick is a blxck bxy and student in the University of Benin, Nigeria, where he studies English language and literature. A recipient of The 40th edition of Festus Iyayi award for excellence (Poetry) in 2018. His works have been published or forthcoming in Gaze journal, Beloit poetry journal, FLAPPER HOUSE, Crannóg magazine, Puerto Del Sol, Mud Season Review, The Oakland Review, Notre Dame Review, Gargouille, Barnhouse journal and elsewhere. His manuscript, We Need New Moses. Or New Luther King, was a finalist for the 2018 Sillerman First Book Prize for African poets. Say Hi on twitter @paht_rihk

Guest Editor’s Note: In this poem, a river knifes past a dark forest, and a scar glitters; memory of shared experience becomes love, and a brother questions his own mourning in the wake of a terrible devotion in “a prayer burning wild.” The speaker addresses his brother and cries out for meaning in a senseless world that broadcasts the terror and disregards the humanity. The speaker talks of their kinship in the past, signaling its destruction at the moment the bomb exploded, leaving the speaker with an unresolved grief.

Original similes are sometimes hard to come by, but this poem surprises with each comparison that contains images igniting all of the senses and lines delving deeper into the emotions associated with a brother’s death. Remembering how they dealt with tragedy in their youth, the speaker compares them to “two unfurling hibiscuses,” kneeling and crying. The poem is a visual and musical lament that uses personal memory and imagery to convey intimate sorrow and grief, universal human feelings that rely on recollection to commemorate loved ones and keep close those times that define life in the living and not in its end.

Want to read more by and about Nome Emeka Patrick?
Gaze Journal
FLAPPERHOUSE
Vagabond City

 

Contributing Editor Anne Graue is the author of Fig Tree in Winter (Dancing Girl Press), and has published poems in literary journals and anthologies, including The Book of Donuts (Terrapin Books), Blood and Roses: A Devotional for Aphrodite and Venus (Bibliotheca Alexandrina), Gluttony (Pure Slush Books), The Plath Poetry Project, One Sentence Poems, Random Sample Review, Into the Void Magazine, Allegro Poetry Magazine, and Rivet Journal.

 

A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with two new Contributing Editors, including the one featured here today. I am now thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: F. E. CLARK

“Daily Painting, 12th June 2017” by F. E. Clark


By F. E. Clark:


MYOPIA

We lost the far away from our eyes
peering at our precious tiny screens.
Addicted to the chatter in the blue light
we spat and growled at the slam, slam, slam,
of constant crisis, constant cries.
We marched figuratively through our newsfeeds,
wound tighter and tighter—blinded,
to that which was not inside our screens.
And all the while the earth was turning,
away, away, away.
Until we could see her
no more, and we were gone.


TO BRING THE SKY DOWN

A scared flame of violet – burnt from a found bone,

The indigo of your first lover’s jeans,

High sky blue of a day in spring when the larks sung,

Green fired algae from the dead pond’s ditch

Yellow of the belly of the one who cowers,

Orange from the fungi that grows under the dead fox,

The red of a berry that poisons.

Plait the rainbow – red over orange, yellow over green, blue over indigo,

Tie with violet at the deepest hour of black,

Make sure you bind the rainbow’s ends tight,

When required, cast from a clifftop on a dark moon night.



“Myopia” previously appeared in Burning House Review, and “To Bring the Sky Down” previously appeared in Luna Luna Magazine. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.



F. E. Clark lives in Scotland. She writes, paints, and takes photographs—inspired by nature in all its forms. A Pushcart, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions nominee, her poetry, flash-fiction, and short stories can be found in anthologies and literary magazines.

Contributing Editor’s Note: In “Myopia,” F. E. Clark takes an existential view of what has become second nature to all of us: looking at our phones while ignoring the world around us. The poem is written in the past tense and reveals the sad outcome of having lived our lives through a few inches of screen. She exposes the profound sadness when, “We lose the far away from our eyes” and are exposed to “constant crisis, constant cries” as we respond and read social media and news feeds, while the world continues its routing rotating When we “away, away, away.” And at the same time turning its back on us. Her dystopic conclusion is that the less we participate in the world, the less we ourselves exists.

Clark regains her vision of what life can be in her poem, “To Bring the Sky Down.” Her remedy for the blindness she encountered in “Myopia” is keen observation reinforced by incantatory rhythms. What she sees when she looks closely at the world around her is remarkable. Clark finds antidotes in vivid technicolor, among the discarded, “The indigo from your first lover’s jeans”; the decayed, “Orange from the fungi that grows under the dead fox”; and the dead, “Green fired algae from the dead pond’s pitch”. She collects strands of color, plaiting them into a rainbow for eventual use in the darkest times.

Want to read more by F. E. Clark?
F. E. Clark’s Official Website
Twitter: @feclarkart
Umbel & Panicle
Mojave Heart Review
Luna Luna Magazine



Contributing Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.



A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of contributing editors, including the one featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan Butler-Rotholz, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: AMY WATKINS

MURMURATION
By Amy Watkins

An osprey beats the wind with bowed wings,
steady till it drops and shakes in flight.
The wind catches and it rises again.
I watch from the porch where I’ve come early
to stop avoiding our father’s call. Last night,
I turned the ringer off then on then off again,
swiped down to ignore but texted back.
There are two birds in the tree across the street
and a third circling and circling, rising and falling
in the wind from a distant hurricane.
The phone rings. He wants to talk about you.

They say each bird attends to just seven others, and,
in this way, a thousand starlings turn together
like one creature. I’ll try not to make this a metaphor.
Once, you and I climbed the hills outside
Florence, Italy. Our dearest ones climbed with us
and, because we were few and each one loved
by all the others, I thought we made a kind of net
that might hold the breaking world together.
A murmuration of starlings unfurled like the aurora
borealis, a sheer curtain caught in wind,
twisting, tracing a path through twilight.

A hawk swoops low over the osprey nest.
I think it might land, but it doesn’t. You ask to meet
for coffee. Our father calls, and I don’t answer.



Today’s poem previously appeared in SWWIM and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Amy Watkins grew up in central Florida surrounded by saw palmetto and sugar sand and a big, close-knit, religious family: the kind of upbringing that’s produced generations of southern writers. She married her high school sweetheart, had a baby girl, and earned her MFA in writing from Spalding University. She is the author of two chapbooks forthcoming in 2019: Wolf Daughter (Sundress Publications) and Lucky (Bottlecap Press). Follow her on Twitter @amykwatkins.

Contributing Editor’s Note: Amy Watkin’s poem, “Murmuration,” is a coming together of worlds. First, there’s the easy mixture of nature and the modern digital world. She closely watches ospreys, how one “drops and shakes in flight. / The wind catches and it rises again.” and then “two birds in a tree across the street / and a third circling, rising and falling.” These innate animal behaviors echo her own modern-day habits with her cell phone—“I turned the ringer on then off again, / swiped down to ignore but texted back.”

She also employs the world of the sacred and the secular, which she hints at through controlled and purposeful ambiguity in word choice. For instance, Watkins selects the homonym “bowed” for the angle of the osprey’s wings in flight. When she decides to finally take a phone call from her dad, it becomes a holy act when she arrives “early / to stop avoiding our father’s call.” Her level of her control and precision is astonishing when, for a moment, she takes herself out of the poem and cautions the reader “I’ll try not to make this a metaphor.” Of course, this line has just the opposite effect and we focus more intensely on the rich metaphors throughout the poem.

Watkins pays pays off the title of the poem in grand style describing “A murmuration of starlings unfurled like the aurura / borealis,”—a startling and beautiful image that ties everything gracefully together. “Murmuration” is an emotional and beautifully crafted poem that works on many levels. The poem rewards deeply upon close reading.

Want to read more by and about Amy Watkins?
Red Lion Sq.
Burrow Press
Glass: A Journal of Poetry
Drunk Monkeys
Emrys Journal



Contributing Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.



A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of contributing editors, including the one featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan Butler-Rotholz, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: CL BLEDSOE

DREAMCATCHER
By CL Bledsoe

Her hair is a tangled field of sweet straw
knocked crooked in heavy winds, catching
any light that stumbles nearby. Maybe this
is why she radiates heat, when I’m trying
to nap, sick, on the couch and she perches high
on my side watching screaming cartoons. Dazzled
strangers stop us on sidewalks to remind us
in case we’ve forgotten: life isn’t always gray. It’s not.
Bees follow us to get at the pollen they can smell
trapped in the mess. I thump them away
when they get too close and scare her. If I had time,
I’d learn to collect their honey, walk her through
the sweetest fields, open a boutique to pay
for college. But I can barely remember to stop smiling
long enough to thank the policeman for the speeding
ticket most mornings. Brushes are an enemy to her,
the confining toil of hair ties lead to tears. Stickers lost
are found. Twigs. Fuzz. All of it down the drain with
the bath water. It won’t last.



Today’s poem previously appeared in Mockingheart Review and appears here today with permission from the poet.


CL Bledsoe‘s most recent books are the poetry collections Trashcans in Love and King of Loneliness and the novel The Funny Thing About… He lives in northern Virginia with his daughter and blogs (with Michael Gushue) at How To Even…

Guest Editor’s Note: There are not many poems full of unabashed joy and magic, but CL Bledsoe’s “Dreamcatcher” is one of them. The language continually surprises as it turns a little girl’s head of blonde hair into a dreamcatcher, full of wonderment and mystery. Bledsoe moves with alacrity and agility from the initial simile that describes his daughter’s hair “as a tangled field of sweet straw / knocked crooked in heavy winds, catching / any light that stumbles nearby.” Nothing in this poem feels forced, even though he never lets an opportunity go by without pushing the language and imagery as hard as he can, to capture the girl’s spirit as she “radiates heat” or “perches high” when “watching screaming cartoons” to reveal the joy he experiences simply by being open to the wonders of his daughter’s essence. This is a poem that truly shows us that “life isn’t always gray” and the wonder that occurs as “Bees follow us to get at the pollen they can smell / trapped in the mess.” Read it, smile, and bask in the sunlight that Bledsoe has captured.

Want to read more by and about CL Bledsoe?
Amazon Author Page
How To Even blog
Not Another TV Dad blog
Not Another TV Dad column





Guest Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.



A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan Butler-Rotholz, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB

 

SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: CAROLE BERNSTEIN

By Carole Bernstein:

PASTORAL

Sunny with the intensity of dream.
Huge balloony graffiti covered the stone
wall at the end of Avenue M,
where Iris Bloom took me to smoke a joint
and we cut Orchestra, second period.

Avenue M—was that it? some
concrete promontory, secret, above the subway
where it burst up into the light—we watched it
racket a while among the green backyards
like a real train from a real place, not Brooklyn,
and sink again.
The passengers, blinking,
would be headed for work, starting their day . . .

What possessed me that morning? I never cut school.
But we would not play that day,
our oboes lying in cases by our feet and books,
the reeds not in our mouths,
the joint passed, sipped at with the breath,
tentative, a new thing to do.
I took off my jacket, the breeze moved over my arms,
we felt lean as boys, we were
dangerous, unsexual, unobserved.

And then returned to the low building
and entered it,
blinded for a few seconds, believing
ourselves altered—the blackboard fathomless,
the passing bell shrieking.
Dull-lipped seemed the faces of the uninitiated.

By three the sun had faded, but
our smoke, its animal warmth, I thought it
scented the spring wind.

BACK TO LIFE

Daughter, delivered by an attendant:
silent and watchful in your orphanage smock
with the cartoon dog, and pilled mended pants.
A smell of mildew came from your shock

of sweaty, cropped black hair. Stuck to your chest,
in English and Chinese a name tag read
Happy Springtime: a name pressed
upon you by no father, mother. Closeted

from the world before you came to us, as if
in an ancient tomb carving of a child
rising from the grave in a flowing shift.
Freed from the humid earth, she almost smiles.

You don’t remember, but love to be told
how they brought you through the doors and you were ours.
But buried in you is that place, still. Were you cold,
solitary, left wanting, maybe for hours…

Don’t go there, I tell myself. Instead,
I grab you and inhale your fragrant head.

Today’s poems appear here today with permission from the poet.

Carole Bernstein’s second poetry collection Buried Alive: A To-Do List is forthcoming in Spring 2019 from Hanging Loose Press. She is also the author of Familiar (Hanging Loose Press)—which J. D. McClatchy called “an exhilarating book”—and a chapbook, And Stepped Away from the Circle (Sow’s Ear Press). Her poems have appeared in magazines including Antioch Review, Bridges, Button Jar, Chelsea, Light, Paterson Literary Review, Poetry, Shenandoah, and Yale Review. Her work has also been included in three anthologies: American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon University Press), Unsettling America (Viking) and The Laurel Hill Poetry Anthology (Laurel Hill Press). She lives in Philadelphia and works as a freelance writer and marketing consultant.

Guest Editor’s Note: Carole Bernstein’s work carries an honest and relaxed tone, even as she addresses sensitive and intimate personal experiences. Reading her work is like being invited into her world as a close confidante, if just for a few moments. In “Pastoral,” Bernstein describes the newfound and sensual freedom that came from cutting class years ago in high school, allowing her and a friend to be “lean as boys” and feel “dangerous, unsexual, unobserved.” She resists romantic or sentimental treatment of the most personal and sentimental moments of life. In “Back to Life,” she presents, with unadorned comfort, the immediate love for a new daughter that was accompanied by “A smell of mildew came from your shock / of sweaty, cropped black hair.” Both of these poems are part of a new collection of work, Buried Alive: A To-Do List, forthcoming Spring 2019.

Want to read more by and about Carole Bernstein?
Buy Familiar on Amazon
Poetry Foundation
Hanging Loose Press





Guest Editor Alan Toltzis is the author of The Last Commandment. Recent work has appeared in print and online publications including Hummingbird, Right Hand Pointing, IthacaLit, r.k.v.r.y. Quarterly, and Cold Noon. Find him online at alantoltzis.com.



A NOTE FROM THE MANAGING EDITOR:

After nearly ten years as Contributing Editor of this series, it is an honor and a unique opportunity to share this space with a number of guest editors, including the editor featured here today. I am thrilled to usher in an era of new voices in poetry as the Managing Editor of this series.

Viva la poesia!
Sivan Butler-Rotholz, Managing Editor
Saturday Poetry Series, AIOTB