June 27th, 2022
"Salt Pieces" by Taghrid Abdelal from New England Review 43.2 is a challenging poem that defies breezy explication. But I'm going to breeze through it anyway, and leave you to do the heavy lifting. Read the full poem by clicking the picture above.
See what I mean?
Don't take the easy road and tell me, "The poem's a translation."
Take the hard road, with me, and try to grapple with the poem line by line. Image by image.
The first three lines, to my ear, are virtually flawless:
Everything will melt
at the bottom of childhood:
the road is the salt.
That is they sound flawless. Does this mean they have flawless meaning? Does this mean they should have flawless meaning? And what's flawless meaning anyway? For that matter, what's flawless?
Forget all that. Let's just stick to the poem. The next stanza promises us that salt:
will devise new noses
to seek us out.
Then the poem gets sort of strange. There are jugs, unspecified observers, unspecified losses, the hint of an age defying anthem that promptly fragments, until we reach the poem's first vertical pronoun:
I observe myself:
I adhere to falling things
because they are fractures
of butterflies in a race
Incredible lines. Beauty dripping throughout and a sense of inventive longing. This is as subjective as poetry gets, but it's still speeding tantalizingly toward the universal. I can't tell you why, or how, precisely, but I feel it.
The poem reaches it's conclusion in a flurry of questions. This rhetorical repetition is almost a reproach to the reader who certainly has no context through which to answer.
This is where it stuns.
Because the poem is a complete statement. It's the fractal of an unnamed emotion that, possibly, is unnamable. Yet we all experience it: the dream (or nightmare) quality that mixes with normal life until you can't really see it, and just when you do, it's gone again, but always there.
I mentioned the idea of pataphysics in my last blog post. This poem is a tour-de-force of pataphysical epiphany. I'd love to hear what you make of its associations. Clearly, in this case, I need a little help from my friends. Drop me a line through the link below.
Michelle Tinklepaugh's a special poet and I'm going to tell you why. She does with words what a great watercolorist does with paint, but she paints the most serious, often tragic, archetypal images you're apt to find from any poet on social media. This means two things: first, she has a unique voice and, second, she's immersed in themes that many poets typically avoid or fumble.
Her poem "mustard bones and other ways to pay the ferryman" is a brilliant piece of poetry. Click on Michelle's picture above to read the whole poem and you'll soon see why I've got my work cut out for me in this post.
Sure, this poem feels like Emily Dickinson and intones like Sylvia Plath, but I defy you to keep these associations past the final line. This poem goes somewhere neither of those Titans visited, and it's purely Tinklepaugh's vision, theme, and aesthetic. It's not surrealism, precisley, and it's not only Symbolist. This fusion and originality generally signals a complete poet, one that should be published regularly in the literary journals, have books out, and be taken seriously by critics.
I can't do much about the first issue, but I'm happy to announce that Tinklepaugh has found a publisher and will release a book sometime soon. It's only on the third count that I can contribute. I'm not a critic, per se, but I take Tinklepaugh's art very seriously, as seriously as I take anyone publishing in the journals or elsewhere.
I urge you to read her work, which you can do by following her blog or following her on Facebook. My upcoming First Flashes anthology features a poem from Tinklepaugh and I'm excited to include her work.
It's going to take another blog post to get down to actually talking nuts and bolts about her poetry. For now, read the linked poem, think about it, and realize that this poem starts with:
i carry your bones in my pocket
the smooth round ends
into knife points
but every single line gets better until, 75 lines later, we reach what's best described as the poem's true beginning.
I'll be blogging more about Tinklepaugh's excellent poetry soon, which will gain her a category of her own on this blog, something her work well deserves. mustard bones and other ways to pay the ferryman
Mirrors and Maids
I'm angry about, "Girl, Hotel Mirror," by Laurie Bolger, a poem posted back in September at The London Magazine. Read it in full by clicking the pic above. It's inventive. It's funny. It's sad. And it's a bull's-eye dart right into the heart of our narcissistic, digital age.
Add to that, Bolger ushers in a dark, psychedelic tone that lifts to ironic crescendo at the poem's close. So, the poem is musically minded, to say the least.
And this is where I start to get angry, because with a piece like this, Bolger's making it a lot tougher on the rest of us who write poems. The poem not only features the crescendo I mentioned, which is constructed almost entirely out of increasingly inventive (and disturbing) surrealistic images; it also features a cast of characters that could (and probably should) round out a provocative one-act play. It has dialogue, dialect, slang, motion, conflict, class struggle, and well, virtually everything but pratfalls.
And pratfalls are strongly implied.
I count thirty-one total lines. I've seen novelists do much less in 500 pages.
Fine, Daniel, but what about the poetry? Well, how's this for an opening?
In a hotel mirror, a woman
is snogging her own face.
The image of a woman kissing her own face is quite funny, but the word "snogging" makes it much more funny. That word does something else, by the way, it sets the speaker of the poem on a superior plane. The quasi-sanctimonious tone persists for most of the poem. When it dissolves, it does so into the previously mentioned crescendo of surrealism, so Bolger washes her speaker right down the drain with everything else.
Yet the poem remains. A stunning work of art. There's much more to applaud in terms of pure poetry here, like the enjambment on lines 30-31 that rolls through an onomatopoeic alliteration, then sputters out just as the rational sense of the poem simultaneously dissipates.
Have we just watched a maestro smash a violin? Or a rock-star smashing up a guitar? That is exactly what I think we're seeing here. Bolger's smashing up the whole "selfie" culture by not failing at the poem. It's a hit while everything it's about fails. The music survives, not the medium.
So, I guess I should be a little less angry, but stay a bit envious and let that inspire me.
"Roadworks" by Jeff Gallagher is a fine poem posted recently at Amethyst Review. Click the pic above to read it in full.
What's impressive about the poem is the way that Gallagher uses language like a light by which to uncover the sacred ritual behind the ordinary world of things.
The first stanza reads:
The high priests in their hard hats
stand round the ruptured gravel,
numbed by the spell of an old tree
that has wounded the pavement.
Gallagher's use of alliteration in the opening line: "high", "hard", "hats" promotes a tone of austere authority. The construction workers are priests. As they repair the road, they become angels doing holy work:
As the congregation of cars
backs up along this pilgrims’ road,
machines fill the cracks, the shrine
is rolled flat and anointed with tar.
Yet, they seem unaware of their true role. Despite their work, the closing stanza acknowledges that "the cracks will reappear" and that the forces that move nature and human impulse remain shrouded in Divine mystery.
It's enough to participate and contemplate. And perhaps offer solace and repairs.
Which is what a good poem does.
Gallagher's beautifully sustained symbolism, congruent imagery, and careful diction creates a sense of sacred surrealism, a topic and aesthetic idea that I'll return to again in this blog. I consider this a gem of a poem and hope you do, too.
Hit talk above or below to let me know what you think of this or any other poem or topic.