5 Poets in Gulf Coast: Jennifer Moxley, David Welch, Joseph Campana, Beckian Fritz Goldberg and Sharon Olds

4 Poets in Gulf Coast Magazine

4 Poets in Gulf Coast Magazine

Gulf Coast is a journal of literature and fine arts based in Houston, Texas, with an important educational role: internship, editorial assistantship programs and meetings with editors for contributors to develop their skills. The journal was founded in 1986, and publishes poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.  

I’ve selected what seems to me the most successful of recent contributions, which often have a playful tone.  Jennifer Moxley is the author of five books of poetry, and teaches poetry and poetics at the University of Maine. Her  Dividend of the Social Opt Out can be read here: https://gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=3&si=16&s=1071
There is nothing difficult about the piece: it was has the straight-forward reasonableness of eighteenth century verse, and simply develops that Proustian character’s thoughts, those telegrams would run: ‘Impossible to come. Lie follows.’ The first stanza lays the theme out neatly, with the first and third line ends marking extended thought.  

How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.
Not seriously ill, just a little under the weather.
To feel slightly peaked, indisposed. Plagued by
a vague ache, or a slight inexplicable chill.   

Not only not to go, but send regrets, which will be read while you indulge in whatever it is that you prefer doing. Of course there is some social cost: 

Even the caretaker has gone to the party.   

Which you may regret: 

You indulge in a moment of sadness, make
a frown at the notion you won’t be missed.   

And the poem ends with a doubtful consolation: 

This is what it is. You have opted to be
forgotten so that your thoughts might live. 

To that precise, idiomatically exact expression is added a note of humorous whimsy in the next piece,  Nevermind the Lightning by David Welch, which can be read at: 

https://gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=3&si=16&s=1054. David Welch has published in leading journals, and lives in Chicago. 

That’s a waltz in your mouth,
said the dentist. Don’t you light that
in here—we can’t all keep time
with our tongues like that. It isn’t fair.
The tooth said, So what should I do?
And the mouth said,
Stay here. And the bridge
on the eastern shore creaked
as it shook a bit in the wind.   

Then follows an extended dialogue between dentist, tooth and mouth, in which the wind enters:  

                    I said
wonders, the wind said—
the sky is a mouth
where the hawk-tongue wonders.  

And then a drill, which makes a small hole for the wind to play in:   

Everything must have a home,
the dentist said. Yes, said the mouth.
I understand. Especially the wind,
which is hollow like a tooth. 

Which explains the waltz:  

The wind, the mouth said, is
a sort of waltz.  

Which frightens the mouth:  

I’m not always clear,
said the wind. I’m sorry.
You’re saying I hold my hands
gingerly around the world
like a waist. No, not at all,
the mouth said. I’m saying
I don’t think you’re gentle at all.  

The dentist intervenes with common sense, but the wind has the last word:  

Sometimes a tooth spends
its whole life inside
the mouth. I’m not so smart,
the dentist said. The mouth is
a field full of holes. Oh,
said the wind—no. No, it’s not. 

Wolf by Joseph Campana is a metaphysical nursery tale. The author has published widely and teaches Renaissance literature and creative writing at Rice University. The poem can be read at: https://gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=3&si=7&s=607 

Little man, I said, keep the wolf
from my door: one more night,    

Where, of course, the wolf ultimately wins: 

I could
already feel its teeth tearing my skin 

But in the interval — and this is the charm of the poem, the deft way the sensations are given shape:

 wait and the season
              was packing its bags 

and there was a fury
           raining down at night  

I feel it gnawing at me  

— the wolf becomes an overwhelming possession. 

Beckian Fritz Goldberg is the author of five volumes of poetry, and teaches at Arizona State University. Her poem, Vodka, can be read at:  https://gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=3&si=14&s=887 and has some of the folk-lore inconsequentiality of a Marc Chagall painting. It starts:  

The potatoes grow in an orchard
where the eyes are harvested by women in babushkas.
Its song is my song. It goes, Let’s paint
the town pink.  

And soon blends the quotidian love poem with sharp, off-key observations: 

when the stray
horse runs around illiterate and happy
and the sun goes down like an olive
in ice,  

That was my friend, Angel,
who stood in the leaves of his yard
among the Sleeping With.  

Though the proof of anything is in
remembrance. The potato,
an apple, blinded by some fate.
Why isn’t the body happy–
it has eyes, it has limbs, it has breath. 

The town is blue, and white, and the leaves
sparkling…  

Shoes by the bed.
Into Super-Collider.. 

or how I came to be with you again 

Completing the nursery rhyme theme is Sharon Olds’ Left-Wife Goose, which appeared in Stag’s Leap (Knopf, 2012), winner of a Pulitzer Prize. The author needs little introduction, of course, and now teaches in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing at New York University. The poem can be read at: https://gulfcoastmag.org/index.php?n=3&si=46&s=2838 

The tone of happy lunacy is set at once: 

Hoddley, Poddley, Puddles and Fogs,
Cats are to Marry the Poodle Dogs;
Cats in Blue Jackets and Dogs in Red Hats,
What Will Become of the Mice and Rats?  

And continues in neatly-rhymed fun: 

    Had a trust fund, had a thief in,
    Had a husband, could not keep him.
Fiddle-Dee-Dee, Fiddle-Dee-Dee,
The Fly Has Left the Humble-Bee.  

They Went to the Court, and Unmarried Was She:
The Fly Has Left the Humble-Bee.
    Had a sow twin, had a reap twin,
    Had a husband, could not keep him. 

Etc., to end in mock-seriousness: 

There Was an Old Woman Called Nothing-at-All,
Who Lived in a Dwelling Exceedingly Small;
A Man Stretched His Mouth to the Utmost Extent,
And Down at One Gulp House and Old Woman Went.
    Had a rich pen, had a cheap pen,
    Had a husband, could not keep him.
Put him in this inken shell,
And here you keep him very well.

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