5 Poets in Orion

5 Poets in Orion

Orion is more than literary magazine focusing on the environment, or even the moral responsibilties that apply – what the founding editor in 1982 stated as: “It is Orion’s fundamental conviction that humans are morally responsible for the world in which we live, and that the individual comes to sense this responsibility as he or she develops a personal bond with nature.” In 1992 Orion broadened its scope and formed The Orion Society, an independent nonprofit organization to bring the magazine’s message to more people and encourage action.  In 1996 Orion and The Orion Society moved from New York City to Great Barrington, Massachusetts, established its own Board of Directors, and received its own 501(c)3 designation from the IRS.

Literary magazines are generally labors of love, but anyone contemplating setting up another is this greatly crowded scene may be sobered by the statistics published on the site. Orion today has an operating budget of more than $1.5 million and a full-time staff of ten, plus interns and several part-time staff. With no advertising, about 30% of Orion’s operating budget comes from subscriptions and sales, and about 70% from donations, foundations and individuals. Note the 70%, and the amount of fund-raising implied – from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, and no doubt many others.

Orion is in no sense an experimental or ambitious literary magazine, and I hope it’s not disparaging to say of the five poems presented here work well within the conventional limits they set themselves. All come from the free access parts of the magzine, but I would guess are represent of the magazine as a whole, given the consistent tone.

The Fog Town School of Thought is by Maurice Manning, who is former Guggenheim fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist. The poem can be read at
http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/poem/7286/ It’s difficult to know what to quote because the poem flows seamlessly on from:

They should have taught us birds and trees
in school, they should have taught us beauty
and weaving bees and had a class
on listening and standing alone –

Through light reflected on a spider’s web, veins on a leaf, the larger  aspects of sky, the fog and love that makes a child’s world, and even a man’s, to conclude with:

you’d think
with the book in front of us we should
have learned how Fog Town got its name.

The same simplicity that needs little comment is also evident in Kathleen Jamie’s Roses. Ms. Jamie teaches creative writing at Stirling University in Scotland, and is the author of several prize-winning books of poetry and nonfiction. The poem can be read here: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/poem/6922

First simple description:

This is the moment the roses
cascade over backstreet walls,
throng the public parks-
their cream or scrunched pinks

And then the observation that roses, like human beings, are entitled to their portion of happiness:

I haggle for my little
portion of happiness,
says each flower, equal, in the scented mass.

Prairie, Under Full Moon by Eva Hooker is much more ambitious. Ms Hooker is professor of English and writer in residence at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana. Her poems have appeared in many small presses, and this one can be accessed at: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/poem/6816/ Everyone has a picture of the world by moonlight, but here the scene is menacing:

In the blooming period, everywhere is open.
Winds make you arrive where you do not want to go.

And disrupts the normal sequence of events, and what we expect of its inhabitants, wild and tamed. Indeed there is Biblical dimension to it:

As if Jacob’s ladder were built sideways.
Angels roam restlessly
Anxious to deliver
Their burden. They make crossings of weird
Gravity and synaptic light.

Or perhaps the words run away with us:
You see words are not always accurate.
Sometimes they are prone
To excess. And mutiny. What does the body mean to say by

So let us ask one of the simplest inhabitants:

O sparrow, speak the bird’s O until the breath runs out     

But no, that is also aware of coming trouble.
You can read your wound. Its hidden seam. 
Its slip-knot.

No more than that. We are not told how or why, but where an inexperienced writer would simply trot out the usual adjectives, the method here has been to imbue the scene with menace through the response of its inhabitants.

Rolling Naked in the Morning Dew is by Pattiann Rogers who has published widely in the last twenty years. The poem can be read at: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/poem/6833/ The poem, is the longest here, is a celebration of nature’s seeming infinite plenty, and one feature follows another:

Out among the wet grasses and wild barley-covered
Meadows, backside, frontside, through the white clover
And feather peabush, over spongy tussocks
And shaggy-mane mushrooms, the abandoned nests
Of larks and bobolinks, face to face
With vole trails, snail niches, jelly
Slug eggs; or in a stone-walled garden, level
With the stemmed bulbs of orange and scarlet tulips,

The title originates in the curative properties of running wild in this profusion:

As a toad in the forest, belly and hips, thighs
And ankles drenched in the dew-filled gulches
Of oak leaves, in the soft fall beneath yellow birches,

Of exposing oneself as Lilly Langtry did:

Lillie Langtry practiced it, when weather permitted,
Lying down naked every morning in the dew,
With all of her beauty believing the single petal
Of her white skin could absorb and assume
That radiating purity of liquid and light.

Which the narrator accepts. Indeed even just thinking about it:

Just consider how the mere idea of it alone
Has already caused me to sing and sing
This whole morning long.

The last poem is Whales Skim Feeding off  Cape Cod. The author, Elizabeth Bradfield, is the author of Approaching Ice and Interpretive Work, and lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. It can be read at: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/poem/6709/

Here there is no scene-setting: the poem plunges straight into the argument:

Who would expect their appetite
would come to seem ominous?
But now I know
they are voids of hunger.

Then comes a brief description of their appetite, in which vast massses of planton disappear, until:

Week after week,
right whales eat the bay down
until they have to leave it.

Which have made them the monsters on the brink of extinction, as we are too:

Time and proximity have made them
monsters. This must be how it was before.

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