5 Poets in The Atlantic

5 Poets in The Atlantic

The Atlantic is not a literary magazine as such, but an internationally- respected magazine for the literate in many walks of life: politics, business, health, education, technology and the arts generally. The magazine is published ten times a year, reports a readership of 400,000, and has made itself profitable again by digital advertising.

Magazines whose poetry I can’t be enthusiastic about – and of course those, often university-based, magazines which permit little free perusal online – I’ve generally passed over in silence. But that seems hardly permissible with what’s been a literary landmark for 150 years, and I therefore comment on a few poems that have caught my eye in recent years. All are accomplished in expression, though perhaps without much emotional punch or vaulting ambition.

Falling Water is a reprint of what first appeared in February 1998. Peter Davison (1928-2004) was poetry editor of the Atlantic for more than thirty years, and the author of several books of poetry. The poem can be read at

It’s a simple descriptive piece made memorable by its onomatopoeic rhythms, staring with:

Wherever it commences perhaps as random
raindrop tapping on a leaf and tumbling
into a tea-stained mosscup

And ending just as stylishly with:

and empty into the broad salt
sleep that will cradle it until
the sun siphons it again
to knit into more rain.

That’s all that really needs to be said, beyond noting the obvious, that such simplicity calls on good craft skills.

Linda Gregerson’s collection was a finalist for the 2007 National Book Award, and she teaches at the University of Michigan. Her poem, Varenna, can be read here: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/08/varenna/308071/

It’s also a descriptive piece, but knit together by an extended conceit, starting with:

Smothered up in gauze, the sky’s
been healing for a week or

Continuing with:

the fabric starts
to loosen, lift, and daylight,
all unblighted, takes a gaudy good-
night bow.

And so on, interweaving the spectator:

What sodden
indistinction just an hour ago had all
but persuaded us not to
regret resumes its first divisions:
slate from cinder, ash

And ending with others:

The people?
Flat bedazzled. But,
in fairness, had a shorter way to fall.

Fluent and entertaining.

Also descriptive – perhaps such pieces are easier to write, or less likely to trip themselves up by over-cleverness – is Beach Reading by Stanley Plumly, who teaches at the University of Maryland. It can be read at:
http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/07/beach– reading/309371/

The attention is close, almost hypnotic, starting with:

The angles angling down on the ocean’s broken surface,
while overhead the spirit of a remnant vapor trail.

From which we look into the sun, and then back, at the clouds, at the dolphins and finally:

Then the moony children and the mothers, and simple bodies
wading out to sea, the brightness turning barely into breakers.

Again, the poem needs little comment, except to admire how the long lines maintain their unbroken integrity.

Simplicity continues with the next piece, A Poem by Ted Kooser, who’s the author of several books of poetry, the winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and U.S. poet laureate from 2004 to 2006. It can be read here:

The episode described is a poem in itself, but needs the professional eye to keep a everything within a simple and effective format;

On a parking-lot staircase
I met two fine-looking men
descending, both in slacks
and dress shirts, neckties
much alike,

They’re father and son. After letting the narrator pass;

then reached out
for each other and continued on.

Carl Dennison’s Night Sky completes the selection. Carl Dennison received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2002, and the poem can be read here:  http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/12/night– sky/308711/
The piece has a comfortable assurance, as unassuming air of prose between start:

It’s good news for the stay-at-homes,
The new consensus among astronomers
That the night sky appears roughly the same
From any spot in the universe,

And ends:

the watchers
Will wonder if the stars they think they remember
Are only fancies. But no, look up.
Here they are again.

In between, the poem manages a good deal of lyricism:

The stars above any roof will be stars enough

Let the Milky Way be visible once again
To the naked eye and compared to a stream
Or glassy roadbed or bank of flowers.

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