5 Poets in the New England Review

5 Poets in the New England Review

The New England Review (NER) is a quarterly literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, translations, and non-fiction from established and up-and-coming new writers. It was founded in 1978 by Sydney Lea and Jay Parini, but moved in 1982 to Middlebury College. 

Though academia-based literary publications tend to have certain characteristics in common – intelligent mainstream content from accredited writers – they also strive to develop their own ‘voice’, which no doubt reflects the preferences of the teaching faculty and the magazine editors. I’ve chosen five pieces from recent editions that are strong on descriptive skills, though many of the poems have problems.

Tomas Q. Morin’s poems are appearing in small presses, and he is the winner of Boulevard magazine’s Emerging Poets Contest. His poem ‘Red Herring’ can be read at:


The best lines in the poem are in the first section, particularly the ‘nectar-hearted’, ‘tumbling into beauty’ and river /of honey spilling’:

I say “my love” in a reluctant French,
even though I hate the French, not the people
who never did me harm, just the nectar-hearted
sounds of mon amour, mon chérie, that always
live in the right mouth on the brink
of tumbling into beauty, a sad truth
revealed to me when I overheard a socialite
ordering a café noisette on the Champs-Élysées
with the same river of honey
spilling from the lips of a street vendor
offering directions to the nearest toilet.

But this not a poem about the vagaries of translation, the author assures us, but:

my whole point was to use a romance
language to persuade you cher lecteur
that this is really a poem about love,

The love being the ‘red herring’ who

but which my elegant herring would have no trouble
doing on account of her thinner lips
and mezzo-soprano which has the power to save
some pitiful soul from the torture

Perhaps a little long for what it is, and over-clever, but a welcome change from the hackneyed descriptions of the lover’s charms.

Henrietta Goodman is a PhD student in English at Texas Tech University but has already published her first book of poetry. Her  Quiscalus mexicana (Great-Tailed Crackle) can be read at: http://www.nereview.com/back-issues/vol-32-no-2-2011/henrietta-goodman-quiscalus-mexicanus-great-tailed-grackle/

The poem, if I’m reading it correctly, is a simple descriptive piece made notable by some apt touches. It begins with:

Familiarity is not our problem. Our problem
is the birds in the tree next door-all winter,
squawking deep in the only green.

Then comes the close description:

On the ground they wobble, tails cocked
like skewed keels, the sheen of their feathers like oil
on wet asphalt. White-eyed, their sockets look pecked clean.
At dusk, at dawn, they shriek the soundtrack
to the shower scene in Psycho, violins
composed to screech like grackles, like a knife
ripping flesh: rank-rank-rank-rank,

And many more lines. Admirable, though I think many will want a poem to do more than this.

Geri Doran has published two collections and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Oregon. Her poem No Edge, No Falling can be read at: http://poems.com/poem.php?date=15723 Her piece is apparently after Elizabeth Bishop, and starts:

Here not waterfalls: scrubby plats of gorse and heather
-a few stray dabs of yellow torn
by stinging winds.

That close observation is maintained, close-packed line by line, to the end, where its uncompromising descriptions echoes the hard beauty of the scene:

Not only, but ocean dusted blue
which crests against striated crops of granite,
a rocky, disbelieving headland;
and there, beyond, a horizon line so far, so smudged
there is no edge or falling.

That’s probably making more of a visual description than the observations warrant, but is an effective way of rounding off a poem.

Theodore Worozbyt’s The Red Dress is the shortest and most enigmatic piece. It can be read here: http://www.nereview.com/vol-33-no-4-2013/theodore-worozbyt/ The author has published two books of poetry, one of which won the  the 2007 Juniper Prize. The poem starts with simple description, one observation laid on another, but increasingly evoking  menace in the air.

At the Sound, the rocks were gray.
The rocks were gray against the water.
Rose quartz filled the yards, at dusk.
The needles rose and fell in the firs.

Then we have noises suppressed, a hammer beneath the bed, no child home, and a photo of the cardinal, who:

Between a door and a table, the cardinal
Seemed, from his photograph,
To smile, to smile, to smile
For all the red reasons.

I do not know what the last lines refer to (there is an Alice Munro short story entitled ‘The Red Dress’ but seems not to be relevant). Nor the part played by the hammer, the child, or whether indeed pine needles can move in the manner indicated.  What the lines do convey, and convey strongly with admirable economy, is the threat of violence: of the five poems here this has the most compelling lines.

Brendan Grady’s Moths can be read here: http://www.nereview.com/vol-33-no-3-2012/brendan-grady-moths/. The author lives in Wallingford, Pennsylvania, and this is his first publication. The is long piece, starting in unobjectionable description:

We know the moths circling the porch light,
the dolt among them breaking orbit,
dusty Icarus drawn to his demise.

But ending very differently:

The force of gravity is constant, the force
of gravity is actually the downward

acceleration the Earth imparts to all bodies,
equally: the child dropped on the bed after kissing
his father on the lips, a moth with burnt wing.

The theme of child abuse is developed with quiet logic. There are seventeen such moths the narrator has counted. This isn’t new. There are millions of lights in the city attracting moths. This isn’t new. And the father in other respects was quite normal:

Let me tell you, love, my father was no hell-bent lunatic,
nor Daedalus, just a doctor who kept the appropriate
distance between men, and I was merely a son

who’d blush in his father’s shadow.

This isn’t new.  Nor that the trauma continues:

You’ve been gone awhile now. I could say
I’ve been a shadow since you left with a man
more like my father.

This seems to me the most successful of the poems noted here, an extended metaphor that hints at the bewildering nature of love, and our fallen natures generally.

You’ve been gone for a while. When I think it through,
I haven’t been speaking to you at all. I’ve said love
but meant him, meaning you, Father. Wasn’t it you
who taught me what it meant to fall?

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