Five Poets from The Poetry Foundation

Five Poets from The Poetry Foundation

Poetry was arguably the most prestigious of America’s poetry magazines, and certainly the oldest, dating back to 1912. Poetry received a $200 million bequest in 2003, and the magazine became more business-orientated. The Poetry Foundation was set up. Christian Wiman became editor, increased the circulation from 11,000 to 30,000, paid contributors more, and reduced the logrolling’. As he said in a 2005 editorial “Not only was there a great deal of obvious logrolling going on (friends reviewing friends, teachers promoting students, young poets writing strategic reviews of older poets in power), but the writing was just so polite, professional and dull […] We wanted writers who wrote as if there were an audience of general readers out there who might be interested in contemporary poetry. That meant hiring critics with sharp opinions, broad knowledge of fields other than poetry, and some flair.” Don Share became editor in June 2013. Competition is fierce: and the magazine prints 300 poems a year out of approximately 100,000 submissions.  Poetry Foundation is now a very large site (larger than PN Review), and anyone conscientiously absorbing its material has a task of months or years of reading. For the present I’ve selecting five poems from the first ten pages of their listing by poets’ names.

It’s not easy to know how or why the listing was put together. Many poets have no poems on the site. A few well-known poets precede the magazine’s existence, and are represented by minor pieces. Many new contributions seem little more than prose observations, sometimes clever in a predictable way, but hardly poetry. Or so I see it, but hope the pieces chosen will nonetheless encourage readers to explore what must be now the world’s richest source of online poetry.

Subject To Change
Marilyn L. Taylor has an MA in linguistics and a PhD in creative writing. Her distinguished career has seen eight collections of poetry, and the award of Wisconsin poet laureate from 2009 to 2010. Poem link:

It’s a very neat poem, with the changes being rung on the rhymes or pararhymes of:

They are so beautiful, and so very young
they seem almost to glitter with perfection,
these creatures that I briefly move among.

For another four stanzas, until we end with a sobering observation on youth and beauty.

Because, like me, they’re traveling   headlong
in that familiar, vertical direction
that coarsens beautiful, blackmails young-
the two delusions we all move among.

Simple, and no less effective than umpteen nineteenth-century lyrics on love and the like.

Great Blue Heron     Great Blue Heron

T. Alan Broughton is less well known, but is the author of A World Remembered (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010). Poem link:

It’s a descriptive piece, starting with:

I drive past him each day in the swamp where he stands
on one leg, hunched as if dreaming of his own form
the surface reflects.

Then follows some precise description as the poet, also carrying fish for his evening meal, reflects on what the images mean:

Today the bird stays with me, as if I am moving through
the heron’s dream to share his sky or water-places
he will rise into on slow flapping wings or where
his long bill darts to catch unwary frogs.

Until the thoughts are wrapped about as the fish he’s carrying for supper:

I try to imagine him
slowly descending to his nest, wise as he was
or ever will be, filling each moment with that moment’s
act or silence, and the evening folds itself around me.

Simple, accomplished, handling the long lines fluently.

Hunter’s Moon
Molly Fisk earned her BA at Harvard University and an MBA at Simmons College Graduate School of Management. Poem link:

Like the piece above, Hunter’s Moon passes from being descriptive:

Early December, dusk, and the sky
slips down the rungs of its blue ladder
into indigo. A late-quarter moon hangs
in the air above the ridge like a broken plate
and shines on us all,

to drawing in the spectator, or, rather, the many spectators on which the moon shines: the new deputy, the bartender, the lovers, the owl, and finally:

the whale that washed up six weeks ago
at the base of the dunes, and it shines
on the backhoe that buried her.

Again successful, though not setting itself wide boundaries.

The Good Wife Taught Her Daughter
Medbh McGuckian was born to Catholic parents in Belfast, Ireland, and later returned to Queen’s University as its first female writer-in-residence. Poem link:

Perhaps as a parody of the CBS political/legal serial, or Brecht ‘s The Good Woman of Szechuan, Medbh McGuckian’s poem is an enigmatic little study of gender confusion in a northern Ireland setting:

Lordship is the same activity
Whether performed by lord or lady.
Or a lord who happens to be a lady,
All the source and all the faults.

A woman steadfast in looking is a callot,
And any woman in the wrong place
Or outside of her proper location
Is, by definition, a foolish woman.

Which captures the repression:

A woman steadfast in looking is a callot,
And any woman in the wrong place
Or outside of her proper location
Is, by definition, a foolish woman.

The harlot is talkative and wandering
By the way, not bearing to be quiet,
Not able to abide still at home,
Now abroad, now in the streets,

The remnants of a more rural life:

She goes to the green to see to her geese,
And trips to wrestling matches and taverns.
The said Margery left her home
In the parish of Bishopshill,

And the artlessness of a children’s tale:

In the innermost part of her house,
In a great chamber far from the road.
So love your windows as little as you can,
For we be, either of us, weary of other.

I don’t think the elements are sufficiently fused together, but it’s a more thought-provoking and atmospheric piece than is generally published by The Poetry Foundation these days.

Together and by Ourselves

Alex Dimitrov is the author of two collections, and the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon. Poem link:
Together and by Ourselves is love poem, or a poem commemorating a love lost.  It opens with an observation:

I opened the window so I could hear people.

And a reflection:

Last night we were together and by ourselves.

And continues with memories that call up loss:

Yesterday there was nothing on the beach
and no one knows where it came from.

we must have been lonely people to say those things then.

How the night hail made imprints all over.
Our things. Our charming and singular things.

And wry, broken observations:

Why does the sea hold what it loves most below?

We were there and on silent.

People are mostly what they can’t keep and keeps them.

It was cruel. It was true. It was not realistic.

I haven’t missed you for long and you are so gone.

Successful? Not entirely, I think, but perhaps worth more than the dull, well-crafted pieces that Christian Wiman wanted to save contemporary poetry from.

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