This Poetry Journal Feels a Bit Drafty
Sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. West Wind Review's 2012 cover features a bare-chested hunk holding a comely maiden in his arms amid a waterfall and a profusion of flowers. If that weren't enough, both of them bear a tattoo on their shoulders, “2012” on hers and “$12” on his. It's all either cheesy or campy, depending on your point of view.
I'm not saying the contents are cheesy or campy, but they are problematic. Although I know this can't be right, I got the unsettling impression as I read through the magazine that most of the writers had taken the same creative writing workshop and were under the spell of a singular intelligence. More likely, the editor has a distinct taste and accepted submissions that conformed to it. I would define that taste as experimental, to put it politely. Few of the poems (and the magazine is all poetry) have a straight narrative line. Most of them play with language. All right, you say, that is what poetry is about. But what distinguishes most of these poems from, say, a John Ashbery poem, is that they lack heart. That's why they feel workshopped to me.
Now, I have to give credit to Zeke Hudson, the editor, because he is apparently a staff of one. There's a faculty editor, and special thanks go out to three other individuals, but that's the entire masthead. So I don't want to be too discouraging. But my advice, were it solicited, would be to seek out a more eclectic sampling of poems for the next issue. Too many of the poems printed here constitute the reason so many people hate reading poems these days.
Now for the good news. Mixed in with this assortment are some gems, and I want to look at just a few of them.
Adam J [no period] Maynard's “Getting Out of My Body” is a neat little identity poem about wanting to change identities, changing them, and then wanting to go back.
A little Frankenstein
Working at the snack bar in the summer
I was trying to escape in a golf cart
And to get out of my body
The language is original and surprising:
I just saw Kevin Bacon's bum
And now I want my old body back
I feel outside of my own body
Like a microwave oven
I am a skeleton and a bumble bee at the same time
This poem has something which I applaud: genuine wit.
Heather Dubrow's “Found (on the 79th Street crosstown bus) Poetry” is even wittier. What's funny about it is it begins as genuine found poetry (“Assaulting a bus operator is a felony”) and quickly devolves into series of stream of consciousness observations (“Assaulting a mockingbird is a sin, ” “Assaulting a vending machine is a sign your mother didn't raise you right”). Those observations then become jumbled (“Assaulting a bus operator is a sin,” “Assaulting a major league umpire is a sign your mother didn't raise you right”). By the end of the poem, words are floating in mid-air, all but meaningless. How many of us, reading what there is to read on a long bus or subway ride, have let our imaginations run away with us? Dubrow's poem is a supreme work of the imagination.
I didn't set out to highlight only the wittiest poems in the magazine, but Nicholas Katzban's “Horse Poems” is impossible to ignore. In six sequences over six pages, Katzban riffs on a chestnut of a joke:
A horse walks into a bar
The bartender says
“Hey buddy, why the long face?”
In each sequence, the narrative takes an unexpected turn and ends up considerably more serious than a mere punch line. I find it almost impossible to quote a piece of it and do it justice. For instance, I could include this:
The Horse says
It was always you.
It's always been your fault
And now this will be too.”
With that the Horse
slits its wrists
See what I mean? It's a poem of discovery, and for that reason I urge you to findyourself a copy of West Wind Review and read it for yourself.
While you're at it, look up Adam Katz's “Off the Hook.” I wouldn't call this one witty, but I would call it compelling.
I'm not taking anything from you.
I'll give back everything I took.
I'm not going to give back what
I took from you, but won't take more.
It's a poem of contradictions (see those first two lines above) and of sorrow. It'snot an easy poem to interpret, but, unlike many of the poems in the magazine, the meaning is there for the discovering.
people have access to what you own
because you can give it to them
without losing any of it yourself.
that's what allowance means.
West Wind Review is a publication of Southern Oregon University. It's 180 pages long and contains 85 poems.