Kay Ryan – Terrible Portents: Guest Post by Don Raymond, Jr.

That Vase of Lilacs & Blue China Doorknob

Poetry is a highly personal thing.  Every once in a while, you find a poem that clicks, and the hairs stand up on the back of your neck; you get that strange feeling like someone’s just walked across your grave, like the poet “sat behind a million pair of eyes and told them how they saw” as David Bowie said about Bob Dylan.  It’s exhilarating, that connection between two strangers.  It can also be a little frightening.

The first time I read “That Vase of Lilacs,” I got a world-class case of the screaming heebie-jeebies.  Kay Ryan frightens the heck out of me in ways that Stephen King can only dream of.


Running Late

Life intervenes. This is both the foundation for writing and something that delays it. In this case, life intervened with one of the good people at All Along Press, in the form of some unexpected surgery. (Don't worry, everyone's fine!)

But that means that Edition 2 won't be meeting the public on March 30 as I'd hoped. Instead it will arrive sometime in the second half of April.

In the meantime, allow me to tempt you with this list (in no particular order) of fine poets whose work you'll be seeing very soon:

Megan Gamble
Michael Bazzett
Kejt Walsh
Christopher Citro
gaye gambell-peterson
Claudia Torres
Ray Holmes
Shane Seely
Kristen Elde
Michael Hettich


All in the Friedman Family

Jeff Friedman
(Carnegie Mellon, 2011)

Jeff Friedman has created a community of characters, some modern, some ancient, but all of them family. Each of them speaks distinctly, even the animals. What they tell us is that Friedman has a gift for both the quotidian and the surreal. In fact, this book reads like a collection of family stories, some that are trotted out at every family reunion, others which are never spoken of again.

Take, for example, Poem for Ross Gay. ("Do you remember the time Ross ate that book by Larry Levis?") Ross is a character, all right. He has a huge appetite, the kind found in growing teenagers everywhere and he's apparently over for lunch. But Ross is poetic family, so in addition to melon and hummus, the speaker offers him a volume of Larry Levis poems, which Ross promptly eats. Friedman leaves no doubt that he means physical ingestion, which makes for a fresh alternative to the mundane mental 'devouring' of books that poets must do. It's the first indication that this poem, already skirting the edges of reality, won't be contained. When Ross, apropos of nothing, throws a kettle bell through the speaker's roof and it explodes into gold nougat, it seems at once to be perfectly fantastic (as in fantasy) and perfectly believable. It's both a wonderful tribute to a fellow poet and a celebration of what can be achieved in the form.

But Friedman has dark characters, too. The Binding is spoken by Isaac. This family story (as a Jew, Friedman can claim Abraham and Isaac as ancestors) is the opposite side of the codified story from the Torah. In Friedman's version, Isaac is strangely self-possessed and doesn't seem to realize that the wind is God's presence. Instead, Isaac sees his father as "a sad procrastinator." Taken with the line, "for the worst to happen. My father" from the first stanza, this is a damning portrait of the first patriarch. It's at once surprising and believable: surprising because the Abraham of the Old Testament never shrinks from God's will nor does he have second thoughts about being tested so cruelly; believable because children and parents are continually misreading each other, rejecting what they perceive to be weakness.

In the middle of these two extremes are the rest of Friedman's characters, some arguing in a diner, some offering contradictory advice, some up on a political soapbox, but all of them related to you, somehow. By way of introduction, here is the title poem.