Notes on the Poetry Selections

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September 23, 2019 by The Citron Review

When I lived in Los Angeles (2003-2010), I lived in Santa Monica, nine blocks from the beach and a million miles away from acting stardom. Eventually, I figured how to book a few commercials and plays, but it took awhile. Eventually, acting gave way to poetry and the MFA Program at Antioch University and then The Citron Review. I was not thinking about becoming a poetry editor in grad school; I just wanted to write really good poems. I wanted to open a door…

What starts as an idea in a poet’s bathroom can end up a Pushcart nomination. What starts as an ineffective poem can be shaped into a gem in the hands of a determined poet lapidarist. What starts as a happy accident on the page, written at night by a poet in disquiet, can lead to a poem many return to—unable to exhaust the possibilities in it. Although there is no way of knowing these 10th anniversary poems’ journeys before they settled as echoes of beauty, heartbreak, sabotage, dignity, and other, untranslatable pleasures, we do see a resonant voice, earned scar, and/or unforgettable tattoo in their compressed, mellifluous verse.

What a ten years it has been. I remember the early years of Citron and the excitement we shared when reading a really good submission. In the summer of 2012, that poem was “The Man Remembers the Only Cummerbund He Has Ever Worn” by Charles Rafferty. Our then Editor-in-Chief Heather Luby was over the moon about it and so was I. First: the title. I read titles with interest, and I cannot recall reading a title with cummerbund in it or a narrative that features one. Read the poem to be transported to Rafferty’s high school and the mischief that can accompany prom, but brace for the last three lines, which still hold me in their vise.

That excitement has not waned, and we move forward with Editor-in-Chief Angela Brommel and a cast of talented editors determined to elevate Citron, to walk confidently through whichever door it chooses to investigate. Thinking of our tenth anniversary picks, I am struck by their focused imagination, their full immediacy. Take Laura Madeline Wiseman’s “Flesh Charms for Waifs and Strays,” which uses the imagery of plants, flowers, and fruit, some with thorns, some without, to personify the encouraged exit of a person in an abusive relationship. “Why did her thornless form lack // a sharpness he coveted?” Remember the texture, the intricacy of that line. I care so much about this poem, and yet it is difficult to discuss further. All I can say is I hope she left.

Roy Bentley’s “Lee in the Orchard” won our Spirit of Carl Sandburg Contest in 2015. This is a poem where not a lot happens except the reflection of a pensive Robert E. Lee, which is enough. What preceded this moment? The Civil War winding down and an imminent turning point in the United States of America. I love Bentley’s choice to include what Lee “may have done” in the poem, including walking “… where the promise of fruition / hung enormously still in some distant midsummer, / his apparitional army matching him step for step.” Now, I just wrote that I enjoy the full immediacy of the 10th anniversary poems. The word may, by itself, does not at first glance contribute to immediacy or tension. Here it does. May is the sound of Lee noticing the sound of his walk, the deadpan stare of himself, a defeated, larger-than-life figure pondering his next move, his horse Traveler near or far from his side. The enormity of that slice of time is better left as quiet, devastating open season as opposed to a compressed list of declaratives. Bentley understands restraint; we are the beneficiaries.

Each of these poems captures tension differently. Danielle Hale’s ‘9/32” is no less devastating or affecting than Bentley’s “Lee in the Orchard, 1865.” Hale focuses on anticipation and heritage, and the potential loss of that heritage, to write a letter to her future daughter. Notice the first stanza is rich with the familial, physical traits of generations, while the second stanza foreshadows an erasure. This poem felt like a prayer, the kind we articulate to higher powers when no one is there—one that arrived adult and necessary. “And though she’ll know how to fry bologna, and why the turtle’s shell is patterned, when I gaze at her eyes the color of the sky and her hair like spiraling sun…”

I could write a review for each one of these 10th anniversary selections, for they are outstanding and necessary and unique, to use a word I typically avoid because unique is not a word that should be in one’s familiar stock of words: the timeliness of Ellen Stone’s “In Wisconsin” and how she transitions from a traffic stop on a Sunday afternoon to an eye-in-the-sky macro view of cultural injustice in the twenty-first century; the brevity and variation of Jim Daniels’s “Astronomy”—declaration, context, suggestion & nostalgia—culminating with the delicate power of “even now” that is captured in a mere nine lines; the feminist celebration of contemporary poetics in Alina Stefanescu’s “Sabotage (or so much for the Revolution)” as briefly glimpsed through the eyes of her Romanian mother; the librarian taking stock of her life in Lisa Cheby’s “If I were the Daughter of My Mother and Wim Wenders,” living alone, owning her ability to bake a walnut torte, asking a question only a poet could ask: “Do you know the password / to get inside the state of mind / where you can hear the choirmaster / on whom we depend to know when / to crescendo and when to adagio?”; Kelly Samuels’s “Petrichor” (petrichor: the smell of earth after it rains) reminds us of what poetry can do when it slaloms downhill with only the poet’s self-imposed gates to consider. I want to know about “… Kismet, she called it, standing in the house / I no longer own,” for that momentary standing still is magnified amid the “union and scatter” of her poem; and finally, Xochitl Julisa Bermejo’s “End of Summer and the layering of California imagery that supplants a traditional narrative—with summer passing, our lives accelerating the older we get and with childhood slipping away, well, her poem means something to me, and to many of us, I suspect. We can picture that silver Amtrak disappearing behind sun-scorched buildings…

I am listening to Nick Drake as I finish writing this 10th anniversary letter. Often, I listen to music when I write because it inspires reflection. When writing reviews or letters, I try to conjure “No construction– // … let the mind fall down” as Ginsberg wrote in his “Siesta in Xbalba and Return to the States” because it is a way to allow the associations one has in the mind to locate connections in poems. I am proud of the work we get to feature at Citron, and I thank you truly, for tuning in. Here’s to another ten years.


Eric Steineger
Managing Editor
Senior Poetry Editor
The Citron Review


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