Notes on the Poetry Selections1
December 21, 2019 by The Citron Review
I still have my childhood stocking. It reads ERIC in white letters, stitched on a green background with a plump red Santa—a design that could have only come from the 80s. My late grandmother “Gran” made it; her British accent still plays in my mind with her pronunciation of dear. In 2019, my family hangs different stockings. I love what a stocking means to my daughter; it’s as if from its velvety depths, anything can surface.
Some feel that poets conjure a similar magic in the creation of a poem. The poet sits in a room, waiting for the Muse to appear, and when it does, a frantic scribbling begins. The door closes of its own volition. Fifteen minutes later, the door opens and the poem is finished, resting on a desk under the grin of the satisfied poet.
But this is not how it goes.
The poem is more like a cocktail made classic that uses this formula: one part creation, two parts revision, one part inspiration from other sources. James Dickey once said it takes him one hundred drafts to get a poem in shape, another fifty to make the poem seem effortless. All poets lean on others for material. We mine the events of our lives for something random, vivid, a story worth telling. The poems in the winter issue lean, sure, but in a way that never compromises voice, craft, or the want to return to the poems.
Richard Foerster’s “First Poem” feels Modernist and modern at the same time, with much, but not all of the poem told from a reminiscent perspective, a vantage that does not always translate to energy. But the poem has it—or perhaps: poetry, sound, wisdom, and contemplation among “the indifferent hungers of the world.” This poem has been earned, and it took years to earn it, not a fifteen minute aside.
The reality of our world can be stark when measured against nostalgia. Shannon Winston has two poems in our winter issue, and she is someone who understands the poetic balancing act between past and present, self and other, reality and fantasy, the duality of things. In “Peer,” Winston the narrator hears peer and turns it into pear, and other words and phrases: “The way I rearrange a phrase until it becomes another.” The ante is upped by using this rearrangement to dip into the past, and that’s all I can say.
“The Spinners” begins with this line: “Early on, I learned how to put a spin on things.” The “spinning” that happens in this poem is different than the echolocation or triangulation that occurs in “Peer”: “… peer, pear, pair…” This spin is more calculated, building on an image of “… artisans / at fairs and in storefront windows turning batting, / spool by spool, into fine, magnificent strands” and then transitioning to the isolation of those strands and making them synonymous with behavior. That these two poems seem related, but only tangentially, speaks to Winston’s craft.
William Stafford’s famous poem “Traveling through the Dark” serves as the model for the last poem in our winter issue, David Bauman’s “Though the Dark.” In Stafford’s poem, there is a complexity that dawns on the reader when Stafford the narrator realizes the doe is pregnant, and now, wounded. Bauman leans on Stafford’s poem, but makes it his own. In “Through the Dark,” the doe is a buck that takes on the role of mentor to a brave and bewildered narrator who has been driving a certain woodland road often. You will have to read the poem to find out why that is, but suffice to say, that moment adds a vitality to the poem—along with the contrasts that Bauman deftly rolls out: “wary and serene,” “carries or deadens, ” and “careless or unwise” all possess an inherent tension. We see elements of tension throughout the poems in the winter issue, and it feels earned. Enjoy the holidays and the winter issue, friends, and we’ll see you in 2020.
Senior Poetry Editor
The Citron Review
Thank you, Eric Steineger, for your generous words. I’m honored.