Notes on the Poetry Selections1
March 21, 2021 by The Citron Review
The other day, I was teaching a creative writing class and showed Charlotte Pence’s “Consciousness” on the overhead, as I am a fan of her work and thought it might help my students with their narratives-in-progress. Originally published in Brevity in 2017, this creative nonfiction is exemplary. Here is the opening line: “Quick as a cut, darkness came to the afternoon, to the nursery where I sat cross-legged on the floor, a white raft of a blanket under us.” In it, Pence describes the shifts that accompany motherhood, “the sudden changes” in light, sound, and feeling that men can only approximate in experience.
“Consciousness” is three paragraphs long; the middle paragraph defines murmurations and the ability of a flock of starlings—witnessed by Pence while holding her baby—and other systems to “be on the cusp of a shift,” a phrase once used by scientist Giorgio Parisi (as mentioned in this work). Apparently, the turn of one bird can cause an entire flock to move as one, almost instantly. The middle paragraph leans on research and analogy, linking the paragraphs that take place in the nursery. Maybe being on the cusp of a shift is closer to the natural order of things, however scary. Maybe a shift can sync a narrative, strengthen it.
As vaccines become available, people in this country and all over the world, I think, feel like we are on the cusp of something, a vague term, but one that in context, is imbued with light. There is a hopefulness as well as a palpable tension in conversations between friends, strangers, and merchants.
To bring it back to poetry and the spring issue, it occurs to me that some of the best poems behave like those starlings that Pence witnessed outside her window: able to shapeshift at a moment’s notice, comfortable on a perch high above the street, stable amid the instability of their environment. Maybe the best poems are comfortable with themselves even if their subject matter is a typhoon.
Rikki Santer’s “Gift Shop in the Museum of Fear” kicks off our picks with vivid oddities that include “sour fog” and “dust-caked canteens with bullet holes for selfish mouths.” Speaking of comfort in chaos, this poem transcends its memorable inventory with metaphor, language, and craft. An element of craft is the accessible signposts: “It’s okay…” “It’s okay…” “So, go ahead…” that guide the reader through evocative pockets of language: “… assorted lapel buttons like I Survived Psychic Sweatshops / or My Fear Engine Needs an Oil Change…” I return and return again.
It pleases us to feature Puerto Rican poet Salvador Villaneuva’s poems as translated by Gustavo Rivera, to whom I am grateful for sending us Villanueva’s work. Rivera’s description of the poems informed this note, here, and his translations, I suspect, will help introduce many of our readers to Villanueva. These poems touch on politics but in an introspective way, one that embraces life’s shifts and hardships—with dignity, humor, and reflection.
“This spectacle makes you want to laugh / to laugh with your liver in your hands.” The doubling down on laugh is not funny given the surrounding context, but it is human and exemplary in the imaginative construct of the line. There are moments in these poems where I am struck by the brevity and resonance of the line, not to mention the cumulative effect and momentum of the sequence. “In this orchard another rose was not possible.” Reminiscent of René Char’s Hypnos?
The last poem involves a litany of actions in the past tense (“…I sat in front of a mirror deep into the night / I held my chest / I asked for forgiveness”…) Them is also present. “I said please to them many times.” The indeterminant them adds tension to the piece in the form of a veiled threat. A symptom of living in this place and time? This is wonderful work. Here is a link to Apogee for an article on Villanueva written by Gustavo Rivera that I hope you will check out.
Michael Pittard rounds out the poetry picks with “Revelation” and “St. Michael Sits.” The bite of “Revelation” involves sound and choice. “You can’t leave the radishes / on the table because the sun / will only devour them.” This is an active poem that asks the reader “you” to consider choices as seemingly mundane as eating a carrot vs. the opportunity cost of not eating it. “Help yourself…” vs. “Refrain from the great choices in life”? Pittard balances the poem with a softer, but equally powerful conclusion. Maybe the revelation in both poems is that in this life, choices have to be made, and we have to accept the effects of those choices. A starling steps into the void; the flock moves as one, spiraling into the sky.
Happy spring and thank you for reading our new issue. We hope you are well during this time.
Senior Poetry Editor
Editor of Zest
The Citron Review
Dear Eric Steineger, Thank you for your kind words about my poem. It’s an honor to have it appear in your journal along with so many dynamic offerings this issue.