Notes on the Poetry Selections

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December 22, 2021 by The Citron Review

When I think about the poems of Citron’s winter issue, one word that comes to mind is curiosity. Curiosity, I feel, is a desirable trait, one that helps give life resonance. A winter field is not a dead field, even if its plant life appears missing. There is the rich life of the unseen underground, with roots and deceptively dormant fungi and a railroad tie that time forgot. Curiosity. Children ask unjaded questions without considering what’s sensible or what others want to hear. They fire away: non sequiturs, anything goes. They want to know! Tonight, my daughter watched Mickey’s Christmas Carol. After it was done, she asked questions about why the ghosts visited Scrooge. It was something like: “So, if you’re ungrateful, ghosts can change your future?” I’m not going to elaborate on this one, but so we learn. 

A poem that is curious can evolve in many ways—is a poem I want to know. Charles Rafferty continues to teach me the directions a poem can go. In his “The Problem With Not Owning a Ladder,” a speaker considers the context surrounding a person’s drive home. That he/she/they will operate a vehicle is assumed. But what was that person doing prior to entering the vehicle? Is there a story? What happens later and what about a space to explore that person’s thoughts? Let’s discuss the mundane with the same fervor we assign to drama. Well-chosen words like blurry, pried, and snagged help craft a memorable scene in poetic prose. Speaking of prose poetry, you might check out Rafferty’s recent collection A Cluster of Noisy Planets, which is excellent. 

Sher Ting’s “Hunger” begins with an examination of a Chinese character (hunger) and its uses. In her poem, I loved seeing the visual representation of hunger, learning how the word can be applied, and then finding out how it relates to the poet. In the English language, a word has its denotation and may have other definitions too. For example, I used the word field in the first paragraph of this letter. Most of the time, field is used as a noun; however, it can also be used as a verb or an adjective. I find though, that most words in the English language are not inherent shapeshifters. There are not multiple fields that are versions of a piece of a land. There is a field of interest, but that is a different definition entirely. Thank you for humoring me. Ting’s poem hovers over language, beauty, and self, and I had to hear the Chinese pronunciation of hunger. “Maybe that was what I was…” 

The third poem of this issue considers fungi. Are fungi ever dormant? I learned about the behavior of fungi and their systems from Alison Hicks’s poem “Lives of Truffles.” To be curious. Isn’t that part of being a poet? In this poem, we look beneath our feet to discover a forgotten realm of activity: fungi establishing networks and not needing what humans need for survival. One of the big pluses of this poem, at least for me, is how it arrests our attention, stops us from playing our to-do list soundtrack on repeat. Hicks’s skill with line breaks, alliteration, and verb choice—the number of ing verbs makes this “homing” feel like it’s all happening at once—helps shape this poem. 

Douglas Cole’s “The Ghost Hotel” owns its space in the way a seasoned actor commands our attention through earnest movement. This poem takes the reader on a tour of the grounds, blending the rugged, natural world of stone and sea with furnishings that crystallize image: “Gothic widows-walk and eggshell shingles” or “Mystery of the admiral ledger, a red silk ribbon / bookmark.” I return to this poem in a way that I return to Robert Frost’s “Directive”: equal parts haunted, comforted, and moved. “The Ghost Hotel” begins with “Those who have gone before us are available / for consultations after lunch in the fire room.” That “they” remain near—close, but not too close—is a testament to Cole’s skill with poetic narrative. 

We hope you enjoy the selections this winter, friends. Happy holidays to you and yours. 

Best,

Eric Steineger
Senior Poetry Editor
Editor of Zest
The Citron Review

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