Notes on the Poetry Selections

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April 2, 2023 by The Citron Review

I have only just graduated with my MFA in January, and this is the first time I have been asked to prepare notes on poetry for an issue of Citron. For those of you who are still in school, just graduated, or even teaching, we often hear in our literature classes—yes, even those of you who took English only because you had to—that spring is the time of rebirth, of change. I suppose it is only right that at the age of 24, a fresh graduate, I look behind me at all that I have done, so that I may now peer forward without distraction, surrounded by this season of change, and accept that my fate is as mutable as others.

When I joined Citron first as an undergraduate intern in 2019, Eric Steineger was sure to instill in me a sense of what this journal looks for: short forms that shimmer. Here is the poetry that brings a shimmer to our Spring 2023 issue:

  • Visual Poems by Katie Cloutte
  • “Deception,” by Catherine Hamrick 
  • “Reasons to Say Your Name Aloud Against the Screaming Trains,” by Jozie Konczal
  • “Ode to Spinning Vinyl,” by James Morehead
  • “Tonight She Wears the Sky,” by Rupert Pip

Katie Cloutte’s five visual erasure poems reclaim the text of a familiar classic, Moby-Dick, and in doing so shows us that even the words of a revered text—a body of American literary canon—are mutable. The erasures are not total; instead, most of Melville’s original is grayed out, leaving us with a foggy awareness of the source that came before, almost as if water, a recurring motif in these five, retains a subconscious memory of its previous shapes. 

Catherine Hamrick’s “Deception” speaks to a subtle mourning, and like Cloutte’s five, continues a fixation on water and mutability. Promises, oaths that imply the assuredness of unchanging fact, are juxtaposed with the “ever turn of earth,” and the moon is likened to a shape-shifter. Earth and the moon may be their own celestial bodies, but Hamrick emphasizes that the gravitational tension between the two has a fallout and conveys it through the thrum of cresting tides. 

I cannot mention “Reasons to Say Your Name Aloud Against the Screaming Trains,” by Jozie Konczal without admiring the cleverness of form. Here we have a self-aware ghazal. We are thrust into a liminal headspace with thoughts like “no way to weave words out of a knitted darkness,” or “I last saw you between two doors,” or even a direct mention of purgatory. Despite the speaker’s inability to reach back for “words out of a knitted darkness” and the uncanniness of seeing spaces in between, the poem itself is able to reach through the darkness of its subject and finds its own way to shimmer. 

Michael Montlack’s “Here, Where” reminds me of a topic I studied in an American literature class: geography and its hold on the human mind. Those who have read John Wesley Powell’s An Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons may recall Powell’s sensitivity to the sublime of natural formations; a mountain from afar may be picturesque, but up close, the piercing threat of the precipice is sublime. Montlack’s poem reveals a sensitivity akin to Powell’s as the poem meditates on surroundings and those who inhabit those surroundings, both dead and alive.

As my thoughts have turned in conflict, both inward and outward, I have developed a particular fondness for James Morehead’s “Ode to spinning vinyl” and Rupert Pip’s “Tonight, She Wears the Sky.” The former takes us on a journey about revealing the hidden and communicates this idea through music and the physicality of vinyl records; the latter commits to an honest exploration of the nostalgic. Both seem to me appropriate subjects for the changing times of spring, and both resonated with the sort of feelings I tend to have this time of year. 

Those thoughts of spring and change have also turned my mind toward the last poetry book Charles Simic published, No Land In Sight, which blessed the shelves of bookstores a mere five months before his death. Now that he is gone, I am considering the relationship his last book has with the title of his 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning book: The World Doesn’t End. Indeed, the world shall continue whether we like it or not, so while spring goes about its business breathing new life into new forms, perhaps even resurrecting familiar ones, I invite you to contemplate the last lines of No Land In Sight:

My Little Boat, 
Take care. 

There is no 
Land in Sight. 

As you consider your place in this new spring, I would like to give some reassurance: do not worry about where the land is. If I may be forgiven a trite sentiment, we are in the boat together, and as long as our sights stay fixed on that fact, we will find wind for our sails. The world doesn’t end; the land will come when it desires.


Levi Jessup
Poetry and Micros Reader
The Citron Review


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