OCHO # 12—A Composite Review

a MiPOesias Magazine Print Companion, A Menendez Publication, 85pgs. Guest edited by Grace Cavalieri, September 2007, ISSN 1939-4985,
Six Poets respond in writing to the magazine OCHO # 12, presenting a rich composite review. Ernie Wormwood, Hope Maxwell-Snyder, Mary F. Morris, Sonja James, Ed Zahnizer and Merrill Leffler give their opinions and evaluations.

OCHO #12
Reviewed by Ernie Wormwood

David Wagoner gives us two poems in memory—one of the beloved poet Len Roberts “Coolness Under Fire” that shows us Robert’s ever present slithering and living the dangerous territory of his own life, while using the gift of plow-horse sense we all saw in him to keep it all grounded. Wagoner’s “Foxhole” poem compares man in this tactical hiding place he as dug with a space to him for whom it is named, the fox, who would have made use of natural labyrinths in rock slides with what man doesn’t know, more than one exit. Somber, reverent, respecting the limits of lving, these poems.

Maria Gillian is the poet of the diamond in the ordinary as when she writes in “Kitchen Story” of her dream of childhood and the old linoleum kitchen that her mother kept shining,the rattling, frosty windows, but always her mother filling the home with the best she could muster in smells, cooking the best for her family. Who doesn’t have a memory of a chicken pie, a favorite casserole that reminds us like Maria does of all we loved and were loved by on that shiny linoleum?

Why I Love OCHO # 12: Childhood Memories and Poetry
Reviewed by Hope Maxwell-Snyder

My childhood memories concerning poetry are tied to growing up with my grandfather in Bogotá, Colombia. Even though he was an entrepreneur, my grandfather loved poetry and would often recite poems and sections of poems by heart, repeating his favorite stanzas while standing by the window. Pablo Neruda’s “Poema XX” was one of his favorites:

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
Write, for example, “The night is starry
and the stars are blue and shiver in the distance.”
The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too. (trans. by W.S. Merwin)

I have known “Poema XX” by heart since childhood. It is no accident then, that last fall when I taught a graduate course on Latin American Poetry at Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, I chose to focus on Neruda’s poetry.
Federico García Lorca was another one of grandfather’s favorite poets. “Verde que te quiero verde” he used to repeat. “Green, I want you green.”

My grandfather’s passion was not limited to poetry or to Spanish and Latin American literature. He read Spanish translations of dramas, novels, and essays. I heard Hamlet question his fate in Spanish before I ever did in English.
From Papá Regulo, as I used to call him, I learned about curiosity and wonder. When I was seven or eight, grandfather decided it would be good for my brother and me to memorize whole poems and recite them back to him. That was the beginning of my training as a poet. A few years later, a famous Argentinean actress traveled to Bogotá to read poetry at the Teatro Colón. My grandfather got us tickets for her performance. To this day, I remember one of her poems about trying to communicate with God. When I turned fifteen, my mother, my brother, and I moved to the US, and while I lost my literary mentor, he had already instilled a passion for words and a love for poetry in me that will never perish.

OCHO # 12
Reviewed by Mary F. Morris, Showcasing Maria Van Beuren

These are poems that light up in the dark.

When I hear a poet who uses words like novitiate and Avogadro’s law (a scientific work by the mathematician, involving equal volume of gasses at the same temperature and pressure), I am curious about the great resource of language we are about to embrace. Curiosity and intrigue. These poems light up in the dark, show reverence and give hope. There is much about the natural world here. It’s as if these poems are held up to the sun for us to see through to their mysteries. Lush landscapes of the earth at dusk unfold, as in,
“At the End of River Road:”

The middle tree was harnessed by men with ropes
and cradled in her limbs a man with a chainsaw,
and even as he hacked at her
and her branches fell like tresses sheared from a novitiate,
she swayed to the beginning of a tune–
a melody for those who find life in air.

When I returned at sunset,
as dusky mist ascended,
her sisters shivered against the bloody sky, and stretched and swept–
to conceal? to caress? to connect across?–
a darkening space
where once another stood.

In “‘Dog Fox” we are mesmerized, stunned, silenced by When as a child / I dreaded dusk- -/ the dinner hour… into convened at table,/ where busy knives/divided flesh,/and snapped words/covered the sound/of small bones breaking./ Now, dusk is an appetizer / /for the simple gift of night- -/an open field/where I glimpse something wild / that comes to hunt, or play, / just beyond my boundaries.

Breathtaking. There is so much beauty and intelligence in these poems, I am thinking and crying all at once. Poems that resonate anthropomorphism, a keen sense of humanity through the natural world.

OCHO #12
Reviewed by Sonja James

OCHO #12 is a dazzling array of poems by laureates from various regions of the United States. Writers as diverse as Thom Ward, Billy Collins, Michael S. Glaser, and Dolores Kendrick are gathered together in one exquisite issue. The utter range of style and subject matter is guaranteed to please the discerning reader who loves good poetry and loves it in abundance.

Well known contributor Billy Collins confronts Fate with a short but profound poem called “Deer Hit.” The unforeseen act of hitting a deer with a car is not blunted but intensified by the passage of time which allows for retrospect. On the morning after, the accident still exists in all of its tragic immediacy, an immediacy brought home by the complete yet minimalist description of what the driver experienced the night before:

The morning after the sudden thud
and the tawny blur
across the windshield…

The word “sudden” transforms the retrospect of the morning after into a reliving of the previous evening. There is no escaping what happened. Pathos informs the poem as Collins describes the sun which shines as he contemplates the physical evidence of the accident from which he cannot distance himself:

a papery crumpled fender,
and one headlight askew
now lined with an eyelash of fur.

The poem ends with this observation. Only nine lines in length, the poem satisfies with the presence of unspoken regret in the heart of the driver as he hones his perspective on what has transpired. His life has been changed, but Collins deftly does not say how as he leaves us with the image not of the deer but of the damage done to the car. In this understated manner the poem also leads us into the dark and dazzling heart of any man consumed by surprise, remorse, and guilt while confronting the ubiquitous mystery of Fate.

Reading all of the poems in OCHO #12 is also an encounter with Fate. The morning after the encounter with the diverse voices unleashed within, the reader will find that life resonates beyond mere accident as he is upheld by the power of poetry to provoke fresh insights about the world we live in.

OCHO # 12: Poetry’s Gift of Memories
Reviewed by Ed Zahnizer

Think of the memories that would be lost were it not for individual poems. Because . . . how many of us will ever get around to that memoir (much less memoirs) that might embody even a fraction of the millionous memories locked in our bony brain boxes?

And yet so many poems archive a vivid memory that can unlock our own so that the transaction of meaning, as Henry David Thoreau maintained, is completed in the reader. Hence the gifting of memory by poet to reader.

Fleda Brown unlocks a big memory in my mind—or what’s left of it—with her poem “Bird’s Eye View” and its evocation of post-war of GI Bill students living in so-called “temporary” housing.

. . . . We had one-fourth of one, thin-walled, set up
for GIs returning to school. . . .

I lived near the University of Maryland as a child and remember an incident after the Korean War, fought from 1950 to 1953. A group of us kids were playing basketball on an outdoor court near a married students housing area. A man emerged from one of the housing units and came over to the court and shot a few hoops.

“Just got my government check,” he said. “Beer money.”

He acted like he’d already performed the alchemy of cashing that check and transforming the cash equivalent into beer.

I was young enough that I perceived adults as having just two age classes, adults and old people. This fellow was an adult, although no doubt not out of this twenties. That anyone should drink beer, much less before lunch, was alien to my overly religious family system. He was not a prudent adult, but he sure looked like he was having fun.

My distant cousin Verlyn, from Pennsylvania probably, had been drafted for the Korean War and sent to train at Aberdeen, Maryland. One weekend my family drove up to Aberdeen Proving Grounds and picking Verlyn up when he got a weekend pass.

We brought Verlyn to our house and he showed us hand-to-hand combat moves both against knives and with a knife. We got to help him shine and polish his combat boots in stages of the fineness of brushing-then-buffing materials. It was a weekend seeming larger than life. with Verlyn like some character from a movie, but flesh and blood, however distant.

Fleda Brown richly evokes that and more—I myself would serve in Korea during the Vietnam “conflict”—in her 22-line poem, which flows from line to line and image to image like the kaleidoscope of memory itself.

OCHO # 12
A response from Merrill Leffler.

A couple of nights ago I began reading Ocho #12 and — punctuated by a sleep —finished, with some rereading, in the morning. So before discovering what I have to say here, there were several things that came into mind in a simultaneity. One, Louis Simpson’s “American Poetry”:

Whatever it is, it must have
A stomach that can digest
Rubber, coal, uranium, moons, poems.

Like the shark, it contains a shoe.
It must swim for miles through the desert
Uttering cries that are almost human.

A second was Wordsworth’s lines, “but hearing oftentimes/ The still, sad music of humanity. . . .” And then there was the memory of many years ago, the early 70s when Ann and I were living in England and Jeremy was maybe a year old. We met friends in southern Wales, Tenby — they were lent a house for several days on a cliff overlooking Camarthen Bay. It was in much disrepair — the roof leaked and so there were pots around the floors to catch what the roof held onto, what was once a lovely garden was now overgrown and taken over by wildness. The owner had died and left the place to a nephew as I remember who was retiring from the army and would soon be returning. The house was not wired for electricity but for central gas — the lights were gas mantles and had to be lit with matches — the glow at night softer than incandescent lighting. The woman who had owned the house had planted the gardens at least as far back as the beginning of WWII — there was a Greek gazebo with three tiers of seats in a semi-circle, a miniature Greek theater. She wrote plays and I found a diary, poems, stories, mildewed. I read some of the poems (I was doing Dryad magazine then, an issue a year from England) and realized that if I had received the poems in the mail I would have returned them, with a note, but dismissing them (in my mind) as “poor” poems. Living in that house and on those grounds for just a few days, leafing through the poems there, I was struck by a small revelation, that while I could not have published the poems, what right had I to be dismissive. The ultimate in arrogance — I don’t know if I felt what that word means but I realized that the house, the grounds, were the dead woman’s poetry and that her poems were the “tracks” of her feelings, her experience of the house, of the gardens she tended. Rather than say I “rejected” the poems, I would like to think I would have returned them with respect.

So all this must be a prelude. I think Simpson’s lines are a gloss to your introduction, for instance, “Each poem is an eccentricity of language that makes it distinctive and good to read. No one single kind of American poetry dominates this volume. There are 15 kinds.” Yes. A number of the poems hear “the still, sad music of humanity.” Poems by Fleda Brown, Judith Farr (her “Grand’mere” ends with lines from one of Wordsworth’s Lucy poems), Michael G’s “Cheekbones” and “Loss,” Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poems especially, Richard’s elegy, Dolores K’s “The Cleaning Woman.” I respect them and have to say that I felt most needed surprise, surprise of language leaping up, or catching you unawares, surprise of the ungraspable. This says nothing at all about the truth or authenticity of feelings — but lines or tropes did not so much seize hold, did not grab hold of my lapels whether in desperation or awe-struck. A friend said I want too much. A poem is a revelation for the poet — ideally it should be a revelation for the reader. Ideally. I’ve quoted Auden before who wrote that if we only published those poems we were grateful for, the volume would be depressingly slim.

Poems broke through and they have a staying strength. First Vivian Shipley’s “The Statue of The Death of Cleopatra Speaks to Me.” I’d like to think that if I happened on this poem not knowing anything about Edmonia Lewis I would have felt the same way. I think I would have — Vivian S has gone for largess, and I don’t mean the length but having the statue speak and then speak of its creator, Edmonia. (I come with some awestruck knowledge about Edmonia Lewis and other women sculptors who were working in Italy in the last half of the 19th century. Two years ago in preparing for talks in a UM alumni trip to Italy, I read Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun — that led me to painters and sculptors who went to Italy, the women sculptors especially who had to go there to escape the claustrophobic environment in the land of the free. Old as I am, I was like a young graduate student discovering a new world of dedicated sculptors, Harriet Hosmer, Vinnie Ream, Edmonia Lewis and others — and it’s that work I spoke of. Then this past spring I was in The National Museum of American Art and saw the sculptures that would not have “registered” on me had I not learned about them a couple of years before. And there was of course Cleopatra.)

So that’s a long aside and aside from the aside, I felt Vivian Shipley was the poem engorging itself — working to get a lot in — ambitious. And I stayed with it and have come back to it. I wanted to read it again and have, and will again.

And then Thom Ward — taking literary chances with “Eeks” and “The New Invisible.” I vote for irreverence. And Michael’s “Journal Entry.” And Reed’s small poems. “And there is no joy in the Valley of Silicon” — is it a “good” poem? Was macht ein gutes Gedicht? I like the surprise of “Of Good Government” and “The Stories.” So who said I was objective. Was ist objektiv?