From North of Oxford, this windy March issue blows us in two directions: backward into childhood, i.e., the past and upward into a distorted heavenly sky.
Rustin Larson’s poem, “Slap” conjures up Stanley Kunitz’s slapped check in “The Portrait,” but Larson’s metaphor literally moves us into confusion with his opening lines: “It was confusing. It’s / like getting on the wrong / bus and arriving at / the wrong school.” It’s as if childhood were a treacherous journey for the speaker, which leads the reader to his second poem, “Bats and Spiders,” where the end lines of his first stanza are “Your / mother would never have / aborted you’ says my aunt. / Things like that get me / thinking.” There is a mastery and magical craft to this poem that you will want to read and re-read, complete with…”The witch’s hand / felt in her shaggy purse for / a coin.”
Wesley Scott McMaster’s “Gypsy Blood” has Romanian blood running through this poem’s veins. Dedicated to his father, who he cried with, when the speaker, I, “watched my grandfather’s body / weak and frail / carried out to be burned / to be made into dust.” Not traveling on a bus like in Larson’s first poem, McMaster is wearing “shoes that are worn out / soles worn thin.” Walk with him and you will feel “rain or snow”, “the shit in city streets”and you will hear the voices of his ancestors “soaked in blood…gypsy blood.”
Thaddeus Rutkowski’s mode of transportation to the past, in his poem, “Where I’m From” lists several ways of getting around as a child: “I used a bike, my feet, or skates” never making “it more than a mile or two / from my childhood home.” With mixed maternal and paternal lineage his “goal was to learn to drive. / …and blow out of there.” His next poem, is where the winds of March blow upward, even inward, as we enter, “In the Buddha’s Tooth Temple,” and “We walk into a temple in Singapore to see the relic: / a tooth of the Buddha.” Led by walking, the speaker, more like a tour guide, helps us to see inside the temple, maybe even inside the winds of time, and in arriving, “No one is in the room. / There is no crowd around the pedestal.”
As wind circles, we are blown into the cross current poems of Howie Good. Not quite Nietzschesque as in “God is Dead,” rather possessing a drier wit and sarcasm, Good’s poem, “God Is a Joke That Nobody Gets” puns on the resurrection, in a modernistic way. “Your god” (with a lowercase “g”) “tumbles/ to the ground dead, then / gets up and dusts off his pants.” Good’s speaker reduces god into an unsympathetic human, someone like an uncaring boss, who is a lot of hot air / a wind bag, that “does a crap job intervening / in human affairs.” Believe it or not, a lot is seen and said in a minimalistic way; how ironic to condense a poem about god into only nine lines—the speaker bringing down the mighty powers of god. Good’s defying humor ensues in a “little snippet” of his squirrely poem, “Against Narrative.”
Check out this month’s issue, stay grounded, and “Beware the Ides of March.”
With much respect & admiration for these our March Madness poets,
Diane Sahms, Poetry Editor, North of Oxford