These past few weeks, with their own wild and discordant sense of time, have felt like an invitation to reflect, to look back and find the good. We asked our readers to identify some of their favorites from the Featured Poetry we published in 2019. This is what they chose, with short reviews by our Associate Editor Ben Bartu.
I smear the makeup you left behind
on my face in an effort to love myself.
by Márton Simon, translated by Timea Balogh
That we have the opportunity to publish works of translation is one of our greatest honors at Palette. Márton Simon’s “The Theory of Sinking,” here rendered in English from the original Hungarian by Timea Balogh, was one of the most startling poems we came across in the last year. It was particularly illuminating to read this poem alongside Julia C. Alter’s “In/Continent,” (which also made this list), and contrast how the two poems conceptualize motherhood using oceanic imagery. Unlike Alter’s piece, Simon’s work seems unfixed in its own waters, uncertain in the possibilities it offers up. Just when the poem seems ready to come to a close, ending its last line as it ended its first, another line emerges, shorter, an afterthought that opens again, remaining with the reader long after the tab is closed.
(For more of Timea Balogh’s translations of Márton Simon’s work, please visit Duende: https://www.duendeliterary.
In that terrible heat,
we made our feast.
by Logan February
When we get it in our heads that two pieces are in conversation with one another, it often becomes difficult, if not altogether impossible, to see them as separate again. This is precisely the effect “Husband is the Loveliest Word,” had for me, which felt from first read like the sister poem to Denis Johnson’s “Heat.” Both pieces recount stories of summery domestic intimacy; one is an expression of despondence, one of transcendence; they are both brief poems; they are both poems that use perfect timing and harmony to turn banality into profundity. More than anything, they are pieces that speak for themselves.
It takes nine months
for me to remember
my pelvis. My body
forgotten now that no one
drinks from it
and no one drinks
by Julia C. Alter
In the past year, themes of loss, kinship, and motherhood emerged as some of the more common threads linking many of our published pieces. Making our way back through these poems, few have done a better job of interrogating and engaging with these ideas than Julia C. Alter’s “In/Continent.” Reading the piece, I couldn’t help but think of Kimiko Hahn’s The Narrow Road to the Interior, a collection that also deals with loss and motherhood in fragmentary form. Alter’s poem parcels loss out into fragments, and inso doing transfigures absence into hope.
Inside me the bees revive with a hum
rub together, roll in yellow. These bees,
they keep getting reborn
by Jaime Zuckerman
Jaime Zuckerman’s piece, in many ways, inspired this list. It is the kind of poem which demands a returning to, and seems to offer more with every reading. In assembling this collection, we wanted especially to highlight poetry our readers would take pleasure in returning to, not just in discovering for the first time. We admire not only the power of imagination at work in the craft of this poem, but also this poem’s ability to inspire confidence in the power of imagination.
I could chop something off any minute, and I remember
the plastic carrot and turnip toys with knife
I had as a kid, chopping each section of fake
vegetable off, but really, there’s a beauty in
this mystery of him not knowing that I know.
by Dorothy Chan
Some poems Palette has published in the last year have become signifiers for us, important turning points in the development of our identity as a journal. Others have showcased some of what we love most in poetry; innovative forms, subversions of normative power structures, and really, really good line breaks. When we’re especially lucky, a poem delivers all of this. Such is the case with “Chinese Girl Strikes Back,” the title poem of Dorothy Chan’s third collection of poetry, to be published in 2020 by Spork Press. The poem unfolds like a play in three acts, doing the work of representation, education, and narrative construction. We are in awe of this piece.