Poetry We Admire: 2021
Days of rain, panic, Simone Weil, potential spam.
And amidst the days the quiet joy, over the past six months, of writing this column. Writing Poetry We Admire, I’ve been given the opportunity to celebrate and share the work of the many great poets writing and publishing in journals I’ve long loved and journals I only now am beginning to discover.
It has encouraged and continues to encourage a kind of paying attention, a honing in on the lives of literary journals beyond palette and its sister journals. It was Weil who said attention is tantamount to prayer, a devotion we daily must choose to partake in, and one of the greater gifts we can offer another person. The ongoing project of writing this column has made apparent to me that the rewards of such attention are by no means one-sided. That this attention we have to give is a gift/prayer/devotional as much for ourselves as for those we offer it to.
Though, I suppose, it can’t hurt to focus one’s attention in the right place.
I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been times in the past year when I wished I could bring more of my own attention to bear upon some of the incredible poems we have published here at Palette. Poems I have kept returning to, poems which have made me laugh, cry, which have taught me something, which I have been thinking about all year long.
This month, as we close out another hard year in a string of such years (the monotony begins to resemble the lyrical structure of Taio Cruz’s Dynamite), we take a look at some of the startlingly original pieces we’ve had the joy to publish in 2021.
This list is by no means comprehensive, nor could it be unless we included every single piece we have published this year. If you need some comfort reading this December, our archives are full to the brim, and every poem in there, each in their own delightful way, repays the gift of attention in kind.
To kinder years, fuller, with time, with attention, with you.
Beautiful. I told her.
Or the closest word I could find
from "Bathe All This in Light"
by Jenny Hykes Jiang
There’s a quality to the formal structure of Jiang’s poem which almost reminds me of a play, the back-and-forth of the couplets and the recurrence of conversation. “Beautiful. I told her,” “My son said, I don’t like it / when I only see her mouth moving and I can’t hear the words.” But even more than the easy integration of dialogue into poetry, it’s the imagery of this poem that I admire and that has stuck with me, the language so specific as to become unfailingly imbricated with the sensory. “My dumb tongue / housed like in its small gravel grave.” “She pushed her finger hard / against this waxy bit of paper / charcoal smudge of mother / trapped in a dusty cloud of light.” More than lines I’ll remember, Jiang’s poem is rife with lines that make me go, “I wish I’d thought of that.”
Some people say in order to do things in the future you have to have a father in the future.
from "The Future at My Father's Feet"
by Sara Elkamel
From the first line of this poem, I was hooked. Elkamel’s poem makes more movements in a number of lines than most novels I have read this year made in a span of several hundred pages. “So they took tea as sweet as honey to the Valley of Dreams,” “On the tips of my toes in the hole that was heaven, I begged the peephole,” “Some say on the night of its flowering, a corpse flower will smell like it’s dying.” What I admire so much in this piece, and its many movements, is the way that despite them, or perhaps through them, the poem finds a way, always, back to its central themes. To fathers, to loss. The feeling, for me, was of looking out the window of a train, the scenery fluttering by gripping in its impermanence, as all that is immediate remains, in spite of all that motion, firmly grounded.
Someone has tied a Get Well Soon balloon to the spotted fawn’s limp wrist
from "Still Life"
by Ashley Steineger
From the time of its first publication, what I admired — and what I continue to admire — about Steineger’s poem is how it plays with direct address. Just past the halfway point of the piece, a new presence, “you”, enters the poem. “You,” here is not the audience of the poem, its readers, or its earlier subject matter; a dead fawn found on the roadside. As the poem moves towards its close, “you,” appears again, now seemingly one with the fawn itself, “Easily, the dead are the wittiest among us, and you among them, lying there that evening,” this transposition (perhaps transfiguration is a better word) stunned me from first read, then stuck with me for months.
The oyster’s mouth is silver-lipped. The pearl,
a hefty price. My knuckles open the water.
from "Mother of Pearl"
by Miguel Barretto García
I remember reading García’s poem, inspired by the work of Marianne Chan, shortly after finishing my first read-through of All Heathens. Sometimes a poem finds you at the right time. I loved (and love) the uses of repetition in this poem, the tight wire García walks between language which evokes an internal world (“I am an heirloom in a pawnshop.”), which evokes an external one (“My small / palm is holding a smaller palm,”) and language which invokes itself (“The word was baba: / meaning, father; meaning, mouth.”). There is so much in this poem to love.