Review of the inaugural issue of The Flea
I spent April reading and writing poetry in honor of National Poetry Month. To my dismay, most of it was dreck. I had poems emailed to me, read them on blogs, online workshops, in journals, and investigated some new poets I’d not read before. My disappointment nearly crushed the life out of my pencil. Several days ago I read a few poems by Carol Ann Duffy thinking, how cool that the UK’s new poet laureate is a woman. Perhaps I wasn’t working from a large enough sample size, but the three poems I’d read were enough to convince me that I would never willingly read more: “I sank like a stone / Into the still, deep waters / of late middle age,” said her poem “Mrs Rip Van Winkle” and after reading that, so did I. And just yesterday I read a poem by Ferlinghetti (“Poetry as Insurgent Art [I am signaling you through the flames]”) and was astonished by the pointlessness of it: “If you would be a poet, create works capable of answering the challenge of apocalyptic times, even if this meaning sounds apocalyptic.” Uh, sure. Why the hell not? Just throw out alliteration and assonance and while you’re at it, forget that metaphor is the single most useful device in the English language.
This morning I woke up and checked my email in despair, not really even hoping anymore for good writing to magically appear and appease my underfed poetic muse. Instead of a poem, I received notification that someone new was following me on Twitter. My hungry muse whimpered in dismay. I didn’t know who it was since Twitter does not tell you the real names of your followers, just their userid’s which usually look like spam, only spelled more weirdly. I clicked on the profile. It still looked like spam, but I’ll be damned if it wasn’t better written than the poems I’d been reading. The tweet said: Dancing with Metaphysical Fleas. What? Cool. I followed the link: http://www.the-flea.com/ and nearly had a heart attack. It was poetry! Holy moly, it was good poetry!
Upon further investigation, I discovered that The Flea is a brand new online journal (excuse me, broadsheet) full of the most interesting and creative poetry I’d read all month (outside of a few blogs and several good online workshop participants, which is code for unpublished poetry that will never see the light of day in a journal if the PTB have anything to say about it). Really, really good stuff. The first two lines of Catherine Chandler’s poem, “Body of Evidence” were delightful: “At odds about the odds the oxen sit. / Intransigent, they just don’t give a whit” Whoa! It rhymes! It uses iambic pentameter! It cleverly leads you to think the last word of the second line is going to be “shit” but then throws you over the connotation cliff with “whit” instead. I loved it. Even better was that the rest of the poem didn’t disappoint. It discusses point of view and god in a way that is both interesting and musically lyrical. I felt such relief. I’d opened the link to The Flea and been magically transported to a poet’s castle where the emperor’s new clothes were actually made of fabric instead of wishful thinking.
Now, I’m not a formal poetry nerd. Really, I’m not. I like free verse and have probably read more of it in my life than anything done up in pretty meter, so with great delight I clicked next on Rose Kelleher’s poem, “Global Solutions Architect.” I am married to a software engineering genius so the lingo in her poem was completely awesome and geekishly nifty. Yes, I know what a proton is and sure, I actually do know what a dynamic library does. Cool so far. Then her poem smacked me upside the head with this line: “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower,” Whoa! Was that an allusion? It was! It was! I grew so excited I read the rest of the poem thinking: Wow. Someone adroitly compares the nature of human intelligence and what we have made to the idea of a creator while not boring me to death. How could I not love a poem that says this in one place: “earth to the moon, and moon to spoon and croon,” and this in another: “breathe in, breathe out, iambic ones and zeros”? And then, spectacularly, it ends with chaos theory: “some engineer / who chuckles softly, sending a vibration / that fails to alter history the way / a butterfly-wing would, or so they say.”
I read “De Caelis” by Temple Cone, marveling at the experimental format and the way the poet rhymed “sky” with π. I read “Neutrinos and the holy spirit” by Geoff Page, pissed that I didn’t think of comparing the holy spirit to invisible particles in a poem. Why didn’t I write that? I listened to “Sonnet 27 from The Dark Lady” by Jennifer Reeser who managed to fit the words “Scheherazade,” “extenuated,” and “gracile” effortlessly into the sonnet form. I read the rest of the excellent poems found there (too many to discuss here without sounding like a brainless fangirl) and decided that the editor, Paul Stevens, succeeded in his goal, stated in the editorial note: “Whatever we think that Metaphysical poetry might be, most will agree that the possible range is very wide indeed. But for the purposes of The Flea, the term simply means that I will be receptive to good poems that might elsewhere struggle to win a hearing. . .” My starveling muse has finally eaten her fill and shut up. And the silence is filled with something much better than the clichés that had been fogging up my reading glasses.
I have no excuses anymore for laziness. I had come to the conclusion that there was nothing really worth reading being published and I was wrong. Go, go to The Flea. Read it and be grateful. I’ll be collecting all the useless print journals I’ve got sitting around and firing up the barbecue. Maybe the light of the flames will inspire me. At least I know that there is still poetry in the world that speaks to the mind and heart without navigating through the navel first and miring us all in the lint so often found therein.
Thnaks for the tip. I haven’t read The Flea but I’ll check it out later today. I’m not all that enthusiastic about much of Carol Ann Duffy’s work, but some of the stuff she wrote in the early nineties was good, the ‘Mean Time’ collection in particular. She will probably do a good job as Poet Laureate, mind you, not in the poems she writes but in the profile she gives to poetry.There are some terrific UK poets around but they are as hard to find as good American poets are for UK based readers. There is so much variation in taste, so many poems, and only a small proportion of them will ever be beyond the ordinary. I could recommend some but what I like might not be what you like.
Paul Stevens and Rose Kelleher are heroes of the modern age. Well, not really the modern age as in all sorts of new-f…Oh dear, I don’t really know what modern means any more. Maybe we should award it a capital M if it’s supposed to refer to an artistic movement. Or period. An artistic period.”I am Modern””Don’t mind him, it’s his artistic time of the month”It’s a big world, or so Miles na Gopaleen has Keats and Chapman tell us. All sorts of people write poetry just as all sorts of people do all sorts of things. Compared to the few whose doing of things we witness and/or care to remember, it’s mostly dross. There but for fortune. Indeed, there including fortune as I increasingly fear.But what I really set out to do here was to praise your praise without diminishing the laudatory effect it has on its object.Ah well.
I was so happy to see this wonderful review of The Flea, its excellent poets and not least of labor of love that produced the new contribution by Paul Stevens to quality work on the web. Not forgetting the artwork and design. Always an additional dimension in Paul’s productions.
Rob, you’re probably right re: Duffy. She’ll likely do just fine in that position. And I know that my tastes color my opinions, but I can’t help but wonder: if three poems aren’t enough to convince me, why should I bother looking for more? The only thing that would make me try again is the word of a friend. -shrug-As for ordinary, yes indeed, only a small proportion of poetry transcends the ordinary. I find that reassuring. Really, how much of this stuff today will be read in fifty years? Probably only the extraordinary will still be around, which is as it should be.
Bird, I am pleased you enjoyed the review. Heroes? Hmm, that would be interesting. Capes with the capital M embossed on the hem. 🙂
Janso, thanks for stopping by. Yes, I liked the design as well. I was remiss for not mentioning that in my review. 🙂