Thursday 15 February 2018

Opinion : Cortland Review, Issue 78, Feb 2018 (Part 1 of 2)

Why are poetry books so expensive? At 10GBP PLUS per short chapbook pamphlet this keeps poetry elitist, out of reach for the stretched pockets today, especially if you want to read a cross section of modern poets this cost would soon mount up and easily get out of control even for the well off. Further many poetry books do not seem to ever make it to the e-book format.

Magazines aren’t much better. In today’s global internet based world, the printed issue which frequently doubles in price for international postage also becomes unobtainable, and many are not available in digital format.

I have decided to explore a number of online Poetry Magazines which are free. I’m not doing these in any particular order other than the order I come to the  magazines.

The opinion given herein, and in following opinions, is my own, first impression both of the Magazine and the poems. Readers of this blog will know I write Reviews of books and Short Stories as much as a reminder to myself of the individual story and which ones I have read, however I am novice when it comes to reviewing poetry so feedback welcome.  Here goes.


Today’s is the Cortland Review Issue 78 February 2018 @CortlandReview 

Its editorial claims it has “new poems by Sally Bliumis-Dunn, Collier Brown, Grant Clauser, Ann Conway, Robert Cording, Chris Crew, Matt Daly, Roger Desy, Mark Dow, Glenn Freeman, Beth Gylys, Julia Leverone, Valerie Nieman, Simon Perchik, Todd Robinson, John Sibley Williams and Philip Terman” and fiction “by Juan Alvarado Valdivia and Jade Freeman.”

Each poem in this quarterly journal comes with its own audio reading. I really like this as it lets me, as a reader, also listen to how the poet reads her/his own work – their tone, their emphasis, their breaks and pauses – this greatly enhances my own read, my enjoyment, my understanding. Its the two together which make the differences hearing it read and seeing the poem’s layout, together.

Today I have read the poems by

Sally Bliumis-Dunn
Collier Brown
Grant Clauser
Ann Conway
Robert Cording
Chris Crew
Matt Daly

none of whom I have read before. Here’s my initial thoughts on each. My thoughts on the others from this Issue will follow in a subsequent post.


Snow by Sally Bliumis-Dunn

6 stanzas each of 3 lines in which she recalls the aftermath of her a loved one’s death in hospital in terms of the removal of the body, the renewing of the white bed linen. The trigger for this being a snowfall in her back yard covering all the items left there – the trowel, the rake, the dog’s ball , just as the black vinyl bag covered the body on the hospital gurney. Contrasts of what is hidden by the white and black in that moment of vacant staring about at the world during grief.


Brother by Collier Brown 16 lines Can’t say I relate to this poem. It seems to be about hunting, is the Brother of the title the hunted fox? . What stands out are the sounds employed in end of line rhymes and mid line lines and visual rhymes - aabbccddxxxxffgg Lines 1-8 are rhyming pairs, as are lines 12-16 although the reading  doesn’t force the rhymes it shows them. Lines 1-8 show the rhythm of the hounds circular territorial walk round the places where it has buried its kills and left its scent.  Lines 9-12 has the rhyming “choke” “speak” “teeth” “creek” and I suspect the jarring of “choke” is an intentional hard “k” echo into “speak” but I fail to understand why the poet should have chose this ‘discord’ in the middle section of his poem.


Trouble Light by Grant Clauser

This is a beautiful memory of a past father found through thinking about all the things the speaker witnessed his father doing when he was a child – fix the broken station wagon, fix the dog’s trapped leg. All this trouble, which needed a father to fix, happened in the dark, a child’s fear we can all relate to. I loved the phrases

“when the dark
was a problem you could solve
with tools and anger”

and the finale, where he still sees, recalls his father

“his light,
hanging in the shed, the garage,
keeping the dark cracks
from getting too large.”

Probably my favourite of the ones I have read thus far.


My Friend, Lost by Ann Conway
Another poem I just don’t get. On my reading its 15 lines didn’t run smooth and this is where the author audio really helps – it gave me the momentum of the poem.

It seems to be about someone who has lost a friend, possibly to war?  Whereas the town has moved on, forgotten its dead, the speaker has not. The friend is now only present in the speaker’s dreams, as noises haunting the kitchen, But why the final line “I was sick of those goddam Yankees”? There is no other hint, to me at least , of this being set in the US Civil War time, although I suppose “cicadas” only to be in the US South. Lost on this non-American.


Two Photographers by Robert Cording

A poem in 2 parts, each about an art photographer – the first Josef Sudek’s Egg, the second about Diane Arbus’ Vineland photographs. I knew neither artist, so how did reading this poem inform me about what to expect when I ‘googled’ them?

Josef Sudek appears to have a preoccupation with eggs! But more his work is post war still lifes with mundane objects such as an egg, a glass of water, placing these in different situations equally mundane and everyday  - a table, a saucer - and  using his skill as a photographer to capture the line between “light and shadow” – the before and after of the war? But also the singularity, the “selfhood”, the defined outline of the egg shape as a “focus to quiet the mind” amidst the turmoil past and present. Having ‘googled’ him, his photographers are stark – bread, water, egg – pretty basic nutrition – stark reminders of destitution, poverty and necessity, of hard times and survival. He was a Czech photographer born 1896, died 1976 

I also learnt a new word “gnomen”

“On a saucer, the egg
a gnomon shadowing the line

between before and after. “

According to the dictionary gnomen is
(1) the projecting piece on a sundial that shows the time by the position of its shadow.
Astronomy - a structure, especially a column, used in observing the sun's meridian altitude
(2) Geometry - the part of a parallelogram left when a similar parallelogram has been taken from its corner.

The second part, entitled Transparency (Vineland photographs, Diane Arbus), is a complete contrast. The photographs are about people it is not clear who, but the photographer  appears to be in the picture with her subjects, reminiscent of an anthropologist encountering a primitive tribe.. The result a sensation of who is looking at who in the zoo. As voyeur we ‘see’ elements of ourselves in these subjects

“in those mismatched, out-of-date,
ill-fitting outfits we recognize as our own”

But their  “stare at her camera” remains childlike, unknowing, primitive and

“even if we tried to be

this naked and vulnerable, could never escape
the awareness that has us looking at them

as if we were relieved for being who we are,
then apologetic for that failure in ourselves.”

Imagine my horror when I ‘google’ the photographer and this series of photographers and find they were taken at Utah State Hospital for the institutionalized mentally retarded.

Did Robert Cording do a good job?Yes, for me his poem captures the essence of both these artist’s works and the two pieces sit well together in one poem - the sheer contrast between the distinctly different styles, approaches, and subject matter.


From a relief pitcher's death, I learn by Chris G Crew

On first seeing this poem I thought it must be some kind of mesostic, text found within another piece, but it  lacks the meaningful central vertical line . Instead, after reading it, I am of the opinion it is diagrammatic of the boat propeller’s shaft, central to the poem’s narrative, the circumstances surrounding the swimmer’s death.

I loved the phraseology that painted the picture of boats which “turtled along the beach” , the cyclic nature of  “all movement is borrowed from stillness” , the boat’s propeller as “the windmill toward home” .

I have difficultly with the beginning and the end – the initial “the same day we washed February from my father’s body” would appear to be self explanatory but what relation does it hold to the rest of the poem, except happening at the same time? And the point of the finale  escapes me “the finer points visible only to those living each turn of those astronomical years”

On doing a bit of investigation I found this 2015 story of Caracas Lions / Seattle Mariners pitcher Victor Sanchez which may have been the inspiration for the poem


After Tony Write to Me About Dogen by Matt Daly

Even with the title of this 11 line poem I had to consult the oracle – Google told me who Dogen was, a Japanese writer , poet and philospher from the 13th century who wrote the first Zen monastic code  ( ) . Having that piece of information this poem is a reflective, contemplation on diet and lifestyle choices. The speaker considering himself appreciative of his breakfast of  “granola with almonds, walnuts, cranberries and milk rather than plain oatmeal” which it is to be assumed is what his probably vegetarian friend Tony of the title and other advocates of Dogen’s Zen lifestyles would be having , even though his non-vegetarian stomach remains wishing for something more substantial.


ashramblings verdict – I like the format of the Cortland Reviw on the web., especially approving of the presentations of audios. My favourite poem of those read thus far is Trouble Light by Grant Clauser   - its language is very accessible, and I think anyone who has grown up with a father figure around in their childhood can relate to its narrative and sentiment.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read your whole article yet but it's wonderful you shared your knowledge and findings on these resources. I'm particularly grateful to notice the accompanying audio files at the first journal you mention. I must remember to get over and taste it for myself when I have a spare moment. Thanks.