FIELDing Consistently Good Poetry

This weekend, a writer friend pointed out a poem in a magazine that she thought what horrible: sing song, self-absorbed, preachy. In it, the author complained at a writer’s retreat that no one understood his art.

Many magazines publish bad poems along with good ones, but this was in a top five destination for poets and fiction writers. This got me to thinking. If a magazine with this type of reputation could misfire with a bad poem, where could a reader safely go and expect every poem would be a good one?

One magazine came to mind – Field. To test my hypothesis, I sat down and read every poem from the Spring 2012 issue and I wasn’t disappointed. There was not a single dud in the whole issue, and many I reread several times.

The issue kicks off with an imaginative poem There Is a Day Under a Box from Michael Teig that juxtaposes an everyday object with a larger theme. The language is fresh and surprising: “There are friends who fade off the horizon like movie credits.”

This same approach is used by Hildred Crill in They Built the Dance Museum, with lines such as: “…because our bodies are written on rice paper, the bending stem bound into us like a watchword because of the drum’s hidden chamber and because of its skin…” The modern world is not ignored by these poets, even as they expand their lenses to larger questions about our lives. The opening lines of Chris Santiago’s poem A Year in the Snow Country crackles with this same energy: “ Later I married, in the careless zoning of the American West, the sense of not only all the time in the world but the space too.”

The poets in this issue can also be lush and lyrical as in the passage: “In some dreams, the same terrible occurs only it is normal, it is for love, and the green is the green of field corn, fodder green, corn grown for only cows and goats and pigs…” in The Magician’s Assistant by Amy Newlove Schroeder.

One thing I’ve always appreciated about Field is that the writers have ambition, and I mean this in the best way. In the opening of Dear Thanatos, Traci Brimhall puts her narrator front and center on topics of religion and death: “I did what you told me to, wore antlers and the mask, danced in the untilled fields, but the promised ladder never dropped from the sky.”

Some of the poems are compact with enviable lines such as: “Little doll murdering her chores, how alike you look in the photo of you and your father” in Pill Box by Marni Ludwig. Others are part of a much larger narrative as in this Excerpt from Mad Men Poems by Dolan Morgan: New organs. Super strength. Chinese. The spoils of victory. How do I know I’m not going to just eat another mushroom and this room will disappear and I’ll be back on a train to Trenton?”

It could be that I am predisposed to poetry with cultural references such as TV, as I am partway through writing a themed collection Yankee Broadcast Network with poetic collaborator John F. Buckley. But I believe this is part of the magic of Field. No matter what style of poetry, there is much to admire in this consistent publication that will have you thinking about your own writing in a more expansive light.

Martin Ott

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