Poetry

July 2017 Poetry Feature

This month we welcome back one of the most crucial and distinctive Anglophone poets, Lawrence Joseph, whose sixth collection, So Where Are We?, will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in August. “In One Day’s Annals” appears in this book, as does “In That City, in Those Circles,” first published in issue #10 of The Common. Joseph is also the author of two books of prose, the genre-defying Lawyerland (FSG), as well as The Game Changed: Essays and Other Prose, from the University of Michigan Press’s Poets on Poetry Series, which presents Joseph’s estimable talents as an essayist and critic.

Joseph was born in Detroit in 1948 to first-generation natives of the city; his grandparents, Lebanese and Syrian Catholics, were among the first Arab immigrants to the United States. Educated at the University of Michigan, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Michigan Law School, Joseph is Tinnelly Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law. He lives in New York City with his wife, the painter Nancy Van Goethem.

Joseph is singular in American poetry. A pronounced poet-chronicler, a risk-taker and truth-teller—casting a sometimes hot and sometimes cool eye—Joseph has positioned himself as a poet on the periphery while remaining profoundly centered in our common social, spiritual, and aesthetic realities. A poet, as John Ashbery has written, of “great dignity, grace, and unrelenting persuasiveness,” Joseph expertly combines images, ideas, and the language of political economy, labor and capital, racism and war, with expressions of great beauty and physical and emotional intimacy. As an Arab-American, Joseph identifies with those pejoratively identified by race or ethnicity. He also brings his knowledge and experience as a lawyer and legal scholar into his poems, mapping disparate social spaces, creating narrative intersections among people from widely different social classes.

Joseph presents—to paraphrase Adrienne Rich—violence, brutality, and cruelty not merely as dramatic occasions for the poet, but as manifestations of structures of power to be revealed and dismantled. Infused with a fierce, uncompromising moral vision, Joseph’s is a poetry of committed attention, and passionate, unintimidated resistance.

 

LAWRENCE JOSEPH

IN ONE DAY’S ANNALS

 

Inscrutable the Muse Who Selects My Fate;
Breaking News Graphic, Word of the Attack

Spreads; History of the Great Exegesis;
The Gospel According to Saint Matthew;

Truly Stupendous Levels of Hatred;
and others, too many to mention, each

with their own characters, dialogues, scenes.
In his eternity, up to his waist in a pool

of green liquid poisons, the president who
raises his eyebrows, blows out his cheeks,

purses his lips, feigns surprise, smirks.
In one day’s annals, seen through Sweet

Revenge’s windows, Carmine Street’s
gold dusk light, purplish bronze shielding

Teardrop Park turning a misty gray, slipping
on the ice, falling, headfirst, onto Rector Street,

Number Two subway train’s lights go out—
he continues to play—lights on again—

he finishes, lifts his guitar and kisses it—
on one of fifteen years of Wednesdays,

millions of gallons of untreated sewage
discharged from the North River Wastewater

Treatment Plant’s pipes into the Hudson
and Harlem rivers. What’s clear,

delicate, beautiful, what’s ugly, horrifying;
but why we go to the end of the night

is for no other reason than another
moral to the story, the primal paradise

the body remembers, elemental stasis
of infinities of light and of time, hypostatic.

 

Lawrence Joseph’s most recent books of poems are Into It and Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973–1993. He is Tinnelly Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law and lives in New York City.

Isabel MeyersJuly 2017 Poetry Feature
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Meditation on a Ficus Tree

By DENISE DUHAMEL

 

mermaid legs/ whiskers/ open mouth/ callipygian bark/
semen sap/ elbow fold/ knees/ arms stretched above a head/
torso swung upside down/ hair sweeping the ground/
breasts/ cave turned inside out/ toes holding on/
eye socket/ palm/ thumb/ twisting veins/ freckle/ bellybutton/
vulva/ ghost fetus/ nose/ nipple/ thigh/ petrified cloud

Julia PikeMeditation on a Ficus Tree
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Lesson for Cortney

By CORTNEY LAMAR CHARLESTON

after Lewis Holt

Those are traffic lights. They help stop people from
driving into each other. That’s a crescent moon and star
on top of that building. It means the people inside are part
of The Nation. That’s a gas station. That’s a McDonald’s.
That’s a Burger King. That’s a fried fish and chicken joint.

Sunna JuhnLesson for Cortney
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June 2017 Poetry Feature

Over the past year Vievee Francis has received well-deserved recognition for her latest collection, Forest Primeval, which won both the 2016 Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the 2017 Kingsley Tufts Award. Her previous book, Horse in the Dark, won the Cave Canem Northwestern University Poetry Prize for a second collection, and her first, Blue-Tail Fly, preceded a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award. Since the publication of Forest Primeval, Francis has been working on a fourth collection, and at The Common we’ve had the honor and the pleasure of presenting some of her new poems: “On Leaving the Mountains and Coming to the City I Thought I Left For Good” and “The Beauty of Boys Is” appear in Issue 13, Spring 2017, and “This Morning I Miss Such Devotion” is forthcoming in Issue 14, Fall 2017. Here is “’Moan Soft Like You Wanted Somebody Terrible,’” our Poetry Feature for the month of June.

Isabel MeyersJune 2017 Poetry Feature
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May 2017 Poetry Feature

This May, we’re celebrating spring with new work by three of our contributors.

 

STEVE BARBARO

Flavored Graffito

                                                                                      Agrigento, Sicily

             Piz-stack-eee-oh, Graffito registers, the word flooding his noggin

                   like the weed-choked shrubs crowding what should-be-a-more-

         pregnant vacuity surrounding what little remains of Demeter’s

Julia PikeMay 2017 Poetry Feature
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Two Poems in the Courtly Manner

By DAVID LEHMAN

1.

Gather ye rosebuds come what may,

Old time’s a frequent flyer,

And many lovers that link today

May soon be forced to retire.

 

Let each of us have one, each of us be one

Soul unlinking from its mate in the past

To eat the golden apples of the sun.

Youth fondly supposes it will last.

Sunna JuhnTwo Poems in the Courtly Manner
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April 2017 Poetry Feature

At The Common, we’re celebrating Poetry Month with new work by five of our contributors.

JAMES HOCH

Fayum Portrait [Deal]

I’ve sent a map on wax paper–
What he loves arrayed as clumsy petals.
If it arrives,
someone will ink it in his back,
so it will go with him
like a paw stuffed in a casing,
boardwalk mojo to ward off the hail of RPG, AK,

FOB after FOB, Amputee Ward, TBI, Arlington.

Sarah WhelanApril 2017 Poetry Feature
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