Jan "04[Home]

Guest Editor's Preface

What We Have:  a Drift of White, a Wisp of Blue

by Martin Mitchell

[Poetry Feature]

. . . .

The writers I contacted for this collection were uniformly generous in their responses, earning (each one of them) my heartfelt gratitude.  Their themes are encouragingly varied.

Philip Miller's luminous terzanelle "What We Have" concludes:  "and what we want and have concur / and we end up where we always were."  But that poem is about so much more than home, or any other theme, the home in it a state of mind, a metaphor, perhaps, for all we have and might tend to consider safe or sacred.  Suzanne Parker's "Shelter," originally commissioned for a privately published mini-anthology titled Houses, might fit the same category.

Between water and water, in its final third Gardner McFall's "Like a Mantle, the Sea" gets marvelously distracted from life, through art, to sea.  Pointedly, though, but without self-indulgence, this poem, like Patrick Donnelly's "Fountain of Blood," is ultimately an author's self-exploration:  one way to characterize the type of poems that I look for.  Graham Duncan's "Homily" is worrying—in that word's every sense ("drink to the bitter lees / whatever's in your cup, / whether it's nearly / drained or running over").  Water appears in Eamon Grennan's evocative "Florence, Morning to Night," Gabrielle LeMay's Caribbean-rainbowed "Grenadian Gothic," and Peg Peoples's haunting "Up Late at a Dark Window."

Another topic that appeals to me is letters—words, language per se—writing that's about writing, just as, while a film critic, I used to be partial to movies about movies (Truffaut's Day for Night and Fellini's 8-1/2 being the best known and The Stunt Man and about half the oeuvre of Claude Lelouch, being the more interesting).  Writing is the topic of Rachel Hadas's startlingly precise and thorough "Black and White" (in which also online, one hopes, "the act of writing fights the drift of white") and of Andrea Hollander Budy's witty "First Books" ("afterwards," as after first sex, "the relief of having / the first time behind them / for the first time").  In its concern for words despite all else that goes on in it, Robert Wrigley's amazing "Parachute" might come under the same heading.

I've tried to include some, but not too many, formal poems; tried, I'd rather say, to present good poems without conscious regard for traditional technique or the lack of it.  One impressively successful formal poem—Lorna Blake's "Desert Island Disc"—is obviously sea-related, its vivid imagery keyed to the kinds of blue mentioned on album tracks.  (The title refers to a long-running BBC radio program on which celebrities choose their favorite records.)

Patricia Brody, Holly Posner and others provided keen ears for the way each of these poems sounds.  From the lyricism of Bertha Rogers's "Landscape in October" to the sprung rhyme of Clifford Browder's "Resolutions for a More Meaningful Existence," I hope you will listen to someone read them aloud, too, and so gain an appreciation of their full strength.

An essential element of the work herein, of course, is humor, of which Dick Allen's "Zenology" and Richard Frost's "Van Winkle Awakens to a New Style of Jazz" are just two outstanding examples.

I thank the contributors again, and the fine folk who monthly go to the love-laboring trouble of putting out this excellent litmag for letting the themes of this collection reveal themselves, not in advance, but in retrospect.

Martin Mitchell is editor of Rattapallax.  Previously he edited Pivot from 1983 to 1998. He was film critic for After Dark (1968-81) and for Downtown Manhattan (1981-85).  He is a contributor to Home Planet News, for which he has reviewed poetry books for almost twenty-five years.

Image:  "Heron" by Meredith Miller

[Poetry Feature]