Modern Metrics Press
Given how difficult it is to get any chapbook published, let alone one which consists mainly of formal/metrical poems, I was thrilled to discover the newly set up Modern Metrics Press, based in New York. Although they are not able to accept unsolicited manuscripts at the present time, they do host monthly readings in New York City devoted to metrical poetry. Their current offering of five chapbooks also displays an openness to different voices and styles which puts many larger presses to shame. I present here brief reviews of those volumes, confident in the knowledge that all my readers should be able to find at least one of these excellent chapbooks to their taste.
Blue Glass Cities by Mark Allinson
Admirers of an ability to work with various forms, subjects and tones will not be disappointed by this collection. These fifteen poems range from sonnets to free verse passing through dactylic hexameter on the way, and cover subjects as broad as Greek mythology, the Chinese poets Tao Yuan Ming and Li Po, mature love and the eternal force of the sea. The poems are artfully selected and sequenced such that the book can be read for pleasure in one sitting much as one would enjoy the ebb and flow of the sea.
Dr. Allinson is at his best when he grounds his lyricism in the everyday e.g. from "Diagnostic":But they don't know because they were not there
to breathe the lethal darkness of your hair.
or from "On Proust's Madeleine":a world thought lost may spring from a cup of tea.
There is the odd metrical bump, but there are many treasures to be garnered beachcombing this well thought out collection, not the least of which, surprisingly, is the free verse poem "Li Po's Fire Poems":the warmth from that poem
keeps the chill from my marrow
William Montgomery by Quincy Lehr
If you google William Montgomery in an effort to discover the background behind the title poem of this collection, you will be wasting your time—the character is an invented one. This is your introduction to the originality and ambition of the nine long poems within. How refreshing it is to read a metrical collection without a single sonnet! Dr. Lehr prefers instead nonce forms of his own devising: poems in which each stanza is framed by the same line ("The Holiday Season") or an identity rhyme ("Good Friday") or poems with complex structures and rhyme schemes such as "Take an Errant Strand of Hair," the poem which incidentally contains my favorite lines:A certain point of view
Refracts the truth like spectacles
Bend light to aid eyes' weakness.
There is a downside to aiming high, of course, and for me the title poem, perhaps the most ambitious, doesn't quite succeed. With its five diverse sections, numerous literary allusions and apocryphal hero, it leaves me doubting its coherence despite many fine and memorable lines, such as:—and though her stare
Is lurid as it ever was, Catullus
Can only see her in her underwear
In tabloid spreads, just like the rest of us.
But I applaud Quincy Lehr for his magnificent attempt to stretch the boundaries of metrical poetry rather than plod safely along in the middle of a well-trodden road. This is a poet to watch.
The Countess of Flatbroke by Mary Meriam
Mary Meriam's collection displays the surety of one who knows the most reliable form to house quirky, idiosyncratic subject matter is perhaps the most traditional, and my own personal favorite, the sonnet. This book contains ten single sonnets and one sonnet sequence, which build up, alongside the other poems, a kind of portrait of a way of life the reader might ascribe to the title character, the Countess of Flatbroke:I shun the man-made world and stay at home.
This suits the world, since I am very queer.
Despite these hermetic opening lines, these poems are brimming with acute observations of the man-made world, and with a love which avoids clichés. In "Something Good," our protagonist dreams:I waltz with Julie Andrews in her blue
desire dress one summer night, and we
Julie Andrews is not the only strong female character Ms. Meriam appropriates—the reader will also find a dreamy Proserpina and another Countess—Mary Sidney, Countess of Pembroke—as well as the eponymous girls of the poems. The poems are metrically sturdy and speak directly to the reader, the occasional poem perhaps a little too directly, but that is not to detract from this fine collection. Would that it could bring Ms. Meriam's Countess the riches she deserves.
Prolegomena to an Essay on Satire by R. Nemo Hill
As soon as I opened Mr. Hill's book, I knew exactly where I was, or rather, when I was: the glorious Age of Reason, the period which brought us Alexander Pope's "Essay on Criticism." This poem (A Prolegomena is a treatise serving as a preface or introduction to a book) is an accomplished satire on several levels. Firstly it is a wonderful parody of Pope himself, executed in polished heroic couplets with more than a sprinkling of similarly epigrammatic lines:True satire strikes the master, not the slave.
Secondly it is an introduction to the art of satire, in the same way that Pope's "Essay on Criticism" can be read as an Ars Poetica. Finally, it appears to be a satire directed at another contemporary satirist, whose name is hinted at in the dedication.
Of the five Modern Metrics' chapbooks in this review, Prolegomena is perhaps the best crafted: Mr. Hill's metrics and rhymes are flawless. It is thus almost a shame to note that it is potentially the volume with the most focused appeal. Ever since Matthew Arnold asserted that Pope was a fine prose writer and no poet, this style of didactic verse has had its detractors, and in the twenty first century not all readers have the patience for the rhetorical flourishes the style requires. Nevertheless lovers of Pope and Dryden should rejoice: Mr. Nemo Hill is your new hero.
Some Time Before the Bell by Ray Pospisil
Mr. Pospisil's blank verse is so colloquially fluent that I suspect he can do my party trick, speaking in iambic pentameter. But an easy voice is the least of many virtues possessed by this collection of eleven poems. As a practitioner of the French repeating forms I am fascinated by the opening poem "Insomnia" which uses repetition in a new and entirely unstilted way. Mr. Pospisil also demonstrates his mastery at sonnets, of which my favorite is "Little Eye":I figure that I'll never fall asleep
without a visit from that little eye
whose black, imploring gaze in dreams will keep
appearing nightly and inquiring why.
There is also a fine allegorical poem in "Depression," and I challenge any reader not to find resonance with the dream poem from which the title is taken, "Exam Today:"—my nightmare snickers. "What the hell—
you've got some time before the bell."
All the titles in this review can be ordered directly from Modern Metrics Press for $10, plus $2 S&H for up to five books.
Anna Evans is a British citizen but permanent resident of NJ, where she is raising two daughters. She has had over 100 poems published in journals including The Formalist, The Evansville Review, Light Quarterly, Measure and many others. She has been nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist in the 2005 Howard Nemerov sonnet award. She is editor of the formal poetry e-zine The Barefoot Muse and is currently enrolled in the Bennington College MFA Program. Her first chapbook Swimming was published in March 2006 by Maverick Duck Press.
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