Saturday, April 12, 2008

We've Moved!

Phoebe's blog has moved! We have a new combined website/blog now up at

Please visit the new site and feel free to let us know what you think.

The Phoebe Staff

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Poetry Contest Winner!

Thank you to everyone who supported Phoebe by entering our 2008 Greg Grummer Poetry Contest.

I'm very happy to announce that our judge, Peter Gizzi, has selected "Satire on La Playa a Las Muertas", by Nora Almeida, as the winner of the $1,000 prize + publication. Nora's poem will be published in our Fall 2008 issue.

In addition, the following poems were selected as finalists, and will be considered for possible publication
. We received quite a few strong submissions and were able to send a very diverse group of poems on to the judge:

Mary Austin Speaker - "The Leftovers"

Arpine Grenier - "The Heart of the City"

Stephanie Anderson - "This Cleaving and This Burning" & "An Arrangement of Vertebrae"

Angela Szczepaniak - "Pancreas Puddings"

Jonathan Rice - "Inheritance"

Shira Dentz - "and now for contemplation"

Kimberly Lojek - "Vertical [With Russian Blue Gloves and Cigarette Burning]", "[Women Bathing]", & "[Conditional Winter]"

Fiction winners + finalists should be posted soon...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


I've just added two new reviews to the blog, by Joe Hall and Mike Maggio, respectively, with a couple more to follow (including titles from Catfish Press and Black Ocean) in the coming weeks. Past reviews can be viewed by clicking on the "Phoebe Poetry Reviews" link in the right sidebar. Publishing reviews here has been a bit slower than we expected, in part because review copies have only begun to trickle in again. If you'd like us to consider a book for review, please send it to:

Phoebe, MSN 2C5
George Mason University
4400 University Dr
Fairfax, VA 22030-4444

As things pick up, we hope to publish 3-5 per month. I've left the comments section open for all reviews, so feel free to add your thoughts and feedback, but please, keep it respectful.

And lastly, I'm still working out formatting issues with the blog, especially in regards to spacing within the reviews. We hope to switch to WordPress sometime soon, which will hopefully alleviate some of this, as well as allow for a combined Phoebe website & blog. Stay tuned...

City of Regret - Andrew Kozma

Zone 3 Press, 2007
Paperback. 74 pgs.
Review by Joe Hall

Finding love amidst the grief caused by a father’s death, the poems in Kozma’s first book are shaped by these most elemental, turbulent emotions. Some of his best poems place us within a landscape scored beyond recognition by this grief. It isn’t surreal, just as Dante isn’t surreal. From “Dis”:

…The distance holds Dis, the city of regret. The way back

is blocked by frogs with human eyes in their mouths,

but there’s no danger if you don’t stare.

Some figure beckons—but it is only a shadow

shorn by the dimming sun. The sun is fed

more bodies and wells into brightness… (1)

There’s virtuosity here, an intensity pushing us forward, making us willing to accept the wonderfully bizarre imagery. At moments in “Dis” the speaker’s fidelity to this landscape is absolute, and what seems at first bizarre, we realize, has a purposeful place in the terrible logic of grief. It isn’t a trick of seeing—it is.

At other times, Kozma emerges from this place where meaning is made through the strange, ornate image and into a forceful clarity of image and statement. From “Too Steep to Climb”:

The crematorium is just one thin spoke

of ritual holding us at bay, and what a kind

dictator to present death only as a shroud.

Forgive me, father, for I have missed

your skin, your eyes, I have been blind…

The poem pushes forward past this moment, yet the effect of such candor is remarkable in light of the vertiginous landscape it emerges from. In the crematorium ash, Kozma mingles personal and communal grief and in doing so recognizes that his grief has obscured rather than revealed the grieved for. Content and form converge to raise us out of the turbulence of other poem. Kozma seems at home in the quatrain. His occasional rhymes, though not abiding by any formal pattern, give his stanzas a sense of balance.

Many of Kozma’s poems are less assured in their strategies, especially those which seek to overlay fantastic ways of seeing onto day to day landscapes—a bar, a coffee shop, over the sink brushing our teeth—as if to mimic how grief can overtake us anywhere: “Cold bleeds into my trailer, creeping / past the sun. I’ve patched the walls with rust” (“Blood Perimeter”). This seems, oh, a bit too Gothic. Another example:

. . . From the hilltop

our hotel was a bone in a nest of bones and our balcony,

where we imagined ourselves watching, was a splinter

of red. (from “Acropolis”)

But what do I mean when I say something is too Gothic? Is this just an easy way to dismiss a way of image making? Caveat: I’m not a great reader of the Gothic, but let’s take, for instance, Poe. He was interested in representing the subjectivity of an unhinged individual, characters whose minds were divided against themselves. What signifies these self-subversions is often the gruesome, the visceral—hearts under floorboards and folks bricked up in crypts.

Given time, these images became signifiers for a gothic way of thinking, yet when removed from their contexts, meat and bones do not contain the complexity of the work of Poe or Coleridge (a la “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner). Instead, the gothic image becomes a way for the writer to stitch a landscape with pain, obscuring both the landscape and the pain, leaving the reader to grapple with the nakedness of this gesture.

One must build their own semiotic framework to encourage a reader to read complexly; Kozma occasionally fails to do this. Without being situated in frames strong enough to resist them, his stock of images can become somewhat exhausted on the conotational level. And there aren’t enough poems such as “Dis” which provide the vision of a larger structuring logic which has space enough to provide fixtures in which we can plug in the images and gestures of other poems.

So there are some duds.

I’m not being generous. Kozma’s poems are well made. He is sensitive to a harrowing kind of beauty. From “Through Ice”:

. . . Outside, in the rain, on a corner, is a love,

my love, waiting for a cab to enclose her,

or someone very like a cab. And the street is like slate,

and the rain is like bullets, and the sun in the blue sky,

is like transformation explaining photographs

of what it was . . .

Kozma’s speaker lives feeling the alternating concussions of grief and love. And though his images cannot contain the insistent tremor of these feelings, there’s a kind of eloquence in the dissatisfaction revealed by his movement from one to another.


Joe Hall is finishing his MFA in poetry at George Mason University where he is a Thesis Fellow. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Cimarron Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Versal and others.

Existential Poetics: When a Poem is Just a Poem

A Review of Noah Eli Gordon’s
A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow

New Issues Press, 2007
Paperback. 98 pgs.
Review by Mike Maggio

In a recent interview with Rain Taxi[1], Noah Eli Gordon was asked about the accessibility of a poetry whose meaning is inherently elusive to the reader. Gordon’s poetry, after all, does not offer immediate access to meaning, an element that, to some, constitutes the very purpose of the act of reading: communication. How, specifically, he was asked, does he respond to people when he is questioned about what a particular poem means?

Gordon’s answer, replete with references to Rimbaud and Wittgenstein, provides a clue on not only how to approach his own work but also on how to appreciate the modern aesthetic of experimental and conceptual poetry. For in today’s poetics, poetry often goes well beyond simple meaning. Instead, it can offer an experience that forces the reader to explore language, concept and formality. In this type of poetry, meaning becomes secondary, thus turning the concept of what a poem is, at least to some, on its head. In essence, as Gordon concludes, quoting MacLeish, “A poem should not mean / But be.”[2]

Gordon’s newest collection, A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow, illustrates the dilemma the reader is faced with when reading poetry that is simply meant to be. The uninitiated reader, doing what he or she has long been taught to do best, searches for meaning and then, finding none, at least on the literal level, comes away frustrated, concluding, at best, that the book is not worth reading or, at worst, that the author is not worth further pursuing.

While most readers read for meaning, those same readers will tell you that they also read for pleasure. Finding meaning in text, one can assume then, provides the pleasure that these readers are seeking in a book. Yet, there are pleasures in contemporary poetry (in all well-constructed poetry, for that matter), and in Gordon’s poetry specifically, that are there for the asking. One simply needs to seek them out, to relearn, so to speak, how to read. This involves work, perhaps not one of the pleasures most people associate with reading, but the work certainly pays off in the end.

A little research, for example, reveals things that might otherwise go right over the reader’s head. In the same interview mentioned above, one learns that the first section of the book, “A Dictionary of Music,” comes out of Gordon’s experience reading a music dictionary from the 1800’s. This bit of information immediately provides a context in which to read the section, allowing the reader the all important sense of meaning, therefore grounding him or her and enabling them to move forward in the book and to move on to the other poetic elements that are at play.

The title poem, for example, is filled with musical terms:

little piece of silence

astray in the circumstantial music of a crowd

part myth, part massacre

have you put away your toy internment?

turned to the first movement

where the house was empty

& the dead hair of the harpist spread on the lawn

its arrayed core drawing a grace note

from the muttering of those exhausted by wild dance

showing an oar for a lyre

a turtle shell a tear

cleaving a bird call on the kettle drum

to unsettle a dust of harmonics

expelling an itinerant elsewhere

an epistolary scratching-post

a winged thing for the gypsy’s chime

the timbrel’s return to nowhere

Even a cursory reading of this poem will reveal all of the musical terms that one can assume were extracted from that 19th’century dictionary: movement, harpist, grace note, dance, lyre, kettle drum, harmonics, etc. The poem, with its esoterics, verges on the collage, though one cannot say with certainty that this is a collage poem. Still, the element of collage is there, beginning with what one can assume is extracted text and continuing with its emphasis on language which is used in delightful and interesting ways: the unexpected end rhyme of lyre/tear or the internal rhyme of winged thing; the surprising sibilance of an epistolary scratching –post; the wondrous phrases such as have you put away your toy internment or & the dead hair of the harpist spread on the lawn. These elements, which are essential to Gordon’s poetry, provide an overriding harmonics which are easily lost to the reader who is trapped into reading solely for meaning. It is, perhaps, for this reason that meaning is not emphasized, for the lack of meaning forces the informed reader to concentrate on the poetics at work.

Gordon’s poetry is often a response to something he has encountered, as in the section discussed above. Later in the book, “Four Allusive Fields” provides us his reaction to an art exhibit he attended at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, another tidbit picked up from the Rain Taxi interview. However, this section begins with an epigraph which, coyly, asks the same questions the reader might ask: “Who is Cy Twombly” What is it he does? And what are we to call what he does?” Here, Gordon grounds the reader with information critical to approaching the section, giving readers an avenue in which to do further research into the subject matter if they wish.

These four ekphrastic poems, each written as a single stanza and making use of counterpoint and enjambment, resemble canvasses on the page and propel the reader forward with its language and imagery, as in this first, untitled one:

Cy listens absently to absent Homer

& his refusal become a dead thing full of music

Smash it on a cyclotron. Drag it across a dozen centuries

Drips are old. Smudges are old. Talking a museum

out of its eternal monologue, it’s not embarrassing

to leak in waves & cones. Nudes fall from newspapers

as you fell from an oily twilight, from a painting

of the world twilight, arranged without letters, inkless

like a fire that consumes all before it, or better inkless

as the phrase: “like a fire that consumes all before it”

Who wouldn’t be mayor of a worked-over surface

returning clutter for a broom, ever-after for Cliffs Notes

Work smudging talk, talk smudging work

Obedience is an awful word I think to get lost in

Again, there is an element of potential collage, a certain mixture of words that seem to collide into meaninglessness (Talking a museum/out of eternal monologue, it’s not embarrassing/to leak in waves & cones) but which surprise and delight and even make sense on a certain level. And, again, there is the sense that the poetics takes precedence over meaning: the word repetitions that work their way through the poem; the interesting turns of phrases that make the reader stop and wonder.

It is perhaps a reflection on our culture that, while we are one of the most literate societies in the world, we are at the same time one of the most non-literary. While most people know how to read, most do not know how to derive pleasure from language beyond the immediate payoff of meaning. This paradox – the literate vs. the literary – creates a dilemma for the contemporary poet who wishes to utilize all the poetic tools at his or her disposal, who wishes to push the envelope to provide a unique linguistic experience. This raises the question of how literacy should be measured and whether the literary dimension should be included in that calculation. In the meantime, the contemporary poet persists, hoping to affect the calculus of that formula.

A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow is not an easy book to read. It requires work, even dedication. It requires the literate to approach the literary. It is, however, a book worth working at, filled with phrases that glow like polished glass, that echo with harmony, that sing with a music, that, esoteric as it may seem, rings with a serene, subdued beauty.

For those with the skills necessary to approach it, it will be filled with delight. For those not so endowed, a slow and careful read will allow for a re-evaluation of what it means to read, of what pleasures a good book of poetry holds.

Gordon is to be praised for sticking to his poetic guns.

[1] Online Edition, Spring 2007.

[2] The quote is from Archibald MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica.”


Mike Maggio has published fiction, poetry and translations in journals and anthologies in the United States and abroad. His work has appeared in such places as Phoebe, Apalachee Quarterly, Potomac Review, Pleaides, Black Bear Review, The Arabesques Review, Pig Iron and many others. He is the author of Your Secret Is Safe With Me, a audio collection of poems (Black Bear Publications), Oranges From Palestine (and other poems) (Mardi Gras Press), and a collection of short fiction, Sifting Through the Madness (Xlibris). His newest book, deMockracy (Plain View Press), is a hard-hitting, poetic critique of the Bush administration and its cavalier and unjustified attack on Iraq and on the democratic institutions here at home in America.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Back from AWP and wicked busy

Sorry we've been out and unable to post recently. And unlike last year, I probably won't be writing up a recap of AWP, since other things have been holding me up. But you can find out how it went from several other people: Cliff Garstang, Dan Wickett, the folks at Cutbank, and Erika Dreifus blogging for The Writer Magazine.

As far as I know, two of our Fiction contributors to this most recent issue have blogs up and running - if you find any others let us know. To read what's going on with Blake Butler, go here, and to see what's going on with Kim Chinquee, go here. Also, Kim Chinquee's book of short prose, Oh Baby, has just come out from Ravenna Press. Hooray.

Some fiction withdrawals shortly.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Phoebe at AWP!

Phoebe's coming to NYC! We'll be at the Associated Writing Programs Conference this week in New York. Look for us at table #483. As in past years, we'll be splitting a table at the bookfair with our sister journal, So to Speak. Drop by and say hello!