The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Beloit Poetry Journal

John Rosenwald and Lee Sharkey, editors.  Quarterly.  Vol. 58.  No. 1.  Fall 2007.  48 pp, digest and stapled.  $18 for a one-year subscription. 


How to review this collection of poetry (and a few book reviews at the end), when all of it seems so sadly superfluous, disengaged, and fanciful, as in “Girl with Hair Tangled in Rosebush” by Clare Rossini?  This issue has no editorial at all and thus no focus at all.  Yet it lists no less than seven editors (Joshua Boucher, Karl Elder, Brian Hubbell, John Rosenwald, Lee Sharkey, Margaret Stout, and Marion K. Stocking)!  Don’t any of them have anything to say? 

The first poem, William Wright’s “Peach Trees Suffused with Pesticides,” is perhaps as engaged as Beloit Poetry Journal will ever permit.  In the short piece, hummingbirds are the hero-victims:  “[…] the body/ cannot scrub it out, this lack/ of stain, emptiness gathering.”  The next two poems, “The Chapter of the Rending in Sunder” by Mia Nussbaum and “Rumors of Discontent” by Keith Cartwright,” are riddled with the Lord this and the Lord that. 

Heather Maki’s “Scotch in a Bottle of Fruit Juice on a Plane” leaves one wondering if she is the drinker depicted in the title or her grandfather.  In any event, the poem is a banal childhood prose description:  “When my father was a boy his four sisters/ chased him around the house, but at any given moment/ one of them was probably abstaining from the game, in her room/ looking at pictures of Elvis.  Outside, a dog/ […].” 

Brian Teare’s “As That Which Is above Everything Else” is a seemingly endless seven pages of vacuous blather.  “[…] point of view equaled measures/ of music, 4/4:/ grey blue water| white boat high white/ sail the tight life vest// brown hair black grebe’s/ orange eye shores sand | bottle dirt path:/ […].”  Albert Goldbarth writes a six-page poem of a seemingly even greater vacuous nature called “The Craft Lecture to the Creative Writers of the Low-residency Program at Yadda Yadda University with a Late Assist from Wallace Stevens, Robert Frost, Maxine Kumin, Sir Thomas Brown, and Allusion to the Title of an Early Book of Jorie Graham’s.”  Did the expression yadda, yadda, yadda come from that title?  Should we feel sorrow for the students of that low-residency program?  I think we should.  The poem begins thusly:  “The Earth was writing: the Earth had penmanship./ That was my dream.  I remember so little of it.  I know/ that hyenas and, after, pincer-beetles/ had made a great clean whiteness, made a bone frond/ ten feet long or more, of a giraffe’s neck—and by this/ I could see that the earth was practicing cursives. […]. 

Dannye Romine Powell’s “Loss Consider the Idea of Bliss” is at least brief.  It ends as follows:  “He thinks of the windy give in every given,/ the corpulent hope now decomposing,/ John Hinckley’s mom, before switching on the TV,/ happy at her ironing. 

All of the poems in this issue have the feel of being written by overly-published, self-glorifying, comfortably warm writers sitting in their wainscoted, cocoon-protected studies thinking of what to write next, as in “Zhivago, Zhivago/ writing poem after poem,/ our pages fragile stars/ we hold, breathing over” (Martin Steingesser’s “14 Florence Street”). Considering that seven editors worked on this issue, one would be hard-pressed to counter Julien Gracq’s perspicacious statement, though made in 1949 regarding France: “You’d have to be blind not to see the existent crisis in literary judgment.” 

Finally, reading Beloit Poetry Journal for the first time ever makes me realize how important it is to consult a literary journal prior to submitting writing to it.  I’d failed to do that several years ago when I’d submitted to this one and now know why my poems were rejected, something the form note failed to inform.  This literary journal is not to be recommended because of its general blandness, pro-status-quo writing for the sake of writing, and similarity to scores of other high-brow literary journals. 
                                                                                                                                                                                                —The Editor