Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Issue Thirteen
Spring 2007
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Issue Thirteen,  Spring 2007

Samsara in the morning

–puppy yipping,

Hot motor steaming

~Jack Kerouac

I recently acquired Tarot cards at a tag sale – an art deck designed in the Japanese ukiyo-e style. I was seduced by their beauty, and had been curious to learn more about Tarot for some time. Designed by Koji Furuta, the cards are sensuous in color, rich in symbolism, and almost musical in composition. Not unlike cover artist George Crosby's sumptuous "US1 Hancock County Maine," which makes me hunger for one of those off-the-beaten-path road trips where each day breaks and ends with the promise of new discovery. In fact, the Buddhist term "ukiyo-e" roughly translates to the idea of a "floating world," expressing the transience of our earthly existence.

I learned that Tarot cards are interpreted one way if they face the diviner – or the person reading the cards – and quite the opposite if they face the questioner, the person seeking the reading. The Empress, for example, a maternal figure who traditionally symbolizes security, protection, and unconditional love could, if reversed, just as easily represent over-protectiveness, fear of risk-taking, and refusal to face the real world. It's all in the riffle.

To practice, I laid out a typical 10-card spread. Being alone, though, put me in the awkward position of having to act as both diviner and questioner. While considering the implications, it struck me: aren't these the same two hats that poets wear? Doesn't the poem, more often than not, start to form in one's head with a question – or when trying to process something – and through the writing of it, bring about some sort of resolution, if not quite an answer?

The poems in the Spring 2007 issue of Arsenic Lobster illustrate this concept brilliantly. All of them search restlessly for something to hold onto in "this floating world," to come to terms, if not peace, with a complex issue.

Say Something Born

Brandi Homan's "Good China" describes the familiar familial dilemma: I love my mother but sometimes I don't like her. Ultimately, Homan comes to resolve that there is no resolution, which seems a fair enough conclusion to me.

On the other hand, Shabnam Nadiya's "baby" speaks from an expectant mother's point of view, giving voice to the singular experience of creating another life: a fish-flutter within the wildest depths /... ripe and rushing. (Our editor, Susan Yount, can certainly relate. She's just given birth to her first child: a son, Dirac. Congratulations, Sus and Michael!)

The leitmotif in Jess Wigent's hauntingly musical "What Precedes a Dash" tones again and again, as if repetition can bring revelation: her secret / breeze...a secret voice...a secret robin. Reading it, I find myself holding my breath.

George Kalamaras' wonderfully enigmatic "The Age of Bent Blood in the Throat" takes on no less worthy an adversary than a disturbing black gill at the bottom of the world pumping / its enormous pain. Wow! He can definitely say something born.

Jason Kahler's "Opus One One" puzzles to piece together vastly incongruent elements: Elephant feet, then a shot, a placed brick, an over- / turned fruit cart. His expertly disjunctive syntax make: wonder eyed gape my go juts from.

US1 Hancock County Maine, 2005 by George Crosby
US1 Hancock County Maine, 2005 by George Crosby
About the Artist

Pluck Out the Pulse

"For an Old Address: after Koch," by Andy Trebing, finally has it out with that certain place and/or person, only to come to realize that they were only one tooth in / the dogs snarl. Ahhhh, closure, at last.

And I'm delighted that Elizabeth Crouse's "Explication" practically proves my thesis through its title alone. But even more, I admire how it seeks to get to the bottom of the poet's often torturous relationship with words: This live autopsy, peeling away of poem-skin / to pluck out the pulse.

The elegant and appropriately spare "Innisfree Empty," by Gary Charles Wilkens, finds the emotional distance necessary to grieve a painful loss with dignity: the bees / found little / to dance about back home.

And in striking synchronicity, David Thornbrugh's "Steak Knife" is to father/son relationships what Brandi Homan's "Good China" is to mother/daughter's. What amazingly deep imagery! The seat belts flail like snakes / and just talking is a descent into salt mines.

One Paints What One Hears

The touching and technically meticulous "Codfish/Terra Incognita/Thank You," by Nathaniel S. Rounds, skillfully combines an unposed question with its thought-provoking answer: P.S. Yes, one paints what one hears.

The persona in Renee Miller's "Grass Stains" engages in a struggle to regain some semblance of personal power by cunningly turning the tables on an assailant: I am his first crime /...He is my first victim.

The attention to detail in Liz Gallagher's "Small Acts" brings me to my knees just like a Catholic church Sunday, when I thought preparing for the Holy Ghost means short / lengths of white cloth are woven into strands of hair.

And Janet Parkinson's haltingly poignant "I Find They Respond Better if They Can Fill in the Blanks Themselves" chokes out confessions, both trivial and soul-baring (and therein lies the tension), to a sun like an interrogation spotlight.

So now, you are holding all the cards. And like any good road trip, it's best if you fill in the rest of the blanks yourself.

Lissa Kiernan
Associate Editor, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal

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