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This Is What America Looks Like

March 27, 2021

A few weeks ago I won an anthology and a volume of poetry from Savvy Verse and Wit. The anthology is This Is What America Looks Like, poetry and short fiction by DC-area writers. The poetry is Said Through Glass by Jona Colson, who is the poetry editor for the anthology.

A few of the short fiction pieces in the anthology were predictable: a story about a MAGA-hat-wearing man who thinks he didn’t mean any harm but clearly did some to an immigrant friend, one about a mother and daughter united by their response to meeting two uniformed ICE agents, and one about a doctor who is–in April 2020–angry about “colossal screwups by the federal government.”

But I found lots to like in this anthology. There are two poems by people I know. I like the first few lines of “Meditation for My Country” by Rose Solari: “From another angle, that row/of tumbled bricks becomes/a mountain range” because it makes music in my mind (“purple mountain’s majesty”). I like an image of a tractor as a ship in the garden in Serena Agusto-Cox’s “America is,” where
“With each pass of the John Deere,
he leaves a bit of the past
in each flower, bush, and edged bed,
a wake that can be scooped,
mulched, remembered.”

Some of the poems have a really good beginning, like “Face to Face” by Jean Nordhaus: “In the House of Zoom, we sit/each at our window, gazing out/like days on an advent calendar/from a study, a living room, a den/into the common.” Or “Emergency Vehicles Coming Through” by Robert Herschbach: “Our roads are sized for catastrophe,/the cul-de-sacs like asphalt skating rinks,/built for fire trucks to turn in,/the layout in general a banner campaign/with a message for us all: look, look/someday you too.”

Others have a good ending, like “Little White Lies” by Kim Roberts, with “Stanley sounds/like an adverb, and Irving like a gerund./Where have you been? Oh, I was just out irving./What would the verb to irve mean? It’s like the inside/of a swerve, so I’d guess it means to prevaricate. As in,/thinking Jews could be just like them,/as in, by changing a name we could become invisible.” My personal favorite of the endings is by Mary Ann Larkin, about being an older, “Invisible Woman”: “Love looks now like a long path./Grass grows in the middle,/winds away in a sweet curve./No one’s hot breath whispers: Wait.”

A few of the poems build to one or two really good lines, like “Mendacity” by Laura Shovan, with “It’s safer, not dishonest/to call America a business.” Or Sean Murphy’s “South Loudoun Street, After Midnight, Tonight” with “if this pavement could talk it would and it does—but/it’ll take a few news cycles before we know what it’s saying.” And Sarah Browning’s “The Drive Down Back Hollow Road” with “She invites me in but it is plague time so/I politely decline.”

One of the very best parts of This is What America Looks Like is the picture of our divided country in David Ebenbach’s short poem “City of Sides”:
“This Halloween is days before collapse,
or salvation—every small square of grass
is staked with lawn signs, all the bumpers of cars
fully committed.

Meanwhile the kids are devils, are heroes, are
What we’ve seen on television.

One puts on dress slacks and button-down,
like for church, but his mask is the President,
smiling through everything—the strange anger
of some houses and the unearned welcome of others.

There are also good poems in Said Through Glass. I like the section of poems about sailing on the Chesapeake Bay, one with these lines: “I wrung my hands from the lines:/a matter of tension and the intangible way/of holding things I’d just as soon let go.” And I like the lines about a mother going up steps because it’s like how I do it now, a quarter of a century after my last child was born: “My mother negotiates the steps/like rocks up a steep mountain/and bears on the wooden railing/so hard it creaks and its smooth/skin bends in worn intervals.”

I like Colson’s poem “Job Interview” especially because some of its questions remind me of the way I liked to imagine answers to the mostly unanswerable questions of Franz Wright’s “Intake Interview,” although in this poem the questions have answers provided. For example, “Why are you planning to leave your current position?/My mother taught me that meat is cooked when bone is removed easily from flesh.”

For me, as someone who used to live in the DC area (1982 to 1990), the poem from This Is What America Looks Like that was most evocative is by Christopher Goodrich, “All My Friends Are Dying Without Me Knowing It”:
“on some shelter-in-place Friday
I remembered my past
and who you were in it. I searched for
your name. But I was months and months
too late. A whole season. And it happened
at that same moment
my bedroom walls needed painting
so I tried my best to paint them
because I didn’t know how else
to feel this feeling without
simultaneously fixing something.”

There’s a lot to fix right now, in the DC area and the country as a whole, so if you’re floundering around thinking about where to start, reading This Is What America Looks Like could give you ideas about what to focus on next.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2021 8:49 am

    This collection sounds wonderful- poignant and timely. Thank you!

  2. March 27, 2021 11:56 am

    I need to read more poetry.

    • March 30, 2021 2:58 pm

      One of the things I do occasionally is go to the Poetry Foundation website and look at their featured poems, which are seasonal or topical. I’m also signed up for their poem a day, so it comes to my email address.

  3. March 29, 2021 5:39 am

    Thank you for reading this anthology and Jona’s book. I love some of the pieces in this collection. The interview in Jona’s book is so intriguing. Thank you for highlighting my poem. I have a series of “America Is” poems, but that’s probably the nearest to my heart.

    • March 30, 2021 2:59 pm

      It’s really nice. I called it a “tractor” but was picturing a riding lawnmower and loving the image of its “wake.”

  4. March 29, 2021 12:29 pm

    Sounds like a great collection. And how cool that you know two of the poets!

    • March 30, 2021 3:01 pm

      It is, and it is very cool to know poets. I know an increasing number of them as I get more involved in thinking about how to promote my own volume, which will be published sometime this summer by Broadstone Books.

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