Modern Metrics Press

In Issue #4 I was proud to be able to review the first selection of chapbooks made available by Modern Metrics Press, based in New York. The press has just published three new offerings, one by contributor, Rick Mullin, and here I present my new reviews in brief. Please note: Modern Metrics are not able to accept unsolicited manuscripts at the present time.

Graceways by Austin Macrae

Grace and gracefulness are both key words to apply to Austin MacRae's chapbook, suitably entitled Graceways. The title sonnet is a masterful piece, which uses a young poet's gradual appreciation of the beauty in slant rhyme as a metaphor for the wisdom of maturity. MacRae's delight in the sonnet form is palpable in this collection, which contains twelve sonnets, including my favorite, the double sonnet "Scarecrow and Tin Man":

My problems were the same: no brain, all heart,
the rotten burlap of the crucified.

MacRae explores the lighter side of formal poetry in pieces such as "For Lawn Chair Larry" and "To Hugh Hefner," but seems more comfortable in the wry, affectionate pieces he returns to, which examine, through minutiae, the poignancies of the human condition. From "Christmas Cactus":

In the half-lit pane of winter, a bachelor's gift
I gave myself: defiant, rugged, fit.

This is a strong collection, which will grace the shelves of any lover of contemporary poetry.

Prospero at Breakfast by Alan Wickes

Where MacRae is unassuming, Alan Wickes is unashamedly ambitious and clever. It is a joy to take his "Excursions in Greeneland," a sonnet sequence where all but the initial sonnet are named after books by the novelist Graham Greene. One might perhaps need to be a greater fan of Greene than I to mine the poem's deepest delights, but I had no such trouble with the allusion rich double sonnet for Berryman, "Dream Song."

Who knows better the travesty of horror,
the perfect peace beyond enticing edges,
the garden where your nightmare first begun,
Father slumped, stock-still next to his gun.

Wickes also wins my deep admiration for his facility with one of my favorite forms-- his very fine rondeau sequence "Recurrences":

I'm sketching you, it always comes out wrong--
I cannot capture how the sunlight falls
across your shoulders like a white lace shawl,
I'm back to where I started.

Even when Wickes over-reaches himself, as he possibly does in the long poem "Xmas Journal," with its codas, transatlantic flashback and deliberate misquote (made harder to appreciate by the unfortunate accidental misspelling of Schuyler three times in the poem) there are still fine moments, such as this description of a Bond movie--Blessed are/ the suave, for they shall inherit the blonde.

Aficionados of those who enjoy the "modern idiom within a formal verse setting" that Wickes proclaims as his preferential style will savor this collection like an elegant crossword.

Aquinas Flinched by Rick Mullin

Rick Mullin is the consummate observer--of his native New Jersey, its wildlife and his neighbors, of his travels to Italy, even of his own past. Fortunately Mullin is the kind of observer who participates in the scene such that the reader feels present, even engaged. From the well-crafted sestina "The User of Vicenza":

...His eyes
are limestone hollows filled with fallen leaves and crowds
of angels blackened by neglect.

Only a writer who fully understands the value of all five senses could articulate such a splendid sequence addressed to a movie soundtrack. From "The Theme from Shaft, I. Geometry":

The hi-hat takes us in, all loose and tight
with wah-wahlate guitar laid over it.
The lyric pipes are flying high and light.

If I am slightly less convinced by the two long poems, which frame the collection, and read like reminiscences from Mullin's youth, it is perhaps only because they seem a little too much like black and white home movies in contrast to his in the moment poems, such as the hilarious "The Animal:"

Then it happens. Synapses burp or something.
He's in motion, tentative rattail dragging.
"See you later, Dracula!" God, he's ugly.
...Look at me...Jesus.

But Mullin, King of the contemporary Sapphic, has given contemporary poetry something wonderful in his eulogy to the U.S. Interstate Highway system. This is a poem that I suspect will prove to have a long term appeal to literary and less literary alike:

Sing the U.S. Interstate Highway system--
Continental body mechanic rising!
Eulogize the Pine Barren's green appendix:
...In the Beginning...

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. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as The Harvard Review, The Atlanta Review, Rattle and Measure. She has been nominated three times for a Pushcart Prize and was a finalist for both the 2005 and 2007 Howard Nemerov sonnet award, and for the 2007 Willis Barnstone Translation Award. She is editor of the formal poetry e-zine The Barefoot Muse and gained her MFA from Bennington College. Her first chapbook Swimming was published in March 2006 by Maverick Duck Press.

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