Oak Bend Review

Oak Bend Review: A Plainspoken Little Journal
Sandee Lyles

They may forget what you said, but they will never forget
how you made them feel.
Carl W. Buechner

Quick Note about this issue: This Editor’s Issue of The Café Review is different from our normal published reviews. We have asked 14 editors of poetry journals from across the United States two complex question: Why do some poems stand out from others? And what is he state of poetry in America today? Their answers will surprise you. We hope this issue will give poets a better sense of what editors look for in poems. You will get the inside scoop about why different journals accept different types of poems. For teachers, this issue will answer questions students have about the dos and don’ts in submitting poems as well as the perennial question of why poetry matter.

At Oak Bend Review, we are much more interested in how a poet makes us feel than the fact that the poet used precise, textbook technique. Having said that, we do insist on proper grammar and correct spelling, as well as poetry that flows well and makes good use of line breaks, etc. We just are much more impressed with a plainspoken poem that anyone can read and get something out of  than a poem that would only impress a literary

scholar. Our mission is to produce “an innovative literary journal which seeks to merge the academic and underground writing communities.”

In particular, there are several things Oak Bend looks for in poems submitted for consideration. Are any metaphors that are used fresh? Do they support the goal of the poet in getting his or her point across? Does the poem make the reader feel an experience, even if he or she may not have had relatable circumstances?

A perfect example can be found in our March/April 2009 issue. A Pennsylvania poet, Charley Springer, writes of a personal experience that many can relate to, but even those who cannot will find something appealing in his poem, Dementia:

     Doc says she has the onset
     and I ask him how he knows and he says
     how she talks and carries herself.
     After hearing specifics, I say
     she’s been like that as long as I remember.
     It’s nothing new.

     When I tell him she’s a fairy godmother,
     he says, ah, that
     explains it and I ask what?
     Her cooking for ten when only the two of us
     sit down? Her passion for weed blossoms
     over exotics? Her concluding that jets
     unzip sky and dump rain?

     Tell me, Doc, where did you get your
     degree? And what funneled you
     into this windowless exam room?
     When you look in a face, Doc,
     you don’t see wonder?

     Hers is a world where wishes are gospel.
     Hers is a world where fingers are wands
     and eyes, big picture windows.

Through Springer’s words, the reader finds the beauty in something usually perceived as awful and ugly. The endearing loss of a loved one’s senses is a fresh way of looking at dementia. The metaphors are magical and support the idea of dementia being something that will ultimately need to be accepted, regardless of a diagnosis.

Oak Bend Review delights in publishing poets who want to challenge, engage, and enlighten plain folks who might be reading contemporary poetry for the first time. We want the hopeful, the heartbreaking, the retrospective, the unfinished, and the ongoing story. I found some of those qualities in the poem Necklace of Moss by Jack Myers, the 20032004 Texas Poet Laureate, printed in our November/December 2008 issue, in which the speaker’s older self talks to his younger self:

     Remember the old blue dory a storm coughed up,
     how you packed its seams with tarsoaked caulking
     and painted it blue so you couldn’t be seen very easily
     blue on blue under blue how that’s what you wanted?
     You with your adolescent thoughts of killing yourself
     hooked so deep, pickerel boy, you never believed
     you’d grow old. Can you see me now? I am the ocean
     you rowed across. The sun tanning you golden is me.
     My life is yours.
     Let’s scare ourselves today and go really far out
     just to see what we’re made of. We’ll beach the boat
     and scrape off the moss that’s been slowing it down.
     We’ll do it in honor of having gone so far out that
     we became possible, something we thought we could never be.

Myers’ poem is incredibly easy to read and to relate to. The simplicity of the language draws the reader in and allows him or her to become part of the poem, which addresses the common subject of how one changes and evolves throughout life. The metaphor of the boat further perpetuates a relaxed, conversational tone. Myers’ message is simple: circumstances do become clearer to a person if he or she can “hang in there” long enough. The poem is hopeful without being sentimental and that is what draws us in and makes it believable.

By the quality of submissions Oak Bend Review receives, it is clear there is much talent out there. The challenge is in getting the poems read. Our print editions are sold on our website, www.oakbendreview.com, for $12 an issue, however we offer an online, complete edition for free to anyone with access to a computer. We want our poets read, period, regardless of the effect on print sales. (Oak Bend also publishes some fiction, essays, and reviews, as well as art and photography.) I believe the active promotion of poetry is essential to its survival through word of mouth, poetry readings, inviting friends to poetry events, etc. The current Texas Poet Laureate, Larry D. Thomas, is very active in making poetry part of Texans’ daily lives by promoting it in the public school system. He visits schools regularly and was quoted in an interview in Oak Bend Review’s November/December 2008 issue, telling us how anyone can be a catalyst in the effort:

“We can take advantage of every opportunity we have to share both in writing and in oral presentation our poetry with others of all ages; tell them why we write and how writing has changed and enriched our lives; talk to them about the process of our writing; and encourage them to write a poem themselves even if no one else ever reads it or to try another avenue of creative expression, regardless of the form it takes, and just see what happens.”

Thomas is a man of his word. Recently, he made an appearance at a dormitory lounge filled with big, overstuffed furniture at the University of North Texas at the request of a resident. I also attended and was surprised that Thomas would come all the way from Houston to Denton, about 279 miles, for a handful of students to whom he gave his undivided attention. He spoke individually with the students and kept them very engaged, reading from his works and even asking them to relate their own experiences. It was as if, in that small amount of time, there was nothing more important to Thomas than those students. I’m sure they will talk about meeting Thomas for years to come.

Perhaps what we can all take from that experience is that every chance we get to talk about poetry is a potential opportunity to bring it to the forefront. The state of American poetry is not immutable but rather malleable, something that those of us who care about it, ultimately, can create.