Cold Comfort: Poems That Make the Big-Time


Reading published poems–especially poems published in the heavyweight division, where you find periodicals like The New Yorker–can be both frustrating and edifying. Before I count the ways, let me share a poem published in the The New Yorker’s Aug. 28th issue:

SON by Craig Morgan Teicher

I don’t even know where my father lives.
I know his number, and whenever
I call he answers and gives
the usual update about getting together
with the stepkids and their kids,
about the latest minor crises
with his health, about what he did
with Maryanne for their anniversary.
He lives somewhere in Connecticut,
near where he lived before.
It’s been easy not to go there, but
I know I should–there won’t always be more
time. There will always be less.
I don’t even know my father’s address.

Here’s the conversation in my head–or shall I say, between my shoulders. You know, the one between the kind angel on the right and the surly devil on the left.

KA: Wow. Heartwarming sonnet. For me, the key line is “I know I should–there won’t always be more time.” It’s a message that resonates for all of us.

SD: Clich├ęs resonate, too. That doesn’t mean they deserve a precious three inches in The New Yorker.

KA: Finally, a poem that doesn’t leave your average reader scratching his head! It’s poems like this that can bring poetry back into the mainstream.

SD: Still, a little heft counts for something. This is prosaic, mundane, drab. Editors of lesser magazines would have given it the boilerplate rejection letter upon one reading.

KA: Did you give it a chance? Did you read it more than once? Did you note its form and rhyme? Good poetry merits more than one reading, as you know.

SD: Please. Don’t patronize me just because your shoulder is right. Rereading poetry offers its rewards, but only if there is a challenge or special beauty in the words, not if your father lives in Somewhere, Connecticut.

KA: So you’re jealous, in other words. One of the Seven Deadly Sins.

SD: I’m inspired, actually. One of the Seven Deadly Hopes. If “Son” passes muster in a big glossy like this, then surely I, too, might make a big splash in the Big Apple.

KA: I won’t begrudge you that, though I believe they closed their submissions page on July 3rd and will not open it again until the fall.

SD: Never say the word “fall” around a devil.

KA: Pardonez and moi, Sir, but it gives you that much more time to revise whatever it is you’re working on.

SD: A Shakespearean sonnet called “Daughter,” if you must know. Rhyming more or probably less. The magic number is 14. All other sonnet rules fall into the “As You Like It” department.

KA: Good luck, Son. And don’t forget to abab cdcd efef gg visit your Father! If you can match “Son,” you deserve to be published!