The editors of Heavy Feather Review chose me to review The Ides of March because of my inexperience with Ohio. They wanted an outside perspective, and this they shall receive. That is, my only exposure to Ohioan culture was a wedding I recently attended. Although the wedding was in Kentucky, the bride and her family were from Ohio. At the reception, the DJ played “Hang on Sloopy,” and after the verse “Hang on, Sloopy. / Sloopy, hang on,” the bride and her family sang O-H-I-O while forming the letters a la “Y.M.C.A.” I had never heard or seen that before, such Ohio state pride, but I later learned that “Hang on Sloopy” is the state rock song of Ohio and is often sung when Ohio teams play. With those bona fides, I am the consummate Ohio neophyte.
However, The Ides of March is not only an anthology of Ohio poets, but it is an anthology of vernal poetry, hence the title. Editor Hannah Stephenson summarizes her mission in her introduction: “The poems in this collection explore diverse facets of the [Ides of March]; they touch on ideas of spring and the month of March, middles and centers, in-betweenness, senators, power, revolution and conspiracy, fortune-tellers, cautionary tales, ambition, sharp knives, and much more.” With this theme, the anthology betroths itself to a prominent lineage of spring poetry, whose members include (among others) “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote / The droghte of March hath perced to the roote” and “April is the cruelest month.” This theme, though, is eclipsed by the Ohio theme, and if Stephenson did not pen her introduction, readers might not identify the subtle incorporation of spring, March, middles, etc. Not that this is a hallmark of a successful contribution, but only two poems reference the particular date: Sandra Feen writes, “I don’t care / about no ideas of March— / why should I?” in “In the Middle” and Charlene Fix’s title reads, “‘Beware the Ides of March,’ Says the Squirrel Swept up in the Talons of a Hawk.” Although only those two poems name the Ides of March, several poems mention the month of March while others only allude to the theme. For example, Ariana-Sophia Kartsonis writes, “March in, lionesque, March out, Lamb” in “Frank O’Hara I Love You!” while Charlene Fix writes about Persephone, the bringer of spring, in “The Fingers of Persephone.” Again, the theme is quiet, and like Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the theme and variation may be lost on the untrained ear; however, perhaps this elusiveness is intentional. If readers are fluent in Ohioan poetry, they may graduate to the second theme, which has a language all its own.
Thumbing through the biographies at the end of The Ides of March, readers perceive the dominant trait of the anthology. All of the poets have a strong association with Ohio with most being born and raised in the state. These include established poets, those with several books, such as Nin Andrews, David Baker, and Scott Woods, to those with one or two books or chapbooks, such as Natalie Shapero and Kate Fox, to those with no books or publications. Because the anthology is organized alphabetically by the poets’ last names, pleasant juxtapositions result. For example, compare the closing lines of David Baker’s “Spring Buds” to the opening lines of Joshua Butts’ “March”: “As what may grow is a field / of hopes, given water, given sun: this / cold city set to dreaming, given time, / given money, or just a hint of song” versus “For L.A.M. and Purdue Pharma (Producers of OxyContin) It’s hard to carry / a television, even a small television / given the guts and back story.” The first excerpt is tradition (for lack of a better word), but the second is experimental (for lack of a better word); however, they become more traditional or experimental given the contrast they provide each other. If the anthology were organized chronologically or thematically, readers would not experience these happy events. Unlike the contrast above, some poems seemed to respond to each other. For example, Nathan Moore’s poem “When Senators Attack,” reminiscent of a Tao Lin poem, given its technological and popular subject matter, given lines like “All my Facebook friends hate me” and “‘You too, bro? Don’t tase me!’” dovetails with Brad Pauquette’s poem “Meteoric,” which begins,
The Senator hoofs towards me, heavy on his heels.
The September sun assaults us, I in the huddled, beseeching masses,
he an evolving rill carving its way through the heaving crowd.
Photons of light embed in the dense fiber of his wool suit coat,
Although a chronological organization would demonstrate the evolution of Ohioan poetry and a thematic organization would emphasize the trends of Ohioan poetry, the alphabetical organization achieves both, evidenced by David Baker and Joshua Butts, Nathan Moore and Brad Pauquette.
Aside from the strong associations with Ohio, the Ohioan theme manifests itself in the poems too, generally as place names and street names. For example, readers find “the corner of Summit and 7th” in Steve Abbott’s “Everyone’s Sky,” “from I-670 East / and I-270 South, from Sunbury and Mock Road” in Charlene Fix’s “Fiasco Under an Impeccable March Sky,” and “Akron” and “the grave of Annie Oakley” in Barbara Sabol’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at Yarrow.” I could sense how these names represent emotions and ideas beyond their simple signification, how they function as objective correlatives, a physical substitute for an emotion or idea, but I’m sure their full significance was lost on me, the Ohio neophyte; however, the term objective correlative reminds readers of other New Critical concepts. The anthology was a tool of the New Critics, especially Understanding Poetry by Cleanth Brooks and Robert Penn Warren. Like The Ides of March, which presents one to three poems by a variety of poets (I apologize for not naming each individually), the Brooks and Warren anthology works because all well-wrought poetry has unity, a whole built from its parts, and if readers examine these parts via close reading, then they can understand the whole. That is, expert poetry holds the key to its own door. Overall, readers must scrutinize the parts of The Ides of March, namely the vernal and Ohioan themes, but if they do, they will be given entrée into a proud Midwestern whole.
The Ides of March: An Anthology of Ohio Poets edited by Hannah Stephenson. Columbus, Ohio: Columbus Creative Cooperative, 2013. 113 Pages. $14.95, Paperback.
Ezekiel Black is a lecturer of English at the University of North Georgia. Before this appointment, he attended the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he received an MFA in Creative Writing. His poetry and reviews have appeared in Verse, Sonora Review, GlitterPony, Skein, Invisible Ear, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakwood, Georgia, and edits the audio poetry journal Pismire.