Vera Ignatowitsch: A Critical Appreciation
by Michael R. Burch
Vera Ignatowitsch is a poet and the editor-in-chief of the literary journal Better Than Starbucks.
Her poems have been published in two anthologies, in the Potcake chapbook
Families and Other Fiascoes, and in literary journals which include The
Lyric, The HyperTexts, The American Journal of Poetry, San Pedro River Review,
Peacock Journal, The Orchards Poetry Journal, Light: a Journal of Photography &
Poetry, Raintown Review, The Road Not Taken, I Am Not A Silent Poet, Poets
Reading the News, The New Verse News and Tuck Magazine. Vera is
also an exemplary human being, although from what I understand she's addicted to
poetry, raspberries and the occasional good scotch. Well, no one is perfect!
It has been my good fortune to have worked closely with Vera during my extended
stint as guest editor of International Poetry and Translations for Better
Than Starbucks. Since we became acquainted, Vera has impressed me in three
areas, which I believe bear mentioning.
First, having been a poetry editor for the better part of
three decades, I am painfully aware that few contemporary poets are able
to communicate emotion. So when I see a poem like Vera's "Small Child," I sit up
and take notice ...
with my eyes
return my heart before you wander.
Take the jewels.
I wish you plenty.
Place a flower’s petals gently.
Break a toy but not intently.
through my eyes,
calmest cataclysm of passion;
only please return my heart
before you wander,
although I could not bear accept it,
with my eyes.
This is a wonderfully lovely, touching poem!
Such poems get short shrift in today's hoity-toity literary journals, but what
do they know? How many of them would have the good sense to publish William
Blake's "Cradle Song" or his lovely, tender and moving chimneysweep poems? I
rest my case.
The ability to communicate emotion is rare, so "Small Child" makes Vera a rare
poet. But she also has range. For example:
I Will Not
You were not there to watch when he
"allegedly assaulted" me.
You point out facts that you distort.
My pants were tight. My skirt was short.
My perfume sucked the rapist in.
Expensive jewelry is a sin.
I had a drink; I smoked a joint.
"Those were advertisements." You point
to my behavior, dress, and speech
as causes of this horrid breach
of all my rights. Your "helping" me
is nothing but a travesty.
How dare you heap me in disgrace?
He pulled a knife. He slashed my face.
He tore my body, beat me lame,
and now you won’t release his name?
Protect his rights, but shove your blame.
I will not wear your mask of shame.
This is a strong poem. I believe its power lies in its message and how that
message is delivered—with withering anger, scorn, and acid sarcasm.
The poem makes us sit up and take notice, or at least it makes me pay
attention. Here, Vera has gone well beyond "art for art's sake." Of course it
isn't fashionable for poets to say anything meaningful, and certainly not so
directly, but then again, what do the so-called "major journals" know about
poetry if they wouldn't publish Blake?
Here's a third poem that grabs my attention:
To My Lost Loves
for my father Walter and my husbands Edwin and Steven
My loves departed in the dead of night,
the darkest hour. I longed to follow there,
to drown, and never turn back to the light.
Forsaken, I kept searching for a sight
of them. My breath would barely stir the air.
I mourned alone as clocks struck 2 each night.
Hot grief, it seized my throat and gripped it tight,
just held me pinioned, fixed my haunted stare
on them, and banished all the light.
They went without presentiment of flight,
went leaving not a trace to kiss me where
I waited, blind with loss each endless night.
No last goodbye, no soft caress, no bright
consoling gesture showed their slightest care
for me. They went, extinguishing the light.
Godspeed my loves. You lost the final fight.
It doesn’t matter whether it was fair.
You call me now; you call by dead of night
and tell me—Turn! Turn back toward the light!
This is also a strong, moving poem. Here's another in a different vein:
Close the Door Tommy
Close the door Tommy.
Mom’s got the TV volume
down real low; maybe she saw
the delicate flush on your cheek
as I leaned close to whisper.
Close the door Tommy.
Sis has no idea where
her pink lace bikini briefs
disappeared to, or how hot
they look framing your hip bones.
Close the door Tommy.
Dad will get home at six
and hear I’m doing homework
with my buddy who can’t
throw a baseball, but I can.
Close the door Tommy.
Let me touch you languid
and ravishing on my bed.
Don’t go into the closet.
We have the whole room.
About time our society be makin’ hay
from the leftover woman with feet of clay
she got guts of a cockroach, her mind like a rock
took to hidin’ her heart in a smelly old sock
she uses up sisters like disposable spoons
loses taste real fast for her babyfathers’ tunes
kissin’ ass or spittin’ all the same in her mind
cause the leftover woman got an axe to grind
disrespect is the only card left in her soul
she be drivin’ new wheels while collectin’ the dole
she the ultimate icon in the socialist deck
she be raised far above old reality checks
though we payin’ for the victims of circumstance
this a leftover woman by nature not chance.
Go scatter out churches and synagogues
see mosques gettin’ leaky or swampy as bogs
just re-take your seat on this driverless train
while the leftover woman call the sun and the rain.
Takin’ care of others is for female fools
anti-capitalist dogma make us blind in schools
gimme gimme conventions in place of rules
while we wind up our children like thread on spools.
Leftover woman put out her hand
she be holdin’ the gears in a bucket of sand.
I can say on the evidence of these five poems that Vera Ignatowitsch is one of
the better poets I've published in recent years.
The second area in which Vera has impressed me is her stewardship of Better
Than Starbucks. I thought I was the only modern advocate of sentimental
poetry, but Vera has an entire section of BTS for sentimental poetry. And BTS
publishes everything from formal sonnets, to haiku, to experimental free verse.
It's nice to know there's a literary journal as diverse and tolerant as
Better Than Starbucks with Vera at the helm.
And thirdly, but not lastly, Vera impresses me as an all-around good guy. I have
never seen her play the prima donna. When other BTS editors were sometimes at
odds, she was the peacemaker and a voice of reason. When submitters got cranky
or "went crackpot," Vera kept her cool. Come what may, she keeps cranking out
new issues of BTS, and that is much easier said than done. Here's hoping this
nice guy finishes first, where she belongs.