Saturday, June 15, 2019

Black Queer Hoe — Britteney Black Rose Kapri (Haymarket Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Black Queer Hoe.  Britteney Black Rose Kapri.  Haymarket Books.  Chicago, Illinois.  2018.

Today's book of poetry put India Arie on the box this morning.  We had her singing Saint Pharoah of Saunders sublime "The Creator Has A Master Plan."  Why?  Because Britteney Black Rose Kapri is in the house and we needed some grace.

Black Queer Hoe explodes as soon as you open the cover.  Kapri turns it all upside down and laughs while she does it.  She does not give two fucks.  Kapri owns everything, her Blackness, her Queerness and her Holy screaming Hoeness.  These poems are an indictment against a society of racist, homophobic puritans at the same time as it is a joyful shout to a future blue sky where tolerance is a forgotten world and acceptance is the norm.


allow me to reintroduce myself, my name is Britteney
Black Rose Kapri aka Bee aka Besus Fights aka Go Go
Gadget Hoe aka That Bitch Your Mother wishes you'd
marry. of House Slytherin. first of her name. Queen of the
Clapback. Patron Saint of Fat Bitches with too much mouth
and even more tiddy. Duchess of Depression. Right
Honorable of Cellulite and Twerk. Professor Pop Off. Elder
Petty. Admiral of Hoe Tendencies and Anxiety. Captain
Can't Save Em, but i keep trying. Siren to last-cause niggas
and light-skin rappers. Master of Self-Deprecation. High
Priestess of the Pen and Mic. Countess of Shut a Nigga
Down. Server of Shade and These Hands. Chairman of the 
Curve. Emperor of Don't Come for Me. Lord of I Didn't
Send for You. Don of the fuck your mixtape, papa john's,
indiana, j. cole, and your misogyny facebook statuses.
Mother of Draggings.

all these poets is my sons. i create space for marginalized
youth to counter the narrative being forced upon them.
i also punt toddlers for crying on airplanes. i drink like a
sailor and fuck like my mother. i ain't got time for your
shit, so come correct boy or don't come at all. i chef like
your southern granny and bougie northern auntie that ran
and never looked back. spent the past twenty-nine years
working on being the best version of myself, which means
loving the worst versions of myself. ain't no shrew to be
tamed, ain't no horse to be broke, ain't no Hoe to be
housewived. i be all this and i ain't gone stop. i got my own
house, my own car, work two jobs, imma bad Bitch. But if
you call me Bitch i'll skin you.


Today's book of poetry isn't sure Britteney Black Rose Kapri wants a sixty-two, almost sixty-three, year-old white man, straight, married and monogamous, to even read Black Queer Hoe much less write about it.  But we should all read Black Queer Hoe.  It is illuminating.

Kapri makes it clear that she doesn't approve of the "fearless" moniker being applied to her or her poetry so Today's book of poetry can't use that.  So, we went back in time and contacted the only woman we know who might rival Kapri for her honest, blunt and omnivorous sexual appetite.  We contacted THE Luba.  THE Luba was fearless.

No one gets more love and respect from Today's book of poetry than THE Luba.  THE Luba said that Kapri sounded like her sort of gal but hadn't read Black Queer Hoe so she could only hold her tongue.  She also insisted we send her a copy immediately.

Britteney Black Rose Kapri does so much Today's book of poetry admires in Black Queer Hoe, she was even kind enough to give us another "list" poem.  All my Today's book of poetry poetry babies know how much we enjoy a good "list" poem.  Kapri nails it to the page — during the morning read our newest intern Maggie got a full standing ovation when she read "to every nigga told me their dick belonged to me."

to every nigga that told me
their dick belonged to me

                                                  for kush thompson

i am building a fort with these dicks.
washing em off and regifting these dicks.
i've run out of shelves for these dicks.
got a crown made of the best dicks.
stack three together
and it's a lightsaber dick.

I even recycle the dicks.
reduce, reuse, resuck these dicks.
fortifying a wall around my bed of these dicks.
put on a puppet show starring these dicks.
if i leave one behind got a whole arsenal of these dicks.
i go on antiques roadshow with these dicks.
most time i don't even want these dicks.


Britteney Black Rose Kapri is up front with everything including telling us about her fight with hidradenitis suppurativa and her girth.  No shame taken or given because Today's book of poetry is always going to champion poetry this honest.  That's another phrase Kapri will most likely disapprove of.  But Today's book of poetry does recognize genuine, strong, fearless and true when we see it.  Kapri won't be found in any kitchen soon but her own but this woman can burn.

Black Queer Hoe made Today's book of poetry laugh his ass off.  Kapri is a poet Today's book of poetry would love to have a drink and a smoke and a conversation with.  

Today's book of poetry hates talking about race but that is talking that still needs to be done.  Kapri's poems are way past the talking stage.  These poems are flat out assaulting the status quo.

a reading guide:
for white people reading my book

don't sister girl me or giiiiirl me or sis me or girlfriend me
or hey bitch me, or any other slang you think me and other
Black woman call ourselves when you're not around.
making it to the end of the book does not open some
special key to nigga vernacular. i'm not your Black friend.
not your hero. this book ain't for you. it's a celebration of
my Blackness, my Queerness, my Hoeness, none of which
exists without the other. if you want to celebrate me, buy
me a shot or tell your cousins to stop asking if my wigs are
my real hair. now i know, that you know, not to say nigga.
but sometimes y'all act like you haven't seen the same
viral videos as me. you know, the ones where one of y'all
step outside y'all body to the wrong nigga and get y'all w
hole ancestry knocked outta y'all. this book isn't a rap
song (2).  something to get caught up in and accidentally
forget who you are. or where you are. if i see you reading
along mouthing the word nigga i will stop my whole ass set
to ask you why. embarrassing white folks and fuckboys is
my american past time. this book isn't an invitation. i am
not your therapist or here to validate that one time you
stood up to your grandpa by telling him colored was
outdated. don't applaud yourselves. instead show a Black
woman you appreciate them. all we want is reparations
and to be left the fuck alone.

                                                                          by you.

(2)   don't say nigga when you're rapping either


Even after the last line of that fine poem Today's book of poetry isn't going to leave Britteney Black Rose Kapri alone, we're hoping she won't mind.  Either way we are going to say we have the temerity to like these vibrant poems.  We'll go even further, Today's book of poetry would argue that Kapri's slick hits reminds us how we are all alive and beautiful in this sometimes ugly mess.  But the world is alive and beautiful in each of us.  She says this but wouldn't admit it to me.  Black Queer Hoe kicks ass and takes names while doing it.

Black Queer Hoe is not your typical autobiographical apology or racist rage.  It isn't a binary for homophobic joy seekers.  Black Queer Hoe isn't for the average reader, it is in spite of the average reader.  Nothing average about Britteney Black Rose Kapri.  

Image result for britteney black rose kapri photo

Britteney Black Rose Kapri

Britteney Black Rose Kapri is a Chicago performance poet and playwright. Currently she is an alumna turned Teaching Artist Fellow at Young Chicago Authors. Her work has been featured in Poetry Magazine, Button Poetry, Seven Scribes, and many other outlets, and anthologized in The BreakBeat Poets and The BreakBeat Poets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic. She is a contributor to Black Nerd Problems, a Pink Door Retreat Fellow, and a 2015 Rona Jaffe Writers Award Recipient.

“This brazen debut is good medicine and a needed shout in the world. Black Queer Hoe makes it clear Britteney Black Rose Kapri is a poet we must pay attention to, taking up the reigns of many spoken word and literary ancestors and charging forward into poetics unafraid to be ratchet and bare.”
     —Danez Smith, author of Don’t Call Us Dead

“Britteney Kapri writes with the tenacity of your favorite emcee and the gumption of your most outspoken Auntie. In her first full-length collection, Black Queer Hoe, Kapri opens the entire conversation with the (un)justification of being labeled a Hoe and the womxn reader will find themselves gasping after each line, these poems serve as a re-introduction to our reflections. As profound as Eartha Kitt, as futuristic in her feminism as Grace Jones as positively unabashed about her body as Josephine Baker and as lyrically provocative as Cardi B; Kapri's multi-genre'd poetic offering is a new home for those unafraid of this brave cruel world.”
     —Mahogany L. Browne, author of Black Girl Magic and co-editor of The BreakBeatPoets Vol. 2: Black Girl Magic

“Britteney Kapri is a stunningly talented writer whose words reach out from the page and grab you around the throat one minute while pulling you into a hug in the next. This book is incredible.”
    —Samantha Irby, author of Meaty

Britteney Black Rose Kapri

Poetry & Pie Night - Pink Door Edition 2017
Video: Poetry & Pie Night



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Twenty-Five — Emily Izsak (above/ground press)

Today's book of poetry:
Twenty-Five.  Emily Izsak.  above/ground press.  Ottawa, Ontario.  2018.

Image result for above/ground press emily izsak twenty five

Twenty-Five is one interesting little kettle of smart fish.  Emily Izsak currently lives in London, Ontario (where Today's book of poetry was born, just saying), and as such counts Tom Cull and Blair Trewartha among her friends.  Our regular readers will recognize their names as having appeared in Today's book of poetry.  You can see our take on those two gentlemen here:

Tom Cull/What the Badger Saw
Tom Cull/Bad Animals
Blair Trewartha/Easy Fix
Blair Trewartha/Porcupine Burning

The reason Today's book of poetry mentions London's Cull and Trewartha in the same breath is that Izsak has some of the same quick light in Twenty-Five and Today's book of poetry was wondering "what's in the water?"  All of this to clumsily say that just like Cull and Trewartha, Today's book of poetry is hard struck and happy reading Emily Iszak's poetry.  It burns.


Cyclists binge on round                 gimmicks
            mash their crabmeat
            with clawed

The matter of sole or psychomotor
            is off topic

                             better to question               which reflex
                             sits madonna                      sidesaddle

At last
in a liminal       bike lane
the decade's accent
slackens and            be
comes apart


Twenty-Five is one long poem and Today's book of poetry is just offering up snippets for your digestion.  Today's book of poetry believes Twenty-Five is a love poem for Ariel.  Today's book of poetry thinks Twenty-Five is taking the current cultural temperature from ground zero and with the patience of William Carlos Williams.  Today's book of poetry isn't exactly sure what is happening in Twenty-Five but we were constantly jolted, prodded, disassembled, shuffled, intrigued.

Maybe this is one long autobiographical confession delivered by a modern day hipster scat singer.  All Today's book of poetry knows is that "heaven's breadbox is empty."  Izsak has some wicked chops.


             A semi-  modest defense
                           for inaccessible          manpower

outlasts the downdraft if  push come to   push harder

                          A volunteer cocktease
                                                                     tells him    please
                                                                                                    the people
                                                                                             braid famine into updos

                          for a spot
                                      in the anthology


Our morning read started with a question that Today's book of poetry will share with you readers.  Does anyone know how to contact Robert Jutras, author of Looncalls?  Today's book of poetry returned home a few days ago to find a copy of Mr. Jutras's lovely book between our doors but nary a note or card.  Today's book of poetry wants to thank either Mr. Jutras himself (or whomever else was kind enough to leave us Looncalls between the doors.

Emily Izsak's Twenty-Five continues the long running tradition of Ottawa's rob mclennan and his proliferate above/ground press - of finding the very best poetry available in Canada and beyond.  

Izsak has a Fran Lebowitz smart to her swagger and a Sue Goyette eye.  Our actual morning read was a bit like over stuffing a pinball machine and it lighting up and spitting us around the room with haste.  Twenty-Five doesn't waste one second of time, it shouts itself out in Tommy-gun bursts.


By the ruins of contemporary themes
under the cheek of  a limp
pioneer gowned in
faith-based weather    Beyond WCW's
use of prepositions    standing and fallen

Now the offer         tomorrow
the in-laws flense our history


And Emily Izsak sent Today's book of poetry to our living dictionary, in our case it is Max, our Senior Editor.  Knocked on Max's door and heard grumbling from within.  I don't think I've actually seen Max for several months, when the door opened a funky green slumber of smoke pushed into the rest of the office.  Of course Max knew what "flense" meant.  He was insulted that the rest of us didn't.

So when I went back to reread Izsaks line:

      "                                tomorrow
        the in-laws flense our history"

I did the poetry glee dance.  Today's book of poetry loves to be amused and we love to learn.  Emily Izsak did both, at least Twenty-Five times.

Twenty Five is yet another above/ground press chapbook that you really should read.

Image result for emil izsak photo

Emily Izsak

Emily Izsak’s poetry has been published in Arc Poetry Magazine, The Puritan, House Organ, Cough, The Steel Chisel, The Doris, and The Hart House Review. In 2014 she was selected as PEN Canada’s New Voices Award nominee. Her chapbook, Stickup, was published in 2015, and her first full-length collection, Whistle Stops: A Locomotive Serial Poem, was published by Signature Editions in April 2017.

Emily Izsak
Augur Magazine - Preview Issue
Video - Augur Magazine



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Queen Kong — Amanda J. Bradley (NYQ Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Queen Kong.  Amanda J. Bradley.  NYQ Books.  New York, New York.  2017.


Amanda J. Bradley's Queen Kong starts off with a long autobiographical poem that tells the story of the growth of a young woman in a loving family that is both frequently transplanted somewhere new on the globe and fiercely loyal.  Bradley's young woman starts us off with bubble-gum and Barbies.  By the time we're done we've finished graduate school only to graduate via the mail.  Oh yes, and a taxing but brief stay in a mental-health facility as a result of drug induced breakdown.

Bradley knows how to make us care, the details and detritus that make up her life brings us closer to empathy.  When you've finished "Belonging," (title of Bradley's autobiographical introduction), a narrative she-tale of her coming of age you do feel like you might know this young woman.  Bradley lets us in on some of the mortar needed to hold all the building blocks together.

III.  Fourteen

Long, blonde curls fly behind as I careen through Plano, Texas
neighborhoods, past red brick ranch houses on my blue ten speed,
limbs strong and lithe from years of ballet. I begin to taste freedom.
My poems begin to flutter into existence. I write them in my rainbow-
hearted bedroom, newly discovered Plath my inspiration. I sprawl
across my twin bed, swallowing books, soon to be released from braces.

We pack too much luggage for Paris and London. We have to take
two taxis to the hotel. I have a suitcase of shoes. We see the Mona Lisa
and Monet's Water Lilies. I am transformed by Rembrandt, by moving
among people I can barely understand. We eat escargot in the hotel bar.
I am fascinated by Montmarte, the stories of the artists, the histories
of romance. My mother tells me not to swing my hips. I see the men watching.
I wonder what champagne is like, wine, gin and tonic. My brother
and I climb the lions in Trafalgar Square. I admire the poets buried
at Westminister. We trudge to the top of St. Paul's Cathedral.
I cry at a production of Cats, knowing nothing of T.S. Eliot.

At school, I am a nerd and don't mind much except the guys are less
likely to notice me this way. Between dolls and dalliance, I begin
to realize my body can be a weapon, can be violated, can be impregnated,
can make me strong or weak. I start high school. My English teacher says
I write well. She says Justin writes well, too. We begin to talk on the phone.
I lie on my parents' bed and wind the phone cord through my fingers.
I catch myself in the mirror. I can see he makes me feel happy. I feel pretty
and smart all at once. This is important to me. "May I have this dance?"
he wants to know. We dance to Bryan Adams' "Heaven." He asks for more,
but there are rebellious boys who have moved a lot like me, who will take me
to OMD concerts and teach me about clove cigarettes. I say no. Instead, I go out
with the one who will soon have a mohawk. When I am told we are moving,
I grab matches from the kitchen and ride far to a distant park. I strike them
one by one, attempting to put them out on my wet, pink tongue, terrifying
myself, waiting for cars to pass, till I am alone, before trying again. At last,
I succeed. I settle fire in my mouth. I swing upside down from a bar on the
playground. I am a fire-eating acrobat with no fear. I can do, I can be anything.


Wow.  It's a good thing Amanda J. Bradley gave us some idea of what was happening in her poetry kitchen.  By the time Today's book of poetry got to "Queen Kong," the title poem of this absolutely marvelous assault on power of the patriarchy, Bradley has the pot smoking.  Make no mistake, as Today's book of poetry likes to say of our very favourite poets, Bradley can burn.

          "Somewhere between a virgin
            and a whore, a holy mother
            and a temptress, I learned
            that my worth was tied
            to the raging pulse
            between my thighs."
                   from My God, My God, Why Has Thou Forsaken Me?

Bradley's autobiographical introduction is a frank and vivid feminist roar, Queen Kong expands her universe and ours with each intake of oxygen.  Bradley's volume increases as she takes on her mature voice.  Today's book of poetry hasn't heard a howl like this in longer than ago, but now that we've heard Amanda J. Bradley Today's book of poetry will never forget.  Bradley's got precision.

Queen Kong

          Where is the ebullient, infinite woman who...hasn't been ashamed of her
          strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives...
          hasn't accused herself of being a monster?

                                       -Helene Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa"
                                         (translated by Keith Cohen and Paula Cohen)

I've been shimmying up skyscrapers all my life,
swatting at airplanes that buzz my massive head.
I have been holding tiny men in my palm, careful
not to squish life from their fragile bodies.
I have spent my rage on the bars of this cage. Ripped
from my native habitat, I can barely remember
I am not a monster. My drives are ancient and furious.
I peer into the tiny windows of your offices
and see you skitter about in monkey suits.
You think you are making the world go round,
mastering complex transactions, but the world
is simpler than that. It is the stench of my breath
roaring at you through fangs clenched in a wide,
diabolical smile, showering shattered glass at your feet.


Take that!  

Our morning read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was a robust sunshine affair.  Good weather has finally hit Ottawa and the resulting displays of pasty snow white skin are both hopeful and a little frightening.  Today's book of poetry was the only person in this mornings office not in shorts.

Maggie, our new intern, took the reins on Amanda J. Bradley's Queen Kong.  She said that Bradley's nomadic childhood pushed so many of her buttons that it sounded like music.

Bradley reminds Today's book of poetry of the great Canadian singer/songwriter Feist.  Strong and clear with an original voice that sounds instantly familiar.  That is no easy feat.  This is what happens when experience meets intelligence and the strong woman in charge turns it into art.

Meditation on a Cutlet

          A blind agitation is manly and uttermost.

                               -Gertrude Stein, "A Cutlet"

Reduce the manly to a diminutive.
Let the cut seep blood, slice deep.
Reference Sophocles and Freud.
Mother of us all, we modern women,
help us see the chicken with its head
cut off that is war. In seven words,
reduce patriarchy to the joke it is.

You said you were not a feminist,
but you were sly and funny.
Many of us have said it before
we were radicalized by circumstance.

I was not a feminist until I found myself
mentally composing essays and poems
while scrubbing frying pans and bathtubs,
not until I noticed women in suits lugging
little ones down grocery aisles late in evenings,
scouring for cutlets, not until I saw my own
mother blossom into a badass boss,
her great brain finally actualized in work.

What would you say to your beloved
America today with its terrible
hints at persecuted rich white men?
You would balk like an ironic chicken
and repeat with great dignity
"A blind agitation is manly and uttermost."


Manifesto, call to arms, Today's book of poetry can't exactly track Queen Kong's ambitions.  Today's book of poetry is a tiny man and looking up with awe.  This giant means serious business and SHE shouldn't be ignored.  

When powerful women get real the sky begins to rumble.

Can you hear that?  Bradley just burnt this place up.

Amanda J. Bradley

Amanda J. Bradley

Amanda J. Bradley has released three books of poems from NYQ Books: Queen Kong in 2017, Oz at Night in 2011, and Hints and Allegations in 2009. She has published poetry, essays, and interviews in many journals including Kin Poetry Journal, The Nervous Breakdown, Skidrow Penthouse, Ragazine, Paterson Literary Review, Gargoyle, Best American Poetry Blog, Paddlefish, Lips, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, Poetry Bay, and Barefoot Muse. Amanda is a graduate of the MFA program in poetry writing at The New School, and she holds a PhD in English and American Literature from Washington University in St. Louis. Amanda teaches literature and creative writing at Keystone College in northeastern Pennsylvania.

Amanda J. Bradley's latest book, Queen Kong, is a courageous and audacious book. Starting with the long poetic sequence rooted in narrative, it is specific, heartfelt, energetic, honest, and we are drawn into the world of this poet. Throughout the rest of the book, the poet confronts all that is broken and lost in the world. She grieves over the damage we have caused to the environment, and gives us feminist manifestoes. This is a tour de force performance that leaps from lyrical narrative to the surreal and back. It's unforgettable.
    —Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Queen Kong is a mesmerizing book of poems. The first two sections contain candid and emotionally powerful pieces which act as a perfect preface for the rest of the book. Bradley's willingness to be vulnerable on the page, especially in her original, feminist poems is daring. In Queen Kong, she proves what an exquisite poet she is. This book has the power not only to impact the New York City on its cover but also the rest of our country and beyond.
     —Laura Boss



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Winter in Fargo - Rodney Nelson (Ravenna Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Winter in Fargo.  Rodney Nelson.  Ravenna Press.  Spokane, Washington.  2016.

Rodney Nelson only uses English as a template because these poems are in a whole new language.  Today's book of poetry was in after about three poems, hooked by the simple beauty of Nelson's accomplishment.  Winter in Fargo is all about place and Nelson takes us all firmly to Fargo.

Winter has never quite been like this before.  Winter in Fargo dials into a collective unconscious where we are comfortable with Nelson's unique vision.  The reader transported, lulls and rolls onto the crisp white landscape, and discovers it ripe with new mystery.


northern prairie had not thralled me
yet even on the cross-quarter
day I would not have wanted to
be any other where
                   I had
taken to Flagstaff and Yuma
and Petaluma easy in
winter and would have liked to try
the time in any one of them
                   but when the sun came up
on the cross-quarter day to ten
below and showed that prairie had
moved into town I wanted the
white and still and would not have been
any other where anytime


Winter in Fargo is strong and slow, almost languorous, so Today's book of poetry is thinking Keith Jarrett, The KΓΆln Concert.  Slow and languorous until the all consuming sweep of it blows over you like a snow squall.

Rodney Nelson has his own smooth.  These poems had instant cred here in the Today's book of poetry offices.  Milo, our head tech, said it felt like Cormac McCarthy without the obvious violence.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, thought Nelson's Winter in Fargo reminded her of the thickly layered canvases of London artist Ron Martin.

Related image

Groping and Meditating on a Confusion of Shapes
Ron Martin
Courtesy of the Canada Council Art Bank

The Ron Martin painting shown is huge, several feet wide and several feet high.  Martin's monochromatics contain unique depths and Rodney Nelson makes us feel as though we are in a new world, with new horizons, new nightfalls.

Of Gwendolyn Macewan

age and a river flood in
childhood we had in common
                      same river and flood
                      but when
a Canadian mentioned
the name I did not read on
may have noted an inward
fixity that I lacked
Bohemian Embassy
in Toronto was part of
my San Francisco and I 
leant towards cabalas too if
never the Cabala
would have taken any
          over the
that she went into dying
by her own vodka at the
moment almost I quit it
and we did not get to have
in common the age I am
now or the historical
tried-and-untrue one out there
doubt that she affected
what I wrote and she would not
have read it but another
look at her work reminds me
of the much I have not known
                        not to believe
                                        that she has
                                        yielded all her mystery
                                        admit there is something
                                        else you cannot name
                     in that
land or the inward country
I have yet to follow to
we had that other time in
                     maybe a shadow


Today's book of poetry is almost always going to pay special attention to any poet who gives special attention to Gwendolyn MacEwen.  When Today's book of poetry first became truly enamoured with poetry it was through Earle Birney's great poem David that opened the door, but the next thing we read was beautiful Gwendolyn's The Armies of the Moon.  Today's book of poetry was enthralled.  Also, Gwendolyn was once married to Saint Milton of Acorn, yet another reason to hold MacEwen in the highest esteem.  Gwendolyn MacEwen is Canadian Poetry Royalty in the offices of Today's book of poetry.

Rodney Nelson nodding Gwendolyn's way is a strong indicator to Today's book of poetry of the granite like base Nelson is standing on, he has built Winter in Fargo from a formidable foundation.  Perhaps his diction is from an older time, perhaps from a generation yet to come - all Today's book of poetry knows is that it is enthralling.

Snow in April

not the right look or smell to the two-week
mild but we had not wanted to let on
and when cold hit again we put out more
suet because what had only seemed to
go away could only seem to return
river upped and would be greatening
anyhow but we knew the prairie was
still in town and did not want to let on


Rodney Nelson's embrace of the natural world, his intimate interaction with the world he names still doesn't hide his history, he has seen violence, the horrors men can inflict on other men.  Yet Winter in Fargo is a celebration of a particular physical geography/and an exploration of the language of the prairie.

Rodney Nelson's Winter in Fargo is wildly entertaining restraint of the first order.

Image result for rodney nelson winter in fargo

Rodney Nelson

Rodney Nelson began as a poet long ago but turned to fiction and drama writing in order to make a living outside of the classroom.



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

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Groping and Meditating on a Confusion of Shapes 
Groping and Meditating on a Confusion of Shapes 

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Her Heartsongs - Joan Colby (Presa Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Her Heartsongs.  Joan Colby.  Presa Press.  Rockford, Michigan.  2018.


"....and they will be so young
They believe touching solves everything."

Joan Colby is brimming with innocent magic and experienced folly.  Her Heartsongs rings vibrant, if it were published by a big house (no offense to Presa Press, bless their cotton socks), everybody in poetry world would be talking about it.  Joan Colby is breaking no new ground, there is no experimenting here.  Instead these poems are reliable as a train, steady enough to be on tracks.

Joan Colby is not afraid of anything, much less afraid of going to a dark place.  Her brave poetry works in a straight line.  One foot in front of the other.

Colby has at least one solid gold, 24 carat, talking old school pure, line in almost every poem in this book.  It's uncanny.  These are knock you to your knees lines, kick you in the ass lines, gobsmack you with truth lines.  Every poem should have them.

Securing a Memory

In the passenger seat
Also known as the suicide seat,
That was me. You were driving,
One hand on the wheel, the other
Holding me. I already knew how this
Would end, that it would indeed end
And it wouldn't matter because I'd have
This memory. The pink sweater
I am wearing, fuzzy as how I feel
In this proximity to love. My own face reflected
In the side window while the dark
Landscape pours past, how we are not
Speaking in the immense blossom
That opens between us, night petals rank
And dangerous and seductive so that
My mouth tingles
Though we are not yet kissing,
Just driving, driving and I tell myself
Remember this moment, how it feels
Years into the future. This memory
Which settles on me like a hungry animal. You
Peripheral, to my left,
Left with its sinister connotations,
A profile. It's not important
That we engaged like teeth on meat
Or sawed our bodies until like trees
We fell and fell and fell
Into that koan of presumed
Silence. In that deliberate memory
I painted on the walls of all the years to come
I am always seventeen.


BOOM.  That's how you do it!  These poems are "coming of age" poems sans trite.  These are mature poems.  These are poems from the voice of an older woman.  Today's book of poetry couldn't help but think of the four sisters I grew up with.  Our home was a matriarchy, without question, and my sisters grew up under the influence of a battle-ax strong mother.  The sisters have always impressed me and reading poetry that reminds me of them, well, it's simply splendid.

Joan Colby isn't just spinning tales of growing up female, she is attempting to tell us all how to live better lives.  Colby isn't proselytizing but her sharp narratives always end up with us realizing something important, something worth remembering.


School lunch: baloney sandwich, plain. No butter,
Mayo, mustard. I am known
As a fussy eater. My mother
Thought people who liked eating were obscene.
Gross acts of bodies. When we shopped
She gorged greedily on fudge sundaes,
At home sucked broth in penance. Sometimes
She cracked walnuts and picked the meats
Daintily with a silver tool. I thought
The hollowed world would look like that
Irregular but perfectly clean.

My mother served boiled potatoes, unsalted lamb,
Tuna out of cans. I ate raw carrots
From our garden pulled directly from the dirt
And wild mint, spruce needles
Nectar sucked from phlox.

My mother worshiped restraint,
My father health.
I simply didn't know the taste of things.
Suspicion rose in my heart like flood waters
When Mrs. Adducci tried to feed me spaghetti,
when Mrs. Person made Swedish meatballs,
when the roadside cafe married eggs to grits.

At the dinner table I rolled my bread into balls
Pastel as the Sunday host I had to swallow whole
And flavorless, an air-puffed masquerade.

Now, I wield seasonings with abandon,
Try any new taste, and strangeness,
Seagull wings, snake's tongues, a wealth
Of passion fruit, coriander,
Saffron and sea salt.

I dip thin oblongs of meat
Into delicate Thai peanut sauce.
Far away, my mother takes out her teeth
Dunking bread in milk without sweetening.

I pummel stone-ground dough into a shape
For rising. It doubles like love given for no reason
Here's what I have learned:
That death in life is never
Knowing what is good.


BANG.  Get that into you!  Today's book of poetry would be a liar if we didn't share our immediate reaction to typing out these Joan Colby servings.  We freaking love when we get to the end of a poem and feel enthusiastic.

Today's book of poetry racked our small brain trying to bring to mind another poet who so thoroughly and clearly presented a moral framework, an emotional blueprint?  Nora Gould comes to mind.  Both Gould and Joan Colby speak of the earth in specific geography, they name the birds, the trees, the air.  Then having painted a necessary background they both add the details of blood and heart to take it home.

There is so much Today's book of poetry admires about Her Heartsongs that we've already tasked Milo (our head tech) with tracking down any of the following Joan Colby titles:

The Seven Heavenly Virtues
Ah Clio
Pro Forma
The Wingback Chair
Properties of Matter
Selected Poems
Dead Horses
The Lonely Hearts Killers
The Atrocity Book
How The Sky Begins To Fall
The Boundary Waters
Blue Woman Dancing in the Nerve
Dream Tree
Chagall Poems
Beheading the Children
Eleven Poems

By our count Joan Colby has 21 books of poetry.  That's a great body of work by any ones count.  Today's book of poetry is convinced we've just uncovered the tip of a very large poetry iceberg.

The biggest discovery Today's book of poetry has made since starting this project over six years ago was the number of poets and publishers at work in the big wide English poetry world.  Astonishing.  Our latest research shows over a thousand poetry publishers, small and large, in Canada and the United States.  And the best of discoveries in that big world are moments exactly like this one.  Joan Colby's honesty is illuminating and her wit sublime.  Also like the sisters.

How to Love

Mockingbirds in the pines wake me. Light
Scuttles through blinds like lovebugs
Smearing windshields, fuzz of bliss, doomed thistles. See
What they're in for, how they
Solve themselves.

Here's how we ought to love: the way two children
At the beach begin with shells and wet sand.
How their hands dredge a moat or pat
Turrets into being. Watch this, one says,
Knocking the whole thing over,
They laugh and run into waves
That find both coming and going easy.

The way sun blankets them
While breakers keep collapsing. Nothing
They need to explain.


It is the first of June here in the capital and everyone has on sweaters, and heavy socks.  Today's book of poetry even saw a winter coat on this morning's coat rack.  It is colder than it has any right to be and I fear I've woken up in November.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, wanted to shut the furnace off before the morning reading because when it jacks into service it gives the entire building a Ornette Coleman shake.

Joan Colby raised our spirits this morning.  These poems are surprising, too simple to be this good.  But make no mistake, Joan Colby can burn.  She says something worth knowing every time she lays it down.

Joan Colby

Joan Colby

Joan Colby, b. 1939, has published widely in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Gargoyle, Little Patuxent Review, New York Quarterly, Pinyon, Poetry, South Dakota Review, Spillway, The Spoon River Poetry Review, among many others. She is the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, a Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. Colby has published seventeen books, most recently Carnival (FutureCycle Press, 2016). One of her poems is among the winners of the 2014 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. Colby is currently a senior book editor with FutureCycle Press and an associate editor for the Kentucky Review. She lives on a small horse farm in northern Illinois with her husband and assorted animals.

“Emotional intensity and large sympathies characterize this collection, which is underwritten by an intelligence itself as fiery as it is sharp.”
      -Philip Dacey

“More than almost any poet I know, Joan Colby follows John Keats’ advice to ‘load every cranny with ore.’ Whether she’s mining salt or emeralds, the reader will be the richer for it!” 
     – Dan Veach

“Colby is heir to Penelope, muse of shiver, drafting darkness and light into a haunting tapestry of wisdom and truth.” 
      – Richard Peabody

“Joan Colby knows how to take anything familiar and have us readjust our view of it. Her energy never flags as she transforms nerves into a tapestry or delves into the structure of a foot and tells stories that go where we’d never have expected them to go. There is a probing character to so many of her poems, as they give up layer upon layer of meaning or suggestion. Such a pairing of imagination with the craft to frame it is a rare gift.” 
      -David Chorlton

Joan Colby

Waterline Writers - 5/20/2018
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Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.