Thursday, September 19, 2019

Against — Matt Robinson (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Against.  Matt Robinson.  Gaspereau Press.  Devil's Whim Chapbook No. 38.  Kentville, Nova Scotia.  2018.

Today's book of poetry read Matt Robinson's A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking (Insomniac Press, 2001) back in the day but we had Milo, our head tech, dig it out of the stacks so we could give it another once over before we feasted on Robinson's Against.  

Against is fun, in a cranky sort of way.  You eat it up.  Tear off a bit, roll it around between your tongue and cheek.  Presto, as soon as it hits your poetry taste buds, well, by then the Devil has had his/her way.  You're hooked.

Against is against everything.  Against is a systematic, analytic, thorough and unabashed curmudgeonly look at every thing there is to be against since before the first Zamboni hit the ice.

Matt Robinson is up against it.  If it's out there, our man Matt is against it.

Against The New Year's Day Hangover

     But I enjoy the idea of their shade
     when the sun hits them right.

When the sun hits them right, those empties
extant in their nesting of shards are less
a dull, throbbing reminder of last night's poor choices
and excess, and more a loosely curated drunk's
afterglow, a showy blown-glass derangement
resting skew-countered, serrated, all edgily cornered
but softened somehow by fruit flies' flittered near caul.
It's the small things, after all. Especially
on mornings like this one when your piss and vinegar's
turned and perverted—been swallowed, undone,
and inverted—to a vinegared distillate pissed at
the mumbling, curvilinear brink of the nauseous,
off-colour dawn's waiting bowl, while
your near-useless hands semi-morse for purchase
against the sink's brim or the unfinished skim
coat of that wall you'd sworn you'd get to.
Last night's howls at the moon, now long gone
and cocooned somewhere in the Advil-gauzed
ale aphasias that stipple your brain's stewing meat.
This new year's a sudden 100 watt bulb,
weaponized; a light's tenuous rhetoric aggressively
weighing the pros and the cons of the eyes'
new-found, ad hoc focus on what passes for promise.
For darkest fears. It's all you can do,
at this waking moment, to blink; your jaundiced lids'
strobing—in the bleary, calendar-tossing AM—
seems an intermittent inconvenience of fact;
a subconscious bias, betrayed. The trick, of course, is learning
to enjoy the idea of their shade.


As Today's book of poetry is a teetotaler for the most part we had to survey our staff to better understand what a hangover might be like.  Against Today's book of poetry's better judgment we decided to take our Senior Editor, Max, at his word and believe his hangover stories as gospel.  Pretty sure Matt Robinson would be against that too.

Matt Robinson's Against is a real misanthropic marvel, a canyon filling calamity of complaint disguised as the most sulphurous of vapors — poetry.  Bless his cotton socks.  Today's book of poetry was much amused, even against our better instincts.

Robinson's complaints are both universal and deeply personal, all encompassing and all consuming.  In the proper frame of mind Today's book of poetry is convinced Matt Robinson could be against anything.

Against The Opposable Thumb

Briefly unhinged at some pivotal juncture
of a late summer's football-matched
pratfall, this thumb's now a cranky old bugger—uneasily
angry and warily perched on the proverbial porch
of my damaged right hand. Bruise-bloated; arthritic
and swaying; prone to fits of distemper. Barely
able to grasp a mere semblance of whatever
sly, rumoured rhetoric at which its stick has been shaking,
it longs for a line drawn in the sand that slips through
its neighbouring digits' failed clutch. This dull ache's the new face
of what passes for real flexibility in a suddenly post-fractural
world; how our grasp on reality's set, and then loosed,
grudgingly. A trumped up indignant, it's opposed, constantly—
aches to say, in the morning's damp cool
or each evening's close, clammy heat:
Take a hike. Take a seat and watch the world burn.
Yes, this knucklehead seems at once to know best, or know
nothing; or, ape just as much. A nouveau, bespoke, hipster-maker
of handwrung once-fists, of faux-wrought A-OKs—
we just hope its signed puppetry's shadows
are—in some guise—in the end, no more or no less than
good ol' pick-me-ups, an innocence
mimed. Just vaudevillian gestures towards our
coming to grips. Only another nail chewed, chewed,
eschewed, and then spit.


If Matt Robinson had his way we'd be driving our Zamboni's without any thumbs at all.  Cry havoc.
Another crazy week here in the Today's book of poetry offices, people coming, others going.  The usual September confusion.  

In Today's book of poetry world September has always been the real start of the year.  That's when things start.  January 1st is just the weekend after Christmas.  Today's book of poetry is against January starting the year off and we believe we might convince Matt Robinson to be against it too.  Just for the spite of it.

These too few poems make a bigger impact than you might first expect.  Wasn't it Joe Orton himself who was "Kicking Against the Pricks" and really against it all.  Today's book of poetry is going to make a list shit-kickers and Matt Robinson is going to be on it.  Only the best will do.

Our morning read was highly entertaining.  Maggie, our new Jr. Editor, set the stage with a rousing reading of Robinson's "Against the AR-15".  Then she started pointing fingers.

Against The Wedding Invitation Ampersand

Imperfect ornament; unfinished
script. Lazy journeyman's apprentice-
wrought hackjob of a joinery's
grip left askew and still setting, edges
un-knit. An incomplete circuit,
its breakers just tripped as an idea's
new train of thought makes its ponderous,
penultimate turn and then slows
to pull into mind's station. Unsung
treble clefs, they are nothing
but poorly tied bows on spectacular gifts.
These loop-de-looped maps' near
pseudo-suggestions are a sky's inky contrails,
scrawled insinuations polluting
our horizon's far flung, bird's eye
scansion, its cloudless grammar. Nothing
but a brutish fool's tools—nails
crudely hammered and prised once
and again, and then left en plein air,
an iron-y tangle. They're typeset brambles
hedging their bets on how we—us two,
our traceried routes—have meandered
about and around and into each
and the other. On how the art of connection
sometimes leaves even language
to wonder.


Matt Robinson's Against proves once and again that size doesn't matter.  This short chapbook stands tall, tall, tall, and against the tide.  Today's book of poetry loved Robinson's verisimilitude, as grumpy as the weather.

Well done is well done.  The proper burn.

Today's book of poetry is tickled pink to have Against heading into the stacks to keep Robinson's A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking company.

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson’s previous poetry collections include Against the Hard Angle (2010), no cage contains a stare that well (2005), how we play at it: a list (2002), and A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking (2000), as well as numerous chapbooks. Robinson has won the Grain Prose Poetry Prize, the Petra Kenney Award, and The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, among others. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his family.



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.

Monday, September 16, 2019

No Home In This Land - Rasaq Malik (Akashic Books)

Today's book of poetry:
No Home In This Land.  Rasaq Malik.  Akashic Books.  New Generation African Poets - Taro.  Brooklyn, New York. 2018.

Luckily for us there is some hope to be found in Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land because there is some sad rain in Malik's world.  Today's book of poetry is almost embarrassed to address some of the issues facing Malik as a norm, they are so foreign to us here in Canada.  Foreign in anything except the news.  Our poets worry about publication and literary festivals.  Rasaq Malik's generation of Nigerians worry about war, baby soldiers, the weaponized madness of the dispossessed.

No Home In This Land starts with one breath-taking body punch, ala Sir Joe Frazier, and then before you can catch your breath, before you can inhale needed oxygen, Malik digs down from his knees and cannon shots another into your ribs, even the sturdiest reader buckles at the knees.  Malik's Nigeria is unforgiving and bleak.

At Dalori Camp
After Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's
Losing and Finding Love in the Time of Boko Haram

The women stretch their legs as their malnourished infants
suck disease-infected breasts, as another day begins with
fear lurking in their eyes, as they remember their relatives
at home, their families waiting at the doorsteps every night,
their beloveds searching for them every day, their dreams
dismantled by war, their hope the frail light in the lantern
they carry every night to search for the bodies of the dead.

The women weep as they see their children hold
the dusty photographs of their fathers, as they remember
the soldiers raping them every night, the soldiers
littering their bodies with scars nothing can erase.
They remember the corpses paving the streets,
bodies wrapped and disposed like waste
beside desolate houses. The women wake up
every day to see rooms filled with new refugees
trucks filled with few relief materials for the displaced.

The women watch their children lie on the mats,
as another night begins with people searching
for the meaning of home in the sadness of a woman washing
the blood-soaked dress of her daughter, in the silence
of a man returning home to meet the dismembered
bodies of his wife and children, in the sorrow of a widow
living with solitude. The women search for the meaning
of home whenever they wake up to see bullet holes on the walls,
whenever the pieces of their beloveds fill the streets,
whenever they receive letters from missing loved ones,
notes from relatives in prison, flowers from dying parents to their children.


Rasaq Malik does find some tenderness, some reasons for hope even in the face of almost systemic chaos.  Malik does not explain the unexplainable but he does report it with wounded candor.

What poet wouldn't blanch at the spectacle of his country falling apart around them?  Malik chooses to enter the fray in order to better report the truth of it.  Federico Garcia Lorca did the same thing in Spain but didn't make it through.  We get first hand reportage in poems, some disguised as dispatches and other disguised as prayers.  But Malik abides, he stays on the ground and bears witness.

At Today's book of poetry the important thing is the poem and Rasaq Malik doesn't let us down.


For life after the bombings, for the love that cradles us in spite of the war
that wrecks our land, for joy in the cries of infants in their mother's arms.

Grateful for little things, for my son's dream of building the world,
for people waking up every day to marvel at the birds that fill the sky.

Grateful for friends that visit us, relatives that send letters to us,
people that open their doors for us when war looms in the sky.

Grateful for the rivers that become a confluence, fields that house our
children when they gather to explore childhood moments.

Grateful for answered questions, for the walls that bear the frames
of our pictures, for the windows that usher in air.

Grateful for things that shape us into better things, things that lift our hands
when we fill the night with cries, things that unchain our passion for bliss.

Grateful for husbands that return home safely to meet their wives and children
waiting for them at doorsteps, for mothers whose children remember.

Grateful for things that survive, for children whose lives become maps
for us to trace, for God's infinite mercy over us.

Grateful for the meals taken at normal hours, for shared compassion,
for songs that soothe our troubled hearts.

Grateful for the ones who kiss our brows and say, we will be fine,
for the ones who stretch their hands filled with gifts for us to take home,

for the ones who phone at late hours to ask if we are fine,
for the ones whose names mean the world is a haven.

Grateful for my mother's stable health, for my father's strong bones,
for the assurance of kindness when we need it.

Grateful for those who, in spite of their sad
hearts, offer us every bright thing in the world.


Our morning read followed the emotional ups and down of Rasaq Malik's poetic landscape.  And, once again proved that all poems improve from reading out loud to an audience.  Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land loves being read aloud.

Today's book of poetry read Rasaq Malik's muscular and disturbing No Home In This Land several times in our desire to get inside the poems.  At least two of the those reads took place in the comfort of our big bed, the beautiful K beside us, reading her latest and resting one of her tiny feet against my leg.  Today's book of poetry read Malik in the safety of our bed, in our safe neighbourhood, in our safe city, in our safe country.  Today's book of poetry doesn't feel guilty but the same time we don't feel right about our safe lives knowing full well that in many parts of the world that assumption can't be made.  In some parts of the world feeling safe is the last thing you are allowed to do.

Rasaq Malik challenged himself and then us when he decided to see Boko Haram from the inside.  He bravely bares witness for the many who cannot.  No Home In This Land is knock-out poetry.  A big, big price was paid for each of these poems.

In This Village Where Every Dawn
Begins With A Funeral

In this village, where a child draws the image
of his dead mother on a cardboard,
where a man covers the pieces of his wife's body
with leaves, where flowers replace bodies
buried in exile, where the muezzin's voice recedes
as gunshots assemble people at the scene, where the dead
long for a mass funeral in order to escape the agony
of being devoured by crows, where a woman translates her grief
by sitting on the tomb of her child, they cook dinner with
bloodstained water. The earth widens beneath feet,
as people trace the footprints of lost beloved
with lanterns and return to their huts to meet the mangled
bodies of their children. Here, broken women seek healing,
and men are burdened with the role of burying
their dead. Here, my grandmother's graveyard decked
with a vase of writhed wreaths, my uncle's farmland is razed
to dust, and my family's house is turned into a hollow during war.
In this village there are unmarked graves, tombstones bearing
the names of ambushed soldiers, blood-draped walls of old houses,
remnants of burnt homesteads, ruins of bombed stores, fallen branches
and dry twigs. The hills house refugees, camps built in the desert,
lands converted to cemeteries. The girls here live with the scars of rape,
the boys are weaned by war, elders stagger as they walk
to where a country becomes a shadow, a memorial ground.
The portraits of the dead are taped to the walls,
with the broken slates of children who will never return home
to enjoy childhood years, to meet the streets glowing
with streetlights, to listen to the radio once again, to bathe in the river,
to climb mango trees, to adorn their necks with catapults,
to dance in the rain and listen to stories at dusk.


Akashic Books' New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set -  (Tano) is an annual project that brings much excitement to our offices upon arrival.  Today's book of poetry suspects it is because some of the very best, most exciting, vibrant poetry we've experienced is contained in these collections.  There is always a bit of a polite "dust-up" over who gets what when - but it does all get shared and adored.

As taken as Today's book of poetry has been with various other books from these excellent collections, Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land raises the bar just that much higher.  Malik pulls no punches, his love is witness honest and abides his searching for truth.  These poems burn, bright.

Image result for rasaq malik photo

Rasaq Malik

Rasaq Malik is a graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Poet Love, Spillway, Rattle, Juked, Connotation Press, HEArt Online, Grey Sparrow, Jalada, and elsewhere. He is a two-time nominee for Best of the Net. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and was shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2017.



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, September 14, 2019

Stamped — Emma Alford (Finishing Line Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Stamped.  Emma Alford.  Finishing Line Press.  Georgetown, Kentucky.  2016.
Image result for stamped emma alford

Stamped comes at a very appropriate time for Today's book of poetry as 2019 has been a year vivid with funerals and wild with wakes.  Emma Alford's embracing Stamped is a number of things in its brief pages, a banshee wail, an eulogy, a prayer, all addressed to a recently departed friend.

Most of us are familiar, to some extent, to loss, but Alford nails those first feelings of genuine sorrow, our first real taste of death.  These are colloquial poems, journal poems, goodbye poems and they all work.


Last Christmas you sent the standard present package
I had come to expect it every year.
A few weeks later you visited me while it was still cold.
It was the last time I saw you, but it doesn't feel like it.
It never seemed like we were very far from one another;
We never grew apart.
I still feel you now.
Something always kept us calling, mailing cards,
sending packages, buying plane tickets, and driving miles.
You're the only friend I ever bothered to buy Christmas gifts for.
We joked that our other friends were cheap.
This year I don't think I can stand buying one less gift

You were always the easiest to buy for, the first off my list.
So I think I'll mail something to your family.
Some old photos of us, A zine we made in junior high,
maybe a nice scented candle or ornate box.
Your mom loves decorative boxes, we laughed about this.
The last one I saw her with was filled with bits of you.
This exchange won't feel the same,
but I won't feel as much like I've lost something.
Last week I took your card to a tattoo shop in Nashville.
I had your sloppy boyish handwriting inked into my skin forever.
You would call me a hypocrite; I always hated the way you wrote.
Now it's something else, tragically beautiful, your epitaph.


Stamped is one sad elegy, one lonely lament.  Emma Alford speaks for us all as she teaches herself how to deal with loss.

Today's book of poetry has been remiss, we should've started this whole thing off with an explanation of Stamped context.  In Stamped, Emma Alford is often responding directly to postcards sent by her departed friend shortly before dying.  Alford makes anagrams, responds with speculative imagination, builds a new world with her new knowledge.  Her friend is gone.  These postcards are also published in Stamped and appear on the opposite page to each poem.  The affect is quite intimate and emotionally it triggers an instant sympathetic response.

Today's book of poetry doesn't think that we are alone when we say that Stamped opens a door for all of us to that first big loss.  The experience of first loss is a sacred one.  For many of us it stardates our first steps into real adult life.

Emma's collection of postcards reminds Today's book of poetry of a totem that hangs in our office.  Today's book of poetry has a page from his mother's handwritten cookbook, framed.  This particular recipe is for butter tarts.  All fours of my sisters have similar, but different, framed recipes from my mother's cookbook.  All of that to say that Today's book of poetry recognizes the need to remember.

Double Life

We were starting college when you sent this postcard.
I think you were fed up with cowboys.
Your school had a rodeo, not football, team.
And this was after I called and you answered
"I'm in a cop car, so I may need to call you back"
It was weird to hear you complain about anything.
You always told me I was too quick to hate,
You were just so quick to love—and I think
you had too much of it in a world that wouldn't understand it.

You said, "kill me," the two lighthearted words seize in my chest now.
When we were younger, we wrote our last wishes out
on tiny sheets of paper,
exchanged and swore in jest to carry them out
should anything happen.
Were we setting ourselves up for this all those years ago?
I found the tiny folded piece of paper I followed it faithfully.
We had sunflowers and Weezer, and I didn't wear all black.
Your sister and I gave your eulogy, the hardest words I ever spoke,
the difference in my very tense choking me.

I vowed to live a double life. I will love what you loved,
destroy what you feared and complete what you started.
I'll get us to New Zealand and I'll stop smoking cigarettes.
Taking the fire from your life and putting it to mine.
I can't condense you, I can't feel you, in five minutes of words.
But maybe I can in a lifetime of actions. I promise
I'll always carry you around my neck, tucked into my chest.


Today's book of poetry can identify with Alford and her poems about loss.  When a dear friend of ours died several years ago Today's book of poetry got one of his friends tattoos so we would always remember.  We're certainly remembering today, that damned wonderful Emma Alford has us blurry eyed and sniffling, drowning in our own tears, remembering lost friends.

Coming to terms with loss is an ongoing dilemma.  Loss never ends, we carry it. But the weight of it does lessen with time.  The world reminds us that we are destined for the same long nap.

Emma Alford's journey, shared in Stamped is a long way from over so Today's book of poetry sends 
all the good karma we can gather in Alford's direction.  And we thank Emma Alford for Stamped and the honest, undistracted and unredacted response to loss.  As painful as the experience has been for Alford, and will continue, these poems offer Alford, and us, a chance to both mourn and celebrate those we've lost.

Holding Ash

"Human Remains" is such a cold, ambiguous phrase
what remains after all, is dust and unbroken bit of bones and teeth
too strong against the funeral home's fires to burn
and I'm still unsure what's human about remains

Grasping for ashes is like reaching for the thinnest grains of sand
Your hand turns chalky white—
bits of bone get stuck beneath a fingernail
There is nothing to romanticize in this
Life so far from those granules slipping between shaking fingertips

I thought that I might find her,
3000 miles from any soil she'd ever graced
By placing her in the walls of an 800-year-old castle
Or sprinkling her in the river floating past the Eye

She wasn't there
Or in the teeth and nails caking my palms
Further away now than she ever was
Returning to dust as anything does


Stamped is a comic-book smart little dazzle from Finishing Line Press down in Georgetown, Kentucky.  Today's book of poetry is tickled to have them back in the house.

Today's book of poetry is fairly certain that Stamped is just a warm up for Emma Alford.  Her bad engine is just getting warmed up.  

Image result for stamped emma alford

Emma Alford

Emma Alford is a writer from the Mississippi Delta.  She is an editor and contributor for The East Nashvillian magazine.  She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her over-loved, overweight tabby cat.

Emma Alford’s first book, Stamped, is a beautiful elegy. Expertly rendered through a series of poems that transforms a friend’s postcards into a means of coming to terms with loss, this collection participates in the great tradition of English-language poems that celebrate and mourn best friends lost too soon. This is a deeply moving book and one I will read and re-read for years to come.
     –Michael Smith, Author of Multiverse and Byron in Baghdad.
Stamped, a touching hybrid chapbook of poems and postcards commemorating a beloved friend. This debut collection, born out of grief, brings to life a vivid friendship and an irrepressible girl who was “just so quick to love.”
     –Ann Fisher-Wirth, Author of Dream Cabinet and Carta Marina



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, September 12, 2019

Cyclone - Robert Peake (Nine Arches Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Cyclone.  Robert Peake.  Nine Arches Press.  Rugby, United Kingdom.  2018.

Today's book of poetry liked Robert Peake's Cyclone very much, hence today's blog/review.  But we love, love, loved Peake's series of poems "The man with the kindest face...".  In this mad weary world Peake is only too happy to tell us about the horrors, about "Waking Up to the Last Winter on Earth."  Peake's "kindness" poems offer us a balm, a salve, a hope, a chance.

The man with the kindest face
pumps up your bicycle tyre

He keeps his eye on the task, fitting the hose and
squeezing the bulb, like a man-sized pollinator. The
tyre lets out a sigh of relief. "Good as new," he lies,
admiring your beat-up Schwinn. His eyes are trained
to see chrome, not rust, skip over the tar-blackened
chain. He glances up. He'd best be on his way.s


Today's book of poetry always thought old Willy the Shakes' Prospero was the keeper of storm knowledge but Peake makes a strong case for his own expertise in Cyclone.  Robert Peake seems a little tired of our clumsy nonchalance with the world we've inherited.  In these poems there is a dark ring of foreboding around any ray of hope.

Then, the cheek of the man, to leave us at the end of all these various miseries, he leaves us with a love poem, of genuine sweetness and cheer, to tie up the loose ends.  Peake is doing it with his tongue in his cheek, but it is still part of Whitman's "yawp" ("I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.") or WCWilliams' "Paterson" ("we sit and talk"), and Ginsberg's "Howl".

Horse Optimism

Rain sweetens the grass,
and the sun makes it tall;
no flies on windswept days;
no restless leaves when calm.

At a distance, I see where you are.
Up close, I smell where you've been.

Sun dries the mud,
dew decorates the field.
Lie down in summer heat,
stamp against the chill.

Halfway through every journey out
we begin the ride back home.

Sweet grass from rainy days
a field sparked with dew
breeze to blow the flies away
the sight, then smell of you.


Things in the Today's book of poetry universe are in flux at the moment.  There are always some transitions to be made at the end of the summer, students coming and going, new interns, old office tech.  So our morning read changes as people come and go.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Milo, our head tech, met here at Today's book of poetry, married last spring, and they are now getting ready to go off and write some poetry of their own.

Maggie, our newest intern, just celebrated her first anniversary here at Today's book of poetry, intern no more, she'll be taking over from Kathryn.  No one can replace Milo so don't even talk to me about it.  They will be missed but loved.

Robert Peake's Cyclone made for a lovely read despite the numerous changes here.  Strong poetry holds up, simple as that.

And isn't this the way all poets feel, frequently...

Failure to Thrive

I awoke, late afternoon, to a summer storm,
realising I had done none of the things
that the dead white men, who wrote history
expected me to do to get added to their book,
and that the stream of productivity, running on
like an endless sentence from the past, was one
I punctuated far too often with a nap. The smell
of the rain came through the smallest window crack.
It was late summer. The rain had no idea of its
ending, and the smell was great with promise
for a week of gentle breezes pushing sculptures
of white cloud, the kind I could never write about
well enough to distinguish myself from the 773,000
cloud poems Google offers up to me for a click,
in point three eight seconds, because that's how fast
you have to be now to be somebody. The spare room
I favour sleeping in by day became almost imperceptibly
green, in the shadow of the thunderhead's contemplation,
yet I was there to see it, with the cat, who said nothing.


Most poets at my end of the pool share these sentiments with regularity.  Robert Peake is not alone in his self-assessment but he is somewhat misleading.

Today's book of poetry thinks Peake has done enough to distinguish himself.  Cyclone is one eloquent burn.

Robert Peake

Robert Peake is an American-born poet living near London. He created the Transatlantic Poetry series, bringing poets together for live online readings and conversations. His film-poem collaborations have been widely screened in the US and Europe. He is a poetry surgery tutor for the Poetry Society in Hertfordshire, and writes for the Huffington Post. His debut The Knowledge, was published by Nine Arches Press in 2015, and his second poetry collection Cyclone is published in July 2018, also from Nine Arches Press.

Cyclone takes the strengths of Robert Peake’s previous work - candour, intensity, a hard-won wit - and enters the storm, in search of an answer to the question raised by his heartbreaking ‘Why I Should Be Over It By Now’. Built around four remarkable sequences, this new collection takes him into the most difficult of territories - grief and parental loss - to recover the possibility, however fugitive, of healing. The ‘Cyclone’ here is both personal and political. In such turbulent and shrill times, this is his most powerful work to date.'
     - Michael Symmons Roberts

'Homesickness, belonging, and travelling without arriving are just some of the terrain covered in Peake's Cyclone, but it’s the vitality and emotional courage in the language of these poems that one is most struck by — language stepping in and out of the shadows and yearning ‘in the silt-choked afterlife of someone’s grief.’ A beautiful book that deserves to be lingered over and read widely.' 
     - Mona Arshi

'Relentless and gorgeous, Cyclone is where poems of awe and of mourning the infinite “Cognates of Grief” converge, bless and roar. In its searching for “What Will Survive Us,” Robert Peake’s second collection is as tender as it is overwhelming, as intimate as it is expansive. He asks “What becomes of longing / when the fire goes out?” “Has there ever been such a thing as progress?” “How much do you need?” and answers with aftermaths, the “wild dance...between the gathering clouds and ionised land,” a braving of history and memory and home. I am deeply thankful for this book—its guts, its grace.'
     - R.A. Villanueva

15. 10. 2017 Robert Peake & Paul Stephenson read new works from their new poetry books at The Tennessee Bar = 2, rue AndrΓ© Mazet 75006 Paris, France. 
Video: Poets Live


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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Monday, September 9, 2019

Dunk Tank — Kayla Czaga (House of Anansi Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dunk Tank.  Kayla Czaga.  House of Anansi Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2019.

Cover of Dunk Tank

Back in December of 2014 Today's book of poetry jumped on the Kayla Czaga bandwagon, Today's book of poetry wrote about Czaga's For Your Safety Please Hold On.  You can see that blog/review here:

Today's book of poetry was so fond of Kayla Czaga's first book we named it winner of the 2nd annual Kitty Lewis Hazel Millar Dennis Tourbin Poetry Prize.

Czaga's second book, Dunk Tank, is another masterpiece.  The poems aren't all perfect, but damned near.  It doesn't matter what Czaga talks about in her poems because she does the same trick in almost every poem.  The trick is hard to explain because it falls somewhere between happy childhood memories and a profound and darkened whimsy.

Dunk Tank

The volleyball girls wrestle in Jell-O.
Travis Lechner, lead screamer
of Occult Nosebleed, commands
the tenth-grade stoners to live real.
The French teacher struts
like a heron, beige socks hiked up
to his knees. You've been suckered
into a shift at the dunk tank
to fundraise for a school in Tanzania.
You'll be dunked six times—
twice by a boy named Brice you love
but never talk to. When he runs out
of money, he'll throw grass
at you, chunks of hotdog, himself.
You climb up and wave
to your friends eating Filipino kebabs
by the track. Tonight you'll all
drink coolers by the waterfall.
This is the year Dustin Klepsch will drive
his ATV off a cliff. You sit
above the drunk goggle obstacle
course and rootbeer-guzzling contest
and you know you know everything—
can diagram reproductive systems
of worms, know exactly when
two trains travelling 60km/hour
will meet in Kitwanga for lunch.
This is the year your mom's kidneys
will fail while you're in History
and the year Kristie will stop talking
to you and painting sad-lovely
portraits of her dogs. Brice pays
two dollars to throw three balls
at you. The wind sighs like it's locked
its keys in its car. You're sitting
on your chair, smart girl, only
your chair drops and before you fall
there's this moment you're sitting
on nothing and you think maybe
you won't fall after all — maybe
you'll just hover here forever.


Kayla Czaga is a smart woman, just like her poems tell you.  She is also a social historian and an academic juggler.  Today's book of poetry suspects that somewhere Czaga has a shrine that includes Lucille Ball.  Why?  Because Czaga has the same genius timing and the same ferocious gaze.

Ok, silly Today's book of poetry.  Our Jr. Editor, Kathryn, showered considerable scorn in our direction over the Lucille Ball idea.  Kathryn said look at Suzannah Showler, Catherine Owen, Sharon Olds instead of Ms. Ball.  And of course Kathryn, as always, was right.

Today's book of poetry wasn't suggesting the Dunk Tank is a comedy, nope, Dunk Tank is as serious as it gets, we get love, sex and death, old dinosaur bones and more.  But Czaga never loses her ability to laugh it all, herself included.


I am very avant-garde in what
I use for bookmarks. That
look on your face would do.
A clump of my hair in a pinch.
At sixteen I dumped
coffee into Jane Austen
and still she crackles open
on a botched proposal.
I am a monster dogearer.
I use Joan Didion as a napkin.
Before I became a person
my dad lived on a farm
with no electricity, only
Louis L'Amour for toilet paper.
So it is my birthright to defile
the printed word. Instead
of depositing my book
into my bag when my hands
are doing other things
like masturbating or thumbing
avocados I dangle it
from my teeth like a retriever
presenting her retrieved.
If you love something so much
why do you keep it
up on that shelf and never 
touch it? It's like you want
a virgin wife while all
I want is a girl I can bend
backwards over tombstones
lick Pringles from her cracks
and cackle with. We stay
up all night with seances
and french-braiding and neither
of us ever wears white.


Even when naming villains Czaga is affectionately honest.  Dunk Tank lets us in fairly easily but it's hard to get out of it.  Does Czaga cast a spell over the reader?  Today's book of poetry thinks so.

There is so much to like in Kayla Czaga's sophomore collection.  Today's book of poetry fell for Czaga's garlic-eating grandmother and you will too.

Our morning reading was more a celebration than the normal read, everyone in the place was glad to have Czaga back in the house.

Under Construction

You'd think that empty lot
had slaughtered their mothers
the way those men torture it
with yellow machines. With how
little sleep you've been
getting, you think a lot
of sinister things, especially
these mornings when light
is the translucent grey
of fake teeth. Your dad
used to bring you home
dinosaur bones from the foothills
he razed to lay highways.
You can't remember when
you realized trucks run
on a broth of ancient lizards
but now they'll never not 
feel haunted. It's important
to get places but you doubt
another condo tower
beside the train line
will do more than rattle
like a Yahtzee cup tossing
professional couples.
You keep the fossils
like jewelry on your dresser,
stroke their tar settings
until they look wet. A view,
more sleep, a new life
with fewer machines—
you've wanted so
much for so long you
don't remember living
without the fuel light on.
An invisible raptor stands
behind you in a business
suit, factoring in inflation
with his talon on your hand.


Quite simply, Kayla Czaga's poems are far more interesting, hopeful and confident than Today's book of poetry knows how to express.  Today's book of poetry can tell you how eagerly our entire staff waited to read Dunk Tank.  Our assessment was unanimous, everyone in the shop gave Dunk Tank the full burn.  Our highest marks.

Don't trust our puny point of view.  Go out and get a copy of Dunk Tank, now!

If you don't like it - Today's book of poetry will refund your money.  That's how strongly we'll stand behind Dunk Tank.

Copper Koi

My heart can barely spell
arrhythmia but still inflates
my fingers. A day like any other—
my hair worries my scalp
and I want to know what 
skin is made of. What wets
my mouth? Since learning
I harbour a uterus
I've been afraid of it
popping. Maybe while walking
or downward dog. Or when
our bodies play towards
one body. Maybe it's more
like a fish bobbing
in a small pond—copper
koi in the moon basin. Let me
cross this avenue lit with cherry
blossoms. Let me forget
pints of blood circling
my bones like nervous dogs.
On grandma's farm, I spent
entire afternoons lifting
cats, blissfully unaware of
the uterus flickering in me.
I believed if you cracked
me open, I'd be filled
with caramel or else
soft and hollow as a doll.


Make no mistake Kayla Czaga is just warming up.  The future of Canadian poetry is in great hands with poets like Czaga.

Image result for kayla czaga photo

Kayla Czaga


KAYLA CZAGA is the author of one previous collection of poems, For Your Safety Please Hold On (Nightwood Editions, 2014), and the chapbook Enemy of the People (Anstruther Press, 2015). Her work has been awarded the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and the Canadian Authors Association’s Emerging Writer Award and has been nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, and the Debut-litzer. She lives in Victoria, B.C.

“These poems of love, service-industry jobs, and small-town boredom . . . buzz with fierce restlessness and longing.”
     — Toronto Star

“Dunk Tank trades in specificity, intimacy, weirdness, colloquialism, and dark humour.” 
     — Globe and Mail

“The author is always inventive in her metaphors and images . . . All in all Dunk Tank is smart and heartfelt.” 
     — Walleye

“Czaga manages to capture moments of maturation with the wisdom of a backward glance . . . Approachable and skillful in its poetics and narrative detail.” — Quill & Quire
“Seemingly effortless but brimming with craft, Czaga’s art results from her enviable agility with phrasing and expression. The poems in Dunk Tank are as immediate, honest, affectionate, raw, anxious, jokey, and thoughtful as an impromptu confession over an evening’s confab. Sparkling with recollection’s rich details, associative leaps, colloquial doses of energy and imaginative reach, Dunk Tank is exhilarating.” — David O’Meara, author of A Pretty Sight
“The author is always inventive in her metaphors and images . . . All in all Dunk Tank is smart and heartfelt.” — Walleye

“Czaga manages to capture moments of maturation with the wisdom of a backward glance . . . Approachable and skillful in its poetics and narrative detail.” — Quill & Quire

“What a profound, effortless spell Kayla Czaga conjures with this collection. In communion with an array of private and public selves, these poems convince me authentic connection is possible. Desirous and impulsive, problematic as any one of us, the speaker never exempts herself from the world she tallies in tacos, panties, inherited stress, taps on Instagram posts, seagulls heaped like Kleenex. When she confesses ‘it felt / like we could say and finally mean / something,’ I’m enlivened, senses heightened, as if my name is being called by someone who never calls me by my name.” — Sheryda Warrener, author of Floating Is Everything


Winner, Gerald Lampert Memorial Award
Finalist, Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry
Finalist, Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize
Finalist, Debut-litzer Prize

Featured Poet Kayla Czaga
Video: The Video Guy



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.