Saturday, June 24, 2017

Believing is not the same as Being Saved - Lisa Martin (University of Alberta Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Believing is not the same as Being Saved.  Lisa Martin. Robert Kroetsch Series.  University of Alberta Press.  Edmonton, Alberta.  2017.

Believing is not the same as Being Saved is a quietly elegant book of poems.  Lisa Martin comes to Today's book of poetry with a book ten years in the making.  You can see and feel the meticulous care Martin has taken in crafting these poems, constructing this book.

This is yet another case of Today's book of poetry feeling our skill set is not quite up to the task.   How can I explain how the universe of each Martin poem is a self contained marvel or how collectively these myriad universes meld into one clear, constant gaze?  Lisa Martin has some serious jam.

Believing is not the same
as being saved

The summer I was fifteen a girl at my church camp
fell from the high rock where she'd been lying
in the sun. I heard the news on the phone
which rang in a room where I was trying to die
without technically killing myself: it was an age
at which much of what we did passed as pleasure
but was actually terror. The girl who fell punctured
the room with a question: is this really what you
want? Her scream loud enough to travel
an hour's hike away to where the tanned, shirtless
boys' counsellor dressing by the fire recognized
its message. He ran the entire distance in bare feet,
a pair of worn shorts, sweat rising to the surface.
He was a teenager himself -- each footfall

bearing him toward the absolute far edge of youth,
strength. he gathered her in his arms, carried her
body to camp, despite everything. He ran, even then,
though what compelled him had altered, though his
muscles changed, became the animal necessity
we need to get through. Her death cradled to him
like the child of his own he would one day hold, and no
doubt, love. The news came, in the room where I sat,
and then went. And did I gain courage? I knew
the exact quality of light on the surface of that rock.
Each night at camp, the year before, I'd walked
silent amidst the roving beams of flashlights
on the same trail of mulch, moss, rock, not knowing
the choice I would one day run toward, then --

irrevocably, turn from. After that, I absorbed
air, knowledge, like dew -- testing God against
all better judgment. I started thinking that summer
of cedar bark and stones, the texture of the path
beneath the feet of the boys' counsellor as he
ran -- I believe he felt everything -- carrying her
death and love with his body as only the
living can. I flicked off a switch that summer
as I walked. I wanted to understand
darkness, the quality of my heart:not light,
but spark. Even then, the path I was on
extended far past the limit suggested
by the way the path curved gently toward
the bright fire, voices singing softly

in darkness not inflected yet with the cry
of her voice falling impossible through air that
couldn't catch her. Even now, what I want most
isn't to walk past that song into knowledge.
Believe me: I want to sing, despite
everything. I want to believe
we all could be saved.


Birth, death, love, loss - yep, they're all in Believing is not the same as Being Saved as bold as brass and writ large.  Martin understands that much of life is a paradox, that joy and sorrow are birds dancing on the same high wire.  Martin is trying to concern herself with how one lives a good life, how one becomes a good person.  Today's book of poetry has always thought this a noble and worthy pursuit.

Luckily for us Martin is completely up to the task.  Reading these poems we know, we see, that Martin is striving for a stab at truth in each and every one of these lyric narratives.  Martin is systematic and as cool as a cat with a bird in her mouth.  These poems are ready to bargain you to another place, just like Bukowski's Mockingbird.

Dancing the path to understanding

Sitting in the audience tonight listening to strings
rub strings in the dark like the frenzied wings of insects
who want to mate -- and, so, survive. Though you
aren't here the memory of you is flickering in me
like filaments in light bulbs at the VIA Rail station
this morning where I left you before the sun
even rose all lit up against the dark. I'm here:
the train you're on is stopped on the tracks
squandering moonlight; I'm watching Pascal
the Quebecois fiddler working with his feet
to artfully dislodge the desired feeling, dancing
the path to understanding, like a bee before bees,
while I regard, from behind, the dark heads
of the others closest to me. Heads still as
stone monuments, yet acute with compound
longing. I'm told lens-bearing-eyes

have evolved at least seven times, so perhaps
there is still something missing, something
we do not yet see. I close my eyes
to listen, to isolate the message, that nectar
we only find if someone else waggles
revelation. That practiced disclosure, art,
is what we live on; it's what we eat, how
we love; it's what all the work sometimes
miraculously amounts to, yet doesn't
guarantee. How hard it is to break through
noise into music. The fiddle's yearning is not lonely
in the darkness but accompanied by bass
notes, the heart's acoustic strum; sadness
like ours isn't empty but filled with what
surrounds it -- as a dance contains
the path it cannot name.


The Todays' book of poetry offices are a little different today.  Visiting poets Justin Million and Elisha Rubacha are currently snoring in the Stuart Ross Poetry and Guest Room so the rest of us are trying to keep our vibrant hum to a minimum.  We have the stereo on low.  This morning it is Saint Charles of Parker and Lady Day, the sublime Billie.

Today's book of poetry was recently gifted two large boxes of poetry, mostly Canadian.  After culling through and finding more than a dozen treasures - we left the boxes on the floor of our office for any visiting poet to romp through and take what they please.  Justin and Elisha loaded up upon arrival last night, they are in town for the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair which is taking place this afternoon.   They both read at the gala last night.

Everyone in our offices enjoys taking home new poetry so the arrival of the boxes, much like that of Million and Rubacha, was like Christmas.

But there isn't much celebrating in Today's book of poetry offices this week with the departure of Odin to greener poetry pastures.  As Lisa Martin helps us to remember, helps us understand, there are as many different types of loss as there are methods of grieving.

The office troops rallied when we opened up Believing is not the same as Being Saved.  Kathleen, our Jr. Editor, opined that Martin was "a new kind of feminist" so of course we had to ask what she meant.  Kathleen replied that Martin was a "pragmatic realist and subterranean subversive at the same time."

The troops did rally, Odinless, for an engaged morning read of Believing is not the same as Being Saved as we danced Ms. Martin around the room.  You wouldn't instantly get that these poems are so robust because Martin's smart might be confused for delicate.  Martin is no such thing.  She is detailed, precise  and certain.

Some of what we know about airports in the
21st century

Some of what we know about winter light and the flight of birds
or waiting in long queues of astonishingly ordinary people

like us, or whom we could love, or wouldn't want to. I guess I've been
heartbroken a long time without knowing it -- we do this. Go without

knowing as if the content of our propositions has anything to do
with the great fire fuelled by God-knows-what that's bruised

the horizon. Just as the flare of the refinery and all violent
condemnation makes a bruise in the heart of this terrified world.

Maybe the thing each of us doesn't want to believe in
is what fuels us, our guilt and love fluttering where the walls

meet the ceiling like those birds that live in airports disoriented
by light and warmth they can't leave, even if it doesn't nourish them.

The birds arrive as we do, through the boarding tunnels:hungry,
carrying everything we need, or believed we do, or the one thing

we were able to find. The birds are usually sparrows and enjoy
the plants and the water features, like us. It's only cold in here

because the sun's turned away. House sparrows tolerate the noise
well but suffer, in the end, from lack of darkness. Most of us have

seen them congregating up there, singing to a sky that won't be
reached by available means. Maybe we know only what we must.

Scourge of janitors, those charged with keeping up appearances, birds
can be found by attentive travellers everywhere from Edmonton to Singapore.

Inside anything, at any time:locate a container for something strange.
Geocaching in airports has reached an all-time high, despite the fact

enthusiasts are still taking more than they every put back. Most airports
sport massive viewing windows, but hardly anyone's looking through.

Even so, the sun rises over tarmac. But if you know anything
you know this. You know it's not the sun that turns away.


Today's book of poetry was newly smitten by the writing of the talented Lisa Martin and can only hope we don't have to wait another ten years to read the follow-up to Believing is not the same as Being Saved.  We are certain it will be worth the wait but less sure we have another ten years in us.

Lisa Martin, get to work, and thank you.

Image result for lisa martin poet photo
Lisa Martin

Lisa Martin. Award-winning poet, essayist, and editor Lisa Martin is the author of One Crow Sorrow (2008) and co-editor of How to Expect What You’re Not Expecting: Stories of Pregnancy, Parenthood, and Loss (2013). She teaches literature and creative writing at Concordia University of Edmonton.



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.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Body, in Good Light - Erin Rodoni (Sixteen Rivers Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Body, in Good Light.  Erin Rodoni.  Sixteen Rivers Press.  San Francisco, California.  2017.

"...bliss, like a memory, can be unearthed by scent."
                                                                                                 "The Body Lathe"
                                                                                                  Erin Rodoni

Erin Rodoni's Body, in Good Light has enough light to charm your eyes open wide but there will be tears enough before the end.  Rodoni has poems built on sustained intensity but without any anxiety, passion without pontification.

Today's book of poetry is a bit distracted today as our associate Odin is putting in his last days with us.   Odin has been presented with a bigger and better playground and is unable to say no.  We understand that and are proud of the work he has done here, we are sorry to see him go.  Odin never talked all that much but we sure listened when he did.

Body, in Good Light is just the sort of book Odin likes best, unapologetic intelligence, open-hearted wit and kindness.

The Ninety-Year-Old Woman On My Table

is speaking into the lavender-spritzed air
between us. Her muscles Braille another
story. She's telling me about her niece,
who lives with a man she'll never marry.
It's complicated, you see. There's so little
between her bones and mine, a thumb's
pad, a tendon's frayed twine. You see,
he has a wife. Sometimes it seems these
bodies just appear under my hands. She has
some kind of condition. They all touch
their own shoulders, their lower backs
to show me where the pain is. Sometimes
they want to touch mine (right there) as if
we don't all inhabit the same sad pockets
of skin. Can't move, can't speak. I imagine
there are people hired just to wash her
where her husband can't. Certainly can't
have sex, and I suppose he has all he wants
with my niece. Our muscles are toned to transfer
gentleness. From lover to child. From stranger
to self and back again. Sometimes the weight
of a toothbrush seems too much when I remember
I must lift it twice a day until I no longer can.
They have children together. I've kissed my own
grandmothers into smaller and smaller beds,
fixed their hair -- all wrong I'm sure. I suppose
he must have loved her. Now he tends her
like a houseplant. Or maybe she's a ghost
orchid in a greenhouse in a snowed in city.
Probably still does, in his way. The globe
unshaken, shelved in one of these little rooms
where hands polish it with love
so unconditional it's cruel.


Erin Rodoni talks about cancer and childbirth and chemotherapy and the impending death of a younger brother and when she is doing this she is covering some damned sad territory, sweet and profound.  As a reader you'll feel compelled to turn to the next page, Rodoni keeps the iron under your feet suitably red.

Today's book of poetry also wants to warn you.  Rodoni moved us to real, running down the cheeks, tears more than once.  As much of a crocodile as I can sometimes be those were real emotions running down my old face.

You Kept My Summer Dresses

when I died, and jewels worn closest to my skin.
You warmed them in a fist, watched hemlines swish

dust, once my thigh. When you lie
beside your new love now, do you miss

the little nicks not on her shinbone,
the mole your little finger doesn't brush?

Hush, I know about darkness, how it funnels
a sort of light we see as flesh

through our sealed lids. I know about rooting
toward comfort's infrared.

I only meant to say I can't forgive you.
I'm not God, just a voice inside your head.

You remember, don't you, what I said
about the heart? To do the things it tells you?

Soon she will jump at necklaces curled like cobras
in your sock drawer. Soon it will be time

to wash my dresses, leave them slapping on the line.
All I ask is, just once more at dusk, stand

in the life we shared, let night gather
behind the dresser, beneath the bed.

Let shadows press open the closet and breathe
the last moths of my scent.


Our morning read was a tempered emotional affair this morning.  We were all on edge because of Odin's bon voyage.  Every time Rodoni crossed an emotional bridge one of us jumped out of our skin and to be pulled back from the ledge.

Odin calmed us all down, as he always does, kissed everyone, left.  A class act all the way.

When I got back to my office there was a short note from Odin on my desk.  He said "that Rodoni woman is built from strong stuff, first rate poetry from an intelligent woman's voice.  Remember that you grew up under the care of a strong, intelligent woman.  Stay the course."

We Chop Onions, Listen To Billie Holiday

The windows fogged. Our eyes. My brother slides the knife from his
wife's fist, dances her around the room. Her body already out of breath,
he folds her to his chest. They revolve in one place: teenagers during 
the last song of prom. My husband stands behind me. I lean into his
weight. And for a moment I let myself conjure a child with her smile
and my brother's green eyes, a child who will never run through this
house playing tag with the child I don't yet have. Beyond the steam on
the windows, fall's first frost sharpens the marsh grass, and the arced
maps in the stars tick past without us until we are already ghosts.


Erin Rodoni's Body, in Good Light is flat out excellent.  You should give a copy to every woman you know.  Wouldn't hurt any of the menfolk either.

Erin Rodoni

Erin Rodoni is the author of Body, in Good Light (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017) and A Landscape for Loss, which won the 2016 Stevens Manuscript Prize sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies and is forthcoming later this year. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Cimarron Review, Drunken Boat, Ninth Letter, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Adroit Journal, among others. Her poems have also been included in the Best New Poets anthology, featured on Verse Daily, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and honored with an Intro Journals Award from the Association of Writers and Writing programs. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two young daughters.

“I walk toward you barefoot,” writes Erin Rodoni, a poet who can speak with the same ease of private elegies and public journeys, of childbirth and of changing trains in Krakow, of grief on losing a loved one to cancer, and of ‘borrowed countries / where bougainvillea scales balconies // like a romance language.’ Here is a book that journeys out into the world, and also inward—into the mysteries of private life, of the body, where ‘bliss, like a memory, can be unearthed by scent.’ I love how wisdom enters the moment of passion in these poems, where we see ourselves living here, on this earth, ‘believing // in these bodies.’ This is a marvelous debut.” 
     —Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa 

“The aesthetic that courses throughout Erin Rodoni’s sumptuous debut—tender and bittersweet, but also clear-eyed and unflinching—recalls Rilke’s ninth Duino Elegy, in which the earth’s dream is ‘to resurrect / in us invisibly.’ That ache of regeneration and rejuvenation is made manifest in Body, in Good Light. In the section entitled ‘A Sort of Light We See as Flesh,’ the poem ‘The Chapel’ brings us to a woman’smemorial service, where Rodoni faces ‘an altar draped in fabric / that belongs to no faith.’ At the end, though, she says: ‘We praise/ the faith of whatever machine // keeps the warmth in her hands.’ By extension, that warmth extends to the poet, to those she holds dear, and, thankfully, to us.”
     —Thomas Centolella, author of Views from Along the Middle Way


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 15, 2017

Asking The Names - Michael Miller (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Asking The Names.  Michael Miller.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland University.  Ashland, Ohio.  2017.

Michael Miller writes time machine poetry.  These poems are completely in the present, poignant, powerful and in the best sense of the word; pretty.  At the same time these poems are about the passage of time and what is endured, what is learned, what is savoured, what is mourned.

Miller also has the rare capacity to write openly about enduring love without ever sounding overly romantic or trite.


In the wordless void between us
The domain of silence
Is greater than anything we can say.
This is where love becomes
A meadow blossoming,
This is where I can hold you
Beyond the ephemeral touch,
Beyond the unfolding petals of desire
Which must always close.


Miller's short poems have the qualities of fine crystal, they are transparent so any flaws would be immediately obvious.  

If you were to ping one on the side with your finger, the resonance you hear will be a fully formed tone, abundant in colour regardless of it's brevity.


Prepared at exactly five o'clock,
Placed carefully before her
On their immaculate table,
The meals he makes
For his paralyzed wife
Are the language of enduring love.
With spotless silverware
He feeds her with every morsel
Of his patient tenderness.


Asking The Names made for a contemplative morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices.  It's another beautiful sunny day so we have all the doors and windows open.  It shouldn't come as any surprise that this morning's office music is a mix of Dexter and Pharoah.

Mr. Miller supplied his robust poems and his delicate voice.  These are intensely personal and studiously carefully poems that remind Today's book of poetry of the best of Wendell Berry and Robert Bly.  Poems like these require a mature voice and considerable time in the saddle, wisdom like this only comes with time and experience.

Keeping Alive

Beethoven and biopsies,
How they keep me alive,
How making love with you
Keeps me alive,
How I want to make love
For as long as I can,
How I want your body
To cover mine
As I take that final breath.


Asking The Names wanders through the fields and adventures of youth, the horrors and memory scars of military service, battle and loss but it is Miller's unabashed tenderness when talking about his love that has won the day for Today's book of poetry.

As Dexter Gordon's Dale Turner says in the great Bertrand Tavernier film Round Midnight, "Lady Francis, there's not enough kindness in the world."  Today's book of poetry is happy to report that Michael Miller is helping to improve that balance.

Michael Miller

Michael Miller's first book The Joyful Dark was the Editor's Choice winner of the McGovern Prize at The Ashland Poetry Press. His poems have appeared in The Sweanee Review, The Kenyon Review, Raritan, The New Republic, The Southern Review, and The Yale Review. Darkening The Grass, his third book, was a "Must Read 2013" selection of The Massachusetts Book Award. His poem, "The Different War," was the 2014 First Prize winner of the W.B. Yeats Society Poetry Award, and anthologized in Yeats 150 (Lilliput Press, Dublin). Born in 1940, Michael Miller served in the Marine Corps from 1958 to 1962. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

I read Michael Miller's poems with great pleasure in their accurate seeing, their assured phrasing, their true and proportionate feeling.
     - Richard Wilbur

Michael Miller's poems are finely tuned meditations on nature, war, city life, and growing old. The recurring theme of love, the cycles of light and darkness, of fear and hope, of life and death, echo from poem to poem. One realizes reading these poems that one must climb to get into the light, that certainty is uncertain.
     - Gary Lee Entsminger

Michael Miller's poetry addresses the nuances of this contradictory world. In Asking The Names his empathy embraces the pain of soldiers and the poignant lives of the elderly. Most moving, perhaps, is when he writes about enduring love. Miller's poems, each expertly wrought, are radiant.
     - Nikia Leopold



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, June 12, 2017

What Weaponry a novel in prose poems - Elizabeth J. Colen (Black Lawrence Press)

Today's book of poetry:
What Weaponry - a novel in prose poems.   
Elizabeth J. Colen.  Black Lawrence Press.  Pittsburgh, PA.  2016.


What Weaponry - a novel in prose poems saunters into the room like a tattooed lady in a perky summer dress with a pistol in her purse and a smear of lipstick still tasty on her lips.  Elizabeth J. Colen is not new to this game and her characters are all body and soul, just like a jazz song, tattered and somehow still hopeful on the battered field of love.

These beautiful assaults are instant karma and sad fate.  Colen has access to instantaneous emotional intensity with her wide open heart channeling all the dreams of her wounded heroes.

This poetry novel burns.

We Are Only Animals Furred
And Undone

In this land time stops, white bird hovering in the
pre-dawn. Unseen fawns high step the wet grass.
And we, feet and shin bathed in shallows seas of
scrub, marvel at the complete dark.  "There's
nothing," you whisper, and then say nothing more. I
know you mean the world has closed its doors.
We haven't slept but tired's come back to wild elation
the way all things circle back to meet their opposites.
The way I sometimes become you again. And
through bare toes feeling for the towpath, and that
stab of electric light moved on by our motion, we
find the neighbor's barn door. No light in neighbor's
kitchen, no horse sounds from the yard. Only the
crickets and your breathing, pale face posed, the
gun still in your hand.


Today's book of poetry was gobsmacked by What Weaponry and pleasantly so.  Every time I begin to waver another poet comes along to give us hope.  Today's hope is supplied by these electric jolts from Colen's stun gun.  Elizabeth J. Colen is a talent to celebrate.  

We have heard all these stories before, in one version or another, after all, how many stories are there?  But Colen has found the right traction to make her startlingly lived-in/innocent voice unique.

Today's book of poetry had some extra help this morning.  Before everyone else arrived I was sitting in the shade at the front of our building and rereading What Weaponry and enjoying the quiet street, the occasional cardinal whistle, the sun coming through the large trees down the road.  Our friend Pistol dropped by with his pal Thomas.  When they sat down I handed What Weaponry over to Pistol and asked him to take a peek.  Pistol started reading, he always opens a book of poetry at a random page and starts in there, and the first time he raised his head he was smiling and said "well, that was okay."  And of course he meant much more.  

He buried his head in What Weaponry again and when he came up for air he was a convert.  Pistol doesn't like all that much, I show him poetry whenever I can, but when he does like it I know I've hit on something special, splendid.

Wife Beater

There's a tattooed girl at the counter in the bread
shop and she's thin and she's tough and she's scarred
and you start talking about what her life must be
like. Tank top, wife beater, fresh bruise on her chin.
You wonder if she's somebody's wife. And the shirt
doesn't come all the way down to her pants, which
are low, which are black, which are ripped at the
knee. And the shirt is a little dirty around the
middle like she'd rubbed up against some dirty
truck. And I see your eyes turn down and you look
at her waist and you whisper something about
stretch marks. I tell you you have no business
speculating about the nature of those. Was she fat,
you said, but you decided it was babies. And how
many. You give her seven babies, but she's probably
only twenty-three and just looks forty-four. She
hasn't had time, I say and you say, she looks like the
world, this girl, she looks like the whole damn world
has been sitting right in her lap.


There's a dark engine revving hard and running the show in Colen's wheelhouse and the poems in What Weaponry are often bracing as a result.  But Colen is wall-papering her sad confines with jewels.  No matter how darkly set these gems glisten with revealing light.

Today's book of poetry found Colen's mastery of the prose poem invigorating.  Each of these poems ends up bigger than the sum of it's parts.  These are screenplays.  Colen seasons each page with an intoxicating mix of tender, tawdry (in the best possible way) and tired.

When Today's book of poetry says "tired" we are talking about that bone-funking weariness that too much experience welds onto your face like ritual scars.

Last Meal Of Gin

What it took: two days to get used to. The break-off,
lesion to touch, legion. And where were you when?
And then admitting that dream. What breaches.
What I would have made up, but didn't. From there,
dories everywhere, talk of unicorns, what horns,
whatever, the red birds that did not alight on my
arms: there was no going back. Everything right
now is about you. Standing in the dim kitchen,
knee-deep in me. Standing in the living room, the
lights clicking off. Timers. I can't see the face for the
face, can't see the place for the what if. We were a
mob of lost parts, a wreckage of history. Weekends
are tiny models of the world, what weeks want to be.
Sometimes what years. Might contain all electric, all
thought. Which way we went. A tug on the hair and
the clock shakes, pulling you forward by bangs,
waking up bruised. Waking with loss everywhere.


Elizabeth J. Colen's What Weaponry is exactly what Today's book of poetry wants to see when we open a book of poems.  We want to see sparks fly, stick around and find out what is buried in the ashes.

Colen made a fan out of our friend Pistol this morning and that's a difficult get.  Today's book of poetry was already convinced.

Image result for elizabeth colen photo
Elizabeth J. Colen

Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of poetry collections Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010) and Waiting Up for the End of the World (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012), flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011), long poem / lyric essay hybrid The Green Condition (Ricochet Editions, 2014), and Your Sick (Jellyfish Highway, 2016), co-written with Carol Guess and Kelly Magee. She teaches at Western Washington University.

  • Handsomely forged like the best scenes of the best art films, Elizabeth Colen’s What Weaponry moves between expansive seashores and claustrophobic interiors to illuminate or exorcise the emotional interstices we all inhabit. Such violence and tenderness rubbing up against each other! It’s impossible to look away. And if, as Colen insists, 'There is no mystery here,' it’s because she has exposed the beautiful ugly subcutaneous.
         —Debra Di Blasi
  • In What Weaponry, Elizabeth J. Colen has done something much more challenging, much more nimble than write a book of prose poems. She has created a wonder, a linear circularity – “We haven’t slept but tired’s come back to wild elation the way all things circle back to meet their opposites,” – she has embedded a book of poems inside a book of prose. “Say you didn’t say his name. Say you sang it.” So I won’t. I will. I just have to follow her. Let her make music with the stories she puts in my mouth. Let her wake me.
        —TC Tolbert

    The vortex of bold words that whip through Elizabeth Colen's What Weaponry are messages fully articulating a new form of body. A new sense of love. Radiant and containing "all electric, all thought," the language found in Colen's latest book generously provide a jittery syntactical jolt. What is constant in these dazzling lyrical vignettes is the desire for intimacy in the throes of love's changing face. What Weaponry swerves, plumbs, sears and burns for that which eludes but is right before us. It's a remarkable book.
         —Oliver de la Paz



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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Saturday, June 10, 2017

Navy Blue - Steve Meagher (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Navy Blue.  Steve Meagher.  First Poets Series 15.  Guernica Editions.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (U.K.).  2016.

"Begging penance for his necessary sin"
      - from Have You Seen Him

George Elliott Clarke mentions Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Marshall McLuhan when attempting to describe the poetry of Steve Meagher.  Not to make this about Today's book of poetry but now is as good a time as any to admit that we here in this office are all members of the George Elliott Clarke fan club - and one time, a long time ago, Today's book of poetry was lucky enough to share a few beers with Sir George of Elliott Clarke at the original Ottawa Royal Oak Inn.  Those beers were probably before Mr. Meagher was born.

As much as Today's book of poetry admires Mr. Clarke we think he got it a little wrong.  If we had to compare Meagher's poetry to anyone  it would be the troubadour of tasty trauma Tom Waits.  That's if Tom Waits were spending a lot of time with the ghost of Richard Brautigan.  Dark wisdom and lyrical splendor from Waits, sweet, tortured and innocent ala Brautigan.

New Saints

Cowboy knows all the shortcuts
He can hop the black fence without stopping
He showed me how to throw a perfect spiral
He's been David's best friend since kindergarten

Scarecrow's brave like a fugitive
He French-kissed Rebecca J. in the catwalk
Told me she tasted like Orange Crush
I saw him smoke a cigarette once
It smelled something like a forest fire
Next day he showed us his brother's magazines

Shark Tooth's got a pair of nunchucks
They came in the mail from Tokyo
His dropkicks are real deadly
He can do cartwheels over the creekbed
He knows how to slay the dragons

Ezekial was my partner at Science Fair
He's quiet as a June bug
He can't come out on Saturdays
His mom keeps him in to study his lessons

Sweet Baby's the smallest
I swear he's full of cobra blood
He threw that rock from a mile away
Hit the sixth grader straight between the eyes
He's the greatest there is
When we ride our bikes to the snack bar
We never even stop for cars

Tin Man's brains don't work right
Some nights he won't stop screaming
About how he shot Hakeem
How he caught the itch
How everybody's gotta come from somewhere
He comes round like the wind
I can hear him from my bedroom
When he's gone I breathe again

Jackson's got the switchblade
He stole it from the Chinaman
He keeps it tucked in his belt loop
Uses it to lop the heads off bullfrogs

Banjo's some kind of genius
He can do his times-tables backwards
Even the sevens and nines
he's gonna be a doctor someday
Most likely he's gonna cure cancer
I give him Oreos to do my fractions

Got In The Log knows some things
He knows the hidden tunnel
All the sweet-spots in the forest
He knows about the beehives and the helicopter leaves
But he don't like being bothered
Me and Sweet Baby are the only ones who visit

There's Moreno he's Mexican
His face looks like a map of Missouri
He killed a black girl once
We found her body in the branches
He's the reason I'm not allowed across the train tracks

David can sing like Frank Sinatra
He's got two pet salamanders
Their names are Dale and Swiss Army Knife
He's the fastest runner in the whole school
Sometimes he gives me beats
But he's still a good big brother
He makes sure nobody fucks with me

I can skip a rock five times easy
I can wallop your nastiest curve
Mostly my mind knocks like a woodpecker
I got the tadpole's shadow on my arm
When I grow up I'm gonna be big time
I'm gonna find my father
I'm gonna make my mother love me
I'm gonna shine like Christmas morning
Don't even try to stop me


Sometimes comparisons don't do anyone justice.  Meagher gives us plenty to think about without the comparisons and he does it with panache.  Nothing about Navy Blue feels like a first book.  Meagher has polished these poems till they shine.

Now for some more comparisons.  Meagher's poetry universe is full of great characters that you are going to remember.  Sweet Baby and Banjo conjure up visions/memories of Sodapop and Ponyboy from S.E. Hinton's most excellent novel The Outsiders.  There is a measure sense of menace just under the skin of Navy Blue.  Meagher never comes across as rough or vulgar but he keeps a particular tension that captures the reader, keeps the reader on alert.

Philadelphia Woman

She grew up off South 22nd
Her tongue's got ties in Memphis
She is daughter of the Iron Brigade
She breaks bread with the packrats

There's a shoebox in her closet
Full of Pennsylvania minerals
Years back her father was a collector

The radio's locked on 1060
She keeps up with the weather
Switches to Coltrane after dinner

When the heavy rains fall
She wraps her wrists in grapevine
Her landscapes hang like criminals
They know December's darker roads

She writes longhand letters
Sends them to the man in Fresno
He never calls or writes back
And that's the way she likes it

There are memories she holds
Like grenades with the pins pulled
The worst nights crack like battlefields

When the phone rings
I already know it's her
Only she would call so late
To ask about my broken wings


Today's book of poetry was instantly comfortable in Meagher's poetry world.  These poems are immediately accessible and that is something we like a lot.  Meagher is generous and playful, even when his poetry is serious as a heart attack.  We like that too.

Our morning read was as perfect as today's weather here in Ottawa.  We opened all the windows in the Today's book of poetry offices and passed Navy Blue around like a new talisman we were learning to believe in.

Reading Navy Blue is mining a very rich vein, rich enough that we were able to find another splendid list poem.  Regular readers of Today's book of poetry will remember how fond we are of list poems. This one is exemplary, this one came directly from beneath the poets fingernails, the real dirt.

Peter's Dream

The way things used to be
When I wanted a bedtime story
Grandpa would read me the Bible
The Old Testament gave me nightmares

I dreamed I was an Egyptian
With the lizards falling on my head
I dreamed I was a sinner
And the punishment on its way
I dreamed I was Isaac on the mountain
And Abraham had the knife
I dreamed so much
I even dreamed I was the apple

But I don't get stories anymore
Nowadays Grandpa just says goodnight
Then he shuts the door
And I'm alone all of a sudden
So now when I dream it comes like a hurricane
And I don't know how to stop it

I dreamed all the riverfish turned up dead
I dreamed the eastwind broke my pole in two
I dreamed the world was on fire
And our house was burning
And Grandpa was inside taking a nap
And the smoke was in his clothes
I dreamed I stepped in broken glass
And the coyotes could smell my blood
I dreamed I was a soldier
And the Nazis were after me
And I was hiding in a pile of bodies
And I was too scared to breathe
And I could taste the skin
I dreamed I was a madman
I dreamed I was a scientist
I dreamed I was a leper
And I was living in the canyons
I dreamed I was a cannibal
And I bit off Banjo's ear
And spit it in the lake
And it floated like a lilypad
And the catfish fed till morning
I dreamed I kissed the Bag Lady
And my tongue went black and swollen
I dreamed I was being born
With a rattlesnake round my throat
I dreamed a knife in my back
I dreamed a pistol in my pocket
And a thousand of blind children
I dreamed the North Star spoke my name
I dreamed I was in the medicine show
And my mouth shot dust in Cowboy's face
I dreamed it was next Sunday
And I was in church
And the preacher was a cyclops
And he had horns the size of fence posts
I dreamed I was real sick
And my hair was falling out
And the nurse kept feeding me Jell-O
I dreamed Sweet Baby got run over by a truck
So he had no legs
And he wouldn't stop laughing
I dreamed I was dirt poor
And my only friends were gypsies
I dreamed I climbed the tallest birch
And I couldn't get back down
I dreamed I ate a spider for supper
And it laid eggs inside my stomach
I dreamed a horse kicked me in the belly
And it hurt so bad I crapped blood
I dreamed I was Tarzan
I dreamed I was King Arthur
I dreamed I was combing the hairs on Grandpa's chest
I dreamed the killer was licking my fingers
I dreamed I was catching water in a bucket
And it felt like early spring
And the lightning bolts were lasers
And the raindrops hit the metal like a hummingbird
I dreamed I had the shotgun
And the pigs were in the shed waiting
I dreamed I saw David naked
And he got real mad
And said we wasn't brothers no more
I dreamed I was dead at high noon
I dreamed the hangman was my father
But my mother was an angel
So I met her minutes later


Books like Steve Meagher's Navy Blue are exactly why Today's book of poetry is in business.  Poetry like this needs to be shared.  Poetry this vibrant can make your body hum, it hits a register that your senses can't ignore.  We are silly human beans who spend so much time looking for truth we don't always recognize it.  Here's a chance.

Steve Meagher, well, I'll remember that name.  Read Navy Blue and you will remember it too.

Steve Meagher
Steve Meagher

Steve Meagher grew up in Oakville, Ontario. His poems have appeared in Carousel, The Nashwaak Review and Ottawa Arts Review. Navy Blue is his first book. He lives in Toronto.

Navy Blue is an exhilarating, guerrilla romp through tabloid news talk and Internet inanity to set up the seditious poetry Marshall McLuhan would’ve written if he could’ve. These poems are a cross of Bob Dylan casual strangeness and Jimi Hendrix bluesy surrealism. (Think “Visions of Johanna” mixed with “My Friend”.) Each line could spin off into its own bizarre screenplay: “The doctor kept cutting / Now the blood was everywhere … / I listened to the crickets / Their prayers sounded like my bicycle.” Nicely, Meagher gives shout-outs to Ray Souster and Irv Layton, claiming their street-wise vernacular and sardonic, ironic insights. But I see a touch of Dick Brautigan here too, in the accomplished insouciance, the freedom to just “say” and have the meaning be in that liberty. Ladies, gents, here’s the new vibe. Ready to be experienced?
     - George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate

Steve Meagher's Navy Blue is full of ghost voices, fever dreams, cowboy saints and hard scrabble benediction.
     - Singer-songwriter Jason Collett

Navy Blue
Steve Meagher
Video: Guernica Editions



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.