Monday, June 30, 2014

Jackleg Opera, Collected Poems, 1990 to 2013 - BJ Ward (North Atlantic Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Jackleg Opera, Collected Poems, 1990 to 2013.  BJ Ward.  North Atlantic Books.  Berkeley, California.  2013.

Sometimes opening a book is like taking a deep breath of unexpected fresh air.  I opened up Jackleg Opera and out stepped BJ Ward, maybe the best poet you've never heard of.

There seems to be so little room on store bookshelves for poetry and yet so much great poetry out there for stores to choose from.

So Mr. Ward saunters in, although I'm not sure he'd saunter, I'm thinking he's more of a stroller.  Casually observing the same world you and I walk through, strolling about, but then he gives voice to those moments you had questioned.  He explains a small mystery that had been in the back of your haunted mind.  These aren't the solutions to the mathematical mysteries of the universe but instead small true moments illuminated into song.

And as we all know, I like a bit of humour.

Bleeding Jesus

Sitting in the catechism, the priest punching Jesus
     into our heads, I stared into the dank hallway
beside the room. My attention snapped

to my hands, rapped by Father Longinus's ruler.
     He talked about the cross, the thorns,
the slow driving of nails. It was the pain

that interested my nine-year-old mind,
     the coincidental pain of our hands—
hard, deliberate. I ran home

and told my mother that I was Jesus, the Son of God.
     She slapped me twice and banished me
to my room, which only convinced me I was Christ.

The next day, I told some classmates
     I was Jesus. They didn't believe me
until I named them my apostles—

Saint Hank, Saint Milo, Saint Fat Eddie.
     I was ready now for the pain, the crucifixion.
We met at Happy's Ice Cream Parlor for a last supper—

the cone was my body, chocolate fudge my blood.
     Fat Eddie had seconds.
We couldn't find a good cross,

so they tied me to a swingset in the schoolyard.
     I told them to leave me but not forsake me.
They acted sad, as was planned, and left.

As the night gathered itself, I started
     feeling lonely, hungry. My arms tired
from the spread I was in—the opening of an embrace

that was never able to close, to enwrap.
     How prone a god can be.
I noticed a patch of wild blossoms

at my feet. They were small, purple.
     They looked easy to kick up, so open
and convenient—their thin, sweet petal-meat

would be a wafer on my tongue. And I thought
     of why I was there, how it was no fun
being Jesus anymore. I left the blossoms

where they were, as I had found them, and screamed
     for my father to come get me, to untie me,
for it to be finished.


Jackleg Opera combines the work from BJ Ward's first three books—Landing in New Jersey with Soft Hands, 17 Love Poems with No Despair, and Gravedigger's Birthday—with 34 new poems.

BJ Ward seems to hammer out these poems in steady pound like a reliable jackhammer.  He never misses a beat.


Idaho trails from my left penny loafer,
Arizona from my right.
A Nevada waitress hangs from my heart.
The many loves of the many states
are crushed into my wash-needing socks.
My ears still cling to the musicians
I've loved in these places.
There is here, in my pocket,
a memento for you.
It is a sound,
and if you could open it,
your very palms would shiver
with what my travels play
in the small, well-boned ears
you have in your hips,
     your legs, your ankles, your feet.

Are you dancing?


Ward runs the table going from strength to strength.  I found much to admire in these poems.

For the Children of the World Trade Center Victims

Nothing could have prepared you—

Note: Every poem I have ever written
          is not as important as this one.

Note: This poem says nothing important.

Clarification of last note:
     This poem cannot save 3,000 lives.

Note: This poems is attempting to pull your father
          out of the rubble, still living and glowing
          and enjoying football on Sunday.

Note: This poems is trying to reach your mother
          in her business skirt, and get her home
          to Ridgewood where she can change
          to her robe and sip Chamomile tea
          as she looks through the bay window at the old,
          untouched New York City skyline.

Note: This poem is aiming its guns at the sky
          to shoot down the terrorists and might
          hit God if He let this happen.

Note: This poems is trying to turn
          that blooming of orange and black
          of the impact into nothing
          more than a sudden tiger-lily
          whose petals your mother and father
          could use as parachutes, float down
          to the streets below, a million
          dandelion seeds drifting off
          to the untrafficked sky above them.

Note: This poem is still doing nothing.

Note: Somewhere in this poem there may be people alive,
          and I'm trying like mad to reach them.

Note: I need to get back to writing the poem to reach them
          instead of dwelling on these matter, but how
          can any of us get back to writing poems?

Note: The sound of this poem: the sound
          of a scream in 200 languages
          that outshouts the sounds of sirens and
          airliners and glass shattering and
          concrete crumbling as steel is bending and
          the orchestral tympani of our American hearts
          when the second plane hit.

Note: The sound of a scream in 200 languages
          is the same sound.
          It is the sound of a scream.

Note: In New Jersey over the next four days,
          over thirty people asked me
          if I knew anyone in the catastrophe.

          Yes, I said.
          I knew every single one of them.


This is deceptive poetry of the highest order, rich and full, resplendent and rewarding.  No tricks here, no hidden agenda, these poems come at you straight down the middle of your sensibility and set root.

BJ Ward's poems having been published in Poetry, The American Poetry Review, TriQuarterly, Painted Bride Quarterly, The New York Times, and other publications. He is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and two Distinguished Artist Fellowships from the NJ State Council on the Arts. He teaches in the Creative Writing program at Warren County Community College in New Jersey.

"A new voice: welcome it. BJ Ward's, with a new idiom, new accents, new rhythms. Speaking to and for a new generation.... This is where it's at now, he says, and he's right. Singing and squawking. It's beautiful to hear, encouraging to see."
     —Hayden Carruth, Poet and winner of the National Book Award for Poetry

"In the chaos of my library I have my top book shelf of about thirty books of contemporary poets that I find jump-start me when I have trouble writing. This book is on there. BJ Ward is part of my generation of poets (born in 1965 or after), but he has somehow fallen through the seams. He should be present in the canon-forming anthologies but isn't. This is a shame... The honest and seemingly simple texture and metaphor of his poems offer us much to help us live our lives."
     —Sean Thomas Dougherty, Poet

"In poems that both honor and transcend his blue collar roots, BJ Ward blends poignancy and humor with downright good storytelling, and takes his place among the bright up-and-coming voices of his generation."
     —Stephen Dunn, Poet and winner of the Kinereth Gensler Award

BJ Ward and Joe Weil, Carriage House Poetry


Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Smooth Yarrow - Susan Glickman (Signal Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
The Smooth Yarrow.  Susan Glickman.  Signal Editions.  Vehicule Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2012.

I fall into Susan Glickman's books as easily as into conversation with a dear old friend.  Her voice just sounds so natural to me and I am endlessly curious to see what she wants to talk about next.

You would be hard pressed to find a more natural voice in Canadian poetry and a voice full of such casual authority.

Witches Tit

Not particularly cold, it blushes slightly, a tiny bud
in the shadow of my left breast. You'd think it a freckle
or a mole and not be as far wrong as those who
four hundred years ago
would have burned me alive at the sight of it
after, of course, a significant interval of gratuitous torture
involving spikes being driven into various parts of me
tender anatomy and ending not in confession
but in exhausted and probably unconscious silence.

But who convinced the witch-hunters that evil marks the flesh?
And who was not deformed back then by something or other—
the body a map of disease and malnutrition,
stinking, lice-ridden, with bleeding gums and falling hair,
eyes clouded by cataracts, lids drooping with palsy, limbs trembling with ague,
pocked with sores, tumours, abscesses and ulcers.
Yet they ignored clear evidence of our shared mortality
in their search for one singular blemish, an extra nipple
with which to suckle a satanic familiar.

You'd think that centuries of plot and counterplot would have revealed
that most successful villains are unremarkable, their bodies
as fallible as ours, their faces as plausible, their stories
as full of lamentation and excuse. That the hand of God
if it bothered to write to us at all would surely be less
inscrutable. But no.
The encryption of the universe continues beyond our comprehension
as we study the marginalia on each others' skin
blinkered and enraged, seeking somebody else, anybody else,
to blame.


Glickman has been writing the same solid line since she published her first book of poetry Complicity (Signal Editions, 1983).  Like all of her poems, those in The Smooth Yarrow are so humane and heartfelt and yet there is a tension underlying this naturalness - and it is that tension that makes these poems/stories universal.  Glickman knows what it is that we want to know.


The baby, insatiable, eats you,
your cheek round as a breast
and almost as soft.

He pats it as a baker pats dough—
part scientist, part lover.

The dog licks his ass
and then your face;

nature's egalitarian,
he means it kindly.

Mouth to mouth
we find each others' softest places
and breathe.


Along with those many other traits I've long admired in the poetry of Susan Glickman, there has always been a fine sense of humour.  Humour is far too rare in the world, certainly far too rare in poetry.  With Glickman her wit is never far away from her wisdom.

I have always been partial to poems that are lists and in the following poem Glickman lists a litany of small defeats and fear.  It could be my list - or yours.

Things From Which One Never Recovers

A 42-year-old eardrum burst in sympathy with an infant's infection
the arbitrariness of luck, both good and bad,
sunrise over a field of poppies south of Sparta
the boy in university who said I'm sorry, but I only want to be lonely
the girl on the high school basketball team who said
You have the biggest ass I've ever seen
the taste of cod-liver oil in a spoonful of molasses
administered by a schoolfriend's proper British mother
as a prophylactic against obsolete diseases
giving birth
snorkeling for the first time in tropical waters—
how the fish part impassively to let one through
and carry on, oblivious to their own casual beauty
a contemptuous review that gets everything wrong in elegant language
like a sadist with impeccable manners
the entrenched injustice of the world that renders one's own problems
too trivial to mention
that there are different kinds of shoes for every sport
but only one pair of arthritic feet
Chopin's 24 Preludes, Opus 28
discovering the possibility of a really good wine
having a wild bird eat from your hand
being lied to by your child
seeing your child hurt and being unable to do anything about it
being hurt yourself and being unable to do anything about it


The Smooth Yarrow is Susan Glickman's sixth book of poetry.

Susan Glickman has won both the Gabrielle Roy Prize and the Raymond Klibansky Prize for her work of literary criticism The Picturesque & the Sublime:  A Poetics of the Canadian Landscape.  Her first novel, The Violin Lover, won the Canadian Jewish Book Award for fiction.  She teaches creative writing and is a freelance editor.  She lives in Toronto.

"I gripped by Glickman's clear voice, and her frankness soon earned my trust.  But what wins me is Glickman's ability to tackle big emotions while confronting ambivalences."
     —Sonnet L'Abbe, The Globe and Mail

"Glickman is capable of unpredictable metaphor and those insights toward which every poet strives:  the ones that startle with both truth and originality.
     —The Malahat Review

Susan Glickman reads the poem "In The Garden" from her book The Smooth Yarrow


Friday, June 20, 2014

The Pattern Maker's Daughter - Sandee Gertz Umbach (Bottom Dog Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Pattern Maker's Daughter.  Sandee Gertz Umbach.  Working Lives Series.  Bottom Dog Press.  Huron, Ohio.  2012.

"I am rooted in this Appalachian bedrock."  -  Sandee Gertz Umbach

Sandee Gertz Umback is that gem produced by intense pressure.  These rich, layered and textured poems are fecund with delight and so real you will think you already know these stories.

There is a wide trove of entryways into Appalachian culture, popular movies, photographs, music - Umbach is offering up a young woman's understanding voiced through the mature prism of the grown poet.

Opening this book is breaking soil to find riches.

Jackie in the Dusk

Jackie's tanned legs swing from the banister
of her front porch; the rotten wood,
the clouds of her tobacco smoke
frame her curved hips.

She wears a halter that's been kissed
by Mad Dog lips. She is a place where mother
says not to linger—the Stingrays revving
on her front lawn and the rumbling engines
of Hornerstown boys behind the wheel.

They see me pass, my pale baby fat
just beginning its long pour over
my awkward frame.  They cluck
their tongues and whisper sounds
that mix with the tones of the 8 o'clock
train whistles at the end of the tracks.

I force my legs, leaden, one in front of the other,
nursing my small self-conscious grief
down the street. I hear mother's voice rise
again in my head.

I look back.

But the boys' shadowy faces have turned
again to Jackie and the pounding
bass of her porch speakers.
I see one rough palm take the Marlboro
from her candied mouth,
inhaling his own drag
as the looming night flickers
its ribboning darkness.

What rises tonight on David Street is dust
from sidewalk chalk, siren calls,
and the tile of a German Shepherd's
snout as it howls to the sky.
All around us, the hills hold
onto things we cannot name, the sounds
forming in our throats, little thunders
forming somewhere over their crests,
as the falcon flies out from the flock of
hemlocks into the soaring dusk.

Engines roar the wrong-way down
our one-way street while pious neighbors
jump to their feet. The Stingray spins out
of the summer gravel, Jackie's legs stretched
out and crossed over on the dash.


Umbach is thorough and musical and precise.  These poems resound with the hardscrabble reality of living in a world that is sometimes harsh, but by giving voice to it Umbach also exposes the beauty.

These poems sound conversational yet have all the nuts and bolts necessary to be truly fine poems.

Reading The Pattern Maker's Daughter brings to mind Coal Miner's Daughter, it had to.  And that is not a bad thing.  These poems both slake and provoke curiosity about the hard earth of the middle earth kingdom of the Appalachians, the men and women who go beneath it to find the future, and Umbach doesn't slip up once.  Her lens is clear, focused.

Part of this Earth

I am rooted in this Appalachian bedrock,
a sliver of the earth's volcanic events.
Ancient as Africa, shiny as new slag scraped
from our hillsides, high as the Rockies
that walled us in, (our lilting speech, our bent
shoulders and inhibitions)
as it stretched in infancy
from Mexico to Newfoundland.

Digging in childhood holes, I see
roses grown from thin patches,
seed scattered over the cracked
alley-yards, school children picking
at slim violets.  Just under this surface,
I am half Piedmont; (half-woman,
half informed of my senses, traffic laws,
library etiquette); my eons keep eroding.

My origins are here (the part in my scalp,
spaces between teeth, soft bones)
in impressions on sedimentary rocks.
They speak from layers within layers, seek
the bottom of deep oceans, travel
in shallow seas, over the history of ancient beaches,
river valleys where I'm polished an rubbed.

I am shale, common and conglomerate,
(the dirty inside of a purse, caked over lipstick
torn receipts and dried gum) skeletons
of organisms drifting.  I am rapidly moving streams.
Carbon rich, organic, coal, compressed.

I am evolving,
           changing, volcanic.
(standing up straight, learning to walk
across a room, raising my eyes from the floor)
I form a thick sequence, I stack myself
eight miles high, I am a prize
for geologists.

Under great heat, violent
under pressure, I am shale changed
to slate into schist. Settling into dirt,
I am shaking the hand of who I am
becoming, I am sitting on top
of a trembling earth.


The Pattern Maker's Daughter is, admittedly, right up my line.  I love poems that tell stories.  Sandee Gertz Umbach throws her encyclopedic knowledge of seeming everything into these poems and gives us perfect little movies.  These poems resonate because they sound/are so real.  We feel these experiences as though they were our own — and that is because Umbach, like all those miners, isn't afraid to go those dark places beneath the surface where the riches and the future live.

The Pattern Maker's Daughter

"Students of Appalachian (geological) patterns have long puzzled over why some of the main streams of the region depart now and then from the path of least resistance..."
                                           From A Geography of Pennsylvania

When you were born, father, and now
when you close your eyes to dream, it's the same
patterns blinking and repeating inside you,
steady as your infant first beats that tapped out
a precise rhythm, predictable as the projects
that came across your shop desk in the mill.

Beneath my shuttered eyelids, I've told you what I see—
the splits of our region's chaotic hills and streams—
our city's glittering dust particles breaking
from bedrock into the haphazard lines of my EEG—
the ones you willed to be more measured
as you sat amidst the bustle of Neurology waiting rooms.

We carry these innate flickerings, flashings
developed in our interior worlds, mine pulsing
like strobe patterns found in our ancient strata,
yours smooth as the flat rock at the bottom
of the Little Conemaugh—both of us shaped
by the igneous outcroppings penetrating our soft shale.

When my child was one day old we slept chest to chest
and I dream I was him. It was all I could do to pry
myself from that prism of color, shape, and constant
beat. I woke jolted and eyes open to the poor
beige of the room, the solid gray sheets.

Your patterns are worn into the grids of streets which
you walk each day, while I soar above the childhood alleys
I see when making love.  I hover over the roof
of the vacuum repair shop, while underneath this city
lie the old tectonic forces, anxious and dendritic
—the random points I connect in poems that tie me to this earth.

Today when you sleep, you say you see the wood patterns
created in the shops of Bethlehem Steel, the racing algebra
of exacting molds—etched numerals you branded
into each piece with metal, and the countless 5 A.M.
eggs in a cup mother placed for you on the Formica table.

For me it's the intricate patterns of stream beds winding
across the black milk of my tedious slumber—tiny looping
lines that cross the topographic maps of Johnstown—
like the inking of electrodes I produced on paper.
They call to me from their brilliant beginnings—the Appalachian Plateau
I stretch in my dreams to meet—the orogeny of the Chestnut
and Laurel Mountains—howling and breaking off
as I twist and follow their endless, erratic passageways
beckoning and born from its ridges.


Today's book of poetry LOVED this book.

Sandee Gertz Umbach was born in Pennsylvania.  The author is a Commonwealth Speaker with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council.  She has a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from  the Wilkes University Low-Residency Program.  She lives in Elmira, New York.

"On our life journey, there's a struggle to move forward and travel back, an ache we can almost name. Sandee Gertz Umbach throws a rope to the past, rescues her people from their floods and hungers, as her words create "golden spells of light."  Luminous as any porch light, she hands us true and tender poems."
     —Jeanne Bryner, Eclipse: Stories

"Sandee Gertz Umbach's The Pattern Maker's Daughter is a remarkable debut collections full of honesty, wisdom and heart.  Like a fine photographer she has empathy for her subjects, an eye for the telling detail, and a commitment to the truth.  She brings this community to life from an insider's perspective—these are her people, though the love she brings to these poems never slides into sentimentality or idealizing—they never lose the necessary grit.  In these finely wrought poems, danger and trauma exist in the landscape, in the homes, and in the very bodies of her characters.  These are simply the stories we tell each other to stay alive."
     —Jim Daniels, author of Having a Little Talk with Capital P Poetry


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Distillo - Basma Kavanagh (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Distillo.  Basma Kavanagh.  Gaspereau Press.  Kentville, NS.  2012.


Rain making rain
making rivers idle into quiet inlets,
making mists rise above great tides,
making dense forests soar from thin soil,
making shade, making coolness, making breezes
making moisture seep from a million transpiring green things;
making humidity, making water coalesce and drip down leaves,
making winds that shake free the drops,
making snags that reach the sky
and pierce the ready clouds;
rain making rain,
making rain.


Basma Kavanagh's rich and textured treatise on rain and the many ways it can fall is remarkably capped by the poem "Rain-making", a poem completely atypical in style and form from all those that proceeded it in the first section, of four, in this delightful collection.

Kavanagh's highly precise and delicately nuanced catalogue of the types of rain that fall is a lyrical treat.  Read these poems out loud and let them fall off of your tongue while the rain slakes whatever thirst you might have.

Kavanagh has an excellent concrete poem called "Gift" which I was unable to reproduce for Today's book of Poetry.   It's not often I'm taken with a concrete poem.  This one in particular brought to mind the fishing lure paintings of the late Dennis Tourbin.  

Distillo is all about the essence of things, the distilled essence.


Not knowing the boundaries
of a form, but bit by bit,
moving over and into
an expanding space, with a tool,
with a fingertip, with the heart.

Sensing; yielding,
or gently pushing
until a shape is found—
not only know, but felt,

embossed          embodied

the lilt of it, limits
synonymous with the thing


Kavanagh has a light touch and uses a broad canvas.  She is engaged in the natural world and these poems show both intellectual and poetic vigor.  More importantly — they are entertaining, engaging and illuminating.  Distillo is one of those books you want to return to.  Kavanagh's poems, strong enough on first reading, resonate with each return.

Hummingbird Wife

When light rains come, and brush
salmonberry bushes silver, inviting
crushed pink petals out to touch
cool spring air, when first sun

sips water from ditches, colouring
curving fruits, blushing greenish drupels;
when a slight breeze ruffles rusty alder catkins,
dusting earth with pollen, when your people

return from their gruelling journey,
arriving weathered, aching, jubilant—fling
your glittering feather cloak about your shoulders,
clasp it tightly below your chin, pin it

with the gleaming abalone brooch, and fly
to the handsome Sitka spruce you chose,
the strong one, festooned with old man's beard
and witches' hair swaying in the wind. Take

the eagle-down, spider-silks, fireweed fluff,
fibrous lichens you have gathered, work
some flecks of moss and bark with those fine threads,
ready the nest-knot for your hummingbird wife, and then

wait there with your beak-cup full of nectar,
to pour into her longing, lovely throat.


Gaspereau Press continue to produce books that are the envy of every other small press in our country.  Distillo is no exception.  Simply beautiful books.  And with Distillo, Basma Kavanagh has done Gaspereau proud.  Content = Design.

Basma Kavanagh is a painter, poet and letterpress printer living in Kentville, Nova Scotia.  She produces artist's books under the imprint Rabbit Square Books.  Her chapbook, A Rattle of Leaves, was published in 2012 by Red Dragonfly Press, Minnesota.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

What The Badger Said - Tom Cull (Baseline Press)

Today's book of poetry:
What The Badger Saw.  Tom Cull.  Baseline Press.  London, Ontario.  2013.

Karen Schindler is a small press Goddess and don't you forget it.  Baseline Press continues to produce not only books of unsurpassed beauty — Schindler keeps finding voices worth listening to, vibrant, articulate voices with unbridled potential.

Tom Cull isn't the first Baseline Press author to wow this reader and I hope he won't be the last.  What The Badger Saw is Cull's first book but these are seasoned poems.

Spring Brood

The cowbirds and grackles are back.
Iridescent blue in the sun,
their calls blat the belligerent optimism
of a throttled reed instrument.

There is something I quite like
about these birds.
My dad thought them ugly
and mean.
They bullied smaller birds
at the feeders—gentle wrens,
jaunty finches, charming tits.

The Brown-headed Cowbird gave
particular offense.
"Brood parasitic," it lays
its eggs in other birds' nests—
abandoning its charge
to unsuspecting foster parents
who incubate an impostor chick
that hatches early, grows quickly,
then murders its half-starved siblings
with mandible hook.

A proponent of unnatural selection
my dad could, at times, be found
wandering our property—eyes trained
on the trees, stepladder in one hand,
twelve gauge shot-gun in the other.
Finding a grackle nest, he'd climb
his ladder and perch precariously
on the last "not a step."
Placing the barrel of the gun directly
under the grassy basket, he'd fire.
I snapped a photo once.
Memento mori.

The point-blank range and bird-shot shells
ensured there was nothing
to clean up—not a baby beak,
not a glassy eye.
The next simply ceased.
I imagined the split second the cloud
of BB shots tore the nest into cubist
confusion, before all was pulverized
to dust.
I complained once, "You can't
decide which birds live and which
birds die."
Pushing his red cap up on his forehead
Dad paused, reloading,
"Yes, I can."

Above me now, three male cardinals
triangulate in a tree. Unmoved
by the beaky grackles mudding about below,
they watch a female in the bush—
catholic in their intentions.
It is too early for the orioles but they too
will soon appear and build
their pendulous houses in the maple
branches. Easy to love, these birds.
They flit like paintbrushes, pose
for photos, quicken spring's spring.
How must it have been for the baby
cowbirds growing up in such happy families?
I can't imagine.

I sometimes think of turning my dad's twelve gauge
on a nest of novice robins, fledgling
tanagers, baby buntings.
I think, "I will strike balance
across generations.
I will make things right."
Of course I don't;
I might, after all,
need a place
to drop


Tom Cull has the Mark Twang story-teller in him.  These all too few narrative poems are page turning marvels.  You really can't wait to hear what Cull is going to say next.

Choosing The Animal Laureate

The Manatee is smug.
Standing at the lectern, book in flipper,
"Is it hot in here or is just me?" he asks,
turning nonchalantly to hang his suit jacket on the chair,
revealing as he does the propeller-shaped scar that runs
the length of his back. Please.

Panda refuses. She cannot bear it—
reading to a room of jaw-clenched heavy petters
snapping photos for Facebook updates,
voices in their cute-addled brains screaming,
"Widdle furry buddy is weading a poem. Yes she is.
YES. she. IS!"

The Blue Whales sent a wire. "All is lost" stop.
"In translation" stop. "Including this" stop.

The Donkeys renewed with Babstock.
Foxes? Signed with Hughes.
The Fish are mired in modernism.
House Cats are busy with the internet.

The Squirrel—too anecdotal.
Rabbit claims he is "post rabbit."
Skunk—too confessional.
The Hummingbird is a drunk.

Corporate Cattle are doping,
Organic Cattle are dying of happiness.

Apes can't get funding.

I won't tell you what the Badger said.
(He said, "Go fuck yourself.")

My good people,
it is the West African Lion we want—
the one from the Zanesville Zoo
who, along with
       seventeen fellow lions,
       two Grey Wolves,
       six Black Bears,
       two Grizzly Bears,
       one Baboon,
       three Mountain Lions,
       and eighteen Bengal Tigers,
was hunted down and killed
by the Ohio state police after the zoo-keep
freed his animals from their cages, this
just moments before he choose a gun
from his other prized collection
and shot himself dead.

Flown in from the Columbus Zoo,
Jack Hanna reported,

"It's like Noah's ark wrecking right here
in Zanesville, Ohio."

Our Lion laureate was the only animal
they tried to tranquilize.
He faltered momentarily as the drugs
hit home, but rallied and charged the vet
as bullets cut through his pelt.

Imagine him now, where I stand,
wearing Ray-Ban aviators,
picking his teeth with a sheriff's badge.
"Call me Mustafa," he says with a straight face.
He reads a villanelle, a few quiet haikus.

Taking questions about his poetic influences,
he quotes Breton— "The purest surrealist act
is walking into a crowd with a loaded gun
and firing into it randomly."

And Artaud—"Without an element of cruelty
at the root of every spectacle,
the theater is not possible.
In our present state of degeneration,
it is through the skin that metaphysics must be made
to re-enter our minds."

He cites the Dada Manifesto—
"I let the vowels fool around, I let the vowels
quite simply occur, as a cat meows..."

"I'm afraid our time is almost up," he says,
his r's beginning to roll, soft and deep.
"Before you go I'll share a sound
poem I've been working on."

He treads quietly to the back of the room.
"It's called, Feeding Time at the Zoo.
A collaborative poem," he says
as he bolts the door,


Last year I was privileged to read Suzannah Showler's most excellent chapbook,  Sucks To Be You, from Bardia Sinee's Odourless Press.  This year ECW published her first trade book, Failure to Thrive.  Fully realized, completely lovely book.  I expect no less from Tom Cull in the near future.

Tom Cull - London Poetry Open Mic Night - June 4, 2014

Tom Cull lives in London, Ontario, where he teaches, writes, and roams the Thames River.  He has Ph.D. in English Literature and has taught at Western University and Fanshawe College.  Tom is a workshop facilitator for the Poetry London Reading Series and has served as a judge for Poetry in Voice, the Poynt Award in Poetry, and Western University's USC Poetry Slam.  His poems has appeared on LTC buses and in newspapers, but are more regularly found in the inboxes of patient and gracious friends.  This is his first published collection of poems.


Friday, June 13, 2014

The Port Inventory - Donald McGrath (Cormorant Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Port Inventory.  Donald McGrath.  Cormorant Books.  Markham, Ontario.  2012.

Not sure what Donald McGrath was up to for the last twenty-two years.  His first book, At First Light, was a killer.  Nothing new here, I mean the poems are all very fine, McGrath is still a killer. Stone cold good poet.

Donald McGrath is simply heroic.  Not jumping into a burning building to save babies heroic, although I'm sure he'd rise to that occasion, but poet heroic.  These poems are broader than the pages they're written on and deeper than that blue, blue sea that surrounds the Newfoundland of McGrath's memory.


The faint arcs of other children's voices, the clop-clop of hooves,
the squeaks of a dray.
And the shadow of the hay load on the curtains
thickening the dusk where you lie, feverishly lucid.

Outside, all in light, others are going swimming by the flats
or upriver, by the falls.
They toe their way sideways on railings
flush with the frayed edges of green islands.
They dabble the soft mud along the perimeters,
warm mulch squeezing through toes.

Popsicle proselytizers, vendors of frothy bread,
salesmen dispensing fountain pens and pennants
turn off tarry roads, their tires crackling the gravel of corner store yards.

A buzz in the room — is it a fly? Or the saw
in the mill down by the beach? The mill
with its spongy caramel pyramids
and its pallid logs grieving in the gloom.

Foam slides out over a glistening expanse of black sand inscribed with the
     hieroglyphics of pipers and terns.

Shreds of sky and cloud lie snagged on jagged rocks in tidal pools
where bubble rosaries rise.

In high meadows, boys and girls walk in loose rows
turning over hay with pitchforks.
One boy has driven his into the earth and stands there,
chin upon the red-speckled shaft,
daydreaming about the ancient Assyrians.

Women with mops, bright plastic buckets and field flowers
stroll up the lane to the white clapboard church
with its green wooden cupola.

Old men in shiny-ass dress pants and tobacco-stained cardigans
sit smoking pipes on a mound
with a fine view of three bridges and a post office.

A first skiff appears on the bay, hieratic in its halo of gulls.


This is poetry that makes you want to listen harder.  The Port Inventory washes over the reader with wave after wave of masterful story telling that is both ornate and sublime.

And McGrath has a great sense of humor.

Cod Marbles

We'd use our pocket knives to sever
the eyes from their connective string,
angling the gurried blades to prise them
from their sorry sockets.
Our mother plopped them
on a cookie sheet and slid it
into the oven, taking care
to separate them so they wouldn't stick.
They emerged a cloudy grey, their glassy lustre
cooked to a Point Lance fog.
If we were lucky, we might
cajole them to roll an inch or more
until they stuck, glutinous, to the floor,
staring blindly up like Paul,
dead to Damascus.


These poems sound as though Alistair MacLeod combed them with his meticulous pen, constantly nodding to himself in approval.

But you'd be wrong to think The Port Inventory stops at the shores of the Rock.  McGrath has a range far broader than an island or a country.  This voice gives meaning to the world at large as it travels through it.


At the Rudas Baths, in the dim light
a strange lugubrious language issued
from pale blotches bobbing above the water:
Mit-tel Eur-opa  Mel-an-cho-lee-ah.

At the Gellert Hotel
a hussar with a handlebar moustache
slapped me pink then hosed me down
on a gun-metal table.

In the Church of Saint Istvan
I dropped a coin into a slot:
a light flicked on inside a glass box.
I had two minutes to take in
the withered tuber of the saint's hand.

In the National Gallery, Sandor Petofi,
the poet who started a revolution
not of the word but of the gun,
rested after battle, smoking.

He was painted, I think, by Munkascy,
who, when he lived in Paris,
was so well known that all you had to do
was write "Munkascy, Paris" on your envelope.
He was given a state funeral, like Victor Hugo.

A young woman in a low-cut gown, hair up,
seconded by a scrubbed youth, approached
our table and from a drawstring sack
produced a pack of Hugo Boss cigarettes.

She offered an exchange: ours for these
and if we liked the, perhaps we all could go
someplace and play blackjack.

We took coffee in the Hotel Astoria,
formerly favoured by the Nazis
because of its elegance and because
it was close to work, near the Ghetto.

Its facade was held up
by wooden scaffolding. In 1956,
a Russian tank
had made a beeline for the tea room.


These poems are rich and full bodied.  This is a feast of poetry when many are only offering snacks.

Donald McGrath grew up in a fishing village on the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland and moved away from the island at the age of nineteen to study art at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. He has been a longshoreman, factory worker and waiter, and currently works as a translator in Montreal, where he has lived for the past twenty-five years. He has published in periodicals and reviews in Canada, Australia and the UK, and is the author of one previous poetry collection, At First Light (1995).

BLURBS for At First Light
"Donald McGrath's work manages to embody invisible things like faith, curiosity, and longing. And he does it with such imaginative panache that even the darkest poems are a delight to read. His childhood adventures in Newfoundland are enthralling: mystery and absurdity explored with the zeal of a saint."
     —Barry Dempster

"McGrath's poems about his Catholic childhood in Newfoundland have the immediacy of 'holy water sprinkled on a stove', 'hissing and sputtering devilishly' with a whimsical, irreverent lyrical voice. His comical, ironic turns of phrase and his real insight into the people and world of his youth combine to make a vibrant, lively local clime for his poetry, and our pleasure."
     —Ted Plantos

"His use of both the conversational and ritual talk of outport Newfoundland expands my understanding of the Canadian language. McGrath's way of telling enlivens the tale. Often these poems borrow the beauty and sensibility of the riddle. They achieve their most vivid effect after they conclude."
     —Richard Harrison

No video available.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

On the Flyleaf - Herbert Woodward Martin (Harmony Series/Bottom Dog Press)

Today's book of poetry:
On the Flyleaf.  Herbert Woodward Martin.  Harmony Series/Bottom Dog Press.  Huron, Ohio.  2013.

Herbert Woodward Martin is a poet and acclaimed academic, On the Flyleaf is Mr. Martin's ninth book of poems.

On the Flyleaf is made up of poems written in response to poems by others and I thought it might be instructive to take a look at the list of works that offer Martin his springboard.  The following is the list of poems/authors/books that Martin uses in this excellent collection.

Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth  -  Alice Walker                         
Alliance, Illinois  -  Dave Etter
Angle of Ascent  -  Robert Hayden
The Answers Are Inside the Mountains  -  William Stafford
April Galleons  -  John Ashberry
Atlantis  -  Mark Doty
Autobiographies  -  Alfred Corn
Blacker the Berry  -  Wallace Thurman
The Bluest Eye  -  Toni Morrison
Blessing the Boats  -  Lucille Clifton
The Book of Light  -  Lucille Clifton
Brutus's Orchard  -  Roy Fuller
By the Light of My Father's Smile -  Alice Walker
Carnival Evenings  -  Linda Pastan
Cold Comfort  -  Wanda Coleman
Collected Poems  -  James Wright
Crow  -  Ted Hughes
The Errancy  -  Jorie Graham
Everyday and Prophetic  -  Nick Halpern
Fate  -  Ai
Firekeeper  -  Patti Ann Rodgers
The Flashpoint  -  Jane Cooper
50 Contemporary Poets  -  Alberta Turner
From A Person Sitting In Darkness  -  Gerald Barrax
The Gospel of Barbeque   -  Honoree Fanonne Jeffers
Homage to Mistress Bradstreet   -  John Berryman
Hunger  -  Lucie Brock-Broido
Hush  -  David St. John
In Mad Love and War  -  Joy Harjo
The Invention of Zero  -  Richard Kenney
The Last Lecture  -  Randy Pausch
The Last Uncle  -  Linda Passan
Leaves of Hypnos   -  Rene Char
The Lives of The Heart  -  Jane Hirshfield
Looking For Luck  -  Maxine Kumin
The Man of Letters  -  William H. Pritchard 
The Master Letters  -  Lucie Brock-Broido
My Mother's Body   -  Marge Piercy
New and Selected Poems  -  Donald Justice
90 Miles   -  Virgil Suarez
No Other World   -  Robert E. McDonough
Notes From The Divided Country  -  Suji Kwock Kim
The October Palace  -  Jane Hirshfield
Opened Ground  -  Seamus Heaney
Plenty  -  David Hare
Poems 1957-1967  -  James Dickey
Poems 1965-1975  -  Seamus Heaney  
Poems 1968-1999  -  Paul Muldoon
Poetry: A Pocket Anthology  -  R.S. Gwynn
Rain   -  William Carpenter
Roots and Branches   -  Robert Duncan
Rough Music  -  Deborah Diggs
Routines  -  Robert Duncan
Saints of South Dakota   -  Katherine Whitcomb
Selected Poems   -  W.S. Merwin
Selected Poems   -  James Tate
Selected Poems   -  C.K. Williams
Shadow Train  -  John Asberry
The Silent Singer   -  Len Roberts
Small Congregations   -  Thylias Moss
Split Horizon   -  Thomas Lux
Steal the Bacon   -  Charles Martin
The Subterraneans  -  Jack Kerouc
Swan's Island  -  Elizabeth Spires
These Days  -  Frederick Seidel
This Body Is Made of Camphor and Gopherwood  -  Robert Bly
This Time   -  Gerald Stern
To The Lighthouse   -  Virginia Woolf
To Urania   -  Joseph Brodsky
Two by Two  -  Denise Duhamel
The Vigil  -  C.K. Williams

The poems in Martin's On The Flyleaf are the poems written in response to these collections, presumably on the flyleafs.

An exercise like this requires that the reader be familiar with a wide body of work that he or she may not have encountered — Martin solves that dilemma with thoroughly illuminated poems that stand on their own merit.  

On the Flyleaf of April Galleons

The terror in my heart is like a Russian schoolyard.
Grief is a part of the song the Russian mothers sing.
A black mother, a continent away, says:
Our children are supposed to bury us;
what is it that forces us to lay them in the earth?
I hear the blood as it thunders in my ears;
it drowns the words of powerful men who tell us lies.
We now in our skeletons that they cannot be trusted.
I shall gather up all my black dignity
along with all of my reserve and resolve,
and strut carefully, head erect, eye forward
looking squarely at that bier:
which contains what once was promise,
which was cheered at birth and now we mourn,
which demands we understand our faulty grief.


These poems have a clear, clean, crisp voice.  They do not fuss, but move forward sharply, with great purpose.  You don't have to know John Ashberry's poem to admire Martin's.

On the flyleaf of Atlantis 1

A Yellow Jacket skirts the dangerous rim of a cup of hot tea.
He, no doubt, is aware of his hypnotic reflection, and like
Narcissus before him falls in love with his hopeless image.
He does not recognize his face; he is intrigued beyond
ordinary investigation. The steam of water anticipates a
dizzying and untimely death, a casting off of skin and tea.
It is the image that invites one toward the havoc of a kiss,
and no matter how blissful the embrace, death ends in
paradise. A similar death has occurred with a Humming Bird
feeder, when no hand was able to reach the excess of this
accidental fatality. So the body of one bee floats as if it were
preserved in amber. The yellow and black dazzles in sweetened
formaldehyde, although I am told that pure water will begin the
arduous task of peeling away the body, layer by layer, as if it were 
an onion ready to reveal its marvelous inner secret of making tears.


Mark Doty must be tickled pink.  Certainly the Gods of poetry are dancing at every turn of the page.

I would have comfortably picked any poem from the collection for this blog.  On the Flyleaf exudes excellence.  You want to show someone how to write fine poems — make them read this book, regularly.

Hebert Woodward Martin writes with an honesty and certainty that leave me breathless.

This isn't an academic exercise in any way but a call and response to many of the great voices of our time by a poet who frankly is their equal.  It is marvelous dancing, a sparring duet of eloquence and we get to hear the song.  I love these poems

On the Flyleaf of The Subterraneans III

In Birmingham,
in the forties, the old women swept
their front porches, then swept
the yard of unnecessary debris.
They must have felt they had to keep
everything clean, even though they did
not possess the accurate implements
to work with, their cleaning was executed
with the fervor of the religious, and the prayer
and the song of the devout. In this way they kept
the dignity of their neighborhoods stable and radiant.


I would highly recommend this book to anyone, everyone, any day, everyday.  Herbert Woodward Martin is my new favourite poet.

Herbert Woodward Martin (video courtesy of UDstories)

Herbert Woodward Martin was Professor of English and Poet-In-Residence at The University of Dayton for more than three decades where he taught Creative Writing and African American Literature. He is the author of eight previous volumes of poetry.  He has devoted an equal number of decades to editing and giving performances of the works of the Dayton poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar.  For is scholarly work Martin has been awarded four Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.  Martin is noted for his wide range of interests in music and art.  He has closely collaborated with a number of American composers among whom are: Joseph Fennimore, Adolphus Hailstork and Philip Carl Magnuson.  He has written texts and librettos for two operas, one cantata and one Magnificat.  A significant number of his poems have been set to music as well.  He is the recipient of The Ohio Governor's Award.  Most recently Martin has found himself a narrator for a number of symphonic works including a new recording of William Grant Still's Symphony #1 The Afro-American with The Dayton Philharmonic Symphony as well as Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait.

"The ingenious conversational mode of On the Flyleaf yields many variations of style and mood, yet Herb Martin's wit and wonder shine through them all.  Martin is as generous as any poet I know, and this book is exacting, troubling, and exhilarating in its tracings of the human predicaments that force us to "believe in the catastrophe of love."
     —Jeff Gundy, author of Spoken Among the Trees

"It isn't easy to write with a gentle voice that's also stiletto sharp, but Herb Martin has done it.  He is a national treasure.  On the Flyleaf is filled with gems, one you'll want to share with loved ones."
     —Ralph Keyes, author of The Courage to Write

"The poems gathered in On the Flyleaf reprise the individual books with Herb Martin gathers in his arms at bedtime.  Filling the initial "page left empty," these well-distilled, historical, and personal meditations and their anecdotal responses map Martin's reading, expand his dignified grasp of an often grave world, and quietly reprise the muted echoes and salvage of memory, affirming the poets and writers who nightly compose his dreams."
     —Joel Lipman, Emeritus Professor of English, University of Toledo & Lucas County Poet Laureate


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Galaxy - Rachel Thompson (Anvil Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Galaxy.  Rachel Thompson.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver, BC.  2011.

Rachel Thompson channels Margaret Laurence's idea of "emotional biography", as the back cover of this Anvil Press title would tell us, she chooses to "tell it slant" as Emily Dickinson might implore.

Telling the truth isn't always about getting the facts right.

Ms. Thompson gets the emotional centre right, dead on in fact.  These poems avoid the screaming siren of the gender wars and get on about their business.  Thompson's Galaxy is familiar territory emotionally, it is wonderfully authentic poetry.


Your kiss hello is a bee sting.
Both of us would rather you hit me
to complete the violence
of your gesture.

An elbow grazes my face—
sharp lurch—
during the ride from the airport
as you change the station.

We prepare chickpea curry
with your favourite daughter.
You eye the sharp knives
just behind me.

You hate the taste of coriander
so we have it on a side dish.

My jaw held tight
in light conversation,
I sprinkle the smooth leaves
over my plate.

Down they float like maple keys
we once called helicopter
delicately stick
to the steaming food.


I feel compelled to address the "queer" content of these poems. I guess there is some gender stuff happening in these poems and of course it's important, but I would argue it is quite secondary to the poetry.  This is fine poetry with gender content, not a polemic dressed up as poetry.

Good poems, the best poems, don't worry about anything, they just tell their story.

Galaxy, which won the national First Book Competition sponsored by the Writer's Studio at Simon Fraser University, tells us fine stories about love, loss, family, sexuality and twin beds in Prague.

In Prague After the Iron Curtain Has Fallen

The printed sheets paint the twin beds
a vulgar swirl of colour,
the only brightness
in this hostel-cum-dorm.

The dullbrown radiobox
stern on the wall
matches the furnishings.

We take turns barking soviet dictates,
giggling, pretending
our rasped orders are crackling
from the carpeted speakers,
imagining a burly comrade
in beige skirt suit
listening in
as we push together
two wobbly beds.

I stretch over you
and wham!
we connect
I reach one arm up
to switch off the bright bulb
that bears down on us
plunge my other arm
into the right mattress
beneath you.

Your voice
is reckless
as you move your hips
in a revolution
that bangs the cheap
bed frame bang bang
bang against the wall.

into the rough pillowcase
I muffle my manifesto.


Rachel Thompson has all of the things I most like in poetry - the good story, passion, humour and the ability to laugh at oneself.

The reader never has to see from the same eyes as the poet to recognize a true landscape.  The emotional terrain Thompson climbs all over is familiar to all of us, that she has broadened that horizon can only be a good thing.


If I were to write to persuade you of anything
first I would need to pull apart the night-sky curtain
of years so we could step gently over the ledge
as from a shower, careful not to slip on the braided
mat, holding our towels tight and tiptoeing across
the cold floor. The steam drifting like stardust in the room
would somehow show us outside of time,
in a changing room of sorts. At the mirror, overhead
lights would burn off the mist like suns and I would use
my free hand to caress your face with soft cotton and white
cream. The fans of mascara under each eye would slip off
to reveal every spot on the speckled solar system of your cheek.
A string of tangles, your hair would wave down your back,
eclipsing its curve. If I were writing so, I would mention
the tips of your nipples, the soft hairs around your areola
like the path of a satellite orbiting our planet,
the chasm of scar that starts at the crater of your belly button
and ends below. If I were to write you, it would be crouched
at your feet, making words with water on the black stone floor.


Today's book of poetry apologizes for being unable to find video of Rachel Thompson.

Rachel Thompson grew up in Dauphin, Manitoba, located at the foot of Riding Mountain National Park, aka the Galloping Goose of Margaret Laurence's books. She went to the University of Winnipeg, majoring in English and International Development Studies. After moving to Vancouver in the early 2000's, she took part in the award-winning Writer's Studio program at Simon Fraser University. She completed Galaxy at the Banff Centre's Wired Writing Studio program. Her poetry has appeared in journals in Canada and abroad.

"A truly wonderful collection of poems. Wonderful and clear imagery as well as a "real" and "true" sense of place, love, longing, family, and the constant struggle and re-negotiation of self and experience.  Galaxy possesses a simple but sensual approach to language and tone."
     —Gregory Scofield, author of kipocihkan: Poems New and Selected


Friday, June 6, 2014

Perfection - Patrick Warner (Icehouse Poetry/Goose Lane Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Perfection.  Patrick Warner.  Icehouse Poetry.  Goose Lane Editions.  Fredericton, NB.  2012.


it began when I hit the snooze and slept in late,
           got worse when I perched on the edge of the bed
and in one fluid motion attempted to pull
           my still fastened shirt down over my head.

It was that kind of morning, a broken button
           I had once thought neat as a crescent moon
lodged with force on the bridge of my nose
           and cut into my flesh, a sickle. Blood trickled,

dripped from my nose to my lip to my lap,
          thereby waking a sleeper cell
in the form of a newly cut key which the guy
          at the key shop hadn't properly sanded.

In no time at all it turned into a breadknife,
          quietly sawing a hole in my pocket,
unbeknownst to me until the moment I reached
          for the gas pump and felt the spill

of coins down my leg. One lodged in my shoe.
          while several more scattered out in the slush
where they seemed to refresh themselves,
           turned silvery in the pavement's salted wet.

Like sparrows around a heated bird bath
           those coins seemed—if I can say such a thing—
to be enjoying themselves, seemed to be saying
           that every cloud has a nickel-alloy lining.

They said ignore the fact that bad things
           always happen in threes. Look up, they said,
and there above the park I saw a falcate moon,
           and felt again the pull of mysterious forces,

the magnetic coming together of pieces
           in a meaningful way—Professor,
let me explain: it's where the rule of three
           meets Murphy's law, it's the moment when

the number of things the average mind can recall
           is exceeded by one, but the spirit drawing
on unstable power—not Strong-Cobb units of forces,
           but Olivia Newton Joules of laughter—

invents an on-the-spot order. And so it was
           I took in the grin of that cracked -Aspirin moon
aligned above the bust of Winston Churchill,
           an unusual bust sawn off at the nipples,

and placed on a chest-high plinth in the
           eponymous park in such a way
that it looks as though he has stepped behind
           that polished granite block to take a piss,

his bulldog scowl revealing not only is
           bloody-mindedness but perhaps a waxing trouble
with his flow, much like that pump clocking
           five cents at a time in the early morning ten below.


Patrick Warner eases through the misery of the mundane we all endure as humans.  Sure, pathos and those other Mousekateers show up, but these tongues are looking for cheek.  Perfection is a hearty breath of grit.

The Therapist

In just five minutes she gave us our narratives:
you were the smoother-over, the peacemaker,
while I was the perfectionist, and together
we had passed these traits to our daughter,
given her food for her eating disorder.

"Do you want to be right or be happy?"
she asked. "That's too simple," I said,
"it doesn't need to be one or the other.
I feel happy when I'm right and right
when I'm happy. They can go together."

In just five minutes she gave us our narratives:
you were the smoother-over, the peacemaker,
while I was the perfectionist, and together
we had passed these traits to our daughter,
given her food for her eating disorder.

This was the pattern to be broken,
the second nature that usurped our natures,
but only if we admitted the problem:
that was fifty percent of the cure, the rest
would come from time in her care.

"Do you want to be right or be happy?"
Who doesn't want to be happy all the time?
Who doesn't want to believe in that fable?
She said she could fit us with flexible tools,
I thought about hardware. We nodded like fools.

In just five minutes she gave us our narratives:
you were the smoother-over, the peacemaker,
while I was the perfectionist, and together
we had passed these traits to our daughter,
given her food for her eating disorder.

She told us we each had the power to choose
not to let others take over our lives,
then she covered herself by means of disclosure:
"I myself was something of a perfectionist.
I myself was the great smoother-over."

This was the pattern to be broken,
the second nature that usurped our natures,
but only if we admitted the problem.
She showed us the root and solution.
I squirmed in my seat, a retrograde symptom.

"Imagine you're old," she said, "at sixty-five.
What then will you think about having been angry
for the best years of your children's lives?"
I nodded my head while plotting murder,
"I'll do anything," I said, "to help my daughter."


Warner doesn't make it easy for the reader.  This is romp amok poetry.  There is no line Warner won't jump into, onto, over and out.  Warner is riffing redolent and with a roue's regard.  This is fun, articulate stuff.

Patrick Warner's "Valentine's Day" poem is the best take on chocolates and hearts since Tom Waits plowed that field blue.

These poems prod like a finger poked in the chest of the reader.  Warner likes to play but he is a pragmatic grump and he never lets play get in the way of a harder lesson.  

The Owl

The vole's pink foot clattering through dark
sends decibels binging off the owl's disc face
to root in her tufted ears.

Her oscillating head's a radar beam
covering three quarters of the pie.

This owl's crepuscular. Her cryptic
plumage blends with dusk. Her serrated
flight feathers muffle wing beats.

There's nothing there but disturbed air.

Another poem for the great philosopher
who will eat three thousand in a season.

Leave behind a grey-brown pellet,
a fur and bone scroll for school kids.


These poems worked for me.  Warner's poems are rooted to an oral tradition that splashes words against the rocks of reason just to watch the rainbow in the mist and spray.

Patrick Warner is the author of three collections of poetry: All Manner of Misunderstanding; There, there, and Mole.  His work has appeared in numerous magazines and journals, and he has twice won the E.J. Pratt Poetry Prize.  Born in Claremorris, County Mayo, Ireland, Patrick Warner immigrated to Canada in 1980 and since then has lived mostly in St. John's, Newfoundland.

"Warner's poems can be comical, tender, brutal...they are always enlightening in their implied connections, sublime in their musical inventiveness."
—Sunday Independent

"And there you have it: Warner's gift for casting a spell with the sure-wristedness of an experienced fisherman."
—Ruth Roach Pierson, author of Aide-Memoire and Contrary

"A complex poet, capable of seriousness and thought as well as whimsy and play."
—PN Review