Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream - Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi - Action Books

Today's book of poetry:
Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream.  Kim Hyesoon.  Translated by Don Mee Choi.  Action Press.  Notre Dame, Indiana. 2014.

With any book of poetry in translation it can be hard to know where the poet starts and ends and where the translator lives and breathes.  Kim Hyesoon and Don Mee Choi are apparently offering a masterclass because Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream reads like one seamless crazygood incantation after another.

These poems whip by like the teeth of an excited chainsaw ripping through space.  Hear the hornet whisperwhine of the engine gone sonic and the whrrrrrr of the razor sharp teeth blistering the air.

From our vantage point here at Today's book of poetry these poems are tight balls of flame throwing projectiles in every direction.  Someone is going to get burned.

Ghost School

I work at a ghost school
In this neighborhood if you've been a ghost for over ten years you automatically become an
institutional ghost
I teach a class to the newly enrolled ghosts
(It's really impossible to disappear because of this work)
First, I have them carry a book on their heads and practice walking without touching the
No one listens to what I say and there is no place to stand or lie down
I make them practice so they won't be shocked even if they leave no footprints on the
I make them practice falling asleep floating in air
I teach them such things as how to overcome melancholy inside a coffin
how not to spew out hot air in the basement morgue
how not to turn into mummies even when a desert drags them away
I don't know myself, but I just say whatever comes out of my mouth
how to use a telescope or microscope made in the Time factory
how to have an out-of-body experience
how not to despair even when they become forgotten souls or when echoes doesn't return
how to wish that they could set something ablaze
how to rage into you as bright as the fireworks lingering in the night sky
can be found in the textbook, but I'm not writing it
how to sob hiding inside a song
how to hold their breath hiding inside the sobbing
how to flow with the flowing people then spur themselves up to the sky sobbing like a tree
how to erase my body's margins and become an adjective
as the sounds from a brass instrument navigate like planes taking off
and therefore how each day becomes fainter
are all in the magic that has been passed down
then I add
a ghost that takes revenge is low rank
a ghost that only appears in a night of sleet is middle rank
a rotten ghost luring a swarm of flies is high rank
a ghost that is like a cloud, a question, gas is high-high rank
and high-high-high rank, etcetera, which nobody knows about
All right then, shall we practice raging like spring snow
as if pulling out the left wing first from the body where swarms of flies have died?
Then I issue a warning to the ghosts who haven't done their homework
Damn! You can only become institutional ghosts after graduating from a ghost


Kim Hyesoon writes poems like a knife-thrower in a carnival and you are the one stuck to the spinning target.  She keeps sharp edges coming at you from every direction and with considerable speed.  You don't know which way to flinch.

Hyesoon throws out new ideas at the speed of your ability to read them, repeatedly.  I taste just a hint of someone who has read Yukio Mishima and liked him in spite of herself.  Also pretty sure she has read Germain Greer.

Netherworld Waltz

The time when I was with flesh
flesh was me
even though I've never been inside it
I was startled when flesh touched the hot flame
In bed I hid my breasts under the sheets
for it's embarrassing to be defenseless
the room inside flesh
I sprayed tranquilizers stimulants antidepressants
anticonvulsants to catch a bug

I look back as I leave
On Pig's back a sack of me, cloud-like
carrying the fickle shadow, jockey-like
Pig's legs finally gave out after spilling dark sweat
Not the best fitting tailored suit for me but
it shed ten-fingered flesh gloves and ten-toes flesh socks
On top of them tiny windows, fingernails and toenails
Someone's looking out the window

Waking pill
Sleeping pill
Outing pill
Vomiting pill
Pill induced pill vomiting pill

I wrap the fallen thing that's like a dead exclamation mark in white cloth and leave it

firmly believing that thing shedding that thing and roaming is me once again


Hyesoon is a fearless warrior poet and I'm fairly certain she has broken down a few doors in South Korea with her feminist/Ginsberg like on occasion/rapid-fire rabbit-punching kick-in-the-pants poems.

Today's book of poetry has read very little Korean poetry and Kim Hyesoon is a revelation.  If this is in any way typical of what is going on in South Korea I would like to see a lot more of it.

Black Brassiere

On a very very boring day
like a waterfowl with its lips buried in its chest
I wanted to taste my own breasts
those eyes that stay open inside the black eye patches

My breasts might taste like the lighthouse
on an island far away from the mainland
or the island' prison, the taste of solitary confinement!
or the underground catacomb

(like the exploding waterfall tied up tight-tight)

(like the wavering sea, its wrapping paper ripped open)

(as if my body is generating my eyes)

(like two baby waterfowls looking for feed on the hills by the sea)

I once saw a photograph of hundreds of mothers in a square
waiting for their sons' corpses
I wanted to undo all the hooks
on the backs of the mothers
The eyes on the breasts sobbed sobbed
their crying echoed throughout the square
Please don't leave me behind
I'm your mommy

The sound of swollen eyes inside the eye patches
hitting the prison wall bam bam!

The eye patches look like somebody's hands
The hands wearing black gloves clutch two chicks in their hands!

The fish caught in the net should repent, have you heard of such a thing?
The lost chick should repent, have you heard of such a thing?

My black bra straps
are stretched out
like two streams of tears

(Now I want to row to some deep place
like someone rowing in the middle of the sea wearing an eye patch)


Rats!  Pigs!  Marilyn Monroe!  Black bras!  Don Mee Choi has loosed a potent beast full of portent amongst us.  Kim Hyesoon is no walk in the park, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream is a smorgasboard of assaults on your senses.  Good on Kim Hyesoon.

These poems blast into your head like opening the first page was lighting a fuse.

Kim Hyesoon

Kim Hyesoon is a prominent South Korean poet who has received numerous prestigious literary awards. She teaches creative writing at Seoul Institute of the Arts. Her work translated into English includes three titles from Action Books, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream (2014), ALL THE GARBAGE OF THE WORLD, UNITE! (2011) and MOMMY MUST BE A FOUNTAIN OF FEATHERS (2008), the chapbook WHEN THE PLUG GETS UNPLUGGED (Tinfish Press, 2005), and poems in the anthology ANXIETY OF WORDS: CONTEMPORARY POETRY BY KOREAN WOMEN (Zephyr Press, 2006).

Don Mee Choi was born and grew up in Seoul and Hong Kong and now lives in Seattle. She is the author of The Morning News is Exciting (Action Books, 2010) and a recipient of a 2011 Whiting Writers Award and the 2012 Lucien Stryk Translation Prize.

Don Mee Choi

"Her poems are not ironic. They are direct, deliberately grotesque, theatrical, unsettling, excessive, visceral and somatic. This is feminist surrealism loaded with shifting, playful linguistics that both defile and defy traditional roles for women."
- Pam Brown

Today's book of poetry writes appreciations - for a genuine critical and informed look at the work of Kim Hyesoon you might want to look here;

Kim Hyesoon
South Korean poet
video:  Southbank Centre


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.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Today's book of poetry is on holiday, currently in Tadoussac, Quebec, about to head north,

Today's book of poetry is in Quebec, Tadoussac, at present.

I have a bag full of poetry books but haven't opened a page.  Being on holiday will do that to you.

This morning it is a trip out onto the water to see whales/baleine.

Later this afternoon - Chicoutimi.

Today's book of poetry will resume normal operations in four or five days, we can't stay in Quebec forever, then I will round up my team of vagabonds.  This instant I said "vacation" the office cleared like a sinking ship.  But I do know where to find those rats.

More poetry coming soon.

Michael Dennis

Monday, June 22, 2015

The Stairwell - Michael Longley (Wake Forest University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Stairwell.  Michael Longley.  Wake Forest University Press.  Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  2014.

Mud Turf

He remembered at Passchendaele
Where men and horses drowned in mud,
His bog apprenticeship, mud turf,
Shovelling mud up out of the drain
Onto the bank where it dried:
Mud turf kept the home fires burning.


Today's book of poetry liked this book and wanted to share it with you.  The question for me is how to talk about poetry that I only partially understand?

Well, it happens all the time.  We here at Today's book of poetry plough through and learn what we can.

Michael Longley knows his Homer, is well versed in all things Iliad, and in The Stairwell, his tenth poetry collection, he uses these assets to help explore battlefields past and present, historic and internal, personal and universal.

These poems are crisp, clean and booming -- you can hear them echo in your ears as your read them.

The Horses of Rhesus

Odysseus yanked corpses by the ankle
And cleared a path for the horses of Rhesus:
They were whiter than snow and wind-speedy
And wavy-maned and very beautiful
And unused to treading on dead soldiers.


Longley sees the human bean drama dance played out on a grand stage and uses it to give the personal epic scale.  Whether he is talking about the horses on a Greek battlefield or of pushing the wheelchair of his twin brother this scale provides gravitas.

The Stairwell is full of hard tenderness.  The second half of the book is a series of poems about Longley's diseased twin brother.  These elegies are burdened by the ghost Longley carries.

The Fire

I press the button at your funeral.
The curtains close behind your coffin.
Can you hear the wind in high branches
Howling at its angriest, a bellows
That kindles sparks in hillside clearings
And incinerates the whole woodland?


Today's book of poetry thought The Stairwell had an abundance of wisdom and wit as well as a few of those old Greek gits.  Memory poems swell to the girth of our imaginations, Michael Longley's passionate and emotional memory will richly reward every reader.

Michael Longley

Michael Longley was born in Belfast in 1939, and educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and Trinity College, Dublin, where he earned his degree in Classics. He worked as a schoolteacher in Dublin, London, and Belfast before joining the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, where he served over twenty years as Director for Literature and the Traditional Arts. He is married to the critic Edna Longley and has three children.

He has received numerous awards, including the American Irish Foundation Award, the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize, the Whitbread Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, and the International Griffin Poetry Prize. He is also the recipient of the prestigious 2001 Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.
"A contemporary who should endure over the life of our language."
     -  Donald Hall

"One of the most perfect poets alive. There is something in his work both ancient and modern. I read him as I might check the sky for stars."
     -  Sebastion Barry, Guardian

"Of the modern writers who deal with conflict, I believe Michael Longley, whose father fought in the First World War, is the greatest figure we have. I carry his work with me to the war zones of the world."
     -  Fergal Keane, The Times

"A keeper of the artistic estate, a custodian of griefs and wonders."
     -  Seamus Heaney

Michael Longley
poetry reading at CGS, Boston University
Oct. 15, 2013
Video:  Meg Tyler


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.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows - Eugenia Leigh (Four Way Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows.  Eugenia Leigh.  Four Way Books.  A Stahlecker Series Selection.  Four Way Books.  New York, New York.  2014.

Eugenia Leigh offers us a startling first book with the sparkling Blood, Sparrow and Sparrows. 
Leigh is also now an official entry for Today's book of poetry's best title of the year.

These poems are loosely focused on God, father and family -- but it is Leigh's precise weight we enjoy most, regardless of subject.  Her voice has weight, resonance, echo and these poems can make you laugh out loud, usually just before Leigh kicks you in the throat.

Pretty Universe

God stalked me on Marion Avenue. Said, You can't
fix it. Then, I can't either.           That morning,

my ceiling lamp had ripped from its cord. Even after
I welded the fragments with duct tape, everything
felt cracked--like your five-hundred dollar glasses

I smashed that winter--so I thought, if I couldn't fix that,
what the hell am I doing piecing together
your eyes? Our crumbling

kisses? So I didn't question God. Sometimes, God wants
to be understood. Sometimes, God hates

his perfect grammar. His pretty
universe. So he'll pluck a butterfly of its left wing. Call it
art. He'll turn from a hurricane. Say, It wasn't me.

If artists were created in his image, how often
does God abandon his mistakes?

The day I stopped talking to you, I said
nothing to him too. I cursed. My entire drive home.
I littered the freeway with fistfuls of tissues

while God shuffled his God feet
and pretended not to see.


The reader will be forgiven if they can't quite decide whether Eugenia Leigh is happiest talking to, or at, God.  We're never quite sure whether the praise is hopeful wishing or snickered bravado.  But the conversation Leigh is engaged in is a constant delight for the reader.

We're all Pagans here at Today's book of poetry.  We run around the office burning sacrifices to the strangest assortment of deities and demigods.  And we all adored the poetry of Eugenia Leigh.

Leigh's narrator is a dutiful daughter, a guilty daughter, a disdainful daughter, a confused child of God and a strange mistress -- but she is always an interesting poet.

Leigh's narrator/poet persona is brave enough to step outside of expectations, keeps trying to answer big questions, keeps coming up with bigger dilemmas, more paradox.

Every Hair on Your Head

     Every hair on your head is counted.
     You are worth hundreds of sparrows.

The day you pushed a bullet through your heart,
the length of a day on earth shortened by a millionth of a second.

That same day, a NASA satellite captured an image of a dust storm,
Chile withstood its one hundred thirtieth aftershock in a week, and I
glimpsed a bird, twitching

on the floor of a Brooklyn metro station. Its eyeballs
bulged as if to literally absorb the ocular world,

and I shuddered away. For hours, I saw that flinching
creature in my mind. I saw hundreds of similar birds
shimmering into the station to lie

next to it--a quilt of silvery bodies tiled wing to wing. On good days
I want to be saved. Most days, I want

every savior in our hell--so they'll know
torment in the bloodstream--death's whistling, ceaseless,
blurring the cleanest heartbeats.            My first time, I was thirteen.

I tested five pills. My stomach barely ached. I ate ramen, lived, solved
math problems. But for days before that, I envisioned my body
smeared. Inside out. A swarthy, dazzling canvas.

What I wouldn't give to graze that silence.

Did you do it standing up
or crouching?         Which was the bigger surprise--
                                      the gun punching              or the angel catching you?


Eugenia Leigh's Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows is bejeweled with very smart poems that like to dance between the Devil and disbelief, they challenge notions of parenthood and piety.  These poems get the brain working in more than one direction.

There was much discussion around the office about this book.  Angels come and go with alacrity in the poems of Eugenia Leigh, just like they appear in real life, the devils too.

Sex Education

Folded into the carpet, eyes closed, I huddle
next to my small sisters--the baby
curled in the middle. My parents shuffle

in the couch bed beside us, and I wake. I peek.
I absorb the wet sounds of one mouth
guzzling another's laughter--and without

health class pamphlets, without Eve's Adam
and the fruit still rich on his chin, I learn

the music of bodies smacking together.
I learn the word yes. And how yes--

when whispered over and over--seems to free
other meanings--secret meanings

I never heard them speak in daylight.


Eugenia Leigh steps out onto the poetry stage fully formed.  Many, if not most, of these poems have previously been published in journals of one sort or another.  No surprise there.  Leigh has considerable dander, she even sounds dangerous on occasion.  Everyone here at Today's book of poetry enjoyed Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows a ton.

Eugenia Leigh
(Photo: An Rong Xu)

Eugenia Leigh is the recipient of awards and fellowships from The Asian American Literary Review, Kundiman, Poets & Writers Magazine, and Rattle. She earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College, and her poems and essays have appeared in numerous publications including The Collagist, North American Review, and the Best New Poets 2010 anthology. Eugenia serves as poetry editor of Kartika Review and lives in Chicago.

"Built out of blood and awe, rooted in sorrow and radiant lyricism, these poems remind us that 'to survive is to be / wholly human.' Divine and earthly voices haunt these poems. God and parents singe the speaker's heart; angels and sisters redeem it. These poems are brutal and brilliant. But also instructive. They teach us to 'weld our wounds / to form tools.' This is a book of moving and startling epiphanies. I can't wait to teach it."
     - Eduardo C. Corral

"This book went through me like a blue lightning strike. Part lyric, part narrative, and always alive, unflinchingly alive. A wonderful book and an even more astonishing debut!"
      - Thomas Lux

Eugenia Leigh
at Kollaboration, New York
June 26, 2010
Video: angelle 527


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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Song & Spectacle - Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Song & Spectacle.  Rachel Rose.  Harbour Publishing.  Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2012.

Winner of the Audre Lorde Award
Winner of the Pat Lowther Memorial Award

Song & Spectacle reads like a bowl of succulent and perfectly ripe fruit.  Every time you dip your hand to the bowl you are rewarded with different tastes, textures and colours.  Some of them are familiar and as welcome as old friends.  Others are entirely new experiences, grateful moments. Rachel Rose has served us up something elegant.  Which is not to say she doesn't slap the reader up the side of the head at her leisure.

These poems have deep resonance the first time you read them.  The second time you read Song & Spectacle these suckers start to sing.

What We Heard About the Heart

We heard you like red wine,
dark chocolate, prefer iambic

pentameter to free verse. Our
specialists study your ailments: we call them

cardiologists, poets. We give your aches
the names of movie stars: Angina, Arrhythmia, Tamponade.

We hear you won't go on forever,
and that gives us pause.

Each of your two and a half billion beats
shapes our hours. Our tickers stutter

like firecrackers, pressed against the breasts
of lovers. In dance clubs, we hear your be-bop

with the bass thrum in our ears. Tough muscle:
we put our hands on your to swear the whole truth

and nothing but. We give you
a day of candies and roses,

frilled boxes, pink and labial. We vow to stay true.
Don't be still, my heart. Once,

before memory, you shocked us to life,
began the mystery. No one knows how. Sweet

heart; we ask for a generous span of beats.
We pray when you stop, you stop

in our sleep.


Rose is as serious as a heart attack as she tries to figure out one paradox after another.  These poems don't promise any solutions - just traverse each subject and question with warm wisdom and cold scepticism.

Song & Spectacle isn't looking for any easy answers.  Rachel Rose is digging for truths.

What We Heard About the Mob

We surprise ourselves. An unknown talent
emerges. In a blink, we become collective. Smoldering

rage taproots down, ignites. Their accents revolt us.
The radio broadcasts suggestions. We are the swarm

of bodies, armpit tang, children on shoulders, cracked
teeth. Drag a body by a boot, hello, hello,

its arms flap over potholes. Don't trust
yourselves. Crush those who wear spectacles,

stack their skulls on shelves. We are peasants,
we are intellectuals, we play football.

The dog screams, pitch-forked to the wall.
The KKK burns crosses in moonlight.

We were breastfed, we were cradled,
we were kissed and beaten.

Chairs shiver through glass,
our grins reflect silver. We liberate a candelabra,

leave a footprint in blood. Three cut knuckles.
We are original, we are pure,

we discover the other use for fire.


What we thought here at Today's book of poetry was that Rose tackles as many big subjects as she can get to the tip of her pen, as many as are on offer; children, relationships, the nature of love, desire, abortion, murder, Buddha, cocks, drunks, suicide, death and dying, suicide and so on.

This is all good.

YOU want to hear what Rachel Rose has to say about these things.  And once you've read them you'll want to hear what she thinks about everything else.

What We Heard About the Suicide

We heard it wasn't our fault.
We heard you left a note,

scrawled when poison
stole your voice. We heard you left no reason.

You were alone. You borrowed a gun.
We heard you didn't mean to swerve.

Everywhere you went, bridges called you.
Cliffs made the soles of your feet ache.

From a hundred living rooms,
we watched your slow death on the internet.

When you left, the same rain
still blurred our windows. Pollen drifted over the freeway

near your apartment as we dragged away your blood-thick bed
before your parents came. Your smell fogged our hair.

The first time you shot into your own
supple vein, you knew your name

was an anagram of gone.
We heard the radio play what was once your song.


Song & Spectacle is both fast paced and carefully contemplative.  You usually only see that in jazz.

Today's book of poetry could listen to Rachel Rose riff all day long.

Rachel Rose

And any friend of the excellent writer Jane Silcott is a friend of ours.  Everyone in the office loved Jane's Everything Rustles, an excellent book of personal essays.

Rachel Rose’s work has appeared in various journals including Poetry, The Malahat Review and The Best American Poetry, as well as numerous anthologies. Her most recent poetry collection, Song & Spectacle (Harbour, 2012) won the Audre Lorde Award in the US and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award in Canada. She was the librettist for the opera When the Sun Comes Out, which grapples with fundamentalism and forbidden love. She is the winner of the Peterson Memorial Prize for poetry and the Bronwen Wallace award for fiction, and the recipient of a 2014 Pushcart Prize. She is the Poet Laureate of Vancouver for 2014–2017.

Vancouver Poet Laureate Rachel Rose has just won a 2016 Pushcart Prize for her poem, “White Lilies,” that will be appearing in Marry & Burn, her forthcoming collection from Harbour Publishing (2015)

In this stunning new collection, the poems are drenched with beauty, with milky maternal love, but also the hard grey rains of winter, with guilt and envy and the sadness of what we daily lose. The heart, the unborn child, even death has a song in these pages. Her language is so dense, so daring, so rich. [...] Read this book and you'll discover "The other use for fire."
     - Lorna Crozier



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.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems - Gwendolyn Zepeda (Arte Publico Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems.  Gwendolyn Zepeda.  Arte Publico Press.  Houston, Texas.  2015

Gwendolyn Zepeda tries to convince us that she is a hard-hearted woman as often as she can in this totally charming collection.  There are monsters, zombies and addicts sprinkled throughout Zepeda's Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems.  

But they are never the monsters you'd expect.  You won't see these zombies coming.  And aren't addictions the damnedest things.  Everybody has them but not everyone knows it.

My Superpower Is Leaving

any situation at top speed. And sometimes
leaving makes the people left behind
call you names. They say "Bitch. She thinks she's too
good." But my ears are also heroic and turn the
opposite of supersonic.
Can fold against my head so I don't hear. They
fold down like my heart, which contracts to a
wad of steel.


Zepeda has a great sense of humour and you all know how much we like to laugh here at Today's book of poetry.  Zepeda has some doozies.

But it is not all fun and games.  These observational narrative poems rollick.  Zepeda's zombies muse eloquent about all the big and small things that get us from one day to another.

There are no sacred cows in Zepedaland.


I was baking a cake to take to my mother-in-law's house for
I'd bought raisins in an off-brand box. Opened the box, dumped
it over the batter.
I saw gnat-like creatures in the air. I looked into the box and it was
full of little worms.

I screamed and threw the box onto the floor. Cried because
I really hate worms and 'cause
I'd wanted this cake to
impress my mother-in-law.

He came into the kitchen and yelled, "What the hell?"
He looked in the bowl, said, "That shit won't kill anybody."
He stuck his hand in the batter, scooped out the worms and
chucked them in the trash.

I finished up the cake and watched my in-laws eat it later

I couldn't eat dessert myself, of course. And now
I only buy the raisins people say are full of pesticides.

We got divorced, too.
Mmm, mmm, good.


Zepeda is a Queen of misdirection.  You think she is going to snap your head back with a jab, she's showing jab, jab, jab, and then when you expect it the least, she comes in with a hook out of left field.

This is Zepeda's second collection of poetry and it is mature wit and clever pontification.  Time and again Zepeda attacks an ordinary moment out of an ordinary day and makes that moment excellent. She is able to both expand and compress these moments and ultimately illuminate some deeper truth that was hiding there.

This is a type of magic.  Perhaps she has been bitten by a poetry zombie and is now infected with poetic zombie reasoning.   Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems certainly has a take-no-prisoners approach.

I Eat Crazy People

The rabbit smells the lion's shit and that which it has digested.
Discovers it's had antelope for lunch and
so can't possibly be hungry again.

The rabbit eats clover in the shadow of the lion,
enjoys the way his shade keeps others at bay.

As the rabbit dies,
is eaten,
she takes one bite of the lion in return.
Does she infect him with her spit, maybe?
The possibility makes her smile, right before it's over.


We here at Today's book of poetry thought Gwendolyn Zepeda's Monsters, Zombies and Addicts: Poems was just scary enough to jack up the senses, put us all on the edge of our seats.

Zepeda sounds intensely honest, enough to make you see that she is right about monsters.

Gwendolyn Zepeda

GWENDOLYN ZEPEDA was born in Houston, Texas, in 1971, and attended the University of Texas at Austin. Her works has appeared on numerous websites, and she has written and illustrated her award-winning website, gwendolynzepeda.com, since 1997. In 2004, Zepeda was awarded the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County’s Individual Artist Grant for literature. Her writing was hailed by EFE newswire as having the “potential to transform Latino literature of recent years and rid it of its bad habits and clichés.” She is currently wrapping up a two-year term as Houston’s first Poet Laureate. Her works include her most recent poetry collection, Monsters, Zombies and Addicts (Arte Público Press, 2015), her debut book of poetry, Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners (Arte Público Press, 2013), Level Up / Paso de nivel (Piñata Books, 2012), Better with You Here (Grand Central Publishing, 2012), I Kick the Ball / Pateo el balón (Piñata Books, 2011), Lone Star Legend (Grand Central Publishing, 2010), Sunflowers / Girasoles (Piñata Books, 2009), Houston, We Have a Problema (Grand Central Publishing, 2009), Growing Up with Tamales / Los tamales de Ana (Piñata Books, 2008), and To the Last Man I Slept with and All the Jerks Just Like Him (Arte Público Press, 2004). She continues to live and work in Houston.

- See more at: https://artepublicopress.com/blog/houston-poet-laureate-gwendolyn-zepeda-releases-second-poetry-collection/#sthash.iD11V9tP.dpuf

Zepeda captures "the isolating loneliness urban life often engenders."
     Booklist on Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners

"With a world-weary yet love-drive voice, the Houston laureate unerringly explores the workplace, relationships, culture and motherhood."
     The Monitor on Falling in Love with Fellow Prisoners

Gwendolyn Zepeda
Houston Poet Laureate
reads at the 2014 GIA Conference
video: Grantmakers in the Arts



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.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Origami Poems Project - Jan Keough/Editor

Today's book of poetry:
Origami Poems Project.  Jan Keough/Editor.  Origami Poems Project.  Indialantic, Florida.  2013-2014.

Today's book of poetry will have a slightly different format today.  The six small micro-chapbooks that were sent to us by the Origami Poems Project are too short to be considered for individual attention on this blog.  But collectively they pack a punch.

These are small, fit in the palm of your hand books, only a few pages long, but there is nothing slight about them.  Today's book of poetry was thoroughly smitten and entertained.  We passed these perfect little gems around the office like bon-bons.

Inside a Dog's Head - Helen Burke, 2014

Inside a Dogs Head (for Wendy and Pixie)

There are three words
Inside a dogs head.  Walk ..Friend and ..Sausages.

Throughout the day when they are not
Devising a better philosophy for the world
These words run in tandem up and down
The field and in and out of the woods.
By the stream when they stop and give you that quizzical look
They are unlearning all that jeopardises and intimidates Happiness.

A dog always hopes that we will see sense and undo
All the harm we somehow inflict upon each other.
They explain the word friend while chasing their tails
Or running for a stick.

But even while they spell it out
We walk back to the car ..not seeing autumn under our feet
In need of scrunching. Not seeing the trees so fearful
Of the white world that soon hangs on the branches.

But inside a dogs head - there will always be another Spring.
Sausages for tea. And. Another friend to make.
Another walk to take - down to the silver stream.


Helen Burke really does inhabit a dog's life Inside a Dog's Head.  But there is no barking.  These poems will simply make you look at your dog a little differently, look at every dog differently.

I've never danced with a dog but Helen gets it exactly right, if you are, ever, going to dance with a dog - it's Johnny Cash or Petula Clarke.  

Helen Burke

Helen Burke has been writing poetry for the last twenty-five years. She has just completed a one woman show at the Edinburgh Festival. Over the last two years she has been a regular reader at Literature Festivals and events in the U.K. – and her work has appeared in numerous poetry magazines and anthologies.
She has also had short stories published, written for and performed on radio as well as working as a visual artist. Winner of the Manchester, Devon and Dorset, Norwich, Suffolk and Leslie Richardson (Yorkshire) Prizes, amongst other awards. Ian McMillan has said of her work – “This is a poet with verve, wit and humanity.”
Her collections include: Poetry – Helen Burke (1997), Island of Dreams (1997), Gift (2001), and Zuzu's Petals (2009). Her newest collection, The Ruby Slippers, is available from amazon.co.uk
Listen to Helen's radio broadcasts on ELFM (East Leeds UK).

* * * * * *

Deft Turning.  Ira Schaeffer, 2013

Upside-Down Cake

Mother Mayhem, Queen of Hearts
remember how you bound
your pal, your son
tighter than the Gordian knot
with welts and kisses -- your embrace
a coil of vipers, a tickling hysteria.

When your cruelty was spent
you'd lure me back
with baking pans and pineapple slices,
framing your eyes like golden spectacles
then holding them up to mine -- I saw
the one I loved return.

The Jolly Baker laughed, the eggs cracked,
sweet dust powdered your pretty hair,
I watched the mixing blades spin --
without your centrifugal loathing
our topsy-turvy world inverted
as the batter thickened.

Then with quilted mitts
you managed a deft overturning --
my hunger and dread now rested
on a glass pedestal,
a dainty dish sweeter for its rarity --
Mother, you fed me lies;
you fed me love.


Ira Shaeffer's confessional Deft Turning is a slice of relationship world.  That intimate ground between a child and mother and then the child grown.  It is not always chocolate chipped cookies and a kiss before bed.  

Shaeffer is working out some cathartic stuff here and it makes for some compelling poems.

Ira Shaeffer

Ira Schaeffer,an active member of Ocean State Poets and a proud supporter of the Origami Poems Project, is the current recipient of the Editor’s Choice Loft Chapbook Award. In addition, Ira’s recent poetry has appeared in a variety of publications, including, Penumbra; On the Dark Side: An Anthology of Fairy Tale Poetry; Tastes like Pennies; 50 Haiku; Wising Up Press; and Silver Birch Press In addition, his poem Primavera, was a 2014 nomination by The Origami Poems Project for the Pushcart Prize.

* * * * * *

Stone.  Corey Mesler, 2014.

This is a glorious chapbook filled with treats.  William Shakespeare, Virginia Woolf and Iris Murdoch get us going and Mesler fills in the blanks.  This is a stone world and we are welcome in it.

Stone is a major treatise writ small.  But it has weight.

Coda:  Gift

A child will bring a stone home

and keep it as if

it were a precious gem. This

is the understanding

of the world we lose as we age.

On my desk is a desiccated

flower, a gift from

my daughter, the bestowing angel,

and the stone, now here, conferred.


Mesler has a lovely take on the world in these gems.

Corey Mesler

Corey Mesler has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He has published 8 novels, 3 full length poetry collections, and 3 books of short stories. He has also published a dozen chapbooks of both poetry and prose. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize numerous times, and two of his poems were chosen for Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.
With his wife, he runs Burke’s Book Store in Memphis TN, one of the country’s oldest (1875) and best independent bookstores. www.burkesbooks.com
He can be found at www.coreymesler.com.

* * * * *

In Between.  Martha Clarkson, 2014.

Martha Clarkson has an awful lot of useful stuff to say in this short little chapbook.  She is one of those poets whom I imagine I would get along with famously.  I like the way she thinks.

Church of Colors

Red gave the sermon. Blues made up the choir - turquoise, navy, cornflower, and midnight. Silver
was an acolyte who almost set the altar cloth on fire. Brown's the organist. Sky Blue tried out for
choir but didn't make it. Yellow managed the nursery but refused to change diapers. Only one child
was lost that first year. Pink kept the books, noting that donations were down, due to a fading con-
gregation. Purple passed the communion tray. Gold rang the bell. Green mowed the tiny patch of
lawn out front and washed the dishes after fellowship hour. Black presided over the funerals, like you
might expect, and White was the wedding hostess. Orange was the deacon, who, like a ship's purser,
had an unclear role. Somewhere above, God wore Ray Bans, blinded by his own faith.


Martha is a pistol and these poems come at you like they were shot from a little tiny gun - and then BANG.  The reader discovers what a little gun can do.

Martha Clarkson

Martha Clarkson is a corporate designer and receives mail in Kirkland Washington.
She is a writer of poetry and fiction and is not adept at folding origami but glad to be part of this. Martha won best short story for Anderbo's 2012 contest and has notable mentions in "Best Non-Required Reading" two years in a row.

* * * * *

Extras.  Winston Plowes, 2014.

Everything is happening in the closed world of Winston Plowes.  His very short poems pepper this chapbook as though a serious Richard Brautigan had returned to play.

Man in car

The Range Rover mounted the pavement
Its driver texting Thailand, reversing against the arrows.
His day had gone from bad to worse,
the car park was unexpectedly closed.


Plowes is dead serious and light of heart.  It is an excellent combination.  

Winston Plowes

Teacher, compere, performer and poet, Winston Plowes spends his days fine-tuning background noise and rescuing discarded words. These are re-sculpted over a glass of wine into magical poetry birds he releases by night to fly to new homes in journals and online destinations worldwide.
He lives in a floating home in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire UK, where he tries to persuade his black cat, ‘Fatty’ that it’s a good idea for her to do the same.
Find out more about his work at his website here – www.winstonplowes.co.uk

* * * * *

Silent Work.  Martin Willitts Jr., 2014.

Silent Work by Martin Willitts Jr. is a short treatise on love.  How it works and how it doesn't. Willitts is able to get to the heart of the matter in quick work.  These connected verses work towards a conclusion we can all live with.  

The world is a better place with kindness.

Such a simple resolve yet so few of us see it through.

Silent Work


This is the silent work of love. The hard work
is made easy, and the easy work is made hard.

Like after a tornado, there is the aftermath
when everything calms; or,
when distance between towns makes a long journey,
the absence of love can make a relationship
seem forever.

After the settling of stars are no longer in the sky,
what could possibly be more intense than love?
What could possibly be more drenching than hate?

Someone said, we can love all you want,
we can forgive with all our heart, and still,
love might not come to us.
When we believe we have given all we can give,
give more. Give until the silence of love is an overture
and the heart is a swelling of tides.
It is like wind-fall rising and settling.


Martin Willitts, Jr.

Martin Willitts, Jr. retired as a Senior Librarian in upstate New York and currently is a volunteer literacy tutor. He is a visual artist of Victorian and Chinese paper cutouts. Martin was nominated for 5 Pushcart and 3 Best Of The Net awards. He is the editor of Willet Press. (Update: 2014 the OPP nominated Martin's poem, Love is Breathing, for a Pushcart Prize.)

* * * * *

Jan Keough has done a remarkable job.  This series, Origami Poems Project, is a huge undertaking and from what I can make out they have published hundreds and hundreds of different little books.  If these six are any indication the Origami Poems Project may be quietly, slowly, one little book at a time, taking over the world.

All six of these chapbooks were swell.  Everyone at the office thought so.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Sonnets - Bernadette Mayer (Tender Buttons Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Sonnets.  Bernadette Mayer.  25th Anniversary Edition.  Tender Buttons Press.  New York, New York.  2014.

Sonnets is a 25th Anniversary re-issue and rethink of Bernadette Mayer's ground-breaking and mind-expanding poetry.  It's as hot as a blow-torch.

Are we ever lucky.

Ottawa poet Amanda Earl could probably give a much better read of this text with her understanding of the history of both "women's" and "erotic" poetry.  She would be the first person I'd like to speak to about this book.

To me, these strange and illuminating sonnets sing love.


Love is a babe as you know and when you
Put your startling hand on my cunt or arm or head
Or better both your hands to hold in them my own
I'm awed and we laugh with questions, artless
Of me to speak so ungenerally of thee & thy name
I have no situation and love is the same, you live at home
Come be here my baby and I'll take you elsewhere where
You ain't already been, my richer friend, and there
At the bottom of my sale or theft of myself will you
Bring specific flowers I will not know the names of
As you already have and already will and already do
As you already are with your succinctest cock
All torn and sore like a female masochist that the ryhme
Of the jewel you pay attention to becomes your baby born


Bernadette Mayer was not fooling around when she got all this down.  She's intent on turning it all inside out just to get a better look at the beast.

These poems are fragments of "found poetry", re-imaginings of form and style, Mayer includes instructions on how to reconstruct her constructions.  Bernadette Mayer is a little like Heath Ledger's Joker, sometimes she just wants to see it all burn.

Clap Hands

I'll write you sonnets till you come
Home from school again, the music of your cave become
A stalagmitic presence, honey I don't have
An electronically regulated discharge tube that can emit
               extremely rapid, brief and brilliant flashes of
               light, such a squinting and twisting around
               as to disorder it's nice to divide a sonnet

This way when you might fuck me up the ass
On account of the presence of the bureau by the door
Cause of some song like the one by Tom Verlaine
Where he says adieu like a kid from Brooklyn

Tell like so cause me Bill loves you to not to know
Turn the hear to why over Bill me cause I'll know I you
Say and am to exist I not entranced pretty
Can't Bill with startling say Shakespeare myself that

Couplet I adore you it's my habit
I want manly things & should not, women come to me


Bernadette Mayer builds things up just so she can see how they tumble down, just so that she can put it all back together again, with precious intent.  She breaks up lines and the natural order of language and it startles the reader.  Sometimes it hits the reader like a brick to the head, she isn't kidding. Mayer cracks language apart to get inside to the meat, the meaning.  She is beautifully relentless.


Waiting for you to come back from a comedy show
You and I what do we do? We read Aristophanes
Because you are still in school. On the street
A crazed Hasidic man called you my husband, I am not

You are who I am pregnant, give me my kiss
You whom I often & silently come where you are
That I may be with you, we ought not to speak
At all like this for the women who are your brothers

Now we have a rest together and last & dream
Of the salt & pepper shakers & of the scary sisters
Of us who seem exempt chasing each other around
You knowing less than I cause I'm a formal mother

Not-son fuck me again
Close this night's seven windows


Sonnets is a crackerjack.  Many of the sonnets have titles, here are a few I loved: "Two Thousand Non-Interfering Ballet Dancers Get Rid of the Extra Witch", "The Handcuffing of Hermits Who Grab the Genital's Police", "The Complete Introductory Lectures on Poetry", and so on.  Mayer is a hoot.

Most of these poems are 25 years old, Mayers has added a few new poems, each as purposeful as the last.  This is one of those books where you can feel it vibrate in your hands, it is that vibrant.  Sonnets is a remarkable achievement, one hell of a book.

Bernadette Mayer
Photo by: Lawrence Schwartzwald

Mayer is the recipient of the 2014 Poetry Society of Shelley Memorial Award. Mayer is the author of more than two dozen volumes of poetry, including The Bernadette Mayer Reader, Midwinter Day, The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters, and Poetry State Forest. Recently published are her works, The Helens of Troy, NY, Studying Hunger Journals and Ethics of Sleep. A former director of the Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church in the Bowery and co-editor of the conceptual magazine 0 to 9 with Vito Acconci. Mayer has been a key figure on the New York poetry scene for decades.
Mayer has taught at Naropa Poetics Institute, New School for Social Research, College of Staten Island, and New England College. She has received grants and awards from: PEN American Center, Foundation for Contemporary Performing Art, the NEA, The Academy for American Poets, The Poetry Society of America, and American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Bernadette Mayer
Reads from New Directions' Time of Grief: Mourning Poems
March 7, 2013.  New Orleans
Video: Megan Burns

AND PLEASE NOTE that there is an adjunct volume entitled Please Add to This List, (Tender Buttons, 2014)

Please Add to This List is full of "experiments" and "responses" to Bernadette Mayer's Sonnets.  It is both a study-guide and a primer.  This would be a must-have for any poetry workshoppers, for poetry classes of any kind and for every reader who wants to supercharge their experience of reading Mayer's Sonnets.



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.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Dante's House - Richard Greene (Signal Editions/Vehicule Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dante's House.  Richard Greene.  Signal Editions/Vehicule Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2013.

The title poem of Richard Greene's fourth book of poetry, Dante's House, does take Today's book of poetry back to Sienna and the Il Palio.  And that is a great place to visit.

There is no feeling quite like the feeling one gets in Sienna.  It is where the old world, the really old world, meets the new world.  No city glows quite like Sienna when that sun sets all orangeyred over the roof tiles and the Tuscan hills.

The other eleven poems in Dante's House gave me jitterbug feet.  I had to get up and walk about my house after reading each of these poems.

These narratives fully, completely, inhabit the reader.  You are in prison.  You are at Yankee Stadium.  You are in Haiti.



My friend works medium security and says
of his mad charges, 'You can't be angry.
They're sick -- shouldn't be here.' To the near-sane,
he doles punishments when 'Fuck you, screw'
is prelude to a shank -- some soup spoon snatched
and ground against the whetstone of the bars,
a razor blade bound into a pencil's
eraser tip, or merely the handle
of a toothbrush made murder-one sharp.
And strange things: back in stir after
his biopsy a man threatened to force a pen
through the incision and crush his liver
unless given Tylenol Three. He settled for
Extra Strength and the promise of a doctor:
'I was just joking,' he added meekly,
knowing threats of self-harm bring sanctions too --
days apart in an observation cell,
diaper-clad and deprived of any thing
imagination could turn into a noose.
Others would cut themselves or even rip
open the skin and muscle with their hands;
one inmate slashed deeper than his scrotum,
poured blood and half his entrails on the floor;
luckless, he missed the artery and lived.
Some lifers, almost done, can no longer mount
the stairs to the range or have left their
wits at the scene -- time's muddled fugitives
who could not pick themselves from a line-up.
Beyond correction, a man with one leg
weighs 500 pounds and may no longer lift
himself. Torpid, he pisses and shits among
the blankets, cannot wash or move,
cuffed to a history of offences,
manslaughter (released) and then child rape.
His heart and kidneys wind down -- my friend,
tall as a linebacker, joins a staggering
scrimmage of guards and paramedics,
as they hoist the stretcher down stairwells
and across a lighted courtyard to the gate
where an ambulance waits to parole him.


Green so thoroughly inhabits  each world he explores that the poems become visceral experience for the reader.

These poems are visits to strange places, odes to friendship, musings on a "winter's God who mingles grace and grief."  This is one of those cases where Today's book of poetry just liked listening to Richard Greene talk.

Crooked Eclipses

     In Memory of James Gray Watson

     Nativity, once in the main of light,
     Crawls to maturity, wherewith being crowned,
     Crooked eclipses 'gainst his glory fight,
     And Time that gave doth now his gift confound.

                                        - Shakespeare, Sonnet 60

New on the ground in Tulsa, you fought off
the boyishness of the newly hired prof
with a bow tie: you said, 'I want to look
different from the students,' and some old book
worm said, 'It makes you look different from
anyone', and so it did, added to the sum
of the things that made you -- the things clung to
by friends as now the sun-shadow takes you.

Once you showed me your surehanded father
surgeoning in photographs. A brother
and a son of yours took up scalpel and clamp
while your work lay under a table lamp,
five books mapping Yoknapatawpha,
the slippery Snopes and what Sartoris saw,
and, in the time I knew you, Matthiessen --
always gags on Killing Mr. Watson.

Austin was our place; din makers
over manuscripts, our jokes and whispers,
shenanigans through bookish afternoons
drawing reproachful looks over half-moons.
In the evenings, there was Johnny Walker Red
and things men say as they leave them unsaid.
Yet, clear spirit, you counselled me by poem,
recommended Frost for troubles back home:
you sent me to 'An Old Man's Winter Night',
while, to me, friendship was your gift outright.

Yesterday, your son checked your email,
read you my silly note, conveyed a hail
from your sickbed, sent your love, spoke plainly:
'In short, his condition worsens daily.'
Just pain and sleep: chemo becomes morphine
and seventy years of being have been:
I substitute have seen you for will see.
Tenses shift and I prepare for memory.


There is a tender elegance in the way Richard Greene looks at the world through his poet's gaze.  
There is a little bit of everything, awe and anger, beauty and brass.  The one thing you won't see in a Richard Greene poem is naivete.  He is never that.

Greene is worldly without being pompous, these erudite and articulate poems and never showy, they're knowledgeable.


Black and white and nationally portable,
a TV occupies half the kitchen table,
serves up The Edge of Night or Coronation Street,
as my mother, among copies of Vogue
and Chatelaine and The Daily News,
lays oils on the rough side of Masonite.
The brushes seem never to need replacing,
and the tubes of Winsor and Newton go
from year to year, the same ones never empty:
manganese blue hue, phthalo turquoise,
cobalt chromite, viridian, and terre verte,
purple lake, raw umber light, and Payne's grey.
Her gardens are decorative and terrible
as vined or beasted letters of a manuscript,
and undersea, whales and plankton and octopi
of equal proportion, as when sleeping
shortens the gap between dead and living.
Mind always elsewhere - on Adam Trask
and Mike Karr in mobbed up Monticello,
on Ena Sharples and Elsie Tanner,
the Barlows, all that marriage and murder
at Rover's Return - her automatic
touch making intricacies on the board,
shapes of memory from which she can
never turn away - a tiny brother
throttled by whooping cough, her father
weeping in the pantry, all the dailiness
of death in 1941. Thirteen then and never
right afterwards, except perhaps in oils.


Today's book of poetry liked visiting Dante's House and felt right at home.  Mr. Greene makes it all look so easy even when he knows life can be so sad.

Richard Greene

Richard Greene teaches Creative Writing and British Literature at the University of Toronto. His most recent biography Edith Sitwell: Avant-garde Poet, English Genius [2011] was widely acclaimed, and he has published three collections of poetry, including Boxing the Compass [2010], which won the Governer General's Award for Poetry. He lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

Richard Greene
Mississauga's National Poetry Month Event, 2012
Video:  Anna Yin


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.