Friday, July 31, 2015

Skating in Concord - Jean LeBlanc (Anaphora Literary Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Skating in Concord.  Jean LeBlanc.  Anaphora Literary Press.  Tucson, Arizona.  2014.

Jean LeBlanc's Skating in Concord is a brazenly celebratory re imagining of Henry David Thoreau.
Throw in a number of his contemporaries -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller and Louisa May Alcott for additional seasoning and you start to get the picture.

Luckily for us the characters in these poems straddle the ages under LeBlanc's nimble thumb, it is as though they exist in the past and the present.  Jean LeBlanc is really a time-travelling magician.

Nothing feels out of place in these poems which is to say that everything feels just right inside the inviting universe that still has Henry David checking out the scenery.

A Local Farmer Remembers His
Encounter With Thoreau

     I learn that one farmer, seeing me standing a long time still in the
     midst of a pool (I was watching for hylodes), said that it was his father,
     who had been drinking some of Pat Haggety's rum, and had lost his
     way home.  So, setting out to lead him home, he discovered that it was

          --H.D. Thoreau, journal entry of April 30, 1858

"Are you fixing to knock 'em on the head?" I asked him,
remembering the miller's apprentice who,
driven half mad by the baritoning bullfrogs
in the mill race, took an afternoon
to plunge himself into the work of braining
every slimy one. The next day, the miller said,
the man could do no work, but only stare up
at the rafters, smiling, as if entranced with silence.
Inspecting my field one day, the long winter
finally letting go, I see, I think, my father,
who has been known to lose the lane
after a drop or two. As I approach I find it is, instead,
our town misfit, a poet, sailor, mountaineer,
woodsman, scholar, erstwhile teacher,
up to his bony knees in a snow-fed tarn.
It takes me a moment to catch on that it's
the peepers that he's after, though not after,
exactly, just wants to see. My mother, her first year
here from Ireland, was sure it was the Banshees
followed her, I tell him. He says, "This is a vernal pool,
a hint of Eden reappearing every Spring."
I don't quite catch his meaning; I fear he may
be touched. "You'll catch your death,"
I says, and what do you suppose is his reply?
"It will catch us all, anon." And he is lost again
to the peepers. It doesn't signify, but sometimes now
that he is gone, I believe I see him still--see how
that maple sapling looks to be a man, it's there
I see Thoreau, standing stock still, as one who's found
his little hint of Eden, and sees no need to leave.


These poems take you there.  I instantly fell for LeBlanc's conceit as though it were served with hot-buttered popcorn at an afternoon matinee of my youth.

These poems really are a gas.  But, they are far more than simply intellectually amusing, these short novellas disguised as poems have a kindness of spirit to them and share some much needed wisdom, some of it only absorbed after some serious contemplation.  Jean LeBlanc brings Thoreau to life with dignified authority and Yoda wit.

A Comprehensive Character

(for my father, J.C. LeBlanc)

     I doubt if Emerson could trundle a wheelbarrow through the
     streets, because it would be out of character.  One needs to have a
     comprehensive character.

          --H.D. Thoreau, journal entry of January 30, 1852

One needs to know how to build with stone, how to swing
an axe, how to keep tools sharp.

One needs to know the apple tree, with its mealy fruit,
is left standing for the hummingbirds in spring, and for shade.

One needs to know vermilion red from scarlet lake.

One needs an ear for the robin's song, at dusk.

One needs a strong back, to stand still and listen. We listen
with our backs.

One needs a love for one's children, so that when they shine,
we are warmed by their shining, and when they fail
at some small thing, we can help them see the smallness of it.

One needs to see the connection between
the robin's evening song and one's children,
the gentle sadness, the summing up of a season

in each rising, falling run of notes.


Skating in Concord is all about character.  Jean LeBlanc takes all the character in her part of the world and jams it into these poems.  Her poems are portraits that honour the character of the characters in them.  These poems are so lovingly rendered you might almost think she were writing about her own children and not her heroes.

And if someone happens to pick up a copy of Walden or Emerson's essay Nature as a result of Skating in Concord, that's a good thing.  It won't hurt you a bit.

Diorama of Thoreau's Cabin at
Walden Pond

     The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted;
     but few are the ears that hear it.

          --H.D. Thoreau, Walden, 1854

Shoebox from my mother's closet.
A mirror for the pond itself, pilfered
from the compact in my mother's purse.
Pipe cleaners from my father's desk,
magic-markered green, twisted into pines,
stuck down into styrofoam; styrofoam glued
to cardboard. To the back of the box,
next to the mirror, construction paper facade
of a cabin, triangle atop rectangle.
Thoreau himself, in front of the cabin,
 a dun-colored plastic soldier that my brother
will never miss. What to do
about the rifle he holds? Ah!
A little folded square of paper,
taped to the tip - an axe!
Cradled like a baby in my arms
on the treacherous bus ride to school.
Set amongst the other dioramas,
twenty-five little Waldens commemorating
a class trip to the place itself.
But I did not have a mother who kept
her shoes in boxes. My brothers
are not young enough for me to have stolen
their toy soldiers. And while my father did,
at one time, smoke a pipe, well, that's just
not enough to make that all be fact.
But wouldn't it be a perfect story!
That little mirror pond, can't you see it, reflecting
skinny pines, cottonball clouds, Thoreau himself
striding through Walden Woods, my mother
going to touch up her lipstick,
amazed at what isn't there?


LeBlanc's poems are studious and sweet, charged by a deep understanding and compassion for all her time-travelling alter egos.  Skating in Concord is a unique poetic experience that is rewarding on every single page.

LeBlanc does Henry David and his pals proud, might even make them blush.

Jean LeBlanc

Jean LeBlanc grew up in central Massachusetts and still connects her love for nature and literature to the landscape and history of New England. She now lives and teaches in northwestern New Jersey, returning to her native place via poetry. Her collections include The Haiku Aesthetic: Short Form Poetry as a Study in Craft (, 2013) and At Any Moment (Backwaters Press, 2010).


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

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ready To Eat The Sky - Kevin Pilkington (River City Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Ready To Eat The Sky.  Volume Four - The River City Poetry Series.  Kevin Pilkington.  River City Publishing.  Montgomery, Alabama.  2004.

Ready To Eat The Sky by Kevin Pilkington was published in 2004 but it only arrived on our desks here at Today's book of poetry recently.  I figure it was stuck in the mail somewhere between the continental divide and Swansea, Wales or Carmathenshire.

Pilkington is a Dylan Thomas fan and devotee.  If that's where you're going to set the bar you are dancing in pretty high cotton, you are going to have to be ready to burn.  Kevin Pilkington is up to the task and does some pretty sweet cooking in Ready To Eat The Sky.

Now I know Pilkington loves Thomas because I read it somewhere, you'd never see it in the poems, although it is certainly there.  Pilkington loves language like birds love sky.

These poems sound and feel like anecdotal narrative poems but that's a trick.  What they really are is emotional Venus-fly-traps.  Pilkington gets right into your bloodstream.

Grilled Fish

We had lunch
in a local trattoria
built into coastal rock,
picked a table on the deck
a few feet above water
that looked like the last
good novel I dove into.

A waiter came over
leaning on two metal canes.
He walked like stone
and his English was a coastline
of jagged rock. His smile
brought the sun closer,
and we said grazie
to things the sea didn't
need that day.

Another waiter brought
a pitcher of wine
with a round gold peach,
a tiny moon you can peel,
resting on the bottom.
We drank it with a salad
and tomatoes so sweet
and red the church should
make Satan blue.

Our main dish was grilled
fish who hadn't lost
their heads to the chef's knife,
or over the wrong woman
the way I did a while back.
We didn't recognize them
either. They might have been
French, swam down here
for the day, then were tricked
by hook or net.

They tasted as rich
as the sun resting
on waves filled
with every gold coin
from every ship that sank
since Caesar and kept
rolling towards shore.


Pilkington's golden tongue skirts the sweet edge of revealing too much, he's almost always on the verge of giving it all away.  He's a tease.  Once he gets you hooked he just starts reeling you in as easily as the big Hem on a Cuban fishing boat.

The sweetness doesn't hurt a bit and there is always just a pinch of tart when you need it.

When I did the office poll the vote was 9 to 1 for going with Pilkington today.  Our typesetter, Milo, doesn't like a damned thing, he tells us daily, yells at us in fact, "that there hasn't been a poet worth his/her salt (he puts in that slash with a wild gesticulation of his little spindly spiny spider white arms) since Ezra lost his gamble!"  We tolerate Milo because he can bake.


My brother and his wife
bought a hunting dog.
It's white with black patches.
There's one that's shaped
like Rhode Island, a small state
that isn't too heavy for a three-
month-old puppy to carry
around on his back. As
he gets older, stronger and puts
on weight, it will stretch
into Texas.

They have already taught
him to sit but he is still
too young to learn about Jesus,
so when they took him
to the beach, he tried walking
on water, fell in then turned
and attacked a wave,
ripping it to shreds.

A mound of cookie dough
on a plate is how he sleeps
on a round mattress and
dreams of rabbits or grouse.
For now a tennis ball
is enough to hunt down,
and sheets flying like ghosts
over rose bushes from
a neighbor's clothesline
is what makes him bark.

My brother and I take him
out on the lawn, throw
his a stick into tall grass.
He runs after it, his ears
that will never be trained
bounce and flap like a loose
shirt. He comes back
with the stick in his mouth
and every dog we ever
had as kids following him.
We can't believe how many
years have gone by since
we've seen them. Then we sit
down on the grass, smile
and watch all our dogs


Come on!!  A poem about puppies.  Give us a freaking break!!  But, but, but, I love this poem, and almost every other single poem in this great collection.  Pilkington could probably amuse me with a poem about the phonebook.  Probably get a tear in my eye as well.

Today's book of poetry was charmed, charmed, charmed by the elastic wit Pilkington uses as an emotional tightrope.  These poems are constructed like the pyramids.  One solid block on another. And so on.

I read these poems like eating dessert, they were such a pleasure to devour.

The Last Saint

Even too much wine
can't stop all the hurt
you packed, but thought
Customs would never let
you bring into the country.
When they asked if you
had anything to declare,
you said the last ten years.

Somehow you can still
walk past the medieval
tower tonight is just
how the Amalfi coastline
gets a hard-on for water,
cars, moon or anything
that moves. So you sit
on a bench.

Low tide rubbing against
rock is how a song finds
a way out of your throat.
And to think you couldn't
speak a word of Italian
when the night began.
But since English never
made any sense and makes
even less now, you decide
never to speak it again.

A couple is standing in
front of you. The man looks
Polish enough to be the pope
and the woman with him
is so large they must rub
her thighs down with olive oil
to squeeze her into Rome.
They are laughing but since
it's a joke you know the punch
line to, you laugh even louder.

Then they are gone and there
is a church like the one
in Sorrento where Christ
is stone. Before you think
about converting to concrete,
you are in an alley leaning
against a building older
than Octavian. A woman
is kneeling in front of you
opening your belt. And
this is where it happens,
the very moment when
you become the last saint
on the face of the earth
who doesn't have a prayer.


Kevin Pilkington has made my day.  Ready To Eat The Sky is a simply delicious book.  Find it.

Kevin Pilkington

Kevin Pilkington ​​​​​​​​​​is a member of the writing faculty at Sarah Lawrence College. He is the author of six collections: his collection Spare Change was the La Jolla Poets Press National Book Award winner and his chapbook won the Ledge Poetry Prize. His collection entitled Ready to Eat the Sky was a finalist for an Independent Publishers Books Award. A collection entitled In the Eyes of a Dog was published in September 2009 and won the 2011 New York Book Festival Award. Another collection entitled The Unemployed Man Who Became a Tree was recently published. His poetry has appeared in many anthologies including Birthday Poems: A Celebration, Western Wind, and Contemporary Poetry of New England. Over the years, he has been nominated for four Pushcarts and has appeared in Verse Daily. His poems and reviews have appeared in numerous magazines including: The Harvard Review, Poetry, Ploughshares, Iowa Review, Boston Review, Yankee, Hayden’s Ferry, Columbia, North American Review, etc. His debut novel entitled Summer Shares was published in June 2012. 

"In Ready to Eat the Sky the reader encounters a poet of extraordinary fineness of vision, one whose language adheres to the surface of realities with an elegance and simplicity rare in today's poetry. There is humility and grace of being in these poems, which stand before the world openmouthed, hat in hand, heart on sleeve. I take guilty pleasure in the poems of Kevin Pilkington, and consider him an essential voice in contemporary poetry."
     -- Jay Parini, author of Why Poetry Matters

Kevin Pilkington
2012 Burlington Book Festival
Video: RETN


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

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

To Some Women I Have Known - Re'Lynn Hansen (White Pine Press)

Today's book of poetry:
To Some Women I Have Known.  Re'Lynn Hansen.  White Pine Press.  The Marie Alexander Poetry Series, Volume 19.  Buffalo, New York.  2015.

"25 Sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" is a prose poem in 25 verses that weds anecdotal history of a possibly/likely extinct bird that lived in the swamp land of Louisiana - with a family memoir, a tribute of sorts to a matriarch with ivory qualities.

It reads more like a movie than almost any poem I've read, and I love movies.  This was a movie I want to see the poem of.  Re'Lynn Hansen's To Some Women I Have Known is a moviehouse filled with the robust lives of women.

If you have read Alice Munro - Re'Lynn Hansen spins a yarn, writes one of these solid poems, in much the same way.  These stories swallow you up with their seamless craft.

The Ghost Horse

We were going to get a horse. The horse would give us meaning.
Or a feeling we didn't have sitting in lecture halls during the day or
waiting on tables at night.

We would ride the horse from Illinois to Colorado and meet peo-
ple along the way who would also give us meaning.

Before we went to see the horse, my friend June bought a pair of
English riding boots in butter yellow. She found them at the local
Goodwill, four dollars.

The horse handler had a Gun N'Roses t-shirt and slapped at the
horse's chest. The horse went crazy. He pawed the ground and the
steam from his nostrils hung in the darkened stables.

As soon as June mounted, her boots slid from the stirrups. The
horse was gone like a ghost train, all light and muscle flying past.

And June was a horizontal dash on top of it---frightening and
comical---the stirrups bounced and flew beneath her, useless
apparatus to hook the rider.

There was a sift of snow on the stubbled wheat outside the corral.

I felt the moment pressing upon me, perhaps knew how I would
remember it: whitened girls on a whitened landscape with Ghost

Freakin' sideshow hell horse, the horse handler shouted. The horse
breached the corral, jumped a low gate. The horse-hand ran and

tried to stop him. Whoa! Whoa! Several times the horse handler had
to ditch.

June hung on. The horse slowed himself.

Then for a moment June looked like god on a horse, straight in the
saddle. It was as we had imagined ourselves---we who did not believe
in god, but horses.

The horse handler grasped the reins. June dismounted, and we
walked away. There was a bus stop at the cul-de-sac, before the
fields and stables. Turning back i saw the horse handler standing
there with the reins of the colossal horse, a dejected giant, a Trojan
horse, the Appaloosa, a clown of a horse.

Everything huge and luminous and dying.


Barrie Jean Borich has it right when she suggests that Hansen is all about "the real beauty of this work is in the juxtaposition."  Hansen's poem about her grandmother and Mary Todd Lincoln sharing syphilis is a marvelous construction.  You don't know whether to laugh, cry or wind your watch - but you are juxtapostitioned into poetic glee.

What makes a prose-poem a poem and not prose?  You are going to need a better moderator leading that discussion - but Re'Lynn Hansen knows the secret.  These prose-like pages sparkle with poetic with and charm.

Patty Hearst on the Prairie

This is who I was, what the world was like that winter: The Way We
Were was number one at the box office. Barbara Streisand's
"Evergreen" was soon to be our prom song. My friend crashed her
car looking for a roach clip that had fallen under her seat and cried
when Robert Redford appeared in the scene with his white sailor's

To get over her melancholy for Redford, she played "Shining Star"
by Earth, Wind & Fire. We danced in the basement condo of a man
she had a crush on, a weightlifter. He managed the produce section
of the food store where she worked as a cashier. She liked it when
he stood by the cantaloupes.

He was gay, of course, she said. She was known for flippancy. Later,
while painting her toenails and watching Kojak in the bedroom, she
would lament over that--Why do all the men i love have to be gay?

There was a third who circled our lives--Lindsey Buckingham. He
had just hooked up with Stevie Nicks to form Fleetwood Mac. Of
course, my friend lamented.

In the evening in the basement condo--thin carpet and cold
floors, somehow a deep anchor to our talks--we would scream the
words: paradise, snow-covered hills, and landslides.

I did not see Jaws, but I did see Love Story. I went with Martha
Stegner, a tall, thin girl. I thought, Not at all like me. She wore a pea
coat and hat similar to Ali McGraw's.

We both had crushes on Ali, and both dressed as a cross between
her and Ryan O'Neal, wearing Ali-type hats and Ryan-type
fisherman's sweaters.

On the bus, girls from my senior class mouthed the words to
"Waterloo" streaming from the boom box. All our eyes met the
eyes of strangers getting on the bus.

We were looking for something.

Patty's fiance Steven Ward was beaten
up the night they took Patty.
Patty, Snatched from the Arms of Her Lover, the headlines read.
It was a quiet night in a quiet neighborhood.

Stephen Weed would remember this:
We were watching
Mission Impossible--

Later, Patty would describe it this way:
There was a knock on the door and
then a kidnapping happened.

The next night,
Walter Cronkite "live"
his body slanting over
his newsroom desk,
a close-up of
the tape recorder on his desk.
There, her voice,
disembodied from the tape:
I am a member of a ruling class family

(note from TBOP - this is how the poem starts but it is just a fragment, there are several more pages and I couldn't eat it up fast enough.)


Re'Lynn Hansen is somewhere between perception and deception.  Lovely deception.  These poems reflect how she wants to see the world as much as how the world really is.  She folds the two together as though she were kneading bread dough -- and then gives us finely baked bread.

These poems have lyrical notions and common sense all tied together in a kind of quiet and elegant rapture of memory and desire.

The Drought Just Then

The days were so hot that my roommates June and Harry were
reduced to drinking riesling. We wondered if soldiers in the
Middle East were as hot, carrying their fifty pounds of gear. We
kept the windows open around the clock and watered the sheets
regularly. This was something June's mother had told us to do. She
had grown up on a farm. The trains loomed close and dust came
in. It added to the effect. The apartment was a desert; the damp
mattress, an oasis we lay on. Our conversations were feverish. June
and Harry talked of food and wine all summer. Their jobs as
sommelier and head waitress had influenced the realm of ideas.
Harry thought Cote du Rhone was best with salmon cooked with
capers and zest of lemon. June set forth an elegant argument for
Pouilly Fuisse--chilled, served with caviar spread on rounds of
pumpernickel. She won me over just by saying Pouilly Fuisse ten
times really fast when I asked her to. June told me of her small
daring feminist move: she gives the first pour to the woman at the
table. I imagined women in black dresses, dark hair, leaning back to
swish the Pinot Noirs, Cote du Rhones, Pouilly Fuisses. But the
wine thing only fascinated me for so long. I was reading Crime and
Punishment that summer of the drought, where on a perfectly fine
day, by a perfectly fine man, a woman is murdered. I was convinced
that a tragedy was playing itself out beyond the facade of human
activity. Yes, I agreed with June and Harry: culinary taste was art.
Good art seduces and subverts, Harry was fond of saying, June and
Harry cooked a cool leek soup one night, and we all agreed that it
seduced the hell out of us. We had to drink vodka straight up just
to cut it. then we sat on the floor. On June's old oriental rug we
sipped Grey Goose, and dipped croissants into the silky green and
agreed that nothing else mattered. We'd give our lives for this
moment with leek soup. That was the third thing about great art--
it became its own entity, set its own rules; stepping into it was like
crossing the galaxies as dust. We were so taken by the taste of leeks
and vodka that we nearly forgot about how many had died in the
drought raging across the Midwest just then, and the war in the
Middle East was a tincture. For once, it was not enormous work,
as it usually was for us, to be not of something.


Re'Lynn Hansen's To Some Women I Have Known proves that "good art seduces and subverts", but it can also be wildly entertaining.

This is the book I will now be recommending to all women's book clubs, men's book clubs, Talking Giraffe book clubs, who fear poetry.

Re'Lynn Hansen

Re'Lynn Hansen's work in essay, prose poem and short story has appeared in numerous literary publications including Hawai'i Review, Prism, Rhino, New Madrid, Water~Stone, New South, Poem Memoir Story, and online at contrary. She is the recipient of the New South Prose Prize, and the Prism International Creative Nonfiction Prize. Her chapbook, 25 Sightings of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, was published by Firewheel Editions. Her Novel, Take Me to the Underground, was nominated for a Lambda Literary award.

Her work combining image and word has been featured in Calyx and Fifth Wednesday journals. She has edited a journal with emphasis on lyric essay and hybrid work, South Loop Review: Creative Nonfiction + Art. She is associate professor in the Nonfiction Program in the Creative Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago.

Re'Lynn lives with her partner, Doreen Bartoni, near the southernmost point of Lake Michigan. Here also is where four forest eco systems converge—the northern hardwood with the northeastern coniferous, and the central broadleaf with the oak pine forests of the south. This is where they write, shoot films and photos, keep up with family and friends, mentor local youth, and drive down to the lake to watch the storm systems come in and sway the trees.

"Re'Lynn Hansen's book asks not the head's question 'what is meaning?' but the heart's question 'what has meaning?' What is worthy of recalling (calling out to again), of remembering (putting back together what is fragmentary, dissolute) from our prospect halfway between what is and what could be. Looking back at her old selves, old friends, old family, and old lovers, Hansen sees them all 'as we had imagined them to be' and as citizens of a lost world. Whatever these texts are—prose poems, lyric essays, memoir—they are luminous with loss."
     - Brian Clements

"Re'Lynn Hansen's To Some Women I Have Known is deliriously immersive, but the real beauty of this work is in the juxtaposition. What yokes the memory of a friend's dying mother, a kidnapped heiress, a syphilis-stricken aunt, the ivory-billed woodpecker, and a woman in a yellow steakhouse shirt? Birds, women, horses, and pears float interdependent in the persistent spume of this gorgeous book."
     - Barrie Jean Borich

"To Some Women I Have Known is poetic and essayistic, offering edges—of moments—and of genre. These pieces are lists and litanies, research and recitation, incantations and illusions, and they're all exquisite. Here is a collection about our yearning to look back at what and who has been lost by looking at the moments of such losing. Hansen finds her reflection in the snow, in her grandmother's eyes, in the sand, in the windows above the bar, and in the photographer's flash—as a way to trouble her own memory. There's a wistful distance to every line, a fade. The writing in this collection is lyrical and composed, controlled even, and I know I'll come back to it again and again."
     - Jill Talbot


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, July 22, 2015

Loose Strife - Quan Barry (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Loose Strife.  Quan Barry.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, Pa.  2015.

Quan Barry is utterly magic. 

Not that smarmy bright light "and for my next trick..." magic.  Barry is magical because she instantly transports the reader to a new reality.  We recognize where we are at all times when reading Barry but also realize it has never looked quite so real in quite this way.

Whether she is writing about the killing fields of Cambodia or the tunnels of Cu Chi, and we have all heard the horrors, the reader is whisked to a reality previously invisible and unavailable.

Barry pulls off the remarkable feat of being clear like crystal but hard as diamond, hard as nails, and at the same time so gently and lovingly human, it is almost impossible to reconcile the two.  Barry does it.

Loose Strife is in this case -  the endless battle we all endure in trying to become humane.  Quan Barry is quite simply masterful.

Loose Strife

Listen  closely  as  I  sing  this.   The man  standing  at  the  gate
tottering on his remaining limb is a kind of metronome,  his one
leg planted firmly on the earth. Yes, I have made him beautiful

because I aim to lay all my cards on the table. In the book review
the  critic  writes,  "Barry  seeks  not  to judge but to understand."
Did she want us to let her be, or does she want

to be there  walking  the  grounds  of  the  old  prison  on  the hill
of the poison  tree where comparatively a paltry twenty thousand
died? In the first room with the blown up

black-and-white  of  a  human  body  gone  abstract  someone has
to  turn   and   face   the   wall   not  because  of  the  human  pain
represented in the photo but because of her calmness.

the   tranquility   with   which    she    tells    us    that   her   father
and  her sister  and  her  brother  were  killed.   In graduate school
a whole workshop devoted to an image of a woman with bleach

thrown   in   the   face   and   the   question    of   whether   or   not
the   author   could   write,   "The   full  moon  sat  in  the  window
like a calcified eye, the woman's face aglow with a knowingness."

I  felt  it  come  over  me  and I couldn't stop. I tried to pull myself
together  and  I  couldn't.   They  were  children.  An army of child
soldiers.  In the room papered with photos of the Khmer Rouge

picture   after    picture   of   teenagers,    children   whose   parents
were   killed   so   that   they   would   be  left  alone  in  the  world
to do the grisly work that precedes paradise.

And  the  photos  of   the victims,  the woman holding her newborn
in   her  arms  as  her   head  is  positioned  in  a  vise,  in  this  case
the vise an instrument not of torture

but  of  documentation,  the  head  held  still as the camera captures
the   image,   the   thing   linking   all    their  faces,  the  abject  fear
and total hopelessness as exists

in  only  a   handful  of  places  in  the  history  of  the visible world.
For  three  $US  per  person  she  will  guide  you through what was
Tuol Sleng prison, hill of the strychnine tree.

Without   any   affectation   she   will   tell   you   the  story  of  how
her    father   and    her    sister    and    her    brother    went   among
the two million dead.  There are seventy-four forms

of poetry in this country and each one is still meant to be sung.


PLEASE NOTE, TBOP was unable to reproduce Quan Barry's poems exactly as they appear in her book.  We apologize profusely to both Ms. Barry and to the University of Pittsburgh Press.  We here at TBOP will continue to try to improve our technical proficiencies.  A thousand monkeys, a thousand typewriters.


Perhaps a word about style.  Today's book of poetry has no clue why Barry has chosen a variety of formal constructs for her poems.  These deliberate forms are consistent blocks, columns of text with perfect margins down both sides.  I'm sure it means something and I assure you there isn't a comma out of place in these panoramic puzzles.  But I don't know what it means and don't really care.  Why would I?  Loose Strife is a solid as it gets, Quan Barry is a stone cold heavyweight.  Period.

How is it possible that one person knows what Quan Barry knows?  Who can know this?  How is it possible that Quan Barry riffs across the water as though she were the Siren of Time.

Do you get the idea that TBOP likes this absolutely stunning book?  Loose Strife compels you to turn the page.

Noli Me Tangere

&  I  cried  out  in  Aramaic,  the
tongue  of  the  only  god, Rabbi,
it's me!
Noli  me  tangere,  he whispered,
&     the     world    went     black.
Don't cleave to me.

Comfort   me   with   apples  is  a
mistranslation.    What    the     J-
writer meant:
Sustain    me   with   raisins.   Put
down    a   bedding   of   apricots.
Sleep with me.

The  last  time  we  spoke  on  the
phone     one   final   moment   of
Take  care,  he  said,  but  I  knew
what     he    was    really   saying.
Don't need me.

In   the  Semitic   light  I  mistook
him        for        the        gardener,
something in the look
of  his  hands. Give  me  the body,
I    cried.    I   am   of    his   flock.
Believe me.

The  email  claims  I   am   a  lady
who  is  very much  at  the  top of
her game.
Now     if     only      I    lived    in
Milwaukee,     city     of       hops.
A reprieve for me.

That   a   woman's   touch   would
soil him. The  white  robe forever
marred.  So
much   of   what   he   preached  I
still             don't          understand
Sister, how it grieves me.

In   my   fantasies   I   imagine   a
dark   man  in   a  three  thousand
dollar suit,
the  man  a  heart  surgeon  with a
love   of    poetry.   Yeah      yeah.
It's beneath me.

When   the   world   ends   I   will
remember   bits  &  pieces  of  my
wicked ways. The seven demons
of  the   head.  The   sound  of our
moans     when    one     of    them
pleased me.

&   tell   the   others  I  am   risen
Then    he    points    away    from
himself & out into the
stony  world,  I imagine  his heart
beating  stay   but   his   face  says
leave me.

In   that    movie   with   the   teen
prostitute,    how    no   one   ever
touched her yet
the   maniac  took  up   a  gun.  So
many   ways   to  touch   someone.
Naive me.

& what of  it?  A  man  nailed like
a  bloody  flag   to  two  pieces  of
the  duality  of   the  word  cleave.
I  get   it  now.     He   was   trying
to free me.

I don't  know  it   yet  but it's  good
advice.   I   should   write  it   down
Star of  the sea  &  the  sea a sea of
bitterness.          Lord               God,
don't deceive me.


Barry does not hesitate to dance into the darkness where others fear to tread.  With chops like these she can do whatever she likes and thank you, thank you, thank you.

Reading Quan Barry for the first time makes me think of my younger self, makes me remember the first time I read Michael Ondaatje, Charles Bukowski, Kurt Vonnegut.  I remember those books, where I was at the time, and I know I am going to remember reading Barry forever.

These poems have heart and are heartlessly blunt.  These blunt poems have beauty in spite of the bloody wounds they sever open.

Loose Strife

Everyone dreams of being harmed.  It's easy.  If I were to restructure the narrative,

I   would   start   with   the   serial   killer   taking   his   wife's   face   in   his  hands

and  nodding  sagely   toward   the raggedy  young   woman   by   the   diner   door,

a  baby slung  on  her  hip.  "They're   the  invisible  ones,"  the   killer tells his wife

who  thirty years  later  tells  the  journalist who  once  lived as  a  teenage  runaway

hopping   from   rig  to  rig.   I  have   never   had   to   force  myself  to   stay  awake

as    the    journalist    did    as    she    hitched    cross-country.   I   have   never   had

to   adopt   extreme  behaviors  in   order  to  stay   alive.   But   once  I   needed help

and   every   single    person   who   drove   by   pretended   they   couldn't   see   me,

ostensibly       me      a     dirty      black        woman       in       an    oversized      coat

standing      by     the     ATM.       In       the      article       the      journalist      details

the     night     a      trucker     pulled    a    knife    on   her    then   told    her   to    run

then    a    different     night     when     a    woman's     mangled    body    was    found

in     a    truck-stop     dumpster     as     the     cab     the     journalist   was   riding   in

sat    filling      up,    all    over    the     landscape    the    young     runaways   tortured

and      killed,      pierced      with       metal,       their      bodies    completely    shaved.

So     many     ways     to     be    invisible,      so     many     ways       to     be     erased.

On   the  traffic  island   by  the   westside   Target   a   man  with   his  cardboard  sign

saying    any   little    thing    will    help.    Everyone     dreams    of    being     harmed.

Much       tougher        to       recover        from       the         dream        of       harming...

The   other   time   I   went   invisible   I   went    invisible    for    six    whole    weeks.

It   was  November.  I stood as my hands slowly froze, the whole world passing me by

even   as    I    started    crying.     After   9/11   a    friend    joked   that  a   black   man

in    a    UPS    uniform    and    a    truck    could    still    go    anywhere    he   pleased.

Tonight     if   I    could     go    anywhere     I    would   go    back   to   that    afternoon

when   the   last   photo   of   her    was   taken.  She's   so   young,   her  body a sapling

her   smile  goofy  and  adolescent,   self-conscious.   She  is  sitting   in   the   backseat

of  a  car,  this  murdered  girl,  the  one  he  tortured for weeks in the back of his trailer,

stringing  her  up  by  a  series  of  hooks  before  finally garroting her with bailing wire.

In    the    photo,   I    imagine    she   is   on    her    way    toward   a    body    of   water.

Something  that  will bear  her  up.  In  ancient  Greek  there  is  a  noun  for the blessing

of children.   EUTEKVIA.    Lord,    have    mercy    on    us.    She   is   fourteen   years   old.


These poems have power, magic and grace.  Hard to beat those three.

Quan Barry is spectacular, seriously.  These poems move us all one step closer to a better understanding of what it is to be human beans.

Reading these poems makes you feel smarter.


Quan Barry is the author of three previous poetry collections: Asylum, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize; Controvertibles; and Water Puppets, winner of the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. She is also the author of the novel She Weeps Each Time You’re Born. Barry has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in both poetry and fiction. She is professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


“Violence across history, from Greek myth to modern American serial killers and the Cambodian genocide, animates this disturbing and graphically original fourth effort from Barry (Asylum). She utilizes dual-justified and unusually arrayed text to fit stark scenes where we find someone ‘hiding in a space meant/ for buckets and rags as// next door the soldiers/ drag away a young boy,’ or, in a modified ghazal, a witness at Golgotha watching ‘a man nailed like/ a bloody flag to two pieces of/ wood.’ Taking in ecological as well as human horror, falling gingko pods remind Barry of failing satellites, ‘all of which some day will come tumbling back.’ In a series of poems that belong together despite their diverse scenes, she tries ‘to describe the unimaginable/ in a time and a place when sadly everything is imaginable.’ Those vivid pictures, and their self-consciousness about what it means to narrate extremities, perhaps benefit from the book's origin in a collaboration between Barry and visual artist Michael Velliquette. And yet the book stands up, and stands out, on its own. Barry risks the lurid, and the knowing, but comes out more like a prophet, overwhelmed-sometimes sublimely so-by the first- and second-hand truths she must convey.”
      --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Born in Saigon and raised in Boston, Barry is the author of three previous collections of poetry and a novel, She Weeps Each Time You're Born. In a review of Water Puppets (2011), one critic says, 'violence is a shocking misfortune that remains foreign, beyond [Barry's] personal borders.' And yet, in this book, Barry's poems take jarring, strange arrangements on the page: scrambled and center-spaced with black bars across lines like censored transcripts. The unusual use of space enacts a subtle violence on the reader, frustrating expectations of how poetry should appear. Likewise, 'loose strife' refers to the sowing of chaos in the tragic plays of the Oresteia, and an undercurrent of deconstructed Greek pervades the work ('Pandora's Box, from the Greek word / pithos, what in actuality was a jar, an urn'). In one poem, Barry quotes the aforementioned review and responds with a story of being 'robbed at gunpoint on a deserted road.' Barry offers a difficult, sophisticated look at violence in personal, historical, and textual forms."—ALA Booklist


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.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Word KINGDOM in the Word Kingdom - Noah Eli Gordon (Brooklyn Arts Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Word KINGDOM in the Word Kingdom.  Noah Eli Gordon.  Brooklyn Arts Press.  Brooklyn, New York.  2015.

This collections starts with the poem "An Example" in which Noah Eli Gordon invokes the name of the poet James Schulyer and several of his lines of poetry as the center piece of a conversation between Gordon and several other poets.  My ears pricked up Joe Orton style.

One of my favourite poets and the most knowledgeable person I know when it comes to poetry, Stuart Ross, visits my lucky home regularly, almost frequently, often stays overnight, and when he does he rummages through my thousands of poetry titles.  I keep them in alphabetical order, naturally. Almost every single time Stuart visits he alights onto a copy of James Schulyer's book The Morning Of The Poem and then takes it to his room for a fix.

When Stuart Ross talks poetry, as you all know, I listen.  When I saw Schulyer celebrated/honoured in the first poem of Gordon's book The Word KINGDOM in the Word Kingdom -- I knew I had to pay special attention.  Good thing.

Historical Criticism And
The Image Of The Heart

Its beating was always allegorical. One hears it
in a scene where someone crouches
behind something, or in the subbasement
of one's own response to what the day, stumbling in
at an odd hour, strews across the bathroom floor.
Isn't fashion last year's scandal declawed?
The books we'd loved best told us on every page
to wake, whether to hunger, cannon fire,
or the warmth of another's body. As for painting,
its greatest achievements, of which you know
I'm no authority, are replicated in
wrinkled sheets. By you, I mean the both of us.
A new focal point brings the promise
of finally seeing for the first time what we'd been
looking at all along: sunsets. Then photographs
of sunsets. Then better photographs of sunsets.
Then perfect digital copies. Then computerized
reenactments. Then, simply, ones and zeros.


It's not just that the poems in Noah Eli Gordon's The Word KINGDOM in the Word Kingdom are precise -- they are, they are laser cut and seemingly predestined, all full of logic and wonder.

At first you think Gordon may be toying with the reader like a cat playing with mice.  But that's not it at all. Gordon is directing, leading, cajoling the reader through a splendid maze of language and opening dazzling doors of light along the way.

An Experiment In Artifice
And Abject-Oriented

between a prayer for the telescope

and a prayer for the microscope

pixels flare into the image of an atom

in an anthill an airplane entering

the troposphere an idea orbiting

that of human cognition in the authoritative

shape of earth seen from elsewhere

antiquating the twentieth century's

representational doubt or doubting

representations of ownership

in our condensed book of vigilance

where the absence of a crown

shows hierarchy to have no color

I prefer the muddy ghost of one

sustained cello note over one

hundred thousand science experiments

I prefer two electrified balloons

pushing away from each other

like localized points of reference

perhaps one can love the academic sentence

for its ethical contortions the footnote

for its fishhooks pulling up islands

from an ocean floor perhaps a barge

passing below a bridge exemplifies

a green horizon free from the expectation

of green blackened with carbon completely

submerged the egg holds around it

a fine film of air it is silver the silver

of barges and silver of bridges

a perfect pear-shaped lampshade

bringing to the room an understanding

of artifice the silver shape of Colorado

in spring its glossy parody of an ideal

landscape shattered by the airplane window

crossed out like the X wedged into

a representation of the upper atmosphere

the sun's light is white this the light

of example a world within a red lampshade

whose idea of orange is a tiny dandelion

giving to a field its greenness anyone

can bend and scatter blue and violet rays

but who puts together a life by praising

mathematical air around an elephant

half of the sky excuses itself

from such a question sixty-five million

years ago an asteroid smashed into

the earth what remains is loneliness

for the nihilistic imperative withdrawn

as Copernicus withered as an oak leaf

clinging like an aura of classical inevitability

around the little effort it takes to imagine

a scorpion you don't admire an icon you

just click on it the airplane and the

atmosphere were never one spiraling

through a pre-Mayan zero's impossible

boundary the barge and the bridge were

never one a seed disintegrates in soil

complete potentiality comes to the elephant

and the egg one validates the other's

annulment reaching toward the lamp

someone's decided the world's too full

of illumination both captain and pilot

survive scrutiny as the barge destroys

the view from the bridge and the

nomenclature of clouds gives the day

another creation myth to ignore the guts

of a piano would make a good example

but of what I'm unsure so we continue

to engineer our architectural music

taking cues from Chaucer like clues

from the hourglass shape of a Chinese

alchemist's furnace too much symbolism

annihilates the sublimated form therefore

no one mentions swans anymore would you

rather have a goddess of terror

to whom goats are sacrificed or

the implications of Eve signifying human

sensitivity entrenched in the post-

European psyche for another millennium

I'm through thinking in images says

the bodily eye to its narrative

dismemberment while a decapitated head

rolls out of the cliche and I've built

another victim of fully embodied rhetoric

and in this lies the difference between

picture and proposition between

thinking afresh as if nothing had happened

and taking a tidal wave apart a salty

phoneme sinks in sand it is not

novel pictorial noise but the limits

of draftsmanship standing for the limits

of earthly existence removed from

the videocassette multi-petaled rose-like

I give you permission to see beneath

the apparent image of the flower

in this model two prongs of a fork

are pushed into a cork J'Lyn moves

from Joshua Paul and Kristin expand

without tipping or toppling over the fern

marks an absolute conclusion simplistic

and perishable impermanence yes

the gymnast considers another balancing

experiment and our boat demonstrates

a failure to parse the greenest of sentences

the fork however is easily returned

to the drawer the fern to the forest

airplane to the air and the elephant

to the twisted nucleotides that give it order

after the piano was repaired its music

seems dated derivative as attention

tossed to the ruptured balloon ruining

the experiment's proof of repulsion

but proving sideways listening a kind

of detonation a miniature electric cell

in which notes are to noise as bees

are to a shaft of wheat compressed

into the best tasting bread things don't

correspond they coalesce a lion crushes

a dandelion a crown crushes abstract

autonomy Dante damns his enemies

in every new translation as true images

are collapsing again into the earth

we enter the Clouds of Magellan

only to drift like heterogeneous ideas

yoked together by violets this is

the terrible loneliness of an electron's

orbit botany and pornography fused

into the most aerodynamic of asteroids

goodbye Hegelian aliens the rational alone

is a real hinge pulpy and puffy children

swing in summertime alive as animation

so much for the playground hypothesis

of a disaster movies ripping open

an already cauterized cultural wound

you like novels and I like nudity

underneath all utilitarian and decorative states

an instrument of epiphany sits unstrung

as a book of etiquette from the age

of cause and effect American acoustics

thrive in their theatrical qualities

while the sky drained of any significance

drops like a curtain over our embrace

or reading into the empirical now

the piano implicates us in its generous

and possessive melody the cricket emerges

an imago parents roam from room

to room demolishing themselves

like Socratic students both egg

and airplane crack leaving no other trace

than the transitory and arbitrary volume

of a little air tender wreckage

grass nailed objectively to the ground


Gordon isn't as committed to an obvious narrative line as much as Today's book of poetry usually prefers but these are speed-racer poems.  Once you are aboard -- warp speed is introduced and The Word KINGDOM in the Word Kingdom is at full speed.

Gordon whips through ideas with his foot firmly on the floor, the focal point keeps shifting, images fly by the windows, but oh what a ride, oh, what a view.

Against Erasure

Tinkering with trace elements
or punching holes
to pry the copper piping
from your mother's insect voice
either way you'll wake up in static
which is like falling asleep in snow
Call it a tiny treasure
surrounded by a summer horse
& admit that there's a cup of coffee
inside every meaningful thing
you've ever said


Noah Eli Gordon's very tightly knit and intelligent poems operate "under Emerson's assertion that '[e]very word was once a poem.'" according to the editors at the Brooklyn Arts Press.

For us here at TBOP these were challenging poems -- my brain is old and stupid.  But they were very rewarding poems where surprises abound.  Even I can see that Noah Eli Gordon's The Word KINGDOM in the Word Kingdom is sublime.

Noah Eli Gordon 
Author portrait by:  Zachary Schomburg

Noah Eli Gordon is the author of several books, including The Year of the Rooster (Ahsahta Press, 2013), The Source (Futurepoem, 2011), and Novel Pictorial Noise (Harper Perennial, 2007), which was selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series and subsequently chosen for the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award. He is an Assistant Professor in the MFA program in Creative Writing at The University of Colorado–Boulder, where he currently directs Subito Press.

“Eileen Myles, Alice Notley, and Clark Coolidge were among the poets I looked up to as a youngster. When I think of poets from my generation who bring that same shock of living magic, Noah Eli Gordon tops the list. I’m always excited for his latest book, each a departure for unknown terrain. This is essential poetry, which is an urgent way of saying highly recommended!”
     - CA Conrad

“I’ve known Noah ever since he was a flower on fire. This book burns.”
     - Dorothea Lasky

“[I]nside this kingdom there is a syntactical logic that radicalizes ontological concerns, a sensation of waking under marvelous pressure, hills of storks and swans and lions, various collusions and collisions mapping the breath-spaces between words.”
     -  Selah Saterstrom

Noah Eli Gordon
Reading his poem "A New Hymn To The Old Night"
From his book A Fiddle Pulled From The Throat Of A Sparrow
Video:  The Continental Review


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, July 18, 2015

This Life Now - Michael Broder (A Midsummer Night's Press)

Today's book of poetry:
This Life Now.  Michael Broder.  A Midsummer Night's Press.  Body Language 12.  New York, New York.  2014.

When you wet the bed first
it is warm then it gets cold.
                             -James Joyce

The Body Language series of books "are devoted to texts exploring questions of gender and identity."

The poems in Michael Broder's This Life Now have a quiet elegance to them, like whispers in a lover's ear, yet they arrive with full volume, resonate with energy.

These are poems about a young boy's first knowing, dangerous and tense teen travails, the horrible plague.  Mostly these very touching, searching poems are excellent vignettes about love, desire and coming to an understanding of one's own sexual exploration and expression.

Words and Things

Near the end we walked along the beach;
                   you said we felt disconnected,
          like a sentence with no conjunctions.

Once we had shared--
                   razors, toothbrush, a blanket,
          like sea and air share the horizon,

          reflecting, penetrating each other,
each better suited to any given thing,

          like air to birds, sea to fish,
yet both hospitable to rainstorms,

          and each with something unique
to offer sunsets.

Near the end we talked about words, 
          how actions speak louder
          but are generally inadequate

                    to hypotheses
                             and other logical or affective relations

                    whose truth or validity
                             are only apparent over time

                    as in

The pen is mightier than the sword
                                                         or the phrase
            Killing with kindness.


Today's book of poetry is at an ignorant crossroads, a self-inflicted dilemma.  Do I talk about Michael Broder and This Life Now as gay text -- or as I'd prefer -- just as good poetry?  I don't want to overemphasize the context -- and I don't want to ignore it.  

Today's book of poetry will listen to any constructive advice in this regard.

This Life Now, for TBOP, is Chet Baker smooth, all west coast cool, terribly handsome.  We loved how Broder cuts through modern culture to find the perfect touch stones like a crush on the Beaver's brother Chip, leaving a particular hue to the cues and curbstones in his wake.

A Brief History

In 1960, by my mother, my father's bread is buttered
         without irony.
Then, the word "luncheonette" was uttered without irony.

Sodium lamps surround our housing project like a stalag.
Home alone, watching Rosemary's Baby, I shuddered
         without irony.

High school girls wonder why Michael won't date them.
In a pizzeria, over a vial of pills, her eyelashes fluttered,
         without irony.
In the lower bunk I ask permission before removing my briefs.
From above, "I love you," stuttered without irony.


Broder's keen coming-of-age poems are real beauties.  He navigates all those difficult moments with an adult poets' intelligence and aplomb and yet keeps all the innocent child's guileless magic.  This is no small mechanical feat yet Broder does this sort of thing again and again in this splendid collection.

When Broder turns a corner he takes us with him.  These poems tell the story of coming to consciousness in childhood, from teen horrors and joys, the spurting adolescent to the unrepentant young man who wrote these lovely poems.

You See, The Thing Is,

I've been in love before,
but never like this,
the way I lie, arm around him,
dark outside, can't sleep,
thinking of mother in a hospital bed,
lying awake while dawn comes,
yellow, gray, and slightly stale,
the hundred and eighty
degrees I turn, the away I face,
clock I check as he rolls over,
fast asleep, and catches me.


TBOP looks forward to Michael Broder's second book, this is a first class start.

Michael Broder

Michael Broder (Freeport, New York, 1961) holds a BA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University, an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University, and a PhD in Classics from The Graduate Center of The City University of New York. His poems, essays, and reviews have appeared in BLOOM, Court Green, Columbia Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Classical World, and other journals, as well as in the anthologies This New Breed, My Diva, Divining Divas, Rabbit Ears, and Ancient Obscenities.
He has taught at Brooklyn College, Hunter College, Queens College, York College, and the Graduate Center, all of which are campuses of the City University of New York, as well as at Montclair State University (Montclair, NJ) and The University of South Carolina (Columbia, SC).
He lives in Brooklyn with his lawfully wedded spouse, the poet Jason Schneiderman, and numerous cats, both feral and domestic. This Life Now is his first book.

“Michael Broder’s moving and lucid poems have heart, music, audacity—and they give a quiet, lasting pleasure, like an ancient Greek torso reshaped for the space age. This Life Now is full of salt, sex, TV, and other riveting varieties of poised explosiveness, to which his lucky reader blissfully surrenders.”
     —Wayne Koestenbaum

“Dare I confess that this wise and sassy and heartbreaking collection made me scour YouTube for past episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Such are the subtle, ethereal, and playful gifts of Michael Broder’s poems that a reader won’t want to miss any allusion. No matter how bittersweet or fleeting, these poems, which span more than thirty-years of an emerging queer consciousness, chart an unflinching poetics for the missing and unaccounted for. The book makes so many foundational moments and episodes of a thriving culture reappear and cohere, with such grim acceptance and celebration, that it takes our breath away.”
     —Peter Covino

Michael Broder
Cafe Be with guest, poet Michael Broder
video:  Mark McNease


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.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Cut Up Apologetic - Jamie Sharpe (ECW Press/A Misfit Book)

Today's book of poetry:
Cut Up Apologetic.  Jamie Sharpe.  ECW Press/A Misfit Book.  Toronto, Ontario.  2015.

Today's book of poetry gets the impression that Jamie Sharpe may not be wired like the rest of us.   His ideas come faster than a twenty person snowball fight with nineteen people on the other team.

Most of us think "light-bulb" ideas.  Sharpe comes up with "mirror-ball" ideas.  The inside of his head is like a ballroom with shards of light constantly spiking into new corners of the room, then like the wizard sorceror he appears to be, Sharpe spews light into the corners of our minds, corners that were previously dark.

Back in July, 2013, Today's book of poetry had the pleasure of reading/blogging about Sharpe's Animal Husbandry Today, his excellent first book.  Cut Up Apologetic is more of the same brilliant lunatic assemblage.  Except that these poems are tighter, just slightly more crisp, and that is an unexpected delight.

One Metre Diet

Birch leaves are delicious:
add truffle oil.

Your lawn's delicious:
add truffle oil.

Pine needles are delicious
soaked in vodka.

Give thanks: life offers
simple, abundant pleasures.

Take any local green
then fatten with foreign nectar.

          Translate me,
          Charles Simic.

          Transform my
          sour, green lines.


One of the things my minions like to see is me in a good mood.  Jamie Sharpe poems are a great step in that general direction so things are smooth in the office this morning.  I haven't had to rip a yard off of anyone yet.

Reading Cut Up Apologetic is like watching television while someone else has the remote -- and they are skipping through channels with glee and somehow it turns into an orchestrated concert with a start, middle and ending, coda included.  Just when you recognize the road you are on Sharpe changes the channel so that you arrive at a totally unexpected yet appropriate destination.

This is a good trick to know.

Because It Ties In
With The Throw Pillows

There is a potential for immediacy
in painting not readily found in poetry.

Walk through a museum, viewing

     Which did you like?
     Monet's lily pads were glorious.

Won't read three hundred
poems this lifetime.

The prefab art section at Linens N Things
permeates our lives.

I'm jealous; I want my sestina
above your couch.


Today's book of poetry let the minions pick today's poems knowing full well they could not go wrong.  Jamie Sharpe's second book of poems is confirmation of what we all thought when reading Animal Husbandry Today,
Cut Up Apologetic is cherse.

We can't wait to see what he gets up to next.

Segues: In Search Of An Expansive,
Finely Tuned Conception Of Vocation


A hummingbird
is a bird able to hover

but the Peruvian ridged hummingbird
has to maintain forward momentum

and the Arctic plover (not a hummingbird)
can suspend itself in mid-air.


I teach at an ESL summer camp
where one activity is go-karting.

At the racetrack I stand the gaggle
of foreign teenagers beside the Rules Board
(that they can't read)

and give a safety talk
(they can't understand)

I then point to the track
where carnage will ensure and say,
Let's make some poetry out there.


Jamie Sharpe has very quickly become one of Today's book of poetry's favourite poets to pull out of a hat, "Here! Read this!" I say, grinning like Hell.

Jamie Sharpe

Jamie Sharpe is the author of Animal Husbandry Today (ECW, 2012). He lives in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

Here is an excellent profile of Jamie Sharpe from Open Book Toronto:


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.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Rotten Perfect Mouth - Eva H.D. (Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Rotten Perfect Mouth.  Eva H.D..  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2015.

Eva H.D. is a conundrum.

I met her briefly at the book launch for Rotten Perfect Mouth here in Ottawa.  Eva H.D.'s reading that night was as bad as any I've ever been to - and I still loved it.  Couldn't help it.  Her casual disdain for the audience and the poetry reading process was palpable, obvious and clearly stated - and we still all loved it.

She has the same tarantula charm as Val Kilmer's Doc Holiday.  Crazy wisdom filtered through an eternally broken/bent heart.

What matters most is the startling poetry Eva H.D. writes.  And my, oh my, does this woman write up a storm.  Rotten Perfect Mouth had me yelling again.  My head runs out of places to contain my enthusiasm for writing like this.

Racing It

The sky never touches the ground but races it, forever and ever.
I am driving us home from the church,
away from the last of summer, through the
funeral dusk. There is no bend in the road.
She is riding shotgun, exhausted, curling away
from awful truths. Blowing smoke from a crack
in the window, eyes closed.

We are surrounded by wheat and corn,
just like people always say.
I can feel the farness in my muscles.
I can feel the love in my teeth, humming.

When we get home, we can have a drink,
uncoil, not talk about it. This is what we
do best.

I want to stop the car, walk out into the fields,
and lie down on the ground, flat on my back.
I want to lie flat out, not feeling it,
until forever lets me on for the ride.


Today's book of poetry will put Rotten Perfect Mouth up against all comers today.  This poetry shines, I mean literally sparkles like fireworks in front of your eyes.

These poems intersect those tangent lines of cool, wise and charming.

I mean Miles Davis cool, I don't give a rat's ass cool.

Wise like Sharon Olds, wise like your smartest friend.

Charming, because fierce intelligence like this is always charming, whether Eva H.D. likes it or not.

Teenage Stuff Forever

You can continue doing this teenage stuff forever.
You can sit on the road in the perfect summer dark
and listen to a married man rail against the prison
he has built for himself. It's the same street where
you sat and smoked at fifteen, listening to a boy
describe his father's rage, the bruises, the lonely
why. They could be the same man. The man already
jealous of his toddling son, the boy cowering from
his father. It could be the same night, that June
damp, the desire to touch the face of someone beautiful
with your rotten, perfect mouth.


Damn it.  I am trying to put on the brakes, curb my enthusiasm but Rotten Perfect Mouth is in Nora Gould, Kayla Czaga, Sue Goyette class.

If you buy one book I recommend, and you SHOULD be buying ever single one of these books I recommend, you can start with this one.  Eva H.D. is not kidding around.  Rotten Perfect Mouth hits like the first frantic riff of Eric Clapton's Layla - and once you read these poems, the melody will stay with you for a long, long time.

Jerusalem Morning

I'm radiofree.
Wandering and orange as a flower,
pale as an orangeblossom,
fullstopped and transiting. Doves
in the gravel.

The cat is after a bird, claims Absal.
The bird is after, an afterthought
in the humming bushes,
a noise on the air that is not
an engine.

A love song to the cats, then
the hibiscus, the cyprus, the
To the pink plastic lighter
and the pink tracksuits
in the market and the half-eaten
pastries and the schoolgirls and the Gauloises.

A toast to the homeless man
at John's Pizza six years ago,
the Chinese characters like marble beads &
the jade about my neck.

God, it's perfect,
the pink blossoms,
the pink afternoon.
Crates of wine stacked
like pineapples,
the tale the muddy bank
of coffee tells
the china. I was here.
Remember me.


"Remember me"?  I dare you to try and forget.

These poems are so packed with energy and weird precise knowing that you almost don't notice the cumulative emotional groundswell building.

Eva H.D. wields a sledgehammer like a scalpel.  She isn't playing with the reader's emotions but she is sharing a complex palate of her own dismay and it is like riding a roller coaster of the heart designed with Edith Piaf aplomb.

Today's book of poetry and our entire staff could simply not recommend a book any higher than this one.  It is instant required reading.

Eva H.D.

Eva H.D. lives and writes in Toronto.


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.