Monday, May 30, 2016

Radio Silence - Philip Schaefer & Jeff Whitney (Black Lawrence Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Radio Silence.  Philip Schaefer & Jeff Whitney.  Black Lawrence Press.  Pittsburgh, PA.  2016.

Winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition.


Startling good poetry.  Somehow Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney have morphed themselves into a single entity with one marvelous fearsome voice.  Radio Silence crackles with intelligent energy all the way through.

Schaefer and Whitney do not reveal their seamless technique and it is impossible to decipher where one voice stops and another starts.  These guys didn't edit Radio Silence, they invisibly mended it.

Road Mapped

There is the giving and the taking and the taking
back. There is the day and the day is a woman
who loves you. There's a boy with a thumb
no bigger than the moon. There are rabid dogs
in packs of three, a moment to call it poverty, a dead
dust bowl idea of wealth, a dead child in a posthole,
delicious intent turned sour, a country going west.
There are buffalo who stagger boulder-like
in the dark. A coyote who has not eaten, a small
steady biting at her center. There is the bell
in a town no one rings, a statue's weeping,
and there is the weeping of those who visit her,
arms extended, supplicant as grass. There is
the marching of soldiers into villages
and the shrieking of ballistics in the night.
The dullness of blood and a trunk of dolls
lodged in the branches of a tree. There is the robe
his mother wore, pink with one yellow flower,
ribboning like the flag of a ruined country.
There is the sighing of holy men who do not pray
for the end of suffering but for the end of our willingness
to accept it. The ungulate that offers its neck to the river.
Candle flames ghosting around in the ungentle air.
That painting of the boy rowing out to an anchored galleon.
There is his happiness in going and his dread
and both are small spiders that live in the catacombs
of his nights. There are the people who could not resist
the sweetness of falling, the bridge with Plexiglas
and the bridges without. There is a woman
staring in the distance at a carnival, a mother
with dull insidious fruits clumped in a sack
near her heart. There are the sad notes of the mandolin,
the old hurts we remember wrong, all trembling, all curling
like smoke. Made from flaring ghosts. Whistled thin.


The poems in Radio Silence are all highly polished and full of sharp edges.  You will want to pick them up and turn them around in your hands but inevitably you will get nicked.  There's no getting away from Schaefer and Whitney without some blood letting.

"ribboning like the flag of a ruined country"

That's not a line of poetry!  That's a novel, and a damned good one.  These guys have salted every poem in Radio Silence with charms like this.


The first out is the heart, small
gourd pulled from a wet pocket
of the body promised heaven
whose soul would come back
in a swell of insects or dry season
rain, who would become
for a night the moon's dull glow.

Then the doctor, half-clothed,
holds up the dark glob shining
to bring on the ten thousand
stars like the blinking eyes of gods.

This is the madness we dance for
hoping life fire to learn
the world the way a sloth learns
a tree's particular curve,
to come apart piece by
bloodied piece knowing nothing
goes back, to call home
the difficult weather, the severed
soul, the ball-to-glove thud
of figs in summer falling
each morning to mulch.


Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our new Jr. Editor, led our morning read.  Now they are huddled up in the corner of the office trying to decipher where Schaefer ends and Whitney starts, vice versa and so on.  Like trying to find the zipper on an apple -- it's not there.

Today's book of poetry never tires of poetry as smart as this, Radio Silence is full of urgent poems that are in no hurry.  These poems are as carefully laid out as the mosaic tiles that tell the sad history of the story of the world.  Some books take more out of you than they give, this isn't one of them.  Radio Silence starts rewarding the reader on the first page and leaves us wanting more on the last.

Not sure how to tell you that these poems are of a particular order.  Today's book of poetry wants to belong to that club.


Call it a snake curling between the chords
of a piano in your ribs, a snail that shimmies
across the sharp part of a blade.
Call it simple. Call it a woman
you've never met.

A house is always old
and there are many species of dark.

Call it a house or many species of dark,
a desperate watermelon salesman
burning his last field while miles away
children play the game of the lost dead
astronaut. they wander into the orchard
and retrieve the farthest fruit
then practice the difficult art
of coming home.

Call it gun metal rusting in the fences
like the wind's diamond tooth
while we have nothing to do but look,
let the hours stake out our bones, admire
what has learned to last.

     *     *

Last night wild dogs made fireworks
of the farmhouse chickens. A screaming
mural impressed against the picket fence.
We sleep through everything until we don't.
Today the sun is an artist gluing mountains
in crimson blues, splitting faces
of the corner drunks, pulling orange trees
from the pockets of the dead.

     *     *

There are words we can never say.
We have our tongues until
they're gone. Somewhere far
a gunshot, a crow,
a field of lightning writhing
to tell us we are wrong.


Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney must resemble the Matt Damon and Greg Kinnear characters in the Farrelly Brothers' movie "Stuck On You," conjoined twins stuck together at the hip.  I bet right now they are flipping immaculate burgers at some back road diner and writing magnificent poems on their breaks.  

First-rate.  Five star.

Philip Schaefer

Jeff Whitney

PHILIP SCHAEFER is the author of three chapbooks. [Hideous] Miraculous is available from BOAAT Press, whileRadio Silence (forthcoming 2016 from Black Lawrence Press) and Smokes Tones (available from Phantom Books) were co-written with poet Jeff Whitney. Individual work is out or due out in Thrush, Vinyl, The Cincinnati Review, Forklift Ohio, DIAGRAM, Sonora Review, H_NGM_N, Guernica and Hayden’s Ferryamong others. He tends bar at a craft distillery in Missoula, where he received his MFA from the University of Montana.

JEFF WHITNEY is the author of The Tree With Lights In It (Thrush Press, 2015) as well as two other chapbooks. His poems have appeared in journals such as Beloit, Blackbird, Cream City Review, Narrative, Poetry Northwest, Salt Hill, and Verse Daily. He lives in Portland, where he teaches English.

Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney have closed their eyes and listened: weathers, dance halls, bright-and-darkening towns…the blaze of certain silences, “flaring ghosts.” Radio Silence is an exquisite dream of transport.
     —Joanna Klink, author of Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy and Raptus

In these collaborative emergency poems, Philip Schaefer and Jeff Whitney remind us that silence doesn’t need to be disconcerting, even “in the chop of a storm/only the future saw coming.” But Radio Silence doesn’t fill in the gaps in transmission. Instead it attends to what emerges from those gaps when one really listens: Silence becomes noise; noise becomes music; music becomes a message—an old friend saying the perfect next thing. “There is the giving and the taking and the taking/back,” but what’s more there is what’s left over in the wake of disappearance, the afterglow of vanishment, the haunted present moment. These poems crackle with the notion that we are never alone, if we can only allow ourselves to pay attention (and participate!) with imagination and faith, in awe of the darkness and light that surrounds us.
     —Matt Hart, author of Debacle Debacle and Sermons and Lectures Both Blank and Relentless



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.

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent - Stuart Ross (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak and Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent.  Stuart Ross.
A Buckrider Book.  Wolsak and Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2016.

These are my words.
                                                                 They existed before I was born
                                                                  but not in this order.
                                                                                       David W. McFadden
                                                                                       "My Words/Hamilton"

Those of you who read Today's book of poetry with any regularity will already know that Stuart Ross and I are the closest of friends.  We've been friends since before most of you were born.

So please take that into consideration.

Now please forget what I just told you -- so that I can categorically tell you without pretense or prejudice, how truly splendid a pleasure bomb Stuart Ross has bestowed on us with A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent.

For many of us Stuart Ross has been the most original and imaginative voice in Canadian poetry for some time.  His wit and ironic palette are second to none.  And now he's gone and done it, Ross has added two new twists to his considerable canon.  Access to his massive and generous heart and a concerted effort to tie into a more direct narrative.

The results are stunning.  Today's book of poetry is convinced A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent is not only Ross' best book, and that is saying something, but one of the very best I have read in years.


And my mother is on the balcony
and my father is making cheese sandwiches
and my mother is writing a letter
that my father will discover
two months later in their bedroom
in Toronto, the morning
we're to bury her

she writes that
she is on the balcony
and he is making cheese sandwiches
and she says she feels treasured
and if ever there are grandkids
tell them she'd've loved them

and in five years my brother
dies in my sobbing father's arms
and my father one year after
and I cannot find the letter
my mother wrote in Pompano
but I remember the word treasured
it's how she felt, she said

     and palm trees sway in the hot breeze
     and butterflies called daggerwings drift past
     and sand skinks swim through millions of grains of sand
     and I - I am a pompano
     I am this fish and I search
     for that letter in my mother's hand
     beyond the Atlantic coast


Make no mistakes, this is still a Stuart Ross book full of unexpected magic and rubix cube logic leaps of faith.  There are poems Today's book of poetry see as political and powerful and brilliant beside intensely personal laments of grief and quiet moments of joyous relief and celebration.  Ross has it all packed in here.

Today's book of poetry sees A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent as far more deeply personally revealing than any of Ross' previous work, there are poems about all of Ross' family, the living and the dead, and a tenderness that will shake your opened heart.  And there are also the usual myriad of resplendent guests popping out of Ross' generous compendium like popcorn.

Virginia Woolf, David W. McFadden, Ron Padgett, Stephen Crane, Boris Spassky, Mark Laba and his entire family, Kurosawa and Dagwood Bumstead too, they are all in here and that is just scratching the surface.

Mentioning Sir David W. of McFadden makes Today's book of poetry think that A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent started one afternoon forty years ago or so when Ross skipped school, spent the afternoon in a library and discovered SAINT DAVID M and A Knight in Dried Plums.

Make Big Monkey Writing Poems

Big Monkey watches over me
as the blistering clouds bang
against my window and I dream
of you again and you are alive.
We are in a snow fort on my lawn
on Pannahill Road and we pretend
we are soaring through space.
The rumble of a 1967 Valiant
station wagon passing by
my driveway is the roar
of a meteor hurtling toward
earth and narrowly missing our
craft. We know now that
everyone will die except us,
because we are in space. Except
our ship has turned into a womb,
its hot, sticky walls pressing
against us until we can barely
move our arms. We are crushed
together like conjoined twins,
and because you are dead, I 
wonder if I too am now dead
and I call out to Big Monkey
but he is bent over my desk,
rolling a sheet of yellow paper
through the platen of my
1952 Underwood, so intent
he cannot see us in the TV set,
our palms against the screen
from inside, and vertical hold
starts slipping.


This morning's reading of A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent in the Today's book of poetry offices was fire-cracking-tear-jerking-awe inspiring-explosion stuff.  About a dozen guests piled through the doors first thing this morning.  Both Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our new Jr. Editor, invited friends and family because they both adore Mr. Ross.  They have collected almost everything of the mountain he has published.  The reading was a dazzle as people took turns flashing it all out into the open like fireworks.  There was real snap, crackle and pop.

Stuart Ross has done something marvelous in this astonishing book by giving us almost full access.   Today's book of poetry is enthused by Aaron Tucker's suggestion that this become a poetry franchise, Tucker suggests A Sparrow Still Come Down Resplendent, Keepin it Resplendent, The Sparrow Re-Returns and so on.  We love this idea.  Ross' fertile home planet has sent us a gem.

The Hanging

My grandfather yells his Polish English
as my pyjama top swings
from the banister above
and his sewing machine
is silent in his dark room
and my mother puts her hand
on the back of my head,
tells me, "He saw the pyjama
and thought it was you,
that you had hanged yourself,"
and I went to my room,
gazed out at the snow
blanketing the Nefskys' roof
and pictured myself hanging
my pyjama sleeve tight
around my throat,
my grandfather pushing my feet aside
as he lumbers up the stairs
to eat his lumpy porridge.


Today's book of poetry loves the three poems I selected for today but there is so much more going on in A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent.

Today's book of poetry rarely makes requests but we are making one today, a social experiment if you will.  Today's book of poetry would like each of you readers to repost this blog today, just flip that sucker over.  Why?  Because Stuart Ross is an unsung Canadian marvel as rare as hen's teeth, because Stuart Ross, in A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent has exposed an emotional bridge into Ross world that allows the reader to walk in with ease, once there the dancing starts.

I love Stuart Ross like a brother and have admired both him and his work all these long years.  When you read A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent you are going to want to join my club.

Stuart Ross
Photo:  Laurie Siblock

Stuart Ross is the author of fifteen books of fiction, poetry and essays. His many dozens of chapbooks include Nice Haircut, Fiddlehead(Puddles of Sky Press); A Pretty Good Year (Nose in Book Publishing) and In In My Dream (BookThug). Stuart is a member of the improvisational noise trio Donkey Lopez, whose CDs include Juan Lonely Night and Working Class Burro. He is a founding member of the Meet the Presses collective and has his own imprint, a stuart ross book, at Mansfield Press. Stuart lives in Cobourg, Ontario, and blogs at

"Stuart Ross uses humour as a subversive weapon."
     - Barbara Carey, The Toronto Star

"Ross's book is, among other things, a quite polemic in defense of the miscellaneous, swimming againt the stream and against streamlining."
     - Alessandro Porco, Northern Poetry Review

"What I personally found myself most drawn to, however, were the poems (and there are many) where the imagistic bravado and willingness to play are married to a deep sense of martality and quiet grace.  It takes a special sort of poet to make a reader feel profound empathy for the shattered dreams of a young hamburger, as he does...I Cut My Finger is a strange, beguilling and beautiful book."
     - Nick Thran,

Stuart Ross
Reads three Cobourg Poems
Video:  Wally Keeler



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, May 24, 2016

Shiftless - Janet Fraser (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Shiftless.  Janet Fraser. Guernica Editions.  Essential Poetry Series 216.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (UK).  2014.

There is a stream of down-home consciousness, laissez faire that Today's book of poetry likes about Janet Fraser's poems in Shiftless.  These poems are like conversations Fraser is allowing us to overhear, the conversations that usually go on behind curtained windows.   Fraser will have none of that, she's kicking against the pricks with a public voice.

Shiftless could have been written by a character from an Alistair MacLeod story.  That's some solid.

Two Sisters

On the terrace
of the Restaurant Fournaise,
one hatted lady,
one flower-crowned girl.
Red and blue colour blocks
foreground green strokes.
Local models, not related,
for Renoir's Two Sisters.

She sent me that print
when we were freshly married.
I hung it by the picture window
of my garden room,
the one I retreated to nights
my husband stayed out.
(I didn't know her man
was a runabout too.)

As I grew up Renoir goddesses
fearlessly stared down at me.
Their rosy flesh, lustrous tresses,
corseted abundant dresses,
brightened the silent rooms
of three melancholy femmes.
(Two sisters and their mother
waiting for life to begin.)

Today my sister and I
don't speak of Art, or Mom,
a shy, gaunt artist who retired
after we were born, choosing
not to be a hobbyist,
settling for the Renoirs
that lived in our house --
the framed lush ladies.

Sis, good with her hands,
teaches school crafts
but is unwilling to take her
own oils into the light.
Her house is crammed with
Mom's discarded paintings,
all the tasteful fabrics
and porcelain she craves.

She lives with her daughter
in a mauve Victorian cottage.
Summers I visit her statuary
and formal gardens.
We sit on her polished verandah,
admire golden wire birdcages,
talk flatly for a bit
about our lives' surfaces.


Janet Fraser illustrates the matter-of-factness of our grind towards that endless dirt nap but she does so with considerable aplomb.  We want to listen to her talk.  You get the feeling Fraser is a poet who you could sit with at the kitchen table and share conversation and a sip.

Only a woman could have written these poems.  That doesn't mean they are for women, just saying a man couldn't have come up with this stuff.

Today's book of poetry was intrigued by the title which is taken from a quote at the start of Fraser's Shiftless:

     "It was my goal always to be shiftless
       I saw the merit in that."
                            - Raymond Carver, "Shiftless"

There is nothing shiftless about Shiftless, sly and wise yes.

The Laws of Science

     Memory wants rain.
                            - Elisabeth Harvor

The trauma preacher
says fundamentally
hurt is one side
of a see-saw
we can pull down,
then push up the other side.
Thank our lucky stars
that can be seen
if we squint long
and hard enough.

Recall junior high
science and physics
of bullying, our pull towards
boys and girls
who mock and curse us.
They create an opposite
and equal reaction
in the service
of a balanced operation.

With joy cost accounting
and sorrow gratitude,
because a girl learns
to love the dad who incests
her on her birthday
while the helium balloons
float graciously to the ceiling.

A teenage boy kills
himself, manifesting
a destiny determined
by age six.
Insults fuel us
like the fire
that dries up the rain,
floods the darkness.
Forget about death.
It's all good,
so get used to it.


"It all good, / so get used to it."  Killer.

Today's book of poetry has been away for a few days.  We found ourselves in the middle of Pigeon Lake on a houseboat.  We couldn't bring the entire staff for our weekend houseboat adventure but we did invite our head tech Milo and our new intern Kathryn,  They now share a roof and a poetry bookcase.  While on our Kawartha Lakes adventure we promoted Kathryn from new intern to a full time position with pay and everything.  We will be expecting great things from her in the future.

We read Janet Fraser's Shiftless, to each other, taking turns at the wheel and navigating and turns reading.  Milo and Kathryn turn almost everything into a loving coo at this point but they read with heated emotion and considerable insight.

Fraser's poems came off our lips like stories we already knew, their familiarity both a surprise and a comfort.

from Domestic Drama: Eight Prose Poems

7. The Mall

In Scarborough my life ground on from one spanking to
the next. Always at the strip mall where grim Mom quick as
shit pulled down my pants and smacked my puddle cheeks.
At four I asked my mother not to spank me anymore,
'cause it hurt my feelings, and she stopped, making me
promise to be good until we got home, when she could lock
her bedroom door. I ran away from home to the Golden 
Mile mall where Mom found me on the mechanical pony
trotting and begging passersby for dimes. On junior-high
weeknights I took off smoking to the Halifax Shopping
Centre where I sucked on hard candies and relaxed at the
Eaton's makeup counters and teen magazine racks until
nine when the lights were dimmed and all the mall rats
bum-rushed into the night.


Shiftless by Janet Fraser feels like comfort foot when that's exactly what you need.  Solid poems in a world that is anything but.

Janet Fraser
Janet Fraser

Janet Fraser was born in her mother’s ancestral home, Saint John, and returned over 40 years later. In the meantime, she lived for long stretches in Halifax, Toronto, and St. John’s. Her first poetry collection Long Girl Leaning into the Wind was shortlisted for the Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award. She teaches part-time at UNB’s College of Extended Learning.

With a painterly hand, Janet Fraser offers deft family portraits of men and women past, and sketches of the painful present. We enter a poetic gallery of rogues and misfits, sons and lovers, matriarchs and loving aunts – some comic, some tragic, all touching. The imagery of painting enters many poems, as when Fraser describes two sisters who “talk flatly for a bit / about our lives’ surfaces.” But the poems themselves delve deep into the core of human relationships, and especially in the “Self Portrait” section, a skilful run of prose poems situates the poet herself in the turmoils, loves and disappointments she has drawn.
     - Maureen Hynes

Memory is imagination in this well-peopled collection where character sketches, condensed biographies and shards of autobiography mingle. By turns pious, bohemian, antique, contemporary, confessional, tight-lipped, compassionate and vituperative, these are poems full of longing and regret, a secretive village of black-painted houses with white lace curtains drawn.
     - Patrick Warner


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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Saddest Place on Earth - Kathryn Mockler (Punchy Poetry/DC Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Saddest Place on Earth.  Kathryn Mockler.  Punchy Poetry.  DC Books.  Montreal, Quebec.  2012.


Today's book of poetry had the opportunity to meet Kathryn Mockler last year when she read in Ottawa.  We've also had the pleasure of reading her recent The Purpose Pitch (Mansfield Press, 2015) which we would highly recommend.

Today we look at 2012's The Saddest Place on Earth.  As it turns out The Saddest Place on Earth is a Chinese restuarant in a suburban mall.  Mockler seems to have accessed some plane of special knowledge because she is deciphering some very important code here.  The poems in this book are from the "cruel to be kind" school of poetics and Mockler is a stern principal.

These poems give the feeling you are one step away from something like happiness, and always one step away from disaster.


The lucky rapist had only twenty-five cents in his bank
account. He was worried because his utility bill was
going through. He could have paid in installments,
but he knew himself well enough to know he'd never
remember to make those payments on time. So he
set up automatic withdrawal. It was the teller who
had suggested it, and at the time he thought it was
a good idea. But he didn't take into account that he
was living beyond his means and had been for some
time now. He didn't take into account that when he
wanted something he would just go out and buy it
no matter the cost, no matter the state of his financial
situation. It is this personality trait that makes him
a rapist. It is the fact that he has not yet been caught
that makes him lucky.


Every page is a new delightful terror, a horrific tickle.  We get to hear about Buddha joining Weight Watchers, God and the Devil sharing the same guest table at a wedding as dates of mutual friends and so on.   Today's book of poetry just loved Kathryn Mockler's earnest whimsy.

Mockler makes the reader feel like an intimate insider to her slick reason and gymnastic logic.

The Captains

The captains of the ships are letting us sink.
It's death by corporation.

Don't be so melodramatic.

What do you think it is?

I think it's a case of -- once you look forward,
you can never look back.

That's what I said.

Yes, but the difference between us is that
you care and I don't.


Snakes, pigeons and the ghost of Vanna White, God on Oprah and fat policeman racing bottle caps with dogs, suicidal bankers and laundromat dogs, they are all packed into the pages of The Saddest Place on Earth and damn it if you don't feel a little Carson McCullers sorrow sneaking into the corners.  Mockler has no qualms about playing with your emotional resources.  She has some slick tools at the ends of her remarkable fingers.

Mockler is pointing her fingers, taking names.  


If one person jumps in front
of the subway it makes it
inconvenient for everyone
else. It makes it inconvenient
if you're late for work and
your boss is a dick who
drinks vodka from noon until
three from a Styrofoam cup
that seconds as a semen
deposit. But no one mentions
it because it's inconvenient.


The Saddest Place on Earth is a loaded gun.  The Saddest Place on Earth is a love story full of doomed characters.  The Saddest Place on Earth is an apology.

The Saddest Place on Earth is a lit fuse, a hot package, the real deal.

Today's book of poetry wants you to go out now and find this witty pistol --  let us know when you are packing.

Kathryn Lockler

Kathryn Mockler is author of the poetry book Onion Man (Tightrope Books, 2011). Her writing has appeared in such venues as Joyland, The Antigonish Review, Rattle Poetry, CellStories, PIF,The Puritan, La Petite Zine, nthposition, and This Magazine, The Capilano Review,Descant, and The Windsor Review. In 2005, she attended the Canadian Film Centre's Writers' Lab and wrote two short films for the NBC/Universal Short Dramatic Film Program. Her films have been broadcast on TMN, Movieola, and Bravo and have been screened at festivals such as the Washington Project for the Arts Experimental Media Series, Toronto International Film Festival, Palm Springs International Festival, Worldfest, Cinequest, and EMAE. Currently, she teaches creative writing at the University of Western Ontario and is the co-editor of the UWO online journal The Rusty Toque.The Saddest Place on Earth is her second complete collection of poems.

“Mockler’s skill with language and narrative beat lends itself well to these unapologetic poems. At times I found myself groaning out loud, or shaking my head to get a grip on what I had just read. There is heart and terrific depth in this work.”
     - Canadian Poetries

At times, the starkness and simplicity of the poems is poignant. In “Air Vents,” Mockler wrestles with a sadly all too familiar social and political theme. The poem reads, “I think about the shooting / because all shootings / are one shooting. I think / about all the places to / hide to avoid bullets: air / vents, storage lockers, / somewhere normal.” The idea that “all shootings are one shooting” shows the absurdity of mass shootings being labeled with dates, names, and places, and instead, focuses on the loss that affects all. There is also the idea of helplessness, which is a common theme throughout the poems, and the idea of places where one can hide—which, as it turns out—aren’t many and aren’t all that feasible.
     - Heavy Feather


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"
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Monday, May 16, 2016

Dear Leader - Damian Rogers (Coach House Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dear Leader.  Damian Rogers.  Coach House Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2015.

Today's book of poetry would by lying if we pretended to know exactly what Damian Rogers is going on about with every page in Dear Leader.  But Dear Reader, what fine, fine music.  Rogers can cook.

Dear Leader is hot to the touch when you pick it up because it is so beautifully crammed with electric images and incandescent moments of truth that they rumble up on one another and create sparks, they make heat like an engine.  Today's book of poetry has been down this road before, back on March 6, 2015, we looked at Damian's book Paper Radio.

You can see that here:

Today's book of poetry was a big, big fan of Paper Radio, everyone on our staff simply loved it -- so Dear Leader really doesn't come as a surprise but it certainly is grand, it certainly is welcome.

List poems come and go but Rogers nailed Today's book of poetry to our seat when we read this beauty.

Poets in the Public Domain

Found delirious on the streets of Baltimore. Died days later.
Shipwreck at the age of 40.
Typhoid fever. 44.
Orphaned at 14, dead from tuberculosis at 25.
Lost at 27 on a French hospital ship anchored in the Aegean Sea.
Sister stabbed mother to death in a fit of anxiety.
Drowned at the age of 30.
Worked at the post office until death at 37.
Died of fever in Greece on way to war.
Went down sailing at age 29.
Died of pneumonia while commanding a hospital in Boulogne.
Stabbed to death in bar fight.
Killed in action one week before war ended.
Drank to death.
Jumped off an ocean liner.
Overdosed on sleeping pills.
Drowned swimming in Lake St. Clair in August.
Sick with Grave's Disease for many years. Died of breast cancer.
Small pox.
Swallowed by a sudden storm after seeing Doppelganger.


Damian Rogers has a bit of the Midas touch because these poems are golden.  Rogers is a poet you could easily follow into the dark reassured by her certain footsteps and that incandescent thing that she seems to know.

Sun Ra.  Damian Rogers dedicates a poem to Sun Ra in Dear Leader!  I'm listening to him now as I type this, we all know that Sun Ra and his Arkestra will be blowing wild at the end of the world but only Rogers is singing about it.  Whew.

Our three poem limit here at Today's book of poetry is being bent today to allow for the following two poems to be seen together.  

Good Day Villanelle

You ran naked out the door.
The neighbours laughed; I chased you down.
I hardly see you anymore.

I know you're busy.
Did I tell you when you were little how
you ran naked out the door?

You got halfway down the street
before I caught you in my arms.
I hardly see you anymore.

I think I told you this before:
I was giving you a bath and then
you ran naked out the door.

It happened fast.
The neighbours laughed.
I hardly see you anymore.

You have to watch a baby close.
I remember once -

You ran naked out the door.
I hardly see you anymore.


Bad Day Villanelle

I swallowed something hard and dark.
It wasn't food. It moves around.
The doctor wants to cut it out.

I feel it now it's on my hip.
It's very painful when it shifts.
I swallowed something hard and dark.

I'm telling you
it's money that
the doctor wants. To cut it out

will save my life.
I need your help.
I swallowed something hard and dark.

He ran my body through five tests.
Then the doctor told me straight.
I'll died if they don't cut it out.

I'm telling you it has to go.
There is no medicine that works
on something quite this hard and dark.
The only road is cut it out.


In Dear Leader Baudelaire measures what counts and Yoko Ono may indeed by a witchy wonder.  In Damian Rogers' world Mrs. Frank Lloyd Wright's coat can reign in reason.  These poems move from the personal to the universal and back again in the blink of an eye, in the space between two lines.

Today's book of poetry thinks that Dear Leader is full of kaleidoscope poems, multi-faceted and full of light.

Dear Leader

As you know, I did not join the Hole in the Universe Gang
or follow Father Yod of the ridiculous robes. I flowed
through my crises beautiful as a bruise, and alone. A man I loved
drove his motorcycle off the fat lip of Big Sur into glittering
oblivion. A new nation of Penelopes practiced the art of the loom,
planting a never-finished forest in which wildflowers bloomed
on the backs of jean jackets and hand-sewn throw pillows,
while I waited for you to choose me. The waitress at the health
food restaurant was a lemon-scented sun to my Death Valley
moon. I swooned as out the window your dark cluster rose
in the sky. How glorious was your shining forth from the horizon
when you detonated the Two Lands with your terrible rays!
I starved till my bones shone, and your voice rang in my ear.


Dear Leader felt like a robust visit from a rock star poet pillager priestess.  Damian Rogers drank everything in our office and then shot out the lights when she left!  We should be so lucky. 

Today's book of poetry felt shaken and just the right amount of stirred.

Damian Rogers

Originally from the Detroit area, Damian Rogers now lives in Toronto where she works as the poetry editor of both House of Anansi Press and The Walrus, and as the creative director of Poetry in Voice, a national recitation contest for Canadian high-school students. Her first book of poems, Paper Radio, was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.

‘Multi-vectored, Rogers's poems hum with life and tension, their speaker poised as mother, seer, reporter and daughter. They speak of loss and cold realities (misplaced charms of luck, a tour of an assisted-living facility, coins thrown into Niagara Falls). They also interweave dreams and visions: "O Lion, I am / an old handmaiden; I will not lay the pretty baby in the lap / of the imposter." Simple but evocative, at once strange and plain, Rogers's poems of address ricochet off the familiar "Dear Reader" or Dickinson's "Dear Master" ... Rogers's poems provide instructions for what to leave, what to take and what to fight. They act as selvage between the vast mother-ocean — the mem of memory — and the fabric we make of the uncertain in-between.’
     — Hoa Nguyen, The Boston Review

‘How can we live with the kind of pain that worsens each day? Dear Leader explains through bold endurance, enumerated blessings and the artistic imagination. By pasting stark truths over, or under, images of strange, compelling beauty, Rogers creates a collage, a simulation of the human heart under assault, bleeding but unbroken. Part Orpheus, part pop-heroine who can “paint the daytime black,” all, an original act of aesthetic violence and pure, dauntless, love.’
     — Lynn Crosbie

Damian Rogers
Reading from Dear Leader 
at the AWP, Minneapolis, 2015
Video: Tim Kahl



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, May 14, 2016

The Silence of Doorways - Sharon Venezio (Moon Tide Press)

Today's book of poetry:

The Silence of Doorways.  Sharon Venezio.  Moon Tide Press.  Irvine, California.  2013.

Sharon Venezio can burn.  The Silence of Doorways bursts at its binding with brilliant barbs and bromides.  Today's book of poetry has a weak spot for certain automobiles and car-think so when Venezio gave us a kiss/hug tribute to her '76 Chevy Nova we were prisoners of love.

Venezio just doesn't let off of the gas.  No book is solid gold and this one isn't either, but pound for pound Venezio is a stone cold killer poet, she has all the goods.  Today's book of poetry was touched by the quiet tenderness woven in and out of these poems.  We were also heartened by the heat tempered terror Venezio was able to access by snapping her wise fingers.

Psychology 402: Brain and Behavior

When I discover I have to dissect a sheep's brain,
I go down the hall to Animal Behavior and plead my case,
but it's too late. I'll have to pry my way through
the four ventricles, push pins into gray matter and breathe
formaldehyde through a useless white mask.

I hold the brain in my awful hands, make an incision
at the base of the cerebellum, place a red pin
into the pineal gland, a green pin into the amygdala:
here's where it feels joy, here's where it feels fear,
here's where it remembers the beautiful dying stars.


Once again Today's book of poetry feels hoisted by my own petard.  There are way more than three poems Today's book of poetry feels necessary to bring to this party.

Whether Sharon Venezio is talking about family and how much fun that love/hate fiasco can be or the larger political/human issues like genocide and murder and mayhem, her strop sharpened pen nails it to the page like she was using a hammer.

She could even be in a bar.

From a Bar in Elizabeth, New Jersey

have to pretend
i am someone else
someone who smiles
while she pours drinks
tilts the bottle just right
so the liquor flirts
with the air
on the way into the glass
a foot and a half of formica
defines our role
all night they mine
my face for a clue
think i am someone
they can love
slur their dedications
in half-light
by midnight
cocaine's stimming
bird mouth
whoops at winter sky
through open door
this helps them
pretend they are
someone else
forget the snow
piling up on hoods
of cars forget the children
sheeted in beds
sleep wrapped around
their bright bodies


Did I just read that?  Yes, I did.  The Silence of Doorways rears up and slaps the reader in the head every once in a while.  It's like Venezio reaches right up off of the page with an attention-slap.

Today's jazz allusion is that you think you are reading Dexter Gordon, all tight and whispery, controlled and precise and beautiful and then Ornette Coleman sneaks in the back door and blows that shit up!  Of course Venezio isn't talking jazz, she's too busy explaining how the world's heart works, Today's book of poetry just threw that allusion in there because we know how much some of you love jazzthink.

Our regular morning read was an enthusiastic romp.  Most of Venezio's poems are relatively short and as we went around the room the poems blasted out from each successive Today's book of poetry staffer as though we were gunslingers in a circle and showing off our draw.

Family Album

Here a cigarette dangles between her thin fingers;
she sleeps through conversation and ash.
Here she closes her eyes and the sea stops moving.

And here she is boneyard of unspoken words,
salt in the quiet throat of her marriage.
Here she is the green whiff of childhood.

Here she is sparrowed at the edge of the earth,
exiled in her dying skin. Here, like sorrow,
she is liquid in the bones.

And here is the day she will be gone, her eyes resting
no longer upon the tulips, their white
petals, like teeth, fall to the ground.

Here she is hair, and nail, and noise in the brain.
And here, dear body, be still. Time is the only lover
that will touch her now.


The Silence of Doorways is quiet thunder.  Sharon Venezio is a quiet poet assassin.  So much is on offer in these rumbling pages that it reads like a bigger book.  Today's book of poetry likes when a poet can make us smile, cry, nod our head in familiar recognition, shake our head in awe.  Venezio fills the card.

Sharon Venezio

Sharon Venezio recieved an MA in creative writing from San Francisco State University. Her poems have appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Chaparral, Midway Journal, Reed, Transfer, Two Hawks Quarterly and elsewhere. She is co-director of the Valley Contemporary Poets and works as a behavior analyst in Los Angeles. The Silence of Doorways is her first full-length collection. 

What appeals to me most about these surpassingly lovely poems is the way they combine a trace-like calm with a sense of unease, and a luminous clarity with a feeling of deep abiding mystery. And when she's really on her game, Sharon Venezio--one of the best darn lyric poets to have wandered into L.A. in many a year--can make the ephemeral seem tangible and the mundane transcendent. Few could draw forth such elevated notes as these from a five-hundred dollar '76 Chevy Nova: "It was more beautiful/ than salt air,/ ocean, wing.// It was passage,/ shift, spark.// The bone dry/ squeaky waste land/ where life began."
     - Suzanne Lummis

In this impressive debut collection, Sharon Venezio photographs the stopped fragments of memory in order to restore the self to a dynamic flux of lived experience--"the wild dishevelment of being, that fierce blue drowning"--a kaleidoscopic portrait that refuses the social mediated subject position and the hunted vulnerability fixed by a male scope. In a daring act of rescue and art making, Venezio seeks the frameless frame, one that comprehends without limiting, shelters without walling in the silence.
     - Chad Sweeney

These completely engaging and unselfconscious poems are attentive to memory's various gifts and terrors, and its impact on both the outer and inner life. Witness her history with family, birds, a 1976 Chevy Nova, the breathing of a sleeping lover, the presence of insects and wild animals--Venezio captures all of it with her inner camera and presents to us her long-awaited fruits of "the burden of memory." From fiery, heart-stopping meditations on a childhood and elegies to joyous still lifes and portraits, she works by hand a personal museum with perfect words arranged just so. Poets and everybody, listen when she says, "if you want to avoid annihilation, open your mouth and sing" and get ready to be sung to in this marvelous first collection.
     - Roxanne Beth Johnson

Portraits & Landscapes, the poetry of Sharon Venezio
Video: Brian Newberry


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

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

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Creeks of the Upper South - Amy Wright & William Wright (Jacar Press & Unicorn Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Creeks of the Upper South.  Amy Wright & William Wright.  Jacar Press & Unicorn Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2016.

Collaborations in poetry can be damned hard work.  Creeks of the Upper South is a call and response collaborative book of poems from Amy Wright and William Wright and it is seamless.

Today's book of poetry has attempted different types of collaborative poetry with mixed results.  It's hard enough to find someone you agree with on anything let alone finding someone to share a page with.  It is deep, murky water and there are dangers everywhere.  All of that to say that Today's book of poetry marveled at the synchronicity in every danced step between Wright and Wright.

Memory and Prophecy

What She Remembers:

     That in the summer of her seventh year,
     storms slanted in and engorged the rivers
     and creeks until all waters buckled high,

     shattered the levies and bit to the quicks of berms:
     houses that did not kneel and drift away moldered.
     They moved the whole town eight miles north.

     That in her ninth year she came back to the creek
     then in drought and walked barefoot
     the dry bed's limb-trash and alabaster--

     That something in the slim sun-spears made
     her look up into the unshackling of April
     and witness a horse skeleton, brown-white

     as the soles of her feet and silty hands.
     She looked long at how vines twined its brisket,
     at the strange philodendron head, drained

     of flesh, brainless and almost comical in
     its stillness, staid and smiling long with gothic
     joy at the sheer oddness of how the Earth had reined it.

     That the winter of her thirteenth year
     in the frigid mineral-scent of dusk, the Harman
     boy breathed warmth on the small hairs of her neck,

     the whiskey on his child's breath, how they leaned
     into one another in the blindness and purity
     of the killed grass beside the creek, the water frozen

     pure to the floor, where stunned curves
     of minnows flashed tinny and motionless
     under the stars' arc-light.

     That the thaw snapped and pocked the air like gunshots
     so that in the first hint of spring the Harman brother
     slew the boy she kissed and dragged his kin down into the gorge.

What She Cannot Foresee:

     That centuries the white window of the moon will open,
     house roofs will crumble as the horse bones gripped
     in the long-fallen oak will fall themselves, then grind

     down with years, fold as dust and meld with the specks
     kept there of the murdered boy, millennia-old, both
     now in the earth proper, slack and laggard slow.


Now if that isn't gothic/romantic enough for you I'll eat my shorts.  Wright/Wright take you down to the water to see if you'll float.  They make you walk barefoot .through the millennial ooze, the silt of their ancestors.  This is captivating stuff, you open the cover to this little gem and you are instantly under the spell cast by Wright/Wright.

Wright x2 have a biologist, historian, anthropologist, geologist and a bevy of scientists on their research team and along with their own gothic charm it makes for a riveting crossing of all this stormy water, the Wrights have roiled up the water and we are in for an emotional voyage.  Their rich lingo sings of a particular notion of the South, I can see Carson McCullers and William Faulkner at the edge of one of these coulees, Flannery O'Conner is probably somewhere nearby.


In the chill before Easter, it was dusk again,
and my mother and I walked the berm, out past

the corn, The night's door warped: the sky
broken from its hinge swung down

low to us, low enough that the smell of rain
steeped our hair. Behind the springhouse,

we stopped to watch a possum crawl
over a years-old midden

with such reckless fear that she took a spade to its skull.
How can I justify a fear that blooms in the gut

and stings like thistle? Such creatures follow
me in my sleep, the ones harmless but foul,

the ones that must haunt: blowfly, centipede,
wolf spider, the bubbling muck of toads.

We trudged into watercress, across the field,
she in her country gown, a ghost before me--

down to the hemlocks and galax
when rain fell sudden, and the wind

pierced the thicket and drowned our scalps.
There is no such thing as empathy.

The storm drove through, just north
of us, a great spectral womb broken, ripped.

Our footfalls hugged the creekside's silence,
its washed-out susurrus, its sealed mouth.

There with her in that violet cold, all the blood
that ran through that shadow. All the bloodroot

we smashed through, the bloodwort, puccoon root,
into slanted fields two

farms over, up from the rushing creek curve
where heaped stones were draped with lichen.

The moon smeared behind clouds, a runnel
of milk. Why does the sight

of lanterns dawdling in a far pasture
ignite the heart with a joy and sorrow that, upon sleep,

the mind lumbers with false memories of farmhouses,
days and days of threshing grass, the chirr

and grind of crickets in the core of a summer long dead?
The rain fell hard: we quickened through briars, up

to the backdoor, the red light that framed it.
She said nothing. I witnessed her face

turning in the window--a shivering
leaf that withered, that would not release.


These poems have a cumulative effect on the sodden reader.  Wright & Wright know their business and their business is to write emotionally haunting and visually stunning poems that get under your skin like a poetry tick.

Today's book of poetry has long admired the voice of Shelby Foote.  Foote was a historian and novelist and he had a voice of such gravitas and humour, warmth and wit, that I could happily of sat and listened to him read a phone book.  Shelby Foote reading Creeks of the Upper South is an entertainment I would pay almost anything for.  He'd ride over these poems with the perfect verbal caress.  These are poems that should be read aloud.


And now we will witness the unseen flames:
cardinal shit, apple maggots, fishbone thistle, squama
and fauna scales, keratinous flakes flecking ground;
sporiferous trees (ambassadorial as they kneel);
hyssop, sometimes odoriferous; dried blood on bard,
dropwort, smartweed and sweetleaf; outhouses
still standing in a crush of woods (redolent of peaches);
early-century crates breaking under the weight of wild squash;

crimson minnows courting a swale (painterly over chalk-white silt
and rocks stroked with moss so green it hurts to look);
woad and its micro-cache of bluest rivers; witloof chicory
(good in salads); distant farmhouse windows on winter nights
shining like citrine stricken with sun; the yucca's
blades curdled over with cream-flowers a few April days;
jars of milk; smells of leaf-fire; poxy bogs

emeralded with mosquito eggs; itchweed, abelia,
and spittlebugs with their soapy secretions;
the half-buried bones of horses, their skulls
ghastly and beautiful; musket balls buried (for good);
possum oak and possums themselves (drooling
and conspiratorial in suburban sheds);
ivory nuts and ivy-tods; the helix-lattices of lichen;
gypsum and hagberry; the toothless kin-gone elderly

who grin at the edges of cracked doors (kind or wary);
snakeskins, fraxinella (burning bush); understory
flames; diatomoceous earth; the waxy cartilaginous
bulbs or rocky shoal spider litlies; cutworms that gnaw
on vegetable seedlings so that they fall like small timbers;
capillary mattings (wicking water from reservoirs);
wild decay (never gothic) and wildest revival (never lofty).


Amy Wright and William Wright have done something remarkable.  It is not just that they have become one voice for the purposes of Creeks of the Upper South, but that they have become a choir, in unison, with resolve.

Amy Wright

William Wright

Amy Wright has authored two poetry collections and five chapbooks. The Nonfiction Editor of Zone 3 Press, Coordinator of Creative Writing and Associate Professor at Austin Peay State University, she has been awarded a Peter Taylor Fellowship for the Kenyon Review Writers’ Workshop, an Individual Artist’s Fellowship from the Tennessee Arts Commission, and a fellowship to the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. You may find some of her work online at:

William Wright is author of four books of poetry, most recently Tree Heresies and Night Field Anecdote, as well as four chapbooks. He is editor of eleven editions, including all volumes ofThe Southern Poetry Anthology series (Texas Review Press), two texts centered on Gerard Manley Hopkins (Clemson University Press, forthcoming, 2016), and Hard Lines: Rough South Poetry (USC Press, forthcoming, 2016). He is assistant editor of Shenandoah.

“The poems in Creeks of the Upper South rely on call and response—both within individual poems and from poem to poem—which seems fitting, given the collaborative nature of the collection. At times, the voices and personal narratives are alive and burgeoning, and at the same time fragile. Other times, primal and colloquial language fuses into a lexicon of ecological anxieties and understandings. This collection calls us to take off our boots, roll up our britches, and follow the creeks and voices meandering and forking through these poems. We can’t help but respond.”
     — Adam Vines

“Creeks of the Upper South is collaborative poetry at flood-surge. It is a braided stream, the skitter-flight of water-fowl, a storm event of vowels, childhood as rocky shoals, cutbank in language’s flow. Amy Wright and William Wright walk back the postmodern idea that word and place, signifier and signified, can’t roil the same deep channel.” 
    — John Lane



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.