Friday, April 21, 2017

Duet - Dorianne Laux | Joseph Millar (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Duet.  Dorianne Laux | Joseph Millar.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2016.

Books of poetry that share two authors come in a variety of forms and styles.  In Duet by Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar the poems are unattributed, written separately but presented as a unified front.  This takes some seriously elastic tolerance and trust, one poet allowing herself/himself to be represented by the words of another, to speak with your name and approval.

This duet is made up entirely of solos but the reader never knows who is playing lead.  It doesn't matter because Laux and Millar are in the same key throughout, they have found the same rhythm section, the bass is steady and the drumming is tight.  Laux and Millar riff like scat singers on a legion of our musical heroes from Bo Diddley to Cher, Dolly Parton's breasts are balladized and Elvis, the King, has his mansion/mausoleum costed for affect.

Listening to Paul Simon

Such a brave generation.
We marched onto the streets
in our T-shirts and jeans, holding
the hand of the stranger next to us
with a trust I can't summon now,
our voices raised in song.
Our rooms were lit by candlelight,
wax dripping onto the table, then
onto the floor, leaving dusty
starbursts we'd pop off
with the edge of a butter knife
when it was time to move.
But before we packed and drove
into the middle of our lives
we watched the leaves outside
the window shift in the wind
and listened to Paul Simon,
his tindery voice, then fell back
into our solitude, leveled our eyes
on the American horizon
that promised us everything
and knew it was never true:
smoke and cinders, insubstantial
as fingerprints on glass.
It isn't easy to give up hope,
to escape a dream. We shed
our clothes and cut our hair,
our former beauty piled at our feet.
And still the music lived inside us,
whole worlds unmaking us in the dark,
so that sleeping and waking we heard
the train's distant whistle, steel
trestles shivering across the land
that was still our in our bones and hearts,
its lone headlamp searching the weedy
stockyards, the damp, gray rags of fog.


This morning our read was also a concert.  Laux and Millar write such instantly approachable and easily digestible glee that the poems powered off the lips of the readers as though they were the rock stars of their dreams.  

Because Laux and Millar were calling out the spirits of Elvis, Bo Diddley, Quicksilver, Willie Dixon, The Who, Paul Simon, Cher and Sonny too, Theolonious Monk, Julie London, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mick Jagger, Joe Williams, Mel Torme and his beautiful velvet fog, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, James Taylor, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lil Wayne and more -- Today's book of poetry gave the challenge to Milo, our head tech.  Not surprisingly he was able to fire up a dance card on the box with everyone present.  Our morning read involved much music.

Who Do You Love

This is the night after Bo Diddley died
and we sit in the cafe drinking iced tea
reading his lyrics in the newspaper
along with the story of the hairline crack
in the left front hoof of Big Brown,
another American original.
Outside the long cars prowl the dusk
trailing their ribbons of smoke,
heat lightning flickers over the street
and the waitress Arlene
brings salsa and chips.

I want to say thanks
for the cavernous voice
and the black cowboy hat,
the triangle rhinestone Fender guitar
and the scratchy beat everyone stole--
Quicksilver, Willie Dixon, The Who,
easy to shuffle to,
easy to dance to:
"walk 47 miles of barb wire
with a cobra snake for a necktie"


Laux and Millar's Duet pays all of their guests the deepest respect they can offer up on the way to immortalizing them in poem.  Of course this playlist covers a particular and time specific era that includes mostly older gray haired souls like myself, but Kathleen, our young Jr. Editor, corrected me once again when she said the word I was looking for was "timeless,"

Laux and Millar taste just a little bittersweet and caramel while lamenting Gene Vincent and others with the certain knowledge that beauty dies young while songs live forever.

Dolly's Breasts

                    are singing
from the rafters of her chest,
swaying beneath sheeny satin,
suspended in the choreography
of her bra: twin albino dolphins
breaching from her ball gown's
rhinestone cleavage.  Her breasts
are sisters praying at twilight, a pair
of fat-cheeked Baptists dreaming
of peaches, her nipples the color
of autumn, two lonely amber eyes.
When she shakes her metallic bodice,
tinsel swimming up her pink fonts
of nourishment, the spotlight hums
and shimmies with them, the audience,
open-mouthed, stunned into silence
as she crosses her legs and bows, her hair
hanging down, a permed curl caught
in that soft, improbable seam.


Laux and Millar's Duet made the day here at Today's book of poetry, they hit just the right chord.  For Today's book of poetry our only complaint was pages, we were ready for more.

Image result for dorianne laux joseph millar photo
Dorianne Laux  |  Joseph Millar

Dorianne Laux's most recent collections are The Book of Men, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize and Facts about the Moon, winner of the Oregon Book Award. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions. She teaches poetry in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University.

Joseph Millar is the author of Kingdom, Blue Rust, Fortune, and Overtime, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Pacific University's Low Residency MFA Program.

Joseph Millar
International Poetry Library of San Francisco
Video: Evan Karp

Dorianne Laux
International Poetry Library of San Francisco
Video: Evan Karp



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, April 19, 2017

Today's book of poetry:
Heart in a Jar.   Kathleen McGookey.  White Pine Press.  Buffalo, New York.  2017.

Reading Heart in a Jar is like stumbling onto a lost manuscript of Charlotte's Web if it had been written by a dark and hallucinating Hieronymus Bosch or perhaps a time travelling Pieter Bruegel reincarnated as a poet.

Kathleen McGookey's poems do an instant connect with a part of your brain you'd previously been unaware of.  Your body jolts a little with new electricity running new circuits.  

Today's book of poetry is genuinely unsure of how to tell you patient readers about Kathleen McGookey's particular genius.  Today's book of poetry is convinced that McGookey has tapped into a deeper well than most and these short prose poems prove it time and again.  These aren't fairy tales or folk stories but given time they may become those to another generation.

Like His Heart in a Jar

The dead cat, stolen from Biology, showed up in my locker. Black-
haired Joe, who wanted to be my boyfriend, who sometimes gave
me rides in his father's Cadillac, put it there. You'd think it would
have been terrible, skinny toad-colored thing dangling from my coat
hook, but it didn't stink or drip. After Calculus, it was gone.


Strange magic abounds in Heart in a Jar.  Kathleen McGookey's poems inhabit a world where talismans teem and we are left to intuit their meaning.  These poems occur in a macabre and splendid universe that feels familiar, as though it were a place we all visited in our dreams.

Death seems to be around every corner wearing a "ratty robe and slippers" but McGookey has her eyes wide open, she sees Death coming and calls his bluff.

Dear Death,

can't you see we're busy riding bikes in the sun? Later we'll cut out
paper hearts and sprinkle them with glitter. I have had enough of
you. I'd rather learn facts about penguins: what they eat, how much
they weigh, how they stay warm in the Antarctic. Some are called
Emperor. Some, Rockhopper. First-graders with gap-toothed smiles
hold out the class guinea pig for me to pet. Let's pretend you forget
all about us.


The poems in Heart in a Jar were perfect for a good morning read, short, sharp and savvy.  Death is in there dancing up a shit-storm but McGookey isn't without hope, the characters that inhabit her poems are not without resources.

Gary Young, author of Even So, called Kathleen McGookey's Heart in a Jar "a rapturous Memento mori."  Today's book of poetry had to look that up; a memento mori is "an object serving as a warning or reminder of death, such as a skull."  The translation from Latin is "remember that you have to die." Mr. Young is right, McGookey is constant in reminding us that the Dark Angel is always nearby, that she does so with such charming intrigue and invention is why we are here.

Kathleen McGookey can burn in any kitchen.


I'd like to talk about something else for a change, like that small blue
frog, which, if licked, kills whatever licked it. The frog might be an-
other color. You might have to eat it to die. But I know I've got the
killing part right. Once, I had patience. Once, I had my own room.
I didn't have sisters. I didn't have roosters. I'd like to know who said
I have wasted my life. And was it true? When I lay my head upon my
desk, something inside me--a shadow, a ghost?--tries to sit up. Its
outline washes through me, like certain medications. I like not dis-
cussing certain subjects. I like going to the orchard to pick fresh
peaches. I like the idea of a different life. But that's what I thought
years ago, imagining this one.


Kathleen McGookey says some harsh things in Heart in a Jar, some of them fearless, almost all instantly recognizable to the heart as true or true feeling.  You get the impression that McGookey could pound out this particular type of perfection all day long.

Heart in a Jar is so much better than I've been able to express, you can trust that.

Image result for kathleen mcgookey photo
Kathleen McGookey

Kathleen McGookey’s prose poems and translations have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, The Best of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry, and The House of Your Dream: An International Collection of Prose Poetry. The forthcoming anthology Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence includes her work, and her poetry collection, At the Zoo, will be published by White Pine Press in spring 2017. She has received grants from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has taught creative writing at Hope College, Interlochen Arts Academy, and Western Michigan University. She lives in Middleville, Michigan, with her family.

Letters to Death
Letters to Death by Kathleen McGookey
Music by Josh Trentadue (speaker and piano)
Steven Murtonen, percussion



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

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

Monday, April 17, 2017

My Favorite Tyrants - Joanne Diaz (The University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
My Favorite Tyrants.  Joanne Diaz.  The University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2014.

Winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry

American poet Joanne Diaz is as solid as a rock.  My Favorite Tyrants is a second book of poetry from Diaz, following The Lessons.  The Lessons is now at the top of Milo's, our head tech, search list. My Favorite Tyrants has made a deep impression here.

In the past few weeks Today's book of poetry has been in narrative poetry hog heaven.  You'll remember that we recently wrote about B.H. Fairchild and his The Art of the Lathe and were seriously gob-smacked.  I've already warned you readers that a David Lee feature was in the offing, as well as a double-header from the indefatigable David Clewell.  And now Joanne Diaz.

Diaz is no drop in veracity or tenacity from these monsters.  My Favorite Tyrants is outstanding.   Diaz spends no time on false drama or proselytizing, instead she spins such exacting and true sounding tales we are forced to remember how good poetry can be.


To get there, drive past Hajjar Elemenatry School,
named after the child of Lebanese immigrants
who lived here his whole life and died as the much-loved war hero
and town physician. Coast past the ditch where the now-filled
Middlesex Canal once transversed the town lines of Billerica,
Burlington, Winchester, Cambridge, and Boston, transporting
raw cotton in one direction and colorful textiles
in the other. Take a left at the corner of Call and Pollard,
there at the house of Asa Pollard, the first man to give his life
in the Battle of Bunker Hill, twenty miles southeast of here.
Follow the necklace of shabby little ranches on Pollard
until you get to the town center, then drive around the rotary,
built around the tree beneath which George Washington
allegedly sat -- is there any town in the former colonies
that doesn't have such a tree? -- and keep turning
past the old town hall, which is the new library, then
the old library, which is now the senior center
where she got her flu shot the day before, then past
Sweeney's funeral home where she is now, in the basement,
beneath the hands of the mortician who injects her veins
with the formaldehyde that will preserve her until the next day,
when the hearse will drive her coffin to a plot that is being dug,
past Taylor Florist, where they will charge four hundred dollars
for a spray of lavender wrapped with cheap ribbons that say
Mother and Wife, to Jim's where you can see my father
getting his first barbershop haircut in forty-eight years.
The sideburns, already, are not to his liking, and the razor's edge
feels a size off from her Oster home barbershop razor,
and the plastic sheet that covers him now is so uncomfortable
compared with the flowered bed sheet that she used, stained
purple-brown as it was from years of her own home coloring treatments.
If you listen, you'll hear him tell the barber that he hasn't been
to a barbershop since 1961, but now that she is gone, he guesses
that this is what he'll have to do. In these first days, he's relieved
to be with strangers. With them it is almost easy to say,
My wife has died in this, his new language.


Joanne Diaz digests this bitter earth and then voices, in songs we recognize, songs we'll remember, the necessary journeys we take to make a family.  My Favorite Tyrants is much bigger than just family, Diaz also manages to work in some geo-political fanning of the flames.

Death is a big Diaz theme but she looks beyond the simple dark mystery and talks to us with reasoned empathy, tearful sympathy and breathless curiosity.  Diaz does all that without ever raising any maudlin excess.

The poems where Diaz talks about the death of her mother resonate with a clean and vibrant hum.   Remorse, respect, loss, wonder.  Diaz works all of them into narratives that play out so true you might think you already know the story.  You don't, but the real truth always sounds familiar.

Demeter's Last Stand

Last night, I alluded to my years as a Camp Fire Girl
and Averill revealed that she had been one, too,
and after she made the sign of a fire rising from her hand,

we chanted the promise that every Camp Fire Girl knows:
WoHeLo means work; I light the candle of work. WoHeLo means
health; I light the candle of health. WoHeLo means love;

I light the candle of love. How many times
did Lori Dembkoski and I giggle
during those camping expeditions in the backyard

of Mrs. D'Angelo, a kind woman who seemed to have invented
recycling when she filled her old knee-highs with soap chips
and knotted the ends to tree branches; when she poked

holes in gallon jugs and forced twigs into them
so that we could start and stop the water
as the jugs swung, unwieldy, from low branches;

when she told ghost stories that originated in her own house.
After a few years, Mrs. D'Angelo left us for a job
in Pennsylvania, and our new troop had to meet

in the low-ceilinged cafeteria at the middle school
where we resigned ourselves to cutting ochre-colored felt
amidst the stench of Tatter Tots. I don't know how long

it took for a janitor named Connie Rock to find us,
but our encounters with him in the hallway
did offer surprises. One week he'd kneel down

to compliment our felt handiwork and knee-socks;
another time he'd ask us to sit on his lap just for a little while;
and eventually we kissed him on his sallow cheeks

that were soured and lined with decades of hard drink
and smoke. One night, when all the parents
came to the cafeteria for an event

not worth the remembering, Connie found me
and called my name, and I went to him as I had
in the weeks before, I imagine now that my mother

saw then: the red sash full of badges that she had hand-sewn,
the blue hat that featured a small bright bird;
my smile at an old janitor as he cradled me on his lap

and smiled back, as if I were Persephone and he were Hades,
just after he had pushed through a cleft in the soil to steal me.
It took only a moment for my mother to seize my wrist

and hurry to the car. Mother, if I thanked you too little,
know that tonight I remember your besting of Demeter's speed,
and that you saved me from a lifetime of winters.


Our morning read was a stunner.  Earlier this morning Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, made every one of us listen to/watch the P.J. Harvey/Bjork video of the old Rolling Stones tune "Satisfaction."  Everyone in the room was on the edge of their seat.  Kathryn was convinced the video would be the perfect opener to a reading of My Favorite Tyrants and she was right.  Diaz brought down the house.

Diaz has a fascination for the American producer/actor/writer Larry David.  Larry David was the head writer for Seinfeld and then was the primary attention getter in Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I expect you readers are like me and reside in the love/hate faction for Larry David sentiment.  Diaz doesn't skip a beat as she culturally appropriates his skinny ass for a meeting with Antonin Artaud. In the real world I would pay anything to see that meeting.

On the Meeting of Larry David and Antonin Artaud

      after Philip Levine

In my dream, Antonin Artaud is a patient
at Bellevue, receiving electroshock treatments
for the schizophrenia that shattered him
for all of his adult life, and Larry David
has come to see him during visiting hours.
Antonin's eyes reveal a man who on most days
is frantic beyond reason, but today, Larry's
the one who's at the end of his rope.
He's just starred in his first feature-length film
and it's a flop. He knows he should never
have taken a role written thirty-five years ago
and intended for Zero Mostel, that great
heaving sweat machine who died too soon
to play the part. Larry's a writer, a comedian,
but no actor, and now he's stinking up
an already terrible movie. Even worse,
Larry's wife has left him -- not just
in the TV show, but in real life too, and all
because he probably complained too much
about the environmentally sound toilet paper.

At first, it might seem unlikely that Larry
should meet this great French surrealist.
But Antonin had a soul that could find the meaning
and fulfillment of its perfection only in its own disaster,
and in this regard, he and Larry are twins
born of the same seed. So when Antonin
sees Larry insult a nurse, trip on the foot
of a demented patient, and swear out loud
three times as he crosses the floor of the ward,
Antonin feels delight, perhaps for the first time
in years. Finally, a man who might slice
the veneer of bourgeois reality in two!
Larry is also having a good time. Blind
to socioeconomic distinctions, oblivious
to mental illness or wellness, Larry is pleased
with Antonin's frenetically spun moustache
and pulls on it in the hope that it's a fake.

In a few minutes, visiting hours will end,
and Larry will return to the lonely world
outside, the one that Antonin abandoned
years ago. The men look out the window,
first to the East River and the barges floating
downstream, and then, beyond the water
to the length of Long Island City, the old
PepsiCo sign a halo of bright red curves.
To Antonin, the sign is an interminable Rorschach test,
the answers to which he will never know.
To Larry, it is a reminder that he is thirsty.
When he goes to the vending machine
he loses his change after he pushes the button.
He walks away in disgust, and just as he
is about to leave the ward, he hears
the rubbery footfall of the nurse
whom he had insulted only minutes earlier.
She pushes the same button and gets two Pepsis,
but will not give one to Larry, who takes out
his small notebook to resume his endless work.


Today's book of poetry cannot say that the Brittingham Prize in Poetry winning My Favorite Tyrants is the best book of poetry we've ever seen but it is excellent.  We've been awfully lucky here at Today's book of poetry in recent months with the quality of the books we've received and Joanne Diaz can hold water with the very best of 'em.  

My Favorite Tyrants is a pleasure to push.  All you poetry junkies need this fix.

Image result for joanne diaz photo
Joanne Diaz

Joanne Diaz is the author of My Favorite Tyrants (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) and The Lessons (Silverfish Review Press, 2011). She teaches at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Forged of equal parts brains and brass, these poems bleed and shine and all but blind us. How wild they are, how beautiful! I love the way Joanne Diaz uses light and noise to tell us more than any history book can of the tyrants who distort yet give meaning to our lives: Castro, Stalin, Our teachers, our parents, ourselves."
     -  David Kirby



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, April 14, 2017

Reflections on the Dark Water - M. P. Jones (Solomon & George Publishers)

Today's book of poetry:
Reflections on the Dark Water.   M.P. Jones.  Solomon & George Publishers.  Opelika, Alabama.  2016.

M. P. Jones is sitting on the side of my desk all Reflections on the Dark Water and quiet, a genteel version of Ashokan Farewell is sounding quiet from the box and for a moment Today's book of poetry is back in the American South.  All we need now is the ghost of Shelby Foote to amble forth from the next room and regale us with his melodious wisdom.

M. P.  (Madison) Jones sets a big table with Reflections on the Dark Water.  Jim Morrison, Emily Dickinson and several other break bread in these lyric narratives bursting at the seams with quietly sustained power.  Jones is no muscle laden singe punch heavyweight, these poems are all footwork and lightning jabs.

A Genealogy of Silence

1917:  An American boy and a German boy stare
           at one another in a French trench for a full minute
           behind a Colt New Service and a Luger.
           Each marvels at how close a likeness the other
           bears to his own visage, like a mirror image. One shoots.

1925:  She watches the shadows swim under the door
           as her impatient husband paces the hospital corridor.

1936:  A man films the last known Tasmanian tiger
           walking back and forth between the cage walls
           just before it disappears.

1952:  A soldier's hat falls as he bends to avoid seeing
           his superior. Polished boots sound like hoof-clatter
           on cobblestones as he slams the brothel door.

1970:  In a soybean field in middle Georgia, the crowd roars.
           Not far away, a pregnant girl at a roadside peach stand
           says to a Strychnine-panicked boy, "I cannot help you;
           the lines are down," as he stumbles into the darkness.

1976:  A red telephone is ringing in the early light. She cannot
           hear it. She studies the light on the countertop, not wondering
           who waits at the other end of the line, for whom it rings.

1987:  A girl waits in a hotel room purchased on her father's
           credit card for a boy who said, "I ache for you."

1993:  A man holds his first-born by the legs out the window-
           frame of an incomplete second-story addition.

1997:  A young man drives through the night, perhaps in
           Arizona, perhaps nowhere at all, until he comes upon
           a waterless sea of solid glass. Nobody believes him.

2000:  The neighbor boy soaks toads in gasoline to watch
           them move through the dark like shooting stars.

2004:  Christmas eve, the tire of an overturned car spins
           in a ditch where two boys sit staring at a patch
           of morning sun shining through the pines.

2005:  Midnight in the mother's day darkness:
           the telephone rings.

2012:  A young man cuts his own right hand off
           with a chainsaw. After, he cannot explain.

2013:  Forgotten candles in the bathroom resemble
           green moonlight where two lay naked in the dark.

Five       A boy and a girl watch the last Tasmanian tiger
(A.M.):  pace back and forth on a bright screen. No sound.


"A Genealogy of Silence" is a list poem of sorts and you readers keeping score know that list poems frequently hit a Today's book of poetry soft spot.

In a book of poems with such monster title marvels as "To The Liquor Store With Hayden Carruth" and "Emily Dickinson Sewed Her Poems Shut" or how about this dandy "Throughout the Dismal Glade Our Bodies Shall Be Hung, Each on the Wild Thorn of His Wretched Shade."  I can't help but hear the footsteps of some of the Gothic southern Gods like McCullers and O'Connor.

Jones shapes his memory with myth, prays for appropriate weather, dazzles with a steady velocity and tells his tall tales.  Today's book of poetry read Reflections on the Dark Water an extra time or two, poems like these only get better with each new reading.

Fish Tale

My brother died with a truck full of fish

                       and beer bottles crashing together--
                                             in the Mother's Day darkness--
I am endlessly returning

                                             as if to a worn photograph,
a lure drifting along the lake's rim
                                                                   in Vermont,
a place I've never seen, and so

can only imagine some dim shore growing certain
                       in torn threads of afternoon light.

I go back to those improbable stories

he would tell, eyes alight with the consuming
fire of beer and bourbon,

like the one where he is driving through the desert
all night,
just driving through the sand, until finally he stops
at noon--perhaps in Arizona,
                                                                     perhaps nowhere at all--

on a waterless sea of solid glass,
supposedly the wake of some explosives test.

Walking over the burnt sand-lake's surface, breaking apart
                                               frozen waves and currents
beneath his boots,
crumbling like some hopeless metaphor for certainty.

I listen as he wavers--wanting only to fix some narrative
over the near end--
                                                       recounting as his slurring sways,
circling to the moment just before the hooks are set,

before the surface quivers,
the bottles break,
                     and everything is finished.

And everything is finished;
                                              the bottles break
                       before the surface quivers,

circling to the moment just before the hooks are set,
                       recounting as his slurring sways

                                                                            over the near end,

I listen as he wavers, wanting only to fix some narrative.

Crumbling. Like some hopeless metaphor for certainty
beneath his boots,
                      frozen waves and currents.

Walking over the burnt sand-lake's surface, breaking apart--
                        supposedly the wake of some explosives test--

                                                on a waterless sea of solid glass.

Perhaps nowhere at all

                       at noon, perhaps in Arizona,
just driving through the sand, until finally he stops
all night.

Like the one where he is driving through the desert
                                              fire of beer and bourbon.

He would tell, eyes alight with the consuming.

I go back to those improbable stories
                      in torn threads of afternoon light,

can only imagine some dim shore growing certain--
                      a place I've never seen--and so,

in Vermont,
                      a lure drifting along the lake's rim
as if to a worn photograph--
                       I am endlessly returning

in the Mother's day darkness

                      and beer bottles crashing together,

My brother died with a trunk full of fish. 


Today's morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices took place on the front porch with bright sunshine and guest readers.  M. P. Jones got aired out proper.  When I took the staff outside it was to find Mrs. Today's book of poetry on the front porch arguing in French with Dr. Alexandre.  The doctor stuck around along with Mrs. TBOP and they both joined in the fray.

Jim Morrison Believed that the Right Words in the Right
Order Could Kill You

Lying in the dark waters of that tub,
velvet drapes trimming the night
inside the golden facade
of the rue Beautreillis,
listening to the voices
drifting up from the Seine,
with the light already going
out of his dull eyes,
and another cigarette, perched
like the last link
of a short, broken circle
on his swollen belly, burning
like a candle lit at both ends, lies
the beardless shaman, with that deep,
death-rattle cough ringing
in his ear. Who knows
what he mumbled to himself?


Today's book of poetry was lizard king struck with the poetry of M. P. Jones.  Reflections on the Dark Water reads solid from front cover to back.  This is no narcissist looking into his dark reflection but M. P.  Jones clearing up all that brackish water to let the it run clear and clean, pushing his way to the truth.

M. P.  Jones

Madison Jones is a Graduate Research Fellow at the University of Florida—where he works with the TRACE journal and innovation initiative. He is editor-in-chief of Kudzu House Quarterly. Reflections on the Dark Water (Solomon & George) is his second poetry collection. Recent publications include co-editing Writing the Environment in Nineteenth-Century American Literature; an article forthcoming in ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment; poetry forthcoming in Birmingham Poetry Journal, ISLE, and The Goose, and recently appearing in Canary, Tampa Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Greensboro Review, and elsewhere; book reviews in ISLE, Kenyon Review Online, The Journal, and elsewhere. Visit his website:

Reflections on the Dark Water concerns itself with memory and myth, how the bridge between the two--how the line where they intersect--is the irrevocable location of history. M.P. Jones crosses that bridge, that line over and again in poems that view the past in order to make sense of the present. This is a book that wants to separate "truth from chaff."
     - Jericho Brown, author of The New Testament



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, April 10, 2017

Strange Labyrinth - Kat Cameron (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Strange Labyrinth.  Kat Cameron.  Oolichan Books.  Fergie, British Columbia. 2014.

Kat Cameron reads twice her age, how else to explain the kaleidoscopic range of her cultural, historical and literary references where she tips her hat, says "how do you do?" to a myriad of misfits and heroes,  markers.  Today's book of poetry was on side from the start.  Strange Labyrinth is as advertised, we enter some strange territory and the exit isn't always certain but Cameron's curiosity and interests have a large span.

And the reader never feels lost.  

Cameron creates poems that have emotional certainty at the heart of them as though they arrived fully formed and knowing which way to lean into the wind.

The Palliser Slide

This rock slide destroyed one side of Mount indefatigable.
The largest rock slide in North America, it was four times larger
than the Frank slide.

Frozen waves, aeons buried in the cresting line.

In a basin, mountain-rimmed, slate-grey ramparts cross and gird, hold
back the inverted sea of sky. Far off, wavering in the foreshortened air,
snow-ghosts climb, flint heels striking fire from shale.

Ammonites spiral time in twisted coils.

Below, the darkness of the firs. A tortured path pulls and climbs
its way past clinging meadows, spots of sun. Frail jellyfish,
Queen Anne's lace, float by bristling blots of red paintbrush.

The air is thin, three thousand feet above the far earth's floor.
Marmots whistle warnings on the wind.


Today's book of poetry hears echoes of Saint Earle of Birney and his beautiful "David" in "The Palliser Slide," if only a frisson.  Cameron's nature capture has the same reverent awe, she makes the panorama present right there on the page.

Cameron works a whole magical lode of tenderness into her Strange Labyrinth.  Today's book of poetry doesn't want to give away any secrets but Kat the C has a thing for Mary Shelley's monster. e.e. cummings, Byron, Sylvia Plath, Elizabeth Bishop, Eliot, Pound and Vincent the Goth Van Gogh all show up, Marcus Aurelius and his Meditations sharpen Cameron's tools.  Strange Labyrinth brims with smart lyric animations and host of glamorous accomplices.

Today's book of poetry doesn't want to give the wrong impression, Kat Cameron's earthy poems aren't inhabited by or about the above mentioned iconic figures.  They are all just along for the ride. Cameron is writing about this world and our place in it, the space women inhabit that men don't know about.

Digging out the Twitch

The first sunny day in weeks and I'm in the garden,
digging out thick twitch grass, the heavy dirt clotted deep
with spidering white roots. When we bought this house,
I had plans, even though my uncalloused hands, smooth with
dishwater and lotion, spent the day tapping staccato keys.

All summer, I neglected this bed. Faded vines hang
from the fence, like shreds of forgotten sunsets.
I'm sowing the colours of spring; wanton tulips,
narcissi, and clusters of purple crocuses.

But past failures slow me down. I feel the strain
in my back, my aging knees, the shovel loads of
heavy doubt. All I can do is go on. Now
the gloves are off. I push tiny bulbs into shallow graves
feeling the soft dirt crumble with promises.


Our regular early morning read here at Today's book of poetry was a bit dishevelled today.  I have recently spent a few days working out in the real world with real people.  Once in a while I get work at the Art Bank and it is one of my favourite places on earth.  Picture a large warehouse carefully packed with around 20,000 works of the best contemporary Canadian art.  It's a dreamland.  I worked as an Art Technician for many years, transporting and installing art work.  In recent years I've worked mostly in the Frame Shop.  It is work I thoroughly enjoy.  So my brain and tired old posterior has been toiling hard at the Art Bank.

When I haven't been at the Art Bank I've been in David Lee world.  David Lee is a poet from Texas who now lives in Utah.  Our St. Louis correspondent, Mark Twang, sent us a couple of David Lee's books along with a Copper Canyon Press CD with David Lee Reading from A Legacy of Shadows and News from Down to the Cafe.  Today's book of poetry will be dealing with Mr. Lee in the near future but I've been making the staff listen to his CD non-stop for the last couple of days.  Now everyone around here is running around with a David Lee accent.  Beer bottle on their hip.

The other good, but distracting, news is that the sun is out.  It really does feel like spring and when that happens most of us here in Ottawa get a little sun drunk.  Everyone in town will be out on patios and in shorts by noon.  For all I know it could snow again tonight.

So our morning read was slightly distracted, we opened all the doors and windows for the first time since October.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, made sure that we all cottoned onto the strong feminist voice that inhabits these poems.  Cameron isn't burning down the house with strident polemics, she's informing the house because they need to know.  Once Kathryn laid down the law Kat Cameron's poems worked their way around the room, humour popped out when we least expected it, along with Frankenstein, Cameron kept us well entertained.

from Camille

II. Le Baiser

Two bodies.

I long to stroke his back
the soft deep groove from neck
to ass.

His hand holds the hollow
of my hip.

I pull him towards me,
me leg angles
my body closer.

Fused marble.

One kiss banished the lovers to the
second circle of hell.

I wish I could banish Rodin
as easily.


Kat Cameron's Strange Labyrinth isn't really so strange at all.  These intelligent poems "examine the choices women make," flirt joyously with strange dancers, summon memory.  Strange Labyrinth is a powerful debut.

Today's book of poetry will be anxious to see more from Kat Cameron.

Kat Cameron

Kat Cameron was born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan. She completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of New Brunswick and has worked as an ESL teacher in Japan, a substitute teacher, and an editorial assistant. Her poems and short stories have appeared in literary journals across Canada, including CV2, Descant, The Fiddlehead, FreeFall, Grain, Literary Review of Canada, Room, Prairie Fire, PRISM International, and subTerrain. She teaches English and writing at Concordia University College in Edmonton and is currently working on a poetry manuscript, "Lighting over Wyoming," with the assistance of an Alberta Foundation for the Arts Grant.

Strange Labyrinth moves across subtle moods and ideas, as if these were keys on a piano under the deft fingering of a virtuoso. Kat Cameron’s poems disturb our sense of time and distance, as figures in family history are simultaneously standing beside us and vanishing in the uncertain world of memory.” 
     ~Ross Leckie

“An accomplished debut. This is a collection of sweeping breadth with respect to subject matter, locale, and literary influence. Cameron writes poems of quiet elegance, and strategic feminism. Strange Labyrinth is imbued with the ghostly, yet grounded, idiosyncratic spirits of ancestors. Cameron is a poet to watch.”
     ~Jeanette Lynes, Author of The Factory Voice



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.