Saturday, May 13, 2017

May 13, 2017 Today's book of poetry - Update

Today's book of poetry:

Today's book of poetry just topped 300,000 readers from over 160 countries and we couldn't be more grateful to both our readers and to the generous publishers who send us books to consider.

Today's book of poetry will be taking a brief hiatus as we are redecorating our offices and our troops are all afield on various journeys of discovery.

We'll be back soon.

All the best,
Michael Dennis

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Silent Sister - the mastectomy poems - Beth Everest (Frontenac House Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
Silent Sister - the mastectomy poems.  Beth Everest.  Frontenac House Poetry.  Calgary, Alberta.  2016.


is chemo as awful as
some people say it is?

you never ever want to know.


Beth Everest goes to hell and back and writes poems about the experience.  They are as immediate as a slap to an unsuspecting face.  Silent Sister - the mastectomy poems is a harrowing coming to terms with cancer and the fallout around that terrible disease.

Everest takes honesty to chemo-puking levels and shares the intimacies of emotional mountain climbing and the literal physical breaking point.  Her illness is a cross she bears and a painful platform and from that stratified vantage point Everest muses on relationships, family, the concept of the/a future and the pain.  There is almost always the pain.



i lie in bed, hoping
morning comes.
other times, i lie in bed
hoping it doesn't
but it does
and maybe the sun comes
out, or doesn't
but my nurse
tells me rain
clears toxins
even if it feels like



Today's book of poetry was very curious to find out that Beth Everest had the opportunity to study with both W.O. Mitchell (Who Has Seen The Wind) and Saint Alistair MacLeod (No Great Mischief), two of Canada's greatest story-tellers.  

Today's book of poetry was lucky enough to study with W.O. Mitchell's son Orm Mitchell, as good an English professor as you'd ever want to find.  The closest Today's book of poetry ever got to St. Alistair was to stand beside him at a small cocktail party while he and Margaret Laurence traded war stories.  I made sure their glasses were full, listened, gobsmacked.

Today's book of poetry mentions Mitchell and MacLeod because in our story of the world they are a special kind of deserved royalty.  That Everest studied with them shows serious intent, and it never hurts to rub elbows with the gods.  But to my knowledge neither MacLeod or Mitchell dabbled in the dark art of poetry.

Silent Sister - the mastectomy poems works very effectively as a book of poems.  The immediacy, intimacy and voracity of these extremely personal poems is electric.  But it would be very easy for Today's book of poetry to imagine much of this text in a longer narrative work of fiction.  We would stop short of saying we can see the particular influence of Mitchell or MacLeod but we certainly see the quality, the precision.  Beth Everest writes poems singed with the fire and flame of having been to Hades.



smells like medicine we were given
when we were kids, one teaspoon each
year before the wormy winter of sucking
on frozen sweater sleeves, eating snow
for God's sake, a dog might have peed there,
the carmine suspension that tasted like
coins, thick on the tongue.

open your mouth, it's just one teaspoon,
my dad holds my hands back, mom pries
at my mouth and just the smell i am
spitting it into the next year.

and now i am 53, the oncology nurse with
the slow rubber gloves, funnels the bag of
red into the syringe, into my arm, it smells
like, it feels like, it tastes like
will it be over, the slow 45 minute
does it burn? tell me if it burns and
i will slow down, hurry, please, too
toxic to drip, too toxic to touch, too toxic
to spit and when you get home you'll pee
red for up to four days, all your body
fluids are toxic, take precautions especially
around the toilet, wash your hands, be
careful, tell your family, and watch your pets, do you
have pets? a dog, maybe?
yes, yes, hurry, please yes,
and when we are done,
we'll start the slow
2 hour


There is much rough going on in Silent Sister - the mastectomy poems, so much pain shared that it's hard to rub it off when you are done.  At the same time Everest has found her way to a voice that is measured with enough tenderness to get through to the end.  She is not without hope.

In this very difficult time Everest and her poems find some solace in the consoling hands of caring friends.


i am at a local store,
flipping thru the racks of discount clothing
sort of hoping to find something to fit
my reshaped

hey. i look up at the sound of a woman's voice,
soft and friendly, and realize she is speaking to me.
you in treatment? she says. i've been there.
twice. as in two sets.

i think i am afraid
to think about that possibility.
what stage? she asks.
2B comes surprisingly to my tongue.
can i hug you? she asks and moves to my
side of the rack.

and you? i say, what stage are you? i ask this
mid-hug. she steps back.
she smiles, they are making me comfortable
and she walks away.

wait, i think, but not thinking loudly
enough for her to hear. wait, please
tell me your name, as if somehow
the naming would make all the difference.


Everyone here at Today's book of poetry has been touched by that rat bastard cancer at one point or another.  Our Sr. Editor Max lost his youngest son to the scourge almost twenty years ago and we miss him so.  One way or another cancer has thunder-fucked each and every one of us here at Today's book of poetry so this morning's reading was a highly charged affair.

Today's book of poetry's mother, Effie, had a breast removed when she was in her early 20's and then had the other breast removed when she was in her early 40's.  For the first time in my life, thanks to Silent Sister - the mastectomy poems, I have had a small glimpse, a moment of perspective, into the horrors my mother braved.  Four small children and a fifth on the way when the Big C first knocked on my mother's door.

Beth Everest is doing some very brave sharing with Silent Sister - the mastectomy poems.  Many, many women will weep with understanding and empathy, any man who reads Silent Sister will come away with more understanding than previous and certainly more sympathy.  That is an awfully big success for any book of poetry.

And Everest manages to throw in some hope, a trickle of optimism.  An "I'm still here, dammit," smiling sneer.

This book of poems should be in every Dr.'s office and waiting room in the country.

Beth Everest author photo
Beth Everest

Beth Everest is a Calgary based writer whose poetry and fiction have been published in journals across the country. Her new book, silent sister: the mastectomy poems, forthcoming from Frontenac House (2016), is her second book of poetry.

Beth has won numerous awards for her work and her teaching. Most recently, her piece “this poem is about desire” was awarded the silver medal at the Alberta Magazine Publishers Association Awards (2014), and “hanging clothes” won second place in the 2013 Freefall Fiction Contest (judged by Patrick Lane).

Beth holds a Doctorate in Education (University of Calgary), a Master of Arts Degree (University of Windsor, where she had the notable honour of studying with the great story-tellers W.O. Mitchell and Alistair MacLeod), a Bachelor of Education Teaching Certificate (University of Calgary), and Bachelor of Arts Degree (University of Alberta).

Currently, Beth is an Associate Professor in the Department of English,
Languages and Cultures at Mount Royal University, where she teaches Creative Writing (fiction).

Your writing makes me wake up and think and feel and remember.
     - Judy O'Leary, cancer survivor

Telling the story of breast cancer is brave but not so important to helping others who often feel very alone. Even more effective when poetry brings alive the daily experience in such a graphic way.
     - Jeremy Hughes, former CEO, Breakthrough Breast Cancer, UK

Dr. Everest has composed an honest, reflective collection of her art, sharing with us her hard-fought battle against breast cancer. She vividly captures the fragile moments of her journey; there is intense emotion in each verse.
      - Dr. J. Kanashiro, surgeon

Powerful. Poignant. Heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful. Silent Sister is about more than breast cancer. It's about the loneliness of modern medicine, our seach for meaning, our dogged resilience in the face of a crow's nest of cancer. The flesh may be pierce, but the human heart never.
     -Will Ferguson, Giller Book Prize Winner



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 6, 2017

Weathervane - Mark Sampson (Palimpsest Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Weathervane.  Mark Sampson.  Palimpsest Press.  Windsor, Ontario.  2016.


Weathervane is a dipping of the proverbial toes into the cosmos.  Mark Sampson writes from a contemplative and amused perch.  These poems are trump cards from a honest poker player with a dead-pan draw.

Choosing A Mattress

is about more than just the selfishness of sleep,
that blessed oblivion
resting between today's
half-failure and tomorrow's vague promise

Consider your future lovers
Choose a mattress wide enough
to accommodate their desire for you
and one soft enough
for the afterplay of all your gentle words

You must also make your pick
with lovelessness in mind--
a mattress broad enough to give room to wars,
to withstand fifty years
of loneliness

When choosing a mattress
pick one worthy of the children
you will conceive on it
This will be their launching pad
This will be where they judge you

Pick one equal to your anxieties,
the unnamed worries
that loop around endlessly,
like a ceiling fan

A mattress must be able to hold
the regrets that keep you from sleep
the wrongs you have done to others
and yourself

These are your true weight
A mattress must be forgiving
but firm enough to bear it


Today's book of poetry's morning read was full of charm and humour ala Mark Sampson.  Milo, our head tech, has taken on my proclivity for list poems and turned Mr. Sampson's "We Took The City"
into a considerable poetry monster.  That poem took over our reckless insides as Milo marched it around the room and out into the universe.

We Took The City

We took the city
We took it like barbarians
We took its high-rise hammocked balconies
and Swing Slow Sleep Aid colonies
We took its slamming doors,
Its elevators' metronomic forages
We took its whores
We took its rules to heart
             No gambling
             No littering
             No loud sex after 10. (Quiet sex is fine)

We took its pain clinics
and its chartered accountants
We took its dentists' chairs and its cynics
We took its citadel
We took its harbour islands
We took it dancing

We took it seriously
We took it straight
We took it on the rocks
We took a cheap shot

We took a glance over the cubicle wall
at the summer's badgering sun through the window
We took a life we didn't want
We took a cold, hard look at ourselves
We took a bus downtown
We took a mortgage uptown
We took a breath

We took another breath

We took a chance
We took a phone call
We took a date
We took a second date

We took a walk
We took a hike
We took a swim
We took a dinner on the quay

We took your mother to palliative care

We took what the city had to offer
and what it didn't
We took ourselves too lightly
We took a hit
We took a loss
We took a punch

We took it all in stride
We took each other where we needed to go.


Today's book of poetry apologizes to Mark Sampson for our truncated coverage of Weathervane.  We wanted to get Weathervane out there because as much as we enjoyed reading it - and we did - we have a higher offering of praise.  K, Today's book of poetry's almost perfect and long suffering better-half, made a point of telling us how much she liked Weathervane.  K is a tough nut to crack and does not give poetry praise easily or often.  She made a point of telling me in no uncertain terms how smart she thought Sampson's poems were.

There is no doubt about who is the sharpest tack in the Today's book of poetry household and when K likes poems we listen.

Blue Fog

The rain makes generous donations
in the scooter women's hats.
This neighbourhood has had sirens
every night for forty nights

and the gulls bob and weave above
the crimson fire trucks pooling
like blood in the grim cavities
of St. James Town. This April's

fog is thick, a lavender tongue lolling
in a strangled throat.
Last year, a prostitute offered
to sell me a shopping bag full of batteries.

This year, she threw herself off her Bleeker St. balcony
while her daughter practiced the cello.


Not sure if P.E.I. native Mark Sampson will want to know this curious detail about Today's book of poetry.  We apprenticed at Wizard Business Products in Charlottetown.  At the time our mailing address was ______ _______, Guarding the Stanhope/Grand Tracadie Border, P.E.I.

But everyone always thought of us as come from away.

Today's book of poetry loved living close to the ocean and loved the poetry.  We felt right at home with this marvelous first collection of poetry.  Like we feel at home listening to Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds sing "Mermaids."  

Image result for mark sampson poet photo
Mark Sampson

Mark Sampson is the author of the novels Off Book and Sad Peninsula, as well as the short story collection The Secrets Men Keep. His fiction, poetry and reviews have appeared in many journals across Canada, including The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, PRISM international, This magazine, QWERTY and FreeFall. Palimpsest Press released Weathervane in 2016. Originally from Prince Edward Island, he now lives and writes in Toronto.

“A taut, confident debut from an already accomplished author.” 
     — Jonathan Ball, Winnipeg Free Press

“Sampson has the ability…to wax profanely about things we would all take for granted or overlook. He notes thoughts we all consider yet we never speak aloud. And he points out what we consider mundane and makes us ask why we think that.”



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 2, 2017

Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop - David Lee (Wings Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop.  David Lee.  Wings Press.  San Antonio, Texas.  2017.

Back on May 9th, 2016 this all started.  It was almost one year ago today that Today's book of poetry wrote about the former Missouri Poet Laureate David Clewell's excellent book Almost Nothing To Be Scared Of (University of Wisconsin Press, 2016).  The esteemed Mr. Clewell started corresponding with us here at Today's book of poetry, started sending us books we'd never heard of.  Then he introduced us to the Twangster, Mark Twang.

That was when all hell broke loose.  Twang, our correspondent from the south, thinks nothing of walking into my office unannounced and throwing down a book with a demanding "read this now!" Not sure where fear ends and respect begins but Twang has certainly opened some eyes around here. Today's book of poetry is ashamed to admit that we'd never really heard of B.H. Fairchild or Rodney Jones, and we certainly had never heard of David Lee.

Today's book of poetry doesn't know exactly how to say it but try this; David Lee is the poet Today's book of poetry has been waiting for.  Reading Lee is like taking a ride in a jet fighter when previously you'd only been riding a wagon.  David Lee is a whole new ball game.

The editor at Wings Press had this to say about Lee: 
      "Imagine Robert Frost simultaneously channeling Will Rogers
      and Ezra Pound.  Imagine Chaucer with a twang."

Today's book of poetry would add that you could throw that witty wordsmith Woody Guthrie and old Willie the Shake to that compendium.  

Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop is a stunning social history of rural Texas, mid twentieth century or earlier.  Most of it from a woman's perspective, a woman's voice.  This is astonishing magic.


and down they forgot as up they grew
                   E.E. Cummings,
                   "anyone lived in a pretty how town"


Back in the once upon a time days
Hooter Hagins got to be famous
a lot longer than the rest of us
but until Maurine Huffman
told her story to her Bobby Jack
almost everybody
even those of us who knew her then
and were there had already forgotten
that we all thought
it was a miracle
or a terrible accident
She had only one breast
No one was really sure
if they had to take it off
when she was a baby
or if she was born that way
and nobody ever thought
to ask her or her mama
which was what
to resolve the dilemma

none of us seemed to notice it
until we were in junior high school
on a day like a bolt of thunder
Monroe Newberry who was so innocent
he didn't know any better
made the longest speech of his lifetime
when he said Jesust Hooter
you only got one tiddy
from then on as long
as we could remember to think
about it she was
as important to our self identity
as President Eisenhower or Sputnik
or Governor Shivers or Coach Darrell Royal

in high school it seemed
she'd managed to find a way
to get it centered so we could look
forward to sweater days
to see Hooter's point of view
then along came Ella Mae Blodgett
with snow cone brassieres
Hooter got one to work for her
so well the Mr. Bennett
in general science quit
trying to teach any at all
on those days and had work sheets
in his drawers
ready to pass out so he
could practice on his personal theory
of successful sight alignment

wore it to class next semester
on biology test day
after ten minutes Tommy Bouchier
who was a Baptist and refrained
from all lustful contemplation
until he went to college
got up and walked out
sweat running down both sideburns
took it in the library after school
on his own time and still
graduated class valedictorian
nobody could hold
any of it against him


years later at the Dew Drop Inn
across the tracks drinking
bootleg liquor Jimmie Ivie asked
Bus Pennell how he lost his eye
Was it a hunting accident?
which gave Bus the opportunity
for personal loquaciousness
he said Partially
it was on a Saturday night
in my pickup out in the bushes
with Hooter I goosed her
she jerked loose
her gazoobie was like a brick
with a carriage bolt
stuck in the end of it
tore it right out of its sockets
he should have laughed
at the end of his story
and reminded them of what
they'd misplaced in their remembrance
that Charolotte Paducah before
she married Bobby Joe Rushing
shot it out with a Chinaberry
in a slingshot
when he came into her yard
after she told him not to
but when he didn't
went as quiet in there as when
Jerry Banks puked in church
during communion service
after Charles Ivins told him
it was made out of dead
ground up body parts
he wouldn't put it in his mouth
and be a cannibal
Miss Lela's eyes all wide
because her mama was midwife
saw it at Hooter's birth
them people didn't know
if it was from the Lord or the Debbil
but she had surely been touched
way back before Bus Pennell
got to her in his pickup
rumor of it spread all the way
to Odessa we heard


we were in line
at the picture show on a Saturday night
somebody we later thought Wheelis House
brought his cousin
down from Tahoka to go to it
he'd forgotten to warn him
the potential consequences
of silliness in our town
he said too loud
Looks like a Chinese rhinoceros
yall ought to call her Ichiban
like that Jap wrestler in Lubbick
Harold Wayne Clayburn said
You want us to call you a doctor
or a vegetarian? he said What?
never saw a thing
she hit him holding a half drunk
R.C. Cola bottle with peanuts in it
on the point of his chin
went down in a squatch
like a jellyfish
that lost its bonnet at sea
one eye rolled up and the other one
looked straight out like it's
been painted on
knocked him right out
of one of his shoes
she said to Harold Wayne
It's a veteranarain dumbass
whoever it wases cousin
that brought him
probably Wheelis
tried to say He didn't really
mean nothing by it
but Glenda Hutto
who was her friend that night
beside her standing in line
said It's too late already
you don't call the roofman
when it's raining.

we heard all over town
that at the Rotary Club meeting
Pastor Brother Gene said
It was a stampede
of accumulated wisdom and grievance
that she chose to unleash
upon that poor foreign boy
at that very moment
in order to provide the incentive
and momentum for possible redemption
and on the other hand
he probably just should have stayed
at home in Tahoka that night
even though they all laughed
it was standing room only
at the Methodist Church
next Sunday in anticipation
that Hooter might show up
for admonishment or praise


she began to disappear
from our collective consciousness
when she married down horribly
to Paulie Joe Wheaton after
he came home from his two years
Army service in lieu of the penitentiary
then another divorce after him then
married Byron Hainey who drifted
on the lam from Arkansas
got him a job at Piggly Wiggly finally
sacking groceries and stocking shelves
by then time and gravity
had done its duty
along with cancer getting popular
and other women getting one
or both of theirs cut off
so it wasn't much unusual any more

we forgot about her mostly
until the new husband we never accepted
either for us or her
got the prostrate cancer
took him to Dr. Tubbs
who called in Hooter
the first time said Your husband
is a real sick man but
would be a whole lot better
if he had sex once a day
on weekdays and twicet on Saturdays
when she came out of the office
he asked her what the Dr. said
with everybody listening
she said Dr. Tubbs said
you're going to die
on the next visit
Dr. Tubbs told Hooter
he had to get serious with her
said We can operate on him
try to get it out but you need to know
that would probley make him
pure flat impotent
she said Well that's fine
but would there be
any negative side effects?
that piece of gossip
brought her right back
to her previous hero status.


he ran off home to Arkansas
where we heard he died
and the church ladies social club
decided it wasn't right
Hooter should be alone
took her out to the old Wheaton place
where her ex Paulie Joe
who it was thought
still pined for her
had put in a trailer house
over the foundation of the burned one
Wheaton Texas-house with a sitting porch
pulled up he was lounging
on the furniture outside all bigfat
with his shirt off grinning
needing a haircut
in the sunshine
she said Turn the car around
and get me out of here right now
they said What for?
he's wanting read bad
to get back together with you
she said He looks like
a Chester white hog sitting up
with two rows of titties
hanging down his front
I don't need the reminder
or the competition

wasn't anything they could do
but take her back
she turned to look at him one last time
standing up waving his arms
his whole front belly looked like
a little boy sloshing in the bathtub
spillwaves going up and down
she said Oh set down
you silly sonofabitch
you're embarrassing me
Sybil Cockrum almost run the car
off in the ditch
them church social club women
laughed all the way in to town
they all sworn a  vow
not to ever tell anybody
Ruth Lee laughed so hard
she peed herself on the carseat


then Maurine Huffman told
her boy Bobby Jack after that
about Hooter back in high school
how she was world famous
all the way to Abilene
put a boy in the hospital
for making fun of her
and then why
pretty soon the whole town
was all over it again
she was once more our celebrity

but when the new Cambellite
preacher's wife Sister Parker
without understanding the true essence
of the matter said
as part of her conversational duty
checking out at her register
at Piggly Wiggly I heard
somebody say you was
really something way back when
that you was maybe
the most famous person in this part of Texas
Hooter said Yes ma'am
we all were
legends in our own minds
but that was then
and today is now
and that's exactly why
most stories start Once upon a time
and then go straight
backwards from there
but at least mine
had a point to it
and the right two words
for a conclusion
so we don't have to think
about any of it any more
and that's just about
all they are to it
I hope you have
a real nice rest of the day
and we all decided with her
it was time to let it go


Bluebonnets, Firewheels, and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop weighs in at well over two-hundred pages and when you are reading it you might feel like you're caught between memories of Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath and the whispered words of wisdom from every woman in rural Texas.  Bluebonnets... is the anecdotal history of a time most of you are too young to remember, Lee's women remind us.

David Lee and his Texan women broker no hypocrisy and they do it in chicken-fried, glowshimmer style.

Veal, 1948

All afternoon grandmother
dressed the meat
divided the cuts
steaks and chops
a small roast
for the ice box
and sliced the round
into thin pieces which
for the first time
she didn't pound
with a saucer's edge

and for the meal
a private portion
chicken fried
for everyone at the table
including kids
so tender adults weren't requited
to do cutting
the savor of fresh beef
filling the air
on the tongue
lingering on the mind

"This is so good"
"So so good, mama"
"Never so tender"
"Where'd you get this meat?"
and grandmother
head down to her plate
as if in prayer
"Milk cow shed her calf"
"Shed her calf?"
"Still born"


One Reason Why You Didn't Want
Kristine Thornton To Talk During
Town Board Meeting

While Arguing Over Redistricting With Moe Bob Trammel

If the Lord wanted you
to have an empty head
and a cob up your ass
He'd of put popcorn seeds
in your daddy's spurem

                                       From sidebar minutes of the
                                      monthly Town Board Meetings
                                                        19 September 1950


Our southern correspondent, the Twangster, didn't stop with Bluebonnets..., no, he also sent along some other David Lee titles full of real life and wonder.  Today's book of poetry recently read A Legacy of Shadows - Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 1999), Driving & Drinking (Copper Canyon Press, 1979,1982 and 2004), The Porcine Canticles (Copper Canyon Press, 1984) and we listened to the CD David Lee: A Listener's Guide where Lee reads from A Legacy of Shadows and News from Down to the Cafe.  

The Today's book of poetry staff have been taking turns taking home the David Lee CD.  It is simply riveting poetry from a voice so authentic you have no choice but to believe every word uttered.

The fact of it for Today's book of poetry is that every poem David Lee writes seems to contain more truth than the last.  Lee isn't mimicking voices, he is remembering them, pitch perfect.

David Lee's eloquence is humbling but it is an awful lot of fun.  Bluebonnets, Firewheels and Brown-Eyed Susans or Poems New and Used From the Bandera Rag and Bone Shop is a kind of local, oral history rendered universal.  The stories and characters are new to us, they are new to everyone, but the moral playground they dance on is one we know, recognize from our own small part of the world.

One Reason Why You Didn't Want Kristine Thornton
To Talk During Town Board Meetings

                                   on an unnamed citizen
                                   running for town board

He's meteoaker
just trash not worth picking up;
a bucket with two holes
in the bottom
and a tore out pouring edge

                                     From sidebar minutes of the monthly
                                                             Town Board Meetings
                                                                           12 May 1953


The palette stacker

Let me tell you something, Travis
woman to man as your Assistant
Personnel Director  this one time
Hoyt there is in charge
of this entire mill's palette stacking
being a one man team
and if I were you which I'm not
I'd be careful about how
you've been talking to him
he's an odd duck and just doesn't
take to teasing any
and here' the consideration
I'm thinking I might take
if I were you which I'm not

that skinny little man
lifts 10 boxes of sheets every minute
and stacks them on his palette
that's 600 boxes of sheets an hour
which means in a workday
he lifts and stacks just about exactly
4,800 boxes of sheets
each box weighing 44 pounds exactly
which if you do the sum
comes to just a tad over
211 thousand pounds of lifts and stacks
on his palettes every day
five days a week and six
once we get to the holiday sale season

Travis, to put this in plain linguitch
as the good old boys say
so you might understand it
that skinny little man
who is from Shakeslovaskia
which is why to you he seems
to talk funny but he doesn't agree
has muscles in his shit
and if you tick him off making fun of him
bad enough to have him come at you
I can tell you for a certainty
the next one to wipe your butt
will be the undertaker

if you catch my drift


At one point Today's book of poetry was all set to tackle ALL of the marvelous David Lee material we have in the stacks but then realized we simply wanted to copy out every poem and share them with you.  This extraordinary poetry deserves to be celebrated, and loudly.  

If it were possible Today's book of poetry would lead a David Lee march right into the ballroom of The Poetry Hall of Fame.  How often do we get to call a living poet Great?  Here's your chance.

author's photo
David Lee

David Lee was raised in Post, Texas (southeast of Lubbock, northeast of Lamesa — think hot, dry and flat), a background he has never completely escaped, despite his varied experiences as a seminary student, a boxer and semi-pro baseball player (the only white player to ever play for the Negro League Post Texas Blue Stars) known for his knuckleball, a hog farmer, and a decorated Army veteran. Along the way he earned a Ph.D., taught at various universities, and recently retired as the Chairman of the Department of Language and Literature at Southern Utah University.

After 30 years in Utah, Lee and his wife Jan took to the road to become more-or-less full-time wanderers. Passing through Bandera, Texas, Lee says, "We just fell in love. We noticed nine bars and two churches and thought this is where God lives." They settled in Bandera for a few years, but spent half of the year traveling, mostly on the backroads of the western U.S. They now live somewhere in Nevada.

Lee was named Utah's first Poet Laureate in 1997, and has received both the Mountains & Plains Booksellers Award in Poetry and the Western States Book Award in Poetry. Lee received the Utah Governor's Award for lifetime achievement and was listed among Utah's top twelve writers of all time by the Utah Endowment for the Humanities. He is the author of over twenty books of poetry. In 2004, So Quietly the Earth was selected for the New York Public Library's annual "Books to Remember" list.

If we were a civilized nation, we would declare David Lee a national treasure.
     — Sam Hamill, author of Habitation: Collected Poems

This one's a lucky pick: Rural Texas back when — memory filtered through the eloquent country vernacular and irreverent, bawdy imagination of David Lee, who can stretch the truth until delight shines straight through, unspool a nonstop sentence like a bad cat with a ball of yarn, see through the eyes of a woman just the same as a man, and hilariously take down hypocrisy and pretention, especially "preaching, zeal maintenance and overlording." (Full disclosure: love the guy, but then, read on and I bet you will too.)
      — Eleanor Wilner, MacArthur Fellow, author of The Girl with Bees in Her Hair and Tourist in Hell

David Lee

Poet Laureate David Lee at Geneva Hills, Ohio
Video: danceshadowmoon1


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 28, 2017

Short Takes on the Apocalypse - Patricia Young (Biblioasis)

Today's book of poetry:
Short Takes on the Apocalypse.  Patricia Young.  Biblioasis.  Windsor, Ontario.  2016.

Patricia Young is the author of eleven previous books of poetry and Today's book of poetry has had our eye on her work for a long, long time.  We had Milo, our head tech, check the stacks this morning and much to our disappointment he came back with a miserly three Patricia Young titles, Melancholy Ain't No Baby (Ragweed Press, 1985), What I remember from my time on earth (Anansi, 1997) and Night Eaters (Quatro Poetry, 2002).  After reading her latest, Short Takes on the Apocalypse, Today's book of poetry is reminded how much we admired this poet's work.

Short Takes on the Apocalypse isn't a party trick but this book does have a catch; each poem begins with some sage epigraph from a resplendent group that ranges from George Bernard Shaw to Marilyn Manson to Kurt Vonnegut.  It all works.  Somehow Young is able to use these witticisms as a springboard and once she takes to the air all sorts of marvelous hell break loose.

Tornado In The Bible Belt

                     Never open... with the weather.
                                       -Elmore Leonard

Strong southerly winds tore through the upper atmosphere. Hot air
clashed with cold. High-speed gusts rotated around a calm centre,
and then a funnel-shaped cloud was sucking up dust and debris and
a small child--my child. For twelve minutes his body spun like a 
blob of butter inside nature's blender. I cursed God and the complex
interactions between updraft and surrounding winds, cursed the
third layer of dry air and His vortex howl. How dare the Almighty
sweep my boy up, then drop him like a cigarette butt far from the
house. All night I searched the fields. Searched and searched until a
voice rang out of the blackness--I am safe in Jesus' arms. And then
silence unlike anything I'd ever known.


Short Takes on the Apocalypse, Young's twelfth book of poems, is an exploration.  Young is looking at it all; love, sex, death and her Hungarian grandmother.  Young brings a masterful poise to her narratives, these stories resonate so true - and that would be good enough - but Young is so much more.

This is funny stuff, biting and instructive.  Young has experience and wit and this book swells to bursting with both.  We laughed, we cried.


            I don't believe in an afterlife but I still fully expect
                               to see my brother again.
                                                            - Maurice Sendak

It doesn't matter where I go, what clothes I'm wearing,
which way my head's turned, north or south, if my mouth's
open or shut, if I'm awake or dreaming, I'm always with

you, on a bus in an eastern European town. Same overcast
sky, same up-turned cart in the middle of the road, hay
spreading across pavement, a donkey and farmer, shoulders

slumped: stance of unspeakable resignation. Time's lost
or frozen, the traffic's blocked and the bus driver's cursing
in a language so luminous with rage we understand every

blue letter word. Late afternoon commute, men with wind-
lashed faces and women in bright scarves. Bored girls
flipping open cell phones or the make-up cases on their laps.

Wherever I go a dull wash is descending upon the same
mud-splattered scene. We're twenty-two, we're forty-five,
we're sixty-eight, but no matter, day will lurch into night

and then into another day, the seasons will shift, the planets
align, the spilled hay will be cleared for passage, the driver
will sat back down, his diesel engine will sputter and combust,

we'll look out the back window as farmer, donkey and cart
grow small, then smaller, the dead will chatter into
the vanishing point. The bus will continue down the road.


It occurs to us here at Today's book of poetry that Young must be some sort of serious reader of the highest order to have found the range of epigraphs that frame these poems like paintings.  As it happens these poems are painterly, Short Takes on the Apocalypse is like a grand vernissage curated by Young.  It's a life story and Young doesn't flinch for a second, her panorama covers the past, present and future.  

Today's book of poetry has always, or at least since 1985, felt a kinship with Young's voice but perhaps that is only wishful thinking.  She has the plain, clear, intelligent voice Today's book of poetry aspires to.

Father Suite

             A father is always making his baby into a little woman.
                 And when she is a woman he turns her back again.
                                                                             -Enid Bagnold

In his shirt pocket, a package of Gitanes. I loved that package.
Wanted to be the Spanish lady shaking a tambourine. In Canada
my father became the model immigrant. Worked hard. Built
chimneys for a living. The feather in the cap, he'd say, his accent
stubborn. He laid brick, stone, concrete blocks. Climbed ladders
to the sky. He was king of flues and updrafts. Threw his little girl
into the air. So proud of her English. How she pronounced spark
arrestor, wall thimble, directional cowl. I was polished and pretty. At
sixteen landed a bit part in Rossini's La Cenerentola. On closing
night, kissed my backstage hero inside the folds of the velvet
curtain (how did my father know? what did he see?). When the
applause stopped, I was shipped off to Eastern Europe to die like
the grasses, rot in the earth.


Squatting before the hearth, my Hungarian grandmother ate
meaty potatoes right out of their skins. Scrubbed the floors of her
cramped apartment with a vile-smelling soap. Squirted vinegar
on the windows. Wiped them down with crumpled newspaper
until the glass squeaked. Sometimes I'd catch her looking at me
as though she understood my fundamental flaw. Her words were
foreign and disjointed and pierced with disappointment. At night
she wept. The delicate sound of her sadness was hard as nails.
She still longed for her son, my father. All those years later she
still missed the man I now hated. And such hatred! Ferocious.
Operatic. It rattled my bones.


I returned home to find him asleep on the front porch, big grey
wolf guarding the door. An empty bottle of plum brandy tipped on
its side. I shook him. Nudged his leg. He was still handsome in an
aging playboy sort of way. The cab driver, watching from the street,
was waiting to see me safely inside. I wanted to run back, ask him
to take me away. Instead, I slid down beside my father and began
to talk about my years in Budapest. How I stopped eating. Took up
smoking. Grew to love my grandmother. I talked about my soul-
deep passion for the backstage boy who'd painted the backdrop of
Don Magnifico's rundown mansion. You almost killed me, I said,
and pulled a blue and white cigarette package from my purse. My
father roused. Opened an eye. Squinted. He looked at the faceless
gypsy woman with a clinical and tender curiosity.


Our morning read was excellent.  How could it not be?  Both Milo and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, made lists of the names Young referenced.  They are both determined to be good readers and are willing to jump off of any springboard they can find.

Young, a Governor General Award short list nominee, twice, is a true pro.  Every poem in Short Takes on the Apocalypse stands on it's own, adds some light where there was dark.

Image result for patricia young photo
Patricia Young

Patricia Young is the author of twelve books of poetry, and one book of short fiction, Airstream (Biblioasis, 2006). A two-time Governor General’s Award nominee, she has also won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the CBC Literary Competition, the British Columbia Book Prize for Poetry and the League of Canadian Poets National Poetry Competition. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

“Young is a masterful technician. She masons each brick into place just so. …She thrives on ambiguity and twists while fostering a rapt interest in them in the reader.”
     — Prairie Fire

“With her sure hand wielding the knife of understanding, Young cuts not just to the bone, but well beyond into realms that transcend the here, the now and the merely personal.” 
    — Monday Magazine

“Accute and quirky observation which cumulates at insight.” 
     — Freefall



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, April 25, 2017

The Emily Valentine Poems - Zoe Whittall (Invisible Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
The Emily Valentine Poems.  Zoe Whittall.  Invisible Publishing.  Halifax & Picton, Nova Scotia.  2006/2016.

10th Anniversary Edition 

The Emily Valentine Poems cover

Zoe Whittall first published The Emily Valentine poems in 2006.  Today's book of poetry somehow missed it back in the day but is delighted to have our muggy little paws on this 2016 reprint. 

Whittall likes the prose poem and she likes lists, well, as it happens, Today's book of poetry is a big fan of both and Whittall does not disappoint.  The Emily Valentine poems just cut right to it.

Gender and desire get thrown around with alacrity, Whittall never misses a beat.

Dirt Road Wedding

In Vancouver for a family wedding
I am foot sore lost
in the bridal shop,
lungs heavy.

Everyone asks me,
"Where's your boyfriend?"
and I say,
"In 1989."


In the third section of The Emily Valentine poems, Part III: Scraps Against the Screen Zoe Whittall writes letters to Judy Blume, Boy George, Axl Rose, Rayanne Graff, Molly Ringwald, Corey Haim and Emily Valentine.  They are hilarious.

Whittall was a much younger woman when these poems were written so we can understand her obsessions with these cultural iconic cut-outs from her youth - but what we need to notice, AND WE DO, is how sharp Whittall keeps her tools.  Zoe Whittall is best known as a novelist but then so is Michael Ondaatje, and they both burn poems with the best of 'em, highest order stuff.

Dear Boy George,

When I told my mother I was going to marry you as soon as I
was old enough to take the bus to Montreal by myself and go
see you at your concert, she said that probably would never
happen. And it didn't. Please explain.

My love forever,


Today's book of poetry rolled through The Emily Valentine poems like an old Cure song, sad, but with so much intelligent energy that the poems are irresistible.

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, led our morning read with much robust laughter.  Whittall's big sense of humour is the under-coat on all these poems but it doesn't take much reminding that the serious side of Zoe Whittall is stone cold.  Today's book of poetry could listen to these poems all day long.

On Discovering

1. On re-discovering my love of pot:

Did I just ! brush my teeth ! for an hour?
I remember this feeling from recess!

2. On discovering how to love myself again:

my red bra falls out of my purse and onto the counter at the
Portuguese bakery where I buy my coffee on the mornings after.
The bakery is between our houses exactly. The woman with the
stubby band-aid makes me a latte without flinching.

3. On re-discovering self-esteem on January 2 :

Having .23 in my chequing
.47 in my savings
and a two day old coke hangover
is no reason to feel as bad about myself
as I do right now


Today's book of poetry enjoys Whittall's fiction, who wouldn't?  But we want more poetry.  This Tenth Anniversary Edition of The Emily Valentine poems is a balm, a great teaser, but we certainly want more.

Today's book of poetry has the Zoe Whittall poetry blues.

Image result for zoe whittall photo
Zoe Whittall

Zoe Whittall is the author of four novels, most recently The Best Kind of People (House of Anansi, 2016) and Holding Still for as Long as Possible (Anansi, 2010). She published her third collection of poetry, Precordial Thump, in 2008 with Exile Editions. She works as a TV writer and novelist in Toronto.

“This reminds me that I would like to know everything about this person.”
      —  Eileen Myles

“Zoe Whittall’s poems are snake bite cures masquerading as candy.” 
     —  RM Vaughan

“Zoe Whittall might just be the cockiest, brashest, funniest, toughest, most life-affirming, elegant, scruffy, no-holds-barred writer to emerge from Montreal since Mordecai Richler…” 
      —  The Globe and Mail 



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.