Monday, August 21, 2017

Primer - Aaron Smith (Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Primer.  Aaron Smith.  Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  2016.

Primer (Pitt Poetry Series) by [Smith, Aaron]

Today's book of poetry is going to start today's blog with a message directly to Aaron Smith.  NO "Blue Exits" please.  There aren't enough excellent poets with your particular mix of bawdy guilt and formidable chutzpah.

It might be hard to imagine that a totally straight sixty-year-old finds common ground with an entirely randy and frequently angry younger gay poet.  But Smith's ribald renunciations of the status quo in Primer come from a deep well of lucid and loquacious lust.  Smith kicks the shit out of Eros.

Notes For A Lecture:  Keith Haring

I like Haring best when he's raw,
so large the image might smear,

so thick on the page I could
tear off my underwear.

When I was a kid, I hated the word
"pleasure." It made me feel like

my parents knew my penis got stiff
in the tub, that the washcloth

felt good on the tip. Imagine our veins:
graffitied tunnels desire moves through,

brakeless, rumbling into thrust.
Just relax, the man said, as he opened

my legs, fingers slick with his own wet.
His tongue in my ass unlocked

a place in my chest I was afraid of.
A friend told me he thought the great revelation

of his life would be a phrase from Keats
or Yeats, not a married man at his throat.

I want to fuck you boy-pussy.
He said he never felt closer to god.

Cartoon hard-ons, dicks with faces, mouths
stuffed with cock. Nameless fucking

self-loathing finally brought me to.
I'm so glad to have a body I hated.


Primer is boldly, beautifully frank about the journey to manhood for a young man uncertain of his sexuality, and if not uncertain, terrified.  It doesn't take Smith that long to find certainty but he never quite finds peace.

These poems despair a sexuality some still see as "other" but Today's book of poetry thinks that for all his justified anger and rage Aaron Smith has created a hopeful text in Primer for those about to follow.  And an entirely entertaining book of poetry for the rest of us in the process.


Dad said someone shot
the albino deer, with

a gun, out of season. Eyes
pink, white fur, a reverse

shadow in dusk against
the hillside. Not in all

the years I've hunted
have I seen an animal

like that. It's cruel, he says,
for nature to make

such a thing, unable
to hide when hiding

is how it survives. He looks
through my eyes, then

away, he wants us to stay
ordinary men.


Primer throbs with visceral lust and desire.  Gay men will identify these poems, recognize themselves, their friends, their stories.  But every reader will be able to identify with the human need for love and acceptance, contact.  And it is not just the acceptance of other but the real struggle to accept oneself as we really are.

Aaron Smith's Primer swings carnal but addresses those big questions of who we are and who we see when we look in the mirror.

Jennifer Lawrence

I want to tell the woman
selling self-published christian
fiction at Starbucks, who says,
god has made her a fisher of men
that I didn't think I could come
standing up until a man
I fucked stuck three
fingers in my butt. I want
to tell her that if the asshole
is the crucifixion then
the prostate is the second
coming. Once I thought
it was possible to be an ethical
person until the guy I was dating
said Jennifer Lawrence is our
greatest living actress. He wept
during sex and left his socks on
in bed. I could live with the cold
feet and the crying.


Bravo Aaron Smith.  For Today's book of poetry Primer comes across as so damned honest and true that you feel the heat of Smith's fire.  Any poetry lover will recognize the battle with despair and celebrate beating it back into the darkness.

Thank you Mr. Smith.

Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is the author of Appetite, and Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, as well as the chapbooks, Men in Groups and What's Required. His work has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including Ploughshares and Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2013. He is associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Aaron Smith’s poems have always exuded a blue that’s simultaneously melancholy and bawdy. Primer sharpens his seemingly paradoxical blend of vigor and vulnerability. These marvelous poems are confrontational not simply for readers, but for the poet/self kissing the window between light and darkness, splendor and despair. Smith writes with more provocativeness and compassion than any poet of his generation.”
     —Terrance Hayes

“Shame is the crux, in Smith’s austere poems; an aching, inescapable force that closes the gay boy into his own body, making sex abject, until ‘there’s not enough city//to fill you up.’ The world may have changed, but we can’t help but carry into the new life the ineradicable weight of the past.”
     —Mark Doty

“In Primer, Aaron Smith has not only upped the ante, he’s been penetrated and eviscerated by it. These poems arouse me with their brazen, indecorous explicitness. The collection throbs with sex and the death wish, but also with wit and an exhilarative rage. This book makes me want to live bareback, to write ever-more-recklessly; it makes me not want my ‘stupid, tiny life to end.’”
     —Diane Seuss

Aaron Smith reading at The Poetry Center, Paterson, Nj
Video: Michael Byro



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, August 19, 2017

This is What Happened In Our Other Life - Achy Obejas (A Midsummer Night's Press)

Today's book of poetry:
This is What Happened In Our Other Life.  
Achy Obejas.  A Midsummer Night's Press.  Body Language 01.  New York, New York.  2007.

Let's just start with the fact that before Achy Obejas had published this first book of poetry she was already a Pulitzer Prize and Lambda Literary Award winning author for her fiction and journalism.

Achy Obejas and her splendid book of poems, This is What Happened In Our Other Life, are all about memory.  Memory is often framed by promise.

Obejas' poetry comes from a Latina sensibility and a lesbian perspective.  These are two important facts to consider before you forget about them because neither of those are why these fine poems ended up here.  This is What Happened In Our Other Life belongs on Today's book of poetry so that we can celebrate Obejas' steel hardened tenderness.  These poems will appeal to your senses.

Dancing in Paradise

You lean against me
as we dance, the soft huddle
of our heads together,
our breaths clean steam in the blue
smoke, rapid, exhausted.
We mix margaritas, because
I like the name, a
woman you love. You're older.
I'm willing, drunk, unbuttoned.
You lead, peeling layer after
wet layer, a heap
of sweaters, shirts and precious
metals. Your breast is
slick with sweat, hands agile,
eels in glass waters.
When you scoop me up, I twist
in your lap, a think
needle thrust through my tongue. Later,
you give me a reading list,
blank journals, your mother's 
recipes. You take
what you need, knowing there's no
autonomy of the
senses, those five carnivores
in their own essential
food chain. What survives is memory,
twin jewels, the blade of
a pelvic bone. Instinctively,
we keep our eyes open,
ears keen, for marine smells,
salt, the plexus of light,
sound, water.


Clearly Obejas isn't afraid of the carnal, she blows right past that until she hits visceral.  "We will love the wrong people" intones Obejas and she is completely right, we have all faltered in love because our judgment gets lost in the braille of flesh.  Obejas won't stop there and tells us "I've learned to read my lovers scars," and then bids us the same learned wisdom.

Today book of poetry thinks Obejas wants us to saviour the discovery, journey and mystery as we find them, folded softly into the skin of the one we desire.  This is What Happened In Our Other Life is a meditation on desire and the destiny desire dances with.  Obejas wants to surrender to love if only she could find the right vehicle for the journey.

The Habits of The Blind

I am staring at a grey, pink and purple sky,
worrying about the imprint of our first embrace
(that awkward tangle of limbs)
the first time we were skin on skin.
What will sustain us later,
when we know everything,
if not this innocence?
I worry too much, and not enough.
I long ago surrendered:
The world breaks us all,
throws us up against the wall,
splits our hearts with a vengeance.
There is no right person.
We will love the wrong people.
What I've done is this: embraced chaos--
studied the habits of the blind,
their sixth sense, and Braille.
This way, I've learned to read my lovers' scars,
to appreciate the force or cunning
behind each cut,
the meanings of each tender pattern,
the beauty and depth.
Pain is the risk and the measure
not just of how far we're willing to go,
but of how much we're willing to feel
later, alone in the dark.


Aces.  Obejas has a deck of cards filled with aces.  Today's book of poetry likes the way Obejas gets to it.  Achy Obejas can burn.

This is What Happened In Our Other Life ends with a poem, an untranslated poem, in Spanish, "Historia De Amor," which Today's book of poetry has translated.  My apologies to all concerned. Our translator-in-residence, Otis, is currently residing in Belgium after only recently returning from Sicily.  It appears Today's book of poetry has been paying our staff far too much.  So I had to go it alone.  We are sure Otis would have cracked Obejas' Spanish with considerably more finesse, nuance and style -- but we did it anyway.

The poem and translation appear below.  Today's book of poetry does apologize in advance for the lack of proper Spanish punctuation/accents.  Our keyboard refuses to give up any secrets, nothing but broken English escapes regardless of how often Milo, our head tech, fidgets with it.

The important thing is that Today's book of poetry tackled "Historia De Amor" because we suspect it may be Obejas' codex.  It is possible that the poem sums up This is What Happened In Our Other Life quite succinctly.  Obejas gets it all said without much fuss but with so much beauty, isn't that what poetry should be?

Historica De Amor

Ella no existia
cuando la otra se fue.
Despues, no se entero de su regreso.
Se vieron de casualidad.
Una cruzaba la calle,
la otra esperaba un carro.
Se imaginaron un beso
(mas bien un roce de labios,
la mano en el vientre).
cada una por su camino.
Una miro hacia atras.
La otra no.

History of Love

She does not exist
when her other is gone.
I don't know if she'll return.
It was all by chance.
One crossed the street,
the other was waiting for a car.
They imagined a kiss
(rather a touch of the lips
hand on belly).
They followed
each one on its way.
One looks back.
The other doesn't.

(Today's book of poetry apologizes again to Achy Obejas for this translation)


Achy Obejas and Today's book of poetry are the same age but I didn't realize that until after I'd read This is What Happened In Our Other Life a couple of times.  Today's book of poetry was convinced we were reading a wise younger woman's book of poetry.  It's not trick, but it is certainly worth noting.  Achy Obejas is apparently timeless.

Achy Obejas

Achy Obejas (Havana, 1956) is the author of three novels, Ruins (Akashic, 2009), Days of Awe (Ballantine) and Memory Mambo (Cleis), the latter two both winners of the Lambda Literary Award, as well as the short story collection We Came all the Way from Cuba so You Could Dress Like This? (Cleis). She is also editor and translator of the anthology Havana Noir (Akashic).

Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Conditions, The Antigosh Review, Helcion Nine, Phoebe, Revista Chicano-Rique, and The Beloit Poetry Journal, and she received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry in 1986.

An accomplished journalist, she worked at the Chicago Tribune for over a decade, and has also written for the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, Playboy, Ms., The Nation, The Advocate, Windy City Times, High Performance, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader,, Latina, and Out, among others.

Among her many honors, she has received a Pulitzer for a Tribune team investigation, the Studs Terkel Journalism Prize, and several Peter Lisagor journalism honors, as well as residencies at Yaddo, Ragdale, and the Virginia Center for the Arts.

She has served as Springer Writer-in-Residence at the University of Chicago and the Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai’i, and is currently the Sor Juana Visiting Writer at DePaul University in Chicago.

Achy Obejas at Radar Reading Series
Video: San Francisco Public Library



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, August 17, 2017

Yes or Nope - Meaghan Strimas (Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Yes or Nope.  Meaghan Strimas.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.
Trillium Book Award Winner

Yes or Nope.  Easy question.  We say an emphatic yes.  So did the Trillium Book Award.  Meaghan Strimas made us laugh, smirk, guffaw, chortle and giggle before we finished the enchanting Yes or Nope.  She also broke our heart, kicked our shin and left some dishes in the sink.

Today's book of poetry writes these blogs by hand and when I do I jot down the page numbers of the poems I figure you, the audience/reader, can't do without.  I like to share as much as I can, all you regular readers know this.  The first poem in Yes or Nope arrives on page 11, the last poem is on page 61.  Here is today's page list of essential Strimas poems:

13, 16, 19, 20, 26, 33, 34, 36, 39, 42, 43, 54, 56.

Some of her poems stretch to two pages.  What Today's book of poetry is clumsily trying to say is that almost every poem in this collection was something we thought you should see.  Meaghan Strimas just sets 'em up and knocks 'em down with an endless succession of witty and surprising ruptures of logic until nothing else but her dark and daring sensibility makes sense.


My neighbour is the King of Clean. He wears his striped sports
socks up to his knees. I like things clean, he says. His wife
agrees: he likes things clean. It's the way he likes it. He likes to
be clean. He drags his power washer across his cement yard,
cursing at it, as if it were an obstinate poodle. But he loves it
the same as his Pekinese. Some days he runs a clean river: a
torrent of hose water streams down his lane and into the sewer.
I can hear the ants screaming, swept up by the current and
taken away. Poor souls. My grandmother, long gone, said she
married her husband because he was a clean man. Clean nails.
Clean pecker. Clean bum. There are so many things I never
wanted to know. And now you know, too. It's much better this
way: we have clarity. We are friends.


Yes or Nope is "a Stuart Ross Book" and you all know what we think of Mr. Ross here.  He really does have the Midas poetry touch.  Strimas and Ross are an excellent match and this book proves it. Strimas isn't exactly strange, the reader grows to know/understand/embrace Strimas logic fairly quickly, but she isn't the least bit shy about being playful.

Today's book of poetry applauds Meaghen Strimas for her rambunctious heart and hard as nails Geiger counter of truth.

You regular readers of Today's book of poetry will remember that we are particularly fond of list poems.  Strimas gives us a list poem, a rhymer, thrown into the mix as though she knew we were coming.

Nonsense Poem, or I Like

I like the fact that the light just turned green,
and I like the expression "creamin' in her jeans."

I like the seagull who just shit on my head,
and I like the mongrel who's only playing dead.

I like the secretary who says vanilla, not manila,
and I like the paperweight shaped like a gorilla.

I like the coarseness, the smell of a horse's mane,
I like the careerist who desires a little fame.

I like living, but I don't like feeling lost, and I like
the daffodils--insistent, resilient in the frost.


Yes or Nope went over better than the ice-cream truck at this morning's read.  Strimas hits just the right temperature to get the engines running.  

Strimas has a killer sense of humour but she never lets it intrude on the plot.  

Butterfly Unit Two: Goodbye

The mother
a crate
of small
white cartons
to the celebration
of what
should have
his first
Inside each,
a live butterfly
waiting to be
We were
to release
but got
talking. Maybe
we forgot,
for a spell,
why we
were there
at all.
it was
just easier
to pretend
that we
were happy.
she finally
the cardboard
the monarchs
did not 
I poked 
one with my
index finger:
it was stiff.
we took
and lay
one by one,
the base
of the oldest
tree, where,
from a distance
they looked 
like fallen leaves.


Today's book of poetry admires Meaghan Strimas's grit.  She doesn't seem to have any trouble at all waiting until she sees the whites of our eyes.

Image result for Meaghan strimas photo
Meaghan Strimas

Meaghan Strimas is the author of two previous collections of poetry and the editor of The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen. She teaches writing at Humber College and is a managing editor at The Hunter Literary Review. She lives in Toronto with her family.

“The poetry in Yes or Nope is whip-smart and tenderhearted, funny and alive—Strimas at her brilliant best. I didn’t want it to end.”
     —Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People
“Wry and furious, scathing and saucy, Meaghan Strimas tells the stories about us you always feared were true. Stuck through with charming moments, but make no mistake: these poems have no time for the lies we tell ourselves. Yes or Nope is bone-sharp, bang-up, revelatory—a pupil-dilating meditation on growing up and growing old female. This is a book to keep at your bedside, like a flashlight; a book that will keep you safe, and whisper: You are not alone.”
      —Elisabeth de Mariaffi, author of The Devil You Know

Meaghan Strimas performs at Words Aloud 9
Video: Words Aloud



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, August 14, 2017

The Resumption of Play - Gary Geddes (Quattro Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Resumption of Play.  Gary Geddes.  Quattro Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.

Gary Geddes starts his most recent book of poems with this line from Friedrich Nietzsche,

     "We have art in order not to die of the truth."

And then goes on to fill our cup to brimming with nothing but the truth.  

Today's book of poetry feels as though we have been conducting a conversation with Gary Geddes since we first moved to Ottawa in the early 80's.  One of my first jobs in Ottawa was working for Saint Rhys of Knott at his Avenue Bookshop.  Avenue Bookshop was in a cluster of fine secondhand bookstores on Bank Street in the Glebe. The Avenue Bookshop specialized in Canadian Literature and it was a gold mine.  It was heaven, and that is where I discovered Gary Geddes.

When I say conversation, I have to confess that it has been entirely one sided.  I've never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Geddes but I've had ample opportunity to get to know him.  Today's book of poetry send Milo, our head tech, to the stacks this morning and he came back with the following Geddes titles:

rivers inlet, 1972
Letter of the Master of Horse, 1973
Snakeroot, 1973
War and Other Measures, 1976
The Acid Test, 1980
The Terracotta Army, 1984
Hong Kong Poems, 1987
Light of Burning Towers, 1990
The Perfect Cold Warrior, 1995
Active Trading, 1996

It's hardly a complete list but Today's book of poetry isn't finished in that department.  

The Resumption of Play joins an esteemed body of work with more of the same clear, clean line that Geddes has almost always embraced.  The Resumption of Play opens with a long poem of the same name and it is a steam-roller, a longer poem, a poem of haunting truths and brutal realities.  Geddes goes inside the horror of residential school experience and no one comes out clean.

In other parts of the world other sorrows echo and the truth seeking Geddes cuts a wide swath.

Blues for Kony

I told the nuzungu my story, a reporter
I presumed. He wanted all the details
I could remember. Okay, I said. Yes,
there was pain, but that's not the worst

part. Besides these holes in my face
there is a vast hole in the universe
called the future, with no place
for the mutilated. Without my ears

I can still hear. Cutting off my nose
did not affect my sense of smell. Lips,
I discovered soon enough, are not made
to kiss, but to hold food in the mouth

while it's being chewed. A hand clasped
over my face serves two purposes:
enables me to eat and covers the shame.
Unlike the sister seated on my left,

I was not forced to kill my husband
in front of the children or serve as whore-
de-camp. Pregnant, I survived, God
knows why. Perhaps they had orders,

a logic that escaped me. The severed
parts, a bloody pulp thrust in my hands,
disgusted me, but I couldn't bear to toss
them in the bush. Human rights, that

was the phrase the reporter used
before slipping the ballpoint pen in a vest
pocket and closing his blue ring-binder
like a schoolboy anticipating recess.

As he unravelled his legs from the chair
and rose to leave, he asked a final
question, still unable to look at me:
What's needed to stop this carnage,

bring Kony's monsters to the courts?
Ah, justice. A quaint abstraction. Abducted
boys in posh jail cells in The Hague,
clutching a remote control instead of

an AK-47, watching vehicles blow up
in Kinshasa, Kandahar, London, Abidjan?
Bring them home, let the healing begin,
discharge a tender reconciliation.


Geddes hasn't limited his scorn for residential schools and the dignity stripping madness of cultural genocide in Canada.  Geddes has made a life's work of humanism in his poetry, he forces us to come face to face with the abundant injustices and indignities.

The Resumption of Play visits Somalia, there is a brief tribute to Virginia Woolf, a nod to the excellent poet Bronwen Wallace and more.  These poems visit the grave of Ezra Pound and "Tintoretto's version of The Last Supper." 

The one thing Geddes poems share in common is they are accessible because in Geddes world it seems clarity and honesty are always the high cards.

Monkey Business

What did we know of mythology
out there in the desert? Coyotes,

ravens, trickster figures, how
they take pleasure in havoc,

screw up the best-laid plans,
turn a clear stream blood-red,

and transform a friendly booze-up
into butchery? Scott's monkey

looked innocent enough, leather
collar, eyes closed, soft brown fur,

and one small paw clutching his
dog-tag, half obscuring the tattoo

on Scott's chest. What was going on
behind those smooth, pale lids?

Before the moon had paid its dues
a prowling teen lay bludgeoned

and dead, a string of bloody
spittle drying on his lips,

his last words, Canada, Canada,
still hanging in the air.


Our morning read was a little longer than usual.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, read the title poem "The Resumption of Play" in its entirety.  The staff rumbled through the other ten Geddes titles strewn about the office table and read from each of them, in sequence.

And then Kathryn read "The Resumption of Play" again because she was sure it deserved a second reading and she was right.  The only reason Today's book of poetry doesn't share this particular monster is because of the length.  But reading the poem "The Resumption of Play" is worth the price of admission to The Resumption of Play.  The rest of the book is good gravy.

A Song of Recall

And so it is with longing, you extend a hand
into the mist expecting to take hold of something
lost, perhaps the very thing you'd yearned for

but could not claim, a dream-shape, an unwritten
melody, insistent, that flitted in and out of your days
leaving its residue on your pillow, the faint smear

on an otherwise blank page, a colophon of desire.
You glimpse an apron, blue, with a pale, stitched
hem, a smudge of flour near the generous pocket,

enough to hold for a moment that lost mother
disappearing into the night who might, just might
be yours, wisps of her long dark hair surviving

cancer, surviving the flames, making a mockery
of memory itself, that insatiable canvas needing
to be filled, framed, needing to have occurred.


Today's book of poetry was very pleased when The Resumption of Play arrived at our offices several weeks ago.  We are honoured to have the opportunity to tip our hat in the direction of one of Canada's best poets.  Mr. Geddes has been sharing his fine poems with Canada and the rest of the world for more than five decades and we are happy to tell you that the song DOES remain the same.  The Resumption of Play is as contemporary as tomorrow's news.

Every poetry shelf in Canada should have some Gary Geddes on it.

Geddes author photo
Gary Geddes

Gary Geddes has written and edited more than 45 books of poetry, fiction, drama, non-fiction, criticism, translation and anthologies and won more than a dozen national and international literary awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (Americas Region), the Lt.-Governor’s Award for Literary Excellence and the Gabriela Mistral Prize from the government of Chile, awarded simultaneously to Octavio Paz, Vaclav Havel, Ernesto Cardenal, Rafael Alberti, and Mario Benedetti.

Gary Geddes
Attic Owl Reading Series
Video:  Lee Thompson



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, August 12, 2017

Dementia, My Darling - Brendan Constantine (Red Hen Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dementia, My Darling.  Brendan Constantine.  Red Hen Press.  Pasadena, California.  2016.

Image result

Brendan Constantine's Dementia, My Darling.  Narrative poetry, mostly.  Surreal but surprisingly narrative.  Surprising poems.  Narrative, surreal when Constantine needs it, surprising and witty. Witty and surprising narrative poems with a surrealist kick.


There used to be different words here,
a lawn with benches, a statue of wind.
This is where your hand would go, my
shoulder, a good laugh. We shared
a sixth sense of humor, that is,
we always knew what the dead found
funny: calendars, money, an informed
opinion. Now the birds sing like
car alarms. The bees just want out.
You can push the night around
with your tongue.      We do.
We go to the cafe and order a bed.
We ask for curtains, a notebook, then
blow on our cups without drinking,
blow away. Say, How long's it been?
When's it gonna' be soon? What
we wouldn't give for what we gave.
And this is when the dead start
laughing, when you and I decide
to keep waiting. Let tomorrow cool
awhile, until we're two other people.
They'll know if we're inconsolable.
They'll know how to drink lying down.


Today's book of humour greatly enjoys Constantine's "sixth sense" of humour.

Today's book of poetry has been reading Edward Hirsh's How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry.  It's an insightful and gracious read, a sterling guide if you ever feel you need one.  Brendan Constantine's Dementia, My Darling made me think of Hirsh's concept that poems contain "stored magic."

      I believe such stored magic can author in the reader an equivalent capacity
      for creative wonder, creative response to a living entity.  The reader completes
      the poem, in the process bringing to it his or her own past experiences...

      ...the kind of knowledge--one gets from poetry cannot be duplicated elsewhere.
                                                                                             Edward Hirsh
                                                                                             How to Read a Poem

Dementia, My Darling bursts at the seams with "stored magic."  In Constantine's poetry universe logic is one step ahead or behind.  That's not quite right.  In Constantine world he builds invisible bridges to some parallel universe that chugs along next door to ours so that he can traverse that distance at whim.  It makes for some sharp poems brimming with considerable guile.

Another Natural Cause

People die from falling out of bed--
five hundred a year--more than are
killed by tigers, sharks, crocodiles.
There's a quota, a "stat" on a big
chart, next to famine & disease,
murder & plane crashes. Mostly
small children, the elderly, people
who can dream too hard. At least
twice as many have to explain it
to somebody else. Thousands of 
relations, not to mention cops,
medics, morticians, have to say
out loud, No really, it happens
all the time. Tonight, while we go
to school naked, get chased by bees,
discover we can fly, a few of us
pass into nothing, into bright light,
into marble stations of cloud. We
come yawning, rubbing our faces,
our faces creased by books, cups,
clocks, whatever we kept close by.


The poems we liked most, the superior poems, in Dementia, My Darling, and they were many in number, were top flight cooking.  Constantine can burn, there are new recipes here, some unusual spices, but the kitchen smells wonderful and all the plates keep coming back clean.

Today's book of poetry wanted to call in some big guns for morning's read but Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, said they had it covered.  Constantine's poetry made for a very engaged reading for both the readers and the listeners.  These poems rarely stretch to a second page but they all read longer, short stories, novels and so on bursting out of these few short lines.

The Bear Chapter

No one watches the stewardess anymore;
how she demonstrates the belt, the mask,
the life vest. We've got it down. Maybe
not our lives, our money & regret, or how
to breathe while kissing, but, by God,
we know how to survive a water landing.
The stewardess doesn't look at us either,
but at someplace that's really behind her,
the way dancers do. It's a recital, after all.
In the wild we're told not to sleep too near
our food, to put ever our champagne far
away. There's a checklist of other things,
written by a man so bored, he's forgotten
what survival is. Bears attack, he says,
if we surprise them. But he won't say
how; whether bears are easily frightened
or just don't like parties. When shipping
a bear by air, its ticket must be taped to
the cage in a waterproof bag. Someone
has to check this, someone who long ago
stopping imagining a sea full of floating
luggage, full of drowned bears in boxes.
The stewardess swims by. We call to her,
she to us; the ocean swallows our cries.
No surprises here.


Dementia, My Dear is Constantine's fourth book of poetry and these poems read every bit like they are from the hand of an old pro.  These poems are strong enough to swagger but Constantine is a little subtler than that.  These poems strut with confidence.

Brendan Constantine joins a long list of poets Today's book of poetry admires.  We have already assigned Milo the task of finding Constantine's previous three poetry titles.

Brendan Constantine
Brendan Constantine

Brendan Constantine is a poet based in Hollywood. His work has appeared in numerous journals, most notably Ploughshares, FIELD, Zyzzyva, Ninth Letter, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, ArtLife, PANK, and L.A. Times Best Seller, The Underground Guide to Los Angeles. His first book, Letters To Guns (Red Hen Press 2009), is now required reading in creative writing programs across the nation. His most recent collections are Birthday Girl With Possum (Write Bloody Publishing 2011) and Calamity Joe (Red Hen Press 2012).

““Brendan Constantine’s Dementia, My Darling is a mediation on memory. Poems address the difficulty of the death of memory and how does a survivor deal with recollections of a father’s lie, a collective lie about snow, school desk carvings, sleep talking, moths, and hospital ceilings. This collection examines consciousness, connotations, and relationships. Constantine is a master poet illuminating the ordinary and extraordinary with his distinct voice holding humor and heart equally.”
     —Steven Reigns, author of Inheritance

“Dementia, My Darling is a suite of acute, beautiful poems about coming apart, slippage, love, emptying out, transformation, and carrying on. Every absurdly human moment in them is handled with smarts and just the right mix of inventiveness and delicacy. Each poem leaves its mark on the reader. Tender and humane and unsparing, the poems never surrender to despair. They all have a kind of brightness. Constantine renders the creeping surrealism of dementia from many angles, with the awe that is its due. Gaps, anagrams, collage and montage are employed to convey the myriad ways we fragment, multiply, dissolve. A fly is described as ‘an ink blot with wings / a blood spot / that sings a thin hymn.’ (!!) This book is a lyrical wrestling match with mortality.”
     — Amy Gerstler, author of Dearest Creature

“I love this collection. I’m dazzled by its spectacular acts of imagination, the places it invents, the ways it invents of describing those places. Its most wondrous feat, though, is the heart it allows to beat behinds its intelligence, the person that peers from its intricate, sharp, brilliant latticework: so much structure, so much sharpness, and that softness, too. Bravo.”
     —Mandy Kahn, author Math, Heaven, Time

Brendan Constantine reads at the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival
Video: Dodge Poetry


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, August 10, 2017

Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It - Natalie Lyalin (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Today's book of poetry:
Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It.  Natalie Lyalin. Eastern European Poets Series #34.  Ugly Duckling Press.  Brooklyn, New York.  2014.

Blood Makes Me Faint but I Go for It

Today's book of poetry was enjoying a brief break at Go Home Lake but is back in the saddle with another killer from Ugly Duckling Presse.

It started slowly, but the more I read the more intensely I liked Natalie Lyalin's poetry.  It is not unlike a movie with a foreign director who speaks in a new visual language.  The more you watch (read), the more rational it becomes, at least within that cinematic universe, and in this case in the crisp poetry of one Natalie Lyalin.

Lyalin is using a vocabulary you will have no trouble recognizing but her choice of vernacular is startling.  Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It is witty smart and tailored, it's a bit of a custom suit, but it fits perfectly.

Black Horse Pike

I took my wagon onto Black Horse Pike
Without blankets!
With plenty of water
With a read tiredness!
Without regret
With throbbing paws!
Without thinking
With questions!
Without direction
With my ghostly sons!
Without my daughter
With my mother's anger!
Without her rifle
With a target on my back!
Without worry
With letters and numbers!
Without a message
With a sense of exploration!
Without much concern for others
With a sense of ownership!
Without a contract
With a vague promise of justice!
Without juice
With a faulty eye socket!
Without a correction
With a small erection!
Without a wedding veil
With a bothersome tooth!
Without a way to fix it
With an arrow!
Without a weapon
With a navigator!
Without common sense
With my dear friend!
As skulls lit the road
As wheat braided itself into circles
As hawks predicted our end


Today's book of poetry would be telling lies if we pretended to know exactly what Natalie Lyalin is on about, exactly what she is striving for in these poems.  But we are enthused about looking further, understanding more.  Think of it this way; you could be watching a dancer and greatly admire the dancing without necessarily knowing the name of each particular step.

Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It certainly kicks up some spectacular dust along the way, even if we don't understand the siege of Stalingrad, even if we don't get to live all those different lives we imagined.  We can be taken along for the narrative ride, marvel out the windows of the train.

Stalingrad, 1943

There was a squawk sound and the clouds flipped to green, the sky, yellow.  I was
counting seeds and noted the moment.  It was a strange farm, a strange town, a
frightened country we were in.  There were not too many schools or children, so there
were few balloons.  I concerned myself with the sickly garden.  It needed bone meal so
I got some.  Under the moon's coloring thirty foxes circled my house and sixty wolves
circled them.  I called my grandmother to say that I would name someone Wolf, and
she thought this splendid.  We hung up, but I told her to keep living.  Keep living
though you are very far away from your country, and your friends are not coming
home.  Bad things happened, but I harvested a giant pepper and ate it whole.  And it
was very hot and also splendid.  I spied a rake and began a short-lived revolution.


Today's book of poetry fears we are doing Natalie Lyalin a disservice by our inability to properly express the various reasons for the genuine pleasure and fascination these curious poems create.

Perhaps Kathyrn, our Jr. Editor, said it best when she said, "You don't have to know the recipe to tell if it tastes good."  Well Lyalin can burn.  These short intense poems deliver complex tastes, satisfying textures, excellent finish.

Blood Makes Me Faint But I Go For It is from a series Ugly Duckling Presse produces called Eastern European Poets Series but there is no detailed information about what language Lyalin writes in or if these are translations, or original, written in English poems.  In the end it doesn't really matter, Lyalin connects.

I Had This Hair When My Dad Was Alive

I'm from a sturgeon's lung
I'm cut out and breathing
The weather is changing languages
All over, the equinox is taking away power
Different weird clouds keep forming
Darling things come in twos!
We are both alive and in Poland
Foreign foghorns keep sounding
In your city the police are absolutely corrupted
Farm animals are finally getting to eat succulent grasses
The invisible typewriter is suspended in space
This hair is authentic fox fur
Coffins are so tiny after dark!
Toxic sludge has made its way into the heartland!
Under a heavy rain we keep walking
Everyone is sharing photos of their babies
The waiter will not bring me juice
I keep stopping by weird French restaurants
The car lost a wheel just as I pulled up
The first snow fell and I'm angry!
This man is having a seizure on the elliptical
My family is incognito
Twenty-eight years ago things were so different!
It was hard to find boots and stockings  
In the cover of night men are sneaking into windows
Parking lots are full of unwanted baggage
We found galoshes and rubber diapers
Your new friends are much better than me
All over the world people are being birthed
Our grandmothers can no longer see too far!
She's exaggerating her stupid pain
The proboscis stunned me into silence
We thought your name would be Vladimir
My television is resting on a teeny tiny stand
This music is from Swan Lake!
My mucus is coming up yellow
The outdoor patio is really a lanai
The youngest child is always the prettiest
This wedding is full of cancer-causing sugar!
In a past life I was someone really crazy
This old old country is the grave's keeper!
The steroids are starting to wear off
This trench coat smells of urine
I've shopped with your baby!
the raccoon traps are howling


Today's book of poetry tends to favour the straight narrative line and Lyalin is not about that.  So why the fascination?  

Sometimes you just can't explain why you find something beautiful but Lyalin's poetry compelled us to turn page after page, hit us with some sunshine language and some of the other kind.

Natalie Lyalin
Natalie Lyalin
Photo: Brandon Jones

Natalie Lyalin is the author of Pink & Hot Pink Habitat (Coconut Books, 2009), and a chapbook, Try A Little Time Travel (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2010). She is a part of the Agnes Fox Press editing collective and the cofounder and editor of Natural History Press. She lives in Philadelphia and teaches at The University of the Arts.

"Thank goodness it is time to hear more from the spectacular Natalie Lyalin! Whether they threaten or offer tenderness, her poems declare themselves in strange, flat phrases, as if unaware of how much beauty and destruction they contain, until some moment of recognition occurs and they suddenly must exclaim 'Coffins are so tiny after dark!' This book is an unpredictable delight, written in the fantastic English of a poet who can see the language for all its gaps and glamour. You are going to love having these words in your head."
     - Heather Christie

"You don’t have a time machine? You’re in luck—like a weird kid in the woods trying to build a spaceship, Natalie Lyalin has created something beautiful, messy, and magical. This book is your time machine. Get in and travel to another world which is like this world, only here it’s dirty, tragic, funny, strange, mundane, eerie, ecstatic, familiar, and a little dangerous. Being inside these poems is like living with a few added dimensions: the one where you grow wings in the kitchen, or where language is a hammer you break in case of emergency—and there is always an emergency. In Lyalin's work, survival is at hand: sometimes it’s history, sometimes it's your self, and sometimes it’s just a time and place to wear sexy gold fangs in a lemon orchard and chase you around the trees."
     - Sampson Starkweather

Divine Magnet Poetry Series Presents: Natalie Lyalin from Jerusalem
video: Joshua Bolton



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, August 3, 2017

Allegheny, BC - Rodney DeCroo (Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Allegheny, BC.  Rodney DeCroo.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2012.

Today's book of poetry is ambling back in time a few years to bring you this crackerjack from 2012. We here at Today's book of poetry firmly believe that books remain new until you've read them, and in that spirit we are happy to look at Rodney DeCroo's Allegheny, BC.

DeCroo is probably better known as a musician but Allegheny, BC makes it clear that DeCroo has a fully fledged set of poetry chops.  Most of this poetry is from the school of hard knocks and Saint Charles of Bukowski but DeCroo is more than a shadow boxer.  These poems burn with sufficient intensity, they show DeCroo has the coup de gras.

Mrs. Tobin

She ran a boarding house on Doman Street
in South Vancouver. The boarders, all men,
lived in the basement, two to a room. My father
had moved up north and I'd come to the city

alone on a bus from Cranbrook.
I found her ad in the classifieds and took
a cab straight from the station to her house.
I had enough money to cover the first month's

rent and moved in that afternoon
with my belongings stuffed in a bag.
She was a large woman with a red face
and dyed hair. Her husband had been

a master sergeant, but died a year
after he retired. When she asked my age
I told her I was twenty-one, but she
laughed and said, Don't lie to me honey

or you can find somewhere else to live.
So I told her the truth, that my dad
had left me to go up north and I'd
quit school to come to the city

to live on my own. The next day
she took me to the welfare office
and argued with a case worker
and a supervisor until they

agreed to pay my room and board
if I went back to school. Mount Baker
had been a semester school
and there were two in the Lower Mainland.

Mrs. Tobin took me to them both that day.
Magee was for the city's rich kids
and turned me away, but New West Secondary
said I could start classes the next morning.

That evening, my new roommate Ken
took me to the Cobalt to watch strippers
and to have some beers. Before we
left the house he showed me a baseball

card, perfectly preserved, from 1967.
It featured a young Ken, in a Detroit Tigers
uniform standing on the dugout steps
with a bat resting on his shoulder, a huge grin

spread across his broad face. I played
two seasons until I broke my back
in a motorcycle accident. I couldn't play
after that. I've got arthritis now.

It hurts all the time. But fuck it
eh? I'm lucky to be alive, so ain't no point
in bitching. Ken was on disability
and three or four times a year

got paid to carry cocaine in a backpack
via bus to Montreal or Toronto. He 
had a gambling problem and spent
his meagre winnings on prostitutes,

but Mrs. Tobin liked him and he
always paid his rent. At the bar Ken
walked me past the bouncers
who nodded their heads as we

passed. He called a waitress by name
and ordered a pitcher of draft. When she
left he said, I got you in, so you can buy the drinks.
Okay? I nodded my head and paid

the waitress when she returned. Three hours
later I was throwing up in a urinal. A man
shoved me as I swayed towards the sinks
to wash my face. I slipped and fell

against the filthy tiles sleek with piss
and water. I got up and puked again into a sink.
At the table Ken was gone and so were
our drinks. I sat down and watched

the stripper. A power ballad
began to blare through the speakers.
She was nude and her breasts
hung and gleamed with sweat

as she bent over to pick up a folded quilt
at the edge of the stage. She flung it
outwards and dropped it open on the floor.
She walked a slow circle around it,

grinding her hips. I was drawn
to the perfect blankness of her face.
I stood up and walked toward
the stage. I felt I was the only person

there besides her. The singer's voice 
peaked at the chorus of the song, but no words
were being sung, there were only sounds
that moved across her like the stage lights

that pulsed and crisscrossed against her
body. She laid her belly against the quilt,
and began to grind her hips into the floor.
Her hand flickered between her legs

like a small trapped bird as she
mocked playing with herself. On her
left ankle I saw a blue tattoo of a heart
with wings. I reached out to touch it.

Her body whipped away from me
the instant my fingers touched her skin.
I saw a garter snake I had tapped
lightly with a stick behind my uncle's barn.

It shivered then flashed into a hole
beneath the faded boards of the wall.
She was standing, her dark hair
wild against her face. She was

pointing at me. I look at her eyes
and she screamed Don't touch me
you fucking freak! You don't touch
the fucking dancers! Get the fuck

out of here! A deep warm voice
spoke into my ear, it made me
think of the murky water we
would dive into off the banks

of the river. Okay, buddy, it's time
to go. Come on. A hand gripped
my arm just above the elbow
and guided me between the tables

toward the bouncer at the front door.
He pushed it open and pushed me
through it onto the sidewalk.
Go home pal, you're covered

in puke, he said and pulled the door
shut. The air was a thin drizzle
of rain against my face, headlights
slid like the blurred tails of comets

through the dark. I reached
into my pockets but they were empty.
I lowered my head and stepped
off the edge of the world.


The specific details of DeCroo's Allegheny, BC are far less important than his travelling towards some deeper understanding only to realize that it is all a journey, destination is over-rated, it is always further down the road.

Rodney DeCroo's Allegheny, BC is a coming of age road trip that dips into the complicated world of sons and fathers.  These poems the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of our past, the stories we need to believe in so that we can believe in ourselves.  This is hard-scrabble stuff by DeCroo takes it all on with admirable panache.


He'd been stealing my letters from the front desk.
The woman who cleaned the rooms found them
when she emptied the garbage from his room.
He'd written all over them in red ink

slut, whore, cunt. I didn't know why he did it.
I was seventeen and living in the Tudor House
Hotel in Cranbrook. He and I would snort
coke together in my room so we could drink

all night. Sometimes men shouted in the hallway,
kicked a body down the stairs, we'd do a line,
turn the radio up and pretend not to hear.
I didn't know why he did it and I didn't care

to know. She'd been sick for months
and wasn't going to get better. He knew
what the letters meant to me. I went into the bar
and asked if he wanted to smoke a joint.

It was January and the parking lot was ice
and hardpacked snow. When he took the joint
and put it in his mouth I hit him as hard
as I could. His head snapped, the joint

flew and he went down. I rushed to kick him,
but he didn't try to get up. He curled into a ball
and covered his face with his arms. I screamed
Get up and fight! but he just lay there. It was quiet

and I could hear the low buzz of the streetlight.
It sounded like a woman humming a song to herself.
That's when the crying started. I kicked him
but he wouldn't get back up and fight.


This morning's read was a little subdued.  Milo and Kathryn, our head tech and our Jr. Editor, went on a tequila exploration project last night and never quite made it home in one piece.  Which is why I am happy to report that we have been blasting Herb Albert and the Tijuana Brass out of the office speakers since the two of them crawled through the door.  It may also explain why I am dancing around their desks in a sombrero and a hopping set of maracas.

Eventually reason prevailed, Max dragged his sagging carcass out of his cavernous dark and insisted I relent and turn down the music.  Then, thesaurus in hand, egressed his way back into his library/office and slammed the door.  Milo and Kathryn quit holding their tequila lubricated heads and I put down the maracas.  We did turn off the music to read DeCroo's Allegheny, BC.  You could see the poetry soon sobered the cactus right out of Milo and Kathryn.

Strong, raw and real.  This poetry is peppered, tempered, hammered out of some genuine drama. DeCroo tells one hell of a story.

Days Like This

We stand inside a doorway to share
a cigarette. The rain comes straight
down: long strands of blown glass
shattering against the concrete.

I tell you this, how the rain appears
to me, and you say no, the street is a face
and the drops are not shards of shattering
glass but tears from a blind god's eyes.

In this darkness I can almost not see
the sores on your face, how your hand
shakes as you lift the cigarette to your lips,
how your eyes shatter with each glance.

You tell me about the landlord who stole
your cheque and threw you out of your room,
how I must believe you, as I watch
you looking for someone to silence

the rat tearing at your stomach, to calm
your fingers picking at the scabs on your skin,
the blood crusted under your eaten nails.
You will died on this street in the rain,

or in a doorway or half-naked in an alley.
You hand the cigarette back to me and our
fingers touch. You smile and for a moment
we are walking through the rain-mist

and pink petals of cherry blossoms.
You take my arm and pull me to you.
You tell me that days like this are proof
we live forever. I smell the spring rain

damp in your hair. Your breath leaves you
as easily as the rain falls to the street
to shatter like broken glass. Days like this
are proof of what we will have to lose.


Today's book of poetry is enthused about the poems of Rodney DeCroo.  Best poetry Rodney we've seen since Rodney Jones.

Image result for rodney decroo photo
Rodney DeCroo

Rodney DeCroo is a Vancouver-based singer/songwriter and poet. Born and raised in a small coal mining town just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he has called Vancouver home for years now. He has released a previous collection of poetry, Allegheny, BC (Nightwood, 2012) and seven music albums that have received critical acclaim in Canada, the USA and Europe. Music critics have named him one of Canada's best folk/alt-country songwriters. Next Door to the Butcher Shop is his latest collection of poetry.

"From boyhood memories to middle age, the poems in Rodney DeCroo’s debut collection chart a journey across several landscapes: the polluted industrial outskirts of Pittsburgh, the oil towns of northeast B.C., and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The glimpses of these worlds are compelling, the poems laden with grief, remorse, and longing, yet never with sentimentality or self-pity."
      -The Malahat Review

"The gritty, Americana-tinged music of Rodney DeCroo has always had a powerful lyrical side, both mesmerizing and wrenching...So the shift to the role of poet is a natural one."
     -Brian Lynch, The Georgia Straight

"Although the book is autobiographical, and therefore personal, it's easy to read as well as identify from your own experiences something similar to what DeCroo remembers - old pathways, old haunts, old relatives. Drinking, fighting, travelling."
     -Tom Harrison, The Province

Rodney DeCroo
On The Night Of My First Breath

Video courtesy Rodney DeCroo



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.