Friday, September 22, 2017

In Case of Sudden Free Fall - Deborah Bogen (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
In Case of Sudden Free Fall.  Deborah Bogen.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2017.

"the sun rises like a guillotine"
                                                                                                 - Deborah Bogen

Deborah Bogen's poems have a distinct hum to them and Today's book of poetry fears we will never get the description of it quite right.  It's like these perfectly modern little prose poems are clever disguises for the epic movies underneath.  You can hear the poetry machine hum golden as though a soundtrack were about to burst through.  And Bogen's movies are a gas.

Today's book of poetry has all the time in the world for Bogen's type of clever. In Case of Sudden Free Fall has a cast of guest stars that runs from Vincent Van Gogh to Charles Dickens, Jean-Paul Sartre to Baudelaire and so on.  Bogen works these cultural iconic celebrities right into her narrative as though they were there all along.

Bogen has one of those technicolour pens and as a result these little movies appear in vivid colour.  Bogen's subtle twists on/of language had me working my way backwards to track her careful steps. In Case of Sudden Free Fall bursts with unassuming intelligence and confident logic.  Today's book of poetry likes how Bogen navigates.

Looking at Guernica

I'm thinking in terms of stage props, rubber knives and
plausible explanations. You say I should relax, take an as-
pirin, make some coffee, but where-oh-where, old friend,
are the shield-walls for our hearts? These days, these ter-
rible days, you tell me are only warnings, but we've both
seen Guernica. Chaos is a wild-eyed bull standing over a
dead child and Christians or no-Christians the messiah
isn't coming.

So we walk to the cemetery, to look at all the old-timey
names on the monuments. Did you know, I say, that in-
scribed is just another word for cut?


Today's book of poetry would be out of line with my own cosmic forces and make-up if we didn't mention that In Case of Sudden Free Fall has a poem where "Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt make things right."  If you don't know the two Sonnys stop reading this and look them up.  Respect.

Deborah Bogen drops jazz musicians and painters into her landscapes and soundtracks to great affect.  She uses these characters as a cultural shorthand, she knows the emotion generated by the charged names of the famous.  How when we hear the name of William Turner we cannot help but think of the sea, the sea-scape and the unknowable chorus of clouds.  Bogen knows that we readers are pre-conditioned and sends us through to her clever manipulations like Ivan Pavlov and his dogs.  It is no cause for alarm, our appetite whetted, we gulp it down like smiling pups on a juicy bone.

How-to For the Daughters of Suicides

First of all. Be Fine. They want you to. Fix your face,
brush your hair, say I'm fine, thanks, fine. And in a way,
it's true. Because now you don't care what you eat, when
you eat, if you eat. You don't care how you look. Or what
you think. You don't think. And that's weirdly swell. Like
lidocaine. Or being made of chrome.

Tomorrow a long dark car will take you to the cemetery.
Wear a plain black dress, or dark blue if you only have
that. Later, you must contend with the women who bring
casseroles, but otherwise you can relax. Remember, the
body must inhabit this space, but there's nowhere your
mind has to be.


Today's book of poetry's morning read was interrupted by the delivery of a parcel from our St. Louis correspondent David Clewell.  The entire staff danced around the box in anticipation and the Twangster did not let us down.  Once again, Mr. Clewell has brought holiday cheer to a new season. This particular reading assignment included Lynn Emanuel, David Kirby, Campbell McGrath and Albert Goldbarth.  We still don't believe in God or heaven here at Today's book of poetry but we're pretty sure the Twangster is a poetry monster angel.  Today's book of poetry is very thankful that he is out there monitoring the poetry ether.

To get back to the matter at hand, Deborah Bogen's poetry has pace, In Case of Sudden Free Fall rolls steady as a train.  Today's book of poetry was completely in Bogen world for this most pleasant journey, dark corners and all, because she allows the reader such easy access, decorates the path she wants followed.  Even with the occasional sad destination these poems make you open your happy eyes just a little wider.

In Case of Sudden Free Fall

You can put it in your pocket, in your tire well, in your
armpit. You can stash it under your baseball cap, or wrap
it up in a handkerchief. You can stuff it in your under-
wear or hide it in your brand new pigskin wallet. You
can slip it under your armband, or bury it in the desert
or whisper it into your cell phone. You can smooth it out
and cut it up with little scissors. Or you can fold it. Care-
fully. Like money.


In Case of Sudden Free Fall is Deborah Bogen's fourth book of poetry and it shows.  This is polished, old hand in the kitchen, stuff.  Bogen teems with charming wisdom.  Bogen's hum will convince.

Image result for deborah bogen photo
Deborah Bogen

Deborah Bogen is a poet and novelist. In Case of Sudden Free Fall is her fourth collection. Her three previous collections of poetry are Living By the Children's Cemetery, Landscape with Silos (National Poetry Series Finalist and winner of the X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize) and Let Me Open You a Swan (Antivenom Press, Elixir Press). She was the winner of the 2016 New Letters Prize for Poetry for "My Stint as a Librarian & Other Poems." She lives in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“Grown-up poems for grown-ups.”
     — Stuart Friebert

“I loved reading In Case of Sudden Free Fall, Deborah Bogen’s beautiful and remarkable oneiric prose poem collection. A delicious gem, it takes the reader on a soulful and transformative journey. Under Bogen’s expert guidance, we travel from enchantment to melancholy, to surprising encounters with literary and artistic figures, to loss and death, and back to wonder. I’ll keep revisiting this collection time and again.”
     — Hélène Cardona



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

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Brighter House - Kim Garcia (White Pine Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Brighter House.  Kim Garcia.  White Pine Press.  Buffalo, New York.  2016.

Winner of the White Pine Press Poetry Prize

Today's book of poetry is a bit weak when it comes to his mythology, its history, characters and so on.  Kim Garcia's whippersnapper The Brighter House invests fairly heavily in legend, the deep mysteries of our collective past.  So how does Garcia manage to make The Brighter House feel so current, urgent, how does Kim Garcia make us care?

We care because we can identify with Garcia's demons, we understand that the monster dying in the hospital bed is still a father.  We know what that Blackdog anger does to perception.  Garcia has the anger but these poems are too smart to resort to simple revenge, vengeance.  Kim Garcia finds beauty even on the starkest panorama.  She also knows that sometimes beauty has a price.

For my father and the cancer that killed him

in a drainage ditch I saw a duck and hawk
rolling, like wrestlers--old Greeks--to the death,
and the duck was taking his dying hard. It took

a long, silent time for the sugar to run out

in its muscles, for the hawk to find the place
between its neck and back, to pierce the artery,
open the blood gate, let out the fight and begin
                                                                 to feed.


Our morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices was slightly overshadowed by the splendid weather.  Ottawa is having the nicest September anyone can remember and getting my staff in off the lawn and out of the sun has only been achieved by threat.  Today's book of poetry won't share the particular threats uttered but we had a different killer for each of our minions.  So then, under threat, and under a roof, in the shade of our offices and with a slight hint of protest...

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, got the ball rolling.  Once in gear Kim Garcia's The Brighter House did all the hard work.  Whether Garcia is imagining/wishing into place her sister, appearing as a vengeful matador or imagining her father as God: Garcia invites the reader into her somewhat magical world with language.

Garcia peoples these poems with characters who scrape up against the smooth edges of your soul.  They know where you are tender.


The man with the grass truck, for instance,
looking in on me through the car window.
I sat in my robe passenger side, engine humming
while my mother went for my prescription.

I was pale, very still. I was always
sick in those days. His eye moved
over my shoulders, into the folds of my robe,
a ticklish insect-footed sensation on my skin.

I stared back. Probably I flirted.
I don't remember, but I did things like that,
swallowed whatever came in the capsules.
I was pale, and my eyes were almost black.

My mother came out of the drugstore.
Who called who? He came down
from a load of sod he was pitchforking
to two black men below. They spoke.

Our lawn was dead.
The car was dying.
She wanted grass.
I was useless to her.

A few days later he came with a load.
After he laid the sod, he drank
a glass of lemonade at the kitchen table
with my mother. Then he took me to the drive-in.

We saw a trucker picture. Convoy, I think,
and he didn't handle me much
or force his mouth over my mouth
or speak in any way about the sod he'd unloaded
all day in Texas heat--for what?

To buy me popcorn,
to run his arm along the back
of the vinyl single seat of his pick-up
and stare in silence at a girl
stiff and scared in the seat beside him,
not knowing what she was beginning or ending.

When the movie ended
he took me home
and walked me to the door
like a real date would have done.

And the only thing he got for what he'd paid
my mother was one brief run of his warm palm
from my hip to my bra strap
along my thick, fifteen year old waist.

Which couldn't have been much a thrill
for a full grown man.

My mother was in bed. No.
She was up. Watching television,
sitting in the chair she'd rocked me in
as a child. Outside the sprinkler's steady tick
broke suddenly into a run and return.
The peepers spoke under the damp leaves,
to a steady tap of beetles against the yellow light.
Moths folded flat against the dark siding.

There'd be new grass in my mother's voice
as she looked up from her lap
where she'd have some work,
some bill to worry or dress to mend,
and ask, "What did you do?"

Just beyond the window lay the lawn, her lawn,
which would be lovely today, tomorrow
and years from now. Children changed.
You fed them and put a roof over their heads,
and one night your daughter might walk in
and look at you like a stranger.


Dreamland.  There is an ethereal sense to these poems, they sometimes feel too light, almost too perfect to hold together but they do.  Gossamer usually refers to something delicate or insubstantial yet Garcia's gossamer poems pack power.

In The Brighter House Kim Garcia's power comes from her "felted hammer on razored strings."  These dignified and almost quiet poems carry the big knockout punch.  When Garcia ties up the loose ends these poems are wicked sharp.  Garcia is the proverbial iron fist in the velvet glove.


Finally I am ready for heaven. Go ahead,
let it in now. I stare at winter branches
and try to imagine summer--all that green,
early urgency to late summer flapping
a crowd, a host.

                            I never had the time
before, never saw the point. I was getting
ready for the next ting, saving up.
Death might, I know, come quickly,
but that's not the main thing.

Something is leaking in, and I
can clear the way, make it easier
for it to enter. Yes, I'm saying yes.
Not to death, which isn't really my
business, but to heaven.

It may be that I'll be a scattering
of matter. It may be that I don the robe,
whatever that is. This morning
I wrap the gray wool light around me
and say to everybody morning sounds,
you can tell me everything now. All of it.


The Brighter House took Today's book of poetry in with the first poem and jerked me around like a fish on a hook until Garcia was finished with me and threw me back in the water.  I'm back blowing bubbles in the weeds, but for a few moments, I was out of my element, I had a clear vision of another universe. 

Garcia did that.

Image result for kim garcia photo
Kim Garcia
Photo: Frank J. Garcia

Kim Garcia is the author of The Brighter House, winner of the 2015 White Pine Press Poetry Prize, DRONE, winner of the 2015 Backwaters Prize, and Madonna Magdalene, released by Turning Point Books in 2006. Her chapbook Tales of the Sisters won the 2015 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Mississippi Review, Nimrod and Subtropics, and her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Recipient of the 2014 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, an AWP Intro Writing Award, a Hambidge Fellowship and an Oregon Individual Artist Grant, Garcia teaches creative writing at Boston College.

How does she do it! In The Brighter House, Kim Garcia speaks in the language of delicate and mesmerizing touch with phrases like "feather-brush antennae" and "ticklish insect-footed sensation" and "wished-for snow" without ever falling into precious sentimentality. Over and again, these poems mount to harsh and cold violences that speak to the intricacies of the soul in a gorgeous way that leaves the reader feeling bruised--as in pressed upon--but not bloody. This is a brilliant book of first-rate artistry.
     - Jericho Brown

Rainer Maria Rilke said that there are two inexhaustible sources for poetry, childhood and dreams, and Kim Garcia drinks deeply from both wells in these magical, spooky, riveting, and mysterious poems.
     - Edward Hirsch

This collection is a powerful exploration of the mythological roots of a home, a father, and sisters. The author cleans away that which obscures with the miracle of lyricism. We are lost in the stark beauty of the journey. Then, we are found.
     - Jay Harjo

Interview with
Kim Garcia
Video: Arkansas International



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, September 18, 2017

So Late to the Party - Kate Angus (Negative Caqpability Press)

Today's book of poetry:
So Late to the Party.  Kate Angus.  Negative Capability Press.  Mobile, Alabama.  2016.

So Late to the Party

Ben Folds Five
Video: Cheeseford

Yes, I want to be Kate.  If Today's book of poetry knew I could write poems like Kate Angus seems to do on demand I would happily be Kate.  Today's book of poetry is hoping Kate Angus will forgive today's playful Ben Folds Five intro, in truth we know absolutely nothing about Kate Angus except what we learn from So Late to the Party.

And what do we learn?  There is a fresh taste in the mouth after reading So Late to the Party.  The poems in this collection are so consistently at exactly the right temperature for consumption, you could almost be suspicious about how Kate cooks.

So Late to the Party opens with an epigraph from Jack Spicer.  Spicer is sometimes considered a precursor to the "language poets" but Angus isn't a disciple, just an admirer.  And then we are in Angus world, a world not much different than your own, but inhabited by hyper-sentient Angus

Is The World a Terrible Place?

The world is a terrible place.
Look at the sea.
All those little waves swallowed by others.

And, beneath the surface, the tiny fish that flicker
like colored ribbons?

Swallowed by larger fish
and by seals. Seals by sharks. Sharks and orcas fighting

until the ocean around them froths bloody
as the sea birds wheel and shriek overhead.

It is like this with people also.
Your father went into your mother
and so you were made.
You rested inside her
in a long hibernation, a tiny vampire bat
curled upside down
in a cave, feet clinging to the ceiling.
Then you tore her apart.

Think of lovers.

They will not think of you
but they may wake up in the dark
and mutter something to themselves using your inflections
or brush the hair
away from their eyes as if with your hand.

And then there is God
who is always giving us the bread of his body
and his sour wine blood, saying, "Eat this. Drink this."
when, all the while, it is his earth

full of mouths that wait to swallow us.
It is enough to make me sick.
The world is full of such terror and still we cannot stay.


Sometimes the world is a terrible place, to answer Angus' question.  These intelligent poems make the world less terrible, less hostile.  Today's book of poetry cannot rave loudly enough about So Late to the Party.

This morning's office reading was a tasting menu from a very consistent gourmet, each and every course/poem fully satisfying, whetting the appetite for more.

One of the reasons these poems are so successful is that they are genuine.  Real enough to stop your breath.  Today's book of poetry felt like the poet/voice was someone he knew, already familiar with - or someone he wanted to know.  Who wouldn't want to get at the source of this humour and dark wit, the kindness and ready sharp tongue?

Kate Angus' poems read like a story from your best story-telling friend, complete with private confessions, true dreads and unsuitable desires.

The Problem Is Not That God Does Not Exist
So Much As That He Will Not Bargain With You

I have a tree growing entirely
inside me: roots anchored
in the pelvic basin, and its top sprawls out leaves
and tender branches from my skull.
It is a Black Maple. In cold and dark,
we turn sap into sugar. Consequently, these days,

I am thinking about death: mine and others. Death
on the Nile.

Murder on the Orient Express.

Death in the Afternoon.
There were times, years ago,

I was very close
to stepping out in traffic's current
as the great white shark
of a city bus (in size, equivalent,
but you must substitute velocity
for teeth) bore down. Sometimes,

I would lull myself imagining
a pistol in my mouth. To fall asleep
thinking this was comforting. Insert
whatever image you prefer here: cigarette,
pacifier, bottle, cock. I was that tired.
I missed Tom that much. Last night

the bar was brown-paper-bagful packed
with friends like Concord grapes held together

by the supple vine

of Alicia singing about how God turned Miriam white with leprosy.
Because she questioned, her skin peeled off and fell like loose pages

from a broken-binding book. I don't know
what's made me so entirely happy these past few years, buoyant
as an empty Pepsi bottled tossed in the Cuyahoga and through the muck
still bobbing unflappably my way along. World,
I want to ask: how did I manage to find you?
And thank you for letting me come back.


So Late to the Party has at least one ghost and one sonnet, a tiny dragon, wolves and so on.  What Today's book of poetry was most impressed by was the consistency with which Angus knocked her poems out of the park.  Tension, humour, justice, fate, sorrow - it's all in this remarkable first book. Angus must have an old soul because these poems are wise beyond her years.  And I do hope Kate Angus sees that as the compliment it is meant to be.

It is possible to run out of superlatives so please don't take my word for it.  Take Kate Angus' words, find this book and treat yourself.  You'll find poems you want to read to your lover/partner/friend. And they will thank you, I can guarantee you that -  or Today's book of poetry will refund your money.

String Theory

Imagine this: in a parallel
universe Tom gets up from the table for more coffee,

returns. So does my grandfather, from the trenches
without fearing thunder, and my other grandfather,

from the bottle and remembering
Russian soldiers' fists on his mother's door, that splintering.

Instead, no trenches, no soldiers. The gray childhood cat
doesn't slip through the cracked

open window to vanish forever out of frame. I take
my icons down from the shelf. I dust the pictures

and file them away. No one ever dies, ever. We all forget
to forget certain names: bodies we interred

in their little boxes; cities bombed to fragments, desolate
with weeds. The rubble rises up, every structure

rebuilds. No more necropolises. In the multiverse,
one door opens

and I sit with you, paring an apple into slices
thin as crescent moons,

a new night sky. If you take one, that means
you love me. In a different universe, three strangers

are playing cards. We're each someone else now.
In one universe, I am falling

asleep at this very second; in another I stare
at the ocean all day. In a third, we elope

but our friends are all dying. Somewhere else, I steal bread
to stop our daughter from crying,

but you're already gone. How does anyone
ever make this work? In one, you were conscripted

or died of consumption or I married for money
instead of for love. The multiverse is a door.

Any room, any door. I walk through
and keep opening

in this infinite trying to get it right.


Today's book of poetry greatest pleasure in his poetry life is discovering poets like Kate Angus.  This book made me happy like the first time I read Charles Bukowski or Dave Lee.  No similarity in style to either of my heroes but certainly as genuine, certainly as smart.

Today's book of poetry can offer no higher praise.

Image result for kate angus photo
Kate Angus

Kate Angus is a founding editor of Augury Books. Her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, Tin House, The Washington Post, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, The Academy of American Poets' "Poem-a-Day" newsletter, Best New Poets 2010 and Best New Poets 2014. She has received the A Room of Her Own Foundation’s “Orlando” prize, as well as awards from Southeast Review, American Literary Review, and The New York Times’ “Teacher Who Made a Difference” award. Kate is the Creative Writing Advisory Board Member for the Mayapple Center for Arts and Humanities at Sarah Lawrence College and curates the “Pen and Brush Presents” reading series for the visual and literary arts nonprofit Pen and Brush. She has received residencies from Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan; the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation in Sozopol and Sofia, Bulgaria; the Betsy Hotel’s Writer’s Room in South Beach, Florida; the Wildfjords trail in Westfjords, Iceland; and the BAU Institute in Otranto, Italy. Kate has a BA from Brown University, an MFA from The New School University, and has done additional studies at Yale University, Barnard College, Columbia University and Trinity College, Dublin. Born and raised in Michigan, she currently lives in New York.

“‘Lift off the roof / of your skull’ writes Kate Angus in this confident, wonderful debut, and I do indeed feel my mind dangerously opened by the clarity and intimacy of these intelligent, warm, sad, funny, genuine poems. This poet takes us with her as she walks through the world, often alone, often filled with a happy despair, always hopeful, always thinking of distant others, including us, her readers. This book does not merely describe, but enacts a faith in life, and in poetry’s necessity. This is the poetry for those of us who don’t just want but need to ‘always and silently unseal everything,’ to see what we can feel and know.”
     —Matthew Zapruder, author of Sun Dog and Come on All You Ghosts

“In poems such as ‘String Theory,’ ‘Complicity,’ and ‘My Life in Retrospect,’ Kate Angus reveals not only a gift for smart titles but a lyrical, questioning intelligence that makes her work a pleasure to read and re-read. She has the ability to chronicle her consciousness as she navigates between dualities and among certain recurrent images and motifs. The ‘body’s not a chassis / inside which we ride,’ she writes in one poem, though on an-other occasion she may be tempted to ride that metaphor like a train conducting her ‘from a deep forest / to a city closer to the surface layers / where the outside world tugs on my skin.’
Poems, then, are occasions; the day itself is a train and every hour ‘a compartment to sit in and read a book or walk through.’ The poet monitors the relations between the sometimes ‘stupid’ mind and the ‘terrifying’ body vulnerable beneath fancy clothes. God is the missing lover ‘always giving us the bread of his body / and his sour wine-dark blood.’ The world proves itself to be a terrible place, ‘and still we cannot stay.’
Each poem in this diverse group works on its own and as part of a sequence unified by this admirable poet’s sensibility and fluency. I’m delighted to introduce Kate Angus to readers.”
     –David Lehman, author of Yeshiva Boys and Sinatra’s Century: One Hundred Notes on the Man                                    and His World. Series Editor The Best American Poetry.
“Lately I've been reading a Kate Angus poem every morning, so I can start the day falling in love with language. The poems in So Late to the Party look at love and lust, loneliness and longing, and treat us to a better understanding of the nuances of humanity. These poems will break your heart.”
     –Shelly Oria, author of New York 1, Tel Aviv 0
“Oh, this book. Don't miss this beautiful book. Kate Angus's debut, So Late To The Party, is a deep dive into longing. Perhaps the speaker in ‘Is The World A Terrible Place?’ gives the best summary: ‘Think of lovers.//They will not think of you.’ With pitch-perfect rhythm, crackling language, and sly humor (‘please do not ever leave me!’ is a line from an ode to the American Heritage Dictionary), these poems make us contend with loneliness, heartache, and the devastating passage of time. This collection will grab you by the throat.”
     –Diana Spechler, author of Who by Fire and Skinny

Kate Angus
The Side Dish #9
Video: Chelsea Kurnick



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, September 16, 2017

You're the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened - Arisa White (Augury Books)

Today's book of poetry:
You're the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened.  Arisa White.  Augury Books.  New York, New York.  2016.


"...she speaks and the want is forever need."
                                                                                  from Hold Your Part Of A Deal

Sometimes Today's book of poetry is simply overwhelmed by poetry.  Arisa White just made me hold my breath.  

White comes from a long line of women who define strength and courage.  Today's book of poetry is fairly sure White has read, absorbed and respects Judy Grahn, Eillen Myles and Lenore Kendall.  But we are almost certain she's read Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde and Alice Dunbar Nelson.

Chance Is Based On True Events

Walk down the street, everybody
knows your need to touch her.
Smile a smile in a smile,
and feel that kind of marathon.

Swing on that spine
between your birth days
until sleep wants you.

Have the body
with its flames
and charities
and its rooms to cry

Until the war is out
of its actors and casualties,
be grizzly on the floor.

Look up--
rarely do we look up.
There are kisses and hugs
above us--kisses and hugs.

Swear on old and new
that the wind shakes
the picture admired too long.

Take a chance
be houndish and address
her in stranger shapes.

Lover her to the crunch,
to a barbaric end
with song and spittle,
pinball and bric-a-brac.


Arisa White's poems are about women in a world that is rarely sympathetic to their concerns or needs.  She writes about women loving women and the challenging spirals of racism, sexism and ignorance the spiral around gay love.  She does it with considerable panache.

Today's book of poetry wants to talk about the poetry more than the politic, which we have total respect for.  But Today's book of poetry is a poetry blog and Arisa White writes some killer poetry. She can be sharp as the razor held by a lover who is doing a trim.  White is quick to take us to the most tender ground amid the violence of love and lust.

When They Say

you are pretty, they come with pretty things to match you. believe
them like you are the fourteen year old who's taken into an alley,
gasoline poured in your honor, you are drenched in flames

                                                   Was I black and ugly?

pretty are you to officials who order your dissident pink
extinct of eagles. just and blind in their examination, they flip
the switch to make you forget yourself celestial and rising

                                                             Was I crazy in love?

you are the drug, the pretty to the schizophrenic who snorts
coke off your pubic bone, takes a swig of Cola, and his friends
watch him insert vacuum attachments into your snatch

                                                    Why did he do that to me?

pretty girl you are whose uncle comes for a visit and molests
you at the dinner table. you are the pretty mother loving
you years later who says, We all must go through it

                                                    Why is this what they leave for me?

so your and pretty, so tight you are virgin mythologized.
left broken to cup the spilling of a positive penis, from your
edges comes no cure, your adolescence initiated with AIDS

                                                     Who would touch me like this?

pretty clit clipped and sewn, military shotgun shattered
vaginal walls, your people cannot stand the smell of your shards.
you are bruised pretty to miscarry an undesirable girl

                                                      Why am I here?

you are the gush who never stops bleeding, whose ovaries
scream and eggs drop as they please, your uterus diagnosed
hysterical. you are without the possibility of gardens

                                                       Am I?

Karen, you are holy ova, she-she serenade, potent dap and dynahara,
bornship and portal, worshipped lotus, you are liminal wonder,
helicun, you are vivakiss, kush, fragrant red-deep, a woke-parade--
believe, you are the most beautiful thing that happened.


Sometimes Today's book of poetry just feels sorry he's a damned man.  Arisa White has all the anger she has earned but that's not the oil that cooks these meals.  White is working towards a bigger understanding.  Today's book of poetry sees hope in these poems.

Our morning read was orchestrated by Kathryn, our Jr. Editor.  The arresting poems in You're the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened bounced around our offices in protest, in celebration and ultimately some laughter.  Arisa White's poems come at you without apology, straight for the central cortex where White is more than happy to play around with your equilibrium.

White addresses how hard it is to give and receive love, how hard it is to sometimes recognize love. She addresses love and loss and death and disease.  But all of it with a voice we can easily recognize as human/humane, hurt/hopeful and smart.

Mary O

Having sex during menses, in a bonded relationship,
is a very powerful way of sharing blood. Why do you
think there has been such a taboo? Why were you steered
away from the blood mysteries for eons? Perhaps because
it would open doors of knowledge that the gods did not wish
you to have. Blood contains the archives of personal, planetary,
and celestial experience. When blood is experienced in a sexual
union, you are flooded with waves of knowledge, much of it
beyond your present ability to understand and integrate.
              Eureka freeze, Marciniak puts "Shebang" before our brains,
and bless you. You've been marked on the neck and soles, too.
I have my same rituals: hot bath and cayenne tea, Legally Blonde
and OG Kush. Randy's warmed, you're strapped on. You set
a spell with your M-i-double s-i-double s-i-double p--I'm ludicrous
mayflies. We go toward streetlights, Shell signs, aim for fireworks, fanatic
for any moon, our lives risked for good intentions--doing it in the middle
of the street. This is your house, Mary O, and your part in these curtains.


Arisa White's poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and a NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work - Poetry.

Today's book of poetry isn't female, black or gay.  It doesn't matter a whit, good poetry jumps over every stupid barrier we throw in its' way.

Arisa White burns.
Arisa White
Photo: Nye’ Lyn Tho
Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the author of the chapbooks Black Pearl and Post Pardon, the second of which was adapted into an opera, as well as the full-length collections Hurrah’s Nest and A Penny Saved. Arisa has received residencies, fellowships, or scholarships from Headlands Center for the Arts, Port Townsend Writers’ Conference, Rose O’Neill Literary House, Squaw Valley Community of Writers, Hedgebrook, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Prague Summer Program, Fine Arts Work Center, and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is a 2013-2014 recipient of an Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation and a BFA faculty advisor at Goddard College in Vermont.

Swiss army knives, scuttling crabs, pinball machines, HIV/AIDS, the West Side Highway, daisy breasts, racial slurs, kitchen sink scorch marks, and mustangs running through veins: through all the kaleidescoping nouns of White’s new collection, the starring roles are played by lust and roving hands and lovers and beloveds. These poems are nearly unblurbable: delicate yet tough, visceral and cerebral, innocent yet experienced, loving and longing, grotesque and hopeful: “…I drag our placenta behind us. Together/ can be restored with a blink.” Come for the lyrical mastery, stay for the god-level Eros. The third full-length collection by one of America’s most promising poets, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is required reading for anyone who’s ever loved, been loved, or forgotten how.
     —Amy King, The Missing Museum

Arisa White’s You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is a book whose true engine is love, and whose every poem, in all kinds of ways, reaches toward love. That in itself is astonishing, and to be praised. But add the formal playfulness, the rich music, the storytelling, and, perhaps especially, the sense of justice and humanity, and you’ll realize you’re holding a truly beautiful book in your hands.
     —Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude

Arisa White sharpens her words against this unpredictable world we live in, with the poems in You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened. In verse that is exhilarating and unexpected, White writes of race, of women loving women, of these all too human bodies we wear, of cities, of landscape. You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened is an assured and memorable book of poetry, one that provokes thought as much as it provokes a depth of feeling.
     —Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

Arisa White’s You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened makes us sweat, reflect, cry, and discover. With a deft utilization of prose poetry, lyric essay, and verse, White delivers a guide to learning our freedoms. You will probably have to reconfigure your definition of beauty after you read this book.
     —Willie Perdomo, The Essential Hits of Shorty Bon Bon

There are not enough books like or near Arisa White’s new collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, addressing what it is to be young, Lesbian and Queer and Black and tender and unapologetic and erotic. In these poems, I hear Pat Parker’s wit and challenge, and the insistence of Audre Lorde demanding that we look, listen, celebrate and change.
     —Pamela Sneed, Imagine Being More Afraid of Freedom Than Slavery
Arisa White ups the ante with this bold and visceral collection of striking lyrics, bold and honest. It’s a kind of song, truth be told, and these poems truth indeed be tolled.
     —Kazim Ali, Sky Ward

Whether remembering a neglected friend or experiencing a sensual touch, Arisa White’s poems will take your breath away. They nestle into rich language then burst up and out like birds taking flight; so close you feel their heat and wings inside you. She traverses many landscapes, both physical and emotional, sometimes evoking a melancholy longing, at other times an eager passion. In either case, these are exquisite, finely crafted poems that are irresistible.
     —Jewelle Gomez, The Gilda Stories: Expanded 25th Anniversary Edition
This is what I’m talking about. The fierce truth, the gorgeous loneliness, the late-night bravery and the tender, tender heart. It’s the poetry of Arisa White and it’s divine in every sense. Let’s all talk about it.
     —Daniel Handler, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Arisa White’s smart, angular, precocious and sexy third collection is filled with lithe anecdotes and disturbed resonances of how to negotiate a full life in everyday environs. These crafted, knowing poems put us in the middle of the room of living a realized, intelligent life of the senses. White’s attentive word substitutions and range of organized forms refreshes the reader at each page. To live freely, observantly as a politically astute, sensually perceptive Queer Black woman is to be risk taker, at risk, a perceived danger to others and even dangerous to/as oneself. White writes: I shake this heart to get the last coin out, the last folded bill where you wrote “Do Not Spend.” We feel that last coin drop, like the last mic of the MC. Throwing her caution to the wind, you should spend: spend time with the tender exchanges in these poetic jewels.
     —Tracie Morris, handholding: 5 kinds

Arisa White
Video: Velro Readings



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, September 14, 2017

Belly Full of Rocks - Tyler B. Perry (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Belly Full of Rocks.  Tyler B. Perry.  Oolichan Books.  Fernie, British Columbia.  2016.

Tyler B. Perry inhabits fairy tales like Wayne Gretzky handled the puck, with utter disregard for tradition, the other players and a few of the essential laws of gravity.  Perry's poems offer us up an entirely new world or unearthly charms.

How much fun are the poems in Belly Full of Rocks?  More than you thought possible.  Because we all know the earlier versions of these stories Perry has a known template to dive off of, but when he begins to show his marvelous romp skills all hell breaks loose.

Once inside the fairy tales of our youth Perry delights in the helter-skelter reconstruction of an entirely new set of rules.  Perry establishes a new paradigm.  Our dark fears join our dark intentions and Perry almost dares us to peer into the foreboding new light:  Perry is casting light into the dark corners our heroes never admitted to.  Maybe we had the wrong heroes.

So, the wolf has had his bad day, tried to move on, but...

Wolf in the city

I've acquired a small house in the suburbs.
In the city, but close enough to the outskirts
that I can roam the river valley, prowl

the yards of cottages in the foothills.
I don't go into town much, except to buy
groceries and stroll the streets

after dark. At first I was self conscious,
but soon realized I could go
pretty much anywhere incognito.

A heavy pea jacket and a tuque,
fur sticking out from my collar,
snout tucked in. Mostly

I walk. I'm patient now, knowing
I'll have to learn the ways
of the city before I start

to hunt. I snuggle up
to street lamps, run my tongue
along two rows of teeth: shredders

and bone crushers. One day
the girl with the red hood will pass by,
and this time I won't forget to chew.


Belly Full of Rocks is a beautiful case of sustained magic.  We know after reading the first delightful poem in this collection that we are not in Walt Disney World fairy tale territory; Perry is more closely and easily aligned with The Brothers Grimm.

Red Riding Hood and the Three Little Pigs have never shared this much venomous rage nor been more like you and I.  On the surface the poems in Belly Full of Rocks play fast and loose with the fairy tales we all know and love.  It's clear to Today's book of poetry that there is ample sub-text at every turn.  There are primal urges vying the limelight right along with with primal fears, these fairy tale creature might be searching for salvation but Perry is reaching for illumination.

Tyler B. Perry deserves our admiration for the consistency of his conceit and how his new universe is such an eerie parallel to our own.

And that damned wolf, he doesn't know when to quit...

My story doesn't end

and I never seem to win.

I've been sliced, stuffed, drowned, skinned,
boiled and eaten, and yet I come again,
slinking with my trickery,

wicked about the eyes, meaning
to spring down upon you
and devour you in the darkness.

You can kill me and kill me and kill me,
but I will feed on your hate
and when the shadows
are their darkest, you will see my eyes:

two lanterns coming towards you
in the night.


This morning's read here at the office was a celebration, these poems ripping off of the tongue like bon-bons for the brain.  They only taste like candy, the reality is far more substantial, nutritious.

Belly Full of Rocks was such a pleasure to read that Today's book of poetry is starting to feel spoiled but in truth we read a fair bit of chafe here at TBOP before we find gems like this.  Tyler B. Perry is not the guy want reading to your children before they retire for the night - not if you ever want them to sleep.  This is for the grown-ups.

Tyler B. Perry goes that extra step, he even arranges for you to feel empathy for that notoriously evil old wolf and his sad lanterns.

I want to hunt

but the rocks slow me down,
my claws too loud on city sidewalks.
Streetlamps dampen the glow of my eyes.

Those pigs with their soft flesh and keen snouts
seemed to smell me before I even knocked,
heard the panting of my hungry breath.

By the time I'd reached the clever third,
he was waiting for me. He might as well
have left the door ajar and set out a pot of tea.

I still drip from the broth, my flesh
torn and bones bruised, chewed to a pulp.
My wounds throb, call to the moon.

Even the alley vermin aren't afraid
of me as I collapse and curl against the curb.
They crawl into my folds for heat.

When the white van pulls up I barely notice
until I feel the snare around my neck
and a sharp sting on my haunch.

I hear the trotters on the pavement,
the scurry of mice, feel soft arms
around me and sleep.


Today's book of poetry says to jump into this water head first.  Belly Full of Rocks is what we want from a book of poetry here at Today's book of poetry: it's amusing, arresting and alarming in all the best possible ways.  Perry has woven us into these myths, given them back to us to consider once again.  

Fine, fine, fine stuff.

Tyler B. Perry

Tyler Brendan Perry graduated from the optional residency Creative Writing MFA program at the University of British Columbia, and teaches high school in Calgary Alberta, where he lives with his wife, two kids, and a dog. He was captain of the 2010 Calgary poetry slam team, and is one of the organizers of the Alberta provincial high school poetry slam, Can You Hear Me Now? This is his second book of poetry.

"You now what stories do, with their subliminally charged plots and scary messages, but do you wonder where they come from and what happens to those characters afterwards? Stay tuned, as Tyler Perry is about to reveal that you carry your stories within you, like stones in the wolf's belly, that you are both reader and author, puppet and puppeteer. Perry's Huntsman, standing outside his daughter's door listening to her breathe and toss in bed, senses the 'thin skin / of glass between her and the forest.' He also understands the gossamer that separates dream from reality. Setting out to carve children from whitebark pine, he finds them already there, ingrained in the wood, having 'seeped into the living / tree from the earth... his hands the engine of their release.' Hold your breath, step inside."
     - Gary Geddes, author of The Resumption of Play



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, September 12, 2017

You, Beast - Nick Lantz + The Lightning That Stikes The Neighbors's House - Nick Lantz (The University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
You, Beast.  Nick Lantz.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2017.


The Lightning That Strikes The Neighbor's House.  Nick Lantz.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2010.

Winner of the 2010 FELIX POLLAK PRIZE IN POETRY selected by Robert Pinsky

Today's book of poetry is throwing two books by Nick Lantz at you today and we're doing it for one reason:  Nick Lantz is a poetry monster.  He's a freaking King Kong Frankenstein Dracula Werewolf monster of the first order.  We are clumsily trying to tell you in the calmest manner that Nick Lantz has range, style and moxie beyond most mortal poets, his poetry is beyond superb.

Lantz is the king of juxtaposition, changing direction with machine gun speed but never missing a step.  The Lightning That Strikes The Neighbor's House and You, Beast are both stunning books of poetry.  Lantz is an encyclopedia, a yin/yang salesman.  Lantz is one of the most exciting poets we have ever read.

Based on True Events

So a dolphin gets caught
in a crab trap, then is rescued
and rehabilitated, but loses
his tail, or just flukes,
and is going to die probably
of heartbreak, but some kid
falls in love with him (or her?),
and the dolphin eats fish
from the kid's hand, music
swells, and the dolphin
is fitted with a prosthetic
tail and learns to do tricks
for the amputated soldiers
returning from a desert
(how can a dolphin
ever imagine a desert?),
and the soldiers say
what a huge inspiration
this dolphin is, so someone
makes a movie in which
all the above occurs
and in which the dolphin
will play itself (God, the name
they've given it: Queenie,
or Felicity or something)
and the movie title is a pun
about the dolphin's tail,
its missing tail that was lost
in some asshole's crab trap,
and everyone is crying
tears of joy as the dolphin
cavorts in the 60 x 60 tank
that will be its home
until it dies, and the dolphin
squeaks and jerks
its head, and who knows
what it's trying to say.

(You, Beast)



We all have them, the lucky cousins. Feckless, blessed.
               One backed over by a bulldozer, treads

                                                                                          up to his chin.
Not a bone broken, not a bruise. Sunk in the soft mud.

               What can be said about grace
                                                           that does not diminish it?
To play a drunk, the best actors pretend to be sober.
               The street mime ladles water
                                                           from his leaky canoe.

Of the blind dog and the three-legged rabbit he chases, only
               one can be lucky tonight. Our cousins race
                                                                                           every train
to its crossing on principle; it's no surprise they win.

               If you had been born to different parents,
                                                           would your stomach still
be cratered with cigarette burns? Let us believe rain
               follows the plow, that the luck
                                                            we earn is indivisible.

Let me believe that the porch security light recognizes
               my particular shape approaching
                                                             the house at night.
Termites carry our poison back to their many cousins.

               Canoeing under the broken
                                                             train bridge, we looked up
and saw a golden bird spray-painted on the belly
               of the trestle, gaps of sunlight
                                                             punctuating the wings.

(The Lightning That Strikes The Neighbor's House)


Today's book of poetry is doubling up on the poems today because this double-decker of Lantz demands it.  The experience of reading the poems in both of these volumes is a little like watching the legendary Arturo Gatti/Micky Ward fights.  30 rounds of beautiful back and forth.  These poems never back up, for every left hook there's a right cross.

For every moment of scathing, blistering sarcasm, there is a moment of sublime tenderness.  Today's book of poetry just ate up Lantz's epic, episodic poem, "Toyland" from You, Beast.  Lantz clearly has a sustain pedal option on his wizardry and when he revs up his big engine sparks fly.

The Lightning That Strikes The Neighbor's House and You, Beast will convince you, dear reader, that Nick Lantz is writing from rarefied air.

This morning's read was twice as long as normal, no one wanted to miss a thing.  Poems this smart, fast and agile don't come along all that often.  The staff sat around trading poems with that look in their eyes, you know that look, the one we save for awe.

Drawing the Bee

The five-year-old's drawing:
distended honeybee,
striding long-legged
through the tiger grass,
eyes wobbly dots of wax
searching for a flower
to bury his face in.

I could say it signified
the tidy apocalypse
of divorce, the slanted light
of a therapist's office,
but that wouldn't be true.

I always drew the stars as black
knots brooding over bruises
(they might have been bears)
that tilted their heads up to gulp
at greenish air.

When I got a microscope
for my birthday, the first thing I ever trapped
on a slide was a flea
taken from the cat's neck. I drew
its delicate hairs, its needle
mouth, those legs long as a dancer's
and still twitching.

When I walked down a street,
I saw every broken
window first, followed the line
of ants to the car-struck sparrow,
heard in the train's long screech
a voice calling a name that had lost
its shape.

Now my mother sends drawings
she's found in old shoeboxes:
today, a pair of wolves on hind legs,
forepaws on each other's shoulders.
"Dancing," she says, but I know
they're strangling one another.

(You, Beast)


The Diving Horses

You know how the old stories go: the peasant's hut
               grows a little smaller every
                                              day, the frog by the window
a little louder. It's a miracle we can sleep at all.

               In the hotel room the night after
                                                           your brother's funeral,
we watched a bad movie about horses trained to jump
               from a platform into a small pool
                                                                          forty feet below.

In the first garden, the fruit didn't know when to drop.
               So what if starvation is the only thing
                                                                           that can make
the young albatross use its wings for the first time?

               Why can't I be more
                              like the hermit crab, strutting
around the sea floor in an empty perfume bottle?

               The news cuts in. The president
                                                                            shrugs. So what
if your brother dies? Without the fox's teeth deep
               in the hen's downy neck,
                                                            we would starve.

After the war, when Sherman took his evening walks,
               the fence posts lay down
                                              in the grass and trembled.
The horses, we're told, required very little prodding.

(The Lightning That Strikes The Neighbor's House)


Today's book of poetry started this blog primarily so that I could get my grubby little paws on more poetry.  Discovering new poetry has been a fountain of youth, a literal joyous balm.  But when poets like Nick Lantz walk through the door, well, that's when I love poetry most.

As an audience you Today's book of poetry readers must be getting to know my peccadillo's, tendencies and preferences.  You might even be familiar with my quite brilliant wife K.  K is an extremely polite and voracious reader.  She doesn't usually have much to say about poetry but this is what she said after reading Nick Lantz:

"F**k!  I love this guy!"

and then, as though he were right in the room:

"You've shown me what poetry can be!"

Nick Lantz

Nick Lantz is the author of The Lightning That Strikes the Neighbors' House, We Don't Know We Don't Know, and How to Dance as the Roof Caves In. He is the editor of Texas Review, cocurator of, and an assistant professor of English at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. He has been a Jay C. and Ruth Halls Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and an Emerging Writer Fellow at Gettysburg College.

“Lantz gives us what we could least have anticipated, then makes it seem the most natural thing in the world.”
     —John Burnside

“Poem by poem, book by book, Nick Lantz is becoming one of our time's best poets. He knows the blades and shrieks and pleasures and sweet sick twists in our human hearts, and this bestiary forces us to look, hard and long, in our own mirrors. 'Polar Bear Attacks Woman ... Horrifying Vid (Click to Watch)' is a poem for this moment in the way Auden and Yeats and Rich and Dickey and Komunyakaa gave us poems for their moments.”
     —Albert Goldbarth

Here on Earth - Off The Mic - Nick Lantz
 Reads "TheYear We Blew Up The Whale"
Video: HereOnEarthShow


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.