Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Deep Well - Dan Bellm (Lavender Ink)

Today's book of poetry: 
Deep Well.  Dan Bellm.  Lavender Ink.  New Orleans, Louisiana.  2017.

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Deep Well is exactly as advertised.  Dan Bellm is casting his bucket deep into that space between a mother and a son, that envelope between then and now, and the unknown distance from one heart to another.

Bellm is so soft spoken in these lovely poems that you are surprised when you get to the end and realize that he has been the strong man all along.

Last Bed

     A shallow breath, then
a pause that might be the end,
     then a shallower

     one, a slight choking
clearing of the last of the
     life caught in her throat,

     a low sigh, faintest
wisp of an exhalation
     set free -- that was all --

     and already, as
we stroked her hands, her cold brow,
     in the suddenly

     brief minutes we were
granted of farewell before
     the white sheet lowered

     over her and she
was wheeled away into the
     busyness of death

     through an unmarked door,
had her spirit fled? Or was
     she now going to

     be wherever we
are? Sitting on the edge of
     her last bed I closed

     my eyes, as if to
come again into my first
     room in our long-lost

     house, as if to know
as before that she was near,
     would come if I called--

                                   (for Carol)


Bellm, in his quiet dignity, has that most difficult conversation with his mother only to discover that she'd been waiting for him with love.  Today's book of poetry grew up in an era where my generation mocked the idea of anyone being gay, taunted any suspect.  We were not kind.  Some of us have learned how wrong and stupid and silly we were.  For any person of that era a public declaration was beyond brave.  In a world that believed being gay was taboo it required a strong, brave heart.  Families were torn apart because sons wanted to kiss boys.

Bellm's Deep Well never falters in tone and his stylistic metronome plays a soft, steady hammer, a relentless and sturdy beat.


                      Jorge Esquinca

     To write, or to walk,
on water: when I was a 
     boy, the image I

     had of walking on
water, that miracle, was
     so clear. To a boy

     who can ride on a 
Persian carpet, everything's
     a miracle. I
     tried it once in a
pool and sank to the bottom.
     Maybe the deep was

     calling me; maybe
there was no place for me on
     the surface, or in

     the miracle. I
tried, quickly, one time only,
    one instant only,

     with no witnesses.
Nor did voices call to me
     from a boat; they came

     from the deep. At the
bottom, before she died, my
     mother was singing.

              *  *  *

     What my mother was
singing cannot be said. It
     was not a matter

     of saying; it was
something I heard. Her voice came
     from the bottom and

     returned me to the
surface; it showed a way back
     to breath. Between two

     waters, far from the
bottom and still far from the
     surface, set adrift.

     Beyond the water,
I sank into her voice to
     breathe again. What the

     miracle is, now
I think I know: not to walk
     on the waters but

     between them. And since
what my mother was singing
     can't be said, I write.


Today's book of poetry identified with Dan Bellm at so many points in this charming discussion he is having for our benefit.  Not many books of poetry dare to talk about the nature of love and come out shining on the other side.  The very clever Bellm shows us how it is done.

Our morning read was rendered tender by the whispering voices of our own departed mothers.  By the end of Deep Well there wasn't a dry eye  in the house - but we were all smiling.

Family angel, 1964

     Underneath the dim
eternal lamp the monstrance
     of the sacrament

     stands open all the
hours of God's death, the crosses
     wrapped in shrouds. At the

     fourth station Jesus
meets his mother, handmaiden
     of silent sorrow

     who will have to live
on. My mother must think I
     am playing somewhere,

     doesn't know that I
have sneaked into the church to
     pray, but surely she

     thinks of him, too, the
boy I waited all winter
     for, the one taken

     without a breath, name
the family does not mention.
     There is another

     angel in heaven
now, she said, to hear our prayers,
     and that was all, a

     tiny open place
on the new grass without a
     stone -- no sighing, no

     why. She smoothed a fresh
cloth over the table and
     went about her work,

     setting places for
the family to sit and eat.
     He would have been like

     me -- why should I doubt
it?  -- I would have taught him what
     I know. Let me weep

     with you, mother, all
my days, I read in the book,
     waiting for a voice

     to call me brother,
breath frozen silent in the
     incense of the air.


Dan Bellm's Deep Well makes me think that spring is right around the corner, that the rain will stop and the blue, blue sky will be as bright as it was in our dreams.  Bellm finds joy and with joy comes hope - and you all know how much Today's book of poetry is a fan of hope.

That there is no love like a mother's love most of us already know, Bellm reminds us by touching that part of our hearts.


Dan Bellm

Dan Bellm lives in Berkeley, California. Deep Well is his fourth full-length collection of poems. His previous book,Practice (Sixteen Rivers Press, San Francisco), won the 2009 California Book Award. Dan’s first book of poems, One Hand on the Wheel, launched the California Poetry Series from Roundhouse Press; his second, Buried Treasure, won the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay DiCastagnola Award and the Cleveland State University Poetry Center Prize. His poems have appeared in Poetry, Ploughshares, The Threepenny Review, Best American Spiritual Writing, The Ecopoetry Anthology, Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry, Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose About Alzheimer’s Disease, and many other journals and anthologies. Recent books of poetry in translation include Speaking in Song, by Mexican poet Pura López Colomé (Shearsman Books, UK, 2017), The Song of the Dead, by French poet Pierre Reverdy (Black Square Editions, New York, 2016), and Description of a Flash of Cobalt Blue, by Mexican poet Jorge Esquinca (Unicorn Press, Greensboro, NC, 2015). He teaches literary translation and poetry in the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University Los Angeles, and has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council. www.danbellm.com.

With a touch on the keys of language as light as the air we breathe, Dan Bellm traces his mother's death, and abides her continuing presence, as the keeper of "this/ blessing of kindness" which is both hers and his. Deep Well is a book of the purest poetry I have read in a long time. I am grateful for it.
     -- Alicia Ostriker, author of Waiting for the Light
Dan Bellm's Deep Well is a breathtaking, constantly astonishing elegiac sequence of poems in honor of his mother. Reflecting upon both the power of her presence in his life and the deepening grief of watching her passage through Alzheimer's, Dan Bellm both celebrates the fierce integrity of this remarkable woman and quietly charts his own poetics of loss. These lyrics of memoriam and these deep songs (in Lorca's sense) of mourning seem almost to etch themselves onto the air. Keep this book at hand; hold its passages close. This is an essential collection of poetry.
     -- David St. John, author of The Last Troubadour: New and Selected Poems
Speaking through the wound of grief, Dan Bellm reaches to the most sorrowful depth of first consciousness and clarity, a true infans, a state before words, one that can neither laugh nor cry except in innocentia, the inability to harm. Few humans, even few poets, can preserve such a state. Dan Bellm is one of them. This Deep Well, this wide-ranging metaphor for the one who taught him to love writing, conveys a trust and a faith in sacred words that carry the "undying tremor and draw" Seamus Heaney compared to water far down a well.
     -- Pura López Colomé, author of Via Corporis

Wrought in a series of delicately articulated three-line stanzas—as if each stanza is a meditation on the relationship between the mother, the son, and the spirit—Dan Bellm's poems have worked some sort of magic on my heart. Reading Deep Well, I am at once sad and elated, aware of righteous indignation and far-reaching compassion. The poems here are part of a conversation that knows no boundaries. Neither foreign languages nor national borders, not denials nor death, can hinder these urgent and universal utterances. I am grateful to Deep Well for its precise and profound translation of what it means to inherit this lot that our language calls love.
     -- Camille T. Dungy, author of Trophic Cascade

In Deep Well, Dan Bellm writes the poems none of us ever wants to have to write, on watching a parent die, and he does it with a sense of beauty and wonder that, in spite of the suffering, leaves the reader in awe of life: “Her voice came/ from the bottom and// returned me to the/ surface; it showed a way back/ to breath.
     — Mark Statman, author of That Train Again

Dan Bellm transcends the expected in every poem of Deep Well. Nuanced, lyrical and reaching ever deeper beneath the ground, this collection is Bellm's best yet.
     -- Idra Novey, author of Ways to Disappear

Dan Bellm
Lunch Poems
Video: University of California Television



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

Sunday, April 15, 2018

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air - Rienzi Crusz (Mawenzi House)

Today's book of poetry:
How to Dance in This Rarefied Air.  Rienzi Crusz.  Mawenzi House.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

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Today's book of poetry couldn't say it for a certainty but we strongly believe Rienzi Crusz has some of the answers we've been seeking.  This past week has been a difficult time here in the Today's book of poetry offices.

Sometimes, and this is one of them, the world news is just too much to bear and we become deafened by the fusillade of despair.  Syria, Beirut, Rwanda, Mogadishu.  And there are no saints dancing in Canada either as Aboriginal women continue to vanish and reconciliation remains a bitter word and an unfulfillable promise.

Closer to home friends of my age group having been falling to the side like pine needles off of a tree in a stiff wind.  Mortality has been licking at our heels and the entire staff feels a little skittish.

So How to Dance in This Rarefied Air by Rienzi Crusz feels like a balm.  These are poems from a sophisticated and robust citizen of the world.  Crusz, who was born in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) now resides in Canada, understands our country and our society from both sides;  he is both an immigrant and a citizen.  Both narratives play out in these poems that feel like stories we should know.

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air

How he jabs his thick forefinger
     into my poetic
as if it were a breastbone.
     O God, how it hurts;

cups his eyes
     against my passionate burning,
the bougainvillea's profusion,
as a rogue in heat.

My words, it would seem.
     elude him by a generation;
I would walk only
     in shaded byways or exotic arbours,
the poem jaundiced
     without the blood of a new idiom.

What he wants
     is wasteland:
white, scrubbed, frontier;
whose poems
     must deconstruct to bare bone,
the flesh and blood laid out separately
     to dry like fish
in the noonday sun.

No. I will not desert
     those wintered killing fields,
the spilled blood sweeter
     among the paddies, the frangipani,
upside-down elephant
     squinting at the sun.
Noble Eliot, you might as well
     rest in peace,
your ransom will not be paid.

My ear to the ground
     and I hear the drumbeat of Avon,
mad Hamlet strut and nurse
     his eloquent pain;
Milton, hammering Lucifer
     to a perfect poetic, a perfect Hell.

Wounded, give me the psalms of David,
     words to learn by rote, comfort the dark sargassum
of my days,
     how the valley of death
passes like a bad dream.

I am still here, Montes de Oca,
     my beautiful wild Mexican bard,
belting my boisterous song;
     and Pablo, hug me again,
show me the true metaphors
     of sun and rain,
how to throw my bread on the waters,
     circle the world with a poem.

Speak to me, Rabindranath,
     I need to hear your distant voice,
bask under your stunning skies; 
     and Kahlil, I haven't forgotten
your wisdom that must laugh
     and weep, how one's head to a child.

And Dylan, do I ever love the melody
     of your song, your riotous book of words;
good Manley, sing, sing, sing,
     I'm all ears and silent;
Lorca, my friend,
     tell me the secrets of "Duende",
ask the spirit to stab my words again.

Rilke, take me gently
     into the depths of myself,
the soundless paths,
     how to listen, listen, listen;
as for you, Vallejo,
     teach me the thunder of silence,
the value of the spilled blood,
     how to dance in this rarefied air.


How to Dance in This Rarefied Air is old time wisdom.  Crusz reads Pablo Neruda and all the other Poet-Saints and he wants you to read them too.  Today's book of poetry had Milo, our head tech, go into the stacks and he came back with Rienzi Crusz's Elephant and Ice (Porcupine's Quill, 1980) but unfortunately - nothing else.  Milo's newest assignment will be to procure any/all of the other many Rienzi Crusz poetry titles.

After reading How to Dance in This Rarefied Air Crusz has become a must read, Today's book of poetry is always going to have time for poetry this smart.  As Adhipadya Rienzi Crusz (see Adhipadya and think Duke) says:

     "Listen. At the margins of poetry
      are lies, modes of ridicule,
      foul words, sweet nothings;
      but savour the mad beautiful dance of metaphor,
      imaginative leaps, primeval chaos --
      for at the centre
      lies truth
      still and uncompromising as desert stone."
                                       from Poetics for the Doubting One

Today's book of poetry loves the image of "God playing marbles" that Crusz leaves burned in my skull because it fits perfectly with my theory of plans made and the Gods laughing.  Crusz writes poems like elegant missives of understanding.

In Crusz world his vision encompasses all of us, his poems narratives that cover all that empty space between a new country and the old.


For Cleta Nora Marcellina Serpanchy

What the end usually demands
is something of the beginning,
and so
I conjure history from a cup
of warm Portuguese blood
from my forefathers
black diamond eyes, charcoal hair
from my Sinhalese mothers;
the beached catamaran,
gravel voices of the fishermen,
the catch still beating like a heart
under the pelting sun;
how the pariah dogs looked urgent
with fish-meal in their brains,
the children romped, sagged,
then melted into the sand.

A Portuguese captain holds
the soft brown hand of my Sinhala mother.
It's the year 1515 AD,
when two civilizations kissed and merged,
and I, burgher of that hot embrace,
write a poem of history
as if it were only the romance
of a lonely soldier on a crowded beach
in Southern Ceylon.


The morning read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was a little more boisterous than usual as several members of a book club descended on our little corner of the world in the hopes of gourmet coffee and teasing brunch treats.  Today's book of poetry said they were more than welcome to stay for the reading -- but only if they participated.  There is no better way to get inside a poem than to read it out loud.

How to Dance in This Rarefied Air got the full treatment and it sounded spectacular; Crusz bounced around room and hushed all conversation like we were in church.  Deep respect rose in the voice of every reader.


For Anne

"This is all there is and this is everything" - JOYCE CAROL OATES

Take my poems--
I have nothing else of value to give you.
of lonely nights, faithful candles
that flamed and sputtered until
my metaphors were right.

Take my poems--
my kingdom of fears in harness,
days of silence
when my neighbouring world
danced its tumultuous jig
and laughed.

Take my poems--
they were born with a brown skin,
sang with a brown voice,
danced a brown jig, preserved,
until the cold white paper
took in my words with the music
and fatted calf of the prodigal story.

Take my poems--
my umber heart my umber words,
the forgotten pain, the remembered music,
the new landscape,
why I thought God was a poem,
the poem, the only cosmic poet.

Take my poems--
mostly, because I love you,
they are the bloodstones
of my youth, fading footsteps of age,
small bouquets
that may, perhaps, survive a little while
like a memory.

Nothing else comes to mind--
the house is only wood and cabook,
the money is paper.


"Take my poems--".  What better legacy.

Rienzi Crusz impressed today's book of poetry with his compassionate reason and his beautiful song.  How to Dance in This Rarefied Air is a poetry treasure.  You want to be in this poetry kitchen, Crusz has spiced this thing just so

Rienzi Crusz

Rienzi Crusz was born in Sri Lanka and came to Canada in 1965. Educated at the Universities of Ceylon, London (England), Toronto, and Waterloo. He has widely published in magazines in Canada and the United States, and is the author of ten previous collections of poetry.

"[R]omantic and keenly self-aware, How to Dance in this Rarefied Air examines the immigrant experience in Canada, and, by extension, the human experience, with an unabashed and postmodern flair and clarity.
     —CBC Books

"Arguably the best living Sri Lankan poet in English."
     —World Literature Today

"At 84, the Waterloo poet knows a thing or two about mortality. His thoughts, musings and speculations, not to mention certainties and anxieties, are given eloquent expression in this deep, rich, moving meditative collection of poems that celebrate life as it reflects on death."
     —Robert Reid, The Record, December 2, 2009

Please note that it was only after Today's book of poetry posted this blog/review that we were informed that Mr. Crusz had passed away in September of 2017.



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Joy Of Missing Out - Ana Božičević (Birds, LLC)

Today's book of poetry:
Joy Of Missing Out.  Ana Božičević.  Birds, LLC.  Minneapolis, New York, Raleigh.  2017.

01 Jomo Front Cover


Like a river of dope
Your love came to me
A superstar--and even if celebrity is
The prostitute sister of love, its economy
Still strikes us both as true,
And so we do do the world's work. We adore.
Stars gossip with a look of love on the world's edge.
The overlooked, broken, the queer and dark--
All those Heathcliffy words
Relax into a
Sphere of unsafety--
Remember 'we were never meant
To survive'--
Her sex is the power and like
Literally my dildos have melted
From the heat 
Of that fire emoji


Ana Božičević is that poet you have been waiting for.  She's as dangerous as the last drink after last call.  Clever, pshaw, Ana is way ahead of the curve.  Božičević is as hard as man-made diamonds and from the Eva H.D. school of not two shits will be given for the consequences, if you can't keep up, it is not Ana's problem.

Today's book of poetry knows that I haven't quite put my finger on it but Ana Božičević writes poetry a little like some angry neo-punk Audrey Hepburn all hard edged and classy had taken over her id.  A suave and sassy, straight shootin' Patti Smith has the ego.  And the result is magic.

                                                        Put perfume on my soles
                                                        (I really do) and
                                                                   I'll Never Forget the Way You Said "Sabine"

Joy Of Missing Out splashes ice-water on your poetry sleepy-face.  Ana Božičević doesn't just entertain and challenge and delight -- she does it with pace.

2 Worlds

It doesn't matter if I feel loved
Maybe I can't and it doesn't

Matter if anyone
Gets a thing I say

All that matters is I should stay
And die only when it's time

But what if it's time.
In another world they're singing

My songs off of cereal boxes
In this one I'm alone


Our morning read was back to fireworks.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, was in full fledged full forced full tilt boogie mode today as it was her birthday.  We showered her with poetry books, the birthday gift of choice around these parts.  Kathryn passed Joy Of Missing Out around the room like it was birthday cake and everyone was getting a candle.  

Maggie, our new intern, stated unequivocally that Joy Of Missing Out was the book of poetry she'd most enjoyed since joining the Today's book of poetry team.  She felt that Božičević was speaking directly to her and that was a good, good thing.

Even Milo, our head tech, voiced an opinion out loud.  He said it was like Božičević had channelled Lynn Crosbie's grit and Sue Goyette's sand.  Today's book of poetry appreciated the comparisons to two of Canada's finest, couldn't disagree.


And even now
Even in the (I can't
Believe I'm saying
It) the Trump
Economy (not believing
Is my privilege) the greatest
Hurt is seeing
The back of someone
Who looks like you at the bar
Jet hair trans skin
But it's ok
This pain is how
I know
That love will win


Joy Of Missing Out fills Today's book of poetry with hope.  Božičević knows that the world is a silly place and only survivable with a good sense of humour.  She also knows that the world is a dangerous place where your heart could be taken prisoner at any moment.

Poetry like this makes us smile.  

Image result for ana bozicevic photo

Ana Božičević 

Ana Božičević, born in Croatia in 1977, is a poet, translator, teacher,and occasional singer. She is the author of Stars of the Night Commute (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2009) and the Lambda Award-winning Rise in the Fall (Birds, LLC, 2013). She is the recipient of the 40 Under 40: The Future of Feminism award from the Feminist Press, and the PEN American Center/NYSCA grant for translating It Was Easy to Set the Snow on Fire by Zvonko Karanović, forthcoming from Phoneme Media. At the PhD Program in English at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York she studied New American poetics and alternative art schools and communities, and edited lectures by Diane di Prima for Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative. Ana has read, taught and performed at Art Basel, Bowery Poetry Club, Harvard, Naropa University, San Francisco State University Poetry Center, the Sorbonne, Third Man Records, University of Arizona Poetry Center, and The Watermill Center. She works and teaches poetry at BHQFU, New York’s freest art school.

Ana Božičević invents a new language of 21st century displacement: a displacement that occurs not just in space and in time but in heart, vision and mind. The poems in Joy of Missing Out range from Croatian farm fields and embroidered dresses to life spent online, emoji, chain stores and drugs. Always: emotion. No filter, she writes. Božičević is a master of the startling lyric: her poems transport, but they can also kick dirt in your face in the last line. Her casual poems are formidably informed and, also, great.
     -Chris Kraus

Auto-erotic (sunlit) pool life + "the funny softness at the deep end of the field" = Joy of Missing Out. Mid-ocean, is that sound of civilians being murdered, or is it Julie Andrews exclaiming in B minor on an Alpine piste? (Or meadow.) This book is full of switches. Pull the wrong one and there's no Europe. To put it another way, are there continents, cities and countrysides that, having left them, a person might never see again? Twenty-first Century 101: "Stupid pleasures" substitute in their entirety for a very real glacier, etc. I have loved Božičević's poetry for a long time, and it was a glamorous treat for me to be with it again. The extreme poetry that will never, precisely, return.
     -Bhanu Kapil

No matter what the radiant, brilliantly unbalanced work of Ana Božičević always feels right. She’s a bit of a colossus.
     -Eileen Myles

Ana Božičević 
Birds, LLC trailor for Joy Of Missing Out



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, April 7, 2018

This Real - concetta principe (Pedlar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
This Real.  concetta principe.  Pedlar Press.  St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.  2017.

Today's book of poetry has been down the concetta principe poetry highway before.  Back in February of 2016 Today's book of poetry looked at principe's Walking (Punchy Poetry/DC Books, 2013) and admired it very much.  You can see that here:

Since then, Today's book of poetry has had the pleasure of reading principe's 2016 Hiroshima: A Love War Story (Pedlar Press) and now we have This Real in our grubby little maw.  principe flies at a higher altitude than Today's book of poetry can usually manage.  Her poems take some work, they demand a particular level of participation from the reader.  

This Real is another principe title of erudite poems that read like today's history from an informed inside source.  principe is in no way concerned with the status quo, instead This Real quotes liberally from Sefer Yetzirah's The Book of Formation or Creation (as translated by Aryeh Kaplan) and her text reads like another sort of secret manuscript.

from Storm Advancing From Paradise

assuming that the end of times was her, coinciding with the Tarot reading of
death, followed by the end of her marriage: la vie morte; assuming that her heart,
ruined by divorce, was miraculously remade with immortal substance one night;
assuming this to be a vision, not a dream, because this new organ burned inside
her with such force that she was sure it would burst into flames, 6  there on the 
bus, in front of all these strangers; she gained a new perspective on death and
the human race... it was inevitability of these end times that gripped her. 7  the
pressure for ending is tremendous, carried by the force (majeure) of the first cause.

the end of the world was--measure it--nigh.

6 "if your heart runs, return to the place" (SY 1:8)
7 "a flame in burning coal" (SY 1:7)


John Lennon and Mary Magdalene debate the possibility of "fireballs from heaven" while "manic harlots" and other psychiatric patients paint in windowless rooms.  There isn't much cheer in principe's prose poems, not an abundance of optimism in this world view but the poems themselves compel the reader further and deeper.

Sefer Yetzirah's The Books of Creation inform the text of principe's poetry for most of the duration of This Real but that isn't enough drama, no, principe changes gears just long enough to crawl into a bear-cave with Werner Herzog and his mad view of optimism.  Walter Benjamin provides some geo-sensitive time clock for this human experiment.

In truth, Today's book of poetry could barely keep up with some of the concepts concetta principe throws around like a genius frisbee lofted with counterspin and precision.  I called in some of the troops for help, Today's book of poetry does not care who teaches him new things.  We always appreciate some help getting through the gate.

from Confessions of a Barren Mother Contemplating Creation

the machines of progress that crank and whine; the whistles that sound, the
pulleys that whir, have a baby and enter the wheel 69 of generations: of Toro and
Tutonia and Peg Perego, cutting the summer drone and grind and thumping of
bureaucratic interventions on the sidewalks of the air filled with 9/11 anxiety
you are sure will wake the peace of innocent slumber.

hijackers and jihadi.

silence of the wheels of history, as if the calm messianic entrance. the wheel
of human reticence is not peace but, by judging things, the capital of procreation.
keep this piece of negligence (you gave me nothing) under wraps. here, take this
law (of love) and shove it. down the street they've birthed the axis of evil, sleep
deprivation so bad that you miss how this paranoid web spreads out into the
future to trip your child.

sleep-deprived hallucinations. in that vast, limitless reproduction of time's quiet
spinning, you barely recognize that love is the science of mitosis: love for child,
cat because she has eyes, too, and nation because we are one. hate is elsewhere.
love because there is always elsewhere. and creates terror.70

69 "oscillates... back and forth" (SY 2:4).
70 crowning


concetta principe briefly conjures a fleeting Marion Engel "Bear" vibe in the final section of This Real but this comment probably stems from Today's book of poetry's serious fear of bears more than any actual literary description.  principe is writing poems that challenge the reader and then reward their diligence.  

The end of times happens every single day and concetta principe leaves little fat and no excess for the lazy reader to hang to.  The poems in This Real are deliberate and unrelenting in their examinations.

from Theses on the Philosophy of Waiting
               after Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams


maybe there was only ever waiting; the waiting of the bear who dreams through
winter; the waiting of a modern woman who lights another cigarette waiting for
the messiah's foot-

fall, sitting in cold damp clothes waiting for the hot coffee to spread through the
body, waiting for the morning light; waiting for the wind outside to stop howling
against the glass, or the rain to stop beating at the dirt; waiting for the smell of
the wet grass to enter, after the rain has stopped; for the smell of burning wood;
for the foot-

fall, waiting for the cigarette to end; waiting for the wood to turn charcoal or the
marshmellow to ignite; for the chapter in the book to get interesting; waiting for
feet to be warmed by the fire; waiting for the fish to be cooked; for hair to dry;
for the foot-

fall, waiting for the wind to change, waiting for dreams to become real; waiting for
tomorrow; waiting for what will never come; waiting for the rain to stop; waiting for
him to arrive, as he had promised, waiting for the sun to rise; waiting for the night
to end; for the foot-

fall. waiting for the dream to end; waiting to be found; waiting for the wait to stop.
in all that waiting, there was someone arriving, a miracle that would repeat deep
into the future, full of light, cascading through solid rock as if matter were immaterial;
as if human life were a cave; as if everything beyond these walls were waiting for
someone to find it; as if waiting, in its passive way, were willing someone to come.


The long-john and thermostat battles continue here at Today's book of poetry as the windchill was a brisk -21 C yesterday morning. And for our morning read This Real being read by those just coming in from the cold was freakishly apt.  Still cold enough to be angry, our staff gave This Real a fierce reading and it warmed them up something proper.  concetta principe is marking her place in Canadian poetry with another necessary volume.

Image result for concetta principe photo

concetta principe

concetta principe writes prose poems, creative non-fiction and academic articles. This Real is her fourth book of poetry, and, in being a project on love, is a sequel to Hiroshima: A Love War Story. She is Assistant Professor of English at Trent University.

This Real is concetta principe's take on the end-times in which we live. Here the poem is prophecy, meditation, urge, and inquiry; a space of thinking on fecundity and the mother, on the tree of life and on catastrophe, on the war on terror, wary of honte's erreur. The splendid pacing of principe's prose-poems lets their reader probe and wander. The tone is not one of bright hope but of persistent dwelling, moored in the dark aura of messianic thought and the radiance of things, in which child and wo/man, mothered and unmothered, walk shadowed by history's perilous and precarious wing.
      - Erin Moure

Packed with pain and psychoanalysis, mothers, messiahs, and milk, starvation, sacrifice, shock, and son, concetta principe's This Real presents a maelstrom of dense poetic lines and dark prophetic love. It will haunt you till the end of days.
     - Jonathan Ball



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.
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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

White Food - Toni Mergentime Levi (Mayapple Press)

Today's book of poetry:
White Food.  Toni Mergentime Levi.  Mayapple Press.  Woodstock, New York.  2016.

Your mother lost to dementia, your ex lost to the suburbs and your father was missing from the start, what do you do?  You make fine poems that are a powerful statement of self determination and womanhood.  If you're Toni Mergentime Levi you make poems out of it to make sense of the world.  Levi is a romantic loser poet of the most optimistically hopeless type, just like me.  Unlike Today's book of poetry Levi is expressing a world view of womanliness.  

Toni Levi's White Food is too grounded and reasonable to let it all get away but as we are all gloriously doomed Levi reports on that from the inside and with a sense of irony as earned as a bad boxing nose.  White Food is a poetic catalogue of a woman's survival in a world where gender is a systemically unbalanced barrier.

Toni Mergentime Levi is completely aware that as a Jewish woman the scales are not balanced in her favour.  White Food doesn't bemoan as much as report from inside the battlefield.


Milk arrives like a blessing in my dreams --
blue-white as a glacial waterfall from a far-off thaw.
In my most joyous dream, a precious rare appearance,
I am old -- old as I am now. But suddenly, my breasts
are filled with milk again and waking I remember

the neonatal ward, where my full-term bilirubin baby
looked like some blue-ribboned, beefy best-in-show.
In reality, of normal size, my jaundiced giantess
dwarfed the pink wrinkled heartbreaking preemies
riddled with tubes and sensors in the Isolettes.

They sent me home in tears, bereft, without my baby --
blindfolded in her fish tank under therapeutic light,
without me (impossible!) - her only known universe.
For two unrelenting days at home, my milk dripped,
useless as my love. For two years after, she drank her fill.

Milk courses through my dappled world of dream.
My breasts are swollen, tender, nipples tipped in red.
My milk is a river flowing to the land of tiny babies.
All -- now all can emerge from their boxes, alive.
Those who said I wouldn't have enough were wrong.


White Food works for a variety of reasons and one of the big ones is that Levi's sense of humour, as dark as it is, adds a little light at all the right moments.  Levi laughs, sometimes through her tears and these poems are about the resilience a woman needs to summon in the world of men.

Levi is giving admirable advice to anyone listening, Levi is saying that life is short and if you're jumping in, jump in all the way, go big.  Levi is endorsing taking that chance because she is well aware that there are only so many chances meted out before there are none left and cancer or dementia or that big dark train destiny coming down the crooked tracks blowing your name loud and clear and ominous as it appears at the short end of your horizon.


I don't miss anyone
who's truly gone.
Thanks to my father,
absent when present,
the dead are with me
as much as they ever
were in life.

My late mother,
devoured by dementia,
has been redelivered
to my mind
like Red Riding Hood
from the bad wolf's belly,
whole and sound.

My grandmother lives anew
in rum-laced cakes I bake,
following her recipe.
Grandpa's voice
echoes in the chorus
when operatic drinking songs
are on the air.

Yet now and then
I miss my husband (ex),
remarried in suburbia,
while I sleep alone
in the bleached sheets
of our half-empty bed,
sometimes reaching for
a ghost.


Winter just won't let go in this neck of the northern woods.  Snow on the ground this morning here in Ottawa.  

Today's book of poetry has been deflecting efforts from my staff to modernize.  I've insisted that long underwear allows us to turn down the heat in the office and they insist I am heartless.  That I refuse to scrap our steam-punkish Commodore 32 RCA Victor word processor with a 33 RPM modemish thing just because there is a little smoke and a few sparks only seems reasonable to me.  There are a couple of more years of good servic left in that little creature, even if it has traumatized one or two of the younger staff.

We have people in our office now who do not understand that at one time telephones were connected to the wall by a short wire.

Not one of their new finagled phones helped a single bit with today's shovelling or with our morning poetry read.  Toni Mergentime Levi reminded Today's book of poetry of Fran Lebowitz, if Fran Lebowitz wrote poetry.  That is meant as a compliment.  Lebowitz has saintly status in our offices and has done since she first published Metropolitan Life in 1978.

Strong, smart and funny woman are far more common than they are given credit for.  The truth is that many of us simply aren't listening closely enough to the stories women are telling us.  Misogyny has some deep roots.

White Food is a Toni Levi casting an honest and revealing light on the relationships that make and define what we can call family.

Letter to a Daughter

                                                            Peterborough, NH
                                                            Friday night, August 16th

Rebecca, do not magnify the dangers of the city.
Here birches crack in little wind
and fall on whatever passes by,
tractors have accidents,
farmers lose thumbs.
A boy broke his neck
diving too shallow,
children go hungry,
bring red welts
not apples
to school,
neighbors are
lock up.

The only safe place where no one can hurt you
or break your heart or steal your money
or burn down your home
or snatch your children
or torture the cat
is death.

I know many ways to die.
Not to love is death.
Not to allow the sear
of grief or pain.
Not ever to eat fruit
and let the juices drip.

Blaming and beating
the tree that grows aslant
is death, especially
if you are the tree.

Shunning silence,
loving thunder
more than the work
of making rain
is death.

And taking all your light
from a single source
is death.
So is being absolutely sure.

Remember that boy
who dove too shallow.

Dive deep.


Toni Mergentime Levi's White Food might pretend to be light snack food and sneak in the door but the disguise is amusing.  Levi is really a far more formidable tasting menu.  Levi can orchestrate and she can burn.

Image result for mayapple press white food toni mergentime

Toni Mergentime Levi
Photo: Patrick Somerville

Toni Levi is the author of three books of poetry: White Food (Mayapple Press, 2016), Watching Mother Disappear & Other Poems (Mayapple Press, 2009) and For A Dancing Bear (Three Mile Harbor, 1995). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including Prairie Schooner, Crosscurrents, Confrontation, Kansas Quarterly, California Quarterly, Apalachee Quarterly, and Manhattan Poetry Review. Her work has also been featured on the Internet on Poetry Daily, on WBAI-FM and in a number of anthologies, including two editions of the Anthology of Magazine Verse & Yearbook of American Poetry.

Toni has been awarded writing residencies by the MacDowell Colony, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, VCCA/Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Ucross Foundation, Millay Colony for the Arts, Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, Künstlerhaus Schloss Wiepersdorf in Germany, and Konstepidemin in Gothenburg, Sweden.

A long-time singer with the New York Choral Society (www.nychoral.org), Toni has written two original opera librettos and has had a number of poems set to music by classical composers. Venture, a collaboration with composer Charles Fussell, premiered at Tanglewood in 2007 and will be released on a recording by the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Her opera libretti include Thanksgiving, one of several collaborations with composer Paul Alan Levi, which won a Grand Prize for New Opera given by the National Music Theater Network and Seagram’s. The opera, which takes a serio-comic look at hypocrisy in family relationships, has been performed at the American Music Theater Festival, Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center and other venues.

Toni’s second libretto, In the Beginning, is a surreal parable showing how child-rearing in western society produces a destructive civilization. Toni was also a prizewinner for the book and lyrics for Happily Ever After in a Theater for Young Audiences Competition sponsored by Theatreworks, USA.

A native New Yorker, Toni Levi lives in Manhattan. She is a graduate of Cornell University (BA in English) and the Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University (MA in journalism). She works as an independent fundraising consultant for non-profits, specializing in foundation and corporate grant-making.

A wonderful book! In this lovely and affecting collection Levi's poetic stories take us on a life-long journey, wherein the stewardship of time, memory, humanity and love passes from one generation to another, challenging each of us as we travel on. It may, indeed, be darkness that lies at the end of our journey, but as Levi suggests, we are sustained by the hope that some essential trace of who we are and those we've loved will survive.
      - Eleanor Lerman

Toni Levi's poetry has grace, intelligence, delicate feeling and wit. Her clear vocie can be heard in all she writes.
     - Molly Peacock




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