Monday, July 16, 2018

The Price of Scarlet — Brianna Noll (University Press of Kentucky)

Today's book of poetry:
The Price of Scarlet.  Brianna Noll.  University Press of Kentucky.  Lexington, Kentucky.  2017.

Sometimes, and today is one of those times, Today's book of poetry can tell if someone can and will, burn.  Instantly.

Brianna Noll is in robust and refined territory with Today's book of poetry.  We're lucky to have a front row seat.

Today's book of poetry discovered early on that it didn't matter what Noll was writing about, we were in, hooked, ready to read every word and follow her wherever she cared to go.  We were never disappointed.  The Price of Scarlet doesn't sneak up on the reader as much as it swallows the reader whole, pushes us out at the other end, more erudite than upon entrance.

What poems!  Today's book of poetry is reluctant to use the much overused exclamation mark, but Noll demands it!  Why on earth would Today's book of poetry ever care about the lives of fighting crickets?  Why, because if Noll cares I care.  And so on.

Flavor Is the Price of Scarlet

Color pours from the life
of things—scarlet dripping
from the skins of apples;
a field of lavender, seeping.
When we talk of a color's
richness, what we mean
is its worth. Capital
has always been a figment
with value, and in this we see
its excess. We are told:
everything is made.
Taste, like color, is something
we cultivate. We prune trees
before they're matured
because this stunting
produces the best fruit.
When they're full-grown,
they're no longer trying
to prove themselves, to reach
the source of light.
You cannot make optimism
work for you—nothing
perfect comes of chance.
These are the instructions
we were given. We abide
the best we can, making
value, making demand.
Then we watch the skies.
When the persimmons glow
wildly on moonless nights,
you know they're ripe—
worth the price of their hue,
a carefully cultivated bronze.


One of the very good things about Brianna Noll's The Price of Scarlet is that Noll has no doubt.  There's a certainty in every poem, whether she is investigating the nature of the wind or invoking the Kraken from the deep.

This is a remarkable first book of poems.  From the first poem to the last these solid poems feel polished to a fine gloss.  

Noll is an observational poet much of the time.  She takes it in, dismantles where needed and then reforms the story of what we believed to be true.

Noll's pursuits are esoteric, to be sure, but the resulting poems are universal.  Noll is visceral without stooping to the grandstand.

On Social Graces

When I say
you're laced
with bitterness,
I mean it
as a compliment,
your distaste
for formality
some ruggedness
to temper what
might otherwise
cloy. This is why
we salt icing.
There's some good
in a hint of rain—
the metallic
smell, the sky
threaded with gray.


Our morning read here at Blast Furnace Boulevard and Centre of the Sun Crescent, formerly known as the Today's book of poetry offices was tempered by the clinking of glasses.  Our newest intern, Maggie, who has been good for at least one shocking moment a day, did just that when she arrived this morning with labelled thermoses.  One for each of us.

It was only eleven a.m. in the third circle of hell of our inferno like habitat but we all knew it was noon somewhere else.  My thermos, bless Maggie's industrious and well-researched intentions, was filled with Pink Lemonade and a healthy portion of Beefeater Gin.  Max came bustling out of his office the instant he heard ice hitting the side of a glass, he's honed into the network of the clink.  He wouldn't say what Maggie put in his thermos but he damned sure liked it, he was quite clear about the odds of his sharing.  Clearly Maggie is Max's new best friend.

Don't know what how Maggie got it out of Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, but I'm pretty sure her thermos is filled with Southern Comfort and Amaretto, in equal measure.  With ice.  Where I come from it is called a Sicilian Kiss.

So, the start of our morning read was rather splendid, if not a little animated.  Brianna Noll's excellent The Price of Scarlet gave each of us beautiful ammunition.  But by the time we got to the second round of the reading a few of my office compatriots seemed to be nearing that early afternoon nap phase.  Milo, our head tech, stretched out on the office couch like some Hobbesian stuffed tiger, and at that point we called it a day.  Not sure what Milo had in his thermos but when he nodded off I took a look.  Not a drop of evidence left.

The Price of Scarlet had elevated all our moods with a mixture of humour, intelligence and grace.  It was our wicked intern Maggie who hijacked today's show.  She'll be dealt with in the proper fashion soonish, anon, later.

Sometimes, We Think of Our Place in the World

Sweet machine, you
electrify the night—
the planets whir
with the noise
of your churning.
And when volcanoes
erupt on the West
Coast of America or
into the Sea of Japan,
you beautify them
with magma thunder-
storms, which make us
think of Mars, the god
and the planet—an electric,
unified whole. We are
drawn to your charge—
and, I think, we are
your charge. If we
were to write palm-
of-the-hand stories across
our palmist's lines and
thatches, we'd say,
The secret machine thrills
the air like the blades
of a helicopter, or 
In the end, we'll think 
of snow drifting, little
helium balloons.
We imagine whole
galaxies radiate
from our chests and
extremities, and we'll
write what we believe
to be true. This
is your influence—
we want to be gorgeous
little moments, too.


Today's book of poetry apologizes for going off the rails instead of summarizing Brianna Noll's powerful book of poems.  We can tell you that Today's book of poetry found these poems invigorating and bountiful.  

Read The Price of Scarlet, it will intoxicate you.

Image result for brianna noll photo

Brianna Noll

Brianna Noll is a postdoctoral fellow in teaching and mentoring in the Honors College at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In 2013, she helped found the literary magazine, The Account: A Journal of Poetry, Prose, and Thought, for which she serves as poetry editor. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including the Georgia Review, 32 Poems, the Kenyon Review Online, Passages North, Puerto del Sol, and Salt Hill.

Brianna Noll’s vivid, haunting collection contains poetry wide-ranging and deep, with a brilliance reminiscent of Marianne Moore, and a similar interest in creation. 
     -- Lisa Williams, author of Women Reading to the Sea and Gazelle in the House

Brianna Noll is on the find-out committee. Like an Emily Dickinson for the twenty-first century, she rules out nothing. These quiet, powerful poems tells us that the world is connected, that all we need to see those connections is what Noll has in abundance: openness, patience, and an eye for beauty. 
-- David Kirby, author of Get Up, Please

Brianna Noll
 reading for the Women Write Resistance anthology
 at the Book Cellar in Chicago on March 7, 2014.


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, July 11, 2018

Particles - New & Selected Poems — Dan Gerber (Copper Canyon Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Particles - New & Selected Poems.  Dan Gerber.  Copper Canyon Press.  Port Townsend, Washington.  2017.

Dan Gerber's Particles - New & Selected Poems covers the years 1971 to the present and the first thing that Today's book of poetry noticed was the consistency.  Gerber is writing with the same careful authority now as he did almost fifty years ago.  Another way to approach this would be to say that Gerber's older poems do not feel dated, they remain fresh as daisies.

It's no mean feat to carry a voice through the decades.  Even the Rolling Stones have changed their sound over the years, Dylan went electric.  Gerber, strong out of the gate,  and has still never wavered.

Spring Creek

Standing at ease in the current,
watching my thoughts stream by,
seventeen thousand thoughts in a day.
If I grasp one the river stops flowing.

Those horses on the walls of the Chauvet cave,
twenty thousand years before the pharoahs—
unsurpassed and thoroughly modern—
before Homer, Heraclitus, or Pollock.

Do we think of pigeons as lowly
because they crowd our trees and the empty spring day?
I saw one torn apart by a hawk — one bird —
and at that moment I grieved.

My grief is here with my joy now,
wingtip to talon, they circle,
one closer at first, then the other.


Dan Gerber reminds Today's book of poetry of Robert Bly with his clean voice. But Gerber is a poet on his own, Today's book of poetry can't remember when we last read a poet with this combination of certain and clear.

We could be terribly wrong but Today's book of poetry sees cycles as a central theme of Particles.
The circle of life,"we are born, we suffer, we die" as Anatole France suggested, has been altered by the smooth dulcet tones of Dan Gerber's poems to be, more properly, "we are born, we see beauty and we suffer, we die."

Now don't ever blame Mr. Gerber for the outlandish claims of Today's book of poetry.  But Dan Gerber's shift of the bar is not small change.  In the order of things Gerber's consistent, charming and subtly powerful voice has been ringing the bell through generations who've abandoned the narrative for more academic and esoteric ground.

Not Gerber, he has stayed the course with his reflective posture, careful breathing and sustained optimism.

For Randall Jarrell

                             for Gretel Ehrlich

A man struck by lightning
is seldom appeased by house current.
The bolt that steals vision or
restores it, splits the young poplar,
hurls thunder over the roof,
makes widows of farmwives
and ashes of the barn.

The wild geese never die; the lilacs
reappear each May, and the night sky
continues its imperturbable dance.


Today's book of poetry gets excited when the name of any of the giants appears in a poem.  Randall Jarrell was under appreciated, but we can see that Dan Gerber thought highly of him.  Yet another reason to sit down at Gerber's fire and listen to him burn.

Our morning read was a tickle here at the Today's book of poetry offices.  Our heat wave continues; my computer has turned itself off twice this morning, the screen just goes blank with a pppffffffttttt.
It does not like the heat.  Someone was kind enough to leave a chocolate on my pillow last night.  When I tried to open it, liquid chocolate ran all over my hand.  Pure liquid.

We've got the big fans out now, blowing directly on our computers.  Milo, our head tech, is working on better solutions, bless his big egghead heart.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, led the charge this morning.

Dan Gerber's poetry makes all the readers look good.  At every point in these poems Gerber's honest voice, and all of his intentions, are perfectly clear.  His quiet voice rings with authority.

Finally, This Rain

Every spring, foretold by its candles,
the pine grows that much taller.

Becoming the image of the image cast ahead
of what we hope to become —

stars continually revising themselves
and stars too faint to be named

translate the great dark hours of our being
into a language we love.


Today's book of poetry has a great deal of admiration for the poet/novelist Jim Harrison.  When we saw his blurb on the cover of Particles Today's book of poetry knew we would like the poetry of Dan Gerber.  We just had no idea how much.

Just like the best in any other endeavor, these poems quietly go about their business without a care in the world.  They know their own strength.  Dan Gerber burns with assured certainty.

Dan Gerber

 Dan Gerber is the author of a dozen books of poetry, fiction, essays, and memoir.  He has received the Mark Twain Award, "Book of the Year" honors from Foreward magazine, and inclusion in Best American Poetry and The American Life in Poetry

“Dan Gerber tenderly reels his readers through the ‘beautiful movie’ he calls the passing of time on earth in a language completely unadorned and Zen-like in its quietude. The thing itself carries the weight of these poems, which recall the deep imagery of Vallejo, Neruda and Wright.”
—Rain Taxi

“Gerber has a gentle touch and an unaffected, articulate voice that can be smart, funny, wise—sometimes all at the same time.”
 —Library Journal

“These are beautiful meditative poems of surprise and wonder fully engaged with the world of experience, which he regards with a sacramental reverence.”
 —Mark Arendt, awards judge, Society of Midland Authors 2013 Book of the Year Award in Poetry

“[Gerber’s] poetry explores everyday experiences and images, successfully converting them into something unique and magical.”
 —Library of Michigan

“[Gerber’s] evocations are clearly, simply rendered with an almost Zen-like kind of meditative transcendence.”
 —Fallon Eagle Standard

“[Gerber] is one of the most adept and accessible of the poets who explore the meaning of humans, relation with earth and existence itself.”

"Dan Gerber's work is completely untarnished by fad or fashion and I enter it again and again with a sense of wonderment.  When our age pass, this work will remain."
—Jim Harrison

Dan Gerber
at the EP Foster Library
Video: AskewPoetryJournal



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, July 8, 2018

Prison Industrial Complex Explodes — Mercedes Eng (Talonbooks)

Today's book of poetry:
Prison Industrial Complex Explodes.  Mercedes Eng.  Talonbooks.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2017.

from Section 3

In 2003, at the age of 14, Ashley Smith was confined to
a youth detention facility for 1 month after throwing
crabapples at a postal employee. The initial 1-month
sentence lasted almost 4 years, almost entirely in isolation,
until her death by self-strangulation in 2007. Though Smith
was videotaped placing a ligature around her neck, guards
did not enter her cell to intervene and 45 minutes passed
before she was examined and pronounced dead.


Today's book of poetry will try to answer all the appropriate questions regarding Mercedes Eng's absolutely incendiary Prison Industrial Complex Explodes.  Eng, through diligent research and persistence, has unearthed and given life to this unbelievable (but too damned real) indictment of our alacrity at putting our citizens in prison.  Eng's case is plain and clear and direct, she has ample and obvious and odious proof that our joy of incarceration is aimed primarily at people of colour, aboriginal citizens, and it is rising rapidly.

Eng has amassed clippings, documents, reports, songs, family photographs, government papers and so on; she has broken them down into knowable information.  A factual assault on the senses that is disguised as a book of poetry.  This isn't often pretty poetry but it certainly is necessary.

from Section 6

Manitoba's Child and Family Services department seized
358 newborns, an average of one newborn every day,
between 2014 and 2015. The province has one of the
highest apprehension rates in Canada and it currently has
about 10,000 children in care, the majority of whom are

In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society
of Canada and the Assembly of First Nations filed a
human rights complaint alleging that Aboriginal Affairs
and Northern Development Canada provides deplorable
funding for child welfare on reserves, far below financial
support given to other Canadians.

In 2013, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives
reported that 62% of First Nations children in Manitoba live
in poverty, are three times more likely to live in a house
requiring major repairs, and are five time more likely to
live in an overcrowded house compared to low income
non-indigenous children.

60s Scoop
62% of red children
without adequate food water and shelter

means change genocidal intent constant


Prison Industrial Complex Explodes has hit close to home for Eng, her father's story plays out in these pages.  Eng bring clear worded hypocrisy right to the front of the class, right to the front of the chaos.

Eng has papered the corridors of this book with the official prose, letters and various communications from prison, from deportations.  There really is nowhere left to hide.  Eng has created a long poem/manifesto that lays bare the tattered and racist logic that feeds the big economic machine.  The Prison Industrial Complex is making some people an awful lot of money.  Big money.

When all is said and done on the American southern border, after all the horrid, racist, extremist and alarmingly bad behaviour, follow the money.  Racism can be very profitable.

up next on Border Security: Canada's Front Line

The B.C. Coroners Service has confirmed that 42-year-old Lucia
Vega Jimenez died in Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA)
custody. Jimenez was awaiting deportation to Mexico when
she attempted suicide. She was found hanging from a shower
stall in the immigration holding centre at the Vancouver air-
port, on December 20, 2015.

Jimenez had a job as a hotel worker in Vancouver when she
was arrested over an unpaid transit ticket, transferred to jail,
then sent to the CBSA holding cells at the Vancouver airport
to await deportation.


Today's book of poetry's morning read was a cranky affair.  The weather in Ottawa has been pizza-oven-hot recently and some of us haven't fully reformed after melting out of shape.  And Prison Industrial Complex Explodes offers no respite, nor should it.  Page after page of Eng's book ring out like a steel hammer hitting an anvil.

Eng's hammer blows are damning evidence of the larger society's blind eye and willing complicity.  Eng puts a magnifying glass on the horrible domino consequences of our own systemic racism as it has torn across generations.

There are no lullabies for bedtime in Prison Industrial Complex Explodes, instead, Eng gives us a warning shot across the bow of reason.  These systems, our collective and willful ignorance, and the motives of big business all combine to create cycles of internment for many Canadians, simply because of the colour of their skin.

from Section 4

they let out Jessi's dad when Carole gave birth to
their daughter
beautiful Carole, paper-bag-coloured skin a black waterfall
of Pocahontas hair
Jessi was lucky to get a golden halo

Jessi's destatused mama died of the system
they let out Jessi's dad to look after her
once the price of her mama was extracted

I wonder how it is for beautiful
could-pass-for-a-white-girl Jessi
would-be-pheneticized-as-a-white-girl Jessi

Jessi who not only looked like a white girl
but the right kind of white girl
the kind of white girl boys and men go to war over
the kind of white girl who needs more lebensraum
the kind of white girl I used to wanna be


Mercedes Eng has very carefully dotted all her i's and crossing her t's to build a winning case.  Sometimes, and this is one of those times, the song is a bitter one, but so very needed.

Mercedes Eng can burn like Cannonball Adderley could burn.  Today's book of poetry will be looking forward to more from Eng.  Prison Industrial Complex Explodes is the indictment the title promises.  Good for Eng.

Image result for mercedes eng photo

Mercedes Eng

Mercedes Eng teaches and writes in Vancouver, on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territories. She is the author of two chapbooks, February 2010 (2010) and knuckle sandwich (2011), and of Mercenary English (CUE Books, 2013; Mercenary Press, 2016), a long poem about violence and resistance in the Downtown Eastside neighbourhood of Vancouver. Her writing has appeared in Jacket 2, The Downtown East, The Volcano, on the sides of the Burrard and Granville Bridges as contributions to public art projects, and in the collectively produced chapbooks, r/ally (No One Is Illegal), Surveillance, and M’aidez (Press Release). She is currently working on a women’s prison reader and a detective novel set in her grandfather’s Chinatown supper club, circa 1948.

“Simple – but not simplistic – lines such as ‘i think about that yellow bead a lot’ reflect Eng’s exquisite attention and make me feel intimately connected to the poet-speaker. … [Other lines] reveal imagination and attention to lineation. … At once powerful and beautiful, gentle and urgent, I await more from this voice.”
     —Doyali Islam in the Globe & Mail



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

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ordinary Monsters — Justin Bond (Mongrel Empire Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Ordinary Monsters.  Justin Bond.  Mongrel Empire Press.  Norman, Oklahoma.  2017.

"And as you lie in bed
like an effigy of yourself
it is the ordinary that comes to save you."
                                                                                                         Linda Pastan
                                                                                                         The Ordinary

Justin Bond's Ordinary Monsters blooms open like some splendid bruise you have to touch just to see how much it is going to hurt.  Then you need to reassure yourself, was that pain or pleasure, and you touch the bruise once more.

Perhaps comparing poetry to a bruise is unfair and misleading but Bond can stand the heat.  These poems are plain beautiful, and wise, and witty.

Today's book of poetry can be clueless, and clueless we were, not realizing that Justin Bond was gay.  This man's lovely love poems transcend gender.  Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, we take that as a given.  Bond takes up some of that territory between love and lust, he uses these tight poems to bridge that gap.

The Right Way to Want Me

Lady Gaga


Justin Bond just comes off so damned smart with his big heart and compassionate brain.  Ordinary Monsters made Today's book of poetry laugh, cry and even momentarily, uncomfortably horny.  That particular poem is one my lovely wife of twenty-five years will probably want to read.  (Hello Sweetie)

The clumsy point Today's book of poetry is trying to make is that these poems are universal.  By being honest with himself Bond unveils some of the deep truths we are all tethered to regardless of our preferences in plumbing.

There is a real hopeful stance to Justin Bond's poetry.  Ordinary Monsters is dense with optimism in the face of overwhelming odds, and the reader will follow Bond anywhere he cares to go.  After the first couple of poems of Ordinary Monsters there was no doubt about Today's book of poetry being a Justin Bond fan.                                                                                        

The Wolf on His Deathbed, Remorseless

Let it not be forgotten
that I was no more or less
than the sum of my instincts.

Would you blame me for hunger?
A girl moved like flame through the forest.
Even now she smolders the brush of those dead years.

Blood is untamable.
She was weak, I was not,
and this world will not let you choose.


And after the "wolf" poem, Today's book of poetry knew we were in deep.  Mr. Bond can burn with the best.

Last evening, Today's book of poetry was on the front porch with the fore mentioned K, we were talking about WisΕ‚awa Szymborska, because it was her birthday.  Later today I will pull out some Szymborska from the stacks and add them to the reading pile on K's side of the bed.  K has a very low tolerance for bad, so-so and mediocre poetry.  I only dare leave her "the best of the best of the best" as Rip Torn would have said if Men In Black were about poetry.  I won't hesitate to add Bond to K's reading pile either.

Ordinary Monsters

Once when I was a child
walking alone to my grandma's house
I saw something scary in the woods.
I still remember the snap of the twig
like a crunching of bone
that startled me silent mid-song,
the dun-colored fur covering the leg
that stepped out from behind the trunk
of an old pecan tree,
foreign and sapling-thick.
How I ran, clumsily and blindly, fearing
the thing all children secretly fear most:
the fairytale come to life.

We grow up and the world grows
smaller. The monsters it breeds
have become a more ordinary variety,
hairy-legged and hungry,
some wearing the faces of people
I tell myself I might want to love.
But even as I feel myself opening
to receive them, I shut my eyes tight
as two fists, I can't bear to look back
at the forest behind me.


Ordinary Monsters made for an excellent morning read here at Today's book of poetry.  The one complication was that as we don't have air conditioning in the Today's book of poetry offices, we were forced into the basement to get out today's blog/review.  There's a big fan on the box where I've got my computer.  My computer itself sits on it's own "cooling fan" base.  But sometimes things burn up - it was 35 C in Ottawa yesterday, with the humidex it was 110 F, hotter than Baghdad.

It's going to remain very hot all week so I've given orders to cover up the windows and doors.  But it is too late; our first floor is blistering hot, the second floor has turned to liquid magma, last time I checked it was 374 C.

The staff reading itself was great, Bond speaks with such a lovely, almost gallant voice and his poems make the reader sound intelligent.  Our crew like that.

Justin Bond reminded Today's book of poetry of the wide variety of voices needed to make up a choir, and they are out there in the poetry ether, yawping Whitmanesque, brilliant voices.

Gay poet, gay poetry.  Today's book of poetry is absolutely certain this poetry transcends my ability/desire to label it.  If you are a regular Today's book of poetry reader you will probably be at the point where you just let the poems speak for themselves.  That would always be excellent advice, but dear reader, please know, please trust me, when I say that we have a poetry loving staff working hard to bring you the very best poetry we can find - regardless of gender or choice of public restroom.

Justin Bond's poems are simply beautiful beasts you'll recognize as they work their way through to your poetry heart.

Justin Bond

Justin Bond was born, raised and educated in Oklahoma. He is the author of the chapbook Going Native (Red Bird 2014). His work has been included as part of The Pulitzer Remix (a National Poetry Month initiative), performed in Emotive Fruition’s 2016 Pride performance, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He lives and works in New York City.

"All of the new thinking is about loss," Robert Hass once wrote. "In that, it resembles all of the old thinking." Gay poet Justin Bond's gorgeous debut collection pays beautiful, painful homage to this human tradition. These pages steep the reader in passion and grief, stark and gleaming. They nourish us with lust, lyricism and the will to go on, which is, as Bond says, "part of what elevates us above a clumsy gallop of meat and bone.”
—Ruth L. Schwartz, winner of the National Poetry Series prize,
Autumn House Press Poetry Prize, Anhinga Prize for Poetry, AWP Award Series prize.

"The story of us,” writes Justin Bond, “is the story of America.” The smart, insightful, and revelatory poems of Ordinary Monsters are themselves stories of us (both reader and writer) but also of this vast and bizarre country.
And like our country, Bond’s poems are diverse, ambitious, and explosive.
Walt Whitman would love their big, expansive, democratic heart. You will too.
—Dean Rader, winner of the 2010 T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize,
2010 Writer's League of Texas Poetry Prize, and the George H. Bogin Award from the Poetry Society of America


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, June 30, 2018

Refuge — Belle Waring (University of Pittsburgh Press) + Dark Blonde — Belle Waring (Sarabande Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Refuge.  Belle Waring.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  1990
Dark Blonde.  Belle Waring.  Sarabande Books.  Louisville, Kentucky.  1997.

"and the thrum of you jazzed me up like a champagne."

Today's book of poetry will be happy to tell you how we came to hear of Belle Waring as soon as we finish telling you what reading her poetry is like.  Reading Belle Waring is like walking into a room full of reason, decorated with grace.
                                                          It's also a slap up side your head.

When Belle Waring's two books arrived, I knew from their source that there would be something special inside and Today's book of poetry was not disappointed.  Waring belongs to the narrative school of plain speaking, real life, real time, true this.  But when her poems start to play out in front of you, you realize you've heard this voice from your sisters, honest and untethered.

Belle Waring knows what it is to be pixilated and she knows "how Dostoevsky said: People are unhappy because they don't know how happy they are."

Today's book of poetry is going both barrels for Belle, two poems a shot.

Reprieve on the Stoop

If your first memory was the arms of your father
about to chuck you out the window of that catpiss
apartment in Downington, you couldn't dream.
You don't remember dreams, like when I got
robbed, the scumface
broke in my room while I was alone
asleep and naked and when he left
I woke up
untouched. Now if the sun

abides in these brassy leaves
quivering over my ankles which talk
to you and you ask me to sit
so I do—you and I
were both alive and how bad is that—on the stoop
like a girl with her front door key on two feet of green
string around her neck, watching the boys shoot
hoops, how they crouch and leap extending to the rim
and sweat on the sweet lunette of neck over their T-shirts

only now we're not slinking
home for supper in time to boil a pork dog
and watch dad throw his liquid obituary in mom's
face. We sit down on the stoop and watch the earth
swing her hips to the next dance hit and the dark
slide his arms around her waist. Listen
—I'm not romantic, baby, but I do
know grace when I see it.


I Dream I Am Back in Paris

walking east. It's hard to forgive
anything. The sky billows with a million

wild roses, backlit, as Monseigneur Soliel
crawls up the horizon. Nobody's awake but me & I'm

two places at once: Paris, district twenty, and my
grandparents' house in Virginia with its huge blue

spruce and roses all colors went nuts in summer
and lightning bugs fired with silencers into the dark.

I am going to surprise you on Rue St. Blaise. When I
burst into the courtyard the dream falls

dark like a curtain dropped on the photographer's
head. The government of Paris razed your house and left

a mess of squatter's huts. That house survived
the Revolution. Cows grazed there. You took in

all of us. Middle class renegades.  Refugees
blasted from Chile. Algerians. Americans. Mornings,

I'd climb over the ones huddled in sleeping bags
and step out to see the sun sweet-talking its way down

the street. Now the light wakes me up
tapping its toes on the window ledge, same seductive

rosy light, only this time I'm not going anywhere,
my grandparents are dead, you're in Paris

turning thirty-seven and the most I can manage is to phone
transatlantic to report my dream which digs in

its Anglo-Saxon heels and sputters like Donald Duck
on dope. I wish to tell you that the sky I dreamed

vaults over our hearts, that we leap with its rose
in the night and return to each other, that the dream

dangles the old place intact, like a kid stalking light
at sunup, wound up in joy too big to put your arms around.


Waring doesn't know her own strength or limitations so these poems come off the page entirely untethered.  Today's book of poetry was terribly saddened to know that Belle Waring, who was born in 1951, died in 2015, we would have very much liked to express our admiration to her in person.

And on that sad note Today's book of poetry must remember the former American Poet Laureate Donald Hall.  Hall died this past week, he was ninety.  Back in the late 80s when Today's book of poetry moved to Czechoslovakia to teach English as a second language, I read Hall's The One Day (Mariner Books, 1987), a book length poem.  I loved it and wrote to Mr. Hall, the result was that we had a brief correspondence where he was generous to a fault and very kind.  I've always remembered his line "don't ever do anything you don't want to do."  I might not have that exact, I read that book more than thirty years ago, That One Day.  Great and simple advice but hard to follow through on.  Donald Hall was a great American poet and we are less for his passing.  Goodnight Donald Hall.

Back to Belle Waring.  "I laugh like a struck match." (Blackout), inflames Waring, early on in her debut collection, Refuge.  And Today's book of poetry was caught.  Today's book of poetry became the proverbial "deer in the headlights."  I could not turn my gaze away from the electric charms of Belle Waring.


"It's the combat zone," the cop said, a Portuguese
fine-doll, mixed-up fine, black cheeks
sleek as an aubergine. I am letting you know
what you missed. "South Station's two miles,"
he warned me. "Cab's reasonable. Why walk?"

Because reasonable was too high. Like you,
I was limping home with a prepaid ticket
and change for the paper. "Globe!" the newsboy
wore an arm cast grubby with ink. I gave him an extra
quarter. You missed dodging the shark-faced men
who'd cut just to smell the blood. If you'd come
with me I wouldn't be moving

unescorted through these pisshole streets,
eyes front, with the faith of a firewalker,
while the powerglide car radios bunched up
throaty with pick-up songs.

South Station smelled like stranded worry,
gun metal. Soon the train was racing me
down the coast like a rock 'n' roll hit,
but instead of you, who's next to me is a college
girl leaving home. When the train rattled me down

to dream your face floated out of the dark
and the thrum of you jazzed me up like a champagne


Letter to Morley, Never Mailed

My life was that moment when the train breaks
free: as the city retreats, one begins to hope.
You taught me how to lean into the wind
so stiff it blew the rank smoke out of my head.
What was it like growing up on the beach?
Did the wind suck the words off your tongue?
You said you slapped glue on the trees
so when the finches got stuck, you caged them
to sell. The morning I left, your face was a cloud
blown over the curve of the earth. You gave me
a rose that got slugged on the bus. We screwed
everything up. I came back to my country
more lost than a foreigner. You get drunk and tell
lies. Oui, je t'aime, mais je craque.
In the name of the finches, I take myself back.


So, that ends the Belle Waring tasting menu for her first book, Refuge.  Get comfortable because Dark Blonde is flashing aces while the rest of us are holding nines and tens.  Hang on to something.

Oh, save us Belle Waring, save us all.  Today's book of poetry is here to tell you the truth as we know it.  Belle Waring's poems have steamrolled through our office, flattened us right the fuck out.  This woman has the power and when she turns on the gas everything else disappears.

Dark Blonde jumps right off of the damned page, jumps up and grabs the reader by our lazy lapels and shouts, "listen up!"  And we have to obey.  Waring came into the poetry game late and left early but make no mistake, dear reader, she left a mark.  Dark Blonde is a rogue pilot, willing and able to drop down anywhere.  No runway needed.  Waring must have been a spectacular conversationalist because these poems are ripe and verdent with the perfect line, the perfect pause.

People Think All Wrong About Manhood

When I met Jacob, he's just escaped a police state.
Scrawny white guy, he talked all jacked up on nicotine,
laughed like a .22
crak-crak echo in the alley. Eyes
you already know about—how they undercut

this dodobird reception chat, where Jacob looks forty-five, except
at me—his eyes like a kid who gets hit.
Hit. Then they tell him
Strip. And nobody calls the cops.
Because they are the cops.

I got a cat with six toes per foot who can smell the landlord
down the block. Jacob thinks I'm a sentimentalist.

So what. This past winter I worked just enough to pay my rent,
lived on greens and greasy cornbread, slept with the light and the radio on
so no one would think I was alone. I had bad dreams where I found
little boys in a cold steel sink, face down on a wire brush.
A dusky pulse threads one boy's arm. They have been
sexually tortured
then shadows grease over the windows and
the door    no lock

I would wake up seized with a sick headache,
and lose whole days like that.

Jacob says there's no such thing as love at first sight.
You all know the lightning bolt

Juliet and Romeo. But this is no
play. One morning after I hadn't slept

a silver stretch limo
nearly hit me in the alley where the neighbor kids hang
and the pigeons peck over the cobblestones,
when here comes this limo
with its minky black windows all rolled up tight so you can't name
and the sucker never even slowed down. Made me jump back,
skin my hand on the door of the shed.

I wanted to live
after that.

There's a park near my place
where the creek cuts the city clean down to the river.
Sunlight mottles the poplars, aggie-eyes the small water.
If you toss cat chow to those citified ducks, you draw
mamas in camouflage, splendid green heads,
a white rascal like Donald minus jacket and cap,
shimmying his dignified tush.

Ducks are appointed by God to give doofy people a safe date.

We walked through the city
counting up different riffs that we heard on the street—
boom boxes, radios, churches, jukes
girls jumping Double Dutch
boys drumming drywall buckets in their sidewalk bateria
a twelve-piece band of trombones and a tuba
a guy slamming cups of spare change for percussion
—count 'em up.

Get twelve tunes, go on home

and there the man next door plays Villa-Lobos on piano
'til he hits a change and splatters jazz riffs that feel like the rush
you get in a plane when the glaze-blue day pops out of the murk

then you're back inside and Jacob is just somewhere
quiet in the house with you.

These moments are underrated because they're not a Pepsi commercial
—no big male teeth, no young women with important hair.

Things quite silently

And when a man is brave enough
to cry whatever he's saved up—
you recognize him.

And you—you save up what comes
after he's finished his crying.


Twenty-Four-Week Preemie, Change of Shift

We're running out of O
screaming down the Southwest Freeway in the rain
the nurse-practitioner and me
rocking around in the back of an ambulance
trying to ventilate a preemie with junk for lungs
when we hit
rush hour

               Get us the hell out of here

You bet the driver said
and pulled right onto the median strip
with that maniacal glee they get

I was too scared for the kid and drunk with the speed
—the danger didn't feel like danger at all
if felt like love—to worry about my life
Fuck that

               Get us back to Children's so we can put a chest tube in
                    this kid

And when we got to the unit
the attending physician—Loretta—was there
and the nurses
the residents
they save us

Loretta plants her stethoscope on the kid's chest
and here comes the tech driving the portable
like it's a Porsche
Ah Jesus he says

The baby's so puny he could fit on your dinner plate

X-ray says the tech
and everybody backs up
except for Loretta
so the tech drapes a lead shield over her chest

X-RAY! says the tech

There's a moment after he comes down the lens
just before he shoots

You hold your breath
You forget
what's waiting
back at your house

Nobody blinks
poised for that sound
that radiological meep

and Loretta with her scrub top on backwards
so you can't peep down to her peanutty boobs
Lorette with her half-Chinese, half-Trinidadian

Loretta, all right, ambu-bagging the kid
never misses a beat
calm and sharp as a mama-cat who's just kicked the dog's butt
now softjaws her kitten out of the ditch

There's a moment
you can't even hear the bag
quick quick quick

Before the tech shoots
for just that second
I quit being scared
I forgot to be scared


How can people abandon each other?


Belle Waring sounds so reasonable, even with her big and hopeful heart just hanging off of her sleeve.  Think of the Rev. Al Green and how his songs are all about the same thing: quiet intensity.  You can feel, hear, sense the immense power, the sheer human will, the force.  But the Rev. Al Green knew how to give just enough, every time.  Today's book of poetry posits that Belle Waring's focused gaze spills with the same sort of intensity.

Volume has never been the way to judge a voice, Waring, like the Rev. Green, always knows how much to give, how much to hold back, when to breathe. 

Our Today's book of poetry staff were in the dark about Belle Waring, as was I.  I passed Belle's two books, Refuge and Dark Blonde around the office for the last couple of weeks.

At Today's book of poetry you can come to work drunk and we'll find a couch for you, bring aspirin and a cold drink, wipe your brow if needed.  Today's book of poetry hates tardiness, but in truth, our head-tech and most valued assistant, Milo, has never been on time for anything a day in his life and we love him just fine.  BUT if you work for Today's book of poetry and don't/won't/can't be bothered to read the poems—that is it.

Kicking stones, fired.  Goooooodbyyyyyyye.

(It's never happened, every single one of the staff have a poetry Jones.)

Maggie, our new intern, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, both flamed out, red-eyed about a dead poet they'd never met, and Today's book of poetry understood.  We often don't know what we love/need
until it is gone.  Max, our Sr. Editor, came out of his dungeon, walked over to the podium (we stand to read here at Today's book of poetry) and quietly with exactly the right gravitas he read us Refuge and then read us Dark Blonde.  Maggie and Kathryn were not the only poetry moles with red, red eyes.

So What Would You Have Done?

On the train to D.C., a priest sat beside me, and outside Philly
he turned and said, My daughter has only days to live.

Rawboned man. Under his eyes were purple crescents
like bruises dug out by a surgeon's thumb.

He wept, I was scared, but not for myself.
Of course, for myself.

I took his hand then—cold as inside of a limestone chapel.
Wilmington next. He pressed both my hands before he left.

I wanted him please
to bless me again, bless the train and the tracks for they could
    snap like

fingers like the string of smoky pearls my sweetheart gave to me
before he got sick.

Before they admitted him.
One day, on my way to the hospital, I saw some movers drop a baby

it broke from its harness to the street.
One honors the chord of a crashed piano by scrounging ivory

for a charm.
There is logic in this.

When I walked into my sweetheart's room,
I saw the chemo had gotten to his scalp, he was ripping out

handfuls of his own hair, black dandelion seedfluff, shouting,
Take it. It doesn't even hurt.

I wound his hair round the shard of ivory to conjure the elephant
to save him. But on the train, I didn't tell the priest I had a charm

and after he left, a teenaged boy
with a ripped leather jacket took the same seat, still warm.

He looked at me staunchly: You all right?
I said, My boyfriend's dead.

Kid gave me a cigarette.
I showed the charm to him and he said

I should give it to my Mom to keep my Dad off her.
Crossing the Susquehanna, he fell asleep, twitching in a dream.

High arched brows. Eyes chasing, or being chased.
I unwound from the charm the black hair of my boyfriend,

and wrapped my own hair around it, to slip in the kid's pocket.
There was a pistol in it.

The train cut close by suburban yards
where cars roosted up on blocks, an upside-down dory perched like
   a hen

warming herself in the sun-shot dirt, a kid climbing into a tulip poplar
tore off whole blossoms to toss to his mother

as dusty babies swarmed on the grass below.
They never looked up.

All I wanted was to hear them, please
calling each other.


To Them, To Their First Conversation

Sunlight: Her pituitary balks at the lack of it
and he's an engraver, so for them

light is not taken for granted. On this day in October
downtown, lunch hour, the sun's acting paternal.

Showing them off to each other. The man
is flushed with the debonair mutiny of blowing off

his day job, of loafing on the sidewalk, flirting with a woman
and bobcat green eyes. Between the edge of her scarf

and the scoop neck of her sweater there's a crescent of her skin,
unprotected. Their first conversation alone.

Blaring noon. People have to step around them.
A southeastern sky tips down to them its light,

half cloudy, like tea dashed with milk,
which, after a long illness, is brought—

slowly now—
                       to the lips.


Our Southern Correspondent, David Clewell, former Missouri Poet Laureate, introduced Today's book of poetry to Belle Waring.  Our Southern Correspondent has been a little under the weather of late so if you don't mind Today's book of poetry would appreciate some collective love/karma combination sent in his direction.  

Mr. Clewell has taught Today's book of poetry more about poetry and friendship than we quite know what to do with.  Bless his cotton socks.  So please send some love to St. Louis.

And while we are at it, let us send a joyous yawp out into the poetry ether, a yawp that lets Belle Waring know, wherever she is, that we read her, every word—and are better for it.

Goodnight Belle Waring.  Thank you.

Image result for belle waring photo

Belle Waring

Waring  worked as a neo-natal intensive care nurse and as Writer-in-Residence at Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. Her first collection of poetry, Refuge, won the Associated Writing Program's Award for Poetry in 1989, the Washington Prize in 1991, and was cited by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 1990. Her second collection Dark Blonde received the San Francisco Poetry Center Poetry Prize and the Larry Levis Reading Prize in 1997. It was published by Louisville's Sarabande Books.  Belle Waring died in 2015.

"Drawing from her work as a neonatal nurse and from some more common experiences (e.g. nervous breakdowns, incest and poverty), Waring exhibits the street-smart ear and unflinching eye that made her first collection, Refuge, one of PW's Best Books of 1990. The images and headlong rhythms of these new poems exert a wide-ranging, often irresistible pull."
--Publishers Weekly

"Waring creates a voice that we feel we can trust to lead us to the center of an experience, maybe because her language never feels artificial but seems to grow naturally out of the situation it presents. The remarkable range of subjects and characters in Waring's poems leads to an equally remarkable variety of tones and vocabularies."                                                                                                         
 -Word House, Baltimore's Literary Calendar

"When Belle Waring reads her poetry, the jazz-inflected words escape her mouth like a Lester Young solo: quietly, melodically, forcefully. . . . she provides weight to each short line, drawing out her words like sensuous kisses. Her work is also punctuated with politics and humor."
-D.C. City Paper

"Poetry, Robert Frost once said, is a way of taking life by the throat. It is in this tradition that poet and nurse Belle Waring approaches her craft-seizing difficult subjects and holding them in time. . . . "

Waring has written a collection that doesn't renege on us the promise of her first book and indeed has honed her craft to include a wider range of tonal shifts and allow for a finer lyricism while not losing the syncopated snap and humor of her earlier voice."
-Indiana Review

Belle Waring

Friends of the Scranton Public Library Poery Series: Belle Waring



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