Saturday, August 17, 2019

Hold - Bob Hicok (Copper Canyon Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Hold.  Bob Hicok.  Copper Canyon Press.  Port Townsend, Washington.  2019.

The South is the country I live in now

How I got talking to the guy I don't remember
on Sullivan's Island. Our dog was still alive
and had walked repeatedly illegally
on the beach according to the signs. Dolphins
needled back and forth, stitching waves together
almost close enough for me to hit them
with a rock, had I a better arm and more spite.
My wife held the shell of her sea-sounding head
to the shell of mine, we were empty
of worry and work and had seen where turtles
had come in to lay their eggs, I think
is what I pointed out to the guy
casting his line into an ocean to ask
what bounty it cared to share. Or the existence
of weather. Surrealism in French cooking. Whatever
we were talking about, smack-dab in the middle
or muddle of a sentence, I realized
I was looking at Fort Sumter and said, Oh my God,
that's where the Civil War began, my God
being no god but who's counting. And without
changing expression or clothes, levity or levitation,
he said, Yes, that's where the War
of Northern Aggression began. You should probably
know we were standing where slaves
had been brought in, since that's still a thorn
or red-hot poker in the paw of America
we're aces at pretending isn't there. Our height,
weight, color were very similar, and yet, had I or he
a womb or even eight, there's not a chance
we'd ever procreate, based solely on our views
of an island, making us technically
different species. I'm only thinking that
now. In the moment, what stood out was the gap
between the end of my sentence and the beginning
of his, something like a thousandth
of a breath, meaning the idea that the South
and slavery should have been left alone
is a loaded gun he carries everywhere he goes.
And of course we're not different species
but two guys with the same number of legs
and head and chromosomes, sons of the same mother
fucking war that isn't over.


All Today's book of poetry can do is to apologize and hold our heads in shame, we've never read Bob Hicok before.  Don't we feel foolish?  Hold is Mr. Hicok's ninth collection.  We will hang our heads, but we'll also send Milo, our head tech and book scout, out into the ether to find Bob Hicok's other eight books.

One read through Hold and Today's book of poetry knew we were in the company of greatness.

These are great poems.  Capital G, Capital R, Capital E, and so on.  Hold is so damned smart and beautiful and true.  These poems - these are the poems that other poets dream of writing.

Bob Hicok goes right at the thing, no playing around on the edges, no confusion.  At one point Hicok tells us that "running with scissors is the only way to make danger understand."  You just have to laugh.  And then Hicok is on to some sunny, sexy ode of kind and generous persuasion directed at his wife, another on the importance of being a good person.  Hicok uses the legendary Boston Celtic, Bill Russell, as his example of a good person.

Today's book of poetry has a BBall past, Hicok's ramble on Russell made this basketball loving fool gobsmacked happy.


At the rehab center
late at night when my father
presses the call button,
someone hurries in
and shuts it off, thus maintaining
their quick-response rate, but leaves
without helping him pee, he tells me
in a whisper on the best
spring day of the year so far,
of the century: I could have picked
two hundred
million snowdrops on the way in
had I patience
and a doll's fingers.               He's afraid

of angering the staff and has learned to pee
on himself with dignity.        It's all

in the not-crying.                   In imagining

he's a chunk of wind
the next day while his penis
is being washed
and he can't feel it, just a sock
with a hole in it.                    I'm afraid

of the future.             That I'll need a gun

to help me out of the jam
of having a body.       Is what I'm thinking

while holding his hand, while believing
there's nothing to be done

about the weight of the night
on his chest except to lift him
and carry him home and give him back
to his own bed to live in and die in,
as he and mother
gave me to the sun all those years ago
to run under and end up here,
not knowing what to do
about the rumor that part of us
goes on after the heart's last sigh,
other than applaud the possibility
as I would a woman
standing up from a piano
after the gazelles of her hands
have stopped running, the music over
but not the chance for more music
if we clap enough that she believes
how desperate we are and that only
she can save us.


This cat Hicok isn't afraid of a single thing, love, sex, death.  Lob them in and Hicok hits them out of the park.  Hold burns.

Bob Hicok makes Today's book of poetry a happy camper.  Bob, as we will now, overly familiar as hell, call Mr. Hicok, makes us want to write better poems.  Even more importantly, Bob makes us want to read more.  As old Willy Shakes had Miranda tell that old cat Prospero, "O brave new world. That has such people in it."  And you all know how much Today's book of poetry loves William the Shake.  Now Today's book of poetry is going to tell you how lucky we are to have a poet like Hicok.

Our morning read was a little more difficult than usual and Today's book of poetry will explain that in a moment.  Please know we gave Bob and his very fine Hold our open hearts and our best efforts.  None the less our Today's book of poetry did a sterling job.  Of course Hicok's poems were extremely helpful to the effort.

Today's book of poetry just loved the way the man thinks.

Our morning read was tempered by the news that Canadian poet Nelson Ball died yesterday.  We knew that Mr. Ball had been ailing.  Nelson Ball is one of the poets Today's book of poetry most admires and we are terribly sad to hear of his passing.  We do know he was with friends


We were going along. Holding 
hands. When we came across a man
punching another man. My lover's
a creature wired with surprising
windings, and noticed the man
dong the punching looked tired.
She offered and was accepted
in her offer to punch the other man
for the punching man awhile.
Then gave me a look that said,
Where are your manners?
and I donated the punched man
my body to be his body
for a period of time. During
this rest, they took a tender
interest in each other, asking
after children and spouses
and bets on long-shot horses,
even sharing a ham sandwich
one had kept hidden & warm
under his arm. when they ran out
of things to say, rather than accept
the onslaught of silence, the one
tapped her shoulder and the other
mind. To his thank you, I said
a bloody you're welcome as we
walked off again holding hands.
Of all the reasons I love
my love, not the least is
she knows how the world works.
Badly. Etiquette is the way
she fights back. And with a right cross
I can tell you from experience
is lovely. My head still rings
from how considerate she is.


This last poems tells me that Bob Hicok must have a K.  Today's book of poetry has a K and if he were a better writer he would have tried to write "Civilization" for her.

Take our weary word, Hicok is a poet who will break and strengthen your heart at the same time.

Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok's poems have appeared in a wide variety of magazines, journals, and anthologies, including the New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and numerous volumes of The Best
American Poetry.  His books have been awarded the Bobbit Prize from the Library of Congress and named a "Notable Book of the Year" by Booklist. Hicok has worked as an automotive die designer and a computer system administrator. He is currently teaching at Purdue University. When asked in an interview "What would Bob Hicok launch from a giant sling shot?" he answered, "Bob Hicok."

"Hold… urges readers to consider our faults as a nation—environmental destruction, gross financial inequities, police brutality. By turns wry and witty, Hicok’s plain-spoken writing highlights some of the pleasures and pains in this world, and humanity’s need for reflection."
     —Washington Post

"In Bob Hicok’s Hold… the poet’s humor, punning, wit, wisdom, and humility lead to small revelations, introspections, and musings on the human condition—all in the face of danger and atrocity. If Hold asks many questions throughout, they are not rhetorical, nor are they theoretical—instead, they’re practical questions about our world. In a unique blend of punchline and sincerity, Hicok confesses, ‘I’m scared, but not shitless.’ As its title might suggest, this book yearns for and struggles to hold strong to self and to community, to hold to the body, to hold to the world, to hold—yes—to optimism, to hope."
     —Arkansas International

"Bob Hicok is a spectrum... I’d love to see an MRI of his brain while he’s writing, as the neurons show us what’s possible, how a human can be a thought leader, taking us into the future… Hicok interrogates the world with mercy andwit and style and intelligence and modest swag. He’s one of America’s favorites—and to make the reader want to share the poet’s reality fulfills poetry’s finest aspiration."
     —Washington Independent Review of Books

"In his ninth collection, Hicok navigates a world bereft of empathy and kindness, leading by example with a charm and emotional intelligence that speaks to a deep insight into the human condition… Mixing cleverness with tenderness, Hicok demonstrates how to be a beacon of light in the darkest of settings."
     —Publishers Weekly

"As always, the multi-award-winning Hicok manages to be both freshly whimsical and knife-sharp insightful in his latest collection."
     —Library Journal

"Bob Hicok is that rarity, a cheerful contemporary poet―if not completely happy, still hopeful and celebrative."
     ―Los Angeles Review of Books

"Yet ultimately the most potent ingredient in virtually every one of Bob Hicok’s compact, well-turned poems is a laughter as old as humanity itself, a sweet waggery that suggests there’s almost no problem that can’t be solved by this poet’s gentle humor."
     ―The New York Times Book Review

Bob Hicok
Video: PoetryAtTech



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.

Goodnight Nelson Ball

1942 - 2019

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, glasses

Sunday, August 4, 2019

What I Learned at the War — Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. (West End Press)

Today's book of poetry:
What I Learned At The War.  Jeanetta Calhoun Mish.  West End Press.  Albuquerque, New Mexico.  2016.

According to Jeanetta Calhoun Mish "history is a bitch."  That's not a direct quote, more of a spiritual acquiescence to a way of thinking.  Mish doesn't really concern herself with time as we know it.  Time and history just partial information in Mish world.

Mish comes straight at the reader and with considerable velocity.  Mish goes on to tell us that "history resists, tells her story through the mouths of the winners."  But when ever there are winners there are losers as well.  Mist has dirt under her fingernails, her characters do too.  Today's book of poetry thinks Mish has slow-danced us all into submissive/willing audience.  We like what she is cooking.

What I Learned at the War is unsettling because every word reads/feels true and a little dangerous.  Where in the hell does fate fit in with history?  Jeanetta Calhoun Mish lays it all out.

#3 Not Quite Glengarry

At 8am, my friend dropped me off in front
of a nondescript yellowish strip-mall building
at the crumbling edge of Little Rock; the parking

lot almost empty. People with personable voices
needed. No experience necessary. Apply today.
I was trying to go straight, attempting to abandon

an assortment of marginally legal employments.
Hoping to land a job with only a high school
degree, two weeks after a miscarriage, one week

after my boyfriend wrecked my car, hocked all
my furniture, spent the rent money, then ran off
with his ex-wife. I believed I could change

my life by changing jobs. The lead, My Roma,
just back from THE most motivational seminar
EVER, lurched around the room like a speed freak

in a baby blue leisure suit that went out
of style eight years before in 1975. We
would SELL LIKE SAMSON (whoever

the hell that was. Perhaps My Roma thought
he was the guy who invented Samonsite).
The Outbound Telemarketing Specialist

who had been there longest, My Williamson,
handed us our scripts. Hello, my name is Machine
Levene and I'm calling you today because you are

the lucky winner of a set of steak knives. You don't
remember entering a drawing? You didn't —
we've chose you from a long list of deserving

men and women who rarely catch a break
much less win a prize. You only have to pay
for. . .I made it half a day before an old lady

answered with a voice that sounded just like
my granny's and I couldn't bear the shame of lying
to her, of asking her to send only $49.95 in shipping

and handling charges for a set of plastic-handled
steak knives with flimsy aluminum blades, couldn't
tell her that, according to My Blake who flashed

a sample like a switchblade, they came encased
in a red velvet bag with faux silk drawstrings. I 
apologized for disturbing Mrs. Somebody's Granny,

grabbed my coat and walked out. And kept walking
a mile to the nearest bus stop where I waited an hour
for the next bus. Three transfers and two hours after

embarking, I was back where I was staying with a friend
from AA. A new job had not changed my life, but it had
changed my mind about the value of employment

at all costs. The next week, I hitchhiked home
to Tulsa, couch-surfed, read Marx for the first time,
called myself proletarian. Never looked back.


Sometimes you just like the way someone talks, the way they get to their point, Mish is instantly one of those poets for Today's book of poetry.  If any of my sisters wrote poetry I'd be awfully proud if they wrote these poems.

What I Learned at the War is conversational and confessional.  Today's book of poetry simply enjoyed the ride, cover to cover.  Our assessment is that Jeanetta Calhoun Mish is searching for beauty, but lets us know how much truth is in it's path, and the truth is only occasionally beautiful.

Declaration of a New Poetics

From this day forward
let there be no more abstractions
nor dissembled sighs
I proclaim a new poetics rising up,
flaming out of my body as if
I were the kiln and you the potter
who flung open the door.

From now on I shall speak
only the language of the sensuous,
the sensual, the reality of
sight is too tricky, too easily seduced
and hearing is reliable only when
applied to the code of ohs and ahs that
cannot be mistaken or misconstructed.

The practice of my new poetics
requires that I run my tongue
along your hip, grasp your stony calves,
inhale deeply at every dark conjunction of limbs.
This poetics demands I ban every pretense,
all talk of love and questions of propriety.
It allows only this primal sacred performance
this paean to need, this clashing of bodies.

In this dangerous intriguing encounter
we open ourselves to the edge
to this honesty the body knows
to our poem of desire.


Our morning read was holiday-weekend short as most of our loyal minions abandoned ship and headed to the beach.  Still, those of us braving our tepid office and cooking temperatures (83 F at the moment in our offices) gave What I Learned at the War a good bounce around the room

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, reminded us all that we'd been on a strong woman's roll here at Today's book of poetry and Jeanetta Calhoun Mish raises the bar just that Oklahoma tough gal higher.  Mish does it clean, with full on eyes-wide-open honesty.  What I Learned at the War reads like a bruise, you can feel it now, but you'll feel it more later on, see it more brightly as it sets in.

The Quah Effect
           for The Quah Crew: Faith, Murv, Debbie, & Cassandra

In Tahlequah, time staggers. It halts, leaps, spins, and burrows down
into the rocky soil to remind us that everything that ever happened in
a place is happening still.

Staggers isn't such a pretty idea.
Especially with Indians in the picture.
And Irish. And Scots.

All people who lean into drunkeness
as shadow leans into light.

Say instead: stutter steps.
Dance one forward, two back.
Sideway if you're feeling the
presence of haints and shades.

Or go ahead and live unvarnished.
Admit the ancestral jake leg,
drink until evening has to close
because the moon said so, flip the
bird to sun lurking on horizon,
pissed off and ready to make
your hangover worse.

It is happening. It is all happening.
How can you not feel it?
How can you not puke
with vertigo? History has not been well-
described. She's a bitch. A
Siren. A Medusa.

Don't trust her. You never
know what garments she'll wear
to your funeral.


Today's book of poetry thinks we understand where Jeanetta Calhoun Mish wanted to take us.  It certainly felt real, felt true.

What I Learned at the War leaves an impression.

Mish can burn.

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
Photo: John Jernigan

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish was born in Hobart, Oklahoma. She received a BA and an MFA in English from the University of Texas - Permian Basin and a PhD in English from the University of Oklahoma. Mish is the author of What I Learned at the War (Lamar University Press, 2015) and Work Is Love Made Visible: Collected Family Photographs and Poetry (West End Press/University of New Mexico Press, 2009), winner of the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry. In 2019, she was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Mish currently serves as the poet laureate of Oklahoma.

"There's a never-misty nostalgia and sometimes hard edge to these poems of a rough childhood, and an homage to the equally rough environs of Oklahoma. It's the sure hand of the writer that keeps you reading, the propulsive sense of a life happened, lived and recorded, with as much candor and skill as the best poetry offers us"
     --Rusty Barnes, author of Reckoning

"The power in these poems pitches, confessional and kindred like a puck along some pocked seam of red dirt clodded sanity. Grief-drenched, malady-reamed, and clumped up in some rancorous home front fault line ceremoniously split wide open, what proves revelatory, beyond Mish's poetic prowess, is her delivery of synchronicity in place and time--a sweet, sweet surrender."
     --Allison Adelle Hedge Coke author of Streaming

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
Video: chatterabq


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

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Too Much Nothing — Elisha May Rubacha (Apt. 9 Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Too Much Nothing.  Elisha May Rubacha.  Apt. 9 Press.  Ottawa, Ontario.  2018.


Today's book of poetry believes strongly is full disclosure, we know Elisha May Rubacha, but we don't know her well.  Rubacha is partners with an old friend and poet, Justin Million.

Too Much Nothing is the first poetry we have read by Rubacha and our very first reaction is: more.  Today's book of poetry was track-stopped by how easily these poems flowed down over the page and right into the central cortex, yet you can see, read and feel that they flow easily and yet they remain tight, taut and tempting.

tin can

my niece can't even
listen to "Space Oddity"

she is young but uncommonly worried about

the tin can is surrounded
by too much nothing

Sonny Carter was almost mission specialist 3
on Discovery mission STS-42


according to the national transportation safety board
"the taxi cab driver reported

that the crew was in good spirits and readily
engaged in conversation"

all 3 crew members and 20 passengers died in the plane crash
22 had never been in space


Too Much Nothing is no polemic but it certainly is a woman's voice, a woman's voice that wants to reach other women, of all ages.  Rubacha is clever, of course, but these poems are promise of so much more.  Like the astronauts she talks about in her poems it would appear Rubacha has other worldly perspective — and we benefit.

Our morning read was one beautiful ordeal.  Today's book of poetry crammed as many of our staff as we could into our faithful old Green Monster and then drove to Lac La Peche.  The Lake of Fish, Fish Lake.  Of course there were a few stops along the way.  Today's book of poetry knows about a funky deli/sandwich place just over the Alexandra Bridge and near the Museum of History.  Today's book of poetry used to hit this place when we worked at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.  We jumped through the doors, bought our pop, juice, fruit, snack and sandwiches and loaded up.  Once we hit the lake it was hard/impossible to keep everyone organized.  Milo, our head tech and book scout, a former star swimmer, was appointed life guard to our little crew.  Most of the crew hit the water before the Green Monster rolled to a stop.

After some sunburn therapy and a few dips in the lake the crew gathered around a picnic table at Lac La Peche, the consensus was immediate.  Everyone at Today's book of poetry felt the sparks off of Elisha May's magic.  Everyone was impressed.  Maggie, our newest intern, declared that Rubacha was the most promising poet she'd read since joining the Today's book of poetry team.

Today's book of poetry was hard pressed to disagree.

snake fence

down the 7
the split rails
are self-supporting
with few tools
and no nails
in the trees
they're made of
timber inter
to hold

and plenty
the landscape


Most of you poetry bunnies won't know jack about Hwy #7, why should you?  It runs from Peterborough to Ottawa, mostly two lane, goes through a dozen small towns and a dozen "used to be's" and is generally an old farm road that has seen better economic days.  Rubacha's poem captures the true spirit of that stretch of road with more heart and understanding than poutine and 4X4s ever could.

No way around it, Today's book of poetry wants everyone to know that once again, Cameron Anstee's perceptive Apt. 9 Press has published another gorgeous chapbook full of polished, perceptive and promising poems.  Most of you know about Apt. 9 and their commitment to excellence, Rubacha raise the bar for all their future authors.

Too Much Nothing lets Elisha May Rubacha ruminate about gender without aggression.  These poems are about space travel, astronauts, the roads we travel and soaring nature of hope, but underlying all of it is Rubacha's theme, and a very necessary one.  Too Much Nothing is about empowering women, pushing the access bar that much closer to equal.

little girls

little girls bring their parents
to the opening of Dr. Bondar's photography exhibit

she autographs their drawings
or rocket ships and planets

while their brothers wait impatiently to leave


Today's book of poetry has nothing but praise for Elisha May Rubacha's Too Much Nothing.  Strength, beauty and intelligence in one tiny chapbook, Rubacha has wit and charm and her poetry shows it.

Kudos Apt. 9 Press, hat's off Ms. Rubacha.  Full burn.

Image result for elisha may rubacha photo

Elisha May Rubacha

Elisha May Rubacha lives, writes, and gardens in Peterborough, ON. She was a finalist for Peterborough's Outstanding Emerging Artist Award (2018), and shortlisted for the PRISM International Creative Non-fiction Contest (2016). Her work has been published by Electric City Magazines, illiterature, Bywords, The Steel Chisel, and Skirt Quarterly, with a publication from Exile forthcoming. She is the editor and designer of bird, buried poems.



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 31, 2019

the small way — Onjana Yawnghwe (Caitlin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
the small way.  Onjana Yawnghwe.  Caitlin Press.  Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.  2018.

Many years ago, somewhere around 1984-1985, Today's book of poetry moved to Prince Edward Island and while there we had the honour of meeting a great Canadian artist named Erica Rutherford.  Erica was a former Eric, had been an artist with the original Goon Show with Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore, he had also been a filmmaker in South Africa. Eric had married, had children and then eventually Erica arrived.

When I met Erica she was with Gail, the same woman Eric had married when she was a man, all those many years ago.  When asked, and this is a badly remembered paraphrase, but when asked about the differences between being married to Eric and married to Erica, Gail replied "plumbing."

Onjana Yawnghwe's the small way tells a parallel love story of sorts and does it with a generous heart and a kindness of spirit.  Today's book of poetry applauds the story - but what we really care about is the poetry.  We care about whether or not these poems work.  Like clockwork.

Very intense emotional clockwork.  Yawnghwe has a tempered spirit that inhabits these poems, a tempered spirit that proves, once again, that tough comes in a million disguises.  These poems lead us to believe that Onjana Yawnghwe is that sort of tough.

The Big Bang

I thought you'd tell me you were going to die, your face was so serious.
Or you'd fallen in love with another woman, to leave me behind.
These were my greatest fears.
Your face leaked shadows, spilling little light.
When you told me, I felt relief. An ocean crossed my eyes. I thought
you were brave, knowing this dark place you had come from and the
dangerous place you would be travelling to.

I wrapped my arms around you. You wept.
You were afraid I would cut you down and reject you.
But how could I reject the only person I have ever loved?

The land you were standing on was waterlogged and sinking.
You did not know what decisions to make, how you would be in the
world, if you would be transitioning or staying tight with this secret.

I wanted you free. I was impatient for you to decide your life, and thus mine.
This ache in the background. The world on its head. We were travelling
to the edges of the known universe, where no light would return.
Somehow, our story is ancient.
We were each other's shadow, each taking turns in the moonlight.

There were things to be done.
I swallowed it all with straining mouth, the doubts, the fears, the
unknown, questions of identity, sexuality, stars, satellites, black holes,
supernovas and all the rough cosmic debris.


These poems are inside of the gender politic, a woman and her husband, who is transitioning to her natural state as a woman, make for the story line.  Yawnghwe transverses all of it with a level of class this is both admirable and necessary.  Onjana Yawnghwe has deep questions about the nature of gender and desire.  Yawnghwe is a willing participant, a loving partner with her eyes on the future.  But when you start spinning out of your known universe and into the unknown uncharted territory of the future - things change.

One partner changes so much they can no longer find each other and the searing pain of that disassociation is searing.  White hot.  Yawnghwe indulges in no whining, nor much in the way of second guessing, these poems meet the events straight on, with respect and hope.  When Yawnghwe's partner moves on Onjana is left to pick up the pieces.  These are challenging and rewarding poems of crystal clear precision, haunting poignancy.


It was my choice
to end our marriage.

Something I couldn't imagine,
being attracted to women.
I saw you as a woman.

Only later did I realize
how you have fused into my heart
how by your mechanism it beats.

I thought it would always be so.
Everything was spinning, you see.
The earth was something to hold on to.

This conventional conception of self was familiar.
It had been hanging there like a dirty
dish towel, flapping in the breeze.
I took it up, raised it as flag.

It was my mistake to think I'd never lose you.
but love and time pick you up and shake
you loose into this new body.
All yours. All alone.
Reaching out.  Open arms.


How tender, tender, tender our fragile hearts are.  It's remarkable we've survived as a species at all.  the small way is an emotional roller-coaster, the most stereotypical and trite descriptive for an utterly unique, or at least decidedly rare in Canadian letters, glimpse into a relationship where gender and identity actually change in front of your eyes.  What was loved has vanished in plain sight of our eyes and no amount of love can change that.

Return to Sender

You refuse to take our wedding picture,
the one with you smiling, embracing me
from behind, cherry blossoms in the distance.
Your mother had given it to us, framed.

Today you return the letters I wrote you,
the whole box of them, saying "It will help me move on."
Move from where to where, I wonder?

The day we were married
the sun lit the Japanese pond
and the trees were nearly
exhausted of pink blossoms.
It was April.


As much as the small way was a book of poetry that Today's book of poetry "poetry enjoyed", we weren't alone in being a little saddened by it all, the loss.  After our morning read our newest intern, Maggie, went and sat in the corner in one of our large reading chairs.  She surrounded herself with books from the stacks and sent out a cosmic "do not disturb" sign.  She also put Puddles Pity Party on the box.

Today's book of poetry admired Onjana Yawnghwe's honesty but it wouldn't count for scat without these precise poems and her excellent poetry chops.  And of course it wouldn't have happened without the consent of Yawnghwe's ex Hazel.  Today's book of poetry takes our hat off to both women, both brave women.

These poems burn.

Onjana Yawnghwe

Onjana Yawnghwe

Onjana Yawnghwe was born in Thailand but is from the Shan people in Burma (Myanmar). She grew up in Vancouver and received an MA in English from UBC. Her poems have been featured in numerous anthologies and journals, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2011, 4 Poets, CV2, Room, and The New Quarterly. Her first poetry book, Fragments, Desire, was published by Oolichan Books in 2017.

“Onjana Yawnghwe’s The Small Way is a book that has never before been written: poems of love & grief for a spouse’s transitions to becoming a woman within the continued cradle of support that art and empathy creates. From acknowledging the gentleness that was at the heart of the bond to dealing with the weariness that learning how to cope with another’s transformations brings, Yawnghwe’s poetry is searingly honest, steeped in lyrical resonances that attempt to effect and honour her own transition to a different kind of relationship with the person she once married, and with her own fragile, fierce self: still singing, ‘still, it shines.’”
     —Catherine Owen, author of The Day of the Dead

“Yawnghwe rigorously examines how falling out of a lovers’ narrative is more shattering than falling out of love itself. Gender is dissected and disassembled as her spouse transitions, as is the very notion of intimacy itself. Eloquent. Startling original.”
     —Betsy Warland, author of Oscar of Between

Deftly aphoristic, startlingly vivid and affecting, The Small Way breaks open the love poem and presents us with a vital story of change, loss and persistence. Each line resonates with the fundamental mystery of other lives, other bodies, other desires, yet the book is also suffused with indelible traces of connection. This is some of the finest writing on love in recent years.
     —Warren Cariou, director of the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture, University of                    Manitoba



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 28, 2019

Attributed to the Harrow Painter - Nick Twemlow (University of Iowa Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Attributed to the Harrow Painter.  Nick Twemlow.  Kuhl House Poets.  University of Iowa Press.  Iowa City, Iowa.  2017.

      "I must've eaten
       Ten clocks
       Waiting for you"
                               from - "Responding to my father's question"

Nick Twemlow has a section of poems near the end of Attributed to the Harrow Painter, ten of them, all titled "Responding to my father's question."  These poems seem to be a confessional primal scream of beautiful tone and duration.  Underlining every poem is long love letter to Twemlow's son Sacha.

Twemlow nails that lava hot emotional battlefield where families crash and burn or the relationships grow white/blue like tempered steel.

There are nine poems, groups of poems, making up Attributed to the Harrow Painter and they all have the same feel, a machine gun pace and the best bolognese temperament, proper burn.  Twemlow
is one of those whip-quick-smart poets.  His ideas come so quickly you can't figure them all out in one read.  These cats are dense, but man oh man, Twemlow can throw a line.


All along you were Right, they were flanking our
house They Documented you taking off your clothes
every morning I requested these Documents & they
sent someone's Illicit hard drive I fucked with the
commandant Nothing that mattered Continued to
happen into the Nothing that made us laugh like Gas
does Most of us went WYSIWYG Which meant sand
kicked In our face &/or our Life was a fracking disgrace
I know you lived mostly Desirous of desolation A
kind of Interior branding a Lesbos of the Soul Let me
introduce you To my friends Who fry bacon & Spumoni
de Kooning cooling limbic An astral fryer. Thomas
Mann Spelling things out I exhausted I falling down
On my face the divorce Anything but legal Just shame
& egrets Shitting the windows I realm I record Life
begins to get in The way the life Of a novelist Which
I assume is not Only more comfortable The advance
is ridiculous But strident The perqs develop Their
own antiquities I always go back to my Preference
for medications that act swiftly I don't do time-lapse
So well I get hell I focus my gaze On Takashi Ito's
Structured vision Of the not this world But space is the
place Where we can mace the strangers walking into
our loathsome Into oblivion The usual I refuse My son
Wallows the smooth Tallows of the luxurious paradise
of Time to spinneret to Pearl the moustache I get that
You falsify Perfectly you stream experience Like a coin
you toss Into whatever Fountain I still Believe the
poem Delivers a brutal shrill lust for streaming Cusps
your romance With ecriture If my mother were To read
this How much shame Would envelope Her I'm sure
you assure us Reassured all of us Which might mean
Write out & out & out else Make this a god Or homeless
People to shine a light On a poem amending The title
Intended to circumscribe My mother's loneliness I am
thinking of My mother a lot These days which Pass 
in spasms In theory If we are anything If we have
nothing else uncommon My mother Finds comfort
in Planting bulbs each fall She left me a voicemail
Message for my birthday Several days late to which I
never responded I didn't Listen to it for months I can't
remember if I did listen to it. Fred told me he couldn't
Get over a line from the Poem I read in Chicago This
summer from a poem that shows up later in this book

"Look, I've loved my mother Most of my life."

Its permission to admit why the anxiety Over mother
love Why depict spiders skittering All over our dreams
I didn't mean I didn't always Love my mother her Name
is Robyn same As my wife When Oedipus says I get the
feeling his dumb Luck is his fortune Is his is Oedipus
Reminds us to behave Better in the future Which his
motherwife Reminds us is unknowable Every memory
I have Or choose to have Of my mother saturated In
the blues of a Dusky sky I should Cry I should inhabit
The cliches entrusted to me To exhibit A lonely boy
ill Treated defeated before Birth exiled from Chance
When I Remember my mother Crying I don't remember
Her ever crying She loved me I'm certain As she loved
her Spring tulips not unconditionally But with proper
proportion Unhappy that I cannot heave My heart into
my mouth I Love your majesty According to my Bond
no more nor less the man standing Next to me inside of
me in Permanent ecstasy the cyphers Scuttling under
passing cars Unable to find A shadow to Dissolve Into
The barrel Of a gun twists Back at me I lard The scene
with A company of C's I see the scene in every Register
but time-lapse returns No favor The mother coma The
mother coma The various strobing Or phasing The 
clock dial is a riot Planning itself Years in advance Go
quietly address The vending machine Snip wires Stare
at Pictures of you Jolted twenty feet back onto The hood
Of a viper Flicking its Capital relentlessly At the brine
of these new centuries Erupting like nothing You or I
know I pick at a scab I develop A hankering for Insta for
gratification A door that slides Shut just As invasion
of talk Of jetties & molly & away to Somalia As if
you could evade The glistening Of your Fund which
powers up In a shadow Enciphered this cruel media
this papering Over & proxy servers & Anonymous
nerve Tapping to allocate resource Assuaging Assange
Buffering Beyonce Journos Copping a feel in Ferguson
ecstasy of Entering the Gilgamesh Dying 'neath the
heath Hammered to a tinsel thin Instance of justice
You don't belong To tribe always acting as Leering
at The contents of the mirror Mirroring the Warhol
Insistence on or the Basquiat Keith Haring! Nauman
walks in a square that Occludes race & class Privilege
preening or Peacocking Queer Theory rasterized
Resisting salve of Semiotics Your brother arches His
eyebrow Thought This true & u spend so much of
yourself Spending credit scores & fantasy The vale
we Vulture in our waking dread Waxing what You
examine with your niggling X-ray You my standing
Camino All the world's nostrils flare & Zenith & zeroes
shiver Me back into my car & I Drive home totally


Today's book of poetry would like to apologize to both Nick Twemlow and to the University of Iowa Press.  In its original form, in the book, this poem is justified on both sides, hence it appears as a monolith.  Idiots that we are here we haven't figured out how to do it.  Imagine.  Of course we are still posting these blogs/reviews with a Commodore 16, steam and coal powered.

Today's book of poetry had David Bowie's "Young Americans" on the box this morning.  Today's book of poetry finds "Young Americans" always takes us back to our cab-driving days, 6 pm - 6 am.  Mr. Bowie helped us get through more than once long night.  Today if feels a right companion to Attributed to the Harrow Painter.  Controlled mayhem meeting precision, Twemlow and Bowie are similar smart cats.  These poems go to your brain before they force their way to your heart.

Today's book of poetry would want to suggest Nick Twemlow plays with his readers, but he is a poet at play.

Responding to my father's question

I square dark spaces
In the places where
I'm an addict. I rinse &
Delete on repeat.
The addict
In me charms the
Awful offal, where
The memories (of you) collide
In stride, the memories
Of you glitch through.
Like tiny flashbacks
Flashing back your priors.
Now you tell me.
You think you're going
To hell. I look forward
To your review of the place.
The mild discomfort you'll
Feel is my two year old
Self wondering why
Mum looks so
Peaked & wearing
Hospital gown. She could
Barely look at me the one
Visit I remember taking.
There was an inner
Courtyard teeming with
Plants. She seemed to prefer
Being in there than being
Anywhere else. If you feel
Anything for her. If you
Can't stand all the
Redress. You've spent
Most of your life
Listening to the berserk
Among us spit our
Holiness at you. That'd
Kill most of you, which
It did. I can't come this
Weekend. I'm grilling
For three these days.
As my friend said when
She was pregnant with
Her only child, at brunch,
"Bacon wants sausage."


Attributed to the Harrow Painter leaves marks.  By the time you've hammered your way through to the end you'll have notes all over the place, painters to look up, other new poems/poets to read.  Twemlow provides us with new areas of study.  He also heats the place up.

Our morning read was held in some summer sauna hot offices.  We have a couple of old aircraft sized propellers hooked up to two large fans.  They create enough to wind to lift my desk off of the floor so no loose paper in the office today.  You have to lean into the fans to get to the bathroom.  Unfortunately they're only pushing hot air around.  How ironic is that for us here at Today's book of poetry?

Champagne Dawn

Cassandra wrote
To tell me
That my 
With chicks
Is over,"
& I jumped out of
My chair
& ran
To the picture
In the living
Threw open
The curtains,
& saw
My neighbor
His rake
At the still-
Of a 


Reading Nick Twemlow was a new thrill for Today's book of poetry - so of course we sent Milo, our head tech, a note asking him to add Nick Twemlow to our list of "must find poets."  Attributed to the Harrow Painter has weight when you read it and a splendid aftertaste when you're done.

Today's book of poetry gets such pleasure out of introducing you to books like Attributed to the Harrow Painter, we can confidently promise "no regret" reading.

Image result for nick twemlow poet photo

Nick Twemlow

Nick Twemlow’s work includes Palm Trees, and his poems have appeared in Court Green, jubilat, Lana Turner, and the Paris Review. He coedits Canarium Books, and is a senior editor at the Iowa Review. He teaches at Coe College and lives in Iowa City, Iowa. 

“Meandering around the edges of the beginning of someone’s mid-life, Attributed to the Harrow Painter dips back to lost teenage friends, traumas, accommodations, pleasures and losses and forward as the father of a young child, to the inevitable future. There’s the New York diaspora, and there are the blue jays 
and backyards of skull-fuck cold Kansas. Where are you most alive? Like Dana Ward and Ariana Reines, Nick Twemlow writes brainy poetry that’s as dispersed as real life without losing heart. I found the book very moving, and will read it again.”
     —Chris Kraus, author, I Love Dick and Summer of Hate 

Power in Poetry - Nick Twemlow Interview
Video:  Skylor Andrews


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.