Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Empire of Dirt — Thomas Stewart (Red Squirrel Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Empire of Dirt.  Thomas Stewart.  Red Squirrel Press.  Biggar, Scotland.  2019.

empire of dirt | Thomas Stewart

Thomas Stewart gets an awful lot accomplished in thirty-six short pages.  Empire of Dirt is both quaintly naive and brutally violent as Stewart deconstructs the world to suit his gaze.  Dead foxes and dead birds populate these poems as macabre and faintly menacing omens.  Stewart's Empire of Dirt is fecund with ominous portent.

We all know that suicide is painless, M*A*S*H taught us that, in Empire of Dirt Stewart explores various methodologies, they are explained, explored and exhausted.  Guilt and expectations are probably the real villains but in the universe Stewart's Empire of Dirt creates beware Eden's vipers and sharp as razor box-cutters.


When I smashed the conkers
and laid them out,
when I felt their broken
pieces and gathered them up,
when I smelt the vinegar
of their cracked shells
and wanted to take them home
I thought of the head boy —
red-haired Einstein
most likely to succeed
went into the woods
behind the gym one day
with only meth and a can of 7-up
and a photo of his mum
and a long rope.
Beyond the tennis courts we heard
the police shout, cut him down!
with voices like flower vases

When I left the conkers
and walked home
to pass a bridge
covered in ivy
I saw that boy
who tried to jump off the edge
but was stopped by a stranger,
I saw that dangling boy
in literal limbo
and heard the voices
of the other boys
shouting gay boy, faggot,
and when the boy abandoned
the bridge
his mother hid the pills
and all the belts
were locked
in Ikea boxes
and the house became
a safe space.
The boy found a box-cutter
when his mother
was at work.

When I walked through the park
and leaves wondered
with me
I couldn't remember
the name of the girl
that everyone forgot,
that filled herself
with her grandma's
paracetamol and sat between
the goal posts.
They found her in the morning,
a dog walker or near enough,
and the newspaper clipping
was short and un-sweet—
just kept calling her girl.

When I slept that night
on a wooden bed
I could smell the conkers
in the feathers of the
pillow, I could hear their
song in my dreams,
I could feel them broken
yet protruding
through the springs
of the mattress.


Grief hangs over Stewart's Empire of Dirt like Al Capp's Joe Btfsplk's cloud in Dogpatch, or that stinky dead bird in that old poem.  Thomas Stewart does have a sense of humour but you're probably going to have to get stung once or twice before you can really enjoy it.

Stewart may be operating with his feet in an entirely different dimension, he currently lives in Scotland but the poor man calls Wales home.  This isn't the time to call on Saint Dylan just because he's from just down the road, although Today's book of poetry did visit Swansea once.  No, as my poetry brother-in-arms Stuart Ross and I were discussing just yesterday; it's useless to make comparisons.  Except of course when a comparison is absolutely necessary.

empire of dirt

I look in the mirror
and see a stranger looking back,
maybe I see my father,
dead and young,
covered in pollen,
never dress him in yellow
he said
the bees will always come

don't dress me,
paint my skin
in a colour I do not recognize,
paint the answers to how
my desires are
not what they once were,
paint it in dirt
run my rules in muck
they've changed anyway,
throw my limits in the filth,
scrub my face with mud,

send me to the forest
to a dark wood, to a log
of fallen leaves, to a cold cave
where I can scrawl my dreams
in blood and the sap of a tree,
where I'll rub dill into my wounds
and make music only the walls

send me to find a face
to win my body back,
tell me that my body
will no longer lay mute, I remember it
like a child remembers its favourite food:
I know it exists
this body of mine,
where I do not wake to that knock
where I can simply be,
this is surely an existence that can occur,

so let me be
in the woods,
let me scream to the tallest tree
and find a fairy or a fool,
let me fall into that dirt
and smell the soil of my youth,
let me pull the flowers' roots
and plant them somewhere on the horizon, let me
tangle daisy-chains, so that I may pluck
each petal and ask if he loved me
or not

this wood is my country,
my mother tongue, my climate,
if my body will no longer speak to me
let me place it in the belly of a tree
and barefoot I will walk on.


It is the silliest of things, and I do hope Thomas Stewart will forgive Today's book of poetry an indulgence.  Believe it or not poetry babies, Today's book of poetry attended Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School.  I mentioned this to Mr. Stewart but am uncertain if he was amused.  And at that school there were teachers who taught me to love poetry so a little shout out to Don Quarrie, his lovely wife Bea and all the other teachers at T.A.S.S., a big thank you.

Today's book of poetry had our usual morning read when everyone got in to the office this morning.  The office has been a little subdued this week.  Blair Norman Sharpe, a local Ottawa painter of renown, a loved teacher, passed away after a long illness.  Blair had become a pal of ours more recently, I've been regaling the troops with Blair stories for the last year.  His bravery and killer sense of humour will not be forgotten.  Today's book of poetry sends our broken hearted hugs to his dear Brenda.

Blair didn't love all poetry but he loved the idea of it.

Today's book of poetry depends on poetry to get us through the day and Thomas Stewart's Empire of Dirt was just the tonic.  Stewart's narrator suffers, but there are also declarations that come from hard earned experience, declarations of hope, a search for joy.  That's pretty much what we are all after, isn't it.

real boy

this is a true story:

they said
you're not a real
boy until you cut
the wizard out of the tree,

it's a question
of which tree:
real boys might pick
oak, birch or beech,
and then boys
that pick alder,
elm or hawthorn
are unreal,

unreal boys hold the axe
and whisper,
cousin of Merlin,
give me some magic,

but magic
is not a boy's language,
here, in the boy's
toilets or there in the
changing rooms it is
the outstretched branch
welcoming you

to be a real boy

unreal boys, who hide
under their towels
or become black dots
on the rugby pitch

or study the mole
above their nipple,
or the drooping stomach
in the mirror

are the quietly
hungry trees
in the breeze,

if I were a tree
I'd be a white willow
by the bay, a salix
alba alone and sexless,
I would only know
the touch of my own

as I long to be
a real boy
I know I am already
a tree, made of roots,
standing in the wind,
in solitude, exposed,
displaying my chest,
made of wood,
my bushy hair
and eyebrows falling
past my chipped teeth,
across the scar on my
chin and the leaves
growing from
my hands.


Toxic masculinity is a tough battleground and Stewart attacks the beast head on.  Today's book of poetry is here to tell you all that Thomas Stewart is absolutely correct, it takes all sorts of trees to make a forest.

Today's book of poetry thought Thomas Stewart's Empire of Dirt was aces.  Every time we read it we liked it more.  We'll be looking forward to more from Stewart.

Thomas Stewart author pic

Thomas Stewart

Thomas Stewart is from Wales, he currents resides in Scotland.

‘A skilful, strong, and harshly innocent collection by one of our deftest young poets.’ 
     —David Morley, winner of the Ted Hughes Award

‘There is an edge of violence to Thomas Stewart’s poems, but it is not gratuitous. These are the cracks that open in the surface of the world under his concentrated gaze. What they disclose is a deep sadness and a tenderness, alongside the slight scent of blood.’ 
    —Philip Gross, winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize



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, July 12, 2019

High Ground Coward - Alicia Mountain (University of Iowa Press)

Today's book of poetry:
High Ground Coward.  Alicia Mountain.  University of Iowa Press.  Iowa City, Iowa.  2018.


36376982. sx318

Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini punches the lights out of "Southpaw Skin the Gloves" in an early poem out of High Ground Coward.  Alicia Mountain already had the full admiring attention of Today's book of poetry by the time we read the second poem in this startling good book.  High Ground Coward is anything but cowardly.  

Those of you too young to remember "Boom Boom" won't know that he killed a man in the ring.  Mountain is boxer brave at least.

How can poems you've never read before feel this familiar?  Mountain is intimate, wildly funny, loving, lusting and in each of these things there is an open honest intensity.  High Ground Coward is beyond refreshing, it's liberating.

Oh yes, this is "Queer" literature and Today's book of poetry wants to be respectful in this new gender-sensitive world.  But all you poetry babies better believe me when Today's book of poetry says that High Ground Coward is universal.  Alicia Mountain writes about love and desire and loss and all the rest of it and does so with such clear vision that she pierces your heart.  And your brain will follow this poet anywhere, Mountain has power.

On Being Told To Do Whatever I Want

Whatever I want is to run the stick of my deodorant
along each of your spread-eagle limbs
to dig my nails into your forearm at takeoff
and find turbulence every time
and be afraid of nothing and falling
to split a cake for dinner
or light the sheets on fire
to take a raccoon as a pet
train it to fold more tiny paper raccoons with its little human hands
to make twins of each of us
watch them braid each other's hair
watch them use their tongues
to know for certain we will die at night
to know which commodities you've stolen
and convince the hygienist I'm committed to flossing
to wipe away the lint stuck to my lips.
What I want has been crouched so long it cannot stand
it is filament
it is hardware store
it is someday I'll sharpen the knives
the skim milk of your belly and back.
I want leftovers for breakfast
want you gentle and heathen
I want to talk like a preacher in your bathrobe
to embarrass myself before company
until you paint my face a disguise
and call your mother
and hear her breathe on the phone
and hang up
and owe nothing to the bank
and the twins of us are in love
but won't say it
and the sound of their sleeping is ice melting in a jar.


Today's book of poetry has called in the support of some of the other Today's book of poetry staff simply because it seems I can't stop gushing.  High Ground Coward is pure cherse, Alicia Mountain can burn with anyone.

Today's book of poetry is telling you true, Alicia Mountain moved us to tears this morning, her poem "Almanac Traction" is a terse and tender ode, a loving promise, a Juliet/Juliet incantation.  In another world Raymond Carver might have written that poem.  That's not a "gender" comment — that is a "greatness" comment.  Yes, Today's book of poetry just said that Alicia Mountain's High Ground Coward is filled with GREAT poems.

High Ground Coward is Mountain's first book which excites the bejesus out of us here at Today's book of poetry because she is destined for something remarkable.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, said that reading Mountain was a little like the first time she heard Laura Nyro.  It's hard to believe the immediate connection, what you get to take in, what you get to keep.  Today's book of poetry couldn't agree more, when the reader starts to absorb the vibe Mountain is throwing, all bets are off.

If pressed to put a particular name to it, Today's book of poetry is going with "silk sledgehammer."  Mountain is as tough as she is tender.  Wickedly smart poetry with giant and invisible hooks.

Safety Off

There is a shooter     in the mall where she works.
She hasn't seen him yet     but customers are running
down the escalators in shrieks, becoming so fleshy
                                                                                 as they move.

She is the narrator, Jules tells me.
Walkie-talkies describe a gunman who is unmistakably
her angry angry stupid brother      lonely.

I am lazy. I don't even ask if his rampage brain
consummates what it set out to do.                Or I can't bear
that she put that kind of violence through skinny fingers.

Jules asks, should I write the ending so that the sister
                                                                               finds out he survives
or so that we don't know what happens to him?

She won't have the brother die, in the story.      I am disappointed.
     What is wrong with me that I want that?

I wait in my car outside her house,
                                         because it had seemed still to much winter to walk
to the movie—           which was very good.     It won an award.

For a week I tell anyone I like that it was
                                fight club and black swan and eternal sunshine put together—

On the street afterwards, I offer Caylin a ride too.
We let the car warm, watch a woman rehearse ballet in her kitchen.
               She moves like practice, elbows in,
                         just gesturing the turns and leaps,
                     her back to the window.

Caylin says we will all have sugarplum fairies
in apartments in our poems.
                              But I call dibs and Jules says dibs is real.

We spend a driveway half hour telling Caylin
     how to go on a date                      as if we know.
She asks if she should wear an all black outfit
           to the funeral we're going to on Thursday,
which is before her date,        which would be totally fine
                         because she looks good in black.

We say don't text the guy that    those fries are the bomb dot gov.
She goes with    those fries are insanely good   and tells us she loves us
and squeals
    and slams the car door
        and prances through the back-porch dark—

We have only a few blocks left to drive.      I tell Jules
       the narrator should find out her brother lives—
it would be the more terrible outcome,
                                                      the rest of that life.

You are so sinister, she says, undoing her seatbelt.

Should I leave it open-ended here?
Or write that she kisses me hard on the mouth,
                                                    the more unbearable thing.


Today's book of poetry has had versions of this problem before, our copy usually includes three poems, no more, no less, today we are flummoxed.  Today's book of poetry would happily share every fine poem in High Ground Coward.  Imagine, this Mountain's poem, "Palomino" is as good as ANY list poem Today's book of poetry has encountered, and you all know how much Today's book of poetry loves to share list poems.  Can't do it today,  But Today's book of poetry will share a one line teaser:

     "Can you smell the silence on my breath?"

Wow.  You can take Alicia Mountain's High Ground Coward to the bank all day long and never be disappointed.  In a moment of holy fuckwads admiration Today's book of poetry just actually yelled out loud in the office, something I rarely do.  It was one of those "I want a hallelujah and a holler" moments.  I just read this:

Little Rectangular Earths

On Fourth of July in the 90s
I was desperate for a glowstick.
I mean, I knew we were supposed
to be in it for the fire sky, for the
red glare. we all knew, even before
the skyline lost both front teeth.
Floods Hill carpeted in bare legs
and Tupperware and cops mostly
not caring about open containers.

I had a thing for aliens then,
the lemon-lime egghead tapering
to a pointed chin. I was in it for
the genderlessness of their power
and deep space and truth revealed
in cornfields. Wanted three bucks
so I could bite through a fluorescent
necklace and spit light from my insides,
as neon as I knew them to be.


Today's book of poetry would like to dedicate that last poem to our Southern Correspondent and alien loving hero, David Clewell, Poet/Saint of St. Louis.

Everyone in our office was a little over-whelmed by just how much poetry pleasure Alicia Mountain was willing to share.  Today's book of poetry thinks it is very important to recognize, respect, and give voice to everyone regardless of gender.  So we want to tip our hats to Mountain in this regard.  But Alicia Mountain needs no pampering, these poems will burn and will hold up to any scrutiny.  
Today's book of poetry loved Mountain's shady sense of humour, we totally attuned to her sense of justice.

     "I want us to disappear, but all together so we won't be alone"
                                                                           from Forward Falling Daytime

Finally Today's book of poetry will surrender, High Ground Coward is book we'd like to share in its entirety, it is that good.

Isn't this world a splendid place to have such poets as Alicia Mountain in it?  To be this good she must be ten foot tall.

Today's book of poetry hasn't had a poetry meal this good in recent memory.  Mountain burns like Holiday, burns like Ella, you now, incandescent.

Related image

Alicia Mountain

Alicia Mountain is a poet and scholar in the PhD program at the University of Denver. Mountain has been a writer in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an Idyllwild Arts Fellow, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Mountain lives in Denver, Colorado.

“Alicia Mountain looks at every tiny thing very closely, and in doing that conveys the big picture of a vast inner life with marvelous clarity and depth. Her voice is intimate, brash, always precise, heartbreaking in both its vulnerability and its authority. These poems are carried away by both lust and intelligence. This poet understands desire: its expression lets loose while giving form. This book doesn’t detour, it goes right to and through the overpowered, relentless heart of its speaker and the reader is struck through too, and good. High Ground Coward is a dazzling debut by a rare, true talent.”
     —Brenda Shaughnessy, judge, Iowa Poetry Prize

High Ground Coward is raw and intimate. Alicia Mountain looks at what she loves and that foreground blurs into a backdrop of practical constraints and injustices. The poems press at those boundaries where desire starts to interfere with the opportunities of others and cast an unsparing eye on the cost. This is a book of hard, shifting, dreamlike gems.”
     —Joanna Klink, author, Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy



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 3, 2019

For the Birds. For the Humans. - Conyer Clayton (battleaxe press)

Today's book of poetry:
For the Birds. For the Humans.  Conyer Clayton.  battleaxe press.  Ottawa, Ontario.  2018.

Today's book of poetry has met Conyer Clayton but we do not know Conyer Clayton.  Clayton is part of a new generation of Ottawa poets and if For the Birds. For the Humans. is any indication, we are going to see great things from Clayton.  She's got that connect.

Conyer Clayton has developed a language/vernacular that is distinctly avian and all her own.  In truth Today's book of poetry is kind of slow, I doubt we've caught it all, completely cracked the code.  But what Today's book of poetry does see is hope and optimism.  In Clayton's poems we see/hear empowerment, we see joy.

Convent Square

The sun isn't warm enough
to justify stillness, so he grabs
her waist and lifts her up to stand, burying
his face in her belly and her dress for just a moment.
Hands on his shoulders, she looks at the sky
and laughs, says, this is for sitting, not standing,
but stays standing all the same. Pigeons swarm
with desperation. The stranger
seated next at her feet looks pointedly away
while the couple kisses. He feigns
focus, an eraser between his lips,
waiting for the words to come,
like the sudden flight of birds.


Birds play a big roll in Conyer Clayton's poetic universe, she is constantly calling for the virtues of flight.  After a second/third close look at the poems in For the Birds. For the Humans. Today's book of poetry realized that our avian friends appear in all but one poem, lifting both the poems and the readers that much closer to Claytonworld.

Our morning read took flight when Maggie, our newest intern, grabbed Conyer Clayton's For the Birds. For the Humans..  Maggie said she was tickled to see another Ottawa woman ready to take charge in the Ottawa poetry world.  Then Maggie chirped us all into order and we read Conyer Clayton's chapbook, lined up like ducks and chicks.  


The city is heavy with unused potential,
sways, shifts, cobbles, vowels, sidewalks
busy with scheming and decay. Well-tended
cuticles and battlefields in tandem,
we all pedal faster, attempting to free
so many million voices insulated in construction
who echo in a pint glass and deep in my gut,
deeper in the sewers, claimed in the name of the queen
and rats. It's the difference between a guillotine
and a cutting board, a meadow and a lawn.
We step into the box, eager for escape.


A pigeon, a hawk, a seagull, Clayton uses therianthropy instead of anthropomorphism and gives her characters wings.  Conyer Clayton is clever, the unresolved conflict in these poems, sometimes results from a failure to reach flight.  But these poems punch, you can feel how they have weight.  Clayton leads with her heart and her chin and the read always comes out ahead.

Conyer Clayton makes an instant impression.  For the Birds. For the Humans. is a strong introduction to those of us who didn't see Clayton's The Marshes (& co. collective, 2017).  Today's book of poetry can say with confidence that we will see more of Conyer Clayton and her fine, strong poems.


Our humor is written, our lives
carved like apple cores from empty stomachs.
The rigid paths we're forced to follow shear
the fuzz from our cheeks, change
our words, meddle with our minds.
Mechanized, we stand in agape
of skyscrapers, instead of cells or bubbles or crowds
moving mindlessly. Plastered, we plaster
green men and gods on our beer soaked walls
and sooty floors, like rebirth with drunkenness,
a Celtic tradition. I get it. We've worked
hard. We deserve a break, a pint, an ax,
someone to destroy and butcher.
Can't rest. The world is turning.


Today's book of poetry is always pleased to be able to post about a "local" poet.  Ottawa is a city most of my American, and non-Canadian friends really don't know.  We're a small town with a million people, we're spread out over the countryside with rivers and waterfalls and lakes and forests.  Ottawa is a quiet city but poets like Conyer Clayton will change that.  

Today's book of poetry is one of the older poets active in Ottawa but I see a wave of fine younger poets and that gives me hope.


Conyer Clayton

Conyer Clayton is an Ottawa based artist who aims to live with compassion, gratitude, and awe. Her most recent chapbooks are: Trust Only the Beasts in the Water (above/ground press, 2019), Undergrowth (bird, buried press), Mitosis (In/Words Magazine and Press), and For the Birds. For the Humans. (battleaxe press). She released a collaborative album with Nathanael Larochette, If the river stood still, in August 2018. Her work appears in ARC, Prairie Fire, The Fiddlehead, The Maynard, Puddles of Sky Press, TRAIN, post ghost press, and others. She won Arc's 2017 Diana Brebner Prize, 3rd place in Prairie Fire's 2017 Poetry Contest, honourable mention in The Fiddlehead's 2018 poetry prize, and was long-listed for Vallum's 2018 Poem of the Year. She is a member of the sound poetry ensemble Quatuor Gualuor, and writes reviews for Canthius. Her debut full length collection of poetry is forthcoming in Spring 2020. Check out for updates on her endeavours.--



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, June 28, 2019

On Its Edge, Tilted - John Levy (Otata's Bookshelf)

Today's book of poetry:
On Its Edge, Tilted.  John Levy.  Otata's Bookshelf.  2018.

on its edge, tilted

Today's book of poetry is going to apologize right off the top, for the life of our research staff, and believe me, lives were at stake, we could not find out where Otata's Bookshelf originates.  Didn't stop of us from adoring the poetry of John Levy though.

"Let's talk about the weather, the earth
says with flowers."

Today's book of poetry loves his job.  We get to read read read poetry and then write about the books and poets we like.  So many fine poets out there...  but every once in a while Today's book of poetry finds a John Levy type.  Today's book of poetry wants to be able to write poems exactly like John Levy's On Its Edge, Tilted.

This Poem 

This is going to be one of those poems
that goes on and on and calls. . . 
calls itself a poem, looking in 

one of those sets of mirrors 
joined by hinges so that this poem can 
see itself in profile 

or from the ass backwards perspective, 
a poem written on a Sunday afternoon, the sun 

up and my wife walking 
the dogs around the yard, 
the poem is about to say it is going 

along like the trains I saw as a child 
in my mind out in nowhere with flat land 
all around and the train goes through and 

I’m seeing it as a child from a distance. 
The flat 
nowhere with the dried-up stream 

of consciousness and the brief 
bridge over the dried-up stream the poem 
goes over, so fast you miss it if you glance at your wrist-

or at the floor or at the sky or your palm, sore 
finger or old shoe. This poem is going 
to say almost nothing and the almost 

is itself close to nothing in many ways, 
ways no one will bother to count because 
the poem keeps going and there’s 

no time to count much beyond one 
line after another and it would be 
pointless to begin counting anything as the poem, 

say, preens a moment in the mirror, passing 
a stanza over its body in what could be mistaken 
for a caress, but it turns out is just a scratch— 

the itch about the size of the dot above the lower 
case i. This poem circles that dot 
and rejoices in the space around it. 

This poem, in fact, is primarily about that space 
and how the space 
looks in the mirror around it, the legendary 

negative space. This poem is going to say 
almost nothing about what’s positive about 
the negative space, or almost 

positive, or fractionally, though now it finds 
a sliver of positivity and then another, using them 
like rails in a train track. Stand back.


Levy had Today's book of poetry laughing out loud and for the best reasons.  John Levy is all about managing "the negative space."  Ha.  Levy 's autobiographical narratives are joined by utterly fabulous flights of fancy.  In On Its Edge, Tilted John Levy becomes whomever he chooses by whim.  One minutes he's Pablo Picasso and the next he's fulfilling Pablo Neruda's fancy by interviewing his spider.  Marvelous.

Will Today's book of poetry simply sound naive when we try to tell you that John Levy made us think?  Our in-house comedian Pistol suggested Today's book of poetry should "think more often."  Ha ha.

True Story

I was glancing at the man in line 
behind me in this bank when he 
pulled out a flask and took a drink. 
He offered it to me and no one 
watched as I downed whatever it was 
it tasted like grimace with toffee at first 

then orange notes followed by 
caramel and barley. It warmed, no, 
burned, no, increased my mass, but 
then the ceiling sparkled and a mother two people 
behind me told her little girl that everyone 

has been wrong, very very wrong, and the earth 
is flat. The man pried the flask from my grip 
as the teller waved him over even though, as I 
carefully noted earlier, he was behind me. 
At first I thought it was me the teller wanted to 

snub—”snub” is too short a word for how I felt myself 
wobble, massively, at the insult of having the smiling 
teller use all five fingers of a hand to neglect my 
Being. The after-

taste, a touch of dried flower petals, black pepper, tobacco 
leaf and chocolate was no consolation when I viewed the man 
pass the flask to the teller, which she took with the very same 
fingered hand she’d waved in the atmosphere. The view 

was nearly identical to looking through pillars at the Acropolis 
if the Acropolis were a bank and we were all tourists 
so none of us spoke Greek. The girl, inches behind me now, 
guffawed after her mother whispered loudly, “Some men are 

invisible, darling, and to think 
that they can help it 
is very very wrong.”


On Its Edge, Tilted has it all, love stories, instructional video, bad weather and so on.  What attracted Today's book of poetry was that there is hope in here as well.

Our morning read was a vivacious affair.  Any poet who mentions W.H. Auden's "Musee des beaux arts" with serious intent and respect, well, that poet gets our full attention.  Today's book of poetry continues to maintain, respectfully, that Sir W.H. Auden's "Musee des beaux arts" is one of our greatest poems.  It's certainly near the top of the charts.

Milo, our head tech, took the lead with this mornings reading.  Milo's recent reading has included Auden so his poetry eyes opened up big when reading Levy's On Its Edge, Tilted.  This isn't meant to distract you readers, Levy doesn't actually spend much time on Auden or anyone else, Today's book of poetry just appreciated the mention of one of our hero's.  Levy himself is a train, keeps a steady head of steam and arrives on time and fully loaded with every poem.

Postcard to My Wife

Dear Leslie,

As you know, sometimes I blather. What
is her doing in blather, near the nonsense of
blat, like a husband and wife, like us. You're
the dear one, next to a blat, the dear one
who gives birth. You gave birth
to our two children, an act of giving,
to them and to us. You made me
a father and brought them onto
this planet and you love them before you
think of yourself. I send you this postcard
with one word on the other side, LOVE,
hand-painted, seeming to rise above
all else, all upper case because you
keep it up so skillfully, so
carefully, with such kindness.



Today's book of poetry was delighted to end today's blather with a love poem/postcard.  Like Today's book of poetry, John Levy appears to love poetry, but loves his wife most.  Levy never walks and talk maudlin or saccharine, but he hits the poetry heart square on every time he tries.

Mr. John Levy will be welcome here anytime, Today's book of poetry liked how he handled it all.

John Levy

John Levy was born in Minneapolis. His father, a businessman, went to law school at the age of 45 and then opened his own law firm (and later began a solo practice). Levy's mother is a sculptor and painter.
When Levy was a young boy, his family moved to Phoenix. His first exposure to poetry was in the sixth grade, when his older brother began playing recordings of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry.
Later, Levy began to read e. e. cummings and at age 15, after finding a book of William Carlos Williams poems, began writing poems.
Levy graduated from Oberlin College in 1974. He worked in a factory that summer and earned the money to fly to Kyoto, where he lived for a year and a half. For six months he worked as a waiter and dishwasher with the American poet Cid Corman in a coffee and ice cream shop Corman had started with his wife Shizumi. He briefly returned to Arizona in early 1976, where he was a poet-in-residence at a private school (K - 12) for a month, having been awarded a grant by an arts commission. Levy then moved to Paris where he lived for just over a year, earning his living by babysitting a young Canadian boy and by working as a personal secretary for a retired diplomat.
Levy published his first collection of poetry, Suppose a Man, at the invitation of James L. Weil, publisher of The Elizabeth Press. Weil also published Levy's second collection, Among the Consonants (in 1980), and Weil became a generous and supportive friend until his death in 2006.
In 1980 Levy moved to Tucson and continues to live there. After moving to Tucson, he worked as a carpenter with a high school friend who had started his own construction company. From 1983 to 1985, Levy moved to Meligalas, Greece where he taught English as a second language at private language schools in Kalamata. After returning to the United States, Levy took up the study of law in 1988 at the University of Arizona College of Law. After graduation, he clerked at the Court of Appeals (1991-1992), then undertook a solo practice for three years (doing both criminal and civil work). He then joined a small firm that specialized in plaintiff's securities fraud class action cases. In 1997 Levy joined the Pima County Public Defender's Office, where he has worked in the felony trial division (except for a nine-month stint in the appellate unit).
Levy's poetry has appeared in various poetry magazines in the United States and in England, and has been anthologized in How the Net Is Gripped (Stride Press, 1992) and A Curious Architecture: A Selection of Contemporary Prose Poems (Stride Press, 1996), both anthologies edited by Rupert Loydell & David Miller.



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, June 21, 2019

On the Count of None - Allison Chisholm (A Feed Dog Book/Anvil Press)

Today's book of poetry:
On the Count of None.  Allison Chisholm.  A Feed Dog Book.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2018.

There's more going on in Allison Chisholm's bag of tricks On the Count of None than Today's book of poetry could keep track of.  Just to get started there are a series of horoscope related poems, one for each sign of the zodiac.  These poems were full of laugh out loud moments.  Chisholm's humour is often right under the surface of things.  Once you hit that stride these poems take on a whole new charm.

Aries (March 21-April 19)

If you are not yet moving at top speed, you very soon
will be.

Reach out to a close ally.

Consult an expert at low volume.

The results will be pleasing: an abundance of
greenery in the shadows of Venus.

Be prepared for a strong reaction.


Note of full disclosure:  Anvil Press also publishes my work.  I'd like to think that Today's book of poetry operates without influence and/or favouritism.  Our mission remains to write about books of poetry we like.

Today's book of poetry figured Chisholm's poem "Worldly or Otherwise: is a thinly veiled mission statement so we thought we should take a look.  Today's book of poetry should know more about Allison Chisholm, we've had the pleasure of breaking bread together.  Allison was the emcee for a reading Today's book of poetry did in Kingston last year with Sadiqa de Meijer and Stuart Ross.  And we've shared beer at the Carleton Tavern.

Worldly or Otherwise

On this side of the world we put things in order:
hairpins, asthma inhalers, glasses of milk.
We edit our obituaries and euthanize our old ambitions.
We underwrite our uncertainties and pause to remember a voice.
On this side of the world we believe in suicide the old-fashioned way.

On this side of the world we strike out inscriptions left in books.
We keep your rumours at the edge of our vision.
We cast out broken skeletons and infiltrate audible gasps.
It's another type of sinking—here, on this side of the world.


Sadly, the truth is that Today's book of poetry knows virtually nothing about Chisholm except that we like the way she gets around a page.  Stuart Ross we know like the back of our own hand.  Mr. Ross is the Editor for A Feed Dog Book, his imprint at Anvil Press.

It is hard for Today's book of poetry to pretend that there is no bias when it comes to Ross but in truth we can't wait to get our hands on any book he's had an influence on.  Today's book of poetry knows from personal experience that Ross makes any poem he touches better.  He is a superior editor.

Allison Chisholm benefits from the care Ross puts into his poets work.  On the Count of None is precise, smoothly carved, the sharp edges are within the language, the poems themselves are otter slick.


for nelson








Any poet publishing a poem for the Paris, Ontario poet Nelson Ball is going to curry favour here in our offices.  All of you regular readers will remember Nelson Ball from the several books of his we've gushed over in previous posts.  Nelson Ball is a genuine hero in the poetry/small press scene here in Ontario.  Allison Chisholm manages to capture and compliment Captain Ball in one short breath.  Lovely.

Today's book of poetry discovered a reoccurring character, she appears in at least seven poems.  Who is this "Ellen?"  What does she want with us?  What does her presence mean?  And why does she have three "Dollhouse (s)?"  It doesn't really matter, Ellen had our full attention every time she popped up with a sage flurry.

Woman Does Backflip Before Slipping
into Shadows

Dear Abby,
How do I measure
Some level of risk
A comfortable silence
And a single sailing season?

How, Abby,
Do I wrestle
This pirate stronghold
An instant foreboding
And a legendary creature?

Dear, dear Abby
Is there a fine line
Between a daylong battle
And a misty morning?

Sun filters through leaves
Snow covers all in sight
I hear popping and crackling
As Mom drops bacon into the pan.

Life is an expenditure
And I need some capital.



Our morning read was a snappy little dance.  The sun is shining and it's almost the weekend, everyone was in summer clothing and a good mood.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, was all over Chisholm and handed out our reading assignments with aplomb.  Allison Chisholm's perky On the Count of None got us all thinking this morning.  These poems never try to pull the wool over your eyes but that doesn't mean that Chisholm won't happily pull the rug out from beneath your feet.   Poetry wise.

Image result for allison chisholm photos

Allison Chisholm

Allison Chisholm lives and writes in Kingston, Ontario. Her poetry has appeared in The Northern Testicle Review, the Puddles of Sky chap-poem The Dollhouse, The Week Shall Inherit The Verse, and the Proper Tales Press chapbook On the Count of One. She played glockenspiel in the Hawaiian-dream-pop band scub. Her photography has been exhibited in the Tiniest Gallery.

“Allison Chisholm’s poems are plain-talking spirals of wit and description. She walks the reader along a path of surprises— a straightforward line steps to another straightforward line, but getting there involves Escher-like angles. What a great first book, full of a persuasive and clear form of surrealism!”
      – Alice Burdick, author of Deportment and Book of Short Sentences

“There are lots of rewards among these lines. I like especially the poems that implicitly and pointedly criticize our culture— and I love Allison’s deadpan humour.”
     – Nelson Ball, author of Certain Details and Walking

“Allison Chisholm introduces us to a world where things are at once placed in careful order and blown delightfully apart. There are surprising pleasures tucked into these succinct poems.”
     – Jaime Forsythe, author of I Heard Something and Sympathy Loophole


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.