Sunday, March 31, 2013

All That Desire, New and Selected - Betsy Struthers

Today's book of poems:  All That Desire, New and Selected Poems, Betsy Struthers, Black Moss Press, 2012.

All That Desire, Betsy Struthers new and selected poems is a surprise to me.  Not because the poems are well crafted, accessible and almost always in the right emotional pitch, but because Struthers has built up, with very little fanfare, a large body of solid, dependable and deceptively candid work.  Unflinchingly honest is another way I would describe Struthers.

I met Betsy Struthers thirty years ago when I lived in Peterborough.  I  believe we were introduced by the poet Richard Harrison.  At the time, Betsy was leaps and bounds ahead of me in her understanding of poetry and certainly how to write it.  When you are young, or I should say, when I was younger, there were a lot of things I missed because I didn't know what to look for.

Now, reading this selected by Struthers I see the solid foundation all of her work is anchored to.  Struthers is a contemplative poet who measures every word and you sometimes suspect she is being cautious which is exactly when Struthers will reveal some simple truth with a candour that is not out of place but it is surprising.

Betsy Struthers writes wise, warm and witty poetry about her life as a woman, the passage of the girl into womanhood, marriage, honourable motherhood and so on.  There are no experiments in these poems and that is fine, instead Struthers tracks a strong narrative line as she shares with us the life of a normal, strong, typical intelligent woman.  There aren't many surprises unless the novelty of the honest voice is new to you.

These poems are that crystal clear honest woman's voice, unapologetic and with good reason.  Struthers has never been given the recognition her work merits.  That is in part because she is a woman and they generally get the short end of the stick.  The other reason may be that there is no drama (as in hysterics or modernist theatre memes) in  Struthers work.  This isn't glamore, but real life, wisely considered and poetically as clear as glass.

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Chimney Stone - Rob Winger

Today's book of poems:  The Chimney Stone, Rob Winger.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibson, B.C..  2010.

Phyllis Webb.  Adrienne Rich.  John Thompson.  Emmylou Harris.  Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  Trent Reznor.  Johnny Cash.  June Carter.  Wayne Gretzky.  Michael Ondaatje.  Paul Simon.  Peter Gabriel.  Dennis Lee.  Gaston Bachelard.  Joni Mitchell.  Al Purdy.  Don Domanski.  Bob Dylan.  Arthur Motyer.  Arthur Rimbaud.  Dionne Brand.  U2.  Agha Shahid Ali.  Margaret Atwood.  Gord Downie.  Margaret Avison.  the Clash.  Spalding Gray.  Dead Kennedys.  John Coltrane.  Talking Heads.  Mark Twain.

All of these writers, songwriters, thinkers, appear en masse in these sparse and very finely tuned ghazals.

Winger follows up Muybridge's Horse, a book of heft and density (all good), with this slim volume packed to the gills with everything from the Garden of Eden to the kitchen sink.  It is all speeding by faster than you can comprehend, but somehow, the brain recognizes, cogitates and puts these puzzles pieces together.  Actually it is Winger who has done that for your brain.  With no small flourish.

Sometimes, and this is one of those cases, I find others explain what I feel far more clearly than I can, so here is Kevin Connolly's take on Winger's The Chimney Stone:

The Chimney Stone at first seems to be a book about love, then suddenly a book about influence (perhaps the influence of love and a love of one's influences) and finally, a book that parses the often testy question of inspiration in is most basic, arcane, and visceral senses.  There's a great skill here line to line, word to word, but the quiet directness of the poems is what shines; art not just the nod to other art it always is, but a doorway to tackling the larger problems of being.

Winger's writing is consistently smart and clean.  The Chimney Stone challenges the reader to keep up, rewards every step.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Flower of Youth - Mary di Michele

Today's book of poetry - The Flower of Youth ( Pier Paolo Pasolini Poems).  Mary di Michele. ECW Press.  Toronto.  2011.

To prepare for Mary di Michele's The Flower of Youth, I went to the shelf and pulled down Pier Paolo Pasolini's Roman Poems translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Francesca Valente.   Pier Paolo Pasolini was an Italian poet who became a film maker.  He was born in 1922 in Bologna and murdered in Ostia, near Rome, in 1975.  Pasolini was politically persecuted for "moral unworthiness".  He was homosexual at a very dangerous time.

di Michele's latest book of poetry (she has ten published volumes thus far) is really poetry disguising an autobiographical novel.  di Michele inhabits the young Pasolini well enough that these poems sound and feel and smell as though Pier Paolo had penned them himself.

Although WWII was crashing down all around him with its' terrible consequences, Pasolini/di Michele is only obsessed with the beauty he sees in boys.  These poems are a coming of age for a young man, an emerging artist and a strong Catholic.  His faith guides him, that and other obvious contradictions between his personal battles and the repressive culture of Italy at that time.

For me, the biggest impression this book made on me was through the poems about desire and longing.

The dew had dried but the stones, gravel
from the river bank, still glistened; in the grove
where we lay together the Earth trembled
            with the passing of trains.

excerpt from the poem Hidden Corners/The Earth Moves

di Michele captures Pasolini's desperate plunge towards desire, young love and the brutal consequences of aspiring for perfect love in such an imperfect world.

Pasolini would like these poems very much and so will you.  di Michele has re-imagined herself as a young Italian man only to prove that The Flower of Youth is eternally in full bloom.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Under The Keel - Michael Crummey

Today's book of poetry - Under The Keel, Michael Crummey, House of Anansi Press, Toronto, 2013.

I started to smile early on when reading the first poem, a comfortable familiar when reading Michael Crummey's poetry.  Having read previous collections Arguments With Gravity, Hard Light and Salvage (three of his earlier books of poems), I knew what to expect.

Highly polished poetry that can appear to be casual, but isn't.  Colloquial language that becomes universal under Crummey's keen direction.  Like many things of quality, the closer you look, the better they become.

These poems (including a few prose poems) tell a kaleidoscope of narratives, most of them tied to Newfoundland - Labrador at some primal level.  But the over all feeling, sense, is like walking into a warm kitchen after being out in the cold and sitting down with an old story teller, yarn spinner, trickster and getting to listen in.  And in that kitchen, where every sort of conversation can occur are poems full of the hard scrub understanding of a culture within a culture, a country on an island only tethered to the rest of us by a little bit of rock on the edge of the continent.  There is a language that belongs to the rock and it threaded through these poems.

This book has teen aged love songs and dirges about the post office, instructions, reminders and every other thing.  There is nothing experimental or radical in these poems, instead they adhere to an older narrative code where stories have a beginning, a middle and an end.

With Under The Keel, Mr. Crummey is reminding us what a good story teller he is, and what a fine poet.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Polymers - Adam Dickinson

Today's book of poems - The Polymers.  Adam Dickinson.  House of Anansi Press.  Toronto.  2013.

As a reader you are going to need a dictionary and an open mind.  Dickinson throws out ideas faster than they can be caught with one reading.

Christopher Dewdney meets Stuart Ross meets Quentin Tarantino, together they make plastic sheets for poetry, posters and posterity.  Here the scientifically expert voice of a Christopher Dewdney  meets the incomprehensible leaps of logic that only Stuart Ross previously managed, this all funnelled through a rapid fire Quentin Tarantino sensibility.  This is an author who knows popular culture and modern thinking well enough to dance it around the page and put it inside a chemical formulation.  A lot to digest, I know.  But you should see these poems.

These are not poems I would normally be drawn to.  In many ways my poetic tastes are old school and conservative.  Adam Dickinson is certainly neither but these poems are interesting from the first plastic page.  I've rarely read poetry where I felt I was learning as much - yet been unsure exactly what it was that I was learning.

These advanced chemistry lessons disguised as poems, or poems masquerading as chemistry equations are like no science class or poetry reading you've been to.  It's very rare and it is always exciting to read something that is completely new.  Equally rare is the feat of making complicated interesting.  Dickinson, surely clad in a compromised lab coat, gives the reader all of it.  Pretty sure that if Dickinson choose not to take a breath he could explain the history of the world to us in one long poetic equation all tied together with plastic.

You just know when you come up against someone who understands the world so much better than you do.  If they do it right, and Dickinson does, you are riveted to every crazy word.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

1996 - Sara Peters

Today's book of poems.   1996,  Sara Peters.  House of Anansi Press.  Toronto.  2013.

Sara Peters debut book 1996 can not be a first book.  Peters is playing with us.  Clearly she has done some sort of Dorian Gray switch with an aged and accomplished senior poet locked up in her attic.  What else could it be?

The poems in this volume move effortlessly off of the page and into the reader's psyche.  With complete control of language Peters lulls the reader into gentle agreement at every turn.  When necessary she pulls out the knife, slides it between the reader's ribs and gentle reminds the reader who the boss is.

1996 is a dazzling book.  Robert Pinksy, the former Poet Laureate of the United States said the following about Peters' 1996:

"It's wonderful to enjoy a book of poetry, unreservedly.  'Enjoy' might seem the wrong word for a book pervaded by the terrible orders and disorders of desire, the overlaps of ritual and cruelty -- but yes, it is a pleasure to discover Sara Peters' way of combining imagination with purpose, wit with heart, toughness with vision, sex with intelligence, and precision with mystery:  the real mystery of human feelings and actions, deeper than mere darkness."

And I couldn't agree more.

Sara Peters is fearless.  These poems resound with a new and unique voice, so clear and precise that all the others just sound like white noise.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Alice Major - The Occupied World

Today's book of poems - The Occupied World, Alice Major, University of Alberta Press, 2006.

These are the days of supplication and suspense
when the inevitable maintains
the delicate, rigorous balance of a pen
poised at right angles to the plane
of possibility.
from the poem Yomtovim, Alice Major

Our place in the world mapped out by a poet of vision.  Major writes with alarming intelligence, her pen poised at the right angle, her keen vision exploring the intricacies in our human fabric.  I fear I am unequipped to properly convey the way these poems made me feel.
At first I was intimidated by the breadth of Major's knowledge, and not a little jealous.  She seems to know everything about everything and not in that horrible way brilliant people sometimes have.  Major educates with every poem but these are never lectures, they radiate the warmth of a sage voice, one that winnows the chafe out of language.
These poems are all about being human, that endless journey.  Alice Major is one of those writers who makes whatever she chooses to discuss interesting.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

best poem ever - for poetry day

Musee des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Brueghel's Icarus for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
WH Auden

Monday, March 18, 2013

Carolyn Smart - Hooked

Today's book of poetry - Hooked, by Carolyn Smart.  Brick Books.  2009, 2011.

Smart tackles the lives of seven women, some known better than others, and uses their trajectories to muse on everything from madness to memory.

Hooked is divided into seven sections, one each for Myra Hindley, Unity Mitford, Zelda Fitzgerald, Dora Carrington, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles and Elizabeth Smart.  If you are like me I was only familiar with four of the seven.  It matters not because as much as these poems are about these women, these poems are about all women, their desires, fears and attempts to be creative in a world that often doesn't listen to the voices of women.

Smart treats all the women to the same microscopic lens that goes past personality and reveals truth in simple and often heart rendering ways.  This is not a sympathetic voice but an empathetic one as Smart explores the map of each woman's heart, stamps out their correspondence with elan.

This is the sort of writing only a mature writer, one that has all that experience to draw from, can manage.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Nico Rogers - The Fetch

Today's book is a book of short and shorter stories.  The Fetch by Nico Rogers.  Brick Books, 2010.

Part Christopher Pratt and part Alistair MacLeod.  These short stories paint in vivid detail the portrait of a hard scrabble life on the rock.

Part Christopher Pratt because at some point the reader forgets the reading and is submersed into a fully developed painting that renders all the senses, smells, sights, with such detail that you aren't a reader but an observer.

Part Alistair MacLeod, because that is the highest compliment I can give to someone who writes short stories.  Or prose poems.

I've been to Newfoundland and Labrador a few times and always liked it, loved it.  I've read my share of novels and poetry about Newfoundland and Labrador.  The Fetch by Nico Rogers is the first time I've felt I could taste the past, smell the history.

I found these short and shorter stories utterly engaging.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Today's book of poems, There Devil, Eat That.  Jonarno Lawson, Pedlar Press, 2011.
Lawson's There Devil, Eat That is by turns brilliant and banal.  The best of the poems in this collection are startling with insight and wit.  In several of these poems Lawon accomplishes that relatively rare feat of writing a modern rhyming poem that works.  There is nothing forced about the structure or tone, he isn't reaching for the rhyme or the rhythm.
Not all of these poems work though.  At times Lawson seems to have included poems that are closer to lark.  But it doesn't matter, the good far outweighs the rest.
I love the joy that is evident in the playfulness in the best of these poems.
Not being a fan of concrete poetry I find it amusingly appropriate to have to tell you that this collection ends with a concrete poem, Hold Me To The Light.  It is the best concrete poem I have ever seen.  It is so simple, clear and perfect as to astound this grumpy middle aged conformist.  I took me a couple of minutes to grasp what I was looking at - and then the laughter inside me erupted, a poem that caused instant and spontaneous joy.  A concrete poem at that.
Great title and some very fine poems in this attractive book.  I'll be looking forward to reading whatever Lawson does next.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Meeting William Hawkins

Today I met William Hawkins.  I'd been wanting to meet him for a long time.  When I moved to Ottawa almost thirty years ago he was the poet I wanted to meet.  But I never felt I could, or should, just call him out of the blue.

Luckily we have a mutual friend, Ken Rockburn.  Ken invited us both to lunch today and I believe an excellent time was had by all.

Bill had some serious stories, signed my books, was completely gracious and I had a simply great time.

It doesn't always go like that when you meet your heroes.

Over the years I've been extremely lucky and met many, many poets I look up to.  Irving Layton, Al Purdy, Louis Dudek, A.J.M. Smith, Patrick Lane, Earle Birney, Michael Ondaatje, David McFadden, David Helwig, Bill Bissett, Milton Acorn, Anne Szumigalski, Peter Stephens, Don McKay.  I talked to Phyllis Webb on the phone once.  It's a long list.  And almost without exception they have been generous with their time and energy.

It's days like today when I feel particularly happy to be among my very strange brotherhood/sisterhood of poets.

Thank you William Hawkins.  Thank you Ken Rockburn.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Julie Bruck - The End of Travel

Today's book of poems - The End of Travel, Julie Bruck, Brick Books, 1999, 2012.

If I had been on a jury in 1999 and read this book by Julie Bruck she might have won the GG a decade ago.

It was only a few weeks ago that I read Monkey Ranch.  It was excellent.  I enjoyed reading Monkey Ranch so much that I went back and read The Woman Downstairs (1993) again.  Yesterday I was visiting Cameron Anstee and he gave me a copy of The End of Travel.

Cameron, a publisher and poet, has a great collection of Canadian poetry and a deep love and respect for the history and tradition of Canadian literature.  We gossiped like wet hens about the books and poets we love and admire.

For me Julie Bruck is shooting closer and closer to the top of that list, the list of poets I love and admire.

It would be so wrong for me to describe this work as ordinary, but it is.  Perfectly, poetically, ordinary.  Bruck does what I admire most and that is to look closely at the day to day existence we all share.  She looks at it through her astonishingly focused gaze and then shares simple wisdoms and observations that we have all made in the best part of our imaginations.  It isn't that what Bruck is saying is new, there is nothing new under the sun, but Bruck is saying it well.

This is subtle music we should all recognize.

The poems in this volume deal with love and loss and illness and the length of a dog's nails.  Like any good writer, it really doesn't matter what Bruck is writing about, I'm going to be very interested in reading it.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Spent the afternoon looking over Cameron Anstee's excellent poetry collection.  The temptation to steal was overwhelming but as his fiance Jenn is a boxer I was able to come to my senses.  There are few things quite so pleasurable to me as sitting in front of a bookcase full of Canadian Poetry and Cameron has amassed a beautiful collection of older material, current publications and small press rarities.
Monty Ried jumped off the shelf with beautiful book after beautiful book.  Rob McLennan was well represented (an impressive array of books no matter how you look at it), Sandra Ridley, David O'Meara  (including a early book I've never seen before - and now covet), Stephen Brockwell, Shane Rhoades, Pearl Pirie, Rob Winger, Bob Hogg - all appeared in volumes I hadn't seen before and now want.
It was one of those painful joys.  Ottawa was well represented.
It is such a thrill to see so much Canadian poetry in one place.

Friday, March 8, 2013

International Woman's Day

It's International Woman's day and to celebrate I started to make a list of women poets I really liked.  But that list was not working, my fault, not the women.

Instead I decided to raid my shelves and list ALL the Canadian Women Poets I have on my bookshelves.  In order to get on my shelf - it has to be a book, chapbook or manuscript.  All of the following fall into those three groups.

If you think there is someone I should read that I haven't listed, send it along with two crying Charlies and I'll write about everything I receive.

Women Poets of Canada on Michael's Shelf

Gil Adamson
Mona Elaine Adilman
Catherine Ahearn
Sandra Alland
Jan Allen
Lillian Allen
Gay Allison
Mauguerite Anderson
Teruko Anderson-Jones
Margaret Atwood
Margaret Avison

Maya Bannerman
Jay Bartley
Rita Barus
Rhonda Batchelor
Jill Battson
Sharon Berg
Julie Berry
Patricia Bertrand
Marie-Claire Blais
Roma Bloom
Marianne Bluger
Ella Borrow
Stephanie Bolster
Roo Borson
Marilyn Bowering
Shannon Bramer
Dionne Brand
Di Brandt
Diana Brebner
Lucy Brennan
Elisabeth Brewster
Nicole Brossard
Ronnie Brown
Julie Bruck
Diana Fitzgerald Bryden
Alice Burdick
Kay Burkman
Candice Adamson Burstow

Heather Cadsby
Anne Cameron
Katie Campbell
Natalie Caple
Barbara Carey
Anne Carson
Terry Ann Carter
Carole Chambers
May Chan
Nancy Chater
Margaret Christakos
Anne Cimon
Jan Conn
Karen Connelly
Rosalind Conway
Meira Cook
Marlene Cookshaw
Olga Costopoulos
Dani Couture
Jeni Couzyn
Isabella Valancy Crawford
Lynn Crosbie
Lorna Crozier
M. E. Csamer

Marita Dachel
Mary Dalton
Jacqueline d'Amboise
Kateri Damm
Bonnie Day
Denise DeMoura
Michelle Desbarats
Alexa DeWiel
Ann Diamond
Jane Dick
Mary DiMichele
Helene Dorion
Candice Jane Dorsey
Susan Downe
Mary Downey
Marme Duff
Dorothy Dumbrille
Donna Dunlop

Deborah Eibel
Lori Emerson
Susan Elmslie
Ramabai Espinet

Laura Farina
Dorothy Farmiloe
Beatrice Ferneyhough
Mona Fertig
Marya Fiamengo
Ellen Field
Joan Finnegan
Judith Fitzgerald
Brenda Fleet
Jennifer Footman
Cathy Ford
Kathleen Forsythe
Gail Fox
Elyse Friedman
Elaine Freeman

Maxine Gadd
Madeline Gagnon
Elizabeth Galvin
Mary Gervais
Shirley Gibson
Maureen Gaude
Susan Glickman
Beth Goobie
Phyllis Gotlieb
Mona Gould
Nora Gould
Neile Graham
Carolyn Grasser
Leslie Greentree

Heather Holly
Natalie Hanna
Robin Hannah
Sally Harasym
Mary Frances Haws
Elizabeth Harper
Claire Harris
Maureen Scott Harris
Diana Hartog
Beatriz Hausner
Anne Hebert
Maggie Helwig
Rosemary Hollingshead
Jan Horner
Aislinn Hunter
Catherine Hunter
Inge Israel
Frances Itani
Sally Ito

Maria Jacobs
Ellen S. Jaffe
Penelope Jahn
Candice James
Andrea Jarmal
Catherine Jenkins
Marvyne Jenoff
Paulette Jiles
Tannis Johnson
Jane Johnson
Elizabeth Jones
Jane Jordan

Janice Kulyk Keefer
Patricia Keeney
Penny Kemp (Penny Chalmers)
Virginia Kent-Brown
Lula Koehn
Joy Kogawa
Lynne Kositsky
Elizabeth Kouhi
Judith Krause

Sonnet L'Abbe
Barbara Landry
Sarah Lang
Claudia Lapp
Clare Latremuille
Evelyn Lau
Carol H. Leckner
Anne LeDressay
Shawna Lemay
Norma West Linder
Dorothy Livesay
Jennifer Londry
Jennifer Love Grove
Pat Lowther
Meghan Lynch
Jeanette Lynes

Karen MacCormack
Clare MacCullough
Gwendolyn MacEwen
Kerry A. MacGregor
Judy McInnes Jr.
Sunyata MacLean
Rosalind MacPhee
Jay MacPherson
Daphne Marlatt
Anne Marriott
Shiela Martindale
Jean McCallion
Maureen McCarthy
Susan McCaslin
Una McDonnell
Judy McGillivary
Sandy McIlwain
Nadine McInnis
Sue McLeod
Susan McMaster
Florence McNiel
Mary Melfi
Anne Michaels
Pauline Michel
Joni Mitchell
Erin Moure
Susan Musgrave

Leight Nash
Lillian Necakov
Joyce Nelson
Sandra Nicholls
Erin Noteboom

Libby Oughton

P.K. Page
Lisa Pasold
Gianna Patriarca
Kathryn Payne
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
Ruth Roach Pierson
Marilyn Gear Pilling
Judith Pond
Robin Potter
Erica Predko
Linda Pyke

Claudia Coutu Radmore
Janic Rapoport
Janet Read
Kay Redhead
Roberta Rees
Sandra Ridley
Ali Riley
Gillian Robinson
Linda Rogers
Rose Rosberg
Helene Rosenzweig
Nancy-Gay Rotstein
Mari-Lou Rowley
Enid Delgatty Rutland

Misty Santana
Robyn Sarah
Margaret Saunders
Libby Scheier
Eleonore Schonmaier
Nancy Senior
Kathy Shaidie
Carol Shields
Rachel Simpson
Carolyn Smart
Karen Solie
Jill Solnicki
Esta Spalding
Cindy Spear
Heather Spears
Christal Steck
Nathalie Stephens
Anne Stone
Betsy Struthers
Anne Szumigalski

Sharon Theson
Eva Thanyi
Joan Thornton
Lola Lemire Tostevin
Lise Treau deCoeli
Rhea Tregebov
Jacqueline Turner
Kathy Tyler
Maxine Tynes

Lorna Uher
Priscila Uppal
Jane Urquhart

Florence Vale
Rachel Vigier
Nicola Vulpe

Miriam Waddington
Anne Walker
Anne F. Walker
Bronwen Wallace
Margaret Waller
Linda Waybrant
Leslie Webb
Phyllis Webb
Liliane Welch
Cyndela Whitney
Elana Wolff
Elizabeth Woods

Marg Yeo
Ann York
Florrie Baxter Yound
Patricia Yound

Elizabeth Zetlin
Helen Zisimatos
Carolyn Zonailo
Jan Zwicky

If I've mistakenly spelled someone's name wrong - sorry.  If I've included a man by mistake, consider yourself lucky.

Hat's off and deep respect to all of Canada's women, and to these poets.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Today's book of poems: I see my love more clearly from a distance, by Nora Gould (Brick Books, 2012). Gould is a prairie woman in her early 50's. She writes about life on the ranch with her family. This book is stunningly good. What Gould doesn't know isn't worth knowing. These poems work together to form a portrait clearer than a Wyeth painting but with all the texture and emotion intact. Could not recommend a book more highly. For any women reading this who belong to a book club - this IS the book of poetry you should be reading. No sentimentality at all but all the passion, love and emotional depth you hope to find in great literature. Gould, a new discovery for me, has instantly become a poet I greatly admire.
Suppose, at the back of an aeroplane,
there was a little balcony
which people could be led to, and sat down on,
and left to themselves in the sky in,
gripping the railings,
to be bumped through the clouds at topspeed
like no one from nowhere to nowhere,
their hearts in their mouths, feeling sick,
but going so fast they can't even go on and be sick -
that's like my love,
my feverish love,
for you.

from My Italian Cardigan, found in Selima Hill's A Little Book of Meat.

Today's poetry: Selima Hill's A Little Book Of Meat, Bloodaxe, 1993. Read a couple of her poems in an anthology recently so naturally I checked out my shelves. This is the only Selima Hill book I currently have. I assure you, I will be looking for more. I remembered really enjoying her work as soon as I saw the cover. The cover is an unsettling close up photograph of a cow eye. The poems are unsettling in the same way, not extraordinary, just closer examined. She is fearless.

Todays book of poems: The Illustrated Statue of Liberty, Bruce Rice. Coteau Books, 2004. Somehow I'd missed Bruce Rice. I'd never heard of him until I read this book. The error has to be mine. Edited by Don McKay, this work is electric, taut and tender. Remarkable book.
Today's book of poems: Trivia Thief, Selected Poems 1969-2009, Alberto Nessi, Guernica, 2010. Poems built out of memory that are instantly recognizable. A very common touch. Translated works often lack the romantically intangible glue necessary for poetry - these poems overcome that obstacle with their deceptively simple language as they explore universal themes from a personal level. I like these poems a lot.

Today's book of poems: High Lonesome, Patricia Lee Lewis, Hedgerow Books, Levellers Press, 2011.
An uneven collection, but when she is on Ms. Lewis is very strong. Things are not always what they seem and these poems notice. They explore the human landscape with a language devoted to noticing the details that mark our individual journeys. That's a paraphrase from the back cover. I didn't love this book but I certainly liked some of the poems a great deal. And that is enough for me. Hope it is enough for you.

Today's book of poems: Excerpts From Improbable Books, Stephen Brockwell, unpublished, 2013.
I have a new phrase. Happy jealousy. And that is my description of Mr. Brockwell's latest. It always makes me happy to read good poems, if they are really good, happy jealousy. Brockwell is old school diligent and you can tell these poems have been heavily worked. Not because the poems show the work but simply because there is no other way to arrive with such fully formed gems. Here is the TITLE of one of the many fine poems: Excerpt from an Improbable Book: The Life-Saving Virtues of Virginia Tobacco. Imagine. This book is a hoot.
Today's book of poems: My Life In Pictures, Christian McPherson. Now Or Never Publishing, 2013. Stephen Brockwell and Christian McPherson are both friends of mine. Not acquaintances but friends. As much as I would like to think I am unbiased, I usually love the work my friends do and this book is no different.
My Life In Pictures is McPherson's third trade book of poetry, a great accomplishment by any standard. These poems form one autobiographical narrative and it is a feat of sustained thinking because each poem is a study of a specific movie as well. Individually, I don't think these are Christians strongest poems (although the best of them are excellent), but collectively they work very well. It is an unusual and self imposed format, to define your life poetically through the narrative of films of particular years.
Most cats out there are swattin' pop-ups and grounders, McPherson is swinging for the fences, falls on his ass when he misses, hits them out of the park when he connects.
Look for this book.

Today's book of poems. Without End, New and Selected Poems, Adam Zagajewski. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.


It was just children playing in the sand
(accompanied by the narcotic scent
of blooming lindens, don't forget),
just children, but after all
the devil, and minor gods,
and even forgotten politicians,
who'd broken all their promises,
were also there and watched them
with unending rapture.
Who wouldn't want to be a child
--for the last time!

These poems are translated from Polish. An emotional history of the world written by a reasonable man. These are rich poems. Dense with life. Great reading, but it has to be read slowly. The best kind always do.

Todays book of poems: Song of the Taxidermist. Aurian Haller. Goose Lane Editions, 2011.
These are almost surreal snapshots. Snippets of the real world through a tinted glass. None of my descriptions will do his descriptions justice. Smart stuff. It's like he's working in a garden with plants we don't recognize until he describes them for us. He's an excellent gardener.

Today's poetry. The Country Between Us, Carolyn Forche, 1981, Cooper Canyon Press. Scooped four books of poetry today from the ever improving Black Squirrell. This is the one I want to tell you about. It is direct, strong. Here is what Margaret Atwood had to say about it: "Here is a poetry of courage and passion, which manages to be tender and achingly sensual and what is often called 'political' at the same time." I couldn't have said it better

Today's book of poems, Deep Water, Ward Maxwell.
These poems are being published now, on line, but they were written over a period of years during and following the illness of Maxwell's son Arlen. This is quite a feat of sustained focus while writing about the hardest thing imaginable. Frankly some of these poems don't work because the shrill shriek of pain underlying the voice overwhelms. But most of these poems do work and because of that we get a very rare look into a world where everything is coming apart. These poems are the banshee wail of a father fighting to find hope in a hopeless situation, to keep love alive as the darkest forces of hell descend around him.
Not an easy read at all. But it is emotionally honest poetry and prayer of the highest order.