Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Poems Suitable To Current Material Conditions - Frank Davey (A Stuart Ross Book/Mansfield Press).

Today's book of poetry:
Poems Suitable To Current Material Conditions. Frank Davey.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2014.

This is what a master class looks like.

Poems Suitable To Current Material Conditions reads like a tongue-in-cheek dictionary of poetic phrasing for promising points of polemic parallaxed passion.

Is there someone more well versed in the ebb and flow of Canadian poetry of the last sixty years?  I doubt it.

I'm Just Sayin

I'm just sayin that Plato never read Marx.
I'm just sayin that if you wait the dog will lap up his vomit.
I'm just sayin that the headquarters of the Luftwaffe is still a
             handsome building.
I'm just sayin that you could have waited.
I'm just sayin just sayin.

I'm just sayin that the mountain pine beetle may bring a brand-new forest.
I'm just sayin that there can be too many eggs in two baskets.
I'm just sayin that the worst thing about politicians is that they often
             believe in what they're trying to do.
I'm just sayin that countries like Canada may never have a century.
I'm just sayin that heart monitors are overrated.

I'm just sayin that the Hellespont is not exactly the Dardanelles.
I'm just sayin that time has nothing to do with essence.
I'm just sayin that the wine made in the hills of Galilee is not
             necessarily kosher and not necessarily holy.
I'm just sayin that someone put a stitch in mine.
I'm just sayin that when the new leaf is turned over it may already by autumn.


I'm just sayin that this may be true, or not.  But I'm pretty sure Frank Davey slept in our guest room. I call it the Stuart Ross guest room because the poet Stuart Ross stays in it more often than anyone else.

Bill Bissett stayed there once when he was in town for Riley Tench's funeral.  The Chicago poet Richard Huttel stayed in our guest room once as well, although he may have slept on the coach.

There have been others, but I think Frank slept there, hard to be sure.

He'd come to our home after doing a reading at the fine Ottawa second-hand bookstore Black Squirrel Books.  The reading was part of a Mansfield Press tour to promote Poems Suitable To Current Material Conditions - along with the a few other Mansfield writers and books.

I'd never seen or heard Frank Davey read and it was a genuine thrill.  I have been an admirer of is work for forty years.

When we arrived at my home I made him tea and then made him sign books.  Later on, he descended the stairs to our guest room, where I imagine he slept.  The bed looked slept in.

I love having poets as quests.  Having Canadian legends/poet heroes stay is a whole different ball of string.  Frank Davey may have slept.  But I stirred.  Amazed and a little jealous.  I thought of my young poet-aspiring self trying to imagine having a Davey in my home.  As unbelievable to my young self as a shot at the moon.

Just so you know, he did have amazing stories about so many other poets.  Sir Earle of Birney, Lord Layton, you know the list.  I think I bored him to bed with my endless questions and enquiries.

In the morning I made him toast and more tea.

Poem Suitable to Some Current Material Conditions

A green poem, full of innocence, naivety, and just a little
political savvy, full of hope in fact
to end political savvy. A poem that prefers
a blue box to a bonfire, a cotton bag
to a plastic car, an apple to a rock garden.
I wrote it while walking to work.
I wrote it while drinking from a coconut.
I wrote it while buying an LED light bulb.
I wrote it by pencil in the margins of a Walmart flyer.
I wrote it during Earth Hour.
I wrote it while digging up my lawn to plant milkweed.
I wrote it by candlelight while disconnected
from the grid by a freak tornado.

It's a poem that will become progressively illegible
unless printed with toxin-free ink on recycled paper, a poem
that translates itself into Sanskrit when carried onto Wall Street,
a poem whose implied reader has a carbon footprint
lower than 10 kg. -- others
may find it increasingly difficult to see
unless they are offering their excesses.
It's a poem that doesn't want to be roundup ready.
It's a poem that overflows with meaning
when read in a rainforest of at least
5 million square kilometers, or underwater
beside a pristine coral reef, or in orbit
around a blue planet still uncluttered with space junk.


Poems Suitable To Current Material Conditions is an omnibus of sorts, Davey is addressing multiple social, societal, grammar, political, gender and human garden issues.

Who wouldn't love this stuff to death?!

Eleven Reasons Why A Straight Guy Might
Have Loved A Lesbian

1.  He wasn't quite straight, he liked her father.

2.  She was mostly a political lesbian.

3. This site, she said later, was under construction.

4.  He was one of the jerks who helped turn her.

5.  Lesbian isn't a person, it's a position.

6.  He believed in social hybridity.

7.  He didn't like competing with guys.

8.  He imagined threesomes.

9.  He feared women who might trap him.

10.  Loving is a position.

11.  He felt surges of lesbian desire.


Today's book of poetry continues to like list poems.  Frank Davey is full of mischief and a great many other things.  These playful poems pull at paradox, kick the crap out of previous reason.

Frank Davey

Frank Davey has been pushing at expanding what poetry can do since helping launch Vancouver's Tish poetry newsletter in 1961 and publishing D-Day and After - perceptively described by James Reaney as appearing to have been written by his typewriter - in 1962. Along the way he has published more than thirty poetry books. His most recent publications are aka bpNichol, a biography of poet bpNichol, and the artist's book Spectres of London Ont. His books have included the ironically postcolonial The Abbotsford Guide to India (1986), winner of the 1987 Canadian Publishers Association Writers Choice Award, Postcard Translations (1988), described by Lynette Hunter as offering readers √íradically new ways not only of relating to national culture but of contributing to it and shaping it,' and Bardy Google (2010), a flarf book that reviewer Vanessa Lent observes deconstructs meaning in a way that has no connection to traditional human means of reasoning and storytelling.  Frank lives in London, Ontario.

“Frank Davey is a self-confessed semiotician; if discourse studies hadn’t been invented, he’d have done it anyway. It’s a class weapon.”
—Lynette Hunter, Disunified Aesthetics
“[In Bardy Google], Davey … constructs meaning in a way that has no connection to traditional human means of reasoning and storytelling and yet is wholly comprehensible to his reader.”
—Vanessa Lent, The Bull Calf
“Cultural Mischief is a doggedly raucous, downright waggish guide to off-leash culture.… Hurrah for mischief.”
—Aretha van Herk
“A poetry shaped by the poet’s deep sense of how poetry must naturally emerge from the roots of place, time, and personal knowledge, commitment and feeling.”
—Douglas Barbour

Frank Davey reads from Bardy Google at Talon's 2010 Cross-Canada Poetry Tour


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.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Albrecht Durer And Me - David Zieroth (Harbour Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Albrecht Durer And Me.  David Zieroth.  Harbour Publishing.  Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2014.

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

If this happened to all of us when we traveled, no one would ever stay home.

What a marvelous way of traveling.

David Zieroth might not be a big name in poetry where you live but his name gets a lot of traction here, in this house.  His mature and elegant poetry always breathes excellence.

You can think of this book as a travelogue.

Viennese Shoes

in Wien, even the homeless wear good shoes
or at least one bedraggled, bearded, filthy-
coated giant managed uncommonly decent leather
brogues that toe-curl a bit, an Italian smile
intimating heat and lust and care for craft

yes, any change of place forces up generalizations
rife and ready, and even knowing how quickly
scenes arise in the mind: lithe men, short hair
long strides, briefcases, or young artists debating
over Styrian beer and new wine spritzers the edge
of mathematical, abstract space - I know really

very little: glittering steel lines of the tram
on Ungargasse, straight under my feet
and along some sections, short grass snuggles
green against silver - earth and engineering
power-sharing - what could either say to the other
about times when heels of famous men

clacked these cobblestones: Freud's boots, how he
slipped into leather smoothly pleased with strength,
and Hitler's shoes, paint bespattered, then further back
and further back again until an Ottoman stands
outside the ringed wall of the city, 300 cannon strong
the story goes, Grand Vizier Pasha tapping
his magnificent Asian slippers on these stones.


In Albrecht Durer And Me, Zieroth takes us on a trip through central Europe where he reflects on art and humanity.  The people we become when there is that change that movement brings.  When there is new soil under our feet, new language in our ears, we sometimes soar.

Albrecht Durer And Me

     at the Albertina Museum

his entire life he thought
of death approaching
it was the century syphilis arrived
1500 meant the end of time
one self-portrait an imitation
of Christ

for me, it's his rabbit
each ear bent differently, every
whisker visible
its mood pensive
another sort of portrait

and his monogram -
AD, 1502 (same year
his medieval father died) -
floats beneath the brown foot
as I float

back to rodents I snared
in a winter garden
frozen next day
and still the fur soft
(or back to fuzzy lucky
charms on key rings
among coins in pockets
of the slightly odd)

from him almost all
German art springs, begins
from me up pops this poem
when here I stand
(wanting to touch the painting
and feel the fur again)
one of many awed viewers
this young hare has seen
in five centuries
even as he draws into
the calm before trembling
to ponder his animal thought

and from my departing train
I see him once more
a tall buck alert in rows
any frame - through red dots
of waving wild poppies
defining the farmer's field
draw me eye to his readiness
for leaping


From his first book, Clearing: Poems From a Journey (1973), Zieroth has been a traveller and an especially keen observer.  Through How I Joined Humanity At Last (1998) up until now, with his tenth volume of poetry, Albrecht Durer And Me (2014), Zieroth has humbly created a great body of poetry.

Weeds Grew While I Was Away

I expected what?
an unchanged patch
of pure stasis, stems
unaltered, exactly as
the morning I glanced back
from the cab, my face sunny
not this yellow of greeters
trumpeting on my lawn
crowding the walk where birds
splatter white words
around the grey face
of the garden stone
that has not altered, cool
under my hand, a spot more
lichen-wrinkle persisting

- that this filigree lives
so little, unlike the rise
and fall we are made of
we hardly care, so pleased
we along measure how slow
rock crumbles, as we touch it
we rub against time and find
we triumph: listen
to our watery laughter
when sun lights up skin
we have animal pleasure
knowing and loving
even ragweeds with their vigour
and niche so like our own
in urgencies coming and going

Zieroth also reminds us of the sweetness of returning home, knowing where we came from, how we got there.

David Zieroth

David Zieroth has published several books of poetry including The Fly in Autumn, which won the Governor General's Literary Award for Poetry, and How I Joined Humanity at Last, which won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize.  He taught at Douglas College in New Westminister, BC, before retiring and founding the Alfred Gustac Press.  Born in Neepawa, Manitoba, he lives in North Vancouver, BC.

"David Zieroth has long displayed in his poetry a subtle and unique faithfulness to following invisible threads through the world -- hearing calls and offering responses, speaking spells.  In this collection, as he turns the largesse of his poetic attentiveness to the inescapably symbolic activity of travel -- to the rich roads of distance within and without his poetic individuality -- the results are evocative, enlarging, and touch often at deep mystery.  Albrecht Durer And Me is a gift to the reader -- a marvel of an addition to Zieroth's ongoing oeuvre."
     - Russell Thornton, author of Birds, Metals, Stones and Rain


Saturday, December 27, 2014

Dog Ear - Jim Johnstone (Signal Editions/Vehicule Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dog Ear.  Jim Johnstone.  Signal Editions/Vehicule Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2014.

"I never met a man
with one
black eye
who wanted two"
                                                                                         from - "First Principles"
                                                                                                     Jim Johnstone

I get the distinct feeling from Jim Johnstone's Dog Ear that in his world vision  --  someone has to pay.

This is the dark end of a world out of balance, basic goodness is deeply suspect.

These poems are the loose tooth your tongue can neither solve or salve.  You feel them like a bruise. They are part of your flesh and bone, but a tender, sore part.

These poems are Michael Corleone sentencing Freddo to perdition while the Corleone matriarch still breathes.

Temps Mort

     Hell is empty.  All the devils are here.
                           -William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Look for a vanishing
point in tooth

and claw, the arrow
that predicts

equal and opposite
circles of hell.

Hell is of this world,
the wind blown

level with rooftops
on New Arthur,

cells re-circulating
as if symmetry

justified existence--
beauty where

nothing beautiful
had been.

Behind my back the

begins again and I 

whether I'm needed
to complete

this scene: an open-
ending plain,

body dissolving
where a dog-

fox circles its tail
until all that

has passed slows.
When time's

arrow repeats, its bow

and the Devil walks


These tight, taut poems are a bit like a nightmare you can't wake from.  A grimace that could turn to a smile, if only you could wake.

So, why would I recommend it?

Just ask our crying intern at Today's book of poetry.  Ask her why she loves the sad torture of Yukio Mishima, the painful kiss of Jean Genet.  Not all beauty wears a smile.

Louis Dudek, in Love

Umbrella held aloft like paper pulled
from a pinata, we trace the limits
of Marie-Reine-du-Monde and bull
inside. Bad luck: the basilica chaste
save for the confetti of our entrance,
the incline of a room within a room
inked-in in happenstance. By chance,
we've stumbled on our Waterloo:
elderly parishioners lulled to sleep,
pews like broken fingers on a working
hand. I take yours now, know your grip,
the clots that bulge like latticework,
confine the prize of blood's ascent.
See here? Your skin grows lean. Exeunt.


Where we might expect, even want, a love poem for passion, or even passive release we get:
"elderly parishioners lulled to sleep,
pews like broken fingers on a working

Johnstone is relentless with his dark lament, his "raw self-examinations" that encompass us all.


No one will find us in this city -- not your valentine,
not the line of dogs he's chained by the throat. My collar
blooms chin-high, is perfumed with lilac where you
finger buttons, parse leaves and hook a flush of green

to my breast. Tell me you're good. Tell me we'll
lend our touch to the nearest MG, drive south on a
sucker bet until we run dry in the desert. There are
others who've come uninvited, who've come to free

themselves from their skin, lose their grip
and trace in a mess of coins. Here's my loss -- fist
lodged in the maw of the first guest to speak, our
honour run aground. To stay we'll need to slap down

the pin that adorns your jacket, bet against a snail being
able to survive the edge of a straight razor. I've been
told that nothing can live to know such a lean blade.
When we drive land rises and we rise with it.


Jim Johnstone's breathless and forcefully consistent Dog Ear should be read early in the morning. Hopefully on a day that promises sunshine.

This dark beacon reminds us of our better nature, the dire abyss promised with its loss.

Not all poetry give us hope, the shape of reason is not always pretty.  Johnstone paints like Brueghel The Elder, beautiful pandemonium when the harsh light of the human heart is fully revealed.

What a riveting read.  What an ominous outlook.

Jim Johnstone

Jim Johnstone is the author of three previous books of poetry: The Velocity of Escape (2008),Patternicity (2010) and Sunday, the locusts (2011). He is the recipient of a CBC Literary Award, The Fiddlehead’s Ralph Gustafson Poetry Prize, and Matrix Magazine’s LitPop Award. Currently he’s the Poetry Editor at Palimpsest Press, and an Associate Editor at Representative Poetry Online. He lives in Toronto.

"There is a lot to admire in Patternicity: musicality, intelligence, toughness, tensile juxtapositions of rational enquiry and lyrical tenderness."
     -Arc Poetry Magazine

"Johnstone's poems are entertaining, erotic, and dangerous, and at times brute in their clean, heart-wrenching details."
     -Mansfield Review

"Johnstone simply does not miss opportunities to drive home his music, to exploit each vowel's potential to ring and electrify its neighbours."
     -Maple Tree Literary Supplement


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christmas 2014 - A Ho Ho Ho List of Today's Book of Poetry - All-time Top Ten

Christmas 2014 -
a HO HO HO List of 
Today's book of poetry -
All-time Top Ten.

In no particular order:

1.  Mockingbird Wish Me Luck  -  Charles Bukowski

2.  Dairy Cows  -  Ron Koertge

3.  A Cloud in Trousers  -  Vladimir Mayakovsky

4.  Rommel Drives On Deep Into Egypt  -  Richard Brautigan

5.  Prisoner  -  Linda Pyke

6.  Views of a Grain of Sand  -  Wislawa Szymborska

7.  Ragged Horizons  -  Peter Trower

8.  David and Other Poems  -  Earle Birney

9.  The One Day  -  Donald Hall

10. The Armies of the Moon  -  Gwendolyn MacEwen
      The Collected Works of Billy the Kid  -  Michael Ondaatje
      Bad Glamour  -  Stuart Ross
      Origami Dove  -  Susan Musgrave
      The Mysterious Naked Man  -  Alden Nowlan

All the best of the holiday season to all our readers the world over.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Other Side Of Ourselves - Rob Taylor (Cormorant Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Other Side Of Ourselves.  Rob Taylor.  Cormorant Books.  Markham, Ontario. 2011.  2nd printing 2012.

Rob Taylor is around 31 years of age and that came as a surprise to me.  Not knowing the young Mr. Taylor personally, my assumption was that I was reading the poetry of a much older man.

Not that the poems are oldish, or old fashioned, or even dated, no, but they sure sound/read experienced.

Taylor won the 2010 Alfred G. Bailey Prize for Poetry, The Other Side Of Ourselves makes that look like a good choice.

In its' second printing The Other Side Of Ourselves is ample mirror to the different facets of us silly human beans.

Teaching Myself to Shave

I was some generic hair growing age
and my Mom had already bought
me a pack of deodorant (when I'd
started to stink) which happened
to contain a little shaving kit.

So when my first stubble crept out of my follicles
I prodded at it with my fingers for a few days then
walked to the bathroom, lathered up the cream
and dragged the razor about,

then I threw on the aftershave
and didn't even scream
(though I was prepared to)
and wherever I cut myself
I put a dab of toilet paper
just like Homer Simpson

And that was that--
my stubble was gone,
my father was still dead
and the Sunday evening cartoons
weren't about to watch themselves.

That's the way Taylor does it.  A perfectly crafted coming of age story with the sledgehammer ending, just like in real life.

Taylor spent some time in Ghana, Africa, and his poems travel there and back.  His experience broadening the scope of everything.  One minute he's watching a Canadian boy on a Canadian street drag his hockey stick and the next we are in an African slave prison trying to catch our breath.

Taylor's scope, his canvas, is an inclusive panorama.  He's a full palate painter.

Creation Stories

She has her narratives, he has his,
and together they move through the world.

Their scripts are filled with the same set pieces, same characters,
yet they are blocked differently, recite different lines.

His parties end at 11:00, hers at 2:30.
they attend neighbouring churches, cheer for rival hockey teams.
She waters the lawn on Tuesdays, he mows it on Saturdays.
Their cars point in opposite directions each morning.
Their children attend different universities.

But we're only having one child, a girl,
he notes to her, drowsily.

She stares at the ceiling, smiles faintly.
It has taken so little for him to unmoor her.

Then our child will live on an island between us,
she concedes, rolling on her side.

And us? We will live an ocean apart?
He curls his arm around her, cocooning her in blankets.

He is long asleep before she can answer him,
but she whispers nonetheless, to the vaulted darkness,
We will beach ourselves upon her shore.


I have always believed that we are each in our own movie, I've never heard/seen it described quite so perfectly, just the right touch of elegant.

Taylor has an Art Garfunkel tirade that is more than worth the price of a spindly afro any day.  Taylor has a wicked sense of humour and an almost perfect grasp of gravitas.  He's plenty serious when he needs to be.

That One Semester

I thought about the 95 Theses
and how scared Martin Luther must have been
with his wooden mallet and the weight
of an empire pinned to his vestments.

I thought about Plessy v. Ferguson
and being separately equal and equally separate
and how Langston Huges taught me
that a black man can clean the pews of a white church
so long as he don't pray.

I thought about Robert Oppenheimer
and how he cried himself to sleep that night
when the sky glowed purple and soldiers
in bunkers two miles from the blast site
reported being able to see their own bones.

I thought about this whole God thing
and how maybe we've missed the point.
He isn't omnipresent or benevolent,
compassionate or clairvoyant,
he's simply there, all the time,
with a hammer and a broom
and frail human bones
flexing just under the skin.


Another thing that we here at Today's book of poetry really liked -- Rob Taylor confidently tackles the big issues -- God, love and morality.  But he isn't preachy, he leaves us to draw our own conclusions.

Today's book of poetry can only conclude that this is finely tempered poetry, strength built from being held close to the flame.

Rob Taylor
(Photo by Marta Taylor)

Rob Taylor was born in Port Moody, British Columbia, and now resides in Vancouver with his wife, Marta. He has travelled widely, most recently to Ghana where he co-founded One Ghana, One Voice. Ghana's first online poetry magazine.  His poems have appeared in over forty journals and anthologies, including Prairie Fire, Riddle Fence, The Antigonish Review, and Rocksalt: An Anthology of Contemporary BC Poetry. An earlier version of The Other Side Of Ourselves won the 2010 Alfred G. Bailey Prize for best unpublished poetry manuscript.

“Rich with promise … anyone who can write a good poem – as Taylor does – about writing bad poetry, is a poet of talent.”
     -George Elliot Clarke


Sunday, December 21, 2014

For Your Safety Please Hold On - Kayla Czaga (Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
For Your Safety Please Hold On.  Kayla Czaga.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2014.

Winner of the 2nd annual
Kitty Lewis Hazel Millar Dennis Tourbin Poetry Prize

I've never quite experienced the like.  The first few poems of this collection had me dizzy with joy, a little like the first time you saw Wayne Gretzky, or the first time you saw Mikhail Baryshnikov fly.

You've never read family portraits like those in For Your Own Safety Please Hold On.

Kayla Czaga writes like she has 200 years of wisdom coursing through her veins.  She uses language we are all familiar with but somehow escapes the bounds of previous gravity, these plain speaking poems soar.

In my corrupted opinion this is the best book of poetry I have read this year.  No one in the office here at TODAY'S BOOK OF POETRY disagreed.

Another Poem About My Father

I don't get poetry either. Mostly I get cavities,
junk mail. Once, I got eleven hundred dollars
in small change from my father for Christmas.
He said, You've got to work for your money--
meaning you've got to haul it through six feet
of snow to the bank, Good luck, here's a bag.
My father is more like a poem than most poems
are. He once tucked a living loon into his coat
and brought it home to amuse my mother who
loves birds, especially surprised-sounding birds,
especially owls. My nostalgia receptors zigzag
wildly through me when I think of my father
pushing his metal detector across all the parks,
schoolyards and riverbanks of this great nation,
waving it back and forth--like some sort of
yayhoo, my mother would say--until it beeps
solemnly above a nickel. With a butter knife
he cuts such slender metaphors from the earth.


Czaga in For Your Safety Please Hold On has a new intensity, you don't see it coming as much as feel it.  These poems are universally personal, crowd-sourcing intimate.

Joyce Carol Oates is vastly under-rated if you ask me, and we here in the office at TODAY'S BOOK OF POETRY all agree on that point, her novels have always had a way of making me feel as though I were inhabiting a world of her design.  What I mean is that her universe becomes yours.  It is a familiar even though it is new terrain.

Kayla Czaga knows the same trick.  When she is writing about family it sounds suspiciously like she is writing about your own.  When she writes about herself she almost makes you think you are looking in a mirror.

23RD Birthday

In this city where all the shops stay open
the people close early. I closed. I told

another person, I cannot
love you anymore, please mail my books
back to me. Then I went bowling

and threw seven consecutive
balls into the gutter. Misery of the five-pin. I slept

in a bathtub. People keep buying me
clocks. Puddles keep collecting
sidewalks. Maybe I'll collect puddles

or clock out like so many people I've seen
on buses, that man who wept

violently into his scarf and the rest
of us trying to ignore him, turning up
our not-listening devices. Tonight

I am twenty-three and looking
for someone gentle enough to hold back

my hair--this could be you, stranger
with your three-point smile and hairdo.
Tonight I want to stop watching the clocks;

I fear I'll become them--spinning
in circles with hands covering my face.


I don't know how old Kayla Czaga is -- but I know she is young.  I can't even imagine how fine her future poems will be.  But I am certain I'll be anxious to read them, and after reading For Your Safety Please Hold On you will be too.

it is the sound the Lord makes
snipping split ends off

my soul."

So many books and so little time, but this is one I will read again, and then, a while later, again. Why?  Like watching a magician on video with fast forward, slow motion, replay, I want to learn her tricks.


At the Ash Wednesday service, waiting
for the priest to cross my forehead, I watched him
touch the faces of the people in front of me,
mishearing him say, Remember you are blessed.
I was horrified when I remembered it
was really, Remember you are dust, with ashes
thumbed into my forehead. Headlights spattered
through the intentionally broken glass
windows of that beautiful downtown church
tucked behind a mall, as I tried to understand
and to dust you shall return. Traffic lights
flickered through Christ with arms nailed
open, Mary robed in blue, mourning into his feet.
After the service, I spilled out of the church
into wet February and public transit hauled me
back into my crumbling ordinary life. What
happens after this? When Jesus died,
it was temporary, the stone rolled away,
but where is he now, and can any of us hope
to go there, or is it all ashes and dust
covered bookshelves? Last week, Liz tried
to explain taxidermy to me, how she peeled
a rabbit, then rigged its pelt back into
rabbit-shape. She emptied a set of robin's wings
to sew onto its back--the flying rabbit.
It looked alive, a stitching trick, the way
my dead relatives look alive, resurrected
in photographs. It reminded me of colouring
Easter eggs with my mother. We blew the yolks
into a bowl before we dyed the shells
blue and yellow. How the eggs looked full
until we held them up to the light.


For Your Safety Please Hold On should be front page news for everyone who loves poetry, mandatory reading for everyone who doesn't.

Kayla Czaga

Kayla Czaga grew up in Kitimat and now lives in Vancouver, BC, where she recently earned her MFA in Creative Writing at UBC. Herpoetry, nonfiction and fiction has been published in The Walrus, Best Canadian Poetry 2013, Room Magazine, Event and The Antigonish Review, among others. For Your Safety Please Hold On is her first book.

"Funny, smart, sophisticated, guileless: reading Czaga is like drinking a glass of water in a desert.  Every once in a while there arrives a young poet whose astonishing aptitude for the craft rises so clearly, so beautifully, the relief is palpable.  For Your Safety Please Hold On is Czaga’s answer to Moure’s Domestic Fuel and Solie’s Short Haul Engine... and like Moure and Solie we don’t need to expect great things from her. Great things are already here."
    --Elizabeth Bachinsky

"Kayla Czaga's For Your Safety Please Hold On recalls what was radical about Robert Lowell's Life Studies a half century ago. With wit and empathy, it moves beyond the confessional to reclaim the intimate and personal as an adventurous subject for poetry. Reading it is like being brought into someone's home and told all the family secrets--never an imposition, it feels rather like an initiation into the clan. I thoroughly enjoyed it."
     --Paul Vermeersch
Feature Poet Kayla Czaga @PJ


THE KITTY LEWIS HAZEL MILLAR DENNIS TOURBIN POETRY PRIZE is awarded annually to the book of poetry that I, Michael Dennis, like the most.  The award was named for Kitty Lewis and Hazel Millar who were instrumental to this blog during its' formative steps.  It is also named for the late painter, poet and all around wonderfully generous Dennis Tourbin whom I loved.  The award is virtually meaningless - except that the winner is entitled to a home cooked meal, with wine, if they ever come to Ottawa.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Order In Which We Do Things - The Poetry of Tom Wayman, selected with an introduction by Owen Percy (Wilfred Laurier University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Order In Which We Do Things.  The Poetry of Tom Wayman, selected with an introduction by Owen Percy.  The Laurier Poetry Series/Wilfred Laurier University Press.  Waterloo, Ontario.  2014.

The following quote comes from Tom Wayman's Afterword: Work and Silence:

"I have tried to create art that is useful to people engaged in striving for beneficial social change."

I've been reading the very engaging and socially demanding poetry of Tom Wayman for almost forty years.  When I find one of his books it is an occasion.  There are few poets I admire more, so it is with that in mind that I was thrilled to see The Order In Which We Do Things.

The Laurier Poetry Series is an essential for Canadian letters, and in this case Owen Percy has done Wayman proud.

Days: Construction

Days when the work does not end.
When the bath at home is like
cleaning another tool of the owner's.
A tool which functions better with the dust gone from its pores.
So that tomorrow the beads of sweat
can break out again along trouser-legs and sleeves.

And then bed,
Night. The framing continues
inside the head: hammers pound on
through the resting brain. With each blow
the nails sink in, inch by blasted inch.
Now one bends, breaking the rhythm.
Creaks as it's tugged free. A new spike
is pounded in.

The ears ring with it. In the dark
this is the room where construction is.
Blow by blow, the studding goes up.
The joists are levered into place.
The hammers rise.


I've worked construction, not for long periods of time, but I've blistered up my hands, climbed those ladders, hammered those nails, had the sunburns, the long hours, dreamt work.

If you are like me Wayman is that smart uncle type character you consult when you want to know better.  He writes with his heart and soul set to honest.

No one in Canada knows the working man/woman better.

A Cursing Poem: This Poem Wants Gordon Shrum To Die

This poem wants to hurt another person.
This poem wants another person to die.
It wants him to suddenly stumble
feel a sharp pain just under the belly
a harsh pain, one that rips him so hard inside that he shits himself.
The poem wants him to become dizzy
feel a rush of sweat on the face
to begin to shiver, and have to be helped into bed.
The poem wants his teeth to chatter, wants him to throw up
gasping for air, wants mucus to pour from his nose and mouth.
It wants him to die in the night.

This poem wants Gordon Shrum to die.
First because despite all his company's rules and tariffs
despite every regulation they tell the press they apply
his company turned off the heat and light in the house.
They did this without warning, when the temperature was forty
             degrees by day
and the nights begin at four o'clock.
So that after working all day, the body could come home
to a room of black ice.

So after straining all day at the jobsite, with the fingers
numb at the hammer and slipping under the weight of the heavy
after the back was twisted trying to hoist the load of a wheelbarrow
the rest of the body could return to darkness and cold.

This poem also wants Gordon Shrum to die
because his company charges twenty-five cents every day
for the bus to carry you to work. And because you must
pay the same every evening to wait in the cold
to be jerked and stopped and jerked and stopped
all the way back to the house. Fifty cents a day
taken out of the dollars squeezed from the body's labour
so at the end of the day, the body can be hauled to where it stays
can enter the black bedrooms, be lit by a candle
and eat bread and cold milk.

Lastly the poem wants Gordon Shrum to die
because at a meeting he reached over to my friend Mark Warrior
and smacked him in the mouth.
He was charged and acquitted
because Mark was shouting out at the time how the French
were finally getting off their knees
and striking back at the bullies that push them, at men like
--whom Mark didn't name.

But whom I name, with his bureaucrats and service division
his credit office and transportation system. Him, and
every other animal who is gnawing away at our lives.
May before they die
they know what it is like to be cold, may the cold eat into them
may they live so they cough all night and can't sleep
and have to get up the next morning for work just the same.
May the joints of their bodies swell with their labour
and their backs ache. And before they die
may they know deeply, to the inside of their stomachs
the meaning of a single word:
unemployment. May they understand it
as the nourishment a man gets by scraping the calendar over a
             pan for a meal.
May they have a future with nothing in it
but unemployment; may the end of welfare.

May they have to travel by bus
to get their welfare. May they wake at night and realize
that for the rest of their lives they will never eat together
all the things they love: steak and wine and hot corn.
They will never have these together again until they die.
May they die on welfare.
And may the Lord God Jesus have mercy on their souls.


Tom Wayman does controlled anger and justified vitriol better than anyone.

Thomas Ethan Wayman was born in Hawkesbury, Ontario, which is reasonably close to Ottawa.  He has lived most of his life in British Columbia.  These poems, an excellent sampling from his numerous collections, remind us of how Canadian Wayman is.  The sort of Canadian I want to be.

For many of us these poems remind us of how to be Canadian, at least a particular version, socially conscious, socially concerned, trying to be better citizens of the world.



Tufts of snow
that rise from the branch
a chickadee alights on


Winter fog surrounding
the house: on the frosted slope of
the ridge behind, great spruce and pine
blur to white shadows


Straw-coloured humps of grass
interspersed with blotches of snow
are perfectly reflected
on the still surface
of the current


As I ski the river trail
--poles and legs scissoring
like a pendulum--
over me bursts a flight of
tundra swans:
V of white necks, white streamlined bodies

lifting into blue

the mouth of this world


And of course it isn't just a social exercise, Tom Wayman knows all about beauty, the breath a poem can give to the reader.

Tom Wayman

Tom Wayman has published nineteen poetry collections, edited six anthologies of poets writing about their employment, and published three collections of essays on labour arts. He has taught at the post-secondary level in the United States and Canada and co-founded the Vancouver Industrial Writers Union and the Vancouver Centre of the Kootenay School of Writing. Wayman has been the recipient of several significant literary awards over his career, most recently the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award for People’s Poetry for his book Dirty Snow.

Owen Percy is a teacher, writer, editor, and critic of North American and postcolonial literature. He earned his Ph.D. in Canadian literature and literary culture from the University of Calgary in 2010. He is a professor of literary studies at Sheridan College in Brampton, Ontario

“Wayman...believes that poetry exists beyond ‘the money economy’ and because of this freedom it creates the highest potential to drive social change. His concerns are humanist and folksy, infused with the moral responsibility of integrity. This series, because of its...scope and space...allows the reader to see how Wayman’s immersions in these moral concerns have developed and morphed from those of the lowly factory worker to those of acute environmental observance. Always the poems are permeated by intense attention to...a sense of justice.”
      Micheline Maylor, Alberta Views

Tom Wayman
video by Amy Bohigian


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I Am That Woman - Vanessa Shields (Black Moss Press)

Today's book of poetry:
I Am That Woman.  Vanessa Shields.  First Line Poetry Series/Black Moss Press.  Windsor, Ontario.  2013.

From the sounds of this poetry Vanessa Shields is someone you'd like to sit around the kitchen table with, telling war stories.

Watching and listening as she rants bold, beautiful and bawdy in I Am That Woman is a privileged thrill.

These poems jump off of the page with a voice of such powerful self-possessed femininity, womanhood, girlPOWER, you almost want to get up and dance.

It's like Shields is making a new declaration of place and time and ownership of her gender with each poem.

Empty Movie Theatre

We fucked in an
Empty movie theatre
Third row from the back
On the seat near the stairs
So the light could help us
See the buttons on our shirts
The zippers on our pants
The hunger in our eyes

The soles of my shoes
Stuck to the gray painted floor
Helping me steady my legs
As I rode him like
John Wayne his favourite horse

I worked at The Palace
So I knew
I knew when the theatre
Was     open
            free for the taking
And it should be taken
With messy verve and
Sloppy slapping of
Horny genitals needing midnight release

We fucking in an
Empty movie theatre
As often as we could
Two film lovers
In the buff
Bouncing on blue seats
Appreciating the splendor
Of a blank white screen

Watching us


I frigging (a word my artist friend Adrian Gollner would use because he is too fine a man to swear, not me, I'd normally use the other word) loved this book.  From the opening alarming pages to the section of eloquent longer poems called "I Am That Woman".

Shields holds back nothing.  Poem after tantalizing poem tightrope walks with equal parts tension and tease.

Where Is The Love?

These days I choose sleep over sex
Fiction over poetry
Movies over dancing

But oh we still dance
Do we ever dance
In the kitchen to Maroon 5 with the kids
Between our legs
My son reaching up to grab one boob
My daughter reaching up to grab the other

Where is the love in this poem?
The same place it is in our lives
In the passing glance he gives me as I wash the dishes
In the stink of our bad breath as I say good morning before the sun is
up and I leave the bed to go downstairs and
write everything but love poems
In the way he grabs my ass when I bend down to pick up a coat for the
nine jillionth time
In the way he tells me I'm beautiful ever when I haven't brushed my
hair and I can't remember the last time I took a shower

And when his hand finds the hill of my hip and
His fingers find the valley between my legs
            We remember
Our bodies guide us to yesterdays past when
Pleasuring each other was the only priority
When time to explore and explode was
An afternoon instead of a fifteen-minute morning romp
            We remember
How to show our love with our tongues and our skin
Not just with our eyes and our words

It all counts
It all matters
Our love was strong enough to make two kids
And it's strong enough to love them
more than all the love poetry in the world


This is not your Mothers poetry, this is an assault, a bold declarative line in the sand book.

Everyone in our office was howling, we are always thrilled when a book comes through the door that makes us sit straight up.  I Am That Woman had us standing on our chairs.  There was some dancing.

The Astronaut in my Shower

He's on the wall in my shower
Framed in splotchy molded grout
I see his back
Square white oxygen pack
Hefty boots round helmet
He's reminding me where earth is

He doesn't peak at my naked body
Looks away from my sagging breasts
Stretch-marked belly
Botticelli hips my
Hairy legs and armpits

He's quiet when
I masturbate or
When I cry and
Look to him for celestial help


Vanessa Shields just won Rookie of the Year here at Today's book of poetry.  Any year in fact.  This excellent debut of poetry blew our minds, kissed our cheek.


Vanessa Shields

Shields has made her home, her family and her work life flourish in Windsor, ON. Her passion for writing was discovered at a very young age through the vein of writing in a journal. Her first book, Laughing Through A Second Pregnancy – A Memoir, was published by Black Moss Press in 2011 to rave reviews. In April 2013, Shields edited Whisky Sour City, an anthology of poetry about and for her hometown city of Windsor. I Am That Woman, her first book of poetry, was published in November 2013. Her poetry, short stories and photography has been published is various literary magazines. She mentors, guest speaks and teaches creative writing, and she also created Poetry On Demand, on-the-spot poetry that helps make poetry fun and accessible for all.

"Vanessa Shields' first book of poems, I Am That Woman, is a verdant and earthy conversation with the world where she celebrates her womanhood, her engagement with the actual, and with the power that words hold to capture the magic of a moment. Shields articulates an honesty that is refreshing and invigorating -- to say nothing of erotic -- and the directness and energy of her vision heralds the arrival of a frank and memorable voice. The overwhelming response to her poems is YES!"
      Bruce Meyer, Poet Laureate, city of Barrie


Monday, December 15, 2014

House Dreams - Deanna Young (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
House Dreams.  Deanna Young.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2014.

I had one of those dreams last night.  One where you are catapulted into some strange version of your universe, some strange episode that resembles your past.  Populated by the unexpected, everyone suspended in agelessness even though you feel your own age in your bones.

One of those dreams where you wake just before the truly horrible happens.

Deanna Young knows everything there is to know about dreaming, or at the least, these poems would have you believe that.


Rare, like the births of children into a small family.
In one I am here in the armchair at Barachois,

my back to the window and the sea beyond that,
when a tall young man--a boy, really--appears

in the doorway. Here to help me with my luggage,
though it's not clear if I'm arriving or leaving. It's either

you before we met, or our young son years from now.
There's a sadness in him, which makes me think you

because I've heard how sullen you were in your teens.
Cruelly, I hope it's you--parents want their children

to be always happy. The hallway dim, it's nearing
the end of the day. His winter jacket is unzipped

as if spring is coming. Nothing else happens. But this
is typical of visions, often no more than a boy,

a suitcase, and a certain quality of light. A friend
told me once how it works. It's the current under

you're meant to feel. The flash of heat on your face
just enough to scare you. They're snapshots of possibility,

like gentle warnings from a relative who loves you.


House Dreams is presented to us in five titled sections.  "Barachois" is the section where Deanna Young gives us her warm and frightening dreams.  None of them mine--but all of them familiar.

"Barachois is a term used in Atlantic Canada and Saint Pierre and Miquelon to describe a coastal lagoon separated from the ocean by a sand or shingle bar.  Salt water may enter the barachois during high tide"  -  Wikipedia

These dream poems are separate from the oceans of our lives, separate but not totally removed, separate but attached by currents we don't understand, tinged with the salt water of our daily lives.


Falling through the dark house alone, dark
province alone, no friend or relative near,
when a phone rings

sharply in the other room, not
the phone beside my ear.
That's not right. There's only one line.

Now the sound of a child running
toward me down the hall, the rolling drum
of hardwood

when I know the floor here
to be ceramic tile. Caught by the gills, in a net
between worlds, I struggle,

decide, I'm not that stupid.
A scream, I know, would wake me,
but the contract between brain, body, will, it's severed.
He's cut the wire again. The desire
to give in is sweet, strength needed

to grip the edge not in me. All I have
might not be enough this time, I`m thinking,
when here, now, like a siren,

the indignant self.
I make my move, the wrestler`s last explosive flip,
and heave myself into the fact

of the midnight room.
No phone rang, I say out loud. No child
needs me right now.


When the poems about dreams end the poetry stays strong.  Iron strong.  Certain strong.

Deanna Young chisels her poems into stone, they are permanently etched--on the page, and in your mind.

These plainspoken poems tell the story of a woman`s life and make it a familiar.  When you finish this book you feel you`d recognize Young by aura alone.

Miss Deanna

Carmen, my daily reminder to be my better self, endlessly sweeping
dirt from the white-tiled floor into tidy piles. Where on Earth
does it come from? I ax myself dis ev-er-y day, Miss Deanna.

She won't sit down, rarely sits the three years we invite, prod, beg,
then finally just leave her alone. Old school. That last month, she came
within one word of quitting. Over the phone. I couldn't find a bowl

so called her at home one evening. She knew where everything was
and what was behind it. Not to accuse her of stealing. But she'd been
through this before, and nothing I said after would undo the disgrace,

convince her to stay. Until, my refusal to replace her. I will not bring
another woman into this house. I'll clean it myself, I bluffed. And
anyway, what would I tell the children? Throwing them down like aces.


Today's book of poetry appreciates humour and Deanna Young gives us a taste of that as well.

These poems are ones you'll want to read again.  Maybe even dream about.

Deanna Young

Deanna Young is the author of two previous books of poems, The Still Before a Storm and Drunkard’s Path. Her work has appeared in journals across Canada, including The Malahat Review and Arc Poetry Magazine. Originally from southwestern Ontario, she now lives in Ottawa.

"So often in Deanna Young's poems, what begins as a gentle game of the lyric imagination shifts mid-sentence into nightmare. Her lines can be beautiful, but her eye for fallibility (both human and material) is the book's real trick. It will be re-read compulsively by its admirers."
     --Jacob McArthur Mooney

Deanna Young read from House Dreams (Brick Books)


Saturday, December 13, 2014

Invasive Species - Claire Caldwell (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
Invasive Species.  Claire Caldwell.  A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2014.

Invasive Species by Claire Caldwell ends with a long poem, "Osteogenesis", which won the Malahat Review's 2013 Long Poem Competition.  Osteogenesis is a noun meaning "the formation of bone",

The poems is a spectacular mental movie about how whales can explode, the speed of a carcass as it sinks to the ocean floor, a trip to a Portuguese grocery store and the specifics of an adult skull.

Odd, if you say so, but almost musical with wit.  Caldwell plays with our imagination like a puppet-master, or a cat with a mouse.

This is careful, precise poetry that rolls on the page as if it were being riffed on the spot, live and mercurial.

Here is Caldwell's take on bears:

from:  Bear Safety

Bears could be anywhere

On the subway at rush hour.
Between couch cushions.
In the drawer with dull pencils
and batteries and nothing
you need. In the eavestrough.
On a soccer field
during a lightning storm.
In the pocket of your dirty jeans,
your unlaced sneakers.
Run a hand under the sheets
before bedtime. Bears prefer to sleep
on Egyptian cotton.
They can usually tell if it's cheap.


"Bear Safety" strolls onward for several more small poems.  Each as lovely and lively as the last.

Every poem in this marvelous collection got a response out of my tired-assed psyche.

Caldwell is an articulate carny, drawing you nearer to the game and never giving away a thing.

Natalie Olsen designed this book and we here at Today's book of poetry want to doff our hats in her direction.  The very clever cover is more than amusing, it is almost perfect.

from:  Invasive Species

Once, we built towns on water park economies.
Slides reared up like dinosaurs, pale plastic beasts
engineered to outlast our kids.

Landlocked, it was still possible
to scorn the jellyfish, fringed curtains
drawn across distant coasts


Claire Caldwell's first book of poems promises great things.

Passed this around the office and asked "who does this remind you of?"  The answers were quick and varied, "Sue Goyette", screamed a typist, "Julie Bruck", moaned an intern, I chimed in with "Stuart Ross".  The best answer was "no one -- I haven't read anything like this!"

Just Give Me One Thing


Above the alley, we'd strung our laundry up
like prayer flags. I watched as the wind
nudged your jean shorts and my orange
halter. You fussed with a can of tuna.

It had been a good month. Sandal weather,
and no one asked about your missing toe.
We never burned our English muffins.
We traded spots at the counter,
the sink, rarely touching.

Still, the flies gathered. Bluebottles
slurring circles around the trash can.
I set vinegar traps and dreamt of buzzing.
You remembered your father, the smell
of him, how you couldn't eat for weeks.

"It's something we all have to face eventually,"
you said, as I bent to tie up the garbage,
Maggots sprayed across the kitchen like champagne.


Caldwell surprised me like Cassius Clay/Muhammed Ali surprised the sad Sonny Listen.

Knocked him out.

Claire Caldwell
(Photo by Stephen Spence Davis)

Claire Caldwell is a poet and editor living in Toronto. She was the 2013 winner of the Malahat Review's Long Poem Prize, and her work has appeared in many magazines and journals, including Maisonneuve and Prism International. Claire holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Guelph.

“Hamilton publisher Wolsak & Wynn has a knack for finding great new poetic voices and Claire Caldwell is an excellent addition to their prestigious list….Claire’s vibrant, witty collection has been anticipated for some time, and with good cause.”
     Grace O'Connell

"Claire Caldwell's poems are like sleeper cells parked in the fraught organism that is middle-class North America.  From its unvarnished assessment of the cost of Timothy Treadwell's hubris to its measured empathy for the largest mammals on the planet, Invasive Species confronts the reader with a thoughtful, vivid assault on the senses.  For Caldwell the lure of the natural -- and the fascination of the civilized -- is coloured by an awareness that we are simultaneously part of, and apart from, the living things around us.  This is a carefully worked, entirely welcome debut from a precociously wise new voice."
     Kevin Connolly, author of Drift and Revolver

Claire Caldwell read from Invasive Species