Friday, January 31, 2014

Letter From Brooklyn - Jacob Scheier

Today's book of poetry:  Letter From Brooklyn.  Jacob Scheier.  ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2013.

Jacob Scheier's second book of poetry, Letter From Brooklyn, is flat out brilliant.

These poems read like missives from a wise old sage with a healthy sense of humour and a good library, a poet who might be a character in a book by Kurt Vonnegut or Tom Robbins, who in fact turns out to be young and in the know, in the now.

The World-Changing Business

"When I asked her if she feels she sacrificed her life to the Communist
Party...(s)he says: "Sacrificed my life! Of course not. Hon, we were
in the world-changing business. You can't get much better than that."
      -Vivian Gornick (Interviewing Maggie McConnel),
      The Romance of American Communism

The world-changing business
was the family business. My father
took me to the storefront at the edge of history,
saying one day all this will be yours.
But our store was the world and it wasn't
supposed to belong to anyone
or it was supposed to belong to all of us.
I didn't understand it either.
For the world already was that way
when I was a child. The way of owning nothing.
I thought the business was to make us all
children one day. Yet childhood
was disappointing. The first time
my father said we were going to a demo
I expected to see wrecking balls
spoon brick and stone. But people just stood,
or walked, or spoke, sometimes of wrecking things—
though no one ever did. My father often spoke
about the world that could be.
Should be. Would be.
I was to inherit this business
of not yet and now and always.
We lived in the future I would build one day,
though I wanted more to be a garbage man.
My father would have preferred that
to what I am doing right now.


Scheier's poetry is a narrative poetry lovers' dream and right up my aisle.  Even better, Scheier is one of those writers you just know could tell you the story of the phonebook with humour, guile and insight.  These poems aren't flashy but they are rock solid, there are no fireworks but instead a furnace, a foundry, a foundation so solid you could build on top of these poems.

 Biking Down a Country Road
In South-Western Manitoba.

The bales are fat as boulders.
At your back, the hill of silos and the feed factory—
red as the sun in The Grapes of Wrath, the book
you stayed up half the night reading
that made you understand something
about your father. Life settles like dust
inside some men. And the train tracks you passed,
three and a half miles back, must not depart
much from the ones his brother lay upon
decades before, as though he were
a coin, and the bridge you passed
an hour ago isn't that different from the one
his niece leaped from last week, drifting
like something stirred from a field.
And the sky above the prairie is pink
as the pills your mother popped,
making her belly a salmon-filled river.
Before you the dry land is still a frozen river.
You hear your father's voice
on the phone, last night, telling you
what happened to your cousin. Hear
his breath push the dust
when she says he wants things to be
different while there is still time,
as though he has found a track
to lay your life upon while you wait
for the train to change its shapes.
As he speaks you fear that he might breathe
his dust into you. Or that he already has.
The flies rise from the roadside marshes
in the fading yellow of the day, and pelt
your helmet like sheets of rain.
You are far enough down this road
to no longer see the lights of town.
It is so flat you see the precise point
where you see no further. You stop and stare
into the limits of your sight, glad to be alone.
If someone else were here, they might ask
what you're looking. And what
could you say? You'd say
"nothing" and look away,
as you look away now
at the nothing all around
and crowding in.


When a poet is as confident and assured as Scheier is in these pages there is a flow and naturalness to it all.  As conversational as it may appear to be there is delicate weaving taking place, these poems are like perfect little movies of our lives.

Elegy For Teenage Love

How did we not know it would be so quick
and irrevocable. Our love

of broken snow globes. Of spilled
water and plastic flakes. Of curved glass
jagged in your hands. Of light

held to your wrist like you were
holding your breath. Our breath. We held

the certainty that is the provenance of the young
who know grief a little earlier than they should.
We were hardened alchemists, transformed wise

from hurt. We knew our love was
everything. We hid inside its immense pocket

and it was hard to tell if it might be larger
than our lives or if we just grew very small
inside it. We could not have stayed together like that

and lived. But we compromised, being together
till we ruined ourselves, just a little,

just enough, to extinguish what permitted us
to love that way. We didn't know
we were kind. We knew

we weren't beautiful but we were young
and beautiful for that.


I am utterly sold and smitten with Jacob Scheier's Letter From Brooklyn, it may be the best book of poetry I read this year.


Easily startled
by how her voice carries
over water. His ears perk
and his head rises.
She is close now,
having paddled deep
into the bulrushes
to find him. He stares,
then lowers his head
to let her know
if she gets any closer
he will charge.


When I open a book of poems I am hoping for any number of joys to be present, Scheier runs the gamut.  Letter From Brooklyn is intelligent, entertaining and very humane poetry of the highest order.  Full stop.

Jacob Scheier reading at Livewords, June 25

Excerpts from Letter From Brooklyn by Jacob Scheier © 2013 by ECW Press. Used with permission from the publisher.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Augustine's Vision - Peter Filkins

Today's book of poetry:  Augustine's Vision.  Peter Filkins.  New American Press.  Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA.  2010.

If poetry is the search for the perfect words to describe - and I think it is - I have the perfect word to describe the poetry in Augustine's Vision by Peter Filkins, sublime.

This subtle, nuanced poetry fills your head with some of the same magic as truffled chocolate.  That moment of all encompassing delight because a particular need has been sated.  Don't be distracted and don't be thinking I'm suggesting that his is candy, or light amusement.  Filkins is, as Kelly Cherry suggests "by turns discursive, dramatic and lyrical".

 If you are Jonesing for some seriously delightful and intelligent poetry - Peter Filkins is your guy.

Augustine's Vision

Many years later, while contemplating beauty
as order, he would think of them: gamecocks
sharpening their claws for a scrap, and how
in the market's dusty tumult he felt compelled
to stop and watch them while on his way
to be baptized and confess himself a creature of sin.

Prisoner to his heart's regard, he courted error,
the beauty of a thing in and of itself
not always the same as God's invisible plan,
the gamecocks crowing, bodies taut with power,
soon edging the crowd towards a rippling frenzy.

"For what horizon do eyes of love not scan,
hoping for a hint of reason's beautiful scheme,"
he later wrote, thinking of savage birds
pitched in battle, pure animal action
without mind — limp wings and carriage, a croak
gone awry, all of it fitting nature's set way.

Though this was years before he lay on his deathbed,
Hippos surrounded, the Vandal hordes approaching,
himself lamenting his sins, remembering gamecocks,
their beaks and talons bloodied, no doubt convinced
a higher mind worked through them, ordering all things,
as the saint continued weeping inside his narrow cell.


Filkins has that ability to make it all real, believable, present.  I think a really fine poet makes it all look simple, easy.  Filkins' poems read like they are eternal common knowledge, the stuff we all need to know.


As the fastball released, spinning and spinning
to slide invincibly low and away, how could
I know (the umpire calling me out, out
went the roar of the crowd into the grassy air)
that years later, blear-eyed mad, he'd place

the gun in his mouth, maybe think twice
about the mess he'd leave behind, certainty
however triumphing over the future
blank empty of her touch, her smile
no more now than heartsick scorching flame

triggering the radical inner explosion
of a life gone to pieces, Rocky! Rocky!
his father bellowed from the backdoor steps
as we played on and on in the sandlot,
practicing the useless beautiful skills

of our Little League, pop fly and grounder,
toss and catch, there in the low red glare
of a late inning's summer sunset that,
come Saturday, would freeze my stance,
blind me to the pitch, I never saw it coming.


These are colloquial poems of a highly personal nature and they are universal.  We have all been inside these narratives.  Or imagined them.


When I saw The Downfall in Berlin,
the theater just around the corner
from the long-buried bunker, I couldn't believe
Frau Goebbels would sit down to a game
of solitaire after having just killed
all six of her children as they slept,
cyanide preferable to what she imagined
the Russians would do once they moved in.

Who, after all, could maintain such composure?
Especially at such a time, lamps flickering
out and then on like the Fuher's rages,
her children having expired with a shudder
echoed on screen by the bunker's quaking.

I couldn't accept it. Too ironic
a turn, too convenient a portrayal,
the director telling us this is what started it,
millions of dead and wounded the result
of repression, the will to power, a woman
snapping down cards to the rattle of gunfire.

But what if it was like that, Frau Goebbels
unable to think of anything better to do
amid such ruin, except to wait
for her beloved Reich to finally topple
and release her from her nightmare?

The next day, visiting Sachenhausen,
I learned about a group of prisoners
who at night had continued practicing
scales and arpeggios, a Dvorak quartet,
secretly in the hold of the pathology lab
where by day the bodies were dissected
in search of abnormalities, myself
transfixed while I sat there listening
to the audio guide, the prisoner's seeming
need for dignity in the teeth of death
comprised of a courage few of us know.

Or could hope to, trapped as we are
by certain limitations, no one surviving
who witnesses the woman playing solitaire,
the man inside the refurbished museum
thinking about a handful of musicians
practicing a transcription of Schubert's Eighth,
elusive and abandoned, unfinished forever.


Or, we have pondered these narratives in those quiet moments when we give thought to such things.  When we think of history, life.

Augustine's Vision is so solid it could be chiseled in granite.  Peter Filkins, the author of two previous collections, What She Knew and After Homer has an admirable gift.

Peter Filkins Reading

Monday, January 27, 2014

She Hands Me The Razor - Richard Krawiec

Today's book of poetry:  She Hands Me The Razor.  Richard Krawiec.  Press 53.  Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  USA.  2011

Come on.  

The title of this book grabbed you like it did me.  Just like a stranger grabbing you by your collar — the result is instant attention.  In She Hands Me The Razor Richard Krawiec grabs our full attention.

She Hands Me The Razor

when I ask
she hands me the razor
trust or faith I don't know
where to begin  to stroke
upward    downward
I press the three whip-thin
blades against her skin
how much pressure
does she need     do I want
it is always a matter of finding
another's  boundaries
one's own limits
I pull slowly
across the arched muscle of her calf
the stretched tightness of her thigh
a few wisps of black hair escape
I press harder  feel that catch
which halts my breath in mid exhaust
no rose blooms  so I return
to the world of breathing
slower now  I scrape off the lather
with mincing strokes    reveal
each dimple  freckle    curve
consider the flesh
like Michelangelo
where to daub  stroke  edge
how to reveal    the many
smooth faces of God


This is an almost perfect poem.  The tension is palpable, so is the tenderness, grace and finally, beauty.  All in a short narrative.

Krawiec has published two novels, a book of stories, four plays and a poetry chapbook.  She Hands Me The Razor is a formidable first collection.

Fred Chappell, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina, author of Shadow Box: Poems described She Hands Me The Razor as "powerful experiences powerfully rendered with an art that seems almost casual."  And he is right, there is a casualness to the language, the ease with which Krawiec bends us to his will, to his way of seeing.  

But there is nothing casual about the hard edge of the reality Krawiec explores in many of these poems. The blinding tragedy of a death in a family is brought full circle in these poems.  Very intimate and harrowing and all the more so because they speak in a language we all know, recognize.  Powerful stuff indeed.

Things To Do When You Lose A Child

smell the mold
remember his downy face
cry on the sidewalk
refuse to move

sit by the phone
unplug the phone
chug wine
stare out the window

call in sick
write a poem
throw it away
spit in the barrel

get stoned
walk on water
slice off foreskins
pluck out an eye


"Seems almost casual".  There's the rub.  There are few things harder than appearing natural at something that is difficult, writing a poem that is natural sounding but still full of poetic tension, suspense.

Richard Krawiec comes out of the gate swinging again and again - quick poems about life, loss, love, longing - all that contemporary human condition manifesto stuff.  But Krawiec is never after the gloss, these poems are an honest look at the flaws we abound in despite our best efforts.

The Waiting Room

not double hospital gowns
rumpled large as samurai robes
nor forced laughter  stretched smile
nods of reassurance

can hide how diminished she seems
shrunken like an aged child
by fear of the scalpel
and anesthesia's ability
to render thoughts
down to essence of smoke

every surgery threatens
a sunken barricade of stitches
the open seam in a cemetery

in the cafeteria's atrium
green-shaded lights reflect
on the inner glass
dew spackles
the solarium windows
a grass-sparse courtyard
studded with trees
and benches  waits
in the morning's gruel
of sunlight

fear removes all makeup
glares to light loose skin
lines and moles
wrinkled hands
hanging pouches
witness reflect

our train is not chugging
out on a shiny track
but lurching on rusty rails
back to the station
we tumbled into each other
outside the club car
while searching for coffee
something to force us

the track is loose
with missing spikes
the tunnel much closer
than we want to believe

I pull you close
and we do the one thing not allowed
the only thing left to us
we dance in the waiting room
to songs of our making


Krawiec is head on heart-breaking with some of these very human poems about death and dying.  She Hands Me The Razor is an ode to intimacy.  Messy, painful and redemptive human intimacy.

And it is a strong helping.

Video:  Richard Krawiec reads Joseph Bathanti.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Utter - Vahni Capildeo

Today's book of poetry:  Utter.  Vahni Capildeo.  Peepal Tree Press.  Leeds, England.  2013.

Vahni Capildeo's Utter is poetry two cultures removed from my own and yet it speaks to me with a vibrancy as taut as the strings of violin.  Capildeo is a chameleon in these pages.  Utter shows a full range of poetic styles and a writer in full control of a rather limitless voice.

These carefully constructed poems are as delicate as a heavy man navigating thin ice, as confident as the fox slinking away with the cackling bird in its' maw.

Aux Bibliotheques Aux Antilles

Straightway dropped, still vertical, into a shadow parallel
to other shadows, I appeared to stand above, substantial,
a manifest husk that you, your khaki and navy, address

But look, only one corner is worm-eaten,
my red binding holds most of my yellowed pages together,
you can follow the story which is torn in several places
but in such ways that destruction becomes a second story,
one to love, meddled too with chocolate prints from a baby past.

Good sir, with a long reading list, no translator, and wrong change,
will you pick me?

The risk that you change your mind is mine, not yours:
pick me, and you are irretrievable;
hell is already.
Myself dropped through the floor of myself,
you, broken out of leaf,
mistrustful, pithy, four-dimensioned.
I would be stuck with that.

A lifetime with one who reads me,
by whom I am not seen.

The multifarious integrity of pomegranates.

Sharing a hell with you no king and I almost queen.


From poem to poem in this collection there is a consistent tone, an ongoing level of discourse that is captivating - but it comes from any of the myriad of voices Capildeo has captured.  Each voice has its' own distinct rhythm, texture, pulse.

Each of Capildeo's voices understands that it all comes at a cost, whatever voice holds forth, another is suppressed.  There is plenty of humour in Utter, it just always comes at a cost.

The Critic In His Natural Habitat

"You see to be serious about literature.  Have you ever considered
writing up some of these thoughts of yours? A poet like you could
bring a fresh perspective to criticism. People would appreciate that.
You needn't worry: they wouldn't expect scholarship. My book came
out last year. You don't want me to bore you with that.  It's just an in-
depth study of darkness and the imagination in the seventeenth
century. The seventeenth century might not be your cup of tea. Oh,
is that your book? I'm afraid I don't read much contemporary poetry.
Will you give me a copy? Only if you have one to spare, of course, Sultry
photo! I'm never sure about books-with-author-photos. The rail 
station photobooth? Really? You don't write for The Time Literary
Supplement, do you? Dorina recently did a brilliant review of Tricia's
edition of Gussie's translations of Brazilian slum poetry composed in
Spanish by a French guy who taught on an art history course here, oh,
donkeys' years ago.
     I don't remember his name.
     He lived in one of those nice houses. Haven't you read them? You
read Italian don't you? I'll send you the reference if I can remember
to find the time to send it. You wouldn't believe how busy I am. End-
of-term exams bang in the middle of barbecue duty. And the family
insists on their five days in Cornwall. I'm so desperate to get back to
my research. Madness! A nightmare! Merciless. But I'd like to See
You Again... May I See You Again? (Gracie! Put on the wash, I need
my brown corduroy trousers for tomorrow). Sorry.
     Oh. You're going away?"


There isn't necessarily any justice in Vahni Capildeo's poetic world, these poems reflect the realities of a corrupt and cynical world.

For Jo Groiser

The sea needs no ornament.
She adorns herself with herself
and is herself our wreckage.
Unspontaneous as disbelief
the island combusting
— every sunset, despite the mist,
such mist, so very missed, chances
ourselves plunged in sunset
forever lying off the coast.
The railroad makes straight the house.
No names for you pass muster.
I wrote gods' names in the sand.


Vahni Capildeo was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and currently lives in London, England.  Capildeo is the author of four previous poetry titles, No Traveller Returns (2003), Person Animal Figure (2005),  Undraining Sea (2009), and Dark & Unaccustomed Words (2012).


First I tried to hide it from itself.
The I tried to hide it from myself.
I tried quite hard to hide it from you,
even when we knew that was no use.
After all this hiding, no surprise
it's like a thing in translation:
eggshell-shy. A thumb's worth of glory,
nesting near the coastlines of your palm.


Vahni Capildeo's fifth book of poetry is a mature work for serious readers of poetry and it is full of abundant rewards.  Trinidad to London to Ottawa is a long reach for a book of poetry.  Very glad to meet the most loquacious Vahni Capildeo.

Maintenant: the avant garde at Poetry Parnassus - Vahni Capildeo

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Winter - Patricia Fargnoli

Today's book of poetry:  Winter.  Patricia Farngnoli.  The Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series, Volume VI.  Hobblebush Books.  Brooklyn, New Hampshire.  2013.

For the past few days there has been a meme making the rounds of FaceBook.  It goes like this:
     The legendary cellist Pablo Casals was asked why he continued to practice at age 90.
     "Because I think I'm making progress." he replied.

I'm thinking this applies to the elegant poetry of Patricia Fargnoli.  Fargnoli, a former New Hampshire Poet Laureate,  shows us some of the characteristics of the senior artist whose has seen it, tried it, out-lived it, and now has that considered voice of experience.  Fargnoli has learned to separate the wheat from the chaff and winnowed to the essential grain, where the nourishment lay.

Winter Grace

If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know if for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is slowed-down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.


These languid poems seemingly roll off of Fargnoli's effortless tongue but I'm certain the Pablo Casals motto holds true.  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.

Winter, Patricia Fargnoli's fourth book of poetry, has a gentle forcefulness behind every line.  You can call it wisdom or experience, I'm going to call it the reader's luck.  Fargnoli talks to us about "the quiet things that are".

The Weight

Four times a day and twice during the night
through all of the relentless
ice-locked mid-winter days,

my widow-neighbor carries her dog,
a little honey-colored mutt,
down the stairs from her second floor apartment

into the sharp zero cold.
It's actually more like lugging an inert body,
Neddie his name is, old now and ill.

He whines and she knows
something is hurting badly.
Soon she will have to put him to sleep,

she can't do this much longer, old herself,
his weight unsteadying her on the steep stairs.
She cries while she tells me this,

as she lowers him down
to the ice-covered snow,
where he turns and turns, slipping a little

before he finally settles down,
the lemon juice stain spreading out
across the whiteness.

She says she's fighting off grief,
and not for the first time,
then stretches her back,

tired as it is, and bends to lift him again,
smoothing his long fur
with the practiced strokes of a lover.


The Precious Book

          Gwen John, circa 1920, oil on canvas

Who among us becomes what we set out to be?
The girl in the long blue dress cradles the open book
in a handkerchief in her hands. Next to her on the table,
an empty white plate and a closed black book
that partly extends over the edge of the table
as if she had just put it away and taken up this other.
The book she is reading is red and the girl's face is as devout
as a nun praying. The background, only a beige wall, nothing else.
Do the words of the valuable book enter her mind and change her?
Does she grow into the woman the artist later becomes?
A model for Rodin, his lover, that sad affair,
how she died overshadowed, unrecognized?
The red book is the only thing of bright color here, a light
in her hands. We give our hearts to her, don't we?
The long blue dress of her life, this moment of stastis
when the future can't touch her.


Time and time again as I read these pages — I wanted to share more poems.  Is it too trite for me to say these are sage wisdom stuff?  Well, it's been said.

Fargnoli hits the right note time and again, whether she is asking the much needed question or providing resolution.  These quiet, understated and very powerful poems resonated with me.  Winter addresses questions of our mortality, our morality, big question stuff, but it is never in your face, the quiet timing of Fargnoli's approach, giving voice to the essential little questions as well, somehow it is the voice of something weathered, but still strong and dependable.

Sixty Years after My Mother's Death

Her voice is nothing
but wind through a tunnel
beneath a snow-covered mountain
somewhere in the high country
a tunnel over tracks
where a train has just rattled through
a brief flash of lighted windows and passengers
on the way to the emptiness of the plains—
so that the tunnel is filled with absence
except for this wind that does not howl
but whispers as if she were bearing
her vestige back to me.


Shadow at Evening

After all day walking the Vermont craft fair in the sun
after the goat-milk soaps and rose-scented sachets
the bright pottery stalls and the wooden animals

while my shadow preceded me along the grassy aisles
and disappeared reappeared as I moved in and out
of the shadows of maples and gray ash trees

where the breathy music of the accordion player floated
where the field was vibrant with color and motion
stalls of candles relishes and pickles cotton candy in plastic sleeves

I drove home and my shadow rode beside me drove lazily
watching the Green Mountains pass outside the windows
home to my own small cache of solitude and grace

then my shadow disappeared into the brown carpet
disappeared into the bookshelves and the books
I never missed it but just continued on with my quiet life

but now through the east window evening approaches
but now night is knocking against the long shadows
of the street lamp as my shadow rises mysterious and compliant

and I beckon it to enter me until I am one with it at last
and I allow the day to close and dream to come
allow the dream to rise from nowhere and come to me


In the end, I couldn't get enough of Patricia's Fargnoli's Winter.  I liked the pace of these poems, the politic of these poems, the mature love of poetry in these poems.

Patricia Fargnoli reading "Wherever You Are Going"

Monday, January 20, 2014

What The World Said - Jason Camlot

Today's book of poetry:  What The World Said.  Jason Camlot.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2013.

Jason Camlot is a gentleman subversive, a subterranean homesick-blues ball-busting counter-culture curve-ball throwing court jester.

Camlot's fourth trade collection of poetry, What The World Said, could only be written by Camlot.  No one else sees the world with quite the same lightness, all that dark vigor.


Learn that the minyan's root is counting,
count who's there, who isn't there.

Do one meaningful thing today,
not counting the hour that you pray.

Discuss where your boy will be next week,
count the days until summer's end,

smell the garbage in the morning,
count your steps towards mourning.

'How do you get virgin wool?'
'Ugly sheep.' Count yourself lucky.

Break in a new pair of shoes,
pick up newly shortened pants,

dress yourself very quietly.
Observe your family fast asleep.

Return to your old pair of shoes.
Try again another day.

Sing a song above a hum,
hum of what you cannot know.


I'm sure there is a proper name for poems made of lists, (note to self: look up proper name for poems made up of lists), but I don't know it.  Jason Camlot writes killer list poems.  "What We Did", "Thirty-One Awakening", "After The Red Angle" and " Gehenna Is Not Hell" are four examples, they'd all fit loosely in the list category.  

When Camlot makes lists they sing with history, rhythm, mystery, humour, conflict, reason and inanity, sometimes people just want to see the firework in full flame, all the fuses lit.

Camlot is a little like a guitarist or saxophone player sustaining a solo in these lists, magnifying a particularly satisfying riff.

Dear Death,

We waited for you on the pavement
as long as we could
but suppertime was approaching
so we played street hockey
with a puddle-wet
tennis ball, without you.
I scored lots of goals
with you not there. I might
have scored fewer if you—
Ball Hog, Cherry Picker, Death—
had shown. We moved the nets
to the side of the road to
let cars pass. They always
slowed down. The drivers
sometimes waved at us.
One dusty blue Chevy Caprice
Classic seemed to have
a murky child without eyes
lurking in the back seat.
Was that you, Death?
Why were you forbidden to play
today? No sweat, man.
You know we'll be there again tomorrow.
Don't tape your stick
and bring winter gloves
(even though it's spring)
to protect your hands from view
of living, mortal,
suburban kids.


Another tool Camlot employs is the full-on epic all-encompassing magic-thinking rant.  He may not think of it as such but from this vantage point it is how I would describe his carefully articulated hi-jinx.  How else would you explain something like the marvelous title poem "What The World Said".


A Jewtard such as I
has no right to say good morning
once the morning prayers have begun,
unless I am first addressed by someone
more learned in the Torah than me.
Reasons for speaking once prayer has begun—
speaking as an interruption to prayer, I mean—
are few. Fear is one allowance the Mishnah
gives. If one is addressed by a ruler
who can harm you if you do not reply,
then you are allowed to disengage
yourself from the tefillah
(immersion in prayer) and respond.
But who, really, do I have to fear
in my life? Who can hail me out
of this half hour because the possibility
exists that he will have me beheaded,
or burn my house to the ground, or take
my wife and children from me,
or strip the skin from my left arm like
apple or potato parings?
I can imagine the existence of such a man,
but thankfully, I know I will not meet one
who will thus inhibit me from doing
my Jewishy things.


And in this world where there is more than one Jason Camlot, there are letters to Death and to David, the Jewtard Jason Camlot shows up as does the historian, the film-maker, a cobbler, a stand-up comic, a Rabbi, and so on...

Jason Camlot's What The World Said is another shot across the bow from one of our most imaginative and articulate voices.  When Jason Camlot speaks, I listen.

Jason is the author of three previous collections of poetry, The Debaucher (2008), Attention All Typewriters (2005), and The Animal Library (2001).

Jason Camlot reading at the Irving Layton Centenary, March 11, 2012

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Dirty Snow - Tom Wayman

Today's book of poetry:  Dirty Snow.  Tom Wayman.  Harbour Publishing.  Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2012

As I am the one and only editor/writer, mad person at the helm of this blog I feel it is important to be clear about some of my biases.

I believe Tom Wayman is a national treasure.

I've never had the privilege of meeting him but the measly five books of his I am lucky enough to own:  For and Against the Moon (1974), Money and Rain (1975), a planet mostly sea (1979), The Noble Prize Acceptance Speech (1981) and Counting the Hours (1983) have cemented Wayman in my mind as a particularly rare bird in Canadian poetry.  One that is desperately needed.  While the rest of us dance pretty around the edge of things Wayman takes a laser look at our society and the needs of the working class, his constant surveillance a guiding light.


"Ordinary life has enough sorrows and regrets, I believe, without a
community or nation needing to seek out armed combat..."

The Summer Has Flared

and dimmed: bracken now yellow
and brown, hazel leaves
mainly dusty gold, speckles of that colour
also visible in the green plumes of birch,
poplar, cottonwood. A late September silence
has permeated the valley
this afternoon. Down the lane that skirts the base of the ridge

two For Sale signs linger from May: one home on its acreage
curtainless, with no vehicles, stack of firewood
or trailered boat in its yard.
The other place still evidently lived in. Over two decades
I have watched these signs appear and evaporate
like snow. Already today our fields, gardens, forests
have travelled through showers, broken clear into

sunlight, and now pass beneath
overlays of whitish-grey clouds. I hope I never know
my house sold and empty, never have to drive or be driven a last time
along the river remembering the August night I first arrived here
at the wheel of a rented cube van. I don't want ever to follow a truck
that hauls my belongings
out between these valley walls.


Wayman has been awarded the Canadian Author's Association medal for poetry and the A.J.M. Smith Prize for distinguished achievement in Canadian poetry.  He has numerous awards but if I were giving them out he'd have a lot more.

Dirty Snow is Tom Wayman's eighteenth book of poetry and it is as vibrant as number one and as relevant as anything else out there.

Yet, to this reader, Wayman is too frequently dismissed because of the urgency and sometimes pleading tone of the political discourse he insists on conducting, that he insists on for our behalf.


"The consequences of war do no end when the fighting stops, or, in the
most recent case, when the last Canadian soldier leaves foreign soil..."

Dirty Snow

A spray of reddish dust: desiccated earth,
Shreds of maple, hardened blood.

Black particulate: charcoal,
Ash sifted across meadow, stream bank, road.

Tiny paper flakes: blue, green—
Stems and serifs of numbers perceptible on the largest shards.

Mounds of detritus will linger if this snow melts.
What rain? What wind?

To what sea with the April runnels
Bear this pain?


Here is a poet who has been a genuine voice of the people since he slammed out of the gate in 1973 with Waiting for Wayman.

These narrative poems, hard-edged realist poems, straightforward and driving as always, concern themselves with the ramifications of Canada's involvement in the Afghan War.  As always, Wayman is asking the important questions.  His books should be read in Parliament before those big cats get to debate.

Wayman's passionate voice continues to be a clarion call.

In Dirty Snow some of the poems are prefaced with a brief prose introduction - but the clarity of these poems is self evident.

The Man Who Could See Time

The man who could see time
claimed it has a blue tinge
like a bruise, or meat beginning
to go bad.

                Its texture
that of a bale of straw
or a woven basket

except the intertwined stalks
fill all space—not drifting,
he said, but chockablock: the very stuff
of everything, although
permeable by each object,
including ourselves,
ordinarily perceived in three dimensions
despite existing also in a fourth.

String theory, he noted, posits
several other dimensions. He could not discern

         He could see time
but he was looking for the soul.


I'm fairly certain Al Purdy and Milton Acorn would be standing proud after reading these poems.  For me there is no more Canadian poet than Tom Wayman, now wouldn't he make a great poet laureate.

Dirty Snow won the 2013 Acorn-Plantos Award.

Tom Wayman reading at Lion Rock

Thursday, January 16, 2014

I Don't Know Do You - Roberto Montes

Today's book of poetry:  I Don't Know Do You.  Roberto Montes.  Ampersand Books. Gulfport, Florida.  2014.

"Sadness is capable of great acts of beauty".  Sometimes, all it takes is a line.  I read this line, I was hooked.  But there is no certainty here.  Everything Roberto Montes says is a question of one type or another.  His answers are questions as often as not.  His statements are questions.

We've all been in a room where there's a really smart guy/gal riffing brilliant, regardless of what they are talking about you find yourself attracted to their orbit.  Welcome to I Don't Know Do You.

Love Poem for Secret Weather

Do you really want me
to tell you about that night
on the mountain? How we slept

right through the snow?
Melted right to the placid jaw
of the earth? How it felt

in the mountain's cheek?
Two pebbles burning underneath
the riverbed? How the river

was boiling because of us,
because of our opinions
of the sky? What keeps it

way up there? And why
hasn't anyone done anything
about it? How even in sleep

I saw you settling toward me?
Light a weight directing us
from inside our trunks?


These poems are not surrealist, although you might get that impression, they are hyper-real.  They have the feeling of authentic moments, those myriad disconnected and disjointed seconds that make up the reality of time.  

Breaking News

I have decided to give up
everything and take up ending
matches in the sink.
They will discover
my head in the marshes.
They will discover
they do not like my voice
until it is inside them.
Yes, I am taken. Yes, I am a grocery
filled with bees. Pollinating
what you think of March.
Pollinating the empty basket.
I have the confidence of a child
fainting as he climbs the fence.
Therefore I am attractive
to the earth. Consider this
when you rub dirt in my ears and hair.
When you let me know
you've never been in love.
Bullshit. Everyone's been in love.
then I fall violently in love
and have to make out
with everything, even my tormentors.
The laundromats. The cul-de-sac
circling my sternum. The way we wet
snuffs the cellar of an afternoon.
No, I don't have a job.
No, I don't have a reason
to walk through the development.
But anyway I walk. I want to mean
beyond myself. I want
to seed the fearful gladiola.
Because anyone who is unafraid
will never understand
how warm a vowel can be
as you hang four-fingered off
the roof. How I am called
noiselessly down. How I pitch
Earl Grey into the streets.


Montes can sound lyrical, romantic, Kurt Vonnegutish, splendid, mad, magical and mystifying — all in short order.

In some respects these poems read like a popular amusement park ride.  You never know quite which direction these poems are about to throw you, but you've paid for the experience and are certain to enjoy the ride.

Why We Should Get Married

November stumbles out of my mouth
and into yours. You take my heart's wet mop
and dance with it. You participate
in a field of starlings. You have many talents!
You use them all against me. You stay
up all night planning my downfall.
From what? this pitcher of azaleas?
I'm best friends with azaleas. Joke's on you.
The joke is a fat Chinese lantern
lighting up your sternum.
Soon our chests are buzzing
the whole time at the supermarket.
Soon every last petal is carbonating
underneath our tongues. My startled scalp
occurs to you. It is perfect for holding
things aloft. You are sleepless
all over the brunt of it. You build a lake house
on top of it. We invite the outside in.
We shake hands with all our neighbors.
We are polite and not on fire and so
are forgotten by everyone.
We don't know what to do about this.
We find a creek and we tiptoe
strangely into it. We swallow water
and bite glistening salmon chunks of air.
We follow each other all the way home.
I surprise you with a poppy field
in bed. You surprise me by waking up
on fire. For the rest of our lives
we put toasted poppy seeds on
each other's tongues. It feels
like I am rolling down a secret hill.
I am happy. The sky stands up.


I can't pretend to understand all that is going on in these poems and the examples I've chosen don't necessarily best illustrate the full range that Montes lays out here.  Montes range of interests and alacrity will offer all the intrigue and challenge a reader needs.  But there is nothing wrong with a challenge.  These highly entertaining poems offer as many questions as they solve, nothing wrong with that either.

Both playful and deadly serious, Roberto Montes stakes a serious claim.