Thursday, February 27, 2014

How The Potato Chip Was Invented - Daniel M. Shapiro

Today's book of poetry:  How The Potato Chip Was Invented.  Daniel M. Shapiro.  Sunnyoutside.  Buffalo, New York, USA.  2013.

How The Potato Chip Was Invented may be the most fun you'll have inside a book of poetry for some time to come.  These consistently hilarious poems don't hide their deeper meaning - they box with it, dance with it, play with it.

Shapiro is a quick-draw artist and these short prose poems pack a wicked punch as he ransacks everything we thought we knew.

Archibald Discovers Air

The first thing Archibald will tell you when he
meets you is the John Wayne Story: Archibald
drives his niece to a birthday party—John Wayne's
granddaughter's birthday party—but at first, Ar-
chibald does not know who this girl's grandpa is.
He wants to do a quick drop-off so he can go shop-
ping. And he does. But when he arrives to pick up
his niece, The Duke is there blowing up balloons
for kids to take home. Archibald begins to weep or
giggle uncontrollably. (This is the only part of the
story he varies upon retelling.) Archibald's niece
couldn't care less about some old cancerous SOB
hacking and puffing and spitting into a party favor.
None of the children take a balloon home—but
Archie does. He clutches the steering wheel one-
handed so he won't have to let go of the balloon.
He contemplates showering with the balloon but
worries hot water might spoil it. He places it on
the kitchen table and eats his fruit salad next to
it. One day into this courtship, John Wayne dies.
Archibald watches the daylong film tribute, still
clutching the balloon. He is now certain he pos-
sesses the only remaining breath of John Wayne.
He must research how to preserve this breath, this
form of life that outlasts life. He also wonders what
it would be like to breathe in the breath. Caressing
the balloon for the last time, he drives one-handed
to Winterset, Iowa—birthplace of John Wayne.
Finally, he lets go and watches it climb into the 
breeze, where it will leak slowly and painlessly in
a deep sigh.


Shapiro has the enviable talent of turning our culture in on itself, folding it like he was making old time taffy.  His genius is never losing his train of thought, or the reader.  With these poems you are instantly transported into "Shapiro World".  It's disarming because you know all of the characters but in this parallel universe they dance different.

The Silent Circle

Financial weakness spread Universal: In the 1920s,
the studio laid waste to a ghostly lot of Lon Chaney
films because it needed the silver. The thousand
faces burned into celluloid flickered a last time in
cooler light. Smiths melted the metal amorphous,
twisted in a made-up ghoul's grin. Pristine gang-
sters vanished, along with unnamable monsters
distinctly human. Tales of aging moviegoers recall
only the flakes of storylines, the glints of imagery.

The silver could be anywhere now, maybe sitting
in a permanent dungeon but perhaps in a ring on
display at the jewelry store around the corner. The
woman who buys it might find herself making an
obscure, fluid gesture, a hand movement she can't
explain that takes the place of words.


These funny, fierce poems fascinate and fuel the reader.  Shapiro's strange logic builds on itself and the reader is drawn into a world where game shows and game show hosts mix with dead Presidents and obscure actors, Shapiro throws our celebrity game show culture into a mixer and pours out intoxicating cocktails that get the reader drunk.

Had The Roles Been Reversed
Washington, DC, 12/21/70

Both men would've been in suits and ties, with
Elvis smiling awkwardly, reluctant to give Nix-
on a Bureau of Illegal Surveillance Monitoring
badge. The Colonel, that proto-Cheney svengali,
was absent, handling the business in Cuba and
Chile, but this time, the King had the Red But-
ton at the ready, largest rhinestone on the big belt
buckle. After the photo op, Nixon would return
to Yorba Linda, extend a reel-to-reel tape across
the entrance of a school for a ribbon-cutting cer-
emony, warn children about the dangers of tat-
tling. Back at the White House, two-year-old
Lisa Marie would beam in front of the Christmas
tree, under which first lady Priscilla had placed an
oversized dollhouse, a replica of a Memphis one
the girl would never know.


My response to these poems is a giddy enthusiasm of the highest order.  Daniel M. Shapiro has one of the sharpest tongues in town.

Daniel M. Shapiro is a schoolteacher who lives in Pittsburgh.  He is the author of three poetry chapbooks and a collection of collaborations with Jessy Randall.

3 Poems by Jessy Randall and Dan Shapiro

Monday, February 24, 2014

Beauty is a Verb, The New Poetry of Disability - edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black & Michael Northen

Today's book of poetry:  Beauty is a Verb, The New Poetry of Disability.  Edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black & Michael Northen.  Cinco Puntos Press.  El Paso, Texas, USA.  2011.

Beauty is a Verb, The New Poetry of Disability is an anthology and in general I choose not to write about anthologies.

This beautiful Cinco Puntos Press volume is a revelation and a haunting one at that.

The Common Core

Each man's sorrow is an absolute
Each man's pain is a norm
No one can prove and no one refute.
Which is the blacker, coal or soot?
Which blows fiercer, gale or storm?
Each man's sorrow is an absolute.

No man's sickness has a synonym,
No man's disease has a double.
You weep for your love, I for my limbs—
Who mourns with reason? who over whims?
For, self-defined as a pebble,
No mans sickness has a synonym.

Gangrene is fire and cancer is burning.
Which one's deadlier? Toss
A coin to decide; past your discerning
Touch the heart's center, still and unturning,
That common core of the Cross;
You die of fire and I of burning.

— Vassar Miller


These poems do nothing to alter disability, naturally, but they are remarkably adept at altering the reader's perspective on disability.  This is important stuff.  But for the purposes of this blog and my interest the issue is not disability but poetry, that's the rub and that's the pay-off in this well edited volume.  The poets deliver again and again.


Less is more — Mies
Only when more is less — Wright
Which it always is — Diogenes

     Now that I'm deaf I'm listening to music. Until now I was too busy or too depressed to let the radio mumble on with cheery Vivaldi or soulful Tchaikovsky.  Occasionally I would put on a CD, and sometimes a subtle little sound from Debussy would wake me up. Not any more. The high notes of Kiri Te Kanawa I mainly sense on her face on TV, as Strauss's Marschallin smiles at me.
     It's all Cagean now. The truck that takes off on the street makes a great crescendo above Lulu's final shriek. And Sun Ra sounds as melodious as Glenn Miller. Above all I listen, transfixed, to rasping violin, viola, cello, knowing I'm hearing more than Beethoven did, and infinitely less.  Still, since the less makes me strain for more, I'm beginning, maybe, to hear more.

     Now that I'm crippled I take long walks in the country. Until now I needed to move fast for exercise, and what I saw, heard, and smelled in the country could have been Central Park or even Broadway at rush hour. Life was a rush. One didn't stop to look at this tree, which is dying. I only noticed it because I fell over its dead branches and landed against its soft mossy trunk. It's like me, branches spread out on the ground, as my legs, arms and crutches are.
     Falling is helpful for seeing the world. One has paused, as that hawk above me is pausing in the sky. One hears rustling sounds: branches and leaves moving, small animals scurrying. One smells the perfumes of blossoms or decaying things. The wind caresses. Once you've paused you'll never be the same again. You're not so...perpendicular, so apart. Then you can push yourself up along the trunk and continue you walk, moving at your own pace over the enormous earth.

     Now that my memory's gone I remember more. My mind wanders among so many scenes, so many more than actually happened. And they're set loose to recombine with scenes from other times, other places. And I know more people than I ever knew. Some of them I read or dreamed or wrote down. Others may have been real once, but they are certainly more interesting now, as only their oddities or epiphanies remain.  While those who could never be interesting are long forgotten. It takes a lot of forgetting to remember.
     This is fortunate since all my trivial activities and half-hearted endeavors and absent-minded betrayals would make a vast nineteenth-century novel that would put any reader to sleep, including myself. Instead I don't doubt that everybody has been very nice and things turned out as they should have. So I have even forgotten what I have forgotten, and this is the greatest pleasure of all.

     Not that I'm impotent I make love a lot. It used to be that there were too many girls, women, wives, not exactly chasing after me, but beckoning or bending their little fingers around wind glasses or even around a button on my fly. Not that they weren't comforting and made me think at times that I was human. Still, I can barely remember a few faces.
     This is all to the good since I'm concentrating nowadays on one face. Not my own, which is a bit of a memento mori, but this other face. And more than the face. In whatever state we're in of hurry or unearthly awareness, there are simultaneous smiles at sudden absurdities, or quick nods of understanding, or just fingers absently touching, or murmuring words lost in sleep, or even a lethargic cock gently flowing—so that one is constantly, never-endingly making love.

— Robert Fagan


Beauty is a Verb is a lot of book at almost 400 pages and a lot to take in.  The editing by Bartlett, Black and Northen creates a stunning over-view, not of bodies in trouble, but a deeply moving and powerful poetic force given voice.


This is a hard life you are having
While you are young,
My father said,
As I scratched my casted knees with a paper knife.
By laws of compensation
Your old age should be grand.

Not grand, but of a terrible
Compensation, to perceive
Past the energy of survival
In its sadness
The hard life of the young.

— Josephine Miles


In general I have some distaste for poetry that comes already labelled and my initial reaction to "disability" poetry was that of some wariness.  Reading this anthology dispelled any concerns I had, the cumulative affect is undeniable, the reader is pulled into a new awareness by the brave voices of the poets, not the curiosity of their disabilities.

Poems with Disabilities

I'm sorry—this space is reserved
for poems with disabilities. I know
it's one of the best spaces in the book,
but the Poems with Disabilities Act
requires us to make all reasonable
accommodations for poems that aren't
normal. There is a nice space just
a few pages over—in fact (don't
tell anyone) I think it's better
than this one, I myself prefer it.
Actually I don't see any of those
poems right now myself, but you never know
when one might show up, so we have to keep
this space open. You can't always tell
just from looking at them either. Sometimes
they'll look just like a regular poem
when they roll're reading along
and suddenly everything
changes, the world tilts
a little, angle of vision
jumps, your entrails aren't
where you left them. You
remember your aunt died
of cancer at just your age
and maybe yesterday's twinge means
something after all. Your sloppy,
fragile heart beats
a little faster
and then you know.
You just know;
the poem
is right
where it

— Jim Ferris


Here is a quote from Molly Peacock, author of The Paper Garden, that appears on the back cover of Beauty is a Verb:
     "Revelatory, provocative, harrowing, and bold...these voices range from the specific and personal
     to the abstract and philosophical, sweeping any reader—including the temporarily able-bodied—into      the profoundest questions of how to live."

Crane of Angles

The earth crept, lurched upward, and took sudden hold of her shoulders, Plagued
them stratospherically forward. The ground became her neck.  Down the avenue the
ringmaster. Though there were many tiny acrobats twisting the length of her legs
making them whinny. Her proprioceptive tap dance drew spontaneous crowds, cagey
looks. Flush with a string of light beginning in the lowest quadrant of her brain,
where it becomes the body. A toy helix in off beam hands careening the sidewalk. Ev-
erything that isn't Daphne. Cycles n her rapidly blinking eyes. The torque of feet and
to think this is what. Closer to the movement of planets.

—Denise Leto


Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Shape of Breath - Judith Pond

Today's book of poetry:  A Shape of Breath.  Oberon Press.  Ottawa, Ontario.  2012.

Judith Pond is a very serious poet with a dark sense of humour.  A Shape of Breath isn't Sylvia with her head in the stove but it is a scathing indictment of living with compromise.

These harsh poems have a pure beauty to them — Pond is as clear as she is fearless.

This collection is divided into several distinct sections with singular themes.  "As For Me", the second segment of this rewarding book, is a devastating series of call-and-response poems, all about the cold harsh drudgery of a loveless union.

Tuesday Evening, March 5

I've fought it out with myself and won at last. We're going to adopt
Judith's baby...


Sweet Revenge

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised
when I find my abstemious husband, who pretends
to be dreaming
beside me each night, has gone to another
and begun a new life, (Who wouldn't, cursed
with a wife who is barely there and furthermore


He, on the other hand is stunned
when God claims the woman and I
the son.


In another section of the book entitled "Coyote Suite", Pond conjures herself covered in fur, it's a clever transformation and an illuminating vehicle for further ruminations on relationships, human weakness and human nature.

Myth: Coyotes Have No Conscience

You think you believe this
because of their yellow eyes
and stealthy ways, and because anyone
who sees one sees himself
as calories: Not pretty
but at least it satisfies.

Like all myths, however, this one, while
easy, is inaccurate. There's a difference,
after all,
between no conscience
and no regrets.


Although I'm convinced that the poems I'm showing you stand on their own - in the context of the narrative of each section of this collection, these poems are stirling stuff.  Each chapter of A Shape of Breath reveals another layer of hidden depth.

There's all kinds of sorrow in A Shape of Breath but there is also optimistic hope in a better future, a belief in something pure enough to be called love.


It is the evening of the day before
spring. Bare and gleaming,
you race through the darkening
rooms, your clear laughter

Outside the young light

We are playing the game
of me catching you, though you are moving
far too fast for me ever
to win. One by one the stars
wink on.

Here are your small clothes, discarded
on the long-ago floor of an innocent
kitchen. I raise them
to my face and breathe you in, remembering this
night as though
our game were just a dream, as though already
it were an echo, and you
were gone.


Judith Pond is the author of three previous books of poetry -  An Early Day, Dance of Death and Lovers and Other Monsters.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Words We Might One Day Say - Holly Karapetkova

Today's book of poetry:  Words We Might One Day Say.  Holly Karapetkova.  Washington Writers' Publishing House.  Washington, D.C., USA.  2010.

Holly Karapetkova has one foot in Bulgaria and the other firmly dug into American soil, her head is somewhere in between, beautifully above us all, in the clouds.  How lucky for us.  Words We Might One Day Say is a simply sublime book of poetry.

These poems are a unique hybrid of ultra-realism, magic-realism, political manifesto, romantic ballad, surrealist fancy — Karapetkova has it all going on in these engaging, insightful and explosive poems.  And how bleeding delightful is that.

Housing Nationalization
         Bulgaria, 1969

I am only nine. Already
I have seen a dog with no hair
its body covered in sores
and the vultures circling.

I have seen the streets
stained red with cherries
spilled from the trees,
blackened against the asphalt.

I have seen my own home
turned inside-out, its contents
littering the sidewalk
like the vomit
of some bearded drunk:
sofa, chairs, bookshelves
with the books scattered
open and waiting,

my own smaller bed,
a light rain settling
on the pale yellow sheets,
the pillow ripped open
by a policeman
who thought it might be fun
to do a little damage,
break a few dishes.

The white feathers drift
like cigarette smoke
through the neighborhood.
I chase after them
trying to catch them in my fingers,
trying to push them back
into the open tear.


Karapetkova lives in the United States but her European/Bulgarian self is never far from these poems.  Karapetkova reads like legendary writer you just haven't heard of yet.

My list of essential poems from this volume started on the first page and didn't stop.

Cadaver Room

The stainless silver tables
cement floor with its hoses and drains.
No one likes a mess.

I say cadaver. I see body,
a tattoo of a foreign word on her left ankle,
six piercings in her ear
(the earrings have been removed).

We cut against the muscles, forcing our way
through the vast forests of bronchioles,
the cave of a heart, stiff and thick as a tire.
Try to sort out the thin tubes
of her ovaries and all her unborn children.

Did she spend her nights alone?
Share a small apartment with a man who took
her earlobe and all its metal into his mouth?
With a woman whose tongue covered
the sign on her ankles like a blanket?

I trace its outline into my notes
and look it up later. It's Chinese.
It means home, the body, a foot in the door,
a fist in the mouth, the long slow sex after lunch.
But she no longer needs the lie:

cadaver, an empty house and all its furnishings
left behind for us to rumble through,
plunging our scalpels deeper
than her lovers ever dared.


These poems have a tart sweetness to them and then the hammer blow of the world unexpectedly revealed.  Karapetkova has that keen eye that is at home in two countries, familiar enough to look into those chasms that exist on the border between the two cultures.  What Karapetkova finds in those spaces is beautiful and haunting.

Grandfather and Dog

I stood beside the hole, looked up at him,
waited. At Grandma's funeral he'd cried
but now his eyes just stared, detached and dim,
and soon the dirt flung was enough to hide
the lifeless form. The early evening shadows
defined his wrinkles, and I saw the sweat
drip off of his clenched jaw, but only God knows
what he whispered through his cigarette.
I heard that after Grandma died, his dog ate
with him at the table; he read her all Scott's
novels, and later, my mother would relate
how he'd kept the dog alive with morphine shots
as though he knew he could not go on alone—
the hole I stood by six months later was his own.


Holly Karapetkova's Words We Might One Day Say is remarkably good poetry, these poems are endlessly entertaining, emotionally gripping and entirely magical.  

Words We Might One Day Say won the Washington Writers' Publishing House Poetry Prize.  Karapetkova is also the author of more than 20 children's books.

Parts of Speech

Tomorrow,  I will build a universe
of ink and write you subject to my pen,
controlling all you do and think in verse
and changing every loss of mine to win;
for instance, I could start with adjectives,
crossing out the old that I've become,
replacing dull with lovely, or I'd give
your careless words a turn to grateful ones.
And then for nouns—inscribe your apathy
as care with but a movement of my wrist,
to trade distaste for passion, transform me
into she, and thus by you as her be kissed.
Or better than this wordy love re-retrieving
I'll simply stop all verbs, keep you from leaving.


Holly Karapetkova's totally refreshing Words We Might One Day Say is as promising as spring.

Holly Karapetkova reading her poem "Dead Friends"

Saturday, February 15, 2014

the whole and broken yellows (Van Gogh poems and others) - Jennifer Zilm

Today's book of poetry:  the whole and broken yellows (Van Gogh poems and others).  Jennifer Zilm.  Frog Hollow Press.  Victoria, British Columbia.  2013.

Vincent Van Gogh is probably the most famous artist in history and as such — one of the most written about.  the whole and broken yellows (Van Gogh poems and others) by Jennifer Zilm ventures into Van Gogh world with a poetic treatment that looks at his letters, his work and inside his imagination.

The feat Zilm pulls off here, and it is a very big feat, is to make a story we all know, a story so frequently told — new and unique.  Zilm does it.

2. M. Peyron: Session Notes On V. Van Gogh

I fear the patient, the ginger Dutchman, has too much
           religion in his brain, he spent a sojourn painting
                     the grey wives of miners and preaching the Gospel.
                               Yet he refused to learn Latin so I fear his religion
                                         is most uninformed, most delusional.
                                                 Yesterday in the midst of his ravings
                                                           at the easel he "preached" a passage
                                                                   he swears is found in the scripture
                                                                                where Christ took his time restoring
                                                                                        the sight of a blind man:

                                                                First he touched and said, What do you see?
                                               The blind man answered that he saw trees walking
                           like men. Then the savior dirtied his hands with earwax,
            spittle and mud and applied his fingers to the eyes of the half-
      blind man just as I am now applying ochre oil
  to my canvas to reveal the wheat fields.

Ochre in his eyes, the now seeing man saw
   completely. All this is just to say
         that one must accustom one's eyes slowly
                                                                                                                     to a different light.
Patient reports his only symptoms as "this dizziness" and "the idleness of the south" and
that he has recently dropped some portrait of Our Lady into oil, damaging it beyond recognition.
One does not expect a madman, however, to recognize his delusions as such.

Now for the weekend,
               I shall put his religious sickness
                                                        out of my mind,
                                                                      and take my wife to Lourdes.


Jennifer Zilm has filled in the space between the paintings and the viewer by adding a new subtext to our understanding of Van Gogh.  She is showing us another veneer.

This particularly attractive Frog Hollow Press book was designed by Cayrl Wyse Peters and pays appropriate and affectionate homage to Van Gogh while at the same time stylishly framing these very good poems.

Uncollected Translations

Water, air, shadow.
The singular blue of the 19th century.

We are drowned in a thrush
of irises always flowing.

Unsent letters written on journal pages.
A codex's creased leather spine.

The empty pages, the spine
brittle, the varicose veined crease.

These ancient papers and this paralyzing handwriting,
black ink over line, withering.

Step outside the museum, the ruins remembered
only in the pages. Bright light, a morning.

And on your cheeks, the yellow sun
has dropped her thin red freckles.


Zilm takes us inside the paintings and inside of Van Gogh.  These poems are the result of much research into the specific details of the artist's life but what makes these poems work, sing, is the imagination that Zilm has filtered these details through.  Zilm has taken the factual evidence and re-imagined it, and as a result her treatise on Van Gogh illuminates another facet of the great artist.

At Last The Stars: A Post-Amsterdam Orthodox
Easter Sonnet

Some German poet, some impressionist
drawing us forward to the word
star. Perhaps this is the year we begin
to start to learn how to speak of colour.
Witness this keyboard accident--
Icons, emoticons: tiny asteroids
rather than primary red blood muscles.
My mis-text. Your reply: stars 4 hearts.
Vestiges of French immersion. Oh you.
Je t'etoile. Everywhere wireless. This
AM radio: stars wet with shining
to please you. Impressionist face bright in
the daily falling and rising of the 
sun. One of our stars, all gold. All yellow.


More than anything else this book is a celebration of the act of creating.  An intimate look at a great artist and a new prism to look through.

Zilm does that rare thing with the whole and broken yellows (Van Gogh poems and others), she takes us somewhere we've already been and then shows us what we haven't seen.

Jennifer Zilm reading from the whole and broken yellows

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Scripture of Crows - Charles Goodrich

Today's book of poetry:  A Scripture of Crows.  Charles Goodrich.  Silverfish Review Press.  Eugene, Oregon, USA.  2013.

Maybe it is my age, because I suspect I am close in age to Mr. Goodrich.

It might be that I'm partial to the straight ahead, no nonsense narrative voice.

My argument is going to be that Charles Goodrich's A Scripture of Crows is an exceptional book of poems because — I found myself nodding in agreement on each and every page.


Few seeds as tenacious as burdock,
clutching the dog's fur
tight as ticks. Burdock leaves
aren't as plush as mullein,
but they'll pass for kleenex in a pinch.

We haven't tried digging it up,
roasting the roots in an open pit,
then grinding them together with berries and fat
for pemmican yet,

but I own a sharp spade.
I'm not afraid to eat
woody things or bitter things,
or creatures that wiggle or squeal.

When I pull the burrs out of her fur,
the dog eats them.

Good dog.


Goodrich calls himself a 'commonist' which is clever stuff and a word I intend to start using.  And he is right, his unadorned, pared down poetry reads like a book you already know, a familiar.

A Shrine

six cords of oak
every stick cut
exactly sixteen inches
then split and stacked
in long straight ricks

the man's strict love
of the physical world
inhabits this wood
and six years after his death
it still hurts to burn it

I've copied the blurb that accompanied the video below and it contains all the details about Goodrich that you need to know.

What I want to tell you is the joy I had reading these almost perfect poems.

The Piano Tuner

With her head under the lid
of my hopeless spinet,
her voice comes out
minor-chorded—I am sick
of tuning pianos. I need travel.
I need romance!

Now she rifles through her toolbox
for a chisel, and she jabs it
toward my chest, Don't you ever
waste a minute, bones clicking
in her slender wrists. She's angry,
but more important she's

and broke
and her recently electric
love life's fizzling. On her knees
oiling the pedals, I need to do something
hard, her imperious
soul talking, spurring on
the slim, bursitic girl.

Too poor
to revisit Greece,
she's been talking with the Peace Corps
about Albania. If I wanted a serious challenge
I'd go home to Raleigh
and take care of my parents.

Dashing off a few quick scales, That's it!
That's all I can do. This piano
should be taken outside
and shot. With a cackling laugh
she bends to the keyboard, dark hair
falling over her face, and bangs out
a dirge.

I dreamed last night
I was on the beach
with a chain-smoking Greek.
He played the bouzouki
and I danced with the edge of the surf.


Charles Goodrich's A Scripture of Crows has me utterly convinced.  These are poems worth knowing.

Published on 23 Sep 2013

Director of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word at Oregon State University, Charles Goodrich discusses his latest work, "A Scripture of Crows" published by Silverfish Review Press, 2013.

"Charles Goodrich here writes a manifesto for world change one compact epiphany at a time. Administrator of local discoveries, he names himself a 'commonist,' loyal to the local, to the democracy of creatures, to the light, keen blade of the language opening the envelope of our sleep. 'The stars are rising like bubbles / in dark ale / The blood you gave to mosquito is what makes the bluebird / so blue. Feeling as the maple tree / must feel on the verge / of leafing out.' And reading, you are at eye-level with bud and dew, with seeds delving down, near joy despite the scheduled anguish of the modern world. These poems are a restorative in their deft humor and quiet promise. They will change your days, if not your life." —Kim Stafford

Charles Goodrich is the author three volumes of poems—A SCRIPTURE OF CROWS (Silverfish Review Press, 2013), GOING TO SEED: DISPATCHES FROM THE GARDEN (Silverfish Review Press, 2010) and INSECTS OF SOUTH CORVALLIS (Cloudbank Books, 2003)—and a collection of essays about nature, parenting, and building his own house, The Practice of Home (Lyons Press, 2004). His poems and essays have appeared in Orion, The Sun, Open Spaces, Willow Springs, Zyzzyva and many other magazines. A number of his poems have been read by Garrison Keillor on his National Public Radio Program The Writer's Almanac.
  • These notes were copied from You Tube - Michael

Monday, February 10, 2014

18 Goddamn Centos - Stuart Ross

Today's book of poetry:  18 Goddamn Centos.  Stuart Ross.  Proper Tales Press.  Cobourg, Ontario.  2013.

I should start with a disclaimer but if you have been paying attention to this blog you will already know I am a huge fan of the endless fascinating poetry of Stuart Ross.  18 Goddamn Centos is but the latest of a myriad of chapbooks Ross has published over the years.

Ross is as well connected as any poet in the country, he knows poets and he knows poetry.  But when I say connected I mean to the inner thoughts of us all.  In 18 Goddamn Centos he makes elastic use out of the voices of others yet speaks clearly in that Stuart Rossian timbre we've come to recognize and embrace.

Cento is a form that borrows individual lines from other other poets to create a new poem - think of it as an elaborate rag quilt.

Cento For Alfred Purdy

He begins to speak
like a small storm cloud
and hills under our feet tremble,
and a small rain like tears
from the hot fields
under a million merciless suns
reach across the distance of night

Years later at Ameliasburg
I remembered that blind dog
under a faithless moon —
it was a heart-warming moment for Literature
— a thud and a cry
love and hate
doing pushups under an ancient Pontiac

Five minutes ago I was young, five minutes ago
we were very happy
but my hate was holy as kosher foreskins then
and the quick are dead and the dead grow hands
fingers like fireflies on the typewriter
suspended between stars
in an imaginary town

I knew a guy once would buy a single drop
of the rain and mists of Baffin
as if a child had clasped his hands
into the tips of falling leaves
I've seen these trees spilling down mountains
inside the brain's small country:

light comes and goes from a ghostly sun
on both sides of the swan
but first they cut off his fingers
beside my crumbling little house
standing in a patch of snow
in the silvery guts of a labouring terribly useful lifetime


This is an astonishing feat of engineering.  This particular strong, evocative poem is made up entirely of lines from Al Purdy poems.  Clearly Stuart Ross is reading everything.  "Cento For Alfred Purdy" is a beautiful elegy and a snappy poem.  Ross's choice of material, the stuff he recycles from the poems of others — is so ventriloquist right on the mark that it sounds like it is coming from his mouth.

Ross has numerous books and chapbooks to his credit, most recently Our Days In Vaudeville (Mansfield Press), which is another collaborative venture.  Ross has been nominated for numerous literary prizes and awards but remains one of Canada's biggest literary secrets.

Embassy Sonnet: A Cento

Ask me something; come on; questions!
If I were Nancy Drew, I could tap my way
among the gods
gobbled by snores to the stately
snails supposedly accompanied by focaccia

I used to play
cowboys in sweat pants and Nikes
What did I learn about my kinfolk?
the world is the decay of the world
the air is some torn-up paper, floating.

And so I plan to go to the Canadian Embassy
As a small south american squirrel
The guy who cut off my head
he used to have five sisters


This Proper Tales Press chapbook has all of the light-hearted humour, a hint of dark menace lurking underneath, the keen observational jigsaw solving and other fine skills that Ross always brings to the dance.  18 Goddamn Centos is a typical Stuart Ross book.


Stuart Ross Poetry Rocks

Don't Step on Ants - Stuart Ross

Proper Tales Press

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Self-Portrait/Sixteen Sevenlings - Rodger Moody

Today's book of poetry:  Self-Portrait/Sixteen Sevenlings.  Rodger Moody.  Bright Hill Press.  Treadhill, NewYork, USA.  2013.

You could call these Sevenlings formal, Rodger Moody certainly sticks to his formula in this all too brief book of poems, Self-Portrait/Sixteen Sevenlings.  Sevenlings are seven line poems, two three-line stanzas and a closer.  I wouldn't go so far as to call the closers' punchlines but humour is certainly a device Moody is happy to employ.

Sevenling (He longed for)

He longed for three things about farm
life: the morning rooster, good compost
in the garden, corncobs glowing in the fireplace.

He had no use for strangers
selling Bibles, children who refused
to weed the garden, well-meaning neighbors.

The countryside belongs to the swallows.


There is a tangible clarity to Rodger Moody's seven line precision.  Each of these short poems contains its' own small universe.  

My earlier mention of humour shouldn't mislead the reader.  These are poignant vignettes.

Michael McGriff says of  Self-Portrait/Sixteen Sevenlings:
     These "Sevenlings" are for those who have drifted off a work only to be yanked
     back to a seemingly causeless reality (He remembers the job wasn't to last...), and
     for those who keep a copy of Yannis Ritsos' Selected Poems in the glovebox for
     their fifteen-minute break, and for those who find meaning and redemption in an 
     art that's not afraid to place its bets on ardor and the deceptively plain spoken.

Sevenling (What of all the dreary)

What of all the dreary years slogging
the warehouse floor, the patchy plywood,
   the com-
puter and the withholding technician.

The tender girl who stocks the reach-in
cooler, her songs and libidinous dance
when we are along, the existential disconnect.

Chet Baker on the radio softly following a
   sad song.


There is a delicious melancholy in these poems.

Moody has made his living for the last twenty-four years as a warehouse worker.  An honourable enough profession, I've worked in a few warehouses, I know Bukowski did.  But Moody is also the founding editor of Silverfish Review Press, his poetry has appearing in numerous magazines and journals, he has had writing fellowships at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  Moody was also the recipient of the 2012 C. Hamilton Bailey Fellowship in Poetry from Literary Arts in Portland, Oregon.

Sevenling (The dirty warehouse)

The dirty warehouse is cold
this morning. He's wet from the rainy
bike ride against traffic. He wants breakfast.

Shrink-wrapped pallets hug the wall
against the alleyway. He hates counting
returns. The hand truck's unfailing

flat tire. He remember the job wasn't to last.


So the warehouse worker IS an accomplished poet, one read of Self-Portrait/Sixteen Sevenlings makes that clear.  Moody is deceptive with his easily approachable, casual tone but it disguises a deeper understanding and a willingness to reveal.

Self-Portrait/Sixteen Sevenlings won the 2012 Bright Hill Press Chapbook Award.

Self-Portrait/Sixteen Sevenlings is a short but absolutely fulfilling read that will fill that poetry fix.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Last Window in the Punk Hotel - Rob Cook

Today's book of poetry:  Last Window in the Punk Hotel.  Rob Cook.  Rain Mountain Press.  New York City, New York, USA.  2010.

At first glance, New York poet Rob Cook's surreal poetry might unnerve an unsuspecting reader.  Cook has found a voice that is so precisely his own, new rhythms, new rhymes, that his world may appear foreign at first.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  Last Window in the Punk Hotel rants surreal but you'll find yourself tied to its purposes again and again.

Cook's language is its own guide and shortly into reading Last Window at the Punk Hotel the reader finds themselves making the same leaps of faith as Cook, drawn into his intelligent will, a resident, if you will, at Cooks' "Hotel".

Tenement Pastoral

Mid-September, the air cool,
but who knows for how long.
The exterminator knocks silently
on each door, and so another month
goes by, and the cockroaches survive.

At any moment the city could disappear,
the pigeons close all the wounds
they see through, but not to hurt their friends
the roofs and ledges and windowsills.
This week a family of Mets blankets moved

into the next apartment. Remarkable
how much noise a blanket generates.
But friendly also. A basket of waxed
apples left on the morning doorstep
with the rest of the trash.

The tenement where no one speaks
wrecked here during the puddle riots of 1887.
Since then, the rabid sky hiding
behind the curtains in Apartment 11
with Herman and Asher Rosanetz

who can be heard most of the hungry daylight
fighting over a mistake in the month's
bank statements or utilities bill or list
or cold cereals that can still be trusted,
and that can still endure their crumbling teeth.


Cook seems to be mining that vein of subconscious thought where every pronouncement he makes moves from the absurd to the obvious as soon as he says it.  Neat trick.

Watch how in this next poem you keep nodding in agreement...

Shopping For Prairies

the k-mart walls & afternoons
painted in the albino
tones of lulls between jewelry departments—
invisibility, not sleep,
at discount ceilings.


the smells of fondled
shirts & hangers
too slow to be
                        food or prairie.


the cold, hard-to-find air here
is either fake
                       or mined
from the starvation-dressed


dry fluorescent streambeds
             to the affordable

obese sweaters & slacks & underwear.


p.a. system music where everything is
                                    nervous, unfinished.


a commercial obituary: "i was always fatally tired at k-mart."


the existence of coupon-wearing cashiers
perceived only in measurements
of electronic decimals.

—shoe thefts that happen only in the crawl of hidden cameras—


children's clothing checked
                        for insulin levels.


nobody says "the air is hungry."
nobody tells them the long lines,
the long credit card lines
cause the celebrities
                       on tabloid covers to wither
          within range
of their jasmine


tables & leopard coats & toys with no summer
migrating to remote control.


$10.99, $10.99, $10.99,
the cry of raptors
deep inside the dressing room mirrors.


which employee will resist
the lies
       of his paycheck.

which employee will admit to the bottomless heavens
                                                            of anger ahead of him.

the arrowhead viruses in everyone's barely breathing eyes.


"it is not a movie. it was never
a movie," a saleslady tells
                                    her frontier of strawberry blouses
where rain is accomplished
                                    only by staring.


who will pay for the scars caused
by the store lights,

     antiseptic on Tuesdays
     & glaring on the other, unnamed days

when the parking lot gets planted
     with corn that tastes
     like it's lost.


"will we get to play on the shelves?"
a boy asks
             with his hands that still smile.

his mother blushing with expired twilights

will not tell him the birthdays
are no longer counted,

will not admit that the shopping carts
are the skeletons
                      of still-dreaming caribou.


there is always food starving at k-mart.

there is always one lethargic employee
whose shoes are happy.

a sales counter made of stillness.

I, too, bought a necklace
       that came to the middle
of its slithering there.


There are 153 pages of poetry in Rob Cook's Last Window in the Punk Hotel and the more I read the more I was tempted to share all of them with you.

Gail Gray says:

     Rob Cook, as a surrealist poet, proves it's not a skill like harnessing, but a
     release, like inviting the wind in.  And when the wind and the poet become one, the
     duende, the deep song from the center comes alive and breathes its momentary
     but long lasting touch upon your soul.  It's an intuitive lyrical dance...the duende.
     It comes and you put yourself in its way.  Rob Cook has mastered the dance.
     Find his poems online, find his book, wrestle an angel for it, sucker punch a
     muse to read it.

Michael Dennis says that Rob Cook's thoroughly entertaining poetry is a deep mine of modern thought and everywhere you look there are nuggets of gold.

Slow Death By Gunshot

We walked the wrong way home
from Spring Street Natural.

The direction to the wrong world.

It was cold, late.

We didn't notice
the green hat shivering by itself
on the sidewalk

or the woman behind a broken window
feeding her mouth
to a child.

A New York Knicks thug
demanded our money
from the maw in his hooded sweatshirt.

The traffic signal screamed once
and went blank.

It was still late in the wrong world.

You walked faster than I.

The streets kept getting smaller.
No people. Just the outlines of people,
whispering in the slang of terrified rats.

There was a man held together with Christmas lights,

and the sound a car makes
when it's angry.

The dogs dangling from the trees
didn't cry, though
they seemed part of our wounds.

We didn't turn around.

We didn't hear the blood
we'd lost pulling itself
along the ground behind us.