Friday, August 29, 2014

Today's book of poetry will be on hiatus for a few days. Back soon.

Today's book of poetry will be taking a short break.  Be back soon.


In The Tiger Park  -  Alison Calder  (Coteau Books)
Newcomer  -  Nathaniel Farrell  (Ugly Duckling Books)
Everyone is co2  -  David James Brock  (Wolsak & Wynn)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Some Birds Walk For The Hell Of It - C. R. Avery (Anvil Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Some Birds Walk For The Hell Of It.  C. R. Avery.  Anvil Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2014.

For sheer step on the mother-bleeping gas excitement you'll be hard pressed to find a better ride than C. R. Avery's Some Birds Walk For The Hell Of It.

C. R. Avery is obscene, unruly, rude, over-bearing, condescending and more fun than finding money in your wallet you didn't know you had.

Avery packs an intense and intelligent dynamic energy into everything he machine gun rat-a-tat-tats onto the page.

Mantelpiece Locomotive

Left the desk in the spare room
to be ravaged by a handsome scholar.
Unavoidable heat-score writes his graduate thesis
on the back of non-refundable train tickets.
Sitting by Mrs. Old Age
who loves
to talk 'bout everything
all at once
in 1956 monologue.
Sad wet dog,
still curious, wagging her tail
as we leave the station,
the toothless outlaw still hanging from the noose.
A reminder to locals and visitors alike:
an owl can turn its head clockwise
but its wings are criminal in these here skies.
Spare rooms are most attractive
when you arrive and as you leave.
As I grabbed my suitcase
your desk played a silent note,
like a diamond earring dangling from a peasant girl
pretending to be a princess
or a TV on mute
glowing with the historic images
of those black leather pioneers of rap
or a photograph of my grandfather, who I never knew.


Hard to imagine having more glee reading a book of poems than I've had tackling Avery.  I read a few of these poems out loud to the office minions.  There were gasps and gulps, much laughter.  One of our interns ran into the bathroom and locked the door.

The New Messiah

Any guy who says "Divine Blessings" to the line cooks
in a passive baby-lamb voice
as he leaves a restaurant,
so two girls can overhear him sounding like a bearded shaman,
a Reiki-messeuse, the new Messiah,
deserves to have a donkey take a shit in his mouth.


When Avery starts rocking there can't be anything else worth looking at.  These hyper-active, zoomed-in-focus, dead heat inducing missives really can be blistering good.

That and Avery has one hell of a sense of humour.  He doesn't take much seriously, including himself.

There were longer poems that begged to be reprinted here and I almost took the bait.  But these short poems are teaser enough.

Do They Play Zoombie Zoo?

I asked my long-time guitar player,
"What was the big-paying gig the rhythm section got,
that they'd rather do than play mainstage at South Country Fair?"

"You're not going to believe this, but they joined a Tom Petty
cover band, it kinda broke my heart."

"Well," I replied, "they're heartbreakers now."


Some Birds Walk For The Hell Of It is Dylan's electric guitar, John's Yoko, Sylvia with her head in that oven and the mournful voice of an aging Gordon Lightfoot all compiled on the razor's edge of a knife being juggled for your amusement.

Then C. R. Avery throws the knife at you.

And any poet who gallants Bill Hicks is always going to be a pal of mine.

Image result for c.r. avery photo
C. R. Avery

C.R. Avery was born in Smith Falls, Ontario in 1976. He has released seventeen albums, written and directed three musicals that have been produced in New York, L.A, Seattle and San Francisco. Avery has toured ruthlessly throughout North America, Europe, and Australia with his rock & roll punk ensembles, hip-hop circus’s with 12-bar blues high kicks, and his infamous string quartets and burlesque revues. Some Birds Walk for the Hell of It is his third book of poetry. He presently resides in East Vancouver’s Little Italy neighbourhood.

"First there were the Beats...then there was Hunter S. there is C. R. Avery."
     Luke Starr, Kruger Magazine, UK

"A cultural magpie who's impossible to pigeon-hole"
     David Kidman, Net Rhythms Magazine

"Birdcage" by C. R. Avery


Saturday, August 23, 2014

How A Mirage Works - Beverly Burch (Sixteen Rivers Press)

Today's book of poetry:
How a Mirage Works.  Beverly Burch.  Sixteen Rivers Press.  
San Francisco, California.  2014.

In 2004 Beverly Burch published Sweet to Burn (Gival Press), and I wrote about it on this blog and you can see it here:

I thoroughly enjoyed Sweet to Burn or I wouldn't have written about it — but this, How a Mirage Works, is a whole new ball game, this was written by a different woman, a different poet.

In ten years Beverly Burch has turned into an entirely different poet, one who oozes smart confidence but is never overbearing.  She is so sure of her voice that the reader just falls into Burchworld.

Picnic in Stone

We stopped for lunch, a bare schoolyard,
a wooden table exposed to summer sun.
I can't remember where we were going,
the state we were in—just a blank highway,
little insular towns. I can't remember
who was with me. An early lover?

Only how bleak it was beside the stone bleachers
where we held twin halves of a ham sandwhich,
lettuce wilting at the edges. Memory's
an old dog running off-trail. Now it returns
with a torn scarf, one rank sock: ragged pieces—
strained cheer, the taste of peaches,
yellow jackets working crooked little limbs
across a curl of green melon.


"yellow jackets working crooked little limbs
 across a curl of green melon."

That's a wickedly good line of poetry.

Burch is emotionally immediate without cloying over her misfortunes.  These poems are mature when they could be maudlin—and constantly filled with a search for both understanding and joy.

Today's book of poetry was thrilled to death and tickled pink to come across Burch's poem "Reading Ondaatje's Billy the Kid, I Paint My Nails.

Around our office Today's book of poetry is convinced that The Collected Works of Billy the Kid is one of the most important books of poetry ever written by a Canadian.  It is certainly one of the best.

So when an American poet notices and appreciates one of our heroes we notice.

Reading Ondaatje's Billy the Kid, I Paint My Nails

blood red and think of my father:
like Billy, angry weather in his head.
Everyone in our part of Georgia
mixed red dirt and alcohol. I took a few shots
myself, tripped on the back roads, skidded
the line. At six, I prowled the yard
in a sparkly red vest, tasseled boots,
lacquered pistol. My mother stopped me stealing
neighbor's red roses, made me say,
Sorry, ma'am. Billy himself was the pink of politeness.
First summer away, I wore a plaid bikini,
went to the beach with my forty-year-old boss,
his wife out of town. Radios played, "Hey there,
Little Red Ridin' Hood, you sure are lookin' good."
Billy's face was boyish, nothing like
the cyclone cowboy inside. His mind split
like red rock, so much murder he saw wounds in the sky.
in the air. My father blazed trails on skin,
hooked me on fear. Luckier than Billy, he cooled,
turned gray. After my mother died, a cousin
told me straight: when he was young, my father killed a man.
I think I knew, the way I felt born red-handed.


As always, Today's book of poetry is a sucker for a good list poem.  "Twenty Ways" is typical of my impression of Burch, she can have lightning quick, intense bursts of delicate anger and savage insight.

Twenty Ways

A woman sits up straight: she's on edge.
     She leans into the cushions: she's provocative.
She leans over to another woman: she's a gossip.
     She holds the other woman's hand: she's queer.
She holds an apple in her hand, she's a temptress.
     She slices the apple: she's tame. She slices
your heart out: she's a bitch. She wears a heart
     at her throat: she's a beauty. She wears a silk tie
at her throat: she's butch. She wears a silk camisole:
     she's a slut: She's slutty: she's a celebrity.
She celebrates herself: she's got nerve.
     She's celibate: she's pathetic. She's empathetic:
she's a sweet thing. She sweetens the deal:
     she's a honey pot. She hones her tongue:
she's a shrew. She's shrewd: she's deadly.
     She's dead: she's innocent. She's innocent:
she's a virgin. She's a virgin: she's on edge.


Beverly Burch has made a John Coltrane like Giant Step with How a Mirage Works.  This emotionally immediate poetry is full of the wonders of a wise and generous heart.  I'm looking forward to anything with the Burch name on it in the future.

Beverly Burch

BEVERLY BURCH’s  previous poetry collection, Sweet to Burn (Gival Press, 2004, won the Gival Poetry Prize and a Lambda Literary Award. Two non-fiction books on psychoanalytic theory and sexual orientation have also been published: On Intimate Terms (U. of Ill. Press) and Other Women (Columbia University Press). An Atlanta native, she’s lived most of her adult life in the Bay Area and has a psychotherapy practice in Berkeley, CA.

"How A Mirage Works is a powerful collection of poems.  Burch's mastery of the music of words is remarkable, and the poems stay alive long after they have been read. A poet's voice as richly nuanced as hers is a rare and always welcome thing."
     Thomas Ogden, author of The Parts Left Out: A Novel


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Most Beautiful Deception - Melissa Morelli Lacroix (University of Alberta Press)

Today's book of poetry:
A Most Beautiful Deception.  Melissa Morelli Lacroix.  University of Alberta Press.  Edmonton, Alberta. 2014.

A Most Beautiful Deception indeed, to write poetry of this calibre is always a deception of sorts.  The tapestry of misdirection.  It's the same with the best magicians.

I don't know much about classical music so I'm sure I'm missing some of the references Lacroix is making to musicians and to particular works.  This is of little concern.  It doesn't matter because Melissa Morelli Lacroix uses music as a diving board to jump into a much deeper pool.  One where we all swim.


see you later I assured
with a squeeze of my hand
before they took you away

simple they said
cartilage and bone removed
plastic and metal put in their place

but there were complications
unforeseen reactions
between anesthetic and medication

oh   your knee healed
but your lungs swelled
filled with themselves

bronchiolitis they said
organizing pneumonia
their solution to your pain

the dawn was lost you said
in the mist
and I could see it
hear it in the music you played
the Chopin from Majorca
cold and rainy
fog and darkness rolling in

the music stopped in the twilight hour
our golden dreams were nothing
but coughs   gasps
air you could not catch

see you later I whispered
as you went away
see you later you choked
in reply


These compelling poems contain an orchestrated lament, a poetic howl with a cultured voice.

Lacroix is all about asking herself and the reader some big questions.

Variation IV

people love for many reasons
to become immortal
because their heart happens to be open
because they have heard sounds that beguile the heart

people love for many reasons
to become immortal
because their heart can still nurture a hope
because they have looked into a pair of beautiful eyes

depthless pools of stars
through which my joy and agonies
have flown away
in night and wind

in my delusions   my hallucinations
I know you always
cross the distance
to which you have dedicated our life

we make love in our minds
we make love in satin beds
on flowering summer stone
veiled by night sky

people love for many reasons
but I love
for only


A Most Beautiful Deception talks about the nature of creativity, love, immortality and so on.  Lacroix
does this with a wicked good sense of humour, a gallant charm.

The Sunken Cathedral

it is a dawn mistaken for a sunset
this deep calm
this harmonious haze
this legend
I am the princess who was never
cut out to be a saint
corrupt and selfish   I
open the door to the storm
to flood the fires of my soul

with an expression that becomes more
grandiose   I sink while Claude rises
from the damp ruins of my life
like an echo   I am
parts of all that came before me
music   food   intestines
oblivion disguised as art
I am the most beautiful deception of all


Melissa Morelli Lacroix is quite fearless and tackles many demons most lesser mortals would leave undisturbed.  Not Lacroix.  She brings humour, warmth and intelligence to every dark omen lurking in the shadows.

Lacroix is not hesitant to turn her rapier eyes on herself with equal vigor.  What fine poetry.

Melissa Morelli Lacroix

Melissa Morelli Lacroix is an Edmonton-based writer and writing facilitator. She studied French, Translation and Creative Writing at the University of Alberta and has a master's degree in creative writing from Lancaster University. In addition to writing, Melissa has taught piano for twenty years, which infuses musical themes and lyricism into her writing.
Melissa's work has appeared in Canadian, American and British print and on-line publications such as Crave It, World on a Maple Leaf, Family Pictures, Ars Medica, Other Voices, In the Red and The Dawntreader. Her fiction and drama have been read and produced on CBC Radio, at the Walterdale Theatre and by Rabid Marmot Productions.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Caput Nili, How I Won the War and Lost My Taste For Oranges - Lisa Gill (West End Press with Burning Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Caput Nili, How I Won the War and Lost My Taste for Oranges.  Lisa Gill.  With art by Kris Mills.  West End Press with Burning Books.  Albuquerque, New Mexico.  2011.

This isn't the African Queen but it is one hell of a journey.

Lisa Gill navigates a terrible history with a splendid poetic voice.

Her misery and the violence she endures become a road map for the fascinated reader, an illuminated text from the inside of a journey that until now - we could only imagine.


In case
you were wondering,
reciprocity matters to me.

The time someone left a tooth
in the back seat of my car after a break-in
was somehow more creepy and more meaningful
than the usual rock through my window.

I thought of the tooth fairy.
I thought of payback.
I thought of justice.

Fair's fair.

At least I hold up my end of deals,
try to give back better than I get.


Almost thought I heard the melodious voice of Deadwood's Al Swearingin - and that sort of resourceful and be damned voice would not be out of place in Lisa Gill's Caput Nili world.

Gill ties together the myriad moments of her mental trek with prose introductions that help shape the narrative, always looping back to her central themes of struggle/violence/resolution.

This book is not like the rest.  Although these poems work on their own — when tied to Gill's prose narrative we really are participants in a talented writer's struggle to drop the shotgun, pick up the pen.


The shotgun was already in my possession
months before I went to the ER with numb legs.
I'd gotten the gun when a man posing as the propane guy
poked around my property and wedged himself
into my entryway, scoping me and the place out.
I knew he'd figured out that I live alone. I also knew,
if he came back, he'd figure out I have a shotgun.


I love the comic menace that is on the tip of Gill's tongue.

Highly entertaining and wickedly intelligent.  Lisa Gill confounds expectations and opens new doors. She puts her knee where you don't want it and pushes.

Poetry is what poets make of it and Gill curls her lip and surfs her own dark wave, navigates the surly water if only to amuse herself, get to the truth of it.


In other words I live—
ordinary phenomenon.

Sleep and dream.
Wake and work.

There are groceries and dishes.
Telephone calls and appointments.
Friends to see.

Books to read.
Books to write.
Books that make me forget to water the houseplants.
Houseplants that wilt and make me put down the books long enough
to get a pitcher of water and pour it.

I watch the stars.
I cross the Rubicon.
I eat apricots and let my lover hold me.
I let my cat, and only my cat, walk all over me.

I remember time.
Violence is the least of my life.

Minute to hours anyway,
it's not the half of it.


What is it we all long for?  A quiet moment of genuine peace.

Gill's brave adventure sure has some hellish moments, she is clearly a very tough woman, but as horrid as some of the steps of her journey appear — how did reading her book make me so happy?

Lisa Gill

Lisa Gill is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature, an Achievement Award from UNM, the Red Shoes Award (named after Dara McLaughlin), and a New Mexico Literary Arts Gratitude Award. She is the author of The Relenting: A Play of Sorts and the poetry collections Red as a Lotus, Mortar & Pestle, and Dark Enough. A graphic memoir titled Caput Nili: How I Won the War & Lost My Taste for Oranges has also been released by West End Press and Burning Books, and includes five essays, 89 poems, MRI brainscans, and art by Kris Mills. Recent publications include Tuesday; An Art Project, 1913: A Journal of Forms, The Bigger Boat and a poem in the National Endowment for the Arts’ Annual Report. She served as artistic director of STIR: A Festival of Words and received her MFA with distinction in creative nonfiction from the University of New Mexico. She has performed widely from the Taos Poetry Circus to the Thom McGrath Visiting Writers Series in Minnesota and the Seattle Poetry Festival. She favors collaborations and has worked with visual artists Kris Mills, Becky Holtzman, Suzanne Sbarge, Valerie Roybal, Heidi Pollard plus video guru Bryan Konefsky, filmmaker Jeanne Liotta, and Dome Artist Hue Walker. She has performed with countless musicians including Mike Balistreri, Mark Weaver, Janet Feder, J.A. Deane, C.K. Barlow, Mitch Rayes, Kurt Heyl, The Michael Vlatkovich Trio and th3 e1emental orke5tra. She now makes her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she helps coordinate poetry for both 516 ARTSand Church of Beethoven and serves as Artistic Director for Local Poets Guild.

Lisa Gill reading for National Poetry Month
UNM Bookstore


Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chaos Inside Thunderstorms - Garry Gottfriedson (Ronsdale Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Chaos Inside Thunderstorms.  Garry Gottfriedson.  Ronsdale Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2014.

"There is no hint  of apology or a waver of doubt in what he knows, and what he knows he makes available with a sense of responsibility. There is a deep sense of community within his poetry and it is this quality that transcends Garry and his writing beyond a limiting definition of male or poetry or Indigenous. His (literary) voice resonates like music. The ways of the old ones vibrate from within the writing without romantic nuance but with forthright presence. We are all fortunate to learn from Garry as a mature writer who has travelled an individual road measured with experience resulting in a high form of literary practice."
—Janet Rogers, Mohawk & Victoria's Poet Laureate

High Priests

from the hard corners in my head
I see the cardinals of sin
eating godliness on the red carpets
quilting the streets in the city of angels

I fled to Colorado one thing in mind
I wanted to crawl into your soul
cling to you reckless
but then I saw Ginsberg's eyes undressing me

dizzy in my own desperation
I knew Colorado was not for me
the eyes within the Rockies followed me west
and I crumpled the mirrors cupped in my fists

because the face that moved across the mirror was mine
seeking out assassins who medicate cowards
sleeping in LA's streets with beggars and prostitutes
there again, I saw your face in that crowd, your ghost

it began to bend my body into shadows
as I listened to skins bursting on the streets
razors scraped across my forehead
my head was full of the living marching to death camps

I scrawled their names across my back like swastikas
memory revived through my limbs
my vulture eyes scanned the skeletons and corpses
and scavenged stars in funeral procession tromping to LA's catacombs

and my mouth foamed
so that I became drunk on my own spit
while their words bearing split-tongue hisses
crawled into my ears, Michael Jackson's ears, Stephen Harper's ears

my face bloated
my jaw ached
my tongue bled poems
my logic crouched in black corners

I realized in the darkness of misunderstandings
they were born to drop to their knees
clawing and tugging at Christian Dior hems
sucking on cocks of dead men outstretched in morgues

there, the undertakers in white coats count the cash
even before the guts are dropped into stainless steel buckets
filling their mouths with sins, disinfecting bodies
embalming them with formaldehyde

they lie stiff on steel beds, faces softened to prettiness
anal cavities and vaginas stuffed with gauze
ready to hide from life as we know it
this is when they ride Harleys all the way to heaven

and at the gates, On the Road Kerouac, flashed across my mind
my tears pleaded with him to take Ginsberg home
to burn the red carpets in Hollywood
to awaken me as Howl once did

and when I forced myself to look away from the mirror
I cleared my head of regrets
forgave them, all of them
and now I sleep in peace

in peace


Choas Inside Thunderstorms is Garry Gottfriedson at full throttle, full steam, so like it or get the hell out of the way.  Gottfriedson is taking no prisoners, and why should he?

"My aunt Aimee George has a saying for our men: 'Warrior up.' Garry's words must have floated on the winds to her as he sat and composed this amazing set of poems. The poetry is about warrioring up. Out of the 'rotting silence' emerges a new history, poetic, powerful and poignant. Fearless in the making, Garry again emerges as one of the most beautiful voices in Indigenous country, pushing against the propaganda of the church, the state and its educators in lyric poems that inspire us to pick up our bundles and push back too."
     —Lee Maracle, author of Ravensong

I very much like that term 'Warrior up'.  And Chaos Inside Thunderstorms is all about that. Gottfriedson lives up to that challenge again and again with poems that challenge the status quo.  These poems work because Gottfriedson is always on the edge of rage but he is never ranting.

Idle No More

and what poetry
would Duncan Campbell Scott write
of Chief Theresa Spence?

his words are dead
and have died many lives
in the hearts of other Canadians

all of them meant to live
and destroy
the very essence of aboriginality

December 21, 2012, solstice, a holy day
the day Stephen Harper smudged
himself with rhetoric, laid it down on the dotted line

the day of oligarchic triumph
but for whom?
the colonial handover can never be

Idle No More is a time
to unknot all inhibitions
tangled in the hair of a silenced people

to kill Bill C-45 is not murder
it is what Goya did
when he painted revolutions

it is the will of a hero
a spirit who refuses
an abortion of trial rights

and so she suffers
her life
for the land, the people, all people

Chief Theresa Spence, let it be known —
D.C. Scott has no poetry to write of you
but I do


There is much righteous anger in Chaos Inside Thunderstorms.  That Gottfriedson illuminates that frustration into a poetry that both moves and challenges us is only a small part of what this book contains.

Although I agree with every single political thing Gottfriedson has to say in this collection it wouldn't really matter for the purposes of this blog unless I liked the poems.  How about INCENDIARY poetry. Smack you up the side of your head poetry.  Ya, that's in here.

But there are also moments of tender calm.

Falling Snow

the furnace shuttles along constantly
the snow falls in peaceful silence
the moon is south right now
here in the north daylight is rare these days

I think about friends as Christmas nears
Janet, Richard, Brian, even Chris
what are they doing at this moment?
the winter draws out thoughts on long days

early winter is an enchanted time
scents of summer pine seem long forgotten
as is the taste of saskatoons after a summer rain
moments in falling snow


Last year I had the pleasure of writing about an earlier title of Mr. Gottfriedson, Skin Like Mine.  Chaos Inside Thunderstorms eclipses my big expectations.  Can't wait to see what this man does next.

Mr. Gottfriedson has a huge fan here.

Garry Gottfriedson

Garry Gottfriedson, from the Secwepemc first nation (Shuswap), was born, raised and lives in Kamloops, BC. He is a self-employed rancher with a Masters degree in Education from Simon Fraser University. He was awarded the Gerald Red Elk Creative Writing Scholarship by the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado, where he studied under Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman, Marianne Faithful and others.

His published works include In Honor of Our Grandmothers: Imprints of Cultural Survival (Theytus Books, 1994), 100 Years of Contact(Secwepemc Cultural Education Society, 1990), Glass Tepee (Thistledown Press, 2002 — nominated for First People’s Publishing Award 2004), Painted Pony (Partners in Publishing, 2005), Whiskey Bullets (Ronsdale, 2006 — Anskohk Aboriginal Award Finalist), Skin Like Mine(Ronsdale, 2010 — Shortlisted for the CAA Award for Poetry), and Jimmy Tames Horses (Kegedonce Press, 2012).

Gottfriedson has read from his work across North America, Asia and Europe, and frequently gives creative writing workshops and lectures. His work has been internationally anthologized.

"If irony can be useful to 'rage,' then Garry Gottfriedson shows how in Chaos Inside Thunderstorms.
He uses the word 'thunderstorm' in a love poem, but passion is also part of his rage against the pains and injustices of colonization. These poems are shaped against the havoc of the conqueror's spoils and spoiling, the 'dogs' let loose in an anger that must resonate with us all. His words remind us that 'No More' is also a Growl!"
     —Fred Wah, Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate

"Chaos Inside Thunderstorms is a dream of prayers laced with light and hope. I loved it. All of it. This is Garry Gottfriedson at his finest."
     —Richard Van Camp, author of The Lesser Blessed

Secwepemc poet, writer, story teller
Garry Gottfriedson
Lectures - Advice for aspiring writers


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting - Kevin Powers (Little, Brown and Company)

Today's book of poetry:
Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting.  Kevin Powers.  Little, Brown and Company.  New York, New York.  2014

Today's book of poetry is breaking one of its' own self-imposed golden rules.  I did not get this book from the publisher.  I bought it in a store.

Surprisingly, getting over 700 books of poetry in the mail over the last year has only encouraged me to purchase more poetry from my local store.

Which brings us to Kevin Powers' Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting.  Poorly read as I am I wasn't aware of Powers's acclaimed novel The Yellow Birds.  I'll certainly find it now.

For this reader Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting is simply the best book of poetry I have read this year.

Letter Composed During a
Lull in the Fighting

I tell her I love her like not killing
or ten minutes of sleep
beneath the low rooftop wall
on which my rifle rests.

I tell her in a letter that will stink,
when she opens it,
of bolt oil and burned powder
and the things it says.

I tell her how Private Bartle says, offhand,
that war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.


Powers talks about everything under the sun that you've ever wanted to know, one way or another.

And he is precise with such beauty and hope that I didn't want this book to end.

I've never been on the business end of a gun and hope to end my days that way.  For those who have been to those dark places and returned, think of Kanina Dawson's extraordinary Masham Means Evening, many suffer the horrors of post-traumatic stress, and a few find a way of translating that experience into truths uncloaked by a voice so authoritative and clear that we must listen.

Did I say that this is the best book of poetry I have read in a long time...

While Trying to Make an Arrowhead
in the Fashion of the Mattaponi

We are born to be makers of crude tools.
And our speech is full of cruel
signifiers: you, me, them, us. I
am sure we not survive.

No. I am certain that the
pine trees that ring this lake in Virginia
are occasional, that I sit between them
at the water's edge,

cast two stones against
each other and rest.
For we go down
through these
terrible hours


Kevin Powers rattled my cage with Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting.  Perhaps this sort of crystal driven honesty and power only comes when one has been tempered on forge as dramatic as war.  Kurt Vonnegut and Slaughterhouse Five came out of the blast-furnace of Dresden.

Getting over my head and out of my depth.

These poems, narrative in style, have all the properties I admire in good poems — and so much else to aspire to.  Read this book.

Death, Mother and Child

Mosul, Iraq, 2004

Kollwitz was right. Death is an etching.
I remember the white Opel being
pulled through the traffic circle on the back of a wrecker,
the woman in the driver's seat
so brutalized by bullets it was hard to tell her sex.
Her left arm waved unceremoniously
in the stifling heat and I retched,
the hand seemingly saying, I will see
you there. We heard a rumor that a child
was riding in the car with her, had slipped
to the floorboard, but had been killed as well.
The truth has no space mercy, see. It is this chisel
in the woodblock. It is this black wisp
above the music of a twice-rung bell.


I have never spent better money than I did buying this book.  Thankfully I still have a neighbourhood bookstore, Books on Beechwood,  that carries poetry.  Powers writes about a lot more than his war experience in Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting.  I can't wait to read whatever he writes next.

Kevin Powers

Kevin Powers is the author of the novel The Yellow Birds, which was a National Book Award finalist, a PEN/Hemingway Award winner, and a Guardian First Book Award winner.  Powers was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and holds an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where he was a Michener Fellow in Poetry.  He served in the U.S. army in 2004 and 2005 in Iraq, where he was deployed as machine gunner in Mosul and Tal Afar. This is his first collection of poetry.

A conversation with Kevin Powers


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Catherine's Laughter - C.K. Williams (Sarabande Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Catherine's Laughter.  C.K. Williams.  Quarternote Chapbook Series #11.  Sarabande Books.  Louisville, Kentucky.  2013.

Every woman should be so lucky as to have an eloquent poet in love with them.  Every man too.

C.K. Williams chapbook Catherine's Laughter might be the sweetest nod to being in love since Eros rained chocolates on Valentine's Day.

But there is no saccharine here, no cloying moment.

Dare I say it — these poems articulate and reflect the happiness of a real, adult, loving, human relationship between two adults who, even after many years have passed together, find all sorts of excuses to be fascinated by one another.

We get to share in Williams joy.


Jessie, my daughter, when she was eight, already the
warm and loving person she still is, said to me once when
Catherine was laughing about something with Jed in the
other room, "Catherine laughs funny, doesn't she?"
     "It's nice, though, isn't it?" I asked her.
     "Oh, yes, that's not what I mean," she replied.
     And Jed, when he was three, and still spoke mostly
French, would sometimes be uproariously amused by an
English word. "Inch," when I said it to him one day, sent
him into hysterics.
     Catherine was in the kitchen right then and when I
went in to get something, she said, "Jed has a funny laugh,
don't you think?"
     "What do you mean?" I asked her, "he has your laugh."
     "Really?" Catherine said, "Well, if you say so."


These prose poems are tender, sweet, never trite and deeply passionate missives to the love of C.K. Williams life, his wife Catherine.

You might think such unabashed declarations of love would be too anxious to be genuine but nothing could be further from the truth.  These poems read with a genuine warmth and kindness that leave the reader feeling both happy and hopeful.


Catherine and I, for some long forgotten reason, have both
been irritable all day, touchy, preoccupied, moody and
gloomy. Dinner is peaceful, though, and when we finish
Catherine asks, "Are we going to make love tonight?"
     I answer, "If I'm talking to you."
     "You don't have to talk," Catherine says.


I'm a big fan of matrimony and know only too well the many pitfalls that checker the path of even the best of unions.  These poems reinforce my best hopes that love can last because true love never ceases to grow.

These poems are a master class.


After dinner, still at the table, I'm writing in my little note-
book, scribbling fast, when Catherine says she'd like to
take a walk. When I tell her I'm busy she takes the empty
dishes into the kitchen, then comes back.
     "Come on, take a walk."
     "I'm writing," I tell her.
     "Take your notebook. You can take your wine, too."
     "Wait just a minute," I say.
     "You need a bigger notebook," Catherine says then, "I'll
buy you a bigger notebook."
     "I don't need a bigger notebook, and don't get me one."
     "That's why I said it," Catherine says, "I just wanted to
hear you say that. Let's go for a walk."
     Finally I give up, give in, we stroll out across the park 
near our house, and come to the pair of gigantic old oaks
Catherine particularly loves. The trunk of each tree is about
five feet across, and they stand close together, leaning a lit-
tle as though making room for one another.
     They're in full-leaved gorgeousness right now, and 
when we get to them Catherine says, "You have to come
in here," and leads me between them.
     "Now close your eyes," she says.
     "Because there are all those branches above us," she
answers, "and beneath us the roots. You have to listen."
     I listen, "But I don't..." I start to object.
     "You have to come stand here every day, then you
will." Catherine answers, not laughing now, "You'll see,
you will."


Optimism in a world where it is wanting, love and the promise of more love.  Reading this book made me happy.  How can you beat that?

C.K. Williams

C. K. Williams has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Ruth Lilly Prize, among other honors.  In 2010 he published the critical study, On Whitman, and a book of poetry, Wait.  In 2012 he published the poetry collections Writers Writing Dying and a book of essays, In Time: Poets, Poems, and the Rest.  He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

C.K. Williams reads "The Singing", from
his Collected Poems (Broadaxe Books)