Friday, February 27, 2015

The Grey Tote - Deena Kara Shaffer (Signal Editions/Vehicule Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Grey Tote.  Deena Kara Shaffer.  Signal Editions.  Vehicule Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2013.

Deena Kara Shaffer sure makes a sad but excellent debut.  The Grey Tote is a season of illness, death and mourning as the poet comes to terms with her parents dying, first her father, followed shortly by her mother.

Shaffer elegantly calls these poems a "lesson in goodbye".

These poems work very well in their grim territory, they work with considerable and fierce tenderness.  But the poems are never coy, never a whine, there are no exposed tears, you feel rather than see the seismic shifts and internal thunder that drives Shaffer in these poems.

On Longevity

The heavy fret
of how long.
Living now
with view only
to life later.
Wishing daily
for more days
to wish for.
(More with which
to wish for more.)
Now has always
an eye on later--
keeping watch
over what never
isn't on its way.


Grief is a terrible ocean to swim in.  How do we get past death and how do we endure as we mourn? How do we get out of mourning?

Shaffer's The Grey Tote is a no-holds barred look straight down that double-barreled shotgun that is aiming at us all.

These poems have no 'fuss' to them at all, they are as direct as a black suit and tie and with purpose.


She needed the endline,
the terminal verdict.
Hopelessness renewed her
hope, made her funny.

In knowing it wouldn't be
long, she sought harder to thrive.
Held both the soon of ending
and faith in remiss.

Scans injected
momentum. Paralysis made her
hungry. Her cancer wasn't catchable,
but boy, her belief in wellness was.


These are poems for "the left-over people" so that perhaps they won't feel so alone.

Eventually we all make some of the same journeys Shaffer treks in The Grey Tote, now we have her book to remind us that we are not alone.  This book is an attempt to make the unbearable bearable even if it is just by making it a familiar.


Are they dormant,
choked by the drips,
handed over
with the death

Can language
even though
they won't?

Morbidity trumps
diction woes.
Avoiding silence
idles copy--
pantheism could
be claimed,
but it's more
like gloom.

The only ones
I hear are
the early condolences
from the once
heroic surgeon.


Deena Kara Shaffer

Deena Kara Shaffer's poetry has appeared in many magazines including The Dalhousie Review, FreeFall, Canadian Voices: Volume 2. The Grey Tote was short-listed for the Marina Nemat Award. Currently a Learning Specialist at Ryerson University, Shaffer lives in Toronto.

"The Grey Tote is impressive for its attitude and language–its direct expression of fear, its realization of mortality in the technological labyrinth. The style is direct, spare, hard, clear, but with elegance and significant whimsy."
      –A.F. Moritz

"Addressed to the dead and the living, the elegiac yet urgent poems in Deena Shaffer's debut collection use wordplay to better understate grief and longing. They keep asking: how do we transcend death? How can we live in this radiant world and not be diminished? The answer: celebrate as you mourn."
     -Jan Conn


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

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The Things I Heard About You - Alex Leslie (A Blewointment Book/Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
The Things I Heard About You.  Alex Leslie.  A Blewointment Book.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2014.

Today's book of poetry is admittedly a conservative literary machine but Alex Leslie does something in The Things I Heard About You that I've never seen before - and it is exciting.

This book is comprised of only thirteen poems.  Each work starts with a prose style full version of a scenario, the events at hand.  Then Leslie disassembles the poem right in front of us, pares it down, slices away access that was previously essential, guts the poem for essence and continues.  Leslie provides, in sequence, two or three distilled versions of the original thought/poem/discussion.

Imagine it like this:  Leslie starts with a reasonable finished, sanded and polished, milled and planed piece of lumber 4" x 4" x 6'.  Then, right in front of your eyes, cuts away the unnecessary until there is a perfect pool cue.

But that isn't the end.  Leslie then gets to work again, the pool cue becomes a pointer or a baton and then a pencil.

This is happening in front of your eyes.  It is magnificent and intriguing stuff.  We rarely get to see this sort of intrigue.

Today's book of poetry usually cites three poems from each author but today, because of the nature of Leslie's work - Today's book of poetry will only look at one of Leslie's poems, in full.

Knocking on Heaven's Door

After you died, I broke the shuffle function on my iPod by down-
loading eighty-four covers of "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Its lyrics
followed me through my skinned days, my headphones sealing in a
small theatre of mourning. Mama take this badge off of me / I can't use
it anymore. The ska cover, the African gospel choir cover, the chil-
dren's choir unravelling into atonal choruses, the three slurred bob
Dylan versions, indecipherable. It didn't matter because the words
were mine, I searched out their melody in anything. Commuter-train
arrhythmia, schoolyard jungle yells, the morning cash registers tol-
ling double Americano, Kaddish. It's getting dark / too dark to see.
All mantras are identical. A harness, a poem made too small. A trick
of bearable limits, an exercise in the planned application of pain. I
feel I'm knocking on Heaven's door / Knock knock knockin' on Heaven's
door. Put a rope around and tighten until it bends. Scale or body.
Bright or arms. Mama put my guns in the ground / I can't shoot them
anymore. A cover for every moment. Everything is a slight variation.
Public transit was my repeat track, my song loop, a recursive tongue
that extended and withdrew with the lyrics on its tip. That long black
cloud is comin' down / I feel I'm knockin' on Heaven's door. Dolly Par-
ton babbled my song to me, twanged me and beseeched me, then
marched through the doors onto the Broadway-City Hall platform,
swinging her rhinestoned sceptre, disappearing between a skater
kid and a lawyer. My ears shuddered. The sentient tooth of a bass
line, my near deafness, that safety. Three months after your death a
transit cop approached my seat and demanded to see my badge. It
was fibrous, wet. The badge had grown through my jacket. Skin graft.
Hot mark of it. The transit cop pulled, harder harder harder, my skin
barely skimmed my resistance. It's all fun and games until lyric be-
come ingrown. How you printed the verses on my dog tag, marked
me for darker traffic. Put my guns in the ground / I can't shoot them
anymore. Commuters in stasis dream state watched the transit cop
demand to see my identification. I put my head between my legs, a
knee for each headphone, pressed the thunder inward, repeat button,
repeat, repeat. Feet shuffled stations forward and more as it comes in.
My iPod died and I kept my headphones on, city buffered, the 
train lurching on, shouts above me cresting and falling, cresting and
falling, and it sounded like being under the floor of the ocean.


After you died, the shuffle function on my skinned days: a small the-
atre. Come take this badge off of me / I can't use it anymore. Atonal lost
choruses, slurred words. The words in anything -- arrhythmia Kad-
dish. Too dark to see / too dark. Mantras are small limits, pain knock-
ing on doors. Rope bright, my guns in the ground. A loop for every
recursive tongue. Extend, follow, beseech, disappear between a tooth
and safety. Three months after your death: wet skin, bare ingrown
dog, dark in the stasis, the demand to see thunder. Repeat, shuffle,
forward, the kept city lurching above, falling like ocean.


You died, I followed. I can't use it anymore. Indecipherable. Words,
anything. Arrhythmia yells: Kaddish! It's getting too dark. Poem too
small, plan the rope. Put my guns in the ground. Slight tongue with-
drew the long black cloud, twanged me, beseech me, marched me
through deafness. Lyric become ingrown.


After: appear grown. Watch the ocean.


We don't often get to see a process like this played out in front of us.  It is a bit like watching grapes become wine, wine become brandy.  True alchemy.

The Things I Heard About You was shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroetsch award for innovative poetry.

Alex Leslie

Alex Leslie has published a collection of stories, People Who Disappear (Freehand, 2012), shortlisted for a 2013 Lambda Award and a 2013 Relit Award, and a chapbook of microfictions, 20 Objects for the New World (Freehand, 2011). Alex's writing has won a Gold National Magazine Award for personal journalism and a CBC Literary Award for fiction and was shortlisted for the 2014 Robert Kroetsch Award for innovative poetry. Recent projects include editing the Queer issue of Poetry Is Dead magazine, which brought together different approaches to Queer poetics from across Canada. Website: 

"To hear everything available for the hearing is still to misperceive, but to enter the condensation is to enter an entirely different world. In Alex Leslie's brilliant new collection, The Things I Heard About You, melodies seem to repeat everywhere, with the slightest of variations. What is easily fixed becomes easily refused. The most succinct articulation may be the most beautiful, but what it captures of the original utterance is the palest, most ghostly glimpse of the original, and often its opposite."
     - Larissa Lai

"Prose poems, soundtracks, mini-fictions -- the lyrical, multi-faceted pieces in The Things I Heard About You record the ways in which language makes and unmakes us. "Between a tooth and safety," bodies, weather, genders inhabit and are inhabited by histories of loss, institutions of violence. These stories don't shrink even as they grow smaller; each is distilled to a potent drop that sinks into the mind like into into skin: "I, not here, write."
     - Jen Currin

This video is of a man who has been spontaneously
asked to read Alex Leslie's poem "Exile Garden"
at Vancouver's Community College.
Video by: Howpedestrian.


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

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Magpie Days - Brenda Sciberras (Turnstone Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Magpie Days.  Brenda Sciberras.  Turnstone Press.  Winnipeg, Manitoba.  2014.

A magpie can mimic voices other than its own -- perhaps that's why they show up again and again in Brenda Sciberras's fine first book Magpie Days.  We get to see many facets of the bright Sciberras voice and it remains remarkably consistent and confident in these poems.

These poems follow a loose narrative and personal arc from childhood and first bicycles, adolescence to marriage, to the caring for an aging and dying parent, death.  Covers the range.  Sciberras's journey, as personal as it is, is one many of us can identify with as she shares humour and humility, a little irony.


Here, I've found that picture
you took of me when I was nine
or ten in my yellow pedal-pushers

standing by the barbed wire fence
next to the cornfield
meekly pointing

at the magpie perched
on a wooden post
amazed that it's

intrigued with me
yet certain to fly away
with the click of your shutter.


Sciberras moves from, as Joni Mitchell would elegantly sing, "from the cradle to the grave" over the course of Magpie Days and her timing is dead on.  We never feel rushed, we never feel left behind. Today's book of poetry loved the feel of these poems, this book.

Brenda Sciberras has a very mature voice for a first book, polished like an old pro.  Sciberras is one of those poets I really admire, she is from the "write what you know" school of poetics as Rhona McAdam suggests.  That is not a bad thing, especially when you know your world so well.

The Art of Gardening

Convince me
We should plant a garden together.
Peel away sod, scatter rocks,
break apart clumps of soil, thrash out
poplar roots exposing rich earth.

Convince me
Our garden variety will be more succulent.
Melon holding its vine, sugar peas
cradled in pods, sweet corn cloaked
in silk waiting to be shucked.

Convince me
We should get down on our knees,
surrounded by eager weeds & pull the ugliness
in the midst of such beauty.
Every breath choked by couch grass & thistle,
prune back excess foliage, clear borders.

Convince me
Our bed of stems & blossoms swaying
in a patch of brilliant colour can survive?
Can we immerse our hands
in damp soil & sow what we intend?

Convince me,


Today's book of poetry is excited by anyone who includes a Ford Shelby Mustang in one of their poems and Sciberras handles that with aplomb.

Carrol Shelby is right up there on our hero wall next to Laura Nyro, Muhammed Ali and Vaclav Havel.  It's a big wall with a lot of room.

You can only imagine how happy we were to find Mr. Shelby in Magpie Days.

More to the point, these poems spoke to me in a language I recognized and felt instantly familiar.

There are some hard stories and hard moments in Magpie Days, but also enough humour and sly wit to soften the way.


Sitting up in his hospital bed
arms outstretched
my father summons us
to gather around,
shakes one chastening finger
& lovingly commands
don't cry for me.
But we will.

Later alone in the dim of night
he traces my face
runs his fingers through my curls
outlines my features as though to etch
them deep into his memory.

We both know our time
is brief.
Silence our comfort.
I take his work-worn hand
use my finger
trace each line
a gentle sketch.


Brenda Sciberras

Brenda Sciberras is a Winnipeg writer whose poetry has appeared in several Canadian literary magazines and anthologies. She holds a BA from the University of Manitoba and divides her time between working fulltime in a library, singing in the Spirit’s Call Choir, writing, and her family. Magpie Days is her first book.

At the heart of Magpie Days is a father lying in a hospital bed, dying, and his daughter sitting next to him, watching him go. Other losses are explored and for each a bright memory persists. Magpies circle these poems for those memories, the glint of life they give off. The absences that won’t be silenced are recorded here in trustworthy detail by a poet who is exploring not only loss but how memories persist by shining.
     —Sue Goyette, Ocean

Sciberras’s Magpie Days is a beguiling debut collection, charming us with its clear and confident voice. The intoxicating language within these poems pecks at memory and scavenges the heart of family, love, and loss. Deft lines soar along the often delicate and generously crafted poems, allowing the reader to linger and “gather all that shines.” 
     —Tracy Hamon, Red Curls

In Magpie Days we feel the ambivalence of childhood and adolescence, the bleakness and rancour of marital breakdown, the challenges of motherhood, the tenderness and brutality of old age. Sciberras “writes what she knows” in keen detail, with clear, honest language and some delicate, precise twists of humour. A strong beginning for a new prairie poet.
     —Rhona McAdam,Leaving Howe Island

Brenda Sciberras
Say the Word
video from: Winnipeg Writers Festival

ODD SIDEBAR - Today's book of poetry, me (and my lovely K), often rent a small home in Magpie, Quebec, every chance we get in fact.  It is as remote as it is beautiful.  It is almost twenty hours of driving to get there.  But we love it so.  You can look it up on here:,+QC+G0G/@50.3046565,-64.50832,15z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m2!3m1!1s0x4c8563884afa65d7:0x21d602e98c011a9d

What a coincidence that Brenda Sciberras clearly loves Magpies as well.


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

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Before the First Word - The Poetry of Lorna Crozier, selected with an introduction by Catherine Hunter (Wilfrid Laurier University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Before the First Word - The Poetry of Lorna Crozier, selected with an introduction by Catherine Hunter.  Laurier Poetry Series.  Wilfrid Laurier University Press.  Waterloo, Ontario.  2009. (2nd printing).

I am newly convinced of Lorna Crozier's vast talents.  Before the First Word makes clear to Today's book of poetry - what has been obvious to many for a long time - that Lorna Crozier is one of our best poets.

I do not personally have a vegetable fetish nor am I generally attracted to vegetable poems but Lorna Crozier's "Carrots" certainly won my attention.  Before the First Word is a short, crisp selection and Catherine Hunter has done well.  These poems come from the period from 1980 to 2002 and during that time Crozier had a big output with thirteen or fourteen books.  "Carrots" is a confident choice from an editor totally at ease with the certainty of the poems.

So today we start with a vegetable poem.


Carrots are fucking
the earth. A permanent
erection, they push deeper
into the damp and dark.
All summer long
they try so hard to please.
Was it good for you,
was it good?

Perhaps because the earth won't answer
they keep on trying.
While you stroll through the garden
thinking carrot cake,
carrots and onions in beef stew,
carrot pudding with caramel sauce,
they are fucking their brains out
in the hottest part of the afternoon.


Crozier's poetry is witty, poignant, beautifully plain spoken narrative with startlingly clear moments of revelation, quick, deep Alice Munro like glances into our very nature.  It is like meeting someone with small town manners and common sense as well as big city savvy.

Three days ago I was having a discussion about poetry with my dear friend Stuart Ross.  He was asking me what I thought of Lorna Crozier's work.  I replied quite casually.  He should have punched me.  I'd certainly give him a different answer today.  Today's book of poetry is newly smitten with Lorna Crozier.

The Wild Boys

It was the wild ones you loved best,
the boys who sat surly at the front
where every teacher moved them,
the ones who finished midterms
first, who showed up late,
then never showed at all.

Under the glare of outdoor lights
you watched them bang
their hard bodies against the boards,
gloves and sticks flying.
In the cold they looked back at you
through stitched and swollen eyes,
smiled crookedly to hide
their missing teeth,
breathed through noses broken
in a game or pool-hall fight.
There was always someone older,
a fist and grin
they just couldn't walk away from,
there was always some girl, watching.

They were the first boys you knew
who owned a car, who rolled
a thin white paper, who talked
out of the side of their mouths,
cigarettes burning.
You watched them fall
quick and bright and beautiful
off the highest diving boards,
you watched them disappear
then throw themselves on top of you
till you thought you'd drown.

Oh, they were cool and mean,
but sometimes they treated you
with such extravagant tenderness,
giving you a rhinestone broach
they'd nicked from Woolworth's,
a fuzzy pink angora, giving up
their jackets on an autumn night
to keep you warm. How you loved
to move inside the shape of them,
the smell of sweat and leather
kissing your skin. For months
you wore their hockey rings
wound with gauze and tape
as if one day
you'd need to bind a wound.

The wild boys had the fastest
tongues, the dirtiest jokes,
and told anyone who'd listen
what they'd done to a girl
the night before
though in the narrow darkness
of a car or on a blanket
by the dam where eels slid
just beneath the surface, you knew
you did it to each other
and the words they said were sweet.

The boys you loved
knew everything, guided your mouth
and hands, showed you what you really
wanted from this life. Now,
it is their brokenness
you long to touch, the parts
they left behind or lost
as they learned too soon
too many years ago
what it took and took
to be a man.


Today's book of poetry has a new task.  I have five Lorna Crozier books on my shelf and two by Lorna Uher (a younger Lorna Crozier), that I am now going to have to reread before I do anything else.  Then all of my interns have to read them too.  It's not easy working here at Today's book - but the pay is great.

Before the First Word is another stirling example of why the Laurier Poetry Series is absolutely essential.  Along with this tasty sampling of Crozier's work, Catherine Hunter really has made a fine selection, there is also an excellent introduction to Crozier by Hunter, as well as an Afterwords by Crozier herself.  The Laurier Poetry Series remains the series of record for Canadian poetry.

How to Stop Missing Your Friend Who Died

The moon over Vancouver Harbour
is full and red.
Through the window
you can see a barge go by.
It is empty, returning
to whatever country sent it out.

You can't see any lights
but someone must be steering,
someone who doesn't know
you are sitting behind a window
that overlooks the sea.
The moonlight makes the barge
more important than it really is.

Then there's a sailboat
and a heron.
Its legs stretch so far behind
when it's flying
it forgets they're there.


I have been waiting for more than thirty years but i finally saw Mary Margaret O'Hara in concert earlier this week.  I left the concert hall convinced she is a Canadian legend/saint of a new kind.  I have to do me some more Lorna Crozier reading this week but I'm fairly certain I'm going to feel the same way about Lorna Crozier soon.

Lorna Crozier

Lorna Crozier’s work has won many awards, including the Governor Generals Award in 1992 (for Inventing the Hawk), the first prize for poetry in the CBC Literary Competition, the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry in 1992, a National Magazine Award in 1995, and two Pat Lowther Memorial Awards (1993 and 1996) for the best book of poetry by a Canadian woman. She has published fourteen books of poetry, most recently, Whetstone. Born in Swift Current, Saskatchewan, she now lives in British Columbia, where she is a Distinguished Professor at the University of Victoria.

Catherine Hunter is a poet, novelist, editor of the Muses’ Co. Press, and associate professor of English at the University of Winnipeg. Her most recent work is the novella In the First Early Days of My Death.

Lorna Crozier
"Sex Lives of Vegetables"
WordsAloud, 2007, Canada
video by: WordsAloud2


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

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths - Susan Paddon (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths.  Susan Paddon.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2014.

The deeper the reader goes into the utterly compelling Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths the more the past of Anton Chekhov becomes the present.  Chekhov and his family, his circle, are present in Susan Paddon's world.  They provide the narrative tool that compels Paddon to measure her sorrow, anger, guilt and joy.

Paddon's mother is dying in front of us with Chekhovian humour.  These poems don't bridge the two world so much as integrate them.  Paddon has rendered Chekhov's world as part of her own.

Place on a Lake

"But I am drawn here to this lake like a seagull." (The Seagull, Anton Chekhov)

My mother lives in a house on a lake that freezes
in a thousand meringues every winter,
just beyond the shore. She does not live

alone. My father is with her. Together
they weave a happy front, eat McDonald's
on Mondays and pretend everything

will be okay. Life is a list they're getting
through. My father's roots are in this place

on the lake, though it is not what it once was
when the ferry still came from Cleveland, when
Lombardo played the bandstand, before

the factories and smokestacks that won't let my mother forget
this is not her home. She grew up beside an ocean,
with real orange trees in the front yard. Now

she dreams of those trees, you can see it in the way
she closes her curtains, lies awake at night

reliving conversations from bygone decades,
the sounds of misplaced emphases, the offences she may have caused,
help me think of something nice, she whispers to my father
to quiet the voices that keep repeating in the cold sheets.


These poems are literary but not so that you'll have to visit the library.  Paddon quite seamlessly weaves Chekhov world into her first book and her mother's world as well, and then back again.

Paddon's mother is not on the road to recovery, but as sad as that terminal news is, this book is never morose, it is not a dirge.  Paddon uses the Chekhov narrative as a brilliant launching pad to her own family journey - and it all comes out so elegantly humane and insightful.  Paddon has a lock on grace.

My Mother's Sister

sent a new tablecloth in the post
a week before Christmas every year until
she started forgetting that too. When she lived in New York,
she had our names put onto even our lunch bags:
Susan, Susan, Susan, I carried it under my arm
like a teddy bear.

With my mother's sister it happened suddenly
and then slowly, and my mother has spent
so much of her life afraid (no aluminum, no
aspartame) of losing something very different
from what she is going to lose.

I once heard about a woman
who wouldn't have anything to do with garlic.
It wasn't fair, the way it could look perfect
from the outside and yet,
if you got unlucky, under the skin
it could already have turned.


Sad tales of family and death, yet somehow Paddon's Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths is anything but tragic.  It is thoughtful and touching, never trite.

No death is easy and platitudes don't pay respect.  Susan Paddon articulates the range of frustrations and joys, moments of fleeting hope against reason, all of this artfully managed in narrative that not only illuminates a family coming to terms with the death of their matriarch - but she weaves a pertinent second narrative through the arc of Anton Chekhov.

This is very seasoned stuff but never overly spicey.  It is also not nearly as complicated as my poor description suggests.  On the page this played out like an excellent movie, plenty of beauty, lots of pace, great story, saddish ending.

Closed Doors

I'll never know how my parents loved,
their bedroom door closed tight,
the sturdy furniture too big
for a room its size.

Or why we followed my father's car
in our New Yorker that time we saw him
on a street that wasn't his usual way home.
We didn't honk, or mention it later.

Were there certain perfumes he liked
more than other? Did he ever notice?
I wonder now if he sometimes takes the bottles
off the dresser, holds them

to his nose for a moment
while my sister, on the other side
of the door, picks up
the mess he needs to make.

These are things I hope
about my mother. I hope she felt
love each time they promised one another
everything would be alright.


The sad inevitable end is not really a tragedy in this case, more a trajectory.  Paddon is headed for great things - these poems will make the reader look forward to anything Paddon does in the future.

This is remarkable first book territory.  Susan Paddon, take a big bow.

Susan Paddon


Susan Paddon was born and grew up in St. Thomas, Ontario, attended McGill and Concordia in Montreal, and lived overseas in Paris and London before settling in Margaree, Nova Scotia. Her poems have appeared in Arc, CV2, The Antigonish Review and Geist.

"How is the death of the great Russian writer Anton Chekhov like the death of a Canadian mother? Susan Paddon expands the pastoral heroic structure of the elegy to include the small devotions of family life. Telescoping time and vast distances, the Chekhov family and the poet's occupy the same dimension in their loss and grieving. This is a moving and mature first book, filled with grace notes and deep resonance."
     - Mary di Michele, author of The Tenor of Rose and Stranger in You: Selected Poems & New

"This is a book that is not afraid to be -- and to name -- what it is: a tragedy. A book that moves us, along with its two heroes, steadily toward death. But it also includes, and is equally unafraid to wield, another force, just as powerful -- and that is poetry itself. This is a book that lives and breathes."
      - Johanna Skibsrud, Giller Prize-winning author of The Sentimentalists

Susan Paddon
Reads from Two Tragedies in 429 Breaths (Brick Books)
video by:  Brick Books


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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Game of 100 Ghosts - Terry Watada (TSAR Publications)

Today's book of poetry:
The Game of 100 Ghosts, Hyaku Monogatari Kwaidan-kai.  Terry Watada.  TSAR Publications. Toronto, Ontario. 2014.

Official notice:  ANYONE who writes a tribute poem to Laura Nyro is going to get serious consideration here at Today's book of poetry.  We adore her.  We give all our new interns a Laura Nyro CD on their first day.  If they don't love Laura Nyro - we can't use them.

Terry Watada, in this nuaunced poem about his mother, moves close to the pinnacle of the pantheon of Laura Nyro admirers with his lovely poem "By a Chinese Lamp."

By a Chinese Lamp

sang her siren

by a Chinese lamp
mother's room

dragon red   oriental   yellow
and tassels  with
           of light

the   colours, flavour
and smells
      Singapore, Kowloon

[long hair,
                 black pools
of luxurious oil on
the shoulders--
slanted-        inscrutable
      eyes, angled
sharp as knives]

in slitted cheong sams
and evil
fingers with needles
      nails   a 1930s noir
   poster  in art deco style

Chinatown, my Chinatown

so soon  too young
   she was gone
too     soon

      things  she
missed with
such a   short life

her impassioned breathing,
            on a
lover's tongue       children laughing
adulthood.  grand-  children
calling Buchan!
out of love and anticipation

the sauce of
conversation at dinner the loom
of darkness

the coat    of daylight

        the music of Laura

        by a Chinese lamp
i sit on the bed
the    glow of her

and when i die...


Terry Watada's The Game of 100 Ghosts, Hyaku Monogatari Kwaidan-kai, is full of poems that ramble in the most wonderful ways.  It's clear Watada has purpose because he always seems to wrap up these memory journeys with precision.

These "ghost stories" unwind something like those large connect the dot puzzles we used to do as children.  There is nothing random in Watada's adventures, we are gathering points on an invisible grid, Watada will connect the dots for us when he deems it necessary.

Today's book of poetry was touched by Watada's gentle nod to the great Canadian Roy Kiyooka in the poem "Kiyooka airs."

And we were utterly smitten to discover a genuine Tom Waits fan in Watada.  Watada borrows some pace and some vernacular from living legend Waits to dance out a couple of poems where Watada gets to show his chops as a storyteller.

The Vanishing Point

call him James Dean, Brando,
Cool Hand Luke  Bullitt;
just don't call him Michael.

we're driving towards coolsville
with Waits groaning with a
on the Blaupunkt

i see the blonde smile
    the shrine of the

rain    fell
like liquid sun-light

she came from Coolsville
    mythic town of ancient
dreams    but i saw her
her burnished legs
  by a miniskirt

and i fade away as Mike
goes on
his one-arm around June,
his best girl as she smokes listening
to Whitney                    on the radio
his other arm
on the steering wheel of
his dad's Oldsmobile

but then even she evaporates
as the white lines
converge &
towards a lonesome expresslane

and Kowalski smiles
      super soul
   on KOW 980 screams

out the eulogy:

the last American hero
the golden driver of the golden west
ripped apart   the last beautiful free
soul on this planet.

Coolsville is just round the bend
and up the road a bit


the one hundredth
story told   the one hundredth

darkness falls with a thud
               you see?
      you not see?

a ghostly visitation


Watada is searching for Coolsville and he's using a lot of ghost, past, present and future, to do it.  Some of his ghosts aren't dead yet but Watada is undeterred.

For flat-out reading pleasure The Game of 100 Ghosts got my goat.  It was like a Blue Valentine, an unexpected kiss.

A Game of Ghosts

        crept like
  smoke in a forest fire

at sundown
                       the evening
             settled and everyone sat
                         a circle
a circle of candles.

in the brilliant
splintering   demise of
the sun,
           the timid   wax'd flames

      before the story-tellers

and sputtered
            on air, awaiting
the smoke-filled  capsule-
bodies of

tell the first story, tell
the second,
            tell the one-

extinguish  each
candle with each story until
the remnant of    the past
re-  turns
       a last conversation

(precious and true)    takes place

between the mouths of the grieving and sorrowful
         the thoughts of the
     beloved dead     secrets are



Terry Watada

Terry Watada is a Toronto poet, novelist, playwright and essayist, and historian, musician and composer, with numerous publications to his credit. Five of his plays have received mainstage production. He contributes a monthly column to The Bulletin, a national Japanese Canadian community paper. For his writing, music and community volunteerism, he was recently awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. His published works include The Sword, the Medal and the Rosary (manga, 2013); Kuroshio: The Blood of Foxes (novel, 2007), Obon: the Festival of the Dead (poetry, 2006); Ten Thousand Views of Rain (poetry, 2001); A Thousand Homes (poetry, 1995); and The TBC: the Toronto Buddhist Church,1995 – 2010 (2010).

“For Terry, applause and gratitude, because he has held the people in his mind and his heart, and because he gave them back to us.”
—Joy Kogawa, author of Obasan

"A tour de force literary and conceptual achievement, The Game of 100 Ghosts reveals and further illuminates the Japanese Canadian sensibility. Terry Watada's passion, indeed his life's work, is to discover, recreate, and uncover the past lost through the silence of his parents and community. His literary and musical career has helped define what is best in Canadian contemporary culture."
—Anthony B Chan, author of Gold Mountain: The Chinese in the New World

"Terry Watada's 100 Ghosts surprises us with tales and imagery that are both haunting and real… It creates a safe harbour, a beacon of infinite light to gather those shunned shadowy thoughts and guides them safely out of the dark recesses of history and time. "
—Jim Wong-Chu, Co-editor, Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Chinese Canadian Fiction

"In this piercing collection, Watada’s concrete images take readers to places and people familiar yet almost forgotten, to give order and dignity to the mind’s constant struggle for clarity."
—Paul Yee, author of Teach Me to Fly, Skyfighter! and Other Stories

Terry Watada
reads at the Word on the Street Festival
Toronto, September 28, 2008


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

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Mr. Sapiens - Jesse Patrick Ferguson (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
Mr. Sapiens.  Jesse Patrick Ferguson.  A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2014.

Mr. Sapiens by Jesse Patrick Ferguson is a mature entertainment of the first order.

Lightning behind your eyeballs intelligent, Ferguson is incandescent.

The myriad of speakers/voices that Ferguson employs in Mr. Sapiens steamroll effortlessly through secrets you've never imagined, truths as shocking as they are sublime.

But more importantly to Today's book of poetry, Ferguson seems to have found a way of accessing each of these voices and giving them clarity, you are going to like reading these poems, just for the feel of them.

For example, in his poem "Montreal Bus, Post-Christmas" it ends:

   "the lone car in the on-coming lane

   lowers its brights respectfully
   as this bus follows the line

   of red lights unrolling
   into night's black closet"

Today's book of poetry just loved that last couplet.  And it speaks to a feeling many of these poems convey.

Mangled Bicycle In Thaw

See them throughout the city, ownerless,
estranged at the end of the rack,
end of the line in spring thaw,
exposed by grime-grey receding snowbank.
Each a front-line infantryman
broken under the incursions
of snow-removal equipment, those sharp-tined
and scooped siege engines scouring
blindly through whiteouts.
Was it masticated by winter's nonchalant mouthparts,
or was it victim to the entropic stomping
of adolescent boots venting vague angst?

Either way, a ten speed mocked by its name,
going nowhere. Its scoliotic spine chained
to down-and-out oxidation
that reminds us rust is burn slowed down.
It lies dumbly where utility seizes into lockjaw.
Arthritic gear shifters changing the subject
when the topic of velocity's broached.
The braided steel in its brake lines
balky as tendonitic sinews in a tennis elbow. Rims folded
in half, forming empty baskets, demented grins
sucking toothless gears. Balding rubber
reverting to petroleum in the crucible
of May sunshine.
                            The spoke wire remembers
its mother coil as the bike waits, revolving
twisted dreams of the crooked man
who'll one day bolt-cut its lock,
flick the kickstand and pedal off into the sunset.


These poems give eloquent and elaborate voice to the toil of bees one moment - and then the life of a foot-soldier out in the field the next.

Regardless of the subject Ferguson is now writing poems that you are going to want to read.  The subjects of this volume vary like changing the channel of a TV - the difference here is that there is something interesting on every channel.


All of this city's tinfoil cigarette-pack liners,
which, if compacted, would form a wrecking ball.
The stuff that ball would wreck:
all silent consonants. Burnt tubes
in the signs of big-box stores
from here to Montreal. The coffee-shop
chinwagging over big government.
The petty cash played fast and loose.
Curb appeal at night. In January.
The Aqua Velva on actuaries.
Ghost-ship city buses running
hors d'usages, desole. The corn husks'
sweaty decomposition lifting the bin's lid.
A dead wasp's wither. The wavelengths
excluded by polarized sunglasses,
the violent impulses stemmed by neckties.
Wishbones of geese sucked
into jet engines, a fallen soldier's AIR MILES.
The midnight metaphor not sexy enough
to merit leaving bed for pen and paper.
The remaindered poetry collections conspiring
to tunnel beyond the Chapter's perimeter.
Mothballed tan lines. The wasted youth those times
I got wasted.
                       And here, the empty boxes
from our move crowding the exit:
mourners suddenly ashamed of their solemn act.
The expired box of condoms. Tail ends
of painkillers. Questionable condiments.
My slightly foxed copy of The Cantos
soaking up spilled Cointreau. The three remaining days
of cable left unwatched at the old place.
The early September frost pressing a pale thumb
onto the catcalls of frosh boys
stumbling home past this window.
That same cold thumb -- the sun-smell it wipes
from tomato plants the next balcony over.


Today's book of poetry is feeling tongue-swollenly inarticulate today, two different interns have informed me that I am not doing Mr. Ferguson justice.  And I'm afraid I concur.

But take our word for it - Mr. Sapiens rolled.  It is a page turner with something worthwhile around every corner.


He was the kind who ties his own flies,
spins yarn a hundred-pound test strength,
who gauges slight static in the tension of his line.
A face that couldn't sell beer, but which
in between swigs and fiddling with tackle
dips into cottage-country lore.
He tells me how generations back
one fisherman's mind swelled with a scheme
for making his old cedarstrip dory
seaworthy once more.

Brought it to lake's edge and scuttled it,
hull full of stones borrowed from someone's cow fence.
Sunk it gurgling into the lakes's algaed subconscious
for two days and two nights, while neighbours
naysayed over split-rails and invariably missed
the parallel to the human heart.

And on the third day he raised that sodden ark,
its gunwales suddenly materializing
like something half-forgotten
from the deep end of his mind.
Hauled it shoreward, heavy and steaming in sunlight.
Each and every cedar strip's tongue
had swollen tight in its groove
as his neighbour's tongues when he piloted
past their docks in that SS Itoldyaso,
his hare-brained technique proven watertight.
All this my friend tells me, then stops.
The slight breeze making Vs
around his line on the calm surface.
The sound of his last empty
deposited on the boat's wooden seat: a dull thud
dropping into this pool of unawkward silence.


Jesse Patrick Ferguson gets a gold star for this outing.  Mr. Sapiens is a big step towards the front of the class.

Jesse Patrick Ferguson

Jesse Patrick Ferguson is a Canadian poet, educator and musician. His full-length poetry collections are Harmonics (Freehand Books, 2009) and Dirty Semiotics (visual poems, Broken Jaw Press, 2011). He is also the editor of the anthology A Crystal through which Love Passes: Glosas for P. K. Page.

"Ferguson's voice is as near divine as anyone could wish."
     - Diane Reid, The Daily Gleaner

"Ferguson writes with intimacy and insight. His energetic sound-plays harmonize with an abundance of often-humorous wisdom."
     - Jennifer Still, Winnipeg Free Press

Jesse Patrick Ferguson
reads his poem "Mr. Sapiens"


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

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Where the Back Roads Take You - Debra Franke (Baseline Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Where the Back Roads Take You.  Debra Franke.  Baseline Press.  London, Ontario.  2014.

Debra Franke's Where the Back Roads Take You does an awful lot of very good things in short order. This stunning little book from the formative stable of Baseline Press starts with a startling good poem and then never stops.  "Gone" is about loss, and much of what follows explores that theme in one way or another.


Turn over the rock
at the river's edge, feel
moss and grass growing
even in the darkest space,
find substance in this quiet place.
Whittled light slides through
ridges of your heart like sun-burned
trestles of a train bridge
across an orange field.
This is a love poem.
When you are finished
with the rock, use language
to understand the river
and how it never ends. Or look
beyond to tall peaks of pines drinking
from sky to quench their thirst.
There is no one for miles.
Even the heron has landed
somewhere else, looking for home.
One of your friends you loved most
has been gone since winter.
The loss runs
through the bones of your river,
is the open trail calling
you deeper into a wilderness
pulled by a sky of blue horses.
This too, is a love poem.


These poems are carefully engineered emotional freight trains.  Franke seems quite pleased to play both sides of the fence with her hopeful lamentations, her sad humour.  Mostly what she is showing is enviable control.

Where the Back Roads Take You is exactly the journey promised when Debra Franke started it with a quote from Anne Michaels' "Miner's Pond":

     Even in a place you know intimately,
        each night's darkness is different.


I followed you up the sandy path
between pines and spruce that summer,
the burning sun our only witness. I was seven,
and my worry kept pace behind you.
They told me later your broken wing was pretend,
that you were faking to protect your babies
so I would follow you away from your nest.
I was only a kid, but I knew the truth:
that anyone with a wing dragging
in the dust needed more from the world
than it was giving them--


Today's book of poetry is utterly smitten with these poems.  Franke does more with less in such a lovely fashion.  To paraphrase Levon Helm as he affectionately sang about Spike Jones, "we just like to hear her talk."

Franke is not a Killdeer though, as much as she can skillfully direct our attention and she is certainly directing our gaze in these gems, she has enough game to throw us considerable misdirection just for the fun of it.  And it is not a bad thing,

When people really know how to dance, you can just see it in the way they walk.


Sometimes I can't swallow truth any easier than a sparrow can
swallow a tractor. Sometimes a sparrow's view of the world is much 
more grounded than mine. Sometimes precise angles of knowing
can make truth feel more acute, and less the degrees of separation
from honesty. Sometimes the most honest truth is rain falling
parallel to your loneliness. Sometimes I wonder which is more true,
today's rain or yesterday's rain, and what is more true than a snail
coming out of its shell after rain, or a bear attacking two campers in
Algonquin? Sometimes truth is beyond words, beyond metaphor.
Sometimes we can only love theoretically, although we want to dig
into love as hands into a garden. Sometimes the end feels like the
beginning, and I wish we'd gotten here sooner, so we could have
started before we ended. Sometimes we can't distinguish the end
from the end. Sometimes snow and rain at the same time cause
confusion. Sometimes loves carries with it an illness of the heart.
Sometimes there is only wood beating in my chest. Sometimes the
mind is a back road, pushing itself into potholes while night hurtles
closer, stars collecting at your throat. Sometimes come morning,
there is only one way to see a blackbird. Sometimes a person's
leaving looks like arriving, only backwards and for longer.
Sometimes people disappear into mountains and only white space
remains. Sometimes canoes disembark from shore and vow to 
return again. Sometimes a storm brings lightning into our lives, and
splits a tree we love in two. Sometimes metaphors for love are
boats, carrying the aftermath of relationship. Sometimes the
aftermath is snow, falling like love from the sky and melting.
Sometimes love gets towed across bodies of water; sometimes not.
Sometimes love, with only one oar, keeps turning and turning.


"Sometimes love, with only one oar, keeps turning and turning."

That is the best melancholy-sad-hopeful-but-mostly-sad line we've seen here at Today's book of poetry in a while.

And melancholy is what I was feeling this morning when I discovered that one of our interns had brought a Kindle into the office.  I could smell it right away and of course I took it away from her before it hurt her.  I had to send her down to the furnace room to shovel coal for a few hours.  I kept the etch-a-sketch thingy and wrote Franke's great line down on a piece of paper.  Told the intern that she could read that.

We here at Today's book of poetry love books.  We love books of poetry - and so when we get a Baseline Book we are reminded of what the very best books look like.  This beauty, Where the Back Roads Take You is bound with St. Armand Canal paper, the flyleaf is of handmade Sugikawa (which we think is rice-bark), and the book is printed on Royal Sundance Linen 24lb.  It was typeset in Perpetua.  These things don't make poetry better, but Baseline Press consistently finds voices worthy of their artful printing.  

Debra Franke is another one of those voices.  Where the Back Roads Take You is a journey worth seeking out.

Debra Franke

Originally from Port Hope, Debra Franke lives in London, Ontario. She holds a BA in Psychology, and completed her MA at the University of New Brunswick. Debra's poems have appeared in journals such as The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, Event, andRoom. She works as a Public Librarian.


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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Passing Stranger - Pam Galloway (Inanna Publications and Education, Inc)

Today's book of poetry:
Passing Stranger.  Pam Galloway.  Inanna Publications and Education, Inc.  Toronto, Ontario.  2014.

Sometimes being a man is of no help what so ever.  So I read some of these poems to my much wiser wife.

Her response:  "Excellent poetry."  When K speaks, I listen.

Pam Galloway's Passing Stranger deals with loss and growth, the empty marriage bed that comes with divorce, miscarriages, all that emptiness left behind.

I sit in rooms with women

Ideas flash as fast as the shreds
from the mandoline. Cabbage,
cucumber and carrot
fall with barely a touch, settle
into the centre of the wrap,
permit an enfolding
disturbed only by slow
bits and mmm, delicious --
must have the recipe.

And just as quick: a turn.
The book we're gathered to discuss
pulls the conversation
into the backstreets of the city,
into the life of another woman who tells
how crime was her route to a meal,
another who writes to feel whole.

Ours is the spirit
that knows what it wants
and is unabashedly Woman.
Beautiful and clever,
all-knowing and yes, wise.
We may one day steal to stay alive,
on another, realize
that living is multi-hued
and we manage all its shakes and colours
the way we might throw
a black shawl, casual,
calculated, across a red cowl-neck sweater.


This is poetry written in the language of women.  What I mean is that Galloway is unconcerned with what men need to know, she is past that, her concern is with what women need to say.  Her clarion call is no whisper for the faint of heart.


Out of place and disintegrated
into a million pieces, scattering
into eternity like a supernova burnt out,
my anticipation of a birth.

I try to imagine
Fallopian tube:
black tunnel, microscopic shaft buried beneath
the surface, a secret: silent,
but wide enough to guide an egg,
wide enough to grow an embryo.

Not wide enough: a silent bursting and blood
seeps and swills like a slough
filling after a storm, blood like water
finds its place, flows to every cranny,
lies in wait.

No thought
beyond the gloves,
the greens, the masks,
the eyes. A hand
strokes. I pan
the room made ready.

Give myself over,
fall into oblivion
I relinquish memory,
contemplation of what might have been.
Each moment resounds like a pulse,
a heartbeat trapped inside a vacuum.

Morphine is a cozy high, I am warm,
I am safe, I am smiling, I am safe,
I am alive, I am safe, I am not thinking
I am not pregnant.

Days later, home again, my bed cannot hold me
the way I need to be held. I am scared
I will fall from the edge:
no baby; my belly sliced and sewn
for no baby.
I weep for my mother to hold me, for a woman
who will know, to hold me. You tell me
you can hold me.
Do you know?


But there is hope and Today's book of poetry is a big fan of hope.

Galloway's sad losses are our conduit to understanding, because through them she allows us to experience something new, she expresses a woman's experience in ways other women will understand and recognize as truth.

Galloway isn't strident or terse or proselytizing from some great podium.  Nothing like that.  This is the clear thinking voice of reason.  If you haven't heard it before - perhaps you weren't listening, we often only hear what we want, I'm convinced my newest intern is deaf.

The wasp and I

Trapped behind a Venetian blind,
the wasp believes freedom lies upward
beyond the window. Its goal:
bright sky and a pine tree beyond.

The wasp makes the ascent, fights through
a waterfall of condensation, diverts
to a zig-zag path across the glass, takes off,
brief sorties in the narrow air between glass
and metal slats. But up is where it wants to be.

Again and again it tries to break free
and then the inevitable fall,
close to the exit path.

But the wasp cannot see. Drawn to the window
and sunlight blazing hope, it will persist.
It will never learn
the glass will not dissolve or fall away
just because it wants it, just because
it beats its head against impossibility.


Pam Galloway's Passing Stranger is a world many women will embrace as a familiar, a voice given to a shared understanding.  And for many men a sliver more understanding of the other half of the world, and how they endure.

Pam Galloway

Pam Galloway lives, works and writes in Vancouver and has an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia. Her poetry and non-fiction have been featured on CBC radio and her poetry has been published in numerous Canadian literary magazines including The Antigonish Review, The New Quarterly, Contemporary Verse 2, Grain, Descant, Dandelion, Event, The New Orphic Review, Room of One’s Own and twice on the website of the Canadian Parliamentary Poet Laureate. Her first book of poetry Parallel Lines was published in 2006.

"Gifted with a lyric and elegiac eye, Galloway marks many of life's key moments--marriage, divorce, pregnancy, miscarriage, childbirth, parenting-- with poems of exquisite tenderness and grace. These poems depict the ache and echo of loss with clarity, honesty and lyric intensity. This moving journey through heart and body bears witness to life's myriad beginnings and endings, anticipations and losses."
—Fiona Lam

“In Passing Stranger Pam Galloway combines direct language, striking imagery and beautifully rendered metaphors to take us inside a woman’s experiences with infertility, motherhood and marriage breakdown. The title poem and the sequence “Ways of knowing” are just two of several poignant pieces that peel back the veils around the pain of multiple miscarriages. Equally powerful, however, are celebratory poems like the gorgeous “Arrival”, about her daughter’s birth. Galloway is an accomplished free verse poet who is equally successful when she decides to write in forms, as in her exquisite palindrome “Remembering. Autumn.” and her delightful, “Three echoes of love”, a two-column poem that can be read three different ways. This book pulls no punches when it comes to diving into grief – but Galloway does not leave us stranded there; instead, she takes us through losses and into hope..."
--Sandy Shreve

Pam Galloway

Federation of BC Writers Drive
Featuring Pam Galloway - Feb. 11, 2012
video by planetjanetcreations


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

Friday, February 6, 2015

Designation Youth - David Bateman (Frontenac House Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
Designation Youth.  David Bateman.  Frontenac House Poetry.  Calgary, Alberta.  2014.

I wasn't sure if I was looking at David Bowie's cool Duke or Marlene Deitrich in repose when I first saw the cover of David Bateman's Designation Youth.

Bateman gives it all away with the title of his poem "Boston, 1989: only parts of this are true, but all these are real."  That's how Designated Youth rolls, this book is primarily made up of a series of rambling autobiographical prose style poems.  It might not all be true but it certainly is real.

Bateman toys with the idea of youth and beauty, mantras of truth and beauty.  But mostly he riffs on his gay life, the confusing issues of first awareness and the endless issue of his Herculean sexual ambition, friends and lovers facing mortality with AIDS and all of us facing morality in the face of Queer love.

Designation Youth

when he was young again
in middle age
before that final infancy
he turned to older men
babied them in cubist cradles
splintered by surreal movements into youth
unprepared for that mature impressionistic route designed by fate
post expressions refracting joy and wisdom and trust
moving swiftly out of teen inspired jeans

                          draped like fallen fauvist petals upon such lacy frames

into trousers, cuffs and pleats, stopping long enough
considering cravats, but saying no
Prufrock had it right, no frill across
those firmaments of graying lust
just simple line and shadow
gracing shallow pools of once taut crops

fashion not as folly but the well hung framing
of all those years that pass as light
having known in his first blush of truth
much older men who grazed along
the edges of his snowy thighs
on feathered follicles when summer sun
transformed them into gold

so now he ambles back in middle age
to same sex sites of longing
for the brevity of lust with older men

becoming hope and love and care
parenting lovers in ways in which
his own familial unit failed to dare

so there he goes - bob bob bobbing on the edges of their thighs

he has become too glib for their desire to hold

                             a careful glamour that conceals the syntax of the soul

but somehow he has found a way to set that snare
to beat that drum, to fumble in and out and back
to where his first-last stab began.


David Bateman's Designation Youth does not waste an iota's time on pretense or pacification.  In these trauma's the only innocents are those that don't know yet.

These very humorous and human lyrics are brave.  Why?  Because it still requires bravery to sing that Queer song so loud.  John Barton does it, and very well.  There are a few other voices, but there are still few books of poetry by gay men.  We all need to hear our brother's stories.  Mainstream poetry doesn't give much room for those voices.

(our bumper sticker lives)

am I ready to write about you, two decades later
carrying your little frame in that outlandish snowsuit to the car
that final ride in a blizzard to a hospice named after another lost child

your burning trousers, cannabis smouldering in your flaming crotch
your escapes from the playpen into lavish unaffordable toy stores
my desperate mid-day searches for you in breakfast cafes
my hostility toward prim, crass restaurateurs suggesting
my ragged tank top was inappropriate garb while frantically looking
for you in the hollow well of your early dementia

you selling your drugs at a student pub
in exchange for recreational comfort
fleeing from the terrible pain of not being a child any longer
just an adult trying to survive
the terminal phobia induced boyishness
of being caught with his pants down in the schoolyard

just one last blast from the iconoclast you were you were running, madcap and
infantile, through the streets in search of things, ideas, life

how you loved eggcups and soft-boiled greasy breakfasts alone
waking early to escape from hearth and home

how you returned to the house in a taxi
with a trunk full of computer equipment
pale water colours from a local gallery
we had to return it all
we had to go back to something we could justify in order to see you
crumble in a world of denial and taboo

how I didn't know I was lying when asked what you were dying of
numb and over functional until that sudden moment of recognition
when you just looked at me and said,

when someone's lifespan is suddenly shortened

and then I knew
I simply had to be told by you
I could never just say on telephones, in conversation

Yes, he's dying of it, AIDS. It has him in its grip, tra la.

how I remember your short stocky body
fit and trembling under my touch
how I spread oil on your hairy full and gorgeous tiny torso
and we had sex in my childhood bedroom with my widowed mother
out on the town
with so much lust that love would never speak its name
I miss the past we never had

I miss you
I miss your volatile irrational whimsy
I miss jumping over hedges in Aegean island cafes to escape from the
latest fight you have embarked upon with the waiter, calling him a
motherfucker in your broken Greek
just because the kitchen is closed at midnight

I miss your pseudo experimental theatrics, Beckett in a blender
how you directed Hellenistic classics
with an eye for Fred Astaire induced debacles
filled with maenads matriarchs
tall fey gods hell bent on wining dining
through the haze of quaint Wagnerian tributes to your navel

missing your inane argument with a taxi driver
on our way to the ambulance depot
when I was beaten up in Athens
you found me bent and bloodied in the street

and yes, I mostly miss the sad and sorry self-indulgent tale of me
being told on more than one occasion
by old-school aficionados in a cafe with you
on a Greek island that my left handed ways were wrong
and a sad and sorry testament
to a total lack of self-restraint on the part of my parents,
they should have changed me

and finally, kneeling in the driveway by a car
borrowed from a friend's insane lover
scraping away at a bumper sticker with a box cutter knife in my left
hand in heavy snowfall trying to remove the words from the back of
your final chariot


my fingers bleeding lightly in the tainted white ground covering
asphalt stained with impure blankets blood and snow
the knife slipping on the chrome as it glides through these
apocalyptic hate mongering cliches piercing my mittens dismantling
my denial these callous one-liners only moments before your
withered middle aged carcass becomes my infant cargo as I cross the
threshold and into the driveway to the car with what is left of you
in my scarred arms

the follies and the madnesses that made your life
and the lives of others so exciting
so excruciating

has it been twenty years
it seems like today

you and so many like you always dying inside of me as I wait my turn
patiently, in earnest, for the day, filled with laughter, disabuse,
the familiar rule of male hysteria when snowsuits, burning oversized
khaki shorts seared by clumsy hashish ashes in your lap

eggcups and outrageous expenditures
that moment of promiscuous angelic indiscretion
you told your lover that that had things been different
it might have been me

and now he has gone the way so many of us have been sent

but I'm the one left here with memory in my arms
bare, unabashed remembering you and yours
when all these material trappings
these brash and strident strings of incident and plot
come tumbling down front steps in some unwedded march
into driveways along thoroughfares ending in the same
great sadness singed with ample mirth
invigorating brutal bawdy messages of bumper stickers
caught in wordstorms fraught with love


Today's book of poetry wanted you all to see the poem "Allen" in full.  It is rife with the heart-stopping moments in this book that will resonate in every heart.  Those difficult moments where the crystal of truth is also a moment of condemnation, ugly shit madness.  We learn, early on, with Bateman that it is all tolerable as long as it is real.

David Bateman and I grew up in the same small town, we are the same age, and although we were never close our circles did intersect, we knew many of the same people.  Seeing this brave, bawdy body of work makes me wish I'd known him better.

Dressing Down

after being that beautiful man stepping out of a gown

trading in his tulle for turtlenecks and scarves
of the voluminous kind
fooled by the wooly tales he never chose to pull over empty eyes
the goddesses of daily rhythms made him do it

when the taut teenaged skin and fluttering hairline
fit for one thousand fragile angels abandoned him
at 24

when the cowl necks he admired as a child
sputtered into in his early teens, became his skin
at 39

when his belly fat became that babied hump
he held his breath to hide
at 43

when the body fails to come and go with the curves of Michelangelo
deferring to the fulsome swerve of Rubens and Botero

to have faded out of beauty
into this dismissive survey
of corporeal bliss
come and gone

and then
at 58

there are things far worse than swaddled goosey necks and the
memories of how the flesh will fail us in the mutant glow of
immortal myths we try so hard to tell


True, honest, real.  These are big words in poetry.  David Bateman's Designation Youth is all these things.

Plus he quotes Truman Capote and the Slovenian Milan Jazbec to introduce the same poem.

Today's book of poetry will be looking forward to more from David Bateman.

David Bateman

David Bateman is an actor, playwright, visual artist, and performance poet currently based in Toronto.  His spoken word monologues and solo plays have been presented both nationally and internationally over the past twenty years.  He has a PhD from the University of Calgary (English Literature; specialization Creative Writing) and has taught at a variety of Canadian post-secondary institutions including Emily Carr University of Art and Design (Vancouver), Thompson Rivers University (Kamloops), and Trent University (Peterborough).  His arts and entertainment reviews have appeared in XTRA, In Toronto, and at

designation youth performs precision in its exacting signatures of voice and rhythm. These poems are “speaking poems” that use the “spoken poem” as a prop. David Batemen recuperates the honesty of a personal lyric by a subtle and intelligent attention to the particular way of telling something. And the pleasure in these little fictions is that he so skillfully uses the poem to play them out. 
– Fred Wah

Bateman’s latest continues his questing trialogue via many forms, lengths, and shapes in verse but always with the surefooted emotion, devastating honesty, and poetic pyrotechnics we’ve come to expect. Among his many accomplishments in designation youth is his regeneration of the long poem so loved by the Victorians. They’d be astonished to read what he has done with the form.
– Felice Picano

David Bateman
"Why did you have to go through a car wash on the way to our mother's funeral"
A video by Centre Arts
Capturing Fire - Queer Spoken Work
Summit & Slam


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