Monday, March 30, 2015

Resume - Chris Green (Mayapple Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Resume.  Chris Green.  Mayapple Press.  Woodstock, N.Y.  2015.

Today's book of poetry is tickled pink to be back in the saddle after our sojourn to the south.  Luckily I took a herd of fine books of poetry with me.

Today, Today's book of poetry is looking at Resume by Chris Green.

Resume is all about jobs, work and the world that demands that of us.

I'm not saying Chris Green is a genius, I don't know the man, but these are wizard smart poems.
They crack like the fast end of a bullwhip.

These poems are alive with dark humour and profound wit.  And knowing, Chris Green knows stuff, he knows the emotional toll paid by those that toil.

Janitorial Ode

Each month a new motivational
poster above the urinals:
nature scenes with slogans like
DARE TO SOAR. Management
trying to love us.
But someone was taking dumps
in the locker room shower.
A kind of protest. My job:
to muck out the message.
A typical day, I hardly said
anything to anyone
except Henry, the machinist
prophet, who always took
the short view: she's fuckable,
she's fuckable, she's
definitely fuckable.
In the factory, sex worked
like a machine's heavy
breathing -- obvious as the absence
of windows. Tom and Bill were lovers
who had the same small job:
pushing a rod. They wore too-short
denim cut-offs, tube socks,
shirts tails tied into halter tops.
Tom would call ooohhh baby,
snatch at my ass when I mopped.
I wanted Michelle, the opposite
of a rich girl, braless, up to
her elbows in toxic acetone
(lunch time, I'd grind into my
writing hand, a kind of one-armed
violence until I'd explode).
then during the full heat of noon
I'd eat on the bank of a drainage
canal. I was young, lying
in the sweet ditch grass, my feelings
buried deep, deep. I didn't
want to admit it, but I was
heading straight to the bottom.
As if to prophesy, one day
a whole swollen deer floated by.


Boy, oh boy!  Resume is that rare book of poetry where there are no extra poems, no floaters.  Every one of these suckers is essential to this collection and hot as a fired pistol.

These are all good poems, there are several I might even call great -- or at the very least, very, very good.

Mr. Green is diabolically beautiful almost every time he opens his mouth.

These poems had the staff here at Today's book of poetry screaming out loud and almost coming to blows to see who would read the next one out loud.

Amy Gerstler mentions Studs Terkel when she talks about Chris Green's Resume and she is right. Studs Terkel's Working is an encyclopedic look at the heart and calloused hands of working America. Resume, although slight in pages in comparison, packs the same modern punch.  His contemporary voice is a take on the same territory -- but it is a take informed by the journalism of Hunter S. Thompson, the poetry of everyone from Auden to Bukowski.  Green has his finger on the modern and sometime macabre world as though he were a puppet maker, the rest of us puppets.

Aviary Security

The Tracy Aviary in Liberty Park:
birds in their undress--
redheads, goatsuckers, Lucifer hummingbirds, rough-legged hawks.
And peacocks in blue-fire skirts.

You can't choose what you do. I was young. full
of fear. Birds barred from the sky
appealed to my sense of remoteness.
Then, as if a dark dream--
I caught a man raping a peacock.

Not mythic
like Leda and the swan, this was Salt Lake City,
a place where people swallow impossible plots:
Jesus appeared in America
after his resurrection and strong-armed natives
to make us a heaven of Mormon men.

The great fan of color
and the man, a squalid Yeatsian
thrusting through an emerald field, a burning wall.
He was moaning
like an idiot, kneeling like he was praying.
The inconceivableness.
The long blackness of the peacock's glance.

I dragged the man through the aviary. It made no difference.
The poor dead bird and the man never cured.


These dark and dense poems crackle with heartbreaking humanity, they grab the reader on the first page and thrash the crap out of him/her.

Read six lines of a poem by Green to my wife yesterday.  She is still talking about it.  In a good way. And she is aces.

Green seems to have a sensibility similar to a more literary Bukowski, but perhaps subtler, Green will still blow your head off, you just don't see it coming in quite the same way.

Loss Specialist, American Express

That morning Republican Sonny Bono
called and said, "Fuck!" no Gold Card;
needed some big dumb diamonds.
Otherwise, the day was drear...infinite hours
on a tiny salary in a gray sea.
I was reading a poem by Auden,
something bleak to stay awake.
My Mormon boss yelled, "Heck!"
His ex-wife appeared in full rage,
stopped everything, screamed, "Oh you know why!"
She yelled and yelled--
gripped their daughter's hand.
My boss stayed where he was, stared
as if at a precipice...
He began to cry.
We all waited and wondered
at their anguish.
The daughter,
spiraling, terrible. I understood:
family awkward implausible. Later on,
no one comforted him. He had his own heaven.
And I returned to Auden.


If you can, find and read this book.  Then go searching for anything else by Chris Green, I know I will be.


 Chris Green

Chris Green is the author of three books of poetry: “The Sky Over Walgreens”, “Epiphany School”, and “Résumé”. His poetry has appeared in such publications as Poetry, New York Times, New Letters, Verse, Nimrod, and Black Clock. He’s edited four anthologies, including “Brute Neighbors: Urban Nature Poetry, Prose & Photography”, and the forthcoming “I Remember: A Poem by Chicago Veterans of War”. He founded LitCity (, a comprehensive literary site for Chicago. He teaches in the English Department at DePaul University.

This a wonderful cycle of poems. As Studs Terkel once wrote, “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread, for recognition as well as cash, for astonishment rather than torpor; in short, for a sort of life rather than a Monday through Friday sort of dying.” Through the vehicle of various jobs, roles, labors, and employments–manual, artistic, emotional, literary, familial, etc.–Chris Green gives us a lyric tour of human complexity, oddity, behavior and occupation. He has a novelist’s powers of observation. Résumé is full of humility, wit, smarts and heart, and all kinds of quiet astonishment. Studs would have loved it.
 —Amy Gerstler

These clear-eyed yet inventive poems about work offer a hard-won wisdom that lifts us above suffering to understanding. Green’s is a marvelously spare and colloquial voice with the kind of detail that cherishes and transforms our lives, that compels us with the authority of experience. His material is his own and others’ brutal and toxic jobs, which in the hands of such a skillful poet, provide a vision that reaches beyond the subject to his spare but complex epiphanies.
— Christopher Buckley

Working odd jobs going nowhere, the fear of futility, the problem of money, the uncertainty of life—such are the burdens of youth. In Résumé, Chris Green resurrects and transforms such lost periods of life. He sees that every job teaches, affirms that even the lowliest job is a step. Résumé is not merely a record of employment— it is art employed so that human dignity can be redeemed through understanding and wisdom.
 — Richard Jones

Chris Green
reading his poem, "Deer Sonnets"
video courtesy: jonnymess


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, March 20, 2015

Today's book of poetry is on holiday - back April 1.

Off to wrassle alligators and pythons in Florida.  Wish us well.

See you April Fool's Day.

Michael Dennis

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief - Tim Bowling (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief.  Tim Bowling.  Gaspereau Press.  Kentville, Nova Scotia.  2014.

The picture I have of the cover does not do justice to the lovely Wesley Bates woodcuts that grace this beautiful book.  Gaspereau Press books are not like the others.

Today's book of poems looked at Tim Bowling's Selected Poems (Nightwood Editions, 2013) back on May 13, 2013.  We loved it.

You can see that blog here:

Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief is Bowling's twelfth book of poetry and perhaps his best to date - which is saying a hell of a lot.  Bowling has been a big favourite here at Today's book of poetry.  His book Low Water Slack (Harbour Publishing, 1995), is required reading for our interns.


I want it back. It is unseemly
to admit so. The many who confuse
a love for the present of the past
with a love for something dead
roll their eyes. Forget them.
This is for men and women
of certain years who,
having left prints on the sand,
remember the feeling
of castles in their fingers
and turn for the fanfare
blowing silent out of the mouth
of the sun, for those who,
when the utilities are paid
another month and the children
in their intensities occupied
and the laundry transferred
once more to the light,
sit on the grass in the yard
and place one hand
on the sun-warmed gold
of the sleeping retriever's fur
to take the pulse
of that small self
they say goodbye to
a little more each day,
for those voters, tax-payers,
bearers of the ordinary burden
without end or praise who
for a few seconds
bury their faces in the old trinity
and breathe that lost present alive
tending the last coals of a fire
in the woodcutter's woods
before the blank page of the story
turns back again
with the sound of a whale
sliding its Victorian nursery
for the last time
into the sea.


"Childhood" starts off this sterling collection like the whistle of a train announcing its definitive arrival with authority.  This lament to aging is Bowling at the height of his considerable powers.  It breathes the same air as The Old Man And The Sea.

Time is a lonely hunter bearing down on us all as invariably as Orion looking down on every night. Bowling knows time and the stars burns equally bright.  These poems read as though they were chiseled into stone, carved as runes of wisdom for those to come.  As though the very earth loosed them in a fit of chthonic wonder.

Two Young Men In A Duck Punt

It's still dark, they wait for something.
Light? Time? Though their lives
and ours consist of light and time
it is not for these they wait.
But see the tension in their necks
shoulder -- what else could be
the cause? Even if you say
they wait to kill, what
have you ever done to the light
and time besides?

The river around the rushes
flows black, the salmon smolts
cluster thick in separate gleams --
the knives of the knife-
throwing before the show.
Frost thaws on the gunwales
water drips off the oars
the breath of the young men
comes down-slow
and visible, there are no rings
on their raw hands. They wait
without knowing, for everything

as you have done, are doing,
there in your row at the seminar
at the breakfast table, on the knife-
scored seat of the city bus,
with the frost burning off
and the day's last windfall
rotted in your lap, waiting
for the horizon's stir
the thousand clock hands
at the centre of the present.

How fleetingly lovely
the ordinary annulment
of our skies
as the tide changes
and smoke leaves the barrel
and those young hands
like ours
gather all morning
each soft inch
of the bloody rope
whose pulling sounds only the silence
in which is heard

light and time
light and time
light and time


Today's book of poetry has always enjoyed the poetry of Tim Bowling and Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief cements what we always thought.  Bowling is one of our best.

Bowling is more formal than he first appears, and fiercer.  These poems work like the inside of a fine watch, all delicately intertwined and necessary for the silent mechanism to keep track of time.  All those gears grinding away and we don't hear a sound.

The Last Days of Summer
Before the First Frost

Here at the wolf's throat at the egress of the howl
all along the avenue of deer-blink and salmon-kick
where the spider lets its microphone down
into the cave of the blackberry bush -- earth echo
absence of the human voice -- wait here
with a bee on your wrist and a fly on your cheek
the tiny sun and tiny eclipse.
It is time to be grateful for the breath
of what you could crush without thought
a moth, a child's love, your own life.
There might never be another chance.
How did you find me, the astonished mother says
to her four-year-old boy who'd disappeared
in the crowds at the music festival.
I followed my heart, he shrugs,
so matter-of-fact you might not see
behind his words
(o hover and feed, but not too long)

the bee trails turning to ice as they're flown.


These poems long to understand our world, put it into perspective despite the complex layers of narrative that demands.  Bowling has found the language that both connects us to and explains mysteries we have yet to unravel about ourselves.  We want to listen to everything Bowling has to say and he never disappoints.

Bowling must be an excellent listener because it appears he doesn't miss a thing.

Gary Dunfield and Andrew Steeves should be sainted by the small press world.  They are the Huckleberry Saints of Canadian publishing as far as Today's book of poetry is concerned.  No one does it better.  They can be counted on to produce books of unsurpassed physical beauty.  Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief is but one of a long line of visually stunning and consistently gorgeous books lovingly produced by Gaspereau Press.

Tim Bowling

Circa Nineteen Hundred and Grief is Tim Bowling’s twelfth collection of poetry, others of which include TheAnnotated Bee & Me, Fathom, The Memory Orchard, and Selected Poems. He has also published a memoir, four novels (including The Bone Sharps and The Tinsmith) and a creative work on book collecting and poetry entitled In The Suicide’s Library. Bowling lives in Edmonton, Alberta.


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

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Weight of the Island - Selected Poems of Virgilio Pinera - Translated by Pablo Medina (Dialogos/Lavender Ink)

Today's book of poetry:
The Weight of the Island - Selected Poems of Virgilio Pinera - Translated by Pablo Medina.
Dialogos.  An Imprint of Lavender Ink.  New Orleans, Louisiana.  2014.

The Weight of the Island is a posthumous Selected Poems of the work of Virgilio Pinera (1912-1979), as translated by Pablo Medina.  Pinera died of a heart attack in Cuba in 1979.  Medina tells us in his introduction that Pinera had always been adamant about the three constants in his life, "his poverty, his gayness, and his love of art."  

Pinera addresses those concerns in thoroughly modern ways in these poems of "emotion reined in by disillusion."

The first thing the reader discovers is how new these poems feel, sound, read.  So much so that Pinera had to be absolutely ahead of his time.

Elegy and Such

I invite the word
walking its barren bark among the dogs.
Everything is sad.
If it crowns forehead and breasts with shining leaves
a cold smile will blossom on the moon.
Everything is sad.
Later the sad dogs will eat the leaves
and bark out words with glistening sounds.
Everything is sad.
A dog invites the hyacinths by the river.
Everything is sad.
With loony words, with doggerel arrows,
with tiny toothy leaves
the hyacinths wound the mute damsels.
Everything is sad.
The black grass grows with a quiet hum,
but shiny edges caress the rhythm.
Everything is sad.
Behind the words the serpents laugh,
deaf earth allows no sound.
Everything is sad.

A heavenly bird barks in the sky
to scare death away.
The bird discovers it with with the flowers of night
and seduces it with words of a dog
and buries it with a cupful of earth.
Everything is sad.
I invite the earthbound word
that cuts through life and mirrors
and splits the echo of its image.
Everything is sad.
A play of words and barks.

Everything is sad.
A javelin whooshes through the speeding wind
in virile variations.
Half a cup of earth silenced the music.

Everything is sad.
Then the earth drank itself.
Everything is sad.
And when the time for death arrives
place me before a mirror where I may see myself.
Everything is sad.



Many of the poems in The Weight of the Island reach back to the 1940's but they read as timeless, thoroughly contemporary.

Pinera was harassed and jailed for being a homosexual -- but he also worked for the State as a writer for a time.  His principle fame in Cuba arose from his work as a modernist playwright.

These beautifully modern poems remain incredible time capsules though.  Pinera's poems as translated by Pablo Medina are not only completely accessible and approachable but natural, as though written with Pinera watching over Medina's shoulder, sharing a drink, a cigar.

I See It

Better death raise
the crown of your life
to weigh it,
and on the forehead where the moon hides its reflection
death will overcome its own severity with splendor.

You are naked,
as if the hourless days slid down your body,
as if a fleeting animal raced
between rest and memory.

Day now begins its ascent
and you end up in the sudden beak of inertia.
You call me as if the impregnable shrouds
of destruction dropped on my ear one by one.

And I too label you destroyed,
I reach your outskirts,
I set fire to you with the suns of my condolence,
I place you in a box of laments,
your fear reaches me and I wreck the air
with the vibrations of its impediment.
I see you in the air like a dead star
shattering into cold moons,
I see you with your shoes and your perfection.



Today's book of poetry is always honoured to read fine poems and in turn to bestow some small vestige of honour upon them when given the chance.

I was in Cuba last year and found a couple of excellent bookstores - but I speak and read almost no Spanish.  I did find two bi-lingual editions of Spanish/English poetry at an outdoor bazaar in a square in central Havana where all of the stalls were selling books.  The vendors swarming about like anxious dancing librarians.  But I didn't find any Pinera.  A problem now remedied.

Poem to be Said in the Midst of a Great Silence

Can it be they are going to kill?
Will they pierce the heart with a huge knife?
And with the sharpest scalpel empty the eyes?
And with the steeliest chisel break the skull?
And with the most hammer of hammers crush the bones?

Can it be that on the erotic table
--table of sex, table of love--
my love, you and I,
being startled one night
your heart spoke
when you were under my blood?
Can it be the same as it was
when it was an oath, and even more so,
your work, your word bled,
soaked by the soft perfume of kisses,
so as not to deny, to be one indivisible?
And can it be so blindly believed,
so blindly, that all the suns go dark forever
while the soul travels in darkness?
Can it be there never was a soul despite the waves of music we made?
Soul that never was though soul you might be for an instant?
Remember that instant when you were a soul and adored me,
and then your own monster came suddenly
to take you to the place where being you were?

Can it be that after you are no longer,
when not being is merely a mound of dried out kisses,
you will be by not being, instead being love?



Dialogos Books is doing the English speaking world a great favour by publishing The Weight of the Island as a bi-lingual Spanish/English book.

This poetry is so original, so human and immediate - it has taken so many years to get to us and yet remains totally new.


Pablo Medina has done a spectacular job.  Virgilio Pinera did the living and superb writing.

Virgilio Pinera

Pablo Medina

Virgilio Piñera Llera (August 4, 1912 – October 18, 1979) was a Cuban author, playwright, poet, short-story writer, and essayist.

Among his most famous poems are "La isla en peso" (1943), and "La gran puta" (1960). He was a member of the "Origenes" literary group, although he often differed with the conservative views of the group. In the late 1950s he co-founded the literary journal Ciclón. Following a long exile in Buenos Aires, Piñera returned to Cuba in 1958, months before the Cuban Revolution.

His work includes essays on literature and literary criticism, several collections of short stories compiled under the title of Cold Tales, a great number of dramatic works, and three novels: La carne de René (Rene's Flesh), Presiones y Diamantes (Pressures and Diamonds), and Las pequeñas maniobras (Small Maneuvers). His work is seen today as a model by new generations of Cuban and Latin American writers. Some believe that his work influenced that of Reinaldo Arenas, who wrote in his memoir Before Night Falls of Piñera's time in Argentina and friendship there with Witold Gombrowicz.

The magazine Unión posthumously published autobiographical writing by Piñera in which he discussed his homosexuality. However, his literary and cultural perspective went beyond sexuality, to express concerns on national and continental identity and philosophical approaches to theater, writing and politics. This focus drew fire from the Spanish American literary establishment of his time, including Cuban poets Cintio Vitier and Roberto Fernandez Retamar, as well as Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.

Due to Piñera's social points of view and especially to his homosexuality, he was censured by the revolution, and died without any official recognition. As more of his work has been translated into English, Piñera's work has been rediscovered by American academia as a testimony of 20th century resistance against totalitarian systems.

Pablo Medina was born in Havana, Cuba, and moved with his family to New York City at the age of twelve. Medina’s writing has been acclaimed as “lyrical and powerfully evocative” and “deserving a prominent spot in today’s literature of exile.” His Pork Rind and Cuban Songs was the first collection of poems written directly into English by a Cuban-born writer. In addition, he has published six other poetry collections,Arching into the Afterlife (Bilingual Press), The Floating Island (White Pine Press), Puntos de apoyo (Editorial Betania),  Points of Balance (Four Way Books); The Man Who Wrote on Water (Hanging Loose Press); and Calle HabanaPhotoStroud); a memoir titled Exiled Memories: A Cuban Childhood (Persea Books); and, with Carolina Hospital, Everyone Will Have To Listen/Todos me van a tener que oír (Linden Lane Press), a collection of translations from the Spanish of Cuban dissident Tania Díaz Castro. In 2008 he co-translated García Lorca’s Poet in New York (Grove Press), a work that John Ashbery called “the definitive version of Lorca’s masterpiece.” His fifth poetry collection, Points of Balance, has been called “nothing short of linguistic mastery.” His sixth collection, The Man Who Wrote on Water, was called “exemplary” by the El Paso Times. His first two novels, The Marks of Birth (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) and The Return of Felix Nogara (Persea Books), were highly praised by critics in the U.S. and abroad. The Cigar Roller, his third novel (Grove Press), was praised as “a mental idyll. . .no less fecund than Wordsworth’s,”  while his fourth novel Cubop City Blues (Grove)  has been called “a rich and stunning novel” by the LA Review of Books. He is also the author of A Trumpet Sounds, a verse drama premiered at Foundation Theater (J. E. Prusinowski, Director/Producer) in 1995 and staged at Gloucester Summer Theater (Joe Salvatore, Director) in 1997. Medina’s poetry and prose and translations from and to the Spanish language have been published in many periodicals and anthologies, and he has been the recipient of numerous awards, among them grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, the New Jersey and Pennsylvania State Arts Councils, the United States Department of State, The Oscar B. Cintas Foundation, and The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, as well as fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim foundations. Medina served on the Board of Directors of AWP  (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) from 2002 – 2007 and was elected President in 2005 – 2006.

Telluric, absurdist, surrealist, feverishly tropical, Virgilio Piñera’s The Weight of the Island is a poetic cosmos without parallel. Piñera’s voice is disturbing, anguished, dissonant and yet deeply moving. You feel the full emotional and psychological presence of the man in every verse he penned. We can rejoice that the English-speaking public can finally become acquainted with this utterly original poet. Only an artist of Pablo Medina’s gifts could have achieved the miracle of bringing Piñ era fully alive into English. 
     -- Jaime Manrique, author of Cervantes Street

When we read the poetry of Virgilio Piñera we must try to identify the invisible or the mystery that lies behind his words, for his language is filled with doubt and irony as the Cuban poet works the regions of despair, desolation and loneliness. Through Medina’s translation the reader can access the invisible and hidden in Piñera’s poetry, the mystery between the lines which Pablo Medina deftly uncovers. Medina’s translation of Piñera’s poetic words is vivid and sensitive and becomes a recreation of that poetry rather than a mere translation. If Piñera as a poet translates his desolate life into a poetry which is fierce and bitter, Medina’s English rendition of that poetry captures the vitality of the original Spanish and conveys the fierceness of a poet who felt imprisoned by “the cursed condition of water on all sides.”
     --Professor Isabel Alvarez Borland, author of Cuban America Literature of Exile: From Person to           Persona

Virgilio Piñera’s poetry occupies the fragile space between sadness and beauty, between disillusion and reality. His poems are quiet champions against indifference, affirmations that seek to both grieve over and honor our human existence. Pablo Medina's translations are enduring, necessary treasures.
--Richard Blanco, Obama inaugural poet and author of The Prince of los CocuyosVirgilio Piñera has been too long ignored amid a louder, at times discordant music of twentieth century Latin American poetry. With these subtly innovative and accessible translations in The Weight of the Island, poet-novelist Pablo Medina now sets Piñera in his rightful place on the international stage alongside poet-icons José Lezama Lima and Nicolás Guillén. Piñera’s early work is fierce and surrealist, presenting the torrid sensuality and suffocation of his most beautiful island―Cuba―simmering in all its ebullient tropical illusions. Spanning the era when Cuba was a brand new country set free from both the Spanish and Americans to make its own history, moving ahead through hard Revolution then post-Revolution, this smart selection moves back again in time into the more interior and privately experienced, meant also to present Piñ era’s more intimate writing, his personal evocations of love and disillusionment, his closely observed poems of absurd social behaviors and mechanical decorum played out against the certainty of mortality. Yet Piñera’s poems are all celebrations of life, divine spirit cries that break through the stifling silence of our permanent night. Medina’s remarkable translations in The Weight of the Island now renew his gifts to the world.
     --Douglas Unger author of Voices from Silence


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.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Cartography - Rhona McAdam (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Cartography.  Rhona McAdam.  Oolichan Books.  Lantzville, B.C.  2006.

At Today's book of poetry every book that arrives at our door is new (unless of course we've already read it, but that is rarely the case).  What I mean is that regardless of the date of publication - until I read a book it is new territory.

So Today's book of poetry is happy to look back a little.  Lucky for us.  Rhona McAdam's fifth book, Cartography, was published in 2006, but is fresh as a daisy.  Her fine poetry has won the Alberta Poetry Award and was short-listed for the Pat Lowther Award so this quality should come as no surprise.

Today's book of poetry was charmed by McAdam's ability to turn emotionally charged and passionate intimacy into a language we would all understand.  These poems cover the gamut of concerns:  love, work, family, aging, death, but they do it in an Anne Tyler sort of way.  There is absolutely no fuss.  These poems/reflections/laments/sermons come at you clean and clear and crisp, no misleading mystery, no tricks.


You released a fever
asleep beneath my tongue

And though I drink distraction
to my limit, nothing

thins this blood, its riot
of heat and wakefulness

The others will check my eyes, touch
me all over with questions

Syllables beat at my throat. All night
they have been asking for you

Cause and cure, you offer
a gradual, compelling dosage

The half-life of your tenderness
poisons my sleep.

Widening rings of desire keep rising
to craze the surface

You are the diagnosis no one
would think of, the flag delirium waves

The name that splinters
between my teeth.


"The half-life of your tenderness
  poisons my sleep."

Whoosh.  That line alone is killer.  I love it.

McAdam has a chilling ability to write poems that haunt your memory by cutting so close to some universal truths you think she might know your life story.  She understands the inner workings of us all as we desperately try to map out our futures.  Cartography looks at all of our maps to the future, adds cautions signs, speed limits, direction.

Your Lucky Day

What if you wait all your life for it
and it's already been and gone, it came
one day when you needed rest, and got it,
or like a wasted wish you were granted
fingernails that dried without smudging,
and you never thought to ask for more.

Or maybe here as life turns the corner you got
a day without pain, a migraine
lifting without full blossom, a hip
blessed with ease of motion.

We expect luck to arrive in office hours
shaped and packaged like a gift,
but what if it comes at night:
some awkwardness of sleep resolved,
the nerve never pinched, what
if you missed hitting the pedestrian
who changed his mind and didn't go out.

What if this is your share: this life,
this day the tree, the axe,
the bomb that didn't fall.


The biggest problem Today's book of poetry had with Rhona McAdam's Cartography was a happy dilemma.  Cartography is ripped with so many essential poems - the choice of three almost felt unfair.

A couple of the interns backed me into a corner insisting on the inclusion of McAdam's poem "Craigflower Bridge" and frankly, I wanted to use it as well.  But needs must.

Another energetic front was formed for the poem "Crosswords", words were had, my typist is now standing in the corner repeating his sad little refrain "don't try to hit the boss".

I held my ground and my veto.  Only three poems.  But I assure you, Cartography is rich with thick nuggets worth the explore.


The week my mother left us, her mind
came winging back: a bird
that had been blown off course
for two years found its bearings
and came home.

Six days before she died
she called us to witness the enormity
of crows in the willow tree,
and at supper, she was with us
the whole meal.

The day she died, lungs
beating for breath, she spoke to us, knew us;
we flapped around her like rags
till she slept alone on her pillow.
When we returned after dark she had gone.

I spent that first long winter
watching seabirds arrive from the prairies,
falling in clouds on the water,
diving one after another,
surfacing unpredictably.

No one refilled the suet and seeds
at her windows; her bird feeders
came down in a winter storm. I sat in her chair,
wore her clothes and her bracelet. Missed her

One day we dismantled her room,
shared out her furniture, her books,
took down the pictures, the three swallows
that spread ceramic wings across
all her kitchen walls.

Out here on the winter plains
skies are scraped bare of everything but blue
and feathers of cloud; chickadees flick snow
from black branches and scold, until
we take off our gloves in the bruising cold
to offer food from our naked hands.


Our research team here at Today's book of poetry are about to all be fired.  They couldn't come up with anything on Rhona McAdam and the publications that followed Cartography.  They will all be kicking stones come Monday.  I am fairly certain that there are other books of poetry by Rhona McAdam and in the coming days our new research team will be sure to find them.  In the meantime we are certain that poetry this good does not go unrewarded.

Today's book of poetry thoroughly enjoyed Cartography by Rhona McAdam, we're certain you'll like it too.

Breaking news:  Found McAdam's sixth book, Ex-Ville, (Oolichan Books, 2014).  Wouldn't you know it.

Today's book of poetry will be looking for it.

Rhona McAdam

Rhona McAdam was born in Duncan—a great-granddaughter of the town's namesake—and grew up on Vancouver Island. She lives in Victoria, BC. She has post-graduate degrees in communications planning, adult education and library and information science, and has worked in Canada, England and throughout Europe. Her poetry has been published in Canada, the US, Ireland and England and has been praised for her unique and engaging voice, her clarity, and her ability to balance the ethereal with the real. She has a gift for creating vivid landscapes, both actual and emotional.

Rhona McAdam
Winter Poets
video: Times Colonist


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, March 12, 2015

Fantasy - Ben Fama (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Today's book of poetry:
Fantasy.  Ben Fama.  Ugly Duckling Presse.  Brooklyn, New York.  2015.

"Sunset", a four page prose poem, opens Fantasy by Ben Fama, and reading it is like the first time you do a drug that opens up new worlds.

Fama lets loose with one remarkably sustained howl at our current trajectory.

Fama literally bombards and overloads the senses in his run-on stream-of-brilliant-consciousness prose poems.

Then he inserts one of these little bon-bons:


i would
make out
with you
hold hands
smoke weed


Ben Fama's sense of humour eats monsters for breakfast.  These poems feel as though they were written by a sky-diver in mid-fall/flight, a luge racer on LSD, the last bloody man standing.

Fama is not ahead of the curve, he is the curve, bending the world to his narrative with Hunter S. Thompson/Fran Lebowitz gusto and zeal.

These damn poems make you feel like you are inside the mind of a higher order of alien - processing everything current about the earth and doing it at inhuman speed.  It's a kaleidoscope that is ferociously entertaining.

Frank O'Hara

The only time I wish
other people heard my thoughts
is when I put your name
right now I'm thinking
I wish you were still alive
so I could be your partner
whether in art or life
I'm not really sure
mostly life I think
but they say
life imitates art
so who knows


It is completely unfair of me to rant poetic about the longer poems of Ben Fama and then not include them.  They make up the biggest part of Fantasy, and they are as tasty as your favourite dessert.

The longer poems in Fantasy challenge inclusion in Today's book of poetry but they are splendid catalogues, social registers, stylish lists with a Jim Carroll New York cool and a Joyce Carol Oates smart.

We took turns reading the longer poems out loud here at the office.  The interns took turns.  There was howling laughter, much looking up references, copying down lines to repeat later and generally just causing a joyous ruckus.  All thumbs up for Ben Fama here.

Wayne Koestenbaum queries about Fantasy "how did Fama invent a tone so perfect and icy, so equal to our times?"  And he is exactly right.  How?

The Line of Beauty

I love summer, the luxury of poetry, gin
and tonic, quinine lost in juniper


These short poems are really a tease.  Ben Fama's Fantasy as a whole is a masterwork and perhaps a masterpiece, only time will tell.

Today's book of poetry always likes it when anyone gives a tip of hats, props, to Saint Margaret of Atwood, one of Canada's sacred treasures.  Fama does that.

Fama is firing on all cylinders in this fine, fine, fine book of poems.  

Three 'fines' only because four would look ridiculous - "and a man in my position can't afford to be made to look ridiculous."

Ben Fama

Ben Fama is the author of several chapbooks and pamphlets, including the artist book Mall Witch (Wonder), Cool Memories (Spork), Odalisque (Bloof), and Aquarius Rising (UDP). His writing has appeared in The Believer, Denver Quarterly, Boston Review, Jubilat, Lit, and The Brooklyn Rail, among others. He is the co-founder of Wonder, and lives in New York City. Fantasy (UDP) is his first full-length poetry collection.

Sometimes something gets written and it surprises you, though it feels familiar. An early-twenty-first century decadence with its adderalls. Still the colloquials and the coteries of the New York School, but now with selfies, with crying selfies even. And klout scores. And there is fashion week, the Miami, the Los Angeles. Tans. Pools. I read Fantasy again and again, thinking I could learn to recite its spell on my own. It is a book about an end. An end of our economic empire. Of the fantastical expansion of income. And the poems here just keep going. They keep going to work. They plan what to do when one encounters an active shooter situation. Sort of. Because there is no plan really that makes sense except maybe to keep showing up to work stoned.

Ben Fama’s softly amalgamated new book, Fantasy, quietly elicits states of mind that we do and do not continue to inhabit. Memory traces, evacuations of past ruins pile up under present day linguistic and textual edifices. The socio-political erupts gently at the edges of fanboy/fangirl communiqués in which “fundamentalists decried jolie for using her wealth to surmount death and god.” In Fantasy, Fama uses his poetic intelligence to override dilemmas of understanding, and agitate all our ADLs (activities of daily living)—no small task for these overripe poetic times.

Fama has many faces, and fame comes in many sorts and sizes—from the one-week notoriety of the cover story to the splendor of an everlasting name (I may be quoting), i.e., Anaïs Nin commiserates with Trent Reznor about the fact that Kate Moss’s tan lines are, right now, more famous than either one of them.Fantasy is a Zipcar to cruise by such commiseration on the way to a resort Google maps can’t locate, but that “if you can’t afford it,” at least you can “affect it,” and there’s still “Glamour all night.”

Ben Fama
reading at Space Space
video: Bianca Stone


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, March 10, 2015

Scarsdale - Dan O'Brien (CB Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Scarsdale.  Dan O'Brien.  CB Editions.  London, England.  2014.

Back in October of 2013 Today's book of poetry was happy to look at Dan O'Brien's first book of poetry War Reporter.  We loved it.  You can see that here:

We weren't alone.  War Reporter won the 2013 Fenton Aldeburgh First Collections Prize and was shortlisted for the 2013 Forward Prize for Best First Collection.

O'Brien is best known as a playwright, but his second volume of poetry, Scarsdale, will tilt those scales in the poetry direction.

The first thing you notice about O'Brien's poetry is the confidence of the speakers voice.  Scarsdale is a family history, right of passage, coming of age collection.

Blue Nun

How sophisticated, brave
we thought they both were to drink
Blue Nun. While my mother cooked
joylessly, and the old man
watched the news. Considering
her mother would beat her when blind drunk,
and his mother had been trying
to join his father in death
for years, once stepping our of bed
into a shattered ankle, drunk. You must stay
away, they'd warn us. They stayed away,
too. Except those rare evenings
when for mysterious reasons
she'd park outside the pricey
wine store downtown, to purchase
her bottle of Blue Nun -- what I like
to imagine they first tasted
in somebody's basement
in high school, or the evening
of their so-called elopement
upstate somewhere. She'd sip
over the bubbling gray ground meat
in the crowded pan. Her eyes wet
with some kind of inward, chastised
release. And sometimes he'd bring his
next glass to the table
and tell such funny stories!
that she'd watch him with both fear
and pleasure: here was man
she hardly knew.


There are poems of sons and fathers and mothers and booze, they are about the journey towards manhood, the struggle to find, know, and follow a path.

O'Brien is exacting when crafting these freeze frames of family function and dis.

His tyrant father pounds a straight rod of frustration down O'Brien's back at every turn.  Life is revealed as it honestly unfolds, dramas of domesticity, generally with much duress.  But there is poetry to it all as O'Brien's mother intones in the poem "Pay Phone":
          "One day you will remember
when you were brave and suffered,
and you will find yourself longing
to be this way again."

The Worm

Alone in the boat
with you, rowing out
on the lake. Take
the Styrofoam cup
and with my fingers
dig through the fecal
loam. For night crawlers,
blood suckers. His cold
striated, mucoid
skin, pink bulbous band
like a prepuce. You
show me how to hold
the naked, the tangling
thread, then push the barbed
hook through. Once, then, twice
till the bait's a balled
crucifix of dirt. Don't
be a faggot,
you say as you cast
your line out. I drop
the live worm between
my bare knees, puncture
its middle, watch its
tail flipping blind. Ooze
spotting the wood grain
green. Then casting out
the loose loop, I see
my poor worm sinking
beneath the rhythmic
lozenges of light. Such grace
when the hook comes back
clean. One time I left
the worms on their hooks
and smiled when I saw
you searching the house
for the source of all
that smell of death.


These poems are simple but never simplistic, direct as darts from a knowing hand.

Today's book of poetry thinks Dan O'Brien's second book of poetry, Scarsdale will confirm the incandescent promise of his first, War Reporter.

My Mother

Water in the bowl after
the flowers have been lifted out.


There is a gentle nature to O'Brien's hard and harsh voice, an eloquent survivor of the battle to become more than a son, to become a man.  Equally important, a man of understanding and compassion.

Dan O'Brien

Dan O’Brien, author War Reporter (CBe 2013; winner of the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize for a first collection of poetry) is an American playwright and poet living in Los Angeles. His play The Body of an American, derived from the same material as War Reporter, won the Horton Foote Prize and the inaugural Edward M. Kennedy Prize for Drama, and had its European premiere in London in 2014.

‘Dan O’Brien’s poems are powerful and stripped down, but they expand in the mind long after they’ve been read. As in War Reporter, O’Brien captures the reflective gentleness that exists amid the damage of experience, and survives it.’
– Patrick McGuinness

‘Dan O’Brien’s direct and sometimes stark but never simplistic poems explore the difficult complexities of boyhood, and growing up, and growing older. The painful loveliness of O’Brien’s language reveals the confusions and aspirations of the self, and the self among others, and the perilous world beyond the self.’
– Lawrence Raab

‘Dan O’Brien has found what Frost once called “the sound of sense”, has caught the language of people, stripped that language to its bare bones, rattled those bones in ways that make a wrenching but beautiful music. Moving through his American childhood into adulthood, through a wide world shattered by broken people, he finds redemption everywhere and it’s a gift to his readers. O’Brien supplies the satisfactions of a rare imagination at work, a poet who has taken risks, exposing his deep anxieties, finding himself again and again.’
– Jay Parini

Dan O'Brien
reads "Fern Hill" a poem by Dylan Thomas
Video courtesy of:  Cossack Review


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, March 8, 2015

The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom - Thomas J. Erickson (Parallel Press/University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries)

Today's book of poetry:
The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom.  Thomas J. Erickson.  Parallel Press.  University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2013.

(This one is for Luba)

I don't know Thomas J. Erickson but I'd certainly like to.  My sister-in-law, Ann Marie is a lawyer and one of the wittiest people I know.

One of my closest and dearest and oldest friends, Michael Thompson, is a lawyer and is also the smartest person I know, and one of the funniest.  Thompson introduced me to Kurt Vonnegut when we were teenagers along with a number of other important discoveries.

But Erickson is the first lawyer who has written a book of poetry that I've read.  More importantly the first lawyer to write a book of poetry that I love.

Dead serious and tongue in cheek, Erickson's The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom is intelligent, funny, sad and enlightening.

Speaking in Tongues

I smoked a blunt and drank too much bumpy
face so I called a johnny cab to take me to my baby
mama's crib. I saw a brother kickin' it. He said he
got a couchy-coupon from my lady. I said do you
know what time it is and he said it's time for some
drama so I took out my strap and busted a cap
on his ass.

These words -- in their doomed vibrancy -- literally
mean: I smoke a marijuana and cocaine-laced cigar and
drank too much Seagram's Gin. I called an anonymous
phone number and told them where I was. A few minutes
later, a car picked me up and I gave the driver five dollars.
I told him to drive me to the mother of my child's house.
I saw a guy on the corner who told me that my girlfriend
had propositioned him for sex. I challenged him to a duel
and he accepted. I pulled out my gun and I killed him.

Eventually, I will argue to the jury the following:
My client had a drink with friends. He called a taxi
to take him home to his family. On the way home
he encountered a long-time enemy of his who spoke
rudely about my client's girlfriend. The man pulled
a gun on my client. My client killed him in self-defense.

I explicate, obfuscate, mitigate, equivocate --
the translator of a story of death.


Most of these poems are set within Erickson's legal world of trials, criminals and legal process, but what is most clear is that regardless of what sort of lawyer Erickson is -- he is one hell of a good poet.

It is evident that Erickson has the tools to write about anything - for now the world of a lawyer and his orbit provide sufficient material for Erickson to shine.


     Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.
     -Susan Sontag

I walk into a video store and ask the clerk
if they have I'm Not There. The clerk
checks his computer and says, "No,
but we have I'm Not Scared." His tone
is expectant and hopeful and it makes me feel
bad to tell him that while it sounds close,
it's not the movie I wanted.

I represent drug clients with the given first
names of Kilo and Easy Money, who sell
teenagers (one-eighth grams of heroin) to teenagers.
I have two teenagers.

Until a few years ago, I thought the term fitful sleep
meant a good night's sleep. Now that I know
the true meaning, I'm not sleeping so well.

HIDTA (pronounced high-da) is an acronym
for High Density Drug Trafficking Areas
which is an anti-crime task force. My client keeps
complaining that Al Qaeda is after him.
I think he means HIDTA.

When Kafka read The Trial to his friends
for the first time, he laughed so hard
that there were moments when he couldn't
read further. I, for one, do not think
the alienation of modern man is so funny.


With quantum leaps of logic and reason Erickson people's his sad stories with famous poets, Franz Kafka, even "drunk Mike" shows up.

Parallel Press/University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries consistently publish chapbooks that we here at Today's book of poetry admire.

The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom got a big thumbs-up from everyone in our office including Elliott, the office gopher, who generally only reads poets with a "P" in their name.  He knows everything there is to know about Purdy to Pound, Pratt to Paz.

Sweating the Bottle

     Even a lawyer carries in him the debris of a poet.

I love to push down the brown
paper bag to get to the mouth
of my forty and I love to screw
the cap back on after every swig.

It is the morning after a crackling
trial. I'm thinking about my gnome
of a client with his beady-black eyes
and salt-and-pepper beard -- the kind
of beard that comes right up to the eyes
like a mask.

The morning dew has covered my car
windows like a gauzy cocoon. I
hear a dog howling with the conviction
reserved for strangers.

While we waited for the verdict, my client told
me he had molested the boys for years.
He told me this because he knew
he was going to walk and it was time
to let me in on the joke.

I take the empty bottle and knead
the moist sides until the glass is warm
and the tiny droplets fall and pool
together and now I have enough
left for one more drink.


Erickson's all too brief The Lawyer Who Died in the Courthouse Bathroom has more to it than just poems that brush with the law, it is full of promise.

Here is a poet we will want to hear much more from at Today's book of poetry.  These poems raise the bar.

And if I am ever in trouble in Milwaukee, Erickson will be the first person I call.

Thomas J. Erickson

Thomas J. Erickson was born in 1960 and grew up in Kohler, Wisconsin.  He received a BA from Beloit College in English Composition and a law degree from Marquette University.  His poems have appeared in numerous publications including The Los Angeles Review, Quiddity International Literary Review, Mad Poet's Review, The New Poet, and Slant.  He is an attorney in Milwaukee, where he is a member of the Hartford Avenue Poets.  He is the proud father of Charles and John.

Thomas J. Erickson
Reads his poem "The Breathing Lesson"
Video courtesy of: Gerald So


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, March 6, 2015

Paper Radio - Damian Rogers (a misfit book/ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Paper Radio.  Damian Rogers.  a misfit book/ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2009.

There are a few people whose opinions about poetry make me pause and take notice.

If you read this blog with any regularity you'll know that Stuart Ross (Small Press Poetry God) is a poet I look up to.  He is my friend and when he tells me to read something it brings a new urgency to the task.

Another person I listen to is Bardia Sinaee (Poet/Editor/Publisher of Odourless Press).  On one of my rare visits to Toronto I was in a secondhand bookstore with Bardia and asked him what I should read. We had been milling over an excellent and vast selection of poetry - he was without hesitation and handed me Paper Radio by Damian Rogers.

I loved it.

That was a few years ago.  As always, Bardia knew what he was talking about.

You cannot imagine my delight when Today's book of poetry got a copy of Paper Radio in the mail from ECW Press/a misfit book.  The arcane rules of Today's book of poetry only allow me to write about books sent by publishers/poets, none that I purchase.  Now I can tell you about one of the books I have enjoyed with relish but was unable to share.

Don't Look

It's like when you eat sour candy,
how the sugar-coated acid
twists your tongue into a knot.

At the Ambassador Roller Rink
no one would slow-skate with me.

A boy rolled over to you during the power ballad
and I turned into a pillar of salt.

No, that's wrong. I mean, I felt a lot like a sand dune. Or like
that baby food jar our family member filled with volcanic ash.

I asked the DJ to help me prove I knew the secret moves
from transforming my body into four different letters --

Y: raise your hands to the sky.
M: touch your shoulders like a mountain range.
C: pull your belly toward the door.
A: place your palms over your head and pray.

He said no. He said we don't play that song.

I said oh. I said wait, hold on;
I am changing into someone
completely different and better.


Paper Radio was shortlisted for the 2010 Relit Awards and the Pat Lowther Award.  And for good reason.  These poems are electric, fully charged bullets.

Roger's dexterity and intelligence spew out in machine-gun bursts of ideas.  Monster slaying lines like this: "because you woke up hating yourself and thought of me" from the poem "One Lie".

Lines like this stop me in my tracks.  Paper Radio has a stream of consciousness feel that tapers down to laser precise insight at Rogers' whim.

In The Back of a Cab

I lean my body against the door
of a car I'll never ride in again.

In the long line of stores and restaurants
I'll never visit, your name blinks
on a sign that says it has your pizza.
I've never found my name
on any sign, in any city.

So many people move around me,
invisible within the labyrinths
of skyscraper and subway.
They can't know how I planned to save us all
with the secret of human happiness,
which just this morning
I held in my hand like a rock.

But today was too long --
now all I remember is
a few lines from a song,
something about 20,000 roads,
how they all lead back to me,
here, alone in a stranger's car

in the middle of the night,
secretly hoping the driver
who politely pretends I don't exist,
would devote the rest of his life
to taking me home.


You, dear reader, will be like me.  So entirely in love with and swept up by these poems.

Okay, a bit out of left field, but these poems, this book, left me feeling somewhat like I'd read one of Jerzy Kosinski's better novels.  Please know the high esteem I hold Kosinski in.  And it is just a feeling, like you've been in a conversation with someone whose intelligence has covered you like a blanket and you hope to hang on to some of that wise warmth.

Milk and Honey

A cardinal flits through the branches
and the bush appears to burn.

Who are we to say we were thrown out?

We fell asleep,
the garden withered.

We turned our eyes inward
toward our dearest lies.

After weeks of late snow
last year's daffodils shove up
beside blue and white hyacinths.

The grass is so green it's shocking.

This may or may
not be true:

I'm only here
to sing for you.


Paper Radio gets Today's book of poetry highest ratings.  Coach House Press with be launching Damian Rogers' second book, Dear Leader, on March 24.  Rogers' has also recently been named Poetry Editor for Walrus magazine.

Damian Rogers

Originally from the Detroit area, Damian Rogers now lives in Toronto where she works as the poetry editor of House of Anansi Press and as the creative director of Poetry in Voice, a national recitation contest for Canadian high-school students. Her first book of poems, Paper Radio, was nominated for the Pat Lowther Memorial Award.

“Damian Rogers’ troubled teens, ecstatic utopians, and distracted deities are evidence of a powerful poetic storyteller. In Paper Radio, nature has multiple personalities, perception sits at the table with emotion and superstition, and meaning speaks in dark, mellifluous tongues. This is a poetry of attack and decay, of synchronicity and sleight-of-hand, alive with sudden, vertiginous moments of clarity. It’s rare to find a young poet so deeply invested in both her own experience and the reader’s pleasure. A splendid, memorable debut.”  Kevin Connolly
“In Paper Radio, Damian Rogers emerges as a poet of startling clarity, intelligence, toughness, and tenderness. Her gifts for aphorism, for sudden swift changes of mood and perfectly rendered emotional landscapes, are those of a dramatist. There is not a dull moment in this book — and while that alone is a high accomplishment in this age of dullness, Rogers keeps us awake to a purpose. She keeps faith with the premise of the lyric, which is that, by speaking most truly from the self, we are able to reach others and stay awake to this business of being human together.” —April Bernard
The poems in Paper Radio are very brave. Many tend to look at the past with a real understanding that there is so much there that will never be made right. But what makes them brave is the way they pivot and then drive on with hope because, well, they have to. —Joe Pernice
“Sometimes memories are so distant, we only remember them when an old friend reminds us of those last events. Damian Rogers is such a friend. She tells us of dreams that sound like our own, shooting little arrows of insight that split the heart to reveal the shocking vulnerability of life. Paper Radio is a jewel of a book that you will want to read over and over and over again.” —Greg Keelor

Damian Rogers
reading from Paper Radio
video courtesy of ECW Press


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.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Some Talk of Being Human - Laura Farina (A Stuart Ross Book/Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Some Talk of Being Human.  Laura Farina.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2014.

Of course I like every book I post on Today's book of poetry - that's the entire point.

So how do I tell you when I enjoy something just a bit more than usual?  It's been a while since a book of poetry has made me smile in quite this way.

These witty poems have the dead-on timing of a stand-up comic and the genuine sincerity of a well meant sermon.

Some Talk of Being Human hints at being naive but Farina is only being coy.

Peterborough, Late Spring

The sky is the three chords
you know on the guitar.
Repetitive, rhythmic light.

Under it,
those well-written streets,
sagging like couches
on student porches.

Tangled sheets
contain our sweat.
This is known as evidence.

A record spins and spins.

The shadows we cast
on Hunter Street
lug instruments
in awkward cases.

This day is like performing
CPR with a cold.

I swear there was a shortcut,
but I can't seem to find it.
If we walk home the long way,
will you promise not to talk?


This book is from Mansfield Press's imprint A Stuart Ross Book - and that should come as no surprise.  These poems have some of the same perplexing and spectacular leaps of faith as those of Stuart Ross, no mean feat.

Farina has been a poet I've adored reading since meeting her back in 2007.  This Woman Alphabetical is a Pedlar Press book by Farina from that period, if you can find it you should pick it up.  It is simply marvelous.

But - not quite the gem Some Talk of Being Human turns out to be.

Poem after poem twists your maw into a different sort of smile.  Some of them will be new twists of fate for your face.

Family Reunion

The sandwiches are crustless!
The salads have layers!
Each woman knows by heart
a recipe called Heavenly or Dreamy or Delightful.
Major ingredient: marshmallows.

Uncle Ralph pulls up
in his white Lincoln Continental.
His two tanned legs
wander down from white shorts
to two white socks pulled parallel.
He opens the passenger door to reveal Aunt Barbara
already laughing.

Uncle Harry tells a joke about
a beautiful woman on the streetcar
but we don't get it.
Auntie Marilyn Todd tells us
she changed our mothers' diapers.

A stooped aunt I don't recognize
calls me by the name of my dead grandmother
and for a moment I see
the spaces in the crowd
were also invited.

And then it's darker
and their voices in the dark night
are a memory of the war,
how they saved their liquor ration--
so sure it would end--
held a victory party
on this very spot
sang these very songs
before they settled down
to invent our parents.


This is dead serious whimsy of the best kind.  These poems engage you in a conversation you end up responding to.  You start answering asked questions out loud.

Farina's Some Talk of Being Human is so thoroughly engaging, so sad-sack romantically human, I loved it.  Plain and simple.

Passed it around the office, now all the interns are clamoring for my copy of This Woman Alphabetical, which won the 2006 Archibald Lampman Prize for the best book of poetry by a poet from Ottawa.  It's going to the highest bidder.  They will be allowed to read it  -  in my office  -  after they finish the dishes.

The Waiter Brings Our Order of Hummus

There was good news today
about the future of bangs.

It is not as bad as we'd imagined.

My knee touches
your knee
under the table.

Our eyes meet
over grilled pita wedges.
Crumbs dandruff
from my mouth;
my fingers trace beige lines
on the table that dreams
of being rustic.

When I think of the number of times
I've wished I could draw.

When I think of the number
of sketches of you
I could have sold at craft fairs,
looking out a submarine window
or caught in a moment with a fox.

Do you remember that time we went up a mountain?
Or just after,
that time we came down a mountain?
All those miraculous days, my darling.
All those incredible journeys.


Today's book of poetry enjoyed Some Talk of Being Human as much or more than anything we're read this year.

If I were making a list, this book would be on it.

Laura Farina

Laura Farina's first book of poetry, This Woman Alphabetical (Pedlar Press, 2005), won the Archibald Lampman Award, given to the best poetry book published in Ottawa. She grew up in Ottawa and then gradually made her way west. She now lives in Vancouver.

  -  On This Woman Alphabetical:
"A brisk, engaging read. ... Farina's poems are refreshingly under-done, with an innate sense of the
energy and spontaneity of lyric. ... At her best, Farina plucks the tenuous line between contemplation and irreverence. There is something of Frida Kahlo here: the obsessive image-making: the mediations on personal pain; the surrealist impetus. Or of Georgia O'Keefe, in the poems' deceptively simple clarity."
      - Triny Finlay, Arc


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, March 1, 2015

Washita - Patrick Lane (Harbour Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Washita.  Patrick Lane.  Harbour Publishing.  Madeira Park, British Columbia.  2014.

Most of us are familiar with the poetry of Patrick Lane - for those of you who aren't - Mr. Lane is one of Canada's most respected and admired poets.

Patrick Lane has published over 30 books of poetry, Washita is his latest.

It's masterclass stuff.  These poems are piano-string tight and sing with a particular melody.

You never have to look far in a book by Patrick Lane to get to the heart of the matter.  Lane's poems often make me think of Raymond Carver's poetry, more for the effect on the reader than technique, but for me both men have a similar density and depth.


Iris blades cut through the last ice on the pond.
Emblems of endurance, they are what a man knows
who asks of the grey clouds they witness his passing.
I don't know where the water goes, remember the thin creek
I drank from when I lived in that cabin by the sea.
The doe grazed among fallen apples in my yard.
When I shot her she hung for a moment in the sky.
There were days back then I lived without regard for life.
Forgiveness comes hard.
Each year I rake the leaves and burn
the winged seeds of maples in the flames.
I kneel by the pond and ask where I am going,
what it is I must do. Bokuseki, these iris blades in ice.
When the rain dries on my palms it leaves the trace of Gobi dust.
Each night I breathe a far desert, vestiges of the fall.


"Bokuseki" is a type of "ink painting", like calligraphy, done by Zen monks in a meditative state.

This poem, a graceful response to death, guilt and mortality.  Lane doesn't fool around.  His poems have weight.

For physical reasons Lanes' process was altered for this book.  The resulting poems were carved out of hard wood, as a result, the sparse language that much more tempered by flame.  The reader is the winner in this dilemma, the ensuing poems are as tight as spooled wire.

For The Woman Who Danced
     With The Ashes Of Her Son

Strange how beautiful when we are diaphanous,
a bit of ripped muslin set against the sun, the wind
soft as a child's skin. Tragedy does that to us
and we are made the greater for our smallness.
A bright pebble among the discarded shells.
There are times I am a questing mole, fierce
in my love, lost as anything alive.


You can think of these reflective poems as meditations - but they are never sermons.  Lane continues to vigorously investigate what it is that makes us so unfailingly human, continue to uncovers what it is that might make us beautiful.

Solstice Coming

Typing with my left forefinger today. The poem is immensely slow,
one letter, one word, one line at a time. This and then this and ...
amazing how the images slow to an intimate crawl,
each word a salamander peering from beneath a stone.
The fish this winter are wraiths, the pond's perfect thoughts.
I have tried to love this quiet as the hours pass through me.
It is rare to feel anything deeply. My life is a feast if I allow it to be.
The slow rain falls without cease. It eats the ice, one drop at a time.
These days my body breaks down and I cannot lift my right arm.
My poems now are thin as I was when I lived in the mountains.
I tried to believe the lake when I came down from the high snows.
I watched the water for a long time from the safety of the trees.
It was a trout rising made me see what a day is, a ripple only.


Patrick Lane is not worried about spilling a little blood, he understands the cycles that life takes. That red flowing off of his hand and into both the earth and the ether where his poems become part of both.

Lane is a giant and we are lucky to have his big shadow, his beautiful poems.

Patrick Lane

Patrick Lane, considered by most writers and critics to be one of Canada's finest poets, was born in 1939 in Nelson, BC. He grew up in the in the Kootenay and Okanagan regions of the BC Interior, primarily in Vernon. He came to Vancouver and co-founded a small press, Very Stone House with bill bissett and Seymour Mayne. He then drifted extensively throughout North and South America. He has worked at a variety of jobs from labourer to industrial accountant, but much of his life has been spent as a poet, having produced twenty-four books of poetry to date. He is also the father of five children and grandfather of nine. He has won nearly every literary prize in Canada, from the Governor General's Award to the Canadian Authors Association Award to the Dorothy Livesay Prize. His poetry and fiction have been widely anthologized and have been translated into many languages. Lane now makes his home in Victoria, BC, with his companion, the poet Lorna Crozier.

"like physical blows, [Lane] wields his pieces like small threats of intense beauty."
     - Globe and Mail

Patrick Lane
Calgary Spoken Word Festival, 2008
video by: ciswf


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.