Sunday, May 31, 2015

Our House Was On Fire - Laura Van Prooyen (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Our House Was On Fire.  Laura Van Prooyen.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland, Ohio.  2015.
Winner of the Robert McGovern Memorial Publication Prize - Nominated by Philip Levine

You can feel the swift current of an undertow all through Laura Van Prooyen's award winning Our House Was On Fire -- but that doesn't hinder or diminish in any way, these poems are top of the food chain regardless of what river they are swimming in.

You can feel the great weight of what John Irving called "the undertoad."  And rightly so.

There are often times when reason means nothing, dark currents beyond our strength are at play, angry gods conspire against us.

The toast gets burnt.

This Child

She woke and told me
her dream. She had been
in the kitchen gathering
knives, She
was planning to cut
and eat me. This, she
said, is what bad people do.
Now, how do I begin
to worry about
this? My little tenderloin
snuggles my hip in the easy
chair. I stroke her
hair while she kisses
my arm. We keep
telling the other, I love you
and I love you, and we do,
though we both know
where the knives are.


Van Prooyen is an explosive delight to read.  These poems are full of unexpected crossroad type moments.

Van Prooyen isn't cavalier because she has ice-water in her veins and a hard diamond where her heart should be.  In another day and age she'd be the moll who was smarter than the mobster.  Harder too.


It can be like this. One day
to wake up thinking goldenrod. Coneflower.
Not as suggestions, but directives,
so that I load the children in the car
and go. And it can be

that I hold a trowel
in my hand, thighs scuffed
with dirt and manure, my face
likewise streaked, when I see,
for the first time in years,
someone I once loved.

It is then I wonder
what would have happened
if I rose from bed thinking: tiger
or lily. Or if
I had stayed
that one night long ago.

But I'm here.
And for a moment, I follow
that staircase again, open the old
apartment door. Stand in the bedroom
on that familiar, uneven floor

with a trowel in my hand, a hole at my feet,
and my daughter, eyes bright like daisies,
asking what I saw.


Never have I said less about more.  But it is sometimes hard to qualify exactly what it is that gets under your skin about a book of poems.  Under your skin in a good way.

Laura Van Prooyen's Our House Was On Fire is riveting.

Today's book of poetry admires honesty, of course.  We all do, at some level or another.  But it strikes me that Laura Van Prooyen may be capable of a little more honesty than the rest of us.

I'm pretty certain it comes at a cost.  It is a tough path to navigate the world without the buffer of suspended disbelief.

Today's book of poetry marveled at the endless stream of small moments Van Prooyen stole from my life and found fit to put in her poetry.  I am equally sure she has a few from your life in here as well.


You loosen my hair, and my head buzzes
like a wall of TVs. I don't know

what I'm thinking. I want
a thrill. I want a tangerine.

Our old cat is forever mewing,
and upstairs a trumpet and flute duet.

Did you happen to see your daughter's
latest drawing? My head is cracked egg.

But now, you dip me in the kitchen.
Your thigh pressed to my thigh

makes me think of chicken,
and how boys laugh

when they say, breast. You hold me
and you kiss mine, so that

however much by day I forget your body,
I find my way back.


These are some sharp poems.  No one is getting through this collection without nicking themselves and leaving a little blood.

Laura Van Prooyen is a smiling assassin poet, a real killer when she needs to be.

Laura Van Prooyen

Laura Van Prooyen is the author of an earlier collection of poems, Inkblot and Altar, and her poetry has appeared in The American Poetry Review, Ploughshares, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. She is a recipient of grants from The American Association of University Women and the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund. She lives in San Antonio, Texas.

“Van Prooyen’s 58 poems remind me of a long, restless insomnia—interrupted by dreamscapes, memories, fantasies, and touching portraits of an unnamed husband and their young daughters—punctuated by startling images and fascinating observations. Their house is not burning except in imagination; there are allusions to a child’s serious illness and others about youthful vitality; saying no, perhaps meaning yes. These are not domestic texts, but rather a journal of mysterious variations.”
     --Roberto Bonazzi, San Antonio Express-News (February 15, 2015)

"I think yes. I say no," Laura Van Prooyen declares in this book of assertions and questions where danger lives at every turn--a child threatened by disease, a love passing through uncertainty, all the what ifs and keep at it of our days on the planet. Like music, these meticulously paced poems play over and over unto dark trance their observation and grief, again and again the natural world furious and spare until all seems to stand still. "Understand, the plot doesn't matter," this highly lyric poet insists because her staring stops time. "I felt bad for looking," she tells us. "Still, I looked."
     --Marianne Boruch

"Our House Was on Fire is an arresting, beautiful, and deeply satisfying book of longing, yet longing for what can never be known. And that gives this collection its powerful complexity: what is wanted or contemplated is tempting, but impossible. True desire recognizes what one might lose and also what one must give. Much is given in this book, much of the poet’s mind and honest heart. Van Prooyen’s poems offer a celebration, a carefully laid out feast."
    -- Maurice Manning

Laura Van Prooyen
rreads: Eighth Stage of Love
video:  Arts Education TV


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, May 29, 2015

The Amazing Mister Orange - Marvin Tate (Curbside Splendor)

Today's book of poetry:
The Amazing Mister Orange.  Marvin Tate.  Curbside Splendor.  Chicago, Illinois.  2014.

Bird House

I saw a bird fall from its tree house,
into a bed of debris where it instantly died.
A passerby noticed it too and said, don't take it personal,
death can be like that, unexpected and without reason.
She then continued on with her search through all the havoc
and beauty caused by god


Marvin Tate is my new guru, if I can track him down.

Marvin Tate is Rahsaan Roland Kirk squealing out perfect melodic beauty laced with the shrieks, squawks and sirens of real everyday life.

Marvin Tate is a shark in shallow water thrashing his elegant discomfort.

Marvin Tate's The Amazing Mister Orange is so down to earth wise that you don't feel the earth shift beneath your feet until you try to take your next step and realize the landscape has changed.  Subtly.


The majority of your day is spent peeking out
of your bay window at the day runners changing places
with their afternoon replacements. One of them is the son of an old
girl friend, an irregular booty call, that never amounted to anything
and so you're not surprised to see her youngest and oldest slinging
dope in the middle of a school day. You feel hypocritical in your new
role as sporadic community activist, convinced that their type of
entrepreneurialism is worse and more dangerous than yours could
ever be; you make the call, police arrive, a reality-show spectacle
ensues, and three out of the five are caught. You feel good about
your anonymity; reassured that your role as snitch, weed advocate,
and community activist is on point. Tonight you sleep with the
window open. The street you live on is moonlit. The lookouts and
stickups contemplate their losses - Pharoah's "Deaf, Dumb, and Blind,"
the soundtrack to your dreams.


And just so you know -- ANY poet who mentions Pharoah Sanders in a poem is going to get huge props from Today's book of poetry.  First question we ask any intern in an interview at Today's book of poetry is "what's your favourite Pharoah Sanders album?"

End of the interview for those without an answer.

When reading a book for the blog the first time I write a few notes as a reminder.  The second time through I write down the page numbers of the poems I'd like to include.  With The Amazing Mister Orange the side of my page of notes looks like a calendar listing for a month, the shape of a long ladder.

Today's book of poetry is totally convinced, Marvin Tate is a Monsterpoet.

The Amazing Mister Orange (for Ainsworth)

Mister Orange has a habit of pulling down his pants
in public places like at Bauble Land and at open mic poetry readings,
he calls these public exhibitions, "works in progress." I respect Mister
Orange; he's clairvoyant, with an original sense of humor but has
problems dealing with the present. Once he rescued a calico from
being eaten by a finch, by feeding the bird catnip, while the
frightened cat flew into his arms. Outsiders see our friendship as
superficial and exploitative, solely based on if I have any weed or my
willingness to sit through one of his philosophical tirades about
chakra and chanting the word O-YA! This, he reminds me, relaxes the
soul. From his new deck of tarot cards I've chosen the drunken court
jester. I too wish to be carefree, but first (he insists) I must rid myself
of negativity and self doubt. Music from downstairs is playing, the
singer's name I can't recall. Irked by my lack of concentration he
returns to his makeshift bed of nails and levitates. Never have I met
a brother so irreverent and uninhibited. Tomorrow we'll meet
underneath the viaduct or in the park among the dope dealers and art
fucks. I'll try to impress him with the name of the obscure soul singer
while he burns incense to keep away the many evil spirits.


These stories, these lovely narrative poems, read like a hit-parade of the best stories your friends have yet to tell you.  They are funny, knowing, witty, sharp, remorseless, confident.

We really couldn't ask for more.  This book kicks it.

Marvin Tate

Marvin Tate is a visual artist, author, educator, front man and songwriter. A notorious poet, he has performed widely, including on National Public Radio's This American Life, Def Jam Poetry, The Heartlands in San Francisco, the Chicago Blues Festival and the Eindehoefen Museum in the Netherlands. Tate has also collaborated with longtime multi-instrumentalist and former Wilco member, LeRoy Bach, and singers Tim Kinsella and Angel Olsen for for a collection of songs called Tim Kinsella sings the songs of Marvin Tate with LeRoy Bach and Angel Olsen on Joyful Noise Records (2013). 

“Marvin is the funky genius... Marvin is the writer for this age and his poems help us complicate the normal and ponder the obscene. Somewhere between the poem and the wisdom of Job, Tate offers us another way in, but only if you really want to go with him. Marvin made me a soul singer and a better reader and a fan of being myself and bigger than myself. Marvin’s words help us believe.”
     —Theaster Gates, Jr., renowned Chicago artist

“Walking a dog, apologizing to a lover, recognizing a kindred soul in the gesture of a stranger—these minor considerations and mundane activities open the reader to complex humorous and empathetic observations craafter with the lyricism of a songwriter and the precision of a minimalist. I was reading Marvin Tate and thinking of him in the lineage of Wanda Coleman and other poets who write their poems on the bus and leave them there for other riders in solidarity and care.”
     —Cauleen Smith, filmmaker, Drylongso

Marvin Tate
Def Poetry
"My Life 1959 to present"
video courtesy: dmetrius


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, May 27, 2015

Secret Rivers - Marilyn Cavicchia (Evening Street Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Secret Rivers.  Marilyn Cavicchia.  Evening Street Press.  Dublin, Ohio.  2014.
Winner of the 2013 Helen Kay Chapbook Prize

You are driving on a big highway and imagining you can hear the interior dialogues of every other driver behind the wheel of every other vehicle.

Welcome to Marilyn Cavicchia's Secret Rivers. It's a clever trick, the speaker's are identified by their first names and their vehicles.

Today's book of poetry has long maintained that popular maxim that we are all stars of our own movies.  Cavicchia uses that sensibility masterfully as she pulls a myriad of fully formed voices out of her magic hat.

Poignant and funny, these poems are every traffic jam you've ever been in.

Barbara, Driver, Chrysler Town & Country

If that balloon truck cuts me off one more time,
I'm going to smash into it. Asshole.
What kind of idiot keeps turning their signal
on and off like that? Yeah, go ahead and
get in the left lane. We all know you're in
a big hurry. You're so much more important
than the rest of us. All I'm trying to do is
get myself home without being killed first.
It's like the whole world has gone crazy,
and no one's locked up anymore.
You never know who's behind the wheel
and what they might do. When I think
of how we used to hitchhike on those
summer days, and nights. I got
through it all and am alive to tell
the story (though I did once have to
jump out into traffic -- every hitcher
has a story like that).


Cavicchia's style finds empathy for every voice she employs.  She recognizes that every single person is somehow both fixated with their own narrative and inexplicably connected to the larger narrative, the bigger story that embodies every voice, every vehicle.

Cavicchia weaves this tapestry of conversation between Hondas and Fords into something we can admire.

Ben, Front Seat Passenger, Toyota Corolla

It's great no long being
the fat kid on the bus.
I mean, I'm still the fat kid,
but it's not as bad now that
no one kicks my seat, asks
about my man boobs, which,
OK, I know I have, I see
myself, too, in the mirror
(though sometimes I try
not to). I don't know why
Shawna drives me to school.
She's like, three years older
than me, really cool, so, yeah,
I don't know why she'd want
to hang out with me, much less
give me rides to and from,
every single day, even when
I have band practice. She sits
in her car, reading, until I'm
done. She asked my parents
one evening; it was really
business-like, except it was
embarrassing--she told them
some of what had been going
on, bus-wise. My mom looked
like she was the one who had
been punched, spat on, called
faggot, and oh, yeah, asked
about the man boobs. My dad
wanted me to keep riding the
bus, to build character, but I
think I have character enough
already. Shawna and my mom
worked it out--she comes
a few minutes after my dad
leaves for work, and she doesn't
honk her horn or anything like that.
She doesn't have to. I'm always
ready to ride with Shawna. It's like
this was always my seat, and she
was always saving it for me.


Marilyn Cavicchia is in the driver's seat (it had to be said), and the conversation she lets the reader in on is riveting.

It is strangely familiar as well -- we have all been in these cars, had these conversations with ourselves.  Cursed under our breath.

Today's book of poetry felt instantly connected to the very human follies and foibles of these drivers and passengers, they could easily be you or me.

Julie, Driver, Ford Taurus Wagon

I'm showing apartments
every day now. This one
lady, she keeps calling me
to complain about this
and that. Her flight was
delayed, and now there's
a storm somewhere
between Columbus and
here; she's not used to
driving in snow,
and she doesn't have
any sweaters. Listen,
I'm not going to pick
her up from the airport,
and about the sweaters,
I'm sure they have Google
in South America, where
she's from. She could
have looked up our
weather from there,
especially if she's so
brilliant that they
have to import her
from a whole other
continent. All she is,
is a scheduler. She
schedules the workers.
She must be damn
good at it, is all
I have to say.


All those unsaid truths swirling around our heads and the private spaces of our automobiles.  These are things we say to ourselves but not usually to anyone else.  These are things we say in private, in anger, in fear -- Cavacchia has made a river out of all those things we want to, need to, must say.

Marilyn Cavicchia

Secret Rivers is Marilyn Cavicchia’s first published chapbook. Publications in which her work has appeared or is forthcoming include: Graze, Naugatuck River Review, Hawai’i Review, The Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, and THEMA. Marilyn was born in Seattle and moved to a few different places, spending most of her childhood in Ohio. She earned a bachelor’s in English and a master’s in journalism, both from Ohio University. Marilyn now lives in Chicago with her husband, two children, a box turtle, and a fancy goldfish. She is an editor at the American Bar Association and a communications specialist at Chicago Child Care Society.

Marilyn Cavicchia gives vivid voices to the drivers and passengers traveling a rainy stretch of freeway in eastern Ohio. She conjures distinctive verbal identities for each of her personae, and each poem’s vignette delights the imagination and the ear. A further joy is to trace the “secret rivers” of relationship among these characters: between the anti-fracking activist and the grandmother looking forward to a check for the drilling rights to her yard; between the divorced father driving a balloon van and the road-ragey driver of the Chrysler behind him; between the energy contractors new to the community and the locals in whom the rapid changes inspire both bewilderment and hope. Cavicchia’s brilliant poems precisely observe the details of life in this city—yet her Ohio freeway represents every motorway in America, where rivers of vehicles propel their occupants toward regret, nostalgia, and inevitable transformation.
      —Jennifer Bullis, author of Impossible Lessons

Cavicchia knows that the true soul of any place resides not in its well-trod highways and main streets, but rather down the psychological back roads traversed only by locals, though well known to everyone. Like shorthand Sherwood Anderson, each of these compact poems maps the crossroads of boom and bust, of loyalty and betrayal, of prejudice and unfulfilled dreams that haunt virtually every small American town whose inhabitants are exploited as much by their own well-intentioned fears as any outside interests.
     —William P. Tandy, author of Smile, Hon. You’re in Baltimore!

The residents in Secret Rivers navigate a community coming apart at the seams; we’re privy, poem by poem, to the thoughts that worry below the surface of ordinary encounters. With language both spare and intimate, Cavicchia explores isolation, resentment, polite existence, and occasional rivulets of hope, of people facing the inevitable advance by an unnamed company promising big payoff and no risk, in exchange for permission to rive what lies underneath a dying town’s yards and land. “So many decades beyond saving/ that fear begins to look like hope”, we read. These poems remind us to listen, to each other and ourselves.
     —Valerie Wallace, author of The Dictators’ Guide to Good Housekeeping

Marilyn Cavicchia
Reads at Paging Columbus: Sealed Envelopes, Secrets, and Ciphers
February 2015
video courtesy: Hannah Stephenson


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, May 24, 2015

searching for a pulse - Nazifa Islam (Whitepoint Press)

Today's book of poetry:
searching for a pulse.  Nazifa Islam.  Whitepoint Press.  San Pedro, California.  2013.

Nobody has the heart to tell Rosemary that she's dead.  Rosemary is in a hellish void where Wheel of Fortune plays non-stop on the television and no one comes to call.

searching for a pulse does not have a happy ending.

Many of the best books don't.

Nazifa Islam's world and work are populated with spectacularly sad people fighting hard to emulate the sorrow of Sylvia Plath.

he had a peg leg too

She married a man with one glass eye
and divorced him the next day but he
still got his green card. She weeps now
while sitting in front of her television
watching Wheel of Fortune every night.
You haven't met her yet, but her name is Rosemary.


This is a first book for both Nazifa Islam and a first book of poems for Whitepoint Press.  Impressive on both counts.

These poems are messy little cries for help wrapped in elegant tissue.  These poems have a music all their own, it is a lulling dirge and it whispers you in.

searching for a pulse is utterly charming in a Morticia Adams/Janice Joplin/Ann Sexton sort of way. There's some dark attraction to those obsessed with the dark attractions.

Nazifa Islam is all over the legacy of Sylvia and her thirst for that oven, that one long sleep.

With no hope in sight that hope will prevail, Islam's characters spiral towards self-determined fates like Sufi dancers spinning towards the light.

he was taught truths

He told Rosemary
she was pretty when
she isn't for a very
long time. Finn isn't
particularly kind he
just actually believed
she was beautiful.
Rosemary used to
roll her eyes at him
but she was secretly
pleased all the same.
He stopped saying
it though after Janet
leaned over one
morning to whisper
I used to think she was
beautiful too but I've
learned better now.


Islam sustains a tone of humerous despair -- and you have to have a dark soul yourself to see the humour in these poems.  Luckily, Today's book of poetry is equipped with just such an entity.  It is hard to sustain the low notes of the human psyche and not tailspin into something too black to read.

Islam escapes that dangerous terrain with just the right slice of cherry twist.

lavender-scented stationery

The fourth time Rosemary
tried to die she decided to
do the thing properly. She
wrote goodbye letters to
everyone she loved and
mailed them before slitting
her wrists. As Rosemary
lay in her hospital bed,
restrained and under
sedation, both Alice and
Finn stopped by to burn
their letters in front of her.
They'd decided I love you --
but not quite enough was far
from being adequate. to
this day, Janet sulks about
not getting a letter.


Rosemary is nobody's baby.  In a world where no one can give love it is hard to sustain hope.

Even impossible.

These very good poems don't end happy, but I already told you that.

It is the reader that reaps all rewards.

Nazifa Islam

Nazifa Islam grew up in Novi, Michigan. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English and has an M.F.A. from Oregon State University. Her poetry and paintings have appeared in a number of publications, including Anomalous Press, From the Depths, A Baker’s Dozen, and Flashquake. While in London during the summer of 2012, she visited not one but two of Sylvia Plath’s houses in Primrose Hill. She can frequently be found banging away at her manual typewriter, regularly updating her blog Thoughts Interjected, and dreaming of one day visiting L.M. Montgomery’s Prince Edward Island.

You can visit Nazifa at her blog:


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, May 22, 2015

The Sliding Glass Door - Scott Poole (Colonus Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
The Sliding Glass Door.  Scott Poole.  Colonus Publishing.  Spokane, Washington.  2011.

Scott Poole's The Sliding Glass Door is George Carlin Steve Martin Jim Carrey funny, but he's no comedian.  These poems were written by an adult Dr. Seuss, someone who sees and understands the poetic parallel universe.

It's obvious Scott Poole wasn't born at all but formed out of diverse parts in some strange laboratory at the hands of a literary Dr. Frankenstein.  Luck for us.


I was in one of those Jiffy Lube
six-by-six waiting rooms,
picking at my crack, when
I noticed a bald man with a long white beard
staring at me while I tried
to relieve the itching
through persistently unwieldy layers
of denim, cotton and rain jacket material.
I thought: This guy looks just like Aristotle.
What if this is Aristotle,
a man who decided that everything
in the universe should be pigeon-holed,
cubbied, stuffed, and jammed into
its own singular definition
so that an average guy of average mind
may be able to understand the vagaries
of the universe through
the routine categorizations of daily life?
That was really nice of him to think of all that.
I hoped I wasn't insulting his theories
but instead proving them to be true somehow
by picking my butt in a Jiffy Lube.
Obviously, Aristotle is dead,
but at least it took my mind off
the itching for a moment.
Thanks Aristotle.


"Thanks Aristotle."  Scott Poole cracks me up.

Poole muses so clever it is impossible not be enthralled with where he is headed next.

These poems explode like carefully timed land-mines of joy and precise wit.

Poole is politely realigning the way the reader sees the universe by inviting them into his private party.

I want to hear what Poole has to say about everything under the sun, whatever he wants.  Each and every poem in this collection is a damned monster.  And Today's book of poetry loves monster poems.

By Way of Explanation

I was driving up the freeway exit ramp
and a cardboard sign
in a man's hand
read: "Please help, Scott."

First, I thought
you're kind of limiting your options.
I mean how many Scotts
could there possibly be
that might drive by?

What if your name
was Pepe
and you had raging case of altruism?

But then I thought
this man's name is Scott
and he just wants you to know
who you are giving to.

That's brilliant.
A personal touch.
This guy is a pro.

But then it occurred to me
he might be asking for help
for me, Scott.

And I thought
that's really, really nice of him.
Nobody's asked him to collect help for me.

And I suddenly realized
that maybe I could use a helping hand
and I didn't even know it.

I looked up to the heavens
and thanked them
for bringing this special soul
into my dismal day

and that's
when I accidentally
ran him over with my car.


What sort of surreal madness is this?  The very best kind.  The Sliding Glass Door is an open invitation to a Brave New World quite unlike any you've been to -- and shockingly familiar.

Scott Poole uses poetry the way Escher uses a pencil -- and to similar result, beautifully illustrated consternation.

How Good It Feels To Die

I was buried yesterday.
Yes, maybe I should have been more careful.
I was taking a stroll through the graveyard
and this coffin was just nestled there in the ground,
and you know it was one of those sleepy fall days
where the sun is soft and slants in
from the right on a cool carpet of air.

Maybe it's those leaves . . . the shuffling
through the graveyard . . . the whispering
that always turns me into a baby, says,
"Just take a nap here before dinner time."
Hey, I can't help it if somebody left the lid off.
You can't leave this fluffy softness just lying around
in a muddy graveyard.

I'd been writing poems all day and trying to
come up with new metaphors for clouds,
so many metaphors that if felt like
each cloud was sticking a thousand white asses at me.
And you'd be surprise how comfy a coffin is.
I mean, some dead people really have it made.
I imagined this is how lunchmeat feels
in between two pieces of soft white bread.

I don't know how long I was there but
I woke up in the dark trying to roll over.
I'm not that stupid. I had my cell phone. I knew where I was.
You'd be amazed what great reception the dead get.
"Hi, honey, it's me.
Yes, I'm at Lone Fir."
"Oh, not again," she always says.
"Yep, I'm calling from the grave.
It's the fresh dirt by the big oak near the road.
Call me back if you can't find it."
And then I wait
and the best part is always the wait,
snuggled inside the dark,
listening for shovel taps,
knowing those who love you
are on their way to bring your back.


Today's book of poetry almost always loves his job, my job.  Books like Scott Poole's The Sliding Glass Door move me to generous glee.

I gave everyone in the office a bonus, the rest of the day off and a big kiss when they left.

Everyone except Dave, the new intern, he has to sit in the corner reading The Sliding Glass Door until he smiles, or the wine runs out, whichever comes first.

Scott Poole

Please note: this Bio is lifted, without permission, directly from Scott Poole's Facebook page.
Scott Poole is the author of three books of poetry, The Sliding Glass Door, The Cheap Seats and Hiding from Salesmen. He's the "house poet" of Oregon Public Broadcasting's show Live Wire!. He is also the founding director of both the Spokane Book Festival (Get Lit!) and the Portland, OR bookfestival (Wordstock). Currently, he is a software developer in Portland, OR.

With an irresistibly zany and vaudevillean energy, these poems begin in an anecdotal mode fully suited to recounting a 2,523 banjo hootenanny or a party at which the host serves 800 scrambled eggs -- enough to fill a plate the size of a hot tub. That mode gains depth and resonance, turning toward the elegaic, the poignantly surreal. In one poem, the speaker alternately smears and cleans a sliding glass door until he can look through it and see those "...animals on the edges of time, performing / the rituals from which they were born." Each of Scott Pooles' artfully colloquial poems visits "...places / we never thought / we would go for love / or the loss of it."
     - Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate, author of The Voluptuary, Blood-Silk, and The Wild                                            Awake

I've walked smack into a sliding glass door on more than one occasion. They look left open, or somehow you just don't notice. They're tricky that way. Scott Poole's poems are like that, too: clear
and wide and inviting, with a crazy fun party going on inside, then wham -- you've smacked into something you didn't know was there, some sorrow, or wisdom, or rearrangement of the way you see the world. So go ahead and laugh your ass off because lots of these poems are hilarious. But be prepared to crash headfirst, too, into truths you may have overlooked and into moments of daily beauty you didn't know were there.
     - Rob Carney, author of Story Problems; Weather Report; and Boasts, Toasts, and Ghosts

Like most of us you probably crave a world where men sit around listening to tape recordings of their deceased wives doing the dishes; a world where there are deeply disturbed fish that move slowly through cold, dark water kissing the asses of other deeply disturbed fish; a world where an old man can still destroy his whole village simply by owning an elegant elephant billy goat. If this is you, then you have come to the right place. Scott Poole's The Sliding Glass Door is, among other things, sometimes very strange and always very funny -- it puts a reader under its immediate spell. What are you waiting for? It is time to read The Sliding Glass Door.
     - Michael Earl Craig, author of Thin Kimono; Yes, Master; and Can You Relax in My House.

Scott Poole
Reads on Live Wire Radio
January 2, 2009
video: spoole28

Please note that Colonus Publishing sponsors a number of poetry contests/prizes.  Follow their link.

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, May 20, 2015

This World We Invented - Carolyn Marie Souaid (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
This World We Invented.  Carolyn Marie Souaid.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2015.

You all know how Today's book of poetry loves a list poem.

Carolyn Marie Souaid gives us a killer with "City of Everything."  This poem, does indeed, contain everything.

City of Everything

City of arrivals.
City of missed connections.
City of plate glass windows shouldered in fog.
City of terminals and interminable waits.
City of Beefeater.
City of laptops and mobile devices.
City of flux.
City of escalators.
City of criss-crossed time zones.
City of no time to lose.
City of left-hand turns down a staircase of shopping bags.
City of Gucci.
City of umbrellas.
City of "Excuse me, can you tell me...?"
City of looping echo.
City of strollers.
City of wheelchairs.
City of carry on and carry off.
City of parabolic laughter, 7.5 on the Richter scale.
City of Double Wear Stay-in-Place Makeup.
City of blush.
City of Apple.
City of lithe women in arching doorways.
City of legs.
City of incubating disease.
City of extended naps and early risers.
City of day.
City of ordinary details, like the sun, repeating.
Flip-flops and hideous toes, flip-flops and hideous toes.
City of hangnails.
City of rot.
City of concrete.
City of stiff.
City of shine.
City of cufflinks.
City of shirts and business suits pressed into cardboard.
City of standby.
City of hurry up and wait.
City of beeping electric carts backing into the throng.
City of turbans and burkas and Biotherm.
City of parasites on toilet seats.
City of farts.
City of India, Poland, Spain, France, Turkey, Japan, but mainly India.
City of credit cards.
City of faulty wiring.
City of Christmas tchotchkes in October display cases.
City of grandmothers in turtlenecks.
City of convergence.
City of fragrance.
City of chocolate.
City of paper.
City of glass, chrome, lead; city of nickel.
City of neon, marble, steel.
City of hard.
City of edge.
City of nerve.
City of trench coats.
City of emergency exits.
City of maps.
City of girls going to Idaho.
City of lost in the shuffle.
City of cloying loudspeaker distortion.
City of fat.
City of broom-pushers.
City of urinals.
City of Starbucks.
City of accelerating innovation.
City of hyper.
City of connections.
City of "Stop," "Go," "Move your ass."
City of billboards.
City of blinking.
City of cancelled reservations.
City of complainers.
City of lineups.
City of corduroy, denim, suede, leather and cotton.
City of canvas.
City of vinyl.
City of rubber.
City of stretch.
City of oversized watches.
City of Made in China.
City of mustard stains.
City of buttonholes.
City of unravelling hems.
City of dharma.
City of who among us is dying of cancer?
City of c'mon now, which one of us?
City of weakened immunity.
City of abandon hope ye who enter here.
City of night.
City of cooled surfaces.
City of cobweb.
City of drift.
City of swirling green gas.
City of border patrols.
City of passports.
City of fog.
City of departures.


So that was crazy fun and a little amazing, but atypical of the rest of the book.  Go figure.  No more list poems.

Souaid isn't playing with the same normal deck of cards as the rest of us.  She has Tarot cards of her own design, old baseball cards with gum stuck to them, the card from the package of cigarettes the ghost of someone's dead grandfather left sitting around.

Put another way, Souaid knows things we don't.  How else can you explain her interstellar wit at precisely the right moment - even though all your senses were telling you that something else was called for.  It isn't sorcery but these poems inhabit the reader like spells.

I kept saying stuff to myself like "did I just read that?", "did she really just make that leap?"  I could make a list of poems that caused various gasps of astonishment.


Africa was an inch and a half wide on my ruler.
The teacher smiled and pasted something into my book,
either a gold star or a moth with exceptional markings,
I don't recall.

She died. Lots of people died.
Push-pins came off the map, but more went in.
Overnight, the population doubled.
Where sprightly children once leapt about,
there were meaner ones
who excelled at games--

tagging a hapless ant with a magnifying glass,
harnessing the sun, funneling it into a prick of light,
then watching the scrabbling insect shrivel
into a seed.

It was, of course, the same destiny that awaited Joshua,
whose miraculous entry into the human race began
tentatively, on a bed of straw.

It isn't any one individual per se; it's the layers
of human thought that append themselves to an idea
and set its entire life course.

Back two thousand years,
blue sky met the ochre sand
in a perfect line.
It was the wandering shepherd who triggered all the fuss--
the celebratory gesturing of his hands.


Carolyn Marie Souaid's This World We Invented is one of those books you WILL hear more about.

Reading This World We Invented gave me spontaneous fits of joy.  Deeply disturbing when you are generally a miserable goat.  This book was a kick in the ass.

Again and again and again Today's book of poetry has told you readers how much we admire smart -- but it is more than that -- Souaid has her fingers so delicately placed on the pulse of her audience that they hardly notice when she starts to pinch.

The Holocaust Tower

You lost your gloves at the Jewish Museum.
Autumn trees were unseasonably bright,
the plazas a patchwork of knackwurst
and graffiti, beer and bicycles and surreal
collectibles of days gone by:
gas masks, canisters, helmets and arm bands,
the rare and not-so-rare.
Items from the Cold War
in their original boxes.
Everything else was uber-real.
Real coffee to go.
Real people from everywhere,
waving their art around.

Three days we watched poetry films
from Norway, Canada, Egypt,
pixilated worlds composed and decomposed
the time it took the froth to settle on our coffee
It's what happened afterward.
We were looking deeply into the eyes of the oven-bound--
great, gaunt sockets. It was there, I think.
Neither of us noticed. Somehow your glasses fell
unannounced into the quiet sweep of tourists.

Or we were too focused
on the darkness at the end of the hall,
the absolute void of a stilled pavilion,
which lured me but swallowed you whole,
your silhouette disappearing
into the matrix of '44,
where your mother shivered inside a cattle car,
World War II exploding overhead.

Later, we found you a new pair.


This World We Invented is full of fascinating beauty.

If I could, I'd award Souaid a special prize.  Not many books of poetry dance like this.

Sublime and superb.  I would like to use every compliment I can think of.


Carolyn Marie Souaid

Carolyn Marie Souaid has been writing and publishing poetry for over 20 years. The author of six books and the winner of the David McKeen Award for her first collection, Swimming into the Light, she has also been shortlisted for the A.M. Klein Prize and the Pat Lowther Memorial Award. Much of her work deals with the bridging of worlds; the difficulty, perhaps the impossibility of it, but the necessity of the struggle. She has toured her work across Canada and in France. Since the 1990s, she has been a key figure on the Montreal literary scene, having co-produced two major local events, Poetry in Motion (the poetry-on-the-buses project) and the Circus of Words / Cirque des mots, a multidisciplinary, multilingual cabaret focusing on the “theatre” of poetry. Souaid is a founding member and editor of Poetry Quebec, an online magazine focusing on the English language poets and poetry of Quebec.

(This bio was lifted from the QWF Literary Database of Quebec English-language authors.  You can see more of that here:

"These bold, important poems have grappled with beauty and chosen honesty; they venture into territory where the lyric stops in dismay, horror, silence. Poems from the middle of a life, in the midst of a world that wounds and is wounded, they offer no easy consolations, but because they are made things, in their moving evocations of brokenness they reflect a hope for change."
     -  Stephanie Bolster

Carolyn Marie Souad
reads from This World We Invented
Video courtesy:  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, May 17, 2015

Family Matters: Homage to July, The Slave Girl - Shelby Stephenson (Bellday Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl.  Shelby Stephenson.  Bellday Books.  Pittsburgh, PA.  2008.

Shelby Stephenson's Family Matters: Homage to July, The Slave Girl gives us so much to discuss it is hard to know where to start.  It is all haunting.

The subject of this book is a family association, a family history, a deep connection to, slavery.

This is very personal poetry of the most public kind and it reads like a history book that has been turned into an illuminated text.  Stephenson inhabits another time and place and take us, the reader, with him.

"Memory believes before knowing remembers"

                                     -William Faulkner, Light In August


Your story, July, sticks in my throat:
violence splits the syllables down a back road,
the smell of horsesweat, leather
creaking in the gee and haw of tongue and trace,
lightning bugs dancing on Percy's wagon,
his hat, the hole in the crown, pulled down,
bobbing, while the slow mules
go on up the hill
where he will "carry the truckrow," his hindend facing the sun,
the mule, humbling and humoring toward the shade,
the end, the beginning, a piece, fabric
cut from the sweat--the rows topped,
middles swamped with rotten blooms,
greenblack juices, splattered tobacco worms--
and Percy barely moving the truckrow,
a frail man bloated with jagged currents,
little rivulets his pores spilling.


Percy moves across the yard
to get the knife
to sling the weeds.
You chase the bees
to the tops of blooms
now laid low
not one left
to kick about like a mule's
flopped ears.
Would the missus looking from the window
say while the man rakes in piles
his day's work--
there--slave's work, after all?
I see you there,
your comfort uncomfortably
stationed at the master's door;
your wound in the landlord's side
coming through the blooming sounds
brought on by going from field to field for somebody else,
never for yourself
nor your children I know about, their shrill hunger
mornings when the doorknob was cold,
the hearth cold, floor cold.

Percy didn't have a cow
Percy didn't have a mule
Percy didn't have a hog

he would split stovewood
tossing each stick aside with his bandaged thumb
rubbing his bloodshot eyes with the back of his chopping hand.

Worked his tail to the bone,
told skinny tales
and Minnie was his
fosterdaughter, July, motherdaughterchildwife!


Considering how Minnie Birch picked the plantbed, those dime-sized tobacco
leaves pushing the canvas in April, it's so quick, don't you think, squatting on her knees,
using a spoonhandle to pinch out the morning glory and mullein, the grass, of course,
the worst part of the job, since it is everywhere, all months, alive or dead. "Minnie, is your
Hard Rock growing?" "Like a weed!" Snuff ages her lower lip like a promise the father
might dart around the corner and light up the path like a horn blowing--who could bear
such news? Minnie stares at July, not even wondering (or caring).


A field full of Hands trudge up at dinnertime, desperate from heat and lack of water, the
bench where the tobacco is being prepared for the barn a din of wonder. The Help hums
"Amazing Grace." The men and women from the field seem hotter than ever, their
gummy clothes clinging to their bodies, feet black with sweat. Nearby: dirtroad, shack,
some tarpaper: inside, a big woman, nearly blind, says how her time has come: through
she needs plenty, she does not need money now: "Where is July? If I only had her to
talk to, cook for me, help me along, sing me a song."


You turn back the canvas
and squat with a brokenoff spoon
to dig the weeds,
tiny as fleas,
around the tobacco plants
the size of dimes.

Percy knots the canvas,
on long snake of plantbed covering,
places it top the tobacco racks.
Bench Help hums:
The tobacco's being tied on sticks stuck in wooden horses.


You and Mae Dinah hoe the sheepburrweeds
out of the corn--"Makes it greener," Mae Dinah says,
"but I don't know if I can last--with my Elvis tired,
Lord, just plain tired down on his feets."

Hallie Sanders looks down at the cotton on the sheet, wondering after this one
and that one, the one on the weighhorse, given up as offering: "Mister Paul, you
got some more work I can do?"

Hallie's brother, Algie, wants to become a boxer like Joe Louis,
Daddy ordering some gloves from Sears-Roebuck,

     drawing a ring in the pasture
     and Bud, nicknamed Little One,
     comes down from Mr. Hector's where he works and beats
     Algie who has prepared for his bout
     shadowboxing pines bobbing and weaving
     and Little One pounds his face so good and hard
     Algie pulls at the swells on his face for days
     Little One's friend who comes with him to referee
     down on his hands and knees
     outside the scrawled circle, flapping the dirt with his palms
     saying Little One done whupped him Little One

Buddy Dublin streaks the countryside in a SoupedUp
Cadillac Coupe de Ville: My daddy's a leatherskinned wampus cat
they call Pearl . . . my mama's a miracle whelped in hell and I am Dublin-

Buddy's my name - I can whup any man - love a woman to shame! Mauling a wedge
sinking into trees he centers cordwood for woodcutting tobaccobarns in steady windshake
of falling pines and blackgums. Slinging nasties with Paul's John Deere putting between

barn and field, wheels roll, spin--

a note in Obedience's diary: July knows the withers of mules like the back of her hand
and the drinkbottlecaps Clay nails to the bagging of the drags to hold the tobacco leaves.


Today's book of poetry thinks that slavery was bad, in parts of the world it still is.

Shelby Stephenson does pay homage, pays respects backward in time, he does this by being there and taking us with him.  Stephenson renders sad history eloquent and elevates the discussion by making it real.  These poems feel authentic, you can almost smell time, feel the heat of the southern sun.

That's the Way it Was


Oldtimey preachers promised sin.

Van Della, princess, bronzedskinned,
could string tobacco fast as handers could get it to her.
Swing her hips, too; the earth moved galaxies
above her widebrimmed straw,
lifting globes paradise might claim
as plumbing for plumage,
the most splendid single light grass could yield to,
her heels down, toes pointing those bare feet
quivering grains under the chaineytree,
sand cooling her toes as she approached the tobaccobench.

Leaning forward, I see you bring the blackening pot to a boil,
the garments turning spotless on the fluted washboard,
listening to what the white folks say, hearing your mother pray again,
             telling you, July, wait and work - and once Freedom is declared-
             don't make no crops beyond the time, no matter what, and run and tell other
             slaves they can quit work now they are free! No matter what!


Uncle Reuben told me you are doing good if you have enough money to buy
             fertilizer for next year's crop.
I told him Seth Woodall paid Pap George $413.25 for July, the slave girl, in 1850.
He and Aunt Mary farmed just twenty-two acres.
Everybody wanted poundage in tobacco.
We would heat a kettle on the stove and pour the scalding water in the stems.
Uncle Reuben would build a fire in the washpot and heat his water
and drib it on the stems of the cured  tobacco to gain a little weight.
He could grin and stir up a little money.


Old Jim was Reuben's mule before Rhody.
Reuben traded him in for one younger.
Didn't you know him, July?
I admired his muleshoes.
I went barefoot year round.
Wintertime my feet cracked open.

I could really pick cotton.
I'd get in the field early in the morning:
                it weighed more when dew was on the balls.
Even when my hands cracked open from the cold I kept on filling up my sack.
Me and Obedience would slip off to a sweet potato bank.
She told me a potato hill looked like a igloo.
I wondered where she'd seen one - I won't never forget that.
We'd build a fire and roast the white-fleshed batatas
               in the hot ashes and we'd sit and eat and warm our hands over the fire.
That was really living.


The material in Family Matters: Homage to July, The Slave Girl raises far more questions than I can address or answer.  I get squeamishly enthralled when I read books/poems that give me a start, the short sharp shot of adrenaline right to the brain stem.

Shelby Stephenson takes a brave and heartrending trip into the personal narrative of slavery and his own family history and mines it, looking for truth, finding so much grace.  This is startling candid honesty and it makes for startling good poetry.



Grandmuh Nancy leans on her elbow: oh my infantile paralysis-
she purses her lips,
that indexfinger in the middle,
her hair in a bun
a splintery look's not yet ruint.
From her Bible and Old Baptist hymnals
she teaches you to read and write.
She dreams that you will sing for her when she is gone:


April 1, 1923

Dear July-

     I wrote you a short letter Dec. 4th, 1922, but never mailed it.   I only write for
relief of mind with no intention of sending it to you then.  Again I have a desire to write
you, trusting that it is of the Lord that prompts the same.
     I will try to tell you the dream I had about you.  If I mistake not it was the week
before the 4th Sun. in July.  I dreamed we were in a church house.  It was communion
and footwashing time.  You and I were sitting together.  You asked me to "take off your
shoes and stockings that we might wash each other's feet."  Oh, how unworthy I felt.
Words cannot express my feelings.  For years I had a desire to wash your feet, but I had
always felt so little and unworthy I could not ask you and at last this happy privilege was
mine!  In silence I meditated.  As I took off your stockings I saw there was a hole in your
left one large enough that your whole heel was bare.  This troubled me.  And I thought if
only I had a new pair of stockings I would give them to your to wear to the yearly
meetings.  I wished that I had some good enough for you.  We washed each other's feet
and I awoke.  This dream troubled me.
     Finally it came to me this morning:  I do not have to know what our dream
means.  I offer it to you for what it is worth, along with my love.



You and Greatgrandpa Manly picked blackberries
down near the edge of the woods
in front of the Old Place
and Manly stirred up some wasps
and those things wrapped me up
and stung me around my eyes.
Mister Manly chewed some Picnic Twist
and put some of the juice on my stings.
Then he took his pocketknife and picked the redbugs off me.


This is poetry that I fell into like a lake.  Refreshing isn't the proper word, and it eludes me. Encompassing perhaps.  Good poetry doesn't grow old.  The truth is always the best story.

Shelby Stephenson

Shelby Stephenson grew up on a small farm near Benson, in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina. After leaving the farm for college, he graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (where he also studied law), University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is professor of English at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, where he has edited Pembroke Magazine since 1979. The state of North Carolina presented him with the 2001 North Carolina Award in Literature. He has received the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Memorial Award, North Carolina Writers Network Chapbook Prize, Bright Hill Press Chapbook Award, and the Brockman-Campbell Poetry Prize. In addition to Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl, he has published a poetic documentary Plankhouse (with photographs by Roger Manley), Middle Creek Poems, Carolina Shout!, Finch's Mash, The Persimmon Tree Carol, Poor People, Greatest Hits, Fiddledeedee, and Possum. With his wife Linda he has made three musical CDs Hank Williams Tribute; Stephenson Brothers & Linda Sing the Old Songs; When Country Was Country. Shelby and Linda live on the farm where he was born.
Shelby Stephenson has been recently named Poet Laureate of North Carolina.

An intense and hear-breaking poetic narrative which, in its exploration of historical and personal materials, holds affinities to the work of Susan Howe and to James Agee's classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Family Matters is a strenuous questioning - and exposure - of the fictions of ownership, whether of persons or places, graves or farms.
     - Allen Grossman

Shelby Stephenson
North Carolina Poet Laureate
reads his poem "Etchings"
video courtesy:  The News & Observer


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, May 14, 2015

Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems - Sarah Tolmie (Baseline Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems.  
Sarah Tolmie.  Baseline Press.  London, Ontario.  2014.

Sonnets that are sweet to the eye and the ear.

The old sonnet is not the most common popular form, not in the real world, or at Today's book of poetry.
           BUT Sarah Tolmie has struck a rich vein, Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems reads vibrant, modern and true.

Not to suggest that Tolmie has taken the sonnet to the roller derby or a Tom Waits concert.

These poems ring off of the page with considerable authority and precision dancing around inside the certain boundaries of form, they dance modern.


These are old problems, old as Augustine.
He said we must have faith in things unseen:
Believe our friends befriend us, lovers love.
We cannot know, because between us lies
The great distance of mind from mind, galaxies
Apart. Yet from across the room I feel
Your heartbeat quivering on the air.
I start when you come in, involuntary.
You disturb the air and I'm inspired
By your chemistry: I breathe you in,
As real and clear as oxygen. Fort, da
Is bridged in juice. Even if you stand aloof,
Faultless information loops across our
Space, no matter what Augustine says.


There is a simmering heat beneath these poems.  It is tangible on the edge of each page.

Tolmie is one pole-axed pole-cat with a problem.  Unrequited love is always a bitter trail of tears, and for all her obvious wisdom Tolmie gets tangled up in the wrong doors of love just as foolishly as the rest of us.  Bob D. might say that she was "tangled up in blue".

The ace card here is these perfect little gems Tolmie has carved out of her chosen form.  Like a jeweller on a mission, she has carved each facet so.


See you and raise you. Raise you like an island
Hove in sight. Raise you like the wind under
A kite. To an angel down from Paradise.
Raise you to the power of the infinite.
All games of chance bore me to death, so
I raise you like a feather on my breath.
No-one bets against the gods but fools
And they have nothing else to do, except
Rule nations and shoot to win at pool.
Not so I you. You are the real deal.
I've spun you high on fortune's wheel
Because you deserve to be there, in my view.
And then, seeing what you have become
Just staying in the game, I've won.


The heart wants what it wants, what it can't have, what will hurt it most.

Historically, hearts suck.  They don't work like a brain, won't listen to reason.  We are hopeless meat-sacks of love and desire and our weak-kneed hearts know it.  So does Tolmie.


We think love can beat death and entropy.
It can't. Best you can do is have it age
And change with you, capably. Holding
A new penny in your hand doesn't make
You any younger, and only richer
By one cent. The youth and beauty of
Another does not mean yours is not spent.
What did you buy with yours? Of that love,
What is left? What interest has accrued?
And how much would you lose, only to
Start again with a single penny? Not
Even yours, but merely lent? A sum
So small you hardly see it in your palm,
Just a glint for which you would trade all.


Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems resonates for me.  These poems are so damned smart and vibrant and those are things we love here at Today's book of poetry.

If you get a chance and use You Tube, look up Dexter Gordon's song "Tanya".  Play it.  These poems are that good and in the same mood.  Gets richer with every listen, these poems do the same with every read.

Sonnet in a Blue Dress and Other Poems is another blue ribbon publication from Baseline Press. Karen Schindler continues to get Today's book of poetry's vote, not just because her books are all so beautiful, they are, but because she continues to find such good poetry to fill the pages.

Sarah Tolmie

Sarah Tolmie is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Waterloo, trained as a medievalist at the University of Toronto and Cambridge. Her novel The Stone Boatmen came out with Aqueduct Press in April 2014. Her first full-length poetry collection,Trio, is forthcoming from McGill-Queen's in 2015.


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, May 12, 2015

kissing keeps us afloat - Laurie MacFayden (Frontenac House Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
kissing keeps us afloat.  Laurie MacFayden.  Frontenac House Poetry.  Calgary, Alberta.  2014.

kissing keeps us afloat is a sustained torrent, a laughing rush, a relentless scream/yodel of passion.

This red boat has no oars as it crashes against the shores of love, breaks up on the rocks called desire.

And Laurie MacFayden could care less, she's laughing her ass off.

That's not really true.  She cares.  Like the rest of us MacFayden's humour usually comes at some powerful price.

But check this out, a list poems of sorts - and you know how much Today's book of poetry enjoys a good list poem.

to be honest, i lied (my country song)

to be honest, i lied when i said i never meant to hurt you
when i said every single word is true
when i said it was a wrong number
when i said that looks really good on you

to be honest, i lied when i said i can keep a secret
when i said the cheque is in the mail
when i said i wore this just for you, sweetheart
when i said i'd be happy to post your bail

to be honest, i lied when i said i wasn't flirting
when i said i'm ready for this
when i said it doesn't hurt
when i said i've never been kissed

to be honest, i lied when i said i have the answer
when i said i do not care
when i said i'll always love you
when i said i really like your hair

to be honest, i lied when i said you're perfect, angel
when i said i'm never doing that
when i said yes, this is my natural colour
and oh no, that doesn't make you look fat

to be honest, i lied when i said you were the first
when i said you'll be the last
when i said you're the only one for me, darling
when i told you the god's sacred truth about my past

to be honest, i lied when i swore i'd never drink again
when i said i could never be untrue
and baby, i told a big fat juicy whopper
when i said i could never lie to you


Fearless, charismatic, funny, elegant, eloquent and frequently so horny you'd think the sky was falling before her final possible hump.  Laurie MacFayden has done something wonderful in the dazzling kissing keeps us afloat.

And we love, love, love the joyous title.  Around the office it won the poll for best title this spring.

This collection is a "page-turner".  You really can't wait to hear what MacFayden is going to burn up and turn red next.

lying woman

once upon a time
i lay a rough canvas on my paint-spattered floor.
i lay down upon it
and traced an outline of myself.

this particular portrait was long overdue.
i used a black felt pen
which was surprisingly co-operative
fluid, even.

the result was not entirely fetal
nor was it a spread-eagle sprawl.
you see, i wanted to make a collage, a map,
an abstract expansionist island of myself,
my body's outline,
its linear essence and bulk; fully clothed
but without the usual armour.

i wanted to put the foothills on my chest,
unleash the prairies across my upper back.
the eyes, of course, would be paris.

i wanted to make little toe drips
at the ends of my feet for findhorn
and tofino and that lake in the muskokas.
i invited aotearoa fern to caress my cheeks
and salt spring orange to gloss my lip and tongue.

i intended to leave space between shoulder and ear
for the city that never sleeps, but perhaps that should be lower down.
i wanted the desert of ghost ranch in the small of my back
and i would place a bit of boreal forest under each arm,
maybe a malta temple on each buttock.

i wanted new orleans between my legs

the plan was to lie back and let fierce waters wash over me.
the wet colours would be random and delightful.
the tides would go maelstrom on me in brilliant psychotic precision
not so much wreaking havoc as quickening me to a familiar moon,
or 12 moons really, all of which would float and bob
around my laughing head
just behind my imperfect right ear.

i wanted my outline to be a lying woman.
never a nude but an honest woman simply lying
a self-seeded simple woman lying
in the truth colours of her own skin
stretched to the limit and varnished by sky and sea
and probably a bit of blood.

i wanted none of the words to need to make sense.
i wanted none of the words.
i wanted the hues to be primal, and selfish,
and unwilling to open the usual locks.

i wanted the abstract interventionism of it all
to spontaneously combust, leaving just my paris eyes twinkling
and my new orleans delta burning,
all glorious damp and jazzy.


What MacFayden has done over the course of kissing keeps us afloat is to romp ribald, I mean Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Erica Jong rutting - and like those excellent writers, reach so much more of the reader than simple erotica ever could.  In these poems love does not always win, passion is not always requited.

That's not the point.

It is the celebrations, the joy you remember that gets you through the dark.  The promise of joy that brings us to the threshold of another dawn.

All that jazz and more is in the keen, crisp kissing keeps us afloat.

Watch what she does in the last lines of "Liars' Motel".  Perfect.

liar's motel

we plotted for months
but now that we have arrived
at this unfamiliar place
packing cherries and beaujolais,
both of us are nervous,
she, tentative

rented sheets, pay-tv
mountain view
we have also brought
toothbrushes, hiking shoes
pears and honey for the morning
but no cellphones
or laptops
nothing to distract us from
each other

are we really going to do this?

it is just you and me
the weekend infidelity rate
and this awkward, scoundrel weight
heavy on both of our chests

so we fidget and stall
open the cheater's wine
sip across the room from each other
and discuss the drive

made good time
thought there'd be more traffic
...nice little town

nice. little. town.
and suddenly the curtains are on fire
your mouth is on mine
we forget how to speak
we forget how to breathe
neither of us remembers
how this got its start.



That Laurie MacFayden, she's a howler.  An Allen Ginsberg howler, celebrating hope and hard love.

Today's book of poetry thinks MacFayden's kissing keeps us afloat steps up and delivers big time.   Love isn't all sweetness and light, she knows everything.

Laurie MacFayden

Laurie MacFayden grew up in southern Ontario and has lived in Edmonton since 1984. Her debut book of poetry, White Shirt, won a Golden Crown Literary Society award and was shortlisted for the Lambda Literary awards. A painter, poet, photographer and avid traveler, she spent more than 30 years as a sports journalist. Her work has appeared in The New Quarterly literary journal, Queering The Way, and DailyHaiku I: A Daily Shot of Zen. When not wordsmithing or playing with light, she enjoys drinking strong coffee in faraway places. She blogs at and her art lives at

“Swinging and searing verses, meditative narratives, honky-tonk tunes and catalogues of favoured things (including what lovers bring — or leave behind), all merge to make Kissing Keeps Us Afloat a book for tongues and lips to sing. MacFayden knows painting and music, and she loves words and women. The result is art without limit, craft without regret, and poetry that faces trauma and embraces the erotic. MacFayden’s poetry is both red-hot and cool-blue, white lies and film noir, memory and truth. In the supposed mundane, she shows us, transcendence awaits.”
     - George Elliott Clarke

“The colour red infuses Kissing Keeps Us Afloat as blood, anger, and love infiltrate our lives. Red flows as wondrous crayons shading in the shape of a life lived passionately. With flashes of humour and the occasional playful rhyme, MacFayden urges us to keep loving, losing, caring, and colouring. Not always with the red crayons, but these poems remind us to keep those ones — in their hues of crimson and lust — well-sharpened.”
     - Kimmy Beach

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.