Monday, November 30, 2015

Goodnight Judith Fitzgerald (1952-2015)

Today's book of poetry would like to say goodnight to
 Judith Fitzgerald.

Ms. Fitzgerald died suddenly, but peacefully, at her Northern Ontario home on Wednesday, November 25, 2015 in her 64th year. Cremation has taken place. A Celebration of her Life will be announced at a later date. Judith Fitzgerald was the author of twenty-plus collections of poetry and three best-selling volumes of creative non-fiction. Her work was nominated and short-listed for the Governor General's Award, the Pat Lowther Award, a Writers' Choice Award, and the Trillium Award. Impeccable Regret was launched this year at BookFest Windsor to critical acclaim. Judith also wrote columns for the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, among others. "Her work is incredible...entirely inventive, deeply moving, and universally attractive." -- Leonard Cohen. For further information, to make a donation, order flowers or leave a message of condolence or tribute please go to or call Paul Funeral Home, Powassan, ON (705) 724-2024.

* * *

I met Judith back in the late 70's at Artspace in Peterborough, Ontario.  Dennis Tourbin had arranged for Judith to do a reading at CityStage or perhaps even in the main gallery, I don't remember.  Dennis introduced me to Judith because she wanted to meet poets from Peterborough.  Judith was extremely kind and supportive from our first meeting.  It really was the first time I'd met a real published (with an established press) poet who had taken a genuine interest in my work.  We corresponded for a long time because writing letters is what you did back then and I miss getting and sending letters.  Now I'll have to miss Judith as well.

We were friends for a while and then fell out of touch like many people do.  I'd see a new book of hers and hope she was doing well.  

It saddens me to the core when poets I know pass away.   

Today's book of poetry wants you to remember her name, at least for today.

* * *

you touch me
inside and out
shower me
inside and out
bringing in the evening
through your hands
like sheep and sheep dogs
in the hills
bringing in my love
like crazy hills
dropping the sky
into our hands

- Judith Fitzgerald
Lacerating Heartwood, Coach House Press, 1977)

* * *

Here is the Wikipedia list of Judith's work:


  • 1970: Octave. Toronto: Dreadnaught
  • 1972: City Park. Agincourt, ON: Northern Concept
  • 1975: Journal Entries. Toronto: Dreadnaught Press
  • 1975: Victory. Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1977: Lacerating Heartwood. Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1981: Easy Over. Windsor: Black Moss Press
  • 1983: Split/Levels. Toronto: Coach House Press
  • 1984: The Syntax of Things. Toronto: Prototype
  • 1983: Heart Attack[s]. Canada: privately published
  • 1984: Beneath the Skin of Paradise: The Piaf Poems. Windsor: Black Moss Press
  • 1985: My Orange Gorange. Windsor: Black Moss Press
  • 1985: Given Names: New and Selected Poems 1972-1985. Ed. Frank Davey. Windsor: Black Moss Press
  • 1986: Whale Waddleby. Windsor: Black Moss Press
  • 1987: Diary of Desire. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press
  • 1991: Rapturous Chronicles. Stratford, ON: Mercury Press
  • Ultimate Midnight. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press
  • 1992: Habit of Blues: Rapturous Chronicles II. Stratford, ON: Mercury Press, 1993
  • 1993: walkin' wounded. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press
  • 1995: River. Toronto: ECW Press
  • 1999: 26 Ways Out of This World. Ottawa: Oberon
  • 2003: Iphigenia's Song (Adagios Quartet vol. 1). Ottawa: Oberon Press
  • 2004: Orestes' Lament (Adagios Quartet vol. 2). Ottawa: Oberon Press
  • 2006: Electra's Benison (Adagios Quartet vol. 3). Ottawa: Oberon Press
  • 2007: O, Clytaemnestra! (Adagios Quartet vol. 4). Ottawa: Oberon Press
  • 2015: wtf,


  • 1997: Building A Mystery: The Story of Sarah McLachlan and Lilith Fair. Kingston, ON: Quarry Music Books
  • 2000: Sarah McLachlan: Building a Mystery. Kingston, ON: Quarry Music Books, Millennial Edition
  • 2001: Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy. Montreal: XYZ


  • 1982: Un Dozen: Thirteen Canadian Poets. Windsor, ON: Black Moss
  • 1986: SP/ELLES: Poetry by Canadian Women. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press
  • 1988: First Person Plural. Windsor, ON: Black Moss Press
  • 2000: Bagne, or, Criteria for Heaven, by Rob Mclennan. Fredericton, NB: Broken Jaw Press

* * *

It's a sad day here in our office.  Milo is sitting in the corner.  We have fourteen or fifteen of Judith's titles on our shelves and Milo is plowing through them with a "do not disturb" sign taped to his forehead.  Kathryn is making lists of dead poets and has the Cure blaring some sad song.

Tomorrow is another day.  Goodnight Judith, goodnight Judith, goodbye Judith.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Yellow Door - Amy Uyematsu (Red Hen Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Yellow Door.  Amy Uyematsu.  Red Hen Press.  Pasadena, California.  2015.

The first thing I would tell you about Amy Uyematsu's very smart collection The Yellow Door is that this narrative is not going to be what you think.

Uyematsu has endured a life of being the "yellow other" with her eyes wide open.  These poems tackle her journey as she explains the world to herself.  Uyematsu is a not-quite-invisible minority living in a society that was quite willing to forcibly encamp her family and every other person she knew.  Joy Kogawa admirably tread this water in her unforgettable novel Obasan which was published in 1981.  Amy Uyematsu adds to that necessary conversation with the interceding thirty-five years experience in the dominant culture.

These poems take us from then to now, share both the lessons we need to remember and those we need to forget.


    for Roger Shimomura's "Eighty-Three Dirty Japs"

this is not buttercup happy sun poem no yellow happy faces to paste all over my room
I still pay attention to yellow light warnings my young life unfolding along that yellow peril trail
just like you, Roger, always the foreigner the ugly jap strange how ugly can still mean invisible
the slitty-eyed general the snake with thick horn-rimmed glasses the eunuch commie spy
charlie chan and fu man chu are just the jekyll and hyde of the same yellow bellied alien
and piss-yellow terror can be seen in the eyes of that white trucker in redwood city
who tells me there's nothing worse than a pregnant jap but at least he's better
than the yellow fetish freaks who can't get enough of us sexy geisha and china girls
no matter if we're from vietnam korea or san francisco we lotus lovelies are all the same
just listen to that blue-eyed boyfriend who swears I look like hong kong-born Kathy
though she's 5 inches taller with eyes pointing down and mine slanting up
yellow lurks in hordes like the 83 of us dirty japs mugging for the camera
but sure as the law which put Roger and Grandpa and Auntie Alice in camp
there's no way to tell the good yellows from the bad and I'll be ready the next time
we're misnamed the enemy yes the first to line up with my fellow
genghis and samurai invaders raising our yellow devil fists


Today's book of poetry gets the sense that Uyematsu is not bitter but there is plenty of righteous anger underneath a hard, hard line of polite poetic civility.

As you will remember, Today's book of poetry is a complete sucker for the list poem and Amy Uyematsu hits this one right out of the park.

At Least 47 Shades

The goldfinch in its full spring molt.
The bee pollen of sticky and thick.
The quince to perfume a new bride's kiss.
The ocher yellow in Vermeer's pearl-necklaced woman.
The opal cream floral on a kimonoed sleeve.
The zest yellow of a Nike Quickstrike in limited numbers.
The imperial yellow embroidered robes.
The Aztec gold sent by Cortes to Spain.
The Zinnia gold favored by butterflies.
The iguana who keeps watch on Mayan ruins.
The straw hat a cone woven with young bamboo.
The rising sun of Japan's Amaterasu leaving her cave.
The sand dune that swallows the film's lovers but keeps them alive.
The coast light of sun lost in fog.
The chilled lemonade from the fruit of bitterness.
The Manila tint to sunny the laundry room.
The blond and boring heartthrob.
The yellow flash before the grin gets too tight.
The lemon tart with a mouth to match.
The starfruit which can mean two-faced in Tagalog.
The fool's gold of sojourners and farmers.
The golden promise that still lures us here.
The sunshower which turns my tawny skin brown.
The banana split of Asian outside white underneath.
The Chinese mustard stirred with a dribble of soy sauce.
The yellowtail tuna father cleaned and sliced thin.
The yolk we ate raw with sukiyaki and rice.
The pear ice cream we licked that Tohoku summer.
The moonscape suffusing a rice paper screen.
The theater lights which make the audience vanish.
The electric yellow called Lake Malawi's yellow prince.
The daffodil that doesn't match these mean streets.
The marigold for night sweats and contusions.
The summer haze which splits open the sky.
The slicker yellow bands on those 9/11 jackets.
The dandelion that bursts through sidewalks.
The blazing star we still can't see rushing towards us.
The yellow rose legend of a Texas slave woman.
The atomic tangerine of Los Almos, New Mexico.
The Jasper yellow of gemstone and James Byrd.
The flame yellow as bone turns to ash.
The wick moving in time with my measured breath.
The first light an eyes latches on to.
The whisper yellow as a pale strand of moon.
The yellow lotus that's nourished by mud.
The poppy spring returns to the Antelope Valley.
The wonderstruck even in these old eyes.
The Chinese lantern riding a night sky.
The sparkler a child waves in the dark.


Charlie Chan, Bruce Lee, Madame Butterfly, Suzy Wong, General Tojo, Genghis Khan and every other stereotype march through Amy Uyematsu's The Yellow Door.  As a matter of fact I am listening to Ryuichi Sakamoto's "The Last Emperor" as I'm typing this up.  Stereotypes abound - but so does Yuji Ichioka and all he represents.  Yuji Ichioka was an American historian and civil rights activist who coined the term "Asian-American."

Uyematsu isn't trying to instruct her audience in anything but she is willing to share her insight into what it is like growing up inside a dominant culture endlessly amused by the shape of one's eyes.

Uyematsu is able to work her painful decades of assimilation into this narrative without rancour, her absolution comes with accepting and rejoicing in the parts of her ancestral culture that give her a stronger sense of belonging to something that loves and celebrates that which she cherishes.

Zen Brush

      it was like holding a piece of straw
      above an endless ocean
      --Monk Song Yoon

I am dreaming of fields
before the harvest

where everything moves
to sun and wind

wave after wave
a sea of golden yellow

embracing the ground
with seeded eyes--

what rain will fatten
this piece of straw

which warm beam
of morning light--

with a single stem
I wake once more

to know how far
I've come to taste you.


The Yellow Door sure made for an interesting morning read today.  We were all humbled by the words we could not pronounce, the names we mumbled through, and we were deeply moved by the rest of it.  Amy Uyematsu's journey to a better understanding of her life experience is a chance for us Gaijin, those on the outside of Uyematsu's Japanese experience, to get a look inside.  She has given us an opportunity to better understand her perilous trek.


Amy Uyematsu

Amy Uyematsu is a third-generation Japanese-American poet and teacher from Los Angeles. She has published three previous poetry collections: 30 Miles from J-Town (Story Line Press, 1992), Nights of Fire, Nights of Rain (Story Line Press, 1997), and Stone Bow Prayer (Copper Canyon Press, 2005). Her first book was awarded the 1992 Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize. Her forthcoming title is The Yellow Door (Red Hen Press, 2015). Amy was a co-editor of the widely-used UCLA Asian American Studies anthology Roots: An Asian American Reader.

- See more at:

"The Yellow Door is both an exuberant and heartfelt dialogue between the poet's past and present. Amy Uyematsu, now a grandmother herself, now stands in the middle of five generations, pondering decisions made by her immigrant grandparents as well as her younger self. The role of yellow in forming and reforming Uyematsu's ethnic and political consciousness is explored ferociously without apology. Once viewing herself as an outsider, Uyematsu has found freedom to truly dance. A pitch-perfect collection by one of LA's finest poets."
     - —Naomi Hirahara, Edgar Award–winning novelist

"The Yellow Door is a mature and ambitious book, unapologetic about identity politics and peopled with literary friends of the Asian-American movement and other vivid 'historicized' apparitions. Charlie Chan, relocation camps, Executive Order 9066, sansei brides . . . all the familiar movement monikers will make the reader nostalgic for her activist past. . . . Sigh, those were the days when social protest really mattered! A thoroughly compelling read! An enthusiastic 'thumbs up!'"
     - —Marilyn Chin

"Amy Uyematsu holds nothing back in this insightful, compelling and poetic narrative that gives a personal voice to the history of our nation's Asian-American citizens. Indeed, there are poems of struggle and pain here, but also of humor and joy, for at the heart of this work is the love, honor and rightful pride of a Japanese-American poet whose commitment to freedom and justice combines with dignity and compassion as she unflinchingly engages the world that brings itself to her door. I am terrifically moved by this work."
    - —Peter Levitt, Recipient of the Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry

"Amy Uyematsu is one of LA's best poets, one of our most necessary voices. The Yellow Door takes us on neighborhood walks and beach walks along the Pacific and across generations, enjambing eras and pungent seasons in a phrase, granitic continents and the salt of history folded in the creases of caesura. I'm grateful for this book, which I receive like a bowl offered redolent and steaming with both hands."
     - —Sesshu Foster

Amy Uyematsu
Reads her poem, "Three"
@ Beyond Baroque, Venice, California
December 7, 2013
Video: Askew Poetry Journal



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.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Vancouver - The City Series: Number One - Michael Prior, Editor (Frog Hollow Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Vancouver - The City Series: Number One.  Michael Prior, Editor.  Shane Neilson, Series Editor.  Frog Hollow Press.  Victoria, British Columbia.  2015.

Today's book of poetry rarely looks at anthologies but there are exceptions to every rule and anything that comes through our door from the esteemed Frog Hollow Press is going to get a serious look. Good thing.

Vancouver - The City Series: Number One is the start of a very excellent idea.

Here's what Shane Neilson has to say:

     Frog Hollow Press aims to publish a series of chapbooks which are edited
     by an emerging poet from a Canadian city. This poet will curate 10 other
     poets from their hometown. Each of these poets are provided two pages of
     stage. The poets will not have been published in chapbook or trade book
     forms at the time of our selection process, and their poems are meant to
     reflect the city they live in.


The soles of my feet brown and hard from blisters
earned chasing sunlight patches under cedar cathedral

canopies. I squeezed loam and clutched seeds between
my toes to lay roots everywhere I walked and crowned

myself queen with vines and leaves. This was my
kingdom, promises tucked under lichen, my name pressed

into knotholes. Sun-baked blackberries crushed inside my
mouth. I was always careful to avoid thorns but

my fingers still stained red. My lips still stained red. I wore a
yellow dress so in the late afternoons, landscape turned to

gold. Uncle Jack could see me flickering between trees as
he sat on the patio, vanilla pipe smoke calling me back. "You're

lucky," he said, "There used to be bears here. Big ones. They
used to come right up to the house asking to come in. You're

lucky they're gone now. They're all gone." And when the cold air
curled against me I wrapped myself in quilts and cricket

lullabies, sat under a shimmering river, and drew pictures in
the pin-holed darkness. I don't remember going to sleep back

then, only waking up. No one recognized me when I returned
home. I had to relearn how to tie my shoelaces. The freckles on

my shoulders faded but I kept the yellow dress. It doesn't fit
anymore but sometimes I bring it to my face and it smells of smoke

and ivy. Sometimes I grab handfuls of soil, handfuls of sun. I still
catch myself putting clover behind my ears, humming old

songs from far away. Sometimes my reflection looks more bear
than woman and I think: Oh, so that's where they went.



Now that is the way to announce your entry into Canadian letters with authority.  Emily Chou's "Brauron" is a delight.  It is vibrant, clever and full of immense promise.  Marian Engel will love this poem, I think.  We certainly did here at Today's book of poetry.

There are ten interesting reasons to like this chapbook and to feel very hopeful about future editions, Michael Prior has done good work in rounding up these young pros.

Take Megan Jones as another example.  "The Skydiver" is one sublime piece of work.

The Skydiver
              after "untitled" by Chad P Murray

In the unfinished painting,
a man in a red suit
floats above white
clouds, frayed bits
of cotton. The skydiver looks
down onto green-gold fields furrowed
in two by an indigo line.

A bright flame, his body licks
the divide. With arms outstretched
he meets the air--hard, brittle, one million
doors slamming
in a vortex--but the painter hides
in the lee of the easel, making it
look easy. And our bodies
become buoyant, too.

Half the painting is sky, after all.

We look to the diver
for how we should feel:
but his face is all beige
a brushstroke, a question mark.

Green-fields darken where
clouds hunch, still as stunned
rabbits. Will he pull
the cord, releasing the parachute?

The unfinished painting leans
against metal table legs.
The lines of the poem lean
away from the poet: how can language

trick itself out of the plane, and what plummets, there:
the flaming question mark;
the blank sky;
the painter
who pauses to take a photo.
Later, he'll text it to his mother; she will be at Costco.
She will be buying him a bike helmet.


Vancouver - The City Series: Number One is a great start to what Today's book of poetry hopes will be a series with as many volumes as we have Canadian cities.  If Today's book of poetry has learned anything from this blog - it is that there is a lot more good poetry out there than anyone realizes. Shane Neilson and the good folks at Frog Hollow Press aim to tap from the source with this smart series and we couldn't be more pleased.

The Man Who Took Photos of Windows
           for Fred Herzog

In one, a life is laid out in the form of watches and fishing tackle, a dented trumpet,
a Coleman stove, a trio of medals from World War II. It was taken
in 1957, in a city that isn't there anymore, even if some of the windows are,
like the one where a woman stands in an open aperture of floral drapes,
the words "Bargain Shop" above her, and behind her nothing at all. It's easy to see
why he took them: the windows were already photos, frame and all,
though no one else noticed at the time. There's one

where a cedar box is being torn up for concrete forms, and another
where a fifty cent top has just begun to spin--it later became a Kodachrome tornado
that rolled down Granville Street, sucking up cigarette butts and bits
of bloody tissue paper. When he took a photo of his West End room, it showed
the window, toothbrush and safety razor on the sill, the same
razor as the man in the window of a Main Street diner, whose features
are blurred but whose fear is there as plain as the words on a menu.



That little ditty was one of two excellent poems Shaun Robinson has in this slim little monster. Michael Prior has done some good work in finding these ten unknown, unpublished poets.

Emily Chou  -  Emily Davidson
Ruth Daniell  -  Sugar Le Fae
Megan Jones  -  Darius Kinney
Alessandra Naccarato  -  Shazia Hafiz Ramji
Laura Ritland  -  Shaun Robinson

Sugar Le Fae's "West Coast Winter, a triptych" was a poem I simply adored - but Milo reminded me about our three poem ceiling.

Today's office reading was particularly spirited.  No guests today but the first snow of the season is upon us and I think it has unglued my staff.  I lashed them back to work with my pointed and soul-withering tongue.  They are all off in their corners mumbling mutiny.

I will ply them with sweets later.

Today's book of poetry can only look forward to Number Two, Number Three and so on, of this series.  Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Halifax, Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Saint John, St. John's and so on.

Emily Chou is a second-generation Vancouverite who keeps her chin up but still has difficulty seeing over crowds. Her work has appeared in Ricepaper, Room and Lemon Hound. If she's not making comics, writing poems, or attempting a novel (isn't everyone?), she is probably watching dumb cartoons and blathering on about fairy tales.

Megan Jones grew up in small towns on Vancouver Island before moving to Vancouver, where she writes poetry and works in book publishing. Her work has appeared in Lemonhound and Poetry Is Dead Magazine. She is currently working on her first book of poems.

Shaun Robinson was born in 100 Mile House, British Columbia, and currently lives in Vancouver. His poems have appeared in Fugue, lichen and Versal. He will begin his MFA in Creative Writing at UBC this fall.

Michael Prior's poems have appeared, or are forthcoming, in publications such as Canadian Notes and Queries, Carousel, DIAGRAM (USA), The Collagist (USA), Cv2, The Fiddlehead, Fjords Review (USA), Geist, Grain,Lemon Hound, Magma (UK), The Malahat Review, Moth Magazine (IRL), Prism International, Ricepaper Magazine, The New Quarterly, This Magazine, Tin House Online (USA) , Qwerty, Vallum, and The Walrus.

Michael was the recipient of Matrix Magazine‘s 2015 Lit POP Award for Poetry, The Walrus‘s 2014 Poetry Prize, Grain Magazine‘s 2014 Short Grain Prize, Vallum Magazine‘s 2013 Poetry Prize, and Magma Poetry‘s 2013 Editors’ Prize. He received runner-up in The Antigonish Review‘s 2014 Great Blue Heron Poetry Prize and The New Quarterly‘s 2014 Nick Blatchford Occasional Verse Contest.

Michael’s first chapbook, Swan Dive, was published by Frog Hollow Press in late 2014. His first full-length collection, Model Disciple, will be published by VĂ©hicule Press’s Signal Editions in 2016. Michael holds an MA in English from the University of Toronto and will be starting an MFA in poetry at Cornell University in Fall 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.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

No Shape Bends The River So Long - Monica Berlin & Beth Marzoni (Parlor Press/Free Verse Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
No Shape Bends The River So Long.  Monica Berlin & Beth Marzoni.  Parlor Press/Free Verse Editions.  Anderson, South Carolina.  2015.


Today's book of poetry is not at all sure how No Shape Bends The River So Long was constructed. Did Monica Berlin write one line and then Beth Marzoni the next?  Did they take turns writing poems and then edit them together.  It is impossible to discern what wizardry is behind these poems.

Not quite as rare as hen's teeth but Today's book of poetry sees very, very few volumes of poetry written by two poets.  In this case the poetry is seamless, and stunning.  Marzoni and Berlin may be secret Siamese twins connected where thought begins.  

Clearly Marzoni and Berlin are tributaries that merge to sing river.

Air so lousy with it everything's made heavy-thick

& dishearted we'll turn down the news. Dishearted

by the rush of alongside & what is, what
we'll hear scorched & think scoured, here

swallowed, silted. Humbled we'll corner-fold
those pages, map the measure it would take

to burn off all this too muchness. Fire has its own
idiom--its sentence turns, becomes another kind

of weather on our tongues. So, all this talk
to buttress the palate against

some awful caving in. We'd rather the music
of loss quiet. If only a needle

after the album's end. If only
a phone booth, that other era

overseas, a coin's tinny drop. If before
all sound rushes back

then every disaster we've known gathers up
that space in the static of if. As in, if the wind

turns. As in, if the rain holds
or if the bridge cannot. Then then

kicks up its storm in our chests leaden
where dishearted didn't begin but stays on.

Because fire season & then sputtered out,
because gone under & all bears down,

called or not. Edges singed or worn
thin or too saturated, because will run out

of names come winter. Because so many places
we recognize or think that we do

until the river changes its mind. Or
sixty years late & twelve miles from where

it crashed, the plane & its crew surface.
That glaciered silence heaves off any grief

we might call mass grave, call memorial
turned monument turned natural wonder.


The Mississippi is one mighty river and has more stories than the fish that swim beneath her waves. Berlin and Marzoni take the river metaphor in every direction at once. 

And because we are water only recently free of the primordial ooze these poems draw us in like gravity.  Water only flows in one direction and in No Shape Bends The River So Long the reader is reminded again and again and again that the river makes its own path.

Imagine we can hear winter breaking its hold on the river
      & how

it might all go down: just a little shove, avulsing, just the body

delta swtiching, like weight one leg to the other, like
balance, like necessity, like that--no, like letting go,

but then not & this & everywhere today
spring all mixed up, birds confused, even scientists

releasing news then taking it back, say heliosphere then interstellar,
revise just farther than anywhere we've mapped. The ocean

floor they map from space so we can watch the earth
heave & sigh, watch ourselves cross the dark we push

away down the hall, down the block, across town. This town,
most any, keeps tight, a closed door, turned down

blind. Think strange, think foreign, think not mine, think
thank god, & claim the stars, weather, even

birdsong a place to close our eyes against ruin. & the flung.
the careening, the slow dissolve we call

against it & the piled-up, wreckage we'll keep
dragging to curb, to landfill, to bury.

When paved avenues again made floodway think
dam or burrow or nest, we remember invention's not

a human thing. We forget places we can walk under
water & forget nothing disappears--it just drops off

our map. Trace spreads out the atlas & physics reports less
stuff we don't understand by a tiny amount & we spread out

to find tiny, & follow the roads we'll always travel
back to iota. We should imagine something

unimaginable: begin with moonscape but then try
that water might bed down deeper places

where the sky cover is less periled, made of more
normal matter. & less periled we might know better

what to make of it & what to do with our hands.


These particularly rich and expansive poems are ripe with hope and longing even as they are heavy with the dark clouds of every storm, past and future.  Berlin and Marzoni are attempting to have a conversation with a great river, a conversation with water, for all of us.

Today's book of poetry was entirely enthralled in this conversation from the first poem to the last. 
This is champion poetry.  

When the rain says wait, says not so fast, says this season
     we've measured in so many

stunned inches isn't yet through with us, isn't this what you wanted?

So, turn your sorry back to urgent or at least what begs
doing because there's nothing left our bodies can tend. Now every city

that banks itself against what's rising dislocated, every ramshackled-
falling-down, & the highways & the bridges bottomland, grounded low.

Made of less water we might absorb deluge, extend our limbs
to soak up at the washout, wring sopping dry, but the only body

more water than us is water & So, all at sea & maybe worse
than helpless our sad wade through the wires or anxious

waiting on the wires: that kind of course that drifts, that channel
toward lost. Even all hands on deck won't change the facts, can't

unknot: what holds us won't contain what's coming in at the breach
& won't anchor to shore. For all its translucence

we can't figure water & So, the fields
stay unplanted under so much shimmer & wave & elsewhere heavy, that

quiet, when these streets last disappeared. In standing rain we gage
or aimless shove toward grate & gutter, warn children already chaffing

summer's edge back from the creek-sprung moment & it must have
seemed just for them the way it always seemed for us tideless all

these years & then again as if out of nowhere & suddenly &
all at once our ankle-deep & that pull.


These poems strike at the American heartland, the valleys of the great Mississippi, the gaping thirsty maw of the land.  Water makes up its own mind, floods change the very shape of the land and water loves this.  Water shapes the lives of everyone that is touched by rain and Berlin and Marzoni want us fully immersed in the conversation.

They take us into deep water again and again and again.

Beth Marzoni

Monica Berlin


Monica Berlin
On faculty since 1998, Monica Berlin is the Associate Director for The Program in Creative Writing, an Associate Professor, & Chair of the Department of English at Knox College. A recipient of the Philip Green Wright-Lombard College Prize for Distinguished Teaching, she teaches poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, & late 20th & 21st century American literature. She holds degrees from Knox College, Western Illinois University, & Vermont College.

Berlin is also the project director for The Knox Writers’ House digital archives of contemporary literature, & runs a small literary studio, The Space, in downtown Galesburg.

Her collaborations with Beth Marzoni have been published in many journals. Their collection of poems, No Shape Bends the River So Long, was awarded the 2013 New Measure Poetry Prize and was published by Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press in January 2015.

New solo poems & creative nonfiction were recently published or are forthcoming in numerous journals, including Passages North, Midwestern Gothic, The Cincinnati Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, Cimarron Review, Hobart, Mantis, Quiddity, & Grist. Meanwhile, Berlin is currently at work on a collection of essays & keeps trying to make new poems. She lives in Galesburg, Illinois with her son.

Beth Marzoni
Beth Marzoni is a poet, a teacher, an admirer of bridges, & a pie-enthusiast who lives as close as she can to the confluence of the Black, the La Crosse, & the Mississippi rivers. A graduate of Knox College, she earned her Ph.D. from Western Michigan University, & is currently an Assistant Professor of English at Viterbo University. There she teaches workshops in poetry, fiction, & creative nonfiction as well as courses in 20th & 21st century British literature, modern & contemporary poetry, environmental literature, & composition.

Marzoni plays well with others. Her collaborations with Monica Berlin have been published in Better: Culture & Lit, Boston Review, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Meridian, New Orleans Review, TYPO, & Vela among others. Their book of poems, No Shape Bends the River So Long, won the 2013 New Measure Poetry Prize & was published by Free Verse Editions at Parlor Press in 2015. With Natalie Giarratano, Marzoni co-edits Pilot Light, a journal of 21st century poetics & criticism.

Marzoni's poems have received national recognition from Crazyhorse & New Ohio Review. In 2008 she was the recipient of an AWP Intro Journals Award. Recent work has been published in Hayden's Ferry Review, Cimarron Review, Pastelegram, Puerto del Sol, & Grist.

“What to make of this grand experiment over months and miles of river by two poets, not one—Monica Berlin and Beth Marzoni—plus whatever third spirit they’ve invented together? Like music from the 8th century written by Anonymous, that haunting ubiquitous voice, these poems feel unsettlingly interchangeable, keep coming like the country’s longest river dream-documented here in a rich rush, dense with repetition and sorrow by poets who ‘think like a glacier or a stone, sand . . . years / like consistent rain.’ The Mississippi never had better companions or more devoted ones, save Mark Twain perhaps, or more to the point, his troubled, star-crossed Huck. The sense of human and nonhuman history, even prehistory stuns, keeps bothering this shared-solitary work. ‘Wake to any weather & know that / long ago there also was.’ I’ll take that as rare solace.”
      —Marianne Boruch

“No Shape Bends the River So Long is a book of atmospheric turbulence and diminishing water levels, inner weather forecasts, dark and light, friendship, the stillness in waiting rooms, a river’s traffic—or what poets Monica Berlin and Beth Marzoni, a So & So in dialogue with us and each other, call ‘the rush of alongside & what is.’ In the zig-zag process of traveling the Mississippi River Valley, together they navigate with beauty and resonance the ‘hours of drought, of waiting, the new low- / watermarks of the lakes,’ the trees ‘that sound like rain & morning.’ This is ecopoetry, it is intimate conversation, it is meditation, the turning inward, the swinging back out from mind to world around the bend. I deeply respect and admire this book for its love of place; its tumbling, digressive progress; its glints of joy and thoughts too deep for tears.”
     —Nancy Eimers

TBOP sidebar.  The poems in this collection were selected by Carolyn Forche, which is a good thing, AND you must watch the killer video below.  It's a very fine poetry video.

Monica Berlin & Beth Marzoni
"All the particular places we've known [...]"
Video:  Better Magazine



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.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Sumac's Red Arms - Karen Shklanka (Coteau Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Sumac's Red Arms.  Karen Shklanka.  Coteau Books.  Regina, Saskatchewan.  2009.

Karen Shklanka is a poet I could listen to all day long.  Nothing is as exciting as a voice filled with vibrant intelligence and wit.  She also happens to be a practicing physician.

The poems in Sumac's Red Arms are small movies worth watching.

Whether Shklanka is in an emergency room stitching scalps or dancing the tango as though her life depended on it Sumac's Red Arms stuns the reader with precision and clarity.  These poems charm the reader, if this is dancing, Shklanka is definitely the lead.


Milkweed pods empty themselves to the wind,
dry cups like grandmother's hands.
A child on the bank follows a yellow leaf underwater.
Sumac's red arms gather in the weather.
The river, larger than memory,
pours itself like clear tea through the ravine.


Today's book of poetry takes old school pleasure in the way Shklanka's narrative holds the reader by the scruff of the neck.  These poems are well traveled, the fruit they serve could be from anywhere.

Sumac's Red Arms  is broken up into several separately titled sections and each has some stylistic perk that make them unique but the voice never changes, Shklanka is constantly stone-cold certain. The lucky reader gets to see Shklanka's considerable skills spread out over several different palettes and she has a different gear for each other them.

In The Poem

I won't tell you
about how morning stretches
under the clouds on English Bay
like a bright skin, how
its edges blur tenderly into
the dark, how all moments
accordion into this one
where we touch a stranger's
fingers, how our steps echo
in the street, how you measure
this, the Pont Neuf, my stride,
how you read my back
with your hand, how my sidelong
thoughts slip by
the Seine, out of streets
of the Marais, sniff around you,
intercept a glance, a sudden
kiss before the inevitable
commutation, the door closing
and the gleaming train.


The gang in our office for the read this morning was larger than usual.  Milo and Kathryn both brought guests, they claim our morning read is better than Bugs Bunny or Oprah.  The office rule is that everyone has to read a poem and that included our guests.

One visitor read the entire "Vocabulary A Tango" section of Sumac's Red Arms.  The other guest, they both prefer to go unnamed, read two poems, "Dear God," and "Letter to Jesus."  Both were excellent reads.

From today forward, Today's book of poetry will be welcoming guests to our morning reading.  But if you show up - you HAVE to read.

The Girl From Attawapiskat

She is the fifth Friday night "Tylenol overdose" send from the
Attawapiskat nurses in six weeks. I am new to medicine, to the North,
still can't sleep night before being on-call. We chopper them down:
fifteen or sixteen years old, smooth skin, wary eyes. I never really know
what to do. There's no acetaminophen level. No proof. They get an IV
drip for the night, Mucomyst, then go shopping at the Northern store
the next day. There's not much for a teenager to do in Attawapiskat, a
reserve of a thousand people with their own Cree dialect. Once, we
made the rule, "No Shopping," and the weekend helicopter rides
stopped, for a while.


Another Saturday night, the girl from Attawapiskat again. An
"overdose." She refuses to stand, so I sit on the floor of the ER with her.
Her voice is quiet, not wanting to talk to me. She casts her eyes down. I
wait. Look at the scuffmarks on the floor.

She says she heard a voice in her head that gave orders. Kill yourself, the
voice says. This time, I know what to do. There is a psychiatric hospital in
North Bay. The psychiatrist can't refuse. The pilots flying patients to this
hospital insist they wear a straightjacket. We both cry as the orderlies
strap her in. She screams at the men. I stand in the stairwell by the
helicopter pad. She spits on me as they wheel her out on the stretcher.


Four months later the girl from Attawapiskat stops me on the road, as I
walk to the hospital. I hardly recognize her. She is pretty now. A bit
plumper. From the medication, I think. Not as quiet. Says she wants to
thank me for sending her to North Bay, that she'd been in
treatment for depression, sexual abuse. She appreciates me taking the
time. Plans to go and stay with her older sister in Fort Albany. I blush,
then release my breath; fight the tears in my eyes.


Six months later I get a call at 10 pm from the nurse in Fort Albany, one
community north from Moose Factory on James Bay. A thirty-five year
old woman has been in a gas explosion. From medical school, I know the
key question is, Does she have burns around her mouth? Yes? Then
check inside. Yes? Bits of Black? My mind is tight and clear.

I send the anesthetist up in the chopper in case of swelling of her airway,
then I fall asleep on the living room floor, a blanket over my shoulders,
my husband in the bedroom upstairs. The phones wakes me up at
midnight. I've been drooling. Don't know where I am. The nurse is
panicking. The chopper isn't there yet. The patient is choking.

I talk the nurse through a needle cricothyroidotomy. It doesn't work.
There's blood everywhere, she says. Get the bag and mask, oxygen,
I say, some air will get in. They hear the chopper. Hang up.

I can't sleep, call an hour later to see what's happened. She was barely
hanging in there when the doctor arrived, then she lost her IV. I'd asked
for two, but they'd only managed one, her veins were so shut down.
While they all tried to replace the IV, she stopped breathing, had a
cardiac arrest. The nurse says the woman's sister, the girl from
Attawapiskat, is waiting outside.


The feeling around the office was that we all wanted to see more of Karen Shklanka's very fine poetry.  Sumac's Red Arms was thoroughly entertaining when Shklanka was dancing, riveting and respectfully sublime every time there was blood on her hands.  Shklanka's prescriptions are disguised as poems.

This is great medicine.

Karen Shklanka

Karen Shklanka is a poet, a family physician and, with her husband, an Argentine Tango dance instructor. Her poetry was included in the 2004 chapbook anthology, Letters We Never Sent, edited by Patrick Lane. She was twice a finalist in ARC magazine's international poem contest, in 2005 and 2006, and has been published in numerous other literary periodicals. Sumac's Red Arms is her first book publication.

Born in Toronto, Karen Shklanka spent 18 years practicing rural and emergency medicine in small and medium-sized Canadian communities. She has lived in Vancouver, Australia, Regina, Houston, Los Angeles and Moose Factory, Ontario, and on Salt Spring Island. She received her M.D. in 1988, and, in 1990, received the top mark in Canada from the Canadian College of Family Physicians. She currently serves as a Clinical Instructor in the Faculty of Family Medicine at UBC.


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.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Headwaters, Poems & Field Notes - Saul Weisberg (Pleasure Boat Studio)

Today's book of poetry:
Headwaters, Poems & Field Notes.  Saul Weisberg.  Pleasure Boat Studio.  New York, New York.  2015.

Saul Weisberg's Headwaters, Poems & Field Notes is a master class in exploring the natural world with a tuned and sympathetic ear.  These poems bear a close resemblance to meditations or even prayers.  Weisberg is able to report with such an empathetic voice that you begin to expect that he was the Earth's own lungs given sound.

There is nothing pastoral about these brief accounts although that sentiment is in there, no, Weisberg is closer to Basho with his clipped ease.  These poems are cut to the bone but never terse and never lacking the underlying warmth Weisberg maintains.

What this poetry most certainly is - is celebratory and there is precious little of that these days.  Saul W's Headwaters is marvelously optimistic.

Spring Music

All you need to know
     about my day:

winter wren
     in the morning.

canyon wren
     at dusk.


These poems are calming.  When you read these poems the possibility of a kinder world is obvious. There is nothing naive about Weisberg's wisdom or the world he portrays, it is the authentic thing.

Again and again, in the simplest possible terms, these poems announce genuine consideration of the natural world and create wonder.


The yellow canoe
tied on top of the red car
next to the frozen lake.

Drifting -
it's all right in a canoe,
in life, another story.

when my wind wanders
only the canoe goes straight.

I point my paddles
where I want to go,
the wind has other ideas.

At the edge of the ice
the canoe hovers,
tasting winter.


Weisberg's poems read and sound like things we already know.  At the morning read today everyone had the same reaction to this sublime poetry.  Reverence.

Even Milo was enthusiastic.  He also shaved for the first time since August.  And is wearing a clean shirt.  And is now sitting in the corner with Kathryn, again, and reading Weisberg poems to her.  Her Goth demeanour would seem to be in partial swoon.

Milo isn't just reading to Kathryn, he's giving voice to the Weisberg poems in a quiet but authoritative tone.  He has us all in a short swoon but we know it will lift us up.  Isn't poetry marvelous.

Home Ground

It's good to have a lake close to home,
also rivers, mountains too.
Familiar terrain and the comfort
of well-traveled trails.
In my pocket,
on the torn corner of a map -
directions to a place called home.


Headwaters, Poems & Field Notes takes us to a home that is in our better nature, Weisberg reminds us in every poem of who we are and of who we could be.


Saul Weisberg

Saul Weisberg is the co-founder and Executive Director of North Cascades Institute, a conservation nonprofit with the mission of conserving and restoring Northwest environments founded in 1986. He serves on the board of directors of the Association of Nature Center Administrators, the Natural History Network and the Environmental Education Association of Washington, and is adjunct faculty at Huxley College of the Environment at Western Washington University. In 2013, Weisberg was given the Environmental Heroes Award by ReSources in Bellingham. He has authored From the Mountains to the Sea, North Cascades: The Story behind the Scenery, Teaching for Wilderness, and Living with Mountains. Saul and his family live near the shores of the Salish Sea in Bellingham, Washington.

Headwaters is a peaceful, joyous book. Its poems open my heart. Yes, every moment is a gift. Every bird, a blessing.
     —Kathleen Dean Moore

Saul Weisberg’s crisp, lyric poems are grounded deeply in his lifelong engagement with the plants and wildlife, rocks and weather of his home ground, Washington’s rugged North Cascades and the Salish Sea. Buoyant, passionate, playful, and precise, these poems echo Basho in capturing mystery within an image and Rexroth in artfully blending themes of nature and love. But the poet’s joyful celebration of family, friendship, community, and place are all his own. This is a clear and welcome poetic voice from one of the West’s most inspiring locales. 
     — Tim McNulty

Headwaters drips with the waters of the wild, sings with the voices of thrush, wren, and owl, dances with the butterflies. How wonderful to have Saul Weisberg’s long-awaited poems together in this handsome book – poems that are worshipful and wry, funny and askance, often sexy, and always perceptive. I am thrilled to have Headwaters at loose in the world at last.
     — Robert Michael Pyle

The sensual poems of Saul Weisberg are powerful connections to the essential elements in nature that enrich and fashion our lives. With economy he fashions an invitation for us to join in the moment and become appreciative witnesses and his companion in nature. With lines such as “The river gathers friends on its way to the sea” and questions likes “What does it mean to become extinct?” we are challenged to expand how we embrace and steward our natural heritage. 
     — Tony Angell

Make room in your backpack for the marvelously condensed wisdom of Headwaters: poems that are intricate as a snowflake, as simple as stone, and the very soul of an educational visionary who has spent his life in the high Cascades. Each of these mountain morsels smiles with gentle truth, and lingers on the mind with honest beauty. 
     — William Dietrich

From the “ecstasy of conifers” and the “infinite ache of wood becoming wood” to rivers that “tremble in their sleep,” Saul Weisberg sees into the heart of the world, revealing all the ways we’re connected to this landscape and to each other. In spare, lyric poems and haiku-like field notes—each one a shining gem—he reminds us how to pay attention, giving us, in poem after poem, “directions to a place called home.”
       – Holly J. Hughes

"Not many people know the spirit of the mountains, rivers, lakes and inland sea of Cascadia like Weisberg does. His reverent attentiveness, subtle humor and deep ecological knowledge are apparent in Headwaters, a volume collecting more than 25 years of his poems and journal entries." 
     — Cascadia Weekly

"Inspired by the landscape around him...Weisberg's work captures the expanse of awe-inspiring wilderness in perfect, distinct moments. Exploring the connection between man and nature, Weisberg's work is is both contemplative and celebratory." 
     — North Sound Life



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.

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.