Saturday, February 27, 2016

Cobourg Variations - a bunch of poems and an essay - Stuart Ross (Proper Tales Press)

Today's book of poetry:  
Cobourg Variations - a bunch of poems and an essay.  Stuart Ross.  Proper Tales Press.  Cobourg, Ontario.  2015.

Today's book of poetry has written about the work of Stuart Ross before.  Of course we have, our guest room is called the "Stuart Ross" room.

Today we take a look at one of Ross's recent chapbooks, Cobourg Variations - a bunch of poems and an essay.  In checking out our Today's book of poetry bookcase, aside from the nine full length trade poetry collections, we counted out over thirty-five chapbooks.  It was hard to keep them straight as both Milo and Kathryn went bonkers.  We all love Stuart Ross here at TBOP.

So today's disclaimer:  I've known Stuart most of my adult life, he is one of my dearest friends, I was recently in his wedding party, and I love him like a brother.  Today's book of poetry (Michael Dennis) has a New and Selected coming out in the spring of 2017 from Vancouver's Anvil Press (bless Brian Kaufman's cotton socks) and Stuart Ross is not only editing it, he's selecting the poems. That's how much I love the man.

And I adore the poet.

Cobourg, Night

If I shove the boxes
of books aside, drag
the curtains, crane my neck
just so, I can see the clock
on Victoria Hall. It
chimes twice. My parents
died in another city
75 minutes away. The story
of their lives, as filmed
by Ealing Studios, is screened
on the night sky. Here
it is exotic. Tonight:
the screening. Tomorrow:
the Pulled Pork Festival.
Down below, vines have tumbled
from the brick walls, encumbering
the porch. A green ribbon has
unraveled. I wind it tightly
around my well-sucked thumb.


You would be right to think that I am totally biased about the poetry of Stuart Ross, I've been crazy about it for years, decades in fact.  You always know that his poems will both amuse and instruct.  Cobourg Variations is no exception.  The BigSmokeBigEasyBigCity boy has found a new home in a small town and it has been a perplexing and befuddling experience.

We are used to a surreal embrace from the Ross canon and he doesn't let us down in Cobourg Variations, there is dog talk of taking over the town and other strange assaults.  There is also a tender homage to Ross's hero David W. McFadden.  McFadden is Canada's best least appreciated poet and Ross's affection for him should be a clarion call to us all.

Cobourg Variations contains a series of crisp haiku that show us that Ross is warming up to his new environs whether he wishes to or not.

Cobourg Haiku #7

At Lee's Coin Laundromat
anything is possible. You can
catch your breath in a lint trap.


The essay that comes with these poems is titled "The Terrors of Tiny Town: An Essay".  Ross is familiarizing himself with the local fauna, flora, tundra and so on.  The beautiful thing is that in spite of himself he is coming to the conclusion that he is a small town boy after all.

This has to be distressing to Ross who simply loved his large city.  "What has happened to me?" he must say.  From here it would appear you can go home again, even if you have to move to a small Ontario town to find it.  Didn't someone wiser than TBOP say that "home is where the heart is"?


Every night I sneak out of bed,
creep to the east end of Cobourg
and shove the town one inch
closer to Toronto.
It will get a bit bumpy
over Port Hope,
but then clean sailing
all the way to Bowmanville.
After that, a dozen or so
easy kilometers again,
until the Durham Region
demands all my ingenuity.
A few nights' rest in
the parking lots of Scarborough,
and then my home
will be home.
"This is the bridge
where In the Skin of the Lion
happens." I'll whisper
to Cobourg, "and this is
the library named after
Judy Merril." And Cobourg
will look up at me and
say, "What I really want to know
is where did Juan Butler live?
There are scenes from The Garbageman
I just can't wipe out of my mind."


Ross jokes about dragging his new home closer to his old but always forgets that he is a different man now.  He's too busy writing new poems to actually move Cobourg.  In fact I suspect Stuart Ross is one good Indian restaurant away from finally finding his place in the world.

Cobourg, who knew?

Stuart Ross

Stuart Ross is the author of nine full-length poetry collections, two books of short stories, two essay collections, one solo and one collaborative novels, and dozens of chapbooks. He is the winner of the 2010 ReLit Prize for Short Fiction for his collection Buying Cigarettes for the Dog and was awarded the only prize given to an anglophone writer in 2013 by l'Academie de la vie litteraire du 21e siecle for his poetry book You Exist. Details Follow. Stuart has taught writing workshops across the country and coaches writers one-on-one. He blogs at and lives in Cobourg, Ontario.

Stuart Ross
(near the window where he can spy on Victoria Hall)



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, February 25, 2016

Blond Boy - Lucia May (Evening Street Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
Blond Boy.  Lucia May.  Evening Street Poetry.  Dubin, Ohio.  2014.


"Forgiveness is the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is made clean again."
                                                                - Dag Hammarskjold

Lucia May starts Blond Boy with this marvelous quote from Dag Hammarskjold about forgiveness and it is good to keep this in mind when reading through this murky pool of regret and hope.  

Blond Boy is May's poetic attempt to forgive her father and to forgive herself for crimes and misdemeanors large and small.  May's father was a young boy in Poland at the outbreak of World War II and came of age under a Nazi occupied Poland where he suffered great and unforgettable torment at the hands of German soldiers.  May's anecdotes make clear that her father saw things no young boy/man should ever see.

After the war May's father got to the United States and found May's mother, they married, May was conceived and new tragedies and drama unfold.

Luck Runs in My Family

In Poland
during World War II
a certain Nazi
liked to stand my father
against a wall,
walk back
and fire
his pistol
as close as possible
to my father's head
for sport.
My father didn't
feel lucky,
frozen against the wall,
but he'd live
to call it luck.

My brother Billy
died by shooting
himself. He didn't
know that luck
has nothing to do 
with Russian Roulette.

I am lucky
that my daughter is
lucky to be
When she burst
into the house
with her eighteen
month medallion
I felt lucky
I didn't feel lucky
driving her
to those first
counseling meetings.
Her scabbed arms,
shaved head,
and scaly warts
made me look away
as if she were a snail
being torn
from its shell.


There's no reconciling May's father's tortured past and turning it into a reasonable present.  May's father becomes possessed by a religious furor and his obsessions alienate and eventualy shatter a tattered family.  Clearly haunted, the father is doomed.

There are poems set during wartime Poland, others in an American home in the late fifties, early sixties, and it is falling apart at the seams while May's father tries to fix the cracks with sermons.

These poems are a dysfunctional family's epitaph and it is clouded with ghosts that go unnamed. 
May wants to let go of the past and these poems may be her only shot at redemption, they certainly feel that way.  This is intense and compelling stuff.

For Any Abiding Place on Earth

                                                   after Carl Dennis

All my grandmother needed at her farm in Poland
was time to raise the crops of corn and cousins.

I met my grandmother when I was seven.
As our taxi from Warsaw came to stop in the dust
she sputtered and screamed around this barnyard
with the alarmed chickens. She tugged off her apron
and tucked her hair into her babushka.

I stand at the farm's grave and find only ceramic tile pieces
in the disemboweled earth where the kitchen once stood.

There are no abiding places on earth, unless memory is a place
and I doubt it. Gather all memories and they wouldn't fill
one square inch of this remembered ground.
They are lighter than dust and even less confined.


That last verse is gold.  Solid gold.

Luck can cast some pretty dark shadows and the Nazi occupation of Poland left scars beyond what Lucia May's father could rationally endure.  These scars were big enough to scar generations and whether or not May is out from under this horrid history depends on who she forgives.

These poems are, in spite of the father's faults, an apology for her father, to her father, and then to herself.

May is mining some awfully deep torment in Blond Boy.  It makes for some startling poetry.

Blond Boy and the Plan for Eastern Europe
                                  (Generalplan Ost)

Cattle wagons transported
children aged six to ten years
to temporary selection camps.
A sympathetic Nazi guard
could sell a Catholic child back
to its Polish family for 25 zloty.

The blond boy was twelve in 1939
when the Nazis invade Poland.
He is too old for Germanization,
too old to be desirable enough
to undergo racial exams by experts.

Some younger Polish gentiles live
and die as Germans, unsuspecting,
but he is too old to forget Polish
nursery rhymes and his Polish name.

Armed Nazis seize him from the family farm
and he is conscripted as a Zivilarbeiter--
civilian worker--forbidden to swim
in public pools, to ride public transport,
to own a bicycle, or under penalty of death,
to have sex with a German.

By law the blond boy's wages are lower than
German citizens', his nutrition substandard.
He chips stone seven days a week
in a German quarry. He may not attend
church and must wear a purple "P" badge.

His superiors encourage him to sign
the Deutsche Vaolksliste for benefits
like more calories and freedoms.
He refuses to sign and after the war
is spared being tried in Poland for high treason.


Blond Boy is full of brave poetry from the wounded heart of a survivor.  Nothing in Blond Boy is going to make you happy - but you are certainly going to glad you spent time with this riveting book of poems.

Lucia May

Lucia May is a poet and longtime arts advocate in St. Paul, MN. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Main Channel Voices, the Evening Street Review, Hot Metal Press, Paperdarts, the Prose-Poem Project, Pemmican, Talking Stick, Tall Grass, Burnt Bridge, The Widow’s Handbook Anthology, The Awakenings Review, The Mom Egg, Verse Wisconsin, Kurier Polski Min-nesota, and the Little Red Tree Inter-national Poetry Prize 2010: Anthology. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Verse Wisconsin for her poem “Explain in an Essay.”

In Lucia May's inaugural poetry collection, Blond Boy, she records with gracious precision the personal horrors of the boy who would become her father. Taken from his home by the Nazis, the boy's humanity was forever scarred by his experiences. Of his torture, Lucia writes, "...the boys accepted their penalties/like cows on the farm before the knife." Lucia weaves his story into her own through poetry that is brutally honest while being "bathed in the light" of forgiveness. She manages well the difficult task of showing grief and loss unsentimentally, with a glance, a gesture, an image that glows vividly on the page. This slim book offers readers the chance to share in emotions as complex as Bach played with panache on a well-tuned violin. At the end, we are left with memories that are "lighter than dust and even less confined."
     —Linda Back McKay, author of The Next Best Thing and Out of the Shadows: Stories of Adoption and Reunion.

A man who suffered a wretched childhood extended bitterness and perverse misery to his own children. He became a religious fanatic, who in his distorted view deemed the music of Bach and Beethoven wholly unacceptable. Growing up in a nightmarish environment, his daughter, Lucia P. May, did not fall victim to depression, suicide, alcoholism or drug addiction. Miss May escaped the quicksand of her father's cruelty through art, music and literature. She writes exquisite poetry that shines light in the darkness.
     —Robert O Fisch, author of Light from the Yellow Star: A Lesson of Love from the Holocaust and The Sky Is Not the Limit

Lucia Piaskowiak May writes without any sentimentality whatsoever about her father's life in World War II Poland and about the shadow he cast over her own life. She compresses enormous emotion into tense spare lines to create poetry that is fierce and true.
     —Keith Maillard, author of The Clarinet Polka

A memoir in poetry, in Blond Boy Lucia May tells the tragic and amazing story of her father's survival in Nazi-occupied Poland, his marriage to her mother, her visit to Auschwitz, taking violin lessons and attending healing services at a Presbyterian church. This is a story well worth telling and it comes wonderfully alive in all its mesmerizing details. These memories will dance in our minds for a long time. May writes of them as 'lighter than dust and even less confined.' May we all be thankful that she has captured them for a moment.
     —Mary Logue, author of Hand Work and Trees

Lucia May's book, Blond Boy, is a tough, intense collection of poems. It's a book about what luck means. It's a book about a father, that blond boy who survived World War II, and where the luck of surviving led him. It's a collection that offers its readers portraits of a family, of how religion affected them, vignettes that allow us to see a family's suffering, and how pain and discord shaped their lives. We are given stories that cover many years, and we see how the lucky and unlucky in this single family lose or find their strength, their sense of purpose inside a family, inside history. This collection is blunt in its truth-telling, and ambitious in its range. I won't forget these poems.
     —Deborah Keenan, author of From Tiger to Prayer and so she had the world

To see the trailer for Blond Boy please click here:



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, February 23, 2016

Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems - Justin Karcher (Ghost City Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems.  Justin Karcher.  Ghost City Press.  Syracuse, New York.  2015.

Tailgating In Hell To Snowmen With No Snow, Poetry From The Mind Of Justin Karcher

Although the cover of Justin Karcher's Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems may be the worst we have ever seen we here at Today's book of poetry do not judge a book by its cover.  Good thing.

Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems is an energetic and enthusiastic rantish ramble with no seat belts, bad brakes and a foot-to-the-floor mentality.  Karcher is from the more is more school of thought and these poems rampage over the pages like Ti Jean in that Columbia backfield before that broken leg.

We're Worse than Frankenstein's Monster

The one night, Sam and I are pretty drunk on the Champagne
Of Beers. We aren't really talking or anything,
But the silence is cracked open like an egg
When I foolishly reach for a can of beer and Sam says,
"Sorry, I drank it all," callously and inconsiderate.
"Come on Sam, " I say, "I chipped in on the beer."
I want to punch him in his lax face; you have like no idea,
But I quickly forgive him. "Eh, it's ok," I say. "This beer tastes
Like blood and nickels anyway." Sam is quiet like Tibet
And I wonder if he took some monkish vow of silence.
His mind must be on other things, like Russia invading Ukraine
Or how ISIS is recruiting fellow hipsters from England.
Blood will be spilled and here we are,
Drunk in front of Advance Auto Parts
Like we always are on Tuesdays,
Trying to reassemble our bodies,
Hoping we've put together stronger and happier.
Suddenly, Sam throws his can and says, "Shit man,
The world really is a hospital made of snow.
It's always melting, falling apart. No cure really lasts."
Ever since his near-death experience at 17,
Sam's been obsessed with death.
The moon's out, so I try changing the subject.
"You ever look at the moon
And think it's some tongue-tied piano,
Like deep down you know that
Cratered cue ball has a song just for you.
But it's been quiet, eerily quiet, so you wonder
When God's gonna shoot it in the corner pocket?"
There's no answer.
Sam must not be speaking again. Well, one day,
Sam and I will break into Advance Auto Parts
And steal from their superior selection of jumper cables,
So we can jumpstart our lives.


Karcher's sidekick Sam is the perfect foil to the deadpan and nonplussed world these poems navigate. Justin Karcher is never trying to mount a formal front, he has great stories to tell and settles into a conversational tone.  Karcher is also a playwright and many of these poems could be monologues, they certainly can be theatrical.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

Today's book of poetry likes to see a little chaos theory in action and Tailgating... is all about that.

There's more than enough vibrant energy in Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems to start any poetry engine.  It certainly revved things up in here this morning at the reading.  Milo and Kathryn did their usual stints, both of them are getting better at it every day.  Even Bruce from shipping and our receptionist Jane read poems this morning.  That was a first.

Bruce surprised us three different way from Sunday, this was his selection:

The Only Casanova in This Dead Country

"She was so hot," Sam says. "It was like she was blasting out
chunks of magma. When we finished, the whole apartment looked
like Pompeii. Anyway -  how'd you do with your lucky lady?"

I light up a cigarette and think for a moment.

"I was depressed the next day. Does that answer your question?"

"You tellin' me you didn't make a formaldehyde fetus?"

"Oh we had unprotected sex. I don't know. Something doesn't sit
well inside."

Sam puts his hand on my chest. "There's nothing comfortable
inside that heart of yours," he says, "It's an abandoned
archaeological site. Like America."


Karcher's hard edged romanticism has an extremely sharp point on the end of his blade.  Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems is all hard surface, crusty demeanor, but that is fine.  Today's book of poetry doesn't mind.  We like kick in the ass poems from time to time.

There's some Kerouac in here, some Bukowski bloodline running through Karcher's pen and you all know what we think of those two here.

Snow Angels Going to Their First AA Meeting

2-something in the morning
I've been drinking for 16 years
I suppose that means my alcoholism can get a driver's license
Does my loss of appetite regarding just about everything
Imply that I'm not beastly
Or am I making out with depression again?
Buffalo night, how you shove that Janus mask on my hormones
I either masturbate my tragedies away or cry out comedies
Living on the bipolar Rust Belt
And my cat's carrying a toy in her mouth
And meowing like an orchestra in heat
TV tells me ancient aliens played Russian roulette
With our DNA & here I am smoking real cigarettes
Because ecigs are like a daydream & I want the real thing
Fantasy & celibacy ain't for me, not here
So I go outside & collect rain drops in a jelly jar
& drip them on the living room floor in the shape of an angel
Like I'm Pollock because when feeling freezes over
those raindrops will be a snow angel.


Although constantly buoyed by unrealistic hopes and dreams there is no way out for anyone in Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems.  It all reminds us here at Today's book of poetry of the comic/tragic and legendary Canadian film by Bruce MacDonald, "Hard Core Logo."  There is the same innocent nihilism in ethic and style.  Plenty of broken bottles for every broken dream.

And then there is that heroic YAWP, the one that keeps moving us forward.  Catch this while it is still on fire.
Tailgating In Hell To Snowmen With No Snow, Poetry From The Mind Of Justin Karcher
Justin Karcher

Justin Karcher is a playwright and poet living in Buffalo, N.Y. He is the Co-Artistic Director of Theater Jugend as well as its Playwright-in-Residence. His recent works have been published in 3:AM Magazine, The Buffalo News, Plentitude Magazine, Melancholy Hyperbole, and more. He is the recent winner of the 2015 Just Buffalo Literary Center member's writing competition.
He tweets @Justin_Karcher.

Justin Karcher
reads his poem All Balloons Must Pop, All Animals Must Die
from his collection Tailgating At The Gates Of Hell and other poems
Live at Milkie's on Elmwood


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments - Ulrikka S. Gernes (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments.
Ulrikka S. Gernes.  Translated by Patrick Friesen & Per Brask.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2015.

Today's book of poetry has never read Ulrikka S. Gernes in Danish because I'm a uni-lingual fool, I can only imagine how fine that would be because she is a pistol all the way through Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments.  Patrick Friesen and Per Brask have given Gernes an English voice full of humour, wisdom, wit and some serious chops, her timing is all jazz.

to wait outside the gate. I arrived on time,
the time we had agreed on and waited, as agreed,
outside the gate. I waited a long time, waited
and waited, waited a very long time. I stood
next to the security guard from Securitas, who also
stood outside the gate. I waited, the security guard
from Securitas just stood there, he wasn't waiting,
it was his job to stand there, he didn't take
any breaks, he just stood there, keeping an eye
on what he was supposed to keep an eye on. K
didn't show up. I waited. When the security guard
from Securitas finished his shift I went home
with him, sat down across from him at the kitchen
table, ate spicy meatballs on rice, summer cabbage
followed by green tea and mango from Brazil.
In the night he laid his human hand between
my shoulder blades before we both stumbled
across the threshold into a brand new now.


Ulrikka S. Gernes has almost certainly read Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  I say that because Gernes has found the same light to shine into corners that illuminated Kundera's opus.  These poems are great songs about the details of ordinary life - writ large and modest at the same time.  

What Gernes is suggesting is that "the world is magical and dangerous," she says so in her very helpful and enlightening Afterword: Notes on a Collection of Poems Considered at a Distance.  

where, but if I find F I'll get the answer to an important
question. I don't know the question, but at some
point I'll be told. It's something to do with an
envelope. And a parrot feather. I'm in London.
I have a photo of an English row house, the kind of house
there are a million of in London. I have no address.
I only know that it's in London and that F is in the house
in the photo. I must find that house. I have two large
suitcases that are very heavy. In addition I have a rucksack
on my back. It too is heavy. I can barely carry my luggage.
I also have a dog. A small, black and white dog which is
very lively. I have it on a leash but it constantly runs
away from me. Its name is Ziggy. I call and call after it.
It leaps and jumps and barks. It's impossible to control it.
We walk through dark, narrow passages and alleys that
dead-end and we have to walk back. It seems hopeless,
but I mustn't give up. I yell and yell after the dog that
constantly skips away from me. In my pocket I have
the photo of the house, I have to stop continually, put
the suitcases down, take the photo from my pocket
and compare the house in the photo with the houses
we pass. In this way seventeen years go by.


Gernes asks "have I loved, have I loved, have I loved enough." in her poem On H. C. Anderson Boulevard During Rush Hour and it may be the most important question any of us ever ask of ourselves.  I think it is the main discussion taking place in Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments.  Gernes gets to these difficult places where our hearts hide and harvest those secrets we think we need.

These poems start off with a possible lightness, they are crystal clear, so easy to access and inhabit, but Gernes is no lightweight, she owns a hammer.  Once you're inside these delightful and assassin deadly poems - she has you.  Then the fireworks ensue, time and again, her precise knowledge of where to apply gentle pressure determines how the reader's heart beats.

rather it grows, he says, and I know that the allusion
isn't directed at me as we both grow quiet at the sight
of tradesmen with naked torsos in the midday heat
in the square in front of the church, both of us marvelling
at a neat pattern of body hair across a chest, down along
the navel, the play of muscles in the network of drops
of sweat, the bird-like flight of an upper lip's arch; arms, hands,
the bend in the neck and its toss, to be a man, to be a man,
to be a woman, love knows no age and no gender,
love is a window, and maybe it's because the air shimmers
short of breath from heat, death and lavender
that all at once I wish for nothing else but for him
to hold me on a discarded mattress in the parking lot beneath
the Tears of St. Lawrence, he can fuck me in the ass, if he wants,
for a moment the both of us can abandon who we are.


Controlled abandon, precise as tacks on a map, this translation is slick in the very best way.  Ulrikka S. Gernes should be very happy about her treatment at the hands of Friesen and Brask.  Today's book of poetry will be raving about Frayed Opus For Strings & Wind Instruments, we'll tell anyone who listens that we think Gernes is the Danish Susan Musgrave.

Today's book of poetry can offer no higher praise.

ulrikka.gernes 2015
Ulrikka S. Gernes

Ulrikka S. Gernes was born in 1965 in Sweden of Danish parents. At the age of twenty-two she moved to Copenhagen, Denmark, already a published and highly acclaimed poet. Her first collection, Natsværmer (Moth), was published in Denmark in 1984, when she was eighteen years old. Since then she has published an additional ten collections, all of them received gratefully in the Danish press. She is also the author of two books for children, as well as many short stories, songs, and various contributions to literary anthologies, art catalogues, magazines, newspapers and Danish National radio.
In 2001 A Sudden Sky: Selected Poems, translated into English by Per Brask and Patrick Friesen, was published by Brick Books. Over the decades, poetry has put her on several flights across the Atlantic ocean to read at festivals in Canada as well as sending her on missions to numerous other locations across the planet. She manages the estate and artistic legacy of her father, the internationally known visual artist Poul Gernes, and lives in Copenhagen, Denmark with her daughter Perle. Frayed Opus for String & Wind Instruments is the second translation of Ulrikka’s work published by Brick Books (2015).

Ulrikka S. Germes
reads from Frayed Opus For Strings
& Wind Instruments
video: 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.

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, February 18, 2016

A Crown for Gumecindo - Laurie Ann Guerrero (Aztlan Libre Press)

Today's book of poetry:
A Crown for Gumecindo.  Laurie Ann Guerrero.  Paintings by Maceo Montoya.  Aztlan Libre Press.  San Antonio, Texas.  2015.

Gumecindo Cover

"I will offer his name, Gumecindo Martinez Guerrero, as a symbol for all the missing names in all the history books past and future."  -  Laurie Ann Guerrero

And so begins Laurie Ann Guerrero's sonnets of grief and love.

A Crown for Gumecindo is an eulogy, crisp and elegant, for a beloved family patriarch.

Without You I am Cactus

Like yours, mi muerto, the last time I saw you,
October's eyes are gray. Today, you are
not a dead man: October resurrects.
Today your blood, my blood, fills the private
rooms of my barbed and thorny limbs. I have
come to love October in the name of you.
Today, I say, you're back. Today, swallow, rain.
Today, I soften on the earth; you emerge
from it. Today, I breathe life into your
dead lung. Today, I am God. Today, I
beat marrow into your bones. Today, yours
are the hands that pull spines from my spine.
Today, I shed my cactus skin for flood;
we'll look at our reflection in the mud.


Laurie Ann Guerrero is creating new myths from her own family legend.  This suite of poems is an attempt to distill the agonies and sorrow of loss into a palatable and reaffirming elixir and it works.

Aztlan Libre Press has given Guerrero a lot of room to play in this beautiful over-sized hardcover book.  A Crown for Gumecindo is hauntingly illustrated by the foreboding paintings of Maceo Montoya and they bring a solemn majesty to the project.  Today's book of poetry is rather naive about American painters but we thought that Montoya darkly inhabits the space between painters like Maynard Dixon and the great Mexican painter Diego Rivera.

Stone Fruit

Good? I would ask. Good enough, you would say
of the wine we made from plums. Didn't we,
for years, tend the mothertree? Didn't we,
for years, prune, pluck, hold in our hands the purpled
bodies bursting, that begged: me next, have me?
Weren't we so nourished in the nerve? Someone
is buying our tree. You are reduced to pit.
I put seed in dirt, wait for you to come
back to me in a jar by the window.
You are not growing. Aren't you a plum?
Little red, little kidney, little mouth
singing, calling, I'm here! I'm here! I thought
the dirt would give you something to take hold of:
I've buried everything I've ever loved.


It was solemn reading in the Today's book of poetry offices this morning.  You can't read the tender and longing love poems Laurie Ann Guerrero has written to deal with the dying, death and absence of her beloved grandfather without emotionally accessing your own personal book of the dead.

For me, my father, Russell William White, died a short six months ago.  Now I wear his old shirts and his old winter coat.  I wear his old watch and silently pray that some of his goodness wears off onto me.  Milo's grandmother died last spring and he was gutted, she'd been the one who introduced him to poetry.  Our new intern, Kathryn, she hasn't had a relative or anyone else particularly close meet the end of their mortal coil yet - but she read real sad and pensive as she gave A Crown for Gumecindo a voice.

Goodbye Sonnet

And yes, I am the Laurie Ann you left,
who begged: Don't go alone. Don't cross the line.
                                Aren't you a plum?
I've learned to keep my finger off the trigger,
                                How many times did you say
                                That to me? How many times?
spare the goats who've come to say hello,
shaking in their skins, faces split like mine--
like yours, mi muerto, the last time I saw you
I look for your reflection in the mud,
                                 Let me say your name again:
that oddity that was put in my hands.
I hear your song--water rising from dirt:
Good? I ask. Good enough, you say.
I've buried everything I've ever loved:
You are always going to be dead.
                                   I sing to bees: 
One day in hot July: my kind you were gone--
only the page on which to place your crown.


Memory holds all the high cards when it comes to dreamscape.  Laurie Ann Guerrero has honoured her grandfather in the most timeless way -- she has made his name eternal.

For all time, when the name Gumecindo Martinez Guerrero is called out, those of us who've had the pleasure of reading A Crown for Gumecindo will shout out as a chorus:


Laurie Ann Guerrero

Laurie Ann Guerrero was born and raised in the Southside of San Antonio, Texas and was named Poet Laureate of the City of San Antonio in 2014 by former mayor, Julián Castro. Her first full-length collection, A Tongue in the Mouth of the Dying, was selected by Francisco X. Alarcón as winner of the 2012 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize and published by the University of Notre Dame Press in 2013. Guerrero holds a B.A. in English Language & Literature from Smith College and an MFA in Poetry from Drew University. She is the inaugural Poet-in-Residence at Palo Alto College in San Antonio and continues to live and write in her hometown.

"Guerrero skillfully shapes the sonnet to build a crown of memory, tenderness, and grief for a man who becomes more than a man in this collection...Gumecindo, in these poems, becomes our beloved, our grandfather, the carpenter and king of our broken hearts."
     - Natalie Diaz, author of When My Brother Was an Aztec

"After the death of her beloved grandfather, Guerrero turns to the work and craft of poem-making and collaboration as methods of survival. The result is a tenaciously, keenly honed crown of sonnets that live in the territory of loss, resilience, and grief. In this book, the formal projects are profoundly linked to the heart of the content: interruptions, ruptures, and layers of texts seem to be as much about the anxiety of losing, loss, and, sometimes, of forgetting. A Crown for Gumecindo was worked for, and earned, and now without great resistance. The result of that work is staggering."
     Aracelis Girmay, author of Kingdom Animalia

"This crown of sonnets and the Maceo Montoya paintings that accompany them embody the complexity and depth of elegy. Wrought from both love and anguish, Guerrero, one of our finest lyric poets...invites us to the complex and dense universe of familial bonds."
     Carmen Gimenez Smith, author of Milk and Filth

"A craftswoman, the poet makes home with her hands. Digging up dirt and memories and dreams. Guerrero carves this heroic crown out from the depths of her sorrow and lays her grief, her mourning, down on the page. We feel the fragility of time and life, the absence, the loss, but find refuge in these poems masterfully constructed by her hands, the foundation laid in Gumecindo's song. An exquisite collection."
     Virginia Grise, author of blu

Laurie Ann Guerrero
A Crown for Gumecindo
Book Trailer from Aztlan Libre Press



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

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, February 16, 2016

No Soap, Radio! - Bruce Cohen (Black Lawrence Press)

Today's book of poetry:
No Soap, Radio!  Bruce Cohen.  Black Lawrence Press.  Pittsburgh, PA.  2015.


"In this life you are only a tourist and your camera is disposable." - Bruce Cohen

Today's book of poetry might just have a new favourite poet.  Bruce Cohen's No Soap, Radio! is a freakishly big lighthouse in the dark while the rest of us are using candles.  It's not that Cohen is shining his light on happy news and golden horizons, quite the opposite.  No Soap, Radio! is beautifully grim.

Everything happens in these big, big poems.  Cohen rolls out line after line that will take you to your knees, and he does it non-stop.

Take a deep breath before you read this:

Nervous Breakdown

After the opening credits, peasants are lugging their ship over mossy alien terrain.
All I'm saying is there are "circumstances" where people chip in, disassemble their
Mobility & carry it, piece by piece, to a more welcoming landscape.
Sometimes you flip on the car radio & the song you were unconsciously singing
Is actually playing; sometimes a person who you haven't considered since high school
Randomly impregnates your daydream then saunters into your favorite watering hole.
No! It only looks exactly like her, which is quadruple-freaky with a cherry on top.
I hardly half-know people I know. Half-people are the most complete though.
All I'm saying is who doesn't have metaphorical barbed wire encompassing his secret
Playground? In city congestion the honking seems arbitrary -- though directed
At some unknown target. I hardly know my address without
Checking the yellow pages; I lean on that phone book to preserve autumn, not just
To flatten the magnificent colored leaves. I review the expiration date on a can of split
Pea soup before I use it to prop up the sofa after the weakest leg collapses. All I'm 
Saying is some stuff has multiple purposes to the creative mind. One human being
Can be an object of love or blame depending. Numerically, one through ten is not
Adequate; we should have extra digits, flexible numbers, spare pliable days, secret hands.
People in our lives who don't fall neatly into categories, & X-ray sunglasses.
Shouldn't we all pocket at least one saintly friend whose name we never learn?
All I'm saying is we're too obsessed with terminology & order. You see large household
Appliances or sawed-in-half sofas on the highways but never the culprits. Darling,
I think I would like to dump this malfunctioning washing machine off the next overpass.
All I'm saying is I'm really trying, but I'm not sure there's meaning to life
Except to make each other feel okay at times, with unsolicited utterances that may not
Have any loyalty to the truth, but are untucked-shirt-drunk with kindness,
Which is all I'm really saying. We're all extremely depleted & human poverty makes us
Immobile not less mobile, huddled in jungles not exactly jungles per se, trees leafless &
The car skeleton tireless with no windshield but windshield wipers intact.
We all stash photographs in our wallets that are decades from the tender.
I feel odd when I see a neighbor kid driving his parents' luxury car for the first time.
All I'm saying is sleeves nicely camouflage food stains, autumn foliage has cowardly
Tendencies, half-people have mirror-issues & re-wear underwear they take out
Of their hampers & waiters nibble sent-back desserts. Unfinished entrees into eternity.
All I'm saying is life is heart-wrenching enough without making it worse.
We need to scrape barnacles off the underside before the ship is seaworthy again.
Because I'm sick of my music I'm not sure what song I want played at my funeral.
All I mean is I change my mind maybe too much. If God is so clever how come--
How come time travels more slowly than our lives?
Impure forgiveness is like some nasty metallic sugar substitute, the aftertaste.
Where is the actual sweetness? Cars run out of fuel yet we don't junk them
& buy a new jalopy. It ain't perfect is all I guess I'm saying
But there are perfect moments. I want to be unquestionably loved; that puts me
Out there, doesn't it? Doesn't it? I have no qualms about ripping open my favorite
Shirt & inviting, begging, daring the world to stab me as though I were some
Delusional Superman. How come time does travel more slowly than our lives?


This morning's read was simply manic.  Everyone was deep-snow-happy.  We've had at least eight inches of snow in the last couple of hours and it is still coming down as though it meant it.  The whole city looks like a bowl of vanilla ice-cream.  It makes people silly-happy as it slows down the world.  And that must be just the right mood for reading No Soap, Radio! because Milo brought the house down, he was operatic and howling.

Kathryn, our new intern, went the other way with her reading, quiet and slowed right down to a crawl.  It was like she haunted the room with the quirky sermons of a drunken priest full of wisdom and spite.

Everyone loved these poems.  They made us feel small in a vast world and then Cohen would say something that made us know he had not given up.  

Regrets Only

My old man knew I always loved music so he pinched a stereo
That "fell off a truck" that dinged all my original recordings,

Made them skip, even though I replaced the diamond needle
& weighted the crooked arm with Scotch Tape & Indian pennies.
When he left for his extended stay in heaven without life
Insurance it was clear the concept of angels was a misconception.

God's associates were more akin to Insurance Claims-Adjusters
Screwing you out of your life's fondest moments. It ain't

Like there's a shortage of things anyone prays would turn out
Differently. At the reunion the cheerleader who doesn't show
Is the girl who bludgeoned her parents with unused garden tools--
No one is surprised by the late arriving transvestite who

You could just tell even then. There are a hundred types
Of forgetfulness wedged between I can't find my car keys

& who am I! I'm at the age where I shouldn't have too many
Individual regrets, when my life is record-skipping into one
Massive regret. Each evening I overfull my whisky glass above
The imaginary line. You are afforded only so many opportunities

To adjust your life--most of us ignore them, zipper our parkas
& trudge head down into the bitter wind, high-stepping

Unpredictable precipitation. You look around--no wonder
Gods a haunted insomniac. You have to admit people were
A very fancy idea. The girl who murdered her parents, when
She comes up for parole, is just an abstraction her sisters nix.

The mixed bouquets, after a few days, regret their involuntary
Violent departure from the cultivated soil though they've earned

Journeyman status at the slow art of decay. Despite my bitter
Intuition, I've been a lazy, angry, irresponsible father, a horrible
Example, pounding the coffee table, threatening what I didn't
Even mean, nicking the mahogany with my father's wedding ring.


Cohen takes on all the big subjects, finds a perspective that whittles them into Cohen-reason.  Take Tom Waits, Will Rogers, Ron Koertge, St. Raymond of Carver and the inebriated ghost of a plucky Anne Sexton and swirl them around your head for a bit.  Today's book of poetry is convinced these dandies and dozens more have taken up residence in the noggin of Bruce Cohen.  How else could he spew such splendid poetry like whim.  Every page of No Soap, Radio! is a different and exhilarating slap in the face.

American Vacations

If you are honest with yourself, you'd say life is disappointing
& disappointingly incomplete, more than just a little something
Is missing, like flat soda on a scorching day with no ice; the ice
Machine's busted: a sign posted at the truck stop. You're a fan

Of crushed over cubes anyway. At the motel you peek under
The Murphy bed and instead of customary dust bunnies you find
Actual monsters. The problem with humanitarian traps is once
You trap them you have to deal with releasing them somewhere.

You're not a killer after all. Mornings you wake hopeful till
The bathroom mirror butts in. Your family would run smoothly if
Everyone committed to sing language. Arguments would be more
Vanilla compact. Jerked around by your choke collar, your life tugs

You in this direction, not that. This Saturday, instead of a picnic, tour
The countryside to select the idyllic location for your grave. Isn't this fun
Kiddos? Some knucklehead is scratching his lottery tickets while you're
Trying to pre-pay for your fill-up of high test. Mostly you wish you had more.

Or less. Sometimes even weather fucks you in the ass. Historically speaking,
People paid off their mortgages, had mortgage burning shindigs,
Whisppersnappers torched draft cards and millionaires fired
Their non-Cuban cigars with "fitty" dollar bills. Now people are wicked

Different. It's all very different. The only liberating burning is our skin
On vacation. You'd rather not leave a child or dog unattended in a car.
The windows rolled up, on a sweltering beach-day. And what do you do
About the pieces of fruit rotting in the bowl, drosophila incubating on

The browning bananas and bruised mangos? This is your life now: the heater
And air conditioner simultaneously stuck on full blast and time's a stashed snowball
With a piece of glass meticulously placed in the center. You tuck it in the freezer,
Saving it for summer, snowball monopoly. But there are too many flip-flops

In the world, more flip-flops than feet. Successful people vacation with successful
People. That's why the unsuccessful spill red wine at parties and their suits seem
Wrinkled, out of date. Even Freud dreaded, some days, seeing his patients,
Unable to drag himself to the office. Let's all call in sick for no reason!

Some people nap through their lives and suffer insomnia during
Their deaths. Suspend all your superfluous subscriptions.
You might as well change your phone number. Not unlisted though.
You're not completely anti-social. Just once before you die, China

Would like to visit you. In the grocery, cows with anxiety
Between the meat and milk sections organize an impromptu stampede.
While brushing your teeth the foamy truth rabidly seeps out. Finally,
In this life you are only a tourist and your camera is disposable.


Today's book of poetry is completely smitten by the poems of Bruce Cohen.  No Soap, Radio! is a small book, 6" x 7", and it may be the biggest thing I've read in years.

Cohen has mastered an utterly splendid dark geometry of the human heart.

Bruce Cohen

Born in the Bronx, New York, Bruce Cohen’s poems and non-fiction essays have appeared in over a hundred literary periodicals such as AGNI, The Georgia Review, The Harvard Review, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, Poetry, Prairie Schooner & The Southern Review as well as being featured on Poetry Daily & Verse Daily—He has published three previous volumes of poetry: Disloyal Yo-Yo (Dream Horse Press), which was awarded the 2007 Orphic Poetry Prize,Swerve (Black Lawrence Press) and Placebo Junkies Conspiring with the Half-Asleep (Black Lawrence Press). A new manuscript, Imminent Disappearances, Impossible Numbers & Panoramic X-Rays recently won the Green Rose Prize from New Issues Press and will be published in spring 2016. A recipient of an individual artist grant from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism, prior to joining the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Connecticut in 2012, he directed, developed, and implemented nationally recognized academic enhancement programs at the University of Arizona, The University of California at Berkeley, and the University of Connecticut.

  • "Mutability may be the rightful subject of the twenty-first century, and if it is, Bruce Cohen’s No Soap, Radio! is its funny, wise, and cantankerous handbook. These poems, part Luddite, part intrepid time traveler, inspect, reject, and grumpily give in to the racket of change: the slippage of language from pun to insight, gender transition at the gym, the endless potential of marital argument late capitalism-style, and vacations on which picking out burial sites is every bit as much fun as finding real monsters under the motel room bed. The mission here is to 'pinpoint where it all went chaotic,' and each poem charms us with oddly reassuring reminders of demolished places where, like Cohen’s displaced Tu Fu, we finally discovered we were supposed to be."
    —Lisa Lewis author of Vivisect
  • "No Soap, Radio! is a carnival ride of poetry. This book is whipsmart and strange, unsettling and joyous. Bruce Cohen interweaves the comic and the absurd with heartstopping tenderness. Crackling with jubilant complexity, these poems whirl and gut punch through today’s weird living—where 'most of us / are in a constant state of personal revision.' To shape his body for the beach, Tu Fu is 'all about protein.' But the vivid grace of Cohen’s poems is the way he Frankensteins together giddy and goddamn! In No Soap, Radio! you will find yourself the lucky winner of the most coveted prize in the midway—magnificent fun, jabbing you back into the exuberance of being fully alive."
    —Alex Lemon author of The Wish Book and Happy: A Memoir
"Bruce Cohen knows how to surprise and entertain. In No Soap, Radio! Tu Fu explores New York City, a sheet of paper falls 'Icarus-like,' and a man confesses, 'I speak in a Felix the Cat voice/ after a third vodka.' Wise to both the vetted and the lowbrow, the speaker in these poems is forthright, curious, and snarky. But beneath the exhilarating swagger, a world-weary loneliness pulses. Cohen transforms the loneliness into 'gossip & little reminisces' that tether—sometimes briefly—one life to another life. Highly entertaining, yes. But these poems are also empathic, brave."
—Eduardo C. Corral author Slow Lightning, Yale Younger Poet Winner
TBOP  is expierencing some very strange technicals quirks and difficulties today.  Milo is in danger of being fired.  Hopefully we will be back to our regular broadcast on Thursday.  xo

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.