Tuesday, August 30, 2016

I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World - Kim Kyung Ju (Black Ocean)

Today's book of poetry:
I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World.  Kim Kyung Ju.  Translated by Jake Levine.  Black Ocean.  Boston, Detroit, Chicago, USA.  2006 and 2015.

I Am a Season That Does Not Exist in the World

Kim Kyung Ju is ready to jump in to deep water anywhere.  In I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World we find ourselves swimming everywhere from between the tears of a doomed mackerel to between the paper sheets with Hegel and Holderlin.  Today's book of poetry was blown away by the sheer kinetic force of Kim Kyung Ju's robust and comprehensive verse.

These poems have a thickness to them, a viscosity, they are more sauce than soup, a big tasty chewy stew.

Bred From The Eyes Of A Wolf

If you come to my universe, it is dangerous--
I caught you stealing my bread.

At best life is walking about in the blood we own.

One winter, while he clenched his teeth on his mother's teet
the wolf's pupils slowly got fat.
Mom, continually in this life, why are we growing thin?
When you were born, I licked you.
In front of the girl I love, I want to take off my pants.
Because of your pubic hair, you can die--that's life...
If it poured snow, I raised my front legs
and nonstop knocked at the door of man
until your father and I shit on the same spot.
To carry you and your sisters here
for thirty years we drooled--meanwhile
to be beside men, dad cut off two of his legs and left.
Mom, my universe groans--it blows.
Every day I am silent. No noise. Not a footstep.
I hover around her window
but you're not allowed to leave blood on her street.
When people look at your blood, the volume of their footsteps turns to low.
So I understand now--when I see the light, I don't rush to it anymore.
Honey, you are not the only beast that wakes
at the sound of clenching teeth.
Darling, when you get older
I want to lose my way with you at my side.


Today's book of poetry is ready to put I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World up for best title of a poetry book in recent memory.  And, as it turns out, the title is prophecy, Ju is unlike any other poet we have encountered, he is writing from the strange weather of a fifth season.

Today's book of poetry believes that Jake Levine's translation is crystal, laser, dead-on clear and as a result Ju's Korean explodes in an English that taunts, teases, tickles and terrifies.

I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World has sold over 13,000 copies in 13 editions in Korea. I'd like to let that sink in a little.  Today's book of poetry can assure you that of the over 1,500 books we have looked at for this blog none of them come close.  We can say with confidence that 13,000 is a big, big, big number for poetry sales.  From now on TBOP will be keeping a much better eye on Korean poetry.

A Cloud's Luminescence

At the end of every night, the cornershop sells a candle.
At the corner a blind masseuse picks a razor blade.
Watching the weather forecast, the owner eats a can past its expiration date.
But the razor has no expiration date.
Too sharp, each one is dangerous.

Ducks biting dead rats enter the sewer hole.
From the sewer, the weather inside a room flows out like sick eyes.
This neighborhood finally turns around.

In a delivery van's cargo, short women browse through fish.
To see fresher fish, a man
changes the last lamp from his pocket and sees

the shadow of the tree elongating little by little.
Night soon will come.
Somewhere else, a child holding a doll without a neck
stares blankly into the sky
and in that same sky, the man looks into the rain
that contains a strange blue smell. Ah, the man thinks
that child that used to come around here, he will never return.

But where has the doll's face gone?
Maybe that kid is holding a kitchen knife
cutting the smiling doll's neck off?

The man flicks his cigarette into the gutter.
Birds hatching eggs in the kitchen, little by little, peck apart their eggs.

A cloud's luminescence deepens.


Kim Kyung Ju uses humour and dark wit as balance on his pendulum but these poems are full of heavyweight punches.  No holding back.

Today's book of poetry often feels like we are using confetti to describe constellations and cannot say enough to adequately describe the books we throw at you.  I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World is a perfect example of a book where there is more transpiring than I can provide entrance for here.  So think of me, Today's book of poetry, as a Doorman.  Come on in.

The Night The Cat Licks The
Glass Of A Butcher's Window

Spiders crawl inside the ears
of children sleeping on the street.
Stuck to the window of a midnight butcher's shop, a cat
on its hind legs pawing the glass.
Makeup is peeling on the chopped off faces lying in the trash.
Hooks hung on the wall spread open their vaginas
and drop blood on the face of time.
Inside a fluorescent tube filled with water
bugs lay dead eggs.
Not wearing pants, a reclusive shadow
paces to and fro between chunks of flesh.
The cat stiffens its back. Scowls.
A black tongue begins to lick the meat's neck.
Drooling, while licking intestines
under the street lamp, the hunger of the cat is illuminated
and the humiliation, ecstatic, that the tongue is sucking
stuffs the mouth of a girl turning down the street.


Today's book of poetry has found that we often have trouble with translations, between one language and another there is much open space, distance for meaning to get lost.  I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World leaves us with many questions, queries, inquiries for the future, more reading to do - but that is a good thing.

Kim Kyung Ju's I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In The World is poetry that will broaden your collection and your mind.  Once you've tasted Ju's new season it will be hard to forget.

Kim Kyung Ju

Kim Kyung Ju is a Seoul-based poet, dramatist and performance artist. His plays have been produced abroad in several countries and his poetry and essays are widely anthologized in South Korea. He has written and translated over a dozen books of poetry, essays, and plays, and has been the recipient of many prizes and awards, including the Korean government’s Today’s Young Artist Prize and the Kim Su-yong Contemporary Poetry Award. His first book of poetry, I Am A Season That Does Not Exist In This World, sold over thirteen thousand copies and is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed books of poetry to come out in South Korea in the new millennium.

Jake Levine has been the recipient of numerous grants and awards, including funding from the Korean Translation Institute, a Korean Government scholarship, and a Fulbright scholarship. He writes a series of syndicated articles in the Korean literary magazine Munjang, translating and introducing contemporary American poets to a Korean general audience. He is the author of two poetry chapbooks, edits at Spork Press, holds an M.F.A from the University of Arizona, and is currently getting his PhD in comparative literature at Seoul National University.




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, August 23, 2016

Vampire Planet - New and Selected Poems - Ron Koertge (Red Hen Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Vampire Planet - New and Selected Poems.  
Ron Koetrge.  Red Hen Press.  Pasedena, California.  2016.

Today is our 500th poetry blog here at Today's book of poetry and we've saved something very special for the occasion.  Ron Koertge's Vampire Planet - New and Selected Poems is simply Divine. Bloodsucking otherworldly in fact.

Today's book of poetry first read Ron Koertge in the early 80's.  Diary Cows (Little Caesar Press, 1981) jumped off the shelf and into my hands the first time I darkened the door of City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.  I was working as a chauffeur at the time and had a three day stopover in the city by the bay.  I was all Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac in the head at the time and Koertge was like a drink of some very fresh water.

Diary Cows did it then, Vampire Planet is doing it now.  How any one poet can be so hilariously insightful at full gallop simply baffles the bejesus out of me.  How splendid.

Diary Cows

Got up early, waited for the farmer.
Hooked us all up to the machines as usual.
Typical trip to the pasture, typical
afternoon grazing and ruminating.
About 5:00 back to the barn. What
a relief! Listened to the radio during
dinner. Lights out at 7:00.
More tomorrow.


Ron Koertge is an accomplished author outside of poetry world -- but we here at Today's book of poetry are so happy that this man continues to write poems.  In a perfect Today's book of poetry world Koertge would translate every bedtime story, rewrite every nursery rhyme, as far as we are concerned you could put a Koertge filter on it all.

Cinderella's Diary

I miss my stepmother. What a thing to say,
but it's true. The prince is so boring: four
hours to dress and then the cheering throngs.
Again. The page who holds the door is cute
enough to eat. Where is he once Mr. Charming
kisses my forehead goodnight?

Every morning I gaze out a casement window
at the hunters, dark men with blood on their
boots who joke and mount, their black trousers
straining, rough beards, calloused hands, selfish,

Oh, dear diary--I am lost in ever after:
those insufferable birds, someone in every
room with a lute, the queen calling me to look
at another painting of her son, this time
holding the transparent slipper I wish
I'd never seen.


Had to call Max, our Sr. Editor, out of his booky lair this morning to discuss the use of more than three poems for today's Today's book of poetry.  He enthusiastically exclaimed that for Saint Ron of K he'd take the heat from the front office.

Kathryn and Milo bebopped Koertge poem after poem to anyone who would listen this morning including three passers-by from the street.  They liked this next poem so much that they came in to our office, sat down and volunteered to work at Today's book of poetry.

Moving Day

While sitting home one night, I hear burglars
fiddling with the lock. This is what I've been
waiting for!

I run around to the back and open the door
invite them in and pour some drinks. I tell them
to relax, and I help them off with shoes and masks.

In a little while we are fast friends, and after
a dozen toasts to J. Edgar Hoover they begin
to carry things out. I point to the hidden silver,
hold the door as they wrestle with the bed,
and generally make myself useful.

When they get the truck loaded and come back
inside for one last  brandy, I get the drop on them.
Using Spike's gun, I shoot them both and imprint
Blackie's prints on the handle.

Then I get in the van and drive away,
a happy man.


All silliness aside I want to tell you faithful readers that it is poets like Ron Koertge and books like Vampire Planet that make this blog possible.  Vampire Planet should be on every single poetry shelf out there just like Billy Collins says.  This level of wise humour is two moons in the sky rare.

I talked to my brilliant wife K last night about today's blog and expressed deep concern that after 499 other poetry blogs where I suggested that they were all books you should read how do I express my enthusiasm for Vampire Planet with sufficient enthusiasm and originality?  She said she figured that by now the readers were either with me or long gone so just say what you feel.  So, take my word for it, Mr. Ron Koertge gives more poetry happiness per page than any other living poet I've found.

Why I Believe in God

I'd failed the examination allowing me to bypass the MA
          and go straight for a PhD, so I was forced to let
my friends forge ahead reading, if possible, longer and fatter
          books than before while I worked on something
by the Pearl Poet for my thesis.

          My advisor was Mrs. Hamilton, a world-class
medievalist and the most patient lady in the world.
          Every week I'd bring her a few pages of translation.
She would smile and correct everything. With her help,
          I finished.

An orals board consists of three members of the English
          Department and someone from another
discipline, usually an assistant professor from chemistry
          who drinks coffee from a beaker. But my guy
was from the German Department. He had a scar, for God's
          sake, that might've come from a duel. He
also wanted to begin because he had a few questions.

          "Vhat was the root of zis word? Zah root for zhat?
Who in his right mind vould mistake zhat as zis!" I glanced
           as Mrs. Hamilton who looked like she was watching
Thumper get hit by a tank. I took a deep breath and replied
          that I knew I was less prepared in German than
I should have been but German was the very next course
          I planned to take. I then hoped to move
to Germany and become German.

He sneered, but Dr. Rosenblatt, God bless him, asked me
          something easy: "What was Keat's first name?"
Then Mrs. Hamilton wanted to know if Whitman had a beard.
          Yes or no would be enough.

I was just getting my sea legs when Dr. Death leaned
          forward. "Vhat," he hissed, "is zah function
of zah ghost is Hamlet?" Actually he may have been
          trying to be nice because it isn't that hard
a question. The ghost is the key that starts the engine
          of the play. Without him, Hamlet is just
another pouty prince.

          But I froze. I couldn't think of anything.
My teachers stared at me. They leaned forward
          encouragingly. "Do you remember the ghost,
Mr. Koertge?" asked Mrs. Hamilton. "Yes, ma'am.
          "What was he in the play for?" My mind
was a blank. Less than a blank, a cipher. Less than
          a cipher, a black hole. Finally I said.
"Uh, to scare people?"

          They almost collapsed. Mrs. Hamilton put her
head in her hands. Dr. Rosenblatt murmured, "Oh, my God."

          Then they sent me out of the room. I pictured
myself selling aluminum siding. Or going into the Army.
          Or both. Then I heard the arguing begin:
Shakespeare had not been part of my course work. I'd
          been blindsided from the beginning by
an arrogant outsider. Dr. Hamilton said she knew the German's
          publisher; all she had to do was pick up
the phone and he would never see another word in print.

          They called me back in, said congratulations
and (all but you-know-who) shook my hand. Mrs. Hamilton
          gave me a hug and said she'd never wanted
a cocktail so badly in her life.

I stepped outside into the Tuscon heat. God was sitting on
          the steps in front of Old Main staring at his sandals.
"Ronald!" He waved me over. "I protected you when you
          drove home drunk, I introduced you to Betty Loeffler,
and I got you through that."
          "You introduced me to Betty?"
          "You were lonely."
          "Gosh, thanks."
          "You don't believe in me, but I believe in you. So I'm
interested in what you plan to do next.
          "Not get a PhD. I'm a terrible student."
          "You're telling me."
          "I like writing poetry."
God stood up. He had a great smile and, except for those sandals, a cool
outfit. "Fine. Be a poet. But don't say mean
things about people in your poems. Be generous. Don't be deep
           or obscure. Try and make people laugh." Then, just
before he disappeared, He kissed me. And that is why I am
           standing here tonight.


Vampire Planet is one big Olympic sized swimming pool and I don't want to leave.  In Koertge world other dimensions reveal themselves.  These dimensions present different future options, different distant pasts.  Koertge has a real knack for retelling stories we already know but with better endings.  In Koertge world future happiness is possible and the past is made more easy to bear knowing things are not always what they seem.

Koertge has a big bag of tricks.  Good poetry tricks.

Happy Ending

King Kong does not die. He gets hip to the biplanes,
lets them dive by and ionizes them. Halfway down
the Empire State, he leaps to another skyscraper,
then another and another, working his way north
and west until people thin out and they can disappear.

Fay's boyfriend is sure she is dead OR WORSE,
but just as he is about to call out the entire U.S.
Army, a scandal mag breaks this story: the couple
has been seen in seclusion at a resort somewhere near
Phoenix. Long lens telephoto shots show them sunning
by a pool. There are close-ups of Fay straddling
the monster's tongue and standing in his ear whispering
something Kong likes. Look, his grin is as big as
a hundred Steinways.


Ron Koertge is a poet I've been looking up to for a long time.  When Vampire Planet came through the Today's book of poetry doors - that was the day I knew this blog had been a worthwhile venture. Vampire Planet is a place I'd like to go.  Think of this book as a problem solver.  From now on, whenever someone asks you why you like poetry you can just go the shelf, pick up your well thumbed copy of Vampire Planet and hand it to them.  Say "here, eat this!"

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Milo, our head tech, Max, our Sr. Editor and the three passers-by from the street have just opened a ten a.m. bottle of Tuscan red and are all sitting on the floor in a circle in an apparent happy poetry place.

Koertge will do that to you, he did it to me in San Francisco over thirty years ago and now he is doing again.  The old poems sound as fresh as morning rain, the new poems amaze and astonish.
Today's book of poetry has been in love with poetry since I was twelve years old and in a few days I'll be 60.  I saved Vampire Planet for my 500th blog mostly as a gift to myself for getting old but damn it, Koertge makes me feel young.

Vampire Planet

On weekends we go to movies. Pay a fortune
for plush, satin-lined seats.

We sip V-8 and bitch about six dollar popcorn.
A medium, if you can believe that.

But tonight's movies is worth it. A robot kidnaps
a blonde. He carries her everywhere.

We are out of blondes here. We should have
planned ahead.

At home, I'm restless. I hate the way some
moonlight sprawls acorss the children's

playhouse in the yard. I remember plunging
through heavy air toward some lamp-lit

room brimming with smooth flesh. My wife
tugs at my cape and asks, "What are you

thinking about, sweetheart?" We've been
married for light years, so I know when to lie.

"That robot. I feel sorry for him." Her, draped
across those stovepipe arms, his staggering

like a tipsy groom looking for the bridal
suite with its scarlet, heart-shaped bed.


Ron Koertge

Poet and young-adult novelist Ron Koertge grew up in rural Olney, Illinois, and received a BA from the University of Illinois and an MA from the University of Arizona.

Comfortable in both free verse and received form, Koertge writes poetry marked by irreverent yet compassionate humor and a range of personas and voices. He has published numerous collections of poetry, including the ghazal collection Indigo (2009), Fever (2006), and Making Love to Roget’s Wife (1997). His novels and novels-in-verse for young readers include Shakespeare Bats Cleanup (2006), The Brimstone Journals (2004), and Stoner & Spaz (2004).

Koertge’s honors include a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a California Arts Council grant, and inclusion in numerous anthologies such as Best American Poetry, Poetry 180, and Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” column. Koertge’s young-adult fiction has won awards from the American Library Association and PEN.

Koertge lives with his wife in South Pasadena, California and teaches in the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota.


“"Whimsey meet Oddness. Meet Oddness, Pathos. Hey, Pathos let me introduce you to Funniness. Don't make fun of her name, though, don't try to be funny—leave that to her. Fantastical! Say, I'd like you meet Whimsey, Oddness, Pathos and Funniness. (Yeah, shush, we've heard that joke—stick with the fantastical, O.K.?) Is that . . . ? Look, it’s Ron Koertge, hanging out with Tenderness. Hey Koertge! C’mere, I want you to meet Whimsey, Oddness, Pathos and Fun . . . Oh, you know them already? Oh. You guys know Ron? For a long time? Oh. Yes. Right. I knew that.”"

—--Suzanne Lummis

“"Wit, the impeccably dressed and better educated sibling of funny, suffers an unstable reputation: clever yet aloof, socially polished but oddly cold. In the warmer, less formal surroundings of Ron Koertge’s poems, however, wit lets down its guard and, behold: charm, intelligence, amazing inventiveness, and a kind of sweetness in its patient regard for a world so frequently bereft of those qualities. So what could be more welcome than a new Koertge collection, where wit presides, and wisdom elegantly clothed in laughter is always in attendance.”"

—--B.H. Fairchild

“"Ron Koertge is an expert in the art of disorientation. His tongue-in-cheek poems are clever, of course, but they also dispense an unsettling, probably illegal mixture of Novocain and Kool-Aid. When you finish a poem by Koertge, you look around with the sensation that your living room furniture has been rearranged while you were away. This is his long-standing, one-person campaign for wakefulness in the human situation. The New & Selected Poems is a serious cocktail.”"

--—Tony Hoagland

“"Many Koertge classics are gathered here (like ‘Coloring’ and ‘Cinderella’'s Diary’) alongside new and surprising poems that journey deep into the imagination’s outer limits.Vampire Planet deserves a place in the poetry section of every heads-up reader.”"

—--Billy Collins

Ron Koertge
video:  edwinvasquez



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.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Deaf Heaven - Garry Gottfriedson (Ronsdale Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Deaf Heaven.  Garry Gottfriedson.  Ronsdale Press.  Vancouver, British Columbia.  2016.

Today's book of poetry has previously looked at two other titles by Garry Gottfriedson.  Skin Like Mine (Ronsdale Press, 2010) and Choas Inside Thunderstorms (Ronsdale Press, 2014).  You can look at both of those here:

Deaf Heaven is more of the same and it starts as it means to go on.  These poems are a screaming indictment that rips any comfortable delusions away just like a whip tears skin.  All that is left are the twitching nerve-endings and the accusatory salt to be rubbed in the wounds.  Hard.

Deaf Heaven is a complicated riffing scream/plea, is there a god, any god, listening?

Today's book of poetry knows nothing of Garry Gottfriedson's personal history except what has been written in these poems, his earlier books, but these poems certainly make an impression, you certainly feel like you're learning something.

Moral Standards

draw in the chorus of howls
long fought for release
hiding beneath black robes
and in solemn sermons
catching documents
in god's confession boxes

when the consecrated men were exposed
moral bankruptcy was no longer
in question -- delusional
claims of justification
and faith tucked in the dark wedges
between sweaty legs
imagining the neat corners of beds
in school dreams
making the sign of the cross
completing the trip to dorms
because god equipped them
with superior moral standards
that allowed them
to be free of sin

and those who cruise
skid row in Mercedes
don't know why
the destitute child seeks
salvation in the piss-riven streets
a needle dangling from their palm
a fist coiled in sloppy war
crossed-over feet spiked
down with decades of holy sins
while the selection of popes
follows Darwin's theory of evolution

nor do the salvation seekers
know those queens and survivors
carry the weight of the Vatican
in their wombs and rectums
even believing
rape was legitimized by god

it is hard to imagine, even accept
that the purple cocks of priests
were the toys they played with
their Jesus-like entrapment
nailed to their skins
and they smell, not of droplets of blood
dripping from the heart
but the stink of their predator's sperm
crusted in private places

Indian country is full of witnesses
while the city folk spout racist rhetoric
smothering the healing songs
and losing the hope
they can't even imagine


Poetry doesn't have to be political although Today's book of poetry would suggest it is political by nature.  Deaf Heaven is overt, in your face, hopeful against hopeless years of indifference and worse. This shout is clear and loud enough to rise above the normal din, it is a call for respect.

Gottfriedson repeatedly calls out the status quo with his bold and assertive poems.  The thing to remember for a poetry blog is that Deaf Heaven would be simply all justifiable rage/rant if it weren't for the poems working as poems.  Gottfriedson is in firm control of this freight train, he's driving these poems at breakneck speed, making the rails scream red as he runs it right up against the fence,   He wants us to see everything.

Star Quilts

when the weak light of morning appears
the stars are not what they were

they are memory a million years old
woven into Star Quilts

each thread is a declaration

our stories and lives are stitches of celebration
interlaced in a span of lifetimes

they are the colour of love and war
and the natural hue of our skin

the smell of grandmothers and grandfathers
breathing those stories into our blood

the taste of our mothers' milk
the callused hands of our fathers silken on our cheeks

it is our purpose for being parents
for the living warmth of our children just born

and so when daylight is finally here
we wrap our newborn in freshly made Star Quilts

and remember


And then there is hope, that most beautiful of human attribute, and love poems.  Deaf Heaven is not without hope, it is not all grief.  Sometimes the best poetry turns out to be full of wondrous contradictions.  We live with such certainty that when we find it to be unfounded it shifts our center of gravity.  Many of these poems dial right in to that trick.  Gottfriedson wrestles with some dilemmas, kicks the crap out of others.

These poems roll on making heroic and true claims, Gottfriedson loves nature and his family and Leonard Cohen, Secwepmc culture and history and love poems and so on.  It's in every poem.

Koko Taylor

the heart of Koko Taylor
rumbles in my ears
cavernous sounds
forged in my veins
iron softened to strong affection

notes burst from the deep
rasps of desolate words
I'd rather go blind
than to see you
walk away from me

and you over there, my voice tugs at you
rasping blues songs
weepy notes escaping disbelief
lingering in your fresh scent
still on my skin

I want so badly to let you go
to scrub my body with wild rose
to cleanse myself until it is over
to offer myself humbly to the world
I want so badly...


And if all this weren't enough.  A dip of the hat to Koko Taylor and her Wang Dang Doodle heart.   Gottfriedson knows exactly how to go for Today's book of poetry's jugular.  Today's book of poetry could listen to him explore, pontificate, party weep or pray.  This sort of intelligent energy makes for exciting poetry every time.

Garry Gottfriedson


Garry Gottfriedson, from the Secwepemc nation (Shuswap), was born, raised and lives in Kamloops, B.C. Growing up on a ranch in a ranching and rodeo family, he has been fully immersed in his people’s traditions and spirituality. He comes from four generations of horse people. His passion for horses, raising and training them, still continues to this day. He holds a Master of Education from Simon Fraser University and has studied Creative Writing at the Naropa Institute in Boulder, Colorado. His published works include 100 Years of Contact (SCES, 1990); In Honour of Our Grandmothers (Theytus, 1994); Glass Tepee (Thistledown, 2002, and nominated for First People’s Publishing Award 2004);Painted Pony (Partners in Publishing, 2005); Whiskey Bullets (Ronsdale, 2006, and Anskohk Aboriginal Award finalist); Skin Like Mine (Ronsdale, 2010, and shortlisted for Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry); Jimmy Tames Horses (Kegedonce, 2012); Chaos Inside Thunderstorms (Ronsdale, 2014). His works have been anthologized both nationally and internationally. He has read from his work across Canada and in the USA, Europe and Asia.

“Gottfriedson’s poetry is built to endure and it will remain with you long after this book is closed.”
     – Alexander MacLeod, author of Light Lifting, finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize

“Garry Gottfriedson rides double, calling out the violence and corruption he’s seen, while reminding us that grounded strength comes from staying connected to grandmothers, grandfathers, horses, and the land.”
     – Rita Wong, author of Forage, winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize

“Gottfriedson writes us the sound of his blood, the splatter of ink on wood, and the dripping sweat and tears of prayer — all of it telling us who we are and chanting, as if in chorus, ‘survival is brilliant.’ Will we be wise or strong enough to listen?”
     – Shane Rhodes, author of X: Poems & Anti-Poems

Garry Gottfriedson
Cascadia Poetry Festival
video: MS Poetry Docs




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.

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Names of Birds - Daniel Wolff (Four Way Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Names of Birds.  Daniel Wolff.  Four Way Books.  New York, New York.  2015.

Daniel Wolff riffs fantastic all over The Names of Birds.  This is an avian splendor, bird watching on a human scale we can relate to.  

Wolff is the most recent provocateur in a noble tradition that gives meaning to our world by taking meaning from the acrobats of the sky, their flight and song.  Canada's Don McKay most nobly flew over this terrain with his magnificent Birding, or Desire (McClelland and Stewart, 1983).  McKay concerned himself with the "deep rhythms of family life" and Wolff filters through the whistle and birdsong of winged beasts to do the same.

Northern Mockingbird

How do I know which song is yours
when yours is composed as imitation,
culled from the calls of dozens of others?

I suppose if I knew the cardinal's solo
and could spot how you follow that with the sparrow's,
I could hear the two as one.

I could call you a hopeless romantic:
in thrall to others, forever trilling,
wintering only where the wild rose grows.

But for me to superimpose such meaning,
I suppose I'd have to believe I wasn't. Have to believe
it was you, not me. And that truth was never a mimic.


It's not that Wolff anthropomorphizes flight but instead he has learned to listen hard enough to decipher the difference between chirp and chip.

Today's book of poetry has often talked about joy in poetry and the genuine thing seems to be a rare commodity - which makes The Names of Birds that much more of a treat to share, there is optimism here, Daniel Wolff gives us reason to look up and forward.

Red-Tailed Hawk

"Easily identified by its distinctive, dark red tail."
Easy, maybe, if the northerly wind
would pin the bird as it rounds the point,

but it blows past, as does another
--smaller? barred? with black markings?
Gone before I can see what it is.

          No: gone before
          I can tell what it is.

A spotless day for migration: a spray
of old snow still left on the ground
and cold: the harbor frozen tight.

I walk as far as the channel markers.
They're dark red, too, but anchored in place
as if you could chart water.


This morning's read was a quiet and gracious ramble.  Milo, our head tech, did us proud with projections of each and every bird onto the wall behind our readers.  Milo came prepared this morning.  Today's book of poetry should have told you that each of the poems in The Names of Birds is the name of a bird.  Duh.  

While I'm no naturalist I do marvel at birds, and now marvel at Daniel Wolff, an emotional Audubon who got these poems down in spite of the speed of flight.  These poems quick scrabble over the page with such easy delight and elan that you are convinced the wisdom is real.  The final feeling you are left with upon completing The Names of Birds is akin to witnessing the murmuration of starlings.  And it is a damned good feeling.

Try this video and see if aren't smiling when it is over:

Barn Swallow

The pond is punctuated with weed.
The puddles along the road contain
microscopic, shell-shaped eggs:
code for mosquitoes-to-be.

Up in the air, barn swallows
sign what look like their signatures
by catching what I can't see.

     One lands on a willow festooned with puffs
     of pale yellow. Check the book:

They divide and subdivide the sky
at such speed that at some time
surely the bits have to collide? Never. Never.
They don't know their names.


Daniel Wolff has done something splendid with The Names of Birds.

Daniel Wolff

Daniel Wolff has published numerous well-received non-fiction books, including a national best-seller that won the Ralph J. Gleason Award for the best music book in 1985. He was nominated for a Grammy in 2003 and was named Literary Artist of 2013 for Rockland County, New York. He has also collaborated on documentary films with Oscar-winning director Jonathan Demme, pop songs, and performance pieces.

"A beautiful book. Decisive and moving."
      -- Jonathan Galassi
"The poems in The Names of Birds aren't really about birds. Instead each individual species is a filter through which the human is seen, so that observation and introspection become overlaid and compounded acts. These poems show us the more accurately we can look outward, the more deeply we can see within our human selves."
      -- Lucia Perillo
"This poet ushers in a year's seasons by counting and naming 17 pages of birds for Fall; for Winter, only 7 actual birds as well as some featherless presences (in one poem, he sees instead of a bird a tanker!); of course Spring returns to a good many birds, 12 in fact, though he sees blue jays twice; then Summer concludes with a mere 5 birds -- what's going on here? You'll soon see if you read for yourself (take it slow: lots is told -- learned, cherished, despised, even worshipped -- besides those very real birds. Like that Horned Grebe, as the poet says: 'His dive extends and still extends. / I leave. The water mends / behind me. Funny how the brain defends / desertion. It hears the cry the grebe (finally) sends / as laughter.' Birds and all, as you can see. I promise you, Daniel Wolff is a wonderful poet."
     -- Richard Howard
"Traveling the seasons with Daniel Wolff's stunning poetry collection is indeed a great gift. Big questions collide with nature's majesty here, moving us closer to see not just 'how the nest is attached to the tree' but how we are attached (or dis attached) to ourselves. The narrator of the poems 'Eastern Screech-Owl' declares that he is not an ancient poet, but there is so much heart and Art is these pages to show that neither he nor Wolff have to be. We are more than grateful for all they have already offered."
     -- Edwidge Danticat



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, August 9, 2016

Slow States of Collapse - Ashley-Elizabeth Best (A Misfit Book/ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Slow States of Collapse.  Ashley-Elizabeth Best.  A Misfit Book.  ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.

Slow States of Collapse by Ashley-Elizabeth Best, ECW Press

Ashley-Elizabeth Best's Slow States of Collapse is the least apologetic and beautifully maniacal book of poems Today's book of poetry has encountered in some time.  Best kind of reminds us, briefly, of a young Judith Fitzgerald's brave Victory (Coach House Press, 1985) and even, momentarily, of Linda Pyke's Prisoner (MacMillan, 1978).  Both of these were revelations, brimming with new kinds of daring.  But Best has upped that game.  Slow States of Collapse is stunningly good almost all of the time.  Every once in a while it is great.

I'd Like to Be the Subject
of Your Neck Tattoo

I spent three years
translating his smile,
abandoned words moulding
the silence after our fights.

I thought about him more
in French than I did English,
and even my prized bilingual
tongue could not word his feelings.

A tattoo rounded his throat, curved
behind the soft flesh of his ear --
the faded blue skin read, Betty.
I've known Betty for three years,

have never heard him mention her.
Something too tender to touch.
In the night, I stare her down.


Best's poems wrestle with some dark angels and once in a while a demon shows up to play.  Best's poems call these demons out and puts faces on their guilt.  Best doesn't seem to be frightened by a single thing.

There is a throbbing sensuality at work in Slow States of Collapse, a genuine swoon when called for but this isn't Penthouse Letters or Red Shoe Diaries.  The carnage the collision of love leaves behind in Best's poems is real.  This is where "all we can give is a gift of blood on stone."

Best gave Today's book of poetry a hard time.  Our recipe of a three poem meal just doesn't seem enough on certain days and today is one of them.  It is a hard pill leaving some poems behind.  This was one of those days when during the morning read we put things to a vote.  During the vote, Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, siddled up beside me like the sweet and considerate associate I've known for a couple of years and playfully/then not so playfully at all whispered into my ear that I was to use her list of three Best poems or Kathryn would "cut" me.  "Quick,  No one would even see!"  Then she smiled like a young Audrey Hepburn and scampered back to her desk with her best wistful grin.

Growing Up

Loving Daddy was like inviting
wasps to nest under your skin.

I grew up believing in the rough
cascade of a watermarked horizon,
never to trust in praise,
to remember how much of our lives
are rounded with sleep,
to thrash the moment from its bone.


No one is coming to save anyone in Slow States of Collapse, that's pretty clear.  But in case you were still wondering Ashley-Elizabeth Best puts any rumours to bed.  Today's book of poetry simply loved this hard charging, take no prisoners, bridge no bullshit, go down swinging marvel of a book.

There is so much heart at work in these poems Today's book of poetry was momentarily concerned for Best.  Then we realized that hearts like these are virtually infinite and possibly indestructible, even if they are burning a bit around the edges.

How to Recognize a Wolf in the Forest

I was just thinking
maybe I have too much time.

I lounge the skirts of a dance floor,
admire articulated spines, bodies
mournful enthusiasm, beats
that thud and fall, yaps of whalesong,
arms porpoising above
the overcrowded dance floor.

I want to build a skeleton of their
stories, grief heaped on the bones
of a schoolgirl's map, dancers
with a painted past.

Some poor girl's man is throwin' leg
with a young brunette. She's pinned
to the wall, her skin dog-eared
and foxed like a well-read book.

No matter how hard I drink or dance,
nothing here ever feels good.

The guy I find myself under later
is sexy in a coked-out kind of way,
body modifications tasteful and
numerous, metal shine roadmapping
his known history.

The need for it has grown.

In my life, I've been loved more than I know.


Oh Canada!  To have so many fine wonders.  Ashley-Elizabeth Best is the best discovery Today's book of poetry has made since maple-sugar met bacon on a water chestnut.

Ashley-Elizabeth Best

Ashley-Elizabeth Best is from Cobourg, Ontario. Her work has appeared in Fjords,CV2, Berfrois, Grist, and Ambit Magazine, among other publications. Recently, she was shortlisted for the Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She lives and writes in Kingston, Ontario.

An impressive debut by an important new voice in Canadian poetry.  Ashley-Elizabeth Best's poems are sharp, and smart, and moving.  Slow States of Collapse is a collection to savour.
     - Helen Humphreys

The words of Ashley-Elizabeth Best send shocks of pleasure into the reader's brain and heart.  The poems in this debut collection remind me of Susan Musgrave's early work.  There's the same daring, sexiness, and lyricism.  Without a doubt, she's a new writer to celebrate and watch.
     - Lorna Crozier

Ashley's poetry "riddles the river with dark-wet / pocks of gold light"; she illuminates the terrain of everything we see and yet couldn't before name.  Her poetry is liquid and warm, a golden gift.
    - Sarah Yi-Mei Tsiang, author of Status Update



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, August 7, 2016

Because - Nina Lindsay (Sixteen Rivers Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Because.  Nina Lindsay.  Sixteen Rivers Press.  San Francisco, California.  2016.

Nina Lindsay writes beautiful poems.  In Because Lindsay may be simultaneously contemplating the end of days and the proper mix for scone batter or the theft of a stuffed animal from the Oakland Public Library and how that might be a gesture of love.  Where we find Lindsay is far less important than what Lindsay finds for us.

These poems have a particularly fine glow to them, polished but lived in, precise not pedantic.  Lindsay writes some entertaining verse.


After Brodsky

The song was there before the story
The clay in veins before the vessel

The ideal before the double-cross
The destination before the crash

The path worn down before the road
The pattern before setting stone

The urge was there before the flower
The wave before anything went under

The crystal formed before the snow
The embrace before the word for cold


Joy is a rare commodity in poetry, but it is readily available in the pages of Because.  Today's book of poetry suggests that Nina Lindsay is a pragmatic realist most the time and yet she has found a way to give these poems considerable and optimistic light.  

This morning's reading was held in the garden just outside our office.  Bright sunshine filled the sky this morning in Ottawa and these suckers rang out like welcomed birdsong even though there were still a few wine bottles left on the table from last nights revelry.  

Last night while K and I were inspecting wine glasses a wasp crawled around the neck of one of the bottles of red and then had gone in for a drink.  It was an almost full bottle so we decanted it and the wasp into a wide-mouthed glass.  The wasp hadn't gone under yet and although he was wobbly he was able to hang onto the offered garden shears of life.  Set him up on the wide wooden railing and let him drink/dry off.  After a few moments he kind of shudder stepped to his belly and dropped off his feet.  We thought he might be a goner.  Ten minutes of hard sun later he scampered to his wasp knees and startled to air his wings.  A few minutes after that he took off like a helicopter, like an elevator, flying straight up.  And that's how these poems work, a little wine, and then flight.

Poetry Is That

Prayer is that which conveys a message to God, who is either known or knowing, more or less
by definition. Poetry is that which conveys a message to a stranger.
--G.C. Waldrep

Put God aside, your glass of wine: someone is knocking at the door.
The late light is pressing them against it,

late, for April, and warm--
after a week of storms it came out falteringly, then stronger,

like a mezzo-soprano reaching full throttle.
So: the sun, the stranger, and there are birds

singing over supper, wisteria hanging full and drawn to earth,
neighbors crouched in shadows planting annuals from plastic 

And if you like to pretend to be impervious to the advances of 
at least take joy in the pretension

and joy in the declination of the dark
and the richness of dream that the dark produces.

It has something, still, to impart,
the part you most need, the dark part that spins,

so that the light spins off it, the minutes, the heat,
the nectar, nasturtiums, pollen, fennel,

steam from hung laundry,
blossoms blocking gutters,

loved ones doing dishes, chopping ginger,
bartenders paring gem-like ribbons of peel,

bus drivers pulling levers, bandmates returning amplifiers,
carpenters writing thank-you notes on yellow legal pads,

fathers clipping nails, jewelers crimping gold,
judges tending reservoirs of doubt,

children breaking sticks in the last of the light,
the unconsoled coming home,

and the stranger at the door:
still knocking,

soon to be either known or knowing,
and you: who are present, who are with them, who answers.


Lindsay contemplates post Katrina New Orleans by channeling Li Po, offers us up a poem about one house looking for another house with matrimonial interest, insists on upending our expectations by giving us "mistranslations" at whim, even a series of "Mistranslations of Animal Riddles," and writes the loveliest love poems to/about her husband.  This is a good thing.  Poetry should open doors we had yet to perceive.

Today's book of poetry was made enthusiastically happy by reading Because.  If you had any idea of what a miserable old contrarian I was you would see the magic in that statement.  

In Our Warm Tree House of Evening, You Stood
Before the Undone Dishes and I Answered the Door

Until I answered the door,
rain blew against the house.
I answered its perplexing questions, and it left.
We imagined the dishes done. We imagined our meal again.
the single pair of us in our floating house.
I sat and watched you stand before the undone dishes.
I flattered you with familiar phrases, I put my hands in your back
We uncomplicated the quilts. We stacked the beams. You sat by me
and unlaced my three levels. We understood, unbuilt,
repaired ourselves from spine to elbows. We lay back to back.
Unseated, in our unaccomplished,
unfamiliared, familiar bodies.


Nina Lindsay speaks so lovingly about love that everyone here at Today's book of poetry is jealous of her Oakland husband.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Milo, our head tech, were all lovey-dovey after this morning's read.  I told Kathryn that TBOP would need our copy of Because back for the office collection.  Almost certain I heard her mutter something like "not likely" but that couldn't be true for she is not the insolent type.  Besides, I know where Kathryn and Milo have their poetry bookcase.  

Because was thoroughly enjoyed here at Today's book of poetry, apparently enough to warrant theft because I just saw Kathryn leave with it under her arm.

Nina Lindsey jpeg
Nina Lindsay
(Photo by Aya Brackett)

Nina Lindsay’s work has appeared in the Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, Poetry International, the Colorado Review, Fence, Rattle, and many other journals, and has been awarded the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Prize. Nina also writes children’s literary criticism and reviews for Kirkus, The Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, and others. She grew up in Oakland, California, where she lives today, and works for the Oakland Public Library.

Nina Lindsay’s Because is beautiful work. The poems pick through the things of the world, her world, exposing the unseen and intensifying the seen. They question what she calls “our multifrond uncertainties and errors” and “hesitant happiness.” She negotiates with great poise the push-pull of darkness and light, presence and absence, waking consciousness and the dream life. The familiar becomes, in her telling, unfamiliar and fraught. “February’s dust is rapturous,” she says. The poems, too, even in their melancholies, are rapturous.”
      –W. S. Di Piero



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.