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



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1 comment:

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