Friday, September 30, 2016

Ceremony of Touching - Karen Shklanka (Coteau Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Ceremony of Touching.  Karen Shklanka.  Coteau Books.  Regina, Saskatchewan.  2016.

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Today's book of poetry had the distinct pleasure of writing about Karen Shklanka's first book of poetry Sumac's Red Arms back in November of last year.  Sumac's Red Arms was one hell of a debut. You can see that here:

Ceremony of Touching picks up the torch with aplomb.  Shklanka writes with such open emotion and accessibility that she reveals the inner workings of things.  Even things we don't want to know.

In one part of this world Shklanka is a physician, in another a dancer, she is a lover and a historian, and she is constantly reporting from her post as a poet.  It must get terribly crowded in Karen Shklanka's noggin' but then aren't we all fractured pieces trying to be whole?  Shklanka is a quick study in the fabrication of the glue that holds those pieces together.

One by One

At random times, when I am
wiping the dog's muddy paws, opening a biography
of Lord Byron, or undressing
for my husband, their faces
come to me.

Evelyn, who baked two
apricot loaves at a time - 
one for me - even after I
diagnosed her diabetes.

Albert, who brought me camellias
every spring, his wife's favourites.
His blue eyes filled and he blinked
each time he passed the pink flowers
to me, their stems wrapped in wet
paper towels and foil, the way
Edith used to.

Eleanor, unpacked from the ambulance,
rattled out on a stretcher. I'd just arrived
to do morning rounds. I recognized her,
even swaddled in white blankets, strapped
down, her smile twisted, eyes wide.
In the office, her loud voice made me smile.
Down with a stroke,
the ambulance attendant told me.
A dangerous new blood thinner
available, but only in the city.
No family to decide. Time
is brain. A four-hour window of chance
to give the medication. Too late
and the stroked-out tissue
softens and bleeds. There's time, I said,
called neurologist, the helicopter,
didn't tell them right off
she was a smoker, refused to take
Coumadin for her TIA's. To get your way,
sometimes it helps to smile as you talk.
As they wheeled her out of the hospital for transfer,
I took her hand, said, I'll see you
when you get back; it will be alright.

Years ago, when a patient died,
I went down to the river at night,
my husky howling into the wind
with me. Now, sometimes I cry,
sometimes I don't.

Nobody told me I would
remember the face of
each of my patients who died.
I wish I could remember every face
in detail, every voice, and listen
to their words. So
that I could read each name,
bring them to me. Hold them
for a moment.


Who among us hasn't wished to hold someone long past holding?  Ceremony of Touching explores many of the ways we come together to interact, love and hurt one another, all those juicy moments that make us human.

One section of Ceremony of Touching is a series of poems called Flight Log.  These poems create a fictional logbook for the flight of the Enola Gay on that fated day over Hiroshima.  These short poems are sparse, almost code, and almost perfect.  Shklanka has just the right balance of function and gravitas.  These little bullets are impressive.

Shklanka's curiosity does not let us down, these poems have laser guided vigor, whimsy when called for.

Trying Not To Remember the Woman in the ER

White needles, hoarfrost on the Douglas fir.
I can't leave my boyfriend, she says. Women use

what their partners do. I still want
to be a social drinker, she says.

All the new science is about immortality.
When's the point of no return,

journeying from bottoms up? It's snowing
at the bottom of the mountain,

not the top. When you're walking downward
inside a cloud, at what exact moment

does the snow start to form?
We say that hearts beat, but they don't.

They open and contract, open and contract.


This mornings read of Today's book of poetry went surgically smooth, everyone got out with only the smallest of scars and those were all neatly stitched.

Shklanda isn't afraid of shining the light on her own imperfections, these poems have the weight of truth about them.  Every dilemma does not have an immediate solution, or a solution at all, but these are the moments we have to live through, Ceremony of Touching gives voice to keen observations of our stumble.

Antidote II

A raven drops a chestnut into the middle of the afternoon,
flies back to the lamp-post, waits for the lights to change.
I am down to the last two patients of the day.

A woman with lung cancer whose father recently died
of the same. She inherited the smoking,
or the radon in the basement.
She asks me to tell her
whether she needs more chemotherapy.

The wife of a man with Alzheimer's. He needs diapers,
runs away and is returned home by police
once a week. She should let him go
into extended care. At least I will try
to convince her of that.

Cars will crunch the raven's chestnut into a smear.
The raven will eat when the light changes.


That's two for two.  Two books, Sumac's Red Arms and Ceremony of Touching, two books that Today's book of poetry thinks you should read.  Karen Shklanka writes fine poems and Today's book of poetry can't wait to see what comes next.

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Karen Shklanka
(photo: Tatiana Balashova)

Karen Shklanka is a poet, family physician and an Argentine Tango dancer. Her first book of poetry, Sumac’s Red Arms, published by Coteau Books in 2009, was nominated for aForeWord Review’s Book of the Year award. In 2012 she was long-listed for the CBC Poetry Prize (for “Flight Log” – included in this collection). Her poetry has been included in the Planet Earth Poetry Anthology and the 2004 chapbook anthology, Letters We Never Sent, edited by Patrick Lane. She was four times a finalist in ARC magazine’s international poem contest, and has been published in numerous other literary periodicals, most recently in CV2 and Room.

Born in Toronto, Karen Shklanka spent 14 years practicing rural and emergency medicine in small and medium-sized Canadian communities. She has an MFA in creative writing from UBC and currently works as a hospital-based Addiction and Pain medicine consultant in Vancouver, and as a Clinical Assistant Professor at UBC.



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

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Absolute Solitude - Dulce Maria Loynaz (Archipelago Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Absolute Solitude.  Dulce Maria Loynaz.  Translated from the Spanish by James O'Connor.  Archipelago Books.  Brooklyn, New York.  2016.


"The world gave me many things, but the only thing I ever kept was absolute solitude."
                                                                        - Dulce Maria Loynaz

Dulce Maria Loynaz (1902-1997) published her first book in Cuba in 1938.  She was popular in Spain in the 1950s.  She was not popular with the Castro government, she refused to join the communist party, her books were taken out of libraries and effectively censored and as a result she was no longer published, she retired to her home in Havana, in seclusion.

In 1992 Dulce Maria Loynaz was awarded the Premio Miguel de Cervantes - the biggest prize for literature in the Spanish speaking world.  Her work was allowed to be published in Cuba again.

Absolute Solitude represents the prose poetry of Loynaz, previously unseen and unavailable in English.  This poetry is entirely contemporary, modern and vibrant.


  I am bent over your image like the woman I saw this afternoon
washing her clothes in the river.
  On my knees for hours, hunched over the black river of your


Absolute Solitude presents as one poem with a myriad of numbered verses and voices.  The most constant lament is about loss, of love, security, future.  But Loynaz is never whining, these poems are always an accurate measure of intense keening.

Dulce Maria Loynaz is a one line master:

     "As passionate and delirious as an ugly woman's love."

Or two line:

     "There is still one difference left between us.  You have a tenderness grown weary and I have a 
       weariness grown tender."

Loynaz distills it all down with "words that could fill this silence."  She mourns and moans for her solitude, even when it is self imposed.  Her laments attempt to fill the space left by loss and the absence of love.


  The pebble is the pebble, and the star is the star. But when I take
the pebble in my hand and squeeze it, when I fling it to the ground
and pick it up again, when I pass it back and forth between my 
fingers...The star is the star, but the pebble is mine. And I love it!


Today's book of poetry is excited by the pure and elegant artistry of Dulce Maria Loynaz.  James O'Connor has seemingly seamlessly translated these powerful little prose poems, they gleam and punch.

Today's book of poetry is also excited to introduce you to the newest member of our staff, Odin. Odin has been brought in to deal with some minor security issues and any heavy lifting.  Odin writes poetry but has only every shown me one of his poems.  He keeps to himself, doesn't say much, but our office already feels warmer.  Odin has been given a free pass not to participate in the morning read unless he's ready.  

But the rest of the gang tore up Absolute Solitude.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor reads and speaks Spanish so she read the poems in the original.  Milo, our head tech, has taught himself to speak Kathryn (they are so cute together you want to eat ice-cream), so he followed her with the English.  

But back to the poems where Loynaz celebrated solitude.


  Fugitive wayward shadows of familiar but distant shapes I no
longer remember often appear on this bare whitewashed wall that is
my life.
  Wandering shadows projected by something I have never looked
for, that go so quickly as they come, disappearing without regret, fear
or desire.


These poems have fought off age, indifference, political scrutiny and sanction, they have fought off time to remain fresh and full of playful magic.  Dulce Maria Loynaz has all the solitude she could ever use now - I'm sure she won't mind that some of us are just discovering this charming Cuban poet.

Dulce Maria Loynaz

Dulce María Loynaz (1902-1997) is one of Cuba’s most celebrated poets. Her first book, Verses 1920-1938, was published in Cuba in 1938, but her novel and subsequent books of poetry were published in Spain in the 1950’s, where she achieved great success. After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Loynaz did not go into exile. She chose to remain in Cuba, but when she refused to join the Communist Party, her books were removed from Cuba’s public libraries and she herself was ostracized. In less than a year, Loynaz went from a widely published poet in Spain to a forbidden poet in Cuba. For the next thirty years, she lived in seclusion in her Havana home, unpublished and virtually forgotten. Loynaz was a 90-year-old widow when Spain’s Royal Spanish Academy unexpectedly awarded her the 1992 Premio Miguel de Cervantes, the highest literary accolade in the Spanish language. After the prize, Cuba finally published Loynaz’s novel, Garden, her Complete Poems, and her essays. She died five years later.

James O'Connor

James O’Connor is a poet, playwright, and translator. He lived in Cuba from 1999-2000 and his translations of Loynaz have been published in literary magazines in both the United States and the United Kingdom. In 2007, Against Heaven, his translations of Loynaz’s poems in both verse and prose, was published in the U.K. by Carcanet Press and was shortlisted for the 2009 Popescu Award for Poetry in Translation. He lives in New York City with his two daughters.

Dulce María, the gentle ivory-tower woman cut in a light feminine form between the gothic and the overreal...Brief as well as delicate, her tenuous Cuban word that would never allow itself to be cut in half, like paper of fossilized silk...a phosphorescent reality of her own incredibly human poetry, her fresh language, tender, weightless, rich in abandon, in feeling, the mystic irony on the lined paper of her everyday notebook like roses shrouded in the common.
     — Juan Ramón Jiménez

A cosmos of paradoxes, of encounters and failed encounters, of reality made into literature and literature seeped into reality.
     — Esperanza Lara Velázquez

That equilibrium between fortitude and tenderness—the strong and the sensible—never denies its feminine cast; just like it was never hidden in the life of Dulce Mariá Loynaz.
      — César López

If a picture is worth a thousand words a line from Loynaz is worth many times more.
     — Joseph Spuckler

The poems are intensely personal, and yet encompass universal themes: the agonies of love, the pleasures and terrors of solitude, wrestling with the divine. I was reminded, at different times, of Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Leonard Cohen, and Gabriela Mistral; while I often find contemporary prose poems difficult—too obscure, I suppose—these I found to be transporting.
      — Carolyn O



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, September 25, 2016

Tancho - J. David Cummings (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Tancho.  J. David Cummings.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland, Ohio.  2014.


Today's book of poetry agrees with Elizabeth Biller Chapman when she evokes Yeats "terrible beauty" in describing these hauntingly beautiful poems by J. David Cummings.  

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are sometimes fading memories from the consciousness of the contemporary world.  Cummings brings our very recent past to the forefront by putting us there.  Cummings puts us at ground zero in 1945 Japan in order that we may better understand, remember.

Were He a Boy, Sleeping

At first you don't see him,
and you don't see the slender trees outside,
the close-in-brush, the overturned wood crates
buried in the wide rectangle of afternoon light--
too bright a brilliance, sharpened
in the black frame of house timbers,
all of it defining a passage not there before.

But gradually your eye adjusts, the glare softens,
and you begin to make out interior shapes:
intact cedar beams, the remnants
of a sliding door, a slight clutter of debris...
you see him last.

                                  He lies flat
on his stomach, head turned from the light,
the side of his face resting on the floor,
left arm bent just in front, and his bare legs
stretched out straight, feet in extension,
the tops of his toes touching wood, pointed
perfectly, like one diving into water. He seems
a youth of ten or eleven. He seems to be sleeping,
and the light dapples him.

                      There are butterflies
                   warming in broken sunlight--
                         wake up, child, wake up.


Canadian Saint Al of Purdy tackled some of this same murky water with his arresting Hiroshima Poems (The Crossing Press, 1972).  John Hershey's Hiroshima (Alfred a. Knopf, Inc., 1946) tells the stories of several survivors in both harrowing and haunting terms.  J. David Cummings Tancho
bravely enters the same horrible and sacred ground.  Tancho shows compassion and respect as he makes his ghostly traverse.

These poems are a damnation of, and a treatise on, our infinite human capacity to inflict pain on our brothers and sisters.

The Gift of Memory and Forgetting

Looking back all these years later, how easy
to remember the gift: the children of the park,
playing at their invented games, the bounty
of paper cranes, those colors indeed a music,
and the bell's deep sounding that led me
from station to station, as if I were
once more in the church of my childhood,
and too the savvy pigeons, chased and lifting,
just out of reach of the smallest ones
still a bit unsteady as they run,
and their parents gathering them in
for picture taking, smoothing those bright energies
for that moment of stilled time, then
letting them go again.

                                      --Why remember grief,
what can it redeem?


I came to believe in a fierce remembering,
thinking that if hibakusha were invited
into the mind each day and seen as they are--
             scar and anguished soul and us--
then, I thought, every obscenity of war,
would come flooding in and for a day,
             that day, war would die.

In time, I perceived the error: to live
so deep in the past, August sixth cast
across the waking hours, hibakusha dreams
defining the night, our children bent
to those sorrows,
              the present, the future stolen--
there's no healing there, no safety


Year after year, word by word
Hiroshima evaporated into the silence.
People got on with their lives, children dreamed,
and I thought, This is how it happens.
All the words of remorse and remembrance,
the screams that lies beneath,
will have no suasion.

I want for some other way of memory,
one that holds a bit of forgetting, a bit of hope.

I suppose the Park is a good remembering, the bell is,
               each year the offered poem--
never enough, Koji-san, never...


                    The bell stands silent--
                 in the grass crickets quiet--
                     summer evening, late.


Today's book of poetry believes that J. David Cummings believes in redemption through remembrance.  It is essential not to forget our victories or the costs, the moral failures history disguises as war.  Tancho serves to remind us of how easily we forget, Tancho is a tender epitaph to the ghosts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  

There are no small lives in J. David Cummings poetry and no small deaths, you can feel their weight, the heft of every lost soul.

Grus japonensis

In Japan she is called tancho,
a word that means red crown and crane.
Her crown is more skull cap than crown,
but in the north sea island winter
dull red brightens at mating time,
and then she's the most graceful mistress
of the pas de deux. And she is
neither solitary nor many,
though time was she lived everywhere
among them, even as they warred.
Whatever struggle had been their lives,
they had always believed in her;
but then they lost their faith, and she
was hunted for her flesh and feathers.
The eating made them no less fierce;
the lavish feathers no more artful.
What had changed in them that they should
exchange the dream of peace for gain,
these malign one hundred years since?


Today's book of poetry thought Tancho crawled overs some dark territory with much grace. Cummings reminds us of the terrible costs of imagining we are Gods and reigning/raining fire on the world.  We need reminding of the horror lest we repeat it.

J. David Cummings
J. David Cummings

J. David Cummings was employed as a theoretical physicist at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for more than ten years. He resigned his position in 1973 out of the conviction that he could no longer work in nuclear weapons development, and never returned to defense work or physics research. In the early 90s he traveled to Japan, which afforded him the opportunity to visit the Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park. Later, meditating on his experience at the Park, and in response to the controversy over a planned Smithsonian Institution exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, he began the nearly two-decade project of writing the poems that culminated in his book, TANCHO (Ashland Poetry Press, 2014).

Tancho is a book that needed to be written and needs to be read. Its account of terrible beauty is itself beautiful, speaking of "hope and despair, the promise of each to other." Nagasaki, Hiroshima, "ruined human beings," a peace park, a sounding bell, a thousand paper cranes. Does the arc of history bend toward hope? One of the many haunting poems in this book describes the body of a boy in one of Yamahata-san's photographs of Nagasaki after the bomb, and concludes with a haiku:

There are butterflies
warming in broken sunlight
wake up, child, wake up.

Perhaps we all humanity are that child.
—Alicia Ostriker, final judge of the Richard Snyder Publication Prize

Perhaps we can never take adequate spiritual and moral measure of the first use of atomic weapons at the end of World War II, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't keep trying. J. David Cummings' TANCHO is a book of what he calls 'fierce remembering,' and I would add that these poems are also a fierce imagining of that world-historical event and its long aftermath. A former nuclear scientist himself, Cummings journeys to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and in both Japanese and English poetic forms, he takes us with him in a sustained meditation on the most bewildering of human sufferings. Like Sadako-san's colorful, folded paper cranes, these poems present us with a deeply moving and much-needed prayer for peace.
—Fred Marchant

"This impressive and moving collection rings with the 'terrible beauty' Yeats wrote about. David CummingsTancho is a work of conscience whose language, like the red-crown crane of the title, flies through the darkest night, with the wind of grace at its back."
—Elizabeth Biller Chapman, author of Light Thickens(Ashland Poetry Press)

"These are careful poems, full of care. These poems remind us how (and why) we must observe devastations from which we might otherwise turn away. These are graceful poems, full of grace. I am grateful for the scope of their vision."
—Camille Dungy, author of Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University 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.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Dear, Sincerely - David Hernandez (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dear, Sincerely.  David Hernandez.  Pitt Poetry Series.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, PA.  2016.

Dear, Sincerely is a monster book of poems.  David Hernandez is a monster poet.  These love letters are giant poems cutting a big path right into your central nervous system, once there they'll reset the jig.

Hernandez doesn't care about you, he will happily make you laugh or cry on whim with his wicked wit.

Last night, reading Dear, Sincerely in bed, I startled K with a rather loud and sudden expletive that I won't repeat here.  It was in reaction to Hernandez and it was my most genuine form of applause.  I only shout out loud when startled into it by fear or fierce admiration.

Dear Death

Cool cloak. So goth. I dig how the pleats
ripple like pond water when you move,
and the hood shadows the absence of your face.
Sweet scythe, too. The craftsmanship
of the wooden handle, how smooth the slow
curve. I had to look it up -- it's called
the snath (rhymes with wrath), or snathe
(rhymes with bathe). I prefer the latter, the long
a. Snath sounds like an infectious disease
I might've caught if my mother wasn't there
to steer me from the gutter, from large
puddles marbled green, mosquitoes
scribbling above. How many times
do mosquitoes do your dirty work anyway?
Versus fleas? Versus gunpowder?
How bone-tired were you in Tohoku?
The previous year in Haiti? Have you ever felt
the sepia wind of remorse? I have 77 more
questions for you, give or take, you're often
in my thoughts. Yesterday, while grinding
coffee beans. While cleaning the lint trap.
Dicing cilantro. Buying ink cartridges.
Clipping my beard. I could go on and on,
you're that legendary in my head.
It works this way: I'm running the knife
across the cutting board, the cilantro
breaks into confetti, I remember my mother
scattering the herb over a Chilean dish, then
her voice on Monday, "numbness in my leg,"
"congestive heart failure," and it fails,
my mind fast-forwards to when it fails,
I can't help it, you grip her IV'd hand, pull her
over, and it is done, her silence begins
blowing through in waves, icing the room--
the thought seized me so completely, the knife
hovered still above the wooden board.
Seriously though, cool cloak. Sick black
fabric. I heard if you turn it inside out,
the whole world's embroidered on the lining.


Dear, Sincerely is a solid stream of great ideas rendered poetic.  David Hernandez is the guy you want to be standing next to when perspective is required.  Hernandez is quite happy to entertain us, get us licking our lips with excitement, but the hammer is always there, even if we don't see it drop.   Hernandez is willing to amuse in order to give full range to his wicked knowledge of how hearts work, he knows all those minuscule compromises that get us through the day.

Our morning read in the Today's book of poetry offices was a sparkling affair, this morning the enthusiasm was contagious.  Like most very good poetry, Dear, Sincerely was even better when read aloud.

Sincerely, the Sky

Yes, I see you down there
looking up into my vastness.

What are you hoping
to find on my vacant face,

there within the margins
of telephone wires?

You should know I am only
bright blue now because of physics:

molecules break and scatter
my light from the sun

more than any other color.
You know my variations--

azure at noon, navy by midnight.
How often I find you

then on your patio, pajamaed
and distressed, head thrown

back so your eyes can pick apart
not the darker version of myself

but the carousel of stars.
To you I am merely background.

You barely hear my voice.
Remember I am most vibrant

when air breaks my light.
Do something with your brokenness.


Today's book of poetry just realized that we have to break our three poem limit.  I've discussed it with our seniour editor Max and he agreed.  Our reasoning is simple, I could not not let you see these particular poems.   That's how much we adore David Hernandez.  We're convinced these poems will make you yell out loud with happy sounds.

We Would Never Sleep

We the people, we the one
times 320 million, I'm rounding up, there's really
too many grass blades to count,
wheat plants to tally, just see
the whole field swaying from here to that shy
blue mountain. Swaying
as in rocking, but also the other
definition of the verb: we sway, we influence,
we impress. Unless we're asleep,
the field's asleep, more a postcard
than a real field, portrait of the people
unmoved. You know that shooting last week?
I will admit the number dead
was too low to startle me
if you admit you felt the same,
and the person standing by you
agrees, and the person beside that person.
It has to be in double digits,
don't you think? To really
shake up your afternoon? I'm troubled by
how untroubled I felt, my mind's humdrum
regarding the total coffins, five still
even if you don't. I'm angry
I'm getting used to it, the daily
gunned down, pop-pop on Wednesday,
Thursday's spent casings
pinging on the sidewalk. It all sounds
so industrial, there's nothing metal
that won't make a noise, I'm thinking every gun
should come with a microphone,
each street with loudspeakers
to broadcast their banging.
We would never sleep, the field
always awake, acres of swaying
up to that shy blue mountain, no wonder
why it cowers on the horizon, I mean
look at us, look with the mountain's eyes,
we the people
putting holes in the people.


Character, that's the word I've been searching for.  These poems have character in buckets, they have it in spades, in droves.  These poems John Wayne right into a room, they Mae West sashay around like they own the place, they run the place from the start and drag you in, "Dear Reader" they say, "get comfy."


I died. I was
born the day before,
floated up inside

a globe of air
to the water's 
wobbling roof.

I molted, opened
ghostly wings,
was soon

with my brothers,
one dot

on the stippled cloud,
We mobbed
above the river,

we eddied,
desire rousing
in each of us.

Every time
a mate arrived,
she left latched

onto another.
So went the minutes,
the river scrolling

endlessly. By dusk,
while the sky's
lush blue

drained out
I felt my life

ending. It could
not have been
any fuller.


You all know Today's book of poetry likes a little optimism, we like hope, and bless David Hernanadez's cotton socks, he gives us some of that too.

The whole reason I started Today's book of poetry was to share books I admired and Dear, Sincerely is mother lode stuff.  Poetry like this is the entire reason for the existence of Today's book of poetry. I'm telling you that David Hernandez is the real deal, he takes instant residency on the Today's book of poetry honour roll.

We loved this stuff all the way.

David Hernandez

David Hernandez’s most recent book of poetry, Hoodwinked, won the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. His other books include Always Danger and A House Waiting for Music. He is also the author of two YA novels, No More Us for You and Suckerpunch. David teaches creative writing at California State University, Long Beach.
“Do not let the fact that David Hernandez is one of the funniest poets at work today mislead you into thinking ‘comic’ poets can’t also be learned, wise, socially aware, and capable of deep pathos. Hernandez possesses all these qualities—in abundance. His new book is nothing short of dazzling.”
     —David Wojahn

“Hernandez is a poet writing to us from poetry’s epicenter—where music invents itself, and the psyche and the sensory world are one. These poems speak with such intimate authenticity that the reader and the words are never separated by more than a breath—and yet they’re overheard, perhaps not really meant for readers at all, which lends them their uncanniness. These are major, important poems.”
     —Laura Kasischke


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.

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Monday, September 19, 2016

To Greet Yourself Arriving - Michael Fraser (Tightrope Books)

Today's book of poetry:
To Greet Yourself Arriving.  Michael Fraser.  Tightrope Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.

To Greet Yourself Web

Michael Fraser's To Greet Yourself Arriving works a bit like hot magma, lava.  Left undisturbed it forms a thick and eventually rock solid black crust, any disturbance at all and you soon see it is red hot, in transition, and capable of scorching any surface on earth.

These poems are celebratory odes to a pantheon of black heroes throughout history.  They also work as a syllabus to an endless litany of injustice.  George Elliott Clarke, our poet laureate, wrote, "Fraser gives us characters who, even if tortured by their experience of "race" and/or racism, win through to a stardom that edges into heroism."

And Today's book of poetry must admit to a clinical weakness.  Pretty much any poem that mentions Miles Davis is going to hit a weak spot in my anatomy.  Michael Fraser knows the way straight to my heart.

Miles Davis

The day I met Miles Davis,
he poured gold tunes
out box speakers
and sailed ahead
out over coffee table plains
and climbed the foothill couch.
Each note carried its own light.
His trumpet called from the walls
and the ceiling was
a swollen cloud.

I was flung into brass moods,
my fingers pulsed to
the walking bag's groove.
I became a yard bird
with blues for sale,
a young rebel soul
counting the air-blast hang time,
all the hazed rhythms
taking a new wave elevator
to warm sound shallows.

Transfixed, I grabbed
onto the aural sculpture.
Water refused to go
down the drain,
time spiralled 'Round Midnight,
the air lit itself
and glowed like a June day.
It glossed Miles' Italian suit.
My eyes rode the album cover
with coolness coiling itself
into my bones.


Michael Fraser adeptly moves through a complicated cast of characters from the Cuban singer Celia Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, the Central Park Five, Gordon Parks, P.K. Subban, Miles Davis and so on. This is distinguished company by any standard but Fraser immortalizes them all once again with his passionate and all too reasonable To Greet Yourself Arriving.

The Lynched

The veins of these trees
know the night's flavour
as it climbs and
washes each leaf
in summer's moon shade.

The aging bark listens
and peers through time
back to laughing crowds
with their army of words.

How the boy swung
over the loose voices.
How flies chewed his face.

Morning brings its scavenger tide,
an establishment of worms and beetles
crawl from the dangling tongue,
sound of something feasting
from the inside out.

How a man suffocates in air.
How a man breaks down
in the deadfall earth.


Many heroes, big and small, famous and unknown hurdle through Fraser's book and towards eternity and all that judging.  By the time eternity arrives perhaps none of this will need explaining -- but the stories of these brave, brave, brave and beautiful men and women will always need to be told.

Fraser never lets anger get in the way of his retelling although you can feel it under the smoldering crust.  To Greet Yourself Arriving is going to be a guilty pleasure by association for many readers.   Someone is responsible for the horrible hellish rain of racism that continues unabated today.  The poems in Fraser's To Greet Yourself Arriving stand fiercely on their own as poems, tight and clear and clean, but as a chorus this book raises itself to a beautiful black sound.

Michaëlle Jean

Mountain hinges cracked and
snapped earth in a fly's wing beat.
Screams percolated up dusted rock
and waved galvanized roofs.
Everything was veined in stone.

The living stood at the rubble's end,
listened to the wounded sear in the
Caribbean's unforgiving heat.
My birth country stumbled against its
history. Flat bodies peppered streets.
Survivors cursed the ground's blowtorch.

There was never enough of it--
time. We jumped planes and cranked
our world's cupboards while doctors
severed limbs freeing wounded scores.
It was always more than we could take,
but we continued for those slipperless
street girls, each one reflected in me.


Today's book of poetry is happy to find hope in poetry and astonishingly enough Fraser is up to the task, he is able to pull that off in the middle of all that sad history.  Fraser's heroes remind us of the deeds in the very worst of human folly, all those terrible things our brothers and sisters have had to endure at our hands, and then in the same poems Fraser allows us to celebrate the absolute best in human achievement - in spite of the barriers, 

To Greet Yourself Arriving is one hell of a kick in the poetry pants.

fraser pic
Michael Fraser
Photo:  Krystyna Wesolowska

Michael Fraser is a Toronto high school teacher, poet, and writer. He has been published in various national and international journals and anthologies, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English, 2013. His manuscript, The Serenity of Stone, won the 2007 Canadian Aid Literary Award Contest and was published in 2008 by Bookland Press. He won FreeFall‘s 2014 and 2015 poetry contests and is the creator and former director of the Plasticine Poetry Series.
Michael Fraser
Spring Poetry Salon @ Urban Gallery
May 31, 2014
video:  Brenda Clews



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, September 16, 2016

Metanoia - Sharon McCartney (Biblioasis)

Today's book of poetry:
Metanoia.  Sharon McCartney.  Biblioasis.  Windsor, Ontario.  2016.

Metanoia  -  "change in one's way of life resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion."

Metanoia is a book length poem where Sharon McCartney lets all of her ya-yas out.  These meditations are robust and fearless and not without humour.

Metanoia is a consciously streamed commentary on what the heart wants and what it is willing to settle for.  Love in uncompromising but loneliness is a compromise waiting to happen.

from Metanoia

The banker snored outrageously and twitched in his sleep.
I could not sleep beside him.
This became an issue.
That last night, I snuck off to the spare bedroom,
hoping for an hour or two.

At 5 A.M., I heard him downstairs, loading
his vehicle, the door slamming, his shoes,
angry. He tromped upstairs, perched on the edge
of the bed in the dark, saying, darkly,
"I didn't want to leave without saying goodbye."

No, I thought, you didn't want to leave without hurting me.


McCartney's confessions can sound braggart cold but she is always on the precise pulse of where the skin tears.

Fearing too much Tennessee Ernie Ford in her future, the speaker in Metanoia finds any advice from her parent past antithetical, she wants to break free of all expectations and attempts to, only to crash and break again and again on the sharp shores of her own preconceptions of love, lust, desire and hope.

from Metanoia

I strung the fat man along;
I thought I was sparing him.

A lie. I was sparing myself.

Because I waited too long to speak,
I became revulsed.

The last time we had sex, I said to myself,
"This is the last time."
I did not say that to him.


Perhaps we are all mercenaries of love destined to karma payment for our sins and misdemeanours. Sharon McCartney has left Today's book of poetry wanting more with Metanoia, not because of any lack, quite the contrary, Today's book of poetry could read this sort of unselfish wisdom all day long.

McCartney sounds/feels so true that you feel terrible empathy for her unwanted lovers as well as her own unsatisfied angst rattling around in her big dreamy head.  At the same time the poems excite the reader with their candor because whenever McCartney rattles her own cage lust hits a target.

from Metanoia

What I felt so many years ago in the grade 9 English classroom,
how I lost my sense of membrane, of containment, my self
leaching into the Bermuda lawn beyond the sliding glass door,
into the eucalyptus, the succulents, the birds of paradise


Our morning read was taken over by an enthusiastic Kathryn, our Jr. Editor.  She insisted that Metanoia needed a woman's voice and she was the one to provide it - she was right.  Kathryn read the heart right out of these poems and into the room.  

Sharon McCartney has shared an emotional pilgrimage with carnal candor and a hopeful heart.  Today's book of poetry is always going to have all sorts of time for anything this dynamic and emotionally honest.  That's how revelations happen.

McCartney, Sharon
Sharon McCartney

Sharon McCartney is the author of Hard Ass (2013, Palimpsest Press), For and Against (2010, Goose Lane Editions), The Love Song of Laura Ingalls Wilder  (2007, Nightwood Editions), Karenin Sings the Blues (2003, Goose Lane Editions), and Under the Abdominal Wall (1999, Anvil Press). Her poems have been included in the 2012 and 2013 editions of The Best Canadian Poetry in English. In 2008, she received the Acorn/Plantos People’s Prize for poetry. She lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where she works as a legal editor.

“So much is revealed in so few words … It’s a book that feels light, but its delivery is heavy, and worthy of contemplation … McCartney is merciless in exposing vulnerability, but also builds an intimacy integral to Metanoia‘s achievement.”
     —Quill & Quire

“Sharon McCartney is something else, a poet with a personal vision who, in work after work, digs deeper into the exposed tissue of her own soul.”
     —Numéro Cinq

“McCartney’s poetic voice is direct, confessional, and, at times, philosophical, examining the nuances of family dynamics, romance, friendship, and illness. These lyric narratives are structured in single-stanza bursts of emotion and infused with plenty of raw vulnerability … These poems explore a romance with directness and emotional punch.”
     —Jennifer LoveGrove, Quill and Quire

“No unnecessary word, no dull word, no stock imagery, every new insight or description at once astonishing and just, everything at once new and yet polished, diamond hard. Her language is brilliant, sensuous, startling, sometimes relaxed and cajoling, sometimes savage.”
     —M. Travis Lane, The Antigonish Review

“You don’t read these poems, you feel them: Hammer in the head, shod foot on the throat, stiletto in the heart. It’s those combos of wild, piercing insights (or unusual but poignant images); yep, that’s what makes it good for you–or kills you, laughing.”
     —George Elliott Clarke

“Darkly obsessive, For and Against documents the rolling flux of life–the raw wounds of relationships in moments that are, in turn, anguished, edgy, droll, and affectionate. McCartney’s poems are an extreme sport–one well worth playing.”
     —Jeanette Lynes, author of The New Blue Distance

“McCartney has shown a delightful felicity in previous books with stapling phrases into the memory. For and Againstexpands this strength with different material, and it’s a testament to her talent that rawness isn’t diminished by an attention to fluency.”
     —Brian Palmu

“With her unflinching eye and masterful yet never flamboyant command of language, McCartney consistently distinguishes herself from her literary contemporaries.”
     —The Oxonian Review



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, September 14, 2016

Handmade Love - Julie R. Enszer (A Midsummer Night's Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Handmade Love.  Julie R. Enszer.  Body Language 05.  A Midsummer Night's Press.  New York, New York.  2010.


Julie R. Enszer's erotic poetry turns up the temperature of the room while gender politics clash against the day to day struggle of being human, straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender - which could make for a muddled dialectic but unlike this opening sentence Enszer doesn't get bogged down or falter.  

These poems are lightning flashes of sultry love.

Morning Pant

I know what women want to eat in the morning.
On Sunday, in college, I would cook eggs,
scrambled or fried, potatoes, and bacon--
pork then was still a subversion. Breakfast

for my best friend and the man she slept with last night.
I knew what women wanted to eat in the morning.
Alone on Saturday, I found ways to feed them on Sunday: eggs,
scrambled or fried, potatoes, and bacon.

The prospect of seducing a woman seemed simple, but
my best friend seduced the man she slept with last night
leaving my bed empty, my hands idle, my lips
alone on Saturday, until I found ways to feed them on Sunday.

Sauces can satisfy the need to break from the mundane.
The prospect of seducing a woman seems simple:
wine, marinara arrabiata, raspberry coulis. Delicious dinner still
left my bed empty, my hands idle, my lips

dry. I could only imagine the shimmer of gloss
sauce. Satisfy the need to break from the mundane
on my lips: a wax or paraffin base. Vaseline in a pinch.
Franzia, tomato sauce, berry puree -- a delicious dinner still,

but I imagined more -- a peak that would not leave my pussy
dry. I could imagine only the shimmer of gloss
from a woman's juices on my chin after licking and licking
her lips. No wax or paraffin. (Third) base; Vaseline; a pinch.

Then I met a woman one Sunday, in college.
Finally I had more -- a peak that left my pussy
weary but satisfied. After rest she begged for more:
I know what women want to eat in the morning.


Enszer is so matter of fact clear at every turn that we never get left behind, we follow her as she bids, along a clever trail of anger and lust and discovery.  As new as some of this is for the reader it seems Enszer is making some discoveries along the way as well.  Love and desire both get big workouts in Handmade Love and joy gets in there too.

Enszer makes no apologies for her feminist agenda (nor should she) which is clearly, eloquently and humorously laid bare with panache.

Absolutely No Car Repairs
In The Parking Lot

Three people are working on old, American cars.
One man with a white van -- his mobile mechanic's shop --
has pulled the engine out of a black Monte Carlo.
Another crawls from under a Sunbird
rusted and battered tail pipe in hand.
The third, an Escort, hood open, unattended.
Owners ostensibly inside the auto supply
searching for the proper replacement part.

Although I didn't need one, I've brought a man.
Newly minted. Nine months ago, breasts removed --
scars from the surgical drains healed quickly
now the only skin rupture from needles
delivering daily hormones he refers to as T,
and the resulting faux-adolescent acne pimpling his face.
He's more of a man than me. Still, it takes us two tries
with a return in between to find wiper blades that fit.


Now that all of the Today's book of poetry staff are back from holiday adventures we were all crackling with excitement at this morning's read.  Handmade Love made for a heated and spicy reading.  The consensus around the room was that Julie R. Enszer is an eloquently fearless poet and there are never enough of those to go around.

These poems are a genuine celebration of love and diversity.  These celebrations of love and diversity make for good poems.  The day to day of supposedly alternative lifestyles and cultures does not sound unfamiliar in Enszer's capable hands - and why should it?  People love and lust pretty much the same regardless of their performative gender.  And that's the truth Ruth.

Terms of Endearment

I mistakenly called you "missy"--
an inappropriate term of endearment for
a butch lesbian, the identity I assumed

you to have with your cropped hair, hip-riding
jeans and top buttoned down. Let me confess:
I assumed your identity for my own purposes.

I have an entire fantasy about your body and
what I could do with it based on your being
lesbian and butch. Then I learned you consider

yourself to be male -- transgendered.
Yes, "missie" seems inappropriate.
Yet without diminutive feminizations

I am left with few options to coo affection.
Immediately, I'd like to say "FTM trannie" and cast
upon you my feminine wiles, but can I?

I try Buddy? Pal? You chide me not to stoop to
Bubba. I won't. Still, all the phrases I think to utter
with cloying appreciation are wildly sexual--

How's it hanging? If I, an avowed fem lesbo,
flirt with you, now a man but still in a woman's body
(and, of course, with a woman lover),

Am I still gay? Or just queer? And if I don't
stoop, linguistically, that is,
but I would like to be on my knees and

have you fuck me from behind with a
big purple strap on like my wife does,
am I a homo? I just want to find

a word to address you and imbue it with affection.
I want to respect your gender identity and not reconsider
my own sexual orientation and erotic predilections.

That is probably too much to ask, which is why
my pussy is wet, my tongue is tied, and only my mind
has been fucked. Understand gender? Good luck.


Today's book of poetry believes that poetry this good blows right past simple discussions of sexual orientation stereotypes. This is a celebration for Enszer and a primer for the rest of us, one that opens up the door to every audience.

Handmade Love is strong and primal poetry, ultimately generous and humane.  With a side of hot sauce.

Julie R. Enszer

Julie R. Enszer, PhD, is the author of Handmade Love (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2010). praisedHandmade Love noting, “Anyone who’s loved Dorothy Allison’s early chapbook of poetry, The Women Who Hate Me, will recognize the same brash confidence and articulation in Julie Enszer’s work.” Rigoberto Gonzalez said, “This poet is fierce, politicized and not afraid to point to the flaws even within her communities,” and Richard Labonte said of Enszer, “With seductive clarity, she celebrates sexuality – her own, that of other women, and of men.”

Enszer is editor of Milk & Honey: A Celebration of Jewish Lesbian Poetry (A Midsummer Night’s Press, 2011). Hila Ratzabi said of Milk & Honey, “This collection packs a punch…. This anthology is endlessly valuable as a collective voice of celebration and even protest.” Milk & Honey features beloved poets like Ellen Bass, Robin Becker, Elana Dykewomon, Marilyn Hacker, Eleanor Lerman, Joan Nestle, Lesléa Newman and Ellen Orleans, as well as new and emerging voices.

With language and imagery that moves from the sensual and political to the tender and serene, Milk & Honey , a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Lesbian Poetry, explores the vibrant, complicated, exhilarating experience of being Jewish and lesbian—or queer—in the world today.

Enszer’s second full-length collection of poetry is Sisterhood (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013).

Enszer, who holds an MFA and a PhD from the University of Maryland, is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland. She is writing a history of lesbian-feminist presses from 1969 until 2000. Her public scholarship on lesbian poetry has been featured by the Poetry Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, Ms. Magazine, and The Huffington Post.

Enszer is the editor of Sinister Wisdom, a multicultural lesbian literary and art journal, and a regular book reviewer for the Lambda Book Report and Calyx. You can read more of her work at

Julie R. Enszer
"Beginnings", "Bed", "Dishes"
Video: Center Arts



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.