Wednesday, November 30, 2016

And the cat says... - Susan L. Helwig (Quattro Books)

Today's book of poetry:
And the cat says...  Susan L. Helwig.  Quattro Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2013.


Any of you who truly know Today's book of poetry will know our true feelings about cats, so you can imagine with what trepidation we opened Susan L. Helwig's little marvel And the cat says... .  What we found were poems like "Letter to Philip Roth" and the extemporaneous explanation of the connection between eggplants and love.

And the cat says... is a cornucopia of entertainments.  Helwig has found a comfortable spot with enough humour and pathos to suit her sly needs.  It's like she has them tied together at the waist and and knee and this book is the dazzling three legged sprint.

Original Sin

The Bible got it wrong
it wasn't an apple that Eve ate
no apple spurted bright thick juice
stained her chin
made her breasts glisten

It was a tomato


What virgin bride in the Old Country
did not thank a tomato
hiding where the hymen used to be
for the groom's prideful groans
and carmine sheets in the morning?

when a mob spews anger
it's tomatoes that shout Revolution!

Tomatoes made the sauce in Little Italy
when young Corleone shot the Chief
no apple caused that amount of trouble, ever.

Why just the other day, dining el fresco
I planned a sensible order, salad, dressing on the side
vegetables in season
when the sun caught the ketchup on someone else's fries

I swear that red stuff winked at me
two shades off ruby.


Today's book of poetry wouldn't call Helwig bawdy, that would be less a compliment than a snide remark.  Helwig isn't bawdy but she is delightfully frank.  

My wife has a coterie of amazing female friends called "The Nasty Girls" (apologies to recent news cycles but my wife's friends coined this term for their tribe over a quarter of a century ago), women of sardonic wit and relentless humour and all of it tinged with their many years of life experience wisdom.  Their motto, if they had such a thing, could easily be "no bullshit allowed" and I'm convinced that they would welcome Susan L. Helwig into their fold as one of their own.

Da Capo, with repeats

Hard to do with a partner
what I've done alone for so long
the breathing, the rhythm
everything throws me
we start, we stop, soft laughter
high-pitched nerves

Underway again
he has a man's love of speed
I was thinking adagio, with no strings
and presto! here we are at the end

Perhaps a different position
if I were the one erect
bowing the violin in long caresses
and he sat at my piano
tickling the ivories

Afterwards, neither asks, how was it for you?
knowing full well which bars
were peppered with mistakes
the music doesn't lie
all we can hope is same time next week
another chance to come together.


Today's book of poetry is impressed by how tidily Helwig is able to keep her business.  These poems can be ribald but they're never rude, they are experienced but not tired, wise without the tiresome burden of wisecracks.  Today's book of poetry liked Susan L. Helwig's style.

Our morning read welcomed a couple of guests this morning and as you all know by now - everyone present has to read at the morning go round.  Dexter read a few in his slow and quiet loquacious fashion, then our friend Sara teased some sorrowful music out of one or two and some belly-laughs out of few more.  Our regular staff were inspired by our guests and upped their game.  And the cat says... sounded like the life of the party.

Now that we two love again

The world glows peppermint, rain-washed, new
and we can dally in a house the size of April
without the hurry-up of student sex
the roommate back from class too soon
now Marsalis, not Mingus, warms our tea

Out the window and down the street
the Salvation Army band, its jolly tuba
leads the parade

Later in the garden, grandchildren, yours
will make their shrieks and finds,
the softly tinted Easter eggs I hid last night
adobe cream and evergreen mist
the chocolate bunnies, bittersweet.


Today's book of poetry appreciates his job more every day - books like Susan L. Helwig's And the cat says... make it so.  Helwig has poems that ask important questions, laments about love and social issues and so on but mostly Today's book of poetry sees books like this as reportage from the generous heart and inquiring mind of another traveller.

No cats were harmed in the production of this blog.

SusanLHelwig_Edit from Chris A. Hughes
Susan L. Helwig

Susan L. Helwig grew up on a dairy farm in southwestern Ontario just outside of Neustadt. From 1994 to 2002 she interviewed Canadian and international authors for the radio programme “In Other Words” on CKLN 88.1. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals and anthologies in Canada and abroad, and she has two previous poetry collections: Catch the Sweet (Seraphim Editions, 2001) and Pink Purse Girl (Wolsak and Wynn, 2006).

Delicious.  Entertaining.  Susan L. Helwig's And the cat says... (her best collection so far), is so readable it makes poetry seem like a naughty pleasure.
     -  David Gilmour



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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Primary Source - Jason Schneiderman (Red Hen Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Primary Source.  Jason Schneiderman.  Red Hen Press.  Pasadena, California.  2016.

Winner of the Benjamin Salter Award, 2014

To Please and Instruct

       The purpose of art is to please and instruct
       -- Horace, Arts Poetica

The moral of this poem is fuck you.

The moral of this poem is I'm drunk.

The moral of this poem is I'm too drunk to be held responsible for what I'm
saying to you right now.

The moral of this poem is you're fat.

The moral of this poem is if you come after me, I will have your Hotmail
account turned off, true story.

The moral of this poem is herpes.

The moral of this poem is the Pope's a liar.

The moral of this poem is I'm sorry I threw up through my nose on you.

The moral of this poem is getting through customs without a passport.

The moral of this poem is gestalt therapy.

The moral of this poem is terrorists.

The moral of this poem is you like Tarantino movies because you're stupid
and I like Tarantino movies because I'm smart.

The moral of this poem is cats that look like Hitler.

The moral of this poem is reality television.

The moral of this poem is don't have sex with your siblings, parents, or
anyone under eighteen, sixteen if you're in Greece, fourteen in Denmark.

The moral of this poem is meth mouth.

The moral of this poem is gun-show loophole.

The moral of this poem is Gawker.

The moral of this poem is two state solution.

The moral of this poem is too much rage.

The moral of this poem is rehab sucks.

The moral of this poem is your wife being fingered in the bathroom at a 
party by this guy you invited because you thought he was cool and look
where that got you. 

The moral of this poem is rules change.

The moral of this poem is George Washington filling his dentures with
teeth pulled from his slaves.

The moral of this poem is kill me.

The moral of this poem is hip surgery.

The moral of this poem is drone strike wedding massacre.

The moral of this poem is thong.

The moral of this poem is shut up.

The moral of this poem is make me.


Let's get this party started with a kick-ass list poem.  That's the ticket.  Today's book of poetry loves a good list poem and "To Please and Instruct" is a stone-cold killer and the best list poem we've come across in a good while.

Jason Schneiderman's Primary Source is a playground for avid readers of poetry.  There is no commitment by the poet to any particular school or style of poetry, Schneiderman is all over the stylistic map and that is a total win for the reader.  This poet tears it up with ribald wit, no obvious sympathies, and a willingness to go in for the kill.  If Schneiderman were an athlete Today's book of poetry is convinced he'd be a wicked smart decathlete.

My Rich Friend

My rich friend wasn't always rich
but now he's very good at it,
by which I mean he's generous,
has excellent taste, never makes
anyone uncomfortable, has good
boundaries, and please don't tell him
but if I were ever to kill myself,
he has this wonderful window
in this perfect little dining nook
that's fifteen stories up and opens
all the way. The last thing
I would see is a soapstone zodiac
carved into a recess in the ceiling,
and then the city going by
ever so fast. I'm not usually tempted
by an open window. I don't know
how he survives it every day.


Primary Source does all those things Today's book of poetry looks for in a book of poems.  These poems are clever but not coy with wicked dry humour and instructive without ever being overbearing. 

Schneiderman dives into Cole Porter water with a pseudo-song of three verses that he uses to start off each of the three sections of Primary Sources.  Schneiderman is tipping his hat and it is a big hat because he has something to say and is surrounding himself with a litany of poets and a peppering of cultural pop shots.  Here's a partial list:  James Merrill, Helen Vendler, Stephen Spender, Yoko Ono, William the Shake, Thom Gunn, David Lee Roth (of all spandex wearing people), Marie Howe, John of Ashbery, Farah Fawcett, Frank O'Hara, the Beats, Dale Young, Ashton Kutcher, Robert Pinsky, Mark Doty, Robert Lowell, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, William Matthews and so on.  It's a hearty list of playmates and influences and guilty pleasures.

Jason Schneiderman knows how to play hard and in these poems he talks about gender and the performative nature of gender and how cruel and ignorant love and lust can be.  Schneiderman also muses on racism, John Cage and the fear of bears.  Today's book of poetry found it all compelling.

The Turing Test

        It might be urged that when playing 'the imitation game' the best strategy for
          the machine may possibly be something other than the behaviour of a man.
          -- Alan Turing

Who do you think he is, this boy in the Midwest
jerking off to the end of Alan Turing's biography,
getting aroused by the parts where the shame
and degradation are exactly what he's always wanted,
at a pornographic remove, and his history teacher
knows nothing about the end of Alan Turing's life,
which this boy will wisely leave out of his report.
Chemical castration? Hot. Nascent breasts? Hot.
Driven to suicide? Hot. Hot. Hot. And yes,
in the morning, on the school bus, or in the passenger
seat of his friend-girl's car, he'll think, That was
seriously fucked up, jerking off to that, and he won't 
even tent his pants by the light of day, knowing
he erased his browser history of all the chastity
blogs, and all the chat rooms where he gets to be
six-foot-two and the captain of the football team
who always just turned eighteen yesterday and
is enslaved to his coach, but that fantasy is getting
tired, and his mind wonders to tomorrow's trig
exam, and soon he'll get back to Alan Turing,
cock-slave to his government. Hot. Defeater of Nazis.
Hot. And by day, this you're-not-fooling-anyone
president of the Gay/Straight alliance may be furious
at how this hero was treated, will start a petition
to get the science lab named for Alan Turing,
but at night he wonders, in one recurring fantasy,
if he could ever pass the Turing test, but in the other
direction. If maybe, just maybe, no one could ever tell
he was human.


Sunday morning usually makes for a quietish office read but the Today's book of poetry staff were full of piss and vinegar today.  Schneiderman isn't just brilliant he can be incendiary.  Milo, our head tech, was particularly taken by the strong and fearless head on Schneiderman's shoulders.  Milo insisted we include a fourth poem today and he made a good case for it.  Today's book of poetry was easily swayed.

In the Next Room

She said, "Remember when you liked me
more than crack?" and he said, "Yeah, that
was when I hadn't met crack yet." and when
she huffed and tried to leave the booth
he grabbed her arm, and pulled her back
and said, "We have to talk about the dog,
remember?" and she said, "I thought
we were talking about the dog?" and he said,
"We have to finish talking about the dog,"
and she said, "So fucking finish talking
about the dog." and he said, "So stop being
a giant cunt and I will," at which point,
in a single sweeping movement of her arm
she knocked every single thing off the table,
and the cups and plates broke against
the floor, and the coffee flew up and stained
my pants, and the silverware clattered, and
we weren't overhearing anymore, we were
paying rapt attention, and he said, "You're paying
for that, you bitch," and she said,
"Pick up the tab, asshole," and not one
single person tried to stop her as she left.


Image result
Jason Schneiderman


Jason Schneiderman was born in San Antonio Texas, but was raised around the United States and Western Europe owing to his father s military service. He holds BAs in English and Russian from the University of Maryland, an MFA from NYU, and a PhD from the Graduate Center of CUNY. He is the author of two previous collections of poems: Sublimation Point (Four Way Books, 2004) and Striking Surface (Ashland Poetry Press, 2010), winner of the Richard Snyder Prize. He is also the editor of the anthology Queer: A Reader for Writers (Oxford University Press, 2015). His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, The Bloomsbury Anthology of Contemporary Jewish Poetry, Verse Daily, The Poetry Review, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet. Schneiderman has received Fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Yaddo, and the Bread Loaf Writers Conference, and is the recipient of the Emily Dickinson Award from the Poetry Society of America. He is an Assistant Professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College and lives in Brooklyn with his husband, Michael Broder."

Jason Schneiderman's Primary Source is a sparkling demonstration of this principle: a poet evolves by making as many aspects of the self as possible available on the page. By turns sardonic and sincere, nakedly vulnerable or armored in irony, the wild magpie intelligence shaping these poems plucks threads from Shakespeare and Stein, borrows forms from Cole Porter and Wittgenstein, and bows to a variety of influences so vast (Sylvia Plath and David Lee Roth?) as to constitute a way of situating the self, influencing the dizzily happy reader to a queer subject, a livewire thinker at work, a breathing human presence."
     -  Mark Doty

Schneiderman's poetry goes beyond camp, slapstick, and coterie aesthetics, although that's his terrain, too; his quick-dazzle intellect is its own happening, a commedia dell'arte cutting through the noise, offering both literary and social critique. The pleasures are here, the mystique of Schneiderman is Schneiderman."
     --  Major Jackson

 'Elegy VII (Last Moment)' by Jason Schneiderman
Video: PBS Newshour


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, November 25, 2016

Homefront - Childhood Memories of WWII - Peggy Trojan (Evening Street Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Homefront - Childhood Memories of WWII.  Peggy Trojan.  Evening Street Press.  Dublin, Ohio.  2015.


Homefront - Childhood Memories of WWII is a gentle beauty of a book.  Peggy Trojan's poems travel through time and take you with them.  In Homefront World War II is in full swing and the poems are homespun missives, community updates and emotional weather reports.

Trojan's world churns past with such sweet simplicity and genuine respectful wonder that you almost think you are inside an episode of The Waltons - but the hearty sensibility of our narrator/heroine does see the cost of battle, the horrors of war that men inflict upon one another.

Winter Hill, 1943

Ten or twelve,
we met each evening on the hill,
dragging our sleds.
Built a fire,
threw in potatoes
from pockets of wool parkas,
started sliding.

Across the sea,
a world was burning.
At school, we practiced hiding under desks,
scanned the skies for enemy planes.
Together, we felt safe.
We owned the moonlight and the hill.

Tired out, near curfew,
we retrieved our cache,
rolled them out to sizzle on the snow.
Now hunks of oval charcoal,
skins burned thick.

We held our potatoes with snowy mitts,
peeled off the black,
passed the wax paper packet of salt.
Innocent as starlight,
we ate the winter night.

Mothers called from the village,
voices thin as string
stretching across the frosty air.
Jaw--onn, Jer--ree, Bill--ee

Secure as the moon,
we kicked snow on smoldering embers,
gathered our sleds.
headed home to porch light beacons.


Peggy Trojan's Homefront is a book entirely devoid of guile or avarice.  These poems sound and feel as true as the day is long, they are written with a tenderness and affection of intention but they are never coy or affected.  

Trojan has a voice we immediately trust as a familiar and all of her stories, though new to us, sound and feel as though they are family lore.

Blue Star, Gold Star

Cousin Roy was the first one
wounded from this little town.
He recovered and was sent
back to battle.
When he was killed,
they couldn't find any part
of him to send home to bury.
His father always thought
he would come back
to take over the farm.
There was no memorial service...
No minister was available
out there in the country,
and his Pa said he couldn't take anymore.
His sister even had a Christmas present
ready to mail when the news came.
Nothing to do
but take down the blue service star,
and hang a gold star
in the window now.


As you all know Today's book of poetry has a reading every morning of the day's book, this morning's reading was a real tonic.  The poems brought forward our parents and our grandparents and played with memory so as to help us believe we know and understand them better.,  Homefront is not a historical document but it is true living history and here at Today's book of poetry we often feel that's the ticket.  

None of this would matter much if the poems didn't work as poems but this is solid, dependable, straight forward as the wheels on the front of a train engine stuff.  Today's book of poetry felt right at home.  

Roosevelt Dies

The day The President died,
Our President, My President,
the only President I ever knew,
they interrupted Tom Mix on the radio
with the breaking news.
I ran across the yard to the Co-op
and leaped the two steps
to my dad's office.

"Oh, my stars!" he gasped,
and yelled to the whole store,
"The President is dead!"
He turned his radio on, loud.

Everyone stopped:
the clerks filling orders,
shoppers with their ration books,
the butcher weighing hamburger,
the feed man in the back room,
kids eyeing the bulk candy.
All came in shocked silence
to the office door.

Quietly, like fog, reality filled
the room with genuine grief.
Then everything moved
in slow motion
as people went back
to finish what they were doing
while our whole world changed.


In November 2016 it is hard for many readers to remember how World War II shaped the modern world and all those who experienced it. Time has not changed this tapestry, Peggy Trojan has woven something wondrous here, a glimpse, a beautiful detail, of how community and family come together when united by purpose and fear.

Peggy Trojan's Homefront is tender testament to the determination of those left at home and to the unfiltered bright eyes of someone who remembers.

Peggy Trojan

PEGGY TROJAN and her husband live in the north woods of Wisconsin in a house they built not far from her childhood home after they retired from teaching. She is the mother of six, grandmother of eight and great-grandmother of two. She submitted her first poem for publication when she was seventy-seven, and has been enjoying seeing her work in print. She has been published in the Boston Literary Magazine, Naugatuck River Review, Talking Stick, Wisconsin People and Ideas Magazine, Thunderbird Review, Little Eagle's Re/Verse, Your Daily Poem, and many other journals and anthologies. Her chapbook collection of poems about her parents, Everyday Love, is available on Amazon. She is a member of Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

Peggy Trojan was there on the Home Front, an eight to twelve year old girl from northwest Wisconsin as “the world was burning” (“Winter Hill 1943”) thousands of miles away. We see through her eyes as she witnesses “the heroes at home” (“Home Front”), the rationing and the tragedy of neighbors switching the Blue Star for the Gold Star in the window. These are poems of great tenderness and simplicity, powerfully remembered… “the girls played house and the boys played war” (“Playtime”).
     --Bruce Dethlefsen, Wisconsin Poet Laureate (2011-2012) author of Small Talk, Little Eagle Press

Peggy Trojan's poetry is straightforward and focused, yet lyrical and poignant. Through clean images and sharp details, she takes us to a time when war was a daily reality. This book is both a poetic and historical treasure.
     --Jan Chronister, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College author of Target Practice, Parallel             Press

What a pleasure this collection is! Clear-eyed and perceptive, these narrative poems in Homefront by Peggy Trojan tell the story of a child in small Midwestern town during World WWII: the music, the girls playing jacks, the buttons on underwear, the ration books, the small town general store, and “for the first time/ questioning if man was kind.” It’s a chronicle of the war effort, and readers will be delighted with the sharp images of growing up, the privations and pleasures, the interesting portraits of people, and the news dispatches of the war and Holocaust seen through the eyes of a child. Every poem is necessary to this collection, and each captures a time and a place, returning to us the stories and strengths of our parents and grandparents. She paints with words, and her language is both plain-spoken and beautiful and full of pathos. These poems are lit with love.
     --Sheila Packa Duluth, Poet Laureate 2010-2012 author of Night Train Red Dust, Cloud Birds, and         Echo & Lightning 



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, November 23, 2016

Disinheritance - John Sibley Williams (Apprentice House Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Disinheritance.  John Sibley Williams.  Apprentice House Press.  Loyola University Maryland.  Baltimore, Maryland.  2016.


Disinheritance by John Sibley Williams is an epic cannonade of grief that echoes with the howls of the bereaved and the callous innocent whispers of the dead.  Williams says it right out loud in his poem ProcessionDisinheritance is Williams coming to terms with "This dazzling confederacy of losses."  

Williams is deep into some desperately sad glamour but the reader connects to this urgent melancholy as though it were our own.  Williams is touching our deepest fear, the loss of one of our beloved.

A Dead Boy Speaks to His Parents

        Hush now:

you don't have to be              anymore.

Whatever script you'd written for the stars to follow, they've missed
their marks,
gone true right               instead of stage right.

Nightly, you whisper:
ever since                      perhaps because              or even before --

but you don't have to thread cause through effect

or rummage through whatever beginnings you've captured on film to
discover a fixed point of departure.

The zeotrope continues to spin                     without image.

           Mom and Dad:

you don't have to be                       contained anymore

between the lines I never had time to write
on the stars                        that don't listen anyway.


Banshee screams reverberate in the quiet sorrow Williams has invested in these poems.  The loss and unimaginable emotional fatigue that underscores the restrained madness of grief is writ large in all these poems yet they never weigh us down completely.  John Sibley Williams has "given sorrow words" to quote Maryse Holder - another writer who knew everything you get to know about loss.

These poems touch our hearts at the same time as they wrench our stomachs and pull at our throats. Ghosts reach out with their ghostly cold hands to offer some solace but the revenant have no skill at holding back grief.

Things Start at Their Names

Ice locks the river in place and my heart
is static for the season and traversable.

Sometimes a boy about the age
my son would be adventures

half way across me before remembering
the duty to destroy the one thing

beneath him. He writes his name
on my rib; it says Curiosity. I reply

with the name I've learned to wear:
Distance. A fluster of bluegill follows his body

downstream to where it meets the Columbia,
in time the ocean, which I cannot make freeze.

Next spring I will snare the things that still in me,
beat them against stone, and eat until empty. I have

his name written all over my body; it say Forever
be Winter. My wife calls him Gabriel; after all these years

she still calls him Gabriel, and sometimes from the shore
she calls to me: Thaw.


To say that this morning's reading was a somber affair would not be going quite far enough.  Tears were shed.  John Sibley Williams seems determined to unleash a quiet emotional fury on the reader and is entirely successful, everyone in the office "liked" the poems, much admiration was expressed, shared glances. muted looks.  Reading Disinheritance will wring your heart right out of your chest.

So how does Today's book of poetry say I like something so sad?  For the same reasons I like sad songs, I am touched.  Williams builds tension like he was stringing a piano, everything is tight.

A Dead Boy Fishes with His Dead

The fish have broken the line again, Grandpa,
and everything we've held runs silver through our hands,
and out. Across the never-ending surface: disruptions and
echoes, waves our crooked fingers cannot flatten.
Our lines travel without us. You and I and the lives we must end.

But not today.
Today we've lost the death that keeps us.

Today we reverse: you are my child and I will love you
for the childish stories I've heard.
About the dead you cannot erase,
muddied uniforms and flags marked by the smallest red suns.
About how Grandma combs the long-dried blood
from your thinning hair, with her thinning hand.
About how each kindness is a reason to remain unpardoned.

How memory writhes below skin and is its own decision:
devour or release.

I will decide to love the empty hook of your body,
like a warning, your hands--
where they've calloused and where they've healed.
Today I will pretend to understand

why you cry like a knife stroke when I throw you back.


Grief can be overwhelming and terrifying and Williams isn't letting anyone out the exits without a heartscorch.  Disinheritance is a pained pleasure, compelling as it is discomforting.  This is wicked good writing.

Image result for john sibley williams photo
John Sibley Williams


John Sibley Williams is the editor of two Northwest poetry anthologies and the author of nine collections. A five-time Pushcart nominee and winner of the Philip Booth Award, American Literary Review Poetry Contest, Nancy D. Hargrove Editors’ Prize, and Vallum Award for Poetry, John serves as editor of The Inflectionist Review and works as a literary agent. Previous publishing credits include: The Midwest Quarterly, december, Third Coast, Baltimore Review, Nimrod International Journal, Hotel Amerika, Rio Grande Review, Inkwell, Cider Press Review, Bryant Literary Review, RHINO, and various anthologies. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

“In John Sibley Williams’ “amalgam of real /and fabled light” one is able to believe again in the lyric poem as beautiful—if difficult—proof of private space. Disinheritance contends intimately with loss, to be sure – but it also proposes the poem as a way to remember, to persist, to be oneself, to believe. And to persist when belief may not be possible within the bounds of the shores the seas impose upon us.”
     —Joan Naviyuk Kane

“There is eternal longing in these poems of John Sibley Williams. A yearning for what cannot be understood. A song for what simply is. A distance beyond human measurement. A series of profound losses giving birth to words no different from medicine.”
    —Zubair Ahmed

“There is a hunger in these poems, one of an empty handed wise man who wants to sing. And sing he does. Let these poems sing to you too. Let them hold you in that raw place of hope, let them be ships mooring us to the wild / bottomless sea.”
     —Daniela Elza

“In John Sibley Williams’ moving, somber collection, the power of elegy, reverie, and threnody transcends the disinheritance caused by separation. These compellingly atemporal poems form the locus wherein generations of a family can gather. Here, Williams’ lyric proto-language—elemental, archetypal, primordial—subsumes barriers of time and space. His poems create their own inheritance.”
     —Paulann Petersen, Oregon Poet Laureate Emerita
Daniel Klawitter, author of A Poet Playing Doctor and An Epistemology Of Flesh, reads the poem Sanctuary from John Sibley Williams' poetry collection Disinheritance.
Video: John Sibley Williams



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.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Pacific Standard Time - Kevin Opstedal (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Today's book of poetry:
Pacific Standard Time.  Kevin Opstedal.  Ugly Duckling Presse.  Brooklyn, New York.  2016.

Pacific Standard Time

Dick Dale & the Deltones are handling the soundtrack for this smooth surfing opus so hang onto something.  Keven Opstedal is someone we've never seen before here at Today's book of poetry and that is a shame.  Opstedal has been pounding out small press magic since at least 1985 from the Californian coast and Pacific Standard Time is absolutely ripe with small masterpieces.

Kevin Opstedal's rambling narrative style is a surfer's relaxed patois that he razor/laser focuses on the world, of course that surfer would have had to read Keats, Yeats, Coleridge, Bukowski, Kerouac and so on.  Opstedal is sharp and nonchalant at the same time, his reasoned voice seems familiar, he sounds like someone you think you know, or would like to - but you certainly never know what's coming.

Curse of the Surf Zombie

The late afternoon sky was like something
Miss Montana 1979 spilled on her bikini
out near the ice machine
at the Sea Garden Motel
in Pismo
       & the light was all
              nickels & dimes
                              dancing across the pavement
inside the sound of gears grinding
       just a block from the beach

The sunset haze
              reaching for the
                          pulse of the tide
                                      w/compression dings
                                      in silver mist
                                                propped against a chainlink fence
it was like the Ark of the Covenant
dissolving in a shot glass...

Still there is that light & heavy wind to contend with
& a dusty swimming pool blue turquoise sky rocking
all the way back to the Land of the Dead
w/a few thin clouds feathering out
as though they had something to say but thought better of it

a sheet of silk torn right down the middle

if knowing what knowing might be would make any difference

The tree fern whispers out the side of its mouth like Elvis
in his decline & you set aside the machete
& plunge your wrists into the beaded foam

Seagulls calling from the jetty speak the same language as Aeschylus
though w/an accent that is straight from the surf ghetto

Palm trees hovering live divine sculpture
begging for more as if it was the only way to pinpoint the
exact coordinates that will transport us to the
here & now

A norteño accordion tuning up at the bottom of the sea...

        Sheet music fluttering in the breeze...

                       Samuel Taylor Coleridge/Pacific Gas & Electric

Any meaning other than it so encumbers recognition
like a red Corvette driven straight off the pier

         "There's more concrete in the world than there are good waves"

I was spilling the last glass of water in California
translated from English into Japanese into Arabic into Klingon
& back into English

          "It all makes sense if you stand back & look at it from a distance"

I wore dark glasses beneath a desperate haircut & the
cypress trees were huddled above the beach like the Women of Thebes

           (the sky breaking open behind them
                   partly sunny w/a prevailing sense of impending doom

I had to catch the replay in glorious technicolor
all kinds of low-end torque rumbling in transition w/cracked
bells & clarinets washing up onshore with the incoming tide

           A tangle of mist laying flat on the wet sand at the ocean's edge

          Maybe you know what I mean. Maybe you've been there.
          Playing Parmenides to my Heraclitus. A not quite harmonic
          convergence. Drinks were served out on the veranda.
          I preferred the rain puddles in the parking lot.

                 A fistful of sand & a rippling curtain of mist
                 is about all I'm going to need for the forseeable, I said

Standing in line at the beer store "looming" as maybe Frankenstein's
monster might on a Friday night in S. Cruz. I couldn't begin to tell you
& I won't even try weaving among the shadows. The vault of heaven is
wide open & the stars assume you know the name of every constellation
from Andromeda to Vulpecula, but that doesn't mean you can find your
car keys. The palm trees rattle their bones & a light seabreeze fucking
w/your equilibrium has you doing your best Joe Cocker imitation right
there in the parking lot. Just one of the many obstacles you'll encounter
along the path of least resistance.

Slick liquid neon palette of sunset still lingering in the heavy Pacific sky

X-number of gulls like
        hours, moments, dreams, picking up speed
               & putting it down again

        The fogmist like a leadweight
                              holds the beach in place
               when everything else is falling from your
                                         bulletproof kimono

               representing something that will remain
                              casually unresolved
               locked away where the seabreeze goes
                                        returning the sky to its default settings

& late night early morning ocean fog swamps the streets

        the wet sidewalk is as dark as your eyes by now

                Lights flickering along the pier
                already under water

                                little left to the imagination / more than enough

(you know & I know) the tempo of the Dharma
is not always so easy to dance to

          The Temple of the Drama used to be up at
          RCA Beach, it was made out of drift-
          wood & sand & the vague feeling that we were invincible

                   if I remember right I held your hand on the way down

& I made detailed drawings of your tattoos but
I can't show them to you because they are mine now
& this is how I will love you


Today's book of poetry simply marvelled at the partial list of books and chapbooks produced by Kevin Opstedal.  Only the irrepressible Rob McLennan could possibly compete with this sort of output.  Rob McLennan, an Ottawa institution, has over 30 books and an unknowable number of chapbooks out there in the wide world.  Take a look at this list by Opstedal.

Kamikaze Blvd,
Sand in the Vaseline
Like Rain
The Road to Hollywood is Paved with Tacks & Suicide
Beach Blanket Massacre
Next to Dreaming, or The Phone Never Rang
9th & Ocean
Variable High Cloudiness
Nine Palms
Radio Beach
Heavy Water
Straight Up & Down
The Deep End
El Tsunami
Coastal Disturbances (Bikini Machine)
400 Hawaiian Shirts
Minus Tide
Double Impact
On The Low
Rare Surf, Vol. 2: New and Used Poems
User's Manual to the Pacific Coast Highway
Saltwater Credentials
Santa Cruz
Maybe Ocean Street
Deja Voodoo
Drainpipe Sessions
California Redemption Value
Memory Foam
The Poetikal Works of Dude the Obscure
Curse of the Surf Zombie

That old Kevin Opstedal is a tricky slick dude.  The reader is lulled into West Coast comfort, swimming at the edge of knowable civilization and then this Duane Eddy loving, cultural magpie and mystic starts dropping word bombs that burst delightful.

Today's book of poetry has a new poet we will be name dropping into every conversation.  Pacific Standard Time is one of those finds that reminds this reader of why he loves poetry.  To use the parlance, Today's book of poetry is a Barney, no doubt about it, but reading Opstedal leaves the reader Choka.

Bring Me the Head of Eddie Vedder

I had loaned her my crown of thorns
& before she gave it back she had it
cleaned & sharpened for me

The wind raking the eucalyptus
blue turquoise green & tinsel
raw beach concrete

& the 36 chainsmoking buddhas in my hip pocket
were preaching a kind of punk compassion I
could really learn to dance to

Like a message in lipstick scrawled
onto a tidepool mirror
nobody knows what it means but
everyone understands it'll break if you
drop it which is what keeps us
coming back for more

The girl with the crucified seagull
tattooed on her back
said she knew something I didn't

She told me where it was but I had to find it myself

My skull packed with wet sand
pure as the driven foam


Kevin Opstedal poetry machine-gunned our office this morning.  After this morning's read there were bodies strewn about the floor, camps were organized and diligent pressure brought to bear.  Milo, our head tech, wanted a particular grouping of poems, Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, had other priorities and choose an entirely different grouping.  I was stranded by some crazy high-water mark with ten poems or so that I couldn't live without.  An impasse was not passed.  We had to drag Max, our Sr. Editor, out of his warren and set him to the task.  As a result all of Today's book of poetry's inefficiencies can be blamed on good old Max.

You can send any complaints straight to me, I know how to handle them.

Cadillac to Mexico

We are as clouds that veil the 11:00 News, applying pressure to a
ruptured artery, stripping the paint off a 50 gallon drum full of Marlon
Brando's performance in On the Waterfront. The chainlinked molecules
of spring are waiting with crowbars & baseball bats. That was back
when I wore bellbottoms & beads & hung my head in shame. I thought
I had to explain myself as though there was still something left to prove.
My mistake. I meant to say Last Tango in Paris -- the final scene shot
in a parking lot in Juarex just south of the Olympic Blvd off-ramp.
November had sliced the ankles of the moon. Wind thrashing in the
trees the way a drowning man might gasp for air drawing in a lungful of
water. And in April we drove out to the beach to poison ourselves with
the sunset.


Today's book of poetry could play the Kevin Opstedal poetry game all day long.  Pacific Standard Time is a whale of a book in the poetry world coming in at well over 200 pages - not nearly big enough for his new audience here.

Kevin Opstedal will renew your enthusiasm for poetry.

Image result for kevin opstedal photo
Kevin Opstedal

Born and raised in Venice, California, Kevin Opstedal is a poet whose line leaves three decades of roadcuts across the entire imaginary West. His twelve books and chapbooks include two full-length collections, Like Rain (Angry Dog Press, 1999) and California Redemption Value (Uno Press, 2011), and his Blue Books Press, one of many of his "sub-radar" editorships, belongs in the same breath as the great California poetry houses (Auerhahn, Big Sky, Oyez...) that his own poems seem to conjure like airbrushed flames on a lemon carrying Ed Dorn, Joanne Kyger, Ted Berrigan, and some wide-eyed poetry neophyte to a latenite card game in Bolinas. “His poems,” writes Lewis MacAdams, “are hard-nosed without being hard-hearted.” As identity and ideas duke it out in the back-alley of academia, Opstedal surfs an oil slick off Malibu into the apocalypse of style.

No one deserves a comprehensive collection like this more than Kevin Opstedal, a tireless soldier in the fields of contemporary poetry, both as discoverer/editor and as prolific poet. An Olson without mountain, a maximus of the Pacific, Opstedal roams the beaches of Venice or Santa Cruz picking up poems ranging from the sprawling epic of history and pop culture to the compact lyric effusion of observation and feeling. He’s as liable to find a poem ransacking a tiki bar as he is pouring over an inscription on an Etruscan urn, and there’s a superb indifference to poetic fashion in favor of devotion to his own chosen household gods that any poet would do well to aspire to.There’s a moral component here too, a “punk compassion,” as he says, sifting through the detritus of America to extract the gold of time.
    - Garrett Caples

Welcome to Pacific Paradise, where the sky is swept with turquoise red sunsets–and Satan can steal a surfboard. Kevin Opstedal, master of the coastal metaphor, rides through the drama of these poems confident of where his heart is—"lapped and pummeled" by Pacfic waves. His poems take center stage in the drama of the surf zone. Take a bow, Kevin.
     - Joanne Kyger

For decades Kevin Opstedal has kept the underground lit as prolific poet, surfer, printer of books by many and correspondent to all. A chameleon of classic styles, his poems are as vital as the water we drink. Filtered through a wave of narcotic clarity and witful nonchalance, Pacific Standard Time shows us that he's capable of doing whatever the poem asks, any time / any place.
     - Micah Ballard


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, November 18, 2016

If I Were In A Cage I'd Reach Out For You - Adèle Barclay (Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
If I Were In A Cage I'd Reach Out For You. 
Adèle Barclay.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2016.

If I Were In A Cage I'd Reach Out For You is the sort of title/line you want to write out on a piece of paper and hang it on the wall.  As it turns out - reaching out to you is exactly what Adèle Barclay does in this spanky first book.

Today's book of poetry would be lying if I were to say I could follow Barclay footstep for footstep with any certainty.  If I Were In A Cage I'd Reach Out For You is a curious beauty.  If I stumbled and missed a few turns you're going to have to excuse me.  To quote the electric Adèle Barclay, "I'm drunk, and I love you."

The Latest Summer

I will go into the latest summer
and learn how to bow down
to American heat.

I don't part the humid air
when I move through streets
it wavers for me because of my thirst.

I've done this before
picked figs, tucked cigarettes
into a turquoise pouch.

Sunless bathers adrift in the drought
later or sooner the sky
pulls up a chair

and it's not like you can
ask about the weather anymore
and expect sympathy when

units of time are expanding to include
melancholy. I'm sorry I said
I had done this before.


Adèle Barclay is running barefoot over burning coals and whistling Dixie while she does it.  These poems rollick with ribald tenderness, they fishtail like a drunken driver in a lucid dream. 

What these poems do with astonishing regularity is to spill out lines of such surprising and newly necessary verve that the reader takes an extra breath, a gasp.  Barclay has some sharp tools and uses them.

Barclay seems to have a deep well of two-line knock-out punch moves, she goes magically metaphorical on command to broach time and space.  The reader thinks she is being playful when in fact she is lining us up in her sights.


I'm trying to think what yokes the Pacific Northwest and the Baltics--
witchery, rain, chanterelles and moss.

Today I ate the broth of a chicken with an egg in it.
Yesterday I asked for strength, picked fleas out of the IKEA rug.

Tomorrow I will fry
the last crumbs of my libido in duck fat.

I am offering my enemies a bear
made from carob and my long dead hair.


This morning's read was another spirited rodeo.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, took a particular liking to If I Were In A Cage I'd Reach Out For You and once she got going she wouldn't give up the floor.  We usually take turns, everyone reads a poem and then passes the book on.  Not today, Kathryn was on Barclay's wavelength, dialed completely in.

Adèle Barclay has that rare gift of making something entirely new feel familiar, every door she opens we want to swoon right in.

Cardinal Versus Mutable

Katie, there's a lynx
across the street
or some animal
that is ambiguously
both feline and canine.
It's too dark to tell
and I'm so tired
I can't even curate
a good life
you know about blisters
from skiing
up a mountain
for three days
through avalanche terrain
and I know from dancing
at Red Gate until 3 a.m. --
either way it's good practice
to wash the bloody fitted sheet
before a stranger comes over,
but sometimes
I don't. Sometimes I do
see a world
where our bodies fit,
the depth of it is excruciating.
I said you were a heron
because I met you
on an island,
but now I think you might
be a comet--
a force rather than
a product of nature,
flight as in burning
and destination.
Please tell me the blisters
are worth the salt
I soaked them in, the path
I winced walking home,
the sheets I ruined.


Adèle Barclay's If I Were In A Cage I'd Reach Out For You is a debut we will all remember. These are intelligent, vibrant and exciting poems hard wired with a dark winged angel circling overhead.

Image result for adele barclay photo
Adèle Barclay

Adèle Barclay’s poems have appeared in The Fiddlehead, PRISM international, Matrix, The Pinch and others. Her debut poetry collection, If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You, was shortlisted for the 2015 Robert Kroetsch Award for Innovative Poetry. She is the Interviews Editor at The Rusty Toque.

"With a depth of feeling for places and their connecting joys and aches, these are beautifully written poems, vivid as the morning paper, bracing as moonshine."
     - David McGimpsey, author of Asbestos Heights   

  "Dear Sara"
Adèle Barclay
Video courtesy of N Moore



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.