Monday, February 27, 2017

Still the Animals Enter - Jane Hilberry (Red Hen Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Still the Animals Enter.  Jane Hilberry.  Red Hen Press.  Pasadena, California.  2016.

Today's book of poetry thinks that Jane Hilberry is a somewhat-tormented-but-the-glass-is-half-full-anyway character.  Still the Animals Enter could be seen as an occasionally bawdy bestiary but Hilberry really isn't much on moralizing.

These are narrative poems full of the everyday lives of people just like you and another person just like you.  Hilberry writes about the everyman/everywoman that inhabits us all and she does so with insightful charm.

A Seat for Everyone
    -for Rick Perry

And you were never a child, correct?
You never missed your father when he was on a business trip.
You walked home from school alone and maybe you were so safe you didn't even think
of safety, or maybe you were a little afraid, am I right, about the bigger boy,
who might call you names as you walked past his house? Or were you never a child?
Send them home!
Or maybe you had a mother who would have packed your lunchbox
and put you on a yellow school bus to another country, with strangers,
knowing she might not see you again. Your mother would have done that, right?
Because the world is safe for children. Or because you were never a child.
If your father didn't come home one night (no body in the rosebushes,
nothing gruesome, but say he disappeared), well, things happen.
Not every child has the luxury of a father. Or brothers.
And when you walk back into that place you call childhood,
if you had a childhood, is that the place you send these children
when you send them home? Maybe so. Maybe you send them
to a house with brick walls and a fireplace, to mother waking them for school
at the same hour every morning and dinner at six hot in the serving dishes,
the table set, a seat for everyone. Maybe you were a child.
Maybe you think you were every child.


Deer sneak through lovely fences, romantic characters from nature, to eat ripe apples from dangling branches -- but they also leave ticks for the family dog, ticks that will find their way to human flesh. Hilberry's universe is populated with dark surprises from the real world.  

Battle hardened mice are thwarted into submission with a copy of David Copperfield, lions, tigers and bears roam at will, yet Jane Hilberry's Still the Animals Enter gets you in the familiar.  When she talks family you can feel your own tree shake, hear your sisters' voices.


Each step stitches them together
as they walk the dog, each breath at night
winds them, together, into sleep's cocoon.
Even the fights, sharpening
the blades of anger and accusation:
knives side by side
in a drawer. Her clumsiness
so familiar he knows when to reach
beneath the bowl she lifts.
                                            When he sees me,
he says a word that meant something to us,
the name of a planet. We camped by a lake
and read out loud until it was too dark to see.
It was already over then, the sky
borrowing its color from the fire,
then both out.
Still I wanted his hand, to wind his fingers
into mine.
                   At night he and his wife lock the doors,
extinguish the lights and turn to each other.
I am a conversation never had.
                                                   We had a time
that was ours. He held my new kitten
inside his shirt. We threaded roads to mining towns
in his truck. When he touched me,
I couldn't believe--

I couldn't believe my luck.


This morning's poetry reading had the Today's book of poetry offices hopping.  Monday morning is usually a pretty grim affair, a kind of wine-dipped, wet cigarette affair with numerous breaks for fresh air and a nasty smoke. 

Still the Animals Enter was read like the poems were all letters from a home we had somehow shared. They rolled out and into the room like they owned the place.

Squirrel with an Apple

Sitting on its haunches, its back curved, a human-like pose,
it held a green apple and ate, its mouth moving fast as a machine --
so fast I thought it must be an illusion of the flickering leaves --
its mouth in furious, impersonal motion. It looked at me as its teeth ticked
and rotated the apple slowly in its paws. I wanted to be more interested
than I was, wished for a naturalist's curiosity -- then felt consigned
to be myself. It's hard to know when to push to improve,
and when to simply say, this is what I am. I am the luckiest
in the world -- born into stability, a genteel poverty that grew
quickly into enough. I have wine with dinner. I am well loved,
well employed. And no, this is not moving toward a but,
a lyric emptiness. I have been reading Larry Levis this morning.
I know that way: the poem that always swerves towards loneliness.
One of my students wishes I were her mother. She was hurt, tortured:
scalding baths, ground glass in the applesauce. But I can't
be her mother. When the painter makes a mistake, something unsightly,
she says the remedy is to continue. To fill the hole the mother made
is a life-long, impossible task. I say this as if I knew something.
I've only learned to trust my body, which says sleep, sleep, sleep some more.
Says touch. Yellow-orange squash blossoms and the fat green
of the leaves. If there's any cure, it is color, on the slab of paper,
or sown into dirt, the sky before dark when it arrays itself
in gauzy grays, and orange traces the underside of clouds. See,
this is not longing. A deep quiet rises sometimes, when I wait
in line at the grocery, the movies. Something I can rest in,
all opinions set aside, as if they could dissolve. They don't.
They will be back. But this is real, an almost-sleepy peace,
my back straight, hands slack, among the breathing others.


Today's book of poetry felt the warmth pulsate when Hilberry took it to the sheets.  We felt sad when called upon, but mostly Today's book of poetry felt an odd familial connection.  Reading Jane Hilberry was like discovering a sibling you didn't know you had, one who had the same photo album of cherished, revered and sometimes only tolerated family mug shots.

Jane Hilberry
Jane Hilberry

Jane Hilberry has written two previous books of poetry, including Body Painting, which won the Colorado Book Award and got Hilberry banned from speaking at a Colorado Springs high school. She has written a book of biography/art criticism titled The Erotic Art of Edgar Britton; edited The Burden of the Beholder: Dave Armstrong and the Art of Collage; and co-authored a little volume on email titled Get Smart: How Email Can Make or Break Your Career—and Your Organization. Her poems have appeared in The Hudson Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, The Women’s Review of Books, Denver Quarterly and many other journals. She was one of the first editors of the Indiana Review. In addition to teaching Creative Writing, Creativity, and Literature at Colorado College, Hilberry has also facilitated arts-based leadership development programs at The Banff Centre in Canada.

"In 'Possibly, this time,' Jane Hilberry makes a startling and haunting poem out of the passage of a tick through people's lives and deaths. Is this possible, you ask? Oh, yes, this and much more. 'All else, stripped back, came down to love,' she writes in another poem. Hilberry's book, Still the Animals Enter, is the record of this stripping down: its glory and its purpose, these poems."
     --Jim Moore

"The poems in Still the Animals Enter evoke an embodiment both tangential and deep. They travel like a bead on a string between a charged, sublime solitude and a nuanced connection with the natural world and the 'smooth stone' of the lover's body. Hilberry has given us something necessary and rare, an adult perspective that does not lose itself in nostalgia or swerve toward loneliness but finds its way to a language of profound erotic vitality. This collection is located at a powerful edge where memory and loss are in contact with a forward-looking present tense, where longing gives way to a deep quiet 'among the breathing others,' and where the animals find their way through every barrier to enter the poem?--still, and in stillness."
     --Diane Seuss

Jane Hilberry
English Professor Jane Hilberry says poetry should be wild and unpredictable. If you let it be free and don’t try to constrain it, a poem can reveal profound insights that can help spark innovation in many arenas such as business and organizational change. 
Video: ColoradoCollegeWeb



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.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Mean - Kate Colby (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Today's book of poetry:
I Mean.  Kate Colby.  Ugly Duckling Presse.  Brooklyn, New York.  2015.

I Mean

The title poem in Kate Colby's effervescent  I Mean is a stunning long list poem.  My favourite in quite a long while.  The poem "I Mean" comes in at a staggering 60+ pages and it never drags for a second.  If this poem were a train it would be on time at every station.

"I Mean" is one honking big and entertaining poem, a delight from start to finish.  A feast.  For dessert I Mean, the book, has four short essays that further serve Kate Colby's nefarious purposes. Colby wants us to know that she can create light.  "I Mean" not only illuminates, it takes some of the weight off of the world.

Today's book of poetry read Colby's essays and you should too, as Publishers Weekly said in their review, "The essays also display an erudition that can be both heady and playful."  But Today's book of poetry is going to concentrate on Colby's poem "I Mean".

from I Mean

I mean a black grid on a white field
and the fuzzy gray dots where the lines cross
that you can see but not look at

I mean "slippage"

I mean the slip-proof dots
on the baby socks

I mean things for which
names may or may not exist

I mean there are names
for what you are and for who

I mean names for things
that don't or no longer exist

I mean kicking bones
down the stairs
they're in my way

I mean in the desert

I mean everything is contained

I mean bound

I mean imminent

I mean right now

I mean immanence


Our kick at the can is that Colby is quite literally searching for the "what" in "what gives meaning?"
Today's book of poetry believes that naming a thing gives it meaning and Colby is naming it all.

It's hard to share the enthusiasm of a reading experience but Kate Colby's long list poem "I Mean" was fresh on every page.  Apparently Colby's curiosity is as broad as her optimism.

from I Mean

I mean I want my circumference
and to eat it too

I mean to be bigger than you

I mean contain more

I mean mean more

I mean with infinite density

I mean singularity

I mean aleph-infinity

I mean on the largest scale

I mean ontogeny, phylogeny, the camera
panning out from microbe to cosmos

I mean cochlear recapitulation of seashells

I mean fractals and vice-versa.
Seaweed. Galaxies.

I mean it's a long shot

I mean what I thought was the ocean
is only my body

I mean either a vase or two faces


Our morning read was a lovely tag-team type affair where we just went round and round the room, each person in turn whipping off a page of "I Mean,"  It wasn't a race or a marathon but we all felt celebratory at the end.

Reading "I Mean" reminded Today's book of poetry of a feast he was lucky enough to attend in his youth.  The first course of several was a magical steamed soup called Chawanmushi.  It was like a custard in that it was solid on your spoon - but when you put it on our tongue it melted leaving both a subtle flavour and a cleansed palette.  No easy trick.  Kate Colby can burn with the best.

from I Mean

I mean well-named horror can
be beautiful

I mean Wilfred Owen's poems
are neither horrific nor beautiful

I mean can beauty be named
or made but not both?

I mean a name turns to stone

I mean I'm totally making this up

I mean I don't know how to be a poet

I mean I'm a rebar Medusa

I mean cursed with endless construction

I mean with the dangers of addition

I mean maybe beauty can only be made
in the mirror

I mean mugging, kissy-faced,
pluckily marching in place
in the corner

I mean facing into the corner

I mean I've talked myself into

I mean thought myself


Today's book of poetry was reading Don McKay's great long poem "Long Sault" (1975) yesterday and was reminded how grand the long poem can be.  Today we are here to tell you that Kate Colby's I Mean is a modern epic poem.  You just don't know it yet.  Colby's narrative provides a kaleidoscope gaze onto your world and mine.

She never flinches.

Kate Colby
Kate Colby

Kate Colby is author of six books, including Unbecoming Behavior (UDP, 2008), The Return of the Native (UDP, 2011) and Fruitlands (Litmus Press), which won the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2007. She is a founding board member of the Gloucester Writers Center in Massachusetts and currently lives in Providence, where she was a 2012 fellow of the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts.

Kate Colby
 reading at Litmus Press Spring Book Party 6/10/11
Video: srk55krs


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

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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Selah - Nora Gould (Brick Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Selah.  Nora Gould.  Brick Books.  London, Ontario.  2016.

There is much debate as to the actual meaning of the word Selah.  Some Biblical scholars insist it is a musical notation while others suggest it means "praise" or "lift-up." Today's book of poetry is convinced that in Nora Gould world it means "sorrowful song."

Selah is one long poem made out of a myriad of poetic fragments and it is damned sad territory.

You may remember that Nora Gould's first book of poetry, I see my love more clearly from a distance (Brick Books, 2012) won the first Today's book of poetry KITTY LEWIS HAZEL MILLAR DENNIS TOURBIN POETRY PRIZE.   Today's book of poetry still raves about I see my love more clearly from a distance to everyone who will listen.

Selah roams the same hard ranch country of east central Alberta but the focus has changed.  Love, mutual respect and hard earned companionship have given way to a battle with her husband's recently diagnosed frontotemporal dementia.  And with that diagnosis a new future replaces the old.

from Selah

He had misplaced my mouth
that night he wanted me.
Even I couldn't discern this
as because of something I did or didn't do.

This was not long before the potato pails --
everything happened before or after,
windblown around markers themselves

eluvial. I set that night aside,
next to the candles
above the pegs where we hang our jeans.


Today's book of poetry feels for Gould, how could you not?  You can feel the sullen drift apart as tangibly as if her husband had mounted a passing ice-floe and was disappearing, sailing off to a foggy horizon.

Neither Selah nor Nora Gould descend into the full and justified gloom you might expect.  But that doesn't mean these melancholy prayers and sad asides won't render you to tears.

from Selah

I am writing to you from inside this,
my confusion. You will recognize yourself.
I don't know you, who you are, how to find you,
but I am aware I'm a person while I am with you.
Please forgive all the simple declarative sentences.

I am exhausted, lonely for you. Your refusal --
I didn't know I had asked, was it something
I said? body language? -- told me what I carry,

how impossible it would be.
If you were to hold me, let me hold you --
these are two different things. Could
either of us allow either?

I miss him. That is
where I would be, where I am anyway,
not in his arms. This is not
guilt or impropriety.

Caffeine-tired, I can't sort this out
in a coffee shop
far enough from home to believe that
it is not true. Charl is himself

at the farm; he will still grab his chin
in mock consternation.
The shelf above the potato pail is
undisturbed. This is all my fault.

I will go home and Charl will be himself.
He is himself. That's the thing. He is.

I miss you. I miss
the possibility of you,

I am in a hayfield, snow gathering
in folds and creases -- my coat sleeves.


This morning's read was a fairly sombre affair but we did Selah proud, our office is full of Nora Gould fans.

Most home health care in Canada is provided by women, as though they weren't already busy enough.  Nora Gould has allowed herself full candor when it would be easier to hide every wound.
For better or worse, in sickness and in health, these are promises many of us make without ever really having to face any sort of big test.  Nora Gould's Selah is one big honking final exam into a new and harsh reality.

What happens to love when the object of that love is vanishing into the ether and being replaced with an angry shadow?  Most of us, regardless of what we signed up for, never have to answer these terrible questions.

from Selah

At his first appointment with the neurologist
the receptionist called me his caregiver.
I said, No, his wife.

Wearied by incremental mourning,
his withdrawal into 
a culture of one,

I ache
for his songs,
his intricate drawings.

His Einstein hair, his six a.m. piano.


Nora Gould's Selah is a restrained and prolonged scream at the fickle nature of nature.  All the future hoping and planning and dreaming in the world doesn't mean a thing when that messy bastard fate sidles in and sits down.

Gould resists all temptations to have a pity party, instead she lives this new life, perseveres.  Paints the future with memories of the past.

Nora Gould

Nora Gould writes from east central Alberta where she ranches with her family. She graduated from the University of Guelph in 1984 with a degree in veterinary medicine. Her debut poetry collection, I see my love more clearly from a distance (Brick Books, 2012), was winner of the 2013 Robert Kroetsch Edmonton Book Prize and the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry (Writers Guild of Alberta); it was also shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award and was a finalist in the Poetry category for the High Plains Book Awards. Selah is her second poetry collection.

“This poem never slips into sentimentality but it breaks the heart. The fragments are wind-scoured, they startle like a fox and coyote suddenly appearing against the snow, they leave their marks on you like hard work scars the hands. I love them.”
      —Lorna Crozier

“Nora Gould’s second collection, Selah, works with presence and absence: fingertips versus touch, the burrs of a long marriage vs. the voids of dementia, a beloved’s body vs. anatomical drawings. “Breathe,” Gould advises, in a voice that is stuffed full of hand-made quilts and rusty barbed wire, “There is air in the room.” Air enough for Gould to take on birth and illness, maturity and sadness and death: “If I outlive him, when he dies / my grief will be stillborn.”
      — Ariel Gordon

Nora Gould
Interview with Nora Gould at HOWL at CIUT 89.5 FM.

Video:  Brick Books



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

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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life as IT - Daneen Wardrop (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Life as IT.  Daneen Wardrop.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland University.  Ashland, Ohio.  2016.

Winner of the Richard Snyder Publication Prize

Buddhas and Beethovens populate these provocative prose poems like a flutter of rose petals drifting under your precarious passage.  Today's book of poetry got carried away with that opening line, but the Buddhas and Beethovens part is true.  They are in Life as It along with possible saints and Roy Orbison.

What turned our crank here at Today's book of poetry was Daneen Wardrop's gaze.  Once she puts her eye on a subject she renders it new vision.  We've all been these places before, we've all listened to Paul McCartney, but never like this.  Never the old way again.  We've encountered mystics before but Waldrop's modern Carmelite St. Teresa pops in and out of these texts like a Whac-a-mole.


I've read that aphasics watching a presidential debate laugh at every lie, like
snow reads a landscape. It's a watcher's game, laughter is foil crinkling. Must
I give up even my small bit of talk? (I admit it is me, despicable truth of
elegies, whom I miss). Sometimes snow finishes the punchline, I suppose our
bones sparkle inside like that. A friend once told me my mother's
stubbornness kept her alive, told me into her stethoscope. Meticulous sparks
move by standing still in the storm, they look like tell me again.  They look like
tell me again, just a little at a time.


Life as It is a book of elegant meditations that are each as crisp as a Sonny Rollins solo, brash with subtle mystery.  Wardrop brings her own sense of timing but the beat is clear.

Truth be told Today's book of poetry didn't understand every subtle or saintly clue/cue but Daneen Wardrop writes relentlessly interesting poetry.  These compelling little monsters are tight, tight, tight prose poems salted up like a treat you can't stop eating.

Life as It

They say Buddha called many animals to him but not the cat. Surely the story
is lax on this one. Surely no one was watching on this one. After looking a
while at an upward spill of incense smoke the cat disappeared along a mouse-
flicking path. Some Buddhists say it's important for the breath to wander in
the belly. When I see a palette's paint wet and deep with colors I want to kiss
it. How complex what passes for ready. The breath can do what it wants.
Dragons roast meatloaves with their breaths, oxen hump in the fields, snakes
unfinish circles. The cat walks through grassblades strumming.


This morning's read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was organized by Kathryn, our Jr. Editor.  She told us she knew exactly how these poems should be read.  She had props that included a small but rotund and smiling Buddha.  It bore a striking resemblance to the one from the Today's book of poetry garden (which is currently under about four feet of snow).

Daneen Wardrop's Life as It made for an energetic morning read by our cast of miscreants.  These poems have their own source of power, they are internally driven, we just get to go along on the ride.

If Never the Why then at Least the How

This dawn, if a stranger stands outside our house, the panes will grow as
stamps, par avion. Windows may settle by noon, but now they wish for sex
straight out of sleep. A cupola of wild geese launches a mansion. He sleeps
turned from me, pang of light on his forehead. Too jealous for coherence, we
spoke last night in interjections, every tooled puncture of his belt slit past
what I can't accept from a silver morning, as a hand finds aqua lines tense at
the back of a knee. Then, what I can accept. The amazing thing about skin,
that it's continuous.


Life as It tasted fresh as new snow.  It went down like the coolest, cleanest spring water.  Absolutely refreshing.

Christine Gelineau
Daneen Wardrop

Daneen Wardrop has authored two books of poetry, The Odds of Being and Cyclorama, as well as several books of literary history. She is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award. Wardrop teaches American literature at Western Michigan University.

Life as It proves Daneen Wardrop's mastery of voice. In these pieces, the past, present and future coalesce in bright bursts, and, through juxtaposition and accumulation, the connections become ever more compelling, and beautiful, and edgy, and interesting as they unspool. This is poetry of both narrative and musical accomplishments, and a book one won't forget.
     - Laura Kasischke, author of The Infinitesimals

These poems are a diary of exquisite attention. Daneen Wardrop's mind is meditative in pacing yet poetic in the way it creates a new way of seeing. "A cupola of wild geese launches a mansion" is equally accurate and miraculous, and just one example of her gentle yet transformative focus. She's adept at mining a moment for what it naturally contains, rather than forcing it into predetermined avenues of feeling or thought. This a poet who possesses that rare human quality - a gracious consciousness.
     - Bob Hick, author of Sex



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, February 19, 2017

Acquired Community - Jane Byers (Caitlin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Acquired Community.  Jane Byers.  Caitlin Press.  Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.  2016.

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it
become less and less important whether I am afraid
- Audre Lorde

...that without tenderness, we are in hell.
-Adrienne Rich, Twenty-One Love Poems, X

Today's book of poetry had to borrow these two epigraphs from Jane Byers brilliant Acquired Community because they synthesize in such a beautifully acute fashion everything that is about to occur.  Byers gives us a deeply personal and highly politicized march into her queer experience and it is riveting.  

These poems are a proud parade of perseverance rendered gallant under extreme duress; not everyone gets out alive.

The Lavender Scare
According to a concerned mother of a Women's Army Corps recruit,
Fort Oglethorpe was full of homosexual sex maniacs in WWII,
"women having the appearance of perverts have been observed--
mannish haircuts, clothing, posture, stride...
seeking to date other girls, paying all the bills."

--from "Coming Out Under Fire"

Only if we were "addicted to the practice", could we be discharged in wartime.
It was a gay time, the war.
The General ignored all our signals--
               we whistled that ode to secret lovers, the Hawaiian War Chant,
               said, "We're going to have a gay time tonight"
               or "Are you in the mood?"
The Inspector General ignored civilians
cruising servicemen along highways near bases,
the bars we frequented, men in drag, women arm in arm.

Ignored, that is, until peacetime,
when, addicts after all, we were given blue discharges.

The Lavender Scare rendered us
               shunned from civilian jobs
               ineligible for GI benefits,
               unable to go back to small towns and family farms.
Some of us moved to D.C., L.A., SanFran,
               some started homophile groups,
               some men got married but fucked other men in the bushes,
               some women became stone butches and never let their lovers touch them,
               some of us jumped from tall buildings.


Jane Byers writes with such mature assurance, such a steady hand.  Today's book of poetry had never read Jane Byers before but the connect was immediate, instantaneous.  There is always lots and lots of room on our shelves for such impassioned and intelligent reason.  There is always room at our table for this sort of company.

Byers shares with us a history, a herstory, that for the majority of Canadian and Americans will be entirely new news.  For the legions of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers it is a new documentation of a sad history they are all too familiar with.

Regardless of gender or disposition Today's book of poetry defies you not to be moved by these compelling narratives.  Whether singing out a questioning tune in call and response or intoning a solemn prayer Byers is captivating.

Come Out

Stylized geometry,
pink triangle shadowed by black
above purple text--
Toronto's pride theme, 1993.

Come Out, urging,
it changes through years.
Some took offense,
mostly conservative men who had a lot to lose
but no, that's too simple.
There were women too, unwilling
to lose what little they had.

I was righteous, thought I had come out.
I'd told my high school friends, my parents, my aunt by then.
I celebrated in the streets with my friends,
eight of us in solid-coloured shirts,
walked in rainbow formation,
Made the cover of Xtra.
In my naivete, I thought I was done.

Twenty years later, I'm still doing it,
the only thing i want to have come out of is my mother's womb.
Not to the kindergarten teacher, the triage nurse,
the dentist, the law clerk, the adoption worker,
or the post woman in the condo elevator
who asks, Which one of you is the mom?
then turns to press any button she can
when I say, We both are.

The agent at the ticket counter,
glances at us with a question,
I nod before he gets the chance--
no words, but he understands.
Resignation passes over his face
with a raised eyebrow as if to say,
"When did this happen?"
I feign ignorance, glance at our kids, say,
"Follow Mama while Mom gets our bags checked."

It's like breathing, not birth.


Sometimes, and this is one of those cases, the limited selection of three poems doesn't speak to the breadth of a book at all.  Acquired Community speaks to that sense of community we find with new friends and cherished old friends, mutual understanding and respect, in the modern era this is how we build family.  We acquire people less joined by blood than by bonds of empathy.

When Today's book of poetry reads about Byers being "gay-bashed" by her brother and the subsequent torment and disappointment that ensue -- our entire staff sends out an appropriate hug for Byers.  As a brother who cherishes the ground his sisters walk on I've also sent out our entirely inappropriate Poetry Hit Squad searching for Byers brother.  Not to worry, they only use poetry. They'll poeticize him to reason, tolerance and compassion or they'll dance him outside.

Blood Orange

Joppa, Tarocco, Cara Cara, Sanguinello.
A hybrid between mandarin and pomello,
oranges grow near the Blood River in Limpopo,
alongside the ungraded dirt road, where the runners train,
barefoot, through the bush
in the red/orange co-mingle of sunrise,
in the descending crescendo of sunset.

After she shattered the 800 metre world record in Berlin,
Caster Semenya, of Limpopo, breathtakingly butch,
was accused of being a man,
jeered by the sixth and eighth place runners.
Deep voice, chiseled deltoids and biceps,
she visited the bathroom with competitors,
to show them her labia, again and again.

Her auntie says she knows what Caster is. she changed her nappies.
Turns out how we measure gender is complex.
No menses, not a big deal,
few female athletes bleed.
There is no definitive test.

She finds out she is intersex.
Undescended testes.
Mosiac female.

Caster retains the world record that she broke that night,
after the freak-show coverage and gender verification testing.
Hormone therapy renders her armour-like chest more curved,
her cheeks less angular, attenuated her power,
until we believe she is female.
Semenya goes on to win Olympic bronze, then gold.

Forget what you know.
Limpopo is South African slang for nowhere.

Imagine the dismay when you split one in half.
No, orange.
No, red.
There will be blood.


Byers poems are a magnificent bridge that span the years from imperilled hostility and even imprisonment for any LGBTQ citizen, through the marching and the parades, the hidden clubs and hidden desires - right up to today and the marvelous imperfect present.  Steps have been made, there has been progress, new laws, but we are all still a long way from home.

Acquired Community is not only a fine book of poetry it is a necessary piece of social history, a reminder, an entreaty.  Hope.

Image result for jane byers photo
Jane Byers

Jane Byers lives with her wife and two children in Nelson, British Columbia. She writes about human resilience in the context of raising children, lesbian and gay issues, and health and safety in the workplace. She has worked as an ergonomist and vocational rehabilitation consultant for many years and is passionate about facilitating resilience in ill and injured workers. She has had poems, essays and short fiction published in a variety of books and literary magazines in Canada, the US, and the UK, including Grain, Rattle, Descant, the Antigonish Review, the Canadian Journal of Hockey Literature, Our Times, Poetry in Transit and Best Canadian Poetry 2014. Her first book of poetry, Steeling Effects, was published by Caitlin Press in 2014. Her latest book of poetry is Acquired Community.

“Byers’ poems are an important reflection on the devastation of the AIDS crisis, the ‘veiled love and lament’ of the early gay rights movement, and the memories held by queer elders.”
     — Leah Horlick, author of For Your Own Good and winner of the 2016 Dayne Ogilvie Prize

“Jane Byers’ Acquired Community fills an often overlooked niche in Canadian queer history. Written in strong, careful poetics, both personal and political, Byers gives readers a glimpse into what was possible then, what is possible now. If you care about queer lives, this is an important book to read, to enjoy!”
     —Arleen Paré, author of Lake of Two Mountains (Winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Award             for Poetry), and He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car

Jane Byers
reads "Red is the Colour of Spring"
Video: Amy Bohigian's Channel



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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Friday, February 17, 2017

Blue Hallelujahs - Cynthia Manick (Black Lawrence Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Blue Hallelujahs.  Cynthia Manick.  Black Lawrence Press,  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  2016.

"we don't choose what haunts us"
                                                                                               from Mind the Gap

Today's book of poetry can tell you that these poems are declarations, prayers, confessions and pleas, all of them vividly feminine and highly charged.  Cynthia Manick's Blue Hallelujahs is a strong woman's voice telling the stories of young girls, young women and old women too.  These are stories that don't see the light of day often enough.  Even though women read and write more poetry than men - men publish more poetry than women.  

Manick wrings joy out wherever she can find it and like her grandmother's kitchen, these poems will bring you that "slow applause under the skin."  Tyehimba Jess suggests that Blue Hallelujahs is necessary music for getting to the other side.  Today's book of poetry certainly felt the tug.

Mind the Gap

Little E wants a smile like mine,
teeth with a gap so wide
a corn husk and tugboat
could pull through.
Or a submarine, lost sounds
and grunts. Tiny light bulbs
if you're careful or a string
of Christmas lights looped
through like garland.

Does she know how the world
works? How some of us
are born without 40 acres
and the weight of a mule
on their chest. Like my mother
and Monday mornings --
boarding the F train and two buses
with two children, her own negro
caravan. A sonata full of low-watt
clinics and hurling vowels
like swords. How I often waited
in those long-ass lines
and imagined myself a boy,
a whirlwind digging in the muck
where only muscles and gold matter.

My tongue tries to reason with her
ring against the want -- cause
we don't choose what haunts us.
When I was young I craved closed
spaces, bright veneers, the smile
of Rudy Huxtable or on bad days
Shirley Temple. No one notices
a mouth when Bojangles is dancing.


Today's book of poetry is uncertain of how to address the obvious so feels compelled to say it - these poems are about a young Black woman and her experience of the world and I'm an old white man, so how could I possibly relate?  Is that an unreasonable question?  Cynthia Manick does all the work bridging that gap by writing poems that are wide open and crystal clear.  The strong women in these poems are familiars and we admire their unrelenting belief that the world is changed with every strong foot put forward.

Manick's poems are confident and certain, powerful meditations on family, gender, childhood and race.  Today's book of poetry enjoyed that Manick employs an innocent sense of wonder in her voice from time to time in these excellent poems.  Resilience is rare enough but adding wonder gives these poems additional charm.

Manick is comfortable with adding some smolder to her plate.  These poems are cradle to the grave stories about family for good and bad, but when Manick warms the sheets that all fades to the shadows.  Cynthia Manick captures the primal and caresses it with subtle sweetness.

Recipe for Consummation

Your seasoned skin --
            one quart Egyptian
            the shade of balsa honey,
            one part Cubano
            with a dash of cayenne pepper,
            and one half buttered South--
is a scratch 'n sniff insert
more savory than Old Spice
            or Sara Lee;
and I claw it nightly
like oranges or sand
to whispered chants
           of sweet meat sweet meat
and bareback tongues
            in our bedroom,
until shuck sheds
            like a coiled rope
            of dark stars.
I drink it down
            so that my body
            the brown bounty
of your herbs and spine
in the morning.


Blue Hallelujahs has its share of righteous indignity, these poems are never shrill or pained but they certainly are sharp and pointed when Manick puts her foot down.

Another great morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices.  The sun is shining in our town this morning which is a treat, we've had snow nineteen of the last twenty-five days.  We all took turns reading Cynthia Manick's Blue Hallelujahs until there were none left to read.

When I Think of My Father

I live in constant fear of extinction,
that I'll be pulled back to muddy toes
and pear trees. Praised for wide hips
and a silent mouth that wants
to scream, echo, grunt, but can't.

Or that I'll meet a man just like my daddy,
tether my back to his name like a spine
where each cord holds large teats filled with children
and more children like little benign tumors.
And when he slips his hand under my skirt
I'll know he doesn't love me -- just the malleable
skin that's spreads north and south,
guided by his un-mutable compass.

When I think of my father I can only see
my mother at her knees, chanting he's gone
Cyn, he's gone, pairs of discarded
blue jeans on the floor, my mother
fingering the silver buckles like a totem
to lure him back --
from some other woman's scent.

She silently demands my twelve-year old
self to hold and rock her body
like a pair of marsupials -- her rooting
my chest for safety, me exposed to the cold
air of their bedroom. I try to be stone,
brine the carnage in my throat
swallow her overripe voice of muscadines.

Falling into the bodies of baggy pants
boys at corner stores -- their pockets
full of candy and cake. What they don't
give me, I steal. What I steal, I eat.
I eat to fill a gangrene hole stuffed with bills,
deeds in my father's name, blocks
of state-issued butter and cheese.

I want to take a blade and cut
the edge of this round red wound.
Have daughters born not ready
to fear, but ready to pick up a spade,
dig a ditch, and knife a man.


Today's book of poetry has nothing but esteem for the voice of Cynthia Manick.  I wish her strength on all our daughters and sisters.

Blue Hallelujahs is Cynthia Manick's first book of poetry, it's as powerful as it is promising.

Manick Cynthia
Cynthia Manick
Photo:  Sue Rissberger

A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School, Cynthia Manick has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, and the Vermont Studio Center. She serves as East Coast Editor of the independent press Jamii Publishing and was a 2014 finalist for the New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Her work has appeared in African American Review, Bone Bouquet, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Sou’wester, Pedestal Magazine, Passages North, St. Ann’s Review, and elsewhere. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

The speaker of Cynthia Manick’s haunted debut collection admits “a love for surgery porn at 1 a.m.” And one early poem begins, “Today I am elbow deep/in some animal’s belly//pulling out the heart and stomach/for my mother’s table.” Throughout, Blue Hallelujahs approaches aspects of a woman’s development—from “feet first” Caesarean delivery to a grandmother’s admonition “to pull flesh/from the throat not the belly”—blade at the ready, moving from slaughter to surgery to a kind of deep southern haruspication. At the center of girlhood we find The Shop with its inventory of inherited hungers. “Is this what the heart eats?” Manick renders visceral a longing to avoid extinction, to escape the museum, to live fully embodying one’s identity as a woman who “knows/ how to wield a knife.”
     —Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, author of Open Interval, a 2009 National Book Award Finalist

"What we remember is what we become. Rocking chairs holding mothers and "animals that root the ground for peaches, bones and stars." In Blue Hallelujahs Cynthia Manick holds fast to what brought us across. These are not the things you will hear about Black people on the nightly news. But they remain the things that lock the arms of Black people around Black people when we need what we need to keep moving on. I am so grateful to this sweet box of sacred words."
     —Nikky Finney, Author of Head Off & Split, Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry

Cynthia Manick's Blue Hallelujahs bring us to a broil like Koko Taylor's "white-toothed love coils on repeat." Here, we have a gospel of womanly sharpness, a kitchen sinked and hot combed diary of the way Blues grinds into the 21st century. Gifted with the ability to smolder into surprise and swelter, Manick's reflections on discovery and loss will bring you to a "slow applause under the skin." Thank you for this bouquet of sheet music filled with church organ and pistol smoke, Ms. Manick. We gone need it to get to the other side.
    —Tyehimba Jess, author of leadbelly, winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series

Hunted 2
Black Poets Speak Out
Cynthia Manick



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"
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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Love is a very long word - Majlinda Bashllari (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Love is a very long word.  Majlinda Bashllari.  Guernica Editions.  Essential Poets 233.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (U.K.).  2016.

What joy.  Majlinda Bashllari's Love is a very long word was such a pleasure to read that it snapped me out of a poetry funk.  Today's book of poetry had been wallowing in a deep trough of poetic despair and displeasure as a couple of books I'd set aside with pleasure soured when I returned.  It happens from time to time.  Not so with Love is a very long word.

These poems are immediately accessible and still full of mystery.  There's passion from a woman's point of view, escape stories, poems about family and so on.  The subject matter is far less important than the way Bashllari wraps you around her fingers and has her way with you.  The reader is happy inside these poems because Bashllari knows the secret languages of intimacy.

Cropped Images

There's nothing on the first pages of this family photo album.
Neither pictures nor paintings of the great grandparents who
were supposed to be shown here. They didn't know anything
about photography. They used each other's eyes to record
their memories.

Light is absorbed into these black empty spots and cannot
get reflected back. They're all soldiers of the same blood and
flesh army, dead or alive, silent and often forgotten. From
time to time we make a stop at these imaginary graves
wondering which one of us resembles them.

Here comes another generation: the recently departed
grandparents, uncles, aunts, rich and poor cousins, with their
own stories frozen in celluloid.

Once the daylight touches their eyes, faces start to revive.
They sigh, smile and look for their dearest ones in the crowd.

What happened to you, they say, what happened to me ... that
day, that night, that moment ... They get sad and stare: Please,
send us back, we want to be somnambulists. Don't wake us up.

I skip pages, coming close to the living empire: adults with
our own children, who know little about growing up.

We are not done with our time yet. There are battles to win,
at least arguments. We take pictures of every event, happy
pictures if possible. Although not sure we are happy, we need
to leave physical evidence of supposed happiness behind.
Somehow we remain idealists who love everything material.

Faces, gestures often surrounded by suspicious blurs taken
between invisible moments. Unnoticed moments, like
heartbeats; once important but never to be displayed again,
powerless to weaken our unique talent for pretending.


Love is a very long word is Majlinda Bashllari's first book of poetry in English.  Let me repeat that astonishing remark.  Love is a very long word is Majlinda Bashllari's first book of poetry in English. But ten years ago Bashllari published Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home) (Morava, 2007), in Tirana, Albania.

It's beyond astonishing that Bashllari is now writing poems in English as though she invented the language.  Love is a very long word is nuanced and considered poetry that feels like a conversation in that dream you can't forget.


Mira wanted him, and when nobody was around,
she trembled and whispered gibberish mostly
and begged him to touch her.
It was not her fault she never knew the taste
of being loved. With one leg shorter than the other,
she's always been invisible to men.
Turning forty wouldn't make her any prettier,
she knew that.

He was her brother's best friend,
who else would treat her right ...
The man got straight to the point:
--Girl, you're like my sister, this may kill us both ...
--Nobody will know, she murmured,
looking at her good leg.
Then he held her gently in his arms,
kissed her on the neck, thinking of the money
he'd borrowed from her brother ...
She blushed, burst into tears
and he couldn't tell what was uglier,
her face or his performance.
Between her thighs, he forgot everything:
his wife, the loan, the lousy life.

Later, in bed alone, she cried,
as she pictured him leaving,
limping on his healthy legs.


The Today's book of poetry minions were in fine form today once I got them inside from shovelling. In the last seventy-two hours Ottawa has had seventeen feet of snow.  That's an alternative fact. Shovelling will tire the rebelliousness right out of a pesky intern or editor.

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, remarked on the strength of the speaker in these poems, how resilient.  Milo felt that there was a low hum of resigned melancholy under the poems.  Today's book of poetry agreed with both of my loyal staff -- but we'd tell the reader to look around for the hope in these poems.  We're convinced Majlinda Bashllari is an optimist, too experienced to have any notion of unbroken happiness, but full of hope in the face of reason.

Natural Woman Made In The Balkans

On nights that are neither moon nor wolf, I want my man
over me like a bat that holds a lit-up chandelier in his wings.

Almost blind, he tries to reach the last hearth-fire ... Why me,
I breathe in his mouth, dying to hear again that all other girls
in the town seem like sisters to him.

Quiet, but hot, blind but hungry, we both take off across the
darkness. On nights that are neither of wolf nor moon.

When he falls asleep, I uncover the sweaty hair from my eye
and watch beyond his shoulder, to make sure no sisters come
out of the dark.


Today's book of poetry liked every single thing about this powerhouse.  Today's book of poetry liked Majlinda Bashllari's Love is a very long word so much that we now want to learn Albanian and find a copy of Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home).  It must be a stunner, this one certainly is.

Majlinda Bashllari
Majlinda Bashllari

Born in Albania, Majlinda Bashllari’s first poetry collection, Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home), was published in Tirana, Albania (Morava, 2007). Bashllari’s work has appeared in numerous Albanian art and literature magazines and in Albanian anthologies of essays and short stories. Love is a very long word is her first English-language collection of poems. She lives with her family in Toronto.

With their cultural roots in Albania, the poems in Love is a very long word are distinct in welcome ways from almost anything else in Canadian literature. Laconic and edged with sharp wit, they engage the necessary courage and strength of character to transform the often bleak, thwarted and alienated experiences which they recount into art of the finest, most valid sort: uncompromising, imaginative, and deeply true to life. 
     - Allan Briesmaste

Love is a very long word - Book Trailor
Video: Guernica Editions



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.