Friday, April 28, 2017

Short Takes on the Apocalypse - Patricia Young (Biblioasis)

Today's book of poetry:
Short Takes on the Apocalypse.  Patricia Young.  Biblioasis.  Windsor, Ontario.  2016.

Patricia Young is the author of eleven previous books of poetry and Today's book of poetry has had our eye on her work for a long, long time.  We had Milo, our head tech, check the stacks this morning and much to our disappointment he came back with a miserly three Patricia Young titles, Melancholy Ain't No Baby (Ragweed Press, 1985), What I remember from my time on earth (Anansi, 1997) and Night Eaters (Quatro Poetry, 2002).  After reading her latest, Short Takes on the Apocalypse, Today's book of poetry is reminded how much we admired this poet's work.

Short Takes on the Apocalypse isn't a party trick but this book does have a catch; each poem begins with some sage epigraph from a resplendent group that ranges from George Bernard Shaw to Marilyn Manson to Kurt Vonnegut.  It all works.  Somehow Young is able to use these witticisms as a springboard and once she takes to the air all sorts of marvelous hell break loose.

Tornado In The Bible Belt

                     Never open... with the weather.
                                       -Elmore Leonard

Strong southerly winds tore through the upper atmosphere. Hot air
clashed with cold. High-speed gusts rotated around a calm centre,
and then a funnel-shaped cloud was sucking up dust and debris and
a small child--my child. For twelve minutes his body spun like a 
blob of butter inside nature's blender. I cursed God and the complex
interactions between updraft and surrounding winds, cursed the
third layer of dry air and His vortex howl. How dare the Almighty
sweep my boy up, then drop him like a cigarette butt far from the
house. All night I searched the fields. Searched and searched until a
voice rang out of the blackness--I am safe in Jesus' arms. And then
silence unlike anything I'd ever known.


Short Takes on the Apocalypse, Young's twelfth book of poems, is an exploration.  Young is looking at it all; love, sex, death and her Hungarian grandmother.  Young brings a masterful poise to her narratives, these stories resonate so true - and that would be good enough - but Young is so much more.

This is funny stuff, biting and instructive.  Young has experience and wit and this book swells to bursting with both.  We laughed, we cried.


            I don't believe in an afterlife but I still fully expect
                               to see my brother again.
                                                            - Maurice Sendak

It doesn't matter where I go, what clothes I'm wearing,
which way my head's turned, north or south, if my mouth's
open or shut, if I'm awake or dreaming, I'm always with

you, on a bus in an eastern European town. Same overcast
sky, same up-turned cart in the middle of the road, hay
spreading across pavement, a donkey and farmer, shoulders

slumped: stance of unspeakable resignation. Time's lost
or frozen, the traffic's blocked and the bus driver's cursing
in a language so luminous with rage we understand every

blue letter word. Late afternoon commute, men with wind-
lashed faces and women in bright scarves. Bored girls
flipping open cell phones or the make-up cases on their laps.

Wherever I go a dull wash is descending upon the same
mud-splattered scene. We're twenty-two, we're forty-five,
we're sixty-eight, but no matter, day will lurch into night

and then into another day, the seasons will shift, the planets
align, the spilled hay will be cleared for passage, the driver
will sat back down, his diesel engine will sputter and combust,

we'll look out the back window as farmer, donkey and cart
grow small, then smaller, the dead will chatter into
the vanishing point. The bus will continue down the road.


It occurs to us here at Today's book of poetry that Young must be some sort of serious reader of the highest order to have found the range of epigraphs that frame these poems like paintings.  As it happens these poems are painterly, Short Takes on the Apocalypse is like a grand vernissage curated by Young.  It's a life story and Young doesn't flinch for a second, her panorama covers the past, present and future.  

Today's book of poetry has always, or at least since 1985, felt a kinship with Young's voice but perhaps that is only wishful thinking.  She has the plain, clear, intelligent voice Today's book of poetry aspires to.

Father Suite

             A father is always making his baby into a little woman.
                 And when she is a woman he turns her back again.
                                                                             -Enid Bagnold

In his shirt pocket, a package of Gitanes. I loved that package.
Wanted to be the Spanish lady shaking a tambourine. In Canada
my father became the model immigrant. Worked hard. Built
chimneys for a living. The feather in the cap, he'd say, his accent
stubborn. He laid brick, stone, concrete blocks. Climbed ladders
to the sky. He was king of flues and updrafts. Threw his little girl
into the air. So proud of her English. How she pronounced spark
arrestor, wall thimble, directional cowl. I was polished and pretty. At
sixteen landed a bit part in Rossini's La Cenerentola. On closing
night, kissed my backstage hero inside the folds of the velvet
curtain (how did my father know? what did he see?). When the
applause stopped, I was shipped off to Eastern Europe to die like
the grasses, rot in the earth.


Squatting before the hearth, my Hungarian grandmother ate
meaty potatoes right out of their skins. Scrubbed the floors of her
cramped apartment with a vile-smelling soap. Squirted vinegar
on the windows. Wiped them down with crumpled newspaper
until the glass squeaked. Sometimes I'd catch her looking at me
as though she understood my fundamental flaw. Her words were
foreign and disjointed and pierced with disappointment. At night
she wept. The delicate sound of her sadness was hard as nails.
She still longed for her son, my father. All those years later she
still missed the man I now hated. And such hatred! Ferocious.
Operatic. It rattled my bones.


I returned home to find him asleep on the front porch, big grey
wolf guarding the door. An empty bottle of plum brandy tipped on
its side. I shook him. Nudged his leg. He was still handsome in an
aging playboy sort of way. The cab driver, watching from the street,
was waiting to see me safely inside. I wanted to run back, ask him
to take me away. Instead, I slid down beside my father and began
to talk about my years in Budapest. How I stopped eating. Took up
smoking. Grew to love my grandmother. I talked about my soul-
deep passion for the backstage boy who'd painted the backdrop of
Don Magnifico's rundown mansion. You almost killed me, I said,
and pulled a blue and white cigarette package from my purse. My
father roused. Opened an eye. Squinted. He looked at the faceless
gypsy woman with a clinical and tender curiosity.


Our morning read was excellent.  How could it not be?  Both Milo and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, made lists of the names Young referenced.  They are both determined to be good readers and are willing to jump off of any springboard they can find.

Young, a Governor General Award short list nominee, twice, is a true pro.  Every poem in Short Takes on the Apocalypse stands on it's own, adds some light where there was dark.

Image result for patricia young photo
Patricia Young

Patricia Young is the author of twelve books of poetry, and one book of short fiction, Airstream (Biblioasis, 2006). A two-time Governor General’s Award nominee, she has also won the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the CBC Literary Competition, the British Columbia Book Prize for Poetry and the League of Canadian Poets National Poetry Competition. She lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

“Young is a masterful technician. She masons each brick into place just so. …She thrives on ambiguity and twists while fostering a rapt interest in them in the reader.”
     — Prairie Fire

“With her sure hand wielding the knife of understanding, Young cuts not just to the bone, but well beyond into realms that transcend the here, the now and the merely personal.” 
    — Monday Magazine

“Accute and quirky observation which cumulates at insight.” 
     — Freefall



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, April 25, 2017

The Emily Valentine Poems - Zoe Whittall (Invisible Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
The Emily Valentine Poems.  Zoe Whittall.  Invisible Publishing.  Halifax & Picton, Nova Scotia.  2006/2016.

10th Anniversary Edition 

The Emily Valentine Poems cover

Zoe Whittall first published The Emily Valentine poems in 2006.  Today's book of poetry somehow missed it back in the day but is delighted to have our muggy little paws on this 2016 reprint. 

Whittall likes the prose poem and she likes lists, well, as it happens, Today's book of poetry is a big fan of both and Whittall does not disappoint.  The Emily Valentine poems just cut right to it.

Gender and desire get thrown around with alacrity, Whittall never misses a beat.

Dirt Road Wedding

In Vancouver for a family wedding
I am foot sore lost
in the bridal shop,
lungs heavy.

Everyone asks me,
"Where's your boyfriend?"
and I say,
"In 1989."


In the third section of The Emily Valentine poems, Part III: Scraps Against the Screen Zoe Whittall writes letters to Judy Blume, Boy George, Axl Rose, Rayanne Graff, Molly Ringwald, Corey Haim and Emily Valentine.  They are hilarious.

Whittall was a much younger woman when these poems were written so we can understand her obsessions with these cultural iconic cut-outs from her youth - but what we need to notice, AND WE DO, is how sharp Whittall keeps her tools.  Zoe Whittall is best known as a novelist but then so is Michael Ondaatje, and they both burn poems with the best of 'em, highest order stuff.

Dear Boy George,

When I told my mother I was going to marry you as soon as I
was old enough to take the bus to Montreal by myself and go
see you at your concert, she said that probably would never
happen. And it didn't. Please explain.

My love forever,


Today's book of poetry rolled through The Emily Valentine poems like an old Cure song, sad, but with so much intelligent energy that the poems are irresistible.

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, led our morning read with much robust laughter.  Whittall's big sense of humour is the under-coat on all these poems but it doesn't take much reminding that the serious side of Zoe Whittall is stone cold.  Today's book of poetry could listen to these poems all day long.

On Discovering

1. On re-discovering my love of pot:

Did I just ! brush my teeth ! for an hour?
I remember this feeling from recess!

2. On discovering how to love myself again:

my red bra falls out of my purse and onto the counter at the
Portuguese bakery where I buy my coffee on the mornings after.
The bakery is between our houses exactly. The woman with the
stubby band-aid makes me a latte without flinching.

3. On re-discovering self-esteem on January 2 :

Having .23 in my chequing
.47 in my savings
and a two day old coke hangover
is no reason to feel as bad about myself
as I do right now


Today's book of poetry enjoys Whittall's fiction, who wouldn't?  But we want more poetry.  This Tenth Anniversary Edition of The Emily Valentine poems is a balm, a great teaser, but we certainly want more.

Today's book of poetry has the Zoe Whittall poetry blues.

Image result for zoe whittall photo
Zoe Whittall

Zoe Whittall is the author of four novels, most recently The Best Kind of People (House of Anansi, 2016) and Holding Still for as Long as Possible (Anansi, 2010). She published her third collection of poetry, Precordial Thump, in 2008 with Exile Editions. She works as a TV writer and novelist in Toronto.

“This reminds me that I would like to know everything about this person.”
      —  Eileen Myles

“Zoe Whittall’s poems are snake bite cures masquerading as candy.” 
     —  RM Vaughan

“Zoe Whittall might just be the cockiest, brashest, funniest, toughest, most life-affirming, elegant, scruffy, no-holds-barred writer to emerge from Montreal since Mordecai Richler…” 
      —  The Globe and Mail 



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, April 21, 2017

Duet - Dorianne Laux | Joseph Millar (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Duet.  Dorianne Laux | Joseph Millar.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2016.

Books of poetry that share two authors come in a variety of forms and styles.  In Duet by Dorianne Laux and Joseph Millar the poems are unattributed, written separately but presented as a unified front.  This takes some seriously elastic tolerance and trust, one poet allowing herself/himself to be represented by the words of another, to speak with your name and approval.

This duet is made up entirely of solos but the reader never knows who is playing lead.  It doesn't matter because Laux and Millar are in the same key throughout, they have found the same rhythm section, the bass is steady and the drumming is tight.  Laux and Millar riff like scat singers on a legion of our musical heroes from Bo Diddley to Cher, Dolly Parton's breasts are balladized and Elvis, the King, has his mansion/mausoleum costed for affect.

Listening to Paul Simon

Such a brave generation.
We marched onto the streets
in our T-shirts and jeans, holding
the hand of the stranger next to us
with a trust I can't summon now,
our voices raised in song.
Our rooms were lit by candlelight,
wax dripping onto the table, then
onto the floor, leaving dusty
starbursts we'd pop off
with the edge of a butter knife
when it was time to move.
But before we packed and drove
into the middle of our lives
we watched the leaves outside
the window shift in the wind
and listened to Paul Simon,
his tindery voice, then fell back
into our solitude, leveled our eyes
on the American horizon
that promised us everything
and knew it was never true:
smoke and cinders, insubstantial
as fingerprints on glass.
It isn't easy to give up hope,
to escape a dream. We shed
our clothes and cut our hair,
our former beauty piled at our feet.
And still the music lived inside us,
whole worlds unmaking us in the dark,
so that sleeping and waking we heard
the train's distant whistle, steel
trestles shivering across the land
that was still our in our bones and hearts,
its lone headlamp searching the weedy
stockyards, the damp, gray rags of fog.


This morning our read was also a concert.  Laux and Millar write such instantly approachable and easily digestible glee that the poems powered off the lips of the readers as though they were the rock stars of their dreams.  

Because Laux and Millar were calling out the spirits of Elvis, Bo Diddley, Quicksilver, Willie Dixon, The Who, Paul Simon, Cher and Sonny too, Theolonious Monk, Julie London, Lightnin' Hopkins, Mick Jagger, Joe Williams, Mel Torme and his beautiful velvet fog, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, James Taylor, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Lil Wayne and more -- Today's book of poetry gave the challenge to Milo, our head tech.  Not surprisingly he was able to fire up a dance card on the box with everyone present.  Our morning read involved much music.

Who Do You Love

This is the night after Bo Diddley died
and we sit in the cafe drinking iced tea
reading his lyrics in the newspaper
along with the story of the hairline crack
in the left front hoof of Big Brown,
another American original.
Outside the long cars prowl the dusk
trailing their ribbons of smoke,
heat lightning flickers over the street
and the waitress Arlene
brings salsa and chips.

I want to say thanks
for the cavernous voice
and the black cowboy hat,
the triangle rhinestone Fender guitar
and the scratchy beat everyone stole--
Quicksilver, Willie Dixon, The Who,
easy to shuffle to,
easy to dance to:
"walk 47 miles of barb wire
with a cobra snake for a necktie"


Laux and Millar's Duet pays all of their guests the deepest respect they can offer up on the way to immortalizing them in poem.  Of course this playlist covers a particular and time specific era that includes mostly older gray haired souls like myself, but Kathleen, our young Jr. Editor, corrected me once again when she said the word I was looking for was "timeless,"

Laux and Millar taste just a little bittersweet and caramel while lamenting Gene Vincent and others with the certain knowledge that beauty dies young while songs live forever.

Dolly's Breasts

                    are singing
from the rafters of her chest,
swaying beneath sheeny satin,
suspended in the choreography
of her bra: twin albino dolphins
breaching from her ball gown's
rhinestone cleavage.  Her breasts
are sisters praying at twilight, a pair
of fat-cheeked Baptists dreaming
of peaches, her nipples the color
of autumn, two lonely amber eyes.
When she shakes her metallic bodice,
tinsel swimming up her pink fonts
of nourishment, the spotlight hums
and shimmies with them, the audience,
open-mouthed, stunned into silence
as she crosses her legs and bows, her hair
hanging down, a permed curl caught
in that soft, improbable seam.


Laux and Millar's Duet made the day here at Today's book of poetry, they hit just the right chord.  For Today's book of poetry our only complaint was pages, we were ready for more.

Image result for dorianne laux joseph millar photo
Dorianne Laux  |  Joseph Millar

Dorianne Laux's most recent collections are The Book of Men, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize and Facts about the Moon, winner of the Oregon Book Award. Laux is also author of Awake, What We Carry, and Smoke from BOA Editions. She teaches poetry in the MFA Program at North Carolina State University.

Joseph Millar is the author of Kingdom, Blue Rust, Fortune, and Overtime, which was a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. He teaches at Pacific University's Low Residency MFA Program.

Joseph Millar
International Poetry Library of San Francisco
Video: Evan Karp

Dorianne Laux
International Poetry Library of San Francisco
Video: Evan Karp



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, April 19, 2017

Today's book of poetry:
Heart in a Jar.   Kathleen McGookey.  White Pine Press.  Buffalo, New York.  2017.

Reading Heart in a Jar is like stumbling onto a lost manuscript of Charlotte's Web if it had been written by a dark and hallucinating Hieronymus Bosch or perhaps a time travelling Pieter Bruegel reincarnated as a poet.

Kathleen McGookey's poems do an instant connect with a part of your brain you'd previously been unaware of.  Your body jolts a little with new electricity running new circuits.  

Today's book of poetry is genuinely unsure of how to tell you patient readers about Kathleen McGookey's particular genius.  Today's book of poetry is convinced that McGookey has tapped into a deeper well than most and these short prose poems prove it time and again.  These aren't fairy tales or folk stories but given time they may become those to another generation.

Like His Heart in a Jar

The dead cat, stolen from Biology, showed up in my locker. Black-
haired Joe, who wanted to be my boyfriend, who sometimes gave
me rides in his father's Cadillac, put it there. You'd think it would
have been terrible, skinny toad-colored thing dangling from my coat
hook, but it didn't stink or drip. After Calculus, it was gone.


Strange magic abounds in Heart in a Jar.  Kathleen McGookey's poems inhabit a world where talismans teem and we are left to intuit their meaning.  These poems occur in a macabre and splendid universe that feels familiar, as though it were a place we all visited in our dreams.

Death seems to be around every corner wearing a "ratty robe and slippers" but McGookey has her eyes wide open, she sees Death coming and calls his bluff.

Dear Death,

can't you see we're busy riding bikes in the sun? Later we'll cut out
paper hearts and sprinkle them with glitter. I have had enough of
you. I'd rather learn facts about penguins: what they eat, how much
they weigh, how they stay warm in the Antarctic. Some are called
Emperor. Some, Rockhopper. First-graders with gap-toothed smiles
hold out the class guinea pig for me to pet. Let's pretend you forget
all about us.


The poems in Heart in a Jar were perfect for a good morning read, short, sharp and savvy.  Death is in there dancing up a shit-storm but McGookey isn't without hope, the characters that inhabit her poems are not without resources.

Gary Young, author of Even So, called Kathleen McGookey's Heart in a Jar "a rapturous Memento mori."  Today's book of poetry had to look that up; a memento mori is "an object serving as a warning or reminder of death, such as a skull."  The translation from Latin is "remember that you have to die." Mr. Young is right, McGookey is constant in reminding us that the Dark Angel is always nearby, that she does so with such charming intrigue and invention is why we are here.

Kathleen McGookey can burn in any kitchen.


I'd like to talk about something else for a change, like that small blue
frog, which, if licked, kills whatever licked it. The frog might be an-
other color. You might have to eat it to die. But I know I've got the
killing part right. Once, I had patience. Once, I had my own room.
I didn't have sisters. I didn't have roosters. I'd like to know who said
I have wasted my life. And was it true? When I lay my head upon my
desk, something inside me--a shadow, a ghost?--tries to sit up. Its
outline washes through me, like certain medications. I like not dis-
cussing certain subjects. I like going to the orchard to pick fresh
peaches. I like the idea of a different life. But that's what I thought
years ago, imagining this one.


Kathleen McGookey says some harsh things in Heart in a Jar, some of them fearless, almost all instantly recognizable to the heart as true or true feeling.  You get the impression that McGookey could pound out this particular type of perfection all day long.

Heart in a Jar is so much better than I've been able to express, you can trust that.

Image result for kathleen mcgookey photo
Kathleen McGookey

Kathleen McGookey’s prose poems and translations have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, The Best of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry, and The House of Your Dream: An International Collection of Prose Poetry. The forthcoming anthology Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence includes her work, and her poetry collection, At the Zoo, will be published by White Pine Press in spring 2017. She has received grants from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has taught creative writing at Hope College, Interlochen Arts Academy, and Western Michigan University. She lives in Middleville, Michigan, with her family.

Letters to Death
Letters to Death by Kathleen McGookey
Music by Josh Trentadue (speaker and piano)
Steven Murtonen, percussion



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, April 17, 2017

My Favorite Tyrants - Joanne Diaz (The University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
My Favorite Tyrants.  Joanne Diaz.  The University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2014.

Winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry

American poet Joanne Diaz is as solid as a rock.  My Favorite Tyrants is a second book of poetry from Diaz, following The Lessons.  The Lessons is now at the top of Milo's, our head tech, search list. My Favorite Tyrants has made a deep impression here.

In the past few weeks Today's book of poetry has been in narrative poetry hog heaven.  You'll remember that we recently wrote about B.H. Fairchild and his The Art of the Lathe and were seriously gob-smacked.  I've already warned you readers that a David Lee feature was in the offing, as well as a double-header from the indefatigable David Clewell.  And now Joanne Diaz.

Diaz is no drop in veracity or tenacity from these monsters.  My Favorite Tyrants is outstanding.   Diaz spends no time on false drama or proselytizing, instead she spins such exacting and true sounding tales we are forced to remember how good poetry can be.


To get there, drive past Hajjar Elemenatry School,
named after the child of Lebanese immigrants
who lived here his whole life and died as the much-loved war hero
and town physician. Coast past the ditch where the now-filled
Middlesex Canal once transversed the town lines of Billerica,
Burlington, Winchester, Cambridge, and Boston, transporting
raw cotton in one direction and colorful textiles
in the other. Take a left at the corner of Call and Pollard,
there at the house of Asa Pollard, the first man to give his life
in the Battle of Bunker Hill, twenty miles southeast of here.
Follow the necklace of shabby little ranches on Pollard
until you get to the town center, then drive around the rotary,
built around the tree beneath which George Washington
allegedly sat -- is there any town in the former colonies
that doesn't have such a tree? -- and keep turning
past the old town hall, which is the new library, then
the old library, which is now the senior center
where she got her flu shot the day before, then past
Sweeney's funeral home where she is now, in the basement,
beneath the hands of the mortician who injects her veins
with the formaldehyde that will preserve her until the next day,
when the hearse will drive her coffin to a plot that is being dug,
past Taylor Florist, where they will charge four hundred dollars
for a spray of lavender wrapped with cheap ribbons that say
Mother and Wife, to Jim's where you can see my father
getting his first barbershop haircut in forty-eight years.
The sideburns, already, are not to his liking, and the razor's edge
feels a size off from her Oster home barbershop razor,
and the plastic sheet that covers him now is so uncomfortable
compared with the flowered bed sheet that she used, stained
purple-brown as it was from years of her own home coloring treatments.
If you listen, you'll hear him tell the barber that he hasn't been
to a barbershop since 1961, but now that she is gone, he guesses
that this is what he'll have to do. In these first days, he's relieved
to be with strangers. With them it is almost easy to say,
My wife has died in this, his new language.


Joanne Diaz digests this bitter earth and then voices, in songs we recognize, songs we'll remember, the necessary journeys we take to make a family.  My Favorite Tyrants is much bigger than just family, Diaz also manages to work in some geo-political fanning of the flames.

Death is a big Diaz theme but she looks beyond the simple dark mystery and talks to us with reasoned empathy, tearful sympathy and breathless curiosity.  Diaz does all that without ever raising any maudlin excess.

The poems where Diaz talks about the death of her mother resonate with a clean and vibrant hum.   Remorse, respect, loss, wonder.  Diaz works all of them into narratives that play out so true you might think you already know the story.  You don't, but the real truth always sounds familiar.

Demeter's Last Stand

Last night, I alluded to my years as a Camp Fire Girl
and Averill revealed that she had been one, too,
and after she made the sign of a fire rising from her hand,

we chanted the promise that every Camp Fire Girl knows:
WoHeLo means work; I light the candle of work. WoHeLo means
health; I light the candle of health. WoHeLo means love;

I light the candle of love. How many times
did Lori Dembkoski and I giggle
during those camping expeditions in the backyard

of Mrs. D'Angelo, a kind woman who seemed to have invented
recycling when she filled her old knee-highs with soap chips
and knotted the ends to tree branches; when she poked

holes in gallon jugs and forced twigs into them
so that we could start and stop the water
as the jugs swung, unwieldy, from low branches;

when she told ghost stories that originated in her own house.
After a few years, Mrs. D'Angelo left us for a job
in Pennsylvania, and our new troop had to meet

in the low-ceilinged cafeteria at the middle school
where we resigned ourselves to cutting ochre-colored felt
amidst the stench of Tatter Tots. I don't know how long

it took for a janitor named Connie Rock to find us,
but our encounters with him in the hallway
did offer surprises. One week he'd kneel down

to compliment our felt handiwork and knee-socks;
another time he'd ask us to sit on his lap just for a little while;
and eventually we kissed him on his sallow cheeks

that were soured and lined with decades of hard drink
and smoke. One night, when all the parents
came to the cafeteria for an event

not worth the remembering, Connie found me
and called my name, and I went to him as I had
in the weeks before, I imagine now that my mother

saw then: the red sash full of badges that she had hand-sewn,
the blue hat that featured a small bright bird;
my smile at an old janitor as he cradled me on his lap

and smiled back, as if I were Persephone and he were Hades,
just after he had pushed through a cleft in the soil to steal me.
It took only a moment for my mother to seize my wrist

and hurry to the car. Mother, if I thanked you too little,
know that tonight I remember your besting of Demeter's speed,
and that you saved me from a lifetime of winters.


Our morning read was a stunner.  Earlier this morning Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, made every one of us listen to/watch the P.J. Harvey/Bjork video of the old Rolling Stones tune "Satisfaction."  Everyone in the room was on the edge of their seat.  Kathryn was convinced the video would be the perfect opener to a reading of My Favorite Tyrants and she was right.  Diaz brought down the house.

Diaz has a fascination for the American producer/actor/writer Larry David.  Larry David was the head writer for Seinfeld and then was the primary attention getter in Curb Your Enthusiasm.  I expect you readers are like me and reside in the love/hate faction for Larry David sentiment.  Diaz doesn't skip a beat as she culturally appropriates his skinny ass for a meeting with Antonin Artaud. In the real world I would pay anything to see that meeting.

On the Meeting of Larry David and Antonin Artaud

      after Philip Levine

In my dream, Antonin Artaud is a patient
at Bellevue, receiving electroshock treatments
for the schizophrenia that shattered him
for all of his adult life, and Larry David
has come to see him during visiting hours.
Antonin's eyes reveal a man who on most days
is frantic beyond reason, but today, Larry's
the one who's at the end of his rope.
He's just starred in his first feature-length film
and it's a flop. He knows he should never
have taken a role written thirty-five years ago
and intended for Zero Mostel, that great
heaving sweat machine who died too soon
to play the part. Larry's a writer, a comedian,
but no actor, and now he's stinking up
an already terrible movie. Even worse,
Larry's wife has left him -- not just
in the TV show, but in real life too, and all
because he probably complained too much
about the environmentally sound toilet paper.

At first, it might seem unlikely that Larry
should meet this great French surrealist.
But Antonin had a soul that could find the meaning
and fulfillment of its perfection only in its own disaster,
and in this regard, he and Larry are twins
born of the same seed. So when Antonin
sees Larry insult a nurse, trip on the foot
of a demented patient, and swear out loud
three times as he crosses the floor of the ward,
Antonin feels delight, perhaps for the first time
in years. Finally, a man who might slice
the veneer of bourgeois reality in two!
Larry is also having a good time. Blind
to socioeconomic distinctions, oblivious
to mental illness or wellness, Larry is pleased
with Antonin's frenetically spun moustache
and pulls on it in the hope that it's a fake.

In a few minutes, visiting hours will end,
and Larry will return to the lonely world
outside, the one that Antonin abandoned
years ago. The men look out the window,
first to the East River and the barges floating
downstream, and then, beyond the water
to the length of Long Island City, the old
PepsiCo sign a halo of bright red curves.
To Antonin, the sign is an interminable Rorschach test,
the answers to which he will never know.
To Larry, it is a reminder that he is thirsty.
When he goes to the vending machine
he loses his change after he pushes the button.
He walks away in disgust, and just as he
is about to leave the ward, he hears
the rubbery footfall of the nurse
whom he had insulted only minutes earlier.
She pushes the same button and gets two Pepsis,
but will not give one to Larry, who takes out
his small notebook to resume his endless work.


Today's book of poetry cannot say that the Brittingham Prize in Poetry winning My Favorite Tyrants is the best book of poetry we've ever seen but it is excellent.  We've been awfully lucky here at Today's book of poetry in recent months with the quality of the books we've received and Joanne Diaz can hold water with the very best of 'em.  

My Favorite Tyrants is a pleasure to push.  All you poetry junkies need this fix.

Image result for joanne diaz photo
Joanne Diaz

Joanne Diaz is the author of My Favorite Tyrants (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) and The Lessons (Silverfish Review Press, 2011). She teaches at Illinois Wesleyan University.

Forged of equal parts brains and brass, these poems bleed and shine and all but blind us. How wild they are, how beautiful! I love the way Joanne Diaz uses light and noise to tell us more than any history book can of the tyrants who distort yet give meaning to our lives: Castro, Stalin, Our teachers, our parents, ourselves."
     -  David Kirby



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