Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes - Jennifer LoveGrove (Book Thug)

Today's book of poetry:
Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes.  Jennifer LoveGrove.  Book Thug.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes - Jennifer LoveGrove (Book Thug)

Today's book of poetry isn't exactly sure what reality governs the world of Jennifer LoveGrove poetics but we were certainly happy to venture into Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes.  This world feels remarkably similar to our own, even familiar at times, but there is a gossamer shadow casting a silhouette, a new dimension, over this world and LoveGrove is here to guide us through.

When I say that these poems are fun Today's book of poetry is not suggesting that they are slight in any way, quite the contrary, you can feel the weight of these almost ominous messages.  Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes is fun because it gives voice to a previously undiscovered universe.

Brock Street

Three white-tailed deer
on the sidewalk:
hooves polished, giddy rural expats
bored of leaves, martini-eager,
greedy for dancing.

Back home, a forest opens its fist.
In its palm, a clearing.
A barb-faced eagle
flies his shadow overhead.
First a kite, then a shroud.
Plucks a rabbit
from a little girl's lap.

We three skitter home at dawn,
as a Taser-hipped cop
wedges his boot onto
a man's neck. We shout,
click our camera phones,
file sprawling reports.

In the morning
the street is clean
and we are hungry.
We look down at our feet
and see our hooves
are caked with mud.


LoveGrove's poetry is a bit like that dream you can't fully remember and you can't fully escape.  You know you are involved in an important struggle, you reach to fit disparate pieces into a story. LoveGrove compels us along on the journey into her dream scape with circumstance and nuance, but she keeps us there with language.  LoveGrove runs a tight ship.

Today's book of poetry loved that Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes brims with new ideas. Literally shimmering with unexpected whimsy, LoveGrove drops beautiful bombshell titles like "Autumn Takes its Rifle for a Walk" on the reader like bon mots.

Today's book of poetry has long been a fan of LoveGrove.  Milo, our head tech, brought her two previous poetry titles out of the stacks for us this morning, The Dagger Between Her Teeth (ECW, 2202) and I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel (ECW, 2005).  We thoroughly enjoyed those books when we first acquired them, they are even better now.  Jennifer LoveGrove has constant velocity, the poems in this volume move along with a brisk pace.  

Self Portrait as a Leaky Boat

I'm the stainless steel handle
slouching on the bailing bucket
I'm a yellow tow rope
coiled on the floor
I'm the reeking sulphur
in the waterproof flare
I'm the life vest's plastic clasp
that doesn't quite close
I'm the needle in the compass
red tip bitten off
I'm a little orange whistle
crawling into your mouth
I'm the sudden winds
sneaking up lee side
I'm the heavy cloud
shuttering the moon
I'm a search party of one
my chapped hands empty


This morning's reading was taken in hand by Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, just returned from several happy days roaming Paris.  Kathryn romped us through Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes and then skipped us through The Dagger Between Her Teeth and I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel for good measure.  LoveGrove would have enjoyed the enthusiasm shown her poems.

The title poem from Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes is inhabited by ghosts.  Ghosts appear more than once in this collection but they are essentially well mannered as LoveGrove weaves them in and out of her dreams.  It all seems normal, it all seems correct, but by the time you've finished Beautiful Children... you will want/need a pet fox too.

Dream Specimen 95

I'm alone in trees as the day dissolves
to a bright royal blue, glowing thick
and settling on the world like a balm.

I feel free and smile and throw
my arms wide like when no one
has betrayed you in a really long time.

Then a white pickup truck full of four bellowing bros
hurtles into the clearing, splinters the trees
and crumples right next to me.

Posture still perfect, their pale heads
ringed with blood like the crowns
they thought they already wore.



Today's book of poetry is tickled pink to bring you Jennifer LoveGrove's Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes, we loved this title.  But that was no surprise at all.

Image result for jennifer lovegrove photo
Jennifer LoveGrove

Jennifer LoveGrove is the author of the Giller Prize–longlisted novel Watch How We Walk, as well as two poetry collections: I Should Never Have Fired the Sentinel and The Dagger Between Her Teeth. In 2010, LoveGrove was nominated for the K.M. Hunter Artist Award for Literature and in 2015, her poetry was shortlisted for the Lit POP Awards. Her writing has appeared in numerous publications across North America. She divides her time between downtown Toronto and rural Ontario.

“LoveGrove’s poetry apprentices itself to the world we live in, pacing out the dimensions of the enclosure called the present–the enclosures of culture, history, family, and other patriarchal institutions–with a keen eye and a relentless heart. In pursuit simultaneously of holistic perception, love, and an escape route, LoveGrove invites words to hold hands in unusual combinations, enters dreams and lets consciousness run feral. “There was a war going on and / ours was a very important mission,” LoveGrove writes, and it’s true.”
     —Helen Guri, author of Match

Jennifer LoveGrove reading from Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes 
at the 2017 BookThug Spring Launch
Video: Jay MillAr



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, August 27, 2017

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory - Chris Banks (ECW Press/a misFit book)

Today's book of poetry:
The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory.  
Chris Banks.  ECW Press.  a misFit book.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory, The by Chris Banks, ECW Press

Milo, our head tech, went to the stacks this morning and brought out Chris Banks' Anstruther Press chapbook Invaders (2015).  Today's book of poetry remembered Invaders as a tight and muscular little celebration.  With The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory Banks moves into fully fledged killer poetry assassin territory.

602 blogs/reviews into this project and Today's book of poetry is still regularly amazed.  Re-discovering Chris Banks is a bit of poetry lottery win.  The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory may be the best book of poetry you read this year.

Banks applies a carpet-bombing theory of poetics, he builds line after line of incendiary verse, each as solid, dependable and explosive as it's predecessor.  The poems in this collection are constructed like those extraordinary Japanese temples where no nails or screws are used.  Instead the construction is held together with elaborate, almost invisible, joints that fit just so.

The Hundreds

Eight-tracks of Neil Diamond's Hot August Night are gone.
Cassettes lost. Don't look, but Betamax and VHS tapes
are no more. All around us, the old century, The Hundreds
as my daughter calls it, is vanishing. The K-car is gone.
Wood-panelled basements and macrame wall hangings.
Airbrushed vans, teen hitchhikers, Corvette summers.
Moon landings. Woodstocks. Live Aid. Lollapaloozas.
Henry Morgentaler and Ian Curtis are gone. Terry Fox
and Andy Kaufman. East Germany and Czechoslovakia.
The rotary phone is gone. The modem is gone. Even
intricately folded high-school notes, written in cursive
in April of 1986, no longer exist. The Khmer Rouge
and Nelson Mandela are gone. Kennedy and Brezhnev too.
Atari is gone. The arcades are gone. Pong. Pac-Man.
Donkey Kong. Transistor radios. Walkmans. Discmans.
Boomboxes. Ghetto blasters. Hi-fi stereo receivers.
Billie Holiday, Satchmo, John Lennon, Freddie Mercury.
Rock. New Wave. Punk. Hardcore. Grunge. Shoe-gaze.
I cannot tally it all, but still I keep trying like a man
poring over microfiche, not memories, hoping for a clue
or two that might tell a person how to live
with loss when already oceans are rising, the climate
is changing, the animals are leaving us, one species
at a time: Dusty seaside sparrow. Mexican grizzly bear.
Golden toad. The past seems more real than a world
where Greenland is melting, where people stare at phones
the way they once did at paintings. The Hundreds,
smelling of old money, sibling rivalry and white privilege
are not coming back, and it's time for time to settle up,
to explain what it was all about, before we too one day,
after breakfast, or a walk in the park, or a trip to the city,
find ourselves suddenly, and irrevocably, gone.


Chris Banks has mastered a particular school of the great riff.  He makes leaps where others might consider walking around.  The journey through one of Banks' missives might seem disjointed and uncertain but you are under the care of some masterful hands.  You might come sliding into home sideways, or muscling up to the dock with a big wake, but every inch of your navigation has been previously considered by the poet for you.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory may be a catalogue of human responses to an increasingly difficult and hostile world.  Banks expansive voice is elastic enough to embody contradiction and compromise without ever changing key.

Dusk Till Dawn

You imagine the moon filling a bedroom window
as the towering screen of a drive-in movie theatre
high above a winter field strewn with meltwater.
Soon cars prowl past the ticket booth's closed sign.
An unlighted snack bar hunched in snow and rain
gathers a crowd. The moth-stutter of faint images
flicker from a projector filled with stopped clocks.
Someone has already begun to lay aside his clothes
in a borrowed car. Someone's white bare shoulder
is sending a boy's desire up in flames, burning him.
Someone feels branded by delight. Even on a night
as cold, as ordinary as this evening, somewhere it is
the summer of 1985 and Back to the Future is playing.
Somewhere people stagger in between rows of cars,
drinking beer, laughing heartily, suspecting nobody
will ever grow old, or expire, or be forgotten again.
Many are wrong -- it is already tomorrow's music
leaking out of FM radios, speaker poles like crosses
marking the graves of teens who came before them,
until someone finds himself locked out of some car,
twenty years older with an adolescent girl long dead
in a car wreck. What happened two decades ago.
Someone wishes he could go back to another time
to loiter under a different moon, in another century,
but already there is a fight in the parking lot. Already
police are gathering at the entrance, waiting for dawn
to come, for people to finally get tired and go home,
while someone drunk yells Come on!, holds up his fists
unaware the invisible projectionist who is smoking
absentmindedly, dusting ashes off one last cigarette,
stares out his tiny window, knowing how it all ends.


Today's book of poetry enjoyed reading these poems out loud.  Late last night, in bed, I read "The Hundreds" to my wife K, she put down the giant biography of Theodore Roosevelt she was reading and listened hard.  K is always a good measure, I didn't have to prompt, just waited for her response. "Remarkable."  She was right.  Chris Banks has found a secret source of almost perfect metaphor and hammered it into these well crafted narrative poems. 

Our morning read was a particularly happy one this morning as we welcomed back Otis, our security chief, from Belgium and the Pistol, our Dutch translator, who was out in eastern Canada learning French and swimming with the fishes in the very cold ocean.  Both men are sometime contributors to Today's book of poetry but we always miss them when they are not around.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory

I am not asking for anything except a little wisdom
from this life. Experience has taught me to be
prepared for when a bullet passes clean through,
it leaves a hole behind. Praising things is its own job.
That we might actually know two or three people,
despite battalions of online friends, is a consolation
prize for not solving the Grand Unification Theory
or writing thirty novels or discovering a ninth planet.
Living becomes its own masterpiece. A catalogue
of blunders and missteps and then, a surprise party!
I have met a few certifiable geniuses in my day
and they were all disappointingly human. Failure
is a bogeyman. What happens next is up to you.
The brain does not care we are are only so many miles
of nerve-endings. It wants to go further off-leash.
What is the real story here? Some days, it is all
caviar and champagne, and the next, forty horses
die in a barn fire. No angels earn their wings. People
lie to each other out of fear, to spare each other's
feelings. What kind of man does that make me?
I tell elaborate lies to ascertain the truth. I resolve
to get out of bed most mornings, to witness
the past like a boarded-up pawn shop, to read
what life throws in my path the way ancient priests
read bones, which is to say inscrutably. Make it
up anyways. What I need is another mass grave
for my doubts to pile into. I keep thinking about
that engineering student who tied a piece of rope
to a hydro pole, passed it through his car's window,
before cinching it around his neck and driving off,
or a woman I saw once spread her arms before
diving off a three-storey parking lot. At what
point do we give up and surrender to our desires,
even if they end up killing us?  Maybe I'm being
greedy wanting art to be more than a bowl of fruit,
wanting there to be answers. Who is listening?
The partygoers nibble the caviar and move on.


The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory is about as good as it gets here at Today's book of poetry.  What else can we ask for?  This is exactly the sort of magic we live for here.  Intelligent, witty, inventive, exciting, lyric and so on.  But by far the most important quality is that these are accessible poems.  Today's book of poetry always looks for that first, the rest is gravy.

Chris Banks surprised the bejesus out us with The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory.  We should get this lucky more often.

Image result for chris banks poet photo
Chris Banks

Chris Banks is the author of Bonfires, The Cold Panes of Surfaces, and Winter Cranes. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004 and was a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada. His poetry has appeared in the New Quarterly, Arc, the Antigonish Review, Event, the Malahat Review, and Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.



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, August 24, 2017

This History That Just Happened - Hannah Craig (Parlor Press)

Today's book of poetry:
This History That Just Happened.  Hannah Craig.  Parlor Press.  Anderson, South Carolina.  2017.


This History That Just Happened by Hannah Craig announces a new voice arrived fully formed.  The poems in This History... create an instant context whether Craig is country bound and ruminating on barn swallows or inside the mind of torture, cataloguing the tools designed to get at the truth through pain.

Craig isn't offering up any easy solutions as she disassembles our previously held misconceptions about "Faith Healing" or a mental list of associates who cook meth.  But she will tackle the landscape between "the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary" and "when the baby bites through the electrical cord."  Don't let Today's book of poetry misinform you though, This History That Just Happened is no sideshow, Craig's poems inflame the reader, they create surface tension and heat, and all of this because she takes our language to unfamiliar terrain.  Today's book of poetry had to break out the dictionary a few times, a painful but necessary confession.  Craig will give you ample reason to want to get it right. 

The Little Sleep

Think of death, think of driving
through the game preserve on rain
& brake fluid,
between Shock Lake and Bass Pond
gravel & dirt & rich blood
 deer strung in oak trees
hunt caps in the orange trees slow-walking
thighs like cold barrels
rolling, rolling

Look, the dialogue of new death
is broader, forget what you heard on Sunday,
this is new speech
floating across the yard, someone's forearm
braced against the bedroom window,
a tin-lip shaped on milk glass
a forethought in chipped polish

Shoot a memento, subsistence or justice.
Shoot back-talkers, antlers, tigers, kids.

Suddenly there's so much churl in the fanning swamp-water.
So much curl in the fern leaves where the frost drops
like duck eggs.

Three languages now, instead of one.
Two of these show that the powerful need to eat first.
They must or they die, I think.

That's why the birds kettle
to a big bass drum on Indiana evenings,
The fox scrambles to the ditch
but we keep thinking of measurements:
number of eggs for custard
number of eggs for a silky afternoon
number of softened, soaked vanilla beans
the powerful need to serve a sit-down meal
roast, bread, beans
the coroner's gray sedan
wheels of needling silence, rims of ice
and the cows with their muddy boots

the farmer brings out the eggs on his carbon-fiber leg
he used to shoot Afghans, now shoos chickens
& ducks aside    come on so come on

an egg dark as brass, some jam
again the ferny green that never truly evaporates
from the rims and fallen limbs along the bank
like the green trim on this flat sheet
fails to offer comfort or much dignity
anyway, warriors, the light here now
the light of how committed we have become to rigidity

to what is only here this little while
of how we are to nowhere called and to all places bound.


This is another case of Today's book of poetry liking the way another poet talks.  These poems are measured doses of acerbic with and quaint country charm.  They are as sweet as fresh milk and as dark as the murderer's shadow.  Craig's instrument has range and she makes her interests ours.  There is a charm to how her history intersects with ours so we that we know the way to be true.

This History That Just Happened celebrates Craig's imagination and we are left to marvel at the vast range of her reading and source material.  Craig's curiosity provides her teleology, but Today's book of poetry may be confused, it wouldn't be a first, many of these things go over our short head when we postulate about what we believe to be true.

What we do know for a certainty is that we were entertained in our poetry heart.

From One Thing, Another

     "I had neither hate nor pity. The situation was urgent..."
                                     -- Paul Aussaresses, French torturer (2) 

The chair is an agent of pain, though
     it does not have agency. It is unyielding.
As is the garden hose. A toilet. A red lamp.
Towel bar. Bedsheet. Metal spoon.

Look, we can build a little house of this torture,
we can fill its cabinets with knives and forks.
With buckets and bathtubs. And you will be alone
in this house, alone with your thoughts,
with the hours, or beetles, black and scurrying.
No, you will never be alone in this house.

Decades after the skin has knitted, knotted,
burled its way over and into each hurt,
you will have become another woman
with a shopping bag, squeezing carrots.
And he will be, somewhere distant,
a grandfather who likes to fish in the summer.

At the change of light which comes
near the end of the day, both of you will stop
of a sudden, will half-turn, and see in the quiet
arrangement of chair-legs and tables, of cords
and curtain rods, of lamp-bulbs and the chains
that ignite them, a sinister echo, a flashing

dark animal. One that skulks through this house
of shouting that straddles two worlds, two eras,
in which you both pace your separate-but united chambers,
dream your dreams, fold your errant laundry,
perform your nightly ablutions.

(2) Brass. Martin. "Torture to Prevent Terrorism?" N.p.,2001.
Web. 13 June 2016.


This morning's read started with Dexter Gordon's sublime "Tanya" blasting over the house speakers. That usually get the full attention of the staff.  Everyone gathered and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, the leader of our poetry reading pack, was nowhere to be seen.  Apparently she is in Paris.  And I am the last to know.  Well, no one has earned it more.

Our Kathrynless reading went over seamlessly.  Max crawled out of his hermitage and just took over the floor like "God's own MC".  Max directed us, each in turn, as though directing a choir.  Max gave each of us the Craig poem best suited to our voice, read a few himself, masterfully, and then without another word shuffled back to his den of iniquity and closed the door.


red is infection, first bloom
of deeper malady and there are

fields interlaced, watermelon snow
the brassy tufts of fox fur caught

on barbed wire          look, fire
has been here and your cheeks perk

heat like a tea-kettle    you are getting
close to a boil, look the skin

erupts, the winter brings out roses
on your sweet, too-thin upper lip

the fox is there again, down in the ditch
waiting for a chance

and this is the theater of red, the velvet rope
of the human body on deep blue sheets

the wild strawberry, too small to cut
or bite or share, it must be taken whole

it must be fought by the body along the way
but also embraced          deconstructed

the way a sonata can be unhinged, bass
from melody, hand from hand

the fox with her deep black hole is waiting
in the snow and your body implies heat

wherever it goes       we stand there
too long in the shower steam

until everything we meant evaporates
what did we have on our skin?

has our hot blood cooled? have we cooled?
and why is the sound coming now, the growl

which both beseeches and protests
just lie on your back with your arms here

and there and with the red flag in your chest
across your rising, raving dream

a soft, faint thing thuds and skids
the snow fails at impression

and there's nothing but ozone, then
the cornfields and everything imagined


Today's book of poetry is pleased as punch, it is always a pleasure to discover another poet who helps us all push forward.  

Poems this smart push us up.

Image result for hannah craig photo
Hannah Craig

Hannah Craig is an Indiana native and a graduate of the University of Chicago. She won the 2016 Mississippi Review Prize and her manuscript was a finalist for the Akron Poetry Prize, the Fineline Competition, and the Autumn House Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared widely in such publications as Smartish Pace, North American Review, Fence, Mississippi Review, and Prairie Schooner.

Hannah Craig's This History That Just Happened places the reader at the nexus where rural and city life converge, bridging a world personal and political, natural and artful, in a voice always uniquely hers. Every word here is earned. And little, if anything, escapes this poet’s heart, mind, or eye. History works through a keen imagination. These poems make us feel and listen differently, and images coalesce line by line and dare us to reside where fierce empathy and beauty abide.
     —Yusef Komunyakaa



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, August 21, 2017

Primer - Aaron Smith (Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Primer.  Aaron Smith.  Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  2016.

Primer (Pitt Poetry Series) by [Smith, Aaron]

Today's book of poetry is going to start today's blog with a message directly to Aaron Smith.  NO "Blue Exits" please.  There aren't enough excellent poets with your particular mix of bawdy guilt and formidable chutzpah.

It might be hard to imagine that a totally straight sixty-year-old finds common ground with an entirely randy and frequently angry younger gay poet.  But Smith's ribald renunciations of the status quo in Primer come from a deep well of lucid and loquacious lust.  Smith kicks the shit out of Eros.

Notes For A Lecture:  Keith Haring

I like Haring best when he's raw,
so large the image might smear,

so thick on the page I could
tear off my underwear.

When I was a kid, I hated the word
"pleasure." It made me feel like

my parents knew my penis got stiff
in the tub, that the washcloth

felt good on the tip. Imagine our veins:
graffitied tunnels desire moves through,

brakeless, rumbling into thrust.
Just relax, the man said, as he opened

my legs, fingers slick with his own wet.
His tongue in my ass unlocked

a place in my chest I was afraid of.
A friend told me he thought the great revelation

of his life would be a phrase from Keats
or Yeats, not a married man at his throat.

I want to fuck you boy-pussy.
He said he never felt closer to god.

Cartoon hard-ons, dicks with faces, mouths
stuffed with cock. Nameless fucking

self-loathing finally brought me to.
I'm so glad to have a body I hated.


Primer is boldly, beautifully frank about the journey to manhood for a young man uncertain of his sexuality, and if not uncertain, terrified.  It doesn't take Smith that long to find certainty but he never quite finds peace.

These poems despair a sexuality some still see as "other" but Today's book of poetry thinks that for all his justified anger and rage Aaron Smith has created a hopeful text in Primer for those about to follow.  And an entirely entertaining book of poetry for the rest of us in the process.


Dad said someone shot
the albino deer, with

a gun, out of season. Eyes
pink, white fur, a reverse

shadow in dusk against
the hillside. Not in all

the years I've hunted
have I seen an animal

like that. It's cruel, he says,
for nature to make

such a thing, unable
to hide when hiding

is how it survives. He looks
through my eyes, then

away, he wants us to stay
ordinary men.


Primer throbs with visceral lust and desire.  Gay men will identify these poems, recognize themselves, their friends, their stories.  But every reader will be able to identify with the human need for love and acceptance, contact.  And it is not just the acceptance of other but the real struggle to accept oneself as we really are.

Aaron Smith's Primer swings carnal but addresses those big questions of who we are and who we see when we look in the mirror.

Jennifer Lawrence

I want to tell the woman
selling self-published christian
fiction at Starbucks, who says,
god has made her a fisher of men
that I didn't think I could come
standing up until a man
I fucked stuck three
fingers in my butt. I want
to tell her that if the asshole
is the crucifixion then
the prostate is the second
coming. Once I thought
it was possible to be an ethical
person until the guy I was dating
said Jennifer Lawrence is our
greatest living actress. He wept
during sex and left his socks on
in bed. I could live with the cold
feet and the crying.


Bravo Aaron Smith.  For Today's book of poetry Primer comes across as so damned honest and true that you feel the heat of Smith's fire.  Any poetry lover will recognize the battle with despair and celebrate beating it back into the darkness.

Thank you Mr. Smith.

Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is the author of Appetite, and Blue on Blue Ground, winner of the Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize, as well as the chapbooks, Men in Groups and What's Required. His work has appeared in a number of literary magazines, including Ploughshares and Prairie Schooner, and The Best American Poetry 2013. He is associate professor of creative writing at Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Aaron Smith’s poems have always exuded a blue that’s simultaneously melancholy and bawdy. Primer sharpens his seemingly paradoxical blend of vigor and vulnerability. These marvelous poems are confrontational not simply for readers, but for the poet/self kissing the window between light and darkness, splendor and despair. Smith writes with more provocativeness and compassion than any poet of his generation.”
     —Terrance Hayes

“Shame is the crux, in Smith’s austere poems; an aching, inescapable force that closes the gay boy into his own body, making sex abject, until ‘there’s not enough city//to fill you up.’ The world may have changed, but we can’t help but carry into the new life the ineradicable weight of the past.”
     —Mark Doty

“In Primer, Aaron Smith has not only upped the ante, he’s been penetrated and eviscerated by it. These poems arouse me with their brazen, indecorous explicitness. The collection throbs with sex and the death wish, but also with wit and an exhilarative rage. This book makes me want to live bareback, to write ever-more-recklessly; it makes me not want my ‘stupid, tiny life to end.’”
     —Diane Seuss

Aaron Smith reading at The Poetry Center, Paterson, Nj
Video: Michael Byro



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, August 19, 2017

This is What Happened In Our Other Life - Achy Obejas (A Midsummer Night's Press)

Today's book of poetry:
This is What Happened In Our Other Life.  
Achy Obejas.  A Midsummer Night's Press.  Body Language 01.  New York, New York.  2007.

Let's just start with the fact that before Achy Obejas had published this first book of poetry she was already a Pulitzer Prize and Lambda Literary Award winning author for her fiction and journalism.

Achy Obejas and her splendid book of poems, This is What Happened In Our Other Life, are all about memory.  Memory is often framed by promise.

Obejas' poetry comes from a Latina sensibility and a lesbian perspective.  These are two important facts to consider before you forget about them because neither of those are why these fine poems ended up here.  This is What Happened In Our Other Life belongs on Today's book of poetry so that we can celebrate Obejas' steel hardened tenderness.  These poems will appeal to your senses.

Dancing in Paradise

You lean against me
as we dance, the soft huddle
of our heads together,
our breaths clean steam in the blue
smoke, rapid, exhausted.
We mix margaritas, because
I like the name, a
woman you love. You're older.
I'm willing, drunk, unbuttoned.
You lead, peeling layer after
wet layer, a heap
of sweaters, shirts and precious
metals. Your breast is
slick with sweat, hands agile,
eels in glass waters.
When you scoop me up, I twist
in your lap, a think
needle thrust through my tongue. Later,
you give me a reading list,
blank journals, your mother's 
recipes. You take
what you need, knowing there's no
autonomy of the
senses, those five carnivores
in their own essential
food chain. What survives is memory,
twin jewels, the blade of
a pelvic bone. Instinctively,
we keep our eyes open,
ears keen, for marine smells,
salt, the plexus of light,
sound, water.


Clearly Obejas isn't afraid of the carnal, she blows right past that until she hits visceral.  "We will love the wrong people" intones Obejas and she is completely right, we have all faltered in love because our judgment gets lost in the braille of flesh.  Obejas won't stop there and tells us "I've learned to read my lovers scars," and then bids us the same learned wisdom.

Today book of poetry thinks Obejas wants us to saviour the discovery, journey and mystery as we find them, folded softly into the skin of the one we desire.  This is What Happened In Our Other Life is a meditation on desire and the destiny desire dances with.  Obejas wants to surrender to love if only she could find the right vehicle for the journey.

The Habits of The Blind

I am staring at a grey, pink and purple sky,
worrying about the imprint of our first embrace
(that awkward tangle of limbs)
the first time we were skin on skin.
What will sustain us later,
when we know everything,
if not this innocence?
I worry too much, and not enough.
I long ago surrendered:
The world breaks us all,
throws us up against the wall,
splits our hearts with a vengeance.
There is no right person.
We will love the wrong people.
What I've done is this: embraced chaos--
studied the habits of the blind,
their sixth sense, and Braille.
This way, I've learned to read my lovers' scars,
to appreciate the force or cunning
behind each cut,
the meanings of each tender pattern,
the beauty and depth.
Pain is the risk and the measure
not just of how far we're willing to go,
but of how much we're willing to feel
later, alone in the dark.


Aces.  Obejas has a deck of cards filled with aces.  Today's book of poetry likes the way Obejas gets to it.  Achy Obejas can burn.

This is What Happened In Our Other Life ends with a poem, an untranslated poem, in Spanish, "Historia De Amor," which Today's book of poetry has translated.  My apologies to all concerned. Our translator-in-residence, Otis, is currently residing in Belgium after only recently returning from Sicily.  It appears Today's book of poetry has been paying our staff far too much.  So I had to go it alone.  We are sure Otis would have cracked Obejas' Spanish with considerably more finesse, nuance and style -- but we did it anyway.

The poem and translation appear below.  Today's book of poetry does apologize in advance for the lack of proper Spanish punctuation/accents.  Our keyboard refuses to give up any secrets, nothing but broken English escapes regardless of how often Milo, our head tech, fidgets with it.

The important thing is that Today's book of poetry tackled "Historia De Amor" because we suspect it may be Obejas' codex.  It is possible that the poem sums up This is What Happened In Our Other Life quite succinctly.  Obejas gets it all said without much fuss but with so much beauty, isn't that what poetry should be?

Historica De Amor

Ella no existia
cuando la otra se fue.
Despues, no se entero de su regreso.
Se vieron de casualidad.
Una cruzaba la calle,
la otra esperaba un carro.
Se imaginaron un beso
(mas bien un roce de labios,
la mano en el vientre).
cada una por su camino.
Una miro hacia atras.
La otra no.

History of Love

She does not exist
when her other is gone.
I don't know if she'll return.
It was all by chance.
One crossed the street,
the other was waiting for a car.
They imagined a kiss
(rather a touch of the lips
hand on belly).
They followed
each one on its way.
One looks back.
The other doesn't.

(Today's book of poetry apologizes again to Achy Obejas for this translation)


Achy Obejas and Today's book of poetry are the same age but I didn't realize that until after I'd read This is What Happened In Our Other Life a couple of times.  Today's book of poetry was convinced we were reading a wise younger woman's book of poetry.  It's not trick, but it is certainly worth noting.  Achy Obejas is apparently timeless.

Achy Obejas

Achy Obejas (Havana, 1956) is the author of three novels, Ruins (Akashic, 2009), Days of Awe (Ballantine) and Memory Mambo (Cleis), the latter two both winners of the Lambda Literary Award, as well as the short story collection We Came all the Way from Cuba so You Could Dress Like This? (Cleis). She is also editor and translator of the anthology Havana Noir (Akashic).

Her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including Conditions, The Antigosh Review, Helcion Nine, Phoebe, Revista Chicano-Rique, and The Beloit Poetry Journal, and she received an NEA Fellowship in Poetry in 1986.

An accomplished journalist, she worked at the Chicago Tribune for over a decade, and has also written for the Village Voice, the Los Angeles Times, Vogue, Playboy, Ms., The Nation, The Advocate, Windy City Times, High Performance, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Reader,, Latina, and Out, among others.

Among her many honors, she has received a Pulitzer for a Tribune team investigation, the Studs Terkel Journalism Prize, and several Peter Lisagor journalism honors, as well as residencies at Yaddo, Ragdale, and the Virginia Center for the Arts.

She has served as Springer Writer-in-Residence at the University of Chicago and the Distinguished Writer in Residence at the University of Hawai’i, and is currently the Sor Juana Visiting Writer at DePaul University in Chicago.

Achy Obejas at Radar Reading Series
Video: San Francisco Public Library



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, August 17, 2017

Yes or Nope - Meaghan Strimas (Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Yes or Nope.  Meaghan Strimas.  A Stuart Ross Book.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.
Trillium Book Award Winner

Yes or Nope.  Easy question.  We say an emphatic yes.  So did the Trillium Book Award.  Meaghan Strimas made us laugh, smirk, guffaw, chortle and giggle before we finished the enchanting Yes or Nope.  She also broke our heart, kicked our shin and left some dishes in the sink.

Today's book of poetry writes these blogs by hand and when I do I jot down the page numbers of the poems I figure you, the audience/reader, can't do without.  I like to share as much as I can, all you regular readers know this.  The first poem in Yes or Nope arrives on page 11, the last poem is on page 61.  Here is today's page list of essential Strimas poems:

13, 16, 19, 20, 26, 33, 34, 36, 39, 42, 43, 54, 56.

Some of her poems stretch to two pages.  What Today's book of poetry is clumsily trying to say is that almost every poem in this collection was something we thought you should see.  Meaghan Strimas just sets 'em up and knocks 'em down with an endless succession of witty and surprising ruptures of logic until nothing else but her dark and daring sensibility makes sense.


My neighbour is the King of Clean. He wears his striped sports
socks up to his knees. I like things clean, he says. His wife
agrees: he likes things clean. It's the way he likes it. He likes to
be clean. He drags his power washer across his cement yard,
cursing at it, as if it were an obstinate poodle. But he loves it
the same as his Pekinese. Some days he runs a clean river: a
torrent of hose water streams down his lane and into the sewer.
I can hear the ants screaming, swept up by the current and
taken away. Poor souls. My grandmother, long gone, said she
married her husband because he was a clean man. Clean nails.
Clean pecker. Clean bum. There are so many things I never
wanted to know. And now you know, too. It's much better this
way: we have clarity. We are friends.


Yes or Nope is "a Stuart Ross Book" and you all know what we think of Mr. Ross here.  He really does have the Midas poetry touch.  Strimas and Ross are an excellent match and this book proves it. Strimas isn't exactly strange, the reader grows to know/understand/embrace Strimas logic fairly quickly, but she isn't the least bit shy about being playful.

Today's book of poetry applauds Meaghen Strimas for her rambunctious heart and hard as nails Geiger counter of truth.

You regular readers of Today's book of poetry will remember that we are particularly fond of list poems.  Strimas gives us a list poem, a rhymer, thrown into the mix as though she knew we were coming.

Nonsense Poem, or I Like

I like the fact that the light just turned green,
and I like the expression "creamin' in her jeans."

I like the seagull who just shit on my head,
and I like the mongrel who's only playing dead.

I like the secretary who says vanilla, not manila,
and I like the paperweight shaped like a gorilla.

I like the coarseness, the smell of a horse's mane,
I like the careerist who desires a little fame.

I like living, but I don't like feeling lost, and I like
the daffodils--insistent, resilient in the frost.


Yes or Nope went over better than the ice-cream truck at this morning's read.  Strimas hits just the right temperature to get the engines running.  

Strimas has a killer sense of humour but she never lets it intrude on the plot.  

Butterfly Unit Two: Goodbye

The mother
a crate
of small
white cartons
to the celebration
of what
should have
his first
Inside each,
a live butterfly
waiting to be
We were
to release
but got
talking. Maybe
we forgot,
for a spell,
why we
were there
at all.
it was
just easier
to pretend
that we
were happy.
she finally
the cardboard
the monarchs
did not 
I poked 
one with my
index finger:
it was stiff.
we took
and lay
one by one,
the base
of the oldest
tree, where,
from a distance
they looked 
like fallen leaves.


Today's book of poetry admires Meaghan Strimas's grit.  She doesn't seem to have any trouble at all waiting until she sees the whites of our eyes.

Image result for Meaghan strimas photo
Meaghan Strimas

Meaghan Strimas is the author of two previous collections of poetry and the editor of The Selected Gwendolyn MacEwen. She teaches writing at Humber College and is a managing editor at The Hunter Literary Review. She lives in Toronto with her family.

“The poetry in Yes or Nope is whip-smart and tenderhearted, funny and alive—Strimas at her brilliant best. I didn’t want it to end.”
     —Zoe Whittall, author of The Best Kind of People
“Wry and furious, scathing and saucy, Meaghan Strimas tells the stories about us you always feared were true. Stuck through with charming moments, but make no mistake: these poems have no time for the lies we tell ourselves. Yes or Nope is bone-sharp, bang-up, revelatory—a pupil-dilating meditation on growing up and growing old female. This is a book to keep at your bedside, like a flashlight; a book that will keep you safe, and whisper: You are not alone.”
      —Elisabeth de Mariaffi, author of The Devil You Know

Meaghan Strimas performs at Words Aloud 9
Video: Words Aloud



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.