Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dead White Men - Shane Rhodes (Coach House Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Dead White Men.  Shane Rhodes.  Coach House Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Shane Rhodes Dead White Men is quite unlike almost any book of poetry we usually see here at Today's book of poetry.  Even more to the point Dead White Men falls outside of the parameters of the poetry we usually celebrate.  Put on your thinking caps please.

Shane Rhodes is swimming in some pretty deep water.  Today's book of poetry found that Shane Rhodes "Notes" at the end of the collection were very helpful when considering his poems.  We want to share them here:

"Early European narratives of exploration and contact with the 'New World' often intertwine the languages of scientific discovery and colonization and bring along with them all the attendant European concerns of race, commercial exploitation, and male domination over muted landscapes
and the peoples who inhabited them.  In writing and researching Dead White Men, I was interested in looking to these past stories (especially those focused on North America and the South Pacific), not to add to the fictions of past white heroism but to better understand the problematic relationship between the stories, the mythologies they have become, and the lands and peoples they describe.  For many settlers, our understanding of the history of the land upon which we live is often limited to the names that have been given to it by past white explorers and the mythologies we have built up around exploration and discovery.  I wanted to use poetry to interrogate this past and the texts upon which it rests.

This is the mandate of this book.  This is the manner of its history."

So, Dead White Men, what is it?  This is a rhapsodic blend of William S. Burroughs style cut-ups and concrete poetry served up within a ballistic barrage of indictment against the status quo of white colonial power.  That and it fits between the covers just like a regular book.  Shane Rhodes isn't your run-of-the-mill poet, Dead White Men is not Milk and Honey.

Animal Electricity      
after Luigi Galvani

Little flames, fixed fires
that certain men give out
when walking
or when silk garments are donned
in a very dark chamber.
Latent in the livid integuments,
it is a difficult thing to be known
even with electrophore
of dried nerve and bone.
Upon the caloric animalcules
dissected, I employed
an electrical machine
so that an eel, if bisected
transversely, trembled its tail
when a metallic arc was applied.
With current, a frog (hook secured
to its spine) jumped vigorously about,
while the wings of a chaffinch
slightly contracted.
Even stricken with a pinch
of pear powder or pernicious gases
(sometimes mephitic, sometimes opium,
powdered nicotine and arsenic),
a newborn cat moved its legs --
a phenomenon not lacking
with the head cut off.
Vipers have not yet been tested.
From the house high in the air,
we erected an iron wire,
hung upon it prepared frogs
and the legs of warm animals.
The thing went according to our desire.


Canada has a great deal to do to undo and even more to make right with our First Nations.  Rhodes uses a wide brush to capture colonialism and the snakes of its progress beyond just the Canadian home grown variety.  Today's book of poetry are big fans of Rhodes, although he is more work than your average bear.  We wrote about Mr. Rhodes X back in November of 2013 and you can see that blog here:

Our morning read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was an almost sombre affair today, not much in the way of chucks and giggles in Rhodes incendiary condemnation.  But just to be clear, this is not your typical Sunday drive poetry fest, before it's over you'll find yourself upside down and backwards.

from page 110...

     Nothing special today unless the great coldness of the wind from the North is
     worth mentioning unless the entire air swimming with watery exhalations
     is news unless a dense fog exceeding thick is of interest unless dark Squals
     and Lightning are most curious things unknown in Europe unknown to
     me and these people unknown and dangerous but what Winds we have
     had this day set down in the journal beneath a close-reefed Manitopsail
     which caused us to Tack several Times and paff within a cable's length of
     a very large ifland of ice (it appeared to be nothing elfe) we Serv'd Slops
     to the Men put on our winter rigging saw the footsteps of people fresh
     upon the sand which Painted the Boat with a Genteel breeze and the fog
     {o thick we could fcarce fee a man on the forecafile then a fresh Trade wind
      with heavy Albetrosses all wings and Tails so we hauled our courfes when
      there came along a boat with feveral Elkim'aux women and we traded
     wind with the people (I saw what I took and left them in Strings of beeds)


Today's book of poetry has to admit that there are often books of poetry that intimidate my intellect and understanding and Dead White Men is one of them.  That doesn't mean it wasn't riveting, it was.  And even more importantly Today's book of poetry believes Shane Rhodes is bleeding some necessary blisters, opening some festering wounds so that they can drain and heal.

White privilege has always extended to our histories, the way we write about our past.  Essential poetry like Shane Rhodes Dead White Men is another elemental step towards narrowing that damned gap.  White privilege will only be disassembled when white people recognize it exists and start measuring the costs.

More Translations of the Lappish Language

Their Words for Sounds

                       : a gently running stream whirring over river rocks

                       : an animal in the water splash

                       : wolves singing when I cry ass drunk

                       : a fire salt sprayed

                       : a bow when the arrows are shot out

                       : knocking as I roll down the hegyrs

                       : an empty vessel when tapped by two empty containers

                       : water falling in a fire

                       : a tree mouse gnawing Girr

                       : sand between your teeth or a ball stuck in a tube

                       : knocking a fish

                       :  a dog that flatters

                       :  noisily sipping like when someone eagerly drinks

                       : sometimes here this sound when the larynx nip slips


In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Rhodes and I know each other.  You could even say we are friends.  We don't chum together but their is a sizable mutual respect, I hope.  

Today's book of poetry has long admired the poetry of Shane Rhodes, his dedication to the craft and his willingness to go further than most of the rest of us.  Rhodes isn't interested in the status quo at all.  Rhodes is all about breaking down walls and building new understanding.  Today's book of poetry is behind that all the way.  That and Rhodes is brilliant.

Image result for shane rhodes photo
Shane Rhodes

Shane Rhodes is the author of five books of poetry, and has won awards including an Alberta Book Award and the National Magazine Gold Award for Poetry. He lives in Ottawa, Ontario.

‘A provocative and galvanizing read … Riveting and dazzling invention is visible on almost every page: fonts shift size, language cascades and cleaves, and images disrupt order. Dead White Men should be widely read and taught.’
     – Eduardo C. Corral, author of Slow Lightning

Dead White Men is not only a searing indictment of colonialism but also a painful reminder of the violence that underpins the logic of exploration. Each poem strikes at the heart of the issue: there are often unarticulated, unacknowledged Indigenous presences here that have been flattened over by the lies and mirages of empty landscapes. Dead White Men is a stinging and difficult journey, and one that continues to remind us that stolen land has always been the most pressing concern for Indigenous peoples and settlers. This is an absolutely essential book.’
     – Jordan Abel, author of Injun

Shane Rhodes Reads
Video: Arc



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, October 27, 2017

math for couples - Adele Graf (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
math for couples.  Adele Graf.  Essential Poets Series 242.  Guernica Editions. Toronto - Buffalo - London (U.K.).  2017.

math for couples

Adele Graf's math for couples reads a bit like you've stumbled into another family's old photo albums.  The poems are snapshots of important and intimate moments of family history along with those that capture an unexpected moment of languor or amusement.

Regardless of the subject Graf has an uncanny ability to straddle the lines between whimsy and frivolity, panic and well paced poise.  Over the course of math for couples we experience poems from the perspective of a child, a young girl, a young woman, a mature woman and a grandmother, I think.  The story changes, characters come and go but Adele Graf's voice remains a constant pleasure.

my mother played Chopin while lamb stewed

what a sumptuous scene, you must think --
you hear Chopin's waltz skim piano keys
smell herbed lamb broth that steeps leeks and carrots
sense chords and aroma fuse in the hall
between hushed rooms and the warm kitchen stove
see my mother rapt in melody
even beaming at our upturned faces
as they catch the light

my mother managed Chopin's waltzes
straight-backed, fingernails clicking each key
plunking phrases she labelled romantic
thought she'd long lost her ardour --
and the lamb stew?
carrots soaked slack, gristly, bland broth
burning off in an acrid puff--
another dry meat in our cold tiled kitchen

but in her way, my mother did slip inside her music
and before we'd heard Ashkenazy play Chopin
we liked her playing, so why would we doubt
she was high-brow, as she called herself
back when we still thought her hours
enthroned at the piano explained
the lack of fragrant family meals --
my mother, queen of appearances.


The Today's book of poetry offices just have not been the same since our darling Max went walkabout.  Funnily enough it almost coincided with Odin leaving the nest for greener valleys.

Thankfully Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Milo, our Head Technical Officer (and boy, oh boy, does he ever like his new title) are both signed to long term contracts.  Kathryn led the charge this morning with a spirited reading of Graf's poetry.

math for couples is home to some dry wit and some ghosts.  We've had a few old ghosts blow through our offices recently.  It is unsettling at the least.  It can be alarming and strangely comforting at the same time.  Maybe they think we still need them.  Adele Graf seems to have come to terms with her ghosts even if she lets them run around in her poems.


you get just one
piece of toast to spread it on --
still, you try to take as much
jam as you can

you do your best
to grab your slice from
the middle of the loaf
but whatever size slice you get
-- even if you're stuck
with the puny heel --
here's the decision you face

should you spread all
your jam over the whole slice
so each bite has the same
flavour and sweetness?

or use just enough
so each bite leaves
a slight jam taste
then pile what's left
on your very last bite
-- rich and thick and sweet --
since the last is the one
you'll remember?


Adele Graf writes some poems that feel like conversations you've already had, they have deja vu written all over them.  It must be the ghosts.  Regardless, Today's book of poetry felt a warm and fuzzy attraction to math for couples.

This is Graf's first kick at the can and out of the gate she's writing strong, vivid poems.  Today's book of poetry has to be convinced her next book with kick serious ass.

hot flesh

you touch me &
my flesh heats up --
flashes of pleasure
zap my brain
surge through
my core --
menopause meets seasoned sex

you tinker till
my circuits cool
buzz & hum
while we recharge --
our ebbing flesh
overhauled in
doze with dual snores

I rise & grope
for bifocals
then brew sweet tea --
samples from the health food store
where I buy herbs
to stave off ills
middle aged women are prone to


Today's book of poetry applauds the candor of Graf.  Her honesty is right at her fingertips, all the time.

Winter is coming.  I can feel it in my bones.  The only defense might be poetry.  Poetry that will fill our stomachs and warm our hearts.  Adele Graf's math for couples is a good step in that direction.

Adele Graf
Adele Graf
Photo: Ed Overstreet

Adele Graf grew up outside New York City and immigrated to Canada in 1968. math for couples is her first book of poetry, though more than half these poems have been published in Canadian journals including The Antigonish Review, CV2, The Dalhousie Review, Room and Vallum. She lives in Ottawa.

Adele Graf’s poems explore the inner worlds of family, including grandmother, father, mother, husband, childhood self and aging self with an openness and honesty that is stunning, using her pen as both scalpel and microscope. A master of slant rhyme, she is also unafraid to experiment in the far reaches of poetics; and you’ll never think of popcorn in the same way again.
     - Mark Frutkin

Whether she’s revisiting fraught scenes from her past with wry humour or facing them down deadpan, Adele Graf infuses whatever she touches—bric-a-brac, childhood haunts, or stricken relatives—with a vividness that places them stage-centre. Charting a memorable path through several generations of family upheaval and continuance, she evokes her grandmother’s New Jersey milliner shop, her father’s tragic early death, and her own journey to late-life plenitude with a sharp eye for the waystations that lead from disillusionment to delight.
     - Peter Richardson

math for couples is a warm and playful debut collection. You can feel the pleasure Adele Graf takes in the words she juggles and the forms she explores in this very intimate adventure.
     - Stuart Ross, author of A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent


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, October 25, 2017

Seva - Sharanpal Ruprai (Frontenac House Poetry)

Today's book of poetry:
Seva.  Sharanpal Ruprai.  Frontenac House Poetry.  Calgary, Alberta.  2014.                                                        

Sharanpal Ruprai is opening a window to a world most of us have never seen, much less experienced.  Seva tells the life story of a young woman growing up in a Sikh household.  If that was all if did we could still find ample reason to celebrate this poetry.

But that is only where Seva and Ruprai begin.  She illuminates a very private world and when she casts the light that private world responds.  Being a young woman in a world where domestic rules and cultural norms are radically different inside and outside of the home is an incomprehensible task.  Seva bravely walks us through the challenge.

Sharanpal Ruprai faces a myriad of challenges when she wakes up in the morning.  Being a young woman of colour as an outsider in a dominant culture where most others are white, prone to labelling turban wearing brown people as "Pakis," and where tolerance and understanding are never a safe bet, never a given.  As Ruprai's mother laments: "never trust anyone."

Five Day Sin

My mother insists.
She takes my measurements and I clinch my pelvis,
stomach, thighs and bum cheeks, praying the numbers
work in my favour. Kachera are too much like baggy shorts
with a draw string. She purchases light blue broadcloth,
tells me the colour is more feminine than pure white.
She did not grow up in Canada, does not know that girls
are size-eyeing each other up and checking out who is wearing a bra
with matching panties. The name-brand ones.
You have to purchase each panty separately. I covet those panties.
My mother on a mission from Guru Gobind Singh.
What did he care about bras and panties?

There was no getting out of my body I am stuck in my body-time
but my body my body bled for days menstrual pads did not stick
blood trickled down my body my thigh.
I was sent home for stomach pains.
              Tampons were out of the question.
Mother surrendered and bought me a package
of five oversized-white-no-name-brand underwear.
I was told I would be forgiven
for wearing panties for five days out of the month. Never
did I have cramps or what boys called pms.
Each month, I willed my body
my body to release as many eggs
as it wanted, as long as I bled
for five days, so I could be
like the other girls.


There is much joy and beauty in many of the small moments of family and community that Ruprai accessed to tell her story, it is not all woe.  But figuring out who you are is a struggle we've all engaged in at one point or another in our lives.  Most of us haven't had to double down to step outside of our culture to fit in.  Sure, we've rebelled against our parents with hostile cigarettes dangling from our lips.  Then most of us turn into a slightly different version of our parents, and we haven't had to step outside our own traditions to do it.  And let's face it, in almost every case, women have a tougher go than man.

Ruprai never laments, these aren't sad, "look at me" songs.  These poems are about growth and experience and endurance and rebellion.  These poems tell the journey of how a young girl grows strong to become and empowered woman.  These poems kick the odds to hell.

One Strand as a Time

Every morning, a disciplined choice of a black starched turban.
Dreams of combing fingers through short black hair vanish
every morning. In front of an open locker
an inspection for unruly strands.
Bullies yell down the hall ride them' cowgirls!
Avoid eye-contact and stare at yourself in the mirror.

In the washroom, a fist into a mirror.
Every morning, a disciplined bully trashes a turban
avoid gym, too hot and sweaty to play tag and cowgirls
do not care for brown skinned cowboys.
                                                 Dreams of track'n field gold vanish
Parents think, a bookish child, good thing really. Strands
of rope tucked away in a locker.

Down the hall a push into the open locker
a click of a lock, a scream, let me out, a mirror
shatters and unruly strands
poke out and bullies pull at an unravelled turban
Dreams of making it through the day unharmed vanish,
bullies yell heehaw heehaw, ride them' cowgirls!

No more heehaw or ride them'cowgirls!
No more being shoved into a locker.
Dreams of short black hair vanish.
A pair of scissors, black elastic, a mirror
and a hacked up turban,
in the school basement long black strands.

Snip one strand, snip two strands, snip three strands
of hair hacked up all over the floor, no more cowgirls
taunts, mo more dirty turban
lover jokes, no more being thrust into a locker
a sneer in the mirror
a sneer, tears and fears in the mirror vanish.

They gawk, we gawk, parents gawk
                                         and dreams of a good Sikh child, vanish.
Tears stream and hair strands
are stuck to the school bathroom mirror.
Students cowered in the gum. No brave cowgirls
anymore, police, principal, and parents peer into a locker
the murder weapon is longer than a turban.

Every morning, in front of a locker, sounds of snipping strands
In the school bathroom, a turban cowgirl
vanishes in the mirror.


Today's book of poetry has a morning read every day and today's was held out on the front porch to enjoy the spectacular fall weather here in Ottawa.  Short sleeves and sunshine in late October.  Hard to imagine but it is here.  Some of the local kids; Clara, Bela, Theo, Maya, Julian and Daniel, were playing one of their self-styled games of hide n' seek.  The sky is blue, blue, blue and it is unnaturally warm for October.

The reading was a gaudy affair with summer hats and drinks with fancy, funny straws.

Ruprai's poems are rapid, sure fire shots, bursts of clarity, but there is always enough in there to assure us that these are poems of intelligent rebellion and emotional growth.  These poems can also be seen as a template for other young women frozen in place by circumstance. 

Today's book of poetry recognized the intensity of an old soul in a new voice, it appears in every smart poem.

Baker's Dozen

A woman who creates and becomes, as she wished.
She who is simply unsatisfied.
She who does not take pleasure in tracking down clean water.
Two suited women, side by side in a cubicle.
The women, contemplate ovulation and children.
The midwives who kill girl babies, though it may not please them.
A woman and a woman, who learn how to read and translate.
She who stokes the fires for light, not heat.
A woman who justifies the missing salt and butter.
A woman who takes pleasure in washing her lover's hair.
She who prefers salt over butter.
These women, aware of how they are saving the world.

There women add one more line, add to the world.


Sharanpal Ruprai's eye on the world is one the poetry world could use a lot more of.  Today's book of poetry is going to be first in line for her next book of poetry riches.  Sharanpal Ruprai makes Canadian poetry just that much richer, broader, and more tolerant and understanding.  What could be better than that?

Image result for sharanpal ruprai photo
Sharanpal Ruprai

Sharanpal Ruprai earned a Ph.D. from the Department of Humanities at York University, Ontario, Canada. She holds a Masters degree in English from the University of Calgary and a Bachelor of Education and Bachelor of Arts from the University of Winnipeg.

“There is much to be learned and appreciated in this project. Sikh culture and mores unfold in a poetic narrative that both entices and educates. Arrangement of the words on the page and the Sikh words complement the telling. Clear images. Consistent mode of foreboding.”
     — Barb Carter

“I think it’s wonderful. I found it powerful and a way into a secret world. I laughed and wept. It’s beautiful. I can’t wait to talk about it — on and off the air.”
     — Shelagh Rogers


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, October 22, 2017

poemw - Anne Fleming (Pedlar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
poemw.  Anne Fleming.  Pedlar Press.  St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.  2016.

Book Cover: poemw

What bright and pensive, do not read ponderous, poetry is this?  Anne Fleming has a stand-up comics sense of timing attached to an impassioned heart.  poemw is a curious example, a delicate balance and a precarious perch but somehow Fleming has just the right amount of pizazz in each and every poem.  That delicate balance shouldn't imply that there is anything delicate about these poems, this work is rock solid.

You'll find the poetry in poemw to be witty but never that over the top "look what I can do" clever.  Fleming is less concerned with tricks or amusements, these deceptively tight poems have focus and direction.  Today's book of poetry was entirely on board after the first poem, the second poem confirmed our delighted perception that we were in high cotton, we had stumbled upon something grand.


What I remember doesn't matter anymore and
and probably never did
though it seemed to
(Though is a thug)

Wasps crawl in everywhere and
it is not just us
all the neighbours have them and
and rats, too.

I saw an eagle carry a rat last week.
Crows flew after it.
I thought the rat-tail was a shoelace. Why
is that eagle carrying a --
In the up and down of the wingbeats
the heavy little rope of a tail


These poems are like comfort food, they make you feel at home.  Fleming writes poetry that brims with the confidence of an old pro.  She never has to look at her feet when skating.

Somehow clever has attained an almost pejorative flavour but I'm going to crawl out on a limb and tell you that Anne Fleming is whip-smart clever.  When she uses anthropomorphism for crows at a funeral you want to wear black.

Today's book of poetry has nothing but admiration for this sort of smart.


There it was at the beach
  its writhe s
its sculling hands
  its syncopated surges:
my mother's walk.

The walk was in
  the body of someone else
holding the hand of a man
  like my dad

younger stouter
  but with the same swing of happiness
or optimism. I am walking with my wife
  What's the problem?

Now I am trying to picture her old walk
  before Parkinson's torqued it
but it's so long ago
  and so ordinary

I can barely make it out.
  The walk elides her, this woman
I don't know. The woman I did know
  is gone.


Anne Fleming's ode to bicycles is a marvel, it is simply called "Bikes" and it works like a charm.  Proof that when a poet casts their poet eyes on a subject, an object or an idea -- it is all fecund food for thought under the right pen, under the right circumstances.

Our morning read was one of our best in a while.  I'd told the minions that Fleming was something sharp and when they got hold of the poems they cut the rug something serious.  Reading these poems out loud makes you sound smart.


"I had my hair washed to-night. We had a lovely wood
fire to dry it that crackled and sparked most beautifully."
                              - Patsy Murdoch, Saturday, September 11, 1943

In my mother's day, if your hair
was thick and long like hers,
washing it was an evening's work. It took hours
to dry. They lay in front of the fire,
hair out on towels. They roasted
chestnuts, popped corn, toasted
bread on long forks. Retired,
happy and warm to cold bedrooms,
fell into sleep and war dreams.

Our hair was done infrequently, too.
Our Dad, in one of two domestic tasks,
Scirocco'd it with a cloth-corded dryer. We'd ask
him to direct its cone of wind into
our open towels and he'd oblige, briefly,
then fluff our thin hair and pare our nails,
push back cuticles with his clean surgeon nails.
We'd hide winces, we'd say good-night stiffly.
In between washes, my hair grew greasy.
My mom pushed pigtails: "They're so easy!"

I pulled them out past view of the house
and went down to the park where stranger kids
asked, "Are you a boy or a girl?" I said
"girl" as a rule, sensing they'd browse
my crotch and find something lacking
which they did that one time I was wearing
my red jeans and the boy was staring
right there at flatness (It was years before I'd hear of packing.)
At the hairdresser, Mom said, "Just a trim.
Not too short. Make it feminine."

To me she said, "Why do you want to look
like a boy?" I said, "I don't." She said, "You do."
I said, "I want to look like me." It was true,
but she didn't buy it the thirty years or so it took
to come to some kind of truce, when she had it out
in a letter and promised to say nothing more.
In the meantime, she controlled what I wore:
girls' clothes: blouses, girls' jeans. I had zero clout.
I want not to blame her for all those years
of needless strife. But I do. It doesn't matter what I wear.

At twelve, with shoulder-length centre-part hair,
I went to a hairdresser south of Bloor on Yonge,
a cool one (it was advertised on CHUM).
My breasts were new: wee nipple-cones there
under my favourite blue and green striped T.
"Wow, you've got long hair for a boy," she said,
then thought the tears in my eyes were for losing said
hair, when they were all anxiety
about the nipples -- would she spy them?
Spot me for a fraud? (Didn't know then that if she did, she'd deny them.)

Earlier that year, at music camp, at a snowball dance--
you know, where on pair starts,
then the DJ calls Snowball and the couple parts
and grabs from the sidelines some chance
new date -- a girl took my hand,
tried to drag me onto the floor,
took my holding back for shyness and liked me more
but there were people who knew me and what if she found
out it wasn't a cute boy she was after
but an ugly girl? There'd be laughter

or worse. Wasn't the first time -- train porters, other
girls at other dances, bus drivers, cops,
random grownups, people in shops --
wouldn't be the last. My poor mother
winced and corrected: no, my daughter
(later, two bank tellers: "Anne. That's a funny name
for a boy." "Isn't that usually a girl's name?")
tried to teach me what life had taught her.
"I feel nice and comfortable when I know I look nice,"
she wrote at thirteen. Not bad advice,

but I fell nice and comfortable when I know
I look comfortable. When I know I look like
a dyke
or a fag (men shout it out car windows
late at night, drunk). Like a schoolboy (British),
like some backwoods hack, like a Mod,
like a hoser, like a jock, like a Dad.
Anything else, sir? I enter washrooms, skittish,
head down, cued for the double-take: me, the skirted sign,
me, the shake of the head, the hard line,
You're in the wrong washroom, guy.
Am I?


Today's book of poetry would be terribly remiss if we didn't mention Fleming's poems about various aspects of the difficulties around gender identification, sexuality, family, lovers, partners and a society that needs labels and so on.  Anne Fleming, we believe, with such unadorned honesty, clarity and integrity that her poetry does not need or broach any labelling.  Smart poetry like this could just as easily be about your life too.

And Fleming is a skater and a hockey player.  Today's book of poetry hasn't talked about hockey that much or all my hockey heroes.  So please know that we put Hayley Wickenheiser among the Gods.  poemw  provides all the evidence you need to know that Fleming is a hockey playing poet.  Joni Mitchell, another great Canadian skater, wrote about "a river I can skate away on."

Our new favourite skater, Anne Fleming, can come to Ottawa anytime, we've got the longest skating rink in the world and we love poets who make us feel.  poemw is overflowing with poems you need to read.

Image result for anne fleming poet photo

Anne Fleming

Anne Fleming is the author of five books: Pool-Hopping and Other Stories, shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, the Danuta Gleed Award and the Governor General’s Award; the critically acclaimed novel, Anomaly; Gay Dwarves of America, also shortlisted for the Ethel Wilson; poemw, a book of poems shortlisted for the BC Book Prizes’ Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize; and The Goat, a novel for children. Her non-fiction has been published in a raft of anthologies, including Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme, Great Expectations: Twenty-Four True Stories About Childbirth, and You Be Me.

“a playful and sometimes poignant take on gender, nature, and history”
     - Contemporary Verse

“This is strong and mature work; Fleming’s poems are refreshingly self-deprecating, whip-smart and convey a deep humility.”      - Event Magazine



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, October 20, 2017

Dust Blown Side of the Journey - Eleonore Schönmaier (McGill-Queen's University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Dust Blown Side of the Journey.  Eleonore Schönmaier.  Hugh MacLennan Poetry Series.  McGill-Queen's University Press.  Montreal & Kingston, London, Chicago.  2017.

Today's book of poetry comes to you from the waiting room of a CMA Clinic where Today's book of poetry is having x-rays of everything but our memory.  Bless those kind and wise men and women who established a medical care system in Canada that will allow me to leave this building without paying a cent.

I've been here less than ten minutes and already I am in a hospital gown and awaiting my first x-ray.  All of this to explain my recent absences.  That and Today's book of poetry purchased a new computer yesterday, it was needed.  Our steampunk wonder system was an RCA Victor - Westclox hybrid machine that was still running, technically, but it was getting difficult to find a watchmaker-video technician with the right set of brass tipped tools.

Eleonore Schönmaier is such a needed tonic.  Today's book of poetry has been down the remarkable   Eleonore Schönmaier  poetry road before.  You might remember that Today's book of poetry took a look at her back in July of last year.  Wavelengths of Your Song was a pleasure to read and you can see our post here:

Dust Blown Side of the Journey is more of the same wonder.  Schönmaier is a perfect mix of Nelson Ball's wonder and brevity along with the breadth and wisdom, experience and vision of a Lorna Crozier or a Sharon Olds.  That is some fine company and Schönmaier is right at home.

Today's book of poetry has been stuck in a poetry whirlwind, tunnel vortex lately and the only person I can blame is the genius Albert Goldbarth.  I've been reading Goldbarth's The Kitchen Sink as though it were a bible and I had discovered religion.  Our Southern Correspondent, the Twangster, has infected me with Goldbarthism and I'm not sure any other poetry will ever work quite the same way again.  But no.  Eleonore Schönmaier is the perfect antidote/bookend.  Both of these monstrously good poets write poems that stop us with wonder.

But while Goldbarth, bless his cottons socks, is writing long brocaded tapestries that have gold and silver thread and may possibly contain the secrets of the world, Schönmaier, although never terse, is writing with an economy that sustains and winnows to the very heart of things.


The doorbell has been cut
and the only way to gain entrance is
to stand in the middle of

the bridge jumping up
and down, but this futile
until you begin to sing

and from the upper-floor
window our friends looks
down and lets us in. We sit

at the window and touch
the seashells in their bowl
and our friend picks up

the conch, leans out
the window and lets it sound
so the canal boat captains

travelling below search
for the unseen and
in their confusion they

risk colliding with
the visible. Another
friend arrives and we

wine and dine and play
the Steinway as the storm
quavers against the roof

and the wind and jets flying
low overhead sound
alike as we journey closer

into our true selves
and you talk about
the wind quintet

you're composing
where the clarinet
will sound off stage

and you say all of us
are in your music
along with our missing

friend and walking home
I say, "I've had other
devoted friends before

but this evening's circle
are my soulmates"
and you say, "It's the

soulmates and not
the others who will
break our hearts."


Ok.  Today's book of poetry is at home, it is twenty-four hours later.  The clinic visit was just fine, at least they don't pincushion you.  Got home and started to look at the elegant work of Eleonore Schönmaier again and then there was a knock at the 11:30 a.m. door.  Today's book of poetry was expecting guests from out of town but was not expecting them to arrive six hours early.  Now these are world class guests, always arrive with wine and a variety of gifts.  They also always demand to take K and I out to dinner, last night it was Pizzarro's (We've been regulars there for over twenty-five years, I remember writing a poem for the head waiter when his first son was born.  A couple of months ago his first born was our waiter.  We've never had a meal there we didn't enjoy.)  Before our guests left this morning I was the owner of a brand new pair of winter gumboots.  Like I said, world-class guests.  But six hours early and in need of our complete attention.

Eleonore Schönmaier is a worker.  You only have to look at one of her poems to recognize the craft.  These poems are worked on, shaved here, strengthened there, and then a perfect coat of clear varnish has been applied.  These poems are weather-proof epistles aimed right at your reasonable heart and your emotional head.  

Take a hard look at this tidy effort, "Vertebrae of Humans and Art Animals."  It's all in there, Schönmaier shows us how it's done.

Vertebrae of Humans
and Art Animals

the breeze against my back
            as I cycle through narrow
                        streets were tattooed

men stroll and when
            I make a wrong
                        turn I'm face to

face with a sculpture
            of Mandela and the real
                        Desmond Tutu stepping

down from the podium
            photographers swarm
                        but I'm unable to stop

since I'm racing
            against time to a stretch
                        of beach where I film

the strandbeest
            small sails as wings
                        and multiple legs

the skeletal animal
            all plastic bone
                        races forward

            how easily
                        it topples

on my route home I watch
            an old man place a metal
                                   ladder against

the barbed wire fence
          he hangs a bird feeder
                     up as high as he can reach

in the center a young friend
            (attacked by a mob) undergoes

vertebrae, scapulae,

which bones
              fit where
                           ossicles of

                  a wave a wind lifted leaf

under a tree a woman shows
                       her children how to read
                                               the tally marks

and tells them this is
            how many thousands of 
                                     days Mandela

had to wait to hear
                       bird song
                                   when his

captors knew
     exactly how
                 fragile bone is


Schönmaier isn't yelling about anything, this poet has far too much class for that.  But you read her and you see the strength, you see that she is a strong voice for women against the systemic in justices they endure.  You'll see that she is political but never proselytizing.  Reading Dust Blown Side of the Journey is like that first long cool and quenching gulp of fresh spring water after a long hike.

Considerable upheaval here at the Today's book of poetry offices these days.  Our morning reading was interrupted several times to continue negotiations.  It didn't matter much, Eleonore Schönmaier's crisp poems settled the room as we each took our turn and read them like prayers.  Of course we threw Wavelengths of Your Song into the mix.

We Are Alone

and lost along
the shore
the gentle slope
of the hill upwards
and we are found
again only when we
recognize the war
memorial where
resistance fighters
were shot and buried
in the sand of the dunes
you were imprisoned
in your youth for being
at the wrong place at the
wrong time, for trying
to make a better world
darkness falls upon
us and there is no
better world, only
the calls of the
nameless birds
in these brief
moments when
the birds still
exist for us: the bell
in the dunes tolls
once a year to
remind us of what
we still have
to lose


It doesn't get any tidier.  As long as poetry as fine as Eleonore Schönmaier's keeps arriving at the door Today's book of poetry will continue to want to tell you about it.

Today's book of poetry is hoping to return to regular programming as soon as possible.  Please stay tuned.

Eleonore Schönmaier

Eleonore Schönmaier is the award-winning author of Wavelengths of Your Song. She divides her time between Canada and coastal Europe.

Eleonore Schönmaier
Video:  Eleonore Schönmaier



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, October 10, 2017

Dear Ghost - Catherine Owen (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
Dear Ghost.  Catherine Owen.  A Buckrider Book.  Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2017.

Why am I not surprised when "Caligula and his freak show" show up in the nightly dreams of a young Catherine Owen?  Ms. Owen likes to give us the impression of a bookish youth full of church going Sundays and tempered innocence - but we are fairly certain she has "burn it down if necessary" tattooed on the insides of her eyelids.

Today's book of poetry has ventured into Catherine Owen territory before.  Back in April of 2013 Today's book of poetry took a look at her chapbook Steve Kulas & Other Autopsies (Angel House, 2012) and then in August of the same year Today's book of poetry cased Owen's Trobairitz (Anvil Press 2012).  You can see both of those blogs here:

Dear Ghost is a more mature voice from the irrepressible Owen.  This Owen, four years later, is more contemplative than reactive, more deliberate than spontaneous.  The resulting poems still vibrate with her tangible energy and intelligence but Owen's focus has tightened.

What I Remember About What We Weren't
Allowed in Childhood

Pop-Tarts certainly. Anything processed. The worst being hot dogs
which I gobbled once guiltily at the Stardust roller rink at thirteen
and puked, imagining entrails in my intestines. Condiments. Definitely
not on the acacia table in gauche plastic containers.
And Halloween candy was entirely out. My father shifting
through our sacks for all but the Glosette peanuts and Sun-Maid
raisins that, rationed, we were able to gobble over later weeks
to flee the dreaded sugar rush. Mostly all not carob or bean sprouts
or hard-boiled eggs were verboten. And then too there was no Happy Days,
never Knight Rider or The Monkees except when we snuck them
at Nana's by lying to her and after she would always exclaim
- "You pulled the wool right over my eyes!" So, aside from educational
programming, the small B & W stayed dark while we clicked Meccano
bits together, read the Brothers Grimm or played doctor with toothpaste.
Absolutely no Barbies or anything that would break, rot our teeth,
show us a false world in which dolls sport slip-on pink heels
and grown men in leather jackets say "Ehhhhh!" Only the dentist
could give us video games, hand-held Donkey Kong and Frogger
while he tightened our headgear, pain overwhelming the transgressive
pleasure and we couldn't say we didn't believe in God.


This past weekend Today's book of poetry read about a publishing record set by a Canadian poet, this article was in the Globe & Mail.  The poet's first book just pushed by 2,000,000 in sales.  Simply astounding.  I saw this young poets work in a globopulous bookstore recently.  Most of the bookstore was given over to the selling of various other products ranging from chocolate to computers to decorative rocks.  I spent a few minutes reading the poetry of the young superstar, well, she calls them poems.  In the Globe & Mail article it was made clear that this young woman, the current best selling poet in the entire English language, best selling by a factor of at least 10X, meaning that her current book has sold ten time more copies in the last year than any other book of poetry, ever, doesn't read.  She does peruse covers though.

Catherine Owen, on the other hand, is a big reader.  You can tell in every poem she writes that she has read.  Today's book of poetry has yet to meet Ms. Owen but it is easy to see, feel and hear the influence of other poets, it is a tangible thing.  Owen even gives us an "apprompted" poem which has verses that start with a line of poetry by Sharon Olds.  "Apprompted" is a term borrowed from Kimberly Gibson's paper Lines by Someone Else: The Pragmatics of Apprompted Poems written for Ms. Gibon's thesis at the University of North Texas. Owen's poems Two Stanzas on My Father Begun by Sharon Olds and The Journal of John Berryman From 1948 to 1971: A Reverse Glosa of First Lines are all the evidence we need of Owen's direction and intentions.  Owen has nothing but respect for the long line of poets who have worn down the path before her.

Just The Way Things Are (He Said)

That day at the tracks was overcast.
We cheered for a filly called Morning Coffee
and then Swagger Cat went down and had to be shot.

At the pub, the dealer wore a bandana beneath a dark fedora.
"It's the law of supply, you know," he said.
Two men played soccer in the cemetery beneath the train,

white ball pinging off the old grey of graves.
The horse went down as it graced a curve with its hooves,
and when it tried to rise, its leg was a shred of skin.

At the Met, the dealer moved a scrim in front of it
and slowly the hearse that smelled of hay drew towards us.
A ball bounced between our tables on which were placed small

shooters of blood. "I clean my asshole with Baby Wipes," the dealer
piped up, "that's the kind of pure guy I am." Graves took on the rain again
as they had for the past century. At the track, the crowd gasped,

briefly, then pretended their vision of glory hadn't
just been shattered as #5 racehorse was loaded cold
into the law of demand.


Another thing about Catherine Owen is that she is getting better with every book and that is an exciting poetic prospect.  If Owen is this good now, and she is, how good will her future books of poetry be?  Today's book of poetry has little in common with Owen, not gender, musical taste or propensity for excitement - but what Today's book of poetry appreciates is that Owen doesn't seem to be able to write a boring/bad poem.  

She catalogues her hopes, dreams, failures and success but never without suitable acoutremont, Owen's poems always come dressed for the dance.  It's not what Owen talks about but how.

Today's morning read was a little quieter than usual as were missing several of the usual suspects.  Our office was light on the ground for readers this morning.  Those of us who were present gave Dear Ghost the robust read it deserved.

A Few Delightful Sound Bites From A Downtown
Tragedy In Three Parts

      But since I don't understand myself, only segments
      of myself that misunderstand each other, there's no
      reason for you to want to, no way you could
      even if we both wanted it.
      JOHN ASHBERRY, "A Poem of Unrest"

So I sit in my happy face socks being maudlin.
If there are still voodoo dolls in this age of Barbie Almost
Becomes President, someone bought one with my aging mug
on it and is plunging pins into its batting with glee.
"All I know is, it's Wednesday and I'm going to work." the harried
blonde barks into her phone at Starbucks. Knowledge: a severely

abridged edition. Yes, I'm aware you don't love me. It's OK, says my mouth
while my psyche has issues with loneliness. Holding hands is gross; hold
hand with me in public! Multiple personalities of the somewhat-busted
heart, though few come as close to sorrow as Jerry the Boxer - 
"I'm just an old dog," he admits. "but someone should cuddle me at night anyway."
Alright, listen. Every onesie in the universe won't

make us whole again and when being spat on "a compliment, girl" then there
will be fewer calls for tables d'hotes and strolls on the parapet my moonlight.
Of course gender is my obsessive topic and how people deal with death.
Not much else but sex and flowers and your final instructions on a 3 x 5 lined
recipe card that you are sorry you haven't covered all costs, we can sing
the requiescat and you want the casket closed.


Catherine Owen is building a reputation as one of the better young poets in Canada.  Dear Ghost  will only enhance those prospects.  This is the good work we've come to expect from Catherine Owen.  We will be expecting more.

Catherine Owen

Catherine Owen is the author of ten collections of poetry and three of prose, including her compilation of interviews on writing called The Other 23 & a Half Hours: Or Everything You Wanted to Know that Your MFA Didn’t Teach You (Wolsak & Wynn, 2015) and her short story collection, The Day of the Dead (Caitlin Press, 2016). Her work has been nominated for awards, toured Canada eight times and appeared in anthologies, as well as translations. She has been employed by both the Locations and the Props department in TV land, plays metal bass and has two cats: Solstice and Equinox.

Catherine Owen
Reading from Trobairitz
Video: P.C. Vandall



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.