Saturday, June 30, 2018

Refuge — Belle Waring (University of Pittsburgh Press) + Dark Blonde — Belle Waring (Sarabande Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Refuge.  Belle Waring.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  1990
Dark Blonde.  Belle Waring.  Sarabande Books.  Louisville, Kentucky.  1997.

"and the thrum of you jazzed me up like a champagne."

Today's book of poetry will be happy to tell you how we came to hear of Belle Waring as soon as we finish telling you what reading her poetry is like.  Reading Belle Waring is like walking into a room full of reason, decorated with grace.
                                                          It's also a slap up side your head.

When Belle Waring's two books arrived, I knew from their source that there would be something special inside and Today's book of poetry was not disappointed.  Waring belongs to the narrative school of plain speaking, real life, real time, true this.  But when her poems start to play out in front of you, you realize you've heard this voice from your sisters, honest and untethered.

Belle Waring knows what it is to be pixilated and she knows "how Dostoevsky said: People are unhappy because they don't know how happy they are."

Today's book of poetry is going both barrels for Belle, two poems a shot.

Reprieve on the Stoop

If your first memory was the arms of your father
about to chuck you out the window of that catpiss
apartment in Downington, you couldn't dream.
You don't remember dreams, like when I got
robbed, the scumface
broke in my room while I was alone
asleep and naked and when he left
I woke up
untouched. Now if the sun

abides in these brassy leaves
quivering over my ankles which talk
to you and you ask me to sit
so I do—you and I
were both alive and how bad is that—on the stoop
like a girl with her front door key on two feet of green
string around her neck, watching the boys shoot
hoops, how they crouch and leap extending to the rim
and sweat on the sweet lunette of neck over their T-shirts

only now we're not slinking
home for supper in time to boil a pork dog
and watch dad throw his liquid obituary in mom's
face. We sit down on the stoop and watch the earth
swing her hips to the next dance hit and the dark
slide his arms around her waist. Listen
—I'm not romantic, baby, but I do
know grace when I see it.


I Dream I Am Back in Paris

walking east. It's hard to forgive
anything. The sky billows with a million

wild roses, backlit, as Monseigneur Soliel
crawls up the horizon. Nobody's awake but me & I'm

two places at once: Paris, district twenty, and my
grandparents' house in Virginia with its huge blue

spruce and roses all colors went nuts in summer
and lightning bugs fired with silencers into the dark.

I am going to surprise you on Rue St. Blaise. When I
burst into the courtyard the dream falls

dark like a curtain dropped on the photographer's
head. The government of Paris razed your house and left

a mess of squatter's huts. That house survived
the Revolution. Cows grazed there. You took in

all of us. Middle class renegades.  Refugees
blasted from Chile. Algerians. Americans. Mornings,

I'd climb over the ones huddled in sleeping bags
and step out to see the sun sweet-talking its way down

the street. Now the light wakes me up
tapping its toes on the window ledge, same seductive

rosy light, only this time I'm not going anywhere,
my grandparents are dead, you're in Paris

turning thirty-seven and the most I can manage is to phone
transatlantic to report my dream which digs in

its Anglo-Saxon heels and sputters like Donald Duck
on dope. I wish to tell you that the sky I dreamed

vaults over our hearts, that we leap with its rose
in the night and return to each other, that the dream

dangles the old place intact, like a kid stalking light
at sunup, wound up in joy too big to put your arms around.


Waring doesn't know her own strength or limitations so these poems come off the page entirely untethered.  Today's book of poetry was terribly saddened to know that Belle Waring, who was born in 1951, died in 2015, we would have very much liked to express our admiration to her in person.

And on that sad note Today's book of poetry must remember the former American Poet Laureate Donald Hall.  Hall died this past week, he was ninety.  Back in the late 80s when Today's book of poetry moved to Czechoslovakia to teach English as a second language, I read Hall's The One Day (Mariner Books, 1987), a book length poem.  I loved it and wrote to Mr. Hall, the result was that we had a brief correspondence where he was generous to a fault and very kind.  I've always remembered his line "don't ever do anything you don't want to do."  I might not have that exact, I read that book more than thirty years ago, That One Day.  Great and simple advice but hard to follow through on.  Donald Hall was a great American poet and we are less for his passing.  Goodnight Donald Hall.

Back to Belle Waring.  "I laugh like a struck match." (Blackout), inflames Waring, early on in her debut collection, Refuge.  And Today's book of poetry was caught.  Today's book of poetry became the proverbial "deer in the headlights."  I could not turn my gaze away from the electric charms of Belle Waring.


"It's the combat zone," the cop said, a Portuguese
fine-doll, mixed-up fine, black cheeks
sleek as an aubergine. I am letting you know
what you missed. "South Station's two miles,"
he warned me. "Cab's reasonable. Why walk?"

Because reasonable was too high. Like you,
I was limping home with a prepaid ticket
and change for the paper. "Globe!" the newsboy
wore an arm cast grubby with ink. I gave him an extra
quarter. You missed dodging the shark-faced men
who'd cut just to smell the blood. If you'd come
with me I wouldn't be moving

unescorted through these pisshole streets,
eyes front, with the faith of a firewalker,
while the powerglide car radios bunched up
throaty with pick-up songs.

South Station smelled like stranded worry,
gun metal. Soon the train was racing me
down the coast like a rock 'n' roll hit,
but instead of you, who's next to me is a college
girl leaving home. When the train rattled me down

to dream your face floated out of the dark
and the thrum of you jazzed me up like a champagne


Letter to Morley, Never Mailed

My life was that moment when the train breaks
free: as the city retreats, one begins to hope.
You taught me how to lean into the wind
so stiff it blew the rank smoke out of my head.
What was it like growing up on the beach?
Did the wind suck the words off your tongue?
You said you slapped glue on the trees
so when the finches got stuck, you caged them
to sell. The morning I left, your face was a cloud
blown over the curve of the earth. You gave me
a rose that got slugged on the bus. We screwed
everything up. I came back to my country
more lost than a foreigner. You get drunk and tell
lies. Oui, je t'aime, mais je craque.
In the name of the finches, I take myself back.


So, that ends the Belle Waring tasting menu for her first book, Refuge.  Get comfortable because Dark Blonde is flashing aces while the rest of us are holding nines and tens.  Hang on to something.

Oh, save us Belle Waring, save us all.  Today's book of poetry is here to tell you the truth as we know it.  Belle Waring's poems have steamrolled through our office, flattened us right the fuck out.  This woman has the power and when she turns on the gas everything else disappears.

Dark Blonde jumps right off of the damned page, jumps up and grabs the reader by our lazy lapels and shouts, "listen up!"  And we have to obey.  Waring came into the poetry game late and left early but make no mistake, dear reader, she left a mark.  Dark Blonde is a rogue pilot, willing and able to drop down anywhere.  No runway needed.  Waring must have been a spectacular conversationalist because these poems are ripe and verdent with the perfect line, the perfect pause.

People Think All Wrong About Manhood

When I met Jacob, he's just escaped a police state.
Scrawny white guy, he talked all jacked up on nicotine,
laughed like a .22
crak-crak echo in the alley. Eyes
you already know about—how they undercut

this dodobird reception chat, where Jacob looks forty-five, except
at me—his eyes like a kid who gets hit.
Hit. Then they tell him
Strip. And nobody calls the cops.
Because they are the cops.

I got a cat with six toes per foot who can smell the landlord
down the block. Jacob thinks I'm a sentimentalist.

So what. This past winter I worked just enough to pay my rent,
lived on greens and greasy cornbread, slept with the light and the radio on
so no one would think I was alone. I had bad dreams where I found
little boys in a cold steel sink, face down on a wire brush.
A dusky pulse threads one boy's arm. They have been
sexually tortured
then shadows grease over the windows and
the door    no lock

I would wake up seized with a sick headache,
and lose whole days like that.

Jacob says there's no such thing as love at first sight.
You all know the lightning bolt

Juliet and Romeo. But this is no
play. One morning after I hadn't slept

a silver stretch limo
nearly hit me in the alley where the neighbor kids hang
and the pigeons peck over the cobblestones,
when here comes this limo
with its minky black windows all rolled up tight so you can't name
and the sucker never even slowed down. Made me jump back,
skin my hand on the door of the shed.

I wanted to live
after that.

There's a park near my place
where the creek cuts the city clean down to the river.
Sunlight mottles the poplars, aggie-eyes the small water.
If you toss cat chow to those citified ducks, you draw
mamas in camouflage, splendid green heads,
a white rascal like Donald minus jacket and cap,
shimmying his dignified tush.

Ducks are appointed by God to give doofy people a safe date.

We walked through the city
counting up different riffs that we heard on the street—
boom boxes, radios, churches, jukes
girls jumping Double Dutch
boys drumming drywall buckets in their sidewalk bateria
a twelve-piece band of trombones and a tuba
a guy slamming cups of spare change for percussion
—count 'em up.

Get twelve tunes, go on home

and there the man next door plays Villa-Lobos on piano
'til he hits a change and splatters jazz riffs that feel like the rush
you get in a plane when the glaze-blue day pops out of the murk

then you're back inside and Jacob is just somewhere
quiet in the house with you.

These moments are underrated because they're not a Pepsi commercial
—no big male teeth, no young women with important hair.

Things quite silently

And when a man is brave enough
to cry whatever he's saved up—
you recognize him.

And you—you save up what comes
after he's finished his crying.


Twenty-Four-Week Preemie, Change of Shift

We're running out of O
screaming down the Southwest Freeway in the rain
the nurse-practitioner and me
rocking around in the back of an ambulance
trying to ventilate a preemie with junk for lungs
when we hit
rush hour

               Get us the hell out of here

You bet the driver said
and pulled right onto the median strip
with that maniacal glee they get

I was too scared for the kid and drunk with the speed
—the danger didn't feel like danger at all
if felt like love—to worry about my life
Fuck that

               Get us back to Children's so we can put a chest tube in
                    this kid

And when we got to the unit
the attending physician—Loretta—was there
and the nurses
the residents
they save us

Loretta plants her stethoscope on the kid's chest
and here comes the tech driving the portable
like it's a Porsche
Ah Jesus he says

The baby's so puny he could fit on your dinner plate

X-ray says the tech
and everybody backs up
except for Loretta
so the tech drapes a lead shield over her chest

X-RAY! says the tech

There's a moment after he comes down the lens
just before he shoots

You hold your breath
You forget
what's waiting
back at your house

Nobody blinks
poised for that sound
that radiological meep

and Loretta with her scrub top on backwards
so you can't peep down to her peanutty boobs
Lorette with her half-Chinese, half-Trinidadian

Loretta, all right, ambu-bagging the kid
never misses a beat
calm and sharp as a mama-cat who's just kicked the dog's butt
now softjaws her kitten out of the ditch

There's a moment
you can't even hear the bag
quick quick quick

Before the tech shoots
for just that second
I quit being scared
I forgot to be scared


How can people abandon each other?


Belle Waring sounds so reasonable, even with her big and hopeful heart just hanging off of her sleeve.  Think of the Rev. Al Green and how his songs are all about the same thing: quiet intensity.  You can feel, hear, sense the immense power, the sheer human will, the force.  But the Rev. Al Green knew how to give just enough, every time.  Today's book of poetry posits that Belle Waring's focused gaze spills with the same sort of intensity.

Volume has never been the way to judge a voice, Waring, like the Rev. Green, always knows how much to give, how much to hold back, when to breathe. 

Our Today's book of poetry staff were in the dark about Belle Waring, as was I.  I passed Belle's two books, Refuge and Dark Blonde around the office for the last couple of weeks.

At Today's book of poetry you can come to work drunk and we'll find a couch for you, bring aspirin and a cold drink, wipe your brow if needed.  Today's book of poetry hates tardiness, but in truth, our head-tech and most valued assistant, Milo, has never been on time for anything a day in his life and we love him just fine.  BUT if you work for Today's book of poetry and don't/won't/can't be bothered to read the poems—that is it.

Kicking stones, fired.  Goooooodbyyyyyyye.

(It's never happened, every single one of the staff have a poetry Jones.)

Maggie, our new intern, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, both flamed out, red-eyed about a dead poet they'd never met, and Today's book of poetry understood.  We often don't know what we love/need
until it is gone.  Max, our Sr. Editor, came out of his dungeon, walked over to the podium (we stand to read here at Today's book of poetry) and quietly with exactly the right gravitas he read us Refuge and then read us Dark Blonde.  Maggie and Kathryn were not the only poetry moles with red, red eyes.

So What Would You Have Done?

On the train to D.C., a priest sat beside me, and outside Philly
he turned and said, My daughter has only days to live.

Rawboned man. Under his eyes were purple crescents
like bruises dug out by a surgeon's thumb.

He wept, I was scared, but not for myself.
Of course, for myself.

I took his hand then—cold as inside of a limestone chapel.
Wilmington next. He pressed both my hands before he left.

I wanted him please
to bless me again, bless the train and the tracks for they could
    snap like

fingers like the string of smoky pearls my sweetheart gave to me
before he got sick.

Before they admitted him.
One day, on my way to the hospital, I saw some movers drop a baby

it broke from its harness to the street.
One honors the chord of a crashed piano by scrounging ivory

for a charm.
There is logic in this.

When I walked into my sweetheart's room,
I saw the chemo had gotten to his scalp, he was ripping out

handfuls of his own hair, black dandelion seedfluff, shouting,
Take it. It doesn't even hurt.

I wound his hair round the shard of ivory to conjure the elephant
to save him. But on the train, I didn't tell the priest I had a charm

and after he left, a teenaged boy
with a ripped leather jacket took the same seat, still warm.

He looked at me staunchly: You all right?
I said, My boyfriend's dead.

Kid gave me a cigarette.
I showed the charm to him and he said

I should give it to my Mom to keep my Dad off her.
Crossing the Susquehanna, he fell asleep, twitching in a dream.

High arched brows. Eyes chasing, or being chased.
I unwound from the charm the black hair of my boyfriend,

and wrapped my own hair around it, to slip in the kid's pocket.
There was a pistol in it.

The train cut close by suburban yards
where cars roosted up on blocks, an upside-down dory perched like
   a hen

warming herself in the sun-shot dirt, a kid climbing into a tulip poplar
tore off whole blossoms to toss to his mother

as dusty babies swarmed on the grass below.
They never looked up.

All I wanted was to hear them, please
calling each other.


To Them, To Their First Conversation

Sunlight: Her pituitary balks at the lack of it
and he's an engraver, so for them

light is not taken for granted. On this day in October
downtown, lunch hour, the sun's acting paternal.

Showing them off to each other. The man
is flushed with the debonair mutiny of blowing off

his day job, of loafing on the sidewalk, flirting with a woman
and bobcat green eyes. Between the edge of her scarf

and the scoop neck of her sweater there's a crescent of her skin,
unprotected. Their first conversation alone.

Blaring noon. People have to step around them.
A southeastern sky tips down to them its light,

half cloudy, like tea dashed with milk,
which, after a long illness, is brought—

slowly now—
                       to the lips.


Our Southern Correspondent, David Clewell, former Missouri Poet Laureate, introduced Today's book of poetry to Belle Waring.  Our Southern Correspondent has been a little under the weather of late so if you don't mind Today's book of poetry would appreciate some collective love/karma combination sent in his direction.  

Mr. Clewell has taught Today's book of poetry more about poetry and friendship than we quite know what to do with.  Bless his cotton socks.  So please send some love to St. Louis.

And while we are at it, let us send a joyous yawp out into the poetry ether, a yawp that lets Belle Waring know, wherever she is, that we read her, every word—and are better for it.

Goodnight Belle Waring.  Thank you.

Image result for belle waring photo

Belle Waring

Waring  worked as a neo-natal intensive care nurse and as Writer-in-Residence at Children's National Medical Center in Washington D.C. Her first collection of poetry, Refuge, won the Associated Writing Program's Award for Poetry in 1989, the Washington Prize in 1991, and was cited by Publishers Weekly as one of the best books of 1990. Her second collection Dark Blonde received the San Francisco Poetry Center Poetry Prize and the Larry Levis Reading Prize in 1997. It was published by Louisville's Sarabande Books.  Belle Waring died in 2015.

"Drawing from her work as a neonatal nurse and from some more common experiences (e.g. nervous breakdowns, incest and poverty), Waring exhibits the street-smart ear and unflinching eye that made her first collection, Refuge, one of PW's Best Books of 1990. The images and headlong rhythms of these new poems exert a wide-ranging, often irresistible pull."
--Publishers Weekly

"Waring creates a voice that we feel we can trust to lead us to the center of an experience, maybe because her language never feels artificial but seems to grow naturally out of the situation it presents. The remarkable range of subjects and characters in Waring's poems leads to an equally remarkable variety of tones and vocabularies."                                                                                                         
 -Word House, Baltimore's Literary Calendar

"When Belle Waring reads her poetry, the jazz-inflected words escape her mouth like a Lester Young solo: quietly, melodically, forcefully. . . . she provides weight to each short line, drawing out her words like sensuous kisses. Her work is also punctuated with politics and humor."
-D.C. City Paper

"Poetry, Robert Frost once said, is a way of taking life by the throat. It is in this tradition that poet and nurse Belle Waring approaches her craft-seizing difficult subjects and holding them in time. . . . "

Waring has written a collection that doesn't renege on us the promise of her first book and indeed has honed her craft to include a wider range of tonal shifts and allow for a finer lyricism while not losing the syncopated snap and humor of her earlier voice."
-Indiana Review

Belle Waring

Friends of the Scranton Public Library Poery Series: Belle Waring



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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Monday, June 25, 2018

Table Manners — Catriona Wright (Signal Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Table Manners.  Catriona Wright.  Signal Editions/Vehicule Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2017.

Today's book of poetry is breaking a couple of our own rules with this post about Catriona Wright's Table Manners.  Today's book of poetry only posts blogs/reviews of books we receive directly from the publisher or directly from the poet.  In this case, there was third party activity.  I inherited this book from another poet, who I have tons of respect for, who was thinning out her collection.  Just so you know — Today's book of poetry encourages all of you to do the same, thin out your poetry collections and send the overstock here to Today's book of poetry.  In exchange, we'll be happy to send two Crying Charlies to each of you.

So Today's book of poetry was reading Table Manners without an agenda.  I didn't have to think or worry about whether or not I should write about it.  Then Today's book of poetry started reading.

Now, Today's book of poetry longs to be a "marzipanimaniac."  Today's book of poetry wants to be at a dinner party with Catriona Wright.  This is poetry Anthony Bourdain would have loved, he would have read it in his kitchen and then posted it on the wall.  [Today's book of poetry greatly laments the passing of Mr. Bourdain.  We always admired his passion and his humane and open heart.]  Wright not only burns but she cooks as well.

Table Manners is a movable feast.  Wright is not only an excellent poet but clearly a gastronome as well.  This banquet doesn't stop with one pleasure, this feast is for all the senses.  Catriona Wright's ribald sense of humour is a properly oiled cornucopia.

Think Julia Child cooking with a willing Erica Jong, or Martha Stewart supplying her level of expertise to a baking dominatrix.  Yes, this poetry is as fun as it sounds.

Dietary Restriction

At night I dream of performing polygraph tests
on pomegranates. By day I watch Tampopo and think slurp, slurp.

Poco a poco I even begin to feel the miso-loaded mist on my face,
to taste the universe distilled to a rococo so-and-so of noodles and beef.

I can't even seek the brief, shamed-inflected relief
of bragging. The whole point of this penitence is to be humble, humble.

When I visit my ancestor's shrine I find it closed
and encased in a giant yellow dome. No note. Nothing to explain.

why my past has been replaced with a Cyclops's lemon drop.
My strength is diminishing fast. I ask a four-year-old girl to eat

a blueberry muffin in front of me and describe the sensation.
When she says yummy and sweet, I slap her,

then fall to my knees and beg forgiveness, kissing
her feet and relishing the coconut sunscreen sting

on my lips. Bit by bit the hunger lessens. Water's subtleties
reveal themselves and I stop picturing gods

wearing aprons. Of course I slip up from time to time, pursue
the latest reviews of it-joints, read the menus,

all those menacingly homespun promises: Drones deliver
skewers of pork honk and yolo yam slammers to your table.

Meals come with sides of triple-fried panopticorn fritters and grits.
After a self-flagellation quickie, the drool dries

and I can return to prayer. As my bones rise to the surface
I receive compliments, envy, concern, then threats

to shove a feeding tube down my throat,
just like they did to my Aunt Gertrude

or was that Eleanor? I don't, can't remember
anymore. Boredom and doubt and history, invasive beetles,

have bored out my family tree, and now the only thing tethering me
to this life is self-discipline, this devotion to hunger, I am still impure

but improving my ability to discern the saints who deserve songs
from those who deserve slaps. I must admit that

if butterscotch rained from the skies, I would join the riots
and streak down the street, syrup,

hot and thick and fawn-coloured, speckling my shoulders.
I would roll in the gutters

until every inch of skin
was covered in stiffening sugar.


Getting your hands all greasy reading Catriona Wright's menu, Table Manners is one splendid culinar-literary delight after another.  Wright's intellect is as voracious as her appetite as she romps gastro-atomic.

Today's book of poetry just read the back cover of Table Manners only to discover that we'd mentioned some of the same glorious and famous knife wielders.  Well, Today's book of poetry is not surprised, Wright makes a clear impression and it's not hard to see where she is going.

Table Manners offers pure insightful delight, wittier than whipped cream on a Tijuana Brass album cover.

What a Girl Wants, or, Pledging Allegiance

I escape fig slingers, brie gropers
and dulse munchers only to be brought low
             by marzipanimaniacs, their dainty creations,

miniature cabbages cherubic with grubs,
blind songbirds with silver beaks, skunks
             stinking only of soft almond.

All the loveable scamps of the woodland
and garden, the campy gnomes
             and blushing squash blossoms.

Quail huggers and kale apologists
warn me not to fall for candy's goofy
             charisma, not to confuse gimmicks

for genuine artisanship. I listen and nod
and lift a thimble to reveal the Sydney Opera House,
             a chaser for the Sphinx and Taj Mahal.


Our morning read was like a family reunion.  Today's book of poetry has been taking a quiet break as our resources were being stretched in other non-literary directions.  Kathryn and Milo and Maggie and Tomas were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, Max was bushy-eyed and suspects he's being tailed, and Today's book of poetry was just glad to be back in the saddle, where we are loved and appreciated.  I wish you all were so lucky.

Far too many reminders of what is wrong in the world permeating the news — Catriona Wright's Table Manners is heavily weighted ammunition in the good fight.

Think of Wright's poetry as a menu of delights and you'll be converted.  Saucy, dark, tangy, sweet, tart, every damned one of them served up just right.

Hitler's Taste Testers

Me and fourteen other girls. After months, years, of sawdust
and ground acorn coffee, rancid margarine and biscuits
that required a chisel, it almost seemed a gift.

I am disgusted now to admit I was one of his yellow-feathered things,
but there it is. On that first day I shoved fresh vegetables into my mouth.
Asparagus sceptres ennobled with hollandaise, sweet roasted peppers, lettuce,

rice, rich clear broths. No meat or fish. He was a vegetarian
or pretended to be. It's difficult to describe the solemnity of seeing each meal
as your last. We cried with relief when our bowels moved bloodlessly.

But I was hardly a medieval court taster. I never even met him.
We were kept in a separate room, a forced sorority. Forbidden
from seeing our families, we slept on hard beds in a concrete bunker.

At night Anna and Irene analyzed lovers and brothers and other tyrants.
Marlene and Ruth debated belladonna versus arsenic versus hemlock.
Our cycles began to align. We laughed from time to time.

Ingrid did her best Lola-Lola, a blue angel falling
in love again while Ilse giggled, embarrassed, cheeks hot.
Ursula swept our hair into aristocratic knots and swirls.

I can't explain why all fifteen of us had to test his meals.
Or why we were all women. Helga thought him handsome, deferential
to our fragile bodies. Gertrud punched the wall until her bones went limp.

Equally important was that we be of upstanding German stock
as though we weren't just tasting his food, but digesting it too,
his outsourced intestines.

We were lab rabbits twitching in our cages. Karin wondered if our shared diet
made us more like him or he more like us. Hydrangeas with the same blue hue
dictated by acidic soil. I still can't eat Eintopf or GriefskloBchensuppe.

Frieda concocted bold escapes. Eleonore recited verses
from the Book of Job. Lotte found her faith. Sonja lost hers.
We wrote each other's obituaries, full of lewd jokes and accolades.

It went on that way until one night when a soldier who was sweet
on me dragged me from bed and pushed me through an open mouth
in the fence. The Soviets got there soon after

and shot the other fourteen
while the newlyweds dined
on cyanide.


Today's book of poetry loves good food, good poetry and is lucky to have the love of a very good woman.  Catriona Wright's Table Manners is a guarantee that you'll always have great poetry on hand to read before, during, or after dinner.

Bon appetit.

Image result for catriona wright photo

Catriona Wright


Catriona Wright is a writer, editor, and teacher. Her poems have appeared in Prism International, Prairie Fire, Rusty Toque, Lemon Hound, The Best Canadian Poetry 2015, and elsewhere. She has been a finalist for The Walrus's Poetry Prize, Arc's Poem of the Year Contest, and a National Magazine Award. In 2014, she won Matrix Magazine's LitPop Award. She is the co-founder of Desert Pets Press, a chapbook press. She lives in Toronto.

“Tightly woven and elaborate in its conceit, the poems in Table Manners linger both on the mind and palate.”
      – Gillian Sze, Montreal Review of Books

“…a baroque feast of juicy diction and inventive wordplay that explores food as social ritual and slippery signifier of desire.” 
     – Barb Carey, The Toronto Star

“Deft, dark, and unflinching, Catriona Wright’s work is stand-up comedy for the mind.” 
     – Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes.

“Catriona Wright’s shining debut, Table Manners, is the decadent feast of a sharp mind at play. The poems offer unerring precision of thought and a kaleidoscopic view of a stratum of human desire, performance and need that far eclipses that of mere survival.”
      – Dani Couture, author of Yaw

Catriona Wright

Tree Reading Series Featured Reader 8 May 18 - 

Video: Tree Reading Series



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Goodnight David McFadden, good luck to the rest of us

Today's book of poetry:
Goodnight David McFadden, good luck to the rest of us.

Image result for david mcfadden photo

Today's book of poetry has been on the road for a couple of days.  We travelled to Cobourg where our old friend Stuart Ross hosted us for an evening.  If you want to know what paradise is going to be like, spend an evening with Stuart and his partner in crime Laurie.

On Saturday, I joined Stuart and Laurie and a rather large crowd at St. Anne's Church in Toronto to say Goodbye to David McFadden.  Say goodbye we did.  The Reverend Maggie Helwig, a very fine poet, saw me sitting at the back of the church and joined me, as old friends do.  It was Maggie who told me that the entire interior of St. Anne's, all of the panels, were painted by members of the Group of Seven.

At first I thought Maggie was making a religious reference I was too slow to pick up on, but as she continued a light shone down and slapped me in the side of the head.  I spent considerable time staring at the ceilings and walls.  The Group of Seven in a downtown Toronto church where one of Canada's greatest poets was getting a send-off.  Perfect.

Stuart Ross was one of several folk who spoke during the service for David.  There was a small and excellent choir and much singing.  Of course there were tears everywhere, Hazel Millar was sitting in the row in front of me with other in the Toronto literati, tears abounded.

David McFadden dying was certainly sad.  His funeral service was full of respect and admiration and faith.  His friends and family made sure his final Dilbert moments in public were full of humour and love.

Goodnight David McFadden.

*   *

In transit to and from Cobourg and Toronto and then back to Ottawa, Today's book of poetry visited three libraries, looking for their "for sale" shelves or rooms, and three secondhand bookstores.  One of the bookstores, in Oshawa, was going out of business, in fact, it was the last day the store was to be open.  I'd been frequenting this store recently because they always had a considerable amount of poetry on the shelf.  Their poetry books are always eight dollars or less, but on the last day they were open, the price on the covers was being reduced by 75%.  Their usual inexpensive pricing had already been reduced during the previous weeks. 

Today's book of poetry also discovered The Book Shop in Tamworth, Ontario.  We didn't discover it so much as take the directions Stuart Ross had provided.  The directions were excellent and needed.  I've lived in this part of Ontario for most of my life and had never heard of Tamworth.  But there is was, and so was The Book Shop.  What an oasis.  Robert Wright, the proprietor, couldn't be nicer and he certainly knows his stuff.  I've rarely seen such a big or intelligent poetry section in a secondhand bookstore.  Robert took my stack of post-it note lists of poets I'm looking for and promptly put books in my hand like jewels.

By the time Today's book of poetry had made it back to our offices we had somehow picked up fifty-eight new poetry titles.  A couple of those are deliberate doubles, I always keep a stack of books to give to friends, and a few will be doubles (because my brain is old and stupid) simply because I didn't remember that they were in the stacks.  Today's book of poetry has some reading to do.

Both for your amusement, and my own, I'm going to list what we found.  Today's book of poetry will be back to regular programming a.s.a.p.

This is what we unpacked from our recent trip:

There Is No Falling - Robert Hogg
The Rain in the Trees - W.S. Merwin
Museum of Bone and Water - Nicole Brossard
[Today's book of poetry knew we had these titles, but couldn't pass up the price/opportunity to give a copy on to some unsuspecting friend.]

The Ends of the Earth - Jacqueline Turner
Far Side of the Earth - Tom Sleigh
Free Will - Harold Rhenisch
I, Another. The Space Between - Jamie Reid
Under A Small Moon - Gary Radison
Previously Feared Darkness - Robert Priest
The Cellophone Sky - Jeff Park
Waiting for the Gulf Stream - Bert Almon
And The Stars Were Shining - John Ashberry
Mother's Love and Other Poems - Elizabeth Beach
Civil and Civic - Jonathan Bennett
Blert - Jordan Scott
Echo Gods and Silent Mountains - Patrick Woodcock
The Ice House - Melissa Walker
Invisible to Predators - R.M. Vaughn
WaveSon.nets - V - Losing Luna - Stephanie Strickland
Listen to the Wind - James Reaney
News & Smoke - Sharon Thesen
Late for Work - David Tucker
An Aquarium - Jeffery Lang
Reading the Bible Backwards - Robert Priest
Burns for Isadora - Hawkley Workman
Second Collection - Caroling Morgan di Giovanni
Flesh, A Naked Dress - Susan Andrews Grace
The Shunning - Patrick Friesen
Flicker and Hawk - Patrick Friesen
The Cradle Place - Thomas Lux
Ninety-five Nights of Listening - Malinda Markham
Blessing the Boats - Lucille Clifton
The Constructor - John Koethe
Bleeding Heart Fist Fight - Brandon Hahn
Till I Caught Myself - Ruth Roach Pierson
The Improved Binoculars - Irving Layton
Girl By The Water - Gary Geddes
Way More West - Edward Dorn
Work Book - Steven Heighton
Hammerstroke - Don Domanski
Water Cranes - Chris Banks
Vellum - Matt Donovan
Stone Baby - Dolores Reimer
More To Keep Us Warm - Jacob Scheier
Grid - Brenda Schmidt
Fear of Knives - Anne Szumigalski
Famous Roadkill - Allan Safarik
Don't Let It End Like This Tell Them I Said Something - Paul Vermeersch
The Sea With No One In It - Niki Koulouris
Late Capitalist Sublime - Ryan Kamstra
You - Gary Hyland
Hands Reaching in Water - Gary Hyland
This Is A Love Song - Hugh MacDonald
The Nerve - Glyn Maxwell
Lard Cake - David McGimpsey
Glimpse - George Murray
Point No Point - Jane Munro
The Sentinel - A.F. Moritz




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, June 14, 2018

How to Wear This Body — Hayden Saunier (Terrapin Books)

Today's book of poetry:
How to Wear This Body.  Hayden Saunier.  Terrapin Books.  West Caldwell, New Jersey.  2017.


Is it fair to call poetry reasonable?  Hayden Saunier writes poetry that makes a very convincing case out of reason, gentle reason at that.  Relationships happen and Saunier has plenty to say about them—
and about how to "stay alive" in this world.

As Christopher Bursk (author of The Improbable Swervings of Atoms) suggests, Saunier shows us "how to live on this planet."  Saunier connects us.

Hard Facts

To stay alive do not resist
that's what you're told

as if it were a simple act to make yourself
be only meat

and bone
pressed down into an asphalt street

and not a form of suicide
erase yourself be dead enough

that he or she or they'll decide
there is no need to kill you

though do not resist
can make no guarantee of this

but if you stay alive
do not resist will mean you have to stand

your dead self up
walk out into the world alive

which is another kind of death
and harder every single time

you have to kill enough
(do not resist) to stay alive.


Today's book of poetry thoroughly enjoyed ambling through How to Wear This Body.  Hayden Saunier is easy to feel at home with.  Yet, from somewhere deep below the reader can't help but sense the spirit of Carson McCullers dancing behind the scenes.  McCullers always knew more than she revealed, she knew what was in the dark, untended corner of the room. McCuillers' once said that "there's nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book." 

It's not that Saunier ever has the catastrophic arms of fate swinging for the fences but deep below the surface of these poems, you can feel the "undertoad."

Hayden Saunier is one smooth character.  Most of these poems ring familiar, not because we've seen them before, but because they accurately catch the rhythms that sustain us.

Hard Facts

She's cleaning fish.
Old rivers of raised veins
twist down her forearms
through networks of scars
down her wrists to the roots
of her fingers, the palms of
her hands, her arms
rest on the workbench a moment,
this woman who could be
any woman on the lee
side of any harbor
where there's been war.
She picks up a bone-handled
blade from the workbench,
scrapes guts into buckets,
flicks bits of shine from her
fingertips, and I wonder
how long, if at all, it took
before she could pick up a knife,
and knife, in her hands cut
by knives, but the answer,
I venture, like the answer
to everything else, is —
it depends on how hungry you get.


Saunier has no trouble with putting it out there, "Hard Facts" is a good case in point.  But Saunier can also contemplate and savor, her poem "Asparagus" is almost as crisp and tasty and tender as the real thing.

Our morning read was another slightly subdued affair.  Today's book of poetry is having a hard poetry week. Today's book of poetry will be in Toronto this weekend for the funeral of David McFadden, Canadian poetry giant and one of my heroes.

But our hearts are heavier still.  Stephen Reid (writer/bank-robber), died earlier this week.  Stephen Reid was the husband of Susan Musgrave.  Our regular readers will know it already, but Today's book of poetry's esteem for Musgrave knows no bounds.  She is one of Canada's finest poets.  Today's book of poetry sends our deepest condolences to Ms. Musgrave and her entire family.

Our staff did get down to business and gave Hayden Saunier's How to Wear This Body a proper Today's book of poetry reading.  Our dear friend Alexandre added his accent to the proceedings which lent an international feel to the event.  We did Hayden Saunier proud.


Some nights my mind still tries
to peel away squares of blackened paper
from the old-fashioned kiosk

of my spinal column, photographs
and placards posted by the body
behind the mind's back, years ago,

glued with spit and wheat paste.
Images gone, titles gone,
all part of the whole

structure now, hardened,
darkened, their weight subsumed
into frame. The way a tree grows

first around, then through, barbed
wire, or folds the small grey marble
headstone of a child into its

knotted roots. Such heaviness
our bones haul in and hold inside.
No wonder we can't fly.


Today's book of poetry must apologize to Hayden Saunier as we were a bit distracted this week.  Saunier's poetry deserves the readers full attention.

Image result for hayden saunier photo

Hayden Saunier

Hayden Saunier is the author of three poetry collections, Tips for Domestic Travel (Black Lawrence Press, 2009) a St. Lawrence Award Finalist, and Say Luck (Big Pencil Press, 2013), which won the 2013 Gell Poetry Prize. She is also the author of a chapbook, Field Trip to the Underworld (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012), winner of the Keystone Chapbook Award. Her work has been published in such journals as Beloit Poetry Journal, Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, Tar River Poetry, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Her work has also been featured on Verse Daily and has been awarded the 2011 Pablo Neruda Prize, the 2011 Rattle Poetry Prize, and the 2005 Robert Fraser Award. A poet, actor, and teaching artist, she holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives on a farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

The interconnectedness of everything on earth, how we belong to it all, how permeable boundaries are between us and the natural world, how things sing and what they sing of are rendered with aching acuity. Whether a poem’s focus shines on a “rump sprung sofa,” a turkey vulture, or dazzling autumn trees described as “sugar maple drama queens,” even evanescence becomes rich and luminous in these poems. This is a gorgeous, precise and deeply graceful collection.
     — Amy Gerstler

Hayden Saunier
"Where Poetry Begins"

Video: Serenity Bishop



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, June 11, 2018

Battle Lines — Matthew Borczon (Epic Rites Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Battle Lines.  Matthew Borczon.  Epic Rites Press.  Sherwood Park, Alberta.  2017.

Matthew Borczon writes such pared down verse that at first, you might think something was missing.  There's nothing missing at all.  These poems are as precise as a shot from a sniper.

Borczon worked as a Naval Reserve Hospital Corpsman from 2010 until 2012 when he was diagnosed with PTSD.  Borczon was witness to the horrors endured by over 2,000 veterans under his care.  Clearly their scars left scars.

my mother

told me
that my
brothers sat
her down
to say
it doesn't
matter if
you don't
know him
you need
to figure
out how
to love
him anyway.


Battle Lines rattles the razor edge of a combat veterans memories, all those things a veteran cannot forget.  In Matthew Borczon's world the worst really does happen and it comes from every direction at once and without notice.  Battle Lines makes clear, and we need reminding, that many of the hardest battles veterans face occur when they've come home.

Borczon's therapeutic voice is like a lancet taking the top off the roiling and festering boil, a release of all that putrid conglomeration that infects the memory.  Fear and remorse live here.

It's clear from these poems that we ask too much of those who we put in harm's way.

the inmate

had tattooed
his squad
number on
his forearm
from his
time in
the infantry
when it
was the
same as
his new
cell number
he asked
me if 
I thought
that meant
I had
only worked
in the prison
for a
month and
had only
come back
from Afghanistan
the month
before that
so I
told him
I no longer
believe anything
means anything.


Today's book of poetry read through Battle Lines like there was a prize waiting for us at the end.  Borczon doesn't waste one second of your poetry time.  Hopefully each reader will take a little compassion and understanding from these missives.  It's not often a voice from inside the beast can/will/wants to articulate or share their sorrow.  Borczon wants us to sympathize because unless you are battle-hardened you can't empathize.

None of our clan of readers here in the office has ever been close to a battle or a war.  Today's book of poetry saw "skull and crossbones" signs at the side of the road when travelling through Croatia over a decade ago.  Those were the unhappy reminders of active minefields.  And as you regular readers will know, we once heard automatic gunfire in New Orleans.  That's it and lucky for us.  Borczon comes from a different group of citizens.

None the less, we did try to do Matthew Borczon and Battle Lines proud with our morning read.  Solemn and serious.

my wife

says she
tried to
wake me
but is
afraid to
touch me
or shake
me because
of how
much I
still jump
and scream


Battle Lines is the second book of poetry by Matthew Borczon.  Today's book of poetry will be anxious to see numbers three and four and so on.  Borczon has a discerning eye and a cargo-bay sized heart at work in these poems; Today's book of poetry is always going to pay attention to that.

Image result for matthew borczon photo

Matthew Borczon

Matthew Borczon was born and still lives in Erie, Pa. He graduated from Edinboro University in 1990 with a degree in fine arts. He joined the United States Naval Reserve in 2001 as a hospital corpsman. In 2010 he was deployed to Camp Bastion to work in their hospital, the busiest combat hospital in the war at that time. There he provided health care to 2,268 coalition and local national forces. Diagnosed with PTSD in 2012 Matthew started writing as a way to tell his story. He publishes widely in the small press. When he is not writing he raises four children with his wife of twenty years, works as a practical nurse for a social service agency and is still a member of the Naval reserve. Along the way he has been a model, bouncer, amateur boxer, martial arts instructor, art teacher to inner city children and a prison nurse. Battle Lines is his second book of poetry.

Poets Underground
Matthew Borczon

Video: Poets Underground


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