Saturday, October 27, 2018

Blood Memory - Colleen J. McElroy (Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Blood Memory.  Colleen J. McElroy.  Pitt Poetry Series.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, PA.  2016.

Can a joyous shout still be a protest?  Blood Memory tells us that it can.  Colleen J. McElroy makes it so.  Poems like McElroy's "Lessons in Deportment" will teach you almost everything you need to know.

Today's book of poetry is over seven-hundred blogs/reviews into this project and we are still subject to being totally amazed.  Awed.

Colleen J. McElroy has mastered voice.  These tear-blinding and immaculate poems are damned near perfect.  Voice and place, McElroy, like the very best film directors has mastered mise en scene.  Having set flawless stages her characters simply tell their stories and we believe every word.

Sunday Best

before Aunt Jennie joined Visitation
Catholic Church I walked Mama

to Lane Tabernacle CME and settled her
in a pew next to Aunt Ethel

the two of them demure in small
pancake hats with fragile veils

among the grand feathered hats of the ladies
who hid a week's worth of bad hair earned

in hot kitchens or sweaty laundries
the ladies of Visitation were all but hidden

in stained glass windows incense and stations
of the cross, their dresses as dull as nun's habits

at Lane Methodist Mama and her sister
sat together their heads tilted toward each other

hats pinned to clouds of kinky white hair
around them ladies in gingham and worn coats

fanned away the heat that had kept them all week
in white kitchens or scrubbing office floors

all week they had been no more than
wallpaper seen and never heard

come Sunday when they sang Amen, feathers
and flowers nodded along with them

when I was older I went with Aunt Jennie
to mass at Visitation, rosary beads matching my dress

on my head a white lace handkerchief pinned
into my curls, my missal white to match

around me ladies of various hues cradled
their rosaries and echoed a prayer of redemption

come Sunday we were all of the same cloth
women who sought to be what we dreamed


Reading Colleen J. McElroy taught Today's book of poetry a new way of looking at his long dead father and allowed us to see him in a kinder light.  That's some trick.  That's a good trick.

Good poetry will do that to you; take you places you've never been, teach you things you didn't know were missing.

Blood Memory is an astonishing collection that will resonate with Today's book of poetry for a long time.  These poems are good enough to take an entitled and aging, old and cranky, sad white man, and for a moment, we got to see the world from the joyous eyes of innocent youth.  There are layers and layers of white privilege weighing down on these poems yet McElroy's world is peopled with strong, strong women helping each other abide.

Today's book of poetry doesn't see many books like Blood Memory, a book dedicated to how intelligent young Black women endure and grow.  In Blood Memory strength is gathered, cultivated and nurtured in the hands of an elaborate matriarchal maze.  Blood Memory affirms our belief that great poetry can come from any source, whether it is the lessons learned while grooming natty hair or the pride/fear confused emotions about the first Black cop in St. Louis.


my mother is angry with me
I am barely four just young enough
to get on the bus for free
but my mother is angry with me
when I read aloud the bright
placards curved high
above the bus windows
I read aloud the placards
asking us to buy nothing
that is free and my mother
grows angry as I read
everything I can barely see
I want to tell her letters
go all mushy melting together
before my very eyes
but my mother is angry
when the bus driver tells her
she must pay for me since
children who are truly young
can not read the ads they see
my mother yanks my collar
tells me sit be still
you'll ruin your eyes
reading everything you see
she threatens to put me
in school a year before
I'm ready and I smile
my mother frowns and asks
what will become of me
if I insist on reading
every little thing I see


Our morning reading was lovely.  The Today's book of poetry staff doesn't always come to a consensus with our poetry choices but Colleen J. McElroy had us all close ranks, come together, and celebrate as one.  Didn't matter who was doing the reading; these poems bounced around our offices like they were purely electric and everyone got shocked.

Consensus is rare enough, enthusiastic consensus is another.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Maggie, our newest intern, found Blood Memory touched them to tears.

They weren't alone.

The Answers to Why

because her daughter, Claudia, had babies while Mama
was still having babies    family lines blurred

mothers and daughters waltzing just out of reach

because her daughter, Jennie, turned Catholic
Mama took me to Lane Methodist each Sunday

because a photographer penciled an outline
around Mama's cottony hair Jennie studied

tinctures and rouges and one-eyed camera could find

because she could not read Mama memorized
all the songs in the hymn book

the communion wine tasted like grape juice

because Mama fed me from a bowl that read: find the bottom
I ate my vegetables sipped pot liquor while she sang old time songs

spoon to mouth: Ol'Dan Tucker too late to git his supper

because Mama's fingers grew thick in winter
I learned to braid her hair

because Mama got too old to do fine work as she called it
I became her eyes to thread needles and pick loose hems

I made sure the white butcher didn't put his thumb on the scale

because my mother, Ruth, worked at Fort Leonard Wood
Mama taught me how to cook

what's a Leonardwood? I asked

because my mother opened mornings like a can of beans
fussing and cussing and quoting Shakespeare

between dammit-I'll-bite-you and scrambled eggs

because Mama said my mother was moody and needed help
I watched my mother paint fake stocking seams down her legs

shapely as Betty Grable   high heels clicking on the linoleum
heading to the door   factory head scarf tied neat as a Sunday hat

because we had afternoons alone Mama taught me
how to knead bread dough the proper way — knuckles down

because Mama singed her eyebrows when the pilot light
went out Papa bought a brand new stove

I missed the old stove and its stand-up oven

because Papa said none of his girls would do day help
I read the papers and dialed the telephone for Mama

because Papa died on the train coming home from California
Mama sat by the window all day and wouldn't talk

because Claudia had become a widow before Papa died
my mother and her sisters fought to get Mama's attention

because Mama said the four poster was too big
after Papa died I slept with her

in the same bed she'd birthed babies who lived
and those who didn't

I counted angels carved in the chifferobe door

because a spider bit me the first night I slept
in the four poster Mama propped me on pillows

so I wouldn't roll onto the blister on my back

because Mama covered the bite in goose grease
there was no trace of the spider come morning

because the chifferobe held Papa's shaving basin
and shoes I spent hours inspecting the little shelves

because Mama put plugs in the locks of Papa's
roll top desk and chifferobe I always had a way out

because Mama said there were two places
she wouldn't want to be: hell and west Texas

we lived in that railroad house on Kennerly for years

because Mama didn't trust white people after the Klan
shot the mules dead in front of the old family house

because after they moved to Missouri Mama said she saw
ghosts walking the long hallway that banked the house

because she said it so much I thought I saw them too
and my mother said don't talk about the old ways Mama

because my mother worked long days I learned Mama's stories

because Mama lived in the past when Papa was alive
and lived every day when he wasn't she couldn't stop

because my mother caught Mama telling me stories
of the time before Lincoln freed us my mother argued

but Mama said she had to tell me what was just because


It has been a long, long time since Today's book of poetry posted a "list" poem but Colleen J. McElroy's is a cake stealer.  McElroy is now on our radar and will be celebrated by us when Today's book of poetry talks poetry.

Today's book of poetry lives for the pleasure of sharing poetry with you readers, today it is an honour.

Colleen J. McElroy will help inspire a new generation of poets.

Image result for colleen j. mcelroy photo

Colleen J. McElroy

Colleen J. McElroy is professor emeritus of English and creative writing at the University of Washington. She is the former editor in chief of the literary magazine Seattle Review and has published numerous poetry collections, most recently Here I Throw Down My Heart. Her latest collections of creative nonfiction include A Long Way from St. Louie and Over the Lip of the World: Among the Storytellers of Madagascar. She has received a PEN/Oakland National Literary Award, the Before Columbus American Book Award, two Fulbright Research Fellowships, two NEA Fellowships (in both fiction and poetry), a DuPont Visiting Scholar Fellowship, and a Rockefeller Fellowship.

"There is much to admire in Blood Memory, from the general impulse to preserve a family against the onslaught of time to the details of this particular African-American family in the twentieth-century heartland, to McElroy's style, at once spare and dense with incident and observation."
—The Potomac

“She is the last woman of her line. Her new poems end and begin with A. Phillip Randolph and Pullman Porters, her enjambments are Ma Rainey and Lawdy Miz Clawdy, her leading men are the last Black men on the planet named Isom, her major planets are porches and backroads. She is still the master storyteller to the 60 million of the Passage. When I didn't know how to be a poet, I first read Colleen McElroy to slowly walk the path to how.”
—Nikky Finney

“There is music in her memory—a music of prayer. Moon. Stars. A music of generational flesh. Revered. Remembered. A testimonial to family that startles us with its beauty. And blood. ‘Frozen in time as if with the next breath they will reveal everything under that mask.’ Thank you, my dear sister, for our rescued memory.”
—Sonia Sanchez

An Interview with Colleen J. McElroy, author of Here I Throw Down My Heart
Video:  Bill Kenower


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, October 25, 2018

The Explosive Expert's Wife - Shara Lessley (University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Explosive Expert's Wife.  Shara Lessley.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2018.

Today's book of poetry has no idea of what it might be like to be close to danger, at least not in the way it plays out in the poetry of Shara Lessley.  Bombs, physical explosives, are being set off both literally and figuratively in Lessley's taught, tense and emotionally titillating The Explosive Expert's Wife.

There were some grim faces in the Today's book of poetry offices this morning.  Yesterday there were bombs in the mail for ex-presidents in the US of A.  And sadly, America no longer has a respected leader but instead they are being led by a fearsome beast who incorporates the worst of human fear and greed into a platform rancid with hate.  I fear more...

Back in poetry world Lessley's poems are polished, but still full of grit; whether it is dust from a recent explosion, or the sudden implosion of a realization come to late.  

Powerful stuff, these poems, both the exploding kind and the emotional.

Advice from the Predecessor's Wife

                 Amman, Jordan

Learn Arabic—your husband won't have time.
At Carrefour Express, aisle one is the tax-free line.
For poultry, go to Sweifieh (the Palestinian
chicken man's shop). Pig, on the other hand,
is impossible to find (frozen pork sometimes
turns up at the co-op). Basha ——'s
wife is pregnant with twins; expect to host
a spa date or two for his mistress. Never make
eye contact with local men. Read Married
to a Bedouin, The Expert Expat guide. (Skip
Queen Noor's book—she's from the Midwest.)
During Ramadan Crumb's breakfast is the best;
everything else is closed. Never ride
in the front of a taxi with an Arab. If you're 
near the embassy, avoid hailing a cab (security says
we're sitting ducks). Help in Amman
runs cheap: hire a driver, a maid, a cook.
Mansef is made with lamb or goat, and stewed
in a hearty jameed. When dining with royalty,
keep conversation neutral. At private parties
be prepared to be the only woman in the room,
save the staff. Look the part, but don't
show cleavage. Lipstick is fine. Laugh hard
(but not too hard) at Colonel ——'s
dick jokes. Know how to properly cut and light
a cigar. When talk turns to politics, smile
and nod, then say something obscure
in Arabic—your husband will give you the cue
(the Jords will think it cute). Never ask
a woman how long her hair is
under the hijab. Don't call anyone
but your husband habibi. Explore the souks.
Steer clear of the mosques. All Arabs hate dogs—
walk yours after dark; comb your yard
for poison and traps. Close your drapes
(Western women are common victims
of peeping toms). When moving among crowds,
expect children and strangers to stop
to stroke your hair. Always carry your passport.
The number one reason a man's relieved
from his post? His wife's unhappy. Avoid this
from the get-go—get a hobby! Play tennis,
take a class, or find a job. (The field's leveled
for spouses: here, education and experience
equal nada.)  The workweek runs Sunday to
Thursday; your husband will clock in Saturdays,
Fridays, too. Pack at least four ball gowns.
Stock up on shirts with sleeves. Gunfire means
graduation, or congratulations — a wedding's
just taken place. Don't be disturbed by
the armed guards outside your apartment
(their assault rifles don't have bullets,
rumor has it.) "Little America" runs perpendicular
to Ring Six (a.k.a. "Cholesterol Circle") — Popeye's,
Burger King, Hardee's — you'll find everything
you need. McDonald's Playland spans three
upstairs levels. Ship a year's worth of ketchup,
mayonnaise. Blondes are often mistaken
for hookers; consider dyeing your hair.
by September or October you'll learn to
tune out the call to prayer.


Poetry can be the deepest message of love - or the assassin's bullet.  Poetry can be a poisoned bamboo spike or a jasmine scented pillowbook.  Poetry can fall from the invisible nighttime war plane - or from the hand of a child at the edge of the blast wave.  Shara Lessley is looking for every means of detonation.

These aren't always easy poems but they are always completely engaging.  Shara Lessley's The Explosive Expert's Wife bears witness.

The Explosive Expert's Wife

He comes home from the range scorched in dirt;
home from the office, a stain on his suit.
His nails are chewed.
He enters the house without saying a word.
He's jetlagged again. He's got blast-
dust the length of his forearms and hands.
Back from Sa'dah, he's got sand in the shanks of his boots.
He says, Sorry I'm late. He's come home
just to pack —a guard's found C4
stashed in a DCA trashcan.
He needs a haircut and shave. (It's been one of those days.)
He says, This won't show up on the news.
He's been sorting evidence. He has fresh
orders from the president.
                            He says, I do this for us.
They're booby-trapping pizza boxes and books.
They're rigging plastic cars so kids will trip the switch.
They're something else, he says.
He's on edge again.
He promises to be home by six. He promises not to miss
the latest round of tests. He's holding
a daffodil-tulip mix. He shakes his head, When
did we run out of limes?
                            He claims, It was pilot error.
He claims, No one knows. He asks, Did I get an urgent message
from Colonel So-and-So? Straight from the Pentagon,
he makes one drink after the next.
He wants to know what's for supper.
He asks if the oil's been changed.
Screw what Fox and CNN say: It's perfectly safe
to travel by train. Screw what happened
on the southern coast —
The casualty count could've been higher.
                               He's leaving for Kabul again,
this time for sixty-five days.
(It's better for us than Baghdad with overtime and haz-pay.)
He'll need shaving cream and toothpaste, fresh undershirts and socks.
He'll need a ride to the drop-off point
near the strip mall's outlet shops. He's filthy
from hosing the tech teams' Hazmat suits. He's going
to take a shower. Friday, they're predicting
snow. Careful, he warns, the roads will all be slick.
He gives thanks — the chicken tastes just right.
The dog jumps on his lap.
He strokes my arm, asks Later tonight?
Napkin crumpled, he pushes back his plate —
Now tell me everything, he says,
about your day today.


This mornings read was held under grey, grey skies, we had to turn up the thermostat in the office to greet the day.  Milo, our head tech, upped the furnace and put out our chairs, in a small circle.  We bounced The Explosive Expert's Wife around the room.

There are horrors in these poems but never anything gratuitous.  Shara Lessley understands that the world is made up of tidy consolations we embrace to survive and the messy contradictions that tear us asunder when we let down our guard.

Lines Following a Husband's Departure

Freezing rain clings to the porch screen. An ice-
              quake splices the lakes. I followed you like a fault

line out to western Virginia. Here, it takes a machine
              to defrost the interior. Snowplows barrel down,

a death rattle distressing the streets. This winter, they say,
              is one for the records. You've been overseas

four days; I'm already coming apart. An electric
              blanket heats our bed. Your last catnap, an imprint

on the mattress. Somewhere in the middle
              East, you sip coffee while I sleep. More wind-

storms, and your day's half done. In a temperature-
              regulated room, you shift pieces of postblast

IEDs: copper springs and screws, a cell
              phone's plastic back. I turn and toss. The early

crew clears the street. From a gridded wire sheath,
              you pull it taut between your hands: a single human

hair — his wife's? —caught in a clip, this strand
             so long, so thick, like a shiver unsettling

the darkness — but oh, the heat once held there.


Today's book of poetry will speak highly whenever Shara Lessley's name comes up in poetry talk world.  With The Explosive Expert's Wife, Lessley has confirmed her place on the poetry dais.

By the time you've finished with Lessley and her fine book, you'll have blast dust on you in places you can't find.

Shara Lessley

Shara Lessley is the author of Two-Headed Nightingale. Her awards include a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship at Stanford University, and a Diane Middlebrook Fellowship at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. The coeditor of The Poem's Country: Place and Poetic Practice, she lives in Oxford, England.

“Lessley guides us along the knife-edge of a country on the edge of wars. An ex-pat Penelope wondering about her own Odysseus singed in ash, she keenly and empathically witnesses not only her own vulnerability as a young American mother in Amman but also courageous women around her—from Jordan's all-female demining team to an accused terrorist's wife.”
     —Philip Metres

“These poems teach us that there is astonishment, not just fear, in each moment of displacement. I am hooked on Shara Lessley's music of adventure, intimacy of detail, the great sweeping largesse of address across continents, across ranges of emotion. Wherever you find yourself in this powerful collection, you will learn to see the world slightly differently.”
      —Ilya Kaminsky


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, October 22, 2018

This Will Be Good - Mallory Tater (Book*hug)

Today's book of poetry:
This Will Be Good.  Mallory Tater.  Book*hug.  Toronto, Ontario.  2018.

This Will Be Good by Mallory Tater

This Will Be Good by Mallory Tater could be a mystery, will our heroine survive the self-loathing of her childhood?  It could easily be a romance because Today's book of poetry dropped his jaw and a little of his heart when we started to see just how Tater navigated.

It is so hard for children to become the children of their parents dreams, or their own, hard for young people period.  It's a complicated world and of course you all know that.  This Will Be Good could be seen as Tater's coming to terms with herself, big deal...
                                                                                        but there's magic in these here poems.

The sheer number of young people, women and men and the rest, who keep journals and write poems, it is entirely overwhelming.  And for the most part justifiably not for public consumption for personal and qualitative reasons.  

But Mallory Tater has panache.  There are moments of pure electric joy in these sad poems.  These are poems of such tender honesty that you will want to reach out to the young people in your lives.

Tater goes bone deep.

All Things Wasted

Point Roberts, WA

Wind blows ocean into our yard
and Grandpa buttons his jacket,
says brennen zaun, let's burn the fence.
That barely remembered German
barnacles his throat. Storm will tear
the pickets down, wood half-rotten
and aren't we cold. Cabin pipes
good and frozen. Globe thistles,
gunmetal blue, die on my shoelaces.

Grandpa sucks a Lucky Strike, exhales
bats and bats. Spiked wings fall
from his lips, thread through
my loosened teeth, snag on my gums,
receded from griding in sleep.
Grandpa unearths our fence,
a simple pulling of teeth. We snap
each post against our knees,
chipped fangs tossed to the pit.
We are ready for the feel of fire.

The horses by the beach are starving.
Grandpa knows the man who aged
and tamed them, let livestock suck life
slowly from him. King tides have flooded
our street, have cured our fallen crabapples.
We feed them to flames, all fence and fruit,
and Grandpa looks so pleased, the scent

of all things wasting. A boy who once hid
in Steinheim fields, stole asparagus shoots
from farmers. The war was over, his mother
widowed, grief turned to endless
hunger. Sparks settle on the corners
of Grandpa's mouth. Fence turns to ash.
Next summer, we'll just build a new one.
Hearing aids off, all sound in his lap.
Neighbour's anxious flag, muted.
Grandpa says we have so much
and aren't we warm.

Later, he falls asleep and I watch
two horses drink hopelessly.
Their tongues push
under rocks for crab meat. Sand fleas
chew their spines as they spit
their wild minds on saw-tooth shells.


Mallory Tater's fight against her eating disorder adds a particular slant to This Will Be Good.  It is a very intimate inside look, we taste what she does, understand her choices.  But Today's book of poetry is convinced that any subject Tater put her considerable talents to would result in the same intimate and clever tenacity.

What Today's book of poetry is so clumsily trying to express is that we think Tater has it.

"Finding your place in the world," as Book*hug suggests on the cover of This Will Be Good, is a universal struggle and Mallory Tater has turned her voyage into art.


The winter my waist shed six inches,
my period stopped. My breasts depressed,
the skin around them slacked sackish
and loose. I became like burlap and this calmed
my hands. I no longer had a belly to pinch.
My throat withstood the aftermath
of meals. I sucked lemons after losing
to cool and clean cuts from biled food
clawing. All this to say that when it stopped,
I was glad. Tampons at the bottom of my bag
flattened but I kept them on hand
to hand to girlfriends in need before gym class.
I told my mother how sick I must be. She paid so much
attention to me we forgot my sisters, who held pencils
in their hands late into the night, who held hands
in church parking lots, laughing with communion
stuck to the roofs of their mouths. They did not take
the host from the priest, pretend
to swallow, slip it into their pockets. They wrote
nice letters to each other, slipped them under
bedroom doors, borrowed each other's blouses
and blouses forever. They loved Sunday night
strawberries and ice cream in front of the TV.
They did not feed the dog their breakfasts.
Mabel would learn to love French toast, get fat
and sick and her paws would shake from old age
but I would imagine it as all the sugar I gave her
and feel a wave of shameful indulgence. I would
no longer bleed and cramp and share in it. I would say
I hoped to be clean and thin forever like this
but in secret, I felt unabashedly dry,
excluded and light.


Our morning read was taken over by our new intern, Maggie.  Maggie wears long-sleeved shirts all year long and she told me that she had some experience in the Taterworld of eating disorders and so on.  

The reading, as Maggie organized it, was sharp, crisp and crystal clear, the deeper we went in, the more everyone in the room leaned toward the centre.  Connected.  We were all in line, in tune, like we were singing backup to Laura Nyro, Patti Labelle Sarah Dash Nona Hendryx style.

Good work Tater.  Good work Maggie.

On the Train to Royal Columbian Hospital

We are told Grandpa will sleep his way
to death tonight. The infection in his pancreas
and lungs cannot be fixed with drainage
or prayer from the wandering chaplain.
We are told the father of our mother who built
cabin sheds and showers, drank mugs of ice milk
before bed, bought tickets to community magic
shows, will soon no longer breathe. The last
show he took me to before I became
a teen, a local widow who called herself
the Ta-Da Lady. Grandpa and I both raised our hands
and she asked us onto the stage. She held a sheet
to the crowd and we slipped through a trap door.
Beneath floorboards, Grandpa's heavy breathing
shielded me, thick as a coat. He said we were part
of the illusion, our bodies, thin air. His breath,
cherry cough drops and Dairy Queen cones.
We were beautifully gone together. Tonight I feel
the heat and weight and confusion of my sisters.
They conjure the same memory:
Grandpa swimming between sandbars
near our family cabin, bobbing up for breath
and flashing his teeth, sneering. He would become a shark
and would chase us. In our small blossomed
bathing suits, we used to run towards the shark,
never away, into his oceaned arms.


A little bit of joy can go a long way.  It doesn't take much to make some people feel alive and worthy.  This Will Be Good stopped Today's book of poetry in our poetry tracks.  

Yesterday we were in Tamworth, Ontario, at the Book Shop, one of the best little book stores in the world, for a poetry reading.  Two men.  Both worth listening to.  But clearly male voices.  Mallory Tater poems come from a young woman's voice - but this old man needed to read these, these poems held this old man's poetry interest from the start to the end.

We will be talking about Mallory Tater's poetry again.  We are sure of it.

Image result for mallory tater photo

Mallory Tater

Mallory Tater is a writer from the traditional, unceded territories of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg Nation (Ottawa). Mallory’s poetry and fiction have been published in literary magazines across Canada such as Room Magazine, CV2, The Malahat Review, The Fiddlehead, The New Quarterly, Carousel, Prism International and Arc Magazine. She was shortlisted for Arc Magazine’s 2015 Poem of The Year Contest, The Malahat Review’s 2016 Far Horizon’s Contest and Room Magazine‘s 2016 Fiction and Poetry Prizes. She was the recipient of CV2’s 2016 Young Buck Poetry Prize. She is the Publisher of Rahila’s Ghost Press, a poetry chapbook press. She lives in Vancouver.

This Will Be Good is a prayer, vicious and sweet. Tater’s dexterous language shreds the pink ribbons of nostalgia to remind that girlhood is both ‘sugared with fear’ and ‘diamond-hard.’” 
      —AdΓ¨le Barclay, author of If I Were In a Cage I’d Reach Out For You
This Will Be Good details the truths of girlhood; how young women treat themselves with cruelty and tenderness, fend off and court desire, and brace themselves for a world that both expects too much of them and yet never enough. These poems unfold as stories girls tell each other as they make space to share, cope, grieve, and hopefully, heal.”
      —Dina Del Bucchia, author of Coping with Emotions and Otters, Blind Items and Don’t Tell Me                                             What to Do
“Evocative and tactile as unearthed memory, This Will Be Good follows the history of a family through years, homes, seasons, and bodies. They’re death and grief, sex and religion. A reckoning with womanhood, manhood, and memory, these stories have a feeling of being passed down, kept secret, and slipped in notes and gestures between intimates whose closeness is felt on the skin. Press these words to your breast.” 
      —Sarah Gerard, author of Binary Star and Sunshine State


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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Friday, October 19, 2018

The Age of Revolution - Darren Bifford (Anstruther Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Age of Revolution.  Darren Bifford.  Anstruther Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

The Age of Revolution.jpg

Ok, Today's book of poetry is in.  Any poet who stream of consciousnesswise throws in a line from Sir W.H. Auden's best poem in the world along with Jackson Pollock and the Rue St. Denis, has my full attention.  In fact Today's book of poetry is going to celebrate it.

Try this one...

This Sunset Lasts Forever

There must have been a lot of beauty
At the end of empire. Scratch that.
Strictly the usual amount,
More or less, like in a movie
When before he is shot
The soldier considers the dewy grass or the dawn
Over yon golden hills. Which is to say
I doubt it. Consider the fowls of the air and beasts of the field
Christ did not say on the Cross. Why, why, why, why, why, why?
Is closer to the mark. And it was no ordinary day
For those who were otherwise occupied with their lives,
Even given the torturer's horse scratching its innocent behind on a tree.
For there was a breaking sound in the sky;
We were all as terrified as other slow-witted animals, desirous and hungry.
I'm not getting over this in record time. Oh my heavenly days
Is what my grandmother sighed. Now which book will I take?
Will there be a record player? A mistake in these matters
Will commit us to eternal boredom. Help me
With a Jackson Pollock from the MoMA, whose paintings,
In lieu of small fires or snow storms, will serve to increase our contemplative
Capacity. Now if only we could get some help—I mean,
Help with the moving, not the moaning.
I've heard no pianos are housed on the isles of the blessed
Though the wind plays the trees and the trees are willing.
Nor that my will is broken I am either left for dead
Or I shall see them forever: my wife, my little boy. They are crossing
Rue St. Denis on a winter afternoon, holding hands. Flaring in the mind
Awhile longer like a flare shot to the height from which it falls in the night sky,
Tumbling into wine-dark oceans,
We went down to the ship —


The Age of Revolution is an unassuming little chapbook of a mere nine poems - but when Today's book of poetry finished reading it felt like a tome that we'd been waiting for.  It was a much larger experience then Today's book of poetry usually finds in nine poems.  Expansive.

It is because Darren Bifford's poems are not fast food, these poems have been simmered, they have been stewed and tenderized, until the flavours are all rich and complex.

False Spring Is The New Thing

The first spring is always false. They call
It that because everyone wishes further
Hibernation. There's a town the existence
Of which I learnt when I was a child: all its
Inhabitants sleep as much of the day and night
As is possible. It's a thing to arrive into
Their public square unannounced.
My one practice is to summon indifference
To the most consequential events: what's left
Of the Great Barrier Reef, for instance; the situation
In Syria; my brother's long illness. I wish for a say
In what qualifies as an externality. That woman
In Toronto who, when asked about the last
Federal election, responded I don't know
What that means. The guy next door
With that fucking dog, for instance. Or Mark, who sits
Outside the liquor store, hat in hand, all spring,
Reading. Do I care what he's reading? Not all hope
Is great hope, even given this as if spring.
I've also felt the desire to join the slumber
Of that hidden town behind the mountains.
The kid who made it there came not without
His own questions. As for answers, what seemed
To him like reasons were little better than a roll
Of the dice, a yes and a no and a no and a no.


Today's book of poetry went into Darren Bifford country back in June of 2016 when we looked at his Wedding In Fire Country (Nightwood Editions), and you can see that in the link below:

Today's book of poetry liked Bifford's poems then and we like them now, even more.  If the reader pays attention, Bifford reveals it all.  The Age of Revolution could just as easily been titled "How I See The World."  Well, Darren Bifford seems to have better than 20/20 vision, he sees just fine.

The Age of Revolution is one of those books you readers will thank me for, if you can get your hands on it.

The Scene From Here

So I see near the beach beside the docked
and decommissioned ferry, a makeshift flagpole
on which hangs, half-mast, the French Tricolore.

I run past. The route I take follows
the trail beside the channel, its slow waters
flowing from lake to lake, its currents shallow,

benign, so that no danger troubles the swimmers
who recline and drink on their rubber floats before
they leap in and submerge. Nothing is hidden of summer

in the Valley where all along the shore
children build tiny sand castles, dig twisting moats
into the mud. Lone suckers feed on the lake floor.

It's been a weird July. Every afternoon for over a week
storms break over the mountains—lightning, thunder—
the rain falls hard. Conversation turns to the weather.

What's the worst they've seen (if they've seen it before)
those who've been here a long time can't recall
or won't say, and the weather anyhow has its own way

of doing things. It's easy to stare at the hills and think
about nothing. As if the mountains would have you wander
into them, burrow into a fallen pine needles, stay there.

Soon I turn from the trail and run up-hill on the old track
or where the railroad tracks were that once ran the span
of the valley from the coast into Alberta. History marks

landscape like a scar, like the flesh healed into woven stitches
above my right eye, so that a reddened furrow is cut close
but hardly visible except to those women who've pressed

their fingers there. In the evenings I'm reading Euripides
on my mother's patio, near the lakeshore where a giant peach
is open until late; teenage girls serving ice cream floats

later flutter about the beach above the glow of their cell-phones.
Early in the morning last week I woke to the sound of a voice
announcing on a megaphone the names of marathon runners

as they crossed the finish line. AC/DC's Thunderstruck, applause,
all the spent athletes like in Ovid, that story near the end
about the runner who had escaped the finale of the last age,

when iron returned to fire and fire to sand. He moved like an ant
below the gods who at that point were left with little to do;
they say Apollo caught him easily, pressed him between his finger

and thumb, squished and ground him up until he too was sand,
flicking him down to where he was left with the rest of civilization,
subject to the wind's shifts. In the afternoon my three year old son

learns to swim. I prop him on my knees in the lake, cup my hands
underneath his arms; he does not let me relax my grip but screams
delight and terror when I throw him into the air and let him fall

again into my hands and collapse in my arms, splashing
cold water over his face and hair. He cries because water
is in his eyes and complains that it got into his mouth.

Later, on the sand, he tells me Babi, you protect me. The truth
of what he says, that total trust, turns my heart transparent.
He is a diamond cut into the air. My midway run inclines to dust-

dry ponderosa bluffs, the shelter of my ear like caves carved into the clay
cliffs which rise here on either side, the trail metamorphosed into scree.
The Trojan Women all wail and wail. There is no happy conclusion.

The ships on which they sail take them elsewhere far away.
Last week in Nice a few young drunk Brits took selfies next to a family
mourning their dead. Life returns to normal quickly.

Out on the lake the boats pull skiers; above the water a man
harnessed to a parachute is pulled around awhile. The scene
from here shows him minuscule, like a dead man in an airborne pulley.

What is normal? The air I breathe is dry, dry. The mountain flowers
are yellow. No sound from the trees.
Not even birds.


Darren Bifford's The Age of Revolution, complete as it is, is a teaser.  You can't pick it up without wanting more of this intelligent poetry.  Bifford can open your heart and your mind.  

Simply splendid.

Image result for darren bifford photo

Darren Bifford

Darren Bifford is the author of Wedding in Fire Country (Nightwood Editions, 2012) and False Spring (Brick Books, 2018). He's the co-editor (with Warren Heiti) of Chamber Music: the poetry of Jan Zwicky (WLUP, 2015). He lives in Montreal.

Interview with Darren Bifford about his poetry collection False Spring
Video:  Brick Books


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

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Happinesswise - Jonathan Bennett (ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Happinesswise.  Jonathan Bennett.  ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2018.

Happinesswise by Jonathan Bennett, ECW Press

Today's book of poetry is quite willing to enter Happinesswise as our next choice for the newest English word.  Why?  Because Jonathan Bennett says so.

Back in January of 2015, Today's book of poetry wrote about Jonathan Bennett's excellent Civil and Civic (ECW, 2011).  You can see that link below.

If Today's book of poetry had been in operation when Mr. Bennett wrote Here is my street, this tree I planted (ECW, 2004), we probably would have had something to say about that as well.  The truth is that Today's book of poetry just likes the way Bennett gets to things and once there, we like what he does.

Happinesswise is several books in one.  The first go round is about all sorts of universal themes, love, death, happiness, sorrow, and is played out among the hardware and antiseptic hallways of hospitals, the low moan of medication.

Bennett hails from Keene, Ontario.  Today's book of poetry has never lived there, but I did play hockey there as a young man.  Today's book of poetry grew up mostly in Peterborough, but, I will reveal that I spent some formative time in the great metropolis of Warsaw, Ontario.  All of that to say that Bennett makes us feel quite at home in the familiar landscape of our youth.

Patient No. 1

Do I? Admit to the neighbour I need help?
She'll offer impatience, weak Earl Grey.

So instead I admit myself, impatiently,
thrown into that timeworn, off-grey ward

whose Hospitalists chart my chest rattle.
I suffer no fear. I am the recipient

of patient-centered, evidence-based care.
This promise made to me all alone,

on a wipe-able poster that's reinforced
by a tenderly chosen stock photo paired

with a font inspired by Cezanne's cursive
I curse the machine drone, the urine sting,

the sour C. diff smell, the pump throb,
the infection control, latex-free signage.

Only last March, the lake icy, gin and tonics,
tinkling wind chimes, your still-beautiful clavicle.


I presented to the ER with severe pain
in my lower, well—does it really matter

where this began? Things have evolved.
Let's keep up, I say. But he taps my gut.

Read the chart, I bark. He does, mumbles
left flank, I am deemed incapacitated.

Last summer I was myself. That recently,
really, independent, with plans in place.

I golfed. Was a snow bird. I hear this,
my diminished life as a chart note,

a biography no one considered worthy—
is it ever too late for morbid thoughts?


You dear, are elsewhere, gone in that
peculiar way—off the wall, in a facility

with advanced dementia. At the lake
last summer your dress removed one

afternoon for no reason and we stared
at each other until we remembered

the way it was done, by us. That was the last
time our bodies knew their lines. The first?

Another century. Same lake. We giggled—
poke, poke, poke. The results

of investigations indicate—no wait for it,
I require a biopsy of the ilium lesion

for a definitive diagnosis, but a working
one: metastatic renal cell carcinoma.

It chisels into me, their grave tones,
but I joke, adding colourful grace notes—

they do not know, I know, the meaning.


Before a doctor dies he becomes a person—
mortality being a pre-requisite for death,

which occurs to me in a postscript thought.
My goals: pain relief, symptom control. Not curative.

I do not speak, but am understood by blinking coyly
at said plan. My son has arrived. He is a doctor too.

He has a new wife. Younger, a prototype
of the previous, more luxurious version.

Their language is useless here because
I still understand it, even if I can no longer—

The resident's mind is so fresh it's still setting.
What are the words for that thing I wish to pray?

I try say to him, and he leans in,
I try to whisper to him: Overdose me.

He looks aghast. Did I manage to make a sound?
He says, what I am about to share is going

to be difficult to hear. My son and the resident
are speaking. I am still, listening. The cancer.

Likely metastatic. Left kidney. Multiple locations.


My next steps are to determine I cannot walk.
My son's first steps—across the lichen at the lake.

Radiation might be an option for symptom control.
It is not a cure. They discuss goals for my care.

My son takes the news hard. He is emotional.
He is relying on his child-wife for comfort,

condolence. I use my eyes to indicate Kleenex
without meaning, it has the tone of reprimand.

Comfort is assured. Remembering questions
can be hard. Try to write them down.

Pain and symptom teams get involved
and former colleagues in Radiation

Oncology and Orthopedics are called upon.
Or maybe they are just visitors. They see

themselves in me. Smile. The first week
my agony begins to modestly improve,

I am told. I walk a length of the hospital
ward with much discomfort, I am told.

Options for care outside of the hospital
are discussed. I am told. I cannot return

home. I will not be cared for at my sons's
home—for a reason never addressed.

I wish to be reunited with my wife,
but I cannot speak. A social worker

I was routinely rude to intuits what
no one else can and applies for spousal

reunification on compassionated grounds.
I apologize to her all night.


The resident finished his rotation today.
Dictated, in all seriousness, into his small

machine final thoughts for his Palliative Care
Reflective Portfolio:

                                  The patient is optimistic
he might be discharged to his demented wife.


There is nothing like opening a book of poetry and feeling instantly at home.  Today's book of poetry only had to hear the brief mention of an Otonabee hill to be geographically settled.  That and the smell of hot oil and white vinegar that lets you know you are near a chip truck.  Mr. Bennett has that knack of hitting buttons.

Jonathan Bennett is interested, as the title suggests, in our search for happiness, but he is equally curious about the other result.

Bennett isn't afraid to let us in to the personal and a suite of poems about his autistic son is as jarring and sad as it is beautiful, hopeful and wise.  Bennett will find the joy when needed.

In Relief

Lately, he says lemon squares a lot
and at night with his service dog

hard pressed to him, he admits worries:
I don't know what I'm supposed to do.

Where am I supposed to be right now?
Sleep wind. His oscillating fan is Larry.

There is an entire imaginary world
that he develops alongside this one.

It's a logical realm that makes sense,
 a refuge from fluorescent bulb flicker

and persistent AdeleMaroon5Bieber
folded into every wrinkle of existence.

He asks: Do cyclops blink or wink?
We laugh and I ask him to tell me

the riddle of Theseus's ship again
because I can't get enough of him

charting his way through a paradox.
And to hear him argue the case

for Bigfoot is to doubt everything
you thought was true in the universe.

Not a day goes by that I don't ask
what the word he just used means.

Lately, he says lemon squares a lot.
I know why he adores Coltrane and Dali.

Somewhere in his new world a city
is being mapped and named and whole

boroughs intricately sketched,
creatures are homed, or else they war.

All this while he thinks of a video game,
turns over some science he's trying

to solve, and four or five others, unrelated
items in a simultaneous, asynchronous

moment that we partly share, he and I
laughing at the bat of a cyclopean eye.


Today's book of poetry just wants to remind our dear readers that we are not a service for reviews, exactly.  Today's book of poetry functions as an appreciation society.  Our purpose is not to devine the nuts and bolts of literature, but to share our joy in poetry.

Our morning read was held in the office, as it almost always is, but this morning's poetry office was a quiet place.  All our guests have scattered back to their points of departure.  Hilary and Daemon are back in Toronto, Cranky Eric is back in school.  Erica will undoubtedly be either sleeping, reading or in class.  Stephen, our darling K's father, will be on a plane somewhere over the Atlantic when you are reading this.  Where Freida, Tomas, Thomas, Maggie, Pistol and Lucy are is anyone's guess.

Luckily Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, dependable as ever, was able to check the stacks and bring out the previously mentioned Civil and Civic, and our copy of Here is my street, this tree I planted (just an aside, but Today's book of poetry loves this title so much).  This morning's read became a Bennetthon.

Unassumed Road

That day we lost the hound down the way,
watched it bound tongue-slack, freedom-struck
beyond the yellow wood and lichen-crusted
boulders of pink shield rock and undergrowth.
That day we took chances, pressed on.
That day made no difference, even as you
plunged into a field of bemused heifers,
cursing all dogs, as it rolled in steaming dung.

That day we bushwhacked calling its name,
calling it names, until it returned
with a meaty bone that looked like a rib.
A last laugh that day, when glibly
you said, the person who nailed the sign
This Road is Unassumed, has trust issues.


Today's book of poetry wanted to send a shout-out to our painter friend Blair Sharpe.  He's been living his own set of poems lately and we appreciate all he's done for us here at Today's book of poetry.

We all need good examples in this life.  Jonathan Bennett's Happinesswise is a fine poetry example.

Our friend Blair, just a fine example.

Image result for jonathan bennett poet photo

Jonathan Bennett

Jonathan Bennett is a poet and novelist. He is the author of seven books, the most recent of which is the book of poems Happinesswise (ECW Press, 2018). His previous work includes the critically acclaimed novels, The Colonial Hotel, Entitlement and After Battersea Park, along with two collections of poetry, Civil and Civic, and Here is my street, this tree I planted, and a collection of short stories, Verandah People, which was runner up for the Danuta Gleed Literary Award. Jonathan is a winner of the K.M. Hunter Artists’ Award in Literature.

Jonathan Bennett’s other writing has appeared in many periodicals and journals including: the Globe and Mail, Best Canadian Poetry, The Walrus, Southerly, Cordite, and Antipodes. Born in Vancouver, raised in Sydney, Australia, Jonathan lives near Peterborough, Ontario.

“Bennett’s artistry lies in his ability to create poems that shatter complacency with bricks of loaded language.” — Quill & Quire on Civil and Civic


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.