Saturday, December 21, 2019

House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems - Betsy Sholl (University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems.  Betsy Sholl.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2019


cover of book

The first thirty-seven delightful pages of House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems, are new poems from the desk of Betsy Sholl.  These poems, on their own, are more than worth the price of admission.  House of Sparrows is the latest from Ms. Sholl, the latest in a sizable line-up of killers.  

Today's book of poetry looked at Betsy Sholl's Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) back in May of 2014.  You can see that blog/review here:

House of Sparrows brings together selected poems from five of Betsy Sholl's previous collections, The Red Line (1992), Don't Explain (1997), Late Psalm (2004), Rough Cradle (2009) and Otherwise Unseeable (2014).  Like the only other Betsy Today's book of poetry is familiar with, Betsy Struthers, Sholl has built a formidable practice one huge brick at a time.  Those of you not familiar with the very fine Canadian poet Betsy Struthers need to brush up on your Betsy's.

Sholl's new poems read like testaments that have already stood the tests of time, they read like needed wisdom.  Sholl's poetry hums honest, wicked shrewd, all hammered out of a giant and tender heart that beats a solemn, sad song.  Then Sholl throws in some hope, some redemption.  It is all so human.

Betsy Sholl creates poetry that echoes like music both longed for and cried to.  Betsy Sholl can burn.

Her Story

     Johnson City, Tennessee

What a ruckus - those fricatives inside
that truck, spitting our roadside grit
digging itself in deeper.

Overhead the sky's one eye looks down.
Near full it rose, rusty as the truck's
undersides and dented with shadows.

Below, out of gas, trapped, that truck
hardly looks like it once jumped red lights,
gunned through town, took hairpins

with a squeal. As to the woman inside
pounding the wheel, she just saw her man
of fourteen years take off with somebody

blond and younger. She's got a fifth
on the seat beside her, a pistol,
a box of ammo already emptied out

into every Slow Curve, Falling Rock,
Soft Shoulder she passed downshifting
on the upgrade. Who you think does that?

she'll ask months later, then grin.
But now, inside that bucket of rust,
it's just her hollowed out, a full bottle

of sleep, and the moon overhead
watching, so she points her pistol,
pulls the trigger and laughs, bitter

as the pills she unscrews and scatters
like buckshot across the road.
The she lean back into liquor's drift.

Come morning, an old man will drive up,
peer in, see all that trouble
and hook up chains to haul her out.

He'll give her gas enough to get to town,
tell her, Now you never mind, Honey,
you just go on - and she will.  She will.


When Sholl is in a corner she has no problem employing one of Today's book of poetry's favourite tricks.  She calls on some giant like Theolonious Monk, crawls into one of his recipes until all the pieces fit.  Betsy Sholl does this better than Today's book of poetry (damn her).  When she was writing these poems we doubt she was worried about their influence on Today's book of poetry or anyone else.  But in this small world you can never tell who is listening, taking notes.  Bowing in appreciation.

Betsy Sholl knows the difficulty caused when two things are true at once.  That life isn't black or white or fifty shades of gray.  Our limitless palette is gaudy with riches and yet we struggle to be kind, knowing, coming correct.  House of Sparrows is ironic and serious as a heart attack, the language nuanced, instantly recognizable as a voice that should be listened to.

House of Sparrows

What if every time we saw the word sorrow
we switched it to sparrow?

     For my life is spent with sparrows...
     With drunkenness and sparrows...

Or if it went the other way, the song would be,
     His eye is on the sorrow...


My eye's on the neighbor's eaves,
and the copper-roofed house we put up in our yard,

its many rooms, multiple nests, generations --
as if we brought this clamor on ourselves,

this hurdy-gurdy, rabble, host and quarrel
of sparrows
      mixed with the morning radio


broadcasting a bombed hospital, bodies
under fallen roof tiles, shards of over-voice and wailing,

while outside birds flare up, knock each other off the feeder,
sparrows the color of rubble, of dust and mud,

burnt cars, blown-out windows, of wreckage
they could roost in, the earth a house of sparrows


on Sparrow Street, hunger house, and woe
to the poor who are spared nothing,

who gather at borders to beg and forage, are sold
     two for a penny, five for two cents.

And yet doesn't it say the Lord God
attends -- bends down to count


each one shot, starved, buried in rubble? --
A man of sparrows and acquainted with grief,

who says, when I bow my head,
     Sparrows are better than laughter.

And to the rabble, the wailing, the how, the when,
who says,
     Your sparrows will turn to joy--


Today's book of poetry will be in Ottawa for Christmas this year but we have suspended our annual Christmas Eve festivities for family reasons.  Shortly after Christmas Today's book of poetry and our much better other half will be heading to Montreal.  We are heading to Montreal to gain all the weight we've lost in the last year.  We both love Montreal and will do our best to eat well and find poetry, drink well and find poetry.  You know the drill.  Montreal is one of the finer places on the planet to spent time with the one your love.

House of Sparrows reminds Today's book of poetry of why we started writing these blogs/reviews in the first place.  Sometimes the poetry we get to read is simply too splendid not to be shared.  Betsy Sholl meets that standard.  We'll be scanning bookshelves in Montreal for the rest of Betsy Sholl's titles.

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl is the author of nine poetry collections including Otherwise Unseeable, Rough Cradle, Late Psalm, Don’t Explain, and The Red Line. A former poet laureate of Maine, Sholl teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

“Her work brings the poetry of Nathaniel Mackey to mind: its specificity, its engagement with and curiosity for living, even in the bluer stretches.”
—Boston Globe

“Very polished poetry that with careful attention can, in Wordsworth’s phrase, lift us up when fallen.”
—Central Maine

“A quiet, yet powerful journey through nature, memory, regret, and hopefulness. Readers will find themselves returning to its deftly understated voice again and again.”
—Split Rock Review

“This magnificent collection proves yet again why Sholl is one of our truly indispensable writers, whose poems engage what must be addressed if we are to fully encounter, as she writes in her triumphant title poem, ‘the wailing, the how, the when.’ I remain awestruck by her artistry.”
—Sascha Feinstein

“I love Sholl’s unyielding honesty, the great heart and deep intelligence of her vision.”
—Nancy Eimers

“It’s difficult to love the world enough, especially for someone like Sholl, who sees with such searing clarity its cruelty and sorrow. But, like Keats, she dares to, in poem after poem in this masterly collection. And we are all the richer for it.”
—David Jauss


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, December 19, 2019

Midlife Action Figure - Chris Banks (ECW/A Misfit Book)

Today's book of poetry:
Midlife Action Figure.  Chris Banks.  ECW/A Misfit Book.  Toronto, Ontario.  2019.

Midlife Action Figure by Chris Banks, ECW Press

Chris Banks would have us believe that, as Roethke said, "Poetry is an act of mischief."

Midlife Action Figure is one particular form of mischief.  But Banks has so much more in store for us.  Today's book of poetry has seen this sort of anarchy before.  Anarchy?  Poetry anarchy and beauty.  But rarely, if ever, have we seen a collection where every single poem is a poetry monster.  These bloody epistles are giants.  We mean Coltrane giant, Miles Davis great.

Today's book of poetry has had Chris Banks on the table before.  Back in August of 2017 Today's book of poetry wrote about Banks full length collection, The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (ECW/A Misfit Book), with much excitement and fanfare.  You can see that blog/review here:

Since then Today's book of poetry has been on a bit of a mission.  We have procured the following Chris Banks titles:  Invaders (Anstruther Press, 2015), The Cold Panes of Surfaces (Nightwood Editions, 2006), Winter Cranes (ECW Press, 2011) and of course the brilliant The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory.  Now we need to find a copy of his first book, Bonfires.  Until then Today's book of poetry has considered sending our Today's book of poetry Task Force and Inspection Team to his home to see how he does it.

Dag T. Straumsvåg does it in Nynorsk, American hero Campbell McGrath does it in volume after volume, and Chris Banks does it from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.  Astounding.  Midlife Action Figure is an imaginary bomb going off in your poetry head.  Ideas come at you so quickly your brain figures it is getting a poetry version those "pop rock" candies that used to go off like sparklers in your mouth.

Reading So-and-So's Selected Poems in a Used Bookstore

I like the jade dragons and the bougainvillea.
The various mistresses of Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt.
Jackson Pollock pissing in a fireplace at a party.
A locomotive hauling away a sibling's death.
Allusions to Pompeii. A Greek philosopher du jour.
A token villanelle. An amusement park.
Roller coasters on fire. What beautiful rhymes!
Afro and gazpacho. Crocus and hocus-pocus.
Syllabics of beauty and despair and truth
hidden in musty stacks. Someone's handwritten
notes in the margins: Love this one! Huzzah!
Haikus solemn as frogs beneath a lily-white moon.
Lyrics a reminder of the shadow's dark roost.
How about this one poem with sledgehammers?
A grand piano overflowing with Blue Morphos?
A Japanese actress who cut off her lover's genitals,
threw them into the sea? The last poem
in the collection will rip your heart out, I swear.
It's about a boy throwing rocks at a seagull,
smashing its wings. The bird hopping broken.
The Gatha of Atonement. It's little prayer.
Human shame like a shipwreck in a bottle.
The poet's photograph is in black and white.
He lives in a French chalet, or as a recluse
on a Greek island, summers when not teaching
freshman about poetry and personal failure.
There is an ivy-league campus in the photo's
background. His crow's feet, grim smile, says
each day, I walk out of my French chalet, or
a white house with a blue door, heading
to the old town, poems gestating, where I buy
my breakfast, a newspaper, thinking about
friends back home. At night, in my dreams,
I put a contract out on this poet's life.


Today's book of poetry has been arguing with the poetry gods and some personal demons this December.  Mr. Banks and Midlife Action Figure pretty much fixes that action for the time being.  Midlife Action Figure raises the bar for everyone in 2020.

Banks makes you laugh, demands you cry and kicks you where the sun shines the least when need be.  He both kisses and kicks ass.  The poems go up one side of you and down the other so quickly you're not sure what is occurring.  Just like a Grade Six Billy Dunlop learned about the wrath within my Grade One sister Sally.  Billy was thumping me senseless for some reason or another and out of the blue my pint-sized sister raccoon-launched herself onto his head.  She jumped down on Billy from above, her legs around his neck and her little hands pulling out amazing large tufts of Billy-hair from every direction at once.  Chris Banks Midlife Action Figure will do that!  Sally whack a Billy Dunlop.

Just like my sister and the infamous Confederate general, who realized his troops were surrounded and uttered "Excellent, attack in all directions," Chris Banks' poems are an onslaught against the senses.

Stolen Matches

Existence is not for the weak. Consciousness
moves like a river beneath sheet ice. I make
going to the grocery store an event. Every meal
when you are single is a sad banquet. So what
if we are incisors, daydreams. Hey Muse, hit me up.
Let's go dancing. The lyric makes its little noise,
something like, out of the darkling sky come
the white stars, little frozen glyphs, or Valkyries
burning in separate Valhallas. No more hand-me-downs.
I have nothing up my sleeve except nerves
forming a small city with dirty cabs. I don't
want to learn the patter, the schtick, of one word
against another. I want the feast. The offal
I leave on a silver dish for gods who
starve this time of year. Choose wisely
amongst the coloured rags. Memorize
traumas.  The after-life is a recital. Hello loss.
Hello exaltation. Have I made you smile yet?
Knowing this poem is a forgery. I traced it by hand
in elegant calligraphic script. Like a dry drunk,
I want more and more of what I cannot have.
Emotions disfigure perception. Open all the doors.
What is the difference? Heave-ho the familiar
and see what takes its place. The scope is cavernous
so take a good flashlight. I follow my thoughts
into a gully where they are playing with stolen matches.
Isn't that always the case? Put away the Play-Doh
when you are done. The school closed down years ago.
Clean up the art tables. I'll lock up after you.


2019 has been a difficult year here in the Today's book of poetry offices. But we've also seen more support and kindness than every before.  Just this past week Sir Christian McPherson replaced our essential office machinery.  Our newish Apple (which we dearly loved) rotted itself senseless and the poet McPherson has given us a rather remarkable replacement.  We are hoping that with some TLC we can drive this new machinery for many happy Today's book of poetry years.  McPherson was the catalyst behind starting Today's book of poetry years ago.  We can't thank Christian enough.

It's getting awfully close to Christmas and that rat bastard Santa must be stocking up on coal.  But if you want to please anyone in your poetry universe you cannot go wrong with Chris Banks' Midlife Action Figure.  Whether you want to be naughty or nice.

Mr. Banks burns like he invented the term.

Midlife Action Figure

My body feels made by Mattel.
There is no lifetime achievement
award for surviving emotional
trauma. Van Gogh cut off an ear,
went about his day. I don't mean
to make light of suffering. My alma
mater tells me by phone they could
be doing better. Can I coat-check
this malaise? Talking to neighbours
feels like treading water. Similes
are passe. I need an electrician to
rewire my mood. Going to parties
when you don't drink is open-heart
surgery without local anesthetic.
I've completed all seven seasons
but my knees are arthritic, and
my chakra is in shambles. I love
how business thinks innovation
is dreamt up in hotel bars and
conference rooms. Being forced
to take the arts package is what kills
creative embryos. My depression
is pure Suzuki method. I'm going
to open a Montessori school
for recovering addicts. Ever seen
a masterpiece wrapped in cellophane?
Go to your local record store,
dig around in the stacks. Maybe
the letter does not arrive on time
so you drink poison, or decide
to take up pole dancing. Either way,
someone's parents end up crying.
Pull the string protruding from my back.
Listen to what I am about to tell you.
There is not much time.


Today's book of poetry is sure you get what we're selling but in case we are not being clear enough: Chris Banks' Midlife Action Figure is full burn feast.  There is no end to the delights Banks' brings to the table.

This is what poetry can be, at it's best.  Absolute and splendid.

Image result for Chris Banks Poet

Chris Banks

Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of four previous collections of poems, most recently The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (ECW Press, 2017). His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review and Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.

Midlife Action Figure delivers surprise, delight, and sense; Banks slams sly one liners as though he were competing in a professional wrestling match . . . The result is breathlessly entertaining and gut-punchingly wise . . . Midlife Action Figure is an insightful tour through the human experience, crafted in clear and specific imagery that captivates the imagination and the intelligence. It is a book that begs to be read and reread.”
      — Quill & Quire Starred Review

“‘The laboratory of aesthetics / these days is really about mischief / and surprise’ writes Chris Banks in this collection of cheeky, pointed dicta on everything from how to survive an emergency to enduring a job interview, amid surreal admissions that the speaker has a ‘minor crush on Saturn's moons’ or possibly suffers a ‘slow leak’ as each year his ‘heart grows an extra ring.’ Midlife Action Figure is a book of solid poems from the centre of existing, through deep space and the places in the mind like ‘Matryoshka dolls’ that endlessly nest into their own allusiveness, returning with a yield of essential observations and imperatives for the continuance of the earth.” 
     — Catherine Owen, award-winning author of Designated Mourner

“The poems are densely thick and incredibly rich, akin, somewhat, to a lyric molasses in which a reader is caught up in an unexpected lyric flow . . . A poetry in which one can't easily pull away from . . . Banks' poems are a kind of lyric collage.” 
      — rob mclennan’s blog

“[A] spirited, wide-ranging collection.”
      — Toronto Star

“‘My spirit guide is a scarecrow’; ‘guilt is everyone’s personal gulag’; ‘can I coat-check this malaise?’; ‘death is classically trained’: Chris Banks builds poems out of short sentences that are like photons, little packets of energy full of aphoristic punch and surprise. He delights in the swings of imagination, in the way every next image or idea can plow new ground even as it alters the meaning and feel of what has preceded it. The result is a constant state of euphoria, an ongoing demonstration of the swerve and swirl of human consciousness. ‘A river is a correspondence course’ — as with so many lines here, my recognition that I’ve never thought of it that way is followed immediately by the sensation that there’s no other way to see it, that I am being shown the truth.” 
     — Bob Hicok, award-winning poet and author of Elegy Owed

“There were a lot of single lines that stood out to me, I found many gems among these short poems . . . Midlife Action Figure is a powerful collection that will evoke many thoughts.” 
    — Literary Lizard blog

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, November 11, 2019

A Generous Latitude — Lenea Grace (ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
A Generous Latitude.  Lenea Grace.  ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2018.

Anyone who can write a fine poem and have it end in St. Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! is alright by Today's book of poetry standards.  Lenea Grace does this and so much more in A Generous Latitude.  Grace reads like an experienced pro in the debut collection, her grit shines and she has some panache.

Lenea Grace has Guy Lafleur's disco-hockey record in one poem and Larry (GOAT) Bird's old French Lick Converse All-Stars in another.  If neither name means anything to you — you are way to young to be reading poetry.  The same might be said of Grace's nod to the effervescent Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who make an appearance in an ode to Montreal.  And as Today's book of poetry writes this blog/review their is the realization that Lenea Grace may be the poet most dialed into Today's book of poetry's zeitgeist.

Pressure Drop

Take a glass milk bottle
and drop a lit match down
the windowed shaft.
Take a hardboiled man,
peel him, and balance
him upon the mouth-

His pelvis will meet
the opening, torso
and limbs shoot
east and west. Tap
his left foot and he will spin,
smouldered rod and flesh
and glass.

He is no weathervane,
caught unawares by the high
pressure system that circles wrists,
grazes buttocks and spine.
No match for the match,
burnt and low, feverish.

You cannot adjust
these temperatures, outside
and inside. You cannot stop
reverse ignition. You will not
not watch. When it happens
you will not watch.

And it will happen.
The bottle will strangle
his size, distort
his body: a muscled parabola,
sucking down and down,
snapping vertebrae, folding,
palms touching palms,

necks and shoulders.
Shoulders and necks
and shoulders will catch
the necks and the necks
will catch the shoulders.
Pop and release.


Today's book of poetry is happy to announce that Lenea Grace's A Generous Latitude adds another fine "list" poem to the lexicon and we'll be happy to run it by you.


Because the Atlantic.
Because the Pacific.
Because the hemispheres.
Because the equator, the belted cinching of guts, the green and the blue.
Because the guts.
Because the flaws.
Because we are heavy.
Because we are raw.
Because my mother has nerves.
Because my father shave his mustache in 1981. and 1983. 1987.
Because his father wrote with his left hand.
Because Zuma rains.
Because lobsters shriek.
Because old men play cribbage in undershirts.
Because birches peel.
Because dogs know.
Because lakes smoke.
Because that teacher told me to mouth the words.
Because there are indoor voice and outdoor voices.
Because there are indoor shoes and outdoor shoes and no shoes at all.
Because because.
Because there are hands.
Because we carve our names in desks.
Because we carve our names in stone.
Because we are not permanent.
Because we singe our eyes.
Because there are eyes,
the scratched inky things,
the sanding of iris,
the sleep of because.


A Generous Latitude  makes you think Lenea Grace would be a cool person to spend time with, witty funny and a little dangerous.  Her poems are observational gems, situation comedies with dark intentions.  Grace burns.

Today's book of poetry was even able to tolerate Grace's admiration for David Hasselhoff, which comes off as a both a gentle caress and the proverbial kick in the ass.

The Why And The How

Why are boats always women, and
where is Long Lake —
how you ride my mind

how to pet a dead horse
how to feed this hoop snake
and always why boats are women.

Why bathtubs crawl on fours,
and how water grows opaque
and still — you ride my mind:

run grey galleys worn and coarse,
teak and holly slats, the strakes,
If boats are always women

then men are the oars — slicing
pink for pink's sake:
you ride my mind

in circles. There is no shore
for us, only questions in the lake —
why boats are always women
and how you ride my mind.


The more humorous Lenea Grace tries to be the more human/humane she sounds which is a great trick.  And trick is the wrong word, Grace comes at the reader head-on and once she gets there she stands her ground.  A Generous Latitude burns like the best.

Lenea Grace

Lenea Grace’s work has appeared in Best New Poets, The Fiddlehead, Washington Square Review, CV2, Riddle Fence, Grain, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of McGill University, University of Maine at Presque Isle, and The New School. Lenea is a founding editor of The Mackinac poetry magazine. She grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, spending her summers at Long Lake and John Island in northern Ontario. She lives in Gibsons, British Columbia.


Important Poetry Bulletin:
Today's book of poetry just hit 700,000 readers.  Thank you, each and every one of you.



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 29, 2019

The Sad Songs of Hell — Brent Cunningham . (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Today's book of poetry:
 The Sad Songs of Hell.  Brent Cunningham.  Ugly Duckling Presse.  Brooklyn, New York.  2017.

Absolutely astonishing.  Brent Cunningham "translates" Arthur Rimbaud like you have never imagined.  To start, Brent Cunningham admittedly doesn't speak or read French.  Just off the top of our Today's book of poetry heads we've never been quite so taken by imagined translations.

If Today's book of poetry properly understands Cunningham's technique The Sad Songs of Hell come to us through a process of "translation by excessive confidence."  The resulting poems are fanciful to say the least, we loved them.  But it did take Today's book of poetry a few minutes to figure out what was actually going on in Cunningham's The Sad Songs of Hell.  When you open this lovely chapbook Brent Cunningham's translations appear in full sized text at the top of the page.  In the lower right hand corner of each page is the original Arthur Rimbaud poem, in a microscopic font. 
Fortunately for us all, at the back of each copy of the gorgeous The Sad Songs of Hell is a
magnification lens made of plastic and with a small portrait of the young Rimbaud. Beautiful.


mostly I use these bruised digits to make you feel
they dress dolls in peacoats, befoul menus with herb-stains
but they never forget: they're not raspberry-capped-feet—
only your bare chest opens their imperceptible vents

if you want an excuse for me here it is: I think the body's a rind
love only feels infinite & only if you're on the mounting end
it's obvious you and I have legs, good legs, like all Bohemians
but when Nature created those, she wasn't even a Woman

Par les soirs bleus d’été, j’irai dans les sentiers,
Picoté par les blés, fouler l’herbe menue:
Rêveur, j’en sentirai la fraîcheur à mes pieds.
Je laisserai le vent baigner ma tête nue.
Je ne parlerai pas, je ne penserai rien:
Mais l’amour infini me montera dans l’àme,
Et j’irai loin, bien loin, comme un bohémien,
Par la Nature, — heureux comme avec une femme.

The poems. Rimbaud is only a diving board for the pyrotechnic Cunningham. Once he bouncing on the end of the board, Cunningham, there is really no telling where is going to alight and let down, even less chance of knowing; is it a somersault, a cannonball, and so on.

Brent Cunningham's odd gift for translation could be used on any text from any language and to that Today's book of poetry says "have at it." Today's book of poetry will gladly eat up whatever Cunningham is serving.

Today's book of poetry should have mentioned this earlier, Brent Cunningham is convinced he has somehow found a darker narrative than the original Rimbaud. And perhaps he has, but these poems, these delightful translation brim with light. They brighten the surroundings.

The Truth About Dormitories
like a river with pot-breath, lip synching
in green pants, another so-called "Agent
of the Sun" stands at Education's pinnacle
making, today, chocolate from melted crayons

if he's an insurrectionist I'm Ke$ha
part cream cheese, part blueberry bagel
night after night smoking that moss
staring at an internal Everglade

glaciers were crossed, on foot, to forge us
sick infants left to sleep forever
& Nature, our former workhorse, burned & spoiled

so if a marine breeze occasionally blows perfume
through the mold-specked window above his toilet
it'll only deepen the shame of this darkening coast

C’est un trou de verdure, où chante une rivière
Accrochant follement aux herbes des haillons
D’argent; où le soleil, de la montagne fière,
Luit: c’est un petit val qui mousse de rayons.
Un soldat jeune, bouche ouverte, tête nue,
Et la nuque baignant dans le frais cresson bleu,
Dort; il est étendu dans l’herbe, sous la nue,
Pâle dans son lit vert où la lumière pleut.
Les pieds dans les glaïeuls, il dort. Souriant comme
Sourirait un enfant malade, il fait un somme:
Nature, berce-le chaudement: il a froid.
Les parfums ne font pas frissonner sa narine;
Il dort dans le soleil, la main sur sa poitrine,
Tranquille. Il a deux trous rouges au côté droit.


The sun is shining in the nation's capital this morning and Today's book of poetry is feeling optimistic, we think we caught it from Brent Cunningham's The Sad Songs of Hell.  These poems are whippersnappers.

Our morning read was led by the reclusive Max, our Senior Editor.  Of course he didn't leave his office, he simply opened his never to be darkened door and bellowed.  He bellowed from his office, and between laughs and Cunningham's opus, and then insisted on reading the Rimbaud poem in the original French.  Max demanding we follow suite, so of course we did.

Androgynous Love

her pinkie, a curlicue wrapped in rabbit fur
dips into the cheese; she pulls back her hair
& then, the unexpected: vegetarians
steal the butcher's financial statements

whether your soul is gray, green or buffet-colored
makes a difference to the two kinds of people at this resort
there's the Cowboys, pissing on the poor
& the Gracious Sons, who consume them like parfait

tonight society's antenna glows red, transmitting gout
& alien horrors into the mind's buried cables
weaving a fate so singular & brutal it's unspeakable

& on a dozen rainy graves this phrase: LOVE SAVES
yet the wheel does wheel sending another corpse
through the terrible, angelic, ulcerous Asshole of the World

Comme d'un cercueil vert en fer blanc, une tête
De femme à cheveux bruns fortement pommadés
D'une vieille baignoire émerge, lente et bête,
Avec des déficits assez mal ravaudés ;

Puis le col gras et gris, les larges omoplates
Qui saillent ; le dos court qui rentre et qui ressort ;
Puis les rondeurs des reins semblent prendre l'essor ;
La graisse sous la peau paraît en feuilles plates ;

L'échine est un peu rouge, et le tout sent un goût
Horrible étrangement ; on remarque surtout
Des singularités qu'il faut voir à la loupe...

Les reins portent deux mots gravés : Clara Venus ;
- Et tout ce corps remue et tend sa large croupe
Belle hideusement d'un ulcère à l'anus.


Cunningham's poems/translations are surreal but true, impossible but delightful.  It's hard to ask for more.

Brent Cunningham


Brent Cunningham is a writer and publisher. He is the author of the poetry books Bird & Forest (UDP), Journey to the Sun (Atelos Press), and the chapbook, The Sad Songs of Hell (UDP). He helped found the SPT Poets Theatre Festival, helped coordinate the Artifact Reading Series, and is on the board of Small Press Traffic. He is the Managing Director for Small Press Distribution and founded Hooke Press with Neil Alger, a chapbook press dedicated to publishing short runs of poetry, criticism, theory, writing, and ephemera.

Why do I laugh hysterically merely at the title of this jubilant suite of translations and their originals plucked from Rimbaud’s Hell? Wait, what are originals, what are translations? They are all originals. Real, authentic poems. But then what is the relationship between the poetry of Rimbaud and that of Cunningham? Now we get to the cunning of Cunningham’s work. Using key cognates (true or false), a lot of freedom (free association, cf. Freud), magical thinking, and sounds, or the idea of sound, or the sound of an idea, Cunningham exquisitely and skillfully constructs, with logic and anti-logic, hilarious and/or solemn bursts of dramatically charged poems. As Norah Jones says, “It’s music, man!”
     —Norma Cole


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, October 27, 2019

Fresh Pack of Smokes — Cassandra Blanchard . (Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Fresh Pack of Smokes.  Cassandra Blanchard.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2019.

Today's book of poetry's first thought, when we stepped back to catch our breath, say about 30 pages in, was that I was back with Billy Hays in a Turkish prison ala Midnight Express.  Fresh Pack of Smokes feels so vividly harrowing and morbidly exciting that you can almost smell the decay and feel the defeat.  Cassandra Blanchard's poems sound more real and honest than Charles Bukowski's sad songs.  And make no mistake, Today's book of poetry still worships Sir Charles the B.

Blanchard isn't so much down and dirty as she is candidly and explicitly blunt, with a burnt sense of humour somewhere near that darkest of blacks, the one that reflects zero light.  Other than Nigerian poets fighting in the rebellion, Today's book of poetry has rarely encountered this kind of literary slap in the face wake-up call.


I must have turned a thousand tricks over those six years, you name
it I've done it, the perfect whore, young-looking so the men buzzed
around me like bees on honey, you have no idea how many men see
working girls for a quick blow job in the car after work before going
home or taxi drivers or stockbrokers, all kinds like the author of
children's books or the man who was a politician in Native self-
government or probably your boyfriend or husband, there are the
real cold mean ones and the okay ones who were not that bad and I
mostly had middle-aged married white men and I guarantee that you
know someone who has paid for sex; once I did a blow job where he
blew his load in exactly three seconds or the vampire-looking dude
with a foot-long boner that made me almost piss myself, but it's 
always been strictly business, I've been around the block for sure.
At a Quebecois rehab centre, there was the gender rule, no breaking
gender, as in no fucking with either gender and of course I broke that
rule multiple times, at night when everyone was asleep I would slide
into bed with my woman and quietly make her cum, I couldn't not
do it and it didn't help when a chick would get a crush on me, I guess
I had to break the rules, it felt so good to be bad — I've never even
been on a date before, it has always been straight to screwing, I guess
it would be nice to go out for dinner rather than sleeping with some-
one in secret, for two years we were together, the violent psycho and
me, the pushover, but damn we clicked in the sack and everywhere
too like in a semi or on the bus or outside, the only time we got
along was when we were fucking, this bitch was a sociopath, I swear
her eyes had nothing behind them but even though I was in danger
around her, she made me feel safe and made me feel like I was losing
the hamster wheel race, seriously though, I've had enough to last me
three thousand years and that's nothing to be happy about, being for 
sale ain't nothing to be proud of.


Fresh Pack of Smokes  has velocity, like it is being shot out of a gun.  Every one of these compact prose poems carries the full weight of crack exploding.  Every one of these poems sees predators and police while looking for a safe place to sleep.

Fresh Pack of Smokes assaults the reader's level of comfort in our comfortable world.  All those woman we pretend are invisible when we see them on a street corner, all those women we pretend we don't see as they fall through the crack.  Blanchard gives them a voice.  As Maryse Holder so bravely wrote "Give Sorrow Words".


It may sound very stupid but there's something about the streets that
always appealed to me, there was a type of freedom where I could do
what I wanted when I wanted whenever I wanted and never be tied
down to one place, the only rules being those of the street, never
staying in one place for long, on an endless journey for more and
more drugs until it became the most important task at hand and I
could not plan anything because I didn't know where I would be in
any foreseeable future and I had no address, however the flip side to
all this was that I was tied up — I was a prisoner and everything that
came with it, I was a coin, each side a cell with thick bars.


It's a cold, grey morning here at Today's book of poetry.  It's raining "hammers and nails" as Tom Waits once suggested, it's raining as though we were waiting for an ark.  Sunday is always a quiet day in the Today's book of poetry offices.  We're pretty soft about actual attendance as all of our staff are volunteers.

One dear friend and contributor, Otis, flashed by earlier this week.  It was great to see him, he'd been living in Mexico, Belgium and Italy this past year.  No grass growing on that cat.  Today's book of poetry sent him off with an armful of chapbooks (which he paid for, bless his cotton socks), and a big Today's book of poetry hug.  We are always happy to see old friends.

Cassandra Blanchard's Fresh Pack of Smokes is gripping and frightening.  We can't help thinking that there, for the grace, luck, whatever, goes my sister, my mother, my love, and so on.  Blanchard's poems leave no room for doubt.  Any false glamour we might have imagined is sanded down to the ugly survival bone.  Spectacularly squalid stuff, it gets behind your eyes, under your fingernails, these poems make you feel dirty, used.  Blanchard has revealed a dark talent, a beautiful mind that tours hell.


Instead of calling the ambulance they dumped his body on some-
one's lawn, my father had overdosed on heroin and his so-called
friends were too afraid of the police to try and save his life and so
the cops came to our house and because we were children they
gave teddy bears to us, however I was asleep when the officers came
so I woke up to my sister crying and she said he passed away and I
thought he fell in a ditch, passing away like falling, and so I went to
my mother who was in the shower crying and she told me he was
dead and I understood; my memories are there but there are not so
many of them and some of them I would rather not remember like
the alcohol he was dependent on and the violence that came with it;
he was troubled but he loved us, I look up at the sky and to me he is
a lone star in the ever darkening cosmos.


Today's book of poetry loved Cassandra Blanchard's Fresh Pack of Smokes and will be on notice for Blanchard's next book.  It's going to be a killer.  This kind of talent and honesty is going to burst the seams somewhere.  Kudo's to Nightwood for putting their ass on the line.

Blanchard burns like she came up with the expression all on her own.  Today's book of poetry is an instant fan.

Cassandra Blanchard

Cassandra Blanchard was born in Whitehorse, YT, but called Vancouver home for many years.  She holds a BA from the University of British Columbia with a major in gender, race, sexuality and social justice.  Her poetry has been published in a handful of literary journals.  Fresh Pack of Smokes is her first book of poetry.  She lives in Duncan, British Columbia.

There's tremendous pressure on underrepresented artists to diffuse complex stories so they may be made more easily understood and consumed by the mainstream. Debut author Cassandra Blanchard's unapologetic, immersive and veracious voice cannot be diffused! Her prose poems stand bold and true on the page, with barely a stanza break to mitigate their power. I am honoured to stand with her poems — I've been a big admirer of Blanchard for years.  Read Fresh Pack of Smokes and become an admirer too.
     — Amber Dawn

This is a book, ultimately, about dignity. These poems spill over like a sentence as long and relentless as a lifetime. Grasping for what feels fleetingly like a normal life, the narrator instead wrings words from blood. This is a book of a city that is everywhere, of policing, of using, of survival that is all-consuming, of fear and pleasure and hallucination that are three sides of a coin. This is a book about the wisdom of not caring and yet the pain of still doing so.
      — Ray Hsu

Truly distinctive in vision and voice, Blanchard's Fresh Pack of Smokes probes the pain and elation, the silence and clamour, the confinement and the freedom of life on the street. The power of Blanchard's poetry arises from its rare combination of raw honesty, remarkable detail and spiralling accumulation, producing a collection  that is as difficult and unrelenting as it is exceptional, necessary and wise.
     — Daniel Scott Tysdal


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

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

The Night Chorus - Harold Hoefle (McGill-Queen's University Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Night Chorus.  Harold Hoefle.  McGill-Queen's University Press.  Montreal, Quebec.  2018.

The older we get here at Today's book of poetry the more we forget what we are trying to remember.  To the best of our bad memory Harold Hoefle showed up at my farm house door when I was guarding the Stanhope/Grand Tracadie border in Prince Edward Island.  Harold and I shared a mutual friend, Sir Patrik of Hunt, whose word was gold.  This was back around 1985, I think, and Harold Hoefle was a long distance runner at the time.

Since then Mr. Hoefle has shown up periodically, over the years, but the last I heard he was writing prose.  When The Night Chorus arrived here at Today's book of poetry we were surprised, but then not surprised at all.  It finally makes sense, that old Harold Hoefle had been a poet all along.

The Night Chorus reminds Today's book of poetry of younger days, sitting across a table, from one of those people.  You know the ones I mean.  The story tellers.  Those folks who know something you don't, but need too.

A Loving Follow-Through

At least it's not dripping off the kitchen table,
the wet cereal of my brain, but the font room's got
my Kyla and Jimbo, I hope not messy like me,
and he's already gone, he off-ed right off,
the screen door banging at that orange moon,
and it was so him to do us after dark,
but that's my Brian, it's like I married
every nasty bit in the ten o'clock news.
Good that he called 911 (someone should mop),
though now for-sure he's barrelling out of town,
whipping along the ditch with a bottle in his crotch...
and isn't cereal a weird word? I am (was) serial,
as in serially attracted to the Brians,
thrones who chug whisky like beer,
who brag I'll sleep when I'm dead - those guys.
So there's me with my loser beacon. Yvonne told me,
blonde to blonde, party girl to party girl.
She opened and shut her fist in my face,
said that's your forehead winking at crazies.
Guess it's true, I could never get past men like him,
as if Brian were just the end product, exactly that,
but he's the one I chose, the one with the wooden bat,
taking down the world that tried to take him down,
and starting right at home with a big wind-up,
a smooth swing, and a loving follow-through.


Wouldn't you know it, Harold Hoefle has a poem in memory of another Canadian poet, Judith Fitzgerald, and Today's book of poetry was reminded of our brief acquaintance with Ms. Fitzgerald.  Judith was generous and supportive at a time when there wasn't much in the way of support for our poetry.  It went a long way.  Fitzgerald, like many of us, was tortured by parts of her life.  Harold Hoefle swims up that river in his poem "Death of a Poet", but he comes out clean on the other end by adding a glimmer of hope, a glimmer where none existed.

Death of a Poet

(i.m. Judith Ariana Fitzgerald, 1952-2015)

Your life was lightning. You struck a room,
flushed and flamed every cheek, then turned away
from the burning stumps of all who wanted you,
smoke curling like your hair in summer.


Childhood: yours was not green buds, soft air.
Hunger tore at you and your siblings; the mother
never there. So you scavenged alleys: the bins,
the cans. Fear and weakness fed on you.


Your poems, the postcard rooms you lived in,
the angles of a minute-by-minute existence
jutting out and in: your life was Cubist.
One edge was a writer's yard,
the deck of that lakeside A-frame where,
below the maples, the poets heard
you read and make comments, shared laughs,
but mostly stared -gamine, sylph, sibyl?
Like others, the poets wanted more:
the thighs you crossed, the hair you tossed.
The winning moves you learned from loss.


The crack of a bat was something
you also knew. In bars, at parties,
your tongue could sever anyone, but when
church bells tolled at twilight - off you'd run
to be alone, to stand shadow.


At a Windsor desk, your lookout on the slow river,
you'd watch boats pass and water ride the shore.
You thought of people you knew, or had known:
that carousel of friend/contact/met-once/ex-something.
One memory remained: the man you loved the most,
whose torment kept his own hands at his throat.


It's after two on a dull, December day.
But you'd be right at home with these muted tones
of cat-grey, ochre; of wet snow dripping down
the brick. Still, you had to paint the vision
in your head - blue shot through with black -
a backdrop for your own red hair and white skin.
Your only prayer: that art let you let go.


Today's book of poetry has been running hither and yon without making up much ground.  We'd been meaning to post some kind words about Mr. Hoefle for several weeks.  Life just keeps getting in the way.  There is much to be admired in Hoefle's slim volume.  You can feel Hoefle assembling his choir, his night chorus to sing against the inanity of it all.  These poems filling in emotional gaps, leaps of common and uncommon faith, all of it, tied up tightly in Hoefle's terse and vibrant poems.

Strong Tea

The day you came back,
a leak had pouched the ceiling,
a grey drywall saucer
with a hole in the middle.
But you and I,
we drank strong tea
and talked,
the ping-pong
of word and window glance,
of fast laugh and topic switch.

After a look outside,
you said the capped waves
were angry.
And when you left
you didn't wave,
capping off
not just your thought.

I waved at your back,
my hand flopping,
as if the wrist were broken.


We're hoping Harold Hoefle will get us back on track her at Today's book of poetry.  We are expecting some big changes in the next few weeks.  We'll have to get back to you with those, so please stay tuned.

In the meantime Hoefle's The Night Chorus will meet your poetry needs.  Check it out, take it for a walk around the block.  Night music.

Harold Hoefle
Photo: John W. MacDonald

Harold Hoefle teaches English and Creative Writing at John Abbott College. He lives in Montreal.


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.