Saturday, February 23, 2019

Rail - Kai Carlson-Wee (BOA Editions Ltd.)

Today's book of poetry:
Rail.  Kai Carlson-Wee.  A. Poulin, Jr. New Poets of America Series No. 41.  BOA Editions Ltd.  Rochester, New York.  2018.

Rail - BOA Editions, Ltd.

Kai Carlson-Wee lays out his songs of joy and sadness with such careful modulation that it is easy to miss the big moments.  

Nope, that doesn't cut it, another lesson in "first thought" not always "best thought."

Today's book of poetry will start over, try again.

Rail by Kai Carlson-Wee is a little unlike any ride we've ever taken here at Today's book of poetry.  We see and hear Kerouac, Whitman, W.C. Williams, and we're not even warmed up.  Carlson-Wee is world-weary and yet believably innocent at the same time.

We are all "hoping for some other miracle" as Carlson-Wee sings in his poem "Oaks."  Reading Rail will cement connect you to this young writer as though you had stumbled onto a crime scene you won't ever forget.


I find it here in the wild alfalfa, head full
of antipsychotics and blue rain. Twenty years old
on a freight train riding the soy fields
into the night. Leaning away from the shortgrass
prairie, the black Mississippi of dream.
My brother asleep on the well-wall beside me,
nodding his head to the sway. What home
are we leaving? What distances blur
the electric fence? What hundred low thundering
wheels of darkness are coming to carry us
there? Rain and the singing wind, over
the auto-racks. Staring out west at the stars
of our gods and the lonely dark stars of our hearts.
Boarded-up storefronts, burned-down
apartments, highway signs that only name
the dead. We cross the station tracks,
the broken legs of Sunday chairs left rusting
in the yards. We know the way the story ends.
Still, the whistle blows. The flare stacks whip
their excess methane candles against 
the night. The wheels that brought us this far
still roll, still churn the polished iron ash.
The road goes on. The highway turns a deeper
shade of black. And as the sun sinks down
on the eastern Montana hills, peppered with horses
and gun-shot cars, the rails still lead us
somewhere else, and shine in the falling light.


Kai Carlson-Wee is no Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn, but he may be the new American generation given voice.  And it is one clever and clear siren cry.  Mr. Carlson-Wee is young in age only, his voice is pure experience.  

Pure of heart but stripped of dreams, these poems promise nothing.  No promises, but a loud and unmistakable sirenwail that Carlson-Wee is on the job, he will mark the passing.

Damn it.  Today's book of poetry just turned Rail over and read the blurbs.  Today's book of poetry tries to avoid the blurbs until finished so they don't upset the works.  In this case, Robert Bly is as impressive as Dorianne Laux.  But then Sir Campbell McGrath.  Sinner/Saint/Savant/Seer and one of our heroes....

In Today's book of poetry poetry world it does get much more hallowed than Campbell McGrath.  Today's book of poetry was very pleased to see that McGrath has the same, very high, esteem for Kai Carlson-Wee.

Today's book of poetry thinks Carlson-Wee writes poems so well you might be lead to think he found them, carved in stone, in some sacred poetry place.


                               for Nik Zeidlhack 1981-2007

I go to the guardrail, looking out over the sea-foam.
Looking out over the salmon heads breaking
the waves. Muscling back to the place of their birth.
Trapped in the floodlights, failing to leap up the dam.
Sometimes the clarity. Sometimes the clarity
and night-river steaming. Time standing still
in its permanent memory. Flies in the backwater
gathered to feed on the skin. The smell of the ocean.
The waters combining with other more powerful
waters. Riding away from whatever would save them,
knowing the other direction is pointless and not worth
suffering through. What holds us together but also
what trembles. The first time you look at an actual lion,
pacing the length of its cage. The small irreversible
ink-stain breaking the face of whatever we skate on.
Slumped at the edge of your girlfriend's bed. Your
pulse gone flat. No sweat. No resistance. No steam
on the hand-held mirror they tested for breath.
The day you were found I watched ducks drop down
on the Nooksack River in pairs. Drifting together
in multicolored light, leaving small growing trails
behind them. At first I thought only the lights
were alive. The river, the fish, the clusters of flies—
they were tricks being played on the eyes. But now,
getting up on the guardrail, watching the line
where the river and ocean waves meet, the half-formed
outriders failing inside us, and something behind
all the highway signs shining. Not clarity of thought,
or light, or time. But clarity of small things believing
in themselves. Dark heads breaking the surface
again. More than the living. More than the dead.


Our morning read was a delight.  Spring is in the air in Ottawa, although we know all too well that winter is not over.  Spring is in the air; that's the same thing as saying "we have new hope."  Rail could be seen as simply that, new hope.  But there is so much more going on.  Kai Carlson-Wee's Rail is an embarrassment of riches.

Our small cabal here at Today's book of poetry read Rail out loud with sentiments approaching glee and astonishment.  

Such extraordinary gifts and Carlson-Wee is a young man — there will be, we hope, much more poetry from this marvel.  Today's book of poetry will be waiting.

Seven-Day Fast

Now I forget what I wanted to say about hunger.
The tree's sharp arrangements of lines
on the white sky, clusters of off-shooting
branches dissolving among them
like outdated scans of the brain.
Faded by sunlight, or disuse, or whatever.
I barely imagine by what. The gathering
dust on the shoebox they wait in.
Filed away for a future appointment
with some other specialist, talking of
networks, compatible pathways,
unsourced receptors, the closest
approximate rate of attrition. They talk
with the same sympathetic restraint
used for death. We see the sterility first,
predictions unfolding in ribbons
of uncharted highways beyond
other skies. We use metaphors
like this. We say the spirit is more
than the critical mass. We say prayers
are reflected in atoms, in snowflakes
freezing, in magnified raindrops.
We say there is no way of knowing
the will. The hand held flat to the palm reader's
always astonished tones. We say dreams.
A series of blackouts, minor strokes.
We say there is more than the body's
measurable electrics. The forgotten
children who stand at the bedrail,
showing us pictures of speedboats and horses,
our own selves posing with tulips and lilacs
in front of our whitewashed homes.
We say the soul. The out-riding weather
inside us. The down-pouring water
that runs from the mountain, that sleeps
in the frozen beet field, that denies
this hunger, that sings in the blood.


Kai Carlson-Wee is a cowboy/poet/prophet, just like his publisher claims.  It ain't bragging if it's true.

Image of Kai Carlson-Wee

Kai Carlson-Wee

Kai Carlson-Wee is the author of Rail (BOA, 2018). He has received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, the Sewanee Writers' Conference, and his work has appeared in Narrative, Best New Poets, TriQuarterly, Blackbird, Gulf Coast, and The Missouri Review, which awarded him the 2013 Editor’s Prize. His photography has been featured in Narrative Magazine and his co-directed poetry film, Riding the Highline, received jury awards at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival and the 2016 Arizona International Film Festival. With his brother Anders, he has co-authored two chapbooks, Mercy Songs (Diode Editions) and Two-Headed Boy (Organic Weapon Arts), winner of the 2015 Blair Prize. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, he lives in San Francisco and is a lecturer at Stanford University. For more information about Kai Carlson-Wee, visit

Rail is a lovely book, strong and inspired.”
     —Robert Bly

“This is a wholly unique and powerful collection of poems. The sense of purpose puts one in mind of Whitman’s ‘Song of the Open Road.’ Encounters with fellow vagabonds recalls the tramp-poetry of Vachel Lindsay. But the darker need to search for meaning in the American plains and points farther west—a vastness forlorn and almost unknowable—belongs to the particular vision of this poet. His journey through our national ambiguity discovers a flicker in our roots, a spark popping from obscurity that rises into the heavens. The lived experience behind these deft and subtle poems seems necessary, and reiterates the fact that resilience is not only a feature of the American character, it is a recurring tenet of American art.” 
     —Maurice Manning

“Brotherly love, a sense of displacement and lost time, and the deep care that reminds us of our humanity, form the heart of this book. These poems are a scavengers guide, a survivalist manifesto, a reminder of the way our daily experiences can fuel and forge our faith. A hauntingly beautiful and unusual debut.”
      —Dorianne Laux

“Equal parts dithyramb and lament, the great American bardic tradition celebrates lonesome wandering even as it hungers for enduring communion. Kai Carlson-Wee is a worthy inheritor of its dusty mantle, worn by Whitman and Kerouac before him, and Rail is a moving testament to the territories of freight trains, Minnesota roads, dumpster diving, and brotherhood. ‘The road goes on. With or without us.’ Yes, but how much better to have this unforgettable music to guide the way.”
      —Campbell McGrath

Kai Carlson-Wee
Reading the poem Thresher at the Best New Poets Reading in Madison Wisconsin, December 9th, 2010
Video: Kai Carlson-Wee



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Phantom Ride - Joseph Mulholland (Baseline Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Phantom Ride.  Joseph Mulholland.  Baseline Press.  London, Ontario.  2017.


Each and every one of Joseph Mulholland's little screenplays disguised as poems will someday be an Academy Award winner.  These poems are clever diamonds and will shine from every direction at once.  No cubic zirconia, no zircon, no moissanite.  These stones are ice.

Today's book of poetry is tickled pink to lay Phantom Ride on all of you beauties because gems like this only come by every so often.  That every facet holds poetry water - Mulholland is some crafty jeweller, one nasty cook.

Camera With Humidity Under Its Lens

To line the camera's edges with butcher paper is to tender a light
so tenuous it'll wax unfashionable. It was admirable how your father
refused time & again, to be another silent film era swashbuckler
shaking sea urchins out of mud-flecked boots for a few laughs. Somewhere
an octopus rolls Rs off the blood-light of breath. A knock-kneed horse
in a buzzing field, a cloned Anita creeping up on flexed toes. Her necklace
of sand dollars, her whispering eyes. The camera cuts the horizon in half,
a single drop of blood arches its back in mid-air. Bullet marrow, scent of agave.
The car crash scene extras take turns spitting into the stucco reproduction
of the Fontana di Trevi. After the broken glass has settled the sky—
both open wound & overturned ceramic bowl trapping a far-off galaxy's light—
memorizes its own reflection, a nimbus of silver tendons, a force
without counterfeit behind weakening blood vessel walls.
An entire city fainting at the end of your garter pistol's cold nose.


Phantom Ride is another Baseline Press small miracle of beauty, but that comes as no surprise to Today's book of poetry.  Pound for pound, Baseline Press produces the most beautiful little books on the planet.  Karen Schindler's books are visually sublime.  And with Joseph Mulholland at the helm of Phantom Ride, Baseline Press has a rich enough vein of gold to call in Ben and Little Joe.

Mulholland has every single reader here at Today's book of poetry enchanted.

Zhuchka's Love Letter to the End

     ". . . a beastly trick, a vile trick—to take a piece of bread, the soft part,
     stick a pin in it, and toss it to some yard dog, the kind that's so hungry
     it will swallow whatever it gets without chewing it, and then watch
     what happens."                   - Dostoevsky

Before the roosters crow I hear the curtains wheeze.
My heart is a bear trap with a fox's paw caught
in its teeth. There is a torn sack of flour in the cupboard,
I can smell fear warming the flour mites' breath.
The postman offers me his foot—I know he's poisoned
his bootlaces. Deep in the house tables are tipped over, chairs
dragged across floorboards, splinters unearthed. From here I can see
the church steeple's window streaked with snail trails.
Sawdust on the slaughter hall's floor like snowfall—
my throat a torn nest. The wind, with its rubber tongue,
tries in vain to rub out the moths' chalky eyes—the baker's palms
the color of bruised pears. I sit under my master's bedroom
window. I can make out the raspy voices of winter coats crammed
into an overcrowded closet, vicariously reliving the memories
of their wearers; the tick-infested wool & wind-shaken
cicada shells of autumn nights—empty bottles of perfume
lulled to sleep by a pinhead's brutal lullaby.


Phantom Ride is so rich you're going to get poetry fat reading it.  This cat is burning down the house like he just discovered the best cook book in the land and everyone else is still eating beans.

Our morning read flew by in several quick bursts of mirth.  These poems are as bright and quick as something that flies through the sky.  Today's book of poetry isn't thinking jets and rockets, they abound, this is rarer metal, think meteor.

Today's book of poetry would like to apologize for our sporadic schedule of late.  Real life gets in the way of poetry all the time.  Today's book of poetry will continue to post as many blogs/reviews as we can, and when.

Elegy for Drive-In Movie Theatres

An unripe knife forgotten in the inner elbow of a sliced lime, nights
thick with carbon monoxide & the prickly throats of desert flowers

populating the outer edges of darkness. The sound of ghosts necking
behind a horizontal pyramid of light. Perfume-sweetened exhaust fumes

making a savage bracket of meek mileage—dashboard dust
covers up all traces of blackout weather. To your weed-weary abandoned lots

to buckling plywood screens & the dirty windshield myopia of empty
bodies in motion. Saturday's mouths swimming in & out of rearview

mirrors. Not far from the last line of parked cars, a pair of owls
perched on a discarded railroad tie—the hum of tiny black tongues.


Today's book of poetry cannot wait for Joseph Mulholland's next poetry project and you should be excited too.  Writing like Mr. Mulholland's is the reason Today's book of poetry loves poetry in the first place.



Joseph Mulholland    

Joseph Mulholland was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  He is currently a Ph.D. student in comparative literature at the University of Toronto.  Before coming to Canada, he lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he studied Latin American literature at the University of Puerto Rico.



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

Joseph Mulholland was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is currently a Ph.D. student in comparative literature at the University of Toronto. Before coming to Canada, he lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he studied Latin American literature at the University of Puerto Rico.
Joseph Mulholland was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is currently a Ph.D. student in comparative literature at the University of Toronto. Before coming to Canada, he lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he studied Latin American literature at the University of Puerto Rico.
Joseph Mulholland was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He is currently a Ph.D. student in comparative literature at the University of Toronto. Before coming to Canada, he lived in San Juan, Puerto Rico, where he studied Latin American literature at the University of Puerto Rico.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Losers Dream On - Mark Halliday (Phoenix Poets - The University of Chicago Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Losers Dream On.  Mark Halliday.  Phoenix Poets.  The University of Chicago Press.  Chicago & London.  2018.

Mark Halliday's Losers Dream On is for the Hoi polloi even though they are unlikely to ever read it.  More's the pity.  Losers Dream On.

Losers Dream On was written for stand-up comedians at the end of hope and in need of a laugh.  There's plenty strange happening as Losers Dream On but somehow it all plays familiar.

Halliday is thoroughly transparent, all of his magic tricks are done right in front of you, no slight of hand.  

A Gender Theory

Women are right:
There must be meaning;
and the meaning will die.

Men are wrong:
They suppose there can be a deathless meaning;
or else that there can be joy without meaning.

Women know the double truth:
There must be meaning;
and the meaning will die.


Here in Ottawa today we are trying to enjoy the sunshine and the blue, blue sky because tomorrow all hell is about to break loose.  We are expecting 30-40cm. of snow tomorrow (15 inches or so), along with the snow there will be wind gusts up to 90km. (60mphish).  Batten down the hatches.

On a snowy day when you can't leave the house Today's book of poetry says that a book of poetry might make for some fine quiet time.  Mark Halliday is your huckleberry today.  We recommend getting you hands on a copy of it and marking out some time.

Mark Halliday likes to look at time, how things work out over time, or don't.  You can feel the undertoad in Losers Dream On even when Halliday is tickling the old funny bone.

First Wife

Each of us carries secret scars in spirit always ready
to be wakened into wounds, ready as if waiting
as if to be wakened into wounds is a debt forever unpaid:
a song suddenly brings the invoice again
and finds the screen door forever unlatched—

as when I hear "Save the Last Dance for Me"
and think immediately of Annie
and how I always said I would.


Mark Halliday is pretty matter of fact in his optimism regardless of the obstacles he invents and/or endures.  Losers Dream On is a totally solid poetry read.  You all know the Today's book of poetry drill; when I'm reading a book for the blog, in this case Losers Dream On, it is only during the second reading where I'll start to mark up a notepad with page numbers of essential poems.  These are the poems that Today's book of poetry wants/needs to share.

Halliday ran up some impressive Today's book of poetry numbers as we marked up our header with page after page of poems Today's book of poetry wanted to share.  Halliday's batting average is All-Star material.  Here's one more taste.

Index to Hamaday: A Questionable Life

Addicted to salted cashews,   64
Apologizes to two women in past,   55
Baffled by human acquiescence in gush of time,   49   
Complacently accepts middle-class white male privilege,   56
Considerably less funny than thinks,   66  
Doubts greatness of Philip Roth,   49 
Dozes off over important books,   38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, etc.
Eats more than friends deem possible,   19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28, 31ff
Feels "smaller than his life,"   57, 62
Forgets smart things said in restaurants,   28, 33, 39, 47, 60
Forgets that everyone else's heart is beating,   38, 48, 58
Honors Paul Violi via less funny imitation,   see Index
Hopes candor can substitute for lapidary brocade,   38
Hopes mild flickering wit better than no wit,   67
Jilted by series of women insensitive to poetic virility,   23, 24, 26, 27 ff.
Keeps daily diary because is center of world,   41
Loses track of criteria for good poems,   45, 55, 67
Means more than can quite express,   passim
Melon balls, metaphorical references to,   33, 44
More talented than enemies, by long shot,   48
More talented than friends, why not admit,   58
Mutters to self, unaware of being observed,   59-65
Ogles young women in airports,   45-66
Opposes own sexist tendencies,   24, 47, 56
Plans day around caffeine,   43, 45, 46, 48, 50, 52, etc.
Rejects "reference," "impact," and "grow" as transitive verbs,   54
Salves conscience by sending small contributions to
      Amnesty International, Planned Parenthood, Doctors Without Borders
      and ACLU,   32, 40, 50, 61
Sings like George Thorogood while alone in car,   62
Still trying to impress women unimpressed forty years earlier,   61
Suddenly sees self as tiny fleck of ego amid billions of such,   70
Surprisingly clever after two gin and tonics,   56
Testosterone in odd relation to existential bafflement,   51, 55, 60
Time, mystery of, unable to stop exclaiming about,   39, 49, 59
Undeserving of luck but very glad to have it,   68
Wishes had been kinder on certain occasions,   71


It's been a while since Today's book of poetry had a list poem and all of you regulars will know that Today's book of poetry is a sucker for the list poem.  Halliday's "Index to Hamaday: A Questionable Life" is an ace.

Yep, Mark Halliday can burn.

Image result for mark halliday poet photo

Mark Halliday

Mark Halliday has taught in the creative writing program at Ohio University since 1996. His six previous books of poems include Jab and Thresherphobe, both published by the University of Chicago Press.

" 'And you try to be awake,' growls Mark Halliday. These poems are fully awake, practicing vivisection on their own delusions, complacencies, and sublimities, carving into the tissue of language. Song here sounds more like invoice than voice. Yet its wit reveals the timeless: sorrow for a dying father, a lost wife, and the core recognition of our 'dustitude.' A remarkable book."
     - Rosanna Warren, author of Ghost in a Red Hat

“Reading Losers Dream On is like listening in on the constantly shifting, uncomfortable thoughts of a mind brilliantly attuned to the world of memory and to its own intricate (often hilarious) processes. These poems take place in landscapes that seem familiar at first—snow-covered parking lots, an empty Mexican restaurant, airport gates crowded with travelers—but, under Mark Halliday’s gaze, they become dazzling and strange, filled with troublesome knowledge and the possibility of mortality and transcendence. Witty, exciting, and wide-awake, Halliday is one of the best poets at work in America today.”
     - Kevin Prufer, author of In a Beautiful Country

“Mark Halliday is one of our foremost technicians of the American vernacular. In Halliday's poems, James Joyce, Leave It To Beaver, and Sir Walter Raleigh all get their turn at the microphone. I admire Halliday's dedication to coherence, self-interrogation, and endless verbal playfulness. His voice is one of the most reliable, hilarious, effervescent, and moody pleasures in the contemporary canon. His rich new collection, Losers Dream On, holds its own with the high standard of his best work.”
      - Tony Hoagland, author of Application for Release from the Dream

Mark Halliday

Poetry@Tech:  Mark Halliday
Video: Poetry@Tech



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Masterplan — Eric Greinke & Alison Stone (Presa Press)

Today's  book of poetry:
Masterplan.  Eric Greinke & Alison Stone.  Presa Press.  Rockford, Michigan.  2018.


Alison Stone and Eric Greinke get it right when they muse beyond gender and hit a norm we can all recognize.  The sum is better than the parts when these two collaborate.  

As all you faithful readers of Today's book of poetry will remember, we have feted Alison Stone's find book of poems Dazzle (Jacar Press, 2017) and you can see that here:

As usual, Today's book of poetry sent Milo to the stacks to see if we had any of the many books Eric Greinke has published.  No luck.

In Masterplan, both Stone and Greinke are invisible, instead we have a third entity and a new voice.


Another morning, the children
squawking like gulls at the
table, a stray deer
in the backyard
listening to the wind.
Another chance to take
or turn away from
another wild, weedy
space to enter or
burn, to be us or them.
A spontaneous cease-fire
presents a neutral moment.
If only the Middle East
were this easy, half-chewed
food stirring paroxysms of laughter
so much better than slaughter.
If only our little ears
only heard warn
of impending explosions.
How to joy, never
had to strain to make peace in this
torrid world, when
humor eludes us
like disappearing ink?
How to gather our wits
and families, shelter inside
moments bright as the deer's
ever-watchful eyes?
Nothing to choose between
running with the herd or
striking out toward
individual danger. It 
all leads to
a dead-end canyon,
when what we really want
is to fly away like cool gulls.
The splotched sky's turquoise
blends to blue-gray — no
defended borders, no manifesto
but the manifesto of light
rinsing the neutral sky, with
us one solar flare from gone.


This third entity has a monster sense of humour.  Greinke and Stone harmonize so well you only hear one voice, clear and certain.  Today's book of poetry knows from experience how difficult this is, to write with another poet.  The only thing a poet ever really owns is their own voice.  In a project such as Masterplan the first thing the poet has to give up is their own voice.

In the middle of all of this fun Greinke/Stone set us down in the second section of Masterplan, called "Little Novels," in thirty-one five line quintains, unrhymed. These splendid diminutive movies play surprisingly thorough.  Each of these "Little Novels" punches you from a different direction and they come quick and heavy.  These poems are a muscle stretch for Greinke/Stone and a delight to read.  The two poets have cluster-imaged their id and ego until what comes out the other end is magic.


After the fire at the firehouse,
the fireman were banned
from lighting recreational bonfires.
The hunting club outlawed
dogs after the president's Lab
shot him - the loaded gun
on the truck's seat, the eager puppy
leaping. The school superintendent
called an emergency meeting to ban
band instruments after the incident
with the tuba and on the strong
recommendation of the proctologist.


The third section (of four) in Masterplan is called "Q & A" and is made up of call and response couplets.  Greinke/Stone are asking all of the important questions here and some of the other kind but it all comes out fresh.  We've been waiting for answers to these questions, Masterplan delivers.

The last section in this two-for-one special is called "Tarps."  In "Tarps" the dynamic duo lay down the most basic groundwork for how to be a good person.  These poems are the result of an exercise in co-operation.  The residue of what is lost when we fail to communicate is infinite.  In comparison, Greine/Stone offer sweet resolution, answers, hope.

In The Dark

Sorry that Pluto is no longer a planet. Sorry that Tower
Records closed. Sorry that Manhattan's pushcarts
transmorgrified into sad telephones. Regrettable that
deer munch manicured suburban lawns, their busy teeth
chomping Kentucky Bluegrass. Unfortunate that 
clouds closed the moon's wide eye. A shame that
no one seems to feel responsible for the waste of
tears spilled for unworthy lovers, or the extra
miles traveled by rejected immigrants running for their lives.
Easier to focus on how regrettable it is
that the cost of living rises, than on the tragic
spaces between family members, pulsing with
traumatic long-term tensions and unresolved trust.
Sorry, also, that the Pinta Island Tortoise and Chinese Paddlefish
swam into oblivion, and isnt' it sad how the poor are
paddling in place, their resignation a different kind of
whirlpool, swirling inexorably into itself? Almost criminal that
pollution causes 1 in 7 deaths, our waste and poison
bombarding both personal and global immune systems.
Sad by no surprise that things so often break down, the excess
of some robbing others of bare necessities, with no real
opportunity for change, though the few, golden exceptions
go viral on the internet, neutralizing our consciences.
Regrettable, too, how technology fills our bedrooms with
anti-erotic red LED numbers and TV screens screaming
crime and war and the occasional hard-luck adoptable dog.
In the larger scheme, perhaps it's better that we don't
look too hard, but rather, turn our guilty eyes
toward the invisible dark matter that keeps the cosmos whole.


Today's book of poetry can't help but be impressed by the seamlessness of these constructions.  Usually when joining one thing to another there is a seam, a visible reminder, you can't miss it.  Eric Greinke and Alison Stone's Masterplan is masterfully built, you cannot see the space between the two poets.

It's exciting to see optimistic poetry and Masterplan is brimming with hope.

Image result for Eric greinke poet photo

Eric Greinke

Image result for alison stone poet photo

Alison Stone

Alison Stone has an MFA from Pine Manor College. Her poems have been published in many literary journals, such as Barrow Street, Chelsea, The Illinois Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The New Statesman, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, Poet Lore, Poetry, and Poetry International.  Her first book, They Sing at Midnight, won the 2003 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Award. Stone is also the recipient of Poetry's Madeline Sadin Award. Her most recent books are Guzzle (Dancing Girl Press, 2017) and Dazzle (NYQ Books, 2008). Her website is

Eric Greinke has an MSW from Grand Valley State University. His poems and essays have been published internationally in hundred of literary journals, such as Abraxas, California Quarterly,
Delaware Poetry Review, Forge, Gargoyle, The Green Door (Belgium), Ginyu (Japan), The Journal (U.K.), Main Street Rag, New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Poem, Prosopisia (India), Schuylkill Valley Journal, South Carolina Review, and University of Tampa Review. His most recent book is The Third Voice - Notes on the Art of Poetic Collaboration (Presa Press, 2017). His website is:

Eric Greinke

Grand Rapids Poet's Conference - April 2012
Video: Eric Greinke

Alison Stone
"There is no gun"
Video: Alison Stone poetry


Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
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Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Abandoned Homeland - Jeff Gundy (Bottom Dog Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Abandoned Homeland.  Jeff Gundy.  Bottom Dog Press.  Harmony Series.  Huron, Ohio.  2015.

Contemplation with Acorns and Guitar

Night gathers in the pines, but the grassy slopes aren't ready
to give up. The fireflies and the frogs have things to do.

I have a good post to lean on, a stolen pen, lots of paper.
Tomorrow we'll explain, apologize, surrender. Tomorrow

the heat will return, and fat men will tell expensive lies to make
themselves richer. Tomorrow more cattails will die,

more glaciers will calve, acorns will fall from the trees.
The rhythm of the world has nothing to do with saints,

everything to do with bodies. Even on a single path
there are always more than two ways. One law is waiting.

One law is doing something, right now. Maybe it's opening
your eyes, after all these years. Maybe standing up, or sitting

in the packed privacy of the trees, in the places between,
places where things breathe on their way to the sky.

When we start back the air fills with something not fog,
not dust, filmy, almost light, all real, the secret net

of the world shaken out just for us. Let it all stay soft,
let it linger and shimmer around us. Let it all stay.

The page almost glows in the last light, it crazes and
glitters, reads itself without me, it soaks in my words

and gives back something else. Even the birds know better
than to speak this late. It's not dark. It's only less brilliant

than it was. Remember that kid you called dumb? We are
all asleep in the outward man. We are all deaf in the world

of light. Even in the darkness it's hard to hear what
we need. There are words to love: willow, bullfrog,

mud. Things that lie waiting for centuries, like a fiddle
forgotten in the attic, barely breathing in the heat,

the dark. It isn't lost. What's a century or two?
Not every tree has a guitar in it. But some of them do.


Jeff  Gundy's narrative couplets fall like a constant soft hammer.  Gundy isn't telling us how things should be but he is certainly letting us know how they could be.

Today's book of poetry felt so instantly at home inside these intelligent missives it was like pulling a favourite seat in front of a warm fire.  These poems do make you feel comfortably at home and open to consideration.  Now this may be, in part, because Jeff Gundy, just like Today's book of poetry, is an old poetry soldier.  That shouldn't necessarily mean we can all be painted with the same brush, but there is an instant familiarity for me with Gundy.

In Jeff Gundy's poetry world there would seem to be room for us all, room for us to be and become better, in Jeff Gundy's fine poetry there is hope.

Meditation on Narrative, Dogma and Flight

     It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat
     but often the shadow seems more real than the body.
                               — Tomas GΓΆsta TranstrΓΆmer

My people are not natural storytellers.

Ask my father for a story, he's still trying to get it going
when all the boys have drifted off to the kitchen.

Still, I want the reader as far inside of my skin as possible,
no matter the difficulties. For instance:

The self does not feel like matter, but that's all it is.
I forgot who said so, and I don't agree,

but it was spoken with such confidence.

And so much else needs to be considered:

Kites make the wind visible.
Some tree frogs can only sing for three nights.

Can you tell me how it is that lights comes into the soul?

(That was Thoreau, 1851.)

Spirit is to religion as love is to marriage.

How do you run faster? Start running faster.

How does the box kite manage to fly?

"This is wonderful" and "this must continue" are close kin.

And then the kite's shadow across the plowed earth.


Gundy isn't bound to the couplet, there are tercets and quatrains and flat out free verse and prose poems.  But the voice is always the same and you're going to recognize the voice.  Every social circle has at least one voice of reason, one voice that is listened to - Jeff Gundy is a poetic voice of reason, if he says it, we have to consider it.

Milo and Kathryn are back in the office, they were welcomed back with spontaneous applause greeting them when they came through the door, followed by substantial hugging and kissing of cheeks.  Milo's newly stated project is to be more inclusive and as such he championed Gundy through this morning's reading.  It was delightful to have the new couple home.

These poems, all built to last, these stories fell over the room and included everyone in their warm embrace.  These are songs of hope and inclusion, and sometimes even something like faith/hope in the better angels within us all.

Letter from an Ohio Classroom

           Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time,
      from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the
      very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills.
                                     —Martin Luther King, Jr.

    I'll let you be in my dream if I can be in your dream.
                                      —Bob Dylan

The theme for the day is not dream but time, time in its magisterial
indifference, sacred or profane only as we make it, shape it,

as we read its scars, its tracks, its dreamy traces. How is it
with the nothing? Heidegger asked. Where shall we seek

the nothing? We may not comprehend the ensemble of beings,
he said, but we find ourselves in the midst of beings all the same.

He wasn't in my dream as we talked about injustice anywhere,
direct action, creative tension. I imagined shutting down

the government out of fear that poor people would get health care
and so destroy the country. I said nothing about that.

One guy complained that he couldn't bring his deer rifle
on campus. Prejudiced against rednecks, I heard him mutter,

and found myself suggesting that he just keep it in his trunk.
A guy in the first row shook his head. Somebody read the part

about getting all the facts before taking action. When I asked
for an example and the guy in first row said "Girls,"

a stir ran around the room, but then we shrugged and smiled.
We'd all been there, we admitted, blacks and whites, guys

and dolls. Some of us lived in the midst of beings we could
not comprehend. One of us hated her stepfather even more

than her brother did, but kept up a mask of mere hostility,
seething, sullen, lest she be thought lacking in respect.

We all knew time would not cure our ills. We all wanted
to be in somebody's dream. We all had trunks full of guns

and time and being, full of nothing, nothing to hide.


Today's book of poetry likes Jeff Gundy and his poetry quite a bit.  Give these poems a chance, let them run around in your head, and you'll soon want to dive in for the full swim.  Gundy plays the quiet, slow game masterfully, it's not a lull that he lays on the reader, it unadorned reason, so bright as to be almost aflame.

Jeff Gundy

Longtime professor of English and creative writing at Bluffton University, Fulbright scholar and poet-in-residence at the University of Salzburg (2008), visiting professor at LCC International University in Klaipeda (2015). Presented Menno Simons Lectures at Bethel College (2015), Bechtel Lectures at Conrad Grebel University College (2014), Yoder Memorial Lecture at Goshen College (2013). Readings and workshops in poetry, memoir, and creative nonfiction at Antioch Writer's Workshop, U. of Cincinnati, Kent State U., and many other venues.

Abandoned Homeland (Bottom Dog Press, 2016), Deerflies (WordTech Editions, 2004), Flatlands(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 1995), Rhapsody with Dark Matter (Bottom Dog Press, 2000), Scattering Point: The World in a Mennonite Eye (SUNY Albany Press, 2003), Somewhere Near Defiance (Anhinga Press, 2014), Spoken among the Trees (Akron University Press, 2007), Walker in the Fog: On Mennonite Writing (Cascadia Publishing House, 2005)

If Whitman were born in the Midwest to Mennonite parents, listened to Dylan and the Dead and loved to laugh at himself, he’d sound just like Jeff Gundy. “I want the reader as far inside of my skin as possible,” he writes, in bemused poems that are in love with the productions of matter and time. “How else to describe this absurd, lovely world?” he poses in the title poem of his warm and inviting Abandoned Homeland. Gundy’s poetry reminds us, over and over, that paying attention to the delights and troubles of existence becomes a kind of psalm to this botched and beautiful creation.               ~Philip Metres, author of Sand Opera


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, February 4, 2019

Anatomy of an Injury - Myna Wallin (Inanna Publications and Education Inc.)

Today's book of poetry:
Anatomy of an Injury.  Myna Wallin.  Inanna Publications and Education Inc.  Toronto, Ontario.  2018.

Today's book of poetry isn't exactly sure what a chanteuse is but we know we want to call Anatomy of an Injury a Holly Golightly dirge and the voice of Myna Wallin something both sexy and dangerous.  Wallin is lamenting and celebrating some of the same things at the same time and in context it makes perfect sense.  Or: romantic life expectations rarely meet up with our real life propositions and the love life of our imagination is endlessly superior to our own life between the sheets.  

Myna Wallin knows all the delicate disorder of the modern Bo-Bo Dance.  Her poems, while entirely aware of the slings and sorrows of romantic love, precipitously both long for and scorn Cupid's attempts at breaking our tough modern skin with his pathetic arrows.

Anatomy of an Injury

Pain, volatile and dangerous like faulty wiring.
Pain, turning on and off, at unexpected intervals,
like broken Christmas lights.
Pain, a rodent's teeth chewing
on my knee—its favourite treat.
Like quick-hardening cement poured
into my legs.
Pain, a belligerent visitor who won't leave,
drunk on Naproxen, Codeine, and Celebrex.
Pain streaking down in gullies,
obscuring a view of anything outside.

Pain that snakes its way
to the heart, weary and intolerant.
Pain as self-flagellation, as penance, as

Why the knee—
what does the knee represent?

I love you, said on bent knee, by a fiance
in a moment's sublime supplication;
a falling to the knees in wonderment
in the presence of a celestial being,
an extra-terrestrial. Kneeling in worship.

I can't bend or straighten my leg fully,
cut off at the shins, like a swift kick
life has given me, a stern admonishment
for being unwilling
to yield to love,
or the failure to kneel in prayer.

No deference, no stooping
to bow or clean; knees are for lending
service, for placing oneself underneath
something or someone, for picking
up pennies, touching the vestments
of the Pope—or for doggy style sex.

There can be no relinquishing of
power without knees, to either deity
or man. As woman, lacking this compliance,
I'm an aberration.

Stiff and leaning on a cane,
I resemble an old crone. Limping
and twisted, I cast terrible spells.


Okay, weird digression.  Myna Wallin has a cat poem in this collection that gave me the heebie jeebies something fierce, right down to my memory of "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"  Wallin walked right into the middle of one of my reoccurring nightmares and brought a poem out of it.  What dark magic is this?

Myna Wallin loves love, loves amour and loves a good laugh.  These honest feeling, honest sounding poems are just good enough that they may be honest too.  Anatomy of an Injury knows that there are many paths to happiness, insight, love and contentment and that some of them pass through the funny bone first.

Fear of the Zombie Ex-Girlfriend

Fear the zombie ex-girlfriend,
her guts infested with jealousy.
If she had a conscious thought—
besides brains, human flesh, hungry now—
it would be, if I can't have you, I'll eat you.

Instead she'd say, "We should go have coffee,
no reason we can't be friends,"
And she'd wink demurely, like she used to,
with her undead eyes.

She wants to eat parts of you right in front of me,
digesting you like some ungodly sacrament:
your body and her body entwined,
roaming the earth together,
ravenous together.

But she hasn't got a thought in her hideous
drooling mouth, her gaping, half-broken jaw.
Why can't you see that?
She'd just eat her way through you
as if you were chocolate
unless someone stops her:
someone's got to stop her!

I'd better make a pre-emptive strike
and make it a good one.
Piano-wire right through her scrawny neck—
Otherwise she's liable to ruin everything.
And you, poor thing, won't see it coming.


Another big snow in Ottawa this past weekend.  Our morning read was conducted in a room strewn with heavy coats, a small flock of gloves and mittens and scarves hanging over all the heating grates like colourful sleeping crows.  Drying mittens have a certain odour and it isn't erotic, just saying.  The read itself was crisp and clean as spring water.  Our new intern, Sally Ann, led the charge with her new-to-the-office enthusiasm.  The others were suitably impressed by Sally Ann's moxie and poetry smarts and the solid as you need them to be poems of Myna Wallin.  The reading was warm enough to heat the room.

Anatomy of an Injury is immediate.  Walling hasn't put a single thing between her so keen eye and honed voice, there are no filters and we can be grateful.  There are poems about loss and poems about pain.  And Ex-girlfriend Zombies.  Bless Wallin's cotton socks.

Myna Wallin knows all about the pain we dump on one another, share willingly, or not.  But this heart, this poet, is bigger than just pain, Wallin is buoyed by hope.  As fragile, futile and as far out of reach as hope may be.

Now Serving Date #2,775

Blue agate eyes skimmering surfaces,
light on her. After his set:
Can I buy you a drink?
In his stuff tuxedo, six-foot broad-shouldered,
He's got the look of a bridegroom.
Non-verbal, offstage
He's at a loss.

Marlboro lit, right hand tapping on the bar, rising,
falling. Dialogue—a foreign art,
halting, lurching.

Tell me about your gig in New York.
One-word answers.

Questions, a social reflex. When responses come
he's lost, smoke rings trailing pianissimo,
eyeing his options as women congregate,
oozing pheromones.

Drinks like a man in a hurry
to lose consciousness.
He won't be coaxed out of hiding, won't meet her
halfway. If his arms weren't so lean, tapered—arms
that gallop across vibes, smash cymbals.

If his eyes weren't jaded so blue, would she need
to laugh so musically, smile so widely? then off to a smoky
after-hours jazz joint. Over drinks
meets his saxophonist buddy
who talks enough for three.

Months later:
The same sax player wonders,
Are you still together?
She laughs, embarrassed,
Haven't seen him since.
Without missing a beat he asks,
Can I buy you a drink?


Any poet who writes love poems to both Irving "King of the Canadian Poetry Hill for a good long while" Layton and Gordon "Bob Dylan is a fan of his work" Lightfoot, is so thoroughly Canadian that Today's book of poetry has an instant craving for pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Today's book of poetry certainly wants more of Myna Wallin.

Image result for MYNA WALLIN PHOTO

Myna Wallin
Myna Wallin is an author and editor living in Toronto. She is the author of a novel, Confessions of a Reluctant Cougar (2010) and a volume of poetry, A Thousand Profane Pieces (2006). Her poetry and short stories have appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies including Contemporary Verse 2, Existere, Descant, Literary Review of Canada, Matrix, Rampike, 50+ Poems about Gordon Lightfoot, and Where the Nights are Twice as Long: Love Letters of Canadian Poets.

"With her brilliantly chosen title, Anatomy of an Injury, Myna Wallin proceeds to examine a series of agonizing loves: Love for a mother lost at a young age to cancer, then, love for a lifetime of amours "because love and longing for it, is the only thing/ I’m really good at." In her disarming candor, she is a Canadian Anne Sexton, forthright, glamourous, savvy—and innocent. A feminist in a "sparkly dress," Wallin understands that vanity, too, has its desperate, daily discipline, even when "I've Reached the Age of I Don’t Care." But very happily someone the poet would "do anything to keep around" arrives by the end of this winsome book."
     —Molly Peacock, author of The Analyst and The Paper Garden

"Myna Wallin investigates, without fear, "this duplicity of meaning, of motive, of self" in poems that dive into the painful or awkward past and a youthful, continuous lust for men and clothes and life. Along the way, she bears in mind the kitsch of the high backed bondage chair or foot-damaging pair of Louboutins, while defiantly declaring she will curl up and sleep amongst the beige and brown spotted bodies of her domesticated family of bobcats. Wallin's arch style somehow convinces us we’ll always yearn for love and heartbreak."
      —Nyla Matuk, author of Stranger

"Effervescently centering each poem's surface is the universal solvent, love, in all its grand, minute, nebulous, recollected and misunderstood permutations. These deeply introspective, poignant, reflective, compelling, yet simultaneously life-affirming and humorous poems dance "across a trellis/ with such bravado, bold, ornate,/ luxurious to the touch/ their feet in the shade, their faces in the sun."
      —Michael Fraser, author of To Greet Yourself Arriving

Myna Wallin
 "The Self as Both Object & Subject" performed with jazz band, live @the NOW Lounge. Hosted by jaymz bee.
Video: PoetMynaWallin2014


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.