Wednesday, July 31, 2019

the small way — Onjana Yawnghwe (Caitlin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
the small way.  Onjana Yawnghwe.  Caitlin Press.  Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.  2018.

Many years ago, somewhere around 1984-1985, Today's book of poetry moved to Prince Edward Island and while there we had the honour of meeting a great Canadian artist named Erica Rutherford.  Erica was a former Eric, had been an artist with the original Goon Show with Peter Sellers and Dudley Moore, he had also been a filmmaker in South Africa. Eric had married, had children and then eventually Erica arrived.

When I met Erica she was with Gail, the same woman Eric had married when she was a man, all those many years ago.  When asked, and this is a badly remembered paraphrase, but when asked about the differences between being married to Eric and married to Erica, Gail replied "plumbing."

Onjana Yawnghwe's the small way tells a parallel love story of sorts and does it with a generous heart and a kindness of spirit.  Today's book of poetry applauds the story - but what we really care about is the poetry.  We care about whether or not these poems work.  Like clockwork.

Very intense emotional clockwork.  Yawnghwe has a tempered spirit that inhabits these poems, a tempered spirit that proves, once again, that tough comes in a million disguises.  These poems lead us to believe that Onjana Yawnghwe is that sort of tough.

The Big Bang

I thought you'd tell me you were going to die, your face was so serious.
Or you'd fallen in love with another woman, to leave me behind.
These were my greatest fears.
Your face leaked shadows, spilling little light.
When you told me, I felt relief. An ocean crossed my eyes. I thought
you were brave, knowing this dark place you had come from and the
dangerous place you would be travelling to.

I wrapped my arms around you. You wept.
You were afraid I would cut you down and reject you.
But how could I reject the only person I have ever loved?

The land you were standing on was waterlogged and sinking.
You did not know what decisions to make, how you would be in the
world, if you would be transitioning or staying tight with this secret.

I wanted you free. I was impatient for you to decide your life, and thus mine.
This ache in the background. The world on its head. We were travelling
to the edges of the known universe, where no light would return.
Somehow, our story is ancient.
We were each other's shadow, each taking turns in the moonlight.

There were things to be done.
I swallowed it all with straining mouth, the doubts, the fears, the
unknown, questions of identity, sexuality, stars, satellites, black holes,
supernovas and all the rough cosmic debris.


These poems are inside of the gender politic, a woman and her husband, who is transitioning to her natural state as a woman, make for the story line.  Yawnghwe transverses all of it with a level of class this is both admirable and necessary.  Onjana Yawnghwe has deep questions about the nature of gender and desire.  Yawnghwe is a willing participant, a loving partner with her eyes on the future.  But when you start spinning out of your known universe and into the unknown uncharted territory of the future - things change.

One partner changes so much they can no longer find each other and the searing pain of that disassociation is searing.  White hot.  Yawnghwe indulges in no whining, nor much in the way of second guessing, these poems meet the events straight on, with respect and hope.  When Yawnghwe's partner moves on Onjana is left to pick up the pieces.  These are challenging and rewarding poems of crystal clear precision, haunting poignancy.


It was my choice
to end our marriage.

Something I couldn't imagine,
being attracted to women.
I saw you as a woman.

Only later did I realize
how you have fused into my heart
how by your mechanism it beats.

I thought it would always be so.
Everything was spinning, you see.
The earth was something to hold on to.

This conventional conception of self was familiar.
It had been hanging there like a dirty
dish towel, flapping in the breeze.
I took it up, raised it as flag.

It was my mistake to think I'd never lose you.
but love and time pick you up and shake
you loose into this new body.
All yours. All alone.
Reaching out.  Open arms.


How tender, tender, tender our fragile hearts are.  It's remarkable we've survived as a species at all.  the small way is an emotional roller-coaster, the most stereotypical and trite descriptive for an utterly unique, or at least decidedly rare in Canadian letters, glimpse into a relationship where gender and identity actually change in front of your eyes.  What was loved has vanished in plain sight of our eyes and no amount of love can change that.

Return to Sender

You refuse to take our wedding picture,
the one with you smiling, embracing me
from behind, cherry blossoms in the distance.
Your mother had given it to us, framed.

Today you return the letters I wrote you,
the whole box of them, saying "It will help me move on."
Move from where to where, I wonder?

The day we were married
the sun lit the Japanese pond
and the trees were nearly
exhausted of pink blossoms.
It was April.


As much as the small way was a book of poetry that Today's book of poetry "poetry enjoyed", we weren't alone in being a little saddened by it all, the loss.  After our morning read our newest intern, Maggie, went and sat in the corner in one of our large reading chairs.  She surrounded herself with books from the stacks and sent out a cosmic "do not disturb" sign.  She also put Puddles Pity Party on the box.

Today's book of poetry admired Onjana Yawnghwe's honesty but it wouldn't count for scat without these precise poems and her excellent poetry chops.  And of course it wouldn't have happened without the consent of Yawnghwe's ex Hazel.  Today's book of poetry takes our hat off to both women, both brave women.

These poems burn.

Onjana Yawnghwe

Onjana Yawnghwe

Onjana Yawnghwe was born in Thailand but is from the Shan people in Burma (Myanmar). She grew up in Vancouver and received an MA in English from UBC. Her poems have been featured in numerous anthologies and journals, including The Best Canadian Poetry in English 2011, 4 Poets, CV2, Room, and The New Quarterly. Her first poetry book, Fragments, Desire, was published by Oolichan Books in 2017.

“Onjana Yawnghwe’s The Small Way is a book that has never before been written: poems of love & grief for a spouse’s transitions to becoming a woman within the continued cradle of support that art and empathy creates. From acknowledging the gentleness that was at the heart of the bond to dealing with the weariness that learning how to cope with another’s transformations brings, Yawnghwe’s poetry is searingly honest, steeped in lyrical resonances that attempt to effect and honour her own transition to a different kind of relationship with the person she once married, and with her own fragile, fierce self: still singing, ‘still, it shines.’”
     —Catherine Owen, author of The Day of the Dead

“Yawnghwe rigorously examines how falling out of a lovers’ narrative is more shattering than falling out of love itself. Gender is dissected and disassembled as her spouse transitions, as is the very notion of intimacy itself. Eloquent. Startling original.”
     —Betsy Warland, author of Oscar of Between

Deftly aphoristic, startlingly vivid and affecting, The Small Way breaks open the love poem and presents us with a vital story of change, loss and persistence. Each line resonates with the fundamental mystery of other lives, other bodies, other desires, yet the book is also suffused with indelible traces of connection. This is some of the finest writing on love in recent years.
     —Warren Cariou, director of the Centre for Creative Writing and Oral Culture, University of                    Manitoba



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

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

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Attributed to the Harrow Painter - Nick Twemlow (University of Iowa Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Attributed to the Harrow Painter.  Nick Twemlow.  Kuhl House Poets.  University of Iowa Press.  Iowa City, Iowa.  2017.

      "I must've eaten
       Ten clocks
       Waiting for you"
                               from - "Responding to my father's question"

Nick Twemlow has a section of poems near the end of Attributed to the Harrow Painter, ten of them, all titled "Responding to my father's question."  These poems seem to be a confessional primal scream of beautiful tone and duration.  Underlining every poem is long love letter to Twemlow's son Sacha.

Twemlow nails that lava hot emotional battlefield where families crash and burn or the relationships grow white/blue like tempered steel.

There are nine poems, groups of poems, making up Attributed to the Harrow Painter and they all have the same feel, a machine gun pace and the best bolognese temperament, proper burn.  Twemlow
is one of those whip-quick-smart poets.  His ideas come so quickly you can't figure them all out in one read.  These cats are dense, but man oh man, Twemlow can throw a line.


All along you were Right, they were flanking our
house They Documented you taking off your clothes
every morning I requested these Documents & they
sent someone's Illicit hard drive I fucked with the
commandant Nothing that mattered Continued to
happen into the Nothing that made us laugh like Gas
does Most of us went WYSIWYG Which meant sand
kicked In our face &/or our Life was a fracking disgrace
I know you lived mostly Desirous of desolation A
kind of Interior branding a Lesbos of the Soul Let me
introduce you To my friends Who fry bacon & Spumoni
de Kooning cooling limbic An astral fryer. Thomas
Mann Spelling things out I exhausted I falling down
On my face the divorce Anything but legal Just shame
& egrets Shitting the windows I realm I record Life
begins to get in The way the life Of a novelist Which
I assume is not Only more comfortable The advance
is ridiculous But strident The perqs develop Their
own antiquities I always go back to my Preference
for medications that act swiftly I don't do time-lapse
So well I get hell I focus my gaze On Takashi Ito's
Structured vision Of the not this world But space is the
place Where we can mace the strangers walking into
our loathsome Into oblivion The usual I refuse My son
Wallows the smooth Tallows of the luxurious paradise
of Time to spinneret to Pearl the moustache I get that
You falsify Perfectly you stream experience Like a coin
you toss Into whatever Fountain I still Believe the
poem Delivers a brutal shrill lust for streaming Cusps
your romance With ecriture If my mother were To read
this How much shame Would envelope Her I'm sure
you assure us Reassured all of us Which might mean
Write out & out & out else Make this a god Or homeless
People to shine a light On a poem amending The title
Intended to circumscribe My mother's loneliness I am
thinking of My mother a lot These days which Pass 
in spasms In theory If we are anything If we have
nothing else uncommon My mother Finds comfort
in Planting bulbs each fall She left me a voicemail
Message for my birthday Several days late to which I
never responded I didn't Listen to it for months I can't
remember if I did listen to it. Fred told me he couldn't
Get over a line from the Poem I read in Chicago This
summer from a poem that shows up later in this book

"Look, I've loved my mother Most of my life."

Its permission to admit why the anxiety Over mother
love Why depict spiders skittering All over our dreams
I didn't mean I didn't always Love my mother her Name
is Robyn same As my wife When Oedipus says I get the
feeling his dumb Luck is his fortune Is his is Oedipus
Reminds us to behave Better in the future Which his
motherwife Reminds us is unknowable Every memory
I have Or choose to have Of my mother saturated In
the blues of a Dusky sky I should Cry I should inhabit
The cliches entrusted to me To exhibit A lonely boy
ill Treated defeated before Birth exiled from Chance
When I Remember my mother Crying I don't remember
Her ever crying She loved me I'm certain As she loved
her Spring tulips not unconditionally But with proper
proportion Unhappy that I cannot heave My heart into
my mouth I Love your majesty According to my Bond
no more nor less the man standing Next to me inside of
me in Permanent ecstasy the cyphers Scuttling under
passing cars Unable to find A shadow to Dissolve Into
The barrel Of a gun twists Back at me I lard The scene
with A company of C's I see the scene in every Register
but time-lapse returns No favor The mother coma The
mother coma The various strobing Or phasing The 
clock dial is a riot Planning itself Years in advance Go
quietly address The vending machine Snip wires Stare
at Pictures of you Jolted twenty feet back onto The hood
Of a viper Flicking its Capital relentlessly At the brine
of these new centuries Erupting like nothing You or I
know I pick at a scab I develop A hankering for Insta for
gratification A door that slides Shut just As invasion
of talk Of jetties & molly & away to Somalia As if
you could evade The glistening Of your Fund which
powers up In a shadow Enciphered this cruel media
this papering Over & proxy servers & Anonymous
nerve Tapping to allocate resource Assuaging Assange
Buffering Beyonce Journos Copping a feel in Ferguson
ecstasy of Entering the Gilgamesh Dying 'neath the
heath Hammered to a tinsel thin Instance of justice
You don't belong To tribe always acting as Leering
at The contents of the mirror Mirroring the Warhol
Insistence on or the Basquiat Keith Haring! Nauman
walks in a square that Occludes race & class Privilege
preening or Peacocking Queer Theory rasterized
Resisting salve of Semiotics Your brother arches His
eyebrow Thought This true & u spend so much of
yourself Spending credit scores & fantasy The vale
we Vulture in our waking dread Waxing what You
examine with your niggling X-ray You my standing
Camino All the world's nostrils flare & Zenith & zeroes
shiver Me back into my car & I Drive home totally


Today's book of poetry would like to apologize to both Nick Twemlow and to the University of Iowa Press.  In its original form, in the book, this poem is justified on both sides, hence it appears as a monolith.  Idiots that we are here we haven't figured out how to do it.  Imagine.  Of course we are still posting these blogs/reviews with a Commodore 16, steam and coal powered.

Today's book of poetry had David Bowie's "Young Americans" on the box this morning.  Today's book of poetry finds "Young Americans" always takes us back to our cab-driving days, 6 pm - 6 am.  Mr. Bowie helped us get through more than once long night.  Today if feels a right companion to Attributed to the Harrow Painter.  Controlled mayhem meeting precision, Twemlow and Bowie are similar smart cats.  These poems go to your brain before they force their way to your heart.

Today's book of poetry would want to suggest Nick Twemlow plays with his readers, but he is a poet at play.

Responding to my father's question

I square dark spaces
In the places where
I'm an addict. I rinse &
Delete on repeat.
The addict
In me charms the
Awful offal, where
The memories (of you) collide
In stride, the memories
Of you glitch through.
Like tiny flashbacks
Flashing back your priors.
Now you tell me.
You think you're going
To hell. I look forward
To your review of the place.
The mild discomfort you'll
Feel is my two year old
Self wondering why
Mum looks so
Peaked & wearing
Hospital gown. She could
Barely look at me the one
Visit I remember taking.
There was an inner
Courtyard teeming with
Plants. She seemed to prefer
Being in there than being
Anywhere else. If you feel
Anything for her. If you
Can't stand all the
Redress. You've spent
Most of your life
Listening to the berserk
Among us spit our
Holiness at you. That'd
Kill most of you, which
It did. I can't come this
Weekend. I'm grilling
For three these days.
As my friend said when
She was pregnant with
Her only child, at brunch,
"Bacon wants sausage."


Attributed to the Harrow Painter leaves marks.  By the time you've hammered your way through to the end you'll have notes all over the place, painters to look up, other new poems/poets to read.  Twemlow provides us with new areas of study.  He also heats the place up.

Our morning read was held in some summer sauna hot offices.  We have a couple of old aircraft sized propellers hooked up to two large fans.  They create enough to wind to lift my desk off of the floor so no loose paper in the office today.  You have to lean into the fans to get to the bathroom.  Unfortunately they're only pushing hot air around.  How ironic is that for us here at Today's book of poetry?

Champagne Dawn

Cassandra wrote
To tell me
That my 
With chicks
Is over,"
& I jumped out of
My chair
& ran
To the picture
In the living
Threw open
The curtains,
& saw
My neighbor
His rake
At the still-
Of a 


Reading Nick Twemlow was a new thrill for Today's book of poetry - so of course we sent Milo, our head tech, a note asking him to add Nick Twemlow to our list of "must find poets."  Attributed to the Harrow Painter has weight when you read it and a splendid aftertaste when you're done.

Today's book of poetry gets such pleasure out of introducing you to books like Attributed to the Harrow Painter, we can confidently promise "no regret" reading.

Image result for nick twemlow poet photo

Nick Twemlow

Nick Twemlow’s work includes Palm Trees, and his poems have appeared in Court Green, jubilat, Lana Turner, and the Paris Review. He coedits Canarium Books, and is a senior editor at the Iowa Review. He teaches at Coe College and lives in Iowa City, Iowa. 

“Meandering around the edges of the beginning of someone’s mid-life, Attributed to the Harrow Painter dips back to lost teenage friends, traumas, accommodations, pleasures and losses and forward as the father of a young child, to the inevitable future. There’s the New York diaspora, and there are the blue jays 
and backyards of skull-fuck cold Kansas. Where are you most alive? Like Dana Ward and Ariana Reines, Nick Twemlow writes brainy poetry that’s as dispersed as real life without losing heart. I found the book very moving, and will read it again.”
     —Chris Kraus, author, I Love Dick and Summer of Hate 

Power in Poetry - Nick Twemlow Interview
Video:  Skylor Andrews


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, July 26, 2019

Modern Warfare - David Alexander (Anstruther Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Modern Warfare.  David Alexander.  Anstruther Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.

Cover Image for web-2.jpg

David Alexander's Modern Warfare is one tight little package.  Nine finely fashioned hand bombs of persistent persuasion make up this collection and it is entirely worth your visit.  Alexander got Today's book of poetry going with his poem "Aviary for Flightless Birds" and his sharp wit.  Humour goes a long way in the Today's book of poetry offices, humour with a dark and direct little kick in the ass, now you're talking.

Aviary for Flightless Birds

First fill the sky with water. Let penguins swim
for fish and colonize horizon. Stub-winged
cormorants splash as clouds and perch

like silver statues on rocky, secluded islands.
Fuelled by flowers and figs,
ostriches streak vapour trails across open blue,

a flock of nomads fleeing fate — to be leather,
feather, meat. Broadcasting from a floating
heathland, the mousey Atlantis rail patrol

a fern-bush — secret entrance to their exile station.
Twilight beckons kiwi to root constellations
for grubs and hallelujah if they find some.

Chicken-sized, they fear chainsaws and stoats.
Sagittarius. Let the last kakapo boom
and ching and skraark his symphony

from a forest pit with new found harmony.
Critically endangered like so many here,
his pleasant odour intones agreeable pet, but easy prey.


David Alexander's Modern Warfare is old news as he has published a full collection, After the Hatching Oven (Nightwood Editions, 2018), last year.  If you haven't seen it, it's the best chicken wisdom since Col. Sanders started to batter them up.

Modern Warfare is an urbane walk through Alexander's pleasant peccadillo's and that is just dandy.  With a good poet, properly handled, watered regularly, they should be able to write about anything.  In Modern Warfare Alexander muses about the ineptitude of the forlorn Toronto Maple Leafs, crack dictionaries and a grade eight romance that never quite got off the ground.  We enjoy it all because Alexander directs traffic with a natural ease, we know and feel that these poems sound/reveal true.

Cousineau Road

From a frozen mud lot at the subdivision's
edge, I spy your Windstar in the road bend.

End of her night shift, your mom sips a soft drink
as I crack sheets of white, sing along

to the Top Nine with Casey leashed
and looking for information. Entrusted at fourteen

with the ritual of climbing porch steps,
I stuff creaky brass boxes with coupons

and gossip, save Christmas card cash
in my sock drawer for caf fries and weed.

Wind stings my toes numb.
The carrier bag digs.

At your door, I fumble a delivery list,
thumb your bell and consider ringing.


Our morning read started a little earlier than usual today.  We had the mobile poetry repair truck outside the Today's book of poetry offices by seven this morning.  Both Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, are taking part in a poetry triathlon this weekend.  They've been training hard for weeks.  We weren't sure their young marriage would survive the Ezra Pound lightning round, none the less, they've both shown up at the office this morning in their poetry swimwear and are headed to the pond shortly.

Milo told us all that Alexander's high school poem, "Secondary Education," could have been taken from his own yearbook.  Kathryn added that Modern Warfare just felt right, the proper amount of pepper to get that proper poetry burn.

Hospital Room


Everyone is dying. Some of us know how
or where or when
or nothing. I close my eyes,

lift my lids and all is born again. A woman
reading Canadian Living loses thirty years,
her blond son next to her. She got lucky —
the man across aged badly.


The brown-haired man on the subway whose
bones stick through black jeans is dying.

The grey man beside me, rapt in Red October,

The young man next to him in cossack coat,
his dog at home,

both dying — I must be too. Call medic. Forge
hospital, graveyard, church.

Have HBO shoot one more season
of my darling show.


Today's book of poetry needs to catch up in time or slow time down.  There never seems to be enough hours in a day.

That said, any time spent reading David Alexander is going to be time well spent.  Modern Warfare a small battlefield, an excellent treasure.

Image result for david alexander poet photo

David Alexander

David Alexander is the author of After the Hatching Oven (Nightwood Editions, 2018). His poems have appeared in Prairie Fire, The Malahat Review, The Puritan, subTerrain, The Humber Literary Review, the Literary Review of Canada and many other fine journals and magazines. David volunteers as a reader for The Puritan and works in Toronto's nonprofit sector.



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

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

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Transaction Histories - Donna Stonecipher (University of Iowa Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Transaction Histories.  Donna Stonecipher.  Kuhl House Poets.  University of Iowa Press.  Iowa City, Iowa.  2018.

Today's book of poetry read Donna Stonecipher with our usual hopes; Today's book of poetry always wants to like the books we receive.  Stonecipher gave us no choice.  Transaction Histories is made up of several long poems, each of them made up of numerous numbered prose passages of similar length.  It's a tidy package and solid as a brick.  Stonecipher takes these microcosms and uses them to decipher the world; Willy the Shake, Normandy, history books, Greek temples, oceans of plastic, architecture, psychology.  Donna Stonecipher takes it all on and this was just a tiny, quick disassembly of the first few pages.

Today's book of  poetry has recently started taking on Michel de Montaigne's Essays.  Maybe everything will feel this way but Stonecipher's Transaction Histories is similar in its accessibility, the author's limitless and generous curiosity, and perhaps even a touch of the Socratic method.

Transaction History 5


      The photograph of grains of sand magnified 200 times revealed microscopic works of art
— gold, rose, opalescent scrolls, gaskets, sugars — where we had expected only a consoling
beige monotony, the consoling beige monotony we always counted on when we came to the sea
with our troubles to be consoled. Our troubles, too, were like artworks: constructed with love over


The grains of sand image was a brain tease and particularly apt because Today's book of poetry recently saw an enlarged photo of sand on the internet and was astonished.

Take a look as see if you can believe such beauty:

Such unimaginable beauty hiding in plain sight.  Perhaps Today's book of poetry feels the same about Transaction Histories.  This is one contemplative read.  Transaction Histories was set down several times, not out of boredom, on the contrary, to better contemplate what Stonecipher is burning.

Stonecipher's foot never comes off of the gas, the deeper you go into Transaction Histories the more intimately things are revealed.  At times it feels as though the brilliant Stonecipher is trying to emotionally engineer some sort of new and beautiful language, a whole new template.

Found to be Borrowed From
Some Material Appearance 4


     That night we saw her again: the blonde girl who shuffled through the subway cars crying
and begging, her scruffy dog clutched in a hug. Was she an actress, or truly a fellow damsel in
distress?  We were like vending machines that couldn't tell the difference between coins and
slugs. Grief is only too real to the Madonna Lachrymae weeping in paintings and statues all over
several continents, for those who know what real grief is.


Our morning read was hothouse sweaty as our offices have NO air conditioning and with the humidex it was 40 C or 110 F in the Nation's Capital when we ran this puppy into the ground.  Even in those torpid moments Transaction Histories regaled us with German translations about luck and happiness and mechanical Japanese cats.  

An intellectual roller-coaster that Stonecipher seats you in when you open the cover.  This cat can burn, Transaction Histories is a totally refreshing encounter.  These poems illuminate, shine light and new thought where previously there was just the dark.

Snow Series 2

     There once was a polar bear who didn't know that he was polar bear, because he'd been
raised in a zoo by people. What would a polar bear have to know, to know that he was a polar
bear? That's what the people would never know. All that winter, as we roamed around the 
gingerbread town, we kept noticing how the snowmen's bodies were segmented like insects', and
how the new snows kept resembling other, older snows.


       The beautiful young woman slowly realized that her beauty was a currency, but did not
know how best to spend it. "It is difficult to be beautiful for long," wrote Max Jacob. The young
woman read this and promptly forgot it. The Swiss chalets dotting the hillside did resemble other
Swiss chalets. The polar bear who didn't know that he was a polar bear had snowy fur reflecting
those regions where only our supercooled minds can go.


     You were the one who wanted to ride the telepherique all day long that winter, to float up
over the Alps and then back down into the valley in an endless paternoster loop that would keep
cycling us in and out of the sweetest ether. If "architecture is frozen music," then "music" must
be "liquid architecture." the architecture itself was frozen: there were chalets trapped in aspics of
ice. There were insects trapped in aspics of icicles.


     In another city, people flocked to the zoo to imagine owning a baby polar bear named
Flocke, whom they'd relinquish to her fate once she grew out of the phase in which they wished
to crush her snowy fur with bear hugs. "Flocke" means "snowflake." No two snowflakes are
alike. The wonder of uniqueness. The wonder of ownership. We opened our mouths to let unique
snowflakes explode all over our wondering tongues.


     Wonder upon wonder, tongue upon tongue, Alp upon Alp upon Alp. One Alp resembled
another Alp. Gliding higher and higher on the telpherique, we felt we were at last one with the
Alps: encased in a glass eye floating up over the snow, all eye ourselves, our intertwining bodies
architectonically segmented into distance, ownership, and desire. The glacier below us was beautiful, beautifully, violently expiring.


     But later, as we moved deeper into winter, I couldn't help noticing how your body was
starting to resemble a snowman's — it kept melting to nothing when I tried to hold it close. The 
old man wondered aloud why some valleys fill with water and become lakes, and others remain
simply valleys. Eventually the young woman would know that beauty's currency was like any
other: useless if hoarded, gone when spent.


Today's book of poetry loved Donna Stonecipher's Transaction Histories and want you to love it too.  Why wouldn't we?  Emotionally engaging and accessible from the first page.  

The reader feels smarter with every page they read.  That's about the best trick in poetry.

Today's book of poetry will now have Milo, our head tech and book hunter, on the job.  There are several earlier Stonecipher poetry collections out there and Today's book of poetry needs to read them.  I suspect you do as well.

The game is on.

Image result for donna stonecipher photo

Donna Stonecipher

Donna Stonecipher is the author of The Reservoir, Souvenir de Constantinople, The Cosmopolitan, Model City, and Prose Poetry and the City. She lives in Berlin, Germany. 

“[A] highly affecting work of imagination and sensibility . . . one often feels afloat in a world concocted and dreamy, there and not there.”
     —Martha Ronk, The Constant Critic

“In the same way that architecture must abide by certain rules and regulations but can still create a thing of beauty, Stonecipher, by constraining herself to engineer within her own parameters, forms beautiful language and ideas.”
     —Hamzah M. Hussain, DURA

“How many poets are there in the world that you go looking for online, checking regularly, even impatiently, to see whether and when their new books will be out? Not many. Among the poets whose work I anxiously await, Donna Stonecipher has long been near the top of the list."
     —Michael Thurston, Massachusetts Review


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, July 17, 2019

Empire of Dirt — Thomas Stewart (Red Squirrel Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Empire of Dirt.  Thomas Stewart.  Red Squirrel Press.  Biggar, Scotland.  2019.

empire of dirt | Thomas Stewart

Thomas Stewart gets an awful lot accomplished in thirty-six short pages.  Empire of Dirt is both quaintly naive and brutally violent as Stewart deconstructs the world to suit his gaze.  Dead foxes and dead birds populate these poems as macabre and faintly menacing omens.  Stewart's Empire of Dirt is fecund with ominous portent.

We all know that suicide is painless, M*A*S*H taught us that, in Empire of Dirt Stewart explores various methodologies, they are explained, explored and exhausted.  Guilt and expectations are probably the real villains but in the universe Stewart's Empire of Dirt creates beware Eden's vipers and sharp as razor box-cutters.


When I smashed the conkers
and laid them out,
when I felt their broken
pieces and gathered them up,
when I smelt the vinegar
of their cracked shells
and wanted to take them home
I thought of the head boy —
red-haired Einstein
most likely to succeed
went into the woods
behind the gym one day
with only meth and a can of 7-up
and a photo of his mum
and a long rope.
Beyond the tennis courts we heard
the police shout, cut him down!
with voices like flower vases

When I left the conkers
and walked home
to pass a bridge
covered in ivy
I saw that boy
who tried to jump off the edge
but was stopped by a stranger,
I saw that dangling boy
in literal limbo
and heard the voices
of the other boys
shouting gay boy, faggot,
and when the boy abandoned
the bridge
his mother hid the pills
and all the belts
were locked
in Ikea boxes
and the house became
a safe space.
The boy found a box-cutter
when his mother
was at work.

When I walked through the park
and leaves wondered
with me
I couldn't remember
the name of the girl
that everyone forgot,
that filled herself
with her grandma's
paracetamol and sat between
the goal posts.
They found her in the morning,
a dog walker or near enough,
and the newspaper clipping
was short and un-sweet—
just kept calling her girl.

When I slept that night
on a wooden bed
I could smell the conkers
in the feathers of the
pillow, I could hear their
song in my dreams,
I could feel them broken
yet protruding
through the springs
of the mattress.


Grief hangs over Stewart's Empire of Dirt like Al Capp's Joe Btfsplk's cloud in Dogpatch, or that stinky dead bird in that old poem.  Thomas Stewart does have a sense of humour but you're probably going to have to get stung once or twice before you can really enjoy it.

Stewart may be operating with his feet in an entirely different dimension, he currently lives in Scotland but the poor man calls Wales home.  This isn't the time to call on Saint Dylan just because he's from just down the road, although Today's book of poetry did visit Swansea once.  No, as my poetry brother-in-arms Stuart Ross and I were discussing just yesterday; it's useless to make comparisons.  Except of course when a comparison is absolutely necessary.

empire of dirt

I look in the mirror
and see a stranger looking back,
maybe I see my father,
dead and young,
covered in pollen,
never dress him in yellow
he said
the bees will always come

don't dress me,
paint my skin
in a colour I do not recognize,
paint the answers to how
my desires are
not what they once were,
paint it in dirt
run my rules in muck
they've changed anyway,
throw my limits in the filth,
scrub my face with mud,

send me to the forest
to a dark wood, to a log
of fallen leaves, to a cold cave
where I can scrawl my dreams
in blood and the sap of a tree,
where I'll rub dill into my wounds
and make music only the walls

send me to find a face
to win my body back,
tell me that my body
will no longer lay mute, I remember it
like a child remembers its favourite food:
I know it exists
this body of mine,
where I do not wake to that knock
where I can simply be,
this is surely an existence that can occur,

so let me be
in the woods,
let me scream to the tallest tree
and find a fairy or a fool,
let me fall into that dirt
and smell the soil of my youth,
let me pull the flowers' roots
and plant them somewhere on the horizon, let me
tangle daisy-chains, so that I may pluck
each petal and ask if he loved me
or not

this wood is my country,
my mother tongue, my climate,
if my body will no longer speak to me
let me place it in the belly of a tree
and barefoot I will walk on.


It is the silliest of things, and I do hope Thomas Stewart will forgive Today's book of poetry an indulgence.  Believe it or not poetry babies, Today's book of poetry attended Thomas A. Stewart Secondary School.  I mentioned this to Mr. Stewart but am uncertain if he was amused.  And at that school there were teachers who taught me to love poetry so a little shout out to Don Quarrie, his lovely wife Bea and all the other teachers at T.A.S.S., a big thank you.

Today's book of poetry had our usual morning read when everyone got in to the office this morning.  The office has been a little subdued this week.  Blair Norman Sharpe, a local Ottawa painter of renown, a loved teacher, passed away after a long illness.  Blair had become a pal of ours more recently, I've been regaling the troops with Blair stories for the last year.  His bravery and killer sense of humour will not be forgotten.  Today's book of poetry sends our broken hearted hugs to his dear Brenda.

Blair didn't love all poetry but he loved the idea of it.

Today's book of poetry depends on poetry to get us through the day and Thomas Stewart's Empire of Dirt was just the tonic.  Stewart's narrator suffers, but there are also declarations that come from hard earned experience, declarations of hope, a search for joy.  That's pretty much what we are all after, isn't it.

real boy

this is a true story:

they said
you're not a real
boy until you cut
the wizard out of the tree,

it's a question
of which tree:
real boys might pick
oak, birch or beech,
and then boys
that pick alder,
elm or hawthorn
are unreal,

unreal boys hold the axe
and whisper,
cousin of Merlin,
give me some magic,

but magic
is not a boy's language,
here, in the boy's
toilets or there in the
changing rooms it is
the outstretched branch
welcoming you

to be a real boy

unreal boys, who hide
under their towels
or become black dots
on the rugby pitch

or study the mole
above their nipple,
or the drooping stomach
in the mirror

are the quietly
hungry trees
in the breeze,

if I were a tree
I'd be a white willow
by the bay, a salix
alba alone and sexless,
I would only know
the touch of my own

as I long to be
a real boy
I know I am already
a tree, made of roots,
standing in the wind,
in solitude, exposed,
displaying my chest,
made of wood,
my bushy hair
and eyebrows falling
past my chipped teeth,
across the scar on my
chin and the leaves
growing from
my hands.


Toxic masculinity is a tough battleground and Stewart attacks the beast head on.  Today's book of poetry is here to tell you all that Thomas Stewart is absolutely correct, it takes all sorts of trees to make a forest.

Today's book of poetry thought Thomas Stewart's Empire of Dirt was aces.  Every time we read it we liked it more.  We'll be looking forward to more from Stewart.

Thomas Stewart author pic

Thomas Stewart

Thomas Stewart is from Wales, he currents resides in Scotland.

‘A skilful, strong, and harshly innocent collection by one of our deftest young poets.’ 
     —David Morley, winner of the Ted Hughes Award

‘There is an edge of violence to Thomas Stewart’s poems, but it is not gratuitous. These are the cracks that open in the surface of the world under his concentrated gaze. What they disclose is a deep sadness and a tenderness, alongside the slight scent of blood.’ 
    —Philip Gross, winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize



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, July 12, 2019

High Ground Coward - Alicia Mountain (University of Iowa Press)

Today's book of poetry:
High Ground Coward.  Alicia Mountain.  University of Iowa Press.  Iowa City, Iowa.  2018.


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Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini punches the lights out of "Southpaw Skin the Gloves" in an early poem out of High Ground Coward.  Alicia Mountain already had the full admiring attention of Today's book of poetry by the time we read the second poem in this startling good book.  High Ground Coward is anything but cowardly.  

Those of you too young to remember "Boom Boom" won't know that he killed a man in the ring.  Mountain is boxer brave at least.

How can poems you've never read before feel this familiar?  Mountain is intimate, wildly funny, loving, lusting and in each of these things there is an open honest intensity.  High Ground Coward is beyond refreshing, it's liberating.

Oh yes, this is "Queer" literature and Today's book of poetry wants to be respectful in this new gender-sensitive world.  But all you poetry babies better believe me when Today's book of poetry says that High Ground Coward is universal.  Alicia Mountain writes about love and desire and loss and all the rest of it and does so with such clear vision that she pierces your heart.  And your brain will follow this poet anywhere, Mountain has power.

On Being Told To Do Whatever I Want

Whatever I want is to run the stick of my deodorant
along each of your spread-eagle limbs
to dig my nails into your forearm at takeoff
and find turbulence every time
and be afraid of nothing and falling
to split a cake for dinner
or light the sheets on fire
to take a raccoon as a pet
train it to fold more tiny paper raccoons with its little human hands
to make twins of each of us
watch them braid each other's hair
watch them use their tongues
to know for certain we will die at night
to know which commodities you've stolen
and convince the hygienist I'm committed to flossing
to wipe away the lint stuck to my lips.
What I want has been crouched so long it cannot stand
it is filament
it is hardware store
it is someday I'll sharpen the knives
the skim milk of your belly and back.
I want leftovers for breakfast
want you gentle and heathen
I want to talk like a preacher in your bathrobe
to embarrass myself before company
until you paint my face a disguise
and call your mother
and hear her breathe on the phone
and hang up
and owe nothing to the bank
and the twins of us are in love
but won't say it
and the sound of their sleeping is ice melting in a jar.


Today's book of poetry has called in the support of some of the other Today's book of poetry staff simply because it seems I can't stop gushing.  High Ground Coward is pure cherse, Alicia Mountain can burn with anyone.

Today's book of poetry is telling you true, Alicia Mountain moved us to tears this morning, her poem "Almanac Traction" is a terse and tender ode, a loving promise, a Juliet/Juliet incantation.  In another world Raymond Carver might have written that poem.  That's not a "gender" comment — that is a "greatness" comment.  Yes, Today's book of poetry just said that Alicia Mountain's High Ground Coward is filled with GREAT poems.

High Ground Coward is Mountain's first book which excites the bejesus out of us here at Today's book of poetry because she is destined for something remarkable.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, said that reading Mountain was a little like the first time she heard Laura Nyro.  It's hard to believe the immediate connection, what you get to take in, what you get to keep.  Today's book of poetry couldn't agree more, when the reader starts to absorb the vibe Mountain is throwing, all bets are off.

If pressed to put a particular name to it, Today's book of poetry is going with "silk sledgehammer."  Mountain is as tough as she is tender.  Wickedly smart poetry with giant and invisible hooks.

Safety Off

There is a shooter     in the mall where she works.
She hasn't seen him yet     but customers are running
down the escalators in shrieks, becoming so fleshy
                                                                                 as they move.

She is the narrator, Jules tells me.
Walkie-talkies describe a gunman who is unmistakably
her angry angry stupid brother      lonely.

I am lazy. I don't even ask if his rampage brain
consummates what it set out to do.                Or I can't bear
that she put that kind of violence through skinny fingers.

Jules asks, should I write the ending so that the sister
                                                                               finds out he survives
or so that we don't know what happens to him?

She won't have the brother die, in the story.      I am disappointed.
     What is wrong with me that I want that?

I wait in my car outside her house,
                                         because it had seemed still to much winter to walk
to the movie—           which was very good.     It won an award.

For a week I tell anyone I like that it was
                                fight club and black swan and eternal sunshine put together—

On the street afterwards, I offer Caylin a ride too.
We let the car warm, watch a woman rehearse ballet in her kitchen.
               She moves like practice, elbows in,
                         just gesturing the turns and leaps,
                     her back to the window.

Caylin says we will all have sugarplum fairies
in apartments in our poems.
                              But I call dibs and Jules says dibs is real.

We spend a driveway half hour telling Caylin
     how to go on a date                      as if we know.
She asks if she should wear an all black outfit
           to the funeral we're going to on Thursday,
which is before her date,        which would be totally fine
                         because she looks good in black.

We say don't text the guy that    those fries are the bomb dot gov.
She goes with    those fries are insanely good   and tells us she loves us
and squeals
    and slams the car door
        and prances through the back-porch dark—

We have only a few blocks left to drive.      I tell Jules
       the narrator should find out her brother lives—
it would be the more terrible outcome,
                                                      the rest of that life.

You are so sinister, she says, undoing her seatbelt.

Should I leave it open-ended here?
Or write that she kisses me hard on the mouth,
                                                    the more unbearable thing.


Today's book of poetry has had versions of this problem before, our copy usually includes three poems, no more, no less, today we are flummoxed.  Today's book of poetry would happily share every fine poem in High Ground Coward.  Imagine, this Mountain's poem, "Palomino" is as good as ANY list poem Today's book of poetry has encountered, and you all know how much Today's book of poetry loves to share list poems.  Can't do it today,  But Today's book of poetry will share a one line teaser:

     "Can you smell the silence on my breath?"

Wow.  You can take Alicia Mountain's High Ground Coward to the bank all day long and never be disappointed.  In a moment of holy fuckwads admiration Today's book of poetry just actually yelled out loud in the office, something I rarely do.  It was one of those "I want a hallelujah and a holler" moments.  I just read this:

Little Rectangular Earths

On Fourth of July in the 90s
I was desperate for a glowstick.
I mean, I knew we were supposed
to be in it for the fire sky, for the
red glare. we all knew, even before
the skyline lost both front teeth.
Floods Hill carpeted in bare legs
and Tupperware and cops mostly
not caring about open containers.

I had a thing for aliens then,
the lemon-lime egghead tapering
to a pointed chin. I was in it for
the genderlessness of their power
and deep space and truth revealed
in cornfields. Wanted three bucks
so I could bite through a fluorescent
necklace and spit light from my insides,
as neon as I knew them to be.


Today's book of poetry would like to dedicate that last poem to our Southern Correspondent and alien loving hero, David Clewell, Poet/Saint of St. Louis.

Everyone in our office was a little over-whelmed by just how much poetry pleasure Alicia Mountain was willing to share.  Today's book of poetry thinks it is very important to recognize, respect, and give voice to everyone regardless of gender.  So we want to tip our hats to Mountain in this regard.  But Alicia Mountain needs no pampering, these poems will burn and will hold up to any scrutiny.  
Today's book of poetry loved Mountain's shady sense of humour, we totally attuned to her sense of justice.

     "I want us to disappear, but all together so we won't be alone"
                                                                           from Forward Falling Daytime

Finally Today's book of poetry will surrender, High Ground Coward is book we'd like to share in its entirety, it is that good.

Isn't this world a splendid place to have such poets as Alicia Mountain in it?  To be this good she must be ten foot tall.

Today's book of poetry hasn't had a poetry meal this good in recent memory.  Mountain burns like Holiday, burns like Ella, you now, incandescent.

Related image

Alicia Mountain

Alicia Mountain is a poet and scholar in the PhD program at the University of Denver. Mountain has been a writer in residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, an Idyllwild Arts Fellow, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Mountain lives in Denver, Colorado.

“Alicia Mountain looks at every tiny thing very closely, and in doing that conveys the big picture of a vast inner life with marvelous clarity and depth. Her voice is intimate, brash, always precise, heartbreaking in both its vulnerability and its authority. These poems are carried away by both lust and intelligence. This poet understands desire: its expression lets loose while giving form. This book doesn’t detour, it goes right to and through the overpowered, relentless heart of its speaker and the reader is struck through too, and good. High Ground Coward is a dazzling debut by a rare, true talent.”
     —Brenda Shaughnessy, judge, Iowa Poetry Prize

High Ground Coward is raw and intimate. Alicia Mountain looks at what she loves and that foreground blurs into a backdrop of practical constraints and injustices. The poems press at those boundaries where desire starts to interfere with the opportunities of others and cast an unsparing eye on the cost. This is a book of hard, shifting, dreamlike gems.”
     —Joanna Klink, author, Excerpts from a Secret Prophecy



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.