Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Celebration Machine - Dale Tracy (Proper Tales Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Celebration Machine.  Dale Tracy.  Proper Tales Press.  Cobourg, Ontario.  2018.

Image result for proper tales press dale tracy celebration machine

"If a violin sounds sad, is it?"
from: Serious Living

Today's book of poetry had never encountered the poetry of Dale Tracy before but it sure made my morning.  Celebration Machine came as a real positive punch in the head when needed.  Today's book of poetry gets herds of poetry in the mail and we read it all, some of it irritates as it goes down.  Dale Tracy was definitely a tonic.

Celebration Machine has a feel of intelligent whimsy.  Today's book of poetry was never certain where Tracy was taking us, but we always enjoyed the ride.  Some of these poems have the feel of lost fairy tales or new myths.  Put it this way; Dale Tracy reminded Today's book of poetry how much we love poetry, how much we love seeing how another mind works.  Dale Tracy's works wonders.

It's raining. /Me too.

Every galaxy has a hole at its centre.
The sun will never turn into a black hole.
The earth will never fall into a black hole.
That's the kind of thing we know.

Someone was thrifty with the skin
when they sewed me. Many surfaces
complete the body. Something lines
your lungs. Under every skin is another one.

If people were poems I'd be a detective.
If I were a courier I'd be a poet. It's perplexing
because I am a poet but don't have your parcel,
or anything else you asked for.


"or anything else you asked for."  Perfect.

Rainy day here in the National Capitol Region and a few of our minions didn't make the trek into the office this morning.  They will be dealt with in the appropriate way.  None the less our morning reading was spot on.  Pharoah Sanders and Jack Hicks were kicking it up in back and Dale Tracy sounded like they were born burning.

Tracy has mastered the knack of some of the old masters, don't hit the reader over the head, lull them in to a sense of security, like lobsters in a cold water pot, but cook 'em just the same.  Gentle tenacity.  Celebration Machine is never going to bash your brain with new sensibilities - Tracy wins the audience with her sneaky precision attached to a wildly flamboyant sense of the absurd.

This isn't the tallest or fasted ride at the amusement park but it has the longest line forming behind it.  Why?  Because Dale Tracy makes it all work precise.  Intelligent design.

Fantasy of Being a Quirk in the System

Not the woman by my peonies lingering
with a lighter off the sidewalk, like nothing to burn

Not the man spreading piled leaves thin
across the road, foot's outside edge scraping, like butter knife

Not the kid on training wheels and a bicycle
circling feet in the air off the pedals, like hung spider

A quirk in the system feels like the system
If noticed, it seems innocent, like an accident


Today's book of poetry remains committed to posting a new blog/review every couple of days but real life keeps raising it's ugly head and getting in the way.  No new excuses though, we will try to do better in the coming months.

Dale Tracy's Celebration Machine reminds Today's book of poetry exactly why we are doing these blogs/reviews in the first place.  That feeling you get when you read something entirely new, amazing, entertaining.  That feeling you get when you've discovered another writer to admire.

Stomach End of the Tongue

I ate my own shadow.
I feel it pulling on the stomach end of my tongue.
The spaces where my fingers would web if they did
show my body's sloshing bruise.
I grip my hand around my limbs to trap it.
I drink pure sunlight.
Finally, I catch a corner emerging from my mouth
and pull it to the ground.
I stand on it.


One of the weird pleasure Today's book of poetry gets from posting these blogs/reviews is that we actually type out each and every poem, no copying.  The reason is that Today's book of poetry believes it helps us get inside the poems.  True or not it is a kick when you're typing along and then you get to the end of a poem like Tracy's "Stomach End of the Tongue" and the poet nails it right to the floor.  It's a giddy little ride.

Celebration Machine continues the fine Proper Tales Press tradition of finding undiscovered gems.  Dale Tracy burns.


On a personal note, today is the 26th anniversary of my marriage to Kirsteen Ann Jackson.  Best thing I ever did.  28 best years of my life.  And Kirsty is the reason Today's book of poetry has been up and running since 2013.  Kirsty makes me feel loved every day and I guess that's the best any one person can do for another.  Fingers crossed for another 28 years together.  Thank you Kirsty.


Dale Tracy

Dale Tracy

Dale Tracy is the author of the chapbook Celebration Machine (Proper Tales, 2018) and the monograph With the Witnesses: Poetry, Compassion, and Claimed Experience (McGill-Queen’s, 2017). Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in The Goose, Arch, The Week Shall Inherit the Verse, Gatherings (a chapbook series edited by Stephen Johnson and Jenn Cole), an Artfest Ontario anthology, Puddles of Sky’s illiterature series, and What it Satisfies, a four-poem chappoem from Puddles of Sky. Dale Tracy is Assistant Professor (on contract) in the Department of English at the Royal Military College of Canada.



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, August 24, 2019

The Inside Room - Lisa Andrews (Indolent Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Inside Room.  Lisa Andrews.  Indolent Books.  Brooklyn, New York.  2018.

Back in July of 2017 Today's book of poetry had the pleasure of writing about Lisa Andrews' charming chapbook Dear Liz.  You can see that blog/review here:

Today's book of poetry certainly was impressed by Lisa Andrews' Dear Liz, so it comes as no surprise to us here that The Inside Room caught our full attention.  The Inside Room is one splendid poetry adventure.  We suggest you leave a trail of bread crumbs, just in case.

At one time or another we have all played with fire, most of us have been at least a small time burnt.  Lisa Andrews is no Phoenix but she sure has some glow.

Gretel in the Forest

From the moment we entered the unfamiliar place in the forest
we knew we were meant to be eaten.

Even the trees spoke of it. We tongued the salt
                          from each other's bodies,
knowing our parent wanted us

to starve. The father—nothing;
                           the brother—
useless with crumbs in his pockets.

The one I could have loved, the one
                           who watched me devour her home—
pane by pane—satisfaction almost

splitting my body in two—I pushed her in.
                           I did this: barred the door,
listened at the hinge for hours

as she screamed my name—
                            it sounded like regret, as if
she never meant the fire.


In this forest where branches fall like axes
                             I guard a single fire. Nights I pluck
a blistered lump of coal, take it

in my palm. Her embers feed on me, kiss
                             my flesh. I clasp the coal and chant the names
of all the children I have saved.

Like small towns, they talk, want to know
                             exactly what my hand is doing
tending a fire nothing can satisfy—


Lisa Andrews, like many of us, has a complicated relationship to her past and her parents.  The Inside Room is frighteningly intimate, detailing sins, incanting when necessary.  The Inside Room rides over the death of a father and the ensuing grief, all of it interlaced with a very distressing mother/daughter dynamic.  But nothing is simple in Andrews world, secrets are made and kept, dark secrets.

Lisa Andrews writes poems that pulsate with a wounded energy, that spark under the skin, that warning that tells when to run.  "None of us suffer in the dark" intones Andrews but Today's book of poetry thinks she is only being brave.


That day my mother told me,
You don't know anything
about me, I knew I couldn't touch
her either. Slippery with gin, she'd lie
on the tweed couch, a stone
goddess: headless, winged—
her shoulders chipped, an accident.

Too much of my other is visible.
All those parts that made me have turned
inside out. Her straps hang, metal clasps
click and swivel, murmur, Undo me,
but somebody's already gone
and done it. I am extraneous.

Oh Mother, my first museum—
how you matter to me. If only
you were half as delicate
as you seem.

Doors, locks, keys,
you open and shut—a hinge
I must have lifted once, flown
out of your body, an exhibit—
a girl you couldn't take back.

Oh Mother, the lights
are out, the statues asleep,
the paintings hang.


Lisa Andrews starts The Inside Room with this quote:

     "With her it was like there was two places—the inside room
       and the outside room."
                                              CARSON MCCULLERS
                                              The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

In her chapbook Dear Liz that clever and consistent Andrews started the action off another Carson McCullers quote:

     "And how can the dead be truly dead when they still
      live in the souls of those who are left behind?
                                                CARSON MCCULLERS
                                                The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

Nothing is by mistake.  Andrews is stating her intentions.  Like our much admired Carson McCullers, Andrews glows with a considerable portion of that southern dark and Gothic gloss.  It is a sensibility familiar with the weight of loss.

Andrews' The Inside Room builds on itself like a fairy tale rich with doom.  But just like McCullers, whom Today's book of poetry considers a truly great writer, Andrews creates a rich tableau in front of every one's fall from grace.  There are ghosts in these poems singing dirges just beyond our range.


I liked it when he took me here.
My own flower with a hundred blooms, my own
chariot to hell.

My mother's a river now. Protected from the sun,
I swim in her silver-pillared caves. The dead I rule
are happy here. None of us suffer
in the dark.

How five o'clock would come, the way you closed
black curtains and said, Thank God that's over—
Sometimes I think you made me
just for this.


It took a bit of effort but we found it, Today's book of poetry found a slice of hope in Lisa Andrews' The Inside Room.  Family can weigh heavy on the shoulder and Andrews is willing to loose her demons in the hopes of touching her angels.

The Today's book of poetry gang remembered Dear Liz with some affection, Maggie, our newest intern, went and got it out of the stacks.  Our morning read clattered around the office with Saturday morning enthusiasm.  The Inside Room takes you travelling into Lisa Andrews world, back to your own family too.  Not all great rides leave you smiling, hope comes in all sorts of disguises.

Lisa Andrews


Lisa Andrews is the author of The Inside Room (Indolent Books, 2018) and Dear Liz (Indolent Books, 2016). Her poems have appeared in Gargoyle, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Zone 3. Andrews holds a B.A. from Hunter College, and an M.A. in English literature and M.F.A. in creative writing (poetry) from New York University, where she taught in the Expository Writing Program, and worked with poetry students at Goldwater Hospital and Bayview Correctional Facility. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Tony Geiger.



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, August 19, 2019

A Girl's A Gun — Rachel Danielle Peterson (University Press of Kentucky)

Today's book of poetry:
A Girl's A Gun.  Rachel Danielle Peterson.  The University Press of Kentucky.  New Poetry and Prose Series.  Series Editor Lisa Williams.  Lexington, Kentucky.  2017.

34331918. sy475

Today's book of poetry has no idea what to make of Rachel Danielle Peterson's A Girl's A Gun.  Oh, we know we like it, we like it a lot.  But we are unable to put our finger on exactly where Peterson took flight to dance fancy with her angels of desire, her demons too.

A Girl's A Gun hits the bull's eye with her first shot, it is splendid from the opening salvo.  But some consideration is required to get inside Peterson's patois, mountain codes.  Her language is heartbreakingly familiar and at the same time foreign enough to make us feel unsure, nervous.

A Girl's A Gun feels like your first time drinking corn liquor, you know you're drunk but where did this speaking in tongues come from?  Suddenly language and voice become magical.

Love Song of the Sea-Girl

In the rearview mirror:
             passenger's side,
             marine eyes, patina.
Sweat. Just you and me
in a hushed, hothouse flush.

Scrape and save,
             just scrap the sulk
             of holy here.
No priest to crook my knee,
say naughty. Naughty!

Feel the god within me
             flee somewhere low,
             like a
hanged man's soul
flees where? We don't know.

Lover, you smile
             that solid grin
             from braces and bleach,
sign a heart on
each beaded windowpane.

I should just shush,
             be sweetie pie, dove,
             beneath the dread
lull, the hymn, the
windshield's swift wipe.

Catastrophe can be fine
             sometimes, when found
             in a catapult, words
from a slur.
I won't get hurt again.

I'll leave, caress the steel,
             the wheel that bends
             this way, neither
a king nor prince of anything,
just a trim-coifed queen alone.

Cleopatra and her billions,
             those stoney-eyed ,
             mermen so swoony,
they still crave
a tune about then.

I'll give them a song.
             Way down in Egypt's land,
              I grow up, I grow up.
O Lordy, let my people do the same,
but they will never grow up.

So, I will watch
             the Derby and sip
             a mint julep, elegant
and be forgot.
You'll enter from behind.

My gods, still my eyes,
             extend us beneath
             that delicate shell.
Any moon is made of honey,
if you hold fast, tight,

when you open my mouth
             red as a gill
             or a wound,
I'll croon for you, sweet baby
Only you.


A Girl's A Gun gets smoking hot.  The poems range from coming-of-age poems to songs of pure romantic need and joy, all of it in a language both ancient and new to us.  At times A Girl's A Gun sounds like it might be coming from a pulpit of a new religion.  In this religion the heart rules the realm and we know the power of women.  We are witness to a new conflagration of faith.

Rachel Danielle Peterson burns.  Peterson burns electric and blue, burns with, as Walt the Whitman said:

     "Do I contradict myself?
     Very well then I contradict myself,
     (I am large, I contain multitudes.)
     Keep your face always toward the sunshine -
     and shadows will fall behind you.
     I celebrate myself, and sing myself."

Peterson embraces herself, lets loose a fiery torrent that the reader cannot help but admire.  These poems all come heavy strength.

The One

I was cursed with eyes of emerald, to leave
the backdoor unlocked, and he would see
would fill the room, such a head of honey-hue,
more blonde than most I've found.
Amid acres of soybeans lush, strange,
like he always was, like I could be,
I was Dorthy to his Cheshire King.
He ran, shirtless, through fields.
He had a smile without a cat.
It would spread from him to me,
from one kiss from the red tenderness of lips.
One breath, and you'd disappear, you'd die.
Dangerous predicament for those without soul.
Though different in many ways, there was little
I held back, wouldn't let him slip in,
a cancer stick shared between the meeting
of our eyes. I felt responsible, do it right,
for goddamn once. But, always there are always but's.
Sometimes, there was grass in his mouth,
and his face held a look like brass,
cattish, inward. One pregnancy scare made him
Existential to cross his emptiness,
fear of death. No human could comfort him,
no matter how he'd worship a knee.
At the back door with some SoCo, he said,
write but don't write about me, so I didn't,
I tried to do it right, and write about
Odysseus, another sharp one. Didn't you know
that he could dive like a shark?
Like him, I have few fears now
because I've been beneath clothes,
beneath water, until a part of me was gone.
He loved the crush of ocean in his ear,
like I love the reach of the sea.
Even if he forgot my smell, I recollect
the aroma of Old Spice, bourbon whiskey
as clear as anything can be. How I wish,
why do always wish for what will never be?


Old Walt insisted on sticking around for the morning read here in the Today's book of poetry offices.  He crushed Peterson's poems every time his turn came around.  Great reader and great sport.  A Girl's A Gun takes dead aim, every sharp shot more clearly defining Peterson's poetic identity.  There were some struggles with dialect and idiom but it never got in the way of Peterson's sense of purpose or direction.

Today's book of poetry was in full learning/loving mode as these poems spread across our horizon, seemingly at the speed of light.  A Girl's A Gun cracks your head open.


            for Sarah Hubbs
     "If happiness never comes, what is a life?"

       July 2015, Saipan

When you live in Ohio, you live for oxygen,
even the girl who was shot in the mouth
in her bedroom on a very clear day.
Ohio was hard on us, but I will always survive,
take more than I need, yessir, wrap my legs
around something, even as they hush me.


Boom, that's what tragedy feels
Like you can never return again.


Even if you've lost your eyes,
I will tell you wonders that will drip
lifeblood onto lashes,
Even if you can't hear me,
does it matter?


I wasn't as good a friend
As I should be, never am.

Sometimes, I'm afraid that I
Don't need people enough.

Sometimes, maybe, too much.
I tell myself a lie older than any cemetery.

Lean close, maybe I'll tell you.
Only the dead should hear it,

Maybe you're dead—or will be.
The page you touch now,

the sly soul that fills in
when dense eye strays down.

You want a good story.
So, I'll have to improvise:

Imagine this—

jagged outline, molten galaxies
coal and volcano, we have tears that beat
the brain an' heart, the inevitable groans.
Their need? Ta crack open, like a comet's flame,
a tangle hand down into black hair,
gray or blue—none of it matters then!
the flare of the sun, one constellation,
Three Fingers that spark the tenderness.

So, let the suns explode,
But will my lover come

Dripping honey?
The question you dead can't ask,

but I can. I have to.


Cardinals do,
but who can truly
mate for life?

No one
that I have
clenched mid-flight.

Can birds
be truer
than we suppose?

O plumes
of gray-blue,
crimson-hue we'll have.

Yes, I'll lose
and have to wing it.

The cardinals
will somehow
gore, scatter the

seedpods of
these graves,

their flowers,
hibiscus, and—God—
red-violet leaves

falling in
an April shower,
another flaming tree,

not just
in Kentucky,
but everywhere,

something red
will break out.
Sweat honey

on the rock,
that's what they say
on the day

the past can be revised.

Here's my attempt, anyway:

Around 2005, the porch-light flickered off, then on. He blocked
             the doorway with a human outline, a shadow.
Either, we stumbled toward the falls. The wallop grazed each
                        Wading in calf-deep, I was happy, strong, splashed him
wanting to peel off my clothes, the water to whir like a prism
                        hiding every distraction. I wanted to be hip-deep,
in you and me, at you, at us, before inevitability.

Close your eyes, feel this lay on your forehead. Tell me
                     again about the faucet, water Mama drew so hot
that the porcelain wept deep as anguish.
                     Hard to tell. Maybe the wet came from over there,
your lashes hesitating to give way, to flutter.
                     Either way, you bit that pouting bottom lip,
groaning all the while for the content you get
                     from lipstick on nose's cradle, you don't
wanna rub it off. Just like I am made to hunger
                     after the musk of your dark, hidden hairs,
trilling for each and all. Even you, marked by
                     freckles, scars, divides, be proud of each,
these kisses savored under sun, yes
                     the sun inside, and someday right now
my fragrant, flowered love. By some magic bullet
                     or by sunshine, some way, every page will rise
into sky, like oxygen, from those red lips to mine.


Today's book of poetry loved Rachel Danielle Peterson's A Girl's A Gun.  Wickedly powerful, powerfully wicked.

Peterson has an honest authority, she wields language like a sharp knife, she cuts clean.  These poems burn hard.


Rachel Danielle Peterson

Rachel Danielle Peterson is a contributing editor at Poet’s Quarterly and a member of VIDA. Her work has received numerous honors and has been featured in Front Porch, Literary Imagination, Arsenic Lobster, Midwestern Gothic, Los Angeles Review, Upstart, Her Royal Majesty, the Inspirer, and Revolver.

Rachel Danielle Peterson’s collection, A Girl’s A Gun, reads as part tall tale, part bildungsroman, part geode. These are poems meant to be enclosed in a palm and pressed against the heart. Peterson’s strengths are in her cinematic depictions of women, her vibrant imagery, and the precision with which she code-switches into the tongue of the mountains. The heady combination leaves the reader a bit breathless and we plummet with her into a line that feels like proverb, such as in ‘Birthday,’ ‘The heart is cruel/an organ with no song.’ These poems do not balk at their own content, circling around love that is tough or risky or absent or misplaced. They press on, lead the way, suggest that there’s no way around but through.
      — Bianca Lynne Spriggs, author of Call Her by Her Name: Poems and The Galaxy Is a Dance Floor and coeditor of Undead: Ghouls, Ghosts, and More and Black Bone: 25 Years of the Affrilachian Poets

With a mouth full of sticky mountain laurel, Appalachian soul liquor, exclamatory verve, iconoclastic Biblical gospel, and tender purchase, Rachel Peterson’s A Girl’s A Gun cross-talks with a prodigious and prodigal personal and poetic tribe that includes family members, figures from mythology, Jeanne d’Arc, Apollinaire, and a host of hymns and rock ballads. 'Home is in the vocal chords— / the sound,' she writes in 'Harlan County.' By turns vernacular and soaring with lyricism, Peterson’s foray into the emotional violence, Eros, and beauty of the places that hold us, and that we hold inside, evokes another American innovator, Emily Dickinson, who not only felt her life to be a loaded gun but who also, like Peterson, puts language under such unique psychological pressure that it almost seems to be its own tongue. 
     —Lisa Russ Spaar, author of Vanitas, Rough and Orexia



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, August 17, 2019

Hold - Bob Hicok (Copper Canyon Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Hold.  Bob Hicok.  Copper Canyon Press.  Port Townsend, Washington.  2019.

The South is the country I live in now

How I got talking to the guy I don't remember
on Sullivan's Island. Our dog was still alive
and had walked repeatedly illegally
on the beach according to the signs. Dolphins
needled back and forth, stitching waves together
almost close enough for me to hit them
with a rock, had I a better arm and more spite.
My wife held the shell of her sea-sounding head
to the shell of mine, we were empty
of worry and work and had seen where turtles
had come in to lay their eggs, I think
is what I pointed out to the guy
casting his line into an ocean to ask
what bounty it cared to share. Or the existence
of weather. Surrealism in French cooking. Whatever
we were talking about, smack-dab in the middle
or muddle of a sentence, I realized
I was looking at Fort Sumter and said, Oh my God,
that's where the Civil War began, my God
being no god but who's counting. And without
changing expression or clothes, levity or levitation,
he said, Yes, that's where the War
of Northern Aggression began. You should probably
know we were standing where slaves
had been brought in, since that's still a thorn
or red-hot poker in the paw of America
we're aces at pretending isn't there. Our height,
weight, color were very similar, and yet, had I or he
a womb or even eight, there's not a chance
we'd ever procreate, based solely on our views
of an island, making us technically
different species. I'm only thinking that
now. In the moment, what stood out was the gap
between the end of my sentence and the beginning
of his, something like a thousandth
of a breath, meaning the idea that the South
and slavery should have been left alone
is a loaded gun he carries everywhere he goes.
And of course we're not different species
but two guys with the same number of legs
and head and chromosomes, sons of the same mother
fucking war that isn't over.


All Today's book of poetry can do is to apologize and hold our heads in shame, we've never read Bob Hicok before.  Don't we feel foolish?  Hold is Mr. Hicok's ninth collection.  We will hang our heads, but we'll also send Milo, our head tech and book scout, out into the ether to find Bob Hicok's other eight books.

One read through Hold and Today's book of poetry knew we were in the company of greatness.

These are great poems.  Capital G, Capital R, Capital E, and so on.  Hold is so damned smart and beautiful and true.  These poems - these are the poems that other poets dream of writing.

Bob Hicok goes right at the thing, no playing around on the edges, no confusion.  At one point Hicok tells us that "running with scissors is the only way to make danger understand."  You just have to laugh.  And then Hicok is on to some sunny, sexy ode of kind and generous persuasion directed at his wife, another on the importance of being a good person.  Hicok uses the legendary Boston Celtic, Bill Russell, as his example of a good person.

Today's book of poetry has a BBall past, Hicok's ramble on Russell made this basketball loving fool gobsmacked happy.


At the rehab center
late at night when my father
presses the call button,
someone hurries in
and shuts it off, thus maintaining
their quick-response rate, but leaves
without helping him pee, he tells me
in a whisper on the best
spring day of the year so far,
of the century: I could have picked
two hundred
million snowdrops on the way in
had I patience
and a doll's fingers.               He's afraid

of angering the staff and has learned to pee
on himself with dignity.        It's all

in the not-crying.                   In imagining

he's a chunk of wind
the next day while his penis
is being washed
and he can't feel it, just a sock
with a hole in it.                    I'm afraid

of the future.             That I'll need a gun

to help me out of the jam
of having a body.       Is what I'm thinking

while holding his hand, while believing
there's nothing to be done

about the weight of the night
on his chest except to lift him
and carry him home and give him back
to his own bed to live in and die in,
as he and mother
gave me to the sun all those years ago
to run under and end up here,
not knowing what to do
about the rumor that part of us
goes on after the heart's last sigh,
other than applaud the possibility
as I would a woman
standing up from a piano
after the gazelles of her hands
have stopped running, the music over
but not the chance for more music
if we clap enough that she believes
how desperate we are and that only
she can save us.


This cat Hicok isn't afraid of a single thing, love, sex, death.  Lob them in and Hicok hits them out of the park.  Hold burns.

Bob Hicok makes Today's book of poetry a happy camper.  Bob, as we will now, overly familiar as hell, call Mr. Hicok, makes us want to write better poems.  Even more importantly, Bob makes us want to read more.  As old Willy Shakes had Miranda tell that old cat Prospero, "O brave new world. That has such people in it."  And you all know how much Today's book of poetry loves William the Shake.  Now Today's book of poetry is going to tell you how lucky we are to have a poet like Hicok.

Our morning read was a little more difficult than usual and Today's book of poetry will explain that in a moment.  Please know we gave Bob and his very fine Hold our open hearts and our best efforts.  None the less our Today's book of poetry did a sterling job.  Of course Hicok's poems were extremely helpful to the effort.

Today's book of poetry just loved the way the man thinks.

Our morning read was tempered by the news that Canadian poet Nelson Ball died yesterday.  We knew that Mr. Ball had been ailing.  Nelson Ball is one of the poets Today's book of poetry most admires and we are terribly sad to hear of his passing.  We do know he was with friends


We were going along. Holding 
hands. When we came across a man
punching another man. My lover's
a creature wired with surprising
windings, and noticed the man
doing the punching looked tired.
She offered and was accepted
in her offer to punch the other man
for the punching man awhile.
Then gave me a look that said,
Where are your manners?
and I donated the punched man
my body to be his body
for a period of time. During
this rest, they took a tender
interest in each other, asking
after children and spouses
and bets on long-shot horses,
even sharing a ham sandwich
one had kept hidden & warm
under his arm. when they ran out
of things to say, rather than accept
the onslaught of silence, the one
tapped her shoulder and the other
mind. To his thank you, I said
a bloody you're welcome as we
walked off again holding hands.
Of all the reasons I love
my love, not the least is
she knows how the world works.
Badly. Etiquette is the way
she fights back. And with a right cross
I can tell you from experience
is lovely. My head still rings
from how considerate she is.


This last poems tells me that Bob Hicok must have a K.  Today's book of poetry has a K and if he were a better writer he would have tried to write "Civilization" for her.

Take our weary word, Hicok is a poet who will break and strengthen your heart at the same time.

Bob Hicok

Bob Hicok's poems have appeared in a wide variety of magazines, journals, and anthologies, including the New Yorker, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and numerous volumes of The Best
American Poetry.  His books have been awarded the Bobbit Prize from the Library of Congress and named a "Notable Book of the Year" by Booklist. Hicok has worked as an automotive die designer and a computer system administrator. He is currently teaching at Purdue University. When asked in an interview "What would Bob Hicok launch from a giant sling shot?" he answered, "Bob Hicok."

"Hold… urges readers to consider our faults as a nation—environmental destruction, gross financial inequities, police brutality. By turns wry and witty, Hicok’s plain-spoken writing highlights some of the pleasures and pains in this world, and humanity’s need for reflection."
     —Washington Post

"In Bob Hicok’s Hold… the poet’s humor, punning, wit, wisdom, and humility lead to small revelations, introspections, and musings on the human condition—all in the face of danger and atrocity. If Hold asks many questions throughout, they are not rhetorical, nor are they theoretical—instead, they’re practical questions about our world. In a unique blend of punchline and sincerity, Hicok confesses, ‘I’m scared, but not shitless.’ As its title might suggest, this book yearns for and struggles to hold strong to self and to community, to hold to the body, to hold to the world, to hold—yes—to optimism, to hope."
     —Arkansas International

"Bob Hicok is a spectrum... I’d love to see an MRI of his brain while he’s writing, as the neurons show us what’s possible, how a human can be a thought leader, taking us into the future… Hicok interrogates the world with mercy andwit and style and intelligence and modest swag. He’s one of America’s favorites—and to make the reader want to share the poet’s reality fulfills poetry’s finest aspiration."
     —Washington Independent Review of Books

"In his ninth collection, Hicok navigates a world bereft of empathy and kindness, leading by example with a charm and emotional intelligence that speaks to a deep insight into the human condition… Mixing cleverness with tenderness, Hicok demonstrates how to be a beacon of light in the darkest of settings."
     —Publishers Weekly

"As always, the multi-award-winning Hicok manages to be both freshly whimsical and knife-sharp insightful in his latest collection."
     —Library Journal

"Bob Hicok is that rarity, a cheerful contemporary poet―if not completely happy, still hopeful and celebrative."
     ―Los Angeles Review of Books

"Yet ultimately the most potent ingredient in virtually every one of Bob Hicok’s compact, well-turned poems is a laughter as old as humanity itself, a sweet waggery that suggests there’s almost no problem that can’t be solved by this poet’s gentle humor."
     ―The New York Times Book Review

Bob Hicok
Video: PoetryAtTech



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.

Goodnight Nelson Ball

1942 - 2019

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling, glasses

Sunday, August 4, 2019

What I Learned at the War — Jeanetta Calhoun Mish. (West End Press)

Today's book of poetry:
What I Learned At The War.  Jeanetta Calhoun Mish.  West End Press.  Albuquerque, New Mexico.  2016.

According to Jeanetta Calhoun Mish "history is a bitch."  That's not a direct quote, more of a spiritual acquiescence to a way of thinking.  Mish doesn't really concern herself with time as we know it.  Time and history just partial information in Mish world.

Mish comes straight at the reader and with considerable velocity.  Mish goes on to tell us that "history resists, tells her story through the mouths of the winners."  But when ever there are winners there are losers as well.  Mist has dirt under her fingernails, her characters do too.  Today's book of poetry thinks Mish has slow-danced us all into submissive/willing audience.  We like what she is cooking.

What I Learned at the War is unsettling because every word reads/feels true and a little dangerous.  Where in the hell does fate fit in with history?  Jeanetta Calhoun Mish lays it all out.

#3 Not Quite Glengarry

At 8am, my friend dropped me off in front
of a nondescript yellowish strip-mall building
at the crumbling edge of Little Rock; the parking

lot almost empty. People with personable voices
needed. No experience necessary. Apply today.
I was trying to go straight, attempting to abandon

an assortment of marginally legal employments.
Hoping to land a job with only a high school
degree, two weeks after a miscarriage, one week

after my boyfriend wrecked my car, hocked all
my furniture, spent the rent money, then ran off
with his ex-wife. I believed I could change

my life by changing jobs. The lead, My Roma,
just back from THE most motivational seminar
EVER, lurched around the room like a speed freak

in a baby blue leisure suit that went out
of style eight years before in 1975. We
would SELL LIKE SAMSON (whoever

the hell that was. Perhaps My Roma thought
he was the guy who invented Samonsite).
The Outbound Telemarketing Specialist

who had been there longest, My Williamson,
handed us our scripts. Hello, my name is Machine
Levene and I'm calling you today because you are

the lucky winner of a set of steak knives. You don't
remember entering a drawing? You didn't —
we've chose you from a long list of deserving

men and women who rarely catch a break
much less win a prize. You only have to pay
for. . .I made it half a day before an old lady

answered with a voice that sounded just like
my granny's and I couldn't bear the shame of lying
to her, of asking her to send only $49.95 in shipping

and handling charges for a set of plastic-handled
steak knives with flimsy aluminum blades, couldn't
tell her that, according to My Blake who flashed

a sample like a switchblade, they came encased
in a red velvet bag with faux silk drawstrings. I 
apologized for disturbing Mrs. Somebody's Granny,

grabbed my coat and walked out. And kept walking
a mile to the nearest bus stop where I waited an hour
for the next bus. Three transfers and two hours after

embarking, I was back where I was staying with a friend
from AA. A new job had not changed my life, but it had
changed my mind about the value of employment

at all costs. The next week, I hitchhiked home
to Tulsa, couch-surfed, read Marx for the first time,
called myself proletarian. Never looked back.


Sometimes you just like the way someone talks, the way they get to their point, Mish is instantly one of those poets for Today's book of poetry.  If any of my sisters wrote poetry I'd be awfully proud if they wrote these poems.

What I Learned at the War is conversational and confessional.  Today's book of poetry simply enjoyed the ride, cover to cover.  Our assessment is that Jeanetta Calhoun Mish is searching for beauty, but lets us know how much truth is in it's path, and the truth is only occasionally beautiful.

Declaration of a New Poetics

From this day forward
let there be no more abstractions
nor dissembled sighs
I proclaim a new poetics rising up,
flaming out of my body as if
I were the kiln and you the potter
who flung open the door.

From now on I shall speak
only the language of the sensuous,
the sensual, the reality of
sight is too tricky, too easily seduced
and hearing is reliable only when
applied to the code of ohs and ahs that
cannot be mistaken or misconstructed.

The practice of my new poetics
requires that I run my tongue
along your hip, grasp your stony calves,
inhale deeply at every dark conjunction of limbs.
This poetics demands I ban every pretense,
all talk of love and questions of propriety.
It allows only this primal sacred performance
this paean to need, this clashing of bodies.

In this dangerous intriguing encounter
we open ourselves to the edge
to this honesty the body knows
to our poem of desire.


Our morning read was holiday-weekend short as most of our loyal minions abandoned ship and headed to the beach.  Still, those of us braving our tepid office and cooking temperatures (83 F at the moment in our offices) gave What I Learned at the War a good bounce around the room

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, reminded us all that we'd been on a strong woman's roll here at Today's book of poetry and Jeanetta Calhoun Mish raises the bar just that Oklahoma tough gal higher.  Mish does it clean, with full on eyes-wide-open honesty.  What I Learned at the War reads like a bruise, you can feel it now, but you'll feel it more later on, see it more brightly as it sets in.

The Quah Effect
           for The Quah Crew: Faith, Murv, Debbie, & Cassandra

In Tahlequah, time staggers. It halts, leaps, spins, and burrows down
into the rocky soil to remind us that everything that ever happened in
a place is happening still.

Staggers isn't such a pretty idea.
Especially with Indians in the picture.
And Irish. And Scots.

All people who lean into drunkeness
as shadow leans into light.

Say instead: stutter steps.
Dance one forward, two back.
Sideway if you're feeling the
presence of haints and shades.

Or go ahead and live unvarnished.
Admit the ancestral jake leg,
drink until evening has to close
because the moon said so, flip the
bird to sun lurking on horizon,
pissed off and ready to make
your hangover worse.

It is happening. It is all happening.
How can you not feel it?
How can you not puke
with vertigo? History has not been well-
described. She's a bitch. A
Siren. A Medusa.

Don't trust her. You never
know what garments she'll wear
to your funeral.


Today's book of poetry thinks we understand where Jeanetta Calhoun Mish wanted to take us.  It certainly felt real, felt true.

What I Learned at the War leaves an impression.

Mish can burn.

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
Photo: John Jernigan

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish was born in Hobart, Oklahoma. She received a BA and an MFA in English from the University of Texas - Permian Basin and a PhD in English from the University of Oklahoma. Mish is the author of What I Learned at the War (Lamar University Press, 2015) and Work Is Love Made Visible: Collected Family Photographs and Poetry (West End Press/University of New Mexico Press, 2009), winner of the 2010 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry. In 2019, she was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Mish currently serves as the poet laureate of Oklahoma.

"There's a never-misty nostalgia and sometimes hard edge to these poems of a rough childhood, and an homage to the equally rough environs of Oklahoma. It's the sure hand of the writer that keeps you reading, the propulsive sense of a life happened, lived and recorded, with as much candor and skill as the best poetry offers us"
     --Rusty Barnes, author of Reckoning

"The power in these poems pitches, confessional and kindred like a puck along some pocked seam of red dirt clodded sanity. Grief-drenched, malady-reamed, and clumped up in some rancorous home front fault line ceremoniously split wide open, what proves revelatory, beyond Mish's poetic prowess, is her delivery of synchronicity in place and time--a sweet, sweet surrender."
     --Allison Adelle Hedge Coke author of Streaming

Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
Video: chatterabq


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.