Saturday, September 28, 2019

Three String Ukulele — Luke MacLean (845 Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Three String Ukulele.  Luke MacLean.  845 Press.  London, Ontario.  2018.

Today's book of poetry is Three String Ukulele by the Montreal varmint Luke MacLean.  This tasty little chapbook did not arrive at the Today's book of poetry offices via the normal channels.  Three String Ukulele arrived through the long arms of John Creary, then beat the snot out of the rest of the days mail, sat down like it owned the place.

Luke MacLean has wit to spare but under that slacker facade he's all warm and fuzzy.  He sounds like he's spitting nails but he's really just gargling with Cutty Sark.

Self-Portrait with Matte Finish

Most mornings my story is a crumpled face over a stout mug of
black coffee and the mathematical reality of the Habs' win/loss col-
umn. On a good morning it's the glacial flow of maple syrup atop
thick Belgian waffles or a Frisbee cutting through open air and into
the cleft of a snapping palm. Just yesterday, it was my crooked spine
with a knack for a paperback pocket, then a smile from a femme in
dark sunglasses and my eager shadow gaining on the heels of a pull-
tab embrace. But tonight, my story was left feeling idle. Not like a
sailboat on stilts or a lover growing smaller from the view of a west-
bound train. You didn't sign up for that and you're probably curious
about the femme in dark sunglasses. So when I said idle, I was
thinking more of a September sun fleeting from 'a landscape whose
drama couldn't be captured in a painting,' as she so aptly remarked
while framing my portrait in the viewfinder of her French camera,
so that I may be forever touched by the final rays of light slipping
up my legs. Never one to cradle the reader, my story has been 
known to take a sharp turn at times, to ready the dark horse or to
shake a snarling antagonist pacing in the shadows of the second act.
At the moment it can be found considering the constructs of a de-
nouement that will never follow an adrenaline-fuelled climax, as
long as my sleeping dog Charlie lies stretched across this kitchen
floor, dreaming of a vista so transparent that she can look out and
see the world.


 "Drinkin in LA" by Bran Van 3000 is blaring out of the box this morning in the Today's book of poetry offices and MacLean didn't seem to mind.  Today's book of poetry found Canadian bacon and Kevin Bacon play important rolls in two poems that appear side by side in Three String Ukulele.  At first Today's book of poetry suspected something greasy was afoot but then we read about Sir Arnold of Palmer and a famous carrot soup and realized MacLean was more than willing to pull our chain, simply because he could.

Chapbooks like Three String Ukulele should be sipped at, with a dark and heavy Italian red by your side.  Read a poem, sip.  Read a poem, sip.  And so on.

Three String Ukulele is a frolic, Luke MacLean throws a lot at us in a few pages, visual poetry, concrete poetry, confessions, obsessions, condemnations.  That's a lot of content for short chapbook but Today's book of poetry will repeat the oft quoted and obviously trite "size doesn't matter."  

MacLean doesn't pause for breath in Three String Ukulele.

Hitchhickers Roll the Best Spliffs

A good hitchhiker never adds to the conversation—
lets Marc Maron pull the sailboat from the bottle.

An ideal hitchhiker can fill in for Ringo
on an August night at Candlestick
or Beethoven in Berlin any time before the silence.

But mostly they are small children again,
licking a sticky candy apple for the first time.

You will never find a suitable hitchhiker
at the Big Stop in Moncton,
toeing the white line of something bigger.

No, they're casting flies off the banks of the Miramichi.
Coaxing curious salmon
with Ted Williams and their deadest grandfather.

Yes, their attention fades like jet stream
across an ocean-blue sky,
but they are a wonder-full audience.

Between curled brow and a Sussex cow, they can patiently sit
as you accurately describe
your newborn baby's dream.


Luke MacLean sounds like a born story-teller and Today's book of poetry was instantly willing to following wherever MacLean wanted to go.  We've always been suckers for optimism here at Today's book of poetry and MacLean sneaks in his fair share of sunshine along with required intense brooding.

What Today's book of poetry really liked was that we felt at home in MacLean world, immediately, it felt familiar.  It's astonishing when poetry can take you out of yourself and your own world, out of your own prejudices, blind spots and so on — but it is equally rewarding and comforting when we read poetry that makes Today's book of poetry feel like we are in a friend's kitchen.  We'll settle for that trick any day.

And of course it is not a trick and of course it is not just any kitchen, but Mr. MacLean can burn, it is one of those sorts of kitchens.

What Blues Singers Never Tell You

          Upon awakening to the consequence of bourbon,
I gently slip beneath the happenstance of a slumbering limbo queen
 and trudge towards the sun-drenched kitchen, where cool ceramic
                whisks waking life from the memory of a dream,

                      in which I traversed the Sahara via camel
                 until the poor fella came to a halt, lazily turned
                 and asked if I had any water left in my canteen.
              The faint hush of the desert was so encompassing

                 that the once-flickering buzz of the refrigerator
                     now pulsates like a busy sewing machine
                         and a few Aspirin in a plastic bottle
                      echo like a squash court in my hand/head.

           In the rec room beneath me, one of my guests has taken
           to clearing empties from my fun-soaked ping-pong table
                    with the delicate grace of a swirling wind chime
                              in the thick of a sweltering hurricane.

                         With a pair of shaky mitts and a resolve
                      to soften the allure of the present, I manage
                     to grasp a frosty Moosehead from the Singer
                  and place two squash balls in my parched fun box,

                                   where brisk, flowing ale
                            soothes tongue, throat and then belly.
                        Mapping my insides like a plumber's snake
                        or a skein of thread in an ancient labyrinth.


Today's book of poetry is reminded of the great Australian poet Banjo Patterson's poem "The Man From Snowy River."  That poem was made into an excellent film back in 1982.  The reason Today's book of poetry remembers the movie at this particular time is a scene where just prior to departing the Man From Snowy River comments to a friend, "you're welcome at my fire anytime."

Hey Luke MacLean, we talked it over after the morning read, it was unanimous, you're welcome at our fire any time.


Luke MacLean

Luke MacLean lives in Montreal where he works as a hairstylist. His writing has appeared in Geist, Der Greif, Paper Darts, Newfoundland Quarterly & Unbridled: an anthology of cowboy poetry.  See more of his work at

Three-String Ukulele is uproarious. And frisky. And slyly alive. These poems weave through wordplay and somersault through the wonder and surprise of language and life. MacLean has mastered the serenade with sidewalk chalk. He drags you onto the dance floor, dazzles with wit and insight and leaves you keeled over begging for more. This is a fresh and funny collection.
     —John Creary, author of Escape from Wreck City

Full of desire, wordplay, and grapefruit sunsets, the poems in Luke MacLean’s Three-String Ukulele turn the stuff of everyday experience into an allusive music that’s perfect for the skate park or just sitting on the stoop with your friends, watching the world roll by.
    —Aaron Kreuter, author of You and Me, Belonging and Arguments for Lawn Chairs


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

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Amateurs At Love — Patricia Young (Icehouse Poetry/Goose Lane Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Amateurs At Love.  Patricia Young.  Icehouse Poetry/Goose Lane Editions.  Fredericton, New Brunswick.  2018.

Amateurs at Love

Today's book of poetry has Pharoah Sanders on the box and he's cracking out a sterling version of his song "Africa/You've Got To Have Freedom" and we are loving it.  That's about as good as it gets.  Today's book of poetry wanted something lively, joyous, up beat to help us celebrate Patricia Young's Amateurs At Love

Patricia Young is no amateur.  Today's book of poetry has been down the Patricia Young road twice before.  Once for Short Takes on the Apocalypse (Biblioasis,2016), and once for her Consider The Paragliders (Baseline Press, 2018).  You can see them both here:

And here we go again.  It should be clear why, once again Patricia Young has hit us in the poetry sweet spot.

Amateurs At Love is crafted into six sections, each alive with its own magic.  Today's book of poetry got stuck in the first section, "This Could Be Anyone's Story", stuck isn't the right word, neither is paralyzed.  We're going to go with transfixed.  These short prose poems are note perfect, precise and patient.

Young is a pro.

Inside Sleep Country, Bird Murals

peacocks and flamingoes, macaws and parrots. The old man wants
a firm mattress. The old woman longs for a good night's rest.
But the warehouse is a gruelling maze of daybed, canopy beds,
waterbeds, platform beds, sofa beds, truckle beds. Beds the size of
coffins and sandboxes. Beds sluggish as tugboats and shallow as
wading pools. They lean against a child's bunk and remove their
shoes. After you, he says, and she begins her ascent. They climb the
ladder, heads butting through clouds and sunsets, until they roll,
exhausted, onto a super-deluxe, memory foam mattress. Lying on
their backs, they talk about old wounds, betrayals, and whiplash
lust and bursitis. They have children, don't they? Grandchildren,
too? The lights dim. They hear the last customer leave. Doors lock.
Plumage rustles. There's a lone creeing sound. They reach shyly
across the expanse. After all these years, how is it possible? They're
still amateurs at love.


Today's book of poetry sent Thomas, our newest intern, into the stacks to see what else we had in stock from Patricia Young.  Young has published 12 books of poetry and six chapbooks (as well as a novel).  We have eight of her poetry titles on our shelves, in no particular order:

Those Were The Mermaid Days
Melancholy Ain't No Baby
More Watery Still
Here Come The Moonbathers
What I Remember From My Time On Earth
Short Takes on the Apocalypse
Consider The Paragliders

And now young Thomas, our newest intern, will be tasked with finding Patricia Young's other titles. 

Today's book of poetry would be remiss not to suggest you dear readers do the same; look for Patricia Young books.  We suspect, that like us, you will discover a voice worth your good time and a wit you wish you had.

Amateurs At Love is gold.  Like the afore-mentioned Pharoah Sanders, Patricia Young knows how to come correct.  In "Animal Tales", another of the six sections, Young and anthropomorphism get into a Noah's Ark of four legged and winged creatures.  Young treats them with respect, reveals their wit.  You'll believe every word because Young has the true burn.  It all sounds like the truth.


When the children peered through gaps in the fence surrounding
their play area they were confronted with a shocking sight — a
teenage girl whipping a rabbit with a willow branch. The girl
heard the children's whimpering and came over and threatened
to whip them too. So young and so pitiless, the daycare workers
said as they shuffled the little ones into the church basement where
they sloughed off their Muddy Buddies and rolled out their mats. It
was time to nap. Time to dream. That night the children told their
parents about the girl and rabbit, and the next day their parents
told their friends, who then told their friends, and so on, person
to person, until rumours of the girl's pathology travelled around
the globe, full circle, returning to the rabbit who merely rolled his
pink eyes. The children were fantasists, of course. To the rabbit's
mind, truth was the water dish in the corner of his hutch, the whiff
of clover on a summer morning, the diamond stud in the girl's ski
jump nose.



The goose was in love with three ganders and they loved her in
return. The farmer, however, had no time for romance. Financially,
he was in over his head and also underwater. He needed to
downsize. This worried the animals, especially the goose. A month
earlier, on her birthday, she'd laid her last egg. Now, no matter
how she bore down — not one speckled oval. Like all lovesick
creatures, the ganders were a font of ideas and suggested the goose
feign broodiness. An excellent plan, she said, and refused to leave
her nest, even to eat or drink. Day and night her adoring ganders
gathered around to recite sonnets in praise of her fertility but after
the third debt collector had driven off, the farmer summoned his
hapless  waterfowl. You've laid more eggs than any other goose, he
said, and I am grateful, but you are old, old girl, and now you must
return to the bee balm and sky. Too dignified to make a fuss, the
goose arranged her head on the chopping block and the axe came
down. Instead of blood, a bouquet of dandelions spouted from her
neck. The awestruck ganders watched as the yellow clusters turned
swiftly to seed balls. Puff, they cackled, puff, puff.


It's a rainy gray day in the nation's capital but we're all smiles here at Today's book of poetry.  When the pros drop in they make our life easy.  The morning read was both humorous and profound.  Young can be Richard Pryor funny and deadly serious at the same time.  Great trick.

Thomas, our newest intern, was introduced to the morning read this morning and of course because he is new he had to read first.  Thomas looked us right in the eyes and then nailed it, read Patricia Young with wit and timing.  We gave him and Amateurs At Love the full standing ovation.  Thomas bowed.


I took her hand and pulled her toward the park and begged her to
explain why everything I wanted to know was unknowable, like the
boys hanging around the edge of the canal. I wanted to know the 
difference between hypocrisy and lust. Also: the true story of Adam
and Eve. Was the Garden of Eden a foreign country where you
drank from a porcelain fountain or was it the beast with two backs?
I wanted to know: how could a beast have two backs? Other things
too: tricks to stay sane in prison. Should I memorize passages from
the Bible or Dante? Hanging upside down on the monkey bars,
I wanted to know why she, my mother, sitting on a stone bench
unwrapping a small meat pie, had blotted out her past. She bit into
the cold pastry, gravy oozing from the corners of her mouth, and I
wanted to know, would I too have to reinvent myself with duct tape
and flowers?


Today's book of poetry is clearly a Patricia Young fan, you will be too if you can get your hands on Amateurs At Love.  Just like Pharoah Sanders, you can't go wrong.

Image result for patricia young photo

Patricia Young

Patricia Young has published twelve collections of poetry and one of short fiction. Her poems have been widely anthologized and she has received numerous awards for her writing, including the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize, the B.C. Book Prize, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, a CBC Literary Prize, several National Magazine Awards, the Bliss Carman Award, and the Confederation Poets Prize. She has twice been nominated for the Governor General's Award for Poetry. She lives in Victoria.

"Amateurs at Love is as delectable as anything I've read in ages. Young delivers her salty truths in dreamscapes that straddle a ridge between drollery and devastating one-two punches. Here you will find prickly pangramics, grousing animalia, family fables, insight and allegory, and — as in the best of teh best — yourself." 
     — Sharon McCartney

"These poems could well be anyone's story, but each told in light touches is particular, the tone sometimes dark, if kept steadfastly whimsical in intent. A horse gorges on fermented daisies. Mice haunt a cottage with their absence. A boy comes to understand his mother has no answers for him. Not Patricia Young. Thankfully, in Amateurs at Love, she has found one for almost everything."
      — John Barton

"In Amateurs at Love, Patricia Young reveals parallel realities, not ghosts but fleeting glimpses of ourselves. Everyday love coexists as drama on a momentary stage, just on the other side of a veil, or it lives in a dreamlike state in which we are not sure if we are being dreamed or are dreamers. Young's extraordinary power of observation draws us in with fine detail, and the resonant precision of her language carries us along." 
     — Patrick Friesen

Patricia Young Reads from An Auto-Erotic History of Swings
Video: Sono Nis Press


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, September 23, 2019

Undiscovered Country — Al Rempel (Mother Tongue Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Undiscovered Country.  Al Rempel.  Mother Tongue Publishing.  Salt Spring Island, British Columbia.  2018.


Today's book of poetry remembers where we were the first time we read Sir Charles Bukowski, Lord Alfred Purdy, Saint Jack of Kerouac.  And now we're going to remember meeting the work of Al Rempel.

Undiscovered Country is an undiscovered and staggering masterpiece.  Undiscovered Country begins with the long poem "Into The Cloud of Unknowing" and this is a truly great poem.  A life changing poem.

How is it possible that there is a poet that is this good and his name is not on every ones lips.  Today's book of poetry is embarrassed that we have never encountered Al Rempel's poetry.  Today's book of poetry will now correct that and acquire This Isn't the Apocalypse We Hoped For, Understories and Rempel's two chapbooks Four Neat Holes and The Picket Fence Diaries.

Today's book of poetry hasn't been this thrilled about discovering a new poet since our man in the south, David Clewell, introduced us to the poetry of David Lee.  Sir David of Lee.  That's how fine we think Al Rempel's Undiscovered Country is.  That's how wise/clever/smart Today's book of poetry thinks Al Rempel burns.

Undiscovered Country is a great pleasure to read.  You feel like you're in that movie where people are gathered at the knee of some old wise guy who doles out wisdom with each and every breath.  A sage.  Today's book of poetry knows these are ridiculously high claims, high praise.  But we can take the heat and welcome the conversation.  For Today's book of poetry - Undiscovered Country is simply one of the best books of poetry we have read.

He Talked In His Sleep

she wishes for a morning with wet snow
and the birds' flagrant disregard

their beaks stuffed with bits of straw
as they shuttlecock

between their peep-a-peep & the falling
she lets her eyes drift

once again the house lifts off
rising up to meet the snow

if only the only thing she could hear
was the clock

the inner works of the furnace
and the eternal hum

how he wore the shirt of his uniform
and played his old songs

how he would shudder alone downstairs
with the record player

the aura of the streetlamp pouring in
a sickly illumination

how he would carefully hang the shirt
back in the dark closet

scuttle crabwise into his side of the bed
as if under trip wire


Today's book of poetry is in pure poetry pleasure heaven and Al Rempel's Undiscovered Country has taken us there.  These poems burn honest as a mother's promise, deep as a father's legacy, and yet always remain approachable, even tender, no matter how real/rough the world gets.

Undiscovered Country moved us.  Today's book of poetry thinks these poems will move you too.  Undiscovered Country is a delight because every poem works, as Dennis Cooley suggested, Undiscovered Country is "a rinse to the clouded soul."

Our morning read was held out on the front porch today's as our offices were taken over by a book club meeting.  The Today's book of poetry staff could all hear the city humming behind us, the weather muggy but still nice.  Maggie, our Jr. Editor, arranged our order and cleared the runway.

Al Rempel's Undiscovered Country sailed out into the cosmos, off of our front porch, with an enthusiasm matching these extraordinary poems.

I Thought I Saw Her In The Water

in territories of the mind, in middle distances I can't reach
with outstretched hand,
in dreams inlaid & lidded with a ceiling of leaves, some dangling
on threads, rear-tail swimming
in the air above me — we're all guppies you know, we're caught
on our backs
wordlessly gulping at what we cannot say

or at night, the grass a dewy halo around my head, like a chalk line
drawn about my arms & legs,
the stars are swimming too, unglued from the sky, they slide
past my vision
when I need them the most

could I reach into the depths of a lake at dawn, or a quiet river,
even in a flat-bottomed boat, I'd hardly dip further in than my elbow—
o mother
I know you're not down there, slipping between my fingers
bubbling through gills

or up here, skidding across the sky pell-mell with the stars, with leaves
on empty streets of morning, filling up with hours & hours
but I want you to be here, somehow, closer than dreams that clear off
like fog
leaving only the hard outline of crooked trees & a road that curves
out of view


Al Rempel talks about love lovingly, he mourns with authentic dignity and he observes and understands it all.

You, dear readers of Today's book of poetry, never see and/or hear about the four books we read for every book that we write about.  You don't have to weigh through those empty pages, eat that burnt toast.  But Today's book of poetry will willingly endure mountains of dross to get to books as charming and fulfilling as Undiscovered Country.

Thank you Al Rempel, this is what today's book of poetry lives for.

from Once Around The Sun

one night I left the sliding door too far open, my love,
I'm sorry,
the house went cold,
cold as the world is

each morning, when we went outside,
we could feel its chill
pressing on our pant legs,
and we blew into our cupped hands to warm them

every evening darkness arrived
a few minutes too early

as I sit here, the last flurry of seed fluff
drifts by my window like a parody of winter,
and when I walk through buildings,
I stop in the sunlight & its heat
and let if fall on my face
and blind me

what is this narrow band of heat
that keeps us alive, this fire we scoop on our plates
and pour into cups, again & again?

one day my eyes will close for the last time,
and my breath will leave as if through an open door
and I will grow cold
as the earth waits to cover me


Image result for al rempel photo

Al Rempel

Al Rempel’s books of poetry are This Isn't the Apocalypse We Hoped For, Understories and two chapbooks: Four Neat Holes and The Picket Fence Diaries. His poems have also appeared in various journals including The Malahat Review, GRAIN, CV2, Event, and Prairie Fire as well as in anthologies such as The Best Canadian Poetry in English, Rocksalt, 4Poets, and Half in the Sun. He was awarded Prince George's Arts & Culture Award for Poetry in 2012 and Shortlisted for the Fred Cogswell Excellence in Poetry Award in 2013. One of his poems was shortlisted for Arc's Poem of the Year Award in 2015 and his poems have been included twice in the Poetry in Transit project in Vancouver. Rempel has also had some of his poems translated into Italian by the poet Sandro Pecchiari. Rempel has also created a number of videopoems in collaboration with local artists. “Sky Canoe” was screened at the Visible Verse Festival in Vancouver, 2012, and at the Filmpoem Festival in Dunbar, Scotland, 2013, as well as Liberated Words in Bristol, UK, 2013. Three of the poems in Undiscovered Country have also been made into videopoems. Al Rempel currently lives in Prince George, where he teaches math and science at a high school, but grew up in Abbotsford and loves to visit the Gulf Islands.

"It is impossible to be unmoved by this book. Rempel hears 'the earth, the rain saying/fatherless, motherless...' and admits, 'I wish I could say I'm less afraid, now a father'—and we know the pained bewilderment in making our ways through the 'undiscovered countr[ies]' of our own lives. He sees the abysses that open within the details of the everyday; and at the same time, allows us to observe 'small green birds...circusing in the aspens,' and though he speaks of 'the stars...not meaning anything except/what we make of them,' Rempel sets us where "we sit aswirl in light.'"
     - Russell Thornton, author of The Hundred Lives

"Undiscovered Country is extraordinary in its focus. Rempel skillfully moves from internal landscapes—of grief, loss and mortality—to the external with crisp, fresh poetics: 'the moon was a giant rock/hovering up there in the sky/and ready to fall.' Undiscovered Country is about shifts in place, shifts in time, shifts in perspective—child turned adult, adult turned orphan, orphan turned parent. Rempel is beautifully pragmatic, yet hopeful: 'you could be anywhere—/but you're not, you're here.'"
     - Kerry Gilbert, author of Tight Wire

"Wow! A rinse to the clouded soul, tonic to the torpid. The poetry rejoices, grieves, muses. It moves and amuses and delights us, dares brazenly to embrace the palpable world and to love the words we provide it. In affection and anguish and deft comedy. Undiscovered Country celebrates extraordinary moments in our ordinary and temporary lives.  An absolute joy to read."
     -Dennis Cooley, author of The Home Place: Essays on Robert Kroetsch's Poetry

Al Rempel reads from Undiscovered Country
Video: Joanna Smythe



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

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

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Against — Matt Robinson (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Against.  Matt Robinson.  Gaspereau Press.  Devil's Whim Chapbook No. 38.  Kentville, Nova Scotia.  2018.

Today's book of poetry read Matt Robinson's A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking (Insomniac Press, 2001) back in the day but we had Milo, our head tech, dig it out of the stacks so we could give it another once over before we feasted on Robinson's Against.  

Against is fun, in a cranky sort of way.  You eat it up.  Tear off a bit, roll it around between your tongue and cheek.  Presto, as soon as it hits your poetry taste buds, well, by then the Devil has had his/her way.  You're hooked.

Against is against everything.  Against is a systematic, analytic, thorough and unabashed curmudgeonly look at every thing there is to be against since before the first Zamboni hit the ice.

Matt Robinson is up against it.  If it's out there, our man Matt is against it.

Against The New Year's Day Hangover

     But I enjoy the idea of their shade
     when the sun hits them right.

When the sun hits them right, those empties
extant in their nesting of shards are less
a dull, throbbing reminder of last night's poor choices
and excess, and more a loosely curated drunk's
afterglow, a showy blown-glass derangement
resting skew-countered, serrated, all edgily cornered
but softened somehow by fruit flies' flittered near caul.
It's the small things, after all. Especially
on mornings like this one when your piss and vinegar's
turned and perverted—been swallowed, undone,
and inverted—to a vinegared distillate pissed at
the mumbling, curvilinear brink of the nauseous,
off-colour dawn's waiting bowl, while
your near-useless hands semi-morse for purchase
against the sink's brim or the unfinished skim
coat of that wall you'd sworn you'd get to.
Last night's howls at the moon, now long gone
and cocooned somewhere in the Advil-gauzed
ale aphasias that stipple your brain's stewing meat.
This new year's a sudden 100 watt bulb,
weaponized; a light's tenuous rhetoric aggressively
weighing the pros and the cons of the eyes'
new-found, ad hoc focus on what passes for promise.
For darkest fears. It's all you can do,
at this waking moment, to blink; your jaundiced lids'
strobing—in the bleary, calendar-tossing AM—
seems an intermittent inconvenience of fact;
a subconscious bias, betrayed. The trick, of course, is learning
to enjoy the idea of their shade.


As Today's book of poetry is a teetotaler for the most part we had to survey our staff to better understand what a hangover might be like.  Against Today's book of poetry's better judgment we decided to take our Senior Editor, Max, at his word and believe his hangover stories as gospel.  Pretty sure Matt Robinson would be against that too.

Matt Robinson's Against is a real misanthropic marvel, a canyon filling calamity of complaint disguised as the most sulphurous of vapors — poetry.  Bless his cotton socks.  Today's book of poetry was much amused, even against our better instincts.

Robinson's complaints are both universal and deeply personal, all encompassing and all consuming.  In the proper frame of mind Today's book of poetry is convinced Matt Robinson could be against anything.

Against The Opposable Thumb

Briefly unhinged at some pivotal juncture
of a late summer's football-matched
pratfall, this thumb's now a cranky old bugger—uneasily
angry and warily perched on the proverbial porch
of my damaged right hand. Bruise-bloated; arthritic
and swaying; prone to fits of distemper. Barely
able to grasp a mere semblance of whatever
sly, rumoured rhetoric at which its stick has been shaking,
it longs for a line drawn in the sand that slips through
its neighbouring digits' failed clutch. This dull ache's the new face
of what passes for real flexibility in a suddenly post-fractural
world; how our grasp on reality's set, and then loosed,
grudgingly. A trumped up indignant, it's opposed, constantly—
aches to say, in the morning's damp cool
or each evening's close, clammy heat:
Take a hike. Take a seat and watch the world burn.
Yes, this knucklehead seems at once to know best, or know
nothing; or, ape just as much. A nouveau, bespoke, hipster-maker
of handwrung once-fists, of faux-wrought A-OKs—
we just hope its signed puppetry's shadows
are—in some guise—in the end, no more or no less than
good ol' pick-me-ups, an innocence
mimed. Just vaudevillian gestures towards our
coming to grips. Only another nail chewed, chewed,
eschewed, and then spit.


If Matt Robinson had his way we'd be driving our Zamboni's without any thumbs at all.  Cry havoc.
Another crazy week here in the Today's book of poetry offices, people coming, others going.  The usual September confusion.  

In Today's book of poetry world September has always been the real start of the year.  That's when things start.  January 1st is just the weekend after Christmas.  Today's book of poetry is against January starting the year off and we believe we might convince Matt Robinson to be against it too.  Just for the spite of it.

These too few poems make a bigger impact than you might first expect.  Wasn't it Joe Orton himself who was "Kicking Against the Pricks" and really against it all.  Today's book of poetry is going to make a list shit-kickers and Matt Robinson is going to be on it.  Only the best will do.

Our morning read was highly entertaining.  Maggie, our new Jr. Editor, set the stage with a rousing reading of Robinson's "Against the AR-15".  Then she started pointing fingers.

Against The Wedding Invitation Ampersand

Imperfect ornament; unfinished
script. Lazy journeyman's apprentice-
wrought hackjob of a joinery's
grip left askew and still setting, edges
un-knit. An incomplete circuit,
its breakers just tripped as an idea's
new train of thought makes its ponderous,
penultimate turn and then slows
to pull into mind's station. Unsung
treble clefs, they are nothing
but poorly tied bows on spectacular gifts.
These loop-de-looped maps' near
pseudo-suggestions are a sky's inky contrails,
scrawled insinuations polluting
our horizon's far flung, bird's eye
scansion, its cloudless grammar. Nothing
but a brutish fool's tools—nails
crudely hammered and prised once
and again, and then left en plein air,
an iron-y tangle. They're typeset brambles
hedging their bets on how we—us two,
our traceried routes—have meandered
about and around and into each
and the other. On how the art of connection
sometimes leaves even language
to wonder.


Matt Robinson's Against proves once and again that size doesn't matter.  This short chapbook stands tall, tall, tall, and against the tide.  Today's book of poetry loved Robinson's verisimilitude, as grumpy as the weather.

Well done is well done.  The proper burn.

Today's book of poetry is tickled pink to have Against heading into the stacks to keep Robinson's A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking company.

Matt Robinson

Matt Robinson’s previous poetry collections include Against the Hard Angle (2010), no cage contains a stare that well (2005), how we play at it: a list (2002), and A Ruckus of Awkward Stacking (2000), as well as numerous chapbooks. Robinson has won the Grain Prose Poetry Prize, the Petra Kenney Award, and The Malahat Review Long Poem Prize, among others. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his family.



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, September 16, 2019

No Home In This Land - Rasaq Malik (Akashic Books)

Today's book of poetry:
No Home In This Land.  Rasaq Malik.  Akashic Books.  New Generation African Poets - Taro.  Brooklyn, New York. 2018.

Luckily for us there is some hope to be found in Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land because there is some sad rain in Malik's world.  Today's book of poetry is almost embarrassed to address some of the issues facing Malik as a norm, they are so foreign to us here in Canada.  Foreign in anything except the news.  Our poets worry about publication and literary festivals.  Rasaq Malik's generation of Nigerians worry about war, baby soldiers, the weaponized madness of the dispossessed.

No Home In This Land starts with one breath-taking body punch, ala Sir Joe Frazier, and then before you can catch your breath, before you can inhale needed oxygen, Malik digs down from his knees and cannon shots another into your ribs, even the sturdiest reader buckles at the knees.  Malik's Nigeria is unforgiving and bleak.

At Dalori Camp
After Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's
Losing and Finding Love in the Time of Boko Haram

The women stretch their legs as their malnourished infants
suck disease-infected breasts, as another day begins with
fear lurking in their eyes, as they remember their relatives
at home, their families waiting at the doorsteps every night,
their beloveds searching for them every day, their dreams
dismantled by war, their hope the frail light in the lantern
they carry every night to search for the bodies of the dead.

The women weep as they see their children hold
the dusty photographs of their fathers, as they remember
the soldiers raping them every night, the soldiers
littering their bodies with scars nothing can erase.
They remember the corpses paving the streets,
bodies wrapped and disposed like waste
beside desolate houses. The women wake up
every day to see rooms filled with new refugees
trucks filled with few relief materials for the displaced.

The women watch their children lie on the mats,
as another night begins with people searching
for the meaning of home in the sadness of a woman washing
the blood-soaked dress of her daughter, in the silence
of a man returning home to meet the dismembered
bodies of his wife and children, in the sorrow of a widow
living with solitude. The women search for the meaning
of home whenever they wake up to see bullet holes on the walls,
whenever the pieces of their beloveds fill the streets,
whenever they receive letters from missing loved ones,
notes from relatives in prison, flowers from dying parents to their children.


Rasaq Malik does find some tenderness, some reasons for hope even in the face of almost systemic chaos.  Malik does not explain the unexplainable but he does report it with wounded candor.

What poet wouldn't blanch at the spectacle of his country falling apart around them?  Malik chooses to enter the fray in order to better report the truth of it.  Federico Garcia Lorca did the same thing in Spain but didn't make it through.  We get first hand reportage in poems, some disguised as dispatches and other disguised as prayers.  But Malik abides, he stays on the ground and bears witness.

At Today's book of poetry the important thing is the poem and Rasaq Malik doesn't let us down.


For life after the bombings, for the love that cradles us in spite of the war
that wrecks our land, for joy in the cries of infants in their mother's arms.

Grateful for little things, for my son's dream of building the world,
for people waking up every day to marvel at the birds that fill the sky.

Grateful for friends that visit us, relatives that send letters to us,
people that open their doors for us when war looms in the sky.

Grateful for the rivers that become a confluence, fields that house our
children when they gather to explore childhood moments.

Grateful for answered questions, for the walls that bear the frames
of our pictures, for the windows that usher in air.

Grateful for things that shape us into better things, things that lift our hands
when we fill the night with cries, things that unchain our passion for bliss.

Grateful for husbands that return home safely to meet their wives and children
waiting for them at doorsteps, for mothers whose children remember.

Grateful for things that survive, for children whose lives become maps
for us to trace, for God's infinite mercy over us.

Grateful for the meals taken at normal hours, for shared compassion,
for songs that soothe our troubled hearts.

Grateful for the ones who kiss our brows and say, we will be fine,
for the ones who stretch their hands filled with gifts for us to take home,

for the ones who phone at late hours to ask if we are fine,
for the ones whose names mean the world is a haven.

Grateful for my mother's stable health, for my father's strong bones,
for the assurance of kindness when we need it.

Grateful for those who, in spite of their sad
hearts, offer us every bright thing in the world.


Our morning read followed the emotional ups and down of Rasaq Malik's poetic landscape.  And, once again proved that all poems improve from reading out loud to an audience.  Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land loves being read aloud.

Today's book of poetry read Rasaq Malik's muscular and disturbing No Home In This Land several times in our desire to get inside the poems.  At least two of the those reads took place in the comfort of our big bed, the beautiful K beside us, reading her latest and resting one of her tiny feet against my leg.  Today's book of poetry read Malik in the safety of our bed, in our safe neighbourhood, in our safe city, in our safe country.  Today's book of poetry doesn't feel guilty but the same time we don't feel right about our safe lives knowing full well that in many parts of the world that assumption can't be made.  In some parts of the world feeling safe is the last thing you are allowed to do.

Rasaq Malik challenged himself and then us when he decided to see Boko Haram from the inside.  He bravely bares witness for the many who cannot.  No Home In This Land is knock-out poetry.  A big, big price was paid for each of these poems.

In This Village Where Every Dawn
Begins With A Funeral

In this village, where a child draws the image
of his dead mother on a cardboard,
where a man covers the pieces of his wife's body
with leaves, where flowers replace bodies
buried in exile, where the muezzin's voice recedes
as gunshots assemble people at the scene, where the dead
long for a mass funeral in order to escape the agony
of being devoured by crows, where a woman translates her grief
by sitting on the tomb of her child, they cook dinner with
bloodstained water. The earth widens beneath feet,
as people trace the footprints of lost beloved
with lanterns and return to their huts to meet the mangled
bodies of their children. Here, broken women seek healing,
and men are burdened with the role of burying
their dead. Here, my grandmother's graveyard decked
with a vase of writhed wreaths, my uncle's farmland is razed
to dust, and my family's house is turned into a hollow during war.
In this village there are unmarked graves, tombstones bearing
the names of ambushed soldiers, blood-draped walls of old houses,
remnants of burnt homesteads, ruins of bombed stores, fallen branches
and dry twigs. The hills house refugees, camps built in the desert,
lands converted to cemeteries. The girls here live with the scars of rape,
the boys are weaned by war, elders stagger as they walk
to where a country becomes a shadow, a memorial ground.
The portraits of the dead are taped to the walls,
with the broken slates of children who will never return home
to enjoy childhood years, to meet the streets glowing
with streetlights, to listen to the radio once again, to bathe in the river,
to climb mango trees, to adorn their necks with catapults,
to dance in the rain and listen to stories at dusk.


Akashic Books' New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Box Set -  (Tano) is an annual project that brings much excitement to our offices upon arrival.  Today's book of poetry suspects it is because some of the very best, most exciting, vibrant poetry we've experienced is contained in these collections.  There is always a bit of a polite "dust-up" over who gets what when - but it does all get shared and adored.

As taken as Today's book of poetry has been with various other books from these excellent collections, Rasaq Malik's No Home In This Land raises the bar just that much higher.  Malik pulls no punches, his love is witness honest and abides his searching for truth.  These poems burn, bright.

Image result for rasaq malik photo

Rasaq Malik

Rasaq Malik is a graduate of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in various journals, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Poet Love, Spillway, Rattle, Juked, Connotation Press, HEArt Online, Grey Sparrow, Jalada, and elsewhere. He is a two-time nominee for Best of the Net. He has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and was shortlisted for the Brunel International African Poetry Prize in 2017.



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, September 14, 2019

Stamped — Emma Alford (Finishing Line Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Stamped.  Emma Alford.  Finishing Line Press.  Georgetown, Kentucky.  2016.
Image result for stamped emma alford

Stamped comes at a very appropriate time for Today's book of poetry as 2019 has been a year vivid with funerals and wild with wakes.  Emma Alford's embracing Stamped is a number of things in its brief pages, a banshee wail, an eulogy, a prayer, all addressed to a recently departed friend.

Most of us are familiar, to some extent, to loss, but Alford nails those first feelings of genuine sorrow, our first real taste of death.  These are colloquial poems, journal poems, goodbye poems and they all work.


Last Christmas you sent the standard present package
I had come to expect it every year.
A few weeks later you visited me while it was still cold.
It was the last time I saw you, but it doesn't feel like it.
It never seemed like we were very far from one another;
We never grew apart.
I still feel you now.
Something always kept us calling, mailing cards,
sending packages, buying plane tickets, and driving miles.
You're the only friend I ever bothered to buy Christmas gifts for.
We joked that our other friends were cheap.
This year I don't think I can stand buying one less gift

You were always the easiest to buy for, the first off my list.
So I think I'll mail something to your family.
Some old photos of us, A zine we made in junior high,
maybe a nice scented candle or ornate box.
Your mom loves decorative boxes, we laughed about this.
The last one I saw her with was filled with bits of you.
This exchange won't feel the same,
but I won't feel as much like I've lost something.
Last week I took your card to a tattoo shop in Nashville.
I had your sloppy boyish handwriting inked into my skin forever.
You would call me a hypocrite; I always hated the way you wrote.
Now it's something else, tragically beautiful, your epitaph.


Stamped is one sad elegy, one lonely lament.  Emma Alford speaks for us all as she teaches herself how to deal with loss.

Today's book of poetry has been remiss, we should've started this whole thing off with an explanation of Stamped context.  In Stamped, Emma Alford is often responding directly to postcards sent by her departed friend shortly before dying.  Alford makes anagrams, responds with speculative imagination, builds a new world with her new knowledge.  Her friend is gone.  These postcards are also published in Stamped and appear on the opposite page to each poem.  The affect is quite intimate and emotionally it triggers an instant sympathetic response.

Today's book of poetry doesn't think that we are alone when we say that Stamped opens a door for all of us to that first big loss.  The experience of first loss is a sacred one.  For many of us it stardates our first steps into real adult life.

Emma's collection of postcards reminds Today's book of poetry of a totem that hangs in our office.  Today's book of poetry has a page from his mother's handwritten cookbook, framed.  This particular recipe is for butter tarts.  All fours of my sisters have similar, but different, framed recipes from my mother's cookbook.  All of that to say that Today's book of poetry recognizes the need to remember.

Double Life

We were starting college when you sent this postcard.
I think you were fed up with cowboys.
Your school had a rodeo, not football, team.
And this was after I called and you answered
"I'm in a cop car, so I may need to call you back"
It was weird to hear you complain about anything.
You always told me I was too quick to hate,
You were just so quick to love—and I think
you had too much of it in a world that wouldn't understand it.

You said, "kill me," the two lighthearted words seize in my chest now.
When we were younger, we wrote our last wishes out
on tiny sheets of paper,
exchanged and swore in jest to carry them out
should anything happen.
Were we setting ourselves up for this all those years ago?
I found the tiny folded piece of paper I followed it faithfully.
We had sunflowers and Weezer, and I didn't wear all black.
Your sister and I gave your eulogy, the hardest words I ever spoke,
the difference in my very tense choking me.

I vowed to live a double life. I will love what you loved,
destroy what you feared and complete what you started.
I'll get us to New Zealand and I'll stop smoking cigarettes.
Taking the fire from your life and putting it to mine.
I can't condense you, I can't feel you, in five minutes of words.
But maybe I can in a lifetime of actions. I promise
I'll always carry you around my neck, tucked into my chest.


Today's book of poetry can identify with Alford and her poems about loss.  When a dear friend of ours died several years ago Today's book of poetry got one of his friends tattoos so we would always remember.  We're certainly remembering today, that damned wonderful Emma Alford has us blurry eyed and sniffling, drowning in our own tears, remembering lost friends.

Coming to terms with loss is an ongoing dilemma.  Loss never ends, we carry it. But the weight of it does lessen with time.  The world reminds us that we are destined for the same long nap.

Emma Alford's journey, shared in Stamped is a long way from over so Today's book of poetry sends 
all the good karma we can gather in Alford's direction.  And we thank Emma Alford for Stamped and the honest, undistracted and unredacted response to loss.  As painful as the experience has been for Alford, and will continue, these poems offer Alford, and us, a chance to both mourn and celebrate those we've lost.

Holding Ash

"Human Remains" is such a cold, ambiguous phrase
what remains after all, is dust and unbroken bit of bones and teeth
too strong against the funeral home's fires to burn
and I'm still unsure what's human about remains

Grasping for ashes is like reaching for the thinnest grains of sand
Your hand turns chalky white—
bits of bone get stuck beneath a fingernail
There is nothing to romanticize in this
Life so far from those granules slipping between shaking fingertips

I thought that I might find her,
3000 miles from any soil she'd ever graced
By placing her in the walls of an 800-year-old castle
Or sprinkling her in the river floating past the Eye

She wasn't there
Or in the teeth and nails caking my palms
Further away now than she ever was
Returning to dust as anything does


Stamped is a comic-book smart little dazzle from Finishing Line Press down in Georgetown, Kentucky.  Today's book of poetry is tickled to have them back in the house.

Today's book of poetry is fairly certain that Stamped is just a warm up for Emma Alford.  Her bad engine is just getting warmed up.  

Image result for stamped emma alford

Emma Alford

Emma Alford is a writer from the Mississippi Delta.  She is an editor and contributor for The East Nashvillian magazine.  She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her over-loved, overweight tabby cat.

Emma Alford’s first book, Stamped, is a beautiful elegy. Expertly rendered through a series of poems that transforms a friend’s postcards into a means of coming to terms with loss, this collection participates in the great tradition of English-language poems that celebrate and mourn best friends lost too soon. This is a deeply moving book and one I will read and re-read for years to come.
     –Michael Smith, Author of Multiverse and Byron in Baghdad.
Stamped, a touching hybrid chapbook of poems and postcards commemorating a beloved friend. This debut collection, born out of grief, brings to life a vivid friendship and an irrepressible girl who was “just so quick to love.”
     –Ann Fisher-Wirth, Author of Dream Cabinet and Carta Marina



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.