Tuesday, October 29, 2019

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Androgynous Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Brent Cunningham


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

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


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

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

Sunday, October 27, 2019

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

Cassandra Blanchard

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

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

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

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


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

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

Friday, October 25, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

A Loving Follow-Through

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


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

Death of a Poet

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Strong Tea

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

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

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


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

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

Harold Hoefle
Photo: John W. MacDonald

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



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

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

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Every Atom - Erin Coughlin Hollowell (Boreal Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Every Atom.  Erin Coughlin Hollowell.  Boreal Books.  An Imprint of Red Hen Press.  Pasadena, California.  2018.

There are few things harder than watching your parents fade away in front of your eyes.  The loss of memory can narrow a parents universe to the point where you can no long provide comfort.  Welcome to Erin Coughlin Hollowell's Every Atom.

This mother and daughter diorama is poignant, prescient and palliative.  Parts of our lives, the end parts, are often lived out in slow operas of dissension.  Those we love slowly ebbing to the side of the stage and then out of lights until we become them and then full curtain to black.

Every Atom narrates a horrific battle wrought tender, a one way abandonment, not deliberate, but terminal.  Hollowell understands mortality but can't embrace it, can't fight it.

Who learns under it to
destroy the teacher

First they taught us how
to put on our white

gloves. How to scrub each
night to keep them clean.

Never mind that I
was six and that boys

just twelve years older
died every day in

the jungle. Totted
where they fell. We learned

to diaper babies,
to pin away from

the child's skin and
toward our own. How

to curtsy and sit,
ankles crossed, our hands

like sleeping birds in 
our laps. Each dinner,

the television 
detonated with

gunfire from helicopters.
Mother had me set

the dinner table.
I had been trained which

direction the knife
blade should face. I knew

how to use a shrimp
fork. I could iron

anything smooth. I 
was a child, but I

knew that white gloves
and party manners were

best, because when I
was silent, clean, and

neat, my mother
would love me.

Or so I was taught.


Every Atom is lamentation and prayer, fear and the cost of freedom, Erin Coughlin Hollowell renders us hopelessly hopeful, dutifully doomed.  There is no getting out alive.  The lead in every single story will do this dance, one way or another.  Hollowell's lamentations have character and beauty mixed in with the sadness.

Hope raises her innocent resilience higher with almost every turn of the page in spite of the obvious stations of impending doom waiting.

One of the hardest parts of living is continuing on when those we love most leave, perish, die.  Perhaps even harder are those circumstances where a loved one leaves in stages.  Cognitive skills and memory echo out hollow canyons where our love used to be.  A loved voice recedes in fear from the very souls who love hardest and longest.  Hollowell's sorrows are not unique, we all have them.  That Hollowell makes these circumstances into art is the joy.

If they are not the riddle and the untying
of the riddle, they are nothing

We are built for breaking. We know this
and yet still more babies are born
with their soft skulls and hunger.
What word can stop a bullet? Walking

down the wrong street, a woman is in the sudden
embrace of a stranger drunk on luck's spittle.
All of us put our hope in time, as if simple
accretion will make our lives valuable.

For some people, it rains every damn day.
All of those names etched in stone, all
the different ways we shine ourselves
like tiny moons reflecting a broken code.

We scatter. The sea rises and gnaws away
at the territory we mapped so assuredly.
So many stories we thought we would
never forget. A lost saint for every family.

At night, I rest my lips against my lover's throat,
his pulse beneath carries me along in my little boat
of affection and need. Oh this wreckage life,
the breath of a hare dreaming in a hawk's shadow.


Our morning read spawned some invigorated conversation as Hollowell skirts and flirts with the big death thing.  Every Atom drapes the notion of the big nap and the dance to get there with a cloud that will eventually embrace us all.  She gets away with this grim reportage and prognostications by colouring her palette with compassion.  Her poems are beautiful poems even when recording the brutal.

Today's book of poetry has been going through a period of transition, technical and otherwise.  This will be the first blog/review done on our newish office equipment.  When I say newish I mean that there have been previous owners, but it is all new to us.  Beautiful and mysterious.  Today's book of poetry is on a serious computer learning curve.  Stick around though, we anticipate good things as a result.  

Not asking the sky to come down
to my good will, scattering it freely forever

The crow's compass swings wildly.
See him tumble from the sky, a flung rag,
a scrap of darkness plummeting.

I want to own such reckless practice.
To find the taproot of doubt and dig it out,
be scraped clean on the sun-bleached soil.

Saint Crow, I am a shabby petitioner.
One of your feathers tucked behind my ear,
I am hungry for your spring song gospel.

Teach me how to scull through the day
with wings pinioned, lucky, afflicted,
ready to abandon this broken and whole.

When I woke this morning, night's trespass
still on the water but horizon igniting,
I pledged myself to your gape-mouthed ministry.

Hurl me beyond the wildfire of my mind
into air. Into that crystalline shatter
so I might, like too-bright light, scatter.


Today's book of poetry has some personal experience with the horrors of the last act but we've never managed to find Erin Coughlin Hollowell's grace or her emotional precision.  Today's book of poetry is continuously surprised at how many ways there are to burn, but burn Hollowell does.

Hats off to Hollowell for showing us.

Erin Coughlin Hollowell

Erin Coughlin Hollowell is a poet and writer who lives at the end of the road in Alaska. Prior to landing in Alaska, she lived on both coasts, in big cities and small towns, pursuing many different professions from tapestry weaving to arts administration. In 2013, Boreal Books published her first collection Pause, Traveller. She has been awarded a Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship, a Connie Boochever Award, and an Alaska Literary Award. Her work has been most recently published in Prairie Schooner, Alaska Quarterly Review, Sugar House Review, and was a finalist for the 49th Parallel Contest for the Bellingham Review.

"With clarity and grace, Erin Coughlin Hollowell cleaves into the liminal spaces between living and merely existing, between the past and forgetting, between mother and daughter, and brings us these hard-won and resilient gifts from her journey. Every Atom is a book that you need to read, because in it are the poems that matter." 
      --Kevin Goodan, author of Let the Voices
"Erin Hollowell has written a stunning and beautiful tribute to a mother as she slips away into loss of memory and belonging in a body and family. And yet the richness of relation here?wreckage and tenderness?is a balm for the losses we all know we will suffer on behalf of those who have given us our lives and for our very selves. 'Saint Crow,' she writes, for darkness is indeed an entrance into the holy in these wise and nourishing poems."
     --Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Stairway to Heaven
"There comes a moment in every Erin Coughlin Hollowell poem when the heart threatens to burst open and spill light."
      --Luis Alberto Urrea, author of The Hummingbird's Daughter


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

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Motel of the Opposable Thumbs — Stuart Ross (Anvil Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Motel of the Opposable Thumbs.  Stuart Ross.  Anvil Press.  British Columbia.  2019.

The North Star

for Laurie Siblock

The first time I meet Laurie I walk into her house and
hand her a jar of pickles. Her father's side of the family
is Ukrainian, and therefore she loves pickles, she must
love pickles, I have brought her some pickles. I hand her
two roses, each rose is orange, one for her and its echo
for her cat, who has recently died, a rose for each. In
the park near the beach, she wraps her arms around a
tree too thick for her to wrap her arms around. Her
smile is composed of her eyes, her cheeks, her lips, her
teeth, her nose, the depths of her, the air that surrounds
her. Across the lake is Rochester, you'll find Rochester
there, where Frederick Douglass launched the North Star,
his abolitionist newspaper, in eighteen hundred and


Today's book of poetry finds it utterly impossible to be impartial when it comes to Stuart Ross and his poetry.  Motel of the Opposable Thumbs is the seventh Stuart Ross title Today's book of poetry has had the pleasure of writing about.  That is, by far, the most Today's book of poetry has written about any other poet, go figure. 

Here is a list of those titles and the links to the blogs/reviews:

You Exist. Details Follow (Anvil Press) - posted June 23/2013

18 Goddamn Centos (Proper Tales Press) - posted February 10/2014

In In My Dream (Book Thug) - posted April 27/2015

Cobourg Variations (Proper Tales Press) - posted February 27/2015

A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn) - posted May 27/2016

Pockets - (ECW Press) - posted January 4/2018

Today's book of poetry will do our best to be unbiased — but there are plenty of reasons for our enthusiasm.

Today's book of poetry is Michael Dennis and my last book, Bad Engine (Anvil Press), only exists because of the efforts of Mr. Ross.  Ross went through all of my published poems and most of my unpublished work and, picked what he liked best and put together his selection of my poems for Bad Engine.  Then he edited them.

For the many dozens of other Canadian poets who've been edited by Ross, you'll know instantly what I mean when I say that a Ross edit means you have better poems.  Stuart contacted Anvil and told them he was working on a collection of my poetry.  Anvil said yes.  Anvil said yes.  Life changing for me.  Another day at the poetry office for Stuart Ross.

My second book of poetry from Anvil Press, Low Centre of Gravity, will be appearing in 2020, this time I picked the poems, but with Stuart's help, and of course he edited it.  I agreed with virtually every edit he suggested.  

All of that to say that Today's book of poetry and Michael Dennis owe Mr. Ross.  We are old friends.  A couple of weeks ago Today's book of poetry had wooden signs laser cut by my brilliant brother-in-law, and secret poetry fan, Steven Predko.  Mr. Predko knows and admires Stuart and his poetry.  The signs were free because they were for Stuart.  What signs you ask?

These signs!  Our guest room is now proudly called the Stuart Ross Guest and Reading Room.  Sir Bill Bissett, Frank Davey, the late Richard Huttel and a small herd of other poets have stayed in our guest room.  Now it is official, Stuart Ross has a room named after him.

Which brings us back to Motel of the Opposable Thumbs.  My dear friend Stuart Ross has always been a fine poet.  But like good wine, he is improving with age.  Today's book of poetry has long believed that Mr. Ross was one the best poets in Canada, Motel of the Opposable Thumbs proves my point.

Toronto Poem

Toronto, the taxi cabs flow mournfully
through your hunchbacked streets. Anxious
towers reach into the white-haired clouds
that throw shadows over
your tired, sweaty people, who squeeze
between each other on self-conscious
sidewalks cracking open beneath the
weight of fearful commerce and
vanishing newspapers. Your edges ripple
and fade into devoted car-worshipers.
Your tired mechanics and surgeons
work deep into the noisy night,
Jewish poodles sniffing at
their inquisitive ankles.


Stuart Ross is the most recent recipient of the prestigious Harbourfront Festival Prize for contributions to Canadian literature.  Some of the other previous recipients of the Harbourfront Festival Prize include Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje, Christopher Dewdney and so on.  Titans.  The prize was totally deserved, Stuart's work in the Canadian poetry world has spanned over forty years and includes his publishing others through his own Proper Tales Press, workshopping all over the country, and encouraging other writers.  

You can read about Stuart's Harbourfront Festival Prize here:

Stuart Ross was also the recipient of the 5th Kitty Lewis Hazel Millar Dennis Tourbin Poetry Prize which is awarded by Today's book of poetry.  Motel of the Opposable Thumbs easily explains the Today's book of poetry award.  The Harbourfront Festival Prize is for his contributions to the literary community, and as far as I can tell, my experience with Stuart Ross and Bad Engine is only one small example of the tireless work Ross has been doing for other poets for decades.

Motel of the Opposable Thumbs proves what Today's book of poetry has been saying since we first met Stuart Ross back in the late seventies, early eighties, he is one of the most wildly imaginative and innovative poets we have.  Motel of the Opposable Thumbs continues Ross's excellent oeuvre and will expand the hold he has on his many devoted readers.  In recent years Mr. Ross has allowed a new compassion to be seen in his work along with his already considerable glee.

Stuart Ross, the poet, has been on a trajectory all his own for a long time and his poems continue with a brisk and often surreal, scatological logic, his newest poems bring him closer and closer to exposing his very big heart.  Motel of the Opposable Thumbs is unpredictable, but that in itself should be expected, Ross has never been predictable.  What Ross has always been, and remains, is full on unique, original.  There isn't anyone writing poems in Canada who can do what Stuart Ross does.  Motel of the Opposable Thumbs prove it.

Motel of the Opposable Thumbs

in memory of Sydney Ross

We soar through the night. Bugs spatter our windshield.
My father, he's alive again. Steers with one hand.
Our headlights bounce the road. Air whips our hair.

He sucks on smoke. I clutch a bag of chips.
The moon sucks on clouds. A bat flits by.
My father flicks on the radio. The highway spasms.

A dark rectangle. VACANCY ruptures the horizon.
"We'll stop here." My father's deep rumble.
I'm nearing sixty. He is long dead.

He sits on the edge of his twin bed. I sit on mine.
Mould in the bathroom. A spider on the lampshade.
"And the nurse slid the ring from my still, withered

hand and handed it to you in the corridor." Light sputters.
The Coke machine rattles. I slide under the covers.
The highway goes silent. I can't warm my hands.


Today's book of poetry admitted from the start of today's missive that we were utterly incapable of being unbiased when it comes to Mr. Ross.  He changed the trajectory of my life for the better when he put his hands on my poems.  How do you pay that back?  Read Motel of the Opposable Thumbs and there is every chance Stuart Ross's poems will change your poetry trajectory.

Stuart Ross

Stuart Ross is a writer, editor, writing teacher, and small press activist living in Cobourg, Ontario. He is the award-winning author of twenty books of poetry, fiction, and essays, most recently Pockets (ecw Press, 2017), A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent (Wolsak and Wynn, 2016), and A Hamburger in a Gallery (DC Books, 2015). Stuart has taught workshops in elementary and high schools across the country and was the 2010 Writer-in-Residence at Queen’s University. Visiting schools and working with students of all ages is his favourite part of his writing practice. Stuart is at work writing nearly a dozen different poetry, non-fiction, and fiction manuscripts.

“An admirably light touch: a democratic sense that all risks are created equal; an irrepressible need to play the clown, even when it results in self-sabotage; Ross’s stylistic hallmarks are on full display in Motel of the Opposable Thumbs.
     — Jesse Eckerlin, Quill & Quire

“[With Pockets,] Stuart Ross develops a fragmentary, dreamlike novel that is startling, sometimes silly and marbled with melancholy.”
     — Jonathan Ball, Winnipeg Free Press

“The wit and irreverent wisdom of Stuart Ross has been a mainstay of Canadian poetry for years, but in A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent we also see him at his most vulnerable … grappling with our mystifying world with his trademark affection and fury.”
     — Adam Sol, Canadian Jewish Literary Awards citation

Oath of Allegiance to Poetry by Stuart Ross
Video: Wally Keeler

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.