Thursday, February 13, 2020

Tinderbox Lawn - Carol Guess (Rose Metal Press) + Human-Ghost Hybrid Project - Carol Guess and Daniela Olszewska (Black Lawrence Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Tinderbox Lawn.  Carol Guess.  Rose Metal Press.  Brookline, Maine.  2008.

Image result for tinderbox lawn carol gues


Human-Ghost Hybrid Project.  Carol Guess and Daniela Olszewska.  Black Lawrence Press.  Somewhere in the upper north-east.  2017.

Image result for human-ghost hybrid project

Today's book of poetry is entering uncharted waters.  This, our 806th blog/review, is our first post where we have tackled two books, one by a hybrid Human-Ghost, and the other by Carol Guess.  That's where we'll start, Today's book of poetry thoroughly enjoyed every second we were in Tinderbox Lawn.

Utterly charming with overshadows of dark and unforgiving wit.  Carol Guess beats the craps out of sardonic.  Tinderbox Lawn is a conflagration of tidy and tardy prose poems that collectively report on a fractured world.

Tinderbox Lawn is reporting the news of the day and every page feels like a scoop.  Think Lois Lane channeling Lucy Riccardo and Anne Sexton.  Though untitled, these harmonically connected bon bons and bon mots paint a rather fully textured picture.  Guess give us new entry points to our own imaginations.

. . .

We watched the girl through her open window. 45th Street
was hot but she was on fire. We were thinking we should
fuck her as she undressed in front of a face or a mirror. I
said look at her hair, soft. You said look at her lips, bloom.
We'd prepared our room: dog in her cage, silk over skylights
because of the heat. You said she's sweet.  I said three's
sweeter. And after we'd take notes on who was better.
Seattle had never been hotter. You had a bottle and I had a
bottle. A building caught fire, rows of condos attached at the
hip. Fire trucks slipped on glossy pavement. Water filled the
moonlit basement. A man flew from a balcony into the air.
Ash stained our hair and the whorls of our dresses. Water
caressed us, the thick blue knife slicing away burnt boards
and glass. We lit cigarettes off the burning grass and breathed
smoke until the streets were clean, the dog lay dreaming,
and you were mine again. Breezes fanned the trees and the
tinderbox lawn. Both the window and the girl were gone.


Tinderbox Lawn was entirely a first class gas.

Human-Ghost Hybrid Project teams up Carol Guess with Daniela Olszewska, together they conjure the Human-Ghost and the Human-Ghost is another gas altogether.  Sublime.

Human-Ghost Hybrid Project is made up of short, prose poems, much like Tinderbox Lawn.  Human-Ghost sounds a lot like Carol Guess, but also like someone new, something new, enter Daniela Olszewska.  Today's book of poetry doesn't know how these two shared the reins but they sure do gallop.  Today's book of poetry does have some experience writing poems with another poet, my associate and I would like to think the results were fruitful.  With Human-Ghost Hybrid Project there is no doubt the success of these poems.

Humour makes up a large part of the Human-Ghost mystique but that's just a clever entry point to the radical possible the Human-Ghost seems to champion.  There is all sorts of poetry magic happening in these lines.  The poems have titles like "Parking Garage Pastoral" and "Watering the Dead", both great titles, stand alone three word poems in fact.  Once you get inside this book these poems, sometimes disguised as fables, you see that Human-Ghost has a new paradigm for Human-Ghost world.

Superstition Sale

On Sundays, we set up a fort and sell wind-up woodland animals
painted to look like moral imperatives. Let's try and sustain our
autumnal wet-fruit-wrapped-in-hair-smells. We aren't hapless; we
just dress this way to people will give us a little less guidance. On
Monday, we scrap whatever's unsold: usually crows and tube-nosed
bats and wind-up foxes. We junk their parts for baby seals. No one
wants black cats' eyes or boys raised by wolves.


Human-Ghost Hybrid Project had much the same affect on Today's book of poetry as the somewhat haunting Tinderbox Lawn.  We were wildly amused, animals are named, a text message arrives in a bottle, the flattest robots are revealed and rowboats meet royalty.  What more could you ask?

Guess and Olszewsky have, without ego, merged into a single entity, a singular voice, Human-Ghost.  Today's book of poetry digs the Human-Ghost and gets off on their clever burn.  We can only hope this hybrid hothouse finds time to go exploring again.  Witty gets over-used and smart just won't cut it.  Carol Guess and Daniela Olszewska do it right.

Eyelet and Eyesore

The boss said prenup, not pre-need.

Here I am, married to my job again.

Sometimes a girl just has to wear white, trip over her veil on the
way to HR.

The honeymoon was downsized off yachts overlooking offshore

It isn't easy being smarter than Marketing or negotiating a
rainbow-colored parachute without a ripcord.

Even my dress dressed down on casual Friday, leaving me unlaced
and French-cut in the breast pumping closet.

We down corporate coffee on company time ("we" meaning "me
and peeps at my pay grade").

We passed notes in infrared ("we" meaning "the two secretaries
from Legal").

My dowry was ivy-covered, everyone meant for me to wed up.

Every Halloween, I costume in a new First World Problem.

I love my ability to love whatever loves me back, it makes me stay
slim enough to look good in lace.

All day long, I've been surfing the web for vintage jewelry. My best
friend from college wanted to be an astronaut. I don't know whether
or not I should send her this link about the planet they just
discovered: it's made entirely out of diamonds, it's like four
thousand light years away.


Today's book of poetry admires this poetry very much, it beyond our imagination to write, but reading it is pure pleasure.  Carol Guess and Human-Ghost partner Daniela Olszewska are welcome at Today's book of poetry any time.

Image result for carol guess poet photo

Carol Guess

Image result for daniela olszewska photo

Daniela Olszewska

Carol Guess is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including Darling Endangered, Doll Studies: Forensics, and Tinderbox Lawn. In 2014 she was awarded the Philolexian Award for Distinguished Literary Achievement by Columbia University. Recent BLP titles include With Animal, co-written with Kelly Magee, and Human-Ghost Hybrid Project, co-written with Daniela Olszewska. She is Professor of English at Western Washington University.

Daniela Olszewska is the author of three full-length collections of poetry: cloudfang : : cakedirt (Horse Less Press, 2012), True Confessions of An Escapee From The Capra Facility For Wayward Girls (Spittoon Press, 2013), and Citizen J (Artifice Books, 2013). With Carol Guess, she is the co-author of How To Feel Confident With Your Special Talents (Black Lawrence Press, 2014) and Human-Ghost Hybrid Project (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming).



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

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

Monday, February 10, 2020

Divided - Linda Frank (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
Divided.  Linda Frank.  A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2018.

Book Cover: Divided, Linda Frank

Clearly Linda Frank's poetry posse includes a world class botonist and a scientist with an eidetic memory.  How does Today's book of poetry know such things?  The answer is quite simple;  no one poetry brain could pull these poems together.  These poems require multiple experts and fathoms upon fathoms of research.

Divided is that completely unexpected cornacopia of delights.  Frank's poems pass all of our poetry tests.  Linda Frank is both remarkbaly insightful and unimaginably thorough.  It isn't enough that her understanding of human nature, emotion and character is illuminating;  Frank sees the big picture so clearly, she can use the various languages of animals and insects, she is able to use their knowledge.  The resulting poems delight.

Thomas, our new Assistant Editor, found Linda Frank's Divided "an absolutely compelling read" and Today's book of poetry couldn't agree more.

Von Frisch's Ten Little Housemates

The housefly he calls a trim little creature. A man
would have to leap from the Westminister Bridge

to the top of Big Ben to compete with the flea.
All living creatures are equal in the great law

of life, he writes. Even bedbugs. Lice can carry
two thousand time their body weight with their forefeet.

Cockroaches are a community that has come down
in the world. Silverfish, entirely harmles sugar guests.

The spider's actions differ in detail according to the weaver's
character. In gnats, the organs of flight have reached a high 

level of perfection. We cannot blame the tick for her bloodthirstiness.
Anyone who has to hatch a few thousand eggs deserves a good meal.

Moths are useful scavengers. What else would happen
to all the decaying hair and feathers that disnintergrate so slowly?

Von Frisch's little housemates are extraordinary, in their own way
exceptional. At the end of each affectionate chapter

he recommends in equally good-natured tone and detail
how each could best be exterminated.


Today's book of poetry had some standards blasting out of the box in our office this morning, Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Anita Baker, some Gil Scott Heron.  That sort of tone.

Divided is presented in four sections which include the closest inspections of the beetle, anthropod and arachnid worlds, accounts of women who were pioneers in their scientific fields, accounts of the first balloon flight (untethered) and an account of the first descents into our oceans.  Linda Frank even shares some elements of her own story.  

What Today's book of poetry enjoy most is the consistency of Frank's voice, she can hold a note.  Linda Frank's poems all come at the reader in the same way, as revelations.  Frank uncovers truths we previously never questioned.  All of this good.  But for you poetry monsters the most important question is "does it burn?"

Damned straight.  Today's book of poetry has never seen this particular manner of cooking before but we'd sure like to get our hands on the recipe.  Frank goes all poetry-Julia Child poetry wise and botanically bent.  Divided not only makes the reader feel smart and smarter, Divided makes the reader truly curious.

Falling Stars

Every night up on the flat roof
            over the hayloft

the great man's sister
            with her telescope, hunting
                       for wanderers
messengers that enter the solar system.

Every night up on the flat roof
            over the hayloft
                       in thrall to the polished lens
sweeping the sky for comets.

The great man's sister
                      minded the heavens.

No longer such a lonely thing
                       to open one's eyes.
Every impulse of light exploding.

Only thirty "hairy stars" ever recorded
            and she, the Lady's Comet Hunter

alone and free up on the flat roof
                                    over the hayloft
found eight in a dozen years.

She knew those distant stars ceased to exist
           millions of years ago.
Her starry night, her stellar landscape
                        not really there at all.

Light travels long
            after the heavenly body is gone.

Her sky, so full of ghosts.


Today's book of poetry so enjoyed Linda Frank's Divided.  We've tasked Thomas, our new Assistant Editor with procurring Frank's three other poetry titles.  Poetry this exciting and enlighting is juat a full stop pleasure but it doesn't happen by accident.  Today's book of poetry would bet our fortune that Frank's other poetry titles delight as well.

Frank invites the reader into gardens of wonder, deep into the dark sea, and delightfully into an ocean of tulips that decorate an Ottoman rulers pleasure and obsession.  These are all worthy adventures, experienced through a particularly sharp lens.

Today's book of poetry can only begin to imagine what Linda Frank's reading list must look like.  These poems required both difficult magic to conger and encyclopedic dexterity to imagine.  This sort of mastery can only from a poet a the top of the game.


The Devil's darning needle, ear sewer, eye poker, ear cutter,
                 eye snatcher. Horse stringer. Troll's spindle.
                                     The adder's servant, it follows
snakes around and stitches them up when they are injured.

August god, lady of the weeping willow, widow skimmer,
             water witch. The Devil's little horse sent by Satan
                         to create chaos
                                                 to steal people's souls.


Here is the new deal.  Today's book of poetry will personaly vouch for any purchase of Linda Frank's Divided.  If any of you poetry monsters buy this book and are dissapointed - you have our address, send your copy to us and we'll refund your money.

That's how good Linda Frank's burn feels.

Image result for linda frank photo

Linda Frank
(Photo curtesy of Wolsak & Wynn)

Linda Frank was born in Montreal and now lives in Hamilton, Ontario. A retired professor from Mohawk College, she has written three books of poetry: Cobalt Moon Embrace, Insomnie Blues and Kahlo: The World Split Open, which was shortlisted for the Pat Lowther Award. She is a past winner of the Banff Centre's Bliss Carman Poetry Award and has been shortlisted for the National Magazine Awards.

Divided, we fall ... for Linda Frank’s poetry
“Wonderstruck by nature and science, [Frank] uses them beautifully in this book to draw out the most myriad and finely observed insights, on everything from sexual politics and bedroom intimacy (or the lack of it) to species extinction, the swiftness of life, religion, control, capture, the call of the wild and children."
     - Jeff Mahoney, The Hamilton Spectator

4 Women with New Books of Poems!
"This is a vital text as there is not a single piece in here that doesn’t consider other life forms than the human. […] These pieces are more than worth an embedding in your empathetic core."
     - Catherine Owen, Marrow Reviews

A Review of Amanda Jernigan's Years, Months, and Days and Linda Frank's Divided
"None of [her] interpretations are ever in conflict with one another. Rather, they enhance an already dense set of poems by offering sundry entry points. In a time where much popular poetry resembles candid notebook entries or performative tantrums, Frank's poems arrive refreshingly and consolingly classroom-ready."
     - Zachary Thompson, Hamilton Review of Books


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, February 7, 2020

Silence Like Another Name - John Levy (Otata's Bookshelf)

Today's book of poetry:
Silence Like Another Name.  John Levy.  Otata's Bookshelf.  2019.


Today's book of poetry is taking another stab at the poetry of John Levy.  Silence Like Another Name is another brilliant flight of character appropriation, time travel and driftwood.

Today's book of poetry wrote about John Levy's On Its Edge, Tilted (Otatat's Bookshelf), back in June of last year and you can see that here:

Levy is a special sort of magician, hypnotist, slight of time trickster.  One minute he's standing beside Diane Arbus and being photographic, moments later Anthony Bourdain cooks his last meal.  John Levy uses cultural icons and celebrity to help weigh the moment, as a diving board, a particular short-cut to your brain - and once there he jackknives right into your poetry sense of ability.

How Diane Arbus Would've Photographed Me

Say she happens to be in Tampa when my
family is staying at a hotel there. Summer of
'58, which makes me
six or seven. She's out by the pool.

She likes pools, just as she likes beaches
and nudist camps, and positions herself
near the steps at the shallow end as I begin to
climb out. Surprised by the fully-clothed woman

with a big black camera around her neck I
stop, one foot on a higher step, water dripping down my face,
thin arms drooping at my sides. I have my mouth open
for that first photo, the one

she exhibits, as I look
into her camera
with no thought in my head that I should do
anything with the face I forget all about.


John Levy has the serious burn and we are happy to have him aboard.  Dexter Gordon would be proud of what Levy is cooking, Levy might even get Miles to smile.  Levy invites everyone to the world inside his poems, he invites them to play, to live it out like a tapestry of how it could be.  

Levy writes letters to the characters he admires and employs, he admits himself directly into their lives.  This is marvelous poetry magic.  Today's book of poetry admires the voices Levy is able to conger at will, he inhabits them enough to be poetry truthful.  

At this point a brisk solo by Louis Armstrong, listen closely, Levy is in there.


when I am reading a book and have
my hand on the page I notice my hand
as if it belonged somewhere
else, or to some other

being. Knuckles, veins, fingers,
skin, color, all peculiar and
as if also
by an author I'll never meet.


Silence Like Another Name invokes experience as a saintly charm.  Collectively these poems have a strong effect on the reader, the reader feels experienced.  Levy isn't afraid of the big question so death strolls in and out of the pages just like in real life.

Levy mentions a rainy day in Ljubljana and a poor poet writing his last poem there.  Today's book of poetry is lucky enough to have been in Ljubljana.  Then it clicked for Today's book of poetry, how appropriate - Levy's poems give Today's book of poetry the same sense of light-headed glee and mystery glow as our trip to that beautiful city.  

In our first night in Ljubljana we were with family and friends.  We choose a resturant with a patio, the weather was excellent, we were seated as though we were old friends of the chef, we had excellent wine and excellent food and just as we were about to enjoy our excellent deserts the sky opened with fireworks.  It felt like the fireworks had been arranged and orchestrated just for us.  John Levy's Silence Like Another Name presents dire from time to time but Today's book of poetry felt optimism in the air with these poems, much like Ljubljana.

"Death frequents the poems..."

John Wilson writes, in an Introduction
to a book of essays on Robert
Creely, of Creeley's later

poems. The entire

"Death frequents the poems, but the intense
of the earlier poetry

has subsided." Of course those are my
line breaks. The use of

as a verb
unusual, but somehow

gets to me. Wilson
continues and quotes
part of a poem by Creely about his late

mother, "Mother's Voice." Creely begins
by saying it has only been a few yearss
since she died and he can hear her

say "I wont want
any more of that." Paraphrase
the poem. No.

Creely has been dead
more than a few years now (I'm writing
in June 2018, so more than 13.) I saw him

twice, once in Canada giving a reading and then
30 years later in Tucson giving another. Now

frequents death, if it makes any sense
to use that verb.
I bought every book of his and

double copies of several, thinking
I'd use one to mess up with notes
and leave its double pristine. I always wanted

more of what he offers, still do. Where
he frequents, in his poems, doesn't
subside. At 66 I recall being about 21

in a small house in Seattle that someone made
into a bookstore. Alone in a room I found
a copy of For Love, a book I already owned,

and opened it again, facing the
corner, and while I can't remember
the specific poems I chose to enter I see its

hold it open.


We should all pay such lovely homage to our heros, to those whose steps we now try to follow.  Today's book of poetry thinks everyone should read some John Levy.  Start with Silence Like Another Name and then, like me, start hunting for the rest.  The man can burn.

Today's blog/review was written with Sacramento poet Richard Lopez and Norwegian poet Dag T.
StraumsvΓ₯g in mind.  Both of these men swim beatifully in the same waters as John Levy, we should all be so lucky.

John Levy
(Photo by Paul Matthews)


John Levy was born in Minneapolis. His father, a businessman, went to law school at the age of 45 and then opened his own law firm (and later began a solo practice). Levy's mother is a sculptor and painter.
When Levy was a young boy, his family moved to Phoenix. His first exposure to poetry was in the sixth grade, when his older brother began playing recordings of Dylan Thomas reading his poetry.
Later, Levy began to read e. e. cummings and at age 15, after finding a book of William Carlos Williams poems, began writing poems.
Levy graduated from Oberlin College in 1974. He worked in a factory that summer and earned the money to fly to Kyoto, where he lived for a year and a half. For six months he worked as a waiter and dishwasher with the American poet Cid Corman in a coffee and ice cream shop Corman had started with his wife Shizumi. He briefly returned to Arizona in early 1976, where he was a poet-in-residence at a private school (K - 12) for a month, having been awarded a grant by an arts commission. Levy then moved to Paris where he lived for just over a year, earning his living by babysitting a young Canadian boy and by working as a personal secretary for a retired diplomat.
Levy published his first collection of poetry, Suppose a Man, at the invitation of James L. Weil, publisher of The Elizabeth Press. Weil also published Levy's second collection, Among the Consonants (in 1980), and Weil became a generous and supportive friend until his death in 2006.
In 1980 Levy moved to Tucson and continues to live there. After moving to Tucson, he worked as a carpenter with a high school friend who had started his own construction company. From 1983 to 1985, Levy moved to Meligalas, Greece where he taught English as a second language at private language schools in Kalamata. After returning to the United States, Levy took up the study of law in 1988 at the University of Arizona College of Law. After graduation, he clerked at the Court of Appeals (1991-1992), then undertook a solo practice for three years (doing both criminal and civil work). He then joined a small firm that specialized in plaintiff's securities fraud class action cases. In 1997 Levy joined the Pima County Public Defender's Office, where he has worked in the felony trial division (except for a nine-month stint in the appellate unit).
Levy's poetry has appeared in various poetry magazines in the United States and in England, and has been anthologized in How the Net Is Gripped (Stride Press, 1992) and A Curious Architecture: A Selection of Contemporary Prose Poems (Stride Press, 1996), both anthologies edited by Rupert Loydell & David Miller.



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

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

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Doubter's Hymnal - Laura Cok (Mansfield Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Doubter's Hymnal.  Laura Cok.  Mansfield Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2019.

Doubter's Hymnal is a coming of age song that questions faith, looks at family life, and makes readers sit straight up.  If there is a God he is a shadowy creature.

Laura Cok's manifesto is a stern examination of where faith meets practice.  The intersection is frantic with electricity and sombre as prayer.

Today's book of poetry was pushed to the edges of our understanding, we were also kept riveted.  Cok's poems move across the page with admirable precision.  If these poems were cakes - the icing would be perfect.


I was happy so of course
I looked for something to ruin

some proof that disaster
was already knit too many rows back
to unravel and save

the slipped stitch, the blinked-open gap
to poke a finger through and widen

what comes through is daylight
from another room and the water
running in another kitchen sink
where another pair of soapy hands

are lifting it up,
twisting out the water,
wringing its soft neck.


Laura Cok bends time in Doubter's Hymnal, she invests time in divesting all the traditional party tricks of their reason, she challenges both faith and fate.  When called upon Cok provides a "cure for loneliness" and does reap both an answer and some questions.  Today's book of poetry is making Doubter's Hymnal sound far more complicated than it is.

Doubter's Hymnal has Cok making it crystal clear in every poem, these poems have both intention and direction.

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics
              with thanks to Carlo Rovelli


Time passes more quickly in the mountains.
Not a romanticism, but a fact --
the higher you are, the faster it all goes.

Down in the desert there is a fraction of a fraction more.
You could wander out along and see
the curvature of space streaking overhead.
The Milky Way like a veil pulled back.
Behind it, another veil.


Today's book of poetry found themselves fully engaged, fully completely, as Saint Gordon of Downie suggested to us all.  The Today's book of poetry minions sat down to our morning reading and cracked through Doubter's Hymnal with agile reverence.

Today's book of poetry will surpass 800,000 readers sometime later this week, we were sitting at 794,000 earlier today.  That is a lot of poetry monsters and every one of you is welcome.  Today's book of poetry is currently expanding our offices.  We've had a moderate but steady improvement in our office machinery, we've been able to retire our Commodore 16.  We're feeling optimistic and plucky.

Laura Cok helped.

Tide Over

I'm thinking all the time what it'd be like,
the belly swollen, tidal turn moon.
One cup a day, then decaf, watching you
brew separate pots, since this is the one thing
I'll have to do alone. Not absentee:
you'd be there for each grainy ultrasound,
each diaper class, the baby CPR.
But when the foot kicks out there's only one
soft bladder it connects with. Flesh distraught,
my breasts unrecognizable to both.
Small alien that's chosen me for host.
Skin taut, now loose, in this, the great exhaling.
Sea-change inside, moon-conjured, amniotic,
first creature that could wash to shore and crawl.


Laura Cok surprised Today's book of poetry in the best possible poetry way.  Doubter's Hymnal is never terse, but these poems have been worked whippet thin.  Nothing left but muscle.

Image result for laura cok photo"

Laura Cok

Laura Cok is a writer and editor based in Toronto, Ontario. Originally from Northern California, she spent time in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Waterloo, Ontario before settling in Toronto. She holds an MA in English Literature from the University of Toronto, winner of the E.J. Pratt Poetry Medal and the University of Toronto Magazine alumni poetry contest. Cok has previously published widely across Canada and works in corporate communications.



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, February 2, 2020

Acacia Road - Aaron Brown (Silverfish Review Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Acacia Road.  Aaron Brown.  Silverfish Review Press.  Eugene, Oregon.  2018.

Winner of the 2016 Gerald Cable Book Award


Last night Today's book of poetry found ourselves at Aaron Brown's Acacia Road.  We'd been there before when we first read Brown's poems.  Most of Acacia Road either occurs in Chad, Africa, or is a memory of an experience Aaron Brown had while living in Chad.  Born in Texas but his family moved to Chad when he was young, he is back in America now, and the emotional pull of the great continent is in every word Brown puts on the page.  Brown's poems are in English but the reader soon sees that Brown is speaking a language of his own.

Acacia Road is cinematic and often joyous in the rich and complicated splendor of Brown's African experience.  Literally and unabashedly Brown shares mango inspired sugar-high romps of memoir, and then the shells begin to drop.  Machine gun fire.


when I see you again
     what will we say

     to each other
my Chadian grandmother

you brought me
     spiced and steaming coffee

     you made me sit and drink
your eyes proud of who

I was becoming
     a rajil you said so emphatically

     the same eyes with which
you gazed at your blood-son

your youngest given to you
     in husband's memory

     conceived before they took your love
and shot him at the outskirts

your Madri would grow
     to care for you in old age

     to provide for his brothers
who couldn't find a job

for drink and lounging around
     but he was taken too

     dead from his motorcycle
and what must you say

to the shriveled tree
      in your backyard

the one under which you sit
      pouring coffee for guests

serving them sweet biscuits and dates


Aaron Brown's childhood ended in synchronization with a neighbouring war, violent rebel activity and a hasty but necessary farewell to Chad.  As an adult back in America he bids his memory into action trying to remember the names of his African friends and family.  It seems they both fill Brown with joy and the harrowing realization that time chips away at all, the memory fades.

Brown is looking for some sort of redemption and these poems are his evidence and his prayer.  To get memory right, make it true, you sometimes have to take the long way around.

Acacia Road

From thirteen thousand feet, the twisting acacias -- thirsty thorn-trees reaching
     a web of fingers up to the sky, into the earth -- look like shrubs

shriveled under the sun seeming so distant, yet so present with its heat.
     Streams of cattle ridge like ocean waves across the plains, the sleek

and sheen of their backs, ants' exoskeletons, labor for miles
     to the burst of brush beyond the endless nagga. Rising from earth

mountains pepper the plain: mounds of rocks, marbles of God, pile high
     above dom trees whose black seeds clump like fistfuls of obsidian --

when they fall they make the sound of a bullet rushing through a dust devil,
     rushing to the point of impact in the sand silencing

the sound of lead. From thirteen thousand feet, I wonder if a shepherd
     roaming the road remembers the rebel trucks that breathed death

into the dust, clouding the air with sandgrain, cloaking black barrels of kalashes
     aimed across a land I now study, five years later through the plexiglass,

a land sucked dry, flying to the town at the world's edge, the place no soldier
     would go. The circles of huts and thatch swell as the empty oxbows

wind a road to follow -- a road that breaks at carcasses of colonial homes
     and people streaming in polyester gold and deep azure sky --

and somewhere, down there, a three-part gate along chari kabir stands
     as the entry to mine, but to find it, turn at the broken cement mixer,

the one left lying abandoned by a truck traversing the desert so far it makes
     light its load, casting off the disrepaired, losing its cargo piece by piece.


Today's book of poetry was in, hook, line and sinker, the first time we read Acacia Road.  With each subsequent reading more was revealed.  Aaron Brown is willing to take his time, he is a natural story teller.  We had Dexter Gordon on the box this morning, Tanya.  Simply one of the best songs in the jazz canon.  The mood seemed to fit our office reading of Acacia Road.  Sophisticated, emotional and always just a little cool.

Aaron Brown can burn and Today's book of poetry is happy to share.

Tuareg Prayer

Twenty years you waited for me to believe
in the same God as you -- you, travelling
by horsecart with the rest of us, pitching
your tent next to the rainy-season-filled
pond, the gum trees sapping tears for our poverty.
We followed rain clouds. You followed us.
Showing us love. We showed you ours.

Now, as the meat on my bones passes
through death's teeth, will you remember me?
Will you, during the rainwind afternoons,
think of the date-tree shade and the tea
we shared? Will you think of our children
growing up together with the goats,
rolling bike tires with sticks
and singing to the full moon?

You have waited for me this long.
Now I ask you to hold out a little while
longer -- until the millet stalks have grown
past your shoulder, and the camels come
back from the north.

Then, you too will close your eyes
one last time when the sun is at its hottest
and your belly full of camel meat.

On the other side, you will walk
the twisting path between the knife-tipped bush.
You will find me at the entrance
to the camp, waiting for you,
waiting to go in together.


When we got to the last verse of "Tuareg Prayer" during our morning read, there wasn't a dry eye in the place.  We even heard a sniffle from the office where it is rumoured Max lives.  Full points all around for Aaron Brown's sublime Acacia Road.

Brown proves that poetry is the best way to travel.

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Aaron Brown


Born in Texas and raised in Chad, Aaron Brown is the author of the poetry collection, Acacia Road, winner of the 2016 Gerald Cable Book Award (Silverfish Review Press). He has been published in World Literature Today, Tupelo Quarterly, Waxwing, Cimarron Review, and Transition, among others, and he is a contributing editor for Windhover and blogs regularly for Ruminate. Brown now lives in Texas, where he is a professor of English and directs the writing center at LeTourneau University. He holds an MFA from the University of Maryland.

"Acacia Road is a vivid, brilliant, and haunting memory palace, evoking Aaron Brown's childhood spent in Chad on the cusp of its civil war, and while at times the 'second space' of recollection, seems idyllic, the sound of shelling and gunfire, and news of human violence is never far away."
     - Michael Collier

"These poems proceed by an earnest story-telling and remembering. And while the surfaces of the poems are characterized by skillful narrative and descriptive impulses, underpinning most of them runs a deeper agon and self-critique, uncovering both a fear of and a relentless thirst for the ecstatic. These poems embody, at their best, that thirst."
     - Li-Young Lee

"Aaron Brown’s poetry is beautifully written and has a strong sense of description, thus transforming the ordinary into exquisite, blissful bits of writing. From the precious time spent with friends come these poems in which not a particular geographic region, but the land of youth, generosity and love is the true mother country so longed for." 
    -African Book Review

"Aaron Brown’s Acacia Road moves between the past and the present, and the known and the unknown, wandering the rooms of memory and the knowledge of the body. But Acacia Road also evokes real places, full of real lives and hard lessons, deeply felt and evocatively rendered. The narratives in this book resist easy certainty, and the images suggest how distance is both a measure of miles, and an important emotional register, as a cloud-like voice rises up to say, 'pay attention / or you will / miss your destination.' And these poems do pay close attention. To language—'I knew how to sing a little.' To time—'then and only then could we share a kind of silence, the pause between one cup of tea and the next.' And, ultimately, to the questions that remain for all of us as we travel together: 'Now, as the meat on my bones passes through death’s teeth, will you remember me?' One way I measure the impact of a book is in my desire to start over again when I am finished, and it was a deep pleasure to turn and return to the mysterious and familiar roads of these richly imagined poems." 
     -Jenny Browne

"Acacia Road is a collection I want to return to and hold my ear against. I swear, you can hear the silence violence brings about, splintering."
     - Collateral Journal



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