Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Forty-One Objects - Carsten René Nielsen (The Bitter Oleander Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Forty-One Objects.  Carsten René Nielsen.  Translated by David Keplinger.  The Bitter Oleander Press.  Fayetteville, New York.  2019.


Forty-One Objects by the Danish poet Carsten René Nielsen, translated by David Keplinger, is one of those books that fills your poetry heart with pure poetry joy.  Nielsen writes poems that instantly made Today's book of poetry think of Stuart Ross's surrealist poetry.  Stuart Ross, recent winner of the 2019 Harbourfront Festival Prize, is Canada's premiere surrealist.

These poems, like Ross's, are filled to over-flowing with clever leaps of faith, secret wisdom about the inner workings of it all, genuine humour.  There is a constant flow of original thinking.  With many poets, good and the other kind, the reader often feels the lines and/or subject is one the reader already knows or expects.

Nielsen doesn't row that way.


I tried to write on the blackboard, but the chalk left no
trace. As if the board were made out of metal, or the chalk
were a rusty nail. Not that it mattered. My students were
sitting, as my students do, silently screaming with closed
eyes, their hands pressed against their ears. So quiet it was
in the room, one could hear the insects flying against the
large windows. Were my eyes two small suns, or was the sun
shining so brightly that summer that we were all lit up from
inside? I don't know. It is you who remembers this.


David Keplinger has done some superb work translating Carsten René Nielsen.  This past year Today's book of poetry spent considerable time and joyous effort in an attempt to translate Norway's  
Dag T. Straumsvåg but with very little success.  Clearly Keplinger has tools Today's book of poetry doesn't.  These translations sound, feel and read as though were written in English first.  Keplinger has inhabited Nielsen words until they belong to them both.  With two cooks in the kitchen things can often go wrong, not these cats, they both know how to burn.

Forty-One Objects is excellent evidence of something Today's book of poetry has long believed.  The poetry world is endless and filled with remarkable voices.  As readers we have to take our hats off to small presses like The Bitter Oleander Press for bringing great voices from other languages within hearing range.

Jewelry Box

The youngest of the sisters, the loveliest one, was given a
jewelry box. If one tried to open it, it buzzed painfully in
one's fingers, and the hair on both head and body stood up.
After several attempts in vain, the girl ended up in the dog
basket, where she lay, peeing. "Just give her a cigar," said
Uncle, "I'm longing for Chinese girls, and we have to move
on!" And on we went, in the middle of the night, onwards
on the same bicycle to the dentist. A molar was found in
an oyster, and later a silver spoon among the instruments
in a drawer. "Milk teeth," laughed the dentist incessantly,
"Milk teeth," while unsteadily he pointed at my mouth.


Today's book of poetry is trying to get caught up on a big backlog.  Our intern Maggie has returned to the real world.  Kathryn and Milo are busy Kathryn and Miloing.  Max, our rarely seen and cranky Senior Editor, has been busy working on a personal project that seems to be coming along nicely.  The rest of us have been scraping ice off of the lane way and reading what comes in the mail.

Poets like Nielsen give Today's book of poetry optimism, hope.  Certain people just know how to burn, they are able to dance from birth.  


Tired of listening to Tim Burton playing the guitar, Schubert
explaining how a person does his tax returns, and Joseph
Brodsky telling about his experiences as the new dogcatcher
in town, Jesus Christ - also known as "The Weasel"  - tunes
into a radio station where jazz is played. It's Mingus with
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, at an elegy dedicated to Lester Young,
who wore such a hat. Jesus always confuses Prez with Buster
Keaton, but then again, his eyesight isn't what it used to be.
He has often thought about getting glasses but is afraid -
even with the crown of thorns - to be confused again with
John Lennon.  


January is only half over is how Today's book of poetry was feeling when we opened Forty-One Objects.  By the time Today's book of poetry was finished Nielsen's poetry we were more of the "wow," January is already half over.  Hope goes a long way.  Today's book of poetry wants you readers to get a big slice of it.  Carsten René Nielsen is serving it up.

Just as a final note, Today's book of poetry wanted to be sure to say that Stuart Ross writes good poetry of every stripe, not just surrealist poems.  Dag T. Straumsvåg is cut out of the same general mold, excellent poems of every stripe.  And on a personal note these two men are friends with Today's book of poetry.  Their books are treasured.

Carsten René Nielsen

Carsten René Nielsen, born 1966, is a Danish poet and author of ten books of poetry and one book of flash fiction. His first book published in 1989 was awarded the Michael Strunge Poetry Prize. The prose poems Cirkler (Circles, 1998) won him critical acclaim throughout his native Denmark. Recent collections include the prose poems Enogfyrre dyr (Forty-One Animals, 2005), Husundersøgelser (House Inspections, 2008) and Enogfyrre ting (Forty-One Objects, 2017). He has won several fellowships from the Danish State Foundation for the Arts. In the United States two of his books in translation have been published: his selected prose poems, The World Cut Out with Crooked Scissors by New Issues in 2007, as well as the prose poems House Inspections, by BOA Editions in 2011, both books translated by David Keplinger. In 2014 a selection of Nielsen's poems was published by EDB Edizioni in Italy under the title 8 animali e 14 morti. He lives in Aarhus, the second largest city of Denmark.

David Keplinger is the author of five books of poetry including The Prayers of Others (2006), winner of the 2007 Colorado Book Award, and The Clearing (2005), both from New Issues Poetry & Prose, as well as The Rose Inside: Poems (Truman State University Press, 1999), chosen by Mary Oliver for the T.S. Eliot Prize of that press. He is the recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. He is also the author of World Cut with Crooked Scissors (New Issues, 2007), which he co-translated with Danish poet Carsten Rene Nielsen. Recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Schooner, Ploughshares, Florida Review, AGNI, Nimrod, and Minnesota Review. He currently teaches at American University in Washington, D.C.

                                                                                                                               David Keplinger


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, January 13, 2020

Every Ravening Thing - Marsha de la O (University of Pittsburgh Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Every Ravening Thing.  Marsha de la O.  Pitt Poetry Series.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  2019.


Marsha de la O waltzed in to our office like she owned the place.  Once we read Every Ravening Thing we weren't sure.  It was like a new kind of wind had swept through Today's book of poetry's brain, maybe a new type of sirocco or chimera.  These poems, happy or sad, play out like marvelous candies you can roll around your poetry mouth.  Not trivial penny candy, no Sir, these are not the lint-bound mints of Sunday disappointment, no, these are pure gold.  Toffee so pure and carmel smooth, these poems are almost smoky.

Every Ravening Thing is smart, smart, smart.  Today's book of poetry would suggest that instead of embracing any one narrative style, or structural framework, school, etc, de la O never boxes herself into a process induced corner.  de la O burns with extra sauce and comes out looking like the quintessential everywoman.

de la O isn't afraid of the dark and she's not offering up solutions, but she sure is taking a good look at what is important.  She certainly has things to say, worth listening to things.

In Those Months Gold Leaf Drifted onto His Skin

Late nights, late nights, rain fingered his guitar,
He played bars every weekend, trained dogs
on the side, dreamed an orchard out back,
white peaches, dark plums.
                                            Once he made a barbecue
from a fifty-gallon drum, simmered mussels
in wine.
                                            Late nights, late nights,
talking through winter, his laugh turned to velvet
when the temperature dropped.

Scorpion on his bicep, at his heels an Alsatian.
All through summer his garden spoke in tongues,
stone fruit, dark plums.
                                            The day they told him no,
not a chance for a transplant, he took a whisk
broom to the cemetery, swept his father's grave.

Dark nights, dark nights, rain pierced his eyes.
When the Feather River overtopped its banks
he finally got down
                               to the slow work of drowning.


2020 is upon us and this past year's hangover feels worse, a little more difficult than others.  Even when President Reagan was standing under the red, white and blue Today's book of poetry didn't feel this particular sense of dread.  Today's book of poetry believes that a regular diet of helpful poetry is called for.  Marsha de la O falls right into this prescription, she is step ahead of the curve, leading, not following.  Take two helpings of Every Ravening Thing and call Today's book of poetry in the morning.

Today's book of poetry has to admit that de la O got under our skin, turned us around once or twice, Every Ravening Thing has weight.  Marsha de la O's landscapes resemble our own, it's when she explains the old terrain and makes it burn new that our eyes widen.

Star Pine

Time can slow to a halt in a hallway
with a view of a star-pine
by the pharmacy, and the roof below
with its carpet of asphalt and small rocks.
I've got a window seat and minor piety,
I've got a chant, thrumming:
               You, my faith, my ark, my bricks and mortar.
We've already said good-bye.

My rule is: keep your mouth shut.
We don't know how it gets in a body.
If I yawned, a tumor could flit inside
about the size of a cream puff or a golf ball
without symmetry - spikes and folds and webs
like a baby dragon.

And when it hatched, the mother
bent her fearsome neck
and moved that nestling
near where your blood bustles.

I've got a thick skull of hope
unwinding a vision, a picture
for afterwards:
you're pink faced and twinkling, rosy-all-over,
maybe shambling a little, but otherwise
the same.
You're looking good.

I'm the life form with a sour smell.
It's fear, but I tell myself that's covered here
by the dead smell of caution, they're non-committal.
They pad by in booties and hairnets, careful
of the I.V., the pole, the whole awkward procession,
a movable bed, a bag of clear liquid
dripping like mercy.

And the patients
with sheets drawn up to their chins
have suffered themselves to be tethered and pressed
like good and sweet animals.

The elevator opens, they're pushed inside,
the door closes behind them.
I watch them leaving, and wait for you.
The star pine leans toward the glass.
I'm mouthing thank you
and whispering please.

That star pine is your lost sister.
That star pine is your brother's soul,
sane and calm and cleansed.

The dragon
bends her fearsome neck;
the tree
is breathing next to the window.

Let it breathe for you.


"I've got a thick skull of hope."  Today's book of poetry is going to have to contact Marsha de la O and ask if we can use that as a title for a book.

So de la O goes up one side of illness, fear and grief and comes down the other somehow hammering splendid.  And then she pulls out the Upanishads.  Today's book of poetry has a particular fondness of the Upanishads from our last time in a classroom.  We remembered "the essence of all beings is the earth," and more.  de la O has an understanding of the complications every life faces.  Every Ravening Thing takes a look at it all in these robust and lush poems where we learn, like de la O, to:  "let touch teach me."

To the Grandmothers

                Chernobyl, thirty years later

Old women with side gardens and jars
of moonshine alone in empty villages,

tell me, solitary lynx, multitudinous wolf
pack, how do you do it - all my life I've lived

in cities, bought food from grocery stores -
what's it like to return to the abandoned zone

on foot, reclaim your cottage beside the dank
canal, to howl, to hunt in packs, to foal calves,

fell trees, light down in the bodies of swans
and swim in cooling ponds, why would you

fly three thousand miles to build a nest
inside the cracked concrete sarcophagus

over the remains of reactor four?  She grins,
hands over a jelly jar of vodka, the good stuff,

Motherland is motherland, she says.


Today's book of poetry is proud to start off 2020 with Marsha de la O's Every Ravening Thing.  We are big believers in the "start as you mean to go on" vibe.  We are all about the poetry burn and de la O is aces.

No promises for the forthcoming year but we are looking forward to reading all the poetry that comes through the door.  Our deepest gratitude to University of Pittsburgh Press and the almost 200 other poetry presses who send work Today's book of poetry's way.

Luckily we already know the line up for the next little while.  It makes Today's book of poetry blush it is so rich.

Stay tuned.
Marsha de la O

Marsha de la O

Marsha de la O is the author of Antidote for Night, winner of the 2015 Isabella Gardner Award, and Black Hope, winner of the New Issues Press Poetry Prize and winner of an Editor’s Choice, Small Press Book Award. Other awards include the Morton Marcus Poetry Award and the da Poetry Award. She has published extensively, including recent poems in The New Yorker and the Kenyon Review, with work forthcoming in Prairie Schooner. De la O lives in Ventura, California, with her husband, poet and editor Phil Taggart. Together, they produce poetry readings and events in Ventura County and edit the literary journal Spillway. 

Every Ravening Thing presents a matchless intensity and intellectual grit, a fearless investigation into the world amplified by a vision that is both cosmic and detailed in our common suffering. This is a brave book of poetry.
      - Christopher Buckley 

What is ferocious – ravenous – here is the poet’s driven need to tell things as they truly are, which means it’s not always a pretty picture that she so carefully assembles for the reader. And I love the raucous regard she has for diction: reckless and powerfully inventive and fresh the way air can be fresh. All of this is held together by a commitment to the music that drives these poems in a way that soothes the ear. Every Ravening Thing could serve as a warning to all of us about our failures as men and women, and as a celebration of the good we’re capable of doing and in that way is a necessary part of our reading.
    - Bruce Weigl 

This is poetry meant to open hearts and change attitudes in fundamental and necessary ways, poetry of witness and utility. It is also often deeply moving. 
     -South Florida Poetry Review

MARSHA DE LA O at Writers Resist LA 2019 Reading
Video: Poetry L.A.


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, December 21, 2019

House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems - Betsy Sholl (University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems.  Betsy Sholl.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2019


cover of book

The first thirty-seven delightful pages of House of Sparrows: New and Selected Poems, are new poems from the desk of Betsy Sholl.  These poems, on their own, are more than worth the price of admission.  House of Sparrows is the latest from Ms. Sholl, the latest in a sizable line-up of killers.  

Today's book of poetry looked at Betsy Sholl's Otherwise Unseeable (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) back in May of 2014.  You can see that blog/review here:

House of Sparrows brings together selected poems from five of Betsy Sholl's previous collections, The Red Line (1992), Don't Explain (1997), Late Psalm (2004), Rough Cradle (2009) and Otherwise Unseeable (2014).  Like the only other Betsy Today's book of poetry is familiar with, Betsy Struthers, Sholl has built a formidable practice one huge brick at a time.  Those of you not familiar with the very fine Canadian poet Betsy Struthers need to brush up on your Betsy's.

Sholl's new poems read like testaments that have already stood the tests of time, they read like needed wisdom.  Sholl's poetry hums honest, wicked shrewd, all hammered out of a giant and tender heart that beats a solemn, sad song.  Then Sholl throws in some hope, some redemption.  It is all so human.

Betsy Sholl creates poetry that echoes like music both longed for and cried to.  Betsy Sholl can burn.

Her Story

     Johnson City, Tennessee

What a ruckus - those fricatives inside
that truck, spitting our roadside grit
digging itself in deeper.

Overhead the sky's one eye looks down.
Near full it rose, rusty as the truck's
undersides and dented with shadows.

Below, out of gas, trapped, that truck
hardly looks like it once jumped red lights,
gunned through town, took hairpins

with a squeal. As to the woman inside
pounding the wheel, she just saw her man
of fourteen years take off with somebody

blond and younger. She's got a fifth
on the seat beside her, a pistol,
a box of ammo already emptied out

into every Slow Curve, Falling Rock,
Soft Shoulder she passed downshifting
on the upgrade. Who you think does that?

she'll ask months later, then grin.
But now, inside that bucket of rust,
it's just her hollowed out, a full bottle

of sleep, and the moon overhead
watching, so she points her pistol,
pulls the trigger and laughs, bitter

as the pills she unscrews and scatters
like buckshot across the road.
The she lean back into liquor's drift.

Come morning, an old man will drive up,
peer in, see all that trouble
and hook up chains to haul her out.

He'll give her gas enough to get to town,
tell her, Now you never mind, Honey,
you just go on - and she will.  She will.


When Sholl is in a corner she has no problem employing one of Today's book of poetry's favourite tricks.  She calls on some giant like Theolonious Monk, crawls into one of his recipes until all the pieces fit.  Betsy Sholl does this better than Today's book of poetry (damn her).  When she was writing these poems we doubt she was worried about their influence on Today's book of poetry or anyone else.  But in this small world you can never tell who is listening, taking notes.  Bowing in appreciation.

Betsy Sholl knows the difficulty caused when two things are true at once.  That life isn't black or white or fifty shades of gray.  Our limitless palette is gaudy with riches and yet we struggle to be kind, knowing, coming correct.  House of Sparrows is ironic and serious as a heart attack, the language nuanced, instantly recognizable as a voice that should be listened to.

House of Sparrows

What if every time we saw the word sorrow
we switched it to sparrow?

     For my life is spent with sparrows...
     With drunkenness and sparrows...

Or if it went the other way, the song would be,
     His eye is on the sorrow...


My eye's on the neighbor's eaves,
and the copper-roofed house we put up in our yard,

its many rooms, multiple nests, generations --
as if we brought this clamor on ourselves,

this hurdy-gurdy, rabble, host and quarrel
of sparrows
      mixed with the morning radio


broadcasting a bombed hospital, bodies
under fallen roof tiles, shards of over-voice and wailing,

while outside birds flare up, knock each other off the feeder,
sparrows the color of rubble, of dust and mud,

burnt cars, blown-out windows, of wreckage
they could roost in, the earth a house of sparrows


on Sparrow Street, hunger house, and woe
to the poor who are spared nothing,

who gather at borders to beg and forage, are sold
     two for a penny, five for two cents.

And yet doesn't it say the Lord God
attends -- bends down to count


each one shot, starved, buried in rubble? --
A man of sparrows and acquainted with grief,

who says, when I bow my head,
     Sparrows are better than laughter.

And to the rabble, the wailing, the how, the when,
who says,
     Your sparrows will turn to joy--


Today's book of poetry will be in Ottawa for Christmas this year but we have suspended our annual Christmas Eve festivities for family reasons.  Shortly after Christmas Today's book of poetry and our much better other half will be heading to Montreal.  We are heading to Montreal to gain all the weight we've lost in the last year.  We both love Montreal and will do our best to eat well and find poetry, drink well and find poetry.  You know the drill.  Montreal is one of the finer places on the planet to spent time with the one your love.

House of Sparrows reminds Today's book of poetry of why we started writing these blogs/reviews in the first place.  Sometimes the poetry we get to read is simply too splendid not to be shared.  Betsy Sholl meets that standard.  We'll be scanning bookshelves in Montreal for the rest of Betsy Sholl's titles.

Betsy Sholl

Betsy Sholl is the author of nine poetry collections including Otherwise Unseeable, Rough Cradle, Late Psalm, Don’t Explain, and The Red Line. A former poet laureate of Maine, Sholl teaches at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.

“Her work brings the poetry of Nathaniel Mackey to mind: its specificity, its engagement with and curiosity for living, even in the bluer stretches.”
—Boston Globe

“Very polished poetry that with careful attention can, in Wordsworth’s phrase, lift us up when fallen.”
—Central Maine

“A quiet, yet powerful journey through nature, memory, regret, and hopefulness. Readers will find themselves returning to its deftly understated voice again and again.”
—Split Rock Review

“This magnificent collection proves yet again why Sholl is one of our truly indispensable writers, whose poems engage what must be addressed if we are to fully encounter, as she writes in her triumphant title poem, ‘the wailing, the how, the when.’ I remain awestruck by her artistry.”
—Sascha Feinstein

“I love Sholl’s unyielding honesty, the great heart and deep intelligence of her vision.”
—Nancy Eimers

“It’s difficult to love the world enough, especially for someone like Sholl, who sees with such searing clarity its cruelty and sorrow. But, like Keats, she dares to, in poem after poem in this masterly collection. And we are all the richer for it.”
—David Jauss


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, December 19, 2019

Midlife Action Figure - Chris Banks (ECW/A Misfit Book)

Today's book of poetry:
Midlife Action Figure.  Chris Banks.  ECW/A Misfit Book.  Toronto, Ontario.  2019.

Midlife Action Figure by Chris Banks, ECW Press

Chris Banks would have us believe that, as Roethke said, "Poetry is an act of mischief."

Midlife Action Figure is one particular form of mischief.  But Banks has so much more in store for us.  Today's book of poetry has seen this sort of anarchy before.  Anarchy?  Poetry anarchy and beauty.  But rarely, if ever, have we seen a collection where every single poem is a poetry monster.  These bloody epistles are giants.  We mean Coltrane giant, Miles Davis great.

Today's book of poetry has had Chris Banks on the table before.  Back in August of 2017 Today's book of poetry wrote about Banks full length collection, The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (ECW/A Misfit Book), with much excitement and fanfare.  You can see that blog/review here:

Since then Today's book of poetry has been on a bit of a mission.  We have procured the following Chris Banks titles:  Invaders (Anstruther Press, 2015), The Cold Panes of Surfaces (Nightwood Editions, 2006), Winter Cranes (ECW Press, 2011) and of course the brilliant The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory.  Now we need to find a copy of his first book, Bonfires.  Until then Today's book of poetry has considered sending our Today's book of poetry Task Force and Inspection Team to his home to see how he does it.

Dag T. Straumsvåg does it in Nynorsk, American hero Campbell McGrath does it in volume after volume, and Chris Banks does it from Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.  Astounding.  Midlife Action Figure is an imaginary bomb going off in your poetry head.  Ideas come at you so quickly your brain figures it is getting a poetry version those "pop rock" candies that used to go off like sparklers in your mouth.

Reading So-and-So's Selected Poems in a Used Bookstore

I like the jade dragons and the bougainvillea.
The various mistresses of Paul Klee, Gustav Klimt.
Jackson Pollock pissing in a fireplace at a party.
A locomotive hauling away a sibling's death.
Allusions to Pompeii. A Greek philosopher du jour.
A token villanelle. An amusement park.
Roller coasters on fire. What beautiful rhymes!
Afro and gazpacho. Crocus and hocus-pocus.
Syllabics of beauty and despair and truth
hidden in musty stacks. Someone's handwritten
notes in the margins: Love this one! Huzzah!
Haikus solemn as frogs beneath a lily-white moon.
Lyrics a reminder of the shadow's dark roost.
How about this one poem with sledgehammers?
A grand piano overflowing with Blue Morphos?
A Japanese actress who cut off her lover's genitals,
threw them into the sea? The last poem
in the collection will rip your heart out, I swear.
It's about a boy throwing rocks at a seagull,
smashing its wings. The bird hopping broken.
The Gatha of Atonement. It's little prayer.
Human shame like a shipwreck in a bottle.
The poet's photograph is in black and white.
He lives in a French chalet, or as a recluse
on a Greek island, summers when not teaching
freshman about poetry and personal failure.
There is an ivy-league campus in the photo's
background. His crow's feet, grim smile, says
each day, I walk out of my French chalet, or
a white house with a blue door, heading
to the old town, poems gestating, where I buy
my breakfast, a newspaper, thinking about
friends back home. At night, in my dreams,
I put a contract out on this poet's life.


Today's book of poetry has been arguing with the poetry gods and some personal demons this December.  Mr. Banks and Midlife Action Figure pretty much fixes that action for the time being.  Midlife Action Figure raises the bar for everyone in 2020.

Banks makes you laugh, demands you cry and kicks you where the sun shines the least when need be.  He both kisses and kicks ass.  The poems go up one side of you and down the other so quickly you're not sure what is occurring.  Just like a Grade Six Billy Dunlop learned about the wrath within my Grade One sister Sally.  Billy was thumping me senseless for some reason or another and out of the blue my pint-sized sister raccoon-launched herself onto his head.  She jumped down on Billy from above, her legs around his neck and her little hands pulling out amazing large tufts of Billy-hair from every direction at once.  Chris Banks Midlife Action Figure will do that!  Sally whack a Billy Dunlop.

Just like my sister and the infamous Confederate general, who realized his troops were surrounded and uttered "Excellent, attack in all directions," Chris Banks' poems are an onslaught against the senses.

Stolen Matches

Existence is not for the weak. Consciousness
moves like a river beneath sheet ice. I make
going to the grocery store an event. Every meal
when you are single is a sad banquet. So what
if we are incisors, daydreams. Hey Muse, hit me up.
Let's go dancing. The lyric makes its little noise,
something like, out of the darkling sky come
the white stars, little frozen glyphs, or Valkyries
burning in separate Valhallas. No more hand-me-downs.
I have nothing up my sleeve except nerves
forming a small city with dirty cabs. I don't
want to learn the patter, the schtick, of one word
against another. I want the feast. The offal
I leave on a silver dish for gods who
starve this time of year. Choose wisely
amongst the coloured rags. Memorize
traumas.  The after-life is a recital. Hello loss.
Hello exaltation. Have I made you smile yet?
Knowing this poem is a forgery. I traced it by hand
in elegant calligraphic script. Like a dry drunk,
I want more and more of what I cannot have.
Emotions disfigure perception. Open all the doors.
What is the difference? Heave-ho the familiar
and see what takes its place. The scope is cavernous
so take a good flashlight. I follow my thoughts
into a gully where they are playing with stolen matches.
Isn't that always the case? Put away the Play-Doh
when you are done. The school closed down years ago.
Clean up the art tables. I'll lock up after you.


2019 has been a difficult year here in the Today's book of poetry offices. But we've also seen more support and kindness than every before.  Just this past week Sir Christian McPherson replaced our essential office machinery.  Our newish Apple (which we dearly loved) rotted itself senseless and the poet McPherson has given us a rather remarkable replacement.  We are hoping that with some TLC we can drive this new machinery for many happy Today's book of poetry years.  McPherson was the catalyst behind starting Today's book of poetry years ago.  We can't thank Christian enough.

It's getting awfully close to Christmas and that rat bastard Santa must be stocking up on coal.  But if you want to please anyone in your poetry universe you cannot go wrong with Chris Banks' Midlife Action Figure.  Whether you want to be naughty or nice.

Mr. Banks burns like he invented the term.

Midlife Action Figure

My body feels made by Mattel.
There is no lifetime achievement
award for surviving emotional
trauma. Van Gogh cut off an ear,
went about his day. I don't mean
to make light of suffering. My alma
mater tells me by phone they could
be doing better. Can I coat-check
this malaise? Talking to neighbours
feels like treading water. Similes
are passe. I need an electrician to
rewire my mood. Going to parties
when you don't drink is open-heart
surgery without local anesthetic.
I've completed all seven seasons
but my knees are arthritic, and
my chakra is in shambles. I love
how business thinks innovation
is dreamt up in hotel bars and
conference rooms. Being forced
to take the arts package is what kills
creative embryos. My depression
is pure Suzuki method. I'm going
to open a Montessori school
for recovering addicts. Ever seen
a masterpiece wrapped in cellophane?
Go to your local record store,
dig around in the stacks. Maybe
the letter does not arrive on time
so you drink poison, or decide
to take up pole dancing. Either way,
someone's parents end up crying.
Pull the string protruding from my back.
Listen to what I am about to tell you.
There is not much time.


Today's book of poetry is sure you get what we're selling but in case we are not being clear enough: Chris Banks' Midlife Action Figure is full burn feast.  There is no end to the delights Banks' brings to the table.

This is what poetry can be, at it's best.  Absolute and splendid.

Image result for Chris Banks Poet

Chris Banks

Chris Banks is a Canadian poet and author of four previous collections of poems, most recently The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory (ECW Press, 2017). His poetry has appeared in The New Quarterly, Arc Magazine, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Malahat Review and Prism International, among other publications. He lives and writes in Waterloo, Ontario.

Midlife Action Figure delivers surprise, delight, and sense; Banks slams sly one liners as though he were competing in a professional wrestling match . . . The result is breathlessly entertaining and gut-punchingly wise . . . Midlife Action Figure is an insightful tour through the human experience, crafted in clear and specific imagery that captivates the imagination and the intelligence. It is a book that begs to be read and reread.”
      — Quill & Quire Starred Review

“‘The laboratory of aesthetics / these days is really about mischief / and surprise’ writes Chris Banks in this collection of cheeky, pointed dicta on everything from how to survive an emergency to enduring a job interview, amid surreal admissions that the speaker has a ‘minor crush on Saturn's moons’ or possibly suffers a ‘slow leak’ as each year his ‘heart grows an extra ring.’ Midlife Action Figure is a book of solid poems from the centre of existing, through deep space and the places in the mind like ‘Matryoshka dolls’ that endlessly nest into their own allusiveness, returning with a yield of essential observations and imperatives for the continuance of the earth.” 
     — Catherine Owen, award-winning author of Designated Mourner

“The poems are densely thick and incredibly rich, akin, somewhat, to a lyric molasses in which a reader is caught up in an unexpected lyric flow . . . A poetry in which one can't easily pull away from . . . Banks' poems are a kind of lyric collage.” 
      — rob mclennan’s blog

“[A] spirited, wide-ranging collection.”
      — Toronto Star

“‘My spirit guide is a scarecrow’; ‘guilt is everyone’s personal gulag’; ‘can I coat-check this malaise?’; ‘death is classically trained’: Chris Banks builds poems out of short sentences that are like photons, little packets of energy full of aphoristic punch and surprise. He delights in the swings of imagination, in the way every next image or idea can plow new ground even as it alters the meaning and feel of what has preceded it. The result is a constant state of euphoria, an ongoing demonstration of the swerve and swirl of human consciousness. ‘A river is a correspondence course’ — as with so many lines here, my recognition that I’ve never thought of it that way is followed immediately by the sensation that there’s no other way to see it, that I am being shown the truth.” 
     — Bob Hicok, award-winning poet and author of Elegy Owed

“There were a lot of single lines that stood out to me, I found many gems among these short poems . . . Midlife Action Figure is a powerful collection that will evoke many thoughts.” 
    — Literary Lizard blog

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, November 11, 2019

A Generous Latitude — Lenea Grace (ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
A Generous Latitude.  Lenea Grace.  ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2018.

Anyone who can write a fine poem and have it end in St. Louis-du-Ha!-Ha! is alright by Today's book of poetry standards.  Lenea Grace does this and so much more in A Generous Latitude.  Grace reads like an experienced pro in the debut collection, her grit shines and she has some panache.

Lenea Grace has Guy Lafleur's disco-hockey record in one poem and Larry (GOAT) Bird's old French Lick Converse All-Stars in another.  If neither name means anything to you — you are way to young to be reading poetry.  The same might be said of Grace's nod to the effervescent Kate and Anna McGarrigle, who make an appearance in an ode to Montreal.  And as Today's book of poetry writes this blog/review their is the realization that Lenea Grace may be the poet most dialed into Today's book of poetry's zeitgeist.

Pressure Drop

Take a glass milk bottle
and drop a lit match down
the windowed shaft.
Take a hardboiled man,
peel him, and balance
him upon the mouth-

His pelvis will meet
the opening, torso
and limbs shoot
east and west. Tap
his left foot and he will spin,
smouldered rod and flesh
and glass.

He is no weathervane,
caught unawares by the high
pressure system that circles wrists,
grazes buttocks and spine.
No match for the match,
burnt and low, feverish.

You cannot adjust
these temperatures, outside
and inside. You cannot stop
reverse ignition. You will not
not watch. When it happens
you will not watch.

And it will happen.
The bottle will strangle
his size, distort
his body: a muscled parabola,
sucking down and down,
snapping vertebrae, folding,
palms touching palms,

necks and shoulders.
Shoulders and necks
and shoulders will catch
the necks and the necks
will catch the shoulders.
Pop and release.


Today's book of poetry is happy to announce that Lenea Grace's A Generous Latitude adds another fine "list" poem to the lexicon and we'll be happy to run it by you.


Because the Atlantic.
Because the Pacific.
Because the hemispheres.
Because the equator, the belted cinching of guts, the green and the blue.
Because the guts.
Because the flaws.
Because we are heavy.
Because we are raw.
Because my mother has nerves.
Because my father shave his mustache in 1981. and 1983. 1987.
Because his father wrote with his left hand.
Because Zuma rains.
Because lobsters shriek.
Because old men play cribbage in undershirts.
Because birches peel.
Because dogs know.
Because lakes smoke.
Because that teacher told me to mouth the words.
Because there are indoor voice and outdoor voices.
Because there are indoor shoes and outdoor shoes and no shoes at all.
Because because.
Because there are hands.
Because we carve our names in desks.
Because we carve our names in stone.
Because we are not permanent.
Because we singe our eyes.
Because there are eyes,
the scratched inky things,
the sanding of iris,
the sleep of because.


A Generous Latitude  makes you think Lenea Grace would be a cool person to spend time with, witty funny and a little dangerous.  Her poems are observational gems, situation comedies with dark intentions.  Grace burns.

Today's book of poetry was even able to tolerate Grace's admiration for David Hasselhoff, which comes off as a both a gentle caress and the proverbial kick in the ass.

The Why And The How

Why are boats always women, and
where is Long Lake —
how you ride my mind

how to pet a dead horse
how to feed this hoop snake
and always why boats are women.

Why bathtubs crawl on fours,
and how water grows opaque
and still — you ride my mind:

run grey galleys worn and coarse,
teak and holly slats, the strakes,
If boats are always women

then men are the oars — slicing
pink for pink's sake:
you ride my mind

in circles. There is no shore
for us, only questions in the lake —
why boats are always women
and how you ride my mind.


The more humorous Lenea Grace tries to be the more human/humane she sounds which is a great trick.  And trick is the wrong word, Grace comes at the reader head-on and once she gets there she stands her ground.  A Generous Latitude burns like the best.

Lenea Grace

Lenea Grace’s work has appeared in Best New Poets, The Fiddlehead, Washington Square Review, CV2, Riddle Fence, Grain, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of McGill University, University of Maine at Presque Isle, and The New School. Lenea is a founding editor of The Mackinac poetry magazine. She grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, spending her summers at Long Lake and John Island in northern Ontario. She lives in Gibsons, British Columbia.


Important Poetry Bulletin:
Today's book of poetry just hit 700,000 readers.  Thank you, each and every one of you.



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.