Sunday, June 18, 2017

Body, in Good Light - Erin Rodoni (Sixteen Rivers Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Body, in Good Light.  Erin Rodoni.  Sixteen Rivers Press.  San Francisco, California.  2017.

"...bliss, like a memory, can be unearthed by scent."
                                                                                                 "The Body Lathe"
                                                                                                  Erin Rodoni

Erin Rodoni's Body, in Good Light has enough light to charm your eyes open wide but there will be tears enough before the end.  Rodoni has poems built on sustained intensity but without any anxiety, passion without pontification.

Today's book of poetry is a bit distracted today as our associate Odin is putting in his last days with us.   Odin has been presented with a bigger and better playground and is unable to say no.  We understand that and are proud of the work he has done here, we are sorry to see him go.  Odin never talked all that much but we sure listened when he did.

Body, in Good Light is just the sort of book Odin likes best, unapologetic intelligence, open-hearted wit and kindness.

The Ninety-Year-Old Woman On My Table

is speaking into the lavender-spritzed air
between us. Her muscles Braille another
story. She's telling me about her niece,
who lives with a man she'll never marry.
It's complicated, you see. There's so little
between her bones and mine, a thumb's
pad, a tendon's frayed twine. You see,
he has a wife. Sometimes it seems these
bodies just appear under my hands. She has
some kind of condition. They all touch
their own shoulders, their lower backs
to show me where the pain is. Sometimes
they want to touch mine (right there) as if
we don't all inhabit the same sad pockets
of skin. Can't move, can't speak. I imagine
there are people hired just to wash her
where her husband can't. Certainly can't
have sex, and I suppose he has all he wants
with my niece. Our muscles are toned to transfer
gentleness. From lover to child. From stranger
to self and back again. Sometimes the weight
of a toothbrush seems too much when I remember
I must lift it twice a day until I no longer can.
They have children together. I've kissed my own
grandmothers into smaller and smaller beds,
fixed their hair -- all wrong I'm sure. I suppose
he must have loved her. Now he tends her
like a houseplant. Or maybe she's a ghost
orchid in a greenhouse in a snowed in city.
Probably still does, in his way. The globe
unshaken, shelved in one of these little rooms
where hands polish it with love
so unconditional it's cruel.


Erin Rodoni talks about cancer and childbirth and chemotherapy and the impending death of a younger brother and when she is doing this she is covering some damned sad territory, sweet and profound.  As a reader you'll feel compelled to turn to the next page, Rodoni keeps the iron under your feet suitably red.

Today's book of poetry also wants to warn you.  Rodoni moved us to real, running down the cheeks, tears more than once.  As much of a crocodile as I can sometimes be those were real emotions running down my old face.

You Kept My Summer Dresses

when I died, and jewels worn closest to my skin.
You warmed them in a fist, watched hemlines swish

dust, once my thigh. When you lie
beside your new love now, do you miss

the little nicks not on her shinbone,
the mole your little finger doesn't brush?

Hush, I know about darkness, how it funnels
a sort of light we see as flesh

through our sealed lids. I know about rooting
toward comfort's infrared.

I only meant to say I can't forgive you.
I'm not God, just a voice inside your head.

You remember, don't you, what I said
about the heart? To do the things it tells you?

Soon she will jump at necklaces curled like cobras
in your sock drawer. Soon it will be time

to wash my dresses, leave them slapping on the line.
All I ask is, just once more at dusk, stand

in the life we shared, let night gather
behind the dresser, beneath the bed.

Let shadows press open the closet and breathe
the last moths of my scent.


Our morning read was a tempered emotional affair this morning.  We were all on edge because of Odin's bon voyage.  Every time Rodoni crossed an emotional bridge one of us jumped out of our skin and to be pulled back from the ledge.

Odin calmed us all down, as he always does, kissed everyone, left.  A class act all the way.

When I got back to my office there was a short note from Odin on my desk.  He said "that Rodoni woman is built from strong stuff, first rate poetry from an intelligent woman's voice.  Remember that you grew up under the care of a strong, intelligent woman.  Stay the course."

We Chop Onions, Listen To Billie Holiday

The windows fogged. Our eyes. My brother slides the knife from his
wife's fist, dances her around the room. Her body already out of breath,
he folds her to his chest. They revolve in one place: teenagers during 
the last song of prom. My husband stands behind me. I lean into his
weight. And for a moment I let myself conjure a child with her smile
and my brother's green eyes, a child who will never run through this
house playing tag with the child I don't yet have. Beyond the steam on
the windows, fall's first frost sharpens the marsh grass, and the arced
maps in the stars tick past without us until we are already ghosts.


Erin Rodoni's Body, in Good Light is flat out excellent.  You should give a copy to every woman you know.  Wouldn't hurt any of the menfolk either.

Erin Rodoni

Erin Rodoni is the author of Body, in Good Light (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017) and A Landscape for Loss, which won the 2016 Stevens Manuscript Prize sponsored by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies and is forthcoming later this year. Her work has appeared in Colorado Review, Cimarron Review, Drunken Boat, Ninth Letter, Spoon River Poetry Review, Tupelo Quarterly, and The Adroit Journal, among others. Her poems have also been included in the Best New Poets anthology, featured on Verse Daily, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and honored with an Intro Journals Award from the Association of Writers and Writing programs. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two young daughters.

“I walk toward you barefoot,” writes Erin Rodoni, a poet who can speak with the same ease of private elegies and public journeys, of childbirth and of changing trains in Krakow, of grief on losing a loved one to cancer, and of ‘borrowed countries / where bougainvillea scales balconies // like a romance language.’ Here is a book that journeys out into the world, and also inward—into the mysteries of private life, of the body, where ‘bliss, like a memory, can be unearthed by scent.’ I love how wisdom enters the moment of passion in these poems, where we see ourselves living here, on this earth, ‘believing // in these bodies.’ This is a marvelous debut.” 
     —Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa 

“The aesthetic that courses throughout Erin Rodoni’s sumptuous debut—tender and bittersweet, but also clear-eyed and unflinching—recalls Rilke’s ninth Duino Elegy, in which the earth’s dream is ‘to resurrect / in us invisibly.’ That ache of regeneration and rejuvenation is made manifest in Body, in Good Light. In the section entitled ‘A Sort of Light We See as Flesh,’ the poem ‘The Chapel’ brings us to a woman’smemorial service, where Rodoni faces ‘an altar draped in fabric / that belongs to no faith.’ At the end, though, she says: ‘We praise/ the faith of whatever machine // keeps the warmth in her hands.’ By extension, that warmth extends to the poet, to those she holds dear, and, thankfully, to us.”
     —Thomas Centolella, author of Views from Along the Middle Way


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, June 15, 2017

Asking The Names - Michael Miller (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Asking The Names.  Michael Miller.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland University.  Ashland, Ohio.  2017.

Michael Miller writes time machine poetry.  These poems are completely in the present, poignant, powerful and in the best sense of the word; pretty.  At the same time these poems are about the passage of time and what is endured, what is learned, what is savoured, what is mourned.

Miller also has the rare capacity to write openly about enduring love without ever sounding overly romantic or trite.


In the wordless void between us
The domain of silence
Is greater than anything we can say.
This is where love becomes
A meadow blossoming,
This is where I can hold you
Beyond the ephemeral touch,
Beyond the unfolding petals of desire
Which must always close.


Miller's short poems have the qualities of fine crystal, they are transparent so any flaws would be immediately obvious.  

If you were to ping one on the side with your finger, the resonance you hear will be a fully formed tone, abundant in colour regardless of it's brevity.


Prepared at exactly five o'clock,
Placed carefully before her
On their immaculate table,
The meals he makes
For his paralyzed wife
Are the language of enduring love.
With spotless silverware
He feeds her with every morsel
Of his patient tenderness.


Asking The Names made for a contemplative morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices.  It's another beautiful sunny day so we have all the doors and windows open.  It shouldn't come as any surprise that this morning's office music is a mix of Dexter and Pharoah.

Mr. Miller supplied his robust poems and his delicate voice.  These are intensely personal and studiously carefully poems that remind Today's book of poetry of the best of Wendell Berry and Robert Bly.  Poems like these require a mature voice and considerable time in the saddle, wisdom like this only comes with time and experience.

Keeping Alive

Beethoven and biopsies,
How they keep me alive,
How making love with you
Keeps me alive,
How I want to make love
For as long as I can,
How I want your body
To cover mine
As I take that final breath.


Asking The Names wanders through the fields and adventures of youth, the horrors and memory scars of military service, battle and loss but it is Miller's unabashed tenderness when talking about his love that has won the day for Today's book of poetry.

As Dexter Gordon's Dale Turner says in the great Bertrand Tavernier film Round Midnight, "Lady Francis, there's not enough kindness in the world."  Today's book of poetry is happy to report that Michael Miller is helping to improve that balance.

Michael Miller

Michael Miller's first book The Joyful Dark was the Editor's Choice winner of the McGovern Prize at The Ashland Poetry Press. His poems have appeared in The Sweanee Review, The Kenyon Review, Raritan, The New Republic, The Southern Review, and The Yale Review. Darkening The Grass, his third book, was a "Must Read 2013" selection of The Massachusetts Book Award. His poem, "The Different War," was the 2014 First Prize winner of the W.B. Yeats Society Poetry Award, and anthologized in Yeats 150 (Lilliput Press, Dublin). Born in 1940, Michael Miller served in the Marine Corps from 1958 to 1962. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

I read Michael Miller's poems with great pleasure in their accurate seeing, their assured phrasing, their true and proportionate feeling.
     - Richard Wilbur

Michael Miller's poems are finely tuned meditations on nature, war, city life, and growing old. The recurring theme of love, the cycles of light and darkness, of fear and hope, of life and death, echo from poem to poem. One realizes reading these poems that one must climb to get into the light, that certainty is uncertain.
     - Gary Lee Entsminger

Michael Miller's poetry addresses the nuances of this contradictory world. In Asking The Names his empathy embraces the pain of soldiers and the poignant lives of the elderly. Most moving, perhaps, is when he writes about enduring love. Miller's poems, each expertly wrought, are radiant.
     - Nikia Leopold



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, June 12, 2017

What Weaponry a novel in prose poems - Elizabeth J. Colen (Black Lawrence Press)

Today's book of poetry:
What Weaponry - a novel in prose poems.   
Elizabeth J. Colen.  Black Lawrence Press.  Pittsburgh, PA.  2016.


What Weaponry - a novel in prose poems saunters into the room like a tattooed lady in a perky summer dress with a pistol in her purse and a smear of lipstick still tasty on her lips.  Elizabeth J. Colen is not new to this game and her characters are all body and soul, just like a jazz song, tattered and somehow still hopeful on the battered field of love.

These beautiful assaults are instant karma and sad fate.  Colen has access to instantaneous emotional intensity with her wide open heart channeling all the dreams of her wounded heroes.

This poetry novel burns.

We Are Only Animals Furred
And Undone

In this land time stops, white bird hovering in the
pre-dawn. Unseen fawns high step the wet grass.
And we, feet and shin bathed in shallows seas of
scrub, marvel at the complete dark.  "There's
nothing," you whisper, and then say nothing more. I
know you mean the world has closed its doors.
We haven't slept but tired's come back to wild elation
the way all things circle back to meet their opposites.
The way I sometimes become you again. And
through bare toes feeling for the towpath, and that
stab of electric light moved on by our motion, we
find the neighbor's barn door. No light in neighbor's
kitchen, no horse sounds from the yard. Only the
crickets and your breathing, pale face posed, the
gun still in your hand.


Today's book of poetry was gobsmacked by What Weaponry and pleasantly so.  Every time I begin to waver another poet comes along to give us hope.  Today's hope is supplied by these electric jolts from Colen's stun gun.  Elizabeth J. Colen is a talent to celebrate.  

We have heard all these stories before, in one version or another, after all, how many stories are there?  But Colen has found the right traction to make her startlingly lived-in/innocent voice unique.

Today's book of poetry had some extra help this morning.  Before everyone else arrived I was sitting in the shade at the front of our building and rereading What Weaponry and enjoying the quiet street, the occasional cardinal whistle, the sun coming through the large trees down the road.  Our friend Pistol dropped by with his pal Thomas.  When they sat down I handed What Weaponry over to Pistol and asked him to take a peek.  Pistol started reading, he always opens a book of poetry at a random page and starts in there, and the first time he raised his head he was smiling and said "well, that was okay."  And of course he meant much more.  

He buried his head in What Weaponry again and when he came up for air he was a convert.  Pistol doesn't like all that much, I show him poetry whenever I can, but when he does like it I know I've hit on something special, splendid.

Wife Beater

There's a tattooed girl at the counter in the bread
shop and she's thin and she's tough and she's scarred
and you start talking about what her life must be
like. Tank top, wife beater, fresh bruise on her chin.
You wonder if she's somebody's wife. And the shirt
doesn't come all the way down to her pants, which
are low, which are black, which are ripped at the
knee. And the shirt is a little dirty around the
middle like she'd rubbed up against some dirty
truck. And I see your eyes turn down and you look
at her waist and you whisper something about
stretch marks. I tell you you have no business
speculating about the nature of those. Was she fat,
you said, but you decided it was babies. And how
many. You give her seven babies, but she's probably
only twenty-three and just looks forty-four. She
hasn't had time, I say and you say, she looks like the
world, this girl, she looks like the whole damn world
has been sitting right in her lap.


There's a dark engine revving hard and running the show in Colen's wheelhouse and the poems in What Weaponry are often bracing as a result.  But Colen is wall-papering her sad confines with jewels.  No matter how darkly set these gems glisten with revealing light.

Today's book of poetry found Colen's mastery of the prose poem invigorating.  Each of these poems ends up bigger than the sum of it's parts.  These are screenplays.  Colen seasons each page with an intoxicating mix of tender, tawdry (in the best possible way) and tired.

When Today's book of poetry says "tired" we are talking about that bone-funking weariness that too much experience welds onto your face like ritual scars.

Last Meal Of Gin

What it took: two days to get used to. The break-off,
lesion to touch, legion. And where were you when?
And then admitting that dream. What breaches.
What I would have made up, but didn't. From there,
dories everywhere, talk of unicorns, what horns,
whatever, the red birds that did not alight on my
arms: there was no going back. Everything right
now is about you. Standing in the dim kitchen,
knee-deep in me. Standing in the living room, the
lights clicking off. Timers. I can't see the face for the
face, can't see the place for the what if. We were a
mob of lost parts, a wreckage of history. Weekends
are tiny models of the world, what weeks want to be.
Sometimes what years. Might contain all electric, all
thought. Which way we went. A tug on the hair and
the clock shakes, pulling you forward by bangs,
waking up bruised. Waking with loss everywhere.


Elizabeth J. Colen's What Weaponry is exactly what Today's book of poetry wants to see when we open a book of poems.  We want to see sparks fly, stick around and find out what is buried in the ashes.

Colen made a fan out of our friend Pistol this morning and that's a difficult get.  Today's book of poetry was already convinced.

Image result for elizabeth colen photo
Elizabeth J. Colen

Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of poetry collections Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010) and Waiting Up for the End of the World (Jaded Ibis Press, 2012), flash fiction collection Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011), long poem / lyric essay hybrid The Green Condition (Ricochet Editions, 2014), and Your Sick (Jellyfish Highway, 2016), co-written with Carol Guess and Kelly Magee. She teaches at Western Washington University.

  • Handsomely forged like the best scenes of the best art films, Elizabeth Colen’s What Weaponry moves between expansive seashores and claustrophobic interiors to illuminate or exorcise the emotional interstices we all inhabit. Such violence and tenderness rubbing up against each other! It’s impossible to look away. And if, as Colen insists, 'There is no mystery here,' it’s because she has exposed the beautiful ugly subcutaneous.
         —Debra Di Blasi
  • In What Weaponry, Elizabeth J. Colen has done something much more challenging, much more nimble than write a book of prose poems. She has created a wonder, a linear circularity – “We haven’t slept but tired’s come back to wild elation the way all things circle back to meet their opposites,” – she has embedded a book of poems inside a book of prose. “Say you didn’t say his name. Say you sang it.” So I won’t. I will. I just have to follow her. Let her make music with the stories she puts in my mouth. Let her wake me.
        —TC Tolbert

    The vortex of bold words that whip through Elizabeth Colen's What Weaponry are messages fully articulating a new form of body. A new sense of love. Radiant and containing "all electric, all thought," the language found in Colen's latest book generously provide a jittery syntactical jolt. What is constant in these dazzling lyrical vignettes is the desire for intimacy in the throes of love's changing face. What Weaponry swerves, plumbs, sears and burns for that which eludes but is right before us. It's a remarkable book.
         —Oliver de la Paz



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, June 10, 2017

Navy Blue - Steve Meagher (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Navy Blue.  Steve Meagher.  First Poets Series 15.  Guernica Editions.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (U.K.).  2016.

"Begging penance for his necessary sin"
      - from Have You Seen Him

George Elliott Clarke mentions Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Marshall McLuhan when attempting to describe the poetry of Steve Meagher.  Not to make this about Today's book of poetry but now is as good a time as any to admit that we here in this office are all members of the George Elliott Clarke fan club - and one time, a long time ago, Today's book of poetry was lucky enough to share a few beers with Sir George of Elliott Clarke at the original Ottawa Royal Oak Inn.  Those beers were probably before Mr. Meagher was born.

As much as Today's book of poetry admires Mr. Clarke we think he got it a little wrong.  If we had to compare Meagher's poetry to anyone  it would be the troubadour of tasty trauma Tom Waits.  That's if Tom Waits were spending a lot of time with the ghost of Richard Brautigan.  Dark wisdom and lyrical splendor from Waits, sweet, tortured and innocent ala Brautigan.

New Saints

Cowboy knows all the shortcuts
He can hop the black fence without stopping
He showed me how to throw a perfect spiral
He's been David's best friend since kindergarten

Scarecrow's brave like a fugitive
He French-kissed Rebecca J. in the catwalk
Told me she tasted like Orange Crush
I saw him smoke a cigarette once
It smelled something like a forest fire
Next day he showed us his brother's magazines

Shark Tooth's got a pair of nunchucks
They came in the mail from Tokyo
His dropkicks are real deadly
He can do cartwheels over the creekbed
He knows how to slay the dragons

Ezekial was my partner at Science Fair
He's quiet as a June bug
He can't come out on Saturdays
His mom keeps him in to study his lessons

Sweet Baby's the smallest
I swear he's full of cobra blood
He threw that rock from a mile away
Hit the sixth grader straight between the eyes
He's the greatest there is
When we ride our bikes to the snack bar
We never even stop for cars

Tin Man's brains don't work right
Some nights he won't stop screaming
About how he shot Hakeem
How he caught the itch
How everybody's gotta come from somewhere
He comes round like the wind
I can hear him from my bedroom
When he's gone I breathe again

Jackson's got the switchblade
He stole it from the Chinaman
He keeps it tucked in his belt loop
Uses it to lop the heads off bullfrogs

Banjo's some kind of genius
He can do his times-tables backwards
Even the sevens and nines
he's gonna be a doctor someday
Most likely he's gonna cure cancer
I give him Oreos to do my fractions

Got In The Log knows some things
He knows the hidden tunnel
All the sweet-spots in the forest
He knows about the beehives and the helicopter leaves
But he don't like being bothered
Me and Sweet Baby are the only ones who visit

There's Moreno he's Mexican
His face looks like a map of Missouri
He killed a black girl once
We found her body in the branches
He's the reason I'm not allowed across the train tracks

David can sing like Frank Sinatra
He's got two pet salamanders
Their names are Dale and Swiss Army Knife
He's the fastest runner in the whole school
Sometimes he gives me beats
But he's still a good big brother
He makes sure nobody fucks with me

I can skip a rock five times easy
I can wallop your nastiest curve
Mostly my mind knocks like a woodpecker
I got the tadpole's shadow on my arm
When I grow up I'm gonna be big time
I'm gonna find my father
I'm gonna make my mother love me
I'm gonna shine like Christmas morning
Don't even try to stop me


Sometimes comparisons don't do anyone justice.  Meagher gives us plenty to think about without the comparisons and he does it with panache.  Nothing about Navy Blue feels like a first book.  Meagher has polished these poems till they shine.

Now for some more comparisons.  Meagher's poetry universe is full of great characters that you are going to remember.  Sweet Baby and Banjo conjure up visions/memories of Sodapop and Ponyboy from S.E. Hinton's most excellent novel The Outsiders.  There is a measure sense of menace just under the skin of Navy Blue.  Meagher never comes across as rough or vulgar but he keeps a particular tension that captures the reader, keeps the reader on alert.

Philadelphia Woman

She grew up off South 22nd
Her tongue's got ties in Memphis
She is daughter of the Iron Brigade
She breaks bread with the packrats

There's a shoebox in her closet
Full of Pennsylvania minerals
Years back her father was a collector

The radio's locked on 1060
She keeps up with the weather
Switches to Coltrane after dinner

When the heavy rains fall
She wraps her wrists in grapevine
Her landscapes hang like criminals
They know December's darker roads

She writes longhand letters
Sends them to the man in Fresno
He never calls or writes back
And that's the way she likes it

There are memories she holds
Like grenades with the pins pulled
The worst nights crack like battlefields

When the phone rings
I already know it's her
Only she would call so late
To ask about my broken wings


Today's book of poetry was instantly comfortable in Meagher's poetry world.  These poems are immediately accessible and that is something we like a lot.  Meagher is generous and playful, even when his poetry is serious as a heart attack.  We like that too.

Our morning read was as perfect as today's weather here in Ottawa.  We opened all the windows in the Today's book of poetry offices and passed Navy Blue around like a new talisman we were learning to believe in.

Reading Navy Blue is mining a very rich vein, rich enough that we were able to find another splendid list poem.  Regular readers of Today's book of poetry will remember how fond we are of list poems. This one is exemplary, this one came directly from beneath the poets fingernails, the real dirt.

Peter's Dream

The way things used to be
When I wanted a bedtime story
Grandpa would read me the Bible
The Old Testament gave me nightmares

I dreamed I was an Egyptian
With the lizards falling on my head
I dreamed I was a sinner
And the punishment on its way
I dreamed I was Isaac on the mountain
And Abraham had the knife
I dreamed so much
I even dreamed I was the apple

But I don't get stories anymore
Nowadays Grandpa just says goodnight
Then he shuts the door
And I'm alone all of a sudden
So now when I dream it comes like a hurricane
And I don't know how to stop it

I dreamed all the riverfish turned up dead
I dreamed the eastwind broke my pole in two
I dreamed the world was on fire
And our house was burning
And Grandpa was inside taking a nap
And the smoke was in his clothes
I dreamed I stepped in broken glass
And the coyotes could smell my blood
I dreamed I was a soldier
And the Nazis were after me
And I was hiding in a pile of bodies
And I was too scared to breathe
And I could taste the skin
I dreamed I was a madman
I dreamed I was a scientist
I dreamed I was a leper
And I was living in the canyons
I dreamed I was a cannibal
And I bit off Banjo's ear
And spit it in the lake
And it floated like a lilypad
And the catfish fed till morning
I dreamed I kissed the Bag Lady
And my tongue went black and swollen
I dreamed I was being born
With a rattlesnake round my throat
I dreamed a knife in my back
I dreamed a pistol in my pocket
And a thousand of blind children
I dreamed the North Star spoke my name
I dreamed I was in the medicine show
And my mouth shot dust in Cowboy's face
I dreamed it was next Sunday
And I was in church
And the preacher was a cyclops
And he had horns the size of fence posts
I dreamed I was real sick
And my hair was falling out
And the nurse kept feeding me Jell-O
I dreamed Sweet Baby got run over by a truck
So he had no legs
And he wouldn't stop laughing
I dreamed I was dirt poor
And my only friends were gypsies
I dreamed I climbed the tallest birch
And I couldn't get back down
I dreamed I ate a spider for supper
And it laid eggs inside my stomach
I dreamed a horse kicked me in the belly
And it hurt so bad I crapped blood
I dreamed I was Tarzan
I dreamed I was King Arthur
I dreamed I was combing the hairs on Grandpa's chest
I dreamed the killer was licking my fingers
I dreamed I was catching water in a bucket
And it felt like early spring
And the lightning bolts were lasers
And the raindrops hit the metal like a hummingbird
I dreamed I had the shotgun
And the pigs were in the shed waiting
I dreamed I saw David naked
And he got real mad
And said we wasn't brothers no more
I dreamed I was dead at high noon
I dreamed the hangman was my father
But my mother was an angel
So I met her minutes later


Books like Steve Meagher's Navy Blue are exactly why Today's book of poetry is in business.  Poetry like this needs to be shared.  Poetry this vibrant can make your body hum, it hits a register that your senses can't ignore.  We are silly human beans who spend so much time looking for truth we don't always recognize it.  Here's a chance.

Steve Meagher, well, I'll remember that name.  Read Navy Blue and you will remember it too.

Steve Meagher
Steve Meagher

Steve Meagher grew up in Oakville, Ontario. His poems have appeared in Carousel, The Nashwaak Review and Ottawa Arts Review. Navy Blue is his first book. He lives in Toronto.

Navy Blue is an exhilarating, guerrilla romp through tabloid news talk and Internet inanity to set up the seditious poetry Marshall McLuhan would’ve written if he could’ve. These poems are a cross of Bob Dylan casual strangeness and Jimi Hendrix bluesy surrealism. (Think “Visions of Johanna” mixed with “My Friend”.) Each line could spin off into its own bizarre screenplay: “The doctor kept cutting / Now the blood was everywhere … / I listened to the crickets / Their prayers sounded like my bicycle.” Nicely, Meagher gives shout-outs to Ray Souster and Irv Layton, claiming their street-wise vernacular and sardonic, ironic insights. But I see a touch of Dick Brautigan here too, in the accomplished insouciance, the freedom to just “say” and have the meaning be in that liberty. Ladies, gents, here’s the new vibe. Ready to be experienced?
     - George Elliott Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate

Steve Meagher's Navy Blue is full of ghost voices, fever dreams, cowboy saints and hard scrabble benediction.
     - Singer-songwriter Jason Collett

Navy Blue
Steve Meagher
Video: Guernica Editions



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"
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Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Ken Stange 1946 - 2016 Chicago Days and the poetry of Ken Stange

Today's book of poetry:
Chicago Days - Growing Up Absurd on the South Side, and the poetry of Ken Stange.
Chicago Days - Growing Up Absurd on the South Side.  Ken Stange.  Two Cultures Press.  North Bay, Ontario.  2016.

Several weeks ago Today's book of poetry received the late Ken Stange's autobiography Chicago Days - Growing Up Absurd on the South Side in the mail from Ken's widow Ursula.  Published posthumously Chicago Days tells us everything we need to know about the early years of Stange's life.

Today's book of poetry is proud to give Chicago Days some space and attention on our blog simply because Ken was our friend but it is poetry we are interested in and the very productive Ken Stange left us nineteen volumes of published work during his all too short visit to our planet.

Today's book of poetry first met Ken Stange when I was installing a project titled Wired in the White Water Gallery for the late artist Chris MacGhee.  Ken, if I remember correctly, was on the board of directors for White Water and was there to help smooth the waters.  After the installation he showed us where the beer was at.  Then the books started to arrive wherever it was I was living.  I had Milo, our head tech, check out the stacks and he came back with nine books of Stange's poetry.

They will have to do as a tasting menu.

Here are my nine:

Poems (Fiddlehead Poetry books, 1976)
Nocturnal Rhythms (Penumbra Press, 1979)
Bushed (York Publishing, 1979)
Cold Pigging Poetics (York Publishing, 1981)
Bourgeois Pleasures (Quarry Press, 1984)
Advice to Travellers (Penumbra Press, 1994)
A Smoother Pebble, A Prettier Shell (1996)
Colonization of a Cold Planet (Two Cultures Press, 1980/2008)
The Sad Science of Love (Two Cultures Press, 2010)

When going through this beautiful pile I found a letter from October, 1980 that Ken had sent me stuffed between the pages of Nocturnal Rhythms and it contained an unpublished poem.  I'd like to share it with the Today's book of poetry audience.

Looking At A Photo Of A Lady I Once Knew (Camera Work 2)
for Michael
Your body's landscape is brightly lit by fluorescent
floods.  Your regional forests are partly cleared, freshly
groomed.  Your irregular contours-recently airbrushed
smooth.  And your silicone topography reshaped
by old men's lust.
When I look at you
my mind's eye


Ken Stange was an important friend for me and a great supporter.  Over the years I invited Ken to read at every poetry series I had a hand in.  Audiences loved him.  Ken commanded a room with such a gently assured manner so full of confidence that you knew right away that he was "one of the good guys" as our Southern correspondent the Twangster might say.

K is For Koans
1. Where is the smoke in your cigarette before it is lit?
    (Man could just as easily not have evolved.)
2.  Where does your wife go after she leaves you?
     (Only false disagreements are ever resolved.)
3.  Where is the life in a fire that's been doused?
     (A scar is one kind of memory.)
Or alternatively:
1.  Where is the poem before it is written?
     (The unicorn was a definite possibility.)
2.  Where is the poet once the poem is written?
     (At the harvest feast you don't thank the hoe.)
3.  Where does the poem go after being erased?
     (True education is forgetting what you know.)
(from Cold Pigging Poetics)

Ken Stange often floated in the world between poetry and science, for his autobiography, Chicago Days he offered this up:

     "I believe that literature, like science, is a way of
      exploring different perspectives; and I believe that the
      results of these literary explorations, like the results of
      science, are always inherently tentative.  It is for this
      reason that I choose to call my major works hypotheses.
      Chicago Days: Growing Up Absurd on the South Side,
      completed 10 November 2015, is Hypothesis 20."

Today's book of poetry was always quite willing to trundle off and down whatever road Ken Stange wanted to venture because it was always a learning process I enjoyed.  The surreal connections Ken made between poetry/art and science were always invigorating but we were always most moved by his very human heart.

My Uncle Speaks of Middle Age
I waited like a drunk philosopher
for the clarity of the morning-
I traveled such a very long way
before meeting my personal limits
I prepared like a vestal virgin
for the great sacrifice of my hopes
to time...
               so thus

it is
this quiet disillusionment comes a surprise:
I'd expected so very much more
...a bad place to live, It is good to be close enough to see over the edge
into the abyss, but it is not wise to try to spend one's whole life dancing
along the precarious line.
Oh, I've been as close to insanity as you, but I've backed off now. After
Diane's abortion I learned to maintain a balance between order and
disorder. (What I needed to learn was order; disorder came naturally.)
Every time in my life when order and rationality and the bourgeois vir-
tures begin to predominate, I naturally inject some disruptive element. It
may be a woman. It may be an illness. It may be a dangerous game.
Because, like you, I've always subconsciously feared contentment, I have
repeatedly disrupted my own happiness.
I guess this is a way of attempting to regain youth, for what're the salient
characteristics of youth? Turmoil and disorder. One's senses are sharpen-
ed, one's reflexes quickened, by stress and anxiety. The struggle to im-
pose order in a tumultuous world sharpens one's wits; too great a success
in this struggle dulls them.
Some men take up dangerous sports, such as white-water canoeing or
sky-diving, for the above reason. Some men have love...
(from Bourgeois Pleasures)

Today's book of poetry has always enjoyed Ken Stange's books and are dismayed by those we have yet to find.  Here is a list of Ken's other titles:

Embracing The Moon: Twenty-Five Little Worlds (Two Cultures Press)
Explaining Canada: A Primer For Yanks (Two Cultures Press)
God When He's Drunk (Two Cultures Press)
Going Home: Cycling Through The Heart of America (Two Cultures Press)
Love Is A Grave (Nebula Press)
More Than Ample (Two Cultures Press)
Secret Agents Past: The Parting Of The Waters (Two Cultures Press)
Secret Agents Future: Going Where There Be Dragons (Two Cultures Press)
Secret Agents Present: Through A Glass Darkly
These Proses A Problem Or Two (Two Cultures Press)

Ken Stange was an American who chose to be Canadian, a teacher, a poet, a husband, a father and he was my friend.  Not that many of us get to leave such a fine and compelling history of our time on this hurtling orb.

Good-bye Sir Ken of Stange, See you anon.

Image result for ken stange photo
Ken Stange

Ken Stange is the author of twenty books of poetry and fiction, hundreds of publications in literary and scientific journals, and the winner of the 2011 Exile/Vanderbilt prize for short fiction.  He is also a visual artist and Professor Emeritus at Nipissing University. His special interest is the relationship of art and science and creativity.  He has learned to appreciate absurdity.



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.