Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Man Under My Skin - Juliana Gray (River City Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
The Man Under My Skin.  Juliana Gray.  River City Poetry Series, Volume Five.  River City Publishing.  Montgomery, Alabama.  2005.

Today's book of poetry has never met Juliana Gray and knows next to nothing about her but we would bet serious money that Juliana Gray adores Carson McCullers almost as much as we do.  It could be entirely fanciful thinking on our dimwitted behalf but The Man Under My Skin could easily be a book the grown up Mick Kelly might have written after she walked out of McCullers' The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter.

These poems are the keenest sort of observational poems you can get, they look right through to cold hard truth. Juliana Gray navigates a romance in the Mississippian wilderness, sad poverty, the internal dialogue of a child-killer, and so on, always with an air of knowing grace/gravitas.


Hard to think of it as organ, mass
of tissue like the liver, lungs or heart,
a bodily machine performing tasks
designed to keep the world and flesh apart.
Its beauty is an accident, its gloss
and dimpled softness, pallor and heated rose--
this silken radiance comes at the loss
of spikes or armored scales. We're all exposed.
Yet like those other human engines, the skin
betrays itself with ailments, tailor-made
diseases, blights that turn the porcelain
complexion to a withered masquerade.
And like the heart, it suffers from too much
of what it lives on, dying to be touched.


Today's book of poetry felt at home with the poems in The Man Under My Skin, these are poems with characters that are familiars, some of them have their eye on the ball, some are doomed to worse fates.  Gray has a darkish sense of humour.  Today's book of poetry is convinced all good writers from the American South have a big old Gothic Devil/Angel dyad firmly on their shoulder.

Gray can be playful but she's the cat and you're the mouse.  These poems are intense and fully formed but they are never predictable.

To a Five-Cent Package of Writing Paper

All the children in my father's class
drew names, and all the kids but one -- the boy
who had drawn my father -- brought their gifts to the tree.
The teacher, realizing they were short,
rifled her desk for something a boy might like.
All she found was you. He fingered the band
that held you, the Christmas gift, together. Then
my third-grade father saw that he was poor.

My sister, and I were overcome with gifts
we could not name and which he loved to explain --
puzzles, boomerangs, a bamboo flute.
He told me his Christmas story one of those nights
when he felt he could trust me, a glass of scotch in his hand.
His gift to me: an inherited sense of shame,
history, the futility of wealth.


It was Grand Central Station in our offices this morning and it is continuing into the afternoon.  As a result our morning read was a somewhat condensed affair but that didn't stop Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, from knocking several of Juliana Gray's fine poems out of the proverbial park.

The Man Under My Skin reads like the kind of confession a slight fever can elicit, passionate and warm to the touch.

Wanton Soup

Don't think of it as misprint, a menu slip
of a Chinese tongue. In fact, don't think at all.
The silken waitress watches, reads our lips
sounding out desire in whispered drawls.
She calls to the kitchen for number sixty-nine
and chooses serving bowls of scarlet lacquer,
enamel chopsticks, spoons, two cups of wine,
a dish of chiles bright as firecrackers.
The wait's an agony of subtle touch,
a glance, a brush, the work of seeming chaste.
We bite our lips, holding back so much
desire, aching, dying for a taste.
At last we drink our bowls of piping broth,
unzip and grope beneath the tablecloth.


The Man Under My Skin was published in 2005.  More recently Juliana Gray has published a second book of poetry, Roleplay (Dream Horse Press, 2012), which won the 2010 Orphic Prize.

Today's book of poetry will continue to blog about "older" titles as well as the most recent releases as long as publishers will send them to us.  We are still convinced that until you read a book the first time it is going to be new to you.

 Juliana at West Chester_crop
Julian Gray
Photograph by poet Catherine Staples

A native of Alabama, Juliana Gray teaches at Auburn University. During the summers, she works on the staff of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She is the author of the chapbook History in Bones, published in 2001 by Kent State University Press as part of its Wick Poetry Series. Her poems have been published in a variety of literary journals and anthologies, including Yalobusha Review, Sundog, Poetry East, The Formalist, The Louisville Review, Stories From the Blue Moon CafĂ© Volume III, and The Alumni Grill 2. Samples of her creative non-fiction can be found in River Teeth, and Cornbread Nation 2.

"The poems in The Man Under My Skin are fully imagined and keenly observant, funny and passionate, unpredictable and, in their formal poise, just right. Juliana Gray writes about fundamental issues of loving and being loved, of happiness or acceptance in the midst of loss, of community in the midst of isolation, or isolation in the midst of community. Her imagination is restless, big-hearted, mature, intense. Her wit is dry but never arid. A beautiful book in its own right, The Man Under My Skin marks the opening of a significant career."
     - Alan Shapiro

"The sights, smells, tastes, and touches of the South, my South, are everywhere present in Juliana Gray's poems. But most poignant are the measured rhythms, tonal modulations, and considered words -- all familiar sounds that echo here. Reading Gray brings to mind a summer evening on a front porch, the steady creaking of a comfortable rocker, the clink of ice cubes in a glass, and a voice -- warm, witty, wicked, and wise -- speaking from neighborly dark."
     - R.S. Gwynn

Juliana Gray
Roleplay Poetry Reading
Video: Alfred University Bergren Forum



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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Nineteen Fifty-Seven - Jim McLean (Coteau Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Nineteen Fifty-Seven.  Jim McLean.  Coteau Books.  Regina, Saskatchewan. 2016.

Jim McLean isn't about to concede an inch to fashion.  Nineteen Fifty-Seven reads like someone stepped on a very articulate cat's tail.  This is tough-guy caterwauling of the highest order. McLean isn't in a bad mood in every poem but there is a Joe Btfsplk at the corner of every page and a devil on his shoulder.

These poems are train yard secrets, hobo's taunts and Moose Jaw lullabies.  McLean has some serious narrative gifts and these poems let him show it.  McLean's Nineteen Fifty-Seven is packed to the rafters with salty wisdom.

Heartbreak Hotel

R. Smith & Sons contracted for the railway,
feeding the gangs of men who came each spring

from the unemployment lines and the jails
and the reserves and the soup kitchens and River Street

to lay steel in the raw early mornings with their pitiable
shabby suit coats and soft, mushy shoes,

a few with caps.
The foremen were tough and seasoned and had to be,

it was still, back then, a long journey
from Moose Jaw to Chaplin, Old Jim,

the cook, was ex-army, 77 years old, his muscle
turned soft, turned to fat, he used to say with regret.

Up at five every morning, first thing he taught me
was not to lean my elbows on the wash stand

when I scrubbed my face in the early dawn.
It was a military thing, I guess, and he would grunt

with satisfaction to see me bend at the waist,
elbows up, over the enameled basin.

It was easy for me to give him that.
He was a pretty good old guy, Polish,

he said he was. He watched, let you show him
what you were made of.

Bill was just about as old as the cook,
skinny as a rail, with a wife at home.

No business being there,
except he needed the money, I guess.

We'd peel potatoes together every morning
for the noon meal and again in the afternoon

to get ready for supper, and talk a bit.
We'd eat our meal after the men

had gone back to the track
or to their bunks at the end of the working day

and Bill would always eat too much,
as if he was trying to store it up,

yet he never put on any weight, he'd just
get sick and then be sorry.

Bill treated me all right
and I liked him but I never wanted

to get that old and be that poor. It was 1956
and I was a kid and on my own out there.

The cook liked the way I could carry whole sides
of beef, his own strength gone,

and he gave me lots of other things to do
but my main job was to wash dishes

I washed those dishes from the meals of those hundred
or more men three times a day

with water hauled from the tender and heated
boiling hot on the stove and I sang

alone, away from everybody, at the top of my lungs
with my hands in the soapy water up to my elbows

every song I knew, Hank Snow and Williams
The Platters and Webb Pierce and I can't remember them all

and, of course, Heartbreak Hotel, by that new guy,
that I played every day on the juke-box

in the Chaplin Cafe beside the tracks when I bought a Coke
and sat on a stool like teen-agers you would see

on television and learned all the words for singing later
away from everybody


Any poet who hearkens the spirits of William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren and Charles Bukowski is going to get a piece of my time.  Throw in an entirely sweet 80th birthday ode to the King, Elvis Aaron Presley and Today's book of poetry is a your new fan.

Jim McLean travels back and forth in time with these poems, we see him as a young man and earning the regrets he'll carry later and then full circle we hear the mature older man's wisdom.  McLean's hero carries some heavy water in these poems but there are no "woe is me" moments.  McLean is old school all the way.

My Brother, Who I Looked Out for
When We Were Kids

it was the tenth or the fiftieth
or the hundredth time
we brought him to the house
and called his sponsor who didn't even want
to bother with him any more he said
he just want to kill himself, there's nothing
you can do

and it was true, he looked like death, his skin
translucent, waxy     I said
you've got to get straight, get a job
and he laid there on the couch and said
I can't work out in the cold
I need an office job, an executive job
and that was bad, because I knew then
how hopeless things were

and he promised, for the hundredth time
to stop drinking and to go to the meetings
and we piled groceries into bags
and I drove him to the place where he lived
Wong said he owed last month's rent
and I paid that and the next month in advance
and I made him give me a receipt

he sold the groceries
because somebody saw him an hour later on the street
with his woman and said
by the way they were falling down
they must have got hold of something
it was a thing to crush you
we couldn't do anything and we couldn't stop trying

finally, my father came down from the Coast
he ended up drinking with him, told us
we didn't do anything to help him
when he said that he was lucky he was my father
he bought two tickets, took him back
to Vancouver on the train
afterward he wrote a letter, saying things
hadn't worked out saying he'd been
wrong, saying he'd left and he didn't
know where he was

a long time later he wrote again telling us
about how he'd come across
a newspaper item, just a few lines
buried in a back page that said he died
alone in some flophouse and that the city
had buried him as having
no known next of kin

I wrote my father a letter, he needed something
was looking for something
from me and told him we all had tried
I said he had taken that wrong turn
and but for the grace of God
it could have been me
it was nobody's fault


Today's book of poetry had a good time rooting through Nineteen Fifty-Seven because Mclean doesn't really ever take his foot off of the gas.  These poems pound through the gears and when you come out the other side you know you've been taken for ride.  This is a robust read filled with characters you've already met, people you already know.  McLean's tales are writ large and aren't afraid to stomp their feet as they march across the page.

McLean's Nineteen Fifty-Seven both convinces and reminds Today's book of poetry of just how beautifully horrible we humans can be to each other and how redemption is only a poem away.

My Father's Hat

I bought a hat, a fedora
and bent down the brim

on the front right side and trained it
with a binder clip

The first time my sister saw it she said
My God, you look just like Dad

and I looked in the mirror
and she was right

and I thought about all those
little pieces of paper he used to fill

with strange cryptic columns
of numbers and I thought about

how one day he threw everything away
his job, years of service

sold the house, moved us far away
from our school and our friends

like we were being punished for something
like he was punishing himself

It was hard at first
but we were young and resilient

and bounced back, some of us
and I learned not to blame him

or myself or the world and searched
until I found all the little pieces

and put them back together and never
threw away anything important

and I remembered, years later
stopping to visit him in Vancouver

sitting mostly silent until a decent interval
had passed, getting up, saying

I wanted to walk along English Bay
while I was here and he, surprising me

offered I'll go with you
and as we watched the tide he said

You've done all right for yourself
which is about as close as he ever came.


Jim McLean must be one tough old son of a B, there is some hard railroading in these poems, the toughest kind of love.  It's clear McLean kissed the wrong gal once or twice and feels some sort of way about it.  This is hearty, vibrant and compelling narrative poetry with a brylcreemed ducktail full of memory on the side.

Image result for jim mclean poet photo
Jim McLean

Jim McLean had a long career with Canadian Pacific Railway and with Transport Canada, living and working in various Canadian locations. He is an original member of the Moose Jaw Movement poetry group, and his work has appeared in magazines and anthologies and on CBC Radio. He is the author of The Secret Life of Railroaders and co-author of Wildflowers Across the Prairies. His illustrations have appeared on book covers and in several literary and scientific publications.

Jim McLean
reading Elvis Agonistes
from Nineteen Fifty-Seven
video: Coteau 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.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Even Now - Hugo Claus (Archipelago Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Even Now.  Hugo Claus.  Selected and Translated from the Dutch by David Colmer.  Archipelago Books.  Brooklyn, New York.  2004/2013.

Today's book of poetry often listens to a random selection of jazz recordings from our own collection when we are in the office and as I sat down to type this Toots Thielemans was playing "Bluesette". Now that I'm a little familiar with Hugo Claus it strikes me as marvelous serendipity.

Today's book of poetry is embarrassed to tell you that until Archipelago Books sent us Even Now by Hugo Claus we had never heard of him.  Hugo Maurice Julien Claus (1929-2008) was Belgian, wrote prose and poetry, he was a celebrated painter, directed films, was a celebrated playwright and a translator.  

I'm quoting from the cover when I tell you that Claus won every Dutch literary award on offer and that in 2002 Hugo Claus won the prestigious Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding for his body of work.

You are reading about Hugo Claus here because Today's book of poetry fell hard for Mr. Claus while reading Even Now.  These startling poems begin with a stunner from his 1948 book Registration, and it just doesn't feel dated.  Claus was so far ahead of the curve that his early poems still feel fresh, vibrant and contemporary.


We've known it now for centuries,
that the moon is dangling by a thread
attached to heaven, hell or nothing at all.
That the thick blue paint of night
is drooping down into the streets
to wrap around you like a deep blue robe
this evening when you head for home,
dawdling ne'er-do-wells, theatre and recital-goers,
nighthawks, people who are alive,
and that the night will soon be washed away
like cheap blue ink from years ago
and afterwards the pale, pink skin
of heaven, hell or nothing at all
will shine through and no longer pale,
especially not the pink nothing like a girl's
soft and salty sex,
and afterwards heaven and hell and nothing at all
will dry out, go mouldy and decay,
just as old loves and bad habits,
doses of the clap, faithful pieces of furniture
and bunkers from pre-1914 must die,
with no one's help, in a corner, on a sandstone slab,
like cunning old crabs must die.


It is hard to believe how modern the poetry of Hugo Claus feels as it rattles around inside of your head.  David Colmer's translations feel seamless, as though he were simply channeling, and the resulting poems timeless.

Just look at this little masterpiece from 1963's An Eye for an Eye and try not to think of Charles Bukowski.

I      Him

My soul says, Run,
even if it costs you money and love
So says my soul
But I don't move an inch, I can't
Because my soul, the snake, is still mad about that little
black-haired bitch!


Claus can be as frank, hardcore and beautiful as Buk, but his range is unlimited.  Claus tackled Shakespeare and wrestled him to the ground, dukes it out with the Sanskrit poem "Chaurapanchasika" and comes out on top with a series of short sharp poems that are as intoxicating as liquor.

This morning's read was a real barn-burner.  We wanted to call in our "all things Dutch" expert Brian "Pistol" Peet to give these poems a whirl but he couldn't get our of his snowed-in lane way.  Nature and the city plow have built an ice dyke just for him.  We settled for the regular staff read and hit it out of the park anyway.  The poems of Hugo Claus as translated by David Colmer roll of the tongue like they were buttered.

Hugo Claus was a busy guy and we here at Today's book of poetry have a new poetry hero to add to our pantheon of Gods.  Make no mistake about Claus, he caught us hook, line and sinker.  Hugo Claus can burn with the best of them.


My poems stand around yawning.
I'll never get used to it. They've lived here
long enough.
Enough, I'm kicking them out, I don't want to wait
until their toes get cold.
I want to hear the throb of the sun
or my heart, that treacherous hardening sponge,
unhindered by their clamour and confusion.

My poems aren't a classic fuck,
they're vulgar babble or all too noble bluster.
In winter their lips crack,
in spring they go flat on their back of the first hot day,
they ruin my summer
and in autumn they smell of women.

Enough. For twelve more lines on this page,
I'll keep them under my wing
then give them a kick up the arse.
Go somewhere else to beat your drum and rhyme on the cheap,
somewhere else to tremble in fear of twelve readers
and a critic who's asleep.

Go now, poems, on your light feet
you haven't stamped hard on the old earth,
where the graves grin at the sight of their guests,
one body piled on the other.
Go now and stagger off to her
who I don't know.


Today's book of poetry is slack-jawed with awe.  Even Now is a towering book of poetry and a remarkable achievement.  Poems this ready to read don't come along often enough.

Our new job will be to search for whatever other Hugo Claus titles we can find and that is the biggest compliment we know how to give.

Image result for hugo claus photo
Hugo Claus

The prose, poetry, and paintings of Hugo Claus (1929-2008) were as influential as they were groundbreaking. His novels include The Sorrow of Belgium, his magnum opus of postwar Europe, as well as Wonder, Desire, The Swordfish, Mild Destruction, Rumors, and The Duck Hunt. His corpus of poetry is immense and stunningly diverse. In addition to receiving every major Dutch-language literary prize, Claus received the 2002 Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding for his body of work.

"Astonishing. There is a richness of feeling, exactness of imagery, tender skepticism of the body and its wants - I found myself thinking of Donne, Sterne, Cendrars, Bukowski and Celine all at once. Colmer's translation is uncanny, feels as if every word is the one the poet intended. Yes, here it is! Hugo Claus a permanent part of poetic landscape, opened at last."
      - Robert Kelly

"Nobody could write so rampantly about the wild veracity of sensual love for women and life than Hugo Claus. To read him is to be shot into verbal ecstasy. Fortunately these translations do justice to much of this."
     - Antjie Krog

"Claus's work has been called a cosmos in its own right... Yet this Promethean artist with his Burgundian exuberance and prolixity... is, like W.B. Yeats, capable of stunning simplicity."
      - The Independent

"Claus rages against the decay of the physical self while desire remains untamed. From the beginning, his poetry has been marked by an uncommon mix of intelligence and passion. He has such light-fingered control that art becomes invisible."
     - J.M. Coetzee

Image result for david colmer photo
David Colmer

David Colmer is an Australian writer and translator who lives in Amsterdam. He is the author of a novel and a collection of short stories, both published in Dutch translation in the Netherlands, and the translator of more than twenty books: novels, children's literature, and poetry. He is a four-time winner of the David Reid Poetry Translation Prize and won the 2009 Biennial NSW Premier and PEN Translation Prize for his body of work. In 2010 his translation of Gerbrand Bakker’s Boven is het stil (The Twin) won the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.



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, January 12, 2017

The Persistence of Longing - Lynne Knight (Terrapin Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Persistence of Longing.  Lynne Knight.  Terrapin Books.  West Caldwell, New Jersey.  2016.


"What if memory and longing were one,"
                                                                                           - Lynne Knight

Lynne Knight is poet brave in some rather spectacular ways in The Persistence of Longing.  Today's book of poetry doesn't like using the word brave to describe poems but Knight is a Jedi-laser-ray-gun poet who cuts through to the emotional truth with eviscerating effect.

It's so easy to read these robust narrative gems that you might overlook the fact that these poems are rock solid.  Knight is building solid ships and then she sends them out onto dangerous seas.

The Snow Couple

I used to wait at the window for lake-effect snow.
First wind, then a thin smattering of flakes

swirling suddenly white while the village
disappeared and my house with it,

the husband drunk and asleep on the couch
or not yet home, missing as he was in dreams

where I killed him without knowing who it was,
waking to panic that I'd done a thing so horrible,

some night wondering if I really had killed,
the dream so real, as the vanishing house

seemed real while I stared into the silent rush
of snow, never thinking I'd be gone, too, then,

until the night the car smashed the maple tree
at the edge of the lawn, metal crumpling, a horn

unstoppable, then through the snow human cries
so pitiful I grabbed my coat and ran

to my husband, banged up a little, bloodied,
but all right, so I led him inside, I made coffee,

I tended his wounds, wondering If I would
ever awake, if I would ever stop feeling this

snow pour from my hands, my mouth,
covering him, the table, the rising floor.


Today's book of poetry was reading Knight's poem "Vessel" which ends with this great line, 

"the boat drifting, the birds continuing their indifferent song."

and I couldn't help but think of Auden and his beautiful "Musee des beaux Arts" and how it conveys such wonder, dread, despair and the on-going dilemma that despite our individual dramas and heartbreaks we remain mere specks of things.

The Persistence of Longing is a catalogue of love and the transgressions that ensue in its name. Knight offers both a tender embrace and a healthy dose of fiery scorn.  Knight isn't playing around, she's ready for love or she's ready to kick the crap out of love, whatever needs must.


Wild turkeys swarm the neighbor's bank,
pecking at all the new ivy shoots, Bark!
I tell the dog, who stands statue-mute
staring through the fence. Bark! Even my voice
fails to alarm them. Stupid birds, sauntering
down the road like people, waiting until a car
is almost upon them before straying from danger.
They've probably eaten all the impatiens
by the front gate and mangled the azaleas.
Anything bright, they're on it. The neighbor
left his rhododendrons to die because they take
so much water, and we're in a serious drought,
but one rhodie managed a sole blossom.
I dare one of the turkeys to fly up to it.
They peck and saunter, saunter and peck.
The dog loses interest. I check the time.
Eight minutes, and I haven't thought of you.


Today's book of poetry has nothing but admiration for these poems because we can see that Knight is fully committed.  If love requires flames then Knight is all about adding gasoline to the blaze.  She'll fight for love or burn down the house around it to bury it if necessary.  These are survivor poems, hand-and-heart-held-to-the-flame-of-love survivor poems.

Knight's poems are both elegant and sad but she is always right on the beat.  You can feel the heart of these poems as they navigate the dark streets of love.

The Unintended Lecture on Desire

Hard labor was good for you, he said,
and by now sweat splotched his shirt,
his face had runnels of sweat, like the four
of us, two couples ripped rotted shingles
from the house, mid-July, humid, windless,

already my arms ached and the sweat stung
my eyes, but it would be good for me, I knew,
not just in the way he said but because I wanted
to rid my body of desire for him, forbidden
desire, since he was my best friend's husband,

so I slid my hammer to get purchase and pulled
until a shingle loosened, again, again, he said
maybe we should stop for a beer but I wanted
to keep going, I wiped my eyes with the bandana
my own husband handed me, and my best friend

said she didn't want a beer, she wanted a long
hot soak, so I saw the two of them making love
in the hot tub, and I wished we were shingling
the house instead of unshingling it, so I could
hammer, hammer, hammer desire away,

and then he said he'd been reading a book
about perspective, it got a little too technical
in parts but was worth the slog because of
the reminder that no one could see what someone
else saw, think about it, ever this, he said,

even the four of us out here in this bloody heat
ripping shingles I should've ripped five years ago,
not one of us can see what the others see.
I'm here, you're there, he said, and that's all
there is to it: we're alone, we're in this alone.


Our morning read has become my favourite part of the day.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, led the charge this morning.  Lynne Knight's The Persistence of Longing filled up our office, her emotionally charged yet available voice rang out with piercing poignancy, love-jagged dreams and tales of resiliency, even hope.

Lynne Knight has visited the pages of Today's book of poetry before.  Back in September of 2015 we posted a blog about Ito Naga's I Know (Je Sais) that was translated by Knight.  You can check that out here:

Lynne Knight
Lynne Knight

Lynne Knight, a former fellow in poetry at Syracuse University, taught high school English in Upstate New York, then moved to California where she taught part-time at San Francisco Bay Area community colleges and began writing poetry again. She now devotes herself full-time to writing. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections, three of them prize winners, and four chapbooks, three of them also prize winners. Her work has appeared in a number of journals, including Kenyon Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review. Her other awards and honors include publication in Best American Poetry, the Prix de l’Alliance Française 2006, a PSA Lucille Medwick Memorial Award, the 2009 Rattle Poetry Prize, and an NEA grant. Please visit her website.

​I love these poems, love how they sweep me along, sweep me up into the arms of the kind of longing that seems unsayable, untranslatable, impossible to describe in any language, with any words—the words turning back into breath, as this poet says, as she creates the sense of that longing, itself, in words, in these sometimes-breathless lines, sometimes against the restraint of form, the sweet ache of rhyme, creating that sense of urgency that’s so like desire, itself, and the sense of danger that infuses even the deepest pleasure, especially the deepest pleasure. I’ve never read poems that seem to me more accurate about love and desire and sexual relationships and their almost-inevitable shattering—darkly gorgeous and expertly-crafted poems, with a white-hot lyric intensity and a narrative pull that becomes cumulative, an erotic veering toward doom. And yet, the persistence of longing is the life force, too, refusing to exhaust itself: How could anything in the universe be undying / when everything rushed forward, trailing light?
     - Cecilia Woloch, author of Carpathia



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

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips - Raymond Luczak (Squares & Rebels)

Today's book of poetry:
The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips. 
Raymond Luczak.  Squares & Rebels.  Minneapolis, Minnesota.  2016.

Today's book of poetry would like to welcome you all back.  Our entire staff has been away on various holidays and adventures but we are all back in our various saddles and excited to see what 2017 is going to bring.

2017 at Today's book of poetry is starting off with a firecracker of a collection that lives up to the promise of the glorious title.  The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips is written in the rarely used nonet form, nine lines and Bob is your uncle.  Luczak has forgone traditional rhyming schemes and instead gives us 82 love songs full of wonder all aimed in the direction of Walt Whitman, American poet/saint and author of Leaves of Grass.

Rayond Luczak is among a chorus of trailblazing LGBTQ and QDA poets who are changing our ways of seeing them and the world.  A lot has changed since old Walt laid down the law.  The timbre of these poems comes in fire engine red and firing on all cylinders.

The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips

Just like how some men like to compare their dicks,
he and I compare our beards. Though eight years older,
his beard is darker, thicker, dense. Amidst his prattle
about his favorite painters (Vermeer and Leonardo),
Corinthian columns, and Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth,
he peers closely at my beard: once a fiery red,
now a cropped ginger mellowing into ashy white.
I await the flame of question in his eyes.
My answer is ready: yes, you can fondle my beard.


The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips is part loving elegy, part eulogy, part love letter, part confessional, part sexual fantasy and more, but all of it tender, all of it like a warm and wanted embrace.

Raymond Luczak is an open door, these poems can't wait to welcome you into his conversation.

The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips

Leaves of Grass had initially sprouted out of the mish-
mash of pithy lines scribbled in financial ledgers.
You'd cut and pasted clippings from here and there.
You didn't know what to do with them at first;
only when you returned from a trip to New Orleans,
where you met a man whose name is lost to all but you,
did you at last see: O passion! O sweet love! O America!
The wanton filth you self-published was a pink grenade
detonating in an atomic cloud straight from the future.


This morning's read, the first of the new year, was a relaxed affair.  Milo, our head tech, has become a loquacious and dedicated reader so he led the charge.  One of Today's book of poetry's nieces has taken up residency in the Stuart Ross Poetry and Guest Room so she joined in for the mandatory reading.  If you stay under this roof you are forced to read poetry out loud, it is a law. 

You'd never guess to think it but The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips goes extremely well with Pharoah Sanders Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah (Jewels of Thought, 1969).  At least it did this morning.

The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips

Please rescue me from the sterility of America.
Everything's been shrink-wrapped and digitized.
I can't touch or feel anything real. Damnpissshitfuck.
It's all up here, not down here or there.
It's all commercials and franchises.
Even death has its own antiseptic soap dispenser.
Advertisers use sex as their biological weapon.
Demographics are a communal sport of saturation.
Christ! Just scrape the ISBN bar code off of my DNA.


Today's book of poetry wants to be gender aware and gender sensitive and writers live Raymond Luczak certainly help to broaden our participation in that particular conversation.  But for the purposes of Today's book of poetry this conversation would not be taking place if we didn't like the poems, period.

The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips is a hearty, lusty and loving romp.  Luczak steps across time for love and what could be more romantic than that.

Image result for photo raymond luczak

RAYMOND LUCZAK (pronounced with a silent "c") is perhaps best known for his books, films, and plays.

He was raised in Ironwood, a small mining town in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Number seven in a family of nine children, he lost much of his hearing due to double pneumonia at the age of eight months.

After high school graduation, Luczak went on to Gallaudet University, in Washington, D.C., where he earned a B.A. in English, graduating magna cum laude. He learned American Sign Language (ASL) and became involved with the deaf community, and won numerous scholarships in recognition of his writing, including the Ritz-Paris Hemingway Scholarship. He took various writing courses at other schools in the area, which culminated in winning a place in the Jenny McKean Moore Fiction Workshop at the George Washington University.

In 1988, he moved to New York City. In short order, his play Snooty won first place in the New York Deaf Theater’s 1990 Samuel Edwards Deaf Playwrights Competition, and his essay "Notes of a Deaf Gay Writer" won acceptance as a cover story for Christopher Street magazine. Soon after Alyson Publications asked him to edit Eyes of Desire: A Deaf Gay & Lesbian Reader, which, after its appearance in June 1993, eventually won two Lambda Literary Award nominations (Best Lesbian and Gay Anthology, and Best Small Press Book). He hasn't stopped since!

In 2005, he relocated to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he continues to write, edit, and publish.


“The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips is an unabashed celebration of one man’s relationship to Walt Whitman: poet, publisher, lover, impromptu nurse, artistic creation, organism, man in full. Like Whitman himself, Raymond Luczak arrives at an unified vision of love in all of its poetic manifestations: sensual, sexual, and textual, a source of electric vistas and voluptuous possibilities of spiritual renewal. He provides precisely the kind of tender reassurance we cannot find words for some nights, but which we so desperately need.”
     —Eric Thomas Norris, co-author of Nocturnal Omissions

“In The Kiss of Walt Whitman Still on My Lips, Raymond Luczak has awoken entwined in the arms of the American bard. And here is the bed chat and letters from one poet to another, a communion of fleshly living. Luczak has created a work in the tradition of Ginsberg's odyssean dreaming of the lost America of love—a vibrant examination of what Whitman called a ‘richest fluency’ of historical gaiety and modern loving, and a clear transmission of honest affection across the ages.”
    —Dan Vera, author of Speaking Wiri Wiri

Here is the video trailer for Raymond Luczak's The Kiss Of Walt Whitman Still On My Lips. 



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.