Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Vigil - Shelley Chernin (Crisis Chronicles #24 - Crisis Chronicles Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Vigil.  Shelley Chernin.  Crisis Chronicles #24 - Crisis Chronicles Press.  Elyria, Ohio.  2012.

The Vigil by Shelley Chernin is an enthralling and all too brief little chapbook.

Lord Buddha attains enlightenment near a mining school in India, the Sago Baptist Church is founded and men the world over flounder away in the dark, dark misery of a life below ground in Shelley Chernin's universe.


Rutajit studies mining engineering at ISM, plays
cricket on collegiate fields. His stomach growls
on fasting days; he snacks on sabudana khichdi

made from sago, pith of cycas revoluta, pearls of flour
leached of natural toxins. The recipe is simple:
Soak the sago overnight, melt ghee, brown chiles

and cumin seeds and maybe potatoes too, add soaked sago,
cook until crisp. Garnish with coconut and cilantro.
Do not cover the pan or the sago conglomerates

into one lump. Sago thickens like tapioca and plots.
Despite popular myths, white sago is no purer
than the light cream variety. Rutajit feels full.


Mining and dining.

Chernin uses a voice that is at one time documentarian, historian and myth-making story-teller.
These poems are a connected narrative with a distant, dark underbelly.

Chernin's voice is very exact, precise.  We here at Today's book of poetry very much like the way Chernin talks.

The Vigil is a quick study that reads like a much more grandiose project.  Today's book of poetry would pay good money to see/read the entire broadcast.

In some ways The Vigil feels like a tease because Chernin promises so much in each of these short poems.


Rutajit's name means "Conqueror of Truth." Hindus permit
debate on the existence of God. His parents congratulate
their future mine safety expert. A "mining accident"

is any accident that happens in a mine. If five or more
people die, the accident is called a "mining disaster."
Rutajit loves science and his girlfriend, not words. His heart

pounds, but he does not pray the first time
his class enters Bagdigi Mine, Twenty-nine men died
in a flood there in 2001, he learns. Inside the mine are signs

of concern: Coal dust hai kahtray ki naani, is mein chheeto
hardam paani. (Coal dust is the grandmother of all dangers,
always sprinkle water on it.) Dust and ashes

are cognate. If footprints are visible on the mine floor,
fine particles can explode, produce 200 mile per hour winds,
dispersing additional dust from walls and overhead

beams. There can be secondary explosions, fires. Anything
that can burn in bulk can explode when powdered
and mixed with air. Coal, wood. Churches.


In books of poetry, as in real life, many things don't get resolved.  Shelley Chernin has her way with the reader with The Vigil.  There is enough in each poem to make it a success, more than, but there is also the promise of much more.

These enticing poems make the reader feel underground empathy.


In the month after the Sago disaster, four more
miners died in mining accidents in West Virginia.
Like miscooked sago, the flow of names congeals.

Rutajit knows a story. On May 28, 1965, an explosion
and fire in the Dhori Colliery in Dhanbad killed
more than 400 miners. Deep inside, heat blasted the mine

to darkness, blew off eyeglasses, burned off brows. The air
coagulated. The men died in denseness, unable to see
their own hands. Thick in prayer.


Shelley Chernin
Photo by John Burroughs

Shelley Chernin is a 57-year-old freelance researcher, writer, and editor of legal reference books. She lives in Russell, Ohio (aka Novelty, proving that the US Postal Service once had a sense of irony). Her poems have appeared inScrivener Creative Review, Rhapsoidia, What I Knew Before I Knew: Poems from the Pudding House Salon-Cleveland, theHeights Observer, the 2010 through 2012 Hessler Street Fair poetry anthologies and the Cuyahoga Burning edition of Big Bridge. She received the 2nd Place award in the 2011 Hessler Street Fair Poetry Contest and Honorable Mentions in the Akron Art Museum's New Words Poetry Contest in 2009 and 2010. Yes, of course, she plays the ukulele. Who doesn't?

"It's an astounding work. I knew as soon as I started reading it that I wasn't going to put it down, and that's pretty rare for me. It is just good on so many levels. Regardless of what one's faith relationship is, the work says something about faith that is irrefutable. Rather the metaphor, the mining and its inherent disasters and conditions, was so powerfully drawn that one walks away, whether one wants to or not, with a new reality concerning faith. I'm not a great judge and I don't keep up with award winning and prize winning, grant winning poetry standards, but I could see this book grabbing a big one. Remarkable.... It was like reading a sinking hole. The book collapses right in your hands."
 - Cat Listening.

 Shelley Chernin
"Rise and Shine"
2nd place - 2011 Hessler Poetry Competition
May 11, 2011 at Mac's Backs Books 
Video by John Burroughs


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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

In In My Dream - Stuart Ross (Book Thug)

Today's book of poetry:
In In My Dream.  Stuart Ross.  Book Thug.  Toronto, Ontario.  2014.

The name Stuart Ross gets mentioned fairly regularly in Today's book of poetry.  There are several reasons for that.

Stuart is one of my oldest and dearest friends and we often speak to each other a couple of times a week.  He can be found in the reading chair in my office several times a year and leaves a superhero costume in the guest bedroom downstairs.

Stuart is a driving force in the Canadian small press literary scene with his own influential imprint, A Stuart Ross Book, at Mansfield Press and his own highly respected Proper Tales Press which has published a multitude of esteemed Canadian and American poets.

Ross also works tirelessly as a behind the scenes editor, runs workshops, organizes readings and continues to be a prolific poet responsible for one of the most original bodies of work in Canadian poetry.

All of that to say that Today's book of poetry is pleased to look at Stuart Ross's In In My Dream from Toronto's very busy Book Thug.

A State Of The Snowdrift Report

They come right up to the door, but they do not knock
and they do not enter. They are sloped such that, if I were
a miniature person, I would want to toboggan down them.
They are the smooth neck of Kim Novak, of Veronica Lake, of
the woman who sells me Time Out at the corner newsstand.
They are fuller and fluffier this year, but the lack of sun
means they sparkle less. You can push your face into them
and leave an imprint of your joy, your anger, your fear. Plus,
they accumulate flies surprised by the sudden onslaught of
the season, twigs and whirlybirds that have sailed down from
nearly naked branches. I peer out my window and see them
in the fields across the street, like waves. They gather around
bushes and trees, lining up for autographs.


One of the things to admire about the poetry of Stuart Ross is his absolutely irrepressible sense of humour.  Ross is a "say less" type of poet, these poems never overstate anything.

They are discrete and generally well-mannered -- and they are always heavily mined.

Ross has more imagination in three or four lines than many poets can squeeze out in a book.

I'd like to tell you that I understand every word, get every reference, that I always suss out where Ross is headed.

I don't, and neither does anyone else on the planet.  How could they?  So what is the attraction?

Illumination.  Reading a Stuart Ross poem one experiences lights going on deep inside your brain, often where there has been no light before.  Reading Stuart Ross poems is a little like eating cotton candy where the ideas go straight to the sweet spot in your head.  They jump off of the page like sparklers.


First Men in the Moon.
Ninety-Six Tears.
Daniel Boone.
Tears for Fears.

The Trouble with Harry.
Peter O'Toole.
Leisure Suit Larry.
Don't Be Cruel.

The Barber of Seville.
Mario Lanza.
Mink DeVille.
Tony Danza.

The Harder They Fall.
Nelson Ball.


Today's book of poetry is ALWAYS going to love a poem that champion's Nelson Ball.  Yet another national treasure on far too few lips and minds.

Ross juggles a mythical number of balls in the air in many of his poems, clearly invoking the extra arms of poetry Gods only he knows about.  He can also be surprisingly intimate and candid - but he is always fearless.

In In My Dream

In my dream,
I see my brothers turn a corner
across the road.
One is a dead brother.
I wake up sobbing
and tell you about it.
Then I wake up shaken
and tell you my dream
about waking up sobbing
after dreaming
that Owen and Barry
had turned a corner.


Today's book of poetry thinks Stuart Ross walks on water using all twelve of his toes.

Add this to the list of books the interns here at Today's book of poetry have to read.  Otherwise it is the plank into shark infested waters.

That is all.

Stuart Ross
Photo: John W. Macdonald

Stuart Ross published his first literary pamphlet on the photocopier in his dad’s office one night in 1979. He is the author of eight poetry books, most recently Our Days in Vaudeville(Mansfield Press), collaborations with 29 other poets from across Canada, as well as a couple dozen chapbooks, plus a bunch of fiction and essays. Stuart lives in Cobourg, Ontario, and blogs at

Stuart Ross
reads Three Cobourg Poems
at the Cobourg Poetry & Literary Arts Festival
November 2-4, 2012
Video:  Wally Keeler


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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Montreal Book Of The Dead - Mary di Michele (Vallum Chapbook Series #17)

Today's book of poetry:
The Montreal Book Of The Dead.  Mary di Michele.  Vallum Chapbook Series #17 - The Vallum Society for Education in Arts & Letters.  Montreal, Quebec.  2014.

The Montreal Book Of The Dead is a sterling little treat from the ever-strong voice of Mary di Michele.  di Michele is just a couple of years older than I am which is to say I have been around since her first book, Tree of August, which was published in 1978.

But it was the 1980 publication of Bread and Chocolate that turned me into a life-long reader and admirer of Mary di Michele.

Nothing has changed here, Today's book of poetry has all sorts of time for anything Mary di Michele writes.

The Unteachable

To be as if never born, Javier Marias
shows the dark back of time to critics, cats
and dogs, pronouncing how little of what
they are will last. Perhaps because I teach

what, I am told, is unteachable,
I want to defend scholars, remind the writer
that even this stone I kick is more assuredly immortal
than Shakespeare. We are all palimpsests

for genomes: writers, critics, and our pets.
Rumi was long-lived for a cat, seventeen years.
And many years have passed along with him,
yet still, raising my eyes from a book of poetry,

not scratched up by his jealous claws,
I might see him, in the periphery
of my vision, the striped gray fur turning
a corner. Disappearing.

Buddy was the first to teach me to love
dogs, to trust them with my hand, my heart
if not my muffins. What did I know?
I wanted a literary dog name, Bolden

from Coming Through Slaughter. Instead I was
given another way of being in the world,
away from the reading lamp, those long
evenings with him, ambling under stars,

walks in any weather. To be as if never
born. This cold Montreal spring, the run-off
iced over again, I am careful as I walk myself
across the park, not stopping to smell anything.


These poems are full of tender ghosts.

They are also so approachable that it is easy to miss how well crafted they are.  OK, that wasn't clear at all  --  what I mean is that di Michele knows her stuff.  These are poems that know how to act.

The Montreal Book Of The Dead is a long sighed-out love letter to di Michele's favourite city.  A tempered and loving elegy to the dead who swim in her memory.


Beacon shining from the top of Mount Royal,
a cross, unblinking under Capricorn.

Beaver lake is iced over. The ring
in his pocket stays in his pocket.

In the shadow of the red-tailed hawk, what's left
of a crow is now just tail feathers and wings

splayed out in the arms of a maple. To look
is to look away. Where the earth is flat we forget

we walk on a planet, but, from the view
at the summit, we remember

we are not alone, married and unmarried
alike for the stellar bridegroom,

orbiting above, astronaut or angel,
watches over us from the stratosphere.

In a flash, we see what he sees, the city
below from space: the mystery,

illuminated. This island city! This
island, Earth! Animal or mineral,

we all bow to the darkness,
we all turn in the light.


Mary di Michele has a type of quiet elegance in her poetry, this has always been the case.  It isn't easy to write with restraint - in di Michele's poems I would call this wisdom tempered with exactitude.

The Montreal Book Of The Dead is a fine chapbook.  It makes you want more.

Somewhere I Have Never Travelled

I arrived at the Canada-US border.
Flags fluttered though there was no wind.
Mine was the sole vehicle at the crossing.

I pulled up to a booth. Nobody
was there, I got out of my car
to peer behind the wicket: darkness

except for the blinking light of a phone.
I had my Canadian passport ready
declaring my Italian birth. The photo

didn't look like me. It felt strange to be
neither here nor there, neither coming
nor going. I arrived at the US-Canada border,

flags the only things moving.
The sun was low but I cast no shadow.


Mary di Michele

Poet, novelist, and member of the collaborative writing group, Yoko’s Dogs,Mary di Michele is author of eleven books including a selected poems,Stranger in You, Oxford University Press 1995, and the novel, Tenor of Love, Viking Canada, Simon & Schuster USA 2005. She lives in Montreal where she teaches at Concordia University. Her most recent books are The Flower of Youth, Pier Paolo Pasolini Poems, ECW Press, 2011, and with Yoko’s Dogs,Whisk, Pedlar Press 2013. Awards include first prize, CBC literary competition, the Air Canada Writing Award, and The Malahat Review long poem.

“Envisioning the passage of time under the “full and unwaning” moon of Mont Royal’s beacon cross, di Michele recalls her Italian immigrant parents in Toronto and her current life in Montreal. This sequence, a sort of decameron, written with her customary brightness and gracefulness of diction, concludes at a deserted customs office where no one wants to see her passport: the truly borderless place of poetry itself.”
     - Sharon Thesen

Mary di Michele
Discusses tradition and innovation and studying
creative writing at Concordia University in Montreal.
Video courtesy of: Concordia Creative Writing


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.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Alkali Sink - Stella Beratlis (Sixteen Rivers Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Alkali Sink.  Stella Beratlis.  Sixteen Rivers Press.  San Francisco, California.  2015.

These are some mighty fine conversational poems.  Beratlis hits the ground running, these poems read like your best, smartest, friend telling you all the latest.

Alkali Sink is jam packed with beautiful and intelligent poems - but the kicker is the tone Beratlis sets - she assumes the audience will be sharp enough to read along.  Actually she probably does no such thing and I'm projecting.  But the tone is right, sharp and tight, witty.

Crop Rows in Autumn

This is how faces fall apart:
our eyes fixed to a point

somewhere on the flat horizon.
We walk in furrows of rich soil

for years, for a lifetime--
then start following the furrows

to the clouds. This is how lives
fall open: a man loves and hopes

while his wife shrinks
one acre per year; how love

weaves out: a cotton rope tensing
then raveling into many frayed strands,

its shining moments leftover gourds
strewn by the road after harvest.

But we forge ahead like physics,
until longing dissolves

the face, until systems
of measurement are obsolete

and we fix our eyes
on the vanishing point.


Beratlis is machine-shop precise at every step as she maneuvers between worlds, she purveys our ordinary world with extraordinary vision, let's us see a glimpse of her private world.  These are intimate poems that speak universal.

Today's book of poetry hates the expression "down to earth".  Stella Beratlis is so down to earth you can feel it in her fingers, the smudges on the page.  Not Bukowski, drunken rant down to earth, more Anne Tyler down to earth, Sharon Olds earth.

I Heard On The Radio

they are blowing up the sugar plant, so
we drive north to a town of old sharp smells.
The nose tells us we've reached Manteca,
olfactory curiosity, but also the clean rows of
a Greek farmer's vines. In this town, owl decoys

perch on buildings, vigilant with glass eyes.
Airstream trailers peek out behind eucalyptus teeth
and bid hello to the truck drivers who are always
just passing through. We plow

through it all, ferment-stink as
sugar beets roast on slow-moving belts --
and behind that odor, the oil burn of gears that turn efficiently
twenty-four hours a day. But today, all this has given way

to a man saving his place at the chain-link carnival
that surrounds this temple,
and a barker who announces the winner
of a contest to push the plunger
that detonates the charge
that begins the demolition
we've come to witness.

The ceremony starts: a collective twitch
as staccato charges snap the air --
loosening creaky spines and unlacing steel ribbons.

But those old towers hang in the air, stubborn,
releasing dust and exhaling possibility --

then they fall and spill upon the earth.

When the dust clears, we wander back,
desolate, looking for a place,
like people wondering
where to get their next meal,
like the silver pigeons
who have lost a good home.


I felt at home reading these wonderful poems, as though Beratlis was someone I knew and I'd heard versions of these stories, over a glass of red, many times before.  That is a compliment.

Alkali Sink is an enormously entertaining read as Beratlis has a sharp sense of humour.  You all know how we like a laugh her at Today's book of poetry and Alkali Silk is full of chuckles.

Nature vs. Nurture

In those days, we had no idea
our father was a drug dealer, not really.
Inside his house in a small briefcase
by the kitchen table

were little white packets of cocaine,
baggies of pot. One day, in our early teens,
my sister and I sat alone on the front porch
while our father was at work

butchering meat at the local Safeway.
His neighbor, who stood on a small ladder
trimming his crape myrtle,
exposed himself to us.

When we saw his penis swinging loose
in the space of his open fly,
we ran inside the house
where we debated briefly

before calling the police.
As we waited for the cops to show,
we sat at the Formica table
trying to make sense

of the whole situation,
wondering if we'd made
the right decision, if a man could
knowingly trim shrubs with his penis

dangling there, in the open,
if a father could really keep
a loaded gun behind the front door.
How easily danger becomes

part of the household,
a silly joke about poking
some whores, a favorite uncle--
no one thinks to shield your eyes.


Today's book of poetry was seriously impressed with Stella Beratlis' strong, strong debut Alkali Sink.

If this were the standard for first books the majority of the rest of them would vanish, evaporate, slink down the drain like something washed off in the water.

Stella Beratlis

Stella Beratlis grew up in a Greek-American family in Northern California. Her work has appeared in Quercus Review, Penumbra, Song of the San Joaquin, In Posse Review, California Quarterly, and other journals, as well as in the anthology The Place That Inhabits Us: Poems from the San Francisco Bay Watershed (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2010). She is coeditor of the collection More Than Soil, More Than Sky: The Modesto Poets (Quercus Review Press, 2011). Beratlis is a librarian in Modesto, where she lives with her daughter. Alkali Sink is her first collection of poems.

“Stella Beratlis writes unforgettable poems that stir inside you long after you’ve finished reading them. Alkali Sink is simultaneously domestic and wild, urban and rural, full of surprises and wisdom. Your axis may shift after reading this remarkable book. Beratlis is a fierce talent whose beautiful mind encompasses the land, the open road, the kitchen window, and the heart’s inconstancies. Her first full-length collection is one of the best debuts I have read.”  
 —Lee Herrick, author of Gardening Secrets of the Dead

“In her poem ‘Vitreous Detachment,’ Stella Beratlis asks ‘How do I know?’ In Alkali Sink, a book that is at once sly and precise, honest and unique, Beratlis’s faith in both the interior and exterior worlds can be trusted enough to believe she can answer: with ‘the names of things and their pulpy centers.’ This is a poet in love with the dirt and the lamb, the armored car and the terrible sadness, with chaos and linear thought—everything that might ‘illuminate the several darknesses of the heart’ and the ‘multiplicity of the selves’ within a soul.                                                                                  —Julia Levine, author of Small Disasters Seen in Sunlight
“Alkali Sink reads like ‘a locomotive / speeding through a native West / changing the scale of my earth.’ Central California races toward Greece, memory races toward reality, old age races toward youth, but the poems take their time, too, the way trains do, and I can peer into backyards and orchards and used-car lots as I go. At first I was here and now I am there, and the world I see is different because of how these poems moved me. Stella Beratlis has written a beautiful book.”         —Camille T. Dungy, author of Smith Blue
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.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Night Vision - Christopher Levenson (Quattro books)

Today's book of poetry:
Night Vision. Christopher Levenson.  Quattro Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2014.
2015 Governor General's Literary Awards Finalist

Today's book of poetry believes in reasonable full-disclosure so here is what you need to know.  In the early 80's I took a Poetry Workshop class at Carleton University that was taught by Christopher Levenson.

It was an entirely new world for me and I relished it.  Levenson was a great presence in the classroom and the course profoundly changed many of my attitudes about poetry.  I doubt Christopher had any idea how much I enjoyed the experience.  At the start of the year he gave the entire class a handout with maybe thirty assignments from which you would choose ten or fifteen, I forget the precise numbers.  I made it a point to do all of the assignments because I thought that would make me a better poet.  It certainly made me a different poet.

So, just to be clear, we here at Today's book of poetry think that Mr. Levenson's body of work stands with the best Canada has produced and that his name should be included in the general conversation about poetry in Canada far more often.

We are big fans.


Look into the eyes of jaguar or leopard:
they are so sincere.
As they crunch through the skull
of a gazelle they have just brought down
into the long grass and raise their blood-smeared jaws
from still warm innards,
you can tell they mean it.
Their gaze is so calm and direct,
they enjoy killing.
Likewise Hitler and Stalin:
all the world's great leaders can look firmly ahead
and not see you in the crowd,
not see the crowd.


Night Vision is easy to read as the deceptively astute Levenson rolls these poems  past the reader like an ace pitcher throwing nothing but fastball strikes.  These poems are organized conversations between Levenson and listener about things he thinks we should know.  He is correct.  There is a solemn steadiness, steadfastness, to this sort of wisdom.  There is nothing casual about this, this is craft at its finest.

"the ark is foundering." ends the poem "Zoos" and it might serve as the underlying theme of Levenson's Night Vision.  It is all too prescient considering the news today of the drowning deaths of several hundred refugees in the Mediterranean.  Levenson employs this sort of better-than-20-20-vision as he explores and explains the sad last century.

These are political poems without political party or pandering to any politic.  Levenson's authoritative voice cuts through mire and misdirection until reason prevails.

Night Vision

After the air-raid siren eerie calm:
assembled thousands waited
alongside Heritage Harbour,
standing as if in homage
while the first fanfares of light
rocketed up, dispensing
euphoria; excess
of red, green, white, blue
burst onto our waking senses;
smattering salvoes
cascaded in free fall
over the flared outline of the West End
and Stanley Park.
                            It was a wonder
I had not witnessed in such magnificence
since as a kid I jungled with flagging crowds
on VE Day in Piccadilly Circus.
But this time without noise. Even armadas
of small boats, barges, yachts
moved without sound as a barrage of shells
hollowed out consciousness, let loose
the great unshackled beast of our darkest fears.

For me the war zone around English Bay
brought back to mind Ypres and Passchendaele,
two stations of the cross
en route to nationhood.

Thousands fell too in the trenches
at Srebrenica, all males over fourteen,
hands tied behind their backs, herded together,
machine gunned, while in Sarajevo
mortar shells blasted the market
and scattered limbs were hastily swept up.
This was no way to cauterize
the wounds of history.

Karadjic by all accounts was
a friendly, courteous man, well-liked by neighbours,
a psychiatrist with a bent for the spiritual,
hiding for a decade behind the burka of
a Santa Claus face-saving beard.
With such a benign growth, who'd not assume
a priest-like holiness
in those calm eyes and all the talk of healing?

Thirteen years on, in his own mind,
he still felt the slaughter
totally justified, as needful as
mowing the lawn,
taking out the trash of genocide,
under an assumed name,
ethnic cleansing. For him now
the future also will be
a foreign country.
We have seen too many newsreels
where night vision goggles, trained
on the invisible, equipped
to reveal landscapes, bring us closer
to our enemies, facilitate
the kill, help us see our way
clear-eyed through a maze of horrors
to whatever action is needed
without the lightning flash of explosions
exposing settlements abandoned,
booby-trapped: we are poised
on a crumbling parapet
of time, liable each second
to plunge into the gullies.
These green shadows offer no safety.

Detached from loving homes,
become mere instruments,
we attain kinship, grow one
with hawk, weasel, hyena,
though we gag at what we see
in spite of ourselves.

Even the blindfold of faith
slip as we look upon
sprawled bodies of children
broken beside women,
old men, wantonly
split across lintels, their hearts'
blood defacing the courtyard.
It's a virus we cannot shake
that enters bone and bloodstream,
an unspeakable secret
we have signed on to,
memories and contours of
fear and revulsion at what
we had harboured within us,
what we could force ourselves,
or be forced, to do to strangers,
our fellow humans.
We cannot wait to see
the green flash withering
until what once were bodies
cease to accuse
in human shape, transformed
into mere skeletons.

War has become
our only faith, our one
communion. We have seen through
the night and know
it will return.


These strong salvoes explore a litany of man's lesser motives, the history of man's lesser moments -- yet to this reader there is always hope evident and we all need hope.

Levenson's keen intelligence has whittled many of our biggest lies into reason, rendered many of our fears down to common sense.  Isn't it amazing when poems can do these things.

Night Vision is Levenson's eleventh book of poetry.  It has been a steady flow of impeccably crafted and deeply human poetry.

The Land Of What If

Though it comes across as absent-mindedness,
the heart is at stake:
an affair that came between them
two decades back, a job offer not taken
in a distant, exciting city, a loved son
dead at twenty.

"Don't go there," consoling friends said,
"That's all in the past,
water under the bridge." But nothing
leaves without a trace. He catches himself in a sigh;
she, brushing white hair, thinks what she might have been
in another country.

So they did go there, became
permanent residents, invalids lost for words
in the land of what if.


These poems give no quarter.  They are harshly honest yet almost always tender.  Levenson's Night Vision is one of those collections, like all good books, that gets better with every reading.

These poems travel everywhere in time from the youth of a bombed out London to the present and the grim deserts of the Middle East to a catching a leisurely nap at the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.  But they are all firmly rooted in the "what you need to know."

What I see and hear is my wise Professor writing oh so fine poems.  I loved this book.

Now everyone in our office has to read and love it too -- or they are fired.  There will be a test later.

Christopher Levenson

Christopher Levenson taught English and Creative writing at Carleton University, Ottawa, and now lives in Vancouver. He has ten previous books of poetry. Arriving at Night won the Archibald Lampman Award in 1978. He was co-founder and first editor of Arc magazine and series editor of Carleton University Press’s Harbinger imprint for first books of poetry.

"Christopher Levenson's masterful ability to reveal the ironic poignancy that invisibly envelops what others might only as ordinary "news events" emerges time and time again in Night Vision. It is a book whose vision penetrates the tragedies of world affairs so deeply that it becomes literally - and wonderfully - impossible to distinguish between the personal and the political."
     -  Douglas Burnett Smith

"A keen moral intelligence informs this collections of poems, stretching back to Flanders Fields and the London Blitz then fast-forwarding to the terror in El Salvador, the nightmare that was Sarajevo. Levenson's imagery, propelled by his compassion, opens our hearts to a world in which our native residents, poisoned by mercury, "are tucked out of sight.../ with the bones of the buffalo."
     -  Kenneth Sherman

"Christopher Levenson's poems in Night Vision touch both head and heart, connect history and landscape with the present, explore the respective powers of hatred and love - and do all that with a poignant, rigorous restraint that serves to power the passion behind the words."
     -  Joan Barfoot

Christopher Levenson
Reading from Night Vision
Video courtesy of:  Kevin Spenst


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.

This is a link to an excellent interview of Christopher Levenson by Rob Taylor for Prism International:

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The Lesser Tragedy of Death - Cristina Garcia (Black Goat/Akashic Books)

Today's book of poetry:
The Lesser Tragedy of Death.  Cristina Garcia.  Black Goat/Akashic Books.  Brooklyn, N.Y.  2010.

This is family history writ large.  A brother - sister duet high on drama.  The Lesser Tragedy of Death is that slow motion accident unfolding in front of your ever widening eyes.

Cristina Garcia builds her brothers' character out a myriad of construction materials only to watch them cascade down around her family like sad building blocks.


We shamed you into leaving,

said you stank up the bathroom,
sprayed you with air freshener

until you choked.

You'd sneak off to E.J. Korvette's

to shit or wait till morning recess
at Catholic school where nobody

could blame just you.

Years later I learned this word
from a shrink: encopretic.

It means holding things in to bursting.
It means carrying the rage within.


The stacked deck of fate conspired against our handsome protagonist or the devil sought him out to dance for his own devilish amusement,  Either way his difficult journey from adored and beautiful child to outrigger, outlaw and out of family is perhaps a story we all know different versions of.

We here at Today's book of poetry like the honesty that Cristina Garcia brings to The Lesser Tragedy of Death.  This isn't journalism, there is no fact checking.  These poems feel real, true, tragic.


I'm not depressed like I hear you get,
wanting to blow your brains out, but a more-
of-the-same lifelessness that's getting me down.
Maybe I shouldn't be mucking through the past
like some sick archaeologist holding up
broken forks and making deductions. This
is our history we're talking about here, not
some ancient civilization we can opt out of.
Our parents are still alive and they're coming
to stay with me soon, and I want to be nice but
a part of me wants to read them these poems
and have them say, We were wrong, or
the thing they'll never say: We're sorry.
Well, I'm sorry, really sorry for hiding
out in these words instead of calling you and telling
you that I do remember and that it's much much
harder than forgetting.


The story arc of these poems wouldn't matter at all if the poems themselves weren't continuously compelling.  Garcia keeps it taut.  She gives us enough line to know there is something biting on the end, but she never leaves us stranded.

What You Believe

That you can speak to dogs.
That they don't listen to you.

That women are impenetrable,
except for the obvious.

That children should like you.

That it's possible to be a hero.

That the good things in life are bad for
you: mothers, malted milk balls, cocaine.

That there's a God but He's ignored you.

That a family awaits you.

That you suffer for cheapness.
(Are you listening, Dad?)

That one morning you'll wake up dead.
And that will be without pain.


The Lesser Tragedy of Death just resonated so true.  As the poems build from the cherubic infant Elvis to an inevitable end of dismay Cristina Garcia laments her brothers sad life, both the life they share and the life she can't share.  It is all sad terrain.

But very worthwhile poetry.

This is Garcia's first book of poetry.  Excellent start.

Cristina Garcia

CRISTINA GARCÍA is the author of several novels including Dreaming in Cuban and A Handbook to Luck, anthologies, and books for young readers. The Lesser Tragedy of Death is her first collection of poetry. García’s work has been nominated for a National Book Award and translated into a dozen languages. She is a Visiting Professor and Black Mountain Institute Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“The Lesser Tragedy of Death is a brave and moving tribute to a brother gone astray. With skill, unflinching honesty, and redemptive compassion, Cristina García tracks his marvelous, complex, and errant life . . . These poems are the beautiful, painful, astonishing result of a journey to hell and back in search of the brother she loves. With this first book of poems, Cristina García, one of our best novelists and storytellers, proves herself to be a talented poet as well.”
—Julia Alvarez, author of Saving the World

“Cristina García has the courage to look tragedy in the eye without flinching . . . In spare, luminous brushstrokes of language, García paints a series of portraits, from the boy who fell off a bicycle to the desperate mugger wrestling with an old woman over her purse. The cumulative effect is haunting, yet ultimately redemptive. There is power in García’s insistence that we see her brother as a human being, in all his complexity and mystery. You won’t forget these poems, or the story they tell.”
—Martin Espada, author of The Republic of Poetry

Cristina Garcia
Story Hour in The Library
video courtesy of: University of California Television (UCTV)
Cristina Garcia is the author of five novels, a collection of poetry, and three works for young readers including her newest release "Dreams of Significant Girls" about three wealthy and adventurous ninth-grade girls from different worlds who converge upon a Swiss boarding school for a summer of discovery. Series: "Story Hour in the Library" [4/2012]

(Today's book of poetry couldn't find a video of Cristina Garcia reading poetry, sorry.)


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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Mother, Loose - Brandel France de Bravo (Accents Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
Mother, Loose.  Brandel France de Bravo.  Accents Publishing.  Lexington, Kentucky.  2015.
(Winner of the Judge's Choice Award for the Accents Publishing 2014 Poetry Chapbook Contest)

Brandel France de Bravo is Mother Goose for our new age.  Every one of the poems in Mother, Loose is worthy of keen attention.

de Bravo reinvents the world we used to know by welcoming in the reader with familiar and open arms, cookies in the oven, a warm fire in the hearth.  Then she lowers her excellent boom.

A Perfect Sacrifice (still it lingered near)

Spring had come and the pear trees, sheared of their white
blossoms, were flaunting new green skin. Mary decided to skip
school. She called the lamb and told her to meet at Nail-like-
Gnu. The Vietnamese lady pumiced Mary's heels and snipped
at the lamb's cuticles. Mary and the lamb picked "Teat Peach"
polish and flip-flopped out the door, cotton puffs between their
toes. The security guard at Victoria's Secret said lambs were not
allowed so Mary went in alone. She came out a few minutes later
carrying a big pink shopping bag, two thongs inside. At the Food
Court they got diet sodas and headed to Mary's house because
her parents were at work. "Let's try on each other's clothes," said
Mary. "Awesome," said the lamb. Mary wrapped herself in the
lamb's fleece. "God, it's so warm." The lamb put on Mary's plaid
kilt, navy sweater, and knee socks. "I'm gonna follow the rules
now," the lamb giggled, giving a little salute. Mary looked at the
lamb, and a current ran through her, more powerful than the
sight of Nick's number pulsing on her cell phone. It was like the
thread-pull between her legs whenever Nick's breath filled her
ear. Only, the hollow feeling was in her stomach and spreading
to every part of her. The fleece slid from Mary's shoulders. She
touched her mouth, saliva gathering at the corners. It was a maw.


de Bravo's ability to know exactly what a knife might say alone in the dark late at night might be unsettling for some.  For us, here at Today's book of poetry, it is what we live for, it augured great things.

These poems are mostly playful until you realize they are not playful at all.  de Bravo is one tough nut, a champion wit with a sense of humour like a good dry red.  She is relentless.

Jack Spratt

He looked like six o'clock
and she the face.
Together they were bacon
--sinew and glisten--
and called a platter home.
She licked the welcome mat.
He licked the light switches.
She licked his arm chair.
He licked her vanity.
One day, in the pantry,
their tongues met
and they knew salty-sweet,
felt time running in place.
Afterwards, Jack lit a cigarette.

The rest is a blur, like glass
smeared with butter.
Jack remembers fetching his pail.
He remembers the whoosh and flash,
spitting heat, and his mother's words.
Never throw water on a grease fire.


Today's book of poetry would borrow a phrase from the great Canadian poet David McFadden and tell you that these are "Poems Worth Knowing."

de Bravo isn't afraid of saying the harsh, hard, real thing and that is always worth reading.

Some of these poems sing - literally.   Brandel France de Bravo carves nursery rhymes out of slightly different timber, they are of a different contour, she speaks in a language all her own using a vocabulary we already know.  We recognize it right away.

This is how people speak when they are leading the way.

In The Arms of Morpheus II

Others clean and comb.
She has only to eat,
excrete. She feels most
in the driver's seat,
hands at 10:00 and 2:00,
when gripping
the remote control
with one, bottle
of morphine
in the other.

It's not enough,
she insists.
a whole unopened bottle
is not enough.
Are you in pain?
No, no, she says,
irritation in her voice.
Not enough
to put an end
to this

There's a fist in poignant

Her last dose two days
ago, the black gnats
in each iris turned fat flies,
she doesn't look at me,
only a spot on the ceiling,
a driver reading the road
signs, afraid to miss the exit.


de Bravo sure has mastered the big punch in the head with the velvet gloved fist.  Mother, Loose is powerful stuff, playful and unflagging, full of mystic wisdom and sartorial memoir.  It's all in here and doled out like candy in easily digestible future tales of lore.

Today's book of poetry really liked this book.

Brandel France de Bravo

Brandel France de Bravo is the author of Provenance, which won the 2008Washington Writers’ Publishing House prize in poetry and was a ForeWord Book of the Year finalist. Her poems, which have been nominated for thePushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and essays have appeared in various journals, including Alaska Quarterly Review, The Cincinnati Review, Fairy Tale Review,Gulf Coast, and Seneca Review. She is co-author of Trees Make the Best Mobiles: Simple Ways to Raise your Child in a Complex World and the editor of Mexican Poetry Today: 20/20 Voices. A graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College with a master’s in public health, she works for a consumer health organization in Washington, D.C.

Full of ripe, aching music, Brandel France de Bravo’s MOTHER, LOOSE captures the overlap between what we chant as comfort and what we choose as elegy. Nursery rhymes become impishly twisted: “Social climber,/ they called me,” Humpty Dumpty admits, while Mary and her lamb pick out “Teat Peach” polish to get their nails done. But another mother hovers, her “dry cough flowering” into malignancy, and a walk beneath the about-to-bloom cherry trees of DC becomes a bittersweet recognition of “Resurgence…as after / dormancy, remission, as after a sleep / we knew we would wake from.” Deft and heartbreaking, these poems ask us to step out from under the sheltering wing of Mama Goose, and into the arms of Morpheus. Let this collection cradle your heart in its hand.
     ~Sandra Beasley, author of I WAS THE JUKEBOX and COUNT THE WAVES


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.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Widow Poems - Betty Adcock (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Widow Poems.  Betty Adcock.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2014.

Eleven poems.  That's all it takes for Betty Adcock to thoroughly convince everyone at Today's book of poetry.  Widow Poems is exactly as advertised, our narrator has been widowed and these poems are elegy, memoir, prayer.

These poems will make you weep.  No way around it.

Big, hard, up from the heart with a punch in the throat tears.

Most married women eventually become a widow - so what is the big deal?  The deal is that Adcock opens up, instantly, in a way that makes her a familiar.  We've known this woman all our lives and are invested in what she has to say.

The Widow's House

seems to be coming apart -- pieces
of wall, snatches of a rug, chair-rungs,
shingles, plumbing, lamps and doorknobs.
Glass shatters from rows of still-framed
faces. The mirrors are dusking over,
no longer disclosing.

                              Everything floats
as if gravity has left the place. It's not
violent; it is a loosening, a soundless
disengagement. Even her body has become
otherwise, flesh that can no longer
recognize itself.

Perhaps it is she who has gone to ash,
gone to ground and the dark.
She has asked so hard for him,
crying out in the night, weeping into
pots on the stove, roses in the yard.

Perhaps she is the ghost
in the house they built dissolving,
turning now as if in the grip of a slowed
tornado, air full of what could be
confetti in some kind of decelerating
celebration: music, books, conversations
shredding in the wind that memory
always becomes -- unfastened, recasting,
disheveling as the end of lovemaking.
She sits on a splintered floor
surrounded by the done-for.


Betty Adcock remembers everything -- yet without haste, without ever rushing, she distills it all down for us.  How she knows the man she loved, how it is all still real and present.

Knowing all this never hinders Adcock or Widow Poems.  Adcock is totally in the now.  She knows a few tricks and one of them is to be alive in the past and the present.

Widow Poems is sublimely tender.

Lunar: a History

In Palomas the moon was Mexican silver awash
on the dirt street where we danced to mariachi
that rang and shimmered like hammered tin.

Months later on a Dallas sidewalk, an August moon
burned 93 degrees at midnight -- imagine -- you had come
all that way for this fire.

Outside Abilene, we said the September moon
was neon, an Orange Crush sign stopped mid-flash,
that much-too-sweet, that awful bright.

The next June, was East Texas and our wedding sky
bearing an opal cresset sure to carry us
out of one darkness into what else there was.

We were straight to Manhattan's summer moons, lost and lovely
above the concrete canyons. We made our daughter under shadows
broken blue as a jazz flute's riff across the marvelous city.

Years later we found the Roman moon a weathered coin,
the Florentine, gold-leaf -- and Dublin's nightshining
was held in the Liffey's argentine.

Pete's Creek Canyon in Montana held a day-moon
ghosting the sunlit moon -- a crescent of smoke --
and just then sudden hail pocked the clearing with white stones.

Remember how Greek moonlight jeweled the whole
island with donkey song, poppies, whitewashed Easter
churches? That island made some change in us we carried...

                    --just here the words fall, fail, can't stay
                    as you couldn't stay for this poem's still
                    unfinished end.
                                             You died instead.

                    Yet something has to take the place of white space
                         so like the blank my life's impossibly become, all fifty-four
                    of our years together gone -- for who now can remember
                         them with me? Your last hour was almost midnight,
                    your last breath shallow on the hand I held to you
                         as I breathed out "I've loved you my whole life,"
                    a thing so true and strange I wasn't sure
                        I'd heard my own voice say it.

That night you died, the moon on our backyard was a brightness
close to daylight --

                    and not that cool white brilliance
a full circle casts. No. This was golden clarity
dropped by a half-moon, some new kind
of broken wafer overhead.

                                            Later I would read that planets
were in rare alignment, on just that date,
like obedient marchers placing a new complexion
on the night.

                      Coming home then from your death,
I was given the red fox wearing its own unearthly glow
under strange moonlight that gave back, like memory,
the morning that became it, the stranger morning
that would come.


Being married isn't everything -- but it sure is something.  Betty Adcocks gives sweet homage to the man she shared life with, explores what it means to continue without him, even to find joy in that new life without.  It is too easy to call these poems brave.

It is impossible to understand an other's grief but Adcock lessens those odds.  There is no banshee wail, no Puddles Pity Party clown in these poems.  Adcock is adroit with every task, she is never maudlin.  We miss her husband too.


                      Yet here was the thing in the midst of the bones,
                      the wide-eyed innocent fox inviting me to play...
                      The universe was swinging around in some fantastic
                      fashion to present its face, and the face was so small
                      the universe itself was laughing.
                                                                - Loren Eiseley
                                                                The Unexpected Universe

My love, I would set you again on that trail you loved
to run, your hair still long from another era,
your heart beat, your mind all music --
Getz, Parker, Bach, Gillespie,
Debussy, Stravinsky, Coltrane -- your own
improvisations running alongside
racing, shaping what your fingers
would play into the wind.

I remember April I remember you

                               I remember
how you lay curled in pain, your spine
collapsing like a column of smoke,
                               your hands
knotted with arthritis that took the flute
out of your grasp, but not the spirit of it, and not
the love you had for me, which depth
I've realized late, able to see it only in the daily dark
that is your absence -- disappearance so immense
there's no measure, no image for it --
how the meaning of life is life, and the meaning
of death is life, no delusion of heaven intervening
in that tight-woven tapestry, no uplifting

         Only the fox came
on the night you died, strange
angel the color of gold fire,
                       trickster lifted
whole from a child's picture book,
lifting its delicate feet in the winespill
of that held the whole backyard
hostage to clarity. The planets
in rare, perfect alignment altered
this one night with light uncanny
as the fox that danced straight toward me.
With eyes full of that moon, he danced almost
close enough to touch, danced as if
to music, as if the animal would speak
in that language some single thing
not available elsewhere.
                        Beauty perhaps,
which may be holy and once only
and all we have.


Here at Today's book of poetry we are going to call Betty Adcock -- Lady Betty.

We loved these poems.

And we forgot to tell you that Lady Betty knows jazz better than you do.  These poems have genuine be-bop moments.  See that cardinal, a bird in flame.

Betty Adcock is a recent inductee to the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

Betty Adcock

Betty Adcock, a recent inductee into the NC Literary Hall of Fame, grew up in rural east Texas and has lived all her writing life in North Carolina. Her most recent book is Widow Poems, from Jacar Press. LSU press has published six collections of her poetry, including Intervale: New and Selected Poems (2002) which won the Poets’ Prize and was a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets; and Slantwise, chosen by LSU Press as the Leslie Phillabaum Award Volume for 2008. Honors include The North Carolina Award for Literature, the Texas Institute of Letters prize,The Hanes Award from the Southern Fellowship of Writers, fellowships in poetry from the State of North Carolina and the National Endowment for the Arts. She held a Guggenheim Fellowship for 2002-2003. Ms. Adcock was Kenan Writer in Residence at Meredith College for twenty years. She has been visiting professor at Duke University, Kalamazoo College in Michigan, Lenoir-Rhyne University, and North Carolina State University. For ten years she was a faculty member in the low-residency Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. She has long been a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and the Fellowship of Southern Writers.


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.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Love & Sundries - Nicholas Reading (Split Lip Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Love & Sundries.  Nicholas Reading.  Split Lip Press.  Richmond, Virginia.  2014.

If Nicholas Reading is only going to publish one book every seven years at least he's making the wait worthwhile.  Love & Sundries is quite the read.

Today's book of poetry really got a kick in the pants from Reading's fairly unique blend of styles.   Here is a cat who can be as dainty as a dancer and dangerous as a duel all in one line.

Reading really does have a pace that is quite his own and it is such a worthwhile price of admission. He's quicksilver smart and genuinely innocent in the same whispered taunt.

St. Valentine's Massacre

It would be surprising if smoke didn't blanket the room.
Every fellow with their hands in their pockets

didn't stand a chance. Doors bolted, I imagine,
behind them sounded many times

in their ears. The brick cold on their palms
legs in an awkward spread. We assume that men

understood this risk. They are fatalities
of unsavory business. Whose girlfriend, or wife,

got the best farewell prayer? At least one of them
had to know what that bolt lock meant. One

must have wished for someone. Maybe
for someone else to die. And the triggermen

had a choice and made it. One had a date that night.
One had a piece of birthday cake with his mother.


W.H. Auden often wrote about nothing and explained everything with the lazy whisk of a horse tail sweeping at a short-lived fly.  Nicholas Reading does the same damned thing.

There is hope in these poems but it is begrudgingly given.  There seems to be that knowledge that despite ourselves we may yet find redemption.  I believe Reading wants us to hope -- just not to set our hopes too high.

Searching Lafayette

If there is a bridge someone jumps from it.
             Popular opinion
condemns the leap. I believe the splash

             might become sacrament
minus the guilt and chance for mourning. Time enough
             to prepare a meal

knowing someone other than us is dead.
             Dogs trolled the shore.
Families gathered bones but called the search off

             because of cold.
The missing body would last the freeze. Snow
             covered the volunteers'

steps home. Headlights led them blind.
             Movies played
in living rooms behind curtains drawn

             and bottles
corked to keep warm. The Eleven o'clock
             news confirmed

it was that guy. We touch each other so little
             you said to me.
We went to bed. Over breakfast

             the blessing.
Our faults for believing if there is a bridge
             someone can cross it.


Writing Today's book of poetry is a great pleasure and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank all of you readers for making it possible.  One of my goals was to be as honest and straightforward with my reactions to poetry as possible.  All of that to say that Love & Sundries was a very peculiar read for me, and in the best possible way.  At less than fifty pages it read like a big, big book.

These are not difficult poems to access, quite the contrary, Reading has dialed into a direct conduit. These poems sting a little and then feel so sweet.

And Reading has a hard sense of humour.  We like that here.

Switchback Blues

I would describe the terrain
with aggression. It has no favors
to lend. People are scarce. Squirrels
are few. Birds make appearances
to give you hope for water soon.

Pillows will be boots
if you haven't boiled them yet.
Try blankets of sweat and worry
and tea can be made of tears.
You've only all day to go.

The echo of the waterfall
is only an echo. Real sounds
are cries. Rest at the switchback
and you could be there forever.
Forever. As in you will not last.

Mountains are not used to us and
river currents become dreams
of freeways. You could eat another
for a gallon of gasoline. Sell
a limb for a Hostess cherry pie.

What beams of light that shocked
our steps will be called Sun.
There are no secrets or secret names.
A butterfly led us to the top
and hunger drove us down.


Everyone in our office loved this book.  Solid and fierce poetry.

Nicholas Reading

Nicholas Reading is the author of the chapbook The Party In Question (Burnside Review Press, 2007). His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Bat City Review, jubilat, Nimrod, Painted Bride Quarterly, and San Pedro River Review. He also serves as the Managing Editor for Sport Literate. 

"In his second collection Love & Sundries, Nicholas Reading balances tragedy and empathy with both fear and wisdom in narrators who often yearn for what they don't quite know how to achieve. Somewhere between inner-voice of Mack from Cannery Row and the hard-bitten Richard Hugo, these poems tether themselves to hope amidst the elegiac emptiness of miles of flat land and peripheral characters who turn out to mean much more, where memories are finally forgotten to "create a future again and again and again tomorrow.""
     - Keith Montesano, author of Ghost Lights and Scoring the Silent Film

"In "Directive," Robert Frost describes a guide "who only has at heart your getting lost." Such a guide, it seems to me, is the poet Nicholas Reading. He observes whimsically: "On the bank of the river/ a few people are lost. I expect more// will join. No one will admit we did nothing/ to prevent this gathering from happening." So it is with his poems. They let us wander and get lost, but also gather and congregate. If a host of lost people find each other, the post implies slyly, are they really lost? Another poem ends with Dirty Rosa saying, "You will not like...but you are/ welcome here." Despite their edginess, and because of their edginess, Reading's poems make us welcome. They say in capital letter, TRESPASS PLEASE."
     - Donald Platt, author of My Father Say Grace and Dirt Angels

To hear Nicholas Reading read his excellent poems follow this lead:


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.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Retrograde - Puma Perl (Great Weather for Media)

Today's book of poetry:
Retrograde.  Puma Perl.  Great Weather for Media.  New York, New York.  2014.

I don't know yet if Puma Perl is my new favourite poet, I'll have to read Retrograde a couple more times.  And I will definitely have to find her other books.

For Retrograde you'll need your seats in the upright position and you'll certainly need your seat-belt. Some of you will need helmets.

I haven't felt this way about a book of poems or a poet since the first time I read Charles Bukowski back in the 70's.

I was living in Edmonton, Alberta, with Blanche Dubois and I was working as a dish-washer at a jazz club, The Palms Cafe.  I found Bukowski at the Edmonton Public Library.  Got on a bus to head home and didn't lift my head until I'd read the entire book.  I'd gone the entire bus route and then some and was further from home than when I had started.

This is blog #324 and I've pretty much used up my accolades  -  so you might have heard some of this before.  This is one of the strongest, most surprising, and sublimely splendid collections of poetry I have ever read.  It comes on like a sledgehammer breaking down your front door.  Sublime yes but this is never subtle, Perl grabs the reader by the collar or the hair, whatever she gets a hand on, and pulls you into her world.  And there is no boundary she won't happily piss on just to see the splash.

Dreaming in Daylight

She fakes orgasms
with herself
just to get it
over with,
hopes sleep
will come

She misses
nicotine patches,
and glorious
in darkness,
for the magic,
like a robot.

The sun
does push-ups,
fantasy runs laps,
the moon exploded,
hours knock
on windows,
she sleeps
in daylight,
night waits.

She fakes orgasms
with herself.


Retrograde drew gasps from several of the interns, along with several red faces.  This is not your grandmother's poetry, it in not MFA in creative writing poetry.  Perl is completely fearless and does not depend on the opinions of others, men or women, to define herself.

These poems howl haughty, they are the knife edge of feminine power, self-determination.  Perl could care less what the quiet tide sounds like, these poems scream with scatological harmony and never lack for dark beauty.

These poems come off of the page like white lightning.  Hard and hot and almost unpalatable on the first swig.  But from that moment of conversion on -- you are either a convert or out of the game.     Perl swallowed me whole like I was taking communion and I imagine she'll have the same effect on most of you.


Some night my man is a stranger.
He hides behind his big hands
and deep eyes, burns orchards
as I sleep, his thoughts drill
holes in the sheet, dreams move
in orbits along the same path.
I forget to remove my bracelets,
they turn to steel, I don't know
whether to slap him or fuck him,
it all feels the same, the bed
crashes into the wall, encounters
are never delicate, somewhere
a door slams shut, the morning
is clear, he hugs the pillow
as I leave, I crawl back
beneath the covers and he
returns, like surrender.
We draw closer as we sleep
until the invasion resumes.


Puma Perl just kicked the crap out of my expectations when I opened Retrograde.  I always hope to like the books that publishers and poets send, I want to admire them all.  Puma Perl is a poet who will now be part of my ongoing poetry conversation.

She is someone like Sue Goyette, someone you simply HAVE to read.

Fuck Like An Anarchist

There's an uprising in the bedroom.
Machine guns rattle in his chest.
He sleeps.

I wouldn't mind the snoring if I didn't hate you,
she says, and she leaves the room, returns half dressed,
climb on top of him, and she fucks him. She fucks him
because she's angry, she fucks him because she hates him,
she fucks him because she doesn't know what else to do,
and she can't talk about it with her tongue down
his throat so she fucks him. She fucks him with one leg
on the floor, she fucks him in black mascara,
she fucks him half naked, she fucks him half dressed.

She wears her red lace push-up bra while she fucks him.

She fucks him without rules and authority.
She fucks him with no sense of order.
She fucks him into a state of lawlessness.

She fucks him like an anarchist.

Pillows litter the floor.
She steps over them and gets half dressed.
Then she gets the other half dressed.

It's time to leave.
He sleeps.
She locks the door behind her.
She's done.


Today's book of poetry admires smart and Puma Perl is all over that.  We like screaming hard electrical jolts of neon truth and that is Perl all night long.  And we have all the time in the world for brave.

As Andy Griffith said in that old movie: "It ain't braggin' if you done it."

Puma Perl's Retrograde is as exciting as any book of poetry I've read in a long time.

Puma Perl

In the mid-70s, Puma Perl happened by the Nuyorican Poets Café on its second night of existence. Along with countless other Lower East Side residents, she discovered that the transformative power of poetry and performance was accessible to her, regardless of class and academic achievement. Decades later—still living in New York City—she is a widely published poet, writer, performer, producer, and photographer.

Puma is the author of two chapbooks, the award-winning Belinda and Her Friends and Ruby True, and the full-length collection knuckle tattoos. Her poetry and short stories appear in numerous journals and anthologies including It’s Animal but Merciful (great weather for MEDIA, 2012), The Understanding between Foxes and Light (great weather for MEDIA, 2013), Maintenant, Rattle, The Chiron Review, Have a NYC (Three Rooms Press), and Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions, and Catharsis.

She was the co-creator, co-producer, and main curator of DDAY Productions which mounted shows in many New York City venues and highlighted emerging artists. Her newest venture is Puma Perl’s Pandemonium, which brings together poetry with rock and roll. As Puma Perl and Friends, she performs regularly with a group of excellent musicians. She continues to be transformed.

Puma Perl is a remarkable poet and an exciting performer. Her works in verse are packed with riveting details of modern life and chronicle her unrelenting resistance to the way things are or meant to be. Retrograde is a true contemporary masterpiece.
 — John Sinclair, poet, jazz and blues historian, former manager of the MC5, radio host, and political activist

Perl reminds me in some ways of Ginsberg. Both weave the immediate into their work as documentary evidence. Both have a desire to somehow sing to an audience of their peers. Both have motifs…talisman symbols that speak to core experience. Ginsberg returns again and again to his “clock of meat”: Perl returns to her knives, honed and handed over in tiny, sharp cuts of poems (“Do not believe / my spoken word, / read my scarred / letters, they crawl / down my arms / like predators”) and to the vital squalor of LES apartments (“I don’t sleep on the floor any more. I’m too old to crash on moldy blankets, bodies of strangers on either side, sounds of wet fucking, smells of beer, blood and vomit.”)
—B.A. Goodjohn, Mom Egg Review

Absolutely gut wrenching, achingly beautiful. bittersweet and painfully true. Puma seems to have written this in her own blood not from what bled out but from what she ripped out from deep inside. You will recognize yourself in this book. She makes no observations, she relates experiences. She runs the gamut of hustling, scoring, cooking and shooting, the beauty and ugliness of the high and fall, and you begin it all again but never told as a victim only as a survivor and winner.
 – Guido Colacci, Steel Notes Magazine

Retrograde is a true rush…An extremely authentic and unsentimental look at the gritty and dangerous New York that has since been glamourized, mourned and burnt beyond recognition into the realm of cultural mythology.
 – Scott Stiffler, The Villager.

The book is for those who do not wake up screaming, but wake up wanting to scream…The poems span everything from years of addiction, long ago, to the now where there are “social media” and cell phones. It is a a world where “it is always sometimes, never forever”: as it has always been, it’s just a world where it is more glaringly obvious. 
– David McLean, Autoerotic Elegies

Puma’s writing shoots straight from the hip or straight to the lip, powerful, honest and to the point. Her writing hits home, and often conveys things most people are too unaware or afraid to admit.Puma pulls no punches, telling tales of self-destruction as a celebration of life until way after the party is over, and somehow being graced with a second chance to survive. Don’t try this at home.
 —Iris Berry, publisher, Punk Hostage Press

The collection moves through time, whether it’s looking toward a dangerous past, a muddy future, or a bleak present; it is a study in how humanity changes yet stays stationary. Perl draws divine inspiration from Elizabeth Bishop, as the sense of loss permeates between every line, syllable, and period…The book is void of bullshit, portraying American city life in all its unglamorous, gritty glory. 
— Joanna C. Valente, Luna Luna

There is regret and deep disappointment in these pages, lurking but not hidden beneath the swagger of gritty urban attitude, the haze of cigarette smoke, and the back-of-the-water-bill list of pointless sexual encounters with boys who think they’re badasses…Retrograde is a brilliant title for this book, referencing that relentless forward motion that seems to sometimes reverse in both appearance and reality.” 
—Eric Paul Shaffer, The Pedestal

With words that hit like hammers, these poems bring us into a New York City of speedballs, broken windows and fast encounters. There is also ginger tea, soft sleep and yearning. You may have been here—I know I have. And if you haven’t, the raw emotion in Puma Perl’s free verses will transport you. 
—Thaddeus Rutkowski, author of “Haywire”, “Tetched” and “Roughhouse”

These poems make me cry and want to punch a wall. They bring me to that place inside where the darker hours loom. Puma Perl takes us on a trip through our interiors piecing together the moments we wanted nothing and everything at the same time. Her mastery shines when suddenly a word or phrase sparks a laugh, daybreak comes, and she (we) steps out triumphant.
— Nicca Ray, writer

Puma Perl writes with dagger to the heart directness. Dreams merge as she borrows from pain to understand her strength and purity. This warrior leaves me grinning and a little wiser.
— Zoe Hansen, writer / artist

Puma Perl and Rick Eckerle
Hurt (Johnny Cash)
video courtesy:  Puma Perl


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.