Saturday, January 30, 2016

Pin Pricks - Phlip Arima (Quattro Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Pin Pricks.  Phlip Arima.  Quattro Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2014.


Here's the thing.  Today's book of poetry is pretty sure you could walk the streets of any city in the world with a copy of Phlip Arima's Pin Pricks in your pocket and find the answers to almost any question you might be asked.  Not a direct answer, but a perfect response.

Pin Pricks is full of sharp and quick teasers, taunts, lamentations, celebrations and exclamations.   Sharp and quick but never terse.  Mr. Arima is a delight.

Pin Prick 3

I walk to the wall
count the cracks
that disappear
into the floor.

I hear a siren
screaming toward
a greater


Pin Prick 17

Two men of different skin
talking as they walk
down the street.

An obscenity is shot
from a passing car.

They pause, sigh
never stop holding hands.


Because Arima chooses such brevity in Pin Pricks Today's book of poetry has taken the unusual step of including three two-poem clusters instead our usual three poems.  Pin Pricks merits this by being constantly surprising and consistently right on the mark.  These poems are clusters of pearls.

Pin Prick 40

There's a crack in the floor
that lengthens each time
I step over it.

Its edge resemble
a cut on my hand
that will not heal.

Into it I've swept
the names I no longer
write on my calendar.


Pin Prick 51

The tortoise was fully evolved
before mankind existed.

There are trees that have outlived

Just prior to the Second World War
we split the atom.


At our office this morning all hell broke loose.  Everyone was in high spirits because we had guests show up for this morning's reading.  The ghosts of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Ezra Pound bounded into our offices around eight-thirty, they were arm in arm, Vladimir politely demanded vodka and Ezra demurely requested "strong tea".

Who knew that Milo spoke Russian?  Milo and Mayakovsky are now sitting in the corner, Milo talking a mile a minute, Vlad occasionally shaking his head, "nyet, nyet."  

The two giants joined in on this morning's read, each taking their turn in stride.  Hearing Phlip Arima read in Russian, Milo translating in Vlad's ear, was a gas.

The old poets are never wrong.  Not here at Today's book of poetry, and it might have been our best morning read yet.

Pin Prick 74

The elephant rolls over
and everyone applauds.

He stands on one leg
and everyone applauds.

He shits as he is leaving
and everyone pretends

not to notice.


Pin Prick 11

Abandoned trousers in the street
a young face at a window
someone waves an ancient flag
a glass of wine falls over.

A line of cars run out of gas
bets are placed on politicians
dogs are freed from a kennel.

A summer storm destroys a city
soldiers put their helmets on 
debates are staged for television.

Sticks of incense near an altar
lose their scent to time.




Today's book of poetry would be remiss if we didn't mention how much we liked the very striking cover of Phlip Arima's Pin Pricks.  Designed by Sarah Beaudin and using an electric image by Thomas Hendry, this book looks as great as it reads.  

Arima's aphorisms and poems are proof in the pudding that bigger is not always better.  Today's book of poetry had the ghosts of giants show up at our offices this morning to prove it.

Phlip Arima

Phlip Arima is a Toronto author of three previous poetry books:Breathe Now, Damaged, and Beneath the Beauty. Broken Accidents, a collection of short fiction, was short-listed for a 2003 Relit Award. His poetry has been adapted to video by Vision Television, and his fiction to stage by Newfoundland’s RCA Theatre.


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 28, 2016

The Green of Sunset - John Brantingham (MoonTide Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The Green of Sunset.  John Brantingham.  Moon Tide Press.  Irving, California.  2013.

The Green of Sunset is what you might get if you made a benevolent Frankenstein out of Hemmingway, Jim Harrison and the very sensible Sharon Olds.  Who knows what Brantingham will think of that when he sees it.  But it is meant in an entirely complimentary way.  This is big boy stuff with attitude, and then when you least expect it Brantingham's heart and voice turn sentimental but never soft.

There is a manly, tough-guy veneer to these poems and Harrison would approve.  And these poems would pass Hem's scrutiny because they are as solid as poems get, as solid as iron, there are no chinks in this armour.  Then there is all that intelligent tenderness and hard earned emotional wisdom.

The Wages of Cynicism

Imagine me, cynic that I was, 19 years old, sneering at a Yu-
goslavian village whose favorite daughters and sons talked
directly to Mary--the gut reaction of a clever kid--who would,
in the next five days, see himself for what he was and learn to hate
that fraud inside himself. It's taken me these last twenty years to
forgive myself for that, and God, so much more, and it makes
me wonder how long it will take for me to forgive myself for all
that I am doing today.


Brantingham isn't afraid to call himself on his own bullshit and that is refreshing.  The Green of Sunset is a palette where Brantingham is mixing colours and digging into the canvas hard, it's a big canvas and he is using all of it.

This is the first time Today's book of poetry has encountered the poetry of John Brantingham even though almost every poem in this collection was previously published.  These poems feel familiar, like you have heard them before, they are like stories passed down at late night fires.

Brantingham's narratives almost always circle back on themselves with new and deeper revelations about who the poet really is and as these coils filled with joy and power and remorse tighten, the palatable tension rises.

The Art of Merging

He's been on the road five hours after taking it from his boss all
day, when a big white truck cuts into his space on the freeway.
He lets it all go at once; the job he didn't want, the miscarriage,
the wife he betrayed, his brother's addictions, everything in one
long sentence of hatred, and the truck takes his sentence and
his sins, and it hauls them away forever like that beautiful goat
wandering the Sinai.

Today's book of poetry is using three of Brantingham's shorter poems from The Green of Sunset for today's blog/review - but it could just as easily have been three longer poems.  At this morning's reading the short poems took on a Richard Brautigan flare, Brantingham's longer poems took on the tone of sacred text from a modern voice, a hit on folklore and legend.

Poem about the Pacific Crest Trail that Devolves into a Kind of
Sentimentality I'm Not Ashamed of

On the couch last night, I realized that I was never going to hike
the Pacific Crest Trail--not the whole thing--and I guess I
could add that to my long list of regrets if I had ever wasted time
with that kind of list.
     There was a time twenty years ago when I dreamed of tak-
ing the hike from Canada to Mexico in a three-month journey of
silence and self-reflection, swimming into myself and finding the
peace that lay in the middle.
     What a pretentious ass I was, and what a fool I was to think
that peace lay some place inside me when it was sitting right here
the whole time on the couch in that space beside you.


Today's book of poetry liked how real and true every word in this collection sounded.  The Green of Sunset has a moral center that these great prose poems revolve around like planets
 fighting for the sun.  Brantingham likes the clean message and these poems gleam.

John Brantingham

John Brantingham is the author of hundreds of poems, stories, and essays published in magazines in the United States and United Kingdom. His books include Mann of War, a crime novel, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods, a short story collection, The Gift of Form, an instruction guide for beginning formal poetry, and East of Los Angeles, a poetry collection. He teaches English at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California and lives in Seal Beach with his wife Annie and dog, Archie Goodboy.

"It is difficult to praise a book of poems that you already feel so emotionally connected to: it seems unnecessary, a gesture that only takes away from the beauty, wisdom, goodness, honesty, imaginativeness, and spirituality of the work itself. Nevertheless, John Brantingham's The Green of Sunset is the finest collection of poems he has ever written, which is saying something, considering he's been producing excellent work for going on 20 years now. Let the prose poems contained in this collection stand alongside those in Mark Strand's Almost Invisible and Jim Harrison's In Search of Small Gods as some of the most accomplished of the past decade. Simply put, these poems are the work of a writer operating at the very top of his craft."
      - Paul Kareem Tayyar

"In an age of superficiality, mediocrity and sound-cliches, John Brantingham is a genuine throwback to when Men of Letters roamed the literary prairies: a scholar, novelist, poet, essayist, scriptwriter, public speaker, reviewer, professor, mentor, and festival organizer. He is first-rate in everything he turns his mind and hand to. His poems benefit from the breadth of his life experiences as well as his formal academic training. His creative and intellectual emanations brim with his enthusiasms, his versatility, and the depths of spirituality and social conscience at the core of his soul. There is no one of whom I could speak more highly, as a write and as a person."
     - Gerald Locklin

"Our best writers weigh their words carefully, and John Brantingham is certainly one of them. He is a craftsman with a huge heart who cares deeply about people and stories and the chaos we call our lives. His characters are beautifully rendered, real and true, at once vulnerable and courageous. Wise and insightful, Brantingham's work brilliantly captures the light and darkness in us all."
     - James Brown

John Brantingham's
poetry reading at the EP Foster Library
video: AskewPoetryJournal



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 26, 2016

Astonished to Wake - Julie Suk (Jacar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Astonished to Wake.  Julie Suk.  Jacar Press.  Durham, North Carolina.  2016.

"Only the dead have the last say", this is a line from Julie Suk's poem "Vacancies" and it jumped right off the page and slapped me across the face.  Suk is right.  

But then she turns around and pleads a convincing case for the living in her beautifully sad Astonished To Wake.  Today's book of poetry was entranced by this collection early on.  The poems are good from the start and form a steady, striding beat, Suk never drops a note.  Suk is leading with her well worn heart. 

There are ghosts in Astonished To Wake and they haunt these pages like a tremor but Suk has found a way to make their sad dirges not only palatable but intriguingly necessary.

I'm Astonished To Wake

in a world the same as yesterday--
irrational dreams led me to believe otherwise.

No more lopping off passionate words,
no more leaving you with empty hands.

Were you hurt?

I warned you
the harmless and venomous alike can deceive,

the hognose snake hiss and inflate its head
into a triangular shape.

Foolish bravado
when what we need is heart pressed against heart.


Surely the sun will slash us with color
as it climbs to the top of a ravishing day.

The cock will crow and hens lay.

Maybe we'll forget
the hours that pad behind our scent
with unsheathed claws.

Don't be astonished if you wake
splattered with blood.

Be astonished to wake.


There is both eulogy and prayer intertwined between every word Julie Suk puts down in Astonished To Wake.  It's a somber exploration of death, loss and mourning that is conducted with restrained class and punctuated heart-stopping truths.  

The banshee screams of lost love are in here, tempered and held at bay by an inquisitive mind never completely lost to the guilt of survival or grief.

Little Islets Of The Past

float by, one scene segued into another,
the stories we've lived trying us on again,

the same brutish hour hovering on its limb,
the same never again littering the day.

Maybe next time...
but the scene-stealing dead usurp our lives,
leaving us shivering and bruised,

so we lie to save ourselves,
one act after another disassembled,


we'd be on our knees for years.


Astonished To Wake is a sad journey.  We had our regular morning read in the office, but the place is almost empty now.  Our new intern Kathryn's last words as she left the building in tears were something like "that is so beautifully fucking sad."  I think that is what she said.  Milo grabbed his gear and flung himself out the door after her.  His last words were "That is some truly, madly, deeply sad shit."  I know Milo, "shit" was not derogatory, it was an exclamation.  He was saying the poetry was solid.

Neither of them, Kathryn or Milo, swear very often.  But I think I understand.  Julie Suk has some serious truths about living and dying, about loss and surviving, and that can be disturbing.  The better the poetry the further under the skin it goes.  These poems go bone deep.

Astonished To Wake is one of those books of poetry your friends will be glad you made them read.   They will want to pass it on to their friends, and so on.  This is sad wisdom, hard-earned knowledge and Suk shares it with us in poems that are cut like diamonds, little pieces of something harder than our hearts, shining in every facet.

Between Lives

And what if it's true that the life we've lived
flashes by at the moment of death?

Not even for an instant would I want repeated
the boring drone of guilt,
nor the shabby aftermath of desire.

The black tunnel lit with epiphanies
would be my take--

sighs of contentment, laughter, a wild calling out--

and at the end,
a brief flaring of the one we'd hoped to become
escorting us into the light.


This sad glamour does have some hope, it's in there working its way to surface.  Today's book of poetry loved Suk's honesty, it takes a lot to make poetry out of loss and then it takes a lot more to make it beautiful.  Julie Suk is a stone-cold killer poet  -  she's welcome at our fire anytime.

Julie Suk

Julie Suk is the author of five previous volumes of poetry. The Angel of Obsession won the University of Arkansas Poetry Competition, the Roanoke-Chowan Award and was on the short
list for the Poets Prize.  The Dark Takes Aim was awarded the Brockman-Campbell, and the Oscar Arnold Young awards.  Suk is also a recipient of the Bess Hokin Prize from Poetry magazine, and received the Irene Honecutt Lifetime Achievement Award from Central Piedmont Community College. She was formerly a managing editor of Southern Poetry Review, and co-editor of Bear Crossings, an Anthology of North American Poets.


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 21, 2016

4 Rms w Vu - Susana H. Case (Mayapple Press)

Today's book of poetry:
4 Rms w Vu.   Susana H. Case.  Mayapple Press.  Woodstock, New York.  2014.

Susana Case - 4 Rms w Vu - front cover

There is nothing better than the powerful whisper-blow of Ben Webster's tenor and that is what we are listening to this morning in the Today's book of poetry office.  It's -19 C or some other ungodly temperature outside.  Every time Milo and I want to have a smoke we have to bundle up like explorers.  We both end up looking like kids going off to kindergarten, everything but mittens on a string.

But now that we are back here in our warm office and listening to Ben we can tell you why we are excited by Susana H. Case and her utterly vibrant 4 Rms w Vu, although given any sort of chance Case would handle that with aplomb.  Case writes our kind of poetry.  Her poetry is down to earth, wildly emotional but almost controlled, anarchy of the best kind.

And Now Let's Revisit Sex and Death

Getting into bed with you,
it's afternoon, my mind on play,
I'm wearing chiffon, I'm grinning
like the cows have already come home
for me when you say,
could you take a look at my lip -- I'm thinking cancer,
which of course stops the whole thing dead
while we go to the lamp
get you angled right and yes,
there's something there, could be anything,
there's a definite thing that doesn't belong,
like a dog in a tree
and you couldn't know the number of my women friends
whose men are no longer here,
how it always starts with,
could you look at this bump on my neck, this spot on my leg,
as if any of us had expertise in more than fear and rage,
rage because you just had to wrap your lips
around your smoke, didn't you, instead of around
some more compliant part of me,
always this conjunction of sex and death,
it's like the good twin hopelessly
sharing a brain with the evil twin,
the one who pops open a beer,
whispers, go ahead--light the match--mess it all up,
through nicotine-yellow teeth, the one
who makes me think that if you're ill,
I'll shoot you myself, kill you right now
for carelessly leaving me in this fucked-up place alone.


Case has no problem leading with her heart but be careful because she is coming for yours and she is a take-no-prisoners poet.

4 Rms w Vu takes the reader to the steppes of Kazakhstan, the Adirondacks, a car accident in Kansas and  a new apartment in New York City.  The last Inca ruler plays a part and so does Charlie Parker.   Susana H. Case is an equal opportunity poet.  But regardless of the setting she is always aiming for some new truth, a better understanding of the tumultuous relationships that make us human.

While Case is striding through all this scenery the important consideration is how engaged you become as a reader, how invested you become in the outcome.  Case is all about relationships but has no trouble at all blowing them up to get a better look at what was inside.  And we get to go along for the frenetic ride.

Girls You Could Love

girls you could fuck
and straddle-both-world girls
like me, you showed off

to your friends. Peaking early
girls. Peaking late. Prom queens.
Science girls. Nasty girls.

Straight-A girl with my intricate
knowledge of each protrusion, slit,
crevice. Don't forget the stockings,

the heels, you'd say, fetish boy
with your dual-career
parents, your empty house,

housekeeper who pretended
not to notice, the gilt phones I laughed
about to my friends. So good to be

inside you--or--you
inside me. I got so lost in it. My parents
who devoured relationship

books frowned, symbiosis
--a big word for us, fat
on the tongue--and yes,

I thought I'd crumple without
you, but also knew to direct you, slowly
run your hand up here, along the 15 denier

nylon you had so crazily fixed upon. Little
garter button indents red on my thighs
that read: the one with these legs

knows exactly how to want.
Anyone who thought the power was yours
really didn't understand.


Case is trying, quite diligently, to break down all impediments to the truth in these narratives.  These poems hit like a wrecking ball.  4 Rms w Vu reminds us here at Today's book of poetry of Maryse Holder's Give Sorrow Words, if only for a moment.  Case has some of the same intensity of emotional clarity and frankly, some of the same female anger that compelled Holder.

That's not a bad thing at all.  

Today's book of poetry loved Give Sorrow Words and we are quite fond of Susana H. Case at the moment, we have nothing but admiration for any poet who is willing to put it all on the table.


The best thing to die from is living.
Let me kill myself slowly with pleasure.

Let me dance round and round in circles first.
Let me blow a lot of fuses.

Let me age like a good slab of steak, tender
with the mold trimmed. Let me be

a car going 80 miles per hour.
Let me reach 80--the exquisite

torture of those many years is compelling.
Let them not be Chaplinesque. Let them say

she never knew what hit her. Let it be like
the one James Dean got, only much later.

Let me not surrender to humiliations.
Let me end when my mind, still sharp,

is somewhere else--dreaming of perfectly
grilled lamb, the rosemary perfume so strong,

it could be sealed in my pillow, of hot sex,
and let that be not so long gone

that it burns like a bad joke. In the valley
of the shadow of death, I'd still like

my red lipstick please. Let my breasts not reach
my waist. Let there be very little

scar tissue on me at the time and
let there be a weeping willow, under it

a significantly younger man,
my own little honey cake, who is weeping,

too--thought I don't wish that on him for long,
He'll have a life to live.


Is a good life possible?  Today's book of poetry thinks so and so does Susana H. Case, she just makes it clear it won't come easy or without bruising.  It might leave a scar.  Just like these poems.

Susana H. Case

Susana H. Case is a Professor and Program Coordinator at the New York Institute of Technology. Her photos have appeared in Blue Hour Magazine, pacificREVIEW, and San Pedro River Review, among others. Author of several chapbooks, her Slapering Hol Press chapbook, The Scottish Café, was published in a dual-language version, Kawiarnia Szkocka, by Poland’s Opole University Press. Her previous books of poetry are: Salem In Séance (WordTech Editions), Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips (Anaphora Literary Press), and Earth and Below(Anaphora Literary Press). Please visit her online at:

The poems in 4 Rms w Vu, like most of Susana H. Case’s work, demand full participation—no watching here—that we live in their apartments, wear their clothes, down to the “denier nylon.” At the end we’re a little shaken, but a lot wiser. Susana is a daring poet, not so much for the sake of issuing challenges, but more to the cause of poetry itself; she defies one to bring the whole body and soul, and deny no part of this experience called living.
     – Mervyn Taylor, author of The Waving Gallery
4 Rms w Vu is a poetic open house in which Susana H. Case guides us through the rooms of the heart. In poems addressed to husbands, lovers and parents, Case shows how the past, the curious details of daily life and wonderings about the future all weave together endlessly, how nothing is ever really lost—not a loved one, not a hurt—if you can remember. In her moving new collection, we see how this poet’s art is an act of holding on in language that is sure-footed.
     – Matthew Thorburn, author of This Time Tomorrow

Susana H. Case’s 4 Rms w Vu superimposes an intricate map of a lover’s mind on the floorplan of a New York City apartment in poems that never shrink from the “weep and stink
of everyday brutality.” Moving from room to room and year to year, 4 Rms w Vu passes through meditations on life with dogs, the metaphysics of lipstick, and the peculiarly American primal scene of the isolating, moving, colliding car, in square footage inhabited by a woman with the brio to ask, as final prayer — “Let me blow a lot of fuses.” 
     -B. K. Fischer, author of St. Rage’s Vault

In these poems, Susana H. Case captures a vision of New York that can no longer be seen but in memory. Filled with characters frenzied by love, desire & hope, 4 Rm w Vu reminds us not only where we’re from but also who we are. 
     -Gerry LaFemina, author of

Susana H. Case
reading her poem "Copiapo" from 
the poetry anthology "Rabbit Ears"
video:  Rabbit Ears TV


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Hive - Christina Stoddard (University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Hive.  Christina Stoddard.  University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, Wisconsin.  2015.
Winner of The Brittingham Prize in Poetry

Hive Cover

Christina Stoddard "brings the hammer down" hard.  These poems are the flaming sparks you get from raising a hammer high and bringing it down hard on an anvil.  And she doesn't miss a beat.   Every time you turn a page in this spellbinding collection you can feel the heat.  Stoddard is fully armed and taking names, and she is shooting in every direction.  

Hive is as rewarding a book of poetry as you'll find out there, this woman can burn.

Stoddard grew up in the Mormon Church and she is not all that happy about it.  These poems are brutal and beautiful, terrifying and exciting.

The Oxford Unabridged

was how I learned the word fellatio,
though I paused to look up orgasm
and my understanding of male genitals was abstract
at best. I had read the word fellatio in the newspaper,
Local section, in a story
about three runaways, two boys and a girl.
A man held them in a cabin
for two weeks. He raped the girl
and forced the boys to perform fellatio on him
repeatedly. I didn't have to look up rape--
I'd know that word since fourth grade
when Takeisha told me
that her uncle took off his pants
when he babysat and we told
our teacher. But I read
the definition of fellatio
and I considered what I knew
about repeatedly.
The man picked up the kids
hitching o the freeway
and said he'd take them as far
as Enumclaw. The girl
gave her testimony yesterday,
which sounded strange when I read it
because in our church
testimony was when we all stood up
to bear witness of Christ
on the first Sunday, in lieu of a sermon.
The article said the girl had a glass eye.
the man stabbed out her real one
when she tried to escape. The man
told her: I will not kill you, I will
take some things away.


One of the many things Today's book of poetry absolutely loved about Christina Stoddard's Hive is the sustain.  Stoddard never takes her foot off of the gas.  She pops these out of the park, page after page, like she was taking batting practice for fun.

There is a dark menacing undertoad that rolls under these pages.  Its a dark cloud hanging over the prayer you cannot retract.  Stoddard controls all the momentum with the precision of a surgeon.

The entire Today's book of poetry staff were sitting around our large central table this morning for today's read.  Everyone seemed in a rather solemn, somber mood.  We agreed that Stoddard did have a sense of humour but she is one tough nut.  The laughs don't come often but the dazzle is always on. Every person in the room ate up these intense little diamonds because they are such perfectly articulated anger.  Unanimous.

I Ask My Father If the Green River
Killer's Victims Go to Heaven

Because we are not equally loved on this earth,
because we are all God's children,
in the temple we baptize

lists of the dead. It is why
I step into the font, white dress
dragging like sailcloth.

An Elder takes both wrists
and pushes my body underwater
while saying a stranger's name.

In the water, I'm supposed to go absent.

I baptize you in the name of Lynette Snyder, who is dead
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost

As I go under, I glimpse
the howling green river,
the parade of persuaded girls.

I see you, I tell them, I know
you are here.

I baptize you in the name of Karen Haskill, who is dead
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost

Fifty times I drown.

I baptize you in the name of Melissa Porter, who is dead
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost

I am weightless, light as a nest.
To save the others, the Elder
has to hold me down.


Christina Stoddard has a luminous career ahead of her.  Today's book of poetry knows great when we see it.

Hive questions faith in a world where faith is the beginning and the end to all things.  In a world where faith means belonging and questions mean banishment/escape to the dark and foreboding woods.  Stoddard response is to scream like she has been scalded.

God Made Everything Out of Nothing,
But the Nothingness Shows Through

The woman you are trying to love
has finally let you see her naked.
A clutch of seagull-shaped scars
ranges over her breasts
and you have never seen anything
like it, but that only means
you haven't seen much.
You have questions and 
all I can tell you is that the earth
is full of ashes. I know
it is beautiful sometimes to be violent.
That flood of surprise and pleasure
at what we are capable of
in the instant before blood
escapes the skin. We are
often told that loves comes
from inside us and maybe
she tired of waiting for it.
I know it is power
to open yourself. It is power
to stand naked before a man.
And there are those of us who need
to look upon the face
of the deep, who know
that emptiness was first, before God
allowed there to be light.


Today's book of poetry doubts that Hive was written in blood, but it sure seems that honest, it certainly feels that true.  This is brave stuff.  

Stoddard had better be working on her next book or TBOP will be sending out our Poetry Swat Team to investigate.

If Today's book of poetry handed out stars Hive would get them all.

Christina Stoddard
Christina Stoddard
photo: Dennis Wile


Christina Stoddard is the author ofHive, which was selected by Lucia Perillo for the 2015 Brittingham Prize in Poetry (University of Wisconsin Press). Christina’s poems have appeared in various journals includingstorySouth, DIAGRAM, and Spoon River Poetry Review. Originally from Tacoma, WA, Christina received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she was the Fred Chappell Fellow. Christina is an Associate Editor at Tupelo Quarterly and a Contributing Editor at Cave Wall. She currently lives in Nashville, TN where she is the Managing Editor of a scholarly journal in economics and decision theory.

“Hive is a joyride in a fast car that sometimes gets pulled over by a man in a suit with a Bible in his hand. Read these poems and you’ll know what I’m talking about!”
     —Lucia Perillo, Brittingham Prize judge

“Hive investigates the intersections of religion, race, class, and sexuality with grace and knowing. This is a revisiting of a Pacific Northwest that we often forget in our rush toward nostalgia—while the world was busy lauding the grunge scene, women went missing in the woods, and children died in the streets. Stoddard’s exquisite craft never forgets the errand: she raises the dead and offers full tribute and salve for those of us who have survived it.”
     —TJ Jarrett, author of Ain’t No Grave

“Christina Stoddard’s stunning first collection begins in ruin and the buzz of gathering flies. And that buzz grows into a more and more menacing hum in a journey through rapes and murders, through stray bullets and serial killers, through mental and physical and emotional and sexual and even spiritual abuse until the voice speaking the poems seems to come from a ‘mouth / fill[ed] with swarm.’ Yet in the end, miraculously—by their sheer courageous existence—these fierce poems soothe as much as they sting.”
     —Dan Albergotti, author of Millennial Teeth


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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Sunday, January 17, 2016

Multitudinous Heart - Selected Poems - Carlos Drummond de Andrade (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Today's book of poetry:
Multitudinous Heart - Selected Poems.  Carlos Drummond de Andrade.  A Bilingual Edition, translated by Richard Zenith.  Farrar, Straus and Giroux.  New York, New York.  2015.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade (October 31, 1902 - August 17, 1987) is considered by many to be the greatest Brazilian poet.  To many he is the national poet.

Imagine this, his poem "Canção Amiga" ("Friendly Song") is printed on the Brazilian 50 cruzado novus bill.   The man's poetry is on money.

Drummond was a modernist who marched through several stylistic approaches to his poetry over the decades, he published over forty books of poetry, but as far as Today's book of poetry can tell this body of work always remained accessible to his readers.


A little of everything remained.
Of my fear. Of your disgust.
Of stuttered cries, Of the rose
a little remained.

A little of the light glancing
off the hat remained.
A little (just a little)
of kindness remained
in the scoundrel's eyes.

Little remained of the dust
that covered your white
shoes. A little clothing,
a few tattered veils, a little,
just a little, a very little remained.

But a little of everything remains.
Of the bombed bridge,
of two blades of grass,
of the empty pack
of cigarettes a little remained.

Because a little of everything
remains: a little of your chin
in the chin of your daughter,
a little of your harsh silence
in the angry walls,
in the speechless,
climbing leaves.

A little of everything remained
in the porcelain saucer,
 a cracked dragon, a white flower.
A few lines in your forehead,
a photo

If a little of everything remains,
why won't a little of me
remain? In the train
for the north, in the boat,
in newspaper ads?
A little of me in London,
a little of me somewhere?
In that consonant...
In that well...

A little remains tossing
in the mouths of rivers,
and the fish don't scorn it:
a little that isn't in books.

A little of everything remains.
Not much: this absurd
drip from a faucet,
half salt, half alcohol,
this frog's leg jumping,
this watch crystal shattered
into a thousand hopes,
this swan's neck,
this childhood secret...
A little of everything remained:
of me, of you, of Abelard.
Hair on my sleeve,
a little of everything remained;
wind in my ears,
 a silly burp, a groan
from a disgruntled bowel,
and minuscule artifacts:
bell jar, honeycomb, a bullet
casing, an aspirin capsule.
A little of everything remained.

And a little of everything remains.
Oh open these jars of lotion
and smother
the unbearable stench of memory.

But a little of everything terribly remains.
Under the breaking waves,
under the clouds and winds,
under bridges and under tunnels,
under flames and under sarcasm,
under slobber and under vomit,
under the sob, the jail, the forgotten,
under gala shows and scarlet deaths,
under libraries, asylums, and triumphant churches,
under you yourself and your crusty feet,
under the hinges of class of family
a little of everything always remains.
Sometimes a button. Sometimes a rat.


And that, my dear friends, is how the Masters do it.

Multitudinous Heart has poems from about fifteen or so of Carlos Drummond de Andrade's works, poems from 1932 to 1987.  Some of these poems tackle social issues, humanitarian concerns, others are ironic, and still others are metaphysical in nature.  And bless Drummond's cotton socks, as he got older his work got more erotic.  Who doesn't love that?

Drummond de Andrade's short poems feel big and his long poems are epics.  The way Today's book of poetry sees it they are timeless, immortal, and nothing better can be said of poems.

Richard Zenith has translated Fernando Pessoa, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Jose Luis Peixote, Fundacao Calouste Gulbenkian and so on.  His touch here feels invisible, he has rendered Drummond's Portuguese English.  Zenith has won numerous awards for his translations and these seamless, natural and vibrant poems show us why.

Declaration in Court

I beg pardon for being
the survivor.
Not for long, of course.
Set your minds at rest.
But I have to acknowledge, to confess,
I'm a survivor.
If it's sad and comical
to keep sitting in the auditorium
after the show has ended
and the theater is closing,
it's sadder, and grotesque, to be the sole actor
left onstage, without a role,
after the audience has all gone home
and only cockroaches
circulate in the sawdust.

Please note: it's not my fault.
I didn't do anything to be
a survivor.
I didn't beseech the powers on high
to keep me going this long.
I didn't kill any companions.
If I didn't make a noisy exit,
if I just stayed on and on and on,
I had no ulterior motive.

They left me here, that's all.
One by one they went away,
without warning, without waving at me,
without saying farewell, they disappeared.
(Some were veritable masters of silence.)
I'm not complaining. Nor do I reproach them.
It surely wasn't their intention
to leave me all on my own,
at a loss,
They didn't realize that one man would remain.
That's how I turned into -- or they turned me into --
a remainder, a leftover.

If it amazes you that I'm still living,
let me clarify: I'm just outliving.
I never really lived except
in plans and projects. Postponements.
Next year's calendar.
I never saw the point of living
when so many around me lived so much!
Sometimes I envied them. Sometimes I felt sorry
to see so much life used up by living
when not-living, out living
is what endured.
And I stood in a corner,
simply and inconsistently
waiting for my turn
to live.

It never came. Cross my heart. There were rehearsals,
trial runs, illustrations, that's all. Real life
smiled from afar, inscrutable.
I gave up. I withdrew
more and more, like a shellfish into its shell. Now
I'm a survivor.

A survivor is more disconcerting
than a ghost. I know: I disconcert myself.
One's own reflection is a ruthless accuser.
However much I hide from the world, I project
my own person, who looks back and taunts me.
It's useless to threaten him. He always returns,
every morning I return, I come back to me
with the regularity of a postman bringing bad news.
Every single day
confirms the strange phenomenon that's me.
My roots and my path
are not where I am,
where I've ended up,
 a persistent, redundant, nagging
of the life I still haven't
lived, I swear to God and the Devil, I never lived.

Not that I've confessed, what will be
my punishment, or my pardon?
My hunch is nothing can be done
for or against me.

How to do or undo
the undoable not-done?
If I'm a survivor, I'm a survivor.
You have to allow me at least
this quality. I'm the only one, you see,
of a very old group
unremembered on the streets
and in video films.
Only I still linger, sleep,
dine, urinate,
stumble, even smile
at odd moments, I assure you I smile,
like now, for instance, when I'm smiling
for being I (with relish?) a survivor.

I'm just waiting -- all right? --
for this time of surviving to end
and for everything to conclude without scandal
in the eyes of indifferent justice.
I've just noticed, without surprise,
that you hear but don't care if you understand me,
nor does it matter that a survivor
has come to present his case, to defend
or accuse himself, it's all the same
nothing at all, and void.


There was much excitement at this morning's read.  Apparently Kathryn and Milo have mended their fences and buried the hatchet because they were sitting close enough to each other today that they only needed one chair.  The two of them made every poem sound like a love poem this morning.   And they weren't wrong, Drummond is on a high plain, his poems are love poems to us all.

Now Milo and Kathryn are sitting in Milo's corner of the office watching alternating videos of the Cure and Tori Amos.  Not sure how this will end but I expect there will be more fireworks.  Milo is definitely a Ted Hughes man and Kathryn loves Sylvia.

Richard Zenith's excellent dance with Drummond frees his voice to our language.  These peoms feel as natural as Roy Hobbs/Robert Redford swinging for the fences in Bernard Malamud's ace.

Drummond has poems that simply march across the page and timelessly down through the decades like some sort of epic troubadour.  Drummond can really lay it out.

The Body's Contradictions

My body's not my body,
it's the illusion of another
being. A master at the art
of hiding me, it even
hides me from myself.

My body's not my agent.
It's my sealed envelope,
a threatening gun,
and finally my jailer:
it knows me better than I do.

My body deletes the memory
I once had of my mind.
It plants in me its pathos,
which strikes, wounds, condemns me
for crimes I didn't commit.

Its most diabolical trick
is to make itself sick, forcing
me to bear the weight
of each new ache it weaves
and passes to me in disgust.

That's why my body invented
pain: to make it internal,
an integral part of my id,
where it dims the light that tried
to spread into every corner.

At times by body has fun
without my knowledge and against
my will, and as the vicious
pleasure runs through its cells,
it laughs at my nonreaction.

Ordering me to go out
in search of what I don't want,
it negates my ego, affirming
itself to be lord of my I,
reduced to a servile dog.

Instead of me, my greedy
body is the one that feels
my most exquisite pleasure,
giving only chewed-up scraps
to my unsatiated hunger.

If I try to get away
by thinking of abstract things,
it comes back to me with all
the weight of its filthy flesh,
its boredom and discomfort.

I want to break with my body,
I want to confront and accuse it
for having annulled my essence,
but it goes off on its own
and doesn't even hear me.

Constantly pressed by its pulse
that never misses a beat,
I'm not who I used to be:
led by its sensual step,
I do dancing with my body.


Today's book of poetry thinks Drummond "sings the body electric" with the best of 'em.  Today's book of poetry is a small and slight forum for giants like this but we certainly appreciate him dropping by.

Carlos Drummond de Andrade

Carlos Drummond de Andrade (1902-1987) was born in a small town in Minas Gerais. While he spent most of his life working as a government bureaucrat, he regarded poetry as his true vocation, and his first book was published in 1930. During six decades of writing, his work went through many phases, transcending styles and schools while being strongly influenced by modernism. Few critics or serious readers would dispute his status as Brazil's greatest poet.

Richard Zenith

Richard Zenith lived in Brazil and France before immigrating to Portugal in 1987. He has translated the poetry of Luís de Camões, Fernando Pessoa, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, and João Cabral de Melo Neto.



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 14, 2016

A World Without End - Matthew Graham (River City Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
A World Without End.  Matthew Graham.  River City Poetry Series, Vol. Six. River City Publishing.  Montgomery, Alabama.  2005.

Today's book of poetry is ready to fire our entire research staff.  Try as they might, they came up short and almost empty-handed on Matthew Graham.  We know that A World Without End was his third book of poetry.  We will now send out our poetry swat-team to find those two early volumes.   Today's book of poetry sincerely hopes there are other, newer books by Mr. Graham because we need more poets like him.

These poems read like an Edward Hopper painting, you know exactly what you are seeing because the narrative is right in front of you, nothing abstract about it.  You also know, right away, that somehow you are the wiser for it.  Same thing with Graham.  These poems are never sermons (some of our wisest poets fall for that), but he certainly is leading a lesson.

Graham also has a finely tuned sense of humour.  When I read "When I Was a Kid" to K last night she almost fell out of our bed.  If I really want to know if something is good I read it to K, she has the best poetry barometer going.

When I Was a Kid

I thought pubic hair was public
And the perils of Tarzan were his pearls.
I'm still liable to dial 119.
In the late 1950's they didn't know from dyslexia.
You were just stupid
And got your head slammed against the blackboard.
I'm not complaining.
It made me humble and afraid to write.
It made me a quiet person on paper.
And forget about foreign words.
Once in Germany I ordered a pocketbook of coffee
And in a bar, told a Polish guy
I was a female professor.
Yes it all comes back to language,
That evil little dog at the door --
That brief flash we get
And translate as best we can.
Or as a French friends once said
To our boring host after an opulent dinner,
"Thank you. Thank you so much
For your hostility."


The cover art for A World Without End is a painting titled Before The Storm by Graham's wife, the painter Kathryn Waters and it is stunning.

Our intern Kathryn said that she'd happily kill our office techno-wizard Milo for that painting.  The rest of us thought of the painting as forbiddingly tender, much like many of these excellent poems.

What It Comes Down To

It happened in the spring,
A false spring, true, Still,
Birth seemed almost possible
In that shifting season.

Then blood, and starlight
Slipped away from a very small star.

I even had, secretively, names
I liked. One was Tess,
The others don't matter.

My wife cried on her hands and knees
On the kitchen floor.

Suddenly the whole world came down
To a woman crying.


Today's book of poetry was a hopeless romantic mess when reading some of Graham's poetry.  His eulogical poem "News",  dedicated to the late Richard V. Hyatt, misted up my glasses something good.

Matthew Graham's poems make the reader trust the poet.  In a "lead, follow or get out of the way" world Graham is someone you'd happily follow.  He's not shouting directions, his poems simply exude confidence, clarity and wisdom.  Who wouldn't follow that guy.

The Sadness of Summer

Another summer gone,
The clapboard cottage swept clean.
Dust rises and falls along the back roads
Of September. Remember
The bouquets of Queen Anne's lace gracing the breakfast table
Beneath the sheer curtains of June?
There are no boats on the water today.
And as I looked at you in the yard
From the upstairs window, as I saw you bend
And clip the last of the wild daisies
And saw my own reflection,
I thought of all the years quietly gone
That we have touched together
And of the life that we have made
And worn
And have become together.


Today's book of poetry sometimes feels that my selection of three poems is inadequate and today is one of those days.  I have to confess that the three poems I've chosen are not the best three poems from A World Without End.  The three I choose today spoke directly to me and I loved them too much not to share.  It happens.

Andrew Hudgins is a poet I greatly admire and he is the editor for this series of the River City Poetry Series.  Here is what he had to say on the front cover flap about Matthew Graham's A World Without End:

     "A thoughtful, elegiac voice pervades Matthew Graham's A World Without End,
     his new book and best book yet. A small sense of mourning arises even in his
     celebration of deep and continuing love because he knows that love, in the 
     fullness of time, inevitably ends, even if the lovers never falter in their loving.
     That doubled understanding moves him to the richest music in a life's work
     rich in music and meditation. A World Without End is stately without stiffness,
     thoughtful without pretense, humorous without indecorousness, clear without
     simplicity. It offers a pleasure in every line and a fresh moment of insight and
     understanding on every page."

What he said.

Matthew Graham

MATTHEW GRAHAM is the author of two books of poems, New World Architecture (Galileo Press, 1985) and 1946 (Galileo Press, 1991), and the recipient of awards and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Indiana Arts Commission, Pushcart, and the Vermont Studio Center.
His poems have appeared in Harvard Magazine, River Styx, and Crab Orchard Review, among many others. He directs the creative writing program at the University of Southern Indiana, where he co-directs the RopeWalk Writers Retreat, and is poetry editor of the Southern Indiana Review.
Graham lives in Evansville, Indiana, and is married to the painter Katie Waters.

"A World Without End is masterful. The pitch of these poems is nearly perfect -- in the way that the poems of Weldon Kees and Donald Justice (two elegant and dour muses hovering behind this book) are nearly perfect. A reader feels that nothing is missing and that there is not a single extraneous syllable. More than this, I admire the maturity and intelligence with which Matthew Graham treats his book's subject: history and its failures, cruelties, oppressions. Beneath the beautifully modulated images, beneath the insouciance which is Graham's brand of stoicism, the bottom has fallen out of the world and the serpents of history hiss. In poem after poem, one is lulled by the beauty and surprised by the brutality. This is a quietly remarkable book."
     - Lynn Emanuel, author of Then, Suddenly, and Hotel Fiesta

"Matthew Graham has been one of the best and the most indispensable poets in America, about America: the dogs of America, the people, the weather, our possessions and our places, the vast matter of what we can and what we cannot afford. In a world where you can hear James Wright singing back-up with Hank Williams, Matthew Graham has a light, tender and elegiac touch that is all his own. Every fine poem here forks over a little wound, and we are better for having had the heard and wit to absorb it."
     - Liam Rector, author of American Prodigal and The Executive Director of the Fallen World



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.