Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dear Ghost - Catherine Owen (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
Dear Ghost.  Catherine Owen.  A Buckrider Book.  Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2017.

Why am I not surprised when "Caligula and his freak show" show up in the nightly dreams of a young Catherine Owen?  Ms. Owen likes to give us the impression of a bookish youth full of church going Sundays and tempered innocence - but we are fairly certain she has "burn it down if necessary" tattooed on the insides of her eyelids.

Today's book of poetry has ventured into Catherine Owen territory before.  Back in April of 2013 Today's book of poetry took a look at her chapbook Steve Kulas & Other Autopsies (Angel House, 2012) and then in August of the same year Today's book of poetry cased Owen's Trobairitz (Anvil Press 2012).  You can see both of those blogs here:

Dear Ghost is a more mature voice from the irrepressible Owen.  This Owen, four years later, is more contemplative than reactive, more deliberate than spontaneous.  The resulting poems still vibrate with her tangible energy and intelligence but Owen's focus has tightened.

What I Remember About What We Weren't
Allowed in Childhood

Pop-Tarts certainly. Anything processed. The worst being hot dogs
which I gobbled once guiltily at the Stardust roller rink at thirteen
and puked, imagining entrails in my intestines. Condiments. Definitely
not on the acacia table in gauche plastic containers.
And Halloween candy was entirely out. My father shifting
through our sacks for all but the Glosette peanuts and Sun-Maid
raisins that, rationed, we were able to gobble over later weeks
to flee the dreaded sugar rush. Mostly all not carob or bean sprouts
or hard-boiled eggs were verboten. And then too there was no Happy Days,
never Knight Rider or The Monkees except when we snuck them
at Nana's by lying to her and after she would always exclaim
- "You pulled the wool right over my eyes!" So, aside from educational
programming, the small B & W stayed dark while we clicked Meccano
bits together, read the Brothers Grimm or played doctor with toothpaste.
Absolutely no Barbies or anything that would break, rot our teeth,
show us a false world in which dolls sport slip-on pink heels
and grown men in leather jackets say "Ehhhhh!" Only the dentist
could give us video games, hand-held Donkey Kong and Frogger
while he tightened our headgear, pain overwhelming the transgressive
pleasure and we couldn't say we didn't believe in God.


This past weekend Today's book of poetry read about a publishing record set by a Canadian poet, this article was in the Globe & Mail.  The poet's first book just pushed by 2,000,000 in sales.  Simply astounding.  I saw this young poets work in a globopulous bookstore recently.  Most of the bookstore was given over to the selling of various other products ranging from chocolate to computers to decorative rocks.  I spent a few minutes reading the poetry of the young superstar, well, she calls them poems.  In the Globe & Mail article it was made clear that this young woman, the current best selling poet in the entire English language, best selling by a factor of at least 10X, meaning that her current book has sold ten time more copies in the last year than any other book of poetry, ever, doesn't read.  She does peruse covers though.

Catherine Owen, on the other hand, is a big reader.  You can tell in every poem she writes that she has read.  Today's book of poetry has yet to meet Ms. Owen but it is easy to see, feel and hear the influence of other poets, it is a tangible thing.  Owen even gives us an "apprompted" poem which has verses that start with a line of poetry by Sharon Olds.  "Apprompted" is a term borrowed from Kimberly Gibson's paper Lines by Someone Else: The Pragmatics of Apprompted Poems written for Ms. Gibon's thesis at the University of North Texas. Owen's poems Two Stanzas on My Father Begun by Sharon Olds and The Journal of John Berryman From 1948 to 1971: A Reverse Glosa of First Lines are all the evidence we need of Owen's direction and intentions.  Owen has nothing but respect for the long line of poets who have worn down the path before her.

Just The Way Things Are (He Said)

That day at the tracks was overcast.
We cheered for a filly called Morning Coffee
and then Swagger Cat went down and had to be shot.

At the pub, the dealer wore a bandana beneath a dark fedora.
"It's the law of supply, you know," he said.
Two men played soccer in the cemetery beneath the train,

white ball pinging off the old grey of graves.
The horse went down as it graced a curve with its hooves,
and when it tried to rise, its leg was a shred of skin.

At the Met, the dealer moved a scrim in front of it
and slowly the hearse that smelled of hay drew towards us.
A ball bounced between our tables on which were placed small

shooters of blood. "I clean my asshole with Baby Wipes," the dealer
piped up, "that's the kind of pure guy I am." Graves took on the rain again
as they had for the past century. At the track, the crowd gasped,

briefly, then pretended their vision of glory hadn't
just been shattered as #5 racehorse was loaded cold
into the law of demand.


Another thing about Catherine Owen is that she is getting better with every book and that is an exciting poetic prospect.  If Owen is this good now, and she is, how good will her future books of poetry be?  Today's book of poetry has little in common with Owen, not gender, musical taste or propensity for excitement - but what Today's book of poetry appreciates is that Owen doesn't seem to be able to write a boring/bad poem.  

She catalogues her hopes, dreams, failures and success but never without suitable acoutremont, Owen's poems always come dressed for the dance.  It's not what Owen talks about but how.

Today's morning read was a little quieter than usual as were missing several of the usual suspects.  Our office was light on the ground for readers this morning.  Those of us who were present gave Dear Ghost the robust read it deserved.

A Few Delightful Sound Bites From A Downtown
Tragedy In Three Parts

      But since I don't understand myself, only segments
      of myself that misunderstand each other, there's no
      reason for you to want to, no way you could
      even if we both wanted it.
      JOHN ASHBERRY, "A Poem of Unrest"

So I sit in my happy face socks being maudlin.
If there are still voodoo dolls in this age of Barbie Almost
Becomes President, someone bought one with my aging mug
on it and is plunging pins into its batting with glee.
"All I know is, it's Wednesday and I'm going to work." the harried
blonde barks into her phone at Starbucks. Knowledge: a severely

abridged edition. Yes, I'm aware you don't love me. It's OK, says my mouth
while my psyche has issues with loneliness. Holding hands is gross; hold
hand with me in public! Multiple personalities of the somewhat-busted
heart, though few come as close to sorrow as Jerry the Boxer - 
"I'm just an old dog," he admits. "but someone should cuddle me at night anyway."
Alright, listen. Every onesie in the universe won't

make us whole again and when being spat on "a compliment, girl" then there
will be fewer calls for tables d'hotes and strolls on the parapet my moonlight.
Of course gender is my obsessive topic and how people deal with death.
Not much else but sex and flowers and your final instructions on a 3 x 5 lined
recipe card that you are sorry you haven't covered all costs, we can sing
the requiescat and you want the casket closed.


Catherine Owen is building a reputation as one of the better young poets in Canada.  Dear Ghost  will only enhance those prospects.  This is the good work we've come to expect from Catherine Owen.  We will be expecting more.

Catherine Owen

Catherine Owen is the author of ten collections of poetry and three of prose, including her compilation of interviews on writing called The Other 23 & a Half Hours: Or Everything You Wanted to Know that Your MFA Didn’t Teach You (Wolsak & Wynn, 2015) and her short story collection, The Day of the Dead (Caitlin Press, 2016). Her work has been nominated for awards, toured Canada eight times and appeared in anthologies, as well as translations. She has been employed by both the Locations and the Props department in TV land, plays metal bass and has two cats: Solstice and Equinox.

Catherine Owen
Reading from Trobairitz
Video: P.C. Vandall



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.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us - Noah Wareness (Biblioasis)

Today's book of poetry:
Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us.  
Noah Wareness.  Biblioasis.  Windsor, Ontario.  2017.

No idea who Noah Wareness really is but that's one hell of a pseudonym.  Today's book of poetry is fairly certain there's a man behind the curtain controlling all the levers like an all-seeing Wizard of Oz.  Noah Wareness is a great pen name.

Opening up Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is a little like listening to Richard Pryor for the first time all those years ago.  I was working in a small movie theatre that was on the second floor of an old building in Peterborough.  There was a boxing club on the first floor.  We showed a real variety of flicks.  You also never knew what would be playing on the box between shows.  Never did find out who owned the records we played but that's where I first heard Paco de Lucia.  That's where I first heard Richard Pryor.  I remember it clearly because it flicked a switch.

These are truly great poems, stories, bribes, menus and memos for the cleverly deranged.  Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us is as much a manifesto as it is a book of poems.  These poems are a declaration of war in a battle most of us don't know is being fought.

Noah Wareness is cavalier, candid and so damned sharp that there's a genuine fear of cutting yourself on his wit.

I'm No Expert

but I heard the physician Duncan MacDougall
devised a sensitive platform-beam balance
to weigh terminal patients as they expired,
eventually placing each departing soul between
eleven and forty-two grams.
                                              I'm no expert, but
I've got a bathroom scale, and I read it before
I sad down, you know? And when I stood up
over a pound had vanished. I'm no theologian,
but I've certainly weighed my share of turds,
an experiment most anyone can replicate.
                                                                   You sit
and think about Plato dividing the soul: reason,
volition, desire: three perforated squares.
Later theorists added compassion and stillness,
microtubules, parallel processing and generative
grammar; but in 1911, in his backyard garage,
MacDougall built a transcranial camera to catch
every last detail staining the bowl.
                                                       Nobody'd call
me an engineer, though. I don't know the weight
of compassion, or what might foil its tendency
to rise.
           Don't ask me why corn kernels float.


Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us genuinely does not read like any other of book of poetry I have ever encountered.  Noah Wareness writes with a strange lyricism somewhere south of a ranting Nick Cave and north of the razor wire strung out by William S. Burroughs.  And he does it with some sort of hyper stream-of-consciousness and the extracted musk glands of honey-badgers.  Wareness is relentless as he dive bombs down on the assigned targets with his massive artillery.

It is hard to narrow in on precisely what it is Noah Wareness is running toward but the trip is the thing and Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us chases you like a bull breathing hard on your blistered and bloodied feet as you search the maze for daylight.

Today's book of poetry could have used a Sherpa to help navigate some of this terrain but just when the air gets too thin and the load gets too heavy Wareness comes along with something so beautiful, wise, alarming, exciting or illuminating that it lightens your load, solves your concerns.

A Wagging Wheel

welcome to the smoking
it's not what you
think. it's worse.

ever since youtube
got started we've been making
like zero money.
nobody pays anymore
for smoking.

all those
iphone 6
at the bus stop
doing streaming

and white
clouds in the office
clearing up
one by one.

now we're working in
rented port-a-
potties. the
big ones you can drive
a wheelchair in.

your bachelor's degree? it's
a piece of paper.
welcome to the smoking industry.

four, five of us smoking
in a green plastic
behind a horse stable
only we're still

in these suffocating
boxes there's
no lights
or electricity.

you can's see your hands.

you vomit.

the office tips sideways.

and when the cheques
come they're typed
on the thinnest paper
basically kleenex.
pissing blood
after a long day's
and the cheque's ripped,
you can't
read the numbers
then plus there's the
who hitch here in freight cars,
all clown paint and
brandishing cleavers,
they show up
around sundown
like a teen vampire movie
and they don't stop singing
the same song.



and every one
them, in between
the checkings
of their phones,
will ask
to bum a smoke.

they got on emergency
psychiatric welfare by
in the ikea coffee
of their mothers,
and they say they stopped here
to bum a smoke.

they say that's the only
reason they stopped here.

well fuck.

this is it,
the smoking
industry. and

fuck youtube and the world internet,

fuck not being able
to read
cause you had one ordinary stroke, fuck
mirrors cracking when
they look at you,
fuck dropping bread in the toilet,
warning labels
getting bigger every morning,
trying to use
a toothbrush when you
have oral
cancer, fuck the
exchange ratio,
burn marks on my air
fresheners, fuck the emergency
tracheotomy industry,
being forcibly restrained
and prevented from 
at your own child's sleepover,
fuck tar sticking your eyes shut,
stepping outside
for one minute
and birds hitting you in the chest,

fuck whoever came up
with the name noam chompy
for a dog,



welcome to the smoking industry.
your gun.

it probably won't even go off.


Just following Noah Wareness through this labyrinth of poems, prose poems, connecting passages, asides, contracts, pamphlets and other assorted paraphernalia is a quest.  But rewarding at every turn.  You can't have poems this incendiary without making some burn holes in the carpet.  Something is going to spill over.

At this morning's reading we noticed the door to Max's office open and "gone fishing" sign on his desk.  Not sure where he has ventured off to but we will keep his office just the way he likes it.  The rest of the staff tackled Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us with considerable gusto and aplomb.

Today's book of poetry understands that Noah Wareness is an outsider poet; unaligned to any isms and with a big tongue in his cheek.  We won't even pretend we were prepared to deal with a poet of this nature - but boy, oh boy - we were damned happy to take a kick at the can.  Originality is rare as hen's teeth and Noah Wareness is one of the most original voices we've encountered in a good while.

Everything's Politics
for Melanie

The words are the power the words would destroy.
Now it's December, I wrote about this park already,
the powder snow streaming over the walking paths,
blowing in ribbons, billows, all torn kitecloth trailing,
revealing in its traces the soft flank of the wind.
It isn't a sign. It's not the wind's mixed metaphor.
The wind ins't the snow's; and nothing's ours, too.

Either way, now it's March. On Highway 17, Emese
calls them snow snakes. Our tires run them down.

There's nothing in this frail little magic, not to hold,
no stone for power's throat. We ask the words for
true and false, the power the words would destroy.
It's just how seeing makes more seeing, this mind,
ours, running up to itself with shapes in its mouth.
The world's netted through with words, whichever
way, but always too fine to catch nothing at all.
When I finish this page, it was raining instead.
Either way, it's past four in the night. It's not now.
The wind's come looking back like something else.


It's not very often a book like Real is the Word They Use to Contain Us comes along but when they do it is cause for celebration here at Today's book of poetry.

Not only can Noah Wareness cook with elan, he's added some new and pleasing spices that were entirely new to our palate.

Image result for noah wareness photo
Today's book of poetry 
thinks this might be a photo of
Noah Wareness.

Noah Wareness uses STAEDTLER pens, SHRANDER imagery, THOSS nightmares and WEER narrative frames.

"...something approaching genius... every word from the stage was a perfectly-shaped bullet..."
     -  Michael Rowe

"Reading this book will make you see the world a little differently."
     -  Zachariah Wells



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, October 3, 2017

What The Soul Doesn't Want - Lorna Crozier (Freehand Books)

Today's book of poetry:
What The Soul Doesn't Want.  Lorna Crozier.  Freehand Books.  Calgary, Alberta.  2017.

This is how it is with the pros.  Magic on every page.  Lorna Crozier's What The Soul Doesn't Want could easily become your "go to" book of poems.  Today's book of poetry is convinced that if he threw darts at a board covered with Crozier poems every one would come up bull's-eye.

Okay, every poem in this collection may not eventually reside with the immortals but this lady is certainly making a stiff case.  Wit, wisdom, strength and compassion as hard as a frozen snow drift, soft of the sound of Glen Gould humming.

What The Soul Doesn't Want

Not a plastic bucket. Not a logging truck.
Not homemade wine wrung from turnips.
Not a fox with rabies.

The soul might accept a rat mother
an eel basket woven from wicker, a leather collar
that reeks of goat.

Not a gas station with the lights shot out.
Not gravity.
Not a mask that keep the body

breathing. The soul doesn't want
another face,
not even the face of a snowy owl.


Crozier's poems about grief and aging are bittersweet truths and we can feel the sad ghosts that tremble in the shadows.  But What The Soul Doesn't Want also harbors hope in her deep recesses and entreaties.  Crozier's treatise, disguised as poem, on cockroaches is so splendid that we couldn't leave it be.  It's up next.

Crozier makes pies with Sylvia Plath, reads W.S. Merwin, worries about Dante's first lines and so on.  It is a merriment of riches.  When in the room with a sage, you listen.

What The Soul Doesn't Want is a complete tonic, pure as blue sky, honest as a child's prayer.  Lorna Crozier reminds us all of just how strong a voice it takes to make this beautiful noise.  We here at Today's book of poetry are enchanted.


Phylum Arthropoda, order Blattaria.
Of its over four thousand species,
the common one
that scuttles through your sleep
and leaves greasy tracks
across the pillow slip,
Linnaeus named the German.

In Germany the same insect
is called the Russian,
in Russia, the Polish.

Old Southerners who remain
genteel and sweetly
euphemistic, say Palmetto bug
though it's a cockroach just the same.


Long before there were humans
they mated, tail to tail, in rain
pooled in the fresh tracks
of a Brontosaurus.


"Why are cockroaches attracted to me?"
a woman asks on the insect help line.
They fall upon her
in the shower, hop into her lap
from the luggage racks of trains and buses,
tumble from trees, from the wings
of low-flying birds. Though they bother
no one else in the house,
they creep from the baseboards,
climb the couch and burrow in her hair.

The entomologist whose sobriquet
on radio is Dr. Bug
suggests she might exude a pheromone
the antennae of the males pick up.

A week later she's back with
"Do they like to be touched?"
Can they be happy? Lonely? Can they feel
grief?" The scientist is gobsmacked.
Most callers ask for poisons,
they go on and on--
ugliness and dirt, scum and sewer pipes, the fetid
stench when you stomp them flat.
Off the air he says, "Let's meet for coffee."

When he sees her at the door of the cafe
he thinks of Garcia Marquez's postman
whose head, wherever he went, was haloed
by blue butterflies. As she sits
he sees a cockroach leap onto the table
from the busboy's cart as it rolls past,
and something crawls toward her
beneath the immaculate white cloth.
"Yes," he says, with the slowness and
deliberation of one who lives bookishly
alone, "yes, they like to be touched."


For a sucrose reward in the lab
they can be taught
to salivate to a bell and a waft of mint.
Crushed, then applied to a wound
they ease the sting. They account
for twenty percent of the world's
methane emissions.  Every
fifteen minutes or so 
they fart.


Roach-O-Rama: mini rubber
wall-walking cockroaches,
$2.99 for a pack of three.
Place them on a fridge door
and they'll creep down
in an alarmingly real fashion.
Take them to a dinner party.
Watch the hostess's reaction!
Warning: choking hazard.
Not for children under four.


Cockroach comes from the Spanish
la cucaracha.
In Japanese it's gokiburi,
in Mongolian joom,
in Swedish kackerlacka.
People who keep them as pets
name them Jerome, Thelma,
Petunia, Orville, Stu.


If the common cockroach has a song
the human ear can't hear it,
but when aggressive or aroused
the males hiss, a sound like air escaping 
from the smallest tire or the fizz
of soda in a can. Sometimes at night
you think you catch a snatch of music
but Issa sets you right.

"Even with insects," he wrote,
"some can sing, some can't."


Franz Kafka found his body
so repulsive
that his character Gregor Samsa
woke to find himself "changed in his bed
into a monstrous vermin."
His skin had thickened in the night
into overlapping armoured plates,
a putrid brown. Skinny legs waving
helplessly in the air, he struggled
to roll from his back to his side
to get up. Half awake, you make yourself
turn over every morning before you dare
to open your eyes.


Nadezhda, the cockroach
the Russians blasted into space,
gave birth in the rocket. Unlike
the Sputnik dog who died
orbiting the earth, painfully
alone, She Hopes (that's
what Nadezhda means)
and her thirty-three babies
came home alive.


Because their ganglia
run from head to tail, it's said
cockroaches think in their periphery.

You try to stream your brain
down your body
so your feet debate with Plato,
so your liver memorizes
Christopher Smart's Jubilate Agno
and recites it to the spleen.


Roaches love to snack on bed lice,
toothpaste trapped in brushes,
nylon stockings, hair balls, spit.
They lick the glue from the back
of wallpaper and postage stamps,
eat the skin they shed. During
the eight hours it takes
for their outer layer to grow back,
they like to skitter between the covers
of a book, eat the binding paste,
preferably in a first edition,
preferably Proust.
A grain of sugar, the word madeleine,
can feed one for a month.


Cockroaches can hold their breath
for forty minutes, live for seven days
without a head. They may not
survive a nuclear blast
but they can endure fifteen times
the dose that will kill you or me.

Their ontology is simple:
they never think of
not to be.


Today's morning read was a marathon of Crozier.  Milo, our head tech, went to the stacks and brought back seven of Crozier's previous poetry titles.  Everyone in the room took a book and took a turn.  After we danced What The Soul Doesn't Want around the room we did a few encores from:

The Weather (Coteau Books, 1983)
Angels of Flesh, Angels of Silence (McClelland & Stewart, 1988)
Inventing the Hawk (M&S, 1992)
Everything Arrives at the Light (M&S, 1995)
A Saving Grace (M&S, 1996)
Before the First Word (Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2005)
The Wrong Cat (M&S, 2015)

Today's book of poetry wrote about Lorna Crozier's Before the First Word back in February of 2015 and you can read that here:

What is most clear to us here at Today's book of poetry is that Crozier is a sanctified member of the highest order.  We have an abundance of great women poets in Canada: Susan Musgrave, Sue Goyette, Nora Gould and Lynn Crosbie come to mind but they are a few of a long list.  But somewhere near the top of that excellent tower you'll find names like Margaret Atwood, P.K. Page, Phyllis Webb, Gwendolyn MacEwen and of course, Lorna Crozier.

What The Soul Wants 2

The electric in eel. One rib from any kind
of whale. A moon snail's thick grey neck.
Garlic scraps. A dear companion. A shrink's
blue tongue. Think of all the blue things
it could say.


What The Soul Doesn't Want is what we love to see most at Today's book of poetry.  Lorna Crozier tells us what our souls need, not just what they want.  Books like this one are a cause for rejoicing here at Today's book of poetry.  Lorna Crozier is a gift.

Image result for lorna crozier photo
Lorna Crozier

Lorna Crozier, an Officer of the Order of Canada, is the author of sixteen previous books of poetry, most recently The Wrong Cat and The Wild in You. She is also the author of The Book of Marvels: A Compendium of Ordinary Things and the memoir Small Beneath the Sky. She is a Professor Emerita at the University of Victoria, has been awarded the Governor General’s Award for Poetry, and is a three-time recipient of the Pat Lowther Award. Born in Swift Current, she now lives on Vancouver Island with writer Patrick Lane and two fine cats.

“This collection explores the process of aging, of dying, of wondering about time, and questions of what has and has not yet been… wry and wrought with wit and self-knowing.” 
     — Saltern Magazine, July 21, 2017.

“Her newest collection focuses on the universal truths of life, change, and loss, all through a deeply human lens… Everything exists at once — the underworld of Greek mythology and a Model T car; a Goodwill store and King Lear — time is fluid and haunting.” 
     — The Martlet, June 8, 2017.

“[A] late-career highlight… [Crozier] can speak for the inanimate with whimsy and empathy, knows when and how to conjure sensuality, and can sneak in an emotional payload.” 
     — Quill and Quire, April 2017.

Lorna Crozier,
 "Sex Lives of Vegetables," 
Words Aloud 2007, Canada
Video: Words Aloud



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

We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Closer To Where We Began - Lisa Richter (Tightrope Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Closer To Where We Began.  Lisa Richter.  Tightrope Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Closer To Where We Began by Lisa Richter

Lisa Richter's dreamy Closer To Where We Began starts off with a quote from Sharon Olds, a poet Today's book of poetry has nothing but admiration for.  Who a poet reads, is influenced by, quotes often, tells us much about where a poet wants to go, where their head is at.  Richter's would seem to be firmly in the right place.

sometimes I can feel it, the way we are
pouring slowly toward a curve and around it
through something dark and soft, and we are bound
to each other.
- Sharon Olds

These poems feel as though you are inside of Richter's dreamscape and looking out onto a horizon of her making where "pomegranate juice light" illuminates the darker corners.

Today's book of poetry doesn't want to dance into dangerous territory when he says that only a woman would have written these poems.  Perhaps women see the world through a different coloured prism?  I know my almost perfect wife and I often disagree on the colour of a particular object.  We are looking at the same thing but not seeing the same thing.  Richter's Closer To Where We Begin looks at our world through lucid dreams and then she writes it all down.


The year I was born, my great-grandmother
died. Skimming sides and glances, we conducted
love through our bones, memory
and foreshadowing encoded in the rings

of skipped stones across drumskin-smooth
water. She wore cat's-eye glasses and a daffodil
grin, paisley polyester and wind-puffed
canvas smocks.

Her face gleamed a heavy moon white, pock-
marked with the scars of long-dried seas--
lips of calcified salt, teeth of fossilized
spine, jaw-bone, femur. They say the marbles

rolled in her head, that there, the mind lounged
and lolled. Deep in the quarry of her body
the sun-stroked fields of Belarus sang, drowning
out the traffic of Outremont life.

Once, as she danced around the Passover
table, voluminous breasts swinging, hips bumping
the backs of chairs, her feet pushed the sweet
air and she soared around the room. I too felt

the pull of Bubbe's circular laps, slipped
from my mother's arms, floated
up to join her (it took three men
over an hour to get us down).

This is how we were meant to be
acquainted: her life at the tip
of the snake's tail, mine at the apex
of its open mouth.


Richter doesn't just see light through different prisms, she drinks it, absorbs it.  She carries light around in a secret satchel, lets it seep into these poems like a "hash-fogged" thought.

Richter's dream state includes nightmares, the horrors of systemic hatred, war, religious conflict and so on.  Sometimes the ghosts of dead children infect the light.  These poems cover a lot of geography from Gaza to a rockabilly Chuck Berry, Lisa Richter lights it all up.

Gaza under Siege

You are house-sitting--a two-bedroom, air-
conditioned townhouse in Liberty Village, watering
aloe and spider monkey, serving two cups
of dry food a day to a fat white cat named Luca.
Stackable washer and dryer in the hall closet.
You slide open the cool, mirrored doors while
your clothes are kept from shrinking. No laundromat
trips, duffle bag of clothes over your shoulder,
just the nearby shudder of brushed steel machines
doing the labour, while you sit with your laptop
and a glass of cheap Malbec on a couch that's not
yours. King-sized bed in the master too hard, you sleep
on the queen in the guest room: not as firm, just
right. Goldilocks with a key fob, helping yourself
to steel-cut oats and memory foam sleep.
Meanwhile, the death toll of children in Gaza
reaches five hundred. You brush the long-haired cat, sip
your wine, swirling it until it reads as diluted
blood. Read the horror. Remember the sound
of the fireworks in Tel Aviv, on Yom Ha'atzmaut,
you were told could just easily have been
rockets. Long ago, at Hebrew day school, you celebrated
that day in May with blue-and-white-frosted cake,
how proud you were that  Eretz Yisrael was the same
age as your parents. Meanwhile, in Gaza, bodies
and the city's wood and metal bones amass
in baroque jumble, Biblical disarray. On Facebook
you scroll through feeds of loathing, fear culled
from recipes that you once followed -- they brought
this onto themselves, they hate us more than they love
their own -- morsels you can no longer keep down,
no longer digestible nor kosher, which never mattered
before, but for some reason, matters now.


Our morning reading here at the Today's book of poetry offices was a bit overshadowed and subdued by my own sad, slow state.  Today's book of poetry has been away for a few days to attend the funeral of my Uncle Sparky.  Don't think Don "Sparky" Brault ever read much poetry and I know he was a deeply flawed man but he showed great kindness to my mother and I when I was very young.  And he always treated me like he was happy to see me.

Today's book of poetry's big family is shrinking.  In the last five or six months I've had two Aunts, Alice and Dora, and two Uncles, Dan and Sparky - leave this mortal coil.  The rest of my Aunts and Uncles must be checking each other out to see who's next.

Lisa Richter's Closer To Where We Began world was enough to lift me and my minions out of our shadowy morning, these poems lit the place up.

How to Write a Hanukkah Poem

Choose your preferred spelling of Hanukkah,
from the seven or eight available. Assemble
your arsenal: dreidls your father would show off
by spinning upside down. Latkes. Paper towels
to soak up the grease from latkes, paper bags
to soak up the grease from the paper towels, candles
that will melt and harden in the menorah, scraped

out next year with the tip of a steak knife, hard flakes
of coloured wax. Whatever you do, don't call
the menorah the hanukkiah, the proper word
you learned long ago in Hebrew school:
it will sound too specific, too accurate, above-
board. You will alienate most people, or worse,
charm them with your exoticness.

Subvert. Make dreidl games dirty. Strip off clothing
if the dreidl lands on the letter gimmel. Truth
is daring. Make "space latkes" that will get you
higher than the most mystical of cabbalists,
taste the colours of candles bursting with sweet

liquid. Snort lines off pages of the Talmud. Forget
about inviting distant relatives who always tell
you what they prefer to do. None of this will give
you joy, only stories to display like dark ribbons
on your chest, a catalogue of scars for the shocked listener.

Write. Invoke the light. Invoke the hand that holds
the shamash, moving from light to light. Invoke
small haloes around each candle, pancake moons
around the heads of gaunt-faced Russian icons.

Invoke more light, the light that ushers you through
December's dark, the light that leaves nothing
in its wake that is cold or unkind.


Richter has a sharp, laser type tongue, even if it often resides in her cheek.  Or at least that's what Closer To Where We Began leads Today's book of poetry to believe.

We never get tired of smart here at Today's book of poetry.  We never get tired of new modes of illumination.  Lisa Richter lit up the room.

Photo by Matthew Burpee
Lisa Richter
Photo: Matthew Burpee

Lisa Richter‘s poetry has appeared in The Malahat Review, The Puritan, Literary Review of Canada, The Toronto Quarterly, Crab Creek Review, among other journals and anthologies. She was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2015, and won first place in CV2 Magazine’s 2-Day Poem Contest in 2017. Closer to Where We Began is her first collection of poetry. She lives, writes, and teaches English as a Second Language in Toronto.

“Lisa Richter weaves time and place with grace and expertise throughout the poems in this her first collection, Closer to Where We Began. Sensual, delicate yet biting, these poems sweep forward and back with energy and insight proving ‘the heart is a finite muscle of blood and music.’ By following the rhythm of each poem’s unfolding we are led to a ‘deeper quiet.’ A rich and resonant book.”—    -      - Catherine Graham, author of Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects
‘”Invoke the light…” writes Lisa Richter, ‘the light that leaves nothing / in its wake that is cold or unkind.’ With a richness in metaphor and a clarity of vision, Richter deftly travels the reader through seasonal tapestries of nature, across many identities, into many cities, and inside the bounds of family. Yet losses, and the world’s coldness and cruelty are not ignored, but rather, their pains and truths explored poetically: ‘the tongue finds its muse in the most sour of ripenings.’ The confidence and tenderness of Richter’s voice, and her mastery of form, makes Closer to Where We Began a rich and compelling read.”
     - Maureen Hynes, author of The Poison Colour

“Richter excavates memory as a geography forged by the complexities of human relationships. To read her work is to be transported into an alternate landscape wherein each encounter has been dissected and reassembled with a simultaneously commanding and vulnerable acuity.”
     - Robin Richardson, author of Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis



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

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Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Stay - Kathleen McGookey (Press 53)

Today's book of poetry:
Stay.  Kathleen McGookey.  Press 53.  Winston-Salem, North Carolina.  2015.


"The worst thing you can imagine
is not the worst that that can happen to you."
                                                                                                          - Gary Young

It was only a few short months ago that Today's book of poetry wrote about Kathleen McGookey's excellent Heart In A Jar (White Pine Press, 2017), and you can read about that blog/book here:

Stay is an earlier selection of McGookey's fine work and we are excited to re-enter McGookey world.

McGookey writes picture perfect short little prose poems, they never tease but they are frequently testy.  Stay is all over the big issues, love and death, but her sting on these framework motifs has a much bigger bite than we expect.

Two Kinds of Anger

A possum on the dirt road, pink mouth open, insides bare to sky.
Alive with flies. Their mechanical buzz rises into the day, into the
promise of heat shimmering over the swamp. A swallowtail, its
yellow wings bright with sun, dips and swoops through the swarm.
It lands at the wound to feed.


Today's book of poetry is going a little wider of our mark than usual, we're including four poems today by McGookey simple because we like them that much.  McGookey isn't afraid to haunt your future dreams or to dissect a circumspect past, these poems are subtle darts.

Notes on 'The Accident'

I knew you had dogs--I didn't know their names--and they were jealous
of your baby. I never met your husband or saw your house in Arizona. I
knew you hated to lose things, but had to buy another plane ticket to Chicago,
another college algebra book. I keep dreaming I've misplaced my baby--
did you?

Years ago, at Wendy's wedding, you wanted to be married; your eyes filled
but the tears didn't spill over. I didn't touch you because I thought a touch
would make you cry more. Then you said, I believe Jesus died for me.

I know you remember this: the summer after we graduated, we met in Detroit,
in front of the Renaissance Center's fountain. You arrived first: tall, lanky,
short brown hair, and smiling broadly. The fountain's rainbows glistened
behind you. The last time I saw you, I told you I always thought of you in
this moment, walking towards me and smiling.


Kathleen McGookey has much to say about family, the intersection of generations, the illness and inevitable death of parents, childbirth, children: all common enough ground for the average reader.  But there is nothing common about McGookey's grief and anger, she owns it.  What she shares is the emotional space around the tragedy and small misfortunes of daily life.  And then there is hope.  

Like the very best of us do, McGookey is willing to spill her eloquent sorrow, render it until it becomes hope.

Birth Poem

Mention mother and I think of birth--my son's, five months ago--and
blood and cramps and more people putting their hands inside me than I can
stand. Someone drew four vials of blood and left quarter-sized bruises on
my arm. Dizzy, I watched the blood, thick and dark. Urine, feces, amniotic
fluid--they tested it all. The vomit they disposed of. They carefully measured
what went in and what came out. No matter--everything forced itself out.
I feel so strange, I said. But it felt good to hold handfuls of ice and sleep on
wet sheets thought I couldn't swallow the glass of ice water I'd dreamed
about. My room had no lock, but my favorite nurses knocked. People said
later, You poor thing! Nine weeks flat on your back. No one said, If you get up, your
baby will die. The nurses all said, This will give you something to write about.

Writing's more private than birth. No poem's lifted out whole, like my son.
But some, like him, in need. And--with luck--a moment of grace. . . A
stranger, a doctor, held my hand while another stitched me up.


Today's book of poetry has never had children but Kathleen McGookey surrounds the reader with such convincing evidence you might feel you've shared her experience.  You certainly get a little closer to the intense drama of your body being a vessel beyond your authority.

McGookey is a poet of intimacy and the precise fluctuations of the heart between joy, anguish, exhaustion and fear, all those real human moments that push us through the day and into the night.

This morning's read at the Today's book of poetry offices was a rapid fire cavalcade of McGookey as Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, insisted we include Heart In A Jar for another kick at the can.  The two books are seamless, it is clear that McGookey has found her voice.  

Today's book of poetry loved the "anger" poems in Stay.  McGookey allows her "anger" a personality and character all its own.  She may also be absconding all responsibility for her "anger's" actions, we just like watching her play.  "Anger" follows McGookey around like a spoiled younger sister.

My Anger Takes a Road Trip

Right now My Anger's stuck on a two-lane highway under construction,
slowly driving past heaps of concrete and bent rebar, a pile of burning tires
sending up tarry smoke. She likes how the long grass in the median bows
down as she goes by. Near the overpass, a bunny the size of her hand
crouches in the weeds. My Anger sets it on the concrete, stirs the flames,
and reaches for a sandhill crane made of steel, each outstretched feather a
razor. She wants to flatten the lindens shading the riverwalk, their delicate
perfumed bells opening over her head. She wants to uproot the tin sunflowers
that line County Road 81. Next to the highway, cattle lie in dirt stockyards
that stretch for miles. My Anger likes to imagine she is one of the last to see
those animals alive.


Today's book of poetry is grateful that we got a chance to see Stay by Kathleen McGookey.  We were certain of how we felt about McGookey's poetry after reading Heart In A Jar, Stay only confirmed what we already knew, our best feelings.

When you can cook like this you're always going to be welcome in our kitchen.

Kathleen McGookey


Kathleen McGookey’s prose poems and translations have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including Crazyhorse, Denver Quarterly, Epoch, Field, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, Quarterly West, The Best of The Prose Poem: An International Journal, The Party Train: A Collection of North American Prose Poetry, and The House of Your Dream: An International Collection of Prose Poetry. The forthcoming anthology Nothing to Declare: A Guide to the Flash Sequence includes her work, and her poetry collection, At the Zoo, will be published by White Pine Press in spring 2017. She has received grants from the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation, the Arts Fund of Kalamazoo County, the Sustainable Arts Foundation, and the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has taught creative writing at Hope College, Interlochen Arts Academy, and Western Michigan University. She lives in Middleville, Michigan, with her family.

There is such pain and such beauty in Stay, and there are so many astonishing moments of what I can only call distilled reverie, I feel nothing short of awe after reading this collection. McGookey's poems shimmer with a profound sense of love and loss and wonder. Each one is like a section of stained glass window. Together they are an illumination.
     —Nin Andrews, author of Why God Is a Woman
The small spaces of Kathleen McGookey’s intimate prose poems are uncannily expansive. As they move through experiences of caretaking and motherhood, birth and death, grief and anger, wishes and prayers, they challenge ordinary conceptions of what domestic life is and what it can be. Stay casts a spell that slows time down, allowing us to enter the vibrant and variegated texture of real alertness.
     —Mary Szybist, author of Incarnadine

I love Kathleen McGookey’s poems — their tenderness and their strangeness, how the spareness of their language points to both absence and presence, how the poems go, unflinchingly, straight through grief to beauty, and the heart.
Each of the prose poems that make up Stay is a small window into a life lived with almost excruciating awareness, filled with the details of “ordinary” life, made extraordinary by the poet’s luminous attention to what goes on around and within her and those she loves. Family life, especially, is rendered with such exquisite precision and compassion — the loss of beloved parents; the birth of children — that we’re reminded what it’s like to be fully human, under “a sky that keeps right on vanishing,” haunted as much by “the kiss on the shoulder” as by “the fledgling death working its wet wings.”
McGookey infuses her poems with sensuality and mystery — the mystery of being alive, and of death, and of love — and yet the poems are open, accessible, quietly startling in their unfolding, each playing out like a fable or a fairytale, each with a kind of aching magic inside it.
     —Cecilia Woloch, author of Carpathia

Kathleen McGookey is poetry’s Joseph Cornell. In her daring new collection, Stay, she re-assembles what we, without a nod, pass by every day. In doing so McGookey reveals that—no matter what the arrangement—the world is seamless. Her stunningly uncommon intelligence shows us that if there is order, it can be created from most anything, and yet her fresh and penetrating perceptions are never arbitrary. Like Cornell’s deceptively welcoming boxes, these poems leave us refreshingly off-kilter and deeply grateful that we have been invited to stay.
     —Jack Ridl, author of Losing Season and Practicing to Walk Like a Heron 


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.