Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Search Box Bed - Darryl Whetter (Palimpsest Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Search Box Bed.  Darryl Whetter.  Palimpsest Press.  Windsor, Ontario.  2017.

Today's book of poetry had to get my much smarter better half to translate the dedication that begins Darryl Whetter's most excellent poetry adventure.  We both thought it was splendid so I thought it should be shared.

à Gisèle. 
restes toujour, ma belle, 
dans mes bras et ma bouch, 
mon lit et ma vie
K's translation, late at night, while busy reading the second volume of three
of a Theodore Roosevelt biography:

a Gisele. 
always stay, my beautiful,
 in my arms and my mouth,
- my bed and my life

And so begins Search Box Bed, Today's book of poetry will warn you, "This is not your Grandmother's poetry."

Nipple Clips On Amazon

the world's largest bazaar
hawks baby wipes alongside
bullets and butt plugs to target
you tip to tail. e-anonymity spares
the gum-chewers in customer service
tirades from the pant-suited
confronting their first strap-on,
all that prosthetic love
and necessity. no fallen soldiers
work security with their flashlights
to keep the boys from the fleshlights
and mid-aisle lube fights.
One-ClickTM Midas knows how keenly
we await drone delivery
of our non-drone desires


Darryl Whetter, in the context of these lascivious laments and poetic porn pastiche, could be the secret name of a super-literate 70's porn star or director. Search Box Bed starts off with an explicit warning shot, rim-shot: "This is not your father's Playboy."

Whetter is investigating the true unspoken sexual playground of contemporary society and the electronic Oz behind the curtains.  Whetter is looking at on-line porn and how, why, where and what we are watching.  Whetter's Search Box Bed is hardwired to your mainframe and there are no more secrets for anyone.


       If metadata is information about information, then meta-metadata
         is information about the information of information.
                          -U.S. PATENT

to classify is to know

chart and place
not just the scurrying
creatures of swamp, savannah and museum

but gauzy information, the churn
of abstract need

tag: a verb swatted
from the playground to the hurtling
subway cars of graffiti

label the grim
or smiling crowed then unleash
the comment feeds

touch (there you go)
and smear the video glow


Search Box Bed also wants to talk about the information generated and gathered in the "cloud" as our pulses race over the next moment of prurient passion, pause until this phase becomes passe too.  These poems are biting the reader in private places.  Whetter is constantly upping the ante on shock and awe by saying the thing we know but rarely expect to hear said.

That's the cleverest thing to do, to realize, often the most shocking thing is the thing that is most true.  Darryl Whetter's Search Box Bed gives us some truths, orgasmic barrels of it.


sexercise, not tantric marathons but daily
unconsummated orgies in expensive clothes.
now that lingerie is cheap the ostentatious curves
are yogic, every studio a rapper's choreographed dream:
upper middle class asses
up, faces down, bent reversing and candescent
in a heaving room

where else can men learn to last without whiskey.
each ujjayi breath a shaggy swimmer
kick-turning off one end or another . stitch an engorged
nostril into each thigh, dip the velvet
lungs into legs that will never feel longer

open and stretch the body entire, twist
with a gentler high curve ball
or Cossack's swung cutlass, thrust and unfurl
what you have and what you want
in the flush


Our morning read was certainly an energetic occasion.  Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, took over the reading this morning like they were minions from Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey's original research team, like they were the original Yin and Yang sock-slut puppets.

The pill, rape, anal sex, condoms, bondage, shaved pubis, class struggle, sex toys, patriarchal sexual mores, sex tools, computer mice that appear to be sperm in mid-swim, golden showers, porn kings and the perversity's of Pompeii, it is all in Darryl Whetter's appetizing, charming and carnally candid exploration of where we are in this electronic internet driven sexual revolution.

Whetter isn't offering explanations as much as examinations.  While not exactly a voyeur, Whetter sure has his eye on us.  He knows what we do alone and together, with the lights on and after we've made our peace with the dark and turn to embrace.

Spank Me

free from the tyranny
of hole one, two or three.
give me that starburst kiss
and map a wincing
ring road round the whole haunch.
garland my rump, this thickest meat.
each delicious whack
tugs me back from volume and insertion
to flower-press into the crimson
second skin of curved hurt.
rumbling Baghdad, blitzed London, the amber flare
and night shudder of our combat sky

glove my hair tight in your fist
to parse the pliant in compliance.
ribbon and cat-pull the entire
arm of dark speed, rubbing fling elbow,
wrist, then sparking finger
through the amped nodes.
lash velocity red and blossom
this necessary


Milo and Kathryn went home early today and took our copy of Darryl Whetter's Search Box Bed with them.  Something about comparing notes, doing research.

Certainly something poetic.

Whetter's purpose is perhaps to deconstruct the undeconstructable, our desire and the delectable fury of electronic freedom.  Or maybe Today's book of poetry got it all wrong.  That wouldn't be a first either.  Regardless, we, and everyone in our office, seriously enjoyed Darryl Whetter's Search Box Bed.

Read it with someone you can trust enough to read poetry with.

Image result for darryl whetter photo

Darryl Whetter

Darryl Whetter is a novelist, short-story writer, poet, critic and professor. His debut collection of stories, A Sharp Tooth in the Fur, was a Globe and Mail Top 100 Book. His debut book of poems, Origins, received a starred review from Quill & Quire. His novels include the bicycle odyssey The Push & the Pull and the multi-generational pot-smuggling epic Keeping Things Whole. A former CBC Radio books panellist, he reviews for The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, The National Post, etc. He has taught creative writing and literature at four different Canadian universities. Currently, he is a visiting professor in Singapore, where he is the inaugural director of the first creative writing master’s program in Southeast Asia.



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

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

Monday, November 20, 2017

Diaspora - Selected and New Poems - Frank Varela (Arte Publico Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Diaspora - Selected and New Poems.  Frank Varela.   Arte Publico Press.  Houston, Texas. 2016.

     "All I wanted was the impossible:
     To be the who I am in a land
     unafraid of the me I have become."
                     from "Autobiography"
                     Frank Varela

Frank Varela is all about family and community and place and belonging, the real basics, and these are virtues Today's book of poetry can get behind and applaud.  It makes Diaspora - Selected and New Poems, into a very personal investment.

Varela, from what Today's book of poetry can tell is Puerto Rican but born in the continental United States as part of the great diaspora of economics.  Varela's world somehow seems richer than our even though one takes places inside the other.  Varela's world seems richer despite the implied financial divide between the haves and the have-nots.  The us and them.

What Today's book of poetry takes away from Varela's Diaspora is a clear vision of inclusion, the "diaspora" Varela speaks of isn't limited to the Puerto Rican community and Varela is clear about that.  His world is all about inclusion.

But mostly Varela is a fine story-teller disguised as a poet and he wears it well.

Black Earth

Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away.
                      Our God, Our Help in Ages Past (Protestant Hymn)

I hoe furrows in my garden, careful not to disturb the roots.
This land is rich with decay and past seasons.
On my best days, I can reach into the soil
and marry my soul with the green world--
tarragon, escarole, lemon balm, sage.
Envy the power of black earth,
before clay seeps into view,
and no stones, the farmer's curse.

Years ago, grandfather cleared twenty acres by Cibuco
to wrench subsistence from red clay.
Family portraits revealed a lanky, broad-shouldered man
silhouetted gray against an aqua sky,
red dust staining his shirt orange in days rough and without mercy.
Yet he loved his land and seeded that love among his children
even when the wind scattered them to distant places.
Grandfather watched as a public car
carried my mother and father
for their journey north to Babylon and exile.

Years later, I saw the farmhouse set among overgrown fields;
the barn long collapsed; only the ribs of the north framing
stood raised against the turquoise sky.
Your soul spoke to me that night,
when the wind troubled the netting around my bed.
I laid half watching a moth batter itself
senseless against the light.
The room's furniture reminded me of another era,
when men defined their lives through the labor of their hands.

Footsteps sent the floorboards creaking.
I felt your presence in the hallway.
The door opened and there you stood:
A specter dressed in white haunted
by a stranger in search of his past.
Abuelo, I have travelled far to this place of silence,
where your labors broke you before your final rest.
My people took your bones and set them down into black earth.
Sleep easy, grandfather, nothing kills love.


Words to remember:  "nothing kills love."  Family in the present and family in the past, Varela seems intent on paying proper respect to his ancestors and that is a good thing.  Varela is a city boy who is still tied to the red clay his beloved Grandfather tilled with fierce determination, love, sense of purpose.  And perhaps that's the biggest impression Today's book of poetry takes away from Varela's Diaspora - Varela wants to make it clear where he came from and where he feels he belongs.  To understand that, and to see that even on hard pavement a little red dust escapes from Varela's footsteps.  Varela is writing from the perspective of the other, from the outside of the bigger, dominant culture.  More than anything I hear echoes of Henri Charrière's bold voice as played by Steve McQueen - "I'm still here you bastards."

It takes a big voice to bridge those cultural and social walls but Varela has big shoulders, just like his grandfather.


It was never who or what I was
I am simply who I am
and what I am never depended
on what people thought of me.

That wisdom got drilled into my head
by an iron-willed grandmother
who could out think any man
in the five boroughs of New York.

Identity was never a question
of geography and language
or time and distance

I was a spic in the United States
a gringo in the land of my parent's birth.
I got it coming and going,
but I never came to sorrow
for skin I never was.

I was always on the outside looking in,
so call yourself what you will,
because I am who I am
and not the who you think I ought to be.

All I wanted was the impossible:
To be the who I am in a land
unafraid of the me I have become.


We had our first snow of the season yesterday and some of the minions decided it was the perfect excuse to sleep in. Luckily I know where they all live.  After I snow-trudged through the morning's ice and hammer-fisted a few front doors demanding response - I was able to raise sufficient enthusiasm for this morning's efforts.  That and a little terror. 

Once everyone had arrived back at our offices, hands warmed by the latest Annette Funicello latte special with whipped cream and the cinnamon chocolate sprinkles from Toby's arse -- we were able to have our morning read.

Frank Varela's Diaspora - Selected and New Poems made for a great morning read.  Humour and sorrow, love and respect, duty, all of it with a warm and human, almost gentle touch.

The Sweatshop

                     for Shirley Stephenson

If you don't know anything about work,
skip over the next few lines.

Mama was always home after dark
even during the summer from her job
at the sweatshop.

Labored for Mr. Klein,
an old Jew from the Bronx,
who hired anyone who wanted to work
bend over an industrial sewing machine,
an ebony beast snarling, spitting,
its silver fang, piercing, stabbing,
consuming bobbins of threads,
and fingers if you're not careful.
And she wasn't that day.

A blue line of thread stitched clean
from nail to knuckle
the bloody flow
from finger to finger
elbow to floor.

The doctor ordered seven days off,
the same with Mr. Klein.
Even the shop steward,
who never did anything for the seamstresses,
shouted: "Maria, go home."

But you never missed a day at the sweatshop,
because if you didn't clock in,
you wouldn't get paid.

Next morning,
the alarm rattled the stars.
Mama in slippers and robe
shuffled from bedroom to bath,
from bath to dresser,
blouse on, earrings next,
make-up last.

At five
she left for work.


Today's book of poetry will have Milo, our head tech, on the hunt for Frank Varela's earlier titles.  You will too after Diaspora. 

Sometimes good poetry just makes you feel like you are welcome.  Frank Varela may sometimes sound like he has a complaint or two, entirely justifiable, but in fact this sweet bird is singing.

Image result for frank varela photo

Frank Varela
Photo: Doug Mungavin


FRANK VARELA is the author of Serpent Underfoot (March/Abrazo Press, 1993), Bitter Coffee (March/Abrazo Press, 2001) and Caleb’s Exile (Elf Creative Workshop, 2009). He lives and works in Las Cruces, New Mexico.



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, November 18, 2017

Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan - Edited by Brian Bartlett (Icehouse Poetry/Goose Lane Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan.  Edited by Brian Bartlett.  Icehouse Poetry.  Icehouse Poetry is an imprint of Goose Lane Editions.  Fredericton, New Brunswick.  2017.

Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan

Three reminders of why I love this poetry game.  Earlier this week we finally heard from our Sr. Editor, Max, who had gone on a bit of walkabout.  He's fine, keeping out of the bad weather and we are greatly relieved to hear he is okay.  Today's book of poetry also got a phone call from our Southern Correspondent, the Twangster.  A phone call from his lair is as rare as hen's teeth but more welcome than Christmas.  Damn it, for the first few minutes of the call my short-term memory left the room and my old brain didn't even recognize the voice.

Why were these calls so important to Today's book of poetry?  Max knew me back in the day and tolerated my poetry just enough that I kept going.  The Twangster, through a variety of selfless acts of charity has helped Today's book of poetry renew his love for poetry and our small community.

The third.  Sir Alden Nowlan.  I gave him the Sir moniker and if you want to make something out of it - you know know where I live.  Alden Nowlan (1933-1983) was around when there were real giants roaming the poetry earth, Laytons, Cohens and such.  But Alden didn't get quite the same sort of press or recognition or fame.  I'm here to tell you that long before I worshipped the legendary Irving Layton I was hip deep in Alden Nowlan.  The perfect gateway to a life of loving poetry.

Bread, Wine and Salt (Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1967), The Mysterious Naked Man (Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1969) and Between Tears and Laughter (Clarke, Irwin & Company Limited, 1971) were cornerstones of my early poetry world.  Today's book of poetry never met or knew Alden Nowlan but we loved him because his poetry was real to us in the most important sense of being real.  The emotions I felt as a young man reading Sir Alden of Nowlan have never gone away.  When I read these poems they still feel fresh.

Did I say Sir?

Saint Alden of Nowlan is a genuine Canadian poetry hero.  Brian Bartlett, the editor of this massive completest's joy, the Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan says it all much tidier and with less emotional bombast.  Here is his opening salvo:

     Czeslaw Milosz once wrote of another great twentieth-century Polish poet,
     Wislawa Szymborska: "Poetry that speaks to the enduring and irreversible
     coordinates of human fate -- love, striving, fear of pain, hope, the fleeting
     nature of things, and death -- leads us to believe that the poet is one of us,
     and shares in that fate." The same could be said about one of Canada's most
     distinctive and beloved poets, Alden Nowlan.  He once wrote of a desire to
     leave behind "one poem, one story / that will tell what it was like / to be
     alive" ("Another Poem").  Many times he did just that, with candour and 
     subtlety, emotion and humour, sympathy and truth-telling.  Only now is the
     true range of Nowlan's poetic achievement finally available between two 
     covers.  Collected Poems offers in one volume all his poems previously
     published in three early chapbooks, eight full-length collections, "new
     and selected" compilations, and the script of a long poem for voices.

And here is mine.  The first time I opened a book by Alden Nowlan I was in high school, I graduated over 47 years ago.  Alden Nowlan was one of the first poets on my bookshelf.  Because...

In Those Old Wars

In those old wars
where generals wore yellow ringlets
and sucked lemons at their prayers,
other things being equal
the lost causes were the best.

Lee rode out of history
on his gray horse, Traveller,
so perfect a hero
had he not existed
it would have been necessary to invent him--
war stinks without gallantry.

An aide, one of the few who survived,
told him,
Country be damned, general,
for six months these men
have had not country but you.
They fought barefoot
and drank blueberryleaf tea.

The politicians
strung up Grant
like a carrot,
made him a Merovingian.
They stole everything
even the coppers from Lincoln's dead eyes.

In those days, the vanquished
surrendered their swords like gentlemen,
the victors alone
surrendered their illusions.
The easiest thing to do for a Cause
is to die for it.


Today's book of poetry's old copies of Bread, Wine and Salt and The Mysterious Naked Man have been rifled through so many times the bindings are loose, they have so many paper page markers sticking out of the tops -- they look like they've grown plumage.  

What Today's book of poetry found in Alden Nowlan was a voice that sounded so real and true and fine you wished he were your Uncle.  Your smart/wise Uncle who wrote poems like this:

The Hollow Men

They tell me they have never aspired to be poets.
Their jobs, when they were young, were more
     demanding than mine.
With their sweetest smiles: "Nothing great was ever
by writing before breakfast; to create a man must
     be free."
Someday, perhaps, they'll live in Mexico or Italy.
Meanwhile, they endure as they must...
Then hand me the poem
they've preserved since their last year
in university.



The Last Waltz

The orchestra playing
the last waltz
at three o'clock
in the morning
in the Knights of Pythias Hall
in Hartland, New Brunswick,
Canada, North America,
world, solar system,
centre of universe--

and all of us drunk,
swaying together
to the music of rum
and a sad clarinet:

comrades all,
each with his beloved.


Our morning read was splendid.  The air in Ottawa is crisp, the way it always is before the first big storm of winter.  The sky that foreboding sunless gray.

The minions did Sir Saint Alden of Nowlan proud, we read poems from every lovely section of the Collected Poem of Alden Nowlan as though they were the Psalms and we were all religious.  Even though we are not.

Here's the truth of it.  Alden Nowlan never seemed to be speaking over us, he spoke directly to us, me.  It felt like I was being included in an erudite conversation about things that mattered, it was  a conversation I wasn't expecting to be included in.


It takes even more than this to make you cry
or laugh
            when you are old enough
to find a forgotten snapshot of yourself,

take it up in your hands,
hold it close to the light,

discover slowly
     and for the first time

that once
     long ago
             you were almost



Nowlan was a gem factory.  A high class jeweller.  Try this jewel on for size:


Fireworks are being set off
from the highest point in the city
and because explosions scare me
I sit here sullenly, bracing myself for the next one,
hoping it will be the last.
       After all, we've set off so damn many
explosions this past seven or eight hundred years
it stands to reason God must be getting sick of them.
One of these days he's going to hear a firecracker
and decide that's it, I've had it, they've gone far enough.

What a hell of a bang there'll be when that day comes.


Icehouse Poetry and Goose Lane Editions have done a national service with this handsome book.  The Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan may be the most important book of poetry published in Canada this year.  Every poetry bookshelf in the country should have this book on it!

Why I am not more afraid of the dark

You are:
is the name
                    for you.
And the darkness
and behind
                      your terrible brightness
is not
           the wings
                            of bats caught
in a furnace, not
something nameless
                                  rising, but
and women
behaving like humans.
                                     Still I all but
say it aloud:
And am grateful
that I possess words:
unknown to animals.


Sir Alden Nowlan, bard, poet-Saint and namer of things, names it here.  "I possess words: /  charms / unknown to animals.  

Today's book of poetry has looked up to Alden Nowlan since we first picked up Bread, Wine and Salt in it's tidy small paperback format.  It didn't take me long to realize it was one of the biggest books on my shelf.  Over forty years later -- nothing has changed.

Alden Nowlan should be remembered from that time when giants strode the earth for he was their equal in every way.  I know, he took giant steps into this poet's heart all those years ago.  And just like Mr. Coltrane and his own Giant Steps, they are there to stay.

Photo credit: A painting of critically acclaimed Canadian poet, novelist and playwright Alden Nowlan by Stephen Scott.

Alden Nowlan

Born in Hants Co., Nova Scotia, in 1933, Alden Nowlan moved to Hartland, New Brunswick, when he was nineteen, and worked on the Hartland Observer as reporter, editor, and general facilitator until he went to Saint John (and the Telegraph Journal) in 1963. In 1968 he was invited to take up the position of Writer-in-Residence at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. Alden Nowlan died on June 27th, 1983.

Brian Bartlett has published many books of poetry and non-fiction, including The Watchmaker's Table, Ringing Here & There: A Nature Calendar, and Wanting the Day: Selected Poems. He teaches creative writing at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

"Both the Ukraine and Russia lay claim to Gogol, Wales has Dylan Thomas, and America, Poe. We (in Atlantica) have Alden Nowlan. He might tell you you've got the balls of a bull moose to say something like that. Just think how hard as a youngster he was treated by his native place. That doesn't matter now, since he turned it all to gold. Nowlan reminds us our English is good. Our cold winter-tempered Irish English, modern, spare, and mythological. These poems are enough to make you want to put your guitar down." 
     — Al Tuck

"The publication of this book is an historic event in our literature. The collection is a life's work, and like the work of life, this writing wrestles with ancient forces that are pure and unchanging. Nobody else saw the world with Alden's kind of clarity and nobody else worked the language so hard — trying to make it hold, or embrace, our shared experience with such furious tenderness. If you still think honesty is possible, if you worry sometimes about truth and the struggle for sincere connection, Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan will give you comfort." 
     — Alexander MacLeod

"Well over thirty years after his death, Alden Nowlan's poems are still hot-blooded — living, breathing incantations that beat with the pulse of Eastern Canada. Imbued with what Brian Bartlett dubs "the illusion of speech," Collected Poems of Alden Nowlan brings together the work of a master craftsman, a writer whose rangy, conversational poems benefit from appearing where they emerged within his career arc. A definitive volume that consolidates Nowlan's standing in Canadian letters." 
     — Jim Johnstone

"After I was brought up on the Romantics in school, my love of Alden Nowlan's poetry began with his dense, metrically perfect lyrics, some of them so dark they made me shiver. Later, his plain-speaking voice, his honesty and vulnerability drew me in. My husband and I hold Alden in such high regard that shortly after his death we named our first cat after him. He is our laureate of human frailties. No one makes me feel less alone in life and in literature than Alden." 
     — Lorna Crozier

Alden Nowlan: The People's Poet
video: Norflicks Production



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

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

This Sweet Haphazard - Gillian Wegener (Sixteen Rivers Press)

Today's book of poetry:
This Sweet Haphazard.  Gillian Wegener.  Sixteen Rivers Press. 
San Francisco, California.  2017.

These remarkable poems seem to do two things at once, they gently reassure you that all will eventually be okay, until it's not.  Gillian Wegener's This Sweet Haphazard plays both ends against the middle as though she were a rationalizing mall-mom, but dressed like a gun-slinger underneath.

Or we can approach This Sweet Haphazard this way.  How does Wegener know what she knows?  The precision of her approach, how a neighbour who doesn't want to rock the boat by telling her firework-crazy neighbour that she hates fireworks.  Only to find herself pleasurably lost in the beauty of same, the final spectacle spectacular and Wegener finds the beauty.  And then to fold that like taffy, Wegener twists to the real end of the poem where accuracy takes over and the smoke and the dust from the fireworks obscure the real beauty of the night sky, all those stars burning bright.  Wegener pulls off this sort of savvy machination repeatedly, seemingly at will.

America by Train

America passes by the window like a set of slides being shown too fast.  Here are
the desert scenes with long stretches of blank landscape, but you know that it's 
all in the details. How the gray-green cactus will open up the most beautiful pink
flower for just one day, but you'll never see that flower from this train window.
How the lizard will wait on its rock for the unfortunate cricket to land and
become a tiny meal. You won't hear the screech of the hawk welcoming sunset
or see the startle of the mouse in hearing that cry. What you can see is brown
and gray and vaguely green, with the wide, darkening sky overhead, and it's like
holding a book you know will be a good read but that you aren't allowed to open.
      But here are the passengers, their unchosen details out for display. The
man and wife who argue about every little thing in hard whispers and then
in loud voices, not quite shouts, not much softer, but not really meant for
the entire car to hear. She has something to say about how he shaves. He has
something to say about the way she cooks turkey. She is wearing a yellow hat
fifty years too late for yellow hats with small cloth daisies, and he has a cane
that he whittled himself, and they are going from Bakersfield to Kansas to see
her sister. He has something to say about that, too. Another passenger peels
an orange, and another says he was attacked by dogs in Indonesia and is going
home to get treatment, but the sores on his arms and face don't speak of dogs,
and the gloss of fever means everyone for the most part leaves him alone, and
what he wants most is a mug of tea, but because he is so tired, he decides to wait
it out. Another passenger walks ahead for a smoke. A baby sleeps on her father's
shoulder. The conductor reads a magazine and wishes he were elsewhere.
      And America passes by like that in the night, when the windows show
nothing but passenger reflections. It becomes New Mexico. It becomes
Oklahoma. It becomes a train moving through a world made up of nothing
but darkness punctuated by the little comma moon overhead. It becomes
a train standing still as the world moves past. The arguing couple grows
quiet, her head on his shoulder. The feverish boy sleeps and murmurs
with feverish dreams. The baby is awake and watching her own reflection
in the window, waving at her sweet new self as the night folds around us.


Well crafted almost sounds disparaging these days but Today's book of poetry still thinks that's how things should be done.  Gillian Wegener's poems are air-tight.

Frequent readers of Today's book of poetry will remember that we are suckers for a good list poem and Wegener obliges in fine form with a dandy, "The Old Mill Cafe."  Today's book of poetry would normally use it for fodder but frankly we were so smitten with Wegener's particular disposition that we were drawn to several other poems.  You meet women like Wegener every day, smart, decisive and decidedly kind and gentle (when she wants to be).  The wrong assumption that is often made is that these attributes reveal a weakness of some kind.  But the real lion doesn't always have to prove herself to be a lion.  She just is.  She can be as kind and gentle as needed.  Until she has to be that other kind of lion.

The Dyerville Giant

When a tree falls in a forest,
a tree like that, anyway,
with all those years ringing it,
having sprouted out of the soft earth
before Jesus was even a spark
in his Father's bright eye --
when a tree like that falls,
it cracks and echoes so that
even the gnats careening
in the sun near the creek
take pause. And when this tree
fell, the crash was like trains colliding.
The ground inhaled and held
its breath, waiting for impact.
The sound rolled through the forest
and made salamanders hide
in their damp burrows. It thundered
like a train wreck, and so
the townsfolk drove out
to the trestle to see the havoc,
while the fine silt of redwoods
rose and then settled
in the forest behind them.


Today's book of poetry's morning read was a slightly more subdued event than some of our recent escapades.  Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, apparently drank all of the Scotch in Vanier last night.  Their little wounded souls are being dragged around the office today like corpses with open wounds.  Neither of them appreciated this morning's Ornette Coleman concert over the office box.  His ground breaking saxophone and disharmonic reverberations were beyond their reason.  They didn't enjoy it at all.

Our reading was without musical accompaniment and Gillian Wegener's particularly humane kick at the proverbial can helped Milo and Kathryn see some light on the horizon through their caked and crusty eye-slits.  If for no other reason than they could see kindness still existed in the world at large.

This Sweet Haphazard

No one calls this town pretty.
Not with the dusty oleanders off the freeway
and the ragged fence boards of backyards
propped up with two-by-fours, and
the canals with their twin likes of slow and safe,
and the ash trees, dead branches dangling, and
the large, pale no-one's-home houses and
the foreclosed houses and the small houses
with their carefully tended geranium borders,
with the plum trees gone overripe and sticky.
No one calls this town pretty, with the heat
rippling of the parking lots and the sighs
of aunts and uncles sitting in the shade of garages
filled with cars that were once meant to go places,
and the church marquee scolding that
Jesus Did Not Read Porn, and the swarms
of mosquitoes buzzing the standing water
from the leaking sprinkler heads in the park.
And yeah, no one calls this town pretty
as the creek laps at its share of shopping carts,
and the untended grasses bleach dry by April,
and the public pools are mostly closed,
but the sky here turns indigo on summer nights,
and the hummingbird chases the sparrow
from the feeder, and the kids on the soccer field
run as fast as kids anywhere, oblivious
to the town around then, because after all,
it isn't so bad. It's an okay town.
We know where all the roads go,
and we know where to get good coffee,
and we know what time the train pulls through.
We know too we're more than soil, more than sky,
more than what you've read in the news,
and no, it isn't pretty, but we still live here, and
tonight the moon will rise, almost full,
over this sweet haphazard of home.


Gillian Wegener's long poem "Neighborhood" sounds a bit like every neighbourhood on earth from Minneapolis to Moscow, and from Houston to Helsinki.  Today's book of poetry felt a bit like going home when reading This Sweet Haphazard.  Not a home we've ever had but a place we'd like to be.

Gillian Wegener cooks.  Her sound reason gives us hope.

Gillian Wegener

Gillian Wegener is the author of three books of poetry: a chapbook, Lifting One Foot, Lifting the Other (In the Grove Press, 2001), and a full-length collection, The Opposite of Clairvoyance (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2008), and her new collection, This Sweet Haphazard (Sixteen Rivers Press, 2017). Widely published, she has won several awards for her work, including the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Prize in 2006 and 2007, and the Zócalo Public Square Prize for Poetry of Place in 2015. Wegener, a junior high teacher, lives with her husband and daughter in Modesto, where she coordinates and hosts the monthly Second Tuesday Reading Series. She is a cofounder of the Modesto-Stanislaus Poetry Center and has served as the poet laureate for the city of Modesto.

“In This Sweet Haphazard, Gillian Wegener turns her well-tuned ear, her sharp eye, and her considerable intelligence and humor to the California of lightning fires, bulldozed almond trees, and murky rivers with unpredictable currents, as well as that of clear desert night skies, foggy coastlines, and the green light that filters through the sequoias. She sees the beauty and melancholy all around her, and she approaches it with tenderness and without aesthetic pretension. This is a beautiful book of powerful poems.”
     —Jane Mead, author of World of Made and Unmade

“‘Place, to the writer at work, is seen in a frame,’ writes Eudora Welty. ‘Not an empty frame, a brimming one.’ Everything is brimming in Gillian Wegener’s fantastic new collection of poems: rivers, bees, the Old Mill Cafe, forest fires, churches, Neville Bros. Service, the ghosts of Humboldt County, the streets, shops, and citizens of Modesto, California, and most importantly, the unmapped geography of the human heart. Candid and creative, Wegener charts past and present, interior and exterior, in order to create a poetic landscape we never want to leave.”
     —Dean Rader, author of Works & Days

Gillian Wegener
Sacramento Poetry Center
Video: Tim Kahl



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

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

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Out of Place - Richard Jackson (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Out of Place.  Richard Jackson.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland University.  Ashland, Ohio.  2014.

Here's the thing that Today's book of poetry is only learning to accept, only learning to come to terms with.  There are so many fine poets out there it is impossible to know them all.  

To all you regular readers out there, we are doing our best to cover as much ground as we possibly can but we are not Kate Sutherland on the subway.  Sutherland of the beautiful Rhinos.  Bless her cotton socks.  We wrote about the brilliant Kate Sutherland and her book, How To Draw A Rhinoceros, last year.  You can look at that blog/review at the end of this paragraph.  Ms. Sutherland posts daily photos of a legion of unknown (to us) poets/poetry.  She doesn't do it everyday but it is something we here at Today's book of poetry look forward to.

All of that to clumsily say we know we are treading water in terms of the whole range of poetry out there.  But this is one of those cases where we feel a little guilt simply because we hadn't heard of Richard Jackson before.  Out of Place is Jackson's eleventh book of poetry, and as you will see in his biography below, he has won every award and prize but the Selke Trophy.

Bob Gainey has every right to feel nervous in his old Hab's sweater because Jackson might just start piling up those as well - this writing is that good.

There is a very good reason Richard Jackson has rolled up the awards and kudos.  This poetry is so good it is alarming.

About This Poem

          At the beginning...which is to awaken you to the right kind of joy
                        in serious times, we must list all those who have been killed
                                                                               since I last wrote......
                                                              - Bonhoeffer, 1942, Germany

It has to account for its untied shoelaces as well as its Extermination
Camps. Sitting among all those languages in the Munich beer garden.
Hitler's first speech a few blocks away. A masked ball where
the costumes are all switched around. Those carnival grab bags
filled with joy or remorse. Above me the clouds are paralyzed.
I have to wipe the dust from my soul. The wind holds its breath.
Bosnia, 1994: one group of men forced to bite off the testicles
of another group. Others to stand in the snow till their feet rot.
These things orbit now like a planet too far to see. Even the bee
can't figure a way out of my stein. Light staggers through the trees.
Every moment is filled with other moments. According to Bell's
Theorem whatever happens to this bee influences a history yet
to be written. Like the seed stars that smudge the trail of Mira as
it slips across the sky. All my maps are smudged with atrocities.
There are so many voices that are our own voices. Rhythm is just this
oscilloscope of the soul. We come from a place that has always
been inside us. Our words migrate helplessly. The world reflects
only itself. Which is why we have to create our own memories.
The paths from here spread out like shattered glass. The man
across the table's from Krakow. He doesn't want to talk about
the occupation and its lives turned to smoke. One the mechanical
Trumpeter in his church spire. The song stops where his real
ancestor was felled by an enemy's arrow. In the silence that follows
don't we all have to begin again? At the end of a line, the door
left open for a moment where you can fall in love, remember
what you wanted to forget, forget what you wanted to remember.
Why do you think our metaphors will save us? The world is only
itself. Time is just our way of imagining it. At least the bee has
ultraviolet vision to see everything we can't.  We have to light
our dark spaces with the sputtering matches of our words.
We have to follow wherever they lead us. There's this little
hole in existence we all pass through. Someone is always entering.
He's the one who invents me while I think I am writing about him.


Today's book of poetry has mountains of admiration, respect and awe where Richard Jackson's Out of Place is concerned, add in a little jealousy.  Jackson seems to have a simple formula, he picks a subject, writes about it with encyclopedic knowledge, dharma bum charm and whimsy and some sort of special poetry detectives trained eye.  This is cherse stuff.  There are no details left behind that we will need later, there is nothing extra to carry.  Jackson is thorough, candid and hard as nails/soft as clowns tears.

Day after day Today's book of poetry shares books of poetry we like with you, best job on the planet, but we are not about to index our poets or their books with scores -- but if you minions are paying attention this guy Jackson is in David Lee, Sue Goyette, David Clewell, Sharon Olds, territory.

Out of Place really is a remarkable book filled to bursting with remarkable poems.  It may even be a little unfair, Jackson having so much good poetry in him.  Somehow Richard Jackson is able to write about exactly what it is that you want to know about.  This is essential voice territory.  As in, the next time Today's book of poetry is asked "who should I read?", Richard Jackson will be part of that conversation.


                                 after the freeing of the West Memphis Three

Deep in our own inner caves the heart's canary sounds a warning.
On the other side of speech is a language that dreams us.
Echoes hide out in abandoned words. The air hardens.

A home invasion, a meth lab, a father killing his family.
It Had To Be You, Les Paul played on his guitar with seven
crippled fingers, but who is never named, or is us.
clouds begin to picket the horizon. Pine sap leaks from 
a wounded tree. Even the flowers seem to take on
the color of night.
                           There are times when it is better
to close your eyes to the world.

                                                  I have been watching
a fledgling drop from its nest, flutter a few feet, and again,
until it flew not back, but into another tree. The wind tests
itself against my torn screen. A few thorns of light jab
out of the darkness on the far hills.
                                                        Who are you
if your dreams are dreamt by somebody else? In a dream
of freedom we return to a place that is not the place.
poems could not create the world he needed. How
many times do our words become cells? How do we
remove those splinters of memory and remain ourselves?
Most of our dreams are the seeds in sidewalk cracks.

By now my fledgling has its own dream.

                                                                 Tonight's clouds
will cover the meteor shower. I remember the fog in
the valley slipping forward like a glacier. At other times
a whole world rippled in the river.
                                                       It was David Hume
who said we had not a single reason to believe in reality,
but we must act as if we do. Even when a whole life
seems mothballed.
                             Now we know that our moon collided with
another moon whose remnants we can't see on its far side.
Moonglow is how Les Paul would have played it. And us?

Who are we if someone else's dream is really ours?


Today's book of poetry's morning read was spectacular.  You can blame Richard Jackson.  Many of our staff are becoming old hands in the reading game, at this reading poems aloud, and bless their cotton socks, they've taken a shine to the process.  Milo, our head tech, led the charge this morning while shaking his head with both wonder and the obvious.  Milo already knows his next assignment will be to find us the rest of Richard Jackson's books.  If they hold a candle to Out of Place Today's book of poetry knows they will be essential reading.

This is how the masters do it.  Solid.  Bold.  Beautiful.

That orange fugging fog that is over America is temporary and the poets tell us so.  This title from Jackson is from 2014 and has nothing to do with POTUS.  But it has everything to do with America and it gives us hope.  Jackson writes poems of reflection, inner examination, outer understanding and tolerance.  


                                                    You exist in the delirious illusion of language.
                                                                                                    - Robert Penn Warren

What I want to say to you has already disappeared like the flashlight
beam I aimed at empty space years ago. If Augustine was right
it will hit the edge of the universe in 15 billion years. If Einstein was
right then it will never get to the end of it. My own life is orbiting
a word I don't want to land on. Heisenberg said you can only know
where you have been. Freud said that where we are is the terror
of what we were. He was terrified by sex which he saw as a kind
of impalement. Polls say the happiest people are those in the middle
of sex. So tell me, why have you paused to listen?

                                                                                 Most of our words
come with dress codes to hide the world we never want to see.
Some march to the rhythm of goose steps. All I need to do is
throw another stone at the stars to know how far from any center
we are. Even Charon can't say which shore is which.

Every word here tries to pronounce something that has no name.
The words we don't hear are the words that control us. The words
I want to say edge over the horizon like a sunset sail. Every breath
disturbs the next. Every word erases another word. Nathan, the first
prophet, said no one would come after him. So what did he know?

I don't even know what the end of this sentence says because
while the clock is taking its time to decide, the homeless man
in the cemetery blows a few random notes on a dented trumpet,
a few cigarette butts in the flowerpot have a story they refuse to say,
the wounded day limps home alone, a few more protesters are shot
in Bahrain, a few mothers and children slaughtered in Mexico
in the middle of some drug war.

                                                   Isn't everything we say just some
bit of breath we can't hold any longer. Doesn't every word draw
a picture that hides what it really means. How did all those painters
know what the Apocalypse looks like? The bombed church
in Baghdad thought it was today. The man shot on his porch in East
Chattanooga thought it was another day.

                                                                Sometimes the moon rises
full of hate. Clouds scramble over distant peaks, the wind broods
in a ravine, the flycatcher, perched along, waits for darkness.

In truth, what I want to say to you are these trace elements
lingering in the spaces between words. In truth, nothing we say is
worth the way the hawk slides through the invisible air from
the top of the skeleton of a dead tree.

                                                           In a few years you'll decipher
how these words will create a whole world I never meant to say.
Our windows have their own prophecies. Birdsong crinkles the air.
Everything we say is a self-portrait. The radio preacher says
that flowers can't bloom in hell. I have it on good report that

you can fit 1,737 angels on the head of a pin, excepting fat angels.
Salvation comes before creation, writes Agamben, which is why
we have to say whatever words, however dark, puddle at the end
of each sentence.

                             And isn't what we can't say exactly what attracts us?

And you, would it have made any difference if I said what I wanted
to face back at the beginning, that we have to learn to love whatever
truth will say itself, oh, not at the safe distance words create, but
unconditionally, like the woman who cannot understand why she is
impaled on the branch in the Ivory Coast like one of Goya's
Disasters of War discovering words she never knew would lead her there.


Out of Place is another clear lesson for Today's book of poetry.  America remains full of greatness if you know where to look.  Poets like Richard Jackson give Today's book of poetry hope.

Remarkable, remarkable poetry.

Richard Jackson
Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson is the author of eleven books of poetry, Out of Place (Ashland Poetry Press, 2014) most recently, two books of criticism, and two translations, one from Slovene and one from Italian. He is a winner of Guggenheim, Fulbright, NEA, NEH and Witter-Bynner Fellowships, five Pushcart appearances, as well as prizes from Prairie Schooner, Rattle and Crazyhorse. Jackson's poems have been translated into 15 languages. He was a recipient of the Slovene Order of Freedom Award for Humanitarian and Literary work in the Balkans and recipient of the 2009 AWP George Garrett Award. Jackson has taught at the Iowa Summer Festival, Prague Summer Program, Bread Loaf and other venues, and teaches at UT Chattanooga and the Vermont College of Fine Arts low residency program, winning teaching awards at both schools.

His lines are clouds of love, piercing the sky with enormous empathy, rolling in the azure, torrents of passion, and are arrows at the same time, reaching a peak where they break, crying, cleansing the air, becoming ether. It is impossible to describe this in discursive language. With a melody that is unmistakably his own, his poems seem to come to us in Europe from the heart of the heart of America, the totally open (and hidden) center from where the power of the continent sprouts. He is a kind of Scorzese in poetry, but where Scorzese almost succeeds in his films, then stops, seals and terrifies us, Jackson adds a tender, vulnerable voice that blossoms and transforms us and that is so unique and great, great in its truest sense in Richard Jackson's poems.
    - Tomaž Šalamun

Richard Jackson
Video: poetry@tech



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