Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Life as IT - Daneen Wardrop (The Ashland Poetry Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Life as IT.  Daneen Wardrop.  The Ashland Poetry Press.  Ashland University.  Ashland, Ohio.  2016.

Winner of the Richard Snyder Publication Prize

Buddhas and Beethovens populate these provocative prose poems like a flutter of rose petals drifting under your precarious passage.  Today's book of poetry got carried away with that opening line, but the Buddhas and Beethovens part is true.  They are in Life as It along with possible saints and Roy Orbison.

What turned our crank here at Today's book of poetry was Daneen Wardrop's gaze.  Once she puts her eye on a subject she renders it new vision.  We've all been these places before, we've all listened to Paul McCartney, but never like this.  Never the old way again.  We've encountered mystics before but Waldrop's modern Carmelite St. Teresa pops in and out of these texts like a Whac-a-mole.


I've read that aphasics watching a presidential debate laugh at every lie, like
snow reads a landscape. It's a watcher's game, laughter is foil crinkling. Must
I give up even my small bit of talk? (I admit it is me, despicable truth of
elegies, whom I miss). Sometimes snow finishes the punchline, I suppose our
bones sparkle inside like that. A friend once told me my mother's
stubbornness kept her alive, told me into her stethoscope. Meticulous sparks
move by standing still in the storm, they look like tell me again.  They look like
tell me again, just a little at a time.


Life as It is a book of elegant meditations that are each as crisp as a Sonny Rollins solo, brash with subtle mystery.  Wardrop brings her own sense of timing but the beat is clear.

Truth be told Today's book of poetry didn't understand every subtle or saintly clue/cue but Daneen Wardrop writes relentlessly interesting poetry.  These compelling little monsters are tight, tight, tight prose poems salted up like a treat you can't stop eating.

Life as It

They say Buddha called many animals to him but not the cat. Surely the story
is lax on this one. Surely no one was watching on this one. After looking a
while at an upward spill of incense smoke the cat disappeared along a mouse-
flicking path. Some Buddhists say it's important for the breath to wander in
the belly. When I see a palette's paint wet and deep with colors I want to kiss
it. How complex what passes for ready. The breath can do what it wants.
Dragons roast meatloaves with their breaths, oxen hump in the fields, snakes
unfinish circles. The cat walks through grassblades strumming.


This morning's read here in the Today's book of poetry offices was organized by Kathryn, our Jr. Editor.  She told us she knew exactly how these poems should be read.  She had props that included a small but rotund and smiling Buddha.  It bore a striking resemblance to the one from the Today's book of poetry garden (which is currently under about four feet of snow).

Daneen Wardrop's Life as It made for an energetic morning read by our cast of miscreants.  These poems have their own source of power, they are internally driven, we just get to go along on the ride.

If Never the Why then at Least the How

This dawn, if a stranger stands outside our house, the panes will grow as
stamps, par avion. Windows may settle by noon, but now they wish for sex
straight out of sleep. A cupola of wild geese launches a mansion. He sleeps
turned from me, pang of light on his forehead. Too jealous for coherence, we
spoke last night in interjections, every tooled puncture of his belt slit past
what I can't accept from a silver morning, as a hand finds aqua lines tense at
the back of a knee. Then, what I can accept. The amazing thing about skin,
that it's continuous.


Life as It tasted fresh as new snow.  It went down like the coolest, cleanest spring water.  Absolutely refreshing.

Christine Gelineau
Daneen Wardrop

Daneen Wardrop has authored two books of poetry, The Odds of Being and Cyclorama, as well as several books of literary history. She is a recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the Poetry Society of America Robert H. Winner Award. Wardrop teaches American literature at Western Michigan University.

Life as It proves Daneen Wardrop's mastery of voice. In these pieces, the past, present and future coalesce in bright bursts, and, through juxtaposition and accumulation, the connections become ever more compelling, and beautiful, and edgy, and interesting as they unspool. This is poetry of both narrative and musical accomplishments, and a book one won't forget.
     - Laura Kasischke, author of The Infinitesimals

These poems are a diary of exquisite attention. Daneen Wardrop's mind is meditative in pacing yet poetic in the way it creates a new way of seeing. "A cupola of wild geese launches a mansion" is equally accurate and miraculous, and just one example of her gentle yet transformative focus. She's adept at mining a moment for what it naturally contains, rather than forcing it into predetermined avenues of feeling or thought. This a poet who possesses that rare human quality - a gracious consciousness.
     - Bob Hick, author of Sex



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, February 19, 2017

Acquired Community - Jane Byers (Caitlin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Acquired Community.  Jane Byers.  Caitlin Press.  Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.  2016.

When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it
become less and less important whether I am afraid
- Audre Lorde

...that without tenderness, we are in hell.
-Adrienne Rich, Twenty-One Love Poems, X

Today's book of poetry had to borrow these two epigraphs from Jane Byers brilliant Acquired Community because they synthesize in such a beautifully acute fashion everything that is about to occur.  Byers gives us a deeply personal and highly politicized march into her queer experience and it is riveting.  

These poems are a proud parade of perseverance rendered gallant under extreme duress; not everyone gets out alive.

The Lavender Scare
According to a concerned mother of a Women's Army Corps recruit,
Fort Oglethorpe was full of homosexual sex maniacs in WWII,
"women having the appearance of perverts have been observed--
mannish haircuts, clothing, posture, stride...
seeking to date other girls, paying all the bills."

--from "Coming Out Under Fire"

Only if we were "addicted to the practice", could we be discharged in wartime.
It was a gay time, the war.
The General ignored all our signals--
               we whistled that ode to secret lovers, the Hawaiian War Chant,
               said, "We're going to have a gay time tonight"
               or "Are you in the mood?"
The Inspector General ignored civilians
cruising servicemen along highways near bases,
the bars we frequented, men in drag, women arm in arm.

Ignored, that is, until peacetime,
when, addicts after all, we were given blue discharges.

The Lavender Scare rendered us
               shunned from civilian jobs
               ineligible for GI benefits,
               unable to go back to small towns and family farms.
Some of us moved to D.C., L.A., SanFran,
               some started homophile groups,
               some men got married but fucked other men in the bushes,
               some women became stone butches and never let their lovers touch them,
               some of us jumped from tall buildings.


Jane Byers writes with such mature assurance, such a steady hand.  Today's book of poetry had never read Jane Byers before but the connect was immediate, instantaneous.  There is always lots and lots of room on our shelves for such impassioned and intelligent reason.  There is always room at our table for this sort of company.

Byers shares with us a history, a herstory, that for the majority of Canadian and Americans will be entirely new news.  For the legions of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers it is a new documentation of a sad history they are all too familiar with.

Regardless of gender or disposition Today's book of poetry defies you not to be moved by these compelling narratives.  Whether singing out a questioning tune in call and response or intoning a solemn prayer Byers is captivating.

Come Out

Stylized geometry,
pink triangle shadowed by black
above purple text--
Toronto's pride theme, 1993.

Come Out, urging,
it changes through years.
Some took offense,
mostly conservative men who had a lot to lose
but no, that's too simple.
There were women too, unwilling
to lose what little they had.

I was righteous, thought I had come out.
I'd told my high school friends, my parents, my aunt by then.
I celebrated in the streets with my friends,
eight of us in solid-coloured shirts,
walked in rainbow formation,
Made the cover of Xtra.
In my naivete, I thought I was done.

Twenty years later, I'm still doing it,
the only thing i want to have come out of is my mother's womb.
Not to the kindergarten teacher, the triage nurse,
the dentist, the law clerk, the adoption worker,
or the post woman in the condo elevator
who asks, Which one of you is the mom?
then turns to press any button she can
when I say, We both are.

The agent at the ticket counter,
glances at us with a question,
I nod before he gets the chance--
no words, but he understands.
Resignation passes over his face
with a raised eyebrow as if to say,
"When did this happen?"
I feign ignorance, glance at our kids, say,
"Follow Mama while Mom gets our bags checked."

It's like breathing, not birth.


Sometimes, and this is one of those cases, the limited selection of three poems doesn't speak to the breadth of a book at all.  Acquired Community speaks to that sense of community we find with new friends and cherished old friends, mutual understanding and respect, in the modern era this is how we build family.  We acquire people less joined by blood than by bonds of empathy.

When Today's book of poetry reads about Byers being "gay-bashed" by her brother and the subsequent torment and disappointment that ensue -- our entire staff sends out an appropriate hug for Byers.  As a brother who cherishes the ground his sisters walk on I've also sent out our entirely inappropriate Poetry Hit Squad searching for Byers brother.  Not to worry, they only use poetry. They'll poeticize him to reason, tolerance and compassion or they'll dance him outside.

Blood Orange

Joppa, Tarocco, Cara Cara, Sanguinello.
A hybrid between mandarin and pomello,
oranges grow near the Blood River in Limpopo,
alongside the ungraded dirt road, where the runners train,
barefoot, through the bush
in the red/orange co-mingle of sunrise,
in the descending crescendo of sunset.

After she shattered the 800 metre world record in Berlin,
Caster Semenya, of Limpopo, breathtakingly butch,
was accused of being a man,
jeered by the sixth and eighth place runners.
Deep voice, chiseled deltoids and biceps,
she visited the bathroom with competitors,
to show them her labia, again and again.

Her auntie says she knows what Caster is. she changed her nappies.
Turns out how we measure gender is complex.
No menses, not a big deal,
few female athletes bleed.
There is no definitive test.

She finds out she is intersex.
Undescended testes.
Mosiac female.

Caster retains the world record that she broke that night,
after the freak-show coverage and gender verification testing.
Hormone therapy renders her armour-like chest more curved,
her cheeks less angular, attenuated her power,
until we believe she is female.
Semenya goes on to win Olympic bronze, then gold.

Forget what you know.
Limpopo is South African slang for nowhere.

Imagine the dismay when you split one in half.
No, orange.
No, red.
There will be blood.


Byers poems are a magnificent bridge that span the years from imperilled hostility and even imprisonment for any LGBTQ citizen, through the marching and the parades, the hidden clubs and hidden desires - right up to today and the marvelous imperfect present.  Steps have been made, there has been progress, new laws, but we are all still a long way from home.

Acquired Community is not only a fine book of poetry it is a necessary piece of social history, a reminder, an entreaty.  Hope.

Image result for jane byers photo
Jane Byers

Jane Byers lives with her wife and two children in Nelson, British Columbia. She writes about human resilience in the context of raising children, lesbian and gay issues, and health and safety in the workplace. She has worked as an ergonomist and vocational rehabilitation consultant for many years and is passionate about facilitating resilience in ill and injured workers. She has had poems, essays and short fiction published in a variety of books and literary magazines in Canada, the US, and the UK, including Grain, Rattle, Descant, the Antigonish Review, the Canadian Journal of Hockey Literature, Our Times, Poetry in Transit and Best Canadian Poetry 2014. Her first book of poetry, Steeling Effects, was published by Caitlin Press in 2014. Her latest book of poetry is Acquired Community.

“Byers’ poems are an important reflection on the devastation of the AIDS crisis, the ‘veiled love and lament’ of the early gay rights movement, and the memories held by queer elders.”
     — Leah Horlick, author of For Your Own Good and winner of the 2016 Dayne Ogilvie Prize

“Jane Byers’ Acquired Community fills an often overlooked niche in Canadian queer history. Written in strong, careful poetics, both personal and political, Byers gives readers a glimpse into what was possible then, what is possible now. If you care about queer lives, this is an important book to read, to enjoy!”
     —Arleen Paré, author of Lake of Two Mountains (Winner of the 2014 Governor General’s Award             for Poetry), and He Leaves His Face in the Funeral Car

Jane Byers
reads "Red is the Colour of Spring"
Video: Amy Bohigian's Channel



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, February 17, 2017

Blue Hallelujahs - Cynthia Manick (Black Lawrence Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Blue Hallelujahs.  Cynthia Manick.  Black Lawrence Press,  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  2016.

"we don't choose what haunts us"
                                                                                               from Mind the Gap

Today's book of poetry can tell you that these poems are declarations, prayers, confessions and pleas, all of them vividly feminine and highly charged.  Cynthia Manick's Blue Hallelujahs is a strong woman's voice telling the stories of young girls, young women and old women too.  These are stories that don't see the light of day often enough.  Even though women read and write more poetry than men - men publish more poetry than women.  

Manick wrings joy out wherever she can find it and like her grandmother's kitchen, these poems will bring you that "slow applause under the skin."  Tyehimba Jess suggests that Blue Hallelujahs is necessary music for getting to the other side.  Today's book of poetry certainly felt the tug.

Mind the Gap

Little E wants a smile like mine,
teeth with a gap so wide
a corn husk and tugboat
could pull through.
Or a submarine, lost sounds
and grunts. Tiny light bulbs
if you're careful or a string
of Christmas lights looped
through like garland.

Does she know how the world
works? How some of us
are born without 40 acres
and the weight of a mule
on their chest. Like my mother
and Monday mornings --
boarding the F train and two buses
with two children, her own negro
caravan. A sonata full of low-watt
clinics and hurling vowels
like swords. How I often waited
in those long-ass lines
and imagined myself a boy,
a whirlwind digging in the muck
where only muscles and gold matter.

My tongue tries to reason with her
ring against the want -- cause
we don't choose what haunts us.
When I was young I craved closed
spaces, bright veneers, the smile
of Rudy Huxtable or on bad days
Shirley Temple. No one notices
a mouth when Bojangles is dancing.


Today's book of poetry is uncertain of how to address the obvious so feels compelled to say it - these poems are about a young Black woman and her experience of the world and I'm an old white man, so how could I possibly relate?  Is that an unreasonable question?  Cynthia Manick does all the work bridging that gap by writing poems that are wide open and crystal clear.  The strong women in these poems are familiars and we admire their unrelenting belief that the world is changed with every strong foot put forward.

Manick's poems are confident and certain, powerful meditations on family, gender, childhood and race.  Today's book of poetry enjoyed that Manick employs an innocent sense of wonder in her voice from time to time in these excellent poems.  Resilience is rare enough but adding wonder gives these poems additional charm.

Manick is comfortable with adding some smolder to her plate.  These poems are cradle to the grave stories about family for good and bad, but when Manick warms the sheets that all fades to the shadows.  Cynthia Manick captures the primal and caresses it with subtle sweetness.

Recipe for Consummation

Your seasoned skin --
            one quart Egyptian
            the shade of balsa honey,
            one part Cubano
            with a dash of cayenne pepper,
            and one half buttered South--
is a scratch 'n sniff insert
more savory than Old Spice
            or Sara Lee;
and I claw it nightly
like oranges or sand
to whispered chants
           of sweet meat sweet meat
and bareback tongues
            in our bedroom,
until shuck sheds
            like a coiled rope
            of dark stars.
I drink it down
            so that my body
            the brown bounty
of your herbs and spine
in the morning.


Blue Hallelujahs has its share of righteous indignity, these poems are never shrill or pained but they certainly are sharp and pointed when Manick puts her foot down.

Another great morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices.  The sun is shining in our town this morning which is a treat, we've had snow nineteen of the last twenty-five days.  We all took turns reading Cynthia Manick's Blue Hallelujahs until there were none left to read.

When I Think of My Father

I live in constant fear of extinction,
that I'll be pulled back to muddy toes
and pear trees. Praised for wide hips
and a silent mouth that wants
to scream, echo, grunt, but can't.

Or that I'll meet a man just like my daddy,
tether my back to his name like a spine
where each cord holds large teats filled with children
and more children like little benign tumors.
And when he slips his hand under my skirt
I'll know he doesn't love me -- just the malleable
skin that's spreads north and south,
guided by his un-mutable compass.

When I think of my father I can only see
my mother at her knees, chanting he's gone
Cyn, he's gone, pairs of discarded
blue jeans on the floor, my mother
fingering the silver buckles like a totem
to lure him back --
from some other woman's scent.

She silently demands my twelve-year old
self to hold and rock her body
like a pair of marsupials -- her rooting
my chest for safety, me exposed to the cold
air of their bedroom. I try to be stone,
brine the carnage in my throat
swallow her overripe voice of muscadines.

Falling into the bodies of baggy pants
boys at corner stores -- their pockets
full of candy and cake. What they don't
give me, I steal. What I steal, I eat.
I eat to fill a gangrene hole stuffed with bills,
deeds in my father's name, blocks
of state-issued butter and cheese.

I want to take a blade and cut
the edge of this round red wound.
Have daughters born not ready
to fear, but ready to pick up a spade,
dig a ditch, and knife a man.


Today's book of poetry has nothing but esteem for the voice of Cynthia Manick.  I wish her strength on all our daughters and sisters.

Blue Hallelujahs is Cynthia Manick's first book of poetry, it's as powerful as it is promising.

Manick Cynthia
Cynthia Manick
Photo:  Sue Rissberger

A Pushcart Prize nominated poet with an MFA in Creative Writing from the New School, Cynthia Manick has received fellowships from Cave Canem, The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts & Sciences, the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, and the Vermont Studio Center. She serves as East Coast Editor of the independent press Jamii Publishing and was a 2014 finalist for the New York Foundation of the Arts Fellowship in Poetry. Her work has appeared in African American Review, Bone Bouquet, Callaloo, DMQ Review, Kweli Journal, Muzzle Magazine, Sou’wester, Pedestal Magazine, Passages North, St. Ann’s Review, and elsewhere. She currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.

The speaker of Cynthia Manick’s haunted debut collection admits “a love for surgery porn at 1 a.m.” And one early poem begins, “Today I am elbow deep/in some animal’s belly//pulling out the heart and stomach/for my mother’s table.” Throughout, Blue Hallelujahs approaches aspects of a woman’s development—from “feet first” Caesarean delivery to a grandmother’s admonition “to pull flesh/from the throat not the belly”—blade at the ready, moving from slaughter to surgery to a kind of deep southern haruspication. At the center of girlhood we find The Shop with its inventory of inherited hungers. “Is this what the heart eats?” Manick renders visceral a longing to avoid extinction, to escape the museum, to live fully embodying one’s identity as a woman who “knows/ how to wield a knife.”
     —Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, author of Open Interval, a 2009 National Book Award Finalist

"What we remember is what we become. Rocking chairs holding mothers and "animals that root the ground for peaches, bones and stars." In Blue Hallelujahs Cynthia Manick holds fast to what brought us across. These are not the things you will hear about Black people on the nightly news. But they remain the things that lock the arms of Black people around Black people when we need what we need to keep moving on. I am so grateful to this sweet box of sacred words."
     —Nikky Finney, Author of Head Off & Split, Winner of the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry

Cynthia Manick's Blue Hallelujahs bring us to a broil like Koko Taylor's "white-toothed love coils on repeat." Here, we have a gospel of womanly sharpness, a kitchen sinked and hot combed diary of the way Blues grinds into the 21st century. Gifted with the ability to smolder into surprise and swelter, Manick's reflections on discovery and loss will bring you to a "slow applause under the skin." Thank you for this bouquet of sheet music filled with church organ and pistol smoke, Ms. Manick. We gone need it to get to the other side.
    —Tyehimba Jess, author of leadbelly, winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series

Hunted 2
Black Poets Speak Out
Cynthia Manick




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, February 15, 2017

Love is a very long word - Majlinda Bashllari (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Love is a very long word.  Majlinda Bashllari.  Guernica Editions.  Essential Poets 233.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (U.K.).  2016.

What joy.  Majlinda Bashllari's Love is a very long word was such a pleasure to read that it snapped me out of a poetry funk.  Today's book of poetry had been wallowing in a deep trough of poetic despair and displeasure as a couple of books I'd set aside with pleasure soured when I returned.  It happens from time to time.  Not so with Love is a very long word.

These poems are immediately accessible and still full of mystery.  There's passion from a woman's point of view, escape stories, poems about family and so on.  The subject matter is far less important than the way Bashllari wraps you around her fingers and has her way with you.  The reader is happy inside these poems because Bashllari knows the secret languages of intimacy.

Cropped Images

There's nothing on the first pages of this family photo album.
Neither pictures nor paintings of the great grandparents who
were supposed to be shown here. They didn't know anything
about photography. They used each other's eyes to record
their memories.

Light is absorbed into these black empty spots and cannot
get reflected back. They're all soldiers of the same blood and
flesh army, dead or alive, silent and often forgotten. From
time to time we make a stop at these imaginary graves
wondering which one of us resembles them.

Here comes another generation: the recently departed
grandparents, uncles, aunts, rich and poor cousins, with their
own stories frozen in celluloid.

Once the daylight touches their eyes, faces start to revive.
They sigh, smile and look for their dearest ones in the crowd.

What happened to you, they say, what happened to me ... that
day, that night, that moment ... They get sad and stare: Please,
send us back, we want to be somnambulists. Don't wake us up.

I skip pages, coming close to the living empire: adults with
our own children, who know little about growing up.

We are not done with our time yet. There are battles to win,
at least arguments. We take pictures of every event, happy
pictures if possible. Although not sure we are happy, we need
to leave physical evidence of supposed happiness behind.
Somehow we remain idealists who love everything material.

Faces, gestures often surrounded by suspicious blurs taken
between invisible moments. Unnoticed moments, like
heartbeats; once important but never to be displayed again,
powerless to weaken our unique talent for pretending.


Love is a very long word is Majlinda Bashllari's first book of poetry in English.  Let me repeat that astonishing remark.  Love is a very long word is Majlinda Bashllari's first book of poetry in English. But ten years ago Bashllari published Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home) (Morava, 2007), in Tirana, Albania.

It's beyond astonishing that Bashllari is now writing poems in English as though she invented the language.  Love is a very long word is nuanced and considered poetry that feels like a conversation in that dream you can't forget.


Mira wanted him, and when nobody was around,
she trembled and whispered gibberish mostly
and begged him to touch her.
It was not her fault she never knew the taste
of being loved. With one leg shorter than the other,
she's always been invisible to men.
Turning forty wouldn't make her any prettier,
she knew that.

He was her brother's best friend,
who else would treat her right ...
The man got straight to the point:
--Girl, you're like my sister, this may kill us both ...
--Nobody will know, she murmured,
looking at her good leg.
Then he held her gently in his arms,
kissed her on the neck, thinking of the money
he'd borrowed from her brother ...
She blushed, burst into tears
and he couldn't tell what was uglier,
her face or his performance.
Between her thighs, he forgot everything:
his wife, the loan, the lousy life.

Later, in bed alone, she cried,
as she pictured him leaving,
limping on his healthy legs.


The Today's book of poetry minions were in fine form today once I got them inside from shovelling. In the last seventy-two hours Ottawa has had seventeen feet of snow.  That's an alternative fact. Shovelling will tire the rebelliousness right out of a pesky intern or editor.

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, remarked on the strength of the speaker in these poems, how resilient.  Milo felt that there was a low hum of resigned melancholy under the poems.  Today's book of poetry agreed with both of my loyal staff -- but we'd tell the reader to look around for the hope in these poems.  We're convinced Majlinda Bashllari is an optimist, too experienced to have any notion of unbroken happiness, but full of hope in the face of reason.

Natural Woman Made In The Balkans

On nights that are neither moon nor wolf, I want my man
over me like a bat that holds a lit-up chandelier in his wings.

Almost blind, he tries to reach the last hearth-fire ... Why me,
I breathe in his mouth, dying to hear again that all other girls
in the town seem like sisters to him.

Quiet, but hot, blind but hungry, we both take off across the
darkness. On nights that are neither of wolf nor moon.

When he falls asleep, I uncover the sweaty hair from my eye
and watch beyond his shoulder, to make sure no sisters come
out of the dark.


Today's book of poetry liked every single thing about this powerhouse.  Today's book of poetry liked Majlinda Bashllari's Love is a very long word so much that we now want to learn Albanian and find a copy of Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home).  It must be a stunner, this one certainly is.

Majlinda Bashllari
Majlinda Bashllari

Born in Albania, Majlinda Bashllari’s first poetry collection, Një udhë për në shtëpi (A road to home), was published in Tirana, Albania (Morava, 2007). Bashllari’s work has appeared in numerous Albanian art and literature magazines and in Albanian anthologies of essays and short stories. Love is a very long word is her first English-language collection of poems. She lives with her family in Toronto.

With their cultural roots in Albania, the poems in Love is a very long word are distinct in welcome ways from almost anything else in Canadian literature. Laconic and edged with sharp wit, they engage the necessary courage and strength of character to transform the often bleak, thwarted and alienated experiences which they recount into art of the finest, most valid sort: uncompromising, imaginative, and deeply true to life. 
     - Allan Briesmaste

Love is a very long word - Book Trailor
Video: Guernica Editions



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"
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Thursday, February 9, 2017

On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood - Richard Harrison (Buckrider Books/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood.  Richard Harrison.  Buckrider Books.  Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2016.

Micheline Maylor recently referred to Richard Harrison as the best narrative poet in Canada.  Those could be fighting words in some circles because it is a pretty big declaration.  Today's book of poetry certainly thinks that Richard Harrison's On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood certainly bolsters his case.

Richard Harrison is a masterful story teller and as a result you could be forgiven for assuming these are spontaneous histories, lovingly improvised stories for the fire or late at night in bed, but Harrison's work is anything other than off the cuff.  These gentle and compassionate poems are made of interlocking puzzle pieces so meticulously set into place and rendered that the seams become invisible.  The puzzle becomes a painting and the painting is the poem.

Now is the Winter

With the last ounces of his grace, my father
stands up from his wheelchair, turns toward
the bed as though the floor is ice;
he tilts his spine, knees bent, and waits to shift
his weight to mine; I lay him on the blanket
and kiss his lips. We talk of Shakespeare
who carried him line by line through tropic wars
to the final surgery on his failing hips.
Now is the winter of our discontent,
he recites from those pages of his brain
no disease has yet erased,
the words the prayer of one
who has no god to hear his cries, his powers spent.
When he asks, I promise to be with him when he dies,
and winter stirs in the broken fingers
of my hand that long ago healed winter cold
into mended bone. My father sleeps as the land sleeps --
and I am taught that nothing is immortal
and awake forever. Outside, the heroes, green,
and knowing only what they see,
take their sticks and pucks and
lean into their shots
while the mid-winter's night
dreams water turned to stone beneath their feet.


Today's book of poetry first met Richard Harrison in Peterborough back in 1978 or 1979.  Our impression then was that he was a true gentleman with manners beyond his years and we all know how hard they are to find.  Almost as hard to find as a poet who has stayed the course all these years. Richard Harrison had a brilliant mind when I first met him thirty-eight years ago and he has spent the intervening years honing his considerable craft.  Practice and experience.

You see it in every poem in On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood, practice and experience. Today's book of poetry recently looked at the Alan Feldman's Immortality and feels Harrison can claim some of that same rarefied air.  Bless the cotton socks of the poets who tell stories with experienced wisdom, razor honed craft and hearts as big as locomotives.

Maybe I forgot to mention that Harrison usually leads with his heart.  Most men wouldn't dare and Harrison makes it look easy.

Found Poem

On a line from Margaret Laurence's The Diviners 

At my feet, at a bus stop, a bumblebee and a honeybee
are stinging each other to death. At first I think it's two bees mating,
something I had seen only once: not every bee
has a queen surrounded by a hundred thousand female eunuchs
in the monarchy of a hive; the Bombini, bumblebees,
never gave up motherhood to that degree, and plenty of them pair up
to breed like you and I have done in a selfishness so great
it created more of our own.

Once, in the hot first days of autumn,
out on the soccer pitch, I heard two Bombi fucking in the grass,
buzzing as they did it, and I was afraid for them,
being out on the field where he had come to trample and kick.
So I tried to pick them up as one rich flooding coil
singing the mellifluous bumbling aria of nature and sex.

But they broke away from each other, the one flew off,
while the other let me take it out of bounds and play --
                                                                      and that was it --
                                                                      a coitus interrupted, yes.
but a gene code preserved that would otherwise be lost beneath a pair of cleats.

And isn't it odd that it is not odd to talk of living things this way? These days
                      every object is a kind of page,
                                                                      every life a kind of writing.
I feel comforted, thinking of the unfathomable mystery at the heart of the bee
as piece of paper in a bottle, and on that paper, nothing more than one
                                                                      among an infinite arrangement
                                                                      of words.

The bee is a sentence, a line from a song.

But I know my kind.

Someone arriving after me to wait for the bus
would step on these two insects at war. So I pick them up,
and put them on the lawn away from human feet
so they can settle it in the grass undisturbed.

And I recall the fossil I saw as a child of
two dinosaurs that died together, struggling in the mud,
the carnivore with its arm down the other's throat all the way to its stomach,
the plant eater with its teeth sunk in the predator's shoulder all the way to 
the bone,

a poem composed in flesh,
               preserved in stone
                                       that waited 200 million years for its readers.


Our morning read was a little different this morning.  I'm hoping Richard doesn't mind but Today's book of poetry called in some old favours, made a few bribes and called on some old Peterborough friends.  Richard and I used to be loosely connected in a coven of misspent youth and poetry so I called in some old Peterborough Poets.  Of course we already had our Sr. Editor Max, I let him out of his strongbox this morning and made him put on pants and we decided to put on a show for the youngins. 

I met Max in Peterborough almost forty years ago and he was terror.  I was also able to round up Riley Tench and Ian David Arlett and get them into the office this morning -- please don't ask what sort of voodoo was required to accomplish this.

We each took our enthusiastic turns with pleasure, we were all proud of our old friend and the morning wine didn't hurt either.  Happy to do Richard's bidding, we bounced these poems off of the walls.  My old tricks no longer have much affect on the Today's book of poetry staff but when Max, Arlett and Tench were through the effect was jaw-dropped silence.  You'd have thought Marcel Marceau was on stage.  I think GOB STRUCK is the word.

Confessional Poem

Yesterday I wrote a confessional poem,
          but my wife, who always reads me first, said it was just a journal entry.

It's been years since I was that far from a poem and thought I was that close,
                                                                                                     but I trust her.

Today, before class, a student was zipping through a Rubik's Cube,
                        knuckling the box into panels of many colours, then a couplet,
                                                                       then one            then many again.

Within two minutes, without looking, he was done.
         I asked him to do it over so we could all watch, and, having watched,
                       have something with which to begin the writing of the day.

I wrote that the planes of the cube going in and out of order
                       as the student twisted the game were like the drafts of a poem,

sometimes deliberately torquing towards the opposite of the desired end
                       because the poem is a way we give in to a logic that lives within us
                                                                                                    but is not our own.

I was thinking of that poem I couldn't write,
          an apology I wish I'd made years ago,
                                           and carry with me even though two things are true:

          the person I would have apologized to is dead now,
                       and what I want to apologize for is speaking badly of them
                                   thought it was only to my wife and so they never knew.

The poem was like having an argument with someone in a dream,
                        then going up to them in daylight wanting to make amends.

Last time I did that,
          the other person reminded me
                       that I had done nothing.

But I apologized anyway
         because they had done nothing
                       to deserve what I did not do.


It's an honour to tell you how much Today's book of poetry enjoyed our old friend's book.  Today's book of poetry still can't tell you whether Micheline Maylor was wrong or right and we see quite a bit of poetry here in the Today's book of poetry offices.   We've admired Richard Harrison's poetry since before most of you were born and On Not Losing My Father's Ashes in the Flood confirms what we already knew, Richard Harrison writes beautiful poetry.

Image result for richard harrison poet photo
Richard Harrison
Photo:  Keeghan Rouleau

Richard Harrison’s first comic book was a Marvel Tales collection of Spider-Man’s first battle with the Hulk, Thor vs. Sandu, the Human Torch vs. the Sub-Mariner and a scary cautionary tale told by the Wasp to a kid in the hospital, “Somewhere Waits a Wobbo.” Four fantasies for a quarter: it was a steal. He’s been reading ever since. Richard is a nationally recognized poet (Hero of the Play, Big Breath of a Wish), editor and essayist on topics ranging from philosophy to prayer, literary criticism to mathematics, and poetry to hockey – as well as his work on superheroes. A professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University, he teaches English, Creative Writing, and courses in comics (with Lee Easton) and the graphic novel.

Richard Harrison
School of Thought - 2016
Video: ciswf


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, February 6, 2017

Lady Crawford - Julie Cameron Gray (Palimpsest Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Lady Crawford.  Julie Cameron Gray.  Palimpsest Press.  Windsor, Ontario.  2016.

Julie Cameron Gray can burn with the best of them.  These wicked smart poems get to the edge of sophistication without Today's book of poetry feeling a plebeian kink in the neck.  Gray is a post-modern feminist to our way of thinking and determined to reveal some chinks in that old patriarchal order.  She has to open up her heart to do it.

Gray never allows Lady Crawford to become any sort of strident dialectic tract all weighed down with agenda.  These poems offer all the variety of subject, tone and result that you can ask for from a book of poetry.  Today's book of poetry sees that Gray has some serious chops and it's all tempered with a reasonable sense of humour.  Humourless poetry will be the death of us all.

A Classic Pack of Camel Cigarettes

Some days it feels like nothing
will ever change in this town,
other days it's a landscape
like the front of a classic pack
of camel cigarettes, exotic black
angles under a different sun.
We hunt for specifics, anything

overlooked in the ashed-out
twilight to claim our own:
bottle cap, earring, a piece
of blue glass worn opaque
by the beach, the novelty of egrets
mating in the green garden
your neighbour made after his wife

died in a five-car pileup.
Each spring as he turns the earth
he recalls the state trooper awkward
at his front door, describing
interstate constellations of car
parts scattered like satellites
that got lost on their way home.


Today's book of poetry has all sorts of reactions to poems but my lovely wife K is a little more direct and forthcoming.  Today's book of poetry usually reads Today's title the night before, in bed.  Today's book of poetry has always read the title at least once by this point in our process.  So last night, I tried a couple of Julie Cameron Gray recipes on K.

As it turns out K was reading Plutocrats by Chrystia Freeland and she offered up a trade.  She'd listen to as much poetry as I wanted if I promised to read Plutocrats.  Well a nod's as good as a wink to a blind horse.  Fair enough.  Of course K never knows what is coming.  In general I only read her the very best or the very worst of my nightly poetry feed.

I'm sure you can guess which I thought Gray had to offer - but in this case the guarantee comes from higher up the food chain, K loved it.

Lineage: Hugh and Margaret Crawford (1195 -1265)

This is what I know: The Chief of Clan Crawford was like every
other father. Ambition bred not in the bone but in the fervent dinner
conversations with his wife, suggesting that things would be better
if the Norse would bugger off already. He baited and led them until
October, when the fall shores gave way to storms and their ships were
no match for the rough seas of Scotland. To the confused Norsemen
dying on the shore, arrows were a kind of weather.


Julie Cameron Gray published her first volume of poetry, Tangle (Thightrope Books, 2013) a few years ago and Today's book of poetry has yet to see it but we are assured by our reading of Lady Crawford, this is fine poetry by any standard and all full of future.

Gray has that ability to make her intimacy and knowledge yours.  The reader can feel certain beats of Julie Cameron Gray's generous and challenging heart.

Fight or Flight

In some countries, a daughter
is fear made flesh.

Once there was movie about college girls
clad in bikinis and pink ski
masks, clutching berettas
in Florida's manic orange juice sun.
Soon, all the men are dead
and the girls, sexual as overkill,
drive off in a Lamborghini.

Not unlike the onna-bugeisha--
Samurai women wielding a naginata,
defending their homes and children
and honour from marauders
while their husbands were away at war.

Young girls taught
the loft of a sword so long
it pulled horsemen from the air
and thrashed them to roses.


As good as Today's book of poetry demands you believe Lady Crawford is we are convinced this meal is just beginning.  Julie Cameron Gray will burn down the house before she is through.

Image result for julie cameron gray photo
Julie Cameron Gray

Julie Cameron Gray is originally from Sudbury, Ontario. She is the author of Tangle (Tightrope Books, 2013), and has previously published in The Fiddlehead, Prairie Fire, Event, and in Best Canadian Poetry 2011(Tightrope Books, 2011). She currently lives in Toronto.

"An impressive transformation has occurred from Tangle. Cameron Gray's debut, to Lady Crawford:
writing out the small familiar tragedy of we live, we sorrow, this wrecking ball of a book smashes myths of femininity. It is as if this poet woke from the slumber of a young woman's dreams and, seeing how all the dreams were broken, set about describing her experience of the broken castle as more than lies -- as cultural reconstruction. Among many other feats, this beautiful poetry of impassioned reason ironizes the lives of famous women as heart broken. Reading it, our hearts are broken as our hearts were, once, already.
     - Shane Neilson

Julie Cameron Gray
Lady Crawford - Performance Art
video: Julie Cameron Gray



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, February 4, 2017

The last white house at the end of the row of white houses - Michael E. Casteels (Invisible Publishing)

Today's book of poetry:
The last white house at the end of the row of white houses.  Michael E. Casteels.  Invisible Publishing.  Halifax & Picton, Nova Scotia.  2016.


Today's book of poetry went back to the stacks today to see what we could find on Michael E. Casteels.  Turns out we had more than we remembered, less than we want.  Casteels has published more than a dozen chapbooks and we were only able to turn up three of them.  The Robot Dreams (Puddles of Sky Press, 2013), solar-powered light bulb and the lake's achy tooth (Apt 9 Press, 2015)
and check engine. rhinoceros. tungsten (Puddles of Sky Press, 2015).

Today's book of poetry has written about both The Robot Dreams and check engine. rhinoceros. tungsten. and you can check those out here:

It was easy to like those chapbooks but now, with considerable glee, we present the last white house at the end of the row of white houses and Today's book of poetry couldn't be happier to see Casteels with a trade collection.  And this one is a corker.

Casteels seems to have a mastery of a certain kind of romantic ennui, these poems are loving but gently sad.

Universe Composed Of Mostly Nothing,
New Study Indicates

Suddenly we're weightless,
columns of light
slice through us
and a gentle breeze
blows us further apart.
For a while we drift,
waving farewell to our hands,
whispering goodbye
with lips already distant
to ear that were barely even here.


We were pretty happy here in the Today's book of poetry offices when Casteels book arrived, it's great to see him get the opportunity to let the ya-ya's out, to canter, skip, sprint and cavort.  The last white house at the end of the row of white houses gives Casteels a platform to spread his considerable wings.  And we loved the title of this book, a big old juicy long-assed title.

Casteels mixes clinical detail of the day to day with an imagined reality that lives just beneath our skin and just beyond our grasp.  The result is a strangely familiar poetic that can be both consternating and comforting depending on whether Casteels is slamming on the brakes or hammering down on the gas.

The Map

Somebody dropped a map on the sidewalk downtown
and no one stopped to pick it up. Now it's dark, the
streets are empty, and the map is alone. It shivers as the
fingers of a heavy breeze grab the edge of a page and
start pulling. The map spreads out in all directions. It
crawls over fire hydrants and parked cars, mailboxes,
phone booths. It climbs up lampposts and stop signs. It
smothers building and bridges. The map unfolds until
it blankets the entire city at a ration of one-to-one.

The next morning, no one is late for work. Their keys
are right where they left them. No one misplaces a wallet
or searches for a missing sock. The lost dog arrives at
the front door and barks to be let in. No one stops to
ask for directions. No one honks a horn or slams on
their brakes. Everything inhabits its own space and
everything feels right at home. But the map, now one
with its city, longs for a pocket to nestle in. It wants to be
folded and pressed against another map, a map of some
foreign city whose streets are beautifully unknown.


Today's book of poetry was impressed with the straight out punching power in The last white house at the end of the row of white houses.  Casteels is a Sugar Ray Leonard poet.  These poems come at you from every direction but the power behind the punch is always right on target.

Milo, our head tech, took over our morning read today, he's been a Casteels fan ever since The Robot Dreams got stuck in his noggin.  Milo said that he found Casteels poems "twist like real life, tease like dreams."  We liked that.

The Red Light

I'm already late and speeding,
praying the light doesn't change.
It does and I stop.
I tap my fingers against the wheel,
twist dials on the dash. In the rear-view mirror
I examine the spaces between my teeth.
The light hasn't changed.
I rummage through the glovebox,
remembering the spearmint gum.
I count spare change in the ashtray.
Minutes pass. I consult the
owner's manual. I read it
cover to cover and still
the light remains. At sundown
I begin to worry. I take only
short sips from my water bottle.
I flick the high beams off and on,
signalling in Morse code. It's getting late.
Radio hosts abandon the airwaves.
I watch the moon drift overhead.

Night after night
the moon wanes
until crescent, and then
into nothing. I've been
counting the days on my 
fingers and toes. Seasons
shift and skew. I engage the
wipers when it rains, crank the
defrost when it snows.
On humid summer evenings
I roll down the window
and let me arm dangle.
A faint breeze stirs my thought
and I wonder about Goldie.

Is she swimming in circles
or just floating in the archway
of that tiny plastic castle? I hope the water
is fresh, that her bowl is clean, I hope she wants
for nothing. And sitting here, bathed in the glow
of this godforsaken light, I wonder
if she'd even remember me.


Obviously we here at Today's book of poetry are big admirers of Michael E. Casteels, his third appearance on our page puts him in the rarefied atmosphere of our repeat customers, our favourites. The last white house at the end of the row of white houses will present Casteels to a much wider audience and we here at Today's book of poetry know they are in for a treat.

Image result for michael e. casteels photo
Michael E. Casteels


Michael e. Casteels is the author of over a dozen chapbooks of poetry. In 2012, he was nominated for The Premier’s Awards for Excellence in the Arts, an emerging artist award. He lives in Kingston, where he runs Puddles of Sky Press.

“Have you seen Michael e. Casteel’s first full-length book of poems? It’s here, in front of your face. It begins with a wolf at the door and ends by waving farewell to our hands. Inside you’ll find everything you need: robots, a possum’s sneeze, and coffins filled with jelly donuts. The Last White House at the End of the Row of White Houses is one of the most exciting debuts to appear in Canadian poetry. Brilliant, strange, beautiful and encouraging, Casteel’s poetry is a repair kit for the human spirit.”
      — Jason Heroux, Hard Work Cheering Up Sad Machines

“Worlds of invention, humour, insight and the energy that is language. Michael e. Casteels’s first full-length collection is rich with empathy for robots and the sea, and the brilliant, delicate, outrageous leaps the mind makes when given words and our lives.”
     — Gary Barwin, Moon Baboon Canoe

Michael E. Casteels
video: Small Books, Big Country




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.