Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Cruise Missile Liberals - Spencer Gordon (Nightwood Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Cruise Missile Liberals.  Spencer Gordon.  Nightwood Editions.  Gibsons, British Columbia.  2017.

Spencer Gordon's Cruise Missile Liberals sounds like the astute patter of a poetry carny convincing you to step right up.  Gordon is slick and his slick poems blister past in a new age be-bop patter of sophisticated memes.

Gordon has a vise grip on the necessary lingo to storm the castle but he's not about organizing the revolution.  But he certainly is going to record it.  Take names.

The feel of these poems, this book reminds Today's book of poetry of Joe Orton's "Kicking Against the Pricks" because Gordon showers the reader with a sustained marvel of devilish disenfranchisement.

Here and Now

More people believe a wafer
becomes the body of Christ

than a slick strip of bacon
comes screaming from a pig.

But what do you want from nothing?
Focus groups? Blood from stone? Ex nihilo?

Suppose everything wants to be alive
so long as life is not all pain.

Suppose god sees all time as one--
then imagine the fulcrum

of screams She endures as each
woman and man and dog

gives up the only thing it wants.
Two men stomp a lamb to death;

a woman French-kisses a doomed
sow through the frost-bit bars

of a trailer. Kiska the Orca circles her pond
300 times a day for the rest of her fucked life.

Today, I see an animal online, I dive for cover.
It's going to be unbearably cute, or it's going

to be torture. Inshallah. I had to stop
looking at things, talking to faces.

A woman locks a puggle in a closet
and starves it to death. A child

watches Peppa Pig and chews
a ham sandwich. "It's Earth Day," her mother says,

turning off all the lights before grilling steaks
on the barbecue. No, nothing new, nothing

the maniac won't enjoy mansplaining
as human nature, God's will, economics,

evolution. Jobs. Another perspective
on your little cell. "I have PTSD," says

the filmmaker, the photographer, the eyeball
that can't look away. Dear God, I prayed,

and I mean a very traditional Catholic God
except a Mother:

Please make everything better for all
the suffering bodies on the planet.

Signed, a tiny child with a tiny head.
Then I sat in Catholic Mass and wept, wanting

my God back, or to be real. Everything is flayed
by one very sharp knife, because #vintagefur.

Because McDoubles.
But one day, instead of wine and bread, one

man to one chalice rimmed with ghostly life,
we'll become one mass, one set of eyes, wet

with salt, sentimental as old hysterics--
and what we'll eat is only love.


In hopes of continuing our record of full disclosure Mr. Gordon wrote a review of my own Coming Ashore on Fire (burnt wine press, 2009).  You can see that review here:

Spencer Gordon isn't someone Today's book of poetry knows and we were a little post-review skeptical when we first opened Cruise Missile Liberals.  Not all of what Gordon said in his review was easy to take - but it was all true.  Some of the minions had their dander up but I assured them that I was very proud of Gordon's review.  He treated my poetry with respect.  Today's book of poetry tries to do the same but our biases come out all over the place regardless of how much I try to rein them in.

Gordon quickly allayed all of our fears with his "detailed passion" and spontaneous enthusiasms. Once you align your gears properly Gordon steamrolls.


I have a loving mother and father and baby sister and girlfriend and I 
am surrounded by people who respect me and take what I say seriously
and meditate on the things I say to them and want to know my take on
things and think my feelings are important and
                                                                           when I drive through
the slanting autumn light in my car I think about all the aching leaves
withering into next winter and when I get home my girlfriend puts her
arms around my neck and we eat and talk about our days and the light
is slanting and then some music and wine or television
                                                                                        which I watch without
guilt and then work on things people value and respect and the work
goes well because it is honest and the phone rings and it is my loving
mother and father and they say we love you and I say where is my baby
                                                                               sister and she comes
on the phone and tells me she drew a picture of me driving through
the slanting autumn light in my car and I am smiling and going home
to my girlfriend who is pretty and intelligent and someone I rely upon
when things are tough so yes I would say I
                                                                     strongly agree.


Our morning read was interrupted by a small snowfall that we quickly brushed aside.  Post brooming and shovelling, Milo, our head tech, said that he was particularly taken by Gordon when he lets down his guard and plays out some of his emotional wisdom unbroken by skeptical analysis.

Today's book of poetry is always going to appreciate any poet who finds a place for Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker in their poetry and Spencer Gordon folds both of them into his roadwork.

Today's book of poetry also likes "list" poems, Gordon's "The Winter Wind" is one hell of a list.  Dead wrestlers falling out of the ring and into despair as though they were dominoes someone cruelly set on fire with fatigue and grief.  This is heart-wrenching and powerful stuff.  Cruise Missile Liberals is full of marvelous stuff.

A Good Life

Keep busy, keep frantic and active. Don't let the chest
slow, the mind find time to seek its reflection, for what
it will show cannot bring release. Engage in difficult,
repetitive activities: scrub the kitchen sink, strip the linens
from your squalor, scour the floor with bleach and rip
the shameful pages from your diary. Run, mouth agape, with dogs
through blinding parks. Swim in frigid lakes. Agitate the skin
with acidic lotions. Give yourself wholly to the feeling
of inherent calamity. Drink sixteen cups of coffee, then get falling-
down-drunk in the doorways of your cold, ugly trysts. Only
eat when you are gasping, sputtering with sobriety, and then
only the foods most rich in carbohydrates, proteins, sugars
and the bile you need to keep on ravaging your body. Find
toxic streams; give yourself over to charity; make yourself cum
incessantly while bleeding from wounds with no end, and no beginning.
If you are crying, you are not winning. There is no good living.


Today's book of poetry thinks that Spencer Gordon is eloquent with quirky reason, Cruise Missile Liberals is a very tasty well-cooked repast.

Gordon's poetry sometimes revs high with a "gaudy opulence" but that is when he is at his best.  When Gordon takes his foot off of the brakes he speeds into some beautifully hellish chaos, when it breaks his previously calm surface ripples over all of us.  These poems are a new type of missile.

Spencer Gordon

Spencer Gordon is the author of the acclaimed short story collection Cosmo (Coach House Books, 2012), called “startling and invigorating” (and “Canada’s Most Underrated Book”) by Quill and Quire, “rare [and] brave” by the National Post, “poignant and hilarious” by This Magazine, “both heartwarming and heartbreaking” by The Winnipeg Review, and “both ridiculous and absolutely perfect” by The Walrus.

He is also the author of the poetry collection Cruise Missile Liberals (Nightwood Editions, 2017), one of CBC’s “16 Poetry Books to Watch.” To the Winnipeg Free Press, it showcases a “disturbing, wry intelligence … [and] taut, careful craft.” The Toronto Star writes that it “offers plenty of laughs, but it’s also got heart.” The Globe and Mail claims that it’s “completely submerged in the zany, disturbing thick of it … [and] might be the oddball balm you need.” And, in a starred review, Quill and Quire comments: “Cruise Missile Liberals is a complex and accomplished first collection from a writer who has honed his voice by listening. Gordon’s examination of the self in late capitalism is not always optimistic but is, in its humanity, enormously affirming.”

Spencer also wrote the poetry chapbooks Anno Zombie Dance (Emergency Response Unit, 2016), Conservative Majority (Apt. 9, 2013) and Feel Good! Look Great! Have a Blast!(Ferno House, 2011, shortlisted for the 2012 bpNichol Chapbook Award). He is one of CBC Books’ Writers to Watch and the winner of a CBC Book Award for Cosmo.

He is co-founder and was senior editor of the ten-year-old magazine The Puritan, one of the country’s premier literary journals (nominated for a National Magazine Award and a regular submitter to Best Canadian Poetry and The Journey Prize). He often serves as a reader and judge for university publications (such as the University of Toronto Magazine), literary magazines (like The Antigonish Review), national prizes (like the CBC Short Story Prize), and arts councils (namely, the Canada Council for the Arts). His writing has appeared in The Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, EVENT, THIS Magazine, Poetry Is Dead, The Winnipeg Review, CNQ, Broken Pencil, Joyland, and many other periodicals and anthologies, including Best Canadian Sports Writing (ECW, 2017).

He holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto and a BA in English and Philosophy from the University of Ottawa, and he has taught writing, both professional and creative, at OCAD University, George Brown College, Humber College, and with the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies. He works as the senior writer for The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau in Toronto (the traditional lands of the Mississaugas of the New Credit, Huron-Wendat, Anishinaabe, Haudenosaunee, and other peoples).

Spencer Gordon’s Cruise Missile Liberals is, as its title suggests, a very funny, often despairing book. Jammed with on-point pop and breathtaking turns of phrase, this collection of poems is genuinely compelling: it is hard to stop reading, so sweetly twisted is Gordon’s world.
     — Lynn Crosbie, Author of Where Did You Sleep Last Night, Life Is About Losing Everything,                                           and Liar

There is a generosity of spirit on offer here for we who are tired, placeless, saturated in social media, and wasted on the bright horror of a future that never arrives. This collection is deft, intelligent, and tender, if tenderness is something that can also crush you—an intimacy that panics shut. For we who are “Nature Woke,” “alchemical kids with gold teeth,” “wanting to live as I do, shockingly new,” Gordon sings and memes against “Canada the Good” and presents us with an arresting portrait of our present moment
     — Liz Howard, Author of Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (Winner of the 2016 Griffin Poetry                                  Prize)
Cruise Missile Liberals could easily be called Late Capitalism. Spencer Gordon voices the anger and dejection that many of us feel as we survey the detritus of our political and corporate ideologies and attempt to find an alternative to the cultural crack that has previously pacified us. But Gordon does not patronize us with false hope. “There is no system to replace the ruling system,” he writes in “Ticker Tape.” Elsewhere, he notifies us: “If you are crying, you are not winning. There is no good living.” As a solution: “You should burn down your life.” Like an excitable social media stream, these poems persist to the point of “sincere emotional fatigue” yet somehow Gordon manages to make an art of exhaustion, an art of the rant. Reading Gordon’s poetry and fiction, one feels caught in a Mobius strip where life and entertainment loop infinitely into each other. We are sometimes ourselves and sometimes we are Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, and Peppa Pig. Or they are us, our teetering elected representatives.
     — Ian Williams, Author of Personals (Shortlisted for the Griffin Poetry Prize), Not Anyone’s                                          Anything, and You Know Who You Are
To see video of Spencer Gordon:



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, January 27, 2018

Season of the Second Thought - Lynn Powell (University of Wisconsin Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Season of the Second Thought.  Lynn Powell.  University of Wisconsin Press.  Madison, Wisconsin.  2017.


Lynn Powell is exactly the tonic that Today's book of poetry needed to get back on track and into gear.  Reading poetry that is this smart and confident reminds us of how the real pros do it.

Season of the Second Thought is audacious.  This is Powell's third book but the first Today's book of poetry has seen.  Reading Season of the Second Thought is like eating that perfect box of chocolates, each one more delicious, every taste a new and exciting experience.  And you can never have enough. Powell calls out the muse, her muse, several times and openly challenges her for higher ground.  Not sure how Powell manages her erudite and sophisticated palette and still comes out speaking in a language we all understand, but it is a true pleasure to read.  And to read again.

Slow Elegy from Afar

     Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:
      ...Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

What glitch in the genes created shame?
God, the oldest scapegoat, usually gets the rap.

But why would the maker of that granite island--
glacier-polished nub of a Precambrian peak,
with an osprey perched, bellyful of fish, in a wind-bent pine,
the gibbous moon floating up, and the evening star,
on cue, surfacing in a lavender sky--why
would the God of that cold beauty
contrive a hall of mirrors in a human mind?

On our last long walk five springs ago, we sparred, gingerly.
You were a brilliant believer; I had come to believe
that cruelty was the only sin--with the caveat
that cruelty could also be the secret name of subtler sins.
Everything else, I argued, is the blundering of a desire
to be known, loved, or safe. We make mistakes
and know ourselves.

I could see your young, tired face tighten.

So I tried a different tack--
Don't take the perfect so personally.
Don't take shame so much to heart.

Why did you suffer? And why did you leave
your suffering to those you loved?

I can't gird my loins again against my childhood God,
that God with a clipboard and swift red pen.

So I reread Job, and watch the waves wash,
and aim to wash away, the granite shore.
They paraphrase the whirlwind.

As do the oriole that slings her hammock nest
along the path we walked, the doe in the close woods
wary for her fawn, the thunderhead and the downpour,
the firefly galaxies in the blackest field of night,
the forsythia festive once again beside your grave.


Lynn Powell's Season of the Second Thought grabbed me by the poetry lapels and shook me senseless.  Powell musing in a blue mood is as good as Miles Davis doing the same.  But somehow I keep hearing W.H. Auden's perfect pitch in these poems.

The thing you learn, early on in Season of the Second Thought, is that you can be confident throwing yourself into each and every poem from the beginning to the end.  Lynn Powell is steady as a metronome with these incandescent poems aglow with "iridescent language."  Powell can burn.  Here's a poet who talks about the weather as though she controlled the sky, like she knows when it is going to rain.

Love Poem from the Wrong Side
of the Rain

What would April do? Tease hidden
meanings from the bulbs, raise the stakes
and double my entendres, and bet
all my roses on the bottom line.

But it's the season of embarrassed trees,
the modest charms of leaf rot and briar
and hawk scat thawing on the muddy path:
skinny March at an earnest latitude.

So tell me, Muse: where around here might a woman
find a little flint and tinder,
some figure of feisty speech, a correlative for kisses
that would make a grown man weep if she put it
all on the table and headed out
for good into the long-stemmed rain?


Today's book of poetry is very happy to be back in the saddle, and Lynn Powell is one hell of reminder of why we are in the poetry game.  Today's book of poetry doesn't just love reading great poetry, we aspire to write some of it.  Poets like Powell set the bar to beautiful new heights.

Our morning read was old school.  I made everyone stand up today when they read.  An infinitesimally small gesture of respect in memory of Señor Caballero Nicanor Parra who left us this week after more than a century of being a GREAT poet and a beautiful citizen.

Powell's poems held up splendidly.  The grand old man would have seen the bold beauty of Powell's hard truths, her certainties all tinged a little blue.

October Edge

Mapless and skidding again on a backroad
prickly with teasels and sumac and skeletons
of lace, I glimpse a pink non sequitur:
a winged woman on the stoop
of a whitewashed church, glancing up
from an opened book and lifting
her opened hand--

but I will not brake today for grace,
I round the reckless curve, past pumpkins
with no faces forced yet on them, past
bins and barrels of crimson wholesale fruit,
past tombstones disheveled in the drizzle
staggering after their long-lost
ballast of grief--

the blurred signs vanishing
like everything else in the hindsight horizon,
and the black tires taking my incendiary heart
farther, faster, out past the charred trunks of the maples,
those miles of martyrs with feet
held fast to the banked flames
of their own making.


Today's book of poetry is here to tell you that Lynn Powell's Season of the Second Thought is worth every second of time you can spend on it.

Today's book of poetry is built on the idea of sharing the best poetry what we can find.  Lynn Powell's Season of the Second Thought is as stone cold solid as any book Today's book of poetry has sent your way.  Lynn Powell is instantly a poet we will have all the time in the world for.

For Lynn Powell we are ready when she asks "Why don't you put your mouth / where your moody heart is?"  Today's book of poetry is speaking up here and now; Lynn Powell IS the next poet you should read.

Lynn Powell

Lynn Powell

Lynn Powell teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Oberlin College, where she directs Oberlin's Writers-in-the-Schools Program. She has published two previous collections of poetry: Old & New Testaments, winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry, and The Zones of Paradise. Her nonfiction book Framing Innocence won the Studs & Ida Terkel Award.

“Let Powell's images and figures wash over you. They can be deft and unobtrusive, but they will stick with you; they will illuminate what otherwise might be dark. A poet so sure-handed is irresistible. Dazzling.”
     —Robert Wrigley

“Not just written, but wrought. Powell's new poems deftly combine keen observation with perfect pitch, and their rich chiaroscuro renders them vibrant and painterly as the Dutch masters they often reference. The current running through her lines leaves me shivering with excitement and gratitude.”
     —R. T. Smith, author of In the Night Orchard

Kind of Blue
Lynn Powell
Video: Gabriel Jasso



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, January 14, 2018

January 14, 2018 - Update

Today's book of poetry is taking a brief medical leave.  We will be back shortly with a return to normal operations.

In the meantime please take a look at this:

Be back soon.

Michael Dennis

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tumour - Evelyn Lau (Oolichan Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Tumour.  Evelyn Lau.  Oolichan Books.  Fernie, British Columbia.  2016.

Tumour is the third poetry title by Evelyn Lau that Today's book of poetry has shared with our faithful readers.  We figure you have to feel the same way about her work as we do.  Had Milo, our head Tech, go to the stacks and besides Living Under Plastic (Oolichan Books, 2010) and A Grain of Rice (Oolichan Books, 2012) which you can read about here:

We also had You Are Not Who You Claim (Porcepic Books, 1990), Oedipal Dreams (Coach House Press, 1992) and In The House of Slaves (Coach House Press, 1994).  These other Evelyn Lau titles were on the shelves but came out to play at our morning read.  More about that later.

Evelyn Lau has become, in Today's book of poetry's estimation, a "can't miss" poet.  This reader knows for a certainty that there will be ample reward for any time spent invested between the covers of an Evelyn Lau poetry book.

Tumour does not let us down.  Lau navigates some difficult water with various family relationships.  We know Lau is working for harmonious solutions but the usual barriers of personality, culture, vanity and ego have to run their indelicate course.


The indignity of seeing you change,
even you. Your lips used to be springy
to the touch, a miniature trampoline,
a little fat cushion of flesh. It seems someone
let all the stuffing out. Now the inner labia,
once so tidy and trim, are stretched
and distended, and sometimes poke out
like the tip of a tongue in a cruel tease.

That's all you want me to say about you.
Lately you've grown reticent as a maiden aunt
in your middle age, desiring flannel nightgowns
and ten o'clock bedtimes. So open to proposition
in your prime, it won't be long before
you grow a white fur, prepare for hibernation.


Lau is putting all her excellent cards on the table.  She will go there.  The title poem in Tumour is about a dear Aunt and her end.  Very succinctly Lau rambles over the big three, LOVE, SEX & DEATH.  Lau knows that ultimately these are what we really think about and her objectivity is bracing.

Today's book of poetry admires how quickly Lau gets to the important true thing in her poems, she names it.  This is mature poetry free of the frivolous nature of flirtation, Lau gets to what we really want/need to say/hear.

Ancient History

All I wanted was the small grace
of sleep, that swift darkening.
But Ativan led me through the dream gates
to the childhood house on Cambridge Street--
the bang of the metal mailbox,
the lurch of the key in the lock,
the sweaty sheen of linoleum.
Shoes lined against the wall in a mad precision.

My stomach flip-flopped in fear--
somewhere in the house, the mother,
like an escaped tarantula. I am shrieking
in my sleep, a horror film with the sound
turned down, the milk duvet an avalanche
stuffing ears and nostrils with snow,
the scrap-metal sky a dun glow, fading.

Finally, words shatter the surface:
You didn't protect me--
the indignant wail of a four-year-old
choked out in a thick-tongued mumble,
a rasp into the sour breath of the pillow.
Would you believe it?
In a few months I'll be forty.


Mortality is a mean bastard.  You know it is out there but you really don't feel the full weight on your shoulders until you see those you love fall to mortality's certain charms.  Evelyn Lau has a voice that knows.  This voice has the experience of a life of extremes.

Our morning read was a gas.  With our six Evelyn Lau titles on hand and in full rotation it was a lesson in perspective, perseverance and passion.

Remembrance Day

On the eleventh hour of 11/11/11,
I am at Winners with the other bargain hunters,
the early Christmas shoppers, the bored.
It's soggy, miserable out. The sky
has swallowed all the light, sunk
into a greyed puff of dirty down.
Trenches of rainwater in the road,
burnt leaves mulching underfoot,
mourning of seagulls. A clerk's voice
breaks into the piped-in '80s music
to remind us of the day. She stumbles
over a few lines of "Flanders Fields",
announces a minute of silence.
Who knew sixty seconds could be
this long? We rotate round the racks
of marked-down designer clothes
in the uncomfortable stillness.
I glance around--there's nothing
on anyone's face, just a slight frown
of concentration as a sweater slips
off a hanger, a flinch of irritation
at being bumped by a stranger's cart
from behind. My friend Szeming
who was ten years old during the Japanese
occupation of Hong Kong remembers
the meagre two meals a day, going without
the luxury of socks or sweets. Remembers
the crowd peering into a bucket
on the sidewalk--a street urchin's head,
discarded after the rest of him
had been used for food. The relentless rain
drills the windows. In the distance,
the jet roar of thunder. What a relief
to be inside this bunker, bathed
in artificial heat and light, training our sights
on the perfect winter coat, holiday dress.
Finally, the tinny music cranks up again
and we relax, relieved of the burden
of remembering. Some young woman
is singing about love, how love
is like a battlefield.


Today's book of poetry has been a big fan of Evelyn Lau for a long time.  Tumour is another fine example of why we always have time for this tough and tender poet.  She always finds our heart.

Evelyn Lau

Evelyn Lau was born in Vancouver in 1971. She is the author of several volumes of poetry, two works of non-fiction, two short story collections and a novel. Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, published when she was 18, was a Canadian best seller and was made into a CBC movie starring Sandra Oh in her first major role. Lau’s prose books have been translated into a dozen languages worldwide. You Are Not Who You Claim won the Milton Acorn People’s Poetry Award; Oedipal Dreams was nominated for the Governor-General’s Award.

Her work has appeared in over a hundred literary magazines, garnering four Western Magazine Awards and a National Magazine Award. She has also won the Air Canada Award for Most Promising Writer and the Vantage Women of Originality Award. Her poems have been included in the Best American Poetry and Best Canadian Poetry series. She has read from and discussed her work at literary festivals and universities around the world; she presently freelances as a mentor to aspiring writers through UBC’s booming Ground and SFU’s Writing and Publishing Program.

Evelyn Lau
Reading her poem "Fatal Attraction"
Video: Vancouver Poetry Slam



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, January 6, 2018

Alien Freight - Stewart Cole (Anstruther Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Alien Freight.  Stewart Cole.  Anstruther Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Alien Freight.jpg

Stewart Cole's Alien Freight is Today's book of poetry's third book of the new year and it is a slightly different and difficult cargo.  Not for the reader, no, that's all pleasure -- it's Cole in his elegant laments.  In Cole world the need for change is being addressed, we don't always know what change will bring, but as Cannonball Adderley said, "Mercy, mercy me."

This short chappy has Cole "deluded raw" with prognosticators, mortified at his own imminent murder at the hands of a child he does not know, ending fashion, musing on the ambiguity of airport controllers and conversing about the sixth bell, the executioner's death knell, the Doom Bell.  And there's more.

What struck Today's book of poetry about Alien Freight was the palpable tension under the surface of Cole's very precise language.


I am being followed by a child
This is a new kind of fear
The afternoon sprawls like a dog on its side
Adrift in oblivion
The sky is like a sheet of rock fired to the blue verge of combustion
The street a blotchwork of modest border gardens
Cropped walkways and flagpoles
Decked for summer's next rah-rah-liday
Everycolored front doors radiating
Tacit no thank yous
Is this place still pre-apocalyptic?
Am I really among the unplagued?
Other than the inexorable dot
Tracking me up the sidewalk at a steadily shrinking distance
Now swollen to a splotch
This scene lacks a fellow presence
Even the hazy humanoid shape
Of a faceless hose-wielder three lawns down
Or an umbral blur nursing a High Life deep in a stoop
Would lend me a clue
I am not wandering the solitary void
But without such neighbors I'm left to wonder
What if all the uncaught murderers are children
Because we just avoid looking there
Afraid the truth will stab us in the eyes
Or what if that kid behind me
Is ageing and growing the closer he gets
Oh yes he has bridged the distance by half already
Become a teenager and suddenly
I am old enough to be rebelled against
My genes have lost their modishness
Legs gone columnar
At this pace he will overtake me within not years but instants
Even now his lengthening arms
Could loop a garrotte around my throat if he chose
Outgrown shoelaces or catgut rent from a neighborhood stray
Some umbilical surrogate
But no he does not choose my death
He seems to want little more than to know I'm behind him
And there he goes like bony wind
Just as old as moments ago I was young
I look back hoping to glimpse
My little doomster
Who wasn't trailing me after all
Only briefly laying string along the same spell of asphalt
From his fuller spool


Cole's poetry has that crisp clean white sheet smell of spring and the first open windows because his language is so precise and dare I say proper.  But the counterpoint to Stewart Cole's explicit and careful diction are the ideas that fuel these poems.

Alien Freight is one of those books where first glance says that the water is tranquil and calm -- but as soon as you test the water you know, the reader realizes that there are eddies and undertoads lurking just below the surface.

Minding the Gaps

Glimpsing London's suburbs
Through gaps in a blue of hedgerows
I forbid myself to wonder
At least for longer than a leaf's breadth
What out there that might touch me is smudged out
This train is serpentine
A land eel furling with androidal ease
The ocular panels along its sides
Of which I am only one of many retinae
Perceiving only world-melt
I am ostensibly going to Exeter
But just now it's easy to slip
Into who knows
Adventure like abduction
Without the black hood
I can see and yet the sight is happening
Housing estates livestock a ruined abbey greening
Digested by the ancient hills
The grander-scheme import of which
You will forget
So drink
As the fanged stoat from the rabbit's nape
As though from a flagon of river water
Shaken with ancestral ask
As if it isn't knowledge you see
But some osmotic soul-food
To be filled up with blurs
That might later resolve themselves
Into memories
To return to where you really live
With changes in your blood


Our morning read was somewhat truncated this morning.  There were a few no-shows among the minions this morning. -39C (with windchill) so a few people were running late and starting slow.  Stragglers are still arriving.

Stuart Cole's Alien Freight might suggest he has little faith in our ability to right the ship, and then ship righted, not to drive the fucker right on to the rocks.  Cole sounds polite and proper but he has the heart of an anarchist.

Henceforth All Flags

Will fly at half-mast
Awaiting the miraculous
A lasting tribute
To the aching truth
We all possess within us
Like phosphorescence in a daylit sea
Dormant until nightfall
There dwell among us those
Who usurp the name of Optimists
Who want to simply cut
All flagpoles in half
And fly our banners at lowered summits
Heed them not
These kissers of ceilings
Whose cult of shrunken hope
Would suspend us in a choiceless chrysalis
Leaving forever unhoisted
The white flag of the Faceless
Which one day will wing to that barren pole-top
And bliss us collectively out
With its final I give up


Alien Freight is a short and tasty treat.  Today's book of poetry will be looking forward to Stewart Cole's next.

Image result for photo of stewart cole poet

Stewart Cole

Stewart Cole is the author of Question in Bed (Goose Lane, 2012).  A Canadian expatriate, he lives in Wisconsin, where he teaches at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.




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

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

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Pockets - Stuart Ross (ECW Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Pockets.  Stuart Ross.  ECW Press.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Pockets by Stuart Ross, ECW Press

Anyone who has read Today's book of poetry knows about Stuart Ross.  

But just so we are clear from the beginning Today's book of poetry loves Stuart Ross as though he were my brother.  Stuart edited my last book, Bad Engine, and I sincerely hope he edits my next book, Low Centre of Gravity.  I love Mr. Ross enough that K and I have named our guest room The Stuart Ross Room.  Just last year Stuart Ross's A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent won the 4th annual prestigious Kitty Lewis Hazel Millar Dennis Tourbin Poetry Prize sponsored by Today's book of poetry.

You can see that here:   

Today's book of poetry will go you one further, Mr. Ross will be spending a couple of nights here, at the Today's book of poetry headquarters, next week.  All of this lead just to be clear of the road we're plowing, Today's book of poetry remains convinced that Stuart Ross, inspite of being my buddy, is one of Canada's very best writers.

Pockets, the most recent Stuart Ross publication is ostensibly a novel.  But it is a novel constructed of short prose poems.  That's where we come in.  And as much as Pockets holds it narrative these short prose poems have no trouble standing on their own.  Ross mines some familiar territory in Pockets visiting family terrain and his brother in the clouds.

Mayakovsky had his "Cloud in Trousers" and Mayakovsky might not be a bad, but brief, comparison to our surrealist inspired Ross.  The language Ross employs in Pockets results in his most accessible work to date.  Ross is only a few generations away from being a beautifully sad Russian himself.  And make no mistake, even when Ross is punching out prose he remains a poet at heart.  And I always remembered Mayakovsky's 'Trousers' as red.


                   As I sat cross-legged on the floor on my parents'
                   bedroom at lunchtime watching The Flintstones on
                   television, I felt a tickle on the knuckles of my right
                   hand. It was a daddy-long-legs. Or maybe it was the
                   1955 movie Daddy Long Legs, starring Fred Astaire
                   as Jervis Pendleton III and Leslie Caron as Julie
                   Andre. Whichever it was, it scurried across the back
                   of my hand and vanished.


This book recycles the dreams and the horrors of childhood through the challenging lens of a beautifully fractured memory.  Wherever there is a broken seam Ross applies his masterful Kintsugi thinking.


                  I pedalled my new red bicycle to the end of the
                  block. I looked back at our house. My brother stood
                  at the foot of the driveway watching me. He wore
                  a white T-shirt and blue jeans. I was not allowed to
                  ride any farther than the stop sign. I looked at the
                  grey-and-yellow triplexes a block away. Marky lived
                  in one. I rode past the stop sign and up, up, toward
                  the triplexes. I wobbled from side to side on my red
                  bicycle. My brother snitched. The slam of my father's
                  footsteps as he strode after me along Pannahill Road
                  was like a series of meteors hitting the earth. I stood
                  with Marky looking at my new bicycle, and soon my
                  father's shadow fell over us. His large thumb came
                  down and squashed me into the concrete. Marky
                  examined the smudge on the driveway in front of the
                  triplex he lived in.


These untitled micro-chapters fit together like Lego blocks built by William S. Bourroughs and his wild Brion Gysin friend.  Stuart Ross simply never fails to delight, surprise and inform as he entertains.  There are more nods of agreement inside your own head when reading the mysterio Stuart Ross than you generally have any right to expect.  Especially considering that Ross is most likely going to take you out of your range of reason and then back in before you can blink.

Today's book of poetry doesn't really know any other poets like Stuart Ross.  But if you were to take Kurt Vonnegut's imagination, a Garrison Keillor sense of the storyteller and candy twisted it all together with a generous dose of wit and wisdom from Randy Newman and his melodious lamentations, you would be nearing the mark.


                   The girl next door had never heard of the Beatles. I
                   laughed. She laughed, too. Her name was Karen. She
                   showed me her Cowsills comic book, and her mother
                   gave us peanut-butter sandwiches and milk in glasses
                   that had once held yahrzeit candles. I looked out their
                   kitchen window and saw my own house. My grand-
                   father was standing on the roof beside his treadle-
                   operated sewing machine. He was born in Poland,
                   and he clenched a piece of thread between his teeth.


                   Spools of black, brown, and grey thread emerged
                   from the clouds, unravelling as they sailed down
                   toward earth. Earth, meanwhile, braced itself.


Today's book of poetry is not alone in our admiration of Mr. Stuart Ross.  As a regular guest of Today's book of poetry all of our staff are quite familiar with Stuart and his work.  They also see his name in book after book after book of Canadian poetry -- as editor, mentor or simply being thanked for his friendship. Ross ushers more books of poetry into print, for a wide variety of presses, than Gutenberg ever dreamed.

Even though Pockets is a novel you can carry in your pocket, Today's book of poetry treated it like a series of cleverly connected and paced prose poems.  Our morning read was a non-stop start-to-finish roller coaster as the staff connected the dots and the chapters.  It was an excellent reading.

But in truth there is nothing like the real thing.  Stuart Ross remains one of the best live poetry acts in the country.  Today's book of poetry has been to more poetry readings than you think possible and still thinks Ross is the best.  Of course Ross has great ammunition.  He has a canon of fine books but the reality is that he is getting better with age.  Ross has been adding an emotional elements to his work that has made it more directly accessible to every reader.  


                  My mother told me the large tree in our backyard
                  was called a "weeping willow." It drooped toward
                  the lawn like it was sad. It was sad because the presi-
                  dent got shot in the head.


                  I stood at my bedroom window, looking out into the
                  stars and at the moon, so small, drifting aross the
                  black sky. The house was silent. My room was dark.
                  My pyjamas were covered in squirrels. The thing I
                  thought was the moon was not the moon, after all. It
                  was a snow fort. I huddled inside it, chewing ice.


Pockets will garner more attention than Today's book of poetry can give it.  But we will be able to say to many of you that you saw it here first.  Stuart Ross writes with such authority that his whimsy always leads the reader in the right direction.  His startling revelations and discoveries become a baseline for an entirely new sensation of reason.

Today's book of poetry loves this work.

Image result for stuart ross poet photo

Stuart Ross

Stuart Ross is a Canadian fiction writer, poet, editor, and creative-writing instructor.
Ross was born in Toronto's north end in 1959 and grew up in the Borough of North York. He began writing at a very young age and was first published at age 16 by Books by Kids (now Annick Press). This book, The Thing in Exile, also contained work by teen writers Steven Feldman and Mark Laba. Ross attended Alternative Independent Study Program for high school. He went on to self-publish dozens of books and chapbooks through his Proper Tales Press imprint. As his books began to emerge from larger literary publishing houses, he has continued his Proper Tales Press project.
Ross has been active in the Toronto literary scene since the mid-1970s. He is co-founder, with Nicholas Power, of the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, which has been operating since 1987 under various directorships. This fair, the first of its kind in Canada, inspired similar events in Vancouver, Ottawa, and Hamilton. Ross is a founding member of the Meet the Presses collective, which formed in 2006 to promote small-press publishing in the Toronto area.
He was the 2002 "Writer in Residence" for the Writers' Circle of Durham Region, the 2003 "Poet in Residence" for the Ottawa International Writers Festival, and the 2005 Electronic Writer in Residence for the Toronto Public Library's RAMP website for teens. He was Queen's University's writer in residence in 2010.[1] Stuart was the Fiction and Poetry Editor for This Magazine from 2004 until 2012 and from 2007 to 2016, he was Editor for Mansfield Press, where he had his own imprint: "a stuart ross book."[2] In 2017, Ross launched a new imprint for surrealist poetry – A Feed Dog Book – through Anvil Press.

His own magazines have included Mondo Hunkamooga: A Journal of Small Press Reviews (later subtitled A Journal of Small Press Stuff), Peter O'Toole (a magazine of one-line poems), Dwarf Puppets on Parade (a magazine of writing with restrictions), Who Torched Rancho Diablo? (poetry and fiction), Syd & Shirley, a magazine of Canadian and American poetry, and HARDSCRABBLE, a poetry magazine.

Although primarily known as a poet, Ross has also published fiction and personal essays. His column "Hunkamooga" appeared in Word: Toronto's Literary Calendar from 2001 to 2005, and moved to the Vancouver-based literary magazine sub-Terrain in 2006, where it ran until 2012.
As an editor, Ross was responsible for the 2004 anthology Surreal Estate: 13 Canadian Poets Under the Influence. In 2003, he issued the chapbook anthology My Lump in the Bed: Love Poems for George W. Bush. In 2007, Ross was the editor for the Insomniac Press book Why Are You So Sad? Selected Poems of David W. McFadden, and in 2010 for the Insomniac Press book Why Are You So Long and Sweet? Collected Long Poems of David McFadden. With Stephen Brockwell, he is the editor of the Mansfield Press poetry anthology Rogue Stimulus: The Stephen Harper Holiday Anthology for a Prorogued Parliament.

His 2009 short-story collection, Buying Cigarettes for the Dog, was shortlisted for the Alberta Readers' Choice Award and the Alberta Book Awards, and won the 2010 ReLit Award for Short Fiction. In 2012, he co-won the Elaine Mona Adilman Award for English Fiction & Poetry on a Jewish Theme, awarded by the J.I. Segal Committee of the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, for his novel Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew. In spring 2013, Ross's poetry collection You Exist. Details Follow. won the Exist Through The Gift Shop Award, the only prize given to an anglophone writer that year by the Montreal-based group l'Académie de la vie littéraire au tournant du 21e siècle. In fall 2017, Stuart's poetry collection A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent received the Canadian Jewish Literary Award in the poetry category.

“Each brief page of this brief, surrealistic novel brims with the unexpected, the astonishing, the odd . . . Pockets is a beautiful little book.” 
     – The Murdock

Stuart Ross
Reads 3 Razovsky poems
Video: farmergloomy



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.