Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Lady Lazarus Redux — Amanda Earl (above/ground press)

Today's book of poetry:
Lady Lazarus Redux.  Amanda Earl.  above/ground press.  Ottawa, Ontario.  2017.

Gwendolyn MacEwen, Adrienne Rich, Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath.  

Amanda Earl has gone to the source, the deep pool, and come up smoking.  Today's book of poetry won't bother explaining how and what Earl borrowed from these giants, Earl explains it clearly enough in an "Afterword."  The technique doesn't matter that much to Today's book of poetry although it is an amazing and diligent feat, all that matters to us is what Earl does with the tools she has manufactured.  

Amanda Earl's Lady Lazarus Redux burns.

Today's book of poetry is relatively familiar with some of Amanda Earl's earlier works, we had Milo, our head tech, go into the stacks and he brought back Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014), I Owe Saint Hildegard the Light (unarmed chapbooks, no date), and 48 Bowls (le Temps des cerises/an Angel House Press Imprint, 2013).  Of course Milo now knows he has to add a few Amanda Earl titles to our ongoing list of poetry titles we are in search mode for.

Today's book of poetry is familiar enough with Earl to know that unlike the rest of us, Earl is willing to spread her net wide.  Amanda Earl isn't dedicated to a particular voice, a particular style, instead she tries new styles on like intellectual hats.  The poems in Lady Lazarus Redux employ a more narrative hook and Earl is happy to step on the gas, she is willing and able to stretch her bad engine into a higher gear.

Part Ten: The Same, Identical Woman

I am exhausted. I am exhausted.
Pillar of white in a blackout of knives.
                         Sylvia Plath, The Bee Meeting


Another messy wake up at four thirty a.m. against my will. I sip water, try to
dehydrate so I won't be clumsy but all the ghosts are here. They won't let me


Silence makes its painstaking way into the day's carnival. Tap screech. Fridge
moan. I am unaccustomed to strangers. Dawn is my sleep's enemy. I want to make
a mansion out of my bed. Exhausted by eight p.m., I become thin as glass.


Winter is smooth. I crave the burr of spring, its exotic tricks of light, shadow
dancing. I avoid crowds, put on a velvet demeanour, tile my worries as limestone
shale on Ashburnham Hill. My goal is translucence.


What's the etiquette for I don't give a fuck! I choose a white card. My hands are
dry. I'd steal moisture from the moon, but that's time-consuming. The moon
despises me. We are rivals.


I am an exile in a colourful fish pond. I swim in the wrong direction, if I swim at
all. I am neglected with the sodden lilies and lazy bullfrogs, my outsider pals. I
unravel the seams of my gills to reveal my scars. I am graceless. Most days I fake it.


In public I don another mask, made of leaves that never turn or die. I am the
overripe thorn never the flower. I have outstayed my welcome. I have teeth. I am
sharp. I can sting. I bristle. There is no gentle here.


My hair is silver. I refuse to dye. I let it grow. It curtains the dark. I am
embarrassed not noble. A roll of sorrow overcomes.


I've never paid attention to omens. I choose a blue card. Blue for melancholy, for
medicine in the form of small pills. Yellow for Valium. I shred portents. I cry.
Fountains overflow. Here's an obsolete penny. Make a wish.


Fear is lamp black, impenetrable. I drown in my unadulterated contradictions. I
poison the light with humid passion when I'm supposed to be dried up. See me
smile to camouflage the sorrow, blond as flaxen, smooth as linseed. Spin me into
cool material.


I am monstrous, a whore, I confess reluctantly to eager suitors. They wear out
their purity. I canvas misery. I am a beautiful liar, n'est-ce pas? It's an affliction. A
siren with a head of silver years. Men swagger. I indulge them. I am fond of the
ingenue, but I don't want to guide him, I just want to be a witness.


In Lady Lazarus Redux Amanda Earl is almost always quoting someone in her single project based matrix, one of the four, MacEwen,Rich, Sexton or Plath.  But the language is always Earl.  But when Earl quotes Plath she is starting up the engine.

     "I am terrified by the dark thing
      That sleeps inside me."
                                      Sylvia Plath, Elm

Earl starts one of the her ten dynamos that appear in Lady Lazarus Redux with this great Plath quote and Today's book of poetry is pretty sure that Earl realizes that most of us have "dark things" that come in the night, but very few of us are capable of making music out of the dark.  Discord is a big black raven that sweeps above and around Earl's poems, that is until she grabs the beast and starts plucking it's long feathers.

Earl leans on the dark and pulls it taut.  Men aren't secondary in these poems, but they are barely present, barely necessary.  Earl is speaking from a place that seeks no approval.  This is a type of reporting for the new poetry news.

Part Four: The Paperweight

The world is blood-hot and personal
                                  Sylvia Plath, Totem


Dread follows a siege of cravings and aversions. As if my plasma is pleading for 
iron, a backbone, resilience.


The leaf of my temper unfurls and fiery bells of fury clang in my skull. I stumble
with the weight of hot iron. I am charred. I boil. I am a danger zone. Now
emotions are snow-feathered, delicate. I tremble, so brittle, I splinter.


This blood rust scent of myself incites burnt ocher dreams: cars on fire, sirens
wailing, the howl of nameless creatures in the hot dark. Gardens are luminous with
flame. I cannot surface.


Saints cry out to me in nightmares. The sheets are stained. I press my finger
against my clit. In the morning I wake with dried blood on my palm.


Treat this body as a numb castle with the drawbridge up. Do not attempt to 
rescue the princess. She is seated at her doom, doing nervous needlework, pricking
her finger. She is cursed.


Thoughts shear through my mind. Dread is an icicle that stabs into calm. Ice turns 
to brick. This is not alchemy, it is anxiety, a muddy recognition. Flat, unpercussive


It doesn't matter if I cross a thousand cold rivers, hug an icepack in my sleep, eat
an ice cream cone while wandering in January with my coat open, stand naked at
the window on a wintry night, the serpent of heat licks flame at my skin until I am
soaked in sweat.


Dear moon, a gesture would be nice. You're always so regular. I have a calendar
that tells me when you wax and wane. I envy your predictability. Bright wolf of
silvery gibbons while my uterus clenches blankly.


I am not made of iron. I seethe and sob. The earth turns from day to night and I
from dark to light. My bounce against infinity is no more than an ephemeral


This lust is carried on scorched winds. When I touch a pencil, it turns to ash. I stay
away on purpose. Internalize my fervour. I am no gallery of calm. I am a 
connoisseur of carnality. A heat-seeker, a bomb.


The women here at Today's book of poetry are all big fans of Amanda Earl.  As Kathyrn, our Jr. Editor said this morning:  "She will say the thing!"  No fear.

In an effort for full disclosure Today's book of poetry does know Amanda Earl, we have one of her hand-made bowls sitting beside the desk in our office.  Today's book of poetry would go so far as to say that we are friends with Ms. Earl — but our circles don't intersect all that often.

Our morning read was smooth as glass.  Maggie, our new intern, took over the reins and laser pointed us home.  A Ms. Birney (yes, an honest to goodness, real life, relative of the late Saint Earle of Birney) joined us for this morning's reading.  The gang rose to the challenge and waltzed Amanda Earl around our offices and into the beautiful spring morning.  Ms. Birney brought a friend, Lucy, who was new to us all but made she made friends of us all quickly, joined in the reading. Lucy chose this last poem

Part Eight: The Cat

Love is a shadow.
How you lie and cry after it.
                       Sylvia Plath, Elm


Opening childproof extra strength sinus medication, plastic pantyliner bags, jars of
nuts, wine sealed with corks has become increasingly difficult with age. Will alone
isn't enough. I aspire to be enriched. I end up a restless paces of the night, all
packages destroyed by my teeth, my head pounding and stains in my underpants.


Age inscribes its sophistry on my body. This flesh was never holy but decadent
and real. I caress my scars.


My senses incinerate order, but I am no fan of chaos. The surface is rapacious and
dull. I want to delve, not to police my actions. I try to get hold of myself.


My emotions roar. My anxieties sear me. I am clinging as hard as I can to the
balustrade of optimism. I have two sides at least, odd and even. Odd usually wins.


I am an actor in the torchlight, making unidentifiable shadow puppets on the wall.
I do not envy youth. I am an arsonist of memory. I set each reminiscence on fire
and watch the remnants curl as it burns. I wake up sweating. My father tried to
possess me. Sometimes I believe he succeeded. And we are in hell together.


Here is a recollection. It is Christmas Eve. My father is into the whiskey again. I
am upstairs in my bedroom, but the shouts of my parents' battle reach my ears.
There is sudden movement. Screams. Something crashes.  I hide underneath my 
bed. I piss my pajamas because I am too afraid to leave the room to go to the


Nightmares have anchors. This ship doesn't move. Holidays weigh me down. Bing
Crosby is singing White Christmas. I love the red cardinals on the cards strung
across the silver garlands in the living room. But a black bird caws in the sun and
the sky darkens once again.


Flights of fancy got me through childhood. My stories, my imaginary friends, the 
willow tree fairies, standing still on the railroad tracks, imagining the train would
take me away, escapes to cool creeks, tadpoles in a bucket, surprise frogs. I
remember that little girl. I wish I could be her guardian angel.


When I left home I took the Red Rose tea figurines with me. The owl and the
duck, the foxes and deer, the cats and dogs, the fish, the monkeys, we fled. I
wrapped them in tissue paper to keep them whole.


The little girl is made of glass. Despair causes cracks in her psyche that can't quite
be repaired. Now she reflects the light. So many colours in the prism of her life
reflected back as shards of memory and a love of the broken.


"...and a love of the broken."  That damned line broke Today's book of poetry's heart the first time we read it, and the second and the third.

Today's book of poetry was very happy to write about Amanda Earl's most recent chapbook Lady Lazarus Redux.  Amanda Earl is a poet of large appetites, Today's book of poetry is certain we will see more from Earl.

Image result for amanda earl photo

Amanda Earl
Photo: Charles Earl

Amanda Earl is an Ottawa writer, publisher and visual poet. She's the managing editor of Bywords.ca and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress.  More information is available at AmandaEarl.com.

Amanda Earl
Tree reading series
Video: Tree Reading Series



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, May 20, 2018

Nelson — Dag T. Straumsvåg (Proper Tales Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Nelson.  Dag T. Straumsvåg.  Proper Tales Press.  Cobourg, Ontario.  2017.

Not that Today's book of poetry won't/can't take responsibility, but I do have to tell you that Milo, our head tech and digital Prince, isn't in the office this morning.  That I was able to take a photo of Dag T. Straumsvåg's Nelson is an accomplishment.  I had help.  Odin, our former head of security, returned for a visit this morning and we were so damned happy to see him that we felt drunkAll of that before mumbling out an apology to Dag, Today's book of poetry is sorry our cover photo is sideways.  Damned Commodore 16.

As any of our regular readers knows — Today's book of poetry is a big fan of the Canadian poet Nelson Ball.  Nelson is the current champion of doing the most with the least, but his lean poetry is never sparse.  Today's book of poetry is not alone in our admiration (we have written about Nelson Ball several times over the years) of Sir Admiral Nelson Ball.

Norwegian poet Dag T. Straumsvåg wrote Nelson with his Highness Mr. Ball in mind, a tribute to be sure, but Dag wasn't intending to mimic Ball's style.  And he doesn't, Straumsvåg is a little closer in style to Stuart Ross, the irrepressible poet/publisher and all around mensch.

Dag T. Straumsvåg does capture Nelson Ball's whimsy though, a bit of his clear light.  These poems fall like a light rain but every image acts like a seed.

Winter Morning

of the year.
The fly
the windowsill
its front
to make 


Old Dag T. had a dark hue to his sense of humour, just the way we like it.  Today's book of poetry wanted to ask him about the Death Metal scene in the Botswana of his memory.  Now there's a poem that packs a Kung-Fu poetry punch.  

For such a small press Proper Tales Press continuously ups the ante with the breadth of their titles and authors.  Regular readers of this blog will know that Proper Tales Press publisher Stuart Ross (who we have written about several times on our blog) is a close friend of Today's book of poetry.  Our guest room is named after the man.

Mr. Ross casts an awfully wide net and it shows.  Proper Tales Press has a long and consistent record of original voices and Dag T. Straumsvåg joins an excellent chorus.

Many of the poems in this collection were written in English, those that were translated from Nynorsk read like they were written in English as well.  Invisible.

At The Bar

you'd better leave now

the waitress says in a friendly voice to the man
she points toward the door and the grainy dark outside

you'd better leave now


Our morning read was flat out zany.  Odin was back in the fold for the day and that brought a tear to my eye that I wanted no one to see.  I pretended I was sneezing when I pulled out my big hanky.  Thomas was happy to see Odin as well, Odin taught him what he knows.  So we let Odin lead the show.  These short poems were worth reading slowly.  This little collection left a big impression on us all.

Sometimes poems just seem to fit into your head space,  Dag T. Straumsvåg seems to have whittled his work down to fine, smooth projectile that always finds its mark.


We're offered amnesia
and we accept.

We can make good friends
out of blue clay.

We can count
the buttons on our shirts,

make history.
Our sleep is calm, roaming

with darkness in the hills,
learning to whistle.


Today's book of poetry hopes that every time someone reads Dag T. Straumsvåg's Nelson the poetry Gods nod a little more gently in Nelson Ball's way.  Nelson won't barge in uninvited, remains polite and well behaved.  That sly Nelson.  That sly Dag T. Straumsvåg.

Related image
Photo: Kapitonova
 Dag T. Straumsvåg 

Dag T. Straumsvåg was born in 1964 and grew up on the west coast of Norway. He is the author and translator of four books of poetry, most recently The Lure-Maker from Posio (Red Dragonfly Press, 2011), translated by Robert Hedin and Louis Jenkins. A selection of his poems is included in Robert Hedin: At the Great Door of Morning—Selected Poems and Translations (Copper Canyon Press, 2017). His poems have appeared in numerous journals in Norway and North America. He lives in Trondheim.

A poem by  Dag T. Straumsvåg 
Video: Motionpoems



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, May 18, 2018

Celadon — Ian Haight (Unicorn Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Celadon.  Ian Haight.  Unicorn Press.  Greenboro, North Carolina.  2017.

Unicorn Press First Book Award Winner, 2016-2017

Image result

Ian Haight's Celadon could easily be three different books of poetry.  When Today's book of poetry read Celadon the first time it knocked us off our feet, three times.

Celadon refers to an imagined paradise, a real enough area in Korea where potters, of a certain skill, made/make fine pottery with a pale green glaze.

Haight imagines a Utopian place where the earth slows down enough for contemplation.  But Haight is nothing if not a realist, these poems come from someone who has experienced the machines of industry and commerce.  Haight knows the price paid for anyone who steps outside the lines.

Stamping Parts


I said no to summer
at the company's private
park, no to my own
lakeside trailer, tending
deer paths, picking up
garbage, and women my age
on a beach. Dad reclined in his 
re-upholstered La-Z-Boy—
the back, already sunfaded—
and looked out over the
front hill's lawn from our
living room picture window.
Ketchup stained the chest of
his long underwear—the flannel
plaid shirt, unbuttoned to near
his navel. He dragged slow on
a cigarette, flicked ashes
in a gold glass ashtray.
Behind him on the fireplace,
the hundred-year-old grandfather
clock ticked. Red leather
steel-toed work boots
slouched by the hearth's iron
candlestick. Through his wire-
framed glasses, Dad stared
at the TV, though the child-
sized Buddha statue bought at
a roadside flea market
lounged in meditation
close to the channel dials.
It's not easy for summer
help to get that job, he
said. I looked down at the
brick-brown sofa's seat
cushions, fibers unraveling
at the edges, mold-yellow
plastic exposed. The oak
coffee table's top
corners paled on the sides,
worn from soles of work-
boot scuff marks. I rested
my foot on the wear. Dreaming
of 13 dollars an hour
running steel machines
I said, But I can get
overtime in the factory.
He put his Diet Coke
on a coaster, let the air
sink out of his chest, and said,

the lifetime-old, cinder-
red brick factories,
a sign declares, "162
days since any injury."

At the rollforms, high-roofed,
empty-air spaces above 
machines as long as the building—
the machines smash steel sheets
into lengths for IBM's
office furniture panel

             Too young for steel
press work at seventeen,
with a bucket of turpentine,
I mop a conveyor line's
dribbled paint for the factory's
minimum hourly pay.

Workers do pushups
between passing parts, read
Principles of Accounting
or Gone with the Wind.

at half past midnight,
the break room filled with Penthouse
and Hustler, bathrooms busy
with washing hands; trash bins
full of paper towels.

Volunteering for overtime
means cleaning anodizing
vaults. A gas mask, if you're
a wuss, and middle-aged toothless
people, their hair near gone.
There's no union here
'cause the pay's so good.

On the first floor, men run
presses as big as houses,
drink cherry brandy between
loads, tell me their children's
names. The men say they majored
in English, and warn, Whatever
you do, don't come here
when you finish. Steve
makes sixty grand—enough
for most at our plant—but he drives
on old white Regal, rust-
holed, tansy-streaked from oxidizing
metal under the paint.

Al monitors the paint
gun lines. Every few
hours he replenishes
a hose with a full drum.
What do you do all day?
I ask. Not a damn thing.
Best job in the plant.
My eyes water from fumes;
Al doesn't wear a mask.

No cigarette packs,
so I ask, Do you smoke? No
way, the whole place'd blow
up—you can't smoke down
here. Besides, that stuff
is bad for your lungs. How
long have you been doin'
this? Fifteen years. They'll
have to drag me out.
He shows me his house, oil
pumping rig on a hill,
a tray of chessmen he's
painted with real gold.
Why do you work? I ask.
Where else is someone
going to pay me to sit
around all day? Besides,
it get me out of the house,
you know, gives me something
to do.


Today's book of poetry had to hold the reins a little tight at a couple of different points in our reading of Celadon.  One minute we were union obsessed and remembering our time on the motor-line, working for Ford in Windsor.  Then we were Buddha buddy happy in rural Korea and are negotiating our presence with the local population.  Questions arise about being  in a culture that embraces the past and the future with equal reverence.  But let me be clear, Ian Haight, is crystal.

Haight's poems are all aimed at understanding the social construct around human behaviour.  What people do in their efforts to get through a day.  Haight looks at the reconciliations we make with ourselves at the end of the day — the stories we tell ourselves to tie up the loose ends of our lives.  

This is one of those times when Today's book of poetry feels that we lack the skills to adequately express the pleasure we had reading Celadon.  We were certainly engaged from page one, Celadon
compels the reader with pace, from the factory floor to the rice fields, Haight's straight forward narration is always rich with the right detail.

All Haight is looking for is a safe place to land.  Like most of us, his search is for peace, for all, a reasonable world, a secure life, no unreasonable ask.

Peacock Meditation at a Thai Nunnery

     A rusted iron cage has a sterile sand floor covered with fern
seeds. Inside, a peacock half-spreads fronds of wispy tail feathers as
big as its cage, promenading.
     Chanting mantras, a nun bows to a gold-leaf wooden Buddha
statue, bows to a white granite pool. She walks into the pool as if it
has no temperature, stops when water touches her vulva—bows and
prays. She whirls in water, shifts her mudra hands, glides from lotus
meditation to flat on her back, the wideness of soles of her feet and
toes white—prays to Buddhas of ten directions. Arms extended,
she floats vertical over the pool's rock rim. She rises, bows to the statue,
walks to a far off house.
      In the shade of trees, dogs saunter behind monks of the temple.
The peacocks sit silent in their cages.


Haight isn't shy about bringing in some reinforcements, he pin points moments in time using keys like Penthouse Magazine to grab you by the nose.  But what he's really after is calling out the Gods of Industry who don't care who they crawl over in the name of progress.  The Gods of Industry who breath greenbucks and bury the evidence of the misdeeds in caves.

Celadon is highly polished, with a beautiful green glaze over it all.  Over the death of Detroit with its empty factories and empty homes and nary a dream in sight.  Over the gravel and mud of rural Korea, Japan and Tibet.  Haight is swinging a big broom but he's awfully sweet with the details.  Haight remains devoted, he is constantly misadventuring himself towards some bigger truth.

At Otter Creek, Florida

She said she wanted
to talk about love.
We hold hands and walk.
The tusk of a baor, half-
sunk in humus, gray
below an acacia's shade.
A manx once pawed
our bedroom window
beneath a full moon.
Vapors mist near lobes
of calyx. Loam sinks
under our steps.
Like leopards caged
in a cement summer zoo,
we pant. Growling moans
through mimosa,
Jaguarundis eat cardinals.
A spring-fed pool floats
mayla petals; we disrobe
and dive, dissolving
under specks of light.


To say that Today's book of poetry enjoyed frolicking through Celadon just doesn't cut it.  Whatever tools Haight employed, Today's book of poetry was hook, line and sinker.  Ian Haight says it all quietly and without ado.

You don't see the punch coming at all.

Image result for ian haight photos

Ian Haight

IAN HAIGHT was a co-organizer and translator for the UN’s global poetry readings held annually in Pusan, Korea, from 2002-4. He is the editor of Zen Questions and Answers from Korea, and with T’ae-yong Ho, he is the co-translator of Borderland Roads: Selected Poems of Kyun Ho and Magnolia and Lotus: Selected Poems of Hyesim—listed as a 2013 Notable Book in Translation by World Literature Today and finalist for the American Literary Translators Association’s Lucien Stryk Prize. He is the recipient of Ninth Letter’s Literature in Translation prize and five translation grants from the Daesan Foundation, Korea Literature Translation Institute, and Baroboin Buddhist Foundation for the translation, editing, promotion, and publication of Korean literature. His poems, translations, essays, reviews, and interviews have appeared in Quarterly West, Prairie Schooner, and Writer’s Chronicle, among other publications.

“Ian Haight writes wisdom-in-verse. He understands the mise en abyme of the abyss within the abyss within the mind, and he knows how to make meaning of it all. The poems of Celadon move fluidly from the spiritual to the commonplace to the vulgar. We encounter blue-collar workers and Korean Buddhist proverbs, Aristophanes and military pilots, Isaac Asimov and an assortment of human failures—and in Haight&rsuqo;s deft poetry, these marvelously varied elements form a coherent and utterly human whole. This volume marks the emergence of a new and remarkable talent.”
     —OKLA ELLIOTT, Judge, 2016-2017 Unicorn Press First Book Competition

“The large amount of geographical territory that is covered in this collection is distinctive and one of its great strengths. Ian’s work in these poems shows an attentive kindness . . . and the poems do not risk appropriation or indulge in privileged guilt.”
     —JULIANA SPAHR, author of Well Then There Now

"Magnolia & Lotus" by Hyesm
translated by Ian Haight & Tae-Young Ho
Video: Brad Havens



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
and that for our readers in Europe there had to be notification of the use of those "cookies.  Please be aware that TBOP may employ the use of some "cookies" (whatever they are) and you should take that into consideration

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Poems for New Orleans — Edward Sanders (North Atlantic Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Poems for New Orleans.  Edward Sanders.  North Atlantic Books.  Berkeley, California.  2008.

Edward (Ed) Sanders is our third favourite Sanders in the world.  Pharoah Sanders will always win that race and Bernie Sanders is an ace example of how the best of us comes to live in one hard working soul.  Third place doesn't sound like much of a prize but Today's book of poetry has long admired Mr. Edward Sanders, the poet.

Edward Sanders wears a lot of hats.  You've probably heard of his culture crashing musical group The Fugs.  Sanders opened the famous Peace Eye Bookstore in New York, and was on the ground in San Francisco when Beat met Hippie.  His bibliography is longer than my arm.

So I was disappointed when Milo came back from the stacks with only one Edward Sanders collection.  Today's book of poetry has a first printing of Sanders first publication, Poem From Jail (A City Lights Publication, 1963), but that was it.  Milo, our head tech and book scout, has been tasked with filling in those huge Sanders gaps in our library.

Poems for New Orleans continues Sanders long history of investigative poetry and it is a Katrina induced HOWL.  Poems for New Orleans is full of Sanders encyclopedic research and tempered by a lengthy residence in situ in the Big Easy.

Today's book of poetry thinks we should all agree that pound for pound, there may be no more famous town on earth.  New Orleans is a town that has inflamed the imaginations and compelled discovery for generations.  From a swamp-stop-tent-town to a modern metropolis.  And into that Sanders brings William Blake for a look around, has Mark Twain twang and Lee Harvey take a stroll, mourns the loss of a beloved Magnolia tree, hates FEMA and sings wildly into the chorus we all know, songs for the everyman.

Marie Lebage and Huey Long

Her name was Marie Lebage
She was a school teacher
and she worked in the campaign of Huey Long
                                                                       in 1928

At first she didn't really know why
but then she just got swept up

She was the great granddaughter of Lemoine Lebage
who fought alongside Andy Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans

Marie had young kids
and the State of Louisiana charged money for textbooks

but when Huey Long became governor
he not only made the textbooks free
he started giving black teachers the same money as whites

Could it be that Huey was a savior?

She was sick of the generations of
post-slaver whites who always had one tune to sing:

"Don't give those black folk, not a dime
That will come another time"

It's hard to pick a fight with greed
when greed is such a seed

but in the middle of the Depression
she watched the right wing

rise up with hatchets of hatred
as only the right can do

Ask the Gracchi of ancient Rome

Marie already knew about hatred
She'd faced up the klan
ever after they put death fliers
on her porch in the Lower 9th

But the slavers really hated Huey
They snarled he was a pawn of Marx
but Marie Lebarge was totally certain
that Huey Long's slogan "Share Our Wealth"
came from the sermons of Jesus
and Jefferson's love of revolution.

She took the bus to Baton Rouge
on a stark September day of '35
She was part of a choral group that was singing
the anthem Huey had written
                                             "Every Man a King"

by the front steps of the capitol
when the Kingfish was gunned to the stone
even though he was surrounded by bodyguards

A dead savior is a dead savior
and nothing was left but a cash-starved machine
and a president headed for war


It's hard to pick a fight with greed
When greed is such a seed
for Greed loves bullets
like water loves pullets
and down dives luck and pluck
like a Pontchartrain duck


Poems for New Orleans offers up some alternative views as to what the true history of the magic town could be.  Sanders is willing to imagine a different and a better future for New Orleans but sometimes he needs fantasy to do it.  

Edward Sanders has a honed, hair-trigger sense of humour, a sense of duty in honouring history, and a bigger sense of responsibility than most about the hubris of those responsible for the human tragedy during and after Katrina.  That's a lot to put into one book of poems and Sanders knows it.  But clearly Sanders has paid the price of admission, spent double-time on his homework.

Today's book of poetry was never quite able to figure out the lyrics to the Tragically Hip song "New Orleans is Sinking" but I thought we should play it on the morning rotation along with Don McLean's "American Pie."  McLean knew about the levies and more.  Arlo Guthrie sang about "The City of New Orleans" so he had to be included as well.

Then we thought Dixieland, then Zydeco, then all hell broke loose.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Maggie, our new intern, were both dancing with Milo.  Max opened his office door and a blue wall of what looked like a heavy fog rolled out behind him, he waltzed over to the gyrating threesome and put down some John Travolta moves that jaw-dropped the room.  Then, he spun around, returned to his office murmuring something about emptying the swamps, history of evil, alligators not being the worst beast that slithered, and his door shut with a blue wisp halo around the edges of his office door.

Edward Sanders studied Greek in university and isn't shy about bringing in some of the Greek gods to stir things up, Greek historians too.  Sanders knows that New Orleans is bigger than any one tragedy, it has endured a million sorrows and if the soil had memory it would be weeping blood.  Yet Poems for New Orleans remains a celebratory incantation to the future to remember; and it is a bit of a prayer.  As Heraclitus said: "No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man."

Echoes of Heraclitus

Four days I sat in the attic
with 27 cans of beans
we were going to use on Labor Day
and some coca cola I drank very slowly
                                                       to make it last

Finally I bashed and bashed
with a can
till I created enough of a breach
to pry open the smallest slit in the roof

O my God!
one of my neighbors was floating with
her hair entangled in a tree limb

A helicopter flew me away
I wound up in Utah
where I'm waiting for Jesus
or anybody

to help me home.

That's what my mother always said:
The rivers always pours toward poverty
You can't lose the same house twice

but once you get to heaven
the water makes God's bread to leaven.


Our morning read here at Today's book of poetry was tempered by my poor sleep last night.  Today's book of poetry's biggest fan and supporter is in Montreal for a few days and the place feels empty without her.  But the crew gave Poems for New Orleans a good rally around the flag and that cheered me immensely.  Sanders encouraged a vibrant reading with his splendid narratives and tender heart.

Today's book of poetry would be remiss if we didn't extend an extreme bow to Edward Sanders along with a "Thank You Sir" in the robust and genuine style of one of Rob McLennan.  Sanders has been on the poetry beat for a long, long time and his poetry still feels fresh, immediate and necessary.

Ironing Board

They took a picture of Gandhi's personal possessions
at the time of his killing
a pair of glasses, a robe, sandals
                                       & maybe a water jar

Not much more.

I feel the same way most of the time now
that all my stuff has washed away in the flood
I'm Free of those toilsome burdens
free of my doormouse diaries
free of my kitchen cabinet
                          & its ancient hippie tea from 1969

but I can't help it—
I miss my ironing board

and the letters you used to send me
                                           after we were beaten in Selma


Edward Sanders has been publishing his brand of anarchy and beauty to appreciative audiences for over half a century.  It hasn't gotten old yet.

Today's book of poetry is proud to introduce Sanders to some of you younger readers.  For any of you old enough to remember "I Love Lucy" Sanders will be a poet you know like an old friend you can depend on.  Edward Sanders was present back in the day, he remains a vibrant people's poet, a necessary voice.

Image result for ed sander poet photo

Edward Sanders

Image result for ed sander poet photo

Edward Sanders
Back in the day.

Edward Sanders was a founding member of the seminal bohemian rock band The Fugs and a prominent figure in the 60s counterculture. He is the author of numerous books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including the bestselling study of Charles Manson, The Family. The winner of a number of writing awards, including a Guggenheim and an NEA fellowship, he lives in Woodstock, NY.

"Ed Sanders—poet, Pentagon levitator, classics scholar, founding member of the Fugs—is a political force in Woodstock, New York."
—Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker

“No poet today writes history better than Ed Sanders. From the Duke of Orleans’ fragile grouping of houses in 1718, to wealth and heights with Mardi Gras and fun without guilt, to the storm of Katrina, the bard of our continent gives us the truth with these poems and songs.”
—Joanne Kyger, author of About Now: Collected Poems

“Sanders the poet-maestro of American history excels his own lyrical genius with the truth beams he sends flashing in Poems for New Orleans.
—Michael McClure, author of Scratching the Beat Surface

“A magisterial suite of poems tracing the Crescent City from its founding in 1718 through the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, Poems for New Orleans is a vertical history in verse, recalling Charles Olson’s Gloucester and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson."
—Nina Shengold, Chronogram Magazine

“The bad handling of Hurricane Katrina is a central point of this book, but more importantly, Sanders also sheds light on the after-effects and the suffering it imposed on those who were displaced. This type of ‘investigative poetics’ is not new territory for Sanders… [H]e has put his best foot forward to cover one of America’s greatest tragedies. The book is interspersed with sharp, quick-witted shorter works that glue the larger poems into a taught fabric; the shorter poems represent an alternate poetic frequency and outlook that allows the larger, more musical poems to mesh exceptionally well.… Poems for New Orleans provides a much-deserved helping of poetic justice.”
—Darrin Daniel, Rain Taxi

“Ed Sanders, in his Poems for New Orleans, leads us at one point to imagine the goddess Athena reappearing to intercede for yet another place where ‘something has shamed justice.’ The work is, as he says, ‘a prayer for the victims’ of this injustice. But it is also a Prophetic Book, an eloquent cry of righteous indignation. And it is an Apologia for the Polis, a celebration of the Queen City, the Fertile Crescent, with its richness of culture, history and humanity. In producing this extraordinary work, Sanders has combined the patient labors of the engaged historian with the creative inspiration of the poet.  The Poems enlighten the reader about the thick particularities of real, lived history, especially through the narrative ribbon of the deeply moving Lebage family history that runs through the work. At the same time, they enchant the reader with the magic of the place, so that one can well imagine the visionary Blake crossing paths with the Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. Sanders brings to the scene of the crime and the dramatic landscape diverse skills, ranging from those of an Investigative Poet to those of a Rhapsodic Historian.  The Poems reveal that he has gained a deep and empathetic knowledge of the city's history, its people, and its complex personality, that he has intently ‘listened to the whispering of its secret mind.’ ”
—John P. Clark, Gregory F. Curtin Distinguished Professor in Humane Letters and the Professions at Loyola University New Orleans

Edward Sanders
Poems for New Orleans
"The Battle of New Orleans"
Video: ParisRecordsVideo




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, May 12, 2018

Voodoo Hypothesis — Canisia Lubrin (A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn)

Today's book of poetry:
Voodoo Hypothesis.  Canisia Lubrin.  A Buckrider Book/Wolsak & Wynn.  Hamilton, Ontario.  2017.


Today's book of poetry does not like to admit that we were wrong, about anything.  Canisia Lubrin's Voodoo Hypothesis has proved Today's book of poetry to be as wrong as we could possibly be.  We have been supping on our own words.

On our first reading of Voodoo Hypothesis our reaction was luke warm.  But not warm enough to get excited enough to write about.

And then, contrary to our belief system about readings and how they relate to the printed page  —  Today's book of poetry heard Canisia Lubrin read.

It has never felt quite so good to be so wrong.

Today's book of poetry remembers seeing Allen Ginsberg on stage with the CeeDees back in 1980's Toronto.  I even got to shake the hand of the great man.  Saw Irving Layton when he was still close enough to his prime to be a walking God.  I heard Earle Birney read, he came to our home and had tea.  Saw Al Purdy a few times too.  Today's book of poetry read with Milton Acorn once and he was a true giant.

But Canisia Lubrin reciting her title poem Voodoo Hypothesis with nary a page in sight was one of the more prodigious poetic feats I've ever encountered.  Griffin nominated poet Sandra Ridley was in the audience.  Today's book of poetry is a big fan of Sandra Ridley and we listen any times she speaks.  After the reading Sandra and I were talking about Lubrin and agreed, one of the monster readings we'd ever witnessed.  Hands down.

It was stunning to behold.  Lubrin was somewhat sheltered from the view of much of the audience, reading from a well lit corner of the Manx Pub, so not everyone got to see exactly what was happening, but I was front row center.  I saw the lightning bolt she shot across the room.

Voodoo Hypothesis

Before sight, we imagine
that while they go out in search
of God
we stay in and become god,
become: Curiosity,
whose soul is a nuclear battery
because she'll pulverize Martian rock
and test for organic molecules
in her lab within a lab within
a lab. She doesn't need to know our fears
so far too grand for ontology, reckoning.

Did you not land with your rocket behind
you, hope beyond hope on the tip of your rope
with the kindness of antigravity slowing you down,
you, before me, metal and earthen. But I am here to
confirm or deny, the millions of small
things that seven minutes of success were hinged upon
when I was little more than idea and research,
in the hypnotic gestures of flame and Bunsen burner,
and into parachute
no one foresaw, the bag of rags at the end
of the tunnel - all memory now,
this Paraclete.

Where else is a pocket
of air more deadly than the atomic bomb?
Would this only happen on Earth?
Has Mars run out of tolerance for the minutiae

of air pockets, fingerprints and worry?
Aggregates of metal, Curiosity
and her clues to calm our fears for what's coming.
Mars and her epic storms, her gargantuan
volcanoes have long ceased their trembling,
her crazy flooded planes, frozen and in cinema.
Martian life now earth and revelation's phases:
Earth problem,  not Mars problem.

But why
should I unravel over all this remembering?
            Great thing about landing
            is that I've arrived

at your service, at your sand, at your valley
and unsentimental magma.
Before me screams planes like Mojave Desert, Waikiki, Nagasaki,
nothing too strange to keep Curiosity off course.
Even though the Viking missions found no conclusive pulse
and we declared you dead, O Mars,
never mind that we named your heights and depths
from orbit. And from your spheres of minerals
where oceans once roared - we've learned little
of your lenience for empire.
Forgive us what Spirit uncovered in the silica of your ancient hot springs.

Ah, yes, we've come back home.
Phoenix told us we inherited the numberless
stories of your hydraulic pathologies
but I am Curiosity. If I kill the bitch right,
she'll take us deeper and convince us to send earthlings
to set up Earth colonies on your deserts. They won't ever
come back, but that's not so bad when we trade in
the grander scheme.
As though the colonials, the Tribe Traders
and all the pharoanic masquerades of gone times
were not fair threat. That we won't know the depth
of our homeward seas
is nothing when

the sun's still got our backs.
And while waters still vaporize before us
Curiosity will keep on until the organic secrets
of that Martian puzzle become as household to us
as carbon. Oxygen wasn't the only disaster to befall Earth,
to bless her with life.

Apollo drilled on the moon and got stuck
and the harder we've drilled down here
the more we've loosened our screws.
Perhaps there'll be no one left to give
a damn about the death of our privates

unless we prove ourselves enigmas,
the alien we think we know is the alien we only dream
up starting from the bottom
of the Curious.

We wake and die through
the crowns and thorns and craned chapters,
we move too quick for understanding.
Still, through the decades we predict,
Curiosity confirms the cold-slain dust.

Then come her conches blown
in the hard-won postcards travelling
on space dust faster than a bullet
to say:

I'm here. I safe. Wish you were here.
See Gale Crater, Mount Sharp, just as you've said.
Come bask with me in the wonders of a Martian. Good afternoon,
you of flowering faith. Set sail for home,
because we will all wear the consequences of this choice.
And you never should have said


So, Today's book of poetry went back to the poetry drawing board and started over with Voodoo Hypothesis.  Happily we were able to see what we'd foolishly over-looked on our first reading.  Lubrin's engines were running a little faster that what we were used to.  With some slight adjustments, a mental kick in the ass reminder, so to speak, Today's book of poetry was finally able to slip into the correct gear.

Luckily for us and luckily for you too.  

Canisia Lubrin is a poet you are going to want to stay in tune with, her voice is the next generation of strong Canadian women.  This is a vibrant voice keening with history, richly tempered by the lessons of systemic diaspora and frantic with love disguised as hope and reason.

Bjork and PJ Harvey are blasting from the office box, a complete re-invention of the Stones classic "Satisfaction" and it seems to be complete synchronicity.

Today's book of poetry thinks Bjork and Harvey would be down with the Lubrin train.  Voodoo Hypothesis invokes zombies, St. Lucian folklore, the ghost of Saint Derek of Walcott, Creole dynamism and more.

Even more.  Today's book of poetry is going into the future with a word we will borrow from Lubrin.  Frequent readers will recognize that in Today's book of poetry language to "burn" is one of the highest compliments we can manage.  Lubrin introduces Today's book of poetry to the Creole word Bwile.  Bwile/burn, also means lust.  Lubrin has improved our vocabulary and our mood.

Epistle To The Ghost Gathering

Dregs have formed us
molten inside. Here, a road, the core
this earth, a single-celled fire
a break in the vein: no exact archipelago
to dream what sealed its original shape.

Still we hail a fire that buzzes us in,
our swat-genes: still, our song
our burden beyond sanity: don't be afraid.
This may not have been the only home
reshaped by our before-selves- 
Scarlet alphabets breaking the chains
of this age. Music not dialogued
in the cosmic blues.
A castoff in that short fuse, these
dogged admissions in asteroidal jazz.
Even loss can love what we mimic
in tanglewood, found summers in us - 
A dance extinction loves, us until a great
height forms that almost-slay in us: come home.


Our morning read had Alexander, our historian, chain smoking and shaking his head.  "This is a deep river" he said, shaking our reading copy of Lubrin's Voodoo Hypothesis, "and we're going to have to all jump in."  

Today's book of poetry did not waltz into Voodoo Hypothesis on first reading and it was our fault.  Our primary reading skills need some honing from time to time.  Canisia Lubrin provided the perfect platform for us to stretch our sympathies as we stretch our understanding, reminding us once again of how much we have to learn. 

Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Maggie, our new intern, both adored Lubrin from the get go and looked at me like I were stupid when I passed it by the first time.  Kathryn and Maggie were right, and I was wrong.  (I had to promise to print that)

Up The Lighthouse

Think you are apart from the name
             that stuck, apart from relics of
supersun, vulva and misnomer
   garden and virgin and beast.
   You must know, black isn't always the void:

to be a living fossil, light-years old
perhaps, the bougainvillea must think itself
aloof. that its fruitless state by twilight recalls
the bloom of suns. Small suns considered
suns because they remain, vibrant
no matter how barren the winter - how dark.

Think yourself manly as tiers of black pyramids
you mark, golden with vomit. Think the ancestral
footsteps in that spring-rushed courtyard, a stooled help.

Think yourself womanly as the one-eyed tower,
with patience to turn a thousand years of rancid
butter into a mountainscape
of nigger dreams, ascending - 

black isn't always a void.


Canisia Lubrain can burn, burn, burn.  Today's book of poetry never likes to be wrong, but even worse is not learning the lesson.  Voodoo Hypothesis is the next book of poetry you should read.

 Photo credit: Anna Keenan

Canisia Lubrin

Canisia Lubrin was born in St. Lucia. She has had work published in literary journals including Room, the Puritan, This Magazine, Arc, CV2 and The City Series #3: Toronto Anthology. She has been an arts administrator and community advocate for close to two decades. Lubrin has contributed to the podcast On The Line, hosted by Kate Sutherland for The Rusty Toque. She studied at York University where she won the President's Prize in poetry and the Sylvia Ellen Hirsch Memorial Award in creative writing. Lubrin holds an MFA from the University of Guelph and teaches at Humber College. She lives in Whitby, Ontario.

“In Canisia Lubrin’s debut collection of poetry, she pointedly observes that ‘the alien we think we know is the alien we only dream up.’ Voodoo Hypothesis is an imperative invocation of black dreams, an invitation for the living and the dead to define themselves. With poems at once epic and intimate, Voodoo Hypothesis requires a reverence for the individual word, to bear witness to Lubrin’s ‘brilliance indistinguishable from magic.’”                                                                                                    – Vivek Shraya, author of even this page is white and She of the Mountains
Canisia Lubrin’s lush, winding poetic lines are the incantations of a furious imagining. Lubrin’s speakers seem to have lived in generations of bodies of the African diaspora, and through centuries of migrations, slavery and neo-capitalism. Yet hers is still one single, contemporary vision – grieving, mongrel-cultured, exiled from the Caribbean archipelago’s sun. Here is a brilliant new Canadian voice, in the lyric lineage of Dionne Brand and M. NourbeSe Philip, raising up language like a shield against European histories and sciences, raising up poetry like a sacrifice of sweat and blood.”                – Sonnet L'Abbé, author of Killarnoe and Sonnet’s Shakespeare
Voodoo Hypothesis is an interior in motion: a gorgeous, searching intelligence. It is a womb/tomb of luminous inquiry. A semi-permeable ship where your mind is in concert with Lubrin’s forward propagating lineation, a participatory dreamscape that leads you back to your own culpability. This is a work that reads you, too.”                                                                                                                           – Liz Howard, author of Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent and winner of the Griffin Poetry Prize

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