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.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

In the Volcano's Mouth - Miriam Bird Greenberg (Pitt Poetry Series/University of Pittsburgh Press

Today's book of poetry:
In The Volcano's Mouth.  Miriam Bird Greenberg.  Pitt Poetry Series.  University of Pittsburgh Press.  Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  2016.

Winner of the 2015 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize
Winner of the 2017 Bob Bush Memorial Award for Best First Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters

It's two days in to the new year and Today's book of poetry finds himself outside of a medical clinic shortly after eight in the morning.  I'm in a warm car, the engine running and I have Miles, Trane and the Cannonball keeping me company.  An old friend is in the clinic doing clinic stuff.

Knowing I'd be here a while, it's -25C which is why I'm keeping the car running instead of enjoying the heated waiting room in the clinic, I brought along Miriam Bird Greenberg's In the Volcano's Mouth.  If I'd known what was about to happen I might not have bothered with turning on the heat.

This is why Today's book of poetry got into this game.  Let the banners fly and the bells ring, call out the trumpets, because Today's book of poetry is opening the year with a stunner.

Miriam Bird Greenberg is a beautiful poetry monster.  How else to describe the delicious havoc these poems leave in their tidy wake, how else to describe these powerhouse narratives that arrive at their harsh conclusions so gently?  Greenberg totally disarms the reader with one sweep of her disarming brush and then knocks them all over with the return pass.

Would You Believe

                     Three blocks from the Cyprus Freeway in Oakland,
                          which collapsed in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake,
                          with a line by Susan Moon

We climbed from the mouth of a volcano
all year, the year I moved west with my sweetheart

to live three blocks from where the earth had broken
open. Men in the Acorn Projects

remembered pulling strangers
trapped in their cars to safety. Brother,

one told me he'd said, we can be afraid
of each other again tomorrow. Twenty

years past, they'd made good
on their promise. By then I waited weekly in a food line

alongside Chinese immigrant women who fished
plastic bottles from the trash, eyes

roving for a coin, a lost prize, at the curb. Sometimes
I'd lift my hand to the lip--

look out over the volcano's rim, and there,
in a crevice, a scrap of paper, shining:
                                                someone's private prayer

or prophecy. Everybody held out
hope, tended their small hustle. Women knocked

on the door selling broken-heeled shoes, loquats
picked in an abandoned yard, would try the knob

if no one was home. Could I make change
for a twenty, asked someone, unfolding one

she'd manufactured from a dollar bill.
                                               Would you believe

what lengths I went to, to call myself
happy then?                  Star of blood that blooms

beneath a bruised fingernail, star
of silence left high in the heart of a room

after the door's slammed. A couple sits, watching
one another's reflections in a mirror. The two

talk like this as evening falls
around them, and neither has the heart

to get up and turn on the light. "My body's here
but no one's in it." writes a friend; for me

it's different. I'd spent my childhood
in a house made of bees; on hot days honey

dripped through cracks in the ceiling. Me, I hummed,
coiled tight. It hadn't been long since I'd slept

in a creosote field while grainers crashed
in the switchyard nearby. Actual tumbleweeds

turned like prayer wheels crossing the tracks
and the constellations coyotes called to,

streaked across the night, were more miraculous
than freckles on the face of god. Around then,

hitchhiking past Death Valley, a pair of truckers
stopped for me. I used to haul cattle

to LAX, one said. But I couldn't take looking
into their mournful eyes anymore. I guess I wear my heart

on my sleeve, he said. They were climbing
through the Sierras to pick up a load of honey, telling jokes,

they both had wild white beards. I hadn't yet come
in my life to peer over the lip of a volcano,

I wasn't yet made of cicada's coils
and tymbal. Still, I carried a bit of string, a quipu I used

for eavesdropping on the passage of time.
If someone had put a knife in my hands, even then,

I'd have taken it.                                  I can hear
two birds quarreling, tangled in midair. I'm afraid

one day I'll find myself trash picking, tearing
corners from a twenty. I'm afraid I'm no longer

lost as the runaway I met hopping a train
out of Colton that summer

who carried a small jar of her own baby teeth
with her in her pack.


Today's book of poetry is tickled to bring such a high-stepping collection up to bat for our first book of the year.  It's too early for any "best book" of the year comparisons but we are certain In the Volcano's Mouth will be part of that discussion.  This is superb poetry.

Greenberg writes poems that are full of new information that feel like old knowledge, these poems feel like a modern folk tale happening in real time, stories we've known all along.  It's not quite haunting but it is close to unnerving as Greenberg unleashes her formative artillery and these poems spill out in front of us like accidents that were meant to happen, prophecies we are only hearing about now.

A Thousand Wire Humming

My room is hemmed with rain; otherwise its windows
are a scrim of moths pressed
            against the light, tracing feverishly

their dizzy script, and I am made from shadows
they cast,
            passport stamps from Moldova

and Suriname. If you passed me working
at a telephone box on the corner, a thousand wires
            humming, and I

in my mechanic's jumpsuit, phone co.
logo over the breast pocket, you'd never glance back
            twice. One night I sat drinking

on someone else's porch
after a rainstorm. The light was off, it was late, and no one
            came home. The moon cast my dim shape

into the yard, and the clouds racing over it
were skittish
            as rabbits. I am getting ready

to see you--shaving
my legs, painting my fingernails
             and my toes. I put on a black lace bra

you've never seen me wear. I've held the throat
of an animal,
             and broken its neck. I'm climbing

out of my skin. One night
      a woman I knew immersed herself in a bath
             of India ink, came out

darker than the rafters
of a empty house. Her mouth
             burned red, open as instinct

makes a fledgling's mouth open, and her ankles
were more beautiful
             than a sapling bent

by wind. More beautiful than the new body
of a snake emerging
            from its winter skin in the rafters. Somewhere far off

I can hear the sound of a telephone
ringing in an empty house.
             Don't empty houses ring? Listen

how echo inhabits a place it knows
no one's home. Sometimes on the subway
             you catch sight of someone familiar--your eyes meet

but there's nothing to say that won't be swallowed
by the throng.
             Your shadows are tangled

in the legs of the crowd, are talking already, or fighting,
or fucking. Whatever you wish for
             in secret, and each one's ankles

are more beautiful than the other's. Do you remember
the morning when,
             before I'd laid the iron to my work clothes,

you pinned one arm
behind my back? Something trembled
              in the palm of your other hand--

an egg yolk--and you poured it
into my mouth. Breath
              chasing breath's dizzy script,

it was slippery in my throat
as a minnow passing through your fingers
              into shadow, as a paw print

on the loamy creek bank
tires of the rain
               that erodes it, and I became a swarm

of dust-winged moths
then that filled the air where a moment before
               my shape had stood.


Our first morning read of the new year had to wait until the afternoon.  More snow and slow minions meant for a later start than normal to our poetry world.  Milo, our head tech, was all Campbell McGrath happy as Santa brought him three early McGrath titles.  Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, was happy because I told her the David Lee had another book in the offing.  She likes to refer to him as Sir David of Lee, and rightly so.

The rest of the staff seemed to have made it through those damned reindeer and Fat Man in Red.  Miriam Bird Greenberg brought everything into focus real quick.  Milo was the first to say it out loud when he said "if In the Volcano's Mouth is any indication of what is ahead in 2018 we are in for one hell of a year."

Living in the End Times

We sat in the ruins
                       and made tea from the flowers.

Who among us knew
                       anything? The mourning machine

sowed furrows in the distance
                       and a little while later came the mourning machine

to reap what had grown. There
                       at the edge of the field

crouched some children, ready
                       to dash through the field stubble

to pick through the wrecked rabbits' burrows
                       the machine had uncovered, then left behind.


Miriam Bird Greenberg writes with such clarity that it breeds instant familiarity, gives instant access to the undercurrents, the swirl darkly at the edges of all these poems, she is almost tender about it.  Today's book of poetry is excited to start 2018 with such an outstanding books of poems.  This is Greenberg's first book but it never shows, before she is done you will want to have every word she has written.

Greenberg's In the Volcano's Mouth is a book you'll want on your poetry shelf, you'll want Greenberg in your poetry brain.

Today's book of poetry starts the year with a bang.  Miriam Bird Greenberg's In the Volcano's Mouth will cook your poetry brain from the inside out.

Miriam Bird Greenberg teaches creative writing and English as a second language. She is the author of two chapbooks, All Night in the New Country and Pact-Blood, Fevergrass. Greenberg has been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, and The Poetry Foundation. Her work has appeared in Poetry, the Missouri Review, and in the anthologies Best New Poets 2014 and The Queer South. A former Wallace Stegner Fellow, she lives in the San Francisco Bay area.

“These poems do what the best poetry sometimes does: reveal and deepen our understanding of the strangeness in the ordinary. And do so in language clear as a bell.”
     —Ed Ochester, judge

“In the Volcano’s Mouth is rich with mysterious and heartrending images. Miriam Bird Greenberg blends scraps of the harshness of life, of what would be ugly in less skillful hands, with the beautiful, even beatific. These are poems that are acutely aware of the world: The flame/of a match that flares/at the tip of his cigarette/before he draws in his breath/deepens the darkness/that falls just beyond/ his illuminated face. Paul Eluard wrote, ‘There is another world and it is in this one.’ These poems give us a glimpse into that world. They are poems I will come back to for inspiration.”
     —Ellen Bass

“Although many of the poems in this haunted book are ‘pastoral’ in a Classical sense, the natural world is not a place of peace and serenity. Rather, it’s unstable, a setting not devoid of meaning, but a realm where meaning is always on the move, like the many characters wandering through this book, and the mind of the poet who has carefully made it. These poems are harrowing and wounding, and yet retain a quiet, sustaining reserve of beauty.”
      —Maurice Manning

Miriam Bird Greenberg
@ Quiet Lightning
Video: Evan Karp



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