Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Crows in the Jukebox - Mike James (Bottom Dog Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Crows in the Jukebox.  Mike James.  Harmony Series.  Bottom Dog Press.  Huron, Ohio.  2017.

Nominated for a Paterson Poetry Prize

Family can be a sharp kick in the ass at the best of times and Mike James knows it.  Crows in the Jukebox isn't simply a great title and a great cover, there's a damned fine book between the covers.  Crows in the Jukebox (Today's book of poetry likes saying that: Crows in the Jukebox.), runs through the charismatic drama of a suspect childhood with parents run amok.  Today's book of poetry has heard this sad story before but we've never encountered the Mike James methodology.

James brings a lightness to these poems and it must be a ventriloquist trick because you never see his lips move.  Amid a dark terrain of justifiable disdain James is able to introduce music, wit before a dusting of just the right amount of pathos.  Somehow Mike James forgives everyone in these poems, although he never says that, he understands that some failures are built on the foundation of the best intentions.

Still Life, with Smudges

after tasting
one long
fresh from
the yellow sun
batter of
a cake
or ladling
up the 
winter taste
of venison
my grandmother
might pause
to say

close enough
is enough

then add
two seconds

like that
little boy
who won't
get dirty
who won't
play rough


Crows in the Jukebox is such a damned good title that Today's book of poetry knew we'd like these poems, just didn't have any idea how much.  James keeps it short but these short poems punch heavy.

It's rare to encounter poems that have no artifice whatsoever.  James write with confidence, knowing that if he tells the truth the poems will work.  Crows in the Jukebox relies on memory, James uses his memory to trigger ours.  One of the reasons these poems read so right is that they are familiars.  We've felt that, suffered this, endured, we understand.  Mike James makes it clear that our feelings were right all along.

Brando in Tahiti

let's say it's late
past midnight

beach nearly empty
except for stray,
and brando
in beach towel,

he tends a fire
so close to
the tide
logs sizzle
with mist

now and then
a spark floats
towards sky

stars so
even the
smallest hand
could block
a dozen
from view

every few minutes
seems as large
as the island,
his great yell
louder than
a bullhorn)
           throws pages
into the fire
from a stack
of scripts
beside him

the fire grows
brighter as
the stack grows

brando drinks
from a wine jug
pacino and laughs
laughs, laughs


The morning read here at Today's book of poetry was sensational.  Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, came through the door this morning holding hands and with big, big smiles.  It seems they are working on a poetry project of their own.  Their smiles were infectious in the best way.

Crows in the Jukebox reads relentless, poem after poem, focused and short/sharp.  These poems made for an electric read and when we were done the staff wanted more.  

Milo has been charged with finding the other ten poetry titles James has out there in the vast blue libraries of the saints.  Today's book of poetry has all the time in the world to read poetry that rings hard and true and never stops being entertaining to the Poetry Gods who insist on music.  The Gods are used to all sorts of pain, hell, they often cause it for their own amusement -- but above all, the Poetry Gods want new amusement.  Mike James Crows in the Jukebox is a steady stream.

The Crows

i love those damned birds
for what they aren't

lovely, dainty

also, for what
they are

scrappy, clever
unafraid of stick men

the crow knows his
only world

his knowledge

he carries a spine
of darkness

his home, some place
i never see


Today's book of poetry loves crows too.  

This morning we saw sunshine in Ottawa, good books in the mail and a flat-out burner for the blog.  Crows in the Jukebox is forged with strong, smart and tender alloys -- when Mike James slams it all down on the poetry anvil we get to enjoy the beautiful sparks.

And simply because we liked Crows in the Jukebox so much -- a fourth poem.  It's not quite a list poem but we are going to add it to ours.

Hitchhiker Proverbs

elsewhere is the oldest place


when you walk
even as you look at your feet
remember the sky


a bed is not so comfortable
if you like the smell of a ditch


the bear eats where
he wants


how dirty the mirror
it sees both sides


when you tell yourself
a secret
there's an echo


Image result for mike james poet photo

Mike James

Mike James is the author of eleven poetry collections. His most recent books include: Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog, 2017), My Favorite Houseguest (FutureCycle, 2017), and Peddler’s Blues (Main Street Rag, 2016.) His work has appeared in over 100 magazines throughout the country in such places as Tar River Poetry, Soundings East, and Laurel Review. He has also been active as an editor for The Kentucky Review, Autumn House Press, and his own Yellow Pepper Press. After years spent in South Carolina, Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Georgia, he now makes his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina with his large family and a large assortment of cats.

In his wonderful new collection, Crows in the Jukebox, Mike James explores among many topics, his hardscrabble patriarchy, marriage and family relationships, and the clarity and persistence of nature. As in his other work, he often surprises the reader with jarring quips and closures as in "Talking with Allen Ginsberg, in a Dream:" "I can fit you in my shirt pocket," or the remarkable metaphor for the artistic creative process, "Swimming in the Rain:" "when she swims she's always alone/no one who watches is with her." This volume establishes James as a poet of the first rank, one who swims alone.
     ~Tim Peeler, author of L2: A Poetry Novel

I was hooked on Mike James' new collection of poetry from the title onward. Crows in the Jukebox is as beautiful as its title. James explores his youth and confronts his memories of his father in powerful poems. His writing is precise. Not a word is wasted. James writes,"the crow waits for darkness / and the music it brings." This book brings both darkness and music, as well as beauty and light.
     ~Daniel Crocker, author of Shit House Rat

Mike James
reading "Reply to John Dorsey..."
Video: Kentucky Review



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

Monday, February 26, 2018

Journeywoman - Carolyne Van Der Meer (Inanna Publications)

Today's book of poetry:
Journeywoman.  Carolyne Van Der Meer.  Inanna Publications & Education Inc.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

Journeywoman by Carolyne Van Der Meer

Journeywoman by Carolyne Van Der Meer is tour de force poetry.  Journeywoman demanded that Today's book of poetry listen to Nancy Wilson this morning.  That's always a good thing, Nancy set new standards and made a few demands in her day.  

Journeywoman is carefully divided into four sections:  Manoeuvring, Travelogue, The Cancer Journey and Fellow Travellers.  Van Der Meer changes gears in each section but her voice stays the same, steady on the throttle.

Here every poem rings true because Van Der Meer has chosen a language that is immediately accessible.  Journeywoman is every woman, not that Van Der Meer is making any such claims, but Today's book of poetry suspects that every woman could find themselves in these pages.

Van Der Meer talks to us about family, travelling, friendship and cancer, and then she puts it down so clearly Today's book of poetry has no trouble recognizing it as true.

Finding the Hollandsche Schouwburg

She asked me if I knew of it
before I'd even arrived
In the Jewish Quarter,
a theatre, now a monument
to the more than 100,000 Dutch Jews
who were exterminated
She was ready to educate me
about this place seen
only once before,
but was still affecting her
twenty years hence

We wandered:
goals along the way,
things you must see
we saw perky breasts
passed coffeehouses
with strongly-scented terraces,
ate a lunch of Dutch white beer
warm geitje,
goats cheese
on toast a warm
little goat she chuckled
as the beer slid down
Got lost between the University of Amsterdam's
Centre for Entrepreneurship
a palliative care centre, passed
the Dutch Resistance Museum

fell into the zoo
only to discover
Hollandsche Schouwburg
tucked around the corner
on Plantage Middenlaan

None of these
the sex for sale
the straying
the nervous laughter
could have lessened the effect
of the long list
of those deported
to Westerbork
of the lone
obelisk taking centre stage
in a now silent theatre


Today's book of poetry was misleading you earlier when we listed the four sections of Journeywoman, the truth is that it is all in here.  The big three, Love-Sex-Death, and so much more. Van Der Meer's keen eye takes in the details without ever taking her eye off of the poetry prize.  Today's book of poetry felt like I was listening to/talking with a dependable old friend whose wise counsel I could depend on.

Canada has Lynn Crosbie and Sue Goyette, Alice Burdick and Susan Musgrave, Lorna Crozier and Nora Gould, Eva H.D. and Linda Pyke, Margaret Queen of Atwood and Phyllis Webb, Suzannah Showler and Kayla Czaga and a dozen more women for each of these but Today's book of poetry asserts that Journeywoman allows Carolyne Van Der Meer instant access to that growing pantheon of Canadian women who are "must read" poets.

Barcleona Beach

A spray of bodies against the Mediterranean--
glinting grit on exposed breasts,
sun rippling off six packs, great bellies,
cellulite thighs and smooth backsides
She recognizes the possibilities,
imagines: some arrive together, leave together,
some meet later for transient intimacy
Jealousy, warring souls, lies, hunger--

Later in need
of her bearings, she peels
off her damp bikini
Scrunching up her panties,
runs them under tepid water,
lathers mimosa and mandarin into the silk,
squeezes out her own fluids
When done,
she steps
lithely into the shower
washes away the sun and sand,
sweat and salt cleansed
of other people's stories


Our morning read was an exciting affair.  Today's book of poetry had taken Journeywoman with him to Montreal for the weekend.  She was tagging along when we visited The Word bookshop.  If you love poetry and are ever in Montreal, Quebec, Canada you MUST visit Adrian and Luci at 469 Milton Street, just on the edge of the McGill University campus.  Today's book of poetry came away with poetry jewels and genuine glee and maybe even a new friend.  You might even meet Scott Moodie, he not only works at The Word but writes fine poems on the side.  Scott is an old friend from 1980's Ottawa.  The Word is a MUST see in Montreal.

Today's book of poetry showed the minions my Montreal poetry spoils but we wouldn't let Milo at the new Tom Clark "Sparrow" titles, they were in plastic and he was eating a piece of pizza out of his other hand.  Today's book of poetry said NO.  And I made him wash his hands before putting our marvelous Montreal loot in the stacks.

Sorry for the detour, now back to the excellent Journeywoman.  

Carolyne Van Der Meer shows us, by example, how a strong woman's heart works.  These poems take us on a woman's journey through time, love, friendship, illness and more.  They do it with a voice you can depend on for clarity, humour and understanding.

Prayer on a Train

With heavy-lidded eyes
fairly dancing she smiles
hijab covering what I imagine
a head of thick dark locks
Her skin smooth, few
signs of age

She flattens her purse
on her knees, leans forward
on elbows, head bowed
She pauses, looks up at me
speaks Your son will wonder what
I am doing I need to pray
I smile my thanks
My boy looks at me
I tell him she is Muslim
prays several times a day,
while she, silent, eyes
closed, mouths words
only her god can hear

Later -- thank you
I nod and ask her where she is from Iraq
she says left for Kuwait
to escape Saddam's rule, only
to find prejudice
in her new home
How could I raise my children there

in 1993 chose Canada
waited months in Senegal
for confirmation of
refugee status I ask her age
51 or 52, she says
I am not sure

I realize she is more
sure, praying on a train
in a foreign land
than so many of us at home


Today's book of poetry loved Journeywoman and is convinced you will love it too.  Inanna Publications continues to publish some of the strongest women's voices in the country.  Carolyne Van Der Meer puts her name on a list of strong and extraordinary poets from Inanna:  Vancy Kasper, Pam Galloway, Katerina Vaughan Fretwell, Eva Tihanyi, Cullene Bryant, Mary Corkery, Rosemary Clewes.  Journeywoman adds one more name and elevates the group that much more.

Strong, smart poetry will always find a welcome here at Today's book of poetry.  Carolyne Van Der Meer has thrown her hat into the ring.  Some hat!


Image result for carolyn van der meer photo

Carolyne Van Der Meer
(Photo: Bassam Sabbagh)

Carolyne Van Der Meer is a journalist, public relations professional and university lecturer. She has undergraduate and graduate degrees in English Literature from University of Ottawa and Concordia University respectively, and a Graduate Certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers. Her journalistic articles, essays, short stories and poems have been published internationally. She is the author of Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience, published in 2014. Journeywoman is her first volume of poetry. She is currently at work on a young adult fiction novel. She lives in Montreal, Quebec.

“It is gratifying and exciting to read a poetry collection like Journeywoman by Carolyne Van Der Meer. Here is a poet using her considerable skill to craft poems that exhibit a controlled intelligence at work. Masterful uses of image, sound, shape of thought, and evoked meaning are all employed as Van Der Meer guides us on a journey of discovery to concrete, named places, and along curving, challenging pathways of the mind and spirit. The poems glitter and chime with word choices that are precise and rhythmic. The language is clear, direct, and concise. The point-of-view is focused. The sensual detail is exhilarating. Take this journey and you will be find poems that challenge and entice. Journeywoman is a book of significant charms. Read it once, and you will read it again, then again. Each time you will linger at points along the journey, unconcerned about reaching the end. That, after all, is the point, the satisfaction found in our wandering, our exploration, our journey through life.”
     – Michael Carrino, author of Always Close, Forever Careless and By Available Light: New and Selected Poems

"Carolyne Van Der Meer’s Journeywoman takes the reader on a rich journey through the many facets of womanhood. Everyday domestic events—slicing onions, breaking glass, sewing on buttons—become infused with deeper meaning through Van Der Meer’s keen eye and gift for turning these tasks inside-out and exposing their weighted underbelly. Delightful moments between mother and son, husband and wife, sister and sister are rendered in poems that feel like well told stories, full of evocative imagery. Literal journeys lead to playful and cheeky moments as Van Der Meer recreates moments of travel that connect the narrator and reader to other times and places. Perhaps most poignant are the poems in Section lll, "The Cancer Journey." Here, the body becomes a geography in itself as Van Der Meer, with astonishing colour and honesty, describes cancer treatments that make the reader feel that she too is undertaking the chemical journey deep down in her bones. Reading the collection, which is both personal and infinitely universal all at once, the reader is enriched. The poems invite the reader in casually and are as inviting as the tea described in "Teatotaler." The reader takes in the poems and experiences "all these essences/in one slow sip."
     —Lori Weber, author of Yellow Mini

Motherlode: A Mosaic of Dutch Wartime Experience by Carolyne Van Der Meer 
Video:  Carolyne Van Der Meer


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, February 22, 2018

Wreckage - Roberta Iannamico, Translated by Alexis Almeida (Toad Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Wreckage.  Roberta Iannamico.  Translated by Alexis Almeida.  Toad Press. La Verne, California.  2017.

Alexis Almeida's translations of the Argentine poet Roberta Iannamico make us believe that Iannamico has a great sense of humour.  This poet doesn't take herself too seriously which is just perfect for writing serious poems.  The poet who wrote Wreckage has a great sense of humour and Today's book of poetry always finds that it makes for an easy connect.

Iannamico writes poems the way one might tell a story to a friend you want to amuse.  These short narratives, while long on charm, don't hesitate to give you the details of every ordinary day.  Except that Wreckage is never ordinary.  Although never ostentatious these poems do cast off an unexpected light.  At times they almost sparkle.

A Friend of my Uncle's

A friend of my uncle's
a big guy
lying on the beach
a dog wakes him up
throwing itself on his back
above all I'm interested
in the part where the guy
caresses the dog
covering his hands
with the sleeves of his sweatshirt.


Sparkle certainly isn't the right word at all, what Today's book of poetry meant to suggest was that Iannamico radiates a certain happiness in all of her smallest details.  If not exactly happiness than perhaps she is surfing the Saint Milan of K's "unbearable lightness."

Roberta Iannamico's Wreckage is laced with poems that are tender without being fragile.  Almeida's versions of Iannamico's poems would lead Today's book of poetry to believe that she has captured the intended feel of the original Spanish, but these poems never read like translations.

Vegetable Stand

I say vegetables
potato onion tomato
if I'm playing the housewife
lettuce tangerine
if it's summer
if I want to be refreshed
artichoke cabbage
if the mother instinct overtakes me
if I have self-esteem
to the clouds
broccoli cauliflower
just for fun
I go make bouquets
green beans
a fruit
that looks like an animal
red apples
I want to give myself over to luxury
green apples

I give myself over to frugality
pink grapefruit
a treasure for children
the sugar can be the lace
something masculine
the radishes the turnips
the garlic cloves
the celery the lemon
a pumpkin squash
to wake me up
with the morning light.


"Vegetable Stand" is a list poem of sorts and all of you followers of Today's book of poetry knows how much we love a list poem.  

Today's book of poetry's morning read was brightened considerably by the presence of our visiting niece Tinselvania.  Only recently returned from a trip to Berlin where she was hunting for an Art School.  We feted Tinsel with the finest beans and rice in town with a visit to Margo's, a Haitian kitchen.  I'm a complete sucker for the "deep fried cube pork" with a small serving of the razor hot Pikliz.  Tinselvania writes excellent poetry herself but disguises it as game-code.  Ms. T. made herself at home in our offices and sounded just like a regular when her turn came around.


We stopped along the road
and my mom and I
ran to take a piss
we went down
to the tunnel
under the road
we ducked down
it made us laugh to hear the cars
just above us
with our butts out in the open
and the wind
blew against me
and I wet myself
we laughed
we laughed


Today's book of poetry felt instantly at home in the pages of Wreckage.  These poems made me laugh, wince, laugh.  Reading Roberta Iannamico was a bit like walking into a new room that felt instantly familiar.  

Wreckage is the second chapbook from Toad Press that has graced our pages.  Toad Press translations sound and feel so natural that you'd think these poems were written in English.  

Roberta Iannamico's Wreckage walked into the room, sat down in my reading chair, like an old friend coming to visit.  She and her poems have found a new friend.

Roberta Iannamico

Roberta Iannamico has published many books of poetry, including El zorro gris, el zorro blanco, el zorro colorado (Vox, Bahía Blanca, 1997), Mamushkas (Vox, 1999), Tendal (del Diego, Buenos Aires, 2000), El collar de fideos (Vox, 2001), Celeste perfecto (Crudo, Buenos Aires, 2005), Dantesco (Vox, 2006), Muchos poemas (Voy a salir y si me hiere un rayo, Buenos Aires, 2008), Un día nuevo(edición de autora, 2013) Nomeolvides (Vox, 2015), and Qué lindo (Zindo & Gafuri 2015). She has also published various children’s books. She is a singer-songwriter, and conducts poetry workshops as well as song composition workshops for children and adults.

Alexis Almeida grew up in Chicago. Her poems and translations have appeared or are forthcoming Gulf Coast, The Brooklyn Rail, Prelude, TYPO, Dusie, and elsewhere. She is an assistant editor at Asymptote and a contributing editor at The Elephants. Her chapbook of poems, Half Shine, is recently out from Dancing Girl Press, and her translation of Florencia Castellano's Propiedades vigiladas [Monitored Properties] is recently out from Ugly Duckling Presse. She has received fellowships and residencies for Yaddo and the University of Colorado, where she completed her MFA. She recently spent the year living in Buenos Aires on a Fulbright research grant, where she has been compiling and co-translating an anthology of contemporary female poets living in Argentina.



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

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie - Jay Ritchie (Coach House Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie.  Jay Ritchie.  Coach House Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2017.

"like an inner tube at a pool party
nostalgic for asphalt."
                                                                                    "Upcycle" - Jay Ritchie

Jay Ritchie has reimagined what Richard Brautigan might be saying were he alive and living in Montreal.  Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie does not emulate Brautigan so much as doff the hat in admiration as it continues along in its Jay Ritchie way.  No disservice to the esteemed Mr. Brautigan, Today's book of poetry holds his work in high regard - but Mr. Ritchie is a richer serving.

Today's book of poetry generally has a difficult time with poetry carved from surreal dreams but like my hero, Stuart Ross, Jay Ritchie operates with such efficiency and sleight of hand that you are at his mercy.  These poems are tangential superheroes and dream-thought riddled with reason.

Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie tries to wrestle the norm out of the daily grind and succeeds with a Cool Hand Luke grin.

The Waiting Room

requires a series
of short commitments,
the way Highway
I needs to 
be reimagined after
each pirouetting pine
tree, the way
an extension cord
needs to be
wound eight times
before it is
a noose. I
made a promise
in the driveway
not to go
inside until I
had sunk twenty-three
baskets consecutively. Light
has a special
way of falling
into polygons in
the waiting room.
The sewage truck
is idling outside
the walk-in clinic
beside the public
library. People fall
out of my
life like oranges
off the back
of a truck.
Residents of Heatherglen
Housing Co-operative Ltd.
were not informed.
A paint stain
on the window
starts to look
modern. The rehabbed
juvenile delinquent said,
Building a house
is just a
series of small
tasks that amount
to something big.
I was out
there in the
driveway until dark.
Here, the Venn
diagram made by
the water's surface
and lip of
the glass. It
was a promise
I made to
luck so that
luck would be
promised to me.


Truth be told, and Today's book of poetry always tries to tell the truth, some of Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie may have escaped our feeble grasp.  When I passed Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie around the office before the morning read the response was universal: everyone loved the journey but no two of us ended up in the same place.  Today's book of poetry likes to read poetry that takes the reader out of their comfort zone and Ritchie succeeds.  Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie uses sly humour and the reader is never quite certain if Ritchie's witty asides are detachment or genuine and gentle wonder.

Today's book of poetry had no problem at all believing whatever Ritchie had to say.  These poems rang true, from start to finish, like a metronome.

Loud Familiar Sound

At the end of the year with my bags asking to be let in to the
present. Single-family detached homes with comparable square
footage curve gradually with the cul-de-sac, as usual. Did you
see the addition to the business park? Nothing hurts like not being
in on the joke. My friends tell me I have a tendency to distance
myself from friends, which is troubling. Walking home involved
a Walmart, an overpass, a business park, real estate, a Catholic
elementary school, and a cosmic sense of purpose determined
by faulty or burnt-out street lamps. This is how I remember it:
I learned geometry from rooftops. I might carry my laptop over
the back deck in the morning with a cup of coffee and consider
how a rainbow's favourite high is gasoline. I might be closer to
what I was walking toward and further from where I wanted to
be. I'm unsure if the leaves are a part of the plan. Airport security
said, The easiest way out is to look for an entrance.


Our morning read was a rapid-fire affair.  Ritchie's poems elevated the mood, the sun was actually shining in through the windows and had Mr. Ritchie heard our din I'm certain he would have been cheered.

Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie is the genuine article.  Ritchie is playing the long game, he strings things out onto a high wire, adds a bicycle, and then a beach ball, and then the elephant in the room jumps onto the wire.  Everything ricochets skyward, airborne, juxtaposed, upside down and clearly doomed until Ritchie juggles them back down to the wire, each one precariously balanced in the good graces of the others.  

Jay Ritchie is welcome in the Today's book of poetry poetry kitchen any time.  Ritchie can burn the house down.

Celebration of Life

Every mourner was given
a blue, yellow,
or green helium-filled balloon
and was pushed out
into the snow-covered field.
Releasing the balloon
into the troposphere
was a symbolic gesture
for the final stage
in the grieving process:
acceptance, or 'letting go.'
How many leatherback
turtles are going to die

from this mass act of littering?
I had done a project on
leatherbacks in Grade 7.
It was the fourth consecutive day
of putting my suit on, and the fourth
consecutive day of putting
ice cream in my coffee.
Three people had died
in one day, and for three days
there was one funeral per day -
except today is different, today
is a celebration of life.
I unparked the SUV

from the half-frozen mud.
What is going to happen
to everyone's nice shoes?
The nonsmokers look so natural
holding their cigarettes.
I wanted to clarify some negative
comments I had made, but I did not
expect to encounter absence,
which is no encounter at all,
just a persistent humming
at the highest audible register
and its root note at the lowest,
making a chord

with idling city maintenance
vehicles. The possibility
that photographs would be
insufficient occurred to everyone
at once, it was unanimously decided
someone would make a DVD.
The Rocky Mountains
had a better understanding
of us, they had seen
the oil barons as heroes
and were less anxious, they said,
Squint, you can see tomorrow
through tiny pinholes in the air.


Today's book of poetry was thoroughly entertained by Jay Ritchie, he certainly cheered us up.  Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie may offer some of the most original poetry you've read this year.

Image result for jay ritchie photo

Jay Ritchie

Jay Ritchie was born in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and lives in Montreal, Quebec. Cheer Up, Jay Ritchie is his first full-length collection.

‘With their clever – but never glib – concision of image, and emotional directedness, these poems actually make me feel something, and that is something I really enjoy.’
     – Rebecca Wolff, author of One Morning

‘Ritchie throws black holes on the wall, disappears through them. His poems are like dreams dreamed mid-movement, just before something happens, as if light, buildings, breath, parakeets, hope, haircuts, Montreal, and art-making are all fragments of the same epiphany.’
     – Sean Michaels, Giller Prize-winning author of Us Conductors

‘Charming, funny, and often elegant. This is a formidable collection.’
     – Ben Fama, author of Fantasy

Jay Ritchie

Jay Winston Ritchie - Poetry (part1) @ Bain Saint-Michel, Montreal
Video: Neil Corcoran



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, February 15, 2018

Send - Domenico Capilongo (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
Send.  Domenico Capilongo.  Essential Poets Series 244.  Guernica Editions.  Toronto - Buffalo - Lancaster (U.K.).  2017.

Today's book of poetry knew we'd heard the name Domenico Capilongo before so we sent Milo into the stacks.  As soon as Milo sat Capilongo's first two books down on my desk I remembered.

Domenico Capilongo does plenty in his first book but Today's book of poetry remembered how Capilongo nailed that whole furtive first kiss with his poem "Shera-Lee" from I Thought Elvis Was Italian (Wolsak & Wynn, 2008).  Today's book of poetry remembered thinking that maybe Capilongo was another Len Gasparini character but he soon wrote us out of that illusion.  I Thought Elvis Was Italian was all James Brown hip and e.e. cummings poetic, quoting John Lennon and tipping the old hat to Saint Michael of Ondaatje.  We loved it.

Hold That Note (Quattro Books, 2010) had Louis Armstrong, Theolonious Monk, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Tom Waits as angels in the wings.  You just know that Today's book of poetry is going to have a lot of time for that, all the time in the world.

Send is a whole new ball game.  A clean slate.  But Today's book of poetry doesn't own a phone, of any kind.  There is a land-line phone in our office, plugged into the wall.  Today's book of poetry has never sent or received a text.  Domenico Capilongo's Send bursts at the seams with messages that you need to receive.

Contrary to the constantly public display of "texting" by the current POTUS there are texts worth reading, messages worth hearing.  Send is full of them.

Capilongo gives us instant access in his efforts to capture the languages and means we use to communicate. Capilongo catalogues it all from Morse Code to "whistled languages."


all the selfies. all the shame. after all the tex-
ting. all the comments. all the sexting. after
all the nakedness. all the pain. after all the
instagram. all the secret tattoos. after all the
tweeting. all the play-by-play. after all the
facetime. all the snapchat. the skype. after
all the auto-correct email. all the googling
after all.


Marconi and Alexander Graham Bell both put in cameos in Capilongo's efforts to search out every step forward in our haste to communicate faster.  Today's book of poetry suspects that some of these communiques are "found poems" and we can only celebrate Capilongo's keen sense of every methodology.  Domenico Capilongo is an all-in type poet if his first two books are any indication and in Send he invests it all in how we communicate.

Capilongo's sense of humour is abundant in these compellingly readable poems.  Today's book of poetry fears I am out of my depths because I can only think I know what it means when Capilongo titles a poem "Christopher Marlow Pocket Calls William Shakespeare."  The poem itself is hilarious.

kiss me like houdini's wife

straightjacketed and ready to take the plunge
in the dark. his mind racing through steps.
through the math of the weight of water. the
pressure of oxygen in his lungs. the sound
of the eyes of the crowd all around him. the
kiss from his wife. his tongue meets hers.
she slips a key into his mouth. he pushes it
into the corner of his cheek for later. the
crowd takes a breath. kiss me.


Our morning read started a little later than usual today.  It's not snowing in Ottawa for the first time in weeks but there is a misty rain that is falling and coating everything it touches in a lovely coat of ice.  Milo insisted we use all three Capilongo titles for the morning read but agreed we would hammer through Send first. 

Much to Capilongo's credit he happily jumps into concrete poems when he feels the need.  Here Today's book of poetry feels terribly unqualified to comment except to say that in most cases these poems surprised us with the clarity of a particular message, for us they were dead on.  And that is first time Today's book of poetry has ever said that!

During the reading we passed those poems around for everyone to see and then kept on with the rest.

In Capilongo's exhaustive and almost encyclopedic search for examples of how we choose to communicate he never loses sight of the reader, always makes certain they are engaged, Capilongo is communicating in a direct line with us.  The poems in Send got Today's book of poetry on Capilongo's side early.  After that the intriguing entertainment/exploration never let up.

carretto siciliano

in argentina or brazil there are ex-nazi soldiers in their
eighties who still hide in the shadows of trees. who still
wear large hats with sun glasses. they try to speak spanish
or portuguese. they try to walk slowly with knees bent but
you can still see the stiffness in their backs. the harsh ac
cent hanging at the ends of words. these men, in the early
morning, still wonder how the allies managed to take sicily.
     it was one man, a lowly carretto driver, some salvatore
or giuseppe, who came up with the idea. the germans were
everywhere with their checkpoints. no one was safe. they
even looked under hats. it came to him in a dream. the sky
was purple. his carretto flying over palermo like some sicil-
ian santa. his horse turned head back and spoke to him.
     we can send the messages with the horses, he thought
to himself over morning coffee, but how? the germans
even check under the horses' balls. later when he fed his
horse he saw it shove some food in its cheek only to share
it with another horse in the plazza.
     messages were sent in little walnut-sized capsules
from horse-to-horse piazza-to-piazza all across sicily. the
german soldiers often commented about the strange sicil-
ian horses, seltsame kussende pferde. strange kissing horses.
     this sicilian secret is know only to a chosen few. if
you want to know the truth about how this really hap-
pened you will have to go to sicily and ask one of the
horses yourself.


Domenico Capilongo writes solid poetry that you can depend on, every time out.  These are sweet, smart, clever, witty, funny, incisive poems that will re-wire your future communication.  All Today's book of poetry can say to Mr. Capilongo is thank you.

It's usually three strikes and you are out in almost every league.  What does it mean when you hit a homer out of the park your first three times up to the plate?

Capilongo's Send is a book of poetry you can hang your hat on.  This cat can seriously burn.

Image result for Domenico capilongo photo

Domenico Capilongo

Born when rotary telephones came in multiple colours, Domenico Capilongo began writing with pencil and paper, passing poetry notes from the back of the class. He still writes in notebooks, used a typewriter in high school, and his earliest published poems were printed on a dot-matrix printer. His first books of poetry, I thought elvis was Italian (2008) and hold the note (2010), as well as his first book of short fiction, Subtitles (Guernica, 2012), came very close to winning awards and were all mailed in the post. A high school creative writing teacher and karate instructor, he lives with his wife and children in Toronto. Find out more on the information superhighway at

In his latest book, Dom Quixote mounts a new smartphone and tilts away at our digital windmills. His chivalry is analogue: what is lost in our twittering is the seed-bed of his musings. Messages between and underneath communications—tender, sensuous, comically misaligned and/or brutal by turn—are gathered up and offered back to us as rebus: an oracular operating system where what we mean is not always how we speak.
     - Chris D’Iorio, author of Without Blue

Book teaser for
Domenico Capilongo's Send
Video: Capilongo Poetry



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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

The More - Ronna Bloom (Pedlar Press)

Today's book of poetry:
The More.  Ronna Bloom.  Pedlar Press.  St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.  2017.


"I'm not the sort of person who gets people into trouble,
But the trouble I'm in, we're all in."
                                                                                                - "I Start The Day"

Today's book of poetry read Ronna Bloom's first book, Fear of the Ride (Carleton University Press, 1996) some time ago and pulled it down from the stacks for a refresher on Bloom.  And are we ever glad we did.  Two poems in we remembered everything we needed to know about Ronna Bloom's poetry.  We're in.  She writes it, we'll read it.

Stone cold, rock hard, solid.  Fear of the Ride was full of short, precise, simple poems that took up instant residence on our emotional radar.  So what do we know prior to The More:  Bloom writes hard and clear and clean poems with razor crisp edges, and does it within an emotional framework built on empathy but never above sympathy.  Bloom writes poetry that knows the ways of the world.

Some people are forced, through circumstance, no fault of their own, to see more than their share of suffering.  Not that anyone has ever figured out exactly, how much suffering each of us should bear.  Ronna Bloom's voice has seen her share, and perhaps the shares of a few others.

The More has a precision of empathy laced with irony that is consistently compelling for the reader.  Bloom, these twenty years removed from Fear of the Ride has lost none of her considerable edge.  All these years of experience have added a deeper layer of emotional understanding and with it a considered melancholy.

Appointment in Samarra

30 people in chemo today multiplied by
x hospitals in y countries and z universes.

Back here. H smiles through 4 syringes of chemicals, 2 bags of saline,
and a flush of life-giving killer liquid.

White-haired sisters in their 70s share clippings of their modelling days
with shirtless men in big cars, take selfies holding up their matching drips.

A woman in the corner looks exactly like what is happening to her.
Pale and bald like coal after a fire.

Slap me good and hard with mortality while I'm strong.
My body wants to run as though it's seen a ghost.


"but to stay true to the process and its shtick
in the service of a mission that holds in its mouth
the names and imagined wants of others"
                                                                                 - "This Breakfast"

Today's book of poetry enjoyed The More because Bloom is consistently entertaining.  Her serious poems can be funny as hell but Bloom's pitch never falters, she is always heading towards the heart of the thing.

Bloom has a compassionate heart but recognizes that heart isn't enough in a world willing to inflict what it does.  Bloom likes to mix it up emotionally and no matter how grim the circumstance Bloom has room for some tenderness.


Everything I dread, I look forward to.

Whoever I condemn, I am him.

Whatever I think is irrelevant is, until I become irrelevant.

Tomorrow I'll be the one I bully today.

The next person I love scares me already.

u have a sweet face a boy told me when I was young, so I didn't show it.

I used my mind to hurt when I was hurting.

The queen sees her cruelty and bends in grief.

Like her, my remorse is as awful as my arrogance.

The word care means worry. To suffer is to allow.

The pain then is part of the happiness now.

Avoidance meets us halfway.

We could cut to the chase and embrace.


Another snowy morning here at Today's book of poetry.  Ottawa is certainly a winter wonderland of snow these days.  The morning read was commandeered by Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, from the word go.  Kathryn said that she felt an instant "attach" to these poems.  As we read through both The More and Fear of the Ride Kathryn assigned specific poems to specific readers as though she were a happy little Napoleon, more correctly like one of those Great Catherines, directing the battle from the comfort of the new reading chair.

It was hard not to notice that Kathryn had brought in a pillow, arm-rest covers and a beautiful length of silk for the back of the chair.  Or the piles of books Kathryn had quickly amassing on both sides of our new chair.

The reading itself was a slick affair, everyone got into Bloom's tight orchestrations and read them with the proper gravitas and glee.

A Blessing For The Waning

Here's to the last suck before birth of separation, before gums have teeth.
To skin that's soft, brown, rough, cracked, bruised, itching, callused,
folding over, touched. To the body held, whole unto itself.

Here's to what the body was before anything changed, which was never.
To the original flat chest of everyone.

Here's to the growths, hoped for and maligned.
The deletions, depilations, bargains, and beseechments.

Here's to loss of consciousness remembered waking up in the morning, in
recovery, bewildered, with toast in your mouth.

To the sleep that was good but is now interrupted and induced.
To pain that lodges, that travels.

Desire breathes like a tide, goes a long way out,
and surprises when it comes back in a swell.
The way grief does.

Here's to falling and to falling, and to falling falling.

To the curse of forgetting and its gift, forgetting.
To the gift of remembering and its curse, memory.

To having had a life. Us creature and our smells.

Here's goodbye to clothes that fit another body.
To the last embrace you didn't know was last.

Here's to kissing the last mouth on yours. Pucker up.
Pucker up now and go.


You all know how much Today's book of poetry loves a "list" poem and Bloom gives us a humdinger for our final poem.

Today's book of poetry was happy to see The More come through the door.  We have admired this woman's poetry for a good long time.  The More is ample confirmation the Bloom is the poet we always thought, but better.

Image result for ronna bloom photo

Ronna Bloom

Ronna Bloom is a poet, speaker, psychotherapist, and author of six books. Her poems have been broadcast on the CBC, displayed in public spaces, recorded by the CNIB, and translated into Spanish and Bengali.
Ronna speaks and writes at corporate events, leads organizational retreats, runs workshops, and does poetry and writing coaching. She brings twenty years of psychotherapy practice to her work as a poet and facilitator.
She is currently Poet in Community at the University of Toronto and Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Ronna has performed with Juno award-winning musician Jayme Stone. A one minute film based on the poem “Grief Without Fantasy” was made by filmmaker Midi Onodera and screened in the Official Selection at the Toronto Urban Film Festival.
Ronna has written 5 books of poetry, which some people really liked. Several of these have been shortlisted for Canadian literary prizes. Her sixth book, The More, was just released October 12, 2017.

“Soulful, urgent, profound.”

“I think this is Bloom’s best collection yet. She actively engages with the world, saying things that I immediately want to write down to make mine.”

Ronna Bloom
from The More
Video: Ronna Bloom



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