Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Poems From the Planet Crouton - Wayne F. Burke (Epic Rites Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Poems From the Planet Crouton.  Wayne F. Burke.  Epic Rites Press.  Tree Killer Ink.  Punk Chapbook Series.  2017.


Okay, I've just read Poems From the Planet Crouton for the third time and I guess that alone should tell you everything you need to know.  Today's book of poetry was interested enough to take Poems From the Planet Crouton around the track.  Of course Today's book of poetry is now familiar with Mr. Burke, we have some experience inside of Burke books, two of his earlier titles, Dickhead (BareBack Press, 2015) and Knuckle Sandwiches (BareBack Press, 2016), have graced our pages.

You can see those two Today's book of poetry offerings here:

Poems From the Planet Crouton is more of the same strong stuff and it is a hard sell.  This is Charles Bukowski in some of less hospitable moments, an angry Milton Acorn throwing beer in ire and indignation.  Wayne F. Burke likes to stir the pot, throw gasoline on the fire.


I wore sneakers while growing up,
nothing but;
shoes were only for church
and had to last
no one was eager to put up 20 bucks
for new shoes
or for anything else;
I got two pair of new pants at
the start of each school year,
one I wore two days in a row
the other three days
and reversed the order
the following week;
one day
while waiting for the school bus on the steps
of the grocery store
Mahoney the wise guy glue-sniffer thief
said to me: "At least I have more than two pair
of pants,"
and I said "Well, we can't all have a wardrobe like
which got a big laugh
and caused Mahoney to 
hate my guts
more than he already


Burke is dissatisfied, disengaged, disinterested and disturbing.  It is persona or persona non grata?  Wayne F. Burke doesn't care and neither does Today's book of poetry.  Burke really does seem to embody a Chinaski ethic/ethos in these subterranean bluesick home-spun yarns of dispossessed indifference.

Today's book of poetry doesn't think that Wayne F. Burke has a heart of darkened cinder but we are convinced he doesn't live anywhere near Mr. Rogers.  It's not malevolence but there is a certain dark malice to Burke's undertoad.

And Today's book of poetry would be remiss if we didn't tell you that Burke and our office has had some correspondence since the posting of our blog/review about Dickhead.  Burke seems as consistent in his letters as he is real in his poems.


My Uncle tells me to go
bring back his bowling shirt
white with gold letters
yes master
right away
but I hesitate too long
and feel the pinch of his fingers
like pliers
on my earlobe
and am led around
the table
a kind of dance
not a waltz
a tango
of pain
that does not end
when he lets go
I carry it with me
up the stairs
and back down
through the years
the gold of the shirt
staining my hands
and nothing I could or
can do
to get the stain out.


This poem left Today's book of poetry in a cold sweat with the understated menace and stoic acceptance of circumstance endured and implied.

Another corker reading here in our offices this morning.  Our new intern, Maggie, insisted that the men should do the reading this morning while she led the women in a robust cat-calling, cursing fusillade of industrious feminist indignation mixed with equal shares of ribald and raucous rollicking roars of poetic approval.  

Wayne F. Burke may be a challenge for the faintest of heart but Today's book of poetry continues to be entertained by the bright light intensity of the honesty in his voice.  Burke's voice never falters or uses a reverse gear.  It is hell or high water.

A better place

No corpse
just a box
with her ashes
in it
and her picture on the wall;
she went up in flames
to wherever--
a dark-eyed over-sized priest
who looks as if he stepped
from "The Godfather" movie
says that she is in Heaven
with Christ;
my older brother gives a eulogy
that brings a tear to my eye
and causes my sister-in-law to weep;
there is nothing else for anyone
to say
except for the priest
who insists that she is in
a better place,
to which
no one disagrees;
we put our coats on
and shuffle out the door
for the eats
at a restaurant which
none of us has been to
since the last funeral.


Today's book of poetry worked at the Canada Council Art Bank for a few days recently and was reminded in the most spectacular way that there is beauty and poetry everywhere we care to look.

While at the Art Bank I was working under the guidance of the sage old master-craftsman Michael the Hewko.  Hewko also built the beautiful shelves that line my office from floor to ceiling.  With his last installation of my shelves he left, on the one exposed shelf side, a brass set of numbers that act as a brace for the shelf and as a decoration, they look splendid.  But he installed these shelves some time ago and he still hasn't told me what the number "415" means.  Leaving work yesterday the beautiful old bastard handed me a small piece of folded paper and said that I wasn't to read it until he was out of sight.  Not sure where he got the quote:

      "Information is the transmission of meaning.  When information is randomized, meaning
        cannot be transmitted, and we have a state of entropy."

It strikes me that Michael the Hewko and Wayne F. Burke are cut out of the same misanthropic cloth.  Poems From the Planet Crouton are all about the transmission of meaning, in a direct clear line straight to the vanishing point.

Image result for wayne f. burke poet photo

Wayne F. Burke

Not once as a kid growing up in a small mill-town in the hills of North Berkshire County, Massachusetts, did I think of becoming a poet. I wanted to become a Major League Baseball player, and if I could have hit a curve-ball with more facility than I showed, I might have become one. Or maybe not: I had a lot of other things beside baseball on my mind in adolescence. Not poetry though. Only in college did poetry show up, for me, on the radar screen. My college roommate, a tough guy from a similar background as mine, and also an ex-jock like me, not only wrote poetry but read what he wrote to whomever would listen. He was beautiful; militant in his advocacy of poetry, and because of his example I began my first attempts to write a poem. I was nineteen at the time and at my second college and destined to attend two more before awarded a "Bachelor of Arts" degree quantifying me a totally worthless entity to the business and commercial world. A world I remained on the periphery of and low-down on the food chain for a number of years--years during which I thought more about writing poetry then actually writing any. Years in which the idea of being a poet was more enticing to me--and far easier--than doing the work involved in becoming a poet (or even a facsimile thereof). At some point in my later 30's--the exact chronology is beyond me--I published a few poems, but poetry was a sort of sideline to me; prose was what I worked at. Rather than poet, I considered myself scholar, critic, and future novelist. That I was 3rd rate as scholar, 2nd rate as critic, and unrated as novelist, did not deter me. I published two books of literary criticism in my 40's, and had numerous book reviews, articles, and some short stories published during my 50's...And then I gave up. Quit. Stopped writing and concentrated on drawing pictures; also went to nursing school and became licensed as an LPN. And then I had a heart attack. Or what I thought a heart attack, later diagnosed as arterial heart disease. Serendipitously, as I see it, I had begun writing again, strictly poetry, just previous to my diagnoses, and after by-pass surgery (triple though I was shooting for quintuple) I began writing daily and with a sort of vengeance. A schedule I have followed these past two years and one that has resulted in my recently published book (June 1, 2015) as well as a previously published volume and at least one future volume (now in larval stage).

Wayne F. Burke
Video: BareBack Press



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, March 18, 2018

Itzhak Perlman's Broken String - Jacqueline Jules (Evening Street Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Itzhak Perlman's Broken String.  Jacqueline Jules.  Evening Street Press.  Sacramento, California.  2017.


The legend of Itzhak Perlman's broken string is certainly worth knowing and Jacqueline Jules quite naturally starts this book off with a brief explanation.  It's a moving story, a great anecdote and a marvelous metaphor chalked full of portent.  It's a corker about perseverance, the nature of creativity and adaptability.  This story provides Jules with all she needs for ballast as she plunges into poems about the nature of grief and loss in a world full of brevity.

Jacqueline Jules is writing about grief and about how loss moves in and takes over the steering of the ship.  For my generation, born in the '50s, these are common enough waters, so many of our friends, family and loved ones have slipped beneath the waves, slipped away from this mortal coil.

Letter to 30 Year Old Self

Time recolors every red moment to pale blue.

The colleague who called you "anal"
was correct. The teacher who criticized
your two year old was tactless but on target.

A broken car on the day of a big interview
may not be the worst luck you have.
There are bigger monsters under the bed
and when they reach for your neck
with large bony digits you will regret
past grief over stained white pants
and stolen credit cards.

Patience buys more sleep than pills.

Answers not yet available
should be tucked beneath the pillow
like a baby tooth for the fairy.

Every life is lived on a high wire,
strung over the treetops,
just below the clouds.

Don't expect to feel safe.

Put one slippered foot in front of the other
and balance, arms extended,
for as long as you can.


Today's book of poetry made a point of playing some Itzhak Perlman recordings while the gang were hammering today's blog together.  As much as we love his playing on John Williams soundtrack for Schindler's List, we went a little more classical today.  Tchaikovsky - Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 35 - featuring Itzhak Perlman.  That certainly set a tone.

Some of the greatest works of art are about loss and grief.  Today's book of poetry thinks of Henryk Górecki: Symphony No. 3 [“Symphony of Sorrowful Songs”], Op. 36 or Pablo Picasso's Guernica.

Jacqueline Jules isn't forgiving anyone in Itzhak Perlman's Broken String for her despair.  Loss leaves everything less vivid and when hope does appear it comes at a terrible cost.  Jules is able to keep the tension taut in Itzhak Perlman's Broken String without ever breaking the string or alienating her audience with the sad tentacles of her on-going dismay.

The Mystery of Falling Objects

They say an apple
from his mother's garden
hit him on the head.

Created the "Eureka Moment"
when all became clear, a fundamental
law of nature revealed.

Though I find it hard to believe
no one noticed before Isaac Newton
that a glass thrown in anger
sinks to the floor. Somehow
we needed Newton's math to prove
we are vulnerable to falling objects.

At least until Einstein came along
with a theory most can quote
but few profess to comprehend.

Gravity, the reason why
everything on earth is pulled
by unknown forces. Why Prayer
cannot modify what is meant to be.

Yet both Science and Faith insist
nothing is random,
and the universe must be forgiven
when one falling body floats in the air
and another crashes with a deafening thud.


Another splendid morning read at the Today's book of poetry offices.  Maggie, our new intern, has been quite enthusiastic about our policy of a morning read of the day's poet.  She invited her friends Tomas and Frieda to join in today's read and they both did themselves proud.

Jacqueline Jules writes the type of poetry we like best here at Today's book of poetry.  It is immediately accessible, emotionally implicating and ultimately entirely rewarding.  These poems go straight to that part of our hearts that knows grief and all of his sad friends.

Dry Needling

If you stick a needle
in a hyper-irritable spot,
taut muscles will relax,
my therapist says.

I laugh at his silly plan.
Better to tease a tiger
than poke the pain.

My therapist insists.

Find the trigger. Stick
a needle in the spot.
Push till you feel
your grief twist
and twitch.

Disrupt the spasm
pinching the nerve
tighter and tighter.


Jacqueline Jules is a prolific author with over 40 titles in various genres to her credit but so far, only a couple of chapbooks of her fine poetry.  Today's book of poetry would enthusiastically welcome more poetry from Jules.  Like Itzhak Perlman, Jules is able to continue to create beauty even after one of her strings has been broken.


Jacqueline Jules

Jacqueline Jules is a former librarian, who was intrigued by every book she put on the shelf. As a reader and as a writer, she does not restrict herself to one genre.
She is the author of 40 books for young readers on a wide variety of topics, including the Zapato Power series, the Sofia Martinez series, Feathers for Peacock, and Never Say a Mean Word Again.
Her poetry has appeared in over a hundred publications including Evening Street Review,Inkwell, Poetica, Killing the Angel, Soundings Review, The Innisfree Poetry Journal, Potomac Review, Imitation Fruit, Calyx, Broadkill Review, and Pirene's Fountain.
She has received the Library of Virginia Cardozo Award, the Spirit First Poetry Award, the Sydney Taylor Honor Award, an Aesop Accolade, the SCBWI Magazine Merit Award, and the Arlington Arts Moving Words Award.
Her poetry chapbooks, Field Trip to the Museum (Finishing Line Press) and Stronger Than Cleopatra (ELJ Publications), were released in 2014. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband where she spends most of her time exercising, reading, and writing. Visit her author website at and her teaching tips blog, Pencil Tips Writing Workshop at

In the apocryphal story told about Yitzhak Perlman during his concert at Lincoln Center in 1995 when one of the four violin strings suddenly tore, and he proceeded to reconceive and play the entire work with three remaining strings, he said that “sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can make with what you have left.” If ever there were a work that explores the aftermath of loss, it is this powerful and highly original collection by Jacqueline Jules. “Every life is lived on a high wire,/ strung over the treetops…//Don’t expect to feel safe.” The poet reminds us not to waste time grieving over “stolen credit cards” and a “broken car on the day of a big interview.” Reminds us how “Joy sits on a seesaw with Grief.” If it’s divinity we seek, best we gather the “stone tablets” and carry them through the wilderness of time. Consolation can be “sunlight/streaming through/serrated shapes…like fingers” that “wipe” away “tears.”
—Myra Sklarew, Author of Lithuania: New & Selected Poems

What plucks at the heart strings of Jacqueline Jules’ intense poems of Itzhak Perlman’s Broken String is a dialectic between faith and loss where science mediates. “Both Science and Faith insist/ nothing is random.” Grief is a squatter—an unwanted presence after friends and family leave the bereaved. The poet dares to challenge Jean-Paul Sartre on despair and suggests to the physical therapist “better to tease a tiger/ than poke a pain.” Everything connects: Emily Dickinson, vending machines, a gypsy girl with rocks in her pockets who steps into a river. This is a smart and smarting journey through the human condition.
—Karren L. Alenier, author of The Anima of Paul Bowles

This lovely and moving collection explores what happens when grief is chronic. After the shock of initial loss, when grief becomes a daily companion, we must learn, as Jacqueline Jules wisely writes, to find music in our crippled instruments. Like Jean-Paul Sartre, we “cross that cruel river”; like Isaac Newton, our personal math proves “we are vulnerable to falling objects.”
—Kim Roberts, founding editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly

"Stronger Than Cleopatra"
Jacqueline Jules
Video:  ELJ Publications: Title Art



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, March 16, 2018

Everything We've Loved Comes Back To Find Us - Allan Cooper (Gaspereau Press)

Today's book of poetry:
Everything We've Loved Comes Back To Find Us.  Allan Cooper.  Gaspereau Press.  Kentville, New Brunswick.  2017,

Allan Cooper's Everything We've Loved Comes Back To Find Us is a little like walking into a log-fire warmed home where you know you are welcome.  The opening section of Cooper's thoughtful and tender volume reads like an open letter to his granddaughter and his daughter.  But they could be the children of anyone, these themes are universal.  

Cooper's poem "Standing At The Open Door" is a joyous yawp of observant optimism and we can all use a good dose of that these days.  Allan Cooper would have us believe that there is much more to be celebrated beyond beauty.  Everything We've Loved Comes Back To Find Us will tell you "What the Cricket Said," and "The Young Raccoon," and "The Heron Flying."

They are all saying a different version of the same Walt Whitman grassy thing.  If Allan Cooper had a mantra it might be to take joy in the present and to celebrate the simplest gifts with grace.  Cooper is almost Zen, almost beatific, in his willingness to wait for the quiet moment simply so he can celebrate it with hope carefully disguised as an appreciation.

Hinges and Latches

I stop at the door in the middle of the night
to make sure the old cat is still breathing.
I will do this many times before I sleep.

I like hinges and latches,
the way the key clicks in the lock
before I open the cabin door.

What's this on the table? Someone has
brought me a gift: daisies and vetch,
goldenrod opening the doorways of the fall.

My child, bundle up this love
I have for you. What we carry with us
to the end is enough.

My father was standing at the open door
the moment you were born. Although
he'd been gone a long, still I felt him there.


Cooper's "Requiem" for his father stands alone as a tribute and a testament to the power of love and how it seeps through the generations with a great undercurrent.  Cooper muses about heaven but by now we know that Cooper believes heaven is on earth.  Somewhere between youthful promise and the jubilee Cooper sees in the eyes of his granddaughter and the memory of his father's gaze -- Cooper realizes the fleeting nature of chance and the true celebrations are always those of the heart.

This is no big leap for Cooper.  We had Milo, our head tech, head in to the stacks because I knew we had some Cooper gold.  Milo came back with Blood Lines (Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1979), Poems Released on a Nuclear Wind (Pottersfield Press, 1987) and The Deer Yard (co-written with Harry Thurston, Gaspereau Press, 2013).  I remembered reading Cooper back in my Acme Art & Sailboat days and thinking that I would die to have a book with Fiddlehead.

Take a look at this gem from Poems Released on a Nuclear Wind.  Cooper has been playing with the same carefully considered tool box for a long, long time.

The Bee Leaves The Deep Flower Reluctantly

I think of so many things
contained by this cold:

old berries and poplar catkins
beneath the ice

the bones of a mole,

a day in 1965
when I played after school
the red shovel
tunnelling through a drift,

and overhead
the tiny crystals
sounding in every flake of falling snow.

     *              *           *

There is no moment that has more weight
than a child's:

moment of summer filled with the promise
of forever,

the smell of fresh grass, and a cricket singing,

the hand of my grandfather leading me
down to a river, through beech and alder,

a river
flowing always

         *           *           *

Basho said,

the bee leaves
the deep flower

Look inside a nest
inside a stone
or tree...

is inward
and divine.


And this, thirty years later, from Everything We've Loved Comes Back To Find Us.

The Wild Clover Plant

There must be some reason why this earth keeps
on breathing. It must be out there somewhere
in the long grass, in the tiniest insect's carapace.

You used to come and get me to show me
the small garter snakes beside the foundation.
In your way, you gave me childhood's second chance.

The yellow mushrooms have gathered in a fairy ring
around the old spruce. When we stand inside it,
I tell you anything can happen.

There are times when I've drunk the dregs of grief.
But I'd rather be the silly man -- arms akimbo --
dancing in the middle of the kitchen floor.

When I say I'm in love with the world, I mean it.
Even the lonely bead of dew on the wild clover
seems enough to feed the world.


Everything We've Loved Comes Back To Find Us is like a drink of ice-cold well-water on a sweaty-hot day.  These poems are clear to see through and pure when put to the poetry bullshit barometer.  

[Milo recently insisted we have one installed, to quote Milo's favourite movie character, "Just in cases."]

Everyone chimed in happy on the morning read today.  Our new intern Maggie led with an enthusiastic charge.  Maggie has only recently joined the Today's book of poetry staff.  We found Maggie in the poetry section of Black Squirrel Books here in Ottawa.  Every city needs a Black Squirrel Books and Ottawa is certainly grateful for all they do for the literary community.  Maggie told Today's book of poetry that her current favourite poets were Susan Musgrave, Sue Goyette and Eileen Myles.  We hired her on the spot.

The Invisible Book

     What is the language using us for?
           - W. S. GRAHAM

The invisible book
writes itself
whether we know it or not.
It's in love with the small things we abandon.


I like sentences that begin with rain
and end in silence.
The stones love it too,
and the white rabbit feeding at the edge of the field.


Heaven can wait,
But I seem to find it
in the fox sparrows
kicking up bugs from the leaves.


No one knows when the last word will come.
That's why I talk so much.
Let's spend the rest of the day with a stone Buddha,
who is always silent, always aware.


I can deal with silence, and age,
two or three books on my shelf.
I want to wander with Rilke near the dark roses.
I want to tell Hesse our homesickness will never end.


I'd like to take a little walk
that ends at water.
All the roads inside me
are turning to sand.


The earth breathes evenly,
takes everything inside: the bones
of a vole, the blue shadow hiding
inside an empty snail shell.


The brook sound reminds me
of the earth's hands,
holding everything steady.
What catches the earth when it falls?


I want to be playful with the light,
show it my shadow in late afternoon.
At night I am the lone presence
moving from room to room.


Night comes. The whole field
is soaked with dew.
Lovers don't mind: they spend
the night wrapped in a cocoon of light.


I step outside to take in
the moon, the clouds, a little wind.
Someone keeps changing my name,
and the small things I fall in love with.


Don't worry,
someone looks over us.
It would be a shame if the world
were a garden where nothing ever grew.


I am the voice that never leaves you.
I am the hand that never sleeps.
I am the voice of the wild grass ripening
the shade inside the light.


It's a good thing that the earth
shakes itself now and then, like a giant
waking from sleep. In the earth's cells,
whole pastures of light are waiting to be born.


Let's be playful, then.
It may be the only way to mend the soul.
A woman stitched it by moonlight
from the sorrows of passion and dew.


Call down the black and white angels of the air.
It may be the only hope we have.
Wings keep turning the pages of the invisible book
that we glimpse but may never know.


Today's book of poetry reminded everyone on our staff that we had purchased our first Allan Cooper title, Blood Lines, before ANY of them were born.  Now almost forty years later Today's book of poetry is proud to share Allan Cooper's most recent title with all of you.  In truth, not much has changed: Mr. Cooper's poems remain instantly engaging and inspirationally humane.

Allan Cooper has found what he was looking for, it is our great pleasure to share it.  Everything We've Loved Comes Back To Find Us is a book of poetry that soothes where our souls ache.  This is always a welcomed tonic.

Allan Cooper

Allan Cooper has published over a dozen books of poetry, most recently The Deer Yard (with Harry Thurston) and The Alma Elegies. He has twice won the Alfred G. Bailey Award for poetry. He is the founder of Owl's Head Press and has been the editor of the intermittently-published literary journal Germination since 1982. Cooper is also a songwriter and performer. He divides his time between Riverview and Alma, NB.



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, March 13, 2018

When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities - Chen Chen (BOA Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities.  Chen Chen.  BOA Editions.  Rochester, New York. 

Winner of the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize

Where to start with Chen Chen and When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities?  Today's book of poetry could write a blog about Chen Chen's sense of humour, it's priceless.  Or, Today's book of poetry could write a blog about Chen's culture jumping headstands and his jumping through hoops, they are both formidable.  Today's book of poetry could write about the love poems of Chen Chen, deeply touching, humble and tender.  How about poems about family and diaspora and acceptance, Chen finds the room on his dance card for all this and more.  You get the picture.

Or, Today's book of poetry could take the proselytizing approach and tell you that When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities will be good for your poetry soul.

First Light

I like to say we left at first light
          with Chairman Mao himself chasing us in a police car,
my father fighting him off with firecrackers,
          even though Mao was already over a decade
dead, & my mother says all my father did
          during the Cultural Revolution was teach math,
which he was not qualified to teach, & swim & sunbathe
          around Piano Island, a place I never read about
in my American textbooks, a place everybody in the family
          says they took me to, & that I loved,
What is it, to remember nothing, of what one loved?
          To have forgotten the faces one first kissed?
They ask if I remember them, the aunts, the uncles,
          & I say Yes, it's coming back, I say Of course,
when it's No not at all, because when I last saw them
          I was three, & the China of my first three years
is largely make-believe, my vast invented country,
          my dream before I knew the word "dream,"
my father's martial arts films plus a teaspoon-taste
          of history. I like to say we left at first light,
we had to, my parents had been unmasked as the famous
          kung fu crime-fighting couple of the Southern provinces,
& the Hong Kong mafia was after us. I like to say
          we were helped by a handsome mysterious Northerner,
who turned out himself to be a kung fu master.
          I don't like to say, I don't remember crying.
No embracing in the airport, sobbing. I don't remember
          feeling bad, leaving China.
I like to say we left at first light, we snuck off
          on some secret adventure, while the others were
still sleeping, still blanketed, warm
          in their memories of us.
What do I remember of crying? When my mother slapped me
          for being dirty, diseased, led astray by Western devils,
a dirty, bad son, I cried, thirteen, already too old,
          too male for crying. When my father said Get out,
never come back, I cried and ran, threw myself into night.
          Then returned, at first light, I don't remember exactly
why, or what exactly came next. One memory claims
          my mother rushed into the pink dawn bright
to see what had happened, reaching towards me with her hands,
          & I wanted to say No, Don't touch me.
Another memory insists the front door had simply been left
          unlocked, & I slipped right through, found my room,
my bed, which felt somehow smaller, & fell asleep, for hours,
          before my mother (anybody) seemed to notice.
I'm not certain which is the correct version, but what stays with me
          is the leaving, the cry, the country splintering.
It's been another five years since my mother has seen her sisters,
          her own mother, who recently had a stroke, who has trouble
recalling who, why, I feel awful, my mother says,
          not going back at once to see her. But too much is happening here,
Here, she says, as though it's the most difficult,
          least forgivable English word.
What would my mother say, if she were the one writing?
          How would her voice sound? Which is really to ask, what is
my best guess, my invented, translated (Chinese-to-English,
          English-to-English) mother's voice? She might say:
We left at first light, we had to, the flight was early,
          in early spring, Go, my mother urged, what are you doing,
waving at me, crying? Get on that plane before it leaves without you.
          It was spring & I could smell it, despite the sterile glass
& metal of the airport--scent of my mother's just-washed hair,
          of the just-born flowers of fields we passed on the car ride over,
how I did not know those flowers already
          memory, how I thought I could smell them, boarding the plane,
the strange tunnel full of their aroma, their names
          I once knew, & my mother's long black hair--so impossible now.
Why did I never consider how different spring could smell, feel,
          elsewhere? First light, last scent, lost
country. First & deepest severance that should have
          prepared me for all others.


We're going to take the chump's choice, the easy way out  --  When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities is flat out, easily one of the very best books of poetry on the horizon.  No amount of my faint praise will do the trick proper justice, you will have to see to believe because Chen Chen may be the best poet you haven't heard of yet.

Chen is perfectly capable of the big subjects but his psyche is on hyperdrive and many of his poems read like the musings of some eloquently drunk monk/priest/poet nodding on good wine and mixing a new scripture with imaginative and gigglish glee.  Chen changes direction with the dexterity of a unicycle riding juggler.  Just another trick he pulls out of his sleeve.

Things Stuck in Other Things Where They Don't Belong

My mother one afternoon in a cowboy hat, sitting on a Texan bench of hay.
Me in the same configuration of time, space, & cowboy hat.
The memory in my brain like a boulder in a haystack, like a bad joke.
The sun in our faces.
The year we spent in Fort Worth, Texas, our first year in Mĕiguó.
The fluent Not-English I spoke in kindergarten.
The blond boy from Germany in the same sandbox with me, laughing at my jokes.
His name, Eammon, like Amen, unlike any Chinese or American name
I'd ever heard, a ticklish raindrop
in my ears.
The soy sauce + Tabasco sauce + mud in my "soups."
The same ingredients + sugar in my "pies."
Me in the biggest kitchen I'd ever seen, running around the "island,"
chased by an elderly white man my father said to call my "Texas grandpa."
My father with his full head of black hair & British-inflected English
in the graduate religion program at Texas Christian University.
The grease-tang of kung pao chicken in my mother's skirts,
in my mother's far-away look, after shifts.
The Bengal tigers in the tightly fenced "forest habitat" in the zoo. Eammon & I
The sand in our shoes, the sun on our faces
as we sweated over castle fortification, all afternoon.
The Goodbye I placed in Eammon's ear.
The motels & motels I played Power Ranger in, leaving Texas
because my father had won a scholarship.
The way I came to learn the French word for "scar"
by seeing it over & over in a French Harry Potter, in my American head,
in the small bald spot on the left side of my head,
which I received one afternoon in Texas,
when I was the skinniest, sincerest Superman, & flew into the kitchen
where my mother was removing from the stove
a saucepan of milk, still boiling,
& we bumped into each other -- "cicatrice."
The cicatrice of Eammon's Christmas card, once kept bedside,
now in a box, a basement.
My dream in the motels that my father's scholarship
was a type of ship & soon we'd get to ride it
& read Massachusetts, a vast
snowy island.


Our morning read was snowed out.  Milo, our head tech, and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, called in with "shovelitis".  Most of the others had "snowflu" or "late bustosis".  I ended up putting Sonny Stitt on the box and bounced Chen Chen's simply marvelous When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities off the walls as the troops slowly marched in.

You all know how much Today's book of poetry loves list poems and Mr. Chen Chen may become the patron Saint of the genre.  He has made something new for all of us that is funny, heartbreaking, illuminating, astonishing, fierce and gentle and sometimes just beautifully bright and sparkly.  Chen Chen is the Joey Alexander of poetry.

You can look Joey up on YouTube and you'll see he cooks on a whole different planet.

Elegy to Be Exhaled at Dusk

I am an elegy to be exhaled at dusk. I am an elegy to be written on a late
October leaf. An elegy to be blown

from its tree by a late October wind. To be stomped on & through
by passersby old & young

& dead & unborn. To be crinkled & crushed into tiny brown-
orange pieces. & then

collected, painstakingly, no painfully, piece by piece, & assembled like
a puzzle or collage or

Egyptian god, but always incomplete, always a few bits & limbs
missing. An elegy to be

misplaced, stuffed away in the attic's memory & only brought out again
once every occupant of the house has

ceased. Yes, I am an elegy properly architectured by ruin. An elegy that has
experienced crows & lake effect

snow, an elegy that has seen Ukrainian snow falling on the forehead
of Paul Celan, Palu Celan's mother,

the German tongue, the tangled tongues of all your literary
& literal ancestors--but more

than that, an elegy that has felt light, the early morning light falling
on your lovely someone's

lovable bare feet as he walks across the wood floor to sit by the window,
by the plants, with a cup of jasmine

& a book he will barely open but love to hold the weight of
in his lap, I am,

my friend, an elegy that has taken into account, into heart & October wind,
the weight of someone's soft

hair-covered head in someone else's warm, welcoming lap.


Today's book of poetry continues to be gob-smacked happy when something like When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities comes along.  And for those of you who remain skeptical after this small sampling - Today's book of poetry is here to tell you that Chen Chen should make you think of a young Gretzky with the powerhouse Oilers, think Glenn Gould in Russia or Aleksandr Baryshnikov with the New York City Ballet.  This is how to make an entrance.

* A special reminder today to check out the BLURBS section below to hear what others think of Chen Chen's When I Grow Up I Want To Be A List Of Further Possibilities.  Today's book of poetry is not the only admirer of Mr. Chen.

Image of Chen Chen

Chen Chen

Chen Chen was born in Xiamen, China, and grew up in Massachusetts. His debut poetry collection, When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize. His work has appeared in two chapbooks and in such publications as Poetry, Gulf Coast, Indiana Review, Best of the Net,and The Best American Poetry. He is the recipient of fellowships from Kundiman, the Saltonstall Foundation, and Lambda Literary. He earned his BA at Hampshire College and his MFA at Syracuse University. He lives in Lubbock, Texas, where he is pursuing a PhD in English and Creative Writing at Texas Tech University. For more about Chen Chen, visit

"The A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize honors a poet’s first book, and this book wears its radical innocence on its literal sleeve. It lives within this 'never of knowing'—ecstatically, agonizingly, where every encounter has the capacity to astonish."
Drunken Boat
"Debut poet Chen Chen’s When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities has, in addition to a killer book title, a beautiful and complex story of identity to share. The collection tells describes a mother/son relationship from the perspective of an Asian American immigrant, queer son, and explores the complicated grief and love of familial bonds."
"Chen Chen’s work is versatile, skillfully adapting to different forms and functions; on one page, there will be a traditional poem, lines grouped together in rhythmic couplets. On another, lines run together into paragraphs, blurring the difference between poetry and prose. Chen Chen’s poems are odes and elegies, considerations of everyday life. In When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen muses his way through the idea of inheritance (specifically, what it means to inherit things like love and family), a concept that is central to his identity as a queer Chinese-American immigrant. American Book Award winner Jericho Brown gave When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities his seal of approval in his introduction to the book."
Literary Hub
"Chen balances the politics surrounding shame and desire with hearty doses of joy, humor, and whimsy in his vibrant debut collection. To consider the titular act of growing up—to recognize what potentialcould mean—Chen must make sense of his past to imagine a better future in his poems. . . . To this end he recounts a personal history in which he playfully addresses deeply serious issues, particularly a longing to defy the fate prescribed to him by family members or others’ cultural ideas of normalcy . . . As a gay, Asian-American poet, Chen casts his poems as both a refusal of the shame of sexuality and of centering whiteness or treating it as a highly desirable trait. Readers encounter sharp, delightful turns between poems, as Chen shifts from elegy to ode and back again. . . . Moving between whimsy and sobriety, Chen both exhibits and defies vulnerability—an acute reminder that there arecountless further possibilities."
Publishers Weekly 
"I am drawn to poetry about the difficulties of family, about the pain of feeling one is a disappointment to their parents, about the sense of separation that can come as a result. Chen Chen’s debut collection is filled with work which explores this universe. This is tricky subject matter to tackle, because it lends itself to both rant and cloying sentimentality and it’s easy (I know from experience) to have them go sideways like a car on ice. . . . The result of Chen Chen’s unique take is that many of the poems in this book show how joy and pain, far from being opposites, coexist and even exist symbiotically."
—Brian Spears, The Rumpus
"What does Millennial poetry look like? One answer might be this wild debut from Chen Chen. He seems to run at the mouth, free-associating wildly, switching between lingo and 'higher' forms of diction. Nothing's out of bounds or off limits, no culture too 'pop' to find its place in poetry . . . nor anything too silly to point the way toward serious aims. And yet this is a deeply serious and moving book about Chinese-American experience, young love, poetry, family, and the family one makes amongst friends."
—NPR Books
"The collection, as the title itself suggests, is about 'further possibilities,' about revising, reinventing, and reimagining the relational modes we currently have. If we are all tasked with being 'someone ‘for’ someone else—a son, a friend, a partner, a student, a dear love,' we cannot afford to be complacent or static in the ways that we inhabit and think about those relations. Interdependence is at the heart of Chen’s writing, and if we are to survive in these troubled times, we must continue to believe that there really are new ways to find the impossible honey."
Up the Staircase Quarterly

"Chen Chen refuses to be boxed in or nailed down. He is a poet of Whitman’s multitudes and of Langston Hughes's blues, of Dickinson's 'so cold no fire can warm me' and of Michael Palmer’s comic interrogation. What unifies the brilliance of When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is a voice desperate to believe that within every one of life’s sadnesses there is also hope, meaning, and—if we are willing to laugh at ourselves—humor. This is a book I wish existed when I first began reading poetry. Chen is a poet I’ll be reading for the rest of my life." 

—Jericho Brown
"Chen Chen is already one of my favorite poets ever. Funny, absurd, bitter, surreal, always surprising, and deeply in love with this flawed world. I'm in love with this book."

—Sherman Alexie
"The radioactive spider that bit Chen Chen [isn’t that how first books get made?] gave him powers both demonic and divine. The bite transmitted vision, worry, want, memory of China, America’s grief, and People magazine, as well as a radical queer critique of the normative. What a gift that bite was—linguistic, erotic, politic and impolitic, idiosyncratic and emphatic. What a blessing and burden to write out of the manifold possibilities of that contact."
—Bruce Smith
"I so deeply love this poet’s imagination where old shoes might walk back up the steps of a house, where one speaker pledges ‘allegiance to the already fallen snow’ and another says ‘Let’s put our briefcases on our heads, in the sudden rain, // & continue meeting as if we’ve just been given our names.’ In precise and gorgeous language, Chen Chen shows us that the world is strange and bright with ardor. He reminds us of the miracle of the sensual and sensory. This is a book I will return to whenever I forget what a poem can do, whenever I am in need of song or hope. If a peony wrote poems in a human language, I think that these would be his poems. If the rain wrote poems… I mean: this is an important work by an astonishing and vital voice."
—Aracelis Girmay 

Chen Chen
PoetryLA Interview
Video: PoetryLA



Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.
We here at TBOP are technically deficient and rely on our bashful Milo to fix everything.  We received notice from Google that we were using "cookies"
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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Borrowed Days - Poems New And Selected - Marc Plourde (Cormorant Books)

Today's book of poetry:
Borrowed Days - Poems New And Selected.  
Marc Plourde.  Cormorant Books.  Toronto, Ontario.  2016.

When Borrowed Days - Poems New and Selected by Marc Plourde came through the Today's book of poetry doors our "Poetry Bat Ears" tingled.  A few minutes with Milo, our head tech, in the stacks and BINGO.  Touchings (Fiddlehead Poetry Books, 1970) jumped out at us.  This charming Marc Plourde chapbook includes lovely artwork by Noreen Hood (Today's book of poetry thinks Noreen Hood was married to Hugh Hood) and posits Plourde squarely into the middle of the Montreal literary scene circa 1970.

There's a lot of water under the bridge from 1970 to the present.  Borrowed Days doesn't miss a beat, it reads/feels like an old lost friend from Montreal has come for a visit.  An old friend who has seen the world and recognizes his small part in it.

Plourde "stopped writing for some twenty years" and concentrated on translating some of the best Quebecois writers of his generation.  Today's book of poetry is glad to see Marc Plourde back in the saddle.  We can tell you, with confidence, that Plourde could cook before his hiatus and it would seem he has picked up the torch again without missing a step.

In Park Extension

Some kids never go home. Evenings
they're out front of the poolroom, nervous
to get away, too young still
for a motorcycle
they stand-sit on the curb
seems almost
they grow out of the pavement, are always there
like the cops, the butcher shop, the Greek
pastry store, and old European
toadlike women each day crossing the railroad
to the factory
and back again, they come
bodies toddling
with the weight of their shopping bags full.

April and how this weather is
too cold still, tonight Carol, Dominic, Lagetti
will go looking for an apartment
hallway, one they've not been
kicked out of; half the fun the kids say
is waiting for the janitor
and running
Carol runs-walks back bent, feet pointed
inward, so is nicknamed "pigeon toes".
It was glue sniffing hurt her
legs, her joints,
she told me
and I didn't believe her at first;
first time I saw her walk I thought it a joke.

Dominic is part of The Tribe,
the neighbourhood gang; he has a red devil's
head etched
on the back of his jacket
and black gloves he flexes his hands in
and makes "snap" leather sounds with,
one fist
hitting the other opened hand, and he has
motorcycle boots, though no motorcycle.
Carol's also part of it;
her initiation came, she says, last week
at the Saint Anthony's
church basement Friday night dance,
in the toilet, they raped her she says.

Music reaches down Howard Street.
Outside, there are kids leaning on a railing,
lighting matches; the jukebox
song comes to them
in pieces, in the traffic
of people opening-shutting the poolroom
door, and it seems
almost they're dancing: Carol, with Lagetti
bent over her, his arms
moving inside her coat. When she turns away
she is tugging her jeans back
up her hips, she laughs and
swears; the popcorn box tucked in her belt
has spilled, pink kernels covering the sidewalk.


Marc Plourde's Borrowed Days places itself at the heart of Canada's two solitudes and that heart beats strongly on every single street that Plourde manifests from memory.  Walking through Borrowed Days tells us more about Montreal than any map or cartographer.

Plourde does venture out of Montreal and his poem "The Shoes of Budapest" tells us all we need to know about the worldly author.  But for the most part Plourde's heart resides on streets of his city where Plourde is a gentle humanist who sees hope in redemption.  These poems see redemption as a duty.

A Prelude

The plot was on a rise;
we had to climb to it, stand lopsided
at the graveside while rain fell
on December snow, on the ground at our feet
like a prelude to the new year's storm.

The family of stragglers was about to leave
when the old woman's youngest son, my cousin,
insisted on shaking everyone's hand
and showily hugged his older brother,
who appeared this morning
after twenty years, jetlagged
and jettisoned in a back pew of St. Francis.

As I entered the church, the younger brother
turned in his seat: I saw a thin face, a goatee,
a removed look. I searched for the boy's face
in the man's and as I looked
the priest began the funeral mass
though he was dying on his feet.

His eulogy remembered Margaret's devotions
at the Stations of the Cross
and her dusting the church statuary,
St. Francis and St. Roch,
but the family knew Margaret in her last year
had got confused, would bang daily
on the rectory door, demanding Sunday mass.
For Margaret, every day had become Sunday.

And the priest, Father Kirouac,
whose most constant parishioner
was demented  -  I wonder,
did he open the door to her?
Was there patience in his face
as he knew, more or less,
they would both be gone before spring?

After mass, seated on the altar steps,
he apologized in shallow breaths
for not accompanying us to the grave.
He outlived her by six weeks.


Today's book of poetry's morning read had Pharoah Sander's "Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord" playing on the box this morning.  We followed that up with Yusef Lateef's sublime "Eastern Sounds" which may be the most overlooked masterpiece in jazz.  These both seemed appropriate choices for the steady and measured voice that Marc Plourde brings to the table.

Maybe it is as simple as this: a particular tone in a voice that tells you it seeks reason and clarity.  Plourde is all over that.

Greyhound to Burlington

It rains and stops the morning long; we sleep
the long drive through mountain clouds.
Tomorrow, who will remember this?
Mist floating like moss in the pine trees,
grey mist blurring the mountains to memory; now
blossoms peck and spatter the glass, the windshield
wipers not moving, not moving yet.


Today's book of poetry is always going to have all the time in the world for poetry like Marc Plourde's Borrowed Days.

Whether he is inside the microcosm of a 1970's Montreal neighbourhood or aloft in the big world beyond Plourde's poems engage, inform and entertain.  Just like an old friend.

Image result for marc plourde poet photo

Marc Plourde

Born in Montreal in 1951, Marc Plourde established himself very early both as a poet and as a translator. His books of poetry include Touchings (1971) and The White Magnet (1973). His books of translation include The Grandfathers by Victor-Lévy Beaulieu (1975) and The Agonized Life by Gaston Miron (1980). He has published no original poetry in book form in over forty years.


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