Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #57

Stomach and lungs across fence stump,
Eyes like a bobbing bubbled level
One inch from grey crossgrains
Whose estuary-scratches meander under
My appendix, and the bubble, caught,
Is propped up along miles of tracking beams
Where burnished dusk meshes, embeds
The perpendicular border, a breeding
Suspicious line slicing land into
Dichotomies of hysteria

When all anyone else needs to do
Is note the same declensions of grassspears
On either side
And the wind’s unconstricted choices.

Wrenched neck,
A grotesque cobra, fangless, hanging
My one-piece jumper-hood over my eyes.
The flathead nail I wrench out in my fist
Leaves a dusty suppuration,
Bloodless, socketed by the coming black air.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Brief Notes On All Books Of Poetry Read In 2008

Here are blurbs for all 83 books of poetry I’ve read this year. A handful were rereads, but most of them I encountered for the first time. (I didn’t count the times I dipped into pre-WWII classics, or journals, or online entries.)

Ken Babstock, Days Into Flatspin. (already blogged).Very good follow-up to his opener, Mean, though the philosophical reflections on his experiences detracted from the brilliant immediacy of the book’s first half.

Carmine Starnino, With English Subtitles. Steady progression from The New World to Credo to this volume. Starnino’s ushered in wider colour, mood, and subtleties of diction.

Geoffrey Cook, Postscript. The repetitive iambics distracted me from the strong narrative, and from the lyrical enjoyment not pertaining to rhythm. I’ll have to try this one again.

George Elliott Clarke, Blue. Powerfully voiced and unapologetic, detailing lives and issues in an onrush of verbs and nouns. My only quibble is with sonic repetitions which seem, at times, gratuitous.

Tim Lilburn, Names Of God. Lyric creativity, originality.

Tim Lilburn, From The Great Above She Opened Her Ear To The Great Below. I prefer allusions which crisscross and make historical, spiritual connections. This seemed an exercise in scholarship, a distancing consideration, rather than an invigoration of the lives of its heroes.

Tim Lilburn, Tourist To Ecstasy. Excellent. Marries exhortation and fast-flowing rhetoric with commentary on actual people.

Tim Lilburn, Moosewood Sandhills, To The River and Kill-Site. Similar in their emphasis on cloudy microscopic natural evocation twinned with allusive obscurity, all three volumes are katabatic poetic statements which piled up a brick façade between poet and (at least this) reader.

George McWhirter, Queen Of The Sea. Some interesting lyrical work, though filled with conjunctive quirks which distracted, at times, from some fine rhythms.

Mary Dalton, Red Ledger. The stresses are so strong it’s like eating a sumptuous hearty meal with most every fifteen-liner. The aftereffects are then pensive and satisfying. I’m in awe, and envious, of Dalton’s tone, here; she’s captured an incredible synthesis of sorrow and insouciance.

Lyle Neff, Bizarre Winery Tragedy. Nothing wrong with countering another unfortunate prevailing feature of contemporary poetry, that of preciousness. Too bad that Neff leaves little of substance with this promising opportunity in style and voice.

Lyle Neff, Ivanhoe Station. Much better. I very much enjoyed this volume. The anecdotes are more mature, the suggestive after-effects greater and deeper.

Margaret Atwood, Selected Poems 1966-1984. A well-arranged selection of all Atwood’s poetry, sans her last two volumes. I’d forgotten just how powerful, in metaphor and drama, some of these poems are. Unfortunately, even in this Selected, the Atwood wet blanket, in diction and vision, saturates the collected thrust.

David McFadden, Why Are You So Sad? I realize this voice is attractive to many: like Bukowski, like Purdy, the reader can sit back and be entertained or bored by an amusing and prolix raconteur, but, as with the aforementioned duo, it doesn’t flick my bic. Personality is one thing; artlessness another. If this verse were run together into short paragraphs (don’t they call that ‘flash fiction’ these days?), it would be improved by the switch in genre.

Margaret Atwood, The Door. Awful. After the very good, suggestive opener, the book collapses into superior plain talk, rhetorical goofiness, reductive theme-based falsity.

Paul Vermeersch, Between The Walls. I wanted to like this a lot more. The concerns are close to some of my own: the interior lives of those who populate the vast majority of our country: suburbanites. Drama was set up nicely, but the conclusions often stated the repetitive stereotypes, that of the vague uneasiness of those involved. I realize this is most often the point, but I think a lot more could be said here.

Lyle Neff, Full Magpie Dodge. Good, but not up to the quality of Ivanhoe Station. Also, the cuteness factor is increasing. I hope Neff doesn’t get carried down that path for his next efforts.

David McGimpsey, Lardcake. Very enjoyable. There’s a poem in here which is remarkable for its fusion of sadness and humour: the imaginative interior dream of the fictional lives of those in the old sit-com “Bewitched”. This is heads above anything I’ve seen in the area of literary responses to pop culture (though I admit, I don’t readily track much of it). And it’s a great response in depicting the lives of bored suburbanites, echoing my hopes for what I found wanting in the next-to-above book.

Tim Lilburn, Orphic Politics. A little better than Lilburn’s previous three efforts. The metaphors are -- a few times, at least -- effectively pinned by the circumstances of the volume: autobiographical illness. If Lilburn would continue in this line, he could write some incredible lyrics.

George Murray, The Cottage Builder's Letter. A few excellent subjective historical narratives.

George Murray, The Rush To Here. Couldn’t get into this one. The philosophical statements of assumed authority turned me off, as did the (ironically different) open-ended questions. And the thought-rhymes were a nice trick, though I didn’t see how it enhanced the necessities of these particular sonnets.

Patricia Young, More Watery Still. (already blogged) Some very nicely done lyrics. Emotional openness with intelligence. Appealing nouns, evoking art, nature, and human foibles and joys.

A. F. Moritz, Rest On The Flight Into Egypt. Voice, tone, mood, hook me. This volume, to coin a cliché, didn’t “speak” to me. I’m devoting more time and energy to his Early Poems, and’ll have something more substantive to say about those in a while.

Susan McCaslin, At The Mercy Seat. (already blogged) Sermons are such whether they’re conducted by Presbyterian pulpit-pounders or populist Buddhistic followers. That McCaslin has tapped into an appetite for the latter doesn’t -- in itself -- make her poems any better. Abstractions pile up, as do the bromidic conclusions.

Don McKay, Birding, Or Desire. McKay captures some lovely lyrical snapshots, but his tendency, in many poems, to insert himself into most scenescapes subverts any organic fascination they might otherwise enjoy.

Susan Glickman, The Power To Move. Intelligent, affecting emotional anecdotes. I wish she’d get back to poetry; I think she’d have some interesting things to say.

Seamus Heaney, Selected Poems 1965-1975. Heaney’s work reminds me of a time poets used to chisel every word into a meaningful avenue with every other word in the piece. Sound lives!

A.F. Moritz, Now That You Revive. See note above on Rest On The Flight Into Egypt.

Ralph Gustafson, Tracks In The Snow. (Reread) Gustafson’s one of my fave Canadian poets. I’d only read this volume one time before, and a long time ago, at that. Intelligence and wit are very subtle in all of Gustafson’s later work, and there’re many small delights here.

Robert Hilles, Nothing Vanishes. (already blogged) This is taking flatness to a level new level. Tenderness and compassion, by themselves, aren’t poetry, nor are they even necessary for poetry.

Judith Fitzgerald, Habit Of Blues. This was very tough sledding. Even if it’s not narcissism, it’s certainly mired in its one-to-one obsessions. And the puns get tired fairly quickly. (I love the “low” humour of punning, but here it seems gratuitous.)

Jon Paul Fiorentino, Hello Serotonin. Instantly forgettable.

Patrick Friesen, Carrying The Shadow. (already blogged) The mawkish end-lines sunk at least one-third of the poems in this collection. And I didn’t enjoy the others, either.

rob mclennan, bagne and aubade (already blogged) cut up the words from a small dictionary, toss them in a hat, pluck out 60 of them w/out looking, and after making small allowances for syntactic adjustment for semi-literate ease …… voila! instant poetry!

Martin Espada, City Of Coughing And Dead Radiators. (already blogged) Social seriousness. Lyrical and narrative power. A brilliant contrast to the theoretic irrelevancies issuing from workshop and university cookie-cutter factories.

Ralph Gustafson, Shadows In The Grass. (Reread) Subtle anger, proud assertion, joyous recollection. The euphonic connectives are so deep I always discover something new no matter how many times I go over these poems.

John B. Lee, The Pig Dance Dreams. (already blogged) There are many powerful images, and a few outstanding poems, in this collection. The only thing that mars it is a propensity for piled-on similes. That’s too bad, because they either don’t work to make the connection, or they do work as such, but dilute the arresting image by redundancy.

Douglas Fetherling, Selected Poems. The emotion is too distancing. More effective as reportage than as poetry, which is not surprising considering his other work.

Mark Cochrane, Boy Am I. There’s some talent here, but it’s at the service of didactic defensiveness and simplistic social siding.

George Bowering, Changing On The Fly. Diaristic noodling. Unaccomplished, self-congratulating in-jokes. Insulting to, and dismissive of, any audience outside the author’s own artistic circle.

John Pass, Stumbling In The Bloom. (already blogged) Some colorful images, but flabby, uncoordinated, and technically maladroit.

Harold Rhenisch, Free Will. (already blogged) Witless poem sequence that rides the felicities of Shakespeare, but releases into the moat.

George Johnston:, Endeared By Dark: The Complete Poems. A handful of these poems will stand out as Canadian classics. A little lightweight in its entirety, but there’s always room for subtlety and technical piquancy in any poetic option, especially so when those qualities are often lacking in contemporary verse.

Robyn Sarah, Questions About The Stars. Proves that accuracy and suggestive depth can result from bland anecdotes. Many anecdotal-obsessives think that an anecdote is fascinating in itself, I suppose because “hey, it happened to me, so it’s significant”. But Sarah drew me in. Who cares about content as a stand alone? If that’s the case, pulp fiction and newspaper reports have it over poetry any day.

Steven Heighton, Stalin's Carnival. (Reread) (already blogged). Three bold lyrical sections, the middle and best of them being an amazing, highly personal study of Stalin, one effort therein being one of the best Canadian poems I’ve ever read.

Steven Heighton, The Ecstasy Of Sceptics. (Reread) Original lyrical shaping. Very good sea poems.

Ted Hughes, New Selected Poems (1957-1994). A bulging Selected. Hughes’ first two books are excellent: strong yet subtle metaphorical mother lodes. With the “Crow” obsession, his heroes become anthropomorphized, and the reader has to be familiar with a wide library of multi-ethnic folklore to get the connections. A return to form approximating his early efforts then occurs in the late 70s -- a lower, though consistent, quality.

George Bowering, His Life. Artless reminiscences.

Elise Partridge, Fielder's Choice. A few remarkable poems, and I enjoyed the variety of topics, mood, and rhythm.

Evie Christie, Gutted. (already blogged) Very uneven collection. Passionate, with surprisingly apt metaphors, at its best; at its worst, private messaging.

Eric Ormsby, Time's Covenant. (already blogged) Excellent Selected, though a little top heavy with recent work.

Fraser Sutherland, The Matuschka Case. (already blogged) Wise mix of content and mood. Entertaining, filled with people and unpopular psychological conclusions (I swear that Canadian poets are among the most ‘spiritually’ attuned in the English language, at least in their own eyes).

John Steffler, Helix. (already blogged) It took quite a while for me to warm up to this Selected, but the last book’s entries were a pleasure to read.

Weldon Kees, Collected Poems. My first encounter with Kees’ work. Slim collected body , and I was surprised, because of that, to see so much repetition in form, diction, mood. He had one note to sing, but he sang it well (reminiscent of Robinson Jeffers).

Christopher Patton, Ox. Tight, sonic interplay. The stertorous section two left me cold, and a few of the end-line spiritual recyclings put me off (“That thou art” sounds more convincing coming from Nisargadatta, e.g.), but the imaginative welded to the particular was largely effective and realized.

Ken Babstock, Airstream Land Yacht. (already blogged) The best book of new (to me) Canadian poetry I’ve read in years. I haven’t seen anyone else in this country, lately, write with such musical enjoyment, such a seamless thread between experience and thought, as has Babstock., especially in this book.

David Solway, Franklin's Passage. What a dramatic letdown after his excellent Saracen Island. The most diligent research on this topic can’t replace or even remotely approach some familiarity with the experience these men were put through. Because of that, the book was emotionally flat, and embarrassingly so when considering the story.

Adam Sol, Crowd Of Sounds. I enjoyed this one. Confident, various, and thoughtfully constructed.

Jean Mallinson, Between Cup & Lip. Unmemorable. Some interesting erudition, but as emotional engagement and original formation, a no-go.

Michael Redhill, Asphodel. Again, unmemorable, but I think it’s unfair to say so, since I didn’t give enough time to this one. (And I just read it two months ago, more should be registering.)

Christopher Levenson, Arriving At Night. Unmemorable, by poem or line.

Eric Miller, Song Of The Vulgar Starling. As a more accomplished McKay, Miller’s birds I can experience. The diction and allusions sometimes flew over my head, but I enjoyed the book.

Eric Miller, In The Scaffolding. Enjoyed this one slightly more than the above Miller.

Wayne Clifford, The Exile's Papers: Part One. I see a lot of Berryman’s sonnets in these by Clifford. Interesting and purposeful distortions in syntax, dramatic emotional shifts, the high tone with the low. Some of the referents confused me, as did some of the resolution or ambiguity of content, but an ambitious and worthy collection, all the same.

Don McKay, Apparatus. A few very good efforts, but, as for the rest, the wit didn’t work for me, either as a tie-in to the “outer” subject matter, or as humour or irony.

Bobbie Livingston, The Chick At The Back Of The Church. The sexual content in the book’s first section was decent (or perhaps indecent and partially effective); the rest was quite banal in form and aspiration.

John Reibetanz, Midland Swimmer. Carefully crafted. Overwritten, at times -- sometimes it’s good to decompress.

Matt Rader, Miraculous Hours. Unremarkable debut. A sameness in content, voice, and diction. One very good poem, and a few other good lines.

Matt Rader, Living Things. (already blogged) An excellent collection; a dynamic improvement over his first effort. Sound, sense, and a successful variation in form and voice perspective.

Tim Bowling, Low Water Slack and The Memory Orchard. (already blogged) Disappointing and frustrating to read because of the fascinating subject matter, as well as the sporadic talent on display. Prolix, too abstract, and precious.

Christopher Wiseman, In John Updike's Room. Although he boldly takes chances with placing his heart on his sleeve with the blitz of fond commemoration, his work usually succumbs to the fatal poetic disease of sentiment. Grammatically uninteresting, as well.

Chris Banks, Bonfires and The Cold Panes Of Surfaces. (already blogged) Philosophically and spiritually self-important in the popular abasing manner, these poems left me cold.

Sonnet L’Abbe, A Strange Relief. I couldn’t find an entry point to relate to, let alone enjoy, this book.

Sharon Thesen, The Pangs Of Sunday. A mildly enjoyable Selected at times, though there wasn’t a definitive voice, troubling for a long retrospective. (The Lowry poems were a surprising exception.)

Richard Outram, The Promise Of Light. Tighter than a soldered screw in a Brink’s truck. An appealing lightness, at times, but the technical precision quickly became smothering.

Steven Price, Anatomy Of Keys. This volume must have taken Price a long time and a lot of effort to compile. 130 + pages of poems of (often) complex development, it’s amazing that his debut entry has so little filler. The sound is crisp and apt, the suggestiveness often multi-layered, and the narrative unflagging in interest. The only quibble is with a gathering force of earnest overreach towards the end. Price has a tough act with a follow-up, but even if he fails to hit another home run, he’s already done more than enough to make a lasting impression.

Richard Outram, Hiram And Jenny. A delightful surprise after reading The Promise Of Light. The technical virtuosity is still there, but it serves an insouciant voice, making for a warm contrast between control and release.

Christian Bok, Eunoia. (already blogged) A colossal overcoming of self-imposed strictures, the book is a fascinating revelation of what can be accomplished with hard work. Unfortunately, (or perhaps fortunately), poetic success isn’t defined purely by jumping through a tight fire of technical hoops. The gathering insanity of its music, along with its nullity of voice and content, make the work much less interesting and important than the hoopla surrounding it would indicate.

Tim Bowling, The Witness Ghost. (already blogged). The most uneven collection I’ve read all year. A few amazing poems, quite a few more remarkable lines in others, but a frustrating lack of sustained quality throughout, considering his successes.

Ethereal Beauty #56

Falling gangsters unravel
On a plexiglass gavel.
The sentence is swift and final:
I'm to be coated in vinyl

While the harridans guffaw.
They're all above the law.
But not, no, not me, I'm afraid,
I'm afraid I'll never get laid

In the stocked, broad pond I've absconded,
Am persued by an anaconda
The size of a pregnant tuna
Called the 'arcing moon'. Ah!, luna.

Curt, blurry, my vision shorts out;
I travel quickly to all ports south
Where I'll linger in dark detail.
Write my notary and post my bail.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #55

Immaculate incursions.
‘I could've had religion’ on a braille sky.
Death rattle of hymn singalongs.
Wonderbread of body burning out on plates.
Barnyard protests.
Eyes of wondering stones.
Testamentary footnotes.
Plate-glass platitudes.
Gryphon paws on mantels.
Chambermaids caressing Gideon bibles.
A hammock tied between two crosses.
Shrivelled figs in conforming lines.
Gyprock pulpits.
Out-of-tune harps resting aslant steeple spires.
Church keys tied to neck string.
Cold brass sceptres toppling into baptismal rivers.
Cigar box Holy Grail.
Thumbprints on lumpy necks in rotting pews.
Schubert's monophonic Masses played on organs with missing keys.
Wine in leaky caskets.
Prayer shawls draped in forgotten coat racks.
Weaving rheumatic weapons of psalms.
Aparejos in painted turquoise at the Pearly Gates.
Cobwebs in collection plates.
Pale faces of transcribing monks in dusty library basements.
Scrubbed faces of smiling missionary men buttoned to the throat.
Slack faces of somnolent parishioners pretending to pray.
Transfigured faces of children by pay-as-you-go mangers.
Yellow-black pansies over rich dirt over broken church stoops.
Fleas on hymn books.
Termites in narthex joists.
Sermon fevers racing through the air.
Church parking lots where every car is within straight white lines.
Every trumpet blasting in minor keys.
Every soloist forgetting the epiphanal chorus.

I wander in the dewy fields, lost
And trembling, trembling,
For God's great promise has conjured
Inner growth, rampant,
From where I, womblike,
Wrestle wildflowers in tall fields
In a bubble of eye-tornado
In a backwards-played Wynton Marsalis Christmas carol.

Ethereal Beauty #54

I got spurs that jingle-jangle-jingle;
I got burrs that tickle scrotal walls.
I got fleas in hairpiece and suspenders,
And so please dip me in holy whine.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #53

I held up a bank with a buttered yam.
Should have gone with the battering ram.

The clink was austere.
I was in last year
Rifling the cold bars apace the pacing car-thief.

Nervous in verse,
I shied, averse
To showdowns with pogey-lifers who flaunt stogies.

Pitiful file.
The lonely mile, etching
‘I love you’ and ‘days left’ over and under numbers.

They let me go
After two months, ho!
My poems caused the suicide rate to spike.

Tim Bowling's "The Witness Ghost"

Tim Bowling's The Witness Ghost (2003) is a book length elegiac sequence on the death of the author's father. This -- the topic and the multiple poem approach to it -- has been a popular one recently in Canadian poetry, and the subject is a good personal fit for the moods previously dominant in the Ladner-born poet's work.

The volume's obsession is also beneficial for Bowling in that the serious singularity of his reflections naturally shortens -- in line length and total lines -- most poems, giving them a concentration lacking in other books.

Abstractions are also reduced here, and when they pop up, they usually act as complimentary accompaniment to the raw images, not stand-alone precious statement substituting for experience. I say "usually", because a few egregious spiritual didacticisms rankle. "The Grieving Place" opens with: "If you're human, you'll have to go there", and continues in the next stanza with: "But the place will be yours: no one/ can join you in it". The death of a loved one is not an unusual event; in fact, it's kinda par for the course unless one makes an early exit in a ball of flame. I've lost my father, my mother, my oldest brother, all grandparents, many animals, friends (one by murder, two by suicide) , and I don't need stock bracing "knowledge" in this vein.

Bowling, however, erases the bromides in that poem with the follow-up "How the World Looks After a Death": "I can tell you what it's like,/but you already know, or will,/or it won't be the same for you at all." Much better. But it's a few lines further along in the same poem where I was brought up. I came to a complete stop of wonder, paused indefinitely, then reread the same two lines countless times, before completing the poem. Here they are: "the hollow whalebeat of a shunted boxcar/echoing across yards of ash and cinder." Those are easily among the best lines of poetry I've read this year. I could hear that spondaic "whalebeat", its loud flukes thumping on a distant plain, followed by the doubly unstressed silence which still contained the "echoes" of the rattling freight. And note the allusiveness of "hollow", "ash", "cinder". Unfortuantely, the poem's ending destroys the build-up and profundity: " .... raking/with its claws/fierce tears out of the eyes of God." Ugh! This is the frustrating unevenness of Bowling, a poet with exceptional talent and possibility (two lines from "West Coast": "a salmon lifts and turns over,/ the arc of a pewter spoon."). That said, though an organic strength and consistency in the complete poem is not Bowling's calling card, there are some wonderful exceptions in this book, most notably "Since July" and "Last Time Home, Late Spring".

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Upcoming Poetry Readings

I'll be reading verse the evening of Thursday, January 8 at Little Mountain Neighbourhood House, 3981 Main St. (just north of 24th Ave.) in central Vancouver. Doors open at 7:30 pm; open mic at 8 pm, then my gal and I co-headline at 9 pm. (Verna Chan will be playing guitar and singing either before or after my unaccompanied reading.) For further info, contact Rick Keating at (604) 684-5922. Free admission.

I'll also be on C0-op Radio 102.7 FM Vancouver down the pike (details sketchy at this time) with singer/songwriter Pancho Pace.

Merry Ho Ho!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #52

Uploaded dice, bad happenstance whoever
Is met, folding arms and armchairs, harmless
Pamphlets citing religious nostrums half-
Baked into a queasy pie. Entice, shy.

Stillborn verse in overall pockets fingered
With shamed recall falling one, two, three, four ….
Then bonked on the noggin with Moses’ number ten,
Next door’s ox avoiding the broad light.

Ghosts of tomorrow, divulge your itinerary
And sail into my living coffin, green and sour
With rank algae oscillating like piano keys
A cloistered Dostoyevskyan hammers in mad clusters.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Rachel Lebowitz' "Hannus"

Hannus (2006) is Rachel Lebowitz' creative biography of her great-grandmother Ida Hannus. I've found that this hybrid-genre works better (more seamless, with more fictive possibilities, while also keeping a genuine artfulness) than, say, creative big-event history or historical narrative fiction, where the author can have the best of both worlds, using the genre as an excuse for sloppy factual sequences as well as pinning character revelations on static known actions of those historical figures.

Lebowitz undercuts these problems by a foundational caring (the eponymous protagonist is her great-grandmother, as mentioned), and it pays off with a deeper concern in looking at Hannus not just as a historical curiosity, but as a complex woman caught in the trying circumstances of an emigrant sailing into the unknown without a pot to piss in. The generational hardships are carefully stitched together with local and continental Finnish history, and are further tied by daring structural and genre-bending approaches: news clippings alternate with quotes from the socialist founder (Matti Kurikka) of their commune, family prose-drama, brief lyrical spotlights on Ida's struggles and (occasional) joys, archival sepia photos, personal commemorative lyrics by the author, and even snippets from Ida's journal. It reminded me, in this way, but also by contrast, of Paul Metcalf's (1976) The Passage, though in that experimental work, the newspaper reports dominated the book, at the expense of authorial creativity. In other words, it was more a pure arrangement.

This book is fascinating to me not only because of its careful rendering, its infusions of life into sketchy history, but because as a second-generation Finn, there is much here I can relate to. And it rings true. Finland is a small country, the population not much greater than five million, but there are fierce concentrations of Finnish immigrants in areas which reminded the early settlers of where they were from: the cold lake- and fir-expanses of Minnesota and Thunder Bay, Ontario, as well as Vancouver Island, where both of my parents were born. Because of the relatively small presence of Finns in any context -- whether burgher or burglar -- the general non-Finnish population has little idea of their cultural "archetype" (to use that awful, hoary word). Hannus correctly details the complexity of the Finnish psychology, whether Old World or contemporary: taciturn, given to drink, either hard working or lazy, either weak or independently brave, possessing a droll humour, and above all, stoic.

I haven't quoted from the volume since it would be too difficult to get a feel for any brief passage without the multiple-voiced context involved, but many lines and images either sing with pain, or startle with interior, convincingly subjective, voice. OK, then, one such example from the initial sailing: "Those emigrants who stared out at the horizon did so to steady themselves, to hold back the taste of bile." (p. 23).

Ethereal Beauty #51

“Just remember, little turdsmith,
The Lord loves all.
We don’t have to earn His grace.
Faith is the answer. And cash,
Through His intermediary, yours truly, of course.
When you become an adult
The circle will be complete
And you can proselytize
With all the charm of a retired senile professor
Giving a lecture on Thomas a Kempis
To a misbooked Glee Club.
Let your sentiment
Percolate like an oldtimers’ choir
Squawking ’Amazing Grace’ for the thousandth rendering.
Communion? That’s for the afterlife
And it’s none of your business
The tax shelters of God
And the varieties of grape and smoke.
Channel your self-disgust
Into a platform bouquet.
Love your coming dentures and go in fleece.”

The minister’s bland smile vanished
As if a director had yelled “cut!”,
His clip-on collar, stained with sweat
The colour of nicotine gradations,
Flung against the tin chalice,
Sagged, a deflated halo.
Ten years old, I gazed over his crown
At Jesus’ face in copper frame
And understood the fashioned borders,
Fixed, rim-rivetted, pinching off
The swinging limbs.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christian Bok's "Eunoia"

I recently finished (for the first time) Christian Bok's Eunoia, the lipogram that takes a straightjacketted unfortunate, then adds to his predicated predicament a series of medieval foolproof padlocks, a Victorian corset too tight for Twiggy, and a demand for the remanding of stray vowels into a fetters' prison, the 'Get Out Of Jail Free' card unavailable for $50 or 50 stiff drinks.

First up: a belated congratulations to Bok!

One never knows in what way the putative 'avant-garde' wishes to have their work experienced. Bok's friend and poetic brother, Steve McCaffery, states that any response to his (McCaffery's) work is equally valid and valuable as that of any other. But (disingenousness?) Bok has forcefully challenged, with careful and rational counter-arguments, criticism of Eunoia, even going to the defensive pre-emptive length of deriding those critics in the text itself: "I dismiss nitpicking criticism which flirts with philistinism." (p. 50). Of course, the severe constraints Bok has imposed on his experiment render this passage technically correct, though exposing it as a glib non-sequitur. (Bok may agree with this assessment: he chides with "Isn't it glib?" several lines up, but the 'avant-garde' loves eating its cake while also permanently displaying the ten-tiered gooey monstrosity for all to salivate over. Pick any angle, and you lose. C'est la vie.) I'll take McCaffery at face value, and proceed.

The overriding fact, concern, hub of Eunoia is not its much ballyhooed single-vowel (with additional) strictures; the elephant in the study is the musical monotony of the text, which, when voiced, amplifies the jackhammer-at-asphalt madness of its emotional dysphonia. The only vowel which branches out semi-successfully is the middle surprise of "O". Because of the (sound AND sound) morphological diversity of "O", there's a more pleasing and affective mix of reverberant music: "Brown logbooks show how scows from Norfolk go from ..." (p. 66). But with the swiftly accumulating 'ah's and 'i's, the unpleasant comparisons are unavoidable: it's like fucking with the same stroke for two hours; like playing the same F and F# on the piano for an entire etude or concerto; like eating a meal of potato skins, potato pulp, potato soup, and black potato eyes, with potato pudding for dessert; like walking up and down the same claustrophobic back alley -- however beautiful -- in Venice without exploring the rest of the city. I suppose it's an aesthetic predilection, and that's that. Whatever floats your punt. But I'd rather free up the parameters, where decision-making becomes more perilous with the increased internal responsibilities of emotional and technical and content-driven puzzles, instead of the practically painful but artistically bankrupt feat of mastering a Rubik's cube constructed by a grand chess master.

I suppose Bok would counter the "artistically bankrupt" charge by saying all verse is a technical, metapoetical game. I disagree (it can have those elements, but not exclusively so) , and again, all one can do at that point is to disagree on poetics and go separate ways. But it can't exactly end there. Because however one sees the content of Eunoia (I'm annoyed, ya!), the narrative, such as it is, still makes "sense", at least on a surface level. Even here, though, I have reservations: "The hemp, when chewed, lessens her tenseness (hence, she feels serene)" (p. 37): the parenthetical conclusion isn't a given. A lessening of tenseness also often results in depression, a far cry from serenity. But Bok's characters, if we can even inflate them as such, have no context, no personality, no idiosyncrasy, no grounding in experience or reality, so what he says of them doesn't matter. Without complexity, responsibility vanishes. But what I found funny was a gathering comparison the breezy, scattered voice of the book's narrator conjured up: it reminded me of those second-rate (pick a language)-to-English handbooks with their awkward, no-context conversational sentences: "Pepe likes to go to the restaurant at one in the afternoon when the birds eat the crumbs left on the table by Pedro." This is "content", and it is definitely a voice. Content, voice, music: three main poetic elements, at least in my understanding and enjoyment.

Ethereal Beauty #50

Outmanned by starboard mermaids, I perspire
On thick log book where squibs alternate
With SOS entreaties to the choir
Of endless censors. Verse and church equate.

Flush with hide/rush tides of mutable song,
Gravid as scored headboards in a sick room,
Bursting blue-flared waves are hurtling strong,
Drowning my lonely sermons up the boom

In crowsnest pulpit piled with mags of cows
And cowed thin children hidden in the woods,
The elided passages ….
Their caught, shocked faces stamped with ‘why’ and ‘should‘.

Soaked wine in bread, lined, the choir sings and sways,
Scaffolded rope a haloed hemp of bay.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #49

As if, love tender in eyes of blue,
Flowering pistil, honey skies,
God's hand in ways of amour,
Sunny wool, womb of Ruth, smiles.

Oceans of love in wonder awed,
Hands to breast, heaven above ....
Acch! Dentures of madmen!
Metal molars testing

The pale bones of picked rats.
Folders of barca-loungers,
Fitful rests. Tea cosies.

Doilies, napkin rings,
Claw-footed side dishes.
I had the stare, and wear
Asbestos for my long roasting.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #48

I retrofitted my dentures for heightened gumption.

I put Oxydol in your porridge, Gravol in your gravy.

I wait patiently in the high wind for a sign that I'm saved.

Check yourself into the National Bank, you'll get no interest.

Ravens follow me on my morning peripatetic confusions.

You see, you really do have a faithful following.

I trade allegories with fence-sitters when the wine-cups run low.

Take another side, away from my space where bikini'd tack-ons thrust.

The end is near, and Jesus is hiding under a heifer till I give the sign.

.... The middle finger whenever someone challenges you on your scribblings.

Time was when respect and honour were kings, and I mounted with ease.

Earned in your diseased mind, you honoured your ego. The kites have landed.

I purchased strobe lights to play on my microphoned barnyard gallery.

The lights grow dimmer, the horizon has handed you the bill.

The dust leaps at my ankles, oracle scars form on my forehead.

Rug rats bite your ankles, scars form on your palms.

Angels sing my name over the choir in Beethoven's Ninth.

Your name is a purgative for elves on December twenty-sixth.

Wherever the scriptures are read, my name is engraved on thirsty tongues.

In congealed churches, your cares are piled like carcasses in organ lofts.

My trapezoids form a secret skin rash code, saying, "I have come".

And that's why animals wish it was over before the Second Coming.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #47

The winds have blown and I'm bunkered down
'Round the rusted tool shed.
Fenceposts hover in fog that surrounds
My mouldy single bed.

Christmas went like a hummingbird's breath.
Hoarfrost drapes the trees.
Barn rats stiff surfboards, fur drab in death.
I babble on my knees.

My Love is fingering her present,
New in a better wrap.
I stumble on the meadow's descent,
My caring verse is crap.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #46

The guard dogs slobber over front paws caulked
With sentimental sediment of elegies.
Scalp o' mine switching like bristled walrus whiskers,
They lazing, obese, on zoo cement. I ponder
Fenugreek seeds shaped like entrails as they trail
In leaf-clotted spoors to my first home in the dell.

I ride wobbly on an ass, hump the saddle-knob
Viciously, cuff temples twixt dialing my Muse
And crying to an invisible audience.
Alert wardens of purgatory, divest
My sackcloth of embedded bees, beatitudes;
Hasten my muddled dominion over rats.

Frequent guided missiles cosy up to me
Like alarm clocks covered in mistletoe,
Holy pricks, jangling at four in the morn.
I throw the belvedere dormer window wide
When hearing legions of barking curs scrapping
The guard dogs replenished with my greasy chapbooks.

Forward, Christian soldiers, the trenches are piled
With uncontrolled Xerox copies multiplying
My best poem, number five-nine-five-nine
(A particularly soppy one where
I wikipedia an Ontario town
And depress her with cut-and-paste proficiency).

Radishes! Buns of valour! Valerie waiting
In a fevered dream for my sixteen-liner.
Crawling through my vasectomy, I see
Blue ribbons tightening my throat's girth
In fastidious horror. O wake me, nurse!
Bathe me, order more horse meds, clean my pipe!

I see black horses in a squadron, chamfrons'
Iron splitting the air with sick gleams
As the military procession halts,
Caracoling savagely over frightened sheep.
Plasma leaks from my ears, winsome eyes of colts
Beckon me to sing my past pejoratives.

I raided the bake sale and Raided silverfish
At the five-and-dime, which is more than I got
At the streetcorner shouting mini love epics
To passersby during Yuletide. You'll hide,
Yul Brynner, when I throw my clammy
Trousers in the ring and declare victory.

I'm the victor! More poems than tears at
‘Titanic’ 's first showing in Yankee Stadium;
More admirers than W B Yeats
In a potato-photo-op with Maud Gonne;
More bouquets than Tom Jones received wailing
‘Delilah’ with no jockey shorts. Janitor!

Wash my corns with soap. These coupons I inspect
Help with my vocabulary, the lettering
Not belligerent. Where’s the cake, frosted
With ‘Crappy dearth. Hey?’ in long purple loops
As I purse my lips and blow? Hark! A lemon ….
No. Just a stray Buick on the outs from Linda.

Palsied sheep, confess, we've been good for each other.
I brag like an indentured little shaver
Hiding in barns where the corn tops the silos
Like stocking stuffers a popular family
Member gets for being good one day a year.
Drama. Dull dendrites. Dire dandruff. Duffle bags

Of disease. Derailed, my dentures, with spotted flecks.
These cityfolk do complain when my tractor
Throws me off, the shift-stick toggle loosing
Like a manic Janet Reno bobblehead
As it crashes the Jaguar showlot,
Shovelling staff, infecting Pledge-lined floors.

Atremble, I initiate a half-gainer
From the ceiling-fan, and land on my parched head.
Who said life’s easy? Throw me in the briar patch.
I get the willies every Sunday at noon
(Stuck needle of parson; hymnals of arson)
Till a capsule capsizes my sadness.

Lines of wise men pass my manger, managing
To quell my lust for visitors. Round (yon surgeon)
About eight I’ll break into my fond hospital
Paramour-den. Meantime I halt and shudder
For a sour relic of my work. Confused, alone,
The air leaves my lungs. A blue cloud kisses me home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #45

I recall long days when I‘d moon for a mate
In vacant fields in ratty robe in nasal funk,
Then stuff cheesy verse in the collection plate
With mud packs, burritos, and shellfish spunk.

The homestead is quiet, in terror I hear
My ileocecal valve gurgle, complain.
Ten years ago, last date I had (how queer)
I showed up at her door riding a Great Dane.

Loafing in loafers, cornjug filling with silt;
Wrapped tightly in a multiple-bunny quilt.
Deploy my thoughts for a cornered Father.
Frisk my drawers for a condom for Helen. Bother!

Here’s Henry Hopping Toad over meadows gaily
With crucifix of my pix I googled daily.
I fondle my uvula. Here’s to better times.
Tonsils washed with Kiwi fur, leather face with lime.

Catty tracts blow in malarial fugue
Under my holy roof, I press a Synth Moog
Of stolen church keys, dissonant and drear.
‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ the apt hymn each year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #44

Late for theYeats festival hatching,
A badger bites my ass, red welts matching
Lipstick stitches of Nurse Ratchett’s uncle.
On a tattered wicker hamper, clothes runkle.

“Thanks for attending”, says the emcee (ho hum),
Red light (stopping me from taking the podium)
On my rump, throbbing like a short-circuiting goad.
Herbert Persiflage reads a commemorative ode.

“Yeats, you Dead White Man, though I’m jealous
Of your surpassing verse, the fellas
Around my barn paper the abbatoir
With their own odes, and pages of film noir,

Fiddling with the riddle of why idiots
Choose to write verse with the life of biddies’ tits
When furrow and fence and fleece entice
With debaucheries under spider lice.

You created a new Byzantium;
The ‘poet’ pens love notes on his bum.
Glad to see the demented one here
In tangled toiletries of beer.”

I scratched my ass with a floor-scooped pretzel
Then tipped the usher a stolen quetzal.
Take me home and shovel me in
And wipe the drool from my spotted chin.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #43

Dropped note
behind broken bottle --
'poet's' first steps

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #42

Here I sit in an infested bog,
Talking to chipmunks on a mossy log.
My mind is vacant; the day is long.
Hey, nurse, pass me my sheepskin bong.

I've had it with you, perverted twerp.
So suck your own bong, give it a slurp.
Just keep your hands off my starchy skirt.
Find the usual sheep to fuss with, flirt.

No! No! Nurse, don't encourage him.
Last time alone, he gave me a rim.

Why did I give life to this hopeless mess?
Who can I pray to, and confess
When my work turns from grandeur to shit?
Nurse, pass me that bong, I need a hit.

Laugh and deride, O wise ones, I don't care
(Though I say I do). Famous actresses stare
When I dribble platitudes like brackish honey
On upraised bums of bums and bunnies.

You keep stalking me, so bugger off.
Unable to read? Electrocution. Cough
Up your rainbows for a credulous breed.
Tie a knot ‘round your stub to block the seed.

Yah, even though I'm a he-man, non-artistic boor,
I still remember, from my boyhood, when we were poor,
Lines from my compatriot Georg Trakl, "De Profundis";
But the ‘poet’ is non-mutatis redundis.

So I say: to oblivion for the silly and weak.
Let their mad mouthings only influence other meek
Scribblers who need a mirror to better compare
Their own lost lives in reminiscences bare.

With friends like these, I see it's back to the meadow
To frisk, gallivant with animals instead. O!
Bludgeoned cased buds in mud are my stillborn abuse,
Corned ham syntactical disasters, thin and obtuse.

Away and avast, boring knock-kneed twit.
Doctor, fasten his fingers with steel oven mitts.

Acch! Back to my bed. I need a pail.
The ‘poet’ belongs in a wordy jail.
Confessional donkeys on tethered ropes.
I'll join the fan club of the renegade Pope.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #41

I’d a God who translated my gibberish
For rented fans who wrapped it over rank fish.
Black my paper and black my heart gurgling fast
Below hollow head imploding at last.

Dungeons of foul octopi in scattered swaths
Suction my stale, caked-on Visigoth
Half-price Hallowe’en get-up as I croon
For a non-existent Love under black noon.

Foraging for fossils under the sump pump,
I revolt even myself. Fist pumped, load dumped
In dribbles of pink back-up, wasting the seed,
Turning to Phyllis Pillar. I looked back in deed.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #40

Wandering, unsavory, in fields of wildflower blades,
Caressing fickle shade of bumbling bees, tonguing stems,
I beaver and bevel in askew underwear. Parrots
Remark on defending parapets (wet dog; skunk)
From escaped gases, short-squawking for my embarrassed
Pleasure. Pleasure, where an ad of a hammock repeats
In languorous loops the travel guide, mocking me with
Laughter of bikinied athletes on permanent holidays
From astringent scripture crisscrossed with chicken-scratched
Footnotes, colours with yellows and reds. I sag, scratch
My chicken-necked scrotum which vacillates like the winds
On the Hebrides.

I’ve sailed and sojourned and sulked in every torn pamphlet
I’ve written, the wind now discarding them past municipal
Garbage dumps in a frenzy of severe seasons, decaying
Sheets now pocked with pigeon-droppings and buried
In coffee grounds beside the funeral grounds of sailors
Who, with bitten cheeks, crested the spittle-flecked squalls
Surmounting centuries of sighs on seas of foam blasted
And battered across engine-rooms of bilge-backed-up sermons.
I separate from my soiled mattress, and inspect nose hairs
Separating from crusties, avuncular cilia
Oscillating with admonitory wags my finger
Cannot subdue.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #39

Guilt? Sure, my entire life's
Been an infestation of febrile
Lyrics bouncing around the inside
Of my soft cranium perambulating
In ambulances of vertiginous skies.
Shy, and without a clue (was it
Mr Mustard with a confusing poem
In the outhouse?), I venture through
Medical records the state psychiatrist
Pasted on the canary cage bottom
Bespotted with applause after
Boring bulletins of moping disgrace.

Oh sure, musclemen on high, dried
And toasty in the arms of sensational
Beauties, I flaunt nothing, and envelop
The ether with lies and such, but I do go
On, don't I? And on .... and on .... and on ....

Breakfast of chumps, bratwurst and boilermakers.
God, shoot me a mission in happy-face semaphore.
I'll be waiting the rest of my life
For one lonely snapshot
Of the ethereal conundrum
Smiling unambiguously on farm equipment
In the sweating morass of my dreams.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #38

Barking thoughts multiply in my rotating head,
Evaporate like essence of embalming fluid
On the nutsac of an invalid, invalid
With leaf.

Sending McGonagals to teenage models
Who click with shock my party pic, the caca
Of my call coffined in shady outcrop,
I perspire.

I was a reverse ringer for a verse knock-off
Amongst Lewis Carroll animals when
My barbellated mug twitched like a robin's nest
In heat

And I succumbed to vapid vers libre upchuckings
From my saltpetered Adam's apple lurching
Crazily up-and-down like a porn extra

Flounce, my dear(est) dry perfumed battleax, I’ll bounce
Cough drops off your nubile ass, chalk my horns, rub hands
As Satan's kin commence to tunnel through my brain,
Locked up.

Quiet, quiet, forebodings of my yesteryears,
There'll be peace in the valley, piece in my dreams,
Clad and glad with the collecting handmaiden's brood

Unleashed unto the funkiest corners of the globe,
My legacy of slack-jawed proof will continue
The tortuous recordings, the tethered soul
Of groans.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Chris Banks' "Bonfires" and "The Cold Panes Of Surfaces"

It's not often I concentrate fully on a book (or books) of poetry, and still come away empty and bored. There're often a few redeeming features in many poetry collections: after all, one benefit of poetry over a novel is that if the latter is bad, you're stuck with 200 + pages of bad. A bad (or competent but banal, which amounts to the same thing) poem is no great loss. Another one is just a page turn away. But Chris Banks' first two volumes of poetry left me emotionless.

A frequent set-up of Banks is to start with a mild anecdote, and then build it into a spiritual, difficult "truth". This is so typical of contemporary poetry that to do the popular conceit any justice would need a compelling slant, a profound and startling conclusion, a unique musical intertwining with the emotional barrenness he (in this instance) is trying to (re)create.

One of many examples (from "Apple Tree", from The Cold Panes Of Surfaces):

"while I await you here, watching this apple
tree fall into ruin. And to look at all this

but not think of loneliness is difficult, for
we come to know the limits of who we are

through those we love, and when they leave
we have only absence to make its home in us"

Decaying nature is associated with the absence of one's love. OK. That's been done a million times before, but I don't mind. It's what one does with a common, oft-used link that matters. The first thing that strikes me is the banality of the language. The common response to this charge is that this is "language that honours its emotion by its conversational simplicity". Or, to put it another way, it's a conversation, not art. The latter is not the former. Art adds and subtracts. It's shaped. It manipulates language and emotions. It's self-conscious, and uses a grab-bag of effects to startle and sing.

The above extract? Overreaching for a profundity that is not evoked by the language of the poem, or by its occasional relating. As well:

People don't "think" of loneliness, they feel it. Or, rather, if they (only) think of it, it occurs as a shallow idea, not a powerful emotion.

"We" don't come to know the limits of who "we" are. Don't speak for me. Only yourself. You can't even speak for your absent love. I don't come to know the limits of who I am by who I love. Possibilities amplify and expand when in love. When I feel limited, it's because of an existential lack (not the situational lack of a loved one). I've felt elated, many times, both in and out of relationships; I've also felt free and lonely at different times in the same, and different, relationship(s). Lack is not conditional on loving someone. "when they leave/we have only absence to make its home in us" is trite, a cliche of cliches.

I was promised "humour" by Emily Schultz on both books' blurbs. (The second blurb was a word-for-word recycle.) In fact, humour and breathlessness were combined in "way(s) that Canadian poetry seldom does".

I didn't find a sliver of humour in either book, unless you count the reporting of his father's " "I wanna be a cowboy./Let's get hitched" " (from Bonfires).

And I didn't detect any "breathlessness", though why that should be a stand-alone descriptor for merit is beyond me. (How do you measure breathlessness? I would think by a lack of commas, periods, by long sentences, by conversational enjambments, by long lines, by heightened or unneccesary emotion. I didn't see many of those elements in either book; most long sentences were broken up by short lines.)

And I reject the communal suffering the books encourage and exalt (however subtly).

Matt Rader's "Living Things"

Matt Rader's Living Things was a delight to read. What's most important is that it's a delight on a first read because of the arranged music, as well as on repeated readings because of its suggestiveness and connections.

It was also a delight because of its surprise: I'd read his first collection, Miraculous Hours, with only moderate interest. Aside from the imaginative title piece, much of the rest of the volume was a personal reminiscence that didn't transform its particulars. And the diction and tone was often pedestrian.

What that tells me is that Rader is a serious practitioner. He probably incorporated, humbly, the lessons from that first effort, and worked hard at adding music, colour, tone, variation, other-voiced perspective (the first-person tree manifestos are ravishing), and stylistic wrinkles into his repertoire.

Often, a plaudit is used that "this first book is remarkable for its maturity", and I find it just as often to be an overblown assessment. Not enough is made of the remarkable progression of some poets. Since Rader's excellent second effort vaults his first so dramatically, I anticipate his next with great interest.

Tim Bowling's "Low Water Slack" and "The Memory Orchard"

I wanted to enjoy the Bowling titles quoted in the header. The subject matter, especially of the former -- salmon fishing at the Fraser's evacuation -- is of interest to me. I've lived my entire life (save a year) in the area; my father worked on a seine fishing boat many summers, and I have vivid memories of being on board as a tyke, with a wealth of smells, sights, and tastes; and, in a larger and more general sense, the issues (overfishing, local culture, lineage, natural of-the-moment spirituality, amongst others) are important and timeless.

But the shaping is bloated, the tone often precious (though, to Bowling's credit, at least unintentionally so, to my mind), the insights leaden and obvious, and the language straining to abstractions, this despite the physical immediacy and vibrancy of its origins.

Bowling loves the narrative vein, so it's not surprising that he's written novels, as well.

There are some affecting historical interludes (can't quote poem titles or lines as I don't have the books at the ready) that showcase Bowling's compassion and generational understanding, and he manages some tighter lyrical interplay here.

It's too bad. Concrete compression would add a world of enjoyment and memorability to his efforts.

Ralph Gustafson's "Homage To Antaeus"

(from “Two Antagonist Poems”)

The boulder the angel sat on can have
Its resurrection, I am after
Sensation most times now
Rather than eternity. I would rather
The barebone boulders -- that oversoaring
Mycenaean dome lacking
Agamemnon in it,
The exalted vaulting itself the legend,
Helen beautiful and the whole of Troy
Burnt rafters because of her. I’d rather
Go out and look at stars burning
To a cinder, unimplicated
Whether God is up there
With his unimpregnatable mother.

Grass that is grass
Stone that is stone

Music whose meaning is the sound it creates --
The diver’s grace, pagan sun on crystal --
Wisdom to stub my toe on the steps
Of the bridge at the Accademia in Venice;
I look at the scar on my left knee
I dropped on still there from last
July, the joy incorporated.


In a time when Western creators in their 40s and 50s write poem after poem of depressive pleas to acquire a pale enlightenment, and those in their 20s and 30s write of existential angst and the impossibility of grace, it's always a treat to experience Gustafson's sane voice. He was 82 when he wrote this, with two near-death diseases already behind him.

Ethereal Beauty #37

I drink my Nyquil from a Listerine cup;
On shrunken peas and bacon fat I nightly sup.

Over at the Legion, I had a kiwi fruit;
The longshoremen laughed at my series of loud toots.

Downed a Shirley Temple, licked my vanity mirror;
Dropped Fred Flintstone overalls to roof-raising jeers.

Scrubbed my ass with a hemlock switch, downed my meds;
Ate twenty packs of M and Ms including all reds.

A boozy harpie smiled and sat upon my knee.
Trapped, I yelled, "ethereal slut!", then tried to flee.

She brained me with a schooner mug, kissed my mouth;
Much to my horror, there were stirrings from down south.

I tongued her dentures, she bit my lip and hollered,
Ran to the bouncer who grabbed my pink dog collar.

He put cinnamon sticks up my nose; I peed my pants.
Longshoremen howled on the floor (as I stole a glance).

They booted my ass out the door; I wept like a child.
Jesus had some followers, but I'm more meek and mild.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #36

Core of pus, corpulent ego, tired corpuscles,
I sit on my high stool and prop my muscles.
I'm tired of versing, initiating tussles.

Black-garbed Greek women with pimento eyes turn
On faltering stone steps, and beckon as I burn
In decades of pent-up lust. From them I may learn

That flowery insincere abstract nouns were laughed at
By women with high libidos wearing funky hats,
Who only used my words as paper for seven shats.

Toughen up, caring one, let's go and wipe the tears
From dam-burst ducts over unimagined fucks, strong beer
I'll start with to allay my published nasty fears.

Bird of omen soaring free and circling far across,
Are you my friend, a corrective for constant loss?
Hail! It glides closer -- aaak! A fat albatross!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #35

Snow on upturned ass,
Inspecting earthworms.
Knock! Knock! Who’s there? Chris.
Chris who? Chris Kringle.
Roof’s plugged. Set the rum.

Six thousand presents
Wrapped in dull muslin,
One for each of my

Red hat, red nose. Choo!
An elf with the pelf
Of poetic bids
Constructs sentences
Served with cloying mates.

Scarily tight my smile.
Put coppers in my cup,
Friends of inanity.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #34

Tennis with Olivia's powder-room janitoress.
She aces me, maces me when I drop Pinnochio shorts
Past knee-high tartans, baby boots, on sizzling asphalt.

Away, roisterers of mocking tinderbox guffaws
In sunny bleachers. Channelling the Holy Goat,
I put my ad in, and forfeit love behind the chalk line.

This racket comes undone, meshed form once nylon bars
Stringing along the easy, too-many sighers
Of sired schlock shaking heads slowly at the ball’s fling.

Umpires of doom, atheistic athletes. Stenographers
Of verse off court, net cinched by a modern winch,
Cleaning lady behind the diamonded grating.

I flee the blacktop and note every farm border post
Stapleshot with beryllium-protected photos
Of my backside (backhanded drakes!), alerting

The innocent. Tell me, servers of legerdemain,
When the score resets to zero. I’ll lick frost
From my opus, flood the empty stadium with paper.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #33

God, I follow your promise at the shallow cratch
In darkness where chickens sleep on eggs unhatched.
Forehead bloodied, bowing violently on cement
While swift crows pock my pointy head, I lament.

Pluvious depressions in ruts, constant downward glance
As I fiddle and fondle and fuss in my pants.
The Last Upper in night huddle of turmoil
Embedded in fat phlegm like an unlanced boil.

Dreams of amour gone like posts in the ether,
Saccharine sallies shorted; I need a breather
From vile verse. Pray, where are those mounds of glory
I can mount in sly sermons? What's the story,

Preachers of my young years, when, fresh from the field,
I'd see musky angels in pink leotards? Sealed
In a pewter thermos, God’s verdict a chaos.
I sucked up your mildness, toga-tosser, but, hey boss,

I never thought they’d catch on after forty threads
Of hypocrisy. In the next act, I’m dead,
Martyrizing my manhood, a manx’ matted guts,
Exposed, sticky, trailing, a sour slug with cuts.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #32

Quiet, voices, I pray to my ethereal wreck.
“Beauty in a flower, milk of kindness,

Gentle heart at rest with God ….”. What’s the use?
Time to converse with the rubbing alcohol.

O the fire-juice burns my lungs, criss-crossing
Eyes now alight on bosomy hills. Tight,

I evaporate in a slough of inertia.
I tried for brotherhood of one -- me -- but

Was self-rebuffed. Forgotten blandishments
From a childhood sidekick, sick with insistence,

Causes this cribbing, the stall sash splintered.
There’s a word, a mantra given, I think,

Advancing like a papal bull in a
Nun’s strongbox, over and over and over.

Breathing spasmodically, something’s wrong.
Hymnal pages flutter like parade awnings,

Insouciant, extending spines. I’ll continue
To mate marriage proposals with charred lust.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #31

Beached and barnacled, I'm back on my back,
Lidless jitters trailing light ceiling shadows
Of the aquarium. Platyrrhine
Tropical swimmers pucker, giving me
The wet come-on. I fidget below, O sad day.

The bushynose placo haunts, wriggling back,
Ransacking the turbid water for a friend.
I see myself in you, ferrous-coat. Shave
Currents in your madcap measle-display,
Submerged topiary-link in prism folds.

I drift to sere shoals in fevered dreams
Smacking mackerel, ingesting Apple Jack,
Capping the child-proof Rx in an hour.
Post-it notes addressed from me to me
Surprise and delight with unexpected warmth.

Shovelnosed bristle, I can’t follow
Your message. Deluged freedom fingers me,
Crook and sashay, collagen coyness.
Rubber hose (not of nurse) filters water,
Correcting every sunless mistake.

Frisk me, suckerfish, roquet my left ball
Into my right, release my venom
Into sun, searing peonies and ponies
And Pekinese (wanna peek in these?).
All hands on deck for the detention dreck

Rodomontading from my bile-soaked fingertips.
The aquarium’s blue lights dim, and glum
With constipated faces of Andy Rooney,
The panaques flip impatiently. I freeze,
Afraid of scurfy follicle fallout,

As I peer over the metal brim and wince
When the upturned faces, winkless, caper
In sardonic avoidance. Kissing the glass,
I mimic the water-jail wishers.
Tame and repetitive, I sink.

Bushynose of open cube, find me out
Before I take an ax to the glass borders
And flood the floor with floppers. Imagine!
I’ll take ‘Famous Sheep’ for six thousand, Alex.
Where’s the nurse with the little pink biscuits?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Ethereal Beauty #30

I've banished myself to the engine room
And need a pikestaff to catch toilet crabs
In this claustrophobic murky makeshift.

Some amour-antagonist would, no doubt,
Rejig a mod castellated galleass
Busted out of a child’s milk bottle
To set screaming over the warped poop boards.

Viscid insider of Lord’s domination
With a metal plate head full of screws
(Screw off, breaching ghosts), I’ll snort Visine Plus
Up my finger-tested left nostril

And see cilia up close and personal
Hula-hip-hullabaloo, frond fracas,
Plankton bow over the bow (wow! wow!),
Avoiding the cresting warship prominent

As a black thumbprint on the tessellated
Horizon. I cannonball, jettisoning
Foul flotsam of flabby verse into the wake,
Munching bean crullers as I descend.

O bloated spleen! Forward! Anchor rheum. Bones
Of the neglected strike like blind tappets
In camshafts crapping out in engine bowels below.
Gulls slice in gusts like varicose-veined scribbles.

Tarry me away, bared memories, I love something.
Some …. tends her autumnal shrubs. I’m such a schlub
For neglecting feelings of others, so
Many missed poems, brevity of a lyric

Encrusting its strange code, ho!, but not for me
Because it’s a dead-white-man’s game I was never
Invited to join. They know my genius,
I’d have them genuflect like oil rig heads

Pecking earth’s cinders, but this international
Surf divvies me up in apportioned tears.
Warden invisible, I’m lost and must
Needs flush my six thousandth verse down this metal

Toilet brig. Seasick I glide over my past.