Friday, February 27, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #98

The earth is soundless and careful
With my alien decomposition.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #97

If a circle, I'd be completed
And thrown back into the universe
To pester others once again. But
I'm hunkered down on porous bones,
Bongoing my skull with ripped out shoulder,
The tune ‘When The Taints Go Marching In’
Repeating in goofy loop, subsiding
Into hollow vocables.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #96

I'm dead. They buried me whole,
Senses still awake, bones chilled
Eight feet down this dank, dark hole.

I can't move. But I have will,
And I listen while the worms
Wiggle through my body still.

My eyes hurt. I've come to terms
With death; it's pain terrorizes
With prolonged tattooed purple germs.

When’s sleep? This box mesmerizes
With its thousand-dollar casing.
Plastic friend, let's fantasize.

Ego? Still intact, debasing
My legacy. Earth fills hands.
Soon thoughts Gods will be erasing.

Ethereal Beauty #95

Collisions of air with air
Used to bring lightening
And pissed off Big Daddy messages.

Now I'm too weak
To fight phantoms,
And become them.

It's dry.
Vapors are photographic white.

Unrestful, more ill-at-ease
Than when I ‘lived‘,
I interrogate the air.

Holographic hoodoos
Millions of feet fretting ether
Are dinner plates on gargantuan hypodermic needles.

Escape into .... ?

I oscillate, spineless,
Evaporating in demon motes.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Taster of Poe Puts 20 Questions to Brian Palmu

1. Did your first book change your life?

Immeasurably -- I think. It coincided precisely with getting laid for the first time. I was reading Pinocchio to a woman I wasn't particularly attracted to. Next thing I know, I tell her a bald-boned lie, and .... well, the growth was such you could string all the underwear from the residents of Pittsburgh on its girth. So -- either the book or the sex made an enormous impression, an entrance, if you will, into worlds hitherto only dreamed of in an Archie comic book.

2. How do geography, race, gender figure in your work?

Immeasurably. I like to stare at a Rand-McNally wobbly tin orb for several hours before dipping my feathery quill into the Baby Duck red, at which time I strike striking poses of the world traveller, the consummate bon vivant amused with the threshing and meshing of human commerce and confusion in snappy epics delineating the absurdities of a plethora of indentured wayfarers caught in Kafkaesque line-ups at JFK, to give only one such international gambit.

Race also figures into the mix, predominately when I wax lugubrious over the effete machinations of hundred-metre finalists at pre-Olympic trials.

Gender is also important to my evolving -- or should I say bloated? -- opus. I frequently mention both sexes, sometimes in the same poem!

3. Do you write short, unconnected things? Or are you working, at the outset, with a larger project in mind?

I always like to approach the writing pad freely, without encumbrances of "sequence" or "linkages" in mind, staring over my shoulder to see if I'll be able to tie up waffle-making with the War on Terror, and tut-tutting my wayward efforts. Luckily, everything always seems to get back to the subject of croquet, anyway, so the money from my 100-book advance continues to be spent without guilt.

4. Do you, or do you not, enjoy public readings as part of the creative process?

They're immeasurable for my image. It takes a bit more effort, but my pic plagiarism of Fabio is harder to deceive with when I have to give verse pronouncements from behind a (sometimes) cheap celebrity mask. Those thin elastic fixtures have been known to snap mid-line. In fact, it brings up a rather horrific memory of when I intoned: "you're my one true blue endeavour", only to look up at the incredulous faces of the three members in the cavernous auditorium. I hastily grabbed my vanity mirror from back pocket, and noted my wax nose had melted diagonally and down, and was dripping profusely into the brass candle-holder.

5. Do you write with a theory in mind? Are you trying to answer specific questions?

Immeasurably so. Why are we here? How did I get here? What is my own particular purpose? Will that hot babe in the first row think it forward of me if I jot down, and hand to her, my room number on this soiled 8' x 11' scribble-fest, with the veiled suggestion of my proficiency with French ticklers?

The theory is all. I've given up on experience, since mine have all been rather confusing. With a dissembling theory, however, I can make my confusion a bible-like profundity.

6. Is an outside editor difficult? Necessary?

Yes to the first. At some point of the process with each of my 106 books, that know-it-all guy will ask: "are you sure you want to bring up the anecdote of the flaming marsupial, the drunken shriner, and the forlorn cave YET AGAIN?" Well, yes, Mr(s) Editor-In-Charge, it's salient to my entire corpus, Christ! I try to interject variety, but every great poet usually succeeds because of one great idea. And the above obsession, as the editor is right to point out, is mine, thank you very much.

As to the second, yes, my revolving, flustered, alcoholic, sad-eyed editors have been necessary as therapists and guaranteed readers.

7. After publishing 106 books over the years, do you find the process of book-making gets easier or harder?

Definitely harder. It becomes increasingly difficult to fool some of the people all of the time.

8. When was the last time you ate a hair?

That's a rather impertinent question. Pierre Trudeau once said that the government -- and by extension, the media -- should stay out of the bedrooms of Canadians.

9. What's the best piece of advice you've ever received?

Timing, convincingly, when to gracefully, offhandedly depart for the restroom just before the bill arrives will save you thousands. And anybody can acquire new restaurant/bar friends if one is sycophantic enough.

10. What kind of writing routine do you have? How does a typical day begin?

I like to put on my Superman outfit, enter phone booths, bringing along my own phone book, and commence riffing on numbers and names while the simultaneous pounding on the windows help with my urgent churning-out of, oh, twenty or thirty classics a day. And let me tell you, that hosiery is quite thrilling in a public context, which stimulates the libidinal streams and derring do in my verse.

A typical day begins with me throwing up into a permanently affixed brass spittoon beside the bed. After tossing off a few .... poems that is .... I settle down to a breakfast of Mars bars and gatorade, at which time strange ideas of shriners, grottoes, and opposums enter my noggin.

11. Where is your favourite place to write?

On the toilet, on the witness stand, in confessionals, in bingo halls, I'm not particular.

12. When your writing gets blocked, where do you go for inspiration?

Blocked? Thanks for bringing up my constipation challenges. I think that's in the past. As for writing, blocked? I'm never blocked or tackled. One poem follows another like one potato chip to another. After a bag or three, I have a book, and it's not even noon yet!

13. How does your most recent work compare to your last? How is it different?

God, who knows? I can't remember my last thought, let alone my last book.

14. David W. McFadden once said that books come from other books. Are there other forms that influence your work?

Yeah, the forms of the June Taylor dancers. Listen, David W. McFadden should speak for himself. I told you that I didn't start reading until an adult. And it involved (and sometimes still does) lip movement and finger-scanning, which makes it hard to get a date on public transit when my hand has been so badly played pre-seduction. My own eminence influences me. Next question.

15. What other writings/writers are important for your work or life?

P. T Barnum.

16. What would you like to do that you've yet to do?

I'd like to do Janet Reno in the back of a taxicab sailing down a back alley, but that's probably just a dream.

17. If you could choose another line of work, what would it be?

Writing is work? Roofing in the rain is work. This, my friend, is play.

18. What made you write, rather than doing something else?

People only write? Well, I guess you're right. You got me.

I was easily self-qualified for it.

19. What was the last great book you skimmed? The last great movie?

How To Win Friends And Influence People. Peter Pan.

20. What are you currently writing?

I don't know what it's about, but I've just written a novel whilst waiting for your follow-up questions.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #94

Still as a pre-attack puma
Transforming camouflaged landscape
Of the moon, of the mute rocks,
Of skies beyond skies,
Catwalking aliens in cut-off dungarees
With fixed solemn faces
Coddling speeches,
Words forming fogbars
For the missing audience.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #93

It used to start the same, the same far light
Cubed, and blurring doorjambs up two levels
Where a God waits livid in the attic’s night.
I climb the stairs, hair raised, dishevelled.

A moaning drones. I stop. The light goes out.
Pitched and piteous, the voice engrafts
Its song into my skull. I pass the grout-
Caked entrance black as a mine’s caved shaft

And feel the pine boards buckle and break.
A wing or feather whisks my brow, and frozen
In one spot, then fading fast (I can’t awake,
This is no dream), recall being chosen


Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Negative" Reviews Of Poetry

Thanks to Zach Wells for pointing out this interesting post by Jason Guriel, with its follow-up flow of response.

Guriel's right, of course. (Notice my highly subjective, arrogant, opinionated, exclusionary, close-minded tag-on -- "of course".) If one plans on reading indiscriminately (which, ironically enough, means that the reader/reviewer keeps an open mind, a hopeful one), then inevitably he or she will encounter oceans of mediocrity, streams of interesting material, and dribbles of indispensible craftings. It's simple math. But if one wishes to be pollyanish and boost the mundane, giving bland work a pass though praising to the skies one good line amongst a wilderness of incomprehensible squawks, then what does that say about, oh, let's see (let's be "shamefully" evaluative here) Macbeth or Paradise Lost? Everything exists on a scale, and on that last note, I'll answer with my own shockingly insensitive ideas on common arguments against "negative" poetry reviews.

"Who are you to judge what poetry is good, and what is bad?"

A lover of poetry. One who gives a great deal of time and attention to it. One who cares passionately about doing a small part in seeing that the notable -- firstly -- even gets recognized simply for its existence, and then that the work(s) get considered by others for their own reading (at which time they'll make up their own minds, blissfully unconcerned about my own biases and opinions, which is as it should be). One who reacts passionately against many failures (mygawd, another nasty word!) of all kinds -- egregious concentrations or effusions of sentimentality; sloppiness; didacticism; superficiality; dullness of language and insight; unmeant ambiguity; cuteness; dull conclusions, or conclusions which don't follow, either logically or emotionally, from what has preceded it; preciousness; false or unearned spirituality; unmusicality; faulty linkages between music and meaning; grandiosity; cynicism; theory-infestation; bloodlessness (or rampant abstraction); narcissism; the personal without the universal; prolixity; unfair minimal suggestiveness; unconnected or highly-specialized and unneeded allusiveness; cloistered periodicity; archaic thrall; modern (as in "right now") faddishness; derivative blandness (linked to the last charge); hyperselfconscious "originality" and "iconoclasm"; mismatched or incongruous tone, voice, mood (not a thrilling and purposeful change of tone, which is not the same thing at all); lack of variation in tone, form, narrative, organic shaping; and on and on, just to name the first few qualities off the top of my Dickinsonian head.

Ultimately, it's not even a question of "good" or "bad". The question many are afraid to even consider is if what they're reading is poetry at all. Perhaps much of it is more appropriately categorized (another "conservative, limiting" word!) as propaganda or parlour-games or personal messaging or proselytizing or pulpit-pounding or pop songs.

"Why don't you open your mind and try reading and thinking about a book you initially don't like more from the author's perspective rather than your own interpretation of how it should be?"

This is my favourite response of all, and it seems to be the "positivists" so-called strongest, proudest charge.

I can only respond to a book of poetry with my own perspective. I don't doubt that the book can and often does resonate with others. Good for those people, and good on the author for reaching them. I have my own strong opinion. What is yours? If it's different, wonderful. But I'd like to read why and how you think it works. I may be able to understand your position, even if I don't see how you made your way there, or how you could be enthusiastic. If I can't respond to how a poem moves me (or doesn't), then all that's left with this narrow approach is to describe the verse, and to place it in a contemporary (usually) or a past context with what's been written now or previously. Those kinds of reviews are mind-numbing, unrevealing. Aside from the bland descriptors and voice, who even cares about redundant gems such as "writes from a luminous connection on the natural environment"? I want to know if the poetry sings and moves, not about "topic placement" and "modernist influences". That kinda critical spillage says nothing about the verse itself, and is akin to a movie review which states that "here we have the director concerned with the continuation of Kurosawa epic forces and personal responsibility". But when one is not allowed to detail how and why a particular poetic mode or trope falls flat, this is the claustrophic room one is allowed to manoevre within.

I can't get into the author's head, so it would be presumptuous and superior of me to float hermeneutic directives at the reader when I can't negotiate meaning or clarity for myself. It would also be evading the responsibility of a review by simply saying: "oh, I can't make heads or tails of it, but maybe you might, so have a go at it." No. I read the book. I didn't like it. Here is why. Even without comprehension, and often because of incomprehension, it's useful to point that out, and to give examples from the text when appropriate.

Of course, the deeper reasoning behind the "look at it from the author's perspective" argument is that we're supposed to believe that all poetic approaches are equally valid, and it's only in how good or bad one uses them that matters. Again, I disagree. Whenever I encounter (for example)a "poem" that's been shredded through a ringer of theoretic incomprehensiveness, emotionless quibbling, cute self-referencing, I'm going to be very impatient (ah ha, another insensitive word! what a cad -- a cad, I say!) with what it has to say, and how it says it. This is really simple stuff. It shouldn't need elaboration, but the inclusive communal set is constantly irked about it. Poetry, like music, is visceral, in the good sense of that word, that is to say, intuitive. Imagination and emotion are more immediate, more powerful than all these logical arguments we ( including me) make about poetry. If it don't grab me, why the hell should I apologize for my "narrow-mindedness" or "obtuseness"?

"Why review a book of poetry at all if you don't like it? Surely, silence damns more than negative comment?"

I agree with the second question in one sense. What's not talked about is more apt to be unknown, which is far worse than being forgotten. At least the latter category means it (at least) once had its chance. But speaking "negatively" about a book means that it's still in the public mind, to some extent (Canadian poetry makes this rather a mild relative boost, I realize).

As to the first question, it would be unfair to do the book justice by writing a review after only giving it a brief once-over if I'm not immediately knocked over by its content. So .... even those books which are tough going, and in which it certainly appears as if the work (not joy) involved will be without noticeable payoff, I still want to give it a fair try. Some books are so murky that I don't finish, but I won't write a review since I can't fairly comment on my response to it. (I wrote a blog piece on a McCaffery volume, but I only got through 1 1/2 pages, and made that fact known in the "review".) But if I do make it through to the end, rereading certain poems, some many times, and am frustrated, pissed off, irritated, annoyed, puzzled, bored, sad, numb, irked, peeved, steamed, sarcastically-engendered by what I've read, why shouldn't I express my opinion? To spare the author's feelings? I maintain that to misrepresent feelings to the extent that a line from one otherwise throwaway piece in a book of dull offerings should be singled out as if this is good enough, or that the author is praised for his or her intent (though, curiously, the poems' execution are spared parsing) is doing a disservice to the reader and the poet. The former is left to wonder what the fuss is about, and the latter is made to think they're on easy street when they're actually in a dead end (in my highly "oh, it's only my opinion, my 2 cents, just thought I'd throw that out there, don't mean to offend, simply taking one side of the question" subjective view-- but, then, I'd have to state the same after every opinion, wouldn't I? Can one be redundant in responding to redundant attacks on the redundant?) .

"You have an ax to grind."

Nope. I don't know anyone whose book I've panned. Should I happen to know any of them in the future, I'd approach them with neutrality, until the personal connection itself made it positive or negative. I wish that every book of poetry I pick up would be a hit, but this is unrealistic, and I've read enough to know that a good book is always a wonderful surprise, not an expectation. Oh, and Mao wrote better verse than Lincoln, Villon and Rimbaud than Lilburn or Hilles.

Besides, ax-grinding usually gives itself away with transparent ad hominem repetitions, either nasty or subtle.

"There's enough grief in the world. Why do you feel the need to add to it?"

I enjoy giving "bad" reviews. It tones the system, sharpens the wit, awakens intellectual arguments, keeps me honest, makes me review my own opinions from time to time to see if they've changed in any way, and disrupts what I often think is an undeserved churchly tradeable benediction.

Ethereal Beauty #92

Neil Young's ‘I'm a vampire, baby,
Sucking blood from the earth’
Is my biography,
Duller than a youth revivalist epiphany.
Where did the promised good times go?
Imaginary blood flows through microscopic portals
Building fever dry as a summer gnat’s ass.

Tumult and sturm, fro and wobbly-peg, ministers
Of archival proof where dungeon remnants
Float like abalone in a sea of geritol
Ruminative of ripped page-tracts, exclamation marks
Referring to St Mark and Corinthian Paul
On the make for disciples in makeshift loin cloths
Fashioned from parched tea leaves
Whose thin-veined parchment cracks in red history.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #91

Millions of lipsticked pixels,
I float on my last pill.
Fists pillow-pummelling
In impotent rage,
A child whose toys
Have been removed, finally,
By the irritated keeper.

Selfish and dull,
I’m wound up
Like a welded pressure valve
Or broken watch
With missing hands.

Tuning forks enter in
Vibrating B minors.

Deleted blip in computer maze,
It's a long way to forever
And your passing countenance
Escapes the last slender cord,
A pulled shoestring
Hanging overboard
My locked crib
Like a black wick.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #90

I once entered a poetry contest
And they scooped my year's wages
For publishing and distributing back to me (only)
The acme of my opus:
"Fallen Angel, I'll Pick You Up
And Lay You Down In The Arms Of Jesus,
But Not Before A Few Surreptitious Gropes".
Disappeared, as did I
In overproof treacle
Leaking non-stop on the pink backdrop.
I reviewed that stew, alternating
Plaudits and flagellation.
O the verses fell like rusted autos off a cliff
Landing in saltless seas, kerosene spreading
To silent O, penstreaks mixed and bobbing
In nutty blue histrionics.
Grand waters, multi-trillion-teared reproof,
Each droplet a waste of bitterness.
Now in blue ether, I
Plaster sour-breath adagios
On the opposite side of the sky
Where cruel critics convene
In halls of greased mirrors cracking up
With ironic emotion. My time card, late,
Is riddled with holes.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #89

I swing like a butcher's cut-rate grade E pork butt carcass
In the lowest deep freeze of Dante's dungeon,
Licking my dry nose which disintegrates like
An old mushroom or devolving Michael Jackson prototype.
My sentence strikes at diaphanous moths flutterless
On a bowling pin revolving in a tight circle,
One time horizontal. Spare me, Saviour of the back alley.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #88

A covered-up diocese rings, bland canticle:
Nunc Dimittis me as I stream out the side exit
Which sign in neon red blinks spasmodically,
Shorting in impotent nastiness.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

An Ounce Of Treacle Is Worth A Pound Of Canto


On this bloody eve, my Sweet, I pray
That you'll be mine forever and a day.
I love your hair of blue and eyes of peach
But your moist pudendum is out of reach.

I've written you verse till I'm blue in the face.
Even bought you chocolate by the case.
You smile. With disdain? I feel a right sap.
This wordy wimpishness is just a trap.

I'll start pinochle and stamp collecting.
I'll never get pussy-inspecting.
Years of rhymes yellow in onion parchment
While I keep using my penis enlargement.

But what good's it for if you won't be mine?
My seed is spilling down the sere vine.
I try to impress by words sweet and true:
You ignore me, have sex with the longshore crew.

"Your beauty in innocence", blah blah blah ....
Can't you see my engorged heart? "Hah hah hah!"
You mock me, angel, but I won't relent.
My body's broken, and my mind is bent.

This love, though, Dear, is forever (I pant).
Now “ooh!” And “aah!” over my poems, scant
With sense, and diseased with confused spite.
Be my backstabbing Valentine tonight.


(An "Ethereal B" leftover)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #87

Hard shell and hard sell. Hell's bells! It's raining
Again, O conch catch, your brittle rust-wrinkle excites
My lines into redacted whoosh, drooping intensifiers
For no-zone beauties in out-of-reach ozone.
I dismiss hospital- and pikestaff,
Fleeing the premises, contesting a zoning application
For a Baltic Street monopoly of dilapidated loves.
In elephantine dory, I submit to a pass out passage.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Peter Richardson’s Sympathy for the Couriers

Sympathy for the Couriers (Vehicule Press, 2007) is Peter Richardson’s third collection of poetry, and his best. Let’s look at all thirty-eight poems in it.


Laughter as needed antidote, but also as cowardly defense mechanism. The speaker walks an intelligent divide between condemnation and sympathy. The phrasing is arresting: “jabbering, magic-markered fist”; “snarl converted to a hayseed’s guffaw”; “cracker bromides”.


Startling inversions delineating movement from revolution to fleeing or relentless fate. Unfortunately, the “ironist” of the title somewhat dribbles out the surprise, but it’s an intriguing poem, nonetheless.


Witty and enjoyable, even profound, with much humour. The hilarity of the narrator talking to his psychic double even after awake is a neat conceit. Isn’t this how many of us live? We’re supposed to wake to the logical, pedestrian world of “reality” (whatever that means), but Richardson perceptively allows, in imaginative linkages, that there is little if any difference between the sleeping and waking states. To further muddy the distinctions between the two, he’s crafted the second half of the poem -- beginning with “I’m ready to board” -- in such a way as to defy the reader to pick one or the other. And I love “I’m ready to board” as a double meaning to his doppleganger.

As to this double, the poem also concerns itself with the two sides of the poet: dreamy spontaneous creator next to waking plodder, the latter humorously chided as serious-miened Berlitz student. Notice the purpose of “windy”, “winging things”, “unwind”. But the narrator fuses the double in a confident realization that imagination must work with guile and stealth , and, on that front, I enjoyed “we’ll carry a letter/from the Governor’s Palace.” The poet’s double function, when successful.


Perfectly sequenced, by mood contrast, after "Fiord Dream", this is an expressive nightmare, all the more affecting because of its aural immediacy. The narrator's oneiric residue carries into the waking day, which will then colour the latter in unforeseen ways. Alternately, the nightmare could also be seen as archetype, a collective commonplace, but Jung bores me, so I won't go there.


A funny take-down of several pegs. The impressive precision of the titular vehicule gives way to its operator, a mere “assistant”, infinitely removed from the genius which crafted his or her transportation, and who uses it in an unheroic task for scooping “junk mail and bills”. The final indignity which follows is timed with comic success. “Operational limits” and “I-beams” are also clever touches.


Slightly reminiscent of “Fiord Dreams” in creative longing, “Notes” is more concerned with the coalescing, yet individuated, personalities of a double. In this instance, one is wishing for transformation, the other backing same in order to be transformed in turn as an audience member or lover. The repetitive, alliterative “w”s serve as beseeching, but failed, attempts at soulful union. Of course, there can’t be a much greater contrast in the avian set than exists between the toucan’s colourful pageantry and its raucous voice. All sorts of metaphorical suggestions to that of the artist, once again, exist.


A celebratory commemoration, lovingly deployed. Some wonderful phrases here: “Parish/Potluck of our backyard gully”; “thin clouds of incense”.


This is a curious poem. Its five triplets are, rare for Richardson, numbered, which leads me to believe they not only act as progressive narrative, if you will, but also as self-contained units.
The speaker and addressee need to be defined, if possible. The Muse is authoritatively, even aggressively, telling the artist how to proceed, but not (as is often unfortunately understood in this relationship) what to write (so much for the shy, ministering angel).

The progression, or rather devolution, makes for a frightening inversion on the Godly promise, though the “toys made from the bones of large birds” is a remarkable, and hard won, harvest.


Part two begins with a cagey narrative. I won’t say more for fear of spoiling the (typically) wonderful twist that is almost a Richardson staple, but I’ll just mention that the thrice-repeated internal “aw” enunciations in the last two lines act as perfectly placed mock regret.


The parallels here are straightforward, though the language and ideas used to convey the narrative are anything but standard. Envy is the issue -- envy and petty revenge. The feelings of inadequacy, though metaphorically clothed in “dry taiga” of circumstantial geography, have much to do with that nasty human emotion of bitterness over others’ joy, putting into relief their own lack of elan. But the “facsimile”, the “brilliant fakery” of the high plains folk, points to another historical (and certainly future) horror: the communal scramble of the have-nots to secure needed resources (fuel, food, electricity, water, soil) from the haves.


A multigenerational musing on the sins of the fathers, the poem wrings a hopeful transformation fantasy for Cora’s sons. The “savings and loans” scandal of the late 80s acts as neat metaphor for profligate spending of all sorts.


After I finished a second reading of this poem, I thought how the powerful emotions might have been ratchetted even higher by a first-person accounting. Upon further reflection, I’m sure I was wrong. Richardson’s narratives so far in this second section operate by recollected (fictionally or artistically altered) fact, and by metaphorical image. Introducing interiorities, or rather, highlighting those interiors, would, I feel, dilute metaphorical gems such as, “anticipating the smell of leaves/burning in large piles as you hum”. Richardson often creates a more pungent emotion in the short space of an apt image or delayed, repeated plot interjection than do many poets promenading dribbling, lengthy confessionals.


As in “Shore Report”, I won’t say much about the story since it’d pre-empt surprise. Among other ideas, the poem’s a study in contrast between opposing hierarchies on one hand, and a supposedly disinterested hierarchy on the other, with the narrator’s response to the latter left teasingly unknown. The desperate “oh” euphonies match the urgency of the drama.


Ah ha ha! The life of Riley, even in a sickbed. “Imagine a room full of career moms/juggling two jobs and house chores,/spoon-feeding Riley spiked sherbet,”. As in many of these narratives, the object of most interest is not so much the one observed as it is the one who’s telling the story. And another open-ended question (though there are several suggestions) as to what the narrator (and the other cuckolds) lacks.


Sometimes one reads a poem which is so identifiable that the personal and universal are indistinguishable. The speaker immediately reminded me, in detail and temperament, of my ex-father-in-law. A fascinating combination of pig-headedness, anger, and proud independence, and not without a sliver of transformation (“I’ll navigate through a stormy winter,/watching the straight dives of ospreys”.) I love the quick shifts of topic here, mirroring the restlessness, the curiosity of the bought-out exec who displays that wonderful idiosyncrasy which a good poet will revel in and expand upon, rather than simply pitching the lazy label of “businessman”, and then proceeding with an arrogant, simplistic sermon.


Well, it’s taken me till #16 till I’ve not been knocked out by a Richardson richness. This one didn’t work for me on several levels: the opening “I wished him a donor heart” is a little too obvious, a well-worn trail; despite its seriousness, the anecdote seems slight; the final “safe house” is a tad on the precious side.


A speculative history. Bishop’s story is probed, but the author is right to separate fact from myth, biased evidence from motive. Swatches, here, get cluttered with detail, but the language overcomes the periodic markers. Though it’s not an original idea, the poem ends on a wise note against history as a purely objective evaluative indictment.


Very clever. An ambitious and successful mix of the horrific, the sad, and the humorous. The speaker’s subtle put-downs are perfectly embedded in the quick, run-on short-lined consolation: “Take up/what little charm you had”; “think of those, who …. aren’t as fit or solvent/as you and yet abide/in some fleabag hotel”. The pitiful, “and the ward nurses/understand self-expression/in all its tawdry forms”, is suggestively exquisite. And the last four lines (which I won’t quote so’s to maintain the surprise) are hilarious.

The poem reminded me of a quote from a talk by the Soto Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, who, regarding artists, said: “If an artist becomes too idealistic, he will commit suicide, because between his ideal and his actual ability there is a great gap. Because there is no bridge long enough to go across the gap, he will begin to despair.”


Some lovely traded assonance here. Effective in mood and diction.


Sassy and tight, with a witty, brief, surprising turn (“word-counts to meet”) second-to-last line. A whelk is a marine snail, but also a pustule. And the selkie? Well, it's obvious which metamorphosis the couple favours.


Another curious piece. I reread this one many times, initially missing the “links” the title offers. Perhaps Richardson wanted to be oblique here, and to that end, I love that the conversation takes place “in the dark bedroom”. Intimacy and intuition are called out; a resolution is reached, incorporating both of their wishes.


A delightful dialogue. The irony of “bound[ing] up the outside of the stairs” is funny.


Now this is an intriguing placing by Richardson since it’s a direct follow-up to “Souvenir” from his previous collection, An ABC of Belly Work. The couple are older by some years, their passion still strong though now somewhat self-conscious. A tender revelation, and the opening line (which, again, I won’t quote here out of fear of giving too much away) is perfect.


This is a heartbreaking poem, one of the finest in a collection saturated with quality. Feelings ignite and suffuse out of the built-up context in musically-timed points: “mesmerized”, “irked”, “bug-eyed” (rounding with the final “cicadas”). The confluence of narrative with lyrical cross-pointed falls and rises is amazing, and what takes the poem to a level beyond accomplished is that it’s all a stated dream, and furthermore, a dream that has to be deciphered by another, the husband (which is then effectively transferred to us). A bravura piece of imagination, both artistic and familial.


Again, this says more about the speaker than it does about the subject, or at least one’s made to dig up the speaker’s untold story from fascinating suggestion. I could write a full-length essay here on my sympathy for the stepfather, but that would be inappropriate and taxing (certainly on my part). I’ll just close by stating that, though these narratives are rivetting, it’s the psychological depth which informs them that intrigue the most. Oh, and the crafted repetitions, hard-boiled spilling language, intimate tone ….


A clever (yes, I know some of these adjectives are becoming repetitive) and humorous “turn”, the triple meaning of “figure”, the double meanings of “expenses”, “Production”, and the “Rue” of the title, lend a curt charm to this transaction.


I very much enjoyed this poem on several levels, but, selfishly, thought it could have been even better with an expansion on both the “shaved-headed” and Tuck characters. Contrasts and metaphors, again, are on the mark: “busted/office chairs”; “exodus/of gung-ho card players” vs. “influx …. men who adjust voices”. Low-tech spontaneous camaraderie set against high-tech efficiency and prosaic routine.

I worked for years at a steel mill, in a warehouse, at manufacturing plants, and in offices, and the honesty (in this poem) of subtle power plays (or at least uneasy observance of many differences) between young and old workers may be missed by those not clued in to that world, but may more likely be missed by the unassuming, seemingly off-hand presentation by Richardson. There’s nothing casual in these lines, however. Word choices are exact and exacting; detail is wisely concise.


No comment on the narrative. It’d spoil the surprise. But if I may, just a few comments on the wonderful soft “e”s of “depresses” (a perfect and hilarious choice), “message”, “breathy suspension”, evoking the assumed disgust.


This poem is so compressed I felt throttled trying to connect many of the associations. The sound is exciting -- I imagine it voiced rapidly -- but I lost my bearings (no pun), though perhaps that was part of the point.


Three “aw”s: “till they had gone/beyond the object of their hugging”. So many contemporary (and near contemporary) poems dredge up a hopeful spiritual effect by rampant abuses of the words “falling light”, “luminous”, “shot through”, (or for the full monty: “shot through with falling light”), that when the above-opening quoted lines are encountered there’s an immediate recognition of their aptness, their honesty, their surprise, their unpretentiousness. This is what it is to be “happy for no reason”. Epiphanies, in life or poetry, can’t be willed. There’s nothing virtuosic about this poem, but its simplicity works best to bring out the amazing accuracies of the speaker’s observations, as well as the enveloping tenderness in the room.


The first poem in part four, the propelling dimetre and trimetre announces “the noccini are coming”. Humour, menace, high spirits. A “kitchen” sink of a poem if it were, as I’d hoped, at least a tad longer.


The sound and double meaning of “coffering loss” and “numbered drawers” is impeccable. And the realization, in physical struggle, of dilemmas in grieving is also victoriously wrestled. A terrific poem in its success in breadth and depth of ambition, its hurtling surprise, its quick images (“a passing cloud/gives you a glimpse of your clenched jaw”.)


Glorious imagery. Excellent soundplay, by turns startling and sinuously dreamlike.


Both tense and thoughtful, the shrinking line lengths in each triplet create an effect of a climber surging to hold, then resting to gauge balance and to refocus concentration. An intelligent dual meditation on the arts of rock climbing and poetry. And both, of course, are slippery.


The long lines and the stanza-plus sentences fed my submersion in restlessness with that of the subject. The final image is a mature realization of practical procedure over idealism, and the attitude of deflation is fascinating in its ambiguity.


Well, now the ambiguity is cleared up, at least narratively. The conceit here isn’t original, but it’s certainly effective.


Too indistinct. Though suggestive, I didn’t find optional answers -- or the language that conveyed it --illuminating or sharp.


In five stanzas, each with seventeen lines so’s to highlight their individual importance, this poem deals with the event (death), the immediate aftermath, the musing on what the quickly dying see, the eulogy, and the clich├ęd (though powerful and subtly put) rumination on life only having force in the here and now.


I counted -- what? -- two clunkers out of the 38, a few others with slight flaws, and the overwhelming majority of the poems either good or surpassing. Peter Richardson is a major voice in contemporary Canadian poetry. It’s a delight to read, one after another, vivid and necessary poems about people, events, issues, idiosyncratic and various experiences, about love and care for language, and ultimately about trusting that language to sincerely communicate to the reader universal joys and sorrows.

These entries also perplex (by contrast) as to why these poetic staples aren’t more in evidence amongst the line-spinning clan. Blame the great Stevens, whose focus on imagination and art as an isolated shrine his followers used as an excuse to cut out reality for the dream (notice how Richardson’s “Fiord Dream” allows the dream into the foundational realm of the physical world, not vice versa). Blame the haters of poetry who scorned language as truth and communication, replacing it with a parasitic, disingenuous (what, they aren’t communicating their “truth”?) unmusical sterility. Blame the quietists and/or minimalists who trumped suggestion over detail, context, voice, so that emotions emerged from an omnipresent ghost. Blame the historical fetishists who often recreate nineteenth century drama from study or workshop or classroom because profundity has been absent from their own lives, or because other contemporary lives and concerns baffle them.

Whatever the reason, Sympathy for the Couriers deserves that the wider readership knows it exists, and that it is separated by light years from the thousandfold instantly remaindered rectangular rec room coasters among us.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #86

An owl alights in the nightpine,
Blinking my epitaph.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #85

I've come down from the tabulating Mount,
Mounted are my horns, tremulous my touch;
The internet Loves of which I've lost count
Twitch in memory a little too much.

Rail on, Demented One, the last boat has sailed;
Knotted underwear in mouth, at all you quail.

I converse with the Reaper, your number’s up;
Put your brittle dentures in a starry cup.

Your words, like mine, shall be legendary song
Remembered by those who snort from bold bongs.

You may well jest, but my legacy is made
From psychedelic bubbles, tart lemonade.
My time is at hand, omens shade the shades;
I'll stake bets on passing 'hos with French braids.

Roll up the carpet, I'm blowing this pop stand.
Let the ‘poet’ soothe with piteous gland.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #84

Just up from my coma, and everyone's a comedian,
Salaaming inflections of internet braggadocio
Lodging in cauliflower ears where radiowaves beam,
Beckon with alien seductions, clammy-skinned dead-ringer
Giving me the silent finger after advertising his rock.

Heartthrobbing in tic-tic-tics, red chestfist, sludge and drang,
How long can this second-struck dirge go on? Melon-pelted,
Rapped by raspberries, jeered by Bronx readers, sentenced
By period-piece addicts, it’s a long impossible climb
To Ararat. Ah! Save me, Sweet or God, who cares the means?

Morning dew, fresh rehash of the misbegotten promise,
Carry my faint thoughts carefully through twin carotids
Unable to meet like an uncompleted dowser,
Hands unfurling the brittle stick which sticks in a whirl of sand.
Time, steeped like a one-generation dowry, curls the page.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

prophylactic: a concern


Limp bidding which drills idgits
With filled scripts in crimped digits
Brings illicit din in dribs
Fitting sin with sick nibs.

Ick! Rip this shirking shit
In flinty skins which fit
Livid dicks implicit
In six squibs explicit.

Flip itchy pricks “I” birds
In hip-tilts which trip n’ gird
Willy-Wisp risks insisting
Ill licks in rims bristling.

Rid this dribbling tit-spit
Fistic fibs in six-six-six writs,
Skint. Brimming with wins,
It’s book-cinch.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Ethereal Beauty #83

My Love, my Beauty, I'm your pink corn cockle,
Your hematic filbert cracked under a hard sun,
Folded in fury, bent in a quarter-moon
Against coins of banked snowpoints, silver and yellow.

Hemorrhaging like an upended, pierced slug
In fetid spittoon, I trail my slime through
Sheets clean and white, stock meta-whores of shock,
And shamble on the crumbled coral shelf.

Romantic as harmonic rats under
A groaning wharf, I sit on a block of the bay
And moan from overproof grief a melange
Of rondos to choke the bones in Chopin’s grave,
Semitones aquiver atop a floating fo’c’sle.

Ethereal One, it's an ideal sham
From garbled words and feelings I never had,
Rambling on Gods and bods, respect, neglect.
The metronomic waves are counterpoint.

"Mean" Poets

This from a 2007 Amanda Earl blog post:

"Zio performed an old favourite, Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, and also a love poem that was full of sound play and rhythm. Martin Levine read his usual e-mail to his sister; one woman read a “funny” anti fat poem. i have to say that there’s usually always one person in an open mic who will use the precious time on stage to be mean or make fun of people. fat is the last acceptable hate it seems. i love sitting in an audience and hearing my body and those like mine referred to as lard. why is it that these kind of poems always seem to rhyme?"

The "old favourite" is so for a reason: the audience members and membresses can sit back and experience a misty, agreeable, vague sensation one otherwise associates with a cocker spaniel puppy staring at you -- mouth stuffed with slippers -- from the carpet as you sip lemon verbena, peek at the slowly waving willows against the blue backdrop, and knit a sweater with an emblem of fuzzy heart, all while Oliver's "Meanwhile the world goes on .... Whoever you are, no matter how lonely/the world offers itself to your imagination".

There's nothing wrong with experiencing those sentiments, except, of course, when the words that manipulate that desired effect are confused with verse -- even poetry.

And this takes us to the contrast, with this "you tell those meanies, sensitive soul!" resume set-up now sympathetically behind the reader: Earl obviously loves emotion (I'd rather peg it as what it is -- emotivity and pleasing sentiment), but only when those emotions are agreeable and "positive" ones. But I didn't get the memo that only certain emotions were allowed into poetry. Rather, I thought that honesty was important, even when the emotion(s) depicted were and are difficult to undergo and process: envy, pettiness, boredom, selfishness, disgust, confusion, depression, and yes, even hatred, as long as it's not framed as authorial, inciteful propaganda.

Earl took the poem personally, and she arrogantly spoke for the rest of the audience when she stated, "hearing my body and those like mine referred to as lard".

Of course, the kicker is that nothing was imparted to the (in?) curious blog reader as to any evaluative measure on either the Oliver religiose esophagus-tightener or the "anti-fat" effort. For all I know, the narrator of the latter piece may not have been the reader, or it MAY have been, but was purposefully self-recriminating. I don't know. But even were the speaker's words insensitive or "hateful", the verselet still needs to be judged on its own merit: were the metaphors (if any) effective and surprising? Were the images ironically humourous? Did the surface issue of rampant social obesity point to a deeper "message" on the issues of tolerance of free speech vs the intolerance of politically correct behaviour with its passive-aggressive bullying in order to silence those unpopular views?

I don't know, of course, because the verse wasn't discussed. And for those who may say: "well, it's an open mic, what do YOU think the worthiness of her 'poem' amounted to?", I'd say that Earl, herself, enjoyed the other open mic participants, and that I have no problem with that experience since I've been happily surprised by good verse from other spontaneous readers, myself.

No, these reactions stem from a communal emotional group-hug aesthetic, one in which rooting for the "underdog", the "sensitive", the "quiet", the self-deprecating, is the exclusive oppressive orthodoxy.

And why rhyming, asks Earl? Rhyme is an effective strategy of form for the mocking tone, one of many reasons being that the sing-song nature of it, when effective, acts as a disarming, surprising shiv of contrast with its acerbic content.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Great Works

After perusing the online Great Works poetry site out of the U.K., the author sees the light and responds with some of his own shy forays into the ebony (w)hole of the post-avant pulpit:

prophylactic: a concern


reads a memento and hybrid forage
cone circles invite a leer
you say and turn into?
found this yesterday
why do you say so in many murders
the street winks back and steers
cartons of words
yes words
words words words
where the semantics freeze in apostrophies
i canter downwind i assess i grapple
the suez canal opens its gates
and the poem opens in miniature lace
and stale warnings keepers of the gloom

Ethereal Beauty #82

Infirm in the infirmary,
Germ-ridden, kitschy,
Cavalier on the lam,
Fondling an X-ray carbon
By the carbonated fizz
In my denture glass,
All’s well, Santa. They
Allowed me to self-promote again
(Charm school adages
Are releasing from memory)
So cough up with
The stick-on Valentino mustache.
Send C.O.D.
Blacklist Detention Hall
Rural Route #92
Bondo, NZ.
Thanks, and give Rudy a kiss for me.
Amen or Merry Short List.

Nurse, proofread this,
And knock me out with the mallet.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

On Originality in Poetry

From John Berryman's essay, "The Poetry of Ezra Pound":

"All the ambitious poetry of the last six hundred years is much less "original" than any but a few of its readers ever realize. A staggering quantity of it has direct sources, even verbal sources, in other poetry, history, philosophy, theology, prose of all kinds. Even the word "original" in this sense we find first in Dryden, and the sense was not normalized till the midcentury following."


" "The old playwrights took old subjects," remarks [Yeats] .... "They were absorbed in expression, that is to say in what is most near and delicate." .... but our literary criticism, if at its best it knows all this well enough, even at its best is inclined to forget it and to act as if originality were not regularly a matter of degree in works where it is worth assessing at all. A difficulty is that modern critics spend much of their time in the perusal of writing that really is more or less original, and negligible."



(italics in the original, if you'll pardon the pun)

The more things change, the more ....