amongst books

amongst books

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Leonard Cohen, notes towards a flash haiku

On the night of November 7, 2016, Leonard Cohen died at his home in LA. That night, coincidentally, I was in Montreal, his home town, to do a reading as part of Vallum Magazine’s Issue 13.2 – The Wild launch at Bar Sans Nom/The Emerald Bar on Av. du Parc. I didn’t hear about his death until I left Montreal. I was off the grid, taking long walks and savouring my time in a city I fell in love with in part because of Leonard Cohen. Earlier on the 7th I had walked past the Parc du Portugal next to where he lived for 40 years and paid tribute in my own way (“As the mist leaves no scar on the dark green hill…)

I have enjoyed his music for many years and his poetry in the last few decades. I appreciated that he existed. I admired his view about the sacredness of language and the rituals he adapted for his creative and spiritual practices, often one and the same thing. And while it isn’t in vogue right now, I admired his reputation as a ladies’ man. I related to it. I have always wanted such a term for myself, but a mens’ lady doesn’t have the same ring to it and anyway, I’m no lady. I also adore Montreal and would live there were I single and young and capable of regularly climbing stairs and mountains on a full stomach of red wine, espresso, garlic laden everything and pastries.

On November 8, I returned home to Ottawa where I heard of the news of his death and later that night the dreadful news of the American election. For the rest of the week, these two stories would follow one another on CBC Radio, which I was listening to for tributes to one of Canada’s greatest and most well known poets and song writers. It was a strange combination of grief, grieving for Canada and those who loved Leonard, while also grieving for our neighbour to the South, to see the death of liberal and compassionate values as a megalomaniacal authoritarian rose to power, or at least to sense that this is the way it was going to be.

On the tv and in social media I saw photos of tributes, candles and cards and flowers heaped up against the door of Leonard’s house in Montreal and in Parc du Portugal. I listened to people singing Hallelujah and waving candles, coming together to  share theirgrief.

Two years later, I still feel the lack of this enormously talented artist and I’m still grieving for the state of a world without Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and many other great musicians and artists. And I link this lack of great and creative spirits to the death of kindness, openness, generosity that I associate with the results of the 2016 election in the USA.

When the opportunity came up to write something for the Blasted Tree’s flash haiku contest the weekend of July 7-8, a haiku about Leonard Cohen was the first thing that came to my mind. It was a Saturday night, I was noodling around on FaceBook, trying to ignore all the bad news of what the Ogre in the House of White is doing, of what Ontario’s own Ogre is going to do and I don’t know, maybe my ITunes shuffle landed on a Leonard Cohen song.
I’m thrilled that it was chosen as the winner of the contest and for publication.

If you’d like a copy of the haiku, please visit to acquire a copy of the haiku as a lovely mini-leaflet or just to read it. I hope he would like it.

Shortly after he died, I was attending the Sawdust Reading Series, the bartender accepted a request to make Red Needles, Leonard Cohen’s favourite drink, which he created: tequila, cranberry juice, ice, and lemon. Many of us had brought in his poems to read during the open mic. It was a good night. If you are an alcohol drinker, please toast with your own Red Needles cocktail (or a mocktail, if not) and know that I’m toasting back.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Attention Canadian Poets: Poetry 100 - postcard exchange

Attention Canadian poets, would you like to participate in a Canada-wide postcard poetry exchange?
E-mail me at amanda at amandaearl dot com and i will send you the instructions.


I received a box of 100 postcards (Postcards from Penguin - One Hundred Covers in One Box)
via Ottawa’s Sawdust Poetry Reading Series door prize,which I won on May 23, 2018.
I’ve decided to send out 100 postcard poems from a series of 100 short poems I am writing entitled “Clare,” inspired by the book titles.


E-mail me and I will send you a link to a Google doc with addresses and instructions.
As addresses are added, you can send out and receive more postcards.
You can send poetry, prose, song lyrics or a hybrid. Genre doesn't really matter. It has to be short enough
to fit on a postcard.

You can send as many or as few postcards as you like; no obligations.
I am limiting the exchange to Canadian addresses only due to mailing cost expense.


Thank you to the wonderful and always inspiring Sawdust Reading Series for the door prize
and for its series, which takes place at Bar Robo on the 3rd Wednesday of the month year-round.
I appreciate the way it includes both established and emerging poets through its poem-off contest
and its open mic. Jennifer Pederson, the host and creator of the series is one of the friendliest and
most welcome hosts I've ever encountered for a series. She makes sure the audience claps all the way
up when a poet is coming to the stage, for example.
For more information about the series, please visit

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Lady Lazarus Redux reviewed

My chapbook, Lady Lazarus Redux (above/ground press, 2017) received a lovely review from Michael Dennis on Today's Book of Poetry. Thanks, Michael and friends for the kind words.

Last year, Greg Bem was kind enough to write a good review of the chapbook on Goodreads. Thanks to Greg.

Lovely to see this chapbook getting some love.

Friday, May 11, 2018

for those who love colour - an update

i wrote this post back in 2011 and i still have cause to refer to it today. i thought i would update the post, since it continues to be relevant. I can't read enough about colour, dye, textiles and paint, so please feel free to make more suggestions.

On, there's a list called The History of Colors you  might enjoy.

Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox (also called a Natural History of the Palette) by Victoria Findlay

the first book i ever read specifically about colour. it’s full of wondrous tales about colour in art, fashion, design, health, music, pretty much everything you could imagine. there’s a wee bit of science for the layperson too, explaining how colour works. here is the story of colour from the cave to the canvas, from the indigo workers to the Spanish ox-blood coloured fatty beef stew. this is a collection of fascinating stories.

A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage and the Quest for the Color of Desire by Amy Butler Greenfield
the history of cochineal, the brightest, strongest red in the world

The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux
blue, red and yellow in history, art, textiles, literature. love the way this book wanders and takes imaginative leaps from one instance of blue to the next. from eye colour: Hitler’s eyes were blue to a blue vegetable dye made from human urine. Given to me by a dear friend when i was in hospital in 2009. She knows me well.

And The Secondary Colors, also by Alexander Theroux

On Being Blue by William H. Gass (recently deceased). This book had more to do with expressions that used blue in them, rather than about the colour's history and properties.

by  - a beautiful coffee table book given to me by a dear friend, the same who gave me the Primary Colors

Kandinsky's Concering the Spiritual In Art has a big section on the psychology and theory of colour from 1911.

Pigments Through the Ages
a brief description of the history of specific pigments and their symbolism, often with references to art.

Crayons: Crayola colours

the colour clock represents time as a hexidecimal colour value.

Lilac, the color of half mourning, doomed hotels and fashionable feeling by Katie Kelleher, the Paris Review 

The Racist Message Hidden in a Masterpiece by Kelly Grovier in BBC Culture (thanks to Eric Schmaltz, author of the wondrous Surfaces (Invisible Publishing, 2018) for this link.

The Color Thesaurus by Ingrid Sundberg

The Life and Death of Mummy Brown by Philip McCouat in Journal of Art and Society

From Crushed Bugs to Cow Urine - the History of Colours in Pictures by David Coles in the Guardian

part of my interest in colour comes from my synaesthesia. i have grapheme synaesthesia which means i associate letters, numbers, people's names, days of the week, months and a few other things with colour. for example pain for me can be a green ache, a yellow throb, a white sharp jab and sometimes other colours like brown, purple and red come into play.

Diane Ackerman's A Natural History of the Senses has a great section on synaesthesia; in his memoir Speak, Memory, Nabokov talks about how musical notes evoke textures for him.

Another good book is Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens: How Synesthetes Color Their Worlds by Patricia Lynn Duffy.

As a child, i didn't know that i was doing anything unusual when i mixed up colour and names, for example i would sometimes call someone green if their name was Steve. i got 4 and 5 confused because they were blue and green and that seemed similar to me. at some point, i was trotted out at parties and asked to tell people what colour their names were, like a child psychic or carny act. my sister wrote down the correspondences and would test me on them every once in a while and they stayed constant. i've done tests and my synaesthaesia seems to be still very high. if you'd like to do a test, you can take one here.

after being treated a bit like a circus act, i figured i was the only person with this thing, i didn't know it was a condition and i didn't know it could be quite extreme for some people. some people have severe physical reactions to colour or smell or other senses. at 18 in university, i was exposed to Baudelaire's Correspondances and Rimbaud's Voyelles, two poems where senses are blended. Voyelles was particularly exciting for me and confusing. Rimbaud's matches were not my own.

how does this show up in my writing? when i first started to workshop my poems with others, i was told that my colour associations were arbitrary and made no sense. they probably still don't, but it's not something i have heard in the last 5 years or so.

i'm also quite gaga for visual poetry and visual art where colour is prominently featured, such as abstract expressionism, Mark Rothko's pieces.

i found it difficult when i was in hospital due to the lack of colour or the lack of strong colours. everything was white, pale blue, pale yellow. these pale colours were also in my delusions.

if you know of other sites or books on colour or synaesthesia, please let me know. and if you are a colour lover like me, you're a kindred spirit. i'd love to hear more about your colour proclivities.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

above/ground press 2017 – final favs – Ottawa

N.W. Lea, Nervous System (November)

The cover is a visual poem of a flower with a brain at its centre and a spine for the stem It’s the work of poet, visual poet, musician and former Ottawan, Jesse Ferguson and it’s striking and fits with the poems in this collection, particularly the title poem.

These poems are minimal and quiet, apologetic and humble, but they pack a punch. There’s a playfulness in poems like March List and An Ecstasy and beneath the playfulness or at times brushing off of feeling is depth of feeling. The imagery in Nervous System is vivid and active. For example, in The Wound: “The wound is a rune. Sobbing goblins tend its fire.” Or in Nervous System “this sketchy head/fused to the landscape/betraying whole civilizations.” And “rain-slick alders in fall,/ the blooded dusk of an amalgam town. Night’s freak//beater of stars.” In Pyscholyric. Why am I thinking of Gord Downie and the Tragically Hip now? Cue Wheat Kings.

To a certain extent, these poems represent a Millennial experience: malaise about world events, self-doubt, loss, an emptiness, observation as if from a distance. “Then you recall/and have to re-feel/the serrated embrace/of young panic.” (Pyscholyric).

Whenever I get the chance to read N.W. Lea’s poetry, I always feel a certain relief. I’m no Millennial, having been born at the dregs of the baby boom, but I relate to these poems and they reassure me that I’m not alone.

Jason Christie, random_lines = random.choice (January)

Speaking of minimal, here’s Mr. Christie with 9 poems that from appearance make me think of Twitter and of code. I’ve always admired the profound nature of Jason’s poetry. In these poems he blends the everyday with philosophy and receptive file formats and a pinch of absurdity. There’s a tenderness to his poetry that always catches me off guard. I expect a kind of cool objectivity and then I get “tin”y song islands/replete with music: you gotta watch your own back.” In # morning fragments, for example, or a portrait of a grey day and then “Emmett playing the piano,/hidden stars in our time/lapse” in #anvil and a swing timer. These are contemplative poems by a parent and a poet: “the child/inside considers itself whole -/family he recognizes into/bells and song bells -/his music to be a joy to.” In “ day – what does a child. Despite the guilt and shame and despair we all feel, there is music: “Through amber Snow/we sing we sing to create.” In # hitch And every A hitch. I loved this line in # ballad highway “Unbegun is the most/all three of us can manage/at this time of day.” In many of these poems the light is juxtaposed with grey, with metal with bleakness with gravel and it works. “you let it burn through.” In # encumbrance at dawn. “hope shedding months of /drudge and resist” in “from that great game of bridges. Something I repeat often in February is that life is mostly pain, suffering and tedium punctuated by moments of joy. Jason’s poetry always gives me moments of joy.

natalie hanna, dark ecologies (October)

These square prose poems offer long sentences that wind over dark sleep men in suits, along ants that crawl on a woman’s calves into a winter forest. There’s a sensuality to Natalie’s work that I have always admired, a keen eye for detail and a compassion. This compassion that launches itself into full blown anger in poems like syrian aperture and blue, bad mothers. The speaker of these poems and the poet herself is a ferocious bad-ass and the poems show that, while at the same time, quieting down just long enough to smolder. I can smell the smoke when I open the pages.

rob mclennan, It’s still winter (August)

This chapbook contains 18 lyric prose poems that engage with the sentence. “I awake myself to sentences: common, and unmoved” in “My daughter is in New York City.”  I like the rhythms of these poems: “The poem is the distance between early morning rustlings: the toddler, cat.”  There are juxtapositions I hadn’t thought of before, “Skin like a cobra, a keyboard.” in the title poem and “When might depression feel like fire?” in Brockwell Madrigal. I enjoy the playfulness: “I’m feverish. I’m lovin’ it.” in the title poem. Many of the poems mention the work of the poem, of writing, contemplating the nature of sentences and prose and silence and grammar, scattered notes. The sentences in these poems are often short and staccato.There are lots of questions and fittingly, no answers. I enjoy the thinking behind these poems and the way the sentences are put together.

Marilyn Irwin, north (March)

The cover of the chapbook is a woman with a ribbon in her hair, possibly a fascinator, in the dark water up to her chest. She is gazing up at the dark sky, the moon and a sprinkling of stars. The words “Les Ondines” and “Madeleine Morel” are attributed to the image, but I could find no info via Google search. I was intrigued. As I’m rereading the chapbook, I am listening to Timbre Timbre, attributed as the soundtrack to Marilyn’s writing, editing and life. These are beautiful, soft acoustic songs, swampy ragged blues, says Wiki. No Bold Villain, one of Timbre Timbre’s songs is the epigraph for north: “One of us is not normal/And it might not be you.” So I am fully prepared for the dark quiet lady of the swamp offering up her blues.

These are small poems. This is Marilyn’s speciality. I have been a fan of all of her poetry for several years. 23 poems begin with (&) and then we have an epilogue. They are precise and sharp, often wry. The opening poem (&)/he said he wouldn’t speak/to me ever again/if I killed myself” gives you an idea of what to expect. I wonder if the woman on the cover is about to drown herself while gazing up at the moon and the stars. Another poem describes the room inside a hospital, another an unhappy spider plant: “it turns away from the sun/it is trying.” There’s a feisty fuck-you-ness to these poems amidst the despair. I believe that the woman on the cover climbs out of the water onto the other side. To paraphrase the final poem, she chooses north.

Faizal Deen, Open Island (March)

Three poems in this small ocean blue chapbook offer startling lines and imagery, perfume and a modern soul. There’s an energy to this work, to all of Faizal’s work and a push against conventional tropes of literature. I think of Shakespeare’s the Tempest when I read these poems and the speaker as Caliban. I love the beauty of the open island with its ghosts and jasmine, the films, the hippogriff. These poems give off the feeling of the misfit, not just any faggot. I love the energy and the magic of these and all of Faizal’s poems.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

above/ground press fav chapbooks of 2017 - part 2

Sandra Moussempès, From: Sunny girls; translated by Eléna Rivera (March)

“These poems originally appeared in French in the collection Sunny girls, published by Flammarion in 2015” 

I enjoy translations for a multitude of reasons, but in particular because they either introduce me to work in a language I don’t know or because they introduce me to a voice I have never heard before, or both. In this case, I am new to both the poet and the translator. 

I don’t recall ever having read a translation through above/ground press before. It is possible that it has published works in translation and I may have missed. Either way it is a wonderful thing to do for both writers and readers. I commend rob mclennan on doing so.

I appreciate that the English and original French text is included.

I was intrigued from the opening lines, minimal and simple in structure but unusual and often fanciful in nature. By the second poem, which contains the line, “Poetesses who bet on the banal don’t ride mopeds despite appearances,” I was charmed. In French the sound is gorgeous, a real tongue roller.

The work contains a longer prose piece entitled “Momentary Resurgence of Visual Sensations”  which moves slowly through the actions of thought and speech. “I like voices she could say I like not synthesizing not telling not retracing instead of shutting up, I ask myself and my answer is a question that has become a remake of my supposed previous life, track the sound that delayed leaves my mouth track that which spills out in thought, do you think then that one can become a person that will come back that one can come back in thought in the though of those who question you?

I like the repetition and the minimal punctuation in this piece, the way it mimics the way we think, or at least the way I think, a kind of self-talk. There is something Lisa-Robertson-ish about the way the author turns philosophical musings on thought and speech into poetry, into a subject for poetry. The thread of desire.

The poem ends with “and nonchalantly the red sun penetrates the purely theoretical text.” I feel that about Moussemps’ poetry.

The final small poem “I had noticed an unadorned house” is three lines that end with the line “I hear a breath behind me”.  We continue after this poem, after this work. I like poems that end without concluding.

I look forward to reading more of Moussemps’ writing and Rivera’s translations and poetry.

Jessica Smith, The Lover is Absent including poems from The Daybooks (April)

I have been a fan of Smith’s writing since I read her first above/ground press chapbook, “Shifting Landscapes” in 2006. She may have been one of the first writers I’d seen, in addition to rob mclennan, to play with horizontal space on the page. I was excited by the possibilities of reading the text that was opened up via this space and various alignments.

Let me start by acknowledging the beautiful line art by artist, writer and tattoo artist, Alixandra Bamford, which I loved.

I’ve attempted to make a day book before and I’ve failed because my entries are too mundane. There’s nothing mundane about Smith’s poems, which feel tender, slow-moving and lush to me in the way that they unfurl like the vines on Bamford’s illustration.

You know when an artist creates something, and you feel this sense of kindredship with her? This is what happens to me when I read Smith’s work. For example, in “21 March 2015 / Brooklyn [and I apologize for not spacing the poems as they are in the text; get the chapbook and you’ll have the right spacing; also note that this is one reading of the text, there are other ways to read it and include the text on the left-hand side]:

“people still say ‘soul mates’/they mean/ this kind of ghost/longing for the one who fits with you”

or in “28 March 2015 / Buffalo”:

“I am sitting in your attic after Mark/Kaplan’s attic/ patron saint of mad women/fuzzy aqua rug/and perfect light”

Later in the poem, Smith describes perfume as “tiny vials of sensory experience/transparent or slightly golden/interruptive”.

I admire the way Smith takes such close up looks at things, watches and listens with such attention. There is nothing more rewarding to me than being offered the fruits of a good poet’s attentiveness, as I am here.

I love the way she translates desire into images that make sense once you know they exist…in “2 March 2015 / Birmingham” for example, “the boats of us/the same slippery wood/ribs shiny with salt” or “my wide love for you/kept toggle-closed/spreading like too-large wings” in “19 September 2016 / Birmingham.”

I follow Smith on social media and I was overjoyed when she shared her experiments in dyeing fabric, the different textures she used and the natural materials and plants. Her poetry has this appeal for me too: “Swede-blue eyes/against the dark red houses,” “fields of wildflowers,” “slightly blue translucent webs” in “27 June 2003 / Ulvön / Sweden.

In “The Lover is Absent” Jessica Smith offers us the wild, untameable light.   

In “poorsong one” (March), Lisa Robertson writes “You May Pleat This Verse/or cut across freshly/To Make Any Sort of Refrain/That may be needed/Very Often/We are in Great Error.” I’d like to have this as a stitching sampler on my wall. This type of humility is one of the many things I admire about Robertson’s writing.

Another is her engagement with texts from earlier ages, particularly Medieval France. This chapbook opens with the cover of “Les chansons de Guillaume IX, duc d'Aquitaine (1071-1127), this edition published in 1927, known as the earliest troubadour and he wrote in the Occitan language.

I love this chapbook for its whimsy, for the possibilities of rearrangement, for the collage-like nature of the accumulated imagery, for the oddnik phrasing and the list-like nature of the poems. “The Current Enlivened/Between Comet and Cricket/Between the Bark and the Core/Wildrose and Girl.” From Scarce Dawn/Rimes Person with Song*”

Poems are formatted like songs, centred with title caps on each word and titles in uppercase. In the above poem, we are told in a footnote that “She appears wearing Pucci” and “52 out of every 154 syllables / Are bound into Pattern.”

Each page of this chapbook offers surprises, whimsical and beautiful juxtapositions. The relationship between the offerings and the songs of Guillaume X? You’d have to ask the fox of joy.

Buck Downs – the hack of heaven  (July)

There’s a humility to these short, spare poems. “I’d settle/for getting my tail/pinned back on –” (a Loop is not a circle), “life that beats/the philosophy/out of me” (switchborn cinder) and “I do not know/what I am talking about/and I am talking about it –” in handyman of the spirit. I almost get a feel of blues music with lines like “a curious crow/born to quick picking//lay down raging/wake up running/back to my home door” in bottom wheel and “it ain’t no sin/to keep on living” in dragon slider or “that fool made a man out of me” in Lamentude. The style is intimate. I feel like the listener the speaker is writing to in a poem such as the earth is rent: “silver bells are ringing/a dirge for those who yearn.”  There’s a lyricism and loveliness to some of the imagery: “hybrid means/to a shared end//twin cats in the wild//like some relative/I didn’t know I had//bruise colored hay/we made” in sweet reaction. And a  quirkiness too: “kisses like pop tarts,/sugary/& crisp where they/burn the mouth” in what I did not plan/to do today.
There are engagements with song. Stevie Nicks song lyric from Dreams as poem title and word play of You were always on my mind becomes “always on my grind.” There are philosophical musings about death and time and love here. The whole chapbook has a laid-back feeling. Kind of Kerouac/modern day Beats.

Sarah Dowling – Entering Sappho (July)

The cover is a map, which hints that we are not talking about Sappho, the poet. A note introduces the poetry at the beginning of the chapbook claiming that “the town was named by the original family that settled here in the late 19th century, and they were fond of Sappho’s poetry.”  I was hoping that this town was made up, but it is real, located in Washington.

This is a long, incantatory and sensual poem that opens with a list poem chant of numbers and places and a disappearance and this form appears once more in the middle of the poem and then again toward the end. Like Sappho’s poems, this feels like a song. The work is evocative of Anne Carson’s translation of Sappho, If Not, Winter. I confess that Carson's translations of Sappho are the only Sappho translations I have read. 

These are long, serpentine couplets, and  the content has to do with the body’s reaction to desire, to love. Here this desire also translates as agony, anxiety and cold sweat. I loved the sound in this poem, the buzzes and the sibilance, the liquids and the repetition, the rendering of the madness of yearning. I cannot do justice to the energy of this poem, but here is one example for me of this coiled up energy about to break free: “My  heart in my chest—thousands of/bees hovering around hives—all//invisible—then it is a subtle fire whose/scents radiate through my skin—"

Monday, January 15, 2018

above/ground press fav chapbooks of 2017 - part 1

i've been a subscriber to above/ground press for more years than i can remember. my shelves are full of magazine holders that are bursting with yellow and blue and orange and green covered chapbooks by poets i would have never have heard of, had it not been for the prolific publishing of rob mclennan through above/ground press. as part of its catalogue, above/ground press also includes several titles of mine, for which I am extremely grateful.

since 2018 marks the press's 25th anniversary, no mean feat!, i thought i would go through last year's subscription and write about a few of the chapbooks that  i most engaged with. by my count there were 39 chapbooks in 2017, which is a helluva lot for one publisher. i'm going to be writing over a period of time in dribs and drabs about these chapbooks. bear with's part 1... and it's in no particular order.

above/ground press favs of 2017

Matthew Johnstone, ( Kiln ) (December)

When I think of a kiln, I think of an oven that heats up glaze and clay in order to make solid ceramic objects that are either purely functional or artistic. I think of something that contains and transforms, the change of state from liquid to solid, impermanence and permanence: “thing/lays now unthing,”(Kiln’s preface). and how the metaphor of the kiln extends to the body (Muzzles). The poems lead me to a metaphysical musing on the nature of existence, the ephemeral and the eternal, our miniscule status or place in the larger scheme of things. I like the way the chapbook moves from minimal spare spacy poems to prose poems, all offering tangible and sensual imagery: “other country/metal wet” (station, wound) and then back to the minimal and spare poems again ( strobe, opposite what ).

Natalee Caple, The Appetites of Tiny Hands (November)

I’m already hooked by the title. I think of ee cummings, “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands” from “somewhere I have never travelled, gladly beyond.” The chapbook is a reprint of the 1997 above/ground press publication. I’m glad because I wasn’t reading contemporary poetry back then nor was I aware of the interesting publications coming out of above/ground press. I have had the pleasure of reading Natalee’s “A More Tender Ocean” (Coach House Books, 2000). These poems remind me of the poetry in the aforementioned book. There’s a gentle and understated quality to the work. The poems are at times playful and at times deep. The imagery is stunning, dreamlike and visual. These are hopeful poems and I’m glad they’ve been brought into the world once more. The afterword, written by Natalee in 2017 as she looks back on herself a decade before is quite lovely to read as well.

Philip Miletic, Marginal Prints (January)

As someone who is an inveterate dog-earer and scribbler in the margins of books, I was already interested in this chapbook from the opening quote by Dorothy Livesay,
In the margins are all the notations
sniffs of sun, sand
ribs of your bony structure
strands of your colourless hair
these beckon curl and wind
words to the edge of the page
fly out all over
                                                from enchanted mouths

Dorothy Livesay, “This page my book”

which follows Philip Miletic’s dedication to “all of those whose prints were left behind.”

Philip Miletic begins by making a connection between reading and the body, reminding me of Je Nathanaël by Nathanaël (Book Thug, 2003).

This 20-poem sequence (counting the x that precedes the numbered poems) is an erotic and intimate love note from the speaker of the poems to an unnamed you who has left notes and marks inside a book or books. Theses are spare poems with lots of space in between the words for breath. I have dog-eared a poem that resonates:


a ghost of pause
                        time without
and within

Sarah Fox, Invisible Wife (February)

I’m a sucker for a good opening quote or epigraph. After a dedication to
the Great Goddess and to the memory of Alicia Hughes, this chapbook begins
with a quote by dancer Eiko Otake about the role of loss in art. I’m
already simpatico with both Otake and Fox.

I found the poems in this chapbook to be creative, whimsical and relatable.
I liked how the poet engaged with artists such as Frida Kahlo and Ida
Applebroog, an artist I hadn’t heard of before. It was clear to me from the
opening quote that I was going to enjoy the work and discover kindred artists.

These are feminist poems. Many are poems that deal with a woman in her later years, which is refreshing to me, as I am in my mid fifties. I found the need to write about each poem because, although the themes carry throughout, each poem is very different in style, emotion and tone.

The irreverent or questioning tone of the work is present from the beginning. In “The Bluebird of Happiness,” a poem about Frida Kahlo, we are told that “A woman’s Virgin Mary is a patriarchal thought//built into her womb,” A book’s contents are likened to a fetus.

In “The End,” a poem written in response to fellow Brooklyn poet, M C Hyland’s poem of the same title, a poem that is also influenced by other poets, Fox offers a witty series of short sentences that move from mortality to capitalism and then back to mortality again. The images are concrete and visual. They accumulate. There’s a sense of anger. There are plays on phrases, such as “Conceal and miscarry.” The association with the colour red and endings is present throughout, from the “end of menstrual trauma and bleeding on my bank statements” to “These garden plots red with beetroot and affirmation” to “Opening the red carpet, your beautiful gown, your jeweled sacrarium.”

“Say Something: A Performance for Ida Applebroog,” is a poem in three parts, which is to be continued past the publication of the chapbook. Applebroog is a New York artist and filmmaker, who is now 88 and whose work explores the themes of gender, sexual identity, violence and politics, according to Wikipedia. She is known for her drawings of her vagina made in 1969 and not exhibited until 2010.  I can imagine this poem as a chant at protest rallies. In the poem, Fox talks about freeing Pussy Riot and refers to “testicle detritus.” The tone throughout the three sections is one of disillusionment and despair.

“Invisible Wife,” the title poem, is a long poem in three parts. It opens with a quote from James Baldwin that invokes passion, and a quote from John Colburn’s book of short fiction “Invisible Daughter.”

The poem has the tension of a bad dream and opens with the image of a stone snake unwinding, unescapable. The second section begins like a fairy tale or fable, “Once there was a husband who took leave/of his wife and walked into the forest.”  The wife became a glimmer, every tree in the forest. The third section concludes with rancid butter, loneliness and the husband’s fingertip being bitten off by a bunny.  The invisibility of women is a theme throughout. “My heart is also invisible, to me./But it sings in tune.”

“Index” is a series of prose poems that ask questions and share grief and memories from girlhood to wedding to loss of virginity to ageing. They rail against age and defy expectations. There are certain repeated motifs throughout the chapbook and they are collected here, references to religion, to outer space, the references to animals: “my animal body,” a horse that has to be harnessed, (horse mentioned in the previous poem), the theme of escape, running away from, “the prolonged scream of an owl mauling a rabbit” and Tchaikovsky’s Symphony #4  in Fm in conjunction with being at the gynecologist’s: “These violins and woodwinds sound like children’s literature. Matriarchy and wild boars.” “Fox and cat chase scream.”

“First Aid Kit” is another piece that engages with art and with the need for artists to assert their voices. In this case the art work is “Dream Disaster, an installation by Maiza Hixson and Lauren Ruth” which includes a wedding gown with a red fanny pack labelled “First Aid Kit.” Not surprisingly, given its inspiration, this is a poem of protest about marriage between a husband and wife and the misogyny of the current American president. It is a forceful and angry poem at times and a thoughtful, compassionate poem at others. It contains my favourite lines of the entire chapbook, “My fake heart //shriveled-up. I reached deep/inside my wedding/and tugged it out.” And then later, “I’m imaging a tail on the wedding dress./A whip. Something ugly like driftwood./Something like a deer climbing out/of driftwood. Someone lifting/the driftwood up out of the river/they were crying into…”

The penultimate poem, “Save Me” is a gorgeous poem with long, energetic lines. It is a dance in place of death. It contains words in Spanish. It made me think of the mass shooting in Florida at Pulse in which queers were killed. It is a poem filled with energy and compassion, a kind of reimagining of creation.

The final poem, “WORDS FOR WINTER,” is a list of individual phrases in capital letters, that play on signs and to my mind at least, bumper stickers, but these are louder, and sadder and more hopeful.

Invisible Wife is a ride through anger, grief, delight, and frustration with the state of the world. It is imaginative and thoughtful. It is timely.

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