April 20, 2017


Darren Bifford


It’s like in a cartoon, all the forest fires
Leapfrogging fires. Small civilizations caught
In the dirty, say they’re sorry and plead their cases
Ad hoc and brilliantly. “Scared as shit”
Is my summary. Excuses get you
An extra minute. The army is always
Dragging the mutilated
Corpses of the newest emperor
And his son through the streets. It’s no wonder
The sky is filled with frogs. Upturned
The ocean spills its fish and seashells and sharks.
In the old country you could count on fine weather
All summer, vernal festivals, voluptuary laws
Which sanctioned the General Course of Things.
It was a pleasure then, being alive
When a fifth of the world was known. The downturn
Happens when the knowing is over. It’s like
A forgetfulness comes on, a bad cold
That you didn’t know you had until recovery
Commenced. By then, though, you’re dead,
And so it’s the afterlife playing its cards and tricks.
You recall the old neighbors, how they packed
Shoeboxes of photographs. And that cartoon again,
When the talking animals all flee the forest,
Tailed by a great deluge of fire and wind. As if running
Could get you to the somewhere else it’s better to be at.
The great romance was this: there’d always be somewhere to go.
Otherwise there is no literature. As for me, I grabbed a novel
Though I’d never found time for fiction. It’s science fiction now,
Says the Judger. I told you so, says the river, which by now is everything.

Image by Neil Webster, courtesy Red Edge


There must have been a lot of beauty
At the end of empire. Scratch that.
Strictly the usual amount,
More or less, like in a movie
When before he is shot
The soldier considers the dewy grass or the dawn
Over yon golden hills. Which is to say
I doubt it. Consider the fowls of the air and beasts of the field
Christ did not say on the Cross. Why, why, why, why, why, why?
Is closer to the mark. And it was no ordinary day
For those who were otherwise occupied with their lives,
Even given the torturer’s horse scratching its innocent behind on a tree.
For there was a breaking sound in the sky;
We were all as terrified as other slow-witted animals, desirous and hungry.
I’m not getting over this in record time. Oh my heavenly days
Is what my grandmother sighed. Now which book will I take?
Will there be a record player? A mistake in these matters
Will commit us to eternal boredom. Help me
With a Jackson Pollock from the MoMA, whose paintings,
In lieu of small fires or snow storms, will serve to increase our contemplative
Capacity. Now if only we could get some help—I mean,
Help with the moving, not the moaning.
I’ve heard no pianos are housed on the isles of the blessed
Though the wind plays the trees and the trees are willing.
Now that my will is broken I am either left for dead
Or I shall see them forever, my wife, my little boy. They are crossing
Rue St Denis on a winter afternoon, holding hands. Flaring in the mind
Awhile longer like a flare shot to the height from which it falls in the night sky,
Tumbling into wine-dark oceans,
We went down to the ship —  

Darren Bifford on "Habitable Earth in Last Analysis" and "This Sunset Lasts Forever:"
It seems to me both poems use a similar rhetoric to address an identical theme: i.e., the end of
things in general. I see them both as dispatches sent as we're all on our way out the door. The longer line, the loose rhyme, the space for irony--both poems share these features.

Having a child had this unsurprising effect on my life: all the clichés are true; we haven’t solved anything; I’m going to die. And so: how not to panic. The poems are flares out of that crisis.  

April 11, 2017


Congratulations to Sandra Ridley, whose marvellous, elegiac collection Silvija (BookThug) is nominated for a Griffin Poetry Prize.

Read an excerpt from Vigil/Vestige  *  Find out more

March 10, 2017

S. E. Venart: A Poem

S. E. Venart

Some things cannot be faced head on. Inside
the bay, men in boots come with shovels, open our
washed ocean floor. The thoughts I can never lose

or use spout from the sanded throats of clams beneath
what the tide exposes. Two years after your death, you’re back
visiting my sister’s yard, admiring the lilacs. Some things cannot

be faced head on. When the men climb in a dinghy, they accept
a black mask and plunge for whores’ eggs: prickled delicacies
to be eaten, peeled, by eastern men. These thoughts I will never lose

lie beneath our bay’s smooth skin, it’s coming in, low tide holds
its copper strength for only sixty seconds. I have no time
to fix you in place before you’re gone. Some things cannot be faced head on.

This visit, you stood by tiny lilac flowered flutes, unruffled
bay behind you. All pettiness aside, I can’t be the daughter pulling
something hopeful from your thoughts. I must never lose

you, but we are allowed a break. On the peeling rust stones, the tide
stops in its moment— nothing to heed. The black suits dive for gold
among our waves. Some things cannot be faced head on.
What I can never lose, I’ve used.

March 8, 2017

Bicycle Thieves

Among my most anticipated of 2017, this from Mary di Michele, officially out in April.

The poems entered me like starlight, like messengers from another planet.

You can read some of them over at Numero Cinq, and in the Vallum Press chapbook Montreal Book of the Dead. 

"A masterwork from one of Canada's most important poets" at ECW Press

January 30, 2017

MAKING A FIST: Naomi Shihab Nye

Today this poem, from the Poetry Foundation website. Read more poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, and about her life and work, there.

Making a Fist
    We forget that we are all dead men conversing with dead men.
                                                                  —Jorge Luis Borges

For the first time, on the road north of Tampico,
I felt the life sliding out of me,
a drum in the desert, harder and harder to hear.
I was seven, I lay in the car
watching palm trees swirl a sickening pattern past the glass.
My stomach was a melon split wide inside my skin.

“How do you know if you are going to die?”
I begged my mother.
We had been traveling for days.
With strange confidence she answered,
“When you can no longer make a fist.”

Years later I smile to think of that journey,
the borders we must cross separately,
stamped with our unanswerable woes.
I who did not die, who am still living,
still lying in the backseat behind all my questions,
clenching and opening one small hand.

Naomi Shihab Nye, “Making a Fist” from Grape Leaves: A Century of Arab American Poetry. Copyright © 1988 University of Utah Press. 

Image by Nina Tara, courtesy of Red Edge Images

January 20, 2017

Could This Really Happen? And A Poem

Today, a look back at Tony Hoagland's wishful and wonderful Harper's Magazine essay Twenty Little Poems That Could Save America. I go back to this when I want to remember  and reaffirm that no matter the language of the day, we are not just consumers and not just taxpayers.

What would your list of twenty poems include?

Today mine would surely include Muriel Rukeyser's "Islands," bitter and optimistic, hopeless and hopeful, with the glittering surface that attracts and obscures right at the center.


O for God's sake
they are connected

They look at each other
across the glittering sea
Some keep a low profile

some are cliffs
The bathers think
islands are separate like them

January 13, 2017

Ronna Bloom: A Poem

Ronna Bloom

I write poems for money ––
where the giving over
is immediate, before the fact
of the poem, the hill-climb of heart,
the pillage of cells, the language
eruption. It is all and only
in response. The conversation
with silence tapped out
like an invisible ink, held to light.
The cash – a dollar or a thousand –
simply the glow I'm held to;
the person saying: ‘Do it for me.
Here is my door ­–– will you
open it? Hold it open for me to enter?
Will you leave me there alone?’
When the poem is written and I am gone,
it is in the hands of the lover,
as a lover leaves another behind
with the satisfaction and grief
of their own life, shared,
but taken back ultimately
into their skin. It was
always yours. I only held it
up to the light, I only
saw it flickering, caught it like a
moth in my hand and
gave it back.

Ronna Bloom

(from Queen's Quarterly by permission of the author)

Ronna Bloom is a writer, teacher, psychotherapist, and author of five books of poetry. She is Poet in Community to the University of Toronto and Poet in Residence at Mount Sinai Hospital. Pedlar Press will publish her sixth book of poems in October. www.ronnabloom.com