Saturday, 28 July 2012

Robert Demaree

October Song

A change of seasons
Shifts cloud and light about October skies;
Against a luminous gray, it casts
Albescent brightness
On those gingerbread cottages
Across the pond
Or on the red gold stripe of sugar maple
Up a ridge on Gunstock,
Dramaturgy on a crisp day.

At the restaurant the owner smiled
As though he might remember us.
I see him twenty years ago,
Holding the door for my mother,
A kind touch, softly, on the elbow,
Her gnarled hands gripping the walker,
Slowly up the ramp.
That was the summer my father died;
Time accrues before you feel
The mnemonic pull of a place.


TSTmpj:  The poem's delineation between the inside and the outside -- what nature does under those October skies and what happened inside the restaurant -- seems to me to allude to our inner and outer life.  Any thoughts on this comment?

Robert Demaree:  The structure of a poem can be dictated initially by the order in which the events actually happened. But then you see contrasts that tell you what was really on your mind. The outward dramaturgy in the first stanza suggests the possibility of an inner event. It takes the narrator a while to see what that event was—the touch on the elbow, the unlocked memory. I hoped that the exterior and interior experiences would come together in a particularity of place.


TSTmpj:  Another sense I get from your poem is family roots being natural roots.  Given that so many families are dysfunctional, do you see this dysfunctionality as "natural"; or are, perhaps, our ancestral, family roots to be viewed more as mythic, in the sense that they took place in those metaphorical "gingerbread houses"?

Robert Demaree:  The search for family and home, dysfunctional or not, is, of course, one of the classic motifs in all literatures. So I think that those roots, in our immediate and larger families, are indeed mythic, something you come to terms with, hang on to. You find home and family where you can. As Robert Frost famously wrote, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there,/They have to take you in." 


TSTmpj:  Memory is such a key aspect of our humanity.  Do you feel that for you personally its importance has grown over the years, and if perhaps it has, in what ways?

Robert Demaree:  Memory is also an essential part of poetry. Its importance of necessity grows over the years, as we struggle to keep it in focus and, coming upon a memory, like a lost note in the bottom of a desk drawer, ascribe a meaning we had not known was there. I love Billy Collins’ poem "The Effort," in which he jokes about teachers "fond of asking/ 'What is the poet trying to say?'" I find that what I am trying to say has to do almost completely with memory—the weight of the past, the abiding presence of loss, the mnemonic pull of place.

Bio Note

Robert Demaree is a retired educator who's authored four collections, including Mileposts (2009).  He has had over 550 poems individually published.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

B.T. Joy


we have believed too long 
creation is handed down 
from above 
something chipped away
and smoothed; or moulded, 
and then set by fire

creation is a dance 
the crystal sculpture of the river 
responding to the poetry of rain 

the copious monotone  
prose of winter, broken here and there 
by a blur of birds on the weather fronts  

the poplar reaches for the sky 
and the banyan tree 
spreads out for moisture 

the sky accepts the poplar 
and moisture gathers; shuddering 
like constellations on the banyan leaves  

shade exists while woodlands grow; 
the woodland hyacinth only 
because of shade

and you too have made this world 
the way it is, and the way it is not,
and that art goes on, cyclical as seasons,  

you, yourself, are an architect
tempering the fluid earth with every breath 
you take, or do not take   


This time, instead of the usual TSTmpj three question interview, I felt it may interest readers to read the exchange of e-mail correspondence between B.T. Joy and I about his poem.  I believe it gives an insight both into the deeply thoughtful nature of the poet, and the way I as the editor endeavour to run the journal.

Dear B.T.,

Thanks for submitting again, it's good to hear again from you.  I like this one a lot, but, I must be honest -- there is no point as I see it being anything other than that, even if I run the risk of offending you (and I know that what I'm about to say would offend some poets who have prickly natures) -- there is one image that troubles me.

That is, what is contained in the following two lines:

the crystal sculpture of the river 
responding to the poetry of rain

specifically the "crystal sculpture".  Crystal is a solid substance, it does not move, at least as it is perceived by the human eye.  While I accept that at the quantum physics, mystical level, reality always moves and dances, any image must work on all levels for me to be completely happy with it, and for me, this isn't working on the surface level.

Now, if you're not mortally offended that I've crassly missed the point of your lines, I invite you, if you wish, to respond to my concern.  I'm open -- I'd be happy -- to be persuaded of your intent.  If you are a poet who has the "my poem is what it is" approach, and doesn't wish to explicate further, then I must decline the poem.

Please do consider responding to my concern.  Thanks.




Dear Michael, 

Thank you very much for your thoughtful feedback on my poem "Creation" and, please, don't worry about offence. I am totally open to constructive feedback; especially in the measured way you have delivered it and I know from experience how helpful such input can be. For instance, I learned to write haiku by being told, by several dedicated editors, in no uncertain terms, that I could not yet write haiku. 

In response to your criticism what is interesting is that you happen to have pinpointed the exact image that acted as the genesis of the poem itself: the crystal sculpture of the river/ responding to the poetry of rain. Fundamentally I was considering the process of art as it corresponds to the concept of creation. My own view of both is that, as you can tell, of a collaborative process between all factors and not the bounded idea of something created by an individual and deliberate consciousness in isolation. The term which I was mulling over in my mind as I formulated the particular image you have taken issue with was the Greek term ekphrasis which, in art, is the response of written or oral art forms to tangible art forms such as sculpture; and in modern times the interdependent creation of say poetry and sculpture at the same time. This idea holds, for me, extraordinary beauty and I can't help but notice that a similar interdependent interplay exists between river and rain, woodland (as in the hyacinth) and shade, and so on. 

It was this similarity between ekphrasis in art and the natural interplay in creation that I wished to instil in the lines: the crystal sculpture of the river/ responding to the poetry of rain. Furthermore it is perhaps unfortunate, for this poem at least, that the word 'crystal' operates with a double meaning. You have, understandably, assumed (from context) that I intended to refer to the mineral 'crystal', whereas I, in fact, intended 'crystal' to mean 'in a state of transparency.' However, I assume that even with this definition taken on board you may still be uncomfortable with a river being referred to as sculpture. I tend to think that, despite its (apparently) more animate nature a river, with all its clear twists and turns, over-lappings and under-lappings, is the perfect natural example of sculptural excellence. 

I say apparent with regards to the river's animate nature for the same reasons you yourself outlined. That is to say even stone in animate and even flowing water is still to a certain physical perspective. I once expressed this in a short three line poem I wrote for the river Kelvin near my home in Glasgow: water racing passed/ the underside of the bridge/ relatively still. 

In all of this I suppose I could only ask that you consider the alternative meaning I have posed for 'crystal' and see if this changes your mind about the character of the image itself. 

I hope I didn't give you too much to read here, Michael, put if I write a post-it note it's invariably 500 words long. Please get back to me if you see fit. 

All my very best wishes, 

B.T. Joy


Hi B.T.,

First, a sincere apology for "dropping out of our correspondence in mid-air" so to speak.  I am not in the most robust of health -- I have a chronic health problem that hinders my capability to do what I'd like to, more often than I'd like.

That said, to pick up the threads of where we were up to, thanks very much for your good humoured and considered response to the concern I raised about your poem.

I have given the matter a deal of thought, and while I still have an oh, so slight reservation about one of the meanings of the word "crystal" being the mineral -- for me, this is the first meaning I think of, but it may not be for others, and in any case, I feel that other than this tiny point, your poem is such a fine one that I would be doing my readers a disservice if I didn't accept it, so I am.

Bio Note

B.T. Joy is a Scottish poet with a passion for Chinese Tang dynasty, Japanese Edo period and Sufi mystical poetry.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

j.p. christiansen

Of Mirth And Grave

Oh youthful rage,
unmet desire, now,
but do not sully,
speaks an age,
so as to caution.

Of minds oppressed,
time lends a loss,
a scar to ways in error.

One speaks of progeny,
to witness
where parents failed to see –
in this, time tempers me,
a reason for the living.

Below these stones they lie,
and are but visits
when memory comes
to remind that mistress roams,
a lover seeking, true.

This grief is wound to heart
and mind oppressed,
a salve to heal, by knowing –

a mirth, to counter,
a gift, a guide to mind,
like stern through water
for a calmer grace,
a dream for council,
after storm.


TSTmpj:  Are you English?  Please feel free not to say if you deem it too intrusive a question.  I ask it because your poetry reminds me of some of what I perceive to be the finest English poetry of recent decades.  Who are some of your favourite contemporary poets, and what in particular appeals to you about them?

j.p. christiansen:  No, I'm Danish, residing in the US. Favorite contemporary poets/poetesses? I have none, trying to forge a new direction for my poetry. I've read some classical poets as well as contemporary ones, both from the English-speaking world, as well as translations from around the globe. Classical Persian poets speak to me, especially, but I just read, and let 'osmosis' take the course whereby my poet absorbs to later write his own.


TSTmpj:  Your technique is superb.  In your formative times, who did you learn from?

j.p. christiansen:  Technique? I'm very ignorant of established poetic form and technique. I think, again, that I just absorb rhythm, flow, and format from what I read, and subconsciously apply what appeals to me.


TSTmpj:  Which is your favourite Shakespearean play, and why?

j.p. christiansen:  Being Danish, Hamlet, of course. Its message of personal struggle, encapsulated by "to be, or not to be", as it applies to theory and deed, is one each human being must come to terms with throughout life. Shakespeare's strength lies in the fact that his knowledge of human nature still applies to we who live today.

Bio Note

Much of j.p. christiansen’s poetry is inspired by music, in this case Shakespearean lyrics set to song by classical English composers.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Jamie Bradley


cadence & slow coronas of silt
the steam-soaped petrol in the weed's rug

the geological wrist of most demarcations
the secret life of tents & errant storms

points of tenure & recession
the bright head of limestone polices

the eye notes a scar
                              a scar notes

the imperial river
goes down by low & impassable degrees


TSTmpj:  It seems, given how vividly you paint the picture, that you may have had a specific river in mind when penning this poem.  Do you wish to share which river it was, and or its significance to your life?

Jamie Bradley:  The river in question is most likely the St. Lawrence, as I've lived on or near it for most of my life, though it could just as easily by the Ottawa or any number of others.


TSTmpj:  I personally am very interested in the ghazal as a form, having recently penned a collaborative one.  Care to share any thoughts on your take on the form?

Jamie Bradley:  One of the things I find most interesting about the ghazal as a form, and perhaps why it is so common in Canadian poetry, is its capacity to combine imagistic precision with the contextual leaps that inevitably take place between stanzas. The reader, and the writer as reader (though I try to avoid intruding) is encouraged to play with conceits and with paradox when considering how the poem means. The form lends itself to both precision and fluidity with an ease that, perhaps, other forms do not.


TSTmpj:  I asked this question of Amanda Earl, who featured with a ghazal in TSTmpj in March, but I'll ask you too, in a similar way: who are your favourite exponents of the form?  What have you learned from them?

Jamie Bradley:  I was ambivalent about the ghazal form until I read John Thompson. The range and energy his work displays. Its often elemental or mythic power. The return again and again to the process and difficulty of writing itself. I found all of this very attractive.

It's difficult to pin down more contemporary influences as so many of the writers I follow work in, or have been strongly influenced by the form, but I suspect one of the influences must be Amanda Earl, if only because we talk often about and through the form.

Bio Note

Jamie Bradley's poetry appears most recently in Contemporary Verse 2Rattle, and Poetry is Dead. His chapbook Compositions was published in 2008 by AngelHousePress.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Joseph Lisowski

When Does This Ride Stop?

How can I stop
This carousel
Of luck,

Mostly bad?
Flesh wrinkles
Grows limp

With age.
Yet the body-soul
Attempts to soar

At the sight,

Of female flesh
For touch.


TSTmpj:  I especially like the ending of this poem.  How did you arrive at it (says I, wincing knowingly at my choice of words)?

Joseph Lisowski:  What I hoped to accomplish with the ending was to kinda replicate the feeling of a sudden stop when riding the carousel, a kind of lunging forward with sexual overtones.  Regardless of your age, an attractive woman can draw your body toward her through her animal magnetism.


TSTmpj:  The "body-soul", both as an image and a concept.  Why "body-soul" and not "soul-body"?  Can you share a few thoughts on what the "body-soul" means for you?

Joseph Lisowski:  This pull comes from the body first, which, in turn, may drag the "soul" with it; hence, "body-soul," rather than "soul-body."


TSTmpj:  Finally, Joseph, the life of a Professor of English must surely be an eventful one.  Is there an experience, an anecdote or two you wish to share?

Joseph Lisowski:  Many years ago, I taught freshman writing at an urban campus, and at the end of the term, one of my students came to my office with a few of his essays that I had graded.  He nudged these wrinkled papers toward me and said, "hey, man, what's all dem 'FROGS' doing on my papers?"  I looked closely at the essays, then at him, noting his heavy lidded eyes and the smell of marijuana coming off his clothes.  "What I wrote there," I said in response, "was 'frag,' which stands for sentence fragment; your essays are filled with sentence fragments."  He stared at the papers for quite a while before finally saying, "still look like 'FROGS!' to me."  Well, I thought, at least they weren't toads.

Bio Note

Joseph Lisowski's most recent poetry chapbook is STASHU KAPINSKI LOOKS FOR LOVE published by erbacce-press (Liverpool, UK).

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Gisèle Vincent-Page ~ Rest In Peace


Gathering over the water
bars of steel
filthy river fluttering
something like noise

battling lightly touching

I haven't seen a thing

I have done.

I tried to push it all
back out but no I'm
swallowing it all
back in.

Blog the news it's all in my head.
The mercy of patterns sense I've
lost my way...

Acreages, apartments, condos,
bachelor suites. farms; with all
the furniture to match, but will
it last?

Cover it, clean it, protect it, hide it,
stock it, but for pete's sake
do no use it.

Rest In Peace Gisèle

Gisèle Vincent-Page passed away at St. Boniface Hospital, Winnipeg, on April 22, 2012 at the age of 54.

TSTmpj will be doing a special feature on Gisèle next month, including two other poems she submitted, and an essay written by the editor, who had an e-mail correspondence in recent years with her.

Monday, 2 July 2012

April Salzano

The Game

I am here. You, there. I miss
you. I still want you and I cannot
figure out why. For the life of me,
I cannot imagine how the jailed clings to
her jailer. Why the least you could give
me served as sustenance. Body fat slipped
away, left muscle hanging on bone.
Skin lost tautness, sunk wrinkled on my belly.
I became a ghost of myself, withered and dying to eat,          
but not hungry, wanting to sleep, but held awake.     
My eyes scanned the dark for the possibility
of something left behind,
a hair, a flake of skin, your smell among
the tangled sheets where we lay always
as if putting our heads on the pillows
might commit you to more
than you were willing to give.
For the life of me, I cannot find a reason
to love you to want you to crave holding
you in a way so without reason it bends me
in half to ease the kicking anxiety
that races my heart for breath.
Finally, you simply stopped,
simply chose not to continue, a child walking
away from a game before its end, ruining
everything for everyone else.


TSTmpj:  Relationships are probably the most serious "game" that any of us play. More like a sport where men and women hunt "game". What would you wish the reader of your poem to read in between the lines about how they might potentially approach their next relationship?

April Salzano:  Adrienne Rich’s "Trying to Talk with a Man" is one of my favorite pieces dealing with relationships: "talking of the danger/as if it were not ourselves/as if we were testing anything else." The metaphor of testing bombs says it all. That was in 1971, though it seems humans have always struggled with communication, and the lack thereof is as classic a theme as love itself. What we are capable of doing to each other is astounding. Unfortunately, our modern methods of conversing seem to be breaking down our ability to communicate. Entire relationships are conducted via text message and the internet. While I believe in the inherent value of the written word, we are losing the ability to truly connect with one another. That message is embedded in my poem, the necessity for reciprocal honesty, as is the need to recognize the difference between being genuinely cared for and respected and simply functioning to validate the Other’s self-efficacy. 


TSTmpj:  Your technique is good, your enjambments are working well. What advice, as a college teacher, do you give to fledgling poets on technique?

April Salzano:  Thank you. Beyond the most obvious advice to read more poetry, the advice I offer to poets is to recognize the distinction between author and speaker. Though we teach this to readers, it is as important to writers as a way to learn to experiment with voice. Even the confessional poets do not always function as the I of the poem. By assuming the voice (and thus perspective) of someone or something else, writers make available a whole new realm of experience and imagery, which adds dimension to their craft. Perhaps a more general bit of advice is to write. Constantly. Writing poetry is frequently misinterpreted as simply an act of expelling emotion, a catharsis. Technique not only outweighs "feelings," but it is what conveys them. Beginning writers often get that raw emotion on the page fairly easily, but need to experiment with form and style.


TSTmpj:  Do you always use simple language in your poetry. Is there a place, do you feel, for more, for want of a better word, abstruse language?

April Salzano:  My work often utilizes simple language but does not use language simply. I don’t want my readers to have to clutch the thesaurus while they read; I want them instead to understand the language and context first, and then go back and locate other possible meanings, to find duplicity. Plath was accused as being "Roget’s trollop" in her early work, but the language itself in Ariel is more accessible, the images sharper. Poets like Rich and Clifton allow the decoding to come from the image, metaphor, implication. Certainly there is a place for more, as you say, abstruse language. Some of my own poems might fall into this category, and many poets I admire utilize a style quite different from my own.

Bio Note

April Salzano teaches college writing in Pennsylvania and is working on her first collection of poetry.