A curated literary guide

Week #24 / 12th – 18th June, 2017

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Sunday Review: Midnight Grocery

a poetry chapbook from Dani Couture

[ Believe Your Own Press / 2004 / 32 pp ]

I’m particularly interested in poetry about the usual-turned-unusual. Despite their subject matter, I wouldn’t call the poems in Midnight Grocery domestic—they’re anything but. They’re about how strange entering a 24-hour grocery store at 12am feels. About being stuck in the suburb where you grew up. About feeling connected to others, however briefly, through food. The poem ‘white ceramic bowl’ takes readers through evocative images of eastern European foods like pirogues and cabbage rolls before ending with the line:

your family brandishes food like a cross from the old world.

This poem is one of many that Couture includes that reference the tradition of food in her family and the family of others. She knows some of the most important memories are made over a shared meal, especially when that meal is laden with the very history of the family itself. But in contrast with this heavy theme, this collection includes poems with humour. The poem ‘midnight grocery shopping after watching days and days of the viking week on the history channel’ begins with:

grocery carts
would not make good longboats:
too many holes.

The colloquial nature of her poems lends to their almost observational-like quality. I realized through my reading and rereading that Couture is aware of her mundane surroundings, her normal family life, but again, she takes it all in in an exceptionally unique way. Due to this, her poetic style is simple, but still charged with a palpable energy. These poems read easily only because they are written in a way meant to bring only a moment’s worth of enjoyment. There is no need to linger on the poems; they are all immediately satisfactory.

Even though much has changed in contemporary Canadian poetry since 2004, Couture’s voice still holds itself aloft in this chapbook by having a relatable quality. The domestic is hard at work in these poems, but equally as productive is Couture’s clear effort to present daily life, highlighted by the fact that she includes a few pages of recipes bearing close resemblance to a friend relaying the method in person, perhaps in your own kitchen, makes this chapbook all the more pleasant to experience. Though easy to consume, this collection wasn’t always light and airy—there was a bite to a few of the poems. In ‘the details of breakfast,’ Couture sets up a simple scene between the narrator and another—someone the narrator’s close to—over breakfast. But the details of the making breakfast (“drops of oil pearl the walls”), pouring over the newspaper (“sometimes reading / the same line fifteen times over”) lead the poem to the conclusion that there is “the religion of small things” at work here. This idea is present throughout this collection, even when not explicitly stated. Each poem made me feel as though I had more faith in its subject matter—however simple, however usual that it may be.

Visit University of Toronto Libraries to see the chapbook’s record.

Reviewer / Terry Abrahams

Five Things with Tommy “Teebs” Pico

1. The last thing that made you smile.

Saying the word “dither” 18 times until it sounded like I was saying “third” (I’m a person of simple pleasures).

2. A secret.

A boy kissed me on a rooftop last night and I liked it. Don’t tell anyone I have feelings it would ruin my rep.

3. The last thing you wrote.

“sad like inside jokes you had with exes—they’re still there but nobody knows about them.”

4. Favourite city.

NYC just because, for all its flaws, the subway operates 24 hours a day. I have a license but I can’t drive because driving puts me to sleep almost immediately. I’d like to stay breathing.

5. What you’d place in a time capsule.

The smell of sizzling bacon and maybe an indica tincture.


Tommy “Teebs” Pico is a poet from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation. He authored the books IRL (Birds LLC, 2016), Nature Poem, and Junk (Tin House Books 2017, 2018 respectively) & myriad keen Tweets including “Love in the time of climate change.” He is co-curator of the reading series Poets With Attitude (PWA) with Morgan Parker, and co-host of the podcast Food 4 Thot. His Myers-Briggs is IDGAF.

Portrait

a poem from Lauren Milici

if they can’t / find my body, reconstruct me. i want to be a doll

Lauren Milici’s poems are a kind of dreamscape I’m not sure I ever want to return from. Her poem ‘Portrait’ straddles the line between the painful wake of living and the darkness that filters in through the mundane and unobserving. The curve of “p” sounds create sensuality and softness as we read words like “panties”, “polaroid”, palms”.

The fragility of items such as cotton, eggshells and dishes indeed create the representation of a person we can see in our minds. We can see the striking beauty that can be found in eyes described as “blue-green marbles / from an old children’s game”. Every line is deliberately indented and arranged to tighten the emotional grasp on the reader, never letting us go.

Visit Maudlin House to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Hannah Cohen

The Helpfulness of Those Who Cannot Help

a short story from Amanda McTigue

Mrs. Mori, the protagonist of Amanda Tigue’s story insists, “There is nothing wrong with sleeping in the nursery.” By the end of the story, the statement proves both true and untrue. It’s true that Mori’s grief at the death of her child is warped and perhaps bent irrevocably to madness by the time she spends in the nursery waiting for the apparition of her daughter to visit for even the tiniest moments of time, yet it is also true that Mori’s insistence that grief of such magnitude shouldn’t be boxed in and ignored by the dictates of cultural norms liberates other parents from isolation. Mori is both a catalyst for a global movement and an outcast in her community. Just as she comes unhinged from grief, she comes into the world with great force and intention. A mother who waits at the bridge for a child’s return, and a woman who launches a second life as a translator and organizer—in such a way, the story is about death, and an awakening.

Visit Pantheon Magazine to read the story.

Contributing Editor / Reneé Bibby

Legato

a poem from Kristen Case

The proximity of s and d on the keyboard, lateral neighbors, causes me regularly to mistype the word died as dies, so death is always happening, never completed, a spun-out or dilated present,

Grief is maneuvered in this poem through the use of science and music. The known can be mapped out and traced, made to be consistent and easy to explain. Cause and effect. Sometimes if we focus on the concrete and the known, it makes traversing the unknowable, rocky terrain of grief and loss easier. Sometimes we work in illustration by filling out the negative spaces. Draw around the center of the universe, and maybe we’ll understand what’s withheld a little better.

Chopin’s variations in the fourth Ballade repeat the basic musical structure but multiply greatly the number of notes played. As if to replay a memory but with increasing granularity.

Legato undergoes the difficult journey of following the course of Parkinson’s, contrasting the learned certainty of music theory with the hold an idiopathic disease will take on a body. It’s the interplay between these ideas, the known and the imprecise, sensation and fact, that defines our experiences of loss.

Visit Rust + Moth to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Joyce Chong

In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried

a short story from Amy Hempel

I have so many questions for Amy Hempel’s short story, ‘In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.’ Questions like, “where are we?” and “what is actually happening?” What animates these questions is the realness of the story: what’s happening in these conversations with this hospital feels so real, so close, that I need more from the text than what it offers me. I’m heartbroken from the journey the story takes, despite knowing almost from the beginning where it was going to end. But maybe that’s the thing: staying patient with a thread that includes depression, illness, fun little facts, death, catastrophic natural events, and boredom is to amplify those things to the point where the narrative vibrates with a sadness that is all too accessible.

Visit Fictionaut to read the story.

Contributing Editor / Andrew Sargus Klein

Imagine the Angels of Bread

a poem from Martín Espada

Espada’s deft use of repetition really drew & kept me in this poem. The marker of “this is the year” throughout challenges us. Consider how those evicted are given little time to get out, so many of those can happen within this slot. We can also run through many incidents of police violence. But then we have to consider the slower processes of refugees being cleared to come to our country, and what it would mean to be deported after all that work. Or the ancestors being brought out of their respective places in the universe to receive some sort of justice and clarity. Time here is a fluid concept that creates tension by keeping us ungrounded. All of these zooms-past and slowdowns rub against each other to create this space that’s both bursting with hustle and savoring.

I return to this statement often: “If every rebellion begins with the idea / that conquerors on horseback / are not many-legged gods, that they too drown / when plunged into the river / then this is the year.” The conquerors become slightly monstrous in their elevation because they have a capacity for self-preservation that others don’t. But we realize how fragile they also are when stripped of their resources and falling into danger. Rebellion then is the leveling, dropping those who have forgotten the water’s pull because of their height. This section also complicates our sense of action because we’re forced to reckon with how these moments of redemption have arrived. We’re finally given the ideology that precedes this disruption of The World As Usual™.

This poem also has one of my favorite endings of all time: “may every humiliated mouth, / teeth like desecrated headstones, / fill with the angels of bread.” For these mouths that constantly carry death, feeling heaven-adjacent must be somewhat foreign. To have angels appear with a life-giving remedy could change their life trajectory. This sense of upheaval permeates the entire poem, but feels most grounded here. While the confidence of the voice is compelling, it finally bends toward prayer. It finally blesses those it’s been fighting for all along. If we see the first few stanzas as a return of agency, this feels like the call to action. Achieving greatness requires being fed and strengthened. Let’s hope the angels come soon.

Visit Martín’s site or Yes! Magazine to read the poem.

Contributing Editor / Nix Thérèse