Thursday, November 18, 2021

Zoe Tuck reviews Monica Mody's Ordinary Annals (2021)

Zoe Tuck was good enough to review Monica Mody's Ordinary Annals (2021) over at their blog. Thanks so much! This follows the lovely paragraph Lantern Review offered, as well, earlier this year. See Tuck's original post here. As they write:
It has become a commonplace to say that we are living in extraordinary times, although as Monica Mody writes in her new chapbook Ordinary Annals, “Everything was being shredded long before we noticed.” And yet, Mody’s title is unassuming. Ordinary: run-of-the-mill, quotidian—right? Still, the ordinary world, and her revolutions, are a marvel: “Every season that turns brings us back / to pitted dark, moon folding into sun.” Poets have a responsibility to record the revolutions of the world, hence annals.

The extra/ordinariness of our times—that is to say, the admixture of the unprecedented and the cyclical—gives a spiral shape to Ordinary Annals. Mody reaches for the extraordinary but is still “entangled with the world, that place / I become / me, ordinary / shattering into we.” Grief and weariness lead her to lay her body down (I think here of the Nap Ministry), enabling her to “connect with tendril, still—,” drawing energy from the hurt and beautiful earth to be reborn.

Mody lovingly but firmly critiques the desire to erase the specificity of our griefs:

Now don’t say,

We’re all the same
& love is the answer.

What does it take to attend—
not flinch—at different

trajectories of suffering?
Can we honor healing

their immense particularity

and is that love

and elsewhere:

If through our gestures
we take away

another’s power
—enable colonization—

we fail
Earth & Waters.

She also critiques the impulse (imperative?) to ‘return to normal’ and repress our grief (since we can’t simply erase it) at the interlocking crises of our time.

Mody begins Ordinary Annals knocking into the glass walls of language: “I want to rise above my limitations.” What limitations? “I want to let bird shapes of words flock together into language that will / change skies.” Can language change skies? Mody writes elsewhere, “I’m just so sick & tired of being Poet” and in that moment it is because “losses stitch [her] tongue into clawed mouth” and another of the responsibilities of the poet is to sing the losses. I read into this not just despair for the losses themselves, but despair at not having been able to forestall them with the poet’s tool, language.

This desire to solve or resolve or memorialize in tension with another mode, that of, “rocking in this moment of undecidability, not becoming anything at all,” a formlessness that presents itself as a space of repose in between breaths or throbs.

Ordinary Annals is the work of a poet attuned to the entanglement of word and world, memory and moment, love and suffering. With her willingness to share her progress in language through “this time of grave despair,” Mody joins her elders in:

tell[ing] us of the many gates around the world that are opening
Gates opened by great white wings of love—of sorrow

Each gate points straight to our hearts
That place where broken

            realities are woven

She models her movement toward these gates for all of us ordinary would-be weavers “shattering into a we” and I’m grateful for it.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

new from above/ground press: A Wolf Lake Chorus, by Phil Hall

A Wolf Lake Chorus
Phil Hall

A Wolf Lake Chorus is a dramatic voice-poem for poet, birds, & saw:
1 poet, 8 birds, & 1 musician bowing a saw.



A podium rigged with a microphone at centre stage.
Two high screens behind.

The poet & the musician walk onto the stage.

The poet goes to the podium.
The musician sits on a chair at the side of the stage.

The musician plays the saw.

        ("Stage Directions")


A Wolf Lake Chorus began as an invitation from Madhur Anand in 2015 to write a poem using only the words contained in one of her academic articles. The article chosen is mentioned in the poem.

Originally called The Overstory, it was performed in Guelph at Silence on Friday May 18, 2018 as part of an evening of performances in support of Wolf Lake. Also presenting were Madhur Anand and Gary Barwin.

The cast included David Lee on bass and Georgia Urban on musical saw, plus 8 volunteers who were the birds. I am grateful to everyone involved, especially the birds for their overlapping voices.

A video of the evening, with A Wolf Lake Chorus as the final act, may be viewed at:

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
November 2021
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Phil Hall's
most recent books are The Ogre (Trainwreck, 2021), Toward a Blacker Ardour (Beautiful Outlaw, 2021), and Niagara & Government (Pedlar, 2020).

This is Phil Hall’s fourth above/ground press chapbook, after Verulam (2009) and the collaborative Shikibu Shuffle (with Andrew Burke; 2012) and Alternative Girders (with Stuart Kinmond; 2018).

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button at

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Cole Bisson reviews Nathanael O’Reilly's BLUE (2020) in Broken Pencil

Cole Bisson was good enough to provide the first review of Nathanael O’Reilly's BLUE (2020) over at Broken Pencil. Thanks so much! You can see the original review here.
Litzine, by Nathanael O’Reilly, 40 pgs, above/ground press,, $5

Ever wonder what the working-class white guy around the corner is thinking? You know, the one who has bumper stickers of Nirvana, screams that Trump is an idiot, and has teeth stained yellow from cigarettes? Surprisingly, he’s got an in-depth mental life, and he’s writing a book about it. Or perhaps that’s not a surprise.

Blue by Nathaniel O’Reilly is a tender song for male alienation and longing. O’Reilly has a vulnerable touch that fully flushes out the themes in each poem. He grapples with losing friends as he ages, the fear of becoming a father, and childhood memories that teach him something new every day.

The main drawback is that, for all of it’s loneliness, O’Reilly’s work sounds like many others, and comes off as wannabe edgy. Juvenile warbles like “I lay on the floor / listening to Nirvana / writing my first letter / to her” give the vibe of someone trying desperately to stand out from the crowd, and that inevitably falls flat. O’Reilly isn’t saying anything new or adding a different voice, and thus drowns himself out in a saturated market.

Granted, there are certain poems where he tackles issues with tenderness and altruism. In an ode to who I imagine is his child, he asks “Will you love learning / like your parents, will you / be athletic, artistic, scientific?” When ruminating about who his child might grow up to be, O’Reilly touches on real parental anxieties and demonstrates them. He presents wishful thinking and imagines himself walking hand-in-hand with his child for as long as possible.

It’s these touching moments that give Blue a sense of urgency. Contrasted with lines like “The orangutan reaches the peak of his climb, / surveys the scene where he defecated,” the vulnerability of a man comes off as authentic. You just wish there wasn’t a warped edge to this sensibility.

Monday, November 15, 2021

new from above/ground press: how to count to ten, by Kevin Varrone

how to count to ten
Kevin Varrone

the important thing about one :
it stands alone––
like a song
bird––its sound––

alone––can, sometimes, maybe-
almost, be enough––

causal yet caused by something, un-
moved & moving, one
is something beautifully done
whose doing
cannot ever be known.

there is nothing in the universe
more tenuous
than beautiful
more beautiful
than one
& the important thing
is that it stands tall, stands all
tender flag half-

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
November 2021
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Kevin Varrone
is the author of three full-length collections of poetry and numerous chapbooks. He lives outside Philadelphia and teaches at Temple University.

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button at

Friday, November 12, 2021

new from above/ground press: Whatever Feels Like Home, by Susan Rukeyser

Whatever Feels Like Home
Susan Rukeyser

Yes, You Can Eat Your Goldfish


            Yes, you can eat your darling goldfish. He is most likely a form of ornamental carp, and he will taste as you expect: muddy and full of bones.

            You can eat all your darlings, once you kill them. Although why you killed Prince Harry the goldfish I cannot understand. Was it all the staring, his bulging eyes? Was it his flashy orange scales, so out of place in your dark, dusty cabin full of your ancestors’ ghosts? Or was it that his beauty faded by the day, in your care, and you could not bear to watch it — how his scales grew dull and his swimming listless, until he mostly stayed put in the middle of the small, round, glass bowl that was his world since you brought him home from that Memorial Day carnival? His translucent fins fanned like the scarves of an old burlesque dancer still going through the motions.

            You sure looked like you wanted him when you paid $3.00, six times in a row, tossing rings onto a pole. Prince Harry watched you from the table of glass goldfish bowls and saw how you labored for him, how you fought against your own shortcomings to win him as a prize. But now it’s August, and you should have set him up with a proper tank by now, some plastic plants and aquarium gravel, at least.

            Prince Harry was an $18.00 goldfish, which makes him as expensive as any other freshwater fish on the menu at an upscale seafood place. But you should know that the diet you fed him of dehydrated fish flakes won’t please your palate nor your conscience. (Maybe you could have treated him better?)

            What’s done is done, I get it. I just hope you killed him with kindness.

            Because, you know, Prince Harry the goldfish was miserable in that little glass bowl. He was never going to become the best fish he could be, trapped in there. In the wild — if you had released him, an invasive species — he could have grown beyond your expectations. (Seriously, he could’ve grown to be a foot long!) But at what cost to the other fish in that lake that butts up to your cabin? Prince Harry would crowd out the ones that belong there.

            Your darlings can be eaten, and they should be, if they fail to thrive. If you fail them.           

            But Prince Harry the goldfish will leave a bad taste in your mouth. He watched you toss all those rings at the carnival. For him. He thought you loved him. He thought he was home.

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
as the thirteenth title in above/ground’s prose/naut imprint
November 2021
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Susan Rukeyser
no longer believes in polite silence. Her debut novel, Not On Fire, Only Dying (Twisted Road Publications), was an SPD Fiction Bestseller. She just completed a new novel. Her short fiction, creative nonfiction, and multimedia work appear in numerous places, online and in print. Susan founded World Split Open Press to publish select titles including Feckless Cunt: A Feminist Anthology. She hosts the feminist, queer, and otherwise radical Desert Split Open Mic. In 2017, she moved home to Joshua Tree, California, although she hails from Connecticut.   

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button at

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

new from above/ground press: G o n e S o u t h, by Barry McKinnon

G o n e S o u t h
Barry McKinnon

in Arizona
the desert – weather within

weather, no discernible season, sense of its ancient

growth – the Sequoia? tree, names I don’t know – the desert sans name / or taxonomy/  but for this little burst, minute, pink to cactus red buds  to take as measure.  (what was or is it in a temporality /does not need us nor, without a mind, need itself.  thus,  ... it’s worse than the puzzle it appears.   

the desert

/no matter the temperature / cold sun stings.  this/no meaning as is with any sensation being only itself in the same condition.

the desert

looking at an interior, not yrself exactly, - but a vast expanse that if you entered wld you be you?  this was its fear, yr fear, all fear  in whatever risk one or it takes.
("in Arizona")

published in Ottawa by above/ground press
November 2021
a/g subscribers receive a complimentary copy

Barry McKinnon was born in 1944 in Calgary Alberta, where he grew up.  In 1965, after two years at Mount Royal College, he went to Sir George Williams University in Montreal and took poetry courses with Irving Layton.  He graduated in 1967 with a B.A. degree.  In 1969, he graduated with an M.A. from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, and was hired that same year to teach English at the College of New Caledonia in Prince George where he has lived and worked ever since.

Barry McKinnon’s The the was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for poetry in 1080.  Pulp Log was the winner of the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Award for the B.C. Book Prizes in 1991 and Arrhythmia was the winner of the bp Nichol Chapbook Award for the best chapbook published in Canada in English in 1994. His chapbook Surety Disappears was the runner-up for the bp Nichol Award in 2008.

This is McKinnon’s second above/ground press chapbook, after Into the Blind World (2012).

To order, send cheques (add $1 for postage; in US, add $2; outside North America, add $5) to: rob mclennan, 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa ON K1H 7M9. E-transfer or PayPal at rob_mclennan (at) or the PayPal button at