Sunday, June 26, 2022

Review: Owen McLeod's DREAM KITCHEN


Inflated elves give way to inflated rabbits clutching inflated carrots. Smiling toast. Water that was once the sky. Bubba is Lord. Reading DREAM KITCHEN is an enriching, life-affirming experience.

Owen McLeod writes with a child-like wonder and fascination that seems to be a celebratory exploration of language. Seemingly melding his own life experience and vocabulary with a dash of the imaginatively marvelous, these poems ignited, intrigued and perplexed my own imagination throughout.

Throughout DREAM KITCHEN, McLeod’s first full-length poetry collection, it feels like the poet is writing an invitation of sorts. The poet invites the reader to look at the world through his eyes, to see with his vision in the current moment, the current poem. These poems are remarkably inviting. With an unquantifiable depth of emotion, the way this poetic captivates attention, and rewards the reader with a sincerity in the humor and an open-hearted insight? Marvelous.

These poems seem to run the entire gamut of the emotional world. Curiosity, longing, joy, pain, sorrow, fear, ecstasy; it’s all in here. Some of my favorite lines come from McLeod’s ‘characters’ being set on a process of discovery. There is a running theme of seeking and searching throughout the collection as well. Such as in the final lines of MIDDLEMARCH, when the speaker’s son is fascinated by a chocolate bunny rabbit on Easter:

“He bit off the head and peeked inside,

Then wept when he saw it was hollow.”


“I open the piano lid and crawl inside.

If they search long enough, they’ll find me.”

Perhaps the speaker is lamenting on the ever fading privacy which seems to be an on-going predicament for human beings in the 21st century. These lines conclude the poem in a way I relate to. Perhaps the poet is pointing to an intrinsic, human need for solitude. The very last line alludes to a kind of hope, and a kind of paranoia at the same time. I find McLeod’s lines complex at the right times, and simple at the right times. This is a poet of depth, of a range which embraces the often elaborate and complicated modes in which a humane voice finds it possible to spring forth.

The brilliant poet Nikki Wallschlaeger recently illumined her views of craft to me during a Twitter exchange. She said (paraphrased), that she views craft as a poet’s own authentic way of communicating in their own voice, in their own style, so when you read a poet, you know it’s them, there’s no mistaking it. I was reminded of this exchange while reflecting on McLeod’s work. While I'm certain there is a long list of influences and inspirations behind McLeod's poems, his craft seems to be uniquely his own. The voice, tone, and style are primed for deep listening. 

Reading DREAM KITCHEN was my second encounter with this poet’s work, so I don’t feel I have a big picture idea of precisely what may follow this collection, though this is definitely fertile grounds for a promising poetic craftsman to flourish.

I don’t know that I am ever capable of fully understanding what a particular artist or poet is doing. And I’m not usually concerned with understanding poems in this way, either. One thing I learned from, or rather, was reminded of, in my reading of DREAM KITCHEN, is to strive to see and appreciate where the poet is coming from, and to meet them there, on their own turf, so to speak. There is a great reward in meeting the poet on this sacred ground.

Certainly, writing poetry is work. And I think reading can involve work as well. It is an enjoyable kind of labor, sure, but it can’t be a one-way street. I felt like I was immersed in a world that was similar to my own, but not quite the same. A voice and points of view that were similar to my own, but with a tinge of difference to them. This dual feeling of familiarity and difference is welcome, cherished, and I am grateful to celebrate the gift of poetry with Owen McLeod as I continue my reading and explorations of DREAM KITCHEN. 


From the University of North Texas Press:

Owen McLeod’s extraordinary debut maps the contours of an ordinary life: the rise and fall of romantic love, the struggle against mental illness, and the unending quest for meaning and transcendence. Ranging from sonnets and sestinas to experimental forms, these poems are unified by their musicality, devotion to craft, and openness of heart.

Owen McLeod’s DREAM KITCHEN is the Winner of the 2018 Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry

To purchase copies of DREAM KITCHEN, via University of North Texas Press, click here.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Poem for Giorgia Pavlidou

for Giorgia Pavlidou

When I think I've found the truth my gecko eyes explode with laughter.
This world is born & dies & is reborn & dies & is reborn on a hinge of my very humane eyelids.
The clock is always hungry.
I tried to feed time to the river but the river rejected time.
You will starve, I said.
You're drowning in air, the river said.
Still thinking about a hallucination I saw when I was -3,000 years old.
I have often wished to escape myself.
My face before I was born is now another moon orbiting Jupiter.
I sleep with Cygnus in my ears & awaken to stardust in my pillowcase.
A sign in the park reads "Do not feed the birds" but there are no birds.
It's only a man & a woman dancing in circles on the grass, unchaining the earth from its orbit with each step.
Somewhere this universe is sitting on a shelf next to a pair of maracas & an accordion.
A crowded dancehall on the tip of the tongue.
If you knew everything that has ever happened & everything that will ever happen, would life be easier or harder?
The otherside is often misunderstood.
There are thousands & thousands of suns in the sky tonight & they're all held together by kite string & super glue.
The next time I get drunk in a cemetery I'm going to stay there forever.
Last night my heart was torn out of body by a pigeon looking down from a telephone wire.
The last time I saw an orb of light in a stranger's chest I walked to school uphill both ways with rain clouds in my shoes.
My dreams have been serious blunders ever since coyote took that vow of silence.
Now days I rely on these mountains to evolve my languages.
Things haven't been the same since the invention of the wheel.

© 2022 Daniel Cyran

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Wednesday Poem

in anticipation of summer solstice
after Uche Nduka

 all around me
the faces of deserts
throw eyes
ignite roots

the fury of weightlessness
the pull of glaciers—

the possibility of an empty dancehall
the memory of a flickering candle under siege

to be human in these aeons
is to open the palms
to each beauty
threatening the death driven...

nectars & medicines

...all around me
my many faces open the doors
my rosary of thorns
my crown of insight

thoughts are light
thoughts are light

in this wild mind
all thoughts on their knees
with one hand to the heart
with one hand to the Earth

that i become the gold at the bed of the river
a mouth of mirrors 
siphoning salt from ocean floors

drink from my cup & throw my cup to the horizon

reflections, moments, tears of dust
birth me as i am & give birth too as you are

brother to a wayfaring vision
singing child of true north

send back gilded pasts send back the eyes askew
send back lucre send back greedy tongues send back uncurious hands
heed birdsong heed mandolin & cello heed the mystery 
unfold stillnesses unlock secret ghosts of the heart
untie the heart from the freezer door
heed possibility heed orbitals heed voices from nowhere
heed the moment's calling

everywhere your windows embark the unseen
everywhere beheaded statues cannot dance—

© 2022 Daniel Cyran

This poem was written after a reading of With a Swoop, via The Poetry Foundation: With a Swoop, by Uche Nduka

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Review: Oriana Ivy's How to Jump from a Moving Train


Oriana Ivy writes with a tenderness which I find alluring. In How to Jump from a Moving Train, this tenderness is perhaps most apparent in-part because these poems are mainly centered around the poet’s relationship with her mother.

Jack Kerouac once quipped: I wrote this book because we’re all gonna die. Life is accompanied by unparalleled loss, by seemingly insurmountable pain; without anything extra added to it, just on the strength of the fact that each one of us will have to leave this bodily plane at some point, and nobody knows when that will be, for themselves or others; because of this, I heed Oriana Ivy’s message of warmth, of kindness, of tenderness.

Reading How to Jump from a Moving Train is not unlike developing a sincere friendship with someone. In the beginning there is curiosity, wonder, joy, gratitude. By the end of this book, these feelings prevail, if not more fully amplified & heightened, due to the real possibility that we eventually see the death of this person who we have developed a sense of love and friendship for, by having known them.

There are so many “little” details and memories throughout this chapbook, which calls to mind the idea of witness. To witness someone, is to see that person for who they are. To be present with and for that person. Providing witness for someone, of course, carries on even after their physical presence is no longer a reality. To remember the goodness, laughter, the humor; such as when her mother whispered in Polish, at a party, that the fellow partygoers don’t understand anything. Or when contemplating desire, the conclusion is made: But without wanting / the highest, is it really life? To provide witness for someone with love in this way, I think, is a kind of grace. Is a kind of relief from the trauma and suffering which often seems to be embedded in this human life.

Another thing I love about this collection is that the poems come to the reader on the ground that the suffering of life is understood as a fact. Life can be messy, many of us are damaged along the way, many of us do damage along the way. These facts are approached with a kind of trust in the reader that I admire.

That the poet is able to bring the focus, beyond the trauma and pain of her journey, to the love, warmth and wisdom for herself, her mother and with gratitude for her own position in this world, I think, is a sure sign that it can be done. It is possible to come to a place of warmth & peace for ourselves, our loved ones, and each other. No matter what.

Throughout my reading of How to Jump from a Moving Train, I see Oriana Ivy as a witness to the good in humanity, as someone who holds a kind of radical endurance. This endurance is a great teacher. I am reminded that I can make it through the storms of my lives with my humanity intact, with my warmth intact, with a kind of persevering tenderness which opens oneself to the art & action of being present to love, and loving as fully, as humanely possible.

Order your copy of Oriana Ivy's chapbook, How to Jump from a Moving Train, via Books-A-Million, here.

"How to Jump from a Moving Train" by Oriana Ivy Book Trailer