November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Category — Books/Reviews

“2057” & “Figures of My Century”/Reviews

 

2057

 

2057

K. R. Copeland
Olivia Eden Publishing
2013

From Allusions to Mythology

From allusions to Greek mythology (“Demeter Releases Her Bees”) to poems about farmers “holding pitchforks/[with] their scarves alive with wind and wirra,” K. R. Copeland’s poetry chapbook 2057 alights on various subjects. There are beautiful lyric poems as well as well-crafted prose poems, my favorite of which is “A Letter From Sedna” with its gorgeous last lines:

There is love, more so than years ago, back on dry land.
And though I owe my handlessness to you and your deceit, I am
thankful, dad, I’ve learned to find and free pearls with my feet.

Elegantly designed and produced, 2057 is a small and splendid collection of poems by a poet I’d like to know better.

Olivia Eden Publishing
ISBN:   9780615818306
6X9″ pt ($9)
full color cover
26 pages

 — by John Smelcer

About the Reviewer:

John Smelcer is a contributing editor to Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.” 

 

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Figures Of My Century
Peter Bloch, essays
“The Poet’s Refuge”

 

Public Figures Made Personal,

Peter Bloch’s Figures of My Century

In his thorough collection of brief essays, Peter Bloch examines over twenty-five different personalities, each of blochwhich, he felt, left a significant impact upon the 20th Century – his century. Ranging in nationality and sphere from politicians, military men, to artists and musicians, the book contains an exceptional compilation of indisputable luminaries. Many of these figures Bloch met and interviewed, others, he simply admired. Figures of My Century is an homage to those outstanding men and women and their roles, in both the public eye and his personal life.

Bloch was born in Germany to Spanish-Jewish parents in 1921. After fleeing the Nazis in the late 1930’s, he worked with the resistance in Belgium, and in 1955, emigrated to the United States. Bloch worked as a journalist throughout his life, and though broadly active in political affairs, as a critic and a patron, he also focused on the arts. He had a passion for Latin American art and artists, especially those in Puerto Rico. Having founded the Association for Puerto Rican – Hispanic Culture, in 1964, he was awarded the Key to the Capital City in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Peter Bloch passed away in 2008.

With Figures of My Century, Bloch endeavors to create a compendium of individuals who represent the varieties and complex nature of society at that time. Bloch refers to himself as a non-conformist, and asserts his objectivity in his inclusion and representation of these figures. He envisioned his work as falling beyond the spectrum of any political party or agenda, and many of the ideas he portrays could be equally controversial to socialist, liberal, and conservative readers, alike. In anticipation of those who would be offended that, in a single volume, both Franco and Trotsky might be featured, he defends his work, and writes that his is “speaking not as an ideologist hypnotized by certain patterns.”

Throughout the book, Bloch intends to show that “history is made by men and women,” not by the implementation of ideologies nor of economics, and explains that these contrivances are but products of the intellectual evolution of the “needs, desires and inventions of human beings.” In essays concerning a diversity of subjects, including Winston Churchill, Vicente Escudero, Jimmy Durante, Marc Chagall, Maurice Chevalier, John F. Kennedy, Bruno Walter, Thomas Mann, Albert Schweitzer, and Emilia Conde, the scope of the book is made clear – instead of some singular influence holding sway, many are the integral and defining facets of any age. An era, Bloch craves to show, is exemplified by all of these components. Figures of My Century is an attempt to represent these elements and provide a holistic view – a tableau –  of the 20th Century.

Despite these commendable intentions, Bloch’s book contains some unfortunate flaws. Bloch, himself, and many of the featured individuals, may not be known to a wide readership, making the volume a rather niche work. His political bias is evident in many of the pieces, especially those examining governmental figures, with the resultant essays possessing a tone of revisionism. There are numerous grammatical and spelling errors, and when paired with the poor quality photographs, (some of which seem to have been scanned from newspapers and are replete with creases), the volume has a rather amateur appearance. A fully revised edition would serve to renew appreciation for Bloch’s intended aspirations.

Still, Peter Bloch led a remarkable and interesting life. With his unique ancestry and culture, his surviving the horrors of WWII and the intrigues of working in the underground, a lifetime of travel, scores of political writings, interviews with countless celebrities, and his support and encouragement of fledgling artists, all make for an impressive life story. It is rather a shame that in one of his final works, Bloch focused on others, rather than upon his own, very rare, quite exceptional experiences.

 

Figures Of My Century
Peter Bloch
237 pages, 8x5x0.5 inches paperback, black and white
The Poet’s Refuge
New York, New York

— by Abigail Smoot

About the Reviewer:

Abigail Smoot has studied at York College of Pennsylvania and Towson University. She currently works as a bookseller and editor. She is an artist, writer, musician, and foodie, who lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

 

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jammes-02

ILLUSTRATION: BENOIT JAMMES

August 31, 2013   Comments Off on “2057” & “Figures of My Century”/Reviews

Parabola Dreams/Book Review

dreams

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“Parabola Dreams:”

Realism and Fairytale

By Emily Vogel

 

It is a very infrequent event for me to read a book of poetry from cover to cover, in sequential order. Typically, I open to poems at random, because it seems that poems stand as their own self-sustaining worlds. But I’ve become aware recently of the prevailing emphasis placed on the “arc” of the book, to which the reader might attribute some thematic trajectory… something which “binds” all of the poems in the book to one another to elucidate some overall comprehensive meaning. So I read a book of poems by Fanny Howe, one by Gregory Orr, and one by Robert Hass  – from cover to cover to see if I could determine some thematic arc, and then just recently a collaborative book by Silvia Scheibli and Alan Britt, titled “Parabola Dreams,” just released by Bitter Oleander Press.

“Parabola Dreams” is divided into sections, with Scheibli’s poems first, and Britt’s second, each of the poets divided into two of their own sections. If I had to determine the thematic arc of Scheibli’s poems, I would say it was like trying to see an image “through a dark lens,” an image which gradually grew more and more clear. She seems to favor certain decorative words such as “lacy, lips, silver, honey…” words that don’t connote anything negative or ugly and which are woven throughout. The poems are predominately sparse in language and line, almost “explosive” in phrase, and say what they mean to say while leaving any extraneous narrative to the reader’s discretionary imagination. The poems usually focus on a single image, and the image is then “decorated” with pretty words, as if like a cake that was elaborately frosted, as in “Moon Rise:”

Tonight
the full moon
arrived
in a carriage

Searching for the girl
with denim
blue eyes.

Splashed diamonds
on her clover
honey hair.

Tonight
the full moon
arrived
in a carriage.

Lace
curtains
opened wide.

There is an element of “fairytale” in these poems, an element that embraces the “lilies” of poetic language, and not so much of the “urine.” And it is almost as though the words she employs are a kind of “dressing,” as if as in “Memory of a Small Brown Bird in the Garden in Rahlstedt” the small brown bird is “dressed in [her] words.” Whether the object is a small brown bird that disappears into a pear tree, or the speaker herself, “kiss[ing] fresh raspberries/Oats & honey/on [your] chest” the object is always given elegant clothing to wear, and nothing is unpleasant or forces the reader to cringe from anything ugly or unsettling: as in the last lines in her section (from “Night Blooming Cereus”):

The scent tied my limbs
In green ribbons

In addition, her poems also often lend themselves to surprising moments of self-discovery, however subtle the moments seem to be revealed. In the subtlety of these moments, something profound occasionally occurs, as in “Good-Night Bird”:

I imitate her voice.
The highpitched sound makes me real.

And to juxtapose the discovery that she is “real” and that she exists with the poem immediately before “Good-Night Bird” we can see a thematic link: “The small, brown bird/that disappeared inside/the pear tree/when I was five,/Exists.” “Exists” is on a line all on its own, perhaps to communicate the idea that existence itself is a thematic concern throughout: the complexity of becoming astutely aware of the “self” in her surroundings, in the world, as subject. Perhaps this is even a case of the speaker realizing her own significance, as human, in a world which is incessantly defined in fairytale terms. Perhaps then she is also attempting to recognize herself as a part and component of this orchestrated, decorated world, as existing among the “lace and honey.” And in this way, she locates herself in a sort of impossible world, absolved from pain and tragedy. I guess my next question would be whether this tactic is a compensatory one, one which is a method of escape from some pain or tragedy the speaker and/or poet does not want to uncover.

I would have to further examine Britt’s poem, on the other hand, which is dedicated to Scheibli, and perhaps a response to her work and visions:

Ode to Paradox

The paradox eventually becomes a simple concept
once you gain insight, and suddenly you feel you
should’ve known it all along. Like an avocado’s wrinkled,
black skin lining the bottom of an ocean green,
Tupperware compost bowl, the paradox stores maple
seeds in its lungs about to burst after two and a half days
of constant rain. Ah, but your lusty dreams shed their silk
scales long ago between the furious nettles growing
along the flaming white sands of the Mojave!

Ah-ha! Here, Britt exposes something unpleasant! An “avocado’s wrinkled skin” and the “furious nettles” suggest perhaps the paradox between the embellished decorations of Scheibli’s poems and something more raw and human. Perhaps he sees the speaker in Scheibli’s poems as more complex and multi-faceted than the speaker sees herself! Perhaps here, Britt is fiercely perceptive.

There is also however, a stark contrast between the sentiment and style of Britt’s aforementioned poem, and the other poems in his section (s). Most of Britt’s poems, as opposed to Scheibli’s are more narrative in scope, at least in the sense that a reader might know and understand traditional narrative. However, like Scheibli, he keeps his line length short, and almost explosive. Like Scheibli, his stanzas are also often brief, and most of the time both poets never exceed three short lines per stanza. A typical Britt poem with a narrative arc is “Picking Cucumbers” which both begins and ends in traditional story form: “The other day a tendril/circled my wrist/as I reached for a cucumber.” And ending with “At that precise moment I felt/the tendril/loosen/my wrist/and slowly embrace/the splintered bark/of a faded brown tomato stake.” Like Scheibli, Britt also has a particular lexicon that he favors: words like “lusty, breasts, dry wine, snakeskin…” and also establishes many of his images through color (lusty red tomatoes, green chilies, whitegreen leaves, purple spines)…but Britt’s words seem more muscular and robust, as opposed to Scheibli’s delicate, fragile, and brittle lexicon.

It is furthermore interesting to me the way that these two poets have worked together in collaboration, and the manner in which the poems manage to complement one another. Where Scheibli and her speaker dwell in a sort of exclusive world absent of pain, Britt and his speaker seem to dwell more in the grit of a crueler reality.  One might get the sense from Britt’s half of the collection that the world is a place that doesn’t quite apologize for its flaws, and that among it he is nevertheless drinking “This dry Italian wine/like bones clicking cobblestone” (“A Pleasing Italian Wine”). And in that sense, Britt may be the realist, and Scheibli the inhabitant of something keenly more rose-colored.

 

Parabola Dreams
Silvia Scheibli & Alan Britt
$16.00  114 pages
The Bitter Oleander Press
4983 Tall Oaks Drive

Fayetteville, NY 13066
ISBN 978-0-9786335-9-2
www.bitteroleander.com

Small Press Distribution:
1-800.869.7553

Amazon:
www.amazon.com

 

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About the reviewer:

Emily Vogel is the poetry editor of Ragazine.CC, and teaches expository and creative writing at SUNY Oneonta a and Hartwick College. You can read more about her in “About Us.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

August 31, 2013   Comments Off on Parabola Dreams/Book Review

Silvertone/Book Review

 13_Orlowsky_Silvertone

 

Dzvinia Orlowsky
Silvertone
Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series
2013
ISBN: 978-0887485640

 

Finding the Sacred

 

Review by Miriam O’Neal

Where does the sacred live? Dzvinia Orlowsky’s newest book of poems, Silvertone,  locates the sacred in that dangerous interior space where the windows are made of memory and the door of desire. Its threshold is a cherished object. Its music is made with words. This collection strings together a series of lyric narratives, many of which build upon the totemic quality of personal belongings: an old guitar, a miniature icon of the Virgin Mother, a father’s shotgun — their size and shape do not matter. What matters is their history, real and imagined. This I remember, says one line, this you imagined, calls back another. This I endured, this I have let go, like a dream from its sleeper.

Mother, father, sister, spouse, children, all make appearances in these poems. And wound around the arc of memory is the parallel arc of music, music made in real life on the old Silvertone guitar of the title poem, and music made in the tropes of these poems that sing and sway on their own. As we move from past to present to past to present over the course of the four movements of Silvertone, we see ‘Doc Orlowsky,’ his beautiful wife ‘turtlenecked, black stockinged legs / crossed and wrapped around a barstool’ in the basement family room. They appear at the heart of the poems, romantic, inhabiting a space their daughters observe, the private space of their love story. And imagination works with memory to invent that story.

The old guitar survives as talisman of that love, and a grown child’s desire for news of that life imbues the guitar with a romantic, past. It becomes

…the guitar I imagined my father bartered
 from gypsies and carried through harsh winters
 with barely a shield to protect it,
 the one he and my mother made love next to
 for the first time, the guitar
 propped on the bed next to them,
 the large tear-shaped guard
 and wooden bridges
 I thought I was born of.

This is the crux of the entire collection: that we are born into memory and imagination; that we live in fact, in what is, but also in truth, which is what we make of it. And always, like strings plucked on a cheap guitar in a basement rec room, or the sound of insects in a swamp after summer rain, if we listen for it, there is music.

Memory and the lived life of the speaker work in the same call and response mode as lines within the poems and the poems are full of tropes that startle the reader into awareness. In “Kissing Fra Lippi’s Mistress Goodnight,” the story of a beloved miniature icon of the Virgin Mother held during bedtime prayers and then kissed goodnight, we learn that this dear image was actually the image of Fra Lippi’s mistress, not a virgin or Madonna of any kind, not even of his long suffering wife. But the speaker turns from this revelation to tell us

                         There’s space left by adoration
 to place one’s face.

This is a woman, this is flesh.
We know what’s ours to pray for —
all of us, sumptuous vanishing points.

Cloud of breath,/ heavy dew.

The reader is welcomed into the room of the poem with that penultimate line, which imbues each of us with our own sacred weight.

We have read poems about girls who want to be a size zero before, but here, in “Still as I was,” that girl is offered as a child.

who held the bread
under her tongue
until she could roll it
like a wet damaged
bird onto a cloth.

The sensibility of the sacred bread, held in the mouth, unchewed, unswallowed, meets the image of the bird that will not fly. And in their merging, Orlowsky gives us a visceral connection to this one, word-dizzied child. Orlowsky avoids the predictable on both the narrative and the descriptive level. The bird is not ‘wounded’ but ‘damaged’ the child is not ‘ill’ or ‘nervous’. She is a child ‘whose love for words / was stronger than her desire / to eat.’

I have many favorites in this collection of poems, and most of those address the fact and the truth about desire: we desire a romantic past for our parents (“Silvertone”), as we become ourselves, we desire to be seen and counted (“The Muse”), we wish to survive both our own choices and those who would wound us and /or make us small (“To See a Horse”). We want to be able to say something like ‘this was,’ though we also, often want to abridge the ‘was’; to soften it and mold it into a durable and endurable truth. The final three poems of Silvertone hum with this wanting.

“Prolonged” reads like a brief litany of what we love in this world, both physical and ephemeral. “Promise me (the poem begins) heavy wagons, trodden grasses, / smoke rising from deep within woods, / the open pit fire.” These images are sentimental in the extreme, which is why they work. They speak to the furthest reaches of visceral memory, reach back, back, back from this contemporary world, to what we carry within of the collective unconscious, what wakens in us without warning, a sense of endless journeying toward an unknown.

“Memorizing Music” stuns with its clear opening advice for living. “Leave desire unmeasured; let your body unfold/ toward an unmarked pitch…” Each time I read these lines I am stopped by them. It is the paired instructions for what not to do and what to do with desire that arrest me: accept that desire has no scale of measure, allow yourself to live that yearning without knowing how far it can take you.

The book could have ended on this poem, but Orlowsky offers us one more, “Early Hour,” which does the work of an epilogue, not only for this collection, but also, for those familiar with her earlier work, the poems in her other books, A Handful of Bees, and most recently, Convertible Night, Flurry of Stones. Here, “Moon”

…offers a burning candle’s trail of smoke

that rises and goes nowhere,
a piece of bed gliding through an MRI.
It says sleep is for woodpeckers tired of drumming,
for a family of deer who have leapt into a pond of ferns.
Instead, the moon urges live.
The black leather jacket drops into words about a black leather jacket.
The crimson firefly swells at the tip of a cigarette.
And you know it, standing along in your yard,
closing your book of poems by Yevtushenko,
that this is the grand reunion tour —
the constant hammering in your brain
naked mind, naked body — in daylight
butterflies that will die if they hitchhike onto your clothes.

Read this book. Go out into the world awhile or wander inside your own, interior landscape. Then, read this book again.

 

Silvertone (ISBN #978-0887485640)
Dzvinia Orlowsky
80 pages, 5.5” x 8.5,” paperback, full color ($15.95)
University Press
Carnegie Mellon Poetry Series
5000 Forbes Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213

 

About the Reviewer: 

Miriam O’Neal has published poems and/or reviews in AGNI, Marlboro Review, Louisiana Literature, Birmingham Review, and The Guidebook, as well as elsewhere. Her translation of Italian poet, Alda Merini earned her a Beginning Translator’s Fellowship from the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) in 2007. Her manuscript, We Start With What We’re Given is currently looking for a home.

August 31, 2013   1 Comment

Books & Reviews

 

Coffee

Eclectic Coffee Spots in Puget Sound
Marsha Glazière
ISBN #9781468598575
AuthorHouse

 

Eclectic Coffee Spots In Puget Sound

by Abigail Smoot

A sublime example of a local interest title, artist Marsha Glazière’s Eclectic Coffee Spots in Puget Sound, achieves a most difficult goal in aspiring to appeal to more than just the region’s residents. Beautifully designed and presented, with striking mixed-media paintings and captivating photography, each page adds to a varied and remarkable collection of coffee shops throughout the one-hundred or so miles of the Puget Sound locale. It is a book which one could flip through over and over, and discover something new with each perusal.

Glazière’s piece offers a combination art book and documentary, with Seattle’s renowned coffee culture at the center. While the book focuses on 109 different cafés, nearly one such establishment per mile, they comprise only a few of the total destinations, and only those the author found most notable. Seattle’s love of coffee is well-known; still, the extent is rather stunning. In the U.S., Seattle’s Puget Sound area has the largest concentration of coffee houses. In Seattle proper, statistically, there’s a coffee shop on every block. The Discover America website for the region states that there are 2.5 coffee shops per 1,000 citizens. To put that into perspective, the Mid-Atlantic city of Baltimore has 0.026 coffee shops per 1, 000 citizens – that’s 154 coffee shops for the 5.9 million people living in the Baltimore-metropolitan region. With over 100 of these cafés represented by two chains, either Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks, less than a third are small, privately owned businesses. Quite conspicuously, of the 109 shops mentioned in her book, Glazière includes only a single chain café, the flagship Starbucks, established in 1971, at Pike Place Market.

Throughout the book, Glazière is adept at capturing the diversity of the region. The names of the cafés themselves range from mundane and unassuming, to distinctive – Walnut Street Coffee, Q Café, Joe Bar, Fuel Coffee, 909 Coffee and Wine, Cafe Bambino, A Muddy Cup, Zeitgeist Coffee, Burial Grounds Coffee Co., The Doctor’s Office, Ladybug Bikini Espresso. Each featured coffee shop has a different feel. Some are large with vaulted rooms, others impossibly tiny, having seating for just a few patrons. The diversity of styles is tremendous and varies from casual to upscale, cozy to uber-modern, artistic to austere, rustic to metropolitan. Each shop creates an overarching aesthetic, which feels both personal and authentic. Whether showing smiling baristas, overstuffed chairs, gleaming espresso machines, colorful paintings, whimsical sculptures, suspended lighting, performing musicians, or windows overlooking sylvan vistas, it seems that there is a perfectly-tailored venue to fit any personality, and any mood.

The images contained in the book are truly lovely. Looking at the mixed-media artwork, it appears that Glazière may begin with a distinguishing photograph, and then creatively overlay paint, fabric, and other media, in working toward some unique and telling composition. This gives a strong sense of continuity between the volume’s paintings and its photography. The pieces are dynamic and active, and show a mix of interiors and exteriors. Glazière’s use of perspective in the pieces is unique, one largely accomplished through incorporating interesting angles which reveal significant features of the various coffee houses. Instead of a flat picture of a building’s façade, Glazière adds her own twist by integrating the small, sometimes curious, but always defining objects into her pieces. In one, she includes a breathy sketch of a tiny garden, outside of one café’s front entrance, and in another, a photograph of a dog, leashed to a deck overlooking serene water. Each depicts something essential to the individuality of the place.

These subtle facets might not be noticed by a patron, and generally are not captured by promotional photography. The captions, too, impart interesting details – which café roasts their own beans, uses organic ingredients, or bakes their own sweets – elements that fully embellish Glazière’s rich portrait of the very eclectic coffee houses of the Puget Sound region.

The end of the book contains a few noteworthy shops, which during the course of the volume’s creation, have gone out of business. They are highlighted, Glazière explains, because these places captivated and inspired her. She also includes a handful of recipes that go well with coffee, and encourages her readers to enjoy a similar, cozy coffee shop experience in their own homes. Overall, the book is a warm and inviting piece, and is a relaxing and enchanting book to peruse. Upon reading Eclectic Coffee Spots in Puget Sound, one not only might wish to visit the Seattle area, but also investigate the lesser-known and locally-owned coffee spots in one’s own region.

 

Eclectic Coffee Spots in Puget Sound (ISBN #9781468598575)

Marsha Glazière

AuthorHouse

164 pages, 8.5 x 0.4 x 11 inches paperback, full color ($25.99)

 

 

Capture
Seven American Deaths and Disasters
Kenneth Goldsmith
ISBN: 9781576876367
powerHouse Books

 

Collage Become Poetic: Kenneth Goldsmith’s

Seven American Deaths and Disasters

by Abigail Smoot

 

In his latest collection of poetry, self-described as “non-creative writing,” American author, Kenneth Goldsmith has transcribed and assembled media coverage of seven high-profile tragedies, spanning several decades. Extremely conceptual, and in a large degree, collaborative, given the source materials, Seven American Deaths and Disasters is a cacophonous tableau, documenting infamous events in a way unusual for text, and very different for poetry, if defined traditionally. Influenced greatly by the internet age, and specifically, the contemporary dissemination of information, Goldsmith has put into print that which is more commonly seen in present day music and film media – the mashup: assembled snippets of varied works, combined into one piece of music, video, or in Goldsmith’s case, printed poetic-prose. For the collection to be described as poetry, one would need to extend traditional definitions. Perhaps an accurate description delineation of the work would be non-fiction creative collage – where the artistry is derived from the artist’s intentions, rather than through the use of his own words. Taking precedence are the ideas, the design, and the implications of the work.

Broken into seven chapters, each document a different incident: there are three assassinations, of John F. Kennedy, Robert F. Kennedy, and John Lennon; one accident, that of the Space Shuttle, Challenger; two mass murders – Columbine and the World Trade Center attack of 9/11; and one death with current ongoing litigation – Michael Jackson. Going beyond simple remembrance, the pieces are not the emotionally neutral news reports or solemn obituaries, but on-the-scene reactions replete with confusion, gasps, and “Oh my God!” One is thus urged to experience the events as they occurred.

The title, Seven American Deaths and Disasters, is drawn from Andy Warhol’s 1962-1963 art collection Deaths and Disasters, similar in name and mode. In Warhol’s compilation, suicides, car crashes and other catastrophic events are portrayed in the flat two-dimensions of black and white photography, some washed with a single matte color. This format, delineates the impersonal impression that photography can render, as the medium gives the same emphasis to both happiness and tragedy. The impact, then, comes from a personal reaction, rather than the medium itself.  Goldsmith’s black and white print, like Warhol’s photographs, is a stark representation of each incident. In approaching Goldsmith’s collection, understanding this context and presentation is important. Otherwise, especially by the uninitiated, reading of the book, with its interjected exclamations and sudden changes of speakers, fonts, and uses of both colloquial and more formal language, might otherwise feel impossibly disjointed and disparate.

The modest volume’s cover immediately alludes to the conceptual nature of the entire piece. The spine of the white dust jacket gives the title, author, and publisher in black. The jacket cover has excerpts of each chapter printed vertically in red, and the chapter numbers are dark blue. When turned on its side it has the impression of the American flag. The red letters and white spaces making up the red and white lines, the space around the blue numbers giving the impressions of stars – American colors for the American deaths. However, under the jacket, the back of the book is red, the spine white, and identical to the jacket, the front cover is the same blue. As well, aligned with the chapter numbers, printed on the jacket front, are the numbers of those killed in each tragedy. This subtle inclusion speaks to the psyche of society, where one event, in which there is but a single victim can have the same, or perhaps more, impact than an event in which many more were slain. Each occurrence had immeasurable impact on American culture, and has rippled some much more strongly than others, throughout the entire world – leading to mourning and candlelight vigils, even to decades of war.

Beginning with a quote by Wittgenstein, “The limits of my language are the limits of my world,” the scene is set for the author’s exclusive use of ancillary material to deliver the message. Goldsmith’s decision only to include the words of others ironically shows the limits of the totality and a lack of overarching impact of his missive. He gives no discourse to describe why the various events were included in the volume. He provides no conclusions. All of the answers to these questions are left to the reader to determine. Offered are only the words spoken by individuals who had witnessed the various events. The chapter, dedicated to Columbine, is a scant five pages, but is powerful in its content. It relays a 911 call made by a teacher as the gunmen slowly approach her and her students’ hiding place. Her fate is only implied, but not expressly portrayed in the collection. Illuminating the widely known and the unknown may be Goldsmith’s point and the reason for his unconventional format in Seven American Deaths and Disasters.

In the face of continuous media, instantaneous digital content, unlimited information, the bombardment of modern broadcasting and society’s dependence upon it, will this all-access, 24-7 availability ever be enough? News sources offer immersion in place of experience, and cannot provide adequate space in order for one to process what has occurred. In his use of firsthand, extremely immediate accounts, perhaps Goldsmith’s collage illustrates that the way to comprehension and solace, when confronted with trauma or tragedy, is through contemplation – after having experienced the unfiltered event for oneself.

 

Seven American Deaths and Disasters
(ISBN #9781576876367)
Kenneth Goldsmith
Literary Collections / Poetry / America
http://www.powerhousebooks.com/#

Paperback
4.3 x 7.06 inches
176 pages
ISBN: 978-1-57687-636-7
$19.95
$23.95 CAD

 

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Words the Interrupted Speak
Paul B. Roth
ISBN: 1-59661-152-9
March Street Press

Pardon the Interruption

Review by Alan Britt

    

Robert Bixby operated March Street Press for over 20 years. Along the way he published some 260 books by a wide variety of authors. In 2012 Bixby, a solid figure on the US poetry scene, passed away, likely from complications due to undiagnosed iron overload, often mislabeled as Hemochromatosis. Up to that point, Bixby managed to stay true to his vision of publishing quality books.  One of the last books he published was the brilliant book of prose poems, Words the Interrupted Speak, by Paul B. Roth. A well-known poet and publisher in his own right—of the award winning journal, The Bitter Oleander, plus an impressive line of books from his Bitter Oleander Press—Roth first gained prominence as an original member of the Immanentist poetry and art movement in the 1970’s and has continued to dazzle ever since. As Patrick Lawler says of Words the Interrupted Speak, “This book is a house with a thousand rooms, each room containing a thousand houses, each house containing a ventriloquist with a thousand voices….It continually surprises with its diamond-tipped images and the depth of its emotions.” Indeed, Roth is known for creating imagery that goes well beyond tepid metaphors that pervade MFA poetry like kudzu strangling the life out of so many young poets. Roth recognizes that as in life a poem must risk everything if it is to achieve the “depth of its emotions.” And it is this eternal struggle to communicate, to achieve an authentic connection not only with oneself, but also with others as well that characterizes much of the journey through Roth’s latest book. Take for example, from “A Little Faith Regained,” the bending and shaping of lexicon necessary to express an awareness that conventional wisdom doesn’t supply, along with the emotional depth or intellectual accuracy that the poet strives for:

Where I cannot see, messages are whispered up

through spiraling violet flowers, codes broken down inside an

insect gouged bark against which frogs rasp their guttural

songs, and a whole new language created from spaces between

the old letters I used to write before learning every word I

wrote was in truth a lie.

Likewise, from “An Ending,” we sense that detachment from convention is vital in order to protect individuality from being swallowed whole by our insatiable culture of conformity.

After all these years, I’ve made up my mind to live it out alone

and have these few walls be my ears, this one floor my feet and

this endless ceiling my eyes. When complete, I want to be so

much a part of this room that its windows will only open when I

breathe. I’ve been asked if instead I wouldn’t mind self-confine-

ment, placed under house arrest, or sequestered away in some

parking lot cinderblock bunker. Anything to keep from needing

to be so busy is my usual reply. Then, without warning, I have this

urge to have the fiberoptic cable lines running into and out of my

house clipped from their service. Believing I was being watched

by what I watched, heard by what I heard, I soon learned it was

cheaper to pay a saboteur than hire the requisite technician.

So, what does provide an authentic sense of connection for Roth? If artificial culture pursuits offer little or no “emotional depth,” what’s left? Anthony Seidman offer insight into what Roth is after: “(Roth) hears rust, frozen creeks, stone, stray fawns, and the seeds that sprout inside words; and because he is willing to stop and listen, he knows his name, daily traffic, and language are both exit and existence, a desolation he has the courage to behold in snowdrifts and in the flight of crows.” Indeed, even in dreariest of environments, the poet finds some solace in nature. In “Smelter Rats” Roth, through striking imagery, paints a clear struggle between imprisonment of the mundane versus vivid fragments of emotional and mental clarity in a smelter plant warehouse. The poem begins,

Tired of the melancholy abstract, the burdened night

watchman combs his hair in a doorway chained open to a glare

of parking lot floodlights. Miserable, he allows the light to

smother him for a moment in its warmth. Every night, his

rounds turn one key after another into the heavy punch-clock

slung over his left shoulder.

and ends,

When asked about their (rats’)

young, he shrugs, says that come dawn, just before shift

change, all he’s seen are their shallow paw prints in a gray dust

the sun’s been warming up across the smelter’s unswept floor.

As one might expect, the poet who struggles for spiritual depth in a conformist environment cherishes his moments of ecstatic solitude with nature. Many of Roth’s prose poems reveal that nature ultimately provides the quality of life the poet requires. From “Harp Dreaming,” Roth says,

Oozing between moss thick roots,

against dead grasses matted down along a marsh bank only

mosquitos can reach, frog eggs quiver in half moonlight. Their

jelly glints the way harp strings plucking gold and black

between thumb and forefinger sparkle and ignite to a common

rest….Alive all at once, my fingers portray these harp strings

crying from an unmined source wound too tight inside their

nickel-silver silence.

And another passage, this time from “Big Day,” echoes again the importance of connecting with something beyond the conventional:

I put the eyes of wolves I loved having in

place of my own eyes back on the fronts of day-glow t-shirts

won by racing plastic ducks with the limited aim of a water

pistol….Traffic’s choked with dust. Behind each open

shuttle-bus window, the maxed-out bladders of adolescents

shine their freckled faces with those crystalline tears of too

much sugar.

Words the Interrupted Speak offers the reader a cornucopia of intellectual and emotional stimulation. Central to Roth’s voice, however, is his struggle with communication in a superficial culture vs. the quality of life that nature provides. Along the way, the reader is in for a dazzling ride!

 

Words the Interrupted Speak (ISBN #1-59661-152-9)
Paul B. Roth
52 pages, 5½” x 8½”, paperback, ($9.00)
March Street Press
Greensboro, NC
www.marchstreetpress.com

 

About the reviewer:

Alan Britt is Books & Reviews editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

 

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Of Flies and Monkeys
Jacques Dupin
(Translated by John Taylor)
ISBN: 978-0-9786335-4-7
The Bitter Oleander Press

When Monkeys Fly

Review by Alan Britt

 

Paul B. Roth is not only a poet, but also a publisher of fine poetry books. Of Flies and Monkeys by the late great French FLIESpoet, Jacques Dupin, is a recent gem from Roth’s Bitter Oleander Press. Dupin’s 285 page book, which contains French and English texts, is eloquently translated by John Taylor. Dupin, although occasionally translated into English, has been somewhat overlooked by US poets and critics. He is, however, clearly a giant of his generation in France. Along with contemporaries, Yves Bonnefoy, André du Bouchet and Philippe Jaccottet, Dupin continues the amazing run of super poets in France that stretches back generations. Silly to argue who is the greatest poet among a group of super poets, suffice it to say that Dupin is near the head of the pack. His poems, as evidenced by John Taylor’s splendid translations, are many things at once: heady, earthy, and joyously imaginative. His imagery often echoes Breton, Desnos, Eluard, and at times, even Baudelaire. Take, for example, the following from his book length poem, “Mothers”:

The unadulterated pleasure. Of being blind. Of smelling her. A mixture

of stench and soul. With last words. Written in chalk. Planted between flesh

and fingernail. The word that rouses the widowing meadow, the white assonated

pebbles, the high grass of the shore…

Perhaps challenging to readers of English plain language poetry, Dupin’s verses require concentration and at least some cultivation of imagination. In his introduction, John Taylor says the following about reading Dupin for the first time:

Upon a first reading of several of Dupin’s volumes in a row, the references to the semiotic notion of a “sign” per se as well as the reiteration of specific signs can actually seem to constitute a sort of hermetic personal symbolism. Yet “symbolism” is not really the right term, even as the apparent autobiographical allusions (such as béquille, “crutch”) at once move the reader and perhaps deceive him. Hardly fixed or static, these signs—represented by key words often suggesting pre-conceptual sensate or cognitive experience—are strangely prismatic, often partly indeterminate.

With Dupin, the challenge is supremely rewarding, even if at times a little shocking. From the book length title poem, Dupin offers the following:

The panting blue pinks

of a pestilential

monkey haunch

make the stained-glass light

of your “soul” eaten by flies

nothing—

nothing—unless

the bottom

of the dead gods’

goiters

and again,

Meaninglessness as a watermark

in the thickness of the tongue—

excess meaninglessness vaporizes meaninglessness

it loathes this theater

it flows, a self-murderer, the liquid manure

of any naked writing

aspiring to mortality

by absorbing the magnifying glass

and cracking

the crystalline lens…

a combustion of flies

a cloudery of monkeys

deep within the party-

wall.

Dupin died last year at 85 at his home in Paris. One of the great poets of his generation, he will be sorely missed. Dupin’s New York Times obituary reads,

“Mr. Dupin was for a long time one of the directors of the renowned Galerie Maeght in Paris, which represented Joan Miró, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Francis Bacon, Wassily Kandinsky and other modern artists. His poetry, which has been described as intentionally ambiguous, emerged in a stark postwar period of re-evaluation at all levels of French society, art included. “It’s succinct, laconic, impersonal,” said Mary Ann Caws, a professor of French literature at the City University of New York. In some ways, she added, Mr. Dupin’s poetry was the opposite of Mr. Dupin himself. “I knew him as a friend,” she said, “and he was an awfully decent and warm man.

Of Flies and Monkeys comes highly recommended. Do yourself a favor, pick up a copy and delight in the superb imagination of one of the 20th and 21st centuries most gifted poets.

 

Of Flies and Monkeys (ISBN #978-0-9786335-4-7)
Jacques Dupin
(Translated by John Taylor)
285 pages, 6” x 9”, paperback, ($24.00)
The Bitter Oleander Press
Fayetteville, NY 13066
www.bitteroleander.com

 

 About the reviewer:

Alan Britt is Books & Reviews editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.”

 

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send#55

Lynda Barreto

 

 

June 29, 2013   Comments Off on Books & Reviews

Photo Editor’s Choice / July-August 2013

vvv

the PHOTOGRAPHY spot

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Seas Without A Shore / The Book

Chris Anthony

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HIPPOCAMPUS_1

Hippocampus 1

Expiscorari

Expiscorari

WINGS_2

Wings 2

SKID_ROW

Skid Row

REGINA-PELAGUS-1

Regin Apelagus 1

MELANIE-3

Melanie 3

MELANIE-2

Melanie 2

LADYBIRD

Ladybird

ANNABEL_LEE

Annabel Lee

AEGYPTIUS_AMERICANUM_IV

Aegyptius Americanum IV

……………………………………………………………………………………………………

SEAS WITHOUT A SHORE is a magical, mysterious photography book of tintypes, portraits, still lifes and seascapes.

The photographs for this book have evolved into a series of images involving fictional narratives, replete with absurdity and hilarity, and doubling as a cautionary tale. Drawing attention to the bizarre and the banal, the resulting images are portraits on the border between documentary and fiction, imagining characters that, much like our selves, are forever a mystery.

The scenarios document a species as seen everyday through the eyes of the artist, with the writings of Edgar Allan Poe serving as a beacon of light and a source of inspiration. Mask-making, sculpture, and costume design is a colossally important part of the process, defining the unique and demented little world Anthony lives and shoots in. The mysteries of the sea figure greatly in these pictures with a crescendo of color images depicting survivors braving waves and currents, perhaps the result of a future world where ocean tides will wash away the planet’s coastlines.

The photographs are made with a 4×5 large format camera and most of the images are photographed with 150-year-old lenses with color film or using the collodion wet plate technique which is a beautiful photographic process that was invented in the mid-19th century and still to this day has passionate practitioners all around the world.

-Chris Anthony 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………

seascover Seas Without A Shore / The Book

Two Cover Versions (Standard Cover / Limited Edition clothbound cover)

The Limited Edition Book is also offered with either a Slipcase or Collector’s Box accompanied by various prints and/or original tintypes.

Hardcover | 144 pages | 97 Color Plates | 10” x 12 1/4”

http://chrisanthony.viewbook.com/seas-without-a-shore

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For the PHOTOGRAPHY spot submissions, please see guidelines at ragazine.cc/submissions/

June 29, 2013   Comments Off on Photo Editor’s Choice / July-August 2013

Eulogy for a Brown Angel/Book Review

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Of Mires and Butterflies:

The Third Eye of Lucha Corpi

Review by Lilvia Soto

           Eulogy for a Brown Angel,[1] the second of Lucha Corpi’s novels, is a murder mystery set against the background of the Chicano civil rights march of August 29, 1970. The heroine, a young Chicana who participates in the Los Angeles march “to protest U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia and the induction of hundreds of young Chicanos into the armed forces” (17), gets caught up in a bizarre story of protest, murder, vengeance, and international intrigue, which she brings to a dramatic solution eighteen years later.

That bloody Saturday, when Rubén Salazar, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times and a well-loved television news personality, was killed by a sheriff in the Silver Dollar Café[2] and hundreds of Chicanos were clubbed and tear gassed,[3] became known as the National Chicano Moratorium and as one of the most violent days in the history of California. Gloria Damasco and her friend Luisa Cortez together with 20,000 Chicanos gather at Laguna Park[4] and march down Whittier Boulevard in the heart of the barrio “to celebrate [their] culture and reaffirm [their] rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly as Americans of Mexican descent” (18). After the march gets disrupted by the police, Gloria and Luisa find a four-year-old child dead on Marigold Street, right off Whittier Boulevard. The child’s body has been defiled with feces in his mouth.

Gloria calls the police, speaks with homicide detective Matthew Kenyon, and gets embroiled in the investigation. A young, “not quite fifteen,’ Chicano member of the Santos gang, had witnessed a tall man putting the child’s body on that spot. “The dude who brought the chavalito here dropped this,” he says handing Gloria an old newspaper clipping (24). He says his name is Mando and whispers to Gloria, “The dude— the one who brought the chavalito? He wasn’t a member of the Santos. I know ‘cause he was wearing a wig. Era gabacho. He had a scar, a media luna, a half-moon on his right arm” (25).

The dead child is identified as Michael David Cisneros, son of Lillian and Michael Cisneros and grandchild of Otilia Juárez, from whose house the child had been abducted forty-five minutes before Gloria found his body. Michael and Lillian live in the San Francisco Bay Area and came to Los Angeles to attend the Moratorium march. Michael and his brother Paul are the owners of Black Swan Enterprises, Inc., a successful Mexican-American company in Oakland.

Early on Monday morning, Mando, the young Santos member who gave Gloria the clipping, is found dead on the same spot on Marigold Street where Gloria and Luisa had found the dead child. Kenyon suspects Joel Galeano, a free-lance reporter who had threatened Mando when they met around little David’s body on Saturday afternoon. The detective asks Gloria to help him set up a trap for Joel. She goes to Joel’s house wired up, and when he realizes that she’s working for the police, he gets ready to shoot her. At that moment, Kenyon walks in and Joel runs to the basement and kills himself.

Kenyon believes that Joel killed Mando and that a second assassin is responsible for the child’s murder. He also thinks that the same person masterminded both murders. When they are unable to make any progress in the investigation, Gloria goes back home to Oakland where her husband and young daughter are waiting for her. Over the next year, she is unable to put the case to rest and continues to follow leads and to do research about the incident mentioned in the newspaper clipping that Mando had given her. She also follows the news on Black Swan Enterprises in the business section of the paper and on the Cisneros family in the society pages, and she develops a friendship with the child’s grandmother, Otilia Juárez.

At the end of 1971, Gloria ends up in the hospital with anemia and over-all exhaustion. Her husband is upset with her and accuses her of thinking that “tinkering” with the Cisneros case is more important than her daughter’s and her husband’s, or even her own, well-being. Again, she goes through an existential crisis. She remembers her promise to Michael David and to Mando to bring to justice whoever is responsible for their deaths. But she also remembers that earlier, on the day her daughter was born, she had promised her that her well-being would be foremost in her life, so she reluctantly decides to close the book on Michael David’s murder.

Eighteen years later, Gloria’s husband dies of a heart attack, and with her daughter grown up, she decides that she is again free to pursue her investigation of the murders. She feels herself starting to come alive again. She realizes that she wants to experience once more “the excitement and all those other powerful feelings that, eighteen years before, had made [her] look forward to each day with such anticipation” (129).

When she puts the missing pieces of the puzzle together, the story that emerges is a variation of the first story of a murder in history — that of the original Biblical fratricide (Cain and Abel) and its motif of usurpation. Gloria discovers that the murdered child’s father, Michael Cisneros, is really the son of Cecilia Castro Biddle —the adopted daughter of a prominent Mexican family that played an important role in the history of California from the time of the Spanish explorations. Michael had been conceived out of wedlock, and Cecilia had gone to Mexico to give birth and to put him up for adoption. The newborn infant was adopted by Miguel Eduardo Cisneros Belho and by his wife Karen Bjorgun-Smith. They registered him at the American Embassy in Mexico as their own child. The only person who knew that Michael was adopted was Karen’s father. When Karen gave birth four years later to her natural son Paul, her father felt that Karen loved Michael more than her own son, and he even had Cecilia Castro Biddle, who by then had become mentally unbalanced, kidnap her own son, who, fortunately, was found wandering in the Peralta Historic Park several hours later. Old Man Bjorgun wanted his natural grandson to be the only heir to the family fortune. He spent the rest of his life showing preference for Paul, taking him to live at his house for long periods of time, and instilling in him a racial pride in his Swedish ancestry and an insane jealousy of his older, adopted brother. Paul grows up with feelings of love and hatred for his brother. When his father dies, Paul re-establishes the Brazilian Irmandade that his grandfather had originally founded before World War II, but this time, instead of it being a socio-financial think tank, the international organization functions as a military hierarchy and plans to take over Black Swan Enterprises. The Irmandade also recruits people like Joel Galeano to do their dirty work, such as killing Mando.

Gloria figures out that Paul could not kill his brother directly, so he tried to destroy everything Michael loved — his son, his wife, and his business. Paul himself had murdered little Michael David on the day of the National Chicano Moratorium. Over the next 18 years, he not only tried to take over Black Swan because he resented his brother being the President of the company and owning a larger share of the stock, but he also gained control of Lillian’s mind by slowly feeding her “Elixir de Pereira,” a Brazilian febrifuge which gave her hypothermia and robbed her of her will to live.

In the final showdown at Solera, a small winery just outside of Saint Helena in the Napa Valley and Lillian’s favorite place to live, she begs Paul to kill her and put her out of her misery.

Paul promises to do so as soon as she writes a farewell note to Michael confessing her love for Paul. Lillian is enraged and tells Paul that she has hated him since the day 22 years earlier when he raped her. She also tells him that little Michael was his son, that he had murdered his own son. Paul wants to shoot her, but he ends up shooting Gloria’s friend Luisa instead, when Luisa, Gloria, and Otilia try to protect Lillian. Immediately afterward, Justin Escobar, the detective Gloria had hired to help her solve the case, kills Paul.

Even though the first story of a murder goes back to the Bible, it tells of a crime without mystery, and even though, according to Frederic Dannay and Marfred B. Lee, the first detective of history was Daniel of the Greek Tales “Susana and Daniel” and “Bel or the Uncovered Fraud,” almost all students of the genre agree that the first modern detective is Edward Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin (1841, 1842, 1845). Detective literature can only be born, says Roger Caillois, of the new conditions of life at the turn of the 19th Century. According to him, when Fouche installed the political police in France, intelligence, investigation, and deception became more important than speed, persecution, and strength.

Eulogy for a Brown Angel has all the elements of a detective story: a murder (actually, four murders), an attempted murder (Lillian by Paul), and one or more professional detectives, in this case, Matthew Kenyon and Justin Escobar, plus the protagonist herself becomes a de facto sleuth. There are also several references to famous literary detectives: Kenyon calls Luisa Dr. Watson,[5] Luisa calls Gloria Miss Marple,[6] and Gloria says to Kenyon: “I thought detecting was accomplished through the analysis of evidence and lots of leg work. Ze little gray cells, mon ami. Doesn’t a detective have to be a combination of Hercule Poirot[7] and Phillip Marlowe?”[8] (76). This murder mystery, however, is a whodunit of transcendental dimensions. The detective apparatus of this novel serves to conceal the true theme — that of Gloria’s spiritual journey. Her initiation follows in general terms the structure of the monomyth of the hero’s adventure, which Joseph Campbell, applying the principles of Jungian psychoanalysis to the study of mythology, has systematized in three classic stages: 1) the departure or separation from the world, 2) the initiation or entrance into a fountain of power, and 3) the return.[9]

The initiation aspects of the novel plus the fact that the main characters are men and women who cannot escape the existential crises of their epoch, suggest that Eulogy for a Brown Angel partakes more of the characteristics of the thriller than of the detective story. The police story presents a problem to solve, but the thriller presents a spiritual quest. The thriller is metaphysical. In this thriller, the protagonist is a heroine in the classical sense who, like Oedipus, discovers that she is simultaneously the hunter and her prey, the detective and the criminal. Her scenario is the eternal struggle of the soul between evil and goodness, and her true goal is transfiguration. Gloria says:

I found myself following Kenyon’s every move in my mind in a kind of frantic match, and I envied his detachment and objectivity. For Kenyon, this was a puzzle or a game of deduction and strategy. He took his personal and moral concerns for granted, for in the solution of a crime, justice was somehow served and goodness always prevailed. But goodness, like justice, was only a relative notion, depending on who interpreted or administered it (61).

 

The thriller represents a literature of crisis. It is, in Karl Jaspers’ existential terminology, a literature of boundary situations (death, fate, culpability) and options that carry a human being to the frontiers in which she must make vital decisions, in which she must question everything, even the very essence of existence.

When Kenyon asks Gloria to serve as bait to catch Joel Galeano, she hesitates, for it is not only dangerous to her life, but also a political risk given that in the summer of 1970, anything any Chicano did had to be considered according to its political impact on the Chicano community. Gloria says: “But we were a people within a nation. Our behavior was constantly under scrutiny, our culture relentlessly under siege” (64). She feels that she and Luisa are treading “on a quagmire of the conscience” (65).

As she sits in Luisa’s kitchen weighing her two options, she observes “a late butterfly slowly crawl out of its cocoon, . . . oblivious to its earthbound instincts as a caterpillar, the butterfly was emerging, ready to suck the nectar of flowers and to keep company with the wind” (64). A few minutes later, she thinks:

For years, I’d walked around with unresolved anger delicately balanced against the hope in my heart that one day our social and political condition would improve for us. But when I found little Michael’s body during the most violent confrontation I had ever had to face, the balance was upset, the fragile order broken (65).

Then she adds: “Obeying the outrage, I felt there was no other course of action but to serve as bait to lure Joel out in the open” (65).

She agrees to be wired and to go visit Joel. Before walking out of Luisa’s apartment, she checks herself in the mirror and says: “Except for some outward changes, I was still the green caterpillar I’d always been, stepping onto the mire with clumsy, uncertain feet” (70). Her transformation is not complete at this point, but two days later, after confronting death, on her way back to Oakland, Gloria says: “In the span of five days I had travelled a hundred years. On the plane’s final approach, the light in the cabin came back on. My reflection flashed briefly on the window. I looked away for fear I might see a century-old woman staring back at me” (105).

Ralph Harper[10] says that as crisis literature, the thriller “has arisen in the same century as a crisis theology and an existential philosophy, as a response to the crises of our civilization” (46). He adds that because the world of the thriller is Heideggerian, “[A]ll thrillers are basically concerned about two things: death and responsibility” (60). In Eulogy, Michael Cisneros realizes and acknowledges his responsibility for having internalized and accepted society’s racial prejudices. His brother Paul looked like his mother Karen and like his Swedish grandfather: tall, blonde, blue-eyed. Michael was shorter and his skin was darker. He says to Justin and Gloria: “In a way, I must admit I too have succumbed to this way of thinking. In our company, I let Paul take care of public relations, I let him deal with our clients. I was willing to run things behind the scene” (183). Michael’s admission of responsibility for colluding with America’s racial prejudices becomes more ironic when we remember that on the day of the National Chicano Moratorium, Gloria had thought, “In time, perhaps someone would admit to the real cause of what happened that day. But perhaps we already knew the name of the insidious disease that had claimed three, perhaps four, more lives that late August afternoon” (28).

Gloria herself goes through an existential crisis three times. The first time, in August of 1970, she encounters death (little Michael’s and Mando’s), questions her priorities —her political responsibility to the Chicano movement and her human and moral responsibility to try to apprehend one of the killers, makes her decision to help Detective Kenyon trap Joel Galeano, and faces her own death. The second time, a year later, she faces her own illness and has to choose between her desire to continue her investigation of little Michael’s murder and her responsibility to her husband and daughter. She reluctantly chooses her marriage and her daughter’s well-being. The third time, eighteen years after the Moratorium, free of familial responsibilities, she chooses to endanger her life once more to solve little Michael’s murder and to save the life of his mother, Lillian Cisneros.

The beginning of her first spiritual journey in 1970 is marked by her first encounter with the psychic phenomena that would remain with her the rest of her life. When Mando hands her the old newspaper clipping about Cecilia Castro Biddle, Gloria has an out-of-body experience — she feels herself flying above the dead child’s body and observing herself, the child, and Luisa below her on the ground. From that moment on, she experiences dreams, visual and acoustic premonitions and memories that belong to others, going all the way back to events in Michael’s and Paul’s childhood.[11] At first she questions her own sanity, but slowly she starts to accept what she calls her “dark gift”: intuition, vision, and courage. She begins to call on her psychic powers to aid her in identifying the killers. “Eventually,” she says, “I learned to accept this dark gift and to build the delicate balance on which my sanity rested” (123). When she decides to resume her investigation in 1988, her dreams and visions increase and change in nature (129). In the end, she solves the mystery as much through intuition and psychic phenomena as through reason and strategy. Even though she claims that her husband Dario was a good man and that they enjoyed a good marriage, in the novel he plays a minor role, and the reader does not get to know him. He seems to be a symbol more than a full-bodied character. The two people who play an important role in her life and act as her assistants in solving the case as well as in her spiritual journey are her friend Luisa (Dr. Watson) and Justin Escobar, the detective she hired to help solve the case. Justin is the opposite of her husband. Gloria explains to Luisa that Dario is a good man but, as a medical doctor, he’s a man of science who can only believe what is scientifically verifiable. He would not understand the psychic phenomena Gloria was experiencing and later calls her interest in the Cisneros case “tinkering.” Justin, on the other hand, accepts her dark gifts as natural, becomes as interested as she is in the case, joins her investigation, shares her interest in Chicano issues, and falls in love with her. Luisa, a childhood friend, is a poet and Gloria’s confidante. She believes in fate and naturally lives with intuition, psychic powers, and poetic inspiration. When Gloria first tells her of her out-of-body experiences, Luisa says:

There are things one may not understand, but, still, one accepts them. I don’t know where poetry comes from, but I know I’m moved to write poems and I accept that. There are things that can’t be grasped intellectually. Maybe all this seems strange to you because you don’t rely much on your intuition and perceptions of people and things (48).

 

At the end, Luisa is killed by Paul. On my first reading of the novel, I was surprised and thought her death unnecessary, but upon a second reading, I realized that Luisa is really Gloria’s alter ego. Towards the end, she encourages Gloria to resume the investigation. She says “Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about death, and today, looking at Otilia, I realized that what brought us together with her and the Cisneros was little Michael’s death. I guess I’m just being morbid. I’d like to find out who killed little Michael before I die” (127). After her husband’s death, Gloria starts having a recurring nightmare in which she sees Lillian and Otilia crying by her graveside with her bloody clothes strewn around it. During the dream and for hours afterwards, Gloria has “the strange feeling that only a part of me was buried there as if I had been cut up into pieces and only a few of them had been found” (128). Luisa dies because Gloria is no longer cut into pieces. She has solved the mystery and integrated her intuition and poetic powers. They no longer need to reside in someone else. Her spiritual transfiguration is complete.[12]


[1] Eulogy for a Brown Angel: A Mystery Novel, Houston, Texas: Arte Público Press,1992.

[2] He was killed with a tear gas canister fired by a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Although his death was found to be a homicide, Tom Wilson, the deputy sheriff who fired the canister, was not prosecuted.

[3] There were four people killed that day: Rubén Salazar, Lynn Ward, Angel Gilberto Díaz, and Gustav Montag, a Sephardic Jew who supported the Chicano movement.

[4] It has since then been renamed Salazar Park.

[5] Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes’ companion, known for his brilliant analytical faculties.

[6] Agatha Christie’s detective Jane Marple, known for her interest in abnormal psychology.

[7] Agatha Christie’s French detective Henry Poirot.

[8] Raymond Chandler’s detective.

[9] See The Hero of a Thousand Faces.

[10] The World of the Thriller. Cleveland, Ohio: The Press of Case Western Reserve University, 1969.

[11] the incident of the pet rabbit droppings

[12]In his “Preface”, Harper says: “My intention is to suggest a phenomenology, as it were, of reading thrillers. What is the nature of our involvement? What do we expose of our secret selves, our desires and ambiguities, our morality and idealism? What is the stream, the trouble, the pertinence of our inner life, as we find some “verisimilitude of satisfaction” in our reading? If I am right, the thriller’s purpose is “transfiguration” (IX).

 ****************

We Chicanos are like the abandoned children of divorced cultures. We are forever longing to be loved by an absent neglectful parent – Mexico – and also to be truly accepted by the other parent – the United States. We want bicultural harmony. We need it to survive. We struggle to achieve it. That struggle keeps us alive.

Black Widow’s Wardrobe

 

About Lucha Corpi:

Lucha Corpi was born in Jaltipan, a small town in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. She moved to Berkeley, California, as a young wife of 19, had a son, divorced, and received degrees from UC-Berkeley and San Francisco State University. She was president of the Centro Chicano de Escritores and is a member of the international feminist mystery novel circle, Sisters in Crime. Corpi has received many awards, among them, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, the PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Literary Prize in fiction, and the Multicultural Publishers Exchange Book Award of Excellence in Adult Fiction. She edited Máscaras, a collection of essays by 15 Latina writers, and is the author of two books of poetry, two children’s books, and six novels. Eulogy for a Brown Angel is her second novel and the first of her murder mysteries.

Lucha Corpi writes poetry in Spanish and fiction in English. In 2005 she retired after 28 years as a teacher in the Oakland Public Schools Neighborhood Centers Program. 

 

About the Reviewer:

Lilvia Soto.  Chihuahua, México, 1939. Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literature from Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. She has taught Latin American and Latino literatura at Harvard and other American universities. She was the co-founder and first director of La Casa Latina: the University of Pennsylvania Center for Hispanic Excellence. She was the Resident Director of a Study Abroad Program for students from Cornell, Michigan, and the University of Pennsylvania in Sevilla, Spain. She has participated in numerous international literary conventions and festivals in Spain, Mexico, and the United States. She has published poetry, short fiction, literary criticism, and literary translations in journals and anthologies in the United States, Canada, Spain, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and Venezuela. She has an English-language manuscript of poems about the American Iraq wars and another English-language collection of poems that dialogue with Iraqi poems. She has also completed an English-Spanish collection about language and her experience living in Spain. She is currently working on a bilingual collection about her return to Mexico in 2004, where she lived for six years, and the recovery of cultural and familial roots. She has published essays and given lectures on Spanish, Spanish-American, and Chicano writers (Leopoldo Alas [Clarín], Octavio Paz, Carlos Fuentes, José Emilio Pacheco, Alejo Carpentier, Fernando del Paso, Salvador Elizondo, Guadalupe Villaseñor, Laura Esquivel, Lucha Corpi), as well as on the history of the U.S.-Mexico border, the culture of Hispanics in the U.S., and the poetry of Chicana writers. As a consultant she offers Spanish-English translations and workshops on intercultural communications.  You may contact her at lilviasoto@hotmail.com

 

April 27, 2013   Comments Off on Eulogy for a Brown Angel/Book Review

Books/Reviews

lost arts

 

Leslie Heywood
Lost Arts
Louisiana Literature Press
2013
ISBN: 978-0-945083-37-5

 

Running!

Review by Alan Britt

    

Leslie Heywood prefaces her latest poetry book, Lost Arts, with the following quote:

Some things are bigger than all of us. We cannot defeat them. If there is enough carelessness and greed in the world even the ocean can be destroyed, and you, who fought against this illness with such courage and grace, even you cannot survive….       

 — Maria Mazzioti Gillan

So, does her book reference an ecological theme? Specifically, no. Loss, getting warmer. Her opening poem, the title poem, “Lost Arts,” indeed affirming what appears to be the loss of a newborn, her sixteen day old son, Drake, opens with the following lines:

This morning I practice the lost art of dedication,
             My year-old Akita nosing ahead of me her first time
             In these northeastern woods, these trails I know the way
             You always know the signposts home, this rock wall,
             This stump. It’s been six years almost to the day he died,
             These trails where we planted his tree. I stop and check
             And what’s left is a skeleton of branches
             And a slowly rotting trunk, those sixteen October days
             He lived not much shorter than the tree did. (1-9)

What we don’t find in Heywood’s book is sentimentality. What we experience is a hands-on, often literal, barebones diction that is occasionally peppered with the right dose of metaphor.

Heywood continues “Lost Arts” in a language typical throughout her book, a language with a stiff backbone that addresses suffering head-on: “When I couldn’t hold onto him in his hospital crib, / Blue and pink beanie covering the electrodes on his skin,” (16-17).

Many of the poems in Lost Arts often are autobiographical, and indeed the speaker spends much time in and around an environment that seems to offer serenity and refuge: nature, in particular on footpaths that welcome a solitary jog. The persona of Heywood’s poems is concerned with fitness, spiritual and otherwise, by spending hours running, running, running, as evidenced by several poems whose primary subject is running: “Marathon Training,” “Running Holly Hill Road,” “Last Long Run Before the Marathon,” while other poems reference the jog: “I try to do yoga, go running, even read,” (“What Noise”), “I run with my knee on fire / A burn from cartilage rubbed red (“My Father in the Lake Placid Trees”), and the following lines from “Six-Miler in the Bone Yard”:

This morning my knees ache
              Too much to run.
              When I try to stand
              They pop like an old car
              Backfires in the street. (1-5)

Throughout her book, Heywood is at spiritual ease not only in nature, but also with her dogs. She opens her poem, “Cairn,” this way:

As you get older their bodies accumulate, the ashes
              Of the people and animals you’ve loved, or the bones
              Slowly whitening in their graves. I buried my last dog
              On my eight acres of trees, dug the hole
              Outside my cabin so I could see the tip of the gravestone
               When I looked outside. The other dogs are ashes
               Stashed in plastic bags in a Navajo urn, the thin ceramic
               So fragile I’m afraid to sneeze…. (1-8)

Heywood’s subjects run the gamut, but if you want poems that reference a sensibility fueled by the rugged outdoors and beloved dogs, you’ll find them here. However, no less important is family, especially daughters. The second half of Lost Arts in particular includes some beautiful references to Heywood’s daughter. One memory in particular is deftly captured in the tender poem, “Two Year Old Stars,” where the poet recounts her daughter at ages two, three, four, and five. For all her pioneer spirit, Heywood conjures from time to time a language befitting the sensitivity of a loving mother to daughter relationship, one filled with caring and gentle affection:

….Dear daughter,
            What I wish for you is a lifetime of clamoring constellations,
            The stars peeking over your shoulder like friends
            As you reanimate their coldness
            With your own precious light. (23-27)

Even if you’re a statue cast in marble, you can’t help but feel the tenderness in those lines. Lost Arts contains some beautifully written poems guaranteed to course blood and perhaps even wrench an occasional tear from an unsuspecting, marble, concave eyeball.

 

Lost Arts (ISBN #978-0-945083-37-5)
Leslie Heywood
77 pages, 6” x 9”, paperback, full color ($14.95)

Louisiana Literature Press
Southeastern Louisiana University
Box 10792
Hammond, LA 70402

 

About the review:

Poet Alan Britt is Ragazine.CC‘s books and book review editor. You can read more about him in About Us.

Leslie Heywood is the Creative Nonfiction editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about her in About Us.

* * *

 

locke

 

Duane Locke
The First Decade: 1968-1978
The Bitter Oleander Press
2012
ISBN: 0-9786335-7-1

Spiritual Awakenings

 Review by Silvia Scheibli

There are some poetry books that you read to get a sense of shifts in poetic perception: imagery, spiritual awakenings, or far-reaching intellectual wisdom. And then there are those that you read in order to find out the earthly details that make up every day in a poet’s life. The First Decade is somehow both, a book that takes its readers day by day through the pantheistic, sacred landscape of the imagination into a new and exciting linguistic reality and also constructs a broader picture of the callous and inhumane treatment society perpetrates on itself through menial self-deceptions and unmistakable denials. In his own words “On a Cliff in Maine and Everywhere, Locke writes about this inhumanity:

American bulldozers
uprooting the Boi Loi woods
these distant woods
unconcerned with human concerns
but becoming concerned in
our
theirs
or someone’s
or no one’s
concern
Trees
being
destroyed
to protect
a
man
from
a man
man the excrescence

Another remarkable quality of Locke’s huge body of work – over 6,700 poems published to date – is his ability to take the reader into an intimate realm where only the poet himself lives and breathes. Yet somehow the reader is there, standing next to him, feeling what he feels, as in “Baby Sharks,”  where Locke speaks of the utmost love and reverence for the natural world;

            Baby sharks in brown mangrove water
carry in the music of their fins
the rumor of your rebirth
My eyes’ fingers reach toward
the secret tears in their helpless teeth
and feel the beginning of your hand

Besides Locke’s labyrinthine and intense imagery to guide the reader on the path of awareness of man’s slave mentality, Locke shares his philosophy of linguistics in many of the poems in the section known as Immanentist Sutras.  Here Locke clearly outlines the mental processes on how a human being can realize his or her authenticity.

this introduction is a variant on the door who
requires a key and a key’s grandfather and then
requires the key to become invisible and swim
through the leaf of a sword
it is a dove
who was painted on bricks and began to fly
until someone asked permission
immanentism
is a muzzle becoming a horse and a chain
becoming raw ore

Every poem conveys Locke’s genuine confidence in creating a linguistic reality, but none so readily as expressed in his long poem, “Foam On Gulf Shore. Here the poet has been reborn, reborn into a reality that holds far more pain, love, self-awareness and joy than man can possibly strive for. And yet, he speaks for the reader and upholds his tenets in the face of this extreme self-awareness. Locke writes,

As a citizen
I mated my love to my ego
Foam
as a poet
created by animals plants and minerals
I could extend my arm through space
reach inside the moon
take out a bracelet
of hitherto unknown light
to put on your yet unborn arm
and turn your arm of water
into an arm of skin

After reading The First Decade, the reader can appreciate that Duane Locke has invented a new language and by doing so, has invented a new, indispensable and vibrant poetry. The world would definitely be a better place if individuals were “to become friends with divine things / with sand fleas coquinas ghost crabs / and all else.”

Duane Locke: The First Decade
1968-1978
 (ISBN #0-9786335-7-1)
330 pages, 6” x 9”, paperback, full color ($25.00)

Bitter Oleander Press:
www.bitteroleander.com
info@bitteroleander.com

Distributed by Small Press Distribution
www.spdbooks.org

 

About the reviewer:

Silvia Scheibli lives in Arizona close to the Mexican border where she taught English to bilingual high school students. Her poems were translated into Spanish and included in La Adelfa Amarga, an anthology published in Lima, Peru. Her poems regularly appear in magazines and journals both in the U.S. and abroad. She is a participating poet in the We Are You Project International (www.weareyouproject.org).

April 27, 2013   Comments Off on Books/Reviews

Books: Native American Classics

native

 

Native American Classics:

Graphic Classics Series Volume 24

Review by Alan Britt

Editors Tom Pomplun, John E. Smelcer and Joseph Bruchac have produced a wonderful book in Native American Classics: Graphics Classics Volume 24, the latest in an illustrated classics series of books designed “to create books that are enjoyable for adults, yet accessible to children ages twelve and up.” The historical texts in this book are entertaining and educational. This newest production, like other books in the series, is beautifully adorned cover to cover with colorful illustrations serving as backdrops for texts by modern and contemporary Native American writers. The list of authors is an impressive mix of 19th-century through 21st-century Native American poets and storytellers that includes Zitkala-Sa, Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), E. Pauline Johnson, Alex Posey, Simon Pokagon, Handsome Lake, Bertrand N.O. Walker, Buffalo Bird Woman, Carlos Montezuma (Wassaja), John Rollin Ridge (Cheesquatalawny), plus a host of other talented writers. The list of illustrators is equally impressive and includes Bahe Whitethorne, Jr., Jim McMunn, Andrea Grant, Marty Two Bulls Sr., Murv Jacob, Weshoyot Alvitre, Toby Cypress, John Findley, along with other talented illustrators.

The texts comprise a rich variety of storytelling. For example, there is on the one hand the serious tale “On Wolf Mountain” by Charles Alexander Eastman (Ohiyesa), adapted by Joseph Bruchac, and beautifully illustrated by Robby McMurtry, which tells the tale of how a wolf pack, known as the Mayala Clan of Gray Wolves, were “driven away from their den on account of their depredations upon the only paleface in the Big Horn Valley.” Fortunately, the wolves happen upon a Lakota village and are befriended by the “Red Hunters.” According to Ohiyesa’s story, the paleface lifestyle of sheepherding and cattle ranching is unnatural to the landscape and proves to be potentially ruinous to the lives of both wolves and Lakotas. As the narrative recounts the struggle between the native wolves and intruder palefaces, one cannot help but detect the parallel genocide that Native Americans endured after the European invasion of North America. On the lighter side, there’s “The Story of Itsikamahidish and the Wild Potato,” Buffalo Bird Woman’s story adapted by Tom Pomplun  and handsomely illustrated by Pat N. Lewis, which recounts the tale of Itsikamahidish, who, in the form of a gluttonous coyote, happens upon a serendipitous pile of wild potatoes. One potato warns Itsikamahidish that potatoes, while nutritious, also cause one to experience a copious amount of gas.   Unimpressed with the potato’s warning Itsikamahidish eats his fill and proceeds on his merry way to visit his sweetheart while emitting “poots” of gas along the way. Eventually, Itsikamahidish’s gas “poots” become so powerful they begin lifting Itsikamahidish off the ground, only to have him return to earth with a painful thud. The soft moral of the story is that gluttony can get you into trouble, so the next time a potato offers you advice, better pay attention!

All texts are presented in comics form designed to stimulate and delight both adult and adolescent imaginations. Series Publisher, Tom Pomplun, puts it this way: “The Graphic Classics series presents the works of great authors in comics adaptations and heavily-illustrated text . . . adaptations are written at an adult level, and utilize as much of the author’s original language as possible.” One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read in a long time, Native American Classics, due for release March 2013, is already on my gift list, along with several other books in the unique Graphics Classics series. Suffice it to say that the reproduction of texts and illustrations in this book are vibrant and colorful. This beautifully printed and bound book is highly recommended for personal pleasure as well as gifts for adults, plus sons, daughters, nephews and nieces who love to be educated and entertained at the same time.

 

Native American Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 24 (ISBN #978-0-9825630-6-9)
144 pages, 7” x 10”, paperback, full color ($17.95)
Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors
Eureka Productions
Tom Pomplun, Publisher
www.graphicclassics.com

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 Another view:

Native American Classics,

Graphic Classics Volume Twenty-Four, 2013

 

By Dale Seeds

 This soon to be released collection of Native American stories rendered in the graphic novel/comic book format features a synthesis of Native American traditional stories transcribed on or before the 20th century with the work of contemporary comic/graphic novel artists. The majority of the artists include in this collection are Native American. We tend to think of the graphic novel as a new creation, embedded in popular culture, cheaply produced for a mass audience no longer interested in wading through a conventional book. However, storytelling with words and pictures, something graphic novels certainly do, is not a new phenomenon. Cave art in Europe and indigenous petroglyphs in Australia, and North and South America all figure from 40,000 to 30,000 years old. In both the ancient and the modern, the narrative unfolds through a series of sequential visual images, much the way traditional stories develop through verbal imagery.

So why not a marriage between Native American storytelling and the graphic novel?  Sounds logical.  Didn’t Frank Miller take the stories of Herodotus and turn them into The 500?  The history of contact between Euro-American and Native peoples in addition to the complex relationship between oral traditions, culture and spiritual beliefs suggests caution.   How do we, some of us as outsiders to the culture, discuss these works?  What qualities do we look for? What responsibilities are inherent in the creation of an anthology such as this? A watershed moment in the development of indigenous comic art occurred with the 2009 exhibit, Comic Art Indigene exhibit at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Subsequently, the exhibit toured The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, and The Rockwell Museum of Western Arts in Corning, NY.  This exhibit demonstrated a strong indigenous presence within the emerging and often marginalized literary form of the graphic novel.  Native artists are often attracted to the sequential format of the graphic novel, appropriating the western comic form to both tell traditional stories and create new culturally specific narratives. (Chavarria)

As marginalized literary formats, the comic book and graphic novel have a certain appeal to indigenous peoples, they can be mass produced and shared and present a visually exciting way to tell cultural stories through pictures. “exhibit curator Antonio Chavarria stated, adding, “Comics are just another way to tell stories, they are a narrative art form that reinforces the beliefs and symbols of a people and a place.

Native scholars suggest, however, that care must be taken. Stories in indigenous cultures are more than entertainment. They are the means by which the origin, cautionary, and hero stories, along with tribal history and values are maintained and transmitted.  They have often been described as “sacred texts” Many of them, particularly in the Northwest and Alaska are considered clan or tribal property. Unauthorized use or misuse can be offensive and in many ways perpetuates the colonial paradigm.

In discussing Native American Classics, we might first assume that Native stories expressed in comic format strive to subvert the Euro-American settler narrative to produce an alternate narrative that reflects the Native experience and worldview. For example, we might first ask, does the graphic format reclaim or deconstruct stereotypes such as those that harken back to dime novels and serial westerns?  Karl May’s Old Shatterhand stories provide us a vivid example. Do they reassemble the stereotypes to debunk the original stereotypical characters and tropes such as Marty Two Bull’s characters, Frybread Man and Mr. Diabetes, or his selection in this anthology, Wildcat Bill? Similarly, does the adaptation of graphic styles resurrect traditional heroes or create new ones like those in Tribal Force illustrated by Ryan Huna Smith.  This collection, with stories by Jon Proudstar, was the first Native American authored comic book featuring Native American superheroes. Finally, and perhaps most critical and difficult to discuss, is this hybridization of traditional stories in graphic form successful in the ways in which the text and the serial illustrations combine to tell the story in a dynamic, perhaps symbiotic way?  Conversely, does the traditional story and graphic illustration need to resemble each other, or can they exist in some sort of juxtaposition and still work? Finally, is it respectful, does it embody at least some of the functions of traditional story telling? Does it create a new voice or reach a new audience?

Native American Classics is based on the worthy notion to connect with the often marginalized and nascent Native American Literature of the mid and late 19th century. This literature, with virtually no models, was under the surveillance of white editors, who published only what was deemed as appropriate or compatible with Euro-American perceptions of Native peoples. These perceptions viewed Native peoples alternately as noble savages, bloodthirsty killers or tragic vanishing or vanished victims.  For many of the original texts included in Native American Classics, the cultural traditions and concerns of their native authors were carefully, and at times, discreetly expressed. With Native American Classics, the addition of the serial visual images accompanying the text has the potential to change our understanding of these stories.

The original authors and their stories included in Native American Classics represent that early wave of writers, who struggled to survive creatively and break through in print. Many of them were of mixed blood, or had considerable contact with missionaries, and boarding schools, including the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. Others attended colleges and universities.  These experiences shaped and often confined their works. The written expressions of the prose, the predictable rhyme patterns of some of the poetry and the guarded ways in which the Native worldview is expressed might seem dated to us today. They do, however represent the realities of a people being forced through assimilation to shift from a rich, sustaining oral culture to a written culture in an unfamiliar language. For example, we might find ourselves uncomfortable with the apparent rejection of traditional spiritual practices as suggested by the text in Zitlala-Sa’s “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” particularly in the description of the Medicine Man, (“ His long strides I have never forgot . . . they seemed to me then as the uncanny gait of eternal death.”  Perhaps more problematic is the captive/abduction narrative of John Rollin Ridge’s “The Stolen White Girl,” with its noble savage Romantic stereotype, mildly erotic Victorian language and stilted rhyme scheme.  The choice of illustration style here is not quite clear, perhaps to defuse the narrative into an innocent love story? Carlos Montezuma’s 1916 poem “Changing is not Vanishing” is one exception however, which anticipates a later 20th century Native viewpoint.  The illustration by Arigon Starr reinforces this, suggesting strength and optimism through a progression of images from a woman in traditional dress to a young man with a digital music player.

Visually, Native American Classics represents a wide variety of narratives and graphic styles from various tribal groups and artists.  Randy Keedah’s cover art resonates as an almost lovingly appropriation of the color and realism of Charles M. Russell and Fredric Remington and seems like a consistent aesthetic with other covers in the Graphic Classic Series from Eureka Productions.  A more thematic cover choice might have been the image of Raven by Michael Nicoll Yahgulannas.  This image, from the author and creator of Haida Manga, presents a contemporary riff on Raven stealing daylight and spreading it to the world. In this image, we see Raven transformed, as a Picasso meets – traditional form-line art trickster holding a cell phone with a copy of Native American Classics firmly clenched in his beak.  For me, at least, this visual image embodies the cultural juxtapositions a collection such as this could aspire to. It also would be nice to see more of Tribal Force’s creator Ryan Huna Smith’s work. Other works pay homage to comic creators such as Marvel’s Stan Lee and Frank Miller (“The Soft-Hearted Sioux,” “The Thunders’ Nest,” “The Hunter and Medicine Legend,” and “The Cattle Thief.”   Similarly, Marty Two Bull’s short and pointedly hilarious “Wildcat Bill” recalls Robert Crumb’s Mr. Natural.

The illustrative style of Robby McMurtry’s “On Wolf Mountain,” is especially successful.  With its spare colors and loose, inked images, it looks as if it were created by a 19th century artist sitting on the high prairie with a sketch book and paint box.  The magical vibrant colors and ink of Afua Richardson in “Anoska Nimiwina” create dynamic visual characters that do not rely on stereotyped visual images of Native people. Her use of loose swirling colors and ink to animate the scenes is almost cinematic. The text boxes and dialogue bubbles effectively differentiate between narration and dramatic dialog. The story also includes the character of a native scholar (writer) transcribing the traditional story that is unfolding for the reader. This insertion makes us aware of the processes by which oral stories come into written form.  This self-reflexivity also reflects on the process of “transcribing” this very story into the graphic form contained in this anthology.

“The Middleman,” which is stylistically reminiscent of Chic Young’s Blondie comic series, juxtaposes innocent and playful images with the very devious and fraudulent practices in which unscrupulous land speculators took advantage of the Dawes or Allotment Act to bilk Native people out of their government assigned allotments.  Text boxes at the bottom help to clear this up for the reader. However, this might have been more effective as a Forward. Perhaps a minor quibble, other selections in Native American Classics might have benefited from some inserted information to help place the pieces in a cultural and historical context. Information on the author, date, tribal affiliation, and some background on the origin of the story and its importance could be very helpful to the reader here, particularly those new to Native American literature. Much of this information is, however, found at the end of the collection.

Native American Classics includes strong, heroic women characters in “Anoska Nimiwina” and “The Cattle Thief.” Equally important, the grandmother in “The Prehistoric Race” serves as the Ouendot (Wyandot) narrator and tradition bearer. For example, in the beginning of the narrative she introduces herself as a member of the Big Turtle Clan so as to connect herself and her grandson to a story from which their clan is named.  This would also seem culturally appropriate since women held important governing positions in traditional Wyandot culture. The use of the Grandmother’s written dialect contrasts with the standard English of the animal characters and the grandson. It works as a device to separate the characters, however, one could argue she comes off as less articulate, and the text is a bit slow to read due to its phonetic spelling. The story telling narrator function is also a strong visual presence as the character of Charles Eastman in “On Wolf Mountain” and is alluded to in the previously mentioned example of the Native transcriber in “Anoska Nimiwina.” Women authors are present in the contributions of Zitkala-Sa, Mary Bird Woman, and E. Pauline Johnson, and illustrators Weshoyot  Alvitre, Andrea Grant, Arigon Starr, Afua Richardson, and Tara Audbert.

The spiritual connection between animals and humans is represented again by “On Wolf Mountain,” “The Hunter and the Medicine Legend,” and “Two Wolves”; traditional heroes in “The Thunder’s Nest” and “Anoska Nimiwina.”

Humor is an important and necessary tradition in Native American stories and two examples in Native American Classics provide contrasting approaches. “The Story of Itsikamahidsh and the Wild Potatoes” by Buffalo Bird Woman is a Coyote style cautionary tale, broadly comic with a touch of flatulent humor, about the danger of eating wild potatoes.  It utilizes a visual style that reminds one of the early Walt Disney or Hanna Barbara cartoons. Marty Two Bulls’ illustrations for Alex Posey’s “Wildcat Bill” almost literally turn the stereotype of the cigar store Indian on its head with comic and appropriately just results. Combining these 19th and early 20th century narratives with colorful, at times bold, and perhaps brash visual expressions produces a dynamic hybridization. (Chavarria) The success of this synthesis is clearest in the stories where the written text of the narrative is accurately and respectfully presented within the comic/graphic novel format and that this reflects the Native values and worldview of the author.  Likewise, we need to be open to the possibility that a traditional story and its graphic visual expression might exist in tension with each other, and that this might also be a successful collaboration. “The Middleman,” for example, moves in this direction. Finally, the visual inclusion of a Native story teller within the frames of the story is an important reminder that these stories owe their origin to the traditional performance practices of storytelling, which have been responsible for the transmission of traditional knowledge and culture for thousands of years.

On a personal note, my favorites are “On Wolf Mountain,” “Wildcat Bill” and especially “Two Wolves.” This last story is particularly successful for its tight, sparse dialogue, and the illustration style of John Findley. He combines great attention to detail and technical mastery of the media with an uncanny ability to create visual characters that convey a sense of emotional depth as well as the spiritual connection between the man and wolf. Maybe I’m just sentimental, but there was something emotionally satisfying about the ending of the story. It also provides a strong conclusion to the collection.

The anthology may not be perfect, but it does accomplish a number of things. First, it provides an opportunity for Native artists to connect their work to traditional stories in ways that are culturally meaningful.  This connection to traditional stories also gives their work a visibility beyond the graphic novel/comic genre. In one way or another, all the stories in the collection provide readers with places to start a meaningful dialogue about Native American literature, particularly in an environment such as a classroom.   Finally, the coexistence of verbal, written, and visual expressions of traditional stories sheds light on an indigenous culture and the ways in which it evolves through time in search of its own voices. This is perhaps the greatest contribution of a collection such as Native American Classics.

 

Native American Classics: Graphic Classics Volume 24 (ISBN #978-0-9825630-6-9)

Edited by Tom Pomplun with associate editors John E. Smelcer and Joseph Bruchac

144 pages, 7” x 10”, paperback, full color ($17.95)

Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors

Eureka Productions

Tom Pomplun, Publisher

www.graphicclassics.com

Works Cited

Chavarria, Antonio. 2012. Exhibit curator notes. Rockwell Museum of Western Art. 28 Jan. 2013.

http://www.rockwellmuseum.org/Comic-Art-Indigene.html

 

About the author:

Dale E. Seeds is Professor of Theatre  in the Department  of Theater and Dance at the College of Wooster,Wooster, Ohio,  teaching courses in design , Native American Performance and  Indigenous film.  His work has been published in Theatre Crafts, Drama Review, and  MELUS. In addition to his work at Wooster, his design  credits include work for The Abbey theatre of Dublin Ireland, The University of Alaska , Fairbanks and the Dead White Zombies performance group of Dallas, Texas.

 

 

 

 

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Poets’ Guide to America

Review by Alan Britt

John F. Buckley and Martin Ott recently published Poets’ Guide to America, a poetry book “on the states, cities, Poets Guide web coverand the strange places of the United States (and even some of its overseas possessions).” Here’s the thing – they wrote these poems together. That is, each poem was written in part by Buckley and in part by Ott. In Buckley’s words, “Beginning in May 2009, Martin and I began playing what we call ‘poetic volleyball,’ a form of exquisite corpse in which we took turns writing a couple of lines of verse, back and forth, until we had a poem. And then two poems. And then, finally, fifty.”

Is this co-op approach to poetry becoming a trend? We recently reviewed The New Arcana written by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris, a mostly poetry but sometimes multi-genre, neo-Dadaist book that pushes the boundaries of what most folks expect to see from a volume of poetry. A couple years back Andrei Codrescu and Ruxandra Cesereanu released their remarkable Forgiven Submarine, their “story of a difficult love, from the first signs of tenderness through a life-and-death battle, to a reconciliation made necessary by wisdom,” poetry collaboration. It’s well known Dada poets and artists collaborated often, sometimes on the same stage at the Cabaret Voltaire.

So, this collaboration thing isn’t altogether new, but in this case it does, in the words of Tony Barnstone, “create a great conflagration of vignettes and voyages, characters and crisis, traversing or dissecting America in all its nutty hubris, with miracles at the Dairy Queen, Navy SEALS diving for Godzilla’s eggs, an igloo constructed of Schlitz Malt Liquor cartons, a patchwork country inhabited by vegetable princes and chupacabra kings.” Poets’ Guide to America is comprised of fifty poems, 95% of which are neatly laid out in two, three, four, five or six line stanzas, thus, satisfying the MFA code of quasi-structure. The book often exudes a tongue-in-cheek glimpse into the diverse landscape of America and often in a tone that mimics playful narrators offering up historic tidbits of Delaware, Pittsburgh, Georgia, Boston, St. Louis, Manhattan, Omaha, etc. One jocular poem, “A Tale of Two Portlands,” opens with an allusion to Dickens:

It was the best of lines, it was the worst
of lines. Or so she said the next morning

when our search for her missing underwear
led us to grind to halts and hollers on a beige

antique rug, our newest arena. Where we
whiled away another damp hour, another

stray occasion. We shared the wetness:
toothbrushes, plumbing, childhood tales . . .

Structured as poetry but written in whimsical prosaic style, this book isn’t Howard Zinn’s “true history of America.” What it is, however, is a romp with Buckley and Ott creating their own band of Merry Pranksters combing all corners of the United States. Their poems offer a witty and well sculpted peek into the details that separate Motown from Miami, Daytona Beach from Indianapolis, Los Angeles from Roanoke. Occasionally poignant but mostly improvisational, Poet’s Guide to America provides an enjoyable jaunt throughout the great experiment known as the United States. This mostly lighthearted book is witty and enjoyable. The next time you hop Amtrak or Greyhound to visit your aunt in Atlanta, your mother in West Palm Beach, or your poet buddies in Ann Arbor, take this book along. By the time you arrive at your destination, it’ll feel like you’re returning home.

It takes a steady hand to operate a Cadillac without
power steering and a heart like a crusted nut, he said
without letting the smoke in his craw twitch one bit.

A man should never own a car worth more than
his house, his wife said before following her rusted
catalytic converter of a boyfriend to Appalachia.

Now the strikers’ wives stockpile Kroger’s in the back
of his double-wide, preparing for the possibility, one
more half-willing spasm of labor as contracts turn brown

As the tar on his walls darkening from pure American
tobacco. Sometimes he drives to Windsor to take
a piss, and gives strays rides to see Joe Louis pump

his fist, explaining how Detroit smacked the Nazis
where it hurt and the supreme temptations of
hometown soul got all his girls talking about grit.

(from “Slowdown in Motown”)

 

Poets’ Guide to America (ISBN #978-1-936767-16-8)
110 pages, 7” x 8½”, paperback, ($14.95)
Brooklyn Arts Press
www.BrooklynArtsPress.com

 

*******************

 

Sky Sandwiches

Review by Alan Britt

 

Lots of praise for John F. Buckley’s Sky Sandwiches. Those familiar with Buckley’s sardonic, quasi-autobiographical poetry are SkySandwiches_covernot surprised by the following accolades: “I love when his youth comes off the page, and I get to relive a Michigan childhood.” (John Brantingham); “Buckley is a well-traveled Bukowski. . . .He explores diners in Michigan, final yard sales and crushed Californian dreams.” (T. Anders Carson); “Here, McMansions, disappointed family members, Walmarts, malt liquor, Blondie, convents, shit tonsils, classrooms, ex-porn stars, mean fertility specialists, and hot sauce melt into an addictive and irresistible Kool-Aid that leaves us panting for more.” (Alexandra Mattraw). An imaginative travelogue heavily punctuated with autobiographical details characterizes this lively book. The poems are packed with seductive details that, as several of the book’s blurbs indicate, invite the reader inside the poems without hesitation. One easily relates to Buckley’s almost stream of conscious journeys to his geographic and psychic haunts that are littered with an amazing variety of details:

 

He told them garum tasted most like Filipino patis, more so

             than   nuoc mam or Chinese fish paste. He liked ice cream,

             MMA matches, posters with kittens, and American Idol.

 

He once became enraged and defensive when they laughed

             at him for rubbing vanilla Haagen-Dazs on his toe wound―

             “Is that Roman folk medicine, ‘Roam-oo-leh’?” Bastards!

 

              Fine! You get dragged to twenty-first-century Livermore!

              It’s confusing! The ice-cream helps, all aches subsiding.

              They wouldn’t give him a concubine, so he had made do.

     *           *            *

              Watch him fret in his Boy Scout sleeping bag, dreaming

              of Italy and cyclotrons, restless, feeling like an unlucky coin

              flipped in the air between someone else’s finger and thumb.

 

Buckley’s language moves at the speed of imagination, that is, it’s delightfully unpredictable. Once Buckley’s launches into his frenetic voice, he could end up anywhere, at a family reunion in “At the Reunion,” revisiting late adolescence in Windsor, Ontario, in “A Promise,” or entering the psychic zone in “Anybody Can live on the Moon.” I say get a good grip on whatever hat you happen to be wearing; otherwise, the verbal tailwind produced in these poems could leave you breathless and straining for balance. But how delightful to be rocking in a verbal tornado that plucks you right out of mundane existence and deposits you somewhere light-years from Kansas.

 

Let’s make believe we’re elsewhere.

              Let’s keep an even keel in the waters of our mind―

              a smooth gliding in a taut canvas canoe

              on a lake of placid equanimity―

              not caught in the crosshairs of status and mishap,

              an escape artist locked in an opulent corner office

              after swallowing the key.

              Let’s not listen to Ram Dass. Let’s not be here now

              in the man’s office for the anticipated meeting,

              the avuncular pomp due to recent circumstances,

              the canning of the human pickle.

              Let’s not discuss the events leading up to this moment:

              a divorce, a stubborn repetition of nightcvaps,

              a morning kiking-in of windows,

              a request to deposit one’s stink away from

              the chaperoned students, first temporarily, then permanently.

(“Avoidance”)

 

Sky Sandwiches (ISBN #978-1-937536-32-9)

97 pages, 6” x 9”, paperback, ($15.00)

 

Anaphora Literary Press

www.anaphoraliterary.com

 

 

 * * * * *

rabbit-hat-headDRwm

 

 

 

 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off on Books: Native American Classics

Books/Book Reviews

January-February 2013

LeftHand

Paul West, The Left Hand Is The Dreamer, $12.00, © 2012, Onager Books, ISBN: 978-1-60047-807-9

The Left Hand Is The Dreamer

By Paul West

Author of 50 books, Paul West discourses passionately on the effects of a stroke that left him  without the ability to walk, speak — or write. In this highly personal monologue, West weaves together the ordinary and profound in describing daily routines on his road back to a modicum of sensibility and functionality, affectionately and pointedly describing interactions with the various medical personnel, friends, family, caregivers and caretakers who persevered driving him on to recovery.

 

Nov-Dec 2012

3 from Split Oak Press

by Alan Britt
Book Review Editor 

James R. Stafford, Editor and Publisher of Split Oak Press says that he “. . . seeks original work by both new and established poets. We welcome poetry of any style, subject or form that strikes us as bold and original.” Bold, original, and diverse are apt descriptions for three chapbooks published by Split Oak.

Paul Hostovsky’s That Light contains diversity all rolled into one book: poems with long, flowing lines which at times stream subconsciously, punctuated by poems with shorter lines that punch and kick, woven further still by ragged poems containing long and short lines. Several of Hostovsky’s poems feature symmetrical three-, four- and ten-line stanzas. Much diversity housed within a 42 page book. Not surprisingly, Hostovsky’s voice changes from time to time, beginning with his first person dream voice in “Everyone Was Beautiful”:

But everyone but everyone had this patina

of slightly bruised longing, this summer of

I think I knew you when we were children,

this look of I’ve loved you ever since you were born

and probably longer than that and it all started

with the paperboy careening out of the blue

dawn on his bicycle, pitching to the left and right

with his ballast of fifty today’s papers

in a vast canvas sack slung over his shoulder

balancing himself and the whole world

on the tip of morning, the streets beginning to stir

with shadows and workers and cars

all of which were perfectly beautiful. . .  (7)

shifting to third person in “The Weeping”:

It begins as a trickle,

and it comes the way people come trickling in

who are late to a great gathering

of people, silently,

self-consciously

holding the door, holding

the breath, letting it

close softly behind before the next

jagged inhalation opens it

again. And again. . .  (15)

then to second person in “Visualization”:

Your pain is a television

mounted on the wall

at the Dunkin Donuts

where you sip your coffee

and look out the window

at the trees. . .  (21)

Likewise, Hostovsky’s topics vary a bit from the more contemplative aforementioned “The Weeping,” plus “Why the Music Makes Us Cry,” to the tongue in cheek of “The Nurse’s Office,” “Mozart in Your Armpit,” and “Kissing the Cat.” All in all, there’s much to like in this little book.

Although less diverse stylistically, Caroline Manring provides plenty of boldness in her chap, No Postman. The title poem itself tilts the reader slightly off-balance by launching into a diatribe sans literal setting:

An envoy deployed

West in a bonnet sutured

 

Tight against the blackflies

Summer was dying

To get going

In the wrists  (13)

And, later, in “Night Shift”:

The sick went into the

Yard to play

 

Jellyfish in a squadron

Of dark seas

 

In the one unfrightened night

Under my ribs.  (29)

 

Manring also offers some surprises in typography, from her all caps poem “Telegram” to
a bit of visual prosody in the book’s final poem, “To Speak.” The effect of all caps in truncated diction mimics the effect of an actual telegram, while her visual prosody creates the energy of the speaker’s voice in “To Speak.” Manring often employs terse diction, which surely characterizes her book, with lively imagery in several poems as exemplified here from “Shorthand”:

That carriage came across
Muting the bridge

Bled limestone
Folded its hands, faded

We sloshed in the river
Cinders bloomed

Skirts kicked up flame
Bits like beetles  (46)

Finally, true to his commitment to variety, publisher Stafford offers up a Split Oak Press chapbook contest winner in Eric Nelson’s The Twins. On first blush, one might regard Nelson’s straightforward narratives as prosaic, even simplistic. Closer reading, however, reveals an exacting combination of diction, syntax, and perceptivity that urges readers to flow smoothly from poem to poem. Nelson’s language appears clean and effortless, a quality which belies his poems’ subtle beauty. One might reference this effortless quality to actors such as Paul Newman or Robert Redford. The point being, are they really acting or just playing themselves? But while watching Newman and Redford opposite amateurs and over-actors, it becomes clear that what they (and Nelson) achieve is impressive indeed.

Nelson kick-starts his book with a deft narrative from CNN about archeologists in Verona unearthing the grave of a young couple lying face to face and muses: could they be “the real Romeo and Juliet?”:

The picture shows a fretwork of parallel bones

Half-embedded in red dirt, the two skulls―eye sockets

Just inches apart―grinning hideously at each other.

The folded arms and legs look more like prehistoric birds

Than humans, or like twins in utero, which in a way

(continued/no  break)

4

They are, and now they are delivered, premature, ghastly,

And yet their ancient posture of embrace, their tenderness

Facing death facing each other, compels me to stare at the photo

Then Nelson tweaks a universal nerve at the end by suggesting,

Life and Art showing once again their shameless fidelity.

Or else it is an elaborate hoax that all of us are in on, winking

From our soon-to-be empty sockets, whispering hotly

In each other’s ears, not stopping even if we’ve heard it before.  (9)

      Nelson’s acute perception at times not only surprises but also delights when he compares overgrown Christmas trees from an “out-of-business Christmas tree farm” to “former child stars / (who) have at last / Become themselves. Starless. . .,” or by noticing snakeskins “half-in, half-out of the pond” plus “one stretched out along a tree limb / So intact I see where its eyes were” (14).

And as if to punctuate his exact diction, much like a painter adding subtle brushstrokes to shiver sunlight across a magnolia leaf, Nelson etches a poem about two lovers in a public park in his delightful poem, “The Last Last Try”:

Our mouths came together,

Came apart.

 

Clouds cleared

Their throats and darkened.

. . .

Beside us the fountain spouted

As if it might tell us something.

The water rose as if falling

Weren’t possible

. . .

In the fountain the words

Floated in circles like wishes,

 

Wishes that wouldn’t sink

Or come true.  (33)

Nelson’s book requires multiple readings in order to extract all its subtle nectar, with each reading producing new delights along the way.

 

That Light by Paul Hostovsky. ISBN #978-0-9823513-4-5. (NPL)

No Postman by Caroline Manring. ISBN#978-0-9823513-5-2 (NPL)

The Twins by Eric Nelson. ISBN#978-0-9823513-3-8 (NPL)

Split Oak Press

PO Box 700

Vestal, NY 13851

splitoakpress.com

_________________

John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris:
The New Arcana

BOOK REVIEW:

By Paul Sohar

NYQ Books
2012
ISBN: 20122945157

Let’s get the summary out of the way right here at the beginning: there are no problems with The New Arcana, it is an immensely enjoyable –  albeit not easy –  read, but problems may arise when the reader approaches it with the habitual intention of understanding it. Even if he is able to set aside that old habit, he will not be initiated into any great secrets; his mind will not be enlightened but definitely enlivened. The authors seem to have faithfully followed Tristan Tzara’s Dadaist dictum: “Art is a private thing, the artist makes it for himself, a comprehensible work is the product of a journalist. We need works that are strong, straight, precise, and forever beyond understanding.”

In his earlier three volumes of poetry John Amen was progressively pushing the boundaries of the genre, almost to the breaking point in the last one (At the Threshold of Alchemy, 2011; by contrast, a volume of intensely personal and confessional poems). Did he step over that threshold in The New Arcana, or is this a temporary detour from his rapidly evolving style? The latter must be the case, because the book is a collaborative effort with Daniel Y. Harris, in itself a radical departure for any poet from his usually solitary work. In addition, the collaborator is known to dabble in Hebrew mysticism in his own poetry which makes it tempting to ascribe this eccentric and esoteric project to his influence.

A reader still seeking the message may be determined to trace some of the strophes to one or the other poet, but such an exercise is not only unnecessary but impossible. True, most poets speak for themselves in their own voices most of the time, but in this book the two authors speak from the wings of a stage through a long cast of characters, each one defined only by some deformity their lines reveal. No other description is provided for them, and one is free to speculate. However, speculation is not the way to approach the text but by absorption, spiritual osmosis. The trickiest part is that some whole chapters – excerpts from plays, essays, interviews and doctoral theses − are given to voices that get a long biography, but when the uninitiated reader, innocent of the sly intricacies of the work, tries to look up any of these names they turn out to be totally fictitious. And so are the names quoted in the numerous authentic-looking footnotes and references. Only the authors’ names are true, but their biographies provided in the back are spoofs, and in their photos their faces are disguised behind goggles. A reader starting the book from the back is given a clear clue as to the tone of the rest.

Not quite though; the general tone is indeed Surrealist, but it spreads over a great variety of approaches, ranging from a few actually coherent and powerful poems (most notably in Section Two, attributed to a Larry Ormerod) and vivid one-liner metaphors to long-winded academic dissertations and extensive marginalia. The contorted academese texts will equally amuse academics and those whom they intimidate with their esoteric language. In a footnote the authors even quote themselves at considerable length but fail to cite a reference. (How about “From a paper in progress?”) The marginalia are extensions of the poetic lines, designed to beguile with more deception rather than explain anything. The last section is a prose poem in twenty short paragraphs written or told by a JD who may or may not be an amalgam of the two poets. That may be true of all the other characters as well. The liveliest and perhaps the most personal voice is that of Constance Carbuncle who appears in the first part of Section Two.

One section (Apotheosis) is a long poem (broken up by marginalia) written postmortem by a French professor, two years after his death; the bleak nonexistence of the dead is rendered in a poetic language and elegant metaphors worthy of Baudelaire. Paradoxically, this elegiac lamentation is the strongest part of the book, probably because it is not really about death but the fear of death.

I am the vacuum of absence.

I am cold ash and the final illusion of a dying ember.

I am absolute love and the purity of horror,

an implosion without reference,

an incubator for what will never be born,

what will never die,

This is presented as “panatomist” poetry in the extensive but humorous gibberish in the footnotes. The authors’ newly invented concept of “panatomism” is often referred to as commonly known concept and thus never defined except in such a convoluted way that there is no concise quote that could summarize it. Ambivalence is the leitmotif here; it could be this, or could be that.

Not all the literary discourses parody academic style, some parts go well beyond that; they actually make sense or contain a kernel of truth. For example, in one of the purported dissertations the writer ascribes the invention of automatic poetry to the Surrealists and extols the virtues of the method (clipping all the words of a promising paragraph and then putting them together in random order) in eliminating intentionality and theme from the resulting poem, leaving a reader without comprehension but still curious, hung up in anxiety. That is the true purpose of art, say the Surrealists and the panatomists, as indirectly endorsed by the authors through an intermediary, another invented character: “Authenticity is achieved through the instantiation of a sustained paradox,”

Actually, randomized writing method was described in a poem by Tristan Tzara almost a hundred years ago under the aegis of Dadaism. Pairing disparate images together − as we find in this book – is a conceit of Surrealism, and it is hard to detect evidence of automatic poetry here, but the method is – like every other theory – is endorsed and rejected at the same time, apparently in the name of creating a paradox. Incomprehensibility is wholeheartedly supported in numerous instances in the make-believe but also credible literary criticism that intersperse the poetic material: “…we are often most alive when our not-knowing is most pronounced.”  The thought practically punctuates the book in different formulations. Tzara would approve.

For a taste of what could be the product of automatic poetry see below (mixing in obscure technical terms, an ubiquitous panatomist ploy, almost ensures incomprehensibility):

“Antiferromagnatism
with  Kagome lattice,

is spun glass: geophysics
of war paint,

chromium alloy to the dead
redux—
the tilting head, chalk red.”

Pure nonsense, would say the traditionalist, but to Dadaists it is pure poetry, free of a biased message. What better way is there to exclude unintended content that our unexpressed, unformulated and deeply ingrained assumptions might unconsciously suggest? If indeed all themes are suspect, it is better to avoid any content at all, even the possibility of one, by totally eliminating intentionality from the creative process as guaranteed by automatic writing. At least, that is the theory as this reader understands it. Understand? Please excuse the use of the dirty word…

The best poems in this collection are the old-fashioned comprehensible kind, regardless of what the marginalia next to it might say, but they would lose their essence if only quoted in part, because their power lies in making a statement in three or four stanzas that cohere into one whole, each line as essential as a layer of bricks in a tower. Parts of these poems would not do justice to the whole poem, whoever wrote them. Whether we call this wonderfully incomprehensible medley neo-Dadaist, surrealist or panatomist, behind it there are two very cultured (not only sophisticated!), creative and whimsical minds. One day it will be a classic, maybe another hundred years from now when poets of the time rediscover Dadaism again.

Just one more thought: essays presented within the framework of fiction or independently published fiction pieces written in scholarly or journalist jargon pose a special problem to the critic. How much of it is meant to be fact and how much fiction? This genre is the reverse of creative nonfiction and should have its own name. How about essay fiction? Fictional essay?

* * * * *

New to me: “The Sweet By and By”

Author Jeanne Mackin weaves a personal tale of love lost and found again into an historical novel recounting the lives of the founders of  Spiritualism in 19th Century America, when, it seems, even famous people who perhaps should have known better willingly gave themselves over to “the other side.”  Mackin’s account, with a persevering eye for detail and understanding of human strength and frailty, reads as well now as it did when published in 2001.  Don’t let it gather dust.

293 pp, $24.95
6″ x 9″ hardcover
Copyright 2001,  ISBN 0-312-26997-8
St. Martin’s Press, New York, NY
http://www.jeannemackin.com

* * * * *

Hemingway, A Desperate Life

Poet David Ray uniquely catalogs and illustrates a sequence of consequential events in the life of the American journalist and author, Ernest Hemingway.  From Hemingway’s dissonant childhood under the miserable tutelage of a disciplinarian mother, to fame and fortune through war, marriage, family and divorce, Ray gives us a window into what made the man, and what led him to take himself away. The more you know about Hemingway, the more you’ll enjoy and understand A Desperate Life.

124 pp, $12.00
5″ x 8″ paperback
Copyright 2011,  ISBN 978-0-9647053-5-7
Whirlybird Press, Shawnee, KS
http://www.davidray.com

* * * * *

The Backlash Against the Novel, Paul West

The Backlash Against the Novel

A slim volume, a complex essay twinning quintessential jazz with the explicit and adjusted transcriptions of the writer’s inner self that turns fact into fiction. It explores whether the novel has been given over to fast reads, and is truly dead, or simply lying fallow in a low period between high peaks summited by writers whose works test the reader to climb with them to greater heights, sink with them to greater depths, and emerge with them the better for it through a double helix of  perception and imagination.

24 pp., $4.00
Copyright 2001, 2003 Paul West
Elik Press, Salt Lake City, UT
ISBN 1-885887-11-6
Voyant Publishing, 2002.
http://www.elikpress.com/ 

* * * * *

Progenitor, Palak and the Sky Gods

Politics, economics, social and cultural mores, and the rules and strategies of war, are all in play in this first novel from Patrick T. German. The sci-fi first centers on the Planet 762, where scarce resources necessary for survival are  fought for by varied inhabitants of the planet, the solar system and the galaxy itself.

287 pages, 8.5″ by 8.5″ paperback
ISBN: 1-4775-8367-X
$12.99 from Amazon
www.PatrickGerman.com

* * * * *

Revisiting the Classics, by Don McCunn

Revisiting the Classics is both a book and a collection of photographs that celebrate the fine art of the masters from 1600 BC to the 1960s. Don McCunn merges his own photographs of live models into paintings and sculptures that have been enjoyed for centuries. He also uses the art of the masters as touchstones for original work.

The book includes brief, insightful “behind the scenes” vignettes of the masters and their art; McCunn’s new images offer fresh appreciation and interpretation for the classics.

66 pages, 8.5″ by 8.5″ paperback
65 color photographs
ISBN: 978-0-932538-75-8
$19.95 USD
http://revisiting-the-classics.deofsf.com/

 

* * * * *

 

Sleeping Dogs: A true story of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping

Sleeping Dogs: A true story of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. 

A deathbed confession. A gun encased in concrete. And the possibility both could have kept Bruno Richard Hauptmann from going to the electric chair for the kidnap and murder of Charles A. Lindbergh Jr. When journalist Michael Foldes hears the story of an upstate NY family who could have known the killers, he teases out details in the 80-year-old case that plausibly point to Hauptmann’s innocence.

Split Oak Press
236 pp
6″ x 9″
ISBN: 978-0-9823313-9-0
$15.00
http://www.splitoakpress.com 

* * * * *

Legend of Shane the Piper, by Rick Spier

Shane the Piper was the guy at Dartmouth everyone thought had it made. But of course, they knew next to nothing about him. Rick Spier writes a novel as memoir, and finally finding out that a series of simple misunderstandings are behind falling out of and falling back into, Friendship. Of course, if you went to Dartmouth, it makes the book all the more interesting.  Best of all, the self-psychoanalysis that goes on here can save you a bundle on counseling fees!

240 Pages, 6″ x 9″
Moon Donkey Press
ISBN: 978-0-9754398-1-4
Copyright, 2012
$14.95

* * * * *

Hypothetical Girls

Hypothetical Girls is Elizabeth Cohen’s collection of short stories examining the realities of  relationships and what passes for, and sometimes is, Love. Such is the fabric of good fiction, and Cohen makes the most of it.

Split Oak Press (www.splitoakpress.com)
175 pp
6″ x 9″
ISBN: 978-0-9827521-4-2
Copyright: 2011
$15.00

* * * * *

Vigilia's Tempest

Vigilia’s Tempest. Lindbergh enthusiasts will find this fictional treatment of  Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight an enjoyable diversion from the numerous biographies on bookshelves today. Professor Stephen Poleskie, artist and writer, uses his background as a stunt pilot to recreate a world of lasting illusion.

ISBN-13: 9781426929465
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 3/23/2010
Pages: 500
6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)
http://www.StephenPoleskie.com 

March 2, 2013   Comments Off on Books/Book Reviews

Progenitor: Palak & the Sky Gods/Books

The Theme of The Warrior Spirit Delivers

Review by William Tyree

 

Progenitor: Palak and the Sky Gods begins as an elaborate universe of paradoxes. In one time, the Progenitorcaptain of an interplanetary mining ship travels with 50 clones to engage in a fight to the death. In another, a clan of hunter-gatherers with no written language engage in the daily struggle of life, hunting in packs with clubs and knives.

Civilizations clash when the captain of the mining ship, Lozerick, begins exploiting the primitive planet for its minerals. As you might have guessed by the book’s title, Lozerick is one of those whom the book’s protagonists refer to as Sky Gods. Little does he know that although the planet’s warring clans are primitive, some among them possess the ability to telepathically force their will upon others.

If the futuristic miners-meet-primitive tribes-plot sounds familiar, look no further than the James Cameron epic film, Avatar. There is no doubt that many will see the book, like Avatar, as a meditation on the cruelty imposed upon Native Americans during the white man’s ruthless march across North America. Although the similarities between German’s novel and Avatar are at times quite striking, don’t think for a moment that the latter is merely a cheap knockoff. Of the two tales, German’s is perhaps more realistic in its depiction of the natives.

Unlike the exploited indigenous populations Cameron created – a species of innocent humanoids living in blissful harmony with nature – German’s tribes are constantly at war with both nature and each other. This characteristic is relentlessly demonstrated again and again, and it’s this tension that makes Palak’s interactions with the Sky Gods all the more interesting.

German’s use of the present tense – a rarity among fantasy fiction – also helps to keep the tone fresh. To say more about how deeply intertwined the mentalities of Palak and Lozerick are would spoil some of the fun, but rest assured that the theme of the warrior spirit running throughout the book delivers in solid fashion.

About style: all too often, first time novelists let wordplay and style get in the way of plot. In the style of bestselling fantasy author Jeremy Robinson, German keeps it simple, employing economical sentences that never draw attention away from the story. In doing so, there’s a certain unmetered rhythm to the prose, a predictable and comforting march from chapter to chapter that is essential to the book’s momentum.

Fans of fantasy fiction will appreciate the legend German provides up front, detailing the composition of each beast in this unique and savage world.

Progenitor: Palak and the Sky Gods
287 pages, 8.5″ by 8.5″ paperback
ISBN: 1-4775-8367-X
$12.99 from Amazon
www.patrickgerman.com

 

About the reviewer:

William Tyree is the author of Line of Succession, a political thriller. His short stories have appeared in Harvard Review, the Atlantic, North American Review, the Mississippi Review and elsewhere. He is currently at work on his second novel. Visit his site at www.WilliamTyreeBooks.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 28, 2012   Comments Off on Progenitor: Palak & the Sky Gods/Books

Alone With the Terrible Universe / Book Review

Alan Britt/Cover art by Dr. Jose Rodeiro

With Time To Remember

Review: Alan Britt’s
“Alone with the Terrible Universe”

by Paul Sohar

The political – and by now historical – repercussions of the shockingly successful 9/11 attack by Al Quaeda on New York’s Twin Towers, a symbol of American technological power, has been analyzed and exhaustively debated all around the world.  Less has been said about the longer-term emotional affects of the event on a personal level. Family members of the victims have been interviewed and allowed to vent their anger in the media, but few average Americans – have expressed their innermost reactions; most were either stunned or allowed anger to muffle more subtle emotions.

Clearly, the occasion called for poets, the masters of language, to verbalize their own and the communal state of mind. But, instead of focusing on personal reactions, the poems that soon flooded journals and anthologies on the subject were not any more sophisticated than the public reaction, which swung widely from one extreme (we got what was coming to us), to the other (they’ll get what’s coming to them). The meaning of the pre-apocalyptic clash between transcendental and hedonistic/existentialist civilizations got lost in the hot air of empty slogans.

Worse yet, the pall cast by the persistent vision of the burning Towers over every soul and the minutiae of the slowly resumed everyday life was soon turned into fodder for reprisal for the hawks and the sign of doom for the ideologues. Alan Britt was among the few who kept treating it on the personal level, a part of his life, a part of the images of his garden where he seems to find  so much of his inspiration.

The dog’s ears,

            dark flames.

            Not the fire,

            surely,

            but angry as

            smoke that spirals

            from the tips

            of burning leaves.

Smoke, even as a metaphor brings back frightening images of the destruction. The pall continues to haunt even his glass of red wine, the constant companion of his late afternoon meditations.

The poet enjoys the last drops

            of dark matter

            rolling like sweat

            down Magdalena’s waist.

Alan Britt is an exception. He compiled a volume of poems written in the one-year period immediately following the event, some directly commenting on the tragedy but most of them mood pieces whose tone is dominated by the dust cloud that hung over the site for a week physically, and at least a year psychologically.  Alan Britt is ideally suited for the task, gauging and reporting on the way 9/11 continued to affect the way we saw life and the world (the terrible universe); he’s a master of capturing and reproducing fleeting emotional reactions and relating them to a bigger theme that they might suggest and, beyond that, to the human condition, without, though, forcing on them a moral, a lesson to be learned. In a few of these poems his deep concern for the human community and his involvement in it do come to the fore, and although he does have a few lines that could be delivered from a soapbox, they never degenerate into diatribe.

The US, the oil

            sucking giant,

            removes its dipstick

            from the starving

            throats of Afghan refugees,

            whose necks

            like hungry birds

            extend from

            canvas huts.

He let that year’s crop of poems ferment for almost ten years before he deemed them ready to see print: Alone with the Terrible Universe.  Samples from it are making their way into foreign literary journals in  translation, but they  can only give a hint of the substance of  this unique  volume of poetry – which deserves publication in every language so the world will have a more realistic view of the American reaction to 9/11,  and know that not every American reacts to foreign affairs by first reaching for his gun.

* * * * *

 
Alone With the Terrible Universe
CypressBooks
Rio Rico, AZ, USA
Copyright © 2011 by Alan Britt

Cover painting by José Rodeiro:  “9/11”…Oil-on canvas (2001)…36” x 48”
Collection of the artist…www.rodeiro-art.com
Cover painting photograph by Charles P. Hayes

ISBN-10: #0-9647754-7-6
ISBN-13: #978-0-9647754-7-3
* * * * *
About the reviewer:
Paul Sohar ended his higher education with a BA in philosophy and took a day job in a research lab while writing in every genre and publishing seven volumes of translations. Now a volume of his own poetry (“Homing Poems”) is available from Iniquity Press. Latest is “The Wayward Orchard”, from Wordrunner Press: www.echapbook.com/poems/soharonline. His prose work: “True Tales of a Fictitious Spy”, Synergebooks (2006). Magazine credits: Agni, Gargoyle, Kenyon Review, Rattle, Ragazine, Salzburg Poetry Review and Seneca Review.

August 25, 2012   Comments Off on Alone With the Terrible Universe / Book Review

Maria Gillan’s “The Place I Call Home”/Review


“The Place I Call Home”

A Spiritual Landmark (and a Glimpse at Horror)

  By Emily Vogel

Poetry Editor

Typically, when we think of “place” we consider first its physical geography, what exists in its proximity and what best describes its coordinates and physical dimensions. To consider that a “place,” perhaps besides being a physical location, is also a dimension of the memory, a particular habitat of the mind and heart which cannot be drawn on a map, suggests a type of vault of emotional reserve that can best be channeled through the medium of poetry. Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s book of poems, “The Place I Call Home” (forthcoming from NYQ Books in September) easily taps into this dimension, and while the landmarks that might be mentioned in many of the poems are recognizable as physical realities, there are without doubt other “spiritual landmarks” which carry the reader through all fifty-two poems so that we’re not only in a city in New Jersey, but also journeying through the story of the “self,” which has its own “emotional coordinates,” in its own right.

Gillan succeeds in constructing  the “herstory” of an Italian immigrant girl. Her work is honest and bears the integrity of a woman/narrator we’d all like to sit down with and have four o’clock tea (or espresso), tell stories, and exchange matters of heart. She recalls the details of her growing up with a sense of real specificity and awareness. While reading the book the first time, I received what I’m used to after reading the last line of a really good poem or novel: the chills –  what I’ve come to know as a brush with the Holy Spirit. It is the kind of physical sensation which demands you just appreciate the beauty of the poem without the need to examine it immediately for its deeper meanings with an “intellectual” ear.

The deeper meanings of her poems resonate viscerally, as opposed to the type of poems which beg we impose the intellect, eviscerate them of their emotional impact, and analyze them until it’s no longer the poems that we appreciate. Gillan’s poems are easy to appreciate, and require no second-guessing or deconstructive examination beyond what they attest. She does not cloak by gestures of language that leave us confused and dissatisfied, wondering why someone just doesn’t tell us a story we can identify as a story. In this book of poems, she has opened the vault of the self, with all its shame, joy, passion, triumph and discovery, that anyone would argue requires a certain kind of courage that many poets on the current poetry scene are not willing to employ.

My favorite poem in the collection is one which recalls a dream (In My Dream, The Light). The poem’s vivid imagery succeeds in suggesting a kind of horror story: “someone with huge dark circled eyes and a bright/red gash of a mouth and huge stitches bisecting/her face and body, as though someone had cut her/in half and sewn her back together, and the dishes/on the table are full of severed heads and pulsing/hearts.” The shock of these images helps us to see the difference between the narrator of the conscious world and the Gillan of subconscious magnitudes. Perhaps the real essences of our truths are revealed in dreams? In narratives over which we have no dominion or control?

While we are given a long glimpse of Gillan’s childhood and early relationships in the first half of the book, much of the poems on the topic of her late husband are in the latter half of the book. These poems certainly suggest a shift, both in perspective and in sentiment. More anger and grief become the focus, yet with a real sense of maturity, integrity, and originality. These poems reveal details that are not always pretty: “even your face/looks delicate, the skin drawn/so tightly over the bones of your head that it’s almost transparent,/your neck so thin it cannot support your head” (The Other Night, You Came Home), and “There is no medicine/for the sound guilt makes at 3 am.” (How Do I Pack Up the House of My Life?).

There is much more to Gillan’s poems than simply well-crafted stories about life. What becomes evident in many of the poems in this collection is the portrait of the narrator’s fear, in the same way a child might tremble in her bedroom at night when the shadow cast on the wall by the lamp becomes a terrible monster – when perfectly ordinary images are transformed into something violent. In the latter half of this book, the narrator is revealed as someone who is confronting these horrors and conciliating with them. Perhaps the Gillan we know of in the poems is not only haunted by the ghosts of childhood, her late husband and dreams, but dares to resurrect these ghosts and render them remarkable aspects of the self. “The Place I Call Home” is truly a work of literary merit. Look forward to its release in September: New York Quarterly Books, www. nyqbooks.org

The Place I Call Home

NYQ Books, ISBN: 978-1-935520-67-2

See also,  http://www.mariagillan.com/

 

June 29, 2012   Comments Off on Maria Gillan’s “The Place I Call Home”/Review

John J. Kelly/Book Review

Bringing Art to Life

By John J. Kelly  

When I was a youngster growing up in Boston, I was always very intimidated by Art with a capital A. I never believed that I could actually understand concepts like what motivated and influenced certain artists or why a specific artist was important or relevant.  I longed for the days when I could spend more time learning about the development and history of various styles of painting or sculpture. But I never seemed to be able to find the time or motivation.

But, as they say, when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. And for me that teacher has appeared with the publication of a truly unique, virtual art experience recently published by Phaidon, titled simply, “The Art Museum.”  The tome is a massive, ground-breaking new volume that successfully creates for the reader the virtual sensations and emotional catharsis of being guided on a personal tour of the world’s largest, most comprehensive art museum. Ten years in the making, it is an oversized collection of more than 2,500 of what the book’s editors call “the world’s most important and influential works of art.”  “The Art Museum” comes in the form of a good old-fashioned art history book; your own personal Art Museum that’s open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The book is one’s personal ticket on a trip through three millennia of art and artifacts, that can be returned to any time one wishes – where the owner can linger as long as his or her heart desires. In addition to being a tsunami of visual wonders, it offers a comprehensive art history education beginning with the first pages, or “room,” which features art from the Stone Age, to the final chapters, a collection of contemporary treasures.  It is, in a word, phenomenal.

Actually, the word “breathtaking” seems a more apt description, as the book’s size (16 ½ inches tall and nearly 13 inches wide), and weight (17.5 pounds), are rather overwhelming. It is far and away the heftiest book I’ve come across, and it will make all the other books in your library look tiny.  Each image is accompanied by a brief description, not just a title,   but a short paragraph of background information provided by one of 65 leading museum curators, art scholars and archaeologists, who helped turn “The Art Museum” into a lifetime of art education.

The creators of this masterful volume have done everything possible to simulate a real visit to what they describe as “the finest collection (of art) ever assembled between two covers.”  Even the book’s cover is an optical illusion, depicting an infinite hallway through which a reader can read (or stroll).  This “imaginary museum” as it is called in the introduction, is divided into an incredible 450 sections (rooms) or 25 chapters (galleries) with names like “Ancient Egypt,” or “Byzantine Art”; “Medieval Europe” or “Italian Renaissance”; “Baroque and Rococo” or “Art of the Nineteenth Century,” and many, many more.  The so-called “Wall Texts” or written descriptions, at first seem a bit small – especially next to the very large images. The imbalance soon passed, and I welcomed the clear explanations of artistic movements, periods, styles and themes.

A visit to the Louvre, or perhaps any great art museum, may be too crowded to enjoy. Not here. The reader can move slowly or quickly, while observing unfamiliar pieces or the iconic paintings that comprise the high points of human creativity.  In fact, some of the vividly reproduced images created by artists like da Vinci, Monet, Rembrandt and Michelangelo, are so stunning I was put into an almost hypnotic state of wonder and amazement.

The book includes work from “650 museums, galleries and private collections in 60 countries to tell the history of world art.” “’The Art Museum'” is the most ambitious project that Phaidon has undertaken. With its inventive format, scholarship and vast scope,” writes publisher Richard Shlagman. “It is unlike any other book on art ever published, and will provide great knowledge and pleasure for years to come.”

And he’s right. “The Art Museum” is a treasure for anyone serious about the world of art, or who is curious about the greatness the human mind and spirit can accomplish.  It is the kind of book you can put on display in your home, look to for personal inspiration when your spirit sinks, and revel in for a lifetime.

Among the most memorable works: the exhilarating double-page depiction of the “Hall of the Bulls,” from Lascaux Cave in France, where some 2,000 works from as early as 18,000 B.C. depict a lost world of kindred spirits with interests far beyond survival; the bright reds, golds and greens of Roman paintings, the exquisite detail of military garb worn by Augustus of Prima Parta, and the Profectio Scene, a spiral frieze on a Trojan Column depicting a military campaign in 155 scenes; the Renaissance painting by Flemish Rogier van der Weyden of the Crucifixion (1445) – a bleeding Christ, a weeping mother at his feet and St. John The Baptist in supplication and reverence.

The galleries in “The Art Museum” I found myself returning to the most begin with the “Age of Realism and Reform in Painting,” including Caravaggio, as he attempts to recreate his own natural world, and Peter Paul Ruebens’  “Massacre of the Innocents”, which, as one of the curators points out, “is both gruesome and shockingly beautiful.” Alternatively, I find warmth, peace and comfort in the Impressionists, such as Monet, Degas and Van Gogh, and the post-Impressionist Paul Cezanne.  Cezanne’s “Still Life with Apples and Oranges” is so full of life I almost feel I can reach into it, pluck the fruit and take a bite.

I’m not ashamed to admit my heart skipped a beat when I experienced the double-page spread of the ceiling of The Sistine Chapel, spied the Mona Lisa, or beheld the Grand Gallerie Des Glaces, at Versailles. One of my great regrets is that I haven’t traveled enough, haven’t had the opportunity to visit the great museums in Europe and Asia. But after experiencing the magnificence within “The Art Museum,” I now feel like I’ve accomplished the next best thing, and am more inspired than ever to make sure I see these wondrous works before my time on earth is up.

I can still remember being young and somewhat overwhelmed by the beauty of Art. Many times I simply avoided discussions pertaining to the subject.  In effect, I became a stranger to the many pleasures great art engenders. With the publication of “The Art Museum,” I can start the process of learning to appreciate all the world of art has to offer:  page by page, gallery by gallery, room by room, day by day.  I can begin to learn about that wonderful part of world culture that eluded me for so many years. I feel I now have a personal collection in which to begin to fully appreciate with all senses the grandeur and transcendence so many great artists have dedicated entire lives to creating.

And that, for me, has changed everything.

 

Hardback | English
from Phaidon
$200.00
ISBN: 9780714856520

 

 

February 27, 2012   Comments Off on John J. Kelly/Book Review

Books & Reviews

Of note:

“The Big Melt”, President of the United Hearts: See www.factoryschool.org. © 2007. A collective poetic slap at the political detritus of our time. Published a few years ago, but you can read it as if it were tomorrow.

“Bring Down the Sky”, Karen Schubert: See www.kattywompuspress.com. © 2011.  Comingling of artistic spirits, poet-sculptor-photographer, brought to bear in words. Culminates in a series of powerful poems that imbue the reader with swatches of PTSD.

“Allegorical Beasts”, Leo Schulz: See www.facebook.com/leoschulz. © 2010. I sat to read, soon realizing this was no book to breeze through or cast off. From tangible sonnets at the beginning to prose poems at the end, this episodic manifesto first of sex, then of pain, longing and futility, is a wrenchingly active and beautiful take on man’s struggle to find love and meaning in love and loss. Cruel and gentle as a child. Plan on taking your time.

 

To Our Readers…

FYI…. Ragazine is expanding its overview to include publications of merit, not just books and book reviews. Feel free to send us abbreviated descriptions of your favorite on-line and/or print publication(s) for consideration, and tell us how/where we can get to see ‘it’ … We’ll try to add at least 1 or 2 each issue …

e-mail to: editor@ragazine.cc

__________________

The Representation of Subaltern Women in Postcolonial Literature

J. M. Coetzee: Disgrace

By Miklós Horváth

Disgrace is a novel by the Nobel Prize winner J. M. Coetzee, published in 1999; the scene is set in South Africa.

The protagonist of the novel is David Lurie, a South African professor of English. His first ‘lover’ is Soraya who leads a double life, spending her time as a postmodern creature with a split personality. She is, by profession, a prostitute, therefore a subject of the male-dominated society. Soraya is the first woman in the novel whose body is colonized by the scholar.

Lurie gives a lecture on Romanticism at Cape Town University and his favorite poet is, of course, Byron. He appreciates romantic poets because they are less hemmed by convention and more passionate (in subject). Byron is a liberal poet; he went to Italy and experienced the biggest love affair in the last years of his life. Although Byron himself and most of his characters in his poems are often represented as womanizers, it is important to note that in his unfinished satiric poem Don Juan, Byron portrays him not as a womanizer but as someone easily seduced by women. Don Juan is not sexually active, but rather sexually attractive. Lurie does not take into account this passive and innocent hero, therefore he is unable to understand Byron in his complexity. Regardless of his fragmentary understanding of Byron, in chapter seven, Lurie talks about his ambitions to write an opera reflecting on the last years of Byron.

After his affair with Soraya, Lurie does not stop his life as a womanizer. He perceives himself as ’a servant of Eros’ (Coetzee 2000: 52). He is mildly smitten with one of his students, Melanie. When this intimate relationship between a student and her teacher is revealed, Lurie is dismissed from his teaching position. This love becomes his disgrace (Lurie refers to it as his castration) and he is excluded from the stir of society.

Lurie does not fit in this landscape anymore, and goes to his daughter’s farm in the Eastern Cape. First, he meets Bev Shaw, a dumpy, bustling little woman with black freckles. She is, in fact, not a veterinarian, but a priestess trying to lighten the load of Africa’s suffering animals. Shaw’s character may remind readers of the postcolonial novel Wide Sargasso Sea of Aunt Cora who curses an angry servant when he stops the family from entering the carriage, and also of Christophine who is associated with obeah and voodoo. Benita Parry views Christophine as a defiant, native woman who is a powerful presence in Wide Sargasso Sea. Her voice confronts the repressive system without difficulty. Due to her seamless merging of a wide variety of languages, Christophine transcends boundaries and dichotomies: she is both servant and master, native and non-native, voiceless and voiced (Russell 2007: 88).

1.1 Living far from Society

In his memoir Boyhood, Coetzee talks about his belief that farms are the places of freedom. He reveals his attachment to every stone, every bush and bird (Barnard 2003: 200). In his novel, Disgrace, written two years after Boyhood, Coetzee speaks about the same notion that living on a farm gives people a certain freedom. Coetzee says that Lurie recognizes the state of independence in Eastern Cape. The dogs, the gardening, and Lucy’s asexual clothes connect him to a natural, untouched world.

On the one hand, Eastern Cape is the symbol of a natural, untouched world; but on the other, it represents a kind of disorder in a savage society. Although Coetzee seems sanguine regarding the future, he represents a rape with which he destroys the notion of being free in South Africa. Eastern Cape becomes the place of rampant crime. Graham Pechey uses the religious term ‘purgatory’ when he describes Eastern Cape’s and sub-equatorial Africa’s social conditions. He says that Africa is an in-between place,  neither infernal nor paradisiacal (2001: 374).

Pechey’s description of South Africa reminds the reader of the double life of the Muslim woman, Soraya. On one side, she has a respectable suburban existence, but on the other, she works for an escort agency once or twice a week. Among many difficulties, this duality represents the difficult enterprise of rebuilding South Africa after apartheid.

After her rape Lucy seemingly talks as a colonizer. She adopts the view of the colonizers, trying to understand why the intruders thought that this type of sexual conduct is reasonable. Her own scrutiny of herself helps her endure the crushing burden of being raped and relieves her suffering. She understands the patriarchal hierarchical society within which she lives, and her role as a subservient woman. She says that there are too many people, but too few things; what there is, must go into circulation, so that everyone may have a chance to be happy for a day (Coetzee 2000: 98). These sentences do not only recall Darwin’s view on the world that there is competition for limited resources, but also echo the very beginning of the book, where Lurie explained to Melanie that women are only the subjects of the desires of men: “A woman’s beauty does not belong to her alone. It is part of the bounty she brings into the world. She has a duty to share it” (Coetzee 2000: 16).

In chapter thirteen, Lurie suggests that Lucy should visit her gynecologist because of the risk of pregnancy, the risk of venereal infection, the risk of HIV. He proposes for her to move to another farm for safety reasons. Lucy does not want to move, but insists on staying and living with the memory of her past. She is aware that the past is undeniable, as it plays a part that is for ever present.

Postcolonial literatures often represent a vigorous connection between present and past. In Jhumpa Lahiri’s postcolonial novel The Namesake, a Bengali couple struggle to make a new life in the United States. While the couple is devoted to creating a new future for themselves, their past is always present, constantly reminding them of who they are and what they could become. According to Ziauddin Sardar, Lahiri seems to be saying that the past is ever present and a viable future depends on recognizing and appreciating this past (2010: 178). Zadie Smith opens her book White Teeth with a quotation from The Tempest which claims that the past is prologue. With this citation from Shakespeare, Zadie Smith asserts that the past continually influences and impregnates the present. The past always de- and reconstructs an understanding of ourselves. It constantly generates new perspectives of the better understanding of our subliminal and gives the sense that something new and entirely different will come.

After his disgrace at Cape Town University and the rape of his daughter, Lurie does not think that women have to share their beauties with men, but compels Lucy to tell the story of her rape to the police. Readers can locate a kind of contradiction in Lurie’s thought. On the one hand Lurie refuses to accept that one’s private life can become a public interest: he claims that nobody has the right to rape a woman, but on the other hand he commands Lucy to share not her body, but her story with others. Lucy refuses a confession and she becomes the symbol of censorship in literary works.

In chapter eighteen Lucy says to her father: “I can’t talk anymore, David. I know I am not being clear. I wish I could explain it but I can’t.” (Coetzee 2000: 155). Although she tries to construct theories about the day of the trauma and analyses the incident (by using ordinary language), the shock simply does not go away. It is what Jean Améry calls the confrontation of intellect and horror after a devastating tragedy (Clarkson 2009: 168). The shock holds Lucy back.

Lucy did not lose her sanity after the tragedy as opposed to Antoinette’s mother in Wide Sargasso Sea. She tries to recover herself in the corrupted Eden by developing and strengthening self-discipline. Self-control is exactly what I call the new dimension to the devastated Garden of Eden and the positive message of the novel. It helps one to become conscious of the self-life-thoughts, eliminates the feeling of helplessness and being dependent on others and rejects negative feelings and thoughts.

In his novel, Coetzee suggests the reconsideration of the role of the women in a patriarchal society and the separation of private and public life in order to create the new Eden of freedom and confidence in Africa. He says that the separation of public and private spheres (but not the entire separation of these categories) would give the sense of safety in one’s life, would reduce the large number of rapes, and would save Lurie from the feeling of disgrace. Rethinking the question of personal and public would open a different dimension in the life of the African people.

References:

Barnard, Rita (2003) J. M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” and the South African Pastoral, In. Contemporary Literature, Vol. 44, No. 2 (Summer, 2003), pp. 199—224.

Clarkson, Carrol (2009) J. M. Coetzee: Countervoices, Palgrave Macmillan

Pechey, Graham (2001) Coetzee’s Purgatorial Africa: The Case Of Disgrace, In.

      Interventions, 4: 3, 374—383.

Russell, Keith A. (2007) Now every word she said was echoed, echoed loudly in my head:

Christophine’s Language and Refractive Space in Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Journal

of Narrative Theory, Volume 37, Number 1, Winter 2007, pp. 87–-103. Published by

Eastern Michigan University.

Sardar, Ziauddin (2010) The Namesake: Futures; futures studies; futurology; futuristic;

foresight—What’s in a name?, Futures 42 (2010) 177—184.

 

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Pick of the issue/July-August:

 

Contemporary Literary Horizon/ORIZONT LITERAR CONTEMPORANoffers poetry, short stories, novellas, and other articles of literary merit in both the original language, and in translation to Romanian. Published from Bucharest, Romania.

 

Another Independent Journal of contemporary culture…

http://contemporaryhorizon.blogspot.com

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Poetry from Russell Streur, grand poohbah at Camel Saloon, that other online watering hole for the soul … isbn 978-1-937202-00-2, © Russell Streur 2011, Published by Poets Democracy, Perfect Bound Paperback. Available at http://thecamelsaloon.blogspot.com/ $11.00. “Cheap at half the price…”


________________________

Paul Sohar’s WAYWARD ORCHARD is available now through Wordrunner Electronic Chapbooks. Sohar’s poetry has appeared in the Kenyon
Review, Ragazine.CC,
and other journals and zines, and collected in Homing Poems from Iniquity Press.  He has translated seven books from Hungarian. His latest work is True Tales of a Fictitious Spy, a creative nonfiction book about the Stalinist prisons.
Sohar’s echapbook can be read at: www.echapbook.com/poems/sohar

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Fiction by Neila Mezynski, Price: $12
Shipping: Free (USA only) / $3 (Canada) / $8 (Everywhere else)
5.8″x8.3″ Paperback book,  90 pages
ISBN forthcoming

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The Chronology of Water: A Memoir

Lidia Yuknavitch, introduction by Chelsea Cain. Hawthorne Books, $15.95, 268 pp, ISBN 978-0-9790188-3-1

Competitive swimmer explores her past, including paternal abuse, birth of a stillborn daughter, drug addiction and failed marriages, before finding herself in the struggle with the written word.

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New Release from New York Quarterly Books for May 2011

Cool Limbo by Michael Montlack — ON SALE NOW

“Cool Limbo is a series of dazzling portraits that are accessible yet complex, hilarious yet poignant, down-to-earth yet ethereal. Like its cover, which features the title poem’s sexy 70’s chick lounging—stoned—by the pool (as she neglects the water-winged kids she’s supposed to be babysitting), the book is the best kind of party-unofficial, unpretentious, and unabashed. And everyone’s there “on plastic lawn furniture…with six packs and lit cigarettes.” From Liz Taylor, Gertrude Stein, and The Golden Girls, to Orpheus, Vanity Smurf, and Stevie Nicks. Poem after poem, these figures somehow mingle with the poet, in the not-so-still life studies of his boisterous family and friends, building a narrative about the departure from suburbia to the big city (from the ghost of a boy to a realized though sometimes-haunted man)—all while commenting on, as Elaine Equi puts it, the “constantly shifting sexual codes” assigned to men and women alike. Few places can you find a poem about a gay porn star that concerns itself with the meaning of objectivity and art just pages after a charged feminist manifesto called “If Hello Kitty Had a Mouth.” But beyond that colorful variety of subject and theme, not to mention his mastery of dialogue and what Mark Bibbins calls “devious one-liners,” what’s most remarkable about this poet in his debut collection is his ability to confront the serious and painful while never abandoning his sharp sense of humor and playful spirit.”

Forthcoming from NYQ Books in June 2011

0.174: The Complete Numbers Cycle by Gordon Massman

Takes Guts and Years Sometimes: New and Selected Poems by Linda Lerner

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In this issue:

The Piano Player, by Elfriede Jelinek
Enigmatic Plot: A Tale Too True, by Kris Saknussem
The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive, By Vanessa Libertad Garcia

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The Piano Player

A Destiny Paved with Good Intentions

The novel by Elfriede Jelinek

By Daniel Dragomirescu

Jelinek

Elfriede Jelinek — recipient of the 2004 Nobel Prize in Literature — is a writer displaying a lucid and ironic spirit, and capable of seizing upon the many flaws that exist in our present world ( automatisms, prejudices, stereotypes). Her prose is highly epical, carefully stylized, lacking any idyllicism or compromise, in the good old central European German literary tradition.

At the center of her novel, The Piano Player — published in Romanian by Polirom Publishing House, translated by Nora Iuga —  stands  Erika Kohut, a 35-year-old piano teacher, helplessly caught between the love of an authoritarian, oppressive and over-possessive mother, and the love of Walter Klemmer — one of her students — a seemingly naive young man and a novice in the art of love, eager to gain experience as a Don Juan on the back of an older woman (mirroring some characters in Balzac’s or Stendhal’s works). A victim of her mother’s ambition to turn her offspring into a great musician (as suits Mozart’s country), a mother who drove her on a road paved with the best intentions into a sort of existential hell, Erika paradoxically represents a case of depersonalization “in the name of music”, according to a journalist of the French periodical “Le Monde”. And this is to show that depersonalization, failure or defeat in an individual’s existence can also stem from “noble” causes and intentions.

The fact is that those insane maternal ambitions do not stick at all with the true skills and ideals of her daughter; this situation resembles some of Kafka’s prose where the son – Gregor Samsa, Karl Rosman etc. – gets into an insurmountable conflict with the father, a conflict generated by serious clashes of opinions and characters. In this respect, Erika could be said to embody the female version of several Kafkian heroes; the novel unfolds in a world perceived as dillematic-existentialist. Or a world which is still permeated by such echoes.

Erika’s life next to her old decrepit mother, the relation between the piano teacher and her student, the heroine’s relationship with the world in general — all these forms of manifestation in a postmodern existence — thoroughly scrutinized by the writer, are utterly and definitely governed by the absurd.

The unwinding romance between the piano player — an old maid who keeps her sadomasochist tendencies to herself — and the young Walter Klemmer, is presented as having an emphatically picturesque nature, thus standing out from the typical, meek patterns of classical love stories. In a grotesquely parodistic style, as well as via the refined use of details, rendered into an exquisite Rabelaisian language emphatically picturesque nature,  one of the key features of the novel’s emphatically picturesque nature, we witness the “conquest” of the old maid by her admirer. If in Shakespeare’s work we see Romeo declaring and proclaiming his fatal passion for Juliet in a poetic and seraphic setting (the balcony scene), the Conservatory student confesses his passion for his piano teacher in an utterly prosaic and vile way, in a setting provided by the toilet cabins of the Conservatory he attends. The scene is monumental: “Walter Klemmer takes Erika out of the toilet cabin jerkily. To begin with, he applies a long kiss on her mouth, the expiration date of which is long overdue. He gnaws at her lips, while his tongue probes her throat. After a tiring and long toil, he pulls back his tongue, subsequently uttering her name. He’s investing a lot of work into this piece of a woman. His hand reaches under her skirt and realizes in a flash that he had finally taken the next big step.”

The tangled love affair reaches its peak in the second part of the book when Erika brings the student into the family home, against her mother’s will. At this point the distinguished musician with a penchant for perversity briefly, but minutely instructs the innocent wooer regarding the tortures she wishes to be subject of, unraveling a long list of violent physical acts in the name of the adamant Eros: “Tie my ankles with a tight rope (…) Could you, please, put me on my feet, straight, like a column, in front of you, a gag in my mouth, tied hand and foot. Then I’d thank you from the bottom of my heart. Please, wrap my arms in leather straps…” etc. etc. Shocked by his darling’s demands, the second-hand lover breaks down and bails out. The counterpoint technique, the intertwinement between what happens in Erika’s room and the old woman’s furious reactions (while being locked in the room next to Erika’s), are superbly and perfectly depicted in this episode: “Subsequently, she asks her again: and what do I gain from this? Then she laughs. The TV set is buzzing. The door is closed. Erika is silent. Mother is laughing. Klemmer is scratching. The door is creaking. The TV is off. Erika is.”

Using a style that is both terse and expressive, even aphoristic at times, Elfriede Jelinek captures very convincingly and punctiliously the essence of a character, a situation, states in general. For example, Erika is defined by what differentiates her from the others (but not in a positive way):  “Some people want to be the center of attention, whatever the cost, Erika doesn’t. Some gesture. Erika doesn’t. They know what they want. Erika doesn’t.”

Erika’s relation with her aged mother – permanently marked by violent rows, conflicts and frictions – is a living hell, rendered in tragicomic touches. A grand and noble theme of universal literature (motherly love, filial love) is presented in this novel in ironic and skeptical tones. But this is not without grounds. Erika’s case is that of a person who cannot free herself (not even at adulthood) from her mother’s heavy influence.

Very relevant is the intermingling of various narrative voices with an emphatically picturesque nature — the mother’s, the daughter’s, the lover’s, even the narrator’s, which arise in a ceaseless dynamic flow outlining a complex perspective of the epic and the problems adjacent to it. However, the writer’s comments regarding the educational Austrian system  ( in music ) are debatable, as the said Austrian system enjoys a very good worldwide reputation. The same goes for the biting irony, of feminist origin, which is used to depict men in general ( ignorant and greedy bipeds ), a view that is present in the interwar novels of Romanian writer, Hortensia Papadat Bengescu, or of renowned British novelists belonging to the XIXth and XXth centuries. Quite inordinate is the way in which the author has denigrated her fellow countrymen, who are maliciously depicted as “a bunch of gluttonous barbarians, belonging to a country where culture is dominated by barbarism.”

However, every writer or artist has the right of refusing to butter up national prides, if he or she deems it worthless. After all, denouncing the vices of one’s nation can be as valid a proof of patriotism as writing poems dedicated to one’s ancestral homeland or pious panegyrics in the memory of the nation’s fathers.

About the author/translator:

Dragomirescu

Daniel Dragomirescu (born in Bucharest, in 1952) is a Romanian writer, literary critic and journalist. Member of Writers’ Union of Romania (Uniunea Scriitorilor din România, USR). Published books: The Last Minstrel and Other Stories / Cel din urmă rapsod şi alte povestiri (2002); novels: Nothing New Behind the Iron Curtain / Nimic nou după Cortina de Fier (2003), Chronicle of a Lost World /Cronica Teodoreştilor (2008) etc. Published articles and short stories in cultural and literary magazines from Romania and some other countries. Nomination to annual literary prizes of USR Iaşi in 2009 for the novel Chronicle of a Lost World. Editor-in-chief of “Contemporary Literary Horizon”, a multicultural magazine, published in Romanian, English and Spanish languages.

This review appeared originally in Romanian in the July 2009 issue of Contemporary Literary Horizon Magazine. The translation is by Alina-Olimpia Miron, University of Bucharest.

See also: http://contemporaryhorizon.blogspot.com

Jelinek Photo from Jelinek profile page.

Read “Chained by Law,” an excerpt from Dragomiresscu’s novel Chronicle of a Lost World, in “FICTION”.

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Enigmatic Pilot: A Tall Tale Too True

Kris Saknussemm, Del Rey, $16 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-8129-7417-1

Outrageous and baffling, this puzzle-packed yarn seems to fall in the same (non)category as Saknussemm’s Zanesville (2005), combining the fusty diction of Charles Portis and the deadpan weirdness of Thomas Pynchon. Readers meet little Lloyd Meadhorn Sitturd as a young genius who resists the stifling social pressures of antebellum Ohio while creating marvelous, disturbing inventions. When Lloyd and his parents head west in search of better prospects, the boy encounters numerous wonders: a riverboat gambler with a deadly mechanical hand, a 13-year-old escaped slave who becomes Lloyd’s lover, automatons masquerading as people. The setting is convincingly gritty, and the action darts wildly from scene to scene as Lloyd develops a sense of personal responsibility–until an abrupt viewpoint shift throws, literally, everything into doubt. Readers who don’t expect all riddles to have answers will find this surreal adventure delightful. (Apr.)

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The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive

Vanessa Libertad Garcia.  Fiat Libertad CO.  $10.00. (72 pages.) Available at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and independent bookstores.

A jaunty walk through the confusing and difficult world of a young gay Latina coming to terms with her sexuality. Highlighted by “anxiety and addiction” frequently reserved for those exploring the narrow apron of social norms, this small cast of characters takes on the challenges of their days and nights with the frequent youthful love affair with sex, drugs, music and alcohol. Acceptance comes from within after the narrator casts a vote in the Presidential elections of 2008. Coming out of the voting booth and coming out as a gay person being coincident with hope and trust, and the epiphany that hope and trust are all, really, that anyone has to go on.

— MRF

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August 30, 2011   Comments Off on Books & Reviews

Review: Ghost Lights

Kayleigh Wanzer/Reviewer

“We’re Empty, We Will Be Well Again”

Ghost Lights, by Keith Montesano, Dream Horse Press, 2010.

Ghost Lights, Keith Montesano’s full-length poetry debut, is an intriguing and layered collection, a literary ode to crime, pop culture, and small towns. Though varying in theme, each of the poems in Ghost Lights speaks of the unspeakable–obsessive love, fires that destroy, those who die too soon, and everything that continues to haunt.

Ghost Lights opens with “Before the Fire,” telling the tale of a man with “earrings and make-up stolen from his dead wife, pink dress with white pumps clicking on the floor.” Like all the poems in this collection, it is earnest and sincere in its observation, with a keen eye for what lies beneath the human visage. Writes Montesano,

“And if you look now, something’s there —
passing through, stopping to offer the difference
between the space of our world and the next: the sweet, stained
tongues of children, and those wrenched sobs of a man
who could never find his way out.”

And these are the most striking parts of Ghost Lights — when Montesano is able to climb inside the human conscious and explore it with objectivity and fairness. In “All the Sighs of Fire,” he starts with a note, torn from the headlines, “teacher impregnates 12 year-old, sentenced to 16 years,” and manages to create a sympathetic portrait of a man who was locked up while “the palmed grip of a newborn holding on through choking air,” still said he “did not have the strength to stop.” When he asks us,

“I imagine—nothing but the softness
he felt on his face, the unshaven silhouette of a man on hers,
Bill confused and wanting more, if she knew what more
really meant. But are we so scathed to believe
there was nothing real between those two bodies that bare
fall day, acetylene dusk looming above front lawns?”

We are afraid to answer, knowing the truth would defy any realistic set of morals. Whether wearing a dead wife’s clothing or impregnating a twelve year old, Montesano treats his poetic characters with an undeniable tenderness and reflectivity.

Though they vary in form, length, and execution, there is a similar theme of destruction and subsequent rebirth found in most of the poems of Ghost Lights. He plays with juxtaposition. In “Service Plaza, Somerset,” a “trucker getting blown by a rest-stop hooker will land fifty yards down the ravine, hoping he’ll someday hold a woman and make love again,” while “headlights blur into news stories, your life safely out of view, the door’s snap, closing off the world you never knew from the beginning.” In “Love Song for The End of the World,” one of the standouts of Ghost Lights, he speaks of the end of the world with a celebratory sense of relief, “those who expected never to love will be thrilled, and those who were blind like rats at birth /will feel the body and what it’s like to wilt under a roof/where glasses will be raised until nothing’s left but molecules.”

Montesano exhibits an enviable range here, from the narrativity of “Poem Ending with a Hundred Year-Old House on Fire,” to the confessional style of “Going Home,”

“And if you run home now,
past the charred prison, the overgrown churchyard lecherous
with leaves, past pocked roads battered by years, the only
boarded window fronts of the last downtown diner,
you’ll arrive again at the house of your childhood, fighting through
ditch grass, singed fields to broken back windows, edged
like knives.”

It is ambitious but the results are impressive, Montesano showing poetic prowess in the short burst that is “Second Floor Fire” and the epic long form of “Self-Portrait Ending with the Last Flight of the Body.” Whatever the form, the poems are immersive and haunting.

In its entirety, Ghost Lights is an impressive debut, engrossing the reader in its stories of unsolved crimes and missing children, of houses on fire and eulogies for dead drummers.

December 23, 2010   Comments Off on Review: Ghost Lights