Poetry Review — A Beautiful Composition of Broken

r.h. Sin is the bestselling author of the three-book collection Whiskey, Words & a Shovel. The first edition sold out quickly and a second and expanded printing of the first book has since been published making it accessible to most readers. Sin created a sensation in American poetry with the release of Whiskey, Words, & a Shovel. Although some may wonder if his work is poetry, in the strictest sense, it did make reading poetry a cool thing again and brought with it a younger generation now eager to explore poetry.

Only a few of Sin’s poems are more than a dozen lines. He keeps the word count low and the meaning high. His previous three books were an accolade to Samantha King, his soulmate. This collection offers advice and recognition to those who are suffering in their relationships, lives, and identity. Sin describes his handling of critics to his work and the handling of abuse people. Keeping with his younger audience he includes social media and today’s biggest distraction in life:

“mobile distractions.”
should’ve held my hand more
instead of your phone

Sin shows the reader that they to have value despite what others may think or say to them. Others must demonstrate their value before they can have an effect on you. Critics, bullies, and malcontents should be kept at a distance and ignored.

“in the ashes of.”
burn bridges for warmth
burn bridges for light
burn bridges to others
who don’t deserve
to get to you

In a cross between self-help and contemporary cultural philosophy, Sin uses words and poetry to advise, comfort, and to encourage.  Fans of Sin’s writing will appreciate this new collection and its different message.  For those who haven’t read Sin’s work, this is an easy volume to slip into and read cover to cover or pull random passages for inspiration or comfort.


Available July 25, 2017

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Poetry Review — The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory: Poems

At what point do we give up and surrender to our desires, even if they end up killing us.

The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory: Poems by Chris Banks is the poet’s fourth full collection of poetry. Banks received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Guelph, before moving on to complete a Masters of Arts in Creative Writing from Concordia University and later a Bachelor of Education from the University of Western Ontario. His first full-length collection, Bonfires, was awarded the Jack Chalmers Award for poetry by the Canadian Authors’ Association in 2004. Bonfires was also a finalist for the Gerald Lampert Award for best first book of poetry in Canada.

I found The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory a pleasing and nostalgic collection of poetry. Banks by his references is a few years younger than I am but where our historical and cultural references cross brings back a multitude of memories. For Banks, it’s the disappearance of arcades and for me the loss of red brick roads. We recall music on tape, particular mix tapes that allowed us to disappear into the music for a while rewinding back to a moment and listening to it over and over again. Today “kids” dive into the stream of music. We slipped so deeply into the electronic age that Banks wants a reboot. Gone is the day of getting our music information from Rolling Stone magazine. In a dusty corner somewhere is our old denim or leather vest filled with band patches and safety pins. We shared the scout meetings in church basements and eight track tapes. We now live in a world controlled by smartphones and leveled out by Big Pharma. Now that we are old enough, we long for the days of our youth. We, like Banks, reflect on the good memories and conveniently forget about the air pollution, leaded gas, phosphate detergents, and Pol Pot.

The other side of The Cloud Versus Grand Unification Theory is linked to science, history, and literature. The science is good varying from chemistry to quantum mechanics. A particularly good literary pairing was “Wordsworth Versus the Cloud.” The poet seamlessly plays on “Tintern Abbey” in a modern retelling the poem; It was my favorite in the collection. In history, Banks mentions the success of the Roman armies. Their superiority was in the infrastructure they built not in their proficiency in killing. There is also the sad story of Martha at the Cincinnati Zoo.

We live in a world that is much different than the world we grew up in. And complicating that change is a world we did not expect. We live in a world where “natural flavour trumps nature every time.” It is a world that does not seem genuine — “Authenticity requires time most people would rather spend at Walmart.”  Banks writes a collection well connected to very late Boomers and early Gen Xers.  We lived in a time when we thought things would keep getting better and we would not get older.  Sometimes we forget those days; Banks reminds us of them.


Available September 5, 2017 from ECW Press

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Book Review — The Bloody Wedding

The Bloody Wedding, Story of a painting created in Tursenia - with Raffaello Sanzio

Stefania Mattana the author of several Chase Williams detective books has turned her writing talents to historical fiction in her latest work. The Bloody Wedding tells the story of Raphael’s painting “The Entombment.” What is particularly interesting in this story is that the narrator is the painting. The interactions between Raphael and Atalanta come to life by the only witness to the events and the reader gains an understanding of The Bloody Wedding which took place in Perugia in 1500 and ended in murder. Mattana shows her writing skills extend beyond cozy mysteries as she tackles real history in a narrative form. Very well done.

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Poetry Review — Dead White Men

Dead White Men by Shane Rhodes is the author’s sixth collection of poetry. Rhodes is a two-time winner of the Archibald Lampman Award for poetry. In 2008, when his work The Bindery won the award, Rhodes turned over half of the $1,500 prize money to the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health, a First Nations health center. At the time the award was named the Lampman-Scott Award, honoring both Archibald Lampman and Duncan Campbell Scott, and Rhodes felt that Scott’s legacy as a civil servant who was responsible for some of Canada’s more controversial policy legacy on First Nations issues overshadowed his work as a pioneer of Canadian poetry.

History, oppression, conquest, and invasion tied together with poetry presents a powerful message. Recreating explorers journals in poetic form Rhodes tells the story of the exploration and conquest of North America and, in the second half, of the South Pacific. The reading sounds and looks authentic to include the medial or long “s.” The explorers are not all well known. I had to look several up since most were in modern Canada. Martin Frobisher who made three attempts at finding the Northwest Passage is documented. Better known explorer Henry Hudson is also included.

If human suffering is not enough the explorers opened trade which included a staggering amount of animal deaths. “Imports into the Ports of London and Rochelle in 1743” include:
153,830 Beaver
110,005 Racoon
45,055 Martins
16,832 Bears
13,058 Otters and Woodshocks, or Fifhers
10,280 Grey Foxes and Cats

Rhodes does offer a bit of a reprieve for dead white men by including scientists like Luigi Galvani (animal electricity), Boyle (the first modern Chemist), William Gilbert (magnetism), Galileo, Mercator (maps). He follows up with Spain’s prize of the New World, Gold.

The second part of the book, which could also be the first part since it is printed upside down and backward. Covers the South Pacific and includes a running theme of Venus to include the organized observing of the transit of Venus in 1769 from the Island of Tahiti. Science meets with the seamen of the empire. Trading iron nails for sex with the native women. So many nails were missing from the ships that their seaworthiness was in question.

Rhodes opens each section with sideways text and uses the double page for some text. The upside down text of the second half was difficult on an e-reader. Also, the artwork looks like it needs the double page of a book rather than a single page display of a Kindle. Although I rarely say this, get the print version of this book. You’ll appreciate it more. Very much well worth the read.  Enjoyable as art and poetry but disturbing in historical context.  Very well done.

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Book Review — How Different It Was: Canadians at the Time of Confederation

How Different It Was: Canadians at the Time of Confederation by Michael J. Goodspeed is a snapshot of history. Goodspeed is a historian and novelist. In addition to a successful writing career, he has been an infantry officer and a manager in high-tech firms. He has lived and worked across Canada and on several continents.

I am not Canadain but grew up eighty miles away from the border. I have always found that I knew more about Mexican history and Mexican leaders than I did about the Canadian counterparts. Growing up, Canada was that quiet neighbor. We heard more about Margret Trudeau than Pierre Trudeau. Canada was a place they spoke English, had better beer, and better fishing. I have learned a lot about Canada since the 1970s especially its coming into its own on the world stage after World War I.  Still, I knew little of how Canada became an independent nation.

Reading British accounts of the American Revolution, Britain had little claim by settlement in Canada. After the French Indian Wars, Britain was left with a large amount of land and a small population that was mostly French. The American Revolution provided settlers in the form of those loyal to the crown moving north.  Much of the immigration to Canada was from the United States up until the War of 1812.  President Polk and his 54′ 40″ campaign over the Oregon Territory was settled peacefully but lead to distrust along the border.

Canada in the 1860s is interesting in that it paralleled American history in some ways and was vastly different in others. Proximity to America did not create a carbon copy of its neighbor. Railroads did join both countries, but Canadians considered themselves British and Americans considered themselves separated. In general, Canada was much more tolerant of race and native peoples than most countries founded in expanding empires. Goodspeed goes into detail of the development of both urban and rural areas contrasting the differences between regions. Big city life had its problems like equine traffic jams. Dredging and canal work moved the center of trade in Quebec from Quebec City to Montreal.

Goodspeed shows the consolidation of territories and people to make what is today Canada. The process that started with four provinces in 1867 became recognizable as modern Canada by 1905 (Newfoundland and Nunavut joining later).  Canada during the confederation period is more of a collection of histories than a single history.  As difficult as growing into a new nation can be, Canda managed to join with surprisingly less violence than other countries in the West.  An interesting history well worth reading.

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Book Review — Locomotion: The Railway Revolution

Locomotion: The Railway Revolution (Kindle Edition) by Nicholas Faith is the companion book to the BBC series Locomotion. Faith is a distinguished veteran journalist, a former senior editor at The Economist and the London Sunday Times. He also founded and was chairman of the International Spirits Challenge, now the most prestigious event of its kind in the world. He has written twenty-three books, including The Winemakers of Bordeaux and Safety in Numbers: The Mysterious World of Swiss Banking.

When I was growing up in East Cleveland I always wanted to ride the commuter trains that I could see from my house.  In evenings my parents walk me down to the tracks and I would wait for freight trains to come on by.  When I was stationed in Europe the trains could take you anywhere. Now I spend half my commute on light rail, the other half on bike. There is something relaxing about riding the train as you zip by the gridlock on the highway and the anxiety that goes with it. In America, trains have been pushed far out of the picture of transportation. People would rather have more highway lanes than public transportation. Many put up the ridiculous argument that trains need subsidies and the highway system doesn’t. Amtrak in Texas takes seven hours to go from Dallas to Austin while the drive is half that time. The problem is the upkeep of the tracks and the limits on the speed they present. It has been said, with some truthfulness, that the United States has a train system that would embarrass Bulgaria.

Locomotion is a companion book to the BBC series so it is not a definitive history of rail. It does cover many of the concepts such as the relationship between government and private industry. Railways were perhaps one of the greatest developments of the late 19th century. Railways not only moved people but they also material. Coal, oil, grain, fish, and other food items could be delivered quickly and safely to industry and markets. Livestock was delivered to market without the weight loss of traveling cross country — trains replaced the cowboy cattle drives. Fish from the coast could be delivered inland overnight and fresh. On the darker side trains became a tool of war quickly moving troops and supplies at a much greater speed than a march.

Railways created the first instance where men had to conform to machines.  It is not the evil Skynet from Terminator, but rail systems created demands on people.  The standardization of time and clocks are a result of rail systems crossing various “time zones.” To have a train run on times across a country, like the US, standardized time zones were needed.   Trains also needed to be at a certain place at a certain time.  To get trains where they needed to be, it took almost military discipline.  This military discipline can be seen in many European train crews.  Uniforms of the German railway workers, for example, mimicked that of the military.

Locomotion looks at trains systems in the UK, US, Russia, China, Africa, South America, and Europe.  Each region had their own development. Chile and Argentina connected through the Andes. Russia built the trans-Siberian railroad.  Both the US and Canada joined their nations together with rail. China connected and was better able to distribute food.  Africa remains still colonial in the sense that its railways connect resources to ports rather than part of a growing infrastructure.  Railways spread across the globe and grew.  It wasn’t until the Berlin Airlift and later the Interstate highway system that cracks began to develop in the dominance of rails. Railways are making a turn around with high-speed trains in Europe, Japan, and China, but are still dragging in the US.  It is fairly easy to live without a car in urban Europe while still difficult in much of the US.

Locomotion, as I have said before, is a companion book to a TV series.  In this sense, it is an excellent book.  For those wanting a brief overview, it is also an excellent stand alone book.  However, for those wanting a definitive history of railways around the world,  it is lacking and is not its intended purpose.  Well worth the read as an overview.

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Book Review — My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness

My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness

My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness by Howard Jones is a study of one of the darkest moments in American military history.  Jones is University Research Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Alabama, where he chaired the Department of History for eight years and received the John F. Burnum Distinguished Faculty Award and the Blackmon-Moody Outstanding Professor Award.

Having served in the Marines we were taught the standards of war and the rules of engagement. We had leadership that was experienced and committed to standards. The Vietnam War was different. Officer’s were pulled from the ranks. The ranks were drafted into service. Those in Vietnam simply wanted to do their twelve months and get out alive. Most didn’t rush in and volunteer to fight. Some did, though, and that combination between aggressive and those who just wanted to make it out alive created a dangerous situation. The aggressive leaders wanted a body high body count. Those wanting to live saw it advantageous to shoot first and ask questions later. It was difficult to tell friend from foe so viewing everyone as the enemy was a survival tactic. Soon any native was a “gook.” One of my colleague’s father was a helicopter door gunner in the war. He remembers asking his father how could you shoot people like that. His father said, “They weren’t people.”

There has always been a dehumanizing of the enemy. In World War I, it was the Huns. In World War II it was the Japs and later it was the Commies. Vietnam took it extremes. The hidden enemy was frustrating. Not being able to retaliate against an enemy killing your friends was a heavy burden on many fighting the war. There was a lashing out at what is to be known as My Lai massacre.

Unclear orders, incompetent leadership (Calley was called Lt Shithead by his company commander), built up aggression and contributed to the atrocity. Through the chain of command, it came down to the people remaining in the village were enemy combatants. At the end, 347 Vietnamese were dead this included old men, women, and children. There were no American deaths and ly three weapons were captured. Although, there was much firing and artillery fire it was coming from the American forces. My Lai was not armed. The 48th Battalion of the National Liberation Front (Viet Cong) was reported to be in My Lai; they were not. Calley’s Charlie Company was responsible for much of the massacre. What makes My Lai so horrible is more than the killing of civilians of all ages, is the rape at gunpoint that took place. This was not a military operation. This is something invading hoards did in the middle ages.

Howard goes into graphic detail of the search and destroy mission and the atrocities committed. He goes into the cover up, trial, and eventual freedom for Lt Calley. This book has to be one of the most disturbing books I have read and ranks with WWII atrocities by the Axis powers. The Abu Ghraib torture incident in Iraq caused quite a stir in 2003. This was a drop in a bucket compared to My Lai and the cover up. Howard does include those who refused orders to kill civilians and those who worked to stop the massacre. A frightful history and a very dark chapter in the history of the US military.

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