Book Review — La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World


La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World by Dianne Hales presents a nonscholarly look at Italy and its history and influence. Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua, a New York Times best-seller; Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, an Amazon best book of the year, translated into six languages; and more than forty trade and textbooks.

What makes Italy unique in a world of195 countries? Ask anyone of Italian heritage, and they will tell you. It is almost like the old Marine Corps maxim. Never ask a person if they were a Marine. If they were, they would tell you, if not no need to embarrass them. The same goes for Italians. Ask Americans with interests in different areas about Italy. Cyclists will speak of Colnago, Campagnolo, and Pinarello. The motorcyclist will speak of Ducati and Moto Guzzi. The car enthusiast Mazaradi and Ferrari. The list goes on with opera, clothing, works of art, political philosophy, and food. No matter the subject of discussion there is something the Italians did to make it better or more remarkable.

Hales’ book presents something of a different take on Italy. Her work is not a rigid history or even a cultural history although she does show her source material. It carries an informal and friendly tone throughout the book. She uses history to support the concept of La Passione, a passion for being passionate. La Passione is easily recognized. This year I met Valentina Scandolora a well known Italian cyclist who was competing in the US for the first time. There is little doubt about her passion for cycling and winning. But, what was the most fun was hearing about things that, we Americans, think of as Italian. Coffee and food are two easy subjects. It is difficult for an Italian to find a good cup of coffee in Oklahoma or decent (real) Italian food. It’s vaguely recognizable but not the real thing. It’s not arrogance but a simple statement — “This is not Italian.”

This passion runs deep in Hales’ love story of Italy. It covers a broad spectrum from Petrarch to high heels. I learned a few new things about Dante, lace, Titian, and Botticelli. La Passione is the perfect book for those wanting to learn more about Italy and Italian culture without the rigors of a detailed history text. The writing is informal and lets the reader have a feeling they are talking to an insider with secrets to share. Nicely done.



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Poetry Review — Creance; or, Comest Thou Cosmic Nazarite

A deceptive collection in that its small size would have the reader believe that this would be a quick and easy read. The poetry is involved, but at the same time rewarding if one gives the time, effort, and contemplation to the writing. There is also a difficulty in providing samples for review. Sauvage, my favorite poem in the collection, exists as a complete poem and cutting out a sample would leave the beginning and end from it. Line ends do not break the thought but simply signify the end of space to the right. A single period and one forward slash offer the only punctuation. The use of a single period as punctuation is common in the collection. The forward slash, usually indicating a line break when part of the poem is used in a prose article, are used in the short line structure of the presented poems.

The title refers to the thin cord used in falconry to ensure the bird returns to its master. The French definition implies that it used to retain a bird of little faith. The reader now wears this restriction. Like a falcon that existed as a free animal, symbolizing success and victory, the free reader becomes tethered to the poet’s writing by an invisible cord searching while searching for freedom in the words and phrases. Complex, compelling, and abstract.

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Poetry Review — In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps

A different kind of freedom
is throwing rocks
into the lake and knowing the lake’s response.

In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps by Rob Schlegel is the 2018 Iowa Poetry Prize Winner. Schlegel is the author of The Lesser Fields and January Machine. He lives and teaches in Washington state.

In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps is a father’s look at the world and his place as a complete parent. Leaves make many appearances through the collection as trees are genderless as a whole, but contain both sexes to produce fertilized seed. In nature, the role of gender is different. Humans have created patterns into which everyone needs to fit. There is a freedom in nature:

Near the fountain, a few deer, rich with insides
different from mine, but the same,
incorporated as I am, though wired to nothing

The long poem “Novella” dominates this collection with a childhood view of life and parents. The role of natural elements leaves an eerie, dreamlike remembrance of bees, owls, and a terrible prophecy. The word use and lyrical quality of the writing create a haunting but compelling feeling:

The meaning I’m trying to protect is
the heart is neither boy, nor girl. I close my hand
around the stem and pull.

The third section of the collection the poet becomes the parent himself. He is the father who wishes to be the mother to his children. The long poem “Threat Perception” is his adult version of “Novella” looking at his own children — a son and daughter. There are not bees and owls but serpents and spiders. The shift from industry and wisdom to evil and fear as the poet’s view changes from child to father. The collection closes on that note with a reflection once again on trees. A thought-provoking, lyrical, and image-rich collection of poetry in line with the tradition of the Iowa Poetry Prize.

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Poetry Review — The Year of the Femme

The Year of the Femme by Cassie Donish is a 2018 Iowa Poetry Prize-winning collection. Donish holds a BA in English and comparative religions from the University of Washington, and an MA in human geography from the University of Oregon. She currently teaches classes at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she’s pursuing a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing.

The collection opens with “Portrait of a Woman, Mid-Fall.” A woman alone thinks of life and dreams while at the same time autumn is in view out the window. There seems to be a trap between security — man or a dog, happiness or misery. There is a binary world that restricts dreams and time that limits choices. The yellow leaves dance on the wind while the red leaves crunch as they are crushed underfoot. Every day the number of leaves on the trees decrease and the number on the ground increase — like discarded dreams. The woman wishes she can stop the leaves from changing merely because she knows she cannot. One thing cannot exist without its opposite.

Arrival is not a rival of departure
The two have to work together to make anything happen
All the clocks move together through time

Donish uses language and creates stunning images. Poems in the second section combine memories and impressions:

Daylight glinting off dimes in the grass
Daylight, and our teeth don’t feel
different yet

Daylight on top of the city, on top
of the lake
Daylight through a sieve of fingers
Mimics the skyscrapers
“Meanwhile, in a Galaxy”

The final section, “The Year of the Femme,” revisits the concept of the binary in two-part poems. The first part consists of prose poetry, complete sentences, and formed in a near perfect block. The other element of the verse is chaotic in the arrangement of phrases and line breaks. Each half compliments the other much like arrival and departure. A wonderful collection of poetry. Truly, one of the best in contemporary poetry.

Available April 1, 2019

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Poetry Review — The Year of Blue Water

The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi is a collection of mostly prose poems covering a variety of current identity issues. Yanyi is a poet and critic who has received fellowships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Poets House, and the Millay Colony for the Arts.

Racism, gender identity, orientation, and the idea of duality come into play in the poems. The poems themselves flow like stream of consciousness, but the stream seems much more polished with a natural structure and refinement.

What you touch will come to life: a whole room sprung in backwards words of people untalking to you.

The topics gently shift and flow. Being poor as a child and longing for Cherioes because they were so much better than the cheap copies. Later in life depression — being trapped in one’s self and part of the self not wanting to go on or taking personality tests to find out the person you are supposed because you are unable to or confused by what you think of yourself. Boundaries of one’s self are more complex than nineteenth-century French cities whose boundaries were set by the reach of the church bells peal.

The Year of Blue Water is a deep and exploratory account of one person’s life and confusion when examining one’s self and the world around. Masculinity is no longer driven by the male John Wayne figure and feminity no longer constrained by either June Cleaver. In the seventies, one British band would explain that “It was a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.” Then it was a fringe idea today the grey areas become much more substantial than in the old duality. The order of a binary system has seemed to fade in everything from health and unhealthy to the world locked in as capitalist and communist systems. Yanyi explores the complexity of his own life in this fluid collection of prose poetry.

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Book Review — There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years

There Is No Planet B: A Handbook for the Make or Break Years by Mike Berners-Lee is a critical look at the demands on the environment made by man and humanity’s growing energy demands. Berners-Lee is a leading expert in carbon footprinting. He is the director, and principal consultant at Small World Consulting and author of How Bad are Bananas? The Carbon Footprint of Everything.

Berners-Lee gives a very accurate look at the demands humanity puts on the environment and clears up several myths and misrepresentations that are now commonplace. We have all heard about deforestation for the expansion of soybeans. What we are not informed about is that the soybeans that are grown are not for human consumption but to feed livestock. Livestock are poor converters of plant protein to animal protein. Give up meat completely? No there is no need grass-fed, and free range can use land that is unproductive for farming. Alternative energy sources such as solar can easily meet our current energy demands, but our increased demand for energy will require every square mile of land to meet our requirements by 2100. Of course, efficiency and technology will improve over time, but efficiency seems to create even higher demand. People get the idea that increased efficiency means you can use it more. If my new car gets 35mpg and my old car only got 17 mpg I can use it twice as much or buy another vehicle.

Berners-Lee finds the loopholes that many people miss when talking about food production or energy use. Is nuclear power too dirty to use? Is my electric car really a coal-burning vehicle (coal is used to produce electricity that powers the vehicle)? And is it worse than an oil-powered vehicle? Is fracking safe? Is wealth disparages hurting things overall? There is No Planet B offers a thought proking and sometimes scary outlook for the future. It is not a smooth read all the way through and can easily be read by topic and skipped through. The subject matter is compartmentalized and can be easily jumped through to the issues of interest. There Is No Planet B is a well-done and realistic critique of man versus the planet.

Available March 4, 2019

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Poetry Review — No Matter


“Now begins to rise in me the familiar rhythm; words that have lain dormant now lift, now toss their crests, and fall and rise, and falls again. I am a poet, yes. Surely I am a great poet.”
― Virginia Woolf, The Waves

No Matter by Jana Prikryl is the poet’s second full-length collection of poetry. Prikryl earned her BA from the University of Toronto and her MA from New York University. Her poetry and criticism have been published in a variety of publications and journals. Currently, she is a senior editor at the New York Review of Books.

Prikryl combines the new and the old. Rich history meets with contemporary reason and artifacts. Sibyl claims she is no messenger but speaks cryptically in the poems.  Historically, how much different would things have been for Dido if she could have followed Aeneas’ social media accounts when he left for Sicily.

Aeneas left by sea, and throughout the collection, the sea or the effects of the sea display themselves in many forms. The poems mention green oxygen, patina, Ishmel, and verdigris as visual indicators. The feeling of the sea is present in the repetition of the poem titles; reinforced by the poems titled “Waves.” Repetition also exists in the repeating of phrases and clever wording that creates soft redundancy.

There is almost a Woolfish feeling to the poetry that goes beyond waves and whitecaps. There is the tide and the in and out movements that create the cyclic image of waves. Cities alluded to by landmarks rather than names are all places with rivers and tides. In the flow and rhythm of No Matter, the poet leaves small obstacles that challenge one’s smooth sailing. Uncommon words represent hazards on a nautical chart that need addressing before passing, an unexpected break in the flow.

No Matter presents an enjoyable poetry experience that tends to a more traditional form and feeling — the words and repetition play on the reader’s mind. No Matter may have a connection to the poetry beyond its more common connotation of unimportant. It may mean the absence of matter — nothingness:

“I see nothing. We may sink and settle on the waves. The sea will drum in my ears. The white petals will be darkened with sea water. They will float for a moment and then sink. Rolling over the waves will shoulder me under. Everything falls in a tremendous shower, dissolving me.”
Virginia Woolf, The Waves.

Unfortunately, not available until July 23, 2019

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