Sorry for the lack of posts

On Christmas Day I got hit by a car at about 50 mph. I am due to be released on Thursday for home care. Needless to say my reading has suffered. I hope to get back to reviewing this Spring.

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Book Review — They All Died Screaming

“I treated them like pieces of meat,” Barman said.
“I was . . . a pig.”

They All Died Screaming by Kristopher Triana is a dark and gruesome book with two parallel stories. It probably goes without saying that this book is outside my comfort level on several levels. Fair warning– This is a disturbing book with torture, rape, slavery, and a strange pandemic. They All Died Screaming is a book that would make Motel Hell a welcome place in comparison. So come prepared if you chose to read it. What I liked about the book dates back to the book banning trials of Ginsberg, Lawrence, and Kandel — Does the book have any literary value?

The answer is yes. The parallel stories merge masterfully. The stories crossover in themes and present interesting conflicts. Some people are products of their environment, and others move past it. All of the characters have secrets except for Quaid Crews, who, except for being a vegetarian and animal lover, has to be one of the vilest people on earth. Under the layers of pig feces, veal cages, blood, and gore is a story that is more complex than its cover. Smooth seas do not make great sailors, and the characters here all come from the separate tempest. Recommended for Splatterpunk fans and those willing to look beneath the gory.

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Poetry Review — Of This River

After squalls fill the hollow

I fear the light,
which has nearly folded
its purple into laurel,

will splinter on a porcupine’s orange teeth
as it rakes the white ribs of a dead coyote…

From “Winter Solstice”

Of This River by Noah Davis is the poets first published collection. His poems and prose have appeared in Best New PoetsOrion MagazineNorth American ReviewRiver Teeth JournalSou’wester, and Chautauqua. George Ella Lyon selected Of this River for the 2019 Wheelbarrow Emerging Poet Book Contest from Michigan State University’s Center for Poetry.

Of this River stands out as an outstanding collection of contemporary poetry. The Appalachian theme that runs through the collection creates a subtle but vivid environment. Unlike many works that overstate themes, however, here the reader wades in and finds himself or herself emersed in the poetry. The water theme is nearly always present and anchors the poems together along with the short-haired girl. The connection between the water and the girl seems almost Woolfish.  

The mythology that runs through the poems, although local, seems to have a Native American feel to the stories. It is very much in touch with the land rather than a being. A stunning collection that connects, explores, expresses life in the remote setting.  

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Book Review — Rails Around the World: Two Centuries of Trains and Locomotives

Rails Around the World: Two Centuries of Trains and Locomotives by Brian Solomon is a pictorial history of trains. Solomon is one of today’s most accomplished railway historians. He has authored more than twenty-five books about railroads and motive power. His writing and photography have been featured in the world’s top railfan publications, including TrainsRailway AgePassenger Train Journal, and RailNews

From hand-drawn and black and white photographs to brilliant color photos, Solomon takes the reader on a ride through history. Rails have been credited with expanding America and connecting all parts of the country from coast to coast. Rails similarly joined Canada. Rail systems changed the way armies were mobilized and supplied in the First World War. Large cities rely on rail to move their people to and from work and transport goods across the country or continent. Rails were a symbol of national pride and conveyed a romantic image of travel. Lines like the Orient Express, The Flying Scotsman, The 20th Century Limited, and the Trans-Siberian Express all live on in memory and history.  

Rails Around the World also covers less known trains that provided practical service but without the more powerful machines’ glamour. Commuter trains and electric trains are given their place in history around the world. Vladimir Lenin Electrics, Amtrack, and Japan’s bullet train demonstrate the difference and range in passenger transportation.  

The evolution of the steam engine to the diesel to the bullet train is displayed in a smooth transition. Old steam engines slowly adopt a more aerodynamic shape, some even falling into the art deco category, before developing into the utility diesel and then into the fully streamlined TGV bullet train.  Rails Around the World demonstrates the versatility and adaptability of the oldest modern form of transportation. An informative and beautifully illustrated history of trains in all their forms. 

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Book Review — Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway

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Great Naval Battles of the Twentieth Century: Tsushima, Jutland, Midway by Jean-Yves Delitte and Giuseppe Baiguera is a graphic novel depicting three naval battles with deeper historical context. Delitte is an official “Painter of the Fleet” and a full member of France’s independent Académie des Arts & Sciences de la Mer (Academy of Arts & Sciences of the Sea). He is an architect and designer by training. Baiguera has been teaching at the Scuola Internazionale du Comics (Academy of Visual Arts and New Media) in Brescia, Italy since 2009. In 2011, he published Ecoguard, a volume distributed in schools to build ecological awareness.

When asked to review a book on great naval battles, I was a bit perplexed. As a Marine, maritime history is part of our history, but the mechanics of naval battle strategy is a bit beyond my learning. As someone who studies history, I was intrigued and familiar with the basics of the three battles in varying degrees. Discovering that this book was a graphic novel, I wondered if enough detail could be written and drawn to make it a useful text.  

What I found was unique. Although the naval battles provide the setting, there is also a deeper historical trend running through each battle story. Each story carries a subtle understory or understories. There is much more to Jutland than the two most powerful navies, at the time, facing off. On the surface, it was similar to two men in white dinner jackets getting into a fight, but neither one wanting to finish the fight because he might dirty his jacket. Unlike Tsushima, both navies returned to port reasonably well intact. What was an indecisive naval battle on the surface carried more profound consequences in the war and history. At least two critical points or ideas are placed in the story that shapes the battle’s outcome.  

All three stories give more than a battle history. They put the battle in a historical context. The world was changing quickly when Russia and Japan fought the Battle of Tsushima. Woven into the story are internal and external political currents that will shape the future of the world. Battles and wars do not happen in a vacuum, and this collection is an excellent demonstration of the complexities outside the physical battle history.

The stories have a personal view of the events often seen from the elite or officers’ point of view, and the common man in the conscript or volunteer enlisted ranks.  Great Naval Battles adds a human as well as a political face to the battles. The graphics in this book add to the writing and complete what the minimal text suggests. For fans of graphic novels, the artwork is very well done and accurate. Overall a very well done history in an easy-to-read and understand format. The complexities are subtle and require the reader’s attention to get the most from the experience. Highly recommended. 

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Poetry Review — Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back

In need of a friend;
lonely living in a world
Addicted to pharmaceuticals

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Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back by Alicia Cook is the poet’s sixth collection of poetry. Cook dedicates much of her life to shedding light on how drug addiction impacts the mental health of families. She released a collection of essays on the topic entitled Heroin Is The Worst Thing To Ever Happen To Me. An essayist and speaker, her activism to fight the opioid epidemic is far-reaching and has garnered a worldwide readership, and her very own episode on the Emmy-nominated PBS series Here’s the Story.

Sorry I Haven’t Texted You Back is the third collection of Cook’s poetry that I have reviewed. I am fond of her use of music and the music theme to frame her poetry. Her poems, or tracks as she calls them, are influenced by music. I can’t say for all the poems, but where I knew the music in her “currently listening to” following each poem, it was synergy. The combination of Springsteen’s “Glory Days” and “Track 89” was fantastic. Unfortunately, most of the music is after my time. The poetry, however, on its own, is substantial and moving.

Cook stands out among the younger poets in her writing. Her poetry is traditional in form and much more developed than the Instagram poetry that seems to be all the rage today; her poetry also packs much more of a punch. Deep and well-thought lines adds power to the words. It is refreshing to see traditional poetry for all readers that is actually poetry and not a collection of clichés masquerading as a poem. With that being said, the second half of Cook’s collection, “Side B The Remixes,” takes each individual Track to create a new poem or perhaps, a lyric, through blackout. Blacking out portions of the original track or hand-drawn connections of words creates another layer of meaning. A clever reader will see this as a continuation of the drawing by Katie Curcio after the dedication; what remains hidden in what we say.

Cook writes with emotions and carries her themes throughout this collection. Her emotions, although strong, are not overpowering her message. Her themes are natural without a hint of being forced. Cook exhibits a great talent that is rare today in younger poets. A master of verse.

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Poetry Review — Shades of Nature

Shades of Nature: a collection of poems by [Lesli Johnson]

Shades of Nature by Lesli Johnson is an independently published poetry collection.  The poetry in this collection is easy to read and rich in imagery.  The poet follows a form for each poem, and where there is rhyme or near rhyme, it seems natural and unforced.  In fact, the only thing that seems forced in the collection is the alphabetical arrangement of the poems. Much of the poetry has a comfortable feeling to it.  It is nature poetry that is complete in itself.  There is no contemplating deeper meanings or hidden thoughts:

As the lake shimmers
by the light of the moon
the lovely swans float
and the bluebells bloom.

from “A Whisper of Bliss”

The image formed is complete and straightforward.  There is no wondering “why bluebells?” or “what do the swans represent to the poet.” In a way, it is like a Bob Ross painting.  Uncomplicated strokes that create something more than the sum of the actions.  Along the same lines, people ask if Ross was a great artist.  The answer is no, he was more of a pop therapist. His work helped people; he calmed, soothed, and took people away from whatever was bothering them.  Johnson’s writing works in the same way.  She writes happy little poems.  They are uplifting and satisfying and will appeal to a mass audience, but in fifty years, students will not be dissecting them in literature class, and there is nothing wrong with that.  Not everything needs to be high art.  Sometimes all we need is a casual diversion from day to day life.  A refreshing read.

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Book Review — The Fall of America Journals, 1965–1971

The Fall of America Journals, 1965–1971 by Allen Ginsberg is a publication of the University of Minnesota Press.  Ginsberg was an American poet and writer. As a student at Columbia University in the 1940s, he began friendships with William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, forming the core of the Beat Generation. He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism, and sexual repression, and he embodied various aspects of this counterculture with his views on drugs, hostility to bureaucracy, and openness to Eastern religions.

The journals are edited, transcribed, and annotated by Michael Schumacher. Schumacher has written extensively about Allen Ginsberg and the Beat Generation. His articles, reviews, and essays have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the country. He is editor of Family Business, a collection of letters between Allen and Louis Ginsberg, and The Essential Ginsberg, a volume of the best of Ginsberg’s poems, essays, songs, letters, journal entries, interviews, and photographs.

Ginsberg’s journals have been published in the past, most notably his journals from Cuba and Czechoslavakia.  Those journals were mainly travelogues recording his experiences.  The Fall of America Journals are very different.  These were meant to be a recording of art as it happened.  With a tape recorder from Bob Dylan and a van from a grant, Ginsberg wanted to create his own version of “On The Road” in audio format.  The beginning of the journal is mostly descriptive of the Pacific Northwest but peppered with dreams, worry over Vietnam, interactions with the people he is with.  It reads almost the same as the Eastern European Journals.  However, about a quarter of the way through the book Ginsberg breaks out in poetry.  It is rough and unhewn, but with notes from Schumacher, the reader can see the development of the poems that would become The Fall of America. The text also contains photographs of the journeys and something that surprised me.  Although I am by no means a Ginsberg expert, I have read some of his and his colleagues’ poetry.  One of the photographs is the notes for a poem about my home town.  A poem I missed in all my other reading.

The reading goes on sometimes fragmented and other times seeming almost complete.  It is interesting to follow along with Schumacher’s notes as to what is being recorded and where it falls into The Fall of America. Having both books open and available is rewarding — the inspiration and the final product.  Although the journals can be read straight through, it is not an easy task. Schumacher’s notations in the text and introductions provide the reader with enough background and context to follow along.  The notations are helpful but sometimes seem to be a bit much.  For example, Joan Baez is cited as a “popular folksinger.”  All in all, this is an excellent companion to The Fall of America and a personal look at Ginsberg’s thoughts on war, drugs, sex, and America.

Available: 10 November 2020

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Poetry Review — The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown

The Collected Poems of Sterling A. Brown by Sterling A. Brown is a publication of Northwestern University Press. Brown was a black professor, folklorist, poet, literary critic, and first Poet Laureate of the District of Columbia. He chiefly studied black culture of the Southern United States and was a full professor at Howard University for most of his career. He was a visiting professor at several other notable institutions, including Vassar College, New York University (NYU), Atlanta University, and Yale University.

A fascinating collection of poetry that takes on several forms.  The most natural form to recognize is the lyrical poetry that not only tells a story but does so with a rhythm that feels like it is connected to a blues guitar.  Other poems tell of the black man in the small towns of the South.  Slavery, violence, and assumed guilt are not left out.  Somethings have changed very little:

Let us forgive Ty Kendricks.
The place was Darktown. He was young.
His nerves were jittery. The day was hot.
The Negro ran out of the alley.
And so he shot.

Let us understand Ty Kendricks.
The Negro must have been dangerous,
Because he ran;
And here was a rookie with a chance
To prove himself a man.

The roots to the old South are apparent in the poems:

Old king cotton
Old man cotton 
Keeps us slavin’
Till we’ se dead an’ rotten.

The voice of the poems shift from colloquial usage of the 1920s and back to the nineteenth-century vernacular:

I’m Kentucky born,
Kentucky bred,
Gonna brag about Kentucky
Till I’m dead.

Thoroughbred horses,
Hansome, fas’,
I ain’t got nothin’
But a dam’ jackass.

Women as purty
As Kingdom Come,
Ain’t got no woman
‘ Cause I’m black and dumb

For those easily offended, there are plenty of slurs throughout the collection for both black and white races.  They serve their purpose well in time and place.   It is a reflection of the reality of the time when the poems were written and before.  There is a great deal of cultural history presented in the collection.  It is also a necessary history of a time many are uncomfortable talking about.  An essential part of both American literature and culture.

 

 

 

 

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Book Review — The Nose and Other Stories

The Nose and Other Stories by Nikolai Gogol and Translated by Susanne Fusso is a Columbia University Press publication.  Gogol was a Russian dramatist of Ukrainian origin. Although Gogol was considered by his contemporaries to be one of the preeminent figures of the natural school of Russian literary realism, this collection is an example of the more surreal and grotesque.  Fusso is a specialist in nineteenth-century Russian prose, especially Gogol and Dostoevsky. She is the author of Designing Dead Souls: An Anatomy of Disorder in Gogol and Discovering Sexuality in Dostoevsky.

A hellish trip for a messenger, a man’s nose that has a life of its own, a man slipping into madness, hidden stories of a well-described street, and a story of a man and his overcoat round out the stories in the collection.  The title story, which starts out shockingly as a barber finds a nose in his morning bread, has a humorous side as its owner goes in search of the missing appendage.  The rank conscious owner is in an awkward position as the nose not only outranks him but dismisses him.  Gogol’s other stories capture real issues in Russian society and twist them violently.  Class, greed, sex, and status are all covered in different stories.  There is a strange humor in many of the stories unlike “The Nose,” “The Diary of a Mad Man” is a descent into madness, a grave plot topic, but the character’s delusions are quite humorous.  Other stories like “The Carriage” seem to touch the absurd.

Gogol is a master of short stories.  He delivers excellent detail with minimal use of words, and this survives in the superb translation.  His darker side runs the full range from horror to humorous to a combination of both.  Fusso’s translation captures nineteenth-century Russian life as well as the setting while faithfully rendering it into English.  Her translation captures all of Gogol’s magic.

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