Monthly Archives: September 2013

Book Review: The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking

The Skies Belong to Us by Brendan I. Koerner

The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking by Brendan I. Koerner is a detailed history of a pair of hijackers as well as a history of hijacking in general. Koerner is a former columnist for The New York Times and Slate. His work has been printed in the New York Times Magazine,Harpers and many other publications. He is currently a contributing editor at Wire. This is his second book.

I am just barely old enough to remember all the “Take this bus to Cuba” and other hijacking jokes of the 1970s. I do recall television comedies also picked up on the theme too. How ever funny it seemed at the time, it was a serious matter. Koerner lays out many facts that I have forgotten. Surprising to me was the number of veterans who hijacked planes for multiple reasons from demanding money to give to North Vietnamese orphanages to the purely delusional. Cuba was a popular destination to either give the hijacked plane as a gift to Castro, to study communism, or as one veteran insisted to kill Castro with his bare hands. The number of juveniles that hijacked planes is also surprising high. Although many methods of taking over the plane were clever, many hijackers had put very little thought into the their plan aside from taking it over. More than once, commuter planes were hijacked with orders to fly to Cuba or other international destinations. 

Another rather surprising bit of information is how opposed the airlines were to additional security. Airlines refused to increase security. They did not want to treat their passengers like criminals and more importantly they did the math and found it was cheaper to meet hijackers demands than buy into security. For a long time, hijackers never hurt passengers and the worst case was “being late for dinner.” Hijacking was an common inconvenience. Airlines learned the best thing to do was meet the demands and carry on. There are several instances where the airlines and pilots completely shut the FBI out for fear that confrontation would bring violence. I remember hearing how sky marshals brought safety to the skies. Koerner, however, shows the number of sky marshals compared to the number of flights made it very improbable that a sky marshal would actually be on a hijacked plane. To complicate the sky marshals job, airlines regularly bumped them off flights to open a seat for a paying customer. Eventually, everyone, including Castro, got fed up with hijackings.

The Skies Belong to Us documents several different hijackings and the results from mandatory sentencing to public opinion. One hijacking is covered throughout the book. Alternating chapters of history and the hijacking of Western Airlines flight 701 from Los Angeles to Algiers – the longest hijacking in American history. Koerner gives the complete biography of the two involved in hijacking flight 701: William Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow. Their story takes up the majority of the book. This inside look into their lives before, during, and after the hijacking ties the entire book together. It give personal insight into a successful hijacking. Their story is very compelling and very well worth reading. 

The general history of highjacking is a look back into an age that those under fifty will find hard to believe existed. The idea of post 9/11 TSA security would be a thing of dark science fiction fifty years ago. It was truly a different era. A younger reader today will not understand how these things were allowed to happen. Why didn’t the government force airlines and passengers to agree to higher security? Perhaps there are some who are older wondering how we allowed the government the power it has today. That maybe the back story in this book. How we as a society changed our view on rights and security: what was unacceptable then and fully expected now. This is more than just an excellent history book. It is part of our culture, then and now.

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Book Review: Pulse: Truly Modern Recipes for Beans, Chickpeas, and Lentils to Tempt Meat-Eaters and Vegetarians Alike

Pulse: Truly Modern Recipes for Beans, Chickpeas, and Lentils to Tempt Meat-Eaters and Vegetarians Alike by Jenny Chandler is a collection of bean recipes and tips for using beans. Chandler is a professional chef and teacher. She was educated at Leith’s School of Food and Wine and has traveled extensively in the Mediterranean, Caribbean, and the Pacific and Indian Oceans. She has lived in Spain, Italy, and France. Her cooking school is The Plum Cooking Company in Clifton, England. 

Pulses, a term I was unfamiliar with, are legumes and are introduced as more than a vegetarian option to protein. They are a source of fiber and complex carbohydrates that will compliment anyone’s diet. Beans are naturally low in fat and rich in vitamins and minerals. Pulse also tackles the the problem, which results in many jokes about beans: gas. Preparation and gradually adding bean to your diet are key. Chandler goes over the advantage and disadvantages of everything the reader will need to know about beans: Soaking, canned, dried, sprouted, cooking methods, storage, complementing proteins. Once the reader has a complete overview, Chandler goes into the recipes.

Recipes show the influence of Chandler’s travels from simple Middle Eastern hummus, Southwestern (U.S.) Black Beans and Chipotle Dip, Chickpea bread, and soups of all varieties. Vegans and vegetarians will have very little problem making substitutions in nearly all the recipes although some recipes are meat-centric. There is an entire section on vegetarian main dishes. The book ends with section on making basics like bread crumbs, perfect poached eggs, using chilies and preparations that some may not be familiar with. There is also a comprehensive index of bean types, where they are from and 

Chandler writes a very good cookbook on on a simple but very practical food item that many people overlook. The variety of cultural influences and menus make the bean anything but boring. This will be a cookbook I will be using as part of my strict vegetarian diet. An excellent and healthy cookbook for everyone regardless of their diet.

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Book Review: Without a Claim

Without a Claim, by Grace Schulman is her seventh published collection of poetry. Schulman holds a PhD from New York University and is Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch College CUNY. She has taught poetry at Princeton, Columbia, and other universities. Schulman has served as Poetry Editor at the Nation, and director of the Poetry Center. Her work has also appeared in numerous journals. 

Without a Claim is the most traditional collection of poetry I read this month. Not rantings or socio-economic messages, but poetry like you read in English Literature class, almost magical. It takes the reader to a place where he or she can say, “Yes, this is what poetry is!” My first thoughts in reading were “This reminds me of Leaves of Grass.” Not necessarily in topic, but in feeling. It’s when you pick up the book with the idea of reading for half an hour and seemingly minutes later, you realize that four hours have gone by. My feeling of a Whitman influence was well grounded. Early on in the collection is the poem “Variations on a Line by Whitman.” 

“Shadow” is a poem of about Paris singer and her relationship with a black American (soldier) trumpet player. Although not mentioned in the poem, after WWI black soldiers who married French women were given the choice of staying in France or going home…alone. This could very much be that story. There is history in the collection, but it is the background to the poetry rather than the subject. 

“Love in the Afternoon” is a poem that on the surface is about butterflies, but seems to be more about poetry and its grace and subtle movements. Here the beauty of nature manifests itself as poetry. “Green River” takes us to a country cemetery and we meet to those interred. They speak to us through their stones and leave us wanting to ask the dead a question. We know what the answer will be, but we ask anyway. Perhaps the cemetery shows us that in life, as much as in death, that we all want the same thing and no matter who we are, we all connected by something as simple as a gravel path. 

Without a Claim is poetry that is enchanting and you will read it and reread it again. There seems to be something to be gained at each reread. The imagery crystal clear and enticing. This is a work that you will want to keep and read over and over again. Simply an amazing experience.

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Book Review: Previously Feared Darkness

Previously Feared Darkness by Robert Priest

Previously Feared Darkness by Robert Priest is his latest collection of poetry. Priest, also known as Dr. Poetry on CBC’s Wordbeat has a popular following and professionally recognized. His has work is has received air play and he has published a number of children’s CDs of songs and poems. Priest has also written ten books of poetry for adults. The Toronto Star accurately calls Priest’s work “Passionate, cocky alternately adoring and insulting verse.” 

Priest is an interesting poet to say the least. He is hard to pin down. “All the Information in the Sun” starts with the promise of science. The title reminded me of one the latest quantum theories that information cannot be lost in the universe…much like matter and energy. I thought this will be interesting. But no sooner than I turned on my scientific mind, I come to Waistland, a play on T.S. Eliot and a irreverent poem on obesity. From there to Aztechs, a poem on modern wars and warfare tying it back to Quetzalcoatl’s blood lust. Priest rotates his poems through a mix of themes keeping the reader interested and slightly off guard not knowing what to expect next. The science is refreshing, good, and even humorous:


Einstein and Heidelberg both said
“There’s no simultaneity 
over vast distances”
at exactly the same time. 

Perhaps as a tribute to Martin Amis we are taken on a journey through John Lennon’s life… in reverse. “Rights Left” reads a military cadence call and with clever plays on words brings us to a modern day concern for our individual rights. Equally alarming is Priest’s interpretation of Book of Job(s) carried into the modern times. And yes, many will take offense and the more cynical of us will nod with understanding. Perhaps, if the “Book of Jobs” did not offend enough, maybe learning the true meaning of Churchill’s “V” for victory sign will do it. If your modesty still hasn’t driven you away, you should safely be able to navigate your way through the memes unscathed, maybe. 

Priest manages to combine science and social issues with what some will call the profane. I see it as combination of brilliant and a punk rock attitude. Sometimes his message is clear and other times its hidden in the brashness of words. It’s easy to why he is so popular. He doesn’t shock for the sake of shocking, like the Sex Pistols, but does it to deliver a message like Lou Reed’s “Last Great American Whale”. Sometimes people need to be pushed into thinking. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and I am going to actively look for his other collections. Previously Feared Darkness may not be for everyone, but I find it to be absolutely brilliant.

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Book Review: Singing at the Gates: Selected Poems

We need a shoe to be a shoe,
for the poet to describe the foot
inside, the miles walked, the weariness
that seeps into toes, heels, and calf,
the tired dreams those feet lug every day
“The Truth Be Known”

Singing at the Gates by Jimmy Santiago Baca


Singing at the Gates: Selected Poems by Jimmy Santiago Baca is a volume of poetry covering four decades of Baca’s life as a poet. Baca is of Apache and Chicano descent, abandoned by his parents, and at an early age he took to the streets. He was sentenced to prison for six and a half years on a conviction for drug possession. It was in prison where he learned how to read and write and compose poetry. Once freed from prison he chose to live a solitary life and write.

“I was a hermit – as much as one can be living in the fringe of the city.”

Reading Singing at the Gates is experiencing Baca development as a poet. His earliest works convey the feeling of imprisonment and frustration. The feeling and emotion are there almost as if the poems were written in bold type face. Opening poem is long, twenty-five pages, and seems to have been written in a single sitting, stream of consciousness, moving with a purpose from thought to thought. The poem reads more like a letter more than a traditional poem, and he expresses his thoughts in a what appears to be a primitive form, raw, but expressing complex ideas.

By mid-book the poems take a more familiar and recognizable form. The poems still carry a message. The message is not a pastoral scene or romantic love, but a continuation of a struggle. There is racial and economic standings setting the tone in some poems and war and the environment in others. Heritage plays a role in the long poem “Rita Falling From the Sky.” Rita is a homeless woman from Mexico who spends years in a mental institution in America’s midwest because she is assumed to be crazy and incoherent. It is only after a new doctor, from Chihuahua, recognized that she was not babbling but speaking her native tongue of the Raramui Indians that she is released. Her real life struggle mirrors Bacca’s.

The poetry here is different from most that I have read. The form is interesting as well as the changes in the voice and form as the author’s writing matures. Baca writes a fifteen page introduction to this work, which goes a very long way of explaining to the reader his life and how his writing developed. An unprepared reader may not make it through the first third of the book. This is not because it is poorly written, quite the opposite, but the background information is a sort of Rosetta Stone for his early work. Bacca’s work although unconventional is still powerful and moving. Singing at the Gates is well worth the read.

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Poetry Event in CT

Date: October 13, 2013    03:00PM — October 13, 2013    03:00PM
RSVP by: October 12, 2013    12:00AM 
Venue: The Artists’ Path, 538 Bantam Rd. (Rt 202), Bantam, CT, US
Type: author appearance
Added by: Donna Merritt


Don Lowe on guitar with featured poet Donna Marie Merritt, followed by an Open Mic and selling/signing of CDs and poetry, including HER HOUSE AND OTHER POEMS. View the trailer here:…

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Poetry Event

Date: October 04, 2013    06:30PM — October 04, 2013    08:30PM
RSVP by: October 03, 2013    12:00AM 
Venue: The Flea Circus, 101 Main Street, Collinsville, CT, US
Type: author appearance
Added by: Donna Merritt


The Podunk Throwbacks and Free Poets Collective together once again! Join us Friday, October 4, for a night of art, music, and poetry at one of the most eclectic shops ever, The Flea Circus, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Poets Donna Marie Merritt, Andrea Barton, Hawk T Poet, and Colin Haskins will read. Podunk Throwbacks will give us their fabulous music. Guest artist TBA. See you there!

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