Monthly Archives: January 2016

Book Review –Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters

Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters by Emily Brontë

The Best Poems of the Brontë Sisters published by Dover Publications is a collection of poetry from the three sisters best known for their prose. Although classics Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall they do not complete the sister’s range of works.

There is a similarity in style between the sisters and it holds to the form of 19th century English poetry. There are several poems that were written on the spur of the moment. Poems are written on a windy afternoon or from a place in the woods. There is, without a doubt, plenty of the romantic movement in their collective writing.

Emily Brontë’s poems seem to take a darker tone than the other sisters, but it is Charlotte who writes the poems in eulogy for her sisters. There is a turn in Charlotte outlook as she seems drained and suffering loss in her later poems. This is a well-collected selection of poetry that demonstrates the best of 19th-century writing and, more importantly, the works of women in poetry. Ask most people, even those who took English literature in college, to name a 19th-century female poet and perhaps they may mention Mary Shelley but little mention of anyone else. The Brontë sisters, although famous for their novels, should have their fair share fame for their poetry.

This is a great collection for those interested in poetry. English 19th-century poetry is almost the ideal of poetry in most people’s minds. This collection will introduce readers to a great period of literature and great women poets.

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Book Review — The Nile Conspiracy

The Nile Conspiracy (Legends of the Winged Scarab, #5)
The Legend of the Winged Scarab continues in book five of the series, The Nile Conspiracy. We see the return of Jonathan, Naunet, and former “pharaoh” of the Cairo Museum Egyptian Jabari El-Masri. Several other previous characters return including a favorite of mine, Vergil, a sly and crafty character, who acts in own self-interest. In the previous books, Borg forms a story surrounding regional political events like the revolution in Egypt that overthrew Mubarak and natural events like the Khamsin and Sirocco. All the natural phenomena used in the stories are real. In a previous book the supervolcano, the Yellowstone Caldera, erupted causing a great disruption in the world order and removing the United States from position power.

In this story, Egypt is still trying to seek stability after the revolution and dealing with a major threat to its existence. Ethiopia is is constructing the Grand Renaissance Dam on the Nile which is a threat to Egypt’s water supply. Ethiopia is the source 85% of the Nile’s water of which Egypt counts on for 80% of its water needs. This provides the catalyst of the story and what draws all the characters together — from familiar characters to Egypt’s top leadership. There is action and adventure all within the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, much like a Clive Cussler novel.

The two storylines of protecting Egypt’s water supply and the quest for control of the fifty ancient golden tablets and their meaning also continues. Their location is known but they are simply out of reach. The story also includes some mythology going back to the first book, which took place before the Egyptian civilization. This, although adding a supernatural aspect to the book, creates a stronger tie into the story and the events.

The story is fast moving and the storylines tie in nicely. The writing is clear and pulls heavily from real events. Borg does her research well and takes the current political situation and ties it in with real or possible natural effects. Even though the writing is fiction the reader can pick up real world issues like the effects of Ethiopia building the world’s largest hydroelectric dam on the river that has been a source of life in North East Africa and center of an ancient civilization. I liked this series from the beginning. It’s smart. It makes the reader want to research aspects of the story. It is not your average cookie cutter fiction or action/adventure series; it holds your attention and has you looking into current events and history. It is a series you actually become involved in.

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Book Review — Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems

Wait Till I'm Dead by Allen Ginsberg

Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems by Allen Ginsberg edited by Bill Morgan is the latest and possibly the last update to the complete works of Allen Ginsberg which already number at over 1,200 pages. Ginsberg needs little introduction even to the most secluded or unread person — The standout poet from the Beat era who continued to write poetry until his death in 1997.

Wait Til I’m Dead is a collection that spans Ginsberg entire career and from a variety of publications. Included areMarrahwannah Quarterly, High Times, Shambhala, Fag RagCity Lights Journal, and from a live impromptu performance at Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Many of these were pieces done at the spur of the moment like “Cleveland Airport.” Others are memories like his last conversation with Carl Solomon as Solomon lie dying in a hospital.

The introduction is provided by Rachel Zucker who first read Ginsberg in college and want more poetry in her education. She calls Ginsberg her gateway drug to poetry. The English chair was happy to comply with Bishop, Moore, and Plath but nothing moved Zucker like Ginsberg. In what is probably the best quote on poetry I have read, Zucker says, “Allen was a good mother to me. He invited me into the kitchen of poetry and made me a sandwich.”

This is a great collection of Ginsberg’s work that has not made it in his complete collection. Because these poems were not included in the complete collection of his work one may wonder if they are worthy of reading or just poems rejected by previous editors. The work here is well worth the read. It is Ginsberg, and as far as the quality of the work, it is like a bootleg Bob Dylan concert. It is the artist in perhaps in his truest form. There is a visible evolution in the work as it covers half a century of writing that is more recognizable in a shorter collection, yet it is always, without a doubt, Ginsberg.

Death spoke out of the singer’s throat; While, staring through a drunkard’s eyes, Fate confounded drinker’s lies:
For all the drinks that they had tried, Death still sat there at their side.
And death peered with contemptuous calm. From the barman’s open palm.

“A Night in the Village”, 1944

Where can he go with alcohol and the landlord’s
eviction notice comes to us all?
gentrification will oust us from our nest
where to put books and file cabinets heavy with paper gold? Wake, smoke,
another cigarette with aching back and the last breath though cancered
throat…..

Bob Dylan Touring with Grateful Dead, 1986

I meet Carl Solomon.
What is it like in the afterworld?
“It’s just like the mental hospital. You get along if you follow the rules.”

Dream of Carl Solomon, 1996

Wait Till I’m Dead: Uncollected Poems is a worthwhile addition to any Ginsberg or Beat book collection. Grab a sandwich for poetry’s kitchen and enjoy.

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Book Review — While the City Slept: Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Violence

While the City Slept by Eli Sanders

While the City Slept: Love Lost to Violence and a Young Man’s Descent into Violence by Eli Sanders is the account of violence and murder in a Seattle community. Eli Sanders is the associate editor of Seattle’s weekly newspaper The Stranger. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2012 for his reporting on the murder of Teresa Butz. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Seattle Times, The American Prospect, and Salon, among other publications.

I usually don’t read true crime books and I am not a fan of narrative nonfiction. This book, however, is a game changer. The story is told well and with enough detail that the idea to check sources passed by me. Sanders takes an almost personal role in the story telling. It was his news story back in 2012 and, much like Jon Krakauer’s reporting of a death in Alaska for Outside Magazine, the story has been extended with research down several avenues.

Teresa Butz, tomgirl, traveler, and searching for her role in life is examined from early life as one of eleven children in a Catholic family. Jennifer Hopper, a talented singer, who could not find the proper role in music New York. The two meet in Seattle and become a couple and set a date for a commitment ceremony. The book opens with the aftermath of rape and violent assault that left Teresa Butz dead and Jennifer Hopper finding refuge with a neighbor. The man responsible, Isaiah Kalebu, also has a story.

His story is told to present the how a terrible crime could happen and sadly on how it could have been prevented. It is not told for the reader to take pity on the killer. It is told to show how things work in practice rather than in reality. There are more than gaps in the system. There are gaping holes. From a bridge that has been damaged by earthquakes, caseloads for judges, and mental health budgets. Sanders points out that there are more people in prison mental health facilities than there are outside of prison. It has much more to do with budgets than the number of people requiring care. The system is not intentionally callous as it does have people who care, but so many are overworked and overscheduled to do much good.

While the City Slept, gives a very worthwhile account of the lives of Butz and Hopper and although their same-sex relationship is what brought them together, Sanders does not make that point a central theme or a rallying point. They are treated no different than a heterosexual couple which is nice to see the acceptance of relationships as norms rather than the exception. Sanders also does an excellent job of drawing the road map that brings the three people on a collision course. It is an eye-opening book on the system we all live in. Surprising too the is the role of the police in the story. The investigation of the crime takes little time and effort for the police. Isaiah Kalebu is arrested less than a week after the crime. An intensely interesting read that is difficult to put down.

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Book Review — Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You

Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You by Juliana Spahr
Fuck You-Aloha-I Love You by Juliana Spahr is a collection of poetry with a Hawaiian theme. Spahr earned a BA in languages and literature from Bard College and a PhD in English from SUNY Buffalo. Spahr’s interests revolve around questions of transformation, language, and ecology. Concerned with politics without being overtly political, Spahr’s work crosses a variety of American landscapes, from the disappearing beaches of Hawaii to the small town of her Appalachian childhood. She has taught at Siena College and at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She is currently an associate professor of English at Mills College.

I first ran across Spahr’s writing in a collection of alternative poetry. I forgot what the poem was but, after reading it, it was enough to for me to order this collection. Spahr’s work is interesting and takes an original look at life and our environment. She plays with here and there and joins it with tears. She takes a room and compares its function and the behavior of its occupants by a simple piece of furniture — the difference that a table or a bed makes in the room. Separating and joining. Closed against open. Uncertainty and confidence.

She compares a parking lot and the stream that runs adjacent to it. The parking lot for some reason has no access. Two buildings block opposite sides. The stream blocks the other. The last side is closed off with a fence. It is space for simply space’s sake. The parking lot is unused, but the stream is alive. This leads to a discussion of rights that we think we have and the rights that are written or limited. It is a call for the recognition of the rights of native Hawaiians have been slowly losing to urbanization and profits.

Spahr lines are short and her verses are short, sometimes just a single line. The style is enjoyable as well as clear and crisp. Despite the title, it is not offensive or distasteful. A very worthwhile read.

(I read this for my own enjoyment and not for review.)

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Early Poems: Ezra Pound

 

Early Poems by Ezra Pound covers his early work both writing and translating poetry. A few years ago I read some of Pound’s later works and could not get into the writing or style. His early works are much different and amazingly well done. I was captivated by this entire collection. The many of the poems are lyrical or ballads. The poems settings range from medieval Europe to China. The writing is the ideal of poetry:

Aye! I am a poet and upon my tomb
Shall maidens scatter rose leaves
and men myrtles, ere the night
Slays day with her dark sword.

Pound’s early work has changed my opinion of him as a poet. Perhaps, it was that I was not in tune with poetry at the time or his style had changed drastically over time. This collection is put together by Dover Thrift and besides being a great collection, it is also very affordable at $2.50. Outstanding poetry and an outstanding value.

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Book Review — The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg

The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg by Eliot Katz

The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg by Eliot Katz is a look at Ginsberg’s writing as a reflection on his politics and society. Katz is the author of seven books of poetry His first full-length poetry book, Space and Other Poems for Love, Laughs, and Social Transformation was published in 1990, with introductions by Allen Ginsberg and Amiri Baraka, and a front cover drawing by Leon Golub. Katz is also the author of two prose e-books, Three Radical Poets: Tributes to Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, and Adrienne Rich (2013) and The Moonlight of Home and Other Stories of Truth and Fiction (2013).

Katz is a poet that knew Ginsberg and worked with him. From my reading, Katz’s primary thesis is that unlike many of the yuppies and radicals Ginsberg never mellowed out in his opinions and remained a liberal voice for social justice throughout his life. He remained someone who spoke the truth about things that were not spoken of. There is little doubt of his leftward lean. He lived through an era where elected left-wing governments were overthrown by the United States. It was also an era that saw Eisenhower sign an executive order firing all gay government employees. On local levels bars and clubs were raided by police. Through the examination of The Howl (the annotated edition), Kaddish, and America Katz examines Ginsberg’s politics.

Katz gives insight to the works of Ginsberg providing background to those who might have dismissed the Ginsberg writing as outside the realms of accepted poetry and “social values.” There is also an examination of the writing style with comparisons to Blake and Whitman. Ginsberg was also not just a Beat poet he wrote from the late 1940s until his death in 1997. The Poetry and Politics of Allen Ginsberg is more than a biography. It is a study of poetry writing, politics, and the evolution of American society. This book is an excellent look at Ginsberg and the world he saw around him.

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Book Review — Truth or Truthiness: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction by Learning to Think Like a Data Scientist

“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
Attributed to Benjamin Disraeli

Truth or Truthiness by Howard Wainer
Truth or Truthiness: Distinguishing Fact from Fiction by Learning to Think Like a Data Scientist by Howard Wainer is a study of the information and how it is used in modern society. Wainer is an American statistician, past Principal Research Scientist at the Educational Testing Service, adjunct Professor of Statistics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

We are bombarded with statistics in our daily lives. One news station will show statistics that the economy is failing another that things are on the upswing. The death penalty is a crime deterrent, but Texas continues to execute more people than any other state (but ranks 11th if taken by executions per capita) and 16th in violent crime. Alaska ranks first in violent crime and has no death penalty. Vermont has the lowest level of violent crime and no death penalty. There is seems to be little in correlation in the death penalty and violent crime. Perhaps more information is needed. Wainer brings to the table a simpler example to the table that there is a strong correlation between the number of people eating ice cream and the number of people drowning. When ice cream eating spikes, so do the number of drownings. There must be a connection between the two. Actually, there isn’t. When the weather gets warmer more people take part in eating ice cream and swimming. The more people that swim the higher the number of drowning victims. One could take these figures and, wrongly, conclude that swimming and eating ice cream leads to higher temperatures perhaps a point for snowball throwing Senator Jim Inhofe

Missing information and how it is treated is as important as the information present. A company questionnaire asks employees how happy they are are with their jobs. The company reported that 80% of the respondents were happy or very happy. What is missing from the equation is that only 22% of the employees were motivated enough to complete the questionnaire. Many times missing information is much more complicated. In long-term studies, not everyone continues the study. If the study was following smokers, for example, what is to be done with the subjects that quit smoking? Those who die from non-smoking related disease and accidents? Those who just don’t want to participate anymore? Wainer gives examples and ways to deal with missing information without skewing the results.

Other problems are what about information that was not realized at the time. Cigarette smoking was a leading cause of preventable death in America and obesity was not that great of a concern. The problem was that smokers tended generally to be thinner than nonsmokers skewing the rate information on obesity. Thinner people died at a higher rate than the obese because of the number of smokers. Wainer takes on a variety of popular issues such as SAT tests, Teacher tenure, fracking, test cheating, standardized tests and a variety of other hot social issues. He starts slowly with simple examples separating truth from truthness and move to more complex problems. He even examine graphs and shows how results can be hidden by the type of graph being used.

Truth or Truthiness is a study of understanding information and data and interpreting it in a useful manner. It means for us to question what we see and hear to check the data and who supplies the data and determine how truthful it really is or if it is simply serving another group’s needs by appealing to your emotions and “gut feelings.” A very good read in our age of quick information, unofficial polls, and truthness.

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Book Review — China’s Twentieth Century

China's Twentieth Century by Wang Hui

China’s Twentieth Century by Wang Hui is a study of 20th century China in societal and political manner. Hui is a professor in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Tsinghua University, Beijing. His researches focus on contemporary Chinese literature and intellectual history. He was the executive editor (with Huang Ping) of the influential magazine Dushu from May 1996 to July 2007. The US magazine Foreign Policy named him as one of the top 100 public intellectuals in the world in May 2008.

This is a complicated book that had me struggling for the first half of the 20th century. This is mostly because of my lack of familiarity of internal Chinese history outside of the Boxer Rebellion before Mao. The early 20th century does play an important role in understanding China’s path through the twentieth century. The book skips periods that I would see as important from my studies but did introduce me to a different thinking about China’s role in the Korean War and it hot and cold relationship with the Soviet Union. It also described China’s view of WWI. Both of these views are not typical of Western thinking of education.

Hui isn’t hesitant about breaking out political philosophers. Although frequently turning to Marx, he does bring in Hegel and others. This book is heavy on philosophy and internal Chinese sociology. The view from inside China is interesting and unique and will give readers a different perspective of China and the troubles and progress. Society is far less monolithic than many believe and there is a growing division in classes. The peasants and the farmers are not the ones who are making the progress and have been left behind in their revolution.

Although a very complex read, the view of a respected Chinese scholar inside of China offers insight that into the culture and workings of society. A detailed account of what Hui calls the short century and the long revolution.

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Book Review — Made in Derbyshire: Laureate Poems

Made in Derbyshire: Laureate Poems

Derbyshire is a county in the central part of England. It is rich in minerals and home of Rolls Royce. But more importantly, it is the home of a poet, who happens to be the poet laureate of the county. Helen Mort’s first collection of poems Division Street and her other publication A Pint with the Ghosts tell of a poet with deep blue-collar roots instead of an ivory tower attitude. I described A Pint with the Ghostsas Bruce Springsteen lyrics sung by Stevie Nicks — there is a beauty in the grittiness of life.

I first heard of Made in Derbyshire: Laureate Poems on Twitter, having been waiting to see when Helen Mort was releasing a new collection. The Derbyshire post was about a book signing event for this collection. I asked if there were copies available for sale outside of the UK and was happy to hear I would have a copy in the mail shortly. I was told that this was a collection of mainly commissions by Mort and was a publicity project for Derbyshire, and perhaps not what I was expecting after Division Street.

This short collection comes with an introduction which explains its purpose. Anyone who has studied art or history knows that many painters survived on commissions from patrons. One wonders how difficult it was for a portrait painter to paint a portrait of a person they had no previous interest in. The accurate portrayal of a person is the task and it would seem rather routine. But, for a poet, it seems like a more difficult task to create more than just a picture of the subject, but build with words and imagery something that is multidimensional and personal. If that is not difficult enough, how about a poem for a tea towel? A football team? A friend’s new house? Mort is more than up for the task. You can tell there is an effort in her work that pulls together poetry on a subject in other times she would not be writing about. One thing I greatly admire about her work is her sense of history. Her poems in an earlier collection give the impression of first-hand observation of the coal miner’s strike, which actually happened before her birth. In this collection, she writes a poem for the rededication of a recreational area on the 100th anniversary of the first world war. “Sonnet of Summer 2014” is a response to “Sonnet of Summer 1914” reflecting on the Great War. Her sense of history is commendable along with her writing.

Other poems in the collection reflect the true meaning of poetry. The spreading of the art. There are poems from the children of Derbyshire and poems by others (with a little help from Mort). Here, Mort does what so important, she involves herself in the community and teaches the art of poetry– not always in a formal sense but seemingly in an open and friendly manner. From the poems written by others, there is a growing appreciation of poetry in Derbyshire. I sit here in Dallas, Texas and wonder have the Cowboys ever commissioned a poet? Does Texas have a poet laureate? (yes) Is poetry alive and growing in Texas? in America? Sadly it seems we like ad jingles more.

Made in Derbyshire was published for Derbyshire and it’s equivalent to a chamber of commerce. It was not intended for widespread distribution especially halfway around the globe. I reading the poems as someone who has not been to Derbyshire or the UK for that matter, I can feel the warm, welcoming, conversational tone in the poems. The link to a distant county across the ocean is clear established. There is an emotional attachment when reading these poems — a smile mostly. I doubt many readers here will be dropping by Derbyshire anytime soon to pick up a copy, but Division Street and A Pint with the Ghosts are available. A new collection of poetry will be published this year – –No Map Could Show Them — and an unnamed novel. Mort is definitely worth the read for those who love poetry and those feel a bit intimidated by poetry.

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