Monthly Archives: March 2016

Poetry Review — Absolute Solitude: Selected Poems

The world gave me many things, but the only thing I kept was absolute solitude.

Absolute Solitude by Dulce María Loynaz
Absolute Solitude: Selected Poems by Dulce María Loynaz is the first comprehensive English translation of Loynaz poetry. Loynaz, a Cuban, wrote most of her poetry before the revolution and her work was, for the most part, forgotten. At the age of ninety Royal Spanish Academy awarded her the 1992 Cervantes Prize, the highest literary accolade in the Spanish language. The translation is done by James O’Connor, and although I do not read Spanish, the English version of her work captures the power and beauty of the original.

The unnamed poems that make up this book are simply numbered to differentiate between them. Some poems are a single line making a title a little difficult. Each line, however, carries an exponential amount of information. If a picture is worth a thousand words a line from Loynaz is worth many times more:


And I said to the pebbles, I know you are fallen stars.
Hearing this they lit up, and for a moment they shone — they were
able to shine — like stars.


I neither destroy nor create. I do not interrupt Destiny.

Loynaz mentions pebbles a few times in the above poem and in another comparing pebbles to stars. Stars shine with beauty, but pebbles one can hold in their hand and move or possess, unlike a star. She writes of love, faith, death, and solitude. Our solitude is the one thing, perhaps the only thing we can control. On death, she writes of the seeds of a now dead rose bush trying to grow at the base of the dead bush. They are choked out by the roots dead plant. She warns the reader to never allow death to choke out life, not even a little.

Absolute Solitude is a lost treasure recovered too late to be built upon. Loynaz’s writing is near perfection and it makes one wonder how much more could have created if she had not quit writing, or if her work received more notice before her ninetieth year. It was three decades after she stopped writing before her work was noticed by the Royal Spanish Academy. This is truly a remarkable collection.

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Poetry Review — Playful Song Called Beautiful

Playful Song Called Beautiful by John  Blair

Playful Song Called Beautiful by John Blair is the co-winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize for 2015. Blair is the author of the award-winning collection of short stories American Standard, which won the Drue Heinz Literature Award, one of the world’s most prestigious prizes for short fiction, as well as three prize-winning collections of poetry.

Blair’s collection compliments co-winners Tigue’s collectionSystem of Ghosts as it takes different subject matter and creates the same type of art. Playful Song Called Beautiful includes science as a main feature. This year it seems that geology and plate tectonics are popular poetry themes. Blair, however, takes the reader father with references to quantum physics and he does it in a way that seems very natural and flowing. There is no forcing the subject into verse; It is completely unpretentious. There is even a play on quark particles and with Joyce’s “Three Quarks for Muster Mark.”

There are passing references made through the book of famous historical figures like Rumi, Faulkner, Nietzsche, Oswald, Goethe, and Galileo. The wide range of writers, thinkers, and even the assassin is mixed with a variety of locations including Oklahoma. Fort Sill, Oklahoma is the home of Geronimo’s unmolested grave and Tulsa, the home of Six Flags Over Jesus — Oral Roberts University.

The title is represented by a short poem taken from a translation on a Chinese children’s record. It is followed by other badly translated into English phrases. Surprisingly, it works very well — enjoyable so. Blair does an excellent job of combining complex subjects into poetry and making them more understandable than they are in prose. Converting sophisticated subject matter into enjoyable reading is an art in itself. An excellent collection and well deserving of the Iowa Poetry Prize.


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Poetry Review — A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent: Poems

A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent by Gregory Mahrer

A Provisional Map of the Lost Continent: Poems by Gregory Mahrer is the Fordham Poets Outloud Winner for 2015. Mahrer’s work has been published in The New England Review, The Indiana Review, Green Mountains Review, Volt, Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review and elsewhere, as well as on the websites Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. Several of his poems have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes. In 2014, one of those poems, “Refrain,” received a Puschart Special Mention.

I found this to be a particularly difficult collection for myself. Some parts did catch with me others seemed to be too distant. That may be the purpose of this collection too. The poetry is heavily punctuated with and usually end with ellipses. It gives the sense of incomplete documentation, lost pages and sections of pages. Something that we in the future are looking back on and trying to piece together:

In the unsettled light we made camp and set about perfecting the maps… Within their gilded borders: the world we had left behind only wider
at the isthmuses and subject to revision…

There is a feeling of history, exploration, and discovery as man tries to map out new lands.

The collection pulls phrases together that are descriptive and add color and life to the reading. It is also fragmented, like many ancient texts, leaving the reader to insert, interpret, and discover additional meaning. I can fully appreciate Mahrer’s effort and direction, however, this collection remains a little out of my range. It happens. A few years ago when Eric Linsker’s award winning La Far was published, I was unable to get through it. It took over a year but once I finished it and understood it, it was well worth the effort. This collection requires the same type of effort and will yield the same type of reward.

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Poetry Review — System of Ghosts

System of Ghosts by Lindsay Tigue

System of Ghosts by Lindsay Tigue is the 2015 Iowa Poetry Prize winning collection. Tigue was a Tennessee Williams Scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and has received a James Merrill fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center. She is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing and Environment at Iowa State University and is a current Ph.D. student in Creative Writing at the University of Georgia. For the 2015 to 2016 academic year, she will serve as assistant to the editors at the Georgia Review.

The Iowa Poetry Prize is an annual event that I always look forward to. It always brings forth young poets and presents them to the world. I am a bit like a child who can’t wait until Christmas. I usually review these books too early. I did hold off for three months before reading this a month early.

Tigue seems to write from almost snapshots of memories or images. The detail and experience of her writing conveys the reader to a place and moment in time and presents what seems to be a first-hand account or shared memory. The descriptions are vivid, whether a common experience of traveling on an airplane or more complex interactions with others. She also brings to life images of history and geology with the action of plate tectonics. There is also something of Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias” in “Progress Without End”, the motto of Pullman company, whose greatest works are now diners or scrap.

System of Ghosts is vivid, personal, and cordial. It is a near perfect collection of poetry that remains in a traditional form and does not deviate from convention just to be different. The relationships between people (and pets) are warm and the places are familiar. Tigue is able to capture and develop memories ways I could only dream of. Although different from my memories I read and say out loud “Yes, this is what I want to say!”. Even her poem “Leap” of her twelve-year-old experience at the aquarium snapping picture after picture of the dolphins being fed and leaping from the water, Tigue manages to capture a bit of a shared memory. The pictures are blurry and her mother asks why waste so much film on grainy dolphin pictures, yet she cherishes the pictures. I think we all had that imperfect reminder or picture we held on to as a child — something so common place to adults but very special to us as a child.

Tigue presents an outstanding collection poetry that is worthy of attention and shows the average reader that poetry can be for everyone and that there is a common connection between us all.

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Book Review — Marine!: The Life of Chesty Puller

“Don’t forget that you’re First Marines! Not all the Communists in hell can overrun you!”

Chesty Puller to his Marines, when surrounded by the Chinese at Chosin Reservoir.

Marine! by Burke Davis

Marine!: The Life of Chesty Puller by Burke Davis is the biography of the Marine Corps most decorated man. Davis is the author of over thirty-five books, many of the dealing with the Civil War. He was known for his meticulous research.

Ask any Marine to name one person that personifies the Marine Corps and the most likely answer would be Chesty Puller. There are many stories told about Chesty Puller and remarkably they are all true. He stared down a grenade in WWII simply proclaiming to those around him it was a dud. He was a great leader and those who he pulled aside and corrected would later claim that Puller inspired them to be better Marines. He also knew the importance of the people under him. Whether a senior Non-Commissioned Officer or a private he was fair and knew they were key to his success. Once he saw a Second Lieutenant standing in front of a private who was repeated saluting him. He asked the Lieutenant what was going on. The lieutenant said the private did not salute him and to teach him a lesson he was making the private salute one hundred times. Puller said that was fair and that the lieutenant rates the salute, but he reminded the lieutenant that he is required to return ever salute the private gives. Puller watched as the lieutenant now returned each and every salute.

Puller believed in leadership by example. The senior men should always be last. Juniors were always first to the chow line, first to receive medical treatment and Puller was not shy in enforcing this to all those in his command. He was a rare officer that was respected and liked by all those who served under him. When the troops were sleeping in the mud, Puller was sleeping in the mud too. When the men marched, Puller marched with them rather than ride. Although serving under Puller was physically challenging, he believed that the harder his people trained the more effective they would be in combat and success in combat was the Marine Corps’ goal.

Marine! follows Puller from his childhood to his retirement. Puller’s entire military career is covered from his beginnings in Virginia Military Institute, through Parris Island and the end of WWI. What helped make Puller a successful leader was his early service in Central America. This experience was in a time when military valued staff positioning over combat. Puller gained a practical advantage for service in both World War II and Korea. He became the most decorated Marine in history and the only person to earn five Navy Crosses.

For the military historian or Marine wanting to learn leadership or history, Marine! is a very worthwhile read. Although Puller is known for his military actions, his personal life is also covered. I never thought Puller had time for a wife and children. Davis writes a well-rounded biography that does not disappoint anyone looking for a larger than life (true) story.

“Take me to the Brig. I want to see the “real Marines”.
– Major General Chesty Puller, USMC – while on a Battalion inspection.

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Poetry Review — The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone: Poems

When words cease to matter,
there is all this white space.

“Typeface elegy”

The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone by Nancy K Pearson

The Whole by Contemplation of a Single Bone: Poems by Nancy K Pearson is her second collection of published poetry. Pearson received her MFA from George Mason University. Recently, she completed two seven-month poetry fellowships at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. Previously she taught poetry at the University of Houston. Her work has won several awards and honors including runner-up at the 2007 Iowa Review Poetry Award, 2009 Lambda Literary Awards finalist, 2012 Pushcart Prize Nomination and numerous others. Pearson avid runner and cyclist, she now lives on Cape Cod with her partner.

Pearson’s second collection of poetry is an interesting work titled after Sherlock Holmes’ quote on George Cuvier’s ability to describe an entire animal by examining a single bone. There are several themes that carry through this collection including endurance, running, and science. The first two themes run consistently through the collection. Science takes several forms from elements to plate tectonics.

The writing at times is complex but very rewarding to the reader willing to take his or her time in the reading. There are two poems titled Houston and anyone who has spent time in that city will instantly recognize and relate to the subject. There are also two poems dealing with drugs and addiction. Nature, trees, and the earth, in general, all play a role in this collection.

Although not lyrical in style the poems do stay in the reader’s memory after reading. The paragraph form or seemingly random line breaks create their own structure and form. This is a collection that the reader will appreciate more with each reading. A complex mix of subjects, emotions, and style make this a unique collection.

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Book Review — Jane Austen: The Dover Reader

Jane Austen The Dover Reader

Jane Austen: The Dover Reader is a collection of Jane Austen’s works which includes the complete version of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, two of her most read novels. Rather than just combining the books and adding a short introduction, Dover also includes her earlier work and letters. Three early works are included “Love and Friendship” a novel written in a series of letters between two friends, “The History of England” (Henry IV through Charles 1st) written by a self-described partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian, and an outline for “The Beautiful Cassandra”.

Perhaps the most important addition is the collection of letters. There is probably more to learn about an author in their personal writing than in all their biographies or autobiographies. This is when their personal side shows through. Usually written to friends and colleagues, the writer usually tends to be more open and informal than in their public writings.

The Dover Edition, as usual, gives the reader a large bang for the buck. The Dover edition sells for six dollars, less than the cost of the Barnes and Nobel edition of Pride and Prejudice. The Dover edition also comes with Persuasion and the above discussed early works and letters giving the reader a fuller understanding of the Jane Austen. A great value for anyone interested in getting to know Jane Austen and her work.

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Poetry Review — The Scripture of the Golden Eternity

The Scripture of the Golden Eternity by Jack Kerouac

The Scripture of the Golden Eternity by Jack Kerouac is a personalized collection of Beat interpreted Buddhism. The Open Road Integrated Media ebook version of the book uses their own typesetting which keeps the lines together and in their original format when you change text size. Many poems read better when the lines are presented when intended. In other ebooks, I am forced to go into landscape mode to retain line format. Unlike prose line breaks are important in many poems and can change the meaning of a line when the breaks are not in the right place.

The Scripture of the Golden Eternity is a collection of sixty-six poems written in what seems to me a prayer book. Each short poem is self-contained and is meant to be read and pondered on. Kerouac and the Beat version of Buddhism takes on its own unique form. Anyone with a knowledge of Buddhism who has read Dharma Bums understands this. It is not bad, but just a different Americanized, Beat interpretation.

Kerouac presents a compact version of his exploration into Buddhism and like many Americans he comes from a Christian or Catholic culture and attempts to reconcile his family religion with Buddhism. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity is a more mature view than the sometimes satirized Beat view that can be seen in Dharma Bums. A nice collection that is meant to be read and meditated upon.

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