Monthly Archives: June 2016

Poetry Review — Pretty Dirty Things

Dirty Pretty Things by Michael Faudet

Dirty Pretty Things by Michael Faudet is a best-selling collection of poetry. To be honest, the title pulled me in. I am not much for romantic poetry and I don’t read erotica, but something in this book seemed to hold promise. The range of poetry is wide, to say the least, from cutesy to something the other side of candied vulgarity. From serious to sophomoric. Somewhere in that mix, I found what I liked. At times there was the thrill of being outside my comfort zone yet still other times it was over the top. It is easy to see why this would be a best seller. There is something for everyone in this collection — from the meek to the overtly adventurous.

Some of the writing is inspired:

Second Chance

We kissed beneath the twisted trees,
our lips between the stars,
tiny ripples in a lake
this love, once lost,
is ours.

Some a bit “punk”


Her perfume reminded me of freshly picked
flowers and sticky candy floss, mixed with
a gentle hint of debauchery


Curious girl

She was a curious girl,
who loved the smell
of old books,
chasing butterflies,
and touching herself
under the covers.


“Fuck me like you hate me” she purred, her lips curled up into a
teasing point.

The collection certainly has range and a style dependent on the tone — from quality to the lowest common denominator. I liked perhaps 80% of what I read. It was not the subject matter that turned me off the other 20% but the method in which it was expressed. Faudet seemed to lower his writing style and quality when writing more primal and vulgar poems. It is like he turned from poet to a trashy romance novelist whenever he mentions panties. The socially acceptable is well written and at times beautiful. The more animal side of love, or lust, takes on a more sensational, shocking, and simplistic style of writing. I can’t tell if this is intentional or not, but it works. From an intellectual point of view, the writing pulls the reader in and periodically repulses him or her only to be pulled back in again. It is a repeating cycle through the collection where Faudet is playing with the reader or perhaps it is incidental. I am going to go with the former because it seems to tie the whole theme of relationships, vodka, loss, and renewal together very nicely.

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Book Review — The Dark Island

The Dark Island by Vita Sackville-West

The Dark Island is a novel that follows Shirin for the best part of four decades. The book is divided into four sections and four ages — sixteen, twenty-six, thirty-six , and forty-six. Shirin has a “crush” on an island called Storn. Every year her family vacations at Port Brenton a coastal town with the island of Storn off the coast. Shirin favorite picture is of the island, dark, and hidden features. She never visits the island during her family vacation. The island was sacred and she did not want to contaminate it visiting it on a tourist ferry. In her sixteenth year, she meets Venn who is occupying her hiding place at Port Brenton. She finds out that Venn is actually heir to Storn and meets his grandmother. An instant bond forms Shirin and the grandmother. Shirin sees a violent and controlling side to Venn but still agrees to see him the next day. Unfortunately, a family emergency forces Shirin and her family home. For the next ten years, she forces her family to break the tradition of vacationing in Port Brenton. The story picks up ten years later with Venn and Shirin would meet again in London.

Shirin carries some of the author in her character. Vita had that “rock star” aura where people, threw themselves at her. Shirin had much the same. She left a trail of broken hearts and hopeful men in London. She loved to be loved but had trouble loving anyone. Shirin like Sackville-West could not be tied down and held herself to bigger things than people. Shirin’ love of Storn and Sackville-West loved Knole House and later Sissinghurst castle. This same theme is repeated in All Passion Spent with Lady Slane and the apartment in Hampstead.

Overall an interesting story and like most of Sackville-West’s work, it is important to understand the author and her life. Vita Sackville-West wrote what she knew and that was her life. She was able to loosely base novels on events in her life with great success. This book also helps explain this picture of the author.


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Book Review — All Passion Spent

“Nothing matters to an artist except the fulfilment of his gift.” Without it “All meaning goes out of life, and life becomes existence — a makeshift.”

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville- West is a novel on reflecting back on life. Sackville-West, was an English poet, novelist, and garden designer. A successful and prolific novelist, poet, and journalist during her lifetime—she was twice awarded the Hawthornden Prize for Imaginative Literature: in 1927 for her pastoral epic, The Land, and in 1933 for her Collected Poems—today she is chiefly remembered for the celebrated garden at Sissinghurst she created with her diplomat husband.

The introduction by Victoria Glendinning makes the observation that Virginia Woolf wrote in an androgynous style. Sackville-West wrote as a masculine woman which complimented her husband’s feminine streak. Just as Shakespeare’s Mark Antony came to bury Caesar, not praise him, Sackville-West claimed not to be a feminist. She would join in a discussion with “I am not a feminist, but….” She was not a diplomat’s or politician’s wife. She did not give up her freedom to be attached to a man in marriage. Throughout her career, she remained Vita (or V) Sackville-West and not Mrs. Harold Nicolson or Lady Nicolson. Many aspects of her life appear in her writings.

The novel opens with Lord Slane’s death. Lady Slane is surrounded by her children looking to divide up the estate and who will take charge of their eighty-eight-year-old mother. Her eldest son is sixty-eight years old. It is very much the old deciding what to do with the older. Lady Slane was the dutiful wife of the Viceroy of India and member of the House of Lords. The children wonder what will their mother do now. Her whole life was standing by her husband’s side and now that he is dead, what does she have to live for? Lady Slane surprises her children and decides that she will live by herself in essentially the suburbs. She saw an apartment thirty years ago and it never left her mind. She will take Genoux her eighty-six-year-old maid and leave. Other than that she wishes to be left alone — No children, grandchildren, or great-grandchildren.

Lady Slane meets with the landlord, Mr. Bucktrout, whose name she remembered the name from thirty years ago. She becomes friends with Mr. Bucktrout an eccentric in his own ways. Bucktrout was not near the class equal of Lady Slane, but she did not allow that to interfere. This ends part one of the book. Part two consists mostly of Lady Slane’s reflections of her life. It ends with almost a poetic comparison of what she sees riding through the desert and what her husband sees. It plays well into the description of Lady Shane being intelligent, well read, and an admirer of beauty, however, she could not write a check, follow stocks, or understand her husband’s duties. There is a clear line drawn between the man’s world and the woman’s world. She recalls being the leader in “follow the leader” with her children, but faithfully followed her husband’s lead in the real world.

Part three brings closure to the book Lady Slane meets two people, one old and one new, who fill out her life story and the family’s future. She is reminded of her life and her dreams. Her husband cheated her of her chosen life as an artist although she never mentions actually painting. Her husband gave her and ample life. “According to his lights, he gave you all you could desire. He merely killed you, that’s all.” The idea of giving up a dream for a very comfortable life. The book draws to a conclusion that is fitting and well told. The novel is more than writing for writing’s sake. It examines the issues of the times and the role of women. For an eighty-year-old book ,many of the issues in the novel still exist today.

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Book Review — Yevgeny Onegin

Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin

Yevgeny Onegin by Alexander Pushkin is a Russian masterpiece of literature. Pushkin was a Russian poet, playwright, and novelist of the Romantic era who is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Pushkin was born into Russian nobility in Moscow.

I picked up this book because it was listed as poetry. I later asked a Russian friend about the book and she said it was magnificent, but never read it in English. It dawned on me that this is much more than just a simple translation from Russian. It is essentially a novel-length poem that must be translated. I understand the difficulty of translation but adding in meter and rhyme patterns, especially without sounding repetitive, is extremely difficult in translations. It’s nearly impossible to keep the author’s original meaning in the pattern he created.

Perhaps almost as brilliant as the novel itself is the explanation of the translations. The historical descriptions and efforts to treat line and rhyme translations are fascinating. One of the major problems in translating Russian poetry involves feminine rhymes. Feminine rhymes are rhyming words where the last syllable is unstressed. The Russian language is full of natural feminine rhymes, but English is not. Rhyme, chime, dime, time are all masculine rhymes. The last syllable is stressed and that creates the rhyme. This works well in English where the poems are written in iambic meter, meaning the last syllable is stressed. Feminine rhymes are words the rhyme on the last unstressed syllable, like pleasure and leisure or painted and acquainted. The last syllable is not stressed. To create this rhyme suffixes are added to words. This can create boring and repetitive rhymes in English and destroy the more commonly expected iambic meter. Feminine rhymes are important in Russian poetry and even play a role in the title. In English, the book is often translated to Eugene Onegin. But in Russian, the title Yevgeny Onegin is a small feminine poem:

Yev-ge-ny / An-ye-gin

Each word one iambic foot ending in an unstressed syllable and creating the feminine rhyme.

Pushkin also writes in the fourteen line sonnet form with a fixed rhyme scheme, adding his own minor changes to the original format. First, the initial line is shortened by a foot. Secondly, he freely switches between English and Italian sonnet formats at will. He sticks to his rules but not necessarily everyone else’s rules.

This is a book where the introduction is important and informative. Many times people will pick up a book and skip over the lengthy introduction and jump into the story. Sometimes the reader catches on and other times the reader get frustrated and puts the book done. Granted, at times, introductions are boring, but here the introduction provides detailed information about the story, it’s structure, it’s translation and translation history. It acts as an appetizer for the novel. The reader will enter the novel fully informed and eager to enjoy.



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Book Review — Zoo

ZOO by Otsuichi

Zoo by Otsuichi is a collection of Japanese short stories. Otsuichi is the pen name of Hirotaka Adachi, born 1978. He is a Japanese writer, mostly of horror short stories, as well as a filmmaker. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of Japan and the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan.

There was a time when American horror was something more than slashers, vampires, and werewolves. Today, slashers control the movies and hipster vampires and werewolves control television. Stephen King keeps keeping on with his brand of horror, but it has been a while since he turned out something as great as his 1970s and 1980s books. Something turned my attention to Japanese horror with the release of The Ring and The Grudge. Otsuichi captures some of this freshness in horror. Granted I am a very casual horror reader but, I grew up reading The Omen, The Exorcist, and Gary Brandner’s The Howling. They introduced something that felt different. Otsuichi does the same.

That all being said one of my favorite stories in this collection is a slasher type story. It was just so different from what I expected. The range of stories is fairly wide which each story taking a bit of different angle in suspense or terror. Divorce can be a terrible thing for a child but having it develop into an actual horror story is a unique take. Two stories gave the feeling of a modern Frankenstein tale, but on a much different tangent. Sibling stories included in the collection also have a distinct tone to them. The story of the twins will leave the reader wondering how does a parent choose a favorite and how superficial is that decision.

The title story, “Zoo”, sets the tone for the entire collection — dark and at times very demented, but always different. I stopped reading horror when it became predictable, single tracked, or too “hipster-like” for my tastes. I don’t plan on reading horror on a regular basis but this book was definitely a treat and nice break in my normal reading genres and reminded me why I used to love horror.

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Book Review — Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers

Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers by Philip Stokes

Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers by Philip Stokes is a pocket reference of philosophers in general terms. Stokes is British-born Thai philosopher. He completed his BA in philosophy in 1993 at the University of Reading, and his MA in philosophy in 1995 at University of Bristol, both in the United Kingdom. In 2011, Stokes was teaching English language and critical thinking skills at Thai University.

This is a handy guide for those looking for a philosopher to study up on or perhaps refresh your memory. If you can’t remember where Engels, Marx, and Lenin differed in ideology this book can help. Again it is all in simple terms and by no means complete. Thomas Aquinas is covered, but no mention of his Just War Theory. Each philosopher gets between one and three pages so much is left out. However, the number of philosophers covered makes up for the quantity of information. It essentially covers Thales of Miletus to Noam Chomsky. The coverage of the different schools of philosophy, overall, is well done.

Philosophy 100 Essential Thinkers does a fine job of completing what it sets out to do. It is an excellent quick reference. It also provides a map to the history philosophy allowing the reader to search his or her own interest. Stokes also creates starting points for the reader to expand on with additional works. In the Kindle edition, there are also quick links in the text that allow the reader to follow concepts shared between or expanded upon by other philosophers.

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Notes on The Social Contract

The Social Contract by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

An update to the previous…

Rousseau probably has the most recognized opening line in political theory/philosophy.

“Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains.”

The idea of the social contract is to move man from the state of nature (with unlimited freedom and limited security) to a society. The society is a compromise where a man gives up his unlimited freedom and receives security in exchange. Giving up freedom never sounds like a good idea, but Rousseau makes his point. In the state of nature, a man devotes much of his time protecting his stuff. If someone takes you stuff you are free to punish the offender (if you are capable). In society, you lose the right to punish offenders and forfeit that right to a legal system. There are rules that are enforced by law so one does not need to spend all his time guarding his stuff. There is an exchange of freedom — a loss counteracted with a gain i.e. freedom to do something other than guarding your stuff.

Rosseau promotes the idea of a general will. Society, all its members, provide a voice for direction. It is all the voices that determine the general will. Although not always practical many societies result to representative legislatures, Although this limits the individual voices, it can work unless:

1) Factions are formed (political parties…especially when there are only two)
2) Members of the legislature coming under the influence of interests (rich, corporations, musket lobby)

Rousseau writes much in the way of a democratic society always doing the right thing by following the general will — the majority view, which should be very large since every voice is heard as an individual. You are not limited only two opinions or parties. Society should move along very well and move along in the utmost of fairness and justice. Rousseau is often cited as the father of modern democracy.

Rousseau is also credited as the Father of modern totalitarianism. The general will idea plays well into the hands of tyrants. Look how many dictators get elected and reelected with 97% of the vote. General will all the way! Perhaps a bit more chilling is Rousseau comments on what happens if you disagree with the general will. Rousseau states rather simply that, everyone makes mistakes. It’s OK. It happens. Society will simply force you to be free.

I totally made up the “musket lobby” but I imagine the reader gets the jest of it.

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Book Review — Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice

Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice by Charles Edward Callwell is the reprint of the 1896 publication. This edition is from Endeavour Press. Callwell (1858-1928) was an Anglo-Irish officer who ended his career as a major-general and received a knighthood for his services. He personally fought in the 1880 Afghan War, the 1880-1 First Boer War, the 1897 Greco-Turkish War, and the 1899-1902 Second Boer War before retiring in 1909.

Seldom is it the big wars that bog us down, WWI being the notable exception. It is the little ones that cause the most problems for governments and nations. War historically has been seen as large armies moving against each other. WWII, the American Civil War, the Napoleonic Wars all were mainly large forces against large forces. However, many conflicts of colonial powers, especially England and France, involved fighting small local bands of rebels or securing peace on their terms. Small war fighting did not go unnoticed in America either. The interwar period saw the US Marines engaged in several actions throughout latin America. Later this experience would get the Marines into Vietnam as the small war experts…thirty years after the fact.

Callwell draws on personal experience and history to show the success and failure of military units in small wars. He explains what tactics should be used and why. Similarly, he explains why some traditional thinking does not work in smaller scale conflicts. Some of the examples seem humorous (in hindsight) and typical of the military and military intelligence. One example was the taking of a fortified position in the middle of the jungle. There were no roads and men, equipment, and animals had to cut a path through the heavy jungle to reach the objective. When they finally arrived, they found the fort to be not only unfortified and unarmed, but a lamasery occupied by a single monk. The tactics are good and most have stood the test of time; however, some are dated. Modern GPS, equipment, and MREs (rather than food on the hoof) have simplified some aspects. The primitive enemy now is more than likely to have the internet and satellite communications and operate much more coordinated than the Zulu or Boers. Also, the Camel Corps is most probably a thing of the past.

An extremely important military book that has been modified and updated by modern services, but still many of its lesson are lost in actual combat.

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Book Review — Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: Bookmarked

Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five by Curtis Smith

Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five: Bookmarked by Curtis Smith is part of IG Publishing’s series of Bookmarked books. Authors are invited to share their story of the book that influenced them the most. I have never met Curtis Smith, but it would almost seem that I knew him for a long time. We have quite a bit in common. We are both from northern cities, fathers, spent money on books as kids, fascinated by shortwave radio, enjoy history especially WWI, and are almost the same age. The writing seems very familiar and almost as though we walked the same path. Smith went to college after high school and became a teacher. I went to the Marines after high school. There is the split. Smith wonders what the military and the possibility of dead bodies would have been an experience he could have endured. I wonder if a classroom of middle school children is something I could have survived.

I first encountered Smith’s work in Best Small Fictions 2016. His contribution was called “Illusions.” After posting my review he asked me if I wanted to read his latest book on the book that inspired him the most — Slaughterhouse Five. I said, “yes” thinking it had to be pretty dark — the firebombing of a city and, from what I recalled, a mentally broken soldier. I read Slaughterhouse Five back in the early 1980s and that is what I remembered of it. I re-read it again before starting on Curtis’ book not trusting my memory and came away with a better understanding. Perhaps I was a bit like the Marine major Billy Pilgrim meets at the Lion’s Club in those days.

Smith starts but telling the reader about the book. It is the 29th most banned book in the United States. In fact, a North Dakota school burned all their copies in the firestorm of the school’s furnace. It has been called anti-Christian and obscene without seeing that the true obscenity lies in the destruction of a beautiful city and the amount of human bone meal the new city is built over. “So it goes” punctuates the violence and acts to numb the reader and allow him or her to simply accept violence and mass murder as something that naturally happens. There is so much horror in the book, but it is broken up with a dark humor. Billy Pilgrim is a walking cartoon for most of his military service and time as a prisoner of war — covered with a too small, fur collared jacket and silver boots.

Paul Lazzaro is the evil man in the story. He promises to kill Billy to avenge the death of Roland Weary who blames Billy for his gangrene and pending death. Lazzaro is by no means a nice guy but he kills Billy with a laser rifle. The whole mockery of death. Slaughterhouse Five was written in 1969. At the time, a laser was seen as a weapon that could split an atom at 20 at light years. Billy’s killer uses precision to accomplish his goal. The bombing of Dresden was the indiscriminate killing thousands. One was evil and the other is accepted.

“A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.”
Josef Stalin, attributed.

So it goes.

Smith writes in a Tralfamadorian style seemingly jumping randomly from one point to another. It works extremely well and earthlings are clued in on the changes by inserted factoids about exemplary humans like Blokhin, the sporting contest of Mukai and Noda in China, and the origin of the word genocide. Smith also includes his stories of growing up, raising a son, and dealing with common core education.

Smith discusses PTSD and talks of a famous picture of a WWI soldier suffering from shell shock. The black and white adding additional emotion to a haunting picture. I am reminded of Septimus Warren Smith from Virginia Woolf’sMrs. Dalloway. Woolf also entered my mind when Smith was discussing walking along the beach with his wife and son watching the waves. He also reminds the reader of modern literature in the world today. Conservative, Christian leaders in government service preaching the genius of Ayn Rand while missing the point that she was anti-service, an atheist, and a critic of Ronald Reagan.

The biographical information and the discussion ofSlaughterhouse Five tie in superbly. It was like sitting down with an old friend and talking about the past and about that book we read long ago. Far from the dark and depressing story, I was expecting, Smith’s writing on his life and Vonnegut is leveled with good and bad. His historical references in the book prevent it from being a “feel good” book and levels the tone. But all the same, it is a book that embraces the reader into a comfortable learning discussion. Like Slaughterhouse Five’s mixture of humor and horror, Smith finds his mix of book and biography. An outstanding take on life, the world, and the book.

Smith, like Vonnegut, ends his book with a bird’s call of “Poo-tee-weet?” Why does a bird tweet interrogatively? That puzzled me. What could a bird possibly ask? Then I remembered this from Auguries of Innocence and M Train by Patti Smith:

They know, I thought, like the birds of Iraq before shock and awe on the first day of spring. It was said that the sparrows and songbirds stopped singing, their silence heralding the dropping of bombs.

Perhaps the birds are asking is it over, or more likely “arethey over?”

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Poetry Review — Navy Blue

Navy Blue by Steve Meagher

Navy Blue by Steve Meagher is the poet’s first book of poetry. Meagher grew up in Oakville, Ontario. His poems have appeared in Carousel, The Nashwaak Review, and Ottawa Arts Review. He lives in Toronto.

Sharp, jagged, and possibly scarring. The words cut deep even when there are only a few. From watching his sister on her deathbed to grandpa’s bedtime stories, Meagher captures emotion and raw sense of reality. Even the poets in this collection are a strong and dark breed:

The poets of Mimco
They’ll slit your throat
For a dollar and a quarter.


The streets carry me softly
I push away the bright lights
So I can run with the poets
I can say things to the factories.

There is a capturing of what we all share even when it is something we would rather forget. That cheating redneck neighbor is the poet’s “My Pal Sal.” His collection of friends is recorded in “New Saints.” — Shark Tooth, Scarecrow, Tin Man…

Meagher takes the reader to a gritty place of growing up with the street rather than “home.” We question our own mortality and survival. Navy Blue is to poetry what Hubert Selby Jr was to fiction and Lou Reed was to music.

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