Monthly Archives: July 2016

Book Review — Song of Myself: With a Complete Commentary

Song of Myself: With a Complete Commentary by Walt Whitman is a sectional breakdown of the poem with two different commentators — Ed Folsom and Christopher Merrill. Folsom teaching and research have centered on nineteenth- and twentieth-century American poetry and culture. He earned his MA and PhD from the University of Rochester and currently the Roy J. Carver Professor of English at the University of Iowa. Merrill is an American poet, essayist, journalist and translator. Currently, he serves as director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

“Song of Myself” is often included in Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It has been called the core of Whitman’s poetry and something he edited throughout his life. It examines the self, the soul, America, the universe, and back down to the atoms. Whitman also openly hid references to the equality of races and sex in the poem. It reminded me of Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side where censors were so worried about the reference to “colored girls” that they missed the sexual reference and caused quite a stir. Likewise, Song of Myself was not well received by social conservatives and was threatened by the Baltimore district attorney for violating obscenity laws. Whitman’s view of race and sex extended beyond being progressive for his time.

The poem reads extremely well on its own and the commentary and afterword on each section help focus the reader on the changing themes of the poem. The first time I read Leaves of Grass, I just fell into the rhythm of the words and went blindly on with the flow. Folsom’s commentary deal directly with the section read. He discusses the social and historical aspects of what is written and compares them to today and the poems setting. Merrill draws on personal experience and his own travels to relate what Whitman is saying. The joint effort gives the reader two views that are easily understood but without any heavy-handedness. They work well with Whitman’s easy, open style.

Whitman’s view is all encompassing from the joining of body and soul to religion The poetry drifts into philosophy. His views of American society are compared and contrasted with Thoreau and his Whitman’s vision of America is compared with Tocqueville’s writing of American democracy. He writes of war as a soldier and a sailor, Manifest Destiny, and of Texas. He writes of the America that is, which is not always the America America thinks it is. He presents the reader with science from the atoms to the cosmos. This is Whitman’s life work and it is all encompassing. It is everything he saw and believed recorded as a poem to be passed on. He knows that he will die and he calls on the reader to discuss and criticize the poem and to become a co-creator to add to what he was written — To keep the poem alive as one would believe a soul lives on after death.

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Poetry Review — Take Nothing With You


Take Nothing With You by Sarah V. Schweig is the poet’s first full-length collection of poetry. Schweig is also the author of the chapbook S from Dancing Girl Press. Her poetry and criticism have appeared in many journals. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and Columbia University and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.

There is definitely a New York quality to Shweig’s writing. The city is the setting for most of the poems and is never too far away in the others. From the rooftops to the transit system the city is the star and it is limited only by the edge of the water.

Along the shore lie those who know there is no heaven, and no answer to our questions, and that ships leaving piers look like distant chandeliers.

Trains and the city present the backdrop to the poems. “Contingencies” reflects on graffiti and the juvenile delinquents who white out the graffiti of the Latin King. The “whiting” of the city is being done by black and latino children.

The poetry is modern in style, but not too complex. In “Rooms”:

At the bottom of the ocean, unreached by waves of light, there is no weather. Instead (so I’ve heard), a perfect species of albino fish never comprehends the concept of Surface.

The storm rolled in the Blue Rain.
It snuffed out cadmium ends of cigarettes pointellating the cityscape, neon
from the signs up and down Rain Street, and rising water erased
eyes from every picture frame.

The reading is enjoyable. There are plenty of water and big city themes in the writing. Not from New York, but from a large city myself, I revel in the city life. Schweig captures the good, bad, and the need to occasionally escape it. There is a flow and feeling of connection throughout the collection. Nothing is perfect, for example, the flow of “Brighton Beach” is punctuated by the train stop announcements on the route to the beach. It’s the hustle and bustle of the city that creates a rhythm and pulse. Some of the poems delve into relationships with the saddest being “To A Daughter.” Others reflect the poet’s feelings and experiences. A well-rounded collection of poetry. Complex, but not over demanding, Schweig creates a personal relationship with the reader.

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Poetry Review — bodys

bodys by Vanessa Roveto

bodys by Vanessa Roveto is the poet’s first collection of poetry. Roveto does not have much of a public biography. I did find this, “Vanessa Roveto is a writer living in the United States” which is further updated by the University of Iowa Press as “Vanessa Roveto is a writer living in the San Fernando Valley. ”

It is weird, sometimes, the way we like things. Why do you like blue or spaghetti? You just do and it does little good to explain it even if you could. bodys is something like that. I enjoyed it and was captivated by it, but the reasoning is difficult to explain. Starting with the title, it is neither (the proper) plural nor possessive, however, in practice, it could be both.

The opening poem drops the reader into an uncomfortable feeling situation. The reader is a voyeur who seems to have wandered into the wrong room at an adult party. Maybe it’s a shock at the start to get the reader’s attention but it continues through the collection. However, it is written in a manner that even if it’s not your type of thing you can’t look away or put down the book.

The writing style seems to be a mix of Whitman and William S Burroughs. There is a rhythm and flow the reader can get lost in while reading. This is balanced against a seemingly cut up style of word usage.

The time-sensitive woman moved without sentiment because after all a smile is nothing but a place that helicopters watch.

There are both overt and covert references to sex and sexual organs throughout the collection.

They met in the library stacks. The combination of graduate student and prostitute could not be underestimated.

A below-job is relevant in that it occurred, if for no other reason

The school for art, brushing upon its rich history of auto-vaginal insertion.

Poetry that is at least MA-17 but somehow does not seem offensive or something that might embarrass the reader while reading on a train commute to work. Well done in its own unique style and worthy of several reads.

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Poetry Review –The Rain in Portugal: New Poems

The Rain in Portugal: New Poems

The Rain in Portugal: New Poems by Billy Collins is the poet’s latest collection of poetry. This collection will be available on October 4, 2016. Collins is an American poet. He served two terms as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2001 to 2003. In his home state, Collins has been recognized as a Literary Lion of the New York Public Library (1992) and selected as the New York State Poet for 2004.

Collins breaks the stereotype of the stiff and stern poet. His writing is clear and he has a knack for blending the infinite with the common. He is a poet that can drop an f-bomb and not offend anyone. To be fair, though, he rarely uses it. He tells of his black cat whose two yellow circles of her eyes are the only sign that the black blob of an animal is approaching. In departing, he notes, there is only a single circle when her tail is held high. This is something he compares to Paul Revere’s lantern. Not one’s typical expectation of a national poet laureate.

In “Cosmology” he admits difficulty in the Hindu version of the earth resting on the backs of four elephants. Instead, he envisions the Earth resting on Keith Richards head. Richards with a Marlboro in one hand and a bottle of Jack Daniels in the other keeps the earth spinning and happy by talking about how the blues influenced the Rolling Stones. Collins,also, ponders what the weather would be like the day after he dies and what will happen in the world and in a small Ohio town after his death. “Tanager” presents two images one of wanting a walk in nature and the second the morning news that seems to interfere with the walk — Man’s world vs nature’s world.

Collins also presents the bigger picture of things. A lost child on the beach leads to thinking of America’s manifest destiny. A boy’s confusion on why a lobster is black and dark, not red. His writing about the first poem after the death of the English language has a humorous side but also an element of loss. Simple natural things such as biological needs tie directly into the universe in “Under the Stars.”

Collins has an uncanny ability to write poetry that is easy and enjoyable to read. Much of it lies in the open and on the surface with enough under it give it depth. His writing reads easy and smooth taking the reader along effortlessly. Many poets seem to try too hard to make their poetry work. Collins’ words, however, flow naturally even when talking about the rain in Portugal. Another great collection from an American treasure.

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Book Review –A Searchlight on the Navy

A Searchlight on the Navy by Hector C. Bywater

A Searchlight on the Navy by Hector C. Bywater is an examination of naval strengths and goals of the world powers in the interwar period. Bywater (1884-1940) was a British journalist, military author, and spy primarily focused on naval affairs. His 1925 work The Great Pacific War correctly predicted many of the actions that the Japanese and Americans took during WWII; indeed, it was later revealed that many military leaders had used it as a resource in their strategic planning.

A Searchlight on the Navy was originally written in 1934 as the world was building up for another conflict. The London Naval Treaty of 1934 set to limit submarine and naval shipbuilding. Previously, the Washington Treaty worked to limit navies sizes and type of ships. This wasn’t just a military decision. Capital ships were expensive and that burden was placed on the country’s’ taxpayers. European countries were already drained economically by WWI and limiting naval build up by all countries would allow money to be put to better use. The United States, although having two large coastlines, did not see a reason for a large navy. No country was close enough to present a threat. However, Japanese expansion in the Pacific did present a hindrance for trade and influence.

It seems many of the pre-war ideas remained in place during the interwar years. Britain with the largest navy wanted to hold its place of power to ensure the free flow of goods throughout the empire. America was criticized by Britain for building a merchant fleet instead of relying on British ships. Japan was looking to spread its influence in the Pacific. Italy and France were locked in their own arms race. France still feared Germany. Germany began expanding its military beyond pocket battleships.

Bywater gives a detailed account of ships, armament, and advancements in the interwar period. Naval limitations were a complex issue with each party wanting their own goals and ships that best served their interests. Technologies were changing from guns sizes to the introduction of aircraft carriers. Aircraft carriers provided an interesting discussion as to their role in the navy. Were they part of the naval fleet or mobile airfield that should be covered by another treaty.

Naval limitations seemed to be a subject more complex than nuclear arms reduction talks of the Cold War. Complicated not only by the type and number of ship, but also the number of countries involved. With the Second World War half a decade away, the promise of naval reductions seemed doomed. Although less than two decades previous, Europe experienced a devastating war, it did not seem willing to prevent the next war. Japan still riding high from its victory over Russia and its current expansion into Asia saw little to stop its rise to power. Bywater gives a British look at the moment between two world wars.

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Book Review –The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America

The Path to War by Michael S. Neiberg

The Path to War: How the First World War Created Modern America by Michael S. Neiberg is an examination of how and why the United States became involved in World War I. Neiberg earned his PhD from Carnegie Mellon University. He is currently Professor of History, Department of National Security and Strategy, US Army War College.

When asking a reasonably informed American why the US became involved in WWI and why it sided with the Allies instead of the Central Powers the response would probably be the Lusitania or maybe even the Zimmerman telegram. The Lusitania, however, was attacked and sunk two years before the US declared war. The Zimmerman telegram was a plan that was still in the idea stage. Zimmerman sent it to the German ambassador in Mexico and it did not evolve much from there. Britain, however, held it like a carrot in front of the American war machine.

There were mixed feelings in the US. Irish-Americans were torn between loyalty to the US and loyalty to their kinsmen wanting home rule. German-Americans were also divided at the start of the war. Americans as a whole want to stay out of the conflict. It was barely fifty years before that America was involved in a very bloody Civil War. Not many were willing to bleed for Europe. Siding with the allies was not a sure thing either. America demanded freedom of the seas and trade for neutrals. Britain created an extensive list of contraband items including cotton, much to the dismay of the American South. More than any country involved in the conflict, Britain needed the US to intervene. First, it relied on imports for the majority of its food supply and Germany was taking a toll on its merchant fleet. Secondly, Britain was going bankrupt. It was spending itself out of the war.

In the US, the war became a political issue that few wanted to side with. Even as Wilson’s “Too proud to fight” speech was mocked most wanted neutrality. The countries fighting were for the most part monarchies and most had empires. This had little in common with American ideals of democracy and independence. However, the international pressures were moving the US closer to war; it would only be a matter of time. In fact, just five months after Wilson won the presidential election with the slogan “He kept us out of war,” America was at war.

Neiberg examines the internal factors that drew the US into the European war as well as the external pressures. Like WWI, itself, there is no one reason for going to war but a string of events that lead the US to fight over there. America was not militarily prepared for the fight and even its recent military efforts to track down Poncho Villa in Mexico were a failure. The navy was out of date and a long way from Theodore Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet. America had become complacent in its geographical isolation. The Path to War sheds light on the real reasons the US, reluctantly, entered the conflict. Neiberg digs deep into the domestic issues of the United States and provides the answers. Some answers are expected and others are not usually mentioned in history books. World War I was a war that should not have happened on the scale it did. There were so many pieces that had to be perfectly placed or totally ignored for a regional conflict to grow into a worldwide war. America’s entrance into the war was not as clear cut as many like to think, however, it was the start of America’s rise as a world power.

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Poetry Review — Born to Love, Cursed to Feel

You are reckless, selfish, stubborn, sometimes rude
….
May God have Mercy on your soul
For you are truly lost

Born to Love, Cursed to Feel

Born to Love, Cursed to Feel by Samantha King is possibly her first collection of poetry. King does not give a bio and it is difficult which Samantha King she is in a Google search. All I know about the poet is that she is associated with r.h. Sin. I hate to compare her work to his work but there is a clear connection in their style and themes. King really should give some background even if it is fictional.

King writes about relationships. Most do not end well and leave the poet exhausted in her efforts to keep them going or perhaps better them. Some poems are about the relationship, but many are the after effects. “Goodbye” describes the pain of a broken relationship with the realization that life goes on:

The sky didn’t come crashing down
Air still flows through my lungs
Blood surges through my veins

The “Vow of Silence” is a mere four lines that express more than four paragraphs could. Her writing comes in powerful bursts. The longer poems are ballads to despair, desolation, and dejection. Here the reader must rely on line breaks and capitalization while reading. Punctuation marks, with the exception of question marks, are practically nonexistent. This seems to add to the raw and primal feelings of the writer and adds to, rather than takes away from, the structure and readability. A casual reader may not even notice the absence of punctuation.

King;s poetry details efforts and feelings which are ignored or simply taken advantage of. “Fool Me Twice” shows that the narrator sets herself up to be hurt. It is a delicate balance between giving too much or not enough and to whom the giving is done.

Confession
I hate you wouldn’t quite do it
I forgive you isn’t quite my speed
I regret meeting you would be a lie
The best thing for me was removing you from my life
That, I am sure of

and

To coming to terms with the fact that just because you
Love someone
Doesn’t mean you’re supposed to be with them

Not all is dark. “Devotion” and “Home” are the candles in this collection. Taking this collection in a balance it is easy to see how lopsided it is in the favor of darkness and broken relationships. Perhaps it is a reflection on St. Francis of Assisi quote, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” There is plenty of darkness everywhere. Day divides the night, the depths of the oceans or the edges of the universe. Still, the smallest bit of light conquers the darkness. King clearly demonstrates the amount of darkness but always seems to move to the light, if not always reaching it. One sided relationships are left behind. Instead of open rage and violence that is seen so often today, she takes the high road, even in her use of words. There is plenty of anger and disappointment in her voice but she remains in control of her emotions even though her writing delivers a powerful punch to the reader.

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Book Review — The Eden Conspiracy (The Liberty Box #2)

The Eden Conspiracy by C.A. Gray

The Eden Conspiracy by C.A. Gray is the second book in theLiberty Box series. Gray is the author of the YA FantasyPiercing the Veil trilogy, as well as the NA Dystopian series,The Liberty Box. By day, she is a Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD), with a primary care practice in Tucson, Arizona. Additionally, she writes medical books under her real name. She holds a BS in Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics from the University of Arizona, with minors in Spanish and Creative Writing. She also teaches college chemistry and writes a weekly column in the Tucson Citizen called “Natural Medicine Tips”

I usually do not read much contemporary fiction, especially Young or New Adult, but Gray seems to add an extra level to her writing . In the first book, I noted the historical play on the idea of a republic and democratic people’s republics. The thought of being safe and secure is actually more important than actual safety or security is also played through this series. Gray continues on this deeper level with the problems of revolution. What does one do when the rebel leadership seems as totalitarian as the regime being fought? The promised land of freedom in The Eden Conspiracy is called New Estonia. I wondered why the choice was Estonia. It is a rather small country with little bearing on world affairs. But, being old enough to remember the maps from the cold war, the former Soviet Baltic states border had a note: “The United States does not recognize the incorporation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania into the USSR.” Whether or not Estonians knew it they were a symbol of the struggle for freedom at least in the eyes of the US government.

On the surface level, the story reads well and moves at a good pace without anything to throw off the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Granted it is science fiction but Gray’s fiction is remarkable in creating a believable story. The dynamics of the rebel group are realistic and add to the drama. Kate moves to center stage in this edition. The reader will see her grow from the spoiled, upper-middle-class news darling to a real person. Her days of simply being a talking head are over. She faces challenges as a rebel and as someone who wants to contribute. Her personal life is also in turmoil as her perfect husband in the old world does not seem to be the perfect man when out of his element. She works closely with Jackson whose element is the new reality. She finds herself emotionally torn.

Gray continues her streak of great writing. This is not my usual reading material, but I can definitely see the worth of this series. The Liberty Box series as well as <i>Piercing the Veil </i>are quality literature for the Young Adult crowd. It is also written smartly enough to hold an adult’s interest and pick up on things that a younger reader might miss. The Liberty Box series has action, the good fight, a strong female lead character, and a timely message on the perception of reality. Extremely well done.

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Book Review — Roots and Shoots

Root and Shoot by Nathan Leslie
Roots and Shoots by Nathan Leslie is his seventh book of short fiction. Leslie is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection. His first novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012. His next collection of short stories, Sibs, will be published by Aqueous Books in the spring. His short stories, essays, and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, South Dakota Review, and Cimarron Review. He was the series editor for The Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years. He is currently the fiction editor for Newport Review.

I first came across Leslie’s writing in the 2016 Best Short Fictions. The story was called “The New Cycle” (which is also included in this collection). It was dark and a bit disturbing but in an engaging way. Many of his stories a leave the impression that the reader has walked into the middle of a conversation and what is heard is not meant for his or her ears, and not knowing the complete context makes things a bit uneasy. I read several stories before going to bed and when I awoke the next morning, I felt like I heard some terrible news, like a death of a friend. It was a haunting and I couldn’t place or shake the malaise. It took some time before I convinced myself that Melek was just a character in the story “Huzun.” Not all the stories have this strong of an effect but every story lives on after the reader is finished.

Leslie can turn the mundane into the interesting. A homeless man, simply known as the “Pickle Man,” is such a story. There is no rise or climax to the story, yet it is a story that commands the reader’s interest. “Upgrade” follows an Eastern European’s journey through American holidays Halloween, Labor Day, Independence Day, and the minor holidays ending with Valentine’s Day. It is an outsider’s view of things Americans take for granted or have forgotten the meaning. To an outsider, things may seem more complex. On the topic of complex, several stories revolve around relationships. Relationships between those in love, those looking for attention, family, and strangers. How much would you be willing to do for a couple you just met? Would you commit a felony for them after only befriending a few hours earlier?

The stories have great range in subject matter and to my surprise, the stories did not have the pattern of the same author telling a string of stories. Leslie creates a different persona for each story keeping the narrative fresh and new. The tone stays level and neutral to dark. There are no rainbow or unicorn stories here. This collection reaches into real life and real people. Life is tough at times and things rarely go as we expected them to go. It’s how people react to these changes that make people or characters interesting. Leslie shows his ability to channel all these variables and weave them into memorable stories.

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Book Review — The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified

The Miracle Myth: Why Belief in the Resurrection and the Supernatural Is Unjustified by Lawrence Shapiro is a look at the justification of what we believe. Shapiro is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He is the author of The Mind Incarnate, Embodied Cognition, which won the American Philosophical Association’s Joseph B. Gittler Award for the best book in the philosophy of the social sciences, Zen and the Art of Running. He is also the editor of The Routledge Handbook of Embodied Cognition.

Shapiro presents an interesting argument not so much in changing beliefs but looks at justification for beliefs. He frequently turns to Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon as a historical example of an event in the past and why it should be believed. Before turning to historical events Shapiro sets some guidelines and definitions. Miracle, for example, is a word with many meanings from the”Miracle on Ice” to medical reversals to water into wine. Evidence shows stage four cancer kills a person almost all the time, but not every time. Remission is a remote but possible outcome. Chance, coincidence, and plain luck are mathematically possible and do not indicate a miracle or the supernatural.

Another idea along the same medical lines is an imaginary disease the author creates. It will cause a painful death if it is not caught early enough. The patient in the story has been tested and found to have the disease. The doctor says not to worry there is a cure with side effects that are permanent and very unpleasant. The patient asks the doctor if he is sure of the test results. The doctor said the test is 99.9% accurate. If the patient wants to risk a 1-1,000 shot he can. A helpful friend who happens to be a statistician busts into the office and asks “What is the baseline?” Seemingly an unimportant question since a 1 in 1,000 shot is always a 1-1,000 shot. But it’s not. The imaginary disease infects only 1 in 10,000,000 (baseline). That means testing the 10,000,000 people does not present one positive, but 10,000. The actual chance the person who tested positive for being positive for the disease is 1-10,001. Much better odds than 9.99% positive.

The idea of belief and justified belief is a matter of examination and evidence. A person can believe in whatever they want, but it depends if that belief is justified. Growing up in Cleveland I believed that the Indians would win the world series next year every year. How many years can a team go without winning the World Series? It is at least 68 years. Belief in a change doesn’t make it happen or justified.

Shapiro creates a religion that is obviously ridiculous, then moves to Mormonism, and the resurrection of Jesus and holds them to equal scrutiny. He uses historical tests to comparing Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon to the above examples — Historical written records both from supporters and enemies, physical evidence, reliable accounting, and implicating consequences. Needless to say, the results fall into what can be expected. When incredible reports are made, all explanations need to be looked at before accepting that it is a miracle. An advanced race of aliens can be equally credible as the supernatural.

As Arthur C Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Supernatural could easily replace the word “magic.” Shapiro uses reason and evidence to make his point and holds miracles in history to the same standards as one would any other historical event. Evidence of the supernatural and supernatural forces acting in the natural world is nonexistent in reason or logic. Faith in the supernatural is different because it requires no physical proof. Shapiro’s goal and purpose of the book are studying the justification of the belief miracles. He treats all the historical events with the same standards so there is a repeating of steps throughout the book. The reading is enjoyable as Shapiro breaks up the philosophy and historical tests with humor. For those expecting a Richard Dawkins attack on religion, you’ll be disappointed. Shapiro writes without malice and looks to reason and the evidence to make his points.

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