Monthly Archives: December 2016

Poetry Review — Skurtu, România

Skurtu, România by Tara Skurtu

Skurtu, România by Tara Skurtu is the poet’s first published collection of poetry (chapbook). Skurtu is a Boston-based poet and translator currently living in Romania, where she is a 2015-17 Fulbright lecturer at Transilvania University of Brașov and is translating contemporary Romanian poetry. She is the recipient of two Academy of American Poets prizes, a Marcia Keach Poetry Prize, and a Robert Pinsky Global Fellowship.

From the back cover: In Skurtu, România, the poet lands physically and emotionally in the country of her families forgotten history, and she familiarizes herself in the forgotten place through the dynamic of an alienating love story.

This small collection packs plenty of imagery. It is not so much in direct descriptions places but a feeling. Her poetry reflects the Romania that exists in my Cold War era brain — a mix of ancient culture surrounded by the remnants of dead Soviet architecture and somehow a little bit of light breaking through. I can easily imagine the man downstairs singing Blondie’s “Maria” in a heavy accent or the men gathered around the 200lb loaf of potato bread and of course the cabbages. While discovering Romania there is a relationship and gaining and losing traction.

A nice collection of discovery and adapting to a new culture. Skurtu journey continues on her Twitter account, @TaraSkurtu and her full collection of poetry, The Amoeba Game, will also be available soon from Eyewear publishing

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Book Review — The Last Parallel

The Last Parallel by Martin Russ is a Marine’s journal of his experience in the Korean War. Russ was an American military author, Marine, and associate professor at Carnegie-Mellon University. He was born in Newark in 1931, attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., but dropped out in his junior year to join the Marines.

The journal opens with a description of Camp Pendleton. Although written thirty years before I joined the Marines, the areas of Camp Pendleton were still familiar to me. Although things change on Camp Pendleton, they change slowly. Twenty years after I left the Marines I could still recognize my old unit from the interstate. Perhaps this opening describing the base sets the scene for how little the Marine Corps, and for that matter, individual Marines change over time. If Russ didn’t identify himself as a Marine his mannerisms and general attitude would give it away very quickly. There is that confidence in his voice and that Marine attitude about what the Marine Corps does wrong. It’s not a condescending attitude but one of acceptance and just another day in the Corps.

Russ was trained as an armorer but wanted infantry. He did everything in his power to get attached to an infantry unit during the war and eventually succeeded. Russ does not seem overly patriotic or even overly gung-ho. He is much more the average Joe who wanted to experience combat. Unlike Vietnam veterans who have written about their experience. Russ does not develop a negative attitude towards the war or the government. He details his experience as well as the equipment used and the number of Marines and their individual weapons on patrols. There seems to be a bit of dry information in all the descriptions, but Russ blends it well into his story. Perhaps it’s that I served as a Marine and his narrative seems almost conversational — nothing seemed boring or dry.

The Last Parallel presents a side of war that is not usually seen in writing. There is no political or personal ax to grind nor is there the hatred of war. Russ is neither a glory seeker nor someone looking to make sergeant major. He writes an unbiased account of his experience and in a way that is very Marine-like. There is a bit of lighthearted swagger in his writing that keeps it interesting from beginning to end. A very well written account of an American at war.

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Poetry Review — Phoenixes Groomed as Genesis Doves

Phoenixes Groomed as Genesis Doves by Jasmine Farrell

Phoenixes Groomed as Genesis Doves by Jasmine Farrell is the poet’s second collection of poem. Farrell is a freelance writer and blogger from Brooklyn, NY. She has a Bachelors degree in Communications.

I wasn’t sure this was my type of poetry when it was first offered. The title drew me in with its combination of two different mythos. Both speak of rebirth after destruction– one from fire and the other from water. Reading the poems I found the same duality. The early poems in the collection speak of younger days with hopes and worries. The later poems take on more adult and contemporary issues including race and the institutionalized violence associated with it.

From her poems, it seems Farrell had always wanted to be a poet but not always supported in her goal. Like many people she felt a bit intimidated by those who “really know” poetry and poets. Her themes reflect this feeling with poems of winter and cold. Fighting this cold are dreams and a warm beat that took me back to my youth and hearing, for the first time, Rickie Lee Jones’ Young Bloods:

Shimmy when you feel a catchy tune

I shimmy at sunrise, wiggle flowers whenever rain storms drench the pedals.

There is that youthful attitude that knows things will get better. The youthful, young adult independence and the spirit of an artist bleeds through in “black ink.”

But, it is best to walk solo than with packs who feed off
your radiance, rather than cuddling their own.

Beauty is
your smile when you finally know your worth.

The reader will slowly see the poet slip into the realities of the modern world. Hopes and dreams are not necessarily crushed but they are damaged by the world around. Hope remains but so does the recognition of injustice and hypocrisy in life. Farrell does not lose hope for all the negatives she experiences. She reminds us that there is goodness and art in the world. Hope and reality battle through this collection, but like the phoenix the poet also rises. The dove in Genesis brought back proof of a better future when it returned with an olive branch following the flood. Farrell saves the best and most enlightened poem for last. Her closing stanza in the long and final poem “How I’m Doin'” ties everything together perfectly. It is her olive branch after the flood.

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Book Review — Vimy Ridge

Vimy Ridge by Alexander McKee is the history of the Canadian Corps in a decisive WWI battle. McKee OBE was a British journalist, military historian, and diver who published nearly thirty books. He was a WWII veteran and veteran of the British Army on the Rhine.

Most nation’s militaries have a defining moment in WWI. For the US Marines, it was Belleau Woods. For the Canadian Army, it was Vimy Ridge. The Canadian Corps’ four divisions battled three divisions of the German Sixth Army. The battle was fought from April 9-12 of 1917 which was Easter week that year. The Canadian forces would incur almost 11,000 casualties. German casualties are not known, but 4,000 Germans were taken prisoner by the Canadian forces.

McKee does an outstanding job of combining first-hand accounts and primary source material to create and a captivating story. Much of the book reads like well-written fiction instead of a historical account. First-hand accounts of the conditions inside the trenches are vivid in detail. From the muck that could swallow a man to the rats, that shared in trenches in seemingly equal numbers as the troops the conditions were deplorable. Death surrounded trenches. Not only the threat of death from going over the top, enemy aircraft, and artillery but literal death. Bodies littered no man’s land and even became parts of the parapets… not always complete buried. One soldier reported that crawling back from a raid he found himself stopped by enemy fire. Next to him was a corpse that had been rotting. Inside the corpse were two rats eating their way into their new home.

The conditions were bad and the leadership on both sides, but especially the French were not afraid to force large numbers of troops to charge into machine gun fire. The Allies believed that they could win the war by attrition. The Canadian forces fought as a unit for the first time. They like the US Marines fought as their own and were not filler troops for the European lines. It was the first time Canadian forces fought as independent Canada and not British forces. Actions in WWI like Vimy Ridge moved Canada from a Commonwealth to a nation on the world stage. Well written and important part of history for Canada as well as the nations involved in WWI.

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Informal review of HST Quarterly: Fall 2016

Well, I was in the middle of Petrarch’s lyrical poems listening to him go on and on about Laura. 366 poems about the love of his life that he never spoke a word too. The guy was completely obsessed. Today there would be a restraining order or he would be sharing a cell with John Hinckley sharing Laura and Jodie Foster stories. The guy was even jealous of the earth because when Laura died the earth would embrace her forever and he never could. That might be normal for a medieval poet but what about normal 21st-century poets? Then I picked up HST Quarterly.

HST is a quarterly poetry publication It stands for Horror, Sleaze, and Trash. So think of it for the very open minded, NC-17, cool kids market. I t does have shock value, but Ginsberg and Wilde shocked people too. This may be an opportunity to get in on future classic poetry. Things change. I mean Queen Elizabeth was at the 2012 Olympic opening ceremonies while “Pretty Vacant” was being played. For all we know, Liz and Johnny could have been high-fiving in the stands.

What to expect. If you are expecting Johnny Rotten, you will be as disappointed as someone expecting Carl Sandburg. But, if you want an original poetic experience and something to read in the shop and not have the guys laugh at you for reading poetry….this is it. The poetry is surprisingly good considering the expectations that the publication’s title offers. I have read a lot of bad poetry and this is not it.

Most of the poetry is for an adult audience although nothing too graphic. Chelsea Howard would make Petrarch gasp and inspire Dante’s second circle, but they are old guys and out of touch. JJ Campbell writes of what could only be a married couple with a long, long marriage. Angelica Fuse writes “Editors Can Be Dicks,” while the publication’s editor contributes two poems. All the poems are good and definitely worth reading. Johnny Scarlotti, however, cranks it up to eleven, twice. “Blue Whale” takes dolphin encounters to a brand new level and explains why it’s not the great white sharks that make it not safe to go back into the water. He follows up with “Toucan” a poem of seemingly new hope when seeing that there are others who are just a bad off as we are. There is that heartwarming feeling… and then there are the lines written on the side, as sort of a post script.

Overall, I did not read a poem I didn’t like which is odd in an anthology. I keep mentioning this is adult writing, the cover will give that away, but not too adult. HST does for poetry what R Crumb did for comics.

Image result for r crumb

This fine publication is available at: http://www.horrorsleazetrash.com/

I can’t wait to get to the Winter issue.

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