Monthly Archives: February 2017

Poetry Review — Theogony and Works and Days: A New Bilingual Edition

Theogony and Works and Days: A New Bilingual Edition by Hesiod is a collection of ancient Greek poetry.  Hesiod wrote in the late 8th Century BC.  His work is preserved in dactyl hexameter and in over fifty sources exist.  The work as published by Northwestern University Press is printed in both Greek and English on opposite pages.  Kimberly Johnson is responsible for the translation. Johnson is a professor in the English department at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah.

Johnson translates the Greek and provides the introductions.  The Works are translated in a way to preserve the original intent as well as to keep the flow of words in poetic form. Reading Theogony one easily catches the rhythm of the words and lines and falls into the story.  It reads as an epic poem much like the later Beowulf and Paradise Lost.  Zeus throws lightning bolts without mercy instead of angels heaving mountains.  There is a grand scale to it.  For those not familiar with Greek mythology, the Kindle Edition will allow the reader to immediately identify gods, demigods, and titans with Wikipedia.  I used that feature throughout the reading.

Johnson also explains why a large part of Theogony is devoted to the minor god Hekate.  She was a bridge between the Titans and the Olympians.  She was the last goddess born in the Titan generation but honored above all by Zeus.  There is plenty of action in the poem as well as a bit of the god’s family tree. The translation brings the poem to life.

Works and Days is a mix topics.  There is Hesiod’s dispute with his brother over inherited property.  The rest is a mix of advice — Never accept a gift from Zeus.  Rules — A man must never bathe in a woman’s bath water.  Agricultural advice — how to use the constellations to determine planting and harvesting.  Hesiod also offers advice on never planting on the thirteenth day of a waxing moon.  This sounds a bit mystical, but recalling Hesiod’s fondness of Hekate, the goddess of magic, among other things, it makes sense.  Although it is not known if Hesiod took a wife he does offer advice on the subject:

When you’ve come to ripeness, bring home a wife —
Neither far shy of thirty nor aged too far past:
The sweet spot for your marrying. 

Johnson translates an exciting bit of history, poetry, and mythology that seems rather rare today. The blending of several aspects of Greek culture in one book makes it an excellent study for those who enjoy poetry, history, or mythology. A great read and a great bit of education.

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Poetry Review — Tremulous Hinge

Tremulous Hinge

Tremulous Hinge by Adam Giannelli is the winner of the 2016 Iowa Poetry Prize. Giannelli’s poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, New England Review, Ploughshares, FIELD, Yale Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Tremulous Hinge opens strong with the poem that sets the stage for the rest of the collection —  “Stutter.” The poet recites all the things he couldn’t say and in that mix comes:

since I can’t say everlasting
I say every
lost thing

He says other things for what he can’t say.  Ohio instead of Cleveland.  He wants pistachio ice but takes the pronounceable hazelnut ice instead.  There is a lost thing in not being able to say what you mean. But in writing, the words flow and through the rest of the collection, they flood the reader with wonder.  There is an elegance in the written word and in being able to fully express one’s self.  Perhaps it is like the myth that losing one sense makes the other’s more sensitive.  His loss of expression in speech makes writing more graceful:

On the citronella candle, a flame glistens
like the tip of a paintbrush
                                                    dipped in amber.
It fans out, flattened in the wind,
                                                                brush on canvas—
~Sealevel

Reading the poems I had a feeling of reading Leaves of Grass.  Not in the subject matter but in that feeling of getting lost in the words as they flowed by and their patterns.  There is no formal structure in the writing, but it is unmistakably poetry.

                                 Our love
                                          appoints its kingdom,
                             but gravity does not elect
                                               or refrain; it effects
its spell over hammer and feather
                  alike, pebble and petal,
so each at the same rate
                                 falls.
~Gravity

The poet may speak with a tremulous voice but he writes with unwavering confidence.   Giannelli’s writing reminds the reader what poetry is about.  Although sometimes hard to define, poetry still has its roots using language as an enchanted tool expanding words beyond their simple denotations. Tremulous Hinge is such a work.  If it found its way into the hands of Whitman, Burke, Shelley, or Byron it would be instantly recognized as poetry.  Easily the best poetry I have read this year.

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Poetry Review — Odd Bloom Seen from Space

If we aren’t victims of our kind hearts then
our stupid lives are sad

Odd Bloom Seen from Space

Odd Bloom Seen from Space by Timothy Daniel Welch is the Iowa Poetry Prize winner for 2016. Welch’s poetry may be found in journals such as Rattle, Arts & Letters, Best New Poets, Green Mountains Review Online, and elsewhere. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

An odd bloom was the description used by Frank Culbertson to describe the debris cloud he saw when looking down on Manhatten from the International Space Station on 9/11/2001.  The title poem is tucked away in the middle of the collection and the poet reflects on the “odd blooms” in his own life.  The collection takes an autobiographical tone and the reader can see the “odd blooms” throughout the poet’s life.  These odd blooms are moments captured when something remarkable happens that one is not sure how to process without more information or time or just some little bit of information or experience that sticks with one for a lifetime.  One odd bloom could have been Bolero.  The poet titles the second section, and a poem, after the movie or at least what that movie meant to him as he remembers his illicit viewing of the movie and its influence later in life.

The poet looks back at life and the people in it from memories of an old girlfriend who worked at a 1950s themed diner to an eccentric friend named Frank.  There is a merging of old Greek gods and the Christian one mingling is well seen in “To Laura — A Virgin Unwed.”   The poet also dates himself in his work with not only Bolero but Michael Jackson’s Thriller. “Owls,” a more disturbing piece, makes the connection with the past and current:

Owls and their Michael Jackson
hooting in the trees, eyes

snow-burned with light, predators of the very
small, and fluttering like
Michael Jackson in his castle for children—

Welsh captures a nostalgic feeling for the past and things in the past that changed him or managed to stick with him through life — Family, friends, events, tradition, and even pop culture.  In a longer poem “Working for My Father” ties the ancient, the near past, family, and what we see together nearly perfectly.  A well-done work deserving of the Iowa Poetry Prize.

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Poetry Review — Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately

Stuff I've Been Feeling Lately by Alicia Cook

Stuff I’ve Been Feeling Lately by Alicia Cook is third published work.  Cook is 28 and from New Jersey. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature in 2008 and her MBA in 2012. She is employed as the Associate Director of Communications at Saint Peter’s University.

Cook explained the purpose for this collection. It was written in fourteen days to benefit the Willow Tree Center a nonprofit addiction and counseling center.  All funds from the book will be donated to the Willow Tree Center.

As the cover hints, the poems are tied to music.  The book is divided into two sections — A-Side and B-Side. Each poem is titled as a track number and each poem has a song associated with it.  The poems in the first section run in a freestyle and almost in a conversational manner.  Cook tells of love, loss, healing,  and the usual problems of growing up and older.  I  was trying to decide myself if it was poetry or thoughts linked together with music.   A-side, Track 48 seems to sum up the writing style. When given an assignment by her professor, she decides to do something else and receives an A on the project nonetheless:

Alicia, though you blatantly
ignored the prompt, after reading
this succinct conspiracy theory,
I can see the original essay topic
would have bored you.
Does your brain 
slow down?

No. 

This seems to be the pattern of the writing. The poet writes like she chooses and does it well enough so that it holds the reader’s interest.

The songs used as “listening to” while writing after my time.  I did recognize a few I listened to like the Beatles and Rod Steward.  I recognized some of the names of others but not the music and some of the musicians I never heard of.  That can be expected since I am almost twice as old as the poet so I will leave commenting on the music to younger reviewers.

The B-side impressed me.  Until then I thought it was an OK collection.  It’s not what I would call poetry, but not exactly prose either, but it did have an appeal to it.  The B-Side is a repeat of the A-Side but with the use of a Grille Cipher.  The blackout poetry had much more of a feel and mood than the A-Side.  It was discovering the encrypted message in the writing and made the collection more than what it originally seemed.  The B-side is usually the lesser music than the A-Side but here the opposite is true.  This did much to raise the level of the poetry presented.  Very well done.

 

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Book Review — Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music

Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music

Equipment for Living: On Poetry and Pop Music by Michael Robbins is a look and comparison of pop music and poetry.  Robbins is the author of Alien vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012) and The Second Sex (Penguin, 2014). His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, Harper’s, Boston Review, and elsewhere; his critical work in Harper’s, London Review of Books, The New York Observer, the Chicago Tribune, Spin, and several other publications. He earned his Ph.D. in English from the University of Chicago and teaches creative writing at Montclair State University.

Growing up we all looked at music as if it held some esoteric message that was lost on anyone older.  Some of it sticks with us; some of it leaves as we get older.  I’ll still quote a Springsteen lyric but not a Van Halen one.  We simply outgrow some music and sometimes we outgrow what we read or grow into it.  I was in the Marines before I finally sat down and read those books I was supposed to read in high school.  Twenty or thirty years ago I would never have expected to have shelves with poetry, Camus, and Virginia Woolf.

Robbins looks at his own youth and his infatuation with Journey and tears it down.  The lyrics that seemed to be the heart of the music.  “Born and raised in South Detroit” was made up by Steve Perry simply because it sounded right. Does writing lyrics make one a writer in the sense of writing literature? Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize has recently brought this to the forefront.  Are the two forms the same or different or just variations on the same. Poetry is visual.  We see the lines the stanza formation, the rhymes, and the line breaks.  We don’t see this in music.  The lyrics make up only part of the music — guitar, drums, vocalizing.  Then, too, before the printing press, poetry and stories were set to music to help memorize them.

Musically, Robbins covers a wide range of music from Taylor Swift to Death Metal and Punk to Country.  The poetry starts with my rock favorites like Rimbaud and the classics to a detailed examination of poets like Frederick Seidel who made the most rebellious rock lyrics seem tame in comparison. It challenges what we believe is acceptable.  It’s not just rock music or even men in dresses like the New York Dolls that spur on rebellion and challenge the social order.

Does writing lyrics give a writer insight to other writing? Robbins does use a bit of humor in his writing.  Patti Smith thinks the transition to being a writer is the avoidance of contractions and Neil Young… well, is Neil Young.  But that is also a two-way street.  Poetry sometimes struggles in defining itself.  Rhyming, in particular, is it a Western obsession that poetry rhyme and how does the end rhyme make it poetry?  I have wondered if Chinese or Arabic rhyme or follow iambic meter.  I do know Russian is particularly suited for feminine rhyme, but English is not.  Robbins makes the reader think.  Think about what we held true.  What we find as acceptable.  How we view art in our lives.

 

Available July 18, 2017

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Book Review — Vimy: The Battle and the Legend

Vimy: The Battle and the Legend

Vimy: The Battle and the Legend by Tim Cook is the history of the significant battle and what it meant for Canada on the world stage. Cook is a Canadian military historian and author. A First World War historian at the Canadian War Museum and a part-time history professor at Carleton University, he has also published several books about the military history of Canada during World War I.

Every nation or organization, for that matter, has its turning point of when it became its own entity.  For America, it’s 1776.  For the US Marines, it was Belleau Wood in World War I.  The thing is that certain events become associated with countries and groups even if there were other more important things going on.  1776 means little in comparison to the Treaty of Paris 1783 which recognized the United States as an independent country.  The Marines at Belleau Wood had help which is usually not mentioned.  For Canada, which gained independence, or self-rule,  150 years ago without much international fanfare, Vimy was the place where Canada was seen as separate from Britain. Vimy wasn’t the first victory for the Canadian Corps nor its most important, nor did it end the war. Nonetheless, it is the battle that is remembered. In US perspective, it is Canada’s raising the flag on Iwo Jima.

Germany was a strong adversary and once the war settled into trenches the Germans were difficult to beat.  The German military was the best trained and most skillful land force in the war.  It caused two casualties for everyone it took.  The drain on France was very noticeable.  To beat the Germans the allies either needed more people to lose through attrition or a better-trained fighting force.  Canada provided both.  The Canadian Corps had the reputation of being wilderness men — the roughest of toughest.  Canada also had the advantage of being able to train and look at the previous battles with a fresh set of eyes.  The Allies were putting bodies in the field to fill holes in the line without much training.  They suffered nearly 87,000 casualties at the Battle of the Marne and 620,000 casualties at the Battle of the Somme. Military training became more of an on the job training.

Canada entered the war on the condition that it would be the Canadian Corps and not fillers for the British units.  In addition to adding extra trained bodies to the war. Canada, at Vimy, did something rarely, if at all, seen in the war.  It out-soldiered the Germans. It used information gained from all level of troops and planned and executed a military assault that beat the German defenses and planning.  It was something that worried the Germans.  It was not just a war of attrition as previously fought but an active and maneuvering war that had not been seen since the opening days.  The Germans were being outmatched on skill, not just numbers.  The Canadian Corps would be used in later battles as shock troops by the British.  Vimy became the proving grounds for the newly created Dominion of Canada.

Cook provides a history of the Battle of Vimy with first-hand accounts and even a few “last letters home.”   The work is well researched and documented.  It is an important work not only for Canada but also those of us to the south.  Canada’s contributions to the war, highlighted by Vimy, brought Canada to the world stage as its own nation.  After the war, Canada demanded and received its own chair at the Treaty of Versailles.  It had fought proudly side by side with the Allies and compared to the US and Britain sacrificed proportionally more in human lives.  Vimy is the symbolic beginning of an independent Canada.

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Poetry Review — Whiskey Words & a Shovel III

Whiskey Words & a Shovel III by R.H. Sin

Whiskey Words & a Shovel III by r.h. Sin is the final collection in series. Sin took the world by surprise. Little in the way of biography and a few words on each page. His talent is deconstructing the complexities of life and especially relationships into a few words. Much like pulling a meaningful quote out of a song, that little bit of the whole that ties everything together. Sin’s poems have now gotten longer and although the pages are small the words fill more than a single page. The work is as well done as in the first two collections and is no way a collection of what was left over.

Sin’s first Whiskey Words & and Shovel is still in demand. I bought the first collection, after reviewing the second, for $17. Now the book is going for $150. I have received emails from people asking if I am willing to sell my copy for a reasonable price; I passed it on already. The writing is a hit for those in their twenties where the writing is most relevant. The themes are the same though out the collections — Love, relationships, treating a woman right, feminism, and patience. The poet also spends much time on paying tribute to a woman, Samantha. His writing to her is much like Petrarch’s writing of Laura. Longer than the earlier collections with lengthier poems as well as his signature short poems, Sin closes the trilogy on a high note.

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