Monthly Archives: January 2018

Book Review — A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949

A Force So Swift: Mao, Truman, and the Birth of Modern China, 1949 by Kevin Peraino is the account of the fall of Nationalist China and the actions of the Truman administration. Peraino is a veteran foreign correspondent who has reported from around the world. A senior writer and bureau chief at Newsweek for a decade, he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for foreign reporting and part of a team that won the National Magazine Award in 2004. He is the author of Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and The Dawn of American Power.

The close of World War II saw the fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Europe was left in ruins by the war. The USSR was rising in power as the war came to a close. It was seen as a threat to Western Europe as it demonstrated its will in Eastern Europe. The Berlin Airlift 1949-1949 showed the Soviet commitment against the West. The United States and Europe worked on a plan of containment. In the East, China was still fighting a civil war that was interrupted by WWII and Japanese occupation and related atrocities. The United States was now occupying Japan and putting down the communist movement there. At home, the second Red Scare was beginning with McCarthy and Nixon rising in power.

At a time when the US should have been looking for a partner like nationalist China to contain the Soviet Union in the East, it didn’t give meaningful support. America was tired of war. The Marshall Plan took care of Europe. Occupation forces in Japan were taking care of the East. Americans wanted to go back to peacetime and leave the world to itself.

China was mostly left to its own. The US did not want the communists and Mao to rule but did not find much confidence in the Nationalists. Poor leadership in battle and corruption plagued the Nationalist movement. Madame Chiang worked in America creating a public relations lobby to gain support for the Nationalists. Well spoken and elegant she was unable to find the support in the federal government she needed. The Soviets were on their guard. They were distrustful of Mao and his peasant army. During the WWII and before The USSR supported Nationalists turning to Mao when the US picked up support for the Nationalists and as the tide was turning in the civil war.

Peraino gives the reader an inside look at the major players on the world stage especially concentrating on Truman and the Chiangs. The roles of India and Britain are also discussed. A historical look at the civil war shows how easily things could have been different. Although the Chinese civil war was not fought in a vacuum it did not seem to get the attention it deserved. China was still considered an undeveloped country with only a few main cities. Its large population and land mass were not seen at its current potential. China looked to be a country that would remain poor and unorganized.  With the exception of the Koreas, it is the only other separated country.  The Nationalists still govern Taiwan (Formosa) and the Communists the mainland.  Both see themselves as the true Chinese government.  A fascinating look at the creation of modern China.

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Poetry Review — Spiritual Poems of Rumi

Rumi was a 13th-century Persian, Sunni Muslim, poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic. His influence transcends national borders and ethnic divisions: Iranians, Tajiks, Turks, Greeks, Pashtuns, other Central Asian Muslims, and the Muslims of South Asia have greatly appreciated his spiritual legacy for the past seven centuries. He also has the title of the best selling poet in America.

Rumi was a believer in music and dancing to help open the mind to create and for getting closer to God. God is liberally used in the poetry and the Prophet is also mentioned a few times. What is interesting though is that God used in the poetry is all encompassing and welcoming spirit. Perhaps closer to Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky” than any dogmatic religion. The use of wine is also something that is not frowned upon. Rumi seems like a mix of the Beats and the Hippies but in a much more idealized way. He is not the one copying others but the one being copied imperfectly by others.

Rumi writes of the evils of greed and the effect it has on one’s soul and the effects of faith:

if you abandon
for a little while
your ego and greed
tear down your shield
rise with a quest
to unite with the divine
what do you think will happen


in the blackest
of your moments
wait with no fear

since the water of life
was found by the prophet
in the darkest of caverns

The poems are arranged with one or two on each page. The pages are trimmed with traditional Islamic art done in watercolors giving it the appearance of a religious text which goes well spiritual nature of the poems. The book can be opened anywhere and read and reflected on.

This translation is by Nader Khalili (1936–2008) was a world-renowned Iranian-American architect, author, humanitarian, and teacher. Khalili was also the founder and director of the California Institute of Earth Art and Architecture (Cal-Earth).


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Book Review — Paracritical Hinge: Essay, Talks, Interviews.

Paracritical Hinge: Essay, Talks, Notes, Interviews by Nathaniel Mackey Mackey is an American poet, novelist, anthologist, literary critic, and editor. He is the Reynolds Price Professor of Creative Writing at Duke University and a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets. Mackey is currently teaching a poetry workshop at Duke University. He has been editor and publisher of Hambone since 1982 and he won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2006. In 2014, he was awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and in 2015 he won Yale’s Bollingen Prize for American Poetry.

Paracritical Hinge refers to the pivotal point of the combination of poetry, fiction, and art. Mackey examines several subjects including an interesting examination of phenology, the poetry of the Vietnam War, and jazz. He also discusses writers and arts in his work like Amiri Baraka and John Coltrane.

This is clearly a work for those familiar with Mackey and his work. The reading is not easy especially for one whose field of study and interest are not strongly connected to Mackey’s. The writing in the body of the work is complex with plenty of names and themes that are understood to be known. I had to skip through the introduction because it was over my head. I found it a little odd that I could follow along in sections where I had an understanding of the subject matter but was lost in the introduction that was supposed to introduce the subject and ease me into it. A difficult but rewarding work that clearly is not for everyone.

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Poetry Review — Wild Nights: Heart Wisdom from Five Women Poets

Wild Nights: Heart Wisdom from Five Women Poets is a collection of poetry stretching from ancient times to the 20th century. Lisa Locascio provides the introduction and biographies of each of the poets. She holds a Ph.D. in Creative Writing and Literature and MA in English Literature from the University of Southern California, as well as an MFA and BA from New York University.  Illustrations in this collection are by Claire Whitmore

Wild Nights is a collection of selected works of Sappho, Emily Dickenson, Amy Lowell, Sara Teasdale, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Each of the women contributed their own style to poetry. Sappho is presented first and is translated by a few different people in this collection to bring balance between the older ideas of Sappho and the newer thinking. Her poems, however, have survived only as fragments. Dickenson offered sharp observations and first-person accounts that were unique in American poetry. The opening lines of one of her unnamed poems gives the title for this collection.

Amy Lowell wrote for only a dozen years near the turn of the twentieth century yet produced 650 poems. She wrote with what she called “unrhymed cadence” that she saw well suited for the English language. Her opening poem “Fireworks” seems to be far more modern than its time. Sara Teasdale was a master of the lyrical poem:


The world is tired, the year is old,
The fading leaves are glad to die,
The wind goes shivering with cold
Among the rushes dry.

Our love is dying like the grass,
And we who kissed grow coldly kind,
Half glad to see our old love pass
Like leaves along the wind.

The final poet is Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her work combined the modernist attitude with traditional forms creating a new type of American poetry. She is also credited as one of the best sonnet writers of the century. Both Millay and Lowell won the Pulitzer Prize for their poetry.

Despite the stature of these poets, their work is easy to read and understand. Formal terms lyrical poems and sonnets shouldn’t scare off readers.  The reader can follow along nicely learning as they read.  Wild Nights is not only a tribute to women poets it also offers novice readers a starting point in real poetry without intimidation.


Available March 21, 2018

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Book Review — The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories

The El Paso Red Flame Gas Station and Other Stories by J Reeder Archuleta is a collection of eight stories rural West Texas. Archuleta was raised in far West Texas and a child of five previous generations of West Texans.  He is also the author of the novel Rio Sonora.

These stories span twenty or so years from the mid-1940s through the Vietnam War and take place in West Texas, the Panhandle, and Odessa. West Texas is a bit like Mayberry in that the townspeople look out for one another. It is also a bit like the wild west with drinking, fights, and a bit of lawlessness that gets overlooked. It reflects modern Texas with its pride in military service and high school football.  In fact, football has a position almost on par with the military. Football stars are heroes.

What ties this collection of short stories together is that they center around a boy named Josh. Josh is introduced as a young boy, the son of a poor couple traveling West Texas looking for work. Josh moves around and establishes himself in town. He is liked and trusted. It is not an easy life for Josh without any family to support him. Members of the town help in different ways and provide a safety net for the boy as he grows up. Life is not easy and but it is West Texas and nothing comes easily to anyone.

A well-done selection of stories that reflect changes in a boys life and changes in rural Texas.  The characters in the stories are believable and likable (or unlikeable depending on the situation).  The stories are plain-spoken but run deep.  This is an enjoyable piece of Americana that has long passed into history.  It will be a pleasant bit of nostalgia for some, and for others, it is a look back into what life was like in rural America.

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Poetry Review — Planting Gardens in Graves

R.H. Sin has gained many fans over the last couple of years. His Whiskey, Words, and a Shovel sold out and copies were fetching quite a price. Sin made his name with short poems and used language to make words carry their maximum weight. Since the release of Whiskey, Words, and a Shovel two things have happened. First, there are collections of “poetry” flooding the market that are essentially cliches and platitudes, but nonetheless, have been readers professing love for poetry. This dilutes the work of Sin who actually uses language as a tool. Secondly, on this same note, Sin essentially writes on the same subject in all his books. That being said it does take several books before the writing seems to repeat. This is not bad in itself. It happens and sometimes it is very good. For example, AC/DC put out seventeen albums using the same three cords and was/is one of the most popular bands in rock and roll. Familiar subject matter is not always a problem; it just needs to seem fresh.

I do like that Sin keeps increasing the length of his poems. Also, he can bring new ideas into the mix. This collection works well for the fans of Sin’s work and also for a newcomer. For the casual reader who has read one or two of his books with only moderate interest, there is really nothing new for you here. I do hope Sin expands his themes and continues to work longer poems. Like his work or not he certainly did create a market for himself.

Available February 6, 2018

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Poetry Review — A Generous Latitude

A Generous Latitude: Poems by  Lenea Grace is the poet’s first collection of published poetry. Grace’s work has appeared in Best New Poets, The Fiddlehead, Washington Square Review, CV2, Riddle Fence, Grain, and elsewhere. She is a graduate of McGill University, University of Maine at Presque Isle, and The New School. Grace is a founding editor of The Mackinac poetry magazine. She grew up in Texas and Oklahoma, spending her summers at Long Lake and John Island in northern Ontario. She lives in Gibsons, British Columbia.

This is quite an interesting collection of poetry and covers nearly a decade of published work. One thing is clear Grace loves Canada and the summers she spent there. I have lived in Texas for the last thirty years and can understand her love for the north. Leaving Texas in August and spending two weeks in along the coast of British Columbia changes one perspective. It’s a completely different world.

Several of her poems are about the experiences of growing up. Although I probably have two decades on her, there are many similarities between that span the decades to include Carling Black Label. Those red and black cans made many a night memorable along with the music — the stereo sounds of Van Morrison, Jackson Browne, and

…it is always 1979 —
Buckingham and Nicks caught in a freeze frame

“Yukon River” brings back memories of the past. “Highway 17” reflects the freedom of travel and the leaving of the familiar and trespassing onto others land, passing towns, abandon towns, and the slightly absurd restaurant that serves both “Chinese and Canadian food.” It is the adventure of growing up and the first tastes of freedom. “Hitchhikers,” likewise, combines the excitement and caution of being on one’s own. With freedom comes relationships too.

Some experiences are different like “Faceblue” which examines social media and some people’s need to photograph everything they eat to everything their cat does. Other poems break things up with random topics. However, most poems reflect on that golden period of young adulthood where the world stretches out before us with promise and excitement. A well-done collection.


Available April 17, 2018

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Poetry Review — Pinko

Pinko by Jen Benka

Pinko by Jennifer Benka is a collection of poems with an antiwar and progressive social message. Benka is the executive director of the Academy of American Poets. She holds a BA in Journalism from Marquette University, an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from The New School and has been active in social change programs.

This is one of those books that if one does not the poet the cover will surely draw you in.  It seems to make a statement along with her poems.  Gracing the cover is her old driver’s license from Wisconsin complete with her date of birth, height, weight, hair and eyes.  Laying over the top is a government document with blacked out information.  Seems to speak of today’s society where everything about the individual is known and what the government is doing is not.  

“Flower, Flower”  examines the war mentality over fifty years and offers those “truths” that we accept to make us feel better. Failures lack religion or were raised by single parents or one of many other reasons.  Poverty exists because Jesus said we will always have the poor — So why do anything poverty will always exist.  To quote Roger Water’s “God wants poverty.”  Benka follows:

It is possible we will not allow lies to accumulate truth. It is possible that we will
vote for the candidate who will kill the fewest people.

In the second section, Benka uses the international phonetic alphabet to create twenty-six themed poems.  Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, and then Dixie instead of Delta.  That was the only mistake in the phonetic alphabet.  Why?  Checking the notes, Dixie is a poem constructed using pieces of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.  It’s not a stretch to link the support to the South (Dixie) and the biblical definition of marriage.  What I thought was a mistake turns out to be supported.  The poems in this section are well done and several drift out of free verse and into meter and rhyme.  Gulf is perfectly written. Foxtrot plays on World War I.  Papa borrows from Marx.  A very well-done selection.

Section three is only five poems that the titles reflect on the between of things — mainland and island or the land between two rivers (Bagdad and Iraq’s constitution). The collection closes with two poems one on AIDS and the other the title poem “Pinko”.  A great collection of poems with a social message that is not forced into poetry, but rather fits in nicely with it.


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Poetry Review — A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers: A Revisioning of the Preamble to the Constitution

A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers by Benka

A Box of Longing with 50 Drawers: A Revisioning of the Preamble to the Constitution
by Jen Benka is a series of poems that use each word from the Preamble of the Constitution to trigger a poem about America’s promise and failure.  Benka is the executive director of the Academy of American Poets. She holds a BA in Journalism from Marquette University, an MFA in Creative Writing-Poetry from The New School and has been active in social change programs.

Taking the foundation of our country and the government created by the people, Benka breaks down the words of the preamble of the constitution into fifty-two poems.  The poems share a connection but can be read as stand-alone poems also.  Like a bow with fifty-two drawers, they are separate containers inside a larger container — much like a chest of drawers.

There is history in the writing from the founding of the country with its promise of freedom, but allowing slavery.  The battle to remain in the union and current visions of the country are included.  Some of the poems are short:


To stand alone together.


But still, pack a punch especially in the context of the book.  Others are longer but equally potent.  The third “And” poem displays the trap people fall into for idealized, but not perfect, youth in exploitation and regret.  “The” appears seven times in the Preamble and Benke does have a little trouble with the word as she progresses.  The sixth “The”

Definite article determines thinglyness

Perhaps a bit of frustration at the repetitiveness of the word, like the repetitiveness of the same problems plaguing society over and over again.   But to there is hope and promise:


Where the language meets silence
Slow on the sleepy page
And love and love and love
Hushes into dreaming.

A well-done collection of interlocking poems reflecting on the very foundation of America.  History and promise of the future interlock and praise and criticism walk hand in hand.  An honest look at America with a message.  

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Poetry Review — Greek Lyric Poetry

Greek Lyric Poetry

Great collection of Greek poetry ranging from the 7th Century through the 5th Century BC. A period when gods, goddess, and the underlings were central players in life. There are pleas to the gods and thanks as well. Archilochus, however, finds writing erotica a better use of time. Simonides uses the god’s creation of women and ties it to different animals in a very unflattering way. The collection covers wars, pointers for daily life, and even drinking songs. Not all poet’s works are complete several, including Sappho, contain only fragments of what has survived. Also several of the poems have lines or works filled in where missing. Perhaps what is most surprising is how much we still have today even after the destruction of the library at Alexandria.

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