Monthly Archives: July 2018

Dickinson’s Nerves, Frost’s Woods: Poetry in the Shadow of the Past (Hardcover) by William Logan is the examination of several well-known poems. Logan is Alumni/ae Professor and Distinguished Teaching Scholar at the University of Florida. He is the author of The Undiscovered Country: Poetry in the Age of Tin (2005); Our Savage Art: Poetry and the Civil Tongue (2009); and Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure: The Dirty Art of Poetry (2012), all from Columbia University Press, as well as eleven books of poems and other works of criticism.

Poetry is a subject I recently picked up without much background on the subject except for an undergraduate English Literature class. I enjoy classic poetry as well as review modern poetry. I will admit that sometimes poetry does not make sense, for example, Gertrude Stein’s Tiny Buttons is still a mystery to me, and it took over a year before I could get a grasp on Eric Linsker’s La Far.

Logan puts the poems in his essays into historical context. This is something I can appreciate as my undergraduate degree is in history. The compositions start right off with a double dose of history with Shelley’s “Ozymandias.” History is presented in both the Egyptian king and in Shelley’s life. The poem is well dissected and compared to Horace Smith’s of the same title. Logan, in his essays, examines the title poem to another of a similar time or subject. Ezra Pound’s “In A Station of the Metro” is discussed. Pound is another poet that I have trouble with and the information presented is beneficial. The complexity of Pound’s condensed work paired with William Carlos Williams’ “The Red Wheelbarrow. It seems like a simple poem is rather complex when analyzed. Logan goes deep into the poem. The wheelbarrow and chickens belonged to Thaddeus Marshall and old African-American that Williams knew growing up. Logan includes census information, a map, and pictures of Marshal and his house.

Shakespeare is compared to Shakespeare. Dickinson, Lowell, Heaney, Wilbur, Longfellow, and Frost, twice are included.  The placement of an editor’s comma changed the meaning of the original line “The woods are lovely, dark and deep” to “The woods are lovely, dark, and deep.”  The comma creates a real change to the meaning.  Here too, the poem goes much deeper than a simple reflection on a winter’s night

Logan’s essays provide insight into the poems and to their context in time.  Poetry does not stand alone.  It has a history and its own roots in time and place.  I received a review copy of this book but was unable to read the text in the electronic copy.  I was taken in by the premise so much that I bought a hardback copy to review.  I was not disappointed. Very informative and enlightening.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — The German Soldier’s Pocket Manual: 1914–18

The German Soldier’s Pocket Manual: 1914–18 by Stephen Bull is an examination of changes in the German army during WWI. Bull was Curator of Military History and Archaeology for Lancashire Museums, with responsibility for local regimental collections. He has worked at the National Army Museum and BBC in London and has also appeared in the TV series Battlefield Detectives. He has written numerous articles for specialist journals, including a number on the weapons and tactics of the First World War. His other books include several Osprey titles on the tactics of World Wars I and II.

Soldier’s manuals may not seem all that important, but for those who carried them, they represent critical information. The manual/guidebook I had in the Marines covered everything from fighting positions, fields of fire, first aid, movement under fire, and weapons. It was something a Marine could fall back on. It was a study guide and a reference book. If one never handled an M60 one could find all the pertinent information in the guidebook.

The German Pocket Manual is a collection of updates and new information on war fighting for German soldiers. The First World War did not progress as planned for the German army. The Schlieffen Plan ran into snags and the what was meant as a rapid, coordinated invasion ended up bogged down in the trenches. Direct fire artillery was replaced with indirect fire artillery. Attacking entrenched troops was different than the open battlefield. Grenades became an vital weapon as well as machine guns. Feild fortifications also changed and were designed with different purposes.

Bull provides an introduction and presents German war-fighting plans at the start of the war and presents documents translated by allied forces. Some items like the spade or entrenching tool were essential to soldier’s lives in the field. The tool was used for more than just digging trenches.  Other items like the “concentration charge” seemed much less practical. The concentration charge was a stick grenade with six additional charges attached to it. The idea of creating a weapon with more bang was offset by the awkwardness of throwing the heavier weight on an already unbalanced stick. Bull provides the reader with primary source material from both German documents and eyewitness ally accounts.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Is Human Evolution Directional?

Is Human Evolution Directional? by Ian Hodder is the study of man and his relationship with what he creates. Hodder is an archaeologist and professor of anthropology at Stanford University. His most recent books are Entangled: An Archaeology of the Relationships Between Humans and Studies in Human-Thing Entanglement.

This is a book not about the biological evolution of man, although some of that is included in why we have small teeth and weak jaws, but of man as a species. Comparisons are made between man and other animals such as beaver dams and manmade dams. This is not only discussed in purpose but also in reaction and the effects of the completed project. Most of the discussion concerns man and his dependence on things and things that are dependant on man. As Hodder digs deeper, he shows that there is an entanglement between man and things.  The connection of Christmas tree lights in America and car production in China is one example used in the book.

There are also interesting discussions of wheat and cotton, and they have evolved from in production and the effects of technology.    Other items are less organic like the QWERTY keyboard design.  Its design was created so that the arms would not jam when typing letters that are physically too close to each other.  There are more efficient designs and not many people still use manual typewriters, but QWERTY stayed because it became the standard — taught in high schools, taught in secretarial schools, standardized all makes and models of typewriters.  It may not be the best design but it would be nearly impossible to change it today.

Hodder makes a compelling case for the entanglement of man and things.  I can see this in everyday America. We make cars for transportation.  We design cities to be car friendly.  We widen roads to allow more cars.  We raise speed limits so vehicles can move more quickly.  However, in the process, we find ourselves dependant on cars.  Suburbs, urban sprawl, housing communities isolated from businesses are byproducts. If we don’t have a car, we become stuck.  Many areas do not have sidewalks, public transportation, or bike lanes.  We created a system that system that ties our success to the success of the flow of automobiles. That flow also creates environmental concerns.  Our solutions are not effective. We build hybrid and electric cars to ease our dependence on fossil fuels, but many areas electricity is produced by burning coal.  So an electric vehicle is essentially a coal-burning vehicle.  This simple analogy runs far deeper when we include petroleum production, automobile production (which includes steel, plastics, and rare earth elements), changing the landscape/environment by building new roads, and removing the habitat for other animal life. Although it may seem to most that we control our destiny as a species by building, manufacturing, and changing the environment, we have become dependant on the things we make, and they may guide our future more directly than we thought possible.  The deeper we go the more we see our future entangled with and directed by the things we make.


Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Simply Joyce


Simply Joyce by Margot Norris is an examination of Joyce and his works. Norris is Chancellor’s Professor Emerita of English and Comparative Literature at the University of California, Irvine, where she teaches modern literature. She is the author of four books on the works of James Joyce: The Decentered Universe of ’Finnegan’s Wake’, Joyce’s Web: The Social Unraveling of Modernism, Suspicious Readings of Joyce’s ’Dubliners,’ and Ulysses, a study of the 1967 Joseph Strick film on the novel.

Simply Joyce is more than an introductory biography of James Joyce. It is an examination of his work put into the perspective of his life and experiences. Norris also puts James’ work into the context of the times. Modernism is not something that was readily accepted in either art or literature. Even among his peers, his work was not always readily accepted. Virginia Woolf originally recorded in her diary:

I finished Ulysses, and think it a misfire. Genius it has I think; but of the inferior water. The book is diffuse. It is brackish. It is pretentious. It is underbred, not only in the obvious sense, but in the literary sense.

Later in the Common Reader she who be less critical and called Ulysses an important work no matter how difficult or unpleasant it may be. It did undoubtedly influence Woolf’s later work — The Voyage Out compared to To The Light House. D.H. Lawrence was also caught up in the hype over Ulysses and wanted his publisher to get him a copy in the US even though it was banned for impure and lustful thoughts. Joyce is a unique writer in the period although his Ulysses is credited with the rise of modernism he remained distant from Bloomsbury and their circle of friends.

Norris takes the reader through Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, The Dubliners, Finnegan’s Wake, and Ulysses chapter by chapter and explains not only the text but its context in relation to both Modernism and to Joyce’s’ life. Although not meant to be a study guide, it is a nice companion book to the novels as I am discovering in my rereading Portrait of an Artist.  The story by story examination also helped explain the source of The Dubliners‘ short stories.  I did not read much of the Finnegan’s Wake chapter as that book is on my to read list for this year and would like to compare my impressions to Norris’ writing.  I will revisit it when I do read the novel, seeing how helpful Simply Joyce has been while rereading Portrait of an Artist.

Simply Joyce is one book in the series of Great Lives book covering the lives and works of people from Machiavelli to Hitchcock and my favorite Virginia Woolf. The series provides more depth than the typical overview of author’s and their work.  Simply Joyce gives depth and setting to the author’s work.  Norris’ expertise in Modernism and Joyce’s works makes this edition very readable and informative.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — The Silence of the Girls

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker is a retelling of the Illiad through the eyes of Briseis. Barker was born in Thornaby-on-Tees in 1943. She was educated at the London School of Economics and has been a teacher of history and politics. She is the author of several historical fiction novels.

Briseis was the mythical queen of Lyrnessus in Asian Minon at the time of the Trojan War. She finds herself trapped in the city walls as the Greeks lay siege to the city. She watches as Achilles kills her husband and sons. Briseis is taken prisoner and given to Achilles as a prize by Agamemnon. Captive life is not pleasant as Achilles bedmate, but she does have freedom of movement in the camp. She becomes key in the dispute between Achilles and Agamemnon.

The story told from the Briseis perspective a queen who is suddenly a slave is exciting in itself since slaves and women never had a voice in that period (mythical or not). At some point, however, it does seem like women’s literature especially when Briseis talks with the other women in the camp. The language appears too modern in places, but I suppose there were the same words in Greek as modern English. This is also offset by with battles and bubonic plague.  There is a healthy mix of perspective, mythology, and storytelling in this novel. An excellent telling of a classic story that does adds to the original instead of harming the original.  A well-done adaptation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Thresher: A Deep Sea Thriller


Another shark story with some twists. Some stereotypes exist through the story. There is the alcoholic cop, Riker, and his caring partner. An acting mayor on a power trip. A police chief from a crime infested city looking for a peaceful retirement. There is also a pair of marine biologists. A hurricane and an accident with a secret government project create a colossal thresher shark. The thresher that is usually small and does not interact with man; here man’s tinkering with nature creates something unforeseen. Suddenly the shark attacks anything it senses in water either as food or as a potential threat.  The acting mayor does not want the boat race the town is hosting threatened in any way and the best way to keep things under wraps is with bad guys. There are a few similarities with Jaws, and the Chief and Riker are both from the city of Alton (perhaps a tip to author Steve Alten).

The characters are pretty simple, and the dialog isn’t the best. It’s easy to see who the good and bad guys are and there are really no surprises characterwise. Using a thresher shark instead of a great white is a nice change. As with most shark books, there is a little bit of science, not much, and some environmental concerns. This book, however, is more of a creature book. It reads like a good B movie would play and not meant for the reader to think too hard about the plot. It is intended to be enjoyed, and it succeeds in being entertaining.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Technomodern Poetics: The American Literary Avant-Garde at the Start of the Information Age

The digital humanities risk becoming just an extension of the corporate-driven technocracy endemic to neoliberalism. 
~ Alan Liu

Technomodern Poetics: The American Literary Avant-Garde at the Start of the Information Age by Todd T Tietchen is the examination of the change of American poetry in the post-WWII period. Tietchen is associate professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell. He is the author of The Cubalogues: Beat Writers in Revolutionary Havana. He holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Washington.

I find poetics to be a difficult subject but love poetry. Poetry is like watching the night sky and taking it all in. One does not need to understand astrophysics to enjoy the night sky. Poetics is the astrophysics of poetry. It is the reason and the why of poetry. It is why poetry is written in the form that it is in. My experience with poetics has not been very successful. I decided to give it a try again with a period that I am familiar with in other ways.

Charles Olson’s “The Kingfishers” is used to set Tietchen’s thesis. It is a poem that breaks the conservative mold of American poetry. It ignores traditional rhyme, line length, and creates packets of information for the reader. He presents the failings or the collapse of Western civilization. The poem closes with:

 I pose you your question:
shall you uncover honey / where maggots are?
           I hunt among stones

Civilization has rotted away and the Olson the “archeologist of morning” uses words as tools to move things. Morning could mean the new day or more probably its homonym.

What caused the sudden change in American poetry. No doubt mechanized warfare of the WWII and the atomic bomb being dropped on Japan had a role in the shift. Also, technology also presented a different way as ENIAC was used to study artillery trajectory and used to explore the possibility of the hydrogen bomb. Technology had taken a dark turn. Throughout the book, Tietchen builds on the idea of intrusive technology and associates it with fascism. People were expected to fit into a neat mold much like traditional American poetry. Kerouac’s short story “cityCityCITY” is also used as an example of the coming dystopia.

If one thinks the ideas presented may be far-fetched one just needs to look elsewhere in society at the time. Science fiction and horror movies of the 1950s tended to make a hero out of the strong individual and a villain of the collective. In Cold War politics, the Soviet Union was the machine and its people simply cogs in that machine.  America and the West were about the individual unless he or she caused waves or moved outside the lines.  The illusion or freedom or comparative freedom was the ideal.  Today cell phones can track your position anywhere there is cell service, yet people happily volunteer and pay for this potential loss of privacy.  The internet opened a world of information to the public, but everything you look at or read can be tracked.  Your library searches can also be monitored.  You are free to look, but if you look at some things, you might have to answer a few questions.

Technomodern Poetics examine the roots of dystopia through technology.  Earlier writers wrote on paper and typed out their final copies.  In the postmodernist age, the typewriter became the primary tool.  Kerouac typed directly to a scroll to create a primitive instantaneous recording of the author’s thoughts. O’Hara wrote his poems on lunch walks. There was an attempt to instantly capture the ideas of the writer.  Poet’s at the time moved outside of the lines. Ginsberg and Lenore Kandel would face obscenity trials for their work.  Technology could be used to create and to control.  Today writers are free to self-publish their works. Reviewers can criticize and review works but are trapped inside of lines.

What I type here are my thoughts and work and can reach an unlimited audience, but I do not have control of the information. If I stay within rules established by WordPress, if I do not violate the terms of service with my internet provider, if I do not break any laws or advocate the overthrow of the government, if I color between the established lines I am free to do what I want.  If the lines remain wide, we do not notice the cage around us. Technology, in commerce and politics, is what can close those lines.  The poets and artists of the post-war period saw this, and it scared them; today we seem to be numb to it.   One must remember the words of Michel Foucault, “There are forms of oppression and domination which become invisible – the new normal.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys

Forgotten Soldiers of World War I: America’s Immigrant Doughboys by Alexander F Barnes is an overview of immigrant soldiers who were drafted or volunteered for service in WWI. Barnes is an Army civilian at Fort Lee, Virginia. He served in the Marine Corps and Army National Guard, retiring as CW4. He has a master’s degree in Anthropology and authored In a Strange Land; The American Occupation of Germany 1918-1923.

World War I was the first worldwide war as belligerents pooled soldiers from their colonies and commonwealths. America was different and at the same time was the most internationally diverse army involved in the war. The massive immigration in the late eighteenth century up until the start of the war lead to the influx of Central, Eastern, and Southern Europeans. The Anglo-Irish immigration of the past was being overtaken by non-English speaking people. Immigrants formed communities people with like heritages and languages; many never learned to speak English.

On May 18, 1917, Wilson signed the Selective Service Act into law the required all males to register for the draft. This included immigrants and African Americans (although they would not be integrated into the army and would serve in segregated units). America’s attempt to grow an army from its small defense force would be a challenge on many levels. First, the draft notices needed to be published in a variety of languages. Second, many showed up for training without understanding English. The army was also struggling to find enough leaders to train new recruits. Camps were set up in the south for training south and cantonments in the north — the difference being camps had tents and cantonments had barracks.

Immigrants played a significant role in the war, and that created another problem for the United States. German immigration peaked between 1880-1889 making many of draft age. How would German immigrants react to being drafted to fight their former countrymen? Barnes reflects the Italian presence in the American army was quite large as well as pockets of others of European heritage. Asian immigrants were also drafted an served in the regular army although the registration papers only listed white and colored; yellow or Japanese was penned in by clerks. Carribean immigrants found themselves in segregated camps with African-Americans.

Barnes adds personal stories and experiences of immigrants that served as well as some short biographies.  The book is also illustrated with photographs of some of the soldiers giving the book a personal touch. It is truly remarkable that the army was able to field a capable fighting force.  There were so many possible points of failure.  Even something as simple as Albania caused confusion since it was a newly independent country in 1913.  Birthplaces were listed as Albania, Italy; Albania, Greece; Albania, Turkey; or Albania, Albania.   Twenty percent of those serving in the US army in WWI were foreign-born. There is no count on the first generation Americans raised in immigrant households.  Immigrants played a decisive role in America’s entry on the world stage.  The United States Army represented the most diverse force in the war.  Forgotten Soldiers represents the sacrifice of those who fought for their adopted country.

Image result for americans All poster WWI

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review

Poetry Review — Pan Tadeusz: The Last Forray Into Lithuania

Lithuania! My homeland! You are health alone.
Your worth can only ever be known by one
Who’s lost you. Today I see and tell anew
Your lovely beauty, as I long for you.

Pan Tadeusz by Adam Mickiewicz

Pan Tadeusz: The Last Forray Into Lithuania by Adam Mickiewicz and the new translation by Bill Johnston is an epic poem about the divided Poland and Lithuania. Mickiewicz was a Polish poet, dramatist, essayist, publicist, translator, professor of Slavic literature, and political activist. He is regarded as the national poet in Poland, Lithuania, and Belarus. Johnston is a prolific Polish language literary translator and Professor of comparative literature at Indiana University. His work has helped to expose English-speaking readers to classic and contemporary Polish poetry and fiction.

Pan Tadeusz is a poem for those interested in Polish/Lithuanian history or heritage. Most Americans would know little of Polish history except for the opening of World War II. Those who remember the Cold War will recall, despite Gerald Ford’s assertion, that Poland was under Communist control and the US does not recognize the incorporation of Lithuania into the USSR. Poland has lived a rather quiet history as a nation for those living today. Poland was a historically a cultural and military territory. Part of the problem also comes with what is Poland. Its size has varied, and it ceased to exist as a nation more than once. My great grandmother’s immigration papers said she was born in Russian occupied Poland claiming Polish as her nationality. With borders that changed so often, it is not hard to imagine how one person could be the national poet of three different countries.

Pan Tadeusz is a rather long poem covering five days in 1811 and two days in 1812. It contains a bit of a Shakespeare theme (Romeo and Juliet) and a bit of Les Miserables’ to the barricades. Johnston provides a detailed introduction which helps clarify regional realities of the time and a translation that remains true to the original intent including the humor. The verse flows well, and much of the rhyme remains in place, not every line rhymes, but there is enough to keep the read locked into the rhythm of the poetry. There does not seem to be any forced wording in the translation; it is easily readable.

Johnston’s translation of Pan Tadeusz brings the Polish classic in an enjoyable form to the English language readers without losing the original intention and form. Both the author and translator include notes characters, locations, as well as translations where words don’t seem to have a word for word replacement. An exceptionally well done original work and rendering.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — A History of America in Ten Strikes

A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis

A History of America in Ten Strikes by Erik Loomis is a study of American history told through the labor movement. Loomis is an assistant professor of history at the University of Rhode Island. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns, and Money on labor and environmental issues past and present. His work has also appeared in AlterNet, Truthout, and Salon.

History is long, and memory is short. Three generations ago organized labor and collective bargaining were celebrated and credited with the growth of the middle class. Living wages and the benefit of buying American made goods drove the popularity of unions. Today unions are generally demonized and blamed for sending jobs overseas. Earlier unions were identified with early twentieth-century communism. On the Waterfront (1954) left moviegoers cheering for Brando as the dock workers banded together. Workers once united could negotiate for fair wages and benefits. Organization made workers something more than replaceable cogs in the machine.

In examining strikes in their context of history Loomis demonstrates the validity of certain strikes and the rise and fall of unions in America. Two strikes that I recall are covered in the book. The Air Traffic Controllers strike and the Lordstown Strike. Growing up in Cleveland strikes were part of the regular news from local steel strikes to auto worker strikes. Somewhere in the late 1970s, organized labor began to fail. Japan and Europe recovered from WWII and union demands came to be perceived as too high as demand for American goods shrank. Today most strikes that make the news are teacher’s unions and generally looked down upon even though these are the people teaching the next generation of Americans and American workers.

The history of organized labor in America is an interesting struggle of workers trying to get a fair wage for their effort. Six day work weeks and 100 hours of labor was not replaced with the ten hour day until the mid-nineteenth century. By the mid 20th century Americans were working a five day work week of 8 hour days. Unions drove for benefits like medical, holidays, and paid vacations. Today America works harder and longer for less and the middle class is rapidly shrinking.

Loomis gives a detailed history of the rise and fall of American labor.  It’s a seemingly permanent struggle to represent workers as a whole from the Wobblies to mine workers to the UAW against big business and at many times the government too. The struggle of American workers is more relevant when put into historical context than when it is captured with sound bites and demagoguery.  A well-done documentation of an under-represented sector of American history.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review