Monthly Archives: August 2018

Poetry Review — Verse Matters

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Verse Matters edited by Rachel Bower and Helen Mort is an anthology of poetry about what makes us human. Bower is a poet and Leverhulme Research Fellow at the Univerisity of Leeds. Mort is also a poet with two published works. She is also a lecturer at the Manchester School of Writing and Manchester Metropolitan University.  The poets in the collection range from established British poets, to first time writers, and refugees in Yorkshire.

Although this book was created in Northern England, it is indeed applicable to the United States. We live in countries where currently diversity and many time common decency is falling prey to the “us versus them” ideology of division. In the introduction, a story of a Gambian man drowning in the Grand Canal of Venice is told as he was met with jeers and racist shouts instead of help. We are moving to a world where the individual is the most important entity as long as that individual is us. Politics has broken down into violent protests and anti-protests. Public debate is now insults and threats of violence.

Verse Matters captures and refines Percy Shelley’s quote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Poets do have a role in reminding people what it is to be human and that we all share many of the same experiences, feelings, and dreams. We all come from family and have mother’s who worried about us. We have those who fled violence that fear of celebratory fireworks is real. We also have veterans who also feel panic as the sky bursts into flame and thunder.

Sai Murray’s “Seven Scales” is a poem concerning the modernization of a country. A place where local government and elders held the peace long before European borders were drawn. But, it is the fish that takes the poem deeper. The people used to earn a living on fish that they caught until the government sold fishing rights to foreign companies who now sell fish worldwide and to those who used to make a living off those same fish. For those willing to dig a bit deeper into the poem and current events, those who had their livelihood taken from them are now fighting back as pirates. When a culture is overpowered, it will find some way to resist.

Editor Helen Mort contributes the poem “Bartek.” Bartek is the Polish translation of Bartholomew. It is also an ancient and historic tree in Poland. Mort hints at this connection with the mention of the Polish city of Sopot. Bartek’s goal of becoming a citizen brings with it deep roots of his homeland.

Hannah Copely’s “Ten Thousand” is more British based. The story of a coal miner spending his lifetime (10,000 days) in the mines. His lungs are coated with coal dust, and after a lifetime there is a hope that the dust would compress into a diamond. Those who work hard in physical labor hoping for a better life seek only the opportunity to benefit equitably from their labor.

“Once Upon a Street in Yorkshire” by Nick Allen presents a picture of community. People go about their business and pay little attention to there differences. People do their different things from going to the library, to the butcher shop, to children going to school, to boys riding loud motorbikes, but the work murder punctuates the poem. It was on this street the MP Jo Cox was killed by a man who believed she was a traitor to white people. A single act of violence seems to stain the normality of life long after the event.

Reflective of modern life Hollie McNish examines the meaning of “fine” in the poem by the same name. Shelley Roche-Jaques examines things that we all should know in the poem “Allgemeinbildung.” Keeping things factual, there is a bit of humor in the life-saving role of cats and in dropping frozen meat into a hot pan. The collection closes with Suzannah Evan’s worthwhile advice in a poem titled “How to Live in a City.”

A timely collection of poetry that reminds the reader that even if poets are not the legislators of the world they can influence the electorate and remind all that there is more to being human than merely looking out for yourself.

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Book Review — Algiers, Third World Capital

Algiers, Third World Capital by Elaine Mokhtefi is a memoir and history of an American involved in the newly independent Algeria. Mokhtefi was born in New York. After the Second World War, she joined the youth movement for world peace and justice, becoming director of a militant student organization. In 1951 she settled in France as a translator and interpreter for international organizations in the new postwar world. In 1960, she joined a small team in New York as part of the Algerian National Liberation Front, lobbying the United Nations in support of the government in exile and working for Algerian independence. When the struggle was won, she made Algeria her home, working as a journalist and translator. She married the Algerian writer and liberation war veteran Mokhtar Mokhtefi, who died in 2015.

Mokhtefi’s short biography above speaks a great deal about the book. Her relationship with Algeria is somewhat unique. She was, after all, an American (Imperialist), non-Arab Speaking woman of Jewish descent. She was, however, at the right place at the right time and with the right attitude. Algeria’s quest for independence was long, bloody, and vicious. Mokhtefi had the sympathy for the Algerians living in France and witnessed the violence against them. Algeria became her cause as she worked in the D.C. office of the Algerian National Liberation Front. The New York Office took responsibility for revolutionary Franz Fanon visit to the US although he never made it to New York. He died at Bethesda during his visit, and before his, The Wretched of the Earth was published.

She moved to Algeria after its independence and worked through some unusual times. Algeria became a popular destination for those fleeing US law enforcement. Mokhtefi met airline hijackers who made Algeria their goal, Black Panthers, and Timothy Leary. The hijacking was quite famous. William Holder and his female accomplice hijacked the plane with a fake briefcase bomb in Seattle. He successfully collected $500,000 and landed in Algiers although they did not secure the release of Angela Davis. The plane and most of the money was returned to the United States through diplomatic channels. Although Algeria wanted to free the oppressed and help other nations gain their independence, making an enemy of the US was not seen as a smart position. Algeria would need the US to buy its oil. Algeria was in a tight spot between the ideological and the practical.

Mokhtefi gives the reader a first-hand account of the early and turbulent history of Algeria.  Time has done much to curb her revolutionary vigor, and she presents a reasonably balanced view of her experiences.  I still imagine it is difficult to separate oneself from history and offer a completely unbiased account.  She does give the reader the inside view of a new government and a turbulent time.

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Poetry Review — Everyone Rides the Bus in a City of Losers

Everyone Rides the Bus in a City of Losers by Jason Freure is a collection of Montreal based poetry. Freure is the editor of The Town Crier blog and operations manager at The Puritan, where he’s worn many hats, including reader, blog columnist, editor, and more since 2013. His work online and in print in magazines like Maisonneuve, CNQ, Vallum, or Carte Blanche, not to mention top-notch little magazines like (parenthetical) and The Hart House Review.

Sometime in 1986, Margret Thatcher is said to have uttered these words in public, “A man who, beyond the age of 26, finds himself on a bus can count himself as a failure.” There is no documentation on the quote, but ownership of a car (and other material goods) is tied to successes seems to fit the consumerism politics of the time. This one sentence drives Freire’s work. Here in the Dallas area, our northbound public transportation ends at the city of Allen. Although there are rails running north, the city refuses to left public transit in. The main reason is the crime and poverty that grows along the tracks although it is politically called cost ineffective. There is no doubt the existing train line takes passengers past the back side of buildings and through areas where property values are low. True, also, at central stations it is not difficult to find used needles, homeless, and those sleeping off a drunk.

Freure takes the reader on a tour of Montreal with a stop by stop poem. It is not the tour that the city council would approve of, although it is authentic. The collection opens with several poems to set that set the life of an innercity dweller in Montreal. There is a need to keep moving from one depressed area to the next. The line signs on crosses make one wonder if it is a sign of hope — rising from the dead part of the city, or empty cross is waiting for its next. It’s not the destitute or those who gave up in life. Sometimes it is the younger generation who find themselves in an environment of hardship despite everything they do. Promises of hard work and preparation leading to success in life vanish in these streets.

I walked north and south through avenues of beautiful houses
with their wrought iron tables-for-two on their second storey
balconies
where ashtrays and coffee mugs and folded-open books
waited to be cleaned up. I did not stop to knock on their doors
or call the numbers on their “For Rent” signs. I cannot afford them,
not even their attics, and because their bricks were old and
overgrown

~The Pedestrian

St-Lauren T Boulevard is one of the collections longer poems and sets the tone before boarding the Orange Line at Cote-Vertu before riding the Orange Line through downtown. Past Berri-Uqam which three lines converge and on through China Town and out through Cartier and on to the Blue line. Some stops have only a line or two written, others are not mentioned, but landmarks near the stop are discussed in great detail. It is not always the physical places and attractions that are pointed out. Even in the depressed regions things can get worse:

Cold is the feeling that you have not died,
not yet, and do not want to die, breathing knives
like pine trees bristling against snowstorms
and snowbanks heaped on their boughs.

~Down Town Night in January (On Ste Catherine near Atwater stop)

Everyone Rides the Bus in a City of Losers is a poetic tour of the underside of Montreal. There are no botanic gardens on this tour or Museums of Fine Arts or Parc Jean Drapeau. This is the real Montreal that most do not see but like any big city, it is always there but rarely talked about.

montreal-metro-preview

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