Monthly Archives: November 2018

Book Review–The Forging of a Rebel

A unique autobiography and history of early twentieth century Spain. The first of the three volume book, The Forge, covers the Arturo Barea’s early life in Spain from 1905-1915.   Part history and part biography this volume details life in Spain.  In the second volume, The Track, Barea covers his years in the Rif War as Spain tries to hold on to its last colony.  He sees this as the beginning of the fascist movement in Spain.  The final volume, The Clash, covers the war in Spain and Barea’s exile to England.  Barea was in a rather unique position during the Spanish Civil War.  He fought the fascists but was not a communist which made him suspect on his own side. The third volume, by the way, is also the inspiration for a British punk band in the 1970s.

Barea offers details in two wars that are not much covered in the United States.  The Riff War and the Spanish Civil War.  The latter is remembered mostly for the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and its famous members.  Barea’s detailed writing style does seem long-winded at times, but he is chronicling events that would become a historical record and was likely fearful of the truth being suppressed by the Franco regime.  It was a period of brutality in both Morocco and Spain and became a prequel for the Second World War. Recommended for history readers with an interest in early 20th-century Spain.


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Book Review — Antichrist

Nietzsche’s Antichrist, or more correctly Antichristian, is a sharp, well thought out attack on Christianity and organized religion. Nietzsche believed that all men were not created equal and that the equality created by Christianity made man weak. Nietzsche believed in the will to power or the individual acting to gain power and strength. Christianity, on the other hand, is a slave morality according to Nietzsche. Good and evil are judged by intentions. Nietzsche does say this book is for a small audience. The reader is one who must be entirely intellectually honest and willing to reject tradition.

This Dover edition presents a short biography on Nietzsche followed by an introduction to this work. The detailed introduction and translation from Germany are provided by H.L. Mencken. Mencken who was a scholar, social critic, journalist, and satirist. He spoke German growing up and became a great admirer of Nietzsche’s philosophy. This makes for an interesting read as the philosopher, and the translator were of the same beliefs. This edition is an excellent value from Dover Thrift Books for those who have an interest in Nietzsche. The Kindle edition is $0.99 and excellently formatted. The paperback edition is of the same quality and $3.00

Available 12/19/18

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Poetry Review — Long Live Phoenixes


Some people go through life avoiding difficulties and hard times. Some live through them and come back stronger like the Phoenix. We idolize what is perfect instead of what has survived. A knight in shining armor is a perfect hero, in a perfect world but in the real world, shining armor means someone whose mettle has not been tested. No one with experience has perfect armor. Likewise, when knocked down we return stronger much like the Phoenix.

Farrell’s Phoenix is its own tradition. The nine mantra’s of the Phoenix reminds one of eastern philosophy mixed with fantasy: Burn brightly, soar high and always remember where you came from. The laws might be seen almost like the contemporary Instagram “poetry,” but rather than leave them, Farrell uses them as a springboard to her poetry. The writing is easy to read and follow along. The themes vary with the mantras and provide support.

The poems support both good and bad times and offer comfort where needed and strength where it is lacking. Farrell, although young is an old soul, and that soul’s experience guides her writing. She displays wisdom and direction in her writing. Furthermore, her writing and style remind me of my younger days. Memories of my times growing up in the 1970s are reflected not only in the poet’s style but in her use of words like shimmy and sashay. We all have hopes and dreams that are missed, taken from us, or fumbled. Farrell gives the motivation to continue on and achieve.

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Book Review — How a Poem Moves: A Field Guide for Readers Afraid of Poetry



How a Poem Moves: A Field Guide for Readers Afraid of Poetry by Adam Sol is a collection of essays on poems. Sol is the author of three previous books of poetry, including Jeremiah, Ohio, a novel in poems that was shortlisted for Ontario’s Trillium Award for Poetry; and Crowd of Sounds, which won the award in 2004. He has published fiction, scholarly essays, and reviews.

Although there are some, or many, people who are afraid of poetry it is an important part of literature. They fear it is too complicated, too unmanly, or even recall hidden fears of English teachers. This fear can be conquered in one of two ways. First, the world can embrace Instagram sensation “poets” who write platitudes and poems that sound like they were pulled out of a middle of a song — short, generic, trite, and cliche. Second, we embrace poetry, take constructive lessons, use patience, and explore the poem.

Sol is part of the second solution; the one I prefer. Rather than memorizing a sonnet or research scholarly criticism on a poem, Sol presents the poem, breaks it down, and explains the verse. He guides the reader into the secrets the poem holds. Sol explains the style and how, like the title states, the poem moves. Some of the poets are people he was taught by or made an impression him. Others are presented to show how a poem articulates feelings, invites us to praise (odes), changes while we read it, or even mourns. The poems offer a path and what we take from them forms the journey. Easy reading and easy to understand explanations allow the reader to gain confidence in what they read and hopefully read further poetry on their own.


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Book Review — Little Boy

Lawrence Ferlinghetti is an American poet, painter, socialist activist, and the co-founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. At 99 he is one of the last survivors of the Beat generation of poets and writers. Little Boy is semiautobiographical and begins with his childhood shuffling between guardians, service in World War II, and Paris. A long life blends the old and the new. An excellent mix of Google and Barney Google. Facebook gains mention along with the World Wide Web early on in the book. It is an unexpected mixture of ages but rather plain. The reader falls into a routine the begetting in Chronicles. Suddenly the text explodes into a Ginsbergesque rant. He calls on the poets of the past as one would call on the saints. He has anger:

We’re the victors we set the exchange rates the laws the
treaties not worth the paper they are printed on ha-ha we’ll tell you
how to breathe all you fuckers trying to destroy us bombing the Twin
Towers you little creeps with your pajama clothes and weird religions
and who the hell was Mohammed Zoroaster Sufi Buddha-boy Omar
Khayyam Rumi smoking hookahs and kicking back we’ll take care of
you buddy after Twin Towers we’ll generate this huge national
paranoia allowing our guv to abolish liberty in the land of the free with
panic legislation

The words flow smoothly, sometimes violently, but always with meaning and life. The words seem alive. Here is a man, on in his years, not calmly telling his life and experience to grandchildren, but raging refusing to go gently into the night.  Here is a man who saw the remains of Nagasaki and wants to remind us it can happen again.  Powerful, moving, a lifetime recorded on a hundred pages.


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Poetry Review — When the Pipirite Sings

Jean Métellus was born in Haiti and initially educated in Haiti. He left his home country to continue his education and escape the Duvalier regime in 1959. In Paris, he studied linguistics and neurology. Metellus would not return to his homeland, but instead, he began to write poetry about Haiti. His attachment to Haiti is complex since he wrote about it from memory, perhaps a bit idealized, and wrote in French, not in Creole. Haun Saussy translation of the French to English captures the spirit of the poetry while keeping the form intact.

Metellus’ masterpiece “When the Pipirite Sings” opens the collection. There is an immediate feeling of the countries people and history. The slave labor and broken promises of freedom and prosperity run through the poem as well as the forced language and religion on a captive people.

When the pipirite sings the Haitian peasant has already crossed the day’s
threshold and forms in the air, one step behind the sun, the outline of a
crucified man embracing life

The Haitian peasant knows how to get up before dawn and bury a wish, a

Poverty and slash and burn subsistence agriculture is represented.

Before daybreak this mother was contemplating
Her womb more fertile than the earth
~ When the Pipirite Sings

Glimmers of hope grow in other poems.

Haiti is glowing like a cat
Her breath and her rapture spread abroad
Her men and hillsides are already singing
Cinnamon and spices play
The seasons will cover our fields with flowers
~The Sun’s Reply

Metellus captures the spirit of his homeland and its roots. Themes of slavery and African heritage, poverty, simple lives, and hope for Haiti run deep in all the poems.

April 15, 2019

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Book Review — Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side

There is an old illusion. It is called good and evil.
Fredrick Nietzsche

Evil: The Science Behind Humanity's Dark Side

Evil: The Science Behind Humanity’s Dark Side by Julia Shaw is a study of evil and an attempt to define evil. Shaw is a German-Canadian psychologist and popular science writer who specializes in false memories. She started a BSc in psychology at the Simon Fraser University. She went on to complete a Masters in Psychology and Law at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. In 2009, she returned to Canada and was awarded a Ph.D. at the University of British Columbia entitled “Constructing Rich False Memories of Committing Crime.”

Shaw opens with Hitler, someone that nearly everyone considers as evil; the question is why. There was no trauma in his childhood. He did not torture small animals. Even to the last, he was kind to his dog. Yet, he is responsible for the deaths of millions. Others seem to fit this mold like Charles Manson, or Josef Stalin. They have little in redeeming qualities.

What is evil? Is there a definition that can be applied — a tipping point for actions. Shaw does punctuate the chapters of the book with Nietzsche quotes that tend to imply that the answer is no. The Trolley Experiment is an excellent example of the sliding scale of right and wrong, and that experiment can be played on many different levels and settings. These experiments have no right answer many times. If letting a child die to save a person wrong, what about if ten people were saved, or one hundred? Where is the line drawn? Is someone who kills a person by accident or negligence deserving of the title of “murderer” the same as a serial killer? We all have a dark secret of some kind or something we are not proud of in our past. Should that label be made public and remain with us for our entire lives?

Shaw does take some twists that are unexpected such as with Jeffery Dahmer and those who commit murder. Recidivism rates for murder are extremely low, and most murders are between people who are close. Someone who kills is doubtful to kill again. Her search for why sometimes clouds the actions. However, some crimes are of necessity. Would anyone considers Jean Valjean to be evil?

Evil has changed over time. Homosexuality was considered a crime or a mental illness. Some people thought it was contagious. Some aspects of sexuality today were considered crimes in the recent past. Others remain on the taboo list. Shaw also likes using lists that make the reader feel increasingly uncomfortable to the point that each reader comes upon an action they consider evil. We all do not stop at the same point. We oppose slavery in the modern world but where is the line drawn. Paying someone a non-living wage is permissible, but slavery is evil. Killing puppies or kittens is considered evil, but the industrial slaughter of cows, pigs, and chickens is allowable.

Nietzsche said, “There is no such thing as moral phenomena, but only a moral interpretation of phenomena.” Although many of us can agree that evil exists at one edge of the spectrum, how far does it extend to the center? Shaw gives examples and situations to show how large the grey area is between good and evil. Time moves the marker. Differences in our own thinking and experiences create different tipping points for each of us. We all agree are that there is evil, but what is evil varies between people.

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Book Review — The Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor

The lunatic is in my head
You raise the blade, you make the change
You re-arrange me ’till I’m sane
You lock the door
And throw away the key
There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.
And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon

Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon, Brain Damage.

The Book of the Moon: A Guide to Our Closest Neighbor by Maggie Aderin-Pocock is a scientific and cultural examination of the moon. Aderin-Pocock MBE is a British space scientist and science educator. She is an Honorary Research Associate in University College London’s Department of Physics and Astronomy. She studied at Imperial College London, graduating with a BSc in physics in 1990 and completed her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering.

Growing up I looked at the moon frequently through a 45x refractor. The moon was much more interesting than the bright spots that were the planets. On cold nights the craters looked sharp and clear. I lived in the city and never appreciated the light reflected by the moon. In the Marines, I found out that in the middle of nowhere (outside of light pollution), I could read by the light of the moon and under a full moon navigation was possible without additional light.

Aderin-Pocock writes almost poetic science about the moon. She presents facts and figures and science in a way that is inviting. Her writing is reminiscent of Carl Sagan in that way that the reader is embraced by the information rather than intimidated by it. It is not just the science; the moon is a cultural icon. Cat Stevens sings about being followed by a moon shadow. Creedence warns of a Bad Moon Rising. Neil Young pays tribute with Harvest Moon. The moon played a role in movies and in many of our childhoods:

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.

Perhaps adding more meaning to the word lunatic. Of course, not all of that the moon inspired is good particularly the terrible poetry and songs that rhyme moon and June. Calendars were set in lunar months and were used by many cultures. Although the sun is essential most early civilizations had moon deities. The moon determines tides for sailors and signaled seasons for farmers.  One can record the passage of time by its phases.

Aderin-Pocock presents the reader with a love story for the moon.  She gives the science and then reaches beyond the science and offers the more romanticized history of the moon and its place in human thought and lore. A combination of beauty and science.


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Book Review –When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom

When the Irish Invaded Canada by Christopher Klein

When the Irish Invaded Canada: The Incredible True Story of the Civil War Veterans Who Fought for Ireland’s Freedom by Christopher Klein is a history of a little-known war. Klein is a writer specializing in history, travel, and sports. He is a frequent contributor to the Boston Globe and, the website for the History Channel and the author of three other books.

To many people, Ireland is a country whose struggle has been limited to British rule. The Irish, as a people, were involved in many western hemisphere conflicts. Bernardo O’Higgins led the effort for Chilean independence. John Riley and the St. Patrick Brigade fought with the Mexican army in the Mexican-American War while other Irish earlier fought to defend the Alamo. The Irish have a history of fighting for causes they believe in. One cause has always been freedom from British rule.

After the Civil War, Irish men on both sides of the lines joined in a plan to gain Independence from England by seizing Canada.  The soldiers’ connection to Ireland was much stronger than the color of the uniform they previously fought in. The circumstances of the times allowed this invasion plan to progress. Many believed that the potato famine was a result of a British plot which added to their determination. Americans were leary of England because of their support of the South in the Civil War. Americans also remembered the British came through Canada and burned Washington DC. Furthermore, the great influx of Irish to America created a powerful voting block influencing politics.

The attack obviously was not successful in freeing Ireland or overtaking Canada, but it did allow for a seemingly impossible event to occur and create new heroes in the Irish Independence movement. Klein writes a smooth flowing and well-documented history of the events leading to the invasion, the invasion, and its aftermath.  Klein’s writing style and the obscurity of the event almost seems like alternative history.  It was an almost perfect storm of events and circumstances that created this chapter in history.

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Book Review — Iron Curtain Journals: January–May 1965

Iron Curtain Journals by Allen Ginsberg

Iron Curtain Journals are five months of notes from Allen Ginsberg’s travel to Cuba and Eastern Europe in 1965. There is a mixture of disappointment and excitement recorded in his journals. The writing style is typical of journals in recording experiences, feelings, and notes for future use. Ginsberg does not try to create a biography but rather a collection of impressions to spark later writings. Cuba is not the paradise he had expected. Freedom of speech and freedom to choose one’s sexual partner were severely limited and could be punishable offenses. Although his poetry readings may be canceled Ginsberg does record his sexual conquests. Cuba seems to carry the dreariness of Eastern Europe which is his next destination. Eastern Europe again offers highs and lows. Ginsberg met with contemporary writers and was a cause of friction with local authorities.  He had trouble finding a line between freedom and politics.

Allen Ginsberg’s colorful nature is seen throughout his journal.  He is disenchanted with communism. It is not what he expected.  Art and lifestyle are restricted, and freedoms that are taken for granted are missed.  This collection is essential for understanding the man.  These are his words and thoughts and not someone’s interpretation of them.  It is Ginsberg uncensored and unedited.  Anyone interested in the man will learn much more from his own words than in any biography.

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