Monthly Archives: January 2019

Book Review — Virginia Woolf in Richmond

We have glimpses of heaven. So mild that the landing window was open, and I sat by the river watching a boat launched and half expected to find buds on the willows.
Virginia Woolf January 23, 1918 Richmond.

Virginia Woolf in Richmond attempt to accomplish two goals first is the effort to raise money to erect a full-size bronze statue of Virginia Woolf on the Richmond Riverside. The second is to counter a quote made in the movie The Hours — “But if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death.” Virginia Woolf never made that comment, but for some reason, filmmakers chose to create it.  Hogarth House and Hogarth Press are/were located in Richmond and the settings for such works as Kew Gardens. Woolf wrote her first books short stories in Richmond. It was also where she and Leonard lived for ten years.

Fullagar writes in Virginia Woolf’s life in Richmond. Although written as a biography it is clearly centered on the ten years of 1914 through 1925 in which the Woolfs lived in Hogarth House. This is the beginning of Virginia Woolf as a writer. Here too is the beginnings of Hogarth press. Bought used and without any experience, the Woolfs became self-taught publishers. They not only published their own work including their first work Two Stories a collaboration between the Woolfs with Virginia writing The Mark on the Wall and Leonard writing Three Jews. Hogarth Press also published T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in 1924 and Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians in the 1930s.

Richmond provided Virginia Woolf with peaceful dictations of walks in Deer Park. The press was also a sort of therapy for Virginia Woolf. It occupied her mind with a task and helped prevent her from slipping back into illness. Richmond allowed for social interaction but without the rush and bustle of a fast-paced London. It was a tranquil life. Fullagar presents a well-written case for Woolf’s love of Richmond. Although Woolf is permanently linked with Bloomsbury, she does have deep roots in Richmond.

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Book Review — The Korean Woman

The Korean Woman by John Altman

Song Sun Young is a North Korean sleeper. The horrors of her youth and even her “escape” from North Korea have deeply scarred her. Now living in America married and with two children she hopes the call to duty never arrives. She is now American and has a family. She is unaware that American intelligence already knows who she is and it is watching her. When the call comes, things fall apart its not just one agent, but terrorists, and nuclear threats.

Reminiscent of the old Cold War spy novels, Altman creates a new paradigm of players with the US still making up one side. The Soviet Union is no longer and China although not an ally is linked too closely to the US to become the new enemy. North Korea now makes the perfect enemy. Its missiles and nuclear weapons can hit the US shores, and in fiction, they are more advanced. Russia and China play the neutral middle seeking power but not confrontation unless provoked. Although not exactly the real world situation, the storyline makes for good reading. As with the Cold War-style novels of the past, the reader must realize that this is fiction much like a Bond movie — entertainment with a hint of fantasy.

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Book Review — Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure


Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure, by Andrew Cotto, is the story of Boston area Jacoby Pines and his journey of self-discovery. The former rocker turned PR man finds himself out of a job and shunned by the industry. His fiancee Claire, a freelance food and travel writer, decides to take him on a year-long trip to Italy where she will be working. Although meant to be a time for Jacoby to recover, the stay turns out to be a source of fiction for the couple. Their time apart leaves Jacoby to investigate an old photo that he brought with him, hoping to discover something of his past. Through the course of the book, he meets Bob, from East Texas who has been living illegally and Helen from Melbourne who is both a bit refined and a little wild.

Cotto manages to capture Italian country life and regional themes in wine rich Italy. If the reader doesn’t care for Jacoby, there is more than enough food imagery throughout the book to keep the reader hungry. It would be an understatement to say food plays a predominant role in the book. Other themes enter the text that are surprisingly unexpected. Scenes like the Florence underground lead to some surprising descriptions and people that do not usually make it into the travel guides. Fetes, sports, and tradition round out the reader’s tour of Florence. Cucina Tipica translates to traditional cuisine, and although food and culture play a role in the story, there is enough of the uncommon fare to separate this novel from others set in Italy.

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Poetry Review — Tap Out: Poems

Tap Out: Poems by Edgar Kunz is a collection of poetry that reflects the America many do not want to see but seems to be growing. Kunz’s work has received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the MacDowell Colony, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow.

Kunz brings the growing blue-collar hardships to poetry. What Springsteen did with The Ghost of Tom Joad and much of his early work and what Stephen Markley did with his prose work Ohio now has a verse companion. Simple writing with explicit messages taken from what could be life in many places like Cleveland, Detroit, and the host of many broken manufacturing towns. Growing up, one does not see the poverty;  it is accepted as normal. Growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s I could relate to much of the normalcy of the life of the characters — the older kids, drugs, the sense of adventure, and somehow thinking this was the best life. It is later that we see the decay in society, people, and the city itself. The toll is reflected in several examples. An alcoholic father who destroyed his family, and also the father who works harder than he should have to:

There’s no one left to see his hands
lifting from the engine bay, dark, and gnarled
as roots dripping river mud

no one to see how his palms — slabs of calluses

The poet sees the damage of drinking slipping into his life in an almost predestined fashion. As the world closes in on working people there can be bits of hope and even small victories.  Kunz captures an entire class of America in their darkest hour.  His writing seems biographical and without a forced hand.  The writing flows as if speaking from experience.  There is no hyperbole, only honesty of the people and their situation — it may not be pretty, or even legal, but it is an adaptation to the environment.  There is a chance for some to escape and for some just to endure.  A hard-hitting, authentic, straight forward portrayal of the people who helped build America and now find themselves the working poor.

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Poetry Review — One Thing — Then Another: Poems

One Thing — Then Another: Poems by Claire Kelly is the poet’s second collection of poetry. She lives and writes in Edmonton, Alberta.

The poetry is of contrasts much like the title suggests, and the verse flows across the country of Canada from East to West. The collection opens with a winter scene, but Kelly sets the hook with “Cool Enough to Sink a Ship:”

I wanna be cool the way Patti Smith says

Smith references always make me look a little deeper. This is not just a passing reference but an inclusion of Smith’s first cover “Hey, Joe” and continues with an undercurrent of Smith’s style. At times I was anticipating a chorus of “Horses, horses, horses” as the poet moved west.  From there, the poetry contrasts life from observation of squirrels, memories of her father’s stories, and all those things we pick up and carry through life:

So he keeps on hauling.
On his shoulders the straps
digging in, as he carries
another sack full of smithereens,
metallic forgottens,
west and away,
for good and always.

The West comes through in a U-haul ride across the country and an intermission of poetry inspired from a wide range of movies from Them! to Mad Max. Early snow poems are now contrasted by the rain of the West. More than just contrasts, Kelly offers the reader a pleasing flow of poetry when she slips out of prose style and into verse:

More swift ones swoop beyond with gusty strides,
but in neutral disguise, wrinkleless black, navy, grey—
no flashy purple or sick sleet-green,
no totter to their posture, places to go,
colleagues to sway, Nimbostrategic-climber,
with paper in paperclips, highlighters beaconing
the points they’ll forecast.

Kelly’s second collection brings the American reader a look into Canada and a look at one of Western Canada’s rising poets.

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Book Review — La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World


La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World by Dianne Hales presents a nonscholarly look at Italy and its history and influence. Hales is the author of La Bella Lingua, a New York Times best-seller; Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered, an Amazon best book of the year, translated into six languages; and more than forty trade and textbooks.

What makes Italy unique in a world of195 countries? Ask anyone of Italian heritage, and they will tell you. It is almost like the old Marine Corps maxim. Never ask a person if they were a Marine. If they were, they would tell you, if not no need to embarrass them. The same goes for Italians. Ask Americans with interests in different areas about Italy. Cyclists will speak of Colnago, Campagnolo, and Pinarello. The motorcyclist will speak of Ducati and Moto Guzzi. The car enthusiast Mazaradi and Ferrari. The list goes on with opera, clothing, works of art, political philosophy, and food. No matter the subject of discussion there is something the Italians did to make it better or more remarkable.

Hales’ book presents something of a different take on Italy. Her work is not a rigid history or even a cultural history although she does show her source material. It carries an informal and friendly tone throughout the book. She uses history to support the concept of La Passione, a passion for being passionate. La Passione is easily recognized. This year I met Valentina Scandolora a well known Italian cyclist who was competing in the US for the first time. There is little doubt about her passion for cycling and winning. But, what was the most fun was hearing about things that, we Americans, think of as Italian. Coffee and food are two easy subjects. It is difficult for an Italian to find a good cup of coffee in Oklahoma or decent (real) Italian food. It’s vaguely recognizable but not the real thing. It’s not arrogance but a simple statement — “This is not Italian.”

This passion runs deep in Hales’ love story of Italy. It covers a broad spectrum from Petrarch to high heels. I learned a few new things about Dante, lace, Titian, and Botticelli. La Passione is the perfect book for those wanting to learn more about Italy and Italian culture without the rigors of a detailed history text. The writing is informal and lets the reader have a feeling they are talking to an insider with secrets to share. Nicely done.


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Poetry Review — Creance; or, Comest Thou Cosmic Nazarite

A deceptive collection in that its small size would have the reader believe that this would be a quick and easy read. The poetry is involved, but at the same time rewarding if one gives the time, effort, and contemplation to the writing. There is also a difficulty in providing samples for review. Sauvage, my favorite poem in the collection, exists as a complete poem and cutting out a sample would leave the beginning and end from it. Line ends do not break the thought but simply signify the end of space to the right. A single period and one forward slash offer the only punctuation. The use of a single period as punctuation is common in the collection. The forward slash, usually indicating a line break when part of the poem is used in a prose article, are used in the short line structure of the presented poems.

The title refers to the thin cord used in falconry to ensure the bird returns to its master. The French definition implies that it used to retain a bird of little faith. The reader now wears this restriction. Like a falcon that existed as a free animal, symbolizing success and victory, the free reader becomes tethered to the poet’s writing by an invisible cord searching while searching for freedom in the words and phrases. Complex, compelling, and abstract.

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Poetry Review — In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps

A different kind of freedom
is throwing rocks
into the lake and knowing the lake’s response.

In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps by Rob Schlegel is the 2018 Iowa Poetry Prize Winner. Schlegel is the author of The Lesser Fields and January Machine. He lives and teaches in Washington state.

In the Tree Where the Double Sex Sleeps is a father’s look at the world and his place as a complete parent. Leaves make many appearances through the collection as trees are genderless as a whole, but contain both sexes to produce fertilized seed. In nature, the role of gender is different. Humans have created patterns into which everyone needs to fit. There is a freedom in nature:

Near the fountain, a few deer, rich with insides
different from mine, but the same,
incorporated as I am, though wired to nothing

The long poem “Novella” dominates this collection with a childhood view of life and parents. The role of natural elements leaves an eerie, dreamlike remembrance of bees, owls, and a terrible prophecy. The word use and lyrical quality of the writing create a haunting but compelling feeling:

The meaning I’m trying to protect is
the heart is neither boy, nor girl. I close my hand
around the stem and pull.

The third section of the collection the poet becomes the parent himself. He is the father who wishes to be the mother to his children. The long poem “Threat Perception” is his adult version of “Novella” looking at his own children — a son and daughter. There are not bees and owls but serpents and spiders. The shift from industry and wisdom to evil and fear as the poet’s view changes from child to father. The collection closes on that note with a reflection once again on trees. A thought-provoking, lyrical, and image-rich collection of poetry in line with the tradition of the Iowa Poetry Prize.

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Poetry Review — The Year of the Femme

The Year of the Femme by Cassie Donish is a 2018 Iowa Poetry Prize-winning collection. Donish holds a BA in English and comparative religions from the University of Washington, and an MA in human geography from the University of Oregon. She currently teaches classes at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where she’s pursuing a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing.

The collection opens with “Portrait of a Woman, Mid-Fall.” A woman alone thinks of life and dreams while at the same time autumn is in view out the window. There seems to be a trap between security — man or a dog, happiness or misery. There is a binary world that restricts dreams and time that limits choices. The yellow leaves dance on the wind while the red leaves crunch as they are crushed underfoot. Every day the number of leaves on the trees decrease and the number on the ground increase — like discarded dreams. The woman wishes she can stop the leaves from changing merely because she knows she cannot. One thing cannot exist without its opposite.

Arrival is not a rival of departure
The two have to work together to make anything happen
All the clocks move together through time

Donish uses language and creates stunning images. Poems in the second section combine memories and impressions:

Daylight glinting off dimes in the grass
Daylight, and our teeth don’t feel
different yet

Daylight on top of the city, on top
of the lake
Daylight through a sieve of fingers
Mimics the skyscrapers
“Meanwhile, in a Galaxy”

The final section, “The Year of the Femme,” revisits the concept of the binary in two-part poems. The first part consists of prose poetry, complete sentences, and formed in a near perfect block. The other element of the verse is chaotic in the arrangement of phrases and line breaks. Each half compliments the other much like arrival and departure. A wonderful collection of poetry. Truly, one of the best in contemporary poetry.

Available April 1, 2019

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Poetry Review — The Year of Blue Water

The Year of Blue Water by Yanyi is a collection of mostly prose poems covering a variety of current identity issues. Yanyi is a poet and critic who has received fellowships from the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, Poets House, and the Millay Colony for the Arts.

Racism, gender identity, orientation, and the idea of duality come into play in the poems. The poems themselves flow like stream of consciousness, but the stream seems much more polished with a natural structure and refinement.

What you touch will come to life: a whole room sprung in backwards words of people untalking to you.

The topics gently shift and flow. Being poor as a child and longing for Cherioes because they were so much better than the cheap copies. Later in life depression — being trapped in one’s self and part of the self not wanting to go on or taking personality tests to find out the person you are supposed because you are unable to or confused by what you think of yourself. Boundaries of one’s self are more complex than nineteenth-century French cities whose boundaries were set by the reach of the church bells peal.

The Year of Blue Water is a deep and exploratory account of one person’s life and confusion when examining one’s self and the world around. Masculinity is no longer driven by the male John Wayne figure and feminity no longer constrained by either June Cleaver. In the seventies, one British band would explain that “It was a mixed up, muddled up, shook up world.” Then it was a fringe idea today the grey areas become much more substantial than in the old duality. The order of a binary system has seemed to fade in everything from health and unhealthy to the world locked in as capitalist and communist systems. Yanyi explores the complexity of his own life in this fluid collection of prose poetry.

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