Monthly Archives: February 2019

Book Review — Inferno inside You: The Comedy Project Part 1

It has been almost 700 years since Dante wrote The Divine Comedy. How well does a book that old stand up in the modern world? Dante included people from his time in the book that most people do not know and probably many in Europe at the time would not have known either. It is also a book centered on religious themes. The Inferno’s levels of Hell were divided by the type of sin and each sin receiving more punishment as one descends the levels. Dante would also break the rules of his time and write in the local Italian dialect rather than Latin so that a more significant portion of the population could read it.

Jobling, taking a page from Dante, wants to make The Divine Comedy more accessible to people. Granted many people have little interest in reading a 700-year-old, long narrative poem that featured local religious and political figures along with a heavy dose of Catholic dogma. For those who have read it, The Divine Comedy is a bit more than that; it is a journey. To make the original a bit more readable to the average person. First, the religious overtones are removed and replaces with more modern themes. He also replaces the poetry with a more straightforward but still eloquent text:

The forester pointed further away,
and I saw Sappho from Lesbos,
talking to Lao Tzu and Buddha.
They were people, or as like people
as anyone was down here.
And then Krishna and Mohammed talking to Tolstoy and Mahatma Gandhi.
And then crouching quiet in a corner, Einstein.
And nearby were Cleopatra and Carl Gustav Jung.
This is a dream I thought, a fiction,
but I knew it was not.
It was me, in the middle of my life.

Rather than a heavy emphasis on the seven deadly sins, a more modern approach is taken:

I saw people there up to their eyebrows in boiling blood.
“These are the terrorists of this world,
the violence-loving believers,” said my forester.

and

Or our very world itself, given to us –
those who break its nature, deliberately,
as if it were nothing
as if they themselves were the world,
denying the wonder of that which they are a part,
denying the sense of creation,
the spirit of the origin of nature.

The modern take on sin and the more prose approach to the Divine Comedy do not seem to take away from the meaning of the original. Jobling plans to write Purgatory and Paradise for the 700th anniversary. These will be more difficult tasks. Hell, after all, is a fascinating place to visit. Most who read the original either only read the Inferno or the Inferno was their favorite or most memorable part. If Jobling does as well as he did with Inferno, Purgatory might be an exciting read (it is an incredibly dull place in the original). A well-done re-imagining of a classic for modern times.

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Book Review — The Rolling Stones in Comics!

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An entertaining mix of a graphic novel, real photos, and short texts about one of rock and rolls iconic bands. Photographs and text describe pieces of The Stones history and are followed up with a graphic reenactment of the prose — like Kieth and Mick meeting for the first time or how Keith Richards tunes his five-string guitar and why it sounds so unique. This book is by no means a detailed history of the band but hits many of the high (or low) points like the Redlands Affair and Altamont. A fun project for fans of the group that has been rocking since 1962.

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Poetry Review — Unopened

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Unopened by Doug Hoekstra is the writer’s first collection of poetry. Hoekstra is a Chicago-bred, Nashville-based writer and musician, educated at DePaul University (B.A.) and Belmont University (M.Ed.). His first book, Bothering the Coffee Drinkers (Canopic Publishing, April 2016) was an Independent Publisher Award Bronze Medal Finalist for Best Short Fiction.

It is very refreshing to see a new poet who is not an “Instagram poet.” I may just be getting old, but poetry is more than a few trite lines on a page. Hoekstra’s poems vary in style and format to even include a sonnet. There is a connection in the words that form art, images, and even memories in the reader’s mind. Unopened is divided into three sections. The first section, “On the Page,” represents the things that are close to us and ties us together. From the first poem “Memory,” the reader is connected with the poet. It is in these poems the reader realizes that I have experienced that too…that same exact moment. We look back with nostalgia at “The Teeterboard” or see a bit of ourselves years ago in young couples.

The second section “Off the Canvas (Out into the World) takes the reader into adulthood, sometimes alone, and sometimes with others. There may be a bit of nostalgia, but there is a healthy dose of questioning. “The Minimum” and “Officespeak” detail a touch of the reality of the real world. “The Claims Approver” brings to mind a Dickens-like drudgery and the thanklessness of modern employment. I was taken back to earlier days with the “Ode to the Sunday Paper.” That huge collection of newsprint where one can spend the entire day relaxing and reading while enjoying a pot of coffee. The memories of reporters working to provide that important story seem to have been replaced with internet news entertainment. The section closes with the poem “Stars.” It is a simply written poem with only one word on each line. We climb a hill to get a more unobstructed view to name the stars. Yet, many of these stars do not exist today as we are looking at the light they gave off millions of years ago.

The final section, “Between the Notes,” takes the reader further into life. The poem “Gravitas” is the opposite of “Stars.” Here complex electronics sounds, as music, are described in a mechanical way. Even the stanzas give the impression of a digital stereo spectrograph. The poet’s tone makes a noticeable change with the poem “Vinyl” — the antithesis of electronic music.

Hoekstra, being a musician, manages to include music in many of his poems — Sinatra, McCartney, Blues, and Jazz. He does this in a very natural manner that is not forced and does not come across as song lyrics posing as poetry. The variety of forms are work well. It is a nice mixture of free form with a few sedokas and a sonnet (about a radiator of all things). Unopened is a meaningful collection of poetry that will strike a chord with most readers. It is a reminder that although we are all different, we share many of the same experiences and sometimes it takes good poetry to remind us of that.

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Book Review — The White Book

The color white in Korea has several of the same traditional meanings as it does in the West — purity and truth being the two most obvious. White also signifies life as Koreans refer to themselves as “White clad folk.” White also represents the cardinal direction of West and the element of metal. Kang goes more in-depth in her tribute to the color.

White is the pure snow and ice, and that can also be a negative — a father lost in the Himalayas, the frost and ice that limit life. White can be the look of death as well as life in the form of breast milk. It can be vast as the Milky Way or as small as the glimmer of metal. Kang seems to bring out the darker side of white. It can hide but not correct imperfections. It is the color of light and also the color of the ashes of a loved one. It can also be the simple joys of a passing cloud or the moon in the sky.

Kang plays a tribute to a color that has well defined traditional meanings in western society. It also has contemporary definitions of plain, “white bread,” the dread of winter. The color is present in all things, and especially in Kang’s view, it has a close association with death. The writing is near poetic at times and haunting at others. The White Book defies categorization and does not sit well in any pigeon hole. Perhaps a bit experimental in concept but executed well in practice as themes run through the collection forming links to some topics and isolating others. An interesting collection of short essays and near poems.

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Poetry Review — Roots Grew Wild

Roots Grew Wild by Erica Hoffmeister

Roots Grow Wild by Erica Hoffmeister is a collection of poetry told by the oldest daughter in a Midwest family. Hoffmeister earned her MA in English and MFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University’s dual degree program in 2015. She has work published or forthcoming in Mothers Always Write, FreezeRay, Rag Queen Periodical, So To Speak, Split Lip Magazine, Rat’s Ass Review, and Shark Reef, among others.

Hoffmeister draws the reader into her poetry in two ways. First, her skill with language is reminiscent of the style in Woolf’s The Years, especially the opening of the chapter “1911”.

Sawdust swirling in circles around September leaves.
Piles of certainty: certainty that the leaves would crash
into earth and course through veins underground by
month until green sprouts welcomed spring in a rush of
pollen and migraines, mothers always seemed to turn up
with at the sight of a new sun.

The words combine to become something more than their individual selves or even their combined totals. They create complete images and memories in the reader’s mind. Hoffmeister takes the reader into an era where complexity created the allure of poetry. It is the magic of using words to form a composite representation of reality. The language usage in this collection is just stunning.

The second draw is the symbolism and the blending of family and a tree in a battle of survival. Early on the reader learns of tree roots destroying the house’s foundation and the father’s attempt to remove the tree and save the house. The role of family and tree switch and are intertwined. The ax is the tool used to remove the tree but watching her fathers preoccupation with the violent destruction of the tree creates the question, is the axe destroying the tree or is it destroying the father?

Arms percolated with sweat, merging with bleeding
sap of bark. From the porch, we could not tell who was a
tree and who was a man, or whom the axe betrayed first.

One may assume that man would win over the tree but “The Storm of ’97” seems to be out of place; a bit bizarre when taken alone, but when considered in the context of the book with the twists, braids, and even the roots of the bald cypress trees one sees that all things are plaited. The tree and the family can be interchanged or at least interconnected.

Poetry was not meant to be trite, simplistic, or an Instagram sensation. Hoffmeister creates the art that is poetry — deep, involved, interconnectedness, and with language that creates a complete reality. Roots Grow Wild captures the ideal of poetry and poetic prose in a contemporary setting.

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Book Review — A Different Kind of Fire

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A Different Kind of Fire by Suanne Schafer is the story of Ruby Schmidt a young woman in West Texas near the turn of the twentieth century. I found this book in the Historical Fiction category and being a resident of Texas I thought I would give it a try. However, even before getting to the story I saw that the author is a member of the San Antonio Romance Authors and The Romance Writers of America. The Romance market is vast; it’s just that I am not part of it. Happily, as it turns out, this is not a romance novel.

Shortly into the book, I found the lead character Ruby Schmidt very likable. The strict West Texas environment both social and religious would be a tough place for a young female artist to get much notice and if she did, she would be reined in. Ruby develops into a strong lead female character who bends instead of breaks and uses her smarts to convince her parents to let her go to art school in Philidelphia.

What follows is a series of challenges to the character. Life in the big city is fast and attractive for an eligible young woman. Relationships develop unexpectedly. She left her presumed husband to be in Texas and finds an exciting world where reproductive health leaves many options open. There is also the challenge between family and developing a career. Furthermore, establishing a career as a woman in a man’s world is no easy task.

What I found most interesting in the novel is its relation to early twentieth-century British Literature. There was the division between city and country, although not as drastic as West Texas and Philidelphia. The early feminist writers included many of the same themes concerning the woman’s place and status to including voting and property rights (Vita Sackville-West lost Knole because of her sex). Relationships in British fiction are represented in books such as The Well of Loneliness. Careers for creative women appear in Virginia Woolf’s A Room of Her Own and admittedly require some money (Ruby uses her grandmother’s legacy). Not that the British women were unique in there struggle. Schafer demonstrates the same message in an American setting using historical events, legislation, and figures of the time. A well-written and thought out novel about America’s lesser-known feminist beginnings.

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Book Review — Solar Bones

the Angelus bell
ringing out over its villages and townlands,
over the fields and hills and bogs in between,
six chimes of three across a minute and a half,
a summons struck
on the lip of the void

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Marcus Conway hears the bell of Angelus while sitting at his kitchen table waiting for his wife to come home on All Soul’s Day. He speaks to the reader in a stream of consciousness remembering his town and past. Marcus is a middle-aged civil engineer with a lifetime of stories and struggles. He sees the world from the point of an engineer, and it provides a split in his world. Much like modernism’s creation when the world broke in two, Marcus’ world is also deeply divided. Politicians and engineers create the divide in his world. There seems to be a battle between votes and where money and improvements go. The boom-bust cycle in Ireland in the early 2000s is taking its toll in construction and even in the maintenance of the water system. It also creates friction between doing things right and politicians keeping workers happy. This split will also bring problems to his family.

Reading this book the reader may feel like he is in the early twentieth century. The language flows, and there is the influence of Joyce or even Woolf in the words and style. The reader is pulled back into modern times with mentions of the internet and cell phones. Time passes for Marcus not only does he age but so does his father. His children become adults. The news bulletins on the radio continue after the tone to mark the top of the hour as it has done throughout Marcus’ life, dividing his day. It is a reminder of time passing much like the Angelus bell marks the time at the beginning of the book. Time moves on carrying us with it and in the end, like Marcus, there never seems to be enough. An excellent novel that captures the spirit of modernism in the present day.

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