Monthly Archives: December 2019

Book Review — James Bond: Live and Let Die


James Bond: Live and Let Die by Van Jensen, Ian Fleming, and Kewber Baal (Illustrator) is a graphic novel of Ian Flemming’s Live and Let Die.  Jensen is the author of the Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer series of graphic novels and, by day, a magazine editor.

James Bond novels are different from the movies in both large and small ways.  Bond isn’t Roger Moore; he’s a bit tougher looking and isn’t afraid to shoot a bad guy in the face.  The storyline varies.  Its different but still a bit the same — Less blacksploitation and less drug centered. The novel is more serious and less flashy.  Still, a very good graphic presentation of a classic Cold War Era spy novel.  Well done.

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Book Review — 750cc Down Lincoln Highway

750cc Down Lincoln Highway by Bernard Chambaz is a graphic novel of unexpected adventure.  Chambaz is a French novelist, historian, and poet, winner of several French literary prizes including the prestigious Goncourt for his first novel, L’Arbre de vies.

What is a runner to do when right before the start of a marathon he gets a breakup text instead of well-wishing?  He goes to a bar and drinks bourbon. A discussion begins with another patron and the Lincoln Highway becomes the subject of conversation.  This leads our author to rent a motorcycle and ride the highway from New York to California.  The general feeling as someone who rides is that the author may be new to riding.  He refers to his Honda Shadow as a 750cc motorcycle, which it is, but displacement is usually used to describe sportbikes and not cruisers.  A Honda Shadow is a Shadow and those in the know understand its a750.  Riding in the rain also seems to be a new experience for Chamaz.

What makes this worth reading is the separation of life experiences.  Riding to forget his ex-girlfriend or at least come to terms with the breakup. Second, it is separating her from his running. And finally, it is about the ride and the other riders one meets and places that are seen.  Runners have their cliques and groupings but people on motorcycles are a closer group, strangers on the road are quick to bond and share stories and help.  The road itself is a much different place on a motorcycle,  It is not the same road that one experiences in a car. A good book on life, people, and healing.


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Book Review — Poems to See By

Poems to See By illustrated by Julian Peters is a collection of illustrated poems broken into groups of seeing — nature, love, time, death and others. Julian Peters is an illustrator and comic book artist living in Montreal, Canada, who specializes in adapting classical poems into graphic art.

Many of the best poems are presented in the collection from Invictus to The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.  Some of the poems and art combine to produce emotions such as Conscientious Objector by Edna St. Vincent Millay others light and with a touch humor like e.e. cummings’ May My Heart Always be Open.  Maya Angelou’s Caged Bird appears to be embroidered on a quilt, and watercolors illustrate Langston Hughes’ Jukebox Love Song.  Wordsworth, The World is Too Much With Us is illustrated with a modern theme of cell phones, and Shelley’s Ozymandias has a historical twist.

Great poetry supplemented with a variety of art from pen and ink to manga gives an added appreciation to the original work and sometimes adds a modern touch or interpretation without changing the poem’s intent.  A very well done selection of poems and inspiring artwork to match.

Available March 31, 2020

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Book Review — Poems of the American Empire: The Lyric Form in the Long Twentieth Century

“The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts.”
Willa Cather


Poems of the American Empire: The Lyric Form in the Long Twentieth Century by Jen Hedler Phillis is a well-researched thesis on the hybrid poetry and America’s century.  Phillis is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her interests lie at the intersection of poetry and politics. Phillis’s book manuscript, Lyric Histories, traces the appearance of history in American poems from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, arguing that careful attention to a lyric surface interrupted by primary historical documents, makes the history of politics and economics in the contemporary U.S. newly legible.

The twentieth century is a complex mix of sudden modernization, the fall of the Old World and the rise of the United States as a world power.  The twentieth century is also a short century when measured against period rather than years.  Many historians start the 20th century in 1914 at the start of World War I which destroyed the old empires and end the century in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.  Industrialization, violent fighting that killed millions, revolution, technology, capitalism vs communism vs fascism, the collapse of the Eurocentric world, America’s rise as a global power, the Cold War, and Mutually Assured Destruction all played a major role in the lives of practically everyone alive in the twentieth century.  Poetry about war ended with WWI, as there was nothing poetic about modern warfare.  We learned that “April is the cruelest month” and “Winter kept us warm.”  An odd set of lines until one realizes that Eliot was referring to the unburied bodies on the European battlefield covered in snow.  The spring thaw is when the dead “reappear” to finally be buried in the now soft earth.

Eliot dedicated The Waste Land to his friend and collaborator Ezra Pound, and it is with Pound that Phillis begins her work with Pound.  The casual reader may have made ties to Pound and the politics and economics around him, but Phillis digs deep and shows that this is more than just a casual relationship.  They are forged together.  Pound may have been an easy start because he was very much a political person — an American who relocated to Britain and then to Mussolini’s Italy.  She next moves to William Carlos Williams who likewise broke with the strict order of poetry. The following chapters reach into modern times which have been less kind to America’s interventions.  Poems of the American Empire presents lyric poetry of the twentieth century as history — history in 3D or totality as the author describes it.  History and poetry do not exist side by side but rather intertwine.  Although not a collection of poetry, Phillis’ introduction and extremely detailed documentation will give the reader plenty of opportunities to discover the poets and their poetry.

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Poetry Review — Secret History

“I’ll always be a word man. Better than a bird man”

Jim Morrison

Secret History: Poems by David Barber is a collection of eclectic poetry.  Barber is the author of Wonder Cabinet and The Spirit Level, which received the Terrence Des Pres Prize from TriQuarterly Books. He is the poetry editor of The Atlantic and his poetry has been anthologized in Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing. His work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writing Conference, the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and PEN New England.

Words and word use are the topics of this selection.  There have been more than a few times that I had to read something written by someone else whether it was a resume, recommendation, or a student’s thesis and wondered how much time was spent in a thesaurus.   There is a natural flow of words punctuated by although correct, but out of place words that sometimes has one running to a dictionary.  Other times the same word is repeated so many times that reading becomes tedious.  Barber manages to do both and makes reading enjoyable.

Poems titled “Praxitelean”, “Mamihlapinatapai”, “xylotheque”, and “Lacrimarium” demonstrate my first point.  Poems like “Sand Man”, a fifty-five line poem, where every line ends with the word sand and almost every stanza begins with the same demonstrate the second point.  Barber takes things that would normally be as annoying as nails on a chalkboard and turns them into an enjoyable tune.  He likes repetition of not only words but of phrases  In other poems, he invites Yogi Berra and Cab Calloway to add their wisdom to his work.  In some poems, he takes near and slant rhymes to an amazing new level.  In Franklin Arithmetic, one must guess where the textbook questions end and the poet’s imagination begins.

Barber is a word man.  He molds words like a potter molds clay.  His topics are not the most well known, and add a bit of mystery to his work.  The more one looks into the poems the more one sees.  The poem “Barbarians” is particularly interesting in that the end words of the unrhymed couplets when read alone seem to add an extra dimension to the poem.  Fascinating word working for those who are willing to sit, read, think, and discover.


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Poetry Review — Three Poems


Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan is the poet’s first collection of poetry and the winner of the 2018 T.S. Eliot Prize. Sullivan is a British academic and poet. She is the author of The Work of Revision, which won the Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and the University English Book Prize.

It is extremely refreshing to see the return of long poems:  a detailed, flowing, narrative, that captures the reader and holds them in sort of a reading trance.  Words and thoughts flowing through the reader’s mind and occasionally hitting even a higher-level awareness.  The lines connect in complex images and emotions. The reader will realize that this is what poetry should be — full, rich, and rewarding.  It is not the easy “poetry” of Instagram.  This is for the mind.

Three Poems is exactly what the title describes.  There is the innocent beginning in New York City followed by an adult period in California a period of repeating and patterns.  The final poem cycles the reader back to a time that is the next step in life but also to create a new person to start the cycle again.  Childbirth and death of a parent in this section complete the cycle of life,  The acts are the same, but the people change.  One cannot go back in time, but having a child is much the same as giving youth back, but not directly to yourself.

I can appreciate the New York City opening and life in an east coast big city.  It is the city of immigrants beginning a new life, the beginning of style and music that others will soon follow. It is the excitement of youth — “He makes it for the girl in leathers with a face like the Virgin Mary.” and “Her fingers smelled of Camel Lights and lavender, and she is laughing.”  In California, the setting changes — “Days may be where we live, but mornings are eternity.  They wake us, and every day waking is absurdity; all the things you just did yesterday to do over again.”  We become a cog in the system and will make cracks about the hipsters (who a few years ago would have been us).  Finally, as a parent, we see our earlier life in the child’s future.  We witness the circle.  A decade and a half older than the poet I can easily relate to the scenes and settings of life that she experienced. Perhaps, that just goes to support the idea that we all travel the same cycle but at different times.

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Book Review — Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World


Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World by Gillian Gill is a biography of Virginia Woolf and her forebearers. Gill, who holds a Ph.D. in modern French literature from Cambridge University, has taught at Northeastern, Wellesley, Yale, and Harvard. She is the author of We Two: Victoria and Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals; Nightingales: The Extraordinary Upbringing and Curious Life of Miss Florence Nightingale; Agatha Christie: The Woman and Her Mysteries; and Mary Baker Eddy.

There are plenty of biographies of Virginia Woolf as well as her collected letters and diaries. Her life still does hold a few mysteries, one very large aspect of her life, is covered in detail by Gill but not universally agreed on by Woolf scholars. Gill’s work, however, is almost a prequel of Woolf. She goes back several generations to explore her French and Indian family background.

In digging deeper into Woolf’s past, Gill explores the topic of mental illness in the Stephens lineage which affected many of Virginia’s generation. Her Sister Vanessa was susceptible to breakdowns, another sister was institutionalized, and both her brothers showed signs of Cyclothymia. Although most of us would consider the middle of the 20th century as modern times, it is surprising how little was known about mental illness and its treatment.

Another aspect that is covered in this book is sexuality especially among those of the Bloomsbury Group and the upper levels of society. Homosexuality was more common than one would expect and there were more than a few show marriages meant to hide the crime of homosexuality. Although well known in the upper circles, it remained a secret from the public. Private matters were deemed to remain private. Gill ties in another term that was prevalent in England at the time and expands on it: homosocially. Segregation by sex was very common and began in early schooling and lasted through the university experience. The use of Jacob’s Room is used to explain some of the concepts when Jacob decides to go swimming (skinny dipping) and to sun-dry afterward — nudity among men was commonplace and although did not mean homosexuality, it may have encouraged it in some.

Virginia Woolf: And the Women Who Shaped Her World is a well researched and very well documented work of the Stephens and Jackson families. It examines the society that Virginia Woolf was raised in and lived as well as her personal conflicts. The Victorian society that shaped her early years. Her lack of formal education, but reading from a large family library. Her promiscuous friends and her abstinence.  It is also one of the few biographies where Woolf’s mental illness is not sensationalized and her relationship with Vita Sackville-West is not made a center point of her life.  Virginia Woolf’s life in many ways has strong ties to her ancestry and to the historical setting in which she lived. Gill does an outstanding job of providing a more complete picture of one of England’s greatest 20th-century writers.

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