Category Archives: Book Review

Poetry Review — War Songs

War Songs by Antarah Ibn Shaddad and translated James Montgomery is a collection of pre-Islamic poetry. Shaddad known as ʿAntar was a pre-Islamic Arab knight and poet, famous for both his poetry and his adventurous life. Montgomery is Sir Thomas Adams’s Professor of Arabic. He studied Arabic and Ancient Greek at Glasgow University, spent two years on an unfinished DPhil at Oxford, where he was a Snell Exhibitioner at Balliol College before taking up a lectureship at Glasgow. Senior Lectureships at Oslo and Leeds preceded his move to Cambridge in 1997.

‘Antar plays the role of an Arab Beowulf. He is a warrior who lives for battle and destroying his enemies. He is also a poet that unlike the poetry of WWI turns battle into a romantic act. War and battle became a religion which he participated in with zeal.

nobles like this are fair game
My spear mucked him up.
He did not look so fancy
laying there, a feast for night
predators ripping him from head to wrist.

ʿAntar faces death as a challenge not as fear:

I went face to face with Death
up close, with only a shield and a burnished saber
to keep us apart.

Peter Cole (Yale University) provides a detailed introduction into Arab poetry and translation and discusses the challenges of the translation not only in language but in time bringing the 6th century into modern form. The introduction provides a detailed history of not only ‘Antar’s life but also a history of the Arabian peninsula.  ‘Antar is not only famous as a warrior but also as a mixed-race hero.  He is one of the three black ravens in pre-Islamic history — a poet warrior of a black, Ethiopian, mother who was a slave.  ‘Antar, himself, was born into slavery but earned his freedom through heroics in battle.

War Songs will provide the reader with an introduction to early Arabic poetry.  The introduction and forward offers more than adequate information and background for a reader unfamiliar with the history or poetry.  The translation along with the introduction and forward are heavily cited with explanations and source material for those readers looking for more information and further reading.  An excellent collection of poetry, biography, and history.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Poetry Review — Evolution

An intriguing collection of poems that will take more than one reading or a deal of pondering over each poem. The short lines do not complete a thought and the lack of punctuation leaves the reader to find structure in the lines and create meaning between the words. I am reminded of the first time I read Gertrude Stein’s Tiny Buttons.

Available September 21, 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Poetry Review — Transaction Histories

39732938

Transaction Histories by Donna Stonecipher is a series of six poems of several sections. Stonecipher is the author of three books of poems, most recently The Cosmopolitan (2008, winner of the National Poetry Series). She graduated from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, with an MFA in 2001. She completed her Ph.D. in English and Creative Writing at the University of Georgia.

Transaction Histories delivers an exciting collection of observations and bits of news. The color blue and water in all its forms are present and run through the entire collection. The sea, rivers, snow, coastlines, and an infinity pool are all represented. Water is the ban of developers as nothing can be built on it. Later we are reminded of the plastic island in the Pacific the size of Texas, and it is countered with:

The plastic owls had been manufactured to scare away other
birds, as if wisdom itself were frightening — and indeed it was.

The language is crisp and filled with images:

In the photograph there were long rows of hooded horses, their eyes like great dark
romantic marbles glistening out into the unromantic crowds.

The images reflect back and forth through the poems and form connections to the past. Views change as a gardener, artist, and a veterinarian discuss the best places to live. This is countered later by travelers who arrive in a foreign city looking to eat and find the same selection of restaurants they had at home, except with the if one found one’s self at a particular restaurant in India.

Time changes values of items:

Even as we sat watching the sunset, somewhere a lamp was turning into an antique somewhere a sofa was converting from bad taste to good taste.

It also changes what people value:

A lot of people seemed to like to go to the New York Public Library, establish themselves at a desk surrounded by books, and spend all afternoon stroking their smartphones.

 

Stonecipher takes the reader on a journey from Persian carpets, to the (loosely translated) Encyclopedia of Bad Taste, and Snow.  Between each section is are two short poems call “Landscape” and “Portrait” which offer a view of art from the past and waste from the present.  A stark contrast between the past and present.  The past and present and people and things come together to compliment and contract each other. An enjoyable and thought-provoking collection of modern poetry.

Available September 10, 2018

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles: The Lives and Loves of Virginia Woolf & the Bloomsbury Group

25042520

Living in Squares, Loving in Triangles: The Lives and Loves of Virginia Woolf & the Bloomsbury Group by Amy Licence concern the interrelationships of the Bloomsbury Group members. Licence is a journalist, author, historian, and teacher, currently living in Canterbury, Kent, UK. Other interests include the Bloomsbury Group and Modernism, specifically the Post-Impressionists and Cubism.

What separates this book from most books on Virginia Woolf is that she is the linchpin of the group. Although her affairs were limited to Sackville-West and flirtations with Clive Bell other members had more and varied relationships. Woolf and Bell seem to be more of a competition with her very close sister Vanessa. Vanessa left Virginia for Bell and Virginia was acting in more of a vengeful manner. Woolf does serve as the common link to the Bloomsbury members Clive Bell, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keyes, Lytton Strachey, E.M. Forster, Dora Carrington, and Leonard Woolf.

The public image was important, but private matters tended to be kept private. Marriages were made for convenience. Marriage allowed homosexual men a public front for their private lives. It also gave the wife security and freedom to work in arts and literature. Vanessa Bell has a much more active role in the relationships of the period. Her marriage out of love allowed her to develop her art and when the love faded allowed her to enter into other relationships. It may have been shocking at the time, but today it seems rather mild.

It is not only the relationships of the time that could have caused scandal, but it was also the art and literature of the time. In literature, modernism was changing the novel. In art, post-impressionism and cubism were shaking up the art world and in some sense creating a scandal in itself. For those who have read Woolf’s diaries or letters, this work has a wider scope as other points of view are given as well as the state of the arts. The inclusion of Keyes shows how economic theory was changing too. The world was changing and the center of change, in England, seemed to be the Bloomsbury Group. An interesting history and biography of Bloomsbury’s fascinating members.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene

36004703

The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene by Simon L. Lewis and Mark A. Maslin is a detailed study of the history of the planet. Simon L. Lewis is Professor of Global Change Science at University College London and University of Leeds. An award-winning scientist, he has been described as having “one of the world’s most influential scientific minds”. He has written for the Guardian and Foreign Policy magazine. Mark A. Maslin is Professor of Earth System Science at University College London and a Royal Society Wolfson Research Merit Scholar. He is the author of eight books and has written for The Times and New Scientist.

The Human Planet is a book which works to pinpoint the new, or rather current, geologic epoch, the Anthropocene — the human epoch. With attention to the evolution of life and how life on earth. Different events have changed the earth. The Carboniferous period is named for the carbon sinking plant life expanded across the planet. Ice ages had their effects on life. The rise and fall of flora and fauna are used as markers in the history of the earth.

Following the section on historical geology, the authors concentrate on the rise of man from his beginning to his spread across the world. Man would have continued as hunter-gatherers without much effect on the planet. Man, however, did things to change his environment. Agriculture created societies and, in that, it also selectively bred plants and animals to meet his needs. A long string of events came from settling and developing agriculture. A community developed, a government formed, labor was divided. Efficiency in growing food exceeded hunting and gathering. This allowed new activities to begin — primitive manufacturing, cultivating the land, and growth in population.

Technology helped man spread his influence on the planet. Something as harmless as the printing press was responsible for expanding information to a greater number of people and preserved knowledge. That information led to education and development of new technology or applications of technology. The power of steam was known to the ancient Greeks, but it wasn’t until the 18th century when the steam engine was developed. The coal-fired steam engine replaced water mills to power industry. Coal was also used to heat houses and for cooking. London air was described as a sea of coal dust. From there a domino effect of new technology, population growth, deforesting, and removal of animal species continued. Man started changing the environment to suit his needs.

Since the steam engine, man has accelerated his impact on the planet. It is not only fossil fuels but also agriculture to support a growing population. Human population was one billion in 1804. It took until 1927 to reach two billion. 1960 marked three billion. It took only 13 years, on average, to add a billion more people to get to the six billion in 1999. Higher crop yields, better sanitation, better health care led to a population explosion. While longer and better life is a good thing, there will be a point that a great population will become unsupportable.

Technology is something unique to mankind. We use it to make our lives better. The changes are recognizable — huge monoculture crops, sprawling cities, domestication of animals, removal of wild animals, not to mention man-made climate change. The Anthropocene is here. When did it start is the question that this book builds up to. A well-written history of the planet and mankind and the effects of man on the planet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — Rattus New Yorkus

Rattus New Yorkus is a book that would have been at home with the other mass horror books of the 1970s — Earthquakes, giant crabs, killer bees, alligators in the sewers, and of course Willard. Rattus centers on a husband and wife exterminator team, Chris and Benita (Benny) Jackson. The Jacksons are going through a divorce, but still working together. A recently developed rodenticide, Degenesis, doesn’t kill rats but rather renders them sterile. The idea was that if rats can’t reproduce, they would eventually die out solving New York’s rat problem.

Chris and Benny discover that Degenesis does not have the desired effects, in fact, it is creating a hive mind in the New York rats. What may have worked on lab rats certainly is having the opposite impact on the city rat population. The inventor is in denial. The city government begins to panic. Will man remain at the top of the food chain?

Written in the 1970s pulp horror style Rattus proves to be entertaining:

“I made the mistake of turning around. Jumping Jesus! Possibly a thousand rats were on our tail, their own tails bobbing like Satan’s spaghetti.”

The idea is to present the horror, so it is a little short on the science as well as detailed personal information on the characters. That creates the downside in the page count. At only one hundred and twelve pages there seems a little more story could have been written.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review

Book Review — The Line That Held

36343490

The Line That Held us is a story of that takes place in the border region of Tennessee and North Carolina. Darl, who poaches to make ends meet stalks a large buck on private property. Also Carol, Sissy, Brewer steals ginseng from the same property. Carol, although, not fully explained seem is slow. While digging around for ginseng, he is mistaken for a boar by Darl. Darl is 200 yards away, and Carol is dressed in gray and on all fours. Darl fires and kills Carol. He panics and gets the help of his best friend, Calvin, to help. Calvin reluctantly agrees and helps dispose of the body. Carol is noticed missing by his brother, Dwayne, who is violent, drinks too much, and is big enough to get away with it. Dwayne starts investigating his brother’s death and what develops is a classic case of Appalachian justice and revenge.

The characters are well developed and diverse although there is some stereotyping. Dwayne is perhaps the most stereotypical. His massive size and backwoods attitude make him a driving figure in the book. The setting contributes to the free action of the characters. Things that normally couldn’t be done in the urban or suburban setting fit perfectly in Appalachia. The plot moves quickly but not always predictably leaving the reader on a thrilling ride. I picked up this book and did not set it down until it I finished. It was quite a ride, and I found it quite a surprise in contemporary fiction. A well thought out and exciting read.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Review