Tag Archives: Poetry

Book Review: Against the Light

Protect me 
my island
and make sure the land we share
does not split in two
carrying you away
With trembling hands I hold you back
from the shore and feel you
Slipping slowly
slowly.

Lugano 5:50 

Against the Light by Tiziano Broggiato is a short collection of poetry. Broggiato was born in Vicenza, Italy in 1953 and has other work published in Italian. The poems are translated by Toronto poet Patricia Hanley and Italian born Maria Laura Mosco. 

Against the Light is a more of classic style of poetry in its message and its form. The poems were written in Italian and translated into English. What also makes this collection nice is that the Italian appears on the left page and the translation on the right. Although I do not read Italian, it is nice to see the layout side by side. It offers a visual comparison to the form of the work. 

The collection opens with a haunting, but beautiful. The poem “Flight’s Elegy”. It captures the pain of the great cost and urgency of a father protecting his son from a pursuing enemy, and his son’s unanticipated reply. Other poems cover a range of subjects from Jewish children rounded up in Nazi occupied Poland. There are themes that include death, snow, and Biblical references. There is a mixture of pastoral and urban. This is one of the rarer collections where nearly all the poems managed to strike a chord with me. 

Broggiato, even in translation, shows power and artistry with words. He can turn a few well chosen words into grand images and emotions. He demonstrates rare skill and mastery. An outstanding collection and well worth reading and keeping. A near perfect example of classic poetry in modern writing.

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Book Review: Let There Be Light

All we eat is grace, and the only way to feel better
about the death of a tomato
is one day a tomato will feast upon our bones

Let There Be Light by Nick Courtright

Let There Be Light by Nick Courtright is a collection of poetry with the biblical creation story, in reverse, as a theme. Courtright previous collection of poetry, Punchline, was a 2012 finalist in the National Poetry Series. He has been working as a music journalist for The Austinist. I was surprised to learn that we are both from large families in Ohio and currently live a few hours apart in Texas. 

Courtright works the creation story in reverse starting on the day of rest and working his way back to “Let there be light.” It is not a religious collection of poetry as such but uses the theme. Courtright, obviously, has some science knowledge from his included “Note” at the end of the collection. He gives a calendar comparison of fourteen billion years and the seven days. 

Most of the poems are a loose style of poetry, but nothing too extreme in style or subject. The writing is easy to follow and the poems are well writing and enjoyable regardless of your stance on creation or science. The theme is also rather loosely held.

A few poems jumped out at me. In the Sixth Day section the poem “Brief Essay of Sameness” introduces some philosophers. 

To know the news of the day 
is to know the news of any day

evolves to Thoureau

To a philosopher, all news, as it is called is gossip

The way it is is as it has always been

is challenged by Hume and the acquisition of knowledge

Knowing this, the infant
is immune to boredom, for all
she sees is new 

The poem “Intelligent Design” plays an interesting thought game by taking thirty years of life and examining how long it is when expressed in seconds, hours, days and then how short it is compared to the time man walked on earth, then primate, then mammals. Taken even further as the fraction of time since the earth formed and finally compared the big bang. The last bit of math magic compares nanoseconds, thirty years, and one hundred light years. Complex science/mathematics in a poem. Rather refreshing. 

Let There Be Light is a smart, well written collection of poetry that is very enjoyable to the read. Despite the title and theme it is not a religious work, but more so philosophical or spiritual. A top shelf edition to my poetry bookshelf. 

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Book Review: The Cockeyed World

Oh, Mata,Mata, Gretha
Gretha, I boast no gold
Braid nor proud epaulets.
No Fruit Salad spilled 
Across my chest. I don
Only the poet’s uniform

This Cockeyed World by Jim Christy

This Cockeyed World by Jim Christy is his latest collection of poetry. Christy was born in Virginia in 1945 and raised in the notorious ghetto of South Philadelphia. He moved to Canada in 1968 and became a citizen in 1974. Christy is an a talented artist as well as a poet. 

Every so often I come across a poetry collection that completely wows me. Last year it was Helen Mort’s Division Street. This year the wow came early. This Cockeyed World starts early and does not let up. The poems seem modern, but I kept catching dated references to the sixties and World War II. Kerouac, Ginsberg, and Mussolini all make an appearance.

Ginsberg on Saturday night, bent
Over cabala and Wichita Vortex
Sutras, singing the schwartza’s music
At the back of the Synagogue

“‘Couver Blues” is a tale of escape from the dark and rainy city. The poet travels in his words to places where life may be better, but all have their drawbacks too. Once he covers all the places he knows, he sees the sun peeking through and forgets all the other places because now he can lose his ‘Couver Blues.

The imagery and emotion in the poems are fantastic. It does not take the reader long to realize this is what poetry is about. Some of the poems are near ballads and it seems at times the reader is not reading the poem but listening to a bard weave a tale. Other poems like “Heading North” take the reader on an adventure to find peaceful existence. With today’s very free verse and experimental poetry, it is refreshing to read such a clear and mostly traditional collection. Christy is a true artist with words. His range of subjects and the ability to capture a moment is superb. This is a must read collection. 

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Book Review: E. E. Cummings: A Life

I value freedom; and have never expected freedom to be anything less than indecent.
e.e. cummings

e. e. cummings by Susan Cheever

E.E. Cummings: A Life by Susan Cheever is a biography of the American poet, Cheever is a graduate of Brown University, a Guggenheim Fellow, and director of the board of the Yaddo Corporation. She currently teaches in the MFA program at Bennington College and the New School. Cheever is the author of over a dozen books, including American Bloomsbury.

The book is short for a biography of a man with a long history, but it concentrates on the high and low points and avoids the lulls that are found in longer biographies. The life story, however, seems to be complete. Cheever met Cummings when she was still in school. Cummings was performing a lecture and reading at the Masters School. Her father was friends with the poet. The young Cheever was impressed by Cummings anti- established opinions. At that time, his work was compared to Marcel Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.” The comparison is more than subject matter, but style. Duchamp attempts to capture the entire descent down the staircase, start to finish, in a single image and Cummings attempts to capture the same effect with words. It was at Cumming’s suggestion to her father that Cheever was moved from her uptight school to a very progressive one.

Rather than summarize Cumming’s life in this review, I will look at something Cheever does in the book. Late in the book Cheever compares Cummings to Wordsworth. Wordsworth’s love for the outdoors, “Tintern Abbey” for example, and Cumming’s Joy Farm. Both men idolized youth and saw that youth had a purity that was missing later in life. I also found a few parallels myself. Both men had daughters out of wedlock and were separated from them. Both men traveled a great deal for their time and class. Also, both men had a negative view of the establishment. Wordsworth support for the Republican movement in France, but was abhorred the Reign of Terror and the subsequent crowning of an emperor. Cummings also had his problems with authority and the establishment that went much further than youthful rebellion. Much like Wordsworth, revolution excited Cummings. He wanted to see the paradise that the Soviet Union had become, but left disillusioned. Cummings became disenchanted with many things in his life he hated Jews and he hated Hitler. He hated Roosevelt and he hated Stalin. He was an equal opportunity hater.

E.E. Cummings: A Life is a well researched and well written biography of one of America most read poets. Cheevers captures the life and the mind of the poet. Like most writers of his time he lived an exciting life, filled with controversy, alcohol, and prescription drugs. His life can be compared to that of a modern rock star. The highs and lows of fame. He had the groupies and the crowds. And like very few rock stars he was able to rise above the moment of fame and produce a lasting work and a lasting name.

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Book Review: Another Reason

That a prophet’s toil wasn’t worth the trouble,
That a shrewder man would have a chosen a softer trade. 

“Nietzsche” 

Another Reason by Carl Dennis

Another Reason by Carl Dennis is his newest collection of poems. Dennis is the author of eleven previous works of poetry and essay collections. He attended Oberlin College, the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota. Dennis earned his PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 1966, and that same year became became an associate professor of English at the University of Buffalo where he spent much of his career. Dennis has earned the Ruth Lilly Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for his poetry.

Some poetry reaches out and grabs the reader. Some poetry takes a reader to a distant place or puts them with someone they miss. Other poetry is a look inside of the poet’s mind. Another Reason is the latter type of poetry. Dennis writes about ordinary things and ideas, hoping to capture that “aha” moment of familiarity. There is no beauty of a blossom or an exotic land. Here we see see common questions about our place in the cosmos, religion, money problems, and even Nietzsche.

Some of the poems really hit the spot. “Animal Husbandry” concerns the Noah story. Have others thought how unfair it was to the millions of animals on earth to die in the flood for man’s sins? What of those saved on the ark? What type of strain would it be on two bees trying to make a hive or two gophers attempting a colony after the waters receded? “Job: A New Edition” brought up another thought I had long ago. Doesn’t God know the outcome of Job’s trial even before it begins? Does God think Satan can prove him wrong? Why should Job suffer for a bet. Does Job feel justice when he is rewarded with a new family and servants? — “Would be Ample substitutes for the old”.

The vast majority of poems do not deal with religion and are unlikely to be as controversial as those two. Those just happened to jump out at me. “To a Novelist” is an observation of a town meeting with people taking sides of the developers (a Wal*Mart type) and others wanting to preserve the small town downtown. “Meaning” takes a view of what is meaningful in from different people’s perspective. “Achievement” likewise describes different people’s concept of achievement.

Another Reason is a collection of poem that will not hit everyone the same way. There are poems that the reader will relate to and others that seem to slip by. This is not a collection where every poem will be a hit, but those that do hit home, hit with force. Very well done.

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Book Review: Red Wind Howl

in the drifting wind is the perfect moment and the 
moment goes on and on

“The Space Sublime”

Red Winds Howl by Peter Standish Evans

Red Winds Howl by Peter Standish Evans is a short collection of modern poetry. Evans was born in Worcester, UK. He earned his bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Natal University and his MBA from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, He has previously published the novel Omnibus: Borders: Coffee.

Over the last few years I have developed a strong appreciation for poetry– from the classic forms to free verse. I also came to find out that poetry has had its effects in my early musical preferences. My favorite singers were (and still are) poets: Jim Morrison, Patti Smith, and Bob Dylan. Red Wind Howls is advertised as something outside the mold of contemporary and historical poetry. It is described as a blend of 303 bullets and tequila, and from the “neo-metallic realist” school of poetry. I immediately thought this could be the punk rock of poetry: sharp, jagged edges, powerful, and raw. I would soon find that I was not disappointed. 

I received the book in the mail and removing it from the envelope my first thoughts were “Huh, a used book. How long has this been sitting around on a back shelf.” It took me a minute to realized that this was not a used book. The cover art (something I usually never talk about) is distressed. It looks like something you would pick up on the California desert blown around for years by the Santa Anna winds (Red Winds of Philip Marlowe). 

This collection covers a broad range of topics. From a machine gunner to a sniper and from Africa to a million, million pixels through the solitude of retinas, Evans looks beneath the veneer of our seamless world. There is a halting roughness to the words that breaks in mid thought to a new line or stanza. It gives the feeling that things are not necessarily the way we perceive them; we take things for granted and give no more than a moments notice. The Red Winds Howl is what exists beyond the sound bites and simple explanations. There is something disturbing, something the mad man sees and tries to explain to the conformist. 

“Johnny’s Locker” is about a boxer who likes dancing with knives and breaking heads on Sundays, but Johnny is more than what people see he is a poet and runs deep, deep inside the wind. “The Extremist” tells of the view and patience of a vulture circling high above Mogadishu riding the thermals waiting for its moment. There is rebellion too. “Turning Faces” begins:

bursting
out of the mighty side streets sirens fly,
window mouthing obscenities 
forced through loud hailers 
firmly between thumb and Jupiter
decision and ambition fixated on the eye of the target
like a dart posed in flight
powered, pulsing, probing
endlessly racing, seeking victory
chasing the tail feathers down the alleys of time

Red Wind Howl is a very readable collection of poetry with a modern twist. Evans has captured the modern world with raw and powerful imagery. This is a collection for the modern urban man who sees the cracks in the foundation of modern society and is not afraid to express those thoughts. This is the punk rock of modern poetry.

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Book Review: Moonchild’s Smile

 

Moonchild’s Smile by Marat M’saev Daan (translated by Tanja Mitric) is a collection of Serbian poetry. There is little information on the web, in English, about the author. His official biography simple states that he is Serbian and describes life, people, and events in unusual ways. He sees things as one would view a chess board with different strategies that better transfer his thoughts and feelings.

To set the stage for Moonchild’s Smile a word or two on free verse and poetry in general for the non-poetry reading public. Poetry is something you get or you don’t and not to worry it isn’t for everyone. It is alright to like some poems and dislike others even in the same collection. Poetry is comes in many fashions far exceeding the rhyming couplets or iambic meter drilled into your head in high school. Years ago I probably would have looked at at Moonchilds Smile and said Poetry? Really? Free verse has a reputation of being on the outside looking in on poetry. Robert Frost said free verse was like playing tennis without a net. However times change and poetry has grown to accept free verse, but many people outside the scholarly circles may be hesitant to recognize it. Poetry also is about more than pastoral scenes or Kubla Khan’s pleasure dome. It has evolved to speak of politics, life, and the problems of the urban environment. We don’t have to look much farther than Bob Dylan and Hip-Hop to see free verse in our everyday life.

My copy of Moonchild’s Smile has been translated from Serbian. Probably the only job harder than writing poetry is translating it. Not only are you translating the words, you are translating vision and emotion. Recently the new English translation of Camus’ The Stranger came under some controversy over the use of the imformal mamam instead of mother. That one word’s translation caused a huge change in meaning and understanding the main character’s mindset. Scholars have studied it for years and still seem to be at odds. In Moonchild’s Smile we have a single translation so no comparisons can be made. Regardless of the expertise of the translator, to convey the poet’s original thoughts in another language and remain true to the poet’s vision it a monumental task.

Marks in the sand, slowly vanishing with new waves. A walk on the
beach, as a reminder of the disappearing past and the future bound
to leave its marks yet.

Moonchild’s Smile overcomes the difficulties of translation and the doubts over free verse. This is poetry and this is good. Daan captures the essence of poetry and leaves little doubt of the legitimacy of free verse. Mitric’s translation leaves no doubt in her ability to relay the author’s vision in English. “Smiles in a Mirror” captures the little things in life. Daan captures the little things in life and with many things he also sees cycles. Cycles of life and death, cycles like the waves erasing marks on the beach, cycles of the devil and good. Some of his work also reflects the violence his country experienced in the 1990s and the effect it had on the children.

Moonchild’s Smile is a short collection of poems, but it is a detailed read. The lines are meant to be read slowly, absorbed, and visualized. There is a difficulty level with this poetry that will take a commitment from the reader. The author’s use of a chess board as an example of how he sees his thought process plays true to his writing. It is complex and much more cerebral than most contemporary poetry. Daan does live up to the expectations of a poet and the translation seems to convey the his feelings to another culture. Very well done.

Author Alliance Book Reviewer Joseph Spuckler gives this book 4 Stars!

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Book Review: Division Street

Division Street by Helen Mort

Division Street by Helen Mort is an incredible selection of poetry. The twenty-eight year old Mort is a five time winner of the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award, poet-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust, winner of the Eric Gregory Award in 2007, Manchester Young Writer Prize in 2008, Derbyshire Poet Laureate, and a PhD student at Sheffield University. She is short listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Costa Poetry Award. She has earned a quite an impressive resume for someone who has not reached the age of thirty. 

When I talk to other book people, one topic that comes up is who will be this century’s great writers? Who will be remembered as part of the twenty-first Century “Bloomsbury Group”? Who will define these early years for the rest of the century and beyond. There are plenty of writers and plenty of very talented writers. I have been lucky enough read and review some of their work. The internet and independent publishing has opened the world to many writers, more than any time in history, and yet I still wonder who will be remembered as the voice of these times. I am not sure who all the great names will be, but Helen Mort will be one of them. 

I don’t think I have gotten totally caught up in a selection of poetry like Division Street since I read Leaves of Grass. The writing pulls you in completely and totally. You do not want to put the book down, and the hours will pass quickly and when you finally put the book down, you’ll need a few minutes, or longer, to come back down to your reality. These are poems in which you can truly lose yourself. The gritty urban environment is the state of nature for Mort’s work. There is not a beautiful pastoral setting. It was a brutal time when the coal miners went on a year long strike threatening to bring down the Thatcher government like they had the Heath government a decade before. There was violence and chaos and the entire British economy suffered. Thatcher won, but to this day that wound has not healed. This is a collection of man against government, the twenty-first century version of man against nature. 

“Scab” manages to perfectly combine the violence of the strike with “We Three Kings” in a biblical saga of the strike. “Thinspiration Shots” take on the pro-anorexia web sites that promote anorexia as a lifestyle. There is also a gentler side to her work also “Deer” and “Night” reflect these feelings. “The Dogs” are about her own two canines. “End” is a cleverly written poem with a play on a “little death”. If you are going to read only one collection of poetry, read this one. It will hook you on poetry. For those who lament the direction contemporary writing is heading, read Division Street. It will renew your faith in contemporary writing. 

This was 197th book I reviewed this year and probably the one that moved the deepest and the most. I sat for nearly half an hour after reading Division Street, just thinking “Wow!” Once I came down, I went and ordered Mort’s other collection Pint for the Ghosts. Yes, her writing is that good. This was the book that knocked me off my usual level headed, stoic mindset and moved me into an impassioned review.

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Book Review: New and Selected Poems

“What you call freedom
I call privilege
what you call law
I call biology
what you call liberty
I call pornography”

– Three “Dialogs of One”

New and Selected Poems by David Lehman

New and Selected Poems by David Lehman is a collection of poems spanning forty years and compiled from seven different collections. Lehman is the son of Holocaust refugees and grew up in northern Manhattan. He attended Columbia University and Cambridge University on a Kellett Fellowship. On his return he earn his PhD in English from Columbia. He teaches at The New School in New York City and is the editor of The Best American Poetry.

I will freely admit that I am new to reviewing poetry. I have had the college experience of iambic meter and rhyming couplets. I know the best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry. I know the “Fields of Flanders” and a little Rimbaud and Blake. I read Frost and dabbled in Sackville-West. I know more that my average colleague, one who informed me that “Poetry must rhyme, but not too much. If it rhymes too much it’s rap.” So I am slightly ahead of the average American curve. Which brings me to Lehman.

His style varies I very much enjoyed “Anna K.” a poem about Anna Karenina. I saw it and recognized it as poetry. “Goethe’s Night song” a very short poem, but one of vivid imagery. “Yours the Moon” is a beautiful poem, it creates images and moves you and holds you in:

Yours the moon
mine the Milky
Way a scarf

around my neck
I love you
as the night

loves the moon’s
dark side as
the sky, distant,

endless, wears her
necklace of stars
over her dress

under my scarf
that she wears
against the cold

It’s like slow dancing, at night, under are bright sign, overlooking the whole valley. It is what someone described as “That perfect feeling when time just slips*.” That perfect moment we hope to find no matter how many years it takes. It is precisely what poetry strives to be.

Other poems go into something that is even more free than what I know as free verse. They form almost essays. “The Count” is a telling of the similarity of poker and the ball and strike count against the batter in baseball. The imagery is excellent, but it is written as a paragraph. Some poems bridge the gap between the two forms. “Election Day” is a narrative in poem form. The same with “Desolation Row.” Both poems tell a story and use line length and punctuation to give structure to the form. Also this format is used in“The World Trade Center” and how the thought of them being ugly monoliths changed in one moment in 1993. Other poems lose structure and the story becomes more important. Several poems deal with Judaism and persecution and the Holocaust. There the message is makes it poetry rather than any format. “A Little History” opens:

Some people find out they are Jews.
They can’t believe it.
They always hated Jews.

Not all the poems are serious “Sexism” is satire. “Ode“ is our perceptions. “The Code of Napoleon” is history. There is something for everyone in this collection. Not everything is what a lay person would think of as poetry in form, but where it lacks in form it more than makes up in its message. It took me sometime to adjust to some of the format, but once I did I was glad I stayed with it. His more traditional poems are really incredible, some even stunning. A very worthy collection. One that will keep and continue to bring enjoyment.

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Book Review: Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology

They shall grow not old, as we that are left to grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them.
– “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

Poetry of the First World War: An Anthology edited by Tim Kendall is a collection of British poems on the First World War. Kendall is Head of English at the University of Exeter and former editor of the poetry journal Thumbscrew. He has served as a lecturer and has published two collections: one of poetry and the other of essays. 

Anyone who has read my reviews knows my position on World War I. It was the starting part of the the twentieth century. Mechanized warfare, air-power, armor all saw their start as tools of war. Alliances that started the war would become alliances that kept the peace in the Cold War. Empires fell and communism rose. It would directly contribute to the start of World War II and indirectly to the Cold War. It was the decade the world lost it innocence. War lost its romance. World War I was the last war where wrote songs to support the war. It was the last war that the poets would honor. 

Each poet’s poems begin with a short biography of the poet. The poets come from all walks of life — from landed gentry to a tailor’s son. Kendall, in his introduction, goes into other aspects of the war like the change from youthful idealism to bitterness of the technological slaughter on the grandest scale. The writing of the poems range from 1914 to 1966. The poets are all from Britain or Ireland. Some lived long lives and some did not make it home from the war. There has never been a war like World War I and never one like it since. Wars have been more violent, more technological, more devastating, but never more critical in changing mankind’s view of war and of man himself. 

The poets had different views. Yeat’s wanted to see Germany defeated, but was hesitant to throw his support behind an imperialist empire that had not given his home country of Ireland Home Rule. May Sinclair was a volunteer in an Ambulance corps in Belgium. She felt betrayed and and expressed her betrayal in her poem “Journal” after finding out she was no longer welcome in the ambulance corps. Thomas Hardy only wrote three patriotic poems because he claimed he did not write patriotic poems well; most of his poems were darker and much sadder. Kipling recalled and compared the war to the Boer War and expanded to “Tin Fish” (submarines) and the well known poem “My Boy Jack.” 

Wilfrid Gibson manages to capture life of the front line soldier in “Between the Lines”although he only drove trucks in the war, in London. Margaret Postgate Cole wrote the moving “The Falling Leaves” far removed from the war. Wilfred Owen experienced the war first hand. “Anthem for Doomed Youth” and “Disabled” show the realities of the war. That reality is reinforced by the fact that Owen was killed one week before the armistice. 

Kendall combines some well known wartime poets with some obscure poets. Not every poet is in this collection, but the range and variety are very well done. This collection is an excellent reference for anyone interested in World War I or poetry of the early twentieth century. This is a book worthy of any bookshelf.

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