A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the July 17, 2015 edition of The Monitor
Glen Sorestad’s work has been stirring hearts and minds for decad A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the July 17, 2015 edition of The Monitor
Glen Sorestad’s work has been stirring hearts and minds for decades, both in his native Canada and further abroad. Named the first Poet Laureate of Saskatchewan in 2001, Sorestad has authored more than 20 books of verse. His latest, published in April by Lamar University Press, explores his long love affair not with the Great White North, but with the U.S. Southwest, whose arid climes he has been visiting for some three decades.
“Hazards of Eden: Poems from the Southwest” brings together dozens of pieces inspired by Sorestad’s travels. Ranging from the epigrammatic to more sprawling narrative, these poems center both on specific places or features of the region and on the poet’s response to them, illuminating a process of self-discovery at the intersection of man and world.
The collection is divided into four sections. “Drive Friendly” contains poems that largely feature interactions with others upon Sorestad’s many treks, ranging from the bemused (“Cowboy Christ,” with its boot-shod savior above a Texas tomb) to the soberly reflective (the awe-inspiring examination of the sea in “Galveston, 2003”).
“Desert Musings” does as it says. My favorite from this section is “Desert Tarantula,” in which a local’s knowledge of a particularly massive spider leads to matter-of-fact action. The “Llano Estacado” section feels more wistful, with poems physically or metaphorically set on or near the vast, empty staked plains of life. I was genuinely moved by a pair of elegiac eulogies (“Last Meeting in Las Cruces” and “After the Fall”), and I loved the way “November Hawks” draws a parallel between the poet and listless feathered raptors on the plains “[u]nder an open predatory sky.”
“There Were Signs”consists of quasi-ekphrastic pieces inspired mainly by signage. Remarkably effective among these is “Whatever Happened to Jane Jayroe?” in which the poet explores the enduring dedication of a town to its ’60s triumph of having a native girl win Miss America, extending that pride at tenuous, fading fame to small towns across the Southwest.
The collection concludes with “Road Apples,” a series of short, tanka-like responses to individual towns, each packed densely with Sorestad’s winking delight and well-crafted imagery. Readers are left feeling they’ve been led through a beautiful, austere landscape of nature, folk and culture hand-in-hand with a wide-eyed guide for whom the essential value and meaning of the Southwest continue as vibrant as the first day he arrived here....more
Jeffrey R. Di Leo, professor at the University of Houston-Victoria and editor of the journals symploke and the American Book Review, has collected 54Jeffrey R. Di Leo, professor at the University of Houston-Victoria and editor of the journals symploke and the American Book Review, has collected 54 of his most salient reviews and articles in Turning the Page: Book Culture in the Digital Age—Essays, Reflections, Interventions (Texas Review Press, 2014).
Ranging from discussions of neoliberal corporate publishing practices (and their impact on smaller presses) to incisive ruminations on the role of literature in society and best practices in both criticism and creative writing, the pieces in Turning the Page (even the many reviews reprinted from ABR) showcase the eloquence, humanity and expertise of one of most fascinating minds in Texas. A must-read for writers, editors and critics....more
In Stray Dogs: Writing from the Other America, editor William Hastings brings together stories, poems and songs by 19 authors who write about AmericaIn Stray Dogs: Writing from the Other America, editor William Hastings brings together stories, poems and songs by 19 authors who write about America at the margins — the America of the down-and-out and forgotten.
Each piece in the collection is powerful in its own way, speaking truths in unflinching, unadulterated language. I have my favorites, of course. “M-F Dog” by Vicki Hendricks tells of a young man whose plan to buy a dog as a sort of “chick magnet” takes some unusual twists and turns. Will Vlautin’s “Lorna” is a heart-breaking study of impotent maternal devotion. “Johanna Stull” by Daniel Woodrell (author of “Winter’s Bone”) explores the ramifications of ugly justice against a man who occupies “the throne in the shadows” in a rural community. Joseph Haske sets his portrait of men capable of both great violence and amazing compassion against cold streams teeming with fish in the pre-dawn dark in “Smelt.” And Sherman Alexie chants a haunting conjuration of all the people lost to him in “One Stick Song.” ...more
Killer & Victim by Chris Lambert reminds me in many ways of The Last Projector by David James Keaton, another challenging, genre-bending book thatKiller & Victim by Chris Lambert reminds me in many ways of The Last Projector by David James Keaton, another challenging, genre-bending book that seems to build toward something that must happen in your own mind and not the page. Set in a vaguely dystopian near-future “crowd-sourced” city, the plot plunges into its citizens’ lives as a madman makes his way through the metropolis....more
Jerry Bradley is a distinguished professor, editor and poet revered in Texas letters for his evocative writing and keen critical eye. Bradley is the aJerry Bradley is a distinguished professor, editor and poet revered in Texas letters for his evocative writing and keen critical eye. Bradley is the author of six books, including three volumes of poetry. In his latest, published last May by Lamar University Press, Bradley wields his exceptional craft to explore how the human heart can repair itself after great loss by wistful and wry reexaminations of the past.
Crownfeathers and Effigies (what a lovely title) isn’t about learning from our mistakes or overcoming obstacles. It’s about surviving the Damocles’ sword when it finally falls, about accepting who we are and making peace with it. In edgy, witty and often defiant verse, Bradley gives us narrators who rise from the ashes of relationships and disasters with a renewed sense of self, of the hidden geographies of the heart (as in the fantastic “Geography Lesson” and “Continental Drift”). For those looking to be emboldened rather than cowed, freed rather than domesticated, this deftly written and nuanced collection might be an almost religious experience. ...more
A TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 26, 2015 edition of The Monitor
Félix Lope de Vega was a Spanish playwright, poet and novelist, onA TOP SHELF review, originally published in the June 26, 2015 edition of The Monitor
Félix Lope de Vega was a Spanish playwright, poet and novelist, one of the key figures in the Spanish Golden Century of Baroque literature. Second only to Cervantes in reputation, he is considered one of the most prolific authors in the history of literature. Even in his old age, his output didn’t slow: In 1631, the 68-year-old Lope de Vega wrote “Castigo sin venganza” (Punishment without Revenge). This tragedy — one of the few he wrote, a cathartic tale inspired by Matteo Bandello’s prose account of events in Renaissance Italy — has been hailed as a masterpiece of the “Spanish style,” a blending of dark humor and poetic justice.
The tragedy is triggered by a love affair that defies social convention and the incest taboo. The Duke of Ferrara loves his son, the bastard Count Federico, but he knows he must disinherit him and marry in order to produce a legitimate heir and avoid a civil war. His bride, Casandra, takes a tumble when her carriage is stuck in the mud, and Federico comes to the rescue. The stepmother and stepson are much closer in age than Casandra is to the Duke, and Casandra and Federico are instantly attracted to one another. Meanwhile, the Duke promises his niece, Aurora, that she may marry Federico, who she grew up with and loves desperately. The first act ends with the greeting ceremonies as Casandra meets her husband, the Duke, and Federico smolders.
In act two, time has passed and the Duke is back to his womanizing ways, disrespecting his young wife. Federico tries to hide his love and postpones the marriage to Aurora, so she tries to make him jealous by encouraging the advances of Gonzaga, a marquis who has accompanied Cassandra to the Ferrara court. Meanwhile, the Duke receives a command from the Pope that he must go to Rome, leaving Federico in charge of the dukedom. With him gone, Casandra and Federico declare their passion for each another.
In the final act, the Duke returns suddenly from the wars, now a reformed man. He receives an anonymous letter revealing the affair between his wife and son, but refuses to accept it until he sees them embracing. He decides to take secret action to salvage his honor without making the offence public. He confronts Casandra, and when she faints under the strain of this discovery, he binds and gags her. The Duke tells his son that the bound and gagged figure is an assassin and asks his son to kill him. Federico does, and the Duke summons his household, declaring that Federico has discovered Casandra was pregnant with the Duke’s heir. Federico realizes that he would now lose his inheritance and he has killed Casandra. In a righteous rage, Marquis Gonzaga slays Federico and the Duke thereby gets his revenge disguising it as punishment at another’s hands.
“Punishment without Revenge” echoes the plays of classical antiquity and indeed it abounds with allusions to Greek and Roman mythology. But Lope de Vega nationalized the traditional theme of catastrophic incest and crafted one of the most complete tragedies of Spanish literature.
With the powerful lyricism of his verse and the round, three-dimensional characters he created, Lope de Vega left us in this essential play a profound, affecting exploration of the dark corners of the human soul....more