This ebook consists of 10 poems, and the titles are marvelous, from “my wound is a simmering punctuation mark” to “this leak is an everlasting stain”This ebook consists of 10 poems, and the titles are marvelous, from “my wound is a simmering punctuation mark” to “this leak is an everlasting stain” to “drain has become a worthy depth.” The series of poems is built upon the concrete, as you can see in the titles – drain, leak, born – and each poem is structured in the same way. There’s a lone word that triggers the next line, for example from the beginning of the first poem: * salt that left you wondering about what kindling
gash does it to smile, that you though, maybe in the sunken morning * I appreciated the words as anchors, to hold me as I launched into each line, since I often felt I didn’t know where I was going, which can be good. But often I didn’t know where I’d just been, which was sometimes frustrating. Not that I’m not a friend of mystery. I love mystery that takes me somewhere, but in places I felt closed out of these poems. In “distraction is the blankest shape,” for example –
triangle character style fast menu
square twice alive not wearing monster
In those lines, and at other points in the series, I was at sea. Maybe some of the closing out is intentional, since the ravaging of miscarriage is personal, even if you want someone to understand. The poem “the stone now is my wall” likely acknowleges this – the cold stone, the building materials, the rocks “that keep me honest.”
In the second poem, “born is the cleanest foliage,” the anchor words are "egg/ bowl/ nest/ dead/ leaf/ egg/ bowl/ nest/ dead/ leaf.” This poem is spare and clear. “Nest” is both “a tapestry” at the same time it “flew into tornado and glass,” while “egg / cannot be likened to a tree” and “was there but happened too quickly.”
There were points that were exquisite and I knew exactly what the poet was saying. In some cases it couldn’t have been clearer, such as this harrowing pairing - * carnage who knew it could be so minute
cage feeling an avalanche between my hips
new it is not an erasure. giant weight of your own growth * I admired this short collection and, for all its cool tone, it is emotional poetry. ...more
I won this book in a Good Reads contest and, being a fan of eastern European literature, I was very interested in reading a Bulgarian poet. I found aI won this book in a Good Reads contest and, being a fan of eastern European literature, I was very interested in reading a Bulgarian poet. I found a lot of what I hoped to find in the book – short poems, wit, brushes with the surreal. I read the collection over lunch, and re-read parts in the evening.
I found very appealing that it’s written by an ex-pat who obviously suffers from the same brand of homesickness and associated alienation I do. I definitely felt that connection and that understanding, and, reading the poem “Sus-toss,” it wasn’t long before I was crying in my noodles.
“Sus-toss is a word in the Hopi language to describe the disease that people suffer when they move to live on in new lands.”
Sus-toss is a disease that makes you not want the things you want.
It makes you not want to think about the things you want to think about.
It makes you not want to talk to your friends. It makes you not want to have any friends.
It is the disease of living in a walnut shell and spending all your strength to keep it closed…
On the surface, those first lines could be about anything, yet they struck me immediately as what the poet intends – the transplant’s limbo, trying to forget things you’ve always loved, the turning away from what would make you happy because acknowledging it would make you happy makes you unhappy. Anyway, I took it very personally, and there I was in the noodle shop, a little less alone for a few pages.
“Sus-toss” was the longest poem in the book. The others were much shorter, rarely more than a page, and sometimes just a few lines.
The book’s title, for example, refers to a poem called “How to Write a Poem,” which simply says “Catch the air / around the butterfly.”
The book is separated into three sections. The first – “My Mother Was Going to War” – is about a mother’s death by cancer. The second is about the alienation of living abroad – “e.t. and I phone home,” which includes “Sus-toss” and “ET and I Phone Home,” another poem directly about being disconnected from what you consider your own world. It’s a humorous poem, and despite ET not at all cheesy, and also sad.
The last section is “The Apple Who Wanted to Be a Pinecone.” This had some strong, surreal poems. My favourite was “A Dream” –
At my feet – a stack of fish scales.
One by one I pick them up and glue them to my body.
I resemble a half-done 3-D puzzle of a fish.
I think I may be a trout.
Why, in the world, are you doing this? A passerby cries.
I open and close, open and close, open and close my mouth.
Of the surreal poems, I also really liked “Potato,” which opens the book. You can watch/hear the poet read it on the Good Reads page for this book.
For the reasons mentioned, I’m very happy to have this book. I should mention, too, that there were a number of poems that came off more flat to me. In some cases they used dead-pan endings that didn’t have the right punch for me. It could be a cultural thing.
All the poems appear in English and Bulgarian, and the publisher has produced a gorgeous book – the paper is gorgeous and textured, the design and colors are gorgeous, even the size is slightly different and strikes me to be exactly the right size for a book.
I was kind of sorry when I clicked in to see that these were prose poems, since I'm a harder sell on prose poems (though I write them myself, too), buI was kind of sorry when I clicked in to see that these were prose poems, since I'm a harder sell on prose poems (though I write them myself, too), but these were terrific. Howie Good. Gotta love him....more
As I read this I dog-eared my "favorites" until the book was pretty severely dog-eared. The section called "Everyday Lunacy" was by far my favorite. TAs I read this I dog-eared my "favorites" until the book was pretty severely dog-eared. The section called "Everyday Lunacy" was by far my favorite. Take for example -
Fresh Today! Wild fries! Caught and squashed this morning! Giant fries!
That was my favorite until I read Sleep ("Be your own boss!"), which was my favorite until I read Where Did You Grow Up?
Do you mean why did I grow up?
No – where did you grow up?
Do you mean how did I grow up?
No – where did you grow up?
Do you mean when?
No – just where.
I don’t know why I connect so much with Mairead Byrne. Maybe it’s her diction, or her voice, or her ability to find something suspiciously normal to be wildly funny.
The prose poems in the section “Everything is unlikely” are similar to those in Talk Poetry, which is one of my favorite contemporary poetry books.
To be sure not everything in the book is surefire, but I am very grateful anyway. I won’t link to specific poems from the book. Instead, here’s the link to the poet’s blog: http://maireadbyrne.blogspot.com/
Not bad, but not great either. One of those books that -when you're reading it- you think "actually I could be reading Dostoevsky, or William FaulknerNot bad, but not great either. One of those books that -when you're reading it- you think "actually I could be reading Dostoevsky, or William Faulkner, or George Eliot," or, in my case, that Saul Bellow book I bought a year ago, never having read Bellow, but having read, now, Jayne Anne Phillips.
The story is okay; the writing is good, though I must admit the "poetry" of it bored me, as did the tunnel scenes in Korea. I had trouble connecting with the characters. The storm was anticlimactic. The immutable goodness of Lark could have come right out of Dickens. Could she do wrong? Nope, she was born to do good, by Termite! Whatever. Just not my thing, I guess. Great cover, though. ...more
This is a little off-format because I wrote this as part of a book tour for my blog. Still, here goes . . . .
I liked many of the poems in January O'NThis is a little off-format because I wrote this as part of a book tour for my blog. Still, here goes . . . .
I liked many of the poems in January O'Neil's "Underlife," but I’m going to talk about just one, “Old Dog,” which January has permitted me to re-post.
Sounder! Here girl. Come . . . He shouts to me like I’m a coon dog chasing possums out in the fields.
The school’s back lot became a small country where names were given but not deserved and I took it and took it, even laughed with everyone else at my own black self, suffering like most of us suffered –
quietly. The laughter so loud you forgot homework, the blue-and-white uniforms, red veils worn in church, Jesus on a beaded noose in our pockets.
Today, on this purgatory of a cloudy day, I stare blankly into an open meadow from my desk as wind kicks up dust and memory; more so, the chance to recall a small morsel of a boy and his big mouth
and my harsh resolve to talk back, even if it’s nothing more than this, a romp through a few stanzas. I am grateful for that old dog of memory – for what it lets you keep and what it lets you throw away.
Of all the things I like about this poem, what impresses me most is the grace with which the poet handles the topic. Thirty or 40 years ago, the situation addressed here was called “getting picked on” – it wasn’t called “abuse” or “bullying,” now punishable by a jail sentence. I could launch into a tirade about how folks today should get their shit together and stop calling themselves “victims” every time the cashier shorts them 4 cents at 7-Eleven. But I’ll restrain myself, because here is a person who “took it and took it” and could have ended up lynched like Jesus in stanza 3 but instead shrugged it off, an act that these days seems to demand superhuman effort.
Those last two lines killed me. The speaker gives the occasion what she considers its due, tossing it in the garbage where it belongs, and all that without showing her claws, without loosening a sluice of expletives, without malice or really much trace of resentment at all. So while this poem is a personal triumph, it’s also an ode to reason, balance and sanity, and it’s also a great long raft of fresh air.
In a post few days back, another reviewer said the reader would find herself in these pages. The poem went for me beyond the points I’ve mentioned because some decades ago in a parallel universe, I was the one white girl in my grade school class. I kept a very low profile and put up with my share of taunting. I remember being followed home one day by a clutch of kids who had a chant that started “Black is beautiful / white is shit / if you don’t believe….,” and I have to say I’d forgotten all about that, and maybe there’s a poem in it somewhere and please god may I emerge as gracefully as January has.
I don't read/keep books in the bathroom, but this book would fit in well to the category of "bathroom books," books with quick, short, readable and noI don't read/keep books in the bathroom, but this book would fit in well to the category of "bathroom books," books with quick, short, readable and not too heavy sections that are usually meant to be amusing. I understand this book was originally written as blog posts, so that must be the reason for the style.
I found the book amusing, although I'm not much of a fan of political humor, especially if I'm sitting somewhere to the left of it. My other criticism would be that sometimes the writer lays it on too thick and the writing would benefit from a lighter touch.
Fantastic book, and strange I’d never heard of it until recently. I guess that the limited audience for such a book equals limited air time. If you arFantastic book, and strange I’d never heard of it until recently. I guess that the limited audience for such a book equals limited air time. If you are not German (and even if you are) or don’t have a particular interest in Germany, this book could bore you. But I ate it up. I am the target audience!
From the perspective of the 70’s, which are grotesque enough, the author takes on Germany, its culture and society and its heavy history. The weight of the past, the haunting and shame and guilt. The book has a lot of punch. I was worried the end would fizzle out stupidly but it did not. It was surprising and strong.
Basically the theme is on p. 190: “Sooner or later, every German, young or old, male or female, will come across some description in a book, or newspaper, or magazine of those grim events …. “
And “those grim events” may be too much for the individual to carry. He’ll want to deny or forget or rewrite, or at least question them. When a collapsed sewer reveals a mass burial site folks are particular about doing the right thing. And yet there’s the wishful question “can anyone really rule out the possibility, remote as it may appear, that these people were not inmates of the camp but Germans killed in air raids, or killed by Americans, or killed by the inmates after they had been released, or killed by fanatic Germans…” and wouldn’t it be nice if for once the Germans were not the perpetrators but the victims and they didn’t have to go on committing this ghastly crime forever and ever? Ach, if only!
For all its seriousness the book is also very funny. I laughed through all the talk about the weather, and the German words used to describe it. The story takes place in “a glorious German summer,” the best one in 33 years! That’s the beginning of the book and the glorious summer is mentioned over and over. It’s meant to be ironic, and it is, and it’s funny.
Then there are the titles of the book the main character has written: “Now or Never,” “What Else?” and finally “Exactly,” which strikes me as particularly German and hilarious. (Genau!)
And then the family as a metaphor for heritage: “In the garden Erika, laughing wildly, was chasing Gisela. In comparison to her, Gisela was by far more agile, more inventive. He found his daughter’s laughter vaguely disturbing, as if it spelled out a possible future derangement. Erika, he called from the window. Erika, stop it immediately.” (p. 101)
Finally, every German will have to deal with being German, and living with that history. The protagonist, recently back from Paris, spends some time where he’s settled, and is asked if he’s beginning to feel at home: “More and more, he replied. And when he thought about it later, he concluded that it was true. He did feel more at home, but that did not mean that he liked it.” (p. 168)
It’s a sad fate. Here the house as nation stripped of everything it could be proud of, art, culture and ideals: “I grew up in a large house in the country. A house that after the war was gradually emptied of its contents, its furniture, its paintings, its silverware, its carpets, anything that was of value. People from all over came to see what we had to sell.” (P. 249) ...more
This is a wonderful chapbook that I bought on a whim and for which I was richly rewarded. To be honest when it arrived I thought I wouldn’t like it. TThis is a wonderful chapbook that I bought on a whim and for which I was richly rewarded. To be honest when it arrived I thought I wouldn’t like it. The title struck me suddenly as pompous, and the cover design gave me a “huh?” moment. But the poems are great – sad and funny, heavy in a sneaky, casual way. More than once I was brought to tears.
When I got to the poem “Faking It” I realized I’d read the poem years ago in an issue of Barrow Street and had even written the poet to say how much I liked it. Even so, many of the poems in this chapbook were even better than “Faking It,” which begins –
“My girlfriend has multiple orgasms. I’m not sure who is giving her these orgasms, but she’ll come home with a grocery sack and drop them on the table –
they look like tiny doorknobs made of bronze.”
Some of the poems have line breaks and stanzas but many of them appear on the page more like prose poems. “Faking It,” for example, starts off “shaped like prose” but then becomes poem. None of this bothered me. All the poems were inviting.
Among my favorites was “Redundancy of Light,” which starts seemingly serious and turns funny –
“Outside this hotel room rain falls as pure as its definition. Call the French, tell them
there should be a word for shadows of raindrops on a hotel window.”
Many of the poems, and there are only 17, refer to film or particular films. One starts with George Bailey from “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and another one of my favorites is “Quitclaim of the Wizard of Oz.” There’s another called “Film Noir” and another with the long long title “Gratuitous Voice-Over at the End of a Film Reflecting on the Tribulations of the Plot and Coming Finally to an Epiphany.”
This is one of the best –if not the best- poetry collection I’ve read this year. It’s one of those in which everything in me said “yes.”
Here’s a link to a poem (the George Bailey one) at 42Opus and a second one also from the book published at Diagram:
Seeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu deals chiefly with death and loss and bereavement. Some of the poems seem to set out to be playful or simplySeeing Birds in Church is a Kind of Adieu deals chiefly with death and loss and bereavement. Some of the poems seem to set out to be playful or simply surreal but at some point in each one - if not from the get-go - you're reading about loss, which is no fun at all. Still, Ang has an imagination that gives her poetry great appeal despite its sometimes heavy burden.
In most cases, the death/loss poems have to do with the death and/or dying of the mother, although sometimes it's someone else, a husband or wife maybe, or father.
Here’s the beginning of “Underworld” –
It takes a minute to climb the roof. The ladder is spiked with splinters that waylay the hands. Once at the top, you use your teeth to extract them from your skin. The gathering dusk squeezes he farmhouse into another world. Ten yards out, an abandoned forklift becomes an object someone else is seeing tor the last time. if you could suck the sting from your fingers, would you have done the same for your mother?
I like the surprises in there, the forklift “someone else is seeing / for the last time,” and the question that shifts to the mother, who is suddenly the center of the poem, then just as quickly absent again.
Then there’s the poem “5:37 p.m.,” and Arthur:
Arthur’s hour of death was 5:37 p.m. And now 5:37 p.m. is Arthur. I am powerless, like when you fall asleep and the house fails to exist. Every day I step into 5:37 pm. clapping my hands to annouce my presence. I am the intruder here.
The body is a strong presence in the poem, the body or its parts or its stand-ins, like fruit or a house or a reflection.
Here’s the beginning of “Surface:”
The house grows out of the ground like a head. Even its porch is an exercise
The Waste Books is a collection of 1,085 aphorisms and other short writings by a curious German hunchback w“Ideas too are a life and a world.” (p. 91)
The Waste Books is a collection of 1,085 aphorisms and other short writings by a curious German hunchback who had a crater on the moon named after him. He was primarily a scientist, but also a satirist, and this is a book he never intended to publish, being a compilation of notebooks of his observations, thoughts and reflections.
“I would give something to know for precisely whom the deeds were really done of which it is publicly stated they were done for the Fatherland.” (p.208)
“A golden rule: We must judge men, not by their opinions, but by what these opinions make of them.” (p.170)
Schopenhauer called Lichtenberg someone who enjoyed thinking “for his own instruction,” and in one longer entry, Lichtenberg says we shouldn’t go to bed without having learned something that day, and he doesn't mean a vocabulary word! Sometimes Lichtenberg’s inclination toward reflection and a summing-up is expressed with bite and wit.
“Because he always neglected his own duties he had time to observe which of his fellow citizens neglected theirs and to report the fact to the authorities.” (p.114)
Lichtenberg has some pet topics, including morality (“Before we blame we should first see whether we cannot excuse.” p.194),
society (“There are countries where it is not uncommon for officers who have served well in a war to be reduced in rank when peace arrives. Would it not be a good thing if in certain departments of government the officials, or some of them, were reduced in rank whenever war breaks out?” p.209),
books (“Nowadays we already have books about books and descriptions of descriptions.” p. 49),
education (“Diminution of one’s needs is something that certainly ought to be inculcated in youth. ‘The fewer needs one has the happier one is’ is an old but much-neglected truth.” p.223),
and human nature (“The most perfect ape cannot draw an ape; only man can do that; but likewise, only man regards the ability to do this as a sign of superiority.” p. 152).
Some of the aphorisms are also hard to categorize. Here are a few of my favorites:
“The celebrated painter Gainsborough got as much pleasure from seeing violins as from hearing them.” (p.222)
“We do not think good metaphors are anything very important, but I think a good metaphor is something even the police should keep an eye on.” (p. 78)
“There are people who believe everything is sane and sensible that is done with a solemn face.” (p. 72)
“He who says he hates every kind of flattery, and says it in earnest, certainly does not yet know every kind of flattery.” (p.194)
I suggest approaching this book as something to gnaw on in brief sittings, rather than to sit down and attempt to “read it as book.” Would make a great coffeetable book for the thinking wo/man.
This was well written, but from the heap of literature on Vietnam it didn't do anything amazing or unique. And that impression of un-outstandingness sThis was well written, but from the heap of literature on Vietnam it didn't do anything amazing or unique. And that impression of un-outstandingness seems all the more so when compared to O'Brien's fiction on Vietnam, which IS stunning and beautiful and sad. Still, I liked this and would recommend it to anyone particularly interested in Vietnam memoirs, or any big fan of O'Brien's. 2 Stars "It was ok."...more
Nadirs is a series of short stories told from the point of view of a child who grows up in a community in Romania united by its German roots. AnthropoNadirs is a series of short stories told from the point of view of a child who grows up in a community in Romania united by its German roots. Anthropologically it's pretty interesting, and yet without or without the identity aspect to me it's a book about the oppression of small-minded dumb country living. There's a lot of dirt, dead crops, dead animals, blood, schnapps, hopelessness and impoverished perspective, by which I mean the narrator is starved for something beyond village life, which is overwhelmingly dark and occasionally absurd.
“Nadirs” is the longest story in the book and not among the better ones, in my opinion. I liked most the two-page “The Swabian Bath,” and “Village Chronicle” for their tense touch of humor.
Here’s the start of “The Swabian Bath:” ** It is Saturday night. The bath stove has a glowing belly. The ventilation window is shut tight. Last week two-year old Arni caught a cold from the chilly air. Mother is washing little Arni’s back with faded panties. Little Arni is thrashing about. Mother lifts little Arni out of the bathtub. Poor child, says Grandpa. Such young children shouldn’t be given a bath, says Grandma. Mother climbs into the bathtub. The water is still hot. The soap is foaming. Mother is rubbing little grey rolls off her neck. Mother’s rolls are floating on the surface of the water. The tub has a yellow ring. Mother climbs out of the bathtub. The water is still hot, Mother calls to Father. Father gets into the the bathtub. The water is warm. The soap is foaming. **
It goes on like that, with all the family members getting into the tub and rubbing their little grey rolls free. The repetition works well to jack up the absurdity, and the image of greasy rolls of skin collecting on the water surface is so repulsive and oppressive that I can’t help but laugh.
I think Herta Müller is an excellent writer and her skills are evident here but the book didn't bowl me over. One of the blurbs on the back says “the range of Müller’s artistry makes it difficult to convey the full resonance in an English rendering, yet Sieglinde Lug has provided a readable and accurate translation that will make Müller more accessible to an American audience.” Personally I hardly find this a recommendation. I also don’t think – worthy or not – this book is going to have wide appeal in America! Perhaps I should have read it in German. Too late now.
That said I read The Land of Green Plums a few months ago and thought it was terrific. The writing was superior and although the plot was weak I felt much more "in" the book....more
I was downtown today and decided to stop in the bookshop with a good English section and comfy chairs. I looked for the shortest book I could find, deI was downtown today and decided to stop in the bookshop with a good English section and comfy chairs. I looked for the shortest book I could find, determined to sit down and read. I found this, 93 pages, none of them full, and read it in an hour or so. It was serendipity, being not too heavy but also not too banal, a very managable lozenge of a book. In it Burroughs muses affectionately on his cats, and on cats in general as companions, 'familiars,' and life's company. He is a confirmed Cat Person, and considers cats superior to dogs, so that old, tedious, self-serving argument comes up a number of times. Burroughs thinks humans have made dogs in their image and thus sullied them and made them "self-righteous" and even into a "lynch mob." Ah yes, we all need a little justifying rant sometimes. (Whatever! I am neither Cat nor Dog Person.) Nevertheless, Burroughs himself transforms his cats into people, who represent to him particular lost lovers, friends and family. I found that kind of sad, and it seems to me he did, too, not because of the projection but because he just misses people. I enjoyed the format of this, which reads like journal entries on one topic. Some of it is very funny. I'm sure Cat People would like it more than I did. ...more
It was my new year's resolution to read David Copperfield. And over half the year slipped away with this huge volume looming on my nightstand. I didn'It was my new year's resolution to read David Copperfield. And over half the year slipped away with this huge volume looming on my nightstand. I didn't really want to read it. I like Dickens, but sometimes he grates on me (e.g. Bleak House). But I didn't want to shirk. And now that it's done I know this book sits among the most marvelous. What a pleasure. The good were rewarded and the evil were punished (surprise!). I laughed and cried and was carried along. Very glad I resolved to read this....more