I enjoyed this, although it comes with all the disclaimers you’d hang on anthologies, such as there’ll be plenty of poems you don’t like, and you willI enjoyed this, although it comes with all the disclaimers you’d hang on anthologies, such as there’ll be plenty of poems you don’t like, and you will wonder if women ever wrote poems. But for me the terrific poems I wasn’t familiar with, and a few I was, made this a pleasure. And also because I found a copy signed by W.S. Merwin in a used bookstore. Insert smiley face here.
I was especially drawn to the Asian poems, but also the folkloric poems, and anonymous poems about the sources of things, like why there are ants, or where the moon comes from, which is the topic of an Amazonian poem that begins “The man cut his throat and left his head there.” It involves a bunch of people trying to get away from this creepy head by climbing trees and running away. It was kind of like a Monty Python skit, but in an old South American poem.
With the exception of Hadrian’s wonderful poem “Little Soul,” what I didn’t like were the poems from the Latin, which bored me. I must clump a lot of the antique Europeans into this group, too, including Dante (sorry), the Greeks, and the long war poems. Most Russian poets have never really spoken to me either, I’m afraid. But I do adore the Spanish poets, almost without exception, and have a weakness for the French.
Little Soul (Hadrian, A.D. 76-138)
Little soul little stray little drifter now where will you stay all pale and all alone after the way you used to make fun of things
I also liked this short modern poem by Lars Norén, a Swede, which is untitled.
Maybe this road leads nowhere but someone is coming from there
In the last section Bernart de Ventadorn, who lived from 1135-1195, was hating on the ladies in his poem “Quan Vei L’Alauzeta Mover.” Here’s an excerpt. It was almost laughable. (#notallladies)
The ladies bring me to despair, I will not trust them anymore. Long I argued in their favor but I will not any longer for none is any use to me with her who wastes and ruins me. I have lost faith in all of them knowing that they are all the same.
The penultimate poem is Alberto Blanco’s wonderful “The Parakeets.”
They talk all day and when it starts to get dark they lower their voices to converse with their own shadows and with the silence.
They are like everybody --the parakeets-- all day chatter, and at night bad dreams.
With their gold rings on their clever faces, brilliant feathers and the heart restless with speech...
They are like everybody --the parakeets-- the ones that talk best have separate cages.
The book is broken into three sections according to when Merwin translated them. Perhaps they were originally separate books, I don’t know. But it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense as a way to organize, since some poets have poems in more than one section, and we jump countries and centuries from one page to the next. It’s not a big deal, and you could argue it keeps it lively, but I didn’t think it ideal. ...more
My mother has now twice reminded me I read this when I was 14 or 15. So here it is on my 'read' list! I do remember it advised the lovelorn to put a rMy mother has now twice reminded me I read this when I was 14 or 15. So here it is on my 'read' list! I do remember it advised the lovelorn to put a rubber band around their wrist and snap it whenever the object of unrequited affection came to mind. I think I tried that. ...more
In this story of time travel, Dana, a black woman living in California in 1976, is transported on her 26th birthday back to 1820s slave-holding MarylaIn this story of time travel, Dana, a black woman living in California in 1976, is transported on her 26th birthday back to 1820s slave-holding Maryland. She’s beckoned by a white ancestor, Rufus, who somehow draws her over time and space whenever he’s in dire danger.
On her first trip, Dana saves the life of 4-year old Rufus through mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. She lands near a river after experiencing dizziness in her apartment, where she and her husband were sorting books:
“Something is wrong with me,” I gasped. I heard him move toward me, saw a blur of gray pants and blue shirt. Then, just before he would have touched me, he vanished. The house, the books, everything vanished. Suddenly, I was outdoors kneeling on the ground beneath trees. I was in a green place. I was at the edge of a woods. Before me was a wide tranquil river, and near the middle of the river was a child, splashing, screaming... Drowning! I reacted to the child in trouble. Later I could ask questions, try to find out where I was, what had happened. Now I went to help the child.
Second trip, Dana finds a slightly older Rufus setting curtains on fire. At the start of their first conversation, she already starts calling him “Rufe.” I found this jarring amid what surely would be an extremely unusual and frightening experience.
The story is imaginative and compelling, but it’s all plot with little care for character or landscape. I was not impressed by the writing. It’s fine that the story is preposterous - we knew that. But it would have had a better measure of believability if the writer had engaged the senses and spent a little time on character and settings, which are mostly nondescript.
Sorry I can’t give it 2.5 stars because it was a decent story, I just wished it were better told. ...more
This was on my shelf for some time because I loved the idea of it so much I was afraid reading the book might disappoint me. No need to fear. It was aThis was on my shelf for some time because I loved the idea of it so much I was afraid reading the book might disappoint me. No need to fear. It was a fascinating book. Near the beginning it did make me laugh because the three men just seemed so plum crazy. But that’s the thing: they are crazy, and if it’s a bit comic, it’s also terribly sad.
The three Christs are 1) Clyde, a farmer near 70 who’d become a violent drunk before being committed; 2) Joseph, a thwarted writer nearing 60 who believes that as God his top job is protecting England; and 3) Leon, the 30-something son of a fanatically devout single mother, who invents the ‘squelch chamber’ and enters marriage with the Eve figure of the Yeti.
There are moments of hilarity and tenderness and seeming progress and setbacks. There are passages on identity and belief systems that are very interesting and add to the story and the reader's understanding. There’s some marvelous diction - the somewhat old-timey use of “fellow” and “sir” in the group, or Clyde calling Leon a “rerise” because he claims to have been resurrected.
In the epilogue, the author regrets some aspects of his approach, and I think he is right to do so. Nevertheless, I also thought his intentions were mostly good, and I’m afraid there was slim chance of any of these men being escorted out of insanity.
As the author says, they went crazy with very good reasons. ...more
Despite a distaste for the protagonist, Peter Leigh, I found this novel enthralling and imaginative. The setting and characters are well-drawn, even iDespite a distaste for the protagonist, Peter Leigh, I found this novel enthralling and imaginative. The setting and characters are well-drawn, even if the plot is hardly new: a journeyer arrives on a new planet just as the one he left starts collapsing. Peter comes as a Christian missionary without knowing what awaits him. To his credit, he also doesn't know what kind of hell(s) is about to break loose on Earth, where his wife Beatrice, who was rejected by the mega-corporation sponsoring the trip to space, grows increasingly furious with him and increasingly vulnerable to catastrophes big and small, societal collapse, and feelings of abandonment. Peter expected to have to work hard to convert the natives of the planet Oasis. But many of the colorfully robed Oasans are ripe for Christianity and its promise of everlasting life. They are indeed a bit charming, even if their faces resemble two fetuses plunked together. Peter is in a pretty good place, safe, too, from the temptations that tripped him up before he met his wife. Whether Peter is as emotionally cool as the others making a go of Oasis is hard to say, but like them he went through a grueling screening process and was approved. He loves Bea, but it would be nice if she didn't tax him with her faith-shattering problems. He also begins to forget the names of his parishioners back in England, much less to care about them. You get the feeling he's having a special-boy adventure, and can't be bothered with humans. He often struck me as despicable. But the story develops very well, and there are revelations and interesting characters. Peter's not irredeemable. One of my favorite parts of the book was the description of the climate of Oasis, super humid and breezy, subject to torrential, muscle-flexing rains. There's a lot of sweating, intimate breezes, and lush muckiness to engage the senses. One of the most touching aspects of the book is the parallel to Michel Faber's relationship with his own wife, who was diagnosed with a fatal cancer while he was writing it. As an exploration of separation and love, it is moving and affirmative. Faber has said it's the last book he'll write. ...more
This novel is an untraditional ghost story. It centers on five different characters, each of whom getsAli Smith has such appeal. I love her writing.
This novel is an untraditional ghost story. It centers on five different characters, each of whom gets her own chapter, itself framed in a specific grammatical tense (present, past, etc) that emphasizes the book’s concern with time. The overlap among them is the Global Hotel and 19-year old Sara, who kicks off the book by plunging to her death in a freak accident in the hotel dumbwaiter.
One of the five epigraphs comes from Muriel Spark’s “Memento Mori:” “Remember you must die.” In the first chapter, the character also tells the reader: “Remember you must live.”
I often don’t go in for books like this - the shifting of perspective and voice - but I found this book inventive, moving and exuberant. The other characters are Sara’s sister Clare; Penny, a hotel guest; Else, a homeless woman usually stationed outside; and Lise, a young woman on the hotel staff.
Sara’s chapter (the Past chapter) starts the book with a thrilling and chilling “Wooooo-hoooo,” as she plummets down the dumbwaiter shaft. It’s narrated by her ghost some months after her death, when she is losing her grip on language. She recounts a bit of her life and what she was feeling and thinking there on the cusp of adulthood when she died. She haunts the hotel and her family’s home and the story:
“I coast down corridors, invisible as air conditioning. I waft about the restaurant from table to table, plate to nouvelle plate. I seep through the kitchen door; out the back five dustbins are stacked against a wall, each full of uneaten things. I hang in the reception like muzak.”
The most challenging chapter centers of Sara’s younger sister Clare. It’s challenging because it’s done in stream of consciousness without punctuation. But by challenging I wouldn’t say it was difficult - just best to read it in one gulp than to try to break it up. It’s also the saddest chapter, grappling with death and bereavement.
My favorite chapter was Penny’s, a PR person staying at the hotel, because it had the most action and interaction. I loved her character because she seemed so open to the world, if also a bit dense. Penny’s chapter brings her together with the grieving Clare, who sneaks into the hotel, and Elspeth, a homeless woman usually stationed outside the hotel, who is given a room for the night (by Lise) in an act of charity.
The others belong to Elspeth, the homeless woman, and Lise (Future Conditional), who works/worked at the hotel, who, in the time of the chapter (the future) is laid up with a mysterious illness. Lise recalls her time at the hotel, and there are also glimmers of what the farther future will bring.
I thought it was very well done. At the end of last year I read Smith’s “The Accidental” and thought I’d be biased against “Hotel World” because I loved that so much, but no, this is different and dazzling. ...more
I stayed home ill from work, and what better condition to finish off “Zinky Boys” by Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize last year for her wrI stayed home ill from work, and what better condition to finish off “Zinky Boys” by Svetlana Alexievich, who won the Nobel Prize last year for her writing - “a monument to suffering.”
The title refers to the zinc coffins used to ship the remains of Soviet soldiers from the nine-year war in Afghanistan. The coffins arrived sealed because sometimes just one body part was inside, or a shovelful of dirt to add heft. The warfare often involved land mines, and it was hard to get through four or five pages before someone new had lost his legs or arms or head, or was simply blown to pieces. Only some pieces, and not always the right ones, made it into the coffins.
“After it was all over we collected up our boys in bits and pieces, even scraping them from the sides of the APC. We spread out a tarpaulin, their common grave, to try and sort out which leg or fragment of skull belonged to whom. We weren’t issued identification tags because of the ‘danger’ of them falling into enemy hands. This was an undeclared war, you see - we were fighting a war that wasn’t happening.” (p. 170 Private, Intelligence Corps)
What struck me most about this book was the terrible sorrow of mothers who lost their children. Their grief was powerful and tragic. When Alexievich won the Nobel Prize the committee noted her work isn’t a history of events but a “history of emotions ... an emotional world,” and that is clear here and also in her book “Voices of Chernobyl.”
Beyond the emotional impact, the most striking thing was the veterans’ and their loved ones’ sense of betrayal by a pointless war poorly fought.
The pain and emotional upheaval makes the book uneasy reading. The format helps, however, consisting of short interviews with veterans or loved ones left behind. When Alexievich won the Nobel Prize last year the committee cited her use of “polyphonic writings,” which refers to the mix of voices that constitute her books. She rarely intrudes; she conveys.
If there is a weak spot it is that the book is occasionally monotonous in tone, partly because the veterans all have a similar story to tell. But the women medics and nurses do help with a different perspective, as do the widows and mothers.
I was drawn to this book because I was overwhelmed by “Voices of Chernobyl” a couple years ago. That was the better book, in my opinion, because it seemed more diverse in its story-telling....more
I first read Hailey Leithauser at least 10 years ago in some magazine or other and I loved her. Above all she’s a poet of sound, volleying sonics, rhyI first read Hailey Leithauser at least 10 years ago in some magazine or other and I loved her. Above all she’s a poet of sound, volleying sonics, rhyme and wonderful word choices at you while keeping her subjects simple and focused. It’s not intellectual; it’s fun. At the time, I searched in vain for a book but she didn’t have one, and it wasn’t easy to find much online. Luckily, Swoop was published in 2012 by Graywolf, and Leithauser won the Emily Dickinson prize for first book. All that said, I admit she’s a poet best drunk in sips. I found reading her in large doses a bit taxing and, if anything, it showed her weaknesses. It’s better to be served up a poem or two at a time, perhaps amid heavy poetry that leaves you in need of relief.
Here is the beginning of “Veritas Interruptus,” which one must admit is delightful:
“What the unstoppered id did I’d like to unburden, but not to regret, and not undetermine, for sin is most sweet when wet on the breath, still fresh on the tongue, still strong in the lungs ...”
My least favorite poems in this book were part of series called “From the Grandiloquent Dictionary,” apparently an online dictionary of obscure words. Each poem is a grouping of three words, each one “defined” with a short verse. Some of the words you can guess at, like ‘Venusaphobia,’ but others I found difficult to dance to without a starting point. For example:
Judder When judd gives a shudder, like a tractor more quaint than intact, like lapsed reactors, pipes worn and contorted, a Toyota that’s done for, or outdated aorta.
After I finished this earlier this month (and didn’t review it right off because of life’s many other interruptions), I’ve gone back and dipped into it now and confess I am very glad to have it, and happy that Leithauser finally got her own, much deserved book. ...more
Well, this had me gagging on my soup with confusion, shock and voyeuristic glee. I read this family drama in three days. I was happy not to even haveWell, this had me gagging on my soup with confusion, shock and voyeuristic glee. I read this family drama in three days. I was happy not to even have read the back blurb before starting, so I had no idea what was going to go down. It’s suspenseful and foreboding and has a nicely paced reveal, like a wine that tastes wonderful, but whose proof you neglect to check before downing three glasses of it. ...more
I ordered this after some list or other pimped it as a book you could read in a breeze. I got an old hardback whose 182 pages were dappled with ancienI ordered this after some list or other pimped it as a book you could read in a breeze. I got an old hardback whose 182 pages were dappled with ancient coffee or blood and smelled strongly of a mildewed cellar. Like a visitor from another world! But the story was charming and I liked the style, and indeed I finished it off swiftly.
The story revolves around Matthew, a prepubescent boy visited by an alien presence, Chocky. His parents mistake the being for an imaginary friend, although Matthew is old for such a thing. Chocky is intelligent and also benevolent. S/he teaches Matthew binary numbers, gives him a breakthrough lesson in swimming, and helps him to see things as s/he does so well that he becomes a minor celebrity painter.
The story manages to remain upbeat despite the situation, which I feared at any moment could devolve into something messy and disastrous. No, you can count on the British middle class to keep on coping, if with occasional frustration. Even a kidnapping doesn’t seem terribly serious, just another thing to wait through until it blows over!
I enjoyed the story and writing very much and would consider reading Wyndham again if it weren’t that the portrayal of women was so patronizing and awful. The 10-year old sister might as well be mentally incapacitated (by her sex, apparently). The mother, who comes from a family of busybody sisters, is not entirely negative, but is dull and doltish. All she wants is that Matthew be normal. The male characters, on the other hand, are pretty much universally even-tempered and reasonable. Quite astounding that.
By way of putting such concerns aside, the world resorts to the word “dated,” whether an era can be an excuse or not. Of course, none of the characters in this short book was drawn particularly deeply. Still, I’m sorry about the sexism because I understand Wyndham has written even better books than this. ...more
The sections 'Ring of Fire' and 'Black Dog Songs' were wonderful and fun. I much admire Jarnot's willingness just to dive in and go with the poem. ButThe sections 'Ring of Fire' and 'Black Dog Songs' were wonderful and fun. I much admire Jarnot's willingness just to dive in and go with the poem. But the first section and the last, longish poem were a bit off-putting and difficult to penetrate either intellectually or emotionally. In fact I'd begun this book long ago and put it down because I felt completely left out. Glad I made it through this time. I recommend it if only to see what poetry can do. ...more
Nearing page 100 I wasn't enjoying the story or style. It was one of those books you'd look at on the table and quickly think of something else you'dNearing page 100 I wasn't enjoying the story or style. It was one of those books you'd look at on the table and quickly think of something else you'd rather be doing. I've had so many experiences where it took me weeks to read something because I basically didn't want to, meaning I was putting off reading 10 things I would have enjoyed. I wish I'd been charmed, but I was relieved when I finally decided I didn't need to do this to myself. Pulitzer-schmulitzer. ...more