I didn't finish this book. It had what you might call fun facts, like the fact that F. W. Woolworth paid cash (several million 1913 dollars) for his NI didn't finish this book. It had what you might call fun facts, like the fact that F. W. Woolworth paid cash (several million 1913 dollars) for his NY skyscraper (55 stories), but the story at the center of it didn't engage, the style was turgid, and I had a lot of other things to do....more
Manic Dawn is a charming book. I use the term literally It is a book of the charmed:
how could she know she had become a goddess chanting through the marigo
Manic Dawn is a charming book. I use the term literally It is a book of the charmed:
how could she know she had become a goddess chanting through the marigolds and roses jangling tambourines
a book of the charming:
she sings on the rainswept corner her bags full of rubies and frogs a green fairy plays a flute
a book of winged things: fairies, butterflies, crows, children
wearing her cherry red Keds she outruns the dawn
An image that might have been lifted right out of the master of charm, Ray Bradbury. Crows? They are, the poet tells us, a manifestation of the Moriggan, a Celtic mother goddess, a harbinger, and one must beware of harbingers
thumbing through hundred year old photos of great grandmothers conjuring crows teacups and Jesus
It is a book of startling images:
Rag doll in the dumpster beneath wilted roses.
It is a book in five wingy parts: butterfly, lost, dream, moon, crow. Each section is illustrated with a charming painting by Anne Milligan. It is a book of musical language: For example:
cherry red Keds
girls who howl . . . lobas’ oboe voices crack the moon
Listen to it ring the changes on the vowel “o” Listen to the kinesis of that c-r-r-a-ck the moon. For example:
girls who rise on Orion’s horizon . . . arrows fly
Ai yi yi. Or maybe ri ri ri. I don’t know a haiku from a haibun but I know this book is one I won’t soon forget. ...more
The main branch of the Lexington Fayette County Public Library in Lexington, Kentucky rises 5 stories above Phoenix Park, established on the site wherThe main branch of the Lexington Fayette County Public Library in Lexington, Kentucky rises 5 stories above Phoenix Park, established on the site where the legendary Phoenix Hotel failed at last to rise from its ashes. The park, at the corner of Main and Limestone Streets, is at the zero mark, the very center of Lexington, what the poet calls “the belly button of a town.” Inside the library a Foucault pendulum swings through the five-story rotunda, surrounded by the checkout desk, an art gallery, a small theater, and for several years, a small café. Behind the counter of this café, you could find poet and activist Eric Sutherland, something of a legend himself in the local arts community.
This proximity of park and library creates a perfect daylight gathering place for Lexington’s street people. The art gallery and theater draw the artist and the intellectual. For an observer as astute as Sutherland, what better location than this corner so rife with symbolism, “where all / the spokes of the community / wheel converge.” It is from this hub that “The Gatekeeper observes / from a corner near the entrance.” As the Foucault pendulum shows us that we spin like Ezekial’s wheel within a wheel, so Sutherland’s Pendulum shows us those who become lost in the spin, exploring whether their hopelessness can transform into a sort of rebirth.
Such grandiose pronouncements are hard to resist, but Sutherland has kept his poems both hard and humane in their beauty (to paraphrase Maurice Manning’s blurb). Pendulum begins with the opening of “the gate,” a poem whose epigraph invokes the Gospel of Matthew’s wide gate to destruction and narrow gate to life, which we have popularized to hell and heaven. Those I’ll call lost souls press against the gate like fans at a rock concert.
If they could slim to snakes and slither on in, they would find the Gatekeeper turning on the few lights illuminating his small corner
Tricky line-break here –“if they could turn into snakes, they would” identifies these souls with Satan and implies that this gate leads to hell, but then the eye discovers that what they “would” is find the Gatekeeper. Dimly illuminated, he was
counting down the hours until he could slip out through the narrow back door invisible to the raving horde.
This Gatekeeper knows the narrow way out, the way to life, but the hordes can’t see it.
Turn the page and the poem “you find yourself” tells you it is not hell the hordes inhabit:
. . . it is purgatory, a battleground between light and dark. Have and have-not
Hereinafter the reader finds a portrait gallery of the inhabitants: homeless men who tip better than the affluent, who carry all their possessions with them in Glad bags, and at least one of whom is a veteran. Sutherland shows us children who have been kicked out and others who have run away, girls who cut themselves, girls who become too sexual too young, strippers, whores and pimps, abused wives, alcoholics, drug addicts, illegal immigrants. We catch glimpses of a librarian who must wake up the homeless taking advantage of the comfortable chairs and a burnt out homicide detective who “looks like death.” And through it all the pendulum swings marking the earth’s spin and inexorable time.
I’ve given a list of labels, but The Gatekeeper, who acts as our guide through this world, shows us the fully human soul behind the label. He does not blame or patronize. He sees and shows us “the god spark sizzling in them all.”
A readable, sometimes fascinating, look at colonial Virginia, the growth of the plantation system and the unique ways tobacco culture influenced econoA readable, sometimes fascinating, look at colonial Virginia, the growth of the plantation system and the unique ways tobacco culture influenced economics and society.
Some quotations from the book:
. . . [raising] tobacco often served as the measure of the man.
The great planters of Tidewater Virginia enjoy a special place in American history. They included some of the nation's ablest leaders, and without the likes of Washington and Jefferson, it is hard to see how Americans could have made good their claims to political independence. [p 24]
After George Washington dropped the cultivation of tobacco for that of wheat, he discovered that he had more time for fox-hunting, his favorite form of relaxation. [p 55]
Fatalism was foreign to their outlook. Instead they believed in the existence of an agricultural virtu, a set of personal attributes that ultimately determined the quality of a man's crop. [p 60]
. . . George Washington assumed that a man's reputation was bound up -- at least in part -- with the quality of the tobacco he grew. [p 80]
After mid-century the Tidewater gentry defined luxuries as necessities and indulged their desires. [p 129]
And to keep up with the "consumer revolution," the great planters required additional slaves. [p 131]...more
I started this book as a sort of assignment from the leader of the Paris-Bourbon County Public Library non-fiction reading club (that's a mouthful). EI started this book as a sort of assignment from the leader of the Paris-Bourbon County Public Library non-fiction reading club (that's a mouthful). Each member of the club was to read a different volume on Shakers from the library's holdings. I picked this one, expecting theology or philosophy but what I got was economics and items like a list of Shaker inventions, both those patented and those not. After a time the Shakers decided the exclusiveness of patents was unethical and stopped patenting their inventions. The list of them covered 5 pages.
The book is copiously illustrated with many photographs of Shaker people, something I'd not run into before. Photographs of Shaker architecture are fairly common. After all the buildings and furnishings are still there. But I don't remember seeing photographs of the people, especially the children.
So I'd say the book is well worth taking a look at. Just don't expect a theological discussion of the relationship of work and worship....more
If it is possible to write without self-consciousness a novel in which one of the greatest novelists of all time is himself a character interacting inIf it is possible to write without self-consciousness a novel in which one of the greatest novelists of all time is himself a character interacting in turn with several of HIS most famous characters, I say, if such a novel is possible, this novel is not it.
It didn't quite succeed either as a romp through Dickens's world or as a serious exploration of the dark side of Victorian London. Can Pickwick exist in a world that contains Jack the Ripper? The Ripper does not appear in this novel, but if the time were right he'd be right at home.
I do give it points for not softening Scrooge's character. He's a heartless miser and moneylender from start to finish. The 19th century version of payday loans. He is also the book's narrator. A somewhat unsympathetic narrator is hard to pull off. I think I was supposed to be amused but that's a kind of dark humor this book does not pull off. Not for me anyway....more
Myers' style is so easy, so fluent that you don't notice it. Some books are all style, the author is always in your ear saying "look what I can do." IMyers' style is so easy, so fluent that you don't notice it. Some books are all style, the author is always in your ear saying "look what I can do." I often like that kind of book. Myers, however, tells the story of his childhood simply, without razzle dazzle. Like Yeats says, ya gotta make it look easy, and Myers does. I'm told this is a YA book, and I would not have read it if it hadn't been book of the month for a non-fiction book club I joined recently. At no time. however, did I think I was reading below my grade level -- except maybe at the very end when he seems to force a resolution, wrapping up all his life from age 17 to age 61 in a few sentences. The rest of the book is so compelling I can't really complain.
Myers draws a picture of himself as both brawling street kid cutting school for weeks at a time and book worm who cuts school to sit in a tree in the park and read books. He reads well above his grade level, tackling Joyce, Camus, Keats, Shelley etc at 15 & 16. To me, however, the most astounding of his reading choices is Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Mrs. Finley introduced us first to the life of Elizabeth Barrett. Here was a sickly woman who lived most of her life alone and who wrote poetry from the time she was a child. The poems we read in class were her expressions of love to Robert Browning, her husband. The poetry was personal, and I was able to understand it as a personal expression by the writer rather than as what had seemed to me to be the impersonal writing of the earlier poems I had read. Perhaps someone could be so moved by a Grecian urn that he would instantly sit down and write a poem about it, but the idea of writing to someone you loved was immediately attractive to me. The poetry had come from Browning as well as being written by her.
Sonnets from the Portuguese used form and meter with an ease and grace that I envied. I wanted to write like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. I wanted to sit by my window, my small dog on my lap, and write this intensely personal poetry. The sonnet form allowed me to make my poems look and feel like real poetry without being as distant as some of the other British poetry I had read.
When I was in college, an English major whose learning was mainly controlled by the New Criticism of Brooks and Warren, Elizabeth Barrett was given grudging recognition as Robert's wife and the millstone around his neck who wrote soppy sonnets.
Who would have thought she would have had such an impact on a mixed-race boy growing up in Harlem in the 1950s?
In my copy of this book I've written the date February 1986. That is approximately the date that I read it for the first time. I was 41 and still ableIn my copy of this book I've written the date February 1986. That is approximately the date that I read it for the first time. I was 41 and still able to get lost in a story, to neglect everything and everybody while I plowed through to the end. And so I did in this one, tears streaming down my cheeks as I followed the grand love affair of Janie and Tea Cake.
For 30 years, the novel gathered dust on my shelf. I refused to read it again, convinced that the second time through my critical faculties would kick in and dispel that magical aura. Until this summer, when, having read Crystal Wilkinson's The Birds of Opulence, I got a sudden itch to return to the Muck with Janie.
I'm not altogether sure why the one book sent me to the other. I need to explore that a little further before I address it, but I was right that my reactions were very different at 71 than they had been at 41. This time I noticed that Hurston does not try to explode, but instead exploits, African-American stereotypes. This time I was distracted by her use of thick dialect: dat and dem and heah. This time I noticed certain motifs, like the fact that Janie's first two husbands wanted to succeed on the white model of hard work and entrepreneurship. The one wanting a work hand, the other a trophy. (Much is made of the state of Janie's hair, which reflects the white half of her inheritance, whether it is up or down or hidden altogether.) This time I noticed that the characters have very little intercourse with white society and when they do it is most often pernicious.
Tea Cake is a rambler, a gambler, a musician -- I could call him a Gypsy Davie who won the heart of a lady or a Stagger Lee (maybe more appropriately a Billy deLyons). Sometimes I didn't like him much, as when he spent Janie's escape money on a lavish party. But he has integrity and he doesn't' want to use Janie in the way her two first husbands did.
I'm dancing around, trying not to reveal too much of the plot, because, though I shed no tears, I still got caught up in the compelling story and believed in the compelling characters. Before it's anything else it's a great tale. Read it.
This book is half oral history and half anthropology -- interesting to think that times I 've lived through are in need of preservation and study.
"ItThis book is half oral history and half anthropology -- interesting to think that times I 've lived through are in need of preservation and study.
"It is a a beautiful plant with a delicate yellowish green leaf bright as sunshine, transparent, clean, and clear of fuzz." --L. J. Bradford, "White Tobacco" in the Daily Kentucky Yeoman, Frankfort, 1873 (Kentucky Burley is a sport, a spontaneous mutation that was discovered, not developed. Bradford claims to have originated it.)
"And curse Sir Walter Raleigh he was such a stupid get." -- John Lennon, "So Tired"...more
I admired the author's understanding of ancient Irish culture but too many lists of names of dignitaries and not enough real character development. II admired the author's understanding of ancient Irish culture but too many lists of names of dignitaries and not enough real character development. I couldn't get involved because I had no place I couldn't remember who was who.
Lots of Tom Swifties too -- I spent too much time noticing them....more
[My poem in this collection, “Putsch and Counter-Putsch,” is on page 122.]
Not too long ago, I watched a YouTube clip from “Politically Incorrect” in w[My poem in this collection, “Putsch and Counter-Putsch,” is on page 122.]
Not too long ago, I watched a YouTube clip from “Politically Incorrect” in which Bill Maher asked Susan Sarandon to comment on the 25th anniversary of “Thelma and Louise,” and she talked about the negative response, the astonishing backlash the film evoked. Butch and Sundance, Thelma and Louise, both films iconic, the former perceived as heroic (whimsically heroic, dying as they had lived?), the latter reprehensible because in it, women respond to violence with violence.
In Circe’s Lament, editors Bianca Spriggs and Katerina Stoykova-Klemer have assembled 160 or so pages of poetry inspired, as they explain in the preface, by women who “break stereotypes and societal expectations.” From Cleopatra to Janis Joplin, the poems in this anthology celebrate the many ways in which women rebel. A quarter of a century later, "Thelma and Louise" has outlived the protest and become a classic, but women still struggle against the stereotype.
The book is divided into 4 sections loosely organized around the notions of family, desire (or maybe lust), mythology, and loss, though I may have that all wrong. The poems are slippery and difficult to categorize. These are wild women after all. From page to page, the idea of wildness differs, as the poets’ voices differ, so that reading the volume is like watching a flip book—the action is jerky but the wonder remains at the ways the eye can be fooled.
Styles range from Tina Parker’s minimalist poem about a mother’s inevitable guilt, “The Day my Four-Year-Old Scratched Me,”
I scratched her back It broke the skin
to Nickole Brown’s long-lined, page-and-a-half meditation on her grandmother’s many ways of saying the word “Fuck,” among them:
as if dipping up homemade ice cream, waiting to be served last so that she’d scoop from the bottom where all the good stuff had settled down.
Barbara Crooker’s “Snow White Turns Sixty” “and doesn’t care any / more about what the neighbors / think.”
Amanda Johnson gives us a page-long list of reasons “It Ain’t Prostitution,” a list of conditions so comprehensive that it pretty much defines prostitution out of existence.
If you don’t take cash If we’re in a recession . . . If you need it If you want it If you don’t remember
A few brave masculine voices add a baritone to the sopranos. Frank X. Walker’s “You Hit Like a Girl,” for instance, is especially daring in a book about women who prove that to hit like a girl can be lethal.
In short, Circe’s Lament is an eat-all-you–want buffet of women behaving badly and making history. As the bumper sticker has it, though Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said it first, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.”
America for me has the pelt of a raccoon, Its eyes are a raccoon’s black binoculars. A chipmunk flickers in a litter of dry bark Where ivy and vines tang
America for me has the pelt of a raccoon, Its eyes are a raccoon’s black binoculars. A chipmunk flickers in a litter of dry bark Where ivy and vines tangle in the red soil At the roots of an arcade of tulip trees. America’s wings are the color of a cardinal, Its beak is half-open and a mockingbird trills From a leafy bush in the sweat-bath of the air. Its line is the wavy body of a water moccasin Crossing a river with a grass-like motion, A rattlesnake, a rubble of dots and speckles, Coiling under the bloom of a yucca plant.
Nothing else need be said.
Except there is more than nature poetry here. ...more
In her New and Selected, Kate Bernadette Benedict has given us a feast of poetry reflecting the joys and sorrows of a lifetime, but always playful inIn her New and Selected, Kate Bernadette Benedict has given us a feast of poetry reflecting the joys and sorrows of a lifetime, but always playful in the way art is always playful. In nearly two hundred pages, the poet has time to mourn and time to rejoice, time to look at death in the mirror and laugh.
Benedict, no Kate, because I do know her and she has published my work on her two online zines “Umbrella” and “Tilt-a-Whirl,” can address the hard questions reflected in that mirror, as in the book’s title poem:
I hope I am more than I appear to be. In the bathroom mirror, the corners of my mouth droop in an aspect of chronic dissatisfaction
She can take us into the dark places.
Who would escape the flesh, lodged as we are within it?
she asks in the book’s first poem, “The Bunting,” a catalogue of her mother’s aging ailments that sounds distressingly familiar as I begin to be what my mother was: eyes clouded, spine warped, joints scraping, veins standing out “like earthworms after rain.”
“So many things need buttressing,” she exclaims in “Holding Up,”
books, walls, my elderly neighbor inching down the hallway with his aluminum walker
“I can’t keep my eye from the peephole.” It’s a peephole familiar to all of us.
The old man weeps, or warps his mouth; the younger man bears it. I prop my heavy head on my heavy door and watch.
So we all become voyeurs of age as it approaches.
I admit, though, that I like her work best when it is at its most insolently clever, when she makes me laugh with delight, as in her “Adipose Ode,” a praise of the body’s fat cells in a time when “It is the fashion to be angular as a hanger:”
In this age of shove and jolt, you cushion and buffer. But for you sharp bones jangle, jut, and bruise. . . .
And in her “Words for a Temp”
A steady job is a maw
that bolts you whole, a churning gut that maculates the soul.
As a person less recently retired every day, I couldn’t’ agree more.
I have ridden the equivalent of the E Train and yawned my way to work on the “Torpid Transit”
On the E Train a woman yawns and then a woman yawns and yawns spawn around the crowded car . . . I yawn myself and gawk into another open throat, uvula waving.
The constant play on "aw" here is awesome.
Earthly Use is an attractive self-published book. It has one of the most evocative covers I’ve seen and it’s too bad it can’t be seen in Goodreads as it is on Amazon. In her Author’s Preface, Kate explains why she has chosen self-publication:
For many years, I did enter book contests, writing out checks and mailing off manuscripts but it was a fool’s quest. Eventually I found a publisher . . . How I wince, remembering that I relinquished all rights . . . received in return nothing more than a print-on-demand book and an obligation to buy it in quantity.
Oh and I can’t close out this review without admitting that I have such name envy. I love to say Kate Bernadette Benedict – a mixture of the homely and the holy, just like Kate herself. ...more
I have no objectivity when it comes to James Baker Hall. He was a superb photographer, a superb poet, a suburb teacher.
And, incidentally, on of the beI have no objectivity when it comes to James Baker Hall. He was a superb photographer, a superb poet, a suburb teacher.
And, incidentally, on of the best describers of cats I've ever read. For example
Within the weathered barn this drama of back-lit cat walking along the dusty crossbeam so cat-likely stepping over tobacco sticks from "Mouse Elegy"
she hangs out in a culvert I pull off the road and climb down with a plastic cup of food emptying it out on a scrap aboard I took down there if I've got the time to visit I usually do she stays at the other end of the culvert as though she'd never ever come closer . . . she never lets me see her lick herself or sleep from "The Mother on the Other Side of the World" (The poem is or seems to be about the cat)
a dappled gray gelding at the edge of the woods moved into the beam of my flashlight rocking his head back and forth smearing his visage he knew a lot more than I did that was as much sense as I could make of the goings on down there . . . now and then a snort a whinny until she was gone replaced after the passage of time by a sleek stray dark gray cat yet to be named leaping up as I leaped down hopscotching through my echoes and my light toward my hand from "Yet to be Named"
When the sun reaches the flat rock on which the cat sleeps the heat dreams her. It's as though she is remembering something. She stands up and changes
shape . . . . The cat stretches as she enters the shadow of a tree, pulling her last leg in slowly. She crosses the yard as though it were her condition
to change shape with every move. . . . She is the only thing This is the only world. from "Old Places"...more
“Tawdry” is a great word, a mimetic word, a word that fills the mouth, a word I encountered with delight in Kathleen Driskell’s poem called “The Mowe “Tawdry” is a great word, a mimetic word, a word that fills the mouth, a word I encountered with delight in Kathleen Driskell’s poem called “The Mower” where it turns out to be the perfect choice to describe offerings a father removes each week from his son’s grave.
. . . a Wildcats flag, a blue sash that reads This We’ll Defend, a solar light that blinks at night, a tawdry bouquet of plastic yellow tulips
The word is right in its meaning. (showy and cheap), in its place at the end of the line, and in its sound, a groaning “aw” that echoes the “slow moan” of the riding mower that wakes the Poet each Saturday, as the father and an unidentified “she” [I infer a girlfriend] assert opposing modes of grief. “It was she, he said, who had sent the ruined / boy up the ramp and into the black mouth // of the Army’s transport plane.” The music is subtler here, modulating to liquid “r” alliteration and the balancing half-rhyming diphthongs “ui” and “ou.”
In his book Making Your Own Days: The Pleasures of Reading and Writing Poetry (Scribner, 1998), Kenneth Koch suggests that poets speak a special language called “poetry,” a sort of subset of the mother tongue, be it French or English, Arabic or Hebrew. An important component of the language of poetry is music. Song enhances meaning in poetry. To adapt an example from Koch, to say “I’m having suicidal thoughts” just isn’t the same as saying “To be or not to be, that is the question.”
Driskell speaks fluent poetry, meaning and music mingling as we are reminded that the Mower will never succeed in controlling constantly resurrecting life.
And no matter how close the mower shaves around impediments, a green live fringe circling each monument remains, won’t be edited out, can’t be cut to the ground . . .
“Poetry,” says Koch, “would just as soon come to a musical, as to a logical or otherwise useful conclusion . . .” The Poet, watching this drama play out in sympathy and as witness, seems to conclude that the best end that can be hoped for is stasis as “she” always leaves, “what next Saturday the mower is sure / to pitch up atop the high pile of clippings and rubbish.” The music resolves; the story is left open-ended.
Driskell is frequently droll, even when she is (forgive me) deadly serious. It might be said she has a twinkle in her eye, if that wasn’t such a cliché. Nothing about Driskell is clichéd. It’s not every woman who would live in a decommissioned church, let alone one with attached graveyard. Even fewer would write a collection of poems about it.
I don’t know how Protestants de-sanctify a church. Catholics have a ritual for it, of course, but I guess Protestants just sell them. In Driskell’s case, the sale was handled by the preacher.
The Preacher who sold us the old church said Pshaw! Ain’t nobody been buried there in years, no fears, that little cemetery’s been full up long ago (“Living Next to the Dead Acre”)
He must have been a Baptist preacher because the young couple soon discover that, to be charitable, the preacher was confused. “. . . we’d only lived there a month, / were still washing dishes in the ladies’ room / sink, when I drove home in sleet to find / a hearse . . . the casket sliding out. / I slid in . . .” Seems there is always room for one more in a graveyard.
Comparisons to the Spoon River Anthology practically make themselves and I will leave them to it. Although the book has a series of poems titled “Epitaph,” Driskell casts her net wider, in geography, time, and culture. We hear from soldiers who died in the Civil War and in one of our many concurrent current conflicts. We visit the grave of Harland Sanders (and as a sort of afterthought, that of his wife), a snake handler and his snake, African American slaves, Dante Gabriel Rossetti (who has second thoughts about his grand romantic gesture), an Egyptian mummy riding the flooded Ohio in her box, and a crow fallen in a path. I am particularly fond of “Epitaph: Wife of Proud Buck Shallcross” for its allusion to a classic and long-time favorite:
Now—and forever—here lies my Ruby, just as she did during this earthly life.
This seven-line poem is both sinister and funny. Several poems are too short to quote but their titles convey their intent: “Epitaph: Dear Departed Dave, He Chased a Bear into a Cave.”
In her essay “Laugh While You Can" (Poetry), Kay Ryan says “I have always felt that much of the best poetry is funny.” She sees “something nonsensical in the heart of poetry” and reminds us that the distance between Krazy Kat's being bonked with a brick (and thinking it a gesture of love) and a poem like Emily Dickinson’s “The Morning after Woe” is considerably shorter than we have been led to believe.
Ryan writes "What is it but nonsense that has taken the grave weight of . . . Dickinson’s poems—. . . —and has left them weightless? Because if these poems, or a Shakespeare sonnet or a dark sonnet by Donne, had not had their arguments undone somehow, they would indeed crash upon our heads like hammers. "
Nevertheless, it is the rare poet who can write poems that are serious and poems that are seriously funny. Driskell is one of them.
Here is my disclosure. I know Driskell and I’m a fan.