What can you expect from a collection of poetry entitled Scotch Tape World? If the author's name is Tom C.Hunley, you can expect to be made to laugh aWhat can you expect from a collection of poetry entitled Scotch Tape World? If the author's name is Tom C.Hunley, you can expect to be made to laugh and think at the same time.
And this is not the combination that will kill you. That combination, a little bawdy to quote, may have originated with William Blake, but even then it wasn't fatal.
Hunley's poems are whimsically serious, meant to make us reconsider the stuff we take for granted. (Or granite if you're a college freshman.) To look at language outside the box, to ring in another cliche.
The titles alone are tantalizing. "At the Afterlife Bar and Grill" where "We never could see / the great Godzilla, but something smelled awful / and our friends kept getting stepped on." First you chuckle, then you identify.
In "Self-Portrait as a Child's Stick Figure Drawing on a Refrigerator," we're told "Often I feel sketchy like that, as if all the wrong colors / spill over my faint lines and anyone could cross me out / just like that."
Hunley's line is long and talky but so full of invention that they never become slow or bogged down by their own weight. I find poems like "Scotch Tape World" difficult to quote because there's no place I want to stop. But I'll try
. . . It's time [my children] learn that life is like that, that Disney lies in the way of a true education. God never lies, but He's still in trouble.
I can never resist a pun, and those line breaks are hilarious and true.
On the cover blurb, Shane McCrae says
These poems manage to be funny without being cynical, and they manage to be honest without being cynical, and they manage to seem utterly contemporary without being cynical, and each of these achievements is a small miracle and almost an act of defiance.
Lots of gun violence in this series and Walt Longmire pulls off too many superhuman rescues but the stories are well told with a liberal dose of humorLots of gun violence in this series and Walt Longmire pulls off too many superhuman rescues but the stories are well told with a liberal dose of humor. And members of the Crow and Cheyenne nations are portrayed like real people, as much as anybody is. I'd say a cross between a John Wayne movie and a Tony Hillerman novel....more
Although I've been writing what I've reluctantly come to call micropoetry (micro it is, poetry only occasionally) for several years now as @BluegrassPAlthough I've been writing what I've reluctantly come to call micropoetry (micro it is, poetry only occasionally) for several years now as @BluegrassPoet, I do not quite get haiku and tanka. What I do get, however, is imagery, and the images captured in Carole Johnston's chapbook are striking.
Johnston's style is plain. You might think, in a form as restrictive as haiku, that the style has to be plain, but my limited reading in the form has convinced me that there can be degrees of decoration, and an individual style is possible. Johnston has developed a distinct style.
Lately I’ve become interested in book covers and the way they relate to what’s inside. In my last reading of this chapbook, I took the cover for a guiLately I’ve become interested in book covers and the way they relate to what’s inside. In my last reading of this chapbook, I took the cover for a guide. It's static, each element (title, art, author’s name) stays meekly in its box. Or maybe stubbornly. In the photograph on the cover, the bride and (presumably) her mother are caught in static poses with little sense of movement. The two are doubly framed, once in the photograph and once in a vanity mirror within the photograph. The subject is conventional; the mother, in hat and white gloves, fixing the wedding veil for her daughter.
The cover might be emblematic of a woman’s life in the fifties, closed in by a series of nested boxes — courtship, wedding, children, mother of the bride. Karen George grew up in that period and at least one theme running through these poems is its darker side.
Take, for example, the sensually beautiful opening poem, entitled “Embryos.” In it a woman eats a hard-boiled egg somewhat ritualistically while reading a novel in which a “girl feels the first flutter of her child within.”
Bite into the heavy yolk, intense center of pleasure, hidden . . .
The yolk is the part of the egg that would develop into the embryo. The poem ends by taking us into the novel, where the girl feels a flutter from
[her own] fertilized egg—sweet, heavy secret. Sentences dense as the yolk your tongue roots.
We have ambiguities here worthy of Conrad. Is the persona pregnant? With child or with art? We learn later that she is childless by choice. Is the book with its dense sentences really, as hinted, a substitute for a child? If so, in what sense? Isn’t there something slightly cannibalistic going on here? And I mean that in the most metaphorical way possible.
I don't have an answer for these questions and I'm not sure the book offers answers. The poems proceed somewhat chronologically through images of grandmother, father, and her mother, where it lingers, and then to the persona herself. It is those poems that most engage my attention.
“Suppose,” asks the poem of that title. “an insect scared my mother / while I sloshed inside her”. And in fulfillment of the old wives tale, what frightens the mother marks the child, in this case “a mole shaped like a cockroach” that grew with her, obsessed her, tickled her with its legs. In the end, she “had it burnt and cut out, but traces remained, a stain.”
The cockroach is the housewife’s most loathed pest. What does this metamorphosis mean? Why did this cockroach leave a stain?
The persona's visions of the dead disrupt a family vacation at Cumberland Falls where “the seed of me burrowed, thinned, and branched.” An overheard conversation about a “woman’s true fulfillment” (children) leaves her frustrated and angry in “Without Child.”
The book closes with an Ishmael-like image from a recurring dream which ends with the persona immersed in a river trying to get to the surface and the boat that will turn for her.
I've been a little bit unfair to this collection by picking only those that support my theme. Though these poems are dark they're not without humor. The reading of them is a pleasure that grows with each iteration. ...more
When, three years ago, I wrote a blurb for the back of this book, I think I failed to understand what was happening in it.
The first half of this bookWhen, three years ago, I wrote a blurb for the back of this book, I think I failed to understand what was happening in it.
The first half of this book is about growing up, coming to understand sexuality first as a teen and then as a fully adult married woman.
The second half, however, almost exactly from the spine staple, deals with death. Primarily with the sickness and death of a troublesome father, with occasional detours to mark other deaths. From "Fatherless Girls"
In the face of absence or worse Your selfish love looks like a gift Still you left me and I leave The porch light on for you You, out carousing with Death
to the final "Inheritance"
Drunk with abundance, weaving Arm in arm to the music, we sway As a shadow staggers in the doorway Returned not to celebrate or mourn But to curse the day we were born.
Tom Hunley’s Octopus is the kind of book that feels like the poet had just as much fun writing it as I had reading it. . . . Here is a poet of sharp wit, integrity, and bittersweet intellect. He is also a fine craftsman of sharp imagery.
That just about sums it up for all of Hunley's work that I've read. Hunley's poems are often a hoot to read, and yet, you find, they've touched your heart.
Tom, an associate professor of English at Western Kentucky University, is the author of several books, including The Tongue (Wind Publications) and Octopus (Logan House Press), 2007 winner of the Holland Prize. He is also founder and director of Steel Toe Books.
It was a good enough read,and I was grooving with it, liking Harry Hole okay and accepting some of the mI didn't finish this book.
It was a good enough read,and I was grooving with it, liking Harry Hole okay and accepting some of the more eccentric characters (a one-armed diver, a bald woman police detective) until the final few chapters when the extremely complicated modus of the crime and the proliferation of corpses started to seem more and more ridiculous and over violent. I lost suspense, I didn't care, I closed the book....more
I've read Merwin poems here and there as I've run across them but, for some reason, this is the first of his books that I've read.
This collection of oI've read Merwin poems here and there as I've run across them but, for some reason, this is the first of his books that I've read.
This collection of odes to everything but the kitchen sink can't help but bring Neruda's odes to mind and that is unfortunate because Merwin's poems are lacking Neruda's serious whimsy; and if there is a lot of humor here, I've missed it. Which is possible. I do sometimes miss humor.
I read to page 78 before I found, in a poem called "To the Light of September" some lines that enticed me:
yet with a glint of bronze in the chill mornings and the late yellow petals of the mullein fluttering on the stalks that lean over their broken shadows across the cracked ground
After that I found a few more with lines I want to keep in my mind. "To the Fire" dwells on the paradoxical nature of that element:
you at whose touch everything changes you who never change
"To the Moss" contains this mini portrait of the wren:
the wren felt she knew most of that before there were breasts or cheeks and she made out of living bits of you the globe of her nest as though that was what you had grown there for
There were a few others but for the most part I found these poems enigmatic without mystery.
(I'd like to reiterate that the range I use in rating poetry is 4 & 5.) ...more
I don't think in square feet. If you tell me a house is so many square feet big, I'll have no idea how big the house is. I've never bought a house orI don't think in square feet. If you tell me a house is so many square feet big, I'll have no idea how big the house is. I've never bought a house or registered a china pattern. I've never lived in the suburbs. Nevertheless, when Lori A May speaks in the vocabulary of the suburban middle class, I understand. Suburban middle class has become the default definition of American.
In poems like "Place Settings" and "Separating the Whites," May uses this default metaphorically to create a portrait of a marriage from choosing the place settings to the renewal of "A Fresh Coat" of paint. Sweepstakes junk-mail, a burnt-out bulb in the refrigerator, the chipped bowl we can't quite bring ourselves to throw away, May transforms these trivialities which form the texture of day to day life.
May's world view is not without humor, as in this poem, my favorite:
Tucked in the Corner
We hold onto the broken chipped bowl, careful not to let the other seven know its fragility, for we cannot afford an epidemic....more
Letting my thoughts wander around the experience of reading Ararat, I found several equally enticing approaches to this review.
I could, for example, sLetting my thoughts wander around the experience of reading Ararat, I found several equally enticing approaches to this review.
I could, for example, say I grew up in a poor county in a poor state where kids were expected to work in the fields and forgo school when there was work to be done, where the school year was kept to 8 months so the boys could help in setting, housing, and stripping the tobacco crop. Nobody had time to analyze the finer feelings of sibling rivalry, so why should I give a rat sass about these poems of middle class angst? So Daddy wanted to fall asleep under the newspaper. Stop your crying or I'll give you something to cry about.
Falling asleep under the newspaper is such a cliche, Glück, who is obviously brilliant, must have been fully cognizant of its comic strip associations. But I'm not sure to what effect. Maybe it's that just that Daddy reduces himself to a flat character so he can opt out of this feminine love triangle that is the true subject of the book.
Or I could ask why are these poems? Where's the music? What kind of poet uses the word "whereas"? Why do I find these poems so compelling? Are they brutally honest or just whiney? Whining wasn't much indulged where I grew up. See above.
Or I could ask why Ararat? My first and only other experience with Glück's work, Averno, made the connection of the poems to Greek mythology plain as day. The title Ararat ties these poems to Jewish mythology, specifically not so much to the destruction of the Flood as to the time of coming to ground afterwards, the time when Ham came upon his father flat out drunk and "uncovered" and got himself cursed for looking at the paternal junk whereas his brothers Shem and Japheth, being forewarned, took elaborate care not to look while they covered Daddy up.
Sibling rivalry is a big topic in what Christians call the Old Testament, from Cain to the sons of David, and often the son cursed seems innocent to modern eyes.
Plenty of sibling rivalry in Ararat but not much YHWH. Look again at Glück's daddy asleep under his newspaper, safely sober and covered.
Or in fairy tale territory. We all know the dark sister is the villain and the blonde is the guileless martyr and victim, the one who gets the prince. The speaker is the dark sister, dark in looks, dark in mood. Is this a sort of "Paradise Lost" from Satan's POV?
So your female relatives play a ruthless game of Spite and Malice (a card game). Get over it, see above.
Or I could tell you that being the youngest sibling is like being the last wagon in a wagon train. The first child sees before her the vast expanse of unexplored wilderness that she plans to subdue into a Pulitzer Prize nomination. The last child is safer, her trail is more obviously marked, but she has to eat the dust those before her have kicked up. When the wagons circle, the first wagon is beside the last, the last wagon must lock in so that the circle is unbroken.
Which, beyond the fact that the speaker was the older sister, doesn't seem to have much relevance -- except perhaps that oldest children tend to think the "baby" has no struggle.
See the Smothers Brothers' Mom always liked you best
Obviously what I decided to do was to begin this essay all of those ways and skip out on the conclusions.
As I said (above) I find these poems compelling. The narrative is clear and easily comprehended, the rules of syntax are not skewed, everything is laid out, daylighted as George W. Bush might have said. But the more you read, the more layers and subtleties you find.
And yet I must be gimmicky and mocking when I write about them. I think it's because I find them perplexing and magnetic. To turn Glück's own figure against her, it's like my soul has become "a tiny pendant of iron" and these poems are a magnet.
About half-way through my second reading, I realized that the only way to read Jacob's Room is to go slow and savor, as with poetry.
This book begins iAbout half-way through my second reading, I realized that the only way to read Jacob's Room is to go slow and savor, as with poetry.
This book begins in media res, and begins in media res, and begins etc. There is very little forward driving narrative. The circles in which Jacob moves are circles, nobody is put through the crucible, nobody has an epiphany, but if you open the book at random to almost page you'll hit upon the most beautiful and perceptive prose. Here for example is a bit from page 32:
Out at sea a great city will cast a brightness into the night. Is it fanciful to suppose the sky washed into the crevices of King's College Chapel, lighter, thinner, more sparkling than the air elsewhere? . . . Look, as they pass into service, how airily the gowns blow out, as though nothing dense or corporeal were within.
We have a story we tell ourselves about the oldest profession, the one in which a girl who turns to prostitution is doomed and miserable, destined toWe have a story we tell ourselves about the oldest profession, the one in which a girl who turns to prostitution is doomed and miserable, destined to die an early death, penniless and pitiful.
Belle Brezing's story runs contrary to the conventional tale. Illegitimate, orphaned, deserted by her husband, a child of the streets in late 19th century Lexington, Kentucky, she hires on at a local brothel. Instead of becoming a slave to the madam, Belle saves up enough money to open her own house. She is very successful. Her house draws some of the most influential men in the country. The lemonade she concocted from life's lemons wasn't all that sweet, but if she didn't die happy, she died quite rich. And famous.
Margaret Mitchell used her as the model for the madam in Gone With the Wind; she's the subject of several books and at least one play.
Tattershall's short (about 75 pages) readable biography of Belle paints a fascinating portrait of a woman and a society at the turn of the 20th century.
I do quarrel a bit with the subtitle; as far as I can tell, Brezing was never repentant, nor was she a devout follower of Christ....more
When a friend thrusts a book upon me-- you must read this, here take my copy -- I cringe a bit because chances are I am not going to like the book butWhen a friend thrusts a book upon me-- you must read this, here take my copy -- I cringe a bit because chances are I am not going to like the book but I am going to feel obliged spend my precious time reading it.
(If you are such a friend, of course I'm not talking about the book you gave me.)
So when a friend went to the trouble of mailing me a copy of Beso the Donkey, I was skeptical.
That negativity vanished with the first poem of the first section, "The Monumental Beso,"
The Lord made a hill. Beso wandered to the top and with the shape of his body, a nose in the grass, and tall ears, said, I am donkey.
I came to anticipate opening the book -- I try to read poetry slowly in order to savor each poem for at least a little bit -- and when I came to the last poem, I turned to the front and started reading again.
It's like reading 70 ways to look at a donkey. Except the poems are not cryptic. They're short -- never more than a dozen lines or so -- and simple, without metaphor or rhetorical flash. They are Zen and Tao. They are funny and sad. They grieve and they celebrate.
They have titles like "Beso Stomps" and "Beso Huffed." "Beso Lifts His Nose."
Here is a favorite - hard to pick favorites -- "Beso's Jaw"
When I accepted grief as my companion, I stroked Beso's jaw and could not name one enemy.
Wild grapevines overrun this place. They cling all around to chestnut, oak and gum binding them to the ground. I cannot see past the awful complication of t
Wild grapevines overrun this place. They cling all around to chestnut, oak and gum binding them to the ground. I cannot see past the awful complication of their tangled branches.
This passage might do to sum up the whole troubled history of the state of Kentucky.
The Land We Dreamed is the final book in Joe Survant's trilogy on that history. This volume begins in the pre-Columbean period and ends in European settlement and statehood. As I did in my own treatment of the subject, Weaving a New Eden, Joe mixes the famous with the obscure, the obscure being his own forebears -- and some fictional characters.
The result, as Maurice Manning says in his cover blurb, is a patchwork sewn into whole cloth. Patchwork is a conservative art, a re-purposing of cloth. Its artistry is to make the patchwork more attractive than the whole cloth.
Joe's voice is one of quiet authority. He can lead a reader into the most atrocious circumstances without raising his voice, as in the quotation above, from the poem "Alone." The quiet tone gives balance to the violence and terror of the clash of cultures. Plenty of action in this book, as reflected by a selection of first lines:
At the first shot we
Bloody hands again
Huddled in this hollow tree
They killed my children
The Hiroquois barely tolerate me
Heat like a hammer hits,
To read this book is a bit like being the third horse soldier on the right, following John Wayne into Hostile territory, forgive my anachronism.
Lest I give the impression that these poems are all shoot 'em ups, let me hasten to add that there are also moments of great poignancy. "Mingo Bottom," for example, is an elegy for what was lost in the gaining of a continent. Spoken by Archibald Magruder in 1792, the year Kentucky became the 15th state in the union, the poem considers the buffalo:
When we came into the country in '88, the buffalo were gone. I never saw one alive. Slaughtered . . .
Their roads at Blue Lick were 40 yards wide, and the Indians who hunted them lived in Mingo Bottom prairie then, cornland now.
The Land We Dreamed addresses the complexities of culture clash, when one people's dream is another people's nightmare. We all know how it came out.