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Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey

Source: Moon City Press
Paperback, 72 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey, which is the winner of the 2015 Moon City Poetry Award, is nothing short of phenomenal. While Gailey often puts herself in her poems, there are times when she adopts personas to create poems of female empowerment. This collection has a similar fantasy style (including a moment with Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius) to it with a post-apocalyptic setting, but it also is vastly more personal. While some of the poems may be a bit tongue-in-cheek about death (see “In Case”) and the end of the world and how duct tape is a miracle survival tool, underneath those quips is the seriousness that imminent danger and possible death bring.

She hints in “Introduction to Mutagenesis” that these genetic missteps could be changes we do not understand and that we may need them to survive in the evolving world. It is this kind of hope in the face of despair that is unexpected and inspiring.

Errors in replication — beyond our control — and yet sometimes the systemic destruction
of a certain cell might lead to a breakthrough, a land mass not yet discovered inside us,

clever adaptations that let us survive genetic drift in cases of plague or flood,
carriers of one disease not susceptible to another, …

In our own “black boxes”, our cells tell our history, the lives we’ve led, the deaths we’ve faced, and what finally takes us to the grave, she says in “Every Human Is a Black Box.” None of us have “turnkey solutions” and would we want to — would we want that kind of predictability? Even if the prospect of death or battling cancer is frightening, even paralyzing, would we want the solution to be simple? It would seem that kind of world would be less precious, less of a marvel.

From “Introduction to Spy Narrative as Love Story” (pg. 21)

When I look in a mirror all I see is you
written across my body like the shadow of a blackbird

Gailey’s verse is unique, haunting, and cheeky, but at its heart, her poems teach us that to live is to take the good and bad together and laugh, enjoy life, savor it. Even if the apocalypse is upon you, it is not the time for wallowing in sadness and self-pity, but a time for you to rise up beyond your circumstances and find a way to survive. From “Shorting Out” (which is just gorgeous in its use of white space) to “At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)”, readers are reminded of the fragility of the mind, of memory, especially when “40 years of learning were leaking through the lesions.” (from “At the End of Time (Wish You Were Here)”).

Field Guide to the End of the World by Jeannine Hall Gailey, which is the winner of the 2015 Moon City Poetry Award, is a guidebook for living, for more than survival in a world about to end. She asks us to remember not to be lonely in the woods, not to be frightened of bears because “There’s the comfort of the knocking on hollow/branches, the scratching song of insects, and those tubes/of sunlight that show up on the path, lighting the way.” (from “Remnant”).

RATING: Cinquain

Other Reviews:

About the Poet:

Jeannine Hall Gailey served as second poet laureate of Redmond, Washington. She’s the author of four previous books of poetry: Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, Unexplained Fevers, and The Robot Scientist’s Daughter. Her work has been featured on Verse Daily and NPR’s The Writer’s Almanac, and included in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Jill Esbaum, Author of If A T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party!

T Rex coverIn honor of the publication of If a T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party by Jill Esbaum, illustrated by Dasha Tolstikova, Jill Esbaum is here offering tips on what to do should a T. Rex crash your party.

Read aloud tips for parents from Jill Esbaum, author of If A T. Rex Crashes Your Birthday Party!

  1. Put lots of expression into your reading. Try to pre-read books you’ll share with kids, so you’ll know which parts need more oomph.
  2. Use different voices for different characters. This really adds to the fun of silly books.
  3. If a story is on the quiet side or particularly moving, take care to read it slowly, lingering over lyrical phrases and beautiful images.
  4. Stop and discuss what’s happening from time to time, asking open-ended questions – especially if your kiddos are very young and might not understand what the main character is up to. Exercise little imaginations by asking something like, “What do you think will happen next?”
  5. Keep the TV off while you’re reading. When you treat reading time like the best part of your day, little listeners learn two things: a. that they are important and you love spending time with them, and b. that reading is important. A book should always be a treat!

Download the fun T.rex Party Kit!

To Enter to Win 1 copy (U.S. Residents only) — 1 entry per task:
1. Leave a comment about your last birthday part for a kid
2. Follow the blog’s Facebook page and leave a comment.
3. Share this giveaway on Twitter, and let me know you did.

Deadline is Sept. 9, 2016, at 11:59 PM EST.

Guest Review: Empire Falls by Richard Russo

Empire Falls by Richard Russo
Reviewed by H. C. at The Irresponsible Reader (where you can find a longer, more rambly and personal version of this post)

It is just daunting to try to talk about this book — especially in something that’d make a decent-length blog post and not a full-fledged dissertation. Empire Falls won Richard Russo his (seemingly) inevitable Pulitzer Prize in 2002 and stands as one of the greatest achievements in his storied career. It is at once a story about a town and a man, microcosms for the state and the nation; it’s both sweeping and epic while being personal and intimate.

empirefThe story centers on Miles Roby, manager of the Empire Grill in Empire Falls, ME. He has an ex-wife (who I truly despised), a daughter (who I wanted more of), an ex-mother- in-law that seems to like and respect him a lot more than her own daughter, s (even if they don’t see eye to eye much lately). But more importantly he has a patron — the town matriarch, owner of the Empire Grill, and most of the various places of employment in town. She’s a patron, a would-be surrogate mother (for a select few), and petty tyrant over the city. It’s one of those small towns where the mayor/council/etc. have real power, but it’s only the power she lets them have, you know? Francine Whiting isn’t evil — well, I’ll let you decide for yourself — but at the end of the day, she thinks she’s doing what is right for Empire Falls, the Whiting legacy and her daughter — whether or not anyone wants what she thinks is best. She still could be evil, I guess, and I could very likely made a case for it. Anyhow, let the reader decide.

The trials and dreams and efforts of Miles and his family as he tries to do something different with his life are the core of the novel — but they’re not all of it. The town is full of interesting people — many aren’t vital to the overall story (but you can’t know until the end who those are), but they all add flavor. Most are so fleshed out that you could imagine a short story/novel centered on them. While reading Song in Ordinary Time a few months back, I kept asking myself what made the people in that novel so unlikeable when in many ways they reminded me of Empire Falls‘ cast. I came to this conclusion (and have since reconsidered and still think it’s basically right): Russo uses the flaws in his characters to emphasize their humanity, Morris uses the flaws to emphasize their flaws.

But I come not to bury Morris (again), but to talk about Empire Falls, so let me focus on this a bit more: the flawed humanity isn’t pretty, it’s frequently ugly, people who make mistakes (some tragic, some dumb) are usually trying to do the right/moral/noble thing and it doesn’t work. But it’s real. This could all be real. Even Janice, Miles’ ex, is a well-developed character — and I think I’ve met a handful of people just like her — and I wouldn’t dislike her as much as I did if Russo hadn’t nailed the writing.

There’s an event towards the end — one of the two or three that you ultimately realize the whole novel has been leading up to — that in 2001 would’ve been truly shocking (shocked me a few years ago), but in many ways it’s de rigueur now. 2016 readers might be bored by it, but I can’t imagine that many readers in 2001 were. I’m not going to say more — just if you read this, put yourself in the shoes of readers from 15 years ago when you get to that bit. Yes, Empire Falls is slow (sometimes), ponderous (sometimes) but it’s also inspiring (sometimes), heartwarming (sometimes) and many other things that I could parenthetically qualify. But every negative about it is utterly worth it for the positives.

What I learned about Maine: (haven’t done this in awhile, whoops). It’s a beautiful state, filled with people who could be better educated, who aren’t vocationally ready for what’s coming for them thanks to the technological shift in jobs. It’s a state where people, nature and industry who have been damaged by reckless policies and practices. It’s a state where nature exerts itself every now and then to remind people how powerful it is. Basically, Maine’s just like every other state in the union — just a little different.

One more thing, not that this’ll surprise many, but I’d advise skipping the HBO miniseries — yeah, it’s a fairly faithful adaptation, it just doesn’t have the heart.

I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t read this book for this series of posts — breaking a personal resolution. There were 3 reasons for this: 1. Time; 2. I really wasn’t up for the emotional punches this delivers, and 3. I didn’t need to — I still remember it well enough to discuss at a length greater than I have despite being 4 years and change since I read it. That right there should tell you something about the book — hundreds of books later and I almost feel like I read it a couple of weeks ago. I’m not sure this is the Russo novel I’d tell people to start with (probably Straight Man), and I don’t think it’s his best (probably Bridge of Sighs (tells a story almost as epic in scope, with greater economy and greater depth when it comes to individual characters), but there’s no denying the talent on display here, the greatness of the execution, the vibrancy of the characters, or the impact it has on the reader. No brainer, 5 Stars from me.

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Anticipating: Without a Conscience and Guilty Conscience by Cat Gardiner

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Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede

Source: Purchased Kindle, 288 pgs. I am an Amazon Affiliate Snow White and Rose Red by Patricia C. Wrede, which was our July book club pick, is a retelling of a fairy tale.  In this rendition, the tale is set in England, and the characters are a bit modified.  Wrede says in the afterword that […]