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Ergon by George HS Singer

Source: George HS Singer
Paperback, 86 pgs.
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Ergon by George HS Singer, who is on tour this fall with Poetic Book Tours, is a debut with subtle power.  The collection is broken down into four sections — Visiting, Ergon, Our Quotidian, and Immensity — and each reveals a keen observer in Singer and each is infused with Buddhist sensibilities, but not overtly so.  In “Slipping Out,” Singer draws lines of connection between the Korean lady on the freeway and ourselves, as well as the bits of ourselves we find behind the eyes of our children. But there is so much more being said in this poem – we must savor our moments of connection because they could slip away before we realize it.

From “Slipping Out” (pg. 15-16)

But don’t be so sure the bell
won’t crack and the mind slip out
to meet itself in another’s face.

In this first section of poems, the lines call to mind the section title. We’re just visiting, our time is limited here and in these moments we have, and we must make the most of them while we can. For those moments we wish did not happen as they do, we can be comforted by their transient nature. We must learn to let go of the harmful memories and events and cherish those that imbue us with strength.

Throughout the collection, there are poems that recall wars and battles of the past, which can affect people and shape who they are. How do we deal with these changes? How do they? These are questions that only individuals can answer for themselves, and they must accept the choices they have made. Singer uses nature to illustrate his themes, including the movement of tides.

In the title poem, “Ergon”, the narrator concludes, “The ergon of strangeness in a household is silence.” The line is haunting and makes us wonder what exactly is strangeness? Is it the memories we do not vocalize, the traumas that we bury? Those are not really strange, but many often feel that they are set apart because of them. To stay silent is to deny the truth. It is these events that shape us and those around us, and they should also be what connects us and draws us closer to one another.

Ergon by George HS Singer is a collection that will push readers to think about their lives, their place in it, and those who have influenced them. Those who have inspired us, and those we have feared — all have left their indelible mark.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

George HS Singer, a former Zen Buddhist monk and student of Rev. Master Jiyu Kennett, lives with his wife of forty-two years in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he works as a professor at University of California, Santa Barbara. He was educated at Yale, Southern Oregon University, and the University of Oregon. He wrote poetry in college but took a twenty-year break before taking it up as a regular discipline. He has been a long term student of Molly Peacock and has had the opportunity to work with other marvelous poets through the Frost Place in Franconia, N.H. He writes about life in and out of a Zen monastery, trying to live mindfully in a busy and troubled world, his love of nature and of his wife. The arts have become more central to his life. Singer’s poems were published in the Massachusetts Review, Prairie Schooner, and Tar River Poetry

Mailbox Monday #387

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links. Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

SARIS AND A SINGLE MALTSaris and a Single Malt by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, which I purchased. Follow the blog tour with Poetic Book Tours.

Saris and a Single Malt is a moving collection of poems written by a daughter for and about her mother. The book spans the time from when the poet receives a phone call in New York City that her mother is in a hospital in New Delhi, to the time she carries out her mother’s last rites. The poems chronicle the author’s physical and emotional journey as she flies to India, tries to fight the inevitable, and succumbs to the grief of living in a motherless world. Divided into three sections, (Flight, Fire, and Grief), this collection will move you, astound you, and make you hug your loved ones.

Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War by Artemis Joukowsky, Ken Burns, which I won from LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

Official companion to the Ken Burns film premiering September 20, 2016, on PBS tells the little-known story of the Sharps, an otherwise ordinary couple whose faith and commitment to social justice inspired them to undertake dangerous rescue and relief missions across war-torn Europe, saving the lives of countless refugees, political dissidents, and Jews on the eve of World War II.

In 1939, Rev. Waitstill Sharp, a young Unitarian minister, and his wife, Martha, a social worker, accepted a mission from the American Unitarian Association: they were to leave their home and young children in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and travel to Prague, Czechoslovakia, to help address the mounting refugee crisis. Armed with only $40,000, the Sharps quickly learned the art of spy craft and covertly sheltered political dissidents and Jews, and helped them escape the Nazis. After narrowly avoiding the Gestapo themselves, the Sharps returned to Europe in 1940 as representatives of the newly formed Unitarian Service Committee and continued their relief efforts in Vichy France. This compulsively readable true story offers readers a rare glimpse at high-stakes international relief efforts during WWII. Defying the Nazis is a fascinating portrait of resistance as told through the story of one courageous couple.

Mr. Darcy’s Journey by Abigail Reynolds for review from the author.

Mr. Darcy is at his wits’ end. Elizabeth Bennet, the woman he can’t live without, overhears him insulting her family. Now she won’t even listen to his apologies. Then his old friend Sir Anthony Duxbury tells him two of their friends are in terrible danger. If Darcy wants to help them, they have to leave for Yorkshire immediately.

But something doesn’t add up. Elizabeth claims to know Sir Anthony, too – but by a different name. What game is his old friend playing? And is it dangerous?

Even Sir Anthony says the trip is dangerous. The Luddite rebels are on the verge of armed revolt – and he should know, because he’s one of them. Darcy’s cousin Lady Frederica decides she’s going with them anyway, and insists on bringing Elizabeth. Could this be Darcy’s chance to earn Elizabeth’s forgiveness and her love?

Elizabeth would rather face a squad of Napoleon’s soldiers than spend three days trapped in a carriage with Darcy and his headstrong cousin, but she has her own reason for agreeing to come. If she can just manage to keep her temper, she may be able to rescue her uncle from financial ruin.

But when a Luddite riot erupts around them, it’s Darcy and Elizabeth who need rescuing – from each other.

What did you receive?

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Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Source: Sweta Srivastava Vikram
Paperback, 72 pgs
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Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram, which is on tour tomorrow with Poetic Book Tours, is a stunning collection of poems that give voice to the often solitary lives of Hindu widows.  Whether these women loved their husbands, fell in love with them, or merely stayed out of their way, without them in their lives, these women struggle with the emptiness — a vacancy where desire, love, and affection should be.  These women could wail and weep but it does not negate the fact that they become spectators in their own lives once their husbands are gone.  They become apparitions of themselves, hollowed out and shoved to the background like furniture or paintings on the wall, only as useful as the remaining family allows them to be.

Despite their losses and Hindu traditions, these women are still very much alive.  In “Eulogy” (pg. 39), the narrator says “I am a lady,/but I didn’t promise/to sleep in your shadow.”  Despite their vitality, these women are in the shadows with no way out that would allow them to retain their respect.  “Silence became my lover, that’s why.//Just so you know, my every kiss was real./I wrapped them in turmeric and sandalwood,/left them in your urn wrapped in a white sheet.//” (from “Silence Became My Lover”, pg. 34) In spite of their continued devotion, they must remain silent about it and their feelings and desires — in the eyes of the family, they have become non-entities without an anchor.

Many of these women loved deeply, passionately, but who can they share their memories with, except for their own grief and the silent walls around them.  In “Never Abandoned” (pg. 7), the narrator laments, “we came crashing like a wave./We contained each other.//Even the rain can’t erase/the warm memories of our togetherness/the cold bones others try to break.//”  For those widows who were abused or cuckolded, how do they move on from the death of their husband?  Can they?  They are still expected to wear grief like a devoted wife, honoring a marriage that to them may have been plagued with abuse and disappointment.  These women are trapped in a different way than those who can feel comfort in their loving husband’s memories.  There is no second chances at love or passion without consequence for these women.

Wet Silence by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a collection of eulogies, odes, and laments, but at its heart it is a collection that gives voice to the voiceless.  The women in these pages, though unnamed, are given new life, and their passions are presented to all readers in a way that is open and honest.  In the “wet silence” of their grief, there is no pretense, no hypocrisy; there is only the bare truth.  It is a collection that should be used in schools, read in book clubs, and held up high on the best of poetry lists.

Sweta is someone I call friend, but she stuns me with each new book, and there is nothing less than awe inspiring in this collection.

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Interview with Stephen G. Eoannou, Author of Muscle Cars

Please welcome Stephen G. Eoannou, author of the short story collection Muscle Cars, to the blog today. He and his book have been on a blog tour with Poetic Book Tours this month, and what a great way to cap off the tour with an interview.

In Muscle Cars is there one short story that you ever thought could be turned into a novel on its own? If so, which one and why?

Actually, “Slip Kid”, which really is the centerpiece of the collection, started out as a failed novel attempt. I had shoved the manuscript in a drawer, but I didn’t forget about it. I was certain there was a story there. I just had to dig through all the bad writing to get to it. I pulled the manuscript out as I was completing the collection to see if I could distill a part of it into a short story, and I did; I think “Slip Kid” was the second last story I wrote for the Muscle Cars. The mistake I made in the novel was twofold. First, there wasn’t enough at stake for the protagonist. I needed more conflict. I needed to make the situation more difficult for him with real consequences. Second, I wasn’t pleased with the novel’s language. It needed to be tougher, harder, full of more slang and vulgarity.

This was an easy fix. I just had to write the dialogue more the way my friends and I spoke in high school. I was pleased with the short story version of “Slip Kid”, but the story kept calling me back so I developed it into a short screenplay, which ended up winning the Best Short Screenplay Award at the 36th Starz Denver Film Festival. I thought I was finally done with it, but then I started thinking about developing it into feature-length screenplay. After I try that, who knows? I may go full circle and take another shot at expanding back it into another, better novel.

Could you explain a little bit about the process of entering the SFWP Literary Awards and what other contests you considered for your collection? Why enter a contest of this kind at all?

Writing contests are tricky things. There’s so many of them now and the entry fees can add up, so I was very selective of which ones I entered. I only entered contests where the awards were well-established and the judges were well known and well respected. That was certainly the case with SFWP, which is offering the awards for the fifteenth year now and have had past judges such as Chris Offutt, Robert Olen Butler, and David Morrell, who judged last year’s contest.

But I had another connection with SFWP that made me want to enter. At one time I shared an office and taught with Ken Cook at The College of Charleston, and he won the SFWP Awards back in 2002. I remember him telling me what a great experience it was and how it really jump-started his writing career. After I had finished Muscle Cars, I knew that SFWP was one of the contests I wanted to enter based on what he’d told me. Of course, I didn’t really think I would be named one of the winners. That was a wonderful surprise. I was very proud to have Kenny write a blurb for my book.  It brought things full circle for us: we both met as unpublished and hopeful writers in Charleston and we both had our first books published by SFWP as award winners.

If you had never gone to Queens University for an MFA, do you think you would have continued writing fiction or produced a collection of short stories? What did the experience do for your writing practice?

I had been writing for years in a vacuum with little success. I viewed applying to an MFA program as my last chance, my last swing at being a writer. I was more than a little surprised when I was accepted at Queens, to be honest with you. During my first residency, I went to the graduate readings and all the MFA graduates said that the program had been life changing. I remember sitting in the back of the auditorium and thinking no way is this program going to change my life, but it did. If I hadn’t gone to Queens, I still would’ve been writing but probably writing poorly. I would have been still stuck in that vacuum without a network of fellow writers to share work like I have now with my Queens alumni.

Would I have written a collection without going to Queens?

Maybe, but I suspect it wouldn’t have been as good as Muscle Cars. The collection contains two Pushcart-nominated stories, a winner of an Honor Certificate from The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and the collection is a Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Award winner. I couldn’t have done it without the MFA program at Queens; half the stories were written there and the other half was critiqued by Queens alumni after I graduated.

Many writers have been writing since a young age. What was your first piece about and what was the title? Do you still have it?

I vaguely remember being home sick from school and typing with two fingers a story about a doctor. This was maybe in the second or third grade. I don’t remember the title, but I had named my main character Dr. Weinstein after a local newscaster whose trademark was alliteration: Buffalo blaze busters battle a big one on Broadway.

I wrote a lot in the fifth and sixth grade and I gave those stories to my Aunt Helen. When she passed away, I found three of them: “The Falcon”, about a boy growing up on an Indian reservation; “What’s A Few Months More?” about a teenager in a juvenile detention center; and “The Summer of Riches” about a boy who spends the summer with his grandparents in Connecticut. Of course, I knew nothing in the fifth grade about life on a reservation, or in a juvenile detention center, or in Connecticut, but that didn’t stop me. Kids are fearless with their imaginations. By the way, I still type with two fingers. That typing class I took at Kenmore Junior High School didn’t stick.

Who are some of your influences that have informed your writing over the years? And who, if any, are your favorite poets?

When I finished reading The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving, I remember wishing that I had written it. This was back in high school and it was the first time I remember feeling that way about a book. I loved how Irving was able to make me laugh out loud until I realized how sad it was and then my laughter stopped, like I had been slapped and slapped hard. I wanted to have that emotional swing in my writing, and was conscious of attempting that while writing stories for the collection like “Swimming Naked” and “Stealing Ted Williams’ Head”.  Soon after discovering Irving, I started reading William Kennedy. I loved his sense of place and how he made Albany come alive as a mythical place. I definitely wanted that in my writing. It was that same sense of place that drew me to Pete Hamill’s work.

When I started writing Muscle Cars, it was in the back of my mind that I wanted to do for Buffalo what those guys did for Albany and New York. Buffalo was my turf and I wanted to mine it for stories and characters. Even in stories where the city is never identified, I was thinking about my home town. People from around here will recognize the settings of “Ohio Street” and “The Wolf Boy of Forest Lawn” as Buffalo locations although I don’t think I named them as such. The city was definitely my muse for Muscle Cars.

The poetry question is interesting. I think reading poetry and becoming sensitive to rhythms, the music of words and conciseness always helps in prose writing, but I doubt the converse is true. I’ve always enjoyed Yusef Komunyakaa’s work. What’s interesting is that I heard him read his poetry before I read it.

This was in the late-eighties at a writing conference at Indiana University, I think. He is such a passionate, dramatic reader it was as if I was hearing poetry for the first time and I had to buy his books. I was mesmerized by his voice and the images he was creating in my mind. And even though I had no talent in writing poetry, I wanted my readers to “hear” and “see” my stories just as strongly as when they read and heard Komunyakaa’s poems. I tried to accomplish that by relying heavily on sensory detail. I want my readers to see “The Girl In The Window” and hear the engines in “Muscle Cars”, “Ohio Street”, and “Slip Kid”.  I want them to feel the cold and whipping wind in “Winter Night, 1994” and “Auld Lang Syne”.  If I accomplish that, I’ll have done my job.

Thanks, Stephen, for sharing your writing inspirations and influences with us today!

To check out the rest of the tour, click the image below:

Doll God by Luanne Castle

Source: Poet Luanne Castle and Poetic Book Tours (my online tour company)
Paperback, 82 pages
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Doll God by Luanne Castle reflects on the passage of time and the impressions we leave behind.  Imagine the dolls you or your sisters or friends had as children and how much they were loved and cared for … imagine the stories that were created for them and the lives they shared.  Now, imagine what has become of those dolls, where are those talismans of hope and joy?  Are they buried in an attic or a closet, were they left behind in a field to become so much detritus?  Is that all they are?

from “Debris” (page 57)

And now, I can’t get the image
out of my mind:
dried paint chipping,
the spread of mold pockmarks,
velour paper edges fraying, canvas rips, a gradual
flaking into sand, then dust sifting down
to be layered over by debris
of another generation
always the shifting sand
like a dust storm

Castle asks these questions and more in her collection, seeking answers to how our pasts are shaping us even now and how those pasts have faded with the passage of time.  From large toddler dolls to doll gods, Castle evokes an adult sensibility within a child-like wonder, and the anxiety that raises up in the verse is tangible, just as the fear of time passing too quickly can hit us when we least expect it.  She causes us to reflect on our triumphs, our past joys and innocence, as well as to let it go into the ether to be rewritten by future generations.

This emotional collection will take a toll on its readers, but the journey will leave them changed in terms of perspective and renewed in that they will want to live more fully and enjoy each moment in the moment.  Reading these poems once will reflect one meaning, but upon subsequent readings, the poems leave readers to ruminate on their own lives.  Doll God by Luanne Castle is multi-layered, with bright spots in the darkness of loss.  Castle has a wide range and more great things are sure to come from this poet.

About the Poet:

Luanne Castle has been a Fellow at the Center for Ideas and Society at the University of California, Riverside. She studied English and Creative Writing at the University of California, Riverside; Western Michigan University; and Stanford University. Her poetry and creative nonfiction have appeared in Barnstorm Journal, Grist, The Antigonish Review, Ducts, TAB, River Teeth, Lunch Ticket, Wisconsin Review, The MacGuffin, and other journals. She contributed to Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers for Adults, edited by Betty Greenway. Luanne divides her time between California and Arizona, where she shares land with a herd of javelina.  Follow her on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

Launch of Poetic Book Tours!

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Announcing the launch of Poetic Book Tours!

With all the online blog tour companies available, it can be hard to choose the best one.  With help and encouragement from friends and bloggers, Poetic Book Tours will strive to bring readers to poetry.

Our tours will be a combination of review stops, guest posts, and interviews for the poets and authors.  Most of the tours will be for poets and poetry, but there will likely be some independent and small fiction presses represented as well.

The Internet is a vast universe and those poets and fiction writers who are just starting out and write in a way that is poetic will find our service worth while.

I hope that you will all check out the available tours coming in 2015 and sign up if you review books on your blog.

If you’re just looking for some great books to read, I hope you’ll follow the Twitter feed, Facebook Page, and Poetic Book Tours site for more details.

Our first 2015 tour is for Doll God!  Sign up today!