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love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 68 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley is like a letter to her children and the family who have passed on too soon. These poems weave through the grief and out of it, plunge into it, and emerge from it, but at the root of that grief is love. The poems are like stories told through a lens of motherhood.

From "untitled mom" (pg. 26)

I almost facetimed you this morning
I'd cut my hair to donate it...

but then I remembered
and sobbed

We can experience that grief because we have felt it. The time you forget your friend is no longer here to reach out to, even if you haven’t spoken in many years or the mother you feel with you even though she has passed away. There are other days in grief that we feel ourselves falling into darkness, a darkness we know will be hard to get out of once we’re down there. And mothers also know that they cannot be in that dark place too long when they have children to care for. Bradley takes us on this journey acknowledging the struggle and the sorrow, but also the love and the unexpected joys.

Sunfall (pg. 18)

sunfall
snowfall
moonfall

don't fall

love, loss, and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley is a very intimate collection of poems, mirroring a memoir. For me, the collection was more like reading an diary of moments, but the poems seemed rough or unfinished in some places. In others, I felt the poems resembled those that are popular on Instagram these days. While these poems were less polished, they do provide a look at the roller-coaster of grief.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Kelly Bradley is a tech writer and Sr. Product Manager in the Washington DC area where she writes stories and creates apps based on data. She wrote her first poem in Second grade, a requiem to her cat, Petey. Her first collection, “love, loss and the enormity of it all” addresses themes of grief, joy, love, heartbreak and perseverance. When not working or writing poetry, Kelly writes songs and rap lyrics, dances to electronic dance music, and hikes year-round with her dog, Winter.

Mailbox Monday #614

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

Emerge by Francesca Marais for review.

Out of the crushing comfort of the womb-dark ocean, the poems in Francesca Marais’s Emerge rise up to the surface and breathe deeply. “Blood surges through my body, / Refusing to gently creep into the shores / Of my heart’s quiet,” she says. Untangling the tentacles of family and romance and imagination, the poet carries the reader along on a journey toward self-love and acceptance. Her advice to us? “Cherish then savour / The salt of the pain, / Lick your fingers dry.” Salt of tears, of stinging wounds, of breaking waves—to know the self requires all of these. There is ache here, but also nourishment. Emerge shows us how to stop holding our breath; how to see our own reflection in the ocean’s blue eyes.

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve, which I purchased.

In October 1947, Grace Holland is experiencing two simultaneous droughts. An unseasonably hot, dry summer has turned the state of Maine into a tinderbox, and Grace and her husband, Gene, have fallen out of love and barely speak. Five months pregnant and caring for two toddlers, Grace has resigned herself to a life of loneliness and domestic chores. One night she awakes to find that wildfires are racing down the coast, closer and closer to her house. Forced to pull her children into the ocean to escape the flames, Grace watches helplessly as everything she knows burns to the ground. By morning, her life is forever changed: she is homeless, penniless, awaiting news of her husband’s fate, and left to face an uncertain future in a town that no longer exists. With courage and stoicism, Grace overcomes devastating loss and, through the smoke, is able to glimpse the opportunity to rewrite her own story.

How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo, which I purchased.

Do you remember your first visit to where the wild things are? How about curling up for hours on end to discover the secret of the Sorcerer’s Stone? Combining clear, practical advice with inspiration, wisdom, tips, and curated reading lists, How to Raise a Reader shows you how to instill the joy and time-stopping pleasure of reading.

Divided into four sections, from baby through teen, and each illustrated by a different artist, this book offers something useful on every page, whether it’s how to develop rituals around reading or build a family library, or ways to engage a reluctant reader. A fifth section, “More Books to Love: By Theme and Reading Level,” is chockful of expert recommendations. Throughout, the authors debunk common myths, assuage parental fears, and deliver invaluable lessons in a positive and easy-to-act-on way.

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, which I purchased and reviewed.

A lyrical, genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a queer, Black, Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

“This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book shook me to the core.” —Dara Wier

“What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.”—Terrance Hayes

“In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face.” —Patricia Smith

What did you receive?

Guest Post: A Memory Behind ‘The Gospel’ by H.L. Hix

Today’s guest is H.L. Hix, author of The Gospel according to H.L. Hix. The book itself is likely to receive some skepticism at the very least given the subject matter, but readers should consider how this book came into being before judging it. “Hix has gone back to the original source materials, both the canonical and noncanonical gospels and histories and stories of the life of Jesus,” according to the synopsis.

Book Synopsis:

First we have to talk about the elephant in the room–though that might not be the most polite term for Jesus! For many millions of people around the world, Jesus is the Son of God, the divine source of their salvation, his story told in the familiar four gospels of the Bible, and any tampering with that story understandably will be met with suspicion, distrust, even hostility.

So let’s begin with what this book isn’t. H. L. Hix covers this in detail in his Introduction to “The Gospel,” but for now it’s enough to say that this isn’t Jesus Christ, Superstar, or The Last Temptation of Christ. Nothing in this Gospel secularizes or desacralizes Jesus Christ. You don’t get less of the divine Jesus here, you get more.

That’s because Hix has gone back to the original source materials, both the canonical and noncanonical gospels and histories and stories of the life of Jesus, and created out of them a single, more comprehensive and nuanced narrative. A good analogy is to film editing. Most movie directors shoot more film than ever makes it into the version we see on the screen, film that ends up on the editing room floor, the result of commercial decisions often far removed from the director’s vision of the film. Occasionally the director gets the chance to re-edit the film to restore that lost material, producing a “Director’s Cut” that may be very different from the commercial film release. So we can think of “The Gospel” as an ultimate “Director’s Cut” of the story of Jesus, with all of those bits that didn’t make the official version (edited by early church leaders to serve a specific agenda) at last restored.

Something for those enthusiasts who want to dig deeper, to know more. But that’s not all he’s done. Among other virtues of his “Gospel,” Hix has restored the meanings of essential words as they would have been understood by contemporary audiences when the source materials were first written, overcoming what he calls “translation inertia”, the tendency to retain a translation over time even after the sense of the word has changed for current readers. Thus “Lord” becomes “Boss”, and the apostles “apprentices”, changes that allow for a novel understanding of the role of Jesus and of believers’ relationship to him.

Also of crucial importance, Hix has eliminated gendered language wherever possible, in the process inventing new terms that decouple our understanding of Jesus and divinity from the limitations of gendered human bodies and relationships. Thus “Son” becomes “Xon”, for example, a form of literary transubstantiation that renders the divine even more transcendent, in the process opening the Gospel and its promise of salvation to greater inclusivity. Gospel, of course, means “good news.” And the very good news of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO H. L. HIX  for believers and for non-believers alike, is that what has been called “the greatest story ever told,” the life of Jesus, just got greater.

Please give H.L. Hix a warm welcome.

One of my most vivid memories from childhood in a devout evangelical Christian home has to do with holiday visits to the even more devout home of my paternal grandparents. Celebrations of Christmas there always included plenty of presents, the accumulated results of Grandmama Hix’s year-long labor. She began in January scouring Saturday morning garage sales for unopened six- packs of tube socks, or broken toys Granddad Hix could repair. Someone else’s grandchild may have outgrown this pair of pjs, but they’d fit one grandchild or another of hers. This shirt might not be in fashion any longer, but it was still in good shape. Not one present was opened, though, and not one grandchild threw one wad of wrapping paper into the fireplace to watch the flame change color, until after the reading of what was simply referred to as “The Christmas Story.”

Everyone (aunts and uncles, all those rambunctious cousins I was always afraid of) gathered in one room and listened to Granddad Hix intone, from a script he himself had compiled and typed out at some point long ago, the King James version of the passages leading up to and recounting Jesus’ birth, from the three synoptic gospels, arranged into a single composite narrative. (It was the unmodernized King James version: I remember the archaic phrase “on this wise” from the beginning, “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise,” and the word “holpen” somewhere in the middle.) To a little boy of, say, seven, it seemed to go on forever, but surely my grandfather would have said that’s the point.

My paternal grandfather would not have approved of The Gospel, my edition and translation of the gospel, just published by Broadstone Books. He would have objected at least to its merging canonical with noncanonical sources, and its referring to God and Jesus without assigning them masculine gender. Probably also to much else.

In at least one way, though, it draws on his example.

His compilation of the various accounts of the nativity in the synoptic gospels into a single narrative was a hands-on approach to the gospel. My premises don’t line up with his: just as one example, his compilation of the nativity stories fulfilled his belief that the canonical gospels, as the inspired and infallible Word of God, possessed an inherent harmony that he had only to discover in his compilation; my redaction of various gospels, canonical and noncanonical, acts out my suspicion that a “conversation” among evocative texts will be itself evocative. Such discrepancies in our premises notwithstanding, our active engagement with the gospel is not without kinship.

My reasons for paying attention to the gospel differ radically from his, as does my understanding of what I’m paying attention to when I pay attention to the gospel, but for my sense that in paying attention to the gospel I can, and should, pay attention actively, he was an important model.

The Gospel does result from the hands-on approach I inherited from my paternal grandfather, but it’s not the first “hands-on” gospel I’ve composed. This is actually the third gospel I’ve published, and each of the three has its own “drift,” its own direction and intent.

In my 2008 poetry collection Legible Heavens, one of the sections, “Synopsis,” consists of poems based on selected incidents and teachings from the gospels, canonical and noncanonical. By “based on,” I mean that the poems attend with great care to the source (e.g. I went in each case to the original language), but does not attempt simply or straightforwardly to translate it.

For example, “One Sparrow” casts in the form of a villanelle an incident from the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, in which the child Jesus, reprimanded by an elder for molding sparrows from clay on the Sabbath, claps his hands, upon which the molded sparrows fly away. The original is told by a human observer, in the third person, in prose, but in my poem the first-person speaker is one of the sparrows.

Or again, the poem that addresses the beatitudes makes of them a sonnet, and gives for the repeated Greek word μακάριοι not the usual English translation “blessed” but the slightly more aslant word “replete.” Later, in my 2017 poetry collection Rain Inscription, one of the poems, “Near Fire,” creates, by redaction, translation, and modification a “sayings gospel.” It tries, that is, to reverse the historical progression of the gospels, from earlier collections of sayings attributed to Jesus to later detailings of life and travels and deeds. In my poem (my sayings gospel), the isolation of the sayings from the stories of works and wanderings is emphasized by referring to their source not as Jesus but as Sayer.

As for The Gospel itself, my research focused on gathering as many extant gospels, and fragments of gospels, as possible. Once the gathering was more or less complete, I began to translate portions, and to arrange them: this translation/arrangement process was reciprocal and ongoing.

I kept a chart of sections to be translated, but kept “shuffling” translated sections so that the order of sections changed and developed continuously. Similarly, I began with the most literal translation I could manage for each individual section, but modified translations to incline sections toward one another as they became part of the larger, growing whole. My translations got “looser” as their acclimatization to the whole advanced: that is, the integrity of the whole trumped “sticking to the text” of any one portion. After all the individual units had been translated and had entered the whole, the revisions took ever greater liberties, in the sense that they sought beholdenness not to the Jesus of any one passage or any one source gospel, but to the Jesus who lived and spoke in this gospel.

I don’t mean anything to which my paternal grandfather would have granted validity, but I do mean it seriously, when I say I tried in the process of composing this gospel to listen to Jesus. My Granddad Hix would not have approved of The Gospel, but it still proves I was listening to him, too, all those years ago.

Thank you for sharing your research and inspiration for The Gospel.

Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 74 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell is a slim collection with a powerful anthem and story arc that begins with “The meadow.” This prose poem sets the reader up for the themes to come — self-indulgence, dark desire and hate, outrage, and pain. That meadow is the nation that certain people have built, hiding it behind the ideals of liberty, while at the same time bleeding its people and waiting for the blood to spill.

The anthem of this collection, “Shut up and dribble,” is a chant that calls us to action. We [and I mean everyone, not just the oppressed] should not be silent like they tell us, we should rise up for the ideals and equality denied. This is personified in “Four-cent Father,” a poem in which the death of a Black man in his own garage is settled with four cents. How can a man’s life be worth so little, and how can a man who plays music in his garage be killed by bullets? He was minding his own business, he was spending time at his home — his home was not his castle, he was not safe.

There is a deep, simmering rage in this collection. A raging against injustice, a raging against the expectations of a society that’s created a false sense of justice, and a rage that builds against the circumstances created by these illusions. “Would my grandmother’s/German immigrant bones/have ached for the man/she would never have known/but for the slavers’ greed?’ (“After the Pedestal,” pg. 21) The “American Beast” rears its ugly head, slithering under the covers and slipping into rooms where “rumbling in the voices of grownups/speaking softly after dinner/about the problems of the world.//” (pg. 25) and becomes commonplace.

The poems in Political AF: A Rage Collection by Tara Campbell will get under your skin, making you uncomfortable not just in the dark but in the light of day. These poems call on us to break the silence, acknowledge the horrors of the past, see the bleak present, and get off our butts and do something about it.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Poet:

Tara Campbell is a Kimbilio Fellow, a fiction editor at Barrelhouse, and an MFA candidate at American University. Publication credits include SmokeLong Quarterly, Masters Review, Jellyfish Review, Booth, Strange Horizons, and Luna Station Quarterly.

She is the recipient of the following awards from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities: the 2016 Larry Neal Writers’ Award in Adult Fiction, the 2016 Mayor’s Arts Award for Outstanding New Artist, and Arts and Humanities Fellowships for 2018 and 2019. She is also a recipient of the 2018 Robert Gover Story Prize.

Her novel TreeVolution was published in 2016, followed in 2018 by her hybrid fiction/poetry collection Circe’s Bicycle. Her third book, a short story collection called Midnight at the Organporium, will be released by Aqueduct Press in 2019.

Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 156 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin, which toured with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic drama that explores not only the complex woman of Madam C.J. Walker, but also her relationship with her daughter, A’Lelia Walker, who continues the Walker legacy. Sarah Breedlove, who became Madam C.J. Walker, was the first free born child to former Louisiana slaves. Her life was far from easy, orphaned at age seven and married at age 14, but she never let that stop her. She was determined to give her family a better life even as the obstacles like Jim Crow mounted and hatred were everywhere and out in the open. After years of back-breaking labor, earning very little, Madam C.J. Walker invented a hair care formula for Black women and she built an empire, training a number of women as sale agents.

“Out of No Way (which takes its title from an old saying in the African American community to ‘make a way out of no way,’ or to thrive against impossible odds)” (pg. xi)

This title is ever present throughout the poetic drama. It explores the mother-daughter relationship through not only narratives and lyrics, but also sonnets and haiku, elegies, and so many other forms. How can a daughter live up to her mother’s legacy — a mother who struggled to provide the best for her family and did little mothering? From “Le Wa. Ro,” “I became beautiful but bored, and now I find that my things do nothing to my shadows, they are merely sharpened and darkened and cast in high relief…” (pg. 12) Could she live in the shadow of the empire or would she break out on her own?

Augustin chronicles not only the mother’s building of her family and the business, but also the struggles of a daughter who feels abandoned by her traveling mother. “The Lost Letters, 1905-1908” are a testament to these struggles — “Forgive me if I sound hopeless,/It’s just so lonely in St. Louis.” (pg. 27)

Augustin’s poems go beyond the relationship of these two women, touching on the empowerment these women found in their own careers, building their own inner strength. Like in “Why Our Hair is not Straight,” Black women’s hair is not straight because they “curve while dancing” or because “we swirl with high hopes” or because “we bend in prayer.” These women needed to be flexible, to meet the obstacles and find a way around them. Although not always the best or ideal option, some choices left scars.

Augustin’s blackout poem, “Sculptures of Envy,” takes on advertisements for Walker’s hair care system to explore the envy felt by women everywhere when they see another with the appearance or the job they want and how appearance, and hair especially, is a must if women want the job. Black women are particularly held to a different standard. Each of the blackout poems in this section are very exploratory about appearance, envy, desire, and how Black women can take back their power through hair care.

Like the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Out of No Way by Rojé Augustin explores how oppression harms not only the oppressed by the oppressor. Her words in “Resilience: Making a Way Out of No Way” (a fictitious speech by Madam C.J. Walker), “For the oppressed, the damage is self-evident. For the oppressor, it gives rise to a violent and divided society where the unbridled pressures of injustice rise to a level of self-destruction. White supremacy is the moral ignorance that will destroy America if left unchecked.” (pg. 90)

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Rojé Augustin is a native New Yorker who grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Her first novel, The Unraveling of Bebe Jones, won the 2013 National Indie Excellence Award in African American fiction. She wrote the novel while living in London and Sydney as a stay-at-home-mom. She established Breaknight Films shortly after her move to Sydney in 2009 to develop and produce television projects across a range of formats, including television, web, and audio. Her first Sydney based project was a podcast and visual web series called The Right Space, which explores the relationship between creatives and their workspace. Rojé continues to work as a television producer while also writing in her spare time. She is an Australian citizen who currently lives in Sydney with her Aussie husband and two daughters.

Mailbox Monday #613

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs: 100+ Recipes that You’ll Love to Cook and Eat from America’s Test Kitchen Kids, which I purchased for my daughter.

For the first time ever, America’s Test Kitchen is bringing their scientific know-how, rigorous testing, and hands-on learning to KIDS in the kitchen!

Using kid-tested and approved recipes, America’s Test Kitchen has created THE cookbook every kid chef needs on their shelf. Whether you’re cooking for yourself, your friends, or your family, The Complete Cookbook for Young Chefs has delicious recipes that will wow!

  • Recipes were thoroughly tested by more than 750 kids to get them just right for cooks of all skill levels―including recipes for breakfast, snacks and beverages, dinners, desserts, and more.
  • Step-by-step photos of tips and techniques will help young chefs feel like pros in their own kitchen
  • Testimonials (and even some product reviews!) from kid test cooks who worked alongside America’s Test Kitchen will encourage young chefs that they truly are learning the best recipes from the best cooks.

By empowering young chefs to make their own choices in the kitchen, America’s Test Kitchen is building a new generation of confident cooks, engaged eaters, and curious experimenters.

The Young Chef: Recipes and Techniques for Kids Who Love to Cook from the The Culinary Institute of America, which my daughter received from my cousin for Christmas.

Aspiring chefs turn to The Culinary Institute of America for top-tier training—and now younger cooks can too. Coauthored by chef-instructor (and parent) Mark Ainsworth, this book is for kids ages ten to fourteen who love to cook or who want to learn how, from the perspective of the nation’s best culinary college. It begins with techniques—from key cooking methods to staying safe in the kitchen to how food fuels your body—then augments those lessons with more than one hundred recipes for dishes that kids (and their families and friends) will love, from Chinese “Takeout” Chicken and Broccoli to Mexican Street Corn Salad to DIY Hummus to Raspberry Shave Ice. These recipes are easy enough that beginners can try them with confidence, but are loaded with insider tips, fun facts, kitchen vocab, and other teaching moments so that more adventurous junior cooks can use them as a springboard to take their skills to the next level, express their culinary creativity, and have fun in the kitchen!

love, loss and the enormity of it all by Kelly Catharine Bradley for review.

This book is for the heartbroken and grieving. I see you.“let’s… sit close with gentleness and compassion to heal our grieving hearts together …”

“love, loss and the enormity of it all” addresses themes of grief, joy, love, heartbreak and perseverance.

Valuing: Poems by Christopher Kondrich for review.

In his second collection, Christopher Kondrich navigates the link between what we see as our inner value and the external world that supplies it. Valuing’s deeply personal poems explore faith, love, ethics, and mortality from a variety of angles and through a variety of poetic forms as a means of questioning the origination of one’s own value system. Does it come from the belief in a god, from the love one gives or receives, or from the diminution of the self and its desires? If “you cannot sneak through your life,” as the speaker of one of Valuing’s poems proclaims, then how might one ensure that the noise a life inevitably makes is an echo of the values one holds dear?

What did you receive?

Best Books of 2020

2020 felt strange. It was by turns too busy and too erratic, and my reading reflected that.

January: 8 books                                July: 8 books

February: 9 books                              August: 9 books

March: 6 books                                   Sept.: 7 books

April: 5 books                                      Oct.: 11 books

May: 8 books                                       Nov.: 5 books

June: 6 books                                      Dec.: 10 books

As you can see, it seems like when the pandemic first hit here and kids were sent home from school for virtual learning in March, my reading fell off. That is not unexpected. I’m not sure what was going on in June that dropped my reading, but at the end of the year, November was the most stressful at work in terms of workload. December was still stressful for other reasons at work, but I had more days off that month to read and just relax.

Here are some other reading stats I compiled because I was curious in this year of COVID-19 and political unease.

# of Books Read: 95

# of Books Reviewed: 91 (some will be reviewed in 2021)

# of Audiobooks: 17

# of Kids books: 34 (this is where I spent a lot of time with my reluctant reader)

# of Nonfiction: 11

# of Adult Fiction: 23

# of Memoir: 7

# of Poetry: 24

Some of these numbers will include books that crossover into another genre or category. For instance, some memoir were also poetry, while others were audio as well as fiction.

Now, for what you’re all probably curious about — My favorite books from 2020.

Not all were published last year.

I picked my top 2-3 in each category (but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have other books that I considered top books)

Top Kids Reads in 2020:

Katt vs. Dogg by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein was my daughter’s favorite book last year, and she wanted this to be a series, but when we checked there was no book 2. Our review is here. We call this one a “page turner.”

Nancy Clancy, Super Sleuth by Jane O’Connor, which we both wanted to continue reading past her bed time to solve the mystery. Our review is here. “What I love about this series is the harder words that she has to sound out.”

Top Nonfiction:

America the Beautiful: A Story in Photographs, published by National Geographic. Our review is here. I said that this “is a love story for our nation.”

 

 

 

Top Memoir:

Memorial Drive by Natasha Tretheway is a riveting “tale of healing and reconciling the past. Trethewey relies not only on her memory but on her mother’s own writing, testimony, and recorded phone conversations. I was emotionally wrecked by this memoir.” My review is here.

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, which actually will be published in 2021, but my pre-ordered book came quickly and I couldn’t wait to read it. This is a “journey into the poet’s past as she reconciles the abandonment of her father and her struggles with connecting to others. The poetic memoir is beautiful and the landscapes within it (emotional and physical) are tumultuous and heartbreaking.” My review is here.

 

Top Fiction:

Daughter of Black Lake by Cathy Buchanan is a book that surprised me this year. It started off slowly, and I typically don’t read this time period, but as Buchanan built the world of the Druids in Britannia, I became more captivated. It’s like the book wove a spell over me. The book depicts a “struggle for survival amid a world of secrets and lies, political gains and losses, and magic.” My review is here.

The Deep by Alma Katsu is a gothic tale aboard the Britannic, the sister ship of the Titanic. This novel is atmospheric and has ghosts. How can you go wrong with this tale? “Katsu has a wide cast of characters in this novel, but she balances them very well against the historical details, and the suspense is palpable.” I also loved that the ocean played a major role in this tale and became a character all its own. My review is here.

My final pick in this category is actually a tie:

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner, which surprised me because it “pays homage to Austen in a way that many other variations don’t. She understands the Austen characters and their motivations, but in creating her characters and their motivations they are not talking to us as Austen’s characters but fans of Austen’s words, her thoughts, her dream.” It also doesn’t hurt that Richard Armitage narrated this audiobook. My review is here.

Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd is a collection of short stories that skillfully depict the inner thoughts and character of Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet in a variety of modern and historical periods and situations. These stories hit it “out of the park with a range of angst, love, prejudice, and pride.” My review is here.

 

Top Poetry:

Raising King by Joseph Ross demonstrates the strength of compassion and empathy as a way forward in building a community that will no longer tear at its own foundations and rise up. My review is here.

Girls Like Us by Elizabeth Hazen explores female identity, speaking to the harmful tropes and labels of society. It is a “map in the darkness …” on a road to healing. My review is here.

My Name is Immigrant by Wang Ping is ripe with ghosts who haunt these pages. The collection “haunts, sings, rages, and breathes.” My review is here.

 

The poetry selections were tough for me this year, because I originally had 8 collections on my list. I pared it down to these three.

What were your favorite reads from 2020? I can always use recommendations (or can I?)

Raising King by Joseph Ross

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 144 pgs.
I am an Amazon Affiliate

As in stated in the introduction to Raising King by Joseph Ross, Dr. King “knew racism disfigured the white people who used it. Thus, he focused his life in such a way, built on compassion, that his work might free both those who suffer from racism and those who inflict the suffering.” Throughout this collection, Dr. King’s compassion infuses each line, even though “the boat [the slaves were on] is dust./The whip//survives.” (“Martin Luther King, Jr. — Prologue,” pg. 9)

The backbone of these poems are Dr. King’s own words in Stride Toward Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait, and Where Do We Go From Here. Through Dr. King’s words and teachings, Ross has recreated a compassionate look at a man frustrated with a system of oppression, but determined to save his oppressors and the oppressed. “a lunch counter/become[s] an altar,” but only after significant training in nonviolence. (“Be Broken,” pg. 32-3) This compassion stems from the realization that many whites who oppress have inherited their hate (it’s what they know, all they know, how they were taught). In “Inheritance,” Dr. King’s voice rings true: “I will not/destroy him just because/someone taught him//to destroy me.//” (pg. 37-8)

Compassion is often seen as a weakness, but in reality it is the strongest weapon we have against barbarity.

Bomb (pg.40)

War is like this: two women,
a baby, a man gone, a man lost.

I was lost like this: a baby
in the back bedroom.

a wife shaking, unable to be
still. A friend, calm but about

to break.

A crowd gathered. I ran home
to see what was left of me.

The crowd was angry.
I wanted their anger 

to love my own. But my wife's
shaking stopped, keeping me

from breaking.

Keeping me from becoming
the bomb I feared.

It is compassion and empathy that strengthen our character and our ability to rise above the baseness of our human nature.”We have not been victorious//over anyone. We want to ride/beside everyone.” (“We Prepared,” pg. 49) The collection also includes commandments as Dr. King’s movement becomes more urgent, almost as though he knows that the opportunity for real change is fleeting.

Ross’s poems are still relevant to the struggles we continue to face, with “Sheet, Cross, and Flame” calling to mind some recent reactions by parties who have lost and continue to rage against those losses. But Dr. King reminds us in Ross’s poems “Manners and decency/reach down and pat us//on the head. This is/about me grabbing//your hand demanding/you ask my permission//before you touch me.//” (“Decency,” pg. 108) With Ross’s words and poems, Dr. King rises again and leads by teaching.

I’m so glad that my last book of 2020 was Raising King by Joseph Ross. It was a comfort to read these words and remember why I treat others with compassion when I can, especially when it is hard to do so. While we must “choose//never to throw them [stones]//at one another” (“Chaos or Community,” pg. 136-7), we also need to “Let the/bones//rest.” (“The Bones,” pg. 119)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Joseph Ross is the author of four books of poetry: Raising King (2020), Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Southern Quarterly, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump, edited by Martin Espada. His poems also appear in Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together; Imagine Peace. He served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington, D.C. He is a seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee, most recently for “The Mountain Top,” from Raising King. His poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. As a teacher and writer, Ross was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Reinhold Niebuhr Award in 1997 and the William A. Toohey, C.S.C. Award in 1993. In 2006, he was awarded Teacher of the Year by the senior class at Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. In 2020, he delivered the Robert L. Giron Global Humanities Lecture for Montgomery College, Takoma Park, Maryland. The lecture was titled: “Literature Consoles and Confronts: When Poetry Is a Tool for Justice.”

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 1+ hours
I am an Amazon Affiliate

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, is an adaptation of Joan Didion’s memoir of the same name. It has been transformed into a one-act play. The devastation felt by Didion is immense but the undulating way in which this story is told is as disjointed as her emotions must have been during this time in her life, losing a husband and daughter. This shattering loss propelled the author into a world of magical thinking.

There’s an examination of marriage and its push and pull and the motherly promise that you’ll never leave your child. There is that magical thinking that your own motherly focus can keep things moving forward into the future as you’d like them to be.

Redgrave is the perfect narrator for this play. Her voice lulls you into the story and breaks your heart when Didion’s is broken. But Didion’s narrative is also very factual and linear in some parts. I honestly think this is probably best viewed as a play, rather than on audio because my mind would wander away from the story when it was a bit too clinical. I might read the memoir at a later date.

RATING: Tercet

Mailbox Monday #612

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

Carpe F*cking Diem, a gift from Anna at Diary of an Eccentric. (She seems to know me too well!)

A journal to stop the bullsh*t and seize the f*cking day―the perfect undated journal for every thought, list, note, or entry!

Packed with profanity and the IDGAF spirit, this is the perfect journal to say it like it is and get back to what matters. Finally ditch the anxiety, shake off the stress, and take a moment each day to focus on the number one f*cking person in your life―you! Based on the bestselling Carpe F*cking Diem Planner, this is the perfect undated journal to replace your tired old notebook and up your stationery game.

With journal pages, space for list-making, and laugh-out-loud swears, this is the journal that encourages you to embrace the c’est la f*cking vie attitude and focus on your happiness.

Hilarious and with a self-care attitude that tells you to take a damn nap and eat that f*cking ice cream, this is the perfect gift for the sweary person in your life and the ideal journal to carry with you all damn day.

Out of No Way: Madam C.J. Walker & A’Lelia Walker, a poetic drama by Roje Augustin, which I purchased.

Author, producer, and emerging poet Rojé Augustin has written a groundbreaking debut collection of dramatic poems about hair care entrepreneur Madam C.J. Walker and her daughter, A’Lelia. Rojé’s singular and accomplished work is presented through the intimate lens of the mother-daughter relationship via different poetic forms — from lyric to haiku, blackout to narrative. (One poem takes its inspiration from Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven.) Written in tribute to Walker, Out of No Way deftly and beautifully explores themes of race, motherhood, sacrifice, beauty, and the meaning of success in Jim Crow America.

Raising King by Joseph Ross, which I purchased.

Poetry. RAISING KING urges readers to walk beside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. from Montgomery to Memphis, past police dogs, mobs, and fire hoses. Listen to his thoughts, hopes, and fears. You’ll also hear from heroes including Abernathy, Shuttlesworth, and Coretta Scott King.-Joseph Ross

In his beautiful collection of poems evoking the spirit of the Civil Rights Movement, Joseph Ross offers his readers hope and inspiration for our own difficult times. These poems call us to revive our courage, moral convictions, and belief in the ultimate redemption of humanity.-Susannah Heschel

Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2021 by Yusef Komunyakaa for review from the publisher.

New and selected poems from the Pulitzer Prize–winning poet

These songs run along dirt roads
& highways, crisscross lonely seas
& scale mountains, traverse skies
& underworlds of neon honkytonk,
Wherever blues dare to travel.

Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth brings together selected poems from the past twenty years of Yusef Komunyakaa’s work, as well as new poems from the Pulitzer Prize winner. Komunyakaa’s masterful, concise verse conjures arresting images of peace and war, the natural power of the earth and of love, his childhood in the American South and his service in Vietnam, the ugly violence of racism in America, and the meaning of power and morality.

The new poems in this collection add a new refrain to the jazz-inflected rhythms of one of our “most significant and individual voices” (David Wojahn, Poetry). Komunyakaa writes of a young man fashioning a slingshot, workers who “honor the Earth by opening shine / inside the soil,” and the sounds of a saxophone filling a dim lounge in New Jersey. As April Bernard wrote in The New York Times Book Review, “He refuses to be trivial; and he even dares beauty.”

The Gospel according to H.L. Hix for review.

Literary Nonfiction. Religion. First we have to talk about the elephant in the room–though that might not be the most polite term for Jesus! For many millions of people around the world, Jesus is the Son of God, the divine source of their salvation, his story told in the familiar four gospels of the Bible, and any tampering with that story understandably will be met with suspicion, distrust, even hostility. So let’s begin with what this book isn’t. H. L. Hix covers this in detail in his Introduction to “The Gospel,” but for now it’s enough to say that this isn’t Jesus Christ, Superstar, or The Last Temptation of Christ. Nothing in this Gospel secularizes or desacralizes Jesus Christ. You don’t get less of the divine Jesus here, you get more. That’s because Hix has gone back to the original source materials, both the canonical and noncanonical gospels and histories and stories of the life of Jesus, and created out of them a single, more comprehensive and nuanced narrative. A good analogy is to film editing. Most movie directors shoot more film than ever makes it into the version we see on the screen, film that ends up on the editing room floor, the result of commercial decisions often far removed from the director’s vision of the film. Occasionally the director gets the chance to re-edit the film to restore that lost material, producing a “Director’s Cut” that may be very different from the commercial film release. So we can think of “The Gospel” as an ultimate “Director’s Cut” of the story of Jesus, with all of those bits that didn’t make the official version (edited by early church leaders to serve a specific agenda) at last restored. Something for those enthusiasts who want to dig deeper, to know more. But that’s not all he’s done. Among other virtues of his “Gospel,” Hix has restored the meanings of essential words as they would have been understood by contemporary audiences when the source materials were first written, overcoming what he calls “translation inertia”, the tendency to retain a translation over time even after the sense of the word has changed for current readers. Thus “Lord” becomes “Boss”, and the apostles “apprentices”, changes that allow for a novel understanding of the role of Jesus and of believers’ relationship to him. Also of crucial importance, Hix has eliminated gendered language wherever possible, in the process inventing new terms that decouple our understanding of Jesus and divinity from the limitations of gendered human bodies and relationships. Thus “Son” becomes “Xon”, for example, a form of literary transubstantiation that renders the divine even more transcendent, in the process opening the Gospel and its promise of salvation to greater inclusivity. Gospel, of course, means “good news.” And the very good news of THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO H. L. HIX  for believers and for non-believers alike, is that what has been called “the greatest story ever told,” the life of Jesus, just got greater.

Incandescent Visions by Lee Hudspeth for review.

Having written numerous works of nonfiction, this is Lee Hudspeth’s debut book of poetry. Incandescent Visions explores the meaning of the human experience, as the author encourages his readers to ponder the universe and their place within it and to catalyze their own creative potential. From the sublime shores of the Mediterranean to the majestic expansiveness of deep space, this book contemplates nostalgia, perspective and the gift of love. Through five short yet powerful, thought-provoking chapters of contemporary poems—and a dash of elegant, evocative haiku—Hudspeth takes his readers on a journey across the inner landscape of struggle, triumph, self-realization, and imagination.

Made of Air by Naomi Thiers for review.

The poems in Made of Air argue for a deeper, more woman-centric definition of courage, a courage borne of the long haul. There are poems on the deaths of loved ones and mothering a teenager. One remarkable sonnet relates how a mother makes a U-turn off a ramp just before a bridge collapses in an earthquake. These poems celebrate the lives of women and girls and commemorate the daily ways they navigate through potential disaster—and come through dancing.

Kim Roberts, editor of By Broad Potomac’s Shore: Poems from the Early Days of Our Nation’s Capital and author of five poetry collections, including The Scientific Method

Naomi Thiers shows women and girls who hold things together. From the “cliff-high condo where we eat” to those sheltering in “a concrete pocket of unremarkable hidden things,” her characters emerge, vulnerable as a flame in a dry season. Like Thiers’ previous collections, her new work transfigures ordinary, “silenced people,” as Tillie Olsen called them, “consumed in the hard, everyday essential work of maintaining human life.” Can we bear to look at who we are now? Thiers’ poetry says yes—and we must, to help each other hold together.

Rose Marie Berger, Senior Editor, Sojourners magazine and author of Bending the Arch: Poems

Naomi Thiers’ Made of Air is a story of courage—or, more to the point, many such stories. It is a chronicle of endurance: the “ordinary women” in the book’s first section endure homelessness, illness, abuse, the murder of their children, and in doing so, become extraordinary. Thiers’ compassion and insight shine through in language that is vivid and luminous. The ending of her poem “Old People Waking” sums up the theme of the entire book: “And if everything hurts, it means / the current is flowing; we hiss inside: / Live. Live.

Miles David Moore, author of The Bears of Paris and founder of the IOTA Poetry Series

Everyone Disappears by W. Luther Jett, which I purchased.

In this follow-up to his earlier chapbook, Not Quite: Poems Written in Search of My Father (FLP, 2015), Luther Jett confronts the ephemeral nature of our lives, the process of grief, and the endurance of memory. Jett draws upon recollections of family, as well as historical events and forces to weave a tapestry of image and reflection. Loss “… comes with the ticking of clocks …” the author reminds us in his title poem, “… and that is why the ocean tastes of tears.” Jett writes of ghostly grandfather clocks that walk in the night, of forgotten toys scattered in an unmown lawn, of the importance and the hidden dangers of holding on to memory. “What can I sing to tell your feast?” Jett asks in the poem “Seamus”, adding in his later poem, “One by One”, “I chant the names of things long after they have gone.”

Maryland’s Poet Laureate, Grace Cavalieri says of Jett’s work: “[N]ever have the dead been more alive …. Subtle and intelligent stories, realized through the power of Jett’s voice, make life appear on every page.” In this time of world-wide pandemic and upheaval, “Everyone Disappears” may take on additional resonance as we grope for understanding in the face of tragedy and uncertainty.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama, which I received as a gift.

In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.

Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.

Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.

A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective—the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change,” and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.

This beautifully written and powerful book captures Barack Obama’s conviction that democracy is not a gift from on high but something founded on empathy and common understanding and built together, day by day.

What did you receive?