Challenges Completed! Others Not so Much!

I joined this challenge a bit late last year, but it ran from May 2009 through May 2010 (click on the image for more information).  I completed the deep end of the challenge, which required me to read and review 11-15 books of contemporary poetry and poetics.

See the books I reviewed here.

I joined the 2010 Ireland Reading Challenge (click on the image for more information) at the Shamrock Level for 2 books.

Check out my book reviews here.

I’ve completed this challenge by reading 3 books.  Check them out here.

Ok, that’s it for the completed challenges.  For the other challenges and my progress, here you go:

I’ve read 34 out of 50 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 3 out of 10 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 5 out of 11 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 9 out of 12 books for this challenge.  Check them out here.

I haven’t even started this challenge.  It ends June 30 and you have to read, listen or watch between 3 and 6 items.

I’ve read 4 out of 5 spinoffs/rewrites and 0 out of 6 Jane Austen originals.  Check them out here.

I’ve met the requirement to read 2 books of poetry, but I’m not sure I’ve finished a badge yet.  I’ve read 5 contemporary poetry books, which I think qualifies for a badge.  Check them out here.

I’ve read 2 out of 6 vampire books from any series.  Check them out here.

I have not started this challenge either.  I think this one is perpetual, so I may be good on this front.

Song of Napalm by Bruce Weigl

Bruce Weigl’s Song of Napalm is another collection of poems dealing with the impact of the Vietnam War.  Robert Stone says in the introduction, “Bruce Weigl’s poetry is a refusal to forget.  It is an angry assertion of the youth and life that was spent in Vietnam with such vast prodigality, as though youth and life were infinite.  Through his honesty and toughmindedness, he undertakes the traditional duty of the poet:  in the face of randomness and terror to subject things themselves to the power of art and thus bring them within the compass of moral comprehension.”

Weigl takes readers on a journey to Vietnam in the late 1960s and explores the anxiety he feels as a soldier in a strange nation.  Each poem’s narrator carefully observes his surroundings, detailing the corner laundry, the hotel, the jungle, and his fellow soldiers.

“Who would’ve thought the world stops
turning in the war, the tropical heat like hate
and your platoon moves out without you,
your wet clothes piled
at the feet of the girl at the laundry,
beautiful with her facts.”  (from “Girl at the Chu Lai Laundry,” page 4)

Song of Napalm chronicles the narrator’s transformation from boy to soldier to terrified man in the jungle and recovering killer.  In a way some of these poems contain a dark sense of humor about the war, which probably kept the narrator sane.

Temple Near Quang Tri, Not on the Map (page 7-8)

Dusk, the ivy thick with sparrows
squawking for more room
is all we hear; we see
birds move on the walls of the temple
shaping their calligraphy of wings.
Ivy is thick in the grottoes,
on the moon-watching platform
and ivy keeps the door from fully closing.

The point man leads us and we are
inside, lifting
the white washbowl, the smaller bowl
for rice, the stone lanterns
and carved stone heads that open
above the carved faces for incense.
But even the bamboo sleeping mat
rolled in the corner,
even the place of prayer, is clean.
And a small man

sits legs askew in the shadow
the farthest wall casts
halfway across the room.
He is bent over, his head
rests on the floor and he is speaking something
as though to us and not to us.
The CO wants to ignore him;
he locks and loads and fires a clip into the walls
which are not packed with rice this time
and tells us to move out.

But one of us moves towards the man,
curious about what he is saying.
We bend him to sit straight
and when he’s nearly peaked
at the top of his slow uncurling
his face becomes visible, his eyes
roll down to the charge
wired between his teeth and the floor.
The sparrows
burst off the walls into the jungle.

Weigl’s dark humor permeates these pages, but it is more than the humor that will engage readers.  It is his frank lines and how the narrator tells readers the truth about the situation.  From “Elegy,” Weigl says, “The words would not let themselves be spoken./ Some of them died./ Some of them were not allowed to.”  There are just unspeakable atrocities that happen in war, and soldiers who return home may not actually return home resembling who they were before they left.  Song of Napalm is a frank discussion about becoming a man in a time of war, dealing with the horrors of killing and worrying about being killed, and returning home to a world you don’t recognize and trying to reinsert yourself into the society that sent you to war in the first place.

This is my 3rd book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 17th book for the contemporary poetry challenge.

This is my 5th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.


Please also remember to check out the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Online Publicist and Boston Bibliophile.

TODAY is Poem in Your Pocket Day! What poem will you be reading?

Full Moon Boat by Fred Marchant

Fred Marchant’s Full Moon Boat, published by Graywolf Press, is a poetry collection from my shelves that has been dipped into on many occasions.  The collection not only contains original poems by Marchant, a Suffolk University professor, but also translations of Vietnamese poets.  Many of these poems not only examine deep emotional turmoil through nature, but also the theme of war, particularly the Vietnam War.

“In 1970, Georgette, Harry’s war bride,
wrote to me on Okinawa, pleading that
I not leave the service as a conscientious
objector.  She said Jesus could not approve,”  (From “The Return,” page 3)

“From the steps of the pagoda where Thich Quang Duc
left to burn himself in Sai Gon, I took a photograph

which centered on a dragon boat
drifting on the Perfume River, framed by a full-leafed
banana tree.  An image of mourning.
Another photograph:  this one in front of the Marine insignia,

my right hand raised, joining.  I am flanked
by my parents, their eyes odd and empty too.
It was 1968, and none of us knew what we were doing. (from “Thirty Obligatory Bows,” page 28)

Unlike other poetry collections with a focus on the Vietnam War, Marchant’s collection zeroes in on the deep emotional states of families sending their sons overseas to war, ranging from pride to shame and even confusion.  In many ways the lines of these poems are deceiving in their simplicity, releasing their power only after the reader has read the lines aloud or for the second time.  In “A Reading During Time of War,” readers may miss the turning point in the poem on the first read through, but sense that something has changed in the last lines, prompting another read and the realization that the realities of war will always rear their ugly heads.

A Reading During Time of War (page 54)

It is the moment just before,
with no intent to punish,

a wish for all to be air
and scrubbed by rain,

filled with eagerness to learn
and be if not a child

then openhearted, at ease,
never to have heard

of the bending river
that stretches to the delta

where a bloated corpse
bumps softly,

snags on a tree stump
and, waterlogged,

rolls slowly, just below.

Additionally, these poems touch upon the beauty and emotional anchor deep within the chests of the Vietnamese.  In “Letter,” by Tran Dang Khoa and translated by Marchant with Nguyen Ba Chung, readers will find that Vietnamese families and soldiers had the same trepidations as American soldiers and their families.

“Mother, I may well fall in this war,
fall in the line of duty–as will so many others–
just like straw for the village thatch.
And one morning you may–as many others–
hold in your hand apiece of paper,
a flimsy little sheaf of paper
heavier than a thousand-pound bomb,
one that will destroy the years you have left.”   (from “Letter,” page 36)

Overall, Full Moon Boat by Fred Marchant examines the nuances of the human condition during times of crisis, including The Vietnam War, and heartbreaking decisions that soldiers and families make when conflicts begin or continue to rage even in strange lands.  Through translations of Vietnamese poems, Marchant explores the similarities between each side of the conflict in how they react and deal with war.  Other poems in the collection examine the dynamics of families through natural imagery.  Both beginning readers of poetry and those who have read other poetry collections will find Marchant’s comments on the human condition and how that condition is altered by war poignant and true.

About the Poet:

Fred Marchant is the author of Tipping Point, which won the Washington Prize in poetry. He is a professor of English and the director of creative writing at Suffolk University in Boston, and he is a teaching affiliate of the William Joiner Center for the Study of War and Social Consequences at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

This is my 2nd book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 16th book for the contemporary poetry challenge.

This is my 4th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.


Please also remember to check out the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Ooh Books and Estrella Azul.

Your Ten Favorite Words by Reb Livingston (That’s How I Blog)

When I was asked by Nicole at Linus’s Blanket to join her on That’s How I Blog on BlogTalk Radio, I knew I wanted my book club selection to be a volume of poetry, especially since I would be on the show during National Poetry Month.  So Nicole and I agreed on Your Ten Favorite Words by Reb Livingston.

I hope everyone will join me and Nicole at 6:30 PM EST this evening in the chat room and on the phone for the show and the book club discussion. OK, this is me begging! 🙂

Reb Livingston’s Your Ten Favorite Words is a collection of poems that examines the battle between the sexes in a new way, creating caricatures of men and women.  Livingston has a way with imagery, alliteration, and riddles.  A number of poems roll into a rhythm, twist the tongue, and require readers to assess each line carefully.

The collection is broken down into three parts:  Our Rascal Asses; Unsweet and Looking for a Fix; Burgers and Pitchforks.  Readers are introduced to three caricatures Smitten Girl, The Man With the Pretty Chin, and The Heart Specter.  And each section begins with a mini-conversation or set of statements between the characters.  These set up each section, allowing them to unfold.

“The Smitten Girl [to The Man with the Pretty Chin]:  Will you be using your charm for good or injury?

The Heart Specter [murmuring]: (C)harm for G(o)od!” (Page 8 )

Livingston’s collection turns conventional expectations about female perspectives on relationships with men upside down.  Each narrator celebrates female sexuality and desire, but also questions the confusion that comes with that base emotion and need.  At the same time, there is a sense of the comedic in these lines, which pokes fun at the awkwardness of sex and interactions and expectations between men and women.

“He was dark brilliance and moans

(his moans, girlish and dusk, yet I gushed)”  (From Almost Took a Lover Once, page 12)

Livingston’s Your Ten Favorite Words is a collection with a title that will cause confusion among readers and leave them scratching their heads.  The title’s meaning and purpose to the collection could remain obscure for some time, but this is a collection readers will want to return to again and again to unravel the riddles and relish the inner truth of these frank discussions.

About the Poet:

Reb Livingston is a poet and editor of No Tell Books, a press devoted to poetry, and No Tell Motel, an online poetry magazine.  She also is the author of Your Ten Favorite Words (Coconut Books, October 2007) and Pterodactyls Soar Again (Whole Coconut Chapbook Series, 2006). Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry 2006 and literary magazines.

This is my 26th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 15th book for the contemporary poetry challenge.

This is my 3rd book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Since Reb Livingston is a local D.C. area poet, this is a great look at her work as part of The Literary Road Trip, which has moved to Jenn’s Bookshelves from GalleySmith.


Please don’t forget to check out the next stop on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour Life Is a Patchwork Quilt.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am by Elise Paschen

Elise Paschen’s Poetry Speaks Who I Am combines written verse with audio recitation of poetry by the poets themselves on CDs spark young readers’ love of poetry and verse.  Readers between the ages of 11 and 14 will find poems in this volume that speak to their struggles with love, family, growing into adulthood, and making friends.

“[Paschen says,] For me this poetry is life altering.  It’s gritty.  It’s difficult.  And it hurts in all the ways that growing hurts.  It’s meant to be visceral and immediate.  It’s meant to be experienced.”  (Page XI)

Gritty and real are the best terms to describe the struggles within these lines of verse, from being the only white kid in school to being a Black person at a time when political correctness suggests you are African-America.  But more than that, there are poems about bra shopping — the stepping stones of becoming a woman — and the realization that the world is not perfect and that wars do exist.

Bra Shopping by Parneshia Jones (Page 16)

Mama and I enter into no man’s, and I mean no man in sight, land
of frilly lace, night gowns, grandma panties, and support everything.

A wall covered with hundreds of white bras, some with lace, ribbons,
and frills like party favors, as if bras are a cause for celebration.

Some have these dainty ditsy bows in the middle.
That’s a nice accent don’t you think? Mama says.  Isn’t that cute?
Like a dumb bow in the middle of the bra will take away some of the
attention from two looking, bulging tissues.

Full of wit and sarcasm, this poem illustrates the angst and embarrassment of the narrator as she shops for bras with her mother under the watchful eye of the sales clerk. A number of poems illustrate these feelings of awkwardness and tenderness between friends and parents.

The audio CD that comes with the book is stunning as each poem is read with emphasis and care either by the poet themselves or a contemporary counterpart.  In some cases, the poems are accompanied by ambient noise and/or nature sounds.  Some poems will garner young readers’ attentions more than others, but overall the CD works.

Used Book Shop by X.J. Kennedy (Page 108)

Stashed in attics,
stuck in cellars,
forgotten books
once big best-sellers

now hopefully sit
where folks, like cows
in grassy meadows,
stand and browse.

In a yellowed old history
of Jesse James
two earlier owners
had scrawled their names.

I even found
a book my dad
when he was in high school
had once had,

and a book I found —
this is really odd —
was twice as much fun
as my new iPod.

I always get hooked
in this dusty shop.
Like eating popcorn,
it’s hard to stop.

Poetry Speaks Who I Am is a wonderful collection of classic and contemporary poems from the likes of Langston Hughes and Lucille Clifton to the contemporary works of Billy Collins and Molly Peacock.  Each poem will reach out to young adolescents in new and exciting ways, having them nod their heads in agreement as emotions, situations, and dilemmas are unleashed in verse.  Moreover, the poems selected in this volume will not have readers scratching their heads, wondering what it all means.  These poems are straight forward and get to the heart of the adolescent matter.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to Sourcebooks for sending me a free copy of Poetry Speaks Who I Am for review.  Clicking on title and image links will lead you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary, though appreciated.


I hope that you will take a trip over to Books and Movies because she is featuring Billy Collins as part of the National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

This is my 24nd book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

Despite the mix of contemporary and classic sonnets, I think there is enough in here to count for the contemporary poetry challenge, and this makes book #14.

This is my 2nd book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Sonnets for Sinners by John Wareham

John Wareham‘s Sonnets for Sinners is a book of poems I would recommend to those who enjoy reading sonnets, who love poetry, and those who are just starting to read poetry.  Wareham includes the classic sonnets of William Shakespeare and William Yeats, but he also crafts new sonnets from the words (available in the public domain) of famous figures, like Tiger Woods (click to read the poem Wareham created from Woods’ words), Elizabeth and John Edwards, and Princess Diana.

What’s most unique about this volume is the insight provided by Wareham.  He analyzes each poem, offers up lines that illustrate his examinations, and even poses questions that illicit laughter.

Discussing Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129:  “To begin with, says the poet, sinners bypass rationality — past reason hunted — then, the moment the lusty act is completed they unreasonably despise themselves — past reason hated — for succumbing to a swallowed bait on purpose laid to make the taker mad.  The devil made me do it!”  (Page 11)

Sonnets for Sinners is broken down, categorizing sonnets into attractions, fevers, lamentations, farewells, endings, and epiphanies.  For anyone interested in reading more poetry, particularly classic sonnets and classic poets, readers would enjoy the commentary from Wareham.  It is not only informative, but witty.

Kind Cuts by Chandler Haste (page 66)

“I don’t want to hurt or abandon you
— so what to do?” you ask.  Well maybe first
drop me into a pot of boiling glue
then have a witch doctor apply a curse.
Or when that fails and I rise in pursuit
of you, have a firebug set me aflame.
Or cut out my tongue and render me mute
then poke out my eyes and publish my shame.
Or, here’s aptly felicitious fate
for this hopelessly addicted lover:
Bobbitting! — that could be the kindest bite
to slice me out from under your thumb of.
Off the top of my head that’s my advice,
Bow to it gently, and in love, rejoice.

Despite the mix of contemporary and classic sonnets, I think there is enough in here to count for the contemporary poetry challenge, and this makes book #13.
This is my 1st book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.
This is my 12th new-to-me author for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of Sonnets for Sinners by John Wareham from publicist Sara Hausman at Meryl L. Moss Media Relations, Inc. Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Ryan Mecum’s Zombie Haiku is another fun volume of loose-form haiku, like his recent publication Vampire Haiku (click for my review).  In the initial pages, readers learn that the journal is that of Chris Lynch, and the initial haiku spotlight the beauty of nature coupled with Polaroid images and are interspersed with comments from Lynch about his impending death and transformation.

The bird flew away
with more than just my bread crumbs.
He took my sorrow.  (Page 2)

Readers see first hand the spread of the zombies throughout the city and how they stagger after their latest victims.  Finally, Lynch is attacked himself, bleeding to death from a hole in his neck, before turning into the beings he sees taking over the human race.  Struggling with his transformation, he writes haiku about his love for his mother, and the strength he feels even as he withers and becomes a cannibal.

My lungs slow and stop
and I can’t find my heartbeat
but I’m still hungry.  (Page 30)

With his jaw snapped off
he can’t bite into people,
which means more for me.  (Page 66)

Readers may find that some haiku are not as well formed as others, but that may be because zombies have a mostly one-track mind — brains or eating brains.  Overall, Zombie Haiku is not as engaging as Vampire Haiku was, though in small doses the haiku can be amusing. 

I’m counting this as my 12th book for the poetry reading challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum

Ryan Mecum’s Vampire Haiku mixes humor and poetry in diary form for vampire William Butten, who was turned in 1620.  He falls in love with a beautiful woman on the Mayflower named Katherine, who turned him into a vampire.  Soon he’s parted from his love to roam America on his own and make his own friends.  There are tales of some well known historic figures from Davy Crockett to Amelia Earhart and famous events in history like the Civil War and Woodstock.

Readers may initialy be attracted to the cover haiku, which also appears on page 37:

“You know that your drink
is down to the last few sips
once the toes curl up.”

Butten has a twisted sense of humor, but readers will enjoy is little anecdotes about becoming a vampire and bumbling around learning how to feed, etc.  Mecum uses his linguistic and historic knowledge to create fun and witty haiku.  Although they are not precisely haiku in the traditional sense, they mostly adhere to the form’s syllable count.  It is fun to see Butten reveal insider knowledge about the deaths of Davy Crockett and other major historical figures.  In some cases, the poems will have readers cringing in disgust.

“Discarded band-aids
are rare unexpected treats.
My version of gum.”  (page 113)

There are even moments in the book where the vampire makes fun of the modern vampire crazes from the goth kids to the latest vampire movies.  One of the best haiku in the book is about the Twilight movie:

“Those were not vampires.
If sunlight makes you sparkle,
you’re a unicorn.”  (page 117)

Will Butten ever find his true love, Katherine, or will he stop searching for her and settle down? Overall, those interested in humor and vampires will find Vampire Haiku to be a treat.  I’m looking forward to reading Ryan Mecum’s Zombie Haiku next.

I’m counting this as my 11th book for the poetry reading challenge.

By the way, I unintentionally read 100 books this year and reviewed all 100!  This is quite an accomplishment for me, since I’m a slower reader than most.  Yipee!

FTC Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Vampire Haiku by Ryan Mecum.  Clicking on title links or images will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchase necessary.

Words That Burn Within Me by Hilda Stern Cohen

Hilda Stern Cohen’s Words That Burn Within Me is a collection of photographs, essays, stories, snippets of interviews, and poems detailing Cohen’s experiences during WWII and the Holocaust as a German resident.  (Please check out a recent reading from the book at The Writer’s Center).  Cohen’s husband, whom she married in Baltimore, Md., in 1948 following her release, discovered her notebooks after her death and set about his journey to have his wife’s writing translated from German and published.  In some cases, the poems are included both in English and in German.

“Our physiognomies were ageless.  There were wild, unfocused eyes, silent, indrawn lips, and haggardness around the cheek and neck . . . only defined and exaggerated by hunger.” (Page 49)

This harrowing story follows Hilda through her early years in Nieder-Ohmen, Germany, and her transfer to schools in Frankfurt as the Nazis gained power.  From Frankfurt, she is transported with her family and young beau Horst to Lodz, Poland, only to face devastating circumstances, the loss of Horst, and more and be transported to Auschwitz.  In a series of essays and interviews, Hilda talks about happier times in her village and with her sister, the trials of childhood and being bullied, but soon the reality of politics sets in and her family is forced to leave their ancestral home.

Forced Labor (Page 54)

My numbed brow drops on the machine,
I fold my captive, tired hands.

A dangling yellow bulb sheds smoky light,
Dusk falls, the day grows pale.

The harried working hours are almost done,
The evening mist is waiting to embrace us.

What binds us in our common chains
Will only hold us while we work —
Night will find each of us in separate gloom.

Cohen’s writing is sparse but detailed in its observations of those around her in the ghetto and the concentration camps.  Her keen eye examines the impact of starvation on her fellow neighbors and on her family members, and it also sheds light on how well her family and herself cope with their situation.  She eventually teaches herself Yiddish after joining a literary group because she only speaks and writes German, which is not what the majority of the Lodz Ghetto understands.  Readers, however, will note a sense of detachment in her writing, almost as if she is reporting the events as she observed them rather than as she felt them.  On the other hand, they will hear the anger and disappointment in her voice, especially when she speaks of the last words her father utters about her mother upon her death.

“There was a strange role reversal that took place psychologically, as it did also later in the camps.  Adults who had lived a life from which they had gained certain expectations were suddenly confronted with an abyss.  There were no signs, no gateposts, none of the usual milestones that one could follow.  Everything had fallen away.”  (Page 33)

Words That Burn Within Me is well assembled mixture of interviews with Hilda Stern Cohen’s essays, stories and poems.  While the collection does illustrate one Jewish woman’s journey during WWII and the Holocaust, it stands as a testament — a record — of how inexcusably these humans were treated and how their debasement impacted their lives, their relationships, their faith, and their souls.  Through well tuned description and controlled emotions, Cohen takes the time to record everything she saw during the war and the Holocaust to ensure that it becomes a warning to others.  A powerful collection and a must read for anyone learning about this time period and the horrors that should never have happened.

This is my 10th book for the WWII Reading Challenge at War Through the Generations!

I’m not sure if this will qualify for the Poetry Review Challenge, but if it does, this will be book #10.

 FTC Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Words That Burn Within Me from The Writer’s Center following a reading by Hilda Stern Cohen’s husband and her interviewer Gail Rosen.  Clicking on image and title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; No purchases necessary.

Holocaust Poetry Complied by Hilda Schiff

Holocaust Poetry compiled by and introduced by Hilda Schiff is a collection of poetry dealing with World War II and the Holocaust.  The compilation is divided into six sections:  Alienation; Persecution; Rescuers, Bystanders, Perpetrators; Afterwards; Second Generation; and Lessons.  There are well-known poems in this collection and poems from young children.  A few of the poems in this collection already have been featured on the blog as part of the Virtual Poetry Circle; check out “If” by Edward Bond and “The Butterfly” by Pavel Friedmann.

Each poem in the collection uses all-too-familiar images to demonstrate connections with family, friends, and strangers. and as each poem unfolds readers feel the devastation and hopelessness of each narrator.  Schiff says in the introduction, “The more or less contemporaneous literature of any period of history is not only an integral part of that period, but it also allows us to understand historical events and experiences better than the bare facts alone can do because they enable us to absorb them inwardly.”  More or less, readers of poetry will find these observations valid, as will readers of fiction.

However, there are moments of levity when narrators poke fun at the devastating events of Nazi Germany’s actions.

The Burning of the Books (Page 8)

When the Regime commanded that books with harmful knowledge
Should be publicly burned on all sides
Oxen were forced to drag cart loads of books
To the bonfires, a banished
Writer, one of the best, scanning the list of the
Burned, was shocked to find that his
Books had been passed over.  He rushed to his desk
On wings of wrath, and wrote a letter to those in power.
Burn me! he wrote with flying pen, burn me.  Haven’t my
Always reported the truth? And here you are
Treating me like a liar! I command you:
Burn me!

Beyond the poems in the collection depicting the horrors and the losses of persecuted people in Germany, the poems of bystanders, perpetrators, and others are surprising.  They talk of how they stood by and did nothing, how they want to help even if they are too late.  Despite the time for help being long passed, these narrators express not guilt so much as regret — a deep regret at having been so paralyzed by fear that they did nothing or acted contrary to who they believed themselves to be.

I Did Not Manage to Save (page 86)

I did not manage to save
a single life

I did not know how to stop
a single bullet

and I wander round cemeteries
which are not there

I look for words
which are not there
I run

to help where no one called
to rescue after the event

I want to be on time
even if I am too late

The poems selected for the “Second Generation” section will tug at readers heart strings, deepening the sense of loss.  An emptiness is present in some of these poems.  Short biographies are included at the back of the book for readers interested in the poets’ lives and connections to WWII and the Holocaust.

Holocaust Poetry is a collection that should be read in chunks rather than all at once.  Readers may succumb to sorrow if they attempt to read the entire collection in once sitting, but even then, readers will fall into the darkness and emerge in the light.  Overall, the collection is a must have for anyone interested in this time period and learning more about how WWII and the Holocaust impacted individual lives and families.

This is the 9th book I’ve read that qualifies for the 2009 WWII Reading Challenge.  Though I officially met my goal of reading 5 WWII-related books some time ago, I’ve continued to find them on my shelves and review them here.

This also qualifies as my 9th book for the Poetry review challenge.

FTC Disclosure:  I purchased my copy of Holocaust Poetry compiled by Hilda Schiff at the local library sale.  Clicking on title links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page, no purchase necessary.

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen

the woman in the shower (Page 36)

the woman in the shower washes herself constantly and never ages.  she
scrubs her nails, shampoos her hair, lathers her body.  she’s attractive, and
many serenade her, offering love songs in various languages.  newspapers
send interviewers to ascertain her greater mission.  she receives letters from
admirers around the world.  political and religious leaders pay a visit.  a few
crazies try to break into the shower stall and molest the woman, but guards
throw them out.  one man masturbates, shooting his seed onto the glass
before he is arrested.  nothing, though, distracts or fazes the woman in the
shower.  she keeps lathering and scrubbing and rinsing.  generations pass;
the woman is considered a saint of sorts, her shower stall a mecca.  it’s 
assumed, finally, that the woman in the shower, the woman who never 
stops washing, has always been, always will be.  she’s a timeless fact, like air
or war or hunger or god.

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen conjures profound statements about the human condition often from unusual or incongruous elements in nature, pop culture, and religion.  Many of these poems comment on the darker side of humanity, and the narrator tends to seek out destruction and mischief.  There are some longer poems in the collection that could become tedious for certain readers, but taken in slowly — one section at a time — readers can delve deeper into the verse.

“. . . Mary plants clematis and bougainvillea.
I’m writing ballads on a ’71 Gibson.  We’re purchasing
mulch, two tons of soil.  We’re collecting ripe moments,”  (Portraits of Mary, Page 43)

Vivid images and situations permeate these pages, and Amen is a poet prepared to comment on the taboo or the elephant in the room.  Several poems titled “missive” address unknown recipients and offer harsh criticisms in which the sarcastic undertones is palpable.

“Had I known you were more concerned with baubles
than the outcomes of the election, I’d have planned
to craft a wreath for the occasion.  Bless tabloids
and puppet governments, I take my salvation as
I can get it.”  (Missive #12, Page 68)

Musical elements also weave their way into the poems, much like they did in Amen’s More of Me Disappears (click for my review).  Entwined with these musical lines, readers will note an atmosphere of self-deprecation created by the narrator’s repentance or observations.

“Forgive me for eating this bountiful meal.
Forgive me for sleeping beneath this roof.
Forgive me for making love to my wife.
Forgive me for everything I fail to see and do
and avenge.  Forgive me for this insular life.”  (Rampage, Page 24) 

At the Threshold of Alchemy by John Amen is a collection that readers will need to let simmer, breathing in each line like an exotic incense.  Readers can read each poem in this collection more than once and still uncover new layers of meaning.  From short poems to long poems, this collection has a variety to please a multitude of readers. 

***On a side note, At the Threshold of Alchemy is published on acid-free, recycled paper.***  Ever since the Green Books Campaign, I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on my books to see what their “green” properties may be.

FTC Disclosure:  I received a free copy of At the Threshold of Alchemy from the poet John Amen for review.  Additionally, title and image links will bring readers to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are necessary, but are appreciated to cover the costs of international giveaway shipping.

I read this book as part of the recent Thankfully Reading Weekend Challenge.  Did you participate?  Which books did you read?  I only read two.

This also qualifies as my 8th book for the Poetry review challenge.

2009 and 2010 Challenges

I’m participating all weekend Nov. 27-29, 2009, in the Thankfully Reading Weekend as well.  Check out the details at the Book Blog Social Club.

It’s that time again to start thinking about some reading challenges. Anna and I at War Through the Generations are working on the announcement post for the 2010 Viet Nam Reading Challenge.  I hope that you will all consider our challenge in the new year, since we had such a great time with the WWII Reading Challenge this year.

Ok, here are some of the challenges I’m planning on for 2010:

For the All About the Brontes Challenge, sponsored by Laura’s Reviews, you just need to commit to reading, watching, or listening to between 3 and 6 Bronte items (books, movies, audiobooks, etc.) between January 2010 and June 30, 2010.

I’m going to strive to read/watch 3-5 items, and these are the three I’ve picked, though I could change my mind:

1.  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (Book/Movie)
2.  Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (Book/Movie)
3.  The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James (Book)
4.  Emily’s Ghost: A Novel of the Bronte Sisters by Denise Giardina (Book)

Won’t you join me?!

S. Krishna’s Books is hosting the South Asian Author Challenge, which given the swath of South Asian Books I’ve seen and those I’ve read, I’m going to commit to reading 3 books that qualify between January 2010 and December 2010.

These are the 3 books I’m currently considering for this challenge: (Links are to S. Krishna’s reviews)

1.  The Sari Shop Widow – Shobhan Bantwal
2.  Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
3.  The Enchantress of Florence – Salman Rushdie

Please check out her list of South Asian Authors’ Books that qualify for the challenge and the breakdown of those authors by genre.  Won’t you join the fun?!

Next up is a challenge that is likely to be tough to finish for me, but I’m going to sign up anyway because I love the genre.  Book Chick City is hosting the Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010.  The goal is to read 12 thriller/suspense books between January 2010 and December 2010.

I haven’t preselected any books for this challenge.  I think I’m going to pick these twelve books as I go along.

I hope you’ll consider this great challenge too.

Last, but not least.  I’m jumping on this bandwagon late, but Regular Rumination is hosting the Valparaiso Poetry Review of contemporary Poets and Poetics.  I’m going to dive into the deep end on this one, since I adore poetry.   This means I have to read between 11 and 15 books between May 16, 2009 and May 16, 2010.

I’m hoping that some of the poetry books I’ve read this year count for the challenge, which would be the following:  (Click on the links for my reviews).

1.  How to Read a Poem by Molly Peacock
2.  Becoming the Villainess by Jeannine Hall Gailey
3.  Green Bodies by Rosemary Winslow
4.  Apologies to an Apple by Maya Ganesan
5.  Carta Marina by Ann Fisher-Wirth
6.  More of Me Disappears by John Amen
7.  Fair Creatures of an Hour by Lynn Levin

If they don’t, I have my work cut out for me.  I hope you’ll consider adding some poetry to your reading!

Here are the guidelines from Literary Escapism:

1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2010 through December 31, 2010.

2. Since this is an author challenge, there is no restriction on choosing your novels. They can definitely be from other challenges. However, the authors must be new to you and, preferably from novels. Anthologies are a great way to try someone new, but only a third of your new authors can be from anthologies.

3. I want this to be an easy challenge, so you can pick to do either 15, 25 or 50 new authors. It all depends on how fast you read and how adventurous you want to be. If you reach your goal halfway through the year, don’t stop. Any new author you try can be added to Mr. Linky. We all want to know about your new experience.

4. After reading your new author, write your review and then add your link to Mr. Linky. Make sure you include your name and the author.

5. Bloggers or Non-Bloggers alike are welcome

I don’t have a list ready for this challenge yet, but I think it will fill out throughout 2010 with all the challenges I’ve joined. I’m going to start with a small goal of 15 50 new-to-me authors.

What challenges are you joining?

FTC Disclosure:  Clicking on certain book titles will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate Page; No purchase necessary.