The Brontës by Pamela Norris

The Brontës by Pamela Norris is a collection of selected poems from not only the Bronte sisters, but also certain poems from their brother Patrick Branwell Brontë.  According to the introduction, Patrick Bronte was a good poet, but did not reach the level of sophistication of his sisters.  Emily Brontë, according to Norris, is the most accomplished of the poets in terms of grasping meter and other components of poetry.  Anne Brontë is the most accessible, and readers often find it easier to emotionally connect with the poet.  Charlotte Brontë‘s poems often resemble her novels with their passionate women and abrasive men, but Norris says her narrative style can often overwhelm the poem and obscure its meaning.

The collection begins with a selection of poems from Charlotte, and many of these poems are bogged down in narrative, poetic prose, but the meaning of the poems are not completely obscured.  In fact, the selection of poems offer a sense of longing and despair topped with a current of optimism and rays of hope.  In “Mementos,”  Charlotte alludes to the precious nature of material objects, which even though tied to loved ones, are now moldy and dusty — long forgotten.

“Once, doubtless, deemed such precious things;
Keepsakes bestowed by Love on Faith,
And worn till the receiver’s death,
Now stored with cameos, china, shells,
In this old closet’s dusty cells.

I scarcely think.  for ten long years.
A hand has touched these relics old;
And, coating each, slow-formed, appears,
The growth of green and antique mould.”  (page 7, “Mementos”)

However, while Charlotte tells a unique story in each poem there is an emotional detachment even though the images and story tackle harsh topics and delve into questions of mortality and loss.  Charlotte’s poems about her deceased sisters, Anne and Emily, are more emotionally present, though the loss of Anne seems more substantial to her.

The next set of poems are from Patrick Brontë.  His poems weave a sense of loneliness, and not just a passing sadness and solitude, but a loneliness that weighs down the narrator.  From “Memory,” “Winds have blown, but all unknown;/ Nothing could arouse a tone/ In that heart which like a stone/ Senselessly has lain.” to “Oh, All Our Cares,” “But here this lonely little spot,/ Retires among its trees,/ By all unknown and noticed not,/” there is an emptiness in Patrick’s poems that is deeper than that in expressed by his sisters.  Camaraderie between the sisters must have been tough for a brother to penetrate, and to seek help from his sisters with his writing may have been a bridge he was unwilling to cross.  Regardless, his poems are no more poignant and enlightening about the human condition than those of his sisters.

Emily Brontë’s poetry is possibly the most well known of the siblings work, and her poems tend to be well crafted, adhering to style elements known for the forms she has chosen.  Her rhyme schemes are cleaner than her siblings, but her style is often dense and fantastical.  She blurs the lines between reality and a fantasy world she creates.  In some ways, readers may find that her poems are hard to decipher if they get too bogged down in the details she throws into each line.

“Will the day be bright or cloudy?” (page 39)

Will the day be bright or cloudy?
Sweetly has its dawn begun,
But the heaven may shake with thunder
Ere the setting of the sun.

Lady, watch Apollo’s journey,
Thus thy firstborn’s course shall be —
If his beams through summer vapours
Warm the earth all placidly,
Her days shall pass like a pleasant dream in sweet tranquility.

If it darken, if a shadow
Quench his rays and summon rain,
Flowers may open, buds may blossom,
Bud and flower alike are vain;
Her days shall pass like a mournful story in care and tears and pain.

If the wind be fresh and free,
The wide skies clear and cloudless blue,
The woods and fields and golden flowers
Sparkling in sunshine and in dew,
Her days shall pass in Glory’s light the world’s drear desert through.

Anne Brontë’s poetry is more childlike in its reverie with nature and the memories and emotions those things can arouse in the narrator.  Her poems are immediate and easy to comprehend; readers can connect with her more easily than her siblings’ poems.  However, her poems do not differ from theirs in subject matter; she tackles not only loneliness, longing, and emptiness, but also happy moments encapsulated in time and memories.  From “The Bluebell,” “Yet I recall, not long ago,/ A bright and sunny day:/ ‘Twas when I led a toilsome life/ So many leagues away.”  (page 74), and from “The Captive Dove,” “Poor restless dove, I pity thee;/ And when I hear thy plaintive moan,/ I mourn for thy captivity,/ And in thy woes I forget mine own.”  (page 80).

Overall, The Brontës by Pamela Norris is an excellent selection of poems that displays the diversity of the Brontës and their similarities.  Norris’ introduction can help readers understand the dynamics of the family, but the poems often speak for themselves about the depths of their loneliness and desolation.  However, some members of the family were more desolate than others and others coped by relying on fantasy and memories of happier times.

This is my 1st, and probably, only book for the 2010 All About the Brontës Challenge.

This is my 60th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 15th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Tipping Point by Fred Marchant

Tipping Point by Fred Marchant is a collection of poetry broken down into five parts and published by Word Works after winning the 1993 Washington Prize.  Readers may wonder what a former Marine Corps Lieutenant and one of the first honorably discharged conscientious objectors would have to say about the Vietnam War, especially having only served two years.  This collection is a journey through the memories of childhood, adulthood, and military service, and beyond.

From Vietnam Era:

“. . . The papers
+++++ you heaved you imagined
grenades, and that the porches they
+++++ landed on the burst into flame,” (page 21)

Hard slaps and punches to his mother’s face from his father, feeling outcast in school being overweight, and a number of other adolescent anxieties scream from the pages.  But the most poignant lines of loss and anguish and even anger occur in his poems of the Vietnam War.  However, many of these poems are about inner turmoil and dealing with that struggle on a daily basis.

From Elephants Walking:

“On the news there was the familiar footage:
+++++ a Phantom run
ending in a hypnotic burst of lit yellow napalm.
+++++ I knew the war
was wrong, but that was why, I claimed, I should go,
+++++ to sing the song
of high lament, to get it into the books.”  (page 28)

From Tipping Point:

“and trousers which were not
+++++ supposed to rip, but breathe,
+++++++++++ and breathe they do — not so much
of death — but rather the long
++++++ living with it, sleeping in it,
+++++++++++ not ever washing your body free of it.”  (page 35-6)

Whether Marchant is discussing family history, struggles with illness, or his service in the Vietnam War, images leap off the page, billowing the smells of sweat into readers noses and making them squirm in discomfort. It is this discomfort the poet wishes for readers to feel as the narrators struggle with their own moral discomfort and struggle to come to terms with their decisions and situations beyond their control. Overall, Tipping Point by Fred Marchant reveals the dilemmas each of us deals with regarding personal, social, and political events, but it also teaches that individuals have a “tipping point” when principles must be take precedence or be set aside.

© Leslie Bowen

About the Author:

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 14th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 12th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

2010 Green Books Campaign: Crazy Love by Pamela Uschuk

Created by Susan Newman

Welcome to the 2010 Green Books Campaign, sponsored by Eco-Libris!  The campaign is in its second year and aims to promote “green” books being published today. Last year for the first campaign, I read Saffron Dreams by Shaila Abdullah.

Crazy Love by Pamela Uschuk is just one of 200 books you’ll see reviewed or highlighted throughout the day on over 200 blogs.  Those books range from nonfiction and historical to poetry and fiction — and everything in between.  Crazy Love, a collection of poems, is printed with 50 percent recycled fiber.  The publisher, Wings Press, says, “Wings Press is committed to treating the planet itself as a partner.  Thus the press uses as much recycled material as possible, from the paper on which the books are printed to the boxes in which they are shipped.”

Pamela Uschuk uses melodious language in Crazy Love to drawn in her readers, sucking them into the depths of each poem and churning them in a tumbler.  The collection is broken down into four sections and each appears to deal with a different aspect of love whether it’s the passion of “Crazy Love” or the eternal connection of love in “Hit and Run.”

From “The Horseman of the Cross and Vulnerable Word:” (page 3)

I was young and fell in love
with your wounds, your tongue,
half-song, half-glands,
strong as the Calvinist hands
that whacked and fed your swampy youth.
I was young and drank vermouth
while you fell to your knees

Beautifully, Uschuk demonstrates human love through bird and nature imagery, but she also draws parallels between the destructive nature of grasshoppers on crops to that of humans on the overall environment.  There is a light and dark side to love and when love is too intense it can be destructive.

Feeling the Kitchen (page 25)

Talk about exfoliation.  This archaeology will
take weeks.  First comes the ripping, then
total destruction.
+++++++ Wrenching out
nails with screeching crow bars,
we pry huge sheets of cheap paneling
from the old walls to reveal
the smoky history of paint, and under
+++++++ that, a century of wallpapers shed
like snake skins embossing rough sandstone.

Who chose the bottom pattern tattooed
with blue and red flowers or the pink sky
spackled with gold stars, tiny and multitudinous as fleas?
Beneath everything, the harsh ash-smeared
plaster is the logic that holds.

Like an argument that spirals out of control,
my husband and I cannot stop tearing.
+++++++++++ The white celotex ceiling
we’ve despised for years must go, so
with our bare fingers, we yank it
crashing, with its load of coal soot, onto our heads.

When the ceiling lies at our feet, what is there
but more dingy ochre paint, stars
blurred dusty as the distant Pleiades, a silver filigree
some wife may have chosen to mimic moonlight
bathing her spinning head while she sweated
over meals and dishes, waddled with her pregnant belly
between woodstove and table, where
her silver miner sat to slurp her rich soup.

Day after day, I mount the rickety ladder
to avoid my computer, where I should compose
poems that shake their fists at stars or hold
the fevered heads of children in distant warring lands.

It is comforting this peeling back,
the scraper prying up paint chips
the size of communion wafers
while I balance on precarious steps abrading,
the motion repetitive as prayer.

Where all the sweet conformity of yellow
+++++++ once soothed our kitchen, strange maps
of foreign planets bloom, a diasphora of galaxies
blasted into the variegated watershed of hearts
we can never really know.

Perhaps, this simple work is poetry, to strip
chaotic layers revealing the buried patterns
of our stories, charting
love’s labyrinth, the way betrayal,
faith and fear spin us
in their webs, awful and light.

In this poem, Uschuk reminds us of the gems beneath the surface, like those that hover beneath the surface of words and phrases in stories and poems. The editing process fine tunes and refines the lines to reveal those underlying truths. Many of the poems read like folklore and myths from Native American stories. Overall, Crazy Love by Pamela Uschuk is a collection of poems that explores love and human connection and reminds us that we need to reconnect with nature and the planet, as well as one another.

About the Author:

Pamela Uschuk’s work has appeared in over 200 journals and antholgies worldwide, including Poetry, Parnassus Review, Ploughshares, Nimrod, Agni Review, Calyx, and others. Her work has been translated into nearly a dozen languages, including Spanish, Russian, Czech, Swedish, Albanian, and Korean.

Her Wings Press titles include Finding Peaches in the Desert (book and CD), (out of print), Scattered Risks and , which won the American Book Award (Sept. 2010).

Among her other awards are the Dorothy Daniels Writing Award from the National League of American PEN Women, the Struga International Poetry Prize, and the ASCENT, IRIS and King’s English prizes.

Uschuk also writes and publishes nonfiction articles and has been a regular contributor to journals such as PARABOLA and INSIDE/OUTSIDE. In 2005 she gave up her position as Director of the Salem College Center for Women Writers in North Carolina to become Editor In Chief of Cutthroat, A Journal of the Arts and to conduct poetry workshops at the University of Arizona Poetry Center. In 2006, Uschuk was a featured writer at the Prague Summer Writers Workshops, the Meacham Writers Conference and the Southwest Writers Institute. She makes her home in Tucson, Arizona, and outside of Bayfield, Colorado, with her husband, poet William Root.

To check out the rest of the Green Books, please visit the campaign Web site beginning at 1 p.m. EST. I’m a rebel, what can I say!

This is my 54th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

This is my 13th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Playing Basketball With the Viet Cong by Kevin Bowen

Kevin Bowen‘s Playing Basketball With the Viet Cong is his first collection of poems and they focus on his memories of the Vietnam War.  Although there are moments of brutality and horrifying images, many of these poems intend to infuse the enemy with humanity — whether that enemy is a U.S. soldier or a member of the Viet Cong.  In a way these poems diverge from other war veterans’ writings in that rather than attempt to sort through mere emotional trauma, Bowen seeks to draw parallels between two nations that were once at war with one another and highlight their similarities in a way that will generate peace and forgiveness.

From “Willie, Dancing” (page 27):

When we moved south
we found comfort
nights at base in new dug bunkers,
the womb hum of generators,
artillery thud and mortars
marking time.  And whiskey,

Bowen’s lines are sparse, but use each word to its fullest potential to provide a sensory overload, much like the one he may have experienced in Vietnam himself.  Readers will hear the bombs hit the ground and feel the anxiety of the soldiers as each poem unfolds.  How did these soldiers ever “feel at home” in the jungles surrounded by the enemy?  Did they live in constant fear as the adrenaline pumped through their veins?

Poetry often tries to convey more than the lines state on the surface.  Bowen often blurs the lines of his memories with reality and myths from Vietnamese lore.  But always there is a connection made between enemies through their humanity.  For example, the lines of “Missing:” (page 34-5)

I was there that day, felt the tug,
looked down and saw my own face
looking up to me from the paddy,
searching the sky where already you’d disappeared.

Everything, even in war is connected and on some level the soldiers killing the Viet Cong were in a way killing themselves — little by little.  Not all of Bowen’s poems are from a soldier’s perspective, with poems narrated by a female voice, perhaps a wife, dealing with the far off glances, the silence, and the nightmares her lover experiences.  Readers will enjoy the wide variety in Playing Basketball With the Viet Cong, which strives to pull to the forefront the humanity in everyone and find a common ground from which each side can begin anew.

Incoming (page 22)

Don’t let them kid you–
The mind no fool like the movies,
doesn’t wait for flash or screech,
but moves of its own accord,
even hears the slight
bump the mortars make
as they kiss the tubes good-bye.
Then the furious rain,
a fist driving home a message:
“Boy, you don’t belong here.”
On good nights they walk them in.
You wait for them to fall,
stomach pinned so tight to ground
you might feel a woman’s foot
pace a kitchen floor in Brownsville;
the hushed fall of a man lost
in a corn field in Michigan;
a young girl’s finger trace
a lover’s name on a beach along Cape Cod.
But then the air is sucked
straight up off the jungle
floor and the entire weight
of Jupiter and her moons
presses down on the back of a knee.
In a moment, it’s over.
But it takes a lifetime to recover,
let out the last breath
you took as you dove.
This is why you’ll see them sometimes,
in malls, men and women off in corners:
the ways they stare through the windows in silence.

About the Poet:

Kevin Bowen was drafted at age 21 and served in the 1st Air Cavalry Division in the Quang Tri Province near the DMZ (demilitarized zone) and the Tay Ninh Province in Vietnam from 1968-1969. He is a 1973 graduate of the University of Massachusetts Boston. A former Danforth Fellow and Fulbright Fellow at New College, Oxford, he earned his Ph.D. in English Literature from the State University of New York at Buffalo. He worked as an aide and speechwriter for Lt. Governor Thomas P. O’Neill, III prior to becoming director of the Veterans’ Upward Bound Program at Umass Boston in 1984 . He was appointed co-director of the Joiner Center in 1984.

Playing Basketball with the Viet Cong, his first collection of poetry, was published by Curbstone Press in 1994. His poems have appeared in Agni, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Ploughshares Press, Prairie Schooner, TriQuarterly, Witness and other places.

This is my 9th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.

This is my 12th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Twelve Moons by Mary Oliver

Twelve Moons by Mary Oliver is her fourth collection and as always nature is front and center.  But above all this collection is about transformation and by extension the journey of life.  Parallels are drawn between the grief humans feel and the changing seasons and the self-confidence of nature as it is seen in humans as mere glimpses or slivers of the moon.

“And sometimes, for a moment,/you feel it beginning — the sense/of escape sharp as a knife-blade/hangs over the dark field/of your body, and your soul/waits just under the skin/to leap away over the water./”  (From At Blackwater Pond, page 49)

Oliver’s love of nature and awe of it transcends her lines and these pages, tapping into readers’ sense of childlike wonder about the world.  It reminds us that there is a greater world beyond the meetings, the email, and the stress of our lives — a world where things can just be and live.  Beyond the sense of wonderment is an air of caution about how we interact with this natural world and how we are at times the enemy.

From Mussels (page 4), “In the riprap,/in the cool caves,/in the dim and salt-refreshed/recesses, they cling/in dark clusters,/in barnacled fistfuls,/in the dampness that never/leaves, in the deeps/of high tide, in the slow/washing away of the water/in which they feed,/ . . . Even before/I decide which to take,/which to twist from the wet rocks,/which to devour,/they, who have no eyes to see with,/see me, like a shadow,/bending forward.”

Like the mysterious phases of the moon, Oliver’s poems often take on a mystical quality, blurring the lines between reality and dreams.  Is her father the explorer he always dreamed he would be?  Do the fish feel the same way about children that humans do?

Twelve Moons is a collection dealing with immortality, nature, and our place in and against it.  Oliver’s poetry is enjoyable on the surface and as deeper meanings are sought upon multiple readings and even immediately.  Beginning readers of poetry would have little trouble understanding her lines and easily find correlations to their own lives.  An excellent collection, and one of the best I’ve read this year.

***I purchased my copy of Twelve Moons by Mary Oliver at a local library sale.***

This is my 11th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

Because All Is Not Lost by Sweta Srivastava Vikram

Sweta Srivastava Vikram‘s Because All Is Not Lost is a new chapbook of poems about grief and recovery.  While recovering from grief is never the same for everyone, these poems speak to the void that death can leave.

“One day she will stop/digging up maggots of loss/breeding in her memory.//” (From Convalescence, page 18)

Vikram uses simple imagery and encapsulated stories to illustrate grief and the possible reactions to loss.  In the introduction, the poets explains her inspiration for the collection, the deaths of her grandfather and her mother’s sister.  The collection is sad and weighs heavily on the reader, and readers should consider taking each poem in separately to absorb their meaning.  However, there are rays of hope within the poems.

From A permanent address, “Flood of affection is what I get from her -/jasmine flowers mixed with olive and a soft kiss// of assurance.  She whispers/that it was a recurring nightmare./That I was safe” (page 20)

Because All Is Not Lost is a chapbook that will affect readers like no other poetry collection. Readers will be absorbed by the grief and the glimmers of light as the narrators deal with emptiness and blame.

***Thanks to the poet Sweta Srivastava Vikram for sending me a copy for review***

Now for the global giveaway; 2 copies up for grabs:

1.  Leave a comment about a moment of loss you’ve felt and how you dealt with it.

2.  Blog, Facebook, or Tweet this giveaway and leave a link here.

Deadline Aug. 27, 2010, at 11:59 PM EST

This is my 10th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 41st book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland

As part of the Graywolf Press — one of my favorite small presses that publishes poetry and fiction — Spotlight on Small Presses (click on the badge at the bottom of the post for the tour stops), I chose a poetry book to review, which I picked up at the 2010 Book Expo America.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland is his first collection of poems in 10 years, according to the Graywolf representative at the expo.  The collection features poems that call into question the realities of the modern world from our dating rituals to our trips to the mall food court.

In “Big Grab,” Hoagland suggests language is taking on meanings that are less than they are.  “The Big Grab,/so the concept of Big is quietly modified/to mean More Or Less Large, or Only Slightly/Less Big than Before.// Confucius said this would happen –/that language would be hijacked and twisted/”  (page 5).  This collection not only tackles the language changes our society faces and what those changes mean, but it also looks carefully at the world of celebrity in “Poor Britney Spears.”

Expensive Hotel (page 24)

When the middle-class black family in the carpeted hall
passes the immigrant housekeeper from Belize, oh
that is an interesting moment.  One pair of eyes is lowered.

That’s how you know you are part
of a master race — where someone
humbles themselves without even having to be asked.

And in the moment trembling
from the stress of its creation,
we feel the illness underneath our skin —

the unquenchable wish to be thought well of
wilting and dying a little
while trying to squeeze by

the cart piled high with fresh towels and sheets,
small bars of soap and bottles
of bright green shampoo,

which are provided for guests to steal.

Hoagland’s crisp language and vivid imagery is deftly weaved with philosophical and societal questions we all should be answering or at least asking.  Has modern society twisted our culture into something worthwhile or is it something that should be tossed in the trash as a bad experiment.  However, there are moments of humor and deep sarcasm throughout the volume that offset one another to make readers ponder what the poet really desires from the modern world.  Readers will come away from the collection with a new focus on examining society and their part in it –whether they decide to continue assimilating is up to them.  Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty is a thought-provoking collection that urges readers to be unique and to think outside the box.

This is my 9th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 38th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa‘s Dien Cai Dau is another collection of Vietnam War poetry.  The poet, who received the Bronze Star and edited The Southern Cross, dedicates this book to his brother Glenn, “who saw The Nam before” Komunyakaa did.  His poems put the reader in the soldiers’ shoes, allowing them to camouflage themselves and skulk around the jungles of Vietnam from the very first lines of “Camouflaging the Chimera.”  Beyond skulking in the jungle, hunting the Viet Cong, Komunyakaa discusses the weight of war as soldiers trudge through the landscape with their equipment and what they’ve done and seen.  Weaving through the tunnels looking for the enemy or searching the thick forest, soldiers are constantly reminded of their emotional and physical burdens, though they find joy in some of the smallest moments.

One of the beautiful aspects of Komunyakaa’s poetry is his vivid sense of how even the most beautiful elements of nature have a darker side.  In “Somewhere Near Phu Bai,” Komunyakaa writes “The moon cuts through/the night trees like a circular saw/white hot.  . . .” and in “Starlight Scope Myopia,” he suggests, “Viet Cong/move under our eyelids,/lords over loneliness/winding like coral vine through/sandalwood & lotus/.”

Beyond the nature imagery and the immediacy of the war, some of these poems have an analytical quality much like a general planning out the battle moves.  Each move of the soldiers is reflected in the carefully chosen words and lines, and the effect is genuine, creating a suspense and fear readers would expect soldiers to experience.

A Greenness Taller Than Gods (Page 11)

When we stop,
a green snake starts again
through deep branches.
Spiders mend webs we marched into.
Monkeys jabber in flame trees,
dancing on the limbs to make
fire-colored petals fall.  Torch birds
burn through the dark-green day.
The lieutenant puts on sunglasses
& points to a X circled
on his map.  When will we learn
to move like trees move?
The point man raises his hand Wait!
We’ve just crossed paths with VC,
branches left quivering.
The lieutenant’s right hand says what to do.
We walk into a clearing that blinds.
We move like a platoon of silhouettes
balancing sledge hammers on our heads,
unaware our shadows have untied
from us, wandered off
& gotten lost.

Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa is an excellent collection that will allow readers to join the fight in Vietnam, feel the fear and anxiety of soldiers, and see just how many enemies soldiers faced — the Viet Cong and the jungle.  Komunyakaa is a poet with incredible insight from propelling emotions off the page through images to using carefully chosen words and phrases to vividly paint the scene.  Dien Cai Dau is one of the best poetry books about the Vietnam War and often reads like prose.

This is my 6th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge

This is my 8th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

The Guilt Gene by Diana M. Raab

Diana M. Raab‘s The Guilt Gene is a collection steeped in nostalgia that fails to glorify the past.  The collection is broken down into six sections:  “Cherry Blossoms, Book Tour, Two Evils, The Devil Wears a Poem, Yad Vashem, and California Roll.”  Additionally, “guilt” is defined in the pages preceding the table of contents, although most readers are aware of its definition and uses.

In “Cherry Blossoms,” Raab revisits the bloom of her youth when she was just beginning to discover boys and realize that she wasn’t popular with her classmates.  Hindsight is 20-20 in these poems as she examines how the behavior of her mother impacted her adolescence, particularly in “Moth Balls.”

The “Book Tour” section of the book is amazing in its raw honesty about never taking advantage of friendships because they are incredibly loyal and the emotional toll writing books, publishing them, and marketing them to the general public.  Raab discusses how writing is a reflection of who authors and poets actually are, the depression that follows the completion of a book, and many other scenarios.

Author Blues (page 26)

If women after delivering a baby

suffer post-partum,

why can’t writers

after delivering a book

suffer post-ISBN?

Raab’s frank perspective is like a hammer hitting readers with a deep sense of loss in “Two Evils.”  Her personal struggle with breast cancer is vivid and pulsates with anger, but also with confusion and a child-like wonder about the world around her.  Like her previous collection, Dear Anais (my review), some of the poems take on the tone of a diarist, an observer of life.  The Guilt Gene covers a range of events and emotions, and Raab will draw in readers through her casual tone, witty turn of phrase, and images that anchor readers to a time and place.  One of the best collections I’ve read this year. 

Thanks to Bostick Communications and Shirley at Newman Communications for sending along The Guilt Gene by Diana M. Raab for review.

This is my 7th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher

The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher uses tongue twisting phrases and juxtaposition to shed light on and deal with the expectations of family and society.  Wrong miracles occur everyday in Gallagher’s world from the cat that drags in a poem it found to a breeze that cracks the narrator open.  Gallagher’s playful phrases will have readers smiling in amusement, and she enjoys turning cliches upside down.

“I still have not

bought the doghouse — a real one, not

the metaphorical one where husbands some

times hang out while wives are belt loosening

or just simply giving things a twirl.”  (From “Prelude to Getting One’s Act Together,” Page 15)

In many cases, Gallagher is whimsical with her imagery even when her poems deal with serious events, such as paying for the best and getting something unexpected and disappointing.  In “Woman in a Redhead,” she seeks a new look, cappuccino hair that ends up being red and having to deal with the result.

“On my way home, I fake a swagger and ants

in my pants.  I am singularly impressed by the rife

humour that is making its way down the broad of my

back.  I will be back to get my cappuccino-chocolate hair,

I think.  Sometimes we don’t get what we pay for and blood

does curdle.”  (Page 3)

But beneath the whimsy of her verse lies a dark anger and disappointment that simmers and bursts forth. Can you talk yourself into doing anything?  Can you justify waterboarding like you can justify jumping out of an airplane with a parachute as a hobby?  Is the unthinkable a norm that we haven’t gotten used to yet?  Gallagher asks these questions and more, but she also examines fatherly love and forgiveness.

A Poem That Thinks It Has Joined a Circus (Page 10)

A handkerchief is not an emotional holdall.

A cup of tea does not eradicate all-smothering sensations.

A hands-on approach is not the same as a hand-on-a-shoulder

willing a chin to lift and an upper lip to stiffen.

A forehead resting on fingers does not imply that the grains

of sand in an hourglass have filtered through.

A set of eyes staring into space is not an indictment that the sun

came crashing down in the middle of the night.

A sigh that causes trembling and wobbly knees should be

henceforth and without warning trapped in a bell jar and retrained

to come out tinkling ivories with every gasp.

A poem trying to turn a sad feeling on its head does not constitute

a real poem, it is a cancan poem, dancing on a pinhead

and walking a tightrope with arms pressed tightly by its sides.

Readers just starting out with poetry will find this collection needs to be read aloud and more than once because some of the lines are dense with imagery, double-speak, and juxtapositions.  However, the poems do exude a song-like quality as tongue-twisters roll off the tongue, which will have readers repeating Gallagher’s lines over and over again.  The Wrong Miracle by Liz Gallagher is a buzz worthy collection.

***Please check out my previous two-part interview with Liz Gallagher.  Also, proceeds from the sale of her book, The Wrong Miracle, will go to support Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death society.***

Thanks to Liz for sending me a copy of her book for review.

About the Poet: (Photo Credit: Vladi Valido)

Liz Gallagher was born and brought up in Donegal, Ireland. She has been living in Gran Canary Island for the past 14 years. She has an Education degree where she specialised in Irish language. She also has a Computer Science degree. She is at present doing research into online debating for her PhD. She began writing about 5 years ago and has won a variety of awards in both Ireland and the US: Best New Poet 2007 (Meridian Press, Virginia University) First Prize in The Listowel Writers’ Single Poem Competition 2009 and she was selected by Poetry Ireland for their 2009 Introductions Series in recognition of her status as an emerging poet.

This is my 6th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 35th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.

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?