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Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell, winner of the Walt Whitman Award, is a debut collection with two voices — two sides of the Palestinian-Israeli struggle — that demonstrates not only the pride of Palestinians, but also the pride of Israelis in their home.  The initial poem, “The Dream,” (which could be a preface to the following three sections) establishes the somber tone for the book, but it also cautions that choices must be made in dreams even as they must be made when awake.  A sentiment that is echoed again in “Notes from the Broken Notebook (part one):  “cover your mouth, you’ll still inhale the gas/dance in the shadow of the concrete wall/tell yourself the tiles are not bones/even in a dream you must still make choices.”  Bell is careful in her choice of language, but she does not shy away from the tumultuous moments in the region’s history, including the role of Arafat.

There is a great juxtaposition in the poem “Refugee,” which is about Ramla in 1948, between the new inhabitants of the house and the ones who have left.  The refugees are entering the house with hope, a feeling of belonging and settlement on their minds, but there is this observance of what has come before — the quick ejection of the former residents, leaving the cupboards full and a few cans rolling on the floor.  It is just one illustration of how something can symbolize hope and a new beginning to one person, but be the symbol of loss and an ending for another — much like the foreclosure can be for two different families.

There is a great reverence to the land and its cultivation, but there also is a reverence paid to the building of communities and the brokering of peace between the warring nations of Palestine, Jordan, and Israel.  In many ways, the poems open up an unsaid dialogue about the possibility of not only understanding but even co-existence, maybe even peace.  “You are not a place my love./You come from where/there are no names.  You enter/as breath and drop/onto our sleeping tongues//” from “Charter for the Over-Sung Country” should remind readers that they are more than just their home country or the place where they live.  In more than one poem, the narrator references the smell of dirt or soil after the rain, which could signify not only a cleansing of the past and a fresh future, but also the possibilities that the future holds.

There are a few poems that are letters to certain places in the region, and in “Letter to Jerusalem” the narrator talks of not crushing the bird too quickly, perhaps a reference to how the city grew out of the sand without regard to the consequences.  In “Letter to Hebron,” the narrator wants to illustrate the truth of the city not the dream of the city.  With its foul smells and the flies, but no matter how much or how long something is beat down into submission or sculpted one way, it can only be what it is — “That wooden doorway, hung without a house.”  Does this mean one town is better than another or that one is more beautiful?  No.  It simply shows that there are dreams for these cities, but oftentimes reality falls short of those dreams, leaving the inhabitants looking through a doorway into a rough landscape.

Eyes, Stones by Elana Bell connects the struggles of these two peoples not in the traditional opposing sides, but through their similar perspectives of loss and hope.   The collection also links the Holocaust survivors to the promise of Israel as the new homeland and incorporates biblical story with historical activists.

About the Author:

Elana Bell is a bridge builder, able to walk compassionately through this complex world where many things are true at once. Whether through her soul-stirring poetry, her dynamic performances on the stage, or through her inspiring talks & workshops, she creates a space where all people’s voices and stories are heard and deeply valued.

Elana’s first collection of poetry, Eyes, Stones was selected by Fanny Howe as the winner of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award and was published by Lousiana State University Press in April 2012. Elana is the recipient of grants and fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Edward Albee Foundation, the AROHO Foundation, and the Drisha Institute. Her work has recently appeared in Harvard Review, Massachusetts Review, CALYX Journal, and elsewhere. Elana has led creative writing workshops for women in prison, for educators, for high school students in Israel, Palestine and throughout the five boroughs of New York City, as well as for the pioneering peace building and leadership organization, Seeds of Peace. She currently serves as the writer-in-residence for the Bronx Academy of Letters and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths

 

This is my 4th book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

 

This is my 3rd book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

 

 

What the book club thought:

There were mixed reactions to the book with one member not sure they understood many of the poems at all to one member that really loved the book.  Several members thought the narrator did a pretty good job of demonstrating both sides in the Israeli-Palestine conflict through the eyes of those who had lived there and tilled the land for centuries to the Israelis seeking refuge and a new home after WWII.  The poems of “Refugee,” “Visiting Auschwitz,” “Visiting Aide refugee camp,” and “On a Hilltop at the Nassar Farm” were among some of the poems talked about more in depth during the meeting, as well as the section of poems beginning with “God” and “What Else God Wanted.”  In particular, it was noted in the religious section of poems that the “God” poem demonstrated a bit of bitterness, that was followed by the story of “Ishmael,” which seemed like it was being told to Ishmael as his poem comes first before the story of his conception.  One poem that I found a bit cliche, but that touched something in the other members of the group was “In Another Country It Could Have Been Love.”

In terms of the book’s title, the members were not really thrilled about “Eyes, Stones.”  While we see the references in several poems, we felt that another title might have been better suited to the collection.  Perhaps, stones refers to the takeover of anger and other hard emotions that can shut out empathy, love, and understanding.

Later we had a discussion of how many of us read some or all of the poems aloud and whether that was helpful in understanding the poems, and I recommended that if we did do another poetry collection that it should be read aloud, at least the poems that do not generate an immediate impression.  Secondly, we discussed how to read poems, particularly poems in free verse and how much pause should be given to the end of the line and to punctuation.  Overall the discussion was all over the place, and some of us agreed that the collection was probably not the best selection for a beginning poetry reader or a group with little background knowledge on the Israeli-Palestine conflict and its beginnings, though Bell does offer some notations in the back to provide an anchor point for most of the poems.

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins is a mixture of techno beats, pop culture references, and references to some of the greatest poets, including Robert Frost.  While many readers of poetry would find his flagrant use of lines from songs cheap or as a short-cut, Robbins seems to be saying something more with the lines he chooses.  He wants to comment on the superficiality of society; he wants to rip open the thin veil of complacency that we all hide behind to reveal the stark, dark, and painful reality beneath.

From "Welfare Mothers" (page 7):

Little Bo Mercy in heels and hose,
just under the water she usually goes.
She moves grams and ounces, prays for war.
She's not the droid you're looking for.
From "Appetite for Destruction" (page 10):

I want to watch you bleed.  My tongue
doesn't know its right from wrong.
I'm uninsured.  I ride the bus,
a loaded gun inside my purse.
My mouth's a roadside bomb.

However, not all of these poems are perfect, and read more like performance pieces than poems meant for the page.  In many ways, Robbins’ unconventional style loses something in the translation to the page and would probably benefit from an accompanying audio version.  Although there is a pervasive anger in the collection, the anger is not about violence so much as it is about frustration.  Robbins touches upon hot topics in the news, including the killer whales at Sea World, and the more mundane stories that don’t make the news, like the struggling mothers hit by terrorism or welfare.

Robbins not only showcases his knowledge of music, television, and movies, but also poets and poetry, philosophy, and more.  In many ways, these references and — dare I call them, odes — can be too esoteric.  A cautionary note at best, but readers will enjoy the rhythm, the playfulness, the frustration, and the pain Robbins reveals — a pain and frustration that many of us will turn a blind eye to on a daily basis as we go about work and caring for our families.  It begs the question as to when society became so self-absorbed that societal hardships and decline are ignored even when it is on the doorstep.

Alien vs. Predator by Michael Robbins is a hip, rhythmic collection that will challenge readers preconceptions of the world around them, pop culture, and even poetry.  Although some poems are more effective than others, Robbins has crafted a collection that screams: “Watch Out!”

About the Author:

Michael Robbins is the author of Alien vs. Predator (Penguin, 2012). His poems have appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, Harper’s, Boston Review, and elsewhere. He reviews books regularly for the London Review of Books and several other publications, and music for The Daily and the Village Voice. He received his PhD in English from the University of Chicago.

I received this book from Necromancy Never Pays‘ Trivial Pursuit for Bloggers.

Check out these other reviews:

The New York Times
Necromancy Never Pays
Book Chatter

This is my 3rd book for the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

This is my 2nd book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

Monsters in My Closet by Ruby Urlocker

Ruby Urlocker’s Monsters in My Closet is a collection of poems and short stories by a talented young writer with a fresh voice who explores the uncertainty of her teenage years and the harsh realities of adolescence.  She explores themes of growing older, losing one’s innocence, and battling inner demons.  Even though she deals with harsh realities, her images are playful and sometimes whimsical, like her short story about a banana dreaming of becoming human — reminiscent of Kafka’s Metamorphosis but in reverse.

From "Walking Around the World":

I walked across the world today
in my old running shoes.
Because I was free on a Saturday
And wanted to beat my blues.
From "Fallen Angel":

My shadow, hanging onto the wall.
I watched it turn to meet my gaze,
My eyes, a desperate wish.
Those stares, those sugar coated liars
Stealing away who I am.
From "The Storm":

There's a gust of wind inside my throat,
Hands clutching it tightly so as not to hurt anyone.
But I grow sick and weary of choking myself

Urlocker has a childlike way of expressing emotions, but she also displays a mature grasp of the darkness that lurks within all of us. Alongside the shadows and ghosts her narrators chase around corners and into the darkness, religious verse and stories ground the reader in a belief that there is something more to this life — whether it is a reincarnation of the same soul until the goal is achieved or the passage of the soul into the afterlife. Unlike other teenage writings that are often full of angst and despair, Urlocker infuses her stories and poems with hope and color — a beacon in the darkness.

One of the most surprising and most developed pieces is “Hidden People,” which is more than a homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. Urlocker talks about imaginary friends and growing up, which in some cases means leaving those beloved friends behind along with are more innocent selves. Even though this is a short piece, readers will become emotionally invested in the story the narrator weaves about her past and friends. There is a deep sense of regret and loss, but also the fondness of those memories.

Monsters in My Closet by Ruby Urlocker is a well crafted debut that explores themes of adolescence, lost innocence, and the hormonal battle that teens experience as they sort through friendships, memories, and love. The collection also includes illustrations, which merit a mention as they are unique and childlike, but also demonstrate a complexity that mirrors the work Urlocker does in prose and verse. She’s an up-and-comer with room to grow and surprise us.

If you’re interested in winning a copy of her book, enter the giveaway here.

About the Author:

Ruby Urlocker is a teenaged author, singer and songwriter. She has been writing and publishing stories since she was seven. Ruby lives with her family and dog, Rufus, a wheaten terrier.

 

This is my 1st book for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013 and the 2013 New Authors Challenge.

2013 Challenges

I’m joining this challenge again because there are some books I wanted to read in 2012, that I didn’t get to read yet. I’ll sign up for Shamrock level: 4 books

I really enjoy the different books i can find for this challenge from Irish characters to historical fiction and even young adult and poetry books.

 

For this challenge, which I co-host with Anna at Diary of an Eccentric, I plan to read Wade 4-10 books. And no, I don’t have a list of books for this beforehand.  I don’t read a lot about the American Revolution, but I do plan to read Treacherous Beauty.

 

 

I always enjoy this challenge, so I’m signing up again. I can’t wait to see which new authors I discover in 2013. I seem to always surpass my goal for this one, but I’m still sticking with the basic level of 25 for me.

 

 

 

I’m hosting a new poetry reading and participation challenge this year called Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013.

I’ll likely be doing all of the options in the challenge, so click on the button for the rules and sign up!

Some other challenges I’m considering for 2013, but have not signed up for due to possible time constraints include:

Announcing Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013

Rules for the Dive Into Poetry Challenge 2013:

1. Create a post on your blog stating your intention to read poetry in 2013 and sign up in Mr. Linky. If you don’t have a blog, simply leave a comment about reading poetry in 2013.

2. Choose one of the following options to complete the challenge:

  • Read and review up to 2 books of poetry throughout 2013 and leave the full link to each review in Mr. Linky.
  • Participate in at least 3 Virtual Poetry Circles throughout the year.
  • Sign up to feature poetry on your blog for April’s National Poetry Month as part of Savvy Verse & Wit’s Blog Tour.
  • Feature one poet per month on your own blog.
  • Or some combination of the above.

3. Complete your goals between Jan. 1, 2013, and Dec. 31, 2013.