Completed 2012 Challenges

I’ve completed my goal for the Ireland Reading Challenge (4 books), and even surpassed it by one; here’s a list of the books with links to the reviews:

The Yellow House by Patricia Falvey
A Long, Long Way by Sebastian Barry
The Cottage at Glass Beach by Heather Barbieri
The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock
The Realm of the Lost by Emma Eden Ramos

For the New Authors Reading Challenge, I chose to read 25 new to me authors, and I exceeded that goal, reading 87 and still counting.

These authors included fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.  You can click the link to see which ones I reviewed.

And finally, for my own two challenges, the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge and the WWI Reading Challenge, I exceeded my goals there as well.  For the poetry challenge, I pledged to read more than I had read in a previous poetry challenge (in which I read 15) and I read 29 books.  There could be more!

For the WWI Reading Challenge, I pledged to read 4-10 books, and I read 14 books.  Please feel free to click the link to see which ones I reviewed.  I’m hoping to finish up one more in this challenge, but I’m swiftly running out of time.

This leaves me with one unfinished challenge, but I’ll leave you in suspense about that.  I hope everyone has a great weekend.  Please do let me know about your own reading goals in 2012 and how well you did.

The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris

The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is highly experimental and mixes poetry with photos and art, and much more.  It is broken down into five sections, preceded by a list of dramatic personas in a couple of instances, which in fact set the stage for what comes next.  While experimental in form, there are traditional elements as well, including references to Greek myths and the journey of Odysseus.  Through this experimentation, readers must pay closer attention to the words, phrases, fonts, and other elements in the collection to discern meaning or the story.  This is a thinking reader’s book, but it’s also a book of pure lunacy and fun as the personas take over and yell at one another in a banter that just generates smirks and laughs.

“‘You really need to figure out what’s next for you, Sadie.
Math, theology, whatever. Why don’t you put out a book?’ (Jughead)
‘Well, Jug, the truth is, you’re my first book.
I’ve been editing you since we met.’ (Sadie)” (page 17)

In many ways, looking at the verse on the page and the conversation often resemble the complex nature of compositions made by musicians.  When looked at in pieces, these compositions can befuddle casual viewers, but when put together and played in conjunction, the music soars and fills the soul.  In this piece, there seem to be elements of Jazz, a musicality that leaps off the page in a mixture of elements that like the collaboration of Amen and Harris works well.  However, the improvisation can be overwrought in some instances.

“The patio party:  I’m tired of these spoiled suburbanites.
I prefer back-river ingenues and trailer-park bullies
brimming with rage and remorse,
perhaps a seance staged at twilight,
blood on a pool deck,
blood on the geraniums and forsythia;
the runaway’s bones, buried beneath the mad-blossoming magnolia,
suddenly singing to my neighbors.
I prefer a final showdown with the cops,
the proverbial shootout in the cul de sac —
everything at stake, all the time.” (page 35)

Many of these vignettes are about seizing the moment, stopping the procrastinating, and relishing the exuberance and exhilaration. There are moments about the aftermath of love affairs and tales about strange personalities. Arcana is a well used word here for indeed some of these verses and tales are mysterious and hard to understand, but these lines and mixtures of text and art require additional discernment on the part of the reader. However, readers also must keep in mind that not all of these vignettes are true or to be taken seriously — there is a bit of dry wit and sarcasm here in these pages.  The New Arcana by John Amen and Daniel Y. Harris is unique, confusing, fun, and even mysterious; well worth reading for a challenge, but definitely something that will take more than one read through.

About the Authors:

John Amen is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget 2004, 2008). His poetry has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including, most recently, Rattle, The New York Quarterly, The International Poetry Review, Gargoyle, and Blood to Remember. He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. He founded and continues to edit the award-winning literary bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.

Photo by Charles Weinberg

Daniel Y. Harris holds a Master of Arts in Divinity from The University of Chicago, where he specialized in the history and hermeneutics of religion and wrote his dissertation on The Zohar. He is the author of Hyperlinks of Anxiety (Cervena Barva Press, 2013), The New Arcana (with John Amen, New York Quarterly Books, 2012), Paul Celan and the Messiah’s Broken Levered Tongue: An Exponential Dyad (with Adam Shechter, Cervena Barva Press, 2010; picked by The Jewish Forward as one of the 5 most important Jewish poetry books of 2010) and Unio Mystica (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2009). He is a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee.

For another perspective, check out Shiny Book Review.

This is the 29th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Carnival by Jason Bredle

Carnival by Jason Bredle is weird.  In many ways it is like a grotesque and surreal little carnival with the fun house mirrors and the bearded lady — though in this case, the mirror is held by the narrator and the bearded lady is really a werewolf inside the narrator.  There is a self-deprecation and a dream-like quality to these prose poems, but in some cases, it seems like the poems are too weird just for the sake of it.  At other times, the poems are comments on pop culture.

“There’s a carnival in my skull and it’s driving me crazy.”  (page 32, from “The Killing”)

Readers will be taken on a ride in this volume of poems as Bredle creates a mood.  From confusion to frustration, readers will be inside the mind of a crazy person.  But in many ways, the craziness is just a mask for the discontent with the culture that has sprung up around the narrator.  And while some of these poems will take several reads before the meaning becomes clear, there are some great moments and lines that make an immediate impression on the reader.  From “Hole in My Heart,” “It looks like I’ll be cuddling up in the warm, soft arms of depression/against this winter.”  These lines set the stage for the tumbling feeling of loss and the mindlessness that accompanies a broken heart where you walk in a fog for days afterward.

A running image throughout the poems is the narrator’s cat, seemingly always providing comfort or just as distraction from the moment.  Traditionally, cats have symbolized independence or superiority, but it is unclear whether the cat is merely a cat in these poems or a symbol of something greater.  In many ways, this is a collection that should be dipped into from time to time when someone is in need of a good laugh or a bit of just fun, but reading it cover-to-cover it can become a bit tedious.  The cover should establish the mood for any reader who picks it up.  It’s busy, full of life and action, and complete chaos.  Carnival by Jason Bredle is just that, a carnival of busyness and bedlam.

About the Poet:

Jason Bredle is the author of four books of poetry, most recently Carnival, from University of Akron Press. He lives in Chicago.

This is the 28th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 87th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan

Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan is a hefty and heavy set of poems and essays about life, the destruction of the earth, and the destruction of the planet wrought by men.  Broken down into eight sections from communing with God, homage to the strength of women, the sadness that comes from a destroyed planet, and a general awaking to the wonders of the world and moving into a full experience of life.  The second section, “Tears for the World,” and section three, “Indestructible Woman,” offer a no-holds-barred perspective on destruction caused by humanity or the oppression of women by men in societies across the world even today.  In many ways, some of these poems mirror the most radical forms of Ecofeminism, in which women are the closest to the Earth and should resume their position as leaders and teach men to cooperate with nature rather than dominate it — though some even espoused the dominion of women over men.  There is even one poem dedicated to the late Mary Daly, one of the main philosophical thinkers of the movement.

From Woman Is Space:

“Woman is space
the wind
the grass
the river
the peacock complaining
to the river
the word emerging like the river
the woman stepping out of the river.

like a rising river” (page 89)

There are lines and images and moments here that will make some angry, while others will nod their heads at the truth of it.  There is the destruction of nuclear bombs created by men, there are the women who are subservient to men, and there is even more.


“The air writhes.
The water gags.
The rocks slide.
The mountains sweat.
Plants cringe.
Trees crash.
Animals glare.
Women bleed.

Man has his boot on every inch of the world.
His conquest is nearly complete.” (page 64)

While these are hymns and elegies to the earth and women, there are other poems that are less “abrasive” than others, but still offer a sense of what the reader is trying to convey about the harm that has come to the planet and to women. The less declarative poems are the most powerful, offering imagery that recalls in the mind the beauty of nature and the wonders that are yet unexplored. These poems call on readers to regain their childlike wonder and stand in awe of the world around them, not to tear it asunder in the thirst for fulfillment.

From “A Divine Meal”:

“I like my disheveled plate with a well-licked fork
sprawling satisfied across it, a pause
between each dish for emptying my mind
and manifesting a new one.

Conversation too I enjoy, voices harmonically arranged,
And food, the kind that tastes good.
I love my senses sublime, and a good cook
is one of the million gods I worship.” (page 23)

From “The Joy”:

“Along the hills of your body
I rooted in the fragrant earth.

Stretching my blooming arms
I heaved with offerings.

I was a peach dripping gold
and you drank me.” (page 104)

Ardor: Poems of Life by Janine Canan mixes philosophy, history, poetic imagery, and declarative statements to create a collection of poems and essays that examine the state of the modern world without sugar coating anything.  There are moments that will get under readers’ skins and maybe cause them to stop reading in disagreement, but Canan’s poems should not be ignored given the degradation that continues to happen from the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico to the oppression of women that continues today.  These are issues that cannot be ignored if the planet and humanity are to survive beyond just a few generations.

About the Poet:

JANINE CANAN’s first book of poems, Of Your Seed, was published in 1977, thanks in part to the National Endowment for the Arts. Since that time, the poet has authored 18 books of poetry, translations, essays and stories.

This is the 27th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 85th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen, translated by David Keplinger

House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen of Aarhus, Denmark, translated by David Keplinger, is a collection that the poet himself calls surrealist, but readers will find them poignant and truthful as well.  The collection includes not only the original prose poems in Danish, but also the English translations Keplinger did in collaboration with the poet.  David Keplinger introduces the collection with:  “It was in this place of natural beauty and order that we set to work on Nielsen’s poems of the neighborhood, rich in imagery of human interaction, comedies of errors, unanswerable questions, an Escherlike world of dark cellars, blind alleys, tenements and fitting rooms.” (page 7)  There is definitely a dark, blind alley in each of these poems — like “Fitting Room,” “Steps,” and “Wistfulness” — that the narrator leads readers to before springing the unexpected upon them.  In many ways, these surprise endings remind me of the one sentence endings of some Anita Shreve novels that change the entire story in a moment.

One stellar poem in the collection is “Reading,” in which the narrator calls attention to something amiss in the text, but does not reveal what it is.  By the end of the poem, it is clear that the one giving the reading does not mean what s/he says.  “the lips don’t move in full accord with what is actually said.”  (page 17)  While the thing that is amiss or the actual context of the situation remains a mystery, readers can easily connect with the realization that something that was thought to be true is not.  A running theme in many of these poems is the careful inspection or observation of the players or the scene to uncover what is “wrong” with the situation or what is unusual about it.  There is always someone watching or the feeling of being watched, like in “Theater.”

There also are a few poems that examine the passing of time and aging in such a unique way that readers may have to take a moment and revisit these poems to truly see the underlying meaning.  “Book” is an interesting look at what we look for in the books that we read — a reflection of ourselves — and how it puts us on edge that someone will turn the page on us.  There is that sense of fear in all of us that our lives are beyond our control or that the choices we’ve made are not appropriate.  In “Birthday,” life burns on its own and cannot be doused by minor events, and in many ways Nielsen is suggesting (without saying it) that life goes on even if events happen that are unplanned or even when they are planned.

Beyond the serious nature of some of these poems, House Inspections by Carsten René Nielsen also has a playful side in which shirts are turned into birds escaping from cages.  The collection tackles life’s biggest issues about mortality and enjoying the moments of life we have as we live them, not as they lie in the past.  Another collection that could be considered for the best of list.

About the Poet:

Carsten René Nielsen is a Danish poet. He has published nine books of poetry in Danish and received several fellowships from the Danish State Foundation for the Arts. Translations of his work have been published in The Paris Review, AGNI, Mid-American Review, The Mississippi Review, and in a collection of prose poems, The World Cut Out With Crooked Scissors (New Issues, 2007).

This is the 26th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 84th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, is sliced into three sections with the first section paying homage to a mother who has passed from this world into the next.  In “The Southern Crescent,” travel plays a particularly prominent role, with the train “humming like anticipation” as the narrator and her mother travel east and she sees her mother in the window clearly.  Trethewey’s poems are concise and filled with imagery that anyone can connect with on a visceral level.

“Graveyard Blues” screams loss and regret from the “stone pillow” for the narrator’s head at the end of the poem to the “hollow sound” of the mud as it sticks to mourners shoes during the funeral in the rain.  And “Myth” is a heart breaking poem, an elegy to the narrator’s mother — a hope that she can pull her from the other side into the real world through her dreams.  Many of us can relate to deep loss and the desire to change that loss and bring back loved ones from the dead — as if we could resurrect them.

In the second section, Trethewey tackles the oppressive memory of history in the deep South and how it is celebrated, feared, and hated for its bigotry and death.  From the prosperous hills of cotton harvested to the humps on the children’s backs from years of hard labor in the fields, the lines draw parallels in different segments of the poem to shed light on oppression — its costs and rewards.  The narration in these is a bit removed, more like an observer commenting on the events.  In the final section, Trethewey melds the personal stories with the historic events of the South and slavery to reveal a love-hate relationship with her native state Mississippi.  In many ways these poems reflect the tension between the white ancestry and the black ancestry of mulatto children from the south.

Even from the point of view of a child learning history and it is depicted as though slaves were well-treated and happy, it is hard to counter the widely held belief even if ancestry tells the student otherwise.  From “Monument” to “Elegy for the Native Guards,” there is a desire on the part of the narrator to pay homage to these pillars of the black community who stood up for what they believed in and made the best they could from the hands they were dealt.  At the same time, there is this reality that sinks in and mars any monument that can be resurrected, especially when made as an afterthought or belated gesture.  Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey tackles not only the sense of identity these biracial children struggle with, but also the struggle of Southerners to explain their pride in their history when it is so riddled with hatred.

About the Poet:

Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1966. She earned an M.A. in poetry from Hollins University and M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts.

This is the 25th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith, published by Graywolf Press on 30 percent post-consumer wastepaper, is a collection sliced up into four parts, and it won this year’s Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.  In the first section there are two parallels that Smith draws — the one between poet and astronomer searching for meaning in vastness and the parallels between the physical and spiritual world.  Like in “Cathedral Kitsch,” the narrator speaks of the gleam of gold in the church and wonders if God is there shining back on himself, but by the end of the poem, the narrator remarks on man’s stamp on the church and on faith.  “I feel/Man here.  The same wish/That named the planets.//Man with his shoes and tools,/His insistence to prove we exist/Just like God, in the large/And the small, the great//”

Some of the best lines come in “My God, It’s Full of Stars” where the narrator talks about God and the great unknown alongside the physical world in which she lives.  Rather than compare the two in pros and cons, the narrator takes a third path:

"Not letting up, the frenzy of being.  I want it to be
wide open, so everything floods in at once.
And scaled tight, so nothing escapes.  Not even time,
Which should curl in on itself and loop around like smoke.
So that I might be sitting now beside my father" (page 10)

There is a sense of wide-eyed, childlike wonder about the world and the unknown space and world of God. Rather than shrink from either, the narrator embraces their possibilities and revels in the possibilities.  Part two speaks for itself and pays homage to a father lost and time with him too short.  The collection then gives way to more timely matters in the news from a young woman kept as a sex slave to her father in the basement of a home he shared with his wife to the Abu Ghraib prisoners who were savagely mistreated by soldiers under too much pressure.  In the final section of the collection, Smith opens up her verse at full throttle to explore the infinite energy and being of all in the universe and the pulse of that energy as it continues to churn.

Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith is well worth the prize it has won.  Her verse is well paced and masterful in how it draws parallels and leaves larger issues open ended for readers to think more about on their own.  She’s taken larger than life issues and honed in on them with a sharp eye, boiling them down to what really matters through personal accounts and a satiric remixing of facts from the news and more.  Definitely a collection for book clubs and to return to again and again when readers are feeling a bit enamored of the great unknowns.

About the Poet:

Tracy K. Smith was raised in Falmouth, Massachusetts. She studied at Harvard, where she joined the Dark Room Collective, a reading series for writers of color. She went on to receive her MFA from Columbia University.

This is the 24th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women by Jane Rosenberg LaForge

With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women by Jane Rosenberg LaForge takes a look at not only what it means to be young and full of dreams, aspirations, and confidence, but also the flip side of that — what it means to be older and confined by societal, professional, and personal constraints.  Her verse is topsy turvey with its own underground beat that shimmies out the fine-tuned truth that whether or not we are rock gods or ordinary people we are the same in how we are shaped and how we shape the world around us.  From hiding our wrinkles and our broken dreams to wearing them proudly, LaForge has crafted an unapologetic anthem about living, not merely surviving the world around us.

From "Prodigy":

It is youth that keeps you pale and concerned
about the smaller buzzing parts, the soil
and the pine cones there, and the grace
between fists and teacups.  You are a foil,
a reminiscence, a sobering glance forward
because nothing can be repeated, metric by 
metric; speaking the dream always changes it
irreparably, as if it weren't worth mentioning.
From "Apollo at 21st and 8th":

record we shed each day,
the accumulation of our pasts
that we deposit upon wood and 
polish, in the shafts and patterns
of directed sunlight.  Could gods
begin in dust and spit not as we have,

The collection is divided into two parts, and the first section, despite the title of the Mick Jagger poem, are hardly apologetic. From the crass way that age takes over the face to the abandonment of religion and faith in favor of the present and those rock stars before us on the television, LaForge chooses terse language clipped in the right places to give readers enough pause to encourage serious contemplation about aging and worship of the present. In “Runyon Canyon,” her narrator says, “It is not the soul that grows/in your bone, but a whistle;/as if a palpable friction between/lip and reed; a green-sweet taste/like hesitation and sympathy;” These images blend together to create a sound that hums.

In the second half of the collection, the poems are more personal, delving into the sorrowful images of disease and how the body can be ravaged even when the patient is in denial or at least trying to pretend they are not ill. LaForge takes a frank look at the grotesque found in the most beautiful relationships, including being sisters.  With Apologies to Mick Jagger, Other Gods, and All Women by Jane Rosenberg LaForge strikes a pose and has an opinion without apology, and don’t expect one.  The statements are bold and without explanation.  They just are.

About the Poet:

Jane Rosenberg LaForge’s poetry, fiction, critical and personal essays have appeared in numerous publications, including Poetry Quarterly, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ottawa Arts Review, Boston Literary Magazine, THRUSH, Ne’er-Do-Well Literary Magazine, and The Western Journal of Black Studies.


This is the 23rd book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 82nd book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey examines the lines between father and daughter and the African-American experience through a set of personal and analytical poems focused on race and culture.  In “Miracle of the Black Leg,” Trethewey examines the juxtaposition of white and black men in paintings and other artwork in which the leg of one man is taken and attached to the thigh of another man.  There are similarities in pain stricken faces in some images, paralleling their similar situations, but there are also clear disparities in how each man is treated, even if the leg is taken from a newly deceased person.  The imagery she chooses in this poem is particularly haunting, especially when taken in the historical context of how the images are presented throughout the years — with the black donor swept to the side and only the black leg as a representation of the whole.

"See how the story changes:  in one painting
     the Ethiop is merely a body, featureless in a coffin,
so black he has no face.  In another, the patient --
     at the top of the frame -- seems to writhe in pain,
the black leg grafted to his thigh.  Below him
     a mirror of suffering:  the blackamoor --" (page 11)
". . . The black man, on the floor,
holds his stump.  Above him, the doctor restrains
    the patient's arm as if to prevent him touching
the dark amendment of flesh.  How not to see it -- 
    the men bound one to the other, symbiotic --
one man rendered expendable, the other worthy
    of this sacrifice?  In version after version, even
when the Ethiopian isn't there, the leg is a stand-in,
    a black modifier against the white body," (page 12)

The title of the collection tells readers all they need to know about the topics covered, including the moral, mental, and physical slavery or servitude as well as the complete emotional absorption that can happen in relationships. As Trethewey examines works of art through a lens of racial demarcation, she also looks at daughters’ relationships with their fathers, which can sometimes be congenial and at other times turbulent. In “Knowledge,” she is looking at the dissection of a woman and the men who stand around her as the cut is made into her flesh, and Trethewey’s narrator concludes that her father was not just one type of man, but each of the men in the room — all at once contemplative, scientific, and artistic, even though at times she felt he were just one of those men.

It is easy to see why Thrall by Natasha Trethewey could captivate a packed audience at the Library of Congress when she was inducted as the newest U.S. Poet Laureate, and hearing a poet read their own work can be the best gift.  While her reading can enthrall you and bring you near tears, her careful word selection in each poem will ensure that you reflect on the meaning of each line in each verse before you even think about the overarching themes of separation and connection as well as their juxtaposition.  A collection that will be on the best of list for sure.

Check out the recap of the U.S. Poet Laureate Event.

This is the 22nd book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second Edition) edited by Jon Silkin, David McDuff

The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second edition) edited by Jon Silkin and David McDuff is a collection of poetry from and about the WWI.  Silkin and McDuff  increased the number of poems in translation included in the collection.  There are poems translated from German, French, Italian, Russian, and Hebrew, and Silkin was a poet himself.  As expressed in the not at the beginning, “For some, war was moral athletics; others looked forward to the experience of war as a ‘vacation from life’ — a vacation from a society disjoined by class and constrained by the rigid structures of labour.”  (page 12)

***However, I’m not one for long introductions so I skipped over it this time around and got straight to the poetry. ***

The anthology includes some of the more well known WWI poets, Thomas Hardy and Robert Graves, but also some who are not as well known.  One of the most well known WWI poems is “Anthem for Doomed Youth” by Wilfred Owen, which seeks to command a respect for the thousands who died in a cause for freedom and defense.  Steeped in religious allusions Owen makes reference to the candles lit where bodies lie and to the drawing of blinds in those same rooms as well as the prayers that often accompany the mourning process, but there also is an underlying celebration for their sacrifice as the bells are rung and anthems are sung.

Each of these poems brings with it a different perspective on war in the trenches, love, life, and loss, but above all patriotism.  Isaac Rosenberg’s “Dead Man’s Dump” (page 211) is particularly haunting:

"The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
Their shut mouths made no moan.
They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,"

Meanwhile, there is a true sense of fear in Ivor Gurney’s “The Silent One,” (page 116):

"Who died on the wires, and hung there, one of two --
Who for his hours of life had clattered through
Infinite lovely chatter of Bucks accent:
Yet faced unbroken wires; stepped over, and went
A noble fool, faithful to his stripes -- and ended
But I weak, hungry, and willing only for the chance
Of line -- to fight in the line, lay down under unbroken
Wires, and saw the flashes and kept unshaken
Till the politest voice -- a finicking accent, said:
'Do you think you might crawl through there: there's a hole'
Darkness, shot at:  I smiled, as politely replied --
'I'm afraid not, Sir.' There was no hole no way to be seen
Nothing but chance of death, after tearing of clothes."

Each poet in the collection bring their own perspective to war, but there seems to be a pervading reverence to the fight these soldiers’ waged and all that they sacrificed.  There were certain translated poems in the book that didn’t resonate as well as some others, including Benjamin Peret’s “Little Song of the Maimed,” but it was good to revisit an old WWI poet, Osip Mandelstam (check out my earlier review of Stolen Air).  The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry (Second edition) edited by Jon Silkin and David McDuff offers a collection of poems that provide a wide perspective on war from the patriotism the soldiers felt to their fear and horror at the experiences they had.

About the Editors:

Jon Silkin was born in London, in a Jewish immigrant family and named after Jon Forsyte in The Forsyte Saga, and attended Wycliffe College and Dulwich College. During the Second World War, he was one of the children evacuated from London, and for a period of about six years in the 1950s, after National Service, he supported himself by manual labour and other menial jobs. He wrote a number of works on the war poetry of World War I. He was known also as editor of the literary magazine Stand, which he founded in 1952, and which he continued to edit (with a hiatus from 1957 to 1960) until his death.

David McDuff is a British translator, editor and literary critic. He attended the University of Edinburgh, where he studied Russian and German. After living for some time in the Soviet Union, Denmark, Iceland, and the United States, he eventually settled in the United Kingdom, where he worked for several years as a co-editor and reviewer on the literary magazine Stand. He then moved to London, where he began his career as a literary translator.



This review first appeared on Historical Tapestry for WWI Week.





This is my 14th book for the WWI Reading Challenge.



This is the 21st book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Out of True by Amy Durant

Out of True by Amy Durant, blogger at Lucy’s Football, has a poignant dedication in the front:  “To everyone who doesn’t quite fit:  You do.  You will. Keep going.  You’re almost there.”  And in many ways, this dedication sets the tone for the collection.  There are a number of poems in the collection that talk about love and loss, but there also are those poems heavily focused on things and people that are just out of reach as the narrator continues to strive for the ultimate goal.

Durant has a frank style that not only clearly defines the poetic story, but also draws parallels from ancient myths and literature.  In “SYZYGY,” in which the moon and sun fall in love but are separated by the horizon, but Durant allows the celestial bodies to not only communicate through the tides and other messages.  The lines are written in the pattern of notes between married couples asking for the dishes to be washed and errands to be run.  But there is an undercurrent of disappointment as the narrator postulates that the sun will not rise and the evening will not bring the moon — the promises made that cannot be kept, like those between busy married couples and others that are forgotten or intentionally made knowing that they cannot be kept.

From "What We Build What We Destroy" (Page 20-21)

I like to build a fire; 
the ritual of it.  Placing the
small sticks, twisting the
paper, tenting the larger
logs.  The flames
licking around the edges,
teasing, like a schoolgirl
skipping along the edge
of a playground;

then the bite, the moment
the fish takes the bait, the
roaring upward, the rush,
the suck of air.  All eyes on
the dance of the flames.
I made this.  This thing that
can destroy:  I made this.

Readers will find her interplay of imagery fun, and perseverance becomes a strong message throughout the collection no matter if the narrator must let go of a past love or strive for a goal.  The cover ties the collection together with the stairway upward, signifying the struggle and the journey all at once with the light near the top of the stairs and the darkness below.  In many ways, this image demonstrates how each of us has a darkness in our lives that we journey away from, but at the same time that it can be present in the most enveloping way.  Particularly with the purposeful forgetting of high school memories in “Oubliette,” in which the narrator cannot catch up with those people she has forgotten even though the scars of what happened back then remain and are ever-present.  There is a truth in the forgetting that the narrator shares, illustration that the scars make up who she is even though she has forgotten the details of the faces of the perpetrators, which in itself may be a fallacy or a willful denial.

Out of True by Amy Durant is an emotional and insightful look at life’s travails and the decision to persevere and journey onward.  Durant’s debut poetry collection has a unique voice that highlights the harsh realities of life and love, but also the beauty of struggle and how it makes us not only who we become, but more than what we are.  Letting go is a must in this life, but also there must be a semblance of acceptance in order for humans to enjoy their lives, find joy, and evolve.

***Stay tuned tomorrow for an Amy Durant reading and giveaway***

About the Poet:

Amy Durant is a writer living in the Capital District of New York. She blogs frequently at her own site, Lucy’s Football, about far less serious things than this, and is lucky enough to write for Insatiable Booksluts about all things bookish. She is the artistic director for one of the many wonderful community theaters in her area and lives with a very cuddly but very spatially-impaired Siamese cat. Her book, Out of True, was published by Luna Station Press in August 2012.
This is the 20th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.



This is my 75th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.


When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, published by Copper Canyon Press and ordered for me by my local bookstore Novel Places, is a culture clash of Native Americans integrating into mainstream society and the struggles the children of these family have reconciling their home lives with the differences they find at school and among their new childhood friends and society.  The narrator battles with her mother about why she cannot have a sandwich like the white kids rather than raisins, and insinuates that she’d rather be like the white kids.  By the same token, the narrator experiences first hand the bullying of the white kids in her neighborhood because of her ethnicity — a dichotomy that resurfaces throughout the collection.

“The Red Blues” (page 11-13) is a creative look at a young girl’s blossoming into womanhood, getting down to the gritty reality of menstruation.

There is a dawn between my legs,
a rising of mad rouge birds, overflowing
and crazy-mean, bronze-tailed hawks,
a phoenix preening
sharp-hot wings, pretty pecking procession,
feathers flashing like flames

Diaz is creative and surprising in her imagery and frankness.  She tackles stereotypes, truths, and the history of her ancestors.  From the takeover of their lands by the whites to the current marginalization of her people, Diaz calls attention to the underhanded and sometimes overt discrimination that takes place.  At the same time, she is careful to demonstrate how even Native Americans are plagued by similar struggles with drugs and fitting in that other cultures face.  But there are poems that no matter the ethnicity of the narrator, readers can see the internal and external struggles fought with a loved one who is addicted to drugs.  In “How to Go to Dinner With a Brother on Drugs” (page 46-51), the narrator walks a fine line between telling her brother the truth about his appearance and behavior and avoiding the inevitable fight that would ensue should the conversation be too frank.  The reader gets a glimpse of how manipulative and careful the narrator has to be to get the brother to change his clothes before heading out to dinner, etc.

Your brother will come back down again,
this time dressed as a Judas effigy.
I know, I know, he’ll joke. It’s not Easter. So what?
Be straight with him. Tell him the truth.
Tell him, Judas had a rope around his neck.
When he asks if an old lamp cord will do, just shrug.
He’ll go back upstairs, and you will be there,
close enough to the door to leave, but you won’t.
You will wait, unsure of what you are waiting for.”

But it is more than that, it is the struggle of waiting for a loved one to smarten up, to become all that they can be before your eyes and not fall back into the same patterns over and over. There is a sense of loyalty in these lines, but also a sense of hopelessness.  Diaz speaks of her own pain, the anguish of watching a brother addicted to drugs and the heartbreak of watching parents who love both children struggle to save one from himself and fail.  Each poem’s surface meaning is easy to discern, but upon another read through readers can easily see the emotional torrent of each line and image.  Each poem is layered with multiple images and emotions demonstrating the tumult that infuses familial relationships, particularly those conflicted by cultural clashes and drug addiction.

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz is a glimmering debut collection that hums in the back of the mind and generates an emotional aftermath that will leave readers speechless.  Following a brief pause, readers will want to pass this book onto others to read and discuss.  As far as book club selections go, this would be a welcome addition as the language is easy to follow, the emotions are raw, and the themes covered are modern and relevant in today’s world.

About the Poet:

Natalie Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes, attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey she returned to ODU for an MFA in writing. Her publications include Prairie SchoonerIowa ReviewCrab Orchard Review, among others. Her work was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Best New Poets and she has received the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She lives in Surprise, Arizona.  Please check out this interview.

This is my 60th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.



This is the 19th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.