Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio

Source: Penguin
Paperback, 224 pgs.
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Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio is a memoir written as a series of personal essays that’s not only about the writing life, but also loving what you do so much that no matter how on the outside you are, you keep plugging away. Addonizio never shies away from her less than sober moments or her self-doubt.  She takes life on full force, and she makes no excuses for that.  It’s what life is for — living.  In “Plan D,” she talks about having a plan to give you some sense of control, but in all honesty, those plans don’t always work out.

As many of you know, I’ve written poems and submitted them and received a ton of rejection of late.  This book hit my bookshelf at the right time.  “How to Succeed in Po Biz” brings to light the difficulty with being a poet, what it takes is determination and a will to struggle through it all to achieve even just a modicum of success.  Royalties are small and many poets find other sources of steady income or work toward small awards and fellowships to keep working on their craft without the drudgery of a full-time job, or at least only requiring a part-time job.

Addonizio has always been a fresh poet to me, and as she writes in her essays she remembers those very low moments when she met failure, thought about giving up, and went forward anyway.  This perseverance, sheer will is what poets need.  She’s by turns vulnerable and well shielded from the barbs that come with writing poetry — the title of the book stems from one critic’s comment about how she was Bukowski in a sundress.

Bukowski in a Sundress by Kim Addonizio is utterly absorbing.  I read it in a day, and I’m still thinking about everything she said and how it applies to my current struggles with poetry and the publishing industry, especially as someone outside academia.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

She’s the author of several poetry collections including Tell Me, A National Book Award Finalist. My latest, My Black Angel, is a book of blues poems with woodcuts by Charles D. Jones, from SFA Press. I published The Palace of Illusions, a story collection, with Counterpoint/Soft Skull in 2014. A New & Selected, Wild Nights, is out in the UK from Bloodaxe Books.

Due summer 2016: Mortal Trash, a new poetry book, from Norton. And a memoir, Bukowski in a Sundress: Confessions from a Writing Life, from Penguin.

I’ve written two instructional books on writing poetry: The Poet’s Companion (with Dorianne Laux), and Ordinary Genius: A Guide for the Poet Within. Visit her website.












Just Kids by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 9 CDs
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Just Kids by Patti Smith, narrated by the author, embraces her naivete and anxiety about her artistic life, particularly her chaotic creative process and her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.  As a struggling poet, she finds that she was ill-prepared for feeling true hunger or living on the streets, but through a series of kind acts from strangers and eventually friends, she finds her way.  Moving fluidly between photography, art, music, and poetry, Smith demonstrates what it means to be young and on a journey of self-discovery in the 1960s and 1970s.

This is a very honest memoir about life as an artist, and what it means to have a clear vision of what you want from an artistic life.  Mapplethorpe had a clear vision of what he wanted from his art and pursued it relentlessly and with all of his body, even though he also feared the judgment of others.  Smith, on the other hand, knew she wanted to be a poet, but was unable to see for some time that poetry is malleable and can evolve beyond what is expected.

Rather than assess her relationship with Mapplethorpe, Smith focuses on how their tumultuous relationship allowed them to grow as artists — their reciprocal relationship becomes the crux of what it means to be a muse and to have a muse.  Because Smith is a writer, her observational skills are keenly seen in her memoir.  An early pact that these artists make to one another about being the sober one when the other is not, helps to keep both artists on their ultimate creative paths, even if they diverge from one another.

Just Kids by Patti Smith is seductive.  Smith narrates it as she wrote it, with honesty and unconditional love.  While she makes no assessments about her experiences, readers will see how appreciative she is for her luck and her journey, a journey that is ripe with sadness and pain but also joy and happiness.  The life of an artist is difficult and chaotic, but no less fulfilling for those committed to it body and soul.

***The poems at the end are worth waiting for***

Rating: Cinquain

Photo: © Jesse Dittmar

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Please visit her Website.


Other Reviews:

M Train by Patti Smith (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 6 CDs
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M Train by Patti Smith, narrated by the author, is a poetic and meandering memoir that illustrates how the writing life can not only be rich with inspiration but also frustratingly slow and difficult.  Smith spends much of her time drinking black coffee in different cafes, and as she interacts with those she meets and in her projects, she is still holding on to the pain of loss, as her husband passed away too young.  While the loss of her husband is there with her as she rides the subway (there is an M train in New York City that travels between Queens and Manhattan), travels to Tangiers and other foreign locations, it does not take center stage.

Memories drag her daily ruminations into different directions, and these memories are all that are left of those she loves and who have inspired her as a woman, an artist, a poet, and as a person.  She is obsessed with crime dramas and coffee, and her writing is on napkins, in blank pages of books she’s reading (for the upteenth time), and on scraps and in notebooks.

You can see some elements of the memoir online.

Like the dilapidated bungalow she buys on Rockaway beach just before Superstorm Sandy, Smith endures the everyday erosion of life, the waves that threaten to break us and smash us into pieces.  The only testament to our strength is to continue onward and to move forward through our lives chasing our passions and enjoying every moment we are graced with.  Her empty house on Rockaway is where her memories rattle around, emerging only when necessary, allowing her to look back on how much her life has evolved and how much she wants to hold onto as much of it as she can.

The self-narrated M Train by Patti Smith is numbing in the amount of loss in one person’s life, but her life is not that different from that of others who struggle against the tidal wave of loss.  Memory can help us hold onto those we love, but even those are eroded by time.  Many of us have a hard time moving on, and in her memoir, she explores this in depth.

Rating: Quatrain

Photo: © Jesse Dittmar

About the Author:

Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. She gained recognition in the 1970s for her revolutionary merging of poetry and rock. She has released twelve albums, including Horses, which has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time by Rolling Stone.

Please visit her Website.



My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem (audio)

Source: Public Library
Audiobook, 8 CDs
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My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, narrated by Debra Winger, is not only about the feminist movement, but also literally about her life as an activist and a woman on the road, who practiced the art of active listening.  Learning in India of a decentralized way of making decisions and interacting, Steinem learned that discussing different points of view on an even plane, without hierarchy, can be much more productive and diplomatic.  Debra Winger is a great narrator because her cadence is very similar to Steinem’s narration of the introductory material.

I love how her parents left their mark on her early on – a mother who wanted a different life than the one she lived and a father who had a hard time staying still, traveling and selling as much as possible.  Her early life and how she travels from one place to the next are captivating, but there are times that the narrative wanders pretty far afield, leaving readers at sea as to what time period they are in until she mentions another year or date.  Steinem, co-founder of Ms. Magazine, has a deep fear of public speaking on her own, though she would speak before groups with others.

Among the most memorable events are the large convention she organizes for the women’s movement, her talk at Harvard University that was mostly male, and her interactions with taxi drivers and others on the streets because she does not drive.  As someone who gets that question a lot about why I don’t drive, this part of the story resonated with me.  I want to be and remain connected to my world, and separating myself in a car alone is not accomplishing that at all.  Steinem says that her adventure begins the moment she walks out the door.

Her discussion of the election process is very similar to what I as a mere voter expected, even though she had more of an insider’s perspective.  In particular, her struggle during the Democratic primary to choose between President Obama and Hillary Clinton was fascinating.  While many people voted because they wanted a woman president and others voted for a black president, Steinem’s thought process was more detailed based upon their track records and their abilities, and more.  For those interested in politics and the political process, these aspects of the book are wonderful, and for those who listen, they will see that they need to adopt Steinem’s ability to listen and examine the minute details of each candidate before voting.

My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, narrated by Debra Winger, is engrossing in that it provides a detailed account of the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and the political process.  How did women get the vote, how did they use and keep it, and are voices of women heard now?  Steinem is optimistic in our ability to change and evolve into a more inclusive society through careful listening toward shared solutions.

***I read this as part of Emma Watson’s Book Club on GoodReads***

About the Author:

Gloria Marie Steinem is an American feminist, journalist, and social and political activist who became nationally recognized as a leader of, and media spokeswoman for, the women’s liberation movement in the late 1960s and 1970s. A prominent writer and key counterculture era political figure, Steinem has founded many organizations and projects and has been the recipient of many awards and honors. She was a columnist for New York magazine and co-founded Ms. magazine. In 1969, she published an article, ” After Black Power, Women’s Liberation”, which, along with her early support of abortion rights, catapulted her to national fame as a feminist leader.

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 195 pgs.
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An Age of License by Lucy Knisley is another graphic memoir of a young artist who has a compulsion to draw those around her, no matter how creepy that may appear in a crowded restaurant.  These graphic memoirs are a great way to quickly get a look inside someone’s life, their fears, and their happy moments without feeling like you’re prying.  The comics provide just the right amount of distance to the narrative, and Knisley’s style is very conversational and intimate, but there are moments she keeps to herself — that’s ok too.

Knisley is someone many of us were in our twenties — adventurous in spite of the anxiety — beginning the lives we’ll lead into the future either alone or with a family of our own.  We explore; we get to know who we are as people; what we’re looking for; and sometimes finding things we didn’t know we wanted.  While we often find that we are jealous of our friends who find themselves, their callings, or the families they desire before we do, we still love them and hope that we’ll find those things too.

Knisley’s graphic memoirs seem to be written as she goes along, but it is clear that more thought goes on and further work takes place after her adventures are done.  These memoirs have their own conversational quality and she clearly digs deep into her experiences.  In this memoir she takes a trip to Norway for a comics convention, which turns into a whirlwind of visits in other countries throughout Europe — Germany, France, and Sweden.  She questions the direction of her life and career, she questions her inability to find stability in relationships, but most of all, she questions her perspective, which comes from a relative place of privilege compared to others.

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley is a realistic look at traveling abroad as someone who does not know a language other than English, and who is still struggling to find her place and become grounded.  It is often good to get away from the daily grind to think about life as it is and determine if that’s what you want it to be for the rest of your life, and Knisley asks and somewhat answers these questions for herself.  One point in the memoir was a bit ironic in that lovers go to Paris, engrave their names on locks, and add those locks to a bridge as a sign of undying devotion, only for those locks to be eventually torn off by authorities and thrown away.  Even those things that we find permanent may not be.

***Another shout out to Bermudaonion for pointing me in Knisley’s direction.  I’ve loved these books.***

Other reviews:

About the Author:

Beginning with an love for Archie comics and Calvin and Hobbes, Lucy Knisley (pronounced “nigh-zlee”) has always thought of cartooning as the only profession she is suited for. A New York City kid raised by a family of foodies, Lucy is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago currently pursuing an MFA at the Center for Cartoon Studies. While completing her BFA at the School of the Art Institute, she was comics editor for the award-winning student publication F News Magazine.

Lucy currently resides in New York City where she makes comics. She likes books, sewing, bicycles, food you can eat with a spoon, manatees, nice pens, costumes, baking and Oscar Wilde. She occasionally has been known to wear amazing hats.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley

Source: Public Library
Paperback, 161 pgs.
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Displacement by Lucy Knisley is part travelogue, part memoir, part comic, and it does an excellent job of illustrating the fears of younger generations when it comes to caring for elderly parents or grandparents.  Lucy volunteers to take her elderly grandparents on a cruise with their senior housing community, and while she loves her grandparents, she, like many grandchildren, still see them as capable and active adults, even though their health has declined.  Traveling with aging grandparents through a series of connecting flights and the boarding of a cruise ship is difficult, especially as Knisley’s grandmother is losing her memory and her grandfather has bladder control issues.  Readers are likely to giggle about some comedic moments, but what makes this book shine is the compassion, angst, and love that shines through in every page.

Knisley ponders what it means to be a good person and what her own motivations are for coming on the trip, as well as why her own family has a hard time expressing love for one another — with the closest to an “I love you” being “we’re so proud of your academic achievements.”  Although her grandparents have lost some of their memories, Knisley is lucky to have her grandfather’s memoir about his WWII experiences.  She discovers while reading this memoir in preparation for the cruise that her grandfather often threw caution to the wind, like not wearing a parachute while flying because it was uncomfortable.

Displacement by Lucy Knisley is not just about mortality and how many young people do not want to face it.  It is also about having compassion and love for your own roots, so much so that you set aside your own discomfort to make sure elderly relations enjoy their own time on vacation or just with family.  It also sheds light on the incredibly hard job it is to be a caregiver for the elderly, particularly when you’re not related to them.  Knisley gives readers a new respect for those working in nursing homes and elderly communities.

A definite contender for the year-end best list.

***Thanks to Bermudaonion for reviewing this one and calling my attention to it.***

Other reviews:

About the Author:

Beginning with an love for Archie comics and Calvin and Hobbes, Lucy Knisley (pronounced “nigh-zlee”) has always thought of cartooning as the only profession she is suited for. A New York City kid raised by a family of foodies, Lucy is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago currently pursuing an MFA at the Center for Cartoon Studies. While completing her BFA at the School of the Art Institute, she was comics editor for the award-winning student publication F News Magazine.

Lucy currently resides in New York City where she makes comics. She likes books, sewing, bicycles, food you can eat with a spoon, manatees, nice pens, costumes, baking and Oscar Wilde. She occasionally has been known to wear amazing hats.

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller (audio)

Source: Audible
Audio, 9+ hours
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The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller, narrated by the same, is a memoir about reading and books.  It begins with the “List of Betterment,” on which he lists books he has talked about in the past or claimed to have read, but has not.  These books reflect the type of person he envisions himself to be. He reads 12 of the 13 books completely and is awed by them, but to complete the list and be “like” Mr. Darcy and have integrity, he must complete Of Human Bondage as his penance, or so he tells his wife.

“It would be a good thing to buy books if one could also buy the time to read them; but one usually confuses the purchase of books with the acquisition of their contents.”

There are a number of footnotes in the book, which the audio calls attention to with an audible ding so that readers do not become confused.  However, because of these footnotes, it may be easier for readers to see them on the page, but I didn’t mind the alerts and digressions since most of us digress in traditional conversation and that’s what many of these footnotes seemed to be.

“A love of books and a love of reading is not the same thing,” Miller says, but even so, he is seriously enthralled and expands his list of books. Of particular interest to me were his comments on One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is the first book I quit after not quitting any books in 2014. His comments rung true to me, though he also piqued my interest in the overall meaning of the novel and perhaps renewed my interest in returning to it at some point.

The Year of Reading Dangerously: How Fifty Great Books Saved My Life by Andy Miller, narrated by the same, is a fantastic read on audio or in print or ebook for any book lover and reader. Many of us are reading to escape our lives, but what if we read deliberately? Would we be able to achieve our goals and what books would be on your list of betterment?

About the Author:

Andy Miller is a reader, author, and editor of books. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, Esquire, and Mojo. He lives in the United Kingdom with his wife and son.





A list of betterment (or books I wanted to read):

  1. Persuasion by Jane Austen (read in 2014)
  2. Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
  3. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
  4. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
  5. Travels With Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
  6. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
  7. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
  8. Villette by Charlotte Bronte (I started this in a read-a-long, had a baby, and never got back to it — it’s been 3+ years; I may have to start over!)

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

Source: Dey St. and William Morrow
Hardcover, 304 pgs
On Amazon and on Kobo

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is one of the most honest, heartfelt, and engaging memoirs out there.  Cumming is the son of a Scottish family, and his father was verbally and physically abusive, but that’s just part of this story.  Despite the abuse, Cumming had dreams, dreams that he ultimately hoped to achieve and did, even if they just began as fantasies of escape.  As a young boy, he was given impossible tasks by his father on a Scottish estate where they lived as caretakers, and really they were given so that he could fail and be the subject of his own father’s wrath. His escape from that life was acting and school, but he was careful after several early incidents to never show too much passion or love for anything because his father would take it away.  Although his relationship with his father shaped some of his anxieties that he took with him later in life, it is his relationship with his mother that solidified his confidence in becoming the talented actor he is today.

“You see, I understood my father.  I had learned from a very young age to interpret the tone of every word he uttered, his body language, the energy he brought into a room.  It has not been pleasant as an adult to realize that dealing with my father’s violence was the beginning of my studies of acting.”  (page 4 ARC)

Parallels between Cumming’s past and that of his mother’s father, the grandfather he never knew, are drawn easily in his mind and throughout the memoir after he agrees to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s death in Malaysia sometime after WWII.  Like his mother, Cumming did not have a real relationship with his father, but unlike his mother, his father lived with him for most of his life until he left for Glasgow for acting school.  Shifting between past and present in his own life, Cumming also examines his relationship to his deceased grandfather and how memory is subjective and that most people remember in an emotional way.

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming is not about how his father drops a bombshell on him that he is not his son.  The memoir is about how Cumming is his own man and nothing like the abusive, angry father he had, and in many ways how he is more like the grandfather he never met.  This is a contender for the Best of list this year because it is told with such honesty, self-reflection, and humor that readers will not be able to avoid examining their own lives and familial relationships.

About the Author:

Alan Cumming is an award-winning actor, singer, writer, producer and director. He recently starred in an acclaimed one-man staging of Macbeth on Broadway, and appears on the Emmy Award-winning television show The Good Wife. He won a Tony Award for his portrayal of the Emcee in the Broadway musical Cabaret, a role he is reprising in 2014.  He hosts PBS Masterpiece Mystery and has appeared in numerous films, including Spy KidsTitusX2: X-Men UnitedThe Anniversary PartyAny Day Now and Eyes Wide Shut.  Photo by Ricardo Horatio Nelson.

25th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in Scotland and England)





71st book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.

G.I. Brides by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

tlc tour host

Source: TLC Book Tours and William Morrow
Paperback, 368 pages
On Amazon and on Kobo

G.I. Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi is a biography-memoir hybrid in which the stories of four women who married American soldiers, known as G.I. brides, during WWII are told.  Sylvia Bradley is a bit young and naive but an optimist, while Gwendolyn Rowe is a determined woman.  Rae Brewer is the tomboy to Margaret Boyle’s beauty.  These stories are romantic as these ladies decide to leave the only home and family they have known to marry an American, only to find themselves facing more than just marital challenges.  Culture shock is just one aspect that is well depicted in these stories, especially as the women marry into not only American families, but families that still maintain their old world cultures and traditions — like the Italians big family dinners to the rowdy Irish parties.  As different as their lives had been from each other during WWII, they are vastly different when they reach America.

“During the day, Margaret did her best to get up on deck as much as possible to assuage her seasickness.  Starting out across the endless miles of ocean, she was reminded how cut adrift she had always felt in her life.  Some brides might feel the ache of homesickness, but she had never had a real home to miss.”  (page 98)

“As she packed her bag, she heard a chugging noise coming from outside and looked out of the window.  There in the distance was the menacing outline of a doodlebug passing over hoses opposite.  Then suddenly the noise stopped.  Rae knew what that meant — the flying bomb was about to fall.” (page 114)

Through extensive interviews with these women and their families, Barrett and Calvi have brought to life the home front in England, as these women struggled with rationing and the fear of bombs killing them on the way to work or in their sleep.  As their families struggled, brothers were sent off to fight the Germans, and they found work to support the war effort, these women were introduced to a whole new world outside the cocoon of their family units.  They went to dances with Yanks and volunteered in Red Cross-sponsored facilities, only to find that these Americans were not as crass as they were told by brothers and parents.

“For months Lyn had felt desperate to return home to England, but now she realized that the thing she had been looking for no longer existed.  It was her younger self — that confident, carefree girl who hadn’t had any knocks in life, who could stand on her own two feet …” (page 340)

Once in American, these women must fight another war — a war within themselves.  They feel like outsiders, they struggle to find their place with their new families, and many times they are met with failure.  But even though they long to return to England and walk away, they also realize that they must first stand on their own and learn what they want for themselves.  G.I. Brides: The Wartime Girls Who Crossed the Atlantic for Love by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi may only breathe life into the lives of four G.I. brides from WWII, but it stands to reason that many of those 70,000 brides experienced similar hesitations, failures, and triumphs in their new lives.  Wonderfully told and executed.

About the Authors:

Duncan Barrett studied English at Cambridge and now works as writer and editor, specialising in biography and memoir. He most recently edited The Reluctant Tommy (Macmillan, 2010) a First World War memoir.


Nuala Calvi also studied English and has been a journalist for eight years with a strong interest in community history pieces. She took part in the Streatham Stories project to document the lives and memories of people in South London. They live in South London.

Connect with them through their website.

61st book for 2014 New Author Reading Challenge.




24th book (WWII) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.





19th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; (Set in England)

Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage

Source: Liveright, W.W. Norton
Paperback, 285 pages
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Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage is part memoir and part travelogue, and the path he chooses to walk — while contrary to what is outlined in the guidebooks for the Pennine Way in England and part of Scotland — is literally a walk home for him.  He begins in Kirk Yethom, Scotland, and ends more or less in Edale, England, which is in the Peak District.  As a poet, readers may expect a deeper analysis of the journey or the travails he experiences, but as Armitage is nearly constantly accompanied by strangers, friends, fellow poets, and even his family, he has little time to contemplate more than the scant passerby or the physical obstacles in his path.  Much of the travelogue is focused on Armitage re-orienting himself by map or landscape or simply following someone who has offered to guide him over a particular leg of the 267 miles.  The first poem included in the book doesn’t come until he has pass nearly a third of the way through the trail — whether that is when inspiration hit him to write a poem during the journey or whether it was written afterward about that section of the trail is unclear.

“Prose fills a space, like a liquid poured in from the top, but poetry occupies it, arrays itself in formation, sets up camp and refuses to budge.  It is a dissenting and willful art form, and most of its practitioners are signed-up members of the awkward squad.” (page 5)

Armitage has help in coordinating his journey, which includes readings held at the end of each leg either in an inn, a home, a bar, or other venues, and he passes a sock about the room for collections, which he uses to fund his continued journey along the way.  He says that he sets out on the journey to get “out there,” rather than write about far-off places from his desk chair.  In a way, he sees it as a way to “clear his head.”  The path does not seem to clear his head so much as clutter it with more concerns and worries about himself and the physical health of others.

There is a point early on in which he gains a “regular” pace of walking and he feels as though he’s reached his stride, but he’s clearly not reached the most arduous parts of the journey.  Those parts of the journey clearly weigh on his psyche, as does his part of the journey when he is lost in the mist.  He nearly loses his sense of identity, but he continues onward.  Perhaps this is the crux of the prose, that poets lose themselves in the journey and that loss of self can be frightening unless the poet can plod forward.

Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey by Simon Armitage is a journey at the arm of a poet who does not find himself all that interesting and cannot seem to understand the reason why anyone would volunteer to go on the journey with him or even come to listen to him read his poems.  The one interesting moment in the memoir where he talks of spare rooms as the keepers of “family lore” and “memory vaults,” is grossly under-explored, as he seems to want to keep out of the private moments of the people who open their homes to him.  While the landscape is varied and the hardships he faces could be a cautionary tale against these kinds of treks, the journey does not live up to reader’s expectations about what a poet would write about, experience, or explore.

About the Poet:

Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in the village of Marsden and lives in West Yorkshire. He is a graduate of Portsmouth University, where he studied Geography. As a post-graduate student at Manchester University his MA thesis concerned the effects of television violence on young offenders. Until 1994 he worked as Probation Officer in Greater Manchester.

His first full-length collection of poems, Zoom!, was published in 1989 by Bloodaxe Books. Further collections are Xanadu (1992, Bloodaxe Books), Kid (1992, Faber & Faber), Book of Matches (1993, Faber & Faber), The Dead Sea Poems (1995, Faber & Faber), Moon Country (with Glyn Maxwell, 1996, Faber & Faber), CloudCuckooLand (1997 Faber and Faber), Killing Time (1999 Faber & Faber), Selected Poems (2001, Faber & Faber), Travelling Songs (2002, Faber & Faber), The Universal Home Doctor (2002, Faber & Faber), Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid (2006, Faber & Faber, Knopf 2008), and Seeing Stars (2010, Faber & Faber, Knopf 2011).

Armitage’s 2012 nonfiction book Walking Home, an account of his troubadour journey along the Pennine Way, was a Sunday Times best-seller for over a month and is shortlisted for the 2012 Portico Prize.

Book 12 for the Dive Into Poetry Reading Challenge 2014.



6th book for 2014 European Reading Challenge; this memoir/travelogue takes place in England and Scotland.



18th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.





For today’s 2014 National Poetry Month: Reach for the Horizon tour stop, click the image below:

Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan by Elizabeth Kim

Source: Public Library
Hardcover, 240 pages
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Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan by Elizabeth Kim is a memoir from a young Korean War orphan who never knew her father, was shunned as a non-person in Korea, and was subject to further psychological and physical abuse after her adoption.  This woman suffered greatly and mostly in silence for many years before and after her adoption by American, Christian fundamentalists.  The differences between her lush green Korean homeland and her new American desert home reflect the stark demarcations between her old life and being saved.

“There is no record of my birth, or of my name.  There is no record of my mother’s brief life.” (from the Prologue)

Born to a Korean mother, who left her tiny village for Seoul to sing, and an American soldier father, whom she never knew, Elizabeth has no notion of her birth name or date, nor her father’s name.  Her earliest memories are of life as a honhyol, a nonperson of mixed heritage shunned by the Korean culture, with her mother, Omma.  As outcasts in their village, they were subjected to shunning, stone throwing, and other abuses, but they were expected to bow to others and give way to the village leaders, Omma’s father and other family, when walking about.  Omma created a secluded and secure life for her child, though it was not without harsh work in the rice paddies or isolation.  The world they lived in may not have had a great deal of comforts and amenities, but it was certainly filled with calm and love.  In an honor killing, she is left alone in the world and dropped unceremoniously at an orphanage.

“Omma’s brother did all the talking.  He told her the family had discussed the matter again since presenting demands to her that afternoon in the field, and he, his father, and his wife were there to carry out the plan.  A family had offered to take the honhyol–me–into their home as a servant.”  (page 8)

“Sitting in the cage, nails dug deep into my skim, I tried to ameliorate grief by increasing my physical pain.  And just below the awareness of that misery, breathing rhythmically like a monster waiting to devour me, was the knowledge that it was because of me Omma died.  My face and my dishonorable blood had killed the only person I loved and the only person who loved me.” (page 33)

Like her Korean home where women are expected to be subservient to men and obey without question, Elizabeth is whisked across the ocean — to a land her mother described as full of promise — to America and new parents.  Her tiny life has begun again, but darkness descends upon her as she realizes that the American dream she’d thought was there is tarnished by a fundamentalism that snowballs into systematic abuse.  From her abusive parents to her physically abusive husband, Kim’s journey was rough and through it all, she struggled to survive, with the hope that there was freedom and something better in her future.

Ten Thousand Sorrows: The Extraordinary Journey of a Korean War Orphan by Elizabeth Kim demonstrates the clash of cultures between foreign adopted children and American homes, particularly homes with fervent religious beliefs, but also the continued discrimination she felt as a mixed race child, despite her father’s American heritage.  In Korea, she was a nonperson, and in America, she is treated in much the same way — leaving her with a battered and nearly non-existent self-esteem.  This dark memoir, however, does not focus on bitterness or resentment, but on how these events and abuses transformed her into a highly ambitious reporter and mother.  While still broken inside, she manages to give her daughter a loving home and stability as a single parent.  Although there are clearly moments of clear hatred of Christianity, particularly in its fundamental form, the novel is more about redemption and acceptance of oneself despite the outside forces that strive to strike us down.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Kim is a journalist and the author of the best selling novel “Ten Thousand Sorrows”, which has been chronicled in O, Oprah Winfrey’s magazine.

5th book (Korean War) for the 2014 War Challenge With a Twist.



9th book for 2014 New Author Challenge.

Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart

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Paperback, 240 pages
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Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart is part travel, cultural immersion, and marital memoir.  El Salvador, the country of her husband’s birth, is seismologically and politically volatile, much like a marriage can be as we seek similarities and rarely understand the differences between us when we first begin a life together.  Kephart speaks of her husband’s country as someone who has never traveled to Central America before and only knows about the country from the horrific political turmoil and devastating earthquakes she has seen on the news.  She begins the novel very much on the outside of her husband’s life before he went to the United States for college and married her, living a suburban, quiet, American life.

“When I married my husband, I married into all of this.  I married a legacy, traditions, danger.  I married a man who is not at home unless he’s standing in the shadows of his grandfather’s land or asserting the privileges of a jeep on jungle roads.  My husband isn’t home here, where we together live, and yet years would go by before I could begin to understand, before my imagination would let me close to where he’d come from.”  (page 10-11)

For a woman that has lived a very privileged American life — for that’s what she says — her experiences traveling were limited to very advanced economies, rather than the more emerging markets in Central America, which have had a harder time coming together and staying together socially and politically.  Speaking only English, as many Americans do, arriving in a country where Spanish is spoken in rapid, unending bursts with little time to pause and translate, Kephart illustrates her loneliness and her separateness when she perches in a tree and merely watches from afar as her husband reconnects with his home and his family.  This separateness is partly her own making because of her almost desperate need to be part of his family in all ways, but also her desire to pull him back into the world of their American life so that she can be more comfortable.

However, this is not just a memoir about a marriage; it is also a memoir about coming to love a country and a culture that at first seems so foreign and incomprehensible to her.  As she sets out to tell her son about his father’s life before America and his heritage, Kephart learns that there is love in the strangest of places — places that were once alien, places that made her feel separate and foreign herself.

What’s beautiful about the memoir is that it doesn’t focus on the rifts or the arguments or the silences these differences between her and her husband may have caused, it is focused on a woman immersing herself in the culture, a history, a people and its coffee.  Through its history — political and otherwise — Kephart paints a picture of a country that struggles with its own land and its own people to find itself.  El Salvador comes alive in her hands, becomes a living, breathing being with its beauty and darkness, and while there are frightening times of civil unrest and bandits, Kephart is huddled in the family bubble — cradled in their acceptance of her.

“It was an accident, Bill’s falling in love with me.  It was a risk, binding himself up in a marriage to an American girl, a suburban girl so entirely naive that she thought she’d be somehow big enough to hold him.”  (page 127)

Still Love in Strange Places by Beth Kephart is about love and learning to love even the strangest parts of ourselves and our spouses, it’s a love that embraces everything despite our initial fears and misgivings and misunderstandings.  Love should be big enough not only to conquer all, but also to breed acceptance for what we do not understand or know about ourselves and those we love.  Love is an expansion of who and what we are; it is the exploration and embracing of what is outside of us and bringing that into ourselves.

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of 10 books, including the National Book Award finalist A Slant of Sun; the Book Sense pick Ghosts in the Garden; the autobiography of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, Flow; the acclaimed business fable Zenobia; and the critically acclaimed novels for young adults, Undercover and House of Dance. A third YA novel, Nothing but Ghosts, published in June 2009, and a fourth young adult novel, The Heart Is Not a Size, released in March 2010.

Kephart is a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize, among other honors. Kephart’s essays are frequently anthologized, she has judged numerous competitions, and she has taught workshops at many institutions, to all ages. She teaches the advanced nonfiction workshop at the University of Pennsylvania.