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The Bedtime Book for Dogs by Bruce Littlefield

The Bedtime Book for Dogs by Bruce Littlefield, published by Hachette Book Group in June 2011, is chock full of large, colorful illustrations that even catches the eyes of infants.  My daughter is only 3 months old and she was drawn into the book by the illustrations of the dog and the park with its bright greens and browns.  The story is short and sweet, which would make it easy to read for those learning and those wanting to read on their own.  Littlefield’s story is one about friendship — a companionship that dogs even have with their owners — and sharing.

Dogs will even love the story as well, with their ears perking up at familiar terms like “out” and “treat,” but be careful because readers may find that they’ll have to give them an actual treat or actually take them out!

The only drawback is that some of the text gets lost in the images, particularly the busy image of the inside of the house with its dog bone wallpaper.  But even that does not occur most often — it’s just on a few pages.  What’s great about the narration is that many of the words are written in large type, making them easy to recognize.

Readers will love how the story speaks to the listener — whether its a dog or a child — telling them to “sit” and “lie down” to listen to the story.  Its a good way to get them ready for bed.  The story is short, however, which means it could take several readings before a child will actually fall asleep, but that’s typical with any bedtime story.  The Bedtime Book for Dogs by Bruce Littlefield and illustrated by Paul S. Heath is a cute book that readers won’t mind reading again and again, as some of the lines rhyme like poetry, making the flow easy to remember.  It’s a colorful, happy story that should be added to any child’s shelf.

This is my 22nd book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins

Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins, published in 2011 by Random House, is broken into four sections and includes a quote at the beginning from Alan Bennett‘s The Uncommon Reader, “It was the kind of library he had only read about in books.”

Collins’ mater-of-fact tone in these poems treats death and loss as an inevitability, which it is, but at the same time there is a reverence for the dead, dying, and living.  In terms of Bennett’s quote at the beginning, Collins’ phenomenal library is the library of life — the spinning of the dog as it lays down and its movement from one spot to another or the moments in marriage or shopping for a mattress.

From Thieves (page 16-7), “for I was a fellow thief/having stolen for myself this hour, lifting the wedge of it from my daily clock/so I could walk up a wooded hillside/and sit for a while on a rock the size of a car.//” or from Simple Arithmetic (page 32-3), “and gone are my notebook and my pencil/and there I go, too,/erased by my own eraser and blown like shavings off the page.//”, Collins demonstrates the fleeting nature of our time here, how it is borrowed, and how we must make the best of it before it is gone.

Collins’ poetry is accessible as he creates stories and narrations to engage the reader and teach them what he sees.  Like a horoscope, each poem sketches a future, but like horoscopes, the power to make them true or to change them lies in the person meant to live them.  In The Chairs That No One Sits In (page 49-50), “You see them on porches and on lawns/down by the lakeside/usually arranged in pairs implying a couple// . . . It may not be any of my business,/but let us suppose one day/that everyone who placed those vacant chairs//on a veranda or a dock sat down in them/if only for the sake of remembering/what it was they thought deserved//to be viewed from two chairs,/side by side with a table in between./The clouds are high and massive on that day.//”.

The Straightener (page 5-6)

Even as a boy I was a straightener.
On a long table near my window
I kept a lantern, a spyglass, and my tomahawk.

Never tomahawk, lantern, and spyglass.
Always lantern, spyglass, tomahawk.

You could never tell when you would need them,
but that was the order you would need them in.

On my desk: pencils at attention in a cup,
foreign coins stacked by size,

a photograph of my parents,
and under the heavy green blotter,
a note from a girl I was fond of.

These days I like to stack in pyramids
the cans of soup in the pantry
and I keep the white candles in rows like logs of wax.

And if I can avoid doing my taxes
or phoning my talkative aunt
on her eighty-something birthday,

I will use a ruler to measure the space
between the comb and brush on the dresser,
the distance between shakers of salt and pepper.

Today, for example, I will devote my time
to lining up my shoes in the closet,
pair by pair in chronological order

and lining up my shirts on the rack by color
to put off having to tell you, dear,
what I really think and what I now am bound to do.

There are quite a few references to Dante’s The Divine Comedy in these poems, reflecting the journey through hell, purgatory, and paradise.  There are slivers of light from paradise and there are moments of fiery hell, but most of these poems live in the present or the past, examining with understanding, reverence, and sometimes regret that the actions we take in this life cannot be undone.  But Collins also touches upon the tightrope we must walk in relationships with our loved ones.

Overall, Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins is a collection of reflections and predictions for the future, but beyond the attention paid to larger concerns of life, Collins reflects on the smaller moments in time and the joys, frustration, and satisfaction they bring.  A fascinating look at everyday life that makes each moment extraordinary, and a collection that should be added to every library.

 

This is my 14th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 13th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since I learned Collins would have a new book this year.

Still Missing by Chevy Stevens

Broken down into sessions with a therapist and told in first person point of view, Still Missing by Chevy Stevens provides just the right amount of mystery and tension as Annie’s ordeal is revealed.  Readers should be prepared for a severely broken character from page one, which becomes apparent from the first word she utters to her therapist.  Annie is angry and still scared, and she struggles to tell her story.  The only comfort she has with her therapist is that she’s set the ground rules, and in this way, she has become similar to her abductor.

The jarring narrative style is perfect for the mystery and terror of this story, and Stevens has deftly created an angry and disillusioned character who feels abandonment down to her core.  Cracking her tough exterior is a slow process for the therapy sessions, and there are moments where readers will want the pace to pick up, but Stevens has set the pace appropriately to lead up to the twist at the end.

“Worse, I’ve become one of them–the whiny, depressing people who have no problem telling you exactly how shitty their end of the stick is.  All delivered in a tone of voice that makes it clear they not only got the wrong end, you got the one that was supposed to be theirs.” (page 29 of ARC)

During a couple of moments in the novel, Annie contends she’s watched enough crime dramas and read enough books to know about the criminal mind — at least in part — but then proceeds to “appease” her abductor as he tries to force himself upon her to protect her friend from him, even though from the beginning it has been obvious that he prefers her to express fear because it arouses him.  This may be a bit nit-picky, but given the set up, readers may find it inconsistent with Annie’s earlier characterization of herself.

Stevens successfully creates a character who is tough to love or even sympathize with as she pushes away everyone in her life, including her devoted boyfriend, especially when all readers see of her relationships are from her point of view.  Why does Luke remain devoted while she’s gone, why does her mother take her in if she’s so callous and drunk all the time, etc.?  The mystery of her kidnapping is revealed slowly throughout the therapy sessions, which move through “present” events more rapidly near the end of the book.  Readers may see the ending coming before it gets there if they’re intuitive and looking for clues along the way, and the final line of the book is very trite.  However, the action and suspense created by Stevens’ narrative style make the journey worthwhile.

Annie in many ways is still missing even after she’s returned home, and she was even partially missing before she was abducted.  Still Missing will provide readers and book clubs with a great deal to discuss about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), abduction, rape, and other horrifying events.

About the Today’s Exclusive Online Event:

The paperback release of Still Missing hits stores today, and in honor of that event, BookTrib is holding an online chat and giveaway with the author Chevy Stevens at 3 PM.  In addition to the online chat, the event will include exclusive video from the author and 10 gift bags for the giveaway.  Don’t miss out!

About the Author:

Chevy Stevens grew up on a ranch on Vancouver Island and still calls the island home. For most of her adult life she worked in sales, first as a rep for a giftware company and then as a Realtor. At open houses, waiting between potential buyers, she spent hours scaring herself with thoughts of horrible things that could happen to her. Her most terrifying scenario, which began with being abducted, was the inspiration for STILL MISSING. After six months Chevy sold her house and left real estate so she could finish the book.

Chevy enjoys writing thrillers that allow her to blend her interest in family dynamics with her love of the west coast lifestyle. When she’s not working on her next book, she’s hiking with her husband and dog in the local mountains.  Please also check out her blog, follow her on Twitter, and on Facebook.

 

This is my 21st book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 12th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since I received a copy from Shelf Awareness.

Monster by David Livingstone Clink

Monster by David Livingstone Clink, published by small publisher Tightrope Books, is a collection broken into five parts and is dedicated to those who “dreamed of monsters under the bed.”  What an appropriate dedication, as there is an undercurrent of menace to some of these poems.  Beyond the shapeshifters, the aliens, and the other monsters that go bump in the night, Clink is drawing out the mischief and the darkness within each of us.  While we are human, there is a baser nature beneath the civility that he calls attention to, warning us to remain wary and yet accepting of that nature.

In “Pantoum for a Recent Kill” (page 36), the narrator highlights the need of humanity to categorize even dead bodies, to shape them within a context, providing them meaning even if no meaning exists.  While we want to examine these corpses (whether they are literal or figurative) in great detail and pose them as we see fit, we also shy away from the pleasure of it and of acknowledging this darker desire to get involved on our basest level.  “In putting an end to something braver than us/cut the corpse into small pieces.  Bury it deep/and turn away with relief that this isn’t you.//”  Additionally, readers may notice a slight disdain in the lines chosen by Clink; the narrator seems to be sarcastic about the actions of the denier who “buries it deep.”  Perhaps Clink is discussing the corpses of our past selves or the past selves mentioned throughout history and lore, but no matter which corpses he is referring to, it is clear that he wants to break through the fear of self-examination.

Above Us (page 50)
-after Julia Hartwig’s ‘Above Us’

Running until they are tired, out of space,
boys cast shadows in the dwindling light

of a vast square, the soccer ball bouncing,
ending this day with awe and consolation.

This completes another cycle in dying–
the boys turn home, talk excitedly,

the soccer ball having its own language
that had to be kicked out of it to be heard.

Moving through the parts of the collection, readers will note a progression in the narration from the fantastical to the more concrete, but even in these different poems the undercurrent of menace and darkness continues.  However, the narration changes from a questioning of its existence to a denial of its existence to an acceptance.  From “The Airships Take Us, Even as We Blow Out the Last Candle” (page 27), “The darkness did not come on like a tarantula./It was always here./It is penetrated by man-made machines/muscling into the night,/by two young women on a downtown bus/with blue streaks in their hair, whispering,/Calvary, and, Hosanna.//”

Through playful language and use of creative poetic forms (from pantoum to cross-reading — “Weathered Remains” on page 24 being one of the best cross-reading poems in the collection), Clink will make readers take pause to rethink each line and their own preconceptions about their humanity, while at the same time celebrating what makes us human in the darkness.  Overall, Clink’s use of language and poetic form in Monster creates a surreal malaise that readers will swim in, searching for an exit but enticed to stay to uncover the dark truth about themselves.  A dark truth that is worth knowing so that they can move beyond it to a more mindful life.  Another winner in poetry for the year.

David Clink; Copyright Geoff George

About the Poet:

His first book of poetry was released from Tightrope Books in the Spring of 2008. It is called “Eating Fruit Out of Season.”

David is a member of The League of Canadian Poets.  Check out his Website, Poetry Machine.

 

 

 

This is my 20th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 


This is my 13th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

The Beach Trees by Karen White

Karen White always crafts novels that are full of engaging characters and intricate story lines, and The Beach Trees is no exception.  Shifting from the present to the past and between two first person accounts, the novel tells the tale of rebirth and rebuilding.  Set in the South — New Orleans and Biloxi — Julie Holt and Aimee Guidry’s stories are told in tandem and are more entwined than readers first think as a mystery is solved.

From the disappearance of Monica, Aimee’s granddaughter, to the disappearance of Caroline Guidry many years before, White crafts a unique story of family, love, and forgiveness.  Both stories are riveting and filled with mystery, which readers will have to sweep aside the sand to uncover.

“When we got closer to the memorial I could see a curved cement wall with a mosaic wave in the center of it rolling from one end to the other.  At the far end sat a taller wall of black granite, columns of names marching in block letters under the word KATRINA and the date August 29, 2005.  A glass case filled with small objects protruded from the marble wall, its base filled with empty oyster shells.

‘What is this,’ I asked, leaning forward to study the sun-bleached artifacts:  a broken china plate, a ceramic angel, a trophy, a police badge, an American flag folded neatly as if unaware of its position over a pile of rubble.

‘That’s debris found after the hurricane.  . . . ‘” (page 150-1)

New Orleans was plunged into the depths of the ocean by Katrina’s storm surge, and like the city these two families — the Holts and the Guidrys — are unmoored, drifting toward one another in the search for more than just shelter, but for a home and connections.  Aimee’s story unfolds piece-by-piece as she tells it to Julie, who decides to stay in the city and Biloxi to fulfill the dying wish of her friend.  In addition to the haunting images of Katrina’s devastation, White incorporates the more recent toxicity brought on by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which coated numerous miles of coast and created yet another disheartening chapter in the city’s history.  However, like its people, the city continues to rise from the ashes much stronger than before.

The Beach Trees brings to life not only the main characters in the novel, but the southern setting, ensuring that its scars and healing are intertwined with that of White’s characters.  She has created a story of rebirth and perseverance.  Through alternating points of view, White draws connections between Aimee and Julie using emotion and setting in a way that too few authors can accomplish.  With deft hand, she has created an emotionally charged narrative that takes on a life of its own.

About the Author:

Known for award-winning novels such as Learning to Breathe, the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance 2009 Book of the Year Award finalist The House on Tradd Street, the highly praised The Memory of Water, the four-week SIBA bestseller The Lost Hours, Pieces of the Heart, and her IndieBound national bestseller The Color of Light, Karen has shared her appreciation of the coastal Low country with readers in four of her last six novels.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a storyteller by birth, Karen has made her home in many different places.  Visit the author at her website, and become a fan on Facebook.

Also check out my reviews of The House on Tradd Street, The Girl on Legare Street, and On Folly Beach.

Check out the other stops on the TLC Book Tour by clicking the image.

Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager

Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager, published by small press Cherry Grove Collections, is a collection that gives voice to the thoughts, the events, and the split seconds before tragedy or fateful decisions are made that are only heard in silence.  The silence is a voice, quick to speak and die out without stalking across the stage and declaring itself.  Secrets are revealed in these poems, like the undiscovered joy “Deborah Sampson” (page 11) — a woman who enlisted as a man in the Army during the Revolutionary War — felt posing as a man and disappearing from her real self.  Or in “The Moment Before the Moment” (page 19), where the narrator comes across the hidden beauty of a sunrise before the actual sun rises above the horizon.  Each poem illuminates the in-between, the edge, the precipice before the collision of events or moments in time.

The Space Coast (page 14; click the poem title and scroll the page to see this poem and others in the collection)

An Airedale rolling through green frost,
cabbage palms pointing their accusing leaves
at whom, petulant waves breaking at my feet.
I ran from them. Nights, yellow lights
scoured sand. What was ever found
but women in skirts folded around the men
they loved that Friday? No one found me.
And how could that have been, here, where
even botanical names were recorded
and small roads mapped in red?
Night, the sky is black paper pecked with pinholes.
Tortoises push eggs into warm sand.
Was it too late to have come here?
Everything’s discovered. Everything’s spoken for.
The air smells of salt. My lover’s body.
Perhaps it is too late. I want to run
the beach’s length, because it never ends.
The barren beach. Airedales grow
fins on their hard heads, drowned surfers
resurface, and those little girls
who would not be called back to safety are found.

At times, the images seem thrown together haphazardly, but readers must let themselves go, meditate on the words in the context of the moment presented, before the “truth” is revealed.  What is not said explicitly about certain moments can be as violent as the moment that remains unspoken — what happens between walking through a park after dark following a mother’s rejection and when the narrator wakes up with his pants around his ankles in “Rohypnol” (page 34).  What this style shows is that there are numerous ways to tell a story and to uncover “truth,” and it does not always have to be explicit or harrowing, though there are moments of violence on the surface of some poems.

Ager spends a great deal of time exploring the hidden spaces in our minds, our secret desires and thoughts, and even the thoughts we didn’t know we had.  Like a mother who has no husband or children to take care of for the evening in “Alone” (page 38), and all she can think of is the next task on the list or when the next task will come for her.  But beyond that, her personification of inanimate object, such as a telephone, can convey those unspoken desires in a way that a mere narrative involving a man and a woman cannot.

Midnight Voices by Deborah Ager is a personification of silent whispers in dark corners, where the secrets and mysteries of ourselves lie in wait — wanting to be revealed and not.  Readers will take a journey into these recesses and uncover their own hidden secrets, smile at the camaraderie these poems produce, and search for more.  One of the best collections I’ve read this year.

About the Poet:

Deborah Ager’s poems appear in New England Review, The Georgia Review, Quarterly West, New South and in the anthologies No Tell Motel and Best New Poets. She’s received fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and she received a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.

She is founding editor and publisher of 32 Poems Magazine. Many poems first appearing in 32 Poems have been honored in the Best American Poetry and Best New Poets anthologies and on Verse Daily and Poetry Daily. Ager codirects the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Reading Series in Washington, DC and teaches at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD.

 

This is my 12th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

This is my 19th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 11th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since the poet sent it to me for review, but life got in the way.

Lit Windowpane by Suzanne Frischkorn

Suzanne Frischkorn’s Lit Windowpane is a slim collection of poems, published by small press Main Street Rag, that examines what humanity has done to the environment and yet at the same time praises the unfettered beauty of nature.  Like the men in the tavern of “The Mermaid Takes Issue With the Fable” (page 3), humans have “blackened” the Earth and “laughed” along the way as we’ve entertained ourselves without a single moment’s pause about what our actions have caused — and in some cases irreparably damaged.

Many of these poems are like gazing through a lit windowpane at the wildness of nature, watching it from afar and not interacting or obstructing it — enabling it to just be.  Frischkorn’s lines are short, yet powerful in that readers immediately picture the scene and the action.  Upon further reflection, they come to see the message beneath the lines — from preserving nature to decrying the harm that has come to nature at the hands of humanity.

Youth Drowns in Housatonic River (page 4)

He swam across
+++ the inlet near Beard’s Island,

and I was lying in my river bed
+++ watching light ripple the surface.

I saw him swim a straight line
+++ through the sun. I had no choice

but to eat fish from the river,
+++ and the soil, it finds its way into

my skin. I am the river and the river
+++ is contaminated. The river is dying

and I am dying. His body was lean
+++ and strong, yet the cold shut down

his circulation. His arms. His legs.
+++ Please tell his mother I brushed

the hair from his forehead and sang
+++ sweet songs until the divers came

a day later. Tell her, he swam a straight line.

In “Youth Drowns in Housatonic River,” the narrator not only becomes the river, but also tells the tale of a drowning youth and the interconnectedness of humans and their environment. “The river is dying/and I am dying,” shows this connection, as do the lines in which the narrator is eating fish from the contaminated river.  Frischkorn’s images grown up and out, twisting around the reader, weaving a scene that gets under the skin and causes readers to rethink their own actions toward the environment.  A perfect example of this is her poem “‘A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door,’ T. Wolfe.”  The narrator talks about being reincarnated as a stone, a leaf, and unfound door, and through each scene readers see how easily a stone or a leaf can be treasured one moment and either discarded or forgotten in the next moment.

Overall, Lit Windowpane by Suzanne Frischkorn is a collection that seeks to quietly raise awareness among its readers, while cultivating a new appreciation for the beauty and mystery of the natural world.

About the Poet:

Suzanne Frischkorn is the author of Girl on a Bridge (2010), and Lit Windowpane (2008) both from Main Street Rag Publishing. In addition she is the author of five chapbooks, most recently American Flamingo (2008).

Her poems have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Ecotone, Indiana Review, Margie, Verse Daily, and other publications. She has new poems forthcoming, or in the current issues of Barn Owl Review, Copper Nickel, North American Review, PALABRA, Printer’s Devil Review, and Puerto del Sol.

From 2001 to 2005 she served as an editor for Samsära Quarterly and is currently an Assistant Editor for Anti-.

A 2009 Emerging Writers Fellow of The Writer’s Center, her honors also include the Aldrich Poetry Award for her chapbook, Spring Tide, selected by Mary Oliver, and an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Connecticut Commission on Culture & Tourism.

 

This is my 11th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 18th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 10th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since the poet sent it to me for review, but life got in the way.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins is the third book in the young adult Hunger Games trilogy featuring Katniss Everdeen, Peeta, and Gale.  Readers have been raving about the series, and many are obsessed with the Peeta-Katniss-Gale love triangle.  (You can read my reviews of the previous two books, The Hunger Games and Catching Fire — IF you have not read the previous two books, be warned that this review will be full of spoilers).

Katniss has been rescued by the rebel alliance of District 13 — thought to have been destroyed by the Capitol — but Peeta was left behind to be captured by President Snow’s forces.  Beyond deciding whether or not to become the symbol — the MOCKINGJAY — of the rebellion, Katniss must further realize that she needs to make adult decisions, decisions that could impact the fate not only of the rebels, but of the human race.  Along the way, she will reconnect with Gale, her family, Finnick, and others from the Games, but she also will be hit hard by the tragedy of loss, even those losses she was too numb or too blind to notice when they occurred.  As part of her evolution, Katniss must learn to discern for herself the best course of action and how her actions impact others, as well as how each side is manipulating every move she makes.

“After about twenty minutes, Johanna comes in and throws herself across the foot of my bed.  ‘You missed the best part.  Delly lost her temper with Peeta over how he treated you.  She got very squeaky.  It was like someone stabbing a mouse with a fork repeatedly.  The whole dining hall was riveted.'” (page 244)

Collins has a firm grasp of how a young teenage girl would react to high levels of danger, betrayal, and dystopian heartbreak.  Her no-nonsense prose keeps the plot moving quickly and easily paints a picture that young and adult readers become lost in.  Time flies quickly as readers get absorbed in the rebellion, cheering on Katniss and her struggle to find her rightful place.  However, there are moments when the reader will want the plot to move more quickly or will want more action or will wonder why Collins is beating them over the head with the references to the oppressive nature and rigidity found in District 13.  At one point, it seems that the narration takes on a preachy tone as the benefits of democracy are heralded above the current, rationing-and-sharing government of District 13 and the power wielded by the dictatorship of the Capitol.  However, readers will easily forgive this digression as the action picks up once again.

What’s ironic about this third book is that Prim, Katiniss’ younger sister, seems more mature, while Katniss is still childlike and impulsive.  Prim seems to have matured in a way that Katniss, who has seen more violence, could not — perhaps because Katniss’ childhood was a place she could retreat to and feel safe.  Prim’s character development is not spelled out, but readers are likely to enjoy the new dynamic between her and her sister.  A number of secrets about the Capitol and what happened in District 13 are revealed, rounding out the trilogy.  Compared to the other books in the series, Mockingjay does not have as much action, but overall, it is a satisfactory end to this dystopian trilogy.

This is my 9th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.  I’ve wanted to read this since I pre-ordered the book from Amazon.  It’s about time I read this one.

The Baghdad Blues by Sinan Antoon

Published in 2007 by small press Harbor Mountain Press, The Baghdad Blues by Sinan Antoon is a collection of poems that straddles the line between war and peace with war.  The narrator uncovers the emptiness of loss beneath the hard exterior of those consumed by the act of war, while at the same time drawing line in the sand to call out the enemy.  Each line is carefully selected for its subtle power, which can only be unleashed by an unexpected turn in the poem or in a stanza.

From “Wrinkles; on the wind’s forehead” (page 23-8)

3

the wind was tired
from carrying the coffins
and leaned
against a palm tree . . .

6

My heart is a stork
perched on a distant dome
in Baghdad
it’s nest made of bones . . .

12

the Tigris and Euphrates
are two strings
in death’s lute
and we are songs
or fingers strumming

The collection is divided into four parts, with Phantasmagoria II containing the most poems. Phantasmagoria, according to Wikipedia, “was a form of theater which used a modified magic lantern to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke, or semi-transparent screens, frequently using rear projection. The projector was mobile, allowing the projected image to move and change size on the screen, and multiple projecting devices allowed for quick switching of different images.”  “A Photograph” is the most illustrative of phantasmagoria in that as the narrator unfolds the image of a photograph seen in the New York Times of a young boy in Baghdad, the true horror of the event comes to life and leaps off the page through the carefully chosen, yet sparse language used by Antoon.

Unlike other poets who discuss war in vivid and disturbing imagery, Antoon focuses on the impact of war on mothers, sons, and lovers as well as an entire nation and culture.  His use of slanted images and subtle transitions sets his verse apart from other “war” poets in that it creates an ironic atmosphere as the narrator speaks of blind bravery and courage, while at the same time stripping away worries of death by setting up orderly ways in which people will be taken care of once they have died.  There is a great sense of loss in many of these poems, but there is that faint hope that love will conquer all — whether it is the love of a mother for her son or the romantic love between men and women or the love of culture.

The Baghdad Blues by Sinan Antoon is a slim volume at 42 pages that will stick with readers long after they have read each poem.  Returning to these poems, readers will uncover the irony of Antoon’s words, but also the truth behind them.  Coping with the horrible sights and sounds that surround them, Iraqis must learn to preserve their sense of self amid chaos and find direction within the confines of their circumstances.

About the Poet:

Sinan Antoon is an Iraqi-born poet, novelist, filmmaker and assistant professor at New York University. His novel I’jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody and his collection of poems The Baghdad Blues are written with great sophistication and a haunting sense of irony, according to The Electronic Intifada.

Read more about him at NYU Gallatin.

 

This is my 10th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 17th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 8th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge. I’ve wanted to read this volume ever since I picked it up at the last Split This Rock Poetry Festival in March 2010.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

Jean Kwok‘s Girl in Translation is a coming of age story involving immigrant Kimberly Chang, who comes to America with her mother from Hong Kong and finds that the land of opportunity is what you make it.  Kimberly is a smart girl and was often praised by her teachers in Hong Kong, but when she and her mother were forced to come to America following the death of her father, she finds that school is harder for her.  Facing a number of obstacles to her successful education from the language and cultural barriers to misplaced accusations of cheating and teacher bias, Kimberly must work ten times as hard as her fellow students.  But her hardships do not end with her new school, she and her mother also must repay Aunt Paula and her family for bringing them to America by working diligently in a clothing factory.

“A sheet of ice lay over the concrete, I watched my rubber boots closely, the way the toes slid on the ice, the way the heels splintered it.  Ice was something I had only known in the form of small pieces in red bean drinks.  This ice was wild ice, ice that defied streets and buildings.”  (page 5 of ARC)

Told from Kimberly’s point of view as she looks on her past, readers retrace her steps as a young girl finding her way into adolescence.  She has many of the same challenges of her American counterparts, but as she matures, finds boys attractive, and searches for peer approval, she must overcome her “foreign-ness,” cultural norms she’s grown up with on how to act ladylike, and her self-imposed separateness.

“Even now, my predominant memory of that phase of my life is of the cold.  Cold like the way your skin feels after you’ve been slapped, such painful tingling that you can hardly tell if it’s hot or cold.  It simply registers as suffering.  Cold that crept down your throat, under your toes and between your fingers, wrapped itself around your lungs and your heart. ”  (page 44 of ARC)

Kwok’s prose is full of imagery, emotion, and passion that weaves a vivid tale of poor Chinese immigrants in New York, who face a number of financial hardships — even at the hands of their family.  As depressing as their situation becomes, there are lighter moments when Kimberly remembers the joy her mother felt playing music and the awkward moments of bra shopping when her mother does not speak English and she barely speaks it.

Unlike other Asian-American stories, including those from Amy Tan, Kwok relies less on the mystical beliefs and traditions of Chinese culture and the clash between mother and daughter and more upon the love between mother and daughter and a daughter’s determination to improve their situation to craft a memorable story of growing up.  In spite of those obstacles, Kimberly maintains a sense of self.  One element that readers will enjoy is the use of skirts to quantify the Chang family’s purchases of new shoes or gum, which emphasizes the youth of the narrator.

“There’s a Chinese saying that the fates are winds that blow through our lives from every angle, urging us along the paths of time.  Those who are strong-willed may fight the storm and possibly choose their own road, while the weak must go where they are blown.  I say I have not been so much pushed by winds as pulled forward by the force of my decisions.”  (page 1 of ARC)

Overall, Girl in Translation provides a look at the life of a poor immigrant and her family and the determination that it takes to adapt and mature enough to create their own future.  Readers will become absorbed by the Chang’s plight and cheer them on as they make headway against the forces working against them.  Kwok’s novel could generate hours of discussion for book clubs as it demonstrates cultural differences, the harsh realities and bravery required to emigrate to another country, and the consequences and regret that sometimes accompany the hardest decisions we can make in our daily lives.

***If you missed yesterday’s guest post from Jean Kwok, please check it out here.

 

This is my 16th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

 

This is my 7th book for the 2011 Wish I’d Read That Challenge.

The Poets Laureate Anthology Edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt

The Library of Congress recently collaborated with Elizabeth Hun Schmidt to collect a select group of poems from the 43 U.S. Poets Laureate in The Poets Laureate Anthology, which lays out the poems in reverse chronological order (click for a list of the poets laureate) from the current laureate W.S. Merwin through the first poet laureate Joseph Auslander.  The table of contents also points out that poems in brackets listed for each laureate are considered their signature poems.  The collection contains a foreword by former poet laureate Billy Collins and an introduction by the editor, Elizabeth Hun Schmidt.

In the foreword, Billy Collins reveals the ceremony or lack thereof that comes with the office of U.S. Poet Laureate, noting that there is no formal naming ceremony, simply a phone call from the Librarian of Congress who selects the latest laureate.  The post does come with an office in the Jefferson Building, but each laureate approaches the appointment differently, though former laureate Howard Nemerov explained that the laureate spends more time explaining the duties he or she performs than actually accomplishing much.

Elizabeth Hun Schmidt’s introduction discusses the placement of the poet laureate’s office in a remote wing of the Library of Congress near the rooms used by U.S. House teenage pages, “You might think our country wants to both flaunt and to hide the fact that the only official job in the arts in the United States is for a poet” (page xiv of The Poets Laureate Anthology, published by W.W. Norton in association with the Library of Congress).  The office of Poet Laureate actually receives mail, and appointed laureates often travel the country exposing new people and communities to poetry, but only Robert Frost was asked to read at a presidential inauguration.

It is clear that some laureates were more active than others, engaging the community either through “brown-bag lunches,” educational projects, or through Websites and lectures.  Billy Collins is the most well-known for his work on Poetry 180, but Ted Kooser also began a project to garner a wider audience for poetry — American Life in Poetry.  Readers will applaud these poets for their commitment to a wider audience, including students, to erase the wall between readers and poetry.  Other laureates focused more on helping amateur poets hone their craft.  But each approached the office as differently as they tackle their verses, and it is this variety that makes the anthology unique, resembling a history of U.S. poetry.

Collins, like many readers, approached this anthology as a way to familiarize themselves with poetry piece-by-piece, dipping back into it over the course of their lives.  Anthologies are often created with this purpose in mind, and many are crafted to provide a reference for the best selections of a certain genre.  In this case, it’s poetry.  Each anecdotal comment from the laureates and their biographical snippets provide a backdrop for the poems that follow, but which, if any, of these poems were written while the laureates were in office is unclear.  Readers may have found it interesting to see which laureates wrote poems during their tenure and to read those poems for themselves.

Overall, The Poets Laureate Anthology edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt is a collection worth adding to anyone’s library shelves.  Whether looking for poems by a particular laureate or searching for a particular poem, the anthology provides a broad look at each poet’s efforts to define their moments, their lives, and humanity.  Reaching into history or dealing in the present, these laureates earned the title and executed the office with aplomb, and this anthology celebrates their accomplishments.  Readers looking to dip into poetry will enjoy this volume as much as those who dive deep into verse on a regular basis because it offers something for everyone.

 

 

This is my 9th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


 

This is my 15th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 


***This is a part of the National Poetry Month 2011 Blog Tour.

City of Regret by Andrew Kozma

City of Regret by Andrew Kozma is broken into five parts and each section is named for some element of the city — entrances, walls, living spaces, alleys, and exits.  (You can check out my 32 Poems Magazine interview with the poet, here. And please visit Saturday’s Virtual Poetry Circle –link will be live April 30 — for a look at one of his poems).

As a prologue to the collection, Kozma begins with the poem “Dis” (page 1), which is a fictional city in Dante’s The Divine Comedy containing the lower circles of hell.  Like Dante, Kozma goes on a journey through hell, but the poet is traveling through these circles to find his father who has died and with whom he has unfinished business as he says in the final lines:  “When a ravine splits the sky, Earth’s muddy light/unearths my father.  We have much to talk about.//”  This poem sets the tone for the remainder of the collection with its melancholy and mournful tone.

In the first section — entrances — Kozma uses individual poems to explore the various ways people and other beings meet, greet, avoid, and rush toward death.  In “That We May Find Ourselves at Death” (page 8), he echoes the lines of Emily Dickinson, who could not stop for death, when he asks where you go when you are late for death?  He questions how death is confronted when it has already happened and there is no way to turn back the clock.  But in other poems — such as “Night Meeting” (page 6) — the poet evokes violent images of a dead squirrel’s body pulsating with ants to demonstrate not only the sudden impact and violence of death, but the messy aftermath that often follows.  However, death need not always be violent and unexpected, it can come silently . . . gradually like in ” Your Sketch of the Church in Mourning” (page 13):  ” . . . You step with silence,/walking out, and walk slowly.  Navigate the marble floor/softly, or you will not hear the dead/call after you.//”

The poems in the second section — walls — all seem to personify the denial that comes with the stages of grief.  In “Blood Perimeter” (page 25), the narrator speaks of embracing the grief like one would embrace rust, an illustration of how tough it is to come to terms with grief.  In many cases, the poems speak of vanishing moments and people, events that are baffling yet make sense when impermanence of relationships and life are examined and understood.  Kozma uses rhyme and repetition in these poems to ensure the narrator’s meaning is not lost among the vivid images like that of the Acropolis or the hunting dogs.

In the third section — living spaces — the stage of acceptance is discovered beyond the walls of denial, but acceptance is not as tame as the word suggests.  Accepting death means letting go of the person you lose to death and in a way the narrator suggests that you have to rip free from the notion that they are still present by figuratively setting it afire, like in “Quarantine” (page 31).  These living memories and moments of joy and anger with loved ones often resurface during the grieving process, and it is these fragments that will ease the pain of acceptance, but they also become painful.  In “The Butcher” (page 38), accepting the loss and remembering the lost one is like slitting the wrist and letting the blood flow — tortuous but necessary to purge the immediate pain of grief.  Kozma’s images in this section are both violent and jarring, but effective.

In the final sections of the collection — alleys and exits — Kozma’s poems become darker, more melancholy as the loss sets in and becomes consuming.  Whether the darkness in these poems is tied to the narrator’s lack of faith in an afterlife or merely the deep emotional scarring of grief is unclear.  However, there are tinges of hope that death brings about a renewal as the ashes of a cremated body are returned to nature.

Overall, City of Regret by Andrew Kozma is a deeply moving homage to a deceased father and acts as a guide through the journey of grief.  While a different journey than the one taken by Dante in The Divine Comedy, Kozma’s journey does take the poems’ narrator through hell and more.  This collection is deeply evocative and will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

 

This is my 8th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

 

 

This is my 14th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.

 

 

***This is a part of the National Poetry Month 2011 Blog Tour.