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Pink by Sylvie Baumgartel

Source: Publisher
Paperback, 62 pgs.
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Pink by Sylvie Baumgartel is startlingly does not have a pink cover. In fact, it has a gray cover, which perfectly mirrors the gray in the relationships explored — mother-daughter, father-daughter, narrator-art, changes in climate, and more.

The collection opens with “The Washing” in which mothers and daughters wash together — a mother who washes secrets — and it is compared to the “washing” of the Sistine Chapel, in which fig leaves are removed to expose genitals and the windows to the soul are lost. It makes you think about what we wash away when the secrets are cleansed or kept hidden — how awful can the truth be?

We move later in the collection to “Pregnancy” (pg. 9) in which the narrator feels numb but everything is out of sorts as the “Blood that feeds my/Part parasite,/Part god, baby boy.//” is a far cry from how it is portrayed in art. The narrator says, “I wonder if what paintings/Really want is to reproduce./A baby of their own.// With many paintings made famous by men, perhaps the narrator is right because those painters are unable to do so naturally.

The collections call on the color of femininity, love, and kindness stands in juxtaposition to the nearly clinical precision with which Baumgartel examines relationships and art. She even explores the abuse suffered by boys at the hands of priests who believed “they could get away with it/Because the boys couldn’t hear each other/Scream.//” (from “The Mission Bell”, pg. 11-2).

Pink by Sylvie Baumgartel is a stunning poet with stark imagery in each poem that will force readers to reorient themselves and rethink the world around them. Between the grotesque and the use of color, she creates a world in which the narrator needs to break through the morass and the societal norms to be born again.

RATING: Quatrain

Raising King by Joseph Ross

Source: Purchased
Paperback, 144 pgs.
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As in stated in the introduction to Raising King by Joseph Ross, Dr. King “knew racism disfigured the white people who used it. Thus, he focused his life in such a way, built on compassion, that his work might free both those who suffer from racism and those who inflict the suffering.” Throughout this collection, Dr. King’s compassion infuses each line, even though “the boat [the slaves were on] is dust./The whip//survives.” (“Martin Luther King, Jr. — Prologue,” pg. 9)

The backbone of these poems are Dr. King’s own words in Stride Toward Freedom, Why We Can’t Wait, and Where Do We Go From Here. Through Dr. King’s words and teachings, Ross has recreated a compassionate look at a man frustrated with a system of oppression, but determined to save his oppressors and the oppressed. “a lunch counter/become[s] an altar,” but only after significant training in nonviolence. (“Be Broken,” pg. 32-3) This compassion stems from the realization that many whites who oppress have inherited their hate (it’s what they know, all they know, how they were taught). In “Inheritance,” Dr. King’s voice rings true: “I will not/destroy him just because/someone taught him//to destroy me.//” (pg. 37-8)

Compassion is often seen as a weakness, but in reality it is the strongest weapon we have against barbarity.

Bomb (pg.40)

War is like this: two women,
a baby, a man gone, a man lost.

I was lost like this: a baby
in the back bedroom.

a wife shaking, unable to be
still. A friend, calm but about

to break.

A crowd gathered. I ran home
to see what was left of me.

The crowd was angry.
I wanted their anger 

to love my own. But my wife's
shaking stopped, keeping me

from breaking.

Keeping me from becoming
the bomb I feared.

It is compassion and empathy that strengthen our character and our ability to rise above the baseness of our human nature.”We have not been victorious//over anyone. We want to ride/beside everyone.” (“We Prepared,” pg. 49) The collection also includes commandments as Dr. King’s movement becomes more urgent, almost as though he knows that the opportunity for real change is fleeting.

Ross’s poems are still relevant to the struggles we continue to face, with “Sheet, Cross, and Flame” calling to mind some recent reactions by parties who have lost and continue to rage against those losses. But Dr. King reminds us in Ross’s poems “Manners and decency/reach down and pat us//on the head. This is/about me grabbing//your hand demanding/you ask my permission//before you touch me.//” (“Decency,” pg. 108) With Ross’s words and poems, Dr. King rises again and leads by teaching.

I’m so glad that my last book of 2020 was Raising King by Joseph Ross. It was a comfort to read these words and remember why I treat others with compassion when I can, especially when it is hard to do so. While we must “choose//never to throw them [stones]//at one another” (“Chaos or Community,” pg. 136-7), we also need to “Let the/bones//rest.” (“The Bones,” pg. 119)

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Joseph Ross is the author of four books of poetry: Raising King (2020), Ache (2017), Gospel of Dust (2013), and Meeting Bone Man (2012). His poetry has appeared in a wide variety of publications including The New York Times Sunday Magazine, The Los Angeles Times, The Southern Quarterly, Xavier Review, Poet Lore, Tidal Basin Review, Beltway Poetry Quarterly, and Sojourners. His work appears in many anthologies including What Saves Us: Poems of Empathy and Outrage in the Age of Trump, edited by Martin Espada. His poems also appear in Collective Brightness, Poetic Voices without Borders 1 and 2, Full Moon on K Street, and Come Together; Imagine Peace. He served as the 23rd Poet-in-Residence for the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society, just outside Washington, D.C. He is a seven-time Pushcart Prize nominee, most recently for “The Mountain Top,” from Raising King. His poem “If Mamie Till Was the Mother of God” won the 2012 Pratt Library/Little Patuxent Review Poetry Prize. As a teacher and writer, Ross was awarded the University of Notre Dame’s Reinhold Niebuhr Award in 1997 and the William A. Toohey, C.S.C. Award in 1993. In 2006, he was awarded Teacher of the Year by the senior class at Carroll High School in Washington, D.C. In 2020, he delivered the Robert L. Giron Global Humanities Lecture for Montgomery College, Takoma Park, Maryland. The lecture was titled: “Literature Consoles and Confronts: When Poetry Is a Tool for Justice.”

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (audio)

Source: Purchased
Audiobook, 1+ hours
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The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave, is an adaptation of Joan Didion’s memoir of the same name. It has been transformed into a one-act play. The devastation felt by Didion is immense but the undulating way in which this story is told is as disjointed as her emotions must have been during this time in her life, losing a husband and daughter. This shattering loss propelled the author into a world of magical thinking.

There’s an examination of marriage and its push and pull and the motherly promise that you’ll never leave your child. There is that magical thinking that your own motherly focus can keep things moving forward into the future as you’d like them to be.

Redgrave is the perfect narrator for this play. Her voice lulls you into the story and breaks your heart when Didion’s is broken. But Didion’s narrative is also very factual and linear in some parts. I honestly think this is probably best viewed as a play, rather than on audio because my mind would wander away from the story when it was a bit too clinical. I might read the memoir at a later date.

RATING: Tercet

Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort

Source: Publisher

Hardcover, 112 pgs.

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Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort is a collection of poems that raises the dead in a new language of verse that recalls the past, including Antigone, and mingles it with more modern history in Belarus. This is a collection that hinges on history and the language of the past and present to create a new language and shared history. Mort’s verses recall the dead in the most beautifully grotesque ways. In “To Antigone, a Dispatch,” “My guts have been emptied/like bellows/for the best sound.//” In this poem, she imagines Antigone as her sister, a life in which death has become something that is an every day thing with bodies buried in hillsides and grave markers in abundance.

Mort’s poems call to the lost men whose “bodies” become “their graves” and the women whose dresses are torn from them and worn by Aryan women in “Singer” (pg. 41) The horrors are laid bare and the larger questions are left in the sound, waiting for answers that never come. “What could a tongue remember after loss and hunger?” (“Music Practice,” pg. 43-45)

Music for the Dead and Resurrected by Valzhyna Mort is lyricless song played on a breathless accordion, calling to the dead and those she wishes to resurrect/breathe life into again. She’s calling not only our attention to the sorrow and grief of her country, but to the loneliness we, ourselves, can cure through song and memory. Our memories may be imperfect and altered truth, but we can sing them and resurrect those we miss most. Mort cautions that in this process “borders spill.” (“Music for Girl’s Voice and Bison,” pg.81-92)

RATING: Quatrain

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White

Source: the poet

Preordered book, 138 pgs.

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Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White, on tour with Poetic Book Tours, is a poetic memoir in which the poet explores the absence of her father in her life, how it has impacted who she has become, and how she can reconnect with her absent father in adulthood.

“When it came to the conjunction “and” I was illiterate. For it makes you larger, more. Expands into distances beyond my eyes.” (pg. 124)

White articulates deftly the nuanced feelings of a desire to belong and the sense that belonging requires the reconnection with an absent father. While she has others in her life who love and care for her, there are traumas that she faces while her father is absent. But reconnecting with a man ejected from the United States and back to Guyana and who fails to even write a letter or call her is a tall order.

“Am I a site of abandonment?” (pg. 97)

“Guyana is abandonment from my father. I feel the weight of the people in me and I in them, guilt I carry myself alone.” (pg. 108)

The poetic memoir begins at home in the United States, as Arisa grows up in a broken home, a home of harsh realities. These realities are not my own, but this collection creates a palpable reminiscence of sorrow, anger, confusion, absence, and more. Despite these trials and her struggles with connections, she is a strong woman — caring for herself, willing to reach out to someone who abandoned her, and seeking self-care and healing.

What she finds in this journey is a man incapable of giving her a sense of belonging — a man who rambles just to hear himself speak, to make him relevant to those who hear him.

“Breaks my heart along the same fault lines that ache for him.” (pg. 83)

Who’s Your Daddy by Arisa White is a journey into the poet’s past as she reconciles the abandonment of her father and her struggles with connecting to others. The poetic memoir is beautiful and the landscapes within it (emotional and physical) are tumultuous and heartbreaking. White is a deft storyteller, and readers will be emotionally spent by this poetic memoir.

RATING: Cinquain

Follow the rest of the blog tour with #WhosYourDaddyMemoir #ArisaWhite

Photo Credit: Nye’ Lyn Tho

About the Poet:

Arisa White is a Cave Canem fellow and an assistant professor of creative writing at Colby College. She is the author of four books, including the poetry collection You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, and coauthor of Biddy Mason Speaks Up, winner of the Maine Literary Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Nautilus Book Award Gold Medal for Middle-Grade Nonfiction. She serves on the board of directors for Foglifter and Nomadic Press. Find her at arisawhite.com.

Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Paperback, 216 pgs.

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Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler is another fun and fact-packed book for kids to learn about the animal kingdom. The book includes some fun and unusual facts about animals, including spiders (which we are not too fond of). The pictures are gorgeous as always. Even though we’ve seen some of these animals in other books before, this little gem includes some quirky and fun facts about these animals. You’ll learn about why lemurs sit up and stretch their arms wide and how the cute faced platypus can be dangerous.

One of our favorite parts of the book are quizzes that you can take to find out what superhero you are based on animal characteristics, what species of fox you are based on how you like to play, and what kind of pet is best for you. These are the types of quizzes we love to take and enjoy as a family. We learn how we’re similar and different, but sometimes the choices are hard, especially for my daughter who definitely wanted the pet quiz to demonstrate to her parents that she was best suited for a pet cat.

Nerdlet: Animals by T J Resler can be read together as a family or dipped into occasionally on your own. What we love is that this is a book for sharing. We love animals and this is definitely something we’ll enjoy on more than one occasion. The only thing we wanted more of were those quizzes. We had a blast with those and would have liked at least 3 or 5 or 10 more. A good gift for the animal lover in your life.

RATING: Quatrain

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey (audio)

Source: Purchased

Audible, 6+ hours

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Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey, narrated by himself, is a look at his 50 years of life and his outlaw code and how he’s lived his life and what he’s learned by living it. If you’re looking for gossip, this is not the book for you. I did like his approach to Hollywood and rebranding himself as an actor — that was definitely a risk and it panned out for him.

His career is one of luck, perseverance, hard work, and self-examination. Unlike many people, he pauses to think about where he is in life and analyze why he feels stagnant or unsatisfied when he seemingly has everything he could ever want. Like those of us who strive to learn and grow, he pauses to examine his life and make changes he thinks will lead him where he wants to go. As he says, sometimes there are red lights in life and sometimes there are yellow and green lights — he notes that a red light at one point in your life might turn green eventually later on. You have to be aware enough to know why the lights are red, move forward and return to those lights to see them turn green when it is the right time.

His early years with his family and his stay in Australia were very eye opening and I can say I applaud him and his upbringing for tolerating that Australian family like he did. I think I would have lost it. He does include some “prescriptions,” bumper stickers, and poems. These are what he considers some insightful advice, which it could be for those who haven’t experienced these teachable moments or who need something to articulate what they’re feeling in a succinct way. It seemed like he was shouting these sections at you in the audio, which got more obnoxious as I listened (but it might be less annoying if you don’t listen to it too long in one sitting). My one main issue here is people will probably take this as life lessons for them, and these will not work in every day people’s lives because they have obligations that are bigger than these seemingly easy fixes he talks about.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey is a series of stories that are likely a bit inflated (at least one had to be hyperbole). It was entertaining, but not life affirming or life changing. And while the stories are fun and sometimes outrageous, they are by no means that deep and tell us little beyond what we know about McConaughey and his “outlaw” look at life. I use the “outlaw” term very loosely here. Judging on his performance alone (which was stellar) would be a disservice to the content. I do admire his self-awareness, and that’s something others should take note of and try to incorporate into their lives.

RATING: Tercet

Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd (audio)

Source: Publisher

Audiobook, 10+ hours

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Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd, narrated by Elizabeth Grace, is a delightful collection of short stories written by some of the best Jane Austeneque writers — Joana Starnes, Amy D’Orazio, Jenetta James, Karen Cox, Christina Morland, Elizabeth Adams, Beau North, J. Croft, and Leigh Dreyer. From historic pieces and those set during the time of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice to modern stories in which Elizabeth is an electrical engineering student in a male-dominated field, these authors explore the inner workings of Elizabeth. We see her prejudices and preconceptions, but we also see her flaws, as well as her self-analysis of her own actions and those of others.

Elizabeth Grace is a wonderful narrator, breathing light into each of these Elizabeths and situations. She’s an admirable narrator who becomes a one-woman cast.

“Resistive Currents” by Karen M Cox is one of the more modern tales. Here, we see conundrum of a teaching assistant Mr. Darcy drawn to an intelligent electrical engineering student, Elizabeth, bent on proving to the male-dominated field that she’s a capable student who just wants a fair shot — the same as her male colleagues. First, the title of this story is brilliant given the content, and I love how it plays on the electricity between Elizabeth and Darcy as they navigate the relationship of student and TA in a world where Elizabeth feels she has to continually prove herself worthy. Like this story, Christina Morland’s “Atmospheric Disturbances” explores the tensions that are bound to rise up between two passionate and strong-willed people in love. Every moment of the drawing room is meant to build the tension between these characters that barely know one another — a tension borne of a lack of knowledge between them.

Elizabeth Adams’ “Something Like Regret” brings to life the thoughts of Elizabeth on her visit to Pemberley after her rejection of Mr. Darcy’s proposal at Rosings. It’s a time when many have speculated that she would accept Darcy because of his fortune or because his housekeeper praised his disposition, but as a rational and passionate creature, Elizabeth must make a more intelligent and deeper examination of her rejection of him and many of their exchanges. I love this introspection as she walks about the house and the gardens and how Darcy appears. It is a beautiful story. I love her observations of the changes in him upon first seeing him. She’s so observant here, despite the shock of seeing him. “The Last Blind Date” by Leigh Dreyer is a delightful modern story that reminded me of those awkward dates you have and the tentative exchange you have as strangers until you realize there could be something more. Darcy is not talkative, and Elizabeth is quick to judge, but rather than call the blind date quits, they move ahead with it, tentatively.

Elizabeth: Obstinate Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd, narrated by Elizabeth Grace, is another anthology winner, hitting the stories out of the park with a range of angst, love, prejudice, and pride, but what I loved based about these sweet stories is that we see Elizabeth in all her turmoil and introspection. She’s forced to rethink her past actions, her current actions and behavior, and she forces herself to apologize on more than one occasion. These stories are deep, emotional, and about the roller coaster ride of young love when it is first budding.

RATING: Cinquain

The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant

Source: Purchased

Paperback, 128 pgs.

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The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is the sixth book in this series that pairs a young elementary school girl, Claire, with a ghost boy, Kaz, and sets them off on haunted mysteries to solve. Kaz has a case of his own, tracking down his lost family, and throughout the series he’s had a little bit of luck, but there are more missing members of his family to find.

C&K Ghost Detectives, however, are called to work on another ghost mystery — this time at the local fire station. Some of the firefighters have heard moaning and their blankets have been stolen in the night. Sparky, the fire station dog, also seems to sense where the ghost is in the station, refusing to enter the TV room and sometimes the main garage where the fire trucks are. Is the dog a ghost detector or is his strange behavior due to something else? That’s what Kaz and Claire are there to find out.

My daughter loves the humor and fun in this book, as well as the antics of Little John, Kaz’s brother. This is a series that is fun and full of adventure. The illustrations are great and there are some new characters introduced who we’d like to see in future books. The Haunted Library: The Ghost at the Fire Station by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Aurore Damant, is a delight with fresh mysteries and stories to carry the books into the next. We definitely recommend reading these in order.

RATING: Quatrain

African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young

Source: NetGalley

Ebook, 1170 pgs.

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African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young is a compendium like no other, exploring the wide breadth of African American poetry from songs to poems and much more. There are eight sections in this collection and there are the familiar, often anthologized poems we’ve come to know, but there are also the unfamiliar poets who have been obscured by American culture for far too long. The struggle is real and it continues 250 years later, and it will likely continue into the next several decades (I’m being optimistic — I would like to see less struggle sooner).

“For African Americans, the very act of composing poetry proves a form of protest,” says Kevin Young in the introduction. From Phillis Wheatley and Lucy Terry, whose untitled poem “Bars Fight” was first composed orally and shared for generations before being in print, to the present day poets, Young says the collection covers those who experienced bondage first hand, modernist movement, the Harlem Renaissance, the Chicago Renaissance, wartime and postwar poets, Beat poets, political poets, poems about ancestry, and so much more. Young says the collection contains “poems we memorize, pass around, carry in our memory, and literally inscribe in stone.” Folk songs, ballads, and poems that have never been published. You can imagine the treasure trove within these pages.

Normally, I would share excerpts from this collection but I prefer that you discover these for yourself. I want you to journey into the African American Poetry: 250 Years of Struggle and Song edited by Kevin Young on your own without preconceived notions of what you’ll find there. There is so much more than Langston Hughes. This is a collection that should be brought to classrooms as young as elementary schools. These are the poems and truths that need to be taught so that we can learn from the past and move forward as a nation to a brighter future.

RATING: Quatrain

Cold Moon: On Life, Love, and Responsibility by Roger Rosenblatt

Source: publicist

Hardcover, 98 pgs.

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Cold Moon: On Life, Love, and Responsibility by Roger Rosenblatt is an undulating wave of stories that the author uses to illustrate the lessons: appreciate being alive, recognizing the gift and power of love, and exercising responsibility toward others. Rosenblatt relies on the image of the Cold Moon, which occurs in late December as winter solstice arrives, as a symbol for the later years of his own life. He reflects on the stories he had written for Time magazine and other outlets and what they have taught him about the resiliency and love that is still present a world that sometimes seems cold and unwelcoming.

“The only thing I’m certain of is my uncertainty.” (pg. 27)

So much of life is uncertain for all of us, despite the plans we make or the directions we wish to go. Like these times of isolation and social distancing during COVID-19, Rosenblatt’s words ring true. “And to the little mechanical hand of the self-defeating box? In the few-second interim from when the time on becomes off, why don’t you learn to play the mandolin?” (pg. 28) He also reminds us that like termites, we’re dependent upon one another. We are responsible for our survival and that of those around us, even if it seems as though we are separate and unlike others around us.

Like writing and music, life happens between the noise. Cold Moon: On Life, Love, and Responsibility by Roger Rosenblatt is a meditation that reads a little disjointed, but the messages are sound.

RATING: Tercet

The Magic Doll: A Children’s Book Inspired by African Art by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen

Source: Media Masters Publicity

Hardcover, 32 pgs

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The Magic Doll: A Children’s Book Inspired by African Art by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen, is an inspirational tale of a family in a small village in West Africa in which a girls explains the special way in which she was born. Unlike other newlyweds, her mother and father struggled to conceive a child in their first years of marriage. The father suggests that she have a carved doll made to hasten the fertility process. The mother does so and carries the wooden child around with her.

This story is touching in how it tackles the struggles of fertility and the traditions of Akua-Ba fertility figures of the Akan people of Ghana. My daughter asked a lot of questions about these dolls and what was going on, and many of these questions were answered in the back of the book. We had a good discussion about this cultural tradition. We loved the collage-like images and the colors. It was a gentle story complimented by the color-scheme chosen by the illustrator.

The Magic Doll: A Children’s Book Inspired by African Art by Adrienne Yabouza, illustrated by Élodie Nouhen, was a wonderful story about family, fertility, and relationships between mothers and their children.

RATING: Quatrain