Category Archives: Book Review

Characters, Real and Imagined

Yesterday, the gardener, our daughter, and I were sitting on the patio of the front yard. Suddenly I saw a bobcat walking the top of the wall. It kept walking the wall until it dropped down onto the grass of our lawn !!!! and scratched on the tree as if it were a cat scratcher. Then he/she climbed the tree back up to the wall and kept going. Our jaws had dropped to our chests. Something seemed a bit off, so we pulled out my daughter’s video from last week. Keep in mind that the pix of the bobcat I’ve shared have been the backyard. Sure enough, that bobcat in the backyard is an adult with long legs and dominant black stripes. This bobcat was an adolescent, much like the one I saw by the bbq before. I don’t think there were any family jewels on the adult, so maybe it’s the mother and her baby or babies still hanging around our neighborhood. None of us had our phones outside with us so we couldn’t get a pic, but that baby was definitely not concerned with us at all.

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I’m not sure where the week went! A lot of work, house repairs, and then add in the three physical therapy visits. I have two weeks left of my six weeks, but I am sort of hoping that we can add a once a week or something for awhile after that because my shoulder won’t be completely better by then. I am doing the exercises every single day that I don’t have PT, but it also needs the manipulation by the therapist.

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Main Street Rag published another one of my poetry book reviews. This one was for Speaking Parts by Beth Ruscio. Here is the beginning of it to give you an idea. You need to purchase a copy of the magazine to read the whole thing :).  Here’s the link: CLICK HERE. There are some amazing writers featured in this issue, so if you are looking to buy a lit mag issue this month, make it this one!

 

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Speaking of character actors, think of all the regular characters you’ve known in your life. My mother used to say “what a character” whenever she encountered someone eccentric or a little different, particularly someone with a big personality. Here’s a Mr. Big Personality I remember from my youth.  The only title this poem could have is “Walter.”

Walter stopped by my father’s store

on the first day of shore leave every year.

While he waited for my father to finish up,

Walter picked a wallet from a wooden tray

and handed me some cash to start the process

of spending banknotes stuffed in his pockets.

Walter was a sixteen-ton giant, his enormous chest

encased in a turtleneck, his skipper cap snug

on a head like a stone Colossus. I’d ask him

what happened to last year’s wallet, and he’d

guffaw with a joy that at twelve or sixteen

I could not imagine. All these decades

after Walter, I barely understand its origins.

Dad said Walter joined the merchant marines

after leaving the orphanage: what could he do?

His head twitched as if his inside and outside

were at odds. A woman I knew saw him out

one night; after buying drinks for everyone

and every drink for himself, he slammed the face

of a man into the sticky counter. She suggested

he looked confused, maybe he didn’t realize

his fingers were thicker than the broken nose.

I disregarded her story because my Walter

carried the luggage boxes up from storage

for which I earned a paycheck; he bought us

all lunch to eat in the back room, us peeking

out for customers and trying not to choke

when he had us giggling at his silly sailor jokes.

RIP Walter

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I’ve been very slowly working on the memoir, my current WIP. And I try to work on my art journals every day, even if only for a few minutes. It’s more relaxing than naps, reading, or TV. That said I am watching the Vera series and wishing we got the Shetland series here. I saw one episode when I was in California, but there aren’t any stations airing it in Phoenix.

Here’s a little conversation between the gardener and me this week:

G: There’s a dead squirrel on the road!

Me: Oh no! Why do you tell me something like that?!

G: So you don’t trip on it.

Me: What? Did you make sure he’s not still alive?

G: [Laughing] Perry’s squirrel.

Then I see it: one of Perry’s stuffie squirrels is in the middle of the hallway, right before you get to the bathroom (one place I am always running to).

Make it a great week!

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Filed under #AmWriting, Book Review, Cats and Other Animals, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing

#Bookreview: Doll God — Elizabeth Gauffreau

A HUGE THANK YOU TO LIZ GAUFFREAU FOR REVIEWING DOLL GOD AND WRITING THIS POST. Luanne

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Luanne Castle Reading Doll God on Morning Scramble Television Show My Review Click cover to purchase from Amazon. Doll God, Luanne Castle’s award-winning debut poetry collection, can best be described in terms of the water imagery that appears throughout. Some poems lap at the lakeshore of sensory experience, while others plumb the ocean depths of […]

#Bookreview: Doll God — Elizabeth Gauffreau

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Reviews and Journals and Vaccines

Recently Liz (Elizabeth) Gauffreau  (also: Liz Gauffreau blog) reviewed Doll God, and it’s such a gorgeously written review that I wanted to point it out. This is the Amazon link: Doll God review by Liz Gauffreau. Her analysis reminded me of what Doll God meant to me when I was writing it and what it still means to me today. Here is a small section with her comments followed by a quote from “Sonoran October.”

I particularly appreciated the poems focused on the landscape of the Southwest because I’ve never lived there. After a few rereadings, I realized that the poems express a relationship with the land that is very intimate. You can’t get it from visiting; you have to live it. From “Sonoran October”:

Midafternoon, the only movements:
cottontails dart like ballplayers
from creosote to cactus to ocotillo.
A sky so blue it hisses at my touch.

I’ve been continuing to work on my art journals, although I’m supposed to be finalizing 2020 for taxes for the business. (hahaha) Yes, I said journals, plural. That’s because Amy Maricle suggests keeping more than one journal going at once. When one is drying, you can flit over to another and work on that one. The one I started with is relatively small, and the second one is much larger. The pages are also different as the smaller journal as an accordian style inside, and the larger journal has regular pages. I am learning why art journalists like to make their own journals, though. As you move through the journal, it becomes thicker and thicker until it can’t close. If you bind your own, you can solve that problem by making your binding adjustable or just giving yourself more space.

I suspect the gardener thinks the time I spend on the art journals is amusing or he isn’t sure what to think about it! He doesn’t say much, and he tends not to bother me when I’m in my office working on them. Maybe he’s mystified why I’m not using that time to write. I’m not, though, as it’s a completely different experience than writing and much more relaxing during the pandemic. Artist Anne-Marie van Eck says to stay in “createfulness” because when we create we are connected to our bodies and our minds and we stay in the present. I find that to be an exact description.

Many people seem to have taken up hobbies or expanded on them during the pandemic. Have you done that yourself? A friend of mine became an experimental baker, and another took up quiltmaking. Another friend has become an obsessed gardener (haha, you know who you are–I know you’re reading!!!!) and is transforming her yard into one huge garden (in addition to the catio she already has for her kitties).

I’ve been doing prose revisions lately. Two essays and a review all needed revision. Thank goodness for good and kind editors.

A friend and I read the first part of Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, a biography of one of my favorite writers, written by Ruth Franklin. The book could be better. It spends so much time on Jackson’s husband’s career that it feels as if he is standing between me and Jackson, if you know what I mean. And he’s a creep, too. When we had to return our “copies” (hers was audio) to the library, neither of us were very sad. In case the name Jackson doesn’t ring a bell, think “The Lottery” or The Haunting of Hill House or my favorite We Have Always Lived in the Castle. 

Nevertheless,  I rechecked out the book.  I am reading sections related to the writing of certain books. Continue reading

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Poetic Book Tours: Review of Arisa White’s Who’s Your Daddy

Today’s post is on Tuesday instead of Monday because I am participating in a pre-publication book tour of poet Arisa White’s Who’s Your Daddy through Poetic Book Tours.

Here is a synopsis of the book

Who’s Your Daddy is a lyrical genre-bending coming-of-age tale featuring a young, queer, black Guyanese American woman who, while seeking to define her own place in the world, negotiates an estranged relationship with her father.

After my review, I will share advance praise for the book, as well as information about the author, Arisa White. Then there is a list of blog tour links, including interviews and guest posts so you can learn more about Arisa White.

 

This hybrid is specifically memoir, but Who’s Your Daddy? shapes itself as a prose (and lyric) poem collection. I don’t know why we don’t have more books available to us that are a long narrative told in poetry. They are rare and yet so compelling, perhaps because poem series elicit more complex mixtures of emotions from readers than linear traditional memoirs do.

 

What attracted me to the book before I read it was the feeling of connection (my memoir-in-progress has to do with my father’s estranged relationship with his father) and the ping of curiosity about White’s life as a “young, queer, black Guyanese[-] American woman” since I fit only one of those descriptives.

 

From the first page I was captivated by the story. In the first section, the writing is succinct with a smattering of specifics that bring White’s childhood to life. She imagines or fills in what she can’t remember—the ride to the hospital for her birth, what life was like in the first few years. She grows up without her father, Gerald, a married man. She does experience love from her mother and her uncles, but life is still difficult. The book skips ahead to White at the time of her post-graduate studies. She has difficulties with relationships, but manages to forge one with Mondayway. White feels there is something missing. Halfway through the book, she realizes she has been running from something.

 

Deep breaths open my

tight chest, and I feel how running has taken more than

given. I rub my heart with the heel of my palm, and my

heart stays voicing,

 

Find your father

                   Find what’s missing there

                   Find what is enough

                   Find yourself whole

                   Forgive and be forgiven

 

In the second half of the story, White tries to get to know her father. He has been deported back to Guyana from the U.S. for participation in a crime. White and Mondayway visit Guyana to spend time with Gerald, but also to get to know White’s roots. Her movement toward acceptance and growth is a bit back and forth which feels realistic and painful. Again, powerful words that mark another epiphany are set apart from the prose poem form:

 

I got her back,

who I abandoned

in his going.

And, Yes,

                   she is enough.

 

Arisa is enough. She doesn’t need her fantasy of a father to fulfill her identity.

 

There is so much I could write about this book, but I just want to give you an idea of why you would want to read it. The prose poems are short. The organization is helpful, as are the brief Guyanese proverbs and quotes from thinkers. I found references to even an old standby like the Bible and Shakespeare or Eliot (the pearls that are his eyes from The Tempest or The Waste Land—I wasn’t sure which one she was referencing, maybe both). But much of the book is punctuated with more contemporary thinking, such as the context of toxic masculinity. Gerald is a tragic example of that phenomenon. In fact, near the end of the book I realized that I can’t stand Gerald. I was willing to try to get to know him “while” Arisa did, but when he continued to do harm to her through his selfishness and misogyny, I could no longer try to tolerate him.

 

The book can be read in two sittings, but you will want to mark passages and go back to them. You will be thinking about Arisa White’s story for days afterward.

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Those of you who know I have been working on my memoir for 1,000 years might be interested to hear that I found White’s format super inspiring. I’m trying out writing my memoir in prose poems instead of traditional prose. In some ways, I feel that I am going back to the beginning of my project a bit, when I was writing in “scraps,” but it’s a world away from what I’ve done before, too.

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Advance Praise:
“…absence breeds madness, an irreconcilable relationship you know is there but can’t call it by its name…” In these crisply narrative poems, which unreel like heart-wrenching fragments of film, Arisa White not only names that gaping chasm between father and daughter, but graces it with its true and terrible face. Every little colored girl who has craved the constant of her father’s gaze will recognize this quest, which the poet undertakes with lyric that is tender and unerring.
-Patricia Smith, Incendiary ArtArisa White channels the ear of Zora Neal Hurston, the tongue of Toni Cade Bambara, and the eye of Alice Walker in the wondrous Who’s Your Daddy. She channels Guyanese proverbs, Shango dreams, games of hide and seek, and memories of an absentee father to shape the spiritual condition. What she makes is “a maze that bobs and weaves a new style whenever there’s a demand to love.” What she gives us are archives, allegories, and wholly new songs.
-Terrance Hayes, American Sonnets for My Past and Future AssassinsSomewhere nearing its end, Arisa White says of Who’s Your Daddy, it’s “a portrait of absence and presence, a story, a tale, told in patchwork fashion…” This exactly says what Who’s Your Daddy is, though it doesn’t say all it takes to do justice to the mythic paradox an absent parent guarantees a child, young or grown, or what it takes to live with and undergo such birthright. There’s not only a father’s absence and presence, there’s a mother who says you raise your daughters, and love your sons, there are stepfathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, a grandmother, brothers, lovers, all of whom leave their marks and give and take love. Surrounding the whole book hovers the questions do I forgive him, and is forgiveness possible? This beautifully, honestly conceived genius of a book shook me to the core.
-Dara Wier, You Good ThingHow does a lyric memoir—a queered-up autobiographical hybrid of prose and poetry—become a real page-turner? Well, for one thing, its speaker uses her authenticity and open-heartedness to generate a rib-cracking amount of courage to look for, find, and emotionally confront a missing Guyanese father who ends up being the “unhello” of a “nevermind.” What’s so moving about this discovery is the speaker’s lyric response. It’s a shrug that’s a song that’s the speaker telling it experimentally-straight about how it feels to have “arms free of fathers.” It’s a story that’s a song that’s the speaker’s “gangster swagger” that beautifully tells of how to confront one’s relation to “a culture of deadbeats, wannabes, has-beens, what-ifs, [and] can’t-shows” without succumbing to despair. One really wants to quote Plath’s line here about “eat[ing] men like air.” Oh, I love the courage of this book. The whole “black heart” and love-strength of it. And you will too!
-Adrian Blevins, Appalachians Run AmokA lyric anthem for the fatherless, for seekers of the places and people that made us, for the artists ready to unearth and reshape their own stories. I gulped this exquisite manual like precious medicine, a spell that made me more myself.
-Melissa Febos, Abandon MeCollaborative, interactive, this work of poetry and memoir offers life as a recurring question. Who’s Your Daddy is a study of how power and loss work on the intimate scales of daily living and queer loving. Read this with compassion for your own defining questions and the raw texture they have left upon your heart.
-Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dub: Finding Ceremony

Who’s Your Daddy is striking and gorgeous. “I’m born into a bracket of boys,” White writes, framing a portrait of fatherhood that shutters and aches; it enthralls. I wanted to lap it up. A reflection on family that permeates via knitted prose with deep verse—my favorite kind. White’s work is sonic, lyric, and important. I can’t wait for y’all to read this book.
-Emerson Whitney, Heaven

ARISA WHITE is a Cave Canem fellow, Sarah Lawrence College alumna, an MFA graduate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and author of the poetry chapbooks Disposition for Shininess, Post Pardon, Black Pearl, Perfect on Accidentand “Fish Walking” & Other Bedtime Stories for My Wife won the inaugural Per Diem Poetry Prize. Published by Virtual Artists Collective, her debut full-length collection, Hurrah’s Nest, was a finalist for the 2013 Wheatley Book Awards, 82nd California Book Awards, and nominated for a 44th NAACP Image Awards. Her second collection, A Penny Saved, inspired by the true-life story of Polly Mitchell, was published by Willow Books, an imprint of Aquarius Press in 2012. Her latest full-length collection, You’re the Most Beautiful Thing That Happened, was published by Augury Books and nominated for the 29th Lambda Literary Awards. Most recently, Arisa co-authored, with Laura Atkins, Biddy Mason Speaks Up, a middle-grade biography in verse on the midwife and philanthropist Bridget “Biddy” Mason, which is the second book in the Fighting for Justice series. She is currently co-editing, with Miah Jeffra and Monique Mero, the anthology Home is Where You Queer Your Heart, which will be published by Foglifter Press in 2021. And forthcoming in February 2021, from Augury Books, her poetic memoir Who’s Your Daddy.

Blog Tour Schedule:

Oct. 12: Diary of an Eccentric (Guest Post)

Oct. 21: Review Tales by Jeyran Main (Review)

Nov. 20: CelticLady’s Reviews (Interview)

Nov. 23: Unconventional Quirky Bibliophile (Review)

Jan. 19: Allonge and emzi_reads (Review)

Feb. 23: Luanne Castle’s Writer Site (Review)

March 12: Anthony Avina Blog (Guest Post)

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Day 22

This is day 22 of Valley Fever.

At least it’s getting slightly cooler in Arizona, finally.

The roadrunner came back!

The last book I read before I got sick was John W. Howell‘s Eternal RoadWhat a fun and thought-provoking adventure! Click the title to purchase it on Amazon. Last I looked, the Kindle version was $.99!!! Here is my review: Goodreads review of Eternal Road

I was supposed to prepare a video poetry reading for the Bridgewater International Poetry Festival, but I could not handle that. I guess this is not my season for poetry. #wtf2020

That’s all for today, folks. Please wear a mask and social distance!

XOXO

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A Review, A New/Old Bowl, and a Poem

This new WordPress editor really stinks. It’s slow and awkward. I can’t figure out how to get “classic” back. It figures that they would do this in the year 2020.

Three things today. First a book review. Then a new purchase :). And, finally, a new publication.

I wrote a review of Jennifer Givhan’s gorgeous poetry collection Rosa’s Einstein. Her poetry and prose is providing a wonderful new Latina voice to American literature. Here is a copy of the journal that published the review–the Winter 2020 issue of The Main Street Rag.

 

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Now for my new purchase. An item that has lurked in the shadowed corners of my memory is the green glass bowl my grandmother used to pour her potato pancake batter from. She cooked the type of potato pancakes they made where she was born in the Rhineland area of Germany: the batter was smooth and looked closer to that of flour pancakes than of latkes. I loved those pancakes more than any other food, and I have always associated them with the bowl.

I’m pretty sure that my parents got rid of the bowl when Grandma moved to the nursing home. They held a garage sale of her belongings. I had a lot of feelings about that at the time.

When I finally decided to Google the darn bowl, guess what? It’s a “vintage” Anchor Hocking jadeite Fire King batter bowl! It’s not some random thing that just happened to become engrained in my mind. It’s a collectible! So what did I do? I bought one, of course!

Now I am looking for recipes for German-style potato pancakes. Do you have one?

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Shot Glass Journal has published one of my poems. “Fiction” is another Little Red Riding Hood poem. You can read it here:

FICTION

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Cinthia Ritchie’s Malnourished is a Tour de Force

Cinthia Ritchie, BRAG your book!  Start posting reviews or parts of reviews of your new memoir Malnourished on your blog cinthiaritchie.com because after I wrote mine I went on Amazon and saw some great reviews over there.

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Take a look at Cinthia’s book by clicking the image. It will take you to where you can purchase the book on Amazon AND where you can read reviews. This book is fabulous. It’s the kind of book that, if you’re a writer, makes you jealous because she gets it so right, word by word, white space by white space, chapter by chapter. Malnourished is a TOUR DE FORCE. No kidding.

I wrote a review that I will post on Amazon and Goodreads. It doesn’t do the book justice AT ALL. if you want to read a better review, read Carla McGill’s over on Amazon.

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Cinthia Ritchie’s memoir Malnourished is a strange and beautiful trek into the heart of a family. Ritchie has three sisters, and all four girls/women have been tragically affected by their upbringing in a home with a predatory stepfather, a mother who will not see the truth, and a deceased father.

While Ritchie’s sister’s death from anorexia is the catalyst for the book, the subject is Ritchie’s survival story. She shares how she and her sister Deena grew up together, how their relationship expanded and contracted over time, how she and Deena diverged in their responses to life, and where they were similar. While Ritchie claims never to have been an anorexic, she has a complicated relationship with food. Ritchie has exhibited starvation and other dangerous symptoms of emotional distress and control over her body. In this memoir, Ritchie manages to open up a space where we can think, discuss, soul-search human relationships with food as emotionally-charged metaphor and how that power plays out on our bodies.

Reading this story gave me insight into how personalities and desires are shaped by experience. For example, Ritchie is a serious runner who craves being outdoors. By reading Malnourished, I was able to feel what it would be like to need to run, to sleep outside under the stars. A small bedroom offers no place for a child to run from a menace that lurks inside the house, one which makes the walls complicit with the stepfather.

What I’ve written here might sound like Ritchie explains all this in the book. While she does reflect on her experiences, her gorgeous, lyrical writing does not “tell” the reader, so much as allow the reader into her world to figure things out for herself. Most importantly, Ritchie’s generosity in baring herself for scrutiny and understanding is such a gift to every reader.

Malnourished is not a comfortable read. It’s a work of art that nudges readers from our comfortable seats, from the comforting ways our minds purposefully arrange our interior landscapes. The beauty of the way Ritchie arranges her words will keep you going even through the darkest passages.

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Felix still has an upper respiratory infection. The vet says that it can last three weeks. Because he has to stay in the bedroom all this time (isolation), I have a lot of anxiety about him being lonely. Poor baby. Please send him healing vibes so he gets well soon and can be let out of the bedroom!

I started experimenting with writing weird poems about everyday subjects and objects, inspired by reading Matthew Lippman’s new poetry collection Mesmerizingly Sadly Beautiful. I’m not even done reading it yet!

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Rereading Plath

I just read Sylvia Plath’s Ariel: The Restored Edition. My parents gave me this copy, at my request, years ago. I think the hard copy (which I have) was published in 2004, so it might have been that year. While I have skimmed it many times, I hadn’t  really read it cover to cover until now.

But don’t think I’m a newcomer to Ariel, Plath’s final and most groundbreaking poetry. While I am not a Plath expert, especially since I have not been involved with the academic world for many years, I do have a lot of experience with Plath’s work.

For instance, I performed an oral explication of the poem “Fever 103” for my master’s thesis. This one will always be my favorite Plath poem.

Then for my PhD dissertation, I wrote a chapter about Plath and the “carnivalesque.”  But my favorite experience was writing a chapter,  “Higgledy Piggledy Gobbledygoo: The Rotted Residue of Nursery Rhyme in Sylvia Plath’s Poetry” for Betty Greenway’s Twice-Told Children’s Tales: The Influence of Childhood Reading on Writers .

More recently, I’ve had two poems published at Plath Poetry Project; I find her work helps open the floodgates of imagination.

I believe that Plath is one of the greatest 20th century poets in the English language. We could debate the possibility of a few others being in her league, but not many.

Don’t think I don’t see her flaws. For one thing, there are her personal flaws. She was not always the nicest person, and she could be a crazy bitch. She didn’t really try too hard to make herself a better person, just a better writer. If I had known her in person, I doubt I would have liked her.

Her writing has some flaws, too, but mainly because EVERYTHING is out there in public. If she had lived, she would not necessarily have published everything–and even if she had there are poems I believe she would have later revised or withdrawn from future editions of her books.

Back to the book I’m reading. Ariel was published posthumously, after Plath committed suicide, by the way. You need to know that to see where I am going with this.

This newer copy of Ariel includes all the poems Plath intended in the collection in the order she intended them. The original publication of Ariel featured a collection arranged and edited by her estranged husband, English poet Ted Hughes.

I experienced a very distorting and disturbing ride reading the collection Plath’s way.

I have always kind of hated Hughes for cheating on Plath, which started the beginning of her end. But he did a great job putting Ariel together–a much better job than the poet herself. Maybe she was too close to the project. Maybe she would have rearranged everything herself if she had lived. But Hughes did it and he did it well.

The collection as Plath left it has a lot of rot in it, if you ask me. Many of the poems do not seem strong. Poems that are in the Hughes version do not seem strong now. I can only conclude that the placement of the poems within the collection guide our reading. Surrounding poems add to the appreciation of particular poems.

I think “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus” are absolutely brilliant. So are a few others. But some others, hmm. I see her trying out images in some poems and then using them much better in others.

The biggest annoyance (actually makes me really angry) is the way Plath uses the black or African body as metaphor. In “The Jailer,” she includes the line: “Pretending I am a negress with pink paws.” This is no brilliant metaphor; rather, it’s stooping low to grab at an old-time stereotype, a vision of the “black body” as animalistic. No no no no.

There has been a helluva lot of discussion about her use of Holocaust victim imagery in her most famous–and other–poems. But those are not relying on old stereotypes, but rather employing poetic conceit, a term that means a metaphor that is stretched a bit extra and might even be shocking or strange, but that works. John Donne was the master of conceit, and he was one of Plath’s inspirations.

So I am disappointed to read this version. Plath’s latter poetry blew open American poetry, and for that she must be honored. But let’s be honest about the poems like “The Jailer” that just might suck.

Thank you, Ted Hughes.

NEVER thought I’d write those words.

#thisisnotabookreview

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OK, I don’t expect you to go another week without a Perry photo! Sometimes he is naughty, trying to instigate the other cats to play when they want to rest, so I zip him into his little playpen (which I have shown you before). So now if he’s naughty he runs into his little CUBE instead of the playpen because he thinks I will think he’s in time out, but in reality he can get out on his own. HAHAHAHAHA. He is so smart. And a nut.

 

And you might want to see another pic of my granddaughter Riley.

CUTE!!!!!!! But what do you think? Can you tell what breeds of dog went into making up this pretty girl? The shelter told my daughter she was part Australian shepherd. HAHAHA.

I think that might be a no. What breed dogs do YOU see in Riley? She is four months old and weighs ten pounds. I won’t tell you where my daughter and her fiance are leaning at this point because I don’t want to sway your opinion.

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Book Review: Leora’s Letters OR How I Learned Empathy for Americans During WWII

Last week I experienced an emotional interior life as I read Joy Neal Kidney’s nonfiction book Leora’s Letters: The Story of Love and Loss for an Iowa Family During World War II. 

I first met Joy through her blog attached to her website: JOYNEALKIDNEY.COM

Gradually, I realized that her family story was quite remarkable, and that Joy had put it into book form. Since Joy is a joy to communicate with on her blog and mine (articulate and kind), I decided to read her book, which was written in conjunction with Robin Grunder,  although WWII is not really “my area.”

Before I started the book, I already knew the gut punch of the book; it’s not a secret that one finds out only by reading. The horrifying reality is shared right on Joy’s website. Joy’s mother Doris had five brothers. All five young men entered the war on behalf of the United States. Only two brothers came home at the end.

Although it might seem counter to know this fact up front, it actually heightened the suspense because I was reading carefully for the details of their lives as the war began and then continued, luring one by one of the brothers into the war. I wasn’t sure who would survive and who wouldn’t—or what would happen to them before they died and how they would die. What a page turner!

I was captivated by the life of these Iowa farmers from the beginning. Hard working and smart, they also were satisfied with so little—simple, healthy food; satisfying work to perform; family togetherness; and aspirations for the future. I fell in love with each one of these brothers as they shared their hearts and lives through letters to family members, especially their mother Leora. They were not small-minded or selfish, but operated out of honor and a humble pride.

During the last section of the book, I was reading in the doctor’s waiting room because I couldn’t put the book down except when I absolutely  had to. I read something so really small, but so powerful, that I burst into tears right there in front of the other patients. That’s a warning to you if you read the book in public.

This book is not a novel. It doesn’t have the frills of one. Joy curated the letters and wove the story around  the letters in a very graceful way. I was so impressed with the powerful and understated writing skills that went into crafting the book. The editing job was also well done. Now I have much more feel for what my father-in-law went through in WWII. And for that entire generation.

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My father-in-law Murray Scheshko (later known as Castle) was part of the 353rd Fighter Group that flew bombing missions over occupied Europe. They are considered heroes in England. Murray was not a pilot. He was staff sergeant, an “armourer,” which means that he was in charge of the weapons for the group. His file was destroyed in the 1973 National Archives fire, but there are records associated with his payment history. According to a transcript of the record he also served in the following “battles and campaigns”:

  • Air Offensive Europe
  • Central Europe
  • Normandy
  • Northern France
  • Rhineland
  • Ardennes-Alsace

Here is a photo of Murray:

Murray died in 1984 from a heart attack he experienced while on a commercial plane flight.

I never thanked him for his service.

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Go. Read. Hunting the Devil by Suanne Schafer

I could not put down Suanne Schafer’s new novel Hunting the Devil until I ran out of pages to read. You might recall that I wrote about her first novel, A Different Kind of Fire, and loved it. The new story is entirely different from the first one, but another literary success. Furthermore, Hunting the Devil seems a very important book.

Here is my review, which is also posted on Goodreads and Amazon.

Suanne Schafer demonstrates once again that she knows how to write novels that defy genre boundaries and engage on many levels. Hunting the Devil, her most recent publication, is a historical war story that takes place in Rwanda, but also holds elements of a medical thriller and an unconventional romance complete with love triangle. The cinematic experience of reading this important book is still with me weeks after reading the last page.

Dr. Jessica Hemings, an American medical doctor, is in Rwanda to establish a clinic to treat poor Rwandans when civil war breaks out. With her biracial American features, Hutu paramilitary identify her with the Tutsi population they are committing atrocities upon, so her life is in danger. After her twin babies are killed, Jessica escapes across the country while planning revenge upon the murderer of her children.

The short chapters with initial place names and dates make a complex book easy to follow. Schafer’s descriptions are apt and illuminating, but never drag down the pace of the story. An ex-physician, she knows how to write about medical issues in a way that is believable and comprehensible to the layperson.  The interpersonal relationships and inner landscapes of the main characters are well drawn. Unlike a lot of writers, Schafer even writes sex scenes well.

I knew so little of the Rwandan Civil War when I began this book. Since finishing it, I’ve done some more reading. Schafer has cast this devastating and enthralling story upon a well-researched setting. In doing so, she introduces her readers to an event in history that needs a prominent place in our understanding of world history. She does this through an action-packed can’t-put-it-down storytelling style. I have been recommending the book to family and friends. When anyone asks me how I could read about the atrocities, I explain that as a reader one becomes so caught up in Jessica’s experience that one is compelled to keep going. There is no going back. And for that I am so grateful. The book changed me forever.

Suanne Schafer

You can find the book at these links:

 

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