Category Archives: book reviews

The Americans by David Roderick

IconAmericans1Series: Pitt Poetry Series

Paperback: 88 pages

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (August 5, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0822963124

ISBN-13: 978-0822963127

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Reviewed by g emil reutter

There is always a danger in the blandness of a poet, of a poet who writes well-crafted poems, so well-crafted that they are void of passion, of reality. There is also the elitist view of suburbia as a wasteland of culture. And, then there is The Americans by David Roderick, a poet of passion and a craftsman whose series of poems titled, Dear Suburb, appear throughout this outstanding collection of poems.

Roderick tells us in the Dear Suburb (page 3) poem, I’m not interested in sadness/just a yard as elder earth, a library of sunflowers/battered by nights rain. And again in this poem, I see how you exist, O satellite town, your bright possibility/ born again in drywall/ and the diary of the trick lock. In Dear Suburb (page 13) he captures the transformation of rural to suburb, If your billboards peel, if the gaze/ is really dead, then what are those/remaining fields to you…/or the mirror of thought, or just thought’s sleeping sheets?

There are the other poems where monkey’s howl, Virgin Mary rests in a window, Judas swinging from an aspen, of pastoral settings, big box stores, gardens, Plymouths, the Enola Gay and of being an American.

Roderick reminds us of the dream of America, the American Dream and the loneliness of dreams, the longing for nostalgia and the possibility that delivers us into the future.

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You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Americans-Pitt-Poetry-Series/dp/0822963124/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408576264&sr=8-1&keywords=the+americans+by+david+roderick

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g-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

Poem Continuous – Reincarnated Expressions – By Bibhas Roy Chowdhury- Translated by Kiriti Sengupta

poem continuous us editionPaperback: 62 pages

Publisher: Inner Child Press, Ltd. (July 17, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0692233180

ISBN-13: 978-0692233184

 

Reviewed by Shernaz Wadia

 As Leonard Cohen put it so aptly poetry is just the ash, the evidence of a life burning well. When a poet fleshes up his emotions and thoughts and attires them with words, a poem seems to take on a life of its own but an invisible umbilical cord runs from the creator’s soul to that of the poem, making them indivisible.

 It has been said that a poem is never finished. Even if the last line seemingly ends on an air of finality there is no true closure. There remain gaps to be filled between the stanzas, lines and words. Poems grow along with the poet making them an uninterrupted process. Even if he does not alter them on revisits, new ones sprout out of that receptive emptiness giving them continuity. In this book, Poem Continuous, the ‘Reincarnated Expressions’ are birthed through their transition from Bengali into English, done smoothly by Kiriti Sengupta.
 
Bibhas’s voice pulsates with an undercurrent of passion…it is melancholic yet inflected with hope…pithy in words but loaded with sensitivity…it is a reflection of the loneliness of the poet’s heart and its aches. To quote Kafka, “(his) pen is the seismograph of (his) heart.”  I realised that these poems are not for idle reading. I read them once, I read them again and then again each time sinking a little deeper into their profundity, their challenging complexity, and emerged with an ‘aha’ feeling. That is the beauty of these poems…they plummet you beyond the tips into their inner core and thereby into your own deeper recesses, conversing with your sense of self. 
 
Minimalistic, staccato at times, as in “The Small Boat” – Bird…Bird…Bird…Bird/Fetch the sky
 
and again in ‘The Offering’ which is all of four very poignant lines dedicated to Rabindranath Tagore,
 
“Poison in the diet
the budding poet!   
 
Ye, the source…   
 
What is in your mind?”
 
The poet leaves us pondering. I have used more words to talk about the poem than he has to convey his distress at the pathetic marginalisation today of poetry and poets. In the third line he expresses his reverence for the great bard in just three words!
 
Bibhas’ poetry is enigmatic with a near mystical aura to it as he puts into words his innermost emotions about life, love, nature and other poets. He connects with both the worlds – that of matter and of spirit to find and define the meaning and balance in life. His language is fragmented at times when all he has are shards of pain to be expressed, for instance, in ‘The Tie of Brotherhood’, where he laments –
 
“We are finished, aren’t we?
Can you hear me, Gurudev? Ye Tagore?
Crowd no longer…no music…hands free!
Now the ties are lost, and so are the Bengalis…”
 
In his Translator’s Note, Kiriti says “… wounds are essentially native, and they are difficult to translate into other languages.” I think other poets will concur with me when I say that often wounds of the spirit are native to the individual soul and are near impossible to transmit into words. That Bibhas and in this case, the translator has been able to open up those deep gashes so movingly to the readers, is very laudable.
 
‘Bhatiali – Song of the Boatmen’, is pure anguish. It harnesses the distress of myriad souls who
“Wish my blood obliterates the Partition, on either side of the border…” His pain transmutes into obstinate hope as he ends his poem with these lines:
 
“In the core of my heart I nurse the wounded soul carefully/Union of the parted Bengal will aid in my recovery…”
 
Though the poet talks of a divided Bengal, the soreness of his words reflects an universal ache…no country, no people like the divides they are forced into by the scheming, screaming, contorted truths propagated by authority, by those few who snatch power, control minds and leave them defenceless.
 
The poet often asks questions in his poems. In The Horizon, he asks “What is poetry?” and concludes with these lines
 
“The blind bird/was painting/its nest so deceptive/on the water-body…” Let each reader and lover of poetry demystify these words in his own heart and mind, for poetry means several things to different people.
 
Don Martin calls this book “A Literary Tour-de-Force”. Full of praise for the work he says, “This is a seamless, and highly accomplished Bengali poetry. Experienced lovers of poetry will immediately recognise the significance and nuances of the work. Those new to Bengali poetry are in for a real treat!”
 
 
Shernaz-Wadia3Shernaz Wadia, a retired teacher, lives in Pune, India. A free-lance writer, her articles, short stories and poems have been published in many online journals and literary magazines like Muse India, Boloji, Kritya and The Enchanting Verses etc. Her poems have been anthologised in Poets International, Roots and Wings and Caring Moments. Shernaz is in the process of publishing her poems in a book titled Whispers of the Soul.. She has also co-authored a book of poems titled “Tapestry”, with Israeli poetess Avril Meallem. It is an innovative form of collaborative poetry writing developed by the two of them.
 

The Last Cowboys at the End of the World By Nick Reding

LastCowboys1Paperback: 304 pages

Publisher: Three Rivers Press (October 1, 2002)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0609810049

ISBN-13: 978-0609810040

 

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Reviewed by Stephen Page

Once I took a vacation with my wife to visit some of the interesting places in Argentine Patagonia—the Perito Moreno Glacier, the Petrified Forest, the Cave of Hands, etc.  We decided on hiring a guide in a pickup that would wind us through Patagonia. Our guide was friendly and helpful.  In-between the beautiful locations (mentioned above) most of Patagonia is windswept semi-arid desert, so for hours at a time we would only see tufts of yellow grass and scrawny bushes (xerophyte classification).  Once in a while we would see a harrier, or a hawk, or a condor glide by. When we did see a tree or two, they where sticking out of the ground at a thirty-degree angle, because the strong year-round winds made the trees grow that way.  Occasionally we would see a guanaco (an animal genetically related to an African camel and also but more phenotypically related to a llama, which is a smaller, hairier version of a camel), a hare, a snake slither across the road, or a herd of huddled sheep overseen by a lone gaucho sitting in a saddle on a horse silhouetted atop a hill, him and his horse leaning a little due to the wind. Otherwise, our first impression of Patagonia was that it is all but barren.  The gauchos I saw looked ominous, hunched over in their saddles, puffing on hand-rolled cigarettes, staring at us with slit-eyed hatred as if we were something they were not or at the very least, intruders in their world.  I didn’t understand.  We were just tourists driving on a public (dirt) road.  The guide told us “some gauchos are irresponsible, resentful, lazy, violent, drunkards.”  But then he then added, “not all of them.  Most of them were good employees, and good human beings.”  I didn’t think much about those comments at the time.  I just associated gauchos with the romantic notion of cowboys of the Old West in the U.S. of A.—riding in a saddle all day, sustaining for weeks at a time on jerky and coffee (by the way, gauchos drink maté—not coffee—which is a loose-leaf tea sipped out of a gourd through a metal straw).  Anyway, most of the time on our trip, we stayed in one or two star hotels.  We ate grilled meat and white bread three times a day. We travelled . . . ascetically . . . to say the least. One evening the guide invited us to his home to introduce us to his family.  “It’s on the way.” He said.  “Just a few miles from our tour route.”  His house was set against a line of sand-beige foothills spotted with clumps of sparsely leaved green bushes and a few clumps of yellow grass.  A few sheep and a couple of horses were wandering around and chomping on the grass.  It was a humble abode, but well maintained and immaculately clean inside.  His wife was very accommodating and good-natured.  She cooked us up some lamb stew (guiso).  They had an infant child who was lying in a portable crib set by kitchen table and gooed while we ate.  We ate bowls and bowls of the guiso and sipped red wine and talked for hours.  By then it was after sunset, so the couple showed us the guest room.  It was just big enough for a small dresser and a twin bed, and since the only fireplace in the small house was in the living room, we slept with the door open. To keep us warm while we slept, the couple had placed 10 blankets atop the sheets (southern Patagonia can be very cold, all year round—did I mention that Patagonia was windswept? Yes I did. I forgot to mention that the wind is extremely cold, sometimes coming from over the snow-capped Andes, usually directly from the south—Antarctica). That was a romantic night for my wife and me, cuddled together in a small bed with a mountain of blankets over us.  It was certainly memorable. We often talk and laugh about it.

Sometime after, I read Nick Redding’s The Last Cowboys at the End of the World.    I bought the book just before I started studying at Bennington and read only part of the first chapter when a friend of mine, over a cup of coffee, in a Buenos Aires café called “El Gaucho,” explained to me the plot and the ending.  I was, to say the least, perturbed.  I decided to put some time between the book and me so I could read it somewhat unbiasedly.

The Last Cowboys is a wonderful book.  It has some tones of Chatwin, in the narrator behavior and voice, but in the end, overall, it is a unique story.   The setting takes place on a huge spread of a ranch in the Chilean side of Patagonia (more mountainous than the Argentine).  The main character, nicknamed Duck, whom Redding studies in the book is a gaucho, a family man (married and with children), and he is a hodgepodge of all the bad-guys in gaucho land—knife fighter, horse thief, cattle rustler, heavy drinker, wife-beater, philanderer, cuckold, malingerer, excuse maker, liar, irresponsible employee.  Duck lives Spartanly—as do all romanticized gauchos and cowboys—but not because he wants to, because he has to, due to his inadequate salary.  So, in order to live better, rationalizing to himself he deserves better for his family because the owners of the ranch he works on are rich, Duck sets up a system along with a few other gauchos from neighboring ranches, to “lose” a few head of cattle every time he moves the bovines from one pasture to another or when the big end of the year cattle drives are on.  I won’t tell you if Duck gets caught or not, but there is a detailed chapter in the book that explains how difficult it is to fire a bad employee even if he is not working in the manor the employer wants (with the labor laws in effect at the time).  The reader gets to know the inside story of ranching on a big spread—a dying entity in itself, what with feedlots and overpopulation causality.  Reding shows Duck working, in home at rest, his family, his social life. Duck confesses to Reding his dreams, his thoughts, his heartbreaks and elations.

To Reding, Duck’s cowboy/gaucho life is evolving (a most intelligent observation), and he explains why, not didactically, but through the actions of the main character.

Reding puts together a great novel, filled with drama, action, excitement, everyday work drudgery, and romanticism of the Old West set in the present.  I am glad I read it.   You should too.  I will quote something for you to ponder which Reding puts in the introduction:  “if you can’t tell a story without maintaining the dignity of the people involved, you should not be telling the story in the first place.”  I need to tape that to my computer screen.

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You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Last-Cowboys-End-World/dp/0609810049

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stephen-in-the-countryStephen Page is from Detroit, Michigan.  There he worked in factories, gasoline stations, and steel-cutting shops.  He always longed for a vocation associated with nature.  He now lives in Argentina, teaches literature, ranches, and spends time with his family.

 

Hands Turning the Earth by Bill Wunder

wunder-handsPaperback: 84 pages
Publisher: WordTech Communications (June 27, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1625490941
ISBN-13: 978-1625490940
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Reviewed by g emil reutter
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There are some poets who become stuck in the murky past, never wanting to leave the warm bubbling places of their comfort zone. Bill Wunder is not one of those poets. Hands Turning the Earth is a collection of poems that include the past always moving toward the future.
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Wunder writes of riding bikes in the fog of mosquito trucks, his mother cooking pot roast in a Levittown kitchen, of Agent Orange falling upon him from the sky in Vietnam and the cancer ward at the V.A. hospital. Wunder is insightful, deliberate as he tells us of birds in the Vermont Mountains, of the Promised Land in sobering lines, “to wither and fade, never to see the milk and honey of spring, another Moses, Forsaken.”
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The poet discovers the need to believe again in the birches of Vermont in the poem, Walking my Dog in Vermont. It really isn’t a poem about walking a dog, but of more, the need to believe. An excerpt:
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The sky has shattered
and tumbled down
like when you said you no longer
loved me and moved out.
The entire world crackled
and remains in pieces.
The birches have shed the ice
but are hunched, one by one, each
A monument to trauma.
Pablo pulls us home
to the warmth of wood stove,
comfort of rocking chair
and dependability of books.
I follow needing
Something to believe in again.
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And here is the essence of Hands Turning the Earth, the need for something to believe in, something to move on toward.  
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g-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) http://gereutter.wordpress.com/

A Hard Summation by Afaa Michael Weaver

a hardPaperback: 44 pages

Publisher: Central Square Press (July 18, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1941604005

ISBN-13: 978-1941604007

Reviewed by Doug Holder

It is always a pleasure to get a new book published by a new local press. A colleague of mine at Bunker Hill Community College in Boston, Enzo Silo Surin, the founder of the Central Square Press, has published a new book of poetry (A Hard Summation) by poet and Somerville resident Afaa Michael Weaver. Weaver is a professor at Simmons College in Boston, and recently won the prestigious Kingsley Tufts Award. He has penned a collection of 13 poems that cover the history of African- Americans from the Middle Passage to the present day. Weaver’s intention, according to Surin, is to give the reader, “an opportunity to listen, celebrate, commemorate, and appreciate the success and failures of the past in order to develop a current and contextual understanding of what it means to be an African-American.”

In the poem “In Charleston, the Slave Market” Weaver gives us the visceral feel of a human being, being treated like a shank of beef by prospective slave brokers. Like the slaves, the poem is stripped down and naked, with powerful short bursts of metaphorical language:

“…the markets where they stand naked,
white women poking at them, looking over places
only mothers should touch, shopping for black pets
for white children, for girls who can grow and make
more black children, as it they are gardens…”

The two part poem “Migration, the Big Cities” concerns the thoughts of a husband and wife about their exodus from the sweaty, unforgiving fields of the South, to the Northern industrial cities, with their relative freedom and broader horizons. Weaver, attuned to the telling detail gives us the before and after with crystal clear brushstrokes. Here the husband thinks of his new life with his wife and the past he left behind:

“ Steelworker now, ain’t no farmer no more.
met my wife in the  mills, not a juke joint floor.
I got a time clock to punch and work shoes too,
no mule to prance behind and feed hay to chew.

My dreams touch the sky and tickle heaven
as we forget the night riders and the evils of men,
while we save money for our little house
where we can feed our children a plate of souse.”

Weaver, a respected academic, was a factory worker in Baltimore for many years.  He knows his lineage and was part of the next generation of African-Americans to leave their blue-collar jobs to join the professional class. It is amazing what Weaver can do with thirteen poems. But a top shelf poet, with an economy of words, can create a whole world, a whole history for his reader. Weaver has achieved this.

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You can find the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Hard-Summation-Afaa-Michael-Weaver/dp/1941604005

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doug-Doug Holder is a Boston Poet and publishes the widely read Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene Blog. He is the publisher of Ibbetson Books, hosts a community access show in Somerville, Mass. among the many activities he engages in the good name of poetry. http://dougholder.blogspot.com/

This review was first published at The Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene.

 

Tending by Laura Grace Weldon

tending-by-laura-grace-weldon
Paperback: 96 pages
Publisher: Aldrich Press (November 15, 2013)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615913423
ISBN-13: 978-0615913421
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Reviewed by: g emil reutter 
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Laura Grace Weldon has a gentle brutal voice in this exceptional collection of poems. It is reflected in the opening stanza and closing two stanzas of Ruminating, a poem about the family cow.
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Animals are incapable
of higher thought and emotions
or so I was taught
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She moves to the last two stanzas, the gentle Isabelle is observing the farm family as she relaxes in the pasture along the fence line, ruminating….
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Isabelle regards us
from the nearby fence line
her soft lips moving
as she chews, ruminating.
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Our breath hangs in the cold air
smelling of her son
roasted with onion, herbs, wine
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In Santa Clara County V. Southern Pacific Railroad, Weldon reflects wealth traveling through rural poverty with images that pop from the page:
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The day a car uncoupled,
spilling frozen beef,
armed guards arrived to destroy the cargo
but hungry people pushed onto the tracks
They bent gladly all the way home
Bearing suppers heavy promise.
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Torn hillside nearly empty, still
those who know what it is to be broken
stand on crushed grass
staring at tracks
leading away from here.
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The poem, Making it Work, concerning domestic strife, the wife is surrounded…
Where everything is beige and brown framed in flowered wall paper.
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In these poems Weldon creates images that reflect not only the beauty of rural American life but of the brutal reality that it truly is.
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g emil reutter 2-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA) https://gereutter.wordpress.com/

Nude Descending an Empire by Sam Taylor

nudeSeries: Pitt Poetry Series

Paperback: 104 pages

Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (August 9, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0822963043

ISBN-13: 978-0822963042

Reviewed by: g emil reutter

   Poet Sam Taylor’s Nude Descending an Empire is a collection driven by the moment with an occasional glance over his shoulder. Taylor writes poems that are created by surroundings and events, more often than not he avoids modern poetry’s preoccupation with self, although he dips his keyboard there every so often.
   He brings us to old Europe into the dust and sand of places we may not want to be, to the heartland and swamps of North America. In the poem, Jataka Tales, he writes
I can’t stop dreaming of maps/ but from my life as a stone/ I have yet to speak.
   And then there is his visit to China, when surrounded by locals he attempts to speak to them in their language, not knowing he was using the wrong tone. Poet and shit use the same structure but with different tones, so when asked what he does in the poem The Book of Poetry, he responds in the wrong tone, I am a shit man. I write shit and repeating it. A shit person, I write books of shit. Understand?
     I am glad to say Taylor doesn’t write books of shit. A great example are a few words from the poem The Book of Winter, which knowingly or not, Taylor gives a nod to Sandburg.
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In the pasture
heaven is falling
into heaven
into the bare willows
and oaks, and cottonwoods,
over the vertical
exhaust pipes
of parked semis,
their white cabs
with painted blue
flames.
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This collection of poems by Sam Taylor is worth the read, you should pick up a copy.

You can check out the book here: http://www.amazon.com/Nude-Descending-Empire-Poetry-Series/dp/0822963043

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April 12, 2014 007-g emil reutter lives and writes in the Fox Chase neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa. (USA).  http://gereutter.wordpress.com/