Posts Tagged ‘Poetry’

Best New Books of 2014: Kerri H’s Picks

December 15, 2014

I read everything… fiction, nonfiction, short stories, young adult fiction. Happy books, sad books, disturbing books, thought provoking books. I try to round out my reading experience each year with a variety of genres and themes.

RedeploymentRedeployment by Phil Klay
This is an important, thought-provoking, disturbing and humbling collection of stories. They are written by a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq during the surge. Each story is told from the viewpoint of a different character… a chaplain, a Foreign Service Officer, a Mortuary Affairs Marine and many others. Descriptions evoke the grit, stench, claustrophobia, nonsensical situations, and collateral damage both physically and emotionally found in twenty-first century war.

Best to LaughBest to Laugh by Lorna Landvik
You will laugh at the quirky cast of characters and fun storyline. Candy Pekkalo is living a non-descript life in Minnesota when her cousin calls to see if she would like to sublet her Hollywood apartment. Once there, Candy thrives. She meets a diverse group of neighbors who become family, and works an odd, yet interesting, assortment of temp jobs. She even succeeds in the male dominated stand-up comedy world of the late 1970’s. You’re going to have fun living Candy Pekkalo’s life vicariously.

Dept. of SpeculationDept. Of Speculation by Jenny Offill
If you’ve ever experienced infidelity, bedbugs, motherhood, or feel like your brain goes from one random thought to another… this book is for you.  Written from the perspective of “the wife” it’s a collection of random thoughts and famous quotes.  It sounds disjointed, but it flows together perfectly.  It’s also about teaching college students, ghost writing, general discontent and hope.

JackabyJackaby by William Ritter
This young adult novel enraptured me. I read this fast-paced mystery with evidence of the supernatural in two nights.  In 1892, Abigail Rock arrives alone in New England from Ukraine via a boat from Germany. She’s in need of a job, room and board. After applying to an advertisement for an investigative assistant, she begins working for the eccentric R.F. Jackaby. Together they investigate a series of murders. This is a funny, rollicking read about a serial killer. I know it seems strange to call a book about a serial killer funny; but trust me, there are some hilarious scenes and dialogue in the book. This is the first book in a series. I anticipate this will be the next big young adult series.

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
An autobiography in verse which resonates with readers is an amazing feat! Jacqueline Woodson elegantly portrays her childhood; evoking the love her family poured on herself and siblings. She perfectly distills the reality of the civil rights movement and her experience being raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. These poems merge to form a fluid and beautiful story.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Emil’s Picks

December 30, 2013

Here are some older books that made an impression on me in 2013. And I am, partly, what I read.

On Heaven and Earth by Jorge Mario Bergoglio and Abraham Skorka
When On Heaven and Earth was published in 2010, Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a cardinal in Buenos Aires. In 2013, he became pope to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world, and On Heaven and Earth offered a marvelous opportunity to get to know the new Bishop of Rome. The book is a series of conversations between Bergoglio and his friend, Buenos Aires rabbi Abraham Skorka. In the book, the two Argentinians share their wisdom, and their dialogue often reveals applied faith. “Our true power,” Bergoglio says, “must be service. We cannot adore God if our spirit does not include the needy.” And his friend the rabbi agrees.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates
Some time ago, researchers asked about three hundred Moscow teenagers to name twenty famous people who had influenced the formation of their identity. Over thirty percent of the students named Aleksandr Pushkin, the most celebrated of Russian poets, as their first choice. But while the poetry of the Russian Golden Age continues to attract readers, it has been harder for contemporary Russian poets to reach an audience. Which is a pity, because for the first time in Russian history, Russian poetry is now free from censorship and stylistic restrictions, and these poets have a lot to tell those who will take the time to listen. Here is post-Soviet irony and the mesmerizing voices of poets like Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova – young women just beginning to make themselves heard. And this anthology also reveals the revival of faith the country is going through, as in these words of Olesya Nikolaeva: “A fledgling winter flickers through me/ and the holidays of my Lord – Christmas, home,/ transformed into a manger. From there the word comes:/ you have everything that you yourself are/ you have that which you are!”

Under the Skin by Michel Faber
Isserley motors about Scotland, looking for men. However, it can’t just be anyone – ideally, they need to be single and muscular to fit Isserley’s purposes. Her worldview in clearly unusual and Isserley – with an enormous chest, short legs, and thick glasses – is not what she seems. Neither are her co-workers at Ablach Farm. The men Isserley gives a ride are soon in the midst of horrors that outdo their worst nightmares – horrors that are not far removed from what is going on in the world today.

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm by Philip Pullman
In 1812, the Brothers Grimm published the first edition of their compilation of folk and fairy tales. In 2012, Penguin Classics asked Philip Pullman to curate 50 of Grimm’s classic tales, and he “leapt at the chance.” But how do you get at something that has already been done so perfectly? Pullman stays true to the spirit of the tales and finds strength in their immense storytelling power. Thus, he helps introduce this treasure to a contemporary audience that may be more familiar with Pullman than with these tales and their deep, deep Germanic roots.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
After spending four years in “the bad place,” a neural health facility in Baltimore, Patrick Peoples is back at home with his parents, living in their basement, and trying to get his life back on track. Pat believes that he has spent but a few months in the psychiatric ward, and his world view is dominated by magical and delusional thinking. He feels that he and his wife, Nikki, have been forced into “apart time” because he was a mean husband who got fat and made the wrong decisions. He has returned to New Jersey to make things right, become fit, and be “kind instead of right.” However, the people who surround him seem convinced that Nikki is gone for good, and instead some of them try to get him to spend time with Tiffany – a very strange girl, indeed. She’s obviously crazy; but then again, who isn’t?

27 Views of Raleigh: the City of Oaks in Prose and Poetry edited by Wilson Barnhardt

November 1, 2013

27viewsThis was a surprisingly good read, a collection of essays, short stories, poems on the subject of Raleigh. Several stood out for me.
Home Is Where You Mend the Roof by Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi, a native of Cameroon, now a U.S. citizen. She defends Mississippi as having moved beyond its racist past and speaks of some negative experiences in Raleigh.
Dining at Balentine’s by Dana Wynne Lindquist touches on her family history, the longstanding tradition of Sunday post-church dining at Balentine’s Cafeteria and the loss of the unique building that was one of the cornerstones at Cameron Village.
Ladies of the Marble Hearth by Hilary Hebert is a short story about a middle-aged woman assisting her elderly mother to serve lunch to her book club. Mother is persnickety and the roof is about to fall in as the ladies are about to assemble and daughter has taken a day of vacation from her job to help her mother. Daughter’s struggles to be independent of her mother are part of the dynamic between mother and daughter.
Fox View, Montclair Neighborhood by Elaine Neil Orr chronicles her observations of a gray fox that passes through her backyard multiple times over the course of a summer.
The Parade, an excerpt from Adam’s Gift, by Jimmy Creech is his thoughtful account of coming to a belief that discrimination against gay and lesbian people should end. He was a Methodist minister for twenty-nine years before being found guilty of disobedience in a church trial in 1999 and stripped of his credentials for ordination after performing a wedding for two men.

This collection of writings about Raleigh will show you a new view of a familiar place.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

The Stories and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe

October 31, 2013

Edgar Allan Poe lived a life as macabre as one of his tales. As a toddler he watched his actress mother kill herself onstage in the role of Juliet, and then watched her die a lingering death from tuberculosis before he turned three. He was fostered by a stern father who died without leaving Poe a penny. His young wife burst a blood vessel in her throat while singing and playing the piano, blood pouring from her mouth while Poe watched in horror. Finally, widowed, wasted by drink and long suffering, he died at the age of 40 in a hospital far from home, watched over by strangers.

Such a life is sufficient inspiration for his tales of spiritual horror, but in his poetry Poe managed to convert the horrible into the lyrical through the careful use of sound techniques. “Annabel Lee” is unsurpassed in our language for its rhythm of ocean waves surging and ebbing, and the melodramatic sing-song quality of “The Raven” has mesmerized audiences since its first publication in 1845. Poe later wrote that he was inspired by the talking raven in Dickens’ Barnaby Rudge, but might he also have had in mind the call of the fish crow, whose dreary “UNH-unh” sounds like a repeated negative to whatever question you are pondering? Poe, who lived in coastal cities all his life and was very sensitive to the somber effects of nature, would have noticed this characteristic call.

Though reviled by some critics as a second-rate teller of horror stories, Poe made significant contributions to American literature. He perfected and defined the short story, which he said had more in common with poetry than with the novel. Poe argued that writers should try to achieve a “unified effect,” a technique which he illustrated brilliantly in both his poetry and prose. Whether taking us into the mind of a murderer, as in “The Tell-Tale Heart,” or that of a victim, as in “The Pit and the Pendulum,” he crafted the tale of breathless horror for which he is famous. He also wrote the world’s first detective stories, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “The Purloined Letter,” which are still considered masterpieces among the thousands of imitations they have spawned. As to his poetry, for Poe there was no subject more poignant than the death of a beautiful woman:

And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea,
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates

October 22, 2013

The state of contemporary Russian writing is a troubled one. When Scott Turow, author but also the president of the Authors Guild, visited Russia in 2012, he learned that there are only a handful of publishers left “while e-publishing is savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced. As a result, in the country of Tolstoy and Chekhov, few Russians, let alone Westerners, can name a contemporary Russian author whose work regularly affects the national conversation.”
And while many are familiar with the Golden Age of Aleksandr Pushkin’s poetry, contemporary Russian poets largely remain unknown not only to their compatriots but also to international readers of poetry. What a pity, for the great artists have access to a sensitivity that most people do not possess, and great poets have the ability to show us a little more of the world. In other words, Russian poets can help readers better understand Russia and the world of today.
But while it’s true that Russian poets receive little attention, it is also true that – since the fall of Soviet Union – they’ve been able to travel internationally – especially to Western Europe, North America, and Israel. And writing programs in Russia and in the world at large have widened exchanges of poetry and deepened understanding. Thus, Contemporary Russian Poetry: An Anthology edited by poets Evgeny Bunimovich and James Kates.
The collection contains poems from 44 living Russian poets born after 1945 and gives room to many different movements in Russian poetry. Many of the young and emerging voices are women – Marianna Geide, Anna Russ, and Maria Stepanova to mention a few – and these new voices are quietly passionate, tender, raw, vulnerable, and strong.
There is something timeless about Maria Stepanova’s poetry, and her poetic language has been described as “very distinctive: word forms pass through deformation on every level, bringing new senses, both actual and potential, to light.”
“You only need to make a move with a wing/ For an oof in the belly; the floor is left/ Far below; my dear ones, farewell,/ Write to me “general delivery”/ – Immortal, forever immortal am I,/ Even Styx can’t stop my flight!”.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Portable Dorothy Parker by Dorothy Parker

August 2, 2013

In the New York City of the 1920s and 30s, everyone knew of Dorothy Parker. Her stories, poems, and reviews appeared regularly in the New Yorker and other literary publications, and her brand of caustic humor made her eminently quotable. You probably know her poem “News Item”. Its one line, “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” made Parker the heroine of bespectacled women everywhere.

This book collects many of Parker’s short stories, poems, reviews and articles. They span her entire career and many were chosen for the book by her personally when the book was first published in 1944. The library owns the updated 1973 edition. (There has since been a new edition published in 2006.)

In her short stories Parker perfected the inner monologue, a story told entirely in the thoughts of the protagonist. My favorite example is “The Waltz” in which we follow the thoughts of a woman dancing with a particularly graceless partner.

What can you say, when a man asks you to dance with him? I most certainly will not dance with you, I’ll see you in hell first. Why, thank you, I’d like to awfully, but I’m having labor pains. Oh, yes, do let’s dance together — it’s so nice to meet a man who isn’t a scaredy-cat about catching my beri-beri. No. There was nothing for me to do, but say I’d adore to. Well, we might as well get it over with. All right, Cannonball, let’s run out on the field. You won the toss; you can lead.

Not to be missed are the book and play reviews. Parker describes one author’s autobiography as being available in three volumes “suitable for throwing purposes”.  If you haven’t read Dorothy Parker before now, then you are in for a treat.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Emil S.’s Picks

December 19, 2012

Classics play a major part in my reading life, but in 2012 I mainly re-read classics (or read classics that I obtained through Inter-Library Loan). Thus, my “New to Us” books are all fairly new, no older than 16 years old, and therefore many years away from even being considered for the shelf of classics. In the meantime, they can perhaps be classified as noteworthy contemporary reads! — Emil S.

Red Gold by Alan Furst
France is occupied by German forces, but things have changed since “Case Barbarossa” – the German led attack on Soviet Union. French communists who take their orders from Moscow have been activated and now participate in a war effort that reaches from France to the heart of Soviet Union. Jean Casson, a former film producer, lets himself be pulled into the French Resistance, and he is good at getting things done. But the different sides of the anti-German movement are suspicious of each other, and while the occupying forces are being attacked, the French are preparing for the next battle – the conflict after the war.

Arguably by Christopher Hitchens
British born, American writer Christopher Hitchens was arguably one of the great public intellectuals of our time. He was fantastically prolific and (as Ian Parker once put it) wrote faster than some people read. In 2011, Hitchens passed away, and the fearless opponent of (almost) any kind of oppression was dearly missed by many. Arguably, published about two months before his death, contains 107 of Hitchens’ texts – his range is enormous and it’s a great book to carry around as it embraces so much of this strange and wondrous world.

Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy
William Kennedy was born in 1928 and he writes with the confidence and authority of a veteran. Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is a sprawling novel that mainly takes place in Cuba during the revolution of the late 1950s, and in an Albany, New York, that is about to explode after the killing of Robert Kennedy in 1968. When reading the novel, it is near impossible to predict where it is going, and the plot is (perhaps) hard to define. Instead, this novel is about strong, wonderful characters and about awesome dialogue – that’s the heart and soul of Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes.

The Sorrow Gondola by Tomas Tranströmer
When Tomas Tranströmer’s SorgegondolenThe Sorrow Gondola – was published in 1996, it was his first collection of poetry since the stroke that hit him in 1990. In Tranströmer’s native land, Sweden, the book instantly became a bestseller, and it’s easy to understand why, for the poet’s writing was as powerful as ever. He writes, “The sun is low now./ Our shadows are giants./ Soon, everything will be overshadowed.” But in another poem he writes, “A blue light/ radiates from my clothes./ Midwinter./ Clattering tambourines of ice./ I close my eyes./ There is a silent world/ there is a crack/ where the dead/ are smuggled across the border.”

The Submission by Amy Waldman
A jury gathers in New York, New York, to select a memorial for the victims of the massacre of September eleventh, 2001. The winner turns out to be an American Muslim, Muhammad Khan, and when media finds out, a heated debate and even acts of violence spread across the nation. The Submission is a novel about America and Islam, and about the open wounds of 9/11, but it is also a story about media and how media shape the debates in this nation (and elsewhere). And the reader has good reasons to ask, is media interested in the truth or merely in the news?

Lit by Mary Karr

June 15, 2012

If there was an award for most meaningful short book title I would nominate Lit, the third installment of Mary Karr’s critically acclaimed autobiography (following The Liar’s Club, which was previously blogged by another reviewer, and Cherry). That small three letter word can be interpreted in several ways; there are at least three ‘lits’ in the life of Mary Karr.

One is literature. Her love of words began in childhood and found expression in her poetry (her latest collection is Sinners Welcome) and prose. The second is her taste for alcohol. Unfortunately, her appetite for liquor becomes an uncontrollable craving to get ‘lit’ as often as possible. As you can imagine, this creates problems, both professional and personal. She discovers a third ‘lit’ when she seeks to control her addiction and she finds faith in a higher power (she has described herself as a “black belt sinner”).

Mary Karr is unflinchingly honest in her portrayal of a talented woman battling to overcome her own self doubts and weaknesses. She writes movingly of her love for her son, her failed marriage, her complicated relationship with her mother and the kindness shown her by others when she reaches out for help. Beautifully written, unsentimental and, in parts, screamingly funny, Lit delivers what great autobiographies always do–a chance to experience the life of another from the inside out.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer

May 16, 2012

Haiku is one of the best-known poetic forms on earth. The Japanese seventeen syllable haiku has been around since the 1600s, today there are about 780 haiku magazines in Japan, and Japanese schoolchildren learn early on how to use as few words as possible when describing events – the task of minimizing a narrative to just a few keywords becomes a game with signs that captivates the young.

In 2011, the society that is in charge of the Nobel Prize in literature – for the first time ever – brought up the presence of haiku in an author’s output when announcing the winner of the award. Unsurprisingly, the poet, Tomas Tranströmer, was not Japanese but Swedish, for haiku poems are today written all over the world.

Tomas Tranströmer was attracted to haiku early on in his career, but it wasn’t until after his stroke in 1990 that he once again embraced the form. And the majority of Tranströmer’s work is not haiku – in the world of poetry he is known as a master of metaphor, and metaphor has no place in traditional haiku. However, Tranströmer’s poetry has always been bare, elegant, precise, and serene, and when he returned to haiku it was as if the poet had come home again.

And just like in the poetry of the Japanese haiku masters, nature plays a major part in Tranströmer’s poetry. Nature, of course, uses many different dresses, but to Tranströmer it is always holy and divine: “The darkening leaves/ in autumn are as precious/ as the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

The Japanese term “mono no aware” is often (lamely) translated as “sadness,” but it is more correct to understand it as an awareness of impermanence, or the transient nature of all things. This is a recurring theme in Tranströmer’s verse. In “Snow Is Falling,” he says, “The funerals keep coming/ more and more of them/ like the traffic signs/ as we approach a town./ Thousands of people gazing/ in the land of long shadows.” Which may seem bleak, but Tranströmer is too sophisticated to be categorized as either gloomy or bright, and the poem reaches this conclusion, “A bridge builds itself/ slowly/ straight out into space.”

Death itself may be the end. Then again, it may not. In the prose poem “Answers to Letters,” the poet speaks of a place, possibly New York City, which is beyond death, “One day I will answer. One day when I am dead and can finally concentrate. Or at least as far away from here that I can find myself again. When I’m walking, newly arrived, in the big city, on 125th Street, in the wind on the street of dancing garbage. I who love to stray off and vanish in the crowd, a letter T in the endless mass of text.”

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Essential Poems (to Fall in Love with) presented by Daisy Goodwin

February 14, 2012

Did you know that there was a BBC TV show on poetry?  In 2003 Daisy Goodwin edited this little collection of love poems that have been performed by various actors on the show, such as Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” acted out as an office Don Juan flirting with the new temp.  What a cool idea—to take these poems that we think of as only read by English teachers, and show how full of life and truly “up to date” they are.

The poetry is arranged under topics from “Playing the Dating Game” to “Getting Over It,” with every nuance in between.  Here are poems for every mood and moment of love—or its absence.  Many of us can relate to the bitter truthfulness of Wendy Cope’s four-line poem:

I can’t forgive you.  Even if I could,
You wouldn’t pardon me for seeing through you
And yet I cannot cure myself of love
For what I thought you were before I knew you.

There are passionate poems, thoughtful poems, jealous poems, and some to cheer you up when you feel sad, like this little ditty from Adrian Mitchell:

When I am sad and weary
When I think all hope has gone
When I walk along High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on.

There are poems about old couples in love, how to deal with your ex’s new flame, and the ups and downs of marriage.  There are even poems about love that never quite was, such as these lines from Sara Teasdale’s poem “The Look”:

Strephon’s kiss was lost in jest,
Robin’s lost in play,
But the kiss in Colin’s eyes
Haunts me night and day.

Whether you’re thinking right now that love’s a joy or love’s a pain, there’s something in here for you.  Keep this book on your bedside table—or perhaps in your medicine cabinet!  It will remind you that love is worth searching for and worth cherishing when we find it.  This poem, which closes the collection, says it well.  It was written by Raymond Carver, shortly after he learned he had an inoperable brain tumor:

And did you get what
You wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
Beloved on the earth.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


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