Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “poetry”

Funkyfacecat’s #CBR4 Review #29: Bodies in Motion and at Rest by Thomas Lynch

Thomas Lynch is an undertaker/poet in a small town in America, and seems to be very good at both his jobs. In these he ponders, with humour and sadness, the often-misunderstood business of burial and its large-scale takeover by faceless corporations, Western notions of death and ritual, and the ties that make up homes and communities. He also discusses how much he hates his son’s cat and what he does when he doesn’t like poets.

Lynch is a talented story-teller, even making statistics and business information interesting, but it is his musings on the Big Questions, fate and fear and life and death that make this book worth reading. It isn’t uplifting in the conventional sense, there’s far too much realism and occasional bitterness, but it’s an enriching read that exudes camaraderie, leaving you feeling as if you’ve had a great and rambling conversation with a very intelligent and funny person down at the pub (although Lynch quit drinking-alcoholism in his life and family are the subject of one essay).

“We must be steady in our wounds, loyal to our doom, and patient in the machinery of heaven.”

loopyker’s #CBR4 Review #10: The Blythes Are Quoted: Anne of Green Gables Series, Book 9 by L. M. Montgomery

The Blythes Are Quotes coverI was excited to finally get to this after having been a fan of the Anne of Green Gables series for as long as I can remember. The Foreword says, “The Blythes Are Quoted is the last work of fiction the world-famous author of Anne of Green Gables prepared for publication before her untimely death on April 24, 1942…. The typescript was delivered to Montgomery’s publisher on the day she died—by whom we do not know; Montgomery evidently intended it for publication, since it is amended in her hand-writing.” This is the first printing that includes Montgomery’s entire manuscript. It is speculated that earlier printings removed some things that were felt to be anti-war at a time when patriotism was heavily favoured.

I had read enough about this last book beforehand to know to expect something very different. That certainly was the case. Calling it “Book 9″ in the series, is really only because of when it occurs chronologically and that the Blythe family is connected in some ways. However, if you expect a continuation of the stories in the vein of the rest of series, you will be disappointed.

Rather than a novel following the Blythes as they grow up, this book is a compilation of short stories and poems. Most of the short stories are about people unrelated to the Blythe family who gossip about the Blythes at some point to keep that connection to Anne. In true gossip fashion, some of it is true and some not, but if you know the rest of the series you will know which is which. Sometimes a family member is also a very minor character. The poems are scattered in the gaps between short stories and are mostly attributed to Anne in little scenes of discussion about the poem and family with Gilbert and the beloved family housekeeper, Susan. The others are attributed to Anne and Gilbert’s middle son, Walter.

Even though it is not a true continuation of the series, it makes the most sense to read this after the others in the series to know who the Blythe family is when they are mentioned and to understand the grief of the family that is mentioned when talking about a lot of the poems. You have to be paying close attention though to get the details about marriages and grandchildren that are scattered throughout.

Read the rest of the review at Loopy Ker’s Life

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #48: She’d Waited Millennia by Lizzie Hutton

She'd Waited Millennia (cover)How about some poetry? Over at Persephone Magazine, I talk about the quiet and circumspect She’d Waited Millennia by Lizzie Hutton.

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #26 Spiral Bound

I expected (when I was my student’s age) that I would settle for nothing less than a life on the stage or screen. That creating characters and delivering speeches was the only way to make me come alive. I thought that it was all about the art.

That’s one reason I so enjoyed the brief collection of stories and poems collected in Spiral Bound by Minnesota Hip-Hop Icon Dessa. My wife adores Dessa and really all of Doomtree and it was through her that I found and fell for their whip smart lyrics and whip crack beats (yet another thing that I love about my wife). Spiral Bound isn’t the foundation for any album, but it’s still a great glimpse into the life of an artist as she muses on the stories and images that have made her career what it is.

There are intimate personal stories as she recounts being trapped in the hold of a creaky boat with her father, or hot footing her way around South America on the Hippy Highway, or just living with a little brother. Each of these mini-memoirs, these personal reveries, comfort and combine her life with the audience’s, hitting common experiences with deft word choices and beautiful imagery. Her other pieces (including poetry and poetic prose on removing your mind from yourself or trying to fall asleep) showcase other skills, encapsulating complexity and complicating simplicity.

At a slim 66 pages, the only complaint is that you wish she had included more, that you could hear her read the poem rather than seeing the art confined to black and white of a page when it could be sung, or rhymed, or shouted from a stage. Still, Dessa’s done a marvelous job of capturing the essence of her art, and taking the reader along for the ride. It’s a beautiful experience that leaves you eager for more.

To want more art, to want to live IN art, is an amazing feeling. And it’s a feeling I get, not just from the rush of acting or the pride of writing, but from the moment to moment thrills of teaching. I’ve said before that teaching is less a job and more of an art. I love the challenge of it, the creativity it allows/demands and the people I interact with throughout it.

(With that I hereby finish my half cannonball. I may try to include reviews of other books I read this year…assuming my negative reviews of George RR Martin and Veronica Roth haven’t yet rendered me persona non grata among my fellow cannonballers.)

The Scruffy Rube’s #CBR4 Review #19 Bamboo Among the Oaks


Bamboo Among the Oaks certainly offers a wide array of talented, but lesser known authors in the emerging Hmong literary scene. With its rapid expansion throughout the upper midwest there are many assumptions and stereotypes about the Hmong people and Bamboo Among Oaks does its best to confront them through an anthology of short stories and poems that capture the experience of first generation Americans caught between an intensely traditional culture and a rapidly evolving America.

The works within the anthology are wildly uneven. Some offer gorgeous retellings of personal experiences, others simply dwell on stereotypes in unexplained native dialects. Though all the authors have grown up with the challenges of life as Hmong-American kids, their writing often adopts the tone of paternalistic or lecturing adults (a sure-fire way to frustrate current teenagers). As befits a group of “young writers” the style of most pieces is still developing, soon to be great, but still a little way off from that.

Still there are some great individual sections particularly Va-Meng Thoi’s scathing satirical skit “Hmoob Boy meets Hmong Girl” and Ka Vang’s great short story “Ms. PacMan Ruined my Gang Life”. These stellar selections are great glimpses into a vital new voice in what some scoff at as “the bland mid-west” and I look forward to seeing more from Hmong writers in the years to come

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #45: Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith

How do I even begin to tell you how wonderful Life on Mars is? Tracy K. Smith’s poetry fills me with peace and such fullness, even when she writes about how inhuman we can be. Her poems are almost meditative — I really enjoyed slowing down and focusing on her words, their rhythm, and the overall picture of the poem before me. Part space opera, part elegy, part wartime commentary, Life on Mars exceedingly deserves the Pulitzer it received, won on Smith’s birthday, no less.

(My full review appears at Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #39: PANK 5 edited by M. Bartley Siegel and Roxane Gay

PANK 5
edited by M. Bartley Seigel and Roxane Gay

Forgive me, I read PANK 5 a few months ago, and because there is so much content within its 250 pages, I will perhaps not do the publication justice. Still, this print edition of the online magazine is quite excellent, and my memory and slowness should not temper your interest.

I bought 5 instead of 6 because of the number of writers whose work I already knew somewhat, including Jamie Iredell, J.A. Tyler, xTx, Brian Oliu, Kyle Minor and Deb Olin Unferth. Jamie Iredell’s contribution comes from The Book of Freaks, which has since been published by Future Tense Books. I haven’t read the book, but I’m always curious about what sort of changes transpire between an excerpt printed in a journal or online and the final product.

Brian Oliu’s “O Self Extracting Executable” reminds me a bit of Alex Shakar’s Luminarium, in that it is framed around a computer program and poses thoughts about the nature of life. Oliu’s lyrical style is quite lovely:

This is how technology and you and I and there have drifted; the desire to put more into smaller things, to crunch, crush and raster in search for a resolution, the spreading of air, plates both tectonic and served at meals where we would sit across from each other or at a right angle, water glasses filled with reckless abandon like storms in water glasses, teacups, even, though the water encompassed by glass was not heated, cold, cold from a cold sink, processed from water elsewhere, plants elsewhere, and brought here, cold. We crash our crystal-capsized ships together, ringing true like it once was, delicately.

Speaking of a story framed within computer programming, Kaitlin Dyer’s poem “He’d Leave Her Notes in Code” is excellent. I know just enough about CSS coding that I understood the creativity she uses to talk about a relationship.

/*CSS Document*/
body {

background-color: translucent white skin against my chest makes me feel tan;
font: veins drawn up your arms in aquamarine are plump and spongy;
background-image: auburn ringlets twist off my fingers;
margin: your legs span my lap;
background-repeat: please;

}

I love the “please” at the end of that stanza.

I also really liked that the editors included two translation pieces — in this case, Toshiya Kamei translating two poems by Mexican writer Isolda Dosamantes — with the Spanish and English side by side. Because I know a little bit of Spanish, I like to match up the words and increase my knowledge of the language, as well as see how one person might translate a line that another person might do a different way. Obviously, one can’t do this with a whole novel, page by page, but in poetry translations, I think it’s the best approach.

Another highlight: Janey Smith using song titles from The Smiths in her “Vignettes: Short Fictions on My Life as a Cheerleader.” She also has a short piece that makes fun of purposely vapid, stoned hipster art with, “Bedtime Stories for Hitler (Or How to Sell Your Next Book to Urban Outfitters).”

Probably my favorite story was Teresa Milbrodt’s “Blue,” about a woman whose saliva is blue to the point of staining clothing, silverware, and boyfriends’ lips. She starts doing drastic things to her appearance to distract people from noticing her “Grape Lips.”

It was her nails that gave her the inspiration, how easy it was to distract from one garish thing with something even more garish, cover the light blue with emerald or orange. She got the rest of the idea from a joke she’d heard, how Eve was not Adam’s rib, he was her third tit. It seemed the way to go. If people wanted to stare, she’d give them something to stare at. She wanted a new start, a new job, a new town. It wasn’t hard to convince her husband to move. They bought a van and a secondhand trailer, had both repainted before they went on the road.

She glued the prosthetic breast to the middle of her chest, used an adhesive the woman in the costume shop said would last for a week. The breast looked perfectly natural, right down to the nipple.

Her methods only escalate from there. When I finished reading “Blue,” I literally said aloud, “Now that’s a story.”

Really, I enjoyed most everything offered in PANK 5 with only a few exceptions, and it certainly made me want to buy other print issues of the magazine when I’m able to do so. In the meantime, I will continue to catch up on some of their online archives. I hope you will too.

(#39: This review originally appeared on Glorified Love Letters.)

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #35: Crack the Spine: 2012 edited by Kerri Farrell Foley

Crack the Spine (cover)Crack the Spine is a weekly online magazine that specializes in poetry and short fiction. The printed anthology, published through CreateSpace, collects a season’s worth of their best material and lets the reader embrace the tactile sensation in its title. I brought this book on vacation, figuring that I was given permission to let it get banged about in my bag.

And how was it? Fairly good, though a bit uneven in places. My full review appears at Glorified Love Letters.

Sara Habein’s #CBR4 Review #22 – Playground Swings and Yearning by Jeffrey Scolley

Playground Swings and Yearning
by Jeffrey Scolley

Periodically, I end up in a position to review a book, an album, or something similar from someone I personally know. With Electric City Creative, this obviously happens more often. Great Falls is only so large, and the magazine focuses primarily on local arts and culture. When it comes to people I know who have written books, especially ones who live in the same city, the pool is considerably smaller than that of the musicians and visual artists. So I like to support the cause. Given that more people read this site than read my magazine (let’s be real), and given that now I obsessively feel the need to review every book I read (no matter how much my reading outpaces the reviewing), I want to promote my friends.

It’s only as I open the book for the first time that it really sinks in — What do I say if I don’t like it?

Find out if I do in the rest of my review over at Glorified Love Letters.

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