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If Winter Come: Collected Poems, 1967-1992

If Winter Come: Collected Poems, 1967-1992 - Alvin Aubert Rating: 3 1/2

A lot of poetry packed into this smallish book. 142, by my count, many of which are quite short. Topics include small town life in the South, black cultural figures, and family. Aubert's writing is often free of punctuation, so navigating his lines can be difficult. Some of these pieces seem expendable. But his best work is worth the read.

Here are a few poems that stood out to me:

"Uncle Bill"
"Dayton Dateline / Paul Laurence Dunbar, 1872-1906"
"One Way It Can Come About"

A couple fragments worth noting:

there is enough of you in me
I tremble knowing the soft places
we can hurt
- "Woman In Me"

But it was better to have missed James Baldwin
than not to have waited for him at all.
- "James Baldwin, 1924-1987"

What I Stole

What I Stole - Diane Sher Lutovich Rating: 3 1/2

Poems about coastal nature scenes, old age, health issues, etc. It's a sad collection, so don't read it for a morale booster.

There are a few pieces that stood out to me:

"Love and Syntax"
"Objets d'Art" - about Gaugoin and the women he painted
"What I Stole"
"From Opposite Sides of the Glass"

Note: The cover features Seated Figure With Hat, a painting by Richard Diebenkorn. It's a side view of a woman who is wearing a dress and a hat.

Vienna Blood and Other Poems

Vienna Blood and Other Poems - Jerome Rothenberg Rating: None. His writing is too difficult for me to understand, but it might be more accessible for you.

Rothenberg writes without punctuation often, so it is difficult to get the rhythm right. He drops foreign words and phrases into his poems. There's an affinity for phrases (as opposed to fully formed sentences). There are a lot of repetition and one-word lines in these pieces. A lot of these things are stylistic preferences, not necessarily criticisms or praise.

The long poem, "Abulafia's Circles", seems interesting if you can understand it. "Aleph Poem" is also worth noting.

Also, this:

I never knew heaven
could be terrible as hell
or be as bright
- "The Notebooks"


Seasonings - Emilio Degrazia Not terrible, but a bit boring.

There are a few interesting pieces:

"Horn Call" - a girl switching from the piano to the French horn
"Empty Country Church"
"I Lay My Case Before Him" - John Berryman's suicide
To a lesser extent: "Love Math", "Serenade", and "The Meaning of Life".

There is also this:

We think, therefore we are confused - "Of Maps"

In Praise of Falling

In Praise of Falling - Cheryl Dumesnil Rating: 3 1/2

There's an 'every-day people' quality to her writing. She doesn't come across as an ivy-walled intellectual or an elitist. I found a lot of pieces to be a bit boring, though not from lack of writing ability. There are a few stand-out poems, as follows:

"Recurring" - an urban street scene

"Somewhere in a Box Marked Keep" - about "looking for the words"

"Q to the 6 Train"
"Dark Magic"
Both of these are related to romantic love.

I leave you with this:

It's just ash dusting the parking lot, like dandruff brushed from the shoulder of an itchy god. - "It's not Armageddon"


Passengers - Sue Lightfoot I was on page 23 when it went missing.

Exterminator drama.

So yeah - dnf.

The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing

The Absolution of Roberto Acestes Laing - Nicholas Rombes I received a promotional copy through the First Reads program.

Rating: Soft 4 - more 3 1/2 than 4.

It's definitely original. I got the feeling I was reading something different, something unusual. There's a stripped-down quality that works, in the novel proper as well as in the films described in the novel.

That being said, I never really bought Laing's explanation for why the films had to be destroyed. Also, the ending was a bit of an anti-climax.

It's worth mentioning that a Goodreads reviewer who's more of a cult film buff than I am gave this book a harsh review.

(I don't usually point out proofing overlooks, but Joe Lewis for Joe Louis? Come on, man.)


Betrayal - Harold Pinter I can just as easily give it 2 stars, but I'm allowing for the possibility that it's better as a live performance.

Pinter could have named this play What?, due to how many times his characters ask that question. They come across as either really dense, or as suffering from some serious ADD. He was probably trying to say something with this kind of dialog, but he was too subtle for my liking. It just came off as annoying.

I was struck by the seeming indifference of Emma and Robert to their marriage. The cheating and not caring if the other person cheats smacks of moral bankruptcy and soullessness to me. Though it's probably my own interpretation more than anything Pinter was trying to communicate.

Come Here Often?: 50 Writers Raise a Glass to Their Favorite Bar

Come Here Often?: 50 Writers Raise a Glass to Their Favorite Bar - Sean Manning, Malachy McCourt I received a promotional copy through the First Reads program.

I liked it. A well-deserved 4 stars, with no rounding up needed.

53 writers means a variety of writing styles and perspectives. 53 bars means a variety of bars - different vibes, different parts of the world, etc. There's a sense of loss running throughout the book - a lot of the bars have closed, and a lot of the writers are reminiscing about a time that is over and they can't return to it. On a happier note, the writers make clear how important camaraderie can be, how much better people are when banding together. Regardless of what section (of the book) the bars are in, it's obvious time and time again that those bars are meaningful to the writers because of the people there.

I was disappointed that I had only read one book by these authors: The Year of Silence, by Madison Smartt Bell. I had heard of Scott Raab, Alissa Nutting, Malachy McCourt, and of course Duff McKagan. But I consider the latter more a musician who writes than a writer. A few of the writers chose bars they have been to only once or twice, so I wouldn't consider those bars favorites.

Anyway, here are a few selections that stood out to me:

The Patterson House (Nashville) - Adam Ross: The most interesting of the upscale establishments.

Southern Exposure (Antarctica) - Hunter Slaton
The Otintaii Bar (Tarawa, Kiribati) - J. Maarten Troost
Both of those are location-driven.

Eddie's Club (Missoula, Montana) - Kevin Canty

Fireside Bowl (Chicago) - Joe Meno
Slim's Last Chance Saloon (Seattle) - Duff McKagan
Both of those are notable for the music.

Leila's Peugeot (Tehran) - Azadeh Moaveni: Yes. It's a car.

La Cabanita (Glendale, California) - Heather Havrilesky: Drinking with children.

Raccoon's (Valrico, Florida) - Alissa Nutting

Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers

Forty-one False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers - Janet Malcolm, Ian Frazier I received a promotional copy of this book through the First Reads program.

Rating: Somewhere in the 3 to 3 1/2 range.

I really like the title piece. "Capitalist Pastorale" is a waste of time. The others fall somewhere in between, with "Edward Weston's Nudes" being one of the better pieces and the Bloomsbury piece falling flat.

There are whiffs of elitism and NYC-centrism scattered throughout the book. She likes to quote other writers, and does so a bit too much for my taste. Sometimes it seems as though she's quoting merely for the opportunity to disagree.

She comes across as an intelligent woman who knows her subjects. I certainly learned from her writings. So it's possible that her other books are better than this one.

A couple minor quibbles: she mentions an artist who takes other artists' work and signs her name to it, then passes it off as her own. I'm a bit surprised this is even legal. I'm disappointed that this "artist" is being taken seriously, regardless of legality. Also, a significant portion of the book is about visual art: paintings, photographs, etc. But there aren't any photos of the art. I don't know if this is due to legal restrictions or not wanting to make the book longer or whatever. But it might have been nice to see some of the pieces.

San Francisco Poems

San Francisco Poems - Lawrence Ferlinghetti 73 pages of writing and 15 black and white photographs.

The first and longest piece is his 1998 inaugural address as poet laureate of San Francisco. He mixes silly left-wing rants (against the Navy, against automobiles, against chain stores) with a few short poems and some proposals for the city. He recommends the work of several poets: Homer, Shakespeare, Yeats, Neruda, Ginsberg, Cummings, Kenneth Rexroth, Marianne Moore, Kenneth Patchen, Adrienne Rich, etc.

"Challenges To Young Poets" is more like a list than a poem. But it's an interesting piece, even if he doesn't always follow his own advice.

There are passages in the five-page "The Old Italians Dying" where he's clearly found his groove. but the poem as a whole is less impressive.

"The Artist" is an interesting piece - a statement on the art scene, with an unusual rhyme scheme.

"The Changing Light" and "Yachts In Sun" are my favorite poems in the collection that are San Francisco specific.

The fifteen photos range from 1956 to 1995, though six are from 1980-1981. Included are pictures of Ferlinghetti with Burroughs, Ginsberg, Corso, and at Kerouac's grave. (Not endorsing the publication of the latter photo, merely reporting it.)

Not every piece focuses on San Francisco. I'm a bit surprised by this, considering how long he has lived there. Also, it's a relatively short collection when stripped of the inaugural address and the photos. So the quality of the pieces could have been better.

I leave you with these lines:

We have seen the best minds of our generation
destroyed by boredom at poetry readings
- "Inaugural Address"

Think long thoughts in short sentences. - "Challenges To Young Poets"

The Lines

The Lines - Eli Wilde I had high hopes for this one, but I was disappointed. Too many redundancies, too many poems that didn't really say anything. Wilde is fixated on kissing, as I'd expect a 13-year-old girl to be, not an adult male. Because of the subject, this collection could should have been a lot sexier.

However, Wilde does have talent. He just needs to let it off the leash more. I liked the concept; that was why I bought the book after I didn't win it through the First Reads program. As other reviewers have mentioned, the pieces are accessible, understandable. The collection is a quick, easy read.

Anyway, I selected a few poems that stood out more than the rest:

"Morning Fog"
"Allure Velvet"
"Spidery, Amorphous"
"What She Did to Me"
"Everlasting, Without Asking"

I leave you with this:

as if your voice is a calling
and your silence a bitter end
- "Affects Profound"

Your Life Idyllic

Your Life Idyllic - Craig Bernier I received a promotional copy through the First Reads program.

Nine stories, ranging in length from ten to twenty-seven pages. Seven are set in or near Detroit; one in a vague somewhere; one in Southern California.

The stories are well-constructed. Accessible, readable, smooth plots, believable dialogue, etc. Bernier is aware of the problems in the world and puts human faces on them. But he also has a sense of humor.

It gets a bit redundant - reading about problem after problem. It creates the effect of the parts seeming better than the whole. But that's my only general complaint. As for the specific stories, the only one that falls flat is "Lucky Star". Though I think the ending of "The Chief" is a bit weak.

"The Manual of Heavy Drinking" is excellent. Simultaneously witty and serious, re-readable, and not like the others. "An Affliction of Starlings" tugs at the heart strings with its portrayal of a divorced man and his teen-age daughter.

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems

Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems - Billy Collins I received a promotional copy through the First Reads program. So a tip of the hat to Alaina Waagner and the Random House Marketing team.

I rate it a soft 4.

It's a lot of poetry: 247 pages of it, even after excluding the gap pages between sections. There are four sections of selected poems, ranging in publication date from 2002 to 2011. The section of new poems is saved for last, as it should be.

Collins writes a lot about nature, animals, and such. This isn't exactly my thing, but I give him credit for doing it well. However, it gets a bit redundant after a while. One thing I noticed, when looking at my list of stand-out poems, was how many referenced writing. Eleven of my original list of seventeen did. It's not that so many of the poems in the collection are about writing; it's that when he writes about writing, it's clear he has a talent for it.

Anyway, I narrowed my list of seventeen stand-out pieces to ten, six of which fall into the 'about writing' category:

"Reader" - It doesn't even get a real page number, but it's an excellent piece.
"Poetry" - From Nine Horses.
"January In Paris" - From Ballistics.
"Scenes of Hell" - From Ballistics.
"Divorce" - Four lines, because he didn't need any more. From Ballistics.
"Drawing You from Memory" - From Horoscopes For the Dead.
"Drinking Alone" - A new poem.
"Villanelle" - New poem.
"If This Were a Job I'd Be Fired" - New poem.
"The Names" - A new poem dedicated to "the victims of September 11th and their survivors".

Note: I sent Ms. Waagner a query about one of the poems and am waiting for her response. It's a bit too early to expect one yet though.

Anyway, I leave you with this:

And I am getting good at being blank, / staring at all the zeroes in the air. - "Returning the Pencil to Its Tray" (Horoscopes For the Dead)

Update (12/15): It looks like I won't be getting a response to my query. Oh well.

The Green Piano

The Green Piano - Janine Pommy Vega, Janine Pommy-Vega Poems written in the late 1990's - early 2000's.

Vega's primary topics are people she's known, nature, places she's been (Italy, for example), and socio-political issues. If her writing has a flaw, it's that she sometimes lets her emotions / political biases get the better of her. When this happens, she can come off as silly. But as a whole, it's a worthy body of work, even if a lot of the pieces aren't my type.

These five poems stood out to me:

"Patrick Nolan" and "Blind Numbers Over the Hill", both which seem to have been inspired by her work in prisons.
"Postcard from Napoli" and "Verona - Heidelberg Express", from her travels.
"Across the Table" - the final piece in the collection.

I shall leave you with this:

words that float like birds on the water - "Gregory"

100 Best-Loved Poems

100 Best-Loved Poems - Robert Louis Stevenson, Christopher Marlowe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Li Bai, Wilfred Owen, William Blake, W.H. Auden, W.B. Yeats, Robert Frost, Robert Burns, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Milton, Robert Herr The fourth, and final, Dover poetry anthology I am reviewing. As with the others, it is an easily portable, inexpensive book.

Includes work by 58 poets. Ten were born before 1600, another six in the 17th century, twelve in the 18th century, and two in the 20th century. So 28 were born in the 19th century. There are five selections from John Keats, and four each from Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and William Blake. Other big names represented are Poe, Whitman, Yeats, Frost, Sandburg, and Cummings. There is a short blurb about each poet, as well as an index of titles and an index of first lines.

From my original list of 18 I have selected ten poems that deserve mention here:

"The Raven' - Edgar Allan Poe
"The Charge of the Light Brigade" - Alfred, Lord Tennyson
"Jabberwocky" - Lewis Carroll
"Gunga Din" - Rudyard Kipling
"The Road Not Taken" - Robert Frost
"Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening" - Frost
"Chicago" - Carl Sandburg
"Anyone Lived In A Pretty How Town" - E.E. Cummings
"Musee des Beaux Arts" - W.H. Auden
"Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night" - Dylan Thomas