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Apr. 27th, 2016

Slouching Toward NirvanaSlouching Toward Nirvana by Charles Bukowski

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Classic Bukowski. One of the many posthumous collections, but one that captures a lot of Bukowski's thinking in a very readable volume. For fans, this book is essential reading; for newcomers, this book is a great introduction.



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2 very different books of poetry

DuringDuring by James Richardson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Richardson's love of wordplay and aphorism is in full bloom here in this collection. There is a playfulness in his approach, even as he touches on dark subjects, that makes the work enjoyable, light, and pleasurable. He is very willing to turn ideas and images on their heads to make the reader see them from a different perspective. A solid collection.


Appalachian Elegy: Poetry and PlaceAppalachian Elegy: Poetry and Place by bell hooks

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A collection of poems inspired by hooks' childhood in Kentucky. Some of the things that best serve her prose writing are a bit of a disservice in poetry. She clearly has a love and appreciation for language and her roots, but the poems read a bit like memories without much nuance or metaphor. They simply paint pictures.



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Apr. 11th, 2016

Darkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New PoemsDarkness Sticks to Everything: Collected and New Poems by Tom Hennen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Hennen was largely unknown until this book gathered his earlier work published by very small presses along with some new poems and exploded on the scene. The book includes an introduction by Jim Harrison. Hennen writes about the Midwest in all its beauty and starkness, the people, the animals, and the land. It is devastating in its beauty and its ability to capture the awesome sense of physical and emotional space, whether the poems are short verse or longer prose poems. Highly recommended.



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Apr. 11th, 2016

Hell"s BountyHell's Bounty by Joe R. Lansdale

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


When bounty hunter Smith is killed pursuing a man named Trumbo Quill, he goes to Hell for his numerous misdeeds. The devil sends him back to pursue another bounty, a demon that has recently taken possession of Quill and has plans to bring the Old Ones into the world to mess with the cosmic order. This is a gory and violent weird western and, while a bit predictable, it's also a whole lot of fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

[I received an advanced e-galley of this book from Netgalley.]



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Apr. 5th, 2016

Zen Master PoemsZen Master Poems by Dick Allen

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


In this collection, the poet puts himself in the place of a Zen master and views the world from this perspective. Several of the poems read like koans; some read like introductions to Buddhist ideas. This is a fitting contribution to the long line of Buddhist poems.

[I received an advanced e-galley of this book from Netgalley.]



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Apr. 5th, 2016

Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip MandelstamStolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam by Osip Mandelstam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Osip Mandelstam is one of the greatest Russian poets of the twentieth century. His poetic voice only grew stronger after he was condemned to the gulag by Stalin. This selection of the poet's works captures some of the flow of the original Russian into English and shows his evolution as a poet with a strong perspective. A great introduction to an amazing writer. Highly recommended.



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Mar. 30th, 2016

The New TestamentThe New Testament by Jericho Brown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Passionate, sensual, and provocative, this beautiful book intertwines the mythology of the Christian religion with the experience of being a gay black man. The themes of community and brotherhood (in all its meanings) pervade the poems. Highly recommended.



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Mar. 30th, 2016

The Hollow of the HandThe Hollow of the Hand by P.J. Harvey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


From the book description: "Between 2011 and 2014, PJ Harvey and Seamus Murphy set out on a series of journeys together to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington, D.C. Harvey collected words, Murphy collected pictures, and together they have created an extraordinary chronicle of our life and times. The Hollow of the Hand marks the first publication of Harvey's powerful poetry, in conversation with Murphy's indelible images."

The combination of words and pictures works well here, adding up to more than the sum of the parts. Harvey is a decent, though not exceptional, poet and the visuals make up for some of the weaknesses of her writing. The project captures the daily life of people in these places, particularly those where war has had a huge impact on the routines of life.



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Inspiration - Jim Harrison (1937 - 2016)

If you read this blog regularly or follow my book reviews, you know I am a huge fan of Jim Harrison who passed away Saturday. The New Yorker has a beautifully written postscript here. It says - and I have no way to verify - that he literally died at his writing desk.

Jim Harrison casts an enormous shadow in my life. I am deeply enamored of his poetry, his thoughts on time and on what life means. He lived with gusto, not a word I use often but the only word that can describe how he lived. Passionately. In his introduction to the collected poems of Tom Hennen, Darkness Sticks to Everything (and let's be real - if Jim Harrison writes the introduction to your collected poems I pay attention), he says, "Though I don't teach I often get sought for advice from young poets. I say I don't have time for you unless you're going to give your life to it. That's what it takes."

When I was eight years old, I proudly announced to my parents that I would be a writer. Since then, writing has come and gone and come back in my life. I've never truly devoted myself to it. I have let myself be distracted. Told myself I'd come back when I was more (financially) secure. Yet I keep coming back. I had hoped that staying home with Zim would give me more time to write. In fact, it has given me less. She consumes so much time and energy. That's not a complaint; it's a statement of how little I knew going in.

There are drafts of three terrible novels at home gathering dust. They are countless false starts, notes, scribbles, and ideas. But I keep coming back to it. I keep being unwilling to "give my life to it," but I can't imagine life without it. I am better when I write. Life is fuller.

So Jim Harrison's final lesson to me is a simple one and the one perhaps his whole life is a testament to: Get to work.

Mar. 30th, 2016

The Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your PassionThe Crossroads of Should and Must: Find and Follow Your Passion by Elle Luna

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


A self-help book that can be read in one sitting (I think it might have taken me an hour). It's peppy and energetic and full of optimism and has a couple of useless exercises to "find and follow your passion." Some useful advice and not too syrupy.



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