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REVIEW: Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy

Author: David Herrlesharon tate and the daughters of joy

2014, Time Being Books

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 10

To say David Herrle’s new book, Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy, is about obsession is a real understatement, but it’s a good enough place to begin.  Herrle portrays and examines the excesses of violence to which lust drives men and the extremes of depravity that our zeal is used to justify.  The deaths of three beautiful women – Marie Antoinette, killed by the peasant mobs in the French Revolution, Mary Jane Kelly, the most comely of Jack the Ripper’s prostitute victims, and Sharon Tate, Manson’s gorgeous moviestar victim – are the focal point of these meditations.  Along the way, Herrle analyzes the nature of beauty and the aesthetics underlying beauty’s effects on our behavior.

But to describe Sharon Tate and the Daughters of Joy in this way makes the book sound dry and academic when the verse is related in a manic, lyrical speed-freak intense voice and generously laced with Joycean wordplay.   Moreover, the noir superhero ending gives the collection the quality of a dreamlike divine comedy.

But make no mistake, this is an impressively researched effort.  Each of the six sections is prefaced with a handful of quotations, serving as epigraphs, ranging from Moby-Dick to Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit, from Doctor Zhivago to W.H. Auden, and there’s a three-page list of suggested readings at the end that includes Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals (Remember Saul?  The guy Sarah Palin called a terrorist, accused Obama of “paling around” with?), Karl Marx, Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Blake, Jacques Lacan and a laundry list of other famous thinkers.  Indeed, some of the poems address these people directly.  “President ‘Pontius Pilate’ Truman” addresses Carl Sagan, “Bhagavad Rita” is spoken to Rita Hayworth, “This Is What Democracy Looks Like, Princess de Lamballe”  is addressed to Marie Antoinette’s friend, who was executed by guillotine.
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REVIEW: Imperial

Author: George Bilgereimperial

2014, University of Pittsburgh Press

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 9

In her backcover blurb, poet Dorrianne Laux succinctly nails George Bilgere’s new collection (in fact, pretty much all of his poetry), when she writes, “Tracing the arc of the Baby Boomer generation from cradle to grave, Bilgere’s poems paint a picture of American life that is equal parts sadness, matter-of-factness and hilarity….they tackle subjects such as aging, suburban routine, and the rise and subsequent fall of post-WWII America.” Bilgere’s poems are full of nostalgia and regret, but without a scintilla of self-pity or self-delusion.  All experiences in life are fleeting, full of a mix of emotions, from triumph to shame, exultation to repentance, valuable even as they may be ultimately without any real significance.

In “Attic Shapes,” a poem in which he is explaining to his wife (but really asking himself) why he bothers to hold onto the three cardboard boxes full of his dissertation notes, notes he knows he will never consult again, he likens these to other relics of the past, bound for the attic, his boxes of LPs, symbols of yet another period in his life (“my rebel period/of complicated post-adolescent unhappiness”); Bilgere observes that they represent a time “too terrible with loneliness and mystical confusion,/either to hear again or ever throw away.”  Closely observed, like amoeba under a microscope that blossom into dinosaurs, the ordinary experiences in an average lifetime represent so much more than their simple everydayness.

Take this reflection from “Journal,” a poem lamenting the slow relentlessness of aging, when he remembers a time he rented a golf cart, at age 58, noting it in his journal, “recognizing the enormity of this, the sorrow,/the hugeness of the moment in all its beautiful ordinariness/as it leaned so temporally/so irrecoverably against the void.”  This is at once elegiac and comic; he is talking about renting a golf cart, after all!
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REVIEW: All the Heat We Could Carry

Author: Charlie Bondhusbondhus

2013, Main Street Rag Press

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 9

Winner of the 2013 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award, Charlie Bondhus’ All the Heat We Could Carry is a meditation on war, the effects of war, particularly on gay soldiers, specifically with regard to the endless war in Afghanistan in the 21st century.  Shifting scenes from the home front in America to Afghanistan and back again, these poems expose the emotions and perspectives of soldiers, in the midst of conflict in the strange, alien terrain of  war and in the familiar, but now no less alien, environs of home.

The title comes from a line in “April,” the final poem in the middle section, a poem about the beginning of the end of a romantic relationship.  For one of the storylines in this collection is about the break-up of two lovers affected by the war.
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REVIEW: For the Living Dead

Author: Eric Greinkebookcover_forthelivingdead

2014, Presa Press Books

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 9

Containing a selection of poems spanning five decades, Eric Greinke’s new book, For the Living Dead is a sort of “greatest hits” collection chosen by the poet himself.  Across the years, his work embraces many of the same themes, concerns and styles , a playful but serious meditation on the universe around us, both the natural and supernatural.  Take “The Insomniac,” written in 1973 when Greinke was twenty-five.

I lie awake

where the river bends:

the jams of logs,

the broken, confused

rocks, (heads of frightened

bathers), deep funeral places.

 

I breathe the murky shadows.

I float incessantly

above the weeds. I suck

the black muck. Every morning

I am killed by the hot passing sun.

 

Compare this with “Cold Oceans” written thirty-eight years later.

I sit by my open window.

A lake breeze brings the outside in.

The white pine tree makes its green stand

Between me & the foggy lake..

It grows taller with each season,

But I do not.

 

My height has eroded since my age increased.

Even the Rockies re half the size

Which they were a million years ago.

The wind brings the scent of the lake to me.

It blows my countless blessings

Beyond cold oceans.

Both poems have the same cadence, the same pace (“I lie awake…”; “I sit by my open window…”).  But more than that, both are solidly grounded in the natural world, the world we take in through our senses.  But equally we are taken beyond our perceptions to contemplate the “murky shadows’ and the “foggy lake,” what is hidden from us.  This dual action is present throughout Greinke’s work, at times flying off to post-apocalyptic speculation and surreal imagery.
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REVIEW: Looking for the Gulf Motel, One Today, and Boston Strong

Author: Richard Blancolooking-for-the-gulf-motel-blanco

2013, University of Pittsburgh Press

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 10

Best known for being one of only five poets to compose and read a poem for an American president’s inauguration – One Today – Richard Blanco has had three books published within the year by University of Pittsburgh Press, including another slender volume, an ode to Boston after the Boston Marathon tragedy entitled Boston Strong.   The two poems commemorating large occasions are like orations honoring certain admirable qualities of character.  Boston Strong reveres the resilience of the city in the wake of the terrorist attack; One Today celebrates the diversity and majesty of the nation.  Both are admirable poems but not so controversial, and why would they be?  They are ultimately meant to be triumphant.

But the poems in Looking for the Gulf Motel are much more personal though no less universal, dealing with themes of identity, love, family and the effects of time on all of the above – heartbreak and loss.  Indeed, the eponymous poem, which serves as a sort of preface to the entire volume, a memory of family vacations to Marco Island on Florida’s west coast, concludes with the lines:
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REVIEW: Guinevere in Baltimore

Author: Shelley Puhakguinivere in baltimore

2013, The Waywiser Press

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 10

Shelley Puhak is a master of the dramatic monologue.  She already showed us this in Stalin in Aruba, her darkly comic 2010 collection about twentieth century genocide.  In Guinevere in Baltimore her talent is on display again.  Indeed, the collection begins with “Dramatis Personae,” the way any play does, with brief descriptive notes on the characters, and concludes, “Presented as it has been played sundry times in quaint Baltimore Town, jewel of the Chesapeake and Capital of the Land of Pleasant Living.”  You can just imagine Puhak winking broadly out at the audience here.  For just as in the previous collection, there’s some fine irony at work in these poems as well.  (Indeed, the title echoes the earlier book.  What next, Puhak in Prague?)

Or maybe, more accurately, it is the Speaker who winks at us.  Identified in “Dramatis Personae” as “neither Maid, Wife, nor Widow” – which Puhak tells us in a note at the end was a seventeenth century equivalent of calling somebody a whore – the Speaker is the voice of the poems that are not explicitly attributed to Guinevere, Lancelot, Arthur or anybody else (Betsy Patterson Bonaparte, Lady Elaine, Lancelot’s “Baby Momma,” to name a  couple).  So right away we know that the “Speaker” will be lacing her observations with a good deal of irony, not a completely “sincere” narrator, when she comments on the characters.  This voice, crackling with acerbity, with attitude, was all over Stalin in Aruba.
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REVIEW: The Clerk’s Tale

Author: Spencer Reececlerkstale

2004, Houghton Mifflin

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 2
Depth..... 6

The allure of the lengthy title poem of Spencer Reece’s The Clerk’s Tale is difficult to describe, but I would vote it the finest poem of the 21st century. Nothing interesting happens, and no one changes much. It makes no statements and harbors few ideas; it mildly endorses elitist capitalism, without confronting it, while alluding to Christianity without any confirming or questioning of belief in it. And, of course, the title references the Chaucer tale―which Reece’s poem does not remotely reference, refer to, or rewrite. But drat, it is beautiful. And I don’t know why.
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REVIEW: Vulgar Remedies

Author: Anna JourneyCOVER-VULGAR-REMEDIES-194x300

2013, Louisiana State University Press

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 9

The cover of Anna Journey’s new collection of poems, Vulgar Remedies, is an apt metaphor for the kind of poetry she writes.  The cover image, “House #3,” by Francesca Woodman, seems to depict a young woman materializing in a sort of magical, alchemical process in an abandoned, dilapidated house.  In just this way, Journey’s poetry partakes of transformation, the magic of dreams, and a nostalgia for a past that may never have occurred.

Time, too, as in dreams in which a dead parent is alive again, and while you’re dreaming it, you believe it is so, is subject to the magic of transformation, alchemy.
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REVIEW: Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish

LDMDCPAuthor: David Rakoff

2013, Doubleday

Filed Under: Literary, Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 5
Depth..... 6

I wanted to love this book. I wanted to love this book so much that after receiving the most useless form reply ever to my request for a review copy from Doubleday’s publicity division, I went to my local independent bookstore (support the Harvard Bookstore) and bought it new, fully intending to love every line and then praise it here on Chamber Four.

In case you couldn’t already guess, things just didn’t work out that way. Maybe I set my expectations too high, or David Rakoff did. I love his writing, all of his essays and every piece he ever did for This American Life. I wanted his posthumously published novel in verse to transcend his other work. I wanted a grand finale.

Instead, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish is just a finale, one last work from a great writer, which leaves me above all with the impression of how much more he might have done with even just a little more time.
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REVIEW: Hot Flash Sonnets

Hot-FLash-Final-CoverAuthor: Moira Egan

2013, Passager Books

Filed Under: Poetry

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 10
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 9

Several years ago, Moira Egan and Clarinda Harriss edited a collection of poems entitled Hot Sonnets, a collection of fourteen-line gems that address the wide range of feelings and reactions to carnal love, from desire to disappointment, from longing to ecstasy to regret. Meaning “little song,” the sonnet, which originated in Italy, was conceived as a vehicle for the expression of love. Think of Petrarch. Think of Dante. And yes, think of Shakespeare and the Elizabethans.

Egan has also published an ingenious sonnet cycle of her own entitled “Bar Napkin Sonnets” (a prize-winning chapbook that is included in her 2010 collection, Spin), which likewise deals with what Kim Addonizio calls “looking for love in all the wrong places…witty, irreverent, self-knowing poems.” In other words, hot sonnets!


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