Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2 Minute Book Review

Winston S. Churchill's The River War: An Account of the Reconquest of the Sudan

Okay, I didn't finish this one. I was too filled with disgust with Churchill as I went through it. I know enough about history to know that he harbored a lot of old-time racist views, but that's part of why I read him. He's a fantastic writer, of course, but his racism creeps in. That's part of the historical moment, and it should be read as a more complete way of understanding the time. The real danger would to have that incomplete and adoring vision of him that so many do.

In this book about the reconquest of the Sudan however, it was overwhelming. So much of what Hitler was arguing about race, he just kind of takes for granted here. I'm not going to compare him to Hitler. That's a ridiculous game to play. The big difference is that he saw other races as being inferior and wanted to save them from themselves. Now, I know that's not a good way of seeing life, but it is much better than whole-sale genocide. Churchill's kind thinking led to the destruction of many people and cultures. Anyway, it's right in your face here as he describes the problems of people as being the result of their inferiority.

Will I continue to read his work? Yes. He's a fascinating figure and his life touched the world in so many ways that Americans don't often think about. After all, he's not our leader. He was in the world during a time of extraordinary change, and he had a good view of all of it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

2 Minute Review

Christopher Buckley's Varieties of Religious Experience

Not all of these, but many of these have a dense complexity of spirituality mixed with an intellectualism that makes the whole collection dense. This is just to say, it's not a collection that you're going to want to read in one sitting. I've been bouncing between Winston Churchill and Christopher Buckley in my reading and of the two Buckley is definitely the more moving. I've been a fan for year, and I enjoy this collection a lot. I love its scientific and metaphysical, and it definitely stretches the brainpan.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2 Minute Review

Gerald Locklin's Deep Meanings: Selected Poems 2008-2013

Okay, full disclosure, Gerry's an old friend and my former professor. In a lot of ways he taught me to write, so I am biased towards him. And so maybe it's no surprise that I love this book as I have loved all of his work. There was a time when I thought I'd maybe do a Ph.D. dissertation on him until I got smart and realized that I didn't want the Ph.D. Still, he would have made a great dissertation.

And what about this book? If you know his work, then you will know the kind of personal poetry he often writes and writes well. Here, he does that. We get poems about his adulthood and childhood and love life. He also does a number of poems about paintings. He is a master of that, with a broad understanding of 20th century art -- and art beyond that too. My favorite section is a long discussion of a number of Edward Hopper pieces. Like so many Americans, I have a great love of Hopper, and so -- it seems --  does Gerry. He also has a great knowledge of the towering genius and develops a keen awareness of his work relating it at times to his own life.

If you like good, honest Long Beach poetry. Read it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

2 Minute Book Review

John Grochalski's The Noose Doesn't Get Any Looser After You Punch Out

A fantastic collection of poetry, but you have to be in the right mood for it. Our narrator is dealing with a job he hates, and frankly it feels like he's working up reasons to drink every day. He's depressed, but gets by with the love of his wife and writing poetry. The work is clean and straightforward, and he feels a lot like the voice that bounces around my brainpan some of the time. It's so familiar and what I work so hard to get away from. I'm glad he's out there saying what I feel better than I could say it. He has a clear and strong voice, and I'm going to look for more of his work.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

2 Minute Book Review

All right. Well, I'm back. I've been away from writing for a while. I've read like crazy over the semester but couldn't get to the computer enough to post reviews. Anyway, I wanted to get back on it. I'm reading in my sloppy, unfocused way, but who said it should be regimented, after all.

Anyway, I got to Tobias Wolff's The Night in Question. I've read a lot of Wolff's work. This was a short story collection, and I thought I wasn't familiar with any of these things. I picked it up after having much to drink one night at Sean's Gatsby Books, which is a great bookstore in Long Beach. Given my drunken state, it was almost at random.

Strange, I got halfway through it and realized that I'd read a lot of these stories in journals over the years including his incredibly powerful "Bullet in the Brain." You don't think that one's going to be powerful, but it does all kinds of thing to your brainpan, and come to think of it, the character's as well. Anyway, I've read many of these over the last 20 years or so. And actually, I read one of these when I was 15, so that's longer than 20 years. All of them had stuck themselves into my being, and I remembered not only their plots and character, but what I'd been feeling as I read them all those years ago.

Tobias Wolff can slap together one hell of a story.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Letters to Myself

I didn’t know it at the time, but I started a collection of poems when I was up in Canada a few years ago. I was up there to give readings and talk to students about being a poet and a Californian, and although I’d brought the medication that I generally take to help even out my depression, I forgot to take it.

It’s not a powerful dose, and people deal with much more powerful depression than I do. Still, it’s necessary and without it, I have a hard time. I had a hard time then even though I felt I was hiding it well. Maybe I was and maybe I wasn’t, but it didn’t occur to me that I’d forgotten it. I was just back in that old place I always go without it.

It would have been an easy thing if I had just remember that I had meds, but I didn’t. Somehow it just didn’t occur to me until the last day of the trip to take them. Instead, I tried to work my way out of that place with writing and with community. I was staying with my buddy and his family, and I took every opportunity that I had to hang out with them, talking to my friends or playing soccer with the kids. When they weren’t there, I sat alone and wrote my poems. I wrote and wrote.

I wrote about Canada and California. I wrote about New York, where I would have lived had I not moved to California as a child. I wrote about the little things I saw there, the people I met and talked to, and those things that were universal.

And as I wrote a kind of theme emerged. Without understanding it consciously, I was writing letters to myself about how to work my way back to a kind of emotional equilibrium. It had to do with focusing on the small things in life. Watching the little changes in the world around me, focusing my attention on anything other than myself, was what would get me through the worst of it.

I came back from Canada, and my wife reminded me to take my medicine, and I did, and things got better, but I kept writing. I was working myself into a better place and lucky for me, I didn’t stop.

I worked on that collection straight up into 2013, and it’s out now. I wrote myself to knowledge. Writing saves me all the time. So does my wife. Whatever it is that you love saves you. That’s maybe the most important thing that Canada taught me. Maybe it’s the most important thing I will ever learn.