A Review of “Steal It Back” by Sandra Simonds

9780991545490Sandra SimondsSteal It Back is a call to action for readers and a personal reflection that gives commentary on modern social topics including feminism, capitalism, and motherhood. Simonds takes the reader through her personal journey of stealing “it” back – everything from femininity to power, adventure to vulnerability – and along the way, readers are prompted through Simonds’ breathless, fierce writing to steal “it” back as well – whatever that may be to the reader.

The most unconventional poem of the collection is also one that best encompasses Simonds’ unique style. “Occupying” is a single paragraph that extends nearly seven pages without a single period. Though there is the occasional exclamation point or question mark, the lack of periods adds to Simonds’ quick-paced, intense voice and forces the reader to consume the poem in one breath. Simonds also utilizes repetition effectively in this poem, and in others of the collection. The line, “They are building a Catholic schoolgirl” is repeated throughout the poem. This draws the reader’s attention to Simonds’ idea that “they”, whether it be her parents or another authoritative figure in her life, tried to shape her into a good, Catholic girl, for better or worse. Simonds talks to the reader in meta fashion and seems to be replying to her critics, writing, “Oh you think this is so terrible? Well / you try to write a better one, friend.”

While it may seem like the nonstop, continuous, repetitive nature of such a poem could lose the reader’s interest, Simonds manages to transition between different subjects and scenes seamlessly; she recognizes when the reader’s mind may begin to trail off and regains traction with a fresh image or line.

Simonds’ most effective technique is to juxtapose heavy topics with the everyday.. McDonalds, Sephora, and Lady Gaga all make appearances alongside feminism, the monotony of unfulfilling jobs, divorce, and the trials of motherhood. She uses her personal experiences while still relating to the larger issues at hand in the world. In the poem, “I Grade Online Humanities Tests” she writes about her complicated relationship with a mechanic, but also about the larger issue of men feeling entitled to things because they are used to being in power. She writes, “the guns are male because he owns the guns…and Home Depot is male because he owns and owns/and owns and all he can do is own/everything that will rot/like privacy or speech or porn or black swans/or my big tits.” While her poetry may have started out for Simonds as a release for her own emotions, she expands and touches on the bigger problems in society that her life experiences bring up.

One aspect of Simonds’ writing that may not appeal to all readers is her tendency to write poems that clearly show a passing of time during her writing process. She separates some of her poems into pieces on different pages and the subject changes slightly on each page. The disconnect suggests that she may have left the poem and returned at a different time to finish it. In “A Poem For Landlords,” Simonds outright states, “I am writing this so fast./I will not be able to look/back at it but just now/I am looking back at it since I made/dinner and cleaned the house.” Some readers will be turned off by her blatancy in stating these actions and describing her writing process, however, it adds honesty and an interesting pacing of time to the poems. She may also be giving commentary on the futility of poetry in enacting change.

Simonds has created a collection that is not easy to digest, or to forget. By the time the reader reaches the final lines of the book “I know what is real/and I know how to steal/back what is mine” they won’t be able to resist the urging of Simonds to do the same.


sandra-simonds About the Author: Sandra Simonds’ poems have been included in the Best American Poetry consecutively in 2014 and 2015, and have appeared in many literary journals. She is an Associate professor of English and Humanities at Thomas University in Georgia, and lives in Tallahassee, Florida.

 

A Review of “LOOK” by Solmaz Sharif

12079778_10106285764738939_240672169261332420_oIn “LOOK“, Solmaz Sharif assembles personal anecdotes and perspectives to show the way the War on Terror has shaped the people of the United States’ view on Iran’s beautiful people and culture. She asks us, citizens of the United States, to “LOOK” at what we’re doing in the Middle East. Her upbringing has given her a perspective on the war in Iran that needs to be heard today, and the poems in “LOOK” demand that readers ask questions about themselves, their soldiers, and the “enemy’s” soldiers that so few people dare ask. Sharif’s poems enlighten the reader of the circumstances beyond their experience. She emphasizes the “exquisiteness” of those viewed as monstrous. She shows our apathy through the use of “DRONES,” and our dismissive nature towards the lives of those who live there. It’s clear that she strives to replace our passive nature with a passionate one, and she intends to do so by making us “LOOK.”

“LOOK” relies primarily on two ideas to establish its basis. It uses the U.S. Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, particularly the 2007 version, to tell us how war affects the lives of individuals on both sides. It also uses her perspective as an Iranian-descended, Turkish-born, U.S.-raised woman to complicate public perception of war even further. Sharif blends these two ideas wonderfully, alluding to dictionary definitions of phrases like “BATTLEFIELD ILLUMINATION” followed by “on fire / a body running.” The use of military terms and definitions offers the apathetic perspective of soldiers, but her use of personal anecdotes heightens that connotation, even changing it from neutral and descriptive to painful. Her redefining of Military and Associated Terms tells the stories that the initial definitions were created to hide, of the people who are lost in the war, the people described as “Collateral” or “Dolly” by those who distance themselves from the lives in which they intervene.

On the page, Sharif uses disparate spacing, lines separated by empty space, and poems that consist of letters with redacted information all in order to show us the things we have been told not to look at. Sharif invokes a “VULNERABILITY STUDY” of people personally affected by the wars, “a newlywed securing her updo / with grenade pins” and “your face turning from mine / to keep from cumming.” She works on both sides of the war, though, showing US military coming home to their family, saying “’What a dramatic moment this is’” and “’What’s wrong? What happened? My buddy.” She asks of these moments, of these two different portrayals, “’What does that say?’”

While the core of the poems lies in observing warfare and its atrocities – the untold stories and unmentioned perspectives – it also explores race and femininity in a way that shows their intersections with the war. Sharif grew up in the United States, but she refers to a conversation with her psychiatrist in which she was asked “’So you feel like a threat?’” Her response was “Yes.” She also asks us to look at times when she felt threatened because of her gender. She also tells of times with family and friends where her and their beauties were able to shine. She talks of pictures of family lost long ago, and of the effects of the war on them and on herself. Effects like “seeing a dead body walking to the grocery store” being “kinda like acceptable.”

This is what Sharif’s poems do best: they get the reader to look at all sides of the war, in its entirety, see what it is doing to the victims and the perpetrators, see the vulnerabilities but also the strengths in the victims and perpetrators of war. Anyone who takes interest in knowing the experiences of those whose lives are surrounded by war should absolutely read this collection of works. Anyone who wants to try to understand another point of view should read “LOOK”, because it gives the reader an opportunity to do something so rarely done: a look into the lives of another, vulnerabilities and strengths, valor and atrocities included.


solmaz-sharif2About the Author: Solmaz Sharif was born in Istanbul to Iranian parents. She holds a degree from U.C. Berkeley, where she was a part of Poetry for the People, and from New York University. In 2014, she was selected to receive a Rona Jafe Foundation Writer’s Award. LOOK” was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Boston ReviewWitness, and various others.

Review of “Find Me” by Laura van den Berg

Find Me by Laura van den BergLaura van den Berg’s Find Me explores the mind of Joy, an orphaned cough syrup addict, as she experiences life after the potential end of American civilization.  The novel opens during Joy’s stay (or imprisonment) in a hospital searching for the cure to a disease that wipes the memories of its victims before taking their lives. Eventually, Joy escapes and wanders in search of her biological mother in a dystopian landscape. Although the novel seeks to be a more distinctive narrative in a sea of dystopian novels, Find Me maintains a sub-par impression upon the reader. Ultimately, van den Berg confuses and continually loses touch with her readers through spoon-feeding themes, disclosing unnecessary information, frequently using clichés, and distracting the reader with a jumbled organizational structure.

Throughout the novel, van den Berg spoon-feeds her audience with overstated messages of profundity. Rather than allowing the reader to dissect the possible meanings of the work, such as the importance of belonging and being found, one is bombarded by statements such as, “To be looked for is to matter” (223). The theme of the novel is not open to interpretation and discussion. Thus, the narrative feels simple and interest diminishes.

Along with overstating themes, van den Berg frequently reveals information that neither affect its plot nor its message. In the second half of the novel, a character is hinted to possess psychic or predictive abilities (176). One would believe that such a profound disclosure would affect the premise of the plot, but it did not affect any element of the novel. It was not relevant at the time of its revelation, and it continued to stay irrelevant. If the author’s intention was to add depth to the character, or to garner interest, it did not appear as such. Sequentially, the disclosure of irrelevant information invoked feelings of disappointment and confusion.

Peppered throughout Find Me, clichés particularly common to young-adult dystopian novels frustrate the reader. Towards the beginning of the novel, as Joy is reliving a memory where she watches reruns of The X-Files, she states, “I’ve never liked the things girls my age are supposed to” (34). This overused statement not only turns off the reader, but feels mildly condescending. What are 19-year-old girls supposed to like? Why must Joy declare how she’s “not like other girls”? One cannot help but interpret Joy’s declaration of difference as a method of implying superiority to stereotypically feminine women. Furthermore, as the novel continues, Joy engages in sexual activity with her roommate in the hospital, and does not shower for days to hold fast to his scent. Her desperate hold on her moments with him has a poetic appeal, but feels empty; reactions to physical love such as this have been overused in romance novels and films. As a result, the many clichés of Find Me contribute to its lack of distinction in the dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre.

Along with relaying random information and overusing clichés, van den Berg distracts readers with the confusing structure of the novel. Although it is predictable, with one chapter relating the present and the next revealing the past, it distracts from the plot. The reader can easily get lost along the way by forgetting the most recent events and constantly attempting to retain information about the past. Some of the chapters reveal disturbing qualities of Joy’s past that add emotional depth to her narrative, but others feel random and unnecessary. For example, the larger portion of chapter 18 is dedicated to stating facts about Norway and the origin of the disease that has ravaged America. While the disease has arguably caused the events of Find Me, and Norway is the home to a minor character, the information given about the two falls flat, thus unnecessarily interrupting the progression of the plot. Further assisting in the disruption of the novel’s flow was van den Berg’s consistent use of three-dot breaks. For example, within the span of the five pages of chapter 40, three-dot breaks appear 10 times. The excited thoughts that Joy experiences could easily have been encapsulated in paragraph form. The information instead reads as overexaggerated and encourages the reader to rapidly skim through it in anticipation of the last page. The chapter, along with the many others that exude the same love of scene breaks, resultantly reads as choppy, scattered, and lacking in cohesiveness. Laura van den Berg’s writing style ultimately detracts from the reader’s consumption of her work.

Although Find Me loses touch with its readers, it still has some charm. Van den Berg’s use of imagery was imaginative. When Joy experiments with an unknown drug she states, “my brain is a blue jellyfish that has crawled out through my ear and is hovering somewhere along the roof of the tunnel, happy to finally be free of the body” (225). An experience with drugs may prove difficult to convincingly describe, but van den Berg has accomplished it without seeming stereotypical or overdramatic. Additionally, the language was well-written; the tone felt conversational, yet still possessed gravity and poetic qualities in the right places. The positive elements of the overall work do not cover for its flaws, but they are still present and worth considering.

Fundamentally, explicitly stated themes, excess information, the overwhelming use of clichés, and a distracting writing style effectively contribute to the lackluster impression of Find Me. If the novel had better confronted its themes without overstating them, readers would be able to fully appreciate the novel. However, its audience instead becomes disinterested and lost in a book about the act of finding.


Laura van den BergAbout the Author: Laura van den Berg was raised in Florida and earned her MFA at Emerson College. Find Me is her first Novel, which was selected as a “Best Book of 2015” by NPR, Time Out New York, Buzzfeed, and others.

 


About the Author of this Post: Ashley Suslowicz is a freshman at North Central College majoring in English and minoring in Sociology. After finishing her undergraduate studies, she plans to attend law school near Chicago. She loves Star Wars, Game of Thrones, and coffee.

Review of “Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders With Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders tells the melancholy tale of President Abraham Lincoln’s struggle to balance grieving his recently deceased son Willie with holding together a nation that’s trying its hardest to tear itself apart. Simultaneously, Saunders tells the journey of Willie Lincoln’s soul as it travels through a sort of limbo state between life and death—the bardo as the Tibetan people would call it. It’s a story that’s as bizarre and fantastic as the President’s is sad and humbling. And Saunders writes it all in brilliant technicolor prose that burns itself into the brain.

At first, the style will throw many readers off: Saunders notes the speaker of the paragraph at the end of it, and chapters are quite short with some only lasting a few lines, like a kind of rapid-fire epistolary novel. Quotation marks are almost entirely absent, and tangible strings of conversation are hard to track down. At times it seems like the characters address the reader more than anyone else on the page. Yet the reader can quickly distinguish between the characters’ voices, and eventually quotation tags seem unnecessary, like the human appendix.  Once the style feels familiar, the rest is nothing but pleasure.

The novel breaks down into two main parts: Willie’s (more accurately, his soul’s) story and Abraham’s. Willie’s soul’s story is told by several deceased fictional characters that are also spending time in limbo. These characters include the printing press professional Hans Vollman, the homosexual romantic Roger Bevins III, and the Reverend Everly Thomas. Vollman and Bevins have the most interesting relationship; their petty bickering and stubbornness is funny but also carries a deep-seated sadness with it, like Vladimir and Estragon in “Waiting for Godot.”

Several other characters pop in and out, but they don’t do a whole lot to move the main events forward. They don’t take anything away either. Each character, even if they appear for no more than a few paragraphs, contributes some little detail that adds to the constellation of beauty that is Lincoln in the Bardo. Saunders gives us the death story of nearly (if not) all the souls we encounter in limbo: everything from a razor blade to the wrists, to a drunken carriage-trampling, to a nose-smashingly high fall from a window. The means of death often reveals more about that character than any details pertaining to their previous life, a clever narrative trick that spices up exposition and makes the introduction of new characters a treat and not a task. Many of the souls in limbo have bizarrely distorted persons, reflecting some aspect of their character. Roger Bevins III grows multiple sets of arms, ears, noses, eyes, etc. when reminiscing about the pleasant sensations of nature. Hans Vollman’s penis is perpetually swollen (for reasons you’ll have to read to find out) and sometimes grows so large that he has to hold it with both arms so he doesn’t trip over it!

These bizarre features of the bardo may read as excess to some, but they work. Especially when put up against the incredibly somber delivery of the President’s story, told through excerpts of dozens of historical documents and primary accounts. Saunders pulls short passages and sentences from these various texts and combines them to make a parallel narrative to Willie’s posthumous journey. I never would have thought a method as ambitious as this could produce poignant and cohesive prose, but somehow it does! The historical-collage chapters read so effortlessly that, if I didn’t know any better, I would be convinced it was just Saunders executing his normal prose.

These chapters offer crucial details, such as impressions of Willie before he died, descriptions of the emotionally broken President visiting his son’s grave, hints of Mary Todd’s mental fracturing, political critiques of the President’s wartime moves, and grisly accounts of the carnage on the battlefield the day after battle. Even though these chapters have been arranged to create a new narrative, they still have an air of historical accuracy. And it’s this idea, the sense of this really happened, that grounds the wackiness of the bardo sections and makes the whole novel a deeply moving and utterly human affair.

To anyone looking for a novel written in vivid prose that doesn’t let up for one second, look no further. In Lincoln in the Bardo you’re sure to find a wildly original story told in a wildly original way that somehow, against all odds, seems faintly familiar at heart. It’s the most human novel about dead men with giant penises wandering a Tibetan purgatory you’ll ever read.


Author George SaundersAbout the Author: George Saunders was born in Amarillo, Texas, but grew up in Chicago. He completed a degree in exploration geophysics from the Colorado School of Mines. He later completed his MFA from Syracuse, where he also met his future wife, Paula Redick. Saunders has had various works published in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine.

Review of “Yearling” by Lo Kwa Mei-En

Yearling

Yearling is a collection of poetry which delves deep into a complex network of introspective philosophy. Lo Kwa Mei-En wades through incredible, abstract language that leaves the reader to interpret her ambiguous scenes. There are times when the reader feels as if they had been dropped into an unfamiliar jungle, left to fend for themselves. For example, in her poem “The Jubilee Year of the Dead Inside of a Banyan Tree”:

 

            The underworld is what you thought it’d be,

but not where. We who know not what we are,

tick the record of animal loss off our fingers.

We give names to the faces: badger, black canary,

Mei-En’s style is fragmented and difficult to follow, yet enticing in its abstraction. Her work is dense with allusions to referential stories and animal symbolism. There is a darkness lurking behind every line, a mystery that begs to be discovered, explored, dissected. Mei-En drops the reader off within an unknown point of view. Who is the “you” referring to? What are our expectations of the underworld and where does it reside? The reader begins asking questions immediately upon entering the first line. By the end of the first stanza, they’re stuck untangling the ambiguous identity of “we” and the purpose of the various animals invoked. But Mei-En does not allow for pause, the reader is whisked immediately into the next stanza. Later in the poem, Mei-En creates a metaphor for her reading audience:

            Oh phoenix. Come brighten. Wade

in the year of your acre and flood, a mere, lit fig

hung from your neck to lantern you back and forth

to a place where we will speak your name again.

Mei-En’s poems, like the banyan trees of her childhood, are “more stranger than strangler,” in that they approach recognizable issues on body image, immigration, and cultural symbolism. However, there are moments when the reader feels lost, like the traveler being led through a flooded field with nothing but a mere fig lantern to guide them.

That poem is but one example within a wonderful collection that begins with the foreshadowing lines “Temper, temper” and ends emphatically with the phrase: “How a wolf watching water is how I want / how I want to love the new apocalypse for good.” By the end of her book, the reader just believes that perhaps the best mindset is to embrace our inner animal and learn to love the pain of the coming apocalypse. Her poems are a mixture of self-deprecating and empowering. Fluctuating from images of imposed sexuality – “I thought myself ready, / restless in the register of hips and eyes” – to moments of empowering femininity – “The body that has something to say / knows better than that. / Lights everything on fire with one hand / and tends coals with the other.” There are moments depicting physical abuse where the narrator seems ambiguous as to her feelings about it. These poems are raw and they are real. They do not flake away from the messy edges of her experience, nor do they indulge in mainstream Liberal didacticism. If Lo Kwa Mei-En’s poetry could be compared to a breath of fresh air, it would be like the first step out into city pollution after spending all day within a padded, sterile room; the air is dirty. Paradoxically, in her misdirecting metaphors, she reveals herself completely.

Lo Kwa Mei-En’s Yearling shows that she is an incredibly innovative and aspiring talent. She displays a mastery of poetic conventions, causing any sense of narrative to be speculative at best. Her poems are fragmented and rely on parataxis between seemingly abstract images, allowing for ambiguity and multiple readings. However, while this ambiguity is one of her greatest strengths, it also proves to be one of her greatest weaknesses. Mei-En’s poetry, while incredible, is not accessible. Each poem requires contemplation in order to decipher meaning; Mei-En makes no attempt to cater to the reader. Because of this, Mei-En’s poetry remains barred from most audiences, but within this lies her true power. Mei-En does not shy away from her intellectualism. Rather, she fully retreats into her dense, introspective language and provides a portraiture of her unique experience. This is a book of highly philosophical, intellectual poetry which is aimed at likeminded readers. Mei-En’s poetry is difficult in subject-matter and pyrotechnic in form; or, as she would say in her own words: “I’ll keep it real, go / hurt something to love it, real, good, find the center / of aurora in me, the second of ignition.”


lo kwa mei enAbout the Author Lo Kwa Mei-en: This one is a poet from Singapore and Ohio. Her first book, Yearling, won the 2013 Kundiman Poetry Prize and is available from Alice James Books. The Bees Make Money in the Lion, a new book of poems, won the CSU Poetry Center Open Competition and is available from Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Other work includes Two Tales, a chapbook from Bloom Books, and The Romances, a chapbook forthcoming from The Lettered Streets Press.

Review of “There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé” by Morgan Parker

beyonce

Morgan Parker’s work, covering every topic from the first Black President to Beyoncé celebrating Black History Month, is dynamic, intriguing, and. It’s a testament to how dynamic poetry can be, and is.

The cover itself shows a woman sprawled on a couch with mascara rolling down her face. The image for me shows exactly what happens in the book: a person that is usually seen as a strong powerhouse, broken down and beaten, and shown in a new light.

For example, in the poem, “The President Has Never Said The Word Black,” Parker thoughtfully goes through why it hurts so much that the first African American President of the United States never called himself “Black,” or referred to his “brothers and sisters” as “Black”. It’s a powerful piece that really brings to attention what it feels like to be a Black American. It’s also a wonderful example of the pain that can be felt when you don’t get your way, another example of intriguing work.

Another poem that is just as powerful is the piece “Afro.” In it, Parker explains the tragic ups and downs that make up being African American, or Black, in what feels like a mash up of this and the past century. It’s a creative piece, calling on “Auntie Angela”, “Miss Holiday”, “Michael”, and “Dave Chappelle,” all major African American and Black figures of yesterday and today. It’s a powerful piece with a title that evokes thoughts of strife and majesty.

The next poem that really zeros in on what it feels like to be a Black person in today’s society, particularly a woman, is “13 Ways Of Looking At A Black Girl.” The poem is what seems to be a randomized list of terms, names and phrases that may come to mind when thinking of a Black woman. Parker throws out words and phrases like “dead”, “dying” “carefree” and “exotic”; phrases like “chickenhead” “at risk” “I am hungry,” which show the negative and the positive sides of how society looks at a Black girl. Parker then throws in names of women such as Nikki Giovanni, Sandra Bland,Whitney Houston, and Shonda Rhimes. Powerful names. Names of significance to the Black community, and society as a whole, again showing the ups and downs of what it is to be a Black woman.

The shortest poem in the book ,“Beyoncé Celebrates Black History Month,” is only five lines, two short sentences, that perfectly makes up what it means to hold on to what some people call being “Black”, a term that can be used in both negative and positive terms:

 

I had almost

forgotten my roots

are not long

blonde. I had almost forgotten

what it means to be at sea.

 

As a whole, Parker’s work in the book is thoughtful, kind yet brutally honest, and thought provoking. “There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé” is a fantastic read for any and everyone. If you’re in the “Beyhive”, don’t be offended at all; it’s a great read about a wonderful person!


Morgan ParkerAbout the Author: Morgan Parker is the author of There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé (Tin House Books 2017) and Other People’s Comfort Keeps Me Up At Night (Switchback Books 2015), which was selected by Eileen Myles for the 2013 Gatewood Prize and a finalist for the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award. Parker received her Bachelors in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Columbia University and her MFA in Poetry from NYU. Her poetry and essays have been published and anthologized in numerous publications, including The Paris Review, The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop, Best American Poetry 2016The New York Times, and The Nation. Parker is the recipient of a 2017 National Endowment of the Arts Literature Fellowship, winner of a 2016 Pushcart Prize, and a Cave Canem graduate fellow. She is the creator and host of Reparations, Live! at the Ace Hotel in New York. With Tommy Pico, she co-curates the Poets With Attitude (PWA) reading series, and with Angel Nafis, she is The Other Black Girl Collective. She is a Sagittarius, and she lives in Brooklyn.

Review of “South and West: From a Notebook” by Joan Didion

South and West

Joan Didion’s South and West: From a Notebook confounded me on so many levels. The piece began as a notebook the author kept when she spent a month in “the South” – as though it were a specific place instead of a region in 1970. As a twenty-one-year old who was born in 1995 and grown up in Chicagoland area, I might as well have been reading about someone’s trip to China for all I could relate to its 1970’s pop culture references and vanished cultural phenomena (apparently, people back then used to pump your gas for you).

Yet despite the blatant racism, horrible poverty and ridiculously cheap prices of the era, there was something about the book still that I found strangely intriguing. The foreword, written by Nathaniel Rich, implies that the book is supposed to lead readers to some sort of deeper understanding of present-day (2016) America. I can see it to a certain extent, as the actions and rhetoric of President Trump shares the same discriminatory, stubborn slant to it as many people Didion encounters over the course of her trip. I, however, couldn’t help but focus upon how much has changed since the work was first penned:

A tribute to coverage during Hurricane Camille… After that crisis ‘celebrities from all over the U.S. came down, Bob Hope, the Golddiggers, Bobby Goldsboro. Bob Hope coming down, that really made people see that the country cared.’ Mrs. McGrath from Jackson leaning close to tell me Jackson State was a setup. (Didion 39)

Passages like these date the notebook more than if you were to slap a “Made in 1970” label on the front cover. Part of me wonders how different the places she went would be today. There were a few things I recognized, such as the prevalence of the Confederate flag (although that, too is changing in many places).

Though the timeframe provides an unfamiliar setting, contributing more to the sense of confusion that pervades the work is its unabashedly fragmented quality. There is no real plot, no conflict, no definitive ending – it is as though it is one of those works that are released unfinished because the author is dead. The only uniting thread throughout this series of vignettes is that they look at the South and its people through Didion’s eyes.

I don’t know whether it is due to the fact she is from California or the fact that she is a woman in the 1970s, but throughout the piece, people are constantly trying to tell Didion how it is in the South. But Didion can see this for herself. What she finds is a region steeped in history and living in the past, largely resistant to the change that has been all but forced upon them, but are nevertheless slowly being dragged along by it. While I did not particularly enjoy the book due to its draft-like nature and unfamiliar allusions, I would offer a tentative recommendation to any interested in observing the tides of change, politics of race, and the intriguing conundrum of the human being.


Joan-DidionAbout the Author: Joan Didion is the author of five novels and nine books of nonfiction. Her collected nonfiction, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live, was published by Everyman’s Library in 2006. Born in Sacramento, California, Didion now lives in New York City.

Review of “The Sculptor” by Scott McCloud

The Sculptor

The Sculptor is a graphic novel written by American cartoonist Scott McCloud. The story is centered around David Smith, a struggling artist who is at the end of his rope. While getting drunk at a local diner, he meets his great uncle Harry, whom he recalls he hasn’t seen in ages.

While the two are catching up, David realizes that his uncle is not exactly his uncle—he is Death incarnate. While struggling with this realization, he offers David the power to create anything with his hands- the catch is that he would only have 200 days to live. David accepts, thinking that this is his chance to get back into the good graces of the art world. However, things don’t work out they way David hopes for and he falls back into a depression. He then meets Meg, an aspiring actress who takes him in out of goodwill and slowly falls in love with. David now struggles with finding meaning in his art and his budding relationship with his fragile romance.

The Story and Characters

Graphic Novel 1

The story was very straight-forward and simple. It is reminiscent of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, because of the type of deal David agreed to do with Death. While it gets off to good start after the deal is made, I noticed how the story’s momentum slowed down after his meeting with Meg. I know that the author crafted Meg’s character as a way to serve as a foil to David’s: she’s outgoing and a risk taker and he’s cautious and quiet.

Graphic Novel 2

While the relationship does help move the story, I noticed, at different times throughout the comic, the romance between serves as more as filler the further the story went on. Despite this, I liked David’s interactions with Meg, as well as his conversations with other characters like Ollie, David’s close friend, Uncle Harry (Death), and even David’s internal thoughts.

The Art

As far as the art goes, I found the color scheme to suit the comic very well. Though its mostly white, blue, and black, McCloud does a fantastic job with attention to certain details. (David’s sculptures, and facial expressions).

Graphic Novel 3

This panel above is one of my favorite scenes. I loved how McCloud has the cement stop in mid-air, as if David is stopping time, so that we can see the progress and beauty of the creations.

Graphic Novel 4

McCloud’s color scheme invokes a somber atmosphere. It sets up the mood very well, with the lack of color is made up for in detail and the exaggeration in some of David’s artwork and facial expressions. This makes the reader appreciate the details in the graphic novel as well.

Graphic Novel 5

In this panel, while is just of one character, we see his many different faces all at once, like watching a movie clip.

Conclusion

Graphic Novel 6

The Sculptor starts off well and becomes a bit stagnant in the middle, but the beautiful artwork and premise keeps the reader interested to see how it all ends. McCloud forces the reader to answer some tough questions about a person’s purpose in life and what it means to truly live it.


scott_mccloud2About the Author Scott McCloud: Depending on who you ask, I’m either comics’ leading theorist or a deranged lunatic, but life continues to be very interesting for me and the ideas that I’ve raised continue to provoke reactions throughout the comics community and — increasingly — beyond it. Pick up Understanding Comics (or look for it at your local library) to begin finding out why.

 

Review of “All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers” by Alana Massey

All the Lives I Want

All the Lives I Want: Essays About My Best Friends Who Happen to be Famous Strangers is a collection of essays written by Alana Massey where she connects the lives of celebrities to her own life. From Winona Ryder to Princess Diana, Massey explores the legacies of these famous women while using them to reveal personal details about herself. She does this to show both that we are not that different from celebrities and how their lives both relate to and have an effect on her own. This book is the first for Alana Massey, but her experience in writing goes beyond this. Her essays, criticism, reviews, and reporting have had regular appearances in publications such as the Guardian, New York Magazine, Buzzfeed, and more.

All the Lives I Want contains fifteen different essays featuring over twenty famous women between them. Her first essay, “Being Winona; Freeing Gwyneth: On the Limitations of Celebrity Type,” discusses Winona Ryder’s shoplifting incident from 2001 and Gwyneth Paltrow’s “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay singer Chris Martin. Massey created a theory that she was a “Winona in a world made for Gwyneth’s.” As she states “This theory positions the one time best friends as two distinct categories of white women who are conventionally attractive but whose public images exemplify dramatically different lifestyles and world views.” She identifies herself as a Winona and her ex’s new girlfriend as a “total Gwyneth”. She understands that she used Winona as “an avatar that represented [her] own suffering.” She makes a point here which she makes in later essays that people are their own selves and even if someone identifies with someone else, that doesn’t mean they are identical.

An essay that wasn’t as strong was “Heavenly Creatures: The Gospels According to Lana, Fiona, and Dolly.” This essay discussed a close comparison between Fiona Apple and Lana Del Ray and a loose comparison to Dolly Parton as a way to discuss how these female artists portray sex and relationships, with Apple and Del Ray being on the racier side and Parton being on the more conservative side. What I gathered her point to be in this essay was sometimes young singers such as Apple were forced to portray a sexuality that was reflective of a person older than themselves while Parton was able to move away from sexuality and focus on hurt in relationships. Maybe it was just me, but I felt Massey focused too much on Apple and Del Ray and portrayals of sexuality and then just threw Parton in there as a way to show not all singers have to do this.

The next essay, one that I looked forward to because of the subjects was, “No She Without Her: On Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and the Singularity.” Massey discussed a slight personal connections with the twins as they were students with her for a brief time at New York University. “They were not just celebrities, they were our classmates,” she notes while discussing a fellow student who had wall to wall pictures of the twins. Massey also remember how there was a countdown until the Olsens turned eighteen and how that disgusted her: “[The media] wrote as though the only thing in the way of unbridled passion between ordinary sleazes and billionaire teenage performers and entrepreneurs was a pesky statutory rape law that would soon be irrelevant.” While the message of this particular essay was clear—defying and dehumanizing women because they are in the public eye is wrong— getting to Massey’s point was a little difficult. In an essay where she is supposed to be relating these celebrities’ lives to herself, she barely mentions herself. She also never explicitly states her point, only her disgust and judgement. I wanted her to go beyond the concept of them being young and go into the problem with how young girls are made to feel like this dehumanization and degrading of women is okay, when it isn’t, but she never did get beyond the initial disgust.

In several of Massey’s essays, the connections to the particular celebrities felt loose and the points were difficult to grasp. There were some, such as “Our Sisters Shall Inherit the Sky: On the Lisbon Sisters and the Misnomer of The Virgin Suicides,” an essay which discussed Massey’s relationship to her sister and the book and movie The Virgin Suicides, where she seemed to alter too rapidly between casting judgment and admiration on the characters and narrators of the story. She would say things such as, “Though the boys never admit as much, it is crucial that the Lisbon sisters are all thin and beautiful within reason,” however she also states, “I wanted a boy to look at me and see mystery of my own making,” where she practically applauds the glamorized view the adult male narrators are putting on five girls who took their own lives years ago. She discussed how the characters were wrong but never really focused on the fact that the glamorization of depression and suicide portrayed in the novel is a bad message.

The concepts and points of each of the essays were practical and often relatable in the sense that everyone expresses insecurity and compares themselves to others and makes mistakes, To be honest, I would not recommend this book as a whole because many of the essays felt like they had no bigger point than the fact that the celebrities were living their lives and others were observing. However, I would recommend the essay, “Public Figures: Britney’s Body Is Everybody’s,” an essay that deals with weight issues and eating disorders and the pressures society puts on women to be the correct weight. In this essay, Massey states “[Men’s] standard calibrations for the weight of a petite woman is between 100 and 115 pounds, an average woman 115 to 125, and tall ones 125 to 135,” clearly stating that they are wrong to assume this and that is a major problem within society.

Another good essay was “All the Lives I Want: Recovering Sylvia,” This one debunked the myth that what we read and who we admire doesn’t necessarily have a major and consequential effect on our person. Just because Sylvia Plath committed suicide doesn’t mean her admirers will as well. As I discussed earlier, regarding “Being Winona; Freeing Gwyneth: On the Limitations of Celebrity Type,” not all women are the same and cannot just be put into two categories.

Lastly, “A Bigger Fairy Tale: On Angelica Huston and the Inheritance of Glamour.” This one shows the power of women. It displays a woman, Angelica Huston and how she was strong even though she was betrayed by a man. She was equally as strong with and without him and that’s the way it should be. She admires Huston, “Angelica’s memories are unapologetically steeped in Hollywood decadence and the class privilege that accompanied her fellow travelers on these journeys” These four essays were the ones that I found to be the most enjoyable of the collection and also the four that succeeded the best in getting their message across.


About the Author Alana Massey: I’m a writer covering identity, culture, virtue, and vice. I’m the author of All The Lives I Want, a collection of essays reimagining the lives and legacies of famous women in a way that makes it easier for us to forgive ourselves. My writing appears in Elle, The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York Magazine, Vice, The New Republic, Pacific Standard, BuzzFeed, The New Inquiry, and more. I split my time between Brooklyn and my farmhouse in the Catskills where I write, read,  drink champagne, listen to pop music, and Photoshop glamorous collages of myself like the one you see here.


About the author this post: Kate Haley is a sophomore at North Central College where she studies English Writing and Organizational Communication. When she is not spouting off random facts about anything and everything, she fills her time with reading copious amounts of books and writing novels that will hopefully become best-sellers (or at the best, sellers).

Ross White Group Interview Part 3

ross-whiteRoss White is a poet and teacher living in Durham, NC. With Matthew Olzmann, he edited Another & Another: An Anthology from the Grind Daily Writing Series. He was the 2012 winner of the James Larkin Pearson Prize and the Gladys Owings Hughes Prize. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets 2012, Poetry Daily, New England Review, The Southern Review, and others. He is a four-time recipient of work-study and administrative scholarships to the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and currently teaches poetry writing and grammar at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.


You’re a teacher as well as a poet and editor – how do those three jobs affect one another?

I think all three are born of a curiosity about the human condition and an unflappable belief that it is mutable. Mutable in the sense being apt, and perhaps likely, to change, but also in the sense of being inconstant in one’s affections. Editing is the act of allegiance to a manuscript while pushing for it to become something else, whether that something is a set of copy edits or a change in the project that steers it more clearly toward its true intention. Teaching is the act of allegiance to the student as a person, even as the education you provide changes who that person is. Writing is the act of allegiance to the human experience and a desire to transform it into something new.

I try to approach all three with tenderness. I try to approach all three with ruthlessness. The balance between those two is always in flux. What I learn on one side of the equation is often reflected on the other– as soon as I am smart enough to adjust. Though I am often not quick to adjust; so much of each of those roles comes first from the gut, and I often need a lot of time to reflect on what I have learned by doing. Only then can I transfer the knowledge from one discipline to another. Early in my career, I overthought so much of my writing and teaching, but I had so little experience and knowledge that the base of what I was thinking about was narrow. Whatever towers I was building were so easy to topple. The more I read, the more I experiment, the more confident I become in trying things that I haven’t seen before, in trying things where the outcome remains uncertain and mysterious once I’ve begun.

What is one piece that you have accepted for the press that has changed your perspective on reading and writing, and how has it done so?

I can’t say that there’s a book, poem or story we’ve accepted that changed my perspective on reading and writing. I can say that some of the pieces we’ve accepted changed my perspective on what it is to be human. They made the world at once more vast and more intimate, and I’m truly grateful for that. As poetry requires that the reader use imagination and empathy, so too does it provide an imaginative kindling, and the books that have changed me have left me with new space to explore what lived experience might mean. Tommye Blount’s What Are We Not For is a profoundly animate book, one I have savored every time I’ve read it.

What is your personal writing style and preferences, and how does this affect the works you choose for publication?

I always have the hardest time answering questions about my own style. I think that’s because I’d prefer not to have one– if there’s something I can’t do yet, I’m probably trying to learn. I don’t think anyone who reads my poems would call me a formalist, but I aspire to that; I don’t think anyone would accuse me of being an experimentalist, but I aspire to that too. I love reading a little bit of everything and when I sit down to draft poems, I find myself borrowing strategies from whatever has me enthralled at the time.

As a reader, I know I have a bias for the unfamiliar. I love strangeness in its many forms– the grotesque, the absurd, the dissociative, the transgressive– because strange poems are so often, for me, the jumper cables that recharge my own sense of wonder at the world. But when I encounter a poem or a chapbook that gives me that jolt, the editor in my brain almost immediately converts to the role of skeptic. I begin interrogating the poem like it’s a Russian spy. I begin wondering if I’m falling for a misdirection or deception because it supports my pre-existing view of the world.

I also want poems to feel lived in, which is something I try to do in my own work. I mistrust poems that rely on centuries’ worth of someone else’s feeling, and add little to that field of feeling. I generally call these poems “pretty birds and trees” poems out of snarkiness, but really, they’re poems that pretend to join the long poetic conversation, where poets ranging from Lucille Clifton to George Herbert to W. B. Yeats to Emily Dickinson are speaking to each other, without ever adding something new, something vital, about the world as it is today.