• Books

    Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine

    It is always a bit difficult to review a book of poetry and personal essays. The work is subjective and this one in particular has a singular voice.

    Not being American or black, I can not fully understand or empathize with all the experiences in this book. As a visible minority and as a human being with feelings, I can sympathize in more ways than one.

    The prose and words are powerful in this book. Rankine uses images and second personal narrative to put yourself in her shoes and others who have been marginalized. It is raw. The words are unencumbered. They are emotional in their simplicity.

    I found the works in this book disturbing and provocative in the best way. I was at times angry, sad, upset, and uncomfortable while reading this book. That is not often. I also loved how much it made me feel and think.

    I highly recommend this work.

    Read July 13, 2016.

  • Misc & Site

    Remembrance Day

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    John McCrae, May 1915

  • Books

    William Shakespeare’s Sonnets

    sonnetsWhen I started this, I began to note the sonnets I really liked, but stopped in the 70s because I realized I liked almost all of them and the list was too long. While I can not relate to the emotions of some of them, there are many variations in this book. There are themes of not just love but of time, change, politics, desire, death, and much more. I found the theme of time and change to the be the most interesting. Maybe it’s because I am a romantic, but the poetry worked for me on a lot of levels. These are words to be read aloud, as is usually the case for poetry. I was enchanted and moved. I have always liked Shakespeare, but I think this may be one of the works I love most from him. I did wonder a lot about Shakespeare the man when reading this. I am not so overwrought with questions about the identity, but I wonder his exact mind when he wrote this. Were they for someone? When did he write this? In any case, I am glad we have these beautiful words left. I would very much love to own a copy of these sonnets to cherish and read over and over again. Classic.

  • Books

    My Sister Life and other poems

    Years ago, sometime after I read Anna Karenina and knew that Russian Literature as one of my first literary loves as a result, I had this notion I would learn Russian one day. “Then I can read Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, and Dostoyevsky,” As one does when one is young, in literary love, and naive. When I realized I had no time to learn Russian (I was only interested in reading it), I decided to read W&P. I am still debating when to read DZ. I had seen the film years ago, and the DVD extras allowed me to be fascinated with Pasternak, this utter poet that had loved and lost in more than two wars and a revolution. A novelist as much as a poet. Often those two come hand in hand, but he seems to be both with a deftness and balance most other others do not or can not do. He is both completely, though poet seems to tip the scales of course. In this way, he reminds me of another writer I love which is Shakespeare, a dramatist and a poet. Unsurprisingly, Pasternak is lover of Shakespeare having translated many of his plays into Russian and referencing the bard in his own poetry.

    While Doctor Zhivago cemented his place in world literature, his poetry changed the Russian literary landscape completely in the 1920s that it probably tipped the scale of his 1958 Nobel Prize in Literature. My Sister Life (sometimes a dash or a comma is placed between the last two words) was written in 1917, but not published until 1921. The collection of poems has themes of nature, Shakespeare (“English Lessons” and “Hamlet’), passion and life (“In Everything I seek to reach”), mythology and fairytale (“In memory of the demon”), love, change, and finally, like any good Russian literary legend, on history and politics (“1905”). I am not adept at reviewing poetry. I have only really started to be interested in it in the five years, and writing reviews even less. While English classes have allowed me practice to analyse novels and plays more thoroughly, poetry is often overlooked. I have never taken a university level literature class where poetry analysis is probably more common. All I know is that I like a lot of poets, their words, the music, the themes, and the feeling one often gets from reading it that the author is completely immersed and given to his works. Poetry can be so personal in a way prose is not always. I felt it for these poems, translated or not. I like them and that is the extent of my poetry criticism.

    The edition I have was translated by Olga Andreyev Carlisle, she too of Russian literary progeny. Knowing the limitations of translating poetry which relies so heavily on tone and the language’s perfect uniqueness, Carlilsle wanted to translate more the imagery. I thought she did a fine job because I’ve read two other translations of some Pasternak poetry on the web, and she is at least better than someone else. This translation was a project that started in 1967, published in 1976. It has photographs specifically taken for the project, alongside the poems which are translated and include the original Russian¬†cyrillic. Sadly, it seems the edition is out of print. It is a shame because one of the best parts of this edition is the last section of the book has the translator’s experiences visiting Pasternak in winter 1960, just months before his death. Their conversations made me appreciate both the translator and the poet even more.

    I recommend this collection if you like poetry, and especially if you like Russian literature. If you find a copy of the translation, all the better for it is a gem.

  • Books

    Othello

    It has been a few years since I read a Shakespeare play. While I have reread one since high school, I have not taken time to read one on my own. I actually miss being taught Shakespeare especially the tragedies where there is so much going on. Othello has high drama, and at first, I liked the Othello character because he seemed innocent, honest, and devoted, but since this is a Shakespearean tragedy, he also has to be in some way foolish and/or mad. He believes too easily that Desdemona is cheating on him; he has some self-hatred and doubt about his love for her as well. The play is rather chaotic with its deceptive machinations by Iago and uncontrolled end, not to mention the narrative’s time issues. Once Othello stops loving Desdemona and thinking the worse of her, it really is the climax and all order seems to go out the door in the scenes that follow:

    Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul,
    But I do love thee! and when I love thee not,
    Chaos is come again.
    –Othello, III.iii

    Everyone seems to be contradictory or double-sided. Iago is obviously not honest. Othello has integrity and strength in public life or batle, but can not control his jealous and violent rage. Emilia is oblivious to Iago’s nature, but seems to be aware of gender relations and disparities. Desdemona is both faithful and submissive, but at times, independent and lively. Iago is annoying. He’s manipulative, calculating, and is a bit of a loon really. He does all this because he is jealous of Othello; jealousy drives many of the characters in this play. I feel sorry for all those caught in Iago’s web of lies: Othello, Desdemona, Cassio, and even poor stupid Roderigo. Why does he even listen to Iago in the first place? The end left me dissatisfied. Even more than other Shakespeare tragedies I’ve read. Maybe it’s because we do not even see Iago die, but he does not repent or even any suffer weakness. I doubt I will reread this play as much as Hamlet or even King Lear, but I think it would be fantastic to see as a play form. The play is wonderfully dramatic with its jealous and violent characters.

  • Books

    Eugene Onegin

    A novel in verse about the romance between the cynical dandy Eugene Onegin and Tatyana, a bookish country girl. The story itself is not particularly unique or special, but I liked this novel from the first page. I can easily see myself rereading it in years just because I find the writing style wonderful and engaging. It is written entirely of iambic tetrameter. Aleksandr Pushkin is considered as the founder of modern Russian literature; his Russian style influenced all the writers after him. He even appears as a character and tells the story as if he personally knew them all in real life. He is a bit meta in the story telling, such as in this passage:

  • Books

    Beowulf: A New Verse Translation

    BeowfulfMany people who have read Beowulf are rather turned off by its old style, slow story, and almost complete lack of characterization among other things. I never studied this in school, but I think I would have liked it more if a passionate English teacher had done so especially with this translation of the story. I am not going to lie; I found the story rather long and ardurous. My mind wandered quite a bit while reading this text. It was not the most enjoyable thing I’ve read in awhile. On the other hand, I really appreciated the translation by Irish poet Seamus Heaney. There were some margin notes and the original text on the left page to guide you through the book. There is something in the prose of the translation and the arrangement of the text that makes me aware that Heaney is a poet, and this work has been well thought out.

    I love a good translation; it really can make or break the story. When I was 13, I read a very old translation of The Iliad and The Odyssey, but in my last year of high school, I found the best translation in Robert Fagles’s version. I highly recommend his translations if you are undertaking the two Greek texts.

    Even with a good translation, this is still Beowulf. I think part of the problem is that these stories are so different from present conventions and not created originally for a literary text form or modern prose. I would have much rather listened to this story as it is meant to be. These stories are meant to be recounted by a talented storyteller with a booming bard voice. I’m pleased to say that Seamus Heaney has recorded an audiobook, and exerpts from it can be heard at Northon Anthology.

    In the end, I’m still glad I read this classic as it does give me more ideas of the Dark Ages and the literary traditions that have derived from this era. I doubt I’ll read

    Read for the Book Awards Challenge. Text won the Costa/Whitbread award and Seamus Heaney received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995.

  • Books

    A Visit to William Blake’s Inn

    A Visit to William Blake's Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experience TravellersLike Nancy Willard the author of this book, I loved William Blake’s poetry from the first time I read it. I even made a layout inspired by and using “Tyger” for this domain about five years ago. In high school, I chose a Blake poem for a history assignment which allowed me to further delve into his work and biography. Blake was a unique poet and artist in his time, and often considered eccentric by his Romantic movement contemporaries. He’s definitely one of my favourite poets, and I’ve always been fascinated by his work and philosophy, art and ideas. I have not read a picture book in awhile, but I do love children’s literature. This book is splendid too. I read it before bed. It made me smile with its homage to Blake and the whimsical pictures. There is such imagination and creativity in itself, and it’s a wonderful introduction to Blake’s work for all ages. I can see myself reading this again just so it can make me smile and feel like a child again.