Saturday, February 26, 2011

9. We Were Ugly So We Made Beautiful Things, by David Barringer.

I've been meaning to read this one for a while. It's a collection of flash pieces based around the theme of making something beautiful from something ugly. It almost works as YA fiction, though I don't think it's meant to. It's very quirky. Each piece is quite different. I'm a fan of Barringer, and I enjoyed this.

10. They Had Goat Heads, short fiction by D. Harlan Wilson.

I'm reviewing this for a journal. I hadn't read Wilson before, but I've been getting into bizzaro writing lately. I'd like to try a longer work of his. So far, Carlton Mellick III seems to be my favorite bizzaro writer.

11. Girl with Oars and Man Dying, by JA Tyler. Tyler asked me to blurb this for him, along with some other folks. I was quite honored to do it. I'm a fan. It's a good read. Tyler always reminds me of Beckett.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

5. Drag the Darkness Down, a novel by Matt Baker. Good picaresque Arkansas novel in the vein of Portis and Donald Hays (from whom the title comes). There is a world beneath the surface of this novel, a world of secrets and mystery. Odom Shiloh is trying to bring his sister home. His head is full of stories about the Shiloh family, put there by his father. I'm reminded of Wayne Johnston's The Divine Ryans at times because of the sense of a character running simultaneously from and towards discovery. Baker's got real promise.

6. Opening Up the Trees, a poetry chapbook by Jason Venner.

7. Oxide Songs, a poetry chapbook by Jason Venner. I met Venner at a reading at which we were both features, at the Soundry, in Vienna, VA. He graciously gave me copies of these two books of prose poems. Good stuff. Trees has a nice swath of poems about Venner's time in Prague. Very compelling. Songs, though, opens up with a solid emotional underpinning. These poems ache their way to the truth.

8. The Apple that Astonished Paris, by Billy Collins. Collins' first book. Many of these poems read like children's verse. There are a handful of standouts--enough to make a solid chapbook. One of the main problems is the lack of emotion; Collins skims over anything profoundly touching. This is something I've been told he has overcome in later work, though I can't say, myself; I've read only the odd poem here or there.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Book of Yolek

Anthony Hecht

Wir Haben ein Gesetz,
Und nach dem Gesetz soll er sterben.*

The dowsed coals fume and hiss after your meal
Of grilled brook trout, and you saunter off for a walk
Down the fern trail. It doesn't matter where to,
Just so you're weeks and worlds away from home,
And among midsummer hills have set up camp
In the deep bronze glories of declining day.

You remember, peacefully, an earlier day
In childhood, remember a quite specific meal:
A corn roast and bonfire in summer camp.
That summer you got lost on a Nature Walk;
More than you dared admit, you thought of home:
No one else knows where the mind wanders to.

The fifth of August, 1942.
It was the morning and very hot. It was the day
They came at dawn with rifles to The Home
For Jewish Children, cutting short the meal
Of bread and soup, lining them up to walk
In close formation off to a special camp.

How often you have thought about that camp,
As though in some strange way you were driven to,
And about the children, and how they were made to walk,
Yolek who had bad lungs, who wasn't a day
Over five years old, commanded to leave his meal
And shamble between armed guards to his long home.

We're approaching August again. It will drive home
The regulation torments of that camp
Yolek was sent to, his small, unfinished meal,
The electric fences, the numeral tattoo,
The quite extraordinary heat of the day
They all were forced to take that terrible walk.

Whether on a silent, solitary walk
Or among crowds, far off or safe at home,
You will remember, helplessly, that day,
And the smell of smoke, and the loudspeakers of the camp.
Wherever you are, Yolek will be there, too.
His unuttered name will interrupt your meal.

Prepare to receive him in your home some day.
Though they killed him in the camp they sent him to,
He will walk in as you're sitting down to a meal.

* We have a law, and according to the law he must die.