Matt Nagin: A Feast of Sapphires

This is a cut&paste of a review that will appear on Amazon and possibly GoodReads.

Feast of Sapphires    Matt Nagin

Personal experiences, social commentary, in seventy-eight poems.

four stars

As always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. I am a tough reviewer, and only one person’s opinion can appear here. Let’s get to the good stuff, Nagin’s work.

For a fun intro to Nagin’s style, turn to Donut Shop. Many images of unwilling participation lead to the final joke at the end.

Nagin is comfortable with social commentary, as in Palace of Lies, which includes this: “How you like my credit card? /Platinum-tier damages— /Ferrari in the garage— /Penthouse on Madison?”

As always, Google anything of which you are not absolutely certain. I learned a few things this way. Back to the book.

Spoiler alert: here is the entire short poem Pregnancy: “I kiss the sunset /and such magic falcons /such dreams unanswered /kick the heavens furiously /like a baby /waiting to be born.”

For a truly scary experience, turn to Vegas Massacre, which begins thus: “He unloaded the bullets /like rain drops /the ominous pitter-patter of death…”   and that’s only the opening.

For a personal and pleasant experience, turn to Birds Singing in my Chest, which includes this: “I woke up /like a new man, /a soul reborn /with intensity; /birds singing in my chest, /squirrels….” That’s not a spoiler; there’s a lot more in the poem where that came from.

For a good laugh, and to see Nagin in prose, turn to Eyebrows, which begins thus: “This manicure place in my hood advertises 3D eyebrows on a day-glo sign and I always pass it in mute wonder—”

Again in prose, Nagin demonstrates his communicative power in Hit by a Car, where we find this: “skull to the cement, glass lodged in the guts of your arm, blood unleashed onto grim shoes—the destitution of spirit.”

I have other favourites here, but that should give you a decent feel for what is on offer in this book. Now for the star count boilerplate.

My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. Nagin’s work easily gets four stars from the curmudgeon. Highly recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Debjeet Mukherjee – a new and promising writer

This is a copy of a review on Amazon and GoodReads.

Voyages      Debjeet Mukherjee

Forty poems from a new writer – with some history.

Three stars.

This is an unusual work, and I am not sure how to evaluate it. So, as always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let me give you an insight into Mukherjee’s offering.

I could rate this book solely on the power of the poems in it; or I could also comment on the exposure the author has given you, his reader, of his growth over time. I will do a bit of each.

For a quick peek at his later work, turn to My Balloon Girl, where a subtle infatuation changes the course of at least one life. This is a demonstration of this author’s potential and power.

As we walk backward in time, to earlier work, we can see what Mukherjee grew from. If you’re interested in studying how a poet strengthens over time, this book will be of great interest.

Star counts are hard. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. This is a young and very promising author. Three stars feels about right.

Isabelle Kenyon: This is Not a Spectacle

This is a cut&paste of an Amazon Kindle Book Review.

This is Not a Spectacle      Isabelle Kenyon

A powerful poetry collection, an experience that will haunt you.

five stars

As always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later.

In the first poem, Lonely Hearts, Kenyon will ambush you. In the next, Mumbai, you will feel a sense of otherness, ending in irony. Then in sweat shop you will feel the discomfortable motivation of a worker. These fine poems are too short to quote from without giving them away.

I will skip forward to Car Park Scene, which like much of Kenyon is a trace harsh and strongly written, for example this: “but your tears are endless and /convulsing shoulder – shadows play in the /darkness. /She does not console you but…”

For a heartbreaking experience, turn to Hospital. Here’s a teaser quote, see if you can figure out what’s happening: “You couldn’t have known but you /Smiled when I said I loved you and /Told me how to cook rice: I said /‘We’ll talk about it later’ as they /Wheeled you away….”

Again in Identity: Granny Olga we find this: “You in a hospital room, becoming a bionic woman.” Kenyon’s voice in this collection is a powerful one that is not for the faint of heart.

Spoiler warning: this is the ending of Teenagers at a Bus Stop: “Who are we? /We are drink, we are music; we are pretending, we are stumbling, we are lost-In the dark we are only teenage hunger. /We are always famished, starving: /Love us. Feed us. ”

I have other favourites in this book, but the above should give you a decent feel for the voice, power, and experience which Kenyon has captured for you. Now for the star count boilerplate.

My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. Kenyon brings strong description and powerful emotions into your brain. Roughly equal to best in genre? I think so; five stars it is, and extremely recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Digging Holes to Another Continent : Isabelle Kenyon

This is a copy of a review that will eventually appear on Amazon Kindle when the subject book is available there. It is essentially identical to a review on GoodReads that is available now.

Digging Holes to Another Continent      Isabelle Kenyon

Recovery in a strange land.

four stars

This is an unusual and very personal work of twenty poems. As always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let’s get to the good stuff: Kenyon’s work.

The first poem, The Journey, sets up the context of the work. A trip to New Zealand, apparently to attend a wedding, becomes a healing experience.

For an insight into recovery, turn to Wave Meditation, where we find this: “Lifted, /further from shore /by waves of fury /their ferocity sudden, /awakening animal instinct…”

For a complex poem, turn to He Married a Faith Healer, where we find this: “Faith healer /what does it mean /when you speak for my dead Grandmothers /in their tone, /without meeting them,…”

In the fine metaphor Beach Thoughts  you will read: “You are not who I thought you were.” Buy the book and turn to this poem.

For a good laugh, turn to Did You Hear the Possum Last Night.

Now for my star count boilerplate. Twenty poems is enough to capture a personal recovery, and Kenyon has done this extremely well. It is a bit harder for this reviewer to evaluate a ‘voice’ from a small collection. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. I find four stars to fit my criteria as a tough reviewer. Your personal rating may well be higher. Definitely recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

First Look Through the Window: Roxanne Collins

This is a cut&paste of a review posted on Amazon.com.

First Look Through the Window      Roxanne Collins

Not just another self-help book. This is the real deal.

five stars

Star counts are hard, especially in rating a work outside this reader’s normal scope.  More on the stars, counting, and my rating decision later.

The book includes many short but relevant quotes. Clearly Collins is extremely well read and well-informed. There are several book references, for those needing more on any particular topic. Direct quotes from Collins herself are given within quotation marks below.

“The manner in which we are all raised and the messages sent by the society we live in affects the manner in which we develop and perceive the world. When we come into this world, we come as a whole; but this completeness doesn’t last long, because we depend on our parents, on relationships; we are social beings.”

One key lesson here reminds me of a Go proverb: don’t be going back to touch up your plays. As a friend (David Dinsmore) once said it, once you’ve made a decision, it is a good decision. Collins tells her reader to live with what cannot be changed, and not to fuss overmuch about decisions already made.

I remember advice from somewhere, when in a mental rut of frustration, anger, or feeling inadequate: ask oneself these questions: 1) what am I feeling 2) what am I reacting to 3) what am I doing to make/keep myself reacting this way. Collins’ book covers this in many ways, and much better. I am embarrassed that I got a great deal of personal benefit from her work while reading it for free.

“They became prisoners of their own defence mechanisms.” Been there, done that.

“Understanding the essence of a person is truly a conquest, a conquest that demands time and makes you slow down. This way, we can feel understood, connected, we will want to discover more, after building a safe environment, and to solve an endless mystery. We permanently change; we learn and develop together.”

Read the book in order. But when you get to Chapter V, slow down just a bit. If you want my own view of the meaning of life, read The Scroll of the Violin: life has no meaning; we evolved to enjoy it.

“The greatest gift of your existence is the fact that you have a pulse. If you were to remain without air and you could renounce all of your possessions in order to live, you would do it without blinking. And you could start all over again, being grateful that a new chance was offered to you, to be able to live.”

Collins does not quote an older concept, Transactional Analysis, but she certainly is aware of its major insights. Inner voices can represent the ‘parent’ part of the persona, which is always ‘should-ing’ on us.

The above should give you a decent ‘feel’ for this book. Now for my star count boilerplate. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. I have read some of the references given by Collins. I have been sent to ‘charm school’ when I worked for IBM Canada and CIBC. I have other, older works in my personal library. This book is at least equal to the best of them. Thus five stars is an easy decision. If you wonder about yourself and your life, this is part of your answer. Extremely recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Writing: an introductory thought

Richard Ketchum taught me creative writing. One thing I remember was his suggestions for starting any work: Include as many of the following as early as you can naturally do it:

  • time of day
  • weather and season
  • geographic location
  • distances

to which I added:

  • point of view.

Ketchum said we could learn to write in any form we chose. I mostly chose poetry.

and

I’d like to share with you the opening lines of a song by Harry Chapin:

it was raining hard in Frisco
I needed one more fare to make my night
a lady up ahead waved to flag me down
she got in at the light

Note that you don’t even need the title (Taxi) to know exactly what’s going on here.

 

Amazon Kindle, and often GoodReads

I have done 174 Kindle Book Reviews as a KBR Team Member. Many of those authors wanted their review on GoodReads as well. 94 of them are. A few are also on my blog. Today’s review was for a fabulous poetry collection, which you can find out about farther down in this blog.

I take KBR reviews seriously. I always send the author a draft review. Almost always the author is OK with it and I post it on Amazon and often on GoodReads.

I read every word on every page of every work. I generally skim long dedication name lists, but that’s about it.

When I do a review, I’m working for you, and for free. Many authors have come back for seconds and thirds on subsequent works. I am tough and thorough.

I also note typos and other minor things which are ‘not part of this review but for your use or not, as you see fit.’ After a couple of passes I can’t see the typos anymore either.

If anyone out there is interested in reviewing my unpublished poetry, please advise by responding here. I benefit from and appreciate alternate ideas about what works (or not) in my own poetry.

 

 

Shirani Rajapakse – Chant of a Million Women

This is a cut&paste of a review your blogger posted on Amazon Kindle. A similar review is also on GoodReads.

Strong free verse on many topics. An experience.

five stars

This is a fine collection of some seventy-three poems. From the opening, At the Side of the Old Mandir, you will realize that Rajapakse is treating you like an adult. While there is sex in several of these poems, they are not graphic.

There are many points of view explored by Rajapakse, including what it’s like to wear a full body covering such as the Niquab (recently made illegal in the Canadian province of Quebec.) I’ve personally always considered all religions to include a strong dose of social control, and this poem, To Dance with the Wind, reinforces my prejudices.

For an example of a woman most definitely in control, turn to Colonized, from which I’ll include this teasing snippet: “You were marked. /Stamped with delicious dragon-fruit /pink. /Scandalous. //Mine. /Branded like a buffalo in the field.”

For a terrifying experience, turn to The Shower. For another, turn to The Lonely Woman. This is not for the faint of heart.

In The Decision, this: “They tasted alright to me, /sweet with a hint of sour /that is what I’ve come to expect of grapes, /and of this thing we call a relationship.”

For an introspection into another damaged relationship, turn to Inside the Old Room, which begins thus: “What would the walls say if only /they could speak? /Would they tell you of the fantasies I dream /when I am not with you?…”  and that’s just the opening.

I should mention that Rajapakse uses titles subtly, often setting the physical scene but not revealing the plot of the poem. For a rare example where she uses repetition, turn to On Campus: Just Before the Exam, which is quite frightening.

For one last favourite here, this is from The Man from Over There: “The verse about you /described you as you were. As you are. /Nothing seems to have changed. /You should have changed. /Grown wiser, better, /but you have not.”

Back to the star count and my usual boilerplate. My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try to be consistent. Rajapakse has great range in this book, writing with power and control. You will find your own favourites here, as well as those mentioned above. Five stars feels  right on. Highly recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

A Small Brag – re Amazon Kindle book reviews

From time to time I get a request to review a book. I’m listed as reviewing poetry, but have been sent other genres as well.

It’s work and I take it seriously. I try hard to be consistent with star counts. I send the draft review to the author for approval, which happens almost every time.

I post the review on Amazon next to the Kindle edition of the book, and sometimes elsewhere. GoodReads is a frequent request.

I do this for free. Sometimes one or more of my authors will review some of my work, sent to them electronically. I choose writers I personally considered to be five-star talents.

Most of these authors don’t even reply to my request. Even ones for whom I’ve reviewed several Kindle books.

That’s OK. I do a review for you with no obligation on your part.

I will confess that I (almost always) really enjoy these works, and frequently learn something  – a bonus.

So, if you find me on the Kindle Book Review Team, you will know where to send your work.

I’ve done about 170 ‘formal’ reviews, and half as many informal/have a look please, ones as well. That’s the brag.

Gary Beck: Tremors

This is a cut&paste of a review posted on Amazon and GoodReads. I’ve reviewed Beck a few times (books,) and he never disappoints. Here’s the review:

social commentary, experience, and a trace of sex nicely done.

four stars

A review is one person’s view of a work and reflects both the work and the reviewer’s prejudices and limitations. So, as always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let’s get to Beck’s work, some one hundred and seven poems.

Social commentary is here mixed in with the human condition. For example, Decline, where the wold gets larger because of the amount of it that one may not be able to witness.

For a short experience, turn to Pretty Picture, which ends thus: “then the unexpected rainbow /and the squirrel of evening, /perched on dead sunset limb, /jabbering of sleep to come.”

Again in Loss we have social commentary made personal.

I mentioned sex earlier, and Commerce is a fine example. Beck flips expectations slightly, thus being clever instead of cliché. For example, “proffer perfumed breasts /reaching for my hands.” Again in Detached: “You accidentally shift /on purpose. /Your soft back/ touches my unmoving hand. /I am tempted to pet your belly….”

Beck can rhyme perfectly when he chooses to do so, as in the short neat poem Commuter Line. I’ve been in Norwalk, Connecticut, once and long ago on a one week course. It is a very wealthy bedroom community (four acres to build a house in the suburbs) grown up around a small village. I can’t give you the force of this work without giving you pretty much all of it, so when you get this book, turn to this poem  and see how nicely Beck merges social commentary with personal experience.

For another interesting comment on sex and desire, turn to Woman, which opens thus: “I can do without you no longer….” There are other ‘interesting’ pieces I could mention, but I’ll move on.

For a punch in the gut, turn to Profile of a Failure, which has a surprise ending.

I think the above should provide a decent feel for this book.

Given all that, how do I manage to come up with a star count? My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. Beck is for sure extremely good. Four stars feels right to me; your personal rating may well be higher. And, there are a lot of poems here to choose from. Your favourites may be different from mine.

Kindle Book Review Team member.