Petty, by Warren Zanes*****

pettyI posted this review almost two years ago, and at the time most of us considered that Petty had a lot of gas left in his tank. Of all the musical memoirs and biographies I have read–and there are many–this is the one I loved best. The loss of this plucky badass rocker hit me harder than the death of any public figure since Robin Williams died, so reposting this here is my way of saying goodbye to him. Hope he’s learning to fly.

https://seattlebookmamablog.org/2015/11/02/petty-by-warren-zanes/

1917, by Boris Dralnyuk**

1917I received my DRC for this collection courtesy of Net Galley and Pushkin Press. I thank them for the opportunity to read and review; this compilation of poetry and prose will be for sale on December 1, 2016. What a crying shame it’s so negative.

There are a few of us left out here—dinosaurs, to be sure—that regard the initial two or three years of the Russian Revolution as an inspirational time, a time when the working class and the Russian peasantry cast off their shackles, ran the brutal, entitled royal family and their minions out of power and eventually to a richly deserved death, and took control of their lives and their nation. When I saw this collection, I believed that this perspective would be represented here somewhere.

Instead, we read poetry about the Tsar’s wine. Oh, no! They destroyed all that expensive wine! Give me a break. Millions of peasants freed from bondage, and all we hear about is the wine casks, and some sorrowful reflections that lament the defeat of the Mensheviks—the party that tried to halt the progress of the revolution and create a bourgeois democratic state. All those sorrowful White Russians weeping into their vodka.

Do I have a bias? Of course I do, but unlike our editor here, I admit mine. The introduction to this thing, which is overlong and somewhat duplicitous, tells us that rather than relate the various political positions that were held during this cataclysmic time, we should instead look at feelings, at experiences. But everyone’s feelings during this tremendous upheaval, a time when the news footage at the time of the revolution shows throngs of joyful Russian workers screaming with enthusiasm, is apparently either sorrowful—aw geez, the poor royals—or conflicted. Not one person is glad it happened.

Poetry and prose are, at their root, political, and in rewriting history, Dralyuk demonstrates this. This collection is revisionist dross.

One other comment I’d make is that when editors decide to republish historic writing, they are often deluded as to how much of their own prose readers are looking for. For every piece, for every author, there is way too much introductory narrative. I really just want to read the work itself, not so much Dralyuk’s discussion of them. Had I enjoyed most of the poetry and prose, I would have upgraded this review to three stars and stated that it is hard to find the original work amidst the rambling discussion. Generally, the poem is short, the introduction is long; lather, rinse, repeat. The same is true of the prose.

So to those lonely Marxists out there hoping for literature, for poetry that’s in English and available readily in the US, I have to say, put that plastic away, because this isn’t that.

Only the Road/Solo el Camino: Eight Decades of Cuban Poetry, by Margaret Randall, editor****

Margaret Randall is an old-school feminist and socialist, and I recognized her name when this volume of Cuban poetry became available. Thank you to the author, Duke University, and Net Galley for permitting me to access the DRC, which I received free in exchange for this honest review.

onlytheroadMany people don’t know much about Cuba, the tiny island nation a mere 90 miles from the coast of Florida. The American media has distorted the Cuban Revolution for as long as I can remember. Before the revolution, which took place in 1959, Havana was like Bangkok, a place where little girls prostitute themselves so they won’t starve to death, where wealthy visitors can experience every pleasure, innocent or corrupt, known to humanity but where most citizens have little chance of even having their basic human needs met. Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union (USSR) helped the Cuban people defend themselves from US efforts to overthrow the revolutionary government, but the alliance also led to a period of Stalinist repression that darkened artists’ worlds for a period of time. Randall discusses all of this in her introduction. Following the period Cubans call the Rectification Period (reference mine), Stalinist practices were peeled away, and more freedom of expression created a more hospitable environment for artists, in addition to strengthening the revolution itself. In Cuba art is not privately sold as a general rule, and artists receive a salary for what they do, paid by the Cuban people.

Randall’s collection of poetry is encyclopedic, including a vast stylistic range representative of a range of generations, some little-known voices as well as a number of LGBTQ writers. Randall translates each poem and gives a comprehensive biographical note for each poet. If anything, I might have preferred a slightly more stripped down version, but what Randall has done is very scholarly she documents well.

Since this reviewer does not speak Spanish, I cannot evaluate the translations personally, but given that Randall’s background I would be astonished if it were not rock solid.

That said, I also found myself lamenting my lack of Spanish, because I know that the flow of sound is an important part of poetry, and even the best translator can’t rectify this. Those that speak Spanish will likely get more from the collection; both Spanish and English versions are included.

Those that love poetry and are interested in seeing the work of Cubans, and especially those that also speak Spanish, should get this excellent collection. It becomes available to the public October 14, 2016.

Dog Songs: Poetry, by Mary Oliver ****

dogsongsWhat, me reading poetry? Not for a long time, actually, apart from this. Not since the 1990s. But this was a gift, and it was given to me by a family member who knows how much I love my own pooch, who has been through unimaginable drama. The pork chop theft and subsequent surgery; the car that hit him; the allergies; the arthritis.

And reader, don’t take my review too seriously, because when it comes to poets that write about nature and animals, I don’t have much discernment. I am an urban type, and my eyes glaze over when I read about the dew on the weeds, and yada yada. But the author blurb says Oliver won the Pulitzer for her poetry back in 1984. Go figure.

Had I known we would be describing dog “excrement” and comparing it to black pearls, I would not have read it with breakfast.

One poem really did speak to me though. I don’t know whether that makes it a good poem; after all, if you check to see what gets attention on YouTube, it’s all cats and dogs. The public is easily led in that direction, and I am one of them. But the poem that got to me was when Oliver described the way her little dog (and on the cover we just happen to have a beagle that looks a lot like mine, the subject of some of her writing) responded when she began planning a trip. She became so overwhelmingly convinced that the little fellow would be “sad, sad, sad” that she canceled the trip. And whereas I have never done that, I have come close any number of times. So for me, the poem was lovely because it reached a common point that I had previously thought must qualify me as ready for the rubber room. Who lets her dog dictate her travel plans?

I haven’t given you much to go on. In this particular case, the gift was spot on, but in ways that were more personal, perhaps, than had to do with the writing. The family member who gifted it to me had also been enormously helpful during our most recent dog-crisis, so it represented something that she and I had shared.

Unless you are very fond of poetry and pets, you may not want to spring full cover price for this one, but if the circumstances warrant, it’s a very nice thing to give someone who is much attached to their dog, or who is (dreadful thought, but it happens) grieving one.

I hope not to be among them for years to come!