north of oxford book review

Follow the Sun by Edward J. Delaney

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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Paul Harding, author of Tinkers and Enon says Follow the Sun by Edward J, Delaney is just plain fantastic.  I agree.

The seven-part, 287 page dramatic story explores a family’s trials, tribulations and daily life experiences in its quest to find both answers and resolutions in its search for its missing parts. This search leads the reader to a deeper understanding of family and what family represents.

The lead character, Quinn Boyle, has “bugs” in his head from the first line of part one. While the author clarifies the bugs are lobster and the location is on the lobster docks and boats, the relationship of psychological issues is crystal clear. His brother, Robert, who takes time off to visit the local bar, again gives a clear relationship for the need of psychological relief even if it comes from a bottle. Daily life is depicted in a realistic way  for these fictional characters who live on the edge of poverty.

The story line addresses contemporary issues of not being able to make a living and still have to pay child support; problems with drug addiction, and despair when few options are left in making life choices. The locations in which these decisions are made do not take place in upscale homes and fancy places but on lobster boats, in prison, newspaper offices and  local bars.  The despair of the human journey for the hard working but  poverty-stricken brothers leads one to his supposed demise and the other on a quest for truth.  The family legacy becomes an analysis of the burdensome past, the acceptance of the present, and a questioning of the future.  For example, Robbie muses:

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There’s too much in the space between then and now, an entire

continent worth of unanswered questions.

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The lead character makes some of his own problems as he struggles to survive and yet Delaney represents Quinn as a man who believes he can leave his problems behind and start a new.  Quinn believes he can make himself  “not remember.” The dialogue is realistic and the characters are believable.  Delaney uses contemporary language as if he  has listened to real people conversing and transformed their conversations  into this piece of fiction. Quinn says

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“I guess people can make themselves see what they want to see.”

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While this phrase fits well into the story, one hears it in real life all the time and the reader understands the truth of it.

The book is a good read with its clear language and characters who try to make their lives  work but cannot always reach their goals just like most of us.

Delaney is an award-winning author, journalist and filmmaker. Besides Follow the Sun, he has published Broken Irish and Warp and Weft as well as a short story collection, The Drowning and Other Short Stories.  He has also directed and produced documentary films including The Times Were Never So Bad: The Life of Andre Dubus and Library of the Early Mind.  He edits the literary journal Mount Hope.

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Follow the Sun is available fromwww.cbsd.com and published by Turtle Point Press: www.turtlepointpress.com

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.  Her articles have appeared in the national publication, Teaching for Success; regionally in South Jersey Magazine, SJ Magazine. Delaware Valley Magazine, and her essays have appeared in Reader’s Digest and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her poetry has appeared in US1, SRN Review, The Fox Chase Review and other literary magazines. She has critiqued poetry for local and regional writer’s conferences and served as a panelist and speaker at local and national writer’s conferences.  She lives with her husband, Attilio, in Mount Laurel, NJ.

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The Gates of Pearl by Jill Hoffman

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By Karen Corinne Herceg

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There are two voices in Jill Hoffman’s latest book The Gates of Pearl. In many ways these voices both coalesce and duel with one another simultaneously. They alternate between Hoffman’s poetry and her mother Pearl’s poems and journal entries. Pearl passed away in 1979, but her voice rings through as if we were on the other end of the line in one of her “Telephone Poems.” The gates of Pearl open and close to a daughter whose love prompts her to explore and expose the depths of her own emotions by examining those of her mother. The book is somewhat of a call and response between two people who ponder relationships, the vagaries of life, and the frequently cruel circumstances of a shifting world. It employs dialog and monologue, inner reflection, plaintive outbursts and genuine moments of painful humor. Stark and brutally honest, we see that the umbilical cord stretches out infinitely while still binding us so very tightly to that maternal bond and source of a perpetually complicated symbiosis. It is fraught with the desire of connection and the need to separate. This conflict is evident in “Portrait,” a poem that aptly captures the dichotomy of the mother/daughter relationship, when Hoffman states, “Our one soul/haggles for hours/on the phone…” (P. 20, ll. 1-3), and in “Venus” observes: “…my small feet are your hands” (P. 33, l. 4). In “Mama Pyjama” Hoffman observes, “A pearl was set each year in my tail” (P. 38, l. 9), evincing a very tangible image and a play on words that endows “Pearl” with multiple implications.

Revealingly, Hoffman refers to herself as “Daughter of Pearl.” While it casts a shadow upon her own identity, somewhat sublimating it to her mother’s, it also reinforces the omnipresent legacy of deference we feel for that person who brought us into the world. Having come before us, we mistakenly believe they have resolved so many of life’s puzzles. We believe that, having brought us into this life, they have already conquered it to some degree and will impart their wisdom to us and guide us. We are certain to be disappointed in our expectations, for our mothers are human after all. We believe they will assist us in navigating the world, while they believe their child will be a new hope for overcoming their own obstacles and failures. Hence there is misunderstanding from the very start.  Compounding this for both Pearl and Hoffman are distant, complicated paternal figures and husbands. Pearl’s narcissistic, absent husband, leaves her somewhat destitute in the wake of divorce and Hoffman feels the loss, too, but also the burden of her mother’s sadness. These stories are intricately intertwined, as seen when Pearl states of her father “…and you were writing my/story…” (P. 4, ll. 4-5) and when she pleads with her father to see her: “Look at me Daddy/Look at me” (P. 74, ll. 15-16. In trying to rein in her self-worth, Pearl cries out, “You are not the center of the universe!” (P. 27, l. 1). But while the mind comprehends, often emotions do not comply, and there’s an ongoing counterpoint in dialog of supplication and pleading and a desire for freedom and selfhood.

Parental disappointments carry over into adult relationships. Instead of cultivating self-worth, early wounds create romantic notions and unrealistic expectations of marital bliss. Pearl observes of Dostoevsky’s character Anna Karenina, “She gave up everything for love—even her life/I think I did the same” (P. 23, ll. 1-2). She dreams of movie stars from the past where she is the heroine in the stories, her ideas of love confused with fanciful, sexual encounters that only promote unreal expectations, being “…lifted up caressed and placed lasciviously on the petals” (P. 43, l. 7), of a literal bed of roses. The promises of a happily ever after life diminish in the wake of harsh realities we encounter in the unhealed wounds of our chosen partners. We sacrifice much of our goals and passions in exchange for illusory pursuits that only bring us back to confronting ourselves. Pearl vacillates between regret and acceptance of her decision to divorce, weaving the father/daughter relationship through her own experience as well as Hoffman’s. She declares:

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I left Daddy I had been
divorced but I was
already crying sobbing
because it had been a
mistake… (P. 35, ll. 14-18)

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She believes this because she already has her own child, Hoffman, and in yoking the two of them together states, “…you—or me—I was a child/who needed a father” (P. 35, ll. 21-22). And later in another journal entry she states outright, “…I met and married my Father” (P. 70, l. 18). The legacy of repeating the proverbial sins of the father threads through these words with biting veracity, although Pearl does have many moments of seeing through the veil of her whimsical hopes. In another journal entry she concludes, “My glass slipper shattered—so are my great expectations” (P. 46, l. 9). Hoffman combats this fate of magical thinking in “The Girl Who Laid Golden Eggs” stating, “This girl didn’t want to be told fairy tales; nobody, she said,/knew her life” (P. 66, ll. 1-2).

Pearl resorts to food addictions as a result of the many frustrations she experiences, eventually leading her to join Overeaters Anonymous. She struggles with this in her own thoughts, her journals and her support group. In a “Book of Pearl” entry she catalogs a litany of supposed transgressions much like in a confessional, listing all those she has “short changed,” including her husband, and adds parenthetically, “(even though he deserved it)” (P. 7, l. 5), and concludes, “I did not live up to my potential” (P. 6, l. 5). There is a bittersweet humor that seems to sustain her yet is mitigated by harsh circumstances she cannot seem to overcome emotionally or physically. Pearl pursues an unattainable impulse toward perfection that creates shame when she inevitably falls short of the impossible causing her to observe, “…my defects cause my secrets” (P. 15, l. 8). She also refers to secrets as “toxic” and wishes to share them in order to purge through truth.

Pearl explores familial connections among generations, her grandson seeming to morph into her own persona in a dream she recounts, and then into a desire to take back her husband as she asks God: “…is this your licking or saving me from it?” There is a nostalgic yearning for the familiarity of the past that is more hopeful than emblematic of truth. What is lost was never actually present. Pearl wants her “mate” to return, “Not as he was but could have been” (P. 32, l. 12), once again yoking her desires to an untenable reality. Pearl loses herself in unrealistic notions of the people in her life that extend from her parents to her children. In giving birth we relinquish much of the self. There is tremendous sacrifice involved in the proper care of a child that necessitates so much denial of one’s own dreams and passions. She states, “Another woman would offer her/breast—but I’m trying to cope” (PP. 13-14, ll. 26-27). Pearl wants to know when there will be time to take care of her own life, and as she moves forward asks, “Is this the beginning of a little self-love” (P. 11, l. 14). She sought comfort through food with obsessive swings between desire and deprivation. Frequently Hoffman defines their relationship through the prism of this omnipresent obsession and attempts to free herself from its oppressive presence. In “Pearl” she states, “…I have no shopping list” (P. 60, l. 2). Food references morph into various aspects of these women’s lives, deftly represented in their emotions as a coping mechanism and a nemesis. In referencing a cancelled appointment she is “…left in such a turmoil/you wouldn’t want a meatloaf made in/such a way” (P. 26, ll. 16-18). After another dream of her ex-husband, food mutates into sexual images, is served, but there’s nothing she can eat, concluding, “I go towards the icy box – holding out its frozen breasts and erect Penis to me/I go/towards its pleasures and oblivion” (P. 28, ll. 7-9).  She concedes to a defeat of desires instead of any resolution to conquer the demons. The sense of loss overwhelms an impetus to move forward. In the final analysis, Pearl sees herself as not even worthy of crumbs stating, “…and even this was not permitted me” (P. 31, l. 8).

 “In “Demeter” Hoffman describes the way Pearl prepared foods, almost as a work of art. Yet she sees she and her mother as “…each in our separate pomegranate chamber” (P. 25, l. 12). She vacillates between appreciation and resentment. In “Stranger,” Hoffman is clear about her own disillusionment with Pearl, despite her deep love and connection to her. She refers to her as a “stranger” and states:

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            Mid-journey, I turned around
to tell you my joy
at some trivial thing or other
and saw an old woman
talking to God on the phone
about the raw foods for her last
supper. (P. 47, ll. 7-13)

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As the journal entries and poems progress through the book, we see Pearl slowly sinking while Hoffman struggles and ultimately rises. She has capability beyond her mother to express herself creatively and successfully. It leads her away from deference to Pearl into a realm of compassion and acceptance. Pearl says, “I desert myself” (P. 55, l. 9) and Hoffman struggles to avoid repeating this fate. In “Anonymous” she strives to move beyond seeing herself as an extension of Pearl, surrendering her “unguarded words” to her mother’s ear and concluding, “Ever have I been the jewel hung there” (P. 58, l. 13). And in the poem titled “Pearl” Hoffman has “Pearls in my ear and on my/cheeks” (P. 60. ll. 1-2). Pearl is never able to separate herself from her parental tethering even in death: “Home is where the cemetery is—where Mother and Dad are” (P. 64, l. 8). Of course we all carry our inheritance with us, but the self must strive to separate and stand in its own truth. Pearl descends into guilt and regrets, still craving her father’s approval even toward the end of her life: “Daddy’s gone now but I still feel the cry in my throat—Look at/me Daddy Look at me” (P. 74, ll. 15-16). She pleads to be released from the haunting thoughts that bind her to the past and keep her mired in destructive forces as she cries, “Leave me alone feelings of indecision, perfections, and no/compassion for myself” (P. 81, ll. 17-18).  She also asks to leave her “feelings of rage,” but that is exactly what she needed to express in order to release her feelings and excavate her own life. Hoffman realizes this. In “My Mother Dreams She Is A Head Of Cabbage,” she speaks of her “…smiling/in her Elizabethan/collar” (P. 82, ll. 2-3) but she also sees her as “…planted/eyeless outside a window” (P. 82, ll. 7-8) and “…peed on/by a German soldier” (P. 82. ll. 9-10). Hoffman has her own justified rage at her mother’s inability to overcome her inner demons. They consume her in her inability to live up to untenable ideals that are, ultimately, cries to the parent asking if they will finally love us once we reach perfection. Pearl recognizes this but is unable to sustain it, noting how love was always a “bother” to her father. She writes to herself, “…You are loved  Put down roots  The tree will stand firm with roots/it might even send forth flowers” (P. 87, ll. 12-14). But she cannot absorb and sustain this in her psyche.

Hoffman works toward independence and integrity, and learns these lessons from watching her mother suffer while retaining a compassionate heart toward Pearl’s struggles. She misses her mother but misses more of the person Pearl could have been and says sadly, “People miss you” (P. 91, l. 14). In “Sorrow” Hoffman speaks of “…our penitential/rags/that we never change” (P. 95, ll. 3-5) but concludes:

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And yet the light
comes in a way
we like
and just the unfractured
mind
with its dish of words
can get up when it wants to
and dance. (P. 95, ll. 7-14)

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Hoffman gives Pearl the last word in the book, more resilient and hopeful, albeit from beyond the grave. She seems to be commanding herself as well as her daughter to “Get up out of your coffin and move your feet!” (P. 104, l. 1). Hoffman has offered us stark, courageous insights into an intricate, complicated and difficult relationship. She triumphs with her own “pearls” of wisdom and leaves us with an impetus for reflection upon our own parental ties and self-worth. This book is a true labor of love, fearless in its self-examination. Ultimately, Pearl’s gift is to show us the pain of life’s struggles despite her inability to overcome most of them. Hoffman’s gift is her authentic, intrepid voice showing us the way to reclaim the self through fierce inventory of our lives and an ability to triumph by walking that tough road.

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You can find the book here: The Gates of Pearl

About the reviewer: Karen Corinne Herceg graduated Columbia University where she studied with David Ignatow and Pulitzer Prize winner Philip Schultz.  She has featured at major venues with such renowned poets as John Ashbery and William Packard. Nirala Publications released her new book of poems, Out From Calaboose, in November 2016 with edits by Linda Gray Sexton, bestselling author and daughter of two-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Anne Sexton.  Her website is www.karencorinneherceg.com

Kiss Kiss by Paul Beckman

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By Francine Witte

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When you pick up Kiss Kiss, Paul Beckman’s just-released collection of flash fiction stories, get comfortable. Sit down in your easy chair, maybe bring a cup of joe, because once you start reading, you aren’t going anywhere.

            These tiny stories, (I believe the number is 78,) are so sharp and so entertaining you will find yourself saying “one more, just one more.”

            That’s because of just how readable they are. Beckman’s style is straightforward. Perhaps it’s his background as an air traffic controller that comes into play here. His stories are carefully guided and very easy to follow and then wham! he hits you with an ending that seems both surprising and inevitable all at the same time. The perfect landing.

            Beckman’s world is full of odd things made entirely plausible — a picnic in Italy where only the dead are on the guest list, a dentist with his eyebrows tattooed on, a grandmother’s diary revealing her risqué past. There are brief encounters like that in “Helen and Ellen” where a twin sister passes by her dead sibling’s stalker on an airport conveyor belt. One tiny moment, exploding.

            This is what flash fiction does, it takes a few well-chosen words, surgical details, and blends them into a beautiful synergy. And while Beckman’s language is straight-talking and no- nonsense, he evokes some very touching emotion. His stories about a childhood in the projects come to mind here. Most notable in this category are “The Only Hope of the Jews” and “Father Panik Village.”

            The stories vary in length, the longer being 3 pages and the shortest being one tiny paragraph. Here is an example of what Beckman can do in four lines:

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            The Blame Game

            Every morning, when I leave my house for work, I have to
            run to my car as my neighbors shoot rock salt at me with
            shotguns.
                        Why me and not their wives, who took turns bringin
            warm casseroles and hot bodies when my wife left me?

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In a mere 49 words (and that includes the title) we are given place, character, situation, conflict and backstory with the author mentioning  none of these specifically. This is what separates flash fiction from merely an anecdote. And Beckman shows his mastery of the form in little gem stories such as this one throughout the book.

             There are also more fully-drawn, recurring characters such as the aforementioned grandmother, or the man who is a product of the housing projects, and, my favorite, the Woody-Allen-esque Mirsky, who has trouble making small talk at parties. In “Wallflower Solution,” Mirsky’s wife worries about how he currently handles chit chat in social situations, warning him “there are other things besides weather and cleavage, you know?” (Probably my single favorite line in the entire book.) She goes on to make him a crib sheet which becomes wildly successful, but not for the reason she thinks.

            Get  yourself a copy of Paul Beckman’s Kiss Kiss. Relax. Kick off your shoes. Sip your coffee like you sip these stories, which are fun and poignant and make up a beautiful collection of characters and adventures.
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You can get the book here: Kiss Kiss
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Francine Witte is the author of four poetry chapbooks and two flash fiction chapbooks. Her full-length poetry collection, Café Crazy, has recently been published by Kelsay Books. She is reviewer, blogger, and photographer. She is a former English teacher. She lives in NYC.
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Roumeli by Patrick Leigh Fermor

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By Ray Greenblatt

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Parrick Leigh Fermor, known as Paddy to everybody, was bright and dropped out of school at age 18.  He was from an English aristocratic family but preferred to live with the native people of Greece. His fame was confirmed when during World War II fighting with Greek guerilla forces, he captured a German general. For the remainder of his long life (1915-2011) he lived mostly in Greece speaking several dialects of Greek and studying its history.

The Roumeli is a vast mountainous area in central Greece. Paddy was fascinated by and admired the Sarakatsan, the herdsmen he encountered. This is how one man dressed: “A rough black pill-box was tilted askew on his matted and whiskered head. His black double-breasted waistcoat of homespun goats’ hair was tucked into a black sash below which a hairy and broad-pleated black kilt jutted stiffly to his knees.” (4) A contrasting woman: “All was made up of stern black and white lines and angles and so broad and solid-seeming were the black white-banded pleats that if any of the girls made a movement, their heavy and unwieldy clothes moved with the stiffness of armour.” (21)

Internally “those of the mountains are active, lean, spare, hawk-eyed men, with features scooped and chiseled by sun, wind, rain, snow and hail. They give more than an impression, during their occasional descents to the lowlands, of their enemies the wolves, and still more, of eagles. They live beyond the reach of the authorities, and, as we have seen, the border between pastoral life and lawlessness is often vague. They spell, in fact, independence and inviolacy.” (48)

Here is where they lived: “It was an entire village of beautifully thatched Sarakatsan huts, giant beehives swelling and tapering in tiers of cropped reed which overlapped with the precision of the plating on a seven-banded armadillo. They were topped with wooden crosses near holes in the thatch through which thin blue smoke curled.” (9)

It is a very ancient culture little disturbed by modern times: “Almost every sentence uttered and every gesture made is hallowed by usage; it is the accumulation of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of years; hereditary, patriarchal, established, immutable, conservative, and self-sufficient, everything emerges from a  vast expanse of time as smooth with long handling as the shuttle of a loom, the blurred carving on a distaff or the patina on the shaft of a crook.” (29)

This is what visitors are offered at a feast: “Strangers, on occasions like these, are the objects of eager solicitude: special titbits, forkfuls of liver and kidney, and yet more recondite morsels are constantly being proffered and helpings of brain are delved from heads which have been bisected lengthwise and opened like a casket, each half, sometimes still equipped with a singed and twisting horn.” (16)

They loved their summer pastures: “Whenever their talk veered to their summer pastures in the Zagora, all their eyes lit up like those of the children of Israel at the thought of Canaan, and all spoke at once. That’s where we should come and stay with them. What pigeons, what hares! You didn’t need wine there—the air made you drunk; and as for the shade, the grass, the trees and the water—why the water came gushing out of the living rock as cold as ice, you couldn’t drink it it was so cold, and you could drink it by the oka, and feel like a giant. Words failed them.” (60)

Historically “they must have grazed their flocks in mid-air for aeons, vaguely aware, perhaps, of the War of Troy, the clash of the Greek cities, the elephants of Pyrrhus assembling in the valleys and Alexander’s departure to conquer the world. News of the Roman onslaught, the landing of St Paul on the Macedonian coast and the fall of the West would have reached them late and garbled; the barbarian influx and the long afternoon and evening of Byzantium would have been slow to impinge.” (33)

Religiously to these people “God the Father and Jesus are the same Person and He (or They) is known as Ai, a dialect abbreviation of ayios (hagios)—‘saint’ or ‘holy one.’ Sometimes He is known as Proto Ai, or the First among the saints, sometimes as Aphenti, the Lord, from the ancient Greek word authentes (from which the Turkish title, ‘effendi’, also derives). All over Greece, the army of saints has taken the place of the ancient pantheon.” (35)

A bus driver tells Paddy the limitations of the old beliefs:  “Those old Greeks, our celebrated ancestors, are a nuisance and I’ll tell you why. They haunt us. We can never be as great as they were, nobody can. They make us feel guilty. We can’t do anything, people think because of a few old books and temples and lumps of marble. And clever foreigners who know all about the ancients come here expecting to be surrounded by Apollos and gentlemen in helmets and laurel leaves.” (63)

Paddy’s love of song will transition us into a detailed discussion of his poetic writing style. The Sarakatsan loved music: “These songs unfold with a slow metrical elaboration of semi-tones and recapitulated half-lines and with a force of delivery which seems to strain the singer to the brink of syncope. Their heads are flung backwards with eyes half closed or faraway and the veins of their foreheads and necks project like thongs. The stories, usually heroic narratives, frequently veiled in a parable, are as fierce and melancholy as the music.” (17)

“The music that began to hover through the hut was moving and breathless. It started with long and deep notes separated by pauses; then it shot aloft in patterns of great complexity. Repeated and accelerating trills led to sustained high notes which left the tune quivering in mid-air before plummeting an octave to those low and long-drawn initial semibreves. Notes of an icy clarity alternated with notes of a stirring, reedy, and at moments almost rasping hoarseness. “ (54)

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As we can already observe, Paddy’s writing is rich in description, color and feeling. He employs alliteration to tie images together: “The place was alive with bleating and barking and bells, and gold with evening dust.” (50) Ellipsis emphasizes a person remembering: “. . . I had a few, but good ones, I used to graze them not far from Kios, in Bithynia, near Nicaea on the Asian coast. That was years, years ago . . . Caiques sailing past in the Sea of Marmara could hear my bells . . . But the Rhodope is where we all belong . . .” (14)

Sometimes he uses an unusual word: “The old man’s oakapple-jointed fingers kept pushing a minute saucepan into the embers.” (52) Listing also captures the entirety of a shepherd’s life: “They have their own expressions for all the tupping, lambing, weaning, shearing, carding, spinning, milking, seething, scalding, straining, basket-weaving, path-finding, tent-pitching, camp-striking, trough-scooping and weather-divining round which their whole life turns.” (13)

His descriptions can be so fresh and strong. Here he describes the mountain girls as if in an old painting:  “The faint radiance robbed them all of a dimension. Darkly haloed by their interlocking shadows, they melted into the wall and their black and white figures assumed the aspect of a fresco, half-lit; here and there an earring, a coin, a bracelet, a ring or a necklace gleamed for a moment and dimmed again with the rise and fall of the wick like fragments of gilt or isolated gold tesserae in a mosaic.” (25) Another strong visual in the hut: “When a new faggot was thrown on, the flames made the tall hut dance in a gold hollow above a mob of shadows and highlit the bleached and matted hair and those faces shaped by the blasts of winter and the summer solstice.” (53)

Beside the visual, Paddy also captures smells: “An agreeable and pungent aroma of milk, curds, goats’ hair, tobacco and woodsmoke filled the place.” (53) And he can net pure energy through his words: “Eagerly or ironically, they listened to my stumbling, gesticulating, half-ancient and half-modern onomatopoea-laced pantomime of the tidings.” (53)

The tribesmen share their innermost thoughts with this young Englishman, for whom they have great respect, who is trying so hard to learn Greek and their culture. “Existence, these glances say, is a torment, an enemy, an adventure and a joke which we are in league to undergo, outwit, exploit and enjoy on equal terms as accomplices, fellow-hedonists and fellow-victims.” (53)

Although the shepherds of Roumali dominate this book, Paddy also touched on the Greek monasteries to the north, Crete to the south, and the present situation in Greece. He defines the “old” Greek language as “an expensive faded leather case stamped with a tarnished monogram, holding a set of geometrical instruments; stiff jointed dividers and compasses neatly slotted into their plush beds.” (105) Whereas, “modern” Greek is “an everyday instrument—a spade, an adze or a sickle—the edge thinned and keen with honing and bright from the whetstone; and the wooden shaft, mellow with sweat and smooth with the patina of generations of handling, lies in the palm with an easy balance.” (105)

Each region of Greece is unique: “These regions are not empty landscapes but the mineral backcloth—stage, stage-wings and proscenium—of a theatre flung up for the Greeks themselves . . . Each pair of eyes and each voice is anarchically distinct. Isolated against horizontal and zigzag, magnified by a lens of light, sharpened by the sun’s behaviour, fragmented above blazing thorns or transfigured by lightning, every face in turn is the protagonist of its own drama.” (124)

Of the Greek personality generally he states: “Talk is an addiction and it is conducted with invention, great narrative gifts, the knack of repartee, the spirit of contradiction, the questioning of authority, mockery, self-mockery, satire and humor. Love of pleasure emerges in the pan-hellenic passion for sitting up late eating and drinking and singing whenever the slightest excuse crops up.” (114)

Another amazing fact about Patrick Leigh Fermor is that in 1933 at age eighteen he decided to walk from Holland to Constantinople. After forty-four years he wrote A Time of Gifts (1977) that took him from Holland to then Czechoslovakia. Eleven years later his second installment came out, Between the Woods and the Water (1986) tracing his journey from Czechoslovakia to Romania. These books were written from memory, Paddy having lost his notes long before! The final volume, The Broken Road (2013), only in rough manuscript form, was issued after his death.  However, he had reached Constantinople.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Roumeli-Travels-Northern-Greece-Classics/dp/159017187X

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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

 

 

A Look Back- Antic Hay by Aldous Huxley

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By Ray Greenblatt
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Early in his career Aldous Huxley was a comic author in the tradition of Thomas Love Peacock and Ronald Firbank; a contemporary of Evelyn Waugh, Anthony Powell and even P. G. Wodehouse. He was part of a well-to-do famous family: his father Leonard Huxley was a teacher, his grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley was a scientist. His mother Julia Arnold Huxley was the headmistress of a girl’s school and the sister of the author Mrs. Humphrey Ward; also on his mother’s side Matthew Arnold was a renowned poet. Huxley displayed a flare for wit, irony, bombast, bon mot, and psychological probing of character. However, he did more than most satirists: he philosophically explored the questions  of twentieth century life and found them eternal.
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In this second novel Antic Hay written in 1923, Huxley employs many writing devices: sometimes he inserts a poem, musical lyrics or a short lecture on architecture, e.g. Yet, everything in this book is wrapped in comedy, whether it runs from light to just plain silly to mordant. I see his two major literary contributions to be description of character but especially philosophy of life including social mores as well as scientific speculation.
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                                                                I – IMAGERY
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Huxley is skillful at describing a scene. First a road: “Polished by the wheels and shining like an old and precious bronze, the road stretched before them, reflecting the lamps. It had the inviting air of a road which goes on for ever.” (235) Night: “Once more the wind blew; darkness came down and the gas lamps round the square lit up the outer leaves of the plane trees, touched the privet bushes inside the railings with an emerald light; behind them was impenetrable night; instead of shorn grass and bedded geraniums was mystery, there were endless depths.” (13) Stained glass in a church: “The vast window opposite, all blue and jaundiced and bloody with nineteenth century glass.” (1) And a house: “Gumbril senior occupied a tall, narrow-shouldered and rachitic house in a little obscure square not far from Paddington.” (12)
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However, he excels at bringing characters to life—no matter how absurd they might be—making each actor in this comedy distinct. Even many of their names could be taken symbolically to reveal their nature. Let us begin with Theodore Gumbril junior, our anti-hero, because he is as lost at the end of the novel as he was at the beginning. He shows flashes of wit, but at heart he is a “glum” young man, on his way to nowhere perhaps by “tumbrel,”  thus his name.
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Here is Gumbril in a library: “He had been utterly incapable of thinking of any other book, among the two or three hundred thousand on the shelves, that he wanted to read.” (183) He momentarily thinks that he has found an aid to motivation: “The beard now supplied the deficiencies in the stylobate, and planted now on a firm basement of will, the order of the senses, the aerial attic of ideas reared themselves with  more classical harmoniousness of proportion.” (88)
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Mercaptan is a mediocre journalist at best, in love with his own prose and opinions; his scientific name means “a chemical compound with a disagreeable odor.” “Like movable raisins in the suet of his snouty face, Mr. Mercaptan’s brown little eyes rolled amorous avowals.” (201) Another man happy in his ignorance is a scientist who studies kidneys; “Shearwater” certainly suggests that biological process. His fate is to fall in love: “He was silent. Spectrally, like a dim haunting ghost, he had hung about  her; dumbly, dumbly imploring, appealing.” (63)
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Casimir Lypiatt is a dreadful painter, which everyone knows except him,  who roars about his greatness; “Casimir” is Slavic for “destroying the peace.” “Even the forehead was ruined when he laughed. Foreheads are generally the human part of people’s faces. Let the nose twitch and the mouth grin and the eyes twinkle monkeyishly as you like; the forehead can still be calm and serene, the forehead still  knows how to be human. But when Casimir laughed, his forehead joined in the general distorting grimace.” (69) Likewise, Coleman (“cold man”) is a total cynic about life including seduction:  “What an intoxication, he said,  looking up to the ceiling like a chicken that has taken a sip of water; he smacked his lips.” (218)
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As secondary characters, Bojanus is a simple tailor with many opinions about life: “He cocked his head on one side, and the fine waxed end of his moustache was like a pointer aimed up at some remote star.” (83) And yet, his name scientifically translates as “the excretory organ of a mollusk.” Boldero is a capitalistic investor, “bold” to make a profit. “He was like a caterpillar: he ate all that was put before him, he consumed a hundred times his own mental weight every day. Other people’s ideas, other people’s knowledge—they were his food. He devoured them and they were at once his own.” (109)
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Since they are the cynosure for most of the male characters, I have saved for last two ladies of quite different disposition. Myra Viveash is the siren who lures men to her. Indeed, “Myra” in Greek means “extraordinary” and Viveash sounds ironically similar to “vivacious.” However beautiful and enticing a woman, her soul is hollow supposedly due to the loss of her great love in the Great War. “At seven o’clock Mrs. Viveash woke up. She shook her head to feel if the pain were still rolling about loose inside her skull.” (224) And “slowly, walking along her private knife-edge between her personal abysses.” (151)  In startling contrast is Rosie who peers through rose-colored lenses at life: “She looked at him sideways, then closed down the magnolia petals, and smiled. This was going to be the real thing—one of those long, those interminable, or at any rate indefinitely  renewable conversations about love; witty, subtle, penetrating and bold, like the conversations in books, like the conversations across the tea table between brilliant young poets and ladies of quality,  grown fastidious through an excessive experience, fastidious, and a little weary, but still, in their subtle way, insatiably curious.” (95) Conversely Rosie’s husband thinks of her: “She seemed to have been improving lately. And tonight, she had been a model of non-existence.” (107)
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                                                            II – PHILOSOPHY
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Unlike most comic writers who go for the immediate gag, Aldous Huxley is more far-reaching. The observations about life in his characters ‘  thoughts and mouths are stimulating and for the most part true. Since the novel opens in a school, let us begin with ideas of education. About students: “They were two ugly, stupid-looking louts, who ought to have been apprenticed years ago to some useful trade. Instead of which they were wasting their own and their teachers’ and their more intelligent comrades’ time in trying, quite vainly, to acquire an elegant literary education.” (3) The teachers: “You weren’t sufficiently interested in anything to want to devote yourself to it. That was why you sought the last refuge of feeble minds with classical educations, you became a schoolmaster.” (14) “Until all teachers are geniuses and enthusiasts, nobody will learn anything, except what they teach themselves.” (15) The administrators: “For the Headmaster was as fierce as he was capricious. He was for ever discovering something new. Two terms ago it had been singeing; after the hair-cut and before the shampoo, there must be singeing.” (7)
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An appreciation of the Arts is strong in this novel: “The Chinese statues looked out from the niche; the Maillols passionately meditated, slept and were more than alive. The Goyas hung on the walls, there was a Boucher in the bathroom; and when he entered with his guests, what a Piazzetta exploded about the dining-room mantelpiece!” (9) About classical music: “How pure the passion, how unaffected, clear and without clot or pretension the unhappiness of that slow movement which followed! Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Pure and unsullied; pure and unmixed, unadulterated. Not passionate, thank God; only sensual and sentimental.” (144) Even jazz, a relatively new musical form at that time, is touched upon: “At each recurrence of the refrain the four negroes of the orchestra, or at least the three of them who played with their hands alone—for the saxophonist always blew at this point with a redoubled sweetness, enriching the passage with a warbling contrapuntal soliloquy that fairly wrung the entrails and transported the pierced heart—broke into melancholy and drawling song.” (162)
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Architecture, too, is stressed as a Fine Art: “Knowing by a century of experience how beautiful, how graceful, how soothing to the mind is an ordered piece of town-planning, we pull down almost the only specimen of it we possess and put up in its place a chaos of Portland stone that is an offence against civilization.” (130) Architecture to some can be seen as even superior to music: “Architecture is a more difficult and intellectual art than music. Music—that’s just a faculty you’re born with, as you might be born with a snub nose. But the sense of plastic beauty—though that’s, of course, also an inborn faculty—is something that has to be developed and intellectually ripened. It’s an affair of the mind; experience and thought have to draw it out.” (128)
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Religion and its concomitant ethics is examined from many angles. “God is a sense of warmth about the heart, God as exultation, God as tears in the eyes, God as a rush of power or thought—that was all right. But God as truth, God as 2+2=4—that wasn’t so clearly all right. Was there any chance of their being the same? Were there bridges to join the two worlds.” (1) “Good; good? It was a word people only used nowadays with a kind of deprecating humourousness. Good. Beyond good and evil? We are all that nowadays. Or merely below them , like earwigs?” (2) “When the future and the past are abolished, when it is only the present instant, whether enchanted or unenchanted, that counts, when there are no causes or motives, no future consequences to be considered, how can there be responsibility.” (156) Coleman cynically reasons: “It’s only when you believe in God, and especially in hell, that you can really begin enjoying life. For instance, when in a few moments you surrender yourself to the importunities of my bloody beard, how prodigiously much more you’d enjoy it if you could believe you were committing the sin against the Holy Ghost.” (217)
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Under the heading of science, Gumbril wants to advertise the pneumatic trousers he has invented: “All we have to do is talk about the great nerve centres of the spine; the shocks they get when you sit down too hard; the wearing exhaustion to which long-protracted sitting on unpadded seats subjects them. We’ll have to talk very scientifically about the great lumbar ganglia.” (114) In the laboratory: “The animals devoted to the service of physiology were woken by the sudden opening of the door, the sudden irruption of light. The albino she-rabbits lollopped out and shook their ears and pointed their tremulous noses toward the door. The cock into which Shearwater had engrafted an ovary came out, not knowing whether to crow or cluck.” (246) Huxley even considers the possibility of ESP: “I let my telepathic faculty lie idle, preferring to employ an elaborate and cumbrous arrangement of symbols in order to make my thoughts known to you through your senses . . . If we knew a good method of educating and drawing out the latent faculty, most of us could make ourselves moderately efficient telepaths . . . By the twenty-first century I believe we shall all be telepaths.” (238)
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What do politicians look like? “Some wear orchids and eyeglasses, like Joe Chamberlain. Some let their ‘air grow, like Lloyd George. Some wear curious ‘ats, like Winston Churchill. Some put on black shirts, like this Mussolini, and some put on red ones, like Garibaldi. Some turn up their moustaches, like the German Emperor. Some turn them down, like Clemenceau.” (85) “Political liberty’s a swindle because a man doesn’t spend his time being political. He spends it sleeping, eating, amusing himself a little and working—mostly working.” (28) Politics dovetails with sociology: “Had one a right to be contented and well-fed, had one a right to one’s education and good taste, a right to knowledge and conversation and the leisurely complexities of love?” (63) “Cinema, newspapers, magazines, gramophones, football matches, wireless telephones—take them or leave them, if you want to amuse yourself.” (29)
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This leads us to Huxley’s humorous views of love through his varied characters. “Whether one can be in love with more than one person at a time, whether love can exist without jealousy, whether pity, affection, desire can in any way replace the full and genuine passion—how often he had to thrash out these dreary questions!” (96) On the other hand, an ideal view of love would be: “She would be waiting for him, expecting him; and they would walk through the twiddly lanes—or perhaps there would be a governess cart for hire, with a fat pony like a tub on legs to pull it—they would look for flowers in the woods and perhaps he would still remember what sort of noise a whitethroat makes.” (154)
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And from love to some general views of mankind: “If you will have sanitary conditions that don’t allow plagues to flourish properly. If you will tell mothers how to bring up their children, instead of allowing nature to kill them off in her natural way. If you will import unlimited supplies of corn and meat.  What can you expect? Of course the numbers go up.” (185) From the masses to the individual: “Every one’s a walking farce and a walking tragedy at the same time. The man who slips on a banana-skin and fractures his skull describes  against the sky, as he falls, the most richly comical arabesque.” (208) And finally what does time do to us: “Grief doesn’t kill, love doesn’t kill; but time kills everything, kills desire, kills sorrow, kills in the end the mind that feels them; wrinkles and softens the body while it still lives, rots it like a medlar, kills it too at last.” (152)
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I do not agree with the last statement above; only Mrs. Viveash would be so negative. Two passages, it seems to me, contain a subtle meaning and beauty we can adopt. One has to do with silence: “All the regular, habitual, daily part of you would die. There would be an end of bandstands and whizzing factories , and one would have to begin living arduously in the quiet, arduously in some strange un-heard-of manner.” (141) This connects with a magic time that Gumbril senior  experiences: “They sat and chattered till the sun went down and twilight was past,  with intervals every now and then of silence that fell suddenly and inexplicably on all the birds at once, lasted through a few seconds of thrilling suspense, to end as suddenly and senselessly in an outburst of the same loud and simultaneous conversation.” (13) Serenity in nature is what Huxley seems to be inferring in order to find fulfillment.
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As the years go on, Aldous Huxley’s novels darken into Brave New World, and his favored genre alters into non-fiction as in Science, Liberty and Peace and The Doors of Perception, in which he experiments with hallucinogenic drugs.  With weakening eyesight and multiple operations, he was to die at a relatively young age of 69. Yet, we have seen him at his most youthful and frothiest. No matter how much he changed, the early comedies will remain scintillating additions to the flow of humorous literature.
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You can find the book here: Antic Hay
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Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society.His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.
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Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper

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By Lynette G. Esposito

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Monte Carlo Days & Nights by Susan Tepper is a book filled with delightful short and short short stories that both entertain and amuse.

Published in soft cover by Rain Mountain Press, the stories take the reader on journeys that encompass the contemporary experience.  Of the twenty-two stories, my favorite is Adjacent toCentral Park.  Tepper sets the situation of two lovers in an upscale hotel room and all is seemingly going well as the reader sees the scene from the female narrator’s point of view.  Then—all is not going so well from the physical standpoint. How can one have sex at the Ritz Carlton in New York City and not be able to take a hot shower afterwards?  The man at the front desk claims there is a water main break so there is no water at all in the hotel  A freebie is offered for next time.  For this time, our narrator and her companion send out for baby wipes just as if they were ordering pizza to be delivered.  She claims she has used them successfully on a plane in flight. The language and circumstance of the characters is realistic and believable. While the situation is farcical, the depiction of modern life is serious.

My second favorite of the stories is Monte.  It is simple, short, direct, and yet reveals the different ways men and women approach each other.  This story is more of a vignette rather than the beginning, middle, end structure of a fictional short story.  As a slice of life amidst the other stories, it works well in revealing two characters circling each other n a relationship. The suggestive images of the hotel, the swimsuit, the hunger work both literally and figuratively. Do women consider going topless…yes but no.  The reader is in the female narrator’s head.

The final story in the book, Dinner, brings closure to the days and nights depicted throughout the sequence of encounters.  Our narrator, wearing a red spandex dress and no pantyhose, looks so “hot” her lover proposes marriage if he were the marrying kind.  How sweet, how ironic how no discussion of love or respect– just almost cold analysis with lust as the common denominator.  Trepper has a light touch on a subject where so many others write a long agonizing soliloquy on the “he loves me, he loves me not” boy meets girl storyline.

The 74 page book is an easy read sharing a contemporized voice with modern perceptions and situations.

The author, Susan Tepper, has been a marketing manager, a flight attendant, an interior decorator, and an award-winning author.  To find out more about her go to:

wwwsusantepper.com 

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You can find the book here: Monte Carlo Days Nights

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Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University,  Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.

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A Fire Without Light by Darren Demaree Demaree

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By g emil reutter
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Darren Demaree is a singer of poems. His latest collection, A Fire Without Light, is a series of polemic poems aggressively written, contentious in nature, written in the present. Demaree walks into the fire without fear. The fire he writes about is the Trump Presidency.
 
He opens the book with a dedication.
 
This book is dedicated to every person that believes empathy is our most important strength, and that those that believe it to be a weakness are the weakest among us. Those people that rally against love and acceptance we will remember, but we will never raise their names in song without the anger
they forced into our hearts.
 
Demaree tells us in #3, I like song. I will get used to these short songs. I will learn what I need to do. I won’t waste a single breath. I will sing as often as I can.
 
Sing he does and often throughout this collection not in fear but in his view of the reality of the Trump Presidency. Such singing as this:
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A Fire Without Light #12
New sorrow, old accuracy, we all arrived outside the
community center to say his name without teeth, to
let bounce it around our mouths, to have it be chewed
up while it left that cave, to see it injured in the world
before it was ever heard by another soul. Such a chaotic
thing, his name, such a weight, a violence in image and
repetition, and now we’re forced to taste it. Nobody
wants to taste his name, but we must if we’re going to
mangle it properly
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In #30 he tells us … We know all of his moves. We know he waited for the darkness, so that he may be the light. We know he is not the light… We offered him the world. We know he means to consume the world. We offered him the world. We know he means to consume the world. We offered him the world. We offered him the world.
 
Demaree tells us that we are all responsible and in this no one is blameless. He continues throughout to yawp.
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A Fire Without Light #41
I didn’t have it in me, to seal my mouth like Berryman
suggested, keeping the air of my anger inside, and
dancing so little that I might be mistaken for a fearful
American. I am not afraid. I’m quiet. There is no list
making in my heart. I’m writing these poems all of the
time, and I’m smiling while I pile them behind every
Ohioan that voted for Trump. I won’t have to push
them over this horse-high collection. They will turn
naturally, and have to swim through the thousands of
pages. Most of them will give up, and turn back to my
stillness. They will hold me. We will never talk about
why. We will know, but we’ll never have to talk about it.
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In #76 he sings, The sweat of hate makes us all think we need to be
rewritten into elegy… Humanity for all. Humanity for Donald J. Trump.
May he find humanity before we are forced to rest against the zero.
 
Demaree is not one of those folks who talk of leaving, there is a strength to him to speak out no matter the strength of the wind, no matter the damage. He has his doubts but is holding onto his country.
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A Fire Without Light #655
How lucky I am to be greeted with the wind as I
smack back against the ribs of America. This is the
era of bruising. Those of us that survive will look like
survivors. Those of us that are buried will be buried in
numerous plots. This is the shredding of the tendons of
the American hopefuls. I have no intention of leaving. I
have no idea if I can hold on to my country.
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These poems are daring, dusky and intense. Demaree reveals a moral strength standing not wallowing in despair; writing of the ongoing fires lit by Trump over 2017 desiring to document and extinguish as many as he can. He boldly walks through the storm under the dark clouds that dwell above America telling us in these poems that there is hope, we can survive, and freedom of speech is the most powerful weapon we have.
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You can find the book here: A Fire Without Light
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter
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