Tag Archives: postaday2011

Put Another Poem On The Barbie – Les Murray’s Taller When Prone (Blitz 2k12 Vol. 3)

Now That is What I Call a Poem

Anybody who read this blog last year might recall my struggles with poetry and the collections of poems on the 2010 list. But, it wasn’t always this way. In middle school, I actually won a poetry contest. Now, before you start thinking I was a young Neruda who left the stanza behind for the fame of glory of high school debate, let me fill in the blanks.

For some reason during seventh grade, one of the middle school teachers decided it would be a neat idea to have a poetry reciting competition. In my small catholic school, there were just six home rooms. Each class would hold their own preliminary round and the winner from each class would compete in a school-wide assembly.

Even at this point in my young academic career, I was more Economist than haiku. So, I went home, where the only poems I had in my library was a collection by the inimitable Shel Silverstein. My choice tapped into the as-of-yet unknown mopey vein of my personality – Nobody Loves Me, Nobody Cares. You can find the text of the poem at the bottom of this page.

To be fair, I don’t remember what the other kids in my class selected. All I know is that my self-effacing recital sent me to the finals where I ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.

This memory came rushing back to me as I read Les Murray’s most recent collection of poems, “Taller When Prone.” Not because the Australian Murray is a kindred spirit of Silverstein. After another poem where I was uncertain how I should read it, compounded by Australian slang that I was wholly unfamiliar with, I was left wondering how I’d ever come close to winning a poetry competition.

It is in the poems where Murray embraces his native country’s dialect and vernacular where I felt most lost. Almost as if I was a tourist plopped down in a rhyme scheme with no sense of syntax. I’m sure, based on the other poems Murray included in Taller When Prone, that these poems filled with Australian slang and Aussie references would come alive on the page to a reader far more familiar with the source.

Australian Poet Les Murray - Via CliveJames.com

Murray’s greatest strength in this collection is how in just a few lines, sometimes no more than five or eight, he can survey an entire scene and bring the individuals to life. He encapsulates decades across time with the same ease as he paints a single moment. The two stand-outs in this sense are The Toppled Head and The Double Diamond. In the former, Murray describes a couple in bed, where one of them is snoring loudly and the other person tilts the snorer’s head allowing them to once again breath unimpeded. In the latter, Murray tells us the life story of man who has transformed from a soldier into a husband and then from a father into his last role as an elderly individual.

In the copy of the book I picked up from the library, they previewed a poem on the inside flap. Entitled “Fame,” it is easily the funniest poem of the bunch. Murray writes about being mistaken at a restaurant for a famous chef whom his misguided fan has thanked. The other stand out poem is “Phone Canvass” where the titular individual is blind and tells the person at the other end of the line,”I can hear you smiling.” It is a devastatingly beautiful line.

Picking up a collection of poems by an author as talented and skilled as Les Murray makes me wish I knew how to read poetry to the point that I could appreciate the talent on the page. And to have a better grasp of Australian lingo to boot.

Nobody Loves Me, Nobody Cares

“Nobody loves me, nobody cares,
Nobody picks me peaches and pears.
Nobody offers me candy and Cokes,
Nobody listens and laughs at me jokes.
Nobody helps when I get into a fight,
Nobody does all my homework at night.
Nobody misses me,
Nobody cries,
Nobody thinks I’m a wonderful guy.
So, if you ask me who’s my best friend, in a whiz,
I’ll stand up and tell you NOBODY is!
But yesterday night I got quite a scare
I woke up and Nobody just WASN’T there!
I called out and reached for Nobody’s hand,
In the darkness where Nobody usually stands,
Then I poked through the house, in each cranny and nook,
But I found SOMEBODY each place that I looked.
I seached till I’m tired, and now with the dawn,
There’s no doubt about it-
NOBODY’S GONE!!”

Ian Brown’s The Boy in The Moon – Blitz 2K12 V2

The Boy In The Moon by Ian Brown

Living in Park Slope requires a high tolerance for being surrounded by children in strollers, children in tricycles, and children who probably have a better vinyl collection than you will ever have. Sometimes though, there is a kid who is so absolutely ridiculous it stops you in your tracks.

A few weeks ago, I was coming home from dinner in Manhattan and as I walked down a residential street, I saw a father in front of his stoop raking leaves. He was joined by his two year old son, apparently decked out in an all Baby J Crew line of clothes, with a yellow rake of his own, with one hand leaning against an oak tree trying valiantly to help his dad. Just ridiculous.

This Park Slope moment kept rattling in my brain as I read Ian Brown’s memoir, “The Boy In The Moon.” Billed as, “a father’s journey to understand his extraordinary son,” Brown’s son, Walker, was born with cardiofaciocutaneous syndrome – a genetic mutation known as an orphan syndrome.

As Brown explains, the cardio is the ever-present heart issues people with CFC have, facio is for the facial malformations, and cutaneous is from the “many skin irregularities.” Walker is among 300 known CFC cases in the world. Even at the age of 13, he couldn’t speak. He receives his medicine and food through a g-tube, and has to be restrained from bashing his hands against his head. Developmentally, Walker will never progress from a toddler state of being.

The author is more than just the father, he is also a feature writer at Toronto’s The Globe and  Mail. These dual roles are one of the things that make “The Boy In The Moon” the strong book that it is. With his perspective as a father and husband dealing with CFC, Brown gives us the parent’s perspective that a journalist or scientist might be less familiar with. As a professional journalist, it is his search for questions that brings Brown and the reader to a burgeoning CFC community and the scientists working to decode CFC and it’s possible connection to cancer.

It is Brown the father whose voice I enjoyed most. Here is a guy, who along with his wife, usually doesn’t get more than 4 hours of sleep two nights in a row as they raise Walker. We are there with them as they struggle to figure out what is ailing Walker – something that was noticeable from the moment of his birth but not diagnosed until later. Brown brings us into the doctors’ offices as they learn what their son will be and what it will require of them. As Walker ages, it almost feels like we are there with the author as he cares for his son, nudges him to sleep, calms him from his outbursts, and the parents find the proper schools for their unique child.

Eventually, there comes a point when the Browns can no longer handle their son. This opens a new chapter in their lives and the book as they begin the search for a place for Walker to live. More than just a place for him to spend his waking hours and sleep – they seek a home.

Ian and Walker Brown - Via CBC

If there is one flaw in the book is an unfulfilled sense of foreshadowing. Maybe this is less on the writer and more on me the reader, but as I went along, it almost felt like the audience was being slowly, softly prepared for the horrible news that Walker dies or something else horrific. Instead, it goes unmet.

The best parts of “The Boy In The Moon” are when Brown takes on why the historical underpinnings of why our society fails the handicapped and the hidden impact this has on the ones who love them and, usually, are their caregivers. Brown doesn’t pull any punches and shares his darkest moments. Fleeting thoughts of what it would take to quietly end his and his son’s life and the ravaged state of his marriage are put on full display.

This honest gloom is offset by what Brown acknowledges might be nothing, but  for him means so much – the language of clicks he and his son have which constitutes so much of the shared moments they’ve had and the joy that has come in their life. For Brown, Walker’s struggles will never end, but after reading this memoir, it is the joy of being able to step into Walker’s world that makes all the difference for Brown.

Dennis Johnson’s Train Dreams – Blitz 2K12 Vol. 1

Amtrak Joe Approves - Via Electric Literature.com

Trains tend to have an outsized influence on the imagination of those who get caught in the power of these iron horses. For these people, trains are the hallucinogen that prompts daydreams of riding bullet trains, gliding along mountain rivers or racing through small-town America in a foot-race with the sinking sun.

On a certain level, there is fallacy to these daydreams. In a way not found in other forms of transportation – partially in cars and definitely in planes – a train’s options are set. It is guided by the rails underneath it’s wheels and routes mapped out generations, if not centuries, ago. But this doesn’t tell the whole story. For trains, probably since the day Tom Thumb puttered down the track, being a passenger can be about more than just getting from Point A to Point B. Trains do more than than get us to locations, they can take us to places – in our mind and our memories.

For Robert Grainer, the protagonist of Denis Johnson’s “Train Dreams,” the trains that make their way into the Idaho Panhandle serve both purposes in his life. In the most literal sense, as a young child, they bring him to his aunt and uncle after his parent’s death leaves him orphaned. As an adult, he works on the construction of new routes through the mountainous northwest. The train’s whail and rumble are the noises he recall when he thinks back to being in his cabin with his wife and young daughter. It is the train that brings him from his remote cabin to town.

If, in a 116-page novella that deftly chronicles the 80 or so years of the protagonist’s life, trains are the means for which both Granier and story moves, it is death that constantly hovers over, and in some moments, envelopes him. With a structure that jumps to and from different points in Granier’s life, the story opens with a Chinese immigrant just moments away from death at the hands of railroad construction thugs. Even though the Chinese laborer escapes death, this is not a one-off moment Granier has with death. It seems that he is prone to being in the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to death, except when it matters most – and it is this absence and loss that comes to define Granier the most.

It is a credit to him that in a short 116 pages, Dennis Johnson not only successfully fleshes out Granier and those whose lives briefly intersect his, he also brings the northern reaches of Idaho to life. Even when an epic forest fire rips through his region in the middle of the book, the destruction is immediately evident to the reader in the wake of Johnson’s vivid description of the forests, valleys and towns of Panhandle Idaho.

It was rail that opened up these communities like Granier’s Bonner Falls to the outside world in a way never previously imagined. Towards the end of his life, Granier takes a short flight on airplane while visiting the fair. This flight, and the discomfort it brings, while brief, are a sign that the world Granier has called home is not the long for this world.

You Can’t Stop The Book Blitz, You Can Only Hope To Contain It

A room with a view - Via Adventureguy.com

I was wrong and I failed.

I’ve been saying that a lot lately. But this time, I’m referring to something I wrote in one of the initial posts for this blog. At the time, I was beginning the Boston Book Blitz and had settled on the mountain climbing metaphor. I went so far as to compare reading all 100 books on the New York Times 2010 list as the literary equivalent of climbing Mount Everest.

With the release of the New York Times 2011 list this afternoon, my quest has come to a close. And as I checked my list one last time for the 2010 publications, I concluded that finishing all the books on this list is nothing like climbing Mt. Everest. Instead, it is like running a marathon.

If for no other reason than that there is no sherpas when it comes to finishing the books on this list. This year, I made it through fifty books and wrote reviews for thirty of them. Two of the reviews got retweeted by the authors of the books and another author thanked me on Twitter for my positive review. So if I were to have stuck with the Everest metaphor, I would have made it to the top but had no way of getting back down – though I would have had cell service at the peak.

That is why I find the marathon comparison comforting. If you pull up lame at mile 13, you can call it a day, go back to the drawing board and start from scratch for next year. And that is exactly what I’m doing in 2012. I hope you will join me again on this journey, that I am dubbing, Book Blitz 2K12 as I make my way through the best writing of the last year, sharing my thoughts, limited insights and anecdotes along the way.

Just watch out for mile post 21 – I hear it is a doozy.

7 Reasons Extending the 7 Train to NJ is a Bad Idea

7 Train is up for a promotion - Via New York Times

It must have been a nice change of pace over at MTA headquarters yesterday morning. After several news cycles of being hammered for for their poorly received pilot program to remove trash cans from platforms in two subway stations, a different transit issue captured the New York Post’s headlines.

The Bloomberg Administration pointed to a draft study touting the benefits of extending the 7 Train to the New Jersey Transit complex in Secaucus, New Jersey. Construction is on-going in extending the 7 from Times Square to a new station on the Far West Side, near the Javits Center. And one unnamed Bloomberg official said the plan to bring the 7 Train to Secaucus is “a heck of a lot better” than the cross-Hudson tunnel torpedoed by Chris Christie.

The idea of building a subway tunnel under the Hudson bubbled to the surface after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pulled the plug on the Access to the Region’s Core, a tunnel that would have increased New Jersey Transit’s capacity into Penn Station and provided a one-seat ride into Midtown for commuters coming by rail from Bergen County. Christie pulled New Jersey’s funding, which killed the project.

If I ran the MTA, The Count would most definitely be my numbers guy. "The next F Train will arrive in three minutes - ahh ahhh ahh" - Via Muppets Wiki

It is admirable that Mayor Bloomberg and his administration are interested in looking for an end-run around the loss of ARC, and in theory, extending the 7 Train sounds reasonable. On paper, however, it is far more flawed than ARC ever was. To illustrate this, I have identified seven…ahh ahh ahh…reasons why extending the 7 Train is a bad idea. Continue reading

The Yankees Should Not Sign Prince Fielder

Contrary to popular belief, CC does not stand for Chris Christie - Via Seattle times

The Yankees off-season is a lot like an AJ Burnett start. Sometimes, Burnett would do his job, keep the Yankees in the game, and show glimpses of his potential. Other times though, it would get ugly fast and before you knew it, Burnett was glowering from the dug out,  after being pulled in the third innings.

If things go well, the Yankees will retain CC Sabathia, keep Jesus Montero, and add one more starter. However, the Yankees offseason plans could go awry very quickly. If Sabathia opts-out and ends up signing elsewhere, the Yankees rotation gets very shaky, very fast. Last Friday (as in eight days ago), John Harper of the Daily News addressed that what-if in an article entitled, “Prince Fielder May Become Big Apple of Yankees’ Eye if CC Sabathia Decides to Sign Elswhere.” If the Yankees lose Sabathia, Harper suggests the Yankees should go out and sign Prince Fielder, the Milwaukee Brewers first baseman. With a big hole in their starting rotation, Harper would have the Yankees trade Montero for a front-line starting pitcher.

If the Yankees are hoping to keep pace with the Rays, Red Sox, and, yes, the Blue Jays, next year Harper’s plan would ensure that the Bronx Bombers are just a more expensive version of the Texas Rangers, circa 2002. A lineup filled with mashers and a rotation filled with guys who could throw, but not pitch. Continue reading

The Charlie Rose Coffee Club – A GOP Presidential Debate Live Blog

Keggy the Keg unfortunately did not meet the polling requirements to be invited to tonight's debate - Via Wikipedia

Big night here at the Ferris Compound. Papa Ferris has promised to make a cameo during the debate. That significantly increases the possibility of Glass-Steagal being touted and Ben Bernanke being booed.

Before we get started, this looks like it has potential to be the most college-esque debate of the bunch so far. Darthmouth, Charlie Rose and the whole sitting around the table motif makes it sound like more of a symposium than a debate. Continue reading