“Why can’t you see me? Why can’t I stop needing you to see me?” Chen Chen asks in “Nature Poem” in the third portion of his 2017 debut poetry collection. When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities is both a demand to be seen & an exercise in imagination. His poems range from playfully political to severely surreal. Woven with philosophical undertones, both embracing them & turning them inside out, Chen Chen explores what it means to be human, what it means to be alone in the world, in one’s body, in a room where the quiet outweighs silence.
Present in the midst of playfulness is a responsibility to his intersecting identities: that of an immigrant, that of a Chinese-American, that of a poet, that of a queer man, that of a descendant of wordsmiths & thinkers. In his poem “Talented Human Beings,” Chen Chen laments the disparity of grief between Asian persons & their American counterparts, recounting how he vowed to only to masturbate to a Japanese porn actor Koh Masaki, although he “felt conflicted, listening to relatives in China/ lament the popularity of Japanese cars. But Chinese porn wasn’t as good.” These concerns return for Chen Chen as a need to not only be seen in death but also in life, combating the ignorance of westerns about the lives of anyone not a next-door neighbor, anyone not white & rich. Chen Chen seeks to stoke both care & anger in the face of these tragedies, mourning how western philosophy “keeps your rage room temperature.”
But Chen Chen too is a sponsor of joy. In so many scenes, Chen Chen explores with childlike wonder how happiness might blossom, as in when he and his boyfriend visit the leaky faucet factory on a date, an image I cannot describe any other way than fun. Because for all their intellectual and linguistic turns, for all their political & cultural investigations, Chen Chen’s poems are fun, joyful even when tinged with sorrow. He speaks of the strange comfort of losing oneself in a good book & the sad plight of the not-as-famous-as-its-cousin-the-llama guanacos he glimpses in the zoo, and whether Chen Chen is penning an elegy or ode, there are always more ways to be together than to be lonely.
Chen Chen hopes, through both love and religion, through grief and family, that there might exist still in this world magic. “Believe the facts could be/ at least a little wrong. Please, something. Some/ magic, real as as this ripe life with him.”
It is rare for a book of poems to explore well not only historical eras but also the lives of past people, especially those neglected by formal history, and yet Kimberly J. Simms accomplishes this historic excavation in her first collection Lindy Lee: Songs on Mill Hill. Simms weaves South Carolina history of mill workers in the late nineteenth century, both personal and journalistic in detail, and spins their lives into stories. The story of mill workers in the South is often forgotten, blotted out by the shadow of the agricultural South in historical narratives, and yet in this book Simms makes a case for the necessity of these stories through a juxtaposition of elegiac and celebratory poems. These mill women and children gave birth to early labor movements in the South, providing for poor, white women an early entrance into fields of labor not shared by their Northern counterparts until many decades later.
She focuses on the lives of children, with “lungs full of lint/calloused soles black with machine oil,” forced by familial poverty to work in the mills. Despite their hardships, they remain children, curious and searching for glints of innocent joy in the clouds of cotton dust. If one listens to these poems, one might hear flashes of song between the mechanical churn of ginning machines. There remain winks of wonder in the midst of the mundane, the workers at the mill holding fast to kindness and community. Simms writes, “Charity starts with a twang in the heart.”
Her poems, however, do not ignore the cruel aspect of mill life. In focusing on the fictional character of Lindy Lee, a young girl working in the mill, Simms explores how workplace politics, the selfishness of supervisors, the despotic power of mill owners combine to mold a life of misery for individuals with little power. The machinery of not only place but also society work together to strip Lindy Lee of her agency.
Ultimately, this story is one of survival, not glamorous, but instead a product of a series of steps toward a better life. “I want to dance lint-less,” wishes the speaker of one poem, finding escape in cinema. Whether the speakers of these poems describe flooding in middle Saluda, a familiar problem to contemporary readers, or the drudgery of daily mill work, Simms sings songs in which every life is both lament and fanfare. And the pain of the everyday may be relieved only by the hope of a softer future, a future not coarse as cotton, in which “tomorrow I will take up silk.”
Lindy Lee: Songs on Mill Hill is available on October 21st and can be pre-ordered here….
And you can check out the publisher’s site here…
Kimberly Simms is a travelling poet. Will she be visiting your city on her tour? Find out here…
“because love too is like a county fair/ in that it’s at its best in the dark/ next to someone you just met.”- Keegan Lester
Keegan Lester’s debut poetry collection this shouldn’t be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it, winner of the 2016 Slope Editions Books Prize, possesses a haunted urgency that, as one careens through its poems like a semi navigating mountain roads, suspends one between what we cannot know about being human and what we cling to as gospel. Gospel’s an accurate word for Lester’s verse. He explores language, love, grief, and Lester’s adopted home state of West Virginia.
The collection, however, is not coal-dusted or steeped in stereotype, but instead luminous with the acknowledged humanity of Appalachians. This is summed up neatly toward the book’s end in “You Appalachian Re-appropriating Asshole Poets,” in which Lester writes, “i don’t write about killing deer… my great uncle pitched/ for the yankees. He also killed deer/ he never wrote a single poem.”
There is an impossibility in both capturing the places we have lived, how they must necessarily change in our actions and through the echo of our memories. In the first “half” of the book (although this part accounts for the majority of the book), Lester weaves together disparate poems into a singular “ghost note,” which is like an elegy. Or prayer. Or the scribbled final thoughts of the dying. Or the dead.
In early 2017, I had the opportunity to see Keegan Lester perform his poems. He reads with both the New York Poetry Brothel and the Travelin’ Appalachian Revue. I use the word perform because Lester affects the posture of a backwoods preacher. The words travel through him, rather than from him as if transfused through the mother-lode vein of a word mine.
I picked up the book this morning for a long car ride and tore through the book for the third time. Perhaps it took some time to compose proper thoughts on the collection, but there must be a reason I keep returning. This book is itself a return, a home town not yours but nevertheless intimately familiar.
“Keegan Lester is an American poet splitting time between New York City and Morgantown, West Virginia. His work is published in or forthcoming from Boston Review, The Atlas Review, Powder Keg, Boaat Journal, The Journal, Phantom Books, CutBank, Reality Beach and Sixth Finch among others and has been featured on NPR, The New School Writing Blog and ColdFront. He is the co-founder and poetry editor for the journal Souvenir Lit. This is his first book.” – Found on Publisher’s Website
At first, I found his rendition of “When the Saints Come Marching In” endearing, until I heard the same rendition, scratched out-of-tune against the violin’s abused strings, for the sixth time. He stands on the corner of Wentworth and King, battered case lying at his feet. I, of course, have witnessed street performances from around the world—the immigrant’s trumpet bellows in a walking tunnel in Tuebingen, the one-arm man’s accordion finesse in the city square of Krakow, the instrument-less lament of a Cuban opera singer at Havana’s rum-washed Malecon—and the man in Charleston, SC is not up to snuff.His repertoire is obviously lacking: he shifts between Charlie Brown and other pop standards before reverting back inevitably to “When the Saints Come Marching In.”
Although performing these songs on a broken violin seemed at first avant garde, a stab to establish an atonal surprise for the passerby listeners– the venue itself being remarkably fresh, music that takes place away from the hallowed concert hall. But I conclude that the man simply does not know how to tune his violin nor does he care that the instrument is missing its A-string.
Overall, three out of five stars.
NBC’s crime drama Hannibal breaks the mold of crime shows like NCIS and Criminal Minds, building throughout the first season a far more consistent plot than such shows generally do. This makes Hannibal not only a show that dwells on crime (and its dark psychology) but also a drama about the participants: what are the effects of constantly looking at horrific scenes and imagining the lives of serial killers?
For Will Graham, the result turns out to be tragic. He slowly loses his senses, hallucinating and imagining vile, trippy experiences, to the point Will causes his superiors and friends to question whether he, like the men he catches, is a psychopath. Will has a form of empathy that allows him to “feel” and “understand” serial killers, due to his condition (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/31/hannibal-will_n_3366085.html). During the first few episodes of the season, this helps him assume the role of the serial killer and ultimately catch them, before he goes crazy.
At first, I did not particularly like this feature of his personality, not because the idea was not good but because of its execution. I understand his empathy aiding him to understand psychopaths, but show pushes the boundaries of believability. By viewing a simple murder scene, he not only knows how the killer killed his victims, but why. Often, the why is so very complex that it is implausible he could so rapidly construct a motive (i.e. the angel people).
As the show progresses, however, the show-runners and Hugh Dancy do a better job of showing how the illness
is affecting him negatively. Not only does it destroy his relationship with his coworkers and possible lover, but it also corrupts his sanity. He becomes conflicted because though he wants to continue to help people (he adopts a fatherly role for Abigail, the daughter of the Minnesota Shreik), he also realizes he might be traumatized by the gory sights he sees.
The level of gore and violence in Hannibal is at times over-the-top, like when the FBI find a tower of putrefying bodies stacked and strapped atop each other at the beach. Or when girls are found impaled on elk antlers. Or… any other death in the entire series. The writers are seriously, but impressively demented for creating some of this material, and the “disgusting way to die with psychologically unique killer” a week schtick, while intriguing, may be difficult to keep up. By season’s end, the show-runner’s give up, giving instead screen time for the characters to ultimately come to terms with their fates.
Whose fate I find most interesting is that of Hannibal (which I’ll discuss later on below). Mad Mikkelson portrays Hannibal in an amusing, cool way, a departure from Anthony Hopkin’s unhinged menace. While I have always loved Silence of the Lambs, Mikkelson convinced me Hannibal Lector could be far more menacing when not slurping at Clarice Starling or carving off men’s faces—he could be just as menacing having dinner with Laurence Fishbourne or making sexy eyes at his therapist (Gillian Anderson).
He often waxes poetically about psychologically and coldly manipulates the other players in this drama. He strikes a compelling relationship with Will, which he claims is a friendship, but each step he takes to “aid” Will ultimately leads to Graham’s demise. In fact, Hannibal takes a curious pleasure in manipulation, and when confronted about his actions (several murders and cover-ups), he simply states he was “curious to see what would happen.” But Mikkelson’s Lector, unlike Hopkin’s, is someone capable of receiving sympathy.
At some point, he know Lector will betray Will, which makes their relationship nefarious. In the books, Will confronts Lector and ends up with his face cut to shreds. This creates a palpable tension for the entire season. When next will Lector kill and when will Will Graham, a man capable of understanding serial killers, finally realize his friend and psychologist is the serial killer he’s been looking for. [SPOILER] Furthermore, Lector sets up Will to take the ultimate fall for his murders in a genius, long-term plan that convinces Will, at first, he might be guilty, until Will then realizes the truth about Lector. “I see you,” he says in the finale when they return to the murder scene of Abigail Hobbes. [END SPOILER].
But Hannibal wants Will to become the Chesapeake Ripper (Hannibal’s media moniker) because he wants to be understood. The show is entirely about the need to be understood. Garret Jacob Hobbes, the first murderer, longs to share his passion for skinning and eating girls with his impressionable daughter. Another killer, a doctor, uses living human bodies as fertilizer because he felt a better connection to his victims as mushrooms.
Will Graham possesses the ability to empathize with and understand these people, and in the end that’s what Lector wants to—to be understood. Unlike Hopkin’s Lector, who would eat a census taker with chianti and fava beans, Mikkelson’s Hannibal Lector begs to be explicated, to be sympathized with, to be explained. He may not understand his own psychopathic tendencies, and he may not even understand why he manipulates the only man he might care about into a terrible position and madness.
[SPOILERS ABOUT THE FINALE]
Of course, in the end, this presumption is flipped. Perhaps Lector only took the case because he recognized Graham’s unstable condition, understood the opportunity to exploit it. By becoming his psychiatrist, he could manipulate Will into taking the fall for all of his murders and then make Will believe so deeply he was mad, that perhaps Will would adopt the shrine of Chesapeake Ripper. Instead, Will outsmarts Hannibal and sees through his plan.
By then, though, Hannibal has already convinced Graham’s friends and colleagues of his guilt, even Jack Crawford who before did not question Graham’s loyalty. The ending sets up an interesting dynamic for next season. Will Graham in prison while Hannibal Lector remains free. Though Will understands Lector now as a monster, he is powerless to stop his further killings. Also, the feud has become personal after Lector’s betrayal. Next season will likely see Will attempting to prove his innocence and Hannibal’s guilt while Hannibal continues to cover his tracks. By season’s end, however, let’s hope the two end up on each others’ side of the prison bars.
[END OF SPOILERS. READ ON!]
Overall, the series is dark and somber, taking itself incredibly serious with an armada of symbols and overwrought motifs (that elk). It’s twisted, gory, and horrific, much like the human mind, and as far as drama goes, it is better and more subtle than many other shows on television. I hope the show-runners can continue the intense tension into following seasons, because above all, Hannibal is different.
1.) Didn’t all of the food look absolutely delicious? It makes one ALMOST want to become a cannibal. Almost. If you’d like the non-human recipes for the food cooked on the show, you can find them here: http://janicepoonart.blogspot.com/
2.) The elk motif did not actually make me annoyed. I thought it was a useful way of showing Graham’s madness and darkness, which we in the end see was a direct result of Hannibal Lector. Lector IS the dark and mad part of Will’s brain, and he does not go insane until Lector begins toying with his fragile state of mind.
3.) Seriously, the cinematography.
4.) My favorite non-main character was Abigail Hobbes, played with a mix of startled innocence and haughty malice by Kacey Rohl.
5.) When Will Graham first started hallucinating, I rolled my eyes, but the direction they took this plot thread by season end made all the sweating and time loss and strange dreams worth it.
6.) Laurence Fishbourne was alright. Mostly annoying, to be honest, but he was alright.
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
19,000 people fit into the new Barclays Center to see Jay-Z perform. This blog was viewed about 120,000 times in 2012. If it were a concert at the Barclays Center, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.
Upon a recent visit to Firehouse Subs (at which this was my third time eating, and my third time enjoying the food), I found that they had outfitted their restaurant with one of those cool, new soda machines that spurts out hundreds of different soda. From every Fanta imaginable to every Coke ever sold, you can drink it from this machine. When I began to fill up my drink (either Dr. Pepper or Root Bear), I decided instead to venture beyond my taste bud safety boundaries.
Under the Sprite category, this enigmatic machine offers the original Sprite as well as its diet counterpart, but includes other previously unknown-to-me flavors such as cherry, strawberry, grape, peach, raspberry, orange, and VANILLA. I am very fond of Vanilla Coke so I tried Sprite Vanilla.
It tasted like straight-up vanilla extract mixed with cough syrup. The sort of taste you expect to be reminiscent of Polyjuice Potion or the like. Maybe a draught to put you into a deep slumber for years so you can enter the Matrix? I don’t know.
Do I suggest trying it?
Remember when I vowed to read more YA books from now on when I wrote The Percy Jackson Experiment? Well, I took that seriously and have been searching for other decent YA novels. This lead me to another much talked-about Dystopian novel which both has been praised as highly original and dejected as a Hunger Games rip-off. The book is Veronica Roth’s Divergent, the first book in a new trilogy.
Divergent serves as a fast summer read brimming with action and suspense, but very little substance– the themes Roth tries to translate come out forced. What she’s trying to say isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but we’ll touch more on that in a second. Where the book shines is in its plot, which though not exactly tightly woven, twinkles with moments of action.
In a dilapidated future-version of Chicago, Beatrice Prior lives with her family and faction Abnegation. In this city surrounded by a fence beyond which there are apparently terrors, there are five factions who cooperate but live by different ideologies. Each holds one trait above all else: for Abnegation, this is selflessness, for Erudite knowledge, for Amity love and acceptance, for Candor honesty, and for Dauntless bravery. At the age of sixteen, each teen must complete an examination to determine the correct faction and then decide whether or not to leave their families and factions or stay.
Beatrice (or Tris as she is later known) makes a choice which might shatter the status quo and uncover a conspiracy.
You already know what I liked about the book, that it keeps you engaged with action. Leaping on and off trains, fighting, shoot-outs, zip-lining from skyscrapers. When Tris joins Dauntless, she embraces their lifestyle by acting out dangerous missions which really aren’t so brave as they are stupid. But I love stupidity and reading about a community of people devoted to risking their lives for no reason to do stupid things– count me in!
The political overtones about coming together rather than driving each other apart because of ideologies felt a little heavy-handed and strangely ineffectual. From the very beginning, the system of factions seemed rather strange and though the system begins falling apart, it probably should have fell apart a long time ago.
All this turned out completely fine. I really enjoyed the book, in fact, and would suggest it for those rainy summer days you may spend all hours indoors reading. You will finish it fast and likely want to continue the series because the story ends with a dramatic cliffhanger. If there’s one thing Roth does right, it is to entice you to buy the next book. And yeah, sure, I’ll probably buy the sequel at some point, but there are plenty of other books to read at the moment.
The only real problem I had with the book was the forced romance with the characters Tris and Four. Before they even build a real relationship (which they do, fair enough), she already has “feelings” and freaks out when he is around. I’m sorry, but as a “strong” female protagonist, Tris gets much too “shaky in the knees” around Four. What starts out as a school-girl-type crush blossoms into a full-fledged romance and though toward the end, this romance becomes more believable, her initial queasy feelings toward him rubbed me the wrong way.
I think also most reviewers find too easy of a connection with The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, though besides the genre Dystopian, I think Divergent differs great from Collins’s novel. There is, at least, something fresh and fun about the read. Roth’s tale is not exactly like those, but that’s a good thing– reading the same book again would make me snore.
If you’re looking for something fun and fantastical and action-packed and teen-friendly, pick up Divergent by Veronica Roth. And maybe even the sequel Insurgent.
Neil Gaiman. Time Travel. The Marvel Canon. Mix these fine ingredients and you should get something amazing right?
Well, what you do get is Marvel 1602 which is fun, energetic, enjoyable, and creative. It does no quite blow you away like you keep expecting it to, like you might wish after reading the first issue, but nevertheless, it’s a breezy, adventurous comic book read.
More than anything, the limited comic series is an interesting premise on many levels. What happens when you transport all your favorite super heroes to Elizabethan times? The Spanish Inquisition seeks to burn and torture heretics and witches. Those with angel wings, who can control weather, who are cosmic magicians, who are beast-men– those people might just be tied to a stake and burned. At the same time, King James of Scotland is carefully watching the throne as Queen Elizabeth dies.
Our heroes, clad in olden clothes and olden times (Sir Nicholas Fury, Peter Parquagh, and the gang) must face a new corrupt monarchy, an evil, rich count (Count Von Doom!), a time traveling Captain/Native American impersonator, The Spanish Inquisition (lead by a man readers will recognize halfway through the book), and oh– the imminent destruction of not only Earth but every world ever.
Because of the time-altering, strange events in this continuity, the world becomes 313 rather than 616, a separate universe. Whenever Marvel wants to open up a new plot line with the same characters, they generally just unfold a new world/dimension. Because someone traveled back in time, they have to reverse events to their proper order. At the end, however, things continue in this world for some reason, because there’s a new dimension?? Or something?? Anyways, it allows for a sequel which I may or may not read. That will depend on the reviews I read.
I read this in a course of two days, both at night and by the pool. It’s that sort of comic book, not exactly the dark, gritty stuff of Watchmen, but the fun heroes-to-the-rescue bravado with a historical twist.
The most fun in this book is discovering who is who, which current character corresponds with other Marvel characters. Some are simple like Dr. Strange, but others you must endure the entire story before discovering their identity. If you’re looking for a quick, light read that gives a fresh feel to characters you already love, give this a try.
(I might just pick up the sequel after discovering Iron Man features in it. Hm…)
Just for the record, Gaiman did a killer job with Daredevil’s character. Loved both his swagger and interpretation. This, I think, may have been a call-out to Shakespeare’s Fieste in Twelfth Night just as Jane Gray’s cross-dressing also paid tribute to Shakespeare.
I know also I said at the beginning I wasn’t blown away by the book, but I did enjoy it immensely. Gaiman did a good job of balancing suspense with cameos and fanboy winks.