Saturday, August 30, 2014

Cute, but not Clever, Cat Poems

I Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by CatsI Could Pee on This: And Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Poetry lovers and cat lovers have often intersected in the same people, and so this book should appeal to both. But it is really for those find cats amusing. I would not say the book is only for those who are addicted to cat videos, but poetry lovers are going to have been tolerant to get through it.

Authored by Francesco Marciuliano, the creator of the comic strip Sally Forth, I Could Pee on This is really cute and at times very funny. As a whole, it isn't a strong collection, but a fine way to pass the time in a doctor's waiting room or as you pretend to watch on of your partner's favorite t.v. shows.

There are some nearly clever lines in the collection, like, "besides, I think I can cure/hookworm with my mind" and "Well, I also don't watch you having sex/And let's just say the dog talks." And the senryu titled "Sushi" and the poem "Kubla Kat" are gold. But there is really too little of that quality for the whole group. And adorable pictures only amp up the cute factor, not the quality.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

A Notable, but not Striking, Collection

Some Imagist Poets, 1916 An Annual AnthologySome Imagist Poets, 1916 An Annual Anthology by Richard Aldington
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an anthology containing work by six poets from the "Imagist" school. I'll leave it to the reader to look up what that means because it never is quite clear, particularly since many poets categorized this way never stayed with the movement (most notably, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound, not found in this book). However, here are some brief notes/impressions of the poets whose work is found in this volume.

Richard Aldington -- angry bore
H.D. -- Sea themed verse. Several references to mythology. Sometimes doesn't seem to say much. Sometimes quite powerful ("Orion Dead").
John Gould Fletcher -- Some delightful lines, interesting ideas. Some blah.
F.S. Flint -- Strong, imaginative lines. But what is he saying other than death happens?
D.H. Lawrence -- I'm not sure how he is an imagist poet. Almost too emotional. Maybe it is just my prejudice against so many exclamation marks!
Amy Lowell -- Not sure what to make of these. Most I like, but I don't know why The short, lyrical poems pack a punch.

This is interesting book may have historical and literary value, and may serve as an introduction to the Imagists. The preface does provide a bit of an understanding of the goals of the movement, goals that need to be revisited now with so much over-academic and over-workshopped poets dominating American publishing.

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Thursday, August 07, 2014

Joyce's First Book

Chamber MusicChamber Music by James Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This small collection of lyric poems, first published in 1907, has a good deal going for it. Joyce clearly had command of meter, and most lines are very musical to the reading ear. I am surprised that there is little innovation or creativity of language, but there are no forced rhymes and everything seems to flow smoothly. There are no wasted words or phrases. Though there are some nice lines and nice sentiments, the collection, as a whole, is merely that: nice. I'm sure any lover would be thrilled to receive one of these poems from a beloved. However, there is little that is special or memorable.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed Chamber Music. This is a fine read for a rainy day and a warm cup of tea. But not much more.

Get the book at Gutenberg for free here. More information about the book can be found here.

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Friday, August 01, 2014

Don't call it discipline when you know it is abuse

Teaching is hard, and despite the plethora of quaint mugs and bumper sticker out there that might indicate a contrary sentiment, it is truly a thankless job. Even when teachers make mistakes, I have a difficult time criticizing. Many have to spend their own money to make sure their students have needed supplies at the same time politicians and school boards, who have no understanding of how learning works, continually thwart the best practices of even our most dedicated educators. Add to this a society and culture which gives lip service respect for teachers by saying how important they are, but doing all they can to discourage people from entering the profession and encouraging an adversarial relationship between them and those in their charge. And in the world of and standardized testing, the word of a felon is often taken over that of a lowly civil servant whenever conflict arises.

But recently I read this article about a teacher who forced a young child to sit on the floor for four weeks as punishment for writing on her desk, and was livid. The crime -- and make no mistake, this is a crime -- is bad enough. The teacher compounded the problem by lying to the parents about what really happened, and put so much fear and humiliation into the child that the child would not tell her parents. Then the school district merely "reprimanded" the teacher.

That's right. They just told her "Now. Now. That's not right. Don't do that again."

The teacher has lost nothing and does not suffer for her abusive actions. She was not suspended. She was not removed or even moved to another school (though now the family has to navigate the problem of having children at two different schools). She did not lose pay. The article, circulating on a number of websites, does not even name the teacher. So this person has not had to suffer a day of shame for what she did to small person. We don't even see an apology from the teacher or school district.

I have no proof, but I believe a teacher who does this has anger and control issues which should be dealt with before she is allowed to enter a classroom again. She may be an otherwise wonderful instructor. But a school district that merely reprimands an barbarous person, not only enables the abuse, but sends the message that some children are not human enough to warrant reasonable discipline.

If a parent did the same thing to his or her seven year old, most teachers of that seven year old would call child protective services and the family would be investigated. The parent would likely go to jail. This teacher gets a finger wag. For mentally abusing a child. It was not a momentary lapse of judgement where someone lost her temper, but an injurious act, one that the school district is complicit in, not only because of the soft consequences, but for allowing it to happen in the first place. Remember that this went on for four weeks. It is highly unlikely that only the teacher and the class were privy to the site of a deskless student.

Other than the crazy injustice revealed in this story, we need to consider that teachers and school districts like this who give fodder to those no-nothing politicians and school boards (as well as entertainment media) to cut funding, create ludicrous requirements and regulations, and demonize the mostly good people in education. Such incidents are held up as examples, and not seen as the anomalies they are.

People love to bandy the phrase "children are our future" about without really thinking about what that means. So I'm asking what the future is for a first grader treated with such indignity. What is the future for her classmates? What is the future for education when the people in charge don't call such behavior what it really is?

T.S. Eliot's short story

Eeldrop and AppleplexEeldrop and Appleplex by T.S. Eliot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The two parts of Eliot's only short story were originally published in 1917 in separate issues of The Little Review. While there are a few ways to look at this story, I saw it mostly as an exploration of the limitations of seeing the world through an academic lens.

Like Eliot's poems, some of the story might be obtuse for readers who miss the references, but the story moves along well enough, I believe, for people to enjoy without prior knowledge. Also, like Eliot's poems, one can see the influence of Robert Browning's dramatic monologues.

Not exactly a "page turner," the story is still an enjoyable social satire. I'm surprised "Eeldrop and Appleplex" missed my attention for so long. However, I'm really glad I found it.

Download the story for free at iTunes or Amazon. You can also find it here.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Important Perspectives on the Hebrew Scriptures

Bible Jesus Read, TheBible Jesus Read, The by Philip Yancey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mr. Yancey's personable style is one element that is makes The Bible Jesus Read a winner for me. Don't expect cold exegesis or hellfire ranting, but a friendly, honest exploration of a few of the (for him) troublesome books of the Hebrew Scriptures, a la Kathleen Norris (whom he quotes a few times). One should not expect theological ramblings, though the theology seems pretty solid to me. One of the cornerstones of Yancey's argument is that these books of the Bible are about different aspects of God's relationship with Creation. To that end, this book is about Philip Yancey's evolving relationship with these powerful, but baffling works.

After an introductory chapter outlining why the author felt led to explore these books and his approach, he tackles Job. Probably my favorite part of The Bible Jesus Read, it reorients the reader concerning the legendary suffering of the title character, demonstrating that the story is more about faith than about pain. Then comes a look at Deuteronomy, where Yancey imagines the thoughts and feelings of the soon to die Moses as he makes his last speech to the Israelites before they enter the Promised Land. While an interesting exercise, I felt this was too speculative. I kept wondering, "How would he (Yancey) know this?"

The fourth chapter is about my favorite book of the Bible: Psalms. Here Mr. Yancey does a masterful job looking at the famous poems as much from a literary point of view (without being academic) as from a religious perspective. He reminds the reader that these verses, though part of the canon of Jewish public worship, are very personal words from people of varying socio-economic and political perspectives, and even those that make us uncomfortable portray a people with faith in a God who can take their bitterest complaints.

Next, the author covers Ecclesiastes. For me, this is one of the most interesting parts of the book. Ecclesiastes is a tough, depressing part of the Bible, but other than repetition of the statement "Everything is meaningless!" I put my finger on why. But Yancey helps the reader see the theme in its context. Written probably after Solomon's death but certainly during a time when the people were still reaping the benefits of his reign, the book explores the emptiness of having it all. The sixth chapter is about the prophetic books, and though I would have like a more detailed look at a single prophet, I realize that it would be disingenuous to pick one, and to get at them all would take another book. Besides, the chapter seems rambling and repetitive to me. It does have an important idea that should those who struggle with this part of the Bible. Readers are encouraged to look at these writers less as men who foretold the future, and more as seers, people with the ability to observe the world (past, present, and sometimes future) more deeply than most.

The final chapter of The Bible Jesus Read works to make the point that what Christians call the Old Testament does more than foretell Jesus as Messiah, but has additional resonance for Christians. It should not be segmented so we can find lessons for daily living, but seen as a more complete picture of our relationship to God than the New Testament alone provides. I suspect that non-Christian readers may find this ending a bit tedious. However, Yancey's story about attending a performance of Handel's Messiah does make for a fascinating connection.

A brief word about the title. It seems a little misleading in that the author spends little time discussing Jesus' responses to or references to these the Hebrew Scriptures. However, the main audience seems to be those who are familiar with the New Testament, most of whom assumed that Jesus was well verses in these writings. I suppose The Bible Jesus Quoted or The Scriptures Jesus Read More Carefully Than the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law isn't very catchy.

The Bible Jesus Read was first published in 1999, but is not at all dated. And despite a couple of missteps, at least for me, the book is overall quite edifying.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Repent! Or Perish?

"Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish."

Reading this is troublesome for me because on the surface it seems that Jesus is contradicting himself, or at least the picture of a nice, forgiving man who wants us all to know that God love us. But taken in context, we find that the contradiction lies in us, not Him.

The same Jesus who said this also told people he had healed their sins were forgiven. Once his disciples, assuming that there was a direct correlation between sin and suffering, asked if a man born blind or his parents had sinned. The Lord's answer was neither, but "that the works of God might be displayed in him." We find that Jesus does not adhere to formulas and calculations, but always to glorify His Father.

Jesus told the woman caught in adultery "go and sin no more." It is clear He does not condone wrong action. However it is also clear that Jesus was more concerned with the sinful nature in humans that in the specific acts that resulted in that nature.

The people speaking to
Jesus when He pronounced this warning were asking him for a response to a rumor about a heinous act, one they surely believed showed how horrible the authorities were. Supposedly Pilate had mixed the blood of people he'd killed with sacrifices. Remember that those who watched Jesus were looking for a Messiah who would be an military leader against the Romans and who would restore Israel as the world power.

The people questioning Jesus did not get what they hoped for. They might have wanted
The Lord to focus on the injustice; however, He countered that the sins of others (Pilate or those who were murdered) did not negate the truth of their own sinfulness.

A minister may tell you that the word repent means to turn around. But the way most people react to the word, one would think its meaning is, "Stop doing whatever it is you are doing that I don't like that I'm sure displeases God, and then you will be okay."

Injustice happens, and along the way we may well suffer unfairly at the hands of another. But pointing our finger at the sins of others seems a good way to block the finger of God from touching and healing us.