AQ11 Autumn 2014 Book Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte
The Heart Imagining Itself (and other tropical dreams) a journal for imagining the heart by Yolanda V. Fundora, 2014, UrbanAmish.com, 978-1-50028-053-6, 46 pages.
Mysterious Acts of My People, Valerie Wetlaufer, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2014, 978-1-937420-66-6, 87 pages.
Phoning Home, Essays by Jacob M. Appel, South Carolina Press, 2013, 978-1-611117-731-0, 177 pages.
Planetary Emotions by Yolanda V. Fundora, 2014, 978-1-50028-533-3, UrbanAmish.com, 121 pages.
The Talking Day by Michael Klein, Sibling Rivalry Press, 2013, 978-1-937420-27-7, 64 pages.
During the summer reading period, I received five books that I felt merited a review or mention in this issue. Two of the five books are books of poetry, two are journals (one blank and one illustrated), and the last is a book of essays. Two of the books “authors” are male and two are female and they discuss subjects in Jewish, Latina, lesbian, gay and straight American and European cultures.
Jacob M. Appel has worked as a Brown University professor of bioethics, as well as a doctor, attorney and New York City tour guide. He has written more than 200 articles, and in the last year, has had three books published including a collection of essays, Phoning Home, about his upbringing and thoughts as a third-generation, Flemish-Latvian-American Jew. Appel’s essays describe how his family’s relations over the last century and on two different continents have been influenced, tempered, tested, broken and even erased through exile, emigration and genocide.
What makes Appel’s essays so interesting and unique is his candid, stastical or professional approach and/or non-melodramatic description of his relatives’ experience. For example, in “Caesura—Antwerp, 1983” when one of his uncles happens upon a long-lost friend from the Antwerp Jewish Ghetto in a small Spanish village while searching for someone to repair his watch, Appel does not describe a Schindler’s List reunion. Rather, the two old men just embrace, shake hands and talk for as long as it takes to repair the watch, then go back to their lives on different continents.
Appel’s ability to see and write about things clearly, rationally and without melodrama also permeates his discussion of bioethics related to healthcare and the quality of life, “Opting Out,” “Charming and Devoted” and “Livery” and limits of political discourse in America due to death threats he’s received related to his openness about his opinions on end-of-life decisions, “Our Incredible Shrinking Discourse.” I must admit that Appel’s wish, “for the medical staff to place a plastic bag over my head during my sleep” once his body no longer functions as he wants it to, differs somewhat from my own wish to stay connected to whatever apparatus necessary as long as I can still write by moving an eyeball à la Jean-Dominique Bauby. However, he makes a good case for his own situation and that of his relatives. He is a keen observer with a wide and precise vocabulary and his sentences and passages vary in length and rhythm making them a pleasure to read. The essays in Phoning Home could certainly be used as a model and a source of inspiration for others trying to capture somewhat quirky family histories from a novel, detached but also realistic point of view.
AQ10&11 artist and contributor Yolanda V. Fundora submitted two journals she created. The first journal, The Heart Imagining Itself (and other tropical dreams), features richly illustrated images from Latina culture opposite empty, lined pages. This journal will be especially good for writers who benefit from visual prompts include a series of representations as to how the heart imagines itself as the the first day of spring, the sun, the moon, a cloud, a star, etc., in addition to those of the Virgin, a mermaid, the hanging woman, a cactus and different types of fruit trees. The colours are so vivid and the subjects sequentially-placed that I can’t image an ekphrastically-oriented or inspired writer being unable to discover or create new material working in this journal.
In contrast, the only illustrated part of Fundora’s second journal entitled, Planetary Emotions, is its cover which includes a representation of the stars in the winter sky revolving around the North Celestial Pole in prismatic colours. The 121 lined pages inside this 6×9 inch (15×23 centimetre) bound, paperback journal are blank and should provide enough space for one’s thoughts at least for a season (based upon the use of at least one page per day). It will certainly be small and light enough to take along on journeys or to work or class and should also be the right size to be stored later in a bookcase next to your favourite books.
I discovered poet Michael Klein’s book, The Talking Day, while “surfing” Sibling Rivalry Press’ website this summer. I had not heard of Klein before, and I found the four “example” poems, “Cartography,” “from “When I was a Twin,”” “Provincetown 1990,” and “The Poet” to be intriguing. These four sample poems are exceptional in their range and description. The first poem, “Cartography,” demonstrates the power of the poet’s imagination and how a map for him is like the backdrop to a story—in this case a village with smoking rising from it and a woman walking down a road. The next, “When I was a twin” is an elegy and expresses the poet’s shock at his loss. This shock is even stronger because the nature of the loss isn’t revealed until halfway through the poem. “Provincetown 1990” is a very chilling poem that describes both the force of sexual desire and the spread of the AIDS epidemic, and how it passed by the two men and changed them. The last poem is an account of the poet’s development, his ars poetica and his awareness of his history and that of another writer.
Other subjects covered by Klein include alcoholism, gun rampages in America and their aftermath (referring to the book’s title), aging, and urban gay life. Stylistically I find his prose poems, “Florida” and “Movie rain and movie snow” the most arresting due to their sudden turns right at the end. In addition to its excellent poems, The Talking Day, has an eye-catching, camp, erotic cover photo featuring a tan, naked man shown in a side pose in a garden, framed by hula hoops and some sort of net. This cover is certainly as intriguing and as beautiful as Klein’s poetry. I don’t know how I could have missed Klein’s career. I have only my emigration to the Netherlands twenty-one years ago and my ex-pat teaching career as an excuse. This being his third acclaimed (poetry) book, I feel I have some catching up to do.
Mysterious Acts of My People is a remarkable, debut poetry book by Valerie Wetlaufer. It covers a wide range of subjects such as love, loss, sex, violation, nature, religion and madness. The book’s title poem introduces a world in which life is cheap and violent. “They say you can get two redheads/for the price of one in this town,”… “More of my bones were broken in hospitals/than on playgrounds.” Wetlaufer also describes this world masterfully using a variety of typographical formats. Whether in “The Canyon” where she describes the natural world in prose poem blocks to draw her inner landscape or in “The Mind’s Boil” where words float all over the page to describe madness, Wetlaufer expresses herself in ways that are both arresting and memorable.
In addition to typographical variation, Wetlaufer is also able to employ monologue effectively to describe herself and her fictional and historical figures. “Insomnia with Solomon” (a page and a half column with no stanza breaks) describes Wetlaufer’s thoughts one after another starting with a phone call by her mother and thinking about the neighbour’s barking dog, why she should “stop eating red meat, take the train more often,” juxtaposed with “get my car washed, my eggs harvested,” etc. a long list of the important and the mundane which continues until it ends with the thought again of her mother’s call. Other interesting monologues include “Needle Pointing North,” about a settler gone mad, “The Window Smasher Speaks,” and “Glass Makes a Clean Cut,” by Mary Sweeny an asylum escapee and even an “erasure” poem, “The Margin of the Lake,” with lines from Dorothy Wordsworth’s journal: “I wore a dress of whisper to touch it feels smooth surprise/my face now flame colored.”
I hope you have a chance to explore Mysterious Acts of My People, or one of the other books mentioned above, during the long autumn and winter evenings. ‘Til March 2015!