Amsterdam Quarterly (AQ9) Spring 2014 Book Reviews by Bryan R. Monte
One Day Tells its Tale to Another by Nonnie Augustine, The Linnet’s Wings, ISBN 978-1480186354, 90 pages.
Poland at the Door by Evelyn Posamentier, Knives Forks and Spoons Press, ISBN 978-1-907812-69-9, 48 pages.
The Satirist, America’s Most Critical Book, Volume 1, by Dan Geddes, Omin Press, ISBN 978-90-819997-0-0, 180 pages.
The Wolf Inside by Donald Gardner, Hearing Eye, ISBN 978-1-905082-71-1, 56 pages.
Four books landed in my mailbag this quarter that I thought were worth reviewing in Amsterdam Quarterly. Two are by writers living in Amsterdam and the other two are by poets who make their AQ debut in this issue. In total there are three books of poetry and one collection of satirical essays, poetry, reviews and stories. In addition, three of the books were printed in the European Union.
I’ll begin with Amsterdam resident Dan Geddes’ The Satirist, America’s Most Critical Book, Volume 1, a collection of his satirical essays, poems and stories some which have appeared online on his website at www.thesatirist.com. In his book, Geddes satirically criticizes cults, politics, religion, wealth, taxes, self-help, etc.—the usual suspects. For example, Geddes book begins with a satirical essay, “The Seven Habits of Highly Efficient Cult Leaders,” the title reminiscent Steve Covey’s very popular self-help book. Geddes’ seven traits include for example, grooming, delegation (“delegate all undesirable tasks,”) time management (“do not waste time on trivial personages within the cult,”) etc. He also mentions the importance of a First Disciple: (“(F)ind someone who believes in you implicitly… who is willing to walk through fire for you and who will hopefully be unfazed by the frequent contradictions you will be uttering.” Geddes mentions the ideal place to start a cult—a college campus—and to promise answers to life’s most vexing questions.
Geddes continues this contemporary satire with his “A Modest Proposal to Convert Shopping Malls into Prisons,” a nod to Jonathan Swift. He argues that using the malls will cut construction costs, guards can easily mount monitoring equipment and guns from the upper floors and skylights and merchants would easily profit from increased sales, especially from prisoners who couldn’t leave and who would be forced to feed themselves at the mall’s food courts. His calculation of 25k per prisoner per year he says would save US authorities 15K per year.
Other pieces in The Satirist include “Are You a Conspiracy Theorist? Take the Test” and Geddes’ reviews or reports of imaginary news, books and movies (the latter including, for example, Quentin Tarantino’s “Scent of a Banknote,” and Disney’s “1984” and “Animal Farm”). The Satirist is a book that, despite your religious or political background, will not fail to elicit at least a laugh or two.
Donald Gardner is an Englishman and Amsterdam resident. His book, The Wolf Inside, is a collection of 32 poems that describe his life in Amsterdam and England from the viewpoint of a mature poet. The Amsterdam poems include “Moonrise,” “In the Vondelpark,” “New Plans,” “Lady with a Little Dog,” “In the Berenstraat,” Those about the vicissitudes of growing old are, among others, “Reading the Poet as his Poetry,” “Kept Alive by Modern Medicine,” “Under the Weather,”and “Angela will see to my Correspondence,” which begins with the lines: “When I’m dead/I won’t need to meet any deadlines” or “Fear of Writing” the first two stanzas of which are: “The pollution of the white page/the lewdness//exposing myself to the world/best to keep it to myself” or “Old Age Express: “Getting older/I move slower//but my life/runs out faster.” Gardner’s strong poetic openings are definitely attention getters and his use of the short line, especially in “Morning Shift,” “Nothing on TV,” “Blown up by my own Time-saving Device,” “Retirement Benefits,” and “Old Age Express” show Gardner at his best. The Wolf Inside is a book that will inform poets and readers of all ages, but especially those who want to know more about an ex-pat’s life in Amsterdam.
The second book of poetry is Evelyn Posamentier’s Poland at the Door. It is a collection of short (one to six line) poems, each beginning with the title of the book. Poland can be read (as I did) as a sort of psychological exploration of the tenuous existence of that country (especially in the last two centuries due to repeated incursions by its German, Russian and Austro-Hungarian neighbours). The book has a very attractive cover design with a sepia map entitled: “Poland 1814” in a green frame on a cream background. (Unfortunately the book’s cover designer is not mentioned in the credits). What I interpret as invasion anxiety, for example, is exemplified in this short segment: “this is not a dream/Belarus is next door./ i invite minsk in./ oh, god I’ve left/ the door unlocked.” It also portrays the paranoia due to surveillance often found in the literature of Eastern bloc states: “just don’t answer it/it’s no one you know./ the ring of the phone/ alone in its secret code./ my code of madness/ like yours my friend.” Even the natural world seems oppressive: “the clouds with their sky/press against the door.” And its conclusion is an eerie confrontation of the past with the present: “the footsteps have followed history/into the town square./ they have passed. Posamentier’s collection of short poems is artistically arresting. It is a little book worth having if one is interested in writing very short, psychological poems that revolve around one theme or subject.
One Day Tells its Tale to Another is a book of poetry written by Nonnie Augustine who makes her AQ debut in this issue. Augustine is a former ballet dancer who co-founded the Albuquerque Dance Theatre, taught at the University of New Mexico and who later became a special education teacher. One Day Tells its Tale to Another is an interesting collection of poems, the most powerful of which are those that describe the natural world and European locations with an eye for detail. For example, her short poem, “Stone Poem,” moves like its subjects: “You stoop to select a stone/to toss down the lazy path./It rolls, reaches level ground, stops/Stays in place when you pass. Actions and moments in the present are balanced by those of the past and the distant future. The poem concludes with: “and then the stone is home/for another thousand years.” Her poem, “When George Took Me to Greece,” which contains some of her best writing, is also concerned with time over the centuries and its ending with short lines is worth mentioning here to show how atmospheric her writing can be: “The setting sun lit the hill/And the golden temples floated/above the shadowed slope./My back against the ancient/ teaching rock, I dissolved.” “Wine and Cheese Villanelle,” demonstrates how Augustine can use a traditional form to express the feelings of a group of contemporary women discussing their problematic and sometimes failed relationships. “We women talked of kids and men/and Carrie poured more Zinfandel/ We were four good friends in Alice’s den.”
Augustine’s power of observation and description also shows forth in her poem entitled: “After Dinner with Ted at the High Noon Café.” Her use of a combination of long and short lines shows how fast she can shift gears from describing a romantic encounter to seeing a murderer: “As Ted caught and kissed me, I glanced past his shoulder/to see young Emilio standing under his porch light/in a blood spattered shirt/Against his thigh dangled/ the glint of a knife.” These poems show Augustine’s writing at its best and I hope to read more of her poems in the future.