Bryan R. Monte – AQ35 Autumn 2022 Book Reviews

Bryan R. Monte
AQ35 Autumn 2022 Book Reviews

Appel, Jacob M., Shaving with Occam, Hollywood Books International, ISBN 978-1-735-360133, 2022, 260 pages.
Seman, Pat, Ariadne’s Thread, self-published, available from Amazon, IBSN 979-8-820-227653, 2022, 40 pages.

A slim, beautiful, blue poetry pamphlet (Amer. Eng. chapbook) entitled Ariadne’s Thread by Amsterdam Quarterly veteran Pat Seman arrived in my letterbox over the summer. Seman’s poetry and photography about Greece, and Crete especially, has appeared regularly in Amsterdam Quarterly over the past decade. In addition to the excellent poetry inside, her pamphlet has an eye-catching cover and internal design by her son, Alexander Klerk. The cover features the head of woman or goddess, known as Peplos Kore, in Athens’s Acropolis Museum (Greek Archaic Period), with large eyes and flowing, wavy hair, the perfect image for a Seman’s poetry collection set in a Cretan landscape of sun, wind, sea, hills, fig and pomegranate trees, goats, ancient ruins, and of course, mythology.
      The strength of Ariadne’s Thread comes through Seman’s astute observation and juxtaposition of imagery through which she finds the extraordinary in the ordinary. Her first poem, ‘Said she wanted to die’ opens her collection dramatically ‘With the dark flame under the fig tree / where the split tree offers itself to the sun’. And of course, in addition to the sun and the rocky soil, this is a land ‘where sky meets the sea in a pencilled blue line’. The sea is present in one way or another in almost all of these poems.
      It is collection of poems about an island that has been the stage for successive cultures over the millennia. From ‘a snake coiled / it held her / motionless / under a dark sun’ a symbol of power and divination in Cretan culture in ‘The Earth Held Her’, to ancient Greek culture in the poems ‘Persephone’ and ‘Labyrinth’ (with its two sections entitled ‘Ariadne’ and ‘Theseus’) to Greek Christian culture in ‘Epitathios’ and ‘Litany’, the latter which ‘…saints have retreated / into their darkened icons, / (and) long tapering candles that burn without a prayer’, and the modern era in ‘The Stranger’ where Seman’s epigraph about Dionysius precedes her poem about a male backpacker with ‘sculptured muscles, / on his bare calves, the broad / tanned feet and naked torso’ asleep on the beach. She muses whether this ‘Young traveller, (is a) vagrant, refugee // or the god himself / on the storm-wracked, shifting shores.’ Her poems reflect the great sweep of human history and cultures Crete embodies.
This thin volume’s 22 poems are also interesting because of Seman’s skilled and varied use of line. Sometimes her lines roll forward on the page like the waves breaking on the beaches surrounding Crete such as in ‘I Am Making No Money’:

                                           just riding the days from dawn till dusk, I check
                                 the weather, what the waves will bring with them, the changing
                          complexion of a sky, frayed with rain, now washed

Other times, they a thinner but more solid, such as in this excerpt of her concrete poem entitled ‘Building a Wall’

                                                   Rock white
                                                 in the shadow


                                                   even the sea


      These lyrical poems also address contemporary concerns such as climate change and refugees. Furthermore, on the Acknowledgments page, the author also indicates that ‘All proceeds from the sale of this book will go to Medical Volunteers International, an organization offering medical help to refugees worldwide.’ Ariadne’s Thread is a strong, debut collection of memorable poems that I recommend highly to AQ’s readers.
      Another book I received this summer was Jacob M. Appel’s new crime novel, Shaving with Occam. It is narrated by protagonist and crime sleuth Henrietta Brigander aka Granny Flamingo, a homeless, and frequent ‘guest’ at New York’s Mount Hebron Hospital’s walk in, night psychiatric ward. I can assure you as a former Magill-Rhoads freshman scholar to Haverford College, where I studied for only one year, due the withdrawal of my parents’ financial support, I completely understand Henrietta’s descent into madness after she had to leave Bryn Mawr due to the simultaneous sinking of her grandfather’s yacht and the loss of the family fortune, and later the tragic death of her twin brother, who fell down an elevator shaft. Since then, Henrietta has lived on the street, wearing a giant hat with a flamingo on top, which is the origin of her moniker.
      Granny Flamingo spends most of the book trying to solve a fellow patient’s (now her dead lover’s) Abraham Currier’s murder. She interviews the 15 people (patients, doctors, nurses, and a few extras) who were present on the ward at the time of the murder. In addition, she follows many leads, some which lead her in unexpected directions. She also listens to and at other times ignores her voices, which are largely self-destructive, but which sometimes provide insights. Interlaced in the book are the rich descriptions of psychiatric patient medications and assessments I assume Appel culled from his many years working in hospitals’ psychiatric wards. This makes the book’s setting very convincing, helping to maintain the story’s suspense, which is palatable. It’s real page turner, and I could only put the book down at the end of each richly described chapter.
      The title of this book refers to Occam’s razor, or the law of parsimony, a philosophy expounded by the 12th century scholastic William of Ockham. It states that the simplest explanation of an event is usually the best and stresses eliminating unnecessary information. Granny Flamingo uses Occam’s Razor to solve the murder mystery, eliminating suspects as she tries to find and interview all people present on the night of Currier’s murder. Some are them, the regulars at Hebron, are readily available for her to question. However, others are outside Manhattan in the boroughs of Staten Island and the Bronx, and some seem to have disappeared entirely, until she meets them again purely through coincidence.
      As a counterweight to Occam’s Razor’s simplicity, Appel provides a very entertaining, encyclopedic, 50-page index entitled ‘Glossary of Things You Should Know By Henrietta Florence van Duyn Brigander’, a compendium of history, filmography, and discography to explain Henrietta’s frequent references to her family tree, American history, and Newport, Rhode Island’s Gilded Age’s descendants. (Remember, this is a Bryn Mawr woman who is narrating this story, even if she was only able to attend for one year). Personally, I think Appel outdid William Faulkner and his Yoknapatawpha county inhabitants and genealogical nonsense with his own rich, crime novel index. If you can’t find an interesting fact on each page that makes you giggle or laugh aloud, then you should check your own pulse to make sure you’re alive.
      After following my leads and a few dead ends, including some related to a supposed NYC Albanian mafia that had a hit out on Currier, Granny Flamingo picks up a 91-year-old, limo-driving sidekick, Nënë Roza, who not only provides transportation for Henrietta’s enquiries but also extracts an unexpected confession from two attendings, frightening by Roza’s erratic driving, afraid they’ve been abducted and are about to be killed by a Granny Flamingo. True to form in his past work as a master plotter in The Mask of Sanity, (reviewed in AQ18, spring 2017), and Millard Salter’s Last Day, (reviewed in AQ21, spring 2018), all the loose ends are tied up in the end. Through a logical pursuit of the facts of the case, Granny Flamingo solves the crime and the problem of her persistent homelessness, the first, through a clue that was present at the beginning of the story, and the second, from a completely unexpected, but familiar corner.
      To sum up dear reader, I can only state (in the style of Mr Appel’s book), What a book! What a Middlemarch epilogue! What an ending! What a glossary after the ending! I sincerely hope Appel is planning a sequel with more crimes for Granny Flamingo to solve. She could certainly become the new Jessica Fletcher and Appel, the new Tom Wolfe of crime novels.       AQ

Gaby Bedetti – Times Square in August

Gaby Bedetti
Times Square in August

Gaby Bedetti writes: ‘The city is a text. Going to a city offers a reading of the people and environment. At the time of this photo, our family had just stepped out of the theatre after a performance of Hamilton. The liveliness of the performance synced with the liveliness of the crowd gathered to watch people dancing to a boombox. Our intimacy with the performers merged with our connection with the crowd. Like an ukiyo-e painting, the photo invites the viewer to live in the moment of the frame as a part of “the floating world.” This photo was shot with a Canon PowerShot SX130 IS.’

Gaby Bedetti, Times Square in August 2021, photograph, 2021

Jim Hodge – Moth on a Step

Jim Hodge
Moth on a Step

As with most things in the life of a hypomanic and formally diagnosed ADHD mind, poetry, black & white photography, and music have all acted as balms in my life, grabbing my attention, whispering to my ears and calling on my eyes to slow down, notice and be intentionally present—to momentarily exit the whitewater currents of daily life, to pull the kayak ashore, look downstream, and merely float in the beauty of the world. They are the equivalent of a stop, drop, and roll to extinguish the bonfires of the mind. The photo of a ‘Moth on a Cement Step’, as well as the poem, came to life on the same day, July 3, 2022. This digital photo was taken on an iPhone 5.

Jim Hodge Moth on a Cement Step, photograph, 2022

Edward Lee – Wet Street

Edward Lee
Wet Street

Edward Lee writes: ‘This picture was taken in Barcelona with an Olympus E-510. I’ve always been attracted to images that contain a multitude of possible stories/interpretations, what may have happened before the picture was taken, what might happen after, what may be happening just outside of the shot.’

Edward Lee, Wet Street, photograph, 2021

Susan E. Lloy – Prospect, Nova Scotia

Susan E. Lloy
Prospect, Nova Scotia

The ocean is many things to many people, but for me it is home. It’s a dream place I visit, if I’m fortunate, once a year. Prospect is where I hiked with my late father, who sketched and painted this slice of land, where the wild Atlantic spars with the rocky shore. Its wide expanse is where spirits are rejuvenated and worries washed away with each tide.
       When I write fiction settings on the sea, this majestic point is where I imagine my characters walking and observing, where their souls are awakened, as well as my own. This photo was shot with an iPhone 7.

Susan E. Lloy, Prospect, Nova Scotia, photograph, 2022

Kevin Vivers – Fallow

Kevin Vivers

Kevin Vivers writes: ‘I have been a photographer for over 40 years and I am constantly amazed by what the world has to offer if one just takes the time to see it. I have no preconceived notions as to what I am looking to photograph and with an open mind and eye my images are very instinctual, reflexive. Not spur of the moment but watchful of those moments as they come into view.’

Kevin Vivers, Fallow, photograph, 2021

Bob Ward – Caldbeck Village Green, Cumbria UK

Bob Ward
Caldbeck Village Green, Cumbria UK

Bob Ward writes: ‘I enjoy taking photographs as records of people or places simply as they are. This photo was taken in Caldbeck Village Green located in Cumbria, UK. It is the quintessential representation of a Cumbrian village with a green, a duck pond, whitewashed stone houses with slate roofs, and green hills with hedgerows and trees in the background. The photo was taken on either a Canon D20 or D7 SLR camera.

Bob Ward, Caldwell Village Green, Cumbria, UK, photograph, 2022

Ray Zhang – Street of Colour and Mountainside Blossoms

Ray Zhang
Street of Colour and Mountainside Blossoms

Ray Zhang is a senior in high school and he has an unquenchable love for photography. His work has been published in the Blue Marble Review and recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Association. His photographs, ‘Street of Colour’ and ‘Mountainside Blossoms’, were taken with an iPhone during his pre-pandemic trip to western China. Ray believes the most important aspect of photography is capturing people’s genuine nature and lifestyles.

Ray Zhang, Street of Colour, photograph, 2019

Ray Zhang, Mountainside Blossoms, photograph, 2019

Jim Hodge – Moth on a Step

Jim Hodge
Moth on a Step

No idea, whatsoever, why this morning,
          when I stepped outside into vengeful heat,
and dodged a solitary moth on the porch step,
          that I thought of you.

Perhaps it was remembrances of photos you have sent?
     A gray Eastern Wood Peewee on a grey Beech,
     more stone than fibre, standing sentinel.
Clearly a Corinthian, crowned in Sugar Maple,
      and not Acanthus.

Or perhaps it was more a feeling of small feet on layered slate,
     bathed in the headwaters of the Cuyahoga, surrounded in bladder fern,
          cushioned by obliging Helodium.

None-the-less, there I was staring at a grey moth that sought the shade,
    that surely thought, ‘I can do that… I can do cement’, and then she did.

Timothy Liu – Reciprocity

Timothy Liu

The chickens eat the ticks
in our neighbour’s yard.

We eat their eggs,

breasts, thighs, white
or dark meat all batter

fried. The goats eat

the poison ivy spreading
down the path that leads

to the boat ramp beside

a finger lake. We drink
their milk, eat their cheese,

make stew out of tough

meat. Do not call this
fair trade. My cock shrinks

at the thought, choking

on guzzled greenhouse
gasses. It’s 2022. We

have less than ten years

to make this right.
2222 seems impossible

to imagine. I should be

dead by 2052, 2062,
maybe a lot sooner if I

don’t change my ways.

Can somebody help me?
I want to stop eating

chicken, goat, tuna—

the Lebanese pound
trading at 27,000

to the dollar on the black

market—white and blue
collar workers cutting

down its famed cedars

for fuel—forests the size
of the Crusades to be

levelled in just three or

four years. Mommy,
Daddy, does stagflation

count? Birthday party

hats on sale at Walmart
while supply chains last—

gas at an all-time high.