Category Archives: poetry

Review: The Weirdness by Jeremy Bushnell

4th March 2014

pg1*I received this ebook from the publisher Melville House in exchange for an honest review.

Billy Ridgeway is a do-nothing. He works at a Greek deli when he can make it on time. He thinks his girlfriend may have dumped him, but he’s not sure. And the short stories he’s written are pure crap – he’s got a writeup in an NYC lit magazine to prove it. When the Devil shows up in his apartment with good, no, great coffee and offers to publish Billy’s novel if he’ll just do him a tiny favor, Billy isn’t even tempted. Ok, maybe a little. All he has to do is steal the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, a cat statue, from a powerful warlock.

At first, Billy can’t be bothered. If he can’t even get his girlfriend to return his calls, how could he possibly face a warlock? But soon, whether or not Billy wants to help the Devil isn’t an option as he’s in up to his neck and discovers he’s a hell wolf and that his entire life up to this point has been a lie. As he races across the city, Billy learns a lot about what he’s capable of, and if he lives through this weirdness, maybe he’ll be able to do something after all.

The Weirdness is absolutely, positively one of the most original takes on the nearing middle age, suffering male writer bit. Because frankly, had this been another story about a guy who is too lazy to get off his ass and do something, I’d have hated it. Hell, I may not have even finished it. But Jeremy Bushnell manages to turn this story on its head in what should be the most ridiculous novel you’ve ever read.

Instead, Billy and his really lovely counterparts, specifically his best friend Anil, are people you feel for. They’re doing what they have to in order to make it. Maybe Billy hasn’t been doing his part, but he’s obviously unhappy. He has a job that is fine but isn’t a career. His writing isn’t transcendent. His love life…yeah, it’s not great. In a lot of ways, Billy has just shut down, and he can’t figure out how to restart until the Devil shows up. And ain’t that the way of things? Ok, maybe the Devil doesn’t really show up in order for you or me to get out of our funks, but it takes something pretty out of character or, in this case, out of this world.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

I’m a Book Pusher 2: WBN 2013

24th April 2013

Last night I joined over 25,000 people in the United States who were giving away books for World Book Night. In its second year, World Book Night is a collaboration between publishers, authors, and booksellers (as well as donors) to spread the love of reading. Thank you so much to the World Book Night organizers for allowing me to be part of such an amazing event. Check out my thoughts from last year.

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After a mad dash home from work and a dozen texts between me and my mom (who was a giver this year, too), I feverishly began making bookmarks as I did last year to pass out with my book – Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris. Because I’m trying to get back into my gym routine, I decided not to skip but instead bring a copy to my Zumba instructor, a guy with a wicked sense of humor. He said he was actually familiar with Sedaris because he had been in a production of The Santaland Diaries, so I knew it would likely be a hit.

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Hot, red in the face, and sweaty from Zumba, I met my mom in the parking lot of the park where we handed out books last year. In the minutes I was waiting for her, I turned to “You Can’t Kill the Rooster” and proceeded reading and laughing until tears were streaming down my face. In it, Sedaris describes his younger brother, the one his parents were too exhausted to discipline in the same manner as David, going from warnings of “Don’t smoke pot” to “Don’t smoke pot in the living room” in about a decade. Full of obscenities but absolutely hilarious, the story is gold. My mom walked up and asked why I was crying. As I tried to explain, tears streaming down my face and still laughing, she listened, but I don’t think I quite got across to her the extent of the bad language…

She and I headed toward a fire station – her brilliant idea – and we spent a pleasant time visiting with the firemen and getting a tour of the station. She even climbed up into the truck while I snapped a few photos. She was handing out a volume of American poetry in large print, a vastly different type of book and honestly, an easier sell to most.

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Mom checking out the fire engine. We passed on putting on the uniforms.

After enjoying a visit with the firemen and seeing the obvious pride they take in their work, we headed to the gym, my not-so-smart idea. Duh. People are working out. It’s difficult enough to approach people, and approaching them while they’re hot and sweaty didn’t seem the best idea. We had discussed going back to the hospice center where we gave last year, but today was 6 months to the day that my grandmother died there, and strange though it was that we’d been there to give out books just months before her arrival there and her death, neither of us felt like going.

On to the grocery store! It was overcast today, and not many people were out and about, so we decided the grocery store might be perfect. We checked with the manager at the grocery store near my house, and she ok’d it. Not only did she ok it, but she also wanted a copy of each of our books. She explained that she does like to read but that just having finished school, she was ready to read for fun.

We gave out a few books, with one guy even opening the book of poetry and reciting it to us as his girlfriend laughed from the car. Everyone was appreciative and excited once they got over the wariness of a stranger coming at them with a book.

So a friend has another friend on FB who posted about getting one of our books. She didn't know we were passing them out but knew enough to ask if it was me. It was!

So a friend has another friend on FB who posted about getting one of our books. She didn’t know we were passing them out but knew enough to ask if it was me. It was!

Mom and I then headed out to the entrance, and only then did we realize our problem. Mom’s giving away mostly wholesome, all-American poetry. I’m handing out a book that drops the “f-bomb” more frequently than a Real Housewife and uses the word “turd” – a word I cannot believe I just typed and that I’ve never used. So mom’s talking up her book of poems to little old ladies and turns to me: “And she has a book of essays!”

I’m trying to give her “the eye” to tell her this might not be the right fit, but oblivious to my discomfort, we hand one of my books over to an unsuspecting elderly Indian lady in traditional garb.

“Mom, I don’t think you realize just what this book (shaking it a bit) has in it,” I said after the lady walked away.

“Is it vulgar?”

“Well, it’s not exactly Best Pastoral American Poems,” I said.

So we changed our tactic. We had an unspoken agreement. Women with young children or older people in professional clothes got the poetry book. Who ended up with my book? I don’t know that I can describe it. You just get a sense about people. I’d open with an explanation of what World Book Night is, describe the book, and then offer it up.

“If you’re easily offended or don’t like bad language, it might not be for you,” I said.

“It’s racy,” my mom said.

I don’t know about you, but racy is a word I reserve for lingerie or 50s movies such as Peyton Place, but it did the trick. People grabbed at it. So beware. If you were in the Kroger parking lot in Beaumont today and got Me Talk Pretty One Day, I don’t want any complaints. You’ve been warned: it’s racy.

National Poetry Month: Blackout Poetry Party

9th April 2013

 

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Thanks to Serena at Savvy Verse & Wit for hosting the National Poetry Month blog tour!

 

A week or so before spring break, one of the professors from the English Department dropped by my office to see if the Writing Center could organize a poetry reading or some sort of event for National Poetry Month. Now, I have to admit, poetry readings aren’t my cup of tea – I’d prefer to read poetry on my own – and I was facing a pretty apathetic college crowd (historically, our university is majority commuter, so student involvement is tough). Instead of a poetry reading, I decided to approach NaPoMo 2013 a little differently and host a Blackout Poetry Party. If you haven’t seen any blackout poetry, make sure to check out Austin Kleon’s website. I’ve been a huge fan since a student introduced me to this style of poetry several years back when she turned in a version for my lesson on The Book Thief. 

 

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We created a flyer (which lots of students thought was a ransom note, but it got them talking!). The tutors helped make bookmarks in our down time to use as party favors, and our admin associate busily cut out triangles for our book page bunting. One tutor used an abundance of glue sticks to decoupage book pages for the center’s signs. We were decked out and actually had a decent turnout of faculty and students.

 

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After a very brief introduction, we got down to business. I walked around taking photographs (iPhone quality, sorry) and loved hearing what students had to say: “I can’t even spell, but this I can do!” “Ooh, that one looks awesome.”

 

Then we shared our poems and talked about the artistic process, one professor saying you’re so limited by the words on the page, but at the same time, the nature of this style provides a freedom in that you aren’t coming up with the words, you’re just endowing them with different meaning. The students who came tended to like equally the more random poems, some of them humorous, as well as the more traditionally poetic verses.

 

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All in all, we had a great time, and we ended up with some fantastic poetry – most of the more visually interesting ones went with the reporter who is going to write up our event for the student art magazine. I can’t wait to get them back, as several were really cool, and I wish I had had the forethought to photograph them.

 

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If you are interested in hosting an event for National Poetry Month for a large or small group, I’d definitely recommend a Blackout Poetry Party. It’s interactive, low pressure, and really fun.
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This was my result for the night. I’ve done a handful now and like going into the page blind, not knowing what words are on the page. Then I just begin with a word or phrase that strikes me and challenge myself to go from there. I was pleased with the result, especially as I’ve read a lot of WWI fiction lately, and this seemed to be appropriate.

 

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Do you enjoy reading nonstandard poetry? Or writing it? I have to confess, I love the mixture of visual and text. It’s a combination that works for me in art as well. Happy National Poetry Month!

Review: Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr. & Giveaway

5th March 2013

Via Goodreads

Via Goodreads

*This book was sent to me by the publisher, The Viking Press, in exchange for an honest review.

It’s important that you understand, from the very outset, here, that everything I’m about to tell you is capital-T True. Or at least that I will not deliberately engage in any lies, of either substance or omission, in talking with you here today.

The truth is that just like Huck Finn, who also mostly tries to tell the capital-T Truth, Ron Currie (the character, that is, not the author) is on a journey. Yes, we’re all on a journey, but Ron is on a journey unlike the philosophical or figurative one most of us understand is our life. First to the Caribbean and later to parts unknown, Ron is escaping part of himself and seeking another. The woman he has loved and loves now is beyond his reach. He drinks himself and fights himself into oblivion. His father has died of cancer. It’s the processing of these losses that leaves him breathless while he waxes on about the Singularity, when machines will become sentient, seeming in some instances to welcome it as a way to be free of pain but in others, to stand in awe of the capability of the world we’ve created:

That the machines will see us as a threat requiring elimination seems unlikely to me. My guess is they’ll be fairly benevolent, even indulgent toward us, as a gifted child toward a beloved, enfeebled grandfather. They will have nothing to do with our demise, at least not directly. We will die by increments, as does anything that finds itself completely bereft of purpose. We will die, slowly, of shame.

Odd though these interjections may first appear, they’re actually poignant and apt as Currie slowly reveals himself to the reader. He’s painfully self aware, vacillating between the Singularity to the realism of his life, particularly when it comes to his father:

Or, if you insist on a natty conclusion, how about this one: my father got sick and died and that was it. Nothing followed but silence. No insight or revelation, no evidence of anything beyond that last breath. We paid someone we did not know to transform him from a man full of love and hate and fear into three pounds of ash, which is just about as neat and tidy as it gets, if you like neat and tidy so much.

It has seemed, since then, as though he never existed.

In what is one of the most fascinating and addictive books I’ve read in a while, Currie conjures Ginsberg and Ralph Ellison, writing a novel that is part poetry, part bildungsroman, and all human experience. Though I hesitate to describe Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles as poetry, it is at once poetic and experimental in its reach, and it succeeds without feeling blatantly poetic or experimental. That’s a roundabout way of saying you should read it and not be scared off by its quirks.

Add this to your Goodreads shelf.

Viking Books has generously offered a copy to one of The Picky Girl’s readers. Leave a comment below by March 11, 2013 at midnight CST, and I’ll draw a winner at random by Tuesday, March 12! [Restricted to U.S. residents.]

National Poetry Month

4th April 2012

I have a confession. Though I have favorite poems and poets, I am super resistant when it comes to new poetry. In fact, I haven’t picked up any new poetry in ages. I know! I’m awful. I wrote poetry many moons ago, and I have volumes that I’ll still reference, so I’m certainly not against it. It’s just that I’ve become complacent in seeking out new poems.

But it’s National Poetry Month, and my students actually introduced me to the type of poetry I want to talk about today. A couple of years ago, while I was teaching The Book Thief, my students had an assignment to repurpose a page from a book. One student came in with blackout poetry, where all the words with the exception of a few were blacked out with a marker, leaving the uncovered words to make a poem. It was crazy beautiful, so I thought I’d share some other cool blackout poems with you guys today:

Via Route 10

Via Newspaper Blackout and Austin Kleon

Via Meaningless Magical Tumblr

Via Life’s Ponderful

Via Newspaper Blackout – Ashley Niedzwiecki, 24, Detroit

Isn’t that amazing? I think I might actually give this a try this month. The website Newspaper Blackout also has some great tips for getting started:

  • Use the newspaper.
  • Loosen up.
  • Set a time limit.
  • Some articles won’t inspire you. Move on.
  • Don’t read the article first.
  • Remember that the poem will be read from left to right and top to bottom.

The website also takes submissions in case you really like the results of your efforts. 🙂

So have you seen blackout poetry before? Or do you have a contemporary poet or poem I should take a look at?

 P.S. – Lu at Regular Rumination is very up on her poetry and regularly posts about it, so if poetry is your thing, head on over.