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Good Read: Every Thing On It by Shel Silverstein

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Every Thing On It
by Shel Silverstein

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Product Description:

Shel Silverstein, beloved author of the acclaimed and bestselling poetry collections Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Falling Up, will have a brand-new book of poetry published by HarperCollins Children’s Books in September 2011. This is only the second original book to be published since Silverstein’s passing in 1999. With more than one hundred and thirty never-before-seen poems and drawings completed by the cherished American artist and selected by his family from his archives, this collection will follow in the tradition and format of his acclaimed poetry classics.


Matt Markgraf says:

I grew up surrounded by video games. So why read a book when I can interact with a story on the screen? An exception can be made, says my 6-year-old self, for Shel Silverstein. I distinctly remember huddling in a group with other kids over a copy of Where The Sidewalk Ends, or A Light In The Attic, or Falling Up. We loved the dark humor, the daring whimsy and the off-beat illustrations. When I saw NPR’s feature on a new collection of poems, of unpublished work his family had gathered, I literally danced on the WKMS balcony (after pre-ordering the book).

As with other posthumous collections of unpublished things, there’s always the risk of quality. The question forms in my mind: “Why are these unpublished? Because they weren’t good or because the chance simply hadn’t come about?” To be perfectly honest, this collection soars and dives. The poems that seem unpolished are quite obvious, yet the poems that soar are absolutely fantatsic – like finding a diamond ring in a chocolate cake. If you’re willing to forgive a little and enjoy this surprising gift from Silverstein’s family, it will feel like a great bit of closure to a great body of work. Some of my favorite poems are the title poem, “Every Things On It” about a kid who regrets asking for a hotdog with everything, “A Giant Mistake” which posits a very profound ethical question, “The Clock Man” about placing a value on mortality, and the very last poem, of which all I’ll say is quite moving.

As a writer, growing up with Shel Silverstein on my bookshelf has been as much a joy as an asset. He teaches a timeless lesson of thinking for yourself, questioning everything, not taking life too seriously, finding joy in the mundane and delight in the wild.

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Written by Matt Markgraf

September 30, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Bec’s good read: “Leavings”

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Leavings: Poems
by Wendell Berry

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Product Description:
No one writes like Wendell Berry. Whether essay, novel, story, or poem, his inimitable voice rings true, as natural as the land he has farmed in Kentucky for over 40 years. Following the widely praised Given, this new collection offers a masterful blend of epigrams, elegies, lyrics, and letters, with the occasional short love poem. Alternately amused, outraged, and resigned, Berry’s welcome voice is the constant in this varied mix. The book concludes with a new sequence of Sabbath poems, works that have spawned from Berry’s Sunday morning walks of meditation and observation. As he has borne witness to the world for eight decades, what he offers us now in this new collection of poems is of incomparable value.

Bec Feldhaus says:
“Perhaps this is biased, because I’ve never read something by Wendell Berry that I didn’t like, but Berry’s collection titled Leavings astounds me. This collection is made up of shorter poems for the most part, but retains the depth apparent in his longer works. Berry deals with the evolution of a globalized and technologically-based world and how that detracts from personal contact and, at times, moral integrity. Even if you only read one poem out of the entire collection, Berry’s voice is clear and thoughtful leaving you with something to consider.”

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Written by Matt Markgraf

May 24, 2010 at 9:00 am

Maurice Manning’s Mountain Tribute

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by Angela Hatton

Poet Maurice Manning’s fourth collection of poetry, The Common Man, continues the author’s love affair with rural life. Told through a series of unrhymed ballad couplets, The Common Man is Manning’s most tender tribute to his Appalachian home to date.

In Lawrence Booth’s Book of Visions, his first book which was published in the prestigious Yale Younger Poets series, Manning took on the persona of Lawrence Booth, a poor Southern young man. In his second, A Companion for Owls, Manning explored the life and legend of Kentuckian Daniel Boone. Bucolics, Manning’s third project, focused on the voice of a farm hand who addressed a deity he called “Boss.” The voice in Common Man retains the unrefined passion and plain-spoken insight found in Bucolics. However, unlike the third collection, Manning takes on a narrative style. The poems in Common Man are typically stories, and sometimes far-fetched ones. Manning acknowledges the style that inspired him in his dedication. He dedicates the book to his grandmother, whom, he writes, “told me stories.” The book, then, follows that storytelling tradition.

Common Man at times reads like a Library of Congress archive, the poems a transcript of the scratchy dialects recorded on a research excursion. Manning employs dialect and syntax to create a rhythm of truncated gerunds and elided words, though he is judicious with its use. Manning saves the rural speech patterns for direct dialogue, and then only sparingly, as in the poem “Thunderbolt, My Foot.” The speaker’s father asks, “ . . . Hey! / you wanna hear a dirty lim’rick?” In the same poem, mosquitoes are “skeeters” and the speaker references his “double-great-granddaddy.” Manning preserves both structure and a natural rhythm by writing his verses in iambic tetrameter. This metrical format creates the framework for the language of the book.

To aid the illusion of front porch conversation, Manning inserts a need to grandstand among his characters. The speaker in “Thunderbolt, My Foot,” frames his story with a preamble that touts some of the fantastic details from the poem. The speaker then declares, “Besides, I’m wound up tighter than / a clock and it’s time to commence this tale!” Other poems begin with a hedging statement, such as in “A Man With a Rooster in His Dream,” in which the speaker warns he’s about to say something strange. “Giddyup, Ye Banties!” begins en media res, with a scatterbrained, “What have we been talking about?” This added detail may frustrate the reader, who only wants the speaker to “get on with it.” That effect creates setting, and makes the reader a direct participant in the poem.

The poems in this collection allegedly cover a range of experiences and peoples through many different voices, but Manning fails to differentiate clearly enough between perspectives. A single narrative voice takes hold in each poem. That voice is unpretentious. It expresses a wisdom rooted in heritage and the land. The voice itself compels the reader, but its repetition throughout dulls the narrative poems. One cannot read the entire book in one sitting without fatigue from Manning’s blanket use of this particular persona. This same problem plagues Manning’s third collection. The issue may arise as a reaction to the portrayal some authors give the Southern figure. The Appalachian archetype is an indigent ignoramus. Manning chooses the opposite extreme, and assumes every one is a philosopher. Common Man, like Bucolics, is a book best enjoyed in moderate doses.

Common Man succeeds as an elegy for a dying way of life. The poem “A Panegyric Against the Consolation of Grief” is the clearest expression of the book’s thesis. As well, it is the “heart” of this project, placed nearly half-way through the collection. In “Panegyric” Manning argues for the merits of grief. He equates grief with memory, and says for rural life, grief will soon be all that’s left. He writes, “. . . that scene is fading out, / little by little it’s being felled, / all felled, and it won’t be coming back.” Manning’s efforts in Common Man suggest a desire to preserve that rural scene, and to honor the dignity of its people.


Written by Angela Hatton

May 11, 2010 at 10:30 pm

Angela’s Good Read – “HAPAX”

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HAPAX: Poems

A.E. Stallings

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Product Description:
Hapax is ancient Greek for “once, once only, once and for all,” and “onceness” pervades this second book of poems by American expatriate poet A. E. Stallings. Opening with the jolt of “Aftershocks,” this book explores what does and does not survive its “gone moment” – childhood (“The Dollhouse”), ancient artifacts (“Implements from the Grave of the Poet”), a marriage’s lost moments of happiness (“Lovejoy Street”). The poems also often compare the ancient world with the modern Greece where Stallings has lived for several years. Her musical lyrics cover a range of subjects from love and family to characters and themes derived from classical Greek sources (“Actaeon” and “Sisyphus”). Employing sonnets, couplets, blank verse, haiku, Sapphics, even a sequence of limericks, Stallings displays a seemingly effortless mastery of form. She makes these diverse forms seem new and relevant as modes for expressing intelligent thought as well as charged emotions and a sense of humor. The unique sensibility and linguistic freshness of her work has already marked her as an important, young poet coming into her own.

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“Rhyming poetry is not dead! Most contemporary poets eschew rhyme and form for the more contemplative free verse. However, Stallings bucks the trend, bringing “abab” into the 21st century with poems that range from childhood trips to museums to adult cocktail parties. Stalling, who has lived in Greece for several years, brings the rich legacy of Greek mythology and culture into her verses. A thoroughly delightful and accessible entry into neo-traditional poetry.” – Angela Hatton

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Written by Matt Markgraf

February 15, 2010 at 10:00 am

Black History Month: the Greensboro Sit-ins

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by Angela Hatton

February 1 marked the golden anniversary of the Greensboro sit-ins. Four African-American young men walked up to a Woolworth’s lunch counter an hour before closing time and asked for service. They were denied, but they stayed until close of business. The groups action launched a string of sit-ins across the country by both black and white supporters of the Civil Right movement. Six months later, Woolworth’s integrated their lunch counter, and the actions of the sit-in participants were heralded as a landmark non-violent protest.

Below is a picture of the Woolworth’s lunch counter in the Smithsonian American History Museum in Washington D. C. Todd and I saw this relic from the Civil Rights Movement when we visited there last week. Nothing in the Smithsonian’s statements say this is a reproduction, so I am assuming this is an actual slice from the counter. However, if anyone knows for sure, feel free to dispute that statement.

 This week, the International Civil Rights Center & Museum opened in Greensboro on the anniversary of the first sit-in. Launching the museum has been a challenge in itself; NPR covered the story

With all the attention around this event, I’ve thought more about what it might have been like to be at Woolworth’s on that day.  While I can’t say the below is a completely historically accurate depiction (warning: may contain anachronisms), it is at least inspired by history.

Greensboro, Fifty Years Later

First day of the shortest month, they began the longest wait with a breezy 
             idea: time for a cup, a bit of pick-me-up.
They swung into seats set up pink, blue, pink, blue, leaned their elbows on 
            the Formica and asked for four, black, with sugar on the side.
No dice; the waiter flipped past them like a boring newspaper page, and 
            zipped to the end of the line to fill an empty glass.
Someone sidled up (not too close) and grunted, “Ya’ll gotta go,” but they 
            were stone, hunched over with nothing to protect.
A man slammed his burger half-eaten on his plate, chucked a pocketful of
            change on the counter, and cut out.
A woman steered her children towards, then away, her heels clip-clopping
            double-time over their dismay. 
The steam from the coffee, the smell of the fries, the gluttonous motion of
            syrup slobbered over sundaes not for them, indictments all—
Chicken bones swung before a rangy, mangy dog. But they spread their
            shoulders, making their coats like the capes on watchmen, set to 
            guard the walls until  
Closing time and they slipped from their seats and out the door, surprised
           they were still alive, and knowing they’d be back tomorrow and 
           tomorrow.
A busboy wiped their scent from the vinyl stools; a slight impression
           lingered in the foam.

Half a century later, a section stays behind glass, four seats where no one
           sits. Shutters snap  family photos, a memory for the scrapbook.
Before we know this, we swing in your mother’s stools, trying to spin      
           ourselves sick. You scream, I scream for ice cream.
Little giggle-boxes naïve that they are two mismatched scoops: we beg for
            extra cherries on top.

Written by Angela Hatton

February 5, 2010 at 4:20 pm