Monthly Archives: March 2014

NaPoWriMo

NaPoWriMo logoAgain this year, I’m taking on National Poetry Month and turning it into National Poetry Writing Month! Like last year, I’ll be writing and posting one poem per day for the entire month of April. Here are the prompts I’ll be using… All prompts except #13, #20, and #21 are gratefully taken from #30dpc. The exceptions are borrowed from poetryprompts.tumblr.

Day 1: Write a short poem (5 lines or less). Be sure to include at least two strong images. Don’t over think it, just do it!

Day 2: Write a poem with pen and ink, quickly, without lifting your pen from the page. Post image if possible. No edits.

Day 3: Write a poem to someone and share it with them.

Day 4: Found poetry. Look to Craigslist, newspapers, Twitter, anywhere for unintentional poetry. Using the original text, punctuate and use line breaks to turn it into a poem.

Day 5: Make something. Anything! Write a poem about your spontaneous making experience.

Day 6: Write a poem from Mars. Describe ordinary things in unfamiliar ways, as through the eyes of someone from another planet unfamiliar with our culture/objects/emotions.

Day 7: Write an ode to one regret that you have.

Day 8: Find a short poem (one page or less) that you love. Cross out every fourth word. Replace the crossed out words with your own choices.

Day 9: Write a poem while doing something else.

Day 10: Listen to an excerpt of Joe Brainerd’s “Remember”. Write your own version.

Day 11: Find a poem you love. Translate it in some way. It could be from its original language to another. It could be from one voice into another voice. Rewrite something contemporary in a way that makes it sound old or something old into modern English.

Day 12: Write a limerick for a stranger.

Day 13: “Stichomancy is one of the oldest forms of divination (at least 3000 years old in fact), in which the querant opens to a random page of randomly selected book in a library, to find an excerpt that applies to the situation at hand.” Whether or not you believe in stichomancy as a form of divination, try getting a random book passage and use one of the sentences from the passage in a poem.

Day 14: Terza rima was created by Italian poet Dante in the late 13th century for his epic poem The Divine Comedy. It’s composed of “tercets woven into a rhyme scheme that requires the end-word of the second line in one tercet to supply the rhyme for the first and third lines in the following tercet.” It’s sometimes considered too difficult to use this structure in English, but do it anyway! Write a poem in terza rima.

Day 15: Experiment with a poetic form. Break all the rules!

Day 16: Do you find it difficult to express one sense (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) more than others in your writing? Paying special attention to that often ignored sense, write a poem with exaggerated sensory detail.

Day 17: Use volta (a poetic turn) in a poem of any length (it can be a sonnet, or not).

Day 18: What’s your favorite color? Jot down three adjectives that describe that color. What’s your favorite animal? Write three adjectives that describe that animal. What’s your favorite body of water (general or specific)? Jot down three adjectives that describe the feeling it evokes. Now, imagine yourself in a white room, no windows, no doors, no noise. Three adjectives that describe the feeling that evokes. Now, write a poem using all of your adjectives in any order.National Poetry Month 2014 poster

Day 19: Write a poem about something you hold sacred.

Day 20: Write a confessional poem.

Day 21: While in a public place, write down occasional sentences you overhear from others’ conversations. Use at least one of them in a poem.

Day 22: “All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” –Hemingway. Write a short poem that is also the “truest sentence that you know.”

Day 23: Write a poem that fits on a post-it note. Stick it somewhere public. Post a picture.

Day 24: Compose a poem out loud. Use a tape recorder, smartphone, or have someone write it down for you.

Day 25: Write a poem inspired by a YouTube video. Be sure to share the link to the video that inspired it.

Day 26: Circle all the verbs in a magazine article. Use as many of them as you can to construct a poem.

Day 27: Spend time with an object you feel connected to. Write a poem using the object to construct an extended metaphor.

Day 28: Write a poem that’s 140 characters or less. If you’re on Twitter, tweet it!

Day 29: Write a prose poem.

Day 30: Write a poem where something (big or small, abstract or concrete) comes to an end.

Rogue

Rogue coverRogue
By P.A. Minyard
CreateSpace/self-published
24 December 2013

The premise is intriguing: Civil War in the between the Union and the Confederacy, and a spiritual war between angels and demons, both happening at the same time in the same place. The characters have potential: Daniel fights for the Union, but he’s “recruited” to help the angels stop the demons from winning their spiritual war; after he succumbs to the evil he’s trying to vanquish, his little brother Jonathan is his only hope at redemption. At the same time, Daniel’s best friend Duff begins courting Daniel’s sister Beth, who is weak in body but is (as Duff says) “a woman capable of putting me in my place.”

I really wish this had been as good a book as I was hoping for; the idea is a great one. However, it seems to me like a really good first draft: the characters and plot need more fleshing out, and Daniel seemed to go from “good eldest son” to needing Jonathan to save him more quickly than was really plausible. The thing about evil is that it’s not always obvious. If it is obvious, we resist it. But if if lures us, breaks us down slowly, then we might end up helping to pave the road to Hell with good intentions. With Daniel, he was good… and then he wasn’t; there was no slow burn there that made his succumbing to his own weakness seem internally realistic.

My favorite parts by far were the ones that focused on Duff and Beth—Beth’s character is the kind of woman I like—but that’s a little bit of a problem because they are not the main characters. I don’t know, it just feels like this book is missing something, but I can’t place what. Maybe more thorough description? There’s a previous novel about the Beloved (the group into which Daniel is recruited), but that wasn’t made clear when I started this book, so I don’t know if reading that book would’ve helped my understanding of this one or not.

In any case, I look forward to following this author’s growth and progress in her writing. She has a great story in Rogue; I only wish it was a little more complete.

DISCLAIMER: I received Rogue free from Smith Publicity for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

The Concrete Killing Fields

The Concrete Killing Fields coverThe Concrete Killing Fields
By Pat Morgan
Mile High Press
20 February 2014

The Concrete Killing Fields is a thick book, but it’s a fast read. It’s almost 400 pages, but because the chapters are so short, it feels like a quick read. (There are, however, almost 50 chapters, so your virtual milage may very.) Written in a conversational style, Pat Morgan draws the reader into the harsh world of mental illness and homelessness from the perspective of a person who’s had it rough (her father was shot and killed while she was still a teenager, for example) but who has never been homeless herself.

Intertwining her own story with that of the many homeless people (mostly men, but some women, too, she says) who crossed her path in her journey from volunteer at a church’s street ministry in Memphis, Tennessee… all the way to Washington, DC, where then-President Clinton appointed her to the US Interagency Council for the Homeless… to writing her story and providing strong inspiration for readers to get involved in eradicating homelessness in our own neighborhoods and cities.

Though Ms. Morgan makes it clear (at least clear to me) that she’s writing from her own point of view and has no qualms about pointing out her human weaknesses as she sees them, I’m concerned that she’s telling the stories of other people—using them as examples of mental illness in “the system” or warnings about alcoholism—without their permission. That’s not to say that she necessarily needs permission, I wager, because there are many nonfiction authors who never ask permission in writing about their subjects, especially if they write memoir. In this case, though, I hesitate to condone it because the homeless people about whom she writes are already slipping through the cracks in “the system” and this just seems like one more thing they didn’t get to choose for themselves. No doubt, Ms. Morgan is passionate and committed, but she is telling her story, not one of mental illness and homelessness per se.

I’ll be giving this book to my sister, who was involved in outreach to the homeless people in her area during college, in order to get the perspective of someone who’s actually worked with people on the street. This book is and easy read in terms of reading it (not as much in terms of subject matter), but it just strikes me that it’s another story about someone helping the homeless—speaking for them, instead of enabling them to speak for themselves. As an advocate for self determination and giving a platform to the underheard, I would prefer to read the latter.

DISCLAIMER: I received The Concrete Killing Fields free from JKS Communications for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Water Walker

Water Walker coverWater Walker
By Ted Dekker
Worthy Publishing
18 March 2014

I liked Water Walker MUCH better than its predecessor, Eyes Wide Open. It follows one of the minor characters from the previous novel, Alice Ringwald, and gives her her own story. Like Eyes Wide Open, the novel Water Walker is split into four parts, each of which was serialized for e-readers before being published as a complete novel in paperback.

The story begins, the main character says, “the night I discovered that I wasn’t me.” At thirteen years old, Alice has no memory of anything before six months ago, and when she’s taken into the care of two loving foster parents, she begins to settle into a peaceful life. Unfortunately, that all changes one evening when she’s kidnapped by her birth mother’s husband, Wyatt, and taken to live on a compound in the Louisiana bayou. Her birth mother Kathryn and younger half-brother Bobby meet her there, all of them under the tutelage of Zeke, a self-styled prophet of God on Earth.

The first nine chapters surround Alice’s abduction and the FBI’s fruitless search for her after she seems to fall off the map. Alice is immediately renamed “Eden” upon arriving in Louisiana, and chapter 10 and thereafter skips forward five years and follow’s the events surrounding her eighteenth birthday. Dekker writes another page-turner, but at least in this case I kept reading because I was interested in the story instead of because I was hoping for my expectations to be defied. (In Eyes Wide Open, my expectations were definitely NOT defied, unfortunately.)

This novel didn’t really surprise me, either: the “bad guy” was bad all the way through, the main character’s naiveté was never cured, and the Outlaw character still acted as deus ex machina, and I’ve never seen THAT work out well in contemporary literature. This novel was no exception in that respect.

The primary theme is forgiveness, and though the author had ample time to flesh out the characters and create a spellbinding, believable (in the story’s context) ending that included forgiveness, he didn’t. Alice/Eden just simply has an epiphany about “letting go of the boat in the storm” and “walking on water” and then just forgives her mother for all the abuse she inflicted upon her daughter for more than five years. That’s a romantic notion but hardly plausible given the way the novel is set up. Jesus is meant to be Alice/Eden’s role model—modeled to her in her dreams by the Outlaw—but even he got angry and yelled at people. Turning the other cheek is one thing; getting trampled is completely another.

Turning the other cheek and forgiving one’s aggressors is something that Jesus teaches, but it’s also one of the Biblical reasons that white plantation owners in the antebellum South gave for keeping black slaves. Just because Alice/Eden forgave her mother and Zeke (the evil bad guy who’s mostly off in the distance pulling people’s strings) at the end of the novel, there was a large chance that that would’ve changed nothing about her situation. Luckily for her, it worked out, but not everyone is granted with a happy ending. Where does a person, water walker or not, drawn the line? Would you “turn the other cheek” even unto death? Even unto the death of the person you care most about in the world?

DISCLAIMER: I received Water Walker free from Worthy Publishing for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Revive! The Oracles of God

Revive! coverRevive! The Oracles of God:
The Three Constants of the Christian Faith

By Ozakieoniso Charlie
WestBow Press
26 November 2013

oracle: noun a priest or priestess acting as a medium through whom advice or prophecy was sought from the gods in classical antiquity. (special usage) a person or thing regarded as an infallible authority or guide on something.

Revive! The Oracles of God is split into a preface, an introduction, and five chapters. For those who don’t know, a preface is usually about the book as a book that is separate from the rest of the material: methodology, how it was written, etc. An introduction, however, is about the book’s content. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Ozakieoniso Charlie understood the difference in this case because they bleed together and overlap.

The first chapter attempts to explain what an “oracle” is, but it isn’t very clear, evidenced by the fact that I had to look up the word’s contextual definition. The second, third, and fourth chapters cover the oracles themselves, which Charlie calls “the three constants of the Christian faith”: the Word of God (the Bible), prayer, and selfless service. Finally, the last section is where the author brings it all together with his 21-day prayer project.

The three oracles—the Word, prayer, and selfless service—are first introduced and then elaborated upon in their own chapters. Charlie’s writing is verbose and hard to follow, and his explaining “the three constants of the Christian faith” is no exception. My first reservation had to do with the apparent lack of focus (except in the very last section) on the most prominent figure in Christianity: Jesus. Talking about Jesus could get old really fast, especially for someone like me, who is not a Christian and hasn’t read anything “new” about Jesus since she was 15 years old, and so there’s potential for the lack of Jesus in a narrative about the Bible and Christianity to be complex, intriguing, and profound. Unfortunately, that’s not the case here.

The last section focuses on the reader’s application in their own life. It’s basically a prayer schedule: read a Bible verse or chapter (mostly from the Books of Isaiah and Revelation), “sing songs of praise for at least twenty minutes”, and then prayer for an hour or more at a time. The prayer is split into multiple prayer points, sometimes as many as 40, with many as in-understandable as “Every star destroyer from my hometown caging my star and my destiny, destroy yourselves, in the name of Jesus.” No one with decent reading ability should have to ask the author what something means because it’s the author’s job to write in a way that the reader will understand.

I have never seen the word “oracle” used in the way that the author uses it here, so wrapping my head around the special usage (see above) every time I read it was really distracting and removed me from what the author was trying to accomplish. The quotations from the King James Version Bible are excessive, sometimes pages long. Likewise, I read pages of non-Bible-verse material without a single paragraph break, and that’s not a good thing.

DISCLAIMER: I received Revive! The Oracles of God free from WestBow Press for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Nebraska (viewed 01 March 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
A while back, my family watched Napoleon Dynamite and my father’s only comment was “If I wanted to watch real life, I’d go back to living in [rural Texas, where he grew up].” Well, that’s how I felt watching Nebraska; if I wanted to watch reality, I’d just move to rural Texas with my Grandma. /sigh/ That being said, it was a good movie, just… hard. And shot completely in shades of grey (literally). Well cast and well acted, it just felt too close to home to enjoy watching it for any extended length of time. And, unlike Napoleon Dynamite, it wasn’t even trying to be funny.

Something the Lord Made (viewed at home 23 February 2014)
The partnership between a white man with a doctoral degree and black man with a high school education literally changed the world. I learned nolitangere: do not touch the heart; ancient medical wisdom that was knocked flat on its ass when Blalock and Thomas came along. The politics at Johns Hopkins and between white and black people was despicable, and seeing how crappy people have been (are still being) treated always makes me want to take to the streets in protest. It’s gotten better, but what the hell. How has it been this long since the partnership between these men and we’re still acting like collective dickheads?? Really? Argh. /flips table/

12 Years a Slave (viewed 22 February 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Good, hard movie. Well performed and shot. If there’s anyone who deserves the Oscar for Best Actor, it’s the guy who played the title character, no doubt. Now, as for the film itself: difficult to watch, graphic, and at times sickening. And I realize that “the slave states were actually like that” but do we REALLY have to use the n-word over and over? And coming from white people’s mouths? If a person of color wants to use the n-word as a way to reclaim it, that’s their right, but I don’t think a white person should ever say it… in jest, on screen, or otherwise.

The Wolf of Wall Street (viewed 22 February 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Wow no. Just. No. Sexism, heterosexism, extensive drug use, over use of the word “fuck” (539 times in 2 hours and 50 minutes, to be exact). Ugh. I didn’t like any part of this movie. So much excess and it got old really fast. It could’ve ended in like three places, at least one of them an hour sooner than it did. Black comedy? No, just blech.

Dallas Buyers Club (viewed 22 February 2014 in theaters as part of AMC Best Picture Showcase 2014)
Decent. Of the films I saw on the first day of the showcase, I’d give this one a pretty good shot for Best Picture. It annoys me, however, that people seem to give extra credit to “hard stories”—which this story definitely is—and awards to dickwads (ie: Jared Leto) for playing “impossible” characters. I’m getting really tired of straight guys being awarded for playing gay/transgender people on screen. It’s not like there’s a dearth of gay/transgender actors who could play those parts. I don’t even want that, really, I just want people to stop lauding the guys who already have everything for pretending to be something that’s so difficult to be on screen. Real people deal with that shit every day and don’t get awarded; sometimes they don’t even survive.

Starlight

Starlight coverStarlight
By Scott Ely
Open Road Integrated Media
28 January 2014

Jackson, the protagonist in Starlight, has only 300 days left in Vietnam, and he wants to spend them safely behind a desk at a firebase on the Laos border. Unfortunately, the war isn’t going to let him off so easy, and a haunted rifleman who stays alive despite himself, Tom Light, is dropped off at the base one day demanding his R&R. Thing is, everyone who goes into the bush with Light gets killed, and he’s become bad luck to everyone around him. You get near Tom Light, you die; that’s the unspoken rule, and so the other soldiers keep their distance. Jackson, however, wants to learn Light’s secret to survival, and he sticks close by the sniper once Light promises him safety in exchange for writing his letters home, something that Jackson does multiple times over the course of the novel.

The Vietnamese believe that Light’s sniper scope has the power to raise the dead, and they literally bring out the rotting corpses of their kin when they discover that he’s in town. Jackson’s goal is to get out of Vietnam alive; nobody knows what Tom Light’s goal is. (He’d probably say something like, “Kill those fuckers.”)

If you’re looking for a happy ending or a fairytale, Starlight isn’t it. But maybe that’s the point; the Vietnam War itself had no happy ending, and it wasn’t exactly a romantic vision of war. Near the end of the book, Hale (the commanding officer at the firebase where Jackson is stationed) complains about conscripts: no “professional” soldier would ever lose a firefight against the enemy, especially not an inferior enemy. (I am not implying that Vietnamese people are inferior Americans or anyone else, but the war wasn’t politically correct, and this novel isn’t either.)

The novel feels unfinished. That is, there is no resolution or denouement, just like real life. The last couple of chapters bring the grim realities of war into stark focus, and neither Jackson nor Tom Light and his mystical starlight scope can save their fellow soldiers from the Viet Cong ambushing them from all sides. Starlight has a fuzzy quality to it, like looking through fogged glass and trying to see clearly. Reading the novel, I was unsure what was real and what was hallucinatory, and it’s obvious that the characters aren’t sure either.

Though it’s well written, I’m honestly not sure what to make of this novel by Scott Ely. Is it a treatise on the futility of war? How much of a lost cause the soldiers in the war felt they were? I don’t know. You should read it and decide for yourself.

DISCLAIMER: I received Starlight free from Open Road Integrated Media for this review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.