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Not being a poet myself, I enjoy reading Ondaatje's gorgeous poetry to my novelist wife.
More than love poems, these works contain wonderful twists and turns that are both painful and funny. Ondaatje has obviously turned to both Rousseau and Wallace Stevens for inspiration, but he also contributes his own sense of the novel and his awareness of social strata.
This is a charming book, with a muted sense of humor. With The Cinnamon Peeler, Ondaatje takes us deep inside his own mind and heart. It is trip worth making.
My favourite poem is ""To a Sad Daughter" which has a universal appeal. Once, I read this poem to my wife just replacing the poet's daughter's infatuation: ice hockey players with our daughter's hobby. My wife remarked: "Great poem. So you write good poetry too!"
I also like other poems including "The Cinnamon Peeler", "A House Divided", "Women Like You", "Billboards" and "Postcard From Piccadilly Street".
Michael Ondaatje shares his great intimate moments with us including love, his recollection of places and relationships with us. If you want to understand Ondaatje's prose, one must begging with his poetry. For anyone 'The Cinnamon Peeler' is an entry into a dark and deep labyrinth painted with human experience. When you come out of it, you'll be a different person.
This book is a one I read over and over again when I'm both sad and happy!
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"Some things/you know all your life. They are so simple and true/they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,/they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,/the glass of water, the absence of light gathering/ in the shadows of picture frames, they must be/ naked and alone, they must stand for themselves."
These lines capture many of the themes of this Pulitzer-prize winning book. The poems in this collection are deceptively simple, "naked and alone". They generally involve an incident or person, recollected by the poet from his past. The incident is recounted in bare unrhymed lines, without hyperbole or judgment. We are encouraged to see the incident, as we see the still life reproduced on the cover of the volume and to let it "stand for itself". The poems are elegaic in tone and the effect of the memory is generally one of deep sadness.
Many of the poems have a deliberately pictorial quality, as reflected in their titles, that remind one of a photo or of a painting in a museum. In many cases, the reader is tempted to conceive in the mind's eye a painting to accompany the poem. This is true, particularly, as the book progresses into its final section with its descriptions of the poet's mother ("My Mother with Purse, the Summer they Murdered the Spanish Poet"), father ("My Father with Cigarette Twelve Years before the Nazis could Break his Heart"), and others ("Edward Lieberman, Entrepreneur, four years after the Burnings on Okinawa") One of the poems of the collection is title simply "Photography". Ironically, this poem is less pictorial than many others. It relates a sad incident from the poet's childhood involving his Aunt, and others, and focuses on the ravages of time and memory.
The poems also focus on the role imagination plays in constituting our reality. The first poem of the collection "On the Meeting of Garcia Lorca and Hart Crane" relates a meeting between these two romantic 20th Century poets and alludes to Crane's apparent suicide in jumping from a ship bound from Vera Cruz to New York. Crane's tragic but romantic death is juxtaposed with the vision coming "to an ordinary man staring/ at a filthy river" as he contemplates not only Crane and Lorca but his son falling to his death "from/the roof of a building he works on." With a voice of irony, the poet asks us to "bless the imagination. It gives/ us the myths we live by. Let's bless/ the visionary power of the human-- the only animal that's got it--"
These poems have a multi-layered simplicity realized through an understated voice of sadness and illuminated by imagination.
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There are poets who would gladly sacrifice large chunks of their time here on earth to be able to write a poem like the title poem, "What Work Is." This poem is astonishing in its power and its ability to make the reader feel the harshness of the work world, and at the same time begin to realize what work is, and what it isn't, and thereby uncover a well of tenderness and love that had been hidden away, unknown even to that very reader, until that moment.
"Fear and Fame" is my next favorite poem in this book, and it is a truly thrilling and moving poem, about having a soul and working in a soulless workplace. Gripping and absorbing and magnificent.
This entire book is structured for power, from beginning to end, and the reader feels empowered by it, by being made to experience and know the personal power that exists within, but apart from, the economic and societal power structures that be.
The language of this book is astonishing, and riveting. This book is a masterpiece.
This book has soul, in all the best senses of the word. Soul.
I recommend this book to everybody.
This is a short collection, consisting of four untitled sections. Section III consists of a single extended poem, "Burning" which is broadly autobiographical in character. The remaining three sections consist of a number of short poems with essentially two themes: the lives of the working poor prior to WWII and Levine's experiences as a boy growing up in Detroit. The poems with these themes overlap and are interspersed throughout the book with the earlier sections emphasizing vignettes of individuals doing the ordinary, desultory jobs that are the lot of most of us (such as "Coming Close", "Fire", "Every Blessed Day" and "What Work Is") while the latter section emphasizes Levine's Detroit experiences, the toughness of being a kid, his relationship with his brother, his love of boxing, and his exposure to Anti-Semitism. ("Coming of Age in Michigan", "The Right Cross", "The Sweetness of Bobby Hefka" "On the River".)
The poems are lucidly written with understatement and a lack of sentimentality which underscores the emotions and the passions they contain. It might be useful to compare these poems to the work of three other writers.
First, the poems reminded me of Walt Whitman, in their compassion for an attempt to understand the American worker. They lack Whitman's bravura and optimism, however, and content themselves with painting harshness and with emphasizing the tenacity people need to get by.
A writer with somewhat similar themes to Levine is the under-appreciated Victorian novelist, George Gissing in his books of lower class life in Victorian London such as The Nether World. Levine has a similar sort of attraction to the life of the poor, the unsuccessful and the down and out. He has at once a sympathy for his characters and a distance from them that Gissing seems to lack, for all his portrayals and descriptions.
A third writer is the late poet-nnovelist Charles Bukowski, a favorite of "underground" readers. Bukowski writes of ne'r do wells, prostitutes, and drunkards, -- as well as doing a lot of writing about himself. Levine has some of the same attraction to the scorned of society, but his people are the working poor, and their stories are told with restraint and dignity, unlike those of Bukowski, and also unlike the work of Bukowski, with literary skill and grace.
This is a book of poetry that has both the sadness and the grittiness of life and the toughness to understand and surmount it.
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Of prosody, Levine is also a master. These are not your basic "skinny prose" modern free verse poems. One will find design here with artfully buried rhymes and off rhymes. Levine also experiments quite successfully with both meter and syllabic verse. The amazine thing, however, is that unless you really pay attention to the work, you miss these things. Levine hypnotizes with his ideas and phrasing and clear, sharp images.
Here are the voices of the lost; here are the voices of the downtrodden. Levine has stepped away from academic games and has become a voice of the American poor in the Whitman tradition. As an epigraph in _Selected Poems_ reads, "Vivas for those who have failed."
Levine has had a great influence on me and my work. Anyone writing poetry should check out Levine's work. I'd recommend _What Work Is_ also. In my opinion, it's his best book.
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I don't know what the previous reviewer's demands are when reading a novel, but mine are these: the story must create its world - whatever and wherever that world might be - and make me BELIEVE it. If the novelist cannot create that world in my mind, and convince me of its truths, they've wasted my time (style doesn't matter - it can be clean and spare like Orwell or verbose like Dickens, because any style can work in the hands of someone who knows how to use it). Many novels fail this test, but Bleak House is not one of them.
Bleak House succeeds in creating a wonderfully dark and complex spider web of a world. On the surface it's unfamiliar: Victorian London and the court of Chancery - obviously no one alive today knows that world first hand. And yet as you read it you know it to be real: the deviousness, the longing, the secrets, the bureaucracy, the overblown egos, the unfairness of it all. Wait a minute... could that be because all those things still exist today?
But it's not all doom and gloom. It also has Dickens's many shades of humor: silliness, word play, comic dialogue, preposterous characters with mocking names, and of course a constant satirical edge. It also has anger and passion and tenderness.
I will grant one thing: if you don't love reading enough to get into the flow of Dickens's sentences, you'll probably feel like the previous reviewer that "...it goes on and on, in interminable detail and description...". It's a different dance rhythm folks, but well worth getting used to. If you have to, work your way up to it. Don't start with a biggie like Bleak House, start with one of his wonderful short pieces such as A Christmas Carol.
Dickens was a gifted storyteller and Bleak House is his masterpiece. If you love to dive into a book, read and enjoy this gem!
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The story is heavily laced with irony in that the student tests the teacher. The narrator (I couldn't find a name) turns in a paper entitled "Ralph the Duck", which seems entirely inappropriate for an assignment in rhetoric and persuasion (You'll need to read the story several times before you figure out why he felt it met the assignment).
We've all met teachers like the professor. He never wears a suit. He sports khakis and sweaters, loafers or sneakers. Ironed dungarees.
There's lots of sardonic humor. The narrator says, "Slick characters like my professor like it if you're a killer or at least a onetime middleweight fighter."
The story picks up pace when a red-headed co-ed takes some pills during a snowstorm and disappears, and our hero is off to the rescue. The redhead is the professor's "advisee".
Although the story is twenty pages long, it is very sparely written. As I was reading it, I thought to myself, "This would make a really good novel." Apparently Busch did, too. It's called GIRLS. If you can't figure out "Ralph the Duck", read the novel.
I'm actually sorry Frederick expanded the story into "GIRLS". It works far better as the punch to the stomach it is in short-story form.
This collection of stories will whet your appetite for more from this fine, fine upstate New York writer.
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If true, that could explain why it is so difficult to get copies of the original 1951 Gold Medal Book publication today.
After the pages of his original copy fell out of their binding , he stacked the leaves, drilled holes thru the margin cover-to-cover, and bound them all together with two pieces of string. When he died (1958), his copy passed into my mother's hands. About four years ago, it came into mine.
I was fortunate to stumble on another copy at a garage sale in the early '90s (for $.25). Also fortunately, it's binding is still pretty-much in tact. It's the only other copy that I've ever seen.