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A Salute to SPANISH POETRY, by John Howard Reid

March 8, 2012 5 comments

A Salute to SPANISH POETRY

100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America

rendered into English verse by John Howard Reid

[This book has no back cover copy]

###

 A Salute to Spanish Poetry: 100 Masterpieces from Spain & Latin America Rendered Into English Verse is an anthology of various Spanish poems: some hundreds of years old, others much more contemporary, and they’ve all been translated into English by John Howard Reid. I am a great lover of poetry: it provides an intense literary experience and at its best, poetry can inspire and enthral, but sadly this collection does neither.

Mr. Reid might well be a good speaker of Spanish; he might even be a good, if literal, translator. But he’s either no good at translating poetry; or he has picked some really bad stuff to translate.

The versions of the poems in this anthology are stodgy and dull; they’re full of clichés; they’re free from assonance, alliteration and rhythm; their meanings are often unclear, and despite each one being written by a different author there is little variation of voice or tone across the collection. This translator has neither a light nor a sensitive hand.

You have probably worked out by now that I am not terribly impressed by this book. These poems, read in this English form, lack all sense of grace and significance. But my main concern, when reading this collection, was one of copyright. While the bulk of the poems it contains are out of copyright a few of them were written more recently, which means that when this volume was published they were still protected by copyright and the permission of the authors, or their literary estates, would have been required to use them in this way. And yet there are no acknowledgements in this book; there is no attribution of where the poems were first published. But there is statement which reads “text and photographs copyright 2010 by John Howard Reid”.

Mr. Reid does not have the right to claim that copyright as the work is not primarily his: what he’s done, in putting his own copyright onto this edition in this way, is to imply that he not only translated these poems from the Spanish but that he also wrote those first Spanish texts.

As I see it, Mr. Reid has very few options open to him. He must seek written permission from the literary estates which he has exploited in publishing this book, and if such permissions are not forthcoming he must remove the appropriate pieces from his next edition; and while he’s waiting for such permissions to be granted he must withdraw this edition from sale.

If he does have the permissions required to use these works in this way then he must indicate that in all further copies of this book, and ensure that he acknowledges the authors of these poems appropriately in all future editions of this work, and in all other translations he has published.

Of course, I could be wrong: Mr. Reid might well have reached an agreement with the authors and literary estates concerned that it was fine for him to claim copyright and to use these works without proper attribution: if that’s the case then I apologise unreservedly to him for the comments I’ve made regarding copyright in this review. But I do not apologise for my comments regarding the flat and uninspiring nature of his translations. I read five of this book’s one hundred and forty eight pages, skimmed through a few more, and felt extremely reluctant to read any more of it.

After September: Mark D Ransom

February 10, 2011 4 comments

Mark David Ransom—comes from a long line of craftsmen. His Italian immigrant great-grandfather worked on the world famous Brooklyn Bridge. His German/Irish father practiced his trade at the 1964 World’s Fair and on the State Capital in Albany, NY. He spent many years himself restoring masonry buildings in the five boroughs, including the Brooklyn Museum and the Empire State Building. The son of a slate roof and a bookkeeper, and educated by the public school system of New York City, Mark’s chosen crafts have been making song and theater. He has done poetry slams at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and readings at Reckless in Hell’s Kitchen. He is a member the White Horse Theatre Company where he played the title role of Half in a workshop production of the original play. A lifelong resident of New York City, he is a poet, an actor, and a singer/songwriter. As a building inspector and civil servant, living in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, Mark witnessed the events of September 11, 2001, from a unique perspective, one that provided him with the inspiration for this, his first volume of published poetry. In his official capacity as an inspector, he documents the physical damage of city buildings. As a poet, he investigates the emotional and psychological topography of a new era in emerging from the old. His chronicle in verse, dedicated to the city of his birth, is written with words of healing, admiration, respect, and love.

First off, I applaud Mr. Ransom’s courage in publishing After September: it’s an intensely personal account of a very traumatic time and in exposing the emotion and horror of those days he has also exposed his own vulnerabilities. This is not to be done lightly: his courage is apparent, in his words and his decision to self publish them, and I admire him for it.

Sadly, I cannot admire this book. The poetry in it is confusing, clichéd and overwritten, and often contradicts itself within a line or two. As a result Mr. Ransom’s meaning is often obscured or completely misdirected. Which is a shame because lurking below these problems there is real potential.

Mr. Ransom has a good eye for poetic detail, and for those moments which represent our times. He has a natural inclination towards sparsity and has a lyrical tone which is lacking entirely from the work of most aspiring poets.

If I were Mr. Ransom, then, how would I proceed? I’d read the greats. I’d read anthologies of prize-winning poetry, I’d read books of poetry from the classics to the avant-garde and I’d read them all repeatedly until I breathed them. And then I’d look to my own work and make sure that not a single word was wasted, and that my meaning was always clear and strong.

So: a disappointing effort from a writer with potential, who is going to have to get really tough with himself in order to improve as a poet. I read nineteen pages out of seventy-five, and really hope that he improves.

Ordeal: T K Varenko

November 11, 2010 2 comments

It is a verse-ornated story
About love, betrayal, wrath
Royal vampires’ bliss and glory
Bringing them straight to their death.

Luella, fierce, strong vampire,
Falls for a pretty human catch
Sent on her fiancé’s desire
To celebrate they are engaged.

This unexpected turnabout
Is doomed to come to a dead end:
Her human sweetheart’s dead to shroud:
Her fiancé’s avenged for that.

And she is punished for blood treason,
Banished into a mortal child,
Whose human body is a prison
For all her powers to bind.

Her memories obliterated,
She is to find her love at last
Who proves to be too much related
To the misfortunes from her past.

Ordeal is a vampire story written completely in verse, which follows a simple A – B – A – B four line form. It’s a relatively easy form to write if you have a good awareness of rhythm and rhyme; sadly the author of this book appears to have neither.

His lines don’t scan, his rhymes often don’t actually rhyme; he uses words which almost sound good but don’t mean what he seems to think they mean; and several of his verses make no sense at all.

He has forgotten to put his own name on the front cover of his own book; the cover image he has chosen is extremely unappealing, and brings to mind the inside of a mouldy eyeball, complete with blood vessels; the back cover copy is almost illegible as the font used is over-fancy and out of focus; and the book has no copyright page.

The writing is quite astonishingly bad: this verse reads as though it has been dragged backwards and forwards through Babel Fish a few times. I read five and a half pages out of two hundred and twelve despite ignoring several of the author’s less significant lapses, and I strongly urge this writer to put in a lot more work on his craft before he even considers publishing anything else.

The Faith Of A Child: Stefan G Lanfer

August 26, 2010 1 comment

Preparing for fatherhood? Freaked out? Help is here.

Playwright Stefan Lanfer has penned a vital new book on the struggles of dads-to-be.

When a woman prepares for motherhood, other women guide her on her way. Not so a dad-to-be, who gets pats on the back, corny jokes, or vague assurances he’ll do fine. Until now, his best hope was by-moms-for-moms baby books–a gap filled by Stefan Lanfer’s The Faith of a Child and Other Stories of Becoming and Being a Dad, in which the author chronicles his own journey to, and into fatherhood, lending a comforting and humorous peek into the vagaries and joys of being a dad.

According to Lanfer, “When my wife was pregnant, I was STRESSED out, and the guys around me were no help–until, just in time, I hosted a group of dads at our home. I fed them dinner, and they fed me their stories.” As he listened, says Lanfer, “I got inside the head space of a dad, and, finally, I felt ready.”

To pay forward this gift of stories, Lanfer shares his own in The Faith of a Child. To dads-to-be, Lanfer says, “If you want tips, tactics, and advice for childbirth and parenting, you’ve got dozens of choices. But, if you want real stories that actually let you picture fatherhood, The Faith of a Child is for you.

The Faith Of A Child is composed of a series of vignettes from Lanfer’s life with his wife and, eventually, two small children. He writes in blank verse, which I didn’t find particularly successful: his writing is neither tight enough nor lyrical enough to shine in this form (to see blank verse working well, read Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow, a book I adore). And while he presents this as a book of stories to prepare men for fatherhood I’m not convinced that fathers will find the stories collected here at all useful: most are without any real resolution or message, and far too personal to Lanfer to inspire or instruct anyone else.

It’s a shame, as there are occasional glimpses of beauty: for example, the title story is touching and rather lovely. But the few gems there are are muddied by Lanfer’s rather unfocused style, and they’re hidden among a lot of other stories which only invoked a reaction of “so what?” from me, I’m afraid.

A reasonable effort, then, let down by a lack of clarity and focus. While I think it’s wonderful that the author finds his family life so compelling, he really needs to look at his stories with a harsher, more critical eye in order to recognise which are worth working on and which should be kept as a private, more personal record. I read thirty-two pages out of one hundred and fifty-five.

More About The Song: Rachel Fox

June 24, 2010 1 comment

Exposing

Does a blurb ever lie?
Can it tell what’s inside?
Go on, open me up
I have nothing to hide

Poetry was the first thing I ever had published: I’ve read a lot of it, I’ve written a lot of it (mostly bad), and, more importantly, I expect a lot from it. I expect poetry to have some sort of lyrical beauty even if it’s a harsh or bloody kind; I expect its language to be at once sparse and pure, and dense with meaning. I want to read poetry which makes me think more deeply, surprises me, and which stays with me for days after I’ve read it. It’s a very restricted form and so, more than any other, poetry cannot afford to have even a single word misplaced.

What poetry should not be is unfocused, meandering or trite. It shouldn’t remind me of that boring bloke I sat next to on a train once who insisted on telling me all of his poorly-informed opinions about things I’m just not interested in.

I’m afraid that Rachel Fox’s More About the Song fell into the category of my second paragraph, not my first. Her language is plodding, her imagery almost non-existent, her rhythms are unreliable and her ideas are trite. She hammers her points home in a way which is entirely unpoetic: and although I read this slim collection right to its end I cannot recommend it. It left me feeling dismayed and faintly embarrassed, which I don’t suppose was the author’s intended effect.

With My Pen as My Witness: Ian Boyd

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

A self-compiled collection of modern musings. This publication ranges from the political to the comical, from the dark to the romantic.

Following the author’s journey throughout university we travel through his mind, his nights out and his emotions. While his future wife lives in a different country, he drinks too much, he parties too hard and he tries his best to hide the pain.

We move on through to his questioning of the world around him, his job, his musical ambitions and watch as he moves to the capital in search of dreams.

This ironic but beautiful collection of poems will remind you of the best of times and the worst of times.

This is the first part in an on-going collection of thoughts.

Reading this slim collection of poems I felt as though I was spying on the author: it reads like an adolescent’s journal-scribblings, and just isn’t ready to be published.

Poetry is one of the most concentrated art-forms there is: to work, poetry has to be lyrical, intense, fresh and pure, and I’m afraid that I don’t see a single one of those qualities in Boyd’s work. His poems look like real poetry on the page—or at least, they would if the book had been formatted a little better, and the typesetting had been carried out by someone more skilled at the job—but I’m afraid that’s as far as the resemblance goes.

If Mr Boyd wants to attract a decent readership then I strongly advise him to read a lot of good poetry and to do his best to develop an understanding of rhythm, imagery and depth before he publishes any more of his work. I read just three pages out of thirty-one, despite my repeated attempts at leniency.

Selected Poems 1967- 2007: Hudson Owen

March 4, 2010 9 comments

The 63 poems in this volume represent four decades of the author’s writing life. The reader will find poems of work, love, loss, sports, art, the natural world, in a variety of verse forms. There are tears, laughter, reflections, dreams in these pages. The author believes that the verities of Truth and Beauty are as relevant for poets today as they were when John Keats announced them in his day.

Comments from readers on poems included in this book:

“I like ‘Evening Near The Park’ and the Samuel Morse poem very much.”
Richard Wilbur, Pulitzer Prize winner

In response to a poem written about a painting by the artist:
“You have done in words what I attempted in paint. Thank you for it.”
James Wyeth

“Your ‘Mona Lisa’ was excellent!”
T.E. Breitenbach, Painter and Author of Proverbidioms

Front cover by the author.

Hudson Owen was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1946 and grew up in Wilmington, Delaware. He is a published poet, essayist and produced playwright in New York City, where he has acted. He is also a photographer and digital artist.

Dear Hudson

I promised to review your book:
you sent it in the post.
It did not come for weeks and weeks
and we thought it had got lost.

So when at last it landed here
there was some celebration
because I was, I will admit
pleased to have your publication.

I read your intro with delight:
you’re articulate and funny
(I especially enjoyed the parts
where you talked about the money).

But when I came to read your verse
I got a little worried:
your rhyming schemes are fine but
your meter’s rather hurried.

Your early poems are sweet and warm
but not sophisticated;
the one you call The Kissing Song
I very nearly hated.

Despite my reservations, though,
I vowed I would read on
but when I was less than half-way through
my interest had gone.

I prefer my poetry
To have a deeper meaning:
I like it strong and brave and bold
With a literary leaning.

I really like the Thomas boys,
Ted Hughes and Daniel Abse:
I consider the work of Ezra P
to be absolutely fabsy.

You are so close to rather good
I find it tantalising:
your poems could be so improved
with just a little more revising.

If you could try to up your game
and sharpen every line,
and layer images with meaning
then I think you’ll do just fine.

So please, dear Hudson: do not weep.
Do not be cross with me.
I think you have a talent
and I reached page forty-three.

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