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Category Archives: Book Reviews

Springtime of a new habit (SJfT)

Hi, and welcome to my blog this Spiritual Journey (first) Thursday of April. I’m your host today.

Have you ever experienced things coming together in your life in surprising yet seemingly meant-to-be kinds of ways? That has just happened to me.

Late last year I felt the urge to again pursue an old love of sketching and drawing. My son gave me a sketchbook and set of drawing pencils for Christmas and I have since spent many hours making pencil sketches from photographs.

Then, a few weeks ago, I got an email from the publicist at Fox Chapel Publishing, asking if I’d be interested reviewing a book they’ve recently published—Complete Guide to Bible Journaling.

I had seen journaling Bibles for sale but was never sure how they were meant to be used. This might be a good opportunity to find out, I thought. And any kind of how-to combining journaling and the Bible into perhaps some kind of spiritual practice or discipline interested me, so I said, yes, I’d review the book.

61dwrZAkbaLIt arrived about two weeks ago. On opening it, I was immediately smitten. For I quickly discovered that Bible journaling is a movement (and you might all know this, but it was news to me) that is not concerned with just writing reflections, thoughts, sermon or lecture notes in the roomy margins of specially designed journaling Bibles, but drawing, sketching, illuminating, decorating, lettering, scrapbooking, and even painting in one’s Bible!

“In its simplest definition, Bible journaling is a way to express your faith creatively. Putting pen to paper is a great way to remember and record biblical concepts that are meaningful and relevant to your life” Complete Guide to Bible Journaling, p. 8.

The guidebook is helpful and beautiful with sections on what Bible journaling is, tips, tools and techniques, eleven profiles of Bible journaling artists, a gallery of amazing Bible journal pages, and a bonus section of stickers, line art objects to copy, and many pages of traceable banners, borders, flowers, animals, words, etc.

I promptly looked through my bookshelf and found an old wide-margined notebook New Testament from my student days. Though I have since ordered a complete journaling Bible, while I wait for it to arrive I’m already experiencing the springtime of a new-to-me spiritual practice.

And it does seem like a set-up from our loving Heavenly Father! For here is a very meaningful and fun way for me to put my enjoyment of the graphic arts to use in Bible reading, meditation and worship.

Here are a couple of my early efforts. Explanation of my thought process is in purple.

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My first Bible journaling effort–my OLW “Listen.”

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Phil. 4:6,7 is my life verse. I had to illustrate that next.

I have often imagined taking off  worries and concerns in prayer as taking off a backpack and leaving that pack loaded with my cares with the Lord. In this illustration, I pictured that as leaving them at the cross.

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Detail 1 of previous page.

The thought of leaving cares at the cross brought to mind a snippet of a verse that talks about that. Google to the rescue and I soon had the verse’s reference–from Isaiah.

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Detail 2 of previous page.

On further reflection, I realized that one doesn’t go from prayer with a merely lightened load, but with new clothes! Another verse from Isaiah speaks of that. (In my sketch, I didn’t want to draw a person or a robe, so chose to illustrate this idea with an empty box–just tissue paper left.)

And now I’m eager to find out what spiritual adventures you’ve been having.  Please leave the links to your Spiritual Journey (first) Thursday posts with Mr. Linky—and thanks so much for joining in!


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Brown Girl Dreaming (review)

51-pl9bj7il-_sx331_bo1204203200_Poetry Camp inspired me to be a more regular visitor to my library (thanks, Janet Wong!). My fascination with verse novels prompted me to pick up Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.

I quickly discovered, though, that this isn’t exactly a verse novel. It’s a memoir—the story of young Jacqueline taking us through her childhood and to a time she comes to realize what her dream is and begins to see it blossom in her life.

The whole thing is told in verse—in free verse poems that are simple. I would say deceptively simple for almost all end in a way that put me on my heels and had me thinking: I believe there is more to this than what first meets the eye. In other words, these accessible poems also invite re-reading.

I love the real-life detail that makes the characters, the brothers and sisters, Grandma and Grandpa, mother, aunts and uncles, come alive. While reading this book I experienced the phenomenon of the particularities of Jacqueline’s life becoming a vessel for my own experience—even though the setting and characters are vastly different.

As I read I also enjoyed one of the advantages of verse novels—how quickly the pages slipped by. I read through this 338-page tome in mere hours.

The book touches on lots of topics:
– What it was like to be an African American girl in the U.S. in the 60s and 70s (Woodson was born in 1963). This book was a great empathy builder for me.

– Family—what is a family, how family members relate to each other, the joy of being together. The family theme runs deeply and widely through the book. I loved the mini family album of photos at the end of the book and the fact that the pictures were of family members as children—about the age that the target audience would be.

“Football Dreams,” about her father, is a poem about family:

Football Dreams

No one was faster
than my father on the football field.
No one could keep him
from crossing the line. Then
touching down again.
Coaches were watching the way he moved,
his easy stride, his long arms reaching
up, snatching the ball from its soft pockets
of air.

Read the rest…

Feeling different is another theme. Not only was Woodson’s color a source of difference, but she was brought up Jehovah’s Witness. “Flag” tells about having to leave the classroom when the students made the flag pledge but how inside she wanted to be there and pledge big:

flag

Alina and I want
more than anything to walk back into our classroom
press our hands against our hearts. Say,
“I pledge allegiance . . .” loud…”

The poem ends:

When the pledge is over, we walk single file
back into the classroom, take our separate seats
Alina and I far away from Gina. But Gina
always looks back at us—as if to say,
I’m watching you. As if to say,
I know.

Read entire…

The book tackles more themes including death, tolerance, and finding joy in life, relationships and one’s passion.

On this page of her website Ms. Woodson gives a bit more information about writing the book.

This was a beautiful, upbeat, and  educational read that would be perfect for children in the middle grades–ages 10 and up, Grades 5 and up.

Brown Girl Dreaming won the National Book Award in 2014. (In the second video on the linked page she reads from the book.)

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PF-2This post is linked to Poetry Friday, hosted today by the lovely Irene Latham at Live Your Poem.

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2016 in Book Reviews, People, Poetry Friday

 

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Man Overboard (review)

Cover of Man Overboard by David DennyMan Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion by David Denny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You have probably heard the story of Jonah, but never like David Denny tells it in Man Overboard: A Tale of Divine Compassion. In 24 poems capturing the voices of Jonah, God, sailors, wind, whale, people of Nineveh, their king, even the vine and the worm, Denny retells this familiar tale with imagination and economy that nonetheless holds a treasure chest of riches.

Denny’s use of natural, cultural, and historic details delights, even as it grounds his flights of fancy in reality:

… my wife
clicked about my burning ears like a locust.
…. I untied all 613 knots
in my tallit” – “Flight” p. 4.

Those familiar with the Bible will recognize echoes of favorite passages:

“Seeing the dry bones of
my chosen ones scattered
on the ground…” (“Arise and Go” p. 23)

brings to mind Ezekiel’s vision from Ezekiel 37.

God’s inquisition of Jonah after Jonah complains about His lack of judgment:

“Where were you
when the Tigris began to flow? Where were you
when the walls of Nineveh were hosted to the sky?” (“God’s Response to Jonah” p. 25)

reminds us of God’s questioning of Job in Job 38.

In other places Denny subtly draws our attention to Jonah as a type of Christ.
“Can a man be born twice” Jonah asks after being vomited by the fish (“A Good Question” p. 19), and we hear Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3.

The story of “The Perfumer and His Wife,”

“… And when he told us
that like a fox without a den he had nowhere to lay
his head…” pp. 25-26

remind us of Jesus’ words in Matthew 8.

Most significant of the finds in this book for me, though, are Denny’s illustration of the subtitle: “A Tale of Divine Compassion.” Compassion oozes from these poems. God refers to Jonah as “my dove” (Jonah means dove), and speaks of “his lovely face” (“Arise and Go” p. 3).

The wind speaks of Jonah as “this little one” – “Stormspeak” p. 5.

God calls the great fish “lovely, sweet and langourous one” in “God Speaks to the Great Fish” p. 18.

To the Ninevites, God says:

“My heart delights in you, for you were lost and now
you are found…” – “Turning Point” p. 29.

As poems, the individual pieces are easy to understand even as they make good use of poetic devices like anaphora, paradox, onomatopoeia, personification, and surprising juxtapositions:

“I can’t go back now
My stomach can’t hold
that much crow” – “On a Hilltop Overlooking Nineveh” p. 41.

In Man Overboard, Denny opens our eyes to the compassionate song of redemption that plays a sweet counterpoint to Jonah’s blues of nationalistic pettiness. Thanks to this little volume, I don’t think I’ll ever read the book of Jonah in quite the same way again.

Thank you to David Denny and Lora Zill for the review copy of Man Overboard. A shorter version of this review first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Time of Singing.

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Posted by on November 3, 2014 in Book Reviews, Religious

 

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Conspiracy of Light (review)

Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. LewisConspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis by D.S. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“There is, then, creative reading as well as creative writing” said Emerson. Canadian poet D. S. Martin has read. C. S. Lewis creatively over years in order for us to now enjoy Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C. S. Lewis. From the first lines of the first poem:
“A glance over your shoulder / assures you you can always get back” to the final “Destination” it is a magical trip.

Martin takes us in 77 poems through seven sections that include poems that look at the role of the poet, riff on ideas and lines from Lewis’s writings, explore his fantasy settings, muse about communication, the vastness of God and the final state to which we aspire.

You may wonder, do readers have to be familiar with Lewis’s writings themselves to get these poems? No. They stand very well on their own, though Martin has included an acknowledgment section where he names the inspirational source of each poem.

Lewis’s (and Martin’s) philosophical bent is seen in many of the ideas on which Martin expands. What proves something is true?

“Some things are only known
once you step in” from “Proof” p. 5.

What is real? From “The Poet Weaves Three Worlds”:

“The marvelous he believes …
The marvelous fictitious fantasies …
The world his eye perceives …
The poet twists from these
a three-strand cord of truth” p. 35.

Many of these poems whisper eternal truths that we pick up in echoes from Bible texts like these ending lines from “The Sacred Fish”:

“Better is one day in his boats
than thousands elsewhere” p. 19.

and these bits from “The Dogs” (obstacles, challenges, troubles):

“I want to tell them to move
to pick them up and throw them into the sea
like a mustard tree
or a handful of mountain” p. 26.

What I like about these poems is the way Martin has made the ideas his own by bringing in elements of his generation. In the poem “Something” (about music) the title evokes the song by the Beatles and the poem contains the line “his guitar gently weeps” p. 36.

In “On the Latest Impending Doom” which, the notes tell us, got their inspiration from Lewis’s poem “On the Atomic Bomb’ Martin gives his dooms a 21st century feel:

“So you’ve found a new engine of doom
running on fossil fuel …
Who needs new science to kindle dread
whether coastal cities be blooded or simply left behind” p. 66.

Most of the poems are free verse. There are a few sonnets (though not of the traditional rhyme scheme, iambic pentameter variety) and one very traditional rhymer. Still, Martin’s crafting fascinates me. He uses lots of rhyme—perfect and imperfect within and at the ends of lines that sing to each other across stanzas unifying the piece as well as making it a pleasure to read aloud. “After Evensong” is one such that I thought had an almost lullaby quality to it:

“Like cranky toddlers we can fight
so long not strong enough to stay vertical
or resist rubbing our eyes
although wise men know darkness is deep
& in the end the dark is right

For soon we all are ravished by sleep…” p. 63.

I could go on about the titled sections and the way titles of each are hidden within poems, the whimsical wordplay within many of the selections and the wonderful note of hope on which the book ends. Having found so many goodies on a quick read-through, I now want to return and reread to see what other surprises this collection will yield in both the categories of idea and technique.

Conspiracy of Light reminds me of the moon. In reflecting the sun’s light, the moon shows off its own topography. In the same way Martin’s poems reflecting on the brilliance of Lewis, reveal the man who wrote them.

(A shorter version of this review was first published in Faith Today.)

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Conspiracy of Light is part of the Poiema Series of poetry books from Cascade Books of which Martin is the series editor. It also includes Scape by Luci Shaw, Gold by Barbara Crooker, Second Sky by Tania Runyan,  and Particular Scandals by Julie L. Moore.

You might like to try writing a poem for Martin’s blog The 55 Project. Poems need to connect in some way with Isaiah 55. Visit the blog and look in the right sidebar under “Join The Project” for contact information.

D. S. Martin also blogs Christian poetry from all eras, featuring a new poem and poet every Monday at his blog Kingdom Poets.

 

 
 

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That Said (review)

That Said - Jane ShoreMother’s Day is just around the corner. In one of the happy serendipities of life, a book my son gave me for Christmas in 2012 caught my eye about a week ago. Its jacket flap marked how far I’d read in it—about halfway through. I decided to read on. It turns out That Said: New and Selected Poems by Jane Shore was the perfect book to get me in the mood for Mother’s Day!

Shore is a poet I’d never heard of. I don’t know why because she’s accessible and an interesting story teller—my kind of poet. Her poems are mostly autobiographical about her life in New York. Her parents had a dress shop. They were part of a lively Jewish community. The adult Shore has a child of her own.

She writes frankly about her own mother, with whom she had a perhaps typical daughter-mother hot-cold relationship.

“When my mother got into a bad mood,
brooding for days,
clamping her jaw shut, refusing to talk …
… I’d call her ‘Mrs. Hitler’ under my breath”

(“Mrs. Hitler” – p. 182.)

In her job, Shore’s mother was consumed with clothes. At thirteen, Jane lusted after the size three petites in her mother’s store. They would make her the best-dressed girl in school. But her mom would have none of it, coming home from Little Marcie’s Discount Clothes instead with an armful of clothes that had razored-out labels. Shore concludes:

“She was the queen;
I the heir.
It would have been a snap for her
to make me the best-dressed girl in school.
But for me she wanted better…

‘If I give you all these dresses now,
what will you want when you’re fifteen?’”

(“The Best Dressed Girl in School” pp. 188-191.)

Shore is a mother herself. In “The Bad Mother” she tells how she played with her daughter Emma, letting her be the Princess, the Mermaid and Cinderella while she was the vain stepmother, the fairy godmother, and the wicked witch.

“Once I played the heroine,
Now look what I’ve become.
I am the one who orders my starving child
out of my house and into the gloomy woods,
my resourceful child, who fills her pockets
with handfuls of crumbs or stones
and wanders into a witch’s candy cottage.”

(“The Bad Mother” pp. 159-161.)

Shore also writes about one of motherhood’s bitter experiences, losing a pregnancy.

MISSING
These children’s faces printed on a milk carton–
a boy and a girl
smiling for their school photographs;
each head stuck atop a column
of vital statistics:
date of birth, height and weight, color
of eyes and hair.

On a carton of milk.
Half gallon, a quart.
Of what use is the body’s
container, the mother weeping milk or tears.

No amount of crying will hold it back
once it has begun its journey
as you bend all night over the toilet,
over a fresh bowl of water.
Coins of blood splattering the tile floor
as though a murder had been committed.

read the rest here…

After her mother died Shore grieved. She takes us with her in the poem “My Mother’s Mirror” where she talks about dividing up her mother’s things with her sister. She inherits her mother’s mirror.

“Now at fifty,
I stare into her mirror
glazed with our common face,
the face I’ll pass down to my daughter
who watches from behind me
with the same puzzled look I had
when I watched my mother
out of the corner of her eye
watching me.”

(“My Mother’s Mirror” pp. 208-210.)

For those of us who are noticing how our mother’s physical characteristics are now being bequeathed to us and our daughters, “My Mother’s Foot” will bring a chuckle of recognition:

“Putting on my socks I noticed,
on my right foot an ugly bunion and hammertoe.
How did my mother’s foot
become part of me? I thought I’d buried it
years ago with the rest of her body…”

(“My Mother’s Foot  – pp. 238,239.)

That Said, New and Selected Poems (2012) is a collection that starts with the newest poems and then circles back to include poems from Shore’s previously published books dating as far back as 1977. This collection reminds me a bit of some verse novels. After reading these writings that span so many years, I feel like I know Shore, her mom and dad, her daughter and her Scrabble-playing family.

Stanley Plumly’s cover endorsement sums up this collection well: “Shore’s poem narratives have long been praised for their juxtapositions of wit and quiet wisdom. Yet her poems of these past three and a half decades also speak through a Talmudic knowledge as ancient as the archetype. Her work is deep because its small worlds become so whole, exacting, and exclusive.”

Thank you, Jane Shore, for validating many of my feelings about my own mother and reminding me of how mothering is a circle of nurturing and being nurtured. You have enriched this year’s Mother’s Day for me with the experience and insight of your writings.

Sorry but only one of the poems I quote snippets of is online. However, a collection of other poems from That Said are on THIS PAGE.

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Poetry Friday LogoThis post is part of Poetry Friday, where you’ll find lots more poetry and poetry-related stuff for kids and adults too. This week’s PF is deliciously hosted by Jama at Jama’s Alphabet Soup (who will enjoy Jane Shore’s mother’s recipe for “Shit Soup” (HERE, fifth poem down).

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Book Reviews

 

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The Crafty Poet (review)

The Crafty Poet: A Portable WorkshopThe Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop by Diane Lockward

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Not all poetry prompts are created equal. Diane Lockward’s are some of my favorites. I love the way she observes the poems from which she gets her inspiration (often with a dash of her sly humor), and how she leaves no stone unturned in delivering to us a range of places to look (within and around us) for something to write about.

But The Crafty Poet: A Portable Workshop is much more than just prompts. It contains craft tips from established poets as well as explanations of how specific poems came to be written—the wisdom of fifty-six contemporary poets in all! On top of that, it has sample poems written for all but the bonus prompts, to give us an idea of how others tackled these prompts.

The craft tips, poem explanations, and prompts are organized in ten categories that include Generating Material, Diction, Sound, Voice, Revision, and Writer’s Block. Each piece is concise and to-the-point, reflecting its origin as part of Lockward’s  free monthly newsletter (Interested in subscribing? You can do that from Lockward’s blog, Blogalicious.)

This is a book for both new and experienced poets. It’s poetry how-to plus the wisdom of one’s clan (poetry clan) all in a tidy 280-page volume.

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Posted by on December 9, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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Bright Scarves of Hours (review)

Bright Scarves of HoursBright Scarves of Hours by Diane Tucker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Nothing is wasted on Diane Tucker. From the lyrics of an Arlo Guthrie song to a dull November day, a wait for the bus to the sounds of someone bathing in the next room—it’s all poem material, and woven into her Bright Scarves of Hours collection (Palimpsest Press, 2007). I met Diane at Write! Vancouver where we swapped poetry books. I’m sure I got the better end of that deal.

Tucker’s 84-page, 56-poem collection is divided into hours of the day, nine sections beginning with “9 A.M. Drop the children off at school” and ending with “7 P.M. Go out. Come home.” I had favorites in each section, from “Yellow Vinyl 1972” where the 1970s Arlo Guthrie lyric “Good mornin’ America how are ya? has the little girl thinking about Daddy who “… is somewhere in his truck in America” (p. 12), to “sleep” where sleep ensnares and holds us under its watery surface:

“Dreams are the mer-people ….
They let you believe, while you are here, that you are one of them, and that your legs, awkward as peeled sticks, will never return…” (p.75).

I love how many of these poems illuminate ordinary things:
– the fine line between summer and fall – “summer’s end” and “august 30.”
– the memories of summer in November – “november 28: in the shower.”
– the significance of rain – “rain reunion.”
– the way a church organist’s hands embody art and worship – “praying for the organist.”
– a boy and his dog playing outside on a bleak November day – “vacant lot, november.”

Several poems were memorable to me for their strong voice. “door” for example, begins:

Stop being that brilliant door.I hate every golden inch
of the scented wood of which you’re made” (p. 29).

And here’s a bit of “going” which begins:

“Stars, I let you go.
Don’t stand in formation for me.
Retire below the horizon.

and ends:

“if you know what’s good for us
what’s good at all, run the other way” (p. 41).

But probably my favorite of the favorites are the poems full of the grace of compassion. Like “legit” where Tucker asks,

“What makes a kid legit?”

and answers

“Breath I figure ….
Even before breath we qualified,
all of us swimming in the same sea” (p. 49).

and “no ugly people”:

“… this planet is peopled
with perfectly kiss-sized chins
a world of solid jaws waiting
to be cupped, enfolded
between two hands …
….
in every square inch of us
beauty to stop your breath” p. 45.

With fresh language and surprising twists Tucker weaves, or should I say knits, magic through every scarf of every hour, onto every page.

I hope she puts out another book soon, although I hear she’s been busy writing plays—has one about to hit the stage this winter. I guess “the failed actress” who

“… is a decorated papier mache girl
a hot piñata full of candy …”

gets to

“… spill her sweet guts out and see
them scrabble on the ground for bits of her”

after all (from “failed actress,” p. 16).

 Bright Scarves of Hours is available for purchase from Palimpsest Press as well as from Amazon.ca.

Read some of Diane’s poems online (none of these poems is in the book):

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Posted by on August 17, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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