Noisy, Wild, and Fire-Breathing: a Discussion on Dragons, Westeros, and Storytelling

panel again

On September 4th, “Noisy, Wild, and Extremely Troublesome: Lectures in the Arts and Humanities” kicked off the new school year with an engaging discussion about the smash hit HBO series Game of Thrones, based off the series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George RR Martin. Presented by UMF English professors Eric Brown, Kristen Case, Daniel Gunn, and Michael Johnson, the panel and the audience joined in a rigorous analysis of the show’s narrative, storytelling, and its mysterious appeal to a vast audience; comparing these elements from past seasons with the current season.

Beginning with Johnson, he expressed that his favorite part of the show was its tendency to draw on multiple genres. Case explained that she is not typically a fan of fantasy, however, Game of Thrones drew her in with its exploration of power (powerful characters, power dynamics, etc.), as well as their fight scenes. She claims that Game of Thrones fight scenes are “compelling,” adding that “the cinematography, the music, the imagery, it all builds tension and you can feel the anxiety that comes with the action.”

Gunn enjoys the excess that comes with Game of Thrones. As a reader of the series before watching the show, he was thrilled to see the excess of the world of Westeros brought to life on the screen. Like Case and Johnson, Brown was also interested in the layers of genre. He appreciated that the first season was lowkey on the fantasy register, allowing fans outside of the genre to approach it easily. He went on to say that the series “has advanced beyond the books,” which he would go on to explain is both a good and bad thing for the series as a whole.

The audience chimed in with their own responses to how they got into the phenomenon. Many agreed that it was the compelling storylines that drew them in, and others enjoyed that the world of Westeros felt immersive and complete. However, fans who read the books argued that this translation is lost in the show.

One audience member explained what he feels is the biggest downfall of the series, with which everyone agreed: “Martin wasn’t done when the TV adaptation started. He gave them an outline to work with, he’s nowhere near done the books. What people like about Game of Thrones is the expansiveness, but now Martin has to wrap up the series in two books.”

Case reiterated this point, stating that the narrative was “slightly clumsy this season” because they need to tie things up. The storytelling and consistency has suffered as a result: for example, travelling across vast distances now happens in a matter of an episode instead of a season. Brown agreed, arguing that at this point, “the series is spinning out plot after plot, it’s going too fast to keep up with.”

Despite this season’s fall in storytelling, the panel and audience agreed that the characters and cinematography come together to create an intensity that draws audiences closer to their screens. “We really see the characters transform, like Jamie [Lannister], who went from kind of a lazy heartthrob into this respected war hero,” Case claims, “and Daenerys, who at the beginning was a child sold into marriage, and she’s now the Queen of Dragons. The character arcs are compelling.”

As Game of Thrones comes to a close next season, our panel and audience will be glued to their screens to see how it the epic adventure ends. According to Johnson, whenever that end may come, “we plan to be back in Lincoln for another discussion!”

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Looking back at Spring 2017

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Brunch for graduating senior English majors

 

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Richard Southard’s presentation, part of his Wilson Scholars presentation on literary adaptation and the art of magic.

Symposium Day Highlights

Game Day in the Proto-Science Fiction Class

The Surrealist Salon

At the inaugral Sigma Tau Delta (English Honor Society) meeting.

 

 

Adaptation and Magic

 

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Literary Adaptation and the Art of Magic” was a performance and presentation by Creative Writing and English major Richard Southard. With the support of a Wilson Scholarship in Spring 2017, Richard worked on a scholarly and creative project focused on adaptations of literature to magic. He developed a set of card magic routines adapted from a variety of literary texts (e.g., a card trick based on John Keats’s “The Human Seasons), which he performed, and he also gave a presentation about the history of magical adaptations of literature and about his own process of adaptation. Since card magic works best in a more intimate setting, for the first fifteen-twenty minutes of the event small groups (4-5 people) from the audience joined Richard on stage, where performed one card trick for each group.

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You can experience Richard’s magic for yourself through videos posted on YouTube, including his adaptation of John Keats’ “The Human Seasons.”

The New Commons Project

English majors at UMF should be excited by the arrival this fall of the first stages of The New Commons Project, supported by a Mellon Grant, which will endeavor to build a collection of 24 cultural works (novels, plays, poems, graphic novels, essays, paintings, songs, symphonies, albums, films, videos, performances, philosophical treatises, scientific works, manifestos…). Over a five year period, each of those works will provide a focus for discussion and programming on the UMF campus.

The works will be nominated for inclusion via short videos. Anyone living in the state of Maine can make and submit a video nominating a favorite work. Submissions are already open.

UMF English major Astra Pierson has already submitted her video!

 

From the press release about the program:

UMF awarded prestigious Mellon Foundation grant

FARMINGTON, ME  (July 10, 2017)—University of Maine at Farmington President Kathryn A. Foster is proud to announce that the University has received a $500,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This prestigious award will be used to support the creation of a New Commons Project in Public Humanities and Arts for UMF and the Maine community.

“Over the course of our history from the 1860s to the present, UMF has championed humanities and arts as a cornerstone of a quality education to help individuals broaden their horizons and contribute to their community,” said Foster. “We are honored by this significant Mellon Foundation award and the opportunity to spotlight a collection of wide-ranging works selected by and for our Maine community.”

Through the next five years, the New Commons Project will help give voice to the role of UMF as a public liberal arts university and as a cultivator and steward of artistic and creative works and the communal ideas they bring to life. Starting in fall 2017, UMF will work with the Maine Humanities Council, schools, libraries and other groups to solicit video entries about works of literature, philosophy, history, music, art, film, theatre and other arts and humanities disciplines that merit a place in a New Commons today.

“The creation of a statewide digital ‘commons’ of artistic, cinematic, historical, literary, and musical work has the potential to become a national model for public liberal arts colleges and state humanities councils who create, share, and disseminate knowledge in behalf of the common good,” said Eugene Tobin, a senior program officer for Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities at the Mellon Foundation.  “We are very pleased to support this thoughtful and innovative contribution to the public humanities and the people of Maine.”

From the wide array of works nominated and posted to the on-line Commons, a project advisory group will select 24 works—classic or contemporary, diverse and compelling—for special use and value to the Maine community in the 21st Century. People on campus and throughout the state will come together on-line and in-person to study, discuss and draw insight and inspiration from these varied and meaningful works.

“As a public institution, UMF celebrates a legacy of providing the community access to the rich experience and exchange of ideas that are found in the arts and humanities,” said Eric Brown, UMF provost and vice president for academic affairs. “The Commons Project invites creation and consideration of our cultural commons found in novels, paintings, films, symphonies, essays, poems, graphic novels, sculptures, treatises, songs or any other artistic and humanistic medium.”

For each work, UMF will host a number of open-to-the-public events, including a faculty-led seminar, public lecture by a prominent scholar, and workshop. In collaboration with local school districts and the Maine Humanities Council, the New Commons Project will coordinate community engagement projects around each work. A digital portal will be established to provide the community with access to extensive online resources. A Digital Commons course will be available to students in which they will work with a Public Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow to create portal content that will be accessible statewide.

“A commons is something that belongs to all of us. It represents a public good, like clean air or knowledge, from which we all benefit. We want the New Commons Project to embody that idea,” said Kristen Case, UMF Associate Professor of English and Director of the New Commons Project. “We can’t wait to see what works of art, literature, and ideas our diverse community believes we need to consider together here and now.”

For more about the New Commons Project, including how to submit nominations, visit the website at http://newcommons.umf.maine.edu/.

 

Local Bookseller Offers Student Discounts

Devaney, Doak, & Garrett Booksellers Present UMF Student Reward Program

Hi there. I’d like to take moment to introduce DDG Booksellers’ new University of Maine-Farmington Student Reward Program. In 2017 few personal choices have more power to affect the health of our local communities than where we choose to spend our money. We recognize that many college students have potent reasons to be price conscious, but that they are also conscious of the value of supporting businesses which support their communities. DDG has been Farmington’s Independent Bookstore for over 26 years. Our commitment to community is evident in the national and statewide awards we have won recognizing our community outreach to schools. While the UMF Bookstore has ceased carrying books and become an ecampus.com affiliate, DDG remains committed to providing a physical place to carry, sell and discuss books.

To make supporting a community business with your course book purchases possible we are establishing a new student reward program which works with UMF Faculty members who wish their students to have the choice to buy their books at an independent bookstore. The way it works is simple. Students who enroll will receive both a 10% discount on their course book purchases and a 5% customer reward card on all store purchases given after after every ten books bought here. You can sign up by email or when you stop by the bookstore to pick up your course books. Thanks. We really appreciate your business.
(Please share widely.)

Difficult Women Book Review

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Difficult Women is a collection of short stories by Roxane Gay that explores the lives of different women living in the United States. I chose this book because of my love for short stories and also because I thought it would be interesting to review a collection of multiple stories instead of just one.

As the title suggests, these women are not what one may think of as average or normal. In all of the short stories, there are women who find themselves in difficult situations that allow the reader to see why these people act the way they do. These stories are very hard-hitting and touch on sensitive, emotional topics that some readers may not be comfortable with. The story “I Will Follow You” describes two sisters who were abducted, as children, by a man who raped them continuously over a long period of time. This plot point is not immediately obvious but is brought up later as we see how the adult sisters continue to cope with their past trauma. Another story, “La Negra Blanca”, shows the conflict between a young stripper and an older, rich, white male who is far too pushy.

These more realistic short stories in Gay’s collection cover main themes of violence, sexual trauma, and loss. Gay writes about these events in a way that doesn’t use people’s trauma for entertainment but provides explanation and insight. She writes very bluntly at times, which I think helps to deliver these tough topics in a way that feels genuine. In most of the stories there are descriptions of sexual encounters between people, and while I think it makes the lives of women more realistic and bold, I sometimes feel that this structure is used too much. There is also a great balance in these stories between the past and the present, and Gay weaves these two together well to leave the reader trying to figure out what will happen. In these more lifelike stories, I find that this form, while well-balanced, is sometimes repetitive.

That being said, Gay breaks up these more realistic stories with a style of magical realism. After the incredibly heavy opening story, “I Will Follow You,” is “Water, All Its Weight,” which describes the sad life of a woman who has an unusual problem. No matter where she goes, she is followed by water that leaks through the ceiling above her and creates mold. Others in the story find it hard to be in her presence because there is a constant dampness that seems to seep into their bones and drives them away. Another, “Requiem for a Glass Heart,” follows the life of a couple, the glass woman and the stone thrower, who live together in a glass house with their glass son. My personal favorite was the longest of these mystical tales, “The Sacrifice of Darkness.” The narrator is a woman who is married to the son of a coal miner who was filled with so much darkness from his profession that he flew up and consumed the sun. The narrator falls in love with the son, who is ostracized for being related to the man who took the sun away. There is hope at the end when their child is born and light begins to return to the sky.

I enjoy the impossibility of magical realism in Difficult Women. Gay writes very convincingly in this style and uses it as another way to tackle heavy topics. The writing, particularly in “The Sacrifice of Darkness” is fairytale-esque and pleasant to read. I felt that for these more mystical kinds of stories, there was never a clear ending. I understand that short stories do not need to be clear cut and tied up by the end, but there was too much openness at the end for my liking.

Overall, Difficult Women was a great read. While I sometimes had to take a break after more intense stories, I was always excited to pick it up and keep going. The stories were not meant to simply justify why difficult women act the way they do, it is an acceptance of all kinds of women and their situations in this modern world. This book would be good for someone who wants to read about well developed female characters and unusual scenarios. I would not recommend this book to someone who may be sensitive to topics of sexual assault and rape, or someone who cannot read graphic descriptions of sexual encounters. I would recommend reading this book with feminist ideology in mind because some of the stories are more about commentary on how things are rather than how they should be.

Difficult Women

Roxane Gay

258 pages. Published by Grove Press. Hardcover $25.00

Caps, Coitus, and Caipirinhas

Martha Gellhorn, her late ex-husband, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Hunter Thompson walk into a bar. Gellhorn orders a mojito, Hemingway demands gin, Marquez cracks a bottle of local beer, and Thompson loudly asks to be shown the bottle of Wild Turkey winking at him from behind the bar. They’ve traversed time and space to descend on this little bar on Chicago’s South Side. Thompson thinks about the gun in his belt. Hemingway thinks about the one in his hand. But they haven’t come to shoot, drink, and reminisce about the golden age of print journalism. No, they’ve come to fulfill a higher purpose: picking out an author and novel to carry their legacy on into the 21st century. Someone whose penchant for quick, incisive, dynamic narrative and the subtle beauty of the language can weave a story full of romance, intrigue, and foreign affairs. This author is Idra Novey, and this novel is Ways to Disappear.

Blistering in pace but somehow leisurely in its sentence structure, Idra Novey’s debut novel has made an immediate mark on the literary community. Former contributor to The New Yorker and Professor of Literature at Trinity College Francisco Goldman, quoted on the homepage of Novey’s website, described it as “the most sublime novel I’ve read in a long time” (1). The novel also appeared on the New York Times’ editor’s choice list, and Kirkus called it a “delightful and original Tour de Force” (1). Few authors could dream of bursting onto the scene with such glaring intensity; even Thompson’s The Rum Diary is hotly rivaled by this book.

Novey’s first outing in original prose after a career of translations and poetry collections, Ways to Disappear tells the story of Emma Neufeld, a Portuguese-to-English translator living in Philadelphia. Talented, ambitious, and impulsive, Emma lives with Miles, her boyfriend of five years, working exclusively on translating the work of enigmatic Brazilian novelist Beatriz Yagoda. The novel begins with a single page describing Yagoda climbing into a tree with a heavy suitcase and promptly disappearing. When the news of her author’s disappearance reaches Emma, she leaves Miles to his own devices and takes off for Rio, determined to track down the whereabouts of her idol.

Time flies for us as readers, Novey’s often fleeting chapters flying off the pages faster than I can turn them. Once in Rio, Emma makes the acquaintance of Flamenguinho, a loan shark who makes it perfectly clear to our hero that Yagoda owes him a massive sum of money, and that she had better turn up soon, or else. With this information, Emma seeks out Raquel and Marcus, Yagoda’s children whose starkly disparate personalities bring out Novey’s uncanny ability to create tension in a scene. Raquel, whose eyes “were small and suspicious, her default expression one of displeasure”, and Marcus, whose gaze is described as “sensual and sleepy”, team up with Emma to find a way out of the situation they’ve found themselves in. A wealthy publishing house, an online poker addiction, a severed ear; a torrid, if not painfully predictable, love affair; this adventure has it all.

One of my favorite aspects of this novel is Novey’s penchant for time and place. Throughout the novel, we’re greeted with perfect details of just how Brazilian this story is. Constant mentions of cachaça and brigadeiros, reference after reference to the blazing sun, and a nagging reminder that getting the police involved will only make things worse stick the reader right in the heart of Rio. Novey also employs the broadcast of two radio DJs chiming in every ten or fifteen chapter to frame the story from an outside perspective. All this put together makes for an intensely localized novel. So deep-seated are the references to Brazilian culture that my Brazilian-descended girlfriend has just about reached her tipping point with my stupid questions. She couldn’t believe I didn’t know what a caipirinha was.

In the thick of the novel, Emma recalls a story Yagoda once told her about a man who was killed by a creeping blue fungus—a story which both captures the overarching theme of Ways to Disappear and flashes Novey’s talent for the beauty of language:

“An old man got into bed with the only book he’d ever owned and found that a blue fungus had begun to bloom over the words. The man tried to pick off the fungus with his fingernails. He knew the sentences by heart but he still opened the book for the pleasure of the letters, of seeing them form the words he already knew. Yet the more fungus he scraped off, the bluer his hands became. By the time someone from the village found the old man deceased in his bed, they couldn’t tell where the fungus on the pages ended and the old man’s blued hands began.”

 
At its core, Ways to Disappear is a look at the inner workings of a translator’s mind; an attempt to encapsulate what it means to let a text or series of texts totally consume you. With a skilled tongue and gift for delivering high-energy narrative in a graceful, methodical way, Idra Novey has crafted a story any of the previously mentioned authors would read with pride. Fans of criminal intrigue, foreign adventure, forbidden romance and the frustrating reality of siding always with one’s passion would do themselves right by seeking out this book straight away.

 

WAYS TO DISAPPEAR

By Idra Novey

258 pp. Little, Brown & Company. $25.

 

 

Swimming Lessons – Book Review

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Claire Fuller’s book Swimming Lessons is a story of love, loss, and family dysfunction. I read Fuller’s first novel Our Endless Numbered Days recently and I loved it so much I had to read the second. Both her books are adult fiction, and are not for the faint of heart. Both books deal with intense issues, but Fuller has a gift in writing about such issues in a really delicate way.

Swimming Lessons is about a woman named Ingrid who disappeared eleven years ago. She went into the water and never came out.  Ingrid is the wife of the famous author Gil Coleman who wrote the book A Man of Pleasure and is the mother to Flora and Nan. Before she disappeared, she wrote letters to her husband and left them in the books he has collected over the years. Gil collects books with marginalia in them, for he has a passion for seeing what people experience and think while reading. The story is one that alternates chapters, meaning that every other chapter is a letter from Ingrid to Gil, and the alternate chapter takes place in the present in the perspective of Flora, Ingrid’s youngest daughter. In the present, Gil has taken a nasty fall off a promenade because he thought he saw Ingrid and his daughters have come home to take care of him. While home with their father, they discover that his collection of books has gotten out of hand and that he may be more ill than they thought. In the other chapters and through Ingrid’s letters, the reader gets to experience the relationship between Ingrid and Gil which, I’m just warning you, is not a particularly pleasant one. Just as an small example, the way that Ingrid and Gil meet is through college; Gil is Ingrid’s English professor and is twice her age. From there, the reader knows that their relationship is doomed from the start. She starts her first letter with stating that she will be speaking her truth, and boy does she. Within her letters, the reader gets to really experience the emotions of Ingrid and the love and hate she feels towards her husband and the happiness and heartbreak she experiences in those years with him.

I loved this book. From the very beginning, I was hooked. I could not put it down. The concept of the book, the way that Fuller handles the issues that arise within the pages, and her wonderful way of ending each chapter perfectly all add up to a spectacular read. Fuller also alternated chapters in her other novel Our Endless Numbered Days and her talent for this method of writing has not diminished. While reading, I felt everything that all of the characters felt even if I had not experienced what they had experienced. Fuller’s talent for delicately talking about difficult and sensitive issues is second to none, and her ability to allow her characters to show their true selves, no matter how damaged or horrible they are, makes the connection to the characters so much stronger. Even if I dislikes a character, I still wanted to know more about them which is a skill that I have not encountered in many writers. Claire Fuller is a writer who has mastered the ability to drive the desire of the reader to figure out the unknown but have fun and enjoy the ride to finding it out.

If you’re looking for a book that has a happy ending or a book with redemption, this is not the book for you. If that’s what you’re looking for, I don’t think Claire Fuller is the author for you. She tackles hard subjects and issues, as I’ve repeated many times, and if you are a person who does not like hard subjects, do not read this book. However, if you are a person who enjoys a strong connection to characters, mystery, and knowing what it’s like to be in a situation that is less than ideal and having no easy way out, this is the book for you. Fuller’s writing is beautiful and emotional and wonderful, and if you are like me and enjoy a book where you’re not sure what’s going to happen, read this book. You will not be disappointed.

Swimming Lessons 

Claire Fuller

356 pages. Tin House Books. Hardcover, $25.95.

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared –Book Review

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In his memoir, 100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How my Brother Disappeared, Kim Stafford pieces together fragmented memories of the life of his brother as a means of understanding and coming to terms with his suicide. The memoir, separated into four “books” begins with memories the author has of the last few months of his older brother Bret’s life, leading up to the moment he took his life. Stafford muses on the long held belief he has been holding onto that he could have prevented Bret’s death. What follows is a series of anecdotal memories from the two boy’s lives growing up together, and their journeys into adulthood, both together and separate, that have become meaningful to Stafford in his attempt to understand and grapple with the loss of his brother, and closest ally in life. Through these memories, we witness Stafford’s journey to rediscover the memories of his brother that have been clouded by his death. A large majority of the memoir consists of Stafford’s childhood memories both directly and indirectly involved with Bret. Through these memories, we see the differences between Kim and Bret, having Bret in Kim’s life was the single most integral factor in shaping him into the person he became in adulthood. In one section of the book, Stafford describes a memory in which he and his brother had ventured away from their boy scout camping trip, on a solo hike up a mountain, connected by a length of rope tied between them for safety. The image of the rope connecting them becomes symbolic to the reader as more and more of their brotherly bond is reviled, and we understand the deep connection that they felt with each other growing up.

As we read, and more and more memories of friendship and understanding from the boys’ childhood surface, our recollections from the beginning of the book become all the more haunting. As Stafford muses in the opening sections of his memoir, in Bret’s final days on earth, he felt completely alone and in a place that Kim and the rest of their family was unable to reach or even to detect. As Stafford muses on Bret’s behavior in his last weeks, he discovers changes in him that only became visible after it was too late. In the later sections of the book, Stafford reflects on his time with Bret saying “In my life, I observe–in both myself and others–a different habit: we talk about different things at the same time. This is marked by the relative rarity of the following sentence in the flow of our conversations: “Tell me more.” When I remember life with my brother, always eager to tell him what I was accomplishing, I said this too rarely.”

The experience of reading this book was not at all what I expected it to be. I thought the book would be about having a loved one with depression and experiencing their suicide. The book was this in some way, but it was not at all a story of Bret’s death, but rather a story of his life, and for this reason I found the book all the more compelling. As Stafford reflects in the afterward of the book, “I set out to write the story of how my brother disappeared–from the world, and from my family’s conversation–but by writing I find he begins to reappear as a rich dimension in my life. If I did not listen deeply enough to my brother when he was alive, I have been listening since he died.” This assertion that Stafford makes at the end of the memoir was a clarifying moment for me as a reader, who was looking for some kind of unity in the memories that were being recounted. In a way, I feel this is one of the things that makes Stafford’s work so masterful. I did not understand the lesson he had learned, and in turn was passing off to me, until the final page of the book.

For this reason, at times some of the parts of the memoir felt a bit disjointed. Many of the memories that Stafford chose to include did not even include Bret, but in some ways I think this worked for the type of story he was trying to tell. By the end of the book, my understanding as a reader is that the creation of this book, and the compilation of these recollections from the author’s past worked as both a tribute to the life of his brother, but also as means of imparting the truth he has found in these memories. For Stafford, the book is a way of as he puts it,“talking bravely,” which has been something he has recognized as a weakness in not only his own family, but the world at large.

While the message of this book and its lasting impact were insightful and impactful, there were some moments in the narrative that felt inauthentic in the sense of memoir writing. There were moments in the narrative where I felt as if Stafford was blurring the lines between what he felt in the moment, and his feelings about that moment as an adult living in the present. In some cases, it felt like he projected his reflective musings onto his earlier self, often making it seem as if he had found that particular wisdom in the moment, when it seemed more likely that the true meaning of the moment came to him in later contemplation. At times it was difficult to distinguish the difference between what he understood in the moment, and what he now understands the moment to mean.

That being said, the strong aspects of Stafford’s style in the memoir far outweigh the weak. The stylistic choice to divide the story into individual memories made it easy and enjoyable to read. Overall, I think this is the sort of book that anyone can appreciate. In fact, I think for many reasons, the narrative that Stafford has created is one that many people need to hear in this day and age, when hatred and suffering are such prevalent parts of our day to day lives.

Interestingly, I discovered this book during an author panel at the 2017 AWP writer’s conference that was centered around the idea of empathy. In discussion, Stafford mentioned that after writing this book, a friend of his read it and then gave it to both of his sons to read. He felt that it was a type of “medicine” he could give them to help them in the world we live in today. In many respects I think the purpose of this book is to be a kind of medicine for an audience that is programed to hide their vulnerability. Through revealing his own failings, Stafford both atones for the lack of vulnerability he shared with his brother, and coaches his reader on how to find this kind of openness in themselves.

100 Tricks Every Boy Can Do: How My Brother Disappeared

Kim Stafford

200 pages. Published by Trinity University Press. $16.95

Cliché Without the Cliché: A Review of Lang Leav’s “Memories”

         Lang Leav has become a best-selling poet in the three years she’s been professionally writing. Since 2014 she has published three books of poetry and aside from the occasional book signing, has managed to keep her private life private. She runs a small blog on poetry and the release dates of upcoming books and begins each book with a small letter of introduction. Not much else can be said on Lang Leav; she spends her time jotting down real poems in her New Zealand home with her partner, and fellow poet, Michael Faudet.

The Lang Leav collection I chose to review is titled: Memories. Published in 2015 this collection of poetry is Leav’s third publication and includes pieces from her other two books as well as a few that are new. Her style can be described as personal, right down to the letter of introduction in the beginning. Her poetry centers around the themes of love and loss; both very heavy topics and topics close to the hearts of many people in this world. The danger in writing on love and loss is that it could wind up being a cliché sing-song piece of poetry. It could end up being page after page of the same old thing. Leav has a way of shaking up this worn out concept in the way she structures her poems and the images she uses to create a feeling. The poems in this collection shift back and forth between strictly structured pieces and pieces that flow as if they were prose. I chose the poetry of Lang Leav to review for the originality, how relatable, and the pure talent in her poetry.

Leav has a way of making a paragraph sound poetic. For example page 19 of Memories is where you find the collection’s namesake. The poem, entitled “Memories”, looks at first glance to be a simple paragraph; not poetry at all. But, reading the lines we can see inlaid rhyme such as “…Your mind pulls him to the foreground like a snapped rubber band. And you think of the line he drew in the sand, the one you can’t seem to put a foot past.” (19). While the lines are presented within a paragraph they, like many of the others, set a smooth poetic tone to the piece; giving it the structural form of poetry. This poem is about loss, a simple idea that we have all felt at one moment or another. We know what it feels like to lose somebody but it isn’t a feeling most can put into words. At least, not original words but metaphors handed down to us. We can’t fully express what we feel, yet, in a simple paragraph looking poem its as if Leav has reached into the lives of each of us. “Memories” is the aftermath of loss and the ending sums up what it feels like to remember: ” And the world falls away and you’re exactly where you were on the last night you saw him, when he had his hands in your hair and his mouth on your neck and he never said a word about leaving.” (19). Leav is not afraid of the ideas of intimacy even in it’s most personal form. The ending of this poem gives me goose bumps and makes my voice shake, because that is the feeling. It isn’t a cliché metaphor but a real and powerful image of a memory.

Leav’s poetry is not all about loss. On page 123 there is a poem entitled “Us” that I will talk about briefly for its uniquely real and honest image of what love is. The images are domestic and natural. Things like napping, common forgetfulness and playful arguments over something as mundane as who puts in the DVD. This poem doesn’t showcase the flowers and chocolates and unending adoration that you see in romance movies. Instead, it embraces the normalcy and the love that comes with it. A true relationship that is complete with love. The lines that really captures this attitude come near the end:

“We argue over whose turn it is to put the DVD in the player. / Sometimes no one wins and we end up watching bad TV. / Which is never really a bad thing.” (123).

This line is what sums up Leav’s ability to truly relate to an audience and her unique way of portraying love in a way that is not cliché and embraces the hearts of readers.

While “Us” did have a more poetic form, with line breaks rather than a paragraph, Leav takes us to another format. One much more standard. “Wounded” on page 221 is composed of three four line stanzas with a syllable count of 5,4,4,4. The reason the sudden switches in format: from poetic prose, to free form, to strict structure, are so important is that they show the range of Leav’s grasp of poetic language. Such things combined with her ability to pull emotion from simple, real images and stay away from clichés though her subject matter begs for it, that’s what makes her poetry good.

As a lover of poetry I do read many poems. Most of them are long and complicated or short and seem nonsensical. Lang Leav’s poetry is neither. Her poetry is that which is meant to be read out loud either by yourself or with someone who wants to hear nothing but your voice. Memories fully captures what it is to both love and lose and many of my favorite poems can be found right in this book. I recommend this book for anyone who feels like they just don’t understand what they’re feeling; because maybe, just maybe, they’ll find an answer that isn’t a clichéd metaphor.

 

Memories

Lang Leav

243 pages, Andrews McMeel Publishing, $19.99