Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Review of The Healing Journey: How a Poor Chinese Village Girl became an American Healer, by Sue Maisano, PhD

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2018). ISBN: 9781942157236
A spiritual practitioner and healer that I am serving as book editor for emailed me a few days ago after attending a writer’s conference. “I got a literary agent,” she said. “But he says that Eat, Pray, Love memoirs are out. No one wants to hear your story.”
No one wants to hear your story. What a horrible view of things. Plus, it’s a falsehood. No one wants to hear your story. Nothing can be further from the truth.
Telling (and thereby owning) your story, to paraphrase Brené Brown, is one of the bravest things that anyone can do. Stories are the stuff of which we are made, as fundamental to our makeup as atoms and cells. Governments, religions, multinational corporations, and the military are expert storytellers. They have raised it to a high art (in collusion with the media), making it more necessary than ever for those with alternative, holistic, and healing views to tell their stories.
If anyone needs proof about the importance and value of story, they should read Dr. Maisano’s book. Heavily weighted to memoir, with self-help aspects reserved for the end, The Healing Journey is exactly as advertised in both title and subtitle.
It follows the classic three-act structure of the Hero’s Journey, as explicated by comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell decades ago, with a clear cycle of Separation (leaving China), Initiation (graduate schooling, marriage, children, and career paths), and Return (the part of the journey when the Hero shares what she has learned with the “village”).
In a time of controversy over immigration and the path to U.S. citizenship, Dr. Maisano tells an underdog’s tale of determination against all odds. From her childhood in China to her defying the predictions of the so-called experts and attending the best possible schools at each level of her education, The Healing Journey reminds us that the fundamentals we were taught (and perhaps I am showing my age here)—honesty, integrity, self-discipline, respect for family, and commitment to education—do bring to fruition our hopes and dreams.
The Separation of Maisano’s hero’s journey comes when she decides to go to America for her graduate work in biology. Every high school junior should read this section. She diligently ignores the advice of “friends” urging her to aim lower, identifies the right program, reaches out to its lead professor, and makes a case for herself. As with all her levels of schooling, Maisano did not test well on her entrance exams, so it was her commitment to her career path and persistence that got her into the school she wanted to attend.
From there it is a blur of marriage, three children, and the struggles that come with being a postdoctoral fellow with a small salary and long hours. This is the major arc of her Initiation into adulthood.
Along the way, she amasses considerable knowledge and experience that leads her toward a different path. This kind of decision—especially for a married mother of three with a new mortgage and a nervous husband—takes tremendous courage. It truly is the hero’s path. It is following one’s Bliss—sat chit ananda in Sanskrit. People often mistake the word Bliss to mean “easy” or “pleasantly spiritual,” but it is rarely easy to change paths, to start over, to say that all that came before was a Prologue to something new.
And what this new path leads to for Maisano, most importantly, is her Return. She wanted to do more to help people—to guide them in finding their passion and their path. To help them achieve their full potential, despite all odds. This book is just one aspect of her work.
These are the strengths of The Healing Journey and, as you can see, they are many. If you are struggling to find your path, or have found it and are unsure how to make the commitment to change direction and fully follow it, this is an excellent book for you.

People do want to—and need to—hear your story. Dr. Maisano has proven this once again, and done it in a very inspiring—and inspiriting—way.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review of Parting the Veil: How to Communicate with the Spirit World, by Stuart and Dean James-Foy

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2017). ISBN: 9781942157212
More people than ever before (at least in modern times) believe in the existence of ghosts. Popular polling organizations such as the Pew Research Center are reporting that as many as 50% of the population believe in ghosts and some 20% have actually seen one. Just twenty years ago, in the mid-nineties, this number was 9%.
The mid-nineties were also the time of Dionne Warwick hawking the Psychic Friends Network on late-night TV while Miss Cleo—and her fake Jamaican accent—solicited more laughs than legitimate interest in the fields of mediumship and psychic arts.
In the 2000s we had mediumship enter the mainstream consciousness through the TV shows Medium with Patricia Arquette and Ghost Whisperer with Jennifer Love Hewitt. John Edward also had his platform reading non-fiction show on TV and mediums such as James Van Praagh and Theresa Caputo (the “Long Island Medium”) were gaining a considerable following.
As a paranormal investigator and experiencer married to a gifted professional medium and father to a teenager who has seen ghosts at least since she was old enough to talk (which means probably before), I am interested in learning as much as I can about the art of mediumship. I have read several books by John Edward and was called upon to edit my wife’s recent book, Living the Intuitive Life: Cultivating Extraordinary Awareness.  My studies and experiences served me well when I was hired to write a screenplay based on the true story of the Berardis, a family of mediums from upstate New York.
My own psychic abilities are limited, but slowly developing. If the conditions are just right, I am able to see spirits, at least partially (normally just the head and a bit of one shoulder). I am also developing my clairaudience, which means to be able to hear spirits. Developing these skills not only helps me to better understand what my wife and daughter have experienced their entire lives, but also to become a better paranormal investigator.
Given these circumstances, I was eager to read Parting the Veil. It did not disappoint. The James-Foys have studied with the best mediums England has to offer, and—as demonstrated by their individual stories that open the book—they have been experiencers since childhood. They came organically into their vocation much like my wife, wanting to understand and enhance their natural abilities so they could help others.
Parting the Veil is truly a beginner’s guide, taking the reader and potential practitioner through a historical survey of mediumship from its roots in ancient times and the Spiritualism movement of the 1800s into modern times. The fundamentals of developing the art and craft are explained in accessible and encouraging language. Even if you do not want to do readings or hold séances, the early chapters will help your understanding of this often misunderstood and at times demonized field of practice. The exercises are conveniently blocked off in grey-scale boxes so they can be easily found and returned to as one continues to work with them.
Although I have used some form of each of the exercises in Parting the Veil for the better part of a decade (and the visualizations for even longer in my work as a theatre and creative writing teaching-artist), I was impressed with the tone and detail provided by the James-Foys. If you are like me, and have some prior experience, you will still find much of value here.
In the chapter “Laying the Foundation” there are excellent explanations and exercises for strengthening both your aura and chakras. Again, these are valuable practices for anyone wanting to live and full and healthy life, physically and spiritually.
As one would expect, the exercises become more challenging and complex as the book progresses. I appreciate the focus on not only opening oneself to spirit but closing the door for protection and mental rest as well. This emphasis gave me confidence when working with the exercises to open the third eye (something that has frightened me in the past) and to further develop my clairaudience (as a professional writer I am often bombarded with voices in my head; when I am not in a place to commune with spirit or the Muse, it is comforting to have the ability to turn that mechanism off). I shared the exercise on developing clairaudience with my wife and it enabled her to better receive the spoken messages from spirit during her readings with clients.
Chapters 7 and 8 offer exercises for meeting and working with your spirit guides and for meditating. Once again, these are essential tools for any spiritual practitioner. Through my training in shamanism and other spirit-world journeying techniques I have worked with similar exercises for nearly two decades and the James-Foys have infused their unique take on these exercises with a powerful energy. It is clear that their training and experience are both at a high level, steeped in tradition but also benefitting from their unique and complementary voices.
Next, the book provides descriptions of and instructions for using such tools as Ouija boards, scrying (dark) mirrors, table tipping, and séance trumpets. All of these tools have had their share of criticism through the years; the authors do an excellent job of addressing them point by point and offering thorough guidance in using these tools correctly and protecting yourself in the process. In the section on scrying mirrors they mention Rosemary Ellen Guiley (who also wrote the Foreword). Guiley is one of the world’s foremost experts on all things paranormal and spiritual. I have one of Guiley’s handmade scrying mirrors, along with her book, The Art of Black Mirror Scrying, and I recommend both to anyone interested in learning to use this powerful tool for spirit communication.
The remainder of the book looks at private and group readings and séances. This last section is particularly thorough, from the space needed to the types of people to invite, to the décor and timing of bathroom breaks.
If the Pew polls are any indicator, acceptance of mediumship and acknowledgment of life beyond the boundary of life and death will continue to grow, as will the demand for able practitioners to minister to the needs of those who wish to contact their deceased loved ones. I have seen first hand on many occasions the immense healing power of such contact.
If you are called to be a medium, I cannot imagine better initial guidance than that provided by Parting the Veil. And for those that wish to enhance their spiritual life and practice this book is also recommended.




Monday, April 23, 2018

Review of Weird Winged Wonders: The Twilight World of Cryptid Creatures, edited by Timothy Green Beckley

 (New Brunswick, NJ: Global Communications/Conspiracy Journal). ISBN: 9781606112489
Over the past few years, there have been dozens of documented sightings of flying humanoids over the city of Chicago, IL, reigniting interest among the general public in this phenomena, which has been a part of human art and culture since the earliest civilizations up through the well-known Mothman sightings on the Ohio River in the late 1960s.
I am what is referred to among crypto-zoologists and paranormal investigators as an “experiencer,” as is my wife. In August 2009, while exploring outside of Point Pleasant, WV, where the Mothman was first seen, we saw a flying humanoid cross the road in front of us. Since that time, we have also witnessed interdimensionals. All of these experiences are detailed in our upcoming book from Visionary Living.
I grew up at the Jersey Shore, near the fabled Pine Barrens, home of another winged cryptid—the Jersey Devil.
If you consider human fascination with dragons, griffons, gargoyles, angels, demons, and all manner of winged creatures, it is clear that there must be some truth in all of the mythology. Given the considerable number of witnesses—many who are police officers and others who are deemed by researchers as “highly credible”—it is clear that this isn’t all imagination. These can’t all be sandhill cranes, like university professors and other gatekeepers tried to convince the public about the Mothman, or mistake raptors and other birds of prey. There is something legitimate going on here, and some very reputable, seasoned researchers have been amassing data for decades.
For newcomers to the field, Weird Winged Wonders: The Twilight World of Cryptid Creatures is an excellent primer. Its authors cover the ancient Sumerians and Egyptians right up through the latest sightings over Chicago (October 27, 2017 being the last entry in a handy timeline). With such veterans of the subject as Beckley (his chapter on the Jersey Devil is a highlight of the collection), Brad Steiger, Allen Greenfield, and Steve Ward contributing chapters, the reader is getting the best from the best.
A mix of case studies, interview excerpts, and theory, Weird Winged Wonders’s diverse methodologies cover the subject from numerous angles—a practice absolutely essential in these types of investigations. Whether your interest is from a purely mythological point of view, from dragons to griffons, or from the flesh and blood versus interdimensional debate, there is something here to meet your focus. There is even a compendium of “aerial beings” compiled by Hercules Invictus.
One important aspect of the phenomena of flying cryptids is the debate over whether what people are seeing are some type of pterosaurs. Jonathan David Whitcomb contributes an excellent chapter on the subject, while Greenfield and Steiger’s chapters on the Thunderbird are essential reading.
For those readers interested in the Mothman, Greenfield and Ward provide the broad strokes to get you started. In addition, they situate the Mothman in the work of Gray Barker and John Keel, two of the foremost researchers in this field.
With the dimensions of a coffee table book, filled with newspaper clippings, eyewitness sketches, fantasy art, and lots of photos, Weird Winged Wonders should have a place on any paranormal researcher’s shelves. Many of the contributors have their own radio shows, and each chapter ends with a bio and list of works by the author, making this primer an entryway for going as deep as the read cares to.
Whether or not you are a cynic, skeptic, true believer, or experiencer, Weird Winged Wonders is a trip worth taking. And keep your eyes open next time you’re outside—you never know what you might see coming at you from the skies.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“Between Life and Death There is Nature”: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s Garden Metamorphosis

“Between Life and Death There is Nature”: A Review of Smoky Zeidel’s Garden Metamorphosis (Deltona, FL: Thomas-Jacob Publishing, LLC, 2018), ISBN-13: 978-0-9979517-4-5

Smoky Zeidel has a way with words. This five-time Pushcart nominee is able to plumb the depths of human experience with a simplicity of language that makes accessible what the philosophers, rhetoricians, and many poets render (at times on purpose) vague and therefore useless.
Garden Metamorphosis is much more than a book of poems (and a bonus short story that rends the heart); it is a meditation made in nature’s Cathedral—the garden. As Voltaire advised in Candide, we each must “tend our own garden.” Gardens have served for centuries as masterful metaphors for the soul, the human condition, and the mystical nature of Nature. Zeidel’s powerful poetry captures this alchemical mixture-in-a-bottle in book form, and the reader is wiser for the journey.
Monarch butterflies figure prominently in the collection, in both poems and the short story. The transformation of the butterfly (caterpillar, chrysalis, butterfly) is perhaps the most tried and true metaphor of all of the many nature metaphors that have graced the page from the author–mystic’s pen. It is the three-act model in action, a pattern that happens not once, but many times in a person’s life. It is proof that our lives are a process, a chance to continually move from “I am this” to “I am becoming something new.” Another core theme is the sacredness of the soil, the plant life, the bugs and beasts encountered when one is down in the dirt—rooted and connected, away from the brain-draining, connection-dampening technological construct into which so many of us are patched.
There is a lot of talk in recent years in the scientific world of entropy—the natural decay and death that drives all of existence. Playwright David Mamet has made it the center of his work and Dan Brown’s most recent novel, Origin, explores entropy in existence-critical ways for humankind. Zeidel advises in “Sacred Soil” that we to “celebrate decay.” She then asks:
“…when I die/bury my ashes in a garden…/and plant a tomato or orange tree/as my grave marker” so that she may become “sacred soil” and “nourish new growth.” Entropy in action.
Interdicted with the garden poems are poems that create a push and pull in the author’s life, from past to present and back, revolving around key people she has known (see “Guitar Man” and “My Father’s Trains”). Here again is the three-act structure at work—metamorphosis comes in stages, and Zeidel takes us to childhood, to young adulthood, and to the present. In “Wind,” stanza one ends with her “aged, arthritic hands” while the second stanza takes us back to when she was six. It is a poem about Kennedy’s death, and death is perhaps the ultimate metamorphosis—a theme prevalent in the poetry in these pages.
Zeidel is also working here with schisms and gaps—those created by or between such things as young/old, magic/logic, the safety of “grandmother’s arms”/the bombing of Aleppo. These are the ritual spaces for transformation.
All of this leads seamlessly to—and operates as a primer for—the short story “Transformed.” Reviewing Zeidel’s prose is always tricky (I have reviewed three of her novels) because, like in her poems, she moves back and forth in time, creating mystery boxes that are only opened in the final act. It would be a sin to reveal a single secret thing. Thematically, “Transformed” is closely linked with the poems in the ways I’ve already discussed. The protagonist, Marina, is isolated, her garden having become her whole world. She styles herself (like Zeidel in her bio) a “monarch rancher.” How she comes to this place of isolation, awaiting the cracking of her own chrysalis to become something new, something transformed, is unfolded through Zeidel’s beautiful, evocative prose, which, in this particular tale, utilizes the syntactical simplicity of Hemingway with the depth of the great Persian poets. All surfaces are reflective here—of Marina, of monarch, of us. Nature is never one thing, though it always is the Teacher—and the lessons can be hard.
Read Garden Metamorphosis multiple times. Read it a poem at a time, and meditate in between each of them. Carefully, spiritually cultivate your garden or, if you don’t have one, create one—even if it’s on a windowsill, in an egg carton (something new from something old). And, should you see a monarch butterfly beating its wings against the breeze, think of who you’ve been, who you are, and what you might become.
And when you do, say a silent thank you to Smoky Zeidel—monarch rancher and writer extraordinaire.




Friday, March 30, 2018

Review of The Road to Strange: UFOs, Aliens and High Strangeness

by Michael Brein and Rosemary Ellen Guiley (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, Inc., 2018). ISBN: 9781942157250

Disclaimer: I have two entries in this collection. Also, a book that I am co-authoring with my wife about our two-year investigation of a haunted library in North Carolina (subject of one of the two entries in this book) will be published by Visionary Living in the summer of 2018.
Followers of my blogs and my work know that I have long been an advocate for Telling our Stories. I have seen the power of story on stage in social justice theatre productions, in legislative lobbying for equal rights, and in swaying public opinion. In the news as of late are the powerful stories of teenagers demanding changes to gun laws.
Although the field of paranormal investigation may seem worlds (and dimensions) apart from my three decades of work as a content creator and storyteller, I have found the parallels to be considerable. As I begin to establish myself as a paranormal investigator, I will be centering my talks and workshops squarely in the world of Story. Whether spirits, interdimensionals, or extraterrestrials, the entities that we encounter beyond the veil are characters, with backstories, motivations, and even in many cases, clear personality traits that change over time.
With this in mind, I am approaching this review of The Road to Strange: UFOs, Aliens and High Strangeness, by Michael Brein and Rosemary Ellen Guiley as both a storyteller and a paranormal investigator.
There is no question that a greater percentage of the population is experiencing and reporting paranormal activity. Each month there are new stories and new footage released by governments and organizations like NASA making a case for everything from UFOs to portals.
So why is the field still so far from anything close to resembling mainstream? In part, because the scientific community is quick to dismiss anecdotal evidence as no evidence at all and demands proof that is in most cases “round” so that it will never fit into the “square” space of traditional science. I have spent enough hours in the field to be able to say a few things with assurance: (1) what we are encountering is more in line with the principles of quantum physics than traditional science; (2) these entities are super intelligent and know how to disrupt, manipulate, and ignore scientific measuring equipment—even the most sophisticated and well funded; (3) anecdotal evidence (supported by research, understanding of narrative and story context, and technical data when it can be reliably gathered) can be as compelling and legitimate as a reading on an electromagnetic frequency meter.
Using these three points as our metric, The Road to Strange is the future of paranormal research.  Michael Brein, the world’s only “travel psychologist” and Rosemary Ellen Guiley, one of the most acknowledged experts in the field of paranormal research in the twenty-first century, curate a collection of stories that they support with the kind of research, story contextualization, and understanding of nontraditional science that provide the increasing legitimacy this important field demands. This book is a follow-up to their very successful The Road to Strange: Travel Tales of the Paranormal and Beyond, and they plan more books in the series—an indication that this multi-level approach is gaining traction.
The book is broken into four parts: “I Know what I Saw,” “Mystery Lights and Craft,” “Alien Encounters,” and “High Strangeness.” The first section derives its title from the unfortunate fact that experiencers/witnesses are often ridiculed by their family and friends, the traditional science gatekeepers, and in the media. Those who claim abduction experiences (the third section) are particularly targeted. As a storyteller, I always go back to one key idea: characters are driven forward to action by their motivations. What possible motivation could there be to lie about seeing a UFO or being abducted by aliens? I once heard a Mothman witness remark during a lecture that, in the 40 years since he went public, he has made enough money from what he saw to pay his mortgage for a single month. And the ridicule he’s faced in the small towns where he lived and worked far outweighs money or attention being key motivators. Are they just mentally ill attention seekers?
Brein and Guiley’s commentaries in the first three sections focus considerable word count making the case that these experiencers are not such a low percentage of the population that they can be dismissed as crazy and mistaken tale-tellers. The stories in the section titled “Alien Encounters” can test the width and breadth of what the reader is willing to believe about the nature of the alien hierarchy and their designs on Planet Earth and its inhabitants. I am a fan of skepticism: it invites research and respectful debate, which are necessary for any field to maintain its growth. Again, the commentaries provide context, parallel cases, and situate the stories on solid ground that a pure anecdote would fail to provide.
Exploring the limits of our own beliefs is essential. I find it particularly so as a paranormal investigator. A number of years ago I read Ingo Swann’s Penetration. I called the investigator who had given me the book and said, “Do you believe this is truthful, because if it is, it changes everything I’ve ever known.” I found myself asking the same questions reading some of the anecdotes in this book. Knowing Guiley personally, having been in the field with her on numerous occasions going back almost a decade, I trust her like I trust Ingo Swann. By extension I believe the people whose stories are told in this book. And it does change everything. It literally opens doors to other worlds.
“High Strangeness” takes its title from a term coined by researcher and author John Keel. This is the trickster aspect of UFO/paranormal phenomena. The interplay of deception, synchronicity, and flat out bizarre occurrences in these encounters puts these encounters on the very fringe of what might be happening. These cases may be the hardest to make sense of and therefore breed some of the longest commentaries of the book.
In addition to these four sections there are a Preface and Introduction by the two authors, respectively, as well as two Appendices. The first is an interview Brein did with J. Allen Hynek, an investigator and researcher who worked on several government UFO projects and, in the process, moved from cynic to skeptic. His journey could be instructive for others who, to quote X-Files, “want to believe” but find it difficult to do so. The second is a list of “UFO and Related Organizations.” This is another resource for those who want to know more about this subject from professionals from an array of backgrounds, from journalists and police to technicians and scientists who have spent decades amassing and analyzing reports. Like the experiencers themselves, their motivations are certainly not money or attention. The hours are countless, the work often thankless, and the laughter of the gatekeepers aimed their way loud and derisive.

The Road to Strange is long and wide. It is my belief that this excellent book will invite fellow travelers on the journey and, in the process, bring legitimacy to the experiencers who are brave enough to tell their stories in its pages.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

“Metaphorical, Intentional Poetics”: A Review of Eileen R. Tabios’s Murder, Death, Resurrection

(Loveland, OH: Dos Madres Press, dosmadres.com, 2018). ISBN: 978-1-939-92999-0

Eileen Tabios’s newest collection of poetry could be called a sum total of a life’s work (in progress). Created from her MDR poem generator (as have been a few other collections before this one), Murder, Death, Resurrection (to me aptly named, although an email exchange in the back of the collection indicates not everyone agrees) is 1,166 lines of her previously published poems. (The final line is 1,167, but in a Postscript Tabios says that she eliminated one line—I did not notice which—and, should your own means of generating poems from these lines [a key aim of this project] point to that missing line, insert one of your own, or another poet’s.)
Boy, that’s a complex opening paragraph—lots of clauses, parens, brackets, em dashes… but that seems to be okay in this case. Complexity is part of this endeavor, which Tabios undertook for a few reasons. I will summarize them quickly here, because there’s lots to do, but do not ignore the Introduction and back matter of Murder, Death, Resurrection—it is a treasure trove of exercises, explanations, and that email exchange is really not to miss. If Tabios wants to provoke thought and even pushback, she is succeeding.
This is my twelfth review of Tabios’s poetry, and almost all of the collections I have reviewed have lines represented in the MDR. So there was a familiarity for me in all of the new. After nine years of reviewing her poetry, I see the MDR work as a Culmination rather than a divergence or some (mere) experiment in recycled language. Comparisons can be made to the “cut-up” work of William Burroughs or even Philip K. Dick’s use of the I Ching to generate storylines and character choices, but they will ultimately fall short. Very much in line with Tabios’s previous work on the Filipino Diaspora, the MDR is an expression of taking back language through breaking it down. Briefly, this is a response to colonialism and American imperialism. Fittingly enough to mention here, I am preparing to do a Chautauqua tour as Ernesto “Che” Guevara in mid-2019, so I am living daily with the reality of what American colonialism and imperialism have done to the Philippines and Latin and Central America. Politics hinges on language (Rhetorical Studies is obsessed with this). Slang, jargon, and such art forms as Rap are expressions of this as well. An interesting aspect of this is the notion of “Babaylan” poetics, which (quite shamanically) states that everything is connected and in harmony, no matter how different it may seem.
Always one to blur the boundaries between poet and reader and to ask of the reader more than most writers do (a key reason I am so engaged year after year with her work) Tabios provides instructions for the reader on how to construct a poem of your own.
I could not resist the urge to try.
I decided on seven lines for my poem (as an homage to the theatre company I cofounded, Seven Stories). To generate line numbers, I went to the eleven reviews I have done of Eileen’s previous books. I used a variety of devices for generating line numbers, from dates of oldest and newest reviews, number of words in a review, and summing all of the numbers referenced in a review. The following lines make up “my” poem:
I forgot the years when I wore uniforms of darkened wool shaped by machines, lined by grey.
I forgot the mud in monsoon season always sucked at the ankles, non-discriminating, a placid surface but camouflaging sharply edged stones, goooey, goooey, goooey and brown as the hide on rotten bananas.
I forgot the advantage of an ignored chandelier.
I forgot my father is not Mao Tse Tung of China.
I forgot I admired encaustic for protecting forever the fragility of paper.
I forgot green calyx emphasizing the burden of generously-watered corollas.
I forgot there is a country somewhere on then opposite of where I stand on this earth, a country whose scents stubbornly perfume my dreams.
By the second line, a narrative began to form, and each ensuing line dropped securely into place as I read it. I witnessed a metaphor being born: Eileen’s lines were the bricks and the subtext I was creating to link the lines was the mortar. In the following, I have inserted the subtextual lines that “adhere” the poem into a unified whole in brackets (I have also titled the poem, as Eileen suggests):
“Echoes of Mortar and Brick”
I forgot the years when I wore uniforms of darkened wool shaped by machines, lined by grey.
[He insisted on uniforms; not everyday children’s clothes]
I forgot the mud in monsoon season always sucked at the ankles, non-discriminating, a placid surface but camouflaging sharply edged stones, goooey, goooey, goooey and brown as the hide on rotten bananas.
[Scrubbing the cuffs at midnight, so he wouldn’t know]
I forgot the advantage of an ignored chandelier.
[Some things better left in the black]
I forgot my father is not Mao Tse Tung of China.
[Though he surely acted that way]
I forgot I admired encaustic for protecting forever the fragility of paper.
[Notes from mother: “He cares; he just can’t show it”]
I forgot green calyx emphasizing the burden of generously-watered corollas.
[Signaling she was home, and I was somewhat safe]
I forgot there is a country somewhere on the opposite of where I stand on this earth, a country whose scents stubbornly perfume my dreams.
[I wished it into existence but now I can’t return].
Have fun creating your own poems from the lines in Murder, Death, Resurrection. Don’t hesitate to think outside the box. This is especially true for those who want to use this for workshops and classes. Some lines could be used as story prompts; some urge visual from textual: Line 547: “I forgot the laughter of weary men as they shared a wicker-covered bottle.” What an oil painting that would make. I think that this collection could serve as a “daily meditation” generator as well. Some of the lines make beautiful koans and sutras.
Tabios has left a breadcrumb trail of clues as to her poetry’s core thematic treasures. An e-copy of the manuscript could generate a thematic keyword search that would illuminate Tabios’s preferred words, images, metaphors, source material—the list could go on awhile, depending on the researcher’s interests and questions. Put it through statistical analysis software and what might be revealed, one could only imagine. But you couldn’t stop there. You’d have to DO something poetic with the data. That would be a must.
Murder, Death, Resurrection is the latest reason why Eileen Tabios is one of the most important poets working today.



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Review of Emily’s Ride to Courage, by Sarah Maury Swan (CreateSpace, 2017). ISBN: 978-1978170179 (paperback)


Eighteen months ago I reviewed Sarah Maury Swan’s Young Adult (YA) novel Terror’s Identity, which tells the story of family who has to move from their home and assume secret identities because of the father’s work fighting terrorism. The story was told through the point of view of the teenage son and it was quite the action-packed thriller.
Emily’s Ride to Courage—although it shares similarities with Terror’s Identity, such as the upheaval of a family because of a parent’s commitment to fighting evil in the world—is a much different book in tone and pace.
Emily is not only the title character, but our narrator. Readying for her seventh grade year, with all of the self-doubt, excess energy, and shifting emotions of a girl her age, Emily is dealing with the news that her mother, a doctor, is going to Afghanistan to serve in the medical corps. Because Emily’s father travels a great deal for work, Emily and her 14-year-old dance-obsessed sister Jen will be spending the summer with their grandfather, a man well set in his ways.
I bet you already see the conflicts that might come.
Emily’s narration is somewhere between a polished “what I did on my summer vacation” essay and a series of “dear diary” entries. This takes nothing away from the quality of the book. Swan has plenty of subtext and storytelling framework to keep the action moving forward, an ability she demonstrated in Terror’s Identity.
Swan, a long-time horse enthusiast, is writing about a subject that she obviously knows well. Having once been very close with a college-level equestrian and having an 18-year-old daughter who has been riding and caring for horses since she was 5, I was able to both apply what I have learned over the years to my experience with the story and talk with my daughter about some of the details of horse health and training that Swan includes in Emily’s Ride to Courage.
My daughter has also made me a fan of the Canadian mega-hit TV show Heartland, which takes place on a horse farm and features pre-teen and teenage girls that have similar journeys to self-knowledge and maturity by working with horses as Emily. The grandfather in Heartland is the archetype of the old grizzly with a heart of gold, and Emily’s grandfather shares those traits—a combination of wisdom and sensibility that is important in our fast-paced, “modern” world. I was lucky enough to have all four of my grandparents through early adulthood, and their advice and role-modeling was invaluable during my teenage years.
The trope of the lost pre-teen taking solace and confiding in an animal is a gem, and Swan uses it well. As Emily tries to deal with her grandfather’s expectations, opinions (which are borderline superstitions), and habits, her sister’s growing frustration with being stuck in the middle of nowhere without the comfort of her first love—dance—and then the news that their mother has gone missing, we really feel for her. She is truly doing the best she can under tough circumstances, and watching the arc of her development unfold through her narration will be empowering for YA readers.
On top of her familial challenges, Emily is trying to conquer two major fears—riding horses and math. Even as a nearly 50-year-old man, I sympathized with her on both counts. I’ve done better at the former than the latter.
Emily’s best friend in the story is a horse named Gemini. Together they become the heroes of the story—learning to trust one another, standing up for each other in low moments, and working together in the heart-racing climax.
Emily also has help from a girl her age named Kat. Swan uses Kat and her family to widen the world for Emily and Jen from the farm to the town at the midpoint of the book.
I am a fan of any book that empowers our youth—that reminds them through the art of storytelling that our passions drive and sustain us through the tough times, and the obstacles they present, if we are brave enough to face them, help us grow and add beauty and satisfaction to our lives that become increasingly valuable the older we get.
Emily’s mother is a welcome role model. In how many books, even ones aimed at YA, are the kids totally on their own, their parents creating more obstacles than they are helping their children navigate? With large amounts of service women and men still over seas and the threat of new wars constantly looming as we approach the close of the second decade of the twenty-first century, Emily’s Ride to Courage is an invaluable resource for the thousands of families affected by this reality.
I applaud Sarah Maury Swan for being so generous an author as to share her talent to make the world a more manageable place for her young readers.