Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Review of Three Poetry books by Jack Galmitz

 (available in paper format from the publishers or at Calameo.com as e-books)
By Joey Madia
As Founding Editor of www.newmystics.com, a literary and art site that hosts pages for nearly seventy authors and artists from around the world, I have the opportunity to give the creators of innovative and thought-provoking poetry a forum for their work.
As often happens, in cultivating the e-publisher/author relationship, I am asked to review additional work by the author not hosted at New Mystics. In the case of Jack Galmitz, when links to his e-books were provided, I visited Calameo.com and chose three titles—Objects, Yellow Light, and A Semblance—for review. There are several other titles from this author available there as well and you can find more of his writing at Scribd.
In our correspondence preparing for the launch of his New Mystics author page in February 2014, Galmitz said that his poetry is based on “the indeterminacy created by ambiguity—sometimes two words that are joined together when left alone on the page makes one realize there are many ways to take them and this leaves doubt and makes one look and be aware of what is there and this is the purpose I think of art.”
This philosophy brings to mind other authors whose works I have reviewed and New Mystics hosts, such as Ed Baker, Mark Sonnefeld, and Eileen Tabios. They ask much of the reader, and offer much in return.
The first book, Objects (Gean Tree Press, Aberdeen, Scotland, 2013), opens with a quote from John Cage, whose book Silence is a meditation on music, life, Zen, the classification and growing of mushrooms, and myriad other subjects. Objects is minimalist—there are most times no more than three or four words on a page, operating as sutras or koans. An example:
“an inchworm dangling arms”
and on the facing page:
“standing still”
To contemplate the arms of an inchworm, or the idea that it is “standing” is to extract the endless potential in half a dozen words and to face the fact that our perceptions—and one of their modes of expression: LANGUAGE—are all too rushed, shallow, and imprecise.
[An alternate reading, as suggested by the author, is to break the sentence into its different images and contemplate each separately: an inchworm and dangling arms; also, one might not run the two pages together, but keep them distinct]
Since I mentioned Cage, here is another for contemplation:
“house of concrete music.”
Another, “absorbing a book without words,” evokes childhood storybooks and the medium of film, where image is everything and words are subservient and hardly needed at all. A painting, a symphonic movement, a facial expression—all of these are books without words. All tell us stories if we are still enough to listen.
Yellow Light (yettobenamedfreepress.org, 2013).
A Yellow Light, according to the forward, refers here to the traffic light cautioning one to slow down, or to proceed with care. This is very much in line with my thoughts about how the poems in Objects operate.
One of the first poem-lines is “A brick wall raining.” What does this “mean” to you? I had the image of a wall being sledge-hammered or blown to bits in an explosion, but one might just as easily consider a brick wall and the fact that it is raining. You might then picture the wall with rain pouring down on it.
Or not.
That’s a lot of potential for just four words.
These poems operate as a language-symbol Rorschach, or, again, as in Objects, like a sutra, koan, or meditation.
Here are two others on which to meditate:
“crowds on the street performance art”
“walked by the dog”
Both of these, because of my gestalt, my work, my alignment with the Universe at this moment in time, are resonant. As a writer, director, storyteller, and actor, people as performance art, whatever the place or context, is a constant condition and a rich bounty for my perception.  As an artist with deep roots in social justice, the image of the dog walking the owner (or the tail of the dog wagging itself; or the image of the dog chasing its tail, as used by Jack Sarfatti to describe the ring singularity of black and white holes in space) is resonant and inspiring.
The poem-line “Crumpled paper music” became synchro-serendipitous as I crushed the paper with my notes for the previous section and heard the music it made as I read this phrase on the next piece of paper.
“seeing rabbits go to work”—are we the rabbits? If the rabbits are actual rabbits, and they are burrowing under a farmer’s fence for carrots, is it work to them at all?
There is a section toward the end of the book with all of the words typeset with their letter-sounds stretched out, as though the yellow light has become a deep, deep signal to slow the blood, the brain, the boundaries way, way down. It took some patience, some further investment to read them. It was well worth it.
The book ends with two prose poems. The first, “Like Lichen,” is one long sentence, again forcing the reader to slow down and proceed with caution, lest the meaning be misinterpreted or lost without the grammatical meaning-mapping that punctuation provides.
[there again goes the music of the crumpling paper]
The second prose piece, “The Strings to Heaven,” reads as a meditation on the relationship of humanity and techno-scientific “achievement.” One grew smaller, more naked, more isolated, as the other grew, as if the current trajectory demands that one or the other ultimately prevail—like in the nightmare tales of Asimov, Dick, and Wells.
The third book, A Semblance [read as “assemblance” if you’d like], begins: “Poems for the ordinary mind.”
Like the image of the traffic light in Yellow Light, this evokes a position of engagement in the reader at the onset. An ordinary mind—meaning: Don’t dig too deep? Take things at face value? Don’t seek connection, but engage with the words in the moment, in isolation, as they are? And what is a not-ordinary mind? An extraordinary mind?
I have chosen two poems from A Semblance to list here, free of commentary, and in closing:

The savior
showed up
the day after

Take off your shoes
Before you enter the house
It is courteous

[one final sound of the music of crumpling paper, to accompany the ending clack of the keys]



Monday, January 20, 2014

A Review of Seth Hammons’s The Silent Sound [Book Two of The Keys]

In September of 2012 I wrote a very positive review of the independently published debut novel in this series, Unheard Of. The sequel does not disappoint.
            Picking up where the first book left off, The Silent Sound finds the three main characters—Arco, Chastin, and Rachel—setting out to sea with two brothers named Zeke and Zender, a mysterious and doom-prone old fisherman, and a tough as nails female captain in the Imperial Navy after the islands are attacked by a sea-dwelling race of beings known as the demar.
            There is plenty of action and conflict among the ship’s disparate group of passengers, complicated by a pair of thought-talking music sticks named Maletalio—the unifying force among the three main characters and the holder of many of the secrets of the Keys.
            In the tried and true tradition of a fantasy series, Hammons extends his themes and his world in The Silent Sound, although the central conflict is still between the Imperial Iori, with their formal schooling, strong military, and reliance on Science and the workaday Brecks, a more pagan, peaceful class of farmers and artisans.
            Not only do we visit new places, like the difficult-to-navigate sea channel called Typhon’s Fangs and the once-center of music in the Breckish lands, Coda Misung, but we gain new insights into the history and motivations of Arco (the sailor-turned-drunk-turned hero).
            I also enjoyed the level of intrigue and magic in The Silent Sound. Hammons provides just enough to keep us engaged without resorting to gimmicks. Even more so than in the first book, these elements should hold great appeal for lovers of J. R. R. Tolkien and George R. R. Martin.
            Hammons writes a tightly constructed, efficient narrative with an insistent pace and the syntax and rhythms of his dialogue gives a strong sense of the different cultures from which his characters come. It is clear from his descriptions that he knows this world well.
            Similar to the first book, there are well-executed “reveals” and plot turns and the ending makes the reader anxious to read the next book(s) in the series.           
As I did with Unheard Of, I heartily recommend The Silent Sound to readers in their early teens to adults. The beautifully rendered maps by Zeyan Zhang (who also did the cover) and a Glossary make it easy to keep track of the detailed world Hammons presents us with, and present opportunities for reading clubs to engage with the books and the timely, relevant social, economic, and politic questions they explore.

            

Saturday, January 4, 2014

All We Need is Love: A Review of P. S. Bartlett’s Fireflies

(Mythos [Imprint of GMTA Publishing, 2013, fifth anniversary edition), ISBN: 978-0-615754-28-4


We live in an age of flash. An age of CGI and ultra-action in our storytelling that breeds endless comic-book films with flimsy stories and one-dimensional heroes causing brain-jarring explosions.
            In many ways, publishing has followed suit, filling the stacks with dark visions of horror and title after title full of violence and sex attempting to keep afloat paper-thin story structure and one-dimensional heroes and heroines.
            So it is very refreshing to read a novel like P. S. Bartlett’s Fireflies. A novel that tells, simply and elegantly, the story of a family’s love. Now, don’t get me wrong—there is violence, and sex, and there is even a supernatural series of events involving a 6-year-old boy, Ennis, and his abilities to heal through the help of what is believed to be angels.
            But at the heart of this adventure, which takes place in 1881 in rural Pennsylvania, are the complex relationships of Irish immigrants Owen and Sarah Whelan and their seven children, several of whom are courting.
            Bartlett’s story structure is sound and evenly paced, and she handles the varying degrees of Irish brogue in the family with dexterity. There is just enough to give an authentic flavor to the dialogue without bogging the reader down.
            As in any small town, then and now, there are an abundance of secrets and a wide array of dark hearts and diseased characters. But they serve as obstacles and to raise the stakes rather than to merely shock and artificially drive the narrative.
            With an abundance of sub-plots, including periodic glimpses into the past lives and loves of Owen and Sarah, it is not completely clear who the central character is, although their daughter Teagan, with her aspirations to be a doctor like her father and brother and independent attitude certainly fits the bill.
            I mentioned that there is a supernatural element. The biggest surprise and therefore the greatest strength of Bartlett’s novel is that I found myself fully invested in the more magical, sacred elements of the story and I believed the ending explanation without question.
            Fireflies touches the heart without being saccharine or overblown in its belief in the boundless power of love. Sacrifice is a matter of family honor and community necessity. No one sets out to be a hero. The Whelans are by and large innocents, in the way the Waltons were. And speaking of classic television, for fans of Highway to Heaven, Touched by an Angel, and Ghost Whisperer [before it went off the rails and become about other things than the unwavering love of the husband and wife despite her abilities] you can’t do any better.
            More and more—whether it be my reaching my mid-40s or as an antidote for all of the flash and flimsiness of so much modern storytelling, I am compelled to tout the value of books like Bartlett’s.  Although I am Italian and not Irish, the synergy of the immigrant family making the most of their chances in America by sticking together and honoring fundamental family values speaks to me. I miss my grandparents and great-grandparents. I miss the big family gatherings where food was a central element and your place in the family was earned over time in minor but meaningful ways such as getting to sit at the “big people’s” table or being dealt a hand at the penny-ante poker games later in the evening.
            The Whelans spoke to me across time and nationality.
            My one wish is that an editor’s eye has the opportunity to look over the manuscript to clean up some of the typos. The cover, typesetting and overall design are appealing and professional and the writing is so strong that little things like a misspelled word or misplaced punctuation tend to stick out.

            If you are in the market for a simple tale well told, with well-drawn characters and a compelling story, then Fireflies will not disappoint you.