Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Plumbing the Depths: A Review of William Azuski’s Travels in Elysium

 (Iridescent Publishing, 2013), ISBN: 978-3-9524015-2-1
By Joey Madia
What is the nature of reality? What is the value in Metaphor? Is there a single Truth to human existence or are our truths as unique as the number of people who populate the planet, or stars in the sky?
William Azuski’s engaging array of characters tackle all of these questions and more in the metaphysical thriller Travels in Elysium. Akin to Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose and John Fowles’ The Magus, Travels is rich in geography and symbolism and invites frequent pauses (facilitated by its short chapters) for contemplation.
At 539 pages of small, densely packed type, the book is as physically daunting as those of Eco and Fowles and just as metaphorically rich in material. The descriptions of the Greek island and its people and culture are needfully concrete—they anchor the reader in a solid landscape from which the story and characters launch into spiritual, metaphysical, and atemporal realms. Without such detail the reader would risk becoming as lost in the ether as some of the characters find themselves.
I term the book a thriller because it operates as a classic mystery on many levels. Using a team of archaeologists as his metaphor for the human search for meaning in our past and present, Azuski brings the reader along multiple points in history and unravels the pasts of the various characters in ingenious ways.
At the heart of the mystery is the dig site, which functions under the direction of the driven and draconian Marcus James Huxley, a sort of Professor Challenger-esque explorer who may have just discovered Atlantis (with an Oracle of Delphi–based twist).
Placed at odds with this mentor-trixter figure is the hero-student of the story, the 22-year-old Nicholas, who seizes the Call to Adventure, journeying from the Ordinary World of his broken family history to the Special World of the island dig site, where he is tested by Huxley and numerous threshold guardians (speaking in Joseph Campbell’s terms of the Hero’s Journey). This use of the dyad replicates itself in terms of love, politics, philosophy, economics, professional rivalry, art, and even the nature of life and death involving a broad scope of characters, all overlapping in richly reinforcing ways.
The great strength of Travels in Elysium is that it is continually operating on multiple levels, to which I have already alluded. In historical terms, there are the ancient peoples of the island (victims of a volcanic eruption)—both indigenous and migrant; the current inhabitants of the island (caught in the midst of a war between the military junta and other forces); and the archaeologists—the interlopers who must deal with the latter in order to reach the former. And linking them all are the specters of Plato, the Oracle, and the Ferryman.
From the descriptions of the daily meals and the landscape to those of complex philosophical/spiritual systems, Azuski is constantly reinforcing his major themes on both the micro and macro levels and still manages to keep a spirited pace. The language is never needlessly dense (although it is beautifully rendered and ornate).
Will Travels in Elysium answer the many questions that its characters pose? For me, it offered possibilities without dogma or the definitive, which I found highly satisfying. It is another tool, another perspective, on the road of my own unique journey to, and in, Elysium. As detailed as it is, I found myself engaging with the story on a daily basis in different ways depending on whatever else I was reading, experiencing, and meditating on during that particular day. For instance, I was intrigued by a pervasive amount of references to the throat near the end of the book, correlating with research and practice I am doing on/with the 5th chakra (centerpiece of the artist’s voice and work). Rather than suggest that the author was specifically referencing the chakra system, I instead invite the reader to remain open in the heart and mind to see what mysteries are invited into one’s own soul by this thought-provoking story.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Review of David Karmi’s Survivor’s Game (2013, DK Montague, ISBN: 978-0-615-41295-6; davidkarmi.com)

Every now and again I am sent a book for review that breaks down the partitions that I have constructed to separate the various aspects of my professional life. David Karmi’s Survivor’s Game is one of those books. I am going to review this book specifically from the point of view of my role as an artistic director and as resident playwright for two theatre companies that specialize in social justice and story-based education for young audiences and as a writing teacher and the author of the novel Jester-Knight.
Survivor’s Game is specifically named to evoke popular adventure books for young readers like Hunger Games. From there one instantly thinks of the Harry Potter series, Chronicles of Narnia, and other best-selling series where young people come of age through life-threatening circumstances. These much-needed stories at the core of modern culture serve as essential rites of passage. The very popular George R.R. Martin series A Song of Fire and Ice (which just finished its third season on HBO as Game of Thrones) features several young characters, making it appealing to teen readers/viewers. My novel Jester-Knight has seen a similar trend.
There are also several video games, such as Skyrim, that use these genre devices.
As timeless and powerful as these stories are, they are fantasy. They happen in worlds completely or substantially different from our own. And although the authors strive to make their characters relatable and their worlds detailed and inviting to immerse into, there is always the recognition that “this isn’t real, and could never actually happen to me.”
Put Holocaust survivor David Karmi’s memoir in their hands, and they cannot use that “out.”
I am impressed with Mr. Karmi’s engaging narrative style. The book reads like a first-person novel. To borrow from scholars like Joseph Campbell and script and story advisors like Christopher Vogler, it is constructed like a classic Hero’s Journey, with an easily identifiable three-act model of Separation, Initiation, and Return. It begins in the Ordinary World, with a loving Jewish family with strong traditions culturally and religiously and quickly moves to the Call to Adventure as the Nazis gain power and young David’s family is deported from Hungary into Poland (Separation), where they are pulled apart at Auschwitz. From there (Initiation), David is taken to the Warsaw ghetto and on to Dachau and Landsberg in Germany, culminating in a death march to the Tyrol Mountains on the Italian border where the Allies finally free he and his fellow prisoners (Return).
It could have ended there. But upon David’s return to postwar life, he chose to not play it safe, but heeded at least two more Calls to Adventure. He first went to Palestine, fighting for the independence of the Jewish people (including enduring the use of gas by the British army to remove passengers from a transport ship [the British were siding with the Arab nations because of access to petroleum]) and then joining the Army in the new nation of Israel, where he met Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and served under future Prime Minister Ariel Shanon. He later went to America and built hundreds of homes in Brooklyn and elsewhere before turning to the construction of office buildings and condos.
David survives by using his wits and instincts and by knowing when to trust the advice of the mentors he encounters in the camps. He also demonstrates a fierce work ethic and the ability to not only earn money, but to employ it wisely to further his chances of success.
Survivor’s Game is filled with heroes and villains, threshold guardians and mentors, including a Wehrmacht lieutenant that arranges for David to be his orderly and personal messenger, eventually taking him to dinner with his family. It uses short chapters that serve like “episodes” and subtly employs narrative devices like foreshadowing and explores all of its major themes on micro and macro levels.
I defy any young reader to brush off the impact of what Karmi describes in the camps, whether it be the living and work conditions, the incessant death, the chilling irony of the sign that hung at the entrance of the concentration camps that read arbeit macht frei [work will make you free], or the SS officers that decided who lived and died by the direction in which they chose to point their thumb.
In the end, what resonates most clearly in Survivor’s Game is Karmi’s unwavering sense of hope and faith. He writes, “If you lost your belief or will to endure and suffer, you might as well have walked out toward the nearest fence and let the guards shoot you down.”
He also chooses to focus on Forgiveness instead of Revenge, an invaluable lesson for our immediacy-driven, cyber-times, and the violence that they bring.  
Survivor’s Game is a welcome addition to books like Diary of Anne Frank and Eli Wiesel’s Night and with its fresh approach and appealing narrative style, could be used in classrooms and as a discuss starter for community groups that work with teens.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Review of Ronald Brown’s Memoirs of a Modern-Day Drifter

(2013, Bookstand Publishing, ISBN: 978-1-61863-517-4; http://www.bookstandpublishing.com/book_details/Memoirs_of_a_Modernday_Drifter)
By Joey Madia
[Disclaimer: Ronald Brown has studied creative writing with me for 3 years. I served as editor on this book from concept to final draft]
What it means to be a man has continually evolved in the past 70 or so years. In many ways, the Marlboro man image has lost its power—men who are too aggressive, too take-charge, too, well, manly, have come to be seen as an artifact of a less enlightened time. Robert Bly’s Iron John and the Fire in the Belly movement rose in the late eighties and early nineties as the old models of manhood began to crumble and the male of our species began to come untethered from many of the guiding principles that served my father’s and his father’s generations.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s a fine line between being a strong man and being an overly controlling, argumentative, and just plain violent and miserable SOB. Too much of anything—yelling, drinking, carousing, drifting—can be bad for a man; and his family.
These are the matters at the heart of Memoirs of a Modern-Day Drifter, a complex yet seamless hybrid of fact and fiction; a look at one hard-living man’s life in the coal camps of West Virginia, the jungles of Vietnam, the open miles of the Atlantic Ocean, the highways of the Midwest and Southwest; and his relentless search for stability and meaning.
Along the way, the drifter, named Danny, looks to drugs and alcohol, women, a myriad of jobs in countless places, the Church, and even short periods of criminal activity to forge a sense of self. He is a self-sabotager—a man burning miles by car, boat, motorcycle, and 18-wheeler in an at-times almost desperate attempt to outrun the shadow of his abusive father.
Danny (and by extension, Brown himself) is not shy about sharing his lowest moments—his descent into utter brutality while in Vietnam, his continued violence after, his broken relationships and lack of involvement in the lives of his two sons… Danny addresses two packages containing the manuscript to them on the last night of his life. The prologue and epilogue are their responses.
Through it all, the reader cannot help but feel for Danny. He is deeply damaged by spending his formative years with an abusive parent, and his time in Vietnam also makes an indelible impact. We feel an almost constant sense of loss as we follow his adventures. And his sense of humor and ultimate heroism go a long way in endearing him to us.
Brown—who is also a playwright—writes with a strong, compelling voice. His dialogue is life-like and engaging, and he presents us with a cast of characters that run the gamut from light to dark and back again.
Whether a drifter yourself, a man lost in the ever-changing models for what manhood can and should be, or the child of a man who was so busy fighting his demons he wasn’t there to help you fight your own, Memoirs of a Modern-Day Drifter will resonate with you. Although leading up to contemporary times, it is most powerfully a chronicle of the 1950s through the 1970s and what profound an effect they had on American society.
Brown has given us the very best of the memoir format—brutal honesty, the personal couched in the historical, plenty of high and low points, and a compass for gauging our own travels upon the road of modern life.
His life—and Danny’s—will increase in meaning with every copy read.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Review of Quests of Shadowind: Sky Drifter, L. A. Miller

 (Revised Edition; Millhouse Press, 2013), ISBN: 978-0-615-43925

As ubiquitous as computers have become, and with the promise of Virtual Reality for everyone always just upon the horizon, books like this one are bound to become ubiquitous as well.
Aimed at teens, this first book in the Quests of Shadowind series follows a brother and sister team and their friends and enemies through a journey in a computer-generated world in which they one day wake up.
Reminiscent of films like Tron, Lawnmower Man, and The Matrix trilogy in its exploration of alternate realms of existence generated by computer and inhabited by brave and daring humans who have nothing left to explore but the wireless world of cyberspace, Sky Shifter never really takes off and pays back the IOUs of its clever premise.
Despite its Revised Edition status the novel feels like a tight plot begging for better-drawn characters and less stiff dialogue, like a brand-new house filled with old and ill-matched furniture. A draft more than a finished product. There are times that the book dances on the edge of generating some compelling mood and atmosphere but it never sustains (ironically, it is in the scenes with only adults that succeed best, despite the fact that the book is aimed at the brass ring of the teen market).
Much in the book is cliché and under-explored, which becomes a kind of Catch-22 situation. A little more time spent creating unique characters with some depth would have been well worth it. There is very little to differentiate this book from its competitors.
In addition to its predictability and stock characters, the novel suffers most from dialogue by the teens that is banal. The “hero” of the story, Logan, seems more interested than eating than anything else, and his journey to problem-solver and leader lacks a sufficiently interesting arc to allow for any buy-in from the reader. His nemesis is the neighborhood bully, a device in our bullying-conscious world that seems more like an add-on selling point for the times than an organic part of the story.
There are two more books in this series, but I felt no compulsion to continue when the first book ended. Despite its electronic wizardry and computer world, Shadowind is not a place I care to further explore.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

“Just Who are the Djinn?”: A review of Rosemary Ellen Guiley’s The Djinn Connection

 (New Milford, CT: Visionary Living, 2013), ISBN: 978-0-9857243-3-7

Exactly two years ago I reviewed The Vengeful Djinn: Unveiling the Hidden Agenda of Genies, a book co-authored by Guiley. This new companion book, subtitled “The Hidden Links between Djinn, Shadow People, ETs, Nephilim, Archons, Reptilians, and other Entities,” picks up where The Vengeful Djinn left off—with the possibility that the Djinn (often known by their Westernized name, genies) are more active than many researchers have believed, and, indeed, may often be mistaken for the types of entities listed in the subtitle.
            Djinn, which appear throughout the Quran, are composed of “smokeless fire” and reside in a parallel dimension to ours. It is said that they are highly intelligent, ancient (they helped to build Solomon’s temple), and eager to take the Earth back from the human race, which has usurped it. I refer readers interested in the complex social classes and habits and behaviors of these mysterious entities to The Vengeful Djinn. This review will concern itself solely with the possibilities of overlap and mistaken identity explored by Guiley in The Djinn Connection (although the opening chapter of this new volume gives enough information to set a clear picture for the more casual reader).
            Chapter 2 deals with the connection between Djinn and “Shadow People.” Having first-hand experience with many different types of entities, I have to say that “Shadow People”—in their cloaks and hats and with such secretive intentions—are the most frightening I have ever encountered. On a November night two years ago, while visiting a well-known paranormal site, my wife and I and our fellow investigators experienced in different ways the presence of a Shadow Person. This chapter contains a number of other first-hand accounts of people’s own stories of visits from these frightening, enigmatic entities.
            Chapter 4, “The Fairy Connection,” is a must-read for anyone interested in the paranormal. Fairies are pervasive in cultures around the world, whether they be Native American, Middle Eastern, or the more well-known types that appear in the legends of the British Isles and throughout Celtic lore. Guiley looks at the similarities between not only Djinn and fairies but it is also in this chapter that she begins to consider ETs, UFOs, and abductions.
            The study of UFO abductees and their scary tales of kidnapping, operations, experimentation, and decades of repeated harassment (often starting in childhood) are thoroughly explored in chapter 5 in relation to the Djinn. This is an area of rich debate. Are these hallucinations, brought on by our cultural inundation and fascination with science fiction and the legends of Area 51, alien grays, Dulce Base, and the like? Are they safety mechanisms to protect victims of childhood sexual abuse from facing a horrible secret? Where do books like Whitley Streiber’s Communion fit in? Is Streiber, a well-known horror novelist, cashing in on a cottage industry with what has turned into a series of books, or is his tale of aliens and abductions real?
            Perhaps the abductions and experiments themselves are real, but the perpetrators are not extraterrestrial but ultraterrestrial or interdimensional, ideas put forth in the past by such paranormal luminaries as John Keel. Chapter 5 makes many excellent points leading to the possibility that it might indeed be Djinn. Drawing on the writings of Streiber, as well as David M. Jacobs and John E. Mack, Guiley takes us deep down into the rabbit hole, and when we emerge, Djinn cannot be ruled out as a possible explanation for what so many have experienced.
            Chapters 7 and 8 are highlights of the book. Guiley is one of the foremost experts on Angelology in her field (I am currently reading her Encyclopedia of Angels) and her knowledge of Nephilim, Watchers, Angels, Archons, and the like is immense. Considering the considerable presence in the Quran of the Djinn, and the tales of Solomon, it is not a stretch to see the links between the angels of Light and those of Darkness. It certainly seems that the Djinn are also in myriad ways the model for the Christian idea of Satan. Those interested in Zecharia Sitchin’s theses regarding the Anunnaki (repopularized in recent years by History Channel’s Ancient Aliens series) will find a compelling case in chapter 8 for their connection with the Djinn.
            Chapter 9, “Black Death and Black Magic,” considers everything from demonic elements of the Bubonic Plague (e.g., accompanying aerial phenomena, poison mists, and mysterious figures with hooded robes and magical staffs) to the Vril, and men such as Mesmer, Reich, and Crowley. The most unsettling pages of The Djinn Connection deal with political sorcery. Whether we consider the Nazi fascination with black magic, the whispered rumors that Eisenhower made a pact with the Reptilians in exchange for advanced technology after World War II, the unsettling images of corrupt politicians who have sold their souls to the “devil” in popular books and films (such as the Left Behind or Omen series), or the first-hand accounts by a Moroccan source of Guiley’s named Mahmoud, the idea that those in power are getting help from ultraterrestrial or interdimensional beings is more than enough to given one pause. Chapter 10, “Reptilians and Reptoids” just begins to break the surface of what might be going on and the aptly named chapter 11, “The Battle for Humanity,” furthers even more the case that there is certainly something larger and more “real” going on in the hidden places around us than most people are willing to seriously consider.
            As always, Guiley delivers a balance of first-hand field experience, extensive interview material, impressive scholarship, invaluable cautions, and a writing style that is fluid and engaging.
            Whether or not the Djinn are as pervasive in the countless encounters related by tens of thousands of people all over the world as Guiley’s work asks us to believe is impossible to gauge, but one thing is certain—something is going on, and the Djinn are almost certainly playing a large part.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The Corruptions of the Gothic: A Review of The Luminous Memories of Alexander Vile

 by Tash Jones (available for Amazon Kindle March 25, 2013; www.tashjones.co.uk)

This debut novel from Masters student Tash Jones is a compelling mirror-glance journey into the effects of the Gothic novel on Victorian sensibilities. While both referencing outright and adapting subtle elements of Walpole’s Castle of Otranto, Stoker’s Dracula, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde, and Austen’s Northanger Abbey, The Luminous Memories of Alexander Vile concerns itself with pulling back the layers of appearance and looking at the arts and their relationship to the dark side of Victorian-era values (the novel’s events take place in 1892–93).
Uses the standard Gothic conventions of diaries, letters, and narration, Vile is a mystery that is slowly pieced together, reading at times like the surrealism of Poe, with generous doses of the flowery, image-laden and complexly sytaxed prose of the time in which it takes place.
It is a story of people who are ruled by their passions and the domino effect of disruption and downfall which they produce on those around them.
The story is told to us by the maid who seems to be a surrogate for the wife of the title character. One senses an unrequited love—that old dramatic chestnut of the wealthy man of the house looking beyond her because she is the maid, although one feels that she might have saved him from himself, and saved some others in the bargain. She is sympathetic to the man whose story she feels compelled to tell, and she tells the stories of the others only by necessity. Two thirds of the way through the novel she interprets the flowery prose of Alexander into a coherent story, pushing forward the plot and allowing the author to deal in the surreal without losing the reader.
Alexander Vile is a pianist who loves poetry and painting. He strives to be The Artist, relying on the arts to create meaning in his drab and difficult world. When one thinks about the fascinating artists of the Victorian era, there is plenty of material on which to draw, and Jones’s exploration of the condition of the artist is deep and engaging.
During the story there are sections of well-written poetry to give us clues to backstory and subtleties of plot, functioning like songs in a musical.
I want to tread carefully, and not give too much away, for the charm and strength of the story is its mystery. But essential to the plot is Vile’s dead wife. She was a painter and he tells us both that they were deeply love but also that she loved her art more than him. Their relationship deteriorates, as does she, following a miscarriage. We don’t get the sense that Vile wanted a child, but agreed only to please his wife. He fears that should the child not be perfect, he would be blamed. Parents and parenting have their rightful Victorian importance in the book, and when their efforts after the miscarriage bear no fruit and Alexander finally tells her how he feels, he says her “mind was dead.” The wife dies, the exact cause a mystery.
He is wealthy, living a life of mostly solitude, his desire to create music outweighing his talent, a la Salieri in Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus. He is searching for meaning and unable to find it. He spends a great deal of time reading in his expansive library. He reminds me of the decadent and bored young men in novels like Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray, the Comte Lautreamont’s Maldoror, and Huysman’s A Rebours. His voice is also reminiscent of Poe’s more lucid narrators.
Following his wife’s death, he seeks to grant her wish by adopting a child from the local orphanage. After determining a boy would be best, he cannot bring himself to make a choice, so he leaves it to the orphanage to choose a suitable child and when the child arrives it is a young lady named Joanna.
Joanna sparks something in Vile (she is [perhaps intentionally so] named the same as the Judge’s ward in Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd). She quotes Jane Austen to him and tells him of her love of other writers, such as Wilde and the Brontes. He in turn teaches her to play piano.
Joanna too has an emptiness, which she divulges through poems as an intense loss about her biological parents and their untimely death.
All might be well if it were not for a rival for her affections, the well-to-do and aptly named Vincent Valentine, who as one might guess in stories such as these, asks for her hand in marriage.
The novel works its way through several corollary themes, including: Corruption, Nature vs. Nurture. Art vs. Intellect (or Dionysus vs. Apollo), and Science vs. Faith. Vincent’s brother Christian represents the latter.
The Luminous Memories of Alexander Vile is quite the complex mystery, feeding back into endings that could be chosen from almost all of the books referenced within.
If you like a good Gothic novel, you’ll thoroughly enjoy The Luminous Memories of Alexander Vile. As an added incentive, the author donating £1 of each book sale, split equally between ‘Great Ormond Street Hospital’ and ‘Greenpeace.’

Monday, February 11, 2013

“Of Painters and Planes and Poems”: A Review of Eileen R. Tabios’ The Awakening

(New York: theenk Books, 2013, ISBN: 978-0-9647342-8-9)

Going to the mailbox and finding the latest book by Eileen Tabios is always a treat for me. Of all the poets and writers of poetry I have been blessed enough to know over the past two decades, none provokes thought and inspiration more than she.

Eileen is a pioneer, inventing new forms such as the hay(na)ku, and always adding in some essays or other notes into her collections. In the end, I always feel like I have gotten just that little bit more from her and her work than “just” poems.

In The Awakening, we get a little bit of lots of things, so if you’ve yet to read Eileen’s work, this is an excellent place to start. In less than 60 pages, she gives us a long poem on the sexual (mis)adventures of some of history’s best-known painters, as framed through the medical work of the poet and MD William Carlos Williams. We then move on to an offering of emails sent and received on September 11, 2001, that dark and obliterating day, interwoven with lyrics from “Moon Over Paris.” “The Awakening of A” is a hay(na)ku about colonialism throughout the world—a theme that Tabios has been de- and reconstructing throughout her many works. These three pieces, lest we think them intended to be seen as truly separate, are presented as a Triptych. Last is an excerpt from a Presentation she gave on the Filipino diaspora at a poetics conference in San Francisco just a few months ago. Each piece is so unique, and yet the overarching themes of the important of poetry and the active role of the reader weave each of the four together.

I’d like to discuss the three parts of the Triptych in some detail.

The first part of the Triptych, “The Erotic Life of Art: A Séance with William Carlos Williams,” is perhaps my favorite work I’ve ever read by this author. Readers of my short stories and Minor Confessions of an Angel Falling Upward (Burning Bulb Publishing, 2012) know how much I enjoy creating narrative from the nigredo of cultural reference and biographical minutiae. Whereas in Minor Confessions I focus on the murderous tendencies of various artists, Tabios’ work draws from their dalliances with prostitutes and other ill-advised lovers and their experiences with various venereal diseases. What I like best about this piece is that Tabios is such an active narrator, posing questions about life and art along the way (including the news that Williams’ father thought very little of his poems… more than one of us can no doubt relate). From Van Gogh to Da Vinci, from Cellini to Rembrandt, from Goya to Rodin, from Toulouse-Lautrec to Picasso, there are things here about their lives, sexual and otherwise, that makes these titans of art all the more human. Much is drawn from Nigel Cawthorne’s Sex Lives of the Great Artists, but the source material is reconstituted in exquisite couplets full of enjoyable word play and just the right amount of sexual zing to bring a nearly constant smile to one’s face.

True to form, Tabios does all she can to create a relationship, an intimacy with the reader, at one point asking:

…By the way, it never fails,

does it?—this neat gimmick to insert a question
within the poem that, were I to read it out loud

to an audience, would allow me to form a sense
of intimacy not otherwise possible by me simply reading

and you simply listening (p. 12)

Or, we could insert, “by my simply writing and you simply reading.” This is one of the key values of Tabios’ work—not only as a writer but also as an editor and teacher: How do we continually engage with our audience as writers, rather than talking AT them?

Notice the use of the word “gimmick.” It lacks all pretension. That’s a good starting place for any writer, beginning or master. Leave all the lingo behind, or explain it in terms everyone can understand.

The middle part of the Triptych is entitled “911/My Forty-First Birthday—Notes for the Poem that I will not Write.” As mentioned above, this “poem” consists of emails sent by Tabios and others during the course of that fateful day interwoven with lyrics from “Moonlight Over Paris,” which was playing in the background as she assembled the emails into this piece.

September 11, 2001 is of course one of those monumental days in history. Like JFK’s assassination or the day the Challenger exploded, you often hear the question: “Where were you when it happened?” I was working in my home office at the Jersey shore when my younger sister called from Rhode Island: “Are you watching the news?” I switch on the television about 5 minutes before the plane went into the second Tower. Surreal. Life-changing. I knew in my heart that nothing would ever be the same again. It was a tense two hours waiting for my wife to make the drive home from northern Jersey, where she could see the smoke from the Towers from her office building. Two of my uncles narrowly missed being at the WTC that day. One had a meeting canceled; the other was there the day before.

The emails selected for the poem cover all the key ground: thoughts and prayers; disbelief; worry about missing loved ones; and true fear over what the United States would do and how right it would be in doing it.

The tranquility of the song lyrics adds a razor sharp contrast to the texts of the emails, capturing the dichotomies and distortions that have continued to prevail since that time.

The third part of the Triptych is a hay(na)ku called “The Awakening of A.” Readers familiar with Tabios’ work will know that the hay(na)ku is a form she invented that has stanzas consisting of three lines, with three words in the first, two in the second and one in the third. In this case, there are prose lines also interdicted throughout. Previously published in Otoliths, the poem takes its inspiration from two books, a video, and a news article about the staggering statistics and human horror of colonialism throughout the world. It is a sobering reminder that the age of Empire was not overcome and obliterated, but merely morphed into the age of the Multinationals.

Once again, The Awakening is a great introduction to anyone who has yet to have the pleasure of engaging with Tabios’ work. And for those, like myself, who have come to anticipate and treasure new volumes, she continues to be on the frontier of what poetics should be in our world.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A Review of The K Street Affair by Mari Passananti

 (Rutland Square Press, Boston, MA, 2013; ISBN: 9780985894603) by Joey Madia
Mari Passananti’s The K Street Affair is a well-paced and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink action-adventure featuring a first-person perspective from lawyer-turned-amateur-agent Lena Mancuso. Use of the first person is unusual in the spy/terrorism genre, and it took a little while for me to adjust to it, but it does not deter from the overall success of the novel and in the end, provides some benefits to the way the tale unfolds.
The story begins with a terrorist bombing in Washington, DC and quickly escalates and broadens to involve a high-powered law firm, a multi-national corporation, several front organizations, and high-level politicians in Saudi Arabia, Russia, and the United States, all vying for economic and global power. Add in the FBI and a sudden murder of someone very close to Lena and we are taken along on a fast-paced ride through the geo-political world of offshore accounts, high-tech spying, assassination-machinations, and U.S. diplomatic over-reliance on a “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” mentality.
Passananti’s reluctant heroine does her best to stay centered and sane as the tension and intrigue mount. As she struggles to cope with tragedy and danger, she comments on the condition of her hair, the make of her borrowed boots, and the quality of food and drink. To the author’s credit, this somehow adds to, rather than detracts from, the realism of the novel.
In general, Passananti does an able job of crafting a suitably exaggerated but still plausible series of events, and she explains highly complex entities like offshore banks and front corporations with the light touch that comes from a thorough understanding of the research she undertook.
The K Street Affair is packed with surprising turns, plenty of tension, and some pointed (and for this reader, enjoyable) digs on real entities and people, with names of corporations and descriptions of some politicians just thinly veiled enough to keep the reader guessing as to whom she based them on.
Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed was Passananti’s choice to not turn Lena into a martial-arts spymaster as she progressed through the story. Lena’s natural instincts and abilities, while challenged and sharpened, were not absurdly enhanced during the course of her experiences.
There is plenty of action—and some subtly scribed sex as well—that keeps things interesting, strategically breaking up the denser legal and high-finance sections.
Prior to 9/11 I was an avid reader of these types of novels—especially Tom Clancy’s—but on September 12, 2001, I took several shelves’ worth of them to the dumpster in back of my apartment. In the blink of an eye, the world these authors had described as fantasy suddenly became all too real.
Passananti’s novel—like many of the spy-genre films I’ve seen since that time—has just enough tongue-in-cheek sensibility to keep it fun amidst the larger and very real evil at work in the world.
As I read The K Street Affair I couldn’t help but feel like this was the first of a possible series of Lena Mancuso adventures, and I was not proven wrong, although the set-up for the next one was not what I thought it would be.
I look forward to a sequel.