Category Archives: Book Reviews

Review of The Poets Laureate Anthology edited by Elizabeth Hun Schmidt

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The Poets Laureate Anthology

I am so glad I own this book. I bought it ten years ago, and just got around to reading it.

I was already familiar with the work of Billy Collins, Robert Frost, and William Carlos Williams, and knew the names of several more of the poets laureate, but most of them were new to me.

The book is arranged starting with W.S. Merwin, who held the office in 2010 when the book was published, and working backward to Joseph Auslander, the original consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress (which the position was called until 1986). Each poet’s section begins with a quote about his or her work, then a short biography, and then some representative poems. One feature of the biographies is that they list prominent awards won by the poets. I will be collecting some of the books that won Pulitzers.

Much of the poetry in the anthology is of the caliber that I aspire to. Many poems delighted me with their images and wordplay. But some did not move me, and I confess that some I did not understand at all (probably my shortcoming, not the poets’). I liked the more recent poet laureates the best. Nevertheless, I intend to reread this 716-page book often. I suspect my enjoyment of it will increase with time.

I honestly don’t want to go to the trouble of obtaining permissions to reprint poems from the book; but here are links to some of my favorites:

The Poets Laureate Anthology is a great collection of poems. If you are a serious lover of American poetry, this book is a must for your shelf.

Review of The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

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I have seen this book more than once on lists of best books about creativity.

Now that I’ve read it, I can confirm that it is. In fact, it’s delightful.

Tharp is one of America’s best loved choreographers, with a long and illustrious career. If you don’t know her, take a peek at this short interview with her from a couple of years ago, in which she discusses a newer book she’s written on the importance of movement:

Yay! I get to read another book by her.

In The Creative Habit (subtitled Learn it and Use it for Life), she offers tools that will help the creative artist keep coming up with fresh ideas. She believes in rituals, and has processes by which she frees up her brain to come up with new things.

The book is beautifully formatted. It uses different colored inks and different sizes of type to keep the eye and the mind from getting lulled into inattention (at least, it did for me). At the end of each chapter is a group of exercises, printed on gray paper. I didn’t do every exercise, but I did mull them over and I can see how beneficial each would be to enhance a person’s creativity.

The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

Tharp uses anecdotes from her own life and from those of creative geniuses throughout history, recent and long past, to illustrate happy (and not-so-happy) accidents that led to creative breakthroughs.        

If I were teaching a college-level class on creativity, The Creative Habit would be my textbook. It’s that good. In fact, I wish I had read this when I was still teaching elementary general music, although I did do some similar activities with my students.

Tharp cowrote the book with Mark Reiter, whose bio reads, “Mark Reiter has collaborated on eleven previous books. He is also a literary agent in Bronxville, New York.” I did not find much more about him online. (Apparently, he is quite humble.) I don’t know how much of The Creative Habit is actually his. I’d like to think the content is 99.9% Tharp’s, and that Reiter contributed some of the sparkle. I also suspect he’s a great agent for nonfiction authors.

The Creative Habit has earned a permanent spot on my bookshelf. I intend to reread it every couple of years.

Creative Juice #227

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Creative Juice #227

Topics serious and entertaining:

Review of Obama: An Intimate Portrait by Pete Souza

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Prior to 2008, I noticed young Senator Barack Obama and labeled him as someone with presidential potential, but I expected him to complete a few more terms in the Senate before he ran. In the 2008 and 2012 elections, I wanted so badly to vote for a Republican, but both John McCain and Mitch Romney ran very ugly campaigns. (Here in Arizona, McCain is something of a saint. I agree that he had many lovely qualities, but he slung a lot of muck in 2008 and acted like a crabby old man. To top it off, of all the talented women he could have chosen to be his running mate, he selected the ditziest woman in politics.) Obama, in contrast, conducted himself with great dignity; he won my votes.

Shortly before the 2020 election (I had already submitted my early ballot for Biden), MSNBC presented a special tv program about Pete Souza, who had been the chief official White House photographer during the Obama presidency. The show made me nostalgic for what the presidency had been under Obama. His eloquence as a speaker. His character. His warmth. A sharp contrast to the buffoon who, as I write this review, is trying to retain his power by any means possible, including inciting angry mobs to storm the Capitol. Immediately after the show aired, I ordered this book, so that I could savor what our country can be again, soon, hopefully.

Souza had unprecedented access to the White House. During the eight years of Obama’s presidency, Souza was a virtual fly on the wall all day, every day. He had the ability to make himself inobtrusive, unnoticeable. He took hundreds of candid photos of the President at work and at leisure, in addition to the official documentation of his presidential actions.

And what he captured was amazing. He recorded the stress of the job, the intensity of crises, the seriousness of the President’s focus. He also chronicled Obama’s tenderness toward his family and his staffer’s children, his sense of humor, and his kindness. The photographs and Souza’s recollections regarding them comprise an in-depth account of what the Presidency was like during Obama’s two terms.

I didn’t agree with every decision Barack Obama made as President, but I was always confident that his motivation was to try to do what would be best for our country and our world. He served the United States diligently, and I welcome the return of Joe Biden to White House to resume that legacy and undo the harm that’s been done in the interim.

Creative Juice #215

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Creative Juice #215

Oh, is it Friday already? So sorry I’m late!

Review of Draw Your Day by Samantha Dion Baker

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Review of Draw Your Day by Samantha Dion Baker

I love to look at art journals. For example, I love the blog Sketch Away, by Suhita Shirodkar, in which she records her days. I dream of being outside, pulling out my sketchbook, and drawing what I experience.

But I have no idea how to get started.

I don’t remember how I found out about Draw Your Day: An Inspiring Guide to Keeping a Sketch Journal by Samantha Dion Baker, but I immediately ordered it, and for the last week or so it’s the book I’ve brought with me to read at Greg’s doctor appointments and physical therapy.

It is, of course, illustrated with pages from Dion Baker’s own journals. I love her style.

She tells a little about her own life, and how she first started journaling, and how over time the artwork disappeared from her journals. She missed the drawing, and needed to purposely reinstate it into her life.

I really appreciate her discussion of tools. She explains the numbering system for pencils, which I really never understood before. She recommends certain brands of art supplies, some pricey and some not, and explains the reasons behind her choices.

But most of all, she explains how to make a sketch journal a part of your daily routine. She suggests multiple ways to use one, and leaves it up to you to come up with your best way to adopt the sketchbook habit. I love this book, and I can’t wait to make sketching a daily part of my life.

You can look at Samantha Dion Baker’s artwork on her Instagram page.

Creative Juice #190

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Creative Juice #190

Lots of fun, and one solemn thing:

Review of Crazy Brave: A Memoir, by Joy Harjo

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Review of Crazy Brave: A Memoir, by Joy Harjo

 

 

Joy Harjo is the current poet laureate of the United States, the first Native American to hold that position. I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about her.

Harjo is almost the same age as me, which made me like her immediately. However, our life experiences couldn’t be more different.

Harjo starts her memoir with the story of her parents and ends with her young adulthood. Her writing style is musical—even her prose is poetic. The poems included in the book reflect her native culture, which is woven throughout.

As a child, Joy was a good student, an artist who loved poetry, photography, and music.

Harjo’s parents divorced, and her mother married an older white man who physically and emotionally abused her and Joy and Joy’s sister and brothers.

Her stepfather wanted Joy gone, so he suggested sending her to a fundamentalist Christian school. Joy asked instead to be sent to an Indian boarding school, so she would have classmates who looked like her. The family applied through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and she was sent to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She studied art and theater in addition to her academic subjects. When she graduated from the high school program, she was pregnant. The baby’s father promised to send her money to join him, but he didn’t.crazy brave

Joy borrowed bus money from her brother to travel to her baby daddy’s home. They married, but the marriage didn’t last.

With tribal assistance, Harjo entered the University of New Mexico in a premed program. After one semester, she changed her major to studio art. She met a student who wrote poetry. Joy had always loved poetry; she had loved to recite it as a child. She thought poetry had to be in English. This young man wrote poetry about his tribe and his pueblo and his people and their ideals. He changed the way Harjo thought about poetry. She fell in love with the student, and he beat her. She bore him a daughter and named her Rainy Dawn. He was an alcoholic, and she eventually left him. The book ends shortly thereafter, with Harjo pursuing poetry.

This is an excellent book for a white person to read, especially one whose experience with Native Americans is as non-existent as mine. It’s eye-opening.

Guest Post: Help Your Readers Write Good Reviews, by Penny Sansevieri

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Thank you to Penny Sansevieriand Writers in the Storm for this excellent article.

People reading books

Getting readers to write reviews, and encouraging them to do so, is a big part of what authors do to gain more visibility for their books. We know though that it’s not just any review, but a quality one that truly benefits your book. Quality reviews, meaning reviews that are more than “I liked this book,” can actually help to sell the book better than shorter, less specific reviews.

I’ve heard from numerous authors who have readers that post Amazon reviews, for which they are extremely grateful, but wish they were more detailed. You’ve all seen those short reviews on Amazon that say little more than “Loved this book!” While it’s fantastic that someone took the time to leave a review, short reviews like that do little to help a book along. They are often frowned upon by Amazon and could get pulled if the review seems disingenuous.

Read more about why Amazon reviews get pulled.

So how can you encourage your readers to not only review your book, but leave one that is meaningful?

First, let’s talk about what we look for in reviews as consumers. When a book has several great, detailed reviews, we tend to scan them for highlights on the things that matter to us. That’s how we often buy books. Both good and bad reviews can help us decide, and, frankly, I’ve often bought a book after I read a bad review because what the reviewer didn’t like was exactly what I was looking for. That’s why detailed reviews are not only helpful, but they’re a must for your Amazon page.

So, if you have readers who love your work but aren’t savvy on posting reviews, here are some tips you can share with those who want to post something about your book:

  • Whenever possible or appropriate, ask the reviewer to add their expertise on the topic if your book relates to nonfiction.
  • If you have identified your keywords, share them with any friends who are posting and ask them that, if appropriate, they include the keywords in the review.
  • Ask readers to post reviews that are between 100 and 450 words.
  • If a reader feels compelled to include a spoiler, ask them to post a warning first so the customer can chose to read on—or not.
  • Never, ever, ever offer to edit a review. You want honest appraisals, not watered-down reviews that all sound alike.
  • It’s important that the reviewer cite why the book mattered to them. This also personalizes the review for the reader.

To continue reading, go to the original article.

Review of Dream Work by Mary Oliver

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Review of Dream Work by Mary Oliver

I recently read the Kindle edition of this book through Prime. I read it twice, first on my vintage Kindle, then on the Kindle app on my vintage iPad. I make the font large so I don’t have to wear my reading glasses; on the iPad the formatting stayed truer.

I especially love Oliver’s nature poems, and there are many here—Wild Geese, which is one of her most famous, and lots of others which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Actually, whatever the poem is really about, she seems to put some flora and fauna in it.

At first I wasn’t sure the poems resonated with me, but as I progressed, I liked them better and better. I suspect that I will love them all better through repeated readings.Dream Work

The book is divided into two sections, and I haven’t figured out why yet.

One sinister poem titled “Rage” seems to refer to a father raping a child. It felt autobiographical, so I googled “Was Mary Oliver raped?” and found out she indeed was raped as a child. Another poem, “A Visitor,” describes a visit from a father who was once feared and avoided, but who is now “pathetic and hollow. . . I saw what love might have done/ had we loved in time.”

 

Another poem references Beethoven; another, Schumann. Several reference native Americans.

“Members of the Tribe” seems to be about suicide.

My favorite poem in the book is “Banyan,” a fantasy poem:

Something screamed
from the fringes of the swamp.
It was Banyan,
the old merchant.

It was the hundred-legged
tree, walking again.

The cattle egrets
flew out into the sunlight
like so many pieces of white ribbon.

The watersnakes slipped down the banks
like green hooks and floated away.

Banyan groaned.
A knee in the east corner buckled,

a gray shin rose, and the root,
wet and hairy,
sank back in, a little closer.

Then a voice like a howling wind deep in the leaves said:
I’ll tell you a story
about a seed.

About a seed flying into a tree and eating it
little by little.
About a small tree that becomes a huge tree
and wants to travel.

Listen, said the voice.
This is your dream.

I’m only stopping here for a little while.
Don’t be afraid.

I love “the hundred-legged tree” and the description of the egrets flying and the watersnakes slipping down like green hooks. Why is the banyan a merchant?

I like this book, but not as much as Devotions.

Want to learn more about Mary Oliver? Read Maria Shriver’s interview.