Slaughter-House 5 by Kurt Vonnegut

    There’s not too many things one can say about Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ that have not been said. After reading Goldammer’s mystery below I felt ready for another take on Dresden and wondered how I could have missed this work that has become a true classic? Perhaps that’s the reason, its popularity that kept me away (such occurs to me frequently). Then I accept that as my lost for the novel is certainly in a profoundly remarkable, special, even scary. class of its own.
    We all know a Billy Pilgrim, the typical white-bread fed American boy who wonders into a quandary of bad and dangerous world affairs, does not get so terribly wounded; uses a very simple imagination to displace world realities, survives, has a usual rather disjointed life, then dies. Some of us know the upsetting futility of war submerged beneath the bristling, deadly silliness of the later novel ‘Catch-22’ and then Tom Hanks seemingly inoculation from war in Forrest Gump. Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse certainly presages these gems in a way forever outstanding. What is it that makes this novel great?
     It is readable, has a good story – stories! – and all that. But I think Vonnegut has produced a terror upon human senses. What is certainly lighthearted, easily digestible becomes actually a hit in the gut. It’s obvious we are in the apparent mind of a creative genius, able to flash his skilled, inspired moments of brilliance before us, almost at will, Picasso-like, flapping flaccid world relevances as, yes, the novel ordains and questions the meaning of life.
     A bomber drops its violent load and goes backwards to the making of the bomb. The backwards beginning again and again in this work. If we were to follow human natures like that, would we see the beginning, catch it, change it, before it goes again to its predestined load?
     No and that is why there is the invention of the imaginary space vehicle, the Tralfamadorians, who Billy believes in so relevantly. Because this is the place where time is meaningless. It is nonlinear. Death and life exist simultaneously. What is dead is alive, it loses its existence with death and occurs simultaneously with life. (And somehow the future is there too where you never die.) And so this is time. The violence of Dresden is still there. “It was the fastest killing of large numbers of people — one hundred and thirty-five thousand people in a matter of hours.” But Vonnegut was wrong with the numbers, and I believe correct with the violence, the horrors of World War II are still there. All of them.
Goebbels upped the 20,000-plus figure with an extra zero, looking for the rage to follow. At Vonnegut’s time, 1969, for him it was 135,000 burned, incinerated in this “most destructive aerial bombing of World War II.” But the rage had already presaged the event. First found in 1944 by the Russians in a prison camp. Then several times later, up to Jan 1945 when the Russians liberated the Auschwitz site.
     Dresden followed in February.
     The novel is deeply philosophical, perceptively questioning the reality of time, mental space and perhaps freedom and choice. Who was Billy but a limp reflection of the age? The nonplus suburban lifer, giving speeches full of jokes at the club and not attached to any meaning.
     Large tragedies become reduced to small ones. The crazed Colonel, call me “Wild Bob”, based on the actual grandson of iconic William Bill Cody, a fellow prisoner of Vonnegut in Dresden, dies. The wearisome, dangerous simpleton Weary dies of gangrene on the feet shoveled into, standing, spooned together, POWs, in a similarly over-crowded rail box car. And there’s the other remarkable unremarkable hobo who dies in starvation on the car. The captured English officers are held as gentlemen by Germans who wanted to be that way. (Hitler could have destroyed Britain, but, alas, did not want to.)
     And Dresden, poor Dresden, “Florence on the Elbe,” which is the way Vonnegut wanted to see it. A bastion of Medieval culture, artifacts, architecture. If one could interpret time so that the tragedy did hold as a major one, but not in comparison, say, to the nest of accompanying horrors, what kind of time-space formula would be required? Disjointed from time, why that of the Tralfamadorians, of course.
     Slaughterhouse-5 novel is an amazing accomplishment and can be refreshingly read over and over. And I think Vonnegut is basically right about time. In fact, his ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ has a perception that would forever yield new discovery, things still not said. For example, No, time does not occur, only, we do.
     “I been hungrier than this,” the hobo told Billy. “I been in worse places than this. This ain’t so bad” – said the hobo before he too died in the rail car.

The Air Raid Killer by Frank Goldammer

 The Air Raid Killer (2016) is a spectacular, thrilling piece of writing by German novelist Frank Goldammer (translated by Steve Anderson). The story line wraps itself around the grisly World War II horror of the 1945 Dresden fire burning, provoking a surreal-like feeling as you advance through the story’s intriguing teasing mysteries, twisted disguises and utterly debased murders. Max Heller is the non-Nazi 6-foot tall detective, who, with his sidekick Oldenbusch as photographer, must compete with doctrinaire party concerns of chief detective, SS officer, Klepp Waffen, to investigate the strange murder of nurse Klara Bellman, assaulted, nearly skinned during an air raid. The atmosphere is intense and gloomy in Dresden, unique German cultural setting of Medieval architecture and statues. A strange feeling looms in the German breast as the end of the war is on the horizon with the Russians quickly advancing from the east, pressing thousands of refugees and soldiers into the city’s communication and transportation hub. Many of the refugees are German Silesians,forced out by advancing Russians as usurpers of Nazi-acquired land and scorned by the Nazis as half-Aryans. How, upon this real horror could a mystery writer yet impose another horror of wolf howling, ‘fright man’, murders? Goldammer does remarkably well. The chilling night and day of the city’s bombing, February 13 through 15, 1995 appears suddenly and horrendously. The reader is practically caught off guard in an unrelenting firestorm of dust, ash, and blood, loose bricks and rubble from buildings crashing down, pieces of walls, smashed furniture and thousands of bodies burnt to a crisp. Heller finds himself with others trapped in a cellar. They must climb upon each other to lift themselves out. “To his horror, he saw the entire world was on fire.” “Why would they do this to us?” a little boy asks. Yet there is another murder of a nurse. A wolf’s howl had been heard, there are rumors of a ‘fright man’. The mystery continues unmitigated by destruction as a deeply scarred city tries to pick itself up. Detective Heller eventually forms an unlikely alliance with Commissar Alexei Zaitsev of the Russian army who uses his authority to foster Heller through his investigation. A large German mansion lands on their palette, with hidden places and a dungeon to careen the mystery into creepy twilight. Zaitsev eventually ques Detective Heller on the depraved hell of the concentration camps the Russians had come upon in January. Together, in Goldhammer’s fabulously involved mystery, Heller and Zaitsev find that they are working to place an end to yet another indescribable horror. A well-paced, gripping, exciting tale. 

Poet Reviews Poet Reviewer

So what is it that a good book of poems maketh that reaches it to the level of New York Times best poetry 2018? I have no idea of who the reviewer is but what qualities of fine poetry does he reveal?

These are the books:

HUMAN HOURS, by Catherine Barnett
THE POPOL VUH, translated by Michael Bazzett

YEARS, MONTHS, AND DAYS, by Amanda Jernigan.
DARK WOODS, by Richard Sanger.
WADE IN THE WATER, by Tracy K. Smith (our poet laureate)
A MEMORY OF THE FUTURE, by Elizabeth Spires

LIKE, by A. E. Stallings
TRANSACTION HISTORIES, by Donna Stonecipher.
BLOOD LABORS, by Daniel Tobin.
HEY, MARFA, by Jeffrey Yang.

Now meander over what he says:

a superb ear
devastating slant rhyme
deliberately casual
domestic poem command
unique and subtle challenges
quiet showcase in tone management
formal agility
classical expertise
attractively darkened
mordant yet romantic
seemingly unrelated observations
meticulously knit together
poetic equivalence of a chord
appealing effect
robust formally dexterous writing
hypnotic deeply strange creation saga
elegant precision
playfully exacting lines

Combine all these together – ah! wishful thinking. But study them at least, and you shalleth be proud. The task now is to check and see which of these titles appear in other end-of-the-year lists and to ask why.


Ideas from Poet Watcher Elisa New

If you saw the original manuscripts, you will notice that Emily Dickinson – whose 1800 poems were never published – used dashes. In this interview from Harvard poet critic Eliza New describes Dickinson’s work: “The exquisite craft of the individual poems. The extraordinary metaphors that just pay off and pay off and pay off.” I had mentioned to another writer the power of Dickinson’s metaphor and I don’t think the writer got the point. Dickinson: “I felt a Funeral in my Brain.”

Dickinson is important because interviewer Tyler Cowen got New to admit the the best poets in our country were Dickinson and Walt Whitman. What I am saying here is that any ‘poet’ worth their salt would have experience these two in the most deepest of ways and would not be writing Hallmark stuff and call them poems. But alas, that’s what 95 percent of facebook poems are, HALLMARK DRIVEL.

New says without Dickinson or Whitman, there would probably not be a Hart Crane, Allen Ginsberg, Carl Sandburg, C. D. Wright, C. K. Williams; a Susan Howe, Marianne Moore, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath.

If you don’t know these poets, then KNOW THEM – try to have deep and meaningful experiences with them.

Then there’s John Ashbery, whose early long narrative poetry I frequently post as contrasted to his recent nearly indecipherable poetry. New describes the latter as “the cut-up way, in the media-fied way that he saw earlier than the rest of us.” – which helps me view his difficult work in a different way. The interviewer then mentions some Canadien ‘Rupi Kaur’ whose poetry grew through Instagram two million followers to 77 weeks on NYT Best Seller List. New doesn’t criticize the poet. Instead she notes “we are in the middle of an interesting king of generational shift.” This younger generation has “a lot of sharing and a lot of sociality [and] wants to hear about the personal lives of their peers.” She simply says she is “too old” for such sorts.

And then she mentions Billy Collins, a well crafted poet who seems to defy the nonpopularity quotient. I immediately viewed some of his work and it’s the power of both his craft and his thought, both in ordinary language (of metaphor) that reign supreme – yeap, he’s my new flame. (LOOK HIM UP!)

Other poets New identifies are T.S. Eliot – “too fastidious”; John Milton; William Carlos Williams; Poe: “no poem should be longer than 108 lines,” which is wrong because then we wouldn’t have such as Dante (nor Milton!).

She points out the power of Herman Melville that did not exclude nor marginalize the female experience, did not confine such to the domestic realm but, I guess, gave much thought. Later in the interview she answers the question of the most important work to help others understand the american experience is “The Scarlet Letter”. There’s Willa Cather to help us understand our diversity, writing of the Midwestern modern America (1900s thereabout) such as My Antonia. I have recently made a light touch into the Austro-Hungarian Empire, these were some of the immigrants that populated a great potential America.

New makes prompted comments on Robert Frost; of “that Puritan tradition” (from California), he “tells us it’s good to acknowledge our pain.” Prompted on Gwendolyn Brooks, how she is a people’s poet. Ezra Pound, whom she would naturally first rebound from for his anti-Semitism, she yet notes his “beautiful, musical effects” as he tried to go cross-cultural and traditional, a “technician par excellence”. The problem with Pound and Eliot for her: “But I like my poets to give me some wisdom, and I don’t find him [them] wise.”

“For whatever reason, great art is often fertilized by bad character.” Eliot “was always a person of too much privilege and a person who made such bad choices…” And “The Waste Land, then, becomes a “magnificent accident”.

Positive mentions of Marianne Moore, William Carlos Williams, Hart Crane, Edna St. Vincent Millay. Robert Pinsky to say that poems should be read out, shared ‘around a fire,’ “or recited after school in a pageant or sang with music and jesters.”

She defines Thomas Hardy, Melville (his “Battle Pieces,” “Clarel”), great novelists as great poets even though, in “a very banal way of saying it – they really do call on different skill sets. The sort of distillation and often asocial concentration that it takes to be a lyric poet is quite different from the crowded, cacophonous, socially alert set of faculties one needs to write a great novel.”

What is wonderful – years ago, among one of my several life book collections, I had this small but really LARGE THICK book of poems. They were all expert, superb haikus. Well, New mentions this work. The volume of haiku by my absolutely fav life-changing writer RICHARD WRIGHT (of Native Son and Black Boy novels fame – as if you didn’t know!) Wright was a great poet, jesus!

The interviewer (Tyler Cowen) is apparently as fascinated with Bob Dylan as a poet as he is with Dickinson – who New located as being fascinated with Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

“[I]t is our humanity that poetry most meaningfully serves… I hope…we will cherish more the things about us that are just humans.”

She advises printing out poems “It’s better than reading it on your phone. And put it in your pocket,” take the advice of Whitman: “Loafe with me on the grass.”

New: “I really believe that human language — even encoded in some of the arcane ways, poems, and code — language is fascinating to other human beings.”

And i think that’s what it’s about to me, then, the fascination of language, it’s ability to communicate things and provide me silently indisputable things of beauty.

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The Sea Stories of T.D. Euwaite by Richard Brotbeck

“The stars in a pitch-black night sky a thousand miles out to sea are breathtaking. It’s easy to see how religions were born The majesty is overwhelming.” Pop Eye would have never transverse these haunts but perhaps he should have, for this is a rousing tale of our present day military sea man attached oiled down at the gaps with plenty of humor, charm and a rumpus beat. I think of the lightness of heart I had along with the respect for the crew when I first road the pages of the classic ‘No Time For Sergeants’ many years ago. And there’s this kid’s thirsty fascination with riding submerged on the submarine that even the several sub hunt movies have yet dissolved. It’s all here in The Sea Stories of T.D. Euwait, a ripping ride with Richard Brotbeck, ‘dolphin’ designated submarine sailor. We take our hats off to the piercing determination that moves this tale through choices, training, travel, exotic foods, roasts and frozen steaks, and plenty of pot and fights and yes, women. Breathing the nuclear sub’s metallic air, engaged in seaman tasks listening to sonar, Shore Patrol duty, even the final engaging brig scenes, the truth is that “Submarine patrols are long and tedious… You need some comedy once in a while to keep everyone loose.” And occasionally you wonder if the sea has this much water in it, for the easy rippling humor flows nonstop.

Perhaps it’s the matter of man who Richard represents. His dad took the family from its Midwest Missouri origins to Guam where he served as an FAA flight standards officer. It’s the late seventies and Richard forages with fellow seamen, the new ones, who yet to have seen war in a culture of American rock, drugs and motorcycles. Across waters, over lands, they were able to advance the much-fabled innocent, sweet, anti-communist American nonchalance while equipped with the most powerful of the instruments, “wire-guided acoustic-sensing torpedoes, nuclear warhead tipped ballistic missiles, a nuclear reactor.” They had machines producing copious gallons of fresh water. The missiles stations had the near genius ‘weird scientists’ while crew-cut bunches of sailors pursued practiced care to manage the “boat”. Cramped quarters, manufactured air, fire watches, roving shore patrol duty, a spam fondness, ‘monochrome green explosions’ with garbage, the wonder of seamanship is all here. Not a thing’s missing from Popeye’s Brotbeck sightings that could be called out of his sight.

He was initially trained in Groton, Connecticut at the Basic Enlisted Submarine School (BESS). The love of the New England small town never leaves Brotbeck, where he eventually returns to retire. Frank Zappa, Queen, some group called ‘Journey’, there’s more training near San Diego, jungle motorcycle riding, Liar’s poker, pool, and shifts between Pearl Harbor’s Ford Island, Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach, and his familiar second home, the Navy’s refitting quarters at Apra Harbor, Guam.

Being part of “America’s Drunkest Generation,” its ongoing spectacular competition between weed and drink; the pages flip through large flying roaches, unqualified chief petty officers, destroyer escort duty, a Dante-like Olongapo, Philippines, bar knockouts, becoming of age via an Aussie woman, the Indian Ocean and wildebeests and astonishing orgasms in Kenya but no Kilimanjaro. Shellback Day passing the Equator, Jinhae, South Korea, ‘cleaned, painted, and lubricated,’ tarp and tackle, throwing line and chain, the artist in Richard, the t-shirt designer, has so many marbles on his plate, one does wonder of his plunge into the brig, solitary at that, at the end of the tale. Five years a navy man, an ‘evil genius’ of astonishing creative character, was it merely weed or the chaotic thought of not being allowed passage to his father’s funeral who, with his brother, flew B17s in WW2? I don’t know, but over a richly written tale, Richard Brotbeck manages to recoup his good military status and now grows foodstuffs while tendering word craft on his New England farm. From this seamanship arises an admirable man who, in “The Sea Tales of E.D. Euwaite,” you get to like a lot, very much.

Richard Brotbeck (Author), John Nebraska (Illustrator), Nessa Shields (Editor), Joe Cavallo (Photographer), Jim Herold (Photographer), Rick Macionis (Photographer)

RELLIK: An Anti-Novel by Dom Ritter , Tina Lewis

Now here I’m sitting here about to read this novel. I gots me drink, a little smoke and I’m thinking I need like a little more to blow me head away. You know what I mean. I was getting ready to make that cell call. Well, so I decided to go on and read a few pages and I say, ‘god d—, what!!!’ Me head gets BLOWN AWAY! It’s like this dude Toby, the main character who’s been looking for a satisfying lay and now working it nice and proper in coitus with a real fine woman, and about to make another nice satisfying thrust when Bam! Right in front of him APPEARS MIA, the ex whom he had only just broken up with a few weeks ago. The beautiful rider atop him screams from the man’s shockingly abrupt grip on her breasts and it appears right from there on, this dude, who had just broken up with Mia a few weeks ago, is headed to a whole series of volcano gripping shocks and stuff because MIA IS A GHOST.

Okay, alright. Another lady appears somehow on the scene. She’s a little older than our protagonist. So it’s like I’m sitting here, my drink (little wild turkey bourbon yall) helps me recover a little bit, take a little toke, reading along. So like at Toby’s place – hey, did I tell you how somewhere, a feature of Somerset Maugham appears on Toby? You remember Betty Davis in ‘On Human Bondage’, a cub-footed Leslie Howard hopelessly pursuing his life’s love thing on her? Well yes, it appears that crazy man, author Dom Ritter, loads Toby down with a special feature of deformed toes. ‘Chinese bums’ he calls them. Let’s skip that, and I’m wondering here should I make that call when somehow the dude appears in Dr. Webb’s office where she weasels his life to the final embarrassing question: ‘You ain’t never had no committed long-term relationship with a woman’ and our gent wants to stop it right there. Any other dismissal of his existential angst could not have been more fatal, even Toby’s apparent lack of control of his bowel movements when unconsciously under severe stress. ‘Get off my back, I ain’t gay.’ He says something similar. And it’s like immediately his luck turns and something continues in the same pace, the same way and manner of the near quixotic searching and questing similar to the ongoing pounding on that Gunther Grass tin drum. Only ringing out before Toby’s eyes as svelte and mysterious as she wants to be is….

No, wait. There’s too many angles to all of this. Too many morsels, too many delectable features of these routes turned out in an anti-novel whacking and morphing and photoshoppng Toby’s sexy Philip Roth-like romps through some brilliant and fantastic twists of multiple duplicitous personality syndromes. I want to say that Dom Ritter handles this funny, sophisticated, and whacky tale of sex, love and mystery with thorough and mischievous aplomb. Ceaseless times you will retrieve your head and sanity through Toby’s near miraculous escapes only to have it again caught and BLOWN AWAY. Goodness god, gracious. And I never did have to make that call.

Novel: “Love Dreams” by Mia Zorrita

Good sex is a rare thing – and most of us know that it can be wonderful and exhilarating. In Mia Zorrita’s ‘Love Dreams’, it is like you are on a wild and glorious hayride, that hold-on-tightly hog ride, straight through Sexville. The writing is sharp, engaging and perceptive, levitating a smooth flow from page to page of overpowering lovemaking. The protagonist expresses a freedom and indeed a trust that I think we all want to believe we can have, something we can believe is still possible. Julio, a hard muscle-toned, non-stop sex machine, is the main male character for our protagonist ‘T’, and it is good that he is actually the sensitive, respectful, and, of course highly-sexed, inventive and patient gentleman of love that there is too little of in the media as regards Hispanic men. T is the older woman who daringly finally steps into a free expression of full, unabashed sexuality with her dedicated lover. The love-making is so overwhelming, so full and imaginative, I ask myself how is it possible that an older woman can accept and enjoy herself as much as she does? T is very attractive, she has built a physical presence and persona that wields men toward her. But does she want to get married? No! She doesn’t. Then who is T? What has she found that makes her character so special? Is it possible to build a protagonist, develop their character through sex? I began to understand that it’s her freedom that allows her to accept these hugh challenges to be completely taken over by Julio in certain ways at the drop of a hat. Excellent writing from Zorrita renders page after page of her fictionalized diary as a fantasy, a dream come true. Eventually, along with T – ‘Julio, I can’t take anymore,’ – I found myself putting the book down to catch ny breath. Yes, I believe there are some great insights here on a woman’s character. It is the beautiful nature of woman’s freedom, so delicately wrought and effortlessly expressed throughout the book that makes it difficult for me to wait for the second volume. I’m expecting and hoping that there will be one. Until then, I will just have to read this first hot potato again.