Since April was National Poetry Month, most of the books I read contained, you guessed it, poetry. However, I managed to squeeze in a collection of essays and a few works of fiction so if you don’t like poetry, scroll down. For those of you using screen readers, I finally figured out how to make each review its own separate heading so if you don’t want to finish one, you can easily skip to the next. Happy reading.
Labyrinth: Poems from Wyoming and Beyond
Selected by A. Rose Hill
As Past President of WyoPoets, I’m proud to tell you about our new chapbook of poems by members that has just been released. WyoPoets is an organization that supports poets and promotes poetry throughout the state of Wyoming through workshops, contests and other programs. The poets who contributed to this anthology are from Wyoming and surrounding states.
The book’s theme is transitions or pivotal moments in life. My poem, “For the Last Time,” which I’ll post separately here later, is about the day I moved my late husband to a nursing home when I could no longer care for him. Aaron E. Holst, a local retired fire chief, writes a letter to his deceased father about fighting a forest fire. Other poems touch on baptism, domestic violence, dating, and other topics. A. Rose Hill, our state poet laureate, who selected the poems, talks about herself at the beginning of the book, and at the end, information about joining WyoPoets is included. To order this chapbook, send $8.00 for the first book plus $3.00 shipping and $1.00 for each additional copy to WyoPoets, PO Box 155, Douglas, WY 82633. To learn more about WyoPoets, click here.
I Could Chew on This: And Other Poems by Dogs
by Francesco Marciuliano.
Have you ever wondered what your dog is thinking when he attacks your favorite shoe? Now, you can find out. From the author of I Could Pee on This, a collection of poems written from a cat’s point of view comes a similar poetry collection written from a dog’s point of view. The book is divided into four chapters: Inside, Outside, By Your Side, and Heavy Thinking. Each chapter contains several poems that outline a dog’s emotions during certain situations.
My favorites were “I Lose My Mind When You Leave the House,” “Dance of Joy,” and “I Dropped a Ball.” These reminded me of the dogs in my family when I was growing up and my brother’s dogs in Florida where I visited in March. After reading this, I was inspired to write my own dog poem. You can read more about Francesco Marciuliano here.
The Best Loved Poems of the American People
Selected by Hazel Felleman.
This is an anthology of over 500 poems that were popular during the earlier part of the 20th century. Material is arranged by such themes as love and friendship, faith, animals, and nature, to name a few. It was produced in response to requests for favorite poems sent to a column in The New York Times Book Review.
The collection includes such classics as Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” and Clement Clark Moor’s “A Visit from St. Nicholas.” It also has poems that became old, familiar songs such as “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Home Sweet Home,” and the Christmas carol “I Saw Three Ships.” Some poems are humorous and whimsical, others more serious. There are a few that I enjoyed as a child. I found some boring but enjoyed reading most of them. I like the way the book ends with Robert Browning’s “The Years at the Spring,” especially the last line, “All’s right with the world!”
Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats
by T. S. Eliot.
Copyright 1967. Illustrations copyright 1982 by Edward Gory.
This poetry collection inspired the Broadway musical, Cats. T. S. Eliot wrote the poems in the 1930’s for his godchildren, but for years, they have been enjoyed by anyone young at heart. You’ll meet such memorable feline characters as Growl Tiger, Rum Tum Tugger, and McCavity. A friend to whom I gave this book years ago commented that the illustrations make the cats come alive.
When I was in college, I had the sound track from Cats. I liked how some of the poems were set to music. However, my favorite song from the musical is not in the book. Here I am, singing it. To learn more about T.S. Eliot, click here.
Langston Hughes: The Voice of the Poet
This is a recording produced by Random House Audio in a series of poets reading their work aloud. In this program which lasts a little over an hour, Hughes (1902-1967) shares work that reflects on such topics as racism, violence against blacks, music, and death, some inspired by his life experiences. In the beginning, he talks about, among other things, how being elected the class poet in the eighth grade despite being black helped launch his career as a poet. Some of his work is in the style of a blues song while other poems use traditional rhyming patterns or free verse. If everyone read such poets as Langston Hughes, our nation could be more tolerant of those who are different from us. To learn more about this poet, click here
Spoon River Anthology
by Edgar Lee Masters
The 200 plus poems in this collection, first published in 1915, tell of people in Spoon River, Illinois, who share their stories from their graves. Like any town, Spoon River had its bad apples: a corrupt banker, an arsonist, and a rapist, to name a few, but there were others like Hannah Armstrong, who ran a boarding house where Abe Lincoln once stayed, Joseph Dixon, who tuned harps and other stringed instruments, and Lucinda Matlock, Masters’ grandmother. Each epitaph, in one way or another, tells how each person lived and died. The 1962 edition contains an introduction by poet May Swensen, an epilog, suggested reading, and biographical information about Masters.
When I was in high school, I participated in the local college’s production, directed by my mother, of a musical based on Masters’ work. With other students, I sang old folk songs that were probably popular during that time. We accompanied ourselves on piano, guitar, saxophone, and various rhythm instruments. Songs were interspersed with readings of the epitaphs by students and other community members. Reading some of the poems in this anthology brought back memories of that time. I’d sing you one of the songs but can’t find any of the music from that production, and although I remember tunes, titles and lyrics elude me. Oh well… You can read more about Edgar Lee Masters here.
Letter to My Daughter
by Maya Angelou
The essays and poems in this bestseller reflect on racism, religion, and other topics. Maya Angelou writes about her life in San Francisco with her mother when she moved there as a teen-ager after being raised by her grandmother in Arkansas. She describes how her son was conceived through sex without love and talks about the guilt she felt when she left him in her mother’s care while on the road performing. This almost drove her to kill herself and her child until her voice teacher encouraged her to write down her blessings. She shares a couple of anecdotes from her time in Africa and her perceptions of Coretta Scott King and other celebrities. She dedicates this book to daughters all over the world, not having any of her own.
I found it hard to believe when a waitress in a North Carolina café told Maya and her friend that nobody had been served in over an hour because the cook ran out of grits. If I were black and in that café, I would have looked around to see if others at neighboring tables were eating which they probably would have been. Apparently though, Maya believed the waitress’s tale. Otherwise, I enjoyed reading the work in this book, although I found the poems a bit too abstract. To learn more about Maya Angelou, click here.
And We Stay
by Jenny Hubbard
This was named a 2015 Printz Honor Book by the American Library Association. In 1995, seventeen-year-old Emily Beam is sent to the Amherst School for Girls in Massachusetts after her boyfriend Paul commits suicide. Too ashamed to tell her story, she makes few friends but writes a lot of poems which are scattered throughout the book along with flashbacks that tell of her relationship with Paul and what drove him to shoot himself in the high school library back home.
She takes an interest in the poet Emily Dickinson who also attended the Amherst School for Girls over a century ago. A teacher encourages Emily Beam to enter a poetry contest and loans her a biography of Emily Dickinson. Emily Beam becomes obsessed with visiting Emily Dickinson’s grave and her home which is now a museum.
This book is perhaps more suited to teen-agers, but I, a middle-aged widow, found it hard to put down. Emily’s story fascinated me. It’s not often you find a teen-ager who writes poetry for therapeutic purposes and who is interested in a classic poet. I have a feeling that if my favorite high school English teacher were still in the business, she would assign this book to her freshman English class. It’s a great way to introduce young people to poetry and get them to think about issues of the day. For more information about Jenny Hubbard’s books, click here.
by Maisey Yates
In Copper Ridge, Oregon, Connor Garret is a rancher who lost his wife three years earlier. When Felicity Foster, his best friend since childhood, needs a place to stay, he takes her in and can’t resist fantasizing about her in her underwear and other romantic situations. The feeling is mutual. Felicity organizes a community effort to replace Connor’s barn that burned down. Will she also replace his wife?
This interesting story is bogged down by way too much detail about the characters’ feelings and love making. At first, I was curious about the outcome, but now, I don’t care anymore so I decided not to finish the book. To learn more about New York Times bestselling author Maisey Yates and her books, click here.
Songs of My Selfie: An Anthology of Millennial Stories
Edited by Constance Renfrow
We all know about mid-life crisis, but has anyone heard of quarter-life crisis? That’s what the seventeen stories in this anthology are about. They’re written by twenty something emerging writers about and for people in that age group. In “The Most Laid-Back Guy Ever,” a young woman falls for a young man in an airport. In “Small Bump,” a young couple decides to abort a pregnancy. In “Victoria,” a young woman secretly leaves her family to fly off with her boyfriend, but does she change her mind at the airport? Each story includes a selfie of the author.
Some of these tales are fun to read, but after a while, I got tired of this book. I may read more of it later. I’m a widow in my fifties, but I definitely recommend this to those in their twenties who can more easily identify with these characters. To learn more about Constance Renfrow and this book, click here.
The Woman Upstairs
By Claire Messud
In this bestselling author’s latest novel, third grade teacher Nora Eldridge becomes involved with the Shahid family when they become her neighbors in Cambridge, Massachusetts. However, I didn’t get very far with this. It starts out from Nora’s first person point of view, and one of the first things she says is that when she dies, her epitaph should read, “Fuck you all!”
I don’t mind the F word. I first learned it from my daddy years ago and still use it occasionally, but the context in which this author uses it tells me that something is going to happen that will make the main character feel this way, and I’m not sure I want to know what it is, at least not now. You can read more about this book here.
Dad is Fat
by Jim Gaffigan
No, this is not another memoir about someone living with an obese father, although I wondered when I saw the title. In this book, stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan writes about living with five children under the age of nine and his wife in a small two-bedroom apartment in New York City. He starts by relating an experience he and his wife had years earlier while touring the Grand Canyon with friends who had a baby. He then launches into a series of humorous stories about his relationship with his father and covers such topics as pregnancy, home birth, education, and family vacations. He also shares the reactions of family and friends to each pregnancy and birth and ponders the question, “Are you done yet?”. So whose dad is fat, you ask? Well, read the book.
Many of these little essays left me rolling in my recliner. They not only brought back my own childhood memories but helped put my earlier life in perspective. Having children is similar to being a family caregiver. For six years, I cared for my late husband who was totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. I can imagine how much more difficult it would be to care for five husbands, all totally blind and partially paralyzed by two strokes. Of course kids eventually grow up and become independent, but still… To find out if Jim Gaffigan’s done having kids, click here.