Hardcover: 48 pages
Publisher: Laughing Elephant, 2003
Sunday, July 27, 2008
Hardcover: 48 pages
Saturday, July 26, 2008
Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Paperback: 51 pages
· Publisher: Coal City Review Press, 2007
· Price: $10.00
· ISBN-10: 0979584418
· ISBN-13: 978-0979584411
As Dan Jaffe writes in his introduction to Kevin Rabas’ poetry, “There is no art that does not in some way reflect the character and personality of the artist.” The more willing the writer to look unflinchingly into his or her own reflection, the more powerful the resulting work. Anything less remains in the realm of technical skill. The art comes when the artist has the courage to face demons … and an angel now and then.
Kevin Rabas has looked keenly into that mirror. It’s not always a pretty thing to see. This collection is marked by inconsistency, one poem a sound masterpiece, the next a flat note. But the scales weigh heavily in favor of word-music, and most of this collection is just that: words that convey rhythm and sound, an interpretation of music into verse and back again. The poet is, in fact, a jazz musician, and the transition between word and musical note is, all in all, seamless … or shall we say, rarely misses a beat?
Perhaps the highest note of the collection comes early on, in “Night Shirts That Shimmer to Dinner.” Rabas combines jazz with the heart-searing pain of divorce, the stunning realization that a lost partner has actually lived a full life after a shared path has long forked in two. One feels the thrum of the music while reading. One feels the ache. The shock.
And when the annulment papers came in the mail,
no word from her in years, I knew she must’ve lived and lived and lived
on the blocks I once wandered and walked and knew, danced with the men
in the clubs, or danced while they played in the background, floated
dollar bills across bars to other friends, had talks with musicians…
…where music moves in the building as blood moves in the body,
and women can dance however they damn well please, and a man can
stand up and know
any damn thing his spirit can muster, can know the chord changes with
can know the bar top and the saxophone face, and the drumhead, and the
and the touch of brushes when they are new, cat paw on Spanish tile quick,
delicate as the teardrops the sensitive get on the heart finger, the ring
Take a deep breath here, savor. I had to. When you come across a poem that resonant, you almost don’t want to read anymore. Just linger in the fine pitch of that moment and let it rock you.
But do. Read on. Rabas has much more to say. He brings us into the world of a jazz musician, but he also brings us into the heartaches and heartbreaks of life as all of us who dare to live know it. He lets us witness the small joys that make up a greater happiness in a life well lived, capturing greater meanings in such simple scenes as of a new father playing catch with his small son, learning how to lob a ball soft and easy so the little guy can catch it—and in that act showing that love is all about releasing oneself as center of the universe and putting the other at center. Rabas has achieved as much in his poetry. In his best works, he has had the courage to reveal his innermost self, yet made us, his readers, feel that it is our core that he has recognized and acknowledged.
Kevin Rabas teaches creative writing and literature at Emporia State University. He co-edits Flint Hills Review and writes for Jazz Ambassador Magazine (JAM). He is winner of a Langston Hughes Award for Poetry and other awards.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
· Hardcover: 448 pages
· Publisher: Grand Central Publishing, 2008
· Price: $24.99
· ISBN-10: 0446402389
· ISBN-13: 978-0446402385
If it weren't for the Soviet Union and the blood lust of the Russian communists, I would not exist. My parents were World War II refugees, on the run for their lives from Soviet-occupied Latvia. They arrived in the United States at about the same time, immigrants with nothing but what they wore on their backs, with the most skeletal English language skills. Had they not spotted each other across the room of immigrants and felt drawn one to the other, well, that would have been an entirely different story, and without me in it.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Book Review by Zinta Aistars
· Reading level: Young Adult
· Paperback: 170 pages
· Publisher: iUniverse, Inc., 2006)
· Price: $13.95
· ISBN-10: 0595409261
· ISBN-13: 978-0595409266
In this novel for young adults—with something valuable to say to older adults, as well—Kate Buckley has had the courage to take on subject matter few will touch. As evidence: after a long search for a traditional publisher, Buckley had to self-publish for her story to see print. While none of the traditional publishers denied the quality and value of Buckley’s writing, all were squeamish at backing up a topic that continues to ignite a furor among those who are pro-life and those who defend a woman’s right to make choices about her pregnancy. Only after Buckley’s book saw quick success and critical acclaim (Kirkus, Ms. Magazine, and others) did traditional publishers consider her work, and Choices may yet see the imprint of one of these on its title page in a second printing.
The author comes to her writing with substantial experience. A Santa Fe, New Mexico resident, Buckley holds a master’s in human development with a concentration in women’s studies. She has facilitated support groups for girls in California and New Mexico. An activist for women’s rights, she has worked as a teen advocate in the Los Angeles Commission on Assaults Against Women’s Teen Abuse Prevention Project and has trained for the LA Commission’s Rape Crisis Hot Line team. Buckley has administered a three-year, science based drug and alcohol abuse prevention program in public middle schools of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
When Buckley wrote Choices, she meant it to be read and discussed not only by teen girls, but to open lines of communication between girls and their mothers, equally their fathers and brothers, even an entire community, for it takes a village to protect a young woman. Indeed, this is the line running through the novel. When 15 year old Kara MacNeill finds herself pregnant after being raped by a school jock at a party, she must confront her every fear in dealing with a moral and ethical dilemma. There is the rape itself. She must cope with the violation of body, mind and spirit that a person undergoes after a rape. To complicate matters, Kara’s mother is an impassioned pro-life activist who often has her daughter help in passing our flyers and joining in protests against abortion clinics. Surely, Kara will not find help in her dilemma at home. Time is of essence, however, as Kara searches for support in various places with varied results. The young rapist adds pressure to abort the fetus, for, as it turns out, she is not the first girl in school he has raped. The complicit and shamed silence in his female victims is something he has come to rely upon.
Choices addresses all variations and possible solutions to a problem too many adolescent girls and young women face. Is Kara in some manner responsible? Is a girl at a party who drinks too much accountable for what a boy does to her? Will a parent who has strong pro-life views feel the same way when a daughter has been raped? As simple as it can be to hold firm views when they apply to others, the insights Kara’s parents experience when the results of rape hit home are fascinating for the reader to witness.
This is a story about growing up, about being accountable and taking responsibility, about taking risks and being honest when honesty becomes a matter of life and death. This is a story about what it means to be a young not-yet-woman in a society that often puts the blame and the shame on the female (in no small part due to the views of women themselves about being “nice” and that “boys will be boys”) when sex becomes an act of force. Kudos to Buckley for speaking up.
To read an interview with Kate Buckley, visit this issue of The Smoking Poet's Feature YA Author Interview.