A great way to explore another culture is through poetry. This book, by one of the best living writers in Arabic, Saadi Youssef, does just that. It also provides beautiful poetry.
Youssef writes about all the traditional topics: love, nature, the changing seasons, and daily activities but he also describes his pain and anger at seeing the damage to his home country. In "A Difficult Variation" he describes his wishes for his native country, "Peace be upon Iraq's hills, its two rivers, the bank and the bend, / upon the palm trees / and the English hamlet gently dragging its clouds."
He writes deeply poignant poems about Iraq. In one he asks, “Is it your fault that once you were born in that country? / Three quarters of a century / and you still pay from your ebbing blood / its tax.” Read more about Nostalgia, My Enemy
De Grenade brings to vivid life a remote cattle range in the far reaches of Australia, just a boat journey away on the Coral Sea from the Indonesian island of Papua New Guinea. Stilwater, this remote ranch bounded by seas on two sides and by the curvy Solomon and Powder Rivers, was until a year before the author’s arrival mostly uncared for, its cows and bulls, unbranded and roaming free. Not only free but feral on this ranch of a thousand square miles.
De Grenade, adventurous and stubborn, and an excellent horsewoman left school at age twelve to cattle ranch in Arizona. There she buffed up her horse and animal skills. In her young twenties she asked family members for contacts in Australia, and through them found a distant connection who offered her free room and boarding in exchange for work. At the end of her gig, they gave her an airline ticket and as she wandered around “this island between two oceans” as she calls Australia, she found a notice to work on Stilwater. Read more about Stilwater: Finding Wild Mercy in the Outback
Wow! Chloe Honum’s first book of poetry is a winner. She writes beautiful nature poems, ones about living with a mother with psychiatric problems, and ones describing her childhood training to be a ballerina. Check out these lines from “Danse des Petit Cygnes”: “at the studio where I / was one of four cygnets. / Rehearsals ran late. / Night swayed on its green stem…”
In “Alone with Mother” she gives an emotionally laden image of a child trying to comprehend her mother’s state, “In the car, we sat a long time, / the keys a silver / starfish in her lap, silence // a kind of love between us.”
In “Crossing the Three-Rope Bridge” she not only captures the moment but creates tension in the reader who pictures the scene, a girl at camp crossing a thin bridge over a rushing creek, “I walked, heel toe, heel toe—a fish, the gleam / on a rock below, its wound a swirl of red…And when my foot slipped, the whole / sky gasped. You raised your hands as if to heaven.” Read more about The Tulip-Flame
Set during the McCarthy hearings of the late 50’s The Majestic tells the story of a blacklisted screen writer named Peter Appleton (Jim Carrey) who, after freeing himself from a car wreck, finds himself in a small town devoid of his memory. He encounters an older man who mistakenly believes Peter is his long lost son. Peter, having no reason to doubt the man, believes this must be who he is and so settles himself down in the town Read more about The Majestic
Nature, particularly trees are central to this lovely book of essays. Several of the narratives were unusual enough that I wondered if they had been fictionalized. They seemed more like creative nonfiction than essays. For instance, “Moon Trees” begins with this sentence, “There are cinnabar trees growing on the moon. “ But soon the world of facts—and interesting ones—becomes paramount.
Did you know that astronaut Stuart Roosa brought lots of tree seeds—katsura, loblolly pine, sycamore, sweet gum, and redbud onto Apollo 14’s moon expedition? Unfortunately, he did not get chosen to land on the moon so he brought these seeds back, and 450 of them were planted and studied by scientists. But they just grew normally like tree seeds that had never left Earth. However, for a brief while, Roosa got to combine his early career as a forest service Smoke Jumper (saving beautiful trees) and an astronaut whirling through space. Read more about Limber
Cocoanuts was the first feature film starring the four Marx Brothers: Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo. It may also have the distinction of being the first true movie musical, that is, a movie where the musical numbers were meant to be part of the story telling process rather than a performance for audience within the movie. It wasn’t that the studio didn’t plan to have a band playing with the musical scenes. A “band” was hired for the first day of shooting. Apparently they were to follow the actors around ready to play whenever someone was tempted to burst into song, but the director soon realized there was no reason to have them around and that they would distract from the plot of the movie; something that the Marx Brothers were already managing to do pretty well on their own. Read more about Cocoanuts and the Marx Brothers