Review: Luci Shaw

Every once in awhile, I find a new author (of prose or poetry, whichever) and decide to get as many of his or her books as possible, then read them in a great flurry to form a very clear concept of that writer’s style.  

It usually backfires, because I put off even the activities I enjoy, and fail to read them until they’re all due back at the library.  My tsundoku works against me and I end up reading, like, 2 books of a potential dozen.  

But that fate has been averted, more or less, with Luci Shaw.  I discovered her in trying to find poems about Petoskey stones (which, as you may recall, I adore hunting on the Lake Michigan shoreline).

shaw-petoskeystoneTurning up Polishing the Petoskey Stone: what a boon!  There’s only one poem about Petoskeys in it, but the book’s introduction explains why that title was chosen.  Shaw’s friend showed her how the fossils could be buffed on anything – one’s blue jeans, the arm of a chair, the fabric of a car door interior.  After a road trip’s-worth of rubbing at a stone, the resulting sheen made Luci consider God, polishing each one of us individually; our particular sorrows, joys, dull moments, energetic evenings, manic Mondays are all part of the process of making us shine forth.

Polishing the Petoskey Stone astonished me with its wisdom and imagery.  Every other poem, if not every single one, provided illumination of God’s work through a wealth of natural pictures: frogs, shells, the view from an airplane window, circles, blood.  So much of it provided new and weighty illustrations about the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.

I eventually recognized that the sub-headings within were not simply section titles but the titles of earlier collections.  Polishing the Petoskey Stone contains poems originally published in Listen to the Green, The Secret Trees, The Sighting, and Postcard from the Shore.  Not all of them, but about two-thirds.  

Likewise, a handful from The Secret Trees turn up in The Green Earth and Water Lines; accompanied-by-angelswhole sections of Water Lines in Water My Soul; various selections from this and that book in Accompanied by Angels: Poems of the Incarnation.  Where there is any overlap of theme, there will be an overlap of poems. 

And yet, the introductions to each book, the occasional endnotes, the different structure, and the fact that good poetry is worth re-reading and rumination all add up to a complete lack of regret for getting them all out.  

I tried to read in order, more or less, but the strictures of time and the MelCat system mean that I read certain later books earlier on.  Harvesting the Fog is a later book – published in 2010, not the 70’s or the early aughts.  I didn’t care for it half as much, as it seemed more concerned with simple description than with embodying the intangible.  

I still have six books of hers to read, and 4 more to track down and read thereafter, but I doubt they’ll change my judgment of Shaw: carefully observant, fresh and evocative, somewhat familiar in subject and tone to those fond of CS Lewis (while different in form).  I commend her to you all as a poet who will refresh your soul.


My beloved Mark Forsyth noted last January that he has two tsundoku (“a pile of books you’ve bought and haven’t got round to reading yet”).

I have something like that.

First, I have The Pile of Books I’ve Read, But Want to Review Before Returning to the Library:


Then, the Pile of Shavian Poetry (thankfully Luci’s, not George Bernard’s):


Then, the Pile of Apple Books – i.e., the books I took one bite of, and then put down to take a bite of something else.  If I’m not careful I shall have to make a bucket of applesauce.  So to speak.


All that said, since I took these pictures, I’ve managed to remove a couple books from each pile.  Hurrah!

What’s in your tsundoku?

Review: Silverlock

A couple of friends recommended this book to me, so I was excited to pick it up and start it.  It’s a fun blend of different classical stories, settings, and characters.  By the end, I was glad to have read it; there were some rough bits in between.  

A. Clarence Shandon, the eponymous Silverlock (so called for the streak of white in his hair), is clearly Eustace Clarence Scrubb all grown up.  Unfortunately, traveling through the Commonwealth of Letters does not improve him as much as being dragoned by greed and un-dragoned by Aslan.

…possibly I am biased by the fact that he narrates.  This being so, one sees all too far into his head.  He is often driven by the basest motivation, including a bit of rather misogynistic skirt-chasing, and that’s distressingly clear throughout.  The remove of a third-person narrator might have helped.  As it stands, I didn’t really have the chance to develop much sympathy for him before his vices made me dislike him.  

The enjoyable part is the land where he ends up.  In the Commonwealth, he meets with such classical figures as Circe, Little John, Beowulf, Job, Pangloss, and some Whynnyms; he travels from the shore, to Sherwood Forest, down Watling Street, by the chapel of the Green Knight, and past Gitche Gumee (! my Michigan heart delighted in that).

So as a pastiche, it’s fairly good.  Shandon is helped along by Golias, a composite of every single well-traveled bard out there: first, to survive; second, to help an asinine fellow get his girl back; third, to start off for the spring of all inspiration (a path that goes through Hell, so Shandon’s lucky Golias had his back).

(Golias, being a bard, sings a lot of songs.  These are rather fun, except that I’m terrible at making up tunes as I read, so they weren’t quite as fun for me as they could have been.  However!  At one particular point when Golias saves Shandon’s butt, I’m preeeetty sure the song he sings scans about the same as one of Tom Bombadil’s favorites.  It was an apt spot for it.)

Each scene of the picaresque was assembled nicely, and altogether it fit cunningly.  But Shandon’s journeys only ever serve to make him glad to be alive for himself.  He does not turn outward, glad to be of service to others.  When the story finishes, he’s been changed, possibly even grown a bit…but so far as I can tell, he remains a man-shaped dragon.  

Review: Sully

This past weekend, family members that I don’t normally get to see were in town.  Aunt Judy suggested that some of us see a movie and then get lunch together.  “Do you want to go see Sully?” she asked me.

“What’s it about?”  All I could think of was Monsters Inc., which didn’t sound like something Aunt Cindy would join Judy in watching.

“Oh, you know.  It’s about that pilot who had birds fly into his engines so that he had to make an emergency landing on the Hudson.”

This did not sound promising.  How could a feature-length film be made out of an event that presumably took fewer than five minutes?  No wonder it was shorter than Florence Foster Jenkins and The Light Between Oceans.  I decided to join my aunts, if only so they wouldn’t have to wait 20-40 minutes for me to finish watching a longer movie.sully-poster

…so to begin with, you can tell that I either didn’t hear, or forgot, that the events of this movie actually happened my last year of undergrad.  My roommate pointed out – after asking what rock I’d been under so as to miss this when it went down in 2009 – that deplaning takes several hours when the Coast Guard and police dive teams get involved.

More than that, when you’re the captain responsible, the moments feel like hours.  Sully captures both the worst-case scenario – both engines out, a plane dead in the air, everyone having to utilize the exit doors, inflatable raft, and life preservers after ignoring the attendants’ safety lecture – and the best-case scenario: every single person getting off the plane intact, being taken to shore, and receiving medical attention if needed.

Also depicted:

– the people on the flight.  A wheelchair-bound grandma, picking a snow globe from the gift shop for her granddaughter.  An older man, his son, and the son’s friend, all of whom are desperate to get on the flight for a long-awaited golfing trip.  A woman and her baby girl, sitting beside a solicitous gentleman.  People who are sleeping, people who look sick, people who are excited.

– what might have been.  Captain Suhlenberger, Sully for short, has episodes of imagining how it could have gone if he’d turned this way or that.  He envisions distressing New York anew by crashing into another skyscraper – especially poignant to watch this past weekend.

– the real-world fallout.  Did he make the right choice?  Sully wonders throughout.  The world hails his water landing as miraculous, while the airline and its insurance agents question whether he might have made it safely back to the runway at La Guardia, plane intact.  Algorithms in plenty, as well as pilots put through a simulation, seem to indicate that he could have, and thus should have, made that turn.  What, then, becomes of his career?  Of his 40 years of flight?  This last aspect gripped me the most, as it is entirely possible for someone to put forth the most profound effort, to remarkable results, and still be fired or vilified for it.

Despite my expectation that Sully might be an hour and a half of boredom, I was profoundly moved by its depiction of reality.  Theatres are glutted with superhero movies, stuffed with explosions, full of sound and fury and signifying little.


Talking of: if you watch only one Tom Hanks movie this year, please don’t let it be Inferno.

It was good to see the collateral damage kept to a minimum for once.

It was better to see the air traffic controllers, the Coast Guard, the police divers, and other emergency response teams assemble for their work of helping, rescuing, and fixing.  In a world full of accidents and mechanical failure and wicked designs, we need the reminder that such men and women are bound to serve when everything goes to hell.

It was best to see Sully taking the fate of 155 souls as seriously as a pilot ought, keeping them all as safe as possible.

Kenning the Body

“If you treated anyone else as you have treated yourself during the past six hours, you would be guilty of assault.  This will cease.  From this moment on, you will show your body the respect it deserves as God’s creation.  You will allow your arms to heal and then you will embark on a sensible and moderate course of physical therapy.  You will eat regularly.  You will rest properly.  You will care for your own body as you would for that of a friend to whom you are indebted.  …During these months and for all time, you will cease to arrogate to yourself responsibility that lies elsewhere.  Is that clear?”

– Vincenzo Giuliani in The Sparrow, by Mary Doria Russell


Your fleshhouse and bones-chamber
is the hall of your soul.

Vessel of clay it may be,
but by God
its contents are precious:
your sinew and skeleton garment
is your spirit’s place.

Do not destroy the potter’s work.

Stop fretting on all those slender jars
and their busy shining use;
be emptied, be filled,
emptied, filled,
to glorious ends.

Fill your heart’s coffer
and mindhoard
as filling the home
for your friend
and your lord.

Review: Hint Fiction

During my vacation last week, I read Hint Fiction, Robert Swartwood’s collection of ficlets.  All sorts of authors contributed to it, each writing a particular sort of story: a composition of 25 words, or fewer, which does not simply tell a story but hints at a larger picture.

For example, the very first: Joe Lansdale’s “The Return.”

They buried him deep.  Again.

5 words that imply a man or masculine creature, one who apparently died and certainly was buried, who was buried deep the first time but nonetheless was exhumed (or dug his own way out), and who They, once again, buried…for all the good it will do, which may not be much.  A brief respite?  A century of rest?  We don’t know!  But we’Hint Fictionre left to imagine it.

It’s a strong entry to lead the anthology.  That sort of compression, almost a prose poem, takes a lot of thought and the ability to sift the wheat from the chaff.

Unfortunately, for every hint that grabbed me, making me pause to ruminate on the larger picture implied by it, there were four that let me pass on by.  Fortunately, in a book of 125 hint-fics, that’s 25 stories that left some impression.  The finer specimens make the most of their title, or use allusions to other stories (Penelope, “Not Waving But Drowning,” Shark Week) as a shortcut.

In the interest of moderating my judgment, I tried writing a few; to try and focus my thoughts, these hint fics are summaries of longer books I’ve read somewhat recently, though that’s not necessarily the best method to achieve this sort of iceberg-writing.

Where dreams come true, so do nightmares.

Suffering the rough buffs away our raggedness until we shine. 

Curiosity, puzzle-solving, and loving the 1980s enough could make you a billionaire.  Bonus girlfriend, if the evil corporation doesn’t kill you first.

They shared what beauty they could find like war rations, to multiplicative effect.  Friendship does not destroy death, but it does discourage suicide.

I wouldn’t call Hint Fiction a must-read, and I certainly wouldn’t call it a must-buy.  But it’s a fun read, and beneficial to writers who don’t otherwise weigh out their words.  Certainly these droplets of story prove that a lot of horror fits in a small space; it’s harder to fit a great deal of glory into that same small space.


Reality and Unreality: Rumblr

Among other odd things the internet has told me recently, I heard of an app for casual fistfights called Rumblr.  As I was sharing this supposed fact with a friend via chat – “Look, it’s for all those times when you need to punch a guy but cannot find one available for punching” – I checked it on Snopes, only to find that it’s not a real app.  Rather, some blokes wanted to start a creative consulting agency, and creating buzz around this fictitious app was part of their portfolio: look!  We can get the whole world talking about a Fight Club app, even though there’s no such thing; imagine what we could do for you and your real company and its real products.  Even though they’re very quotidian and boring.  We have the skills.  Our engagement with the market convinces them to pay very real attention.

As my friend George put it: “This all feels like a disgustingly post-modern subversion of the fight club idea – an imaginary fight club app (already a subversion) that is meant to advertise for a consulting agency (more subversion).  There are so many levels of insincerity piled on top of something that was originally supposed to be about stripping away the false modern facade of life and reducing men to their primal instincts…It’s kind of grand, really.”

I’m putting it in my mental file next to “an e-reader version of 1984 where the text changes as you read it.”