[MiniReview] BEATING THE BOUNDS by Liz Ahl

Beating the BoundsBeating the Bounds by Liz Ahl

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Liz Ahl’s poetry is always beautifully crafted, but this collection in particular is a stunner. The strength of the collection lies in her ability to make even the most mundane aspects of New England life sparkle with a twist of humor or a quirky thought. I, like her, am from away. And I, like her, connect with the landscape and culture here in Northern New Hampshire. How perfect, then, to find a collection of poems explaining the “why” of my fascination with my new home.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Certainly a must-read for anyone who’s lived in or visited the White Mountains or Lakes Region.

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Review: A History of the New Hampshire Abenaki

A History of the New Hampshire Abenaki
A History of the New Hampshire Abenaki by Bruce D. Heald

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dr. Heald’s book is on a topic that needs more attention than it gets. It is an overview of the first inhabitants of New Hampshire, introducing new inhabitants of the state to the history behind many of its place names. While transitions between topics is a bit rough at times, the bibliography was extensive enough to facilitate my further exploration of any topics that ended too abruptly. Dr. Heald tried to make the book an even-sided look at Abenaki history by interviewing tribal leaders and seeking out artifacts, attempting to balance out European written accounts; but due to the oral nature of historical Abenaki society, the majority of Dr. Heald’s historical source material was inevitably written by those of European descent and thus skewed the “Indian Warfare” and “Indian Legends and Folklore” chapters toward the white point of view. Nevertheless, this book was an enlightening read that introduced me to the first people and first language of my new home state.

PRODUCTION NOTE: While the cover is beautiful and the photos inside are really interesting, this book needs some SERIOUS proofreading and vetting.

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Aayuhh, That’s New Hampsha

The Larcom Eclogues: Poems from the Foot of Her MountainsThe Larcom Eclogues: Poems from the Foot of Her Mountains by Brian Scott Kelley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this chapbook at an indie bookstore in Center Harbor, NH. I like to “vote with my dollars” and buy chapbooks any time I find them in shops. While some of the poems in this chapbook spent a little too much time calling attention to themselves (like mentioning the typewriter upon which they were composed or talking about the paper they were printed on), others were truly enjoyable. I loved how naturally certain aspects of New Hampshire’s culture were embedded in the poems. I mean really, how often do you read a poem about frost-heaves? My favorite poem in the collection was “farmer spring plowing” where he compares his writing with his neighbor’s farming—both of them working simultaneously in a kind of literary agriculture that was also mentioned in Robert Bringhurst’s What Is Reading For? All in all this chapbook was fun to read as I explore winter for the first time in my summer home.

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Definite Repeat Read

What Is Reading For?What Is Reading For? by Robert Bringhurst

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My mentor suggested I read this book while on a retreat. He said it would help rejuvenate my creative spirit and help me guide my press into its fifth year printing books and chapbooks. He wasn’t wrong. Bringhurst’s lecture-turned-artifact is a feast for the eyes, hands, and mind. I especially enjoyed his comparison of books to ecosystems and agriculture, having grown up in farming communities and being trained as an ecologist. I read this book quickly. I read it slowly. I read it and took notes. I now plan to read it every New Year between now and the end of my dance with the written word. Because it will take me years to figure out what kinds of words are best to plant, what kinds of words are best to harvest, and how to properly celebrate that harvest by making an object worthy of the name Book.

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What is REAL?

An Amateur MarriageAn Amateur Marriage by Jessie Carty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Many of us, myself included, have friends we only know online. Some are merely acquaintances or notches on a networking belt. But other online friendships are more substantial, built on honest communication and/or collaborating on real projects. For me, Jessie is one of these friends. And I have often wondered what life is like for her on the other end of cyberspace, in those moments where the computer is off and the smartphone is put away, in her “real” life.

This chapbook gave me a glimpse into her other world. A world filled with objects and someone to share them with. This world–—her nest, feathered and re-feathered as she moves from what she thinks is expected to what she knows is needed, is made so real on the page that I could feel her couch and taste her casserole. And yet.

And yet I started wondering what “real” life actually is. And whether this poetic construction of Jessie’s life is given to us to satisfy that voyeuristic tendency we all have at some level. That she, in her clever way, might actually be protecting the world she loves by showing him/it to us in a controlled context–—allowing her “Jack” to walk away “nimble and quick to situate himself without any light.”*

I may never know the truth, even if I do meet her in person someday. But in the end it doesn’t matter. The idea of “real” in this chapbook is so enjoyable that I’ll take it, believe it, and wait impatiently for what her next (chap)book will reveal.

*From her poem “What I fear”

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Danish Breakfast

Denmark, Kangaroo, OrangeDenmark, Kangaroo, Orange by Kevin Griffith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had breakfast with Kevin this morning. Sausage and day-old pancakes with jam. And tea. We laughed as we discussed aging, travel, writing, and the odd mythology. When I say “we laughed,” I mean to say that I laughed and sensed that Kevin must have laughed as he wrote these pieces. Though I suspect with some he sighed as he revised. Or pondered. Or stewed. Because these prose poems seem to have the qualities of a mood ring: adapting themselves to the reader’s inner state so that different elements are highlighted accordingly.

I couldn’t put this book down—had to consume it in one sitting. It was every bit as engaging as the collection of his microfiction I had the pleasure of publishing (101 KINDS OF IRONY, Folded Word, 2012). Yet it had more layers, as poetry must. The same wit and wink were there, but also in attendance were beauty and insight. And a line I’ll never forget from “In the Town of the Fallen Angel”: If you are very lucky, you will see the angel himself, asleep in his chair, holding the open wings of a book in his lap.

Thank you, Kevin, for making me lucky today.

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In Search of eChapbooks

My family and I usually hide from the heat of California’s summers in the shade of New Hampshire’s maples. This summer will be no exception, but we will be driving instead of flying. I love tasting the landscape as it changes, rather than just instantly appearing in a new place. This will be the second time we’ve driven, but the first time we’ll take a northern route.

Since my children are older now and require less refereeing, I will have time to read along the way. So I got to thinking that it would be fun to read chapbooks written by authors from all the states/provinces we drive through–to not only see and smell the landscape, but to hear it as well. I’d love to hold the paper chapbooks in my hand as we drive, but I need to stick with Kindle versions since packing space will be limited.

In order to do this, though, I need your help. Do you know of authors who have eChapbooks currently for sale from:

a New Hampshire moment
  • Oregon
  • Washington
  • Idaho
  • Montana
  • North Dakota
  • Minnesota
  • Wisconsin
  • Michigan
  • Ontario, Canada
  • Quebec, Canada
  • New Hampshire
  • Massachusetts
  • Rhode Island
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Ohio
  • Indiana
  • Illinois
  • Iowa
  • Nebraska
  • Utah
  • Nevada

I’m open to suggestions from both self published and indie press eChaps, as long as it is possible for me to read a sample before buying. Tweets & Goodreads ratings will be posted for the chapbooks I select. Possibly even a photo or two of me reading while resting in the landscape. Or even reading a video clip in situ?

Would LOVE to hear your suggestions. It’s totally fine to nominate yourself. Please use the comment section below to tell me title, author, state, and possibly a purchase link? Thanks ever so much! You guys are the greatest:-)

Cheers,
J.S.

P.S. Selections will be posted on my Cross-Country Reads page.

Touring France before Touring France

The Discovery of FranceThe Discovery of France by Graham Robb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book to prepare for my upcoming personal Tour de France with my daughter and sister. THE DISCOVERY OF FRANCE was thoroughly researched and provided a unique perspective on the development of a nation. Robb is a talented storyteller, weaving encyclopedic facts into compelling narratives. I would have rated it 4 stars, but there were a few moments here and there that came off a bit “preachy.” However don’t let that deter you from reading this book. You’ll never look at France, or any nation/culture for that matter, the same way again. I will certainly keep my eyes open for pays (past, present, and future) as we tour, though it will be by car instead of bicycle.

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Review: Of Creatures

Of CreaturesOf Creatures by Eric Beeny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I typically read narrative poetry, so poetry that experiments with word order is not usually my cup of tea. But I have to say that Eric Beeny has done a marvelous job letting me in to this collection of poems. The keys for me were:

"A Moon I Found and So Romantic" (from Part 1)

"A Circumstance to Think This Was Enough" (from Part 2)

"In the Dark Because the Water Proves" (from Part 3)

After reading them, I went back to re-read all the poems in their respective sections. Surprisingly (to me) I was no longer skimming along the top of the words, but diving down into them and exploring their meaning. In them I found a sense of searching for air, of an attempt to collect and record all the elements the speaker needs to survive life on this earth. I’m glad I was able to let go enough to breathe his words, because I would not have wanted to miss the imagery and word play OF CREATURES has to offer.

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Virtual Trip to the 1300’s

The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth CenturyThe Time Traveler’s Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century by Ian Mortimer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book gave a phenomenally fresh view point into 14th century England. I bought it as a reference text for a YA novel I’m writing, but I ended up devouring it cover to cover for pleasure. While some segments of the period were glossed over a little too much, the fresh perspective and global overview it presented will help me get more out of every other research text I use from now on. Best of all, I found the perfect solution to a plot problem that had me stalled. Thank you, Ian Mortimer!

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