Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reviewing Policies: Books and Other Media

Gilbert Wesley Purdy has been reviewing books and other items on the Internet and in paper venues for well over 10 years now. As regards books, he reviews both poetry and topical non-fiction prose. Should the texts be translations from a romance language, and the original texts be available to him, he may also choose to review the quality of the translation.

At present, he is the Review Section Editor for the online journal Eclectica. His reviews have also appeared at Jacket Magazine, The Georgia Review, Rattle, The Compulsive Reader, and his own Virtual Grub Street family of blogs. Links to his online reviews (and other work in poetry and prose) are posted at his Online Bibliography. The Bibliography is regularly updated.

He receives more titles than he can possibly review, generally direct from the publisher. The books (tapes, CDs, DVDs) are placed in a queue ordered more or less by the following criteria:

  1. Books/items accepted on assignment;
  2. Books/items that are in some way exceptional;
  3. Books/items that will generally be positively reviewed;
  4. Books/items from larger publishers;
  5. Books/items from publishers with whom he has an ongoing reviewer relationship;
  6. Books/items that touch on a theme or issue that seems especially worth comment even if that comment is mixed or negative in tone.
A book/item may remain in the queue for more than a year before it is reviewed or removed as "not accepted for review".

While he rarely pans a book/item, it is not altogether unheard of. The only representation he makes is that, if he should review a book/item, he will do so with the utmost honesty he can muster. Only rarely will there appear direct encouragement to buy a book/item. The reviews are intended to be descriptive and to leave the reader to decide, based upon the description, whether the book/item is for him or her.

Assignments are accepted on a case-by-case basis. Book solicitations are accepted with the understanding that they will be considered for inclusion in the book queue. Query to gwpurdy@yahoo.com for mailing address. Please begin the subject line with "###" so I can find your book amongst the deluge of other emails.

Contact information should be included with all materials. An e-mail contact address is greatly preferred. Related requests that require postage and/or handling (i.e. returns, correspondence other than tear-sheets) will generally not be fulfilled unless postage and materials are provided with the request and perhaps not even then.


With his first book Don't Bump the Glump, Shel Silverstein made the leap from Playboy cartoonist to children's author.

by Jesse Nathan
Poetry Media Service

Don't Bump the Glump! And Other Fantasies, by Shel Silverstein. HarperCollins, $17.99.

In 1956, the young Sheldon Alan Silverstein dropped off a portfolio of about 15 drawings at the offices of an upstart publication called Playboy, then located at 11 East Superior in Chicago. Hugh Hefner said he hadn't gotten around to looking over the work when Silverstein returned for it two weeks later. Silverstein "demanded his cartoons back. He didn't think we were going to buy any of them," said Hefner. But the editor scrutinized and pondered and then, on the spot, purchased eight drawings for $500.

That was just the beginning: over the next 15 years Silverstein created a vast trove of drawings for Playboy, acting as a kind of cartoon correspondent, sending back illustrated dispatches from his travels in Japan, Europe, Russia, the Middle East, Africa, and San Francisco's exotic Haight-Ashbury. And among all that early material, Silverstein generated the poetry and illustrations that would in 1964 congeal into his first book of poems: Uncle Shelby's Zoo: Don't Bump the Glump! and Other Fantasies, reissued by HarperCollins as Don't Bump the Glump! and Other Fantasies.

Don't Bump the Glump!--a bestiary of strange critters brought to life in verse--is, decidedly, a "first book." Like the first collections of many poets, Silverstein's hints at what's to come and implies directions and forms. It's not a stand-alone gem, but it does shine from within the context of Silverstein's oeuvre. In this case that's the body of work generated in Silverstein's prolific career, which spanned from the late 1950s until his death in Florida in 1999: the poet was also a draftsman, cartoonist, singer-songwriter, guitarist, painter, playwright, and professional vagabond, best known for a kind of whimsical poetry officially for children and unofficially adored by gobs of adults.

Don't Bump the Glump! is clearly the youthful poetry of the artist who would give us much-celebrated works such as A Light in the Attic. It suggests the modes Silverstein would work in, showcasing rougher-edged samples of what was to come later. The poet loves dazzling us, for instance, by pushing meter and rhyme, even to the point of unwieldiness. In Don't Bump the Glump!, we read of "The Considerate Soft-Shelled Phizzint":
You'll never know an animal
more considerate of human feelings
than the Soft-Shelled Phizzint.

Someone has mistaken this one
for a pincushion
and he's too polite to say he isn't.

Silverstein would hone his use of rhythm in such creations as "The Razor-Tailed Wren," from 1974's Where the Sidewalk Ends:

The razor-tailed wren,
He'll pretend he's your friend
As he cuts all the grass on your lawn,
But do not leave anything
Sticking far out
Or swishity--it will be gone.

In Don't Bump the Glump! Silverstein reveals his affinity for refrains, a tool the poet came back to again and again in his writing. This, too, he improved upon. Consider the first stanza of "There's a Gritchen in My Kitchen" from Don't Bump the Glump!:

There's a Skaverbacked Gritchen
Who lives in my kitchen
And makes his home under the sink.
And he lives upon Gipes
that crawl out of the pipes
And he takes only Postum to drink.

By contrast, here's the first stanza of the slightly more elegant, less tongue-clunking "Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too," from Where the Sidewalk Ends:

Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too
Went for a ride in a flying shoe.
"What fun!"
"It's time we flew!"
Said Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me too.

Throughout his career Silverstein was fascinated with creatures both wildly imagined and familiar, but this bestial obsession manifests itself most explicitly in the subject matter of Don't Bump the Glump!, in which the poet reels off one outlandish critter after another, from the Gorp-Eating Kallikozilliar to the Bald-Top Droan. One of the poems in Don't Bump the Glump!, "About the Bloath," turns up in Where the Sidewalk Ends 10 years later, essentially identical save a title change. By then it's just called "The Bloath":

In the undergrowth
There dwells the Bloath
Who feeds upon poets and tea.
Luckily I know this about him,
While he knows almost nothing of me.

The world quickly came to know of Shel Silverstein. And he went on to collaborate with loads of artists: He wrote "A Boy Named Sue" for Johnny Cash (and won a Grammy for it in 1970). He penned "Cover of the Rolling Stone" for Dr. Hook. "Queen of the Silver Dollar," which Emmylou Harris covered on her album Pieces of the Sky, was his handiwork too. As for his poetry, it improved as Silverstein learned to refine and harness his words. "Beginnings have an irritating but essential fragility, and one that should be taken to heart," said Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Perhaps, then, the zaniness of Don't Bump the Glump! carries it, but it's likely better viewed as a signifier of what was to follow from Silverstein. With Don't Bump the Glump!, acknowledged Mitch Myers, his nephew and the executor of his estate, "he was just starting to stretch his legs."

Jesse Nathan is an associate editor at McSweeney's publishing in San Francisco. His work appears widely, including in Tin House, The Believer, Sojourners, and The San Francisco Chronicle, among others. This article originally appeared on www.poetryfoundation.org. Read more about Shel Silverstein, and his poetry, at www.poetryfoundation.org.

© 2008 by Jesse Nathan. All rights reserved.

Sunday, March 29, 2009


Richard Kenney's first poetry collection in fifteen years is worth the wait.

by D. H. Tracy
Poetry Media Service

The One-Strand River, by Richard Kenney. Alfred A. Knopf. $26.95.

Fifteen years have passed since Kenney's last book, and The One-Strand River finds the author having deviated some from his last known trajectory. After The Invention of the Zero (1993), I would have guessed Kenney's poems would spiral farther out into the dismal reaches of the Thomas Pynchon / boy genius nebula of literature. Time had other plans, and although one must factor out certain quirks, losing every third poem or so to a gimmick of some kind ("This poem is no fun," etc.), Kenney has developed a capacity to be at least intermittently restrained, and the result is not only the entry of affection and wonder into his poetry but their coexistence with mordancy and mischief. Real feeling and satirical bite result.

The texture of the writing is defined by verbal impetuousness, a lunge for the aptest comparison at any cost in baroqueness--on the highway he watches "a lone deinonychid biker" whose shadow "writhes like a count's cape / Caught in a belt sander." The mood is defined, contrarily, by wariness and moderation amid midlife shoals where "Churlish / Thoughts bedevil me, often," although he has to admit "ambrosias / Yet decant." Kenney's fascination with data certainly still exists, and he cannot resist mentioning hurricanes on Jupiter and saying "the Middle Holocene" instead of "now." The data are not purely for show-off, but are pressed to serve as metaphors for experience and inner life, where they have the pitiably inadequate quality of a precocious child trying to insulate itself from uncertainty. They are no different ontologically from the stuff of religion or indeed fairy tales: "All linchpins shear." The problem is worse than that, since the things which affect him most--a glint in the eye of a laughing child, the scent of soap on a passing woman--are irreconcilable with a certain empirical idiom of public speech. With knowledge and meaning no longer overlapping, questions of right conduct become absurdly underdetermined ("the poled pirogue // Of Humanism slips the everglade / Of endocrine function, doing / Its very best"), and there are no grounds for deciding in what ratio one ought to be a creature of instinct and of reason:

Oh to live ignobly!
Not pig-
Like, quite, nor bleating,

Braying, mewling, really;
Neither, though, thoroughly

Not for a life of pure sensation
Per se.
--From "To Circe"

The overall impression is of a slightly louche, roue, self-hating polymath, a role he plays much less consistently than Frederick Seidel but perhaps with more vulnerability. Kenney's touch is not always light enough for vers de societe or deft political incisions (it is in cases very crude) but when he can bring himself to leave something unsaid, the results are aqua vitae. This happens in "Critical," "Security Council," the academy sendup "Challenges & Opportunities" ("Sousa's // To be replaced, we learn, by !Kung plainsong") and in "Alaric Intelligence Memo #36," where the fiction is a sleeper terrorist filing a report to his superiors. Through this exercise Kenney is trying to decide what he has invested in his latter-day Rome: "Their warrior class, insufficiently manned, / Is mad, responsive, and under command":

Their poetry barks. Their faith, a ruins,
Ghost-infested, affords no womb
Of future. In sum: however skilled,
They are overripe. My Lord, strike soon.

Addendum: proud to have served your will,
I have lived too long among them. I am ill.
I am infected with dreams. At the first moon
Of conquest, I respectfully request to be killed.

That "Addendum" falls on a page break--until then, the poem seems truly out of control. But the ending exposes the internal struggle that has been taking place, charity fighting disgust to a draw. The poem is not about uncertainty or vacillation, but agonized and clear ambivalence, and in imparting such ambivalence to a public voice Kenney has made me rethink my suspicion that the art is ill-suited to the interestingness of the times. Not only is it not playing catch-up, it is, evidently, actively clarifying.

D.H. Tracy's poetry and criticism appear widely. He lives in Illinois. This review originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Poetry magazine. Distributed by the Poetry Foundation. Read more about Richard Kenney, and his poetry, at www.poetryfoundation.org.

© 2008 by D.H. Tracy. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Percy Bysshe Shelley Page

Percy Bysshe Shelley (August 4, 1792 - July 8, 1822)





  • Dan Roberts Raises Shelley's Boat. Trelawny receives letters from his friend, Captain Dan Roberts, describing the recovery of Shelley's boat and his theories about how it went down. He also makes an observation or two on Lord Byron. (Biscayne Bay Review);
  • Trelawny Burns Shelley's Body. "Three white wands had been stuck in the sand to mark the Poet's grave,..." (Biscayne Bay Review);
  • Trelawny Recovers Shelley's Body. "I told my fears to Hunt, and then went upstairs to Byron. When I told him, his lip quivered, and his voice faltered..." (Biscayne Bay Review);




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John Keats Page

John Keats was born in London, October 29, 1795, in the house of his grandfather, who kept a livery stable at Moorfields. He received his education at Enfield, and in his fifteenth year was apprenticed to a surgeon. Most of his time, however, was devoted to the cultivation of his literary talents, which were early conspicuous. During his apprenticeship, he made and carefully wrote out a literal translation of Virgil's Aeneid and instructed himself also in some knowledge of Greek and Italian. One of his earliest friends and critics was Mr. Leigh Hunt,... [more>>>]









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