Review – Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts

Cover of Hybrids of Plants and Of Ghosts by Jorie GrahamHybrids of Plants and of Ghosts, Jorie Graham

A somewhat random choice from Blloon’s catalogue. Some of this poetry is lovely — some just didn’t make an impression on me, but there are some gorgeous images, ways of tilting the world askew and looking at it anew, haunting ones…

I think unfortunately my overall reaction is of ambivalence, but things stick in my head — “The starlings keep trying / to thread the eyes / of steeples.” And looking at other reviews, it sounds like this was a first collection, and that perhaps I should’ve come across Jorie Graham before. I might look for more of her work, mostly for the language rather than the content.

Rating: 3/5

Review – The Melancholy of Mechagirl

Cover of The Melancholy of Mechagirl by Catherynne M. ValenteThe Melancholy of Mechagirl, Catherynne M. Valente

The Melancholy of Mechagirl is a selection of Valente’s stories and poetry. As usual with Valente, I have the problem that I love her writing, but not always the substance. The poetry was too busy being strings of pretty words that I didn’t really get the sense out of it; some of the short stories felt so ornate they felt like they were more for show than to really be handled. I know this is my preference here — other people dig through Valente’s prose happily — and I even like it because of that ornateness, in some ways. If I want to see someone being magical with words, I’ll open up one of Valente’s books and find it.

That’s not to say that she’s bad at characters and plot, per se. These stories often draw on folklore, particularly Japanese folklore, and collected like this it’s also apparent that they’re deeply rooted in Valente’s own life, as well. Her time in Japan affected her deeply, and every story holds its footprints. Some of these are really cleverly done, and for plot, ‘Silently and Very Fast’ is great. I love her story of an AI slowly learning about the world, the family and the AI wrapped around each other. Elefsis works as a character, and that ending works really well.

Finally, the title definitely captures the predominant feeling of this collection. ‘Melancholy.’ That’s not to say it’s depressing to read, but it definitely feels written in the minor key (if you’ll let me mix my metaphors).

Rating: 4/5

Review – Hand in Hand

Cover of Hand in Hand, ed. Carol Ann DuffyHand in Hand, ed. Carol Ann Duffy

This is a very interesting idea for an anthology, pairing up contemporary writers with an opposite-sex poet of their choice. The poems don’t seem to be necessarily related, though some are; it’s just a collection of poems that spoke to different people, and what different people have to say about love. As with most anthology situations, there are some gems here and some I couldn’t care less about.

As you might expect, I liked the contributions or inclusions of poets I’m already a fan of: Simon Armitage, Pablo Neruda, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Duffy herself. I was more bewildered by the proliferation of Robert Burns, whose work I’ve never really been attracted by, and the absence of Shakespeare. Overall, those surprises make the anthology a more interesting one: it’s not whatever stereotype you might conjure for an anthology of love poetry, but something different: a conversation about love, in many different forms, moods and tenses.

Rating: 4/5

Review – Darwin: A Life In Poems

Cover of Darwin: A Life in Poems by Ruth PadelDarwin: A Life in Poems, Ruth Padel

Darwin: A Life in Poems is an interesting endeavour, though it doesn’t quite work for me. Bits of Darwin’s words, descriptions of his life, little details — it makes for an interesting collection for its own sake, but the poetry mostly doesn’t read right. Some of the detail plucked from Darwin’s letters and work is interesting, some bits of it work startlingly well, but as a whole, it’s not a project that works for me.

A sort-of similar project making music around Darwin’s life worked much better for me — Karine Polwart’s song can bring tears to my eyes in the right mood. The Darwin Song Project is worth checking out, though their site now seems to be defunct. You can at least find Karine’s song on youtube.

Rating: 2/5

Review – The Antigone Poems

Cover of The Antigone PoemsThe Antigone Poems, Marie Slaight, Terrence Tasker

I originally entered the LibraryThing Early Reviewers draw for this and didn’t get it, so when I spotted it on Netgalley I picked it up right away. Antigone is a figure who always fascinated me: her burning passion for her duty, her righteousness, her tragedy… but also the sense that this was a sort of teenage rebellion against authority; the worry that she was acting more for her own sake, to be a symbol, than for her brothers.

This collection of art and poetry was apparently originally created in the 70s. I’m no particular judge of art (but I know what I like, as people say), and the art didn’t really appeal to me. The poetry felt fragmentary, hard to connect with the figure of Antigone at times and then at other times perfectly clear. There are some bright, sharp images that I really liked; at other times I was ambivalent.

Review – White As Snow

Cover of White as Snow by Tanith LeeWhite As Snow, Tanith Lee

There are some beautiful aspects of this book, and then there’s the fact that nearly every female character is raped, often multiple times. The beauty is mostly in some of the writing and descriptions, though some of the ideas are also pretty interesting in theory — Lee blends the story of Snow White with the Greco-Roman myth of Hades and Persephone.

This isn’t either story as you know it, though, and for me it ultimately didn’t work. The two stories didn’t blend very well, because I was spending so much time drawing parallels, and because some of the parallels seemed a little laboured. Some of it is very sensual writing, while during a lot of it the heroines act like pieces of cardboard: I understand that is the reaction of some rape victims, some of whom may never “snap out of it”, but it does unfortunately cut out a lot of the potential feeling of the story.

I did enjoy the introduction, which goes into the background of the story, and introduced me to a glorious poem by Delia Sherman, “Snow White to the Prince”, which ends:

Do you think I did not know her,
Ragged and gnarled and stooped like a wind-bent tree,
Her basket full of combs and pins and laces?
Of course I took her poisoned gifts. I wanted
To feel her hands combing out my hair.
To let her lace me up, to take an apple
From her hand, a smile from her lips,
As when I was a child.

Review – The Realm of Possibility

Cover of The Realm of Possibility by David LevithanThe Realm of Possibility, David Levithan

I didn’t mean to read this in one go, it just sort of happened. I wasn’t sure at all about the form, particularly: it’s very hard to please me with poetry because I look for very specific things. And honestly, I’m still indifferent to that choice even for this book, which I enjoyed quite a lot. On the one hand, it works: poetry is so personal, and it brings out the different voices in this interlinked collection — and being poetry, some of it is very dense and allusive. I enjoyed figuring out the links between poems, who knew who, and where and why their lives overlapped.

On the other hand, I prefer my poetry to be very dense and allusive, more so than in most of these. I think if it were all written like that, you’d lose all individuality of the voices, so it’s probably for the best.

I liked the whole range of people and personalities, all warm and handled with respect. They’re all people trying to get on with life, not clear good guys and bad guys. And the diversity of the characters — straight, gay, black, white, Goth, church-goer, rebel… — and their stories too. It’s not all about who loves who, but also about family, friendship, faith, loneliness, fear, courage.

I think I’ll have to go ahead and say I highly recommend this, even though I’m not so fond of the format.

Review on Goodreads.