July 30, 2018

Book review: “War and Our World: The Reith Lectures 1998” by John Keegan

    War is violent, chaotic, destructive, deadly and, for the aggressor nowadays, morally wrong.  Yet, how to fight war except with war? Two decades ago, in a series of radio addresses, John Keegan, the noted war historian, mentioned one weapon against war that many people would overlook — aid to needy nations in the form of anti-poverty and economic development measures. Since we know that poor states which have a fragile cultural identity are far more likely to engage in war-mongering or to experience inter-ethnic conflict as a by-product of insecurity, what then can be done to secure their identity and economic well-being? Can we somehow help those fledgling states to reach a more mature and stable condition of political security and economic autonomy? An essential weapon in our war against conflict must, therefore, be progress in aid and development programs allied to strong alliances with other nations which strengthen the economic structures of such states and help to neutralize the political insecurities against which their governments constantly battle. Only then can we help them also to reject, as we have done, Heraclitus’s belief that strife is the only just and corrective force.   “Must be realistic” War and […]
July 25, 2018

Poem: “Blood and flesh”

Blood and flesh   You tell me to crawl into the ragged slash in your side and pull the raw edges of flesh together to enclose me in the gory warmth of your heartbeat, like a babe at the breast, like a love flesh to flesh on damp sheets, like reentering the womb, like surrendering to the formless white at the heart of water, air, ore, sky, plant, sun, star, cloud, moon, blood and flesh.   Patrick T. Reardon 7.25.18   “Blood and Flesh” was originally published by Ground Fresh Thursday 9.23.17.
July 23, 2018

Book review: “The Book of Common Prayer: A Biography” by Alan Jacobs

  The Book of Common Prayer was created in the 16th century as the prayer book of the Church of England. Originally, that institution had been part of the Roman Catholic Church, but it was separated from Rome by King Henry VIII and became a national church, constitutionally established by the state with the monarch as its supreme governor. Thus, The Book of Common Prayer, created to replace the Catholic prayers in religious services, was, in effect, a government publication. This led to complexities for the prayer book in England that it wouldn’t have in other nations, such as the United States, where the Episcopal Church, part of the Anglican Communion, is just one of many organized religions rather than under the sponsorship of the state.   “Eternal Rest” For instance, as Alan Jacobs writes in his energetic look at creation and history of the prayer book The “Book of Common Prayer”:  A Biography, there have been times over the past five hundred years when the book was seen not just as an expression of religious faith but also as a stand-in for the nation in some way. World War I was one such time.  Indeed, Jacobs writes: One of […]
July 19, 2018

Book review: “The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography” by Donald S. Lopez Jr.

  In 2005, Penguin Books published a new translation of Bardo Todol, the collection Buddhist texts that, in the West, has been known as The Tibetan Book of the Dead for three-quarters of a century, and touted it as “First Complete Translation” of a work dealing with life between a person’s death and reincarnation. Actually, as Donald S. Lopez Jr. points out in his 2011 book The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography, “complete” here is somewhat inexact since Bardo Todol is a cycle of texts of which many versions exist.  Even so, the Penguin book, Lopez writes, is an improvement over the original English edition, put forth by American Theosophist Walter Evans-Wentz. Many more texts of the cycle are translated [in the Penguin edition] for the first time, the translation is made from a better manuscript, and the translation is more accurate than that first published in 1927. Lopez, an American expert on Buddhism and Tibet who has edited books by the Dalai Lama, notes that the publicity for the Penguin book is overblown, asserting that the book “embraces the concept of enlightened living and the importance of being open to the wonders of the human experience while, […]
July 17, 2018

Book review: “Absences: A Sequence” by John A. Griffin

    The 21 poems in John A. Griffin’s chapbook Absences: A Sequence appear very orderly. Each is 20 lines long.  Within each poem, the number of syllables per line is roughly the same. So, even though some have longer lines than others, the appearance of these handsomely printed poems is very similar, like nearly rectangular blocks of type, sort of brick-like, building blocks, if you will. Yet, that appearance deceives.  These are mournful — mourn-filled — poems, fevered with grief.  Grief for the death of a father and grief for the death that is coming for each of us.  Grief for absences. Indeed, the first poem in this collection, just published by The Esthetic Apostle and available at amazon.com, is titled “Caoineadh,” the Irish word for keening. More visually expressive of what’s in the poems are the four illustrations by Dutch collage artist Martine Mooijenkind.  Her illustration for the cover is titled “Lost,” while the three that accompany the poems are “Water on the moon,” “Gentle,” and “Angst.” They are jagged, harsh and deliberately crude.   “What ebbs withdraws” And, once you get into the poems themselves, you won’t be confused. In fact, it seems that Griffin, an Irish-born […]
July 12, 2018

Book review: “Aura: Last Essays” by Gustaf Sobin

One of the seven short essays in Gustaf Sobin’s final book Aura, published in 2009, is about the deep, unremitting darkness of medieval times. And about light, then and now. We can’t imagine how dark it was. We, with our street lights and electric light switches and automobile headlights and cellphone screens and television screens and flood lights and lighted sports stadiums. Not without Sobin’s help. The medieval night was very dark for anyone inside a home or castle or building of any sort. The only illumination  was from one or more candles. The churches and the rich had wax candles, but not the rural French, as Sobin explains: In such humble surroundings, it was more likely that tallow candles were burnt, the tallow itself drawn from the fat of goats, sheep and bovines…. Even if such candles could be considered a marked improvement over oil lamps with papyrus wicks like those employed during the Merovingian [reign, roughly 450-750 A.D.], or the torches and firebrands of pine and birch bark during the Carolingian [751-814], the little rings of light that they shed remained, nonetheless, minimal.   “Those wobbling, incandescent rings” So minimal were those “little rings of light” that they might, […]
July 10, 2018

Book review: “The Burren Wall” by Gordon D’Arcy

I’ve never been to the Burren in western Ireland or, for that matter, to Ireland at all.  But my curiosity was piqued when I heard about Gordon D’Arcy’s 2006 book The Burren Wall. It’s about the thousands of miles of stone walls that criss-cross the stark obdurate Burren landscape of grasslands and heath — human-made lines fashioned with unmortared rocks piled atop one another. When D’Arcy writes of the Burren wall, he’s referring to a general type of wall that’s found in the region, a very simple construction, built from human sweat and muscle, dating from just the other day to more than 5,000 years ago. As the photographs in his book show, these walls give the land a strikingly distinctive look.  They also provide a home for a rich array of flora and fauna.   No knowing Much about these walls is mysterious.  There is, for instance, no knowing who put up what wall.  Nor, aside from classifying a particular wall in a general era of hundreds or thousands of years, knowing when that wall was created. As D’Arcy notes, you might describe any of these walls as a land boundary, but there’s more to it than that.  He […]
July 8, 2018

Poem: “At the hill tomb”

    At the hill tomb   At the hill tomb, she finds nothing. She tells the guys, and they run to find folded blooded linen. She sits on the grass of the garden, and the gnarled gardener is there, his sweat rich with grit- clumped dirt, his hair thisway andthat. She sees him take the innocent seed and thumb it into the maternal loam, and the bread is broken.   Patrick T. Reardon 7.8.18     This poem originally appeared in Time of Singing, Spring, 2018.    
July 2, 2018

Book review: “The Melody” by Jim Crace

The dainty Persian bells would jingle in the middle of the night when Alfred Busi’s wife Alicia would go downstairs to the larder for a snack. “What could it matter if she seemed a little plump, so long as she was well and happy with her life?” But, now, Alicia has been dead for two years, and, hearing the melody of the bells, Alfred, a 60-ish singer-songwriter near the end of his career as Mister Al, makes his unsteady way in the dark.  As the open door of the pantry, suddenly, “something fierce and dangerous,” pungent with odor, barrels out at him: “Not a bad smell, actually.  Not excrement.  Not sweat.  More a mix of earth and mold and starch.  Potato peel. The creature’s skin [feels] as smooth, as damp, as lightly pelted as potato peel.  Naked too.  Naked as potato peel.” This creature — whom Alfred comes to believe is a child, a boy, living wild in the nearby thick woods — sinks his teeth into the singer’s hand and grabs his throat, tearing at his neck. And then is gone.   Nature as a major character In The Melody (Doubleday, 225 pages, $26.95), the new novel from English […]