Questions of disease abound in Orenstein’s debut memoir in verse.
In 1979, 100 years after Scottish surgeon William Macewen performed the first successful removal of a brain tumor, the 17-year-old author found himself in need of the same critical operation. From this experience springs a poetic memoir that follows the chronology of Orenstein’s diagnosis, surgery, healing, recovery, and adaptation. Almost all of the poems are written in free verse with strophes that often alternate, sometimes without clear purpose, between couplets and triplets. The frequently abrupt variations in line length could have been more effective with stronger line breaks. That said, this collection still manages to cohere, due to the sheer peril of its subject matter. Especially engaging is the way that the author mashes up clinical terminology with the language of internal anguish. Words such as “myoclonic,” “diplopia,” “lambda,” and “gurney” mix together with “helotry,” “aura,” and “agony.” For example, the remarkable and unusual “December 19, 1979” includes an extended, clinical, prosaic, and detached description of neurosurgery. However, it then fizzles out to a disappointing and perplexing ending. Even more intriguing is “The Man in the Intensive Care Unit,” in which the reader experiences the fullness of the poet’s tender sensibilities as he recalls the death of his hospital roommate: “you beg God / I have been a good man, please.” One wishes for more of this raw vulnerability instead of the book’s later shortcomings, such as sexist sentiment (“that wimpy sissy girly word / feelings”) and awkward expression of a sheltered worldview (“thankful for my warm bed / and for this cozy middle-class house”). There are also hokey openings, at times; for instance, a Webster’s dictionary definition begins “Birth of an Empath.” That said, the collection does contain a few individual gems and intelligently explores some of its subjects, such as double vision.
Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.
Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)