An often engaging, if flawed, poetic remembrance.

LOVE SONGS TO MY BRAIN

A MEMOIR

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.

An often engaging, if flawed, poetic remembrance.

Pub Date: July 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-09-687959-6

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2020

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IN MY PLACE

From the national correspondent for PBS's MacNeil-Lehrer Newshour: a moving memoir of her youth in the Deep South and her role in desegregating the Univ. of Georgia. The eldest daughter of an army chaplain, Hunter-Gault was born in what she calls the ``first of many places that I would call `my place' ''—the small village of Due West, tucked away in a remote little corner of South Carolina. While her father served in Korea, Hunter-Gault and her mother moved first to Covington, Georgia, and then to Atlanta. In ``L.A.'' (lovely Atlanta), surrounded by her loving family and a close-knit black community, the author enjoyed a happy childhood participating in activities at church and at school, where her intellectual and leadership abilities soon were noticed by both faculty and peers. In high school, Hunter-Gault found herself studying the ``comic-strip character Brenda Starr as I might have studied a journalism textbook, had there been one.'' Determined to be a journalist, she applied to several colleges—all outside of Georgia, for ``to discourage the possibility that a black student would even think of applying to one of those white schools, the state provided money for black students'' to study out of state. Accepted at Michigan's Wayne State, the author was encouraged by local civil-rights leaders to apply, along with another classmate, to the Univ. of Georgia as well. Her application became a test of changing racial attitudes, as well as of the growing strength of the civil-rights movement in the South, and Gault became a national figure as she braved an onslaught of hostilities and harassment to become the first black woman to attend the university. A remarkably generous, fair-minded account of overcoming some of the biggest, and most intractable, obstacles ever deployed by southern racists. (Photographs—not seen.)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1992

ISBN: 0-374-17563-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1992

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Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

A LITTLE HISTORY OF POETRY

A light-speed tour of (mostly) Western poetry, from the 4,000-year-old Gilgamesh to the work of Australian poet Les Murray, who died in 2019.

In the latest entry in the publisher’s Little Histories series, Carey, an emeritus professor at Oxford whose books include What Good Are the Arts? and The Unexpected Professor: An Oxford Life in Books, offers a quick definition of poetry—“relates to language as music relates to noise. It is language made special”—before diving in to poetry’s vast history. In most chapters, the author deals with only a few writers, but as the narrative progresses, he finds himself forced to deal with far more than a handful. In his chapter on 20th-century political poets, for example, he talks about 14 writers in seven pages. Carey displays a determination to inform us about who the best poets were—and what their best poems were. The word “greatest” appears continually; Chaucer was “the greatest medieval English poet,” and Langston Hughes was “the greatest male poet” of the Harlem Renaissance. For readers who need a refresher—or suggestions for the nightstand—Carey provides the best-known names and the most celebrated poems, including Paradise Lost (about which the author has written extensively), “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Wordsworth and Coleridge’s Lyrical Ballads, which “changed the course of English poetry.” Carey explains some poetic technique (Hopkins’ “sprung rhythm”) and pauses occasionally to provide autobiographical tidbits—e.g., John Masefield, who wrote the famous “Sea Fever,” “hated the sea.” We learn, as well, about the sexuality of some poets (Auden was bisexual), and, especially later on, Carey discusses the demons that drove some of them, Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath among them. Refreshingly, he includes many women in the volume—all the way back to Sappho—and has especially kind words for Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Bishop, who share a chapter.

Necessarily swift and adumbrative as well as inclusive, focused, and graceful.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-23222-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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