Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Poets and Poems: Luke Kennard and “Planet-Shaped Horse”

When you’ve written an entire book of poetry about the biblical character of Cain, like British poet Luke Kennard has done, it should be a surprise to find his other books of poetry are just as surprising and just as entertaining, and tell often wildly entertaining stories, as the work on Cain.

Consider Kennard’s 2013 collection Planet-Shaped Horse. There is no title poem. He ranges on subjects and a landscape that often seem disjointed and playful while simultaneously discussing subjects as varied as the prophet Elijah and the flatness of one’s elbows. He writes about his own death, stupid words, hermits, the idea of pilgrimage, being a snob and time capsules. A character named Miranda appears in several of the poems, and you wonder if she’s a girlfriend, a literary device, a muse, or perhaps someone who’s keeping the poet honest.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, November 19, 2018

"The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" by John Boyne

It’s one of the most disturbing books for children I’ve ever read.

Bruno is a nine-year-old boy living in a large home with his parents and older sister in a well-to-do section of Berlin, with the grandparents living next door. In many ways, the family seems like a normal family. Bruno loves sliding down the banister from the top to the bottom of the house. He considers his sister a “hopeless case” (what nine-year-old boy doesn’t consider his older sister a hopeless case?). his house is so large that he keeps finding new things to explore. He has good friends at school.

All seems familiar, except this is 1942. His father wears an impressive uniform and seems to be an influential person. Even some well-known person, whom Bruno calls “The Fury,” has taken an interest in his father. And the family is moving to a new home, because his father has taken an important job, a job Bruno’s heard his parents arguing about. 

The family moves, and Bruno’s new house is much smaller than his house in Berlin. If he stands on his tiptoes, he can see out of a room in his home to wear people are milling about. They all wear striped pajamas. Bruno understands the name of this new home to be “Out-With.”

And we know, if Bruno doesn’t, that his father is the new commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. We know who “The Fury is,” and why the people at Out-With all wear striped pajamas. 

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was published in 2008 by Irish writer John Boyne. The book, published in a 10thanniversary paperback edition, won two Irish book awards, was shortlisted for the British Book Award, reached No. 1 on The New York Timesbestsellers list, and was turned into a movie. It’s a difficult book to put down and a difficult book to read; we experience an almost helpless feeling as we watch Bruno in his innocence, desperate to find a friend, discover the reality of Out-With, a reality he never fully comprehends. Boyne effectively uses the gap between the reader’s knowledge and the boy’s ignorance to create first a sense of uneasiness and then a growing sense of horror.

John Boyne
Boyne has written 11 novels for adults and five for children, including The Heart’s Invisible Furies, A Ladder to the Sky, The House of Special Purpose, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, The Absolutist, This House is Haunted, A History of Loneliness, Next of Kin, Crippen, The Thief of Time, Mutiny, Beneath the Earth, Noah Barleywater Runs Away, The Dare, The Congress of Rough Riders, The Brocketts Get a Dog, The Second Child, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave, and Cyril Avery. He lives in Dublin.

At some point, we know where The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is headed; the ending seems inevitable even as we resist the inevitability. It’s a story that holds us in fascination and horror. I can’t say I would feel comfortable with recommending that children read this book, but then I didn’t feel comfortable reading this book. But comfort isn’t the point.

Top photograph: The commandant’s house at Auschwitz.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The law

After Psalm 1

The law, we understand,
is what to do or not,
what is allowed,
what is not,
instructions, restrictions

and yet more

more: the entire teaching
more: the entire message
more: the entire story

not only the do’s
not only the do not’s
but also the story
all of it
in detail and
glorious technicolor

the wind blows
the wind carries the chaff away
the wind knocks the seed to the soil

all of it

the entire story

Photograph by Chris Brignola via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

View from the Underground

He looked out 
of the window into the darkness of the underground. Almost ten months earlier, Trevor’s life had changed with a single phone from Josh Gittings, once the prime minister’s political assistant but better known as the PM’s hatchet man. Now chief of staff to King Michael, he’d contacted Trevor, asking him to meet with the king. Somehow Gittings had ferreted out Trevor’s hobby and avocation – monarchial law and history. The king, Gittings, said, needed help understanding the history, role, and legal considerations for being the monarch. Trevor had been as stunned as his wife and his colleagues on chambers. Never before had he been called upon to advise a king, and on a subject his colleagues often snickered at. They called him “The Monarchist.” That was then. Now they called him “The Rain Man.” 

-       From Dancing Prophet

Photograph by Christopher Rusev via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday Good Reads

We’ve been watching “The Woman in White” on PBS, and it’s a good rendition of the Wilkie Collins novel, first published in 1860. At CrimeReads, Radha Vestal has an article on what we owe to this story – arguably one of the first crime thrillers. (The PBC series concludes tomorrow night, and right now we’re at a nail-biting pause.)

On Nov. 10, 1975, the ore-hauling ship Edmund Fitzgerald encountered an unexpected storm on Lake Superior and sank, with a loss of 29 lives. The next year, the sinking of the ship was immortalized in a song by Gordon Lightfoot. Jason Peters at Front Porch Republic has a meditation on November, borrowing some of Lightfoot’s words. 

Violet Nicholson was once a hugely best-selling poet in Britain but has fallen into obscurity. She’s buried in India, and Andrew Whitehead at BBC takes a look at the poet and her poetry (Hat Tip: J of India). 

Speaking of poets, Robert Koons at First Things Magazine has an article on T.S. Eliot – and his insights into culture, class, and populism. Andrew Prideaux at The Gospel Coalition talks about how the poetry of John Donne affected his life

More Good Reads


Adjusting to Darkness – Lisa Williams at Image Journal.

Fire: A Sestina for Soldiers – Malcolm Guite.

A Mystery – Daniel Kalwitter via Kingdom Poets.

Transhumanism – Joe Spring.

Writing and Literature

Weird Writers of History – Eleanor Parker at History Today.

Waymarks: Willa Cather and the Quest for Sacred Form – Jonathan McGregor at Image Journal.

Expert expounds Chesterton’s philosophy of literary criticism – Sarah Kaderbek at The Troubadour (Hat Tip: Monica Sharman).


Freedom That is Worth Fighting For – Kristin Brown at the Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics.

Difference -Bill Grandi at Cycleguy’s Spin.

Life and Culture

Surviving the Cultural Tsunami – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.

The Battle of Empty Minds: Can’t Anyone See Beyond the Hatred? – John Horvat at The Imaginative Conservative.

Art and Photography

Images of America: The Art of William Sidney Mount – Michael De Sapio at The Imaginative Conservative.

Grassology – Tim Good at Pixels.

“Music of the Night” by Countertenor Terry Barber

Painting: Portrait of Arvid Jarnefelt, oil on canvas by Eero Jarnefelt (1888)

Friday, November 16, 2018


After Psalm 1

Four paths to follow, or choose,
places to be, to stand (note to self:
standing is more active than being)

first path: advice from the wicked
second path: the way of sinners
third path: the seat of mockers
(note to self: watch for mockingbirds
on social media)

fourth path: the law

this is a choice, or a description
this is a statement of being
   or decisions faced

to delight in the law
to meditate on the law

meditate on the law?

write yes to the question,
   the questions

yes means life,
   a tree planted
   by streams of water
   flowing past
   trees bearing fruit
   when the time is come
   when no leaf dries and withers

no means death
   chaff blown away
   by the wind
   exiled from judgment
   torn from the righteous
   severed from life

the shepherd watches over his sheep

the answer is yes
the answer is no

the answer is one path
   not four
   not three
   not two


the path of delight
the path of meditation
the path of life

Photograph by Davide Foti via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

“The Unlucky Woman” by Jonathan Dunsky

Private detective Adam Lapid is drinking coffee at Greta’s CafĂ© in Tel Aviv. It’s about 1949 or 1950, not long after Israel’s war for independence. A boy hands Lapid a letter; it looks like a woman wants to hire him to find out what her husband is up to in the evenings. He takes the case, believing he knows what he’s likely to find. 

He talks to his client, a woman on bed-rest during her pregnancy because of previous miscarriages. She and husbamd met in a refugee camp after World War II; both survived the Holocaust. She thinks her husband is having an affair; Lapid thinks so, too, but he follows the husband anyway to see where the case will lead. But he, and his client, in for a surprise. Lapid tracks the man to the Hadassah Hospital.

The Unlucky Womanis a long short story published as a single by Jonathan Dunsky, author of the Adam Lapid detective mysteries and other works. Lapid, a Holocaust survivor himself, had been a police detective in Hungary before the war. His wife and two daughters died in the gas chambers; he survived the concentration camp. He made his way to Israel and fought and was wounded in the war for independence. He’s now a private detective, often able to out-guess the police.

Jonathan Dunsky
The story is available as an ebook; its print length would be 68 pages.

Jonathan Dunsky has published four Adam Lapid mysteries: Ten Years GoneThe Dead SisterThe Auschwitz Violinistand A Debt of Death. He’s also published The Favor: A Tale of Friendship and MurderGrandma Rachel’s GhostsFamily TiesTommy’s Touch: A Fantasy Love Story; and other works. He was born in Israel, served four years in the Israeli Army, lived in Europe for several years, and currently lives in Israel with his family. He has worked in various high-tech firms and operated his own search optimization business.

By the end of the story, Lapid is learning that it might be one case he wishes he hadn’t solved. The Unlucky Woman is an entertaining – and poignant – read.


Top photograph: The old Hadassah Hospital in Tel Aviv; the photo is from the 1920s but the hospital looked about the same at the time of “The Unlucky Woman.”