Wednesday, March 20, 2019

“A Stranger on My Land” by Sandra Merville Hart

Adam Hendricks is a private with the 99thOhio Infantry, slowly advancing with his unit up Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. It’s late November of 1863, and after taking Chattanooga, Union forces are working their way towards Georgia. What lies ahead is the battle of Missionary Ridge. But before that happens, Hendricks is wounded in his arm, twice. He loses consciousness; when he awakes, he’s lying by himself in the forest, and his right arm is useless.

Carrie Bishop is a young woman whose family lives in a cabin on the mountain. Her father is with General Lee’s army in Virginia. She, her aunt, and her young brother have taken refuge in a cave. Her aunt had refused to leave the mountain; to protect themselves, their livestock, and remaining food from both Confederate and Union forces, they’ve been in hiding for some time.

Sandra Merville Hart
Searching for firewood, Carrie and her brother find the wounded Union soldier. Her first reaction is to walk away. Her second is to help him. The circumstances that force the two young people together are also the circumstances that may drive them apart – they occupy opposing sides of the Civil War (Carrie’s aunt in particular has a virulent hatred of all things Yankee). What Carrie can medically do for Adam is extremely limited, and she knows that she will have to risk her family’s safety to get him the doctor’s help he needs.

A Stranger on My Land is the story of Carrie and Adam, the first of three Civil War romances by Sandra Merville Hart. It’s an engaging story, backed by considerable research and period detail.

The second novel in the series is A Rebel in My House and the third is A Musket in My Hands. Hart, a member of American Christian Fiction Authors, has also published novellas and short stories and is both a contributor and assistant editor for 

My initial interest in A Stranger on My Land was the Civil War setting. But it took no time for the story to take over and almost compel me to read it straight through in one sitting.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Poets and Poems: Phoebe Power and “Shrines of Upper Austria”

One of the significant themes in contemporary poetry is identity – with an open-ended definition of that word. Poets young and old are exploring what identity is, using their own lives as a prism. The recent National Book Award winner Indecency by Justin Phillip Reed is one example. The poetry of British poet laureate Carol Ann Duffyi s another. 

Phoebe Power
British poet Phoebe Power, in her first collection Shrines of Upper Austria, explores a different facet of identity, and that’s an individual’s understanding of national identity. The collection received the Forward Prize for Best First Collection and was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. 

Power’s starting point is her grandmother, who arrived in England as a new bride married to a British soldier in 1946. Her grandmother was an ethnic German from Austria, which just the year before had been part of Nazi Germany. Imagine her British neighbors, and her new British family. Imagine what she had left behind. The experiences and heritage of her grandmother becomes Power’s by family inheritance. 

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

Poetry at Work, Chapter 10: The Poetry of Beauty in the Workplace

The worst view I ever had from my assigned office at work was of the building’s designated smoking area. I had the most coveted type of office – a closed-door office, with a window. Except the window faced the smoking area outside the building, with its awning-like protection and clouds of smoke.

The best view I ever had from my assigned office at work was that same office – after smoking was banned entirely from the campus. No more plastic awning. No more clouds of smoke. Just an uninterrupted view of nearby woods.

If someone asked you to describe beauty at your workplace, you would likely think of architectural structures, window views, fountains, waterways, or woods. You might think of people, but today’s cultural and work environments require that great care be taken when talking about people. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Literary Life.

“City of a Million Dreams” by Jason Berry

New Orleans, the city where I was born and grew up in, turned 300 years old last year, rather old by American standards. Founded by the French, managed for a time by the Spanish, incorporated into the United States with the Louisiana Purchase, then a part of the Confederacy before it was dragged back into the Union with Reconstruction, the city has a history that’s colorful, turbulent, diverse, and still being lived.

These days, I usually approach books and articles about New Orleans with doubts. How much of what I read will be ideological? How much does political correctness seep in? Will I recognize my hometown in what I’m reading, or will it come across as some alien place, unrelated to anything I know?

City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300 by Jason Berry captures a considerable amount of the city’s color and turbulence. It’s an account of a city that’s includes usually forgotten elements and people but also manages to avoid the traps of ideology. In short, I recognize my city in this story of its history. The problem I have is that I don’t recognize enough of it. 

Berry is an investigative reporter who lives in New Orleans and who’s written some 10 books, including on subjects as diverse as the Catholic Church crisis, the power of money in the Catholic church, a history of New Orleans music, a novel about Louisiana politics, and others. He is a producing City of a Million Dreams as a documentary film, expected to be released this year. 

The book begins at the beginning, with the founding by the French in 1718, specifically by Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, the man known for his snake-tattooed body that always impressed the native tribes. Berry tells a good story of Louisiana’s first 100 years, covering the French, Spanish, and early American periods, along with the powerful influences on the city by the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte, slave rebellions in the West Indies, yellow fever, and French national and colonial politics. 

Jason Berry
It was during the discussion of the period leading up to and including the Civil War and Reconstruction eras that I began to see the book’s strong point – the emphasis on the city’s musical history – was also its weak point. The emphasis on music allows an enhanced discussion of the history of the city’s African-American people, including both slaves and “free people of color.” But it also means that other elements are crowded out. The reader gets an extended discussion of specific musicians and a funeral home operator, but not a single reference to John McDonough, the philanthropist who shaped the lives of hundreds of thousands of people through the public schools, and few references to the importance played by city’s position as a leading seaport.

Aside from the discussion of colonial history, the book does provide solid background on how the city’s neighborhoods developed, where Congo Square came from, the original of "second-lining" funerals, and how New Orleans’ musicians, like Louis Armstrong, became part of the city’s musical diaspora across the United States and into Europe. But you will find very little on the city’s contribution to World War II and the space program, and the role of businesses and industry, including cotton. 

City of a Million Dreams is uneven, and its emphasis on music likely reflects the author’s previous work in that area. The music is a fascinating and important aspect of the city’s history. But other aspects are important as well, and Berry could have his excellent storytelling style to those as well. 

Top photograph by Robson Hatsukami Morgan via Unsplash. Used with permission

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Hearing the call

After Luke 14:12-24

I heard the call
to the feast and wow
what an opportunity 
what a great opportunity
let me check my calendar
on my phone, oh no
it’s packed, I had no idea
how scheduled I was, 
with events, things, stuff,
responsibilities, appointments,
meetings, conferences, gatherings,
luncheons, dinners, filled
with all the important things,
the things signifying importance,
so I have to say sorry, things to do,
places to go, people to see,
maybe next year
in Jerusalem.

Photograph by Tom Plouff via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Saturday Good Reads

During my junior year in college, I took two semesters of Russian history. The second semester focused on the 19th and 20th centuries, and one of the books we read was a really, really bad 1863 novel called What Is to be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky. It was a political novel, written by a member of the Russian intelligentsia (he was a literary critic, among other things), and it sought to explain why intellectuals needed to take the lead in the struggle between socialism and capitalism. Surprisingly for the time, its lead character, a woman, advocated free love, an end to marriage, an end to private property, and creation of socialist industrial communes.

In response, Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote Notes from the Underground, which ridiculed Chernyshevsky’s book. Later, Leo Tolstoy wrote a response as well. Intellectuals, however loved the book, not least for how it cast them as social and political heroes. One person completely impressed by the book was Vladimir Lenin, who went on to implement much of what What Is to be Done?advocated. And we know how well that worked out.

Two years ago, Northwestern University professor Gary Morson gave a lecture at the Heritage Foundation, speaking on this 19thcentury “great authors versus intellectuals” battle. He likens it to contemporary American society, but he points out that we have no great authors – no Dostoevsky, no Tolstoy, no Anton Chekhov – to engage the battle today. What the lecture does tell us is that all this stuff flying around about socialism, green new deals, soaking the rich, and ending capitalism is nothing new. We’ve seen it before, and we know exactly where it will lead.

More Good Reads

Writing and Literature

Twelve Rules for the Bookish Life – Doug Sikkema at Comment Magazine.

We Write by Faith – Jennifer Oshman. 

Why Charles Dickens Makes Me Cry – Christine Norvell at The Imaginative Conservative.

New Media

What the Washington Post Debacle Can Teach Christians – Zak Schmoll at Entering the Public Square.

Life and Culture

The Equality Act Accelerates Anti-Christian Bias – Andrew Walker at The Gospel Coalition.


Three Sonnets on the Temptations of Christ – Malcolm Guite at The Imaginative Conservative.

Why are we so worried about “Instapoetry”? – Anna Leszkiewicz at New Statesman.

James Tate’s Last, Last Poems – Matthew Zapruder at The Paris Review.

Leaf blowing – David Solway at New Criterion.


The Surprising Humanity of the Westminster Confession – Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.

Farewell Francis – Jordan Standridge at The Cripplegate.

British Stuff

England and France: Sibling Rivalry – Erica Laine at English Historical Fiction Authors.

It is Well with My Soul – Audrey Assad

Painting: Woman Reading, oil on canvas by David Park (1911-1960).

Friday, March 15, 2019


After Luke 14:12-24

The feast prepared 
and ready, the call goes out 
to come to the beast, 
this would have been 
the second call, the first 
asking if people would come,
and this second call meets
excuses, no I’m too busy,
too many responsibilities,
too many things to take care of,
sorry my wife is calling
sorry I have other plans,
maybe next time. A third call
goes out, instead,
to the poor, the blind,
the crippled, the lame,
the sick, the dregs,
the ignored, the deplorables,
the pariahs, the uneducated,
t6he rubes, the rednecks,
and they come
and they feast.

Photograph by Ryoji Iwata via Unsplash. Used with permission