Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Poets and Poems: Benjamin Myers and "The Family Book of Martyrs"

If I were asked to list my Top Ten favorite contemporary poets, I wouldn’t hesitate to include Benjamin Myers. A professor of literature at Oklahoma Baptist University, Myers’ poetry deeply resonates with my own history and understanding of the world. I can’t explain why, exactly. It’s not the familiar condition known as “echo chamber.” But his poems do seem familiar in a deep, personal sense. 

I discovered this when I read his Elegy for Trains (2010) and Lapse Americana (2013). But it was his Black Sunday (2019) that really punched it home. With its poems about the Oklahoma Dust Bowl of the 1930s, I found myself not that far away, in northern Louisiana in the 1930s, reliving my own family history. And that’s the key – I can’t read his poetry without revisiting my own family.


His new collection, The Family Book of Martyrs, does exactly that. 

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

Monday, January 30, 2023

"Mugby Junction" by Charles Dickens

In the Christmas 1866 edition of his weekly magazine All the Year Round, Charles Dickens published eight short stories centered on a theme – railroads. Specifically, the railroad theme was loosely entitled “Mugby Junction,” a fictitious rail junction in England where several routes crisscrossed.  

If the 19th century, and specifically 19th century Britain, had a symbol, it would have been the railroad. From 1826 to 1836, some 378 miles of track were completed. That had risen to 2,210 miles by 1844. By 1870, more than 16,000 miles of track had been opened, carrying 423 million passengers annually.


In Dickens’ lifetime, the railroad had grown from non-existent to a huge technological force, tying the country together, boosting the Industrial Revolution, propelling the growth of cities, and changing the lives of virtually everyone in the country. “Mugby Junction” was a symbol of that impact.


Dickens himself wrote four of the eight stories. In “Barbox Brothes,” a man detrains at the station, not quite sure why he’s doing so, since he bought a thru ticket to London. In “Barbox Brothers and Co.,” the man meets a little girl, who seems to know him far better than he knows her. In “Main Line: The Boy at Mugby,” the boy of the title works in the refreshment room, fully aware that it is likely just the opposite of what it advertises itself as. “No. 1 Branch Line: The Signalman” takes something of a dark technological turn, with the signalman seeing a specter or ghost shortly before various rail tragedies.


Charles Dickens

Even though these stories by Dickens are clearly set in the 19th century, they oddly have a contemporary feel about them. The railroads have brought change, and with the change has come dislocation.


The four remaining stories all concern various branch lines.


In “No. 2 Branch Line: The Engine Driver” by Andrew Halliday, the engine driver explains how he has killed seven men and boys over the course of his career, all as a result of accidents. “No. 3 Branch Line: The Compensation House” by Charles Collins moves the Mugby Junction narrative away from the railroads and to a house being converted for use by the railroads – and a strange house it is. “No. 4 Branch Line: The Traveling Post Office” by Hesba Stretton concerns the theft of a diplomatic box, a crime that seems to be unexplainable (and is only resolved in distant Egypt). And “No. 5 Branch Line: The Engineer” by Amelia Edwards tells the story of two lifelong friends who fall out over a woman toying with them both, and how one seemingly returns from the dead to warn his friend.


Mugby Junction is an interesting mix of stories and genres – literary fiction, mystery, ghost story, and a mixture of all three. The stories are all about the railroad and what it had wrought in both society at large and individual lives in particular. And Dickens and his fellow writers saw the technology as a mixed blessing. Like all technologies, it had brought both good and bad.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Witness to the light

After John 1:1-14

He was sent to witness,

he was sent to speak,

he was sent to testify

of the light that was coming.


the light coming into the world


the light, the word, to logos

was here,

here in the world,


shining, yet strange,

an alien who looked like us

but unrecognized, suspected,

rejected by the very people

who had hoped and prayed

for him for centuries. 


He came as a man,

to live among us

for a time, to teach

and heal, until the day


the stone rolled away and

he was not here.


Photograph by Jose Ortega Castro via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Saturday Good Reads - Jan. 28, 2023

We’ve been watching “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS. We saw the original series when it aired from 1978 to 1990, but I like the new series better. Ethan Warren at Literary Hub takes a look at the show, and he says it’s about so much more than a charming country vet.  

Children usually don’t know that their parents, and even their grandparents, often pray for them. Michel Kelley at Forward Progress prays for his children, and he says there’s one specific thing he prays for each of them. And in these days and times, he makes a good point.


It used to be one of the most common forms of poetry in popular culture, but it’s been a long, long time since those days. Kevin Mims at Quillette asks the question: whatever happened to light verse


Since 1999, Bradley Birzer has been doing something that may make him one of the bravest people in academia – he’s been teaching the American Civil War. At The Imaginative Conservative, he reflects on all of the many causes of the war.


More Good Reads


Writing and Literature


The Charles Dickens Illustrated Gallery: A New Online Collection Presents All of the Original Illustrations from Charles Dickens' Novels – Colin Marshall at Open Culture.


Adventures in Reading: Before Austen Comes Aesop: The Children’s Great Books and How to Experience Them by Cheri Blomquist – Elizabeth Corey at First Things Magazine.


Maybe the Book Doesn't Need to Be "Disrupted" in the First Place? – Lincoln Michel at Counter Craft.


The Books That Made My Father – Jeanne Bonner at The Millions.


Let children’s books be children’s books – Nina Welsch at The Critic Magazine.


British Stuff


Some Interdimensional Portals I have Come Across During Walks in the British Countryside – Tom Cox.


Sonnet Prefixed to His Majesty's Instructions to His Dearest Son, Henry the Prince – King James I at Kingdom Poets (D.S. Martin).




John Adams in Heaven, from Legends of Liberty – Andrew Benson Brown at Society of Classical Poets. 


Burdens – Seth Lewis.




Be Still My Soul: A Hymn for the Hardest Losses – Jon Bloom at Desiring God.


All My Not-Enoughness – Brittany Lee Allen.


American Stuff


The Tragic South – Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative. 


The End of History: The solution to our natural biases is a broad, inclusive, and honest study of the past – Chris Stirewalt at The Dispatch.


Life and Culture


No Other Options: Canada and Euthanasia – Alexander Raikin at The New Atlantis.


The Dehumanizing Effects of Constant Performance – Chris Martin at Terms of Service.




Why Yevgeny Prigozhin is essential to Putin – Anna Arutunyan at The Spectator.


News Media


Abolish the Disinformation Reporter – Fred Skulthorp at The Critic Magazine.


BuzzFeed to Use ChatGPT Creator OpenAI to Help Create Some of Its Content – Alexandra Bruell at The Wall Street Journal.


O Lord You’re Beautiful – Chris Tomlin

 Painting: Study of a Man Reading, oil on panel (circa 1860) attributed to Thomas Couture (1815-1879)

Friday, January 27, 2023

An old woman's song

After Luke 2:36-38

I am 84, an old woman,

and I have served here

these many years, with

hope in my heart, a hope

realized this day, for

I have seen salvation,

the promise as old as

the people, the promise

made to Moses, and

I have seen it realized

this day: in front of me

is the redemption

of Jerusalem. This day,

the smallest doubt

has died, and the light

is shining.


Photograph by Danie Franco via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

"A Ghostly Shadow" by H L Marsay

What are called “ghost walk tours” are popular with tourists in many British studies, and those in the city of York has more than its fair share. And with Halloween approaching, it seems difficult not to find a customed Dick Turpin, Guy Fawkes, Richard III, and other famous and infamous people associated with York leading a group of tourists around the city’s medieval heart. 

All is not well with the tour leaders, however. Two newcomers from Oxford seem to be siphoning customers from the others. And someone is stealing batches of brochures from tourist information racks and tearing down posters from city walls and bulletin boards.


Detective Chief Inspector John Shadow has his own problems. An off-site training seminar has left a skeleton crew at police headquarters, and he and his No. 2 Sgt. Jimmy Chang are having to investigate crimes normally left to other teams. Shadow is consequently in a grumpy mood; but as his sergeant will cheerfully point out, his boss is almost always in a grumpy mood.


H L Marsay

The ghost tour walk business gets turned upside down when two of the leaders – the pair from Oxford – are murdered one after the other. As Shadow and Chang investigate, they uncover professional jealousy and old-fashioned revenge are among the motives possibly lurking in the case. 


A Ghostly Shadow is the third in the DCI John Shadow series by British author H L Marsay. Set in York, the characteristic features of each of the stories are a curmudgeonly DCI, his irrepressibly cheerful sergeant, a culinary tour of the city restaurants, café, and pubs (some of which actually exist), and an introduction to York’s colorful history and present. A Ghostly Shadow is no exception, and a few developments – like Shadow cat sitting the pet of one of the victims – adds a good dose of hilarity to the story, as does how two forensic specialists set the DCI’s desk on fire.


Marsay is the author of six mystery novels in the DCI John Shadow series. A member of the Crime Writers Association, she lives with her family in the city of York in England.




A Long Shadow by H.L. Marsay.


A Viking’s Shadow by H L Marsay.

Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Tracing the Life of an Ancestor Isn’t Easy—or Always Accurate

Oral history may not be particularly trustworthy. 

My father was four years old when his paternal grandfather died, so any direct memories he would have had were likely dim. He told me the story, passed down by his father, that his grandfather Samuel Young had fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy, had found himself stranded somewhere in the east when the war ended in 1865, and made his way home primarily by walking. My father said “the Youngs were a family of shopkeepers,” and had lived and worked around Brookhaven in northern Pike Country, and they had owned no slaves. (Pike was a large county; during Reconstruction it was split into two counties, Pike and Lincoln.)


When his grandfather reached home near Brookhaven, Mississippi, my father said, he discovered the family was gone. Neighbors said the entire family had fled to East Texas to escape the devastation of war and Union control. He continued his trek across Louisiana and eventually found his family. At some point, the family returned to Mississippi. My father also told me, again passing down the family story from his father, that Samuel had been too young to enlist, and so became a messenger boy. 


To continue reading, please see my post today at Dancing Priest.

Photograph: My paternal great-grandparents, Samuel and Octavia Young.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Poets and Poems: Laura Mullen and "After I Was Dead"

November, 2022: It’s just over 53 years since I first walked on the campus at LSU in Baton Rouge as a college freshman. I’m in the school’s bookstore, which is nothing like the one I remember in the Student Union. This one is across the street and operated by Barnes and Noble. And in this day of electronic textbooks, the bookstore more resembles a large department store filled with LSU-brand clothing and merchandise of all shapes, sizes and varieties. 

Still, there are physical books, tucked away on the second floor. Right by the escalator are two shelves of books by faculty authors. And it’s there I find After I was Dead, a poetry collection by Laura Mullen bearing the sticker “faculty author.” 

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

Monday, January 23, 2023

“Harsh Times” by Mario Vargas Llosa

When you read a novel by Mario Vargas Llosa, you never know if you’re reading fiction, non-fiction, or a combination of the two. When I first started reading his most recent novel, Harsh Times  (English edition, 2021), I thought someone had made a mistake and Vargas Llosa had written of mid-20th century Guatemala. 

I first discovered Vargas Llosa in the 1980s, when I took a class in “The Latin American Novel.” He was part of what had become known as the “Latin American Boom,” a veritable explosion of literature that included the magic realism of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (like 100 Years of Solitude), the wonderful novels of Carlos Fuentes (The Death of Artemio Cruz), the poetry and fiction of Octavio Paz, and writers like Manuel Puig (Kiss of the Spider Woman). 


For my class, we read Vargas Llosa’s The Green House (1968). On a business trip, I found and began reading The War of the End of the World (1984). For my major paper, I read, analyzed, and reconstructed Conversation in the Cathedral(1975), a huge novel without an immediate discernible narrative structure (it’s there, but you have to do some heavy lifting to find it). After that, reading the funny Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (1982) punched home for me his broad reach of topic, history, and popular culture. And I’ve now read most of his works. 

Mario Vargas Llosa

For Harsh Times, Vargas Llosa tells the story of the before, during, and after of two government overthrows in Guatemala in the 1950s. The first was 1954, the overthrow of the democratically elected Jacobo Arbenz that was orchestrated, planned, and financed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (an event involving mercenaries, John Foster Dulles of the State Department, and his brother Allen Dulles, director of the CIA; the U.S. could often be its own worst enemy). The second event was the 1957 assassination of Arbenz’s successor, the military dictator Carlos Castillo Armas.


Vargas Llosa moves back and forth between the two stories, tying them together with real major characters and (possibly fictional) minor characters. He keeps you guessing as to what is real and what is invented. The overall story is underpinned by extensive historical research. The author doesn’t do anything by halves.


If there is one character who seems to move almost interchangeably through the narrative, it is Marta Borrero Parra, called “Miss Guatemala” by everyone from her father to her numerous lovers. For a time, she was the mistress of the dictator assassinated in 1957 and was said to be involved in the killing. Or it may have been that she was implicated to direct attention away from the real killers. We follow her from her life in Guatemala, her fleeing to the Dominican Republic, her work as a political journalist, and her likely involvement as an agent for the CIA, which spirited her out of the Dominican Republic when strongman Rafael Trujillo was assassinated in 1961. An ardent anti-communist, Trujillo was famous for his brutal regime; one of his main henchmen is a significant character in Harsh Times.


By the end of the book, the reader is prepared for the epilogue – an interview between the author and Miss Guatemala, now in her 80s and living outside Washington, D.C., not far from CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. I assume the interview really happened, but Vargas Llosa is so good at imagining what historical people said and thought that the interview could easily be entirely invented. But it’s a feature that makes Harsh Times an impressive feat – and perhaps sleight of hand.




Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters.


The past is never past.


I grew up in 100 years of solitude.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

An old man's song

After Luke 2:22-32

Now I can leave

this form of age

behind me, now

I can depart

in peace, for I

have seen what

was promised,

that I would see

before my death

the promise of


the great consolation,

not only for the people

chosen, but for all,

salvation for all

the earth, a light

of revelation, the light

of glory.


Photograph by Aaron Andrew Ang via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Saturday Good Reads - Jan. 21, 2023

It’s an accusation – charge – insult – attack tossed around with abandon these days – calling someone a “hater.” Its general purpose is to shut down debate, or change the conversation if someone’s questions get too close to what someone else doesn’t want to talk about. One big category of people routinely called “haters” is Christians. But as Michael Kruger at Canon Fodder reminds us, that particular accusation has been around for a long tome – like from the beginning.  

In case you hadn’t noticed or heard, crime is up. Like everywhere. There are a lot of reasons, but the pullback of police since 2020 (already underway since 2014) and the dismissal of charges by urban and suburban prosecutors are two significant reasons. There’s also an exodus from police forces and the drying up of sources of new police recruits. Leighton Woodhouse at The Free Press has the story on America’s police exodus.


One of the arguments against school choice proposals is that they discriminate against rural school districts, which don’t have the choices that urban and suburban school districts have. Not so, says Robert Pondiscio at the Thomas Fordham Institute. Rural school choice is more common than you think.


More Good Reads


Writing and Literature


Communities of Memory – Hans Zeiger at Front Porch Republic.


Does Historical Accuracy Matter in Historical Fiction? – Mark Ellis at CrimeReads.




January’s for Reflecting, Not Resolving – John Onwuchekwa at Four in the Morning.


Lovers of Good: Eyes of Hope in a World Gone Bad – David Mathis at Desiring God.


The Reality of Fear and the Presence of Reality: Suffering and Cultural Renewal – Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy.


Life and Culture


Recapturing Higher Education: On the plan to transform New College of Florida into a classical liberal arts institution – Christopher Rufo at CityJournal.


Irked by Skyrocketing Costs, Fewer Americans See K-12 as Route to Higher Ed – Greg Toppo at The 74.


The European Way to Die – Michel Houellebecq at Harpers Magazine.




This Side of Eternity – Anna Arredondo at Society of Classical Poets.


Little Blue Transistor Radio – Yusef Komunyakaa at Oxford American.


The Bells of Lübeck – Iris Ann Lewis at The High Window.




Putin’s plan to freeze Europe has failed – Owen Matthews at The Spectator.


Many tanks: Ukraine needs the arms required to win – Patrick Caddick-Adams at The Critic Magazine.


Good Evening, We Are from Ukraine: The Subversive Radicalism of a Viral Wartime Slogan – Maria Sonevytsky at Los Angeles Review of Books.


Civil War


Why the Union Army Had So Many Boy Soldiers – Frances Clarke & Rebecca Jo Plant at Smithsonian Magazine.




The Truly Epic Story of How the Battle of Helm's Deep was Filmed – Hannah Shaw-Williams at SlashFilm.




World's Oldest Rune Stone Found in Norway – Bård Amundsen at Science Norway.


British Stuff


The Juvenile Almanack – Spitalfields Life.


Against the HRification of history: Handwringing about “relatability” divides more than it unites – Fred Skulthorp at The Critic Magazine.


In the Valley (Bless the Lord) - Sandra McCracken and City Alight

Painting: The Short-Sighted Woman, oil on canvas (1903) by Alfred Stevens (1823-1906)

Friday, January 20, 2023

Angels sing

After Luke 2:8-16

A night like any other,

a job like any other,

watching over sheep

at night. Like any other,

except the night the angel

appears, a great light

shines around them,

it wasn’t normal anymore,

a night unlike any other

before or since. The angel 

speaks of good news,

messiah’s birth, and says

look for a sign, a child

in a stable. In the flash

of a moment, the angel

is joined by a multitude,



A night.

An angel

An announcement.

A sign.

A song.


Photograph by James Handley via Unsplash. Used with permission.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

"The Man in Lower 10" by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Lawrence Blakely is a young attorney in Washington, D.C., partners with his best friend from school and college and fellow lawyer. He is taking the train from Washington to Pittsburg, to bring the evidence for a forged documents case to a courtroom. The documents will convict the accused. 

As is the custom in the early 1900s, he reserves a space in the Pullman sleeper car, numbered Lower 10. But returning from a few drinks in the saloon car, Blakeley discovers someone else asleep in his assigned bed. The conductor switches the sleeping arrangements, and all appears well.


Except the man in the Lower 10 bunk is found dead, stabbed to death. Blakely’s own clothes and suitcase, with the all-important fraud documents, are missing, and he’s left with someone else’s clothes. Just as his fellow travelers begin to accuse him of murder, there’s a wreck – another train has plowed into them. Blakely – now with a broken arm from the crash – is eventually awakened by a beautiful fellow traveler, and the two make their way from the train as their car is engulfed in flames. 


But there is still a murder victim, missing documents, and the mystery of what happened to Blakely’s clothes.


The Man in Lower 10 was one of the first mysteries published by American writer Mary Roberts Rinehart. It inaugurated a string of popular mystery stories that continued well into the 1930s. As in many of her stories, Rinehart combined mystery and romance in The Man in Lower 10, to the point where the novel is almost more romance than mystery. And Rinehart nicely complicates the romance, with having both law partners in love with the same woman. 


Rinehart (1876-1958) was a prolific writer of plays, mysteries, short story collections, non-fiction, and essays. A stock market crash in 1903 forced her to find income, and she began to write short stories. In 1907, her novel The Circular Staircase made her famous across the United States. The Bat first appeared as a play in 1920 and published as a novel in 1926. Several movie versions were filmed, included the 1959 movie starring Vincent Price and Agnes Morehead.




The Case of Jennie Brice by Mary Roberts Rinehart.