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Book Review: On a Grey Thread by Elsa Gidlow

Image of a digital book cover.Red and pink roses rest against a green background. A black band across the middle has the title in white on it.

Summary:
Published in 1923, this poetry collection was the first in North American history to openly express lesbian desire. Both personal and political, Gidlow’s poems express the poet’s complex feelings as a young woman whose political ideology and sexual identity ran counter to the traditional values of her time.

Review:
For Pride Month, I wanted to push myself a little by reading from a genre I read less often – poetry. I’ve also been striving to connect more with queer history, so I thought this groundbreaking collection was a great match.

The poems are collected into four sections – Youth, Grain and Grapes, Inner Chamber, and In Passing. If you are here for women loving women content…skip to the Inner Chamber section. Although, I am glad I read them all in order, because I do feel like they told a subtle overarching story.

The first poem in the collection beautifully explores the meaning of life and what makes us who we are via beads on a grey thread. Other poems consider the beauty of nature and sadness/loneliness (in a way that reminded me of 90s emo culture). In fact, I think what struck me the most when reading these was just how of the moment and today they felt, in spite of being written almost 100 years ago.

Since the entire collection is out of copyright, let me close my review by sharing my favorite in its entirety.

“Episode”

I have robbed the garrulous streets,
Thieved a fair girl from their blight,
I have stolen her for a sacrifice
That I shall make to this mysteried night.

I have brought her, laughing,
To my quietly sinister garden.
For what will be done there
I ask no man’s pardon.

I brush the rouge from her cheeks,
Clean the black kohl from the rims
Of her eyes; loose her hair;
Uncover the glimmering, shy limbs.

I break wild roses, scatter them over her.
The thorns between us sing like love’s pain.
Her flesh, bitter and salt to my tongue,
I taste with endless kisses and taste again.

At dawn I leave her
Asleep in my wakening garden
(For what was done there
I ask no man’s pardon.)

I hope this review entices you to read some (more) classic queer poetry.

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4 out of 5 stars

Length: 73 pages – novella

Source: Archive.org

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Book Review: Animal Rights Poetry: 25 Inspirational Animal Poems, Vol 1 by Jenny Moxham (Series, #1)

Drawng of a little girl hugging a pig next to a goose.Summary:
A collection of 25 poems focusing on a variety of animal rights issues by British animal rights activist Jenny Moxham.

Review:
I picked this up because one of the blogs I follow mentioned it was on sale (for 100% off), and I figured there had to be at least one poem in there that I would find inspirational.  Of course, there was.

The poems are mostly written in rhyme, a vibe that feels very similar to Mother Goose style children’s poetry.  Some of them worked better than others, but it’s certainly a fine style choice.  It’s easier to remember rhymes than almost any other sort of poetry.

Personally, I preferred the poems that contained solid arguments to use when debating animal rights issues.  My favorite, is this one:

FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I’ve often heard it said by folk
Who relish eating meat,
“The animals were put on Earth
For human beings to eat.”

Well if God made them just for us,
Explain it, if you can,
Why they arrived one hundred million
Years ahead of man

(location 95)

I was less of a fan of ones addressing particular events, because I think those would be less useful in more general animal rights work.  I also was surprised by how many of the poems were about Christmas.  Perhaps Christmas is a meatier affair in the UK, but in a book with only 25 poems, having five about one holiday felt like a bit much.

Overall, Moxham’s talent and passion do shine through, but a more varied and longer collection would have been more enjoyable.  Recommended to those with an interest in memorable phrases to use in animal rights work.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Book Review: Eros and Psyche by Robert Bridges

February 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Winged god holding a mortal womanSummary:
This twelve section poem re-tells the mythological love story of Eros and Psyche with each section representing one month of the year.  Psyche, a mortal, and Eros, a god, fall in love, but Eros’s goddess mother, Aphrodite, disapproves of her son loving a mortal.  They therefore must face trials and tribulations to be together.

Review:
Since this re-telling of the Eros and Psyche myth was originally written in English, it is actually quite beautiful to read and/or listen to.  The use of the twelve months to tell the story lends it a certain relaxing quality, even when the lovers are facing trials and tribulations.

The story itself is typical of a myth.  Someone wants something.  A god or goddess doesn’t want them to have it.  They face trials and tribulations before besting or being accepted by the god/dess.  Nothing new there.  What is new is how prettily the tale is told.

It’s a short read, but it features some well-loved figures from mythology including Pan and Demeter.  There’s a particularly fun gathering of the gods and goddesses toward the end that demonstrates the interaction and clash of personalities that the Greeks and Romans believed in.

Overall, this retelling is well-handled, and the poetry is beautiful.  If you enjoy poetry or mythology, you will enjoy this read.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audiobooks app for the iPod, iPhone, and iPad

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Book Review: Beowulf by Anonymous/Unknown

March 11, 2010 2 comments

Man covered in chainmail.  Summary:
This classic, epic poem tells the story of the life of Beowulf, a Geat warrior.  In his youth, Beowulf assists the Danes who are being terrorized by a monster named Grendel.  He defeats Grendel and Grendel’s mother single-handedly in hand to hand combat.  When the Geatish king dies, Beowulf acts as guardian of the kingdom while the prince grows up.  All is well until a dragon starts to terrorize the land.

Review:
Having read The Odyssey, The Iliad, and The Aeneid and liking them all quite well (in spite of the fact that The Aeneid is a Roman rip-off of the Greek epics) I was expecting something somewhat different from Beowulf than what I got.  Although the adventures in these epics generally center around one or two characters, they are also the tales of the history of an entire people.  Since Beowulf conducts pretty much all of his battles on his own, I don’t really get that vibe from Beowulf.  It also is odd to me that these people seem to have a real talent for pissing off monsters buried deep in the Earth.  Whereas the other epic poems are about battles between nations and the impact that has on individuals, this is really just about some guy who goes around killing monsters that people have managed to royally piss off.  It’s kind of like reading a videogame in which every level consists of one monstrous boss.

Maybe this whole difference in tone is due to the fact that this pagan history is being told by a Christian narrator, whereas the other epics are told by pagan narrators.  There’s definitely a vibe of “oh those silly old pagans” to Beowulf, which makes it rather hard to relate to the characters.

On the other hand, just as in the other classic, epic poems, the language is beautiful.  Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I got to really listen to it.  Hearing epic poetry read aloud is almost always better than reading it, as the oral tradition is where they came from.  Bloody scenes manage to come across as exquisite due purely to the language being used.

If you enjoy epic poetry, you’ll definitely enjoy Beowulf.  However, if you’re new to epic poems, I’d recommend you start with The Odyssey instead.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 245 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Librivox recording via Audiobooks app for the iTouch

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