Sharon Olds

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I discovered her poetry in one of my poem-a-day emails, but had never heard of her before. According to biography on the Poetry Foundation, she has won “the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award. Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry which graphically depicts family life as well as global political events.” The first poem, Pine Tree Ode, “a photo shoot becomes the occasion for a deeper encounter with the natural world.”

“Pine Tree Ode”

by Sharon Olds, 2016

I was sitting on the top stones of a wall—can you
get even closer to the tree, he said, so I went
inches from the trunk of the tallest of the ones
we’d been standing among like small children
among the legs of the grown-ups.
Now, the side of my face was almost
against the bark, intimate,
I could see where its growing had pulled its surface
open, into wooden lozenges, like
stretch marks, I could not feel it breathe
but I felt it alive beside me, a huge
ant running down, and stopping, and turning
its feelers, in the air, between us, and then
walking so fast it seemed to be pouring back
up. Then I looked, up, along
the branchless stem, into the canopy,
to the needles fanning out in bunches
eating the sun. And the length of it seemed like
bravery, like strong will,
a single, whole, note, like a tenor’s
cry, sustained, as if a tree were
a spurt from the earth, a heart’s gush.
And the ants flowed from ground to sky,
sky to ground. I don’t know where the ants
had been, or their ancestors had been, the noon
the tornado came through, wall of water
a hundred and thirty miles an hour,
solid ferocious grey static.
The tree stood. And now I sat up straight
beside it, feeling my way back
through species, and species, toward the pine, and toward
the ones we both descended from, the
fern, the green cell—the sun,
the star-stuff we are made of.

The second one, After Making Love in Winter, from May 1987,  is about the emotional changes a mature woman goes through after a sexual encounter. To see more on the analysis, check out this article

 

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Margarita Engle

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I first discovered Margarita Engle‘s work with her verse novel, The Poet Slave of Cuba: A Biography of Juan Francisco Manzano and The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, both of which were excellent in describing fascinating events and people I knew nothing about and I adored them both. Engle is the Poetry Foundation’s Young People’s Poet Laureate for 2017-19. Based on the author’s note, the poem/verse novel I have selected Drum Dream Girlis:

“inspired by the childhood of a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers. In 1932, at the age of ten, Millo Castro Zaldarriaga performed with her older sisters as Anacaona, Cuba’s first “all-girl dance band.” Millo became a world-famous musician, playing alongside all the American jazz greats of the era. At age fifteen, she played her bongó drums at a New York birthday celebration for U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, where she was enthusiastically cheered by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. There are now many female drummers in Cuba. Thanks to Millo’s courage, becoming a drummer is no longer an unattainable dream for girls on the island.”

Drum Dream Girl

BY MARGARITA ENGLE, 2015
On an island of music
in a city of drumbeats
the drum dream girl
dreamed
of pounding tall conga drums
tapping small bongó drums
and boom boom booming
with long, loud sticks
on bit, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.
But everyone
on the island of music
in the city of drumbeats
believed that only boys
should play drums
so the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
quiet
secret
drumbeat
dreams.
At outdoor cafés that looked like gardens
she heard drums played by men
but when she closed her eyes
she could also hear
her own imaginary
music.
When she walked under
wind-wavy palm trees
in a flower-bright park
she heard the whir of parrot wings
the clack of woodpecker beaks
the dancing tap
of her own footsteps
and the comforting pat
of her own
heartbeat.
At carnivals, she listened
to the rattling beat
of towering
dancers
on stilts
and the dragon clang
of costumed drummers
wearing huge masks.
At home, her fingertips
rolled out their own
dreamy drum rhythm
on tables and chairs…
and even though everyone
kept reminding her that girls
on the island of music
have never played drums
the brave drum dream girl
dared to play
tall conga drums
small bongó drums
and big, round, silvery
moon-bright timbales.
Her hands seemed to fly
as they rippled
rapped
and pounded
all the rhythms
of her drum dreams.
Her big sisters were so excited
that they invited her to join
their new all-girl dance band
but their father said only boys
should play drums.
So the drum dream girl
had to keep dreaming
and drumming
alone
until finally
her father offered
to find a music teacher
who could decide if her drums
deserved
to be heard.
The drum dream girl’s
teacher was amazed.
The girl knew so much
but he taught her more
and more
and more
and she practiced
and she practiced
and she practiced
until the teacher agreed
that she was ready
to play her small bongó drums
outdoors at a starlit café
that looked like a garden
where everyone who heard
her dream-bright music
sang
and danced
and decided
that girls should always
be allowed to play
drums
and both girls and boys
should feel free
to dream.

Esther

Esther

Esther by Rebecca Kanner

To be published: Nov 3, 2015

Esther is a fourteen year old orphaned Jewish girl who is kidnapped by soldiers of King Xerxes of Persia, and taken to his harem in the palace. It is there she must learn to protect herself against the vicious concubine who has been scheming for years to become queen. After a year of preparation, she is presented to the king. Esther manages to capture his heart and attention and is made queen. Now she must watch out for herself more than ever, as she has fallen for one of the Immortals, an elite soldier of the king. Her cousin Mordecai is the king’s accountant and he warns her about Haman. He is the king’s most trusted advisor, who plots the downfall of the Jewish people to increase his own power and prestige. Will Esther be strong enough to risk her life to defeat Haman and save her people? Find out in this lushly described tale of one woman’s journey to greatness. 3-1/2 stars.

I’ve always been fascinated by the story of Esther but never knew much about it, so I figured this book was a good way to get a glimpse. The book does remind me of Tosca Lee’s The Legend of Shebaanother religious fiction ARC about a strong female lead. I love books that are well-researched and pay close attention to detail, and with this book, the reader could really imagine themselves as a young girl surving in Xerxes’ palace. It makes me want to read a biography of the king. I must say that the whole time I was reading it though, I kept picturing him as Rodrigo Santoro, that Brazilian actor who starred as the king from the movie 300It’s kind of hard to believe that all the events in the story happen in little over a year, as it seems like much longer because so much happens to the unlikely heroine. The time she spent in the harem were particularly fascinating, and I enjoyed learning about all the intrigue and backstabbing. It’s crazy to think that any woman would wait a year to get ready for a man to have sex with them and this act alone would determine their fate. I’m guessing the author put the Esther-Erez romance in to counter the transaction-like relationship between the queen and Xerxes. While I enjoyed that part of the story, it does kind of take the attention away from the Biblical tale. Overall, I liked the book but it did drag a bit.

Disclaimer: I received this book, from the publisher Howard Books, in exchange for my honest review.

 

The Woman Who Would Be King

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut's Cartouche

I’ve been wanting to read this for awhile, and so when I was browsing for a new audiobook to read, I grabbed for this one. This book was a very intriguing glimpse into the Egyptian royal family in the Eighteenth Dynasty, religion/mythology, and culture. I figured that naturally a pharaoh’s wife/daughter would be involved in religious ceremonies, but I had never heard of her duties as “god’s wife of Amun”, or that it would be so sexual. It was a bit odd to think about the Egyptians believing that the world was started by a god masturbating. The intricacies of palace life are a bit over my head, but I know that I would not have wanted to be a royal woman in Egyptian times as their lives were so rigid and controlled.

The book goes into great detail about Hatshepsut’s father Thutmose I, who was not the original successor to the throne but most likely a high powered general, and her mother Ahmose (the great wife – chief among all the wives and harem). Hatshepsut herself was married to her half-brother Thutmose II, who was the third in line to the throne originally, but was sickly and died early. She next ended up begin regent to her toddler step-son Thutmose III, and later because she was “intellectually ambitious” seized the chance to be co-king with him. She bought her support with the elites of the kingdom and started an extensive building program, originally started by her father Thutmose I. The co-regency was also a time of great peace and prosperity, as evidenced by her very successive journey to Punt.

Hatshepsut Expediton to Punt

Part of Hatshepsut’s wall painting of the Expedition to Punt from her Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri,  Luxor, Egypt

The Mortuary Temple of King Hatshepsut, aka the Djeser-Djeseru, the Holy of Holies

Entrance to Mortuary Temple at Deir el Bahri, Luxor, Egypt. Called Djeser-Djeseru, aka “Holy of Holies” [this is someplace I’ve always wanted to go, even before I read this brilliant biography]

As much as some historians try to claim that she was a ruthless power-grabber who took advantage of a precarious political situation for her own gain, I really think that she was trying to not let her father’s legacy die out and took the opportunity to rule a bit. Yes it was not traditional and she stretched all kind of boundaries, including revamping/re-sexing the gods but it worked for her and her people at the time. And if there was disension in the ranks, so to speak, Thutmose III didn’t speak up about it until he was pretty much full-grown. In fact he didn’t deface or knock-down her sculptures until the very end of his reign, and even then, it seems to be more about a succession issue (putting a son with no royal connections on the throne) than actual contempt of his aunt I think. It’s hard to make an accurate assessment of the time because there was no written record of how others felt about it, instead having to go on a lot of conjecture as the author/historian does in the book. So yeah, she makes a lot of assumptions, but I agreed with most of it. 5 stars.

hatshepsutbust

Seated Hatshepsut statue

Hatshepsut as King with feminine attributes