Some thoughts on haikus . . .

I’m quite new to writing haikus, and here is what started me:

Cyphers is a literary magazine produced here in Dublin. It’s been on the go for around fifty years and has a great reputation. In 2015 I bought this edition, and there I found two wonderful haikus by Lorraine Whelan, which I will include here:

The crimson apple

with bitter chromium leaves

glowed in her pale palm.

and:

The avenue of

neon trees remembers no

specific season.

These haikus stayed in my head for weeks and I re-read them to this day. I began to write them myself then, and took photographs along the river to go with most of them. But I’m not in the same class as Lorraine, or D. W. Peach who posted several beauties last week, together with photographs; I’ll include two of them hereand her picture of her lovely muse!

hidden glades of light

sift through mottled canopies

a glimpse of magic

and:

fiddleheads unfurl

green curlicues and whimsy

crowning last year’s fronds

Aren’t these all wonderful? I’ll just have to keep trying!

Two Short Reviews: Weathering Old Souls by JamesJayCudney and Didi Oviatt | Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

A book about reincarnation – a subject I have never read about before. Right from the very beginning I was hooked. Twice, I missed my bus stop! Abigail, the main character is so entirely interesting, it’s very hard to stop reading. Her journey through life, adjusting to her own mind, and the adjustments her family has to make, make for absorbing reading. Definitely a unique book. I wondered how it was going to end, and was a little worried, as so often, (for me) the ending ruins a good book. But not this time! The ending was just right, all the threads drawn together perfectly. Nothing rushed, nothing forced, nothing contrived, all as it should be, has to be; I can’t imagine a different ending.

The characters were all believable; the prose was terrific; the shape and pace of the book exact. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For an absorbing, unique story, it’s easily 5 stars.

This is one of those books which is great at the beginning. I don’t to give spoilers so I’ll try to be vague. We are introduced to Delilah (a young girl) first, and I was totally involved with her story. She was brave and strong and resourceful. I expected the book to follow her and solve the mystery. However, the book has two time lines, now, and eleven years ago. And after a while I began to find eleven years ago tedious although for the purpose of the book they were necessary. There is a massive shock which was well done, but after that, things started to slip. The other characters were believable and well done, and interestingly various.

However, towards the end, there were several new threads which felt to me to be contrived and unlikely. I can’t say any more without giving the plot away – but there are several points I would like to make. I found the ending rushed, contrived, frankly unbelievable. I was aware of the writer writing. I feel that there was a really good story to be told here but it didn’t materialize. Over all it was a readable and interesting book so I will give it three stars.

Has anyone else read these books? What did you think?

Some wonderful prose from The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

I can’t resist sharing my delight in the prose of Tom Wolfe. The description of this party goes on for several pages and is so totally and completely entertaining I can’t put the book down. Oh, the X-rays and the Lemon Tarts! I’d be annoyed on behalf of these women only I’m quite sure it’s all true. I hope you enjoy these few excerpts.

“All the men and women in this hall were arranged in clusters, conversational bouquets, so to speak. There were no solitary figures, no strays . . . There were no men under thirty-five and precious few under forty. The women came in two varieties. First there were women in their late thirties and in their forties and older (women ‘of a certain age’), all of them skin and bones (starved to near perfection). To compensate for the concupiscence missing from their juiceless ribs and atrophied backsides, they turned to the dress designers. This season no puffs, flounces, pleats, ruffles, bibs, bows, battings, scallops, laces, darts, or shirs on the bias were too extreme. They were social X-rays, to use the phrase that had bubbled up into Sherman’s own brain. Second there were the so-called Lemon Tarts. These were women in their twenties or early thirties, mostly blondes (the Lemon in the Tarts), who were the second, third, or fourth wives or live-in girlfriends of men over forty or fifty or sixty (or seventy), the sort of women men refer to, quite without thinking, as girls. This season the Tart was able to flaunt the natural advantages of youth by showing her legs from well above the knee and emphasizing her round bottom (something no X-ray had).”

“A blazing bony little woman popped out from amid all the clusters in the entry gallery and came towards them. She was an X-ray with a teased blond pageboy and many tiny grinning teeth. Her emaciated body was inserted into a black-and-red dress with ferocious puffed shoulders, a very narrow waist, and a long skirt. Her face was wide and round – but without an ounce of flesh on it . . . Her clavicle stuck out so far Sherman had the feeling he could reach out and up the two big bones. He could see lamplight through her ribcage.”

“There she was, standing over near the fireplace, laughing so hard – her new party laugh – laughing so hard her hair was bouncing. She was making a new sound, hock hock hock hock hock hock hock. She was listening to a barrel-chested old man with receding gray hair and no neck. The third member of the bouquet, a woman, elegant, slim, and fortyish, was not nearly so amused. She stood like a marble angel. Sherman made his way through the hive, past the knees of some people sitting down on a huge round Oriental hassock, toward the fireplace. He had to push his way through a flotilla of puffed gowns and boiling faces . . . “

What do you think? Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it?

Versatile Tomato Sauce

Anyone who ever eats in my house asks where I got the sauce, and when I say it’s my own they always ask for the recipe, so I thought I would share it here too. I’ve been making it for years and it’s popular with family and friends. It differs from other sauces in that there are no onions in it. I can’t bear those horrible, limp, slithery, slimy, smelly things; they give vegetables a bad name. However, since this is a versatile sauced, you may add them – if you must. I get at least four dinners out of this recipe.

1 tin of tomatoes

Small tin/carton tomato purée

Mushrooms – chopped

Peppers – chopped

Peas

Fresh Garlic and Ginger – finely chopped (lots)

A shake of Turmeric, Cajun Spice, Cumin

A shake of chili flakes

A shake of Oregano

Salt and Pepper

A glass of red wine, and some water if necessary

That’s the basic recipe, then I add:

Diced beef or chicken, or, for a vegetarian change, a tin of chick peas and a tin of beans (any kind)

Crumbled Feta cheese to finish it off.

To begin:

Heat some coconut oil in a large saucepan, add the Garlic and Ginger and fry for a minute or so. Then add the spices, herbs and chili flakes.

After a few mins, when the scents are released, add the tin of tomatoes and the purée and stir all together.

Add the chopped vegetables and leave to simmer for twenty minutes.

Add the beef, chicken, or legumes.

Turn the heat down and leave to simmer all day (nearly)

Sometimes I turn it all into a casserole dish and stick it in the oven for hours at a low heat. You don’t have to think about it again until you’re ready to eat.

That’s it. When ready to serve, sprinkle the crumbled cheese on top. This adds a tang and creaminess to the dish. You can makes any changes you like to the basic recipe, different vegetables, radishes or courgettes maybe.

You can serve it with rice or pasta or crusty bread. (I made pretzel bread from Carol’s recipe on Sally’s Smorgasbord – it turned out really, really good.)

If any of you try this I hope you will let me know how it turned out. Bon appetit!

(Tuna would be good too)

Scrublands by Chris Hammer | Comments and an excerpt.

Before I begin this post I just want to say that I will be missing off and on between now and September 1st. My daughter is getting married and we’re in the throes of organizing everything. At least the shops are open again so myself and family can look for something gorgeous to wear. It’s all great fun!

Now, Scrublands. This is another one of those very atmospheric books; this time an Australian novel. I haven’t read many book set in Australia so this one appealed to me, maybe because I’m very fond of Australian cinema.

The characters are terrific and so memorable. The dialogue, the prose, the pace and shape of the book – all so good. I seem to be attracted to stories set in very hot places – perhaps because I’m here in Dublin; it’s ten degrees and raining, near the end of May – which is officially Summer!

The book begins explosively with a shooting outside the local church; the shooter is the priest. A year later, a journalist, Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write an article on the anniversary of the tragedy; he interviews several witnesses and hears all kinds of different versions of the story. He decides to solve the mystery for himself.

“Martin Scarsden stops the car on the bridge leading into town, leaving the engine running. It’s a single-lane bridge – no overtaking, no passing – built decades ago, the timber milled from local river red gums. It’s slung across the flood plain, long and rambling, desiccated planks shrunken and rattling, bolts loose, spans bowed. Martin opens the car door and steps into the midday heat, ferocious and furnace-dry. He places both hands on the railing, but such is the heat of the day that even wood is too hot to touch. He lifts them back, bringing flaking white paint with them. He wipes them clean, using the damp towel he has placed around his neck. He looks down to where the river should be and sees instead a mosaic of cracked clay, baked and going to dust. Someone has carted an old fridge out to where the water once ran and left it there, having first painted a sign on its door: FREE BEER – HONOUR SYSTEM.”

“It’s darker and cooler, much quieter, out of the wind. The boy is not here. Instead, up near the front, in the second line of pews, a woman is kneeling, perfectly still, praying. Martin looks around, but he can see no memorial to the shooting inside the church, just as there is none outside. He sits in the back pew, waiting. He recognises the woman’s piety, her supplication, but can’t remember how. How long is it since he felt anything remotely similar, experienced anything approaching grace? Codger thinks there was something holy about the priest, as does Mandy. How could that be, a man who shot things, who killed small animals and murdered his parishioners? How could that be when Martin, who just the day before had saved the life of a teenage boy, feel so much like a husk? He looks at his hands, places the palms together as if to pray, and stares at them. They don’t seem to belong to him, and he does not belong in this place.”

I begrudged time away from reading this book. I hope you find this as engaging as I did.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil | A review.

So: This is a great book. A non-fiction book that reads like a novel. Everything about it is perfect, for me anyway. The pace, the shape, the characters, the dialogue, the prose. A complete entertainment.

The story is told in the first person by a New York journalist who is spending some time in Savannah. And before I say anything else let me talk about Savannah. I felt as though I was there; I could see and hear and smell everything. Indeed, I felt suffused with Savannah. I read and re-read various pages, trying to fathom how the author made it so atmospheric. Sometimes, you hear about a place being almost a character in a book, and that’s how it is with this one. An old, beautiful, city where the inhabitants feel insulated from the rest of America, and they like things just the way they are.

“It had just rained; the air was hot and steamy. I felt enclosed in a semi-tropical terrarium, sealed off from a world that suddenly seemed a thousand miles away.”

The book is built around a murder and the court case that follows, but in a way, that is just the backdrop for so much more. Jim Williams, the accused man, is wealthy, lives in a fantastic house filled with wonderful furniture and fittings. His conversations with the journalist are so entertaining; if I was in a room with this man, I’d be hanging on every word. He talks about some of the characters who inhabit this hot, steamy Savannah. One such is an old gentleman who walks an invisible dog and gets paid for it. Everyone accepts this as normal, and they speak to the old man as though the dog was real.

And then there’s Luther:

“At other times, Luther pasted the wings of a wasp on top of a fly’s own wings to improve its aerodynamics. Or he made one wing slightly shorter that the other so it would fly in circles for the rest of its life.”

I’ll only mention one more or this review will be as long as a gospel!

Joe Odom: He throws lavish parties which seem to go on indefinitely with music and laughter continuing through the nights. This reminded me of The Great Gatsby until I realised that Joe is a serial squatter. He always seems to find a suitable empty house for his parties; people absent from their homes for a period of time never know that Joe and his friends have been carousing there for months.

And Chablis, a drag artist, reckless and unpredictable. And the voodoo queen, Minerva. Enough!!

The ending is perfect. This is a totally satisfying book. I kept forgetting that it’s non-fiction. I read it on my kindle but I think I’ll have to buy a copy for the bookcase.

Grieving in May | 3.

The last one, and perhaps the one that hurts the most; my younger sister and one of my best friends ever. Thank you for reading these poems; For me, May is time set aside for remembrance.

FRANCES

Here I will rest

My ashes falling

Into swirls of bog-brown water

In Spring perhaps

The river quiet

And the birds gone mad

My ghost will hover –

A shape in powdered white

Casting chills on my attendants

Willows hang their leaves

Across the rush of water

Such an airy, fragile green

And I think of you –

Your airy, fragile spirit

Gone out of turn before me

Our childhood memories

All lop-sided now

A pulse of anger yet –

Why aren’t you here!

You should be here!

The mystery of your absence

Plagues me

I kneel beside your grave

Bend low to sense your soul

Breathe in the smell of earth.