Criticism
Review: Eden by Dennis Schmitz Print E-mail

Dennis-Schmitz-1(South Florida Poetry Review. Volume 8, No. 1: Winter 1991)

Surfaces to Keep

When I read any poem by Dennis Schmitz I feel that he achieves my attention with an insight which because I was lost in his language I was unprepared for. Which is another way to say his surface was training me all along how to read more deeply. To illustrate here’s the beginning of Schmitz’s “Instructions for Rowing.”

                   across the reflected sun the skiff cuts

                   should include diagrams

                   of the radius joint of the wrist,

                   a kind of human oarlock.

                   The island in his head the sweated rower looks at

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Review: American Poetry: Wildness & Domesticity by Robert Bly Print E-mail

robert_bly(Poetry Flash Number 214 January 1991)

Riders of the Unconscious

When I studied American literature in graduate school, I took a course in the later novels of Mark Twain, offered by one of the most renowned Twain scholars in the United States, Roy Harvey Pearce. Obviously, since it was our first meeting we had prepared no assignment. And certainly Dr. Pearce would not cancel a three-hour evening class. So, instead, he read us an essay of his own that he had written twenty-five years earlier about the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, of course, one of the last lighter-hearted of the Twain works. Because the original essay wasn't long enough for our class, he added a whole second section, based brilliantly I thought at the time, on the final phrase of the previous essay. Something about "lighting out for the territories," a shadow place, whose darkness Twain's subsequent novels about the damned human race explored in depth.

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Review: River of Traps: A Village Trap by William deBuys & Alex Harris Print E-mail

river_of_traps(San Diego Union-Tribune November 23, 1990)

The Old Man and the Land of Enchantment

Perhaps no other region in the United States has captivated the soul of artists and common people as fervently as northern New Mexico. The high desert first lured the Anasazi, whose glyphs and ruins can still be found in stark, sacred settings.

As norteno, the northern extreme of the Spanish conquest of Mexico, the area attracted the heartiest families to its mountains, where Spanish Catholicism has been imbued with Native American legend and myth.

Today northern New Mexico is the heart of the U.S. Southwest, represented best by the Indian markets of Santa Fe and the desert-and-bone paintings of Georgia O'Keefe. River of Traps further deepens this love affair between artist and place, lingering on the region's Hispanic life and one of its partriarchs, 80-year-old Jacobo Romero.

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Review: Blank Check: The Pentagon's Black Budget by Tim Weiner Print E-mail

29a(San Diego Union-Tribune October 5, 1990)

Agency & Author Overkill

It's all here, every sordid nickel and filthy dime.

Money for murder, millions spent in search of enemies, foreign policy bought and sold in the White House basement. The abusers?

Who else but the CIA, destabilizing governments worldwide: Vietnam, Panama, Cambodia, Guatemala, Chile.

Or making seismic blunders in the name of National Security: the Bay of Pigs; Watergate, Cuban exiles and dirty tricks; the secretly funded wars in Laos, Angola and Afghanistan; Ollie North, the Enterprise and Iran-contra. Tim Weiner's spin on CIA evil says that the Pentagon, to keep such low-intensity warfare alive, has acquired nearly one-fourth of its present budget, a black budget totaling $36 billion, in ways that defy any public accounting as to how those funds are received and used. (For unearthing this information at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Weiner won a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.)

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Review: The Disappearance of the Outside: A Manifesto for Escape by Andrei Codrescu Print E-mail

codrescu(San Diego Union-Tribune July 27, 1990)

A Romanian in the Works

To be exiled—whether by the state or by personal choice—begins a lifelong struggle.

It is perhaps deepest when the exile's mind remains divided between memory and the New World, one mind firmly in the past and one assimilating hesitantly into the present. The mind of memory tells the exile to hold onto his loss.

He may return, if not in fact then in imagination.

The New World mind tells him that his life, which stands out in ways magical and strange from the natives around him, is hardly what he expected living to be. Hence Andrei Codrescu—Romanian exile, surrealist poet, U.S. citizen, man of two minds.

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Review: Cambodia: A Book for People Who Find Television Too Slow by Brian Fawcett Print E-mail

Fawcett-Brian-lg(Another Chicago Magazine Number 21, 1990)

A Moon Without a Bicycle

Brian Fawcett's Cambodia is a collection of thirteen deftly humorous and deadly serious essays. He covers popular culture, the psychological character of the media, and the meaning of genocide, most of it American-style. He hunts and bags engimas, finding new ways to dramatize the failings of American consumerism, be it products or ideology, ridiculing its claims as he goies. Chief on his (s)hit list is the claim that consumer choice is amoung our most cherished liberties.

What are his credentials? For one, he's Canadian. When a foreign writer satirizes another country and its traditions, it's not wisdom exactly that he or she possesses. It's proximity. Fawcett can, as well as any Canadian, be highly critical of America because their people are nearly all (except the Quebecois) "descendants of British colonialists." The Canadians' critical stance results from their experience with our folly. Whatever the United States does in business or the environment, it surely involves the Canadians, with or without their approval.

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Review: The Mind of South Africa by Allister Sparks Print E-mail

SparksTheMindofSouthAfrica(San Diego Union-Tribune June 29, 1990)

The Psychology of Oppression

The history of South Africa fascinates Americans for good reason.

We see our own checkered past in theirs: colonization, slavery, a civil war fought over who should govern the "savages," and a capitalist-industrial revolution bringing mass immigration and exploitation. Black Americans need no reminders of the legacy of racial division: educational opportunities far below the national average and disproportionate rates for crime, drug addiction, homicide and infant death. But with apartheid, the 1948 law enforcing total racial segregation, modern similarities between the U.S. and South Africa end.

Articulating apartheid's uniqueness, Steve Biko, a leader in the Black Consciousness movement, said it best in one of his rallying cries: "I am against the fact that a settler minority should impose an entire system of values on an indigenous people." That "settler minority," of course, is the Dutch—the Afrikaners.

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