Thursday, August 30, 2007

Explicating Shakespeare and Snyder - A critic takes on William and Gary, more


Camille Paglia, professor at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, made a name for herself in the larger culture with "Sexual Personae" and a series of books that examined, to use the title of another, "Sex, Art, and American Culture."

Always the provocateur, Paglia is saddened by "poetry's declining status" which "has made its embattled practitioners insular and self-protective." Desiring to reach a wider audience, she has produced a volume of explications of individual poems in English that is humbling in its bravura performance and depressing in its worldview.

"Break, Blow, Burn: Camille Paglia Reads Forty-three of the World's Best Poems" ($12.95 in paperback from Vintage) takes its title from one of John Donne's Holy Sonnets (and one of the 43): "That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend / Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new."

Paglia writes that "Donne is appealing to God to overwhelm him and compel his redemption from sin. My secular but semimystical view of art is that it taps primal energies, breaks down barriers, and imperiously remakes our settled way of seeing. Animated by the breath force (the original meaning of 'spirit' and 'inspiration'), poetry brings exhilarating spiritual renewal."

But Paglia's worldview belies the wonder-working power of poetry. In Shakespeare's "Sonnet 73," the first work she considers, the bard reminds us "to love that well which thou must leave ere long."

"Whatever we seek or crave," Paglia writes, "a person, a profession, a high ideal — is evanescent. Nothing survives the ash pit of the grave. & Our sense of life's transience intensifies its pleasures."

At the end of the book, Paglia finds Joni Mitchell's performance of "Woodstock" "a harrowing lament for hopes dashed and energies tragically wasted."

In between, she calls Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" ("Before the indifferent beak could let her drop") the greatest poem of the 20th century. She notices that in Gary Snyder's "Old Pond" "a busy nuthatch & is & the modest, flutelike substitute for the authoritarian boom of the Judeo-Christian God" and all that is available to us is to subordinate our little selves to nature, "the here-and-now salvation of (Snyder's) 'naked bug.'"

The more contemporary poems Paglia picks are fairly thin gruel (such as Rochelle Kraut's "My Makeup," just one short sentence). Paglia finds sex everywhere, and she may well be confusing its drive with the more modest work of poetry, which only begets words.

Yet Paglia's line-by-line readings draw us in. This is a book to learn from, after all.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, August 24, 2007

Redding writer contributes to 'Comfort' series


The "Cup of Comfort" Series ( features short, true stories, mostly by freelance writers, organized around a variety of interests.

Colleen Sell, based in Eugene, Ore., has edited 19 of the volumes, including one of the newest, "A Cup of Comfort For Writers: Inspirational Stories That Celebrate the Literary Life" ($9.95 in paperback from Adams Media).

She says in her introduction that "it took a while for me to realize that writing is not just something I do; it is an essential part of who I am." Storytellers understand that writing is not opposed to living; it's part of living. "It is important," she adds, "for us writers to share our experiences and emotions, to tell of our trials and our triumphs, and to speak our truths about the writing life."

Some of those lessons emerge in the chapter called "Potty Talk" by Redding resident Marla Doherty (who has also contributed to the volumes on mothers and daughters, women in love and dog lovers). A note on the 50 contributors says that Doherty "coordinates the Northern California Authors' Fair. & Her creed in writing and in life: live, love, laugh and embrace failure."

"Potty Talk" is about "growing up a wallflower in a family of yakkers. & It made me an observer of life lessons that I later carried to my writing. & Special honor goes to my favorite, Aunt Pauline (passed from this world and conveniently silent, unable to defend herself), because she smoked."

Smoking was off-limits in Doherty's family, so Aunt Pauline "pretended she didn't smoke. For love of his daughter, Grandpa pretended to believe her." At holiday gatherings, "Aunt Pauline would periodically withdraw to the bathroom — trailed by her younger, nonsmoker sisters — to sneak a cigarette or two and gab. & For years, we kids could only wonder at the secrets behind the bathroom door."

Then one day Doherty was allowed into the sanctuary. She found "my aunts and mother, away from the men, had a different way of talking. & Stripping pantyhose, picking a hangnail, using the toilet, peering in the mirror to remove bits of spinach wedged between their teeth, they described embarrassments, boasted victories, admitted mistakes, rehashed failures — stories they rarely divulged to anyone outside their circle."

That could be the coda for the book. From cancer survivors whose writing sustains them, to stories of rewrites, rejections, procrastination, love letters and writing groups (the "Inklets"), the writing life gets personal. The "Comfort" series is both an outlet for writers as well as a market. Maybe that's the best encouragement of all.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Web magazine co-edited in Magalia features Chico artist, Paradise poet


Lara Gularte is co-editor of the Web-only magazine called Convergence (; the Spring/Summer 2007 issue is now online.

Gularte moved to Magalia from San Jose in 2004. "However," she writes me, "my parents have lived in Magalia since 1983 so I am no stranger to the area. & I also host the monthly Poets on the Ridge poetry readings in Paradise." A poet herself, Gularte's work can be found at

The current issue of Convergence, Gularte writes, "features a local artist, Caitlin Schwerin. Much of her art was inspired by the landscapes of the Chico area, & art that will remind you of home. One of our poets, Shana Youngdahl, is a native of Paradise and a graduate of Paradise High School. Her poem, 'Walking the Sutter Buttes,' was inspired by a hike she took with her dad when she was 14 years old."

The poem contains striking lines:

You help me to where
the wind lives, and below
California spreads the
My arms are pale, body
losing its form,
in this long
I'm half-way to 14.
Above our great valley
I hear your deep
talk to cattle; it almost shakes
trees, and I know I will
you, everything.
The mission of Convergence, Gularte says, "is to unify the literary and visual arts and draw new interpretations of the written word by pairing poems and short fiction with complementary art. We keep the Web site free of clutter in order to better showcase the art and literature. In submissions to the journal we look for freshness, originality and a mastery of craft. Since 2003 Convergence has attracted national and international attention."

Convergence is ad free: "We do it for the joy of sharing quality art and literature with others by means of the Web. & Convergence's webmaster, Luis Ledesma, works as a mathematics and engineering professor at the National Hispanic University in San Jose. Elaine Bartlett, co-editor of Convergence, is a fiction editor for the literary journal, Meridian. I am a retired Santa Clara County public guardian/court investigator. I received my MFA degree from San Jose State University in 2006. I teach writing classes at Paradise Parks and Recreation and work as a tutor part time. From 2005 to 2006 I was a tutor at the Center for Academic Success at Butte College."

Click on the cover art by Caitlin Schwerin, entitled "E Neuf is E Neuf," and then scroll to the bottom to see information about free subscriptions and submission guidelines.

Convergence is a site to savor.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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Friday, August 10, 2007

Shooter terrorizes a high school — A harrowing novel from a Chico teacher


Carrie Gordon Watson says on her Web site ( that she is "a high school teacher and young adult author. I haven't always been a teacher, but I've always been a writer." The Chico resident writes to me that "my 20 years of observation in the classroom have definitely helped this novel to take shape. & We as a community need to engage in discussion about school violence."

In "Quad" ($16.99 in paper from Razorbill/Penguin), the violence begins in the first chapter. Ranger Ng, a high schooler in his middle teens, is dying for a Mountain Dew. So, steeling himself against the bullies he knows hang out in the quad of fictional Muir High, Ng walks to the student store to satisfy his craving.

Sure enough, Ng has to deal with the jocks, including Brad Calvert, clustering near the soda machine. But their repartee ends suddenly when the sounds of "pop, pop, pop" register on Ng's brain. He shouts for the jocks to get inside the store. "Adrenaline shot through Ranger's body, coming out of his mouth in a blast of credibility. A flurry of students dashed past him into the student store. & Ranger turned, saw the wave of fearful expressions. Who would do this? he wondered. Who would want to shoot up the quad?"

Turns out plenty would. Watson's novel is really about what leads up to the violence, how so many of those in high school are victims of the meanness of others. The story is told in staccato chapters that move from the shooting going on in the quad to incidents in the preceding weeks and back again. There's Stone, characterized by Ng's friend Rufus as "the head juicer — Mr. Captain-of-the-football-team himself," whom the girls lust after. Like Brittany Smith, Nicole McClintock, Hayley Banks. Shaped by a dysfunctional home life, Stone is a demanding charmer who doesn't quite know when to stop.

Others have cause for rage, too. Sage Wood and her friend Paisley Reed are the butts of cruel jokes. Theo the brain and Maggie the writer are outsiders who plot revenge. Perry has never gotten over Christopher and now Christopher is falling for Stone, of all people, whom he is convinced is falling for him.

The language of the book is raw teenager as the freaks, the jocks, the preps, the choirboys, the techies and drama queens are confronted by the consequences of their choices. There is no happy ending here, just the haunting question: What has become of our sons and daughters?

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Colorful new gardening book focuses on state's native plants


Bay Area botanist Glenn Keator and San Jose horticulturalist and designer Alrie Middlebrook are on a mission. They want to convince Californians to plan and create gardens with native plant species in mind.


As Keator writes, "the most compelling reason is to create a sense of place. & What better way is there to remind ourselves of this special geographic region we call home than to recreate, in our own yards, the native gardens found in the wild? Anyone can have a garden with roses (mostly hybrids from China and Europe), petunias (from South America), fuchsias (from mountainous South and Central America), and impatiens (many from Africa)."

Besides, says Keator, native plants are already adapted to the area and likely will survive. They attract native pollinators and reduce the amount of water and pesticides required. Keator and Middlebrook make a convincing case in "Designing California Native Gardens: The Plant Community Approach to Artful, Ecological Gardens" ($27.50 in paperback from Phyllis M. Faber/University of California Press).
More than 300 full-color photographs enrich the book and several appendices provide sources of natives and a planting calendar.

The book is a practical exploration of a dozen plant communities in the state, several of which are well represented locally. Each chapter begins with an overview and is anchored by a diagram and explanation of one of Middlebrook's own garden projects or concepts.
Readers are provided with design notes, a scope of work for the given project and a rich compilation of plants to use. The goal is not to duplicate Middlebrook's work but rather to appreciate the beauty that can be created using California natives.

The authors conclude their chapters with an annotated list of "places to visit" to see the native plant communities in the wild. The Oak Woodland chapter, for example, pictures a "carpet of Ithuriel's spear (Triteleia laxa)" on Table Mountain; readers are directed to Loafer Creek State Park at Lake Oroville to observe "blue oak woodland mixed with gray pines and scattered interior live oaks." Keator notes that "many fortunate gardeners already have oaks on their property, yet many ornamentals require the summer water that slowly kills these magnificent trees. California's oak woodlands provide a fine palette of plants perfectly adapted to grow under oaks."

In the Grasslands chapter, Bear Valley in Colusa County features "glueseed, goldfields, royal larkspur, creamcups and owl's clover"; Feather Falls, an example of mixed-evergreen forest, presents such understory plants as western mock-orange and Sierra fawn lily.

And then there's the ponderosa pine. A sense of place, indeed.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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