Archive for March, 2009

My Latin professor recommended that I read Treasure Island. He said that Stevenson always ended a chapter on a cliffhanger and he also mentioned that the writing exhibited Stevenson’s knowledge of Latin. I’ve chosen to learn Latin because I believe it will be immensely helpful in my writing endeavors, and so I had to check out Treasure Island. And Bert was right. This book was difficult to put down because the conclusion of each chapter was a tease for the next. It turns out that this is because Treasure Island  was originally published as a serialized novel between 1881 and 1882 in the magazine, Young Folks, under the title The Sea Cook. Unfortunately I was in entering the last two weeks of the quarter when I picked this up, so I read it much slower than I would have at any other time. Even so, I would catch myself thinking about the last bit I’d read, wondering what would happen next even if I had set the book down for two or three days. This book really is a treasure.

Many people think of Treasure Island as being a children’s book, but this is simply not true. Jim, Flint, Silver, and the Doctor will intrigue a reader of any age. Their relationships shift and show the depth and importance of empathy, forgiveness, and salvation. And this novel has created many of the pirating caricatures that we still think of today. A one-legged pirate captain and his parrot, buried treasure (a rags to riches motif), and sayings like “shiver me timbers” or “yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.”

There were a couple of bits that I found mildly bothersome. Racism. I really abhor reading comments, even with understanding that Treasure Island was written in a time when the thoughts about race were very different than they are now. Although initially turned off when young Jim assumes that the reason one of the sailors (I believe it was the Cook, AKA Silver) liked to always be sailing was because he was married to a black woman. But I was surprised at the end of a the novel when they were anchored and found the black natives coming to sell food to be a pleasant surprise and a soothing boon to their spirits that were beleaguered with blood and treachery. I also found the fact that Jim told the pirates that he’d moved the ship to be a bad maneuver; the pirates knew the island better than young Jim, and they could have easily deciphered where the ship was and left on it. And the final cowering three pirates left ashore, clearly knew where the ship was, and if they were smart they would have tried to obtain control over it during the days that the treasure was being transported. And further, how does one person located in a single outpost protect them against three desperate pirates with loaded guns, while the haul the treasure several miles. But despite these inconsistencies, the novel was still an absolute pleasure to read. I will most certainly give this to my sister when my nephew gets old enough that she can read it to him.

Malena Morling’s book of poems, Ocean Avenue, is filled with the energy and mundane that punctuate everyday life. This collection of poems follows the title closely in that each poem is an expression of movement from one place to another just like an avenue that allows cars and buses to move from point A to point B. But Morling’s poems do not just exam the daily movement from home to work; she captures the details that we often take for granted, like a glimpse from an evening ride home on a train of  “the man who mops the floors. / On the inside of his forehead / a dream that takes no room / unfolds on this earth” (Aether 14). Morling brings our attention to everyday normality, and adds her own twist that transforms the mundane into thought provoking and revealing imagery. Ocean Avenue offers its reader a good look into their own reality, an interpretation of events that they are sure to experience, and a new lens to evaluate and ponder the little moments that make life eventful and interesting.
Morling uses simile and metaphor to transform the banal into surprising and sometimes impossible situations. She uses an element, like air or water, to change the world we know into a still recognizable element, simply tweaking the situation slightly to offer a new perspective. In Morling’s poem ‘In a Motel Room at Dawn’ “the air is visible again, floating / through the room / like a liquid, like water / washing over the ruined furniture. / And washing also over my head / here on this pillow, here where many / other heads have rested” (13). In this section air, our most necessary and most often taken for granted element, becomes visible which makes it more tangible; the air takes on unusual characteristics by filling up an empty space. The Poet’s Companion discusses the effect of empty space in terms of line breaks, “All that white space around your words makes them really stand out” (Addonizio 112). This statement not only fits for placing words on a page, but for the use of space and motion in metaphorical language. Morling uses all of the space that surrounds us; she focuses on tiny fascinating details, and fills up the empty places in the reader’s imagination with them.
Morling’s poems are tangible, they transport the reader into an experience they can understand and participate with. She does not create beautiful landscapes with words that require decoding or copious research to comprehend. Each poem is like a perfectly ripened apricot resting in a tree and begging to be picked and tasted and savored. We know that apricot will be sweet and have a seed in the center, but when we bite in the flavor explodes like a well-aimed water balloon smashing into its target. Morling’s poetry is enticing and within the grasp of any curious reader of poetry. Ocean Avenue is an excellent introductory book of poetry for a reader who finds poetry intimidating because it remains entirely accessible to a general audience.

The author’s website