Ten Poems to Change
Your Life Again & Again

<Roger Housden
(Harmony Books)
This one, from Harmony Books, carried in the poop sheet the usual encomiums, along with a report, in the introduction, of previous sales of similar titles by author Roger Housden. This is number four (or five or ten) of a series, because, the author explains, Ten Poems to Change Your Life, was first published in 2001. Then Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime, came into the world, and now we have Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again & Again.

The series so far has sold 200,000 copies, he tells us, which doesn't say much for American tastes in poetics, but it has probably set Housden up for a lifetime sinecure ... as long as he keeps coming up with new titles. We were thinking, Ten Poems to Change Your Oil? Ten Poems to Change Global Warming? How about, Ten Poems to Last Until the Boston Red Sox Win Again, Finally, If They Ever Do, That Is.

Despite all the paperwork that came along with Ten Poems, the book suffers from two major flaws. One is that the ten selected poems are hardly of the Life-Changing variety. That old wheeze (and bitter racist) Rilke appears as #1,

    Pour yourself like a fountain.
    Flow into the knowledge that what you are seeking
    finishes often at the start, and, with ending, begins.

and thus beginning (inchoately) ends, "Daphne / becoming a laurel, / dares you to become the wind." Such windiness!

Several other poems, notably by Ellen Bass, David Whyte, and Leonard Cohen are not much better.

Romance in the Ivory Tower
The Rights and Liberty of Conscience
Paul R. Abramson
(The MIT Press)
The book deals with love before, during, or after office hours, away from the lecture-halls: that is, affairs between students and professors.

The author, Professor Paul R. Abramson, claims that to love freely is a First Amendment right, if you will. Universities that choose to ban such affairs, with threat of termination, are violating our basic freedoms, he says. "Romance ... shares many similarities to religion."

    For example, romance is no less relevant to one's conscience than religion itself. Romance is also arguably more tempting than religious choices, requiring perhaps more internal debate. Hence the right to think and judge, based on one's conscience, extends to all matters of substance: speech, the press, religion, and romance among them.

These alarmingly fresh thoughts on what heretofore many had thought a closed subject caught our eye. This is a book that will be of interest to those inside and out the academic world. (Professor Abramson explains up front that he is out of the loop on the subject: he is happily married, with children and dog, and therefore is not to be suspected, as it were, of tooting his own horn.)

Absent any publicity information, we opened the book to the "Introduction" and found, first paragraph, a quite funny quote from that pacifist romantic sensualist neo-anarchist Allen Ginsberg: "I believe the best teaching is done in bed. It's healthy and appropriate for the student and teacher to have a love relationship whenever possible."

    Obviously the teacher can't have a love relationship with everyone in the class and the student can't have a love relationship with every one of the teachers, because that is strictly human business where some people are attracted to others, but where there is that possibility, I think it should be institutionally encouraged.

Battle Creek
James Sallis
At the beginning, we liked the simple no-nonsense style of the book, liked the wise, tired no-nonsense country-cop narrator, Turner.

His fellow officer Don Lee had stopped a red Mustang for speeding. They jailed the guy, and searching the car, found "A nylon sports bag in the trunk that held two hundred thousand dollars and change." Great start.

Alas, it's downhill from there on. Car wrecks. Drug deaths. And Turner, turned into a counsellor, working with a prison guard who had been caught up in a riot. They cut off his fingers, a day at a time.

After eight days, one of the inmates got picked off by rifle-fire. As the other prisoners "stood staring at Billy's body in the open door, I came up behind him and gouged out his eyes with my thumbs."

    He held up his hands. I saw the ragged stumps of what had been fingers. And the thumbs that remained.

We complained, bitterly, in our last issue, in our review of American Skin, about this new pornography appearing in what we once so fondly called "murder mysteries" or "detective stories." Raymond Chandler, for example, would content himself with three or four bodies and a sapping or two per book.

These who now create this lurid stuff with no regard for their readers' sensibilities should be hung by the necks till dead or --- lacking this --- by their thumbs.

--- Lolita Lark
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