Being a list of books recently received at our offices. Most were published within the last twelve months, although works of previous years are included if they are of special merit, interest, design, or amusement.
Books are graded as to quality of writing and elegance of thought. We also give stars for good or bad design.
Readers should note that not all of the books we receive are reviewed: some are simply too dated, too bathetic, or too contentious for us to deal with.
A listing here does not preclude a review in a subsequent issue of RALPH.
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I Never Told Anybody
Teaching Poetry Writing to Old People
By Kenneth Koch
(Teachers & Writers)The pretense is that this one is about teaching poetry to old people --- people forgotten by the rest of us, old folks in one of those retirement homes, people with not much money, not much education, people who are dying on the vine. That's what they say this book is about.
It is that --- but too, it is about a man named Koch who has a deep love for poetry, feels its curative power, feels that it can give people something they may not have. Kock drinks, smells, tastes poetry, probably eats it for breakfast ---and he's a whiz at getting people to try it, "just try," he says, "just try writing a couple of end-stop lines --- just try it, for the hell of it, and see what happens."
His first class is at the American Nursing Home, in New York City. You don't even have to close your eyes to imagine the smell and the feel of the place --- and the people he'll be teaching. In their seventies, eighties, and nineties. Most were from the working class and had a limited education. They had worked as dry cleaners, messengers, short-order cooks, domestic servants...
Some were sick, some partially deaf, in wheelchairs, incontinent, wandering in their heads a bit. And, Koch tells us, They did little or no reading or writing. They didn't write poetry. How do you take a diverse bunch of geezers like this, and get them to become poets. That is the art and craft of I Never Told Anybody. And it's a story to bring tears to the eyes. It's the story of a man who believes, believes in people, believes in poetry, believes in the wonder of poetry.
Listen to one or two of the verses he wrings from his bunch:
The quietest time I remember in my lifeOr listen to this:
Was when they took off my leg
Another quiet time is when you're with someone you like
And you're making love
And when I hit the number and won eight hundred dollars
That was quiet, very quiet
TO MY MOTHER
I hope you're better than you were
The last time I saw you. I wish you were alive,
Because I want to go out
And my cousins won't let me.
I wish you were alive
I'd like to be on John Island
I'd get some billy goats
A team of brown and white,
and black and white goats
I'd like to raise goats
I'd like to hear jazz songs like
"Let Me Call You Sweetheart"
I'd like to eat rabbit
With rice and corn bread
And I'd like to drink scotch+ + + #
Two Guys Four Corners
Don Imus & Fred Imus
(Villard)You remember Don Imus. He's the guy with the face of wood, and the wit of iron. As in Irony. You'd never think he was a writer, and he isn't, but Two Guys Four Corners is a rich take-off on all those high-priced coffee-table books, or perhaps we should say, dope-stash books. The pictures are pretty dumb, the comments are right out of Ed Zern, as in this one (facing a shot of dozens of sheep, with Indian woman):
Fred paid this Navajo woman forty bucks to herd her sheep out in an area where we could photograph them. They were in this formation for about two minutes...then the noise of the cameras spooked them and we turned a lovely tranquil South-western scene into a full-blown Iraqi fire drill. Screaming sheep all over half of Utah. Jesus, what a mess.
Fred's comment at the time seemed particularly incisive. "We just want to take their picture, not have sex with them.+ + # #
All-New Hints from Heloise
A Household Guide for the '90s
(Perigee)You know those pesky little moths that fly out at you from the kitchen cabinet, operating at about 1 rpm. You wonder where the hell they came from, since the cabinet door is shut, and there aren't any bug incubators about. According to Heloise, these pests are a free, no-obligation gift from your local grocer: when you buy your rice or beans or pasta, the little buggers have laid eggs within that perfectly sealed package. (German roaches come in via the stickum at the bottom of paper bags).
How to get rid of them? It's going to take a bit of work, says Heloise who --- as you may know --- is with us no longer. (Her work is being perpetuated by nameless corporate ghosts, d/b/a Heloise. No matter --- the advice she gives top-notch, and now extends to such items as "Babies," "Gardening," "Swimming Pools," and "Going Camping," and even "Buying a Computer." Bugs are officially listed under "Pests" in the "Saving Time in the Kitchen" section.)
To get rid of those dratted bugs (known, officially, as "weevils,") put a few dried bay leaves in the flour, cornmeal and in containers with starchy foodstuffs. Sprinkle some black peppercorns about, and leave a couple of unwrapped sticks of Wrigley's spearmint gum on the shelves. To keep them from hitch-hiking into your home, stick the newly bought bags of beans, rice, spaghetti and cornmeal in the freezer for at least seven days, because freezing kills larvæ. To avoid giving roaches a toe-hold in your house, be inorganic: get all your groceries bagged in plastic.+ + Ø
Food Festivals of
Traveller's Guide and Cookbook
By Bob Carter
(Falcon)Who would ever guess there are so many food festivals around San Francisco and northern California? Let's see, there's an Eggplant Festival in Loomis CA, and a chocolate one in Oakdale. Murphys (east of Stockton) has a "Grape Stomp" and Tracy offers a "Dry Bean Fest." Asparagus in Stockton, Pumpkins in Half Moon Bay, Oysters in Arcata --- and a "Solar Cookoff" in Taylor. We can't find any listings for mountain oysters or kidney pie, and there's no mention of an Egg Foetus Fest, which probably is held in Manila (we guess we'll have to go to Tijuana for the "Brain Festival" --- because it's home of some of the most delicious "Tacos de Seso" in the world.)
In addition to listing the festivities, Carter selects recipes from each, ranging from dark chocolate cakes and grilled albacore steaks to pearl onions in "raspberry wine vinegar sauce." The Prune Festival offers prune couscous if you'll believe it, and the mustard festival gives us Warm Peach-Mustard Compote. There's a list of "Certified Farmers' Markets" --- although who "certified" them is not explained. In December, you can go to a "Luminaria Fiesta" in Petaluma, if you're in need of illumination.+ # #
The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Genius
Peter F. Ostwald
(Norton)His mother used to play music for him while he was still in utero and would balance him in front of the keyboard as soon as he could sit up. Once he began to play (see Fig. 1), if he made a mistake, she'd lock the keyboard, until he begged her to open it again. To say he was a loner is an understatement: who'd want a playmate in school who "walked home...waving his arms as he conducted an invisible symphony orchestra..." intoning "pa-puh" and "duh-pa"? Later, he could even be found in the meadows of Manitoulin Island, singing to the cows.
Glenn Gould was a strange one, all right. He loathed audiences, spent most of his time wrapped up like a mummy in furs and capes, and would call his friends long distance to chat for hours and hours, at all hours, about all sorts of stupid things. The key question is: who cares? After all, he was the one who took Bach out of the museum, with its musty caretakers (Wanda Landowska, et al) and brought him home for the rest of us. His art was and is so much more important than the fact that he had a bird named Mozart, and "four goldfish named Bach, Beethoven, Haydn, and Chopin."
The late Peter Ostwald --- a professor of psychiatry and a violin player --- tries manfully to make sense of the Gould artistic agony, his pill-popping, his various imagined ills, his sudden cutting off of his friends for no apparent reason. Ostwald even tries to figure out his sexuality, ignoring the fact (as most shrinks do) that there are four male types: those who love women (heterosexuals), those who love men (homosexuals), those who love no-one (proto-eunuchs), and those who, however haltingly, can love only themselves (onanists). Gould obviously flipped back-and-forth between the last two, but since none of us were there in his bed at the appropriate time, who will ever know? And, as we say, who should even care?+ #