Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Review of The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness, part of the Hainish Cycle of novels by Ursula K. Le Guin, was published in 1969 by the Penguin Group with an introduction by the author added in 1976.  The novel received both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 1970, a feat Le Guin repeated in 1975 with her novel The Dispossessed, becoming the first ever to win both awards for novels twice.

The novel is set on the distant planet Gethen, also known as Winter due to its harsh, Ice Age climate.  The plot revolves around Genly Ai, a human envoy from a loose federation of planets tasked with making first contact with the Gethenians.

The people of Gethen are “ambisexual.”  For about three weeks a month they are phenotypically genderless or androgynous.  The remaining days of the month they transform into a hypersexual state called kemmer, which is similar to the estrus cycle of lower primates.  The Gethenians pair up during kemmer and are excused from all other obligations during this period.  One of the pair randomly transforms into a “female,” and the other into a “male.”  The two then mate, and the “female” bears the offspring.

The ambisexuality of the people of Gethen results in several interesting social and societal phenomena.  Sexual frustration is rare, as the state of kemmer occurs simultaneously in enough Gethenians to allow for ample and indiscriminate pairings.  Rape and prostitution do not exist.   

There are no wars--ever.  The Gethenians do not even have a word for “war.”  Even violent crime is rare.

Infants remain with their “mothers” only for the first year of life.  Thereafter, they live in public schools and are cared for and educated communally.

Since there are no defined gender roles, there are no differing career expectations based on gender.  Sexual discrimination, by definition, does not exist.  Any Gethenian can, theoretically, grow up to be whatever he/she/it wants to be.  Even parentage counts for nothing, as all Gethenian children are essentially on equal footing in the communal schools. 

I wonder how many feminists and liberals would like to see the human race socially or, worse, genetically, engineered into something Gethenian?  In effect, the Gethenians do represent the liberal feminist ideal.  However, they do so only at the cost of the complete loss of masculinity and femininity.  Personally, I would find such a loss chilling--as frigid as Winter.

Review of "It's all I have to bring today" by Emily Dickinson

"It's all I have to bring today" by Emily Dickinson was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 31, 2013.  A link to the poem may be found here:


Emily Dickinson (1830 - 1886) (pictured) is considered by scholars to have given a unique voice to American poetry.  The same is said of Walt Whitman, a contemporary whom Dickinson found scandalous and therefore did not read.  Emily and her younger sister Lavinia lived their entire lives in a house in Amherst, Massachusetts.  The two spinsters rarely left the house.  Upon Dickinson's death, a collection of nearly 1,800 of her hand-written poems was discovered and published posthumously in 1890.  Additional details of the biography of this reclusive but important poet may be found here:


Dickinson is known for using pronouns, particularly the word "this," without clear reference, and she does not disappoint in "It's all I have to bring today."  The title is taken from the first line of this rhythmic, rhyming poem of eight lines.  The pronoun "it" of "It's" has no clear reference either.  One may assume, probably, that "I" and "my" refer to the poet.

Dickinson is also known for the enigmatic use of dashes.  Some editors have replaced her dashes with other punctuation, but purists leave them intact although their meaning is not clear.  The dashes are preserved in Poet.org's presentation.

The sixth line is particularly interesting, with its play on "some" and "sum" and "one."

Some one the sum could tell--

"One" could mean that the sum totals one.  "One" might also mean "he/she."

The phrase, "This, and my heart" opens three of the lines in this eight-line poem and therefore must be significant.  While it is unclear what "this" is, the reference to "my heart" may indicate that Dickinson was heartsick, heartbroken, in love, or lonely when she penned these lines.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Review of "Tackle Football" by Dan Chiasson

"Tackle Football" by Dan Chiasson, a teacher at Wellesley College, was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 30, 2013.  A link to the poem, including the poet's notes, may be found here:


The poem is presented in six fairly even-lined tercets.  An elaborate metaphor is made between the "snow" or blurriness that occurs when a television frame is paused and the adolescent boys frozen in the actual snow of a winter tackle football game.

New Showcase Story Posted: "The Final Test of Paladin Pao"

Dear Friends of Eretz,

The first quarter of a new showcase story, "The Final Test of Paladin Pao," has been posted.  My thanks to all of you who made comments on and enjoyed reading the previously posted story, "The Balladeer."

Steven Wittenberg Gordon, MD

"24 December 2087" Published in Fabula Argentea

My story, "24 December 2087," is a micro-flash piece of exactly 100 words.  It appears is Fabula Argentea issue 6.  A link directly to the story may be found here:

Writing micro-flash presents different challenges compared to writing regular length stories and is in many ways much more difficult.  I usually wind up with a story that is three times too long and then have to ruthlessly edit.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Review of "Prairie Spring" by Willa Cather

"Prairie Spring" by Pulitzer Prize winning author Willa Cather (1873 - 1947) was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 29, 2013.  The poem was first published in 1913 as a prologue to her novel O Pioneers!  A link to the poem may be found here:


I was reminded of Walt Whitman's poetry as I read "Prairie Spring."  The poem is at its core a modern "list" poem but with rich imagery of the midwest.  It may also be read as a hymn to Youth.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Review of "Mountain Pines" by Robinson Jeffers

"Mountain Pines" by Robinson Jeffers was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 28, 2013.  A link to the poem may be found here:


Robinson Jeffers (1887 - 1962) (pictured) was a highly regarded and influential American poet known also for his leadership in the environmental movement.  He was the father of inhumanism, a philosophy that proposed that mankind had grown jaded and indifferent to the beauty of nature.  He was considered a controversial figure during the 1930s and 1940s over his admiration of Nietzsche's individualism.  He lived most of his life in a humble house of stone that he built in Carmel, California, a setting that influenced much of his poetry.  Additional biographical information about this poet may be found here:


"Mountain Pines" is in the form of a modified Shakespearean sonnet, lacking only the final heroic couplet.  It describes rugged mountain pines, from their gnarled roots to their twisted boughs reaching for eagles and clouds.  The trees are otherwise lonely sentinels, watching the sky.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Special January 2014 Edition of Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine Featuring Marge Simon Is Available for Viewing

Displaying Marge 2012.jpgFrom time to time between its quarterly issues, Songs of Eretz Poetry E-zine will publish special Featured Poet editions.  Our first Featured Poet, Marge Simon, appears in our January 2014 issue (Volume 1, Issue 3), which is available for viewing now, a little early.

Simon is a two-time Bram Stoker award winner and serves as Chair of the board of trustees of the Horror Writers Association (HWA).  She is a former president of the Science Fiction Poetry Association (SFPA).  See the e-zine for more information about this poet, and to enjoy a selection of her poems and illustrations.

Review of "Manifest Destiny" by Cynthia Lowen

"Manifest Destiny" by Cynthia Lowen was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 27, 2013.  A link to the poem, including the poet's notes, may be found here:


In "Manifest Destiny," the poet attempts to apply the motivation that led to the settlement of the West to the modern work-a-day world of drudgery.  There are some clever puns--"old growth paper" vs. old growth trees to conquer.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

New Poem: "Rat Bane"

"Rat Bane" is the latest addition to my collection, A Wave of Poetry.  When rats started to get into the tsunami relief supplies, it was up to the flight doc/public health officer to fix the problem.

New Poem: "Sweeping Puddles Away"

"Sweeping Puddles Away" is the next installment in my collection, A Wave of Poetry.  Standing water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.  Since mosquitoes in Indonesia carry malaria, standing water is also a breeding ground for malaria there.  I spent a good part of my time as a deployed flight surgeon in Indonesia sweeping puddles away--another one of my thankless "public health officer" duties.  Just for fun, I used the villanelle form for this poem.

New Poem: "Screaming Gecko"

"Screaming Gecko" is the next installment in my collection, A Wave of Poetry.  Hotel rooms were scarce in tsunami-stricken Indonesia.  My room had an additional guest--a screaming gecko.  I found its presence reassuring, as the lizards enjoyed eating our tiny unwanted guests--disease-laden mosquitoes.

New Poem: "Morale Call"

"Morale Call" is the latest addition to my poetic memoir, A Wave of Poetry.  Long distance communication was a problem in tsunami-devasted Indonesia.  We were reduced to sending messengers back and forth to our base of operations on Thailand.  For urgent and important messages, we had an iridium satellite telephone that could reach anyone anywhere, but it was ruinously expensive to use and designated for mission essential comm only.  Knowing that I missed my wife and family and that I had not been able to communicate with them since I  moved forward into Indonesia, my CO granted me five minutes to call home using the precious iridium phone.  I guess he considered the morale of his flight surgeon to be mission essential.  In any case, I was most grateful.

Review of "Hagar in the Wilderness" by Tyehimba Jess

"Hagar in the Wilderness" by Tyehimba Jess, a teacher at the College of Staten Island, was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 26, 2013.  A link to the poem, including the poet's notes, may be found here:


"Hagar in the Wilderness" is an ekphrastic poem after a marble statue (pictured) carved by Edmonia Lewis (1845 - 1907) in 1875.  Lewis was an African/Native American expatriate sculptor who lived and worked in Rome.  More information about Lewis may be found here:


There are two "gods" or "creators" in this poem.  There is God, who created the real-life Hagar and her destiny, and there is Lewis who created the marble statue of Hagar.  As an African/Native American expatriate, Lewis was in a certain sense an outcast just like the subject of her sculpture.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Review of "To You" by Walt Whitman

"To You" by Walt Whitman was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 25, 2013.  A link to the poem may be found here:


Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892) (pictured) is widely considered to be one of America's most important poets.  A brief biography of his extraordinary life and career may be found here:


My mother once told me that some believe that one form of Hell, or at least of pain in the afterlife, is to be shown what you could have been, what you should have been, what God meant you to be, if only you had reached your full potential; that hell is to know that if only you had not allowed laziness, sloth, gluttony, greed, lust--name your sin--to cause you to stray from the path that God preordained for you, what a life you would have led!  In "To You," Whitman gently and encouragingly reminds us of this, and that the true YOU is always there.

Review of "Amethyst Beads" by Eavan Boland

"Amethyst Beads" by Eavan Boland was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 24, 2013.  A link to the poem, including the poet's notes, may be found here:


Eavan Boland was born in Dublin in 1944 and is currently a professor of English and director of the creative writing program at Stanford University.  She was educated in Dublin, London, and New York.  In London, she experienced anti-Irish bigotry.  Additional biographical information may be found here:


"Amethyst Beads" pushes the boundary between free verse and prose with its regularly irregular rhythm and wildly varying line lengths.  The beads are presented literally as jewelry in the opening of the poem, but later they become metaphor for the hidden secrets of the earth and even for the fear within a sick child.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Review of "Meaning" by Carl Dennis

"Meaning" by Carl Dennis was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 23, 2013.  A link to the poem may be found here:


The poet muses on what gives life meaning.  He makes a distinction between "meaning" and "meaningful."  For example, whereas sunbathing has no meaning, the act of doing so may be meaningful to the sunbather.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Review of "The House on the Hill" by Edwin Arlington Robinson

"The House on the Hill" by Edwin Arlington Robinson was offered by Poets.org's Poem-A-Day on December 22, 2013, the 144th anniversary of the poet's birth.  A link to the poem may be found here:


Edwin Arlington Robinson (1869 - 1935) was a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.  He worked as a New York City subway inspector until his poetry received praise from President Theodore Roosevelt in a magazine article.  He never married and led a solitary lifestyle, spending the summers of the last twenty-five years of his life in a colony of artists and musicians in New Hampshire.  Additional biographical information about this poet may be found here:


"The House on the Hill" is a strict villanelle.  A description of the villanelle form may be found here:


The poem contains some nice alliteration in addition to the rhyme and refrains of a villanelle.  The image created is somber, lonely, and a little nostalgic.