Tag Archives: poetry

Book Review – ‘Gethsemane: A Story of Us’ by R. Douglas Jacobs

Gethsemane

This was an especially difficult review to write, mainly because over the course of time, I have come to deeply appreciate Jacobs’ friendship and the style of his prose writing, via letters and emails. He has a poetic elegance that is woven through everything he has written me, and I have found his correspondence delightful.  Perhaps that is why I was a bit disappointed by his poetry.

According to the blurb on the back of the book, Gethsemane (a book written in the style of an epic poem consisting of 148 stanzas that are each constructed similar to a sonnet, with no repeated rhymes) is touted as ‘the kind of book that maybe comes around once in a lifetime’, and as ‘a literary innovation destined to be a cultural artifact’. Now, I have read and truly come to appreciate other examples of epic poetry that actually are cultural artifacts, like Beowulf and The Song of Roland, and while I think the premise behind this poem is truly sweeping and vast, I do not think epic poetry was the kind of medium that could truly have done Jacobs’ story justice. I find the emotions and ideas and connections in the work to be intriguing, but I would not put it in the same category as the previously mentioned epics.

I really enjoyed Act I of this book, as it seemed the most promising, and did live up to the vastness of the idea originally presented (which is Lucifer’s story in parallel to ours as a human race). The notion of seeing things from Lucifer’s perspective was dark, yet interesting, though it took me a while to distinguish between the various ‘hes’ since God is ‘He’ but every angelic being is ‘he’, yet each verse begins with a capital letter, so sometimes it seemed as though the honorific ‘He’ had been given to an angel instead of to God.

Act II covered the fall of Lucifer and other angels who were his followers from Heaven to Earth, and how they possessed men and slept with human women, creating a race of monstrous giants called Nephilim that roamed the Earth. The concept has always fascinated me (and its source can be found in Genesis 6 in the Bible), but I found the retelling to fall somewhat short in style and technique than I had hoped, considering Jacobs’ prose style. The poetry was poorly worded and contrived, with little flow. It was difficult to follow on a rhythmic level, and the word choices (like ‘pizzazz’) were often anachronistic and fell short of the grandeur of what Jacobs was trying to achieve.

As for Act III, it seemed completely out of place and disjointed from the rest of the poem. The other two Acts are sweeping and vast, while the last one reads like a cheap paperback, not in content, but in style. Lucifer (who is now calling himself ‘the Gent’) falls in love with a personal trainer named Celeste (the significance of whose heavenly moniker was not lost on me), then discovers her in the act of cheating on him with another man. He feels so betrayed, he possesses the man’s body, essentially rapes Celeste, then kills her and sets the world on fire (clearly what the author believes Lucifer truly does wish to do to anyone or anything associated with Heaven). The content could have been better handled. I felt that the stanzas had been rushed near the end of this poem, the words chosen to describe the events were poor, and not much time was taken to truly explore the depth of the story that was presented. Though he prides himself on the fact that no rhyme was used twice in this epic, I found that in some places, it would have served the story better if that had been the case.

A truly talented writer with big ideas, R. Douglas Jacobs would be best served concentrating his poetic vision into some aspect of the prosaic world, where it could truly be brought to life. Immense effort was clearly put into the creation of this work, but it would have benefited from 2 or 3 more drafts to smooth it out and bring it to its full potential.

2 stars out of 5.


‘A Wrinkle in Time’ by Madeleine L’Engle

I first heard about Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time via Meg Cabot`s The Princess Diaries series, in which Mia cites it as one of the favourite books of her childhood. Then, it appeared in a book I still question myself for purchasing (but which I simply cannot seem to bring myself to get rid of): 501 Must-Read Books, published by Bounty Books, in the ‘Children’s Fiction’ portion of the anthology. So, when I came across A Wrinkle in Time in a used-book store for only $4.00, I knew it was time to give it a go.

For all its critical acclaim and all the ideas packed inside this story, it turned out to be much shorter than I had anticipated. Then again, it was originally written as a Young Adult book in 1962 (a different time with different standards for the lengths of Young Adult fiction), and there is definitely much more to it than at first appears. It is a coming-of-age story with all the deep and painful and awkward and confusing emotions that go along with being thirteen as I remember it (the age of the protagonist, Meg Murry). However, it has the added complexity of science, good-versus-evil, poetry, tesseracts, love, compassion, and aims to teach readers to see past the façade of appearances to the true substance underneath. My favourite passage illustrating this is a scene is between Aunt Beast and Meg on the planet Ixchel:

Perplexity came to her from the beast. ‘What is this dark? What is this light? We do not understand. Your father and the boy, Calvin, have asked this, too. They say that it is night now on our planet, and that they cannot see. They have told us that our atmosphere is what they call opaque, so that the stars are not visible, and then they were surprised that we know stars, that we know their music and the movements of their dance far better than beings like you who spend hours studying them through what you call telescopes. We do not understand what this means, to see.’

‘Well, it’s what things look like,’ Meg said helplessly.

‘We do not know what things look like, as you say,’ the beast said. ‘We know what things are like. It must be a very limited thing, this seeing.’

Below is an example of how to tesser (how to travel via a ‘wrinkle in time’):

tesseract

If there had not been more to the story I would have been very disappointed, since the beginning of the plot takes a lot longer to get going than the rest of the book (I’d say about 60% of the book takes too long to get going, and while it is philosophically interesting, I have a hard time thinking the young adults of today would really get into it straight from page 1), but since there are several subsequent books in this series, which I am very interested in reading, and since this particular book offers a good strong ending in its own right and doesn’t rely on those books to complete itself fully, I was satisfied.

A good (dare I say ‘timeless’?) book for younger readers (though not at all like the YA books sold at Chapters/Coles/Indigo today), this would probably be more currently suitable for an Intermediate but mature age group of 8 to 11 years old , and for older ones  too (even 25-year-olds like me).

3.5 stars out of 5