BOOK REVIEW: It’s Not Magic by Jon Sands

It's Not MagicIt’s Not Magic by Jon Sands
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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This is a collection of (mostly) prose and free verse poetry. The content is largely autobiographical in nature. Sands was one of five winners of the 2018 National Poetry Series award, winning with this title.

My own impression of “It’s Not Magic,” is that it started stronger than it finished. I can’t say whether that was because it’s truly more brilliant up front, or whether I just tired of its approach and tone. If you’re accustomed to poetry which shows you the universe larger and louder than life, and in which one has to strain to glimpse the poet, that’s not what you’ll find here. This is a kid jotting about things that happened in his life and insights he’s had. I credit the work that it’s not so angsty that it takes one out on the ledge. It’s cleverly cynical in places, and in places it’s reminiscent of Beat poetry.

I don’t know how useful recommendations are for this type of work. I think some will love it, and for others it will be just, “meh!” Hopefully, I’ve given some insight into which category you are likely to fall, but – if not – I understand.

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POEM: Missed Message

I heard the Buddha from the banks
of a river gently flowing.
Long before throngs swelled his ranks,
in the days of heaven knowing.

I sought the ferryman to cross,
to hear more than a faint mumble.
I felt missed words as a great loss,
and was made both mild and humble.

But, having missed that wise sermon,
my own truth I must determine.

POEM: A Mile of Murder

On a moonlit midnight —
between the bands of rain —
stretched a mile of murder.

Marched through the night
to keep day roads clear for troops,
Fascists sought to free themselves
of the ugly evidence of their crimes.

But sweeping the weary and woebegone
under the rug is not a rapid task,
and so a mile of murder
mass migrated towards the morn.

POEM: Traveling Companion

On mountain trails, the sound of running water
— burbling or rushing —
is a stalwart companion.

Even the rushing water, rushes lazily,
having surrendered to gravity.

Stagnation requiring an act of might —
a Herculean struggle against the flow —
that no drop can muster.

Should an unfortunate splash
spray a drop into a rocky pool,
even then,
time will insist it give itself to condensation.

All paths lead to the sea,
but no two paths are the same.

POEM: Momentary Stillness

My mind ‘s a leaf swept on mud brown waters.
Calm water, swift water, running to the sea.
Twisting, sliding, nudged, bumped, and hung up.
Dipping, gliding, but with nowhere to be.

 

Then I’m ejected at the river bend.
Is this death, or stillness, I cannot tell?
It’s a timeless place of infinite space,
Until, ‘long comes the lap of a swell,

and the world moves once more.

5 Posthumous Gods of Literature; and, How to Become One

There have been many poets and authors who — for various reasons — never attracted a fandom while alive, but who came to be considered among the greats of literature in death. Here are a few examples whose stories I find particularly intriguing.



by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, 1807

5.) William Blake: Blake sold fewer than 30 copies of his poetic masterpiece Songs of Innocence and Experience while alive. He was known to rub people the wrong way and didn’t fit in to society well. He was widely considered insane, but at a minimum he was not much for falling in with societal norms. (He probably was insane, but cutting against the grain of societal expectations has historically often been mistaken for insanity.)  While he was a religious man (mystically inclined,) he’s also said to have been an early proponent of the free love movement. His views, which today might be called progressive, probably didn’t help him gain a following.



4.) Mikhail Bulgakov: Not only was Bulgakov’s brilliant novel, The Master & Margarita, banned during his lifetime, he had a number of his plays banned as well. What I found most intriguing about his story is that the ballsy author personally wrote Stalin and asked the dictator to allow him emigrate since the Soviet Union couldn’t find use for him as a writer. And he lived to tell about it (though he didn’t leave but did get a small job writing for a little theater.) Clearly, Stalin was a fan — even though the ruler wouldn’t let Bulgakov’s best work see the light of day.



3.) John Kennedy Toole: After accumulating rejections for his hilarious (and posthumously Pulitzer Prize-winning) novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole committed suicide. After his death, Toole’s mother shopped the draft around and brow-beat Walker Percy into reading it, which ultimately resulted in it being published.



2.) Emily Dickinson: Fewer than 12 of Dickinson’s 1800+ poems were published during her lifetime. Dickinson is the quintessential hermitic artist. Not only wasn’t she out publicizing her work, she didn’t particularly care to see those who came to visit her.



1.) Franz Kafka: Kafka left his unpublished novels The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika, as well as other works in a trunk, and told his good friend Max Brod to burn it all. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending upon your definition of a good friend), Brod ignored the instruction and the works were posthumously published.



In brief summary, here are the five ways to become a posthumous god of literature:

5.) Be seen as a lunatic / weirdo.

4.) Live under an authoritarian regime.

3.) Handle rejection poorly, lack patience, and / or fail to get help.

2.) Don’t go outside.

1.) Wink at the end of the sentence when you tell your best friend to burn all your work.