Three new books: poetry, golf stories, and utopia vs. dystopia

July 6, 2018

It's time for another column about books that have recently made their way to my desk.

Ya Te Veo

First is a collection of poems by P. Scott Cunningham, who was a 2018 finalist for the University of Arkansas Miller Williams Poetry Prize.

Scott's father, Rodney, grew up in Lewes. Scott has spent many summer days at his family's beach home in the town, visiting with his grandparents, cousins and other relatives in the widespread local family.

Reading Cunningham's poetry reminds me of why I love language. And poetry displays the richness of language and its ability to convey the simple and the extraordinary, and cross into dimensions beyond our day-in and day-out existence, in a small amount of space. Because of that, Cunningham's writing invites us to examine each line individually and in the greater context of the entire poem. In Fugue 52, which arranges the sentiments of a single poem in three different versions, Cunningham writes: "They sat in the booth by the window/ drinking coffee./ Somewhere, a beautiful woman was dying/ but they were unperturbed/ flicking their words across the table/ like the heads of matchsticks."

He writes often of 20th century musicians - Feldman, Cage and Webern are mentioned - and in so doing reminds us of the kinship between poetry and music. Words and phrases, like notes and passages, can be arranged in different ways while maintaining thematic unity.

The introduction to another three-sectioned poem called Three Plants That Eat People begins with a quotation from J.W. Buel's 1887 book called "Land and Sea": "The ya-te-veo (now-I-see-you) plant is said to catch and consume large insects but also attempts to consume humans." (Note cover photo, a visual poem.) The third section is titled Man Disappears into Flower and begins: "I never saw it. I saw the sound of it./ A piece of fruit slipping into/ a shopping bag. Champagne poured/ From one flute to another. It formed/ like a cloud taking on a shape."

Billy Collins, former poet laureate of the United States, edited the Miller Williams Poetry Series of which Cunningham's collection is part. In his preface to the collection, Collins writes: "The collection, Ya Te Veo, offers many other delights including a wiggy explanation of how the New York School was formed and an updated parodic version of 'Dover Beach' that comes out of the box with 'The sea is a bomb tonight.'"

Collins' final words about the Cunningham works: "In sum, a distinctive collection by a savvy poet." High praise from an internationally famed poet.

"Ya Te Veo" is serious, provocative and entertaining literature. The 80-page paperback is available through University of Arkansas Press.

Hole By Hole

After reading several of Cunningham's poems, marveling at the language and ideas, I picked up Cape Gazette golf columnist Fritz Schranck's "Hole By Hole: Golf Stories From Delaware's Cape Region and Beyond."

The Cape Gazette has been publishing Fritz's columns since 1999. Reading every line of Cunningham's as a separate poem, I started into the collection of golfing-related columns the same way and am happy to report that it worked. Fritz has developed his craft well, organizes each column in story-like fashion, and his short sentences string along smoothly as they carry the reader effortlessly from start to finish of each one-, two-, or three-page piece.

The collection includes more than 150 selections ranging from profiles on local and national golf luminaries, to reviews of golf books, the tools of the trade and accessories, and lots of lesson-laden anecdotes.

The anthology is also peppered with Fritz's dry humor. In the book's first piece, Kindness and Karma on the Practice Range, he writes: "Just to the left of me stood a gentleman wearing a PGA Championship hat from Baltusrol and with a fully logo'd TaylorMade bag. He was working through several clubs with a smooth, skilled swing. The two men to his left were not, shall we say, at the same talent level."

At the end of his introduction, Fritz writes: "For some readers, this collection is a bit like a scrapbook of their own golf memories, because their stories ended up in these columns. For others, it provides a glimpse of a part of golf not often seen in the pages of national publications - but an enjoyable stroll in a friendly neighborhood nonetheless."

"Hole By Hole" is a rich trove of engaging and accessible writing that anyone can appreciate - whether or not they like or play golf. The 260-page paperback is available at the Cape Gazette, Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, or by contacting the author at PO Box 88, Nassau, DE 19969.

Sage - The Edenbank Epoch

For a wilder ride, readers may want to track down a copy of Jude Michael's "Sage - The Edenbank Epoch" at Michael lived in Delaware's Cape Region before relocating to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. An ardent student of architecture, classic literature and the marvels of nature, the author's work of fiction contrasts dystopian (corporate culture) and utopian ('Let nature be your guide') themes.

His heroes are human-like 'theo-morphs' who live in dimensions we can't see. They are noble beings who "lead a life of virtue within the confines of their woodland sanctuary, sweet and serene."

The author opens the book with Chapter 31 of Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, which says that for the decent man: "Peace is his highest value." He notes that theo-morphs are "always convivial" and the book's ruminations often lead into the author's sense that today's society is rapidly devolving away from conviviality.

Few who keep their ears tuned to the news and commentary of the day would argue with him.

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