Sunday, July 13, 2008


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For 'Willie & Joe,' War Is Hellishly Real — And Funny 

Willie & Joe: The WWII Years 

by Bill Mauldin 

Fantagraphics Books Inc. | 2008 

WE DON'T PICTURE World War II soldiers as ramrod-straight, clean and bright-eyed. We honor them because they slogged through mud and took care of their buddies in a conflict that — despite their fierce dedication — they didn't relish. This image of the slouched, tired "dogface" comes in part from the pen of cartoonist Bill Mauldin.

"That can't be no combat man," one of his characters says, watching a cocky GI pass by. "He's lookin' fer a fight." 

Born poor and part-Apache in New Mexico, Mauldin joined the 45th Infantry in 1940 and won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial cartooning in 1945, at age 23. Generals raged against the artist's irreverent daily Stars & Stripes strip, "Up Front … with Mauldin." (In person, Patton once chewed out the cartoonist so severely that Eisenhower, a fan, had to intervene.) But enlisted men adored his portrayal of soldiers as unshaven grunts stuck in an apocalypse. The solders' stand-ins, Mauldin's everyman heroes, were a couple of long-suffering, wisecracking infantrymen named Willie and Joe. 

If Willie was Mauldin's chatty comic relief, Joe, the crooked-nosed, square-jawed hero of so many of the artist's one-panel strips, embodied the way America pictured its foot soldiers: reliable men of few words who shouldered the craziness of war with dignity. Their sense of battle was that it was a terrifying ordeal and a numbers game ("I'm beginnin' to feel like a fugitive from th' law of averages," Willie once says to Joe). 

These gritty, essential cartoons — everything Mauldin published during the war that still exists is compiled here — are the real thing and then some. On at least one occasion during the war, the engraved plates were made from the zinc lining of caskets. That gravity and humanity is among the things that hit you most about these panels: Even when every vestige of civility and society has been stripped away, Willie and Joe remain good and decent men. 

by Laurel Maury, NPR-Books We Like, July 11, 2008

Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder by Karen S. Williams 

Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder 

by Karen S. Williams 

Willow Books | 2008 

KAREN S. WILLIAMS BELIEVES that poetry is an enlightening and healing social justice tool, one that can move its readers and hearers to help eradicate the taint of the slave health deficit, health disparities experienced by blacks due to years of explicit and implicit exposure to racism, discrimination, despair, cynicism, contempt, poverty, negative scientific and popular culture representations of them. 

She agrees with poet Eli Siegel when he said: “When a person has contempt, he or she is cold to the feelings of other people. This is the beginning of all injustice, in personal lives and on a massive international scale.” She hopes that her debut collection of poetry Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder will increase individual and corporate compassion and collaborations to help correct that. 

At once raw, stunning, and hard-hitting Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder, thoroughly grounded in historical context and moving medical research, features 42 poems based on the true stories of famous historical incidents, and figures such as African-American clergymen, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones; noted physician and blood transfusion researcher, Dr. Charles Drew; athlete and entrepreneur, Ervin "Magic" Johnson; and neurosurgeon, Dr. Benjamin Carson, among others. 

Heather Buchanan-Gueringer, author and publisher of Aquarius Press, says that a must-have book that helps leaders in America's educational, health and medical, faith, political, and artistic communities, among others, introduce or reintroduce delicate issues of race, health and inequity, and their impact on African-Americans to their constituents. 

"Williams' lyrical, fluid writing bring little-known stories to our attention, and what compelling stories these are. These poems go beyond evoking emotion and expose us to a different perspective on medical history..." notes Anna Reisman, MD, Deputy Editor of Creative Writing and Book Reviews, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Assistant Professor, Yale (University) School of Medicine. 

"In Elegy for a Scarred Shoulder, Williams commits not only to the reclamation of the Black body, but also, to literary excellence through skillfully crafted elegies, epistle's and poetic verse, stimulating the imagined into the real, transferring witness into historicity. She is a bard whose lyric delivers potent poetic narrative. Here is a poet of exceptional talent," praises Randall Horton, author of The Definition of Place (Main Street Rag Press) and a Cave Canem Fellow. 

by COLORFUL, May 2008

July 2008 Books of the Month

I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio

by Jean Feraca

University of Wisconsin Press | 2008

MOST ANYONE WHO LISTENS to Wisconsin Public Radio has, at one time or another, heard the voice of Jean Feraca. As host of WPR's "Here on Earth: Radio Without Borders," she is advocate and educator, an expert at mixing international issues with culture and aesthetics. An example of the program's diversity can be seen in any random week's schedule: this week features the presidential election, climate change, travel for women, love sonnets and natural aphrodisiacs.

Now, Feraca has turned her craft on herself with "I Hear Voices: A Memoir of Love, Death and the Radio." She traces her own life and craft through a collection of personal vignettes, retrospectives that consider the people who have shaped her and her journey to become a writer. The end result is a vivid, often haunting autobiography that unites a fascinating life with a voice gifted enough to provide all the details.

Feraca's life is as mixed as the selections of her program - growing up in an Italian-American New York family, courtship in a monastery, a Jewish wedding in a nightgown, poetic rebirth in Italy with a sick child. She skims over her messy divorces and personal loneliness in favor of the epiphanies that saved her, concerned with the positives and the process. Readers are also treated to the aesthetic side of Feraca's work: the book is peppered with asides such as a commentary on California wine, tips on writing poetry and a report on South American tribes.

The book is written in the exact style you expect from someone with decades of experience in public radio, a calm and literate voice which feels like it can nurture and inform on any topic. Her words evince her other career as a poet, filled with "liquid gold" by family stories and her veins running with "quicksilver" anger over her ex-husband. Feraca knows exactly what she wants to say, is talented enough to say it right, and not afraid of saying what most keep private.

Her writing's potency is also attributed to the characters she writes about, practically forces of nature in their own right. These include a brother who holds Sitting Bull and Mussolini in equal regard, a mother whose mind is rapidly deteriorating but exerts a manic energy, a poetry teacher more comparable to a master craftsman and an aunt consisting of ethereal sweetness. There is a mix of frustration at how difficult growing up with these people was, tempered with a wistful gratitude at being able to grow up with them.

Although she listens too closely in some cases - the last chapter on marriage and God feels almost thick after a glorious odyssey to an Amazon clinic - "I Hear Voices" is a memoir worth reading in depth, both for its burnished prose and the startling life it recounts. Feraca's life is as much a story as any of her show's topics, and deserves equal time and attention. 

by Les Chappell, July 2008 Books of the,  July 2008

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