Thursday, May 18, 2006

Reader Alert!

There is a good commentary on political poetry and the frustration/necessity of writing it here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Review - 100 Words Per Minute

100 Words Per Minute: Tales from Behind Law Office Doors
a collection of essays and poems by Adina Sara
2006: Regent Press

There are some who believe that the best way to ennoble the people who do the real work is to render them heroic. There is nothing heroic about the portrayal of workers behind the desks in 100 Words Per Minute: Tales from Behind Law Office Doors, a collection of essays and poetry by Adina Sara (Regent Press, 2006). Rather, the author's strategy is to individualize, humanize and illuminate.

As we accompany the author through her unintentional thirty-year stint as a legal worker bee, we are introduced with equanimity to gentle souls, brilliant minds, abusive monsters, and lone wolves. There are no easy paradigms here, no Boss = Bad/Worker = Good, no Temps = Slackers/Administrators = Sell Outs. There are only people -- individuals -- depicted in deft, memorable, portraits. You won't find recognizable affinities either, no office romances or coup d`├ętats; the subject here is work. Sometimes it involves supporting the honest efforts of people seeking to better the world, and sometimes it means assisting those who seek to enrich themselves through exploitation and chicanery. And sometimes it's just about putting in the time and moving on.

Like so many clerical workers, Sara never stops wondering how she got there. As a successful singer-songwriter and gardening columnist, her passions always lay elsewhere. Yet these passions were never acknowledged or even noticed by the people with whom she spent most of her daylight hours. She, along with a veritable army of support workers, are not just overlooked by the attorneys or administrators, but by each other. In one essay, Sara describes the sad little lunch celebration of one "Secretaries Day," an uncomfortable gathering of people who had never taken the time to get to know one another seated about a perfectly round table. In another essay, she finds herself stunned to be receiving make-up tips from a flamboyant litigation assistant. The humor of these encounters underscores the isolation, lack of community, and repression inherent in the label "clerical worker".

Interspersed between the essays are poems which testify to Sara's skill as a songwriter. These accessible ballads are reminiscent of the work of Jim Daniels -- immediate, honest, and affecting. As someone unfamiliar with the milieu of attorneys, I found myself astonished by the shear variety of backgrounds and backdrops. Sara shows us everything from literal fly-by-night operations to antiseptic aisles of corporate cubicles.

Yet for all of it, Sara in no way becomes cynical. Though she never does invest emotionally in her work, she remains curious about those around her and ever hopeful that she will be treated with dignity, paid reasonably, and dealt with fairly. And, in time, she grows into acceptance and the satisfaction of a job well done.

This touching, unpretentious examination of a lifetime of work would make a meaningful gift to anyone doing clerical work, whether from their supervisor or from a peer. It would open the eyes of management as well. Paced appropriately for the coffee break, denizens of cubicles everywhere will recognize themselves and know that they are not alone in their isolation. Readers who are contemplating a life in any aspect of the legal profession can consider this a Baedeker. And finally, readers who are indefatigable in their belief that every individual deserves to be encountered without preconception, will find in Adina Sara a kindred spirit.

Tracy Koretsky

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Review: Looking For Bigfoot by Mike Palecek

This is a review from The Briar Cliff Review of Looking For Bigfoot by Mike Palecek. the book is now available from Howling Dog Press

This is not reading for the faint of heart. If Jeremiah were alive in Iowa, his name would be Mike Palecek, a writer/activist who's done time for antiwar civil disobedience and written six powerful books before this one. You remember, Jeremiah showed up with some nasty comments when King Solomon was telling the citizens that everything was fine. Here's a taste of our own critic, then:

Is this Heaven?? Nope, Iowa. It's Iowa, where everything good is bad. All the good stuff about this state is sour, bitter, spoiled. Because this state is for the war. These people are for the war. They support the troops, the war. They kill children and anyone else who gets in their way as they drive to Hy-Vee for the special on iceberg lettuce.

But you may be asking, isn't this a novel? Yes, a fine one, and those are the words of Jack Robert King, who has left his home -- the Field of Dreams farmhouse -- in search of Bigfoot and his old baseball coach Larry Moore. In the meantime, he also broadcasts Bigfoot Radio through the internet (free speech indeed, to whomever is listening). The bus ride is full of little adventures and fascinating characters,
and the energetic style definitely makes this one a page-turner. Here I feel obliged to try to place Palecek among his literary forbears. His dedication page has a list of authors ranging from Sinclair Lewis to Hunter Thompson to George Orwell, good company. A few more who came to my mind are Franz Kafka, Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and even late Tolstoy. Jack Robert King is the kind of character we love to follow
even if we might not want to spend days next to him on the bus. He's full of a delicious combination of ethical and political outrage, love for his country's ideals, a keen detective's nose, appreciation for ordinary (read: powerless) people, and of course the mythic quest drawing him across the country. And unlike Hunter Thompson, if Jack Robert King is insane, he is so unaided by any drugs unless you count American hypocrisy. If we can believe that America is a peace-loving
people and that George Dubya Bush is always truthful, then why can't we believe in Bigfoot or the aliens who crashed near Roswell, or that there were conspiracies to kill the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. "Eternal vigilance," said abolitionist Wendell Phillips, "is the price of liberty." So, who do you believe if you can't believe our own government?

But, you're thinking, but what about the mythic quest? Does he find Bigfoot and his old coach? Well, that would be telling. You'll just have to get on the bus and spend a few compellingly enjoyable days reading to find out. I will say this, though, he returns home to the Field of Dreams and his beloved wife and kids and the novel's not quite over even then.

Highly recommended.