Book Review – Card of Fate by The Duke of Quails

Card Of Fate: Poems of a Gambling Addiction

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry
Publication Date: December 7th, 2016
Publisher: Independent

“The card of fate was never to be wagered but intended for you to keep. Dear, to bet or gamble on such a card is to place your soul on the devil’s feet.”

Addiction is a rough path, full of setbacks and dotted with many camouflaged pitfalls and brambles. It’s a nagging, teasing sort of demon who stays hooked in you like a bumblebee’s stinger, poisoning you little by little from the background. Some are lucky enough in their lifetimes to only have to skirt around this path, but most will at some point have to face that personal mire head-on, or risk losing something precious.

Card of Fate is a series of free verse poems from the viewpoint of victims to gambling – an addiction that carries some of the highest risks, yet is tragically easy for anyone to fall prey to, whether they’re a parent, a child, rich or poor, young or old. Desperate or self-assured. True addiction is a devil’s game, debilitating and not the least bit picky in who it takes as its hostages. It’s rarely just the addict who suffers, as well.
Gambling addiction is a resilient and strange monster in that it feeds on so many high, sometimes conflicting emotions at once. The initial happiness and elation of winning quickly turns to greed, which in turn becomes pride if you succeed, and depression if you don’t. And then it convinces you to flip that cycle around again. It’s always “just one more chance”.

The prose in this collection flows easily, and the themes are beyond relatable. I’ve never personally had an issue with gambling, but I can definitely understand the mindset, as would anyone who’s harbored an addiction of their own. Some of the poems are a little repetitive when read in sequence, but I love the concept of different perspectives and drives behind gambling. It’s very personal and seems like a lot of consideration, reflection, pain and heartfelt effort was put into these poems – strife of the past rewritten into a cautionary tale for the future. It reminded me strongly of Requiem for a Dream, except to be honest, I enjoyed this writer’s more concise, straightforward style of prose over Selby’s ramblings in that novel. Card of Fate has a slam poetry feel, moving very fast and cutting deep, and I appreciate that.

Time and money pass like water flowing downstream to the addict, and before they know it, important things have become irretrievably lost. Card of Fate really captures and jibes with that feeling – and who has never felt that way, really? – and I would definitely recommend it if you want to understand more about these personal, emotion and sometimes dark depths of addiction.

“The regret in the word gambling comes from what you have lost: family, respect, and trust that you will never get back.”

[Thanks to the author for the book trade, and for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.]

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Book Review – A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Fiction / Poetry
Publication Date: May 12th, 2015
Publisher: Speak

“I’m a lone palm tree towering over grassy fronds of rice in a paddy field, yearning to touch the sky although I get lonelier the higher I go.”

A Time to Dance has a simple but absolute beauty. It is a captivating portrait of the rise, fall and spiritual rebirth of a young dancer, Veda, who loses her leg to an accident, yet is more determined than ever to dance. Veda’s dance is so valuable to her, so demanding of her body and spirit, that any pride that held her back before is no longer worth losing it.

I pretty much devoured this book in a night. I love the way this story is captured in loose but flowing prose that blossoms as naturally as flowers. The relationship with Veda and her grandmother was especially beautiful, always an offset to the strained feelings Veda seems to grow with everyone else.

The character development is well-executed, showing whose heart is shallow and whose is true when they treat her differently after her accident. Veda feels as if she is re-enacting in her own life, a smaller and more human version of the epic poetry she portrays on stage. The intertwining parallels between the narrative and Hindu mythology are creative, I have to say, and I also appreciate that the romance was not written at the forefront of Veda’s achievements.

“The strangers’ presence feels warm as a blanket, but not warm enough to thaw the sea of unshed tears frozen inside me.”

I don’t like to compare this novel with one of my most loathed, because I enjoyed A Time to Dance quite a lot, but it reminds me of a more sensitive, good version of Izzy Willy Nilly. They’re both about a promising athlete losing her leg and having to prove herself capable. I realize what I hated so much about Izzy Willy Nilly is that the protagonist never does overcome her struggle. That book was uncomfortably focused on blaming her for her misfortune. So much victim-blaming. There was nothing meaningful but reliving someone’s pain, with no hope nor retribution towards the one actually responsible for the accident.

Venkatraman’s poem avoids all of that to tell a personal saga, and is so much better for it. The characters are well-rounded, realistic, and importantly, it accepts that sometimes misfortune can just happen. That it’s something we all have to triumph at some point in one way or another, and it tells so beautifully. You definitely should read this, if it interests you in any way. It’s very difficult to find much to dislike about, and is one of the better free verse novels I’ve picked up.

“Mukam karothi vachalam; pangum langayathe girim. – God’s grace moves the mute to eloquence and inspires the lame to climb mountains.”

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Book Review – I Shall Not Be Moved by Maya Angelou

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry
Publication Date: August 17th, 2011
Publisher: Random House

“We have lived a painful history, we know the shameful past, but I keep on moving forward, and you keep on coming last. Equality, and I will be free.”

It is difficult to pin a specific emotion to this collection, if even there is one. Angelou’s poetry contains the chemical potency of all emotions. From rage to rapture, the soul of her work remains bared.
I Shall Not Be Moved is more confrontational by nature, however. The last book I read by her, And Still I Rise, was more about creating something good from out of the ashes – renewal. By comparison, this collection is more focused on never letting yourself fall in the first place. Tugging at the roots of one’s unhappiness to see what the source could be and what treatment will be needed. Never giving detractors and bigots the pleasure of seeing you crumble.

Angelou’s commentary on bigotry is biting. To break the surface tension of such flowing prose is to unveil an absolutely brutal put-down of prejudice and those who perpetuate it through racism and fundamentalism. Bigotry is crueler than a lie, but controlling someone with false promises may outdo both. Ritualism and tradition for tradition’s sake, along with unchecked anger leads to a lot of ingrained prejudices, and eventually it no longer is a spiritual thing anymore but becomes more of an unwarranted punishment on people who often don’t deserve it.

“Preacher, please don’t promise me streets of gold and milk for free. I stopped all milk at four years old and once I’m dead I won’t need gold.”

Not all of these pieces are going to resonate with everyone. That may be the hardest part of doing justice to good poetry, no matter how long you’ve been a part of the genre. There are a few I didn’t really like or relate to, but that’s going to happen. It’s a given. Poetry is so individual that if there wasn’t at least one that didn’t have an effect, it would be strange, even with a writer as powerful with prose as Maya Angelou. My path is not hers and it can’t ever be, so some little nuances were lost on me.
That being said, as a collective experience it stands perfectly, like a finished jigsaw puzzle. Carrying on the message from And Still I Rise, this book is a new goodness formed from the leftover bones of old hardships.

“We grow despite the horror that we feed upon our own tomorrow.”

Quotes

  • “The man who is a bigot is the worst thing God has got, except his match, his woman, who really is Ms. Begot.”
  • “They kneel alone in terror with dread at every glance. Their nights are threatened daily by a grim inheritance. You dwell in whitened castles with deep and poisoned moats and cannot hear the curses which fill your children’s throats.”

 

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Book Review – A Thousand Mornings by Mary Oliver

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Contemporary Poetry
Publication Date: October 11th, 2012
Publisher: Penguin

A Thousand Mornings – as sweet, as gentle as the rustle of lavender in a spring’s breeze, arm in arm with nature and its delicacy fine as webs.

Reminiscent and nature-inspired poetry can be a hit-or-miss game for me. They can be the opening of an emotional drain, or they can be the brew of sappy cliché in place of any real feeling.
Oliver’s work leans toward the former, though it’s not an emotional punch, but rather a waft of sensitivity that rises and falls like the winds. It’s never poorly written. It does get repetitive in its fervor for forests.

To tell you the truth, I was drawn in by the fogged ambience of the cover. Extremely fitting, the cover is. While not my all-time favourite, Mornings evokes a similar, beautiful feeling. I suppose you could call it “purity”. It feels like clean waters pooled beneath a mountain, somehow bottled into words.

Quotes

  • “Oh the house of denial has thick walls and very small windows, and whoever lives there, little by little, will turn to stone.”
  • “As long as you’re dancing, you can break the rules. Sometimes breaking the rules is just extending the rules. Sometimes there are no rules.”
  • “For some things there are no wrong seasons. Which is what I dream of for me.”
  • “And therefore who would cry out to the petals on the ground to stay, knowing as we must, how the vivacity of what was is married to the vitality of what will be? I don’t say it’s easy, but what else will do if the love one claims to have for the world be true?”