Roulette of Rhymes by JD Estrada review

A gambling theme permeates many of the poems in JD Estrada’s Roulette of Rhymes. Card games, the eponymous roulette, and fortune-readings of various kinds feature. There’s a beautiful description of soy sauce being read beneath sushi; other pieces employ card and dice metaphors to describe life. But there’s a diversity to the poems too which suggests that, as Forrest Gump says, you never know what you’re gonna get.

I was first introduced to JD Estrada by his fellow poet and author Katya Mills. From a subjective perspective, their poetry can be, very occasionally, stylistically similar. Personally, all credit where it’s due, I feel that where I may have lauded Katya for creativity, I might have found fault in JD’s work. Why is that?

I started into his novel Only Human. I have been reading it for probably two years on-and-off. It has a Gilliamesque lunacy to it, and some wonderfully creative universe building in a very promising series that explores the human condition via the prism of vampire companions, angels and dragons, among other creatures, through the eyes of a jaundiced newspaper reporter who no longer has any interest in the news.

Each time I returned to it over the last couple of years, I had either forgotten what I’d read the last time, or I had glossed over too many elements to a point where I need to revisit. It’s not the only thing I’ve been unable to read lately, and I need to work on returning to that ability, if I ever had it to begin with.

In this collection, Estrada shows great lyrical skill. I don’t know if some of his poems are songs (and he’s a talented musician too). If not, they should be. The Beatles have been criticised for poor writing in their lyrics. But look at the likes of Eleanor Rigby, or their quirkier later stuff. Much of JD’s poetry is on a par, and much of his other work here – as standalone literary endeavour – is probably superior.

There’s also logic to Estrada’s work that is easier to attack than the likes of Katya above, perhaps. I’ve told Katya that her work is almost like Outsider Art, but she knows what she’s talking about. The logic of JD’s work might be more similar to mine, if I could suggest that. And perhaps that’s why I have been quite dismissive.

When it comes to exploring villainy, Estrada appears to twirl the moustache, and chew the scenery. It’s not that he doesn’t have a dark side. He’s more than capable of capturing the essence of evil at certain points in Only Human, say. (There’s Snakes on a Ship in that novel that proves that!)

But occasional silly wickedness aside, he clearly wears his heart on his sleeve, and the honesty of most of the poems I’ve read is apparent. There are a brace or more of pieces that adeptly capture the frenetic nature of urban life.

Two poems on sleep, A prayer for the sleepless and Sleep, are very different – the first with a lullaby-like quality, the latter far more erotic. This nursery-rhyme style again is something that I’d have criticised. But that’s what it’s meant to be, and the fault is perhaps mine in misreading. JD could probably present the literary equivalent of a Cubist painting to me and say “What do you think?” before he showed me his Turner-like seascapes that would impress me more. The same could be said of these two poems.

The Modernist mundanity of The Madness of Jonathan J. George – involving a kind of imaginative stock-taking at start of day, and a breakfast – is reinforced through the use of Tolkien vocabulary in the second piece of this longform series at the collection’s end. Walter Mitty meets Prufrock at the outset, but as the poems progress, a fantastical odyssey is undertaken as we chart the hero’s descent into madness, involving mountaineering, the meeting of godlike figures, and a reconciliation invoked by strength of will over the trauma of life. It’s a powerful work, perhaps somewhat autobiographical, and perhaps, partly, a beautifully didactic call to Estrada’s fellow artists to strip themselves to their essences and to write from the heart.

Get this poetry collection at Amazon. You can follow JD Estrada on Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook and elsewhere.

Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach?

Teaching somebody how to drive takes a certain skill-set that not all terrific drivers have.

There are many skills that are drilled into us that we can’t properly articulate through instruction to somebody else. We might say to someone “Okay, put your key in the ignition and go into first gear.”

We don’t mention the clutch or releasing the handbrake because we assume a novice knows what he’s doing.

There are professions and trades of various kinds where the best people for these jobs might not be able to explain what it is that makes them good at those jobs.

But teachers usually have an added skill, alongside being good at writing or acting or changing oil in a car engine. They can also teach those skills to others.

Drayton Bird inspired this post with an email where he was a Boastful Barney. He’s worked with the Mad Men of yesteryear and his stuff is well worth checking out.

Jerry Springer’s ancestry and the problem with tears

When Jerry Springer did Who Do You Think You Are he traveled to Central Europe to visit the camps at which his ancestors had perished. Immediate ancestors, generationally-speaking. He cried. 
I felt no sympathy for him.

Why not? 
Because he stands in the audience of his show ripping the piss out of people. 
He drags men out on stage to be told they’ve been unintentionally dating other men, tells a fat guy and his skinny woman (who’s just been revealed as transgender to the fat guy) that, as a couple, they “look like a perfect ten from here”. That sort of thing. It’s sort of binary.
But is he funny? Yes. 
Is he politically correct, in terms of progressive values? Yes he is.
Would I support him? Yes I would, mostly.

Amie African Adventure: A Plot Heavy Review

Amie African Adventure by Lucinda E. Clarke, available at Amazon, is a genre-defying thriller with a prologue that really draws the reader in before settling back to introduce its characters and set the scene. With some keen cultural observations, it’s got some great twists, upping the pace until its denouement which is both satisfying, and establishes the background for the sequel in the series.
Amie is in part a primer in corrupt non-western countries, written with a flair for documentary as well as action. Jonathon and Amie are a couple on-the-up in England. Although Amie’s career in media production is stagnating ever-so-slightly, working as she does as a receptionist at a production house, she is eager to progress and knows how to hold a video camera.
Jonathon is in Facilities and Engineering, and he gets an offer from his employer to travel overseas and establish a water desalination plant in the country of Togodo, in Africa. His wife is reluctant to travel; the project is long-term, but both her family and Jonathon’s are keen to see them go.
A glimmer of the peril the couple later encounters with their arrival at the airport, their luggage  unceremoniously rifled through, and Amie’s headache tablets confiscated, is significant. 
Later, Amie has similar difficulties getting through the unofficial red tape involved in sending packages home. It seems everyone requires a bribe in Togodo for anything to happen. Jonathon comes to similar conclusions in efforts to establish offices for his firm in Apatu.
In this capital of Togodo, the construction of modern buildings and wide, highway-like thoroughfares is de rigeur. Meanwhile development monies or the building of high-rises never seem to find their way to the less developed communities, which are out of favour due to tribalism.
Amie settles down to the role of housewife, learning the quirks of maintaining a household while leaving the housework to maids and gardeners. She’s a member of a collective of colonial housewives who take safari trips and play tennis, sometimes with their husbands and sometimes without. The novel simmers through the descriptions of Amie’s lifestyle, but even trivial elements play into overall cultural description, and the micro-details of engaging with the housemaid feed into explaining the macro levels of government activity.
There are tribal tensions here too, we discover. We learn details of the culture through Amie’s eyes, via mouthpieces such as expats Diana and Richard Carstens, older than the new arrivals by a decade but experienced in the Togodian way of life. Although the conversations are not stilted, much explanation is delivered to the reader by Amie learning from others. Through contact with a Colonel Mbanzi who has learned of her camera-working skill, Amie finds herself inadvertently becoming the Leni Riefenstahl of this corrupt republic. Although this smooths things for Jonathon’s work, it complicates the couple’s involvement in the country’s affairs.

The pace picks up as the country’s ruling class’s political situation becomes problematic while the tribal tensions increase. Amie is forced to flee, and she discovers the true beauty of Africa.
The novel subverts what we typically expect while sustaining both tension and maintaining interest: the heroine effects the rescue, but she is led rather than followed (her objectives frequently immediate, and related to survival, rather than having an endgoal). We are often as unenlightened as she is throughout, and we learn as she does.

A great introduction into how Eurocentric or western bureaucracy can be delegitimised or poorly translated by former colonies, Amie: African Adventure is the first in a series.
You can find Lucinda’s first Amie book at this link from a number of shops and sources.
Lucinda E Clarke is on Amazon and Twitter.

Smiley Faces

When you do a smiley face, it sometimes has a little label that appears when you hover over it. Some of them say ::slightly smiling face:: or something similar
More often than not, the correspondent has not chosen an emoji based on that option. 
They may just have typed it,
: – )
 like that, or similar. I have questioned such smiley faces in the past.
All I’m saying is, there’s often no need for people to question why other people are just SLIGHTLY smiling.

Ideal Christmas Gifts: Product Review

The – – Ladies and gentlemen I give you the

Microwave Egg Poacher.

Simply place your egg into the containment unit, set the microwave for one of your earth minutes, and once the timer alerts you to the fact that your minute is up, open the oven door.
The egg will be
GONE!
How is it poached exactly? A kind of sped-up slow-cooking process?
A temperature adjustment of some kind midway through?
No way man! No way, you idiot!
Using anti-drip technology and harnessing the powers of quantum entanglement, a portal sends the egg out to the Land of the Grogochs, and one of them receives the egg in his firetop pot, whereupon he or a close family member gobbles up that poached egg pretty quickly.
What – pray tell – is a Grogoch?
YOUR NEW PENPAL!

For a small subscription fee, your sponsored grogoch will send you letters and photos direct to your online device, showing you how much he appreciates your eggs.

Grogochs are fairies who have lived in Ireland for thousands of years, originally from Scotland, naked and covered in twigs and other detritus that they have picked up over the course of their long, bucket-carrying lives.
Like many in the fair-folk community, the grogoch has a rational and natural fear of the clergy – they won’t enter any home where there’s a priest present.

The grogoch will also send you a recipe book about how to cook SIX KINDS OF EGGS.

Fried.
Boiled.
Cadbury’s Creme
Ostrich.
Stolen by a grogoch.
Other kinds.
NO MATTER WHAT, YOU WILL ENJOY YOUR POACHED EGG EVEN THOUGH YOU’VE DONATED IT TO THIS MAGICAL CREATURE.
Thanks to a 28-day guarantee, you can save up to 90 percent of the costs of the whole kit by selling photos of this incredible creature to the media. They won’t believe it.
Thank you bye.

Yes, the culture of facts has been undermined by Trump

In a Medium piece by the often insightful Roxane Gay, she says she was attacked online for being dismissive of domestic abuse because she found the show Big Little Lies derivative. (From the context, that’s like being accused of being pro-murder because you don’t like CSI.)
She later says Trump’s cries of fake news allow genocidal regimes like Myanmar’s to use the same phrase to deny their atrocities. But but but…
1. Gay discusses how people attribute things to her which they’ve no right to do.
2. Cries of Fake News had been used ubiquitously (indeed, perhaps more by the Left than the Right) before Trump took the ball and ran with it. Denial of the ongoing Rohingya genocide cannot be attributed to Trump. (Bill Clinton’s affairs were not responsible for Jacob Zuma’s polygamy.)
3. Gay later says she’s probably used similar lines of reasoning against her online adversaries as they have against her, falsely attributing belief and opinion. (I’d argue she’s done so here too).
I wouldn’t say anything but it’s just that that Tucker Carlson fella and his ilk run rings around these kinds of arguments.
You can read Roxane Gay’s piece here.

Apples for goalposts

When I was a kid, probably no older than eight, I was in my cousins’ house, for a sleepover, and my cousin ate an entire apple, core and all, in our shared bedroom. I ate most of mine but I Ieft the butt.

My uncle came in – I believe he was sober at the time – and my cousin pointed out that I hadn’t eaten all of my apple. My uncle looked at the apple core and told me to eat it.

The order at the time would almost have been as ludicrous as if he had asked me to eat a banana skin, take a shot of whiskey or light up his cigarette.
Apple cores don’t taste nice. Even today they’re not eaten by most people.
And broadly speaking, people didn’t eat butts in bed back in the 80s.
So I just said No, making clear that his request was ridiculously unfair, that it was not part of any apple-eating compact I had made at any point in my life, and I wasn’t going to be held to ransom over how to consume apples.

The Wire: A brief note

The Wire is a very rich series.
Terrific characters with numerous arcs.
Spoiler alert for the fifth and final season
One thing I will note is that the fabulist who manufactures stories for local paper The Baltimore Sun had previous experience at two other news outlets. One of them is the Kansas City Star.
The reporter goes around the spots in the city where the homeless hang out, in his tee-shirt, seeking information on a serial killer who’s been picking off vagrants. The killer is himself a fabrication of Det McNulty’s, who is keen to divert funds so that the police can get overtime money to catch the drug dealers.

The Kansas City Star logo is printed on this reporter’s shirt. Perhaps reading too much into things, or perhaps it’s part of the show’s beautiful poetry, but Kansas is famed for numerous things, one being The Wizard of Oz.
The fantastical embellishments of Scott Templeton go a long way to forcing City Hall and others to grant the police the funds to ultimately crack their case. One tiny element of a series that’s well worth catching if you haven’t already.

Poison for Dogs

Chocolate is poison for dogs. But if a dog eats one selection box worth of chocolate over a whole Christmas period, he might only have mild symptoms of poisoning. 

By the age of four, when a dog eats chocolate, he is at “third-level”. 
If the dog eats chocolate at this university stage, it’s the equivalent of an elephant giving live birth to a mini-van.
The only human equivalent would be if there was someone hiding behind the bushes and jumped out to give you a fright.
Would you feed your dog slices of processed ham, that is 20% water and lots of preservatives, and salt? Would you feed your child? 
Would you feed your child to your god, as was asked of Abraham?
Never, ever –
Don’t 
feed your dog.