Monday, February 13, 2006

'Gilleland Poetry: Storoems and Poems' by Harry E. Gilleland Jr.

Reviewed by Jon Stone

TITLE: Gilleland Poetry: Storoems and Poems
AUTHOR: Harry E. Gilleland Jr.
PRICE: $13.00 (US)
GENRE: Poetry
ISBN: 1-4116-2927-2
PUBLISHER: Lulu
POINT OF SALE: http://www.lulu.com/harry
SAMPLE POEMS: www.musesreview.org

'Poetry' is an odd word. The blurb to 'Storoems and Poems' promises writing that is 'for all readers, both poetry lovers and those who do not usually read poetry', while the author, in his bio, is said to be 'passionate about his poetry'. A quick recky onto Gilleland's Lulu site unearths quite a few fellow enthusiasts (albeit mostly friends and family,) who in turn salute his 'great poetry'. I do feel, however, that in this case, the word 'poetry' means something like 'genial reflections and thoughts of a respectable and warm-hearted human being, laid out in simple rhyme'. As a poetry enthusiast (i.e. I buy more books of poetry than I do novels, or CD's, or socks, or pretty much anything else,) I did find the book lacking in what I've come to expect from poetry.

It is strange to me, for instance, to find Gilleland crediting himself with the creation of the 'storoem' (a hybrid between a story and a poem,) without any mention of narrative poems or prose poems, which are, in different ways, the same thing. There are very few poetic techniques employed throughout the book. There is a great deal of rhyme, though it is sometimes forced, and a grasp of iambic and trochaic rhythms. There are welcome touches of enjambement too, and sometimes personification (a continent 'stumbles' in the acrostic 'AFRICA'). But I found original metaphors and similes very scarce, and the dominant form of the book is four line stanzas, rhymed ABAB, which does become tiresome. There is no strictly formal poetry in here (by which I mean no sonnets, triolets, villanelles, rondeaus, sestinas or the like,) and no real experimentation with language.

Of course, poetry isn't all about technique. But in terms of content too, I did find it hard to be moved. There is condemnation of genocide and despair at war, but it feels strangely second-hand for an author who served as a captain in Vietnam, while many of the interesting stories about animals are, at the poet's own confession, based entirely on wildlife documentaries. I was eager for some expert insights into the natural world (Gilleland was Professor of Microbiology at Louisiana State University,) but found myself disappointed. Much of the philosophy too, while sound, is age old common sense rather than visionary.

That said, I think we need to take the book on its merits. Gilleland is not, after all, competing for quite the same audience as Carol Ann Duffy. Indeed, it's unlikely his fans are into modern poetry in quite the same way as I understand it. His character comes through strongly in the book, and he is, quite obviously, a gentle and intelligent man with both a sense of humour and a childlike sense of wonder. His stories are good fun, and the subjects ranging. He is also quite free of malice, pretentiousness and ill-thought out political opinions. Reading his poems is rather like spending some time in his company, and I can certainly think of worse things to do.

RATING: 4/10

SEE ALSO:
8.5/10 Lulu
10/10 Molly’s Reviews
10/10 Muses Review
10/10 Amazon

AVERAGE RATING: 8.5/10

4 comments:

Harry E. Gilleland, Jr. said...

I thank Jon Stone for his review. He obviously is a true lover of poetry, given that he buys more poetry books than anything else in his life.

I do wish to address a few points Mr. Stone raised in his review. I coined the term “storoem” to suggest that there is more poetry technique used in my pieces than is found in narrative or prose poems. They by definition are prose, whereas my pieces use rhyming, alliteration, enjambment, some iambic and trochaic rhythm, and are written in stanzas with line breaks adding to the reading. Both prose / narrative poems and storoems tell a story, but otherwise they are much different.

As to his comment that there are very few poetic techniques used throughout the book, this struck me as being odd since he then lists rhyme, iambic and trochaic rhythm, enjambment, and personification as being found, to which he certainly could have added alliteration. What was not found was formal poetry forms such as “sonnets, triolets, villanelles, rondeaus, sestinas, or the like.” I do not write in these forms. From his review, I gather that Mr. Stone prefers non-rhyming, modern free verse poetry to rhyming poetry and enjoys traditional forms of poetry. My poetry was not written to appeal as much to the poetry aficionado but to readers who do not normally read much poetry. In fact, my first poetry book was entitled “Poetry for the Common Man: Storoems and Poems” to emphasize my intended audience.

As to his being disappointed in the content, I can only say I am sorry the content did not have greater appeal to him. The subjects are so far-ranging in topic and tone that I am surprised that he did not find more to enjoy. And I am not sure what it matters if the story told was based upon a TV documentary or a newspaper article. An interesting story well-told entertains the reader, especially when it is based upon true events. Delivering sound, common sense philosophy in an interesting story is difficult enough to accomplish, without demanding visionary insight.

I do thank Jon Stone for his fair and on-target review from a poetry aficionado’s viewpoint. I most sincerely thank Mr. Stone for his generous comments about my character and attributes. If he is ever in Shreveport, Louisiana, I can certainly think of worse things to do than spending some time in his company discussing poetry.

Harry E. Gilleland, Jr.
Poet / Author

Anonymous said...

In answer to a few of the points Harry has raised:

- "I coined the term “storoem” to suggest that there is more poetry technique used in my pieces than is found in narrative or prose poems."

While prose poems are indeed typically prosaic in appearance, narrative poems, as I understand them, are very close to how you describe 'storoems'. They are normal poems, with some or all of the associated techniques, that simply carry a narrative. An example of a well known narrative poem might be Coleridge's 'Ryme of the Ancient Mariner', although that's so long it's basically a novel in verse.

- "As to his comment that there are very few poetic techniques used throughout the book, this struck me as being odd since he then lists rhyme, iambic and trochaic rhythm, enjambment, and personification as being found, to which he certainly could have added alliteration."

'Very few' does indeed sound odd when followed by a list. A better way of phrasing it might be that the poems do make use of poetic techniques related to sound and rhythm, in a conventional manner, but that techniques related to content - such as imagery, metaphor and simile - are very infrequent.

Poems that avoid content-related techniques *can* work; they often have an appealing starkness to them. But in this case, I did feel that such elements were missing, and that the pieces were poorer for it.

"I do not write in these forms. From his review, I gather that Mr. Stone prefers non-rhyming, modern free verse poetry to rhyming poetry and enjoys traditional forms of poetry."

I do like all forms of poetry, but the issue here, I feel, is variety. It is very easy for ABAB to become wearing - like hearing the same chord sequence in successive songs. Formal poems, when not signposted too heavily, are an unpredictable element in a mixed poetry collection. Sometimes the reader might not even notice that they're reading a formal poem, but the change in structure can still be refreshing.

"And I am not sure what it matters if the story told was based upon a TV documentary or a newspaper article."

Documentaries and newspapers are suspect sources of information. Referencing them immediately calls into doubt the facts presented in the poem, and reduces the poet to the role of a secondary reporter. It becomes a bit like Chinese whispers. Also, if you are retelling a story that has already been told, it begs the question, "Why?" The poem must add something to the story, I think, rather than simply pass it on - perhaps reinterpret it, or place it in a different context.

"Delivering sound, common sense philosophy in an interesting story is difficult enough to accomplish, without demanding visionary insight."

This is true - there's nothing easy about writing something with a strong message. I think the problem is that, as readers, if the message is something which we have already heard from the numerous teachers, role models and friends we encounter in life, it tends to devalue it. It is *very* demanding of us to want new insight from each piece of writing we read, but I think this is simply how we are.

Thanks!

Harry Gilleland said...

I once again thank Jon Stone for his review. If my response to his review (which I was invited to make) in any way annoyed or offended him, I sincerely apologize. However, I do wish to clarify a few points Jon raised in his follow-up comment:

We have agreed prose poems are different from my storoems. Jon suggests that narrative poems, such as Coleridge's 'Ryme of the Ancient Mariner', are very close to being the same as a storoem. The 'Ryme of the Ancient Mariner' was written imitating a ballad in which the work reads predominantly
as a poem that happens to tell a story. Were I to coin a term for this style, it might be 'poemory' for poem-story. My storoems are predominantly a story that happens to be told as a poem. I invite the readers to read each style and see whether they do not recognize that the two styles are different. One has only to compare the much shorter line lengths in "Ryme of the Ancient Mariner' to the longer line lengths in a storoem to prove my point.

As for Jon's assertion that "techniques related to content - such as imagery, metaphor and simile - are very infrequent", I can only disagree, as have all previous reviewers. I believe my storoems are filled with imagery that evokes strong emotions in most readers. Again, I invite the readers to decide with whom they would agree.

Re his comment: "...the issue here, I feel, is variety. It is very easy for ABAB to become wearing - like hearing the same chord sequence in successive songs." This is akin to someone reading a book of l00 English or Shakespearean sonnets which are three quatrains with alternating rhymes (abab,cdcd,efef) and a detached couplet (gg) and making a similar complaint that the format doesn't vary. My storoems are usually written as a series of quatrains with alternating rhymes as the format. My book is entitled 'Gilleland Poetry: Storoems and Poems'. Therefore, one should anticipate that the storoem format will predominate. However, on the issue of variety, the book has 111 storoems (some of which do vary the rhyme scheme as aabb), but there are also 27 rhyming poems written in a different format than quatrains; 37 non-rhyming, free-verse poems; 5 acrostic poems; and one haiku. I feel the book does offer variety to its reader.

As for why tell a story that has already been told in a TV documentary or newpaper report: I am writing entertaining poetry here, not reporting news or history. If the reader finds the storoem enjoyable reading, then my purpose has been served. Besides, I doubt that most readers would have previously seen/read the particular documentary/newspaper report on which the storoem was based.

As a rule, I know an author should never try to respond to a reviewer (who by virtue of his role is considered to be the authority), since to do so is almost always a no-win situation for the author. I should not have broken that rule.

Peace, Jon.

Harry Gilleland
Poet / Author

Stephanie C. said...

As a rule, I know an author should never try to respond to a reviewer (who by virtue of his role is considered to be the authority), since to do so is almost always a no-win situation for the author. I should not have broken that rule.

I think in these circumstances you should feel entitled to be able to respond. It's a bit difficult critically reviewing self-published books, simply because of the amount they mean to the author, who is usually also the financier of the project. I try to review the books I get in the way a commercial reviewer would, but commercial success is not always the reason why the work was published in the first place, which can complicate things.

I was not the reviewer of your poetry, but I did read the samples on your website. I guess what I want to say is -- and I'll probably say it clumsily -- there are so many "amateur" (or non-professionally published) poets that couldn't write a sentence to save their lives, and too many people who can't grasp even the simple age-old commonsense philosophies of the world, that I think your poetry is worthy of the place you've made for it.