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VIEWS of books by NJ born author, Fred Misurella,
and poet, Philip Appleman:

by Daniela Gioseffi of Skylands Writers & Aritists Assocaition.

SHORT TIME, by Fred Misurella . Bordighera Inc./VIA Folios #8: Purdue University. Order from P.O. Box Lafayette, IN. 47902-1374. $7.00 paperback. ISBN 1-884419-07-0.

SHORT TIME by Fred Misurella is the 8th volume in a series of books to come from VIA Folios, Bordighera, Inc. Since this reviewer is also a VIA Folios author, it is important that the following point be made. As a long time member of the National Book Critics Circle fostering ethics in reviewing, I must report--candidly--that I would be thrilled with Mr. Misurella's book even if I were not an author connected to VIA and VIA Folios. Thank goodness--given the situation--that I was happily pleased with the fine quality of Misurella's writing. If I'd not been, I would have quietly and politely demurred to say anything about it in print, as my own reputation as a critic is at stake. Gladly, I quote Milan Kundera to back me up my own opinion in this endeavor. "What a pleasure to read this little novel by Fred Misurella!--In it I recognize so much that I admire: sensitivity, a heart open to ordinary people who are vulnerable and weak. Weak before chance occurrences that give their own meaning and direction to events we (vainly) think we master." It could not be said better. That is exactly Misurella's talent: to take the lives of ordinary people and portray them with sensitivity and quiet awe.

In SHORT TIME, Fred Misurella portrays an Italian-American soldier returning home after a bloody encounter as a troop leader in Viet Nam--one in which he is forced to become a murderer. The descriptions of the soldier on duty in the jungles of Viet Nam ring true to the reader. The existential predicament of the protagonist is subtly evident every step of the way. The deadly violence that ensues keeps us absorbed--even if we are not lovers of war stories. Misurella's vision is not facile, but intricately woven of philosophic and poetic detail. At the same time that he is worldly in a sophisticated way, he manages a delicate balance of humility as the author of this often-told sort of tale, yet there is original twists at every turn. His descriptive powers keep us focused on every lucid page of the involved story. There is clarity and steady pacing so that we want to read every word carefully and feel ever present in the evolution of the ultimately, sardonic tale. SHORT TIME is part of an unpublished book of stories entitled BODY LESSONS. One hopes that Mr. Misurella's entire collection will find an appropriate publisher, because his prose is so accessible and artful at the same time, much more so than much of the minimalist sensationalism, or Baroque experimentalism, touted as art in our time. Misurella is not an artsy writer who will turn away the every day reader; he is the sort of stylist who will make new readers and new fans for entertaining and enlightening literature--in which we recognize ourselves, oursisters and brothers. There is not much that is experimental in technique in Misurella, yet there is an originality of tone. His characters are invested with everyday humanity, and three-dimensional quality, in their search for meaning. The leading character finds the ironies of life as old world family values conflict with contemporary America's fast paced, and puzzling, culture. The Italian American reader will light up with moments of identification.

SHORT TIME is a most readable and worthy little book and I highly recommend it to those who wish to explore some of the best qualities our writers have to offer our culture. The reading is painless, but the story ironic and full of sardonic and ordinary, as well as universal truths. Fred Misurella, like Ben Morreale, is among the best of Italian American male writers of fiction, the sort that our American culture should pay attention to as the tellers of the real stories of Italian American life, rather than the Mafia sensationalists who have made fame and fortune from selling out their people to Hollywood fakery. His work is reminiscent of the young Mario Puzo who starved writing his best early works--like THE FORTUNATE PILGRIM--prior to his notorious success in the only genre Hollywood has wanted from our men--that cheap, romanticized stereotype that continues to haunt us daily in the powerful and wholesale, visual media.

Copyrighted © by Daniela Gioseffi, New York City, Feb, 1997



"A FRESH LITERATURE WITH BRAINS IN IT"

New and Selected Poems, 1956-96 by Philip Appleman,
Arkansas University Press, Fayetteville, AK. 1997,
ISBN 1-55728-20-2, 265 pp. Paper, $22.

In commenting on one of Philip Appleman's first books of poems, James Wright was correct to say that "after a long bewilderment and triviality. American poetry is getting a fresh literature with brains in it with the work of Philip Appleman." Appleman's work today is every bit as "subdued, smoldering with brilliance and disturbance, the work of art" that Wright claimed it was. In his substantial New & Selected Poems, Appleman displays the Voltairean verve and clarity Amy Clampitt praised in his last book. The author of six earlier books of poetry, three novels, and several non-fiction books, including the Norton Critical Edition of Darwin and The Silent Explosion dealing with world overpopulation, Appleman is a tough and admirable Humanist. He commands knowledge of the natural things of the world from sparrows to mastodons and artfully weaves vital themes concerning evolution, anthropology, religion, skepticism and everyday life into his lyrical intensity. There is no sentimentality in this collection. Appleman's art is transformative, making the personal into the universal. Eve and Darwin or a failed priest become characters which he creates with wit and humor as well as compassion. This is a substantial book of large themes and historic depth which is bound to outlast the more self-indulgent poetry of our time. Appleman chills us with the vision of an earth gone barren with hatred in his poem "Day of the Hawk," from his 1968 collection Summer Love and Surf, included in his new volume.


.... Quick: quick as the crimson of hatred
and gorgeous as silvery death,
the hawk screamed in...
Under the cruelly just
heaven of antique vestiges, at last
there is no one to think it strange
that there is no one left to wonder
at the always leafless trees, the roofless homes.

Appleman''s wit is sharp as he roundly criticizes hypocrisy in "And Then the Perfect Truth of Hatred:"


There was a preacher in our town
whose Sunday text was the Prince of Peace,
but
when he looked out at the Monday world-- at the uppity blacks and pushy Jews
and sassy wives and sneaky heathen--blood
scalded his face as purple as if
he'd hung by his heels....

The placement of the word "but" on a line unto itself makes all the difference in the craft here. And that is the sort of careful detail one soon learns to expect from Appleman's style. His carefully wrought poetry is never meant to shock or tease, but to prick the conscience, unexpectedly. The poem titled, "Before You Push the Red Button," is painful to read, but makes its point with a literal razor's edge of excruciating detail, calling us to think about the cruelty we inflict upon one another's living flesh with senseless acts of violence and warring technocracies.

Philip Appleman is the sort of poet of vital themes that this bent and sorry world needs. As the human race stands at the brink of its own extinction, he's a poet of intelligence, skill and deeply wrought conscience who is at the same time engaging and subtle in his humor. "Never-Never Land" in which the poet pictures us all as growing less and less mature into a world of stuffed animals and Disneyland realities and Mommy and Daddy forever in love, is an illustration of his satiric style. One can imagine future generations still enjoying the art, crafty message and clarity, even Shakespearean in tone, of "Will" one of the last of the new poems in this new and selected volume so full of strength, vision, vitality, the real stuff of being a Humanist poet on a pillaged, but still gorgeous, Earth threatened by tha apathy of religious hypocricies. Appleman is truly a poet of conscience and radiant audacity, the sort that contemporary American poetry desparately needs to embrace and acknowlege fully, if it is to have substance that lasts beyond the moment.




Reviewer, Daniela Gioseffi, a member of the National Book Critics Circle, is the American Book Award winning author of ten books of poetry and prose. Her latest volumes are: On Prejudice: A Global Perspective, Anchor, Doubleday, and Word Wounds & Water Flowers, VIA Folios: Bordighera (at Purdue University), 1995. Her collection of short fiction, In Bed with the Exotic Enemy, appeared from Avisson Press, NC., 1997.

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