Book Review: The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree-Words from the Heart edited by Mrs. Fields


Note: Over 10 years ago I reviewed this book for a U2 fansite. In honor of Poetry month, I decided to dust it off, make a few revisions, and publish it here at The Book Self.

U2 fans are not your typical rock and roll fans. Sure, they buy the CDs, download their music, and go to the concerts, but being a U2 fan is so much more than that. U2 fans are motivated. They are inspired to open their minds, learn new things, and get involved in causes bigger than themselves. However, they are also inspired to use own creativity. This is evident in a slim, yet powerful book of poetry and short stories called The Little Red Book of Poet-ee-tree: Words from the Heart.

The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree is a volume containing heartfelt prose by a collection of U2 fans throughout the globe. Their love of U2’s music and the written word lead these fans to The Heart. The Heart was an Internet poetry forum where writers cultivated their writing skills, shared their work with others, and got their creative juices flowing. Sadly, it shut down in 2003, but fortunately for the Heart community, U2 fans, and lovers of good writing, the works created for the Heart are not lost forever. They are compiled into The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree.

All the royalties of The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree went to the African Well Fund, a charity founded in 2002 by a group of U2 fans to provide a clean water sources to many African communities. The African Well Fund has built and supplied clean water and sanitation projects in Uganda, Angola and Zimbabwe. The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree was just one part of the African Well Fund’s comprehensive vision to help others.

The poets published in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree write about love and loss, heartbreak and joy. They write with clear-eyed optimism and downcast despair. These poems take us on a journey of both the writers’ hearts and souls, and our individual interpretations to their work. Some poems a mere few lines, whereas others nearly tell a story.

Jennifer’s startling “Modern Day Warfare” uses the frightening images of mustard-gas lies and biological-warfare thoughts, along with rat-ta-tat fists to chillingly describe abuse both emotional and physical.

Kel, in the poem “Africa” describes the continent as a living, breathing human female, inhaling her warm earthy air. This poem puts a very personal face on one’s personal journey throughout the African landscape.

Mrs. F. conveys the love a mother has for her children in the poem “Earth and Angels.” Phrases like “He darts in dizzy zig zags…Listens wide-eyed, hoots at the owl” and “Head filled with fairies and music…She skips and sings” give us an intimate look at the special qualities that make our sons and daughters so special to us.

All the poems, whether short or lengthy, are very strong, and open to many interpretations. I don’t know how these poets came to their words. Sometimes a poem just comes to someone and easily flows out onto paper. Sometimes constructing a poem is like throwing a bunch of words into the air, and then constructing a poem using the scattered words. However the poems came to be in this book, they came through what Allen Ginsberg once called, “ordinary magic.”

Several short stories are also collected in The Little Red Book of Poe-ee-tree. When writing a short story, writers also face challenges. Writers need to grab the reader and tell a complete story in a short amount of words. And these stories have to be engaging, draw the reader in, and achieve a believable conclusion without seeming to be tacked on in haste.

This is expertly done in Laurie CK’s “Pennycake.” In this story, carefree memories of a 1970’s childhood are recalled with its birthday rituals and lazy summer days. The brief mentions of Noxzema, Keith Partridge, and 8-Track tapes give the reader a strong idea of a certain place in time. This story also evokes what it is like to be a child facing real life unexpected grief and a subsequent loss of faith.

The one quibble I do have with this book (and it is a minor one) is the limited amount of writers. I don’t know if this is because only a few writers were accepted or only a few writers chose to submit their work. This could also be because the Heart was a small group to begin with. If anything this book begs for a sequel.

 

Book Review: Perfect From Now On-How Indie Music Saved My Life’ by John Sellers

I have to admit I held a few reservations when I picked up music journalist John Sellers’ musical memoir Perfect From Now On: How Indie Music Saved My Life. I was afraid Sellers would be one of those hipster douchebro types bragging about eschewing mainstream pop for bands so obscure that even they don’t realize they exist. I was afraid Sellers would be a dry, humorless music fan who looks down his nose at people who watch The Voice or own a Madonna CD. But after reading Perfect From Now On, I realize that I had nothing to fear.

Sellers, a card carrying member of Generation X, chronicles his musical fandom from being forced to listen to Bob Dylan by his father to his almost religious following of the indie band Guided by Voices. And he does this with some good-natured humor, a conversational tone and exhausting lists on his musical musings.

By the time Sellers is a young teen, he is obsessed with music. And he’s not too cool to share some of the more embarrassing musical choices he made as a kid coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first album he bought was by Sammy Hagar. He made up some dance moves to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” And he admits to scissor-kicking to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex.” I can relate to these embarrassing moments only too well. You think scissor-kicking to a Duran Duran song is bad? I once wrote a very long and tedious letter to Duran Duran bassist John Taylor where I told him my deepest secrets and feelings. Fortunately, I had enough sense never to send Mr. Taylor my teenage angst in written form.

By the time Sellers gets to the University of Michigan his musical tastes have evolved. He becomes a huge Smiths fan. And he also worships the short-lived band Joy Division and the band New Order, which formed in the wake of the suicide death of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. Sellers is such a fan of New Order that he travels to England to see them in concert. And on the 25th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death, he pays homage by getting really drunk and listening to Joy Division all day. For anyone who views music as something more than an enjoyable time-waster these moments will be a very relatable.

However, it is the Ohio band Guided by Voices that Sellers gets freakishly obsessed with. Sellers describes how casual fandom of Guided by Voices grew into a near addiction, and then actually being invited into the band’s inner circle. Sellers’ neurotic worry over what he was going to say and do when he finally met Guided by Voices front man Mark Pollard really made me nod my head. Yep, I’ve worried about those things too when confronted with meeting some of my favorites.

Sellers expands certain points of Perfect From Now On with footnotes that almost make up another book, and with a trio of appendices featuring exhaustive musical lists. I had to giggle when I read these because I’ve also made musical lists. However, I doubt Sellers ever wrote a list of rock and roll boys he would totally have sex with.

Reading Perfect From Now On is like sitting down with a fellow music fan and discussing the good, bad and ugly of being a fan. Sellers is both self-aware and self-deprecating, and truly hilarious. A casual music fan will gain insight into indie bands that don’t get the recognition they deserve, and music obsessives will be able to tell themselves, “I am not alone.”