Book Review: How Much Land Does a Man Need, by Leo Tolstoy

[Reviewed by Bruce Roberts]

Count Lyev Nicolayevich Tolstoy has long been acclaimed as one of the world’s greatest novelists, author of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, and The Death of Ivan Ilyich, among others, in a lifetime of writing.

In 1886, he also published a short story, “How Much Land Does a Man Need.” Now newly translated by Boris Dralyuk, a Ph.D. candidate in Slavic languages at U.C.L.A., this simple story speaks volumes about the world throughout history in general, and about modern America in particular.

“How Much Land Does a Man Need” is a folktale. The characters are Russian peasants, people who actually work and derive sustenance from the land. In this story though, their simple life is complicated by a character with other motives, the Devil.

Born into Russian nobility, Tolstoy became less and less satisfied with his wealth and talent and good fortune as he grew older.  He even wanted to renounce the royalties from his famous novels, feeling strongly that no man should have so much while others starved.

This renunciation of wealth is ironically the unwritten message of this folktale. The title question is a universal metaphor for greed. Pakhom, a peasant farmer, is relatively successful and content with his life—except for this question.

Bruce Roberts is a poet and ongoing contributor to Synchronized Chaos Magazine. Roberts may be reached by at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net.

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Poetry by Steven Fowler

Selected poetry from upcoming collection, The Lamb Pit, by Steven Fowler

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{Lilith}

the first of the five jew sisters
pit of shame that sings from
the speaking of your family name

salvation ceased for me in that
chateau near albi
pest of anteochus epiphanes
the sweaty official was handsome

the church of aviation is built on
the blood of martyrs
but our boy must grow in my image
I forbid his circumcision

while you present to me shirtless
naked to the knee
first the scourge
the ferula cut your skin
nothing from you

How German is it? nothing that can be thought
in a scant passageway

the song of the drowsy shite
‘gentle regrets;’
your hips give warmth denied
by the cow and ass

Steven Fowler is a writer from London, Britain (UK). He may be reached at steven@sjfowlerpoetry.com.

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Essay by Joanna Roberts

CANCER

The first time I realized that my Dad is a little bit racist, I was seventeen. That might seem like a relatively old age to reach that realization at, especially since all of those years were spent living with him, but all of those years were also spent with a mother who was ever vigilant in shushing Dad if he so much as grumbled something derogatory towards an ethnic group while within my earshot. I grew up a sheltered only child, even kept in the dark about Dad’s skin cancer until I noticed the skin grafts and asked about them in the 12th grade.

That evening, I had somehow become trapped on the sofa, caught between my parents and their questions – or rather, Mom’s questions and Dad’s attention – concerning my date to the senior prom.

“What’s his name?” Mom asked. “How old is he?”

I stared at the television screen and tried not to sound exasperated.

“I’m going with Brandon. He’s a sophomore.”

“Does he like you?”

“No, Mom! You know Brandon, he’s the kid Ashley and I befriended last year. We’re joking that we’ll both walk through Lead Out with him since Ashley doesn’t have a date.”

“Do you like him?”

“We’re going as friends. No, I do not. And I’ve told you all of this already, twice,” I pointed out, though I knew what she was doing. I didn’t feel very comfortable telling Dad about any plans involving boys, even boys who were friends; his responses were always grunts of varying lengths and I could see the mental inventory of his hunting arsenal going on behind the blue eyes. She was drawing out information for his benefit.

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Joanna Roberts is an aspiring writer from Eatonton, Georgia. Roberts may be contacted at jr01984@georgiasouthern.edu.

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Review of Music Crystals Poems (1962-2008), by Hale Thatcher

[Reviewed by Andrew Rahal]

Hale Thatcher’s collected book of poems (1962-2008), including one verse play in five acts entitled Caves takes on the seemingly limitless inquiry of the natural center in each of us. At times the poems are self-dramatized and flourishing grand claims about our mythic states and new beings, but his poetic genius rests in the conversations he forms with the loud natural environment. Two words that one might use to categorize this collection: “nature poetry” undeniably stirs up a tradition of political sentiment, and throughout this collection, Thatcher does not fail in that perspective. He uses natural landscape not only as a backdrop for his writing, but as a character to develop the politics of his poetry. Oftentimes we hear the folk-like, prophetic voice given to the mountains, trees, and plants and there is no lack of heavy and obscure mystery like the one we find closing the poem “Stillness”

Vast calm envelop the stars.
Silence and calm are shields
for power resting in the deep.

This language becomes frequent, repetitive and the collection as a whole is colored by an intense, verbose and sadly, usual love of nature. Thatcher’s freak-flag flying and relentless style is bound to such rich and grand verse that page after page, a certain numbness overcomes the energy in the language. Though, on occasion, there are moments of restraint which give sharpness to this nature poet’s lyrical bathing. The poem ”The Eighth Day,” does this, approaching both elements of a candid personality and mythic questioning that dodge in and out of Music Crystals:

Over and over I stun my birth,

here in the cornflowers

in the dust,

where a first thin light still

slants among the changing hours,

and words grow, unspoken, sweet,

black apples of the lips.

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Andrew Rahal is Co-founder and Editor of poetry and non-fiction for the Nashville Review. He can be reached at Andrew.rahal@gmail.com.

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Poetry Review: Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse, by David Perez

[Reviewed by Kyrsten Bean]

David Perez speaks on a wide range of prescient topics in his poetry collection aptly titled Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse. No subject is immune to being encapsulated in a poetic plea, observation or rumination. Poems titled, “Contraband,” “Watching Fallen Bridges,” To the Lady Who Carves a Notch in Her M-16 for Every Robot She Leaves Charred and Perforated in the Ruins of Los Angeles,” and “To My Zombie Killing Ex-Boyfriend: A Break-up Letter,” piqued my interest immediately. The poems in this book are edgy, fresh and contemporary.

Perez eloquently mixes black humor, vivid imagery and existential crises inside stories with their own inside stories. Particularly poignant is “Deep Blue,” a complex poem about a competition between World Champion Grandmaster Garry Kasparov and a computer by the name of Deep Blue. “You may want to pray/to the malfunctioning synapse/that makes you believe in a God/that I never develop a taste/for self-preservation,” says the computer as he outwits Kasparov. The poem delineates each chess move as robot and human perform a dance where machine battles human nature.

Kyrsten Bean is a Staff Writer for Synchronized Chaos. She may be reached at kyrstenb@gmail.com.

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Synchronized Chaos – May 2011: Energy in Imagination

May’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine features a wide variety of creative talent, from free-flowing poetry by David Cicerone and Dave Douglas, to dramatic and highly imaginative children’s book illustrations by Elena Caravela. In this case, Energy in Imagination is intended to denote a vibrant spirit, boldness, and even uncertainty.

We are excited to publish the poetry of 2 new SynchChaos contributors: Stephen Labovsky and Jessi Finn. Their work is naturally curious and relatable as they present several descriptive pictures for the reader.

Check out the spiritual writing from returning contributor, Blanca E. Jones.  Jones was inspired to write this piece after reading bible scripture, Matthew 26:67-68.

Book reviews this month include:

  • J’Rie B. Elliott on Jack the Kitten is Very Brave, a children’s book by Tabitha Smith, illustrated by Mindy Lou Hagan
  • Bruce Roberts on In the Time of the Butterflies, by Julia Alvarez
  • Kyrsten Bean on In The Spirit of We’Moon – Celebrating 30 Years – An Anthology of We’Moon Art and Writing, from Founding Editor, Musawa (and other writers)
  • Nicole Arocho on The Rhyme of the Ag-ed Mariness, by Lynn Lonidier
  • Sarah Melton on Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon

In tech news, Bart S. Alvara recaps Metaio’s corporate mixer held on March 27, 2011, in San Francisco, CA. Metaio is a growing leader in the fascinating field of visual recognition software.

Thank you for reading this month’s issue. Enjoy the last few weeks of spring and have a great Cinco De Mayo, Mother’s Day, and Memorial Day!