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The following is my review of  a new book, Being and Homelessness: Notes from an Underground Artist, by Chicago artist, John H. Sibley.  It is a work that covers a lot of ground, touches on many social issues—issues that concern both artists and the homeless. These two concerns have formed a type of personal collage in John’s world.

Although my roots (in this particular physical manifestation) are small town Upper Midwest America and John’s are inner city, Chicago, interestingly enough, I can relate. I have little in common with John’s upbringing, but my artistic longings and aspirations drew me to the city also—in my case it was Seattle, where I spent a period of my life as a street musician, immersed in the “culture” of the Pike Place Market and other local haunts, in the company of other musicians, artists, poets, crafts persons, vendors, entrepreneurs of  questionable pursuits, alcoholics, drug addicts, homeless persons, and derelicts of great variety. I can relate, and I can confirm: the subjects of artists and homelessness are easily intertwined. John has, in fact, done this successfully and has become a type of spokesman for the underground artist, in doing so.

As always, I hope you’ll enjoy my review and that you’ll leave a comment if so inclined. Thanks for coming by,  Jesse S. Hanson

 

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A Multi-faceted Look at the Life of an Underground Artist

John H. Sibley’s new literary work, Being and Homelessness: Notes from an Underground Artist, is an important and welcome contribution, arriving as it does, at a time when the scene of the art world is mostly cordoned off to all but the privileged elect. From my nosebleed seat in the bloody colosseum of the arts—being an underground artist myself—I often found myself cheering along as John attacked the giants, demons and all fierce bastions of that world with eloquence and candor.

 “I was relegated to selling my art on the street level not because I lacked talent but because I was shunned, ostracized and treated like a pariah by both Chicago’s white and black art establishments.”

Taken out of context, as I have done here, I realize it sounds like sour grapes, like the complaint of an artist who has likely not put in the required effort, not stayed the course, or does, in fact, lack the talent to succeed. Not so: Not only has John been practicing and honing his unique artistic crafts since he was a young boy, but he is a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. His knowledge of the academics and history of art is formidable and that is only enhanced by the practical knowledge of a man of the streets.

However, there is much more to Being and Homelessness than a diatribe against the art establishment. I particularly enjoyed Chapter 8, The Lost Culture of Maxwell Street. This chapter deals with the multicultural open-air market atmosphere, highlighted by the legendary Chicago Blues culture that manifested for a period of some forty plus years. I had previously read this chapter, when it was posted on goodreads.com, and found it fascinating. The following is taken from the comment that I wrote, regarding the post, at that time: “This is very gritty and intense. It seems to be written just like someone is talking; telling about, reveling in their experience of life—stream of consciousness. There’s just so much in there, almost more than the senses can deal with. Life experienced as a perpetual street fairexhausting and thrilling at once.”

Another aspect of John’s book that I appreciated was his exploration of Black history in America. Here again, Sibley pulls no punches in presenting his facts and opinions:

–example of facts:

“The first slaves arrived in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619 to establish 244 years of slavery.

Contemporary African Americans have only been free 139 years, using 1863 as a benchmark, which means that blacks were slaves 105 years longer than we have been free.”

 –example of opinion:

“The salient fact is that black Americans are still reeling from the dehumanizing effects of the former slave trading nations of England, France, Germany, Spain, Portugal and the US.”

I certainly am not a fan of John H. Sibley’s every opinion. I don’t personally agree with his outspoken political criticism of Barack Obama, and especially with his endorsement of Herman Cain —I at first thought it was a huge literary blunder for him to include such opinions in his book. But after ruminating on it for a while, I think I can see a reason for the inclusion. His main point seems to be that Obama, although a black man, is not an “African American”. “Obama’s world is not the one of American slaves like my ancestors.” Sibley is exploring the experience of the American descendants of the slaves. Fact is—and I can’t deny it—Obama is not one of them—Cain is. It’s a pure issue of identification.

For those of you who may have read Sibley’s novel, Bodyslick, this work is, in my opinion, much more palatable. It is, in fact, as has been mentioned in another review, a fast and easy read. For the most part it takes me back to my earlier reading of Chapter 8, The Lost Culture of Maxwell Street. The editing is questionable—I hope you won’t let that bother you. If you have an interest, even a curiosity about the life of art, outside of the mainstream, spoon-fed versions, this book will be of interest to you. If you have an interest in the causes and experience of the homeless, this book will interest you also, though it is not its main theme, despite the title. Recommended: by a fellow underground artist.

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I’ve just finished two wonderful and remarkable books: My Father’s Blood by Amy Krout-Horn (the new) and Ali and Nino by Kurban Said (the old) . In all sincerity, I think both would be appreciated by a great many readers. Excellent material to kick off a new year of reading. I would have to say that both are examples of Spiritual Fiction, as they explore the realities of beliefs and practices as they relate to the practice of a spiritual life in the face of so-called “real life”. Below are my reviews, as posted on goodreads.com.

As always, thanks for stopping by my blog. Please comment if so inclined–even if only mildly inclined–no problem.      jesse s. hanson

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jesse hanson‘s review

Jan 04, 12  · 
 
5 of 5 stars
Recommended for: anyone
Read in January, 2012

Relations
A review of Amy Krout-Horn’s autobiographical novel, My Father’s Blood

It’s difficult to sufficiently express the connection I felt reading Amy Krout-Horn’s autobiographical novel. As her self-portrait style character of both European and Native American descent comes to identify more strongly with her Lakota ancestry, I am reminded of the phrase—the prayer—All My Relations. I am aware that those words have a particular significance in this story. Finding her way is, in fact, a gradual process, since her father’s Lakota blood is not the primary heritage she learns about as a young girl. Rather, she is raised in mainstream, small-town, upper Midwest America, with the religion, history, and values that come with that territory. To that, I can most certainly relate, just like Amy, but ultimately, cannot truly identify with it.

The young girl’s American dream is challenged at a young age. Her trials are deeply emotional as are the trials of all young girls. Yet the comparison with most other young girls stops there. Forced to make her own way in a world that relentlessly removes her from security, she recovers again and again from the dark nature of despair. Krout-Horn allows the reader to experience both the brutality and the poetry of life right along with her. And, I think, therein lies the depth of this early memoir. She writes with a flourish that is not flowery, with a poignancy that is not contrived. I did find the omniscience of the narrator slightly disconcerting, in the case of a memoir, yet the book is presented as a novel, so of course, it’s obviously a matter of style.

Yes, I feel more deeply connected, having read My Father’s Blood, even as I feel more deeply the great chasms of separateness, culture to culture—as I mourn the separation of individuals from one another, created by our all-consuming culture of consumerism. This is one of those fine books that speak to us in a profound way about our relations. To those of us who have, to whatever extent, left behind our small towns or our old neighborhoods, we often feel a need to recognize our relationship with all as brothers and sisters. Yet there is also great relevance in the preservation of a people, in the reverence for and devotion to a way of life. “Are we Indians, Grandpa?” the little girl asks. “I suppose some places we would be,” he said…

There are so many levels of interest in this little novel; we are intimately exposed to and educated about the familiy’s debilitating and life-threatening illness and we become witness to the intuitive strengths that are sometimes granted to the handicapped. Another one of the very interesting aspects to me was the author’s personal question: who is an Indian? I certainly appreciated the expressed vulnerability in a brief but openhearted examination of this subject. From Chapter Six, Spring of Bleeding Hearts: “My grandfather’s eyes met mine and I saw the tiniest pinpoint of light flickering in the shiny black pupils, like the gleam of a star, its brilliance diminished only by the unfathomable space and time that exists between itself and Earth.”

I recommend My Fathers Blood. It is a remarkably tasteful and yet artistic work for so young a writer. I suspect she is young, only in years, as we know them.

 
 
 
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jesse hanson‘s review

Jan 04, 12  · 
 
5 of 5 stars
Read from November 20 to December 23, 2011
 
A Great, and I Think, Little Known Classic
A review of Kurban Said’s novel, Ali and Nino 

I’d never even heard of this story, but my circles don’t run that wide. I stumbled across it: a love story, extraordinare–a love story in more ways than one. Where Asia meets Russia meets Europe. An Islamic boy and a Georgian girl. A Russian revolution and a World War. All of this lovingly and elegantly captured in classic novel format by an unknown author with the ghost name, Kurban Said.

Just click on the edition here (http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/46284…) and read the great synopsis by Alix Wilbur. If you’d rather just read it cold without the synopsis, then just read it. It may be even more relevant today than in the time of its inception. It is such a lovingly rendered view of fundamental Islamic culture that the non-Islamist reader is irresistably drawn in. Simultaneously sincere and lighthearted.

Please read it… You won’t forget it.

 
 
 
I just felt that I had to post this particular review of Song of George by spiritual fiction author Judy Croome, not because it’s such a flattering review, which it is, but because of the attention to detail, regarding the novel, that she has expressed.
 
I must say that in the comparisons to the work of the old Russian novelists, she has really gone too far. Nevertheless, I really appreciate her sincere focus on specific aspects of a work that I consider an experimental effort.
 
That she referred to that experimentation as pure art was, for me, a deep honor. That she quoted from my poetry, was a  joy. She referred to the book as a challenging read (that that was a good thing) and I am again honored and grateful. And that she addressed the fragile love relationship between George and his followers in such a poignant way was very touching to me. Finally, Judy saw the story as representing a philosophy of hope, which really made my day. I hope my readers will consider Judy’s wonderful and compelling novel: Dancing in the Shadows of Love, based, primarily in her native rural Zimbabwean bush country of  South Africa.
 
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 Art & Anguish,September 17, 2011
Amazon Verified Purchase(What’s this?)

“Song of George: Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man”is not a novel…it’s pure Art. This intense, unusual story contains original prose, poetry, song lyrics and artwork, all welded together by a thread of human suffering reminiscent of the great Russian authors such as Dostoevksy.

Although they are very different stories, at times the struggles and comradeship of George’s disciples reminded me of Solzhenitsyn’s “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” with its portrayal of just how much anguish humanity can endure despite enormous odds, for “We lay like scattered bones on the floor of her lair, mother earth some, broken splintered things, white against the dirt, the pain is gone.”

In “Song of George” much of the suffering comes from in the treatment of the inmates by the guards, but even more comes from their supposed distorted realities. One of the major themes in this nuanced novel is the exploration of how one defines madness (is George mad or is he a visionary? And who is to decide which he is?)

When you pick up this book, expect a challenging read in more ways than one: dense with characters, packed with philosophy and resonating with compassion, “Song of George” forces the reader to examine different realities through the lives, minds and experiences of three students interviewing (mainly) numerous inmates in a prison mental institution.

Despite the need to concentrate hard, the pace of the story is fast and the author’s portrayal of his multitude of characters is simply superb. Each character is unique and fascinating, even the less appealing ones such as Jaiden. The author’s compassion and understanding for those of us classified as “insane” clearly runs deep.

Throughout the book I felt I was reading profound truths about life. From the suggestion of reincarnation (in Toby’s story) to a conversation about “low burning fires” the student Jeff eavesdropped on, the themes of this immense novel are shrouded in a sense of futility and despair at the ugliness of a world that denies ultimate truths in favour of modern commercialisation, materialism and alienation. When George was freed on parole, the collapse of the inmates’ fragile serenity at the loss of their holy man, is symbolic of the apocalyptic threat to humanity facing us as we turn away from the universal language of Love and a spiritual path.

And yet this was an uplifting story. The glimpses of hope were there: Harold/Horatio’s relationship with his sister Illy, who believed in him against all reason, ultimately becoming his safe haven, almost a “reward” for his innocence despite all that had been done to him. The final scene, despite the ambiguity of the closing paragraphs, also suggests that all hope is not lost when the little girl on the stoop shames the boys tormenting George into helping him.

With its weighty philosophical nature, this novel needs more than one reading to be fully appreciated. Like all good novels that endure, each reading of “Song of George” will, I’m sure, raise more questions and offer new spiritual insights for its readers.

Finally wrote my review of War and Peace: Original Version. I try to include here, reviews that have some relation to spiritual fiction. Although that is a rather debateable aspect of this novel, I do think it exists, as it does in much classical literature. Hope you enjoy the review. As always: thanks for stopping by my blog. I’d appreciate it if you’d leave a comment if so inclined.
                                           Jesse S. Hanson

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Heroes and Heroines or Failures and Fools… or both?

 

I guess the first responsibility one has in writing a review of War and Peace is to be clear about what version is being reviewed. My review concerns, War and Peace: Original Version, translated by Andrew Bromfield, Paperback, 912 pages, Published September 1st 2008 by Harper Perennial. The 912 pages is short by most standards (Goodreads.com shows 383 editions and the lengths of some of these editions can run into several thousands of pages, divided into multiple  books. The most common versions read by English readers run something less than 1500 pages, I believe.

 

Whew, I’m glad that part’s over! It’s all quite relevant, I’m sure, on the one hand, which edition/version we’re talking about and yet on the other, perhaps not so much so. There are the issues of a “happy ending” or not, philosophical “fill” or not, etc. Leave it to the Tolstoy geeks, I’m sorry. It’s not the only good story in the world and, great as he was/is, he’s not the only great writer in the world. I don’t personally see how saying that detracts anything from his greatness or the novel’s greatness.

 

So let me begin by saying, It’s a great novel. I felt a strong sense of loss when I finished it. It had become a friend over the nearly five months that I was reading it (I’m a slow reader and I have a very busy life and I was reading other books simultaneously).

 

I must say that if I hadn’t been coming into it with the expectation of it being a great novel, I may have abandoned it early on. Those glamorous society parlor soirees, full of gossip and all manner of arrogant types of conversation would have done me in. The fact that the author was obviously critically mocking the characters didn’t help much. I think that when it was written, such authorial mockery may have served an important purpose and been quite entertaining, as well, but we’ve had such a diet of it over the years of my life that I now find it quite boring and repugnant—the stuff of soap operas. Still, I cannot deny, Tolstoy was a master of minute observation and when the stuff of his writing is sincere, I was in constant admiration of that ability.

 

My other problem with the novel was the fact that it was written from the point of view of privileged society in the first place. My Australian Goodreads friend Laurel sent me her thoughts: “With Tolstoy’s two great books, Anna Karina and War and Peace, he very much writes about family life. You feel as if you know the families concerned. For me, it is his greatest achievement.” I could not help but agree with her about the contribution regarding family, but it’s just a personal thing with me: I’m not often fascinated by the family doings of the rich and famous. So when I remarked that I was likely to remain a bigger Dostoevsky fan, that was perhaps the reason. Personally, I am a product of middle class America. From that starting point, in the board game of life, I have occasionally travelled through the slums and the low places of those without “opportunity” as it is usually called, and I have, in turn, traversed, on other occasions, the high roads and visited the lofty nests of the well-to-do. There are good and bad people in all walks, and I’m not comfortable anywhere, but certainly not in the lap of luxury.  

 

I think the greatest delight in reading War and Peace is that the reader is always kept guessing as to the quality of a character’s character, so to speak. My favorite one, Pierre is a perfect case in point. For some time I thought that he was the only character with character. Later, I became convinced that the same was true of Prince Andrei. Up and down I was thrown and plunged through my identification with individual personalities. Whether it was in terms of family relations, or those of friends and peers, or those uniquely military or nationalistic, the story always had me going, pulling for this character or that, despairing in his or her shortcomings and reveling in that same one’s transcendence.

 

The war scenes, though relatively brief, are very powerful. Ultimately, War and Peace is an anti-war novel. I think it’s also a pro-Russia novel; I mean to say a work that revels in the character of the pre-socialist Russia. But it seems so ironic that Tolstoy freely expresses this love of country while he relentlessly mocks every one of his own characters and the entire Russian mentality. He openly portrays the Russian military organism, from the beloved sovereign to the generals to the foot soldiers, as absolutely clueless. He places no value whatsoever on the genius of anyone in command (not even Napolean, the enemy’s great emperor hero who is widely acclaimed, even today as a military genius). The business of war, the author sees as baseless murder, yet the business of peace he seems to see as ridiculous comedy.

 

There is really one primary question that I have, and I think the reader must decide for her/himself: are there any heroines/heroes in this great sprawling and endearing epic? I believe there are only three characters who genuinely concern themselves with any higher, spiritual questions or pursuits in their lives; how those questions or pursuits are resolved is, to me, part of the same primary question.

 

I do highly recommend War and Peace. I think it will be a joy to discuss it with others—a joy one won’t be able to relate to unless one reads it. 

 

 

 

Hope you will enjoy my review of The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Also hope you’ll enjoy the lyrics of my original song, Glamorous Lords at the end of the post.
As always, thanks for stopping by my blog. Please leave a comment if you’re so inclined.           jesse s. hanson

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The Killer Angels
by Michael Shaara

THe Killer Angels

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jesse hanson‘s review
Mar 23, 11  ·  5 of 5 stars

bookshelves: books-i-ve-reviewed

status: Read from March 20 to 21, 2011
-Glamorous Lords-

It’s hard to explain. There’s a quote at the end of this book: “Thus ended the great American Civil War, which must upon the whole be considered the noblest and least avoidable of all the great mass conflicts of which till then there was record.” –Winston Churchil, A History of the English Speaking Peoples.
I couldn’t agree with that.

Everything in my being says that it wasn’t handled right. The north just had a different way of handling it’s slaves. It called them employees. Not only that, but during the “noblest and least avoidable conflict” the US Army was also busy exterminating the Native Americans to further the white man’s God given dominion over the whole country. I guess we screwed up, losing part of Mexico and all. Will the real hypocrites please stand up!!

But the book is a page turner alright. Brilliant in capturing the simplicity of it all. A special note: I was surprised to see Lee portrayed as much less than perfect–deeply and vastly loved by his army, as well as the entire South, but much less than perfect.

Highly recommend this book. Draw or re-draw your own conclusions.

p.s. I’ve included this review on my blog https://jesseshanson.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/glamorous-lords-a-review-of-the-killer-angels-plus-an-original-song/ along with an original song of mine, Glamorous Lords, that was inspired by just such “noblest and least avoidable conflict”s. Oh well, Winston, no matter how great a man, in many ways, was a “Glamorous Lord”, himself, no doubt.

 

GLAMOROUS LORDS

                                    Jesse S. Hanson

You speak so carelessly about death
As if there was only your part in it
And when the killing’s finally over with
You wish to once again begin it

          All your wars, you mighty butchers
          Glamorous Lords, you find yourselves
          You break down doors, you private lookers
          Flesh and blood on swords is where your perversion dwells

They came like demons and they came like priests
They came like vampires in the darkness
In the names of gods and in the names of beasts
We fought and we fled and we became heartless

With colors flying and bright metal shining
The ground is shaking before the horde
Elephants and horses and dark angels riding
Beware the servants of the Lord

          All your wars, you mighty butchers
          Glamorous Lords, you find yourselves
          You break down doors, you private lookers
          Flesh and blood on swords is where your perversion dwells

Some speak of the past as if it’s past
As if we are somehow above it
But they’ve gone to every corner, all unasked
Until there’s no place left to love it

 Out of all the earthly six directions
A sound that for all who hear portends
For dominion lost in derelictions
And lost, it does not come back again
and lost, it does not come back again
and lost it does not come back…
come back again…

Spiritually inspired recording artist, Denis Morreau

Spiritually inspired recording artist, Denis Morreau

Spiritually inspired recording artist, Denis Moreau has offered some very unique and insightful comments, after reading my spiritual allegory, Song of George: Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man. My wife, Lilasuka, and I are big fans of Denis, so the comments are special, coming from him.

Here is a brief bio of Denis from his facebook profile:

Born in Temiscaming Quebec, a small paper mill town, Denis received his musical training early, in the church choir. By the time he was 15, his attention leaned toward the music of the day. Inspired he learned how to play guitar and harmonica then soon lost interest in all others matters. He hitchhiked across Canada and parts of the US mingling with the citizens and sharing his music.

At 25 years of age, yearning for spiritual awakening, he donned the robes of a monk. For the following 15 years he was fully engaged in meditation, devotional practices, and welfare activities. His services led him to different parts of Canada, the United States, and the Far East.

In 1995 he renewed his efforts in music while living in New York City. Since, he has been recording and touring many festivals and venues performing in theaters, clubs, coffee houses, retirement communities and charitable outreaches. 

And the following are Denis’ comments regarding Song of George: Portrait of an Unlikely Holy Man:

“Here is a voice that defies the boundaries of sanity, and beckons me to drop certain preconceived notions of sanctity.

This voice wanders in the midst of horror, cynicism, absurdity, and wisdom, inviting me to bare my soul before the human condition— all along urging me to look for the spiritual thread tying it all together.”            –Denis Moreau

jesse hanson’s reviews > Freedom Road

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jesse hanson‘s review
Aug 20, 10
rating: 5 of 5 stars
There’s so much i want to say, about not only this book but Howard Fast in general, but time is not permitting at the moment. I’ll just say for now that I feel that he was and is simultaneously one of the most prolific and successful as well as one of the most slandered and mistreated of American writers. Most of his work was effectively buried under the landfill of political hypocrisy that covered the nation during the McCarthy era. As evidence to this statement, The American, which is the wonderful book that led me to Howard Fast’s work is not even available here on Goodreads, nor on Amazon, nor on Barnes and Noble searches. If I’ve mis-searched in that regard, perhaps someone will set me right.
I do plan to come back and do an actual review of this little gem, Freedom Road.
taken from goodreads.com

Jesse S. Hanson’s spiritual fiction novel

Jesse S. Hanson's spiritual fiction novel

Click picture to Buy or learn about my novel