SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: GILI HAIMOVICH


AND THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT SOFTNESS
By Gili Haimovich

People are still flirting
with trying to look younger,
to make each other laugh.
Their existence is softened
by the luxuries of having some time, some needs, met.
People are still eager,
not too tired of being keen,
I have found out
among the snow banks,
pushing
the stroller of my soft new baby.



Today’s poem appears here today with permission from the poet.

Gili Haimovich is an international poet and translator who writes in both Hebrew and English. She has six volumes of poetry in Hebrew, including her most recent, Landing Lights (Iton 77 Publishing House), which received a grant from Acum, as did her previous book. She also received a grant nominating her as an outstanding artist by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption on 2015. Her poetry in English is featured in her chapbook, Living on a Blank Page (Blue Angel Press, 2008) and in numerous journals and anthologies, such as Poetry International, International Poetry Review, Poem Magazine, LRC – Literary Review of Canada, Asymptote, Drain Magazine, Blue Lyra, Circumference, TOK1: Writing the New Toronto and Mediterranean Poetry, as well as main Israeli journals and anthologies such as The Most Beautiful Poems in Hebrew (Yedioth Ahronot Books, 2013). Her poems have been translated into several languages including Chinese, French, Italian, Bengali, and Romanian. Gili is also presenting her work as a photographer, teaches creative writing, and facilitates writing focused arts therapy.

Editor’s Note: Today’s poem excels in the realm of wordplay. Double entendres luxuriate in a language that is as rich as it is simple, as straightforward as it is complex. The poet’s clear love of language — the sheer joy of it — culminates in a narrative of the unexpected, in a revelation that demands we enter the poem again and consider it anew. Delicate and layered, this poem is a labor of love that offers the reader the fruits of its bounty.

Want to read more by and about Gili Haimovich?
Poetry International Rotterdam
Mediterranean Poetry
Drain Magazine
Taylor & Frances Online
PoetryOn – Gili Haimovich’s Official Website

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The Social and Spiritual Possibilities of Lent

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[The following piece originally appeared at PennLive.com and will be syndicated to several other venues.]

The Social and Spiritual Possibilities of Lent

by

Okla Elliott

We do not generally conceive of Lent as a political or social matter. Its central purpose is a personal and spiritual one, but as the well-worn phrase instructs us, the personal is political. I therefore want to invite us all to think of how we might combine the personal and spiritual aspects of Lent with potential social gains.

According to a 2016 article in The Independent, the three most common things given up for Lent are chocolate, social media, and alcohol—in that order. And a 2015 TIME article offers similar findings. These are all personal sacrifices that do not have much of a social or political dimension. Giving up certain popular items such as meat does have a notable social impact. The environmental gains of giving up meat are significant, since the factory-farming livestock industry has several negative impacts on the environment, from inefficiency of food production to detrimental waste products.

I offer here a list of five options for what we might give up for Lent that can merge spiritual growth and social betterment.

1) I would strongly suggest the aforementioned meat option, since it has such a prominent place in tradition and can have such a positive social impact.

2) If possible, give up driving and use public transit instead. This will have a positive environmental impact, obviously, but it will also allow you to see the people of your city whom you might otherwise never encounter. Of course, this is perhaps an option only for those who live in certain areas, but you might be surprised how elaborate your city’s public transit is if you’ve never looked into it.

3) Give up eating out. At first this might not seem social at all, or even the opposite of a social option, but if you conceive of Lent as not only a negative notion of giving up, but also a positive notion of doing something good with what you gain by giving up things, then you will see that the several hundred dollars you save by not eating out can be used in myriad ways for social good. I would suggest donating to non-profits or your church’s efforts to help the poor. You could also use the money saved to do nice things for friends and family, which will strengthen your social community at the closest level.

4) Give up the convenience of plastic bags. Make the extra effort to bring a canvas bag with you when you shop, or if you’ve only purchased one or two items, don’t ask for a plastic bag. With an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic entering our oceans every year, to say nothing of the millions of tons in our landfills, reducing unnecessary use of plastic is of paramount importance.

5) Give up self-reinforcing thought. This one is a bit more abstract, but it is no less important. What I mean here is that if you’re a staunch Democrat, make yourself read several issues of a conservative magazine not with an eye for criticism but rather an urge to understand and empathize. And do the same if you’re a diehard Republican. Read some classics of liberal thought and really try to hear the concerns mentioned. The point is to bridge divides and to prevent hatreds between humans. If we can force ourselves to develop the habits of mind that reduce prejudice and living in our echo chambers, we have a much better chance of curing the ills of the world.

What makes the above choices good ideas is that the social impact in no way reduces the spiritual impact. Giving up driving to work in favor of taking the bus, for example, is a personal sacrifice just as much as giving up social media would be, yet it helps society more broadly in addition to the spiritual gains associated with the sacrifice.

And there is no need to limit yourself to the five options I offer here. Get creative and make your own list that suits your personal and social concerns. There are many ways to improve ourselves and the world around us, and doing one does not preclude doing the other.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ELISE PASCHEN

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AFTER THE SQUALL
By Elise Paschen

In need of air, she unhinged every
window, revolving ones downstairs,
upstairs skylights, mid-floor French doors,
swept into the house the salt-brine,
the cricket chirp, the osprey whistle,
the sea-current, sound of the Sound,
but had not noticed the basement
bedroom window shielded by blinds,
screen-less. Later that night when they
returned home, lights illuminating
the downstairs hall, insects inhabited
the ground floor rooms. She carried handfuls
of creatures across a River Styx—
the katydids perched on lampshades,
beach tiger beetles shuttling across
floorboards, nursery web spiders splotching
the ceiling—trying to put back
the wild fury she had released.



“After the Squall” originally appeared via the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series and appears here today with permission from the poet.


Elise Paschen is the author of Bestiary, Infidelities (winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize), and Houses: Coasts. Her poems have been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, including The New Yorker and Poetry Magazine. Co-editor of Poetry Speaks and Poetry in Motion, she teaches in the MFA Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her forthcoming book of poetry, The Nightlife, will be published in spring 2017.

Editor’s Note: “After the Squall” is a masterpiece of sound and image. A modern retelling of Pandora’s Box, this rich, vivid poem reaches a perfect crescendo with it’s killer end-line: “trying to put back / the wild fury she had released.” Careful, concise, and expertly wrought, this poem is a stellar example of fine poetic craft.

Want more from Elise Paschen?
VQR Journal
Harvard Magazine
The Scream Online
The Poetry Foundation
Elise Paschen’s Official Website

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“A lesson about the stones that wait to rise in our hearts”: A Review of John Guzlowski’s Echoes of Tattered Tongues

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by Eric Kroczek

My first encounter with a John Guzlowski poem was as desultory as anything in life: I was eating a solitary dinner and barely listening to the news on the local public radio station one evening after work in 2007 when I gradually became aware that I was hearing Garrison Keillor read a poem, a good one. The program was The Writer’s Almanac, and the last poem’s stanza haunted me for days:

He believed life is hard, and we should
help each other. If you see someone
on a cross, his weight pulling him down
and breaking his muscles, you should try
to lift him, even if only for a minute,
even though you know lifting won’t save him.

At the time, I didn’t catch the name of the poet; I meant to Google it, but forgot. Life went on.

Fast forward several years. I friended this writer on Facebook, John Guzlowski, who was friends with some of my wife’s writer friends, because I liked some of his comments, and why not, right? In any case, he wrote a lot about Polish immigrants in Chicago, which intersected with a memoir-ish thing I was working on. I bought a couple of his books of poems, and I liked them. Their unpresuming, workmanlike free verse was hard and bleak, with only just enough black humor and sympathy to leaven it. From his poems, I learned that his parents had been slave laborers for the Nazis and his family had come to the U.S. after the War by way of a DP camp and settled in Chicago in the early 1950s. And in his book Lightning and Ashes, I found the poem I’d heard years before over dinner, “What My Father Believed.”

Last year, John published Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded, an experimental yet deeply satisfying mongrel at the intersection of poetry, history, biography, and memoir—in the same vein as Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, but with poems instead of pictures. Many of its constituent parts have found print in other places, particularly in his previous collections The Language of Mules and the aforementioned Lightning and Ashes. But Echoes of Tattered Tongues isn’t a simple greatest-hits anthology by any means. Rather, Guzlowski resets the older material in a new framework, much as a composer might incorporate musical themes and ideas she’s previously worked out in piano sonatas and string quartets into a new symphony that coheres and magnifies her original pieces.

Echoes is largely the story of Guzlowski’s parents, as well as the story of how he came to learn  from them the parts of that story he didn’t already know. It progresses in three movements, each movement delving deeper into the past—unfolding memory and uncovering missing pieces of the historical record: from his parents’ twilight years, to mid-century—John’s childhood—when they left the DP camp in Germany and emigrated to America, and finally, to the War itself, and the root of the deep unhappiness his parents carried with them to the grave.

Book I introduces us to Guzlowski’s parents in retirement, in Arizona, and gives us glimpses of what happened to them in their early lives, how it haunts them. In “My Mother Reads My Poem ‘Cattle Train to Magdeberg’”, a deft poem that is equal parts hilarious and horrifying, his mother, angry and sardonic, critiques John’s earlier effort at telling her story—a poem that we don’t actually read until Book III:

She looks at me and says
“That’s not how it was.
I couldn’t see anything
except when they stopped
the boxcars and opened the doors.

And I didn’t see any
of those rivers,
and if I did, I didn’t know
their names.[”]

A serious, if wry, indictment, considering the original poem begins “My mother still remembers” and goes on to catalogue everything she supposedly saw from the eponymous cattle train. But then, she goes on to tell him some of what she did see, and to say, “Even though you’re a grown man / and a teacher, we saw things / I don’t want to tell you about.’”

We come to know Guzlowski’s mother well over the course of the book—the asperity of her outlook (“Why My Mother Stayed With My Father” begins “She knew he was worthless the first time / she saw him…” and ends “She knew only a man worthless as mud, / worthless as a broken dog, would suffer / with her through all of her sorrow.”); her violent, abusive rages (“Later in the Promised Land,” “Danusia”); her sardonic bitterness (“My Mother Was 19”—the harrowing denouement of a series of poems, written at different times, that are variations on the story of what happened to her and her family before she was sent to the camps). She stands in contrast to Guzlowski’s passive, sentimental, “worthless” father, who is the viewpoint character of much of the horror we see in the wartime Poland and Germany of Book III.

But before that, in Book II, Guzlowski guides us through his family’s experience as immigrants to America, who brought with them little more than a wooden trunk full of necessities, a heavy burden of trauma, and what few skills they had. As outlined in “What My Father Brought With Him,”

He knew there was only work or death.

He could dig up beets and drag fallen trees
without bread or hope. The war taught him how.
He came to the States with this and his tools,

hands that had worked bricks and frozen mud
and knew the language the shit bosses spoke.

The family slowly finds its bearings in the Polonia Triangle neighborhood in Chicago (made famous by Nelson Algren in The Man with the Golden Arm) in spite of poverty, crime, pedophile priests, his father’s frequent drinking bouts, and his mother’s violent mood swings, in which she lashes out at John, his father, and his sister Danusia—an elusive figure who holds an obvious emotional valence for Guzlowski, but who never comes clearly into focus, and whose story, one of sweetness and innocence lost, is never resolved. Several of these poems are unsettling stories told by or about others who had fled Europe after the War, and one (the charming “Kitchen Polish”) is about being a non-native speaker, who grew up speaking Polish at home and English everywhere else:

I can’t tell you about Kant
in Polish, or the Reformation
or deconstruction

or why the Germans moved east
before attacking west,
or where I came from,

But I can count to ten, say hello
and goodbye, ask for coffee,
bread or soup.

I can tell you people die.

It’s a fact of life,
and there’s nothing

you or I can do about it.
I can say, “Please, God,”
and “Don’t be afraid.”

If I look out at the rain
I can tell you it’s falling.
If there’s snow,

I can say, “It’s cold outside
today, and it’ll most likely
be cold tomorrow.”

Book III takes us into the nightmarish central Europe of Guzlowski’s parents’ wartime experience as prisoners of the Third Reich, and it is among the emotionally keenest of such chronicles. Few war poems I have read equal the intensity of “Landscape with Dead Horses, 1939”:

Look at this horse. Its head torn from its body
by a shell. So much blood will teach you more
about the world than all the books in it.
This horse’s head will remake the world for you—
teach even God a lesson about the stones
that wait to rise in our hearts, cold and hard.

Or of “The German Soldiers” (“We soldiers are only human. We love / to kill. It is the hidden God in each of us.”); or of the surprisingly surreal, sinister beauty of the book’s longest poem, “The Third Winter of War: Buchenwald,” about his father’s imprisonment there:

He remembers a movie he once saw
when he escaped from the camp.

In it, one of the heroes is a fat man,
the other skinny. On a boat lost at sea,
they look at each other in hunger and cry.

Then fatty smiles, and skinny cries harder.

[….]

He dreams dogs change into men
and sit at a table to discuss the war,
why it began and how it will end.

He wants to ask the dogs a question
but they can’t understand his howling.

Guzlowski’s attempt to learn and feel the origins of his parents’ pain thus brings us into closer emotional touch with the entirety of the War in Europe, widening by necessity from the particular to the general. It is a unorthodox way of telling such a story: though there are many examples of poems written by poets who experienced the camps firsthand, examples of secondhand histories told in verse are thin indeed. And yet it works, in ways that defy analysis or easy summary. Guzlowski’s empathy and imagination are extraordinary, at times truly shocking. His verse, which brings to mind variously Charles Bukowski, Charles Simic, and Philip Levine, has a vernacular concreteness and clarity that is all the more startling when it breaks sharply with realism, and he deftly captures those quirks of personality that bring characters into full view. Less than halfway through the book, I had unconsciously slipped from thinking What a novel way to tell this story to I can’t imagine how else it could be told.

And as if that weren’t enough, Aquila Polonica Publishing deserves great credit for producing a book that is a beautiful artifact, from its cloth and leather binding, to its creamy paper, to the stunning photographs that accompany the text. In every respect, Echoes of Tattered Tongues is an achievement that deserves wide recognition and long remembrance.

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: IN THE ABSENCE


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From IN THE ABSENCE
By Dara Barnat:


IMPRINT

I hear you’re gone and I fall with you.

In that place part of me stays,

like a hand in clay,

even as I make rice for dinner, boil water,

measure the grains,

pour wine, set out flowers with all their petals.

The imprint holds the loss of everything.

It holds what we thought was joy.



IN THE ABSENCE

              Dark is just dark–

rooms and all we’ve built are nothing.

Chairs with their backs, tables with their legs, beds with their heads.

Outside, trees with their leaves.

I can’t write that wood into a vessel

that will carry us to a place

where life is a river never not flowing.

I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters

through the window, try to catch
              its meaning,

              but light is just light.



PRAYER I DO NOT KNOW

There’s no one here, but me
alone. I close

my eyes and try
to remember your face,

its light, your
fingers, their light

touch, your laugh,
the lightness. I say a prayer

that is my own:
May we live

a thousand years together,
in another life.



Today’s poems are from In the Absence (Turning Point Books, 2016), copyright © 2016 by Dara Barnat, and appear here today with permission from the poet.



In the Absence: Dara Barnat’s In the Absence evokes a yearning of the spirit so strong that it becomes presence, its light unstopped.


Dara Barnat is the author of the poetry collection In the Absence (Turning Point, 2016), as well as Headwind Migration, a chapbook (Pudding House, 2009). She also writes critical essays on poetry and translates poetry from Hebrew. Her research explores Walt Whitman’s influence on Jewish American poetry. Dara holds a Ph.D. from The School of Cultural Studies at Tel Aviv University. She currently teaches at Tel Aviv University and Queens College, CUNY.


Editor’s Note: Dara Barnat’s first full-length collection begins by declaring that “Dark is just dark.” But the assertion casts a shadow question: Is dark just dark? For it is light that is at the heart of this work: “I close my hand around a filament of sun as it filters / through the window, try to catch / its meaning, / but light is just light.”

But “light is just light” is no more the truth of these poems — and the poet’s journey that unfolds across them — than “dark is just dark.” This work is neither a book of questions nor of answers. Instead, In the Absence is an honest experience of grief that explores the inevitable, never-ending pilgrimage inherent within loss: “I hear you’re gone and I fall with you. / In that place part of me stays, / like a hand in clay.”

Not since Li-Young Lee’s Rose have I been so slain by a book of mourning. Like Rose, In the Absence mourns the loss of a father while acknowledging that such a loss is anything but simple, that the complications of life remain a reckoning for the living. “The imprint holds the loss of everything. / It holds what we thought was joy.”

Held close within this incredibly moving and painstakingly wrought collection is a poem titled “Walt Whitman.” I had the honor of featuring this poem here on the Saturday Poetry Series in 2013 as I marked my father’s first yahrzeit (Jewish death anniversary). Tomorrow will be five years since my father’s death. What at one year could be commemorated with a single poem, five years later needs an entire book. Such is the nature of grief — it does not diminish; it grows. And in its growing it becomes more painful and more beautiful all at once.

In the Absence transforms the poet’s personal grief into communion. I will re-read this book tomorrow as I remember my father on his five-year yahrzeit, and I will grieve. But, more than that, I will say a prayer that is the poet’s and is my own: “May we live / a thousand years together, / in another life.”


Want more from Dara Barnat?
Buy In the Absence from IndieBound
Buy In the Absence on Amazon
Poems in YEW
Poems in diode
Interview in Poet Lore
Dara Barnat’s Official Website

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SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: LEAH UMANSKY

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By Leah Umansky:


HARD

It is hard to quiet the blackberrying pain.
The little chronicles, the streaks, and the intimate workings.

I will face this by red-winging my truths.
I will push my blues into orchids.


BALLAD

I decided to claim more space
         But I chose the opposite
What are the words I would go to: hunger// longing// love
         When you feel drawn to something you should.
Whatever your terrible is is up to you.
         The question is how you lead.
I lead myself to distress; I lead myself to happiness.
         This is the history of our times.
I claw my way to the surface.
         I get a hold of this world with my teeth
& wolf down what I thirst for.
         How do I take the I out of here?
(why should I take the I out?)

*

I am always hungry
         I am always thinking of my next meal
         Is it the preemie in me?
Is it just the want?

*

We all have our oddities.
         I am always trying to be practical, logical, rational,
but it doesn’t always add up.
         There is so much of my life that I am forever holding under the light.
What falls below the seam?
         What falls outside of this poem?

*

I want to put the happy in.
         I want to put the hard world in.
I want to say this is a ballad, and so it is.
         Let’s enter it differently.
Any mammal feeds a hunger
         Any heart needs oxygen.


CARNAGE

Everyone is saying no to me
Just as they do now
Just as they will
A kind of civil riot
A staged parade
It makes every kind of sense
That carnage that comes with falling hard,
That carnage that hassles and times,
That carnage that language picks up;
I am wanting to be picked up.
It is rarely an accident.
Elements are employed
Pounds are ranged
The number of possible routes are lost
All to force my foot door to door
To match the heart of my drive to
Coffee after coffee after coffee.
Take me as a whole,
Take these birds outside my window
Alive with the world’s chirp
Alive with the everyday thrill of
Worm or bug or crumb. Take them,
Then remember my thrills.
Everyone is saying no to me,
And I am flummoxed each time
I ask for more; or try for more.
I strive and I strive.
That’s the 21st century calling.
It’s doable. I travel great lengths
So I can match the heart
With the focus of each and every obstacle.
Can there be a rallying point?
This is not an accident.

(Is that what I should be learning here?)

Well, isn’t that magnificent.



“Hard” originally appeared in Thrush, “Ballad” originally appeared in The Inquisitive Eater, and “Carnage” originally appeared in Queen Mob’s. These poems appear here today with permission from the poet.


Leah Umansky is the author of the poetry collection, The Barbarous Century, forthcoming from London’s Eyewear Publishing in 2018, the dystopian-themed chapbook Straight Away the Emptied World (Kattywompus Press, 2016), the Mad Men–inspired chapbook Don Dreams and I Dream (Kattywompus Press, 2014), and the full length Domestic Uncertainties (BlazeVOX, 2012). She is a graduate of the MFA Program in Poetry at Sarah Lawrence College and teaches middle and high school English in New York City. More at www.LeahUmansky.com.

Editor’s Note: It seems I can’t read (or write) anything these days without seeing it through the lens of politics. Least of all poetry. Today’s poems — at once political and private — may or may not have been crafted to address the current moment. And yet they can be read as a direct address and used, accordingly, as a salve. What can we do, we ask? “I will face this by red-winging my truths,” says the poet; “I will push my blues into orchids.” Even in an ars poetica the poet’s words can function as a mirror: “The question is how you lead. / I lead myself to distress; I lead myself to happiness. / This is the history of our times.” No matter their intent, today’s poems are in the world now, speaking to us as they will. They might incite action or nurse wounds or take stalk of our humanity. “Take me as a whole,” they say, “Take these birds outside my window / Alive with the world’s chirp / Alive with the everyday thrill of / Worm or bug or crumb.”

Want more from Leah Umansky?
Border Crossing
Poetry Magazine
Jet Fuel
Minola Review
Quotidian Bee

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A Review of American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton

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A Review of American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton

by Assena Fairuz

Author and Film Co-Producer/Co-Director Lise Pearlman’s book American
Justice on Trial: People v. Newton
is a welcome exposition of the key
components in the 20th century’s Civil Rights movement. It’s also a
much needed examination of how the U.S. judicial system destabilized
freedom movements and failed its citizens– events which burn a clear
line leading to the present. The methods of planning used by Civil
Rights leaders bear a great deal of responsibility towards informing
the way we deal with the social ills continuing to plague this new
century.

Objective and factual, American Justice On Trial gives a detailed
account of the movements and motivations of the well-known activist
group The Black Panther Party For Self Defense, while also being an
account of reactions from the public and from other Civil Rights
leaders. Voter suppression in the 1960’s, the Watts riots in 1965, and
the FBI’s involvement with attempts to destabilize movements from
within are all touched on, their connections to the larger picture of
the Civil Rights movement made plain.

The piece focuses largely upon the trial of Huey P. Newton, one of the
founders of the Black Panther Party, who in 1967 was accused of the
murder of a police officer.

The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. just before the trial
increased the strain on the populace. The trial ended up being watched
around the world due to the public’s recognition of its potential
change the course of the U.S.

Prisoner’s rights activist and lawyer to the BPP Fay Stender, and
political essayist and one time leader of the BPP Eldridge Cleaver are
also given center stage in some areas of this book, their motives and
actions spotlighted and scrutinized with the author’s keen historical
eye.

Reporters and writers alike who supported the causes of the Black
Panthers were forced by their consciences to weigh involvement with
the movement with the possible loss of their careers. In Stender and
Cleaver we see that tenuous line between personal and professional
collapse in regards to the BPP, ultimately leading to individual ruin.

Far from glorifying the violent acts committed by the Party, American
Justice On Trial
also refuses to shy away from humanizing them along
with the other major players in this chapter of history. The book
focuses on the gains won by their much-needed fierce activism, but it
also touches–in parts–on the misogyny and non-activism-related
violence of some of the Party’s leaders.

The book’s sections are arranged in a fashion that is chronologically
loose using highlights regarding events which occur before or after
the era of the trial in comparisons with modern day events. I found
this style of arrangement made the book a bit difficult to follow in
some parts, but many other readers may have no trouble with this.

With its unflinching exposition of the U.S penal system’s treatment of
Black freedom fighters, American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton is
critical reading for activists and anyone wishing to become involved
with activism in our current, turbulent political climate.

***

V. Fairuz is a writer at The Dog-Eared Dragon blog: dogeareddragon.blogspot.com

Lise Pearlman’s American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton is available at:

Kobo.com
https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/american-justice-on-trial

Target
http://www.target.com/p/american-justice-on-trial-people-v-newton-paperback-lise-pearlman/-/A-51630297

Barnes and Noble
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/reviews/books/1124588299?ean=9781587903700

Amazon.com
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MCYXOW2/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

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