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A Mind Apart

Bauer, Mark

Last Updated: Apr-21-2010
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Anthology (Poems)

Summary:

Edited by psychiatrist and poet Mark Bauer, this anthology collects poems about mental illness, broadly defined to include such topics as alcoholism and drug abuse, depression and melancholia, and post-traumatic experiences (with World War I's shell-shock and the Vietnam war's PTSD represented by Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney, and Wilfred Owen, and Yusuf Komunyakaa, respectively).  Bauer provides an introductory essay, arranges the selections chronologically rather than thematically, and, in a welcome touch at the end, offers brief biographical sketches of the authors.  A Mind Apart would form a nice companion piece to Poets on Prozac, edited by Richard Berlin

The represented poets are: Thomas Hoccleve, Charles d'Orleans, William Dunbar, Alexander Barclay, Fulke Greville, Thomas Lodge, William Shakespeare, Sir Henry Wotton, Sir John Davies, Robert Burton, John Fletcher and/or Thomas Middleton, Lady Mary Wroth, Robert Herrick, George Herbert, John Milton, Anne Bradstreet, Margaret Cavendish, Thomas Traherne, James Carkesse, Anne Finch, Edward Ward, Isaac Watts, Edward Young, William Harrison, Mary Barber, Matthew Green, William Collins, Thomas Mozeen, Christopher Smart, Thomas Warton, William Cowper, Robert Fergusson, Thomas Chatterton, John Codrington Bampfylde, William Blake, Robert Bloomfield, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, George Gordon (Lord Byron), Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Clare, John Keats, Thomas Haynes Bayly, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Alfred Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, Sydney Dobell, Emily Dickinson, Henry Kendall, Thomas Hardy, Robert Bridges, Gerard Manley Hopkins, A. Mary F. Robinson, Ernest Dowson, Edward Thomas, Siegfried Sassoon, Ivor Gurney, Wilfred Owen, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Dorothy Parker, Louise Bogan, Hart Crane, (John Orley) Allen Tate, Richard David Comstock, Stanley Kunitz, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, J. V. Cunningham, Delmore Schwartz, John Berryman, Randall Jarrell, Weldon Kees, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, Robert Edward Duncan, Howard Nemerov, Hayden Carruth, Philip Larkin, Anthony Hecht, Richard Hugo, James Schuyler, Donald Justice, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Bly, Wiley Clemens, Anne Sexton, Carl Wolfe Solomon, Ned O'Gorman, Stuart Z. Perkoff, Sylvia Plath, Lucille Clifton, Jim Harrison, Les Murray, Sharon Olds, Timothy Dekin, Quincy Troupe, Thomas P. Beresford, R. L. Barth, Jane Kenyon, Yusef Komunyakaa, Joseph Salemi, Aimee Grunberger, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Mark Jarman, Franz Wright, David Baker, Michael Lauchlan, Joe Bolton, Kelly Ann Malone, Brian Turner, Kevin Young, Jeff Holt, Ricky Cantor, Anne Stevenson, and several contributions that are anonymous, including some from nineteenth century popular songs and selections from two collections of poetry by people with mental illness.

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Waltz with Bashir

Folman, Ari

Last Updated: Apr-19-2010
Annotated by:
Spiegel, Maura

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

An animated documentary is the unlikely category assigned by producer/director/writer Ari Folman to this distinguished film.  In broad strokes the film is a memory-recovery narrative, the director’s pursuit to fill in the "black holes" in his recollection of the days, during the 1982 Lebanon War, surrounding the massacres at the Palestinian Refugee Camps of Sabra and Shatila by Christian supporters of the assassinated Phalangist leader Bashir Gemayal.  While the film finds its climax in the Palestinian genocide, along the way it examines the experience of ordinary Israeli soldiers in richly provocative storytelling –as these accounts are textured by a twenty-year time lapse, which offers perspective, insight, telling gaps, and small revelations, as, for example, when we learn that one character abandoned his ambitions to be a scientist after the war, left Israel to grow wealthy selling falafel in The Netherlands.

Folman recounts the soldiers’ narratives of disorientation, terror and loss by representing not only their experiences, but their dreams, hallucinations, distorted memories –all of which are rendered with exquisite power, mostly in vividly nightmarish cut-out animation. Added to these narratives are interviews with a psychologist, a trauma expert, a reporter who was on the scene at the refugee camps and others –adding texture and commentary to an already multi-layered story.

This films provides a fresh engagement with issues of memory and trauma, and explores the dynamics between the trauma of a nation –not only a war but the deep unexamined scar of “indirect responsibility” for a genocide— and the trauma of an individual soldier.  Representing the soldier’s war as a lonely, companionless and even passive experience, the film works to undermine a host of cinematic conventions. The viewer becomes alert to the paradox that the animation has the estranging effect of making what it recounts more “real” through its access to characters’ interior states.

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Annotated by:
Mathiasen, Helle

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: History

Summary:

The Crimean War (1853-1856) holds a place in the history of medicine, specifically, the history of nursing. For as the British public read the 1850s Times reports about the total lack of care suffered by their wounded in this conflict, a British nurse, Florence Nightingale, volunteered to recruit a team of nurses to aid the suffering men. The Times created a relief fund for the sick and wounded, and Queen Victoria, an enthusiastic supporter of this war against Russia, sponsored an even larger fund. Female nurses had a reputation for drunkenness and promiscuity. Nightingale made it a point to recruit nuns and women from the lower classes who would be more manageable than educated, upper class women. Three black nurses applied, including Mary Seacole, but they were rejected.

The Turks, British allies, allowed Florence Nightingale the use of their army barracks at Scutari, across from Constantinople: "'I have been well acquainted with the dwellings of the worst parts of most of the great cities of Europe,' Nightingale wrote,' but have never been in any atmosphere which I could compare with that of the Barrack Hospital at night'" (111). Open sewers ran beneath these vermin-infested structures  which were crammed with sick soldiers lying on the filthy floor. There were no supplies and few doctors. Typhus, typhoid, cholera or dysentery killed many patients. Nightingale's meticulous statistics showed alarming escalation of mortality rates; she believed in cleanliness and fresh air but not in the germ theory of disease. When comparing her numbers with those of other military hospitals, Nightingale understood that soap alone would not save the men.

Rappaport describes the nursing offered by army wives, widows and other volunteers, including French nuns. The women's living conditions, especially during pregnancy and childbirth, often resulted in sickness and death. Others volunteered as cooks, including Elizabeth Davis who alleged that while "...she and the other nurses dined on the stewed-up, tough old meat used to make soup for the patients, Nightingale ‘had a French cook, and three courses of the best of every kind of food ... served up everyday at her table'" (168-169).

Nightingale became famous as the heroine of the Crimean War. She is known now as the founder of professional nursing. Recent research has questioned whether Nightingale was the real angel of the Crimea. Rappaport investigates the work of the Jamaican nurse, healer, and entrepreneur Mary Seacole, one of the 3 black nurses rejected for service in the Crimean War. She financed her journey to and stay in the Crimea herself. She built a British Hospital in the Crimea, and treated the wounded at Balaklava there and in the field. The soldiers called her Mother Seacole because she cared for their material and spiritual needs. She sold gin and raki and home-cooked meals, and went bankrupt because too generous with credit. Seacole recouped her losses and achieved bestseller status with her memoir, Mrs. Seacole's Wonderful Adventures in Many Lands (1857), the first memoir by a black woman from Britain.

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Summary:

The story centers on Tsotsi (meaning thug), an adolescent in Soweto, the shantytown slum of modern Johannesburg, South Africa.  There Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagai) leads a loose-knit gang of menacing thugs.  When gang members are first encountered, Butcher reveals his disturbing and sinister nature; Boston (Mothusi Magano), except for his alcoholism, represents a potentially thoughtful but ineffective source of goodness and decency; Aap (Kenneth Nkosi), a simpleton, is devoted to Tsotsi; and Tsotsi seethes with, as yet, inexplicable rage. 

As the story unfolds, a petty crime leads to senseless murder and an old wheelchair-bound man is threatened and cruelly abused.  Finally, Tsotsi, without gang participation, shoots a woman during an auto theft.  When he drives recklessly away, he discovers an infant in the stolen car's backseat.  Rather than killing the baby, his first inclination, he puts it into a paper bag and takes the baby home.  This new relationship--and responsibility becomes the harrowing twist in the story.   

Throughout, short and disturbing flash backs of Tsotsi's childhood reveal unimagined beginnings that have led to the boy's simmering rage and the string of unforgiving actions.  While concerns about vulnerable children within a context of social injustices are foremost in the minds of film viewers, the overwhelming circumstances and complexities frustrate thoughts about realistic interventions. 


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The Unnamed

Ferris, Joshua

Last Updated: Mar-29-2010
Annotated by:
Henderson, Schuyler

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Tim Farnsworth is a well-regarded lawyer at a fancy, cutthroat midtown law firm in New York City, with a devoted, if occasionally uncertain, wife and a rebellious teenage daughter.  Their comfortable marriage has survived her bout with cancer and his earlier bout with a strange condition: he will suddenly be compelled to walk, setting out on foot regardless of where he is or what he is doing, unable to stop himself until he eventually curls up asleep, whatever the weather and conditions around him.  He is about to lead the defence of a prominent businessman charged in the slaying of his wife when the condition abruptly returns.

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War Dances

Alexie, Sherman

Last Updated: Mar-23-2010
Annotated by:
Kohn, Martin

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

I believe the best way to describe this partly autobiographical story is as an illness travelogue. Alexie prepares his reader for a strange journey by making the first stop his discovery of a dead cockroach in his suitcase. This allusion to The Metamorphosis works wonderfully well for the Kafkaesque remainder of the journey.  His bodily journey moves from loss of hearing to possible meningioma to his doctor's proclamation that his "brain is beautiful." His existential/psychological/cultural journey, triggered by his bodily suffering, moves in multiple directions: to time spent with his dying father, his own experience with hydrocephalus, his grandfather's death in WWII, and his loving relationships with his children, wife and brother-in-law.

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Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Film

Summary:

The film opens on the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation -- called "the rez" by its inhabitants -- in 1998. Immediately there is a flashback to July 4, 1976 when the community was celebrating "white man's Independence Day" in drunken abandon. Accidentally Arnold Joseph (Gary Farmer) sets an uncontrollable fire to his neighbor's house, killing the couple who live there. But Joseph catches the baby, Thomas, when he is thrown out of a second story window from the burning house. The rescued Thomas (Evan Adams) is brought up by his grandmother and along side of Victor (Adam Beach), Arnold Joseph's son of about the same age. Joseph keeps on drinking but is in despair about the conflagration and its consequences.

12-year-old Victor watches sullenly while his parents drink until one night he smashes all their beer bottles. This action is a wake-up call for Victor's mother, Arlene (Tantoo Cardinal), who insists that she and Arnold both stop drinking. She chases Arnold out of the house; he leaves, never to return, while Victor watches, sobbing. These elements of the story occur in flashbacks while the 20-year-old Victor and Thomas travel by bus to retrieve whatever they can of Arnold Joseph, who has died outside of Phoenix. The remaining story unfolds in that forsaken spot where Joseph lived in a trailer and befriended Suzy Song, a young Indian woman originally from New York.

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Push

Sapphire

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Narrated by Precious Jones, a 16-year-old African-American girl pregnant for the second time with her father's child, Push is a novel tracing her movement from anger, illiteracy, resignation, and self-contempt to some version of hope. The voice of Precious, raw and almost unintelligible at the beginning of the story, is changed when a courageous African-American teacher relentlessly inspires Precious, along with several other seemingly doomed teenagers, to learn to read, to discover what and how they feel, and to put it all down in a diary. The novel ends with everything uncertain and unfinished, but with a young woman changed by the appearance of self-respect.

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Family Matters

Mistry, Rohinton

Last Updated: Mar-22-2010
Annotated by:
Wear, Delese

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Retired professor Nariman Vakeel, suffering at 79 from Parkinson’s disease and a broken ankle that won’t heal, is more or less cast out of his home by his stepchildren to be cared for by his married daughter Roxana, her husband Yezad, and their two sons. The novel is a portrait of family life and the strife among siblings amidst moments of grace when an aging parent requires care; it is also a rich account of life in Bombay’s Parsi community in the mid-1990s.

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Summary:

While the film is clearly, unequivocally about families, family relationships, families in crisis--here, as experienced in the Grape family, it is also a film illuminating other human issues in astonishing ways. The family focus is on Momma (Darlene Cates), whose 600-pound frame shakes the rafters of the house in those rare moments she is able to rise; she eats on the sofa (the children bring the kitchen table to her), sleeps on the sofa (a bed is made up there every night), and watches television and her family the rest of the time.

Gilbert (Johnny Depp) is the oldest son who takes care of everyone, especially his eighteen-year-old brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), who is mentally challenged in some way and requires constant attention. Two sisters round out the family.

Becky (Juliette Lewis) comes to town in an Airstream with her grandmother--we're never quite sure what they do other than criss-cross the country in Airstream caravans--and changes Gilbert's life from one of resignation to one of possibilities outside the dailiness of caregiving and stocking shelves at the local grocery store. The climax of the story, the death of Momma after Arnie's eighteenth birthday party (he wasn't supposed to live that long), frees each family member in life-altering ways.

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