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Book Review: For the Messengers by Jude Cowan - nhpeacenik
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nhpeacenik
Book Review: For the Messengers by Jude Cowan
Jude CowanYou may know of Jude Cowan through her unique and provocative singing and songwriting in To America and Doodlebug Alley . Now she has revealed her considerable talents as a poet and storyteller in For The Messengers . The material for this 87-poem collection came from her "day job" as a curator of raw video for the news agency Reuters. Each day, video clips from photojournalists around the world would come in to the London office and Jude would describe them, provide source and context for them, and shelve them where they could be incorporated into the several video "feeds" that Reuters provides to news and entertainment outlets around the world. During the entire year of 2008, she wrote poems inspired by scenes portrayed in the video she handled, and sometimes by the curating process itself. 2008 was an eventful year, a turning point in world history, and the portraits in the poems range from merely quirky to heavily charged to profound. The volume is dedicated to the Reuters cameraman Fadel Shanaah, who lost his life in Gaza in April, 2008 and to the other journalists with camera and microphone, who have "...given their lives because they believe in the power of such storytelling.", the Messengers of the book's title.
For The Messengers Cover

One of the poems I could relate to best was the one called "Iraq - Suicide Bomber", which delved into the psychology of an Iraqi teenager who backed out of a suicide bombing mission at the last minute. I remember being spellbound when I heard the girl's translated words on the radio (I think it was the CBC), telling how she had been clothed in the deadly equipment by a stranger, and how she had changed her mind and been saved from death by the police. Cowan tells it:
...
She's only thirteen (US soldiers think)
and when she decided she wanted
to understand fourteen and even
higher numbers, she gave herself
to the police, who removed
her explosive vest.
...
The form of the free verse is deceptively simple, casual sounding, but the words and the pauses enforced by the line breaks add an emotional context that rises beyond words.

Most of the poems in the book are in free verse, but some are parodies of older well-known poems and rhymes. One comments on the campaign routines of John McCain using the form of the A.A. Milne's Rice Pudding, while another tells the life story of of Austria's Jörg Haider in the form of Christopher Smart's  For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry . Others, such as Afghanistan - Abdullah Wardak make skillful use of rhyme schemes and other forms that seem to be Cowan's own invention.
Outside Kabul
there's a blown up,
flipped over car,
and the Governor
of Logar,
his bodyguards
and driver,
like the car,
have bodies they can
no longer use

One is a found poem with zen overtones:
 
UNKNOWN LOCATION: MILITANT VIDEO
Copyright: SUICIDE BOMBER AMATEUR VIDEO
Note: *** Re-use with caution as this is not Reuters copyright.
No resale without filmmaker permission. ***
 
There are many too many surprises here to begin to categorize them. Where do you put the delight of a zoo bear on opening a gift? A fourteen-line history of Saudi Arabia? A Japanese belly festival? A survey of sexual harassment of women in Egypt? The handshake between Condoleezza Rice and Muamar Gadaffi that didn't happen?

Although I was spellbound enough by this book to read it from cover to cover the day it arrived, I have been re-reading these poems for a week or so and must apologize for being so slow to put my  reactions in writing. It's not just an interesting book.. It's a book I keep beside my bed. It has inspired more than one dream and will no doubt inspire more.  I strongly urge you to get it and read it too.

 

 

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Current Location: Greenville, NH, USA
Current Music: Jude Cowan - The Lure of Paris | Powered by Last.fm

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Comments
chordoflife From: chordoflife Date: March 27th, 2011 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
interesting stuff.
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