Friday, January 28, 2005


Jesse Strong killed Wednesday Haditha, Iraq

War is hell, death is heaven. The title above is a link to the Burlington Free Press with a story often repeated, but of enduring value, and especially well written.


this is an audio post - click to play

Poem "America" by Henry Burt Stevens


Video Poetry

Click on the highlighted title Video Poetry above to go to a Beta video of me reading my poetry seated in my library here in Florida. It is done in Windows Movie Maker and will open in Windows Media Player, which many of you have. Quicktime is also very popular and will be added as time goes on. Please give me some comments, link below, and tell me your reaction to this beta video.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Sannella scores with life story in first publishing effort

Memo to Mommy and those worried about me and my new career as a book broker: I’m fine, getting enough to eat and working with some pretty wild characters.

One such ne’er-do-well is Roy Sannella, the 80-year-old author of “My Nine Lives,” an autobiography that’s about as exciting as tap-dancing atop a moving car.

Sannella, who has never written before, has a natural raconteur’s sense of timing as he relates a seemingly unending string of stories about his life and loves.

Born in Revere, Mass., Sannella had the sort of life evocative of the movies “Zelig,” or “Forrest Gump,” films in which the eponymous characters always seemed to have a bit part in epochal events.

Early in his story, Sannella describes the Great Hurricane of 1938. He nearly died when a tree fell on the car in which he and a doctor relative were riding.

But that’s just the second of many brushes with death he recounts.

The book is also filled with insights into the entertainment field and the part of the military only servicemen know; the action at the PX and Officers Club.

What makes Sannella’s work more than just the usual hoary, boring story of another old guy is his natural sense of humor.

Here’s how he describes the visit of Sannella pere to the ancestral homeland of Southern Italy:

“When we arrived my father walked up to the old church, when an old priest walked out. They stared at each other…then they embraced with tears in their eyes…All of a sudden, they started laughing like crazy. When I asked what was so funny, dad told me that when they were young boys, they used to relieve themselves at the sidewall of the church… I’m going to stay here for a week while your mother goes to Sicily’ Dad said. “Come pick me up next Sunday.

…I wanted to leave my phone number.

‘I don’t need it,’ he said.

…The following Sunday I returned to pick up dad. When I arrived he was furious and swearing like I had never heard before.

‘I sent you a telegram Monday morning,’ he said. ‘Why didn’t you come to pick me up?’

…When he calmed down, he began to tell me that the first night the bed was lumpy, and the cow under the house not only kept him awake but smelled terrible. The worst part was that he forgot there was no bathroom. He had to go outside to the outhouse, and the toilet paper was like sandpaper. Five days after we got home the telegram arrived…”

Pardon the scatological nature of the passage above, but its earthy humor is representative of the book’s tone. Sanella writes the way people talk, in an easy manner that makes the 220-page book a quick and hearty read. This is a book for the movie-goer, the newspaper reader, or the average Joe or Jane who follows the doings of the stars and the shakers.

Sanella hung out with Frank Sinatra, Harry Guardino, Tommy Sands and other greater and lesser luminaries. He stared down the ruler of Morocco and hung out with deposed King Farouk.

And, along the way, he had some of the most gorgeous girlfriends that a young man could fancy. Sanella, ever the gentleman, kisses but doesn’t tell all. However, upon reading the book, one must wonder how he had time to breathe, to say nothing of eating, while making his many conquests.

Perhaps his brushes with death made Sannella more eager to embrace life. Or to be a little more prosaic, maybe he was just a wild guy. Either way, his book seems to careen from one adventure to another carried along by Sannella's down-home cadence and sense of wonder.

Here’s how he drummed up business for his Hollywood restaurant:

“My club was two doors down from the Egyptian Theater, where the movie Ben Hur was playing; a chariot was in front of the theater. When the movie was over and people were coming out, the band would play When the Saints Come Marching In, walk off the stage, go out the back door, walk around and come in the front door with about fifty people following them in, clapping their hands to the music. It was awesome.”

That sales gimmick was one of the many clever ploys dreamed up by Sannella to make a buck and advance his cause. Through pure luck he stumbled into a job managing servicemen’s stores-- post exchanges-- and parlayed that into a reputation as a fixer who could get anything for anyone at anytime.

He produced whole armies for Hollywood directors, a few color TVs for an admiral looking for a good deal, and the latest news of mayhem for a Hollywood gangster hiding out in Capri.

Through it all, the same good humor that suffuses the book is evident in his dealing with others, probably accounting for the many friends he accumulated during his four score years of living. For more information on the book, go to on the Web.

“My Nine Lives” ends right here at home, with Roy in peril following Hurricane Charley. His experience will strike a chord with many, particularly the frail and elderly who had special reason to fear for their safety in the days following the great storm.

In the book, Sannella attributes his survival to guardian angels. That may be, but one gets the impression Sannella’s own pluck contributed to the escapes from scrapes he describes so well in his memoir.

James M. Abraham, an independent book columnist, can be reached at

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Fishing on the Barton River 1947

by Henry Burt Stevens

River bottomed farm land
ox-bowed fudge colored flow
banks caving in as
strong summer rains cut deeper curves.

Walking pussy footed
flyfishing the ripples
i now and then make catch
landing a silver steelhead.

The road a half mile away
can be heard, not loud
the gurgle from a tipped in tree
i pop a wild cucumber

The sun has dipped, the air chills
a farmer turns off his put-put engine
water drips from my line as i reel in
walking home in darkness

eating fresh picked clover blossoms.

this is an audio post - click to play

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


Mt Major, Alton New Hampshire

by Henry Burt Stevens

Fifteen hundred feet above the level sea
its bald top peers out in compass points
north the White Mountains, east Alton Bay
down along the old and new highway.

A trail of old roads from inhabited times
built by those who have no trace but cellar holes
rises through third-growth beech and oak until
hands and knees over bare boulder brings the view.

Rested, returning down, I pass over
on the skidder trail bulldozed leaving
raw banks a dozen feet tall eroding
rotten granite, not stone, not yet sand.

Reaching up under dirt and roots overhung
I run my fingers into dross
that's never known a human touch
squeezing, listening to the virgin crunch.

It would be enough to contemplate
the cellar holes and those lives entwined,
but oh, to wonder at the silica
mica, feldspar glistening in my open hand.

this is an audio post - click to play

This is a link to Henry reading his poem, Mt Major.


‘Foosa!’ can scare you into caring about nature

It’s a long way to Madagascar from Venice. But first-time author Ed Begen more than bridges the distance in “Foosa!: Primal Instinct,” ($24.95 Ivy House Books).

The story is about Blaine, a young college student with dreams of becoming a marine biologist. Through a series of circumstances you’ll have to read to appreciate, the young student winds up on a mission into the jungles of the red island of Madagascar and Eastern Africa. He ends up facing a situation reminiscent of that encountered by the protagonists in the movie Jurassic Park. There’s one key difference: the movie’s scary antagonists were cloned creatures but in "Foosa!" the threat is real and natural.

Begen’s at his worst when it comes to dialogue. The same jokes seem to be repeated, and the participants all talk as if they’re characters in a book.

Well, that’s what they are, you may say. Yes, but, just as a good movie makes you forget you’re in a theater, so should a fine book make you forget you’re turning pages.

The irony of the stilted dialogue is that Begen’s best quality as a writer is his ability to present caring relationships.

On all levels, from the mutual affection between a safari leader and his African helpers, to Blaine’s friendship with his adoptive parents, one is made to see clearly that these people love one another.

They are solicitous of one another’s needs, and carry themselves in manners that reflect well on them. Despite the stiff dialogue the characters, because they care about one another, compel the reader to care about them.

Begen’s other message, that our environment must be protected for our sake and that of other species, also comes across loud and clear. The characters in the book bemoan the loss of Madagascar’s vegetation and native species; even the commercial fishermen who figure prominently in the book appear to respect nature not because it’s the law, but because they care.

Begen makes us all appreciate that nature, by painting scenes of Madagascar and East Africa’s undergrowth and brush with sensitivity and eloquence.

Here’s an example:

“The clouds of dust and smoke, tainted by the smell of oil and residue from the explosion, permeated the still air. Surrounding the scene of twisted bodies and metal were the blooms of various proteases, aloes, gladioli, helichrysums, known as everlastings, and a wide variety of orchids. The trail they were on bordered evergreen forest on one side and montane grass on the other.”

Yes, there’s that little matter of an explosion and twisted bodies in that passage. But hold that thought for a moment, and consider how well Begen places the disaster within the larger context of infinite nature, as beautiful before the accident as it was after the event.

Throughout the book, from the Englewood shoreline to the coasts of the Dark Continent, that sense of nature’s timelessness prevails. But, as we all know, there’s nothing timeless about a rain forest on the brink of destruction, or a water source polluted by industrial waste. Nature can take a lot and keep on ticking, but it cannot remain healthy unless people understand their place in the scheme of things.

Begen gracefully repeats the notion that that men and women are stewards, and must take responsibility for preserving natural beauty. To his credit, the Venice author shows the story rather telling it, allowing readers to draw the conclusion about conservation without a sense of having been beat over the head.

There are layers in “Foosa,” themes and variations which are inter-related and lead to the same place.

After the accident cited in the passage from the book, an American safari leader, Diogo, and his African aide, Kapungwe, are left trapped in the wreckage. The safari leader only has a few bullets, and knows that he must save one for himself. Otherwise, he faces the prospect of being both the guest and the main course at a predator’s dinner. However, the accident left the two men out of sight of one another, making it impossible for the safari guide to dispatch his helper.

Diogo uses a few bullets to scare off some lurking beasts. He then spares the last rounds to shoot the locks off the cages of two small animals the men were transporting. His rationale is that otherwise the animals would starve to death in the cages.

He could have saved a bullet for himself. But because he cannot see Kapungwe, he can’t extend the same mercy to his friend and guide. So he decides they both will die at the fangs and claws of the beats.

I mentioned layers and variations. Consider how Diogo chose to free the animals and share his friend’s imminent death. Stewardship, Begen illustrates in the story, involves not only a respect for nature, but a respect for fellow human beings.

I’ve made it through this review without once describing what foosas are or what they did in the book. That alone is so exciting, it will make time fall away as you read.

But what I did report on was, I believe, the more lasting impact of the book. Long after your pulse has returned to normal and your mind has returned from the wild beauty of Africa, you’ll remember Begen’s lessons of humanity interdependence.

James M. Abraham, an independent book columnist,
can be reached at

Monday, January 17, 2005


Mystic Vision

by Henry Burt Stevens8/4/00

My mind's eye carries a vision
of all the shamans
from the beginning of time
to the present day
joining hands in an
immense ring-around-the-rosie.

In the center of the ring
a ball of light
so bright
that none can look at it,
none can tell about it.

One day each of us
will get to see
the shining ball of light
right up close.

It will not hurt our eyes
we will not be afraid
we move closer and closer
until becoming one.

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, January 16, 2005


White Pelicans

by Henry Burt Stevens

A woods walker
I become excited
when coming to a
No Tresspassing sign.

They aren't watching
how are they going to stop me?
I cross back and forth
their property line at will.

One day on county land
a gate with sign, "No One
Enter Beyond This Point."

I entered quickly and
wandering came to a
hidden brackish pond
on which 100 plus
white pelicans swam.

Dozen others circled
and wheeled in the blue
air above. Transformed,
I filled my eyes and mind.

If there is an election
to return as something
I believe I'll be a white pelican.

Even though the joys of
tresspass will be absent.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


Historical fiction is at its best in “All Souls’ Rising.”

Haiti today is one of the world’s least fortunate nations, half an island of misery situated in the lap of nature’s luxury. It’s hard to believe that the land was once the pearl of the Antilles, the richest square miles in the entire world.
All that, of course, was before the first successful slave revolt in history, when Haitian bondsmen and women, informed by the course of the French Revolution and fueled by years of abuse, rose up and made Haiti a black republic.
No history of those times would be complete without acknowledging Toussaint L’Ouverture, who secured the revolution and set in place a dream of an egalitarian Haiti to which the best in that tortured society still aspire.
In “All Souls’ Rising,” (Vintage, $15), author Madison Smartt Bell uses the power of historical fiction to present the clearest explanation yet written about the birth pangs of the first Haitian republic ever written.
Consider that the Haitian struggles at the end of the 19th century were a mix of all the worst and oldest conflicts to which humans have been heir. First, there was class warfare, as rich whites and poor whites glared at one another across an enormous gulf in wealth. The grand blancs, mainly sugar planters and other landed aristocrats, despised the petits blancs, the Haitian version of rednecks. Then add race conflict, as all whites united in fear of the overwhelming black slave majority.
Nevertheless, it was even more complicated. Both races feared a growing mulatto population, the fruit of forced and consensual intermingling of whites and blacks. In turn, the mulattoes joined with blacks or whites as circumstances dictated. Over that was the natural disdain French visitors and officials from the mother country held all Creoles, the term for folks born in the colony. Simmering below the mélange of hatreds was the resentment of women of all races subjugated in a Franco-Spanish culture of paterfamilias knows best.
Bell navigates this messy confluence of race, class and sex with skill, guiding readers through the twists and turns of Haitian politics and culture during the awful times of the revolution. His pacing is amazing, as he holds himself and his narrative in check to explain, slowly and incrementally, how a former coachman named Toussaint became the great “L’Ouverture.”
His book is sublime in its synchronicity and detailed overlays. The chapters weave together and often bend back on one another, appearing as if to naturally build a unified whole from acutely diverse streams of consciousness and experience.
Here are two examples:
Near the end of a chapter in which Toussaint, not yet the man of legend, is considering how to sign a letter announcing universal manumission, he picks the brain of Riau, a former field hand who has become a rebel:
“I am Toussaint…” he said again. He held out the empty hand like he was feeling for a weight to balance the word that he was speaking. But I did not know what to say to him. Of course I knew he was Toussaint.
“It wants something,” Toussaint said. “More -- another name.”
“Toussaint Breda,” I said then.
“No,” he said. “Not that.” He was even angry I had said this. But he had been called Breda forty years. I was not sorry, though, if this name was finished for him then.
Then, in the next chapter, two white officers who have decided to work for Toussaint contemplate a congruent conundrum:
“Will we go and offer our serves to this black general then?” the captain asked.
“I think we will,” Vaublanc said. “I’m a stranger to these times as much as you but Tocquet always falls on his feet, wherever the moment may drop him.”
“I can well believe that,” said Captain Maillert. “What was the name of this black fellow, Toussaint? Toussaint what?”
“”I don’t recall,” Vaublanc said, cheerfully enough. “What does it matter?”
Different voices, with different agendas, yet all speak to the same issue. Toussaint knows he is about to step onto history’s stage, his auditor and the two officers are similarly aware that the wheel is about to turn. That sense of pregnant greatness or great change suffuses the two chapters, unifying men of different races, classed and cultures in a shared adventure. Better, Bell’s ability to tell the story through different voices, from that of an unlettered slave to those of elegant European-trained officers, makes his narrative more accessible and compelling.
The tragedy of Haiti is that it offered the world a lesson in how people of different races, classes and cultures could have come together to make a new, healthier society great than, not riven by, the parts of its sum. That was L’Ouverture’s dream as he built an army and government of diversity, with whites, mulattoes and blacks all welcome to rise based on their individual merits.
In that respect, he modeled himself after Napoleon, who declared that his army would be open to all talents.
But for those who believe that Haiti descended into its historical and endemic hell because of the shortcomings of the freedmen and women, Bell sets the record straight. L’Ouverture co-opted the racial and class struggles of Haiti to create a republic, while proving true to his dream of pluralism; Napoleon co-opted a revolution and, in the full fever of empire, could not countenance a black general dictating Haiti’s constitution.
Those who know history know how this story ends. Napoleon’s greed and perfidy cost both Haiti and the world, yet his name is remembered with greater reverence than is that of L’Ouverture’s.
Historians, to say nothing of the lay reader, will be astonished and gratified at how well Bell tells a tale that deserves his master’s touch.
James M. Abraham is an independent book columnist. He can be reached at

Thursday, January 06, 2005


Female convict’s story a tale for the ages

Tales of human bondage have long offered writers and readers a chance to plumb the depths of human interaction. Books such as Bernard Malamud’s “The Fixer” and Jacobo Timerman’s “Prisoner without a Name, Cell without a Number” both explore the complex relationships between those imprisoned and their captors.

However, one of the finest examples of such stories of abuse and triumph is one few Americans know, the tale of Mary Bryant.

It’s to be hoped that Gerald and Loretta Hausman’s “Escape from Botany Bay: The True Story of Mary Bryant,” corrects that historic and historical omission. The husband and wife team, who co-authored several of sixty books for adults and children, will share their expertise in a workshop on "Writing for Children of All Ages," 10 a.m. to noon, Saturday at the Peace River Center for Writers, 501 Shreve St., Punta Gorda.

Bryant was a poor girl in 18th century England convicted of stealing a bonnet. For that crime, she and her accomplices were first sentenced to die. Then, the Crown extended relative mercy and the women, along with hundreds of other convicts, were shipped off to Australia to begin a new life.

Bryant was part of the First Fleet, a successful attempt by England to rid itself of its miscreants while at the same time populating a largely unexplored continent. Mary and her compatriots were landed in New South Wales, now a political subdivision of Australia. Years later, she, her family and several other convicts escaped, were recaptured, and became a cause celebre in their native Great Britain.

However, that’s the bare bones story. Any reader with a sense of decency would have paused early on, when the crime -- stealing a bonnet –- was compared to the consequences.

Back then, when people of property led and all others followed (have times really changed?), crimes of theft often brought with them the death sentence. Society was much more brutal than it is today, and the stories of life behind bars back then would curl a modern reader’s hair. Privilege determined who ate and who starved behind bars, and a lack of influence was often the same as a death sentence to those unfortunate enough to wind up facing the king’s justice.

But our modern sensibilities must be suspended when reading such history. Sure, it’s natural to compare that era to ours, but to do so robs the people of that period of their humanity. By this I mean that those people, be they jailers or the jailed, worked with what they had. It wasn’t much, but they should be judged within the context of their times, rather than compared to individuals of a more enlightened era.

That’s a long way to say that the Hausmans, who live in Bokeelia but are nationally known authors, exercised great discipline and patience in telling Bryant’s story.

Amanuensis, or automatic writing, is the practice of being dictated to by a ghost or spirit. In a sense, that is what the Hausmans did, using Mary’s voice (or did she use them?) to tell the young woman’s story.

Hence, what emerges is a slow and gentle journey to a realization of the depths and heights of the human spirit, told in an informative, entertaining and non-didactic manner.

Here’s an example:
“Time passed—infants were born and buried on the same day. One man was charged for neglecting work. Another for being drunk. Fifty lashes was the usual sentence. Will Bryant was reprimanded publicly for drunkenness, but he was not flogged. His work was too important for that. Some convicts, going to the woods for greens, were murdered and mutilated by natives. So the governor had put a ban on their visiting us.

By now, I dreamed of escape each night. In my dreams I saw us break free of human tyranny—only to fight against a stronger opponent: Nature. Yet I was willing to face the odds, whatever they were. Anything was better than slowly withering under the lash.”

In our era when amenities, from a good pair of shoes to an SUV, protect us from direct contact with the unpleasant elements, there’s less of an understanding of what literature professors call naturalism. However, in the passage above, one can easily see how Mary accepts her fate and tries to find a solution. She, like most 18th century folk, lumps human rapacity with nature’s fury, understanding the futility of asking “why me?”

People of that era, bereft of the cosseting effects of modern conveniences, understood completely that, just as the sparrow was struck down arbitrarily, so might they be.

That’s one of the great triumphs of the Hausmans. They are able to communicate that sentiment as modern authors through the eyes of an 18th century girl of less than average education (by today's standards) but exceeding intelligence.

Another high point of the book is their explanation of a sad fact: Many of the women in the First Fleet and subsequent flotillas to Australia left England alone but arrived either as mothers or enceinte. Remember, this is a juvenile book. The Hausmans’ telling of how Mary came to be with child, a sensitive account of what happens when women are at the mercy of men, can still be shared with young people.

“Escape” won for the Hausmans the 2003 Parents Choice Silver Medal, evidence of how well the literary couple managed to present an adult story in terms parents of young readers found acceptable.

“Escape” reminds us of what happens when might shoulders aside right, or when property is valued at a higher rate than are people. More important, it serves as yet another reminder that the human spirit cannot be confined.

Years ago another English prisoner, faced with similar odds, wrote a poem that perhaps best illustrates the spirit of Mary Bryant. In reading “Escape,” one hears echoes of Richard Lovelace, who wrote in part:

“Stone walls do not a prison make/ Nor iron bars a cage;/Minds innocent and quiet take/ That for an hermitage;/ If I have freedom in my love/ And in my soul am free,/ Angels alone, that soar above,/Enjoy such liberty.”

James M. Abraham is an independent book columnist. He can be reached at

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