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Black Lamb


Now in its 14th year of publication, this magazine was created to offer the discerning reader a stimulating selection of excellent original writing. Black Lamb Review is a literate rather than a literary publication. Regular columns by writers in a variety of geographic locations and vocations are supplemented by features, reviews, articles on books and authors, and a selection of “departments,” including an acerbic advice column and a lamb recipe.


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Archive for the 'Books and Authors' Category

Pagan primer

"In olden times...."

June 1st, 2016


Her hair needed pulling. She wore poor clothes that we could mock, and had “germs with no returns.” She sat silently while we stood and pledged our allegiance to the flag each morning: there was something about her religion, we were told. She never wore a Hallowe’en costume, was excused from carol practice, and never received a Valentine. She seemed to spend most of the year alone in the library, a fitting banishment from our revels, we thought. Books were boring and so was she.

d'aulaireUnfortunately, she rode my bus, and it often happened that the last available place was next to her. One morning, to the catcalls of classmates, I was forced to share her seat. She sat poring over a colorful book, and as she turned a page my attention was immediately drawn to an illustration. There was a great hole in the earth, and a dark man in a chariot pulled by four black horses was descending into the underworld. In one hand he held the reins to the steeds, while in the other he grasped, as captive, a frightened young woman. “Do you know about the Greek Gods?” I heard the voice next to me say. I looked up at her and admitted that I didn’t. “Here,” she said, handing me the book. “These are my favorite stories.”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Silvis | Link to this Entry

Big Dave

Before Dylan, Dave Van Ronk was the bull goose

June 1st, 2016


The Mayor of MacDougal Street: A Memoir
by Dave Van Ronk, with Elijah Wald
Da Capo Press, 2005

One night on MacDougal Street, one of the major thoroughfares in Greenwich Village, I was listening to Dave Van Ronk at the Gaslight, a cellar folk club much mentioned in this book. It was, maybe, 1962. The cliche description of Van Ronk as a “bear of a man” was both easy and correct.

He was big, broad, bearded, and lank-haired; his head almost hit the top of the proscenium. Two drunk high school kids sat at one of the minuscule tables and kept up a loud conversation during Dave’s set. He warned them twice, but they resumed chattering before long. vanronkFinally, Dave set down his guitar, stepped off the stage and grabbed the bigger of the two by the collar. “I told you to shut up!” he growled, then cold-cocked the kid. His shocked buddy dragged him out of the club and up the stairs to the street, accompanied by the applause of the other patrons. Dave then resumed the stage and continued as if nothing had happened. There were giants in the earth in those days.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Goldberg | Link to this Entry

Raiders of the lost tombs

Archaeological adventure novels

June 1st, 2016


American Caliphate
by William Doonan
Oak Tree Press, 2012

Were’s a spellbinding archaeological novel about a “dig” (archaeologists prefer the term “excavation”) on the north coast of Peru, the ancient home of the Moche Indians, who built adobe pyramids. These pyramids, and one pyramid in particular, are of particular interest to a team of North American academic archaeologists, but in this high-stakes adventure novel there are other parties equally interested in what might be found inside a certain tomb. The CIA, for example. The Vatican. A strong-minded old Muslim woman in Lima. And whoever it was that shot and nearly killed Ben and Jila, a pair of romantically involved archaeologists, the last time they poked around the Santiago de Paz pyramids.

American Caliphate has a cast of intelligent, risk-taking characters driven by academic jealousy, political intrigue, religious rivalry, love and lust, outright greed, and insatiable nosiness about the ancient past. The plot is full of danger and discovery. And what these archaeologists discover may confirm rumors that Muslims fleeing the Inquisition in Spain and Portugal brought Islam to the New World.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Daniel | Link to this Entry

Honorary Black Lambs

June 1st, 2016

June’s a jumble of juicy birthdays, but novelists are the overwhelming winners in the literary derby despite the appearance of one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets, William Butler Yeats on June 13, in 1865. Before he got old and yeatsphotoyoungCeltic mysticism got the best of him and his verse, Yeats wrote book after book of lyrical, transcendent poetry. The true goods.

Another poet, one of a different sort, adorns June, and that’s the late Allen Ginsberg, born on the 3rd in 1926. And a great master came on the scene, in Russia, on the 6th, in 1799, when Aleksandr Pushkin drooled his first. And although he’s better known for his grim novels, Thomas Hardy, born on the 2nd in 1840, was one of the great poets of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

There are also a few notable dramatists to mention. Pierre Corneille, writer of comedies and also El Cid, came into being on the 6th in 1606. Ben Jonson, author of Volpone, howled his first howl on June 11, 1572, and Luigi Pirandello began his search for an author on the 28th, in 1867. John Gay, creator of The Beggar’s Opera, was born in 1685. His tombstone reads “Life’s a jest/And all things show it./I thought so once,/But now I know it.”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Honorary Black Lambs | Link to this Entry

Ask Millie

The top ten

June 1st, 2016


The life of an advice columnist living in Big Sky Country is both bracing and sad. Bracing because the big sky gets me thinking big and gives my advice a heft that I believe other advisors’ columns lack. millieSad, because most of my ranch animals and neighbors don’t think so big. When I hear from other large-minded, cultured souls, I can go about my ranching feeling a little less like Elijah in the desert and a little more like an ordinary advice columnist living in Montana. Sometimes, however, I realize that the angst I feel out here is not limited by geography.

For example, the other morning, after clearing the sagebrush and enjoying my mountain-goat yogurt smoothie, I lifted the lid off the Black Lamb crate of goodies that arrives every month. Usually the crate is filled with letters asking advice, but this month, being the month of the “All-Book Issue”, the cris de coeur were all from my Editor. And they all boiled down to one thing: why would anyone buy this book, rather than Black Lamb? For he had packed the crate with the books holding the top ten sales slots in the country. The scary part was that, clearly, he had read them all. They were flagged, highlighted, and underlined. And beneath the scribbles was the existential cry, “Why?”

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: Black Lamb Review of Books, Books and Authors, Marshall | Link to this Entry

Honorary Black Lambs

May 1st, 2016


April’s auspicious aspect is affirmed by the greatest of all literary birthday boys, William Shakespeare, who, legend has it, died on his fifty-second birthday on April 23, 1616. And one of the towering geniuses of the beckettdrawingtwentieth century, Samuel Beckett, was also born this month, allegedly on Good Friday the 13th, in Dublin in 1906.

On April Fool’s Day in 1868, the popularizer of seventeenth-century poet Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand, was born. His play based on the early poet has found its way past literature into folklore, as have (almost) the exploits of Flashman, the creation of George MacDonald Fraser, born on the 2nd in 1925. George Herbert, born on the 3rd in 1593, lived to be only forty, but he wrote a great deal of memorable verse and would be counted among poetry’s immortals if he had not confined himself entirely to devotional themes. William Wordsworth, born on the 7th in 1770, suffered no such limitation and is therefore often put in that august company.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: All Animal Issue, Books and Authors, Honorary Black Lambs | Link to this Entry

An instant classic

A novel in verse for the ages

January 1st, 2016


Human Landscapes from My Country
by Nâzim Hikmet
translated by Randy Blasing and Mutlu Konuk
Persea Books, 2009

One of the drawbacks to running my website is that I rarely read books that are still in print. Browsing in new bookstores is always frustrating. I find things I’d love to read but then struggle to justify the time away from reading books I should cover on the site.

hikmetLast week, however, I couldn’t resist buying a new book. We were at the Istanbul airport waiting for our flight back to Brussels, and my wife and I were killing time browsing in the D&R store in the international terminal. There was a small section of English translations of Turkish literature, and in it, a copy of Nâzim Hikmet’s Human Landscapes from My Country, published by Persea Books in 2009. I thumbed through it and saw that it was a long poem (Hikmet’s subtitle is “An Epic Novel in Verse”), which would usually constitute strike two for me. I have to confess that I do not read as much poetry as I should.

But I soon found myself five pages into the book, almost inhaling the text like air. Although written (mostly) in blank verse, Hikmet’s style is transparent and effortless to read. Unlike the only other verse novel I’ve read (Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, which I did enjoy and do admire greatly), Human Landscapes from My Country could be published as prose with little effect on the meaning — though certainly not the form — of the text. I decided to buy it, and I read over 150 pages in the course of our flight back. I went on to devour its more than 450 pages in the course of a few days.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Bigelow, Book Reviews, Books and Authors | Link to this Entry

Nobel thriller

Patrick Modiano surprises

January 1st, 2016


After the Circus
by Patrick Modiano
translated by Mark Polizzotti
published in France 1992

After the Circus seems like a very simple story. The Modiano-like narrator relates events from when he was eighteen; in contrast to many of this author’s works, in which he often (re)considers and comments on events and his actions of the past from a later or present-day perspective, Modiano barely intrudes on the timeline here, making for even greater immediacy to the story than usual. He does describe revisiting one of the locales, café, from his story at one point, ten years later, around 1973; once outside: “I stupidly broke down in sobs,” a rare emotional outburst from Modiano’s otherwise so passive and passionless alter-ego-protagonists. This prefigures just how devastating the blow to come to the eighteen-year-old in modianothe story proper is (a sense further reinforced by the fact that the story is only finally written by Modiano when he has distanced himself from events by another two decades, After the Circus coming out only in 1992).

The opening of the novel already suggests vague menace and unease, the young narrator being questioned by the police. He doesn’t know why, and when he asks at the end of the interrogation is simply told “Your name was in someone’s address book” — without being told whose. The names he is questioned about are ones he doesn’t recognize, so he is left with no idea what they think he might be mixed up in.

The narrator is a young man of barely-formed personal identity. He’s escaped from six hellish years at boarding school, with hardly any family support system; his father is in Switzerland — occasionally in contact if often barely understood over the telephone line — and the young man shares an apartment (that soon has to be vacated) with a man named Grabley. Grabley calls him Obligado — a nickname — and it is only very late in the novel that we learn his actual name, Jean. “I was struck that she’d call me by my name,” he says when it is finally revealed, a so-personal marker that only in an extreme situation (“Please, I’m begging you,” she pleads) does it come up.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Book Reviews, Books and Authors, Orthofer | Link to this Entry

Poet of parts

Trampled by the modernists

January 1st, 2016


In 1930, even while he tasted a touch of inspirational stray ash from D.H. Lawrence’s cremation urn, Witter Bynner was being thoroughly made a meal of by T.S. Eliot and the Moderns. Considered one of the leading lyric poets in America, Bynner had watched helplessly as his reputation, and that of his friend Edna St. Vincent Millay, were trampled by the followers of avant-gardists Pound, Moore, Stevens, and Eliot. Seemingly overnight, the definition of poetry had changed, and Bynner, at that moment eucharistically sampling his friend, found himself speaking a lost tongue. That James Kraft’s biography is titled Who Is Witter Bynner? measures the depth to which the writer’s name plunged into obscurity. Yet there are parts of Bynner’s work that demand rediscovery, if not necessarily the parts he would have wished.

bynnerFamily legend has it that Bynner arrived prematurely into the world in 1881 as his mother Annie raced down a flight of stairs to save a bird from a cat’s mouth. The resulting gentle youth became an ardent follower of Walt Whitman, to such an extent that rumors circulated that he was Whitman’s illegitimate son, a tale Bynner never hurried to quash. By his early twenties, Bynner was considered one of the bright hopes of American poetry, and despite his demotion by the Modernists, he devoted his entire life to verse until his death in 1968.

Bynner first established himself with two books of poetry: An Ode to Harvard and Other Poems (1907) and The New World (1915). Though both books contain commendable verses, one finds oneself agreeing with Richard Wilbur that there is too much lazy and obvious rhyming and “a fair amount of sincere and exclamatory gush.” In fact, Bynner achieves a kind of high kitsch with these poems that lards most of his “serious” work to come, insuring obsolescence. But with the Spectra poems (1916), Bynner reveals himself as one of American literature’s lost wits.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Books and Authors, Silvis | Link to this Entry

Honorary Black Lambs

January 1st, 2016


Once again we bring you new inductees to our roster of Honorary Black Lambs, once upon a time enshrined in The Ultimate Literary Calendar. Here are short introductions, with selected bibliographies, for two of literature’s singular figures, both of whom painted vivid pictures of America.

Robinson Jeffers , b. January 10, 1887, d. 1962

jeffersMany of Jeffers’s poems were in narrative or epic form, but he is also known for his shorter verse and especially for his depiction of the central California coast. He opposed American participation in WWII but won kudos later for his environmentalism.

Selected Reading Poetry The Women at Point Sur, 1927. Cawdor and Other Poems, 1928. Dear Judas and Other Poems, 1929. Give Your Heart to the Hawks and other Poems, 1933. The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers, 1938. Robinson Jeffers: Selected Poems, 1965. Rock and Hawk: A Selection of Shorter Poems by Robinson Jeffers, 1987. Stones of the Sur, 2001. Letters The Selected Letters of Robinson Jeffers, 1887-1962, 1968

londongreekgod2Jack London, b. January 12, 1876, d. 1916

London made his living by writing short fiction and novels as fast as he could. He thereby published a very great deal in a short life — he died at forty. His depictions of the wilds of Alaska and the Pacific are the prototypes of this sort of frontier fiction, but he also wrote novels with socio-economic themes.

Suggested Reading Novels The Call of the Wild, 1903. The Sea-Wolf, 1904. White Fang, 1906. The Iron Heel, 1908. Martin Eden, 1909. The Valley of the Moon, 1913. The Star Rover, 1915. Short story collections Son of the Wolf, 1900. Lost Face, 1910. South Sea Tales, 1911. Non-fiction The People of the Abyss, 1903. The War of the Classes, 1905. Memoirs The Road, 1907. The Cruise of the Snark, 1911. John Barleycorn, 1913.

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Posted by: The Editors
Category: 13th Anniversary Issue, Books and Authors, Honorary Black Lambs | Link to this Entry

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