The Big Game by Bethany James (Volume 1, Spirituality and Love)

 

The Big Game is a mixed bag. Escapism is a contemporary Haiku about the actual attributes of a person experiencing sweet escape. Romance and Dessert 1 and 2 are Quatrains. These two pieces give romantic recipes in poetic verse. Abstinence is a lyric poem and expresses emotions of loving yourself and staying pure in a sex-driven society. Interracial Dating is Quatrains. It is about a controversial yet important concept of love and acceptance. Wedding Night is a song about having sex the first time with a first verse, refrain, and second verse. Additionally, it has a refrain, bridge, refrain 2x, bridge, and refrain. Emotional Sexuality (a woman’s perspective and emotional response) and Manly Physicality (a manly perspective and physical desires) are free verses. Pleasure is a contemporary Haiku about the simple things in life that bring pleasure. Finally, We Found Love at the Big Game, which is a Quatrains, is the theme of the book and talks about romance and football.

 

Critic Evaluation

Cover Design Score: 7

The photo draws the eye, and the title looks nice at the top.  The author’s name is perhaps a bit too small to find easily.  There’s a lot of description at the bottom, which says “Excitement Falling in Love at the Game, Poetic Recipes, & Rapateria verbal beats,” followed by “Promotional stuff to come,” which then details just that.  All this is confusing, clutters the cover, and makes it seem very amateurish, especially as “forth coming” should be one word.

Book Blurb Score: 6

The blurb makes sense once you have read the book, but before that it’s confusing.  Each poem is listed and we are told what kind of poem it is, and what it is about.  For example, “the actual attributes of a person experiencing sweet escape.”  This is especially confusing as she refers to “Quatrain” as a kind of poem, when the word actually refers to a stanza (or poem) that is four lines and often rhymed. Since none of the poems are only four lines, this doesn't make a whole lot of sense.  At the end of the blurb I was pretty sure it was a book of poems, but that was about it.  The blurb states that the theme of the book is finding love at the big game, but that theme really only emerged in the last poem. 

Formatting Score: 9

Formatting is relatively clean and professional.  The poems are separated with bold titles and subtitles in the same font.  Some have colons after them, some don’t.  Not clear if this is an artistic choice or a proofreading error.  There is very little margin on the left which resulted in the words being squished to the side.  Overall though, no major issues with readability.

Grammar & Spelling Score: 7

Poetry is of course the domain of people who misuse words for poetic purposes, so I tried hard in my reading to not mistake creative repurposing of words with actual errors.  However, there were still some that I felt were probably errors, and they did detract from the reading experience.  I’ll be very specific below because of the creative nature of poetry.   

“Twenty minutes hands on time; to bake, handle, or helve.”  A helve is a handle of an axe or a tool, so I’m guessing this is a wrong word, or a very confusing reference.

“Romantic ingredients makes cooking a breeze.”  “its only flaws is it is not more accepted”  - These appear to be errors in subject/verb agreement. 

There is what appears to be an out of place period in the second recipe/poem after “carnation milk.”

“knock of the excess” (flour) Should this be “off,” not “of?”

 “Refrigerate uncovered, string occasionally”  Should this be “stirring?”

 “Hand’s touching”  Unnecessary apostrophe.

“And you’re embrace is right”  Wrong “your”

“The emotional on slaughter”  Perhaps this is meant to be “onslaught?”

“Like a team finding its strengthen”  Perhaps meant to be “strength?”

Plot & Structure Score: 7

Structurally, the text is comprised of eleven poems of varying styles.  They include lyric poems, contemporary haiku, a song, free verse, and “romantic recipes in poetic verse.”

Although the poems do vary slightly, because the haiku are strung together, and many use quatrains, the poems do tend to run together.  The exception is the recipes. In the end, I felt like I read many, pretty similar poems, rather than a wide range. 

There is not a plot advanced overall, more just thoughts on what sounds like very youthful love and experiences, with minimal conflict presented.  Since poetry doesn’t require a plot, this wasn’t a problem for me as a reader.  Although a stronger narrative link might have made for a more compelling collection, the poems did all speak to the general theme of romantic love.

Character Development Score: 7

The speaker of the poems comes across as someone trying to find her place in the world, meditating on studying and abstinence, cooking and love.  The speaker doesn’t necessarily show much growth over the course of the poems, except for moving from abstinence to wedding night. 

In “Emotional Sexuality,” speaker regrets a relationship with her “temple compromised.”  The poem might benefit from specific details, other than the usual guy was bad and now she’s sad.  Without more detail, it reads like a cliched rehashing of traditional gender roles.   

The speaker in “Manly Physicality” is one of the clearest and most vivid.  The comparison of his touch to a hot shower is a repeated motif that works because of its specificity. 

Originality Score: 7

The recipe poems are definitely original.  Cooking as a symbol of love is a well-trodden motif, but a recipe/love poem is pretty unique. One line I particularly liked was in the poem titled “Pleasure.”  It was one place where the author’s unique voice came through and surprised me: “The shout of spring leaves budding”

Unfortunately, some of the other poems fell into very generic language.  “Interracial Dating” is extremely vague.  There are no specific details to hang onto, just “barriers” “hate” “stereotypical failures.”  It sounds very familiar.  “Love is not Black and White, it is the hope of mankind and deliverance.”  I didn’t feel much new or interesting was said, which is too bad, especially for such a charged and potent subject.  I would have loved to see the poet take more risks here, and elsewhere.

Pacing Score: 6

With only eleven short poems, nothing about this collection should drag.  However, because of the generalities and platitudes, poems like “Interracial Dating” felt very slow.  Also, although I liked the recipe/love poem idea, I felt like the point was made with the first poem.  I wondered if the second really added anything of value.  This was perhaps because the second is much longer, and felt more like a straight-up recipe.  I started to wonder why I was reading it if I didn’t want to make a cake.    

In contrast, “Pleasure,” and “Manly Physicality” moved along much more briskly, and therefore the reading experience was more pleasant.

 

Use of Language Score: 7

Part of my issue with the use of language is the disconnect between the blurb and the text itself.  We are told that “Escapism” and “Pleasure” are contemporary haiku.  While there is certainly broad latitude that poets have in writing contemporary haiku, the name itself still connotes some broad guidelines.  I would expect a haiku to be short, even if it didn’t follow the traditional 5-7-5 syllable/sound count.  I would expect it to stand on its own, as most of the power of the haiku is in what it doesn’t say.  Also, I would expect some vague connection with nature and the world at large. 

The problem for me here is that both “Escapism” and “Pleasure” do none of these things.  They are long poems, composed of haiku-like stanzas that tell an overall story, about escaping or pleasure respectively.  Some stanzas adhere to the traditional syllable count, many don’t, such as “Livid doesn’t exist, never.”  They have moved away from the idea of the haiku as a self-contained world of three brief lines.  As such, if I hadn’t read the blurb I probably wouldn’t have made the connection to haiku.  There is, of course, nothing wrong with experimenting and pushing the form, and perhaps the problem lies in billing the poems as haiku in the blurb.  I was a bit disappointed to find that her haikus read more like lyric poetry.

As to language itself within the poems, there’s a bit of a range between smoother lines and some that run a bit more awkwardly, like “Sexual used up and unsettled?”  There is, however, lovely repetition and playful use of punctuation in “Wedding Night,”  “I.do.want.every.night.to.be.right”

Overall Readability Score: 9

While fairly generic, the poems are usually readable enough.  There are language usage/grammatical errors that will bother some readers.  There are a few flashes of something special, a few lines that really resonated.  If readers are looking for soothing, romantic poetry that will ruffle no feathers, this might be it. 

This book received a critic's score of 72 out of 100 possible points.

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