At universities and in secondary schools, in the United States and in Asia, in administration and in the classroom, James Penha has had a forty-five year career as an educator whose enthusiasm for learning and language inspires students and colleagues. His papers on teaching have been widely presented. A native New Yorker, Penha has published hundreds of poems, stories, and articles throughout these same four decades, and presently he also edits The New Verse News, a website for current-events poetry.
Lines excerpted from his poems published over a thirty-year span in Waterways: Poetry in the Mainstream were the 2011-2012 prompts for Volume 32 of that venerable poetry magazine.
Snakes and Angels, a collection of his adaptations of folk tales from Indonesia, the island nation he has called home for the past two decades, won the Cervena Barva Press fiction chapbook contest and was published in 2010. It, as well as No Bones to Carry, the award-wining volume of Penha’s poetry, are available at The Lost Bookshelf online bookstore. Scroll down for more information.
SNAKES and ANGELSAdaptations of Indonesian Folk Talesby James PenhaWinner of the 2009 Cervena Barva Press Fiction ContestOrder online at Cervena Barva Press
Rochelle Owens says of Snakes and Angels:
Like baroque pearls on a string, the narratives possess the beauty, wisdom and universality of folktales. The wonderful poetic adaptations speak to us today.
George Economou says of Snakes and Angels:
Snakes and Angels is a remarkable feat of preservation of folklore through ingenious retelling by a masterful hand. The mythic lives on through the creative effort to ease the division between past and present by giving it a new voice that tells us not what was but what is and always will be.
Snakes and Angels reviewed by Zvi A. Sesling
Since childhood when my father told me Jewish and/or Russian folk tales and my mother would conjure old German stories, I have been fascinated by tales based on the mists of past times. Now along comes James Penha, a native New Yorker living in Indonesia, who has written down three Indonesian folk tales. Usually one thinks of a page turner as a mystery or suspense novel, but Penha’s three tidy little stories wrapped up in 34 pages keep me reading until the end. And what endings! I won’t tell you, but I will say that the first story “Dust and Stone” will be familiar to many readers from other cultures because it has universal themes found in English and Greek literature, the Old Testament, among many others. The first tale tells about a magician who is turned into a dog during day and a man at night, the woman who loves and their son who....well, that’s enough for now. Just say you will enjoy this story as much as I did.
The second story, “The Farmer and His Angel” is another well known theme of love found and lost, deceit and redemption in which a young man finds the woman of his dreams and desire in a most unusual, and deceitful way and learns that in the long run the truth will be revealed.
The final tale in this trilogy is “The Snake Boy” which incorporates the themes of the first two stories, but with a different twist and a unique route by which it gets there and Penha’s interpretation of this – as with all three tales – is well and cleanly rendered.
Snakes and Angels will hold any reader’s interest and give parents new stories to tell their children at bedtime rather than the age old Mother Goose or Aesop fables that schools tell and parents repeat. These fresh takes are wonderful stories that teach and entertain at the same time and will last a long time in your memory.
James Penha's 2008 collection of poetry, No Bones to Carry, winner of the New Sins Press Poetry Contest, is still available at The Lost Bookshelf online bookstore.
"James Penha is able to mold exotic topics into poignant universal truths. Should I be called upon to speak at a funeral, I would choose to quote the first four lines of the evocative title poem, 'No Bones to Carry.'" --Virginia Howard, Editor, THEMA
"James Penha's imagination will whet your own. This book is a feast." --Louie Crew
"The poems in No Bones to Carry are nuanced and expansive, defining the individual's place in the larger world. Here, Penha reminds us of the limitations of our perception and the poet’s struggle to see beyond them." --Blas Falconer