Staff Picks (December 2016)
Omg, we love small press books! And these are some of our favorites. Now they can be some of your favorites too...if they aren't already. Be sure to check in every month for a new handful to add to your reading list...lists...so many lists.
All December 2016 Staff Picks 20% off
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I suppose one approach to a "staff pick" is to shine a light on an overlooked book? If so I thought this title deserved a lot more attention than it got when it came out in 2015. Maybe I'm only going to get in trouble using this kind of language but this is really beautiful writing. There's a light motif (as opposed to a leitmotif, get it?) where the word "world" shows up in most of the poems, but even the poet's willingness to abandon that "rule" is part of what I like: this is poetry that articulates, sees, experiences, considers, plays, but never insists. Really refreshing, no joke. There's a lot of abstract speculation but at the same time these poems seem to think thinking is just another form of actuality, as if philosophy meant talking-about-stuff-and-people-and-life. For sure Yankelevich borrows a lot of that approach from the NY School, second generation especially, including how the physical world keeps showing up almost like it's an installation of objects and colors, but it's still a terrific mode and when I read this book I'm not sure why we see so little of it nowadays. Anyway allow me to opine that philosophical speculation in poetry easily and often sounds like pretentious bell-candy, but in this case I trusted all the decisions, the tone, the careful compression, and also fully accepted the seriousness of the thought. It's not over-excited, it's not hip, and it's not resigned either. It's just alive.
Let Vanessa Jimenez Gabb guide you, like the ghost of Christmas Futurepastpresent, through the intimacy and crisis of Capitalism in her beautiful debut collection with Rescue Press, IMAGES FOR RADICAL POLITICS. The Rosa Luxemburg preface, "The most revolutionary thing one can do is always to proclaim loudly what is happening," is precisely what Jimenez Gabb accomplishes here. It is both globally concerned and secretively small in its investigation of love, locale, (Brooklyn, Belize..) economics and laborwhere "everything is political" and Jiminez Gabb is "here to be with others." And VJG is distinctively here too, illuminating the histories, data, wounds, bank balances, animals, lovers and futures in the darkness. Read these poems aloud with others.
ANTÍGONA GONZÁLEZ made my feet heavy, my hands itch, my thoughts turn to circles...around and around with Antígona, her big heart, her determination, searching for the disappeared. "How could I not demand his body even if just to bury it?" In such cases, how does the heart not become a tomb? "Facing what disappears: what does not disappear." Cursed to find the missing in every newly-found body and to never find them. The tethers holding a multitude of feet in place severed by each person lost. How many are set adrift? "I'm also disappearing, Tadeo." In this moving, tragic, loving, aching book, Antígona searches among a sea of bodies, living and dead, but how does one search when the sea keeps growing, keeps crashing in? "That's why when I watch the news, the truth is I don't know what to believe or who to believe...Day after day our certainties have slipped away from us. We've been unable to hold on." I closed this book feeling abandoned, bereft, and ghostly. I closed this book like a person might close a grave...a grave one never got the chance to dig.
To read any of Will Alexander's works is to suddenly find oneself in the middle of a verbal stampede, a glorious poetics that both affirms and exhibits the power of language to transform our world. SINGING IN MAGNETIC HOOFBEAT ventures across personal and historical boundaries, a dextrous work in which Alexander's poetic furnace can seemingly touch a subject and make it come to life. Here's just a sampling of what this book covers: the blues, the science of the deep oceans, the history of concrete and its impact on the environment and consciousness, the injustice of present institutions, paeans to precursors and influences, and the diverse intersections of surrealism. He sums up this ethos of expansiveness in his essay "A New Liberty of Expression": "Be it radiolarians, or ocelots, or dictators who have merged with dissolution, all of life burns for me, existing without border or confinement. The sun, the air, the fires forming, the waters swirling without let-up...When working with these primordial forces language becomes an organic weapon. A weapon which clears out old toxins, which annihilates the autocracy of imaginal restiction." Here is a voice that never ceases to astonish and galvanize, allowing us to leave the fortress of the rational for a new realm of creative freedom. If you're looking for an internal spark, just jump on Spaceship Alexander and head toward "the magical site where the future must convene."
Every new Susan Gevirtz book is an event for me, HOTEL ABC is a static-y, accretive, minimalist and then maximilist, Martian-trance by way of CB-Radio piece of poem making. "Offer no bail// line///// CLATTER." Gevirtz is a master of the ghostly, the echoic, the voices on the BART train barely audible behind the ear buds, there is a story here but I'm not sure how to follow, and that's the pleasure of it, I take HOTEL ABC as a dirge, but also as a dinner party with friends, the melancholic morphing to "eyewitness decadence," Susan Gevirtz is treasure.
Monica McClure's new Counterpath collection, CONCOMITANCE, is an often naked collection that, at its heart, seeks to pull away at the layers of surface and tedium that confine and distance the self within our routines of appearance. This is a collection that maneuvers through location, through community, through all the obstacles that obscure personal identity. McClure shatters each surface, each societal obstacle and invites the reader to occupy a quiet place of beauty that can't be gleaned through make up, skin regimens or knowing the right places, people, brands or designers. At the heart of the collection, in her poem, "Brooklyn," McClure writes: "We are / dressing our wounds. We are / scrubbing our delusions into viable / pop narratives. We are / diaries of our choices. It is / even possible in America to look good / when you're poor, but only / at the expense of other poor people." McClure is pounding against the surfaces we build around ourselves, to reveal what is sincerity, what is passion in a world of glances and impressions. McClure writes, "I ask / what there is to ask a poet in a time / where there is nothing to say about poetry / that isn't about a relation to the objects and sites / in the story of one's 'identity.' / A number of signs / that explain a social tapestry / incrementally and / never epically, of course." This is an incredible follow up to her previous collection Tender Data. Try to get your hands on this wonderful world.