Staff Picks (March 2017)
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 March 2017 Staff Picks 20% off
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As the phones were ringing off the hook at the SPD office, I sat at my desk carefully reading LOST PROFILES: MEMOIRS OF CUBISM, DADA AND SURREALISM by Philippe Soupault (translated by Alan Bernheimer) and was totally under the spell of Soupault's account of these surreal French freaks (and James Joyce). Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw my boss, Brent Cunningham walking towards my desk. "Time to look busy," I mumbled to myself. Brent then, instead of asking me about some spreadsheet, dropped a copy of THE SONG OF THE DEAD, by Pierre Reverdy (translated by Dan Bellm) on my desk. "You know one of the things that I remember most from undergrad is that you can read Reverdy poems from top to bottom or bottom to top, and they're great either way." Then Brent walked away and I opened the book to see if it was true. And boy, was Brent's undergrad professor right. I actually think that the poems are much improved when reading from the bottom to the top. I highly recommend trying it. After reading this excellent collection, for about an hour, I returned to LOST PROFILES, only to turn to page 63 and see that there's a chapter on Reverdy. And I was like, "OMG, worlds collide!" I became so engrossed in Soupault's stories that I almost missed my lunch break. But don't worry, I didn't.
Alan Felsenthal's poems possess that magic quality of being both fluid and precise, mysterious without being opaque. They sing a lived philosophy, a wisdom stripped of pretension, and are unabashedly lyrical in how they inhabit & are inhabited by language. They're also secretly funny. With deft self-awareness they turn their own figures inside out, because they can't not: "I poked a worm with a twig / the wind made shudder, the wind / I invented to stop me from poking the worm." And they sing in multiple registers, in a voice that seems effortlessly & at once classical and contemporary: "My middle ear is melancholy and / some twink told me I'm sex negative / for not caring more about a starlet." Reading LOWLY is kind of like overhearing a river, if that river were in a city and carried bits of litter, prophesies, names, regrets, industry, history, runoff, all that's been projected onto or dumped into a river. And yet that river, for all those outside interventions, knows it's still a river, & speaks as only a river can. Still in motion, still refracting. And actually, all the wiser for what it holds. "I remembered my father / said the devil was no cloud / of black flies / but an educated man / who lived by two hands / that invented the devil / to give him human help." LOWLY is enigmatic and keen and moving and unafraid. Poem by poem, the lyric and emotional intelligence of LOWLY knocks me out, but then I come to so I can read the next one. I totally have a crush on this book.
In SLABS, Bittany Billmeyer-Finn writes about love, passion, identity and physicality, but mostly, about love. The world enters "slashing & silent" but the work invites you to experience the nuances and complexities of the most intimate of human interactions. "you measure my weirdness in a syllable." This is all done with a compelling sense of diction and dissonance that challenges the understanding and yet you always get it. "she says 'lay back & relax' as she strokes the land." There is also a lot going on here with form as the lines and stanzas manifest variously, investigating the many ways to present the material while retaining a sense of order, repetition and clarity.
Billmeyer-Finn's sense of the possibilities of an occult spirituality is very present in the text, including a brief tarot reading which, with the many other insights in the book, is redolent of her particular gift for the magical and healing arts.
SLABS is lusciously produced by Timeless, Infinite Light, fitting tenderly into the hand and asking to be carried around, read, reread, treasured, imitated and learned from. It is enabling. "I lean into her field without smiling we stick together/ her warm & milky slab rising & damp a body grows / absorbing the sunlight this tiny voice a present desire."
To say that I've read THE COMPLETE WORKS OF PAT PARKER would be a lie. I mean, I have, but like most poems that embody and enact their politics, these poems can't ever be finished; the book can't end. Instead, they remain in my consciousness, a slow drip into how I conceive of something so big and encompassing as "how do I live my life?" Pat Parker died of breast cancer at the age of 45 and remains underread in contemporary poetryit feels important there's now a complete collection to celebrate and preserve her work. These days, everyone wants to think about making art after Trump but Parker elides the question after her time with a still-relevant poetry that is not "about politics," but political in its existence; poetry that is a part of living when remaining alive as a black lesbian feminist is already an act of resistance. Talking to my lover at a date on a Saturday night, I ask them who is today's Diane di Prima, or what that would mean but it doesn't matter who's like "the" revolutionary poet or whatever, it's a stupid question, we don't settle on anyone. What Pat Parker's work reminds me ofthat poetry is always part of the revolution when it articulates life's taut struggle, the painful difficulty of being disenfranchised and its beauty and joy in being"now i'm tired - / now you listen! / i have a dream too. / it's a simple dream." It's that simple.
Paul Corman-Roberts latest collection WE SHOOT TYPEWRITERS is a great collection that seeks to lament and celebrate the oral tradition of the lyric. Throughout his collection Paul is advocating for a stronger, more pronounced community of poets and writers: a community that isn't fractured by genre or formone that relies less on the rise and fall of trends and schools of thought and more on creativity and the personal perspectives of individual experiences. He screams a rallying cry on every page, a call to arms for experience: for sensations that connecthe is never looking for personal differences. He writes, "The problem with the song is that it receives ap-/plause for its applause of others' applause and for that ap-/plause, it will certainly garner yet more applause but in the / din of all that, your song will not be heard much less negoti-/ate resonance." Corman-Roberts crafts a vein of genuineness and deep seeded sincerity. He seeks to connect, to build and to scream out together with his readers, this vein runs deep throughout his collection. This is a poet/troubadour you need to hear, if you have the opportunity to hear him read, go! I am sure you will want to approach him afterwards and share a moment. Pick up this Nomadic collection and invest in building a communal permanence.