Staff Picks (April 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 April 2017 Staff Picks 20% off
w/ CODE SPDPICKS
In CALAMITIES Renee Gladman writes, "I remembered in vivid detail that I had just made a decision to look at the world (ie, sky) in such a way as to produce an essay, but looking out at the world I couldn't figure out what was so special to say right then." This state of not-knowingof quasi-speechlessnessinforms and propels Gladman's phenomenal book of prose. CALAMITIES constantly circles back and reassess itselfit never quite finishes, never concludes. To read Gladman is to follow the tangled, knotted associative threads of a mind alive to itself. Lingering at the heart of these gorgeous, self-reflexive fragments is the basic question of what's at stake when we try to address one another through writing. Gladman's a modern master and you're doing yourself disservice if you don't read this book.
Aase Berg's newest collection (translated by Johannes Göransson) with Black Ocean delivers more of Berg's delightfully swampy prose. Aase Berg is gnarly and I am so into it. HACKERS moves aggressively within a sort of Eco Poeticshumans, the feminine and animals navigate the cybernetic and the apocalyptic landscapes of war and violence. I am reminded of Brautigan's "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"but that peacefulness doesn't live here. Berg's poems, like tiny terrorists, are interested in dismantling from within. Perhaps feeding on the patriarchal carcass. The undergrowth that aims to cover the highways...
I had a dream the other night that I was hanging out with Emmanuel Levinas, we were at the Poetry Center, in the reading room, I think Steve Dickision was either in the vaults in the back room or outside the Humanities building getting coffee. I remember Levinas looking exactly like Richard Gere, handsome and tall, thick head of salt and pepper hair, I remember thinking how much his hair looked just like Michael Palmer's from the back cover of ACTS #5. Even in my dream I was all too aware that I had never actually read anything by Levinas, it was exciting and intimidating, what if he starts quizzing me about theory, I hate theory, but I love Ben, and Ben loves Levinas, at least we have something in common right? so there I was, showing him around like we were old friends.
I got to talking about you Ben, about this book you had written, I say "hey Levinas, my friend Ben wrote a book about you..." Levinas says "really? what book, who wrote this book?" I say "yeah, yeah, for real, my friend Ben Hollander wrote this great book called Levinas And The Police, it's all about you and the police..." and now me and Levinas are in my apartment in Oakland, we're standing in my room, and I'm searching my bookshelf for the book to show him but I can't find it, I'm frantically skimming the spines of all my poetry books, reading off titles, getting nervous and coming up with nothing, I start to doubt myself, I start thinking "did Ben really write a book called Levinas And The Police, or did I imagine it," "if Ben really did write this book, where the hell is Levinas And The Police?" I feel Levinas's eyes on the back of my head, starting to doubt me, perhaps a little embarrassed for me, and I'm like "no no, hold on, I'm serious, Levinas has got to be somewhere..."
When I wake up it comes to me, your book is called VIGILANCE, but I wasn't looking for VIGILANCE, I was looking in the right place but with the wrong language, and without the right language I was getting nowhere. This is a very Ben Hollander kind of dream, the elusiveness of language taking center stage in an almost slapstick scenario, where is Levinas, I am Levinas, who's on first (your favorite refrain)? Yes, Who's on first.
Ben, you had a singular and particular frequency, you made time for me and my work when I was just a kid in my early 20s star gazing every SF poet I met, you took walks with me and talked with me, we drank lot's of coffee and smoked lots of cigarettes (before you had to quit), you read my poems and picked my brain, you took me as seriously as I took you,
you taught me about music and encouraged me to find my own, to this day music if paramount, I can't exactly locate where your ear meets my ear in my work these days (not like when I was explicitly ripping you off in the early 2000s) but it is a fact that you are there, and you will always be there.
You're last words to me, through voice mail, a call I missed, "hey John, you and what army?!" a reference to Julien Poirier's poem of the same name, dedicated to you, you got a kick out of that, I'm glad you did, it's a beautiful poem, your last words to me "you and what army?"
I love you, and miss you, thank you for everything my friend, thank you Ben.
I guess the test for every book of poems these days is "Can I read it while Rome is literally on fire out the window?" I'm not exactly sure why THE BRAID passes but it passes: something about the stream of daily events flowing by, each event subjected to a kind of ever-expanding, ever-deepening philosophical consideration, as if everything we live among could be pushed by a strong enough mind to reveal further layers. Even when those daily events aren't directly political, and they often aren't, at every point THE BRAIDS's poetic process feels like a model for engaged living/resisting/surviving.
In my second paragraph I was going to suggest there's a lot of small press poetry books right now that borrow a lot from Bernadette Mayer and Alice Notley, as this one does. But I wasn't sure I could prove it was all that particular to this moment, or suggest why it might be happening. And then I realizedand it was honestly kind of amazingI'm not a journalist or an academic so I don't have to prove or explain anything. Thanks, life!
I took so much from this book but let me quickly focus on one thing: recurringly Levin considers the form she's using, the day-in-the-life mode, as part of the history of landscapes, like in painting, or the pastoral. Simple, in a way, but in her hands so brilliant. Having a baby, being a mom, trying to remain an artist, trying to remain politically engaged, all these things we think of in temporal terms, narrative itself, get considered as spatial, and at that same moment the book is plainly turning Levin's life events into a static form, effectively spatializing them. It's such a smart frame, and then the individual lines are sometimes just as intricate and suggestive. Some of them feel like you could meditate on them for years. Not that I have time for that, unfortunately. Curse you, life!
"I stop for flowers...," Catriona Sandilands writes in this verdant new collection as complex and multitudinous as the vegetal life it explores. I stop for flowers on my lunch walks, pondering, taking photos. I sometimes get the vibe from others that this activity is, well, silly; the implication being, just what is your fascination, they're just plants?! But the writers, artists, performers, & poets in this collection get it: "they're not just fucking plants, buddy" (Catriona Sandilands, 245). They're invitations to reconsider perception, language ("dreaming about a botany of words," Michael Marder, 163), intelligence, connection, sexuality, life, and our very humanity. Plants that recoil, plants that communicate, plants that devour, plants that desire, plants that may even seek our destruction (though maybe not in the grotesque The Happening way...yet), plants as severely misunderstood sentient beings(?). "It becomes at this point evident that the key challenge ahead is to acknowledge the frame of our anthropocentric bias in order to devise new relational paradigms through which plants can be perceived" (Giovanni Aloi, 228). From roaming, possibly cuddling plant-Roombas and human-plant hybrids to the problem-solving abilities of slime molds, the performance, art, essays, science, and poetry in this luscious volume will pull you down deep, like Deep Ecology deep. Take a moment.
Novica Tadić was troubled by something. By darkness, dictators, ghosts. Whatever it is, he managed to wrench some beautifully demented poems out of it. In ASSEMBLY (transl. by Steven Teref and Maja Teref), he sings about a dead fly killed in a butcher shop, other insane hybrid creatures, a man who hears the voice of his dead mother from the radio, another man who is bugged in his sleep by the authorities so that they can listen to all of his "revolutionary intentions." I guess one could call this horror poetry, but it's also much more than just shockit's a gallery of searing psychological insights and states, all visceral, often reaching peaks of divine hellishness: "Only a choir of mad daughters will eulogize / me. Miraculous grandsons are leaving / scented coffins. Angels will swoop onto scraps, / crystals will spin. My words are thunder, / a star in my gut, a symbol of my night." In a world run by unknown paranormal energies, one can only give a good laugh, or perhaps sit as still as possible in the middle of the night: "sap drips onto the writing / gluing word to word / oil smell of my new typewriter / the pine tree's shadow / lengthens through the sleepless night." I'll let those lines speak for themselves.
I am not much of a poetry person. I enjoy my fiction and creative nonfiction, but this book put prose poetry into perspective. With a modern twist of adding SMS acronyms, adding social issues, such as Native American injustices, body image and society's impositions of it, and gay rights. This poem made it not only digestible but put into perspective that a person can have multiple identities, while also suffering from multiple problems, and all be combined, and every single one of them being valid. This book was an epic poem that was telling of the time and world we live in now.