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  Staff Picks (May 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.
 
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 i am not ashamed | barbara payton | spurl editions
 
recommended by 
Trisha Low 
 

"In other words, I was the queen bee, nuts and boiling hot," begins Barbara Payton's 1963 memoir. It's true. If anything, Payton's account of her tumultuous life is as lurid a rollercoaster as any Hollywood blockbuster. One of the brightest film stars in the golden age of noir, Barbara Payton slid into glory not as a doe-eyed, good girl, but as a hardened femme fatale. Indeed, her performances in films such as Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Trapped were indebted not to Hollywood gloss, but to a hardened realism from the school of Hard Knocks, something she never hesitated to play up. And yet, perhaps this was, too, a grim foreshadowing of what was to come.

I AM NOT ASHAMED was ghostwritten by seedy journalist Leo Guild from drunken interviews conducted with Barbara in the late stages of her short life. Filled with the kinds of pulpy language and brusque confession that would be right at home in a murder mystery, this memoir blurs the boundaries between Barbara the star and Barbara the woman—how much did one make the other? How much did fiction inform her reality and vice versa—the string of bad men, the sudden fall, the self-destructive denoument? Forsaken by Hollywood, Barbara ended up living isolated from the public, doing sex work to survive and drinking herself to her ultimate demise at the age of 39.

At turns gutsy, shocking and hilarious, Payton's memoir ultimately depicts the all-too-real violence and pain that can result from the material circumstances of a woman's life. Which means, well—screw the cautionary tale (and Lana Turner)—because we love you Barbara Payton, get up.



 the market wonders | susan briante | ahsahta press
 
recommended by 
Ari Banias 
 

Throughout THE MARKET WONDERS, Susan Briante engages a powerful documentary poetics without forgoing intimacy, emotion, or figurative speech. This is "fact" that invokes the personal and the private, and that calls the poet and the reader into its public truth. Again and again, the lyric, refusing insularity, finds itself entwined with the economics of staying or being alive under capitalism. And yet, Briante is keen to acknowledge that though "we" may "already feel occupied," for some of us, "our feeling doesn't have a tank at the end of it." She navigates the particularities of classed, raced, and geopolitical realities with care and precision, neither claiming a precarity that isn't hers, nor disconnecting from it. Reading her, I find myself prodded out of my numbness at numbers. I am prodded to consider value and figures—numerical, poetic, and corporeal—in new ways. Part of this book's dazzling accomplishment is in Briante's rendering of the market as both figure and ground, and as simultaneous subject, object, and formal structure. The market is in the ticker tape running along the bottom of the page, anchoring, destabilizing, linking poem to poem, intimate domestic scene to public life, the image of a black walnut tree to the Dow industrial average. "The Market" is a white kid just out of college traveling in Mexico that the speaker sleeps with, it "picks up your daughter from school in its teeth," and "he is an it is a we." The market intrudes upon & is inseparable from feeling, thought, practice—it wonders about worth, and, this book argues, is worth wondering about.



 of mongrelitude | julian talamantez brolaski | wave books
 
recommended by 
Laura Moriarty 
 

A lot of what I am crazy about in this book is right there in the title. The classic quality of the use of "of" with an abstract noun smacks of traditional texts while asserting a quirky and yet crucial neologism. Like the book, it's funny, dense with meaning, and true. You have to love a book that includes the verse, "lo the hartslung moon / peeks lewdly out tha cloud" (from "ambivalence becometh") or I have to. Each new verse in each poem is a delight of unexpected word usage rife with humor, passion, anger, sexuality, and politics. The poems assert their lyric forms while speaking with a direct and yet invented language as ornate as it is plain. A warmth of intimate and savvy engagement wells up from the poems into one's personal heart. Brolaski is creating new work here that isn't like anything else. The work makes a world of possibility that is tragic and yet enabling. The reader is very lucky to be able to share it.

          marcabru uses the word "mestissa" to describe the shepherdess his dickish
               narrator is poorly courting
          which paden translates 'half-breed' and pound 'low-born' and snodgrass 'lassie'
               but I want to say mongrel, mestiza, mixedbreed
          melissima most honeyed most songful
          what catullus called his boyfriend's eyes
          honey the color of my dead dog's eyes the stomach of the bee

          (from "as the owl augurs")



 tender points | amy berkowitz | timeless infinite light
 
recommended by 
Steve Orth 
 

Lots of wonderful people have already written lots of wonderful things about Amy Berkowitz's TENDER POINTS (Timeless, Infinite Light) and I want to join the party. So what is TENDER POINTS? First things first, it's a book with a beautifully designed purple cover. But it's also a book that as Stephanie Young perfectly says, "takes on rape culture and cops and doctors, the whole history of who gets to speak and who gets heard and who doesn't and why not."

I've been a big fan of Amy's writing for a long time, so I couldn't wait to read this book when it came out. And I think something that doesn't get talked about enough is just how good of a writer Amy is. She's amazing. She's very clear and articulate and she brings us very complex ideas in a way that everyone can understand, and I think clarity is one of the most underappreciated values that a piece of writing can have. But being clear can also sometimes be a little boring to read, but TENDER POINTS is actually very exciting to read, as weird as that might sound. This book is so well crafted and edited. TENDER POINTS is able to create a ton of suspense through short vignettes. I'm blown away by it, and I'm still trying to figure out how she did it. Great job! Great book!



 tony greene era | kevin killian | wonder
 
recommended by 
Johnny Hernandez 
 

Kevin Killian's newest collection, TONY GREENE ERA, is an intimate and powerful collection that reaches out to its readers and grabs at them for gravity, it demands to be contextualized in every reader's life. It reaches out from the page to both absorb and resound with the pulse of Tony Greene and his output of work, his influence and his spirit. Kevin's collection is split up into five epoch sections with a final closing section that is centered on an essay about the LA based artist and his significance to the art world. He finishes his book with a poem inspired and dedicated to Tony and a voice silenced too soon. Kevin, in this collection, has built a city of ruins and infused it with a living breathing passion that should be experienced. He writes, "...[I was] trying to put myself into the mindset of those who were fighting AIDS—deprived, as we saw it, of a future—while vast parts of their 'long bodies' (as in Hinduism) are sawn off, disposed of in vats. Loss inside loss." Kevin has created a brick by brick memorial to Tony Green and firmly cements him into the present, every insistent present. Please pick up this city in pages.



 
 
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