SILENT ANATOMIES is such a visually engaging book. Poems are paired with family photos and artifacts, written into anatomical charts and ultrasounds, and pasted on antique pill bottles. Language, anatomy, self, history--all are pieces stitched together just as they are meticulously separated and classified: "Memories tango, are tangled in plague fibers of twisted tau. All of us mangled by the nothing train that spreads from nerve to nerve. A gliding whisper without brakes." To see/hold family, self, and history in the object, to look at each objectively, to see each as unfamiliar/proof/continuance, to oscillate within and among. Each page is stunning. Each asks can the self/family/origin/history be treated, traced, dissected, and labeled like human anatomy? And can this anatomy then step off the page and breathe again? I search for what exists in the shadows of each ultrasound, the silence of each image. I ponder the life that exists in fragment within the artifact. I flip to the beginning and start again.
Zoe Tuck recommends
In ARCHIPELAGO, Alana Siegel proves her dedication to the role of poet as phenomenologist. Her poetic inquiries into the endlessly complex relationship between world and consciousness are given shape by her deep research into different religions with strong emphases on developing a science of the mind. We met up recently, and she was carrying a copy of Herbert V. Guenther's Philosophy & Psychology in the Abhidharma. The Abhidharma are texts that deal with the nature of consciousness, causality, temporality, and questions of personal identity; a fitting analogue for what Siegel attempts in ARCHIPELAGO, a book whose constant refrains are: What is image? What is time? What is language?
The difference is method. For Siegel, reading is breathing, and soundsense is a serious technique for serendipitous discovery of the truths lurking in language. Take this stanza from "A Tantric Measure":
How I hear this now is language bound. A bounty of words bound by
words. In Hebrew, the root for "anger" is also the root for "Hebrew"
as well as the verb "to pass". The story of Israel, the origin of
Hebrew, I hear now, run the narrative, prod the plot-the story of
the soul of a place, of a language that has not yet learned how to love
In this passage, she contemplates and enacts the suggestive qualities of shared etymology and the ways that proximity can allow even words with different roots but similar sounds to open new possibilities for connotation. More concisely, "The letter roots freeing her" (31).
The ambiguity of knowledge as a goal drives poems like "Snow Maiden Shimmering Suffering," in which Siegel acknowledges its role as a balm, writing:
Our fields of human knowledge
Are also shields
Can be shields
Knowledge, a shroud
Can be a cool cloth
After the volcano
A memorial washing away the contortions of a face (33)
Knowledge expressed in language partakes of delineation, definition, and demarcation can be real buffers against the chaos of life. When we require its function as bridge or tinder rather than buffer, is it adequate to the task? "Each one must somehow deliver into the animal of another/The overwhelming ecstasy of sun"-a daunting task, especially when Siegel defines Hell as this: "when language thinks it knows".
Again and again in Archipelago questions arise and change form. In "She Tries To Study," Siegel asks, "What am I asking for when I say I seek the origins of language?" "Do I want to know how language was first used?" she continues. Finally, "Or am I asking to enter what is not restricted by evidence?" (44).
And yet if all this talk about consciousness and representation makes Archipelago seem cold or airy-lost in the sky, it also insists on roots, singing of a kind of spiritual reverse-parturition, in which Siegel gives us the image of a god "Forcing herself back into a word" (49) and why:
We seek a depth of speech
Why the roots of words are called
Before they were gods
They were ground (50)
Why? These are the consequences of great passion:
What Will You Hold Real Against Your Death?
Will it be some ancient esoteric text?
Or will it be a person most close to you
You hold with every last breath in you
Against what takes you from your breath (49)
If you are prepared to take part in Siegel's patient and insistent search for the beyond of the beyond-absolute reality, to look with her for the gods behind the concepts behind the words, I encourage you to do so. Of course, in addition to patience and insistence, there's also ecstasy and astonishment.
For all that's here, a word about what isn't. "'The internet is not beautiful,' I shouted" and through this act of self-quotation Siegel points to the comic hopelessness of railing against that juggernaut of surveillance and solipsism (9). This text can feel old-fashioned, likelier to have been written by a contemporary of Robert Duncan than of Steve Roggenbuck. What does it mean that Archipelapo isn't driven by the imperative to be thematically or stylistically a la mode? Perhaps more significantly, what does it mean that careful contemplation of being and mind feels counter to the poetic zeitgeist? Archipelago reminds us that other, more timeless questions, are in no way superseded by technological changes and are perhaps all the more urgent because of them.
Laura Moriarty recommends
ACTUALITIES by Norma Cole and Marina Adams takes off with "oh/live/it-/veer/in/air." Norma's words face a painting by Marina that is deep purple and something like eggplant which is both vast and entangling. In the book the words form a vertical column, not the horizontal line I have made it here but ACTUALITIES is a book of lines, as well as being one of fields and wild, intense, satisfying colors. I find I can dive into it anywhere and the lighter-than-air gestures in language, form, linearity, depth and color lift me up and draw me down into fantastic depths. It is a place I like to be--both empty and full: "The alarm sound, then stops." There is white space, negative space, lines and color color color. Things funny and profound at the same time: "I'd like to die laughing," "When will a silver birch tree grow in the kitchen?" (Strangely, I now see one from my kitchen window. Do books by your best friend predict your life?). Problems are asserted: "Siberia's boreal forests will not survive climate change." Questions are asked: "What is the nature of the relationship between elves and wild boars?" And solutions are proposed--"Go for the throat my love, already protected"--while lines and colors swirl with an almost audible richness: ""The Fermata"//*the lengthening of a note or slight pause to take a breath."
One's breath is taken and restored and then, usefully, you can dive in again.
Marina Claveria recommends
"I picked up the smudge of the novel," writes Angel Dominguez. "I smeared my face. I asked my dreams, ‘Can we please get the words out of the blood?' trying to wake up with that language, a scar." The dream is vital. The dream is falling victim to semiotics, is being forgotten. BLACK LAVENDER MILK reads as a dream journal, an ancestral history, and instruction manual on manifesting the past, if not the future. It is a flight that never lands, and a familial pilgrimage that never returns. This book is an attempt that planned to fail. This book was written in case of evacuation. Read it.
Janice Worthen recommends
With its aluminum-like cover, Jennifer Hayashida's translation of Athena Farrokhzad's WHITE BLIGHT is striking and even blinding. To look upon its cover is to see a distorted reflection of oneself and to be devoured by that metallic white sheen. The interior is just as alarming/engaging with white words printed inside black bars upon a white page. Before reading a word, one can't help but be absorbed in the language of the book as object.
Farrokhzad investigates place/space-personal, familial, racial, cultural, regional-through a family of voices that sometimes speak together, sometimes speak against, sometimes speak alone as they come to terms (or don't) with a new land, new people, and new language. What does a person of color experience in a white-washed land? What gets lost as words, memory, and people are juxtaposed, mixed together, and broken apart? What is the cost of leaving, the cost of belonging, and who keeps the ledger? At one point, the grandmother says, "Belonging is like a mirror/ if it breaks you can repair it," to which the mother replies, "But in the reflection a shard is missing." To stay is to fracture, but to move is also to fracture, and violence in its many forms does not end; instead, it echoes out and out in memories and voices, traveling beyond generations.
As Farrokhzad explores what and who oppresses, what or who fractures, she captures the trauma of being displaced, replaced, and even misplaced. She shows how language reflects, fails, and is complicit. She asks if one can ever truly leave a place or if vital pieces of the self are buried in the soil of each new land. How does the scattered self survive? Where does it echo?
John Sakkis recommends
"There's something intrinsically hideous about community," says JH Phrydas in the introduction to the introduction of his book LEVITATIONS. I really couldn't agree more. But no matter how hideous community may be Phrydas returns again and again to the fact that community is magnetic, and that to participate in one (but preferably many) can be too pleasurable to resist. This book pays homage to communities, SF, Poetry, QUEER, the South, family, bar culture, theory-world etc. So many lines to choose from, but one of my definite favorites, "A rainbow of blood/ from my mouth to yours," echoes the cover design of the book itself, a faded watery rainbow in the sun. This is a great debut.
Aiden Arata recommends
In GARMENTS AGAINST WOMEN, Anne Boyer writes: "I will soon write a long, sad book called ‘A Woman Shopping.' It will be a book about what we are required to do and also a book about what we are hated for doing." If this makes you think GARMENTS AGAINST WOMEN is maybe a book about shopping, some shopping is involved, as is some cooking, some hair dye. If this makes you think GARMENTS AGAINST WOMEN is not a book for everyone-specifically, that this is a book exclusively for women- you're wrong. GARMENTS approaches the obligatory with a ferociousness that would make Hemingway faint. This work fights for moments of failure and boringness, asserting that they deserve a place in our creative landscape. Boyer manages to write clinically and devastatingly, her cross-genre prose both expansively Romantic and remote. This is a book for anarchists; parents; economists; poets; peasants and their warlords; anyone who's asked Who makes Art? On whose terms?
Janice Worthen recommends
Julie R. Enszer's LILITH'S DEMONS is tiny-the whole collection could disappear in a pocket-yet it is heavy with reforged myth and voices that bite. Demons slide through its pages and "alter women's lives" by unleashing their tortures: anxiety, depression, compulsions, insecurity, and discontent. With each murder of woman or newborn, they deliver a terrible revenge and freedom that is their own fate, fear, and ultimate relief. The reader is swept into this brief but severe tempest, where Enszer's Lilith, creator and destroyer, punisher and perpectually punished, feared and adored, is master of all. Shaping the world to her own design, she names and dispatches each demon. What "G-d" makes, Lilith unmakes. Unapologetic, lonely but completely her own, she rules the night. So why didn't Enszer title the volume LILITH? Because the volume is absorbed in Lilith's creations, the manifestation of her power and tools of her vision, just as the reader's attention is absorbed in Enszer's creation, light as demon ash. Both make their way in the world, altering what is found. Adam, Eve, and G-d may pass from the earth and angels fall, but "unlike Eden/ Lilith's garden endures."