Staff Picks (July 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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Andrew Joron's THE ABSOLUTE LETTER allows one to move from word to word with the rigorous pleasure we, his committed readers, have come to associate with his work. The urgent momentum of these poems pull you forward syllable by syllable, pun by pun, with a kind of serious hilarity that is not a writing style so much as a way of life.
"The system is blinking red." That's what the man said.
Then what is stopping us. To arms, already!
Does the Revolution wait in words? Where do we find those (s)words?
Did the door dilate like an eye? Then what is located by the X of want, the Y of why?
"I would argue that language allows the animal to jump out of its skin."
I would argue that information wants to be communist.
Dear maker, thy form = swarm.
from "Reversing River"
Throughout there is a context of science and philosophy familiar to Joron enthusiasts and there is a particular engagement with the German Romantic poet Novalis presented not as discursion so much as a sounded and fated way into a world which is "composed of the letters of the Absolute: anything, real or ideal, that undergoes a self-complicatingultimately musicalform of motion becomes a sign of the processual emergence of the Infinite within the finite."
from "The Argument; or, My Novalis"
Having asserted the above, Joron makes it happen line after line:
If there is a Center it is not
a pure point
but a City
empty of time.
Come, unmanned mind, enter Out.
from "Breath's Breaks: Ten Takes"
I am a bit biased for this book. I saw Meagan Day read several excerpts not too long ago at a reading in a poet's living room. We crammed in and every now and then, you could hear the whir of a MUNI bus outside, overstepping on Meagan's smooth voice. Afterwards, I talked to Hannah Klein, the photographer for the book, and we animatedly discussed California, how it was such a different terrain to uncover than what we previously knew. Hannah is a native Midwesterner from Ohio, I'm a neurotic East Coaster, and we somehow spent twenty minutes being our most Californian. We talked slow and intimately about how Californians are much slower and intimate when they talk. I told her about how California is a land of puzzling topographies, how there are so many in one space. Taking the BART from San Francisco to the East Bay is a journey through various landscapes from the blue water to industrial warehouses at its edges to flatlands of colorful homes (from squat ranch styles to pueblo revivals to brown, shingled two-stories) to green that looked endless until it didn't, until it reached the other blue domain above. Hannah agreedCalifornia is wild.
Which leads me to Nevada, a state everyone here seems to despise. Every time I ask about Nevada, people shudder in disgust. They say it's a huge state with nothinga mix of government secrecy, no man's land, and opulence. Meagan Day in MAXIMUM SUNLIGHT writes about the no man's land, specifically a small town in Nevada called Tonopah right between Las Vegas and Reno. Day writes with a fluidness and simplicity that helps you to really understand Tonopah and the small pockets of America that are unseen, untouched, and still unknown. Tonopah is frantic, quiet, peculiar, a stereotype and very much an original place in Day's writing. Bars are the center of action. The town's only bookstore is perpetually empty.
The interviews Meagan conducts and the observations of Tonopah are contrasted with Klein's photography, images of the landscape, still and fragmented. The strange feeling Day always felt when driving past the town is realized in the pictures. The characters enhance that stillness and separation. There is an abandonment in both outside interest and the abandonment Tonopah provides for its citizens, an unrestrained access to everything the hills and desert provide. Most are as content as can be. The quotes Day captures in MAXIMUM SUNLIGHT are the most exciting. Though the Midwest, East Coast, and the West have different ways of talking, I believe Tonopah is the most matter-of-fact I've ever witnessed. However, Day uses a California instinctshe slowly intimates the reader with the honesty and directness of the residents. Day writes with such an earnest curiosity that Nevada never seems to receive. It makes me want to visit Tonopah and be the only visitor to their clown motel and eat at the counters of their restaurants and find the same sense of respect Day offers to the town and to the state.
It's a strange time to be alive in 2017. Late capitalism is a hybrid and deadly beast. In an age of alternative facts, and covfefe; at a time where Google has a 20 minute long float at the SF Pride Parade and the best trans healthcare plan in America, it's hard to know up from down. But there are some books that remind you that things are simpler than they appear. That pride was first a protest, that police brutality is never acceptable and yet ubiquitous and that what you are feeling, as you stand there on Folsom Street in pleather and glitter, watching the Google float pass, is in fact not pride but Gay Shamesomething for which you should be proud. GAY RESISTANCE: THE HIDDEN HISTORY, a backlist gem from Red Letter Press is a reprinting of a 1970 pamphlet first seen in Freedom Socialist. Delightfully brusque, it outlines a brief and truncated history of gay resistancefrom homosexuality in antiquity, all the way through to a rejection of 1980 liberal reformismall the while maintaining a firm anti-capitalist stance. Sure, like all revolutionary polemics, this text isn't perfect. Like all things from back in the day, it cursorily mentions intersectional politics without illustrating a true solidarity with other civil rights movements led by people of color, which, will, I'm sure, result in many a knowing eyeroll from us out here in the Bay Area. But the truth is that this is anticapitalist, queer propaganda at its bestand its clarity and polemic is, in this moment, less nostalgic than it is refreshing and necessary: "The gay movement is a small and vulnerable segment of a whole society in turmoil. But allied with other revolutionary warriors, it can majestically bear aloft the most powerful weapon of allthe banner of socialist feminist internationalism and permanent revolution for the human race."
I'm enchanted with David Brazil's latest book HOLY GHOST, out now from City Lights. This is the voice of a street fighting Christian mystic and these are his poems, prayers, and songs. Reaching to the ghosts, to the ones who have departed, people marching in the streets, people waiting in the streets, the people singing in the church, and the people not yet ready to walk into the church. "To be alive / while you're alive / turns out to be a taller order than / expected." This is first class poetry for those who want to reach far. Featuring beautiful cover art by Colter Jacobsen. Lastly, I can't wait to read this book again, but alongside some Albert Ayler, in an attempt to synch it up ala Wizard Of Oz / Darkside Of The Moon.
Leora Fridman's most recent collection, MY FAULT, is wide reaching in its attempt to disrupt the status quo of acceptance in the everyday, in the political, in the social all the way down to the moments we each express: minute by minute and day by day, and (in her collection) even line by line. Fridman creates a context for change by interjecting momentary breaks in rhyme rhythms and highlights a sense that every break allows for a momentary contemplation about what was being said and what has broken its continuity. She seemingly does this to illustrate a socio-political imperative, a need to break what is seen as normal and what is accepted without notice and allow for the reader to absorb or dismiss or be outraged by what was so easily thrown out as a normative statement of fact. Fridman writes, "what I'm seeking / is gatherings / where I can easily / deliver my mind / especially on the days / when I run lax, laxly, / especially on the days / my blind eye pours: / people say these / are essential procedures / don't keep them to / yourself this morning, or / the way you're moving / may stay just yours." Fridman implores each reader to interject, to disrupt the surface of societyto allow for a change to seep into what is accepted and passed forward to the next moment. Fridman's collection should be in yours, if just for a moment.