Staff Picks (January 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 January 2017 Staff Picks 20% off
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I'm new to Ugly Duckling Presse's Lost Literature Series, where UDP publishes neglected works of the 20th century. I just love this one. Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik was 26 and living in Paris when she wrote this slim volume, which seems to be the book that put her on the map. This book is right up my alley. I like those hella sparse poems and this book is hella sparse. Subjects range from death to mirrors. Don't believe me? Check this out: "in the night / a mirror for the dead little girl / a mirror made of ashes." I feel like Pizarnik was unsure why someone would want to live in this world and/or with a body. It could be true, as she passed away ten years after the book's publication. Featuring an introduction by Octavio Paz, and wonderfully translated by Yvette Siegert. Check this out and get ready for the follow up, THE MOST FOREIGN COUNTRY, coming out this April.
Krupskya's latest title, SNAIL POEMS by Eric Sneathen, is one of the most naked and elegant collections I've had the pleasure of reading. At its core it is a collection of elegies that somehow balance the stillness of death and passing, against the enormity of memory. It screams out in a celebratory birth. These poems track through an emotional landscape (as well as the ecological one) and they leave you with a trail, of a life lived...a life worthy of escorting its reader to a higher awareness of what is real in a world of facades and background scenes of injustice and the decay of social contracts, of fragments and natural environments. Eric's collection is so worth your attention, as each detaileach momentinvites you to share in something so intimate and anticipatory. He writes, "...each time I enter the / streets of this black earth, will I be there, hoping/ despite the shame of hoping, to say I hope and I say." Every point in this collection leaves you in excitement to find out what's around the corner. In the final prose section of his collection, "Operculum," he encapsulates precisely the essence of the urn, and it is that force that pushes you through this celebration of a life. He writes, "...There are those flashes and / momentous surges of what is happening so exquisitely, it is like a future." I can't urge you enough to pick up this masterful debut, this is just the beginning.
In the preface to this spectacular collection of translations, Erín Moure says "There is a sense in which every reading of a text by an individual is a translation." Even if you didn't think translation was just one thing, here's a collection that further mosaics the sense of what this practice (rather, these practices) might be. CURRENTLY & EMOTION smartly explores the problematics of translation, and demonstrates how the methods encompassed by it are various, turbulent, charged, imperfect, and incredibly alive. "Bathe in your beauty / allow it to behead you" writes Tomaž Šalamun translated by Sonja Kravanja. "I wrap the fallen thing that's like a dead exclamation mark in white cloth and leave it behind," writes Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi. "my eyes hurt when confronted with the horror but I keep them wide open to see," writes Yiannis Efthymiades translated by Karen Van Dyck. "Translation is a giving up of mastery," says translator Sophie Seita. Give it up & get this gorgeous book now.
In the preface to DIRTY WORDS, Natalie Harkin describes her book as "an A to Z of poetry. . . [a] small contemplation of nation and history . . . informed by blood memory and an uncanny knowing beyond what we are officially told." DIRTY WORDS is an important, wonderfully readable bookan example of what could be thought of as the nonfiction poetry that many are writing these days sometimes as memoir and other times as history, political assertion or critique. DIRTY WORDS is all of these things, detailing the many ways colonialism, racism and terrible bad faith have impacted the First Nations community in Australia and the individual life of the poet, as well as describing (and comprising) ways of responding to this history. Everyone is implicated in this project which addresses all possible communities. The plainness of the diction and interesting form in these pieces are compelling and perfectly artful as Harkin utilizes a light but exquisite prosody in each of the poems or entries. I say "entries" because the pieces in the book are in alphabetical order with titles such as "Eugenics," "Land Rights," "Climate Change," and "Genocide." These words and phrases are repeated at the bottoms of pages to indicate the crossover of events and subject matter in this index of facts, observations, quotations, histories and anguish. The beauty of the poetry and the essential information in the work made DIRTY WORDS one of the books I most enjoyed reading not only this year but ever.
I should also say it was a pleasure to meet Natalie Harkin and hear her read and speak when she and other poets from Australia (and several from the Bay Area) participated in the "Active Aesthetics: Contemporary Australian Poetry" conference at UC Berkeley in April of 2016.
keep walking remember more
take off your shoes
let the land speak heal your feet
feel the earth find your stride
walk with Indigenous sovereignty
from "Sovereignty," DIRTY WORDS
Growing up, my parents wanted me to speak both languages, Chinese and English, so at home, my father spoke to me in English, while my mother spoke to me in Cantonese, a dialect, which was different still, to the more 'refined' Mandarin I wrote and learned about during the day at school. PEI PEI THE MONKEY KING is impressive because of its depth of introduction to the many different forms the banner term 'Chinese' can takeand the trouble that follows in its translation. In the introduction, the translator himself jokes that the book itself is written "somewhere along the spectrum between Chinese #5 and Chinese #6," and takes great pains not only to introduce to English readers the irregularities in reading, style and tone that come along with a single set of characters, but also to link these valences to the historic and political relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong.
When things get tense in my family, you can always tell because language becomes politicisedwhether or not someone is speaking in Cantonese or English or a hybrid of both, or refusing one or preferring the other is a pretty good indication of who they are trying to antagonise. In PEI PEI THE MONKEY KING, author Wa Wa uses this fluid linguistic dialectic to encompass and address the Umbrella Revolution of 2014 and the Fishball Revolution of 2016. Led by Hong Kong students rebelling against mainland Chinese regime and calling for independent suffrage for their state, these revolutions emphasise political differences within ethnicity that Westerners tend to want to overlook. Often, to them, "people of color" must always want the same thing. Rather than informational, this poetry is heavily imagisticelegant rather than obtuse. Embracing the the cadence and wildness of the traditional Cantonese nursery rhymes my grandma recited to me rather than the restraint of traditional Chinese poetry, this writing feels contemporary and urgent without losing any of its gravitas. Much like a fable, it is the process of seeking to understand this writing by which a process of learning is initiated. And much like the revolutions of which it speaks, its desires have to be believed in order to be glimpsed, a risk that many Hong Kong students continue to take.