Staff Picks (June 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 June 2017 Staff Picks 20% off
w/ CODE SPDPICKS
I have a piece in here so I may be biased, but that really doesn't matter, Dear Kathleen, the Queen, this festschrift for a Bay Area living legend, beautifully conceived, edited and published by Susan Gevirtz and Stephen Motika with Nightboat Books. Kathleen has meant so much to so many, her work as a poet and artist, her warmth as a teacher and friend, her activism as director of The Poetry Center at SFSU and editor of the seminal journal How(ever). This book is a celebration of all of that but so much more, Happy Birthday Kathleen!
The author of THE HAPPY END / ALL WELCOME, Mónica de la Torre, is a poet who also writes about visual art, and this particular book was written in direct response to an art installation by Martin Kippenberger. So it's no surprise these poems feel like a sourcebook for a future installation. I could almost hear some of the pieces being read by a recorded, droning voice in one corner of a gallery; could picture others displayed on the wall for their visual and sculptural qualities; and found it easy to visualize performance artists acting out other pieces over yonder. Even my urge to call them "pieces" more than "poems" should tell you something.
There's so much going on in this book, but in a way there's also mostly one thing going on: a laser-like critique of alienated labor under corporate capitalism. A lot of the book borrows, modifies or otherwise presents "corporatese" language, and even the more "lyrical" poems have a remove and coolness to them that echoes bureaucracy's preferred mannerism. De la Torre offers scripted, decidedly unsuccessful interpersonal interactions in playlets; poems that speculate on the design (and related ideological assumptions) of various types of chairs; and even a series taken right out of a typing manual. While there are certainly hints at something outside the tedium of spaces functionally designed towards the Company's greater productivity (for instance in poems that explore the surrealisms of dreams or the metaphysics of color) the gravity of unhappy labor is dominant. Which is awesome! By which I mean: genuinely and really terrible. At the same time, since my own belief is that poetry's ecosystem depends on a maximum of formal diversity, it does make me happy, in the end, that there are still poetry books trying to deal with our bleak common dilemma as workers with the sort of cool, analytic, and yes I'll even say conceptual approach so often reserved for the art world.
"I am a child of the death of the revolution," Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta writes in their fleshy debut. Here is a voice that doesn't come from "the easy body," a voice that will show you the many ways a not-easy body breaks, the ways it grows tired, the ways it despairs, the ways it grieves, the ways it rises up...how each piece, every word, can be resistance. "And anyway, / everyone knows that poets // are the first up / against the wall." Here's a warrior poet who spits on that wall because when the "night is thick with demons," you gotta be the scariest thing out there. This book is a punch, is nourishment, is singing: "All things have / songs, not all songs are joyful." This debut is fierce, this body riot. I'm so grateful to have it here in my hands, my mind. I'll keep this one under my pillow, safety off.
I really hate the notion that poetry comes to a person like Christ in the night, but whatever, people are complicated, and Hannah Weiner, clairvoyant poet, does what she wants. I keep coming back to this little throwback gem, WE SPEAK SILENT. Here's a suggestion:
Take this to the beach with a bottle of something or without a bottle of something - whatever works - and dress cute, like with a little hat or something, and read this book out loud to your best friend, if they're available, don't forget snacks, and you're in for a supremely pleasant afternoon channeling Hannah Weiner and her circle. One of my favorite poems, "Bob Dylan," is in this book - one I consider to be firmly rooted in the carnal with one foot in the spiritual, has taken true care in its handling of language and prosody - something I don't always find so believably human in this disputed genre of the experimental. With its repetitions and it's comedy, and its human smudge, WE SPEAK SILENT feels like eavesdropping on ghosts. Joyelle McSweeney nails it when she describes reading Weiner as an "audial visionary experience." You can also use the book to swat away flies from the fruit you've brought along. How's that for utility?
"The public is what has been historically defined / By its exclusion of certain people and not others. / What would be a public that didn't exclude us and others? / A band then? A really big band?" Thom Donovan's WITHDRAWN, like his previous book THE HOLE, aims to build a kind of collective prosody. What kind of a community / public can we imagine amidst the ongoing disaster that is the present? WITHDRAWN charts the kinds of loose affinities and friendships that might start to anticipate what such a community might look like. What I admire about Donovan's work is its persistent optimismit never quite slips into total despair.