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Staff Picks 2007

Lindsay Keller recommends

The Sorrow and the Fast of It by Nathalie Stephens

The Sorrow and the Fast of It is a thick and poignant prose conversation between Stephens' multiple identity characters--the dominant Nathalie and her equivalent, yet often violently subversive, Nathanael. Complex and sophisticated in its analogies, Sorrow creates a chaotic and beautiful dual-minded pull of madness.

With an often internal argument between the need for industrial terrain (Nathalie) and ocean/sea (Nathanael), Stephens successfully paints a conflicted and tense battle between these two "personalities," with no resolve by the end. Stephens is an essential contemporary writer and Sorrow should become a necessity in college literature courses as an example of experimental prose. Stephens tells us more of the 

 

Lindsay Keller recommends

Paradise, or The Part That Dies

Dana Killmeyer's Paradise: Or the Part that Dies is a beautiful adventure into the heart of a lost and broken woman. The narrator and main character travels down the east coast to rural Miami where she hopes to resolve her conflicted, unhappy, and newly divorced self among the "felt" avocado groves of an organic vegetable farm.

In Paradise we see her first three days on the farm and meet the motley crew of workers and vegetarians that help her on her journey to find peace of mind and heart. We meet a mushroom farmer, the secretive orchard owner, and a man obsessed with his guava tree. By the end of Paradise we do not know if she will make her life among the organic vegetation or return home, but we see her transitioning into harmony. Either way we are caught in Killmeyer's stunningly descriptive language and follow her down the path to satisfaction.

 

 

Heather Gordon recommends

Day Ocean State of Night's Stars by Leslie Scalapino

"they've destroyed language, so we have to destroy it in it not/ movement" (from 'Can't is Night').

To destroy destruction with destruction—indeed, she does (move/destroy). And she moves with some levity—yes, visually, that is to say apparently, but also "semantically"/actually—between the in/out, give/take, illuminating language with language, at times, while at others leaving it blank, so naked—structural—that it's hard to tell whether it is with duty, defiance, compassion, compulsion, or simply grace that she steps back in—into language, into the social, the violent (active), into light.

At any rate, there is some force (destruction? stagnation? and/or "them") that she seems to writing against. And by placing the artifacts of "outside" (arguably the social, political, natural, even personal) on the inside (the mental, conceptual), there is some new movement possible, some tango, between what can be articulated and what can be conceived. Shall we dance?

 

Alli Warren recommends

Attempts At A Life by Danielle Dutton

Danielle Dutton's Attempts at a Life is, as they say, a HANDSOME little book just out from Tarpaulin Sky Press. My first impulse is to tell you that "it had me at hello" but I'd rather save face and say instead that it grabbed me from the get-go. Here is the opening sentence:

It started out I was hungry and smaller than most.

So intriguing! What's the "It" standing in for? So unusual! Why not "hungrier" to match "smaller"? The back of the book describes itself as "somewhere between fiction and poetry, biography and theory," which is a lot to live up to, and Dutton does, effortlessly. For a mere fourteen USD, not only will you own this handheld guide to cheeky and cloudy-headed heroines, but you will gaze upon a beautiful Christian Peet collage, an unusually clear epigraph from Gertrude Stein, and chapters titles like "EVERYBODY'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, OR NINE ATTEMPTS AT A LIFE." This book is barrel-chested atop a rolling green hill, a little marvel beaming in the warehouse.

Eliza Schrader recommends

CALYX

This readable issue of art and literature by women challenges, comforts, and educates its reader. Themes like war protest, family, body dissatisfaction, and growing up pervade this collection of art, essays, poetry, and fiction. In "Alice at AA,” Maureen A. Sherbondy tells the story of one woman's struggles with alcohol, extreme weight fluctuations, abusive relationships with men "claiming to be kings and princes,” and AA all within one very short poem.

In "Eating Cake” Annie Weatherwax's melodic prose tells the tale of a family's struggle to cope with the death of a gay son in a conservative small town in Virginia. The story is told from the perspective of a 19 year-old daughter and sister who is fierce and defiant in the face of bigotry. If you are interested in reading contemporary and compelling work by women, this issue of Calyx is not to be missed.

 

Eliza Schrader recommends

Like Son by Felicia Luna Lemus

This exceedingly readable novel is a real rule breaker. Leave your expectations at the door and you will find a rich and magical story that constantly leaves you guessing. The principal character, Frank, is a launching pad for some extremely intriguing characters whose real-life personas verge on the absurd.

There is Frank's mother, who is hypocritical, financially successful, and terrifyingly cruel to Frank; Frank's father, a loving and dramatic blind man; and Nathalie, Frank's beautiful and theatrical lover who reenacts Frank's family history in the most mystifying ways.

Luna Lemus does not give the reader the satisfaction of following a tell-all format for portraying Frank's "transition” from female to male nor is the word transgender ever used. Instead, the author charts Frank's life from his childhood as a girl to his adulthood as a man without dwelling on the nuts and bolts of his transition. Luna Lemus' ability to deviate from a tell-all trans story lends much complexity to Frank and flips any preconceived idea about gender on its head.

 

Heather Jovanelli recommends

Filaments by Daniel Bouchard

Daniel Bouchard's new book of poetry "The Filaments” places Isis in Pawtucket, compares administrations to animal gods, and sets in flight pigeons with red-tail hawks and sparrows. Bouchard's third book adds to the foundation created from Some Mountains Removed (2004) and Diminuative Revolutions.

In reading his narratives I saw glimpses of New England still-life and landscape, checking justice and virtue along the way. Odd backdrops emerge, as Lucretius, Dante, and Duncan discuss matters at a recycling center. I asked myself what functions does a poet have in war, in the home, or in the alehouse?

Bouchard writes triptychs to create a comic book of poetic debris in brief scores that were melodic to my ear. He highlights the stars, "sunlight strips on yellow brick found on the "power plant smokestack” despite a "doom that pervades everything.”

 

 

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