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Staff Picks 2008

The Romance of Happy Workers, Anne Boyer

Chris Bennet recommends

The Romance of Happy Workers by Anne Boyer

This is a book of poems that is set on a stage of contexts.  Sometimes the reader lingers through amalgamations of Woody Guthrie and the Soviet Union and sometimes the poems saunter cowboy-like through the Midwest and the author herself.  What I find most interesting in this book is the way that the symbols for things we "know", literature, place, and history guide us through a language that works to transcend any and all location.  The verse constantly shifts vernacular to pull disparate thoughts together, often with a deeply seductive and sometimes jarring tone.  The poems present a "romance" of intersecting planes and they do so with a language that is witty, pleasurable and thoroughly enjoyable. 

 

The Encantadas, Robert Allen

Xanna Steelman recommends

The Encantadas by Robert Allen

The Encantadas by Robert Allen is a sprawling—and often delightful—prose poem.  Or maybe a prose poem novel?  A novelesque poem?  Whatever you decide to call this little oblong book that was 25 years in the making, it is an intriguing read.  Allen clearly hero worships Melville, although perhaps this goes without saying, since The Encantadas by Robert Allen is a kind of modern reworking of The Encantadas by Herman Melville.  Yet other elements of Melville resound throughout, including a character whose mind turns to the sea as obsessively as Ahab's turns to Moby Dick.  The Encantadas is mythic and whimsical, both in subject and in language.  I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the ocean, Melville, Wallace Stevens, the Galapagos Islands, or tap dancing turtles.     

 

Paradise Stories

Jordan Standridge recommends

Paradise Stories by Dustin Heron

Have you ever read a story about a kid that talks to a pile of shit? Probably not, but that sounds pretty interesting, right? Well, this is your chance. Dustin Heron's Paradise Stories takes place in a little town called Paradise; however, the actual location isn't even close to fitting its name. It is a rural, dusty, nowheresville that plays as a nice backdrop behind the town's eclectic characters that includes a crotchety old man and his blind wife, a convict, ghosts, and most notably, the Wright family, who are just struggling to get by and continue living their meager existence. Heron opens up his collection of connected, short stories in hilarious fashion with 'Two Very Long Arms'; shows humor and heartbreak in 'The Attendant'; and wraps everything up sweetly and perfectly with 'The Fountain'. Dustin Heron is a talented young writer, and his stories are imaginative but also grounded in reality, and they will at times make you laugh out loud, yet always feel terribly honest throughout.

 

Brief Under Water

Lindsey Boldt recommends

Brief Under Water by Cyrus Console

It's hard to put a finger on what is so good here. Cyrus Console uses the wrong language exactly right. Something deeply satisfying resounds in a corner setting off networks of trip wires that cause...I'm not sure but it's still having an effect. These prose bits are matter of fact and incorrect, sweet and sneaky, janky and pristine. They add up to a happy place, slightly skewed and precarious where bad things might happen - childhood?

"In the wind the boys made a handsome tableau, their hair slanting vigorously from under their caps. The thick steel guys stood waves in the wind. Close by the anchors the wind came in towering chords. The wind fluted in the mouth of the gaping boys. Dead bees blew in the wind. Rain filled the sky. The rain pelted the rainwater, sheeting the meadow in incident light"

Console approaches at an oblique angle and jags through familiar territory altering it as he goes. A benign feeling permeates these poems but does not cover the underlying sense of unease, one we can all relate to.

"Ever since has been like a movie. It is a kind of unhappiness, and in America everything is like an unhappiness, and no one is moving, though some party, and are partied out, and lay uncovered on their pallets beneath the interstate..."

Strangely, this book serves as an excellent tonic and balm for just this kind of restless unease, giving us something that tastes good but a little strange, something that begs further investigation.

 

Ululu (Clown Shrapnel)

Jason Burks recommends

ULULU (Clown Shrapnel) by Thalia Field

Here is the story of Lulu - a literary character whose bewitching sexuality bombards her with husbands, riches, jealous suitors, jail-time, prostitution, and finally a dehumanizing death at the hands of a serial killer. Writers such as Benjamin Wedekind, Albert Berg, and G.W. Pabst have obsessed over telling her story through drama, opera, and film, each work a permutation of the same, bleak tale of the "threat" of uncontrolled femininity. Not so with Thalia Field, whose genre-bending narrative-in-tangent allows for a multiplicity of new kinds of readings.

What results is an explosion of lunacy and circus tricks, where characters always escaping the confines of "Intention" spray-paint the town called "Novel" red. In a rush of dramatic dialogue, poetry, and visual art Thalia Field has allowed these writers and the characters they create equal time on the literary (and literal) stage, where even the audience plays a role in what Lulu "means" and Albert Einstein and Jack the Ripper cameo as critical commentators.

Here is a performative novel where digression becomes the most insightful look into the ghostly presence a character leaves behind as the actress steps off-stage to become, once again, herself. Think of it as a collection of the most entertaining and original research notes you've ever read.

The Line, Jennifer Moxley

Marisa Siegel recommends

The Line by Jennifer Moxley

In this slim collection of 41 prose poems, Moxley contemplates such lofty considerations as what it means to be a poet while remaining firmly grounded in a narrative voice that is here sharp, here funny, here full of emotion, but always having a perceptiveness that drew me fully in to each imagined moment. In the book's title poem, Moxley writes, "You will walk out of the visible and learn to accept the darkness.

You will find the line." Existing somewhere between asleep and awake, the pieces in The Line speak their shifting truths in wonderfully startling ways, helping the reader along in the quest to find the line.

Apostrophe, Elizabeth Robinson

Marisa Siegel recommends

Apostrophe by Elizabeth Robinson

In the opening poem of the haunting apostrophe, Robinson writes, "This is the ticket/to the undercurrent." And indeed, this is a book that sweeps its reader immediately under its spell, not with loud bravado but with quiet intensity and a strong sense of what's not there, what's just underneath, what once was but is no longer. The poems are deceptively simple, in most cases surrounded by plenty of silent white space, which allows them to breath their sadness right on the page.

Robinson creates a world of memory and loss, allowing her words to cut right to the heart of her subject matter. I was left upon finishing the book feeling as if I'd spend the past few hours walking down the road of my own memories, a feeling tinged with sadness but ultimately comforting and completely worthwhile.

 

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