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Staff Picks 2017

 

calamities | renee gladman | wave books

Jason Mull recommends

Calamities by Renee Gladman

In CALAMITIES Renee Gladman writes, "I remembered in vivid detail that I had just made a decision to look at the world (ie, sky) in such a way as to produce an essay, but looking out at the world I couldn't figure out what was so special to say right then." This state of not-knowing—of quasi-speechlessness—informs and propels Gladman's phenomenal book of prose. CALAMITIES constantly circles back and reassess itself—it never quite finishes, never concludes. To read Gladman is to follow the tangled, knotted associative threads of a mind alive to itself. Lingering at the heart of these gorgeous, self-reflexive fragments is the basic question of what's at stake when we try to address one another through writing. Gladman's a modern master and you're doing yourself disservice if you don't read this book.

 

hackers | aase berg | black ocean

Katherine Duckworth recommends

Hackers by Aase Berg

Aase Berg's newest collection (translated by Johannes Göransson) with Black Ocean delivers more of Berg's delightfully swampy prose. Aase Berg is gnarly and I am so into it. HACKERS moves aggressively within a sort of Eco Poetics—humans, the feminine and animals navigate the cybernetic and the apocalyptic landscapes of war and violence. I am reminded of Brautigan's "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"—but that peacefulness doesn't live here. Berg's poems, like tiny terrorists, are interested in dismantling from within. Perhaps feeding on the patriarchal carcass.The undergrowth that aims to cover the highways...

 

the letters of carla, the letter b. | benjamin hollander | chax press

John Sakkis recommends

The Letters of Carla, the letter b: A Mystery in Poetry

I had a dream the other night that I was hanging out with Emmanuel Levinas, we were at the Poetry Center, in the reading room, I think Steve Dickision was either in the vaults in the back room or outside the Humanities building getting coffee. I remember Levinas looking exactly like Richard Gere, handsome and tall, thick head of salt and pepper hair, I remember thinking how much his hair looked just like Michael Palmer's from the back cover of ACTS #5. Even in my dream I was all too aware that I had never actually read anything by Levinas, it was exciting and intimidating, what if he starts quizzing me about theory, I hate theory, but I love Ben, and Ben loves Levinas, at least we have something in common right? so there I was, showing him around like we were old friends.

I got to talking about you Ben, about this book you had written, I say "hey Levinas, my friend Ben wrote a book about you..." Levinas says "really? what book, who wrote this book?" I say "yeah, yeah, for real, my friend Ben Hollander wrote this great book called Levinas And The Police, it's all about you and the police..." and now me and Levinas are in my apartment in Oakland, we're standing in my room, and I'm searching my bookshelf for the book to show him but I can't find it, I'm frantically skimming the spines of all my poetry books, reading off titles, getting nervous and coming up with nothing, I start to doubt myself, I start thinking "did Ben really write a book called Levinas And The Police, or did I imagine it," "if Ben really did write this book, where the hell is Levinas And The Police?" I feel Levinas's eyes on the back of my head, starting to doubt me, perhaps a little embarrassed for me, and I'm like "no no, hold on, I'm serious, Levinas has got to be somewhere..."

When I wake up it comes to me, your book is called VIGILANCE, but I wasn't looking for VIGILANCE, I was looking in the right place but with the wrong language, and without the right language I was getting nowhere. This is a very Ben Hollander kind of dream, the elusiveness of language taking center stage in an almost slapstick scenario, where is Levinas, I am Levinas, who's on first (your favorite refrain)? Yes, Who's on first.

Ben, you had a singular and particular frequency, you made time for me and my work when I was just a kid in my early 20s star gazing every SF poet I met, you took walks with me and talked with me, we drank lot's of coffee and smoked lots of cigarettes (before you had to quit), you read my poems and picked my brain, you took me as seriously as I took you,

you taught me about music and encouraged me to find my own, to this day music if paramount, I can't exactly locate where your ear meets my ear in my work these days (not like when I was explicitly ripping you off in the early 2000s) but it is a fact that you are there, and you will always be there.

You're last words to me, through voice mail, a call I missed, "hey John, you and what army?!" a reference to Julien Poirier's poem of the same name, dedicated to you, you got a kick out of that, I'm glad you did, it's a beautiful poem, your last words to me "you and what army?"

I love you, and miss you, thank you for everything my friend, thank you Ben.

 

the braid | lauren levin | krupskaya

Brent Cunningham recommends

The Braid by Lauren Levin

I guess the test for every book of poems these days is "Can I read it while Rome is literally on fire out the window?" I'm not exactly sure why THE BRAID passes but it passes: something about the stream of daily events flowing by, each event subjected to a kind of ever-expanding, ever-deepening philosophical consideration, as if everything we live among could be pushed by a strong enough mind to reveal further layers. Even when those daily events aren't directly political, and they often aren't, at every point THE BRAIDS's poetic process feels like a model for engaged living/resisting/surviving.

In my second paragraph I was going to suggest there's a lot of small press poetry books right now that borrow a lot from Bernadette Mayer and Alice Notley, as this one does. But I wasn't sure I could prove it was all that particular to this moment, or suggest why it might be happening. And then I realized—and it was honestly kind of amazing—I'm not a journalist or an academic so I don't have to prove or explain anything. Thanks, life!

I took so much from this book but let me quickly focus on one thing: recurringly Levin considers the form she's using, the day-in-the-life mode, as part of the history of landscapes, like in painting, or the pastoral. Simple, in a way, but in her hands so brilliant. Having a baby, being a mom, trying to remain an artist, trying to remain politically engaged, all these things we think of in temporal terms, narrative itself, get considered as spatial, and at that same moment the book is plainly turning Levin's life events into a static form, effectively spatializing them. It's such a smart frame, and then the individual lines are sometimes just as intricate and suggestive. Some of them feel like you could meditate on them for years. Not that I have time for that, unfortunately. Curse you, life!

 

imperceptibly and slowly opening | caroline picard | the green lantern press

Janice Worthen recommends

Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening, edited by Caroline Picard

"I stop for flowers...," Catriona Sandilands writes in this verdant new collection as complex and multitudinous as the vegetal life it explores. I stop for flowers on my lunch walks, pondering, taking photos. I sometimes get the vibe from others that this activity is, well, silly; the implication being, just what is your fascination, they're just plants?! But the writers, artists, performers, & poets in this collection get it: "they're not just fucking plants, buddy" (Catriona Sandilands, 245). They're invitations to reconsider perception, language ("dreaming about a botany of words," Michael Marder, 163), intelligence, connection, sexuality, life, and our very humanity. Plants that recoil, plants that communicate, plants that devour, plants that desire, plants that may even seek our destruction (though maybe not in the grotesque The Happening way...yet), plants as severely misunderstood sentient beings(?). "It becomes at this point evident that the key challenge ahead is to acknowledge the frame of our anthropocentric bias in order to devise new relational paradigms through which plants can be perceived" (Giovanni Aloi, 228). From roaming, possibly cuddling plant-Roombas and human-plant hybrids to the problem-solving abilities of slime molds, the performance, art, essays, science, and poetry in this luscious volume will pull you down deep, like Deep Ecology deep. Take a moment.

 

assembly | novica tadic | host publications

Kyle Walsh recommends

Assembly by Novica Tadić

Novica Tadić was troubled by something. By darkness, dictators, ghosts. Whatever it is, he managed to wrench some beautifully demented poems out of it. In ASSEMBLY (transl. by Steven Teref and Maja Teref), he sings about a dead fly killed in a butcher shop, other insane hybrid creatures, a man who hears the voice of his dead mother from the radio, another man who is bugged in his sleep by the authorities so that they can listen to all of his "revolutionary intentions." I guess one could call this horror poetry, but it's also much more than just shock—it's a gallery of searing psychological insights and states, all visceral, often reaching peaks of divine hellishness: "Only a choir of mad daughters will eulogize / me. Miraculous grandsons are leaving / scented coffins. Angels will swoop onto scraps, / crystals will spin. My words are thunder, / a star in my gut, a symbol of my night." In a world run by unknown paranormal energies, one can only give a good laugh, or perhaps sit as still as possible in the middle of the night: "sap drips onto the writing / gluing word to word / oil smell of my new typewriter / the pine tree's shadow / lengthens through the sleepless night." I'll let those lines speak for themselves.

 

irl | tommy pico | birds llc

India Chakraverty recommends

IRL by Tommy Pico

I am not much of a poetry person. I enjoy my fiction and creative nonfiction, but this book put prose poetry into perspective. With a modern twist of adding SMS acronyms, adding social issues, such as Native American injustices, body image and society's impositions of it, and gay rights. This poem made it not only digestible but put into perspective that a person can have multiple identities, while also suffering from multiple problems, and all be combined, and every single one of them being valid. This book was an epic poem that was telling of the time and world we live in now.

 

lost profiles | philippe soupault | city lights publishers   the song of the dead | pierre reverdy | black square editions

Steve Orth recommends

Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada and Surrealism by Philippe Soupault and The Song of the Dead by Pierre Reverdy

As the phones were ringing off the hook at the SPD office, I sat at my desk carefully reading LOST PROFILES: MEMOIRS OF CUBISM, DADA AND SURREALISM by Philippe Soupault (translated by Alan Bernheimer) and was totally under the spell of Soupault's account of these surreal French freaks (and James Joyce). Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw my boss, Brent Cunningham walking towards my desk. "Time to look busy," I mumbled to myself. Brent then, instead of asking me about some spreadsheet, dropped a copy of THE SONG OF THE DEAD, by Pierre Reverdy (translated by Dan Bellm) on my desk. "You know one of the things that I remember most from undergrad is that you can read Reverdy poems from top to bottom or bottom to top, and they're great either way." Then Brent walked away and I opened the book to see if it was true. And boy, was Brent's undergrad professor right. I actually think that the poems are much improved when reading from the bottom to the top. I highly recommend trying it. After reading this excellent collection, for about an hour, I returned to LOST PROFILES, only to turn to page 63 and see that there's a chapter on Reverdy. And I was like, "OMG, worlds collide!" I became so engrossed in Soupault's stories that I almost missed my lunch break. But don't worry, I didn't.

 

lowly | alan felsenthal | ugly duckling presse

Ari Banias recommends

Lowly by Alan Felsenthal

Alan Felsenthal's poems possess that magic quality of being both fluid and precise, mysterious without being opaque. They sing a lived philosophy, a wisdom stripped of pretension, and are unabashedly lyrical in how they inhabit & are inhabited by language. They're also secretly funny. With deft self-awareness they turn their own figures inside out, because they can't not: "I poked a worm with a twig / the wind made shudder, the wind / I invented to stop me from poking the worm." And they sing in multiple registers, in a voice that seems effortlessly & at once classical and contemporary: "My middle ear is melancholy and / some twink told me I'm sex negative / for not caring more about a starlet." Reading LOWLY is kind of like overhearing a river, if that river were in a city and carried bits of litter, prophesies, names, regrets, industry, history, runoff, all that's been projected onto or dumped into a river. And yet that river, for all those outside interventions, knows it's still a river, & speaks as only a river can. Still in motion, still refracting. And actually, all the wiser for what it holds. "I remembered my father / said the devil was no cloud / of black flies / but an educated man / who lived by two hands / that invented the devil / to give him human help." LOWLY is enigmatic and keen and moving and unafraid. Poem by poem, the lyric and emotional intelligence of LOWLY knocks me out, but then I come to so I can read the next one. I totally have a crush on this book.

 

slabs | brittany billmeyer-finn | timeless, infinite light

Laura Moriarty recommends

Slabs by Brittany Billmeyer-Finn

In SLABS, Bittany Billmeyer-Finn writes about love, passion, identity and physicality, but mostly, about love. The world enters "slashing & silent" but the work invites you to experience the nuances and complexities of the most intimate of human interactions. "you measure my weirdness in a syllable." This is all done with a compelling sense of diction and dissonance that challenges the understanding and yet you always get it. "she says 'lay back & relax' as she strokes the land." There is also a lot going on here with form as the lines and stanzas manifest variously, investigating the many ways to present the material while retaining a sense of order, repetition and clarity.

Billmeyer-Finn's sense of the possibilities of an occult spirituality is very present in the text, including a brief tarot reading which, with the many other insights in the book, is redolent of her particular gift for the magical and healing arts.

SLABS is lusciously produced by Timeless, Infinite Light, fitting tenderly into the hand and asking to be carried around, read, reread, treasured, imitated and learned from. It is enabling. "I lean into her field without smiling we stick together/ her warm & milky slab rising & damp a body grows / absorbing the sunlight this tiny voice a present desire."

 

the complete works of pat parker | pat parker | a midsummer night's press

Trisha Low recommends

The Complete Works of Pat Parker by Pat Parker

To say that I've read THE COMPLETE WORKS OF PAT PARKER would be a lie. I mean, I have, but like most poems that embody and enact their politics, these poems can't ever be finished; the book can't end. Instead, they remain in my consciousness, a slow drip into how I conceive of something so big and encompassing as "how do I live my life?" Pat Parker died of breast cancer at the age of 45 and remains underread in contemporary poetry—it feels important there's now a complete collection to celebrate and preserve her work. These days, everyone wants to think about making art after Trump but Parker elides the question after her time with a still-relevant poetry that is not "about politics," but political in its existence; poetry that is a part of living when remaining alive as a black lesbian feminist is already an act of resistance. Talking to my lover at a date on a Saturday night, I ask them who is today's Diane di Prima, or what that would mean but it doesn't matter who's like "the" revolutionary poet or whatever, it's a stupid question, we don't settle on anyone. What Pat Parker's work reminds me of—that poetry is always part of the revolution when it articulates life's taut struggle, the painful difficulty of being disenfranchised and its beauty and joy in being—"now i'm tired - / now you listen! / i have a dream too. / it's a simple dream." It's that simple.

 

we shoot typewriters | paul corman-roberts | nomadic press

Johnny Hernandez recommends

We Shoot Typewriters by Paul Corman-Roberts

Paul Corman-Roberts latest collection WE SHOOT TYPEWRITERS is a great collection that seeks to lament and celebrate the oral tradition of the lyric. Throughout his collection Paul is advocating for a stronger, more pronounced community of poets and writers: a community that isn't fractured by genre or form—one that relies less on the rise and fall of trends and schools of thought and more on creativity and the personal perspectives of individual experiences. He screams a rallying cry on every page, a call to arms for experience: for sensations that connect—he is never looking for personal differences. He writes, "The problem with the song is that it receives ap-/plause for its applause of others' applause and for that ap-/plause, it will certainly garner yet more applause but in the / din of all that, your song will not be heard much less negoti-/ate resonance." Corman-Roberts crafts a vein of genuineness and deep seeded sincerity. He seeks to connect, to build and to scream out together with his readers, this vein runs deep throughout his collection. This is a poet/troubadour you need to hear, if you have the opportunity to hear him read, go! I am sure you will want to approach him afterwards and share a moment. Pick up this Nomadic collection and invest in building a communal permanence.

 

hard child | natalie shapero | copper canyon press

Mikko Harvey recommends

Hard Child by Natalie Shapero

There are (at least) two weird and wonderful tensions at play in HARD CHILD. First is that the speaker of these poems, who is a new mother, is obsessed with death—and she totally, shamelessly owns her obsession. Second is that Shapero's writing style is playful, off-beat, chatty—yet she also uses form super carefully. She invents several poetic structures throughout the course of the book, and when you least expect it, a line turns iambic, or a rhyme appears. No one else is writing the way Natalie Shapero is writing. I hypothesize that she has been called "quirky" 200 times in her life. God, political history, dogs, violent relationships, self-loathing, and baby names are some of the main characters in this book, this book of hard realities cut with jokes to make you laugh-grimace.

 

dick of the dead | rachel loden | ahsahta press

John Sakkis recommends

Dick of the Dead by Rachel Loden

Did you know that Wyatt Earp is buried in the Bay Area? I didn't. Did you know that Richard Nixon liked to put ketchup on his cottage cheese? I didn't know that either. Rachel Loden's DICK OF THE DEAD is where you find out. I found myself reading a lot of these poems out loud to myself, tons of assonance and alliteration, slang, portmanteaus, Loden's language pop pop pops, real good mouth-feel. I don't really vibe with Gabriel Gudding's blurb about how these poems render "the suffering and emotional impoverishment this nation has endured since the presidency of Richard Nixon"; this book is way more fun than all of that. I do like what Silliman says: "...Loden works with Nixon the way Shakespeare worked with Lear...using him to show us ourselves...".

 

how her spirit got out | krysten hill | aforementioned productions

Janice Worthen recommends

How Her Spirit Got Out by Krysten Hill

Jill McDonough calls this sharp little collection "a middle finger tucked in the hip pocket of your favorite dress." A middle finger, yes, and a fist held up, black and beautiful. A knife quick to the hand when "no" isn't enough. A shotgun mounted on a wall for the sake of what's tender because "the world is full / of weapons." But these poems are also hands held, palms out, hands cuffed behind, flesh that can't stop the bullet, tears mixing with blood as the calendar turns. They are the voice that rises even as it breaks, radiant with power, "beautiful / and frightening / and free." Hill writes "we told to be silent / about our magic...our wild I spawning / this flourish without their approval." But the words, the ghosts, will get out: "Gonna learn how to speak because silence / is father to son to mama to brother to / sister to cousin to friend to rape and / they ain't gonna tell us what we remember anymore." This is a collection to be carried along, yes, and spoken aloud.

 

style | dolores dorantes | kenning editions

Jason Mull recommends

Style by Dolores Dorantes, translated by Jen Hofer

Violence is a kind of style—an invisible grammar that underlies the logic of statehood. We could reverse this formulation and the same remains true: style is a kind of violence. The discourse of imperialism remains impenetrably wrapped in myths of "security" and "legality," masking its fundamentally exploitative and xenophobic roots. ESTILO / STYLE both resists and flirts with this logic, struggling constantly to loosen itself from the grips of the murderous syntax that determines citizenship, the state, and the border. The mute, the devastated, the disposable—these are the voices that reverberate and echo throughout this text. "We are your codes, a line of figures for you to subjugate. Numbers, red and brilliant. Boiling." The chorus of ESTILO / STYLE functions as a site of extraction, violence, and exploitation. "We have arrived like negation so you can exterminate us in the attempt," they say. "We are the fresh fruits of war." These are the voices consistently muted by the machinations of state-sanctioned cruelty. The text reads as visible erasure, "each line dispossessed." In the face of unspeakable violence, repression, rage, and terror, what modes of expression are available to the disenfranchised? Dorantes' answer is fractured, wounded, and decimating—her text cuts and draws blood.

 

the hermit | lucy ives | the song cave

Brent Cunningham recommends

The Hermit by Lucy Ives

In an interview I did with him Robert Creeley once stated that poetry "...brings a relief or a recognition in situations where almost nothing else can." I think about this comment a lot while standing among the many books SPD houses and sells—it might be the only way to explain their reason for being. If poetry indeed runs along a narrow but equally unique wavelength, then what I think of as the "notebook-style" subgenre of poetry (which Creeley also practiced) has to be even narrower, but to me provides just as much of that relief and recognition when it's well done. THE HERMIT by Lucy Ives, which came out last summer, fits comfortably into that "notebook-style" subgenre. Made up of fragments, notes, lists, facts, incidents, and most of all ideas, it reminded me a little of Kafka's Parables and Paradoxes which I used to carry around with me kind of all the time. Of course lots of writers keep journals and have notebooks and some of them get published but this feels more like a compilation pulled from various notebooks and places, edited almost like a poem but with notebook fragments as the core units instead of words. Anyway it's finally the quality of the thought that is so worthwhile here. Ives's ideas are never pretentious, and while there's a lot of snips that one just passes over, and pleasantly so, at pretty regular intervals she'll come up with a few sentences that are so perfectly balanced they feel true and mysterious at the same time. Really the whole book is like that: you're never quite sure what she's getting at in some overarching, thematic sense, but you're sure it's there, it's real, i.e. what she's working at and towards is genuinely derived from her existence, surroundings and life, and so holds together and is just frankly an exceedingly nice place to be for a bit. This book was a real relief to me, in a situation where I'm pretty sure almost nothing else would have been.

 

dick of the dead | rachel loden | ahsahta press

Katherine Duckworth recommends

The Republic of Exit 43 by Jennifer Scappettone

THE REPUBLIC OF EXIT 43 exists in the toxic landfill of the author's childhood neighborhood—Scappettone, a poet, scholar, translator, and performance artist weaves the garbage of this history into part epic poetry, part language landfill, which at times feels like text generated from some corporate mechanism. Scappettone suggests in the underture, "when in reading you're caught in redundancy, it's because we've reached uroboreality, a point of spatiorhetorical choke." Many of these outtakes have existed and will exist off page—but this book leaves ample room for the imagination of possibility for this project in alternate spaces as well as an anticipation to catch a future performance. Though it is worth a gander for the photographs, maps, and collages that are included.

 

well well reality | rosemarie and keith waldrop | litmus press

Kyle Walsh recommends

Well Well Reality by Rosemarie and Keith Waldrop

I love collaborative works. Really everything is a collaboration, between mind and body, earth and sky, female and male. But if it's true, according to Wallace Stevens, that "in the sum of the parts, there are only the parts," then a hybrid work is not as simple as 1 + 1 + 2, or 1 + 1 + 1. That is, the goal for our chimeric hybrid author in WELL WELL REALITY is not mere doubling nor a union, but a blending of figure and ground, to create "moments / when the light and dark of bodies fits the random / detail of a curtain."

When one hears a child first forming words, one hears language itself, not what it purports to describe. Well, I don't spend a whole lot of time around children, but I'm guessing it's somewhat like that. What I like about these poems, or autonomous authorless units, whatever you would like to call them, is that they have the child's flair for recombination. I don't care that the directions for these blocks call for a stupid castle, I'm going to build something half hedgehog, half Tree, half ice-cream. Our two authors are not afraid to play games with tenses, with the structure of language itself. And at the bottom of games are molecules that crystallize and fall apart again, leading to fragmented glyphs such as, "I could touch prosody / and stroke vertigo into law / if palaces reflected / in anthills or this / change in texture / reflects from a vertical wall." In this realm, "mirror" becomes "mere error." Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" is rearranged to create a series of independent lines, obscuring intent: "I have learned / to look / On music that disturbs." Different parts of the book are anchored by a preposition or conjunction that appear in each poem—"until," "since," "if,"—so that the poems are paradoxically rooted in the subjunctive, the uncertain. Thus, the way we receive the words in these poems is not in their chiseled and mastered aspect, but just at the moment of their becoming. Not the car driving, but the parts disassembled and waiting for a new form to emerge.

 

diana's tree | alejandra pizarnik | ugly duckling presse

Steve Orth recommends

Diana's Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert

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.

 

snail poems | eric sneathen | krupskaya

Johnny Hernandez recommends

Snail Poems by Eric Sneathen

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 detail—each moment—invites 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.

 

currently & emotion | sophie collins | test centre

Ari Banias recommends

Currently & Emotion, edited by Sophie Collins

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.

 

dirty words | natalie harkin | cordite books

Laura Moriarty recommends

Dirty Words by Natalie Harkin

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 book—an 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

 

pei pei the monkey king | wawa | tinfish press

Trisha Low recommends

Pei Pei The Monkey King by Wawa, translated by Henry Wei Leung

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 take—and 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 politicised—whether or not someone is speaking in Cantonese or English or a hybrid of both, or refusing one or preferring the other is a pretty 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 imagistic—elegant 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.

 

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