Staff Picks (March 2018)
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 March 2018 Staff Picks 20% off
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In the Bay Area many a poet has been aware of Melissa Mack's mind and talent for a good stretch of time. In fact, full disclosure here, I even had the honor of publishing her first chapbook. And now we have her first full-length book in hand. And what a debut it honestly is! First let's start with that title: it alludes to a minor arc in recent small press publishing history in which, first, Clark Coolidge wrote a book called The Crystal Text. Decades later Craig Dworkin found he remembered Coolidge's book so wrongly he decided to write the book he had mis-remembered, calling it The Crystal Text (or Craig Dworkin's Crystal Text). What this deep and somewhat obscure background does to Mack's book is to add a sort of ongoing poetic commentary, a relation to debates about what poetry is and should be, to the many formal moves she makes. I'll let someone else work out the exact nature of that commentary but I think what it stresses is how situated Mack understands herself to be, in time, in place, in a body, in over-privileged skin, in history. While the book obviously only needed its predecessors as a clear rock to jump off of, that sense of being situated comes along in every word, every syllable. And what Mack jumps into is profound: a highly educational investigation of crystals combined with intense awareness of the labor practices of mineral extraction combined with sexuality combined with etymology combined with daily life and so on. Grounded, as well, not just in the subject matter of crystals but in Mack's mesmerizingly complicated relation to the crossroads of sound and sincerity. As usual her poems say what I just tried to say even better: "This, my humiliating and ever-complicit sincerity, is my crossing." Only rarely does poetry get this aware, this present, while also digging this deeply into the lived conditions. It's a book that glows, reflects, and refracts like the gem it is.
Do you ever think about how no one uses the word 'fattening' any more? Someone used it the other day, and I was catapulted straight back to my childhood. When I was young, my mom made all the usual attempts to slim my blubbery little body but she also tried to make it all fun. From broccoli mayo salad with no-fat mayonnaise to jazzercise workouts with colorful dumbbells; workout videos and bat-shaped infomercial ab machines, these strange contraptions and their forms were difficult to reconcile with my inability to feel comfortable in my body. They were alien shapes that promised a kind of life beyond what I could imagine for myself something Gabe Ojeda-Sague's new book JAZZERCISE IS A LANGUAGE also holds with rapturous fascination. Within the plasticine movements of TV aerobics and its imperatives, Ojeda-Sague discovers the exhilaration for the possibilities of language to form us; and alongside it, the painful tension of reaching for cadences to line the ideations of a better body, a better life. And in the thrum of sweat escaping pores, we begin to see neurotic compulsions the routine and constant activity it takes not to find, but to maintain identity into existence. How a tiny blemish or a mis-step can betray an unwieldy interior. What external architectures unconsciously press upon us in our blonde VHS hologram desires to become 'more like ourselves.' So stretch it out to the left like taffy; don't let it drip. We're all watching the screen.
INTERVENIR/INTERVENE intervenes on the singularity of authorship, the im/possibilties of translation, the brutalities of border and nation. In Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sanchez's command, language is solid and as vulnerable as a body, blunt, electrified, forceful in the service of exposing states of violence and state violence; wincingly clear then stubbornly opaque; fractured; under siege. Who speaks or can? Who are brought to their knees? What's a tongue, or a word, desire, or a homeland for that matter? "Do we recognize / each other underground?" The distinction between land and flesh, imperative and plea, pleasure and violation, blurs then sharpens. Buried narratives keen from untrackable paths. The weight of a country. Of countries. The weight of the dead and the disappeared. This world vibrates with subtext, with threat, with our participation, from the unspeakable to the "museum / that displays my barking." INTERVENIR/INTERVENE chills, mesmerizes, confronts, wrenches, and Hofer's endnotes on the translation are a series of incandescent & urgent refractions. After countless times I've returned to this book, its charge never lessens.
JUANA I is a book of many perfections but it is not an easy book to read. Ana Arzoumanian uses the story of JUANA I of Castile (1479-1555) who, as the wife of one king and the mother of another, was imprisoned, tortured, and stripped of power to convey the experiences of the many others who were brutalized by the Spanish Empire. The book's rendition of history into poetic lines and paragraphs is effective and compelling.
"What I need is a mouth.
I need a mouth the enamel of teeth your saliva.
Blood has stopped flowing to your lips.
I kiss the air, the locks of hair, the Virgin Mary; I kiss the right foot of Saint Peter.
I run ropes through the gates of your body, I pull on a rope to open your pupils and let in the light.
She is mad."
This work, beautifully translated by Gabriel Amor, speaks as Juana but eventually also speaks for and of slaves, indigenous people, Jews who were expelled from Spain, and others pursued, injured and often murdered by the men who ran the world they lived in.
"I will spread the word. They have found babies tied to their mothers' backs. Skeletons with pieces of hair stuck to their skull. Church roofs. No. The sky of what is called America splattered with blood. Ditches and crows and bones folded back inside."
Gorgeously published in a bilingual edition by Kenning Editions, JUANA I is a great introduction to Ana Arzoumanian, a major Argentine writer and activist against genocide. It is also almost a textbook of how to write poetry about history in a way that addresses the urgent issues of our time. The work reads like a one-woman play and has been performed as such. And it is an amazing poem.
What's the greatest book ever written? The Bible? Moby Dick? Hamlet? Uh...can someone say BORING? Yep. Can someone say BEEN THERE, DONE THAT? Yep.
So what is the greatest book of all time? I think that's actually a very easy answer: JOURNEY TO THE freakin' SUN! I mean it's completely AWESOME! I mean what else do you need? The answer is you don't need anything else. Everything you want, everything you need is right there inside the 120 pages of this majestic book. Order your copy today and start living your life. I mean seriously.
Throughout Brynne Rebele-Henry's collection, FLESHGRAPHS, there is a sense of urgencythere is almost a sense of claustrophobic tightness that claws out at you, the reader, to look up from the structures of the page andto a degreethe structures of society as it converges around the individual. Rebele-Henry has laid out (in a very pristine way) the sometimes gruesome and sometime intimate explosions that want to burst out of human nature and demand our need to connect and be relevant in some memorable way to the world we occupy. The writer creates a collection of prose vignettes that seem to whirl and dance with the idea of arranging and presenting impulses that seek to collapse and lay waste to the order that appears to organize her collection. These vignettes are captured with multiple points of view, as a means of flattening the perspective or squashing any emotional connections between the reader and the characters of each enumerated moment throughout her collection. However, when Rebele-Henry does this, it brings each moment into a more vivid and visceral experience that reaches out from behind the organization of the collection and tears at the reader to feel something between the lines or numbersbetween each of these moments, she wants you to bleed, to yearn and to fight against the system of organization that seeks to inhibit each of these intense moments in time. This is a collection that wants to be screamed out, this is a collection that demands to be heard and freed from the pages, it demands to be freed from the words that Rebele-Henry uses to draw you in closer. If this description sounds faintly familiar, to something in your own experience, you need to experience this wonderful collection.