Staff Picks (September 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 September 2018 Staff Picks 20% off
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Did Chelsey Minnis quit poetry? It's hard to tell. I read my first Chelsey Minnis poem out loud at an Open Mic night for freshmen in college, I read my first Chelsey Minnis poem in the corner at a Dungeons and Dragons game my boyfriend brought me to, I read my first Chelsea Minnis poem on a park bench abjectly, hidden from my boss, stuffing a bag of chips into my mouth. Chelsey Minnis did not quit poetry because I see her touch everywhere; the subtle eyelash flutter of feminine overstatement, its shrouded mink luxury hiding a wide eyeroll of disdain. Minnis' first collection in a number of years, BABY, I DON'T CARE does not disappoint its princessy title evoking decades of song lyrics "baby I don't care____________" what? That you don't have a car? That you don't look like James Dean? That you live with your parents? Hell or highwater, baby, I don't care, I'll marry you anyway. But the doubled edge of the phrase, of course, is more sinister it's the devil may care flippancy of someone who can't be bought or sold and the poems are similarly noncommittal "Why so talkative? Let's kiss / You're a sweet-tempered little number / I think we might like each other if we tried / Come now! / Everything should burn like burning icebergs." In other words Chelsey Minnis may have quit poetry in a moment past, but we won't get that moment back; there's many more moments in the future, and it really only takes a second to turn tearful, or murderous, or both.
The title of Keegan Lester's debut collection of poems has the feel of a conversation already in progress. That the title is itself a poem caught my interest and invited me to open the book:
be beautiful but
it was & it was
all I had
so I drew it
Throughout the book, Lester's frequent use of punctuation and tight enjambments push against the repetition and cadence he also employs, creating an interruption of sound we find again and again, including this short excerpt from a poem entitled "(& these mountains i go to, i go to)":
for this. i break
my hands on my eyes.
i break my ears on a mouth. the ghosts all around me
Taken as a whole, the poems in this collection speak to desire, tragedy and loss, adaptation and an overwhelming wonderment at a world that contains such contradictions.
In her first book DON'T LET THEM SEE ME LIKE THIS Jasmine Gibson's poems are warm, close, and dripping. They run through bloodied history, across bloodied continents, and over bloodied beds. She raises the stakes and looks you in the eye before throwing the bomb. Jasmine Gibson portends the end and beginning and the battle to come. She reaches out from the page to scream "I pretend to love it and the boss pretends his life is worth living."
A "poète maudit" indeed, and really great at it, Chilean poet Omar Cáceres played the violin for an orchestra of the blind (was its only sighted member), tried to destroy all copies of the original book when it appeared in 1934, and either committed suicide or was murdered for unknown reasons in 1943. Cáceres, as Vincente Huidobro writes, "states the case for the need to live in a different world." Huidobro also explains that true poetry (like Cáceres') takes the place of god not only in its capacity to reveal hidden realities but also as the source from which issues the actual world and its energizing force. Sure, fine, but we (still) know it's as sad to wait for the revolution as it is for the rapture, sigh. Reading this book thoughtranslated beautifully into English for the first time by Mónica de la Torrewas like hovering a few inches above one of those fainting couches, reclining prone with hand to forehead, only to be shot occasionally into the cosmos from which vantage I could see myself, the ridiculous pose I'd continue to strike. Because having a self is just too ridiculous; ditto being one in time and space. Cáceres explains: "Mine...is the attitude of one who went too far into the heart of man and into his own heart; ...who, all of a sudden, believing that he has the whole universe at his disposal in an unsurpassed enumeration, instead trips on the torn ubiquity of his I, while an index of revelations points to that stillness with its individual fire. Hence my dreadful problem."
I don't know about you, but I sometimes have this and other dreadful problems, which is why I love these sad, exuberant poems, also because they are all true: "I understand that sense, the plea with which all alien solitude surprises us, / is nothing but the proof of human sadness that remains." Also because of how cruel an image can be when it emanates serenely from the wreck it describes: "and as I beg sleep to obliterate me, birds / scatter a handful of light with their chords." Also because of how well and how often self-regard describes an abyss:
Now that the road has died,
and that our automobile reflex is licking its ghost,
with its stunned tongue,
as if we were spinning vertiginously in the spiral of our own selves,
each one of us feels lonely, indescribably lonely,
oh infinite friends.
So you should get this little big book, give it to your sad friends.