Staff Picks (February 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 February 2018 Staff Picks 20% off
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As we drift closer to Valentine's Day, my mind becomes more & more filled with thoughts of love, self-care, capitalism, bills, loans, prisons, the ground i walk on in the morning, what i'll cook for dinner. i start to ask myself, more pointedly than usual, a never-ending list of questions. Questions that so often spin my wheels, end in confusion or anger. What does queer love look like? How does a queer body behave & survive? Can i keep paying rent, make art, write & still love myself? Still have love left for those i love? Reading SISTER LOVE not only quiets my mind, but leaves me awestruck, reminded of the lessons i have yet to learn as a queer body in search of community. Audre gives advice to Pat, advice to a restless poet heart, "... remember the body needs to create too...beware all the hatred you've stored up inside you, & the locks on your tender places."
What a world i live in, that i can even read the intimate letters between two of the most influential black lesbian feminist poets of the 20th century. What a supreme pleasure & gift that we can witness, what Mecca Jamilah Sullivan calls, "the roaring depth of shared vulnerability." This book, this collection of black love letters, rewrites & rethinks & reimagines what love & poetry & survival can look like, it promises another future, another kind of love for those who have been marginalized & erased from history.
minimalist execution maximalist poetics, this is Jared Hayes, I used to live with Jared Hayes, I once woke up at midnight to the smell of coffee, I found Jared sitting on the floor in our dining room drinking coffee (I want to say from the pot) working on cut-up poems (strips of paper, pairs of scissors, glue strewn about), I thought to myself "this is poetry."
Hayes's new book, GO WITH ME is a canticle, a song full of love and joy, and mourning. A bit of a departure from what I'm used to seeing from him, his signature 'organized confusion' conceptual messiness has transmogrified into a sleek, celestial, meditation on the minute particulars of a poethical moment, his moment, right now.
Hayes used to work at the Tea House in Boulder, CO, I remember telling him how I thought all tea tasted like dirt, Jared just smiled and said "no, no it doesn't...", and just like that my mind was changed, and I knew it to be true.
When "the centre cannot hold" sometimes there's the mercy of an anchor that keeps one from spinning completely off into oblivion. This book has been an anchor for me. Even as I traveled back in time, as the flowers withered and the road and trees and mailboxes turned a red akin to dried blood, Genevieve Hudson's bookher thinking through Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, her thinking about queer culture and heroes, her thinking about sexuality and genderreminded me of my joy, my truth, and the community now far away but also all around. At each sharp eye, each scowl, each question-turned-rebuke, Hudson's bookfresh in my mindreminds me to be bold, be loud, be everything I've worked so hard to claim. It reminded me of the blissthere's no other wordof seeing others like me for the first time, of finding community, of being community. It reminded me that I can be an anchor for someone else if I have the courage to live my truth in the open, even in hostile places.
Hudson's generous book speaks her truth but it also makes room for me and so many others who are different than her and me. It makes room for how we are different and not just for what we share: "As I am talking about representation and queer life and visibility, I feel compelled to acknowledge that the lives Fun Home documents are not representative of all kinds of queerness...That's why it is important that the queer archive become vastenormous, swelling with new stories, ringing out with new voices, brimming with influences both radical and infinite." Her book is a hand reaching out instead of a door slamming shut. But it is also a reminder of the consequences of doors slamming shut. It reminds me of what's at stake, personally and globally, if the archive does not grow, does not welcome: "Allison knows that honest stories wield power...She knows what happens when certain lives get left out of the story. What happens is we get a culture of violence, isolation, marginalization, and pain." Hudson's book, already bent from two flights and long drives, already dog-eared and tattered by anxious hands on a journey of love (though not the romantic kind), is part of my queer archive. And if she happens upon these words, I would just like to say, thank you. Thank you.
There's no voice like poet Tongo Eisen-Martin's voice, no voices like those in his second book of poems HEAVEN IS ALL GOODBYES, out from City Lights. It's got a fierce momentum to it, sonically and politically energetic and curious. Eisen-Martin explores cities and lives that are perpetually demeaned and destroyed, inhibited or dominated completely. It's charged with injustices, what faces we put on for what is intolerable. He laces perspectives in italics or quotes like backup singers or alter egos within each poem. It creates a vision that is furious, observant, and wise. There are so many stray lines that are memorable, have history to them already. Some share stark truth "If it has a prison, it is a prison" goes one in "Faceless." Some are world-weary and funny, earned "'Market Street' is the best two-word joke I have ever heard in San Francisco."
The effect of all this combined is awfully impressive: It's like Eisen-Martin is slowly turning the room around you, turning it upside down. But he keeps turning until everything is right side up again. At last, looking up from one of his poems, everything's a bit misplaced, a bit fallen and thumped, invigorated shook and made more real.
One beautiful instance of this spinning, this realizing: cigarettes really happen in these poems. Like really exist "The first cigarette makes this parking lot my bedside / The second cigarette makes this parking lot my front pocket" he writes in "The Simplicity of Talent." Exist like the stubbed-out cigarettes in Irving Penn's photographs: Not props but living proof, all harm, all passing-of-time, all currency and smoke, cool bolts shooting out from one's mouth.
All this upturning isn't thin mischief. It's direly needed, brilliantly done in HEAVEN IS ALL GOODBYES. Many've already sung the book's praises; let them sing. There isn't enough song to put under Eisen-Martin, to raise him up, is how I feel.