Staff Picks (July 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.
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FLUNG THRONE it's impossible not to be like "I yield; I yield." Impossible not to be a little rapturous about this book to which "u have come forth / in the half-light" & now before it,
u stand, as a man (ish)
in the open
dumb as the dumbest beast
that dumbly beats the earth.
This book is messy, intricate, inordinately beautiful; it croons a country doom and is a calling down of hard stuff, "like the moon, hard up in heaven." Like earth's rocks, like the accidents that accrete and become forms and then, and because of whichOOPSconsciousness:
u wounded ape have fell
grace some trees
big brained & endless Capacity for
A rendering of these accidents, and a reckoning with themyou won't find a book with bigger feelings. But, "thou regret of nature," wouldn't you be so lucky as to get flung around by & with this barbaric voice from which issue stutters in excess of song, grunts, & rhapsodic trash talk. So do come now, "undress before the throne," and watch it "croon elegant in feral etc, / you know."
How can one address catastrophe? From Jerika Marchan's recent SWOLE to Cheena Marie Lo's A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters, its been a perpetual question as to whether any language could ever be sufficient to encompass the scale of human suffering that comes with disaster. But rather than trying to describe or address the singular event of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mariko Nagai in IRRADIATED CITIES, travels through four cities still affected by residual radiationHiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, and Fukushima. Rather than any kind of straightforward description, or emotional recounting of the events that led to such a disaster, Nagai drowns us in the muddled temporality of subconscious anxiety, addles her text with the all-too-human specificity of experience and oral history. The staccato beat of her prosaic form only serves to emphasize the ubiquitous sense of danger that has been passed down, family to family, person to person, city to city, phrase to phrase, one singular air molecule to the nextthe massive contagion and dispersal of the aftereffects of the atomic bomb. "Destruction is abstract as long as there are no pictures, as long as there are no testimonies," Nagai writes. The photographs of these irradiated cities interspersed between her writing exude an uncanny calmbehind each shot of geometric perfection or natural splendor is the knowledge that although the fires were put out years ago, something might sicken or twist what remains, something invisible and silent, left over from an innately, evil flip-side of humanity; the moment it reared its head.
NATIONAL PARK, a debut collection of poetry from Emily Sieu Liebowitz, introduces us to new ways to think about language, sound, time and place, often lingering in what's left of the western frontier.
She makes frequent use of a first-person plural that offers comfort through the tension of enjambment and use of white space: "Extinction we are, exterior bridge sight I am / earthquake constructing commuters, together / it was, lonely west we were, middle / sending space to subdue." Liebowitz also transcribes words that induce a wistfulness for the past: "Mono Lake or winter, both waterless / today, but in yesterday they were alive, a lied absent."
Taken as a whole, each of the three sections in NATIONAL PARK are in concerted migration through history, colonization, war. She writes, "Fissures as arms exceed my joints. The peace was a / full choice causing forward depression. / A man / is about / to be shot in a photograph."
As an experiment, read the titles in the Table of Contents in order, as if they are a set of directions on a map, or the lines of an introductory poem. Then share this book by reading it aloud: "Pick it up. Call / a friend. Tell them / you love them."
This packet of chapbooks feels like a precious gift. Each one is meticulously researched and opens with a thoughtful introduction. If you're not familiar with this series Lost & Found prints rare, newly translated, and/or archival texts. These allow us to glimpse into the wins and losses of process.
This series features an all star lineup of the notorious. Highlights include: Kathy Acker's early exercises on Amiri Baraka's work and letters to Alan Sondheim, Langston Hughes's notebooks and photos from his travels through Central Asia while touring the soviet region to make a USSR backed film about Race in America, and Jean Sénac's manifesto on the political power of poetry in Algeria.
Rita Bullwinkel's spectacular debut story collection, BELLY UP, probes the porous boundary between humans and their objects. This collection is intriguing, disturbing and undeniably funny. While reading, I was reminded of the time my father took me to see a cadaver. Like me, the body was female and had painted toenails, but I struggled to imagine this fleshy object had ever been alive. I wanted to scream and laugh at the same time. I had a similar experience reading Bullwinkel's stories.
In BELLY UP, humans become less animate, while objects feel strangely alive. In "What I Would Be...", a story told from the point of view of a widow processing her husband's sudden death, Bullwinkel writes, "His death expanded from the chair to the carpets on the floor to the wooden walls and ceramic bowls in my cupboard. I looked into my bowl of cereal and saw my husband. I looked into the grout in between my tile in our shower and saw his hands." Several stories explore the uncanny feeling of being an objectified body among non-living objects. In "Decor," the only female employee of a high-end furniture showroom muses, "It occurred to me then that in this group of friends, I might also be a piece of furniture. Was I something they kept around because I looked avant-garde?"
Though I really wanted to savor each story in BELLY UP, I couldn't help but devour them all, feverishly, in a single evening. The writing was too propulsive to resist. I know that Bullwinkel's characters will haunt me, long after I've put the physical book aside. I don't mind. I look forward to welcoming the ghosts.
As a speech act, the phrase "Yeah No" agrees but then disagrees, refuses, or withdraws the agreement. The title could also be read as a vernacular way to assent to a shared refusal or other negation. This combining of opposites, familiar yet strange, occurs elsewhere in the work: "the fallen dark like hell in spring." There is a sublime pleasure in this sharing of negativity.
"Though there must be a bad vortex said everyone of where they find themselves since everything" (from "PROFICES," P. 10).
But the reader may have gotten ahead of herself here and might want to back up and start with "[.]" This bracketed period precedes the text, suggesting a time of incident or reflection prior to the poems. It sets us up to notice the smallest textual elements as we continue reading and to observe that in this book grammar, spelling, page layout, prosody and whatever else is at hand are deployed to mean along with or often against the apparent import of the lines.
cept's a spell
to will its / own exception"
(from "PROFICES," p. 35)
The reader might wonder, next arriving at the Table of Contents, if YEAH NO was ever meant to be called Profices, as 22 of the 31 poems in it contain that interesting word. A search reveals "profices" to be "the second-person singular present active imperative of prōficiō," a Latin verb meaning to make or construct. Nice. Of course, this neologism also suggests "prophecies" that are somehow not quite that. These profices might mean "the world with all its signature visible" or "Light, icicles, feces, profit." They might lead to states of "Panic," "Imiseration" or "Graced" or they might not.
YEAH NO presents a hiddenness in plain view that draws in, engages, and yet resists the reader as direction and indirection vie for her attention. Perhaps a "profice," one might infer, is when a line means its opposite? "[The world's terrific]" is the Panglossian phrase we encounter on the first page of text. It occupies the righthand margin which is used throughout the book to display a commentary redolent of Jack Spicer's texts in the lower half of the pages of Heads of the Town Up to the Aether. Printed, like Spicer's paragraphs, in grayscale, YEAH NO's right margin lines comment on and occasionally contradict the poems to the left. The first of these profices, called "PROFICES," states Gregory's intention to use text, speech, riddles, slight misspellings, grammar, and a sense of misgiving to proceedto the delight, it must be said, of the reader of a certain Spicerian sensibility:
"That it goes from all
shall be well to oh
Everything is a pattern
Of yesses and no"
(from "PROFICES," p.3)
YEAH NO will not disappoint such a reader. Gregory's "PROFICES" predict a world that will seem achingly familiar to those of us (everyone?) whose experience is complicated and/or compromised.
"Being beside the self, paranoia is
looking in the mirror at nothing like my real face"
(from "PROFICES," P. 19)
The negative sublime cultivated here is not entirely negative but productive of the positive charge that comes from strong lines, smartness, humility, experience, and wisdom. As with all good work, the reader can rest into it, depending on the writer to convey meaning, carrying on, and carrying forth in a way that surprises, edifies, amuses, and informs.
". . . I have imperceptible knowledge
a lot, guys, and work very little
all of the time so that your desire is strong
as it should be to call attention to the title's
own: to unhurt with, be smart about, and
redact, while healing what makes you make them, your faces"
(from "ACTION IS CONTENT AND CONTENT WITHOUT ANY ACTION IS DESIRE," p. 12)
YEAH NO is an enormous pleasure. It is a book whose complexity and hiddenness offer the opportunity for almost infinite rereadings and settlings into the possibilities of its "profices," predicaments, and arousals.
From the back cover:
"I said touch the bell and then the stone.
As sufferer, I spread my talents for you."