Staff Picks (June 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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Icarus has been reborn as an I, a you, a "[S]he," a cyborg breaking out of a society that is frequently non-inclusive. When they break free of gravity and begin to fly, I exhaled, unaware I was holding my breath. Even as they plunge toward the sea, the tension of the fall feels slow and transformative, with the possibility of emerging as a new entity. Mena writes, "You are the moral. / Yes, you say. / Is this a wing or a stain. / Split, you say. It splits."
FEATHERBONE utilizes excerpted (italicized) text from J.A. Baker's The Peregrine and phrase quotations from books including Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider and Ovid's The Metamorphoses. There are also 827 unique words in FEATHERBONE, many of them compound soundscapes such as sereswallow and saltair, but I found a sense of connection with each word in this book, the hope for a better ending resonating from each lyrical pulse.
What a treasure and resource this collection is! Each chapbook set comes with a detailed introduction that adds to the richness of these previously unpublished, and if not for this project, possibly lost-forever-in-an-archive work. Each poem, letter, speech, syllabus, journal, etc. etc. etc. provides a deeper glimpse into the genius, work, and legacy of these writers, educators, and activists.
Many of the texts here deal with education: who gets to teach and what stories get to be told in a system that was built on and perpetuates inequality. I read June Jordan's "I.S. 55 Graduation Speech" silently and then aloud, pausing at the end of each sentence with gratitude: "Itthe old, abusive American Power is opposed to human life. Let us have no more to do with such power. Instead, let us, take control. Let us take responsibility for the freedom and wellbeing of each other."
I took in the nourishment of Paul Blackburn and Julio Cortázar's letters: Julio: "You see, Antonin Artaud lost all his teeth the year before his death, but he was convinced to the last they would grow again. For my part, I'm convinced I'm immortal. My last words shall probably be 'don't forget to wake me up at eight sharp, I've a trumpet solo to polish up'." Toni Cade Bambara's vision of a Black University made me reflect on my own education, empty of so many voices, events, and champions and full of villains dressed up as heroes: "To obtain a relevant, real education, we shall have to either topple the university or set up our own."
Audre Lorde's Deotha so beautifully captures the complexity of a character, her daily life and work and desires, as well as the shadow of subtle racism that falls across even something as simple as picking her son up from school. In the introduction to Lorde's work, Miriam Atkin and Iemanjá Brown write, "If scholars tend to separate the poet from the teacher from the human, then Lorde writes them back in as one."
And Jack D. Forbes, whose poetry and work push back against the erasure, especially when those being erased existcomplex and vibranteverywhere around us.
And all of this is just a fraction of what's to be found here, in this collection that asks you to look deeper, and then prop up a mirror and look deeper still.
Anaïs Duplan's MOUNT CARMEL & THE BLOOD OF PARNASSUS is one of my favorite recent chapbooks. It's heartbreaking, but in a way where my heart is on mute and the shattered pieces quietly grow stronger. I fall into the syntax and hopes it never lets me go. The individual poems aren't clear individual performances, place-held by titles; rather, they sort of blend into each other while staying their ownthe motion of turning the page and the reader's breath and body play an active role in the overall experience. One poem states, "What is this thing called poetry." This question lives as a statement and is answered as such not only in the poems themselves, but in the essay, in the page turn, and in the timeliness that connects the awareness of the poems to the participation of the reader. The answer lies not just in the isolated experience of the chapbook, but extends to redefine poetry as you know it, exploding outward like a shared whisper you want to repeat to yourself over and over.