Staff Picks (May 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 May 2018 Staff Picks 20% off
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Reading BARONI A JOURNEY, I was delighted to discover two wonderful artiststhe author of the book, Sergio Chejfec, and the sculptor, Rafaela Baroni. The book recounts Chejfec's visit to Baroni's studio in the Andean foothills of Venezuela and eventual purchase of one of her wooden sculptures. As well as being famous as an artist, Baroni is known to experience a kind of catalepsy that causes her to seem dead. This oddity and her exquisite work, allows the narrator to consider his engagement with her art, life and death, other writers, the Venezuelan countryside, and his own isolation or depression, along with many other subjects.
So I was driving from Betijoque through that
capricious landscape, I was thinking of Baroni's
workshop, of the immobile figures in the gallery, and
of the several others that were half-finished, in distinct
stages of completion, but to which she'd referred as if
they were already alive and all that was left to do was
dress them, to bedeck them in a bright and colorful
garb. (p. 32)
According to my own online research, the book was composed in the tradition of W.G. Sebald so one isn't sure, as a reader, which parts are fiction or if it all is. However, it is clear that Rafaela Baroni is a real person and one can find images of the amazing art Chejfec describes on the internet. In fact, he, or his character, researches her himself and reports on material he finds online. BARONI A JOURNEY is (or seems to be) a nonfiction tale written in broken lines that has the redolence of Sebald and the sharpness of Peter Handke, who I found mentioned as the other of Chejfec's major influences. The poem (or novel or memoir) is wonderfully translated from the Spanish by Margaret Carson. I was first attracted to the book by a blurb on the back cover by Enrique Vila-Matas, a Spanish writer who is the author of several of my favorite books, suggesting that Chejfec, who is from Argentina but lives in New York City, should be much better known than he is. I am inclined very heartily to agree.
A tantalizing assemblage of critical essays, experimental writing, photography and myriad other forms, APRICOTA is Secretary Press' answer to the stifling tradition of art criticism and historical scholarship. A new publication that is less journal than it is an experiment in how to differently encounter content, APRICOTA forces us to note what is proximal, intimate, rather than direct and explanatory. Its design holding meaning rather than calibrated towards what is easy, functional reading, I enjoy sprawling myself through the gaps and densities of this magazine. I gloss the text across the page into an adjacent image. Aptly themed around the concept of "fights" I find pages of poetry crashing through new exhibition reviews, an embroidered image of boxing gloves on a kerchief alongside a daring manifesto on picking a fight as a means of intellectual engagement with an audience, even as publication practice; I note two widening cat eyes staring me forth towards an eerie play transcript.
In a time where print publication is gently giving way to online content and clickbait, APRICOTA's sharp, sleek abrasion is a welcome provocation that the way you publish can also be polemic.
Beginning at the beginning, PROFESSIONALS OF HOPE opens with a letter penned to four of Mexico's largest publications in 1994. Subcomandante signs the letter with a scrap from "Declaration of Principles of the ELZN" (which effectively ends the beginning): "A certain dose of tenderness is necessary for getting rid of all the sons of bitches that exist. But sometimes a certain dose of tenderness is not enough and it's necessary to add...a certain dose of bullets."
This collection spans 20 years of the ELZN's life in Mexico. Touching on daily Zapatista and indigenous life as well as the more spectacular struggles and moments of solidarity in the Mexican as well as global left. Spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos's (AKA Delegado Cero AKA Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano) formal philosophical education is often spoken of. However, these texts are practical declarations of struggle as much as they are poetic/historical/philosophical/folkloric works.
These poems had me counting syllables and racking my brain trying to recall the last class I had on meter. That class, it turns out, was taken by me some thirty years ago in the basement of a dormitory best known for its weed dealers and annual naked prom. No surprise, then, that I couldn't identify the precise poetic forms Koeneke was hijacking, modifying, riffing on, or maybe just using. But what anybody can plainly hear and dig in this book is Koeneke's great genius for form, his full and vivacious commitment to it. I guess it's a pretty unfashionable approach nowadays, or maybe that's an understatement: it feels almost illegal to write a couplet like "drops beat loose slates, / froth swells drain's loud pans" in 2018. Such a flurry of spondees! (Spondeema? Spandau?) In any case, even in that wee snippet you can maybe notice the way these poems use sound and meter as a kind of enjoyable ground that, in turn, allows the figuresay, bursts of the unexpectedly odd or the unexpectedly heartfelt or the unexpectedly meaningfulto leap out. With this book and Rodney's last one I'm starting to think of him the way I used to think about Thom Gunn, out there running contemporary concerns through traditional forms and baroque vocabularies in order to arrive at some really tight, really touching, and fabulously far out there stuff.
Flashes of memory, momentary glimpses of the external and an over arching yearning to be a part of something larger and realizing you are alreadydespite the isolation of modern life: these are the impressions you walk away with after reading Alexandra Naughton's newest collection RAPID TRANSIT, published by Nomadic Press. Her relaxed prose style is peppered throughout with internet slang and provides the reader with something of an ekphrasis inspired by the bay area's rapid transit system. Naughton evokes quiet vibrancy from each vignette, inviting the reader into a sanctuary hidden in plain sight, (between her earphone speakers). The city transit becomes a work of art to experience through her eyes, her experiences (i.e. the mundane), gets transformed into something more alive...something more real, because of her quiet lens. Naughton writes, "If you took the train from one end to the next, any line really, / you will see so much, pass through so quick it's a wonder to take it all in [...] and when you're / coming out of the tunnel it's like that scene In Roger Rabbit when they / enter Toontown, everything just comes to life."
Naughton has squeezed a work of art from the blind silence of communal space and lets loose the vibrancy and energy that hides beyond the need to insulate oneself from the routine of life. She enthusiastically breaks the silence in quiet moments to bring us into the "real" world of Toontown. This pocket sized collection should be on your person right now! Here is a discount to help lessen the obstacle any further!