Staff Picks (August 2019)
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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to explain with words of this world
that a ship set sail from me and took me with her.
It's a tall ask, but sometimes I go looking for a book that might return to me some sense of an interior life, sufferable or even un-. "An illuminated memory, a gallery haunted by the shadow of what I wait for. / It's not true that it will come. It's not true that it won't." DIANA'S TREE makes me pay for what I want to return, and I'm not the only one: "The cold will pay. The wind will pay." Vengeful and lapidary, this lyric sequence articulates the problem relentlessly, like a kid playing with a light switch, flicking the paranoid search for a self on and off and on and on: "These are some possible versions: / a hole, a trembling wall..." Almost intolerably beautiful, this book is full of "credulous silence," dying of explanations, a
funhouse with mirrors at every turn, and everything they catch is seared, shown and made to eat its heart out.
MOON: LETTERS, MAPS, POEMS (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2018) begins with storytelling as it existed at its inception: as myth. Dedicated to "mythical women of [her] childhood," Jennifer S. Cheng writes, "In the story of the Lady in the Moon, there is only one ending: to live out her nights as a captive, over and over, as if some necessary penance, as if a sorrow to see a woman paper-thin against the lesser light." In beginning with "one ending," Cheng employs a storytelling technique reminiscent of thrillers, imbuing her poetry with a unique urgency. She also sets out to "unbuild" the tragic female narrative, for "Sometimes in order to build something, you must unbuild it first."
Such poetic logic is profoundly simple, or simply profound. Whichever. When cleaning out my closet recently, I took the advice of Marie Kondo and piled all articles of clothing in the middle of my floor. You cannot clean a mess if you cannot grasp its extent. In this sense, Cheng presents the reader with a mess of narrative. Its origin is ever changing. It has no final resting point. But in this metaphor, if her poems are garments, each one sparks joy. Cheng is more concerned with navigating the mess. She writes "to mark a new map for a body opening." The cleaning is that of the female narrative. MOON: LETTERS, MAPS, POEMS sweeps out of the expectation of sadness.
In this potent collection, Carvens Lissaint paints America as experienced from the black body, the body as target, the body constantly weathering the strain of systemic violence, racism and its legacy: the hostile glare, the unchecked hand, the flashing lights, the history of trees. Lissaint lays it all out on the page, each line a form outlined in chalk. Here the white body as aggressor is brought into focus. Ache lives here. And clarity. And mixed in, such beautiful moments of community, a brief harbor of empathy, a hand extending an umbrella in the rain, an I GOT YOU: "In awe, how we can be the life raft that floats us over turbulent waters." May this collection be a reminder to be the life raft and not the water.