Staff Picks (April 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 April 2018 Staff Picks 20% off
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There couldn't have been a better title picked for Chloe Caldwell's WOMEN, because that's exactly what the novella seeks to explore. It cracks open the complexity of being a woman, being a daughter, female friendship and sexual confusion. Caldwell's casual narration style guides the reader through a series of short peeks into the few years in her life that she spent in New York City while trying to escape her dependency on drugs and her mother. While Caldwell successfully kicks her drug addiction, she picks up a hoard of other unhealthy dependencies. Caldwell's raw account of her own addictive personality grants the reader an authentic closeness throughout her narrative of her seemingly normal life which later leads into abrupt heartbreak and a budding identity crisis. Caldwell's vivid but simple diction choices make this novella a swift and illustrative read, one that I refused to put down until I reached the back cover.
To travel Kazim Ali's SILVER ROAD is to walk among stars and cells, to trace lines in and around and through, to move in all directions at the same time one is moving forward. It is a meditation, a communion, an inquiry. From Yoko Ono to Einstein, to poets, to worship, to gender, to place, to home...Ali's vast internal map unfolds, expands, and connects: "Whether kismet or karma, action creates present condition. Present action creates future condition. A poem is a way of mapping these directions in the present (lyric) moment." But it also blurs and redraws as prose flows into, out of, and within poetry and vice versa. As boundaries fade, everything seems to come into focus: "I can't see unless I see differently." What is home, what are borders, what is self for those who travel and exist between and even beyond?
Not all bodies crossing borders are content with the limitations of language. Though in Farsi pronouns
are gender neutral, in English they aren't, with the exception of the subjunctive case. You have to
choose. But how do you choose a gender if you have changed from one to the other? Or if you aren't
either? And what if you are all genders in turn or at once? (pg. 33)
Every revelation on the micro is a revelation on the macro: "The body is a way of understanding the universe and so the universe must be a way of understanding the body," and "If we are wrong about gender we might be wrong about sentience." Ali's ruminations, investigations, and travels call into question prejudices, biases, and assumptions often passed off and accepted as knowledge. What frameworks/parameters/equations do you accept that become an edge on your map, a wall, an end? Ali's map is a map of letting go, of getting lost, which is lonely, but at the same time, if everything is connected, each action feeding into every other action, then isn't getting lost also a form of connecting, of coming home?
THE COLLAGES OF HELEN ADAM is an important new addition to the (thankfully) ever expanding catalog of books on/about/or (posthumously) by SF Renaissance poets/artists.
THE COLLAGES feels very much like an extension of Christopher Wagstaff's beautiful, essential An Opening Of The Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle.
Published by Futher Other Book Works (CJ Martin + Kyle Schlesinger) and insightfully edited by Alison Fraser THE COLLAGES is a well-deserved retrospective on the little known, life-long collage work project of Pat and Helen Adam. I attended the book party here in Berkeley, hosted by Alison Fraser and CJ Martin at the Pauline Kael house, surrounded by murals by Jess, I listened to Alison and Lewis Ellingham (a friend of Helen's and contributor to the book) speak about the collages. I may as well have been tripping out the energy was so thick.
The book itself feels charged, like a grimoire, like Helen Adam herself! These books are limited so grab one before they are gone.
First off, the cover is everything: a cartoon bear-like creature with laser-eyes animates the potato-like bear torso of a different laser-eyed bear above its assumed foresty context, like some intimate hybrid of that one scene from the movie Ghost (you know the one) and of Kitty Pryde from X-Men messing around with a large potato in a deep, metaphorical way. Pretty much what dreams are made of. And judging a book by its cover totally works this time! Because the content is everything, too. Joseph Harrington blends humor, wit, and familiarity with anthropogenic ecological crisis. It's nature poetry that doesn't sound like it's trying to revive the 1800s. This book is playful and serious at the same time, never letting you outside of its location but also never fully placing you. It anchors the reader in its distinct voice and formal changes while the imagery reaches something beyond; the effect is organic, yet architectural. OF SOME SKY is painfully aware of the working day and the current state of capitalism, finding the ecologic relationship that blooms within those limitations. It's as if apocalyptic crisis is the laser-eyed cartoon, and you are the potato-shaped bear torso, suddenly aware of how the motions of crisis become your own. And don't even get me started on the book's positions of "you" and "I." No spoilers. This book takes you for a ride. So be ready, little potato bear, the totality leaks all over the sublime.
When I first moved to the Bay Area in 2014, I was eager to turn my bookshelf into the place I wanted to be in the world. Juliana Spahr had asked the question in my first ever graduate poetry class, how many poets of color are on your book shelf? & how many of them are women? & I thought in my head & how many queer? the number got smaller and smaller. Nikki Giovanni & Julian Talamantez Brolaski were perhaps the only two on my shelf at that time & that felt heavy. & not enough & not acceptable, by a long shot.
I had just come out of a very Keats, Wordsworth, Stevens, Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Eluard, O'Hara, Mina Loy you get the point poetry world. I was starving not only for contemporary poetry, but non-white & unabashedly queer poetry. I spent most of my time in graduate school researching the use of experimental typography in queer poetry & after two and half years I was able to truly grow my library. It takes so much time & labor & love to align how we act & where we put our energy with who we are & here with NEPANTLA: AN ANTHOLOGY FOR QUEER POETS OF COLOR a queer community of color has given us a poetic field guide to resistance. If you claim to love poetry to be about poetry in any way, stop what you are doing, buy this book & actually read it.