Staff Picks 2013


Sexual Boat (Sex Boats)

Zoe Brezsny recommends

Sexual Boat (Sex Boats) by James Gendron

"Where are you tonight, my personal party?" asks author James Gendron in his first full-length book, Sexual Boat (Sex Boats). It's the poetry book of our generation, if only our generation liked poetry and reading. It's devastating and comic, each poem a reminder that everyone else is as twisted and lonely as you. It's also more than that, making paradoxical associations that most of us never think of: the afterlife with alcoholism or angel sweat with the odor of corpses. Gendron enters a consequence-free zone where language can be dumb and all the better for it. Transcendence rises out of the most banal moments and in the best of poetry makes it sing.

In the poem "Licking Your Pussy '04," Gendron writes, "I felt cilly (silly), having my picnic blanket fall/on so many skeletons from the Iraq war, which had recently begun at that time./I just want six days/to prove I'm not an animal." He makes the gentle fall of a picnic basket over skeletons seem like the most natural thing in the world, the kind of surrealism that is not heavy-handed but as light and airy as whipped butter. His voice is chatty and casual, which makes it easy to digest the internal and external wars raging throughout Sexual Boat.

The titles of eight of the book's poems are variations on Sexual Boat (Sex Boats). Inside the sexual boat are more sex boats, like a funhouse mirror that goes on and on forever. Gendron's prose connects love and sex to the U.S. military and burn victims and then to Pizza Nite and the wings of Christ. Everything is allusive and connected. He gets that intimate relationships are intrinsically tied to world politics, but also to the blinking lights of an ICU. One moment he's writing about how it's always December three feet from a bullet, the next he's hiring a witch to kill his lover's boyfriend.

Gendron's poems lack the egotism and stiff formalism that are turn-offs in a lot of contemporary poetry. It's evident he hasn't been affected by the M.F.A. writing programs that breed a safe, uniform style or a pretentious and false experimentalism. He's over being anything but Gendron, highs and lows included. He makes auto caricatures of himself, poking fun at his vulnerability. He embraces so-called ugly language, inserting pop culture references, Internet slang and made-up words-"graynbow" and "Wolfwater" being personal favorites-with the ease of a modern-day William Carlos Williams.

In "Shade" he writes: "I swear: when you leave me alone, every part of my body is having its own nightmare." His clean, micro-specific poems restore my faith in an art form that many have left for its oversentimentality, a slice of stale cake that has been left out too long. Some of his lines are brilliant in their simplicity: "Glass is a liquid actually. So earlier, when you said being around me was like eating glass, you really meant drinking." For all the overly careful writing of the literary world, much of it never really touches on uncensored human emotion. But that's not true in Gendron's case. He is obsessively concerned about the precision of his words, demanding that they convey something real.

Other lines reel with a surrealism that lends clarity rather than confusion: "I love you like an asshole/loves his best friend the sun./Is half your face his?/Turn it away./Is half your car his?/Sell it for cash./Love sews the faces of burn victims with moonlight and sexual hope/until they're perfect, gleaming/teeth in the Human Chandelier./It's a strange feeling, wanting/to kill someone." It's a brilliant summation of what it's like to be with someone. In a genre where the superfluous relationship poem reigns supreme, I get a love poem that I can believe in, finally.

Gendron aspires to be what rapper Ghostface calls the smart dumb cat. Instead of getting lost in the ether of lofty post-modern jargon, his readers get revelations about desire, car crashes, the Internet and isolation at parties. What Gendron deems "the ill-logic and deformed language" in Sexual Boat (Sex Boats) takes us on a journey through adulthood (eating anger and cancer scares included), the World Wide Web, and the dark crevices in between. When you finish it you will feel like, in Gendron's words, "the germs seen by the beautifulest person on the bus, who is never me," and that is just one of his many startling lines and insights that will shake off any preconceived notions about poetry. If only every poet applied the smart dumb cat philosophy, and with as much vision and skill as Gendron.


The Compleat Purge

Liza St. James recommends

The Compleat Purge by Trisha Low

This book is a charm to incite dread and/or delight. Hold it close and let its mirrored cover reflect your face; the selves within it are reflective, too, and also self-reflective. Let its hot pink end pages be your teen bedroom (or internet room) walls and become privy to forbidden secrets. Learn spells for True Love, receive incisive wisdom, score ATM pins and email passwords, all through suicide notes, foreplay-filled fangirl chats, and amatory fiction—but beware! Presented as transcriptions of personal ephemera, this book is slippery. Spills slide right off its glossy cover just as its confessional "I"s, who take on the name of their author, remain unpindownable, ever-making and remaking themselves. This is a performance of traces—of the self, of cybersex cookies on a dad's computer, of a romance with a MacGuffin—and among the remnants the question remains: what do we leave when we leave ourselves behind? This book had me sifting through my own personal ephemera, tracing the stuff of my former selves, considering bequeathables. This darkly sharp charm-in-itself gave me nightmares that I'm not sure I’ve awoken from, and there are even more charms within; to collect them all, though, well, there's only one way.




Janice Worthen recommends

Panic by Laura McCullough

Laura McCullough's Panic sits on your nerves, holding you in suspense lest it decide to rise on its sharp heels and dance (which it frequently does). It is a collection that embodies and enforces the anxious anticipation we all feel in our daily lives, an anticipation we can neither name nor define. We understand it only when the tragic occurs, to ourselves or others, the pulse quickens and our tension is released. McCullough's clipped and muscular narratives turn on tragedy-the drowned child, the boy consumed by the asphalt truck, the amputees, those left behind. It is the tragedy, its suddenness, its insistence on being present in the most mundane and safe of places, that wakes both character and reader from their routine-driven, disconnected pseudo lives into a reality that is all raw nerve. McCullough mulls over Wallace Stevens' "Death is the mother of beauty" as she considers how tragedy, and one's panic in the face of it, opens one's eyes to what is "true and beautiful": "Only what dies is exquisite." It is the fight against death that causes "the men [to] all fall in love with each other...The man on the ground will become their totem" or that transforms a man's arm into a sleeve of honor after he reaches into hot asphalt to rescue an already dead boy, a sleeve "he would come to like...the scars deepened into something/no one could have created for him...a map of a world/ very few people ever enter." Unfortunately, the price for paying witness to the beauty is often the loss of a beloved, even the loss of perception. Just as tragedy can awaken us, it can also numb and shock us, as if we can't get over the alarm at the ending of one heartbeat and the discovery of our own. Sometimes tragedy is transferred to the body in an effort to process it (the man burning one arm with a cigarette while chilling the other with ice cream, the man burning a letter off his tattoo) or is sometimes transferred to the sky, water, or landscape in an effort to escape it. McCullough makes the reader grateful to arrive at the next page, a survivor and witness haunted by what's come before. She seems to acknowledge and question death's ability to tease out beauty, to renew life, because when the tragedy is close enough, large enough, how can the eyes or heart take it in? She leaves us tense, trembling, fearful of yet yearning for the next sensation.



Running for Trap Doors

Katie Jackson recommends

Running for Trap Doors by Joanna Hoffman

For anyone who has ever be an outcast or felt alienated for having different ideas than what is trending or considered to be “normal” by an unspoken audience of western culture will feel right at home with Joanna Hoffman’s poetry in “Running for Trap Doors.”  She opens our eyes to what was already present but nobody was looking—the grandmother who drowns in perfume and wears hideous lipstick that has perspectives cultivated in a time of racism she truly believes to be the proper way; a stern father who would rather zone out to the glare of television than spend time with his daughter.  She provides the reader with many relatable situations that at the time when they occur a child doesn’t understand the darkness and can’t register the processes that later in life hit them with such force and influence.  She uses global and domestic issues to connect with her audience from known oxy morons in the Catholic church like the priests who have charges of molestation to her own mother that condemned others against sins she herself committed right in front of them.  She states people desire more so to live under the idea of one god then to actually believe: “under pressure of yearning to be a believer.”  Hoffman faces fear head on and even said “give you’re a fear a pen name, then forget about it.”  Her questioning of normalcy is a reoccurring theme and she proposes that one should declare their own normal. 




Zoe Brezsny recommends

Cunt-Ups by Dodie Bellamy

It's what we've always wanted: a little book we can carry around in a pocket, shockful of sexual text that disorients and excites. The cover of Cunt Ups depicts a demure mouse staring into darkness. It's only after reading one page of the book that you realize it's on the edge of night, hungry and waiting to be fucked.

Deceiving us further, author Dodie Bellamy looks like a smiling suburban housewife in the photo on the back of her book. True to the confusion of sex itself, Bellamy's Cunt Ups oozes with bodily fluids, grotesque fetish (crucifixes anyone?), psychosis, and -- you guessed it -- an irresistible mundanity.

Cunt Ups is edited William Burroughs-style, a Frankenstein creation composed of various text, both the author Dodie Bellamy's own and others. It continuously disorients: "I was Jesus, see the dark figure in the empty room alone, all fours tied, cakes, one arm out of the leather." Then a few paragraphs on: "I fucked you like snakes fuck each other, fuck me, your tits hanging in my face because that feels good, the organs and the blood, hitchhikers tight in the crack of my ass."

When the sentence "I'm saying all these things to you in the basement, I give you some more coffee" comes around, its ordinariness is surprising and grounds Bellamy's sexual obsession. The fact that the book is oh so sweetly dedicated to "Kevin," makes the text all the more strange. It's the intimate and frankly normal elements in Cunt Ups that make it that much harder not to jerk off on your lunch break.

The cut-up style that Bellamy employs is one reason the hermaphroditic content of the book works so well. Bellamy's constant fluctuation between genders and juxtaposing objects of desire are a written mirror for sex's unpredictability, for its all-encompassing ambiguity. "My cock is a cocoon and it's going to live inside you and be recycled. It seems real to me that bodies get dark." In Cunt Ups, bodies disappear and all you're left with is pleasure and pain.

Our culture is all about making bodies visible so we can buy them; the bodies in Cunt Ups, including Bellamy's own, do not have pornographic visibility. They live in darkness where they escape market commodification. It sounds postmodern, and it is. That doesn't mean the book takes itself too seriously. "I feel so luxurious, you in my panties as if I hadn't read Anais Nin." Bellamy's dirty, androgynous language play is refreshing in an age of careful tiptoeing around the subject of gender identity.

Bellamy's novel is equal parts a fucked-up version of pillow talk and a radical -- dare I say feminist -- manifesto against capitalist ideas of sex. She takes the taboo and makes it casual, rubs genitals up against things we see or experience every day, like dishwashing or waiting for the bus. She covers netsex, psychic oozings, alien invasion, and serial murder. In the end though, as Bellamy says herself, "In ecstatic peristalsis the lover endlessly re/turns to life."



Melissa Hohl recommends

Conversities by Dan Beachy-Quick and Srikanth Reddy

In Conversities, each image contains worlds within itself. Poets Dan Beachy-Quick and Srikanth Reddy create a multiverse in which awe remains alive, aware, and matter is merely a vessel for the "Homunculus curled up inside the oculus,/ An I within the eye." In this optimal collaboration, the written ‘I' evolves from its habitual linear figure into a circular shape with powers to absorb and penetrate the ‘you' reading. Conversities, with its unexpected yet perfected echoes and tones, promises rapture, enchantment.




Fjords, Vol. 1

Nathan Gale recommends

Fjords, Vol.1 by Zachary Schomburg

Fun. This word doesn't usually describe poetry, maybe cupcakes or water parks or Honey Boo Boo, but at times like this it also describes Zachary Schomburg's second book, Fjords, Vol. 1. Fun to read, fun to reread and probably fun to eat. On the other hand, fun in Schomburg's case is the kind of fun you get from squishing hamburger meat between your toes and dead baby jokes. Schomburg is a new, exciting and well-needed breath of fresh air in the world of poetry. Had Russell Edson and Andre Breton been wood furniture, Schomburg would have ripped off the varnish and mod podged it with photos of dead cats and blood-stained trees. Fjords is a surreal field-trip through Zachary Schomburg's mind, where you either wake up inside the meat counter of your grandfather's grocery store, or awash in the Arctic Ocean. The poems are literal and plainspoken, "I am the dead person inside me...I breathe once and teeth come out," or when finding babies of all the people you ever loved, "one room is silent with their ghosts." The book is populated with prose poems, using simple but effective language, where the violence is self-affirming and the surrealism isn't alienating. The book is a journey through time, space and forest, and when you finish it you will feel like you, in Schomburg's words: climbed a mountain and fucked it into the sea.


Dear Al-Qaeda

Holly McDede recommends

Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World's Most Notorious Terror Organization by Scott Creney

Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World's Most Notorious Terror Organization by Scott Creney is just about as bitter as one would expect a collection of letters written to Al-Qaeda to be. Is it anti-American? Pretty much. Creney hates some of the major aspects of American culture, like death metal bands with unnecessarily hardcore names like Napalm Death, the Macy's Day Parade, fat people, and driving. Is he offensive? That too. For instance, he asks Al-Qaeda to blow up Sally Mae along with an elderly woman who orders doughnuts from Dunkin' Doughnuts so slowly it's like she's "taking the SATs or buying a house." Creney explains community colleges, the Superbowl, and beauty pageants in a way that makes America seem like the most ridiculous place on earth, which it might be. Other times, Creney just wants to understand Al-Qaeda in the post-911 world. He asks, like he's making conversation, "Can I call you Al? Do any of you have children? Do you ever wish you were more beautiful?" Dear Al-Qaeda would be better if Al-Qaeda actually responded, but since that's unlikely, the book stands as a depressingly humorous portrait of a very bitter man who might not be a terrorist, but one who is definitely tired of America.


Only What We Could Carry

Brandon Shimoda recommends

Only What We Could Carry: The Japanese American Internment Experience, Ed., Lawson Fusao Inada

An archive-an exhibition, an ESSAY-of the wartime internment of Japanese Americans, this is one of those books that when I find it in a kind of biblio waste space (remainder bins, suburban library (liquidation) sales, misshelved in moribund used bookstores), I feel a responsibility to rescue it from both its murder and suicide. Such monuments are as likely to be erased from general consciousness as they are to implode under the weight of their own subject, often misapprehended and reduced, for example, AS monument or reflection-oxidized, overgrown. No, it is, in every detail and hour, happening! The voices are still emerging. This book includes letters written by Isohei Hatashita, a California man, to his wife and family from a Department of Justice camp in Missoula, Montana, in 1942, the same camp where my grandfather was incarcerated during World War II under suspicion of being a spy. I live directly and vicariously through these letters, because I know and can feel my grandfather-IN REAL TIME-beyond the letters' margins, as I know and can feel across the entire book, which means that I NEED it, the book, and for the margin of each document scrutinized and story told and retold to proliferate the lives beyond each back into a center of primary, unraveling experience. This is one of the most important books in my life; it feels both cinematically complete and utterly mocking in its incompletion. The SPD catalog provides a description of what's actually IN it. It sends me OUT into my own research and re-enactments, by which I am always envisioning subsequent volumes.


Borrowed Tales

Dot Devota recommends

Borrowed Tales by Deborah Woodard

Fucking follow this book around. The cover image is a 4-legged animal, all grey, painted in the bottom corner on a sheet of white paper. As the 4-legged animal dries, the paint on its back stiffens, grabbing at what it clings to, what it had no decision in, the paper and animal ruined so it can never lay straight again. The part of day one falls into is only seconds wide. Conversations with clipped wings. Strangers arrive in pairs and I might do what they do. Not just keen observations of all the material in the world we've named and call out to often, but everything is overwhelmingly interesting again. New senses for our evolving drama. The pinnacle of research and study. What to do with all you've seen and heard. Permanent food. (That folk song, the best scenes from my favorite French films, illustrations from dark children's books. It's nothing like this but I'm reminded of all my favorite art at once.) When we're alone, the behaviors we exhibit are more odd and the voices communing can speak!



Vanessa Saunders recommends

Burial by Claire Donato

Burial is a meditation on loss. The narrator's experience at a hotel/morgue--both internal and external--is documented in Burial, seeming to symbolize the narrator's struggle with the death of her father. In many ways, the book is a psychic experience. The tone is elegiac, intelligent, and lyrical; the narrative occasionally grasps a meta-fictitious sense of itself, giving this book of cross-genre/ prose poetry/ fiction an extra dimension, or web of meaning. Much of Burial's dramatic tensions lies in author Claire Donato's precise execution of conceptual blends and juxtaposition; the effect is a captivating and entrancing debut. At a mere 80 pages, Burial is a strange, sad, but vastly unique summer read.


[BOND, JAMES]: alphabet, anatomy, [auto]biography

Holly McDede recommends

[Bond, James]: alphabet, anatomy, [auto]biography by Michelle Disler

When I went to went to England last year, I “had to watch James Bond films,” the English told me. This was hard, even when James Bond was right in front of me, going on a car chase with a super redneck sheriff in Bangkok or hopping along alligators. All the while I exclaimed, “This is the stuff experimental poetry is made of!” Or at least Michelle Disler must have thought so. Her book [BOND, JAMES]: alphabet, anatomy, [auto]biography takes James Bond's adventures and turns them into lists, multiple choice questions, and map coordinates in order to offer a feminist poet’s insight that rips apart and ridicules the James Bond image. The true or false section asks, “For James Bond, life is death, and death is strangely sexy. Sex is usually just sex, unless the girl dies. Then sex is death again.” Then James Bond starts smoking a lot of cigarettes. Then he starts smoking girls. The banality of the James Bond films suddenly becomes quirky and a little bit sad. You can’t help but feel for this womanizer spy who is awfully tired of being tough and having to drink amphetamines with his champagne.


In the Blind

Megan McAllister recommends

In the Blind by Eugene Marten

Eugene Marten begins In the Blind with a lyrical description of keys. The narrator tells the reader about his experience and knowledge of keys when he was young. He talks about how they looked, how to use them, and how they sometimes drew blood. This was effective in establishing the importance of keys in the story and how keys will later be used to sway the narrator’s decisions. The narrator is a man just out of prison, looking for work, who somehow stumbles into a job at a locksmith's. While working there he learns how to break locks and open rooms for people. Marten spends a great deal of time focusing the narrator’s thought process on keys. By doing this he turns keys into a means of human connection for the narrator who is trying to assimilate back into civilian life. Marten’s language is delicious and clipped in the most unusual way. He has crafted each line into a potent tool used to hold the reader captive until the very last page.


On Ghosts

Janice Nicole Worthen recommends

On Ghosts by Elizabeth Robinson

Elizabeth Robinson's new book is an investigation of that which refuses to be investigated, and this investigation is fraught with menace. Like a camera catching a ghost by focusing on something tangible, Robinson approaches her subject at angles. Robinson seeks to define haunting by defining its players. The ghost is "not the entity that haunts" but is "metaphysical sandpaper." This sandpaper creates a "heightened perception, which is hauntedness." This sandpaper, as it works, wears out places in the self, creating the "way." The result is that absence becomes presence. Robinson compares a ghost with a termite. The soul is also like the termite, feeding on the body in order to escape. But at the same time a way of escape is presented, it is also denied. And just as the reader lands upon a definition of the players, these definitions are clouded and called into question. Is the ghost also the soul? Is it the living as well as the dead who haunt? What is the purpose of a way if it leads one back to the point of origin? The form of Robinson's book evokes the haunting. She calls it "the essay," as if it is a separate entity. But just as a writer is haunted by her own stories, by words, so Robinson’s essay is haunted by the subjective, by a speaker who refuses to leave but instead frosts the page as an apparition might frost a photograph. As the book progresses, ghosts are released to work upon the reader. And so the reading experience becomes an "effective working out of associations." And here is where the menace resides. Just as a person or place is consumed as it is haunted, so is the reader. A way is created. What shall pass through?


Proving Nothing to Anyone

Holly McDede recommends

Proving Nothing to Anyone by Matt Cook

As the image of the passed out men on the cover and title suggests, Proving Nothing to Anyone is one of those genius collections seemingly written by a permanently shrugging poet who just doesn't care. If Cook were a super hero, he'd be named "Whatever, Man." In this book, he nonchalantly say things like, "I could really go for a condescending/Article about a family without running water" and "You have a full head of hair and you're unemployed/But you could pass for a bald man with a job" as though he's not saying anything unusual - just keeping it real. Each poem is a story that, if told to you on the subway, would probably make you mumble, out of politeness, and "That's...nice" and think, Why did he just tell me that? Such stories include a Walgreen's employee suspiciously outside of Walgreens, a conversation about a guitarist with very sweaty fingers, and an allegorical fable about jackal who steals a towel to make for a moon who needs a shirt to go with its tie. Then there's the man who thinks everyone on Gilligan's Island is an actor forced to act out scenes in Gilligan's Island. While haplessly searching for the point, it's hard not to read and re-read every story Cook tells in that mundane, blasé voice he's secretly worked so hard to master.


#Dear Twitter

Holly McDede recommends

#Dear Twitter: Love Letters Hashed Out Online in 140 Characters or Less by Mahogany L. Browne

Twitter: there's a thing that's fascinating linguists and exasperating those who'd prefer we all write each other highbrow novels instead of tweeting like peasant parakeets. With the 140 character limit, Twitter forces us, for better or worse, to tweak language. Like those funky writers who think not using the letter "e" - or hey, maybe only using the letter "e" -- in their writing will set them free, Mahogany L. Browne uses Twitter's limitations to make art. And so #Dear Twitter: Love Letters Hashed Out Online in 140 Characters or Less, a collection whose title doesn't lie, was born, proving that meaningless vernaculars can have more meaning than one might think. Browne writes encouraging little lines, like, "#dear swag: I know haters never prosper. That's why I'm nap this one off. ‘In Swag I Trust'" Other letters are to the world, to him, to her, to herself, to Mountain Dew, to Brooklyn, to Oakland, and more. This book is for those who adore The Reg and see rhythm and poetry in street slang and passed notes.



Domestic Disturbances

Megan McAllister recommends

Domestic Disturbances by Peter Grandbois

Domestic Disturbances by Peter Grandbois is dedicated to describing ordinary experiences in an entertaining and sometimes humorous way. The first section, MONSTERS, is about riding on a school bus. He uses the physical structure of the bus as a tool to guide the reader through the story. He divides the bus into sections, much like the children who divide themselves into social groups. Everything Grandbois describes is reminiscent of a typical school bus. There is a chapter called The Door, followed by Window #1, Window#2 and so on... He describes each child in each window, slowly walking the reader down the aisle, occasionally separating two windows with conversations among students. The reader follows Grandbois all the way down to the Emergency Exit. I think this is clever because it never turns into a story entirely about children. It is a shadow of a common human experience.

The second section is called DISTURBANCES In this section Grandbois describes individual chores and the maintenance needed to keep a house in good condition. Some of the chapters are labeled Cleaning, Gardening, Plumbing, and so forth. He turns these chores into something much more than what they actually are, one of my favorite sentences is in Cleaning "It frightens us watching her alone like that, day after day, as if she's stuck in a pattern she can't break." I think Grandbois is saying that maintaining a house is not about the chores we choose to do, but an expression of who we are and what our life is like, which makes sense when you think about how much time people spend (or don't spend) perfecting their homes. Everyone likes things a certain way, but it's difficult to move forward if we can't escape our everyday patterns.



Poeta En San Francisco

Janice Worthen recommends

Poeta En San Francisco by Barbara Jane Reyes

In structure, tone, and content, Barbara Jane Reyes' Poeta en San Francisco embodies a city and country of blending and often clashing cultures. Reyes writes that "in our collisions, we learn to make new," and "i can think of no single, adequate translation." So she uses many languages, languages that play off one another, sit side by side, and intermingle. The reader is alternately invited in and denied access. He or she is, in turns, oriented, disoriented, and reoriented by language, line, and voice. For the monolingual reader, translations must be trusted at the same time they are suspect. The reader comes to understand the challenges faced by the immigrant and the "other." Sometimes a voice despairs, sometimes it rages, sometimes it disintegrates into ruin. Like people, words and lines often clash, fight for dominance, and crumble together. The horses of the apocalypse gallop through and are transformed as cultures, individuals, and even the world are torn among annihilation, assimilation, and affirmation. In a moment of clarity, some realize they've lost who or what they are: "Counting kill, your body is lost. There is no hope for your spirit." These are "Desaparecido." Some are ruined by their own power and corruption. And sometimes, from the heart of the rubble, one who has been robbed and exploited discovers the new Reyes speaks of, realizes it is in her own power and of her own making. A new being rises, one who is multifaceted and therefore invincible:

                you came then, with your devices, and you will come again, believing
                yourself to be some cipher, some illuminati, plunder-hungry in
                secrecy. She will not appease you, but with the fire you once took to
                her flesh, she will melt down your weapons, forge her own gods, and
                adorn her own body.



Fun Camp

Holly McDede recommends

Fun Camp by Gabe Durham

Certain settings automitically inspire cliché horror movie soundtracks and frightening thumping noises, like dark basements, cemetaries, and abandoned houses. Summer camp is not necessarily on that long list of what to fear if you're intelligent. But read Gabe Durham's prose-poetry collection Fun Camp, and all the sexual tension, tyranical camp counselors, and just generally growing up and the stupid horrors that come along with it are brought back. There's crazy rules like no unprescribed speed and unprescribed cola. There's sexually experimental girls who pass out "warm fuzzies" haphazardly. There's a boy named Billy who writes strange letters to his mother asking for her opinion on the Vietnam War. This poetry collection is a weird, deeply humerous, quietly provactive portrait of growing up, which is kind of like a Fun Camp that isn't really fun unless you read this book when it's over.




Janice Worthen recommends

Follow-Haswed by Laura Walker

In Follow-Haswed, Laura Walker uses the OED entry “Follow-Haswed,” to create a series of collage poems that embody the richness, history, contrariness, and even limitations of language. The juxtaposition of images and words, the unfinished sentences and fractured voices, the loss of punctuation…all create a sense of chaos even as repeated titles, themes, and words weave a net and, therefore, a vessel for the reader. As the reader returns again and again to the sea, to a soldier, to a mother and child, to God and evil, she feels like she is being led in circles, and yet each place previously passed is entirely new. The reader feels both led and abandoned and is reminded of the inevitable chasm between two bodies, between word and meaning, between language and self. A voice that rises to say, “I will follow you to the world’s end,” says also, “I am myself very far.” Thus one follows but also moves forward alone on a seemingly different path. A voice cries out again and again “I lost him.” And as the momentum of the words increases, the reader gets a sense of frantically searching amid wreckage in a tossing sea to find something that can’t even be identified. Perhaps the fear that motivates this movement is “being lost by not being heard” because “in silence of the night/we expect evil.” We speak to avoid darkness, even as we fail to do so. As each strand of the net snaps, the reader falls back through into mystery until the end is reached and “we came to where it lay.” We discover then we are alone and yet together, followers at the same time we are leaders—that we are found even as we are lost.


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