Staff Picks 2017


invocation to daughters | barbara jane reyes | city lights publishers

Brent Cunningham recommends

Invocation to Daughters by Barbara Jane Reyes

I've followed Barbara Jane Reyes's writing ever since POETA EN SAN FRANCISCO from Tinfish Press came out in 2005. In her follow up books (Diwata from BOA Editions and To Love as Aswang from Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc.) there was more evidence of her tremendous talent, which in my mind relies on a tension between her nearly-perfect ear for lyrical precision against and through her passionate, messy, political intensity and Filipino identity. Not to take anything away from those books but I feel like Reyes has found yet another gear in INVOCATION TO DAUGHTERS. While it is still built on that same tension, where the beauty of expression crashes against the brutality of the world as it is (especially for women, especially for people of color) I find it here integrated and crystallized so deeply it awes me. Maybe I'm only noticing her maturity in a way, but it's sure not maturity in the sense of softness or acceptance: these poems are fire. Eternal fire, really, but also a highly specific and located fire: these are Filipino poems, periodically breaking into Tagalog, into Spanish, very much located in San Francisco, and very much everywhere too. It's a mystery to me how they can be so universal yet so immediately topical—so much so it seems impossible they were written before all the #metoo headlines, but that just shows again how sexual harrassment and police shootings and grief and anger sure didn't start this month. Or as Reyes puts it: "You walk hand-in-hand with your damage, into the world." She also writes "Fuck your fences and your applause" but I'm going to applaud anyway—this book is the news for real.


unaccompanied | javier zamora | copper canyon press

Liam Curley recommends

Unaccompanied by Javier Zamora

Poet Javier Zamora was nine years old when he left El Salvador and crossed the border into the States to reunite with his mother and father who'd fled their country's Civil War and its aftermath. He fills UNACCOMPANIED, his first full-length collection out from Copper Canyon Press, with this history, with memorials and family legends. It's filled with pain, but also a great care and provocation. I hope once someone puts this book down they pick up tools to fix the world.

There are scenes of war and survival that are sharp, made real with details from lives "over-lived": bodies dumped from helicopters, the sound when "boots flashflood through houses," taking off torn clothes, worn for 2 months in the Sonoran Desert, in a Ross fitting room. "I am not the only nine year old / who has slipped my backpack under the ranchers' fences," Zamora writes, and for this voice alone—a voice testifying, a voice calling for more voices—UNACCOMPANIED is invaluable.

But the book is not all scalding, call-Congress politics or resentment—as justified and brilliant as those tones are. It's also a struggle with memory, more exactly a struggle to remember more completely. "I'm tired of writing the fence the desert / the van picked us up / took me to parents," as Zamora puts it in a poem called June 10, 1999, "I'm tired it's always that." Zamora comes back with so-vivid images—sometimes sweet, sometimes raw: backyard mangoes, bats midair, washing simply with a soapbar by a well, saguaro cacti.

It's a sorry world UNACCOMPANIED's landed in. An estimated 300 lives are lost each year attempting to cross the border, to make the same journey Zamora made. But Zamora is doing the work of keeping this sacrifice and struggle present in his poems, illuminating the having-survived and surviving, the survival never-ending.


long ride yellow | martin l west | anvil press

Scott Whitney recommends

Long Ride Yellow by Martin L. West

I must admit this book feels almost educational; I was not aware the extent of ways which carnal desire could take control until I read this book. LONG RIDE YELLOW is not a book for the quaintly curious. Nonni is not a character that will let go of you so easily, and her journey is not one most of us will be going down anytime soon. However, you will identify with her struggle to find satisfaction in a world so indescribably irrelevant to her desires. A world which Nonni's consciousness is struggling to bury with new ways to satisfy itself in a vain attempt to avoid admitting that nothing will ever be enough.


no realtor was compensated for this sale | helen dimos | the elephants

Ari Banias recommends

No Realtor Was Compensated for This Sale by Helen Dimos

The title of Helen Dimos' NO REALTOR WAS COMPENSATED FOR THIS SALE comes from "a piece of Greek legal language" that can mean either what it says OR its opposite. And that seems fitting for a book filled with ghostings, refusals, revisions, citations, gorgeous slippages and the psychic and lived detritus of economic collapse, and a book guided by an uncompromising clear-headed politic. Dimos writes, maybe to herself, maybe to nobody, maybe to you: "if you're not in danger, don't write the fucking poem // You are either in danger, or you put yourself in danger. / There's no other way til we're all out / which means there's no other way." And this voice's vulnerabilities, its alert curiosity, its nuance, ring throughout—in an extended anecdotal meditative sequence, which I loved ("why is everything talking?"), in epistolaries addressed, with reciprocal "extremetenderness," to "nobody," in a section titled, simply "POEMS," throwing into question all the surrouding text. "My mother would say only rich people are communists // I disagree." In her quarrel with and refusal of authoritative narratives, Dimos builds something far more potent, admitting those lived ruptures in language and perception onto the page, where they reveal the world to us, and us to ourselves. Maybe what I admire most though is that NO REALTOR's most intensely interior moments refuse to lose sight of a public, material world, where, in one poem, two people pick white mulberries from a tree ("the first one she has a home" and "the other one he doesn't have a home" which means "He picks and picks and eats"). In Dimos' work, "to speak out of the pores of your body is to speak from that place which is specifically your business."


houses of ravicka | renee gladman | dorothy, a publishing project

Matt Hedley recommends

Houses of Ravicka by Renee Gladman

I'm worried everyone reading this staff pick is a reader, here because they read. Hopefully, at least some of you are readers but also people who do the opposite, who don't read. HOUSES OF RAVICKA is a book for people who both do read and don't read. Like: when you are at a library, do you go to the section with all the books you like to read, and take a book you know you will enjoy, have heard of and about from a friend, take that book into the room with the awful armchairs that face the window so no one will get close to you, and read? Or, do you go to the section with the books you don't read—the books that can't be read, the books in another language, the books you don't understand—and open them for the purpose of not reading them? HOUSES OF RAVICKA is two books, one for those who don't read, and one for those who do.

The first, "Part One: The Comptroller," is for those who don't read. Meaning: it is a book concerned with and circling a science that cannot be understood in a formal sense, even by readers or don't-readers familiar with Ravicka. It's a beautiful science—you could build a circuit map of it, or describe it musically, or in a really unnecessary kick (like what I'm doing here), redescribe it in language. But you couldn't conduct your own geoscog, because you don't have The Book of Regulations, you are not a Comptroller, you have none of the gestures you'd need. I love science fiction, so I'll call it science fiction: this book is science fiction. And science fiction typically exists because every other book of science fiction exists. We know what a flying car is because of the connaissance of language, because other flying cars were built already in other books, referencing past books. But HOUSES OF RAVICKA refuses to rely on connaissance, it's not always a book of language, a book for readers. In parts it becomes a book of numbers, for don't-readers, and it relies on the propinquity of numbers in order to say anything. Geoscogs, for me at least, have no imprint, referent, connaissance. It's entirely new, yet it's also entirely specific, propinquitous. All this being said, I want it to be clear I'm describing an aesthetic, one which makes this book, and other books of the Ravicka series, so unique and groundbreaking. But I do not mean to suggest the book isn't readable, or isn't masterfully done fiction. Gladman's skill for fiction is most on display in her relationship to time, in lines like, "I have, perhaps, not mentioned that I am occasionally supervised." As though it deserved to be mentioned before it came up, when a character has the need to say things both as they occur and also have them understood already, a full understanding of a life before even meeting the character in question.

That said, for those who only like to read books, the second section, "Part Two: The Houses," is where you'll find a more comfortable home. It's a book of interiority, a shining example of Gladman's incredible skill with language and feeling. The technicality that graces in blueprint/geoscog transfer/diagram is still present here, but suddenly personal in a different, more accessible way, the experience of trying to struggle through what a body means in relation to the always-inexplicable world around it, but more than that, the less often described feeling of learning, of getting closer to understanding, and allowing that learning to change you. It's my favorite book I've read this year.


invocation to daughters | barbara jane reyes | city lights publishers

Janice Worthen recommends

Invocation to Daughters by Barbara Jane Reyes

I am so grateful that Barbara Jane Reyes is in the world and that I have her latest book in my hands. I cherish each poem, the anger, the power. Reyes' book calls out rape culture, violence against women—especially brown women, immigrant women, and working women—and the system that perpetuates and even encourages this violence, but she also calls out the violence we do to ourselves to survive as long as we can in this system. Part of that violence is silence, which Reyes shatters with her multilingual tongue. Her words are a sting and a balm, and if you're on the wrong side of history, beware because "She is through with your shit, every insult / Every threat you level, every dirtbag / Attack can't move her." This book is a ledger of sins, a book of witness. Though the body is fragile, can and will break, "We commit everything to memory." And Reyes puts that memory to the page because "in writing, we restore our lives." 

This book of she-beasts, bitches, and monsters is radiant with its claws out. This book is a reminder, an invocation, a blessing, and a war cry. It is the friend who teaches you how to throw a punch when everyone else tells you to keep collecting bruises. Reyes is "not the polite little colored girl you are looking for." She will not put the mirror or her fist down. "What if we could / Stand with her, what if we all could fight back, / Yes, defend our sister against assault, / Each one of us so capable, who knows."


A beautiful bilingual edition from World Poetry Books, Brian Sneeden's translation of Greek poet Phoebe Giannisi's HOMERICA is a book I've been anticipating for a long time, ever since, in fact, I saw Giannisi read her poems at Susan Gevirtz's house a few years back; a little drunk from sipping Laphroaig scotch (thanks Susan!), I was charmed by Giannisi's performance, her poems, skeletal, gnomic, confessional, her reading style "Greek," heavy, threnodic, "in the blue light of dusk/ in the valley the word like a bell resounds / —my only word / I'd almost forgotten you—", she had the room mesmerized, I'm looking forward to being charmed all over again.


brick house | micheline aharonian marcom | awst press

Joel Tomfohr recommends

In all of Marcom's BRICK HOUSE, the tendency is ever inward. The only questions worth asking, or answering (if they can be) lie within. An epigraph to the book reads: "It is not outside, it is inside: wholly within." Perhaps there is no other place that is more deeply inside than the dream, a place where that which is most personal meets that which is universal. This is a book that explicitly takes on the inner world. All writing (and reading) is dream work, but this book is one that self-consciously explores the dream, is created by the dream, and creates the dream. It collapses the outside and the inside, the personal and the universal, uses the written word and the physical object—including the illuminations of Fowzia Karimi—of the book to materialize the ethereal world of thought, emotion, dream, and spirit. And yet, this book is not an object in itself, it is a means to celebrate (and elegize) the natural world and humanity's coexistence with it; it is a means to un-dream the destructive, life-negating world of plastic and steel and petrol. It is a means to dream the life-affirming, erotic natural world, a dream that breaks down what separates one person from another.


the lizard club | steve abbott | autonomedia

Steve Orth recommends

The Lizard Club by Steve Abbott

Feeling inspired by John Sakkis's Staff Pick last month, I decided to review one of my favorite Steve Abbott books, THE LIZARD CLUB. Dang, this is one weird book. It's a novel about these people who start transforming into lizards and start eating people (who haven't transformed into lizards). The narrator is a lizard and works at The Lizard Club. The book takes a strange journey in later chapters. One chapter is a questionnaire, where Abbott asks his own freak family lizard club questions. (Sample Q: "What are your favorite movies, and why?" Sample Answer: "Aliens, cus Signorey is so hot. Also Paris Is Burning," says Rachel Pepper). Another chapter is called "Kevin's Chapter," written by the legendary Kevin Killian. There's so much weird stuff, and Steve Abbott may have been the smartest guy in the world (see the chapter "Additional Lizard History," where Abbott recounts the history of lizards). Check this book out, there aren't many copies left.


the bigness of things | daniel benjamin and eric sneathen, eds | wolfman books

Trisha Low recommends

The Bigness of Things by Daniel Benjamin and Eric Sneathen, Editors

There's been a lot of discussion about what New Narrative is, exactly. I mean, I don't know. It's like, a movement of Bay Area writers? A kind of writing sex and transgression and how it intersects with political engagement? An inadvertent naming in response to aesthetic provocation? It all seems really complicated, so complicated that I wish we'd just invented some sort of sinfully delicious cake and named it New Narrative. But then again, that's kind of what this book is. Rather than the stark, academic contextualisation of an intense moment of aesthetic production that one might expect from an exhibition/conference catalogue, THE BIGNESS OF THINGS is instead a collection of disparate ingredients that don't quite fit, but come together to give us a feeling of the esoteric intimacy and happenstance conditions that produced New Narrative. Indeed, this volume is a treasure trove that includes photos of Bay Area writers surrounded by the art in their homes (not pristinely preserved, but shoved into closets, hung slant on walls) to essays by their contemporaries exploring the zine and chapbook production of the time, how these objects traveled within the community as well as their formal influence on poetry today. Ultimately, THE BIGNESS OF THINGS is a testament to the loose fickleness of sociality and its importance to aesthetic production — as Mike Kuchar has been known to say, to make a film, you should just throw a party. And this book is a funfetti cake kind of celebration — a glorious occasioning of New Narrative's raw expansiveness, its vulnerable and transient misery/joy.


the sissies | evan kennedy | futurepoem books

Noah Ross recommends

The Sissies by Evan Kennedy

A collection of meditative musings on the nature of public excursions and private devotions, THE SISSIES blesses our queer, bruised, animal bodies triumphant in meekness. Evan Kennedy, a pilgrim on his Peugeot, cycles the hills of San Francisco as he channels the city's patron saint (St. Francis, here not as much 'of Assisi' as 'of a sissy'). His language—some kind of nouveau sermon—breathlessly conjures divine presences while in delis bagging radishes, while scaling impossible hills with baseball bros and sordid queerphobes, barrel-chested men and sneaky sickos. Donning his monk's habit—a gray hoodie—Kennedy reimagines the urban sphere as a public place of worship, a city of heaven glorified by glory-holes, the smell of sweat under leather, the bark of a masked puppy sub and the bite of his dom daddy. Faces caked in concrete have never felt so hot and so holy, so animal and so very earthen in the renunciation of human sin. An impressive follow-up to TERRA FIRMAMENT, Kennedy folds the medieval into the modern with saintly grace and weaves a visionary fabric of his body that, through self-abnegation, commingles with essences sub-/suprahuman: this text and its poet breathe as bodies animal, mineral, and vegetal in a biome of language made divine across time.


flowers & sky | aaron shurin | entre rios books

Laura Moriarty recommends

Flowers & Sky: Two Talks by Aaron Shurin

Because of its quality of memoir, I was reminded, reading FLOWERS & SKY: TWO TALKS, of a period in the 1980s, when Aaron Shurin and my late husband, the poet and editor Jerry Estrin, had an ongoing exchange about beauty. The argument consisted of Jerry accusing Aaron of a commitment to the beautiful and Aaron saying yes, I do, I am, shamelessly. Conversations occurred in the world while books and postcards arrived at our house celebrating beauty. Despite the fact that the word “beauty” does not appear in the text, FLOWERS & SKY: TWO TALKS seems like another one of those gestures. In this beautiful book, the writer finds a way to explicate his work in relation to the obsessions with flowers and skies that have characterized it from the start. “To enter the flower or parse the sky required a certain general focus…I wrote in the first person to be the person, and raised citations from my own work to illustrate the image-adventure charging my work” (from “Preface”). 

In FLOWERS & SKY: TWO TALKS Aaron Shurin deftly uses its eponymous subject matters to consider the poetics of a whole life, following out the flowers and skies in his actual experience, as well as the appearance of these words in his work. The talks are excellent examples of the lyric essay, a form that allows the writer the latitude to make prose sense in a poetic way. One of the advantages of the form, fully exploited by Shurin, is the opportunity to use wonderfully sounded language to make incantatory as well as logical sense. A danger can be the risk of being self-indulgently vague. Far from falling prey to this danger, this book is precise and rigorous in its examination of a writing practice and a series of lived incidents that both inspire and comprise that practice. As revelatory as they are expository, these talks, along with the poems and other material in the book, allow Shurin to celebrate (and demonstrate) his poetics with an honest zeal that seems to tell all. Who better, I thought reading and rereading the book, to fully present one’s poetics than oneself? This work is like a textbook of how to write about one’s poetics in a way that is serious, accurate, and engaging. Old poets thinking to write their memoirs and young ones to assert their own poetics should take notice. Shurin brilliantly notes:

“What is poetics?
          You turn it in your hand like a snow globe, and shake it to see its full effects. What do you write, how do you write, what do you mean, what do you frame and what do you follow? What have you made and what have you found? What do you honor, what do you savor, what do you need to encounter…?          The sky for example.”

(“Coda” from “The Sky For Example”)


love, robot | margaret rhee | the operating system

Johnny Hernandez recommends

Love, Robot by Margaret Rhee

Margaret Rhee's first full length collection, LOVE, ROBOT, published by The Operating System, is a beautiful collision of technology and sensuality. At heart, this collection exposes the senses and underscores the human-ness of our modern world. Despite cultural acclimation to technology in our modern world, this collection suggests that distance doesn't have to be an accepted concession. Robots, machines and programming are languages that stem from the core of our desire to connect more efficiently and on a more intimate level. This collection exposes the flesh and longing that pours out from such modern endeavors. Rhee writes: "I am naked, do not laugh at me. Lap up my body as if I am part of you. Let's / forget the words 01110011 01101000 01100001 01101101 01100101. Shame / is such an ugly word. All you wires should tell us that. Don't short circuit on / me. Fifteen facial muscles contract, count them fast. Let your sensors lead / Being a human being is the best joke." Throughout this work, Rhee excites the molecules of sensation and teases at every point of access for her readers to come closer. There is something intimate and inclusive behind every word of this brilliant debut. Whether you are more robot than human or more human than not, this collection has a gravity unto itself. Join the constellation of sensuality that will hold and warm you on every page.


the most foreign country | alejandra pizarnik | ugly duckling presse

Shiloh Jines recommends

The Most Foreign Country by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert

In true Hallow's Eve fashion, THE MOST FOREIGN COUNTRY evokes the electrifying feeling of being possessed. In the introduction, Cole Heinowitz describes Alejandra Pizarnik's early work as being haunted by Rimbaud's unforgettable dictum "I is Another." & I would say that haunting moves swiftly into possession, "two scraped throats / two kisses speaking for the vision of / one existence to another / two promises moaning their / awful distant loquacities." This book is of an otherworldly poetic possession, its language moves through the reader like a specter entering the body of a spellbound host, which renders the distinction between the material & immaterial impossible. "The most foreign country" perhaps refers to the poet's very own body, as she writes from the flux of dissociation & reassociation, distorted distinctions of real & unreal, the desire to live & even stronger desire to die, "two promises of not being of being of not being / two dreams playing the wheel of fate around." If you're looking to get chills, feel that shadow press against the back of your neck, to feel the blood rush as you hear a thump in the night, look no further.


kholin 66: diaries and poems | igor kholin | ugly duckling presse

Scott Whitney recommends

Kholin 66: Diaries and Poems by Igor Kholin, translated by Ainsley Morse and Bela Shayevich

You would be hard pressed to find a more mythological writer, whose past is far more difficult to decipher than his poetry. Often the more abstract or inventive the use of Kholin's words the more honest the piece. Self deprecating at times and at others immortalizing, KHOLIN 66 is a synopsis of the literary underground in Moscow through the words of one of its most prolific and honest poets.


the others | matthew rohrer | wave books

Brent Cunningham recommends

The Others by Matthew Rohrer

The novel-in-verse form isn't exactly my go-to but I was glad I gave this one a chance. THE OTHERS is pretty much a novel, but because the lines are broken you can zip through all 248 pages in a few hours. And you really should! Initially I took it as primarily a satire on NYC publishing and narrative storytelling except, unlike just about every novel-in-novel form coming from a major publisher, it starts to play with whether it actually is satire, to question and fold back on itself. By the end both the "frame" narrative of a day-in-the-life of a young worker in the trenches at HarperCollins, and especially the sub-narratives, get more serious and intense than they should in a satire. To me the book ends up painting a pretty accurate picture of the way people live inside cascading narratives, i.e. how thought and experience are constantly in an interrupted/incomplete state. Stories constantly fail to be what we think they are, the book seems to argue, and in particular their being shoddily written or even cliched may or may not affect whether or how they affect us. In any case I thought the book arrived in some pretty heady territory using a seemingly-simple approach. In fact I kept looking for an allusion to the One Thousand and One Nights since that classic work has a similar form, brilliance, and effect, and I still think there's an allusion to Scheherazade somewhere in there I maybe missed. So I guess I'll end with a HarperCollins-esque blurb: "If you liked the 1001 Nights, you'll love THE OTHERS."


a catalogue of the further suns | f.j. bergmann | gold line press

Matthew Hedley recommends

A Catalogue of the Further Suns by F.J. Bergmann

Equal parts Invisible Cities and Star Trek, A CATALOGUE OF THE FURTHER SUNS is a strange and wonderful read. A travelogue of first contact scenarios, the book takes a conceit — aesthetic, linguistic, sexual, or otherwise — and plays out in the briefest of interactions how it affects the cataloguers' perceptions of the alien culture. One of the book's greatest strengths is its uncertain relationship to power. It relies on cultural baggage to fill in its own history while it investigates the new, constantly reevaluating its relative position. Is there a mission? A desired outcome? Marco Polo, in the garden with Kublai Khan, forgets to bring his trade interests in favor of stories. Like Invisible Cities, our book is narrated by an outsider tradition, who swears their engagements were merely scientific, or literary, or loving. There's something productively suspect about the work, in the way only the speculative can be.


our secret life in movies | michael mcgriff and j m tyree | a strange object

John Sakkis recommends

View Askew: Postmodern Investigations by Steve Abbott

Seems 2017 is the year that New Narrative gets its due, with 2 new major anthologies released: WRITERS WHO LOVE TOO MUCH from Nightboat Books, a selection of seminal works edited by two of its most celebrated participants, Kevin Killian and Dodie Bellamy, and forthcoming from Compline Press FROM OUR HEARTS TO YOURS, a festshrift of sorts to the New Narrative. Even Hollywood (by way of San Francisco's Coppola family) is getting in on the action with the news that Sophia Coppola has bought the rights to Alysia Abbott's Fairyland: A Memoir Of My Father (hopefully forthcoming in a theater near you).

Which brings us to Steve Abbott and his VIEW ASKEW: POSTMODERN INVESTIGATIONS (Androgyne Books). VIEW ASKEW was published in 1989, and as lovingly edited as those 2 new New Narrative anthologies are there is something to be said about reading the work in its original form, in its original shape, the difference between a Greatest Hits album and an LP. VIEW ASKEW is a joy to read, discursive as you can get in subject matter: art, sex, friends, gentrification, politics, theory, movies and seemingly everything in between, all written in a talky, breezy, totally warm and inviting prose, a highlight for me, Abbott's retelling of his "pilgrimage" visit to the Julian Schnabel exhibit at the SFMOMA.

I highly recommend this book, this is legitimate small press treasure, and at its original cover price of $9.95 there really is no reason to not buy it if you're a fan of New Narrative writing.


our secret life in movies | michael mcgriff and j m tyree | a strange object

Joel Tomfohr recommends

Our Secret Life in the Movies by Michael McGriff and J. M. Tyree

OUR SECRET LIFE IN THE MOVIES, by Michael McGriff & J.M. Tyree is a collection of stories from 2014, the creative culmination of a Criterion Collection movie marathon that took place in a sublet in the Mission District of San Francisco. In their introduction McGriff and Tyree write that they "watched film after film—as many as two or three a day—and wrote stories inspired by them." What they came up with reads like linked movie stills that add up to two boys' coming-of-age narratives in the 1980s. The book is suffused with the ethos of post-apocalyptic malaise. It transports the reader into the kind of world where "lilacs die in rank bursts of sweet rot" and "end-of-days folks [blame] our perpetual falling from grace." Kitchen cupboards are empty except for mouse droppings and dead batteries, the surface of the moon "[looks] strangely like a burn victim." A grandfather and great uncle who fought in WWII come back like ghosts to tell their stories. The Cold War is in full swing, replete with "X-ray-laser-armed satellites in space to blast the Soviets' missiles." For those of us who came of age in the nineties, it is no wonder we grew up with the sense that we as a country were burnt out. We had collectively lived through the previous decade wide-awake on a sci-fi-fueled, drug-induced bender. The evidence adds up and up, and I often found myself fascinated and overwhelmed with what these two writers revealed to me about the country I inherited.


my lai | carmen berenguer | cardboard house press

Janice Worthen recommends

My Lai by Carmen Berenguer, translated by Liz Henry

I'm reading Carmen Berenguer's frenetic MY LAI on a rapid bus leaving Berkeley in the rearview. I'm reading a poem Carmen Berenguer wrote in/about/around Berkeley. It's 86 degrees outside, and this bus has no AC; the tiny windows near the ceiling are cracked, and I'm just a sweaty body among many other sweaty bodies just trying to get home. Aren't we, all of us, just trying to get home? Yes, Carmen Berenguer says. Yes, even though home is often just a memory in our own individual minds. MY LAI is a book about home, a book about revolution, a book about immigration/migration. It has thousands of miles under its binding, the breath of history and all the hope/heartbreak history carries swirling from page to page: "i left Chile with orange blossoms in my hair and with my loves i waved goodbye with a new youthful awakening...". The bus passes tents tucked under the overpass, on my newsfeed no one is coming to Puerto Rico's aid. My bag of dollar-store purchases keeps threatening to slide off the seat next to me. I'm reading a book that's wobbling on the brink, feeling that wobble on the page and all around me. Berenguer: "Don't think that I harbor nostalgia / only reverberations...". I'm in such excellent company, I'm being swept up and set violently back down. I'm thinking about how "the authorities politely salute, / The new order." I'm wondering how much darkness people/I will tolerate before revolt: "The dawn is trivial and the night deserves long insomnia. / I had nightmares. / While you eat, I have vomited this void." I get on another bus, but the driver stops and gets out for a break from the heat, the route. I am thinking back to shorter roads, cooler weather: "...I wanted to go back to my neighborhood / to that corner my little shore my school notebook / my first word." Reverberations.


far enough | joe wilkins | black lawrence press

Joel Tomfohr recommends

Far Enough: A Western in Fragments by Joe Wilkins

I recently watched Taylor Sheridan's latest release, Wind River, a murder mystery that, among other things, explores the economically and geographically unforgiving nature of rural life in Wyoming. I must have been thinking of this film when I picked up Joe Wilkins's FAR ENOUGH: A WESTERN IN FRAGMENTS. His distilled story offers a counterpoint to Sheridan's film. It verifies certain truths of the rural life it depicts—it is harsh, economically depressed, often lived through with the dangerous salve of narcotics and alcohol. Above all, it contains a stark beauty that is best imagined through the careful eyes of someone who has the sensibility to recognize it as such. Wilkins's at times pitch perfect language imagines Montana as a place where the "horizon [drinks] the spill of sun from the sky," and where the "Snowy Mountains [go] blue-black" at dusk. These fragments are a mosaic that never stray far from the archetypal cowhand named Willie Brown, a young man who loses his thumb in a grotesque roping accident with a "winter-born Angus," one in which "he felt the rope grind hard down on bone." The book is more than a character study; it is a sustained look as a small town community surrounded by the mountains. It does what all good narratives do, it teaches the reader about its subject matter—in Wilkins's case the people and their animals, the land and its weather patterns, and how they all coexist in the same habitat.


joy of missing out | ana bozicevic | birds, llc

Johnny Hernandez recommends

Joy of Missing Out by Ana Božičević

Ana Božičević's newest Birds, LLC collection, THE JOY OF MISSING OUT, can be likened to staring at the night sky, at the constellations and making a mythology based in the deeds of feminine heroes and accomplishments. This mythology is not set in some far distant past or in some exotic location, it is a mythology that wraps itself around the present, in a world of emojis and relationships. There is a beauty of grandeur in every moment as it is experienced through Božičević's eye. There are exquisite moments of quiet luxury and moments of long worn love that resonate like the sliding of silk sheets in a quiet room. This collection will linger and seduce you into wanting that one perfect moment when everything makes complete sense or that one moment that provokes you to destroy everything your world is. When she writes, "I glimpse that moment when / I will be / Forever the one / More absent / Forever the less desiring / And will have paid / The price of flesh / For the total randomness / Of my failures here on earth / Guided but not explained / by the light / Of an unsubstanced star / And I shake my ass," she celebrates the basis of a mythology that is completely exposed as nothing but gas and movement and inference, in this mythology of the present there are no guiding lights, no heroes, and no villains there are only actions and meanings, as they are interpreted by each person's own wants and desires. Please read through this amazing exploration of the newness of direction.


the science of things familiar | johnny damm | the operating system

Trisha Low recommends

The Science of Things Familiar by Johnny Damm

Sourced from a series of disparate illustrations, advertisements, screenplays, sourced text and magazine scraps, THE SCIENCE OF THINGS FAMILIAR is first and foremost a romp through ephemera from another time, but it's also an experiment in the formulas of sentimentality and nostalgia. From an excerpt of the brilliant Joan Crawford classic Johnny Guitar, to an esoteric pseudo scientific drawing labelled 'Diagram of an Argument,' what becomes collected are not simply products of a time placed proximal to each other, but specifically crafted constellations designed to illicit within us a sense of the uncanny, the artificial generation of recognition and identification that art is so keen and quick to manipulate. What happens when feeling becomes calcified into a genre or a form? And what happens when these shards are shored up against each other, shifted into another context, another time? THE SCIENCE OF THINGS FAMILIAR swirls up time and space in a way that is sometimes beautiful, sometimes uncomfortable, and always disjunctive, forcing us to take note of our own location, our own circumstance, in a fashion we might not otherwise.


there you are | joanne kyger | wave books

Steve Orth recommends

There You Are by Joanne Kyger, Edited by Cedar Sigo

I know that all of you poets out there love poetry. But I sometimes think that we love our poets more than poetry. We love their minds and their hearts. If you even somewhat agree then this book is for you. THERE YOU ARE: INTERVIEWS, JOURNALS, AND EPHEMERA is an incredible, fantastic journey into Joanne Kyger's mind & soul. We should all be thanking Wave Books and editor (and fantastic poet) Cedar Sigo for making it exist in the world. There are so many gems in the book you won't be able to put it down. Here's a few of my favorites: Joanne's "Bird Notebooks" from the 1980's, "Buzz Time," a recollection of the Buzz Gallery Group, so many interviews, so many thoughts on other artists like Joe Brainard and Robert Creeley, a fantastic letter from Philip Whalen, etc., etc. You should buy this book and go into Joanne's wonderful mind. You'll never want to leave.


open epic | julia drescher | delete press

Laura Moriarty recommends

Open Epic by Julia Drescher

OPEN EPIC is about a modern woman in her environment. She and it are both open. I want to say she occupies her territory but that sounds imperialist and this is not that. The epic here is one of strength and continuity in the face of brokenness. "No tougher meat" "no better HILDA" There is a feeling in "Hilda's Hunting" of being in a western. There are horses, guns, wolves, nights, axes, beasts, and dark woods. HILDA, who is always capitalized, revels in verbal power and the ability to survive in and manipulate this wilderness of language. She hunts, thinks, reacts, plans—has pain and pleasure. Her "woods are a treatise"

The phrase "open epic" suggests a narrative that is ongoing and large in its implications and yet made of daily life. Events are intimated but not described. As a reader I found I was continually grateful for the openness of OPEN EPIC. It allowed me to relax into the many possible meanings, to follow out the implications, and to have a new experience of the text with each rereading.

"Home out of (dark) woods
Moist & warm"

Stripped down words and phrases throughout the book allude to stories and situations that are contemporary and yet seem ancient. In particular the last section "Plural Bell," evoking the great Anna Livia Plurabelle section of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, takes from that text a permission to use a convoluted, polyphonic, transmuted vocabulary to create an allusive, allegorical, phantasm of a somehow dangerous life. Here the "she" in "[s]he would / know" "[p]ostpones the question" of something like life and death (including a "[l]anguor over language") to leave us hanging and yet satisfy our desire to go on.

OPEN EPIC is beautifully produced by Delete Press with an intriguing drawing by Norma Cole on the cover that evokes water, clouds, legs and a sort of stick being that made me think of the strange elongated statue of the statue of Anna Livia located in Croppies Memorial Park in Dublin. When asked about the subject of the visual work Norma commented "The drawing? It's just a drawing I made....," nicely rhyming with the openness of this epic.

"Tones effluent some
Thing in the vein of"


hairdo | rachel b. glaser | the song cave

Maya Arthur recommends

HAIRDO by Rachel B. Glaser

I wanna b God's girlfriend / and live on other planets / I wanna break up with God / and watch his wrath / and laugh and laugh. "I Wanna B A Mountain"

HAIRDO by Rachel B. Glaser is a doozy of a book. I feel pained, but soothed at the same time like maybe someone was rubbing my head and massaging my ears while another person punched me in the guts repeatedly. I'm reaching the final days of my very, very short, but happy tenure at SPD and in California. And boy, it was a doozy just like this book. HAIRDO is how I feel about my summer - very nice and random and just a little bit intense and harebrained. I think it's safe to say HAIRDO reads as a bildungsroman gone wrong. Instead of erring to some sort of conclusive epiphany or revelation, there is more to be sought for, more to be morbidly curious about and a willingness to always be searching and trying and listening. And a great willingness to just state what she wants to state, what she cares about, what she doesn't care for or like. It is nothing groundbreaking, but it is! There is a surreal pleasure in the ways of the modern world, the strange nuances and idiosyncrasies of Spanish classes and deodorants and pornography versus real life sexy-sex. Glaser welcomes that surreality with an awareness that most people don't have or choose to look beyond.

I like it. Glaser thrives in being candid, irreverent, and a non-sequitur. Glaser writes fuck yous beautifully, wrapped in a clever and warped perspective. Glaser writes through the butts of teenagers, through Netflix and chills, and through Snoopy. I wanna do that too.


flarf: an anthology of flarf | gardner, gordon, mesmer, et al | edge books

John Sakkis recommends

Flarf: An Anthology of Flarf, Edited by Gardner, Gordon, Mesmer, Mohammad & Sullivan

in this era of SPARKS OUTRAGE! generation wuss (sup BEE!) it's refreshing to remember back to a moment in the poetry world where sparking outrage (via cultural appropriation among other means) was perhaps the point, unapologetically the point. FLARF man, remember Flarf? I do, so much drama over so many poems, over so much coterie, over so much JOIE DE VIVRE! I loved it, and still do, I miss it and all the drama that surrounded it, King Silliman's blog and Jim Berhle's cartoons, Kent Johnson's comment boxing and Nada Gordon's dresses, the parties, the makeouts, the poet's baseball, the little mags, the poems too! the hate the hate the hate! viva hate! blogspot culture for life! I hate anthologies but this one's an exception, the brand new FLARF: AN ANTHOLOGY OF FLARF (Edge Books) brings back all those sticky, "problematic" poetry memory moments from years gone by, I would especially recommend this book to all poets under the age of 30, get dirty, break a bone, read this book, get offended and blog about it, it can only make you stronger.


no comet, that serpent... | sueyeun juliette lee | kore press

Brent Cunningham recommends

No Comet, That Serpent in the Sky Means Noise by Sueyeun Juliette Lee

Sueyeun Juliette Lee's aesthetic cosmology is built from cosmology itself, i.e. interest in light, science, mathematics, astronomy—all of which could not be closer to my heart. At the same time her interest in "human displacements" as she puts it (especially, here, the subject of her father's death during the Korean War) creates another framework that runs under, over and through the astronomical. Then there's the sweeping title poem that ends this book: filled with rifts, drifts, traces and residues it still manages, nearly impossibly, to be both oceanic and personal. Lee's previous Futurepoem book, SOLAR MAXIMUM, is beloved in my household, and I know we'll wear this one out too...take a look!


the strangers among us | caroline picard | astrophil press

Janice Worthen recommends

The Strangers Among Us by Caroline Picard

Read this little book to your feline overlord as you both contemplate the strangeness of each other's existence. What assumptions do you make, how is your perception shaped, by your human form? How delightful, aggravating, and bewildering the being that knocks all your assumptions and ideas and rules off the shelves and coffee tables of your mind and leaves you wondering if it's spite or brilliance. Let Caroline Picard and Little Grey unravel your being like a ball of yarn and bat you around their world as your universe expands.


hell-p me: poems 2016-2017 | little grape jelly | eyewear publishing

Shiloh Jines recommends

Hell-P Me: Poems 2016-2017 by Little Grape Jelly

It's leo season & i was feeling extravagantly sad & in need of attention when i picked up HELL-P ME by Little Grape Jelly. & what can i say? this book was exactly what i needed. Written by not just one poet, but three, this book consists of a year-long email correspondence between Lily Ashely, Grace Pilkington & James Massiah. HELL-P ME is for the lonely, longing, tender & fabulous, asking some of the most important questions of our iphone addled brains, "did you ? forget to respond? ... connecting like this...can it work? ... this splurging like speech but onto / a page of pixels..." Somewhere between the back & forth of their correspondences is a space where "anything could be shared in the medium of poetry." This is a space that i want to share, where i want to be, an in-between space within the dialogue of poetry.

For those who are feeling extra tender & confused, Pilkington's lines consistently hit the spot, "I don't want to misunderstand you. / but i worry that i will. / everything is red and raw / and in me there's no still.” HELL-P ME is also filled with delightful little illustrations on every other page. Around the stanza that says "everything is red and raw" a thread encircles the stanza, with a needle hanging from it, along the edge of the needle are the handwritten words, "I needle you." I absolutely love that this book is no one thing, or at least shows that poetry can be many things, people, worlds at once.


my fault | leora fridman | cleveland state university poetry center

Johnny Hernandez recommends

My Fault by Leora Fridman

Leora Fridman's most recent collection, MY FAULT, is wide reaching in its attempt to disrupt the status quo of acceptance in the everyday, in the political, in the social all the way down to the moments we each express: minute by minute and day by day, and (in her collection) even line by line. Fridman creates a context for change by interjecting momentary breaks in rhyme rhythms and highlights a sense that every break allows for a momentary contemplation about what was being said and what has broken its continuity. She seemingly does this to illustrate a socio-political imperative, a need to break what is seen as normal and what is accepted without notice and allow for the reader to absorb or dismiss or be outraged by what was so easily thrown out as a normative statement of fact. Fridman writes, "what I'm seeking / is gatherings / where I can easily / deliver my mind / especially on the days / when I run lax, laxly, / especially on the days / my blind eye pours: / people say these / are essential procedures / don't keep them to / yourself this morning, or / the way you're moving / may stay just yours." Fridman implores each reader to interject, to disrupt the surface of society—to allow for a change to seep into what is accepted and passed forward to the next moment. Fridman's collection should be in yours, if just for a moment.


gay resistance | sam deaderick and tamara turner | red letter press

Trisha Low recommends

Gay Resistance: The Hidden History

It's a strange time to be alive in 2017. Late capitalism is a hybrid and deadly beast. In an age of alternative facts, and covfefe; at a time where Google has a 20 minute long float at the SF Pride Parade and the best trans healthcare plan in America, it's hard to know up from down. But there are some books that remind you that things are simpler than they appear. That pride was first a protest, that police brutality is never acceptable and yet ubiquitous and that what you are feeling, as you stand there on Folsom Street in pleather and glitter, watching the Google float pass, is in fact not pride but Gay Shame—something for which you should be proud. GAY RESISTANCE: THE HIDDEN HISTORY, a backlist gem from Red Letter Press is a reprinting of a 1970 pamphlet first seen in Freedom Socialist. Delightfully brusque, it outlines a brief and truncated history of gay resistance—from homosexuality in antiquity, all the way through to a rejection of 1980 liberal reformism—all the while maintaining a firm anti-capitalist stance. Sure, like all revolutionary polemics, this text isn't perfect. Like all things from back in the day, it cursorily mentions intersectional politics without illustrating a true solidarity with other civil rights movements led by people of color, which, will, I'm sure, result in many a knowing eyeroll from us out here in the Bay Area. But the truth is that this is anticapitalist, queer propaganda at its best—and its clarity and polemic is, in this moment, less nostalgic than it is refreshing and necessary: "The gay movement is a small and vulnerable segment of a whole society in turmoil. But allied with other revolutionary warriors, it can majestically bear aloft the most powerful weapon of all—the banner of socialist feminist internationalism and permanent revolution for the human race."


holy ghost | david brazil | city lights publishers

Steve Orth recommends

Holy Ghost by David Brazil

I'm enchanted with David Brazil's latest book HOLY GHOST, out now from City Lights. This is the voice of a street fighting Christian mystic and these are his poems, prayers, and songs. Reaching to the ghosts, to the ones who have departed, people marching in the streets, people waiting in the streets, the people singing in the church, and the people not yet ready to walk into the church. "To be alive / while you're alive / turns out to be a taller order than / expected." This is first class poetry for those who want to reach far. Featuring beautiful cover art by Colter Jacobsen. Lastly, I can't wait to read this book again, but alongside some Albert Ayler, in an attempt to synch it up ala Wizard Of Oz / Darkside Of The Moon.


maximum sunlight | meagan day | wolfman books

Maya Arthur recommends

Maximum Sunlight by Meagan Day, photography by Hannah Klein

I am a bit biased for this book. I saw Meagan Day read several excerpts not too long ago at a reading in a poet's living room. We crammed in and every now and then, you could hear the whir of a MUNI bus outside, overstepping on Meagan's smooth voice. Afterwards, I talked to Hannah Klein, the photographer for the book, and we animatedly discussed California, how it was such a different terrain to uncover than what we previously knew. Hannah is a native Midwesterner from Ohio, I'm a neurotic East Coaster, and we somehow spent twenty minutes being our most Californian. We talked slow and intimately about how Californians are much slower and intimate when they talk. I told her about how California is a land of puzzling topographies, how there are so many in one space. Taking the BART from San Francisco to the East Bay is a journey through various landscapes from the blue water to industrial warehouses at its edges to flatlands of colorful homes (from squat ranch styles to pueblo revivals to brown, shingled two-stories) to green that looked endless until it didn't, until it reached the other blue domain above. Hannah agreed—California is wild.

Which leads me to Nevada, a state everyone here seems to despise. Every time I ask about Nevada, people shudder in disgust. They say it's a huge state with nothing—a mix of government secrecy, no man's land, and opulence. Meagan Day in MAXIMUM SUNLIGHT writes about the no man's land, specifically a small town in Nevada called Tonopah right between Las Vegas and Reno. Day writes with a fluidness and simplicity that helps you to really understand Tonopah and the small pockets of America that are unseen, untouched, and still unknown. Tonopah is frantic, quiet, peculiar, a stereotype and very much an original place in Day's writing. Bars are the center of action. The town's only bookstore is perpetually empty.

The interviews Meagan conducts and the observations of Tonopah are contrasted with Klein's photography, images of the landscape, still and fragmented. The strange feeling Day always felt when driving past the town is realized in the pictures. The characters enhance that stillness and separation. There is an abandonment in both outside interest and the abandonment Tonopah provides for its citizens, an unrestrained access to everything the hills and desert provide. Most are as content as can be. The quotes Day captures in MAXIMUM SUNLIGHT are the most exciting. Though the Midwest, East Coast, and the West have different ways of talking, I believe Tonopah is the most matter-of-fact I've ever witnessed. However, Day uses a California instinct—she slowly intimates the reader with the honesty and directness of the residents. Day writes with such an earnest curiosity that Nevada never seems to receive. It makes me want to visit Tonopah and be the only visitor to their clown motel and eat at the counters of their restaurants and find the same sense of respect Day offers to the town and to the state.


the absolute letter | andrew joron | flood editions

Laura Moriarty recommends

The Absolute Letter by Andrew Joron

Andrew Joron's THE ABSOLUTE LETTER allows one to move from word to word with the rigorous pleasure we, his committed readers, have come to associate with his work. The urgent momentum of these poems pull you forward syllable by syllable, pun by pun, with a kind of serious hilarity that is not a writing style so much as a way of life.

          "The system is blinking red." That's what the man said.

          Then what is stopping us. To arms, already!

          Does the Revolution wait in words? Where do we find those (s)words?

          Did the door dilate like an eye? Then what is located by the X of want, the Y of why?

          "I would argue that language allows the animal to jump out of its skin."

          I would argue that information wants to be communist.

          Dear maker, thy form = swarm.

               from "Reversing River"

Throughout there is a context of science and philosophy familiar to Joron enthusiasts and there is a particular engagement with the German Romantic poet Novalis presented not as discursion so much as a sounded and fated way into a world which is "composed of the letters of the Absolute: anything, real or ideal, that undergoes a self-complicating—ultimately musical—form of motion becomes a sign of the processual emergence of the Infinite within the finite."

               from "The Argument; or, My Novalis"

Having asserted the above, Joron makes it happen line after line:

          If there is a Center it is not
            a pure point
            but a City
            empty of time.

          Come, unmanned mind, enter Out.

               from "Breath's Breaks: Ten Takes"


the happy end / all welcome | monica de la torre | ugly duckling presse

Brent Cunningham recommends

The Happy End / All Welcome by Mónica de la Torre

The author of THE HAPPY END / ALL WELCOME, Mónica de la Torre, is a poet who also writes about visual art, and this particular book was written in direct response to an art installation by Martin Kippenberger. So it's no surprise these poems feel like a sourcebook for a future installation. I could almost hear some of the pieces being read by a recorded, droning voice in one corner of a gallery; could picture others displayed on the wall for their visual and sculptural qualities; and found it easy to visualize performance artists acting out other pieces over yonder. Even my urge to call them "pieces" more than "poems" should tell you something.

There's so much going on in this book, but in a way there's also mostly one thing going on: a laser-like critique of alienated labor under corporate capitalism. A lot of the book borrows, modifies or otherwise presents "corporatese" language, and even the more "lyrical" poems have a remove and coolness to them that echoes bureaucracy's preferred mannerism. De la Torre offers scripted, decidedly unsuccessful interpersonal interactions in playlets; poems that speculate on the design (and related ideological assumptions) of various types of chairs; and even a series taken right out of a typing manual. While there are certainly hints at something outside the tedium of spaces functionally designed towards the Company's greater productivity (for instance in poems that explore the surrealisms of dreams or the metaphysics of color) the gravity of unhappy labor is dominant. Which is awesome! By which I mean: genuinely and really terrible. At the same time, since my own belief is that poetry's ecosystem depends on a maximum of formal diversity, it does make me happy, in the end, that there are still poetry books trying to deal with our bleak common dilemma as workers with the sort of cool, analytic, and yes I'll even say conceptual approach so often reserved for the art world.


dear kathleen | stephen motika and susan gevirtz | nightboat books

John Sakkis recommends

Dear Kathleen: On the Occasion of Kathleen Fraser's 80th Birthday, edited by Susan Gevirtz and Stephen Motika

I have a piece in here so I may be biased, but that really doesn't matter, Dear Kathleen, the Queen, this festschrift for a Bay Area living legend, beautifully conceived, edited and published by Susan Gevirtz and Stephen Motika with Nightboat Books. Kathleen has meant so much to so many, her work as a poet and artist, her warmth as a teacher and friend, her activism as director of The Poetry Center at SFSU and editor of the seminal journal How(ever). This book is a celebration of all of that but so much more, Happy Birthday Kathleen!


the easy body | tatiana luboviski-acosta | timeless infinite light

Janice Worthen recommends

The Easy Body by Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta

"I am a child of the death of the revolution," Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta writes in their fleshy debut. Here is a voice that doesn't come from "the easy body," a voice that will show you the many ways a not-easy body breaks, the ways it grows tired, the ways it despairs, the ways it grieves, the ways it rises each piece, every word, can be resistance. "And anyway, / everyone knows that poets // are the first up / against the wall." Here's a warrior poet who spits on that wall because when the "night is thick with demons," you gotta be the scariest thing out there. This book is a punch, is nourishment, is singing: "All things have / songs, not all songs are joyful." This debut is fierce, this body riot. I'm so grateful to have it here in my hands, my mind. I'll keep this one under my pillow, safety off.


we speak silent | hannah weiner | roof books

Katherine Duckworth recommends

We Speak Silent by Hannah Weiner

I really hate the notion that poetry comes to a person like Christ in the night, but whatever, people are complicated, and Hannah Weiner, clairvoyant poet, does what she wants. I keep coming back to this little throwback gem, WE SPEAK SILENT. Here's a suggestion:

Take this to the beach with a bottle of something or without a bottle of something - whatever works - and dress cute, like with a little hat or something, and read this book out loud to your best friend, if they're available, don't forget snacks, and you're in for a supremely pleasant afternoon channeling Hannah Weiner and her circle. One of my favorite poems, "Bob Dylan," is in this book - one I consider to be firmly rooted in the carnal with one foot in the spiritual, has taken true care in its handling of language and prosody - something I don't always find so believably human in this disputed genre of the experimental. With its repetitions and its comedy, and its human smudge, WE SPEAK SILENT feels like eavesdropping on ghosts. Joyelle McSweeney nails it when she describes reading Weiner as an "audial visionary experience." You can also use the book to swat away flies from the fruit you've brought along. How's that for utility?


withdrawn | thom donovan | compline

Jason Mull recommends

Withdrawn by Thom Donovan

"The public is what has been historically defined / By its exclusion of certain people and not others. / What would be a public that didn't exclude us and others? / A band then? A really big band?" Thom Donovan's WITHDRAWN, like his previous book THE HOLE, aims to build a kind of collective prosody. What kind of a community / public can we imagine amidst the ongoing disaster that is the present? WITHDRAWN charts the kinds of loose affinities and friendships that might start to anticipate what such a community might look like. What I admire about Donovan's work is its persistent optimism—it never quite slips into total despair.


tony greene era | kevin killian | wonder

Johnny Hernandez recommends

Tony Greene Era by Kevin Killian

Kevin Killian's newest collection, TONY GREENE ERA, is an intimate and powerful collection that reaches out to its readers and grabs at them for gravity, it demands to be contextualized in every reader's life. It reaches out from the page to both absorb and resound with the pulse of Tony Greene and his output of work, his influence and his spirit. Kevin's collection is split up into five epoch sections with a final closing section that is centered on an essay about the LA based artist and his significance to the art world. He finishes his book with a poem inspired and dedicated to Tony and a voice silenced too soon. Kevin, in this collection, has built a city of ruins and infused it with a living breathing passion that should be experienced. He writes, "...[I was] trying to put myself into the mindset of those who were fighting AIDS—deprived, as we saw it, of a future—while vast parts of their 'long bodies' (as in Hinduism) are sawn off, disposed of in vats. Loss inside loss." Kevin has created a brick by brick memorial to Tony Green and firmly cements him into the present, every insistent present. Please pick up this city in pages.


tender points | amy berkowitz | timeless infinite light

Steve Orth recommends

Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz

Lots of wonderful people have already written lots of wonderful things about Amy Berkowitz's TENDER POINTS (Timeless, Infinite Light) and I want to join the party. So what is TENDER POINTS? First things first, it's a book with a beautifully designed purple cover. But it's also a book that as Stephanie Young perfectly says, "takes on rape culture and cops and doctors, the whole history of who gets to speak and who gets heard and who doesn't and why not."

I've been a big fan of Amy's writing for a long time, so I couldn't wait to read this book when it came out. And I think something that doesn't get talked about enough is just how good of a writer Amy is. She's amazing. She's very clear and articulate and she brings us very complex ideas in a way that everyone can understand, and I think clarity is one of the most underappreciated values that a piece of writing can have. But being clear can also sometimes be a little boring to read, but TENDER POINTS is actually very exciting to read, as weird as that might sound. This book is so well crafted and edited. TENDER POINTS is able to create a ton of suspense through short vignettes. I'm blown away by it, and I'm still trying to figure out how she did it. Great job! Great book!


of mongrelitude | julian talamantez brolaski | wave books

Laura Moriarty recommends

Of Mongrelitude by Julian Talamantez Brolaski

A lot of what I am crazy about in this book is right there in the title. The classic quality of the use of "of" with an abstract noun smacks of traditional texts while asserting a quirky and yet crucial neologism. Like the book, it's funny, dense with meaning, and true. You have to love a book that includes the verse, "lo the hartslung moon / peeks lewdly out tha cloud" (from "ambivalence becometh") or I have to. Each new verse in each poem is a delight of unexpected word usage rife with humor, passion, anger, sexuality, and politics. The poems assert their lyric forms while speaking with a direct and yet invented language as ornate as it is plain. A warmth of intimate and savvy engagement wells up from the poems into one's personal heart. Brolaski is creating new work here that isn't like anything else. The work makes a world of possibility that is tragic and yet enabling. The reader is very lucky to be able to share it.

          marcabru uses the word "mestissa" to describe the shepherdess his dickish
               narrator is poorly courting
          which paden translates 'half-breed' and pound 'low-born' and snodgrass 'lassie'
               but I want to say mongrel, mestiza, mixedbreed
          melissima most honeyed most songful
          what catullus called his boyfriend's eyes
          honey the color of my dead dog's eyes the stomach of the bee

          (from "as the owl augurs")


the market wonders | susan briante | ahsahta press

Ari Banias recommends

The Market Wonders by Susan Briante

Throughout THE MARKET WONDERS, Susan Briante engages a powerful documentary poetics without forgoing intimacy, emotion, or figurative speech. This is "fact" that invokes the personal and the private, and that calls the poet and the reader into its public truth. Again and again, the lyric, refusing insularity, finds itself entwined with the economics of staying or being alive under capitalism. And yet, Briante is keen to acknowledge that though "we" may "already feel occupied," for some of us, "our feeling doesn't have a tank at the end of it." She navigates the particularities of classed, raced, and geopolitical realities with care and precision, neither claiming a precarity that isn't hers, nor disconnecting from it. Reading her, I find myself prodded out of my numbness at numbers. I am prodded to consider value and figures—numerical, poetic, and corporeal—in new ways. Part of this book's dazzling accomplishment is in Briante's rendering of the market as both figure and ground, and as simultaneous subject, object, and formal structure. The market is in the ticker tape running along the bottom of the page, anchoring, destabilizing, linking poem to poem, intimate domestic scene to public life, the image of a black walnut tree to the Dow industrial average. "The Market" is a white kid just out of college traveling in Mexico that the speaker sleeps with, it "picks up your daughter from school in its teeth," and "he is an it is a we." The market intrudes upon & is inseparable from feeling, thought, practice—it wonders about worth, and, this book argues, is worth wondering about.


i am not ashamed | barbara payton | spurl editions

Trisha Low recommends

I Am Not Ashamed by Barbara Payton

"In other words, I was the queen bee, nuts and boiling hot," begins Barbara Payton's 1963 memoir. It's true. If anything, Payton's account of her tumultuous life is as lurid a rollercoaster as any Hollywood blockbuster. One of the brightest film stars in the golden age of noir, Barbara Payton slid into glory not as a doe-eyed, good girl, but as a hardened femme fatale. Indeed, her performances in films such as Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye and Trapped were indebted not to Hollywood gloss, but to a hardened realism from the school of Hard Knocks, something she never hesitated to play up. And yet, perhaps this was, too, a grim foreshadowing of what was to come.

I AM NOT ASHAMED was ghostwritten by seedy journalist Leo Guild from drunken interviews conducted with Barbara in the late stages of her short life. Filled with the kinds of pulpy language and brusque confession that would be right at home in a murder mystery, this memoir blurs the boundaries between Barbara the star and Barbara the woman—how much did one make the other? How much did fiction inform her reality and vice versa—the string of bad men, the sudden fall, the self-destructive denoument? Forsaken by Hollywood, Barbara ended up living isolated from the public, doing sex work to survive and drinking herself to her ultimate demise at the age of 39.

At turns gutsy, shocking and hilarious, Payton's memoir ultimately depicts the all-too-real violence and pain that can result from the material circumstances of a woman's life. Which means, well—screw the cautionary tale (and Lana Turner)—because we love you Barbara Payton, get up.


calamities | renee gladman | wave books

Jason Mull recommends

Calamities by Renee Gladman

In CALAMITIES Renee Gladman writes, "I remembered in vivid detail that I had just made a decision to look at the world (ie, sky) in such a way as to produce an essay, but looking out at the world I couldn't figure out what was so special to say right then." This state of not-knowing—of quasi-speechlessness—informs and propels Gladman's phenomenal book of prose. CALAMITIES constantly circles back and reassess itself—it never quite finishes, never concludes. To read Gladman is to follow the tangled, knotted associative threads of a mind alive to itself. Lingering at the heart of these gorgeous, self-reflexive fragments is the basic question of what's at stake when we try to address one another through writing. Gladman's a modern master and you're doing yourself disservice if you don't read this book.


hackers | aase berg | black ocean

Katherine Duckworth recommends

Hackers by Aase Berg

Aase Berg's newest collection (translated by Johannes Göransson) with Black Ocean delivers more of Berg's delightfully swampy prose. Aase Berg is gnarly and I am so into it. HACKERS moves aggressively within a sort of Eco Poetics—humans, the feminine and animals navigate the cybernetic and the apocalyptic landscapes of war and violence. I am reminded of Brautigan's "All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace"—but that peacefulness doesn't live here. Berg's poems, like tiny terrorists, are interested in dismantling from within. Perhaps feeding on the patriarchal carcass.The undergrowth that aims to cover the highways...


the letters of carla, the letter b. | benjamin hollander | chax press

John Sakkis recommends

The Letters of Carla, the letter b: A Mystery in Poetry

I had a dream the other night that I was hanging out with Emmanuel Levinas, we were at the Poetry Center, in the reading room, I think Steve Dickision was either in the vaults in the back room or outside the Humanities building getting coffee. I remember Levinas looking exactly like Richard Gere, handsome and tall, thick head of salt and pepper hair, I remember thinking how much his hair looked just like Michael Palmer's from the back cover of ACTS #5. Even in my dream I was all too aware that I had never actually read anything by Levinas, it was exciting and intimidating, what if he starts quizzing me about theory, I hate theory, but I love Ben, and Ben loves Levinas, at least we have something in common right? so there I was, showing him around like we were old friends.

I got to talking about you Ben, about this book you had written, I say "hey Levinas, my friend Ben wrote a book about you..." Levinas says "really? what book, who wrote this book?" I say "yeah, yeah, for real, my friend Ben Hollander wrote this great book called Levinas And The Police, it's all about you and the police..." and now me and Levinas are in my apartment in Oakland, we're standing in my room, and I'm searching my bookshelf for the book to show him but I can't find it, I'm frantically skimming the spines of all my poetry books, reading off titles, getting nervous and coming up with nothing, I start to doubt myself, I start thinking "did Ben really write a book called Levinas And The Police, or did I imagine it," "if Ben really did write this book, where the hell is Levinas And The Police?" I feel Levinas's eyes on the back of my head, starting to doubt me, perhaps a little embarrassed for me, and I'm like "no no, hold on, I'm serious, Levinas has got to be somewhere..."

When I wake up it comes to me, your book is called VIGILANCE, but I wasn't looking for VIGILANCE, I was looking in the right place but with the wrong language, and without the right language I was getting nowhere. This is a very Ben Hollander kind of dream, the elusiveness of language taking center stage in an almost slapstick scenario, where is Levinas, I am Levinas, who's on first (your favorite refrain)? Yes, Who's on first.

Ben, you had a singular and particular frequency, you made time for me and my work when I was just a kid in my early 20s star gazing every SF poet I met, you took walks with me and talked with me, we drank lot's of coffee and smoked lots of cigarettes (before you had to quit), you read my poems and picked my brain, you took me as seriously as I took you,

you taught me about music and encouraged me to find my own, to this day music if paramount, I can't exactly locate where your ear meets my ear in my work these days (not like when I was explicitly ripping you off in the early 2000s) but it is a fact that you are there, and you will always be there.

You're last words to me, through voice mail, a call I missed, "hey John, you and what army?!" a reference to Julien Poirier's poem of the same name, dedicated to you, you got a kick out of that, I'm glad you did, it's a beautiful poem, your last words to me "you and what army?"

I love you, and miss you, thank you for everything my friend, thank you Ben.


the braid | lauren levin | krupskaya

Brent Cunningham recommends

The Braid by Lauren Levin

I guess the test for every book of poems these days is "Can I read it while Rome is literally on fire out the window?" I'm not exactly sure why THE BRAID passes but it passes: something about the stream of daily events flowing by, each event subjected to a kind of ever-expanding, ever-deepening philosophical consideration, as if everything we live among could be pushed by a strong enough mind to reveal further layers. Even when those daily events aren't directly political, and they often aren't, at every point THE BRAIDS's poetic process feels like a model for engaged living/resisting/surviving.

In my second paragraph I was going to suggest there's a lot of small press poetry books right now that borrow a lot from Bernadette Mayer and Alice Notley, as this one does. But I wasn't sure I could prove it was all that particular to this moment, or suggest why it might be happening. And then I realized—and it was honestly kind of amazing—I'm not a journalist or an academic so I don't have to prove or explain anything. Thanks, life!

I took so much from this book but let me quickly focus on one thing: recurringly Levin considers the form she's using, the day-in-the-life mode, as part of the history of landscapes, like in painting, or the pastoral. Simple, in a way, but in her hands so brilliant. Having a baby, being a mom, trying to remain an artist, trying to remain politically engaged, all these things we think of in temporal terms, narrative itself, get considered as spatial, and at that same moment the book is plainly turning Levin's life events into a static form, effectively spatializing them. It's such a smart frame, and then the individual lines are sometimes just as intricate and suggestive. Some of them feel like you could meditate on them for years. Not that I have time for that, unfortunately. Curse you, life!


imperceptibly and slowly opening | caroline picard | the green lantern press

Janice Worthen recommends

Imperceptibly and Slowly Opening, edited by Caroline Picard

"I stop for flowers...," Catriona Sandilands writes in this verdant new collection as complex and multitudinous as the vegetal life it explores. I stop for flowers on my lunch walks, pondering, taking photos. I sometimes get the vibe from others that this activity is, well, silly; the implication being, just what is your fascination, they're just plants?! But the writers, artists, performers, & poets in this collection get it: "they're not just fucking plants, buddy" (Catriona Sandilands, 245). They're invitations to reconsider perception, language ("dreaming about a botany of words," Michael Marder, 163), intelligence, connection, sexuality, life, and our very humanity. Plants that recoil, plants that communicate, plants that devour, plants that desire, plants that may even seek our destruction (though maybe not in the grotesque The Happening way...yet), plants as severely misunderstood sentient beings(?). "It becomes at this point evident that the key challenge ahead is to acknowledge the frame of our anthropocentric bias in order to devise new relational paradigms through which plants can be perceived" (Giovanni Aloi, 228). From roaming, possibly cuddling plant-Roombas and human-plant hybrids to the problem-solving abilities of slime molds, the performance, art, essays, science, and poetry in this luscious volume will pull you down deep, like Deep Ecology deep. Take a moment.


assembly | novica tadic | host publications

Kyle Walsh recommends

Assembly by Novica Tadić

Novica Tadić was troubled by something. By darkness, dictators, ghosts. Whatever it is, he managed to wrench some beautifully demented poems out of it. In ASSEMBLY (transl. by Steven Teref and Maja Teref), he sings about a dead fly killed in a butcher shop, other insane hybrid creatures, a man who hears the voice of his dead mother from the radio, another man who is bugged in his sleep by the authorities so that they can listen to all of his "revolutionary intentions." I guess one could call this horror poetry, but it's also much more than just shock—it's a gallery of searing psychological insights and states, all visceral, often reaching peaks of divine hellishness: "Only a choir of mad daughters will eulogize / me. Miraculous grandsons are leaving / scented coffins. Angels will swoop onto scraps, / crystals will spin. My words are thunder, / a star in my gut, a symbol of my night." In a world run by unknown paranormal energies, one can only give a good laugh, or perhaps sit as still as possible in the middle of the night: "sap drips onto the writing / gluing word to word / oil smell of my new typewriter / the pine tree's shadow / lengthens through the sleepless night." I'll let those lines speak for themselves.


irl | tommy pico | birds llc

India Chakraverty recommends

IRL by Tommy Pico

I am not much of a poetry person. I enjoy my fiction and creative nonfiction, but this book put prose poetry into perspective. With a modern twist of adding SMS acronyms, adding social issues, such as Native American injustices, body image and society's impositions of it, and gay rights. This poem made it not only digestible but put into perspective that a person can have multiple identities, while also suffering from multiple problems, and all be combined, and every single one of them being valid. This book was an epic poem that was telling of the time and world we live in now.


lost profiles | philippe soupault | city lights publishers   the song of the dead | pierre reverdy | black square editions

Steve Orth recommends

Lost Profiles: Memoirs of Cubism, Dada and Surrealism by Philippe Soupault and The Song of the Dead by Pierre Reverdy

As the phones were ringing off the hook at the SPD office, I sat at my desk carefully reading LOST PROFILES: MEMOIRS OF CUBISM, DADA AND SURREALISM by Philippe Soupault (translated by Alan Bernheimer) and was totally under the spell of Soupault's account of these surreal French freaks (and James Joyce). Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw my boss, Brent Cunningham walking towards my desk. "Time to look busy," I mumbled to myself. Brent then, instead of asking me about some spreadsheet, dropped a copy of THE SONG OF THE DEAD, by Pierre Reverdy (translated by Dan Bellm) on my desk. "You know one of the things that I remember most from undergrad is that you can read Reverdy poems from top to bottom or bottom to top, and they're great either way." Then Brent walked away and I opened the book to see if it was true. And boy, was Brent's undergrad professor right. I actually think that the poems are much improved when reading from the bottom to the top. I highly recommend trying it. After reading this excellent collection, for about an hour, I returned to LOST PROFILES, only to turn to page 63 and see that there's a chapter on Reverdy. And I was like, "OMG, worlds collide!" I became so engrossed in Soupault's stories that I almost missed my lunch break. But don't worry, I didn't.


lowly | alan felsenthal | ugly duckling presse

Ari Banias recommends

Lowly by Alan Felsenthal

Alan Felsenthal's poems possess that magic quality of being both fluid and precise, mysterious without being opaque. They sing a lived philosophy, a wisdom stripped of pretension, and are unabashedly lyrical in how they inhabit & are inhabited by language. They're also secretly funny. With deft self-awareness they turn their own figures inside out, because they can't not: "I poked a worm with a twig / the wind made shudder, the wind / I invented to stop me from poking the worm." And they sing in multiple registers, in a voice that seems effortlessly & at once classical and contemporary: "My middle ear is melancholy and / some twink told me I'm sex negative / for not caring more about a starlet." Reading LOWLY is kind of like overhearing a river, if that river were in a city and carried bits of litter, prophesies, names, regrets, industry, history, runoff, all that's been projected onto or dumped into a river. And yet that river, for all those outside interventions, knows it's still a river, & speaks as only a river can. Still in motion, still refracting. And actually, all the wiser for what it holds. "I remembered my father / said the devil was no cloud / of black flies / but an educated man / who lived by two hands / that invented the devil / to give him human help." LOWLY is enigmatic and keen and moving and unafraid. Poem by poem, the lyric and emotional intelligence of LOWLY knocks me out, but then I come to so I can read the next one. I totally have a crush on this book.


slabs | brittany billmeyer-finn | timeless, infinite light

Laura Moriarty recommends

Slabs by Brittany Billmeyer-Finn

In SLABS, Bittany Billmeyer-Finn writes about love, passion, identity and physicality, but mostly, about love. The world enters "slashing & silent" but the work invites you to experience the nuances and complexities of the most intimate of human interactions. "you measure my weirdness in a syllable." This is all done with a compelling sense of diction and dissonance that challenges the understanding and yet you always get it. "she says 'lay back & relax' as she strokes the land." There is also a lot going on here with form as the lines and stanzas manifest variously, investigating the many ways to present the material while retaining a sense of order, repetition and clarity.

Billmeyer-Finn's sense of the possibilities of an occult spirituality is very present in the text, including a brief tarot reading which, with the many other insights in the book, is redolent of her particular gift for the magical and healing arts.

SLABS is lusciously produced by Timeless, Infinite Light, fitting tenderly into the hand and asking to be carried around, read, reread, treasured, imitated and learned from. It is enabling. "I lean into her field without smiling we stick together/ her warm & milky slab rising & damp a body grows / absorbing the sunlight this tiny voice a present desire."


the complete works of pat parker | pat parker | a midsummer night's press

Trisha Low recommends

The Complete Works of Pat Parker by Pat Parker

To say that I've read THE COMPLETE WORKS OF PAT PARKER would be a lie. I mean, I have, but like most poems that embody and enact their politics, these poems can't ever be finished; the book can't end. Instead, they remain in my consciousness, a slow drip into how I conceive of something so big and encompassing as "how do I live my life?" Pat Parker died of breast cancer at the age of 45 and remains underread in contemporary poetry—it feels important there's now a complete collection to celebrate and preserve her work. These days, everyone wants to think about making art after Trump but Parker elides the question after her time with a still-relevant poetry that is not "about politics," but political in its existence; poetry that is a part of living when remaining alive as a black lesbian feminist is already an act of resistance. Talking to my lover at a date on a Saturday night, I ask them who is today's Diane di Prima, or what that would mean but it doesn't matter who's like "the" revolutionary poet or whatever, it's a stupid question, we don't settle on anyone. What Pat Parker's work reminds me of—that poetry is always part of the revolution when it articulates life's taut struggle, the painful difficulty of being disenfranchised and its beauty and joy in being—"now i'm tired - / now you listen! / i have a dream too. / it's a simple dream." It's that simple.


we shoot typewriters | paul corman-roberts | nomadic press

Johnny Hernandez recommends

We Shoot Typewriters by Paul Corman-Roberts

Paul Corman-Roberts latest collection WE SHOOT TYPEWRITERS is a great collection that seeks to lament and celebrate the oral tradition of the lyric. Throughout his collection Paul is advocating for a stronger, more pronounced community of poets and writers: a community that isn't fractured by genre or form—one that relies less on the rise and fall of trends and schools of thought and more on creativity and the personal perspectives of individual experiences. He screams a rallying cry on every page, a call to arms for experience: for sensations that connect—he is never looking for personal differences. He writes, "The problem with the song is that it receives ap-/plause for its applause of others' applause and for that ap-/plause, it will certainly garner yet more applause but in the / din of all that, your song will not be heard much less negoti-/ate resonance." Corman-Roberts crafts a vein of genuineness and deep seeded sincerity. He seeks to connect, to build and to scream out together with his readers, this vein runs deep throughout his collection. This is a poet/troubadour you need to hear, if you have the opportunity to hear him read, go! I am sure you will want to approach him afterwards and share a moment. Pick up this Nomadic collection and invest in building a communal permanence.


hard child | natalie shapero | copper canyon press

Mikko Harvey recommends

Hard Child by Natalie Shapero

There are (at least) two weird and wonderful tensions at play in HARD CHILD. First is that the speaker of these poems, who is a new mother, is obsessed with death—and she totally, shamelessly owns her obsession. Second is that Shapero's writing style is playful, off-beat, chatty—yet she also uses form super carefully. She invents several poetic structures throughout the course of the book, and when you least expect it, a line turns iambic, or a rhyme appears. No one else is writing the way Natalie Shapero is writing. I hypothesize that she has been called "quirky" 200 times in her life. God, political history, dogs, violent relationships, self-loathing, and baby names are some of the main characters in this book, this book of hard realities cut with jokes to make you laugh-grimace.


dick of the dead | rachel loden | ahsahta press

John Sakkis recommends

Dick of the Dead by Rachel Loden

Did you know that Wyatt Earp is buried in the Bay Area? I didn't. Did you know that Richard Nixon liked to put ketchup on his cottage cheese? I didn't know that either. Rachel Loden's DICK OF THE DEAD is where you find out. I found myself reading a lot of these poems out loud to myself, tons of assonance and alliteration, slang, portmanteaus, Loden's language pop pop pops, real good mouth-feel. I don't really vibe with Gabriel Gudding's blurb about how these poems render "the suffering and emotional impoverishment this nation has endured since the presidency of Richard Nixon"; this book is way more fun than all of that. I do like what Silliman says: "...Loden works with Nixon the way Shakespeare worked with Lear...using him to show us ourselves...".


how her spirit got out | krysten hill | aforementioned productions

Janice Worthen recommends

How Her Spirit Got Out by Krysten Hill

Jill McDonough calls this sharp little collection "a middle finger tucked in the hip pocket of your favorite dress." A middle finger, yes, and a fist held up, black and beautiful. A knife quick to the hand when "no" isn't enough. A shotgun mounted on a wall for the sake of what's tender because "the world is full / of weapons." But these poems are also hands held, palms out, hands cuffed behind, flesh that can't stop the bullet, tears mixing with blood as the calendar turns. They are the voice that rises even as it breaks, radiant with power, "beautiful / and frightening / and free." Hill writes "we told to be silent / about our magic...our wild I spawning / this flourish without their approval." But the words, the ghosts, will get out: "Gonna learn how to speak because silence / is father to son to mama to brother to / sister to cousin to friend to rape and / they ain't gonna tell us what we remember anymore." This is a collection to be carried along, yes, and spoken aloud.


style | dolores dorantes | kenning editions

Jason Mull recommends

Style by Dolores Dorantes, translated by Jen Hofer

Violence is a kind of style—an invisible grammar that underlies the logic of statehood. We could reverse this formulation and the same remains true: style is a kind of violence. The discourse of imperialism remains impenetrably wrapped in myths of "security" and "legality," masking its fundamentally exploitative and xenophobic roots. ESTILO / STYLE both resists and flirts with this logic, struggling constantly to loosen itself from the grips of the murderous syntax that determines citizenship, the state, and the border. The mute, the devastated, the disposable—these are the voices that reverberate and echo throughout this text. "We are your codes, a line of figures for you to subjugate. Numbers, red and brilliant. Boiling." The chorus of ESTILO / STYLE functions as a site of extraction, violence, and exploitation. "We have arrived like negation so you can exterminate us in the attempt," they say. "We are the fresh fruits of war." These are the voices consistently muted by the machinations of state-sanctioned cruelty. The text reads as visible erasure, "each line dispossessed." In the face of unspeakable violence, repression, rage, and terror, what modes of expression are available to the disenfranchised? Dorantes' answer is fractured, wounded, and decimating—her text cuts and draws blood.


the hermit | lucy ives | the song cave

Brent Cunningham recommends

The Hermit by Lucy Ives

In an interview I did with him Robert Creeley once stated that poetry "...brings a relief or a recognition in situations where almost nothing else can." I think about this comment a lot while standing among the many books SPD houses and sells—it might be the only way to explain their reason for being. If poetry indeed runs along a narrow but equally unique wavelength, then what I think of as the "notebook-style" subgenre of poetry (which Creeley also practiced) has to be even narrower, but to me provides just as much of that relief and recognition when it's well done. THE HERMIT by Lucy Ives, which came out last summer, fits comfortably into that "notebook-style" subgenre. Made up of fragments, notes, lists, facts, incidents, and most of all ideas, it reminded me a little of Kafka's Parables and Paradoxes which I used to carry around with me kind of all the time. Of course lots of writers keep journals and have notebooks and some of them get published but this feels more like a compilation pulled from various notebooks and places, edited almost like a poem but with notebook fragments as the core units instead of words. Anyway it's finally the quality of the thought that is so worthwhile here. Ives's ideas are never pretentious, and while there's a lot of snips that one just passes over, and pleasantly so, at pretty regular intervals she'll come up with a few sentences that are so perfectly balanced they feel true and mysterious at the same time. Really the whole book is like that: you're never quite sure what she's getting at in some overarching, thematic sense, but you're sure it's there, it's real, i.e. what she's working at and towards is genuinely derived from her existence, surroundings and life, and so holds together and is just frankly an exceedingly nice place to be for a bit. This book was a real relief to me, in a situation where I'm pretty sure almost nothing else would have been.


dick of the dead | rachel loden | ahsahta press

Katherine Duckworth recommends

The Republic of Exit 43 by Jennifer Scappettone

THE REPUBLIC OF EXIT 43 exists in the toxic landfill of the author's childhood neighborhood—Scappettone, a poet, scholar, translator, and performance artist weaves the garbage of this history into part epic poetry, part language landfill, which at times feels like text generated from some corporate mechanism. Scappettone suggests in the underture, "when in reading you're caught in redundancy, it's because we've reached uroboreality, a point of spatiorhetorical choke." Many of these outtakes have existed and will exist off page—but this book leaves ample room for the imagination of possibility for this project in alternate spaces as well as an anticipation to catch a future performance. Though it is worth a gander for the photographs, maps, and collages that are included.


well well reality | rosemarie and keith waldrop | litmus press

Kyle Walsh recommends

Well Well Reality by Rosemarie and Keith Waldrop

I love collaborative works. Really everything is a collaboration, between mind and body, earth and sky, female and male. But if it's true, according to Wallace Stevens, that "in the sum of the parts, there are only the parts," then a hybrid work is not as simple as 1 + 1 + 2, or 1 + 1 + 1. That is, the goal for our chimeric hybrid author in WELL WELL REALITY is not mere doubling nor a union, but a blending of figure and ground, to create "moments / when the light and dark of bodies fits the random / detail of a curtain."

When one hears a child first forming words, one hears language itself, not what it purports to describe. Well, I don't spend a whole lot of time around children, but I'm guessing it's somewhat like that. What I like about these poems, or autonomous authorless units, whatever you would like to call them, is that they have the child's flair for recombination. I don't care that the directions for these blocks call for a stupid castle, I'm going to build something half hedgehog, half Tree, half ice-cream. Our two authors are not afraid to play games with tenses, with the structure of language itself. And at the bottom of games are molecules that crystallize and fall apart again, leading to fragmented glyphs such as, "I could touch prosody / and stroke vertigo into law / if palaces reflected / in anthills or this / change in texture / reflects from a vertical wall." In this realm, "mirror" becomes "mere error." Wordsworth's "Tintern Abbey" is rearranged to create a series of independent lines, obscuring intent: "I have learned / to look / On music that disturbs." Different parts of the book are anchored by a preposition or conjunction that appear in each poem—"until," "since," "if,"—so that the poems are paradoxically rooted in the subjunctive, the uncertain. Thus, the way we receive the words in these poems is not in their chiseled and mastered aspect, but just at the moment of their becoming. Not the car driving, but the parts disassembled and waiting for a new form to emerge.


diana's tree | alejandra pizarnik | ugly duckling presse

Steve Orth recommends

Diana's Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik, translated by Yvette Siegert

I'm new to Ugly Duckling Presse's Lost Literature Series, where UDP publishes neglected works of the 20th century. I just love this one. Argentinian poet Alejandra Pizarnik was 26 and living in Paris when she wrote this slim volume, which seems to be the book that put her on the map. This book is right up my alley. I like those hella sparse poems and this book is hella sparse. Subjects range from death to mirrors. Don't believe me? Check this out: "in the night / a mirror for the dead little girl / a mirror made of ashes." I feel like Pizarnik was unsure why someone would want to live in this world and/or with a body. It could be true, as she passed away ten years after the book's publication. Featuring an introduction by Octavio Paz, and wonderfully translated by Yvette Siegert. Check this out and get ready for the follow up, THE MOST FOREIGN COUNTRY, coming out this April.


snail poems | eric sneathen | krupskaya

Johnny Hernandez recommends

Snail Poems by Eric Sneathen

Krupskya's latest title, SNAIL POEMS by Eric Sneathen, is one of the most naked and elegant collections I've had the pleasure of reading. At its core it is a collection of elegies that somehow balance the stillness of death and passing, against the enormity of memory. It screams out in a celebratory birth. These poems track through an emotional landscape (as well as the ecological one) and they leave you with a trail, of a life lived...a life worthy of escorting its reader to a higher awareness of what is real in a world of facades and background scenes of injustice and the decay of social contracts, of fragments and natural environments. Eric's collection is so worth your attention, as each detail—each moment—invites you to share in something so intimate and anticipatory. He writes, "...each time I enter the / streets of this black earth, will I be there, hoping/ despite the shame of hoping, to say I hope and I say." Every point in this collection leaves you in excitement to find out what's around the corner. In the final prose section of his collection, "Operculum," he encapsulates precisely the essence of the urn, and it is that force that pushes you through this celebration of a life. He writes, "...There are those flashes and / momentous surges of what is happening so exquisitely, it is like a future." I can't urge you enough to pick up this masterful debut, this is just the beginning.


currently & emotion | sophie collins | test centre

Ari Banias recommends

Currently & Emotion, edited by Sophie Collins

In the preface to this spectacular collection of translations, Erín Moure says "There is a sense in which every reading of a text by an individual is a translation." Even if you didn't think translation was just one thing, here's a collection that further mosaics the sense of what this practice (rather, these practices) might be. CURRENTLY & EMOTION smartly explores the problematics of translation, and demonstrates how the methods encompassed by it are various, turbulent, charged, imperfect, and incredibly alive. "Bathe in your beauty / allow it to behead you" writes Tomaž Šalamun translated by Sonja Kravanja. "I wrap the fallen thing that's like a dead exclamation mark in white cloth and leave it behind," writes Kim Hyesoon translated by Don Mee Choi. "my eyes hurt when confronted with the horror but I keep them wide open to see," writes Yiannis Efthymiades translated by Karen Van Dyck. "Translation is a giving up of mastery," says translator Sophie Seita. Give it up & get this gorgeous book now.


dirty words | natalie harkin | cordite books

Laura Moriarty recommends

Dirty Words by Natalie Harkin

In the preface to DIRTY WORDS, Natalie Harkin describes her book as "an A to Z of poetry. . . [a] small contemplation of nation and history . . . informed by blood memory and an uncanny knowing beyond what we are officially told." DIRTY WORDS is an important, wonderfully readable book—an example of what could be thought of as the nonfiction poetry that many are writing these days sometimes as memoir and other times as history, political assertion or critique. DIRTY WORDS is all of these things, detailing the many ways colonialism, racism and terrible bad faith have impacted the First Nations community in Australia and the individual life of the poet, as well as describing (and comprising) ways of responding to this history. Everyone is implicated in this project which addresses all possible communities. The plainness of the diction and interesting form in these pieces are compelling and perfectly artful as Harkin utilizes a light but exquisite prosody in each of the poems or entries. I say "entries" because the pieces in the book are in alphabetical order with titles such as "Eugenics," "Land Rights," "Climate Change," and "Genocide." These words and phrases are repeated at the bottoms of pages to indicate the crossover of events and subject matter in this index of facts, observations, quotations, histories and anguish. The beauty of the poetry and the essential information in the work made DIRTY WORDS one of the books I most enjoyed reading not only this year but ever.

I should also say it was a pleasure to meet Natalie Harkin and hear her read and speak when she and other poets from Australia (and several from the Bay Area) participated in the "Active Aesthetics: Contemporary Australian Poetry" conference at UC Berkeley in April of 2016.

          keep walking  remember more
          take off your shoes
          let the land speak   heal   your feet
          feel the earth     find your stride
          walk with Indigenous sovereignty

          from "Sovereignty," DIRTY WORDS


pei pei the monkey king | wawa | tinfish press

Trisha Low recommends

Pei Pei The Monkey King by Wawa, translated by Henry Wei Leung

Growing up, my parents wanted me to speak both languages, Chinese and English, so at home, my father spoke to me in English, while my mother spoke to me in Cantonese, a dialect, which was different still, to the more 'refined' Mandarin I wrote and learned about during the day at school. PEI PEI THE MONKEY KING is impressive because of its depth of introduction to the many different forms the banner term 'Chinese' can take—and the trouble that follows in its translation. In the introduction, the translator himself jokes that the book itself is written "somewhere along the spectrum between Chinese #5 and Chinese #6," and takes great pains not only to introduce to English readers the irregularities in reading, style and tone that come along with a single set of characters, but also to link these valences to the historic and political relationship between mainland China and Hong Kong.

When things get tense in my family, you can always tell because language becomes politicised—whether or not someone is speaking in Cantonese or English or a hybrid of both, or refusing one or preferring the other is a pretty indication of who they are trying to antagonise. In PEI PEI THE MONKEY KING, author Wa Wa uses this fluid linguistic dialectic to encompass and address the Umbrella Revolution of 2014 and the Fishball Revolution of 2016. Led by Hong Kong students rebelling against mainland Chinese regime and calling for independent suffrage for their state, these revolutions emphasise political differences within ethnicity that Westerners tend to want to overlook. Often, to them, "people of color" must always want the same thing. Rather than informational, this poetry is heavily imagistic—elegant rather than obtuse. Embracing the the cadence and wildness of the traditional Cantonese nursery rhymes my grandma recited to me rather than the restraint of traditional Chinese poetry, this writing feels contemporary and urgent without losing any of its gravitas. Much like a fable, it is the process of seeking to understand this writing by which a process of learning is initiated. And much like the revolutions of which it speaks, its desires have to be believed in order to be glimpsed, a risk that many Hong Kong students continue to take.


Sign up for SPD e-newsletters