Staff Picks 2018


r e d | chase berggrun | birds, llc

Jacq Greyja recommends

R E D by Chase Berggrun

Chase Berggrun opens R E D with "A Note on Process," inviting us to recognize the formal constraints used throughout these 27 erasure poems of Bram Stoker's Dracula. The note confesses to us another momentous process, critical to our reading of Berggrun's text: This work was written at the same time its author had begun their own gender transition. As they were discovering and attempting to define their own womanhood, the narrator of these poems traveled alongside them.

What follows is a blood-soaked, yearning (re)vision of rebirth and revenge, reclaiming the body, heart, and spirit. The speaker's claim to agency does not come quickly or quietly, but develops through their survival of domestic and psychological violence. It is this cyclic representation of strength and devastation accompanying each lurch towards freedom which speaks so authentically to what I've survived in my own life. R E D conjures fire and brimstone, thrashes through castles, breaks and rejuvenates under the soft light of the sun. My heart has longed for this epic retelling, this final avenging.

I have written this under empty circumstances to attract less attention
my deserted condition produced a cold patient steadying
a plain conclusion
at last       I set out to destroy


good morning america i am hungry and on fire | jamie mortara | yesyes books

Janice Worthen recommends


Whenever I read Jamie Mortara's work, it feels like my skin is the page they carve their words into. And it makes me want to protect that skin so that the bleeding turns to scarring and stays a while. I guess what I mean is, reading GOOD MORNING AMERICA I AM HUNGRY AND ON FIRE makes me feel like I've found a friend, one who opens me up, exposing all my jagged bits, at the same time they make me feel sacred. I guess what I mean is, at the close of each poem, I say YES, THIS, and scoop another cup of tears onto my hot and smoldering heart. Jamie's book is a meditation on gendered violence and trauma—as well as so many other things—but it's also a reaching toward something new, some place without that violence and trauma, a place where the cycle is broken: "haven't we all stared into the night enough?". Poem by poem, I feel a hand taking mine, a finger pointing to what's Beyond. These poems want to consume all the ugliness/hurt/hate/trauma and give forward something better, a soil where the green might grow and not find a blade waiting.

Check out Jamie performing "Cornflake Girl," a poem in this collection, here.


everything goes but the poem + calliope | larry kearney | listening chamber

John Sakkis recommends

everything goes but the poem + Calliope by Larry Kearney

Larry is a real poet who writes "real" poems. Jack Spicer was a poet who was obsessed with the real lemons, or, real lemons as a metaphor for real poems. Kearney is an acolyte of Spicer. His poems ring right, they are real, not lemons, but maybe I have that backwards, these poems are Spicerian LEMONS, real and juicy and sad and strange. "Calliope" (the title of the long poem that concludes this book) is both the muse of eloquence and "a type of steam organ, invented in the USA..." Kearney's poems are both of this time and another, there is something of the sacred in this book, of San Francisco and the stars, "I carried wood up / from the beach // and we burned it / and ate fat mussels // in broth with the butter / and bread in the night // of the three of us."


for hunger | margaret ronda | saturnalia books

Nich Malone recommends

For Hunger by Margaret Ronda

Margaret Ronda's FOR HUNGER is where it's at. As the speaker must reconcile with forms of life including both the family and nonhuman, she calls into question the naturalness of everyday activity and invites us to weigh the comforts of familiarity against the sometimes deleterious effects of contemporary routine. The undercurrent of these poems reminds us not only of the smooth cadence of these routines, but of the discordance of indebtedness. This book is going to make you feel things, and is definitely worth craving.


swole | jerika marchan | futurepoem books

e. conner recommends

SWOLE by Jerika Marchan

It's been suggested that climate change along with global racial capitalism have already pushed many places into what we, in our relative comfort, would likely refer to as apocalypse. In this moment where the end is here and for some still imperceptible how does poetry respond? What will disaster poetics look like in the next 10 or 20 years?

Jerika Marchan's first book SWOLE brims with answers. Reconciling a catastrophe in the past tense (namely, New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina) as well as living under the threat of others (namely, other climate disasters, the ensuing disaster capitalists and opportunists that pop up, and even the fact that the apocalypse never really means THE END).

The most startling discovery: after the end life goes on even through all the normal pain and this newer shit tinted water ("horrible all the water").

          Memory, resistant like a virus
          Hesitation is lacking
          and I'm free here – not as wide
          but there is comfort
          there the black road – broken
          down to the insides where the moisture seeps in
          – the way the street narrows to meet you
          then melts away


quartet | c violet eaton | ahsahta press

Jane Gregory recommends

Quartet by C. Violet Eaton

This book reminded me that magical study is real and transmissible, that forms of attention get hold of energy and then forms of expression recommit that energy so you can get some of it—it: energy that poetry and song can mine and conduct, energy that can get to us and get us to do stuff. Stuff like forge "The blind will to divine courage," stuff like "Find suckers, stake them, pit them against." This book is like "The last man / On earth singing the first / Song ever written." It's as wise as it is wild, a sensitive bucket. With a bucket, here's what you do:

          Ketch with it the heart's
          Water : fill with it what
          Floweth out a heart […]
          Blood in th kitchen

          & blood in th hall,
          Blood in th stanzas
          Where th figures did fall.

Also, there's this thing about this book that I don't know how to tell you, but I can promise that the first poem and the last poem in this book are so unbelievably amazing that if you read them & the inbetween you'll get lucky to study the magic that happens to you.


i'm so fine | khadijah queen | yesyes books

Jacq Greyja recommends

I'm So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On by Khadijah Queen

Dr. Ford and Brett Kavanaugh testified before the senate judiciary committee last week. I have found it exceedingly difficult to write or read or think since then, and I am sure I am not alone. I have tried to step away from the internet and the news and even from talking to others in general just to stall the seams from beginning to open up my own past trauma to the present moment. I am unsure if my attempts at avoiding everything have helped me at all (they usually don't/ how would I even know); in any case, I am tired, and I know that I am not alone. I am sure that I am not alone (and I repeat this to feel un-alone) in feeling drained by how much we absorb– how much we relive– at an unspeakable, private distance.

EDWARD NORTON JUST STARED he was on his cell phone going up the escalator at Port Authority I was going down & when we met in the middle he said you are gorgeous I was 36 & so NYC in a black turtleneck & salt-and-pepper curls & just starting not to be sad or afraid (43)

This week I revisited Khadijah Queen's I'M SO FINE: A LIST OF FAMOUS MEN & WHAT I HAD ON. Queen's fast-paced, heartbreaking, darkly humorous book weaves together her protagonist's encounters with male celebrities. Within this semi-chronological narrative of events exists yet another trajectory: a deeply personal, always-accumulating sense of the extent of men's capacities for violence (which is to say, the capacities of most if not all men). Crucially, this trajectory is inseparable from the speaker's experiences with and reflections on the multiple arms of oppressive violence based on race and class—all of which intersect throughout the gendered encounters in Queen's book. Linked together, Queen's speaker unravels a simultaneously candid and darting testimony of how one can survive, question, and keep moving through a web of unchecked abuses of power.

I NEVER MET DONALD TRUMP BUT I SURE HAVE BEEN GRABBED BY THE YOU-KNOW-WHAT & I really don't even want his name in my book & I almost didn't tell this story but sometimes it's important to name names & the luxury of fame is that it doesn't matter what a nobody says if you have enough money you can buy any kind of truth you want when you're a star they let you do it & actually when you're a man in general the one who did that to me wasn't anyone famous... (26)

Queen's cascading voice– tender, colloquial, razor-sharp, funny as hell– twines through hazy and crystal-clear retrospectives on abuse, escape, family, intimacy, and those three-second interactions with men that can leave an unexplainable stone in your gut. Queen's unyielding attention to both flickering and punctuated iterations of male predatory behavior– slipping in and out of consequence and nameability– captures the inbetweenness of violence as it is experienced, remembered, and out-lived.


quip: an anthology... | deane-grundman, gerwein, mottley, terry, thomas, weaver-anderson | nomadic press

Janice Worthen recommends

QuIP: An Anthology of Young Queer Writing by F. Deane-Grundman, Z. Gerwein, L. Mottley, O. Terry, C. Thomas, & S. Weaver-Anderson

I hope QUIP: AN ANTHOLOGY OF YOUNG QUEER WRITING is the first of many volumes. Seeing the Bay Area through these young writers' eyes as they inhabit and make room for themselves in that space and share it with each other makes me yearn for the queer community I never had as a teen: "we were safe in each other's presence and in the company of our words...sharing and promoting queer art as worthy of respect can alter the landscape of literature and common narrative" (from the foreword by Leila Mottley). I'm handing this anthology to you, just as I wish someone had handed me a volume of young queer voices when I couldn't even imagine, let alone name, my own. These are writers in conversation with each other, with the queer community, with their memories and experiences, with the present, past, and future. These are pieces about finding home, family, and self: "every year / the water forgives me / for not being a perfect daughter...I'm absorbing more than seawater into my skin / it feels like healing, like history, like becoming / myself" (from Fiona Deane-Grundman's "Leaving/Returning"). At a time when nowhere feels safe, and the future flickers as if it's already a ghost, these six voices give me hope. In "The Byproduct of a Homebody" Sunari Weaver-Anderson writes, "i come from the resistance. / if my granny was a panther / then ain't i everything Audrey fought for, / then ain't i          the dream." Yes. May we fight for a worthy world.


if wants to be the same as is | david bromige | new star books

Brent Cunningham recommends

if wants to be the same as is by David Bromige

It's such a pleasure moving through this book, which for all intents and purposes will be the "collected" David Bromige going forward. Beloved by so many for his wit, warmth, and endless curiosity, I often find Bromige's work more allusive and enigmatic than his personality ever was. Until this book came out I mostly read the later work, from Tiny Courts in a World Without Scales (1991) onward, partly because I met David later in his career and life so those were the books being published. But the arc from those early Black Sparrow books up to his persistently terrific My Poetry has been a revelation; meanwhile the previously unpublished American Testament as well the other books written in the 1980s have shown me a chattier and more journalistic Bromige I now love immensely. I guess the main thing I take from David's writing overall is an air of absolute confidence. It's incredible how adventurous and fearless his writing is, going places syntactically and semantically you know you'll never quite figure out. Confidence on the one hand, on the other an expansive commitment to the artform and the people it consistently pulls in. When I met David I had just started graduate school in Buffalo, and I was having a rocky time socially. I described to him some of the aesthetic and political arguments I had recently gotten into with my peers, expecting him to say something like "hang in there" or "remember your views are valid" or the like. Instead he said something far more challenging, still warm enough but also serious, sort of like "let's quit with the indulgence," and I never forgot it. "Well," he said, "poetry asks you to change your life." I can certainly say his life, and his writing, changed mine. I think you should let it change yours too.


defense of the idol | omar caceres, monica de la torre | ugly duckling presse

Jane Gregory recommends

Defense of the Idol by Omar Cáceres, translated by Mónica de la Torre

A "poète maudit" indeed, and really great at it, Chilean poet Omar Cáceres played the violin for an orchestra of the blind (was its only sighted member), tried to destroy all copies of the original book when it appeared in 1934, and either committed suicide or was murdered for unknown reasons in 1943. Cáceres, as Vincente Huidobro writes, "states the case for the need to live in a different world." Huidobro also explains that true poetry (like Cáceres') takes the place of god not only in its capacity to reveal hidden realities but also as the source from which issues the actual world and its energizing force. Sure, fine, but we (still) know it's as sad to wait for the revolution as it is for the rapture, sigh. Reading this book though—translated beautifully into English for the first time by Mónica de la Torre—was like hovering a few inches above one of those fainting couches, reclining prone with hand to forehead, only to be shot occasionally into the cosmos from which vantage I could see myself, the ridiculous pose I'd continue to strike. Because having a self is just too ridiculous; ditto being one in time and space. Cáceres explains: " the attitude of one who went too far into the heart of man and into his own heart; ...who, all of a sudden, believing that he has the whole universe at his disposal in an unsurpassed enumeration, instead trips on the torn ubiquity of his I, while an index of revelations points to that stillness with its individual fire. Hence my dreadful problem."

I don't know about you, but I sometimes have this and other dreadful problems, which is why I love these sad, exuberant poems, also because they are all true: "I understand that sense, the plea with which all alien solitude surprises us, / is nothing but the proof of human sadness that remains." Also because of how cruel an image can be when it emanates serenely from the wreck it describes: "and as I beg sleep to obliterate me, birds / scatter a handful of light with their chords." Also because of how well and how often self-regard describes an abyss:

               Now that the road has died,
          and that our automobile reflex is licking its ghost,
          with its stunned tongue,
          as if we were spinning vertiginously in the spiral of our own selves,
          each one of us feels lonely, indescribably lonely,
          oh infinite friends.

So you should get this little big book, give it to your sad friends.


don't let them see me like this | jasmine gibson | nightboat books

e. conner recommends

Don't Let Them See Me Like This by Jasmine Gibson

In her first book DON'T LET THEM SEE ME LIKE THIS Jasmine Gibson's poems are warm, close, and dripping. They run through bloodied history, across bloodied continents, and over bloodied beds. She raises the stakes and looks you in the eye before throwing the bomb. Jasmine Gibson portends the end and beginning and the battle to come. She reaches out from the page to scream "I pretend to love it and the boss pretends his life is worth living."


this shouldn't be beautiful... | keegan lester | slope editions

Lisa Wenzel recommends

this shouldn't be beautiful but it was & it was all i had so i drew it by Keegan Lester

The title of Keegan Lester's debut collection of poems has the feel of a conversation already in progress. That the title is itself a poem caught my interest and invited me to open the book:

          this shouldn't
          be beautiful but
          it was & it was
          all I had
          so I drew it

Throughout the book, Lester's frequent use of punctuation and tight enjambments push against the repetition and cadence he also employs, creating an interruption of sound we find again and again, including this short excerpt from a poem entitled "(& these mountains i go to, i go to)":

          for this. i break

          my hands on my eyes.

          i break my ears on a mouth. the ghosts all around me

Taken as a whole, the poems in this collection speak to desire, tragedy and loss, adaptation and an overwhelming wonderment at a world that contains such contradictions.


baby, i don't care | chelsey minnis | wave books

Trisha Low recommends

Baby, I Don't Care by Chelsey Minnis

Did Chelsey Minnis quit poetry? It's hard to tell. I read my first Chelsey Minnis poem out loud at an Open Mic night for freshmen in college, I read my first Chelsey Minnis poem in the corner at a Dungeons and Dragons game my boyfriend brought me to, I read my first Chelsea Minnis poem on a park bench abjectly, hidden from my boss, stuffing a bag of chips into my mouth. Chelsey Minnis did not quit poetry because I see her touch everywhere; the subtle eyelash flutter of feminine overstatement, its shrouded mink luxury hiding a wide eyeroll of disdain. Minnis' first collection in a number of years, BABY, I DON'T CARE does not disappoint – its princessy title evoking decades of song lyrics – "baby I don't care____________" – what? That you don't have a car? That you don't look like James Dean? That you live with your parents? Hell or highwater, baby, I don't care, I'll marry you anyway. But the doubled edge of the phrase, of course, is more sinister – it's the devil may care flippancy of someone who can't be bought or sold – and the poems are similarly noncommittal – "Why so talkative? Let's kiss / You're a sweet-tempered little number / I think we might like each other if we tried / Come now! / Everything should burn like burning icebergs." In other words – Chelsey Minnis may have quit poetry in a moment past, but we won't get that moment back; there's many more moments in the future, and it really only takes a second to turn tearful, or murderous, or both.


sheep machine | vi khi nao | black sun lit

Janice Worthen recommends

Sheep Machine by Vi Khi Nao

Vi Khi Nao's ekphrastic SHEEP MACHINE seems to control time or at least "transform[s] our comprehension" of it, dropping one down into a moment that stretches out and out. Mesmerized, I fall into the frame where I can hear the grass grumble out of the ground centimeter by centimeter, the click of a beetle's legs on a blade, and sheep quiver every molecule in my being with a simple twitch: "I am a backdrop against another backdrop." Here, there seems to be so much space to contemplate perception and its tricks, to step—in terror and delight—off the edge into imagination: "Is art created by the malfunction of shadow or the malfunction of perception?" SHEEP MACHINE flips the familiar. It cuts every tether. As each element transforms, becoming a little strange and a little terrifying, discovery is again possible: "So much to hear and feel and so little to say. Is life a little monstrous?" This wonderful book reminded me, "Each moment of existence is to be cherished. Each second is perishable. So much takes place in one threshold of time."


vigilance is no orchard | hazel white | nightboat books

Lisa Wenzel recommends

Vigilance is No Orchard by Hazel White

Hazel White's latest book of poetry VIGILANCE IS NO ORCHARD balances memory and desire with forward momentum and letting go. The lines in each section of this book-long sequence are also about a commingling of person, place and thing. "...It takes courage to enter my geometry," White writes, and further down on the page, "...under my feet—the straight-to-the-door path / forgetting, become again a bridge—"

VIGILANCE IS NO ORCHARD serves as a reminder not to be complacent. She expects us to pay attention, remain watchful and alert to changes:

          the excess,
          the future,
          argue again for view:

Like the garden that served as inspiration, the pages in this book take root, refusing to be contained. "...The eye hops right up, ears listen branch to moving branch, and the / present tense warms what's freshly bare, revealing a woman to herself."


the book of frank | ca conrad | wave books

John Sakkis recommends

The Book of Frank by CA Conrad

Immediately after finishing Conrad's THE BOOK OF FRANK, I turned to my girlfriend and said "you have got to read this book." This is that kind of book. A book you want to pass along as soon as it's over, to a lover, best friend, classmate, THE BOOK OF FRANK is destined for cult book (if it hasn't already become one), it lingers in the brain like a bloody nose, like a rumor. The poems are picaresque, serial, each one a self-contained skeletal gem building towards a much larger grotesque whole, Conrad's poetry world-building birthed from a deranged mingling of the Julien Donkey Boy and John Waters but so so very CA Conrad. I love this book for doing what so much contemporary poetry avoids nowadays, it offends, it offends beautifully and totally and unsparingly.


yeah no | jane gregory | the song cave

Laura Moriarty recommends

Yeah No by Jane Gregory

As a speech act, the phrase "Yeah No" agrees but then disagrees, refuses, or withdraws the agreement. The title could also be read as a vernacular way to assent to a shared refusal or other negation. This combining of opposites, familiar yet strange, occurs elsewhere in the work: "the fallen dark like hell in spring." There is a sublime pleasure in this sharing of negativity.

"Though there must be a bad vortex said everyone of where they find themselves since everything" (from "PROFICES," P. 10).

But the reader may have gotten ahead of herself here and might want to back up and start with "[.]" This bracketed period precedes the text, suggesting a time of incident or reflection prior to the poems. It sets us up to notice the smallest textual elements as we continue reading and to observe that in this book grammar, spelling, page layout, prosody and whatever else is at hand are deployed to mean along with or often against the apparent import of the lines.

"every con
cept's a spell
to will its / own exception"

(from "PROFICES," p. 35)

The reader might wonder, next arriving at the Table of Contents, if YEAH NO was ever meant to be called Profices, as 22 of the 31 poems in it contain that interesting word. A search reveals "profices" to be "the second-person singular present active imperative of prōficiō," a Latin verb meaning to make or construct. Nice. Of course, this neologism also suggests "prophecies" that are somehow not quite that. These profices might mean "the world with all its signature visible" or "Light, icicles, feces, profit." They might lead to states of "Panic," "Imiseration" or "Graced" or they might not.

YEAH NO presents a hiddenness in plain view that draws in, engages, and yet resists the reader as direction and indirection vie for her attention. Perhaps a "profice," one might infer, is when a line means its opposite? "[The world's terrific]" is the Panglossian phrase we encounter on the first page of text. It occupies the righthand margin which is used throughout the book to display a commentary redolent of Jack Spicer's texts in the lower half of the pages of Heads of the Town Up to the Aether. Printed, like Spicer's paragraphs, in grayscale, YEAH NO's right margin lines comment on and occasionally contradict the poems to the left. The first of these profices, called "PROFICES," states Gregory's intention to use text, speech, riddles, slight misspellings, grammar, and a sense of misgiving to proceed—to the delight, it must be said, of the reader of a certain Spicerian sensibility:

"That it goes from all
shall be well to oh

Knock knock

Everything is a pattern
Of yesses and no"

(from "PROFICES," p.3)

YEAH NO will not disappoint such a reader. Gregory's "PROFICES" predict a world that will seem achingly familiar to those of us (everyone?) whose experience is complicated and/or compromised.

"Being beside the self, paranoia is
looking in the mirror at nothing like my real face"

(from "PROFICES," P. 19)

The negative sublime cultivated here is not entirely negative but productive of the positive charge that comes from strong lines, smartness, humility, experience, and wisdom. As with all good work, the reader can rest into it, depending on the writer to convey meaning, carrying on, and carrying forth in a way that surprises, edifies, amuses, and informs.

". . . I have imperceptible knowledge
a lot, guys, and work very little

all of the time so that your desire is strong
as it should be to call attention to the title's

own: to unhurt with, be smart about, and
redact, while healing what makes you make them, your faces"


YEAH NO is an enormous pleasure. It is a book whose complexity and hiddenness offer the opportunity for almost infinite rereadings and settlings into the possibilities of its "profices," predicaments, and arousals.

From the back cover:

"I said touch the bell and then the stone.
As sufferer, I spread my talents for you."


belly up | rita bullwinkel | a strange object

Sarah Petersen recommends

Belly Up by Rita Bullwinkel

Rita Bullwinkel's spectacular debut story collection, BELLY UP, probes the porous boundary between humans and their objects. This collection is intriguing, disturbing and undeniably funny. While reading, I was reminded of the time my father took me to see a cadaver. Like me, the body was female and had painted toenails, but I struggled to imagine this fleshy object had ever been alive. I wanted to scream and laugh at the same time. I had a similar experience reading Bullwinkel's stories.

In BELLY UP, humans become less animate, while objects feel strangely alive. In "What I Would Be...", a story told from the point of view of a widow processing her husband's sudden death, Bullwinkel writes, "His death expanded from the chair to the carpets on the floor to the wooden walls and ceramic bowls in my cupboard. I looked into my bowl of cereal and saw my husband. I looked into the grout in between my tile in our shower and saw his hands." Several stories explore the uncanny feeling of being an objectified body among non-living objects. In "Decor," the only female employee of a high-end furniture showroom muses, "It occurred to me then that in this group of friends, I might also be a piece of furniture. Was I something they kept around because I looked avant-garde?"

Though I really wanted to savor each story in BELLY UP, I couldn't help but devour them all, feverishly, in a single evening. The writing was too propulsive to resist. I know that Bullwinkel's characters will haunt me, long after I've put the physical book aside. I don't mind. I look forward to welcoming the ghosts.


lost & found series v | kathy acker, william s. burroughs, langston hughes, jean sénac | graduate center cuny

e. conner recommends

Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, Series V by Kathy Acker, William S. Burroughs, Langston Hughes, Jean Sénac, et al

This packet of chapbooks feels like a precious gift. Each one is meticulously researched and opens with a thoughtful introduction. If you're not familiar with this series Lost & Found prints rare, newly translated, and/or archival texts. These allow us to glimpse into the wins and losses of process.

This series features an all star lineup of the notorious. Highlights include: Kathy Acker's early exercises on Amiri Baraka's work and letters to Alan Sondheim, Langston Hughes's notebooks and photos from his travels through Central Asia while touring the soviet region to make a USSR backed film about Race in America, and Jean Sénac's manifesto on the political power of poetry in Algeria.


national park | emily liebowitz | gramma poetry

Lisa Wenzel recommends

National Park by Emily Liebowitz

NATIONAL PARK, a debut collection of poetry from Emily Sieu Liebowitz, introduces us to new ways to think about language, sound, time and place, often lingering in what's left of the western frontier.

She makes frequent use of a first-person plural that offers comfort through the tension of enjambment and use of white space: "Extinction we are, exterior bridge sight I am /                     earthquake constructing commuters, together /           it was, lonely west we were, middle /           sending space to subdue." Liebowitz also transcribes words that induce a wistfulness for the past: "Mono Lake or winter, both waterless / today, but in yesterday they were alive, a lied absent."

Taken as a whole, each of the three sections in NATIONAL PARK are in concerted migration through history, colonization, war. She writes, "Fissures as arms exceed my joints. The peace was a /           full choice           causing forward depression. / A man / is about / to be shot in a photograph."

As an experiment, read the titles in the Table of Contents in order, as if they are a set of directions on a map, or the lines of an introductory poem. Then share this book by reading it aloud: "Pick it up. Call / a friend. Tell them / you love them."


irradiated cities | mariko nagai | les figues press

Trisha Low recommends

Irradiated Cities by Mariko Nagai

How can one address catastrophe? From Jerika Marchan's recent SWOLE to Cheena Marie Lo's A Series of Un/Natural/Disasters, its been a perpetual question as to whether any language could ever be sufficient to encompass the scale of human suffering that comes with disaster. But rather than trying to describe or address the singular event of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mariko Nagai in IRRADIATED CITIES, travels through four cities still affected by residual radiation—Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, and Fukushima. Rather than any kind of straightforward description, or emotional recounting of the events that led to such a disaster, Nagai drowns us in the muddled temporality of subconscious anxiety, addles her text with the all-too-human specificity of experience and oral history. The staccato beat of her prosaic form only serves to emphasize the ubiquitous sense of danger that has been passed down, family to family, person to person, city to city, phrase to phrase, one singular air molecule to the next—the massive contagion and dispersal of the aftereffects of the atomic bomb. "Destruction is abstract as long as there are no pictures, as long as there are no testimonies," Nagai writes. The photographs of these irradiated cities interspersed between her writing exude an uncanny calm—behind each shot of geometric perfection or natural splendor is the knowledge that although the fires were put out years ago, something might sicken or twist what remains, something invisible and silent, left over from an innately, evil flip-side of humanity; the moment it reared its head.


flung throne | cody-rose clevidence | ahsahta press

Jane Gregory recommends

Flung Throne by Cody-Rose Clevidence

Reading FLUNG THRONE it's impossible not to be like "I yield; I yield." Impossible not to be a little rapturous about this book to which "u have come forth / in the half-light" & now before it,

          u stand, as a man (ish)

          in the open

          dumb as the dumbest beast
          that dumbly beats the earth.

This book is messy, intricate, inordinately beautiful; it croons a country doom and is a calling down of hard stuff, "like the moon, hard up in heaven." Like earth's rocks, like the accidents that accrete and become forms and then, and because of which—OOPS—consciousness:

          u wounded ape have fell
          from grace some trees

          big brained & endless Capacity for

A rendering of these accidents, and a reckoning with them—you won't find a book with bigger feelings. But, "thou regret of nature," wouldn't you be so lucky as to get flung around by & with this barbaric voice from which issue stutters in excess of song, grunts, & rhapsodic trash talk. So do come now, "undress before the throne," and watch it "croon elegant in feral etc, / you know."


mount carmel and the blood of parnassus | anais duplan | monster house press

Nich Malone recommends

Mount Carmel & The Blood Of Parnassus by Anaïs Duplan

Anaïs Duplan's MOUNT CARMEL & THE BLOOD OF PARNASSUS is one of my favorite recent chapbooks. It's heartbreaking, but in a way where my heart is on mute and the shattered pieces quietly grow stronger. I fall into the syntax and hopes it never lets me go. The individual poems aren't clear individual performances, place-held by titles; rather, they sort of blend into each other while staying their own—the motion of turning the page and the reader's breath and body play an active role in the overall experience. One poem states, "What is this thing called poetry." This question lives as a statement and is answered as such not only in the poems themselves, but in the essay, in the page turn, and in the timeliness that connects the awareness of the poems to the participation of the reader. The answer lies not just in the isolated experience of the chapbook, but extends to redefine poetry as you know it, exploding outward like a shared whisper you want to repeat to yourself over and over.


lost & found series vii | lorde, bambara, jordan, forbes, blackburn, et al | graduate center cuny

Janice Worthen recommends

Lost & Found: The CUNY Poetics Document Initiative, Series VII by Audre Lorde, Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan, Jack Forbes, Paul Blackburn, Julio Cortázar et al

What a treasure and resource this collection is! Each chapbook set comes with a detailed introduction that adds to the richness of these previously unpublished, and if not for this project, possibly lost-forever-in-an-archive work. Each poem, letter, speech, syllabus, journal, etc. etc. etc. provides a deeper glimpse into the genius, work, and legacy of these writers, educators, and activists.

Many of the texts here deal with education: who gets to teach and what stories get to be told in a system that was built on and perpetuates inequality. I read June Jordan's "I.S. 55 Graduation Speech" silently and then aloud, pausing at the end of each sentence with gratitude: "—It—the old, abusive American Power is opposed to human life. Let us have no more to do with such power. Instead, let us, take control. Let us take responsibility for the freedom and wellbeing of each other."

I took in the nourishment of Paul Blackburn and Julio Cortázar's letters: Julio: "You see, Antonin Artaud lost all his teeth the year before his death, but he was convinced to the last they would grow again. For my part, I'm convinced I'm immortal. My last words shall probably be 'don't forget to wake me up at eight sharp, I've a trumpet solo to polish up'." Toni Cade Bambara's vision of a Black University made me reflect on my own education, empty of so many voices, events, and champions and full of villains dressed up as heroes: "To obtain a relevant, real education, we shall have to either topple the university or set up our own."

Audre Lorde's Deotha so beautifully captures the complexity of a character, her daily life and work and desires, as well as the shadow of subtle racism that falls across even something as simple as picking her son up from school. In the introduction to Lorde's work, Miriam Atkin and Iemanjá Brown write, "If scholars tend to separate the poet from the teacher from the human, then Lorde writes them back in as one."

And Jack D. Forbes, whose poetry and work push back against the erasure, especially when those being erased exist—complex and vibrant—everywhere around us.

And all of this is just a fraction of what's to be found here, in this collection that asks you to look deeper, and then prop up a mirror and look deeper still.


featherbone | erica mena | ricochet editions

Lisa Wenzel recommends

Featherbone by Erica Mena

Icarus has been reborn as an I, a you, a "[S]he," a cyborg breaking out of a society that is frequently non-inclusive. When they break free of gravity and begin to fly, I exhaled, unaware I was holding my breath. Even as they plunge toward the sea, the tension of the fall feels slow and transformative, with the possibility of emerging as a new entity. Mena writes, "You are the moral. / Yes, you say. / Is this a wing or a stain. / Split, you say. It splits."

FEATHERBONE utilizes excerpted (italicized) text from J.A. Baker's The Peregrine and phrase quotations from books including Audre Lorde's Sister Outsider and Ovid's The Metamorphoses. There are also 827 unique words in FEATHERBONE, many of them compound soundscapes such as sereswallow and saltair, but I found a sense of connection with each word in this book, the hope for a better ending resonating from each lyrical pulse.


rapid transit | alexandra naughton | nomadic press

Johnny Hernandez recommends

Rapid Transit by Alexandra Naughton

Flashes of memory, momentary glimpses of the external and an over arching yearning to be a part of something larger and realizing you are already—despite the isolation of modern life: these are the impressions you walk away with after reading Alexandra Naughton's newest collection RAPID TRANSIT, published by Nomadic Press. Her relaxed prose style is peppered throughout with internet slang and provides the reader with something of an ekphrasis inspired by the bay area's rapid transit system. Naughton evokes quiet vibrancy from each vignette, inviting the reader into a sanctuary hidden in plain sight, (between her earphone speakers). The city transit becomes a work of art to experience through her eyes, her experiences (i.e. the mundane), gets transformed into something more alive...something more real, because of her quiet lens. Naughton writes, "If you took the train from one end to the next, any line really, / you will see so much, pass through so quick it's a wonder to take it all in [...] and when you're / coming out of the tunnel it's like that scene In Roger Rabbit when they / enter Toontown, everything just comes to life."

Naughton has squeezed a work of art from the blind silence of communal space and lets loose the vibrancy and energy that hides beyond the need to insulate oneself from the routine of life. She enthusiastically breaks the silence in quiet moments to bring us into the "real" world of Toontown. This pocket sized collection should be on your person right now! Here is a discount to help lessen the obstacle any further!


body & glass | rodney koeneke | wave books

Brent Cunningham recommends

Body & Glass by Rodney Koeneke

These poems had me counting syllables and racking my brain trying to recall the last class I had on meter. That class, it turns out, was taken by me some thirty years ago in the basement of a dormitory best known for its weed dealers and annual naked prom. No surprise, then, that I couldn't identify the precise poetic forms Koeneke was hijacking, modifying, riffing on, or maybe just using. But what anybody can plainly hear and dig in this book is Koeneke's great genius for form, his full and vivacious commitment to it. I guess it's a pretty unfashionable approach nowadays, or maybe that's an understatement: it feels almost illegal to write a couplet like "drops beat loose slates, / froth swells drain's loud pans" in 2018. Such a flurry of spondees! (Spondeema? Spandau?) In any case, even in that wee snippet you can maybe notice the way these poems use sound and meter as a kind of enjoyable ground that, in turn, allows the figure—say, bursts of the unexpectedly odd or the unexpectedly heartfelt or the unexpectedly meaningful—to leap out. With this book and Rodney's last one I'm starting to think of him the way I used to think about Thom Gunn, out there running contemporary concerns through traditional forms and baroque vocabularies in order to arrive at some really tight, really touching, and fabulously far out there stuff.


professionals of hope | subcomandante marcos | the song cave

e. conner recommends

Professionals of Hope: The Selected Writings of Subcomandante Marcos by Subcomandante Marcos

Beginning at the beginning, PROFESSIONALS OF HOPE opens with a letter penned to four of Mexico's largest publications in 1994. Subcomandante signs the letter with a scrap from "Declaration of Principles of the ELZN" (which effectively ends the beginning): "A certain dose of tenderness is necessary for getting rid of all the sons of bitches that exist. But sometimes a certain dose of tenderness is not enough and it's necessary to add...a certain dose of bullets."

This collection spans 20 years of the ELZN's life in Mexico. Touching on daily Zapatista and indigenous life as well as the more spectacular struggles and moments of solidarity in the Mexican as well as global left. Spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos's (AKA Delegado Cero AKA Subcomandante Insurgente Galeano) formal philosophical education is often spoken of. However, these texts are practical declarations of struggle as much as they are poetic/historical/philosophical/folkloric works.


apricota: issue 1 | andrianna campbell and joanna fiduccia, editors | secretary press

Trisha Low recommends

apricota: Issue 1, Edited by Andrianna Campbell and Joanna Fiduccia

A tantalizing assemblage of critical essays, experimental writing, photography and myriad other forms, APRICOTA is Secretary Press' answer to the stifling tradition of art criticism and historical scholarship. A new publication that is less journal than it is an experiment in how to differently encounter content, APRICOTA forces us to note what is proximal, intimate, rather than direct and explanatory. Its design holding meaning rather than calibrated towards what is easy, functional reading, I enjoy sprawling myself through the gaps and densities of this magazine. I gloss the text across the page into an adjacent image. Aptly themed around the concept of "fights" — I find pages of poetry crashing through new exhibition reviews, an embroidered image of boxing gloves on a kerchief alongside a daring manifesto on picking a fight as a means of intellectual engagement with an audience, even as publication practice; I note two widening cat eyes staring me forth towards an eerie play transcript.

In a time where print publication is gently giving way to online content and clickbait, APRICOTA's sharp, sleek abrasion is a welcome provocation that the way you publish can also be polemic.


baroni a journey | sergio chejfec and margaret carson (translator) | almost island books

Laura Moriarty recommends

Baroni, a Journey, by Sergio Chejfec, translated by Margaret Carson

Reading BARONI, A JOURNEY, I was delighted to discover two wonderful artists—the author of the book, Sergio Chejfec, and the sculptor, Rafaela Baroni. The book recounts Chejfec's visit to Baroni's studio in the Andean foothills of Venezuela and eventual purchase of one of her wooden sculptures. As well as being famous as an artist, Baroni is known to experience a kind of catalepsy that causes her to seem dead. This oddity and her exquisite work, allows the narrator to consider his engagement with her art, life and death, other writers, the Venezuelan countryside, and his own isolation or depression, along with many other subjects.

          So I was driving from Betijoque through that
          capricious landscape, I was thinking of Baroni's
          workshop, of the immobile figures in the gallery, and
          of the several others that were half-finished, in distinct
          stages of completion, but to which she'd referred as if
          they were already alive and all that was left to do was
          dress them, to bedeck them in a bright and colorful
          garb. (p. 32)

According to my own online research, the book was composed in the tradition of W.G. Sebald so one isn't sure, as a reader, which parts are fiction or if it all is. However, it is clear that Rafaela Baroni is a real person and one can find images of the amazing art Chejfec describes on the internet. In fact, he, or his character, researches her himself and reports on material he finds online. BARONI, A JOURNEY is (or seems to be) a nonfiction tale written in broken lines that has the redolence of Sebald and the sharpness of Peter Handke, who I found mentioned as the other of Chejfec's major influences. The poem (or novel or memoir) is wonderfully translated from the Spanish by Margaret Carson. I was first attracted to the book by a blurb on the back cover by Enrique Vila-Matas, a Spanish writer who is the author of several of my favorite books, suggesting that Chejfec, who is from Argentina but lives in New York City, should be much better known than he is. I am inclined very heartily to agree.


nepantla | christopher soto, editor | nightboat books

Shiloh Jines recommends

Nepantla: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color, Edited by Christopher Soto

When I first moved to the Bay Area in 2014, I was eager to turn my bookshelf into the place I wanted to be in the world. Juliana Spahr had asked the question in my first ever graduate poetry class, how many poets of color are on your book shelf? & how many of them are women? & I thought in my head — & how many queer? the number got smaller and smaller. Nikki Giovanni & Julian Talamantez Brolaski were perhaps the only two on my shelf at that time & that felt heavy. & not enough & not acceptable, by a long shot.

I had just come out of a very Keats, Wordsworth, Stevens, Eliot, Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Eluard, O'Hara, Mina Loy — you get the point — poetry world. I was starving not only for contemporary poetry, but non-white & unabashedly queer poetry. I spent most of my time in graduate school researching the use of experimental typography in queer poetry & after two and half years I was able to truly grow my library. It takes so much time & labor & love to align how we act & where we put our energy with who we are — & here with NEPANTLA: AN ANTHOLOGY FOR QUEER POETS OF COLOR a queer community of color has given us a poetic field guide to resistance. If you claim to love poetry — to be about poetry in any way, stop what you are doing, buy this book & actually read it.


of some sky | joseph harrington | blazevox [books]

Nich Malone recommends

Of Some Sky by Joseph Harrington

First off, the cover is everything: a cartoon bear-like creature with laser-eyes animates the potato-like bear torso of a different laser-eyed bear above its assumed foresty context, like some intimate hybrid of that one scene from the movie Ghost (you know the one) and of Kitty Pryde from X-Men messing around with a large potato in a deep, metaphorical way. Pretty much what dreams are made of. And judging a book by its cover totally works this time! Because the content is everything, too. Joseph Harrington blends humor, wit, and familiarity with anthropogenic ecological crisis. It's nature poetry that doesn't sound like it's trying to revive the 1800s. This book is playful and serious at the same time, never letting you outside of its location but also never fully placing you. It anchors the reader in its distinct voice and formal changes while the imagery reaches something beyond; the effect is organic, yet architectural. OF SOME SKY is painfully aware of the working day and the current state of capitalism, finding the ecologic relationship that blooms within those limitations. It's as if apocalyptic crisis is the laser-eyed cartoon, and you are the potato-shaped bear torso, suddenly aware of how the motions of crisis become your own. And don't even get me started on the book's positions of "you" and "I." No spoilers. This book takes you for a ride. So be ready, little potato bear, the totality leaks all over the sublime.


the collages of helen adam | helen adam, edited by alison fraser | further other book works / cuneiform press

John Sakkis recommends

The Collages of Helen Adam by Helen Adam, Edited by Alison Fraser

THE COLLAGES OF HELEN ADAM is an important new addition to the (thankfully) ever expanding catalog of books on/about/or (posthumously) by SF Renaissance poets/artists.

THE COLLAGES feels very much like an extension of Christopher Wagstaff's beautiful, essential An Opening Of The Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle.

Published by Futher Other Book Works (CJ Martin + Kyle Schlesinger) and insightfully edited by Alison Fraser THE COLLAGES is a well-deserved retrospective on the little known, life-long collage work project of Pat and Helen Adam. I attended the book party here in Berkeley, hosted by Alison Fraser and CJ Martin at the Pauline Kael house, surrounded by murals by Jess, I listened to Alison and Lewis Ellingham (a friend of Helen's and contributor to the book) speak about the collages. I may as well have been tripping out the energy was so thick.

The book itself feels charged, like a grimoire, like Helen Adam herself! These books are limited so grab one before they are gone.


women | chloe caldwell | short flight/long drive books

Imani Muhammad recommends

Women by Chloe Caldwell

There couldn't have been a better title picked for Chloe Caldwell's WOMEN, because that's exactly what the novella seeks to explore. It cracks open the complexity of being a woman, being a daughter, female friendship and sexual confusion. Caldwell's casual narration style guides the reader through a series of short peeks into the few years in her life that she spent in New York City while trying to escape her dependency on drugs and her mother. While Caldwell successfully kicks her drug addiction, she picks up a hoard of other unhealthy dependencies. Caldwell's raw account of her own addictive personality grants the reader an authentic closeness throughout her narrative of her seemingly normal life which later leads into abrupt heartbreak and a budding identity crisis. Caldwell's vivid but simple diction choices make this novella a swift and illustrative read, one that I refused to put down until I reached the back cover.


silver road | kazim ali | tupelo press

Janice Worthen recommends

Silver Road: Maps, Essays and Calligraphies by Kazim Ali

To travel Kazim Ali's SILVER ROAD is to walk among stars and cells, to trace lines in and around and through, to move in all directions at the same time one is moving forward. It is a meditation, a communion, an inquiry. From Yoko Ono to Einstein, to poets, to worship, to gender, to place, to home...Ali's vast internal map unfolds, expands, and connects: "Whether kismet or karma, action creates present condition. Present action creates future condition. A poem is a way of mapping these directions in the present (lyric) moment." But it also blurs and redraws as prose flows into, out of, and within poetry and vice versa. As boundaries fade, everything seems to come into focus: "I can't see unless I see differently." What is home, what are borders, what is self for those who travel and exist between and even beyond?

          Not all bodies crossing borders are content with the limitations of language. Though in Farsi pronouns
          are gender neutral, in English they aren't, with the exception of the subjunctive case. You have to
          choose. But how do you choose a gender if you have changed from one to the other? Or if you aren't
          either? And what if you are all genders in turn or at once? (pg. 33)

Every revelation on the micro is a revelation on the macro: "The body is a way of understanding the universe and so the universe must be a way of understanding the body," and "If we are wrong about gender we might be wrong about sentience." Ali's ruminations, investigations, and travels call into question prejudices, biases, and assumptions often passed off and accepted as knowledge. What frameworks/parameters/equations do you accept that become an edge on your map, a wall, an end? Ali's map is a map of letting go, of getting lost, which is lonely, but at the same time, if everything is connected, each action feeding into every other action, then isn't getting lost also a form of connecting, of coming home?


fleshgraphs | brynne rebele-henry | nightboat books

Johnny Hernandez recommends

Fleshgraphs by Brynne Rebele-Henry

Throughout Brynne Rebele-Henry's collection, FLESHGRAPHS, there is a sense of urgency—there is almost a sense of claustrophobic tightness that claws out at you, the reader, to look up from the structures of the page and—to a degree—the structures of society as it converges around the individual. Rebele-Henry has laid out (in a very pristine way) the sometimes gruesome and sometime intimate explosions that want to burst out of human nature and demand our need to connect and be relevant in some memorable way to the world we occupy. The writer creates a collection of prose vignettes that seem to whirl and dance with the idea of arranging and presenting impulses that seek to collapse and lay waste to the order that appears to organize her collection. These vignettes are captured with multiple points of view, as a means of flattening the perspective or squashing any emotional connections between the reader and the characters of each enumerated moment throughout her collection. However, when Rebele-Henry does this, it brings each moment into a more vivid and visceral experience that reaches out from behind the organization of the collection and tears at the reader to feel something between the lines or numbers—between each of these moments, she wants you to bleed, to yearn and to fight against the system of organization that seeks to inhibit each of these intense moments in time. This is a collection that wants to be screamed out, this is a collection that demands to be heard and freed from the pages, it demands to be freed from the words that Rebele-Henry uses to draw you in closer. If this description sounds faintly familiar, to something in your own experience, you need to experience this wonderful collection.


juana I | laura moriarty | kenning editions

Laura Moriarty recommends

Juana I by Ana Arzoumanian, translated by Gabriel Amor

JUANA I is a book of many perfections but it is not an easy book to read. Ana Arzoumanian uses the story of JUANA I of Castile (1479-1555) who, as the wife of one king and the mother of another, was imprisoned, tortured, and stripped of power to convey the experiences of the many others who were brutalized by the Spanish Empire. The book's rendition of history into poetic lines and paragraphs is effective and compelling.

          "What I need is a mouth.

          I need a mouth the enamel of teeth your saliva.

          Blood has stopped flowing to your lips.

          I kiss the air, the locks of hair, the Virgin Mary; I kiss the right foot of Saint Peter.

          I run ropes through the gates of your body, I pull on a rope to open your pupils and let in the light.

          She is mad."

This work, beautifully translated by Gabriel Amor, speaks as Juana but eventually also speaks for and of slaves, indigenous people, Jews who were expelled from Spain, and others pursued, injured and often murdered by the men who ran the world they lived in.

          "I will spread the word. They have found babies tied to their mothers' backs. Skeletons with pieces of hair stuck to their skull. Church roofs. No. The sky of what is called America splattered with blood. Ditches and crows and bones folded back inside."

Gorgeously published in a bilingual edition by Kenning Editions, JUANA I is a great introduction to Ana Arzoumanian, a major Argentine writer and activist against genocide. It is also almost a textbook of how to write poetry about history in a way that addresses the urgent issues of our time. The work reads like a one-woman play and has been performed as such. And it is an amazing poem.


journey to the sun | brent cunningham | atelos

Steve Orth recommends

Journey to the Sun by Brent Cunningham

What's the greatest book ever written? The Bible? Moby Dick? Hamlet? Uh...can someone say BORING? Yep. Can someone say BEEN THERE, DONE THAT? Yep.

So what is the greatest book of all time? I think that's actually a very easy answer: JOURNEY TO THE freakin' SUN! I mean it's completely AWESOME! I mean what else do you need? The answer is you don't need anything else. Everything you want, everything you need is right there inside the 120 pages of this majestic book. Order your copy today and start living your life. I mean seriously.


intervenir/intervene | dolores dorantes & rodrigo flores sanchez | ugly duckling presse

Ari Banias recommends

Intervenir/Intervene by Dolores Dorantes & Rodrigo Flores Sanchez

INTERVENIR/INTERVENE intervenes on the singularity of authorship, the im/possibilties of translation, the brutalities of border and nation. In Dolores Dorantes and Rodrigo Flores Sanchez's command, language is solid and as vulnerable as a body, blunt, electrified, forceful in the service of exposing states of violence and state violence; wincingly clear then stubbornly opaque; fractured; under siege. Who speaks or can? Who are brought to their knees? What's a tongue, or a word, desire, or a homeland for that matter? "Do we recognize / each other underground?" The distinction between land and flesh, imperative and plea, pleasure and violation, blurs then sharpens. Buried narratives keen from untrackable paths. The weight of a country. Of countries. The weight of the dead and the disappeared. This world vibrates with subtext, with threat, with our participation, from the unspeakable to the "museum / that displays my barking." INTERVENIR/INTERVENE chills, mesmerizes, confronts, wrenches, and Hofer's endnotes on the translation are a series of incandescent & urgent refractions. After countless times I've returned to this book, its charge never lessens.


jazzercise is a language | gabriel ojeda-sague | the operating system

Trisha Low recommends

Jazzercise is a Language by Gabriel Ojeda-Sague

Do you ever think about how no one uses the word 'fattening' any more? Someone used it the other day, and I was catapulted straight back to my childhood. When I was young, my mom made all the usual attempts to slim my blubbery little body — but she also tried to make it all fun. From broccoli mayo salad with no-fat mayonnaise to jazzercise workouts with colorful dumbbells; workout videos and bat-shaped infomercial ab machines, these strange contraptions and their forms were difficult to reconcile with my inability to feel comfortable in my body. They were alien shapes that promised a kind of life beyond what I could imagine for myself — something Gabe Ojeda-Sague's new book JAZZERCISE IS A LANGUAGE also holds with rapturous fascination. Within the plasticine movements of TV aerobics and its imperatives, Ojeda-Sague discovers the exhilaration for the possibilities of language to form us; and alongside it, the painful tension of reaching for cadences to line the ideations of a better body, a better life. And in the thrum of sweat escaping pores, we begin to see neurotic compulsions — the routine and constant activity it takes not to find, but to maintain identity into existence. How a tiny blemish or a mis-step can betray an unwieldy interior. What external architectures unconsciously press upon us in our blonde VHS hologram desires to become 'more like ourselves.' So stretch it out to the left like taffy; don't let it drip. We're all watching the screen.


the next crystal text | melissa mack | timeless, infinite light

Brent Cunningham recommends

The Next Crystal Text by Melissa Mack

In the Bay Area many a poet has been aware of Melissa Mack's mind and talent for a good stretch of time. In fact, full disclosure here, I even had the honor of publishing her first chapbook. And now we have her first full-length book in hand. And what a debut it honestly is! First let's start with that title: it alludes to a minor arc in recent small press publishing history in which, first, Clark Coolidge wrote a book called The Crystal Text. Decades later Craig Dworkin found he remembered Coolidge's book so wrongly he decided to write the book he had mis-remembered, calling it The Crystal Text (or Craig Dworkin's Crystal Text). What this deep and somewhat obscure background does to Mack's book is to add a sort of ongoing poetic commentary, a relation to debates about what poetry is and should be, to the many formal moves she makes. I'll let someone else work out the exact nature of that commentary but I think what it stresses is how situated Mack understands herself to be, in time, in place, in a body, in over-privileged skin, in history. While the book obviously only needed its predecessors as a clear rock to jump off of, that sense of being situated comes along in every word, every syllable. And what Mack jumps into is profound: a highly educational investigation of crystals combined with intense awareness of the labor practices of mineral extraction combined with sexuality combined with etymology combined with daily life and so on. Grounded, as well, not just in the subject matter of crystals but in Mack's mesmerizingly complicated relation to the crossroads of sound and sincerity. As usual her poems say what I just tried to say even better: "This, my humiliating and ever-complicit sincerity, is my crossing." Only rarely does poetry get this aware, this present, while also digging this deeply into the lived conditions. It's a book that glows, reflects, and refracts like the gem it is.


sister love | audre lorde, pat parker, and julie r enszer (ed) | a midsummer night's press

Shiloh Jines recommends

Sister Love: The Letters of Audre Lorde and Pat Parker 1974-1989 by Audre Lorde, Pat Parker, and Julie R. Enszer (Ed.)

As we drift closer to Valentine's Day, my mind becomes more & more filled with thoughts of love, self-care, capitalism, bills, loans, prisons, the ground i walk on in the morning, what i'll cook for dinner. i start to ask myself, more pointedly than usual, a never-ending list of questions. Questions that so often spin my wheels, end in confusion or anger. What does queer love look like? How does a queer body behave & survive? Can i keep paying rent, make art, write & still love myself? Still have love left for those i love? Reading SISTER LOVE not only quiets my mind, but leaves me awestruck, reminded of the lessons i have yet to learn as a queer body in search of community. Audre gives advice to Pat, advice to a restless poet heart, "... remember the body needs to create too...beware all the hatred you've stored up inside you, & the locks on your tender places."

What a world i live in, that i can even read the intimate letters between two of the most influential black lesbian feminist poets of the 20th century. What a supreme pleasure & gift that we can witness, what Mecca Jamilah Sullivan calls, "the roaring depth of shared vulnerability." This book, this collection of black love letters, rewrites & rethinks & reimagines what love & poetry & survival can look like, it promises another future, another kind of love for those who have been marginalized & erased from history.


heaven is all goodbyes | tongo eisen-martin | city lights publishers

Liam Curley recommends

Heaven Is All Goodbyes by Tongo Eisen-Martin

There's no voice like poet Tongo Eisen-Martin's voice, no voices like those in his second book of poems HEAVEN IS ALL GOODBYES, out from City Lights. It's got a fierce momentum to it, sonically and politically energetic and curious. Eisen-Martin explores cities and lives that are perpetually demeaned and destroyed, inhibited or dominated completely. It's charged with injustices, what faces we put on for what is intolerable. He laces perspectives in italics or quotes — like backup singers or alter egos within each poem. It creates a vision that is furious, observant, and wise. There are so many stray lines that are memorable, have history to them already. Some share stark truth — "If it has a prison, it is a prison" goes one in "Faceless." Some are world-weary and funny, earned — "'Market Street' is the best two-word joke I have ever heard in San Francisco."

The effect of all this combined is awfully impressive: It's like Eisen-Martin is slowly turning the room around you, turning it upside down. But he keeps turning until everything is right side up again. At last, looking up from one of his poems, everything's a bit misplaced, a bit fallen and thumped, invigorated — shook and made more real.

One beautiful instance of this spinning, this realizing: cigarettes really happen in these poems. Like really exist — "The first cigarette makes this parking lot my bedside / The second cigarette makes this parking lot my front pocket" he writes in "The Simplicity of Talent." Exist like the stubbed-out cigarettes in Irving Penn's photographs: Not props but living proof, all harm, all passing-of-time, all currency and smoke, cool bolts shooting out from one's mouth.

All this upturning isn't thin mischief. It's direly needed, brilliantly done in HEAVEN IS ALL GOODBYES. Many've already sung the book's praises; let them sing. There isn't enough song to put under Eisen-Martin, to raise him up, is how I feel.


go with me | jared hayes | black radish books

John Sakkis recommends

go with me by Jared Hayes

minimalist execution maximalist poetics, this is Jared Hayes, I used to live with Jared Hayes, I once woke up at midnight to the smell of coffee, I found Jared sitting on the floor in our dining room drinking coffee (I want to say from the pot) working on cut-up poems (strips of paper, pairs of scissors, glue strewn about), I thought to myself "this is poetry."

Hayes's new book, GO WITH ME is a canticle, a song full of love and joy, and mourning. A bit of a departure from what I'm used to seeing from him, his signature 'organized confusion' conceptual messiness has transmogrified into a sleek, celestial, meditation on the minute particulars of a poethical moment, his moment, right now.

Hayes used to work at the Tea House in Boulder, CO, I remember telling him how I thought all tea tasted like dirt, Jared just smiled and said "no, no it doesn't...", and just like that my mind was changed, and I knew it to be true.


a little in love with everyone | genevieve hudson | fiction advocate

Janice Worthen recommends

A Little in Love with Everyone: Alison Bechdel's Fun Home by Genevieve Hudson

When "the centre cannot hold" sometimes there's the mercy of an anchor that keeps one from spinning completely off into oblivion. This book has been an anchor for me. Even as I traveled back in time, as the flowers withered and the road and trees and mailboxes turned a red akin to dried blood, Genevieve Hudson's book—her thinking through Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, her thinking about queer culture and heroes, her thinking about sexuality and gender—reminded me of my joy, my truth, and the community now far away but also all around. At each sharp eye, each scowl, each question-turned-rebuke, Hudson's book—fresh in my mind—reminds me to be bold, be loud, be everything I've worked so hard to claim. It reminded me of the bliss—there's no other word—of seeing others like me for the first time, of finding community, of being community. It reminded me that I can be an anchor for someone else if I have the courage to live my truth in the open, even in hostile places. 

Hudson's generous book speaks her truth but it also makes room for me and so many others who are different than her and me. It makes room for how we are different and not just for what we share: "As I am talking about representation and queer life and visibility, I feel compelled to acknowledge that the lives Fun Home documents are not representative of all kinds of queerness...That's why it is important that the queer archive become vast—enormous, swelling with new stories, ringing out with new voices, brimming with influences both radical and infinite." Her book is a hand reaching out instead of a door slamming shut. But it is also a reminder of the consequences of doors slamming shut. It reminds me of what's at stake, personally and globally, if the archive does not grow, does not welcome: "Alison knows that honest stories wield power...She knows what happens when certain lives get left out of the story. What happens is we get a culture of violence, isolation, marginalization, and pain." Hudson's book, already bent from two flights and long drives, already dog-eared and tattered by anxious hands on a journey of love (though not the romantic kind), is part of my queer archive. And if she happens upon these words, I would just like to say, thank you. Thank you.


the up and down of feet | elke erb | burning deck

Laura Moriarty recommends

The Up and Down of Feet by Elke Erb, translated by Rosmarie Waldrop

The world suggested by the poems in Elke Erb's THE UP AND DOWN OF FEET is filled with ordinary life, mysterious experiences, observation, poetry, history, and randomness. It is a dark world, uneasy with threats and disappointment. It is also a luminous one with an intensity that makes each next plainly worded line revelatory, almost symbolic. "As firm as a cloud, // that dark one, hanging low / as if heave: // no guarantee—."

As a reader I found myself mystified, warned, a bit fearful, and impelled to continue.


          The 19 century was fearful because it moved into
          what its respectable industrialists and busy

          had emptied out, i.e. robbed blind: the once normal,
          in intact nature natural density of definitions,
          appropriate conclusions

          from areas so complex they represent vastness.
          And then there was dark.

I quote this entire poem because it's a good example of a quality in Erb's work that is, to men, almost undefinable. A phrase, "melancholy toughness," from her Mountains in Berlin, also translated by Rosmarie Waldrop and published by Burning Deck in 1995, suggests the feeling produced by the work and how I began to think of Elke Erb as I was reading it. The comments on the back of THE UP AND DOWN OF FEET suggest that Erb's "pleasure in words is infections." I heartily agree with this sentiment and would only add that her pleasure in an accurate, terrifying and yet redeeming darkness is also communicable.


"melancholy" is very much the feeling one has knowing this is one of the last two of the Burning Deck books (along with Triste Tristan by Paol Keineg). It has been an incredible run and we at SPD, and dedicated readers of poetry everywhere, are incredibly grateful to Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop for their brilliant writing and teaching and their wonderful service to the community with Burning Deck books. Thank you!


alchemy for cells & other beasts | maya jewell zeller and carrie debacker | entre rios books

Trisha Low recommends

Alchemy for Cells & Other Beasts by Maya Jewell Zeller and Carrie DeBacker

Books about anxiety are too often deemed feminine and interior—too personally specific. But in the refractive kaleidoscope of ALCHEMY FOR CELLS & OTHER BEASTS, anxiety becomes an externalised and colorful weapon, one encompassing not just the landscape of the self, but the universe as it affects the self, the tales of other selves around the self. From geologic time to climate change, individual anxiety spreads virally throughout the book, populating its readers with the troubling accoutrements of human existence and its oft negative impacts — "so mammal / so leathery like our sin / the one I cover over my organs / like a filmy curtain." Accompanied by misleadingly succulent artwork by Carrie DeBacker, ALCHEMY FOR CELLS & OTHER BEASTS is a journey at turns mystical and frightening, guilt-inducing and comforting, muddling humanity's oppressive force with its animal instincts, all without being self-righteous or accusatory. We exist, it seems to say, and we have an impact. And what that is can be beautiful or frightening — it's up to us.


high on low: harnessing the power of unhappiness | wilhelm schmid | upper west side philosophers, inc

Steve Orth recommends

High on Low: Harnessing the Power of Unhappiness by Wilhelm Schmid

I like to stay fairly chipper around the SPD office. It's what I refer to as my Positive Mental Attitude. PMA, like the seminal punk band Bad Brains say. I feel like having a good attitude is the real difference maker in life. Have you ever been around someone who, while maybe is very talented and quite skilled, has a bad attitude? It's the worst. They are exhausting and their shitty mood can just suck the joy out of the room. I, personally, would rather be around someone who is talent-less and unskilled who has a great can-do attitude, who doesn't make one of those sour faces when faced with adversity or boredom. So I try to be that positive force for myself and the people around me. And this book HIGH ON LOW: HARNESSING THE POWER OF UNHAPPINESS really does help, because, deep down, I truly hate everything about this world.


umbilical hospital | vi khi nao | 1913 press

Matt Hedley recommends

Umbilical Hospital by Vi Khi Nao

As always, Vi stands entirely in a realm of her own with her latest work. The book starts with the poem "your clitoris is gone," whose first line "You are an alien wearing a sheep-asshole hat," had me laughing in I'm-uncomfortable-in-me panic, before it really goes off the rails into is-this-Will-Alexander apocrypha of specificity, and panic is all there is. Every line has that weight of the prophet force to it, where the reader, who doesn't talk to the same gods, is dazed by the wtf is going on. And then — and then — you realize Vi is fucking with you, again. Where 4.3 is completely specific as a number and meaning, but then in the next poem, it's suddenly 4.5 that matters, and you're like shit, I've been got, and you're too in it to back out. "sonic titillation" is the most erotic poem you've read while being a sheep. As in she makes you into a sheep, and then wakes you up, as a sheep, from a really upsettingly sexual sheep dream, and describes your sheep-self masturbating to its too-sexual dream of images broken down into wheat. This is a deeply strange book of poetry (novel, I want to call it a novel, I'm sure I just read a novel but I don't know where it went) that is unlike anything you've ever read but that's not the part about it that's good, that's just background, like saying a sheep is a mammal. UMBILICAL HOSPITAL circles around the same language and concepts again and again, shocking you more into their fleshy parts. It's always a shock, always a surprise, especially when you come away feeling actually really good about yourself, like you've been pampered somehow when the comb of the last poem passes over you, like you did something right, something specific.



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