Tag Archives: book reviews

Consuming Tender: A Review of Monica McClure’s Tender Data

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In Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, Stein catalogued the domestic objects that influenced her female identity. She writes, A Box, A Plate, A Frightful Release, Objects, Careless Water, Roast Beef, Mutton, Single Fish, Rooms, Buttons and a lot more. Each object relies first on its domestic connotation in order to then be re-imagined in Stein’s perverse poetic transmission of it. Stein’s buttons are simultaneously analogues and object manifestations of the female experience. Her poems both underscore the ridiculousness of glorifying the domestic by breaking with the Victorian obsession with adoring things and liberate the things themselves from our obsession with them. In liberating her objects, she symbolically liberates herself and the other women who, at the fore of the modern era, would read her book.

In Monica McClure’s Tender Data, a book of poems whose title clearly conjures Stein, McClure also catalogues objects, but exchanges Stein’s domestic objects for contemporary cultural ones. She bounces between her own lineage of female writers (Kathy Acker, Mina Loy, Willa Cather, Jeanette Winterson); cultural signifiers of the cosmopolitan elite (Cipriani, St. Tropez, Mercedes Benz Fashion week, W Magazine, Park Slope); the female healthcare debate (fertility, abortion, Plan B); and finally the average American Consumer (Coca-Cola, TJ Maxx, VH1, New York Dolls). However, Tender Data does not appear to be written with the intention, as in Stein’s case, of subverting these cultural objects, but rather is obsessed with them, reflecting society’s ongoing obsession. McClure takes us on a complex journey of objects and subjects that are desperate for a liberation poetry may not be able to give. Continue reading

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Finally, An Affirming Comic Book About Abortion

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Coming up as a teenager in a mostly progressive environment, the message about abortion was clear—my body, my choice. I felt happy and empowered by my fist-pumping right to make decisions about my reproductive present and future. The politics behind this choice were relatively clear to me. In school I learned the basics: Roe v. Wade and the history of organizations like Planned Parenthood. I have always been grateful for the right to choose. But not once was there any discussion, in school or elsewhere, of what it actually meant to have an abortion in the physical sense. Like, what actually happens when you go in to have one? Once a woman decides to have an abortion, what choices does she have? These are all very important questions that so few seem to talk about—except for Leah Hayes, that is. Continue reading

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¡Best Friends 4ever! A review of Belleza y Felicidad

bellezaReading Belleza y Felicidad (Sand Paper Press) is like listening to a funny/sexy/serious/gorgeous phone conversation between best friends. In this case, the friends are Argentinian writers/artists Fernanda Laguna and Cecilia Pavón, with translation by Stuart Krimko.

Laguna and Pavón’s friendship began when Pavón attended an exhibition of Laguna’s visual art in Buenos Aires.

The alchemy generated by their first conversations eventually led to the desire to create a spatial dimension for the writing and art they were making. It quickly took shape as a physical location, a storefront gallery and art-supply store….Belleza y Felicidad [the name of the gallery as well as this book] soon came to represent a refuge in real space as a well as an important node in the realm of the imagination….The place operated as if it were really an excuse to recreate a new category of literature; the gallery was, itself, the art (xi).

When you can create as well as work alongside your friend, you know you have a true friendship—one of life’s greatest joys. Unlike romantic relationships, being BFFs is socially optional. You both choose what frequency/duration/with what level of vulnerability—and you choose each other every time you hang out.

bff2 Continue reading

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The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson: An Object of Love

argonauts cover

Maggie Nelson’s new book, The Argonauts (Graywolf Press, 2015), might be better than anything I’ve read previously by her (yes, better than The Art of Crueltyand even, I dare say, Bluets). Part personal essay/cultural critique/love letter to her newborn child and to her partner, renowned artist Harry Dodge, this whirlwind of text falls into neat fragments with its title borne from a Barthesian simile:

… in which Barthes describes how the subject who utters the phrase “I love you” is like “the Argonaut renewing his ship during its voyage without changing its name.” Just as the Argo’s parts may be replaced over time but the boat is still called the Argo, whenever the lover utters the phrase “I love you,” its meaning must be renewed by each use, as “the very task of love and of language is to give to one and the same phrase inflections which will be forever new” (p. 5).

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Chloe Caldwell’s Women Isn’t About Anything and It’s About Everything

chloe caldwell

Despite the title, Women by Chloe Caldwell (Short Flight/Long Distance Books, 2014) is not just for women. It’s for anyone who likes reading fiction but also has a problem with reading fiction. It’s also for feminists who want to read a book with predominantly female characters. It’s also for anyone who’s bisexual and/or ever questioned their sexuality. It’s also for all the above and none of the above.

“You have to read this book. It’s stayed with me for months,” I say to a friend over dinner.

“What’s it about?” my friend asks.

“It’s about…” I begin to say, even though I don’t like answering what things are about, even though I often ask others what things are about, “the difficulty of writing about experience in the same way that holding onto love is seemingly impossible.”

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Emoji in Translation: A Review of The Grey Bird

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The Grey Bird, (Coconut Books, 2014), with emojis by Carina Finn and translations by Stephanie Berger, is one of the most exciting books I’ve read in a long time. Here’s why:

1. Collaborative work is better reading than solo projects.

Sometimes when I read a book by a single author, I want to write in the margins and create another poem/work, offering editing suggestions, and/or just plain letting them know how much I loved a certain line. When you have more than one lens involved in a work, you can see more than a single consciousness’s approach, and it often seems “better” than what I would imagine would have been created on one’s own. If I had just seen Finn’s emojis or just read Berger’s text, I am not sure I would have been as entranced. It’s the combination that works and is brilliant.

Finn’s emojis on their own:

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Berger’s text on its own:

Is that a poem or just a bunch of food? Continue reading

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Why You Should Read The Meatgirl Whatever by Kristin Hatch

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This book is so good that I’m afraid of writing an essay about it because essays are kind of this fake vehicle for the essayist to sound/feel clever about herself and how she noticed this or that pattern in whatever book and ignored passages x or y that really don’t fit with said pattern and maybe things are supposed to be messy and cryptic and unknowable and that’s the beauty of it all, whatever “it” is. Thus:

1. From “Meatgirl Training Shift #1”

open your mouth wide.

your eater should see fur down your throat.

you have to stay like this as long as he eats.

sometimes after they try to throw the bones in your mouth.

don’t get mad.

they think we like it, like they’re telling us we’re doing good.

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The Surface & the Surreal in Valerie Mejer’s Rain of the Future

rain of the future 

“Psychic automatism in its pure state, by which one proposes to express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by the thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.”

—Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto 

Sometimes I think we’re all still in the Surrealist movement—that even Conceptualism (and its precursors/iterations thereof) is in some way a permutation of the Surrealist idea of breaking apart signifier/signified—that in dreams, for example, things may not “make sense” and that’s okay. Exploring that nonsensical, whimsical aspect of our thoughts is what art should be about.  At least, that’s what I think after reading Valerie Mejer’s Rain of the Future (Action Books, 2014), edited and translated by C.D. Wright, with additional translations by A.S. Zelman-Doring and Forrest Gander. Continue reading

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Damnation by Janice Lee: A Study in Temporality*

Damnation-Cover-Front

Have you ever read/watched/listened to a book/movie/song that really annoyed you because it challenged what you felt to be aesthetically pleasurable? And then you kept on reading/watching/listening and you realized there was a beauty in the formerly perceived grotesquerie? Which caused you to not only find said book/movie/song actually awe-inspiring but also caused you to recalibrate your whole sense of aesthetics in general?

That’s kind of what Janice Lee’s Damnation will do to you. Or not “do” to you, so much as endlessly “be” to you. Continue reading

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