I met Laura Marie Marciano at a reading in an eminently Instagrammable and chic bookshop in Chicago. My partner noticed how taken I was with her work, and encouraged me to introduce myself. Marciano’s work has a clarity of voice and vision to which we can all aspire to.
She read from her book, Mall Brat (Civil Coping Mechanisms Press, 2016), a collection of poems defined by its unflinching approach to sexuality and memory. Mall Brat’s forward (framed as “From the author at fifteen”) sets up the book brilliantly with details of a summer romance between the speaker at fifteen and a man six years her senior. The facts are excruciating to a reader aware of the power imbalance, begging for someone—anyone—to step in and save this child. Instead, Marciano forces the reader to inhabit the speaker’s thought process at that age, and to remind us that our own was equally short-sighted and precarious:
“I was the type of girl who might be featured in some virgin porn, just a little bit plump, with a second day tan, and extreme insecurity—but, also, smart, because I had read a lot and I had an older brother.”
As I read these poems, I find myself returning to a line from Dorothy Allison’s book of essays, Skin: “I can write about years in a paragraph, but the years took years to pass.” There is often a human desire, and a tendency in some poetry, to simplify the past and obscure it with language—to decide on a narrative that is easy to repeat with a few totemic details for emphasis. Marciano refuses a smooth rendition of the past and honors those years, reaching into their layers and maintaining eye contact “as i sink my hand deeper/into the barrel of stones.”
The following post features an interview I had with Angela Hume about her upcoming book of poetry, Middle Time (Omnidawn, 2016). This book breathes intensely between moments of ecology, biology, and temporality. Here’s an excerpt:
Middle Time, p. 77
It’s easy to read a book by Jennifer L. Knox and imagine all the characters between the front and back covers living in the same world, if not in the same town. This feeling is strongest in Days of Shame & Failure (Bloof Books, forthcoming 2015), Knox’s fourth and maybe most heartbreaking book to date. The characters Knox illuminates here (Marilyn in “Life’s Work,” Tommy in “A Fairy Tale,” unnamed I’s) are all bound together by various forms of shame and/or failure. And by extension, Knox, with her characteristic use of dark humor, holds a mirror up to us as readers. Some of these poems are gut-bustingly funny, some are sniffle-worthy, but most are even better: a combination of both. Knox isn’t so much keeping her finger on the pulse of life in America as she is speaking from it: that is to say, through saying a lot, trying to figure it out along with the rest of us (whatever “it” is).
Reading 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.
It gave me pause to learn that Phil Klay’s 2014 bestseller Redeployment won the National Book Award for Fiction last year. When I finally finished the collection of short stories, I felt deflated, not by the warfare or the PTSD or the moment in the poignant, titular story where the protagonist shoots his dying dog, but by Klay’s clichéd, sexist descriptions of several female characters throughout the book. While Klay probably meant to showcase the male chauvinist bravado of a solider, the descriptions still strike me as outdated, even in the spirit of attempting to craft realistic characters in the atmosphere or culture of a war story. It’s not the book’s dialogue that bothers me—it’s Klay’s descriptions guiding us toward the visualization and realization of these women. Since the stories are told mostly in first person, the lack of distance between author and narrator suggests, at times, that we as readers are encouraged to see the women as the soldiers do. In these stories, as in so many recent narratives about masculine violence—from Breaking Bad to The Sopranos—the proximity of narrator and author forces us to ask: when are such depictions taking a critical, if sympathetic, stance on that kind of cultural misogyny, and when are they simply replicating it? I would argue that when, say, Klay’s go-to expression for older or more haggard women is “ugly,” he walks a fine line between unsparing realism and simply unpolished sexism. Continue reading
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.”
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:
Berger’s text on its own:
Is that a poem or just a bunch of food? Continue reading
The speaker in Sarah A. Chavez’s first collection of poetry, All Day, Talking (dancing girl press, 2014), is in mourning. This mourning primarily revolves around the speaker’s friend, Carole, but there’s also a longing for a past life—the life the speaker had when Carole was alive. There’s an identity Chavez’s speaker tries to resurrect for herself throughout the poems, one whose mantra could easily be carpe diem. Identity is an important concept for Chavez—she’s a scholar of Chican@/Latin@ & Native American literature and culture and a self-proclaimed “mestiza.” On her website, she has two bios to choose from (“Keepin’ it Real” and “Longer, More Professional”), indicating her investment in the idea of multiple or mixed identities. The poems in All Day, Talking show a speaker trying to build a new, independent sense of self after the loss of a loved one. These poems are loaded with concrete detail, so as the speaker reminisces about Carole, about her former life, the reader does, too. Chavez doesn’t give us every single detail, but she doesn’t have to. The bond between the speaker and Carole evokes the feelings of friendship and love that, if we’re lucky, we each get to experience in this life. Continue reading
“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
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