ICYMI: Praise for Books You Meant to Read — March 2018
Wait, books are too old to review after 6 months? Nah. Our bedside tables (and coffee tables, and every flat surface within our reach) are loaded with books we’ve been meaning to read. And while we p̶r̶o̶m̶i̶s̶e̶ ̶n̶o̶t̶ ̶t̶o̶ ̶b̶u̶y̶ ̶a̶n̶y̶ ̶m̶o̶r̶e̶ ̶b̶o̶o̶k̶s̶ ̶u̶n̶t̶i̶l̶ ̶w̶e̶’̶v̶e̶ ̶r̶e̶a̶d̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶s̶e̶ probably are buying more books as this post is being written, here are our new faves from the good ole days. Y’know. 2016. In case you missed it the first time around, dive in and enjoy!
1. i be but i ain’t by Aziza Barnes (2016)
half. bi-______ multi-__________ & other words for emptiness. cavity. not of
teeth. of canyon. erosion. unmaking the notion that stones do not breathe. that
The Gist: Poet and playwright Aziza Barnes explores the queer Black body, and what it means to live through centuries of political legacies that have attempted to commodify and name the Black body, forging ahead to name, claim, and explore Blackness on Barnes’s own terms.
Get it from: YesYes Books
2. Leadbelly by Tyehimba Jess (2005)
that’s what that box o’ strings is, son. your boxcar ticket outta nowhere. maybe even steak dinner, silk ties, and all the leg you can stroke. but you gotta wrestle for it, son. you got to…
The Gist: Tyehimba Jess’s occupation with Black music history predates his Pulitzer-prize winning Olio. In Leadbelly, his first poetry collection, Jess versifies the life of the eponymous blues music legend (Huddie William Ledbetter). As in Olio, Jess’s research-driven poems take on a variety perspectives and forms — but they all crackle, scowl, and stagger like songs.
Get it from: Wave Books
3. trigger by Venus Selenite (2016)
we are routinely
four five seconds from dying
then rising at dawn
The Gist: Venus Selenite takes control of xyr own narrative via self-publishing. Xe seeks to add trigger to the canon, making space for Black non-binary trans voices, and in xyr own words, to “to serve as further encouragement for other Goddess Queen Sisters to build the strength and determination to write, paint, shout, sing, and display their own journeys.”
Get it from: Venus, xemself!
4. Potted Meat by Steven Dunn (2016)
I’m trying to teach my sister a song I recorded off the radio. Listen real close, I say, One two, tell me what you got — let me slip my coin inside your slot and hit the jackpot.
One two, she says, tell me something about coins and a jackpot.
Goddammit, I say, you got it wrong — its not that hard.
Shut up, she says, this is stupid. Why do I need to learn this anyway.
Cuz its important like the Pledge of Allegiance.
The Gist: A coming-of-age novel in southern West Virginia driven by fragments, Potted Meat won the 2015 Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize and was shortlisted for Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists. Dunn’s visceral language cuts across the quotidian to capture the emotions of place.
Get it from: Tarpaulin Sky Press
5. List of Consonants by Manuel Arturo Abreu (2015)
It’s not like these things are mine. They’re yours. I am a hyperlink, a flag for a fake country. You look at me and tell me what I am. I become what you name me. I carry these becomings. I am not male. You name me male. I am not Other. You name me Other. I carry all the names I’m given. I carry all the pained faces people have made when they look at my face or body. I carry a phallus I wish I didn’t have. I carry a body I wish I didn’t have, and I put food into it that I wish I didn’t need. I try not to.
The Gist: An “ambient novella” paying homage to a friend who died, abrau’s list of consonants slips between found-text and from-scratch text to inhabit echoes and untranslatable memories. Its s(h)ifting text-block poems, such as “Why Is There Nothing,” are a highlight.
Get it from: Bottlecap Press
6. Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis (2015)
Female Figure with Child Kneeling
Female Figure with Child Standing
Female Figure Head
Rest Supported by Seated
Female Figure Kneeling
Female Figure with Bowl Standing
Female Figure with Bowl and Child Standing
Female Figure Seated
Female Figure (Pipe)
Female Figure Undated
Female Figure Mask
Female Rhythm Pounder
The gist: Get this book if only for its central eponymous long poem, an art history tour-de-force which catalogs the titles of art works and scholarly texts describing “Western art objects in which a black female figure is present, dating from 38,000 BCE to the present.” An epic mapping silences and objectification, as well as the power of self-naming.
Get it from: Knopf
7. Annotations by John Keene (1995)
Memory, that vast orchard of myriad, variegated moments, appears to undergo an endless replanting. In the summer the head would troll across the city like an immense seine, gathering every living and inanimate thing in its folds. This entails no notion of the “subject.”
The Gist: An experimental poet’s novel challenges preconceived notions of autobiography. Densely lyrical and allusive, Keene’s compressed fictionalized account of growing up in St. Louis broods with philosophical reflections on memory as well as racial, class, and sexual identities. The book’s annotated attention to the thrumming textures of sensation and abstraction calls to mind Lyn Hejinian’s more canonized autobiography My Life and My Life in the 90s.
Get it from: New Directions
8. Whatever Happened To Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins (2016, posthumous)
life has so many tuneless days…what better posture to take than to become a whimsical motherfucker? Can you think of a better one? I never could. Be a husband? Or a father? In exchange for being a whimsical motherfucker? You got to be crazy… I have to have room to improvise, lady, some way to ignite myself into life. I have to have room to improvise…life has so many tuneless days…
The Gist: While Collins, a pioneer Black woman filmmaker and SNCC organizer, is best known for her film Losing Ground, her attention to visual details, dialogue, and scenes translates seamlessly to the short story format. The series of stories compiled in this book were discovered posthumously by her daughter.
Get it from: HarperCollins
9. Buck Studies by Douglas Kearney (2016)
I’m not where I’m flung at thus
under to the stuck cursive patch,
up down there, defoxed, ‘s’why out me a holler
flies, a jeer at a hunger,
other’s. over origins
(the holler) and assorted conditions therein,
composed it was, for I declare,
I clarify most while I’m ghost.
The Gist: Afrofuturist typographic explosions of kinetic signifiers. Even the “loud-assed colored silences” BOOM. Poems visually splattered and remixed across page rhythmically. Your preconceptions of what a poem “looks” or “sounds” like will be left forever unhinged.
Get it from: Fence