Books I’ve read recently

Rosemary Griggs, “Sky Girl”–really quick and enjoyable.  Pretty much my ideal for poetry.

Cathy Wagner’s “Macular Hole” –I think I’ve already made it clear on this blog how I feel about Cathy’s stuff.

Travis Nichols’s “Iowa”

& Paul Killebrew’s “Flowers”–I group these two together because I had similar experiences reading them (hopefully not just because I know the authors are friends).  I liked both of these books much more by the time I finished them than when I started them, which is always better than the reverse.  But they both were books–“Iowa” even more than “Flowers”–that demanded serious attention for me, as a reader, to really appreciate them.  That’s a difficult line to walk, I feel, just because i don’t think most people I know would make that initial investment of time and attention…they’d stop reading earlier on.  Perhaps I just know a buch of lames.  But perhaps not.  Both of these books had some really really wonderful things to offer and, during the moments when I sank into them, they were super good.  But I couldn’t get a whole lot from, say, reading them in a waiting room or while on the train.  It was too difficult to give my full attention.  And that sucks.  Because it seems most of my life is spent either in a waiting room or on a train.  I’m taking a train to a waiting room right now.  I will wait in the waiting room for my next train to arrive.  Hmm.

Contrast these two books, however, with:

John Beer’s “The Waste Land and Other Poems”–this, while definitely brimming with profound substance, was also pretty immediately enjoyable in many ways.  Others might not experience that, but it’s definitely how I did.  I was literally laughing before I got past the table of contents, but the book is just as sad as it is funny, as technical as it is informal and as now as it is ancient or classic.  Beer has a great range of phrase and diction.  Rebecca Wolff recently used the term “anachronistically ostentatious” in an e-mail to me, referring to something else entirely.  But when I read that, I thought that was the perfect description of what Beer is doing very often.  His anachronistically ostentatious lines are austere, ridiculous and pitch perfect.  They crack my butt up.

Nick Twemlow’s “Your Mouth is Everywhere”–what can I say?  I’m biased.  I can’t stop reading it.

Joyelle McSweeney’s “The Red Bird”- I’ve read everything else Joyelle has published, but this book I just actually started, haven’t gotten too far.  I think I could say the same thing about her work in general, though, that I say about Travis and Paul’s…I think it requires a really attentive reader.  And I don’t think anyone trying to read Joyelle in the way I read the Griggs book (i.e.-quickly) would really appreciate her.  But I will say this- when I do dial in to what she’s doing, it’s epic.  It’s Biblical.  I’ve had sublime experiences reading her stuff.  I read her novel “Flet” over Christmas last year and I remember just being totally floored very early in the book.  Her vocabulary alone is unparalleled and she wields it effortlessly.  That book came over me like a flood, at points.  I’m not sure if I really know what a genius is, but early on in my reading of her, I felt very much like she must be a genius.  Having my book chosen for the Fence prize was all the more exciting because she was the one who chose it.  It’s pretty neat to get your manuscript picked out by someone you’ve suspected in the past of being a genius.

Brad Wagner’s unpublished chap manuscript “The Roses Died Beautifully”-  This is a kid who just finished his undergraduate at my alma mater, Carthage College.  He studied under the illustrious Rick Meier.  His chapbook manuscript is a weird, fast, enjoyable read.  I was pleased with it…pretty dang good for such a young dude.

Michael Eric Owens’s “Yes I Am Who I Am; A New Philosophy in Black Identity”– I mostly read this because I worked with the author and he was a really bright librarian who I’m sure will do big things in the field.  Many people found it hilarious that I was reading this book, which is kind of understandable, but mostly unfortunate.  The book has a lot of substance, but had an equal amount of platitudes that I was disappointed about.  Lines like “The drug dealers must deal no more, the gang bangers must bang no more, and crack cocaine must become a thing of the past,” I feel will unfortunately overshadow some very real, justified messages written within that book.

Ben Lerner’s “Mean Free Path”–I’m still fine-tuning an article/review I wrote of this, so I won’t say too much here.  This book also requires a big investment.  But the rewards were pretty immense, to me.  I urge you to read it, and closely.

Douglas Kearney’s “Fear, Some” and “The Black Automaton”–this cat is heavy.  I read Automaton first and it was good enough for me to go back and read Fear.  I think I’ll also not say much about him, and dedicate an entire post to him later.  I want to bring him to Racine.  He’s doing all sorts of good.

I think one important trend to notice here is that four of these books (Griggs, Wagner, Kearney, McSweeney) were published by my now publisher, Fence Books, and three others (Twemlow, Beer, Killibrew) are all either published or related to Canarium Books (Twemlow is a founder and editor of Canarium).  That definitely reveals some biases…of what, though, I’m not sure.  Part of it is that those are two of the presses whose whole collections are held by the Racine Public Library.  But that’s due to some bias or another as well.  I don’t have anything too profound to say about all of it, just that, while this is a sort of diverse group of different poets (and one writer) here, it’s also a very narrow group in other ways.  This list makes me think of the criticisms Johannes Göransson has made of community.  He’s made a convert out of me.  Community can be just as limiting and negative as it can be beneficial.


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