Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Books and Chapbooks I read in 2010

Everybody's doing it!

I read a lot more books and chapbooks this year than I did last year. A lot more. Because I was editor of a literary journal last year, though, the volume of writing that I read probably went down a little bit. I'm okay with that.

Anywho - the list in no particular order and probably not completely complete!

1. Cyborgia by Susan Slaviero - one of my most recent reads and one that I am in the process of reviewing. Review preview - Buy This Book Now.
2. Soft Foam by Juliet Cook - In my top 5 reads for the year.
3. Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut - My favorite book in high school. It is still awesome.
4. A Pint for the Ghost by Helen Mort - Another one that I need to finish my review of. Another amazing chapbook. I'd also put this one in my top 5.
5. The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood - It may come as a surprise that before 2010 I had only read Margaret Atwood's poetry. I enjoyed this book a lot and will probably read the prequel very soon.
6. Pink Leotard and Shock Collar by Juliet Cook - I loved this chapbook, too. I love pretty much all of Juliet's poetry.
7. Glass City by John Grochalski - one of my most recent reads and a change up from my usual reading. I like change sometimes.
8. Instructions from the Narwhal by Allison Titus - Another top 5 read. You are all so unlucky to not be able to go buy a copy of this chapbook as it is sold out. So very unlucky.
9. Angel Face Trailer by Juliet Cook - Juliet Cook, love love love, etc.
10. Virginia is for Lovers by Karen Lillis - great story telling in poem series form.
11. The Spare Room by Dana Guthrie Martin - A top 5-er. Dana's poetry is amazing and you should be reading it right now instead of reading my self-congratulatory list.
12. Demon Lovers and Other Difficulties by Nicole Kornher-Stace - lovely chapbook. I do enjoy good fantasy poetry and hope the Goblin Fruit girls put another one out.
13. Exit Wounds by Kevin Finn - I got back in touch with Kevin this year and read his chapbook! Yay!
14. An Introduction to the Archetypes by Susan Slaviero - Susan is another one of those poets whose books you can just assume I am going to love.
15. All the Little Red Girls by Angela Veronica Wong - my copy has tragically gone missing. Lovely, often brief, poems.
16. Fabulous Essential by Niina Pollari - I also got to (briefly) meet Niina this year!
17. At Night, the Dead by Lisa Ciccarello - haunting and extremely well-written poems.
18. Maria Sabina: Selections by Maria Sabina - Amazing amazing amazing. Go buy this book now now now. Top 5.
19. Time You Let Me In: 25 Poets Under 25 edited by Naomi Shihab Nye - I'm in it but it still counts because I read it cover to cover.
20. How to Take Yourself Apart How to Make Yourself Anew by Aaron Burch - I think I may have scared him at the AWP with my enthusiasm for all things that he does in the literary world.
21. Manatee/Humanity by Anne Waldman - I got to meet Anne Waldman at the AWP, too! I don't think I scared her...
22 & 23. 2 volumes of the Selected Works of Margaret Atwood - I do love a good Margaret Atwood poem.
24. Natural Language edited by Renee Alberts - a collection of poetry by all the poets who have read at the Carnegie Library. I'm also in this one. Renee is pretty damn awesome.
25. The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar - I read this one on the way home from NYC a few weeks ago and really need to get on my review!

I also read about a metric ton of literary journals including but not limited to;

Versal (some day they will love me as I love them)
Goblin Fruit
Pear Noir!
GUD: Greatest Uncommon Denominator
Pedestal Magazine
Puerto Del Sol
Fairy Tale Review

and many, many more.

I hope I will read even more in 2011, though I am pleased to learn that, with just what I can remember off the top of my head, I read about 2 books a month. I'm already excited to read Sally Rosen Kindred's book No Eden and all the other amazing poetry I hope I will discover.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Micro Review - Glass City by John Grochalski

I picked this book up at about 5:20pm last Thursday and had it read by 8:00pm. How's that for speedy?

Glass City by John Grochalski (Low Ghost Press, 2010) poet, former editor of The New Yinzer, dude behind the counter at Caliban Book Shop, my favorite poetry reading host to shout obscenities at, and fellow Pittsburgher Kristofer Collins recently started up a new press venture called Low Ghost, and John Grochalski's Glass City is the second book to be published by the fledgling press. The first was Kris' own The Book of Names and I'm a bit cross with him for not being more all over the web with that information, but Kris is not as big a fan of the internet as I am, so there's that. Glass City is on the long end of what I'll read during my exercise stints coming in at 70 5x6.25 inch pages - very similar to a City Lights book. John is not a fan of the long line, so I was able to read it all aloud in a little over 40 minutes.

I would say that this book is a collection of poems about bardo, the liminal states we all find ourselves in at some point in life. In the particular case of Grochalski's narrator, he is in the in-between place of no longer feeling as though he is within his "youth", yet at the same time not wanting to take the step into what those around him seem to view as "adulthood" - children, office jobs, fancy gadgets, and a decided lack of Kerouac-esque road trips. In response, the narrator builds for himself his own waiting space - one of dingy-seeming bars, multiple bottles of wine, cheap beer, and urban wasteland where he reminisces about his life in Pittsburgh (There were a lot of Pittsburgh-location Easter eggs in this book. I got to say "I know exactly where that is!" more than a handful of times) while living in New York City, but without the desire to return to that former life and not being sure what might be the next step forward.

I have to say that from the place I'm in, personally, I sometimes found it difficult to relate to the narrator's fears. Consciously I understand them and had them myself at one point, but I kept wanting to tell the character "It's okay - I have a kid and I work in a cubicle and I'm more productive and awesome and bohemian than I ever was before I did either of those things - don't worry!"

My favorite poem in the collection, by far, was conversations with henry miller, a piece about a man the narrator sees on the subway and then proceeds to have an imaginary friendship with, complete with anecdotes such as - "rick's girlfriend would be named saffron/it would be annoying at first/but she'd be so down to earth my wife and i/would get over it". I really appreciated the realness of the relationship he builds up in his head with this person he never even speaks to, and the acknowledgement at the end of having absolutely no idea what it is to make a friend any more. These moments of self-knowledge are what shine throughout Glass City.

Thematically and tonally this was definitely a step outside of what I usually read and in many ways was a complete switch from the previous day's reading of Afterpastures by Claire Hero. That's part of what I love about chapbooks/short books and trying to set aside two or three 40-minute periods of time each week for exercising and reading - it has begun to allow me to step outside of the type of work that I am usually drawn to - this is, I believe, the 14th review I've written this year (they keep getting longer and longer. At this rate I'll have to drop the "micro" from the title soon.), and so at least the 14th short book I've read in that time. I've had to seek out chapbooks to read while exercising, and I really like where that's taken me as a reader.

So go check out Glass City and Low Ghost Press!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Micro Review - Afterpastures by Claire Hero

Afterpastures by Claire Hero (Caketrain, 2008) Caketrain is one of my favorite journals out there - Amanda and Joseph put together beautiful books full of lovely/weird/experimental writing, and I've never come away from an issue of Caketrain feeling let down. They also hold a chapbook contest each year, alternating between fiction and poetry, and in 2008 they published Claire Hero's Afterpastures. I read the chapbook once before when I first picked it up over a year and a half ago, and I recall feeling utterly lost on the first read-through. Not disliking the experience of being lost, per say, but being lost nonetheless. With this in mind, I selected this chapbook along with a few others to take a go at last night on my elliptical machine, reassuring myself that if I was too lost I could always just put the book down.

The first thing that struck me is that Hero's language is absolutely beautiful. She has an economy with words that I doubt I ever will, and I loved rolling each lovely one over on my tongue. There is certainly a dream-like quality to her work, a level of unrealness that perhaps tripped me up last time. In Afterpastures there is a strange and magical shifting between landscape and human body, human and wild beast, wild beast and domesticated, domesticated and wilderness, wilderness and urban landscape, and back to the human body again, each transformation crossing over into others. These themes, this transformative process, touched me this time in new ways. I loved watching the shifts and mutations of the speaker and her world throughout this book. I will say that there were still one or two places where I felt as though there was something going on that I had been left out of the loop on, but the sheer beauty of the out-of-the-loop-ness helped me drift through those spaces without frustration.

I highly recommend this chapbook, particularly if you're willing to spend some time getting to know it - it's well worth the knowing. It is presently out of print, but Caketrain often brings back books in a second printing or through free PDF versions on their website. I definitely would love to read more of Claire Hero's work (she has a full-length collection out from Noemi Press that I've linked to at her name) and am very glad I can back to Afterpastures.

Also! I am still on the lookout for more chapbooks to read and review! I've ordered a few this week, but would love suggestions for more - leave me a comment or drop me an email at myhyacinthgirl (at) gmail.com. I also have a couple full-length collections I'm working on longer reviews for, but those are longer in coming as they take longer to read and longer to write and cannot easily be finished on the elliptical machine.

Also also! Karen Lillis has added Virginia is for Lovers to her etsy shop! Yay!