2014

  • The Poem She Didn’t Write and Other Poems

    Olena Kalytiak Davis

    Image of The Poem She Didn't Write and Other Poems

    I imagine if I had a more thorough knowledge of poetry, I would gather more from many of the poems in this book, as there are references I’m missing. At the back Davis apologizes for the “stuff stolen from other stuff.” While there is some quieter moments here and there, overall the book feels forceful. Dan Chiasson’s review for The New Yorker ends with thoughts about loneliness: “The medium of poetry isn’t language, really; it’s human loneliness, a loneliness that poets, having received it themselves from earlier poets, transfer to their readers.”

    After Grass and Long Knives

    Suspect enthusiasm—
    having eaten pins before—
    but that’s what keeps one
    quiet, that’s what makes one

    stay. Empty is

    ...more
  • Wolf in White Van

    John Darnielle

    Image of Wolf in White Van: A Novel

    Indie rock fans of a certain age might know John Darnielle better as the frontman of (or the solo act known as, depending on the era) The Mountain Goats. Wolf in White Van is his second work of fiction; he previously wrote a YA novel called Master of Reality about the Black Sabbath album for the 33⅓ series. Some readers of both say these two works tread on similar ground: troubled adolescents, heavy metal tapes. This one seems a little more developed and intricately woven.

    Sean Phillips was 17 when a terrible accident left him disfigured, and his only form of work as an adult has been creating and maintaining games that are...more

  • Bad Feminist

    Roxane Gay

    Image of Bad Feminist

    Roxane Gay is a brilliant writer, and I’m glad to see this book with its hot pink title on the front tables in bookstores, where perhaps people who think they don’t need feminism* might see it. Gay is razor smart and genuine; she has a witty and light-handed writing style, even when digging into complicated issues.

    She writes some simple but important bits about privilege, like: “Surrendering to the acceptance of privilege is difficult, but it is really all that is expected. What I remind myself, regularly, is this: the acknowledgment of my privilege is not a denial of the ways I have been and am marginalized, the ways I have suffered.”

    And she talks about feminism’s...more

  • Atlas of Remote Islands

    Judith Schalansky

    Image of Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will

    Subtitled “Fifty Islands I Have Never Set Foot On and Never Will,” this atlas will usually be shelved in the travel section, but it’s really an art book. Though since Schalansky declares in her preface, “It is high time for cartography to take its place among the arts, and for the atlas to be recognized as literature,” she would reshelve more than just her own book. She wrote, illustrated, and designed everything, and the entries are more lyrical than comprehensive. Her description of Macquarie Island begins:

    This craggy piece of land, where it rains all year round, has never been part of a land mass, but comes directly from the sea. It is a piece of the earth’s crust from

    ...more
  • Commentary

    Marcelle Sauvageot

    Image of Commentary (Dossier)

    Some ballads begin as your letter does: ‘You, whom I’ve loved so much…’ This past tense, with the present still resounding so close, is as sad as the ends of parties, when the lights are turned off and you remain alone, watching the couples go off into the dark streets. It’s over: nothing else is to be expected, and yet you stay there indefinitely, knowing that nothing more will happen. You have notes like a guitar’s; at times, like a chorus that repeats: ‘I could not have given you happiness.’ It’s an old song from long ago, like a dried flower…Does the past become an old thing so quickly?

    Sauvageot wrote Commentary in a sanitarium not long before her death...more

  • Lunch Poems

    Frank O’Hara

    Image of Lunch Poems (City Lights Pocket Poets Series)

    I thought maybe I had never read anything by Frank O’Hara, but while reading this I recognized a few, in particular the one about Lana Turner…. O’Hara writes with an utter lack of nostalgia; these poems are situated clearly in a the now, even though various references clearly date them to an earlier era — somewhere I heard this described as the “eternal present.”more

  • Winter in the Blood

    James Welch

    Image of Winter in the Blood (Penguin Classics)

    In some ways a bleak novella, Welch’s writing is so elegant that I found this hard to put down, even when the sadness felt very deep. Since it’s a largely interior story from the perspective of a self-destructive guy, it rambles and dips into the past in ways that only heighten a sense of being lost. It takes a while to find out what factors from the past are actually playing out in the wayward adventures of his present. The most profound revelation near the end is largely unexpected and speaks to the power of stories, and yet how easily they can be lost.

    Louis Erdrich wrote the introduction to this edition, starting out by saying that it should have...more

  • Dandarians

    Lee Ann Roripaugh

    Image of Dandarians: Poems

    I like the elements of color and light throughout these. And especially the insomnial “Sleepless Graffiti” (#2 below) and “Ten Nights’ Dreams.”

    Way past closing time, and you want to walk in the dark with disheveled hair, moonlight juke-boxing its twangy lobotomy through your head. Stroll through the empty small-town downtown — where traffic lights blink their metronomical yellow. Past the historic courthouse. Past the Elk’s Club. Past Green Acres Hair Shack and down by the Pump-n-Stuff, where wild turkeys congregate at night, carousing around the gasoline islands until sunrise and swilling rain straight from the sky.

    Maybe you’ll drunk-dial the fog and dance in its mist: tango, fandango, bolero. Vaporous swirl and dip.

    Maybe you’ll steal a boat, ride it downriver — all

    ...more
  • The Spectator Bird

    Wallace Stegner

    Image of The Spectator Bird (Penguin Classics)

    I can’t say I was at all familiar with Stegner when I found this book on a giveaway pile with two books that I loved. This could be a rather melancholy book to some as it’s written by a retired literary agent supposedly cajoled into penning his memoirs at his wife’s behest, despite feeling this “implies an arrogance, or confidence, or compulsion to justify oneself” that he doesn’t claim. But I think ultimately there is a sense of resigned hope, even if he does start out describing himself like this:

    As for Joe Allston, he has been a wisecracking fellow traveler in the lives of other people, and a tourist in his own. There has not been one significant event

    ...more
  • The Descent of Alette

    Alice Notley

    Image of The Descent of Alette (Penguin Poets)

    I’ve tried and failed to get into two other Alice Notley books but was handed this one and told to “ignore the quotes,” in reference to how the rhythm is delineated by quotation marks. On my first try, I just couldn’t ignore them, and reading felt like listening to someone talking anxiously and hyperventilating. But on my second try I was able to focus and follow Alette into the depths of decaying subway stations on a mission to destroy the tyrant, a representation of masculine supremacy.

    Even though it’s a rather long poem and initially feels daunting, it’s easy to become immersed after a time, since there is physical movement and progression through the four parts, as Alette journeys...more

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