We’ve asked our authors to submit highlights from their reading this year— anything outstanding they read during the year and want to share, whether published this year or not. As a countermeasure/contrast to the typical year-end Best Of lists compiled by various mainstream media outlets (which are often linked to ad buys, or shared parent companies, o did you not know that!?), expect these personal lists to point in less expected directions. We’ll be posting our poets’ picks as they come in over the next week or two. Enjoy. —Bloof
Shanna Compton is the author of Creature Sounds Fade (Black Lawrence, forthcoming in 2020), Brink (Bloof, 2013), For Girls & Other Poems (Bloof, 2008), Down Spooky (Open Book Award Winner, Winnow, 2005), and several chapbooks. She’s currently working on The Hazard Cycle, a book-length speculative poem. Her poetry and essays are widely published, appearing in Best American Poetry, the Nation, American Poetry Review, McSweeney’s, the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere. She works as a freelance book designer and editor in Lambertville, NJ.
Because I work as an editor (here & for independent authors) and book designer (here & for other small presses), a great deal of the reading I do each year is pre-publication. In other words, I’m reading the future. As a result, I’m also often reading the past, catching up on things from previous years I didn’t have a chance to read right when they were first released. And like all of us, as a writer I’m often organizing my reading around/toward whatever project I’m personally working on. Here are some things I read this year from each of those categories.
New Poetry from China: 1917–2017
Ming Di, editor
(Black Square Editions)
This is an excellent example of my future-reading dilemma. I’ve been reading & learning about Chinese poetry’s history and various movements from this anthology edited by Ming Di (which I designed for Black Square) since I first got the manuscript in 2017. But it’s not yet available for preorders. Just trust me: write it down now as something to look forward to and teach from, and a month or so into 2019 check the website again here.
Drafts, Fragments & Poems: The Complete Poetry
Joan Murray, edited by Farnoosh Fathi
I have dreamed of this book existing for many years. Farnoosh Fathi’s tremendous work restores one of our lost poets to us. Hooray.
The hour like a child runs down the angle of star and rests at the bottom
It is a staring woman that may hold that child in its arms
But women prefer to see the hours slip from their fingers
For that are dancing an old earth constituency
I am a little beyond the river and stare from my particular casement
I am slender as the stalk and have my own flowering
I don’t draw from women but I prefer the truth and not the trick of living
I must forgive myself for waiting so long.
I know a woman who waits is offensive
but I just can’t get over my flaws
& now they might zero me out. My blood
is a zone of dispute, a tropic of fault. Since
I’ve waited so long, I must forgive myself.
The Taiga Syndrome
Cristina Rivera Garza, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine & Aviva Kana
I’ve never met a Dorothy Project book I haven’t loved. This is book is both thoroughly odd & unexpectedly gripping. It shouldn’t work, but it does. A sort of speculative detective verse-prose novella.
I remember the light through the many windows. Memory dangles these windows in front of me, at daybreak, just barely covered by a thin linen curtain. Then the same windows in the middle of the day, opened wide. The windows again in the evening, and above all, I remember the hands on them, all over the glass. And the nostalgia of this, of what’s on the other side the great beyond, as it used to be called. Above all, I remember I used to exhale in front of them, in front of the glass, and write with the tip of my index finger the words “I am leaving here” and “I will never return.”
It’s No Good Everything’s Bad
sometimes I think what can I possibly say about anxiety and having a body
that my friends haven’t already
other times I wonder why there aren’t more books on this subject
100 books about feminist bookstores
500 about feminist health collectives
there is a lot to be said about ovarian cysts
Certain Magical Acts
(Penguin Random House)
I’ve been rereading Alice Notley—because of the book I’m working on, she’s a poet on perpetual repeat (not that we sound alike, but she sustains and bristles weird energies over a long-form poem like no one else). So I could have chosen The Descent of Alette again, or Benediction, or Alma, but I’m going with this one because I finally got to see her read this year, last month in Princeton. She read the first poem from this book, “I Couldn’t Sleep in My Dream,” then several from a newer unpublished series she’s been working on to recover some lost memories (so lots of anecdotes & recognizable poet figures), and a few other things. She talked a bit about her process for her book-length work—having an idea, finding a form to contain it, and how she “doesn’t write collections. Well, this [holds up this book] is a collection.”
The sun is rising, and light enters my old
house. What sun is this? The desert star
or some one flame as in transcendence? I
won’t as it. I won’t ask anyone anything.
I got tired of being childish. In your assigned
role you were a woman. But I’ve always been
a poet, that’s all, no sex or race, no age or
face. Can Eternity strip me of it? That’s only
another word. I’m inside myself, and inside it.
Today’s the new fact. Are there others there?
“When I die, I hope they talk about me”
…I have to dig deep
below the fold to find stories about how
he turned his back on boys who were quilting
America’s cities in gay enclaves. Many Black women
died of the same neglect and, Good Lord, I remember
the news used to talk about babies, blood
saturated in suffering. Not today, though.
Today, the papers can’t even speak of his war
without casting that failure, also, as a bid for peace.
So, please, when I die, forget all the fires
When the culture passed over
We bathed in its light in its fear in its
Mountain stream. We left mountains
Of carts full of junk behind. We bade them
Farewell. They bade us
Weep and know shape
They bade us be hard.
Without power, I wielded my body
Counter-Desecration: A Glossary for Writing within the Anthropocene
Linda Russo & Marthe Reed, editors
(Wesleyan University Press)
Disclaimer: I’m in this too, but it’s still brilliant. Including terms such as viral avatar (Danielle Pafunda), ecobereavement (Bhanu Kapil), negative corpuscuity (Vishnu Aggarwal), cloudygenous (Eileen Tabios), this unique work of speculative nature writing/ecopoetics opens several new portals.
Ursula Andkjær Olsen
Translated by Katrine Øgaard Jensen
(Action Books/Broken Dimanche Press)
I am allowed to be upset here.
I have to be upset here.
I cannot get out of here until I’ve been upset.
Spells for Black Wizards
(TAR Chapbook Series/Altas Review)
This ingenious & gorgeous fold-out chapbook is alas sold out. But look at it! I hope the photo is good enough here for you to read, but you can also find some of the poems on Candace’s website.
Civilization forgets its raincoat in the cab
I hoped to be older when driven to Proust
The melody being whatever you repeat
Beautiful warbled hopscotch grid
So you see a person in a car for sale in a field
The past wasn’t simpler but memory is
My neighborhood has its own stained glass shop
I offer the business I can
I didn’t mean to assemble my whole career on lies, so now I blast holes
in the men. I blast holes in the prints of the men. I blast holes in the holes
who are the men. I move them in a process called autonomous fetishization,
and they enjoy the hazards of my queenly thinking. I grip their cheeks
and make them fish-mouth kind words to me.
“goodwifthing [mercy learn in a permanent lockdown]”
mercy learn in a permanent lockdown
you should work in a permanent lockdown
you could play fuck walk in a permanent
lockdown birth sleep eat in a permanent
lockdown wake tweet fight swim shift thou pluckest
me out in a permanent lockdown
(Academy of American Poets / Poem-a-Day)
I don’t know Rosmarie Waldrop personally, but she’s an important model for me as a poet/publisher so I always feel very close to her work. I love this poem.
The road toward rotting has been so long. We forget where we are going. Like a child, I look amazed at a thistle. Or drink cheap wine and hug my knees. To shorten the shadow? To ward off letting go?
Vanessa Angélica Villarreal
Visually, aurally, and typographically complex—including photographs, text collages, mixed languages. Both mournful and hopeful, this wide-format book is a luxuriant physical experience. I don’t think representing it with a snippet online is enough. Sit with it in your lap.
The End of Something
Kate’s work often mixes elements of visual art, samples of her handwriting, photographs, and multiple shifting viewpoints that create kaleidoscopic patterns. There’s nothing quite like living for a while inside one of her books.
Deep in my own green element,
I met a friend.
My double, my dearest.
pulled me out of the sea,
in this pan of water,
and taught me to eat bread.