Past Lives. V. Joshua Adams
In Past Lives, each line deftly leaps to the next in glorious unpredictability, forming a latticework of surprise. In the world of V. Joshua Adams, we have competitive knitting, beer commercials, Cabriolets, and mandolin players breaking ukulele players' fingers. To employ a Pavement title, Adams's poems are "slanted and enchanted": their surrealist strangeness is sometimes meditative and sometimes mercurial with acrobatic associative jumps. These are poems of wit, inquiry, and sonic vigor that examine issues of being, textuality, and the imaginative act. Past Lives is "swift-winged and sharp" and "darkly bright" as its sentences spin with wryness: "Even the language of ruin gets run-down," "The question filled me with dread, / which was better than nothing," and the following excerpt, from which the title Past Lives arises: "A lot of people have past lives they are covering up./ For example, I was once an Episcopalian." Though Adams's poems aren't overtly emotional, he extends his antennae into a range of consciousness, including desire and darkness; or, to use a phrase from Mark Doty, they are a "logarithm of decay and rekindling."
Muzzle, Brian Rivka Clifton
Clifton’s Muzzle is part incantation, part exorcism as it sizzles and singes us like “a flame gorged on wind / jumping from one branch / to the next.” Clifton employs two poem cycles to create the book’s DNA: “The Introvert’s Guide to Dreams” and a set of apocalypse poems. These pieces and others shapeshift with agency and urgency. Among their turnings, we find the mythical Baba Yaga, the alchemy of a carp’s “muscled gold,” and horror at hunters aiming “at a wolf / who a second ago / was someone’s son.” You’ll find that Muzzle’s “pulse remains in your jaws” long after you’ve read it.
Solastalgia. Brittney Corrigan
Recalling Joni Mitchell’s famous lyric “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot,” Solastalgia is a heart-wrenching and harrowing overview of environmental destruction. Though it is an ominous exploration of the Anthropocene era and the ways humans have contributed to the changing climate and landscape, it spends much of its time honoring all the strange and wondrous creatures—“may you outlast us”— that humans, both intentionally and unwittingly, are shoving toward extinction’s cliff. Solastalgia is an eloquent tribute to all the awe-inspiring flora and fauna that we have failed as a species. I love this book not only for its incisive eco-eye but also for its dazzling language terrains. Using language as the tool to effect change, these poems make you want to be better, do better.
Hey, Pickpocket. Allison Cundiff
When nurse Frances White is pickpocketed while waiting for a ferry in Ireland, she ends up stranded on a remote Aran island without phone or passport. The theft kickstarts a journey of self-discovery aided by the strange and beautiful Irish landscape. The one island doctor, a handsome local fisherman, and the vivid Gaelic-speaking community help Frances face her dark past, including her part in the murder that caused her to flee to Ireland the year before. With her sketchbook and her beloved father’s ashes still in hand, Frances explores what it takes to find the courage to trust and even to love, even after the darkest of times. With storytelling as self-reliant and idiosyncratic as the narrator herself, Hey, Pickpocket explores Frances’ rebirth on Inis Mór with an emotional realism that is authentic and heartbreaking.
The Devil's Library. Joachim Glage
The Devil's Library is a love letter to the boundless pleasure and peril of reading: it's a catalog of books that never were, complete with side stories and annotations and more than a few nicely placed hauntings and curses. There are stories within stories. There are surprises on practically every page. There is the occasional frisson of the familiar (Phineas Gage, whose horrific spike incident triggered our understanding of the frontal lobe, shows up in these pages) coupled with the wavery awareness that we're reading fiction (and that we're getting infinite varieties of fiction, down to the Western Gothic stylings where readers will find the Ghostmen). Comparisons to Borges are inevitable and earned, but Glage's work stands on its own and will delight those who delight in books and the redemptive joy of a lifetime pursuit of a well-told story.
To Receive My Services You Must Be Dying and Alone. Kathryn Kruse
Call it Absurdist Realism. Call it Midwestern Gothic. Or, call it a book of stories that grab ahold of your head and heart. Whatever you call it, Kruse’s To Receive My Services You Must Be Dying and Alone takes us to the edge of lived experience and guides us to look back in wonder at essential elements of humanness: hope, grief, confusion, and joy. Reading this collection is an exercise of empathy and acceptance, an invitation into the narratives of individuals who are never quite invited into the mainstream. While the worlds and characters in each of these stories arrive fresh and distinct, we grab hold of a throughline: the book spills over with people building and breaking idols to find love and survival where they can. And we cheer them on at each step.
Speculative Histories. Brigitte Lewis
When memory fails, what can take its place? Speculation, Brigitte Lewis suggests, other ways of knowing: myth, history, science. Imagination. The quicksilver of language itself. The result is a memoir about what it means to re-member a life. Hybrid in form and lyrical in style, Speculative Histories is driven by an authentic voice and a singular intelligence. This is a mind on the page, a story unfolding. To read it is to fall in love with what writing can do. ―Beth Alvarado
False Offering. Rita Mookerjee
Rita Mookerjee’s False Offering, while providing a trenchant critique of the oppressiveness of “white space,” is also glittery, culinary sumptuous, and scythe sharp. Shot through with equal parts “nectar and venom,” Mookerjee’s poems pirouette with muscular grace in a kaleidoscopic whirl of myth and alchemy, gods and feasts, rot and rose gold. False Offering is a feminist ledger of “battle armor meeting ballet.” Like a medieval tapestry, it is piped through with an elaborate galaxy of nightviolets, rosewater, bonedust, “snakes and shibari,” origami, and the KKK. It is a rare book in that even while flipping the middle finger; it has its hands held out in tenderness to those in need. ―Simone Muench
Everyone I've Danced With Is Dead. Mamie Morgan
In this elegiac collection fittingly titled Everyone I’ve Danced With Is Dead, Mamie Morgan’s poems are exquisitely stitched as they offer up lamentation for and salutation to the dead. These are dedicatory jeremiads against loss that flame with anger, anguish, feminism, and, yes, even humor. And though they are underscored in a bladed nostalgia, they are never sentimental; instead, they are “finding new ways to feel” while “flinging every street-facing window open.” Swirling in the poetic spaces of this book are caribou, witches, and chickens as well as cameos by Amy Poehler, Mary Oliver, and Iphigenia; but, most importantly, ascending from the book’s foundation is Morgan’s incantation for the living and the dead—the clear and sustaining phrase, “I want you alive.” ―Simone Muench
Fabulosa. Karen Rigby
Karen Rigby writes with “fingers cocked like a gun.” Deliciously inventive in its linguistic unfurlings, Fabulosa fibrillates with “noir and glitz” in these strange, seductive poems that are in conversation with a range of players from Dior to Inspector Morse to Hieronymus Bosch. Shimmering with diamond-cut precision, Fabulosa underscores Rigby’s observation that “I never write / without measuring, each line /hooking a quicksilver hunger.”There is no bloat in this book; it is exquisitely hewn. Underpinning the collection is a keen interest in cinema, fashion, feminism, transformation, and textuality (from ars poeticas to portmanteaus to ekphrastics). Seamed with goldshine and darkness, we find in these fireball poems a “wilderness/ glanced through the bull’s eye.” As the title suggests, Fabulosa is indeed absolutely fabulous!―Simone Muench
Mrs. Lowe-Porter. Jo Salas
In 1928, Thomas Mann won the Pulitzer Prize for Buddenbrooks. While he balked at working with a female translator, his standing in the Western canon can be in part credited to the translating work of Helen Lowe-Porter. Salas tells us the true story of Lowe-Porter. Based closely on historical source material, the novel follows a young Helen as she struggles against gender roles in the early-mid 20th century to realize the life she desires as a writer and translator. Married to the charming classicist Elias Lowe, whom she met and fell in love with in Munich, the story weaves one woman’s journey as her husband Elias’s career soars, and her translation work earns Mann the Nobel Prize. The novel celebrates the life of Helen Lowe-Porter as she learns to risk stepping out from the long shadow of the dominating men of her life to become a person of letters in her own right.
Katy Family. Gemini Wahhaj
Combining the powers of speculation of Kazuo Ishiguro and the sharp social critique of Aravind Adiga, this collection offers readers the ultimate experience of global fiction, stories bound and shaped by Katy, Texas, a place made by oil and capitalism. The stories weave between Bangladeshi characters experiencing the reality of the immigrant experience in America and those still in Bangladesh, wishing for the mythos of the American dream. Katy, an oil-rich suburb of Houston, serves as the background and ultimate symbol of global capitalism. The stories deliver the reality and impact of isolation, materialism, and the looming climate disaster. With sharp intelligence and humor, Wahhaj explores the oil industry's destructive effect on those who live within Texas and those far beyond its borders.
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