Thursday, September 10, 2015

Books Read :: April-August

Wow, I know, I know. It's been awhile since I've posted. But I've been reading! Perhaps not as much to "finish books", though, which is typically what I am broadcasting in posts like these. My goal for total books read this year might not be met. Again, though, this doesn't mean I am not reading! I am just reading differently. Right now, I have my nose in an anthology about English Studies, a book of 16th century poetry by Sor Juana, and the in/famous rhet/comp textbook They Say, I Say.

My not-posting is mostly due to recent dislocation-- not of any limb, but just moving. I was living in Philadelphia back in April--by the end of May, Geoff and I packed up our house, moved out of it, couch-surfed for a few weeks, and wound up living in a camping trailer on a hayfarm for the summer, after which I packed up a car and drove down to Louisiana, where I am currently enrolled in a PhD program at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

All of my books aren't here with me yet in Breaux Bridge, LA, so my annotations of what I read aren't going to be as thorough. My distance in time as well as space from having read these books might also make what I have to say shorter. But I mean every word.

Now that I'm situated, here's what I read since I last told you about what I read:

Pelican by Emily O'Neill

The poetry in this is like if your friend were talking to you from really deep inside of herself--from a place that you know is difficult to talk from, but this friend is making it sound like it's easy for them to be talking about these things, mostly because it's so hard. The death of the speaker's father occupies the space of many of the poems, which is a terribly difficult thing to write about, yet the poems that tackle it are nuanced and varied, and it's part of what holds the collection together in a delicate way, like the delicate way the speaker is able to speak the poems before or without falling totally apart herself.

Nuero / Mantic by Chris McCreary

Caitlin McCormack did the art for the cover of this book. I diagrammed one of Chris's poems and took a picture and sent it to him. I remember liking the clarity of anger in this collection of poems-- the speaker didn't come off as an angry person, but someone fed up with certain things about life, past and present, and ready to air those grievances in a way that made them clear rather than made it sound like complaining. There was a nostalgic tone, too, that was effective, even though what McCreary is nostalgic for is not what I'm nostalgic for in a few different ways. I like when writers evoke nostalgia in a relatable way even when their proper nouns aren't my own.

Music, the Brain, & Ecstasy by Robert Jourdain

Brain science! Music! Two of my favorite things! Admittedly, I wasn't entirely on board at first with the very explicit way this pop science book broke down music ("like, this is how the ear listens, wow!" and  I was like, "yeah, let's get to the interesting part already...) But once I got into it--and once I got into the writer's ideas and facts about music and the brain, I couldn't help but look at the composer figure and exploration of his (god, they were all male) brain in comparison to how a poet/any other type of artist's brain might work. For that reason, and for what it helped me understand about why we love certain songs above all, I liked this book. It overly focused on male composers writing classical music, though, and I wish it had delved more into popular music or jazz, actually, especially.

A Taxonomy of the Space Between Us by Caleb Curtiss

I read a lot of poetry books about death this year. Did I do this on purpose? Are poetry books that center around grief/losing someone something within the cultural consciousness of publishing right now? (These questions are coming from someone who almost exclusively wrote a month's worth of poems about the dying, death, and grief of her dog.) this was a chapbook--a beautiful print edition-- and so often what publishers seem to look for in such a short collection of poetry is something to hold it all together. Caleb's writing was more, though, than musings on the death of his sister, and his talents to put together verse were showcased in a variety of ways. There isn't just one way that Curtiss writes a poem, it seems--he lets them out like a pianist switching from a sonata to something jazzy to a funk motif, and I appreciated that variety, even if they all led us back, in a way, to the same sad subject.

USA Trilogy by John Dos Passos

One of the reasons I read so few books this summer was because I read this monster three-novels-in one realist novel from the early 20th century. It was a collection of voices that protested the war, led or joined labor unions, were women entrepreneurs and workers when being such was still not the popular path for women, etc. It read like Zinn come to life. There was no one main plot arc or narrative, which made the novel both easier and more difficult to read. Names, when they recurred, were from so many pages ago that flipping back sometimes and reminding yourself of who they were didn't even always help. However, the more you read the book, the easier, for sure, it became. It was interesting to me how I was drawn to/affected by certain characters' stories more than others.

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

After recommending I read this book multiple times, my cousin Mike gave me this book--and he wasn't the only person who recommended it. In a sort of fantastical Pynchon-minus-the California way, this novel traces the story of a hacker investigating a complex computer virus in a digital world that it's difficult to believe was thought-up in the early nineties. This is Stephenson's most popular novel to date, and it's easy to see why. I have already recommended it to a variety of different types of people and readers. Its main character's name is Hiro Protagonist for christ's sake. Once I got to the climax, I couldn't put the book down, and even then found myself exclaiming things out loud like, "Oh shit!" and "Oh yeah!" as though I were watching some sort of anti-capitalist, feminist action film that I didn't want to end.

Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold

This book imagines the life of the wife of Charles Dickens, whom at first is difficult to sympathize with, despite the author's desire to give her a voice in a time when she had little/none. However, as the book proceeds and you learn more about the woman, ability to empathize, at least, with her grows. The simplicity of the plot is compounded by the difficulties of being a woman in her time and particularly of being a woman in her position. What the novel might reveal about the fictionalized Dickens (renamed for the novel) presents a new light to look at the real Dickens in, for sure-- but having not ever read a biography of Dickens himself, I am hesitant to "believe" anything about him without first investigating something based in reality. It was a quick, enjoyable read, recommended by a friend, and I was happy to have the opportunity to discuss a book with a few friends that we'd all read. The last three books I read this summer (the Stephenson, this one, and the one below) were all recommendations/books lent to me while I was living on the farm.

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Another book handed to me by a friend. This was the last book I read on the farm, and I truly got enveloped in its world. I'd like to say that this is character-driven fiction set in the late 1800s/early 1900s, but the book's setting, a northwestern Orchard, is so integral to the plot of the book, I don't think I can only say "character-driven"-- and then what happens, and how easily it all seems to make sense but come so unexpectedly as you're reading, makes this also very plot-driven. This is an incredibly well put together story of love--but not romantic love--, home, family, and morality that surprised me and made me cry more than a few times.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Books Read :: March 2015

I know that it's halfway through April, but these are still the books I read in March:

The Great Night by Chris Adrian
I picked this book up from a thrift store because a friend of mine had mentioned he liked the author a lot. It was a "retelling" of a Midsummer Night's Dream in modern day San Fransisco and it took me forever to get into. I liked the last fourth of it a lot, but it took me the first three quarters to really like the book. I wish the resolution, which was the most intriguing part, made up more of the story. The intersecting storylines weren't as interesting as the one storyline at the end, even if it all kind of circled around meaningfully...

Black Aperture by Matt Rasmussen
I picked this up when I stayed over a friend's house in New York and needed something to read before I could sleep. (I read a lot right before bed, yet still, somehow, manage to be a decent reader. I, of course, don't only read right before bed... Anyway.) This collection got nominated for a bunch of prizes and I think won some and I remember, as I was reading it, thinking, yeah, I can see why. Sometimes poetry collections have visible threads like this one did: reflections on the death, the suicide particularly, of a brother. It was moving and the verse was elegant and breaking at the same time, and I was glad I read it and I was glad my friend's let me take it home with me because I wasn't finished. I still have it, but I will have to get it back to them.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
This was a reread for class-- I taught the book in a First Year Writing course and needed to reread it to teach it. When I read a book to teach it, I read it differently than I read it for pleasure? Does that make sense? I was glad to reread this book to teach it. It's fairly simple on the surface, but there's really, actually, a lot going on.

The Changeling by Kenzaburo Oe
This is a book by a Japanese writer, to continue my trend of reading books by Japanese writers. It was a very understated novel with a character in it who commits suicide and then his friend trying to understand their friendship through cassette tapes he had left him before killing himself. I have read three books this year that prominently feature a suicide, though the other two were poetry books (Zeller, Rasmussen). At first, I thought that this book was going to be a magical realist novel because of the way the main character talked to his friend/brother-in law who had made the cassette tapes and the way that they kind of talked back. I thought that the friend would somehow find a way to communicate to the main character from "the great beyond" via the tapes, but that was not the case in a magical realist way--more of, in an "I-left-these-remainders-of-our-life-and-friendship-behind-for-you-in-case-I-did-this" kind of way.

We Know What We Are by Mary Hamilton
This is a chapbook of short-short stories that won the Rose Metal Press chapbook contest one year. I really liked the stories, and I was glad that I read them. They seemed to all fit together even when they didn't. I've read a lot of the winners of this contest, and, if I'm remembering correctly, I always like the stories in the same, "hm-Gigantic-Sequins-would-probably-consider-publishing-these" sort of way.

Balzac & the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dae Sijie
I think because I had been reading so many Japanese novels, I decided to stay on the continent with this short novel, translated from the French, by a Chinese-French author. It was almost like historical fiction-- I learned things about China I never knew-- but it also kind of read like a fairy tale in a way. I remember rereading the author's biography multiple times because what I was reading felt so real, I kept thinking This must've happened to the author! I would have to do some more research to confirm this. It was a great story, a quick read, and it really spoke to the power of literature, which is a theme I surely can get behind.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Books Read :: February 2015

Perhaps I've been putting off writing this blog because I am disappointed in myself with the number of books I actually wound up completing during February. I could defend myself-- it's a short month; I was busy working three jobs and mailing GS out to the world; it was one of my saddest and most stressful months in a while-- but the one very noticeable thing is that I didn't read much poetry. And there is no defense for that. I read poems online. I read submissions for GS. But I didn't pick up a book of poetry and commit to it. Here's what I did read:


1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
I started this back in January as my "long" winter reading, and it took me into mid-February to finish. Sometimes, when I take awhile to read a book, I silently berate myself over it. With this book, I didn't want it to end. In fact, I was disappointed when it ended. Not with the ending itself, which works, but with the fact that so much-- as, I suppose, "in real life", whatever that is, especially in context with  a book like this-- goes unanswered! I loved the parallel but sometimes not exactly parallel storylines and the inevitability of certain things. Even though I knew that certain characters seemed destined to meet up and live on, whenever their lives were in danger my heart still raced. The book was 3-in-1; in Japan, the books were published separately and then collected together as one. This makes me think that there should be a fourth book. I wanted that much more of it, that I would READ an entire fourth book, and I almost think that there HAS to be one in the works. I just have so many questions.(SPOILER ALERT) What happens to Fuka-Eri? Where does she go? She obviously has great weird power, but is that diminished now that her father is dead and Tengo has left 1Q84? While her storyline is the most compelling to me in 1Q84, I'm curious also about the fate of Sakigake and the Little People. Does it go on? Does it diminish? Do they find new people to communicate through? What exactly were they communicating and why in the first place? Did they "create" 1Q84 simply by existing in it? And when Aomame & Tengo leave to the world of the backwards Tiger, what is different about that world and the world they came from before 1Q84? Are the Little People not able to access the new world? Their child--who is s/he and do the Little People continue to seek the baby once it's born, even in a new world, or is that possibility lost because of the backwards tiger world? I could go on. But I'll stop.

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
Geoff and I found out that our dog was dying just as I was finishing 1Q84. I have great memories of reading the huge tome with her at my feet, and when I finished it, I wasn't sure what to read next, so I stuck with Japanese writers and read this book, a novel. I had read a book of Yoshimoto's short stories back in December and really liked them. This book had a same strange but sad tone, and it was populated by grief. The characters seemed to all be grieving something, and if they weren't, they soon found themselves doing so. There was one long story and then another shorter one. I found it very appropriate that I was reading this novel while we were in the grips of losing Jezzy, and the peace that she writes about grief with is so powerful. I dog-earred a lot of pages to return to when I need them, when I feel as though my sadness is suffering. Yoshimoto understands, but writes about it so eloquently that it's almost soothing to the soul.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Books Read :: January 2015

As Goodreads keeps track of my "2015 Book Challenge", I won't be doing so here. Instead, I'll just be writing about the books I read each month. Note that I don't really consider what I write here to be "reviews" on what I've read, but more like notes and thoughts.

Anyway, I spent most of the month reading a novel that I am still not done with: 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. It's excellent, and I can't wait to tell you more about it when I'm through. Though I am so enveloped in its world, I am not necessarily looking forward to being finished with it. That's how I know I am really loving a book. Here's what I DID finish reading last month:


The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (Little Brown, 2002)
I was nearly done with this towards the end of December, but the holidays kind of got in the way with  finishing. I didn't want to rush just to finish it by a specific calendar date. I loved the narrator in this book. That might be a weird thing to say, but it's definitely weird when there's a dead girl narrating a book from heaven-- and it's well done. When I say heaven I mean "heaven". There's nothing overly "God"-centric about this book to make it unreadable. The idea of god in the book is more like a "higher power" than anything central to one religion, hence making the book appealing to agnostics to christians to buddhists. I can get down with that. As long as you're willing to suspend your disbelief (or pump up your faith, whichever you choose.) ::Spoiler Alert:: I wanted, as I so often do with books, MORE from this book. The narrator knows the identity of her killer for the whole book, so the readers do too. Many characters in the book also seem to have it figured out, but they can never quite catch the guy, which is frustrating. I can't imagine how difficult the ending to this book was to write for Sebold, but I wish that there would have been more resolution on earth, rather than just in heaven. Perhaps this is selfish of me! The best scene at the end is with Ray and Ruth by the sinkhole and then at Hal's motorcycle shop. There's also a great scene at the end with Buckley and the father. These scenes do provide some sort of closure, and I was definitely crying a lot at the end during both of them. Perhaps tying everything into too neat a knot would have taken away from the insane power of these two excellent scenes? There's a movie that goes along with this book. I want to see it.

Man vs. Sky by Corey Zeller (YesYes Books, 2012)
This was the first poetry book I read in 2015 and day-amn. I got this book because we published Zeller in GS 5.1, and I wanted to read more of his great work. The prose poem we published isn't included in this stunning collection, which is written in the voice one of Zeller's friends who committed suicide. What a hard thing to write about, and Zeller does it with such clarity and grace and truth that literally I was saying "damn" a lot when I was reading this. Some of the poems (I almost called them "Chapters") were more mystical than others that were more visceral/literal and still others that were haunting but cheerful maybe at the same time? Here's a line from "The clock on the bed and the white horse sad as the island":
"Finally, I have become what I always wanted: a room without a door, a field without a sky" (43).
I want to write more about this book at some point, but I needed to step away from it. The book was sort of glowing like hot coals when I was done with it, and I needed to put it down before I got burnt out on its wonder. That sounds crazy, but I have a strong attachment to its subject matter, as does anyone who has been touched in any way by the difficulty of knowing someone who has taken his/her own life. This is an extremely powerful book of prose poems; read it.

Driftology by Deborah Bernhardt
Bernhardt came up from Knoxville to read at the GS/PSG Impossible Instructions opening night show/reading, and I bought her chapbook and full-length that night. She has a way of writing poetry that, to me, lets me in on how freaking amazingly smart and talented she is without it feeling like showing off. I feel like, in a totally different way, Natasha N. Nevada Diggs can do the same thing. I feel like both of their poems are penetrable, but only when I'm really willing to work-- that was what taking a class with Avital Ronnell at NYU felt like, too. I loved it because everything was so illuminating because my brain doesn't necessarily work like that. I like a poem--or a series of them-- that makes you work but rewards you at the same time. The poems in this chapbook that I read that were my favorite were the one that referenced Twin Peaks ("Driftology [Episode 3"]) and "Aktionspreise".

Outlook Good by shoney lamar
This chapbook-length comics collection was a long time coming. GS published one of shoney's comics in its 2.1 issue, and it was radical to read them here. They are definitely what one could call "poetry comics", which is what GS is running a contest for RIGHT NOW so I felt it was amazingly accurate that I was reading this book during the poetry comics open submission period! (It's open 'til March 15th.) Anyway, shoney sent this to me in the mail, and I read it all in one sitting and then went back and reread some of it and it's probably something that I will keep returning back to over time. The characters are almost all both likable and unlikeable at the same time somehow-- this makes them appealing in a variety of ways. The language is always precise and if not poetic on point. The drawings are black & white & minimalistic but effective. I also enjoy the handwriting.

Activities by John Dermot Woods (Publishing Genius, 2013)
I accidentally read this collection of comics pretty much back to back with Outlook Good. I needed something shorter than 1Q84 to bring with me to work, and I happened to grab this off of my "why the hell haven't you read this yet" shelf which is also kind of my "to read" shelf but it's too full hence why I am calling it my "why the hell haven't you read this yet" shelf. This book of, probably also poetry comics, is something I also believe I will find myself coming back to again and again. There's something sad, strange, and/or beautiful on every page, and most pages have all three. I am so glad there are books like this in my life.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Exciting Things in the Mail, V

Back in 2012, I last posted a blog titled "Exciting Things in the Mail", and since then, there have been many times when I have wanted to resurrect the impetus behind this repeated post. So, less-than-but-almost three years later, I bring to you three things I got in the mail: one I bought, one I contributed to, and one sent unprompted--all wonderful.


This is a Twin Peaks Pin-ups calendar that I bought off the internet because how can you see this and not buy it? I'm not sure. You yourself can and should get one here. The art and product is from Emma Munger, who spends her time transforming many of your favorite characters from cult and popular shows alike into pin-ups. If you explore her website/social media, you'll find characters from Broad City, OITNB, Parks & Rec, and more. Go follow her on every website she is followable on. Meanwhile, I am sitting here staring at my favorite log lady, whilst also knowing what day of the week it is all month.

Next up, we have this badass issue 5.2 of Bone Bouquet, where my poem "In 24 hours exactly you will be getting your hair done" appears, alongside great work from other writers such as Willie Lin, Ginger Ko, and Liz Page Roberts. It's one of those lit journals you can just devour because of its length but at the same time want to spend time with because-- it's pretty damn good. FUN NOTE: in the forthcoming issue of Gigantic Sequins, 6.1, we were inspired by the back cover of this issue of Bone Bouquet to also list our contributors only by their last name. Also, peek the check. Yes, this lit journal pays its contribs! This makes me want to come up with a business model at GS where, by 2016, we too can pay our contribs. It wouldn't work for us now--we pretty much make enough money to put out each issue & that's that. But maybe I'll chat with the nice folks at CLMP, and we can figure SOMETHING out. Thanks for being inspirational mail, BB!

Next up, we have Dog with Elizabethan Collar, the debut publication of selva oscura press, which Ken Taylor (GS 3.1) sent to me in the mail. We at GS do a lot to promote our contribs, and it's awesome when they think of us and send us something amazing they've worked on that's come to fruition. This awesome books contains poetry from Ken and artwork by a number of different artists. It's kind of awesome, and I'm excited to read and spend time with the whole thing. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Real Life 2014 Top Ten

 I wanted to do a series "best of" lists for 2014, and I couldn't figure out what I wanted to do, really. On the GS tumblr, Ian put together the top books read by all participating editors, so check out my list there. Other than books, I don't heavily rely on any other genre of culture to get me through the year-- though I do imbibe on all sorts of culture. So rather than doing a "top three movies seen" or a "top 1 cooking shows watched" series of lists, I decided to do something like Marcus Greil's "Real Life Rock Top Ten"--but for my 2014. Special note: It goes without saying that I probably cried at a number of these experiences. So here goes:

10. ICA Philadelphia trip (March 2014)
For my birthday, Geoff and I took a trip around the city. Everywhere we went I told everyone, "It's my birthday!" because that's the kind of person I am. We went to White Dog Cafe, Penn Book Center, Philly AIDS Thrift, and we went to the Philly ICA, where I'd never been before. The shows that were up were interesting and/or moving. The group exhibition on the main floor was called Ruffneck Constructivists, and it brought together "11 international artists in order to define a contemporary manifesto of urban architecture and change". There were a lot of mixed media pieces, some insanely great video work, photography I want in my house, preserved bottles, broken glass, a wall of meats and malt liquor, and an overall feeling of "this is important". There was a lot of hip hop references and the use of it as a sort of material as well. I remember I kept thinking, "this feels really important." The other shows they had up were the winners from an Open Video Call and a many-in-one exhibit that was all a part of a retrospective of the museum itself, "ICA@50" and the work up when we were there included Robert Morris: Tracks / Robert Morris/Projects (1974); Videoarte Brasil/Video Art (1975); and Simon Kim & Billy Dufala "Made in Philly" (1973). I seem to remember there being something else up, a lot of paper ephemera that seemed different/disconnected from the ICA@50 main exhibit, but perhaps it was a part of that. The whole day was awesome, and I need to be sure to get back to the ICA again this year.

9. Mike Doughty at the Tin Angel (November 2014)
I emailed Mike Doughty to ask him to judge the GS Flash Non-fiction contest that opens 1/15, and he countered with a YES plus a HEY COME TO MY SHOW TONIGHT, so we went. Jenn, Geoff, & I went to the Tin Angel, which is a small-ish, narrow venue in Old City. We sat in the back. It was only him, and the show started early, which was perfect for the three of us. One $76 parking ticket later, we had just come out of an amazing, amazing show. Doughty performed alongside "Scrap" his bassist-cum-cellist, played a variety of different instruments (a guitar! a mandolin! a banjo!), and must have played at least two from every album I know with his name on it. Considering he recently put out a record of all-new songs (Stellar Motel) alongside a ton of Soul Coughing "re-imaginations", he righteously could have limited himself to playing from those, but did not. His voice alongside the cello was so good, so so good. He and Scrap also took questions from a Question Jar, a jar in which fans wrote random questions, which most of the time was pretty hilarious. I am super glad I went to see him play; he's one of my favorite lyricists by far. It was one of those shows I didn't want to end at all. He even played "Janine", and "Madeline and Nine", and, and, and...

8.  MarchFourth Marching Band show // Bethlehem, PA (October 2014)
Our friend Judi emailed Geoff & I to ask if we wanted to go out to Bethlehem to see this great band-- she couldn't stress enough how great they were. Boy, am I glad we said yes! First of all, the show was at the Musikfest Cafe at the SteelStacks in Bethlehem, which is a phenomenal grounds for culture set in a post-industrial iron-making facility that operated for years, but not just serve as intense architecture. But back to the band-- they killed it. They're like a vaudeville act plus jazz plus brass plus circus plus swing plus ska plus marching band plus steampunk plus ahhhh! They describe themselves as "a kaleidoscope of musical and visual energy that inspires dancing in an atmosphere of celebration." Yup. They're from Portland, and I haven't been to a live show that well put together and entertaining ever. Old Crow Medicine Show at the Friday night concert at the 2014 Folk Festival put on a great show, but the MarchFourth show had people on stilts, pole dane acts, and the raddest costumes I've ever seen musicians wear. It was awesome. They covered a Nirvana song that night that someone recorded and posted on Youtube, so check it out, and definitely go see them.

from the MarchFourth show in Bethlehem!

7. Full Bleed: Poetry Comics reading at Indy Hall via Red Sofa Salon
The night before the gallery show officially opened at Indy Hall in Old City, Hila Ratzabi hosted a reading by five of the writers whose work was correlated with the poetry comics show-- Annie Mok, Paul Siegell, Sommer Browning, Sampson Starkweather, and Bianca Stone. The reading was stellar. Paul always has the best energy when he reads. Sampson has this way of saying things that are true that you'd probably never figure out how to say yourself in his poetry. He, Sommer, and Bianca all made my "Best Books Read in 2014" list I discussed above. Sommer is somehow deadly serious and whole-heartedly funny at the same time--also, she read all the "right" poems. I taught from her collection Backup Singers in the poetry workshop I taught in the fall, and many of the poems we'd discussed in class were those that she read-- this was very cool because a few of my students were at the reading. Finally, Bianca just killed it. Specifically, the last poem that she read was in my mind for weeks. There were woods and family and musings and then, finally, zombies. The art that we got to preview was all phenomenal. It was a well-curated show, and the reading to go with it was excellent.

work from Bianca Stone at the Full Bleed show in Philly
6. Food Network (November - Present)
For as much TV as I watch, I apparently value the music/art I experience more than the television. I made an effort to watch the Blacklist on Monday nights (& valued the facebook posts/comments a small group of my friends and I participated in following our viewing as well as both 2014 seasons of the Voice. I liked catching Nashville when it was live as well as Once Upon a Time, but my obsession here was more FOMO than actual devotion to character and show.  I haven't had cable since I was a kid, and shortly after we had it installed, I discovered the Food Network. I love the Food Network. I love how I can turn it on at pretty much any time and love what's on. I particularly like Alton Brown and Cutthroat Kitchen-- I watched a marathon of "Celebrity Chef" Cutthroat Kitchen before the finale came on, which was a great introduction to many of the chefs that host shows. I watched and loved the Holiday Baking Championship, which inspired me to bake more. And I'm just glad it's in my life in a general way. There seems to be always something great on it.

5. El Caribefunk after hours campground // Philadelphia Folk Fest (August, 2014)
El Caribefunk played an excellent afternoon set on Saturday night of Fest. As me and my friends were out gallivanting around the campgrounds following the concerts, I spied their drummer, ‎AndrĂ©s and couldn't help but tell him how awesome they were earlier. He was so grateful, and he said that the band was having the time of their lives at our folk fest. He also let me in on the fact that they were doing a late-night set up at The Point at a certain time. Geoff and I wandered between Glow Nation and The Fish, but we were sure to be at The Point by 2am. They set up in the dark just as they had on stage except this time there was no barrier between them and the dancing crowd-- you can't NOT dance to El Caribefunk, even when they're un-amplified and singing in a language that is not your native language. They had us singing along just as they had earlier when they played the Camp Stage, and before long a huge crowd had gathered to listen and dance. They played pretty much a full set. This is one of the wildest, most energetic, crazy fun bands I'd heard play in a long time, and to be that close to their radiating energy was enlivening, affirming, truly special.  If you ever get a chance to get out and see this band live, do it.

from El Caribefunk's official Camp Stage set at PFF 2014

4. Ten-Minute Hamlet at Groundz Talent Night (August, 2014)
This is almost not "culture", and like #s 3 & 2 I had a direct hand in it, but I helped put together a version of Hamlet based (v. loosely) on the Tom Stoppard "15 Minute Hamlet" for talent night up at Groundz-- which is where Geoff and I spend most summer weekends, as part of a crew that helps transition the fairgrounds of the Philly Folk Festival from hayfield to Festival. They ran a talent night this year because it was something the crew had done in the past but not resurrected for awhile-- not since I joined the crew four years ago at least. The big tent I camp under calls itself Mulberry, for the tree our tent is beneath, so I formed the Mulberry Drama Club, casted the show, and we practiced--an hour or so before the talent night festivities began. We had the Ghost quit halfway through the dress rehearsal, but in the end, as we took the stage (our kitchen's eating area cleared out), everything went well. People laughed when they were supposed to laugh (Kyle-as-Horatio/Polonius/Laertes snorting a line of flour with the Ghost holding a bag labeled "flour" after he yelled for his "line, line please!"; Nick-as-Hamlet saying "I'll take the Ghost's word for a thousand pounds" like he was on a Jeopardy; all of us, dead on the stage (me-as-Ophelia crouched behind a huge fake gravestone) at the end, shaking with silent laughter. It was all perfect.

3. Philalalia: a small press &poetry arts fair (September, 2014)
I got to help put together this poetry and small press fair for Philadelphia-- three days of a bookfair, three days of on- and off-site events, and generally goodness. GS tabled next to Apiary, lots of folks from in the city and out of the city showed up to table/attend/reader, Eileen Myles read to us about her dog, some of my students read their work, and I was so glad to play a role in helping it come together. The opening night event at Tattooed Moms that I put together was particularly awesome. Caitlin Luce Christensen from GS 5.2 read for us; I read along with Rachel Milligan representing Philly Review of Books; Nic Esposito of the Head & the Hand Press read from his then-forthcoming book of essays, and Sean Hoots of Hoots and Hellmouth read from his essay in Head & the Hand's Asteroid Belt Almanac. Also, there was a fight. Yes, these two cousins got in a yelling fight that began with the first dude yelling, "I hate poetry" after the first poet read. It's a long story I am always glad to tell.

Lillian Dunn from Apiary & I celebrated its & Gigantic Sequins'
5th anniversaries at Philalalia

2. Impossible Books: a collaborative art/writing show (February, 2014)
Brian Warfield had this idea, to put together an "impossible book", and I sort of ran with it. The gallery at the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym collaborated with me on finding and pairing writers and artists to create, together, an "impossible book". Some of the pairs came to us as pairs, but others we matched. I was really nervous for opening night. I'd never done anything like this before; it was difficult for me to assess whether any of it would turn out "good"-- so when opening night was such an insane success, I wasn't just relieved but mystified that I could be a part of something with such great energy. The opening reception itself featured a reading, where the participants explained their works and then read from the "book" they created. Kirwyn Sutherland especially blew my mind that night; I bought a fake credit card from a brother/sister pair meant to be used as an impossible textbook to help teach students the true cost of war; Geoff and Matt's piece was something you could walk into; the whole night just blew my mind. Steve Burns wrote a great review of it for Apiary that you should read.

A shot from the opening night of Impossible Books

1. DakhaBrakha // Philadelphia Folk Festival (August, 2014)
I am not a religious person-- I'm not quite Temperance Brennan, but I don't find comfort in the religion in which I was raised and get uncomfortable when I find myself in churches and most theological conversations. So when I say, "I had a religious experience," I'm not really quite sure what I mean. But on Saturday afternoon on the Old Poole Farm in Schwenksville, PA, a Ukranian band by the name of DakhaBrakha made me believe in something. They dressed up in these interesting outfits-- the three women in white dresses and black hats like I'd never seen, and when they began to sing I was nothing short of mesmerized. The notes they were hitting and the combinations of them were something I had never heard before. They lay on the notes with such length and intensity that I could feel them. They sort of whoop and wail and yell and bang on drums and play other instruments and it all combines into something just awesome. I downloaded a CD by them, but it's really not the same as seeing them live. This YouTube video is the best I could find that helps to represent what I experienced that day-- but imagine this live, in the middle of a hayfield, surrounded by people of all sorts of everything, on a sunny August day, loud and encompassing in a way that overcame everything around you, erased and made better everything. "We are Dakha Brakha from Free Ukraine!" they said.

Being in the trailer for Ian Carlos Crawford's novel Vaguely Based on a True Story
The whole Friday night concert at PFF 2014 (Old Crow Medicine Show, Shemekia Copeland, etc.
AWP 2014 Ladies Night Reading

Friday, January 2, 2015

Books Read :: December 2014

REMEMBER THAT TIME that I cheated for my Goodreads challenge because blah blah blah and this and that and this? Well, it happened. And I only KIND OF CHEATED because Goodreads in & of itself is a cheater.  I SAID IT.

So here's what happened: I was so close. But then I realized I wasn't going to make it. The turtle was going to beat me. So I ran fast, and I found chapbooks that had listings on Goodreads THAT I OWNED and SHOULD HAVE READ BY NOW ANYWAY, and I made a small stack of them, and I read a number of them. I read four of them. Then, it was nearly midnight. There I sat, at my stepsister and her husband's house. Evie, their daughter, was headed to bed. It was storytime. So I read THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR by Eric Carle and also THE DANGEROUS ALPHABET by Neil Gaiman. So that's what happened. I'm not ashamed. But I made it. I read 52 books (+) in 2014. And for 2015 my challenge is 50. I plan on cheating again if I must. So there.

BOOKS READ IN DECEMBER, 2014 (excluding the children's books mentioned above)

Cartwheel by Jennifer DuBois
Jennifer DuBois was the first-ever GS flash fiction contest judge, and her debut novel A Partial History of Lost Causes was one of my favorite books I read the year it came out, which I believe was 2012? I was really into Cartwheel, which is a fictional look at what it might be like to be the part of a family in a similar situation as a popular news story-- that of Amanda Knox. DuBois resets the story in South America, and she is fabulous at exploring the minds of her characters. (THIS PARENTHESES SERVES AS A SPOILER ALERT BECAUSE I DON'T LIKE KNOWING *ANYTHING* AT ALL ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS IN A BOOK WHEN I FIRST READ IT, MINUS THE JACKET COPY AND I EVEN SOMETIMES WISH I HADN'T READ THAT)--However, I feel like there are enough clues for a reader to sort of "deduce" what exactly happened, but not enough for me to be 100% sure what exactly happened-- and because we were given the privilege of sharing in the thoughts of a number of different categories, I really wanted some sort of pay off at/towards the end wherein we find out whether or not the woman whose "crime" the story follows really did it or not. At the same time, I am afraid if there WAS a payoff, I'd wish there weren't? I don't know. I enjoyed the book. It left me wanting to know more. Perhaps that was it's purpose.

Lizard by Banana Yoshimoto
I've had this book for what seems like forever, and I'm really glad I finally read it. Banana Yoshimoto is a Japanese writer, and there's something about the way she explores her characters and the world around them that's nearly spiritual and different from most everything else I read. She makes phenomena believable as reality, and what she's doing really feels like the kind of prose/story we love at Gigantic Sequins.

Wish You Were Here by Matthew Dickman
And then, the chapbooks began. Last year at AWP I bought a couple Spork Press chapbooks, and this one I read first. At first, I was enjoying the poetry sort of separately from itself-- I was like "that was a good poem that Matthew Dickman wrote", "so was that", but then, as I went on, I was like, "who is this Matthew Dickman character, and why have I not made more of an effort to read his work in the past?!" I loved the chapbook, I love its cover, I really love Spork press. My favorite poem in the collection was title "Xanax". Here is a quote from it:
One day in the middle
of summer, I was eighteen
years old and the lungs
of everything alive, the lungs
of the school yard
and the lungs of a jellyfish.
blud by Feng Sun Chen
There is an octopus, of half of one, on the cover of this Spork Press chapbook by Feng Sun Chen. The poems in this book were weird, sometimes in a way that made me go "cool", other times in a way that made me go "gross" (but in an i'm-interested-in-science way not a "boogers-are-sticky" way), and finally in a way that made me feel kind of "meh" but still want to keep reading. Many of the poems are titled "blud", and one of them, on page 15, was my favorite in the collection. Here's a quote from it:
all over this body gates open meanwhile.
punctuation gushes out in sick white.
all feed.
The Sky is a Well & Other Stories by Claudia Smith
I have no idea how long I've owned and not read this book, and this is a huge oversight on my part. It's the FIRST-EVER winner of the Rose Metal Press short short contest, and it deserved to win. (I mean, I guess, I didn't read all of the other submissions, but--) so many parts of this book made me go damn.

What a Tremendous Time We're Having! by Nick Sturm
The last poetry chapbook I read in 2015 was this book, which Nick gave to me at AWP one year. I had to staple it together myself. All of the poems have the same title. All of them were good. We published a co-written poem by Nick & Wendy Xu in GS 3.2, and though I've read this solo work in bits and pieces in online journals, mostly, this was the first "Nick Sturm" chapbook I read, and I was glad for it. It came out from iO press, and here's a quote from it:
I spend all day stranded on this digital archipelago
liking everything My spirit animal is a bear
with a confetti cannon strapped to its back
The point is to surprise you & then maul you
into pieces of joy