2018, Brittany Hailer's Animal You'll Surely Become
Animal You'll Surely Become is a courageous and confident debut that juggles sorrow and fear, rage and love, hurt and triumph, all while balanced on an umbilical highwire tethered between memory and the moon. After reading this book, you will never see cherry blossoms or a tortoise shell or a collarbone or a wine bottle or a pile of clothes in the same way again. Angela Carter, Kate Bernheimer, and Lidia Yuknavitch fans, you heard it here first: Brittany Hailer is a writer to watch.
2018, Shome Dasgupta's Mute
"Shome Dasgupta's Mute reveals how the desperation to please friends, coaches, would-be lovers, parents, wives, and daughters results in an overwhelming sense of disorientation. Fraught with anxieties, Mute transforms situations that could easily turn toxic into moments of personal sadness and loneliness that, productively for our time, unveil a multitude of imaginative maneuvers that help these narrators accept their lives and fates."
2018, Marie Carter's Holly's Hurricane
Here is New York City as we have never seen it, devastated by Hurricane Diana in 2040. Here too is our long overdue romantic heroine, Holly Williams, a sixty year old architect and immigrant struggling with ailing parents, unruly robotic aides, and an unexpected love interest twelve years her junior. Guided by a Virgil-like figure, Holly begins to realize at last her professional and personal potential as she embarks on a mission to preserve what's left of her adopted city. Prepare to be swept away by the sheer force of Holly's Hurricane — a fantastical ode to New York City's glorious and horrifying past, as well as a warning to us all for its future.
2016, Ellen Welcker's Ram Hands
What is a woman? What makes a woman? What is an animal? What is a human? What is a body? What makes a boy? What makes a girl? What makes us human? Ram Hands will tell you. Ellen Welcker's Ram Hands — at times bust-a-gut funny but for the most part break-your-heart serious — will ask you. Can human beings change? Will human beings ever change? Like the living poem-organisms that Welcker has so lovingly shaped into being, will human lives at last be given a chance to "evolve to burst out of their forms"?
2016, J.I. Daniels' Mount Fugue
To view and read J.I. Daniels' Mount Fugue is to relinquish all expectations and begin — and begin again — to choose your own news story about Tara Ortiz, to choose your own answers to your own chosen questions about what business it ever was of hers — that wife, that mother, that Latina and African American corporate executive — to attempt to conquer anything, to attempt to conquer anything at all let alone the deadliest mountain in the world.
2016, Jordan Okumura's Gaijin
Gaijin makes possible the impossible language of trauma.
2016, Julie Marie Wade’s Catechism: A Love Story
Catechism is exploration, is essay, is confession, is rite of passage through Before, Now, Future, Retrospect, Otherwise. Ultimately, like Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Wade’s Catechism celebrates the hero whose “desire to split proved irresistible,” the heroine who finds a way to love her selves.
2015, Kristina Marie Darling’s Women and Ghosts
Women and Ghosts is a book for the brokenhearted: “Iced over with sadness,” its speaker says (or doesn’t), “I can no longer speak.” In ghost text stricken from the record, she also says (or doesn’t): “I wonder how someone else’s life can seem so much my own.” She means Desdemona’s. Ophelia’s. Juliet’s. Cleopatra’s. Lavinia’s. But when I read these words, I think: not theirs, hers—I wonder how her life can seem so much my own. I love this book. I honor it. I cherish it. I lose myself in its tragedies, in the absences and silences of women’s lives and I feel less desperate, less anxious, less alone.
2014, Dominic Gualco’s The Apocalypse Is Near and I Am Going to Love this World
"And I Feel Okay About It" is my favorite poem in Dominic Gualco’s The Apocalypse Is Near and I Am Going To Love This World, because the lines "I want you to feel beautiful when you take out the trash / and I don’t want you to pick up your dog’s shit ever again" made me want to have someone in my life who would think such things about me, someone who would also notice "your body looks so skinny" and without irony, with only a hope and a prayer, say, "I don’t think you can still be stuck in there / I know you’ve got to be jiving somewhere." In Gualco’s hands, "somewhere" is a place where floors are clean, where hips shake and pop rocks crackle and bubbles of light shine all around, where everyone’s got a PB&J and a dance party to go to, and where nobody is sad—not ever, not ever again.
2014, Ken Pobo’s When the Light Turns Green
Within these meditations on death, loss, and pain, readers can find great comfort—gentle reminders that life also offers joy and beauty if only we seek and cultivate it. So read this book. Read this book. Read this book. I promise you this: You will not forget Ken Pobo’s ending poem. But wait for it. Read and savor each preceding poem slowly. And when you arrive at the close, be forewarned: You will bow your head, perhaps even touch your hand to your heart, and you will be reminded why you—why all of us—must daily strive to love more, and better.
2014, Ashley Inguanta’s For the Woman Alone
For the Woman Alone is a raw and tender offering. Eat from its garden these words “soft as a cardinal,” then swim dreamlike through “the open window” of each image unfolding “the layers of your life” and blooming like “a hymn in the sky.”
2014, Marc Vincenz’s Beautiful Rush
To “write an ode at all,” one speaker laments, in Marc Vincenz’s Beautiful Rush, which “sings the song of the world” as it guides us along the “peach-and-velvet-petal road” of its gorgeous, philosophical investigations into “the birthing of suns,” nights “of excess,” “shimmering gold” skies, “war scars,” “crab-apples of misfortune,” “ancient bone music,” and “the blood of wilderness.” Every poem is a celebration, an exaltation of the “potential for chaos” amidst the “rapture of being alive.” Thus, Vincenz accomplishes the task—in Beautiful Rush, he has written a multilayered, multi-voiced, and meticulously examined “ode to Beauty.” Read it, and wonder at the world again.
2013, Jen Michalski’s From Here
The stories in From Here will take you by force, like "little bombs exploding in your back and stomach." Their "dense, packed progressions" will devastate you, will absolutely "jackpot your heart," and you will want to "stay really, really quiet" and "very, very still" until you feel stronger, or at least strong enough to "withstand a hurricane." I am in love with these stories, the "pink-dark dusk" of the "living, breathing questions" they ask of us, and I am utterly and jaw-droppingly in awe of Jen Michalski’s tender and ruthless "love for the difficult."
2013, Eva Heisler’s Drawing Water
Not since Marguerite Duras’s Writing or Maggie Nelson’s Bluets have I been so excited by a new book, but Eva Heisler’s Drawing Water has done it, has entered my "heart line / fate line / life line." It is a book for the back pocket, for a train ride or a rainy weekend, the kind of book that complements staring out a window at the changing landscape—shifting scenes sliding by, tiny beads of rain refracting light. Make no mistake: when Eva Heisler breaks a line she breaks a heart, just "as the sea / breaks at our back door." And throughout, her touch is as delicate as if she has been "drawing the wing on a fly," and the result is as mighty and "broad as the breast of a hero."
2011, Kristina Marie Darling’s Melancholia: An Essay
The experience of reading Darling’s essay is like being an explorer and discovering a love story-in-poems in a land where poems are memories and meditations in the forms of letters, definitions, lists, missing text with footnotes, and even glossaries. Melancholia touched and moved me with its delicacy, and thrilled me with its subversions. A lovely, tender book.
2011, j/j hastain’s we force-effect the oubliette
Make no mistake: we force-effect the oubliette is an odd child, conceived in theory, borne from myth and poetry, raised by politics. Multilayered, complex, and highly stylized, it is a work of great fluidity, and Hastain’s particular talent is allowing image and narrative to combine so that what could be confession, "This is the closest to stories that I have ever come," emerges from childhood memories like "moths that flew around the bathroom," only to merge with lines like "drinking from goblets full of rain," so that such utterances as "I am in need of being held" and "do not make me suck that again" become brief, bright offerings of the soul, bared, like skin, like teeth.
2011, Eric Elliott’s The Graves We Dig
I have an unreasonable fear of violent death, so reading these poems is like shock therapy. Truth is, they remind me that we all bleed the same blood but that some of us are blessed—a word I’ve never used before—to lead lives untouched by real violence (untouched by war, murder, rage). So I should shut up about my fears; they’re irrational. But others, yes, so many others, Elliot’s poems remind me, have good reason to fear. And I feel for them.
2010, Rose Hunter’s To the River
From Sydney, where an old woman loses a chip of skin, to Puerto Vallarta, awash in boozy reds of passion and violence, and with stops in between—Las Vegas, where broken bottles are so "beautiful you want to weep"; Guadalajara, where a dead dog’s "beige pelt" inspires thoughts about suicide; Hamburg, where a daughter’s revenge is that she "has been everywhere" and her mother "has been nowhere"; Toronto, where a life lived is now "over"; and San Francisco, where a man tenderly "beats his wife . . . and kisses her jeweled cheek"—we can’t help but wonder what Rose’s future has in store for her, where she will go next, what she will discover there, who she might love and leave. A stunning collection, To the River is more than one woman’s journey through life: it’s a series of quests, each presenting its own challenges, and the question is: Will she survive the next? Read these poems and find out.
2010, Eric Beeny’s Of Creatures
Eric Beeny’s Of Creatures is a delicate life-form. Its lines are inventive and brave; its stanzas surprising and strong. These poems are weighted by sadness, yet hope offers them wings. Let them fly into your heart.
2009, David Peak’s “Museum of Fucked”
The exhibits in "Museum of Fucked" offer rare, studied glimpses of a world we too often ignore. We begin with a legless man in a wheelchair, an oncoming bus; we see parking lots filled with broken glass, children, hypodermic needles; a good friend-turned-junkie; a confrontation between strangers at a train stop; and a woman, Marilyn Monroe’s daughter, reminds us why we shouldn’t close down our mental institutions. This is just the first half of the tour, which in all truth serves to mentally prepare us for the second. When at last we close this book and return, blinking, to our own safe homes, we are, like the brutally rendered poor in David Peak’s powerful collection, bare and gasping for release.
2009, Greg Santos’s “Thinking Things Through”
From faraway hotel rooms to quiet rides in the country, from Perfect Strangers to late-night infomercials, from a Mickey Mouse alarm clock to an all-too-familiar snooze button, and from cheese fries and 3 a.m. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and Cheetos to Pepto-Bismol, Greg Santos’s poems detail, essentially, what all we Gen Y-ers must sadly recognize—or, perhaps, proudly claim—as the sobering truths that daily remind us, whether we like it or not, that we are growing up.
2009, Ben Brooks’s Fences
A manic-depressive romp, Fences is a rage- and beauty-filled narrative lifted by high tensions that either plummet or float toward their awaiting, ever-waiting damning, dizzying resolutions.