1. Edwidge Danticat: Create Dangerously
  2. A group of 5 chapbooks
  3. Ronaldo Wilson: Lucy 72
  4. Cecilia Vicuña: About to Happen
  5. Yuri Herrera: Signs Preceding the End of the World

Create Dangerously (Edwidge Danticat, Princeton University Press 2010)

“One of the advantages of being an immigrant is that two very different countries are forced to merge within you. The language you were born speaking and the one you will probably die speaking have no choice but to find a common place in your brain and regularly merge there. So too with catastrophe and disasters, which inevitably force you to rethink facile allegiances.” (112) Clear-eyed and fearless, Danticat sees her two homelands in their complex relationship, exposing similarities as she also reveals the ways in which the country that has been and is a place of refuge (for the Haitian resistance and those who hoped to survive natural catastrophes and brutal dictatorships) has also been instrumental in creating the impossible conditions that lead to diaspora. The sensuality of Danticat’s prose is an essential part of her on-going argument: the first homeland (individual and universal) is our inextricably physical, spiritual, intellectual and emotional existence: wherever the disaster occurs it occurs in that homeland we all share, the human body.

5 Chapbooks

The question What are you reading now? opens spaces no longer confined to the page, of course: Twitter, I could say, truthfully. I’m on it every day, addicted to the capers of the state legislature (whose idea of fiscal responsibility mostly manifests as cuts to needed services for their impoverished constituents), and the images of the removal of Confederate Monuments here in New Orleans (General Beauregard riding away into the night sky, packaged and looped in sunbright yellow straps), as well as the on-going (slo-mo) melt-down of the administration of the treasonous oligarch, as well as the updates on every terribly self-destructive thing we’re doing to the planet… I’m reading that. And of course I’m ‘reading’ movies and art exhibits as well as policy statements and weird little internet comment boards where you can watch rape culture flash. But if, for the ease of the boundary as well as to honor the space of a particular form, I confine this report to a specific content delivery system (and the kind of intentionality which is admirable, resonant, and gorgeous), a little bouquet of chapbooks makes one of my five books:

  1. Of Traverse and Template (Larkin Higgins, Mindmade Books, Los Angeles, 2013)
  2. Le Souci Formel / the formal concern (Eléna Rivera, Belladonna Collaborative, Brooklyn 2017)
  3. Digital Water: International Cloud Atlas (Christina Gruber, constance, Austria, 2015/16)
  4. Data Primer (Marthe Reed, Locofo Chaps, Chicago 2017)
  5. When the Horse Lights the Night (Jenifer Sang Eun Park, Essay Press #82)

Of Traverse and Template

The moment will skid”—so begins Larkin Higgins’ wonderful rescue of the time we’ve lost and will lose in traffic. Alert to the ways our inventions allow new kinds and speeds of movement (still measured by the stars), the author sees into our unmet desires and shows us the beauty of the places where we act out our complicated and uncertain longings. To travel for its own sake, to follow “the phrasing gesture,” is a joy here, “sliding into something previously unknown,” where a letter might become a trailer, or fall over itself to become an intersection, and the witty, elegant drawings by the author add to the delight.

Le Souci Formel

“For in the end art led the way / back into embodiment” Eléna Rivera’s lovely chapbook proceeds as inquiry and enactment with the poet’s characteristic deft and delicate touch. There is a task—to perceive and understand—to which we are invited guests and participants, as if it were a voyage (which of course it is). “The performance melted / my resistance and lines changed”—the writing is exquisite and the way of presenting experience challenges received ideas about what it is to be alive in favor of something much more intense: “Your body girl a spiral for the gods.”

Digital Water

“I write, collect and sort / to understand what I have forgotten.” Christina Gruber’s marvelous book (which, charmingly, appears to have been written into / over a scientific text) “deals with the manifestation of the digital ‘Cloud’ in the form of water,” and charts the dependence of our virtual world on the actual one, from the color coded cooling pipes in Google’s data centers to the micronation of “Sealand” and on to the author’s own childhood town “waiting for Google like Samuel Beckett’s vagabonds…waiting for Godot.” Gruber toggles easily between “Cloud” and clouds, following the element on which both depend: “I believe that water has the ability to disentangle complex political and social structures and constructions of identity that are interwoven in the digital world.”

Data Primer

A fierce warning to those we’ve elected, who appear to prefer to ignore the unmistakable signs all around us, Marthe Reed’s perfect little book makes poetry out of information and turns information into poetry. The author’s delivery of the “Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers” as avant-garde lyric reframes and refocuses disaster, heightening the simple facts and increasing their resonance. Each word here has its right weight, so that we see the glaciers shrink and feel the seas rising around us: get a copy for your representative!

When the Horse Lights the Night

“You can see other versions of the self if the mirror is used properly.” Jenifer Sang Eun Park writes in her gorgeous, obsessive, uncanny book. From the preface: “Presented in lyrical prose, diagrams, photos, and conceptual excerpts from imagined texts, When the Horse Lights the Night pieces together a true story spurred by my tormented, pathological, and, ultimately, redemptive imagination.” This book provides the kind of mirroring (complex, unstable, deep and courageous) we need right now: “Some of us are ingenious cannibals.”

Lucy 72 (Ronaldo V. Wilson, forthcoming from 1913 Press)

Because I teach and because I am sometimes asked to “blurb” books, the time of my reading slips future into present/past: this is to say that it seems like I’m reading work that will come out more often than I’m reading books that already exist. I was fortunate enough recently to get a sneak preview of Ronaldo V. Wilson’s Lucy 72 (1913 Press). Wilson’s almost heteronym is a devilishly brilliant invention, an enormously successful guerrilla action, a set of strategic and unstoppable forays into the imagination, and a fierce embodiment of white fragility “out at the dead edge of flow,” allowing the poet to both gather and release the “given”s of gender and race. Lucy performs femininity / whiteness and dreams masculinity / blackness—and illuminates the uneasy in-between space where each is shaped or played against the other. In Wilson’s couplets the myriad ways in which identity is always already an idea are exposed, but this false body has real feelings, and the poet’s exploration of a looser proprioception enlarges and complicates empathy where the liminal becomes luminous.

About to Happen

I bought this catalogue on my first visit to Vicuña’s amazing retrospective at the Contemporary Art Center in New Orleans—and I lent it to an artist friend who absconded with my copy. The images are stunning and give some sense of the artist’s transformative deeply nourishing body of work, and the essays make an excellent beginning to the kind of conversation the artist’s work must and will open up. Vicuña: “Form was not born from an idea. It was an idea vanishing.”

Signs Preceding the End of the World (Yuri Herrera, & Other Stories Press, 2015)

A quest narrative that opens, literally, with a sinkhole, Yuri Herrera’s novella follows its heroine on her difficult journey across a guarded, unnamed, border—and back. Beautifully translated by Lisa Dillman (who honored the author’s commitment to a rich and unusual vocabulary) the story compels imagination and makes Makina’s bittersweet success urgent for all of us. Herrera’s prose is so supple the insights seem born of the ambient light, and the author’s care with language gives each detail the glow of the symbolic, turning the crossing mythic. This is magic realism as its best, where the magic of reality itself becomes vividly clear, and unforgettable.

Lagniappe: 5 recent books I love…

Oh God Get Out Get Out by Bill Moran (Write Bloody, 2017)

Symphony for Human Transport by Lisa Samuels (Shearsman, 2017)

On Walking On by Cole Swensen (Nightboat, 2017)

Position Paper by Carol Snow (Counterpath, 2016)

I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men and What I Had On by Khadijah Queen (YesYes, 2017)