Alice Iris Red Horse: Selected Poems of Yoshimasu Gozo, Edited by Forrest Gander, New Directions, 2016

I found Alice Iris Red Horse at a Barnes and Noble in Syracuse, where I had to pause on a road trip because of snow; I had not previously heard of Yoshimasu Gozo, but gravitated towards the book because of the intricately colored cover and the unfamiliar grammar of its title. I scanned the pages to find translator’s notes interspersed through poems that appear more like annotated scripts. I read the introduction and then, sitting at the B&N Starbucks, scoured the internet for videos of Gozo’s performances (I recommend this one.) I thanked the snow and this random urban sprawl sanctuary for finding me into a way of thinking about language I didn’t know I needed.

I think about Nick Montfort’s Hefting’s Project (of impossible-to-translate texts) in relationship to Gozo’s work. As Forrest Gander writes in the introduction,

It isn’t some romanticized originary language Gozo seeks, but a marriage of languages…. In some sense, Gozo’s poetry takes place before calligraphy, outside of language, but, as he says, “touching it up.” / It might be observed that this poetry has not been translated from the Japanese so much as it has been translated from Gozo Yoshimasu.

Alice Iris Red Horse takes patience, as I have to be in a space to read a poem of ephemeral threads, to hear the sound without direct interpretation, then move into technical notes, then move back to the poem, then move back into the notes, a seemingly endless loop, but it simultaneously creates its own kind of peace; I have loved every hour spent in these pages.

The Future, Nick Montfort, MIT Press, 2017

In the most recent installment of MIT Press’s Essential Knowledge Series, Nick Montfort introduces us to the concept of future-making by looking into the past to consider how notable innovators imagined a future in order to build into it. Though the framing of the book is centered on technologies, technologies don’t grow from start-up vacuums (if I were Nick I would place a sly pun somewhere near here); it is the futures imagined by oracles and divinators, in literary utopias and alternate realities, by kitchen designers and advertisers, in model cities looked at by children at world’s fairs, that guide the inventors who alter the technologies, which reframe our present shifting into our future.

Despite my tendency to be a luddite (in argument more than practice), when I read Nick’s work, I find myself giddy about the future and wanting to take part in imagining new technologies and policies. I keep returning to the small chapters and their bullet-pointed lessons about future-making as some absurd benchmark for my own writing to imagine a better world with sufficient intention and detail, so I won’t be surprised or distressed when we, one day, wake-up inside of it.

Semiautomatic, Evie Shockley, Wesleyan University Press, 2017

As a result of spending most of my life at a University Press job, I go through large spans of time where I descend into prose and forget to read poetry. Yet as the first year of this presidency closed out, I needed to seek the type of thinking and emotional relationships that poetry affords; I turned to Evie Shockley. “stop : meet with me here. weapons at rest, on this stage of reciprocal dreaming :”

As the title suggests, Evie’s poems write through articles, the language of protests, and literature, while maintaining her voice throughout. Semiautomatic is, in a way, a time-capsule of our cruelty and our love. Entering into this books means asking to be made uncomfortable, to be willing to sit and listen and learn, and to absorb the weight of our decade and this progressively unfair country from language that is sometimes jarring (“through the holes in michael brown’s body, ________________________ I see: / > the fucking fracking chemicals bleeding into the groundwater … > the coke brothers controlling the flow”), sometimes beautiful (“still, hope springs, we drink in every season, / and people take root, sprout, and blossom”). When I started, I let myself read these poems only at moments when I was capable of carrying them; I am challenging myself this month to read them at moments when I may not be, and to follow through on the kind of action they request.

Door of Thin Skins, Shira Dentz, CavanKerry Press, 2013

Shira Dentz’s generosity as an editor and a poet manifests in her books as a willingness to share physical, narrative, and emotive realities in an unrestricted, yet seamless, netting of hybrid texts and nonconventional typographic elements. In moments of frustration, after events I can describe but can’t explain, I turn to her words for understanding, to find direction towards the multiple textures and the many different voices we must use when needing to explain our lives to ourselves.

The reality of Door of Thin Skins depends not solely on the facts given in direct language (“One morning, Dr. Abe phones from downstairs. Wants to see my room.”), nor the poetic and fragmented interjections to the narrative (“slope, slippery slope, slippery _____________ slope , // I ride the letters: / two axes, the brace in back of a kite. // XX”), nor the insistent repetition of lines, nor the broken-open stanzas flooding full spreads to question how we read a single word (“SENSE”), but the accumulated resonance of all these elements and the gaps between them which insist I keep returning to this book, to its reality, in order to reinvestigate with Shira, to obsess with her, to witness one injustice (in a sea of gendered injustices) and learn a way to fight along with her, not to let it be buried.

The so-called utopia of the centre beaubourg – An Interpretation, Albert Meister (translated and annotated by Luca Frei), Book Works, 2007

Written in 1976 as a projection into 1986, The so-called utopia of the centre beauborg is a work of fiction presented as documentation for the establishment of a (literally) underground arts-based, open community in (imagined) tunnels underneath the monstrous “culture center” of Paris. When I first moved to Albany, an old friend gave me a copy of this book as a good luck gift, and it’s been a framing device for my life here, though, embarrassingly, I have yet to finish it. The so-called utopia is the book I return to as ritual without a full picture of the thing I place myself inside. Here’s the line I’m sitting with this morning:

As beautiful as they can be, paintings or poems or the graphic gestures in dance don’t, in themselves, constitute culture: what’s needed is availability, [sister]hood and friendship. And perhaps the poems and all the other so-called cultural products aren’t but a way to come to loving.