What I’m Reading Now… by Heather June Gibbons

 

Hackers by Aase Berg (translated by Johannes Goransson)

Channeling flatworm parasites, an Amazonian queen, rabbits, Trojan horses, and whistleblowers, Swedish poet Aase Berg hacks into and interrogates conceptions of feminine and masculine, captive and captor, desire and violence, animal and machine. “The bars are re-sharpened/into a vagina with teeth./Who is who?” This book delights and disturbs me, page by page, with its webbed allusions and sharp juxtapositions, and by the strength of a voice by turns seductive, threatening, and indifferent. “Salad is for weaklings/I only eat raw beef/as the fur boils/in the glowing dusk/you slowly/lick the soles/of my heels.” Basically, Aase Berg is a total badass.

300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso

I love everything Sarah Manguso writes, and this book is no exception. Her interest in compression and lyrical resonance brings her prose a rare crystalline quality, and her voice is wry and frank, bemused as well as reflective. The book is comprised of very short prose pieces (aphorisms, wry observations, anecdotes, and confessions) strung together without the structural differentiation of chapters or sections. In a sense, each small piece is self-contained, and yet one of the particular pleasures for me in reading this book is to feel out, and feel as though I’m participating in the making of, the book’s meaning as I go. The development here is primarily lyrical— themes accrue, there are turns and surprises, the tone shifts from dry humor to profound musing— but a kind of narrative also emerges. “If you want to know someone’s secret, don’t ask a thing. Just listen.” I don’t see how it all fits together yet, but I trust Manguso’s sharp intelligence. It’ll be worth seeing.

Instead of Dying by Lauren Haldeman

What if instead of writing traditional elegies of lament, praise, and consolation we allowed ourselves to veer into luminous hypotheticals and healing rituals that posit alternatives to loss even as they convey the unavoidably real pain of grief with utter poignancy? What if in so doing we could somehow also manage to be funny, full of wonder, and continually surprising? Lauren Haldeman is an alchemist of grief, and so wise. “Before the thinking is the knowing./The thinking is added to the knowing.” Right now, I’m particularly loving the series of twenty-line poems on facing pages that mirror each other line by line, the words reordered to emphasize, slightly alter, or refute the facing line. They remind me of Rorschach tests, both in their formal suggestion of symmetry and in their suggestive power. We’re given, on facing pages, numbered lines that can be read both across and down, such as:

I leave a voicemail 7.
on my dead brother’s phone. 8.
How I text my dead brother 9.
“I miss you” 10.
Then delete it. What makes me 11.
do this? It is not a good idea. 12.
7. Mail me his voice leaving.
8. Phone my brother’s deadness to me.
9. I’m texting my dead brother
10. “I miss you”:
11. I make what it deletes.
12. The idea of god is not a doing. this

In these moments, I’m so charmed and fascinated by the inventive and complex way the poems move, I almost forget how heartbreaking they are.

Cannibal by Safiya Sinclair

I tend to think anger is underrated in poetry. The poems in Safiya Sinclair’s debut collection Cannibal sing, devour, dare, implore, and demand in a mythic and ravishing voice, and in the gorgeous “meter of the sea.”

How can language that sounds and feels so good in the mouth also be so incisive and unflinching? Take this passage, from the poem “Hands”:

But out here the salt depths refuse tragedy.
This hand-me-down life burns sufficiently tragic—
here what was cannibal masters the colonial

curse, carved our own language of the macabre,
sucking on the thumb of our own disparity. Holding
her spliff in the wind, she probes and squalls,

trying to remember the face of her own mother,
our island, or some strange word she once found
amongst the filth of the sailors whose beds she made,

whose shoes she shined, whose guns
she cleaned, while the white bullet of America
ricocheted in her brain…

Sharply intelligent, these poems of linguistic exile are intricate and elegant in their subversion. A gorgeous, provocative debut.

Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer (edited by C.D. Wright)

This astonishing selection of poems by Mexican poet Valerie Mejer puts me in an altered state—one that illuminates, not incapacitates. The voice is trance-like, almost disembodied or disassociated. “I know my core isn’t within me, it drifts upwards/along the receding vertical axis that cats climb to the roof.//It hurts in a place beyond me.” Often she addresses a “you” that seems to be a particular person, now lost or otherwise unreachable. Other times, the “you” seems to be the speaker, speaking to herself from outside of herself. The boundaries between waking and sleeping, dream and reality, memory and present, self and other, are blurred to the point of near-erasure. “I trace the trajectory of detached continents.” Even in this surreal and liminal mode, the language doesn’t point outward, to something that has already happened elsewhere, or simply back at itself. Instead, in simple, direct diction, often concrete and image-driven, things happen here, on the page. “The nightmare is outside:/the ravenous dog, the mirror,/the countless fangs,/age that doesn’t cede or cease.” Most of the poems exist in a present tense that feels very immediate, with no room for perspective or reflection; the present time of a dream. They feel at once timeless and immediate, and create an effect I can only describe as temporal simultaneity. “In the future it will rain./Today it rains./For years the clouds disappeared./Today the roofs wear water./Tomorrow I will have died[.]” This is fascinating work.