What I’m Reading Now… by Chen Chen

 

1 / Book of fiction that is teaching me, former fiction writer turned poet, how to keep bending my syntax and how to see physical things with startling attentiveness: Denton Welch’s novel, In Youth Is Pleasure (The University of Texas, 1945). Welch, a lover of beautiful objects, knows the names for every kind of furniture and every kind of cake. No one else can begin describing someone eating and then spin out into a glorious litany of things, in all their thingyness:

She was snapping her nutcracker lips together and saying something vicious to the young waiter who bent over her. Once her hand darted up to her mouth, and Orvil saw that the skin fitted over the bones like a translucent sheet of gelatin. On one of her fingers she wore a half-hoop of very large diamonds; the sort of ring that harmonizes with white suites of bedroom furniture, wreaths of composition roses, inset panels of cane-work, silver shoe-horns and button-hooks, and Reynold’s angel faces on the oxidized lids of powder-pots.

Also, a pug gets mentioned within the first thirty pages.

2 & 3 / Books I’ve started and actually keep starting because the opening pieces are so crushingly everything: Amy Meng’s Bridled (Pleiades Press) and Natalie Eilbert’s Indictus (Noemi Press, 2017). I mean, here’s the ending of Meng’s first poem, “Orpheus, Asymptote”:

I move

through the exercises of lust,

a sour drill: look at tight buds

of lavender, the ring finger

of strangers: look at people getting into

their homes, light from the hallway falling

flat on their faces—it’s never enough. I turn

and walk straight into the blazing X of the sun.

And here are some sentences from Eilbert’s “To Read Poems Is to Follow Another Line to the Afterlife. To Write Them Is to Wed Life with Afterlife,” a preface/prose poem/lyric essay/wow:

Details lock me into the violence of chronological events, but I refuse to let this be chronological.

Chronology, too, is filthy.

All these men, specifically so.

The cartoon of the crime: a man gauzed by hate moving inside the flattened surface of another’s body, a shadow of a shadow.

Even in the highest form of truth, to access memory is to blunder its event.

4 / Chapbook I’m rereading because I love chapbooks and I love rereading in the summertime (when I have time!): my BFF Sam Herschel Wein’s Fruit Mansion (Split Lip Press, 2017). I keep returning to a poem called “Ode to Cheesy Potatoes with Uncooked Onions,” which is about getting food poisoning and shitting yourself. It’s also about taking care of yourself—“Be / gentle, I thought, I made it, no partner and I / made it, no arm around me and I made it.”

I like to think of this poem as a companion to my poem, “Winter,” which is my poop poem, and there is a partner in it, and true gay love and rimming, but not everything is/should be about partnering and coupledom, so thank giddy goodness for Sam’s poem.

5 / Surprise, I’m not currently reading five books! I used to juggle great big piles of books, but these days I’m feeling too scattered thanks to the miracle of the Internet and me saying YES to life except sometimes I really should say NO THANKS because I’m most definitely overbooked.

But I am watching TV! I am a TV devotee. And right now I am devoted to Steven Universe (thanks, Sam! who is so Steven it’s kind of ridiculous!) because it is basically a lesbian dramedy with magic and intergalactic battles. I don’t want to give anything away, but this is something the character Garnet says at a key moment, when Steven discovers a new way to interact with his BFF Connie: “You are not two people. And you are not one person. You are an experience. Now, go. Have. Fun!”