We must not allow anyone to rob of us of our joy and wonder. With this in mind, I offer books from small presses being published in 2017 that I’m very much looking forward to.
Following my own list are lists by many great writers, including Kate Angus, Nathaniel Baldwin, Jeff Bursey, Tobias Carroll, Annie DeWitt, Claire Donato, Brian Evenson, Jared Daniel Fagen, Christopher Higgs, Tim Horvath, Janice Lee, Michael Leong, William Lessard, Joe Milazzo, Natanya Ann Pulley, Dawn Raffel, Sejal Shah, Amber Sparks, Terese Svoboda, Robert Vaughan, Angela Woodward, and James Yeh.
I’m counting on 2017 being Robert Lopez’s year, with him finally receiving the critical appreciation his darkly comic work deserves. Subverting conventional dramaturgy, All Back Full (Dzanc Books) interrogates what is arguably society’s most confining convention: marriage. And it’ll be published on Valentine’s Day no less.
With many prolific writers it’s a case of diminishing returns. César Aira, who’s published over eighty books with more to come, is an exception, his open-ended, genre trespassing novellas attesting to his peculiar virtuosity. Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof (New Directions), translated by Nick Caistor, are “two fast-paced, edgy works are as different as night and day. Nevertheless—as well as sex, identity, and modern-day economics figuring deeply in both…”
Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet (The Complete Edition) (New Directions), edited by Jerónimo Pizarro, translated by Margaret Jull Costa, finally collects all the texts chronologically, and includes early texts written before 1920 (in which Pessoa adopted the heteronym Vicente Guedes). Peter Mendelsund’s jacket design is lovely, too.
Will Alexander remains my poet laureate. His oracular poetry, marked by its lexical density, its engagement with science, mythology, and technology, always surprises. The work of over thirty years, Across the Vapour Gulf (Late ArcadeLate Arcade) was inspired by E. M. Cioran’s oft-brutal aphorisms. The book opens with a note from Alexander: “Reading Cioran opened an unexpected neural pathway, opening the way for the composition of the compilation at hand. Each entry was instantaneous. They welled up and appeared with such astonishing alacrity, that they seemed to compose themselves practically fully formed.”
I’ve read all Micheline Aharonian Marcom’s books, impressed by their lush lyricism and incantatory cadences, their fearless engagements with desire and violence and the overlappings of both. The Brick House (Awst) is “an illuminated book about a house where people go to dream. It is a book driven not by character, but instead formed around place and through specific dreams. In the book, the dreams contend with themes of love and loneliness and environmental degradation and sex and beauty and loss, but in the strange, elemental language which dreams allow for. The literary influences were Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities and Yasunari Kawabata’s House of the Sleeping Beauties. Marcom’s inspiration to illuminate the book came from her appreciation of William Blake’s work, and also by her love for Armenian illuminated manuscripts. Afghan-American artist and writer, Fowzia Karimi, did ten original black and white drawings for the book.”
László Krasznahorkai is one of my favorite writers. Was fortunate to meet him last year, while he was in the States working on “a novella inspired by a reading of Moby-Dick. Yet, as he follows in Herman Melville’s footsteps, a second book alongside the original novella took shape. The Manhattan Project is that book.”
Noy Holland’s among this infernal country’s undeservedly woefully unsung writers. Each of her books are incredibly evocative prose objects. I Was Trying to Describe What It Feels Like (Counterpoint Press) collects forty-four of her stories, fourteen previously published and thirty never published in book form.
With its themes of border- and boundary-crossing and its array of marginalized characters, Stephanie Han’s Swimming in Hong Kong (Willow Springs/Eastern WA University Press) certainly has grabbed my attention.
Tommy Pico’s Nature Poem (Tin House) is a “book-length poem about how an American Indian (or NDN) writer can’t bring himself to write about nature, but is forced to reckon with colonial-white stereotypes, manifest destiny, and his own identity as an young, queer, urban-dwelling poet.”
Literature Class, Berkeley 1980 (New Directions), translated by Katherine Silver, which collects Julio Cortázar writing about writing, promises to a master class in literature and the making and unmaking of it.
Christopher Higgs’s As I Stand Living (Civil Coping Mechanisms): “A methodically composed and paradoxical blend of inextricably vulnerable emotion and objective fascination, As I Stand Living renders visible the tension between mediation and transparency when attempting to represent, capture, and convey a lived experience on the cusp of its future.”
I only know Peter Markus’s fiction, their evocative imagery and repetitions, so I’m definitely intrigued by Inside My Pencil (Dzanc Books) “uplifting and imaginative chronicle of teaching writing to elementary students in Detroit public schools.”
Mathias Énard’s Zone (New Directions), which I read last year, is an overwhelming linguistic tidal wave packed with violence, stories-within-stories, historical and literary references. Énard’s Compass, which draws from “disparate sources—nineteenth-century composers and esoteric orientalists, Balzac and Agatha Christie—and binds them together in a most magical way,” promises to similarly singularly overwhelm.
There are so many, far too many, unsung writers, and among the greatest of these stands Norman Lock, whose A Fugitive in Walden Woods (the fourth book in his ambitious American Novels series) is coming out this year. Victor LaValle writes: “A Fugitive in Walden Woods manages that special magic of making Thoreau’s time in Walden Woods seem fresh and surprising and necessary right now. Norman Lock tells the story of Samuel Long, an escaped slave who encounters Thoreau, with insight and some welcome humor. This is a patient and perceptive novel, a pleasure to read even as it grapples with issues that affect the United States to this day.”
I read Osama Alomar’s Fullblood Arabian, a collection of al-qisa al-qasira jiddan, marvelous compressions, these “very short stories” covering the gamut of literature, morality plays, coming-of-age tales, fairy tales, and fantasy being among the genres explored and subverted. So I’m very much looking forward to The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories (New Directions), which collects more of the Syrian refugee’s short fictions.
Kirkus Reviews calls Aimee Parkison’s Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman (FC2), winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, a “poetic and purposefully perverse collection of stories that describes a dystopian world only slightly divergent from our own.”
Having loved so many of the books they’ve published so far, I’m always excited to see a book is on the horizon from Ellipsis Press. Karen An-hwei Lee’s Sonata in K, which has advance praise from two of my favorite writers, namely, Mary Caponegro and Norman Lock, is an odd, lyrical engagement with Kafka, that is, Kafka-san, a version of Kafka, who might be a “digitally remastered hologram of the famous writer,” and promises to be a delight.
Speaking of Ellipsis, its publisher, Eugene Lim gave me the heads-up about Brian Castro’s The Garden Book (Kaya), saying, “I’m reading just now Castro’s Shanghai Dancing, and being blown away—a relatively unknown world class talent.”
A book by Gary Lutz is always an event. Assisted Living (Future Tense Press) collects four of the sentence artist par excellence’s comic, angular, dread-suffused fictions. I’ve read it twice already, first in its PDF (a rarity for me), and then in its printed form. And I’m sure I’ll read it again before the year ends.
Set in a remote desert suburbia, Hannah Lillith Assadi’s Sonora (Soho Press) tells the story of Israeli-Palestinian-American Ahlam, who, along with a schoolmate, embark on a mind- and body-alternating journey, while watching death claim their classmates from afar.
Annie DeWitt is also looking forward to Sonora, and she also alerted me to Edie Meidav’s Kingdom of the Young (Sarabande).
Kim Chinquee is a master of compression, elision, allusion, her marvelous miniatures evoking loss, sadness, and weird wonder. Veer: Short Fictions (Ravenna Press) will likely deliver a series of jolts and jarrings. You have been forewarned.
Robert Vaughan’s Funhouse (Unknown Press): “Brilliantly slippery pieces of flash fiction and longer form prose from the author of Addicts & Basements, and Rift (with Kathy Fish), among others. Robert Vaughan is unrivaled in his ability to surprise, stimulate and explore. A magician with a typewriter. He returns here with stories to hypnotize in the tunnel of love, beguile in the hall of wonders, spin you around on the tilt o’ whirl.”
Danielle Dutton, author of Margaret the First, calls Patty Yumi Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (McSweeney’s) a “beguiling debut: absurdly funny, surprisingly beautiful, and ultimately sad as fuck.”
Commemorating the 100th anniversary Juan Rulfo’s birth, The Golden Cockerel & Other Writings (Deep Vellum) presents his cinematic second novel in English for the first time ever alongside several stories never before translated.
Stalking Horse Press is one of the newest presses on the scene and has already revealed itself to be one of the most innovative. Duncan Barlow’s The City, Awake; Kurt Baumeister’s Pax Americana; Jessie Janeshek’s The Shaky Phase; and Jennifer MacBain-Stephens’s The Messenger Is Already Dead all look like promising reads.
Speaking of visionary publishers, Dorothy, a publishing project is dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women. This spring finds them publishing the Leonora Carrington’s The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, collecting her all of her strange, satirical works of short fiction.
Can Xue’s Frontier, translated by Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping: “Can Xue’s latest novel attempts to unify the grand opposites of life—barbarism and civilization, the spiritual and the material, the mundane and the sublime, beauty and death, Eastern and Western cultures.”
Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas (Graywolf): “Whereas confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations. ‘I am,’ she writes, ‘a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation—and in this dual citizenship I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.’ This strident, plaintive book introduces a major new voice in contemporary literature.”
Erika L. Sánchez’s Lessons on Expulsion (Graywolf): “The poems confront sex, shame, race, and an America roiling with xenophobia, violence, and laws of suspicion and suppression. With candor and urgency, and with the unblinking eyes of a journalist, Sánchez roves from the individual life into the lives of sex workers, narco-traffickers, factory laborers, artists, and lovers. What emerges is a powerful, multifaceted portrait of survival. Lessons on Expulsion is the first book by a vibrant, essential new writer now breaking into the national literary landscape.”
These books forthcoming from 713 Books look interesting: Paul Cohen’s The Glamshack and Alex Behr’s Planet Grim.
Hearing through the grapevine to look out for Nat Baldwin’s The Red Barn (Calamari Press). From the same press: Rem+Rom’s A Raft Manifest.
Brooklyn Arts Press has a number of books coming out this year, including Brooklyn Poets Anthology, editors: Jason Koo and Joe Pan; a book of fiction by Geoff Wyss; and book of poems each by Sheila Maldonado and Joe Fletcher.
Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf): “Machado’s stories mix sci-fi, horror, frank realism, and fabulism as they shift from urban legend to post-apocalypse and more. A woman lists her sexual encounters as a plague spreads across the world. A resident at a writers’ colony is haunted by the memory of a long-ago night at Girl Scout camp. A young wife refuses to remove the green ribbon from her neck, despite her husband’s pleading. And the centerpiece is the virtuosic novella ‘Especially Heinous,’ in which Machado recaps every single episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, dropping Benson and Stabler into a phantasmagoria of doppelgängers and girls-with-bells-for-eyes. Her Body and Other Parties is an unforgettable, explosively original debut that establishes Carmen Machado as one of the most important new voices in fiction.”
About the poems in Chiwan Choi’s The Yellow House (Civil Coping Mechanisms), Charles Yu writes: “There’s a kind of low-key power to his writing that can be casually devastating—a naked, a cappella warbling that can rise, in an instant, to the ecstatic.”
Erika T. Wurth’s Buckskin Cocaine (Astrophil Press): A “wild, beautiful ride into the seedy underworld of Native American film. These are stories about men maddened by fame, actors desperate for their next buckskin gig, directors grown cynical and cruel, and dancers who leave everything behind in order to make it, only to realize at thirty that there is nothing left. Poetic and strange, Wurth’s characters and vivid language will burn themselves into your mind, and linger.
Have been a fan of Joanna Ruocco’s writing since I read The Mothering Coven, so I’m very much looking forward to The Whitmire Case (Astrophil Press).
Make X: A Decade of Literary Art (Featherproof), edited by Daniel Borzutzky, Joel Craig, Sarah Dodson, Kamilah Foreman, Sarah Kramer, Brenda Lozano, and Kathryn Scanlan: “In this collection of work from over a decade of Chicago-based MAKE magazine, the editors offer the collective voice of MAKE through selected fiction, poetry, nonfiction and conversation, alongside art and stories. These extraordinary literary works and visual arts were not chosen as a ‘best of,’ but rather as a representation of the many parts that together form this celebrated magazine. Featuring a foreword by Eula Biss.”
Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (Coffee House Press) is a “damning confrontation between the American dream and the reality of undocumented children seeking a new life in the U.S.”
I’ve read almost all of Renee Gladman’s books, and loved them all, so I’m excited about Prose Architectures (Wave Books): “A book of ink drawings that regards language as an exposed nervous system, uncovering the moment whereby architecture emerges out of prose, the sentence becomes a drawing, and the act of writing narrative can be examined from bodily movements. Gladman beautifully uses the drawings as an extension of her writing process, as a way to free language from constraint. Afterword by Fred Moten.”
Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s Personal Science (Tupelo Press): “Bertram’s third full-length collection pivots on an extended piece of creative nonfiction, ‘Forecast,’ which shows how obsessive thinking can begin in actual occurrences that are then exploded in the imagination. The science is personal, as the factual is tinted and stylized, filtered through a self grappling with the difficulty of knowing what is ‘real.’”
Tom McCarthy’s one of the most compelling contemporary fiction writers, and his barbed essays are always provocative. Great to see a number of them will be collected in Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish (NYRB).
Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977-1997 (Nightboat), edited by Dodie Bellamy and Kevin Killian, collects pivotal “texts of New Narrative from Bob Gluck to Kathy Acker, and rare materials including period interviews, reviews, essays, and talks combined to form a new map of late twentieth-century creative rebellion.”
Jesse Ball’s Sleep, Death’s Brother (Pioneer Works Press) is “an instruction manual on dreaming that is intended for children or incarcerated persons. It enables such individuals to learn to lucid dream and to use their dreams to somewhat escape their situations.”
Gabrielle Civil’s Swallow the Fish (Civil Coping Mechanisms) is “a memoir in performance art that explores the medium from within its beating heart. Adding its voice to black feminist conversations, it combines essays, anecdotes, and meditations with original performance texts to confront audience, motivation, and fears. Both joy and panic appear in Civil’s world of performance, where neither walls nor city limits set the scope of the stage. Civil bares vulnerabilities and enthralls readers, asking essential questions and embodying dreams.”
Set in a ravaged world, where “most of humanity has been destroyed thanks to a number of nuclear meltdowns,” and featuring a psychotic father with the ability to invade people’s dreams—including those of his daughters—and torment them for thousands of years,” Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus (Open Letter Press) sounds more like a mirror of our current world than a post-apocalyptic cautionary tale.
A Shadow Map: An Anthology by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM), edited by Joanna C. Valente, is a necessary intervention: a collection of essays and poems addressing sexual assault and the trauma caused by it.
Ivailo Petrov’s Wolf Hunt (Archipelago Books), translated by Angela Rodel. From the publisher: “One of the foremost works of Bulgarian literature of the past century, Wolf Hunt places the calamitous history of twentieth-century Bulgaria into a human context of helplessness and desperation.”
With praise from the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, Roberto Bolaño, and Juan José Saer, how can I resist Antonio Di Benedetto’s Nest in the Bones: Selected Stories (Archipelago Books), translated by Martina Broner?
Andrés Barba’s Such Small Hands (Transit Books), translated by Lisa Dillman; afterword by Edmund White. From the Publisher: “Shirley Jackson meets The Virgin Suicides in a masterwork from the Spanish writer at the peak of his powers.”
Very happy about Lance Olsen’s Dreamlives of Debris (Dzanc Books), Pamela Ryder’s Paradise Field (FC2), and John H. Falk’s Born to Choose (Routledge). And psyched to be promoting all of them this year.
Lauren Cerand pointed me to Rachel Ingalls’s Three Masquerades: Novellas (Pharos Editions), which is selected and introduced by Daniel Handler; Jonathan Baumbach’s Shots in the Dark: Collected Film Criticism (The Critical Press), whose new story collection, The Pavilion of Former Wives was published by Dzanc last December; and Brian McGreevy’s The Lights.
Jacob Singer gave me the heads-up about Joseph Scapellato’s Big Lonesome (Mariner), which Matt Bell calls “an accomplished debut, a collection of tall tales and campfire stories that create a Wild West unlike any other. With a voice like Barry Hannah channeling Larry McMurtry, Scapellato has updated the cowboy—one of the great American protagonists—into a newly complex, audacious, and utterly contemporary character.”
Peter Selgin alerted me to Gayle Brandeis’s The Art of Misdiagnosis (Beacon Press). He writes: “I read Gayle’s memoir in manuscript and found it so enthralling I urged it upon my agent, who took and sold it. The memoir treats the author’s difficult relationship with her mother, a talented, beautiful, schizophrenic painter who went mad and took her life.”
Leah Umansky pointed me to Dena Rash Guzman’s Joseph (Hologram Press), which the publisher describes as “the story of passion pitted against patriarchy. Its speaker shifts shapes as she spins her tale: she is mother, mistress, witness, wife, sorceress, nurse, and rebel. She is Joseph’s greatest scourge and his most tenacious survivor.”
Kaveh Akbar’s Calling a Wolf a Wolf (Alice James Books)
Shabnam Piryaei’s Nothing Is Wasted (The Operating System)
Johnny Damm’s The Science of Things Familiar (The Operating System)
Jennifer Firestone’s Gates & Fields (Belladonna*)
Natalie J. Graham’s Begin with a Failed Body (University of Georgia, Cave Canem Prize)
Ibn Khalawayh’s Names of the Lion, translated by David Larsen (Wave Books)
And also these both are already out but I just found them and am excited to read them:
Cynthia Cruz’s How the End Begins (Four Way Books)
Jen Levitt’s The Off-Season (Four Way Books)
Robert Lopez’s All Back Full (Dzanc): If I’m making a list of favorite novels from this century thus far, Robert’s Kamby Bolongo Mean River is one of a handful at the top. If the development of his stories in Good People are any indication, All Back Full is going to be a knockout of a novel. I haven’t even looked into what it’s about, but that doesn’t matter with Robert. It’s much less about what he’s writing than how it’s written. Robert has the command of voice like no other.
Scott McClanahan’s The Sarah Book (Tyrant Books): Speaking of command of voice. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Scott read a couple times and I basically melted into the floor. I’ve caught glimpses of The Sarah Book over the years so this feels like a long time coming. The world desperately needs as much Scott McClanahan as possible right now.
Noy Holland’s I Was Trying to Describe What It Feels Like (Counterpoint Press): Noy makes sentences the way no one else can. Her work is hallucinatory yet unpredictable. Just when she lulls you into her spell she’ll hit you with a jab that stings. If I could take one book to an island it might be Swim for the Little One First. I can’t wait for this new collection from one of our most innovative and important writers.
Vi Khi Nao’s A Brief Alphabet of Torture (FC2): The title of this book should be reason enough, right? I’ve only been aware of Vi Khi Nao’s work in the last year or so, but still haven’t actually checked it out. FC2 is one of my favorite presses and if she won Sukenick Prize, judged by one of my favorite writers, Joanna Ruocco, then that certainly inspires much excitement.
Aimee Parkison’s Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman (FC2): The same from above applies here. I haven’t checked out Parkison, but the title and the press are enough for me. Also, Brian Evenson listed her book The Petals of Your Eyes as one of his “six books that justify making you sick to your stomach.” That kind of endorsement from that kind of writer makes me as excited as I could possibly be.
Magda Szabó’s Katalin Street, trans. Len Rix (NYRB): My favorite novel I read last year was probably Szabó’s The Door. Many of the images are seared into my head: the black stumps; the cat dangling from the doorknob; the digging up of the graves; the collapsing of the horse. But it was actually the creepy psychological tension created by a truly unusual relationship that was even more affecting. No clue what this new one is about but I’m so happy that more of her work is being translated.
Edwidge Danticat’s The Art of Death: Writing the Final Story (Graywolf): Danticat writing about death sounds like a book everyone should read. I read her collection of linked stories, The Dew Breaker, in complete awe. Such a strong and powerful voice. I also need to go back and check out the rest of her work but I think I’m gonna let The Art of Death lead the way.
Leonora Carrington’s The Complete Stories (Dorothy, a publishing project): Everything Dorothy puts out is incredible. Do yourself a favor and purchase their whole catalog. If Dorothy is putting out a complete stories then that means it is amazing. It also means that I am very excited to read it.
Patty Yumi Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (McSweeney’s): I recently read Patty’s story “Peace” in The White Review. I love the velocity and voice in the piece and can’t wait to see what she does with a novel.
Peter Markus’s Inside My Pencil (Dzanc): This is a memoir about Peter teaching in the Detroit Public Schools. I’m sure it’s much more than that, and told in a way that only Peter can. The rhythm and melody to Peter’s sentences are truly things of beauty. As someone who has taken his online workshops, I can say that he is one of the most inspiring and helpful teachers I’ve ever had. I look forward to getting a more thorough portrait of Peter’s world through this book.
Victor Rodriguez Núñez’s Night Badly Written: Poems 2000-2015, trans. Katherine Hedeen; and Javier Etchevarren’s Fable of an Inconsolable Man, trans. Jesse Lee Kercheval (Action Books): Action Books is another press that you can buy the whole catalog. They focus on works in translation and I rarely know anything about the work prior to reading but it’s always on fire. These are their first two releases of the year and I’m sure they’ll follow the trend.
Aase Berg’s Hackers, trans. Johannes Göransson (Black Ocean): I did a project for school recently that focuses on the Aase Berg poem “Deer Quake” where the narrator is crawling around inside a dead deer carcass. That’s kinda what it feels like reading Berg’s work: crawling inside a dead deer carcass. Or at least I imagine a dead deer carcass to feel/sound/taste like the material of Berg’s words. Aase Berg is my favorite poet.
Here are the titles I’m looking forward to, given in no particular order:
New Work from The Oulipo (Verbivoracious Press), edited by Ian Monk
My Back Pages: Reviews and Essays (Zerogram), by Steven Moore
Of Darkness (Deep Vellum), by Josefine Klougart
Not One Day (Deep Vellum), by Anne Garrétta
Beyond the Blurb: On Critics and Criticism (Cow Eye Press), by Daniel Green
The Major Refutation (Contra Mundum), by Pierre Senges
Broken River (Graywolf), by J. Robert Lennon
A Cup of Rage (New Directions), by Raduan Nassar
Five Fingers (Dalkey Archive), by Māra Zālīte
Chronicle of the Murdered House (Open Letter), by Lucio Cardoso
And a book that proved hard to get but that I’m looking forward to: Movieola! (Dzanc Books), by John Domini.
Offhand, here are a few books that have piqued my interest in the coming year…
I was tremendously impressed by the surreal, vivid, and sometimes unsettling stories in Rios de la Luz’s debut collection, The Pulse Between Dimensions and the Desert. (Full disclosure: I published one of the stories at Vol.1 Brooklyn). I don’t know much about her followup, the novella Itzá (due this April on Broken River), but based on what I’ve read from her so far, I’m looking forward to reading it.
Robert Lopez’s fiction is never predictable, whether he’s exploring a character’s flaws and delusions, or using prose to convey an unlikely method of viewing the world. His next novel, All Back Full (Dzanc, February) explores a series of deceptions and intimate relationships between a trio of characters.
I’ve been impressed by Norman Lock’s ongoing The American Novels project, which riffs on canonical literary works in unexpected ways, never covering the same ground or the same themes twice. The latest in this is A Fugitive in Walden Woods (Bellevue Literary Press, May), which explores race and philosophy in mid-19th century America.
Last year I got to read the work of João Gilberto Noll for the first time, and was haunted by how his short novel Quiet Creature on the Corner explored systematic violence and dehumanization in increasingly surreal ways. So I’m eager to read Atlantic Hotel (Two Lines Press, May), which looks like it’s going to delve into some similar questions.
Nat Baldwin’s The Red Barn (Calamari) — Nat’s prose collects a menagerie of bones, hair, rot, maggots, voids, and father-objects. Think: ambient horror, which describes reality. I admire how sense arises from sound in Nat’s work, and how this sense acts as both a noun (an intuitive awareness) and a verb (to perceive). In these stories, the abyss shines with dark light.
Patty Yumi Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (McSweeney’s) — Patty’s first novel is a fugue that takes place in the mind of a narrator investigating her brother’s suicide. The book is a thinking text, with each sentence acting as a monument that becomes a ruin the moment you read it. Patty reads widely across generic and geographic boundaries, and her sensibility as a writer reflects this.
Jeff T. Johnson’s Trouble Songs: A Musicological Poetics (Punctum Books) — Jeff, a poet and seasoned culture writer, spent eight years thinking about the use of the word “trouble” in 20th and 21st century music. Trouble Songs is the result of this endeavor. It’s both analytical and lyrical—think Rosmarie Waldrop meets Greil Marcus.
Vi Khi Nao’s A Brief Alphabet of Torture (FC2) — How to describe Vi’s writing? It is a form of magic.
Finally, although she’s not yet published on a small press, I am so excited for anything that composer/writer Kristin Hayter (who makes music under the moniker Lingua Ignota) shares with the world this year. She is one of my heroines.
Here’s a list of a few small press books I’m excited about. There are obviously a few I’m forgetting, and I tend to find myself most excited about the books that I don’t know are out there and that surprise me…
Antoine Volodine, Radiant Terminus (Open Letter Press): This is one of Volodine’s best and most expansive novels—humane, maddening, and full of the oddnesses that characterize his prose, and the translation is excellent. I wrote the introduction for it, and can’t recommend it highly enough.
Leonora Carrington, The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Dorothy, a publishing project): This for me is my most anticipated book of the year. Carrington write fiction in a way entirely her own, and having her work back in print in English is a major thing.
Leonora Carrington, Down Below and The Milk of Dreams (NYRB): Not one but three Carringtons to be published in 2017? I am declaring 2017 the year of the white rabbits (you’ll have to read her short fiction to make sense of why).
César Aira, Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof (New Directions): New novellas from Aira are always a cause for celebration, and they’re likely to move in any direction.
Fleur Jaeggy, I Am the Brother of XX (New Directions): I liked the other slim Jaeggy books that New Directions published very much, and am curious to see where this one will go.
Duncan Barlow, The City, Awake (Stalking Horse Press): A metaphysical noir by the author of the odd Super Cell Anemia. What’s not to like?
Patty Yumi Cottrell, Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (McSweeney’s): I had the chance to read this in galleys. It’s a wonderful book about a woman investigating her brother’s suicide.
Tom McCarthy, Typewriters, Bombs, Jellyfish (NYRB): McCarthy is always provocative as both a fiction writer and an essayist—check out his great book on Tintin. This is his own selection of what he feels are his best essays.
Scott McClanahan, The Sarah Book (New York Tyrant): McClanahan continues his semi-autobiographical account of his life in West Virginia. Likely to be gritty, odd, and compelling.
Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties (Graywolf): I’ve really loved the stories of hers I’ve read in magazines, and I think this is likely to be one of the strongest small press collections of the year. Machado has a good ear for language and a penchant for erasing genre boundaries.
David Leo Rice, A Room in Dodge City (Alternating Current Press): This is a deeply odd book in all the best ways. It’s the kind of book that after you read it you wonder “What the hell just happened to me?”
Juan Rulfo, The Golden Cockerel and Other Writings (Deep Vellum Press): I loved Pedro Paramo and can’t want to see what goes on with these pieces.
Renee Gladman, Prose Architectures (Wave Books): One of my favorite essay/hybrid books of last year was Gladman’s Calamities. This book, which concerns the way Gladman uses drawings as an extension of her writing process and has an afterword by Fred Moten is sure to be worthwhile.
Jesse Ball, Sleep, Death’s Brother (Pioneer Works Press): Described as “an instruction manual on dreaming for children or incarcerated persons, teaching such individuals to lucid dream and thus use their dreams to somewhat escape their situations.”
João Gilberto Noll, Atlantic Hotel (Two Lines Press): I loved the first Noll book that Two Lines Press published, Quiet Creature on the Corner, and imagine I’ll love this one as well.
Cynan Jones, The Long Dry (Coffee House Press): If you don’t know Welsh writer Cynan Jones, you’re in for a treat.
Camilla Grudova, The Doll’s Alphabet (Coffee House Press): Strange, grotesque, and surreal stories.
Janice Lee and Michael Du Plessis, Decapitation (Penny-Ante Press): A series of creative responses to specific decapitations in films, this is an amazing blend of film criticism, poetry, essay, and philosophy. I think Penny-Ante’s going to be releasing this as a PDF.
Sofia Samatar, Tender (Small Beer Press): Samatar’s first two novels with Small Beer were very strong. I’m looking forward to this collection of stories.
Layli Long Soldier, Whereas (Graywolf): I’ve seen enough of her individual poems to make me very intrigued about this, her first poetry collection.
Gary Lutz, Assisted Living (Future Tense Press): A chapbook with four new stories written in Lutz’s maddening, precise, and magnificent style.
Gabe Habash, Stephen Florida (Coffee House Press): About a troubled college wrestler becoming unhinged. As a high school wrestler, how can I resist?
Aimee Parkison, Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman (FC2): Chosen by Stephen Graham Jones for the Catherine Doctorow Prize, this is described as “a darkly comical collection…”
Vi Khi Nao, A Brief Alphabet of Torture (FC2): A new book by Vi is always a cause for celebration. Chosen by Joanna Ruocco for the Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction contest.
Deb Olin Unferth, Wait Till You See Me Dance (Graywolf): I loved Unferth’s first collection Minor Robberies (McSweeney’s), and am excited about the new one.
Tomaž Šalamun, Druids (Black Ocean): I’m very sorry that Salamun is gone, but happy that Black Ocean is committed to bringing the rest of his work out in English. He’s an essential and important poet.
Jeremy Robert Johnson, Entropy in Bloom (Skyhorse Publishing): I wrote the introduction to this. Johnson has long been on my radar since I read Extinction Journals some years back. This is a genre-bending collection that shows bizarro at its best.
Andrew Elias Colarusso, The Sovereign (Dalkey Archive Press): According to Dalkey Archive, “the charming magical realism of the Latin Boom (that forgot about Puerto Rico) is here warped by the uncanny spectacle of an emancipated colonial imaginary.” Sounds like just what I need in these strange times…
Donald Breckenridge, And Then (Black Sparrow/David R. Godine): Called “a haunting take on the traditional ghost story,” this is a blended series of stories about “the way lives resonate and connect” and Breckenridge is a smart, skilled writer.
Pamela Ryder, Paradise Field (FC2): A beautifully written book about a father’s death from a daughter’s perspective, told as a series of shards that reassemble his life and hers
Gnome by Robert Lunday (Black Sun Lit): Self-reflective, discursive, and painfully studied, Gnome is a poetic and phenomenological excavation of shadows; the tragicomic dimensions of our inner curiosities and longings that wait pensively to be ruptured into epiphany. Employing a language that devises to question the renegade forces of experience that the soul must both adorn and endure, Lunday confronts the unstable yet tempting relationship between expression and proof, memory and personal reality. Invoking physiological positions from figures ranging from Georges Bataille and Max Picard to Kōbō Abe and Elaine Scarry, Gnome is a monologue of mad reveries that endeavors to develop its own impression of love and death, proving that the surfaces we encounter are the materialization of the endless depths at our disposal. Read an excerpt in Vestiges.
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell (McSweeney’s): Here is a writer whose every word is wrought with the certain kind of tension that can only be relieved through the reduction of language to an insufficiency: a deficiency of the very condition of the word—that is, the order which bodies it, gives it definition and value, interprets it as a foreigner amongst a false cohesion—indispensible to literature’s renewal, “and so soon after death.” The point-of-view of the adoptee, which compels Cottrell’s debut novel, is an apt approach to the allegory of transformation, the nothing being not quite what it seems, and shares with it the pain of separation, loss, isolation, falseness, and the overwhelming feeling of, despite appearances, being “exactly the same, just of a different material and texture.” Grief looms large in Sorry to Disrupt the Peace. For the adoptee, however, grief can be an unceasing, permanently resided experience that is less the result of an unfortunate circumstance than it is a mechanism in which to make bare that which is often widely perceived as undesirable. Read an excerpt in BuzzFeed.
And Then by Donald Breckenridge (David R. Godine/Black Sparrow Press): Breckenridge is an engineer of disparate realities. To read his work is to be immediately seized by a narrative deluge in which dialogue and action, thought and gesture, memory and anticipation intersect within a single sentence not aggressively against one another in a competition for superiority, but harmoniously to form intricate patterns and performances of our inner dramas that embroider the complexity of living within the flood of anxieties, desires, scandals, regrets, disappointments, and banalities which, when amalgamated, illustrate both the distant and familiar necessary to the dismantling of every-day existence. And it is this very disrepair of fiction that Breckenridge has refined over the years of writing, day after day, which has me very much looking forward to And Then—what I expect to be the next step in the maturation of a writer who, his erudition of provocative, experimental literary traditions notwithstanding, continues to rejuvenate methods of invigorating narrative experimentation. Read an excerpt in BOMB.
Nioque of the Early Spring by Francis Ponge, translated from the French by JD Larson (Red Dust Books): Before Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ponge disputed the signified meaning of objects with an attention to spiritual, cosmogonic dilemmas lacking in the former and a poetic/essayistic ingenuity reminiscent of Baudelaire’s Paris Spleen and Twenty Prose Poems that set him apart from contemporaries with whom he shared creative space in such avant-garde journals as Nouvelle Revue Français and Philippe Sollers’s Tel Quel. The beauty of Ponge’s work is, certainly, its “sacrificial death” (as Lee Fahnestock has put it), the way in which he operates within an impoverished vocabulary; the spontaneity of images and the possibility of form that open unexpectedly (as all great poetry should) following the exhaustion of words. Nioque reads almost like a reinvented pastoral, in which nature replies—with a cold, indifferent “meanness”—to the Marvellian assumption that the world belongs to mankind. Larson, an excellent poet himself, serves equally well Ponge’s poetry and the English audience he deserves. Read an excerpt in The Brooklyn Rail.
Other titles to look forward to:
Silk Flowers by Meghan Lamb (Birds of Lace)
Outplace by Lital Khaikin (Solar Luxuriance)
March Hares by Aidan Higgins (Dalkey Archive Press)
District by Tony Duvert, translated from the French by S. C. Delaney and Agnès Potier (Wakefield Press)
Essays on the Self by Virginia Woolf (NYRB Classics)
Gary Oldman Is A Building You Must Walk Through by Forrest Roth (What Books Press)
Renee Gladman’s Prose Architectures (Wave Books): I’ve read and taught her work for years now. Calamities might be the only one I haven’t read, but it’s in the queue now. Her ability to create a world both clear and foggy and compact and expansive and miniature and gigantic just blows me away. Her sentences quiver at a frequency I find soothing and pleasurable.
Julio Cortázar’s Literature Class, Berkeley 1980 (New Directions): Hopscotch is one of those books that radically shifted my thinking about the possibilities of narrative: the modular nature, the game, the way characters become characters on the page. My first novel wouldn’t exist without it, and my pedagogy includes a similar emphasis on a reader-centered approach to engagements with literature. So I’m super stoked to get the experience of taking a class with him.
Susan Howe’s Debths (New Directions): My wife, Caitlin, loves Susan Howe. So I put this book on my list for my wife, but I also admire Howe’s commitment to pushing poetry in difficult directions, and I love her definition of poetry as the intersection of sight, sound, and sense, so look forward to seeing what strange new thing she’s got for us in this one.
Will Alexander’s Across the Vapour Gulf (New Directions): Hands down one of the most amazing writers writing today. Each of his books seem like messages from outer space. I’ve seen him talk and give readings and thanks to the kindness of Janice Lee I’ve even had the pleasure of hosting a conversation and question session with he and Rae Armantrout at Beyond Baroque. In all of these encounters, his presence and his perspective brought me into a sense of alertness I rarely encounter.
Sofia Samatar’s Tender (Small Beer Press): Her previous novels sparkle with strangeness, and while I’m not really a fan of short stories I will make an exception for this one.
Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter (Semiotext(e)): If Kate has a book, I’m gonna get that book and read it three times and then probably teach it.
Writers Who Love Too Much: New Narrative Writing 1977-1997, eds. Dodie Bellamy & Kevin Killian (Nightboat): OH MY GOD, Becky. Look at that book. 600 pages?!! Seriously, of all the books coming out this year, this is the one I’m most excited about.
Chiwan Choi’s The Yellow House (CCM): I read that excerpt in the New York Times Magazine and wanted to read the rest of it right then and there and was pissed that I didn’t already own it. That excerpt reminded me of one of my favorite poems of all time, a Charles Bernstein poem from Girly Man called “every lake…”
Gabrielle Civil’s Swallow the Fish (CCM): My fellow #RECURRENT labelmate’s book looks awesome. A memoir in performance art? Yes, please. Can’t wait to read it.
Leonora Carrington, The Complete Stories (Dorothy, a publishing project): Every single Dorothy book is badass. I’m reading Léger’s Barbara Loden book now and it’s dope. I’m already a fan of Carrington, but have only read The Hearing Trumpet, so I can’t wait to read more.
Nat Baldwin’s The Red Barn from Calamari Press: I knew Nat’s music first, as bassist for the Dirty Projectors and then through his solo work, but it’s great to see him rain music onto the page. The stories I’ve encountered already in The Red Barn are raw and relentless, disturbing in the original sense of “utter tumult, and the book object itself looks like a stunner, a slatted structure for the hands to pry apart.
Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions (Coffee House Press): Having had the fortune to hear Luiselli read from this when she was a Visiting Writer at my school, I’ve had it living in the back of my head for the past year or so. In its exploration of the complexities and brutalities of our immigration policies, and its deft interweaving of her own family narrative with that of the undocumented children, usually bereft of families and options beyond survival, it is unsparing. And now, as things go daily “from Guatebad to Guateworse,” as she quotes in the book, this one feels all the more urgent, and its title might very well serve as an abject mantra for our times.
Mathias Énard’s Compass (New Directions). I’ve been on a bit of an Énard kick lately, simultaneously reading Zone and the rather different Street of Thieves, both from the wonderful Open Letter. This latest, concerning an insomniac musicologist, seems to fall on the Zone side of things–I’m anticipating more of its delirious cascade of impressions and juxtapositions, a house not of mirrors but of hinges.
Emma Smith-Stevens’s debut novel The Australian (Dzanc) is a sui generis mutation of the coming of age story, bearing us through topographies at once recognizable and remote, physical and mental, with a compass set in “defamiliarize” mode. I was fortunate enough to read an earlier draft, but am eagerly anticipating it in its final incarnation.
And one more on my radar is Jarret Middleton’s Darkansas (Dzanc)—I actually don’t know much about it, but given Middleton’s ongoing interest in The Philosophical Novel, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be into it.
Enfermario by Gabriela Torres Olivares, Translated by Jennifer Donovan (Les Figues Press): Gabriela Torres Olivares is one of my favorite living writers; her sentences are devastating, beautiful, utterly desired, and then, are like the skin that needs to be shed off in cycles. After all, we are reptilian. The words are wounds and portals, and her narratives somehow puncture into the heart of what it means to be a human among other humans, monstrous, touching, apparitions of each other and of the disappearing myths that are still embedded in our bloodstream. The stories in Enfermario exist somehow as the sediment for our current condition, as the evidence of our sad secrets, and as the inflections of our uncanny and everyday cognition.
Swallow the Fish by Gabrielle Civil (Civil Coping Mechanisms): Gabrielle Civil’s Swallow the Fish is a memoir in performance art that explores the medium from within its beating heart. This book is badass, beautiful, brilliant, and so necessary. I can’t wait for readers to discover it.
Sorry to Disrupt the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell (McSweeney’s): This is a debut that I’m super excited about.
Names of the Lion by Ibn Khālawayh, Translated by David Larsen (Wave Books): “Poet and scholar David Larsen’s English translation of the late 10th century Arabic lexicographer Ibn Khālawayh’s list of names of lions. Essentially a book of translation about translation, this unique work engages medieval linguistic scholarship with precision and clarity. Larsen’s lively introduction, notes, and the 400 epithets are an engrossing work of cultural studies.”
Recitation by Bae Suah, Translated by Deborah Smith (Deep Vellum): Bae Suah is one of the most interesting writers writing today and the way she defamiliarizes what we know, how uncertainty is embraced, really challenges notions of narrative and perception and memory.
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington by Leonora Carrington (Dorothy, a publishing project): Yesssssssssss.
Frontier by Can Xue, Translated by Karen Gernant & Chen Zeping (Open Letter)
Prose Architectures by Renee Gladman (Wave Books)
Cake Time by Siel Ju (Red Hen Press)
The Yellow House by Chiwan Choi (Civil Coping Mechanisms)
Fable of an Inconsolable Man by Javier Etchevarren, translated by Jesse Lee Kercheval
Not One Day by Anne Garréta. Translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (Deep Vellum Press): In the introduction to Barbara Henning’s Looking Up Harryette Mullen (2011) Juliana Spahr somewhat blithely describes the Oulipo as being “not only mainly French but also mainly male.” Spahr continues, “I believe they admitted a woman once. She seems to have quit at some point.” Though Michèle Métail is no longer an active member, the Oulipo—contrary to Spahr’s suggestion—added four formidable women to its ranks between 1995 and 2009: Michelle Grangaud, Anne Garréta, Valérie Beaudouin, and Michèle Audin. Work by the women members of the Oulipo—arguably some of the most exciting writing being produced by the group–is largely underappreciated in an Anglophone context due, in part, because much of it has not yet been translated into English. Deep Vellum Press has been making major strides in rectifying this lack. In 2015, Deep Vellum published Emma Ramadan’s translation of Garréta’s debut novel Sphinx, an innovative love story that avoids pinning down the genders of the two main characters. And in 2016, Deep Vellum released Christiana Hills’s translation of Audin’s One Hundred Twenty-One Days, a brilliant example of what Linda Hutcheon has called “historiographic metafiction,” a postmodern form of highly self-reflexive writing that “both install[s] and then blur[s] the line between fiction and history.” Not One Day will give English speakers a better sense of one of the Oulipo’s most gifted and provocative writers; and it will likely be a key text in discussions about gender, the Oulipo’s legacy, and formal constraint.
Wild Geese Returning by Michèle Métail. Translated from the French by Jody Gladding. Introduction by Jeffery Yang. (New York Review of Books): This critical anthology of “Chinese reversible poems”—its focus is on fourth century poet and expert palindromist Su Hui—may help us reconsider the relation between the classical and the avant-garde. Hopefully Wild Gees Returning will show that Métail’s contributions to literary culture needn’t be exclusively defined by her former affiliation with the Oulipo.
Claudia Cortese’s Wasp Queen (Black Lawrence Press): Prose poems that read like the verse backstory of a novel. A must for fans of Mathias Svalina’s Wastoid.
Armando Jaramillio Garcia’s The Portable Man (Prelude Books): The second book from one of the most searching poetry journals of our day. Garcia delivers exquisite lyrics that bring the knotted surrealism of Vallejo to a generation that writes its name as the tagline of the latest meme.
Adam Tedesco’s Ablaza (Lithic Books): The latest offering from one of the most prolific poets and editors of the independent poetry scene. The student of Bernadette Mayer reminds us that even our morning inbox can be a source of magic.
Kaveh Akbar’s Portrait of the Alcoholic (Sibling Rivalry Press): If the poetry world had a homerun derby, Akbar would be the current king. 2016 was the year he seemed to be hitting every pitch over the fence, with poem after poem in the journals that every writer dreams of cracking. This is Akbar’s last turn in the minors. Savor it.
Wendy Xu’s Phrasis (Fence Books): The latest full-length from a young master of carving words in space. I first found her work through Naturalism, published by Brooklyn Arts Press. It will be a fine, fine day when this book arrives in my mailbox.
Jessie Janeshek’s The Shaky Phase (Stalking Horse Press): Janeshek delivers soul and surrealism. She is a poet that cares about the reader’s joy in reading and then re-reading her work aloud. Her work is dotted with tiny gems like “pink champagne proclivity.”
A few selections:
Marosa di Giorgio’s I Remember Nightfall (UDP)
Francis Ponge’s The Table (Wakefield)
Laura Vena’s x/she: stardraped (1913)
Lionel Ziprin’s Songs for Schizoid Siblings (The Song Cave)
Antoine Volodine’s Radiant Terminus (Open Letter)
Osama Alomar’s The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories (New Directions)
Laura Raicovich’s At the Lightning Field (Coffee House)
Erika T. Wurth’s Buckskin Cocaine (Astrophil Press).
Joanna Ruocco’s The Whitmire Case.
Dawn Lundy Martin’s Good Stock Strange Blood (Coffee House Press).
Duncan Barlow’s The City, Awake (Stalking Horse Press).
Make X (Featherproof)
Lillian-Yvonne Bertram’s Personal Science (Tupelo Press)
Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas (Graywolf)
It’s only January, and already I have a long reading list for the year. Here we go, in order of pub month:
Jerzy: A Novel by Jerome Charyn, Bellevue Literary Press, March: A prolific and fiercely original novelist, Charyn—who, in recent years has trained his keen eye on Emily Dickinson and Abraham Lincoln, now turns to the enigmatic Jerzy Kosinski. With Charyn, the results are always dazzling
Veer: Short Fictions by Kim Chinquee, Ravenna Press, Spring: Chinquee can accomplish in a few sentences what most of us can’t achieve in hundreds of page
The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot by Jack Driscoll, Wayne State University Press, April: Set mostly in Northern Michigan, these precise, intricately constructed stories feel crystalline in their authenticity. Driscoll is a masterful writer who makes it look easy.
The Lemon Jell-O Syndrome by Man Martin, Unbridled Books, May: This kickass novel centers around Bone King, an etymologist who suspects his wife is cheating, and who begins to suffer from the peculiar titular condition. Strange, smart, and unnervingly funny.
White Plains by Gordon Lish, Little Island Press, June: Seriously, do I need to explain why a new book by Lish is an event? If I do, then we are not on the same page. Just buy it, okay?
In the Land of the Eternal Spring by Alan Howard, Harvard Square Editions, June: Set in Guatemala in the 1960s, Howard’s novel about politics, idealism, regret and lost love is not only profoundly moving but also timeless in its resonance.
After Paradise by Robley Wilson, Black Lawrence Press, July: Wilson is one of our finest American writers, and here he is at the top of his game. This post WWII-era story, set in and around a carnival in small-town Maine, is brilliant in its detail and depth of character, with an ending that will stun you.
Paradise Field by Pamela Ryder, FC2, August: In these formally inventive stories, Ryder writes with laser-like honesty and uncommon wit about the decline and loss of her father. She has the ear of a poet and the soul of a warrior.
Matt Briggs, A Frog in My Throat, Fall 2017, Dr. Cicero Books: These very short stories about husbands and wives, misguided giants, failed bullies, beauty and menace, shadows and mold move seamlessly from the quotidian to the rattlingly fantastical, all the while feeling piercingly real.
I am really looking forward to Geeta Kothari’s debut book of short stories, I Brake for Moose (Braddock Avenue Books). She’s such a smart, funny, and wry writer–and she’s mostly known for her nonfiction essays (she’s also nonfiction editor of The Kenyon Review). But she’s an excellent fiction writer, too. I read the title story when it came out, years ago, in The Massachusetts Review, and loved it. And loved her essays before that, when I came across one in 2000.
Also, Nate Pritts’ forthcoming book: Decoherence, which won the 42 Miles Press Poetry Award and will be published in the fall of 2017. I really loved his last book, Post Human. Here’s a link to the new book: https://42milespress.com/tag/revenant-tracer
Also, I quote from him (an email from him) in my most recent blog post on putting together story and essay collection—he’s such a thoughtful writer. Here’s what he said to me:
These questions, about ordering, are really so crucial. I think about them a lot. I have much I could say. But maybe first I’d say you should trust yourself – reading those first and last paragraphs to see what resonance there is makes a lot of sense. Also, if your instincts suggest coming up with a structure for sections, I’d say go for it, explore it. For me, sections have always been obvious (ie, series of poems, or seasonal) or mysterious (which is to say, I roughly feel like there is a first and second section and organize poems according to those currents).
Maybe just think about the pieces overall. What shapes or recurrences or narratives define what you’re writing about: interior / exterior, journeying and returning, etc. The question then is, for example, if you can ascertain a rough interior / exterior divide, do you separate them or intersperse them for strengthening?
For poems, I tend to print out ALL the poems and spread them on the floor (or desks, whatever, all over the house) and then just walk around reading them and picking them up as I go as it makes sense, if I’m finding those riffs and connections. If these are shorter pieces, maybe you could do that too? Or maybe you could just start with one piece – is there one that seems like a center or kernel? Then what piece of the other 21 pieces goes before it? Or after it? And start working out organically in waves.
Deepak Unnikrishnan’s Temporary People (Restless Books)
Morgan Parker’s There Are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé (Tin House Books)
Patty Yumi Cottrell’s Sorry to Disrupt the Peace (McSweeney’s)
Kim Chinquee’s Veer, from Ravenna Press: Very un-flashy short-short fictions on the toughening of a girl. The unstated bleeds through again and again, with poignant intensity.
Mary Jo Bang’s A Doll for Throwing, from Graywolf: Her eighth book of poetry. “We were ridiculous―me, with my high jinks and hat.”
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington, from The Dorothy Project: English-born Mexican artist, surrealist painter, and novelist, not to mention founding member of the Women’s Liberation Movement in Mexico, Carrington had sex as a subject.”Candlestick” is a code that she commonly used to represent her family, and the word “lord” for her father.
The Service Porch by Fred Moten (Letter Machine Editions), out this month: The third and final volume of his poetic trilogy (including The Feel Trio and The Little Edges), the new book is said to be “an open letter, a play list, and a hive of prayer and joy.” His previous book was a finalist for the NBA, and I don’t mean basketball.
And there’s D. Foy, who’s on a three-book roll with Absolutely Golden, number two out in September from Stalking Horse Press. It’s 1973, and a thirty-something widow has been cajoled by a young hippie parasite into financing their vacation to a nudist colony in the Northern California mountains. Need I say more?
A list of 2017 books I am most excited to read:
Berit Ellingsen’s Vessel and Solvart (Snuggly Books)
Kate Zambreno’s Book of Mutter (MIT Press)
Steph Post’s Lightwood
Brian Alan Ellis’s Something to Do With Self-Hate
Joshua Mohr’s Sirens
The Complete Stories of Leonora Carrington (Dorothy, a publishing project)
Amy Saul Zerby’s Paper Flowers Imaginary Birds
The small press scene is so vast that it’s hard to keep up and make way for the new. I keep an eye on a couple presses that have a clear mission and aesthetic. I also gravitate towards works in translation. Here’s a short list of books I’ve read recently or am about to read:
Suite for Barbara Loden, by Nathalie Leger, translated from the French by Natasha Lehrer and Cecile Menon (Dorothy, a publishing project): Dorothy continues to put out extraordinary books, and this one, which I read in fall 2016, might be my favorite yet. Suite for Barbara Loden is a film encyclopedia entry gone awry, a tender, lucid tale of the obsession of one French writer for an American actress and director. Loden directed only one film, Wanda, in which she also starred, playing a miserable, passive woman coerced into a bank robbery. Leger explores Loden’s biography and the making of the film with a calm, clear prose that floats into mysterious byways—coal slag, Mickey Mantle, prison officials.
Radiant Terminus, by Antoine Volodine, trans. from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Open Letter): The mysterious Volodine is also known as Manuela Draeger, and in this guise I read her In the Time of the Blue Ball, one of the first books published by Dorothy, a publishing project. That book was almost a children’s book, a softly wandering tale of this and that in a dark and destroyed world. Radiant Terminus is described as a Tarkovskian post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel. I don’t know if the shifting pen names of this author mean different styles or genres. I am curious to read more, by whoever this person is.
Seeing People Off, by Jana Benova (Two Dollar Radio): Translated from Czech, and Two Dollar Radio is doing several more of her books. I really enjoyed The Gloaming last year, and trust this press to pick overlooked books from elsewhere. This is Benova’s first translation into English, though she has several European prizes.
Rayfish, by Mary Hickman (Omnidawn): This intrigues me as a mixture of poetry, memoir and criticism, an undefinable gliding sentence by sentence. Hickman grew up in China, and Rayfish captures distant beaches abroad as well as closer visions, and works of art and lives of artists. Hickman weaves complex subject matter together in simple prose, making exceptional leaps and gaps as the narrative turns to new topics.
Island of the Mad, by Laurie Sheck (Counterpoint): Sheck’s small fragments of prose nevertheless have a narrative pull, as a hunchback searches the islands of Venice for a notebook related to sleeplessness and epilepsy. This novel is full of irresistible gems: “Guatier wrote of the ‘four species of blackness’ he observed as he moved through a canal at night for the first time: first the water’s oily darkness; then the tempestuous darkness of the sky…; the black opacity of narrow walls on one side of the canal made briefly erratic by his boat’s reddish light; and finally, on the other side, looming and disappearing at once, the darkness of grilled doors.”
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker (Tin House)
Everything Is Flammable by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized)
Walking with Walser by Carl Seelig (New Directions, translated by Anne Posten)
Finks by Joel Whitney (O/R Books)
These Possible Lives by Fleur Jaeggy (New Directions, translated by Minna Proctor)
300 Arguments by Sarah Manguso (Graywolf)
Wait Till You See Me Dance by Deb Olin Unferth (Graywolf)
The Teeth of the Comb and Other Stories by Osama Alomar (New Directions, translated by Collins and the author)
Nature Poem by Tommy Pico (Tin House)
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press)
Nicotine by Gregor Hens (Other Press, translated by Jen Calleja)
Incest by Christine Angot (Archipelago Books, translated from by Tess Lewis)
Make Trouble by John Waters (Algonquin)
The Accusation by Bandi (Grove, translated by Deborah Smith).