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Most Anticipated Small Press Releases: May 2021

Happy May Day, that is, International Workers Day! Hope you had a chance to dance around a tree today, dance into being and becoming the revolution Emma Goldman dreamed about, struggled to realize: “freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.”

Here are some compelling forthcoming May 2021 small press books that captured my attention, including Big Other contributors Forrest Gander’s Twice Alive (which includes two poems originally published in Big Other) and John Domini‘s The Archeology of a Good Ragù: Discovering Naples, My Father, and Myself.



Eric Laursen’s The Operating System: An Anarchist Theory of the Modern State

From AK Press: “One of the most unique aspects of anarchism as a political philosophy is that it seeks to abolish the state. But what exactly is ‘the state’? The State is like a vast operating system for ordering and controlling relations among human society, the economy, and the natural world, analogous to a digital operating system like Windows or MacOS. Like a state, an operating system ‘governs’ the programs and applications under it and networked with it, as well as, to some extent, the individuals who avail themselves of these tools and resources. No matter how different states seem on the surface they share core similarities, namely: the State is a relatively new thing in world history; the State is European in origin and outlook; States are ‘individuals’ in the eyes of the law; the State claims the right to determine who is a person; the State is an instrument of violence and war; the State is above the law; the State is first and foremost an economic endeavor. Anyone concerned with entrenched power, income inequality, lack of digital privacy, climate change, the amateurish response to COVID-19, or military-style policing will find eye-opening insights into how states operate and build more power for themselves—at our expense. The state won’t solve our most pressing problems, so why do we obey? It’s time to think outside the state.”



Heller Levinson’s Lurk

From Black Widow Press: “Lurk seeps, coils, curls, coalesces, creeps…is both pause & meditation, percolation & pounce. This latest Hinge installment investigates terms such as ‘abyss,’ ‘gaze,’ ‘lurk,’ ‘thrall,’ ‘dwell,’ & ‘ruckus.’ Plumed from primordial gristle, scintillating dialogues with Wittgenstein, Miles, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, & Booker T. Little rattle our comfort stations while proffering salubrious insights.”



Marjorie Welish’s A Complex Sentence

From Coffee House Press: “In A Complex Sentence, Marjorie Welish builds immersive intertextual environments as she questions the canon of modernist poetry and the ways we talk about poetics. In her sixth collection with Coffee House, Welish continues to explore rhetorical practices, such as diagramming, inscription, and quotation, to call our attention to literary acts—from finding the right desk to getting lost at logic gates—yet all the while following the mental circuitry of dismantling and re-assembling a poetic language. Expertly manipulating the space of the page, her poems dissolve the boundaries between visual art and the written word. With her signature precision, musicality, and structural rigor, Welish turns the lyric poem into a critical instrument with which to think about the writer’s calling, through the specifics of language and literature.”



Lucy Alford’s Forms of Poetic Attention

From Columbia University Press: “A poem is often read as a set of formal, technical, and conventional devices that generate meaning or affect. However, Lucy Alford suggests that poetic language might be better understood as an instrument for tuning and refining the attention. Identifying a crucial link between poetic form and the forming of attention, Alford offers a new terminology for how poetic attention works and how attention becomes a subject and object of poetry. Forms of Poetic Attention combines close readings of a wide variety of poems with research in the philosophy, aesthetics, and psychology of attention. Drawing on the work of a wide variety of poets such as T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Frank O’Hara, Anne Carson, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Harryette Mullen, Al-Khansā’, Rainer Maria Rilke, Arthur Rimbaud, and Claudia Rankine, Alford defines and locates the particular forms of attention poems both require and produce. She theorizes the process of attention-making—its objects, its coordinates, its variables—while introducing a broad set of interpretive tools into the field of literary studies. Forms of Poetic Attention makes the original claim that attention is poetry’s primary medium, and that the forms of attention demanded by a poem can train, hone, and refine our capacities for perception and judgment, on and off the page.”



Information: A Reader, edited by Eric Hayot, Anatoly Detwyler, and Lea Pao

From Columbia University Press: “For decades, we have been told we live in the ‘information age,’ a time when disruptive technological advancement has reshaped the categories and social uses of knowledge and when quantitative assessment is increasingly privileged. Such methodologies and concepts of information are usually considered the provenance of the natural and social sciences, which present them as politically and philosophically neutral. Yet the humanities should and do play an important role in interpreting and critiquing the historical, cultural, and conceptual nature of information. This book is one of two companion volumes that explore theories and histories of information from a humanistic perspective. They consider information as a long-standing feature of social, cultural, and conceptual management, a matter of social practice, and a fundamental challenge for the humanities today. Information: A Reader provides an introduction to the concept of information in historical, literary, and cultural studies. It features excerpts from more than forty texts by theorists and critics who have helped establish the notion of the ‘information age’ or expand upon it. The reader establishes a canonical framework for thinking about information in humanistic terms. Together with Information: Keywords, it sets forth a major humanistic vision of the concept of information.”



The Essential June Jordan, edited by Jan Heller Levi, Christoph Keller

From Copper Canyon Press: “The Essential June Jordan honors the enduring legacy of a poet fiercely dedicated to building a better world. In this definitive volume, introduced by Pulitzer Prize winner Jericho Brown, June Jordan’s generous body of poetry is distilled and curated to represent the very best of her works. Written over the span of several decadesfrom Some Changes in 1971 to Last Poems in 2001Jordan’s poems are at once of their era and tragically current, with subject matter including racist police brutality, violence against women, and the opportunity for global solidarity amongst people who are marginalized or outside of the norm. In these poems of great immediacy and radical kindness, humor and embodied candor, readers will (re)discover a voice that has inspired generations of contemporary poets to write their truths. June Jordan is a powerful voice of the time-honored movement for justice, a poet for the ages.”



Ethel Rohan’s In the Event of Contact

From Dzanc Books: “Winner of the 2019 Dzanc Short Story Collection Prize, In the Event of Contact chronicles characters profoundly affected by physical connection, or its lack. Among them, a scrappy teen vies to be the next Sherlock Holmes; an immigrant daughter must defend her decision to remain childless; a guilt-ridden woman is haunted by the disappearance of her childhood friend; a cantankerous crossing guard celebrates getting run over by a truck; an embattled priest with dementia determines to perform a heroic, redemptive act, if he can only remember how; and an aspirational, angst-ridden mother captains the skies. Amidst backgrounds of trespass and absence, the indelible characters of In the Event of Contact seek renewed belief in themselves, recovery, and humanity.”



John Domini’s The Archeology of a Good Ragù: Discovering Naples, My Father, and Myself

From Guernica World Editions: “The Archeology of a Good Ragù offers a unique take on the recovery narrative. A damaged but savvy author finds new wholeness by way of a fascinating old city: Naples, Italy. John Domini’s exploration of the place little known to North Americans, yet rich in culture and challenge draws on decades of research, living with local friends and family. His work has appeared previously in the New York Times and elsewhere, and he’s published award-winning Neapolitan novels. This memoir will take readers into the back alleys and hidden beaches. It will examine intricacies of both romance and crime, and provide insight into the latest Naples immigrants, African refugees. Overall, Archeology of a Good Ragù turns the city into a prism that throws its colors across both urban and spiritual experience, everywhere.”



Donika Kelly’s The Renunciations

From Graywolf Press: “The Renunciations is a book of resilience, survival, and the journey to radically shift one’s sense of self in the face of trauma. Moving between a childhood marked by love and abuse and the breaking marriage of that adult child, Donika Kelly charts memory and the body as landscapes to be traversed and tended. These poems construct life rafts and sanctuaries even in their most devastating confrontations with what a person can bear, with how families harm themselves. With the companionship of ‘the oracle’—an observer of memory who knows how each close call with oblivion ends—the act of remembrance becomes curative, and personal mythologies give way to a future defined less by wounds than by possibility.”



Lina Meruane’s Nervous System, translated by Megan McDowell

From Graywolf Press: “In this extraordinary clinical biography of a family, full of affection and resentment, dark humor and buried secrets, illness describes the traumas that can be visited not just upon the body, but on families and on the history of the countries—present and past—that we live in.”



From Graywolf Press: “The Book of Not continues the saga of Tambudzai, picking up where Nervous Conditions left off. As Tambu begins secondary school at the Young Ladies’ College of the Sacred Heart, she is still reeling from the personal losses that war has inflicted upon her family—her uncle and sister were injured in a mine explosion. Soon she’ll come face to face with discriminatory practices at her mostly-white school. And when she graduates and begins a job at an advertising agency, she realizes that the political and historical forces that threaten to destroy the fabric of her community are outside the walls of the school as well. Tsitsi Dangarembga, honored with the 2021 PEN Award for Freedom of Expression, digs deep into the damage colonialism and its education system does to Tambu’s sense of self amid the struggle for Zimbabwe’s independence, resulting in a brilliant and incisive second novel.”



Anjali Enjeti’s The Parted Earth

From Hub City Press: “Spanning more than half a century and cities from New Delhi to Atlanta, Anjali Enjeti’s debut is a heartfelt and human portrait of the long shadow of the Partition of the Indian subcontinent on the lives of three generations. The story begins in August 1947. Unrest plagues the streets of New Delhi leading up to the birth of the Muslim majority nation of Pakistan, and the Hindu majority nation of India. Sixteen-year-old Deepa navigates the changing politics of her home, finding solace in messages of intricate origami from her secret boyfriend Amir. Soon Amir flees with his family to Pakistan and a tragedy forces Deepa to leave the subcontinent forever. The story also begins nearly seven decades later and half a world away, in Atlanta. While grieving both a pregnancy loss and the implosion of her marriage, Deepa’s granddaughter Shan begins the search for her estranged grandmother, a prickly woman who had no interest in knowing her. When she begins to piece together her family history shattered by the Partition, Shan discovers how little she actually knows about her ancestors and what they endured. For readers of Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins and Min Jin Lee’s PachinkoThe Parted Earth follows characters on their search for identity after loss uproots their lives. Above all, it is a novel about families weathering the lasting violence of separation, and how it can often take a lifetime to find unity and peace.”



K. M. English’s Wave Says

From Kore Press: “Poet K.M. English makes her literary debut with Wave Says, an impressionistic, eco-poetic collection inspired by the behavior of waves. English’s work enacts a theory of energies-in-presence and collapses borders (between interior/exterior, past/present, the living/dead) rendering a relational, distinctly feminist matrix of language, history, feeling, and body. From the floods in Katrina, to a child murdered by the water, to waves of grief, salt water rising, and an Orca carrying her dead baby on her back, Wave Says explores ideas of what drowns us. By turns philosophical, political, and elegiac, this watery work focuses on the power of imagination and memory, on our collective complicity in violence and our responsibilities—to one another, the earth, and the silences within ourselves.”



Tony Trigilio’s Proof Something Happened

From Marsh Hawk Press: Winner of the 2020 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize. Here’s contest judge Susan Howe’s praise for the collection: “Tony Trigilio has plucked an early incident of ufology from the margins of twentieth-century cultural history—Betty and Barney Hill’s close encounter—and created from a variety of documentary sources an original and highly resonant work of contemporary poetry. What comes into question in Proof Something Happened is how the imagination creates out of pervasive psychological tensions its own inner typology. Employing an open-ended poetics, Trigilio offers a range of angles from which to approach the Hills’ alleged abduction, challenging us to take responsibility for why we yearn to believe, or if not—what to expect.”



Forrest Gander’s Twice Alive

From New Directions: “In the searing poems of his new collection, Twice Alive, the Pulitzer Prize-winner Forrest Gander addresses the exigencies of our historical moment and the intimacies, personal and environmental, that bind us to others and to the world. Drawing from his training in geology and his immersion in Sangam literary traditions, Gander invests these poems with an emotional intensity that illuminates our deep-tangled interrelations. While conducting fieldwork with a celebrated mycologist, Gander links human intimacy with the transformative collaborations between species that compose lichens. Throughout Twice Alive, Gander addresses personal and ecological traumaseveral poems focus on the devastation wrought by wildfires in California where he lives–but his tone is overwhelmingly celebratory. Twice Alive is a book charged with exultation and tenderness.”



Thalia Field’s Personhood

From New Directions: “Whether investigating refugee parrots, indentured elephants, the pathetic fallacy, or the revolving absurdity of the human role in the invasive species crisis, Personhood reveals how the unmistakable problem between humans and our nonhuman relatives is too often the derangement of our narratives and the resulting lack of situational awareness. Building on her previous collection, Bird Lovers, Backyard, Thalia Field’s essayistic investigations invite us on a humorous, heartbroken journey into how people attempt to control the fragile complexities of a shared planet. The lived experiences of animals, and other historical actors, provide unique literary-ecological responses to the exigencies of injustice and to our delusions of special status.”


Michael Palmer’s Little Elegies for Sister Satan

From New Directions: “Little Elegies for Sister Satan presents searingly beautiful new poems by Michael Palmer, ‘the foremost experimental poet of his generation, and perhaps of the last several generations’ (citation for The Poetry Society of America’s Wallace Stevens Award). Grappling with our dark times and our inability to stop destroying the planet or to end our endless wars, Palmer offers a counterlight of wit (poetry was dead again / they said again), as well as the glow of wonder. In polyphonic passages, voices speak from a decentered place, yet are rooted in the whole history of culture that has gone before.”



Muriel Leung’s Imagine Us, The Swarm

From Nightboat Books: “Following the death of the poet’s father, Imagine Us, The Swarm contemplates vengeance, eschews forgiveness, and cultivates a desire for healing beyond the reaches of this present life. In this collection of essays in verse, Leung reconciles a familial history of violence and generational trauma across intersections of Asian American, queer, and gendered experiences. Moving between the past and the present, Leung imbues memories with something new to alter time and design a different future.”



Rosie Stockton’s Permanent Volta

From Nightboat Books: “In Permanent Volta, here are love poems about how queer intimacies invent political and poetic forms, how gender deviance imagines post-sovereign presents and futures. Full of bad grammar, strange sonnets, and truncated sestinas, these poems are for anyone motivated by the homoerotic and intimate etymology of comrade: one who shares the same room. If history sees writers as tops and muses as bottoms, these poems refuse, invert, and evade representation. Here, muses demand wages, then demand the world.”



Judy Grahn’s Eruptions of Inanna: Justice, Gender, and Erotic Power

From Nightboat Books: “In her trademark lusciously erotic writing, Judy Grahn illuminates eight dramatic stories exploring the Mesopotamian goddess Inanna’s power and relevance for contemporary queer feminist audiences. Psychologically rich, morally and ethically exhilarating, passionate and full of life, these stories reimagine central western myths—including the Book of Job and Gilgamesh—with women and queer people as central actors. In every sentence, Grahn proves how revisiting origin stories is a vital world-making activity.”



Seb Doubinsky’s Fragments of a Revolution

From Stalking Horse Press: “1969: Revolution in Mexico! Decades later, charismatic guerrilla leader Lorenzo is living in Europe with a young son. Approached by a German revolutionary organization for his account of the conflict, he struggles to recall repressed memories of violence, absurdity, and tragedy. Lorenzo’s past returns in Seb Doubinsky’s kaleidoscopic Fragments of a Revolution. Raging between moments of ecstatic liberation and quixotic disappointments, what emerges is a manifesto for freedom, no matter the price. Doubinsky’s depiction of the intellectual revolutionary in his reveries is immediately authentic. The visionary pride and bitter humor of the outsider and his misfit cadre are part of the iconography of the guerrilla. Just so, the meticulous dreams undone by adrenaline and unforeseen moments of chaos…”



S. D. Chrostowska’s A Cage for Every Child

From Sublunary Editions: “A hunter of giant worms is surprised by the sentience of their prey. A flower sprouting in the palm of a hand delivers bad news. In an unknown country, power is transferred in hyper-sensual ways. Whether fantastic or seemingly mundane, the twenty-four stories united in A Cage for Every Child unfold as uncanny encounters and brief sojourns in parallel worlds. Told in S. D. Chrostowska’s slyly provocative style, each tale questions the stability of our reality and the meaning of our pursuits.”



Claire Fuller’s Unsettled Ground

From Tin House: “In Unsettled Ground, award-winning author Claire Fuller masterfully builds a tale of sacrifice and hope, of homelessness and hardship, of love and survival, in which two marginalized and remarkable people uncover long-held family secrets and, in their own way, repair, recover, and begin again.”



Roger Deakin’s Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain

From Tin House: “With enchanting descriptions of natural landscapes, and a deep well of humanity, boundless humor, and unbridled joy, Deakin beckons us to wilder waters and inspires us to connect to the larger world in a most unexpected way. Thrilling, vivid, and lyrical, Waterlog is a fully immersive adventure—a remarkable personal quest, a bold assertion of the swimmer’s right to roam, and an unforgettable celebration of the magic of water.”



Lee Sharkey’s I Will Not Name It Except to Say

From Tupelo Press: “I Will Not Name It Except to Say is a luminous exploration of grief that carries the heritage of others who came before, including painters and others who lived through WWI and the Holocaust. Hadara Bar-Nadav, author of Lullaby, (with Exit Sign), says of the collection, ‘Her poems are ever merciless, piercing, and beautiful.’ Similarly, Janice Harrington, author of Primitive: The Art and Life of Horace H. Pippin, offers high praise: ‘I Will Not Name It Except to Say brings together the pleasures in any poetry by Lee Sharkey. Her poems burst with the visionary imagination of a Chagall painting and balance precariously on the thread of chiseled, precise language. But what a wild ride Sharkey provides, from the heart-breaking “Letter to Al,” to improvisational riffs on the art of German Expressionism, to spirituality and difficult histories—this collection shakes its reader out of complacency. Tenderness, memory, and unflinching truth-telling—this is Sharkey at her best.”


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