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Most Anticipated Small Press Releases: June 2021

Happy Bloomsday! And how fitting it is to post a feature on small press books on a day commemorating and celebrating James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was first published by two small presses in two iterations: serialized in The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then in its entirety by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company in 1922 (on Joyce’s 40th birthday!). Both presses are now defunct, alas.

Here are some compelling forthcoming June 2021 small press books that captured my attention, including books by Big Other contributors Jeff Bursey, Miranda Mellis, and Aaron M. Moe.

 

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Intersectional Class Struggle: Theory and Practice, by Michael Beyea Reagan

From AK Press: “This innovative study, explores the relevance of class as a theoretical category in our world today, arguing that leading traditions of class analysis have missed major elements of what class is and how it operates. It combines instersectional theory and materialism to show that culture, economics, ideology, and consciousness are all factors that go into making ‘class’ meaningful. Using a historical lens, it studies the experiences of working class peoples, from migrant farm workers in California’s central valley, to the ‘factory girls’ of New England, and black workers in the South to explore the variety of working-class experiences. It investigates how the concepts of racial capitalism and black feminist thought, when applied to class studies and popular movements, allow us to walk and chew gum at the same time—to recognize that our movements can be diverse and particularistic as well as have elements of the universal experience shared by all workers. Ultimately, it argues that class is made up of all of us, it is of ourselves, in all our contradiction and complexity.”

 

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Damaged Like Me: Essays on Love, Harm, and Transformation, by Kimberly Dark

From AK Press: “People who have been damaged, thrown away, marginalized, or traumatized are more capable of apprehending social patterns, precisely because they’ve needed to be aware and vigilant about how the world works. For too long, those who rely on long-held rights and entitlement have claimed that others are biased about the very topics on which they have expertise. Damaged Like Me is a series of essays and stories that reveal a complex social landscape. It shows how possible and vital it is to build roads to a more equitable and loving collective culture that includes body sovereignty, racial justice, gender equity/liberation, and much more. It does so by relying on the insights and approaches to knowledge production of those on the receiving end of inequity and violence, those whose ‘objectivity’ on issues of oppression has been consistently maligned despite their having the most to teach us.”

 

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In the Night Field, by Cameron McGill

From Augury Books: “Cameron McGill’s debut collection of poetry, In the Night Field, spotlights the effects of memory: its startling artistry, varied discontents, and casual fallibility. These poems chart the complex relationship between mental health and place; the difficult paths home can be lonely and circuitous, the emotional coordinates we map along the way a reminder of those intimate regions that hold and haunt us. These can be isolating passages, but are just as often fertile: ‘I walk further each day toward the strange / austerity my heart makes of reason.’ Between the attentive, persistent self and the longed-for, absent other arises a fragmented conversation, an exchange that’s in a constant state of arrival. As McGill shows us, memories are a corrective, carrying back to us occasions for instruction, reconciliation, or in those astonishing flashes of clarity, what again hopes to be loved.”

 

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Before Stonewall, by Edward M. Cohen

From Awst Press: “At once light and aching, Before Stonewall gives voice to a generation of men whose homosexuality forced them into lives of public exile. These stories articulate the tragic comedy of young love, the many ways to lose a family, and the rigid anxiety that comes from the fear of expressing too much. Set against a backdrop of New York’s theater scene and looming McCarthyism, this book is about everything love is up against and the smoldering, dormant rebellion in the time before Stonewall.”

 

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HOMES, by Moheb Soliman

From Coffee House Press: “Moheb Soliman’s HOMES maps the shoreline of the Great Lakes from the rocky North Shore of Minnesota to the Thousand Islands of eastern Ontario. This poetic travelogue offers an intimate perspective on an immigrant experience as Soliman drives his Corolla past exquisite vistas and abandoned mines, through tourist towns and midwestern suburbs, seeking to inhabit an entire region as home. Against the backdrop of environmental destruction and a history of colonial oppression, the vitality of Soliman’s language brings a bold ecopoetic lens to bear on the relationship between transience and belonging in the world’s largest, most porous borderland.”

 

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Unsettling Utopia: The Making and Unmaking of French India, by Jessica Namakkal

From Columbia University Press: “Unsettling Utopia presents a new account of the history of twentieth-century French India to show how colonial projects persisted beyond formal decolonization. Through the experience of the French territories, Jessica Namakkal recasts the relationships among colonization, settlement, postcolonial sovereignty, utopianism, and liberation, considering questions of borders, exile, violence, and citizenship from the margins. She demonstrates how state-sponsored decolonization—the bureaucratic process of transferring governance from an imperial state to a postcolonial state—rarely aligned with local desires. Namakkal examines the colonial histories of the Aurobindo Ashram and Auroville, arguing that their continued success shows how decolonization paradoxically opened new spaces of settlement, perpetuating imperial power. Challenging conventional markers of the boundaries of the colonial era as well as nationalist narratives, Unsettling Utopia sheds new light on the legacies of colonialism and offers bold thinking on what decolonization might yet mean.”

 

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To Write as If Already Dead, by Kate Zambreno

From Columbia University Press: “To Write As If Already Dead circles around Kate Zambreno’s failed attempts to write a study of Hervé Guibert’s To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life. In this diaristic, transgressive work, the first in a cycle written in the years preceding his death, Guibert documents with speed and intensity his diagnosis and disintegration from AIDS and elegizes a character based on Michel Foucault. The first half of To Write As If Already Dead is a novella in the mode of a detective story, searching after the mysterious disappearance of an online friendship after an intense dialogue on anonymity, names, language, and connection. The second half, a notebook documenting the doubled history of two bodies amid another historical plague, continues the meditation on friendship, solitude, time, mortality, precarity, art, and literature. Throughout this rigorous, mischievous, thrilling not-quite study, Guibert lingers as a ghost companion. Zambreno, who has been pushing the boundaries of literary form for a decade, investigates his methods by adopting them, offering a keen sense of the energy and confessional force of Guibert’s work, an ode to his slippery, scarcely classifiable genre. The book asks, as Foucault once did, ‘What is an author?’ Zambreno infuses this question with new urgency, exploring it through the anxieties of the internet age, the ethics of friendship, and ‘the facts of the body’: illness, pregnancy, and death.”

 

An Impalpable Certain Rest, by Jeff Bursey

From Corona\Samizdat: “In this collection of intense, provocative stories, Jeff Bursey illuminates the psychological states of men and women as they fight against the corrosive power of illusions and their own halfunderstood natures.”

 

Amazon.com: Daybook from Sheep Meadow: The Notebooks of Tallis Martinson (9781646050598): Dimock, Peter: Books

Daybook from Sheep Meadow: The Notebooks of Tallis Martinson, by Peter Dimock

From Deep Vellum: “Daybook from Sheep Meadow: The Notebooks of Tallis Martinson returns to the breakdown of America’s imperialist history reflected in Peter Dimock’s groundbreaking previous novel, George Anderson: Notes for a Love Song in Imperial Time. In Daybook, Dimock expands on what it means to refute the narrative of American exceptionalism – and what happens once one starts on that path….An experiment in the capacity of literature to reimagine the trajectory of America’s future, Daybook stages a space wherein the reader can register – and, potentially, remedy – the criminal catastrophe of the legacies of American empire.”

 

Bright Specimen: Poole, Julie: 9781646050574: Amazon.com: Books

Bright Specimen, by Julie Poole

From Deep Vellum: “With the loving eye of an amateur botanist, poet Julie Poole has distilled nature to its finest, tender points. Through poems spread delicately across the page, interspersed with images of the pressed flowers themselves, Poole’s poetry gives voice to a meditative expression of flora. Each poem creates an individual cataloged world through which to explore the body, sexuality, strength, and a devout refusal to admit the separation between humans and nature. Inspired by the Billie L. Turner Plant Resources Center at The University of Texas at Austin, the largest herbaria in the Southwestern United States, Bright Specimen weaves together a written index through the harmony of botanical wonder.”

 

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And Then the Gray Heaven, by RE Katz

From Dzanc Books: “Winner of the 2019 Dzanc Novella Prize. When Jules’s partner B passes away suddenly, the harsh neon Florida stripmall swamp of their early years in the foster care system returns to haunt them. Jules is separated from B during the last days of their life in the hospital and then exiled from their family mourning, causing them to reach a breaking point that shimmers into a big idea. As final tribute, Jules takes the small remainder of B’s ashes with them on a cross-country romp to each significant place B worked during their strange and inspired life as a diorama artist. Jules’s burial adventures bring with them a pastiche of new friends, old chosen family, and a golden heap of B’s stories, daisy-chained together in Jules’s own grief fugue.”

 

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Il Vagabondo: An Urban Opera: A Tale of Gusto and Enchantment, Adaptation, Loss, and Preserving the Old Ways of Making a Life, by Glenn Carley

From Guernica World Editions: “Enter the cross-cultural tale of gusto and enchantment, adaptation and loss, preserving the old ways of making a life. Presented in six acts with intermissions and curtain calls, it is a new form of literature presented in interactive libretto form. Read it silently, read it out loud, or step upon the imaginary stage of all life to commandeer the operatic recitative called sing/speak. Il Vagabondo is a love story-an opera rusticana of the people, by the people, for the people. It is all true.”

 

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Walking on Cowrie Shells, by Nana Nkweti

From Graywolf Press: “In her powerful, genre-bending debut story collection, Nana Nkweti’s virtuosity is on full display as she mixes deft realism with clever inversions of genre…. Pulling from mystery, horror, realism, myth, and graphic novels, Nkweti showcases the complexity and vibrance of characters whose lives span Cameroonian and American cultures. A dazzling, inventive debut, Walking on Cowrie Shells announces the arrival of a superlative new voice.”

 

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Exhalations, by Aaron M. Moe

From Middle Creek Publishing: “Aaron M. Moe’s amazingly kinetic collection, exhalations, gleaned from moments and trail runs over the last decade, resonates both in a timely and eternal manner. The forms of his poems are a nod to the flowing of all things; time, form and formlessness, murmurations, as everything in the eternal flux of  transformation moves ‘towards the eons’ as the reader and the subjects of his poetry ‘stand at the edge of the blue-black lake.’ Here, before our eyes, in moments between moments, the beauty of deep time takes elements (carbon, oxygen, soil nutriment, pre-dawn lavender clouds, icicles, songbirds, snakeskin, coyote fur, red pollen, meadowlarks, lichen) and transforms them into the sensory beauty of the world we live in and love. Aging, the cycles of family, parenting, society and history are nestled in lines about trees transforming elements of gasses and nutriment into a sweet, vanilla scents to us, and reminding us the beauty comes of all things. A beauty whose demise is mourned as we see the forms disappearing in this anthropocene age of extinction, destruction and degradation. But the knowledge that we have time, that our voices speak to the beauty and fragility of the transformations, and that ‘our exhalations cling,’ cling to an earth we see slowly becoming not the earth we had hoped to cradle, but nonetheless, one where ‘This soil is still good/ if there are worms in it.'”

 

 

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The Divorce, by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews

From New Directions: “The Divorce tells about a recently divorced man on vacation in Buenos Aires. One afternoon he encounters a series of the most magical coincidences. While sitting at an outdoor café, absorbed in conversation with a talented video artist, he sees a young man riding by on a bicycle get thoroughly drenched by a downpour of water—seemingly from rain caught the night before in the overhead awning. The video artist knows the cyclist, who knew a mad hermetic sculptor whose family used to take the Hindu God Krishna for walks in the neighborhood. As the coincidences continue to add up, the stories concerning each new connection weave reality with the absurd until they reach a final, brilliant, cataclysmic ending.”

 

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Sevastopol, by Emilio Fraia, translated by Zoë Perry

From New Directions: “Three subtly connected stories converge in this chimerical debut, each burrowing into a turning point in a person’s life: a young woman gives a melancholy account of her obsession with climbing Mount Everest; a Peruvian-Brazilian vanishes into the forest after staying in a musty, semi-abandoned inn in the haunted depths of the Brazilian countryside; a young playwright embarks on the production of a play about the city of Sevastopol and a Russian painter portraying Crimean War soldiers. Inspired by Tolstoy’s The Sevastopol Sketches, Emilio Fraia masterfully weaves together these stories of yearning and loss, obsession and madness, failure and the desire to persist, in a restrained manner reminiscent of Anton Chekhov, Roberto Bolaño, and Rachel Cusk.”

 

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Novel 11, Book 18, by Dag Solstad, translated by Sverre Lyngstad

From New Directions: “Bjørn Hansen, a respectable town treasurer, has just turned fifty and is horrified by the thought that chance has ruled his life. Eighteen years ago he left his wife and their two-year-old son for his mistress, who persuaded him to start afresh in a small, provincial town and to devote himself to an amateur theater. In time that relationship also faded, and after four years of living alone Bjørn contemplates an extraordinary course of action that will change his life forever. He finds a fellow conspirator in Dr. Schiøtz, who has a secret of his own and offers to help Bjørn carry his preposterous plan through to its logical conclusion. But the sudden reappearance of his son both fills Bjørn with new hope and complicates matters. The desire to gamble with his comfortable existence proves irresistible, however, taking him to Vilnius in Lithuania, where very soon he cannot tell whether he’s tangled up in a game or reality. Dag Solstad won the Norwegian Critics Prize for Literature for Novel 11, Book 18, a concentrated uncompromising existential novel that puts on full display the author’s remarkable gifts and wit.’

 

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From Nightboat Books: “Honey Mine unfolds as both excavation and romp, an adventure story that ushers readers into a lesbian writer’s coming of age through disorienting, unsparing, and exhilarating encounters with sex, gender, and distinctly American realities of race and class. From childhood in Chicago’s South Side to youth in the lesbian underground, Roy’s politics find joyful and transgressive expression in the liberatory potential of subculture. In these new, uncollected, and out-of-print fictions by a master of New Narrative, find a record of survival and thriving under conditions of danger.”

 

Foucault in Warsaw by Remigiusz Ryziński

Foucault in Warsaw, by Remigiusz Ryziński, translated by Sean Gasper Bye

From Open Letter Books: “In 1958, Michel Foucault arrived in Poland to work on his thesis—a work that eventually came to be published as The History of Madness. While he was there, he became involved with a number of members of the gay community, including a certain ‘Jurek,’ who eventually led the secret police directly to Foucault’s hotel room, causing his subsequent exit from Poland. That boy’s motivations and true identity were hidden among secret police documents for decades, until Remigiusz Ryziński stumbled upon the right report and uncovered the truth about the whole situation. Nominated for the Nike Literary Award, Foucault in Warsaw reconstructs a vibrant, engaging picture of gay life in Poland under communism—from the joys found in secret nightclubs, to the fears of not knowing who was a secret informant.”

 

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Unsilencing Gaza: Reflections on Resistance, by Sara Roy

From Pluto Books: “Gaza, the centre of Palestinian nationalism and resistance to the occupation, is the linchpin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the key to its resolution. Since 2005, Israel has deepened the isolation of the territory, severing it almost completely from its most vital connections to the West Bank, Israel, and beyond, and has deliberately shattered its economy, transforming Palestinians from a people with political rights into a humanitarian problem. Sara Roy unpacks this process, looking at US foreign policy towards the Palestinians, as well as analysing the trajectory of Israeli policy toward Gaza, which became a series of punitive approaches meant not only to contain the Hamas regime but weaken Gazan society. Roy also reflects on Gaza’s ruination from a Jewish perspective and discusses the connections between Gaza’s history and her own as a child of Holocaust survivors. This book, a follow up from the renowned Failing Peace, comes from one of the world’s most acclaimed writers on the region.”

 

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Lost in Work: Escaping Capitalism, by Amelia Horgan

From Pluto Books: “Work hard, get paid.’ It’s simple. Self-evident. But it’s also a lie – at least for most of us. For people today, the old assumptions are crumbling; hard work in school no longer guarantees a secure, well-paying job in the future. Far from a gateway to riches and fulfillment, ‘work’ means precarity, anxiety and alienation. Amelia Horgan poses three big questions: what is work? How does it harm us? And what can we do about it? While abolishing work altogether is not the answer, Lost in Work shows that when we are able to take control of our workplaces, we become less miserable, and can work towards the transformative goal of experimenting with ‘work’ as we know it.?”

 

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Lifting Stones, by Doug Stanfield

From Rootstock Publishing: “Lifting Stones is an autobiography of sorts; a travel journal where the poet travels in nature and into memories of love, hope, grief, and loss. ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards,’ wrote Søren Kierkegaard, and this is the genesis of Stanfield’s collection. His poems understand a life by looking back along the trail, seeing clearly for the first time, stacking personal, grounded word formations like rock cairns left for the next traveler: a way for stones, and words, to live forward.”

 

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Demystifications, by Miranda Mellis

From Solid Objects: “Robert Glück writes, ‘Demystifications is a circle of keys, a florilegium, a circle of voices engaged in a public conversation whose subject is the transformation of knowledge into a collective organ. Mellis uses aphorism to bring us back to basics–what is the best way to proceed, starting from here? How should we inhabit the present? By excavation, by error, by exaggeration, by gesture, by revolt, by contradiction, by voice, by tone. Fanny Howe and Edward Said, Etel Adnan, Karl Marx, and Muriel Rukeyser–Miranda Mellis hosts the living and the dead in a grand conference on the value and practice of wisdom.'”

 

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Morsel May Sleep, by Ellen Dillon

From Sublunary Editions: “This book takes its starting point in Stéphane Mallarmé’s Thèmes anglais pour toutes les grammaires, a textbook of translation exercises that he devised during his time as a secondary school English teacher, that uses English proverbs to teach points of grammar. Beginning with found language from the English and French versions of a series of grammar exercises, the poems and prose poems wonder about, and wander about in, language as it comes alive (or fails to) in classrooms. It is a sort of Venn diagram of two books, with the central overlap in the found language from Mallarmé’s chosen proverbs and his own French translations of them. From that point, the book branches out into different shapes in each language, following sounds and associations as they emerge.”

 

 

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From Verso Books: “In this lucid and accessible book, Raicovich examines some of the key museum flashpoints and provides historical context for the current controversies. She shows how art museums arose as colonial institutions bearing an ideology of neutrality that masks their role in upholding conservative, capitalist values. And she suggests ways museums can be reinvented to serve better, public ends.”

 

John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.

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