Few exceptions aside, the most compelling, challenging, absorbing literary art is being produced by small presses and their respective writers. I asked a number of writers, editors, and publishers to send me a list of small press books to look out for in 2016. Below you’ll find my own list, which is informed by Kate Angus, John Cayley, Lauren Cerand, Samuel R. Delany, Rikki Ducornet, Andrew Ervin, Lily Hoang, Sean Lovelace, Scott McClanahan, Hubert O’Hearn, Jane Unrue, and Curtis White.
Below you’ll also find lists from Jeff Bursey, Tobias Carroll, Gabino Iglesias, Janice Lee, Dawn Raffel, Nick Francis Potter, John Reed, Adam Robinson, Michael Seidlinger, Terese Svoboda, Jason Teal, Angela Woodward, and Jacob Wren. All the abovementioned people are small press heroes and great writers in their own right. My thanks to all of them.
I would imagine that a certain amount of anxiety accompanies any attempt to write about William Gass and his work, a lifework where every sentence has been carefully tooled, poetically, no, lovingly rendered; where a distinct refusal to settle for a messy glibness, to trot around ideas like some propped up and thoroughly beaten and long dead horse, tinctures everything he thinks on the page; where critical acumen and lyricism are not mutually exclusive entities; where words are arranged architectonically to form houses, homes full of rooms of one’s own; the very attempt to comment on this lifework waylaid by the lacustrine sentences under scrutiny—yes, Gass’s sentences are lakes and therefore mirrors—those sentences also saying, as Apollo’s archaic torso said, that you must change your life; the scrutinizer, now somehow transformed into a jeweler, relieved because he or she has been freed from merely determining authenticity and can now disappear within a collection of multifaceted gems. But to say that anxiety “accompanies” this attempt to write about William Gass and his work is to mislead, or, rather, misrepresent, because, for one, it suggests that this psycho-physiological state can be personified and somehow invited along like some holy ghost hovering over the hitherandthithering waters of my mind, this idea of a supposed instantiation of a word inviting all kinds of thoughts, thoughts about metaphor, and various cocktails of same, which Gass has certainly explored throughout his critical and creative work, those two c-words never mutually exclusive in Gass’s oeuvre since his essays and his fictions toy with whatever expected conventions, blur those often arbitrary and perhaps even ultimately imaginary genre borders. Yes, writing about Gass is anxiety-producing—you feel a certain, shall we say, anxiety of influence, especially when you realize that he’s often been wherever you are long before you have and has, to interpolate our beloved Stevens, seen the there that’s there, the everything that is not there and the everything that is, and while there has seen with a clarity you would just be lucky to recognize you don’t have, that recognition perhaps finally allowing you to finally begin to see, see in the way that Rilke’s Malte struggles to see, that is, to finally see the forest and the trees and the green grass growing all around and around, the green grass growing all around.