Most Anticipated Small Press Books of 2016!

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.

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Contemporary Verse Novels: Carole Maso’s AUREOLE

I’d like to state my thanks to the Big Other crew for letting me think aloud and formulate ideas about this strange hybrid form I’m trying to define. Comments along the way have helped me think and rethink, and I believe, for this final installment, I’ve got a much clearer idea of what a contemporary verse novel is or can be.

 

Contemporary Verse Novels and Subversion

The “Contemporary Verse Novel,” as I see it, is, first and foremost, subversive. If, back in Baudelaire’s day, a “prose poem” was neither like the prose nor poems that came before it, then I’ll just go ahead and say, too, that today’s “verse novel” is neither like the verse nor novels that came before. And because I wish to align my study most closely with the study of the historical tradition of prose poetry (which was subversive to the traditions of metered, lineated poetry as well as extended, narrative prose), I believe that the Contemporary Verse Novel is subversive to both verse and novel — in that it refuses to fit into the neat categories of “verse” or “novel.” In fact, it will challenge our ideas of “verse,” and it will make us reconsider what we mean when we say “novel,” including, of course, the idea that novels must be fiction and therefore are not memoirs. I can think of so many book-length essay collections that read like novels and are also at times lineated or made up of small prose sections. These, too, seem perfect fits for what I mean when I say contemporary verse novel. Books like Marie Carter’s The Trapeze Diaries, David Barringer’s American Home Life, Eula Biss’s The Balloonists.

Still, I have to say, I, like others here, would for so many reasons rather call these books “books.” Or “literature.” To define seems to limit, even if the definition calls for expansion, progression, movement beyond categorical limitations. But let’s leave this for now and return to it later, in another post perhaps.

 

 

Aureole by Carole Maso

The reason I’ve chosen Aureole over AVA is in fact because of the subversion I want to discuss. AVA is a perfect definition of a “contemporary verse novel.” It is one long, multi-layered, fragmented narrative, and it is lineated. It is a book everyone should try to read at least once, and if anyone needs help with that, go on over on Dalkey’s website, where there is a handbook, or “casebook,” filled with others’ essays about how to read and better understand AVA.

As for Aureole, the entire title is: “Aureole: An Erotic Sequence.” Here, the word “Sequence” makes one think of poetry. Fiction writers say, “I’m working on a collection of stories.” Poets say, “I’m working on a sequence.” But is Aureole a sequence? Maso says it is, so of course it must be. But it also seems very much like a short story collection. The reason it is not a short story collection, however, is that the stories (most of them, but not all of them) are lineated.

Aureole works, then, as a contemporary verse novel, because it is subversive to verse in that not all the stories are lineated. It is subversive to the novel because it is made up of short stories, it is a sequence, and it is lineated.

Because, ultimately, this is my finding and this is what this small study has led me to, I’ll stop here. I feel like I could go on and on, but I won’t. I don’t want to do a close reading of Aureole, and I don’t want to compare it to Carson or Conrad or Saterstrom or Ruefle.

 

Contemporary Verse Novels, Concluded

I sort of want this post to bask in its own understanding of what a contemporary verse novel has the potential to be. It has the potential to be Aureole.

Or Catherine Sasanov’s Had Slaves.

Or any of the books from Kate Bernheimer’s trilogy.

Or Arielle Greenberg’s and Rachel Zucker’s Home/Birth.

Or Joe Hall’s Pigafetta Is My Wife.

Or Mathias Svalina’s Destruction Myth.

Or Robert Lopez’s Asunder.

Etc., etc., etc.

In the end, or in the beginning, a contemporary verse novel has the best of all worlds. It gets the honor and distinction of caring about language the way poets care about language. It has the marketability potential of a novel. It gets to be badass and say fuck the traditions. It gets to break all the rules. It gets to have fun and try new things, explore new ways, and even if it fails in one area it ultimately has the chance to find success in other areas.

So, good luck writers. Good luck, verse novelists. And have fun!

That’s all you have to do.

Just have fun. . . .

 

Selah Saterstrom’s THE PINK INSTITUTION

I can’t thank Mathias Svalina enough for introducing me to Selah Saterstrom. Her first novel, The Pink Institution (Coffee House Press, 2004), offers up such stark, spare language as to mimic the fragmented, but forever life-altering, moments in the lives of her (many generations of) women, not one of whom escapes her own special brand of suffering.

“Willie called his daughters into the dining room. He picked up a dining room table chair and threw it into a closed window. The window shattered. He said, “That’s a lesson about virginity. Do you understand?” to which they replied, “Yes sir.”

The chapter — yes, chapter — above is the first in the section “Maidenhood Objects,” which follows the section “Childhood Objects.” Perhaps the following is the most representative chapter from “Childhood Objects”:

“Azalea sent Aza to Toomsata to see if Willie was there. Aza walked into the house. She asked Dunbar if her father was there. Dunbar said, ‘He’s in the bed, you jealous little bitch.’ On several occasions the children watched Dunbar masturbate their drunk father while their mother, also drunk, slobbered on herself sitting in the corner.”

This is a painful novel, but it is beautiful and reminds me of Lydia Millet’s My Happy Life, and Kate Bernheimer’s The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold and The Complete Tales of Merry Gold. Buy it, check it out (check out all of them) from your library, and get reading at once. And if you’re an impatient type, try a little sneak preview action at Google books.

Thanks again, Mathias. I owe you one.

Steven Karl’s Best of 2009

Here’s a makeshift list for 09.

2009 was a great year for chapbooks.  A couple of presses released multiple titles that I devoured such as BraveMenPress which released Janaka Stucky’s Your Name Is The Only Freedom, Chris Toneli’s No Theater, and Julia Cohen’s For The H In Ghost.
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