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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Recent Literary Disputes

I have to admit that neither Christian Lorentzen’s nor Kyle Minor’s respective takes on Alice Munro’s stories and books have altered my own criticism of her work, but they have inspired me, at least momentarily, to consider revisiting her work. Not sure how long that feeling will last, though, considering I’m currently experiencing massive withdrawal symptoms from having recently finished reading Helen DeWitt‘s brilliant two novels. I’ve also embarked on reading all of Zadie Smith’s work. Then there’s my still-in-progress Robert Coover marathon…

Michael Leong’s recent blog post pointed me to another take on a recent literary debate: Evie Shockley’s “Shifting the (Im)balance: Race and the Poetry Canon.”


Michael Leong’s Recent Reading at Brown University

Here’s the introduction I delivered before Michael Leong’s reading at Brown University’s Literary Arts Department’s Demitasse on  April 3, 2013:

In e.s.p., Michael Leong drafts a kind of architectonics of the page. By architectonics, I mean devices that reveal an overt consciousness of language’s status as language, words as building blocks, in which their form and shape and how they sit on the page and divide the surface plane are integral to their meaning. Though Leong’s poems often revel in the tactile aspects of words and letters, how sentences can visually suggest various structures, e.s.p. is no cold blueprint. Leong’s angular phrases, spiky forms, and playful compositions cavort within their spaces, prick consciousness as much as jar us from our sluggish thinking, and more importantly, rouse great feeling.

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Face Out Reading, October 10 @ 6:30 pm in New York

Celebrating New Work from 2012 CLMP Face Out Grantees
Wednesday, October 10 at 6:30 pm ~ FREE
NYU Main Bookstore ~ 726 Broadway

Short readings by:

Cynthia Cruz,
The Glimmering Room, Four Way Books

Farrah Field,
Wolf and Pilot, Four Way Books

Michael C. Leong,
Cutting Time with A Knife, Black Square Editions

Dan Machlin reading for Frances Richard
Anarch, Futurepoem Books

Dan Magers,
Partyknife, Birds, LLC

Kristin Prevallet,
Everywhere Here and in Brooklyn, Belladonna Books

About CLMP’s Face Out Program:
Designed to maximize the visibility of emerging writers, the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses’ Face Out Program supports exceptional writers in partnership with their publishers to put a spotlight on important new experimental titles.

Big Other Reaches One Million Page Views!

One Million Dots (detail) / Robert Barry. 1968

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Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William H. Gass, 2012

Photo by Frank Di Piazza

It’s probably too easy a move to begin my very brief remarks about Gass’s use of architecture as a metaphor by trotting out the old horse of a quote about language being the house of Being, before flogging it to death once and for all; but it seems appropriate, nevertheless, to do so, especially when I think about Gass’s positing that the sentence is a container of consciousness. Actually, the quote from Heidegger is useful only when held in contrast with Gass’s ideas about language. Whereas Heidegger placed speech, that is, the continuum of speech, which includes talking, listening, and silence, at the center of his theory of language, Gass does not see writing as a mere supplement to speech. The continuum of writing includes four modes: persuasive, expository, expressive, and literary; and two hybrid modes: argumentative (a fusion of persuasive and expository) and critical (a fusion of expository and expressive) modes. Of these modes, it is the literary that receives the primary focus in Gass’s critical writing. And so, one might perhaps properly say that, for Gass, writing, or, rather, the sentence is the house of becoming. And what is it exactly that becomes in a sentence? For Gass, the sentence is a container of consciousness, a “verbal consciousness, of course, one built of symbols, not sensations; yet one of perceptions all the same: perceptions followed by thoughts like tracking hounds, and infused throughout by the energies of memory and desire, the moods emotions foster, and the reach, through imagery and other juxtapositions, of imagination…” (“The Aesthetic Structure of the Sentence”). Like any house, this container can take any number of forms:

[S]entences must be understood to contain all sorts of unused syntactical space; places that could be filled with more words, but, in any specific instance, aren’t…Sentences are like latticework, like fences, to be left open or prudently closed, their boards wide or narrow, pointy or level, the spaces between them, ditto….A sentence can sometimes give its reader such a strong sense of its overall character that it provokes a flight of fancy, a metaphorical description: it’s like a journey of discovery; it’s like a coil of rope, a triumphal column; it’s like a hallway or a chapel; it’s like a spiral stair. To me, for instance, Sir Thomas Browne’s triplet—“Grave stones tell truth scarce forty years. Generations pass while some trees stand, and old families last not three oak.”—with its relentlessly stressed syllables (seven strong to one weak in the first row, seven to two in the second course, and six to one in the last) resembles a wall. I can even locate spots (the weak stresses) where its stones have crumbled. Families come to pieces the way the word does.

Yes, architecture is a theme running throughout William Gass’s oeuvre, not only in his critical work but in his fictions as well, particularly in The Tunnel, where tunnel-as-metaphor is used as the very structure from which the novel is built.

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Michael Leong’s “Literary Pillars”

4.48 Psychosis, Sarah Kane
The Anchored Angel, Jose Garcia Villa
Altazor, Vicente Huidobro
Anthology of Concrete Poetry, Emmett Williams (ed.)
Ark, Ronald Johnson
The Auroras of Autumn, Wallace Stevens
The Black Riders and Other Lines, Stephen Crane
Breathturn, Paul Celan
The Bridge, Hart Crane
The Cantos, Ezra Pound
Dictee, Theresa Hak Kyung Cha
Dialectic of the Enlightenment, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer
The Eclogues, Virgil
Eureka, Edgar Allan Poe
The Faerie Queene, Edmund Spenser
Finnegans Wake, James Joyce
Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot
I, the Worst of All, Estela Lamat
Illuminations, Walter Benjamin
Illuminations, Arthur Rimbaud
Impressions of Africa, Raymond Roussel
The Inventor of Love, Gherasim Luca
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance, Stéphane Mallarmé
Leaves of Grass (1860), Walt Whitman
The Magnetic Fields, André Breton and Philippe Soupault
Margins of Philosophy, Jacques Derrida
The Matrix, Norman Pritchard
Memories, Guy Debord (with Asger Jorn)
Men and Women, Robert Browning
Metamorphoses, Ovid
Milton, William Blake
Mythologies, Roland Barthes
Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
The Narrow Road to the Interior, Matsuo Bashō
Oulipo Compendium, Harry Mathews and Alastair Brotchie (eds.)
Oxford English Dictionary, J. Simpson and E. Weiner (eds.)
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov
Paradise Lost, John Milton
The Poetry of Surrealism, Michael Benedikt
The Single Hound, Emily Dickinson
Society of the Spectacle, Guy Debord
Solar Throat Slashed, Aimé Césaire
Spring and All, William Carlos Williams
Tender Buttons, Gertrude Stein
Trilce, César Vallejo
The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
Vathek, William Beckford
The Waves, Virginia Woolf
White Album, Kitasono Katue
 Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

Big Other’s Birthday Tribute to William Gass, 2011

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.

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Poetry vs. Pop Culture (or, Does Anyone Dance to John Berryman?)

I was going to post this as a comment on Michael’s wonderful post from yesterday, but then it got too long (big surprise), and then I wanted to embed a couple of videos (bigger surprise). Paula commented there:

Although I understand the annoying snobbery of the Times review and other critical writing, I think the issue isn’t whether poets embrace mass/low brow culture/pop, but whether any kind of poetry could be widely consumed by “the masses”. And my guess is, no. Also, doesn’t anyone find it a big difference from sitting around watching law and order reruns (something I love to do) and getting through dream songs or even dark blonde by belle waring?

I don’t mean to pick on Paula (or anyone), but why assume that “the masses” (do they huddle? are they wretched?) wouldn’t like or read—or don’t already read—The Dream Songs? Just off the top of my head, the Hold Steady‘s “Stuck Between Stations” name-checks John Berryman:

From its lyrics:

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Big Other Contributors’ News, #25

Ryan W. Bradley‘s story, “The Pit Bull’s Tooth,” is up at Wigleaf, and his chapbook, MILE  ZERO will be out in September from Maverick Duck Press.

Elaine Castillo had poems published in Issue 12 of > kill author, and a piece forthcoming from Used Furniture Review, both from her poetry manuscript CANDIDA: A TRANSLATION.  Several of her short films will be screened in Glasgow on April 9, for the Digital Desperados premiere night at the Center for Contemporary Arts.

Greg Gerke wrote about William H. Gass at The Nervous Breakdown–touching on his essay “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” his story “Mrs. Mean,” and meeting the man himself at the Strand Bookstore.

Paul Kincaid has had reviews of The Anatomy of Utopia, by Karoly Pinter, at SF Site; Nexus: Ascension, by Robert Boyczuk, in New York Review of Science Fiction 270, February 2011; and The Quantum Thief, by Hannu Rajaniemi, in Vector 265, Winter 2011. The BSFA also published a chapbook, Into the Woods: Robert Holdstock Remembered, which included “An Answer” as its introduction; “The Memory of Stories,” an interview Kincaid conducted with Holdstock; and “Robert Holdstock: A Roundtable Discussion,” in which Kincaid took part. Finally, Palgrave Macmillan have apparently published Teaching Science Fiction, edited by Andy Sawyer & Peter Wright, which contains Kincaid’s essay “Through Time and Space: A Brief History of Science Fiction,” in which he attempts to compress 500 years and the entire global endeavour of science fiction into just 6,000 words (don’t try this at home, kids).

Michael Leong‘s writing has recently appeared online at So and So Magazine; Action, Yes; Marsh Hawk Review; and Blackbox Manifold and in print in Hotel Amerika.  His manuscript The Philosophy of Decomposition / Re-composition as Explanation: A Poe and Stein Mash-up was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Sentence Book Award and will be published in the near future as a chapbook by Delete Press.  He will be reading from that work at the Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA) as well as giving a paper on generic hybridity in C.D. Wright’s long poem One Big Self.

John Madera was accepted to attend Brown University’s MFA in Literary Arts program, Fall 2011. “The Museum of Oddities & Eccentricities,” a collaboration with Lily Hoang, appears in Unfinished, Stories Finished by Lily Hoang (Jaded Ibis Press). He also reviewed Ted Pelton’s Bartleby, the Sportscaster (Rain Taxi: Review of Books, Spring 2011 Print Edition) and Renee Gladman’s Event Factory (The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 2011). Madera, along with John Reed, John Deming, and Tim Brown, took part in the National Book Critics Circle’s Celebrates Small Press Month panel, with Barbara Hoffert

Amber Sparks‘s story, “A Brief, Bright Fire to Sweep the World Clean,” appeared in the March issue of PANK. The story was shortlisted for PANK’s 1001 Awesome Words Contest. Two of her previously published stories (“Tours of the Cities We Have Lost” from Unsaid 5, and “You Will Be the Living Equation” from Annalemma 7) were published in the latest issue of Zine Scene’s Reprint.

J. A. Tyler‘s second book, A Man of Glass & All the Ways We Have Failed, is now available from Fugue State Press. Please eat this book up.

John Dermot Woods and Lincoln Michel have begun posting their weekly comic strip, Animals in Midlife Crises, at The Rumpus. New jokes every Sunday!

Big Other Contributors’ News, #23

It’s been a while since I’ve posted news of all our various goings on and whatnot. But everyone at Big Other has been up to all kinds of great things.

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A Sentence About a Sentence I Love: An Anthology, of Sorts

A few months ago, in April, to be exact, I started a series of posts entitled “A Sentence About a Sentence I Love” with a sentence about one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s magnificent sentences. This concentration, or, rather, this obsession with the sentence may have come from my, at the time, recent readings of William Gass’s essays wherein he concentrates much of his attention on the sentence as a primary building block in poetry and prose. Essays by Gass like “The Soul Inside the Sentence,” “The Sentence Seeks Its Form,” “The Architecture of the Sentence,” take as their focus the centrality of the sentence toward the construction of thought, and particularly of thoughts within the parameters of fiction. In “Philosophy and the Form of Fiction,” Gass claims that sentences are “the most elementary instances of what the author has constructed….a moving unity of fact and feeling.” Moreover, sentences

must be sounded, too; it has a rhythm, speed, a tone, a flow, a pattern, shape, length, pitch, conceptual direction. The sentence confers reality upon certain relations, but it also controls our estimation, apprehension, and response to them. Every sentence, in short, takes metaphysical dictation, and it is the sum of these dictations, involving the whole range of the work in which the sentences appear, which accounts for its philosophical quality, and the form of life in the thing that has been made (Fiction and the Figures of Life, 14).

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re: Jimmy Chen’s (very funny) obit for this site, and some comments made there by my friends Tadd Adcox and Rebekah Silverman, not to mention Big Other’s recent one-year anniversary, I thought I’d take some time and a post to perform some autocritique. (I grew up on the campus of the University of Scranton, among the Jesuits.)

When John invited me to write at Big Other last December, my first impulse was to decline, because I didn’t think that I’d have anything interesting to say. I’ve been reading blogs periodically since the late 90s (mainly political ones), and while I value the form for various reasons, I never thought I’d want to try doing it myself. But then John said I could write literary criticism in lieu of more traditional posts, and I recalled that I wanted to try doing some analysis of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, so I said I’d give it a go.

And I’m extremely happy that I did, because I’ve discovered that I do, in fact, have a tremendous amount to say (probably too much, in fact). And so my posting here has awakened something inside me—before this past year, I’d never written any artistic or cultural criticism—I didn’t even think I was capable of doing it. (I just wrote fiction and poetry.)

So I’m extremely grateful. That said, I’m also unhappy in multiple ways with my writing here, and I want to take the time to identify those problems, and attempt to correct them…

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Happy Birthday, Big Other!

With sites (especially blogs, I’d imagine) coming and going, resembling fairweathered friends with their weighty promises and concomitant lack of follow-through, and with evanescence and disposability, perhaps, being two of the internet’s primary characteristics, an internet year must be to an in-real-life year as what a dog year is to a human year. But it’s not for these reasons I’m happy to say that Big Other is celebrating its first year today.

A year ago, thinking about how frustrating it was to find a place that invited dialogue (and by “dialogue” I mean the concept formalized best, for me, by Paulo Friere, that is, a nexus that allows, encourages, fosters communication characterized by respect and equality, where diversity of thought is encouraged, where understanding and learning are privileged over mere judgment, although conclusions and sound and informed discernment, that is, sound judgment, and maybe even wisdom, may, in fact, result); thinking about how many blogs encourage stereotypes, discord, stupidity, inanity, macho posturing, and self-reflexiveness, blogs that are havens of groupthink, blogs that are really just another kind of mirror, mirror, on the wall, blogs that are really just digitized lint in an electronic navel; thinking about how I wanted something different from all that noise, I launched Big Other with the idea of it being what I, in some kind act of faith, called “an online forum of iconoclasts and upstarts focusing its lens on books, music, comics, film, video and animation, paintings, sculpture, performance art, and miscellaneous nodes and sonic booms,” a place to “explore how we are made and unmade by images, language, and sound; examine computer-mediated worlds; and dance along with various tumults, genre- and other border-crossings, trespassings, transgressions, and whatever, nevermind.” And I have to say that I haven’t been disappointed. Big Other has become all those things for me, and so much more, and by “so much more,” I mean, it has truly become a conduit for meeting many incredible people in person, and so, I really can’t wait to see what comes next for us.

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Michael Leong: On Ritual

Michael Leong: On Ritual

“Before sitting down to write, I methodically lay out my instruments as a good dentist always does before a nervous patient. Side by side, I place:  a toilet scrubber, a left-handed Allen wrench (my muse stubbornly insists on the term ‘zeta key’), a ridiculously sharp record needle, and a small collection of novelty pencil tops in good to excellent condition. I religiously avoid dairy products. I always make sure to polish my periscope. Sometimes, I prepare an elaborate hand of solitaire for somebody else, an honored guest who — nevertheless — never comes. I gargle a shot of bootleg holy water and throw everything off of my desk in a fit of demonic possession. I rip up the storyboards. I reverse engineer illegible alphabets. I practice a range of awkward bird calls that were specifically designed for the Cretaceous period. In my mind, I choose ideas as if I were skeet shooting at zero gravity. And when it seems the appropriate time (which depends upon the wind’s flavor, the inclination of the moon’s invisible sun), I release into polluted waters a fleet of a thousand black rice-paper submarines. They descend slowly, fueled as they are by their own inky dissolution.”

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Big Other Contributors’ News, #22

J.A. Tyler has new pieces in Word Riot, Prick of the Spindle, decomP, and The Diagram, and three pieces at jmww:  HERE, HERE, and HERE. And a review/interview of PEE ON WATER, by Rachel Glaser appears in Rumble. And his novella INCONCEIVABLE WILSON was reviewed at The Collagist.

Northwestern University Press released Davis Schneiderman’s new novel Drain on June 30. More info HERE.

Stacy Muszynski is obsessed with liminal space. Read about it at jmww. More journeys at the owls.

John Madera‘s fiction: “Some Varieties of Being and Other Non Sequiturs” will appear in the Fall 2010 issue of Conjunctions. Check out a preview of the issue’s lineup HERE. His interview with Lance Olsen appears in Rain Taxi Review of Books, Summer 2010. He edited the flash fiction section of the Summer 2010 issue of jmww. Here’s a link to his introduction.

Michael Leong‘s e-chapbook of N+7 poems, The Great Archivist’s / Cloudy Quotient, was recently published by Beard of Bees Press.  Also check out his new poem “Epiphenomenal Epithalamium,” which will be featured for a week (along with an editorial exegesis) at LEVELER starting July 4th.
Paul Kincaid‘s review of Lifelode by Jo Walton appeared at Strange Horizons, as did his joint review of Cheek By Jowl by Ursula K. Le Guin and Imagination/Space by Gwyneth Jones. His review of Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds was at SF Site.

Jac Jemc has new poetry out in the new issues of La Petite Zine and Bone Bouquet.

A D Jameson has three new pieces online: “Whisper, Current, Gust” in alice blue review, “Lamentations 1” in Requited, and “The Walls of Uruk”, an excerpt from his forthcoming novel Giant Slugs, in Action, Yes.

Greg Gerke reviewed Kim Chinquee’s Pretty at The Rumpus.

My Favorite Books from 2009 (in alphabetical order):

I’ve read over 120 books in 2009, and by the time the year is up I’ll have reviewed over fifty. At the risk of being redundant, I’ve put together a list of the books I thought were this year’s best. I’ve also included links to the ones I reviewed. But before that, I should mention some great books that weren’t published this year: Eugene Lim’s Fog & Car, Eugene Marten’s Waste, Mary Caponegro’s first three books, Ken Sparling’s Dad Says He Saw You at the Mall, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Michael Kimball’s The Way the Family Got Away and Dear Everybody. And then there’s Shane Jones’s The Failure Six, David Shields’s Reality Hunger, and Ander Monson’s Vanishing Point, all of which won’t be released until next year. By the way, while the so-called major presses churned out a whole lot of fluff I did enjoy John Haskell’s Out of My Skin and Anne Michaels’s The Winter Vault. Oh, and I should mention The Complete Cosmicomics, by Italo Calvino which  is playful and inventive in that inimitably Calvino way. Each chapter is a combination of pseudo-science (as far as I can tell) and fantasy—a weird mishmash of fable and fact. They sound like entries from an encyclopedia sometimes, albeit a whimsical one. This was the best way to close out the year. So, besides beautifully-crafted language, eddying narratives, evocative imagery, and provocative characters—whose quirks, thoughts, and comings and goings remain with me—what the books on this list have in common is that they were published by independent presses.
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