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

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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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Rikki Ducornet’s “Literary Pillars”

(I attempted to list the very special books that were the potencies behind my thinking as a child and young adult, and the books that both inspirited and inspired my writing years later. For example, my first four novels were written under the spell of Gaston Bachelard; Moby-Dick was my companion when I wrote The Fountains of Neptune; Lolita breathed in my ear throughout the waking dream that became The Fan Maker’s Inquisition. Omensetter’s Luck was the book that made it impossible not to become a writer; Borges, Kafka and Detienne’s beautiful study on Adonis have never left my side.)

1. Carroll: Through The Looking Glass
2. Swift: Gulliver’s Travels
3. Rabelais: Gargantua and Pantagruel
4. Cervantes: Don Quixote
7. Dalí: Fifty Secrets of Magic Craftsmanship
8. The Brothers Grimm: Collected Fairytales
9. Dinesen: Seven Gothic Tales
10. The Arabian Nights

Over Forty Writers Over Forty to Watch

Writing the title of this post actually felt very silly; it seems such an arbitrary way of gathering a list of writers to look out for. What could be sillier than singling out writers in this way, according to their age? Surely, there are more worthy criteria. Well, there is an answer to what could be sillier than singling out over forty writers over forty to watch, namely, singling twenty writers under forty to watch, especially largely mainstream writers writing, for the most part, conventional and redundant fiction. And the New Yorker has done just that. But this isn’t surprising. Theirs is an idea once again institutionalizing, reinforcing our decayed culture’s obsession with youth, not to mention its eyes wide shut wallowing in mediocrity. So, not only have they missed, for the most part, who are the best fiction writers under forty to watch, but, with their unapologetic valorization of youth, they missed entirely. The following writers (and I include poets, essayists, and theorists among them) are writers who have consistently written great work. I anticipate great things from each of them in the years and years to come. With full awareness of how a corrective sometimes ironically and paradoxically legitimizes what it seeks to correct, here, in the order in which I thought of them, are over forty writers over forty whose work I will be busy watching.

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Thinking About Poets Writing Fiction


I finished reading Michael Hulse’s new translation of Rilke’s anguished novel The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge this past Valentine’s Day. (This is the fourth translation  I’ve read of the novel.) Written in seventy-one luminous fragments, the novel coheres into a brilliantly lacquered mosaic. As expected from this meditant of meaning, of memory, the novel is full of menacing imagery, anxiety-wracked explorations of the self, of knowledge, and, most of all, seeing:

I am learning to see. Why, I cannot say, but all things enter more deeply into me; nor do the impressions remain at the level where they used to cease. There is a place within me of which I knew nothing. Now all things tend that way. I do not know what happens there.

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&Now Conference: A Conference of Innovative Writing & the Literary Arts

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I went to the &Now Conference held in Buffalo, New York, October 14-17, and enjoyed it on a number of levels. First of all, it was great to cross that cold digital divide and finally meet so many people that I’ve been corresponding and/or working with, and/or reading their work for a while, people like Matt Bell, Cara Benson, Blake Butler, Donald Breckinridge, Ryan Call, Mary Caponegro, Kim Chinquee, Rikki Ducornet, Tina May Hall, Lily Hoang, Joanna Howard, Matt Kirkpatrick, Josh Maday, Kendra Grant Malone, Lance Olsen, J.A. Tyler, Bill Walsh, and John Dermot Woods, as well as reconnecting with Brian Evenson and James Yeh. I also had a chance to meet Dimitri Anastasopoulos, Donald Breckenridge, Rikki Ducornet, Shelly Jackson, Steve Katz, Dave Kress, Christina Milletti, Pedro Ponce, Davis Schneiderman, and Steve Tomasula. Have I missed anyone?

And if it was only that, it would have been well worth it, but I also attended many dynamic, energetic, informed, inventive, and stimulating panels and readings. Below are some capsules of some of the events as well as recordings of some of them.

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