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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Get Keith Nathan Brown’s Embodied for $5.00!

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Pick up a copy at Sententia Books!


In this multifaceted collection of dreamscape stories and arabesque concrete poetry, Keith Nathan Brown invokes a wide range of literary and non-literary forms—from poetry to scientific report, from short story to mathematical proof—as a way to explore the gray area between mind and body where selfhood finds its origin. These thirty three fictions, poems and hybrid texts are arranged in thematically-related sets and subsets to simulate a travel guide to “cross-conscious interstates.” Whether induced by illness or intoxication, or inspired by music or meditation, each psychoactive text offers itself as a node in a larger conversation about time, identity, meaning and the human bond. Philosophical in scope, psychological in depth, at turns witty and cerebral, at turns brooding and surreal, Embodied twists language—literally and figuratively—to open up portals of heightened reality and, more importantly, to activate a sense of discovery and awe in the face of everyday existence.

Sample work: “The Tongue” (elimae) | “The Makings of an Amateur Meteor” (Abjective) | “Clock Time”  (PANK)

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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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Robert Lopez’s “Literary Pillars”

Three Novels, Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, Samuel Beckett
The Complete Short Prose, Samuel Beckett
Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett
The Collected Stories, Stephen Dixon
Wittgensteins’ Mistress, David Markson
Reader’s Block, David Markson
60 Stories, Donald Barthelme
Typical, Padgett Powell
Stories in the Worst Way, Gary Lutz
I Would Have Saved Them If I Could, Leonard Michaels
Reasons to Live, Amy Hempel
Ray, Barry Hannah
Airships, Barry Hannah
Pedro Paramo, Juan Rulfo
Collected Stories, Grace Paley
Letters to Wendy’s, Joe Wenderoth
Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoevsky
The Voice Imitator, Thomas Bernhard
Young Adam, Alexander Trocchi
In the Heart of The Heart of The Country, William H. Gass
Walden, Henry Thoreau
Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, Raymond Carver
The Tales, Anton Chekhov
Hamlet, William Shakespeare
The Collected Poems, Wallace Stevens
Poems and Letters, John Keats
Complete Poems, Emily Dickinson
Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne
The Stranger, Albert Camus
The Caretaker, Harold Pinter
The Homecoming, Harold Pinter
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard
The Complete Stories, Franz Kafka
Selected Poems, Czeslaw Milosz
Selected Poems, Pablo Neruda
Collected Poems, William Carlos Williams
Spanking the Maid, Robert Coover

Editor’s Note: This list is part of Big Other’s Tribute to William H. Gass’s 88th Birthday.

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. . . .

 

NYC Readings this Week

Tonight at 8pm there is the Franklin Park Reading Series in Prospect Heights Brooklyn, with acclaimed young writer Danielle Evans (Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self), This American Life contributor David Ellis Dickerson and J.E. Reich, Anthony Jones and myself.  RSVP

 

Sunday Jan. 16th at 7pm, Gary Lutz and Robert Lopez will read at KGB Bar. RSVP

 

A Review of Josh Davis’s Review of Robert Lopez’s Asunder

After reading a two-hundred-and-sixty-or-so-word review, that is, Josh Davis’s review of Robert Lopez’s Asunder, a review which amounts to little more than a trifle, little more than a throwaway, a throw-up (in graffitists’ parlance), an, at best, anemic piece of slapdash flash nonfiction; you might say, forgivingly, “Oh, given the constraints, what else can you expect?” Well, one answer is the work of Augusto Monterroso, who was a master of the short form, and who could, in a single sentence, suggest a whole world. Take for instance, “El Dinosaurio” (“The Dinosaur”), published in Monterroso’s Obras completas (Y otros cuentos, trans. Complete Works and Other Stories). The story, in its entirety, reads:

Cuando despertó, el dinosaurio todavía estaba allí.
(“When [s]he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.”)

Within this single sentence, Monterroso creates, in my mind, a scene of incredible tension, where the person discovers that the creature he or she had thought was a dream or nightmare was actually not a dream or nightmare. Here’s another way of looking at it: Dinosaurs might be part of this person’s everyday reality and is simply recognizing that the dangerous, friendly, or wounded dinosaur is still in the vicinity. Yes, there are many possible interpretations of this sentence, a sentence that gives lie to the idea that brevity is the antithesis of complexity, that it cannot, in a nod to Whitman, also be large and contain multitudes.

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