Monday, October 17, 2016

What I've Read: Sun & Urn by Christopher Salerno

Thank you to NetGalley for giving me the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

The poems of Sun & Urn by Christopher Salerno are a multifaceted exploration of grief – its contradictions, the beauty that can be found in the midst of sorrow, and, naturally, the keenly felt despair that comes with loss. This exploration evokes sentimental tones and subjects that never delve into the trite, always pushing forth into sublimity and surprise.

The grieving process of Sun & Urn is focused through ordinary objects that are elevated in surprising ways. In “The Evening Report”, Salerno writes: “
I am falling in love with the material world”, reinforcing the necessity of attention to object; the emphasis on concrete forms that exist around us make them a grounding force in both life and poem. That is, the objects of Sun & Urn remind us that even after death there are bodies, there are material things, there is life. This sense is even reflected in the title Sun & Urn, emphasizing the large, universal, and distant in conjunction with the immediate material witness of past, present, and future.

In this way, each poem unpacks emotional upheaval directly and honestly in its exploration of what is left – in endings, death, beginnings, there are scattered aspects of people and lives left behind. These poems channel that sense of transformation, and carry with them a certain breathless witness that comes with contending with the inevitability of life and death.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

What I've Read: bodys by Vanessa Roveto

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

bodys, the debut book of poetry by Vanessa Roveto, is a dreamlike landscape that underscores the inherent chaos of being human. The bodies of bodys are objects colliding with each other, and none of the anonymous characters of its prose poems are safe from objectification and otherness. Images related to food, sex, the body, medicine, death, and the trappings of modern culture all intersect with each other in a surreal, stream-of-consciousness fashion. Each poem is at once intimate, tender and brutal; the text refuses to let the reader be comfortable, subverting expectations and loosening structures as it builds them. Wry, eviscerating, and experimental, bodys tests the reader's comprehension of its numerous ideas and commands for attention in every phrase. There is an inherent orality to the poetic voice that situates the poems staunchly in the performative, uncomfortable, and dynamic - like bodies, these poems are both actors and acted upon.

I'd whole-heartedly recommend bodys for fans of surrealist poetry, bizarro fiction, and experimental literature in general. Squeamish readers or staunch traditionalists might want look elsewhere - unless they want to read something that challenges conventions at every turn and leaves them with much to unpack.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What I've Read: Upstream by Mary Oliver

Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

There is a lot to be celebrated in iconic American poet Mary Oliver's writing. Her style combines a frenzy of details, lyrically drawn analyses, and impossibly precise revelations, creating in both poetry and prose a distinctive and vital voice in contemporary American literature.

The essays in Upstream largely cover topics ranging nature to natural evil to various American writers. While these topics are undoubtedly and respectively fascinating, the essays themselves are made all the more remarkable for the contemplative lines that are blurred between subjects. The deeply personal flourishes here, and Oliver's anecdotes underscore her numinous amazement and practical ruminations when it comes to life - not just human life, but all life.

Oliver's writing is eminently enjoyable and perfectly quotable, almost aphoristic, in a manner not unlike the Transcendentalist writers she profiles and examines. With skillfully deployed experimentation, Oliver provides a detailed, poetic taxonomy of the natural world and insight into some of America's most revered writers (as well as the act of writing itself). The essays here are luminous, nearly mystical in their emotional resonance, but also filled with shocking clarity and deep revelation. Upstream provides us with exactly what we need to hear about life, death, literature, and the natural world - even if we didn't know it yet.

What I've Read: Bread and Butter #1 by Liz Mayorga

I guess I'm still on my comic book streak! Here's the thing: I'm just starting to get acclimated to NetGalley, and did not realize that I only had until the Archive date to read a book that was approved for me. When I saw that Bread and Butter #1 was archiving soon, I jumped on it!

So, yes: thank you to NetGalley for giving me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This book was ostensibly the first issue of Bread and Butter, a comic series about a young Latina woman named Liana Caudillo living in San Francisco. Anyone who works in the creative industry while also juggling another job knows something about her struggle: finding time to balance the demands of your work while maintaining your true passion and side hustle (hello, me).

This comic is a great entry into these ideas, and displays the central tension in places like San Francisco well. In just 24 pages, Bread and Butter asks how a city maintains it soul with progress and the ills of gentrification. It also asks how we balance our passion with the demands of the day, and how we fall in love with the place we call home while maintaining a complicated relationship to how it operates, its injustices, and all its beauty.

It's also a perfect example of how these dynamics play out within the service industry: the employee doing their best to perform their job well under the constrictions of low pay and high expectations, as well as the challenge of serving people who often exist in a higher socioeconomic strata than your own. Asking these questions under this lens is brilliant; an honest look at the working class and serving class is a good way to get a grounded sense of how the interplay of class and labour operates in a real way (and these viewpoints are generally under-represented in pop culture).

Bread and Butter feels confessional, and, as such, it's a beautifully insightful slice-of-life comic. The artwork is great, and I'm interested to see where the story goes from here. I did regret that it was only the first issue, because it felt like something that would be wonderful to devour in one sitting. I can't wait to see what comes next for Liana Caudillo and the Bread and Butter series.

Friday, September 30, 2016

What I've Read: Equinoxes by Cyril Pedrosa

Thank you to Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I have a confession to make: I got burned out on comics a few years ago.

I know. Weird, inconvenient timing: it happened even before every second movie in the theatres was a superhero adaptation. Somewhere around 2011, I went from voraciously devouring everything from Clowes to capes to feeling far too oversaturated with superhero and comic culture. This may have had something to do with the emergence of geek culture as a pervasive cultural force. Being the malcontent I sometimes am, I just had to stop before I soured on it forever.

I've been slowly bringing myself back into the rhythm of reading comics and graphic novels, and the rewards, so far, have been many. I got caught up on Rat Queens earlier in the year, have Saga up on the docket, and have just finished the remarkable Equinoxes by Cyril Pedrosa.

Equinoxes follows the intertwining lives of a group of strangers living in France, and all of the muddled beauty that exists in their associated milieu. The artwork is at once unique, familiar and aesthetically intriguing. The plot, narrative and illustrations are all crafted with meticulous attention that flows perfectly from page to page, giving each vignette a dreamy, cinematic quality. The characters are skillfully drawn into life, with their brief interludes leaving a sizable emotional impression as they each explore existential truths, the depth beneath the banal, and the fleeting beauty of each moment. At once raw, cynical, wry, and sentimental, Equinoxes is a graphic novel that demands you pay attention, for the lives depicted in its pages are both familiar and revealing.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What I've Read: The Best American Poetry 2016

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Poetry is often plagued by the accusation that it’s written for an audience that consists, primarily, of other poets. The relative universal accessibility of poetry becomes a constant question, which is invariably followed by the sub-question: does the universality or accessibility of poetry actually matter?

I don’t know – I've never been able to answer that, not during my undergrad degree, or in the poetry workshops I attended, or in the pages of literary criticism and books of poetry I’ve read before, during, and after that time. All I know is that poetry has vitality and immediacy that makes the act of reading poetry an important human endeavor.

Are there poems that achieve and embody that vitality and immediacy in The Best American Poetry 2016? Yes, of course. There are beautifully deft, clever, soul-shaking poems contained within. Do I agree with all of the selections? No, but that’s to be expected.

There were poems in it that I actively disliked due to my own aesthetic reader-response tics; I have a general antipathy for pithy references to other poets in poetry (probably in part because it calls back the question of whether poetry is strictly for poets). This presented a bit of a problem, as meta-references to other poets are present in a large amount of the poems selected for this year's anthology. While that aspect can be a distraction, there are poems that either make the reference worthwhile or include it in such a way that it unobtrusively becomes part of the poem’s greater tableau.

As in all things, your mileage may vary – one of the great strengths of the Best American Poetry series is each edition falls under the editorial gaze of other established poets working in the medium and, as such, can contain any number of overt or subtle themes each year.  Either way, it’s always interesting to see what gets selected. Fans of poetry should be checking out this series every year!

Monday, August 8, 2016

What I've Read: Party of One: A Memoir in 21 Songs by Dave Holmes

Do you remember the '90s? That's when MTV VJ Dave Holmes came into the spotlight as part of MTV's "Want to Be a VJ" Contest. Paired against the enigmatically charismatic Jesse Camp, Dave Holmes lost - but still worked at MTV in the years afterward. This is but one part of Holmes' fascinating pop culture journey.

This memoir goes into the years prior to his MTV career, and delves much deeper than the twenty-one songs mentioned in the tagline. It's a heartfelt, conversational and frequently laugh-out-loud funny chronicle of Holmes' time as a pop-culture obsessed outcast struggling to express, retain, and reconcile his identity as he came of age.

Holmes' overview of pop culture from the past 30-odd years is enjoyable to read. The memoir is at its most successful and engaging when it delves deeply into its subject; Holmes' description of the highs and lows of coming of age as a gay man in a pre-Marriage Equality, pre-Ellen, time is worth reading in its own right.

I received this e-book through Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review, and I'm very glad I did. It's a fun, easy, engaging read that will find fans among readers of pop culture memoirs like those of Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield.