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.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

What I've Read: Trébuchet by Danniel Schoonebeek

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

The poems of Trébuchet are perfect for the nebulous social chaos of 2016. Stark, skillful, and unsentimental, these poems steel their focus on a world at the precipice of collapse. The tone and thematic tensions are established early; in the introduction Schoonebeek warns, “These poems were written to put you on a government watch list”. In the rest of the poem (as well as the poems that follow) the narrative is underscored by a playful, anxious kind of interpellation, best illustrated when Schoonebeek writes, “If these poems don’t throw themselves through your windows please burn them.”

The poems frequently veer into the territory of nihilism and paranoia, but manage to do so without cheapening or compromising the social critique at the heart of the collection. Trébuchet is deftly experimental in its styling and structure, and each individual poem carries its weight into the thrilling culmination found in “Dark-Eyed Junco Was Her Name”.

A startling, striking, and demanding book that rewards you with poems both finely-tuned and unforgettable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Year in Shakespeare: August 2016

I can't believe I haven't mentioned my life goal of reading the entirety of Shakespeare's canon on this blog. That's A Thing. A major thing, to me, in my life. I'd posted previously about my recalcitrant attitude post-high school vis-a-vis all things The Bard. I was, like I sometimes am, empirically wrong.

My university's 2000-level Shakespeare class renewed my passion for Shakespeare's work and all things Shakespearean adaptation, riff, and remix (well, somewhat. I have a lot of opinions and my mileage varies). Regardless, the class was a fantastic dip into the majority of Shakespeare's work; the year-long class covered a large swath of the tragedies, comedies, and history plays (with a soupçon of poetry).

I'm not really a completist in other areas of my life. I like what I like, am juggling two careers and three mental illnesses (which is to say that keeping my shit relatively together is another full-time job). But with so much of it under my belt, I figured, why not try to complete it?

I've read all of the tragedies except for Timon of Athens and all of the history plays save for Henry VIII and King John. That left me with a metric fuck-ton (not a real unit of measurement) of the comedies to read in 2016.

So far, I've read: The Comedy of Errors, Measure for Measure, All's Well That Ends Well, and The Merry Wives of Windsor, all thanks to the Folger Digital Texts archive.

                                     These covers are pretty but digitization is convenient!

Of these, Measure for Measure was my definite favorite; my preference for Shakespearean tragedy made the "problem play" automatically pique my interest, and I was rewarded with an execution plot, moral and existential questioning, and gallows humor.

Conversely, The Merry Wives of Windsor was one of the silliest things I've ever read, in any genre (this includes longform articles about juggalo culture). Reportedly written because the Queen wanted a "Falstaff love story", this play delivers that, and more. Spoilers, but, Falstaff gets his comeuppance when he's tricked into thinking other characters are fairies. 

I don't really have much to say about The Comedy of Errors and All's Well That Ends Well. They were perfectly serviceable Shakespearean comedies and probably more fun in performance than on the page - reading Shakespeare is always a delight, but sometimes it does take seeing it performed for it to become magical.

Hopefully, I'll get a chance to read more comedies, explore the apocrypha, and see a performance by local troupe Shakespeare By The Sea. Until then, rest you merry!

What I've Read: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

There is incredible value in reading widely, isn't there? I pre-planned a certain amount of disbursement among genres this year; of my 100 books, 25 were to be horror, 25 to be nonfiction, 25 to be YA, and 25 to be miscellaneous. The "miscellaneous" category, so far, consists of everything from poetry to graphic novels. It also has a new addition: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Sci-fi thriller isn't a genre I typically seek out, but something about this book intrigued me from the moment I read about it. This book is filled with deft, beautifully written language that expresses the complex problems at the heart of individual identity and human existence. The question of identity that is inherent to the story - what makes you who you are? - is complicated by the paradoxes implicit to quantum mechanics.The plot vacillates gracefully between the trappings of the sci-fi and thriller genres while adding unique and fresh elements of horror and romance. Emotionally resonant, complex, and filled with existential questions, Dark Matter will leave you wondering 'who am I and what does that mean' long after you've finished it.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

I'm Baaack

Hey hello hi! Rumours of this blog's obsolescence may have been slightly exaggerated.

My apologies for how long it's been since my last post. You see, there was a rather large project on my hands last year: my wedding! Unfortunately, this blog got put aside as I got swept up in the wonderful fun (and stress!) of planning. My husband and I, being the bookworms that we are, were so happy to be able to host our nuptials at our city's new, state-of-the-art library:

from ArchiPaper
We said our vows up in the top floor. The sunset streamed in through those massive windows, the city busy below us. Our friends were kind enough to read selections from Rumi and Jane Hirshfeld's poetry during the ceremony. Afterward, we drank craft beer on the patio and our laughter carried into the night.

So, what else happened in 2016? Well, I didn't reach my goal of reading 52 books. I came aggravatingly close, though: 49 of 52! The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison tied with Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem for my favorite read of 2015. It would be nigh impossible for me to choose which I enjoyed more, but it's worth noting that Jamison's powerfully raw piece, "Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain", remains one of my favorite essays ever written.

There were other lovely reading experiences, too: I finally picked up those newfangled "Harry Potter" books. You may not have heard of the series, it's pretty obscure. I loved them as an entire story of magical bildungsroman; my enjoyment of the individual books tended to vary. They're most enjoyable as one large fantastical assemblage, anyway.

Honorable mentions: The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht, Dead Spots by Rhiannon Frater, and Arachnophile by Betty Rocksteady.

Let's see, what else? Oh yeah, I did NaNoWriMo for the first time, and got to about 20,000 words on my YA novel about 90s punk witches in rural Canada. It's the longest anything I've managed to write (especially considering my start in poetry). I published a few short stories here and there.

In doing research for the novel, I eventually wound up discovering witchcraft. I've been a practicing pagan ever since! Luckily, a pretty big part of the practice is reading, reading, reading.

It was a busy, joyful, scattered year, full of good things and good reads.

2016? It's been pretty good so far. I discovered that I adore doing yoga. I've been doing witchy things, writing things, reading things. Since I've been writing mainly in the horror genre, I have very much amped up my horror reading. I'm at 37 of my goal of 100 books this year. Pretty ambitious, since I didn't make last year's 52, but I say go big or go home! Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Etc!

2016 selections run kind of ridiculous to sublime: indie publishers, commercial horror fiction, experimental horror fiction, woo-woo self-help stuff, some truly fantastic YA, some fair to middling nonfiction. Here's a peek:

Please stay tuned - I can't wait to share more with you!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Shakespeare Saturday: Beware the Ides of March

                                             Remember March, the ides of March remember:
                                               Did not great Julius bleed for justice' sake?
  - Brutus, Julius Caesar, IV. iii.

    Earlier today, I was thinking of this article from the Poetry Foundation, detailing how poet John Keats would spend his Sundays reading Shakespeare instead of going to church (Keats and I have this in common). It occurred to me to do a similar bout of Shakespeare worship on my blog and write a weekly recap of 'my life in Shakespeare' each week. Why not, right?

    Naturally, I had one particular Shakespeare play in mind this week, given that the Ides of March came and went: none other than 10th grade English class MVP Julius Caesar.

With the play being forever immortalized by those same high school English classes, their allusion in the title of John Green superhit The Fault in Our Stars (which I've never read- I assume the intertext ends there), and film classic Mean Girls-

-I'm left wondering: do 'the kids' still love this play? I'm pretty sure it was the first Shakespeare play I'd ever read, and I know that I loved it at the time. It kick-started my mild teenaged obsession with ancient Rome. I might still love Albert Camus' Caligula more than Julius Caesar, but that's neither here nor there.

It was my intention to re-read the play on March 15, because I'm a sucker for a synchronous gimmick. I ended up being distracted, and only skimmed it while listening to the BBC Production. Even still, I was stunned by the power of the language, the meta-theatrical themes of politics as performance, et al. It deserves a re-read, but it's admittedly hard to prioritize when I still have new-to-me Shakespeare plays on the docket. The fault in my reading list, amirite?

Other Shakespeare things from this week:

Totally coveting this 'Shakespeare Love Quotes' mug, from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild (which is a great name, and I totally wish I could steal it for a band name, the bastards):

I have a wedding coming up. I wasn't planning on having a registry, but if literary mugs are a thing I can request, I just might start one.

Anyway, I also stumbled across this great photo set, based on the Three Witches in Macbeth (my favorite Shakespeare play):

from frerin, on tumblr

I feel like this set perfectly captures the moody, foreboding gloom of the play. Also, yeah, I'm totally a sucker for photosets like these. I regret nothing.

Next time on Shakespeare Saturday: erm, I don't know. I desperately need to get back to the Wars of the Roses cycle, so, probably that.

Until then, rest you merry!