I remember when I was an undergraduate, visiting my father at his library at the university where he was a professor, and the head librarian casually asked him for recommendations: What’s good? I was a bookseller then, in addition to a voracious English literature major, and I would say I was working my way through school, but really I was working my way through a book habit that is making a potential move in our not-so-distant future grimace-inducing (my father-in-law vowed he’d never move me again for all the books I own). But who writes this feature who isn’t like that? Who isn’t swimming in a tide of books read and to-read? Whose floorboards haven’t begun to sink a little deeper from their personal libraries? Like any good bookseller, I asked her what she liked, because that is where you start—a reading a history—and my father said, “Well, she’s a catholic reader.” To which I began the litany of: Pope Joan and Mary Called Magdalene and The Red Tent. This is where I learned what catholic-with-a-little-c meant (my husband: “Right, catholic”—and he was also raised Catholic—“like catholic fisheries”—what?) and that this is the kind of reader I am.
Five books that have been drifting across my radar recently: Kelly Hansen Maher’s manuscript Tremolo is in that cusp-stage is moving from a shuffle of printed out pages to galleys, and is due out in the 2016 side of winter. It’s a collection of poems, devastatingly written, that center around loss and grief and moving through that sorrow in the foggy landscape of Lake Superior. She uses the loon’s calls as a kind of call and response to evoke and process grief, which is at once eerie and soothing. Every time I read the book, I tear up, and I know that is both because of the content but also because of the deft hand in which Maher writes. She’s riddled with talent, the way she looks at the world, translates it.
It’s the beginning of the school year and both of my small children have gone off to Montessori school (one in the toddler program and another in the preschool program) and I’ve been spending a lot of time mourning the small-baby time of motherhood. We’ve also started talking about putting our house on the market, about house-hunting again, so I am feeling, understandably, very domestic. I recently started Lorrie Moore’s A Gate at the Stairs while in the hospital waiting room, and her prose always thrills me. How does she do it? I want to slurp every one of her sentences like rich pasta.
In the car, on road trips, I recently finished listening to The Poisonwood Bible, which I loved in those undergraduate bookselling days and found that I love it still but in entirely different ways. The prose will always get me—good writing will always get me before good content—but my thoughts and experiences and observations on race and faith have changed so absolutely much in the last decade and a half. I’d love to have a conversation with my early-twenties self about this book, a book club with a historical me.
I’ve read a good number of terrible books lately, so I hope it’s OK to skip over those to get at the truly good. One recent wonder is Eula Biss’s On Innoculation, which does all the things I would want from a book length essay—she employs all of the techniques that can make that kind work sing, such as narrative braiding, balancing anecdote with research with deep images. I’ve immediately picked up her Notes from No Man’s Land and am savoring it as slowly as I can manage.
I’ve also been doing re-reading: Ariel while I was on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth, late at night while everyone slept. It’s strange to read a book of poems as an adult from an author whose work really pushed me to make a writing life a serious thing when I was in high school. Who didn’t decorate their bedroom walls with a Plath picture? Plenty, OK, yes, but I do know there is a tribe of us for whom Plath played a major role as we maneuvered the landscape of becoming-a-writer, to say nothing of becoming-a-mother or becoming-a-mother-with-mental-illness. (To that end, I fascinated my way through Marya Hornbacher’s Madness this summer.)
More and more, manuscript-reading is replacing time I might have spent reading for pleasure otherwise, and maybe even replacing time I would have spent shuffling my own poems into manuscripts. I’ve sometimes become addicted to Goodreads and how you can log how many books you read in a year and am chuffed that I can’t enter all those manuscripts, or enter the number of times I’ve re-read a book. I used to read with quantity in mind, churning through numbers to impress, rather than slow to savor. As a baby-editor in this world, I’m learning to read in a very different way, one that involves lingering over syntax and letting go of books that do not urge me forward (before, I made a commitment to a book that I would see it through—only a few times has this paid off and more often, it’s just resulted in wasted time). I miss working in a bookstore, where I could see the recent splashy beauties, but now I’m participating in bringing some of those gems into the world, and that’s a gift too.
DATE: SEPTEMBER 27 2015
LOCATION: MADISON SQUARE PARK, NYC
TIME: 5:30 TO 6:30 PM
Admission is free
Singapore: Inside Out makes its third stop in New York at Madison Square Park, a 6.2-acre urban oasis located in the heart of Manhattan, in the Flatiron District. Named for James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, the Square opened as a public park in 1847. Today, more than 50,000 people pass through Madison Square Park on a daily basis and enjoy the Park’s seasonal gardens and complimentary arts programming.
5.30pm to 6.30pm – Literary Conversations: The US launch of UNION – featuring Alvin Pang, Ravi Shankar, Sharon Dolin, Jee Leong Koh, and Amanda Lee Koe
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence and the 15th anniversary of celebrated literary journal Drunken Boat (USA), noted poets and literary editors Alvin Pang (Singapore) and Ravi Shankar (USA) bring you an exciting new cross-cultural anthology of writing: UNION. At the US launch of the anthology and to celebrate literary friendships between Singapore and New York, they are joined at this session by poet Sharon Dolin (USA), poet Jee Leong Koh (Singapore) and writer Amanda Lee Koe (Singapore).
Published in English and to be released worldwide, the UNION anthology brings together over 130 writers from Singapore, the US and beyond, including Cultural Medallion and Pulitzer Prize winners, and features poetry, fiction, non-fiction, translation and criticism. UNION marks the extraordinary literary range and diversity and the many resonances – often overt and sometimes surprising – that connect our communities.
About Ravi Shankar: Founding editor and executive director of DrunkenBoat, one of the world’s oldest electronic journals of the arts, Ravi Shankar is a recognised figure in the literature and publishing world. He has published or edited seven books and chapbooks of poetry, including the 2010 National Poetry Review Prize winner, Deepening Groove. He is currently chairman of the Connecticut Young Writers Trust, on the faculty of the first international MFA Program at City University of Hong Kong and a Professor of English at Central Connecticut State University.
About Jee Leong Koh: A Singapore poet and essayist living in New York City, Jee Leong Koh is the author of four books of poetry, including Steep Tea and The Pillow Book. He was most notably shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and as part of his commitment to introduce Singapore arts to an American audience, he runs the arts website Singapore Poetry, the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in New York.
About Amanda Lee Koe: Amanda Lee Koe is the youngest-ever winner of the Singapore Literature Prize for her short story collection, Ministry of Moral Panic. Currently working on her first novel, Amanda is the fiction editor of Esquire Singapore by day and a graduate student pursuing a Master’s Degree in Fine Arts at Columbia University by night.
About Sharon Dolin: Sharon Dolin is the author of five poetry books, most notably Whirlwindand Burn and Dodge, which won the AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry. She is planning to launch her sixth poetry collection, Manual for Living, in 2016 (University of Pittsburgh Press), whileSerious Pink, which explores the ongoing relationship and interplay between the visual and verbal arts, is being reissued by Marsh Hawk Press this year. She directs The Center for Book Arts Annual Poetry Chapbook Competition as well as Writing About Art in Barcelona, a 10-day creative writing workshop.
Today’s vintage pick is a feast for the eyes in the form of Jodi Darby’s “Dead Vegas.” This collection of haunting photographs reveals the darker side of Las Vegas: its abandoned enterprises, forgotten hotspots and faded neon dreams, all with their own kind of dilapidated beauty. Darby’s photos appeared previously in the Autumn 2012 issue of Drunken Boat, No. 16., and are sure to be just as stunning when you view them today.
Jodi Darby is a Portland-based filmmaker, videographer, producer and media educator specializing in experimental documentary video and photography. Her work reflects an interest in re-purposing history, mapping the changing north American landscape and finding beauty in that which has been discarded and abandoned, while also focusing on the stories of individuals and groups who are struggling to maintain their traditional ways of life and live with dignity in the United States. On top of her works being exhibited internationally, her documentary Arresting Power: Resisting Police Violence in Portland, Oregon has received multiple honors including the John Michaels Award and Northwest Media Alliance’s Best of the Northwest award. For more about Darby and her projects, check out her website at jodidarby.com.
Finally reading: Geek Love! If you haven’t gotten to it yet, believe the hype, at least the lingual lushness hype. I eat it. Structurally it’s average, but I can’t mind. Not average structurally are Dolan Morgan’s stories in That’s When the Knives Come Down. This book was accidentally delivered to my grandmother’s house and she kept it warm under her cryptograms. Now that it’s in my clutches I’m having a lot of fun in these mirror halls and finger traps that when you break out–breathe.
Slow Reading: Teju Cole’s Open City. It’s a meditation, this novel. It does the closest impression I have ever encountered of moving through New York City every day since actually moving through New York City every day. It is blazing with insights that hurt as gorgeously as the place. A Girl is a Half Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. Not necessarily new, but a necessary and timely ache of language. So why slow? It’s the dazzle-brained/throat-lumped combo for both.
Fast Reading: Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Small Backs of Children. An embodied autofiction meets feminist kunstlerroman barreling forward and backward at once. A highly structured novel-collage that takes a risk in every line. I’ve already cried twice.
Bathtub Reading: I’ve started a ritual with poetry in the water. Right now it’s Matt Mahaney’s The Storm that Bears Your Name and Lisa Robertson’s The Weather. These lovely books make sense in the water. You only need a little towel perch. The sound of drops or a dunk helps it all sink in.
Always reading: Helene Cixous’ Six Steps on the Ladder of Writing. Muriel Rukeyser’s Book of the Dead, shampoo bottles.
Reading Next: Winesburg, Ohio by Michael Martone (& Co.), Lines of Scrimmage by Joe Oestreich and Scott Pleasant, and The Visiting Privilege by Joy Williams.
Today, get ready for a hilariously vivid audio-visual experience as you enjoy DB’s 63rd vintage pick-of-the-week. In this great collaboration of talents, artists from group Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries combine poetics and flash animation synced to the perfect musical backdrop to create “Back in the R.O.K.,” which appeared as part of the diverse collection in our 10th anniversary issue. We’re sure you’ll find it deserving of it’s own individual celebration again today.
Young Hae-Chang Heavy Industries is based out of Seoul, Korea and has presented work in 15 languages. In 2008, its two principals, Young-hae Chang and Marc Voge, received the Grand Prix Multimédia from the Société des Gens de Lettres, Paris, and were digital writers in residence at the Interrupt Festival, Brown University. More information about this incredible collaborative effort is best expressed in the artists’ own style, so be sure to check out their flash animation resume.