BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Perhaps the most vaguely appropriate term, I use 'existential' here to simply mean 'relating to existence.' These four books certainly are that — whether it's about everyday grief, the sociopolitical history of Northern Italy, the night that exists inside of us, or living out one's days within a castle wall. I hope you enjoy these four books as much as I did.
LEAH SILVIEUS / ANEMOCHORY [Hyacinth Girl Press]
I had the good fortune of being asked to read for Leah Silvieus at her book launch — we're both Hyacinth Girl Press authors (here's my chap, war/lock). Leah had a wonderful party at Word Up bookstore, complete — because she is excessively classy — with Italian cured meats and cheeses. It was a cold, windy night and it was really lovely to spend time cozying up indoors with poetry.
Her work — in this case, her chapbook Anemochory — is splendid. The language itself is lush and musical and earthly, but her form is rather restricted and tight. Her use of white space is particularly alluring — and everyone knows I'm a lover of white space.
Anemochory is a small, melancholy, well-composed collection that deserves your eyes. This is a book of nature and grief — made up of tides, stone arches, lichen, sea grass, sealight, orchards, psalms, chapels and absence. Not all poetry works toward the unabashed beauty of language — not all poetry concerns itself with musicality and what is luscious and consuming. Silvieus' poetry does, and that's where its power is found.
NICELLE DAVIS / THE WALLED WIFE [Red Hen Press]
Nicelle Davis is a poet who knows no boundaries. Her work is meticulous and obsessive — like a vulture picking at its prey. I read The Walled Wife, her newest, after reading with Davis at Berl's Poetry shop in Brooklyn. I could barely exhale. The Walled Wife likely requires some explanation (as Davis did at her reading and does in her book's intro), but I'm not sure that it should be precipitated by anything, actually. The story is so powerful, so fucked up, so overwhelming, so personal in its universality — that it may be better to let readers try and swim to shore on their own. In The Walled Wife, a woman is buried alive — in a tradition known as immuring. But this is so much more than an exploration of that history. This book aims to take back those lives and build something like freedom and power in its place. It does so partly in poems and partly with snippets of history around the subject.
Now for the language: Davis experiments with form in delicious ways, pulling the reader in with the story but keeping them there with craft. When her poems aren't exploding off the page (and they often do), she is keeping pace with small, claustrophobic poems that pack a lot of power, like Footnote #6:
This book is so much bigger than poetry. It is a narrative that needs to be read and heard — especially today, when women are both autonomous and walled up, at the same time.
NIGHT / ETEL ADNAN [Nightboat Books]
This book is so impossibly beautiful, I've carried it everywhere with me since summer ended. It is quite small, and it opens with two pages, dark and light, with star-shaped droplets Opening it feels like entering into a prayer, symbolically. You can feel the author's 91 years (Adnan was born in 1925) in this work. It is as wise as it is curious.
This is a book of body, god (or spirit) and earth. Writer Negar Azimi says, "There are few lives that have charted the dislocations, tectonic shifts, passions, and innumerable heartbreaks of the modern Arab world more thoroughly than Etel Adnan... She is a writer of searing, sometimes surrealist heights."
This heartbreak and power is felt over and over again — from the beginning when Adnan writes, "A field of rosebuds has been flattered by the wind" and in the end: "where is the light?" But it would be unfair to say this is a book of woe. That's too simple. This is introspective and meditative writing that is charged with the power of the soul, universally and personally.
I loved this passage — it is perhaps the seed of the book and the real core of all of us, the ever-present subconscious and conscious obsession with our own darkness and ending:
What more can I say?
CREATURING / TIZIANO FRATUS [Marick Press]
Translated from the Italian (the book contains both the English and the Italian) by Francesco Levato, this book was a little gem that, like kismet, fell off of a shelf and into my hands. True story. I found this book at Word Up after a trip to Northern Italy, where this writer happens to live. I could feel the Northern Italian landscape — the terracotta, the people, the political. It is, above all, a book that tells the story of humanity. But as an Italian-American poet myself, I find this to be a must-read.
This passage, from The Shadow of Hart Crane and Other Visitors, struck me with such force, as there is something so urgent and personal about Fratus' poems. It feels like I'm peeking behind the curtain:
Ilya Kaminsky, on Creaturing, perhaps put it best: this is a book, "of a citizen who is able to look at History through its abstractions and details and find music where others saw propaganda, find humanity where others saw statistics, find remembering alive and afire, among things too many of us are ready to forget […] Tiziano Fratus is a public Poet, a man unafraid of speaking in a full voice of a grown up, something we in the USA often shy away from."
Lisa Marie Basile is the found editor-in-chief of Luna Luna. She is the author of Apocryphal (Noctuary Press) and a few chapbooks, including Andalucia (Poetry Society of NY) and war/lock (Hyacinth Girl). You can find her work in Tarpaulin Sky, Sporklet, PANK, Dusie, Huffington Post, The Rumpus, the Tin House blog and Ampersand Review. She's also a journalist and editor.