BY LISA MARIE BASILE
I don't read lots of books quickly. I hate to admit that. I should read more – and faster. I really should. But when I do read, I read books over and over and over and I really ingest them. I try to let them inhabit me. Here are a few I've read over and over the past few weeks. Please do read them, buy them, support their authors and review them, too, if you wish.
Zoe Dzunko's Selfless (TAR Chapbook Series / Atlas Review)
I'd read Dzunko's poetry before in an issue of Pith, so when I got my hands on Selfless, I had expected that same bodily rush – explosive and uncomfortable, like a reader-cheerleader who is on the sidelines of darkness. There is a lot of body – and bodylessness and body trauma – in this book. I think her voice is strong as fuck, even in those moments when weakness is drawn up and offered as matter-of-factly as-anything: "The time you fucked / my face it felt like a feather." All of the book's power just grows and grows, and there are some dozens and dozens of crushing lines throughout – too many for me to quote here. Go read it.
I have somewhere to be
in the future – it is a shape I drew
in the dirt, ten backyards ago.
to shrink into — I am laying a body
out for the bees, but they never land
when you want them this much.
Jay Besemer's Chelate (Brooklyn Arts Press)
Chelate is killing me. I want to understand the poet, soothe the poet, make a space for the poet in my heart and take in some of his pain. Besemer writes of gender transition in such a cutting, confrontational, active way, and you can feel it.
The writer explores the undoing and re-creation of body, and while some of that is very painful, to me this book is made of strength, autonomy and reconciliation. This is an engine of a book – every single piece leads you further and further into this form-bending holy land of self.
The book also makes excellent use of colons (something you'll notice first), which are hard to use successfully when the poet isn't sure of why they are using them. They seem obvious here, though – they are pushing this massive engine of change and becoming forward; they are the symbol of change. Obsessed.
erasing one file : that's not what we're doing here /
: erasure is not the right word : recognition is the/
analogous process : my today & my tomorrow/
recognize yesterday but do not attempt to obscure/
Locally Made Panties by Arielle Greenberg (Ricochet Editions)
So this book is sitting on my counter one day – I'd ripped open the packing and left it there to be read later. I'm always rushing. And then later that night I come home, and see the cover staring up at me – this 1970s babe pulling her undies up tight around her body. It's raunchy – for sure – but really, it's just powerful. Because the body is always so shamed. God forbid you see a little camel toe! God forbid a woman show her body in a way that we are taught to objectify and sexualize? I like that this book says, "Hi. This vagina and this proud lady showing her vag is totally on this book cover. So take that." Also, the back cover boasts blurbs by Cheryl Strayed and Kate Durbin, a fully little pairing that I'm intrigued by. (I love Kate Durbin).
This whole thing is about being a woman, a mother, a consumer, a human, a writer, an observer – all while having a body, and having clothes, and watching other bodies and others' behaviors. It is about what our clothes really mean and what we really mean when we talk about clothing.
At first, being that I'm such a bratty little Wednesday Addams about everything, I wasn't sure where this would fit for me. I was (admittedly) thrown off by the idea of poetry encountering clothing or fashion. But it was so much more than that, and I was wrong for making that snap decision.
This book is an interesting, honest recollection (or diary) of being alive and being a woman. She deftly deals with issues of shopping guilt, poet outfits, her body, ethical clothes, weight gain and shopping with friends who tell you that you look good but are fibbing. All the things we can all relate to.
And then there is a poet who has worn the same
Adorable 1940s print day dresses and cat's eye
glasses every day, every time I've seen her, for the
decade that I've known her. It is her Look.
I often think about how I would like to have a Look.
If I lose forty pounds altogether it will be a fucking
miracle and that would be my Goal Weight, my weight
of all weights, and I would think that everything I put
on looked fabulous on me.
A Goal Weight is really a completely ridiculous
Fire in the Sky by E. Kristin Anderson (Grey Book Press)
I actually loved this book so much I blurbed it, and so with that I present you my blurb:
These clever erasure poems strain the blood of Lana Del Rey (a pure blend of sex, kitsch & American Dream) into something Del Rey herself would likely read while dozing, or smoking, on an Italian shore. The work here speaks to poetry's most addictive power: aesthetic overdose in the form of language. There's so much to indulge in here, so much to consume, like a woman drunk on the lure of a bad, bad man. I got the impression that the writer is a real Lana Del Rey fan, the kind that sees past LDR's obvious tropes and vice-riddled repetitions - and sees, instead, the heart of who we are as people; in love , on fire, sad, lost and obsessive. That's really what this is about, not a regurgitation. I found myself wanting to pull the words out and arrange them before me, all covered in sea salt and flower petals and lipstick.
Don’t make the girl dark. No butterflies. Bats come sing
drinkin’ like memory, sad mountain paradise. But life?
Want that vitamin crazy hard, radio queens and rain.
You raised chasers; I want the close cry.
Lick them like a national party, know my every worth.
I’ll die now, in my party bikini, honey true, the shameless way.
Anaïs Duplan's Take This Stallion (Brooklyn Arts Press)
This book is a force. I mean, a force.
It's bold, brazen, experimental in form and loud in language. But for all of that – it's attacking quality – it remains soft and vulnerable. It is hooves and also fur, and they are synced in constant movement.
I am so in love with the way Duplan writes her interior world. She says things in a way that makes you think she's telling a secret to a best friend. But also that she will write it on a wall in the public park because who cares what you think?
The language is precise; her line-breaks are thoughtful and exact, and her dedication to exploring form feels natural; it doesn't feel like a poet-checklist of "and now I tried this," which, let's be honest, is a thing.
This book – I read it twice. Each time I thought I am so glad this exists. I love Anaïs Duplan's work, and I think everyone should read it.
I become my mother and father. I don
their postures, I posture, "Where-"
have they gone and how I stop them
from devouring me."
You and I are filthy but it is
our filth. Look how quick the clouds
when you expect bad news. Here is
a telegram I have never received:
Please. Hold out hope. The best
is nowhere in sight.