Merle Haggard | The Peer Sessions | Audium Entertainment, 2002
I once heard that Joe Strummer said something like: “If you don’t like Bruce Springsteen, you’re a heartless, pretentious Martian.” I’d agree, and I’d say the same thing of Merle. There are few records on which you are able to hear someone smiling, thinking “God, this is fucking fun.” Joe Strummer made one (cf. London Calling); this one’s Haggard’s.
Emily Wilson | The Keep | University of Iowa Press, 2001
This book is endlessly smart, beautifully weird and incredibly addictive. I sit down to write about it nearly every other month, and I always end up just giving in and reading it again.
The National | Alligator | Beggars Banquet, 2005
The third album by the best band in the world. Don’t like The National? You’re wrong. (See also “Driver, Surprise Me,” the B-side to their “Abel” single.)
James McMichael | The World at Large: New and Selected Poems, 1971-1996 | University of Chicago Press, 1996
Had someone asked me six months ago whether or not I liked James McMichael, I probably would have said something like “Oh, I don’t really follow NASCAR” or “Hmm, I think he was a senior when I was a freshman” or, if I’d been feeling more honest, “Who the hell is James McMichael and what are you doing in my shower?” I’ve now rectified this potentially embarrassing state of being. I very much love this book’s objects, food, rooms.
Steve Langan | Freezing | New Issues, 2001
Growing up in the Midwest, I heard records by Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Uncle Tupelo, and other heartland bands in a particular way, a way that taught me (for better and for worse) how to live—and how not to live—in my given surroundings, as well as how to love those surroundings even when I loathed them. Lately, the hard, dark poems in Freezing, a book largely set in Omaha, Nebraska (or someplace very much like it), have been doing the same thing for me that those records once did. Apparently, I still have a lot of growing up to do.
Philip Jenks | My first painting will be “The Accuser” | Zephyr Press, 2005
Sold. And it damn sure won’t look pretty over the sofa.
Taylor Brady | Yesterday’s News | Factory School, 2005
As the Whiskeytown song of the same name says: “It’s a lot like falling down, standing up.”
Richard Siken | Crush | Yale University Press, 2005
A bully in junior high once told me he was going to pull my lungs out through my asshole. I don’t think he realized the implications of what he was saying, but Richard Siken probably would. There’s a thing in my stomach about this book.
Rob Halpern | Rumored Place | Krupskaya, 2004
Is it just me, or is this the book that many, many books prior to it were trying so hard—which is to say way too hard—to be?
Percival Everett | Cutting Lisa | Ticknor & Fields, 1986
I read this novel in one sitting, and when I was finished, I threw up. And when I was done throwing up, I sat down and read it again. I guess there’s a thing in my stomach—or perhaps not in my stomach—about this book, too.
Melissa Hotchkiss | Storm Damage | Tupelo Press, 2002
Like Bronk or Oppen sans some of the pomp; like Niedecker without the particular circumstance. A clear, modest and funny volume in a time of much muddled, self-absorbed moping.
For the last three years, Graham Foust has made it policy to live only in states that end with the letter “a.” In the early 1990’s, he played lead guitar for Johnny Negative and His Ark of Hate. Back to directory.
Wanda Coleman | The Riot Inside Me: More Trials & Tremors | Black Sparrow, David R. Godine, 2005
An antidote to the humorless world of theory and political correctness: essential and inimitable.
Cheryl Clarke | "After Mecca": Women Poets and the Black Arts Movement | Rutgers University Press, 2005
Important alternative history.
Laura Elrick | sKincerity | Krupskaya, 2003
Perfectly calibrated: unafraid to feel and think at the same time.
Four Arrows and Jim Fetzer | American Assassination: The Strange Death of Senator Paul Wellstone | Vox Pop, 2004
Essential reading; published by Sander Hicks's new bookstore, cafe, print-on-demand and press in Brooklyn.
David Graeber | Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology | Prickly Paradigm Press, 2004
Graeber has recently taken some academic heat at Yale where he professes; author of the important Toward An Anthropological Theory of Value: The False Coin of Our Own Dreams (Palgrave, 2001), a quite successful attempt to merge the thought of Karl Marx and Marcel Mauss and come up with something else, this short essay is extremely useful for thinking about all kinds of things, in theory, practice and action.
David Ray Griffin | The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions | Olive Branch Press, 2005
Jack Spicer talked about the "real" while the government has expended enormous energy since the end of WWII on dissassociating its citizenry from the real, whenever and wherever it might be found. With 9/11, new vistas in obfuscation have been reached. Griffin is one of the best and clearest out there at getting through the rubble. This latest book might best be prefaced by his earlier The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (Olive Branch Press, 2004).
K. Curtis Lyle | Electric Church | Beyond Baroque, 2003
Legendary founding member of the important Watts Writing Workshop, Lyle's work has been exceedingly difficult to come by until this fantastic collection, introduced by Will Alexander.
Aldon Lynn Nielsen | Integral Music: Languages of African American Innovation | University of Alabama, 2004
The section on the Baraka / Olson relationship alone is worth the price of admission. Filled with insight and neglected intersections.
Ilario Salucci | A People's History If Iraq: The Iraqi Communist Party, Workers' Movements, and the Left 1924-2004 | Haymarket Books, 2005
The great big gaping hole in books about the Middle East, particularly in the United States, is the willed ignorance and suppression of information on leftist movements throughout the 20th century. Concise and thorough, this mini-history is greatly indebted to the work of the great, great, great scholar Hanna Batatu, whose encyclopedic and deeply human epic study The Old Social Classes and the Revolutionary Movements of Iraq: A Study of Iraq's Old Landed and Commercial Classes and Its Communists, Ba'thists, and Free Officers (Princeton University Press, 1978), remains one of the most important works of 20th c. social and political history. Both books are of particular interest to me as they form the background to a novel that I just finished co-translating (with novelist Oz Shelach); the novel, Outcast, by Shimon Ballas (due out from City Lights in 2006) narrates the story of an Iraqi Jew who converts to Islam and writes A History of the Jews; the novel opens with the protagonist getting a medal of honor from Sadaam Hussein at the beginning of the Iran/Iraq war and follows his memories back through various revolutions, coups, world wars, and friendships.
Richard F. Townsend, General Editor | Hero, Hawk, and Open Hand: American Indian Art of the Ancient Midwest and South | Art Institute of Chicago, Yale University Press, 2004
A stunning, groundbreaking presentation of ancient American art in its contexts. The visuals are astonishing.
About Ammiel Alcalay. Back to directory.
Thalia Field | Incarnate: Story Material | New Directions, 2004
Peter Larkin | Terrain Seed Scarcity | Salt, 2001
Madeline Gins and Arakawa | Architectural Body | The University of Alabama Press, 2002
Evelyn Reilly | Hiatus | Barrow Street, 2004
Danielle Collobert | Notebooks 1956-1978 | Litmus Press, 2003
Gilles Deleuze | Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953-1974 | 2004
Norma Cole | Spinoza in Her Youth | Omnidawn, 2002
Nicole Brossard | LOVHERS | Guernica, 1986
David Levi Strauss | Between the Eyes | Aperture, 2003
Peter Lamborn Wilson | Cross-Dressing in the Anti-Rent War | manuscript soon to be a PORTABLE PRESS AT YO-YO LABS publication
Jill Magi | Cadastral Map | manuscript soon to be a PORTABLE PRESS AT YO-YO LABS publication
About Brenda Iijima. Back to directory.
Note: Steve, you should have this perhaps four times a year, for I feel I have just skimmed the surface. These are just the books I’ve been reading in the past couple weeks; oodles of titles have escaped me, lost to me from early spring, from New Years, winter, etc. But, thanks for giving me the chance to express my enthusiasm for:
Steve Benson | Open Clothes | Atelos, 2005
A welcome return by one of the poets most important to me as I came of age. In this category I might also mention I Never Knew What Time It Was, by David Antin (University of California Press, 2005), a book I find myself going back, back, back to, even with its stupid title.
Taylor Brady | Yesterday’s News | Factory School, 2005
Oh! I should just disqualify myself right now. I’m no fit judge of this book’s merits. I opened it up and saw that this was some kind of day book of poetry written during the year 2003, and I saw a poem for me that Taylor wrote when I was in the hospital way back when, and very sick and no one knew what would become of me! Now, when I read it again, in this context, feelings that beggar my powers to describe overwhelm and dissolve me. Like Alice, I’m in a pool of tears. But others have found this book most worthy, others, with stonier constitutions than mine.
Brent Cunningham | Bird & Forest | Ugly Duckling Presse | 2005
Ugly Duckling Presse has put out some terrific books. Cedar Sigo, whose Selected Writings I recommended to you last year, has a new (#2) book of them, also from UDP. Cunningham’s book has its rough edges and soft spots, but I think he wanted it that way, to take the sheen off the poetry and return it to a tactile state. At the same time the presentation is lovely, as though they had brought back MC Escher and MC Hammer and had them duke it out to make the book jacket.
Kenneth Goldsmith, ed. | I’ll Be Your Mirror: The Selected Andy Warhol Interviews | Carroll & Graf, 2004
Not a book of poetry per se, but the font of poetry. Just about everything he said turns out to have some application to our work. It’s funny how intellectual he seems written down, compared to the way he spoke, where his pronouncements all seemed vapid. He could have read aloud from Wittgenstein and made him sound like Lorelei Lee. Goldsmith presents us with a provocative, assured (except where tormented), king of cool who has something like a poem in every page.
Carla Harryman | Baby | Zephyr Press, 2005
Every time she finishes a book it’s an occasion, and this one has arrived, almost sneaking up into my line of vision, without my even knowing it. How long has this been out? Already it feels like a classic. Every time she releases a project it’s so different from the previous ones you feel the poles shifting as in The Day After Tomorrow. And here it is, at last, the distinguished thing.
Aaron Kunin | Folding Ruler Star | Fence Books, 2005
I won’t pretend I understand everything that’s happening in Aaron Kunin’s book, because I have the feeling I’m walking along escaping procedural dangers at every step I take through the pages of Folding Ruler Star. I get that when you open the book, two pages mirror each other left and right, and that somehow if you read this work syllable by syllable, another book emerges backwards, like the song that told us that John buried Paul. It’s an immensely quotable book, the kind of thing that makes you feel you’ve read it in your youth and loved it back then too.
David Larsen | The Thorn | Faux Press, 2005
A book of anger, the fury that sweeps through the plain, the Abolitionist anger that made John Brown steal that ferry. When you see him perform this book you wonder for his health, as you do seeing Kenward Elmslie read his work, for both of them put so much energy into inhabiting these visions and making us see, forcibly, the horror of existence.
Jennifer Moxley | Often Capital | Flood Editions, 2005
Gee, Steve, I shouldn’t be recommending this book to you of all people, but what the hey, she’s got something that comes along once every hundred years or 250 years or so, like Seabiscuit.
Standard Schaefer | Water & Power | Agincourt Press, 2005
The variety of Schaefer’s poems, that shows up on the page, each piece completely different than the others, as though the Fairy of Forms had sprinkled Standard Schaefer with confetti at his christening. Together they mount up and investigate, like, the poetic matter of Southern California. I didn’t think this would be good but it is awesome! This book puts you into a different world so that when you put it down, you bump into the furniture. Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.
Jonathan Skinner | Political Cactus Poems | Palm Press, 2005
Here’s another poet whose work I first heard, I think at Orono, and then later seeing it in the book opened for me a new savanna. Even the section I thought wasn’t working last week, well, today I get it. I’m a slow learner! This was the one with the pictures of cactuses in it. Anyhow reading Skinner’s poetry led me on to further adventures in ecology and in poetry. I bought a “Bird Song Ear Training Guide” which tells you the different words the birds sing, “Poor Sam Peabody” by the white-throated sparrow, and “Who’s Awake? Me too” by the great horned owl, nearly the kind of things Skinner’s poetry teaches us. Then I find out the handbook is only for the birds of the north!
Alli Warren | Hounds | Privately published, 2005
“To Those That Would Deny Poetry” is one of the titles in this small book of poems, and if you ask me, Alli Warren has a defiant word or two for the Philistines, like Christ shaking the money changers out of the Bible. Her writing is exciting, it reminds me of a time, long ago, when I first read Kim Rosenfield’s poetry as an adult and how astounded I was. Okay, the book is pretty slight, but she gives every sign of becoming one of those poets you don’t know how to live without.
About Kevin Killian. Back to directory.
John Ashbery | Selected Prose | Michigan, 2004
Peter Gizzi | Periplum and Other Poems | Salt, 2004
Jorie Graham | Overlord | Ecco, 2005
The Hat #6 | Edited by Jordan Davis and Chris Edgar | Spring 2005
Robert Lowell | The Letters of Robert Lowell | Ed. Sashkia Hamilton | Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005
Olivier Roy | L'Islam mondialisé (2nd edition) | Seuil, 2004
Michael Palmer | Company of Moths | New Directions, 2005
Claudia Rankine | Don't Let Me Be Lonely: An American Lyric | Graywolf, 2004
Juliana Spahr | This Connection of Everyone with Lungs: Poems | California, 2005
Simone Weil and Rachel Bespaloff | War and The Iliad | Ed. Christopher Benfey | New York Review Books, 2005
About John Palattella. Back to directory.
Nicole Brossard | Intimate Journals | The Mercury Press, 2004
"Every day, I have to risk new mental positions otherwise I founder in the anecdotal or else I linger over facile equations of the type this equals that or that does not equal that."
Gail Scott | My Paris | Dalkey, 2003
Read this after Edmund White's The Flaneur and then throw The Flaneur away in total disgust, as I did.
Kimberly Lyons | Saline | Instance Press, 2005
71 precious pages to feed hungry fans.
Shanxing Wang | Mad Science in Imperial City | Futurepoem, 2005
The table of elements meets ping-pong in astonishing narrative.
Will Alexander | Towards the Primeval Lightning Field | O Books, 1998
The book "says" it was published in 1998, but I think it was actually published in 20,008 (AD or BC, take your choice).
Lorine Niedecker | Paean to Place | Light & Dust/Woodland Pattern, 2003
Lorine Niedecker | North Central | Fulcrum Press, 1968
I've been accumulating all her smaller books in a futile effort to avoid the siren call of the huge, beautiful, and very expensive new collection from U. of California.
Clark Coolidge | Space | Harper & Row, 1970
In preparation for Coolidge's great reading with Michael Gizzi at the Poetry Project on May 4, 2005.
Talk by Vija Celmins on Agnes Martin on Oct. 4, 2004, at DIA
Notes taken: "Using the entire plane of the painting/stillness, listing of constellations thru 4 seasons/ It's all about composition—Martin/ It's all about form—Celmins."
James Schuyler | Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James Schuyler 1951-1991 | Turtle Point Press, 2004
To Joe Brainard, 6/28/70: "It's a bright pale blue morning and what I think is called a spanking breeze is blowing. Wait a minute while I put my ass out the window. Yes, it is a spanking breeze."
Rachel Blau DuPlessis | Drafts 1-38, Toll | Wesleyan | 2001
Her poem in issue 2 of the Poker ("Draft 57: Workplace: Nekuia") led me to this (thank you Dan B, very much).
About Marcella Durand. Back to directory.
Rodrigo Toscano | To Leveling Swerve | Krupskaya, 2004
Catherine Wagner | Macular Hole | Fence Books, 2004
Thom Gunn | Boss Cupid | Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000
Harryette Mullen | Muse & Drudge | Singing Horse Press, 1995
C. D. Wright | Steal Away | Copper Canyon Press, 2003
Lisa Lubasch | To Tell The Lamp | Avec Books, 2004
Jonathan Brannen | deaccessioned landscapes | Chax Press, 2005
Maria Damon & mIEKAL aND | Literature Nation | Potes & Poets Press, 2003
Bob Perelman and Francie Shaw | Playing Bodies | Granary Books, 2004
John Perlman | Self Portrait | The Elizabeth Press, 1976
Forrest Gander | Science & Steepleflower | New Directions, 1997
More Crag Hill. Back to directory.
Jordan Davis | Million Poems | http://millionpoems.blogspot.com | 2002-2005
The scope of the project—however doomed its stated "goal"—puts Jordan into an interesting situation. He must simply produce, factory like, by whatever means possible, using as many various springboards, models, and new ideas that he can come up with, and continue to make the product, and the overall project, at least entertaining and instructive enough for him to want to keep doing it. As with the Flarflist, which Jordan has not been quite so active on since he started this blog, Million Poems has begun to warp its sole participant's usual practice so as to consider—and be pulled along by—the medium and situation. (Witness the increasing number of poems Jordan has written in response to specific Internet searches that have led various people to his site.) The longer he keeps this project going, the more various and inventive he's going to have to be—I almost can't wait to see what he'll be posting to it in five years.
Brandon Downing | Dark Brandon | Faux Press, 2005
The number of poet-responses to the medium of film are legion, ranging from single poems to book-length projects. Dark Brandon is one of the more innovative and certainly the most consistently entertaining uses of film-as-springboard that I've read to date. I doubt, however, that each and every one of these poems is really a specific response to a film, although I could be wrong. (The GWB poems, for instance, although there might be a film, unstated, that serves as jumping off point.) If you can catch Brandon live, do so: I was fortunate enough to have seen him last year read his "Phantasm" response to a sped-up version of the film itself—a singularly wonderful experience. "Too many figures? I don't. I think it's/ Something, like a seesaw under a bell."
Benjamin Friedlander | Simulcast | University of Alabama Press, 2004
The sharpest, funniest, most relevant book about our neck of the poetry world that we're ever likely to see. Surprisingly little has been written about it, despite the fact that Ben does not seem to be without a significant following of readers appreciative of his work, both poetic and critical. There is not even so much as a publisher's press release—not to mention the usual clip from Publishers Weekly—on its amazon.com page. That's gotta be fixed. This isn't one of the best of the year; it's one of the best of our era.
Nada Gordon | Folly | manuscript
My single favorite writer of her generation—in fact, my favorite living writer period—and one whose impressive, astonishing, and unique body of work is long overdue for serious, critical examination. Sadly, her best book to date, V. Imp, is out of print less than three years after publication. Folly, when it's published—with work showing her at the top of her expressive, sonic, and inventive powers—should bring her singular writing to the attention of many new readers.
Rodney Koeneke | Rouge State | Pavement Saw, 2003
The oldest book on this list because it's one I keep going back to with increasing levels of interest. It's the centerpiece for a multimedia talk Nada and I will be giving at SPT this October on The Autré, a term we coined together for the purpose of this event, and which came in part out of our mutual admiration for this book. I notice that everyone I've written about so far can be said to lack the critical attention due to him or her; Nada and I are getting ready to remedy at least this one instance of critical neglect.
David Larsen | The Thorn | Faux Press, 2005
A strong, emotionally raw first outing from a much-loved, but heretofore underpublished Bay Area poet and artist. You see David's drawings everywhere: on magazine covers, in books and on their covers, in the Poetry Project Newsletter, but how often do you come across any of his poetry? Not often enough to prepare anyone for how much this book is going to matter to them when they pick it up. Thanks must go to the forward-looking Jack Kimball for making it happen.
Nick Piombino | Fait Accompli | htttp://nickpiombino.blogspot.com | 2003-2005
The single best, most consistently entertaining, risky, and innovative blog project by a poet to date. Like Jordan, Nick has allowed the medium itself to determine the most crucial elements of his blog; unlike Jordan, Nick does not post exclusively new material. Much of the blog is made up from his journal entries, which go back to the late 60s. He doesn't post them randomly: I always have the sense that the journal entries are put there for the purpose of entering into a dialog with other threads going on in blogland. A book of selections from Nick's blog will never hope to do the blog itself justice, but I still want the first copy that anyone prints—it'll be that good.
Jerome Sala | Look Slimmer Instantly! | Soft Skull, 2005
I felt, reading this book, that Jerome has become the great poet that Lew Welch might have been had he continued at his ad gig and fully explored everything he put on the table with his prescient, satirical "Din Poem." I was waiting for Jerome to put out a new book for a very long time and it more than exceeded my rather high expectations for it. I will be studying this book—not to mention laughing with it—for years to come. "We don't know much about the end/ except that it's usually pretty mean."
Ron Silliman | Under Albany | Salt, 2005
"The single best," "it'll be that good," "that we're ever likely to see," "for years to come"— my god, when did Ron Silliman take over my mind? If I was Ron, I'd say, "The moment I picked up Ron Silliman's Under Albany, simply the best book to come out of the post-language era from one of the pioneers of the movement." If I was Gary, I'd say the same thing, but would distance myself from it using some lame device like pretending that Ron—well, you get the point. The truth is, I've been a genuine fan of Ron's poetry for many years, and none of it prepared me for this book. In a year of outstanding memoirs (Ron Padgett's Joe being a good example), Under Albany—a personal history built from single lines in Silliman's poem, "Albany"—stood out as the most innovative, interesting, and entertaining example.
Chris Stroffolino | Speculative Primitive | Tougher Disguises, 2005
Comprised of work mostly written before Chris left New York for the Bay Area, the follow-up to Stealer's Wheel is intense, raw, introspective, digressive, chatty, funny, infuriating—everything that Chris is in person, but honed down into these outrageous and addictive poems. Even if you hated Chris's poetry—and I happen to love it—you could never mistake it for anyone else's.
Various Authors | The Flarflist | private listserv | 2001-2005
The last year has seen a turn from listward to outward, as increasing numbers of participants ready collections of work first posted to the list into book form. Everyone seems to have an opinion about whatever they suppose goes on on the flarflist—and as a flurry of books from individual listmembers is on the brink of publication, it looks as though a collection of posts to the list, highlighting the interplay between participants, will not be too far behind. In private, the list does not currently have the oomph it had, say, two years ago, but listmembers are still generating hilarious, outrageous, innovative, and surprising new work, and I expect the list will be going strong for some time into the future.
More Gary Sullivan. Back to directory.
Continue reading signed lists here.