July 2021 Reading Round Up: True Stories

It is quite drizzly on this 2nd of July–the perfect day to deliver our next batch of micro reviews for your reading pleasure.

This month, we are bringing you four “true stories” that defy convention, and play with the idea of what it means to write about reality. We have a book of poems that take language from someone else’s diary to tell a new kind of truth. Auto-fiction, which uses fiction as a vehicle to explore a very real autobiography. A hybrid essay-poem that plays with space to portray family truths lost to history. And a book of essays that doesn’t shy away from the ugliest, strangest, funniest parts of what it means to be human.

We hope our picks this month inspire you, and give you space to ponder what it means to tell the truth.

Corpsing: My Body and other horror shows by sophie white

Genre: literary non-fiction/essays | tramp press | Reviewed by allison mccausland

Corpsing, as defined by the British, is slang for breaking character in the theater or other performance mediums, particularly in the form of laughter. In other words, its that term for the inexplicable humor or awkward realization of something comedic to yourself even if it happens in the most serious of circumstances. Author and podcaster Sophie White aptly uses the word in the title of her nonfiction essay collection to describe the strange, intermixed hilarity life provides in devastating situations, even if only one person (usually the metaphysical “I”) feels the need to recognize the humor as such.

White is no stranger to the hardships and trauma life serves up. She delves into how she sees herself corpsing as a means to cope and remedy herself through her self-reflection on addiction, mental illness, the struggles of motherhood, grief, and every life event in between. White’s book is unabashedly genuine. She comes to terms with alcoholism using wine o’clock memes and, when her horrendous pregnancy cravings hit, investigates consensual vampirism.

The satirical framing of each essay in the form of horror tropes further endears the truthfulness of what it means to be human while making it through each day’s “horrors.” With a special nod to her fans of her podcast The Creep Show, White encourages her readers to face their fears and let their freak flags fly. Adequately pout towards the end of the collection, “Hauling out the horror, putting a name or story to the formless anxiety, gives it a boundary, a tangible parameter, and ultimately disarms it” (288).

Why We Love It: This book uses humor to explore the many (not very pretty) aspects of modern womanhood, from mental illness to pregnancy to trauma and beyond.

the fever poems by kylie gellatly

Genre: poetry | finishing line press 2021 | Reviewed by rebecca valley

In Kylie Gellatly’s debut poetry collection The Fever Poems, old language is made new. She uses The Arctic Diary of Russell Williams Porter to build found poems—and stunning works of visual art—which are highly lyrical, surprising, and entirely their own. Though the pressing fear of fever resonates throughout these poems, which were written in large part during the early days of the pandemic, The Fever Poems are really about the beauty of survival—about what it means to love, and to be alive.

My favorite moments in Gellatly’s collection are her love poems, like her poem to Miranda, the ship that Porter and his crew took to the Artic Circle and eventually abandoned. “Miranda, I must have been dreaming. Yes I was dreaming / because the dancing and the nights saved us enough, / and back we went Miranda.” Gellatly’s poems are often tender, putting love beside grief in lines that move in and out of abstraction. From her poem “July With Me:”

“a week is but

a year after year…

in our hands

all things come

say it again—wait”

In the pieces of Porter’s language, Gellatly builds a world. These poems of love and survival ask a question that many of us have pondered under lock down: “would you like to go along and / welcome another year?” They ask us what it means to emerge from fever: “would I? we did.”

Why We Love It: This debut collection of found poems is not just a feat of ingenuity–it is also a beautiful work of art. These are lyric poems at their best.

on earth we’re briefly gorgeous by ocean vuong

Genre: autofiction | penguin 2019 | Reviewed by robert drinkwater

Written as a letter to his mother, who can’t read, Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous is a story about love, cultural roots, and heartbreak. The book’s main character, Little Dog, writes about the past and present as he recounts his family’s history, and his tumultuous relationship with his first love, Trevor. All of these plot points intertwine to convey the main message of this letter: Little Dog is coming out. 

For much of the book, we see Little Dog struggle to find the words to tell his mom that he is gay after he meets his lover, Trevor, while working in the tobacco fields. Vuong does a phenomenal job of portraying a relationship full of ups and downs. Little Dog and Trevor’s relationship is imperfect, fragile, yet so raw and human. It tackles addiction, substance abuse, and masculinity. The story of Trevor and Little Dog, like most of this novel, is non-linear and we get to see many varied moments with them together, many of which happen in the wake of a tragic event that shapes the book.

This is a story about love and memories, and the narrator’s journey into adulthood. We see the love he has for his mother and the love he has for Trevor, both types of love going hand in hand to shape Little Dog’s identity. Each memory is interwoven beautifully and thoughtfully to create a wonderful story about love and finding yourself.

Why We Love It: This novel is a poetic portrayal of young, gay love, and the bond between a mother and son that defies the language barrier.

poem that never ends by silvina lopez medin

Genre: hybrid memoir/poetry | essay press 2021 | Reviewed by rebecca valley

Silvina Lopez Medin’s Poem That Never Ends could easily have been a poem that never began; so fragile are the memories and words that construct it. In this hybrid collection of essays, poems, and photographs, Lopez Medin pieces together fragments of her mother and grandmother’s histories using only two preserved letters out of the 126 that the two women sent back and forth in the years before Lopez Medin was born. Drawing from her own knowledge and the contents of these letters, Lopez Medin creates a lyric history that presses up against the limits of language and memory as she tries to understand what it means to be a mother.

Lopez Medin’s mother is not interested in nostalgia: “She is a present tense person, my mother. She does not think about the past. She does not talk about the past, the past as a place you would like to retain…” (23). But her mother’s inability to understand the value of their family history isn’t the only reason this story is fragmented. Lopez Medin also has a family history of congenital hearing impairments. With so much lost the abyss between speech and hearing, Lopez Medin relies on fragments and fabric to tell her story. Her mother and grandmother were seamstresses, and so she looks at fabric as their language—of clothing as the home you carry with you.

Though this book is a memoir, its true beauty is in Lopez Medin’s lyric prose and stunning poems. As readers, we must create a story not only from what is on the page, but also what is missing. Like Lopez Medin, we must learn to live with what is already lost to time. As she writes in the poem “Underexposed Photo or What My Mother Says About Her Mother:”

“no no no I cannot remember

not at all

it was going to rain a lot

and then it didn’t it looked

like a storm

and in the end

was just gone”

Why We Love It: This memoir challenges the form in virtually every way, with beautiful visuals and lyric poems. It dives beautifully into motherhood, deafness, trauma, and the perils of translation.

Want to review a book for our next round-up? Head to our submissions page for more information and to see a list of titles we’d love to cover.

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