handiwork by Sara Baume (Tramp Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Allison McCausland
There is an artist inside all of us. The art we create can be subjective, but that does not diminish the time, care, and functionality someone puts into the act of creating. That is just one of the lessons gleamed from Irish author Sara Baume’s nonfiction debut, handiwork. In this short narrative, Baume combines her mediums of sculpting, carving, writing, and photography to illustrate the trials and joys of being an artist. handiwork chronicles her thoughts on the universality of art and its struggles while working on a woodworking series about her fascination with birds. She even treats her readers with the fruits of her carving labors with interspersed photographs of her avian subjects.
OBIT by Victoria Chang (Copper Canyon Press, 2020)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
I wrote my first and only obituary in 2018, for my uncle. His name was Thom. He died quite suddenly, at 48, after decade-old cancer cells appeared again in his colon, took over his liver, swallowed him up.
Which is to say that I am no expert in the articulation of existence. And anyway, how do you go about writing a single document that might convey the precious, imperfect, complicated, wonderful nuances of an entire life? For Victoria Chang, the obituary is not just a death notice, but a mode. In her latest collection, OBIT, she asks: What continues to live when someone we love dies? What dies with them?
“I used to think that a dead person’s words die with them. Now I know that they scatter, looking for meaning to attach to a scent” (18)
How to Pull Apart the Earth by Karla Cordero (Not A Cult, 2018)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
Featured in Oprah Magazine under the title “17 of the Best Poetry Books, as Recommended by Acclaimed Writers for National Poetry Month” How to Pull Apart the Earth is described by writer Laura Villareal as a journey into “the collective memory found in [the author’s] personal history, reminding us that we are rooted in the same familial tenderness.” The beautifully written 71 poems speak to the author’s identity as a Chicanx/Latinx woman raised in the border town of Calexico and themes of family, migration, and awareness, as well as identity and belonging, are seamlessly weaved throughout.
The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (Penguin Random House 2019)
Reviewed by Patricia Steckler
I have never encountered a person who is not fully human in 35 years of private practice as a clinical psychologist. Diagnoses, country-of-origin, race, religion, and financial status do not define people. Not at all. Why do we say that a person has cancer or has arthritis and, conversely, say that a person is autistic or is an immigrant as if those labels completely define them?
Assigning labels condemns people
to a marginalized purgatory. Perceived to be less than human, unable to love or
feel pain, they’re relegated to the sidelines of life and deemed to be odd,
bizarre, even dangerous.
Nature Store by Mary Kasimor (dancing girl press & studio, 2017)
Reviewed by Ann Tweedy
Mary Kasimor is an experimental poet who has published
numerous books and chapbooks and who, more recently, has begun to establish
herself as a visual artist. Now retired,
she served for many years as a professor at a technical college in
Minnesota. She describes her art as
being like her poetry in that it is “very experimental and abstract.” She uses thread, ink and paint (watercolor or
acrylic). Her paintings, reminiscent of
Rothko’s early work, have soft shapes connected by wavy lines which are set
against a colorful background. Her
poetry is imagistic and non-linear and often explores gender and other social
justice issues, along with her own experiences.
Queer literature isn’t just about representation. It’s about making room for fluidity, hybridity, experimentation, the complicated, difficult to define realities of the way we define ourselves, the ways we love, the ways we see and move through the world. This month, we celebrate LGBTQ+ authors — those we’ve covered in the past, and those we look forward to reading in the near future.
Favorites we recommend…
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett (Tin House Books, 2019)
Reviewed by Emily Nelson
Florida has a pretty brutal reputation. Between the ghastly riches of the Florida Man meme to Marco Rubio, there’s definitely more than a few reasons that a decent portion of the U.S. sees it as the embarrassing Drunk Uncle of the states. But if Kristen Arnett has anything to say about it, Florida is on the come up — at least, as far as literature is concerned. Her debut novel, Mostly Dead Things, is as much a love letter to her state of residence as it is a darkly sweet story of grief and growth in a family of taxidermists. Arnett, a darling of Literary Twitter for her dispatches on working as a librarian and her dedication to convenience stores (her Twitter bio declares her a “7-Eleven Scholar”), creates in Mostly Dead Things a universe conjured from swamp magic and sweat, something gritty and wild and aggressively real that makes it instantly unforgettable.
haunt by Jody Chan (Damaged Goods Press, 2018)
Reviewed by Leonora Simonovis
“for all my mothers, by blood & by blessings”
Forgiveness Forgiveness by Shane McCrae (Factory Hollow Press 2014)
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
In the past few months, I have read two books by Shane McCrae. First, I read his latest collection In the Language of My Captor – a series of persona poems and loosely autobiographical musings which focus on the complicated nature of race and racism in American history. I fell in love with the way McCrae refuses to bow down to stereotypical narratives of what it means to be black. As a mixed-race man raised by white grandparents, McCrae explores is own nuanced identity beside the identities and imagined experiences of African Americans kept in cages by white museum curators, all the while refusing to preference once experience of blackness in America over another. In In the Language of My Captors, McCrae acknowledges the complicated nature of communicating this spectrum of black experience in the language of white Europeans – this is particularly true when thinking about poetry as a genre whose canon is made up almost entirely of white, male faces.