THE 44TH OF JULY

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THE 44TH OF JULY BY JASWINDER BOLINA

Jaswinder Bolina’s latest book, The 44th of July, surrounds readers with the current climate of our divided country. His speakers shifts from witness to outsider to stealth transgressor, while his poems move quietly—measured and musical—with rhythms so deft the criticisms and wit unfold unexpectedly. Through his deliberate and attentive forms, he echoes the strategic footwork immigrants and POC master to navigate and survive the United States—though, Bolina underlines not everyone survives: “assemble // the tiny caskets, / the toddler-shaped // ones” from “Inaugural Ball,” and here from “Rubble Causeway, Rubble Clinic”: “leave her body for the crows, / but the morgue is still there with its bone show.” The 44th of July denies readers an indifferent oblivion and escape from the political consciousness and horror of today, yesterday, and tomorrow. The collection refuses blind-eyes, even when reminiscing in “In Memory of My Vices,” even when world building the fantastical in “New Adventures in Sci-Fi.” For the latter, see how Bolina manifests a utopia neatly before us by contrasting it to the American dystopia: “Everybody has a porch swing the beat cops wave to // when they pass. They don’t protect us bloody. / They don’t police the teeth out of our heads . . .”

His representations of this nation are vivid, chilling and accurate—balanced but made all the more real by the humor. Bolina rewrites the so-called American Independence from marginalized perspectives, highlighting the harm meant for the other; delivered by speakers on the margins, in the heart of the Midwest.

Omnidawn.

—Review by Madeline Vardell

TSUNAMI FROM SOLARIS

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TSUNAMI FROM SOLARIS: ESSAYS ON POETRY BY AASE BERG, TRANSLATED BY JOHANNES GÖRANSSON AND JOYELLE MCSWEENEY

Swedish poet and critic Aase Berg’s new collection, Tsunami from Solaris: Essays on Poetry, beckons readers into a mountainous range of essays covering poetry and the human experience. Edited and translated by Johannes Göransson and Joyelle McSweeney, each essay swells with an introspective metamorphosis. The collection features an expansive scope of enlightening ruminations, including musings of wounds and scars; pregnancy and motherhood (“that cute, paradisiacal madness”); subversion of the patriarchy and capitalism; playfulness; joy and suffering; adulthood; the awe-inspiring madness of children; and the nature of language and a poem’s landscape, all which offer readers new lenses and modes of thinking—to employ for the creation of poetry—to experience the world as a human being. 

Berg advocates for wonder and protests patriarchal seriousness. Provocative questions undulate throughout the collection: “is language a game?”; “should one in certain moments avoid writing about or depicting angst about mortality?”; and “why is the poem such an insult to the cruelty of life itself?” She leans toward a trickster poetics: “the poem is formless, a protoplasm, a jellyfish, an amoeba that glides around and ignores the human race’s grave chronologies.” As poetry is a playground and “language is a living being,” each essay is full of breath and enrapturing choreographies of meaning. Berg writes that “the playground is the garbage heap of the patriarchy,” and Tsunami for Solaris is a call to action for all writers to “steal back the yellow, happy, pathetic joy,” to play and play madly without boundaries or fear. 

Action Books.

—Review by Samuel Binns

EVELYN AS

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EVELYN AS BY CHRISTINE BUTTERWORTH-MCDERMOTT

By reimagining her over and over again as a series of portrait poems—fitting for a girl who spent her girlhood posing for cameras—Christine Butterworth-McDermott offers readers an empathetic biography of the twenty-two years Evelyn Nesbit spent in the public eye while suffering the manipulation and abuses of men in private.

Often, the lenses for these portraits are those of other feminine figures—Eve, Persephone, Schehezerade, Saint Maria Goretti, Rapunzel—and thus interrogate the way narrative has typified and stigmatized women throughout time. Butterworth-McDermott questions the harm done to Nesbit—and all women who have gone unprotected, unwarned into pain: “Which beast for you, Beauty?  / Which red-white-clawed / spectacle / will dance on / his hind legs for you? / Every thing / you’ve ever done / has been a manacle, / soft as velvet or hard / as porcelain.”

However, what stays behind after reading this is the way in which these subjects still must be interrogated, the way in which—even in 2019—“a toy tiger, open-mouthed, harmless / (ready to bite) / the apple, fruit, pomegranate, knowledge / waiting in the wings / There is always red velvet / in the rooms owned by powerful men”. Evelyn As offers hope in its interrogation, in its willingness to confront these beasts and men and wolves, through the strength of women’s stories. It is both confession and apology, both love-letter and call to action, a book that will remind you of the importance of watching and listening to the vulnerable around you.  

Fomite Press.

—Review by Joy Clark

THE POLYGLOT LOVERS

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THE POLYGLOT LOVERS BY LINA WOLFF, TRANSLATED BY SASKI VOGEL

The Polyglot Lovers is a manuscript written by Max Lamas, a lauded middle-aged author, whose ego Lina Wolff deconstructs in her sharp and satirical second novel of the same name.

Wolff’s meta-tale begins with Ellinor, who is traveling to Stockholm for a literary critic she met online, a man named Ruben. Ellinor finds Ruben repulsive; nevertheless, she carries on with their date: a night that ends in violence. In an act of revenge, Ellinor calmly waits until Ruben falls asleep before destroying his most prized possession—Max Lamas’s sole manuscript. Cut to part two: Max’s perspective. He dreams of a particular woman, he tells us, “A very young polyglot lover with enormous, white, milk-scented breasts.” His sentiments are familiar, cliché even, but Wolff pushes his language ever so slightly toward the absurd, incorporating numerous descriptions of female bodies and moments of existential dread (“the tristesse, oh the tristesse!”). In the third and final section, Wolff gives voice to Lucrezia, whose grandmother, an Italian marchesa, is the main subject of Max’s manuscript. Wolff’s tonal shifts between sections are handled deftly by Saskia Vogel, the translator responsible for bringing this novel into English.

The French author Michel Houellebecq also appears in many forms in Wolff’s novel: in references, on Ruben’s secret bookshelf, as an epigraph to Max’s section. But Wolff’s The Polyglot Lovers is not about Houellebecq, per se—it is about the recurring figure of Houellebecq in the literary world. Readers will inevitably conjure their own equivalent to him, and to Max Lamas, and Wolff encourages us to do so, for her novel raises the following questions: how do we define literary genius, and who do we allow to define it for us?

And Other Stories.

—Review by Anna Vilner

SONG FOR THE UNRAVELING OF THE WORLD

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SONG FOR THE UNRAVELING OF THE WORLD BY BRIAN EVENSON

In Song for the Unraveling of the World, Brian Evenson explores what it’s like to be unsettled in one’s own home and skin. His story collection is part horror and part psychological thriller, exploring both the obsessive thoughts and the uncanny situations the characters face, coming about in many different ways: a man is visited by his therapist in the middle of the night for several nights in a row; a film director goes to any length to record the sound of a room; a sister prevents her brother from opening a secret door in their home; and, in an attempt to understand human culture, alien sisters trick-or-treat for the first time. In the title story, a father can’t find his daughter, yet still hears her voice coming from her room, and must not only accept her loss, but also the loss of his sanity—as is the case with many of the characters in this book: “Did he even want to live in a world like this, one that was always threatening to come unraveled?” In these moments of unraveling and unrest, Evenson projects into the unknown. Here in “Shirts and Skins,” a story about a man trapped in a manipulative relationship, Evenson leaves readers feeling most disturbed and empathetic: “She would find him eventually. . .  But for a moment at least he could pretend, could enjoy the glorious feeling of crouching alone beneath someone else’s skin. Maybe it would give him something to look back on. Maybe it would give him enough to sustain him through at least one or two of the long and bitter years to come.”

Coffee House Press.

—Review by Patrick Font

TIME IS THE THING A BODY MOVES THROUGH

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TIME IS THE THING A BODY MOVES THROUGH BY T FLEISCHMANN

Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through is a lyric essay twining two relationships, two loves at different times in the author’s life. It is an exploration of what it means to be outside the boundaries of definition but still alongside another person. It is represented by fragments of daily life—sex and art and transit—and punctuated by questions. T Fleischmann uses a menagerie of personal experiences and research to develop these lines of questions; ranging from the frozen land of Thule to the Death Book initiated by the Public Universal Friend; from Felix Gonzalez-Torres's candies wrapped in cellophane to art made with Squirt cans on a farm. Fleischmann notes that Gonzalez-Torres’s art has been called generous, but asks, “. . . shouldn’t those things be free? Medicine, water, blood, the goldenness of something beginning, for whoever might need them?” Despite being only 176 pages, Fleischmann’s book is also generous in its refusal to wrap up or resolve, leaving a wealth of inquiries to be pursued, an endless supply of thoughts feeding thoughts. Time Is the Thing a Body Moves Through asks us to look again at things we thought we knew—ice on a barn, a friend spooning a friend—and see them beyond the constraints of cultural structures—including language.

Coffee House Press.

—Review by Joy Clark

THE TINY JOURNALIST

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THE TINY JOURNALIST BY Naomi Shihab Nye

Internationally renowned writer Naomi Shihab Nye shines in her latest full-length collection, The Tiny Journalist, a compendium of poems coping with war and violence in the West Bank. Nye’s book was inspired by both Janna Tamimi—a young activist who began capturing videos of anti-occupation protests at the young age of 7—and her own Palestinian American heritage.

In deceptively simple syntax and universally relevant terms, Nye’s poems call on us to grapple with what it means to be human in the midst of conflict. Her poems speak for Janna at times, and then, speak directly to her. “You know gazing into a camera / can be a bridge, so you stare / without blinking,” Nye writes in “Janna.” Though Janna might be her “tiny journalist,” it is not hard to imagine Nye herself inhabiting the role—particularly when you learn that her own father was a refugee journalist. The reader can almost feel Nye staring unblinkingly through these poems, demanding peace across manmade boundaries, and though the first half of the book often takes on a childlike perspective, the second half is almost exclusively dedicated to the anguish of adults.

In this latter section, Nye covers loss, grief, hopelessness, and even the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump. To a painfully searing effect, she centers her own Palestinian American identity in poems like “Unforgettable:” “The fathers sailed away / planning to return. / Not easily will they forget / a place that let us all / sorrow this much.” In "Stay Afloat," she provides a solution to this intergenerational conflict: "Find a child to be your leader now." Nye calls on the reader to find a child like the ones whose perspectives her poems explore, a child who inherited a war they had no part in, and yet, is determined, out of their own innocence and goodness, to end it.

BOA.

—Review by Hiba Tahir

TRIANGULUM

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TRIANGULUM BY MASANDE NTSHANGA

Come for the unexpected convergence of Afro-futurism, eco-terrorism, alien abductions, and more. Stay for the unsettling meditations on South Africa’s dystopian past and present, the grandiose yet subversive re-imagining of humanity’s relationship to nature, and the poignant impulse, from which no character is spared, to make aliens of each other and of themselves.

Come for the classic spy thriller-cum-bildungsroman: a teen trio explores their sexuality while following breadcrumbs in pursuit of missing children (inexplicably free, of course, from adult supervision). Stay for the narrator’s hapless quest to understand her vanished mother—carrier of mental illness as well as mathematical genius—even as she herself begins to vanish, too, into a set of Russian-doll personas.

Come for the pleasure of any good puzzle. Stay because after delving so deeply into so many narratives and narrative frames, each with different sets of rules and competing conceptions of truth, you’ll want to keep questioning what’s real within the novel instead of just questioning what’s real.

Come for the high-stakes proxy wars between competing corporations and terrorist cells and megalomaniacal visionaries. Stay for the quiet assurance that novelists and readers have a quantifiable bearing on the future, too.

Come for Triangulum. Stay for next masterpiece that Ntshanga’s sure to turn out, and the next, and the next after that one. Once you open this novel, there’s no walking away.

Two Dollar Radio.

—Review by Mekiya Walters