BRED FROM THE EYES OF A WOLF

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BRED FROM THE EYES OF A WOLF BY KIM KYUNG JU, TRANSLATED BY JAKE LEVINE

What if wolves behaved like humans? What if humans behaved like wolves? In Kim Kyung Ju’s dystopian play, Bred from the Eyes of a Wolf, translated by Jake Levine, this hypothetical comes alive. The outcome is not for the prudish or light-hearted. Kim newly approaches well-known narratives—from the archetype of the middle class family in Korean culture to the classic Greek Myth of Oedipus—to present an uncannily familiar and unfamiliar nuclear family, shitting together in a world where language is forbidden. The contradictory representation that unfolds forces the audience to confront taboo subjects and make new judgements. What’s morally allowable in a world of humanish wolves? What’s ethically grotesque and what’s just gross?

Kim layers more than classic archetypes here. He builds his post-apocalyptic pastiche with meta-awareness and the cockroach-like systems of civilization: capitalism and castigation. His wolf family highlights their cognizance of their own humanity when the mother warns her son: “Be careful! / Any animal that takes the path of humanity / always results in a scene filled with blood!” to which her son bemoans: “Fuck! Just like a human that thinks he is an animal, / I never recognize the trap.”  And then, there’s no short-supply of self-referential jabs at the deadbeat poet, or the censure of writing by an authoritarian government. Near the end, two policemen, in cyber suits and Orwellian practices, arrive to make arrests. From Policeman 2, “This mother and son, / they are like languages that live / in one another’s background. / [ . . . ] It’s suspicious.” Policeman 1, now suspicious, “Language is forbidden! // You are all sentenced to space dust!” Translator Jake Levine howls the play into English and leaves readers a closing essay to ensure that nothing from this new and untried Korean fable is missed.

Plays Inverse Press.

—Review by Madeline Vardell

RIDDANCE

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RIDDANCE: OR: THE SYBIL JOINES VOCATIONAL SCHOOL FOR GHOST SPEAKERS & HEARING-MOUTH CHILDREN BY SHELLEY JACKSON

Shelley Jackson’s postmodern gothic novel, Riddance, covers the lives of headmistress Sybil Joines and her new pupil, turned stenographer, Jane Grandison at the Sybil Joines Vocational School for Ghost Speakers & Hearing-Mouth Children in late 19th century Boston. Each woman’s life is marked with travesty from childhood, largely due to their speech impediment, but Sybil is determined to use what society sees as a disability as a tool to communicate with the dead. Throughout the novel, Jackson builds a world of necrophysics where mouth objects and language are explored as avenues of existence and communion between the living and the dead: “Death is not departure but arrival. We are latchkeys kept by wanderers against a future homing. With our last strength, we fit our bodies into this locked world, and turn.”

Later, the loss of a student and murder of a school inspector cause speculation over the school’s competence, moral standards, and the headmistress’s mental health. And as Sybil and Jane become closer, their voices become less distinguishable from each other, as well as the dead they interact with more and more. Jackson’s experimental frame of poetic prose, documentation, and photographs, which describe the minutiae of how her characters experience the world around them, is carefully wrought, showing a deep love of language, both for herself and the world she’s created.

Catapult.

—Review by Jenee Skinner

HALF-HAZARD

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HALF-HAZARD BY KRISTEN TRACY

Kristen Tracy’s collection Half-Hazard, winner of the Poetry Foundation’s Emily Dickinson First Book Award, was twenty years in the making. And so, it should come as no surprise that time plays a pivotal role in this outstanding collection. Time is the medium across which cruelty unfolds towards the plants, animals, and people that we share the world with—and it is the medium through which we bear witness. Often, as described in “Gardening on Alcatraz in July,” the speaker and the human world around her are “cutthroat plants overtaking other plants.” Time spells the ends of things: the ends of love, life, faith and tradition; and the perpetuation of others: of violence, prejudice, mistreatment of animals. She asks “How much can a reservoir / hold in the dark?”

These poems shine brightest when Tracy positions herself at the center of these questions, using her own personal choices and growth to face these fears. In “Urban Animals” she writes, “think I can take my conscience out for waffles / and sit in a comfortable booth / and not feel the universe pinch me / with its guilt.” This is a collection that explores conscious choice and empathetic action, the ways that the decisions we make can help battle the timelines of our own cruelty. Because, beneath those “cutthroat plants,” volunteer gardeners uncovered the “Bardou Job rose, thought to be extinct.” This collection eloquently demonstrates that “The things / we kiss good-bye make room for all we kiss hello” and that “we should all bear witness to what we didn’t expect to see.”

Graywolf Press.

—Review by David Brunson

THE ORPHAN OF SALT WINDS

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THE ORPHAN OF SALT WINDS BY ELIZABETH BROOKS

Elizabeth Brooks’ novel, The Orphan of Salt Winds, interweaves flashbacks and present-day reflections of the troubled soul, Virginia Wrathmell. In 1939 England, 10-year-old Virginia is adopted by Clem and Lorna, a couple who believes their marriage can be saved by a child. Clem instantly presents Virginia with a sense of belonging but Lorna, though alluring, remains emotionally distant and has a curious relationship with the overly involved neighbor and widower, Max Deering. When a German airplane crashes at the spark of World War II, Clem disappears in the isolated marshes on a search for the pilot. Virginia and Lorna’s lives take an unexpected turn, leading to a decision that Virginia will regret for the rest of her life.

The Orphan of Salt Winds simultaneously functions as a gothic, historical, psychological mystery and bildungsroman. Brooks vivid comparison of the beautiful and tumultuous landscape and Virginia’s life is artfully rendered: “The winds and tides remember, as do the birds, and the cockles, and the shrimps, and the sand worms, and the whispering reeds, and the grasses, and the lichens, and every single stone in the old seawall. I know they remember, because they passed the story on to me—a stranger—just as I passed it on to you.”

Tin House.

—Review by Jenee Skinner

LANGUAGE IS A REVOLVER FOR TWO

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LANGUAGE IS A REVOLVER FOR TWO BY MARIO MONTALBETTI, TRANSLATED BY CLARE SULLIVAN

The bilingual chapbook Language is a Revolver for Two by Peruvian poet Mario Montalbetti, translated from the Spanish by Clare Sullivan, explores the systems of language as an economy—how language behaves through supply and demand. What exists within language’s economic bounds and what exists outside? A sardine, the need for love, the dawn coming down “orange as a ripe papaya” shattering on the pavement? Here, the study is of the ways language moves collective and the violence thereof: “my words are a knife / chilling when it enters your heart / laughing when it enters mine.” As these lines and the title suggest, the violence is throughout but it is thematic, controlled, and shared. In one poem, Montalbetti’s speaker burns nocturnal, kept awake by an anonymous no, and in another, is a pilot, smashing the poem-plane to bits while claiming: “all your poems end, / trying to express a private sentiment / in public language.” Though small, this brief collection observes the every day and leaves us with grand questions—how does the market of language affect the quotidian, the supreme, and what escapes the system?

Ugly Duckling Presse.

—Review by Madeline Vardell

NIGHT SCHOOL: A READER FOR GROWNUPS

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NIGHT SCHOOL: A READER FOR GROWNUPS BY ZSÓFIA BÁN, TRANSLATED BY JIM TUCKER

Jim Tucker’s translation of Zsófia Bán’s 2007 story collection, Night School: A Reader for Grownups, doesn’t read like a translation at all. Nor does it read like anything you’ve ever perused—unless you’ve read Night School in another language. A frenetic homage to the textbooks Bán once encountered in German class that “skipped from transportation to the Holocaust to Gummy Bears—in that order,” Night School takes readers on a wild romp through a kaleidoscope of postmodern fairy tales. We learn the just-so story behind Kahlo’s The Two Fridas, encounter the 19th-century naturalist Henri Mouhot trekking through the Laotian jungle, and find ourselves privy to an email exchange between the characters of the 18th-century epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. All flaunt their meta-awareness: Mouhot’s wife quotes Heart of Darkness, which had not yet been written, and predicts his impending death, as Victorine Meurent predicts Manet’s, and Laika the Dog stoically predicts her own.

Night School might not seem to lend itself to translation, so bursting with slang, neologisms, tongue-in-cheek zingers, and off-the-cuff historical and literary references, yet one cannot deny the sheer Dadaist power and Seussian flare of lines like this one from “Motherwhere”: “They searched for her […] in the cold turkey clinic, in the Wild Turkey still […] in the market square, in the market research center […] in the ash cans and trash cans, under the bumps and in the sumps.” Assignments and images litter the collection and frequently, we are instructed to argue pro or con. Bán’s humor transcends language barriers, and Tucker’s translation never leaves us wondering what we’ve missed out on by not speaking Hungarian. A must-read for anyone who needs a break from the grim currents of contemporary literature, yet still craves the heady thrill of a really smart book.

Open Letter.

—Review by Mekiya Walters

WE BEGIN IN GLADNESS: HOW POETS PROGRESS

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WE BEGIN IN GLADNESS: HOW POETS PROGRESS BY CRAIG MORGAN TEICHER

We Begin in Gladness: How Poets Progress, a new book of essays by Craig Morgan Teicher, takes readers on a poetic journey through the development of voice by examining how the works of several poets changed over the course of their careers. In this insightful and delightful collection, Teicher looks at his own poetic development alongside others to show how our voices develop together: “Poetry is a conversation, an extended one, occupying, perhaps the span of an entire life.” His collection moves through these three sections—Beginnings and Breakthroughs, Middles and Mirrors, and Ending and Enduring—highlighting the poets Sylvia Plath, W. S. Merwin, francine j. harris, and Louise Glück, and referencing many more. Between these chapters, a constellation of connections weaves together their histories to show how poets both influence and are influenced by one another—how some poetic voices keep growing even after death, as others continue the conversations they started. Teicher’s essays present many things that change the ways that poets write over the course of their lifetimes; other writers, new knowledge, new perspectives, the desire to stay relevant: “Seeking to extend their conversations, to home in more precisely on what they believe and feel to be true about language, poets change their poems.” Not all poets change for the better, Teicher points out, some reach their peak and then stay within the same style, and some become over-confident after reaching success and then decline. The remedy for this is to keep exploring: “A poet’s voice must indeed be found; each poet must venture out to find it.”

Graywolf Press.

—Review by Gwen Mauroner

TEETH NEVER SLEEP

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TEETH NEVER SLEEP BY ÁNGEL GARCIA

The poems in Ángel García’s Teeth Never Sleep often action from bodies deeply troubled by their own masculinity but do not meditate on violence. They commit it. “This is the poem I’ve always wanted to write about a dog, a puppy really,” begins the seemingly innocuous “A Dog Poem.” By the poem’s midpoint, the puppy is struck by a van, dying viscerally while readers watch through the eyes of a small boy, who, horrified and guilt-ridden, returns home and says “nothing about the dog I got killed.” Of course, readers understand that the boy carries no blame for the puppy’s death, but this logic—that to love something is to lead it to a painful end—permeates the entire book, forcing us examine the distance between male tenderness and male violence.

Through the ruptured torsos of animals, the bleeding mouths of speakers, and the chewed-up throats of lovers, García’s poems struggle with gender and intimacy. They take a hard look at complicity: “my fingerprints etched purple into her thin wrists; her cheek bruised in blues,” he writes in “Giving It.” García does not ask the reader to excuse the behavior on the page, nor, despite the leveled discipline of his voice, does he completely dissociate self from speaker. Teeth Never Sleep imitates the speaker in “Exuviae” here: it “hangs [itself] from a door hook,” opening itself to scrutiny, no matter how raw and ragged the exposed parts may be. This book is not easy—not on its subjects, not on its readers, and least of all on itself—but it doesn’t give up. Despite the pain, Garcia “[returns] to do the work that must/be done,” and by making so naked the violence proximal to and perpetuated by the men in (and outside) his book, García models a critique of toxic masculinity that demands more than confession and forgiveness.

University of Arkansas Press.

—Review by J. Bailey Hutchinson