Hybrid

UNCERTAIN MANIFESTO

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UNCERTAIN MANIFESTO BY FRÉDÉRIC PAJAK, TRANSLATED BY DONALD NICHOLSON-SMITH

The first volume of Frédéric Pajak’s Uncertain Manifesto (currently in its seventh volume in French) is composed of oblique relationships. The relationship between its large illustrations and short snippets of text is loosely associative, even mysterious. The chapters range from memoir to historical account to philosophical musing. At first, the book feels something like a stack of random pages ripped from Pajak’s sketchbook, notes haphazardly compiled rather than meticulously ordered. Though, as the book progresses, a greater arc emerges. Uncertain Manifesto is haunted by the memory of Europe hardly holding onto “the vestiges of peace, and with these crumbs improvising a society that erases other societies,” as Pajak hints in the introduction. The book exists in the shadows of other manifestos—centrally, Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto—but, by the end of this first volume, one gets a sense that Pajak has set about concocting some kind of balm, something to ward against the dangers of entrenched ideology.

Much of the book chronicles Walter Benjamin’s travels during the 1930s, and his thoughts on the rise of fascism. A reflection on the nature of fascism, likely felt important when the first volume appeared in French in 2012—in 2019, Uncertain Manifesto’s arrival in English feels vital. In less capable hands, such a genre-defying, heady enterprise might have sagged under the weight of its own ambition; here, it’s full of wit and life. Powerful precisely on account of its subtlety.

New York Review Books.

—Review by Landon McGee

GOD WAS RIGHT

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GOD WAS RIGHT BY DIANA HAMILTON

Diana Hamilton’s collection, God Was Right, delivers a series of essayistic poems proffering meditations, arguments, and direct addresses like never-ending conversations inside her speaker’s varied mind. Curious and compelling associations are found here between Flaubert and baby goats; lists of the ways a woman might like to be kissed, and arguments circulate on the point(lessness) of poetry, etc. As one poem puts it, “the speaker’s saying ‘fuck you’ to her // academic readers in their own tongue.” Hamilton also offers us many other critiques—by way of her speaker’s thorough observation—of graduate study, the handsy steering and grooming for a single school of thought, the male gatekeepers of academia and publishing alike, one’s own able-bodied privilege and how all of this—even the speaker’s voracious analysis—is reductive, chases its own tail, unable to set down the monocle of study.

Even so, the poems in God Was Right are jammed with humor, seeming to anticipate would-be criticisms and who can be upset about the roasting when Hamilton also roasts herself? One lyric spouting announces, mid-monologue, “I think a lot of poetries have conspired against the monologue” and it’s this cheekiness that sustains our attention. Her honesty is addictive too, in poems like “Autobiography of Fatness” when her speaker sees her desire to write about her own could-be fat body as a way to side-step power and privilege. By admitting this, her speaker can do neither, is held in account. There is so much accounted for in this collection, appraised on one page, only be reappraised and found to the contrary on the next, and that’s what life is like—at least a life spent in and out of books. A series of readings and re-readings that pain and nourish us. As Hamilton’s final poem tells us: “Why does God tempt us to think about it too much if he doesn’t want / us to? // Because he wants us to suffer” but suffering is never the end, and of course, Hamilton tell us it is right for us to make our coffee and to continue.

Ugly Duckling Presse.

— Review by Madeline Vardell

NORTHWOOD

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NORTHWOOD BY MARYSE MEIJER

Northwood by Maryse Meijer explores the ebb and flow of a violent affair effervescing from a cabin in the woods. Written in nonlinear verse, various sections capture the intimate process of the delusions, realizations, and recovery that typically tracks destructive love. The novel follows a relationship that culminates after the summer solstice and the protagonist returns to normalcy by marrying a different man. Notable for its emotional intensity and apt descriptions of attachment, this novella follows on the heels of Meijer’s Heartbreaker, a collection of stories striking for similar weight: the balanced expression of hard-to-handle truths on a blurred line of prosetry. In Northwood, readers are pulled into a tumultuous relationship with phrases that probe a contained emotional history, to evoke a pathos that lasts the length of the novella. “How wealthy I was, how fragile, how strong like the strange / skin of a bubble that can resist so much and then / nothing at all.” The vulnerability, slicing for its exposition and lyricism, sweeps us in; we cannot refuse reading, returning, and reflecting.

Catapult.

— Review by Kaitlyn Yates

AMERICAN LETTERS: WORKS ON PAPER

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AMERICAN LETTERS: WORKS ON PAPER, BY GIOVANNI SINGLETON

giovanni singleton’s second full-length collection from Canarium Books, AMERICAN LETTERS: works on paper, is an ingenious hybrid work—as much poetry as art object and musical score. It demands its readers’ collaboration, their imagination, especially in her mesostic and concrete poems saturated with sites for improvisation. Similar to singleton’s first collection, Ascension, her second is an experience of acute listening. Her readers listen suspended, as if to jazz musician Alice Coltrane, but not only to each note that singleton plucks from the harp, but for the spaces that exist between notes, between white-space and letter, image and text. singleton stretches these spaces across thirteen chapters, testing our notion of the shape of the poem. Here we are no longer committed to the uniform dictation of the Word document. The page has become the canvas, and her collection propels readers forward, as though moving through an exhibit, growing further entrenched in the silence, the unspoken steeped in both personal history and shared heritage.

The objective distance in this book between speaker and reader and speaker and “I” is most diminished in her final chapters where poems like “Bingo Queen” are intimate and autobiographical. In other poems, the I-speaker, or i-speaker, is more conceptual—a challenge to POV, to language, to our individualistic driving—pushing us to consider: who is driving? And the collection resists narrative, for “The only ‘story’ is the one never told or sold out.”

AMERICAN LETTERS is far from subtle in its critique of the systems at work in American catalogues. The diminishing letter I in her penultimate chapter, “eye of the be/holder (Take 2),” while it may be interpreted in various ways, surely represents those oppressed, erased and excluded from history and current dialogues. singleton’s speaker reshapes language to work against these powers that reduce her, name her: “I quit the uppercase G to reclaim my own authority. // Make a different G, a Vimala G composed from two sized C’s.” And it urges: “Standup the / stereotype. Watermelon out with the bathwater. Let us rejoice and be clean. Clean. / Clear. Unambiguous but not unanimous.” singleton’s book requires that we listen long enough, we retrain our ear to hear, our eye to see, so we might (re)examine our violent histories, our violent present, and question our imposed placement and identity.

Canarium Books.

—Review by Madeline Vardell

SCREWBALL

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SCREWBALL, BY ANNE KAWALA, TRANSLATED BY KIT SCHLUTER

A hybrid of poetry, prose, and visual art, Anne Kawala’s Screwball is a gathering of flotsam and jetsam exploring geographic and mental extremes. Across the Arctic Sea, a modern-day huntress-gatheress floats on an iceberg with her children, while feminist anthropology is discussed in a disjointed notebook and, everywhere, language is distorted into something strange and something new. English, French, and German transform into each other and scattered throughout the text are star charts and drawings of birds.

This strange, shaman-trance of a book must have posed a unique challenge to Kit Schluter, the translator, who proves tenacious and crafty in his transformation of both French into English and vice versa. Time and again Schluter finds myriad inventive ways to create the right words to describe skeleton women, dissolution of causality, and a family adrift in a cold and distant sea.

Canarium Books.

—Review by J.T. Mahany

OF SILENCE AND SONG

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OF SILENCE AND SONG, BY DAN BEACHY-QUICK

In Of Silence and Song, Dan Beachy-Quick presents meditations, essays, and other snippets: images, fragments, poems. The book’s pages are haunted by writers of the past, mostly poets, whose words mingle with Beachy-Quick’s own. He touches books they have touched, examines their minds by reading their journals, visits their houses to walks their steps, always looking to learn from them, “As the old masters who, to learn proportion and figure, drew studies of the masters before them, so poets in antiquity used to return to themes explored by those before them, truing their song by the measure of others’ singing.”

From the New Horizons probe at the edge of the solar system, to paleolithic cave paintings, with plenty of conversations with his daughter in between, Beachy-Quick covers a wide array of subjects with deft strokes, holding up both silence and song, both day and night, to examine their paradox. He measures the depth of knowledge by admitting what is unknown, struggles to express ideas that defy language, and searches for the boundaries of a poem on a page:  “Sometimes I think it can be heard in no other way, that song—the one you cannot sing. And then I think, you can put your ear against anything, any made-thing, and hear that supernal vibration that is paradise, I mean the wind speaking, I mean the actual poem, the un-making one, the un-made one we can only glimpse by the making of our own.”

Milkweed Editions.

IRRADIATED CITIES

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IRRADIATED CITIES, BY MARIKO NAGAI

Coming off 2014’s young adult verse novel Dust of Eden, Nagai’s newest is a book of contrasts and contradictions. At once prose poem and essay, Irradiated Cities is a diffusion of images and sounds surrounding Japan’s nuclear history. Intermingled with Nagai’s own photography, each section of this book struggles to reconcile before and after, the past with the future. As Nagai writes: “it is always beautiful on a catastrophic day: it is beautiful because the before is beautiful & the after dreadful.” In Irradiated Cities, though, it is not our ability to accept the after that harms us, but our inability to realize that we still have not reached it, that in the great stages of a nuclear disaster we, that is, both Japan and all of us, are still in the last stages of the before.

Les Figues Press.