In deference to what has become a robust tradition on the internet, the gang at BookThug is proud to present a festive bundle of end-of-the-year book lists! In today’s episode, BookThug Allstars Marianne Apostolides, Kate Hargreaves, Erin Mouré, Sandra Ridley, Julie Joosten, and Jacob Wren share what they’ve been reading in 2014. Their lists are sharp, sharp, sharp, and sprawlingly brilliant.
Jacob Wren, author of Polyamorous Love Song
Islands of Decolonial Love by Leanne Simpson (Arbeiter Ring Publishing, 2013)
Islands of Decolonial Love
Jacob Wren: Why did nobody tell me about this book before? Leanne Simpson speaks directly to what Canada actually is today and how we might continue to love and fight without forgetting our real history (a history that we too often don’t mention.)
Ana Patova Crosses a Bridge by Renee Gladman (Dorothy, a Publishing Project, 2013)
JW: The final book in Renee Gladman’s Ravickan trilogy. A kind of poetic, otherworldly science fiction that I hadn’t previously imagined possible. Each book in the trilogy both builds on, and undercuts, the previous one. I really need to read them all again in one go. Writing both for now and for the future.
The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne (Crown, 2014)
JW: I guess science fiction really is making a come back (in my world at least.) This book takes place entirely in India and Ethiopia. Reading it I felt—more precisely than I had ever felt before—that the West is nearly over and our future will take place somewhere else, if it takes place at all.
THOU by Aisha Sasha John (BookThug, 2014)
JW: I have to admit I don’t actually read very much poetry. But Aisha Sasha John makes me want to read more. Personal, vulnerable, yet speaking to the larger world in ways I found continuously astonishing.
So Far From God by Veronica Gonzalez-Peña (Semiotext(e), 2013)
JW: A chapbook put out by Semiotext(e) as part of their series published on the occasion of the Whitney Biennial. A view of Mexico both personal and political. A world that I didn’t know, a world that hit me like a punch.
Julie Joosten, author of Light Light
Julie Joosten: There are many books from 2014 that I love, that challenge me, open me, startle me with the strangeness and beauty of their languages and with the politics they work through them. Choosing five is impossible; I find choosing at all painful.
I’ve decided to highlight five works from 2014 that deeply affected me and are perhaps a little less well-known (than others I might also have chosen, such as but not limited to Etel Adnan’s To Look at the Sea is to Become What One Is: An Etel Adnan Reader, Marianne Apostolides’s Sophrosyne, Aisha Sasha John’s THOU, Alejandra Pizarnik’s Diana’s Tree, Sina Queyras’s MxT, Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric, Lisa Robertson’s Cinema of the Present, and Paul Vermeersch’s Don’t Let it End Like This Tell Them I Said Something).
Instead of describing the works below, I thought I’d let their own language speak for them:
Beast Feast by Cody-Rose Clevidence (Ahsahta Press)
from Metamorphoses II
& my cathedrals
bright w. [hormones]
crude [sky] [land]
be [my] [rich] [flesh]
my [stolen] my
I swim in this
[river] u [drink]
from form I
The Stag Head Spoke by Erina Harris (Buckrider Books)
from Scene Three / Mourner III: To Stand
[ . . . ] The eyes do their looking elsewhere past ankles of apples into shadow shaved the edges from the shapes until a single mass exceeding black. Out—there dark retreats into itself is not a where or substance where her voice gone dim her voice is or is not. To stand it. Was or it was not her voice suspended in that moment, kin, the brief numberless residency, fruits swaying at dusk. In constellation, shivering, from bough at surrender exhale light.
Ban en Banlieue by Bhanu Kapil (Nightboat Books)
JJ: A book due out this month that I can’t wait to read
from 79. “Mother of my soul.”
— Towards the end of her life, in her early forties, still very beautiful despite her age, dark brown hair knotted with paintbrushes in a tatty bun above C7, the last bone of the spine as it goes down through the neck, Ban returned to India, where her ancestors were from, and lay down, as close as she could get, next to the border with Pakistan. A few feet away, under the gaze of a military presence, two guards a few feet away from the Wagah checkpoint, she simply did this (lie down), then stood up and with a long stick torn from a nearby tree, though the area is desolate, marked the outline. Then she re-filled it with orange and red marigolds purchased, earlier that day, from the Shiva temple of a village further in. It must have been a Monday. Then she sat down next to this body and placed a hand on the place where its chest would be, and another upon on her own. When I discovered this, I began to write on Ban. It was this writing that led me further in, to the place I did not want to be, Ban’s soul. “Mother of my soul,” she wrote in an early notebook, what in England is still called a Diary, “You’re so very bright.” What did Ban mean? My question was innocent. I was innocent. But Ban, in a sense, was waiting for me, in the darkness of the border, no longer proximal but centered, arms waving in a blur, waiting with everything that was wrong
— Originally printed in Trickhouse, Vol. 7, 2009/10
The Living Method by Sarah Nicholson (Song Cave)
Until the false lights the tissue of irises
I like to wear foxfur if the fire is small
Of storms, of corpsey water, some corpsey clouds
wearing out the flower
Horizon is what comes for us
touching each one itself
Unincorporated Territory [guma’] by Craig Santos Perez (Omnidawn)
from ginen ta(la)ta
I drive alone avian silence to the Guam International Airport, which is designed to resemble an outrigger canoe. The airport is located in Tiyan land theft permanent loss. Tiyan translates as belly or breadbasket. As I walk towards the departure gate, I see twenty-three banners: “The Fallen Brave of Micronesia.” Name, rank, flag shields all light. The dedication ceremony for this cage can be either solid material wire mesh or pictorial memorial occurred in 2007 as an official event of the Liberation Day festivities. I see the banner honoring Jonathan Santos. If I ever write a novel, I say to him, I will name a character after you this choked thing [we]
Erin Mouré, author of Secession / Insecession (with Chus Pato)
L’uso dei corpi. Homo sacer, IV, 2 by Giorgio Agamben (Neri Pozza Editore, Venice, Italy)
Erin Mouré: Because I’ve been exploring issues of surveillance and the body, had to buy this new Agamben and try to read it, slowly, in Italian, and see how far i get before the French translation comes out… Agamben probes, delights, delights, and fires my ruminations
Universal Bureau of Copyrights by Bertrand Laverdure, translated by Oana Avasilichioaei (BookThug, Toronto)
EM: Because it’s hilarious and smart
Cinema of the Present by Lisa Robertson (Coach House Books, Toronto)
EM: Because it is of our era
Memorial e Danza by Francisco Cortegoso (Espiral Maior, A Coruña, Galicia)
EM: Because it is of the future and in Galician
Metaphysical Licks by Gregoire Pam Dick (BookThug, Toronto)
EM: Because it rollicks and bites
Sandra Ridley, author of The Counting House
Bird Facts by Dave Currie (Apt. 9 Press)
It has been said that no other group of beasts arouses as much interest as birds. Bird Facts is an irreverent encyclopedia of everything you’ve always wanted to know about birds, a number of things you didn’t want to know, and even more things that no one has ever known before. Learn about the ritual dances of the Albatross, why the Common Rubber Duck has few natural predators, what passes for yahtzee on Roadrunner family game night, why you shouldn’t eat the Pitohui, and so much more! Also included is the bonus Bird Fiction, “The Dodo’s Oblation.” You’ve never read a book like Bird Facts. Read it.
— Apt. 9 Press
Kiki by Amanda Earl (Chaudière Books)
A riotous assemblage of long poems focusing on the crazy years of 1920s Montparnasse—a melting pot of artists and poets. Kiki plays with language and form, taking the first person familiar format of journal to streams of language to snippets of visual imagery to present the wildness of those years, focusing on the persona of Kiki de Montparnasse, a maverick who much like the poems presented here – cut across intellectual and artistic boundaries. Sexy and smart.
— Chaudiere Books
Inheritance by Kerry-Lee Powell (Biblioasis)
Inspired by a shipwreck endured by the author’s father during the Second World War, and by his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and eventual suicide, Inheritance is a powerful poetic debut by the winner of the 2013 Boston Review Fiction Contest and The Malahat Review Far Horizons Award.
The Search For Heinrich Schlögel by Martha Baillie (Pedlar Press)
The Search for Heinrich Schlögel is utterly distinctive, a fictional biography that drifts so imperceptibly into dream that it’s impossible to tell where the reality of it ends and the fantasy begins. There’s something of Nabokov here, and also something of Rip Van Winkle. Baillie has written an ode to those things that resist time, like a photograph, and those things that relinquish themselves to it, like a painting, resulting in a novel that is itself a little bit of both.
—Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Illumination
Don’t Let It End like This Tell Them I Said Something by Paul Vermeersch (ECW Press)
Like Y2K survivalists and street corner preachers, Paul Vermeersch seems to insist the apocalypse has been upon us for a while, now… he brandishes a hallucinatory aesthetic, truly visionary, akin to controversial filmmaker Lars von Trier, and fashion wunderkind Alexander McQueen: morbid and glorious, extravagant, obscure, with an almost taxidermic fixation on the sublime and horrifying.
— Diego Báez, Lemon Hound
Blacktoll Schwarzmaut by Paul Celan, Translated by Mark Goldstein (Beautiful Outlaw)
Blacktoll is a continuation of my transtranslational experiments first begun in After Rilke (BookThug 2008) and continued in Tracelanguage (BookThug 2010).
Where Tracelanguage exemplifies a “shared breath” that seeks to break with tired translational orthodoxies, Blacktoll attempts to embrace both old and new methodologies as singular. Whether one approach is wider or deeper than the other, I’ll leave to the reader to decide in full knowledge that there’s no “poem” there. By this I mean that words are encampments around an absence—a field of energy beyond description.
— Mark Goldstein, “A Note on the Text”
Kate Hargreaves, author of Leak
^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ ^^^^^^ by Stevie Howell
Kate Hargreaves: I was initially drawn to this book because it is so stunning as an object (I chose this cover as my favourite of the year! ) but it is striking between the covers as well. Howell’s matter-of-fact voice can be chilling, funny, or observational but always dry in the very best way.
THOU by Aisha Sasha John
MxT by Sina Queyras
KH: I was captured by the movements back and forth between schematics and figures, equations charting memory and grief, to Queyras’ words that encircle, turn over, pour over and tumble with these same feelings.
Yaw by Dani Couture
KH: Couture is a poet who can turn what may appear to be quiet banality into something that grabs you by the guts. Her specificity makes her images anything but mundane.
Broom Broom by Brecken Hancock
KH: Hancock’s ear is spot on, whether sing-songing skewed rhymes or running down the history of plumbing. These poems are sharp, sharp, sharp.
Marianne Apostolides, author of Sophrosyne
Our Man in Iraq by Robert Perisic, translated from Serbo-Croatian by Will Firth (Black Balloon Publishing, 2013)
Marianne Apostolides: This novel is funny and brutal—a picture of the burnt reality following the idealism of Yugoslavia’s civil war. Capitalism and human nature scorch like the smoke of a cheap cigarette—toxic, caustic, all-too-real—but this book is absurdly funny, too. Through easygoing prose, Perisic gives a clear-eyed view of urban, hip, Croatian society through the smoky haze.
The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke, Edited by Karen Van Dyck; various translators from the Greek (Greywolf, 2009)
MA: The work is urgent, erotic, intelligent; the body is pain, is loss, is joy; the various translators render this contemporary Greek poet in myriad voices, a tight but sensuous harmony.
Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World by Tim Morton (University of Minnesota Press, Posthumanism Series, 2013)
MA: Morton makes a case for a new perspective on human self-conception, based on a rethinking of ‘objects.’ That sounds dry and dense, but it’s not. His philosophy is expansive and accessible, exploring our sense of impending change — a sense that comes from entities/ objects that loom like shadows beyond the frame of our conscious awareness.
Four Tragedies: Ajax, Women of Trachis, Electra, Philoctetes by Sophocles; translated, with introduction and notes, by Peter Meineck and Paul Woodruff (Hackett, 2007)
MA: These plays are muscular and intelligent. The music of the language — and the dynamics of power, grief, honour, and loyalty contained in the dialogue — come through in these incredible translations.
Light Light by Julie Joosten (BookThug, 2013)
MA: I have the utmost respect for Julie Joosten as a person — which made me wonder whether I was reading her poems through the prism of my admiration of her. But no: these poems are the real deal . . . Softness sharpens into shards of meaning; the vital viscosity of time and seeking makes these poems physical, personal, yet not bounded by a limited ‘I.’
—Big thanks to Marianne, Kate, Julie, Jacob, Sandra, and Erin for taking the time to share their picks. Stay tuned for our second instalment, BookThug’s Best Reads 2014 (Editors’ Edition).