Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best American Poetry: Book Recommendations

Ben & Amy Read Chapbooks: Holidaze Edition by Ben Mirov and Amy Lawless

Doing last minute Xmas shopping? So are we. Here are some "artisanal art objects" you can purchase straight from the hands of their makers. Impress your friends and family with your good taste and access to independently published literature. [Note justifying poems is super "in" right now, but TypePad isn't quite on to the trend so apologies if the poems don't look exactly as they do on the page. We tried!]

Mark Leidner’s Willie (Minutes Books, Quarterhouse Books).



Poems: The titular “Willie” is a funny, funny persona poem about the kind of egotistical shit that only goes on in the heads of the Ivy League educated. “Memoirs of a Secret Agent” is exactly the kind of sci-fi poem we have been trying to write for two years (at once the mouthfeel of James Bond and classic 60s television show “The Prisoner”). “Things to Call Water” is a beautiful language-loving list poem that doesn’t make us want to commit murder-suicide to annihilate all list poems.

Construction: Hand drawn covers that look like they were conceived by a bunch of prophetic kindergarteners. Our copy has a Sharpie drawing of planet Earth on the cover with expensive lookin’ paper on the inside.

My best friend at Harvard was this really sagacious
engineering major named Willie who studied psychology in
his spare time. He’d invented a new way to analyze
personalities he’d dubbed ‘The Egypt Test.’ Subjects were
asked to clear their minds, and suspend them of all
conscious thought, then he would ask them, “What’s the
first thing you think of when you hear me say the
word…Egypt?” Most people responded, “Pyramids,” or “The
Nile.” After the test, Willie would explain that if you said
pyramids, you were partial to artifice, geometry, and the
mind. If, however, you answered Nile, you favored nature,
sexuality, and believed organic things to reign supreme.
When Willie did the test on me, I took forever to answer.
Nile or pyramids, pyramids or Nile, Nile or pyramids! I
couldn’t decide. The truth is, both popped into my head at
the exact same time. When I confessed this to Willie,
thinking I’d failed the test, he said, “No. You are the third
category. You reject my simplistic dualities, and see beyond
the mind-nature dichotomy… into the truth of things.” I
wiped my tears on the sleeves of my blazer. Willie gave me
a hug. He was my best friend at Harvard.


Foul Feelings
, Brian Kalkbrenner (self-published).



Reading Foul Feelings feels like someone is secretly building a lazy tunnel inside of you by using as few words as possible and dildos and body parts. Sometimes it’s like someone’s hitting on you via Craigslist and sometimes it feels like reading hundred syllable haiku truth-bombs.

Construction: perfect (?) bound. Most poems are justified for a clean look. Most importantly, the book fits in your back jean pocket and prominently features suggestive horses on the cover.

from Foul Feelings

If you ever look at a picture of a
hurricane or a video you can watch it
unfold like a huge dark flower. Then
again if your town’s destroyed nobody’s
thinking what wonderful beauty. If your
house and possessions are whisked off
you’re in the midst of danger and fear
presides. But then a community comes
together and men and people share food
and create shelter. Getting back on track is
key for everybody and when you’re lucky
you haven’t been killed, nobody’s
suicidal. A good example is every year in
the Midwest, and yet the fair goes on. I
think if you saw them fold up and despair,
all of us would be disappointed.

Crystal Hard-On, Douglas Piccinnini (Minutes Books).



After an acid style flashback to borrowing The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe twelve times and never getting past the first chapter, we got into Crystal Hard-on despite the fact that there are ZERO crystal dicks, crystal dildos, crystal hard-ons (barring the title and the titular poem which itself doesn’t have a literal hard-on….), or crystal penises. Not even crystallized urine hanging out on the little hole at the tip. It was like a constant game of "just the tip" with this withholding slash enjoyable book.


Advice to the Graduates


for hopes this bruisling commutes

back to pigment or sins itself

toward obscurity I find

some corks are better fed

burst over admiring chests


Office Work, Jackie Clark (Greying Ghost).




If you’ve ever worked in an office, this beautiful chapbook will appeal to you. Even if you haven’t, you know that the definition of being an adult is doing horribly boring shit in front of computers, beneath soul killing florescent lights.

Construction: Manila folder thickness cover and green accountant paper, and even comic book pages add an extra element of the work life. Poems are all prose poems. This seems obvious once one asks the question, "Is there anything less 9-5 than a line break?"

from Office Work

I worry about self-importance, about keeping secrets from yourself.

I feel unnerved when office doors are open but no noise comes from
inside. Is it simply day-dreaming, is it the men on the scaffolding
across the way. Through the window in a 5th floor classroom I once
saw a man standing naked inside his apartment across 14th street.
I thought how bold to be standing there like that without at all
thinking, well, it’s his apartment.

*

Supposedly Fibonacci numbers govern all action. The distance between

is the golden ratio. The direction the leaves grow off their branches.
According to The New Yorker, most people learned about Fibonacci
numbers during the summer of 2003 while reading The Di Vinci Code,
sitting out there in their little beach chairs. I’ve never read The Di Vinci
Code but I think I want numbers to be the reason why I walk on the
outside of the sidewalk on 6th Avenue or why I see Patricia Clarkson
outside my building at least once a week. It all seems so inconsequential,
why shouldn’t it be arranged? I wonder what gets stored in that little
section of my brain where I used to remember people’s birthdays and
phone numbers. If I am ever stranded anywhere without my cell phone
I could always call my best friend from 3rd grade’s parents’ house. It’s a
meeting kind of morning. I have collated all the documents. I have
paper clipped them and put them in piles.


Nine Live Two-Headed Animals, Eric Amling (Greying Ghost).




DRAWING A BLANK. NEED TWO HOURS TO REREAD IT AND NAP.... ....... ......... ................. Jesus. Dreamt we were in a sleigh made of beards being pulled by a bunch of faceless humanoids towards some kind of huge machine that distributes those propeller hats and bags of candy corns.

Construction: Friendly and approachable, like a dude on the street who just wants to sell you a pillowcase full of used candles and a turtle.


Windmill Creeps


The snow was falling
like retarded little angels
‘round the hamster’s grave

Nevermind, pop the cherry
on the fire extinguisher,
put out those lawn chairs

*

The firecrackers wacky
discharge jammed
into a screwed animal’s periphery

The jack rabbit blew its cover
behind the Sears & Roebuck
screened
ample view sun room

through a patch of fungi
like scattered dice

*

I swam & swam a diabolical
breaststroke
in my swimmies

Choogled with a box turtle in
the steady carbon outfields

*

Never a universe
without coupons

Slim Whitman & bacon

The windmill
pacing the days:

Backwoods / Golden / Gigantic


Customer, Elaine Khan (Glass Eye Books/Ecstatic Peace Library).



Poems: If we could somehow use the adjective "rapey" in a positive, upbeat manner to describe Customer, we would. Reading this chapbook is like finding a used crack pipe on the street in a moment where it catches the sun's golden rays like one of God's tiny miracles.

Construction: Someone told us this was made by Thurston Moore's press. Picture on the cover of the author sweating in a fast food restaurant or something. Looks like she's being interviewed by a local news station about an "area resident" that went on a stabbing spree.


Laps

Else, she in the bath, she
watch her hair swirl like bad
she bled on someone else's tongue

In my mind you
give a glittering damn
a little penetration
of the netting



What I Want and What I Want, Chelsea Martin (Jerk Ethics).



Poems: in the front-matter, Martin writes “…but don’t worry, I’m perfectly stable and particularly non-crazy. Ask almost anyone.” When we saw this warning, we thought “God this is going to be really fucked up. It’s a book of poems, not a bottle of hallucinogens, right?" We finished thinking, “Wish she’d left the warning off because now we feel like we're the crazy ones. There’s no warning before Ariel. There’s no warning before The Dreamsongs. There’s no warning before Trout Fishing in America----Oh, now we get it. HAHAHAHA."

Construction: Amazing comic animal illustrations on cover and through the interior by William Schultz.


from What I Want and What I Want

I wanted to confront him about how there was something
wrong with his system of definitions if when I was being
selfish it was because I was trying too hard to be around
him and when he was being selfish it was because he had
forgotten my existence. I wanted to say something about
how unsettling it was that the only thing that seemed to
make him feel emotional was hiding packages of ramen
from him when he wasn’t feeling silly. And something
about how unfair it was the time he sat there smiling at a
text message from someone else after I had asked him a
somewhat emotionally-important question and was wait-
ing for a response, and how he was always doing that kind
of thing, like making me walk from room to room with
him just to finish a conversation.


******

Ben Mirov grew up in Northern California. He is the author of Ghost Machine (Caketrain, 2010) and the chapbooks I is to Vorticism (New Michigan Press, 2010), Collected Ghost (H_NG_MN, 2010) and Vortexts (SUPERMACHINE, 2011). He is general editor of pax americana and poetry editor of LIT Magazine. He lives in Brooklyn.

Amy Lawless is author of Noctis Licentia, Black Maze Books, 2010. She lives in Brooklyn.

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