Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Last Books I Bought Xmas Gift Card Edition

As I'm sure applies to many booksellers, I always get gift certificates to Porter Square Books as Xmas presents and this year was no different. Ergo, welcome to another exciting installment of my semi-frequent blog series about books I have bought. (Rather than grabbed the galleys of, begged for comp copies for, or only gotten out of the library.)

Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis

A debut collection of poetry won the National Book Award, you say? A collection anchored by a long narrative poem? Well, then sign me the fuck up. I got this one out of library and halfway through said long narrative poem, the titular "Voyage of the Sable Venus" I knew I had to own it, because the poem is amazing (more on that later) but also because I want to live in a world where debut collections of poetry in hardcover are bought in meaningful numbers (more on that later as well) and one of the ways I can contribute to that world is buying debut collections of poetry in hardcover.

On to "Voyage of the Sable Venus" itself. As described in an author's note that's pretty remarkable in its own right, the poem was composed using only the titles and descriptions of works of art and other museum pieces in which "black female figure is present." The explanation of her formula, in about a page, grapples with the nature of art, identity, history, erasure, appropriation, the white gaze, the white museum gaze, and the nature of poetry to transform descriptive, critical, faux-critical, and accidentally-critical prose into an entirely different and powerful from of expression.

Blue Laws by Kevin Young

I cannot describe to you, even with my penchant for vulgarity, how much I hate contemporary short-line, short-stanza poetry. Few things make me want to extricate my eyeballs with a dull spork to stab at the searing pain in my thinking brain, than a poem that is clearly nothing more than a boring sentence about a bird you saw driving to work Cuisinarted into something that looks like a poem if you don't think about it for a goddamn second. Which is not to say that I think long-line and long-stanza poetry is inherently better—there is plenty of terrible poetry in every form to go around--but that, in my reading experience, longer forms attract a little less laziness than the “Oh, the white space is my way of communing with the silences of the universe,” “my work seeks to elevate the spirituality of the mundane through verse,” “Well, Bukowski did it and so did Emily Dickinson,” bullshit Like-A-Poems so prevalent in so much contemporary poetry.

Except for Kevin Young. He writes mostly in short-line, short-stanza poems and he's a fucking genius. His short lines sing. His white space vibrates. He dashes like Dickinson. He goes long when he needs to. I want to live in a world where people buy their favorite poets' books in hardcover and so when I can, I buy my favorite poets' books in hardcover.

The Road Beneath My Feet by Frank Turner

Frank Turner is my Bruce Springsteen. (Don't get me wrong, Bruce Springsteen is also my Bruce Springsteen, but, well, you know what I mean.) His political consciousness, his sense of irony and humor, his exuberant atheism. I got to meet him very briefly when I bought a t-shirt from him after his opening set for the Dropkick Murphys and I told him that it felt like he crawled inside my brain and wrote songs about what he found there. And his live shows are singalong revivals. I follow him on social media so I've known this book existed and have been waiting for it to be available in the states (he's much bigger in the UK) for ages.

In related news:

Dear Overlook,

Frank Turner plays in Boston all the time. His shows always sell-out, often months in advance, and he often adds shows. It's just leaving sales on the table if you don't piggy back a signing/reading/event at a local independent bookstore the next time he's in town. And I'd give him one hell of an introduction.

Sincerely Yours,


A few other notable purchases not previously discussed that I am just now noticing on my desk: The Mirror Empire, Rails Under My Back, and The Lost Art of Finding Our Way.

Nope. The gift card did not last very long indeed, did it, Precious. Not very long  indeed.

1 comment:

  1. I think I'm going to pick this up soon. It'll make good vacation reading. I feel the same way you do about his music. "Next Storm," "Glory Hallelujah," "I Still Believe" ... it's like he owes me royalties for stealing my beliefs and making fun poetry out of them. I'd love to see a full set, but for now, Kelli and I will settle for watching him open for Jason Isbell. Nice review - thanks for the reminder to buy the book.