Staff Picks: Favorite Reads from 2013

It’s that time again! It’s become a tradition, at the end of every calendar year, for the staff to post a list of favorite reads from among the books that we’ve read in the past 365 days. Without further ado, here are our picks for this year.

Recommended by Iris



by Matthew Olzmann
Alice James, 2013

Iris’s comments: I’ve been a fan of Matthew Olzmann’s work since I first met him and heard him read during an AWP panel in 2009, and Mezzanines did not disappoint. Quirky, humorous, and at times profane, but always grounded by dint of its razor-sharp observations about human nature and an underlying sense of deep empathy, the voice of his poems fills up the space of the imagination with a childlike wonder that is at once riotously absurd and insanely beautiful. Few poets could successfully mix tender intimacy with wry, self-conscious humor (such as the “product placement” in the poem “Mountain Dew Commercial Disguised as a Love Poem,” which apparently prompted PepsiCo to send the poet a letter of thanks in real life!), and yet Olzmann does so effortlessly and always with great aplomb.


The Saints of Streets
by Luisa A. Igloria
U of Santo Tomas, 2013

Iris’s comments: Luisa A. Igloria’s new collection, The Saints of Streets left me breathless. As is par for the course in her work, Igloria writes with beauty, strength, and piercing intimacy, precisely interleaving light and shade like a master of shadow puppets. I am told that the poet has several other collections’ worth of poems brewing (thanks to her poem-a-day project over at Via Negativa), and I cannot wait for the next installment.

LifeOnMarsSMLife on Mars
by Tracy K. Smith
Graywolf, 2011

Iris’s comments: Last, but not least, on my list is an older title, Tracy K. Smith’s Life on Mars—winner of the 2012 Pulitzer. I’d heard Smith read at the 2011 Page Turner Festival and had been captivated by the empathy inherent in the persona poems that she’d shared. It was no surprise to me, then, that I fell headlong for Life on Mars, a haunting collection that explores science and the domestic/private life of the scientist and the poet. Life on Mars won the Pulitzer for a reason: it is simultaneously tender and steely, masterfully integrating the infinite scale of the particulate cosmos with the particular stuff of the everyday. Smith’s poems about her father, a retired NASA scientist, are especially moving. I began the book while home sick from work one day, read it all in one sitting, and when I finished, I closed its pages and wept.

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Recommended by Wendy



The Palace of Contemplating Departure
by Brynn Saito
Red Hen, 2013

Wendy’s comments: Brynn Saito’s The Palace of Contemplating Departure is a sublime meditation on arrivals and departures, childhood, sisterhood, lost love, and freedom. From cityscape to dreamscape, these poems are deeply felt and fully realized.

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Recommended by Henry


The Proxy Eros

by Mookie Katigbak
Anvil, 2008

Burning Houses
by Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta
University of Santo Tomas, 2013

Henry’s comments:
 I first encountered Mookie Katigbak’s “As Far As Cho-Fu-Sa,” a variation on Pound’s adaptation of the Li Po poem, when I was just starting to take poetry seriously. I remember actually getting upset that she had nothing more published at the time. So imagine my joy when I rediscovered Katigbak just this month, whose name has since expanded, and who now has two books of poems which contend with myth and canons in gorgeously clarifying visions. These lines from that early poem (which you can find in The Proxy Eros) have echoed with me for years: “What I am, ever, is this: composure of stones. . . . / /But nothing moves. Somewhere / You are actual. Happen to me there.”

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Recommended by Jai


Islands Linked By Ocean

by Lisa Linn Kanae
Bamboo Ridge Press, 2009

Jai’s comments: I was blown away by Kanae’s experimental text written in (and about) Hawaiian Creole English and pidgin, “Sista Tongue.” This collection of her short stories is deeply moving, flat-out hilarious, and strengthened by the sharp vulnerability in each character’s voice.


by LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs
Belladonna, 2013

Jai’s comments: This book is sonic genius . . . Diggs is sonic genius. A multilingual text written in Cherokee, Japanese, Spanish, Quechua, Yoruba and more, it is a (re)sounding “werk” of kinesthetic/kine-sonic delight.


M. NourbeSe Philip
Wesleyan University Press, 2008

Jai’s comments: In 1781 on the slave ship Zong, over 150 slaves were thrown overboard in order for the ship’s owners to collect insurance money. Philip grasps at these submerged voices, a drowned language. Reading this book is disorienting and chaotic—letters are jettisoned from words, phrases are cast and broken. In this horror, in this violence done unto language/bodies, the dead arise from the sea.

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For additional reading, we also recommend any of the following titles that we featured here on the blog during 2013:

What were your favorite reads in 2013? Tell us in the comments, or share a link with us on Facebook or Twitter! Have a safe and wonderful new year, and we’ll see you in 2014.

Staff Picks: Favorite Reads from 2012 (and Other Recommendations for the New Year)

Every year around the holidays, we post a roundup of books recommended by our staff writers to the LR Blog. The end of the current year is now fast approaching, and so in continuation of our tradition, here is a list of titles we enjoyed reading in 2012 and wanted to share with you:

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Rules of the House

Rules of the House
by Tsering Wangmo Dhompa
Apogee Press, 2002
Recommended by Mia: “I recently started teaching full-time, so I haven’t had much time to read poetry… but I’m slowly working through Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s Rules of the House. I’ve been savoring every poem because Dhompa has this way of leveling the reader with the slightest detail, all the while developing complex arcs that echo and extend throughout the book.”

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The Pillow Book

The Pillow Book
by Jee Leong Koh
Math Paper Press, 2012
Recommended by Wendy: “Inspired by the example of eleventh-century Japanese author and court lady Sei Shōnagon, Jee Leong Koh collects his miscellaneous jottings in his own pillow book. Written in the genre called zuihitsu, which compromises both prose and poetry, these observations, lists and anecdotes on life in Singapore and New York are, in turn, humorous, reflective, satirical, nostalgic and outrageous.”

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Gardening Secrets of the Dead
by Lee Herrick
Word Tech Editions, 2012
Recommended by Wendy: “[In Brian Turner’s words]: ‘Lee Herrick’s Gardening Secrets of the Dead is a lyric exploration of the fractured and fragmented landscape of the self, where the body is a song composed of many selves. Whitman revised, the poems ‘celebrate and assemble/ from around the world’ with a voice that is politically engaged and rooted in compassion.'”

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by giovanni singleton
Counterpath Press 2012
Winner of the 81st Annual California Book Award for Poetry
Recommended by Jai: “Comprised mostly of a daybook written during musician and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane’s 49-day transition between death and rebirth, giovanni singleton’s Ascension rings with unexpected cadences. As a soul ascends, what settles and rattles at our feet? From day to day, where are the stillnesses? These are the questions this book leads me to ask, as singleton takes us ‘way back to // where every sound / was a story and // every silence / epic.'”

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"Almost Heaven"
“Almost Heaven” (MANOA 23.2)

Almost Heaven: On the Human and Divine
[Volume 23.2 of Manoa]
Recommended by Henry: “This is volume 23.2 of Manoa, the volume that came out in 2011 just prior to ‘Sky Lanterns,’ with beautiful glass-plate negatives of Hawaii, and featuring writers on a variety of illusory paradises not limited to the Pacific. The essays especially are worth checking out!”

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by Kristen Eliason
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
Recommended by Iris
: “I’ve been reading a lot of chaps this year (they’re perfect for short amounts of time, so I can read one on my lunch break), and this one is an absolute gift. Living overseas in the wake of a momentous tragedy, Eliason’s speaker grapples with her alienation and grief in a series of heartbreakingly spare missives—quiet snapshots in whose white spaces the rawness of loss seeps through. Eliason has a talent for lyric invocation, but the real power of this chap, for me, really lies in the spaces of absence that pit and fragment her text—the things she allows her speaker to leave unsaid.”

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Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood

Self-Portrait as Rumor and Blood
by Rachelle Cruz
Dancing Girl Press, 2012
Recommended by Iris:
 “Another fabulous Dancing Girl title. Notable for the courageous viscerality of its voice, Cruz’s chap is tonally very different from Eliason’s, but also intensely powerful. Cruz’s speaker is a shape-shifter, slipping easily in and out of voices and narratives from across time and space in order to weave together a portrait that glistens as much with sinew as it does with the force of its story.”

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Staff Publications: The LR Blog staff has also had a particularly busy year in terms of our own individual writing lives, and since this post is the one time a year that we get to feature the staff, we thought that this would be a perfect opportunity to share some of their recent and forthcoming publications with you. If you follow the blog regularly and are curious about our bloggers’ own poetic work, we hope you’ll consider adding a few of these titles to your future reading lists, as well!

  • Jai Arun Ravine’s collection, แล้ว and then entwinewas published by Tinfish in 2011.
  • Henry W. Leung’s Paradise Hunger won the 2012 Swan Scythe Press Poetry Chapbook Contest, and was published this fall.
  • Mia A. Malhotra has a sheaf of poems in the Fall/Winter issue of AALR.
  • Iris A. Law’s chapbook, Periodicityis forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in February.
  • Wendy Chin-Tanner’s first collection, Turn, is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press in March 2014.

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Favorite Reads from 2012 (and Other Recommendations for the New Year)”

Staff Picks: Holiday Reading Recommendations 2011

It’s become a little bit of a tradition for us to post a list of books recommended by the LR Blog writers and editors just before the holidays.  In keeping with that tradition, we’ve surveyed the staff team and have put together a list of  titles that we enjoyed reading this year and think that you might like, too. Here are our end-of -year Staff Picks for 2011:

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People are Tiny in Paintings of China
by Cynthia Arrieu-King
Octopus Books, 2010
Recommended by Iris:

“I lost my father in late 2010, and the delicate—almost brittle—transparency of this collection (which has much to do with fathers and familial heritage) struck me to the bone.  Arrieu-King’s language is beautifully evocative, but economical; her poems are rendered with slim, decisive strokes that are as breathtaking for their clear-eyed, precise minimalism as they are for their wry, sharply observant (at times downright blunt) commentary.  Acts of mathematical counting, division (or inability to divide, as in the case of the poem titled “Prime Numbers”), and serial repetition are motifs in the collection, as are colors, lenses or frames of vision, the contours of landscapes and language. Taken together, these themes serve to magnify and illuminate the speaker’s gaze as she negotiates what it means to claim a multiracial, transnational identity in a world that irrationally desires, even demands, perfectly divisible, concrete forms.”

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Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels
by Kevin Young
Alfred A. Knopf, 2011

Recommended by Mia:
“Kevin Young’s latest book, Ardency, is at once epic and lyric, documentary and wholly imaginative.  Written from the perspective of various figures involved in the Amistad rebellion of 1839, the three sections of this book, ‘Buzzard,’ ‘Correspondence,’ and ‘Witness: A Libretto’ unfold in a dramatic reimagining of this moment in history.  While it’s true that with this collection, Young ‘[places] himself squarely in the African American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes’ (as the Washington Post claims on the book jacket), he also uses it to reinvent the tradition.”

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Holiday Reading Recommendations 2011”

Staff Picks: Holiday Reads 2010

Last year, we asked our staff writers to recommend books that they’d read in the last year and thought were worth passing on.  This year, we’ve decided to continue with this tradition.  In light of that, here are our holiday staff picks for 2010 (poetry, prose and more—yes, we read more than poetry!)

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Race and the Avant-Garde: Experimental and Asian American Poetry Since 1965 | Timothy Yu | Stanford University Press (2009)

Recommended by Mia: “This is one of the key critical texts on my reading list for the holidays.  I’ve only skimmed the first few chapters, but thus far have found Yu’s argument compelling, his analysis rigorous, and his wide-ranging knowledge of Asian American and Language poetry in the United States to be informative to my own work—not to mention useful in historicizing these two movements/moments in contemporary poetry!

From the Tinfish Editors’ Blog: ‘Using a definition of the avant-garde that has less to do with aesthetics than with social groups composed of like-minded artists, Yu argues that Asian American poetry and Language writing formed parallel movements in the 1970s. […] Both presented themselves in opposition to the mainstream; both were marked by questions of form and racial identity. Both meant to create art out of social groups, and reconstitute the social through the reception of their art.'”

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Radiant Silhouette: New & Selected Work 1974-1988 | John Yau | Black Sparrow Press (1989)

Recommended by Mia: “Yau is one of the two major poets that Timothy Yu addresses in Race and the Avant-Garde (Theresa Hak Kyung Cha is the other), so I’ve been reading through his New & Selected Work for an introduction to the thematic and aesthetic scope of his early career.  He’s a fascinating figure in Asian American poetry and, as Yu points out, ‘might best be read as a restoration of the links between politics, form, and race that characterize the avant-garde Asian American poetry of the 1970s [… providing] the first opportunity for most readers to recognize […] the presence of that avant-garde back into the very origins of Asian American writing.'”

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Man on Extremely Small Island | Jason Koo | C&R Press (2009)

Recommended by Iris: “Jason Koo’s style is very different from my own, but this book (his first collection) managed to completely charm me with its quirkiness.  The voice of the book’s primary speaker manifests a world-weary exhaustion that is, on the surface, darkly melancholic and painfully self-deprecating.  He obsesses over his dirty apartment while eating a tuna sandwich, dreams about floundering clumsily through an encounter with Lucy Liu, envisions himself stranded on an island in the middle of an ocean, worrying about the size of his nose.  But beneath the speaker’s (at times endearingly hyperbolic) self-consciousness lies a striking vulnerability and a luminous ability to evoke the fantastic within the mundane: BBQ chip crumbs echo the ‘fine grains / of my slovenliness,’ becoming ‘barbecue pollen,’ and later, ‘orange microbes’ (9); Lucy Liu becomes a motherly goddess figure who guides him through a secret mission, ‘pulling you after her diving into the stage,’ which becomes the arena for an undersea showdown complete with battleships, lingerie models, and harpoons (22) , the island transforms into the kneecap of a giant woman who ‘has no nose. Just a space where mine / can fit’ (77). Part Frank O’Hara, part tragic hero of his own sardonic comic-book series, the speaker’s sense of humor, whimsy, and wonder, as transmitted by Koo’s craft, paint a picture of a world that reinvisions the now-archetypal image behind John Donne’s famous ‘No man is an island’ with simultaneous irreverence and tenderness. ”

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Holiday Reads 2010”

Staff Picks: Holiday Reading Recommendations

Whether you’ll be traveling or relaxing at home during the upcoming holidays, it’s a great time to polish off an old reading list or to start in on something new.  As our gift to you this season, and to help you get started on your own holiday reading list, we’ve asked members of the LR Staff to recommend some of their recent favorites.  Here are our suggestions.


Asylum | Quan Barry | University of Pittsburgh Press (2001)

Recommended by Mia: “My holiday reading pick . . . it’s her first collection.  Her engagement with the voices and subjects of the Vietnam War is beautifully executed, and though the scope of her work is much broader, I was most riveted by her ‘war’ poems.”

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Behind My Eyes |
Li-Young Lee | W.W. Norton & Company (2008)

Recommended by Iris: “This is Lee’s most recent collection — and it is stunning, as always.  Figurations of the Virgin Mary intertwine with moving landscapes, conversations between the poet and his wife, the transitory spaces of travel, a chance vision of the poet’s father; all hang in a delicate, almost sacred, lumen, suspended somewhere between heaven and earth.  Each poem breathes with an expansiveness and a grave tenderness that only Lee knows how to render. Behind My Eyes is sold with a CD of the poet reading some the poems in the book, and I highly recommend listening to this, as well.  I had the privilege of hearing Lee read from his drafts for this book a few years before it came out, and loved the way that the intonation of his voice seamed through the lines of each poem, threading them together in a low, sonorous hum.  It’s a beautiful listening experience, and adds a new and lovely textural dimension to his already melodious poetics.”

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Call Me Ishmael Tonight |
Agha Shahid Ali | W.W. Norton & Company (2003)

Recommended by Supriya: “This collection of ghazals shows the versatile ways in which a poetic form can go beyond its history and language while staying true to its essence. Agha Shahid Ali demonstrates the intentionality with which he overcomes expectations and boundaries by using a traditional form that often evokes feelings of longing and melancholia but writing in a contemporary English that feels timeless. Although written entirely in form, the range and depth of this collection allows for a vast expanse of emotions and possibilities and is the perfect collection with which to curl up whatever your mood.”

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A Gesture Life |
Chang-rae Lee | Penguin USA (2000)

Recommended by Ada: “Told from the point of view of Dr. Hata, a Japanese WWII veteran, this fictional memoir weaves between his experiences in a crumbling outpost of a Japanese imperial outpost in the last days of the war and his later life in gated, suburban America. The protagonist in Lee’s second novel is so reasonable it’s eerie, and though I think that we are meant to feel sorry for Dr. Hata and the stiffly respectable, appropriately understated life he has bound himself into, the distance that separates him from all the other characters in this book translates into distance from the reader. Not that the whole book left me cold: the scenes describing Dr. Hata’s encounters with Korean comfort women during the war are eye-opening, gripping, and an interesting perspective on the terrors of war.”

Continue reading “Staff Picks: Holiday Reading Recommendations”