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.”

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Review: Tamiko Beyer’s BOUGH BREAKS

bough breaks

The title of Tamiko Beyer’s first chapbook, bough breaks, evokes not just the creepy nursery rhyme, but also plant metaphors and motifs running through the poem-sequence. On the very first page there is “deep moss,” “bloomer,” and the “instinct” that “rises / late” from “whatever field”: whatever it is, this field has conceptual dimensions as well as spatiality. Shortly thereafter, the narrator tells us, “I construct syllabic fields,” suggesting with the simple present tense a habit, a pattern, perhaps something involuntary—and in this field, language itself, like foliage, must be attended to “like watering.”

These language-pastures seem to have once in the past(oral) contained the narrator until this instinct, to be a mother, escapes—pretty much like a protuberance—and causes a being-body to leak through. Queer desire is already a transgression, “chaotic.” By challenging the narrative that queer sexualities are non-reproductive, the maternal instinct turns the queer body excessive over and above its already-excess.

bough breaks seeks to interrogate this protuberance, this leaking, and its limits. It is fuelled by yearning: “will there be / between us a darling?” Yearning pushes through the body of the poem in the form of white space. Forms are invented to strike off authorized definitions of conception (biological as well as artistic), to prefigure the politics of a queer couple raising a child so as to question gender (“we would ….  open mother to repetitions”), to consider how options for child-getting are often embedded in contexts of violence and capitalistic greed (and is there really a choice), to destabilize both the “natural” and the “not natural” in “queer” and “motherhood” (and sneaky iterations of everything in between), to circulate even more questions around adoption and embryo adoption (check out that play with “play” and “pay” on page 24!).

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