The Darkened Temple, by Mari L’Esperance. University of Nebraska Press: Lincoln and London, 2008. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-8032-1847-5
Richly textured and admirably diverse in its structures, Mari L’Esperance’s collection of poems, The Darkened Temple, stuns as it edifies a craving for depth in modern poetry.
The poet’s page on Poets & Writers: http://www.pw.org/content/mari_lamp039esperance
How Clarissa Burden Learned to Fly, by Connie May Fowler. Grand Central Publishing, New York, 2010. ISBN: 978-0-446-54068-1.
Fowler carries her readers forward like intrepid explorers of the human psyche, alive to each twitch of synapse, each pulse of her characters’ breaths. She paints the Florida landscape, the tethers of history, spirits struggling to break free, and even the souls of animals in prose that frequently lifts off the page. Impossible not to love a character as conflicted, as burdened, as funny and sensitive as Clarissa. But a fly? Well, that would not have been on my Valentine’s list, before now. . . . In Connie May Fowler’s hands, Florida is a magical place. The state should seriously consider building her a monument, from which she can entertain us all by reading, shod, of course, in blue cerulean boots, and with all the Shadow Women singing doo-wop to her tune.
Translating the Body, by Jillian Weise. All Nations Press: White Marsh, VA, 2006. ISBN 0-9725110-6-723183
Jillian Weise . . . gets our attention with provocative titles and subject matter, like “The Amputees Guide to Sex.” Then she forces us deeper into our own experience. . . . Weise gets at the uncertainty and ambiguity, crossing boundaries by holding disability up as a metaphor for feelings we all have when trying to relate intimately to others—thus “translating” the body. This poem in sections moves inexorably, surely from particular to universal. . . . This is everything we want poetry to be: brave, uncluttered, deep as the pools of human longing.
Also enjoyed this year, and recommended:
Where the Dog Star Never Glows, by Tara L. Masih, Press 53: Winston-Salem, 2010. Paperback. ISBN 978-0-9825760-5-2.
Masih has had such stunning reviews and awards with this book of short stories that she doesn’t need more from me, but let me say that you will be amazed at these characters, each caught at a moment of decision-making, in settings remarkably detailed and distinctly recalled, from coal-mining Appalachia, to India and Puerto Rico. Masih is simply, extraordinarily versatile as a writer, and this book is a gem I wouldn’t be without. Just google its title and note the glowing reviews, from Publisher’s Weekly to Small Press to New Pages, and awards, and see how many “best of” lists on which it appears. Then hurry to the bookstore!
The Creepy Girl and Other Stories, by Janet Mitchell, Starcherone Press: Buffalo. ISBN 978-0-9788811-7-7.
I love short stories––can you tell?––because I find them hard to write. Well, Mitchell is masterful and at the same time a little creepy in her extensive imagination and ability to load sentences with emotional dynamite. The title story alone is worth the price of this book, but there are more wonderful works here. You will see why it won the Starcherone Prize from the press run by Ted Pelton, an editor we admire for his dedication to experimental fiction. Mitchell is a fabulous choice to stretch your reading and writing muscles.
A Walk Through the Memory Palace, by Pamela Johnson Parker, Phoenicia Publishing, ISBN-13: 978-0978174965.
Artful and precise in their construction, these poems won Johnson Parker the Chapbook Prize from qaartsiluni, a small press doing some of the most innovative issues on the web (and, in the interest of full disclosure, a publisher of some of my own work.) I include the Memory Palace here because I believe it will please those who favor poems that catalogue, parse, and sliver the human experience in ways that reflect like shards of glass. While I prefer poetry that is more accessible and wholistically illuminative, I couldn’t help but admire this poet’s skill. I know why it was chosen, and I think it’s important to all writers to examine carefully that which challenges as well as pleases.
To dance: a ballerina’s graphic novel, by Siena Cherson Siegel, illustrated by Mark Siegel. Aladdin Paperbacks: New York. ISBN 978-1-4169-2687-0.
Go out right now and buy this book for every girl and woman and dancer you know. It’s about a little girl who loses her dance teacher but honors her with her dedication to and lifelong love of the art. Mark Siegel’s illustrations are delightful, a perfect complement to Siena’s story, which is a memoir of her own love of dance. Words can’t do this justice. If you have wondered what a graphic novel can achieve outside of male adolescent fantasies, this book will show you and be read by everyone who picks it up, of any age or gender. I guarantee it, and you don’t have to buy a suit.
Complementary Colors, by Kate Evans. Vanilla Heart: California. ISBN 978-1935407867.
Evans accomplishes something I wish I saw more often: a coming-out story that reaches past the sensual and the tale-of-courage (though it has both) to explore meaningfully the nature of love and the urge to dissolve ourselves in another. Her heroine struggles for her independence and her self esteem despite a neglectful boyfriend and an alluring but mysterious girlfriend, and we want her to find her own joys. Evans writes some fabulous sentences and knows how to construct a novel. Bet she’s a fabulous teacher.
Books I read with great pleasure:
This Side of Brightness by Column McCann. What an incredible world this man constructs, like a tragic accident from which one can’t look away, and which rewards with near-impossible insights. I also read and loved his National Book Award-winning Let the Great World Spin, and I see the greatness of that work. But luminescent is a word made for this book about tunnel diggers and homeless dwellers of Manhattan’s underworld. It joins my list of favorites and my Inspiration Shelf.
What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, by Laura van den Berg. Ditto this extraordinarily well-crafted collection of short stories by a new writer who has taken the literary world captive and will do so again. Watch for her.
Howl, by Allen Ginsberg. Again and again and again. It will never leave me, but I find myself returning to remember it, like a series of romantic escapes. And each time I am thunderstruck by its brilliance.