#FridayReads for 2/20/15

Kristina Bicher (Blog Staff) is reading When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

These poems will give you vertigo: your ears will throb, your head will gyrate with images of unruly beasts and mesmerizing ancient gods, your mouth will fill with a rich lexicon that is wildly imaginative. These poems are at once raw and sophisticated. Savagery has never been so beautiful. Redemption never seemed so close and then so far.

In this dizzying and highly accomplished first book, (Copper Canyon Press, 2012), Diaz’s main concern is her brother’s drug addiction and its impact on her family. Other poems deal more broadly with growing up on a Mojave Indian reservation and struggles with personal identity.  These poems are highly physical, with hyenas morphing to men, graphic depictions of bodily wounds inherent in a life of addiction; her brother’s drug-fueled hallucinations become the reality of these poems.

Diaz invokes seemingly every deity and philosopher in an attempt to frame her experience, placing in one poem “a broken Borges and a gouged Saint Lucia, hand in hand.” Her epigraphs include a Confucian scholar, Whitman, Lorca, Rimbaud, Szymborska and the Qur’an.  The characters in this gory glorious Greek tragedy include hawks and elephants; Houdini and Antigone; Adam and Eve; Barbie; and Huitzilopochtli, a god that’s half-man, half-hummingbird.

The forms vary tremendously in this layered, textured collection: from regular indented prose paragraphs, to couplet, tercets, letters, list poems, an abecedarian poem and a poem that deftly integrates Native American culture with Christianity in six syllables. But throughout is the relentless, urgent voice of witness, at times reflective, often frantic, imploring the reader to enter her world, see what she sees, touch what she feels. And while there is anger, there is also great tenderness, especially as she describes the noble attempts of her parents to manage through the impossible.

In “A Brother Named Gethsemane,” Diaz opens with:  “Naked blue boy put down your pipe. They found your shoes in the meadow. Mom’s and Dad’s hearts are overripe” and ends with “This is no garden. This is my brother and I need a shovel to love him.”

Ursula Fuentesberain (Translation Co-Editor) is reading Animals in Motion by David Ryan

Ryan“Dilate the attractor”, those three words have been haunting me ever since I heard David Ryan utter them last year in his craft talk. To dilate the attractor is to find the uncanny, the unfamiliar, das unheimlich, l’autre, the secret story within a story. That’s precisely what the thirteen short stories of Animals in Motion do, they are a theatre of shadows that we visit in a dream.

Amy Hempel said in an interview that she uses animals in her stories to portray a “purity of feeling.” The animals in David Ryan’s stories play a similar role, they are empty containers that the reader fills with meaning: the dying elk in “The Bull Elk” resembles the crazed diminishing father, the turkey vulture that comes out of a snake’s slit belly seems just as doomed as Gerard, the protagonist of “The Canyon”, and whether it’s a hummingbird that sips on gray flowers or a pair of dogs that watch a man cling to his ruined house, all the animals in this book seem to speak about eros and thanatos, the two central themes of this collection.

Will Walawender (Blog Staff) is reading Rise by L Annette Binder 

The characters throughout this collection of dark contemporary fairy tales resonate with the restlessness of life in the modern world. Each story swells with fears of the “normal” that are illuminated by a magical or sometimes surreal twist. “Halo” tells the story of a boy who can see an invisible black halo circling a person’s head the day before they die. A mother slowly breaks internally as her infant child begins to speak for the first time, but only mutters in long forgotten tongues in “Dead Languages.” Yet another story follows a woman seemingly addicted to plastic surgery in the wake of the disappearance of her daughter, undergoing procedure after procedure, year after year, in the hopes that she could still be recognized when her daughter is returned safe to her.

The entire collection aches with a profound tragedy that holds the reader in the tone of its flat, straight forward narratives. The beauty of the collection is found in the language itself, the flow of the words and sentences rhythmically cascading like poetry. The melancholy of the words bloom into something not unlike a song of lamenting, something that haunts the reader long after they have closed the book and put it away.

Celeste Hackenberg (Art Director) is reading Ventrakl by Christian Hawkeye


Ventrakl is an extensive and idiosyncratic language experiment, collection of black-and-white photographs, biography and epic fragmentary love poem transcribed around and through its source and subject, the Expressionist poet Georg Trakl. Hawkey uses some far-out methods to get at the real essence of the German poet and his words, including mangling books with bullets from a 12-gauge shotgun, running passages back and forth through an online translator, and, my personal favorite, leaving the book outside for a year to let nature do its decomposing work. The photographs in the book are often also distorted, sometimes zoomed in to the point of pixellated obscurity, illustrating the various filters in the way of accurate perception. Ven, the prefix of the title, essentially means come. Hawkey draws meaning from Trakl’s life and work not through traditional methods of translation, but instead using a kind of intuitive summoning. 

Sam Hoagland (Translation Assistant) is reading Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman


You could describe this book as quirky, irreverent, and displaying a highly imaginative mix of UFOs, Tibetan monks, and explosives.  Perhaps more interestingly, you could describe it thus and be both sincere and sane.  Pratchett and Gaiman are both masters of the fantasy genre, as well as of humor, wit, and the unexpected.  It should therefore not surprise us then to find this collaborative depiction of Armageddon (were it to happen in the nineties in a tiny British village) to be stranger and funnier than any Armageddon the reader is likely to have imagined.  Also, with more motorcycles.


Nicola Sebastian (Assistant Online Editor) is reading Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata


The entire world in the palm of your hand. That is the idea behind Japanese writer Yasunari Kawabata’s collection of palm-of-the-hand stories: that the infinite can be glimpsed in the infinitesimal, that a single moment is not just enough—it could be all there is. But I’m not currently reading that collection; I’m reading his novel, Snow Country, which manages to breathe and behave like one of his palm-of-the-hand stories: exquisite and evasive, floating through moments that offer a fleeting glimpse of unfathomable depths. Kawabata showed me that perhaps stories should be more like prisms, refracting the light of human existence no matter their dimensions. And, like the affair between Shimamura, the refined gentleman from Tokyo, and Komako, a geisha from the mountains, the novel is all the more beautiful for the knowledge that it is already ending—even before spring finally comes to the desolately beautiful yukiguni, the fabled snow country.