Nota Benes, January 2018
Tiger and Clay: Syria Fragments
Trans. Liz Henry
Cardboard House Press
Chilean poet and artist Carmen Berenguer lets poetry, prose, epigraph, and design run together—almost. My Lai is a barely constrained meditation in the language of the mind, associative and unpunctuated, sometimes disordered. Well preserved in translation, with the original waiting in the latter half of the book, Berenguer’s latest volume has aptly been called “quickening, rhythmic, and hallucinatory”; it is not the kind of book one reads but the kind one tumbles into.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies
John Boyne has created a grand narrative that spans decades of Irish history through the life of a man named Cyril Avery struggling with his own identity and sexuality. An ordinary man, Cyril finds himself face to face with some of the largest events in recent Irish history in this story that toes the line between heartbreak and humor as well as the personal and social.
Purifications or the Sign of Retaliation
Trans. Chloe Hill
White Pine Press
Beautifully rendered here in a prizewinning English translation, this collection from the late Brazilian poet Myriam Fraga is awash in history and memory. Theogony and revolution have equal place in these poems, where myth is revisited and reenvisioned in Fraga’s own deeply symbolic landscape, the visceral merging into the erotic and the primal occult resurging at every turn.
Return to the Dark Valley
Trans. Howard Curtis
In Return to the Dark Valley, Colombian author Santiago Gamboa follows a poet on her path to revenge that takes her across three different continents, where she meets a myriad of characters, each struggling with their own haunted pasts. With poetically blunt prose, Gamboa delves into the fears of this age and brings them to his readers face to face.
The Little Queen
The Little Queen is a story about learning: learning how to keep living after tragedy, learning how to ask questions, and learning about just how big the world is. A little girl’s parents pass away, and so she becomes the little queen who embarks on a journey of magical proportions in this gentle book.
Song of Songs 2.0
With endlessly colorful wit, Irish poet and satirist Kevin Higgins offers an assortment of new and selected poems that rip into life and politics with “teeth or, at least, dentures.” Bursting with bathos as he riffs off of Wordsworth, Milton, and Burns or turning to absurdity the psalmic similes in the title poem, Higgins’s verse revels in pastiche and political irreverence.
Noon until Night
Barrow Street Press
At times allusive and metacognitive, at others mostly narrative, the poems collected in Noon until Night are always reflective, a procession of angled glimpses at the thing, or things, called living. Denying dichotomy, the long title poem invites us to see in the many tones of life “pairs, not opposites; couples / not competitors.” Hoffman’s own tone in this latest book—unfailingly incisive, perceptive, and invigorating—rides the invisible rim between light and dark.
So Where Are We?
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
A New York–based writer and law professor of Syrian and Lebanese descent, Lawrence Joseph writes the noise and smoke and digital crowds of a world perplexed and then pierces that world with beams of lucid affect. Grappling with events of great scope, the poems in So Where Are We? are deeply affected by the events since 9/11, which they explore with an unflinching gaze and critical intelligence.
Trans. Ruth Martin
Originally written in German by an Austrian author, Yiza is a story about a young girl of the same name who is abandoned in Germany, where she meets two young boys in a shelter for migrant children. One day, they decide to run away. Köhlmeier writes in a simple language and structure that suits the subjects and contrasts well with the gravity of the reality around them.
Autopsy of a Father
Trans. Robert Bononno
Bellevue Literary Press
Upon the death of her father, a young woman heads home to sift through the past in an attempt to unearth the reasons why her father underwent a drastic ideological shift that left him angry and racist. Translated from French, Kramer’s novel examines bigotry in the intimate space of family, allowing for a powerfully close look at societal ills.
Shadows of the Crimson Sun
Fourteen-year-old Akihisa Takayama is living in the Japanese puppet state of Manchuria when Russia invades. This sets off a chain of migrations that sends his family from Manchuria to Taiwan and eventually to the United States and Canada. In this biography, Lin places large-scale events on a deeply personal level, allowing for a deeper understanding of a tense geopolitical dispute.
The Lontar Anthology of
Ed. John H. McGlynn, Dorothea Rosa Herliany & Deborah Cole
University of Hawai‘i Press
Beginning in 1920, when poetry began to emerge as a powerful genre in Indonesia, this expansive anthology traces eighty years of poetry that both captured and shaped the nation’s cultural, linguistic, and literary topography. The anthology contains a comprehensive selection of poets, whose work is here translated into English to serve as a teaching and study aid and a dutiful representation of Indonesia’s beloved genre.
The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Short Stories: Short Fiction from the Twentieth Century
Ed. John H. McGlynn, Zen Hae & Andy Fuller
University of Hawai‘i Press
The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Short Stories is a two-volume collection of 106 stories that serves as a literary survey of the literature emerging from the time period between pre-independence Indonesia up to the turn of the millennium. Volume 2 takes a look at the latter half of the century, giving examples of the ways in which the literature responded to a militaristic regime.
Trans. Linda Gaboriau
Quebecois author Wajdi Mouawad steps behind the eyes of over fifty different animals to tell the story of a man who sets out to find the person responsible for the rape and murder of his wife. Each of these animals and insects is given characterization and a particular voice as narrator, which builds a complex, multifaceted story full of terse language taking readers on a journey from Montreal to New Mexico.
Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse
Ed. Grace Bauer & Julie Kane
Lost Horse Press
Bodies, beauty, sisterhood, sex, and sexism are only a few of the subjects pursued from their historical and mythological roots to their many modern iterations in this hard-hitting volume, which is at once profoundly political and inextricably personal. Nasty Women Poets takes its title from the televised words of a prominent political figure (“whose name,” Bauer and Kane say, “we shall not utter here”), an act of reclamation and affirmation that is echoed by the talented voices and moving verse within.
The Insomnia Poems
The Insomia Poems, by Guyanese-British poet Grace Nichols, is a slow, deliriously enchanting stroll through many dreamscapes. Drawing on Caribbean and British folktales with equal ease, the image-rich poems in this book emerge from all forms of sleepless vigil and gradual waking—from the worried mother and the watchful virgin to Rip Van Winkle—hovering (like their speakers) a hairbreadth away from the illogic of dreams.
A Fortune Foretold
Trans. Marlaine Delargy
Swedish author Agneta Pleijel recounts her childhood, during which an affair fractured her family and left her feeling lost in the world. Poignant with humble prose, Pleijel’s memoir reflects upon feelings and questions both familiar and relatable as she grows to understand life and people in wholly different ways.
Chant of a Million Women
Chant of a Million Women, the first collected book of poems from Sri Lankan writer Shirani Rajapakse, deploys the personal in service of the social. Spoken in and on behalf of many voices, Rajapakse’s poems take interest in small things as well as big issues, collecting local images to capture common experiences.
The Morning After: Poetry and Prose in a Post-Truth World
Prolific poet and activist Margaret Randall takes November 9, 2016, as the pivot point for this new collection, which explores the world’s many questions—personal, cosmological, and social—in the light of sudden political shock. Dense, associative prose moves montagelike through a series of big ideas—gravity, time, love, words—in rapid-whirling orbit, while her poems retain a sharp political edge urging and encouraging resistance in this long “morning after.”
Directions for Use
Trans. Stever Teref & Maja Teref
Directions for Use explores the eroticism inherent in all physicality, from the endlessly vulnerable body to “the erogenous zones / of ancient icicles hanging in early spring,” while plainly engaging themes of isolation, from others and from self. Ristović’s verse is stark, glistening, and surprising, sometimes fantastic: poetry becomes “an elegant stalactite,” “little zebras,” or “a bidet” in this book, which is the Serbian poet’s first to be collected with English translation.
To Die in Spring
Trans. Shaun Whiteside
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Translated from the German, Ralf Rothmann’s To Die in Spring depicts a son trying to fill in the gaps between himself and his recently deceased father. Left with little knowledge of his father’s experiences in World War II, the narrator uses the few words written in his father’s journal to create the story himself. The sparse, frank language creates an unflinching and tense portrayal of war.
A Loving, Faithful Animal
A Loving, Faithful Animal hones in on a family living in a small Australian town in the wake of the Vietnam War. The threads that hold together Ru’s family are unraveling: Ru’s father, a Vietnam veteran, has disappeared; Ru’s sister escapes in destructive habits; and Ru’s mother retreats into memories of better times. With poetic prose, Josephine Rowe creates a memorable cast of characters.
Habib Abdulrab Sarori
Trans. Elisabeth Jaquette
A young man growing up in communist South Yemen returns to his hometown after studying literature in Paris to find that the woman he loves has joined the conservative Islamist movement. Set against a backdrop of constant change and turmoil, the two attempt to reconcile their vastly different personal beliefs with their love affair in this novel of playful prose.
Kamila Shamsie has crafted a story about two families that find themselves connected amid their own struggles with family legacies. With simple prose, Home Fire poses questions about some of the challenges that face the global community, such as nationalism, religious extremism, and bigotry (see WLT, March 2013, 10–13).
Ma and her child, Alex, head out on a road trip from their home in Virginia to California, meeting a colorful cast of characters and experiencing the variety of settings that the United States has to offer; each adds a piece to the story of Ma’s life that the readers piece together alongside Alex. The pieces all come together to form a narrative that confronts readers with questions about identity and relationships.
Trans. Hester Velmans
From Dutch author Niña Weijers, The Consequences presents visual artist Minnie Panis, who finds herself in the spotlight after a picture of her is placed in British Vogue. In this sharp book of wry commentary, Minnie’s newfound fame and haunting past come together to explore the nuances of intimacy and identity.
Bear has the rare quality of being at moments both erudite and endearing, playing games with translations of Dante and writing love poems to video games—raw, ridiculous, and intimate at the same time. As eccentric and strange as life, the poems in Chrissy Williams’s first book-length collection are silly, serious, and sagacious, scrolling through different ways of being with inimitable personality.
Opening the Mouth of the Dead
Lone Goose Press
New York City–based arts and literacy advocate Catherine Woodard searches through the stories and moments of childhood for a “spell” by which to understand death and pry into the parts of life that go silent with it. Drawing on the simple mystery of old attics and rites of passage into adolescence, the childlike speaker tries to make sense of the man she sometimes called her father. The limited-edition letterpress version of this book of poems features the artwork of Margot Voorhies Thompson, who worked closely with Woodard to “knit” their arts together.
The Years, Months, Days
Trans. Carlos Rojas
The Years, Months, Days contains two novellas by Chinese author Yan Lianke: one entitled Marrow, which explores the lengths that a desperate and devoted mother will go to for her children, and another that shares the title of the book, which follows an elderly man who refuses to abandon his home village, even in a fearsome drought. With the surreal, absurdist humor that Yan is renowned for, The Years, Months, Daysis a testament to life and resiliency.
Trans. Brian Holton
The influential and controversial poetry of London-based, Swiss-born Chinese poet Yang Lian led to years of exile and adventure, frames of which are captured here in what the poet calls “the most comprehensive expression so far of my thinking and my poetics.” Drawn from old family photographs from his youth, the poems in this dual-text collection are lush with distinct, shapely images that sit like leaves on a tree, gathering and expressing the energy of a single, connected vitality.
The Collected Poems of Fay Zwicky
Ed. Lucy Dougan & Tim Dolin
The late poet Fay Zwicky works in flawless cadence, whether religious, natural, mythic, historical, or personal in style and subject. This new collected volume contains the work of her seven published books as well as other previously unpublished pieces, handling themes of mortality with the insightfulness and variety of form that have made her an essential figure in Australian poetry.