It’s that time of year! We’ve asked guests and contributors we’ve featured on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour in 2014 to share with us their favorite books, literary magazines, and reading series from the year.
This post features poet and editor, Muriel Leung, poet and TBJ Contributor. She writes:
“Four Chapbooks to Read by Four Badass Women Poets”
What are my favorite books that I have read this year? I have had Oprah-sized fantasies about being asked this question, and though I can promise no one in any audience anywhere their own personal copies of each book (or copper tea sets or computer tablets), I am elated to brag on behalf of the following below. These are chapbooks published by small presses—some are e-books, some hand-stitched—by amazing women poets. This year, I vote we give women’s poetry collections produced through small presses their due appreciation and recognize chapbooks for the artistry that go into making them. To boot, I want to make suggestions, in honor of the holiday season, of favorite food, drink, and music items to pair with each book—what else is reading if not an all-senses-on-deck experience? Enjoy!
1. Was there once a leash that led to nothing other than my affection and around a rectangular pond we strolled in such fabrics as are assembled by people? No. There was just a hole. Hello in there. What time?
– from Danielle Pafunda, When You Left Me in the Rutted Terrain of Our Love at the Border, Which I Could Not Cross Remaining a Citizen of This Corrupt Land (Birds of Lace, 2014)
Pafunda’s chapbook possesses probably my favorite title of all time as it exquisitely portrays the repeated failures to reach out to a lover across obstacles that seem at once colloquial and fantastical and are nevertheless, relentless and devastating. Predominantly written in prose poem form, Pafunda approaches the form like a box, filling it with every object possible, teasing that boundary between emotional sufficiency and excess. The book is thrilling, sensationally intimate, and incredibly relevant to the fissures that have come to define the trouble of how we love and connect with each other in modern times.
Published through Birds of Lace, the feminist press is also known for its gorgeous broadsides and chapbook bundle offers. You can shop for Pafunda’s book as well as others here.
How to best enjoy this chapbook: Bake a five-layered funfetti cake with this suggested recipe. When you cut into it, a rabbit will pop out. Do not eat the rabbit. Eat around it. Put on Hole’s “Use Once and Destroy.” Make a White Russian—sometimes drink only the vodka; sometimes drink only the milk.
2. Let me tell you this secret all of my eyes had lived before me after
me all of
These eyes had lived
– from Metta Sáma After “Sleeping to Dream”/After After (Nous-zōt Press, 2014)
Begin at either cover and read until the end. Turn the book over and read another collection entirely. I love a book that toys with the idea of how we traditionally read and Sáma’s chapbook takes the idea of what she calls the “reverse ekphrastics” to lyrically stunning new heights. In After After, Sáma fixates on Argus Panoptes, the hundred eyed giant of Greek mythology and in After “Sleeping to Dream,” the classical takes a modern turn with contemplations on art that traverses natural, bodily, and domestic planes. The level of play operates not only linguistically but also in the handling and reading of the book—a joy in each turn.
Run by poet Marthe Reed, Nous-zōt Press also features other great titles in its online shop here.
How to best enjoy this chapbook: FKA Twigs’ “Water Me” plays while you enjoy a piece of pineapple upside down cake, sliced horizontally from the middle first. Brew some mulled wine and invite a lover over at night. If they turn bird and disappear in the day, then so be it.
3. the box is blank
tomorrow it will be blank
and everyday after
you must fill it with words
you put words in
they are your words
you are anonymous
– from Laura Theobald, Eraser Poems (H_NGM_N Books, 2014)
With expert economy of words, Theobald can make loneliness feel so raw to the bone. Direct and deceptively simple in diction, she exercises a vocabulary of pleading, wanting, and loving in a repeated attempt to fix hold of a “you” that consistently slips away. There’s a precision to knowing too that the language tries to access but before the knowing can be exacted, erasure occurs. This is a collection I can read sitting down in under an hour but I often return to it again and again, each time learning something new not just about erasure, but its other—what keeps.
You can download Theobald’s e-chapbook as a PDF file online here.
How to best enjoy this chapbook: Find two slices of olive bread and cut a hole in each center. Cut a hole in salami. Cut a hole in tomato. Cut a hole in spinach. Put them together to make a sandwich. Eat only the hole. Enjoy it while listening to Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang.” Drink all the dry Riesling you want.
4. I don’t think I like the feeling of this… this mascara in my eyes
it will go away soon. we’ve got bigger things to toast.
I am the gaps between your packed buttered
lmfao creying but this isn’t that funny
lmfao but i’m creying
lmfao oh shit im really creying
– from Min K. Kang, The Diary of a K-Drama Villain (dancing girl press & studio, 2014)
I laughed out loud more than once while reading Kang’s chapbook, which parodies stereotypes of Asian women while flirting with technological interfaces as sources of humor and reference. In poems like “Occult Universe,” Kang refers to Yahoo! and tarot cards to find answers to the inanity of racist inquiries like “why are Asians so smart” and “I was asked if my vagina ran sideways.” While these gestures are violent in offense, Kang’s humor diffuses the rage of these inquiries to subvert the balance of power—that we, Asian women, get to laugh at the absurdity of racist mythologies is an empowering experience that we are rarely afforded.
Kang’s chapbook is available through dancing girl press & studio’s online shop here.
How to best enjoy this chapbook: Lechón. Take the whole suckling pig with you to your next bath. Eat slowly with your hands. Don’t share. If this is your first time, warm up with a Mariah Carey lip-sync to “Fantasy.” You can vogue, lapping up soap bubbles, but only if you want to.
Muriel Leung is a multimedia poet and former teaching artist from Queens, NY. Her poetry and essays can be found or is forthcoming in Coconut, TENDE RLOIN, Bone Bouquet, Dark Phrases, and RE/VISIONIST. She is a recipient of a Kundiman fellowship. Currently, she is a MFA candidate in poetry at Louisiana State University where she also serves as the Assistant Editor of New Delta Review.