2014 Favorites, Poetry, Winter

2014 Favorites: Michelle Chan Brown

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, Michelle Chan Brown, author of Double Agent.  She writes:

14 Things I loved in 2014

(left to right) Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao, Michelle Chan Brown and Cathy Linh Che are the Honey Badger Don't Give a B**k Tour!

(left to right:) Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao, Michelle Chan Brown and Cathy Linh Che are the Honey Badger Don’t Give a B**k Tour!

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(Books featured – left to right): Double Agent by Michelle Chan Brown; Mad Honey Symposium by Sally Wen Mao; Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows by Eugenia Leigh and Split by Cathy Linh Che

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  1. Not to use terms like “fierce” and “stunning,” which are cliches of poetry-love, but to use those terms for the collections of my fellow Honey Badgers. We did an East Coast/South book tour in July; each reading was a chance to marvel at something new. Sally Wen Mao’s “Mad Honey Symposium,” Cathy Linh Che’s “Split” and Eugenia Leigh’s “Blood, Sparrows, and Sparrows.” Get ‘em.
  2. The Young Writers Workshop at the University of Virginia. I was lucky enough to teach there, or be taught, by my students – hilarious, odd, quirky, brilliant, raw. These high school students wrenched me out of any lingering cynicism about the “use” of poetry.
  3. On Being. It’s not just Krista Tippet’s dulcet voice. I turned 33 this year – the Jesus year, yes – and as I try and slow down and observe and construct meaning, these interviews, with poets, monks, yogis, scientists, on everything from the value of play to the importance of community, have been integral for my own spiritual quest. Jennifer Michael Hecht’s interview, against suicide, is a must-listen.
  4. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for A Time Being. Each section of this complex, accessible, virtuosic novel spurred me to shake my head and wonder, how does she make it look so easy? I interviewed her for Sycamore Review and was humbled by her wisdom and authenticity.
  5. Kundiman
  6. The Pratt Library – specifically, the Poe Room – in Baltimore. A dazzling space, housed in a former department store, and librarians and curators whose grace, warmth, and beautifully-crafted introductions left me wondering – for me? I read with Kamilah Aisha Moon, whose wrenching, lyrical work is another 2014 highlight.
  7. Drunken Boat. It’s difficult to choose what to publish from all the fine work we receive, but I’m particularly proud of the Debt folio, and the poems of Cynthia Cruz and Kara Candito.
  8. Politics and Prose in Northwest DC. It’s the Rolls Royce of independent bookstores. I spent a good portion of my nineties childhood lipping through From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler in the dark, fragrant coffee shop below the store and eyeing, indiscreetly, the Eddie Vedder doppelgängers sipping chai . They’ve managed to retain all the magic of those early years, and their reading series, while VIP-heavy brings in Terry Gross’s co-conversationalist and provides an irresistible chance for Beltway-celebrity ogling.
  9. On the other end of the spectrum, the reading series Poetry Sucks! in Nashville, TN. Why don’t I live in Nashville? Go eat a meat and three, and hang out at this record store/music venue/poetry showcase. Tattoos, winged eyeliner, and genuine niceness
  10. Back to DC: Split This Rock is a wondrous organization. As is BloomBars.
  11. This poem, by Laura Eve Engel.
  12. I’ll be moving to Kazakhstan soon (a Fulbright), and although it’s not from 2014, this book by Professor Kate Brown – A Biography of No Place: From Ethnic Borderland to Soviet Heartland – has been essential.
  13. The atrium of the American Portrait Gallery, for writing.
  14. With this album, by Aphex Twin.

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Michelle Chan Brown’s Double Agent was the winner of the 2011 Kore First Book Award, judged by Bhanu Kapil. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Blackbird, Cimarron Review, Linebreak, The Missouri Review, Quarterly West, Sycamore Review, Witness and others.

A Kundiman fellow, Michelle received her MFA from the University of Michigan, where she was a Rackham Fellow. She was a Tennessee Williams scholar at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and received scholarships from the Vermont Studio Center and the Wesleyan Writers’ Conference. Her chapbook, The Clever Decoys, is available from LATR Editions. She lives with her husband, the musician Paul Erik Lipp, in Washington DC, where she teaches, writes, and edits Drunken Boat.

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Winter

2013 Favorites: Poet Cathy Linh Che

This year, we asked guests we’ve featured on The Blood-Jet Writing Hour in 2013 to share with us their favorite books, literary magazines, and reading series from the year.

This post features poet and author of Split, Cathy Linh Che.  She writes:

2013 was made special because at a reading, a young woman called me “the crying poet.” She’d witnessed me bawling my eyes out at not one, but two of my own readings. I was a bit embarrassed by the nickname, but now it is a moniker I am proud of! If a book or reading is moving, I tear up. It is how I determine whether or not a work is good. Does it move me? And after I put down the work, does it endure?

Here are some works that have moved me in 2013:

1. Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being

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Holy shit. This book.

A Tale for the Time Being moves back and forth between two narratives. The first is of a writer named Ruth who lives on Cortez Island off the west coast of Canada—and the second details the life of a teenaged girl named Nao, whose family relocated back to Japan after she lived in the Bay Area for seven years. In Japan, she is the victim of painful bullying, and the novel ticks down her own countdown to suicide.

The writing is sharp and funny and very natural. Unlike many novels I’ve read this year, it seemed uninterested in showing off—and most concerned with paying attention to the things that matter: telling a story about how to live and go on. The mediations lend it a timeless quality, while the discussions of WWII and of the 2011 tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown root the narrative in historical trauma and aftermath.

2. Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec

Technically, this book was published in 2012 (and I read it in 2012), but the work endures. Natalie Diaz’s magic is her humor, imagination, and formal inventiveness—but above all else, she is a master of the image.

3. Ocean Vuong’s No (YesYes Books)

oceanvuongno“Brooklyn’s too cold tonight
& all my friends are three years away.
My mother said I could be anything
I wanted—but I chose to live.
On the stoop of an old brownstone,
a cigarette flares, then fades.
I walk towards it: a razor
sharpened with silence.
A jawline etched in smoke.
The mouth where I’ll be made
new again.”

Enough said.

4. My favorite reading of the year:

Intersecting Lineages Reading at AWP

I love watching communities of color [folks from Kundiman, CantoMundo, Cave Canem, The Institute of Indian American Arts, and RAWI, the Radius of Arab American Writers] come together to celebrate writing. The poets read works from ancestor writers of a different lineages, then read works of their own.

Kazim Ali recited Lucille Clifton from memory and tore the fucking house down.

5. Finally, I had the privilege of taking part in Race and Belonging: A Protest Poem in Solidarity with Trayvon Martin. This was a unique opportunity to produce community writing in response to the injustice we felt after the Trayvon Martin verdict. Poets from all over the country of many different cultural backgrounds wrote together virtually: twenty-seven pages which can be read here.

2013 was a year of deeply felt literature. I feel so lucky to have had a chance to take part in celebrating, laughing, and mourning with everyone.

***Cathy-Che-photo

Cathy Linh Che is the author of Split (Alice James, 2014), the winner of the 2012 Kundiman Poetry Prize. She received her MFA from New York University and is the recipient of fellowships from The Fine Arts Work Center at Provincetown, Hedgebrook, Poets House, LMCC’s Workspace Residency. She is currently Program Associate at Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops (East) and Manager at Kundiman.

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