A Last Minute Christmas Shopping Guide for the Literary

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Brian Oliu

Whitework by Ashley McWaters

(Fairy Tale Review Press)

I am not good with arts and crafts. I am awful with scissors, glue sticks, thread, paintbrushes, construction paper, all that. And so when people are able to create something beautiful out of ephemera it blows me away—it seems almost mythic, that from dust or sea foam or a piece of thread something amazing can be brought to life. In Whitework, Ashley McWaters pieces together and guides us through the language of ghosts in beautiful ways: through the erasure of a sewing manual, letters to Dickinson and Moore, the retelling of the Arachne story, and by revealing voices that we have difficulty hearing on our own.

In “Keeping House”, McWaters writes:

Know this: I folded the indecipherable things
into my shoulder blades. I mitered the corners
of our sheets at the foot of the bed. I hid songs
under your tongue. I swept glass into the soles
of my feet. I stitched my name into your shirts,
stowed my fortune in the back of your throat.

The quietness here and in other parts of the collection is matched by the white spaces created in the erasures—the gaps are visible: the instructions by themselves are as plain as a piece of paper. Considering the holiday season, an apt metaphor is a paper snowflake: McWaters folds these female voices in on themselves and delicately cuts around what we need to understand—a weaving of what is left.


Marcus Speh

Giraffes in Hiding by Carol Novack

(Spuyten Duyvil Press)

Few books tell it as it really is: “People say lots of things. If you listen to them you’ll stay under the table with the dogs.” Carol Novack’s “Giraffes in Hiding”, subtitled her “mythical memoirs”, flashes many  lives in your face. Novack, the publisher of the respected literary online magazine Mad Hatters Review, is a keen word stylist. But no matter how wild her high hair flies, she keeps the reigns:

This town’s windows need insulation in the frigid seasons when the voices grow colder and louder. Nothing grows and the kitchen shelves are vacant. One can hear the real estate agents screaming in their white rooms. One can see their angry shadows through white curtains. Always white – that is what the denizens want: a neutered town in which you may disappear into your shadows. they say that colors invite arrest. They think they are invisible, the fools. Perhaps they are invisible and I am the fool.”

Though “Giraffes in Hiding” is a collection, I almost read this in one sitting-and I do have a postmodern attention span, adequate to the creation and consumption of flash but not much else. Novack’s language and her ear for the absurd tied me down and lifted me up at once as few books have done lately. “We need to dream before we drown”, says the narrator in the short “Spawning babies”. This book, read by everyone under Milk Wood, will inspire you and help you dream.

Giraffes in Hiding: The Mythical Memoirs of Carol Novack” (Sept 2010) is available from Spuyten Duyvil Press or from Amazon. The book is also exquisitely  illustrated by fourteen different artists, making it an even better more beautiful buy for the holidays.


Adam Moorad

The Drunk Sonnets by Daniel Bailey

(Magic Helicopter Press)

I’ve read a lot of books published by a lot of small presses.  A lot of what I’ve seen/tasted/felt in many of those books, I think, is – let’s face it – already available at Barns & Noble, and a lot of other places, and in obtuse quantity.  It’s just an opinion folks.

When I started Daniel Bailey’s The Drunk Sonnets (Magic Helicopter Press, 2009), I was only on page two before the following lines bludgeoned me:







It was stark.  It was severe.  I clearly remember stopping to think, “It’s refreshing when an ‘indie press’ actually demonstrates real independent spirit.”

The Drunk Sonnets comprises fifty-three “sonnets” written (presumably) under the influence and edited sober.  Each sonnet is composed entirely in all caps – this proves to be a natural and effective device in communicating Bailey’s full-throated, heart-felt prose that illustrate the tipsy weight of life at the bottom of the bottle as we know it.

Like Bailey’s collection, the Magic Helicopter Press imprint is a must read itself.  It is a press that has consistently brought us – the audience – new and curiously inventive work in both print and online formats.

Magic Helicopter Press is the baby of NOÖ Journal editors, Mike Young and Ryan Call, and their catalogue boasts a battery of some of the most original work from both the established and unknown all of which exemplifies the true independent spirit most “indie presses” can only attempt to mime.

Just saying.


Ryan Bradley

Baby & Other Stories by Paula Bomer

(Word Riot Press)

For the two years that I’ve been aware of and reading Bomer’s work, I’ve been calling her one of the hidden greats of modern literature. I don’t practice hyperbole, and this collection backs up my opinion. If you haven’t read Bomer’s work there’s no better time to start, and if you have it’s finally time to have her work on your shelf next to the other greats.


Forecast by Shya Scanlon


Unafraid of spilling through genres, Scanlon’s debut novel is an adventure in extremes and polarizations. A chase novel that keeps you turning the pages and that delivers with a cinematic ending more riveting than that of any other novel this year.


…and a couple of chapbooks:

Marching Unabashed Into the Weeping, Searing Sun by Hosho McCreesh

(Bottle of Smoke Press)

A stunning collection of philosophical insights and codas by way of verse that could only come from Hosho McCreesh.

Don’t Go Fish by Kat Dixon

(Maverick Duck Press)

If you don’t know Kat Dixon’s poetry yet, you will soon. Her poems are graceful and devastating, beautiful and conflicting. Her work will make you want to be a better writer.


Stephen Tully Dierks

Richard Yates by Tao Lin

(Melville House)

Lin’s second novel focuses intensely on the relationship between two characters, a 22-year-old New York-based author named Haley Joel Osment and a 16-year-old girl from New Jersey named Dakota Fanning. Theirs is an emotionally-dependent relationship, with both attempting and failing to stay happy together. Dakota is a frequent liar, is undergoing biofeedback treatments, and struggles with bulimia and cutting. Haley wants Dakota to be consistent and accountable for her decisions and is hard on her when she isn’t. The novel has a minimalist, detached style, and the exclusion of explicit emotional statements except as quoted dialogue by the characters adds to the intensity and unnerving quality of the book. This book moved me and made me feel uncomfortable.


Everything is Quiet by Kendra Grant Malone

(Scrambler Books)

This is the first print book by Malone, one of my favorite contemporary poets. The poems present events, thoughts, and emotions from a very real-seeming life, and contain many lines that surprised me, such as “i never told you [...] one day / while you were / at work / i accidentally / kicked a pigeon / to death.” This sort of quietly menacing line, coupled with the forthright emotions of the narrator and the direct-from-life-seeming material, make the collection charged and interesting to me–not only am I interested in learning more about this person’s life–tears, sex, wine, relationships–but also I’m excited and somewhat apprehensive of what she will tell me next. 3 poems in particular–”Little Girls Are Women Somehow In Some Way,” “I Never Believed In God,” and “Sylvia Plath At Sixteen”–impressed me very much. “Sylvia Plath At Sixteen” made me cry on a bus.


Jamie Iredell

Scape, by Joshua Harmon

(Black Ocean, 2009)


We Are All Good If They Try Hard Enough by Mike Young

(Publishing Genius, 2010)

Harmon’s Scape is a planet. I won’t be the first to remark on his debt to Hopkins. Stark alliterative stresses demand re-reads and make landscapes dramatic: “strafing the beached remains, / the beach’s sifted sources: // bits of shell, flaked and tinny, a raw skin.” Makes for fun challenging read, read rolling in insomniac night glow. Reading first for music, then re-reading for meaning.

These two books at first seem like they might sit at opposite poles. Harmon is nature and humans, with smoke and tongues twiddling. Young references emoticons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and MMORPGs—just a few of his contemporary American cultural flotsam. But that’s not all, Young steals like a good poet should: “The sentence is a house of language / that wants to be such a good home / no word ever leaves.” And his love is an ecological disaster.

Both books make up some creative verbs, a trick I love to employ: “Steam turtlenecks our brains,” Young writes, in “Let’s Hear it Over Here.” And Harmon’s words “trickle down / lyrics window-thin.”

Both Black Ocean and Publishing Genius have been publishing some of the most interesting books in recent years. Shane Jones’s Light Boxes (PG, 2009), as everyone likely already knows, got bought up by Penguin. Shane’s got another book from Penguin on the way. And PG’s got a bevy of goodness like the fluid drained from cheesecloth. Rachel Glaser’s Pee on Water is amazing. The first BO title I read was Ruaun Klassnik’s Holy Land, and it sang. Pigafetta Is My Wife is the most recent of their titles that jazzed me. All books from both these presses are the shit.

Both these books’ll make you want write poetry or at the very least keep reading it. Because of that they win.


Molly Gaudry

The Most of It by Mary Ruefle

(Wave Books)

For your sad and thoughtful, introverted friends who enjoy a bit of the bizarre, I recommend Mary Ruefle’s THE MOST OF IT (Wave Books, 2008). From the story “My Search Among the Birds”:

Sept 1 Early this morning a cardinal appears out of nowhere, looking like Santa Claus.

(later) Suddenly it occurs to me this just might be the birds’ Christmas – I must do something quick, something special.

(later) Went out and bought six paper bags of French fries, carefully arranging them in the frisbee so their ends were up.

(later) A dove comes, a pale gray soft dove, smaller than the pigeons but larger than the wrens. Doves are lovebirds, how can they come in anything less than a pair? My medium dove must be a heartbroken one.

My French fries are eaten by the medium heartbroken dove.

Is there anything sadder than the sight of a medium heartbroken dove stuffed with French fries on Christmas morning?


The Trapeze Diaries by Marie Carter

(Hanging Loose Press)

And for your family members who don’t understand this thing you do called writing, I recommend Marie Carter’s THE TRAPEZE DIARIES (Hanging Loose Press, 2008). An excerpt:

My father needed a release from the pressures of life. He liked making and fixing things. He renovated the bathroom when I was a little girl, covering the walls with varnished oak planks. He built and installed a shower and new faucets in the sink. He built closets in my room an once when I broke the radiator because I was pulling on it while doing squats, my father didn’t mind. It was something for him to fix.

In a village called Igloolik in the Canadian Arctic, an acrobat teaches circus skills to the children, in an attempt to lower the suicide rate among young people.

People are always asking me whether I’m scared of what would happen if I fell from a trapeze. I am more scared about what would happen if I gave it up.

Everyone loves something,” says Meghan to the yoga class, “even if it’s just tacos. But our passions can also be overwhelming and frightening.”

I start doing daredevil things that I imagine an aerialist would do. I book a last-minute trip to New Orleans with Christa for Halloween. I pierce the top of my ear. I have a tattoo of a trapeze artist in a One-Knee Hang etched on my thigh. Printed on the cover of my notebook is a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “Do one thing every day that scares you.”


Photo: LikeIPromised

© 2010 – 2011, Metazen.

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One Response to “A Last Minute Christmas Shopping Guide for the Literary”

  1. [...] for the holidays? – Enjoy Metazen’s last minute literary christmas shopping guide here. Despondent traditional publishers down at the [...]