You know it’s a small world when you devour a book and you Google the author because you want to profess your undying love for her words and you notice she gave a reading at The Last Bookstore in October and you text Zoë Ruiz and she reminds you that you were, in fact, at that reading and hey, remember that one author who read from her book and you really liked it? Yeah, well, that’s her. That’s Amina Cain.
During the holiday, I read the short-short stories in Amina’s Creature all in one sitting. I dog-eared just about every other page and then I read it again on the flight home. Her writing is unique, hard for me to pin down exactly.
When I got home, my partner was eating an egg. This is what he does when I’m not around. He also eats fish. I was harsh to him, but without speaking. I expressed myself through the violent putting away of a pan. Later I sat on his lap and dreamed about the future. This was together alone.
At times when I was reading Amina’s work I thought, this is poetry. No, this is prose. No, this is not like anything I’ve ever read before.
It’s beautiful how long a friendship can last, even when it is awkward to be around each other. Even when there is nothing to say, neither person wants to let go. I think this is because the body still remembers the relationship, and most likely the bodies keep it alive in spite of the mind…The body remembers. The body wants to have its own relationship. The mind will have to say something about it afterwards, or, sometimes the mind doesn’t have to say anything at all.
I recently heard Kevin Sampsell read from his novel This Is Between Us and he did something I’ve never experienced at a reading: he hit a bell to indicate a transition between sections. It was mesmerizing — his voice, the charged material, the dinging bell.
The book captures the first five years of a relationship between a man and a woman who have both left their marriages, each have a child, and move in together.
I think the bell would have been helpful when I was reading the book a few days later, to remind me that I was not the “you” in the relationship. The writing is so good, the story is so compelling, and the material is so utterly universal that I was completely sucked in.
You came over to the hotel on your lunch break and we snuck into a room that I’d just checked someone out of. We made love quickly, then stayed, lying on the bed together. Our thighs were touching. We were looking at the ceiling, breathing heavy, then steady, then soft.
I’m not sure if this is okay or not, but I have become almost too casual, perhaps too unself-conscious, around you. I sit on the couch next to you and slip into an array of bad postures. I used to lean back so my stomach looked flatter, but now I pitch forward without thinking. My stomach looks like a giant ball of pizza dough.
At the first therapy session, we went down our lists. The unearthing of these concerns, these nuisances or trivial peeves, gave new weight to things I thought we really didn’t care about, like cleaning the apartment or buying needless things at the grocery store.
I wanted to call you when I was crying, so you could hear it. I knew it would be selfish, but I wanted you to have some of the pain.
The striking and disturbing cover for The Nothing Bird, selected poems by the French, surrealist poet Pierre Peuchmaurd, caught my eye. I picked it up and found this prose poem that deftly captures how I feel each and every Sunday:
A chainsaw maims the air. It’s Sunday, and there’s that perfect
Sunday dread. You dream of long dawns, of sailboats in a
harbor, of long shots of rum inside stained glass windows. You
dream of a woman in her furs with blue highlights. You close
your eyes a little and it’s already evening. It’s the silence that
wakes you. The chainsaw has grown quiet. The air is gone. In
its place nothing but a heavy black tapestry that the fire licks
In a conversation, my poetry teacher and mentor Rick Bursky once explained the difference between poetry and prose. He said, “A line of poetry is a theater stage and the line is the event that takes place on that stage. Even if the line is part of a sentence, it’s still an event in itself. A sentence can be an event in prose but it’s often a device to get you someplace else, to the next sentence. A poet’s line can be self-contained.”
That notion is reinforced by the poems in Austin Smith’s debut collection Almanac. Here are a few examples from excerpts of his work:
From “How A Calf Comes Into the World”
leaving his son standing there, the calf’s face
stretching the vagina like a mask,
gazing the opposite direction of its mother,
strangled by something her body made
to feed it and which now must be cut, the cow
bellaring and shitting into her calf’s mouth.
From “The Man Accused of Fucking Horses”
the way his father taught him, remembering
that night he’d felt so lonely, not lustful,
just lonely, and gone out and stood
on the gate and done it quick, saying
“Sorry” out loud in the quiet barn,
thinking to himself as he put himself away,
There are men like this in the world
and I am one of them.
The first poem in the collection, “The Silo,” became my favorite. Perhaps because I read it aloud to my daughter before she fell asleep one night and she kept asking me to read it to her again and again and again.
I love that The New York Times continues to profile poetry presses. Most recently: University of Pittsburgh Press.
I visited one of my favorite bookstores while I was home over the holiday break, Subterranean Books; I can always tell a good bookstore from its poetry section. I picked up The Boss by Victoria Chang, The Shadow of Sirius by W.S. Merwin and The World Doesn’t End by Charles Simic.
Up next for me on the novel front are:
Nathan Filer’s debut Where The Moon Isn’t that had me with these lines:
“I’ll tell you when happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.”
and Figures For An Apocalypse by Edward Mullany, a poetry/microfiction book that has been described as “Charming where not terrifying.”