A Little Post-Holiday Pick-Me-Up

We are slowly catching up on sleep here at the library of Winkelman Abbey. Fortunately the poorly-socialized idiot who lives across the street didn’t blow up as much of the block as he has done in years past. Then again all of those tickets for disturbing the peace are probably beginning to add up.

A small stack of books this week, but two of the three include work created by friends, so what the pile lacks in height it more than makes up for in importance!

On the left is the latest issue of Amazing Stories. I don’t know anyone therein, but if I did I am sure we would become fast friends. In the middle is local poet Kristin Brace‘s new collection, Toward the Wild Abundance. Kristin is a superb poet and a wonderful human being who for many years worked at the Creative Youth Center here in Grand Rapids.

On the right is Mustapha Panda, from a recently-completed Kickstarter, with words by Karim Jallal and artwork by Teresa Zbiciak. I met Teresa recently, and in addition to being an extremely talented artist, she kills at karaoke. I love this book! It is a super-simple story about non-violently standing up to bullies and how to show compassion in the face of cruelty. I want to buy a copy of this book for every first grader in the state.

On that note…

Recently Michigan was recently ranked the worst state in the nation for bullying. Having lived here for most of the last fifty years, I can confirm that bullying might as well be Michigan’s official state sport. And as bad as it was for me back in grade school in the 1970s and 1980s, it is immeasurably worse for kids now, with communications technologies providing ever newer and more inventive ways for one person to torment another from the safety of distance and anonymity.

It’s no wonder the majority of voters in Michigan cast their ballots for Trump in 2016. Bullying is made up of equal parts sadism and cowardice, and Trump has both in such abundance that it leaves little room for anything else. The bootlick attitude of bully appeasers comes from the same place, psychologically, as does the compulsion to show contempt toward and victim-blame people less fortunate than ourselves. Cower upward, kick downward. That, in a nutshell, describes the entirety of the puddle of dog vomit which is the administration of our odious 45th president, his supporters, admirers, appeasers, enablers and lickspittles. As was pointed out nearly a year ago, the cruelty is the point.

And that concludes the political commentary portion of this post. At some point I will do some long-form essays on the stochastic terrorism which our emasculated president commits with his every tweet, word and action.

(Maybe I should break the non-book commentary out into separate posts.)

The Passive Acquisition of Reading Material

And just like that, the year is half over. Moderately more ups than downs at this point, which is entirely reasonable.

This was a slow but interesting week for the acquisitions department at Winkelman Abbey. Two Kickstarter fulfillment packages arrived, as well as two journal issues. On the left is Frozen Hell, the newly-released deluxe hardcover version of the John Campbell story which inspired The Thing. On the left-of-center is The Writer’s Book of Doubt, an anthology of encouragement for writers, by writers. Center right is the new issue of the always excellent journal Reckoning, and on the right is the latest issue of Poetry. These all just kind of appeared at my doorstep and I didn’t have to lift a finger.

In reading news, just before midnight last night I finished the book which I have been beta-reading for the past two months. It was superb, but I need to let it sit for a month before I offer my feedback to the author. I am also about 20% through the book of essays for which I will be providing a blurb in a few week. For pleasure reading I picked up Ken Liu‘s novella The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary. I quickly realized that, while a beautiful story, it’s a terrible story, if you follow me. Or, as Tom Waits would put it, “beautiful melodies telling me terrible things”. I’ll likely finish it this evening if time permits.

June 30 was the last day of submissions for the October 2019 issue of The 3288 Review, and I am hard at work sending out acceptance and rejection letters and contracts and other various communications on behalf of Caffeinated Press. After an extended bout of self-inflicted FUBAR around the previous issue, this one is coming together nicely, which makes me very happy as I finally have some breathing room in my life, so I can enjoy the summer with my wonderful girlfriend. Maybe I’ll even do some writing. And maybe it will even be good. And with a whole lotta luck and some good old-fashioned elbow-grease, I’ll get something published by the end of the year.

 

The Music Issue

So a few months back I was meandering around Kickstarter, as one does, and happened upon a project concerned with music. Specifically, punk music. More specifically, punk music in Russia and the history thereof, as told by members of The Scene.

So I backed the project. As one does.

A few days ago, the postperson dropped off a package which included not only What About Tomorrow, but FIVE ADDITIONAL BOOKS about punk, music, samizdat, resistance, and various aspects of the scene of which I was previously completely unaware. Suffice to say, I, with my minimal punk experience and only moderate anarchist leanings, feel like something of a poseur. If, as Martin Mull posited, writing about music is like dancing about architecture, then these books are in the pit, head-butting the speakers.

The bottom two rows in the above photo are the contents of that Kickstarter package.

In the top row, on the left is a recent issue of Split Lip Magazine, to which I submitted some poetry recently, and to their credit they rejected my submission in less than three days. That’s service! On the top right is Each Darkness Inside, the new chapbook from local author Kristin Brace, which I read over the weekend and quite liked.

I haven’t had a lot of time for personal reading this past week, other than the poetry chapbook. I am 100 pages from the end of the beta read of the historical novel, and have just started a collection of essays for which I have been asked to contribute a blurb. The collection will be published later this year, at which point I will talk ALL ABOUT IT!

Work has been busy, and to keep myself focused I have been listening to a lot of music on Pandora. Pandora recently added new listening modes to their stations, in particular the “discover” and “deep cuts” lists. While at work I mostly listen to the ’80s Alternative station and have long since heard everything thereon. I explored the “deep cuts” option which I quickly realized was more for superfans of specific bands than general listening. But the “discover” option was like starting over from the beginning where everything was new and shiny. Or at least as shiny as 80s alternative music ever gets.

One of the best bits was (re)discovering The Stranglers, who I had only ever heard of through their song “Golden Brown” which was part of the Snatch soundtrack. But on Pandora I heard “Skin Deep” and O, my brothers and sisters, it was GLORIOUS. Such a beautiful, strange songs, with echoes of Van Morrison’s “All Over Now, Baby Blue” which gets me every time.

Now I bounce back and forth between the “discover” mode of the 80’s Alternative, New Wave and Pop stations, and the standard version of the Strangler’s station, and they are largely compatible, with a wide variety of truly excellent music, much from bands I had never heard of, or only knew from moments from poorly-tuned car radios in high school and college (I was kind of square back then, and on the farm there was active social pressure to not listen to anything good). Bands like Blancmange, Love and Rockets, Ultravox, The Sparks, X, XTC, and Tubeway Army. Just to name a few.

While poking around on YouTube, chasing down more Stranglers music, I happened upon a fantastic station called Bostonian Bob’s Midnight Music. At present it has well over 150 punk, noise, alternative and, uh other genres I couldn’t begin to name. And it is BRILLIANT. With a couple of exceptions I have never heard of any of the bands therein, and have only come across a single track so far which I actively disliked. Click the above link to go to the first song in the list, “Open Wire” by Melted Mirror.

So, yeah. Not much reading, but a lot of listening. And so much good stuff out there, waiting to be discovered.

 

Kummerbücher

It’s been a stressful couple of weeks here at Winkelman Abbey, so I buried myself under a new pile of books. Between family, class, Caffeinated Press duties and work, I haven’t have any time to decompress, other than spare moments with my girlfriend at the beginning and end of the day. So my brain has unravelled a bit and lost some data.

If you are looking at this post through an Esper you will see that there are two copies of the Jim Harrison book. I was so distracted by events I ordered a copy from the publisher, then went out and bought a copy at Books and Mortar. When the publisher copy showed up in the mail I was both confused and elated, because multiple copies of a collection of Jim Harrison’s poems is inarguable a Good Thing.

(Plus, to crib a joke from My Blue Heaven, I might want to read it more than once.)

Starting from the left side, going clockwise around the circle, first is Outside the Gates of Eden by Lewis Shiner. I have always been fascinated by events which seem to be the nexus or apotheosis (or both) of cultural movements, and Woodstock is one of the most important of the post-WWII era. This will be a good autumn read, I think.

(I like my beer like I like my books – too thick to see through.)

Next is the most recent issue of Rain Taxi, which I hesitate to read until I get a couple more paychecks, as the reviews therein are just that good.

Third, at the twelve o’clock position, is Nineteen Letters by West Michigan poet Kathleen McGookey. This book is gorgeous! Hardbound and composed of a variety of types if paper, seemingly random. And the poetry therein is, of course beautiful.

Next is volume 3 of the Breakbeat Poets series, Halal If You Can Hear Me, full of poetry written by Muslim women and queer, non-binary, and trans writers. If it it anything like the previous two volumes in the anthology series, this will be a helluva read.

On the far right is the newest issue of The Paris Review. Next to it, in the four o’clock position is The Fall, the sequel to Tracy Townsend’s The Nine, which was a wild ride. Probably dig into it later this summer, and will CERTAINLY bring it to ConFusion 2020 for a signature.

At the bottom right is my current day read, Jim Harrison’s The Essential Poems, newly released by Copper Canyon Press. I have probably read every one of these poems at some point over the past quarter century, but they are good to revisit.

At the bottom left is an impulse purchase, the chapbook Dragonskin from the superb Michael Swanwick.

On middle-left is Storm of Locusts by Rebecca Roanhorse, which is the sequel to Trail of Lightning.

In the middle are two new books from Apex Publications – the kickstarter-funded anthology Do Not Go Quietly, and Maurice Broaddus‘s new book Pimp My Airship.

Yeah, that’s a good haul. Just reciting them makes me feel a little more…stable.

In reading news, life has been chaotic and I haven’t read much other than a few dozen more pages in my role as a beta reader. I did finish Here: Poems for the Planet, and I offer my whole-hearted recommendation that everyone in the world buy a copy and read it cover to cover, twice. I originally planned to open some nonfiction next, but with the Harrison book it will be poetry for at least a couple more weeks.

(The title of this post is a play on the German word Kummerspeck – “sorrow bacon” – the weight gained through stress-induced overeating. Hopefully stress-induced book buying is less damaging, other than financially.)

Half a Century, Give Or Take

Yup. I did it. I just turned fifty. I have been reading for approximately the past 47 years. If I could do it all over again, I would start earlier and not purge the books I had to buy for college. Well, not all of them, anyway.

Here we are in the first full week of June. I have been running myself ragged trying to get the new issue of The 3288 Review out the door to our contributors and customers. We were ready to go a couple of weeks earlier but ran into an unexpected roadblock called I AM AN IDIOT WHO CAN’T INDESIGN, and that pushed us even farther behind schedule. But the magazines are out now, winging their way into the hands of the excellent members of the West Michigan literary community.

The latest issue, by the way, is in the upper right corner of the above photo. If you would like a copy, they are available from the Caffeinated Press online store.

(That amazing cover artwork? Local artist Jon McAfee.)

So, yes. It has been a busy week.

From top left in the above photo, we have the latest issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet from Small Beer Press, followed by the newest Dreamforge. On the top right is of course the Spring 2019 issue of The 3288 Review.

The middle row is all Harlan Ellison, from a Kickstarter campaign I helped fund back in 2016. Ellison, of course, passed away just over a year ago. But reading through these previously-uncollected works I felt the same frisson I experienced when I first cracked open Dangerous Visions, The Glass Teat, and the excellent collections put out by White Wolf Publishing back in the mid-1990s.

In the bottom row we have The Body Papers by Grace Talusan, published by Restless Books, followed by Undocumented: Great Lakes Poets Laureate on Social Justice. On the right is The Wilderness After Which, a collection of poetry from L.S. Klatt, a former Poet Laureate of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The latter two I picked up on a whim on a recent visit to Books and Mortar. Call it a birthday present to myself.

In reading news, by day I am still working through the superb poetry in Here: Poems for the Planet. I would have finished by now, but I kept getting sidetracked by sudden inspirations for my own poetry. Collections like this will do that to a person. I am about halfway through the beta read of a novel a good friend wrote over the last decade or so. Time permitting, I should be done with that one by the end of the month.

In non-literary news, I was saddened to see that Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, a.k.a The Night Tripper, passed away on June 6. Dr. John’s music got me through some of the most difficult parts of my life, and the world is diminished by his passing.

The second line in his honor was quite the celebration.

 

The First Books of June

June has finally arrived, and with it morning warm enough to spend on the porch, buried under coffee and books.

On the left is the latest issue of the ever-excellent Jacobin. On the right is Exile, the last book from a recent purchase from OR Books. I read a bit of Exile while grilling this past Sunday. It has a lot of interesting and important things to say about the effect the chaotically-thrashing USA has on the rest of the world.

Today is my fiftieth birthday! Once I complete the read-through of the brilliant (and not-to-be-named-in-public) book by one of my best friends, I think I will pivot over to a summer of nonfiction. SO far this year I have read over two dozen books of fiction and poetry, and I want to explore some new topics.

So there we go. That’s my plan for being 50. Reading more books. What books, you may ask? Well, I have a copy of Piketty‘s Capital in the Twenty-First Century gathering dust on a shelf next to a copy of Marx’s Capital. One shelf down from them is Antifa, which, given the current administration and its supporters and bootlicks, is always relevant. Those three should keep me busy for the rest of summer, and ready to dive back into fiction when the weather changes. Of course this is just a list of possibilities. I might easily say FUGGIT and just play games all summer. Like a fifty-year-old.

Rainy Days are Good Days for Reading

An interesting mix of reading material arrived here last week, fueled in part by a friend purging her collection and sending some books my way.

On the top left is the latest title from Two Lines Press, The Skin Is the Elastic Covering That Encases the Entire Body, by Bjørn Rasmussen. Next is the latest issue of Poetry Magazine. The last two in the first row are from Rudy Rucker’s most recent Kickstarter.

The three in the second row are the books from the friend who studied English and literature and the interpretations thereof, many years ago. She actually sent a large stack my way, but these three were the only ones which seemed like I would be able to make sense of them without a Master’s Degree.

In reading news, I finished The Nine by Tracy Townsend. It was fantastic! I’m looking forward eagerly to reading the sequel. I am not going to pick up another long novel until I finish the initial read-through of a draft of a book one of my oldest and dearest friends sent me a few weeks back. Once that is done, I will dive back into long-form fiction.

But I am still reading poetry. I just started Here: Poems for the Planet, edited by Elizabeth J. Coleman and published by Copper Canyon Press. The work contained herein is, quite simply, extraordinary. I usually write about nature and the environment in my own poetry so I find myself continually inspired by this collection. And I’m writing more too. Maybe one of these decades I’ll even get published!

I Got Nuthin’

For the first time in many month, I have endured a terrible week where no new reading material arrived at the library of Winkelman Abbey. At this rate I may end up reading as many as 50% of my books before I die of old age, and that thought makes me feel oddly claustrophobic.

In reading news, I finished Ours is the Storm by D. Thourson Palmer, and have just opened The Nine by Tracy Townsend. This is another ConFusion acquisition, as was the Palmer book and several others from earlier this year. I love being able to read and enjoy the works of people I know personally (if not well). ConFusion is wonderful like that. I am also progressing through Jessica Comola’s poetry collection everything we met changed form & followed the rest. I hope to have both books complete by the beginning of June, as summer looks to be extremely busy.

The photo for this post is one of over five dozen fish in a mural created at 555 Monroe Avenue here in Grand Rapids. The specific fish was created by local artist James Broe.

Ugly Ducklings, All in a Row

Books acquired during the week of April 28. 2019

This past week was quite busy, so I didn’t get the chance to dive into the pile of deliveries until late Sunday night during an uneven episode of Game of Thrones.

From top left, we have Empty Words by Mario Levrero, the latest from And Other Stories, followed by Igiaba Scego’s Beyond Babylon, from Two Lines Press. The remaining six arrived in one glorious bundle from Ugly Duckling Presse, who continue to impress the hell out of me with the quality and breadth of their offerings.

All of these books are part of subscriptions I have to the various publishers. While I will at some point create a lengthy blog post on the topic, I want to say that my several-year experience/experiment with subscriptions to publisher catalogs has left me thoroughly loving the concept. Open Letter Books, Deep Vellum, Restless Books, And Other Stories, Horse Less Press, Two Lines Press, and Ugly Duckling Presse all produce consistently good-to-superb titles which I would likely never have encountered had I not made a leap of faith and shelled out the money for a subscription.

[Side note: All of the above institutions are (mostly) publishers of literature in translation and/or or poetry.]

I haven’t had much time for reading in the past week. I closed out National Poetry Month with Gestures by Artis Ostups (published by Ugly Duckling Presse, of course), and am about 60% of the way through Ours is the Storm by D. Thourson Palmer. The current book of poetry is everything we met changed form & followed the rest by Jessica Comola, published by Horse Less Press.

Incidentally, Gestures is the twentieth book I have finished so far this year. At this pace, if I cut into my sleep schedule just a bit, I should be able to complete fifty by the end of 2019.