Review by Book Club member, Hannah Clark. Check out our recommendations for further reading on Octopus Books.
My first read of Emily Kendal Frey’s Sorrow Arrow was while lying in my mother’s housemate’s room in the woods of Northern Michigan with an enormous and terrifying Santa Claus mask staring me down from the wall. Somehow this felt very appropriate.
Sorrow Arrow is a collection of short, witty and straight shooting poems that build to form a larger cohesive whole. Themes – sandwiches, strawberries, vomit, mom bangs — repeat without ever becoming repetitive, instead opening up a bit of this weird world with each lyric reference. “People are intriguing and boundaried / Tiny ships in paintings / A sandwich without several items”
I ended up reading most of the poems aloud to my mother, who laughed audibly at points like “Don’t fuck with me Christian PTA moms / my sandwich is overly mayonnaised”
But while the collection is really funny at points, the title doesn’t lie – there is sorrow here. Frey writes about the mundane and absurd, and deals beautifully with the feelings of growing older, the missed freedom of childhood, the absurdity of family, the divide between the wild and the urban: “I used to be so there under a tree / I really felt I was interested in freedom”
Right now is the perfect time to read this book, as summer is waning and that strong feeling of early fall nostalgia sets in. Frey says what we’re all thinking right now: “Don’t die summer / There are wolves among us / We promise to make more art”
If you’re “so sad you’re actually broccoli” that Emily Kendall Frey’s Sorrow Arrow is over, why don’t you try out a few more titles from Octopus Books? Our favorites are:
Picasso’s Tears by Wong May
Sexual Boat (Sex Boats) by James Gendron
The Trees The Trees by Heather Christle (an APRIL 2013 reader! You can see art inspired by this book that was featured at Vignettes Gallery by clicking here.)
Balloon Pop Outlaw Black by Patricia Lockwood
40 Watts by C.D. Wright
by APRIL Book Club member Sarah Baker
Reading I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone, you never quite feel that you are following Thomas Patrick Levy’s words; instead, you are caught in their current. The rush of imagery propels you through each scene, but it isn’t a journey without friction. There are so many textures here: carpet, hair, puddles, burning oil, sparkling lemonade.
Chronology and continuity are not strict or chartable either, like the dream you had last night but whose exact details you can’t remember. Levy restores those spaces with events both uncanny and intimate, absurd but familiar:
“The colors cutting through the silk we left in the lawn. This might be how they build their homes. Each toe like a kernel of corn. This is how we take off our clothes. The nests of silk so quiet. It hurts like sleep to build a home and most nights you are not this soft.”
The poems are most enjoyable when you allow his scattershot imagery to pile up in the back of your mind, so you feel the pull of déjà vu when an object or character arrives in a new context. Or, when images are inverted in a few lines:
“And Scarlett once I watched a man make your body in reverse and the dress he made you wear I swear was made of thin orange threads of my sweat … I see your knees bare as fields near the freeways and I see your knees crushed carrot-raw on wet hairs of carpet”
The “Scarlett” above is from the section titled “Please Don’t Leave Me Scarlett Johansson,” first published as a separate chapbook. These poems have no punctuation, but like the other poems in this complex network they are strewn with capitalized dialogue, which turns those phrases into signposts, as if to say YOU ARE HERE. When Woody Allen whispers to Scarlett “YOU ARE SEXUALLY OVERWHELMING,” even a whisper is forceful, insistent.
Levy takes you through lonely landscapes: cornfields, islands, deserts. And there is also a loneliness in his unnamed characters, identified only by generic pronouns that let the characters bleed together. Even the section with Scarlett Johansson is undoubtedly lonely. She is a solipsistic figment, triggered by loneliness. Her faraway roles of celebrity and sex icon allow her to be whomever we like, whomever the “I” in these poems wants her to be.
Levy may say he doesn’t mind if you are feeling alone, but that’s only because it’s not that bad being lonely. At least there is beauty and strangeness there.
Get I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone from YesYes Books here.
When we read If I Should Say I Have Hope by Lynn Melnick last April, we recommended Boyishly by Tanya Olson and Man Vs Sky by Corey Zeller as other great reads from YesYes Books. Today, we were sitting at a bar waiting for some food, and do you know what’s great for just that situation? YesYes Books’s “Poetry Shots,” quick and dirty little e-books you can get on your device and throw back. More invigorating that Fernet! Less offensive than Jagermeister! Great authors like Dorothea Lasky and Ben Mirov featured.
*Could also refer to the kind of shot that comes from a gun. Poetry is into double-meanings like that.
by APRIL’s Frances Dinger
This book is brief, but in a pleasant, breathless sort of way. And, despite what the title would suggest, it doesn’t require any background in Heideggerian philosophy but a cursory understanding of Marx does enhance the reading experience.
Regarded by some as a South American Howl, Papasquiaro’s book deftly confronts the collision of working class culture and high art.
His juxtapositions are often both comical and poignant: “& all because you need to you’re desperate to let go & cry openly / with nobody & nothing to interrupt you / not even those chicks in hot pants … / & you’re not the only 1 who claims to be the only passenger / on his schizophrenic submarine”
For Papasquiaro, the personal is political at the same time that the individual is entirely singular but also just a part of a larger social structure entirely out of their control. This is the kind of poetry you want to read in a rage against injustice, or hungover, or heartbroken.
In brief, this is the perfect summer poetry book because it lets you choose your level of engagement. Enjoy the ride of the language or engage with the political subtext. Either way will honor this book.
But that is enough from 1 person with 1 opinion. Grab a cold beer or iced coffee, sit on a stoop and read this book.
Buy Advice from 1 Disciple of Marx to 1 Heidegger Fanatic here.
Seattle-based Wave Books (publisher of June’s APRIL Book Club title) publishes beautifully designed, award-winning titles by established poets and their catalog is STUFFED with our favorite books. Here’s a few to start:
Destroyer and Preserver by Matthew Rohrer (an APRIL 2013 reader)
Bluets by Maggie Nelson
Snowflake / different streets by Eileen Myles (2 books in one!)
The Most of It by Mary Ruefle
If I Don’t Breathe How Do I Sleep by Joe Wenderoth
PS- Check out their subscriptions!
Check out all the super-cool books we’ll be reading as part of APRIL’s third Book Club! Learn more right here.
by Tara Atkinson, APRIL Managing Director
I thought about the syntax of the phrase If I Should Say I Have Hope for so long, before and after reading the book. There’s plenty of word play in the collection, but the title captured me most.
It’s not the question “Should I have hope” or “Do I have hope” or “Is there hope”, but “If I should say,” maybe not even a question, but the dependent clause of an if/then statement, the first half of a syllogism — “If I should say I have hope, then what?” Or it’s a to-do list.
I have lists of shoulds like this: I wonder if I should take time to travel, if I should quit my job, if I should reheat this burrito in the oven or the microwave. A “because” (a then) is implied in every should, but why is usually self-evident. But it is not evident in Lynn Melnick’s poems why the speaker should say they have hope. The book is not a journey from hopelessness to hope; the final sentence (another “if/then” statement) is not exactly redeeming, but ambiguous: “If you had told me… // that the light hitting the sickly coral of the beach hotels / could travel further inland / and all the way east to find me, // …I might have hastened from my ambush / angling upward to the moon, / black and gravitational” (“Wallflower”). The light has reached her, but if she’d known it was coming she would have become a dark spot on the moon; dawn, but complicated, because it happens to you, in spite of you, from the natural and indifferent rotation of the earth: should I say that’s hope?
But if I wanted to make a statement about hope, what could I or anyone say without jumping to abstractions about human nature, Life, Love, etc., statements general and somewhat false-ringing? If I wanted, instead of repeating the traditional litanies I accept when I need them, to offer an honest statement about hope based in the evidence of my lived experience? Then I guess I’d acknowledge that hope is a thing we choose to say and break my life into lines detailed, specific, intimate, realistically ambiguous. I guess I’d write Lynn Melnick’s book If I Should Say I Have Hope.
I thought this thesis of hope-as-a-thing-we-say was depressing at first, but then I remembered it’s Poetry Month, and I acknowledge this holiday month and take particular pleasure in reading poetry at this time because I think words are powerful. (And now have I said that if you like to read poetry you have hope?— )
“Yes I knew better then; // yes I didn’t” (“Lagoon”) If I Should Say I Have Hope answers the question of its title in these kinds of contradictions. We’re not such good assessors of our current state anyway — “You wouldn’t know happy if it kissed you on the mouth” (“Of Being Lost Forever”); “I must have walked because I am still walking” (“These Pretty Years”). It’s this uncertainty and specificity I appreciate the most about these poems. If I Should Say I Have Hope is an action shot, not a still life, full of the drama of motion, appropriate to the season.
Get If I Should Say I Have Hope from YesYes Books here.
April’s Book Club title, If I Should Say I Have Hope, has us eager to pick up more titles from YesYes’s precisely curated catalog. Plus, guess what? YesYes Books is one of several poetry publishers offering a FREE book with every purchase —all month!— so you can pass a poetry collection on to a friend or family member in need of a little Poetry Month inspiration.
Our picks from YesYes Books:
I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone, Thomas Patrick Levy (APRIL Book Club’s July pick!)
Boyishly, Tanya Olson
Man Vs Sky, Corey Zeller
April’s Book Club art pairing: Isamu Noguchi’s Peking Drawing (man sitting), 1930
The Frye Art Museum has a beautiful new exhibit of ink drawings by Isamu Noguchi and Qi Baishi. Book club member Mattilda suggested this image to pair with Lynn Melnick’s If I Should Say I Have Hope for how it works against itself, the motion of the lines crashing into each other in a way similar to the contradictory emotions of Melnick’s poems.
See the exhibit, bring the book, let us know what you’d pair.