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
—with some pretty great quotes and photos!
APRIL was extremely lucky to see Rich Smith’s face at every APRIL event this year. His smart and entertaining coverage ends with the verdict that
“All the readings worked, felt different from each other, featured different sorts of literature, and challenged received notions about where literature belongs. And, ultimately, the festival set up a context that strengthened and created new connections among Seattle’s art worlds, and among the nation’s independent literature scene in general.”
Much thanks to City Arts Magazine for sharing APRIL’s authors as well as our junk foods and other party refuse with Seattle all week long. Rich Smith, surely you are endowed with a liver as strong as ten men’s and a second heart filled only with language.
Read every day here:
One night’s reading isn’t enough—bring the 2014 APRIL authors home to keep (via their books)! Links to buy books directly from their independent publishers:
Zubair Ahmed, City of Rivers (McSweeney’s)
Richard Chiem, You Private Person (Scrambler Books)
Eroyn Franklin, Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory, Just Sheets, Detained and more handmade books and comics on Eroyn’s website
Kate Lebo, A Commonplace Book of Pie (Chin Music)
Jac Jemc, My Only Wife (Dzanc)
Kids, what a blast it was. So much fun was had, it took me an extra couple days to get this last post up.
Saturday was a dream. I walked over to the APRIL bookfair, grabbed a mimosa and got to browsing.
I stocked up on way to many books and talked to not enough publishers.
I ate a blt latke sandwich and then Kellen kindly interviewed me, complete with a wandering pug who showed up in my lap for a good part of the interview. I went for a long walk and had a delightful, low-key dinner at Tallulah’s with Amber Nelson.
I arrived at Vermillion for the closing party and drank the tallest glass of grapefruit juice. What an awesome space! Business (a gallery) in the front, and party (a bar) in back. A. Minetta Gould, Cameron Pierce, and Mark Leidner brought it for the final night. DJ Res rounded things out and there was more dancing to be had.
I am so, so thankful to everyone who had anything to do with APRIL. I had such an incredible time and it was such an honor to be the first writer-in-residence. Thanks to Tara, Willie, Frances, and Kellen. Thanks to all the readers and performers and designers and videographers and publishers and hanger-outers. Thanks to all the pizza and the praise be to the whiskey gods. Pat yourself on the backs. You earned it.
Yesterday I needed a reboot. I stayed in getting work and writing and napping done and reading Claire Vaye Watkin’s Battleborn.This is the only picture I took yesterday, but it seemed appropriate.
I met up for a rosemary lemon soda at Oddfellows with my friend Jen Towner. Jen showed me these intricate grief drawings she’s been working on and told me of an upcoming project about road trips, where she’ll drive to Vermont and back, stopping at the Vermont Studio Center for a month, and doing slide shows and talking to people about road trips. It seems like the project could be super expansive and I can’t wait to see what comes of it.
At the pizza party at Hugo House, I drew on the paper table cloths with crayons and ate pizza and drank a delicious root beer float. Donald Dunbar flipped my mind around with some incredible poetry. I especially liked his take on a dedication page for his book Eyelid Lick which he allowed to flower and metastasize in a satisfying way.
We also got to hear some new work from Mark Leidner. I’m paraphrasing, but one line of a poem said something like, “Believing in God is like doing a really really really hard Magic Eye.” I like how he really takes his time at the mic. I get nervous and read quickly, but he seems so calm and considered up there.
Finally Eroyn Franklin took the stage, reading from her book Another Glorious Day at the Nothing Factory accompanied by lovely, grotesque paper cuts that accompany each passage in the book. I hope there might be copies of this at the bookfair today because I would love to read it, but I ran away pretty much immediately after the reading ended.
Walking home I thought about how I’d spend the rest of the evening, and a movie seemed like the right speed for me. I’d passed the Harvard Exit movie theater on a walk some day this week and seen a poster for the new Lars von Trier, Nymphomaniac Vol.1. What a beautiful little building. I felt like I was in an old, swanky campus building from Good Will Hunting or something. Wikipedia tells me that it used to be the Women’s Century Club and it’s haunted by a woman in 1920s garb.
Usually I like von Trier’s work, but this one felt like a bit of a miss to me. It felt silly (a running metaphor of fly fishing and a wide-eyed Stellan Skarsgard flipping all of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s shame on itself like a “Gee whiz, that’s not so bad” machine). The dialogue felt flabby. Uma Thurman shows up in a scene that is entirely strange and incongruous with the rest of the film. The screen is taken over by equations and visual metaphors at times that feel both easy and reaching. Anyway, I’ll see the second one in the hopes that all of this will resolve itself. And I will have Rammstein’s “Fuhre Mich” in my head for the rest of the week. That is a gift Lars has given me.
First, make someone else throw the party. Then, have a great time.
Yesterday, after working all day and attempting to revise some fiction, I took a stroll down from my apartment in Capitol Hill to the International District. Someone made a yarn sculpture on this broken fence.
I wandered through Uwajimaya on the recommendation of no less than three friends, and considered finally trying durian, but thought that might be poor roommate behavior. Not everyone wants to smell rot while they’re on vacation.
Also considered purchasing this pig head and wearing it as a necklace to the readings.
I walked through Kinokuniya, too, and bought a pen and notebook. Then I found this sleeping (dead) pigeon and felt like a jerk for taking a picture.
I grabbed a slice of cherry pepper wasabi pineapple pizza at World Pizza, and was off to the happy hour reading at Bush Garden.
Darren Davis read a couple pieces, but mostly one that was about video games that I really loved. I’m not really into video games, but I feel like he might have just kickstarted a new obsession for me thinking about story and how it’s transformed when someone’s talking about an experience, but it’s not real life experience, and how we process that differently, and goals and objectives in life and in games. So good.
I was thrilled to get to see Lauren Ireland read, too. I picked up her book “Dear Lil Wayne” at AWP, and her reading was as hilarious as I hoped it would be. Lauren’s mom was in the audience, a dynamic I always love, and there were several boisterous tables of ladies having dinner that the readers had to holler over, but everyone was a trooper and persevered.
At the All Made Up Fiction Showcase, it was hit after hit. A charming photo booth was set up with a couch and wall paper and “I am a liar” scrawled on the wall in lipstick and framed photos of famed liars. People walking in got bombarded with powder and lipstick. Signature cocktails were being mixed at the bar. People were invited to write down stories of something they’d stolen and take a piece of wisdom from Mum’s Advice Jar. It was a real party!
Tara took the stage in a sequin dress and long red wig to introduce the first set of performances. The Satori Group translated the tone of an excerpt of Richard Chiem’s work in progress, King of Joy, with electronically futzed up Gillian Welch and lipstick on mirrors and a face rinsed with milk. I’m so impressed by how well the performance pieces matched each of the readings, and added to hearing them read.
We took a little break and then Tara was back onstage in a platinum wig and belly shirt. She’s a transformer, I think. What a champ.
The Satori Group performed their interpretation of Matt Briggs’ work with a manic exploration of innocence and lust that paired well with the left turns of Matt’s work.
We took another break and I checked in with Sparkle Leigh, who was applying makeup to the lucky winner of the raffle. So pretty!
Finally, Willie took the stage in drag, identifying himself as Tara. I am kicking myself that I didn’t get my camera out fast enough to capture this. Drat.
I am so, so thankful to the Satori group for the amazing performance they developed in response to my story, “Filch and Rot.” The ladies started out sharing the stories people had contributed about stealing, pulling teeth out of their mouths and spitting. They performed a slick rendition of Lil Mama’s “Lip Gloss” (more rap at all the readings, please) and smeared themselves with lipstick and clutched dirt. It was all so visceral; I just couldn’t be more thrilled with having gotten to work with them.
Then: a dance party! I had such fun. The APRIL crew definitely knows how to throw a party. All. Week. Long.
Tonight, join us at the Pizza Party at Hugo House to hear Mark Leidner, Donald Dunbar, and Eroyn Franklin. Also: root beer floats. I think that might be precisely what my liver needs.
It seems wild to think we’re at the halfway point of APRIL already, but here we are!
Yesterday I took a stroll in the rain to Ada’s Technical Books. It’s a beautifully designed store and the selection is fascinating. Most of the books there have a tie to science - programming, psychology, engineering, science fiction, physics, architecture - the list goes on. Also: cookbooks! I love when people view cooking as a science. Also: an art! Science and art: two sides of the same coin, right?
In addition to books, they also have tons of gadget kits and science-y materials. You can buy sets to make your own very basic Simon Game and build models. Bins mounted on the walls hold resistors and optical fibers and tons of other little doohickies I didn’t know what to do with. I grabbed lunch for myself there as well - warm lentil salad with arugula and toasted coconut and yogurt, and a bowl of sunchoke bisque: all delicious.
In Seattle, even on the gloomy days, there is such a wild variety of green all over the place. What are these little gems?
I also like that every apartment building has a prominently displayed name - Abonita, The Swansonia, The Constantine. Chicago really doesn’t go to the trouble.
The big experiment of the afternoon was calling Winterlife Cooperative to set up a delivery, which turned out not to seem that adventurous at all. My pot-smoking days are far behind me, but I have a slight obsession with learning how alternative forms of transaction like this work.
You are probably thinking, “What are you talking about?” I will give you an example! When in New York last fall, I spent an afternoon trying to figure out how to purchase a counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbag. I had no actual desire to own a LV purse, but I wanted to figure out all the hoops you needed to jump through. I wandered around asking if store owners had back rooms, was asked to leave for offending some of those store owners, was let into back rooms by others, haggled on price and left without purchasing said handbag, started a conversation with a nice lady on the street, ogled her laminated visual guide to fake bags, pointed to one, followed her down the street, was transferred to another lady’s care, waited on a street corner with several other women who already had counterfeit bags they’d previously purchased, talked to them about their desire for fake, fancy bags, was passed the purse I’d requested in a black trash bag, threatened to walk away until the price was next to nothing, and then sat in my hotel room staring at the bag wondering who I could give it to who would enjoy owning it. All of it was absolutely worth the $30 I paid for the bag.
In my mind, arranging a pot delivery would be similarly fascinating, but, all told, it was pretty straightforward, and everything felt like it was on the up-and-up. I called the company, and a very nice gentleman identified himself as “The Wolverine.” The Wolverine asked if I wanted to set up a delivery. I confirmed. The Wolverine said he’d have a driver call me, which she did, letting me know she’d arrive within an hour. When she got to the apartment about two hours later, I had to go sit in her car with her and tell her what I’d like to purchase. She handed me the chocolate bar and truffles and I handed her my cash, and then, like I did with the purse, I sat in my room staring at what I’d bought and wondering who I could pass it to. There are many people to thank this week so it should not be difficult to find worthy recipients.
I spent the free time in my afternoon revising the novel I’m working on and then met an old friend, Caroline Clough, from grad school at Montana for Moscow Mules. I feel hyper-aware of how popular Moscow Mules are in Seattle. Back home, they’ll appear on the cocktail list occasionally, but it seems like it’s the drink of choice here, especially when it’s on tap.
Caroline writes a terrific blog called Meals I Have Eaten. Don’t be fooled, it’s about so much more than that. Most recently she moved to Whidbey Island to work at the Glendale Shepherd farm, making sheep’s milk cheese and generally doing what she wants with her life. I’m so impressed by huge life changes like this. I don’t think I have the guts for something like this.
The Happy Hour reading at Blindfold Gallery was surrounded by Justin Duffus’ show, “Sleeping Arrangements.” The paintings are gorgeous depictions of the night, often with the glare of a spotlight or headlights pulling figures out of the darkness.
Shin Yu Pai read first, and the relation of her work to visual art was really spot-on in the space. She read poems considering Stieglitz, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, the new Renzo Piano modern wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.
I wasn’t familiar with the work of the second reader, Zubair Ahmed, but I’m a convert. There’s a placid longing pulled through all the poems, with bright spots of humor and joy. I’m excited to read more of this work!
I grabbed a drink at Grim’s and then dinner at Bimbo’s with a friend from high school. Yana Kesala is a force of a performer, and it was great to hear what she’s been working on lately and meet her partner.
Vignettes was packed for the main event of the evening. The space was a bit crushed, but what better to bring us together, literally, right? Mark Leidner smashed us all to pieces with his reading. So funny, such gorgeous language, so much gossip. His poem “Romantic Comedies” is just a masterpiece, and how lovely that it’s approachable enough that a crowded room of overheated people could immediately recognize it as such.
Vignettes’ walls were covered with art inspired by Mark’s book, Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me. I loved the variety of form and scale and tone the works took. The collection felt like a true match for Mark’s work.
I rounded out the evening with beer at The Pine Box and turned in on the early side. Self preservation, ya know?
Tonight we’ve got Happy Hour at Bush Garden with readings by Darren Davis and Lauren Ireland, and then the All Made Up Fiction Showcase with readings by Richard Chiem, Matt Briggs and myself, and performances by the Satori Group, and the opportunity to win a drag makeover! How could you not? See you there!