Last summer, Vol.1 took part in a day-long literary event in Prospect Heights, called Popsickle, which brought together readers chosen by a number of literary outlets. Among those reading for us was the Vermont-based poet Paige Ackerson-Kiely. Impressed by what I’d heard her read, I ended up picking up her collection My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer. Reading it, I found myself saying, “Oh my God” in the middle of many a poem; it’s resonated with me in a way that few collections do.
Some of that comes from the tangible senses of heartbreak and frustration that suffuse this collection: the way the phrase “Let me speak” keeps breaking into “First Contact,” or the stunning image that closes “Have Never Been a Lonely God.” Some of these works emerge as neat blocks of prose; others make use of space (and spacing) in halting, perfectly timed ways. Putting it another way: this book knocked me on my ass, again and again. Maybe it’ll do the same for you.
I was also moved to pick up Eileen Myles’s Snowflake/Different Streets via a reading — in this case, hearing Justin Taylor read one of the poems at last year’s Downtown Literary Festival. This book is, for lack of a better word, two collections structured as a flipbook; Snowflake is billed as “New Poems,” while Different Streets is billed as “Newer Poems.” Especially in Snowflake, some of these poems take a hyper-minimalist approach, with one or two words per line, creating a hectic wavering rhythm that works for the raw emotions on display. Which isn’t to say that this is The Most Serious Work of Poetry Ever: there are also a couple of offhand references to farting to be found here, and some quietly intimate ruminations. Some end with punchlines; others with a sting.
From poetry, let’s make the leap to the world of essays. I’d never read anything by Andre Dubus (or, for that matter, Andre Dubus III) before last week, when I was sent a copy of his essay collection Broken Vessels. You might want to refer back to the penultimate sentence of my ruminations on My Love is a Dead Arctic Explorer, because Broken Vessels had the same effect on me. Here are stories of families coming apart, of Dubus at peace in his body and, later, coming to terms with the aftereffects of a devastating accident that cost him a leg. (It’s also one of the few cases in which a writer discussing their faith didn’t leave me unaffected.) It took a lot of my discipline to not immediately order everything else Dubus has written from WORD — maybe both Dubuses, come to think of it — and hole up in a cabin reading it for several weeks. There are worse ways to spend one’s time, I’d think.
Jo Ann Beard’s The Boys of My Youth also came highly recommended, and also did not disappoint. These autobiographical essays focus largely on Beard’s youth and early adulthood; we get a glimmering of the process by which she began writing, but the focus is largely on other aspects of her life, and the lives of her family. (And there’s “The Fourth State of Matter,” which made me cry out when reading it on the subway.) These works combine to form what seems to be a deeply comprehensive portrait of a family fluctuating in the midwest, of the ties that bind them together and the ways in which they’re driven apart. It’s never not memorable, and the best essays in here — the aforementioned “The Fourth State of Matter” and the title essay — are some of the best I’ve read in recent memory.