I read a lot this year—reading is what’s constant in all jobs I work—and one book that really shook my shoulders was Alice Notley’s Coming After. It’s quietly brilliant criticism—essays and lectures; Sunday clothes—and an early archive of poets Notley knew and loved and felt deserved more critical attention.
It’s also a glitched dirge—Notley writes about her husband Ted’s death but life after it too, and not much about herself as a widow. I loved this book because it’s in the present tense, and Notley gives equal weight to how poets sound at readings and on the page. I want to write a book like this for my people, my cities.
“A certain poetry isn’t always fashionable,” Notley says in the chapter on Joanne Kyger. “However each poet’s poetry is, or should be, its own world; you cross borders, you get to know it, you read it being there.” I tell my students, and the writers I edit, something like this—read as a traveler not a turtle. It gets too heavy and complicated, carrying all your homes to each book. “Poetry’s supposed to be lived in, not assessed,” writes Notley. That could mean novels too. Notley describes Kyger’s world in greens, blues, and golds.
So, here: some work I loved this year—because of language I learned, because of how it showed time or the archive, or because they’re homes that feel like home, to me today.
Nevada by Imogen Binnie
Fire in the Belly by C. Carr
The Route by Patrick Durgin and Jen Hofer
Grief by Andrew Holleran
Barnaby Volume 1 by Crockett Johnson
The Orange Eats Creeps by Grace Krilanovich
The Compleat Purge by Trisha Low
The Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy
Women, the New York School, and Other True Abstractions by Maggie Nelson
This Is Running for Your Life by Michelle Orange
Public Figures by Jenna Osman
Madness, Rack, and Honey by Mary Ruefle
Biting the Error edited by Gail Scott, Robert Gluck, and Camille Roy
Normal Life by Dean Spade
Troubling the Line edited by TC Tolbert and Tim Trace Peterson
Another Governess/The Least Blacksmith—A Diptych by Joanna Ruocco
The Meat and Spirit Plan by Selah Saterstrom
Poetic Closure: A Study of How Poems End by Barbara Herrnstein Smith
The End of San Francisco by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
A Key into the Language of America by Rosmarie Waldrop
Fran by Jim Woodring
INDIVIDUAL POEMS & LONG POEMS & ONE SHORT STORY
“Letter Syrocax” by Kamau Braithwaite
in Black Aperture when Matt Rasmussen talks about holes and drinking milk
“untitled birth narrative” by Dana Ward
Rise in the Fall by Ana Bozicevic
Stay, Illusion by Lucie Brock-Broido
More Shit Chief Keef Don’t Like by Kevin Coval
ARK by Ronald Johnson b/w his The American Table cookbook
I ran from it but was still in it. by Fred Moten
Corpse Whale by dg nanouk okpik
The Phonemes by Frances Richard
“Trigger,” by Lacey Jane Henson
Sweetgrass by Lucien Castaing-Taylor
Emma’s Dilemma by Henry Hills and Emma Bee Bernstein
George Kuchar’s weather diaries
Lovely Andrea by Hito Steyerl
“Time and Distance Overcome” by Eula Bliss
“Heavenly Breakfast” by Samuel R. Delany
“Cupped Ears” by Fred Frith
“Symbiosis” by Peter Warshall
“I was on my second bag of Doritos and my lips were stained emergency orange when my best friend, Phillip, said he knew a bar in Hallelujah Junction that didn’t card and maybe we should go there.” – from You Only Get Letters from Jail by Jodi Angel
The Fantagraphics Kickstarter
Harmony Holiday’s Afrosonics
Kara Jesella’s Tumblr
The Reblog Book Club for Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl
“Troubleshooting Silence in Arizona” by Bojan Louis
Bernadette Mayer’s journal ideas
“Hands,” in the index of Sam Wesson’s Fosse (“like holding soft-boiled eggs”)
all the Belladonna* chapelets
Julie Patton at Naropa
An Evening of Music in Orphan Films at 2013 Orphans Midwest
Judith Slaying Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi at the Art Institute of Chicago
Let Her Speak at Counterpath Books
Foreign Bodies: The Films of Claire Denis at the Gene Siskel Film Center
Finally: learning to make bread. Here is a quick unfancy recipe you can make pretty much anywhere, even if the oven’s janky, the checks are late, and the corner store’s what’s open. Preheat your oven to 350, and butter a loaf pan. Mix 3 cups flour, ¼ cups sugar, 4 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and 2 tablespoons of any herb you like or have at hand. Pour in a bottle of beer, mix it all again, and pour it all into that pan. Drizzle extra butter on top so it is more delicious. Bake about 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
My favorite part is how this bread takes an hour to cook, which is perfect for timing first pages or editing them—most importantly it makes the place smell beautiful, which helps you make it home too. Greens, blues, and golds—whatever colors you like.
Please eat some with a friend, and please toast the memories of Kim Thompson, Andre Schiffrin, Ned Vizzini, and Kim-An Lieberman, and hey: happy new year, everyone.
Mairead Case (@maireadcase) is a writer, editor, and teacher. An MFA-W candidate at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduate of the 2013 Summer Writing Program at Naropa, Mairead is Youth Services Assistant at the Poetry Foundation Library, a columnist at Bookslut, and a project editor for YETI, featherproof, Curbside Splendor, and elsewhere.