Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay
When people are floating around in space suits or whatever in 3012, I hope they still care a smidge or five about poetry. And when those folks look back at American poetry, I hope they remember the kind of stuff Ross Gay is doing in this here book. Full of real joy, remarkable intersections with the natural world, and an intense dedication to paying attention, this book is one of the most enjoyable collections I've ever read.
from the title poem "Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude"
Hear ye! hear ye! I am here
to holler that I have hauled tons — by which I don’t mean lots,
I mean tons — of cowshit
and stood ankle deep in swales of maggots
swirling the spent beer grains
the brewery man was good enough to dump off
holding his nose, for they smell very bad,
though make the compost writhe giddy and lick its lips,
twirling dung with my pitchfork
again and again
with hundreds and hundreds of other people,
we dreamt an orchard this way,
furrowing our brows,
and hauling our wheelbarrows,
and sweating through our shirts,
and two years later there was a party
at which trees were sunk into the well-fed earth,
one of which, a liberty apple, after being watered in
was tamped by a baby barefoot
with a bow hanging in her hair
biting her lip in her joyous work
and friends this is the realest place I know,
you could ride your bike there
or roller skate or catch the bus
there is a fence and a gate twisted by hand,
there is a fig tree taller than you in Indiana,
it will make you gasp.
It might make you want to stay alive even, thank you;
Morbid Belly Aching by Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez
He's scooted on to visual art (though his Instagram flickers hints that the poet-side is coming back), but he's left us this wild, vivid collection of poems. Big respect for poetry like this, poetry that defies rules, constructs its own definition of craft, and thus opens a fresh lens towards this wacky world we wade in.
from "Alive & Hysteric"
How many things
can you crack like an egg
to reveal a mysterious
but a milky (godly) yellow
alive and hysteric?
Poor Herman (produced by paper chairs)
Bias police can arrest me now, because I'm not gonna not blabber about how awesome this play was. Hats off to paper chairs, especially Elizabeth Doss and Lisa Laratta, for this true explosion of spectacle, heart-thumping story, and knee-slapping fun, all gorgeous backdropped. My dear Diana Lynn Small totally shredded with her particular nerves of loud and absurd, my first chance seeing her perform on-stage since we've been together. Swoon.
St. Edwards Park
We took the puppy dog Ginny Bug out to this park on a beautiful sun-shiney day. Stuck out where the fancy folks dwell, this park dances along a gorgeous creek (Have I told you lately how much I love creeks?). One of those special places in a bustling city where you can get the ankles wet and kiss a leaf or two. And guess what? Ginny Bug did her first doggy paddles.
Polis by Micah Bateman
Thank goodness for Micah Bateman! This chapbook of three poems re-excites the long poem lover in me. Tender, intelligent, and daring are three words I'd use to describe this chapbook. These poems are so touching. A particular clap for the reclaiming of the acrostic as a real cool poetic form.
Zealous rinsing of peaches by the river
Oomorphosis, seeds make constellations
On the riverface, an animal, or two animals
The End of the Tour
I go through David Foster Wallace cycles, and when the newest bug hit, I finally watched this great movie. I've watched an embarrassing number of DFW talks and interviews in previous obsessive spans, and I must say Jason Segel sheds the self and dons the DFW cloak just right. And gracious, that final scene just destroys me.
My Badgerdog Adult Writing Workshops
For about a year now, I've been putting on a button-up shirt once a month to stagger into a library room and "teach" a group of adults this or that about poetry. We've jotted short poems, imitation poems, haha hilarious poems. We've stood closely to the work of Terrance Hayes / the Japanese haiku poets / Mary Ruefle and many others, and we've tackled everything from the poetics of joy to pursuing publication. Just finished up a six-week course, harnessed to the question "what can we learn from other genres and mediums about writing poetry?," and I just gotta shout it here: I'M SO THANKFUL FOR THIS AMAZING GROUP OF FOLKS THAT SHOWS UP TO CHATTER ABOUT POETRY WITH ME.
Leslie Marie Aguilar
Scooted with my pal Jenn Whalen for her reading in Dallas for the Pegasus reading series and surprise! surprise! to see Leslie also on the lineup. One of those admired online acquaintances / poetry heroes come to real life. Charming and sincere, her take on the creation myth is a true blossom. P.S. She recently lived in my beloved Indiana, Bloomington to be specific, and what joy to recollect those Hoosier haunts.
from "Creation Myth"
In this version, skin is a mask for Satan
& corn tortillas are hostias of fire
stacked on a rusted iron griddle. Here,
my mother is Eve. Standing half-naked
beside the ceramic sink in our kitchen,
she washes a clay bowl with both hands.
The good folks at Underbelly Theatre gave a monster treat (something like 100+ shows / often twice daily) to the good folks, both tall and small, of Austin. Lucky to be one of them, to see this amazing interactive take on that ol' Alice in Wonderland story. Impressed by so much of this show--crocheted outfits! lil' riot grrrl Alice! the world's most terrifying rabbit! They're making their way to NYC soon; go see it / help em out, if you can.
McKinney Falls State Park
I've done a fair share of blabbering about this place before, but gracious, I gotta say it again. SO LUCKY to have such a gorgeous, preserved space just a skip out of town. With all the rain once fell / now flows and the summer opening up (both in sunshine and time), I've been trekking out there with Ginny Bug and whatever cool pal can muster the hike at least once a week. Nothing says SUMMER FUN like being knee-deep in the creek, watching the sunset and the puppy dog chase a squirrel up a tree.
Queer Poetics Conference
I did it! I made it through my first (probably only) English Dept lit course. And what a one to choose! Queer Poetics, led by the equally-stoked Dr. Lisa Moore, unfurled a grid of avenues for thinking about my own work, my own identity, and the work of my heroes and loved ones in a way that I'll forever be grateful for. And to top off all that goodness, we got to celebrate together, presenting our final projects (wow! my classmates were brilliant!), and getting to witness a one-of-a-kind keynote address by the Michael Snediker and an explosive reading by the Eileen Myles. You missed it? It'll never happen like this again, I've been assured.
New Writers Project graduates
This University of Texas two-MFA program system does its number, good and bad, on the writers entering and exiting the gates. But one I'm tackling now is the fact that 5 of the 7 poets I entered with, those superstars of the two-year NWP program, have exited as I clobber my way through year three, after two marvelous years with them as "my cohort." But I'll boo-hoo elsewhere; for now, I'll end with shouting those five incredible folks' names: Austin Rodenbiker! Kate Kelly! Ally Covino! Elizabeth Eades! Adam Edelman!
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson
A buddy slapped this in my hand and said YOU MUST, so I did. And gracious, I am thankful for that assignment, this fast, hard-hitting novella rattling my dreams at night for the week of days I stuck my nose in it. Somehow, both lyrical and forthright.
Here's an excerpt:
The old man had a Model T of his own out front of his place. He had its motor's cover hoisted and was half-lost down its throat, it seemed to Granier, who'd never had much to do with these explosive machines. Grainier asked him, "Do you really know how that motor works inside of there?"
"I know everything." Heinz sputtered and fumed somewhat like an automobile himself, and said, "I'm God!"
Granier thought about how to answer. Here seemed a conversation that could go no further.
All Our Happy Days Are Stupid by Sheila Heti
A text that sucks a reader in and (I imagine) a performance piece that whips like a whirlwind. Diana guffaws when I say it, but I like reading plays, good and surprising plays like this, just as much as I like seeing them performed. The back matter says it perfectly: "Two couples, each with a twelve-year-old child, travel to Paris; within a few moments of discovering each other in a crowd, one of their children disappears. A day later, one of the mothers disappears, too. The story that follows is a wonderfully strange, beautifully composed examination of happiness and desperation, complete with a man in a bear suit, a teen pop star, and eight really excellent songs."
Shallcross by C.D. Wright
Yes, I'm still weeping, but into this book, for now. The collection she penned as her life ended rings with the ash and the hard edges we expect from Wright, but standing here now, on the other side, in a world without her in it, it's clear these poems sing not just outward to the world but back to their lost creator.
"Poem with a Cloudburst"
the breath of the father
rises and falls
laundry blowing out of a basket
a gar is wrapped up
in some line the mind of the mother
snags on a compound word
such as horsehair
on the meaning of the color yellow
it must be Sunday
"If You Wanna" by Sweet Spirit
If you've never seen my buddy Michael play airdrums to this band, then you might have a less-than-fully-developed definition of joy. Yet to catch the full bug on this band, I am the first to admit that this tune is incredible, an instant windows-down sing-a-long classic.
Preservation Hall Jazz Band
I know little about jazz, but when these legends popped their horns into my Spotify Discover Weekly, I knew what was up. The expanse of styles, the superb play of the craftmanship. A true joy to dive into their archive.