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AWP 2018: A Small Press Reading List, Part 1

Olivia, CJ, Emily, and Michael headed to Tampa earlier this month to attend the AWP conference! As expected, they returned with a collection of beautiful, unique books and journals from our friends at other small presses across the country. In Part 1 of our reading list, we hear from Olivia and CJ about titles they were particularly excited about.

The Roman Circus of the AWP conference can be an opportunity to discover new treasures—as long as you aren’t crushed by a runaway chariot. This year, while negotiating the throngs at the book fair, I was quite taken by a few literary initiatives.

Among the most interesting discussions of translation was focused around Kitchen Table Translation, an issue of Aster(ix) Journal that explores connections between translation and migration. Editor Madhu H. Kaza gathered work by immigrant and diasporic translators from a wide range of languages (including Amharic, Malayalam, Ojibwe, Telugu, Turkestani, and Wolof), placing renowned translators (Don Mee Choi, John Keene, Rosa Alcala) beside newer voices. There’s some fascinating work here and an interesting variety of perspectives on translation, but I was particularly inspired by the questions these translators are asking about the field: they are vital and pressing concerns.  

Another enterprise I found intriguing was the nonprofit Singapore Unbound, based in New York. Begun as a literary festival, they have now launched the Gaudy Boy imprint to publish work by authors of Asian heritage for American audiences. Their first book is Malay Sketches, a book of short stories by Alfian Sa’at about Singapore’s Malay community, described by the publisher as “a dialogue between a pre-modern colonialism and a postmodern empathy.” Check it out!

I discovered (and acquired) a variety of great books and journals at the bookfair—not in any particular order:

1) The Hampden-Sydney Poetry Review, edited by Nathaniel Perry and featuring the haunting poems of Kiki Petrosino, the testimonies of A. Lincoln, the bones and fire of the irreverent Tracey Knapp, and the work of a number of southern poets unknown to me—not to mention work from the likes of Bill Johnston whose translation of Adam Mickiewicz’s epic Pan Tadeusz excerpted here will come out from Archipelago this year (I’ll pick that up at AWP Portland).

2) For friends in Italy, a pile of poetry by lesbian writers from Eloise Klein Healy’s Arktoi imprint at Red Hen Press (since lesbian poetry is a lot harder to come by in Italy). 

3) Three volumes of translation from the amazing Les Figues Press, including Frank Smith’s epic Guantanamo, translated by Vanessa Place.

4) Kajal Admad’s Handful of Salt, translated from the Kurdish by Alan Marie Levinson-LaBrosse and others, published by Barbara Goldberg’s Word Works Books

5) A new book of poetry by Annie Stenzel—a contributor to the very first edition of Two Lines twenty-five years ago—and the moving Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, signed in person!

All in all, a very successful circus (though I’m still hearing hoofbeats).

– Olivia Sears

Mostly at AWP I like to get press subscriptions, since then I don’t have to schlep too many books home and I find it’s a nice way to discover authors I wouldn’t have come across otherwise. This year, like every year, I resubscribed to Wave and Canarium and bought everything Black Ocean is publishing.

For the books that made it in my luggage, though, the book of poems that I’ve already read through twice since coming home is Chase Berggrun’s Red from Birds LLC. I hesitate to say that this book is an erasure of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, though it is, since it’s wildly more than that—deeply beautiful and felt poems that scrap with gender and power dynamics and pain.

The other book that I’ve kept returning to is Astroecology by Johannes Helden, translated by Kirk Adams, Elizabeth Clark Wessel, and the author, in a really breathtaking edition by Argos Books. At first glance this is an art book about a specific location a la Robert Smithson, but in its tumble of footnotes, its strange references to the future and aliens and a world we destroyed, and most of all in its endlessly fascinating Encyclopedia, it proves to be something richer than that and truly ‘unsolvable’. It’s a book that demands to be kept close at hand and puzzled over often.  

– CJ Evans