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AWP 2018: A Small Press Reading List, Part 2

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. We already heard from Olivia and CJ in Part 1 of our reading list. In Part 2, we hear from Michael and Emily about titles they were particularly excited about.

As someone obsessed with etymology, it wasn’t lost on me that the origins of the word Tampa are disputed. It may have meant “sticks of fire” in the language of the Calusa tribe, perhaps referring to the frequency of lightning strikes in the area, or it may have meant “the place to gather sticks,” among other potential interpretations. During my visit to Tampa for AWP, I didn’t witness gashes of light illuminating the skies, but I did gather my share of sticks: I brought home a handsome heap of books. 

The bookfair remains my favorite part of AWP. I love talking with fellow publishers about the work they are most proud of, I love discovering writers I’m not familiar with, I love seeing so many books that are hard to find at even the most exuberant bookstores. This year I picked up dazzling work from Nightboat Books, a personal favorite of mine, including Nathanaël’s new translation of Alain Jugnon’s a body, in spite and Erín Moure’s staggeringly imaginative translation of Wilson Bueno’s Paraguayan Sea. I am very eager to dig into Kit Schluter’s translation of Anne Kawala’s Screwball (Canarium Books), Johannes Göransson’s translation of Aase Berg’s Hackers (Black Ocean) at long last, and the dizzying “photo-novel” Eternal Friendship by Anouck Durand, translated by Elizabeth Zuba (Siglio). I’m also pleased to have picked up the single copy of Claudio Magris’s Journeying, translated by Anne Milano Appel, that Yale University Press brought to AWP: like Magris, I seek the sort of journey “that occurs when you abandon yourself to [the gentle current of time] and to whatever life brings.” 

To whatever life brings. Even in Tampa. In the shadows of a culture now gone. (“Sticks of fire” indeed.)

– Michael Holtmann

Garments Against Women by Anne Boyer (Ahsahta Press 2015). This incredible book is an intersection of poetry and some harsh realities of the world that can keep us from poetry. Boyer accounts for a life where literature is nearly impossible when rent, food, and basic clothing are in immediate need. Apart from the wonderful writing, this book wrings very true to any moment when you felt your day-to-day just doesn’t have time for literature or making. I began reading it immediately.

Selected Writings by Martha Dermisache (Siglio Press 2018). Dermisache, an artist from Argentina, created this book back in the 1970s and Siglio Press brought it to us. There are no letters in this book, but Dermisache insisted these are “writings” not drawings. (The cover offers an example.) Each is constructed with the patterns of language in mind. For me, it’s a chance to expand my ideas of the intersection between the visual and written; how communication works and how we might be able stretch our perception of it. I want to look at this book with Renee Gladman’s Prose Architectures nearby.

Feel Happier in Nine Seconds by Linda Besner (Coach House 2017). Every AWP, I head straight for the Coach House table. Their books are beyond beautiful; incredible paper, incredible printing, and always poetry unlike what anyone else is publishing. Their books don’t mind being weird and they don’t mind being darkly funny—which I think is braver. This year, I picked up a few titles, but Besner’s was on my radar ever since reading “Your Happy Place May Be in Need of an Undersea Princess” in the New York Times last year. These lines in which she addresses Deb, the HR representative, stuck with me: “My whole twenties — my whole twenties, Deb — / were merry petunias in a window box // trying to look Byronic. Oooooo, it’s dark. / Oooooo, it’s windy. Deb, there was a time // when I could climb into my telephone voice / and zip it over my head.” 

Wild Grass on the Riverbank by Hiromi Itō, tr. Jeffrey Angles (Action Books 2015). I’ve been wanting to own this book for a while now. We have been working with translator Jeffrey Angles on pieces for our forthcoming Two Lines 29, Fall 2018, which will feature contemporary Japanese poetry, and in that process he shared some other Ito poems. It reminded me how I needed to own this book, not just borrow other people’s copies. I love AWP because I know I can go to the table of a press I admire and probably find their backlist. Itō’s poetry, and Jeffrey’s translations, are intoxicatingly lyrical and I find myself immersed and learning.

– Emily Wolahan