Fiction & Poetry Front Table - 10/7/2020

October 7th, 2020
 

On our Fiction and Poetry Front Table, find new collections from renowned authors, new chapbooks from emerging poets, and new literary responses to environmental crisis. Browse anytime at semcoop.com.


Bottled Goods (Harper Perennial)
Sophie Van Llewyn

Alina yearns for freedom. She and her husband Liviu are teachers in their twenties, living under the repressive regime of Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in the Socialist Republic of Romania in the 1970s. But after her brother-in-law defects, Alina and Liviu fall under suspicion and surveillance, and their lives are suddenly turned upside down--just like the glasses in her superstitious Aunt Theresa's house that are used to ward off evil spirits. But Alina's evil spirits are more corporeal: a suffocating, manipulative mother; a student who accuses her; and a menacing Secret Services agent who makes one-too-many visits. Escape seems impossible...until Alina's mystical aunt proposes a surprising solution to reduce her problems to a manageable size. Bottled Goods weaves together elements of magic realism, Romanian folklore, and Kafkaesque paranoia into a gritty and moving depiction of one woman's struggle for personal and political freedom.

 

The Caretaker (New Directions Publishing Corporation)
Doon Arbus

Following the death of a renowned and eccentric collector—author of Stuff, a seminal philosophical work on the art of accumulation—the fate of the privately endowed museum he cherished falls to a peripatetic stranger who had been his fervent admirer. This peculiar institution, The Society for the Preservation of the Legacy of Dr. Charles Alexander Morgan, is dedicated to the annihilation of hierarchy: peerless antiquities commune happily with the ignored, the discarded, the undervalued and the valueless. What transpires as the caretaker assumes dominion over this reliquary of voiceless objects and over its visitors is told in a manner at once obsessive and matter of fact. A wry and haunting tale, The Caretaker, like the interplanetary crystal that is one of the museum’s treasures, is rare, glistening, and of a compacted inwardness.

 

The Distance Between Us (Charco Press)
Renato Cisneros

In this sprawling family saga stretching across Latin America, a son embarks on a journey to understand his complex relationship with his father and how it shaped the man he is today. Recalling Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude and Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits, the renowned journalist and writer Renato Cisneros probes deep into his own family history to try to come to terms with his father, General Luis Federico 'The Gaucho' Cisneros, a leading, controversial figure in the oppressive military regime that held power in Peru during the 1970s and 1980s, a tortuous period marked by state-sanctioned terrorism and the rise of the Shining Path. Selling over 35,000 copies in Peru alone, The Distance Between Us is at once excruciating in its honesty and deeply moving in its universal relevance. Selected for a number of international prizes, it is now available in English for the first time.

 

The Essential Ruth Stone (Copper Canyon Press)
Ruth Stone, edited by Bianca Stone

Expertly and sensitively selected by Ruth Stone's granddaughter Bianca, The Essential Ruth Stone bears witness to a vivid fifty-year career of one of America’s most influential and pioneering poets. Distilling twelve books into a single volume―from the wild formalism of her early work to the science-filled cosmic intellect of her final collection―The Essential Ruth Stone shows a visionary poet with a physical grasp on language. Dazzling, humorous and grief-stricken poems explore the continuity of loss and love, in the spectral appearances of a dead husband, to portraits of an American childhood, life during wartime, and complex metaphysical inquiries into consciousness itself. Ruth Stone’s feminism, mysticism and overall fierceness shine through her wit and passion. 

 

Every Day We Get More Illegal (City Lights Books)
Juan Felipe Herrera

In this collection of poems, written during and immediately after two years on the road as United States Poet Laureate, Juan Felipe Herrera reports back on his travels through contemporary America. Poems written in the heat of witness, and later, in quiet moments of reflection, coalesce into an urgent, trenchant, and yet hope-filled portrait. The struggle and pain of those pushed to the edges, the shootings and assaults and injustices of our streets, the lethal border game that separates and divides, and then: a shift of register, a leap for peace and a view onto the possibility of unity. Every Day We Get More Illegal is a jolt to the conscience, filled with the multiple powers of the many voices and many textures of every day in America.

 

The Lost Writings (New Directions Publishing Corporation)
Franz Kafka

Selected by the preeminent Kafka biographer and scholar Reiner Stach and newly translated by the peerless Michael Hofmann, the seventy-four pieces gathered here have been lost to sight for decades and two of them have never been translated into English before. Some stories are several pages long; some run about a page; a handful are only a few lines long: all are marvels. Even the most fragmentary texts are revelations. These pieces were drawn from two large volumes of the S. Fischer Verlag edition Nachgelassene Schriften und Fragmente (totaling some 1100 pages). “Franz Kafka is the master of the literary fragment,” as Stach comments in his afterword: “In no other European author does the proportion of completed and published works loom quite so…small in the overall mass of his papers, which consist largely of broken-off beginnings.” 

 

New-Generation African Poets: A Chapbook Set (Saba) (Akashic Books)
Kwame Dawes

The limited-edition box set is a project started in 2014 to ensure the publication of up to a dozen chapbooks every year by African poets through Akashic Books. The series seeks to identify the best poetry written by African poets working today, and it is especially interested in featuring poets who have not yet published their first full-length book of poetry. The eleven poets included in this box set are: Michelle Angwenyi, Afua Ansong, Adedayo Agarau, Fatima Camara, Sadia Hassan, Safia Jama, Henneh Kyereh Kwaku, Nadra Mabrouk, Nkateko Masinga, Jamila Osman, and Tryphena Yeboah.

 

Runaway (Ecco Press)
Jorie Graham

In her formidable and clairvoyant new collection, Runaway, Jorie Graham deepens her vision of our futurity. What of us will survive? Identity may be precarious, but perhaps love is not? Keeping pace with the desperate runaway of climate change, social disruption, our new mass migrations, she struggles to reimagine a habitable present—a now—in which we might endure, wary, undaunted, ever-inventive, “counting silently towards infinity.” Graham’s essential voice guides us fluently “as we pass here now into the next-on world,” what future we have surging powerfully through these pages, where the poet implores us “to the last be human.”

 

The Seasons of Life (North Atlantic Books)
Hermann Hesse

A never-before-seen volume of poetry by the preeminent poet laureate Herman Hesse, this is a beautiful companion to Seasons of the Soul and the author’s better-known prose work. Organized into four parts–spring, summer, autumn, and winter–The Seasons of Life relates the transitions in nature to the organic progressions of human life from birth through death. From the mundane to the sublime, the spiritual to the political, and private feeling to expressed opinion, Hesse touches on the range of human experience, inviting the reader to consider both the beauty and what Hesse called the “adversities of life.”

 

The Seventh Mansion (Fsg Originals)
Maryse Meijer

When fifteen-year-old Xie moves from California to a rural Southern town to live with his father, he makes just two friends, Jo and Leni, both budding environmental and animal activists. One night, the three friends decide to free captive mink from a local farm. But when Xie is the only one caught his small world gets smaller: kicked out of high school, he becomes increasingly connected with nature, spending his time in the birch woods behind his house, attending extremist activist meetings, and serving as a custodian for what others ignore, abuse, and discard. Exploring the woods alone one night, Xie discovers the relic of a Catholic saint—the martyred Pancratius—in a nearby church. Regal and dressed in ornate armor, the skeleton captivates him. After weeks of visits, Xie steals the skeleton, hides it in his attic bedroom, and develops a complex and passionate relationship with the bones and spirit of the saint, whom he calls P. As Xie’s relationship deepens with P., so too does his relationship with the woods—private property that will soon be overrun with loggers. As Xie enacts a plan to save his beloved woods, he must also find a way to balance his conflicting—and increasingly extreme—ideals of purity, sacrifice, and responsibility in order to live in this world.

 

This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar's Tale (Open Letter)
Subimal Misra

Subimal Misra—anarchist, activist, anti-establishment, experimental anti-writer—is one of India's greatest living writers. This collection of two "anti-novels" is the first of his works to appear in the U.S. "This Could Have Become Ramayan Chamar's Tale" is a novella about trying to write a novella about a tea-estate worker turned Naxalite named Ramayan Chamar, who gets arrested during a worker's strike and is beaten up and killed in custody. But every time the author attempts to write that story, reality intrudes in various forms to create a picture of a nation and society that is broken down and where systemic inequalities are perpetuated by the middle- and upper-classes which are either indifferent or actively malignant. "When Color Is a Warning Sign" goes even further in its experimentation, abandoning the barest pretense of narrative and composed entirely as a collage of vignettes and snippets of dialogue, reportage, autobiography, etc. Together these two works are a direct assault on what makes us look away from the realities of our socio-political order.

 

This Tilted World is Where I Live (LSU Press)
Henry Taylor

This Tilted World Is Where I Live presents one hundred poems by Henry Taylor, drawing on over fifty years of published work by this witty, adept, and vital literary voice. The volume gathers seventy-five poems from previous books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Flying Change, along with twenty-five more recent poems collected for the first time. Throughout his remarkable career, Taylor has worked in both traditional and open forms, avoiding rigid allegiance to either mode as he has responded to the world around him, from the horse farm in Virginia where he grew up, to the deserts around Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he now lives. In tones and moods ranging from grief to explosive hilarity, Taylor’s verse considers what we mean by loving one another, how violence can intrude without warning into innocent lives, and how the things we have always seen can change with the passage of time. This Tilted World Is Where I Live encapsulates the keen attention, vital humanism, and mastery of craft that have characterized a long and distinguished poetic career. 

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