367 pages, $25
Review by Laura Kochman
In the year we have defined as 2015, I am reading and reviewing The Volta Book of Poets. It has emerged from The Volta, a website of/for/about/from contemporary poetry, named after the term for the place where a poem shifts. The Volta’s creator and the editor of this anthology, Joshua Marie Wilkinson, writes in his introduction about the thinking behind this collection—what it means to collect a group of work in one place, in this case a “constellation” that “embrace[s] that cacophony.” It’s clear from his introduction that The Volta Book of Poets seeks to present not a closed list of must-reads, but a field of work that, like language and identity, is ever-expanding.
What does it mean to anthologize? What does it mean to collect, and can one participate in collection without also creating a measurable total or an endpoint? This is Wilkinson’s implied question, and one that the writers in this anthology seem to be thinking through as well. For one thing, this is The Volta Book of Poets, not The Volta Book of Poems. This title is our entry, and so we begin with an act of resistance against definition. It is as difficult to define a mode of poetry encompassed here as it is to define a poet. We begin with this reminder to extrapolate, to read holistically and associatively. Each poet has provided a poetics statement, although they range widely—from Khadijah Queen’s more traditional explanation of poetic process to Anselm Berrigan’s three-word refusal: “No more poetics.” Some statements read like essays (Andrea Rexilius), some like poems (Evie Shockley). Poetics statements are common for anthologies, and they work well here, as expanders. Continue reading
In Fact Books
350 pages, $15.95
Review by Kate Schapira
As a reviewer, I may have come in the wrong door. I’m not from the South, and I’ve never lived there or even been there for very long. What’s more, the word “sin” puts my back up — it reminds me of ads that refer to chocolate as a “guilty pleasure.” Oh, for heaven’s sake. Just relish the damn thing.
But what if you can’t? Or what if the guilt really does make the pleasure sweeter? What if, as Dorothy Allison suggests in her introduction, it fills you with defiant pride — the lie you get everyone to believe, the truth you fling in everyone’s face?
Sin as a show, as I’ll show them, appears more than once in this collection: Chelsea Rathburn, in “The Renters”, offers aid and comfort to a couple having an extramarital affair partly to thumb her nose at her ex-husband, “so squeamish about all things sexual.” The essays’ displays of intimacy, physical glut and emotional mess, feel less like confessions than like exposures. Continue reading
Red Bridge Press
$7.99 (Kindle)/$15.00 (paperback), 214 pages
Reinvigorating the Anthology:
Liana Holmberg’s and Deborah Steinberg’s Writing that Risks
Review by Hannah Rodabaugh
Most of the time, I find anthologies, especially anthologies of recent work, to be distasteful. Reading them is often an exercise in boredom. There are a few instances that buck this tendency and really produce something worth reading. Lara Glenum’s and Arielle Greenberg’s Gurlesque at the time of its release is one such example. I happen to believe that Liana Holmberg’s and Deborah Steinberg’s 2013 anthology Writing that Risks: New Work from Beyond the Mainstream (Red Bridge Press) is another. I had a wonderful time reading this anthology of unusual stories, poems, and occasional forays into essays and memoir. In the introduction, Holmberg and Steinberg introduce their audience to these pieces:
We put out a broad call for “writing that risks”… [and] received almost five hundred submissions by brand-new to well-established authors. Their work ranged from surreal to experimental and fabulist to slipstream, with some that fit no category. Many of the authors told us these pieces were the closest to their hearts but the hardest to get mainstream publishers to take a chance on.
In fact, one of the best things about this collection is how the riskiness, or strangeness, is so often the driving factor. That these writings were rejected by mainstream publishers speaks more for mainstream publishing losing its nerve than it does for the various pieces, which, most of the time, are fabulous. Continue reading
Bring the Noise is the very first release of the ambitious (and highly promising) Barrelhouse Books, the D.C.-based magazine’s venture into indie publishing. I was drawn to the anthology in the hopes it would explain my unhealthy obsession with Jersey Shore (my working theory centers on the gravitational pull of JWoww’s chest). What I found instead, via the book’s strongest essays, was a sense of camaraderie: for better or worse, pop culture reflects where we are as a society now, and in hating or loving it—in examining what we hate or love about it—we figure out who we really are.
Comprised mostly of essays that previously appeared in Barrelhouse (five of the 18 are previously unpublished), the anthology is a potluck of voices and themes. It stretches the definition of pop culture to mean almost anything that could end up on TV or heard on the radio: from pro-wrestling, The Hills, the Chicago Cubs, and that creepy Wizard of Oz sequel (which I’d blocked from my memory almost entirely until this essay brought it back in vivid, nightmare-friendly detail), to Bob Dylan, payphones, and Pearl Jam. The range of these essays, however, is a reminder that pop culture isn’t always ubiquitous on a national scale, and so the tall order for a pop culture anthology—if it’s going to feel like the book it promises to be rather than, say, an issue of a journal—is that it be as robust and inclusive as possible. Continue reading