SPAM DEEP CUTS 2018

As 2019 looms somewhere above the holiday fairy lights, the SPAM editors have compiled a list of their favourite poetry publications from 2018. Here is our SPAM guide to the pamphlets that blew us away this year 🙂 (that usefully doubles as a Winter holidays gift guide for your poetically-inclined friends)

>>Etel Adnan, Surge (Nightboat Books)

It blows me away that Lebanese-American poet and artist Etel Adnan is 93 years old, and still producing work as good as this. As the title implies, this is a book of energy and movement: a subtly instructive, wandering passage of poetic fragments and philosophical observations. Adnan reflects on imagination, atmosphere, conflict, history, image and divinity; the scale of the mind and matter, mortality, the micro interactions of the universe. Her speaker slips in and out of herself, so that in writing the voice becomes process, dissemination, flow, repeat: ‘I am the tide that incessantly moves, and we incessantly part away’. Surge’s abstractions are often contained in neatly haiku-like, oxymoronic knots: ‘I am night, I keep saying, / living in dark luminosity’. You can easily fly through this collection, then return to hover over its details, sense everything shifting, logic tilting: dwell in a liminal, illumined state, in which we might truly see the strangeness of things, including ourselves. One to pour over in the existential wilderness of early January, the year renewed. (MS)


>>Tom Betteridge, Body Work (Sad Press)

It’s nothing new that Tom Betteridge writes some of the most exciting poetry out there – viscerally lucid, corpse-heavy and feather-light, gutturally complex, crystalline with hijackings of syntax, like a sequence of dead-end turns that somehow, keeps going. This pamphlet, however, seems a bit different from what I’m used to: more gentle, maybe. I’d say ‘worn’ but with patience more than by exhaustion; more like an old river rock, soft with moss; like someone with less to prove; more casual, maybe more Raworthy. The shift is subtle, of course; one of the good things about Body Work is that it feels neither like a denying of, nor a departure from, the more angular poetics we are used to;  I was still very glad to find beautifully acerb lines like these:

grit trigger grouse bote turgid trial retrieved hare- emptied mittens trieb burst nose

(DB)

>>A.K. Blakemore, Fondue (Offord Road)

A.K. Blakemore writes razory, low-caps poems that entrance with their sharpness and strangeness. Her poems are the sort you long for in moments of hormonal intensity, channelling bodily charge very cleverly. Poems you want to read while drinking coke from a 2 litre bottle, dragging your attention away from reddit, cutting your hair in the bathroom mirror or watching shooting stars out the window; poems you read with one eye on that dog-eared copy of The Bell Jar at the back of your bookcase. Fondue is her second collection and while mouthwateringly lush it is also arrestingly direct and might stab you in the mouth or the heart with a fork, but I promise you it will be worth it. Check out our SPAM Cut on Blakemore’s poem ‘southern gothic’ here. (MS)

>>Richy Carey – Near By (Publication Studio)

Printed at Publication Studio Glasgow in May 2018, Near By came out of a series of letters between the author and the artists who participated on four separate works outlined in the text. The book focuses on the creative process, examining the translation between differing forms of sound, image and text.

The text itself takes the reader on a journey through the author’s personal consideration of these processes, with his reflections coming in fragments and differing threads that weave through the actual pages via layers upon layers of textual bursts. Visually and tactually, the book itself is a beautiful object. Its cover’s thin, minimal geometric patterns mirror the way in which the delicate strands of text are constructed upon the sheets of tracing paper that make up the most part of the pages. By using this technique of visually layering words on translucent sheets, the book offers varied reading experiences, as the text’s trajectory depends on how the reader chooses to follow the faint words that become visible below the surface of the page.

A captivating work and delicate book, Near By invites the reader to revisit the possible textual permutations offered through its pages translucent layering and textual intricacies. (MP)

>>Imogen Cassels, Arcades (Sad Press)

baby, you are. This week is a vein I want to un-throb or de-ice, after my untenable name

begins ‘Spring Poem’, opening Imogen Cassel’s Arcades. For a pamphlet whose language works so much according to the logic of out of synch-ness, working against more than working with, shattering again and again, each poem is strangely sharp, assertive, lucid to the point of transparency. The reason I know Arcades needs to make our 2018 favourites list is that I find myself unable to pick poems out of it; each and every one of them feels like it’s here to stick around, like I’ll go look for them on my bookshelf in years’ time (‘which one was it that went… ?’), then get stuck reading it all again while my pasta water boils over. The ‘you’ of Arcades is not a ‘dear reader’, but both an accusation and a caress, ‘salty and lullaby supplements’. A beautifully stubborn pamphlet, baby you are. (DB)

Imogen Cassels’ Arcades is a perfect mix of the epic and everyday: ‘God is an Italian; likes kitsch / and geometry’ (‘Our Lady of the Soil’). It’s full of music and musings, the debris of the daily; all manner of living together and also apart. Cassels shifts across the page with ease, drapes her stanzas in tiny miracles. Her lines are bright and fizzy, but delivered with the grace and control of a cool jeté; Cassels knows form. Millennial myth-making never felt so fresh. Buy for your most intellectual cousin. You can read our SPAM Cut of Cassels’ poem ‘Blue #1’ here. (MS)

>>Sophie Collins, Who is Mary Sue? (Faber)

Ever since my days of running a v. diverse creative writing society that was chock full of avid writers of fan fiction, I had the sneaky sense that the form, and its wider place in culture, had a lot to tell us about the way we (en)gender and disseminate texts and their speakers. Sophie Collins’ debut collection takes up the fanfic term ‘mary sue’, which refers to an implausibly perfect character, usually female, whom fanfic communities often assume is a narcissistic proxy for the writer’s self. Combining strands of sampled interview, collage, prose poem, footnotes and slender, provocative lyrics, Collins’ collection weaves all together with a crisp style that leaves plenty of white space for readerly narratives to flourish in process. Covering topics such as trauma, shame, desire, authorship, storytelling and feminine agency, it exists in dialogue with Collins’ book-length essay small white monkeys (Bookworks, 2017). The result is a kind of affective clarity that arrives at a pleasing, sometimes disturbing slant. (MS)

>>Gloria Dawson, circlusion (Zarf editions)

The size of a wee notebook computer, in attractive seashell pink, circlusion comprises seven poems on the topic of time, cycles, materiality, intimacy, life, death and all of the craggy, sparkly stuff that comes in-between. Sometimes the poems do the work of narrative or essay, they stage a dialogue with self (as all lyrics do, but not this thrillingly) and extend to the call of the other. If ‘circlusion’ means both the end of an event, and a decision reached by reasoning, then it makes sense that these are poems of dialogic encounter. Circlusion is a kind of philosophical artifact and self-proclaimed ‘queer love poem’; it relates to acts of loving and knowing and living, and the language we use to get there. Even with its emotional hollows, its enclaves of death and ‘sea of loss’, it glistens. It is joy. Give it to someone who is grieving, or to someone who needs words close to the bone, sensual memorials, or beauty simply. (MS)

>>Callie Gardner, Naturally It Is Not: A Poem in Four Letters (87 Press)

I’ll admit I only got my hands on this book recently, so I’m just halfway through. I keep finding myself at train stations holding it, savouring sections. It’s rare to pick up a long-form poem and find yourself entranced from the start; eager not to race on but to develop a ‘slow’ pace in tandem with the careful cascade of a richly myriad prosody. Maybe because Naturally It Is Not is structured as four letters (one for each season), I experience this book as a kind of quiet dialogue, one that slowly unravels so many assumptions and familiar structures, that exposes the complicated tangles of what we mean by nature: the body, the world, affect, gender, politics, fluidity; the sky, the sea, the trees of the city. Resistance, poetic shelter, intimacy. This mutable, complex thing we are calling the Anthropocene. Frequently quoting others (Emily Dickinson, Tan Lin, Veronica Forrest-Thomson et al), Naturally It Is Not is also lusciously quotable, playful and warm and witty, even while elbow-deep in the mycelia of theory: ‘wittgenstein as lover: it is / difficult to kiss anything that is as good / as not kissing anything’. Imagine an ambient, sympoetic queering of James Thomson’s The Seasons, played out as an eco-minded, epistolary exchange between Roland Barthes and his future descendents. I’ll stop gushing now; you should just buy this. (MS)

>>Dom Hale, Ryan Edwards, Maria Sledmere (ed. by), MOTE (self-published)

I guess logrolling is a bad thing. I guess it’s what makes the small world of poetry publishing even more like a members-only clique. The same people who write poetry also review it and publish it, which makes their writing writing more likely to be reviewed and published by virtue of those same connections, etc. It also seems that poetry publishing as a system is always to an extent in the process of either fighting or disguising these mechanisms, pretending they don’t exist ('but it is a great publication!'), or desperately trying to work against them (submissions will be anonymised four ways, and the selection will be made by the editors in sensorial deprivations tanks).

The cool thing about when MOTE came out is that it seemed not to give a damn about it all; it embraced personal, biased connections instead of trying to efface them. Dom, Ryan and Maria did it all over a single weekend: call for submissions sent straight to the poets of interest, editing, design, and printing. The reason for the time constraint was also the cause of the publication’s inception: the desire to ‘capitalise on the residues of institutional free print credits’, as Maria put it. (She’s also one of the SPAM editors, did I mention? I don’t care: logrolling, etc. ‘But it is a great publication!’) Ryan Edwards’ printing credit at Edinburgh Uni was about to expire‒together with his PhD candidate status‒so Maria and Dom helped him made the most of it, by putting together a last-minute, one-off publication of poetry by friends and for friends. And the finished product was a thing of beauty; a thing of beauty distributed for free (the utopic quality of it all!). The contents page gives me a heart attack to this day: it might be a contingent sample of their poetry acquaintances with work sitting there ready to publish, but what a list, what poetry. Never seen anything like it. You probably couldn’t put them together any other way, or at least like to think so. (DB)

>>Jess Higgins & Nick Ainsworth, Once Again, While Reeling (A6 Books)

Dry-playful and cool-playful–this is the kind of poetry you want to read outside or by your window, possibly at sunset, maybe not even alone. With sunglasses lowered on the tip of your nose, winking to the camera once in a while, with canned, cheeky ‘woohoo’s playing in the background, then immediately serious, again. Once Again While Reeling is a book of straight-up enjoyable poetry; skilfully crafted, fun but with a straight face, with syntactical movements of such beauty, densely honest then outright lying, the studio audience also going “awwww” and “ooohhh”:

I am dead pan All else leads to being a stock pot

(DB)

>>Loll Junggeburth – Spiel Verstehen Welt Gestalten (SPAM Press)

Spiel :: Verstehen | Welt :: Gestalten (Ger.; play :: to understand | world :: to create), Spam’s final launch of 2018, is a collection of experimental poetry that considers the various sites of experience, exploring both the spaces opened up through playful syntax and the open space of the page itself. We experience this in ‘Linea Confracta’, a piece whose line breaks play with both the poems syntax and position the words occupy on the page.  Switching between German and English, the poems, in the author’s own words, ‘take a deep bow to modernist texts created in the early decades of the last century’, seeking to invite the reader into a ‘textual, societal, and human commonality that defiantly exists in the early moments of this one’. Risograph printed in black and white, saddle stitched and finished with a black fabric tape, the book itself is visually sharp with a crisp touch to the matte pages. A collection in which each piece offers multiple linguistic and visual subtleties to muse over, we’re extremely proud to be able to add Spiel Verstehen Welt Gestalten to the SPAM Press collection. (MP)

>>Francesca Lisette, sub-rosa: The Book of Metaphysics (Boiler House Press)

Maybe because I’ve been reading lots of Cixous lately, maybe because my desk is covered in crystals or maybe because the cover of this book is a favourite shade of lilac, but I can’t help but say this book speaks to me. It acts as a kind of bodily conduit, in the way that Marianne Morris’ work does, Lisa Robertson’s. There’s a flex to it, a sensual muscularity and attention to beauty; a way in which this poetry can alter the breath, the way we parse the phosphenes we see in the dark. Streams and flickers: desire itself. It’s a poetics of ritual, experiment, materiality, becoming. ‘Sub-rosa’ means under the rose, hidden in secrecy — I think of the aporetic ‘blue rose’ cases in Twin Peaks. These are knotty, long-lined poems that cast their threads seductively, elliptically;  poems for colour, sex, queerness, hunger and sheer expression: ‘There are some things you can’t get from books / you can only get in bodies’. The first poem, after all, is titled ‘We Are All Just Person People in a Fucked-Up Universe’. Devour this collection in lieu of Christmas dinner, then go make some snow angels or something. (MS)

>>Lucian Moriyama – Notebook of A (L’Opuscule)

Notebook of A is a beautiful, Japanese stab bound, risograph printed book that launched in July at Tramway, Glasgow. The text centres on ‘A’, an ethnomusicologist the author describes as ‘stranded in modernity’, and covers his notes, observations and reflections on the practice of exotica. Rich with musicological examinations, ranging from Lou Harrison to the Balinese Kecak performance, the notes take the reader on a socio-geographical journey through the aesthetics and traditions of myriad traditions and eras. Whilst considering these practices themselves, one reflection that caught my attention early on was the inspection of the very raw materials that these cultural phenomena grow from. These examinations are also both rich and various, ranging from materials traditionally used for sound recording — vinyl, shellac, wax and paper; and how they ‘derive from the death of algae, insects and plants’ — to the origins of coffee drinking and its movement from Ethiopia to the Islamic world. This examination of cultural artifacts alongside their material origin comes into conversation between A and a colleague over lunch, where A, pointing at his salad with his fork, remarks: ‘it’s just a few leaves with some oil, and yet it’s not entirely natural is it… the irony here is that salad – the emblem of organic food and freshness – originates etymologically from the Latin sal, salt, the preservative’. I hope the few examples I offered here in this small space are sufficient in recommending this work as a thoroughly enticing and thought-provoking read. (MP)

>>Kristín Ómarsdóttir, Waitress in Fall (Carcanet & Parcus)

With Vala Thorodds’ fresh translations, it’s such a treat to have access to 30 years’ worth of poems from Icelandic poet Kristín Ómarsdóttir. Spanning seven collections, Waitress in Fall is a playful exploration of sensuality, desire, domesticity, play and the work of identity as communicative labour. It is satisfyingly odd and beautiful at once, rich with idiosyncrasy and cryptic details. Every poem invites you to tease its loose threads, to find the narratives woven below the surface. I’m reminded of Eileen Myles, Selima Hill, Chelsea Minnis. You could call Kristín a surrealist, but that would take away the sheer, gorgeous ordinariness of these poems: which are about socks, dolls houses, love and sex, spiders in corners. Her poems make me want to confect glittering lists of things. One to recite, deliciously, over post-dinner mints, offending your in-laws or otherwise ever so slightly. (MS)

>>Pratyusha, Night Waters (Zarf editions)

This book of poems in midnight blue is a book of spells, but no need to beware. Pratyusha’s command of images and motifs will open sluicing portholes into places you’ve never been before. There is such a music to her work, which plays with echo, translation, melody. Reading it over, I was struck with a kind of hyper proprioception, so aware of the scent and taste of tulsi, lemon, phosphorescence. Within Pratyusha’s lines, I felt myself entering other kinds of being and containment, emotional geometry.  It is a warm and porous pamphlet, soft of sound yet lucid in subject. Put together beautifully, as ever, by Callie Gardner’s Zarf editions. Read our SPAM Cut on Pratyusha’s poem ‘Kites’ here. (MS)

>>Nat Raha, Of Sirens, Body & Faultlines (Boiler House Press)

This hot-pink collection is one of five astounding books Boiler House released, quite suitably, on fireworks night of this year. Described on the publisher’s website as ‘a book of prophecy against this Brexit era, rising from a post-2008 London, where crisis and austerity meet the vanity projects of the super-rich’, it’s one to fling with delirium at the television when your fam wants to watch ANOTHER bland Christmas special, or cracks out the box-sets for Made in Chelsea or The Apprentice. But when you pick the book up from the shattered glass of happily ruined mainstream media, you won’t need to worry about spine damage: this is a book of razor-edged resilience, born out of Raha’s radical transfeminist activism that encompasses queer and people of colour counter-narratives. Combining collage, lyric expression and experiments in space, line and form, Of Sirens, Body & Faultlines reveals the fissures in populist rhetoric and in its trans, counter poetics spurs the reader into a labouring space for nuanced deliberation, decolonisation and communal action. This is a book fuelled on alternative breath, intense transmission and sheer, awakening energy. I mean I was always gonna be seduced by a poetry book that quotes Richey Edwards, but still. You can hear Nat talking about some of the issues around the book and its process of writing on Waves Breaking podcast, here. Do go see Nat read irl if you can, it’s really something to behold.<3 (MS)

>>Sophie Robinson, Rabbit (Boiler House Press)

Most of you have probably dabbled with Sophie Robinson’s exhilarating poems already online (she’s rather prolific). As such, it’s a total treat to have her latest work assembled in one book, Rabbit, complete with actually-furry cover. Robinson’s work combines all the observational elasticity and streetwise ease of Frank O’Hara with James Schuyler’s cruising, tender eye and something like Eileen Myles’ sensual, relentless take on the truth of everyday experience. These are playful, richly irresistible poems; poems of trauma and healing, taking on themes of sexual violence, denial, pain, lust — the art of living freely, queerly and loving hard. There are some absolute life-changing gems in here, including ‘Art in America’, ‘Mystics of YouTube’, ‘<3’ and ‘Biggest Loser’, but honestly you should read the whole collection because it will give you cuteness and hope and visceral feelings and all the energy of a Duracell bunny, which I’m guessing you’ll need by Boxing Day. (MS)

>>David Rushmer, Remains to Be Seen (Shearsman Books)

David Rushmer is a poet, photographer, and also my local librarian at the Cambridge English Faculty. He can usually be seen in the Faculty lobby reading top-notch literature (usually of the Tom McCarthy-approved kind: Blanchot, Bataille, Mallarmé…). He’s also the first and only person I spoke to when I came to Cambridge for their open day – somewhat suspiciously – about a year ago; we spoke about Tom McCarthy, of course (I think they met at a party years ago; David dug out some cool INS work for me out of the library archive), but also Peter Manson, whose literary symposium I had just attended. So when Manson himself recommended I check out David’s poetry, it felt like a strange sort of destiny that I end up with Remains to Be Seen in my hands. Fingers, tongues, sand, wind, breath, gravity, and other forces of space warping pull the book now towards the heaviness of bodily bodies, and now towards the possibilities of invisible diagrams – such as in the serpentine ‘A Blooming’ (these shores / are language tide / chewer of corpses / his errors / the portals of discovery / from reflection / from what shall be / all quiet from where we lay / this is the flower / in question’). A good present for people who actually enjoy reading Deleuze. (DB)

>>Sam Walton, Self Heal (Boiler House Press)

Sam Walton’s collection made me fall in love with animal poems again. Walton writes animal poems kind of in the weird, wise and beautifully jarring manner of Clarice Lispector or Selima Hill (see Hill’s The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism) One of my favourites is Walton’s ‘Octopus’: ‘a bad idea all round’. Self-Heal makes me think of cycling around the city for no good reason and in the process of everything flying by, assembling an essay in your head. It is tricksy, off-kilter and ablaze with odd humour and lush, eclectic imagery, which collapses effortlessly the domestic and strange. With ‘swollen geographies’, it pays attention to place and space (which I should do more as a cyclist). It has this whole breezy tone running throughout, but also its power play is done cleverly in total feminist sincerity. It’s also full of these great reversals, jump-cuts; playing with the reader’s attention. Maybe one for your stubborn teenage sibling then? (MS)

Text by Maria Sledmere, Denise Bonetti, Max Parnell

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