High Lonesome by Allison Titus is a radio left on in a candlelit room, playing softly into the shadows as the hours fall through the evening. Interruptions of static, a slow confetti of grief drifting into the corners, mysterious white noise dispatches. Here is a meditation on estrangement—from an other, from the world, from the self—and its long aftermath spent learning how to cultivate tenderness and devotion in a world “where nobody / is tender enough,” a practice that alternates between sorrow and transcendence. These poems are little ceremonies of attention to a variety of lonelinesses, both human and non-human.
Translated from the French, Cutting the Stems by Virginie Lalucq is a playful, long poem in sections that contains a pastiche of various unlikely influences: manuals on gardening and plant propagation, etymological dictionaries, gemstone and mineral guides, a how-to for florists, and other “un-poetic” texts. Lalucq’s poem incorporates word play, linguistic borrowings, and etymological references, and McQuerry and Bourhis’s translation captures, and, at times, reinvents, that word play for an English audience. Translated by Claire McQuerry and Céline Bourhis.
In her long-anticipated fourth collection, The Engineers, Katy Lederer draws on the newfangled languages of reproductive technology, genetic engineering, and global warming to ask the age-old questions: What is “the self”? What is “the other”? And how to reproduce “one’s self”? In poems that are both lyrical and playfully autobiographical, Lederer imagines form as a kind of genetics, synthesizing lines out of a rigorous constraint. Things can go wrong. The body—or poem—malfunctions, evacuating crucial parts of itself (miscarriage), or growing too aggressively or quickly (cancer). The body—or poem—attacks or even eats itself (autoimmune dysfunction; autophagy). Written almost entirely in the choral “we,” the poems move among the perspectives of the bewildered parent, the unborn child, and the inscrutable God who looks down upon the human world.
From action figures to alcoholism, mental illness to mortality, devotion to divorce, Before After interrogates yet celebrates the paradoxes of living in a world both beautiful and brutal—a world, according to these poems, in which Jesus texts random emojis from the cross, people suddenly sprout wings, human hearts are replaced by Platonic machines, and caskets are shrunk down to serve as symbolic trinkets. Along this journey through the real and surreal, the works of great poets—Hopkins, Plath, Lowell, and more—are lovingly subverted in the search for novel meanings that match this world. Written by a self-taught and award-winning poet, Before After challenges, with wit and compassion, our distinctions between thinking and feeling, sacred and profane, wellness and madness, before and after.
Whether crisp and understated or capacious and kinetic, the poems in Lee Upton’s seventh collection are lyrically dexterous and reverberant. Shrewd, formally ambitious, excavating cultural myths and contradictions, these poems allow the ordinary and the supernatural to inhabit one another. The poems are often attentive to suffering: torture as it persists through centuries, the extinction of species, and the agonies of illness, grief, and the blasting of innocence are meditated upon. At the same time, in this book of mysteries, the cultivation of the redemptive energy of wit, in favor of the sensual and tender, performs as a means to resist violence.
Taking its name from a line in Rilke’s second Duino Elegy, “For our own heart always exceeds us,” at its core, this is a book about new love and underlying illness. A lyric pursuit of our existence among the natural world, these poems keep in mind that existence is transient. They straddle reality lines, often stepping over into dream spaces or pushing against a linear world. But they are solidly of this world, its ground and various bodies of water, where a boy can become a field and a girl can drown in the rivers of her own body. At once intimate—“I would know you in someone else’s life, someone else’s storm cellar”—and expansive—“We rape the landscape / we can see, start with what covers the light”—Osowski is a poet of language, of notice, and of inquiry. Rilke writes, “Wasn’t love and departure placed so gently on shoulders that it seemed to be made of a different substance than in our world?” Exceeds Us is interested in that substance and the notion that our lives are not singular. These poems exceed the pair at their center, they exceed the one life we’re granted, and they are not bound to the laws of our earth. “Prove how weather is not a god and I’ll believe in you.”
Lords of Misrule: 20 Years of Saturnalia Books Edited by Henry Israeli and Rebecca Lauren Saturnalia Books, December 2022
Twenty years ago, Saturnalia Books opened its doors for business, and soon thereafter published, The Babies, an astonishing collection of poetry by Sabrina Orah Mark. Since then, Saturnalia Books has published some of the most innovative new voices in the poetry world, including poets Sarah Vap, Catherine Pierce, Kathleen Graber, Kristi Maxwell, Natalie Shapero, Peter Jay Shippy, Martha Silano, Timothy Liu, Cortney Lamar Charleston, Hadara Bar-Nadav, and Kayleb Rae Candrilli, as well as the groundbreaking Gurlesque anthology. This collection gathers poems from all of our poet’ s books, giving readers a good taste of twenty years’ worth of Saturnalia Books publications. With an introduction by poet and founder Henry Israeli and managing editor Rebecca Lauren.
Dolore Minimo Poetry by Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto Translated by Gabriella Fee and Dora Malech Saturnalia Books, October 2022
In Dolore Minimo, Giovanna Cristina Vivinetto attends to her own becoming in language both tender and fierce, painful and luminous. This collection, Vivinetto’s first, charts the course of her gender transition in poems that enact a mutually constitutive relationship between self and place, interrogating the foundations of physical, cultural, and emotional landscapes assumed or averred immutable. Her imagination is rooted in the Sicilian landscape of her native Siracusa, even as that ground shifts under foot in response to the poet’s own emotional and physical transformations. Vivinetto engages with classical mythology, Italian feminist theory, and received constructs of family, religion, and gender to explore the terrors and pleasures of a childhood that culminates in a second birth, in which she must be both mother and child. Fee and Malech’s collaborative translations reflect the polyvocal and processual qualities of Vivinetto’s poetry, using language that foregrounds an active liminality and expresses the multiplicities of the self in dynamic conversation over the course of the collection. In Dolore Minimo, the lyric “I” is a chorus, but an intimate one.
This We in the Back of the House Poetry by Jacob Sunderlin Saturnalia Books, October 2022
Winner of the Saturnalia Book Editors Prize, Jacob Sunderlin’s first book of poems is measured in long shifts, out of sight of customers, written out in bleach, cigarette butts, and cheers to that we who work in the back of the house. Poems written the way stock pots are scoured with steel wool, the way bricks are laid with violent precision and exhausted resignation. These poems were dreamed by a head stuck inside a cement mixer, drunk on the language of work and the spoken we language creates. This is not the romanticized imaginary “Midwest” exploited by cynical politicians but a lyrical and even occult working-class landscape. Its we is made gentle by listening, by being in garages with apple-juice jugs of antifreeze underneath a sky hazed by contrails in the shape of Randy Savage and bootlegged diamonds of anti-helicopter lights while Appetite for Destruction whispers from a pile of burning leaves. This we is made of brothers, of the teenage bricklayer scamming free nuggets from Mickey Dees. These poems are sharp but loving, spoken in the light of a Coleman lantern from a boombox spread out on a blanket down by a river Monsanto owns. This we rides in a 1957 Chevrolet Bel-Air left parked out in a shed, windows half-down.
The Bright Invisible, the fifth collection from Michael Robins, investigates domesticity and desire, reenactment and reclamation, as well as the promise of love alongside the certainty of absence. “Sometimes the sun,” Robins writes, “elbows the ordinary, archival cloud” and sometimes we “close our eyes / & describe for each other what colors appear.” These poems are imbued with the “soft collisions” of our dazzling existence, and they offer the possibility for even the darkest season to guide us once more into spring. Michael Robins is the author of four previous collections, including In Memory of Brilliance & Value and People You May Know, both from Saturnalia Books. He lives in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago.
Winner of the Saturnalia Books Editor Prize, Stella Wong’s debut book of poems playfully subverts and willfully challenges any notions we might have about Asian Americanness and its niceties. While her previous chapbook stunned her admirers and adherents into an almost fawning incredulity, this outing eviscerates. More like getting struck with Chinese stars right between the eyes. TKO with a mean left hook to boot. And if you manage to get back up on your feet again, if your dare dance around in the haunted ring that American poetry is, be certain that this most un-model minority bard will teach you not to ever read the same way again.
Greyhound Americans Poetry by Moncho Ollin Alvarado Saturnalia Books, March 2022
Winner of the Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize, this collection is “dazzlingly queer, inclusive, celestial, with indigenous ancestral heart.” Through his verse, poet Moncho Alvarado confronts a family history of borderland politics by discovering a legacy of violence, grief, trauma, and survival through poems that have an unmistakable spirit, tenderness, intimacy, and humility. These poems’ persistent resilience creates a constellation of songs, food, flowers, family, community, and trans joy, that, by the end, wants you to feel loved, nourished, and wants you to remember to say, “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.”
Tribar Poetry by Andra Rotaru Translated by Anca Roncea Saturnalia Books, March 2022
Winner of the Malinda A. Markham Translation Prize, translated from Romanian by Anca Roncea, Tribar starts from the geometrical concept of an impossible triangle whose three sides do not connect but still exist in the form of a triangle, creating a direction for movement. Andra Rotaru’s poetic work has developed from some of her encounters with modern dance choreography: her poems simultaneously mimic and track the body in motion. Her “connections” become joints or articulated bones that work together to carry the body along. This translation recreates this embodiment in English by focusing on the minute details of movement and sound in Andra’s language and on the “kinetic air” of Romanian.