In this issue, DB’s book review section plunges into the problems of categorization and demarcation. Boundaries—whether they’re being defined, blurred, adapted, questioned, or exploded—are a salient theme in today’s literary landscape, as they are in the current domestic and global political climates.
It is my hope that the swath of books reviewed here represents something of the pulse of published contemporary writing, and reflects a range of aesthetics in keeping with Drunken Boat’s support of diverse writing and writers. The review section itself is limited by the boundaries of space and time, and the biweekly DB blog feature, “What Five Books I’m Reading Now…” by selected writers, complements this section, broadening the picture at least a little.
Beyond genre, some of the boundaries and delineations explored in the books reviewed for this issue are race, gender, literary movements, and the anthologies representing literary schools.
Several of the books discussed in DB 17 engage the issue of race from a cross-racial perspective, extending across boundaries. In “Good and Plenty,” Douglas Kearney reviews Kevin Young’s nonfiction book, The Grey Album, writing, “These spins are the spine of the span of the book, which describes and utilizes ‘storying’—an artful lying/counterfeiting/fiction-making—as a lens (microscopic, telescopic, corrective) through which to view black aesthetic production and, as such, surveys black thought.” In “Killer Quill,” Sandy Florian reviews Alain Mabanckou’s Memoirs of a Porcupine, which “conveys the oral traditions of Africa through the written word of his colonizers.” In “White Matters,” John Keene reviews two books of poetry by white writers that reflect on race: Apart by Catherine Taylor and White Papers by Martha Collins, and expresses concern about whether white readers will seriously and actively engage with them. He writes, “Too few [white writers] go beyond confession to investigate and trouble the social, economic and political privilege and capital that accrue to white people in the United States, or explore how whiteness, by masking and unmarking itself, nevertheless deeply informs the literature and literary practices that, conversely, are crucial to bringing it into being.”
Regarding gender, this issue contains a preponderance of reviews of books written by practiced female writers—Anne Waldman, Michelle Naka Pierce, Marjorie Welish, Mary Ruefle, Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven, Jacqueline Osherow, Noy Holland, Judith Kitchen, and Bhanu Kapil, as well as an interview with Cole Swensen. Erin Lyndal Martin, in her review of Waldman’s Iovis, reckons with the boundaries of traditional literary forms (in this case, the epic) in relation to constructs of gender norms and the nature of art. You’ll find two reviews of Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey—one by Helena Sullivan in the form of a personal essay that reflects on her experience as Ruefle’s student, and one a more traditional review by Kate Nuemberger. This emphasis on writing by women, however, doesn’t mean you’ll find a shortage of reviews of books by practiced male writers (including Joan Retallack on Peter Inman’s per se, Karen Brennan on Brian Evenson's Windeye, and Nathan Hauke on Hank Lazer’s N18 (Complete).
In addition to focusing on gender, Jill Magi, in “Questions for Conceptual Writing: A Review of I’ll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women,” ponders how anthologies are assembled and how present-day literary movements evolve. She writes, “[This book] deserves a close read because I believe it has things to teach us about the anthology as concept, race and gender, authorship, the book as form, and conceptual writing’s response to what Rosemarie Waldrop, one contributor, calls the overvaluing of ‘emotion and perception’ in poetry.” She probes the range and definition of “conceptualism,” “writing,” and even “woman” in this volume.
Another demarcation that has a strong presence is the first book; voices that have entered our horizons from a periphery. We like to see what’s happening beyond the boundaries of the known. Lastly, this issue delves into mixed genre work, including Bern Porter’s Found Poems, reviewed by Paul Stephens. I had never heard of Bern Porter before coming upon this book, and once I had, I became convinced that Porter was a major influence on several well-known contemporary writers.
Many titles, authors, and reviewers have gone unmentioned in this introduction—you’ll have to leave this frame and travel through the section to discover everything DB 17 has to offer!
Please see our Table of Contents if you'd like to see a listing of all reviews.