Friday, April 30, 2010

The Hour Between wins Triangle Award

The Publishing Triangle has announced their selection of the best LGBT books of the year. The winners include Cambridge's own Sebastian Stuart. His book, The Hour Between, won for best LGBT fiction. Congratulations Sebastian!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

New Audio Week of 4/26/10

New titles in this week:

Free Fall by Joseph E. Stigliz read by Dick Hill
Elegy for April by Benjamin Black read by Timothy Dalton
Hellhound on His Trail by Hampton Sides read by Hampton Sides

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Other Press newsletter

Though their main office is ostensibly in New York, we think of Other Press as Cambridge based since the publisher, Judith Gurewich, lives here. We've hosted several of their authors over the years. Ms. Gurewich is both a discerning and passionate publisher. Other Press has just launched an email newsletter about their books. The current issue features an interview with Judith about why she chose to publish the Swiss writer Peter Stamm. You can read and/or sign up for it at the Other Press website.

Other Press' most recent notable publications include the Booker Prize finalist The Glass Room, the 2008 Governor General's Award winning The Origin of Species, and the Prix Goncourt winner The Patience Stone.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Interview with Karyna McGlynn

Karyna McGlynn is the author of two chapbooks Scorpionica and Alabama Steve. Her poems have appeared in Fence, Gulf Coast, Willow Springs, Indiana Review, Denver Quarterly, CutBank, and Ninth Letter. She edits the online journal linelinelineline. Her latest book I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl won the 2008 Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry. Dark, funny, edgy; this is a thrilling new collection of poetry, that plays with narrative, diction, and structure to produce vibrant and exciting poems. Lynn Emmanuel says “I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl is a remarkable book. It is innovative, original, unprecedented, and, at the same time, its originality and innovation are predicated on a passionate, even obsessive relationship with the past." Below is an interview with Karyna.

As a writer, and an editor of a literary magazine, how would you describe the state of American poetry?

Overwhelming. But also very exciting. When people start to bemoan the state of American poetry or start all that “poetry is dead” nonsense, I tell them to go talk to Bob Hass for five minutes. He’s quick to remind us that there is now more poetry being published and sold than any other time in history. And if you don’t believe him, just go look at the poetry section in any decent bookstore: it’s huge. And it’s got a lot more to it beyond the ubiquitous Shakespeare and Maya Angelou collections. I’m particularly dazzled by the array of work coming out from all the small/indie/micro presses like Ugly Duckling, Wave , Black Ocean , Cinematheque, Write Bloody, Dusie , Caketrain, etc. The only problem is that there’s more interesting stuff being published than I can possibly read, but that’s a good dilemma for poetry to have.

In a number of poems, especially "Would You Like Me to Walk Your Baby?" there is an almost malicious sexuality. With so many sexual taboos broken in art, literature, music, the internet, etc, what is left of human sexuality for writers to explore? Are there aspects of sexuality that poetry is best equipped to investigate?

While I wasn’t attempting to break any sexual taboos in the book—at least not intentionally—I do think that sexuality is a powerful source of inspiration for many artists, and that poetry is particularly adept at exploring the non-rational, the mysterious, the sensory and the subjective. It’s ridiculous to say we’ve “seen it all.” We’re not done with having sex, why would we be done talking about it? Sincerity excites me more than cynicism—even when it verges on cliché. Readers have tended to focus on my book’s “malicious sexuality,” but I feel it represents only one of the many childhood/adolescent fears I was exploring. I wanted to write a book that scared me: my early impressions of sexuality and danger were part of that.

A number of your poems, such as "I Have to Go Back to 1994 to Kill A Girl," use an atypical arrangement of the words on the page. When you encounter a poem like that by someone else, how do you read the white space? Is there a way to tell whether that space is substantive or not?

I became fascinated with white space after a writing mentor told me that my poetry was “like chocolate cake” but that I was “stingy with the milk.” Regardless of whether this is (or was) true, I began utilizing the white space of the page in an attempt to provide the reader more breathing room—or, “milk”—in otherwise dense hunks of sensory imagery.

Most of us recognize the importance of the line and stanza break. But what about a poem’s negative space? I think it’s integral, not incidental to the way we read the text. White space can corset, fragment, frame, slow down, speed up, or suspend a poem. It can provide a sense of erasure, amnesia, ambiguity, rest, symmetry and silence. If the white space of a poem does any of these things in a way that feels essential to my understanding and or appreciation of the poem’s content, then I read the space as substantive.

Your poems have a complexity of diction, logic, and grammar that I find exciting, especially since so much contemporary poetry seems to fetishize simplicity. How would you define a "complex poem" and a "simple poem?" Are there ideas, emotions, or events that are best expressed by one or the other? Are these descriptions even useful in reading and understanding poetry?

I’m not sure I’m capable of defining “complex” or “simple” poetry. There are many contemporary poems that I might describe as minimalist in their use of language or image, but these poems are rarely simple—their spareness often leaves more work for the reader to do. I suppose there are poems that are narratively straightforward with seemingly little for the reader to untangle, but the best of these are deceptive in their simplicity; they bloom under the lens of a close-reading, gradually revealing their ambiguities and multivalances.

I often think about the density/complexity of a poem’s shell in relation to its innards. Imagine four different types of candy: a milk chocolate with a nut-cluster on the inside (i.e. “the open secret”—a poem that is initially accessible, but proves surprisingly complex or “chewy” as you enter deeper into it), a Cadbury egg (i.e. a poem that is difficult or chewy on the surface—often employing complex diction, language, rhetoric—but which is easy to interpret or understand once the reader gets past the initial barrier), an Everlasting Gobstopper (i.e. a poem which is neither immediately accessible nor forthcoming with its secrets upon further probing, but which provides layer upon layer of enjoyment even though you can never sink your teeth into it or swallow it whole), and, finally, a marshmallow (i.e. a poem that is both lisable on its surface and forthright in its message or meaning—easy to consume and enjoy). This is certainly a personal and imperfect taxonomy, and there is no implied hierarchy here; I’m not even sure how I would categorize most of my poems, but I do know that there is a constant tension between the baroque and the blunt in my work. For instance, I’m working on a book-length poem that’s ornate and anachronistic, but I also co-edit a journal that’s enamored with short, candid, pop-cultural poetry. I find the tug-o-war fascinating, but it isn’t very fashionable. I love the ornamental diction of Hopkins’ “It will flame out, like shining from shook foil” as much as the plain speech of Wright’s” “I have wasted my life.

What do you think is the basic unit of poetry: the word, the line, the poem, the collection, something else? What is it possible for a work of poetry to be "made" of?

I’m not a linguist, but it’s an interesting question. I’m not sure if we can determine what the basic unit of poetry is unless we know what we’re building: a brick? A wall? A room? A skyscraper? They’re nesting subsets. I’m inclined to say that the basic unit of poetry is the word, and often think of Coleridge’s definitions of prose and poetry: “prose,—words in their best order; poetry,—the best words in their best order.” However, we can’t overlook the “best order” part of the equation. We quote lines from poems, not single words. It’s the lines that are transportable and unique—these make meaning. Many people have a strong vocabulary, but the syntax is where the art comes in. A poem needs to do or make something, even if it’s a still life or a meditative piece. So, in this sense perhaps the basic unit of poetry is the verb—not just the literal unit of speech but the impetus behind the poem—what makes it go.

Despite having a devoted following, in terms of the general reading public, poetry isn't very popular. Why do you think so many more people read (or at least buy) prose than poetry?

There are so many reasons for this I hardly know where to begin. For one, I think people are suspicious of poetry, and especially those who call themselves poets. “Writer” is a profession; “poet” is a delusional and grandiose-sounding claim. One of the problems is that poetry is associated with confession and feelings. I think a lot of people see the act of writing poetry as self-indulgent or hubristic—something that should be abandoned after the angst-ridden teenage years, or at least relegated to private notebooks. How else can we explain the reluctance of so many poets to tell people what they do?

And then there’s the circular argument: poetry isn’t very popular because it isn’t very popular. As the novel rose to prominence, poetry sunk into relative obscurity. It’s not that people don’t like poetry anymore—it’s just that they’re not exposed it. My neighbor Jim—an avid reader who admittedly doesn’t read poetry—told me that he “wouldn’t even know where to find good poetry. Where would I even look? Who would I ask?” I see his point. If our parents don’t read poetry, and if our English teachers avoid teaching poetry (which is frequently the case), and if we don’t know anybody who’s part of the poetry subculture, what madness would entice us to seek it out on our own?

Another neighbor, Diane, told me that she loves poetry, but that she mostly buys novels because she uses her reading time as an escape—she wants to get lost in somebody else’s story without the pressure of having to “figure out what a poem means.” Even narrative poems, she claims, require more work on the reader’s part and aren’t generally as satisfying as a novel because they’re not long enough. These are common complaints against poetry in a time where the novel is King. Poetry is to the novel what an artsy, low-budget short film is to a feature-length Hollywood blockbuster. I find it interesting, however—given our culture’s decreased attention span and addiction to YouTube videos, tweets and text messages—that poetry isn’t more popular than it is. I can only speculate that while many poems are short, they’re still seen as “too difficult” or “depressing” to be consumed on a mass scale. That’s not an entirely an unfair bias. I’ve been reading and writing poetry my whole life, but even I get frustrated with the impenetrability, whininess, and pomposity of some contemporary poetry. This is when I reach for poets like Matthew Dickman, Chelsey Minnis and Jennifer L. Knox. They remind me that poetry can be fun.

If you had the chance to give the world a reading assignment of one poem, what poem would you pick?

One of mine! No, I kid. This is a hard question, and at the risk of sounding “woo-woo” I’m going to say Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale” because it is a poem that consistently brings me to the point of tears without ever exhausting itself. Not only is it one of the most beautiful poems in the English language, it is also one of the most satisfying to unpack. For a poem that feels so heartbreakingly personal, its themes are universal: our mortality, our spirituality, our relationship with art and creation. I find new levels of meaning and enjoyment every time I read it. But readers don’t have to be super-duper into the “eternality of what’s represented in art” or “negative capability” in order to enjoy Keats; the sensual surface of his poems alone is more than enough to recommend them, and “Ode to a Nightingale” in particular is the poem that keeps on giving! On a different day I might have said Knox’s “Hot Ass Poem”—if only because it unseats the aforementioned notion that poetry is difficult, depressing and boring.

What are you reading now?

Poetry-wise, I’ve been enjoying Jericho Brown’s Please, Chelsey Minnis’ Poemland, Michael Dickman’s The End of the West, Zachary Schomburg’s Scary, No Scary, Mathias Svalina’s Destruction Myth, Heather Christle’s The Difficult Farm, Aase Berg’s With Deer and Joshua Beckman’s Take It. I’m also loving the hell out of Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

William Vollmann, Kissing the Mask

William Vollmann's newest book Kissing the Mask is an exploration of beauty and femininity through the study of Japanese Noh theater, a traditional, formal theater style in which all the actors are men in masks. Kissing the Mask, is arguably Vollmann's best work, after Europe Central and Poor People, but it is inarguably his most beautiful work. Committed to finding or creating a meaningful understanding of beauty, Vollmann's prose is inspired by his project and reflects the striking subtlety of Noh theater itself. From masks many hundreds of years old, to unwashable kimonos, to men who get expensive sophisticated salon makeovers and then stay in the salon, to the works of Andrew Wyeth, to Geishas, Valkyries, and primitive icons, Vollmann stalks the ideas of beauty and femininity. Of course, he is never able to catch either of them, but as he seeks he also creates. Furthermore, he doesn't just hide behind the fluidity of taste, but argues for ideas of understatement and grace, providing material for debate, if not for conclusion.

William T. Vollmann is one of America's most prolific and challenging writers. He's written, among other things, a seven book fiction cycle set in pre-Columbian North America, a seven-volume exploration of violence, a National Book Award Winning novel set in in the eastern front of WWII ( Europe Central ), a sociological Studs Terkel-esque study of poverty ( Poor People ), a massive history of borderlands between Mexico and the United States ( Imperial ), and a memoir about hopping trains ( Riding Towards Everywhere ). If there is one word that would characterize his work it would be "fearless." Regardless of topic, scope, and personal health and safety Vollmann explores his ideas to their absolute limits and is generous enough to bring us along for the ride.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

New Audio Wk of 4/12/10

New to Porter Square Books this week and available for sale or rental are the following audio books:

Click on the title for the description of the book in print.

First Light by Rebecca Stead

eaarth by Bill McKibben

David Sedaris Live for Your Listening Pleasure

Imperfect Birds by Annie Lamott

The Bridge by David Remnick

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

The Black Cat by Martha Grimes

Peter and Olivier in America by Peter Carey

Animal Factory by David Kirby

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Overboard by Michael J. Tougias

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Twitter and Facebook

Porter Square Books is now, after a brief delay, back on Facebook. Just search for "Porter Square Books," and you'll find us. To start we'll be listing our events on Facebook, but we'll be adding more as we go along.

Also, we discovered that Twitter isn't indexing our feed properly, which means that you can't find us if you search for "Porter Square Books." According to their help forums, this is a fairly common problem. You can still find us by searching for "PorterSqBooks." We're tweeting about events, new books, signed copies, book news, and other cool book related stuff.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Knitting Travels and Travails

Knitting is a hobby, an avocation, something to fill time between books, and an obsession!

What other than obsession would make a mature, almost ancient, being pass up the yard, golf, or just plain goofing off on the first best day of the year to ride the Red Line?

Saturday, March 20th was the first annual Red Line Yarn Crawl sponsored by Mind's Eye Yarns, The Windsor Button Shop, and The Stitch House .

It was fun! Obsessive fun (which may make it some sort of sin?) but fun nevertheless!

First of all, you didn't have to drive all over Boston, find a (legal) parking space and then struggle on to the next venue. Take the T! What could be easier?

Then, there were all of the wonderful people you meet who just wanted to share their textile joy with you. This was true of customers and salespeople alike.

Then the special events at each store. Drawings, classes, and guitar-playing knitters. Food, drink, and Yarn!

Then, The Yarns in each store were so worth obsessing over. It was a bit overwhelming but that didn't keep most of us from adding to our already OTT stashes.

While using the T certainly has drawbacks if you buy too much, there is the fact that between each stop, we got to sit and let our brains and other parts relax.

I certainly hope this does become an annual event. Yarn shops, like independent businesses everywhere, are having a hard time surviving and only our continued patronage will keep them
open to satisfy our strange obsession.

Speaking of obsessive behavior (really, it's only obsessive to non-knitters), on April 15th, we will have Adrienne Martini here in the store. She has written a book called Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously. She will be talking at 7:00 PM.

Watch for the Red Line Crawl next year. I'll be there!

Friday, April 2, 2010

April's Featured SF/Fantasy Author

April’s Featured SciFi / Fantasy Author

Christopher Moore

The author of a dozen novels, Christopher Moore is a fast, clever writer who loves to pit normal (and not so normal) men and women against a laundry list of trickster spirits, vampires, sea monsters, and more. An absurdist in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, Moore excels at creating outlandish characters and bizarre relationships. Several of his novels feature recurring characters and a few are set in the kooky little California town of Pine Cove where retired warrior women rub shoulders with dope-smoking constables and talking fruit bats.

The Vampire Books:

Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story

You Suck: A Love Story

Bite Me: A Love Story

The Pine Cove Books:

Practical Demonkeeping

The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove

The Just Plain Funny Books:

Coyote Blue

A Dirty Job

The Not-Quite-SF/F-Books-But-Still-Very-Funny Books:



Island of the Sequined Love Nun


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