This is the time of year when everyone’s making Best Of lists from the past year. My list for the year includes We, the Animals by Justin Torres, and Hotel Utopia by Robert Miltner, two books that run many times deeper than long, each in its way capturing an essence of our time in words that sing on the page.
Quality control here is currently under supervision of the wompus cats. This might not be the most prudent arrangement, but laughter, which the wompus cats provide in spades, is the best antidote for most of what ails you. May Sarton wrote about life with cats. Her book, Journal of a Solitude, and Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet were two of my early influences and both make my Must Read list for writers.
I’m on a break right now between folding and stitching manuscripts. I’m not going to change our name to Kattywompus Bindery, though it would at this moment be fitting. We may have some demos or at least some photos of our hand-binding operation on display at the AWP Book fair in a couple of months. It’s hard to explain how I got seized by this notion to hand-bind books with spines (a far more complex process than saddle-stitch binding chapbooks). How it then became a compulsion, to hand-craft each and every book. It was not my intention but the books had their way with me. It’s a scary gift, when the process itself becomes the passion. It’s also an expression of my love for the content of these two books I am binding, collections by two wonderful and very different poets, Zack Rogow and Eric Anderson.
Holiday time is something I generally look forward to getting past. I do not belong to the mainstream religious tradition which governs seasonal celebration in this country, so it’s easy to forgo the material insanity. Harder to evade is the inevitable ratcheting up of stress levels this time of year—which seems counterintuitive, but the way we celebrate raises all kinds of expectations, some of which are inevitably defeated by family conflicts, loneliness, baseline depression, lack of funds, a hundred other pressures.
I was happy to hear from a local shopkeeper that people have treated her especially sweetly this week. Retail work is hell, this time of year. I come from retail. I am intimate with the burden of making a huge portion of your livelihood in the space of a few short, jammed-in weeks. The same weeks when you’re supposed to be preparing and celebrating holiday gatherings, feasts, gifts, decorations. I’m exhausted just writing that line. My sympathies to those of you hanging on by your fingernails. Take heart, New Year’s is but a week away, and then we can all exhale.
If this blog seems quiet these days, blame it on the books—a slew of which will soon magically appear on our website, and our AWP book fair display. In the pipeline along with the two hand-bound full-length collections: Jesse Milner’s sharply sweet Shapes the Clouds Assume; three limited edition artist’s books (one by our very own Associate Editor); two new volumes of Poet’s Greatest Hits, by Chad Prevost and Diane Lockward; Randall Horton’s memoir of writing and the redemptive love of one person as the path out of prison; Karren LaLonde Alenier’s poem cycle on Paul and Jane Bowles; Sandra Robinson’s eye-popping Ebonics poems; Susana Case’s indispensable Manual of Practical Sexual Advice; and a new collection by Nin Andrews, in which she rips the lid off the shocking truth about the mannequins among us.
May those of you who celebrate, in whatever fashion, enjoy a wonderful holiday this year. And may we all welcome a new year blessed with peace, with justice, with relief from suffering—and filled with wonderful books.