As 2016 enters its final week, the news in the Los Ángeles literary community is one of accomplishment. As the months went by, writers published novels, collections of poetry, and chapbooks or announced their books had been accepted for publication next year. Congratulations goes out to all these scribes in penning important works. Some of these books, such as Ashaki M. Jackson’s Surveillance which examines videos capturing police killing civilians and the public’s consumption of these videos, and Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo’s debut poetry collection Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge examining her family’s immigration to the US/L.A., their history in L.A., forgotten Los Ángeles Latino history and immigrants and immigration along the Arizona boarder, tackle themes and ideas of social justice. How the political is personal.
Others books, such as Mike Sonksen’s Poetics of Location and Naomi Hirahara’s novel Sayonara Slam depict and explore what L.A. is. Take Sonksen’s poem “Arrival Stories” where he says about the city’s residents, “If you listen they will tell you:/[…] we come from Paraguay in South America/I was born in Seoul Korea. We lived their until I was five/[…] my parents were born in Kenya as was I.”
Even a poetry anthology published by L.A.’s own Tía Chucha Press titled Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising From the Cultural Quakes & Shifts of Los Angeles features “the vitality and variety of verse in and around Los Angeles.” It ranges from such L.A. luminaries as Laurel Ann Bogan, Wanda Coleman, Kamau Daáood and Rubén Martinez to many strong new voices like Art Currim, Marisa Urrutia Gedney, Tina Yang and Karineh Mahdessian. They depict Los Ángeles in ways that have been hidden in plain sight, proving there is a there there in Los Ángeles, and speak to the personal, telling their own stories.
Congratulations to all of these published Angeleños. If I have forgotten anyone, my apologies. May next year bring more publishing success to L.A.’s literary community.
Douglas Brown – Floodgate Poetry Series Vol. 3
Floodgate Poetry Series Vol. 3 collects three chapbooks in a single volume: brothers Anders and Kai Carlson-Wee’s Northern Corn invites us on a trip across an America of dust, trains, poverty, dignity, and dreams; Begotten, co-written by Cave Canem fellows F. Douglas Brown and Geffrey Davis, bravely and tenderly explores fatherhood in the era of Black Lives Matter; and Enid Shomer’s Driving through the Animal lovingly moves between unflinching witness of destruction and hope for the future. It’s the third volume in the Floodgate Poetry Series, edited by Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum. Chapbooks—short books under 40 pages—arose when printed books became affordable in the 16th century. The series is in the tradition of 18th and 19th century British and American literary annuals, and the Penguin Modern Poets Series of the 1960s and ’70s.
Chiwan Choi – The Yellow House
In July on Facebook Choi posted the following preview of his soon to be released third book of poems The Yellow House, due out February 22, 2017. He said he was working on the closing poem for #theyellowhouse:
last night’s rain is gone / and a song plays somewhere not far / and carries down my street. / the melody paralyzes me / and i remember that moment / i promised / that i’d won / that we’d both won / while i slept for the first time / in years. / and i remember colors from some years later / black and red and green / i think / those different color lines / guiding us through the halls / of the LA county emergency // hope is spelled like knife / like the one my father / put in my hand / while i stood shaking / on redondo pier / as he showed me how to filet / a mackerel without crying // but this morning / the tears come through the bones / like the sun through the trees / because it is my skin / that is slicing open. / that’s how hope is // like your father’s hand on your shoulder / when he tells you god / will care. // i want to call my daughter’s name / but it’s so long since i’ve forgotten / what it was supposed to be / how many syllables were / going to bring happiness. // this is a monday in which / i am alone / in an unwelcome light / standing among the boxes that we are carrying / to another home. // you whose name i have lost: / i have so long / believed i was the monster / in the middle of my family / of my love / of everything that breaks / in the life i want to call home / of us // but i am tired / i want to put this anger down / and the hope too that / keeps returning unwanted / and run through the forest / toward the echo / that sounds like my name / being called / from the yellow house / standing weathered / in a field of lavender.
Jerry Garcia – On Summer Solstice Road
This full-length collection of poems is rooted in mid-twentieth century America and expands from that era of disruption and exploration. Over half a century later upheaval and terror are still watchwords in society. This poetry strives to balance stories of evolution, redemption and hope. This book incorporates a full multimedia experience with QR Codes that link selected poems to poetry-films which can be played back on a smartphone or tablet.
Naomi Hirahara – Sayonara Slam
At Dodger Stadium it’s Japan vs. Korea in the World Baseball Classic, but before the first pitch is thrown, Mas Arai finds himself in the middle of a murder. Mysteries layer atop mysteries in this sixth in the award-winning series featuring the most unlikely of sleuths, an aging, widowed, not-exactly-communicative gardener from Altadena, California.
Who is that unusual woman throwing knuckleball pitches to warm up the Japanese team? Who sent thugs to threaten Mas and accuse him of treason? And what were in the deleted files on the murdered sportswriter’s computer—and did they hold secrets that led to his death?
The more mysteries Mas uncovers, the deeper he gets drawn into a situation that soon grows dangerous—including the danger of losing the affection of the woman he might someday admit he loves.
V. Kali – HYMN
HYMN is a captivating collection of poetry from one of Los Angeles’ best known voices, V. Kali. This menagerie of verses is a treatise on the men in her life, and how she loved them best with her words. Regarded as the bedrock of The Anansi Writer’s Workshop at The World Stage Performance Gallery, Kali provides these lyrical meditations on how to live in between the degrees of life, love and breathing.
Wendy C. Ortiz – Bruja
With Bruja, Ortiz continues to upend and reinvent the memoir in inventive and deeply emotional ways to better fit the terms and trajectory of her exploration.
Behold the “dreamoir”-the details from the most malleable and revelatory portions of one’s dreams, catalogued in bold detail.
The end result is perhaps one of the most candid expressions of personal history, the subconscious bared in full, revealing the part of oneself that is often the most difficult to see.
Ortiz has created a new literary form, a parallel plane where the cast of characters are the people that occupied one’s waking life; a narrative that’s equal parts delicate and bold, a literary adventure through the boundaries of memoir, where the self is viewed from a position anchored into the deepest recesses of the mind.
Janice Lee – The Sky Isn’t Blue
In every manner of framing, there is a house. There is a door one must enter through, a door one must shut behind herself in order to leave. In every manner of space, there is an intimate and crucial rivalry between open and close, between time and memory, between myself and yourself. The further we walk together, the further we walk in parallel, that distance between us that wavers, minuscule on some days, and incredibly vast on others, but always and certainly there, that distance persists. The entire sky between us. The entire sky between us.
Luis J. Rodriguez – Borrowed Bones
From the foreword written by Martín Espada: This chapbook collection offers new poems from the prolific career of a community leader, activist, and healer. Luis J. Rodríguez’s work asks profound questions of us as readers and fellow humans, such as, “If society cooperates, can we nurture the full / and healthy development of everyone?” In his introductory remarks, Martín Espada describes the poet as a man engaged in people and places: “Luis Rodríguez is a poet of many tongues, befitting a city of many tongues. He speaks English, Spanish, ‘Hip Hop,’ ‘the Blues,’ and ‘cool jazz.’ He speaks in ‘mad solos.’ He speaks in ‘People’s Sonnets.’ He speaks in the language of protest. He speaks in the language of praise.”
Pearl Sharp – The Evening News – Essays and Commentaries from NPR and Other Clouds
A selection of forty of S. Pearl Sharp’s wide-ranging essays and commentaries broadcast on NPR programs The Tavis Smiley Show, News and Notes, Tell Me More and other broadcast and print media.
In six chapters S. Pearl riffs on news headlines,our personal issues, heroes, kinfolk, the U.S. electoral process and life lessons. Includes updates on events in the news since a piece was first published, plus some challenging and poignant responses from listeners.
Natasha Deon – Grace
Deon’s debut novel Grace is about the following: For a runaway slave in the 1840s south, life on the run can be just as dangerous as life under a sadistic Massa. That’s what fifteen-year-old Naomi learns after she escapes the brutal confines of life on an Alabama plantation. Striking out on her own, she must leave behind her beloved Momma and sister Hazel and takes refuge in a Georgia brothel run by a freewheeling, gun-toting Jewish madam named Cynthia. There, amidst a revolving door of gamblers, prostitutes, and drunks, Naomi falls into a star-crossed love affair with a smooth-talking white man named Jeremy who frequents the brothel’s dice tables all too often.
The product of Naomi and Jeremy’s union is Josey, whose white skin and blonde hair mark her as different from the other slave children on the plantation. Having been taken in as an infant by a free slave named Charles, Josey has never known her mother, who was murdered at her birth. Josey soon becomes caught in the tide of history when news of the Emancipation Proclamation reaches the declining estate and a day of supposed freedom quickly turns into a day of unfathomable violence that will define Josey—and her lost mother—for years to come.
Amy Uyematsu – Basic Vocabulary
Amy Uyematsu’s latest poetry collection, Basic Vocabulary, confronts today’s complex world of drone warfare and post 9/11 unease with boldness, curiosity, candor, and insight. She unites the political and spiritual and welcomes what she calls: Elegant disorder / even my mind / leaping branch to branch.
Mike Sonksen – Poetics of Location
POETICS OF LOCATION is the long-awaited new collection from Mike (the Poet) Sonksen. The book is 25 poems and an extended essay addressing poetry of place, urban history, architecture, social justice, and community arts.
Cynthia Guardado – Endeavor
Cynthia Guardado’s debut collection of poetry Endeavor, will be released January 18, 2017. The Following is a preview:
i will not grieve for dead police
when they wage war on our streets
on native skin
on black & brown skin
i will not grieve for dead police
when they are
i will not grieve for dead police
when i can’t call on them
to keep me safe
i will not grieve for dead police
when a target
is on my brother’s back
when a target
is on my sisters’s soul
i will not grieve for dead police—not today
because grief has swallowed me up
grief is what I have become
Jo Scott-Coe – Mass
In Jo Scott-Coe’s soon to be released second book Mass is about the following: In 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of UT Austin’s clock tower and performed the first televised and (at the time) deadliest mass shooting in American history. Half a century later, we continue to consume endless “breaking news” images of domestic terror in schools, movie theaters, churches, nightclubs, and city streets.
MASS, from Jo Scott-Coe, turns the camera and looks underneath this ritual of violent public spectacle, tracing the story of a lost priest who befriended Whitman fifteen years before his tower rampage. Part lyric meditation and part narrative history, MASS explores the wounds of failed fatherhood, both religious and secular, and exposes the unspeakable delusions and ciphers inside our collective conscience. MASS also makes available extensive online supplementary materials, including notes on sources, documents, and never-before-published photographs.
Rachel Mcleod Kaminer – As in the Dark, Descend
When you get to the end of what you know, where are you? AS IN THE DARK, DESCEND moves through poetry as a way of knowing, in order to seek what Else there may be. Un-knowing? Is it possible to undo a heartbreak, un-see a thing, un-fill your ears? Why would you want to? As Rachel McLeod Kaminer’s first book emerges from voices and geographies both Appalachian and Angeleno, the poems struggle with the limits of individual awareness and acknowledgement: how I steal, what I owe, who I am. While reckoning with how poetry makes and seals meaning, poetry may also open, fight, even swim through earfuls of made-meaning and hard-earned selfhood. I turns towards you; we can move, can turn towards one another. Listen. Listen again.
Jessica Ceballos – Gent/Re Place Ing
Jessica Ceballos’ debut collection is a chapbook/zine hybrid that began as a presentation for LA’s Big City Forum in 2015 advocating against gentrification [and its resulting displacement], and evolved into a 10-part observation in photos, poetry, prose, and commentary, along with references, and information compiled as a response to page 37 of LA2050’s report, Part 1. Who We Are. How We Live. Where We’re Going, a discussion on “arts and cultural vitality” in Los Angeles.
Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo – Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge
Bermejo’s debut collecting of poems Posada: Offerings of Witness and Refuge is a feminist collection of poetry straddling borders, and arose when daughter of Mexican immigrants, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo, traveled from Los Angeles to the Tucson-Sector of the U.S.-Mexico border in August 2011 to volunteer with the humanitarian aid organization, No More Deaths. She hoped to gain a concrete understanding of the “wall,” and the result was a book illustrating a speaker driven to activism by a need to honor her family’s journey.
Li Yun Alvarado – Words or Water
Li Yun Alvarado’s debut collection of poetry Words or Water is, as poet Urayoán NoelLi says “an affective map of the Nuyorican archipelago, as oceanic as it is embodied. In vivid and uncompromising poems—about love and family, about the politics of tweezing and the intricacies of Puerto Rican rum, about the artist Keith Haring’s lover Juanito Xtravaganza and the imperialism of Old Navy t-shirts—Alvarado traces the ‘Atlantic currents’ of diaspora while honoring quotidian practices of survival and struggle: ‘my parents government-cheesed / our lives into normalcy.’ Women emerge here as counter-genealogical figures (Don Quijote’s Dulcinea, the poet Julia de Burgos, who provides an epigraph, mothers and sisters, biological and otherwise) and as guides to a revolutionary knowledge, an affirmation of our bodies even as they are policed and colonized. From the port cities of Nuyorico, ‘Words or Water’ claims its own freedom by rerouting geographies: ‘homes anchored / to hearts and backs.” In that sense, the title is not so much binary as it is strategic and metaphorical; Alvarado’s flow finds words for “estos latidos’ (“these heartbeats”) while memorializing what words fail to convey: ‘I scavenge for lost / pockets of me.’”
Tía Chucha Press – Coiled Serpent Anthology: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles
This anthology features the vitality and variety of verse in the City of Angels, a city of poets. This is more about range then representation, voice more than volume. Los Angeles has close to 60 percent people of color, 225 languages spoken at home, and some of the richest and poorest persons in the country. With an expansive 502.7 square miles of city (and beyond, including the massive county of 4,752.32 square miles), the poetry draws on imagery, words, stories, and imaginations that are also vast, encompassing, a real “leaves of grass.”
Well-known poets include Holly Prado, Ruben Martinez, traci kato-kiriyama, and Lynne Thompson. Many strong new voices, however, makes this a well-rounded collection for any literary class, program, bookstore, or event.
The image of the coiled serpent appears in various forms in mythologies throughout Asia, Africa, Europe, India, and America. In pre-conquest times, Quetzalcoatl—the Precious Serpent—served as a personification of earth-bound wisdom, the arts and eldership in so-called Meso-America, one of seven “cradles of civilization” that also includes China, Nigeria, Mesopotamia, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and Peru.
Edited by Terry Wolverton – Mischief Caprice And Other Poetic Strategies
Some of Los Angeles’ most exciting poets use a collaborative process to create new works, including Elena Karina Byrne, Sesshu Foster, Ramón Garcia, Douglas Kearney and Terry Wolverton.
Ashaki M. Jackson – Surveillance and Language Lesson
Surveillance is the debut chapbook collection from Ashaki M. Jackson. It is an examination of videos capturing police killing civilians and the public’s consumption of these videos.
In the absence of a full grief lexicon, Language Lesson is a short study of loss, mortuary rites and survivors’ interpretations of these processes. The chapbook collection, inspired by the loss of Jackson’s paternal grandmother.
Teka Lark – Party Monster
This debut chapbook Party Monster is an excerpt from Queen of Inglewood, Teka Lark’s book for all the people who failed at being awful.
Erin Aubry Kaplan – I Heart Obama
In I Heart Obama, journalist Erin Aubry Kaplan offers an unapologetic appreciation of our highest-ranking “First” and what he means to black Americans. In the process, she explores the critiques of those in the black community who charge that he has not done enough, been present enough, been black enough to motivate real change in America. Racial antipathy cloaked as political antipathy has been the major conflict in Obama’s presidency. His impossible task as an individual and as a president is nothing less than this: to reform the entire racist culture of the country he leads. Black people know he can’t do it, but will support his effort anyway, as they have supported the efforts of many others. Obama’s is a noble and singular story we will tell for generations. I Heart Obama looks at the story so far.