Reb Livingston, poetry powerhouse and small press visionary, stops by today to give us her "best of" gift list as we enter the holiday season. Why? Because she's a giver, folks, the kind of gal who truly knows that it's far better to give than to receive—unless you're on the receiving end of one of these cool and unique gifts! Our many thanks to the very busy Ms. Reb; we can't wait to see what she's picked out to give us this year!!
Crucial Rooster Holiday Picks
Last year I made a case against gift cards, wish lists, mass produced and practical holiday gifts. Long story short, you are not your family’s and friends’ personal shopper. Remember what it means to give a gift. Significance does not correlate with monetary cost. Gift giving is a ritual of expression and recognition. That's right, express and recognize, not compete and overspend. Consider giving your loved ones something unexpected, something they may possibly cherish for its uniqueness, its thought, its exquisiteness. As if you don’t possess the rocks not to get the usual dictated expectations, try coming up with something special in addition to the ole mass produced game console. Many of these suggestions are inexpensive and won’t break your bank. An added benefit is that you can purchase all these items online and don’t have to camp outside a Best Buy with a gaggle of pimply goons while being taunted by the drive-by moonings of the cooler folk. (That was not my shiny white heiny reflecting the moonlight, I swear.)
As the year winds down, up pops a number of book lists – mostly written by reviewers mightily impressed with themselves for being able to come up with the most predictable ho-hum selections imaginable. Do you really need those suggestions? Can’t you just walk into any book superstore and finds those same titles on the tables and shelves within 15 feet of the front door? Haven’t these same titles already been reviewed in the same publications right next to their expensive full-page advertisements?
Here are my recommendations, I own copies of every book, chapbook and journal mentioned and am mightily impressed with them. Some were given to me, some were trades, but most were purchased. You probably aren’t familiar with most of these titles, that’s why I’m making a point of recommending them here. This is a glimpse of what the so-called media giants don’t bother covering because they think their readership desires idea impoverished and narrow lists. Dear reader, I hold a much higher opinion of you. I always pull out the good stuff for special occasions. These are my best selections.
Physically Gorgeous Books
Some books take your breath away before you even open them up. The perfect book lives up to its cover. One of the most striking covers is Rebecca Loudon’s Radish King (Ravenna Press), yes, the vegetable in the middle is picking its nose and it’s still a book you’ll leave out on your coffee table. I must disclose I am a huge fan of Loudon’s work, so huge, my press recently published her chapbook, Navigate, Amelia Earhart’s Letters Home (No Tell Books), with another stunning cover.
The most dazzling chapbooks to appear in my mailbox this year are those from Fewer and Further Press. Michael Carr’s Platinum Blonde and Christopher Rizzo’s the Breaks (the perfect choice for a jazz aficionado) are true stand outs, as well as Crucial Rooster favorite, Joseph Massey’s Property Line. All of these chaps have an understated elegance, both design and poems.
Effing Press is mentioned here on a regular basis, and for good reason, all of its books are mini-works of art, collectable small run editions. Effing’s latest title is Anne Boyer’s Good Apocalypse filled with striking poems and collages by the author. Pick up that with the unexpectedly touching (and I mean that in best the way) Is It the King by Farid Matuk and Effing Magazine Number Five (edited by Allyssa Wolf) and Happy Birthday Jesus, you just assembled a kick ass holiday gift for your coolest, most discerning friend. For only $20.
Have a brainy, word-loving pal? For God’s sake, don’t get her one of those inane Word-a-Day calendars. Are you trapped in the ‘80’s? Instead, give her Inverse (Nine Muses Books) by Maryrose Larkin, a dictionary-based abecedarian sure to delight and dazzle with its silver end pages. And if you’re dead set on getting some kind of calendar, tread on the wild side with the Whimsy Daybook 2007.
Ugly Duckling Presse has no one distinct style in any sense since it’s run by a collective, yet it consistently publishes inventive and staggering books, chapbooks, translations, magazines and in a few cases, I can’t even explain what. That’s OK. Who wants to understand everything? Not me. Late last year I treated myself to a subscription and it was my best literary investment. If you want a gift that keeps on giving all year long, this would be a fine choice.
Exhilarating is a broad idea, there are many ways to be roused and for very different reasons. Evie Shockley’s riveting first collection, a half-red sea (Carolina Wren Press), weaves and clashes African-American history with U.S. culture in a series of rich and contemplative pieces. A must read for everyone.
Kate Greenstreet's case sensitive (Ahsahta Press) is a beautifully ambitious telling of ideas. These are love poems, broad and intriguing. The book to get for that thoughtful type.
If you know someone with bold, brash tastes, a copy of Cornstarch Figurine (Dusie) by Elizabeth Treadwell will hit the mark. Fierce and unapologetically feminine. Guaranteed to induce swooning.
Lastly, Hitler may not seem like a natural fit for the holiday season and apprehension would be understandable, but if you know someone who loves the strange, quirky and absurd, try Hitler’s Mustache (Barnwood Press) by Peter Davis. Remember, it's not about the man, it's about the mustache.
Poetry in Washington, DC
Perhaps not known as a literary center, it’s not all John Grisham and Tom Clancy novels in our nations capital. The Washington Writers’ Publishing House has been publishing poetry books since the 1970s and this year’s winner of its annual book contest, the steam sequence by George Washington instructor Carly Sachs would make a circumspect Hanukah or Christmas gift. In a sparse and graceful writing style, it tells personal stories of those affected by the Holocaust.
New DC poetry press Red Morning recently published its second title, Jen Tynes’ The End of Rude Handles, a fascinating mixture of fragmented poetry and essay filled with the every day and the brutal. A truly memorable read. Red Morning’s upcoming next title, mortal by Ivy Alvarez looks promising and is available on its site for pre-order.
A new chapbook transfer by young and noteworthy DC poet, Alan King, is a compassionate tour through urban neighborhoods and lives. An intimate rendering told with clarity and reflection.
I would be remiss not to mention my own DC-based poetry press, No Tell Books. Bruce Covey's Elapsing Speedway Organism is romantic and funny. For those fearful of a little poetry, try PF Potvin's The Attention Lesson, a collection of sharp prose poems. Reads just like compact fiction, I promise. I'm even going to do the garish and mention my own chapbook, Wanton Textiles. I know, what's next, regifting? But I don't feel so bad since it's only half mine. It's half Ravi Shankar's too. We wrote it together, but we can't agree on how to describe it. Ravi claims that it is "basting together bawdy pun with epistemological speculation" whereas I prefer "pornography for your underpants." Teamwork can be challenging.
The artistic stylings of Didi Menendez offers what I believe to be the only calendar that has Robert Creeley (July), Charles Bukowski (December), Lorna Dee Cervantes (April) and Bettie Page’s exquisite derriere (cover). This extra-large, colorful and simply gorgeous wall art would brighten the home of any poetry lover.
Yes, did you know some poets can have additional artistic talents? Their hands can do more than scribble lines of verse. Above mentioned Anne Boyer creates softly ominous paintings of girls, bunnies and lambs. Or perhaps you're shopping for someone who'd appreciate the collages, prints and handmade books assembled with found material with Victorian and bird influences by Susana Gardner. Canadian poet Danielle Maveal makes diamond rings out sterling silver for only $90. That’s poet-thinking for you. Attainable luxury!
That's right, luxury. If I read one more article on "tweens" discerning demand for "luxury" items, I'm going to wretch. I forgive the "tweens" for they are children emulating adults. My toddler does it too. Every time he bends over to pick up something, he grunts. Oh he's perfectly fine, not in any pain, he's just trying to be like his daddy, his broken-down, busted-back, poor-kneed father. It's what kids do. There’s no discerning involved. He’d eat straight from the Crisco canister if he saw his daddy doing it.
A grown person should be able to discern quality without using a whooping price tag and "designer" label as indicators, without looking over the neighbor’s fence and getting what’s in his back yard merely to keep up. Those things have nothing to do with the good life and isn’t the good life the great American goal? Don’t be a label whore when it comes to books. Luxury is elegant and yes, indulgent. It's out of the ordinary and brings pleasure. Remember pleasure? Consider everything recommended above as a luxury item and make your holiday season spectacular and luxurious!