On Reading Christopher Columbus

In fourteen-hundred-and-ninety-two, we’re taught, Christopher Columbus crossed the ocean blue. (There’s apparently a longer poem behind that, and I consider it an unfortunate example of literary work. I have no idea who wrote it, and I think it is objectively bad.) I have never been quite what one might call a fan of Columbus’s, but I also never really thought about him, at least in … Continue reading On Reading Christopher Columbus

Tommy Cabot Was Here (The Cabots Book 1)

Everett Sloane likes things neat, in tidy lines and ordered spaces. He’s a mathematician, and, if I’ve learned anything from my brother whose degree is in math, it’s that mathematicians do tend to love things with answers. (I went into humanities, and people are messy as hell.) But Everett’s carrying a messy secret past, and when it walks back into his life, it threatens to … Continue reading Tommy Cabot Was Here (The Cabots Book 1)

On Debbie Tung’s Book Love & the joy & romanticization of books

Debbie Tung’s graphic novel Book Love is a charming little piece, a celebration of the places books have taken Tung and the ways in which they’ve been (and are) her friends. It’s also a romanticization of both books and reading, and, I think, an interesting look at the ways in which we can romanticize the hell out of form and format. I read Book Love … Continue reading On Debbie Tung’s Book Love & the joy & romanticization of books

life, quilted: Bisa Butler’s Portraits at the Art Institute of Chicago

The women in my mother’s family tie off their quilts. I’m not entirely sure where it came from, though I will confess I’ve wondered if we’re tying off and tying elfknots into our own work (rather than our hair: mine is too straight to elfknot anyway) as a good-luck charm, or maybe a ward. (It’s not as though we remember why we have to have … Continue reading life, quilted: Bisa Butler’s Portraits at the Art Institute of Chicago

some stuff I’d love to see happen this school year

It’s now early September, which means that for most of us, school’s back in session, and has been for between two weeks and a month. It’s even back fully in person and “normal” for a lot of us, though I don’t know how long that will last. (I think it could last quite well—if folks are diligent about masking, and if everyone’s vaccinated. I don’t … Continue reading some stuff I’d love to see happen this school year

The Sealey Challenge: (Selections from) Liberamerica

Monchoachi’s Liberamerica, translated by Patricia Hartland for Ugly Duckling Presse’s Señal series, is a beautiful book, and a difficult book, and a book that demands to be read far more than once. It’s also a pretty incredible book with which to end this year’s Sealey Challenge. First, a bit of a disclaimer. I don’t have the facility with French that I have with Spanish—mine is … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: (Selections from) Liberamerica

The Sealey Challenge: Good Luck Gold and Other Poems

I’ve read rather a lot of Janet Wong’s back catalog this year, and today, my second-to-last day of the Sealey Challenge 2021, I read another: Good Luck Gold and Other Poems, originally published in 1994 (I had that shirt then too, btw), and just as relevant today as it was then. Good Luck Gold is a damn good book of poetry. I’ve said this with … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Good Luck Gold and Other Poems

The Sealey Challenge: Transit Blues

Keijiro Suga’s Transit Blues, translated from the Japanese largely by the author himself, is a strange, often luminous little chapbook, a collection of poetry that explores space and time (and corvidae) with a deft, loving touch. “Walking as a Prayer,” the first poem in the collection, sets the tone for the rest of the book: sometimes meditative, always elegant, loving and deft and tender. Suga … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Transit Blues

The Sealey Challenge: Boys Quarter

Chukwuma Ndulue’s Boys Quarter is an exquisite, difficult, sometimes haunting chapbook, a collection of poetry that deeply explores time and space and self and, along with them, the haunting, violent presence of coloniality. Ndulue’s epigraph comes from Hart Crane, a snippet from “Voyagers” that sure sounds like it’s kissing goodbye to the innocence of youth, pointing out that “The bottom of the sea is cruel.” … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Boys Quarter

the saddest angriest black girl in town: a graphic novel by Robyn Smith

I have a disclaimer here: I backed Robyn Smith‘s The Saddest Angriest Black Girl in Town when Black Josei Press ran its Kickstarter for the second printing, and also, I’m pretty out of it today because I’ve been having an asthma attack ever since the power went out at work a couple days ago. So I am possibly biased, and definitely flaked out. Take that … Continue reading the saddest angriest black girl in town: a graphic novel by Robyn Smith

The Sealey Challenge: New Moon / Luna Nueva / Yuninal Jme’tik

Women and the moon have long been linked, in cultures across the world. In New Moon, originally Yuninal Jme’tik in the poet’s native Tsotsil, Luna Nueva in her own Spanish-language translation, Enriqueta Lunez writes poetry of womanhood, words of woman born, reaching out to the moon. I’ll preface this simply: I’m going to need to read New Moon again, very soon. I read Clare Sullivan’s … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: New Moon / Luna Nueva / Yuninal Jme’tik

The Sealey Challenge: Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams

We’re in the midst of another storm, here, and in the midst of a storm of a week, and so I picked, today, a warm, magical little book of poetry awash with dreamy illustrations: Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams, a 2000 collaboration between poet Janet Wong and artist Julie Paschkis. (They also worked together in Knock On Wood, which I read for … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Night Garden: Poems from the World of Dreams

The Sealey Challenge: Fry Bread

I don’t usually read by flashlight—it’s honestly hard on the eyes—but, by God, I was going to finish my twenty-fourth Sealey Challenge book of the month, and I did, even if I couldn’t post it here. And so, by flashlight, in the midst of a massive storm, I finished Kevin Noble Maillard and Juana Martínez-Neal’s Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story. First I’ll address … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Fry Bread

The Sealey Challenge: The Hill We Climb

The world knows Amanda Gorman’s name. Much of the world, I think, has probably heard her speak, her voice soaring over our capitol’s steps, promising a bright, hopeful new day. I watched her live, and cried my eyes out. Last year I read Maya Angelou’s 1993 inaugural poem, On the Pulse of Morning, and cried my way through it. Today, I read Gorman’s The Hill … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: The Hill We Climb

The Sealey Challenge: Catcall

I think I was seven or eight the first time I was catcalled, although I’m not really sure. I’d say I’ve gotten used to it—I’m in my mid thirties now, after all—but one doesn’t really get used to the invasion, the threat of violence thrumming under the surface, or just above. Holly Melgard’s Catcall is pretty creative—I mean, I don’t think anyone’s ever hollered anything … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Catcall

The Sealey Challenge: Washes, Prays

Noor Naga’s Washes, Prays has sat close to hand for a year now, waiting, patient, for the right day and time to be read. Today, when I expected to read something short, was that day—at least for a first read. Washes, Prays is divided into three sections: Khadija—Coocoo—gets the first (“Washes”) and the third (“Prays”), while the middle goes to her best friend, Nouf. Coocoo … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Washes, Prays

The Sealey Challenge: Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions

Janet Wong’s poetry is charming as hell, and Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions is another delightful entry—or perhaps I should say it’s a lovely book in her back catalog. Knock on Wood is built around superstitions: seventeen of them, in fact, each one with a delightful poem accompanied by a lush, warm, almost mythic illustration by Julie Paschkis. The illustrations feel pretty much perfect … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Knock on Wood: Poems About Superstitions

The Sealey Challenge: Cowboy & otros poemas / Cowboy & Other Poems

Cowboy & Other Poems, or Cowboy & otros poemas, written by Alejandro Alberrán Polanco and selected and translated by Rachel Galvin for Ugly Duckling Presse, caught my eye for the word on the cover, cowboy calling to mind all the gaucho literature I’ve ever read. (Borges’ “El Sur” made a big impression, okay? And so did “El guacho insufrible.”) I did not find any gauchos … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Cowboy & otros poemas / Cowboy & Other Poems

The Sealey Challenge: Drum Dream Girl

Today I needed poetry of triumph, of grit and determination rewarded, of strength seen and honored, and so I turned to Margarita Engle’s words and Rafael López’s illustrations in Drum Dream Girl, the Pura Belpré Award-winning poem about groundbreaking Cuban drummer Millo Castro Zaldarriaga. Engle is well-known, in kidlit, for her gorgeous work in verse: she’s written novels in verse for teens, novels in verse … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Drum Dream Girl

The Sealey Challenge: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

Almost all my friends were Asian American, when I was little—but I almost never saw them reflected in popular culture. In their homes, sure. In museums, too, at least a little. But other than woodblock prints, or Korean pottery, or Chinese jades, I didn’t see my friends or their cultures reflected in the world outside our corner. It makes books like Joanna Ho’s Eyes that … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners

The Sealey Challenge: Readings in World Literature

Srikanth Reddy’s Readings in World Literature is a strange and delightful cycle of prose poetry, or perhaps it’s poetic essays: I’m not really the expert on that. Reddy, in his acknowledgements, calls Readings “this poem,” so I think I’ll say that it is one poem, or one poem cycle, broken into thirty-three parts. Each is numbered. Some are a full page in length; others are … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Readings in World Literature

The Sealey Challenge: I Have Never Been Able to Sing

Ugly Duckling Presse calls it “an experiment in creating autobiography’s negative.” It shares something with never-have-I-ever, except without alcohol (or counting). But, most of all, Alexis Almeida’s I Have Never Been Able to Sing starts with never-have-I-evers and moves into telling the story of Almeida herself. Every poem but one starts with “I have never” before moving through an assortment of things Almeida has never … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: I Have Never Been Able to Sing

The Sealey Challenge: El lenguaje es un revólver para dos / Language Is A Revolver for Two

Mario Montalbetti’s El lenguaje es un revólver para dos, translated with grace and beauty by Clare Sullivan for Ugly Duckling Presse as Language Is A Revolver for Two, is poetry of the quotidian, small facets of the world writ large and stark and given a gloss of daily magic. A Revolver for Two sounds violent, at least to me, but there is little of violence … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: El lenguaje es un revólver para dos / Language Is A Revolver for Two

The Sealey Challenge: A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems

Janet Wong is a children’s poet (and a former labor lawyer!), and A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems was written for middle graders and up—and it is a charming, joyous book, offering a deep exploration of race and identity mingled with almost unbridled joy and a whole lot of charm. Wong’s father is Chinese American; her mother is Korean, and they met, as Wong … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems

The Sealey Challenge: The Twenty-Ninth Year

Hala Alyan’s The Twenty-Ninth Year is a story of violence. Of things broken and reforged, of identities shaped and twined, of selves broken and remade. It is dark and beautiful and haunting, poetry of womanhood and of diaspora, of longing and fear, of love and death and country after country after country, the world made small enough to fit inside a poem. Alyan is Palestinian … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: The Twenty-Ninth Year

The Sealey Challenge: Milwaukee Avenue

For three years now, Kevin Coval and Langston Allston’s collaboration Milwaukee Avenue has sat near me, daring me to unfold it and read its accordion pleats, covered in print and image, telling the story of one street, sure, but also of Chicago. Today, this fifth day of the Sealey Challenge 2021, was the day. Milwaukee Avenue tackles race and class and gentrification, home and community … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Milwaukee Avenue

The Sealey Challenge: Listen! Early Poems 1913-1918

The introduction told me that the poetry in this City Lights Pocket Poets book would surprise me, since I probably knew the poet’s work from his epics. Elaine Feinstein was right: I was definitely (wonderfully!) surprised by Listen! Early Poems 1913-1918, early poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky selected and translated from the Russian by Maria Enzensberger. I mean, I’d never even heard of Mayakovsky. I knew … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Listen! Early Poems 1913-1918

The Sealey Challenge: Deaths of the Poets

Sometimes I need something with an edge, a bite, a vicious streak. Today was one of those days, and so I read Deaths of the Poets, poetry by Kit Reed, woodblock-style illustrations by Joseph Reed. I chose Deaths of the Poets, on my last visit to the Seminary Co-Op, because it was small, and I liked the pictures. It’s eminently readable in a day. It’s … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Deaths of the Poets

The Sealey Challenge: The Shortest Day

Today was a difficult day set in a difficult week, and I turned to picture book poetry for solace: Susan Cooper’s The Shortest Day, lovingly illustrated by Carson Ellis. Cooper has written of rising darkness forced down with light for years: I first met her, and fell in love with her work, with her Dark Is Rising sequence, and I see the same play of … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: The Shortest Day

The Sealey Challenge: Soft Science

Franny Choi’s Soft Science, despite its title and its soft-colored cover, is anything but soft. It is thorny and angry and demanding, aching and vulnerable, filled with desire and defiance. Soft Science is built around the Turing Test and the concept of what makes one human and what makes on a cyborg, yet ultimately Choi tackles what it is to be human, as cyborg becomes … Continue reading The Sealey Challenge: Soft Science

performers should damn well make money when their work is streamed

When Famous Celebrity Performers, be they Beyoncé or Scarlett Johansson or someone else, sue for infringement, or demand full payment of their royalties, there’s always a bunch of unpleasant hot takes, an assortment of people insisting that those silly rich people don’t need money and should shut up and sit in a corner. I disagree, vehemently. I’m not going to go into a full accounting … Continue reading performers should damn well make money when their work is streamed

Blue Blood and the 99 Percent: La Révolution on Netflix

La Révolution is a strange beast. It’s French historical horror, and, while I’m not usually one for horror, it’s definitely my sort of show. It’s filled with violent class strife, and women striving to attain and (and maintain) power. It’s clogged with family secrets, and family lies corrode its halls. It’s exciting, generally. It’s violent as hell, blood arcing across the snow, staining walls, spattering … Continue reading Blue Blood and the 99 Percent: La Révolution on Netflix