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Small Press Books to Watch in 2014 (AWP edition)

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My first AWP conference (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) is over, and never have I been in a nicer group of people. Writers, writing teachers and people who work for small presses are a supportive bunch, wearers of cozy scarves, attractive little glasses and a refreshing amount of non-fashion denim. They openly encourage journal submissions, an experience so unusual as to be disorienting.

There were a few big stars -- late on Saturday, Hawthorne Books' stall was littered with the discarded modesty panel that covers the naked breast on the cover of Lidia Yuknavitch's The Chronology of Water, which sold out. Emergency Press also had a last copy of Kate Zambreno's Green Girl, which is becoming a collector's item, since the book will be re-released later this year by Harper Perennial.

Here's what caught my eye:

Tom Spanbauer, I Loved You More, Hawthorne Books and Literary Arts, April, 2014

Spanbauer is in the Lidia Yuknavitch gang of Portland writers, and two previous books The Man Who Fell in Love With the Moon, about the American West and  In The City of Shy Hunters, about the early AIDS crisis, have a passionate cult following.  His writing has been described as pansexual and myth- and genre-defining.

Megan Milks, Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, Emergency Press, March 4, 2014

I read the title story of this totally awesome experimental collection last night, drunk before bed, and fell in love. The premise of the story, which writes middle-school like a violent video game, sounds much flatter than the execution, which is full of throbbing hearts in plates of brownies, rope swings, jet-packs, sarcastic chime usages and successive deaths and resurrections of the main character. The key is to live hugely into every second of the cleverness, using the synthetic-reality premise to amplify the true and real, and that's just what Milks does.

Hilda Hilst, Letters From a Seducer, Nightboat and A Bolha, February 2014

I will buy anything blurbed by Samuel R. Delaney, especially the first English translation of a groundbreaking 1991 work by a Brazilian "porno-chic" author, that's like Kirkegaard meets the Marquis De Sade. The first line is, "How to think about pleasure wrapped up in this crap?" Let the sex-and-language games begin.

Lee Klein, The Shimmering Go-Between, Atticus Books, August, 2014

The title of this novel is taken from a Nabokov quotation, and the teenage protagonist's name is Dolores, like Lolita. I am prepared for something experimental and strange about desire and its objects.

Matthew Burgess, Slippers for Elsewhere (poems), UpSet Press, January 2014

Light, dashingly and deceptively casual poems on growing up gay, among other things. The book is short and conversational, but unravels in marvelous directions. Here's a long, wonderful, review from The Tottenville Review.

Gleb Shulpyakov, A Fireproof Box (Poems), Canarium Books, 2011

I'm intrigued by the idea of the huge, cold, raging city of Moscow as "A Fireproof Box," as the title of this collection from a new Russian poet  indicates. (Shulpyakov's second book, Letters to Yakub, is forthcoming in April, 2014.) Also, Hong Kong-based translator Christopher Mattison graduated from Iowa in literary translation and is a small-press big deal.

Sarah Faulkner, Animal Sanctuary, Starcherone, 2011
This 2011 book was the Starcherone table's recommendation for me after lengthy discussion, and is a non-traditional meditation on art and sanctuary, through the lens of some Hollywood noir.

Poe Ballentine, Things I Like About America, Hawthorne Press, 2002

These autobiographical reflections on life as a modern-day drifter aren't Poe Ballentine's new book -- that one is called Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, and has an intro by Cheryl Strayed -- but it was the most beloved of a friend.