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2016 Reading List

The first half of this year, I spent a lot of time reading stories by Irish writers, in preparation for my trip to Ireland. For all of that preparation, I didn’t really understand social customs any more than I would have if I went in without doing the research. But I did learn about writers I had never read before, and that was a real treat.

For me, this was the year of Anne Enright. Enright does what every writer tries to do. She shows what it feels like to have any given experience in elegant, relatable language. I picked up The Green Road because Louise Erdrich recommended Enright at a talk Erdrich was giving at Town Hall in Seattle.

The truly stunning books I read this year:

The Green Road by Anne Enright

Probably the most beautiful book I’ve ever read. The story of a family with four children, so simply, truly, and wonderfully told. The snapshots of interactions and the not quite getting it right but trying of family. I picked this book up because Louise Erdrich recommended Anne Enright at a reading. So glad I did.

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

All the strands are so subtly woven together, as I’ve come to expect from Erdrich. She deals with families, sexual assault, and other trauma with such compassion, without sparing us the reality. I love the setting during the second Iraq War – the consequences of vaulting self-righteousness.

 

The rest of the books I read this year  below run a range from truly good to tedious.

Good Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood

Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin

Chestnut Street by Maeve Binchy

The Hennessy Book of Irish Fiction 2005-2015 edited by Bolger, Dermot & Ciaran Carty

Twice Twenty-Two: Golden Apples of the Sun and A Cure for Melancholy by Ray Bradbury

Dublin Noir edited by Ken Bruen

Seattle Noir edited by Curt Colbert

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Deportees and Other Stories by Roddy Doyle

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

Brian Boru by Fin Dwyer

 

1348 – A Medieval Apocalypse, The Black Death in Ireland by Fin Dwyer

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

The Gathering by Anne Enright

TEOTFW by Charles Forsman

Sandman Overture by Neil Gaiman

Barnacle Soup and Other Stories from the West of Ireland by Josie Gray with Tess Gallagher

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

Spunk: The Selected Short Stories of Zora Neale Hurston by Zora Neale Hurston.

Home Winemaking Step by Step by Jon Iverson

Dubliners by James Joyce

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting by Milan Kundera

The Wild Girls by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ireland – Lonely Planet Guide

Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey

Bags by Patrick McHale

Over the Garden Wall by Patrick McHale

Tender by Belinda McKeon

Belfast Noir Edited by Adrian McKinty & Stuart Neville

Un Lun Dun by China Mieville

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock

The Forgotten Helper by Lorrie Moore

Half a Life by V.S. Naipaul

The Love Object by Edna O’Brien

Coming Out: Irish Gay Experiences Edited by Glen O’Brien

In Sunshine or in Shadow: Stories by Irish Women Edited by Kate Cruise O’Brien & Mary Maher

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

Filter House by Nisi Shawl

The Chimes by Anna Smaill

Clonebrews: Homebrew Recipes for 150 Commercial Beers by Mark & Tess Szamatulski

Guide to Pruning by Cass Turnbull

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I’m delighted that my flash fiction piece “Sanguinaut” is included in Discovery: QSF’s Second Annual Flash Fiction Contest, published last year. Give it a read here.

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Two of my poems, “Orpheus on the 74” and “The Resurrection Spell,” are now in the anthology Ghosts in Gaslight, Monsters in Steam: Gay City Anthology V.  Queer writers explore the meanings of monstrosity in this collaboration between Gay City Health Project and Minor Arcana Press.  I am honored to be featured alongside well-known queer writers Dorothy Allison, Evan J. Peterson, Ocean Vuong, and Imani Sims, to name a few.  You can buy a copy of the collection here.vol_5

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Chico is a cute little town in an expanse of nut groves.  Taz, the organizer of the Chico slam, did the legwork to pack out the Chico Peace and Justice Center. The space felt like home, exactly the mix of woo-woo and militance that I’m used to: prayer flags flapped across the ceiling and a sliding scale zine table at the side of the room.

I was impressed by the performance chops of the slammers. While we were waiting for the spacd to open, we met a man who was there for his very first slam. He looked down and shuffled from foot to foot when I greeted him.  On the mic, he delivered his work with conviction, and landed in third place.  

We were also blessed with the only only queer-specific poem of our whole tour.  Now, coming from Seattle, where queerness and poetry are synonymous, I was surprised by a lack of queer poems as we traveled down the coast.  The poem started “dear mom and dad. . .” and was an unapologetic coming out poem from poet Daniel Smallwood.  It was a real treat.

In so many ways, Chico was warm and welcoming.  I look forward to going back on my next tour of the West Coast.

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Berkeley slammaster Betsy Gomez and me

Berkeley slammaster Betsy Gomez and me

Coming from Seattle, where we take ourselves very seriously, the Berkeley slam was a fresh take on the playfulness of the slam.  Sevan Boult hosted, and reminded everyone to turn off our “asshole alarms,” because if our phones went off, everyone would know we were assholes.  The word of the day was homunculus, and throughout the night, poets substituted the word in their poems.  In the second round, when the audience response was waning, Sevan punished the audience by reading us Suzanne Somers’ poetry.  The spirit of the Berkeley slam reminds me that the slam is a gimmick to get people to listen to poetry, and it’s supposed to be fun!

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Teaching Kevin Holmes to dance, getting photobombed

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Sacramento Poetry Center organizer Emmanuel Sigauke and me

Sacramento is a sweet little town, the walnut-sized capitol controlling the Californian Brontosaurus   All the roads meet at right angles.  If you’re at the corner of N and 2nd, you know exactly how far you have to walk to get to Q and 10th.  Before the show, I updated facespace at Naked Lounge, a hip cafe staffed by cockatoo-haired baristas.

The Sacramento Poetry Center kindly agreed to host a reading for Casey and me on very short notice.  Before I arrived, I was a bit intimidated.  I  imagined the center as an arts mansion with floor to ceiling windows overlooking a grand estate  filled.  I planned more form poems for my set than usual, because I thought it would be closer to an academic poetry crowd.

In actuality, the center was nestled in an arts strip mall, a down to earth space about the size of a master bedroom.  The audience was small but attentive.  Local poet David Iribarne agreed on the spot to open the show with two deeply personal poems.  Contrary to my fears, funny pieces and pop culture critiques went over well.   I will definitely book the center the next time I tour the West Coast.

 

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me and Janae Million

A Solo cup in every hand, the audience was hyped at the Smashing Slam at a house in Santa Cruz.  The back porch was the stage, with the audience cloaked in real or beer jackets to keep warm in the yard. I opened with my loudest poem, and the chatter cleared, giving way to rapt attention.  After Casey and I performed, a  two round slam with fifteen competitors lasted until well after midnight.  After all that, I expected everyone to disperse, but much of the audience stuck around, trading poems, and listening.  This was the show where I noticed a marked change in performance.  The challenge of the loud crowd forced me to bring the energy up to where they were.

I owe this great experience to Janae Million, the organizer for the show.  I met Janae when she traveled through Seattle, and happened to be staying at my house on a night of a poetry performance.  I mentioned offhandedly that I didn’t have a show booked for Santa Cruz yet, and so Janae set up an entire slam, with opening band Copacetic, to bring us to town.  The audience had an unparalleled amount of energy, and so many people talked to us after the show.  Many thanks for the kindness and time and energy Janae and her housemates put into setting this up.

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