Sunday, March 8, 2015

Review of "&NOW 3" Anthology

[The reviewer would like to thank the &NOW staff for graciously providing a complimentary copy of the ebook from which this review was written.]


           I guess the unstated goal of any well written review is to either convince or dissuade the reader from picking up and reading the book under review. And while I’ll endeavor here to write something at least mildly engaging and standard review length I’ll just let you know off the bat that you probably don’t need to read this whole review. I say this because for this book, this anthology called &NOW 3, you will undoubtedly fall into two pretty polarized camps based on one sentence. Essentially it goes like this: If the sentence ‘This book is full of lots of different really weird stuff’ gives you the sort of excited jumpy feeling around your sternum and makes you want to run out and pick it up then just go ahead and get the anthology now.
Don’t waste any time, just go out and pick it up and read it and revel in it. If you read that sentence and get a kind of ‘oh jeez’ sinking dragging sensation then I still think you should pick the anthology up (educate yourself) but I doubt anything I can say about the thing will convince you.
            These &NOW award anthologies (this being the third in the series and the second that I have read and reviewed) read like a directory for the US (and otherwise) avant-garde writing milieux. Many of the big names are represented (Cooper, Bell, Butler, Place et c.), there are a number of emerging and less well known names, as well as strong showing from some of the notable presses, and journals active including: Jaded Ibis, FC2, Noemi, The Collagist, Semiotext(e), Birkensnake, Ahsahta and so on. So not only is the &NOW anthology a great way for the reader to find new writers and works, it is a great resource for writers as well, in a way a compendium of potential markets, MFA programs, grants and awards to keep an eye on for future endeavors.
Admittedly my tastes stray toward the more mundane prose presented here and yet I’ve consistently found a number of pieces that really grab me. I suppose this is sort of the situation with the &NOW awards: nearly everyone who reads it is going to find most of the pieces are outside their range of taste, but will inevitably stumble upon at least four or five new names that are really invigorating and exciting and totally novel and worth looking for. The &NOW2 anthology alone caused me to go out and find at least five books from authors I had not read before. The importance of this cannot be overstated. This being one of the more difficult aspects of reading in the avant scene is just finding the writers you might like in an area that can come off at times as impenetrable and intimidating. This is undoubtedly one of the anthology’s greatest strengths and crippling weaknesses: there is just so much here. It is an avalanche, a deluge a jungle of seventy plus authors/collaborations/anthologies and projects. It should be noted that all the pieces were published between 2011 and 2013 which means they are fairly new, but at this point a bit outside of the bleeding edge.
This installation of the awards notably includes a solid showcase of marginalized writers in the form of selections from two anthologies: “I’ll Drown my Book: Conceptual Writing by Women.” And “Troubling the Line” a collection of trans and genderqueer writing.
            I’ve included a few entries on the pieces that really stood out to me. It should be noted that this is not a representative sample of the writing in this anthology, but just the pieces that stuck out to me.

         Amber Sparks and Robert Kloss’ “The Desert Places” Is a vast, biblical cosmic query, a rumbling, roiling conflagration of prose that cuts to the core.
         Margo Berdeshevsky’s “Square Black Key” Presents the life of a middle aged women through the objects she surrounds herself with and the memories and sensations that form her psyche.
         Anna Joy Springer’s “Variations on a Fucked up Theme: The Ruling Class Rules for Realism” An essay which is part polemic against realism, part meditation on US politics and a whole lot of other stuff. Fast paced, opinionated and vibrant.
         Marina Blitshteyn’s “Kaddish” A wordless poem, written out only in accents. What seems like just an interesting concept actually materializes into one of the best poems I have read in recent memory.
          Jayson Iwen’s “Three Polyvalent Poems” Three poems laid out in four blocks of four lines each. This provides (at least) three different ways to read each poem depending on how the lines are spliced together, each version providing a slightly different meaning, connotation, and amount of cohesion.
          Carina Finn & Stephanie Berger’s “Two Emoji Poems in Translation” Wherein a ‘poem’ is written entirely as a string of emojis by one author, then translated into English by the other author. The resulting poems are not gimmicky but clever, inventive and very engaging.
           Laura Zaylea’s “Using Basic Conjunctions: And, But, So, Or” Styled as a description and lesson on the use of the types of conjunctions with illustrations in a series of permutations on a scene of longing. This piece cleverly draws us into a story we are not expecting and mirrors the expectations, rules and infractions of relationships with the notions of literary rules.

            Janis Butler Holm from “Rabelaisian Play Station” Brilliant playful poems that pull every ounce of juice out of syllables and meter. While the words themselves tend to be playful or funny or meaningless the strict adherence to meter brings up notions of very serious classical poetry.

            Duriel Harris“No Dictionary of a Living Tongue” From the anthology “Troubling the Line” Simply powerful, jarring poems.

            James Tadd Adcox’ “Viola is Sitting on the Examination Table” Astute, muted, minimal realism.

            Johannes Helden’s “Elect” An interactive, dark prose piece using a computer as the medium.

            Alake Pilgrim’s “Blue Crabs”  A stunning prose piece about an abusive uncle, crabbing, and the life of a girl growing up in Trinidad and the fallout of events in her childhood throughout her life.

            Tom Bradley’s “Family Romance” A strange well written prose piece with crazy monster illustrations. Lots of words play, talking about a family, a pathogen and the destruction of the Amalekites.

Plus another fifty or so pieces.

The &NOW3 awards. Pick it up, it’s really cool and I guarantee you will find something new, hidden and interesting.

Look for it here.

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