Tag Archives: Book Reviews

First Gin Editor’s Blog of the Fall: Sally Jane Smith

The Bombay Gin editorial staff is pumped.  We’re currently buried by the most glorious mountain of all: piles of submissions for issue 39.1: The Contemplative as Transgressive.  Thanks to everyone who wrote and submitted work for consideration in this issue.  It’s an honor to be an editor of Bombay Gin, and a beautiful opportunity to swim in the avalanche of your words.

So, Gin lovers, in honor of this issue’s theme, I’d like to make my blog debut by sharing my conception of contemplative poetics.

Contemplative poetics is a classroom in the Lincoln building with meditation cushions.  Contemplative poetics is Reed Bye ringing a quiet golden bell.  Graduate school in socks. It is Dharma Art, which is, according to Naropa University founder Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, “appreciating the nature of things as they are and expressing it without any struggle of thoughts or fears.” Or, according to Naropa professor and life poet Reed Bye, “what it is.”

Contemplative poetics is clearing the mind and standing in a circle to recite spontaneous poetry.  Abandoning the ego and giving up on designing a poem: simply giving voice to the poetics that arises.  Admitting that my thoughts are not gems to collect with nets and pens.

My writing process: never carry pens in pockets.  Meditate with open eyes every day.  Carry a backpack full of rocks and keep notebooks filled with fall leaves instead of paper.  Dip self in ink and then shower, and only record the ink that is left pooled around eyes.  Forget poetry when breathing, never look for words in the stream.  Be in the stream. Dream of the time before the vowel shift and practice saying those vowels. Read everyone else’s poems out loud.  Only then, write poems and edit them out loud in empty rooms.

icy juniper

tonic marginalia—

breathe between covers.

Thanks for reading.

And, finally, some New News:

In addition to working hard on our upcoming issue, our beloved editor-in-chief J’Lyn Chapman has taken us to an important milestone in archiving: every book review from past Gins is available now on the Naropa website: http://www.naropa.edu/academics/jks/bombay-gin/previous-issues/index.php.  Check out this incredible resource.

-Sally Jane

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Gérard Gavarry’s Making a Novel

Below, you will find an excerpt from Denise Kinsley’s review of Gérard Gavarry’s Making a Novel. It is especially nice to get to work with Denise as I don’t get to see her much during the school year. Denise is a student in the Jack Kerouac low-residency program and lives on the coast of southern California. She’s working on a collection of short stories now, but she’s already published a book of poems, won an award from the NEA, and received a certificate from The New York Film Academy where she wrote, produced, and directed three short films.

Please also check out Gavarry’s Making a Novel and Hoppla! 1 2 3, both of which are published by the wonderful Dalkey Archive.

Making a Novel explores Gavarry’s revolutionary approach to language in Hoppla! 1 2 3. He takes three objects for his novel—a coconut palm tree, a cargo ship, and the centaur—and creates entire worlds around them. With these in mind, Gavarry then uses the deuterocanonical Book of Judith as a frame, writing the story of this biblical heroine from the perspective of an adolescent male character named Ti-Jus. Well versed in etymology, the scientific understanding of things, words and proper names issued from ancient Greece, Gavarry applies his knowledge to create new jargon and description for his novel Hoppla!. For example, in the first “panel” of the triptych, Gavarry uses the scientific name for the coconut palm, coco nucifera, and its flower, spadice, as the root for slang when one of Ti-Jus’ teenaged friends expresses annoyance as he tries to open a door while the train is moving, “What the Nucifera!” Another youth replies mockingly, “Spadices, dude, spadices!” Gavarry explains:

 This language is a jargon of sorts, or something resembling jargon. Understood only by insiders, it comprises various borrowings, distortions, and wordplay, all having some connection to the coconut palm.

 Together with language, art, myth (personal or historical) and memory, Gevarry shows us that the possibilities are endless when writing a novel, and the most fascinating parts are the discoveries (from either accidents or the subconscious) the writer makes along the way. Making a Novel presents different ways to look at language, history and synchronicity. Gevarry refers to the synchronic events as “pleasant surprises”:

The times when suddenly a writer discovers that the hand of fate has worked in his favor. Or at least, this is his impression when, upon rereading his text for the umpteenth time, he suddenly apprehends an unexpected meaning or connotation, a stubborn echo of his own personal story, or a resurgence of some implicit theme he believed to have buried deep in the subtext; and likewise, while doing some research, he comes across a word he never knew existed, but which he immediately recognizes as the one he needed to complete a certain sentence.

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Omar Pérez’s Did You Hear About the Fighting Cat?

J’Lyn here. As editor-in-chief, I work with Bombay Gin book reviewers closely, usually over the course of three or four drafts. Below, you will find a little teaser from Kelly Alsup’s delightful review of Omar Pérez’s Did You Hear About the Fighting Cat?, which you can find in Bombay Gin 38.1. Kelly is a graduate of the Jack Kerouac School and a dear friend, who I am so happy has stuck around after graduating to be an important part of the Boulder community.

You can buy Pérez’s book through Small Press Distribution, and the publisher, Shearsman Books, also offers a downloadable sample.

So, to exist with both desire and its limitation is not to fight to the death so much as to keep the suppleness—that, in the daylight, sleeks its contours constant and fleetingly—alive through its dimmer, or darker, hours, striking the match newly each time. The alertness to the flashing or shuddering moment that the fighting cat carries in the world is the wakefulness to “transience” and “variance in voltage” that stirs in these poems. It is the presence and everydayness of Zen that accepts conflict as much as it dissolves it. This wisdom, then, answers Pérez’s own question, posed earlier in the collection:

With the wood from this tree, coffin

with the wood from the coffin, pyre

on the pyre man grows toward zero

so what do we do now?

“Sustain / Sustain them / you sustain them.” What “grows toward zero” is

embryo moving always toward victory

down the alley with no exit to eternity

At the end a boy!

And you do not abandon the boy. The tomcat, Love, lichen. To learn to blink—a way of maintaining alertness or even relax into sleep—is to learn to stop abandoning the moment to fear, fantasy, distraction. A primary founder of American Zen, Shunryu Suzuki, reminds: “Moment after moment to watch your breathing, to watch your posture, is true nature.”

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Jenny Boully goodness at AWP

I was first introduced to Jenny Boully’s not merely because of the unknown that was stalking toward them through a book club I joined with several other Naropa MFA students. We met over a “Peter Pan” themed potluck (a somewhat baffling concept; I brought ginger snap cookies, though I am still unsure if that was an appropriate choice), and what followed was one of our best book club conversations to date. There is so much about this text — the syntax, the format, the unnerving retelling of a story that once was so comforting — that inspires discussion and exchange. This is a book you want to talk about as soon as you finish reading it, which is why it seemed completely fitting for Brenna Lee to review it for our latest issue.

The most lingering topic of our book club conversation was Boully’s use of form, and how we as readers were meant to follow it. Each of us developed our own technique to navigate through the two narratives which press against each other throughout the entirety of the book. There did not seem to us to be a definitive “way” to read it, but we still wondered if we were missing Boully’s intention of direction.

Perhaps this is your chance to find out for me? This week, I remain in Boulder while many of you stalk toward that delicious Neverland that is the AWP Conference. All you lucky ducks in Chicago should check out one of Jenny Boully’s events, and if she happens to mention anything about the process or technique of reading this particular text, please report it back to me by leaving a comment below. And while you’re roaming around conference land, be sure to stop by the Bombay Gin table and snag a copy of our just-released issue. Happy AWP, lovely writers and readers. Can’t wait to hear all about it!

Jade Lascelles

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Breaking Down the Walls: Margaret Randall’s Writing as Activism

In all ways, it is my pleasure to work with Diana K. McLean, whose review of Margaret Randall’s Ruins and First Laugh: Essays 2000-2009 are included in the latest issue of Bombay Gin. Diana is a graduate of the Jack Kerouac School’s low-residency MFA program and now serves as the Administrative Specialist for the Jack Kerouac School. She is the founder of Poetic Justice, a forum for social justice writing. I asked Diana to write a short reflection on her interest in Margaret Randall’s work. Please enjoy.—J’Lyn Chapman

I first encountered Margaret Randall at Naropa University’s Summer Writing Program in June 2008. It was my first week on campus as a student, and she delivered a lecture.

She was introduced as a feminist writer, poet, oral historian, teacher and activist who “unearths cities of language and vessels of memory.”

That was enough to captivate me, and the lecture didn’t disappoint. Here are just a few of the notes I took, scribbling as fast I could to get down the ideas that spoke to me most powerfully:

“Silencing itself is weapon and wall.”

“decimate walls of forgetting”

“propel us to write for change”

“awaken those who read and hear to the annihilation that threatens”

“We must weave our work from sense and memory.”

“It is not too late to ask the next question, challenge the answer…”

“A poetry of life and change need not be concerned with a particular subject matter. That would be propaganda.”

She talked about cultural walls, like the arbitrary walls of maps created by conquerors, and more intimate walls within families, social and religious settings, and said, “the same courageous voice may pierce them both.”

“Where does that authentic voice come from? Always from the other side of the wall.”

In Margaret’s lecture and her work, I found affirmation of my desire to be a writer whose words make a difference. In contrast to the voices challenging this idea, telling me it was naive (or heavy-handed) to attempt to use poetry to effect social change, here was this prolific writer talking about doing just that. (Clearly the blend of activism and writing hasn’t kept Margaret from being published: her website says she has over eighty published books to her name. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s ninety or more by now.)

Three years after that lecture, in my first month on campus as an employee, Margaret was again at the SWP, and I was asked to introduce her at her lecture. Of course I said yes. This time, her presentation was largely a slideshow of some of her photography, which she also uses to break down walls and try to create change. She talked about how she is a writer first and then a photographer, but clearly “activist” is a strong part of the mix, too.

Not long after last summer’s lecture, I volunteered to review two of her books, Ruins and First Laugh: Essays 2000-2009, for Bombay Gin. The chance to delve into her work in this way was a treat. Again I found that, as Jack Collom once commented to me, Margaret conveys important messages without sacrificing the art of her lines for that message. This is a balance many writers strive for, and far fewer achieve. Seeing it done so consistently and skillfully is both reassuring and intimidating: she proves it can be done, but she also sets a high bar for those of us who want to achieve that same balance.

Margaret will be back at SWP again this summer, and I can’t wait to be inspired by her again.
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Buy Books on Cyber Monday

As Editor-in-Chief, I have the pleasure of also editing Bombay Gin’s book review section. I have to admit that this is one of my favorite duties as editor. I get to work closely with reviewers, most of whom are JKS students writing their first reviews. The process tends to be long, but the payoff is quite satisfying: not only do JKS students get some publishing credit and the gratification of finishing a project, poets and writers also benefit by having their books reviewed.

In our next issue, you will find the following reviews, and, since you are very likely to cyber shop during work today, go ahead and buy these books. We can guarantee your money will be well spent:

Jenny Boully, Not Merely Because of the Unknown that was Stalking Toward Them, Reviewed by Brenna Lee

Gérard Gavarry, Making a Novel, Reviewed by Denise Kinsley

Kirsten Kaschock, Sleight: A Novel, Reviewed by Kristen Park

Omar Pérez, Did You Hear About the Fighting Cat?, Reviewed by Kelly Alsup

Margaret Randall, Ruins and First Laugh: Essays 2000-2009, Reviewed by Diana K. McLean

Kate Zambreno, Green Girl, Reviewed by Heather Goodrich

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