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Published in: March-April 2023 issue.

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Edited by Eileen Myles
Grove Press. 672 pages, $34.


Lammy-Award-winning poet and writer Eileen Myles, whose work illuminates the sublime quotidian of everyday life, curates a global anthology with 106 contributors reclaiming the meaning of pathos—inspiring emotion and feelings. Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Simone Weil, Rumi, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jorge Luis Borges, and Victor Hugo are interspersed among lesser-known and emerging literary voices, including many queer and trans writers. Myles writes of the book: “This gathering is not so much queer as adamantly, eloquently strange, and touching, as if language itself had to pause.”

            Another criterion in her assemblage was the “undermining of normalcy.” While the luminaries provide the conceptual palimpsest for the compilation, contemporary artists realize its ambitious vision. Sex abounds with Bob Flanagan’s sadomasochist kink, Samuel Delany’s celebration of public sex, and Kevin Killian’s boyhood trysts. Death permeates Rebecca Brown’s and Robert Glück’s stories of AIDS caregiving as well as Rose Feliu-Pettet’s detailing of Allen Ginsberg’s deathbed theatrics. Trauma, addiction, and resiliency resound with Porochista Khakpour, and surrealism infuses Can Xue’s mother’s death and Dennis Cooper’s conversations with a snowman. Identity is upended through Michelle Tea’s visit to Poland, Kathy Acker’s childhood memories, Jack Halberstam’s investigation of nothingness, and Tongo Eisen-Martin’s wariness of whiteness. Emotions careen as Andrea Dworkin rages against convention, Judy Grahn ruminates on the fragility of life, Chantal Akerman converses with her elderly mother, and Layli Long Soldier conjures up the execution of 38 Dakota men. More arcane selections include Myles’ own 1991 campaign announcement for president and a play by Valerie Solanas, the women who shot Andy Warhol for refusing to produce it.

            This far-flung, idiosyncratic collection of transgressive poems, plays, and prose is laser-focused on celebrating the outsider—a resplendent affirmation of humanity.

John R. Killacky

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