Review: Insomnia by John Kinsella

Book by JOHN KINSELLA
Review by NICHOLAS BIRNS

Cover of Insomnia by John Kinsella

Insomnia, the latest of the many volumes of poetry John Kinsella has published, is one of his strongest collections of the past decade. Kinsella is an Australian poet, now in his late fifties, who is at once one of the most widely recognized figures in contemporary poetry yet still too little known in some literary quarters. He is abundantly and buoyantly prolific, both on his own and with collaborators of many backgrounds and affiliations. He is at once committed to experimental, avant-garde styles and to a decolonizing, anti-racist, in his words ‘vegan anarchist’ politics. There is a third commitment that nestles aside these two, although less trumpeted: a participation in a lyric tradition and a lyric kind of ‘truth,’ the manifold, irreducible, unformalizable sort of truth Goethe (who would have enjoyed the poems in Insomnia placed in Tübingen) imagined when he spoke of Dichtung und Wahrheit (poetry and truth).

Review: Insomnia by John Kinsella
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Phosphorescence Reading Series: Poets from The Common

Phosphorescence Reading Series Banner With Poets' Headshots.

Join the Emily Dickinson Museum and The Common on September 23rd at 6PM EDT for the Phosphorescence Poetry Reading Series, celebrating present-day literary craft that echoes Emily Dickinson’s revolutionary voice. This reading features Elizabeth Metzger, Chloe Martinez, Rodney A. Brown, and Moriel Rothman-Zecher, all of whose work has been published in The Common.

This event is part of the Tell It Slant Poetry Festival, which brings together contemporary creativity of the Pioneer Valley and Dickinson’s legendary writing. This fully virtual festival, running September 20th – 26th, will feature panels, readings, and masterclasses. All of these events are free and open to the public, but registration is required to access the links. Please register here.

Click Here to Register

Phosphorescence Reading Series: Poets from The Common
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Birds, Language, and the Desire for Repair: An Interview with Sara Elkamel

SASHA BURSHTEYN interviews SARA ELKAMEL 

Sara elkamel

Poet and journalist Sara Elkamel is currently pursuing an MFA at New York University, dividing her time between Cairo and New York City. Her work can be found in several literary magazines including the Los Angeles Review and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her most recent work is a chapbook, Field of No Justice, published as part of Akashic Books’ African Poetry Book Fund.

Birds, Language, and the Desire for Repair: An Interview with Sara Elkamel
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Report Card

By NINA KOSSMAN

Nina Kossman is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

Nina Kossman’s Family Dictionary of the Twentieth Century is a lyrical, panoramic exploration of a family tree shaped by the cataclysms of history. In this assemblage of memories, Kossman exhumes displaced, forgotten, and buried family stories in order to make whole what has been scattered and destroyed by Nazism and Stalinism, while also attempting, through her devotion to her Russian émigré parents, to keep whole the family that still lives. In the tradition of W. S. Sebald, Nina Berberova, and Natalia Ginzburg, Kossman probes questions of “outsider”-ness within one’s own immigrant communities and friendships, plumbs the subconscious, and maps the incomprehensible scale of twentieth-century events and the intimate inheritance of its traumas. These vignettes in Family Dictionary of the Twentieth Century—these entries—build to an immensely moving conclusion about what it means to be the carrier and keeper of a family’s history.

 

Photograph of an old document

Some 14 years ago I wrote to the Latvian archives, asking them to send me anything they could find on my family, and after several months of waiting, I got more than I had expected. Among many other things, I received my father’s report card from his German high school, Statdtische Deutsches Gymnasium zu Riga, for the year 1929. Apparently, this was not the best school year in my young father’s life, as we can see from his grades on this handwritten report card. Compared to the grades he received in elementary school, where he had been considered one of the best students, “genugend” (satisfactory), the grade he got in almost all subjects in 1929, was seen as a “bad grade”.

Report Card
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Excerpt from Endangered Animals

 BY LISA LEE HERRICK

Lisa Lee Herrick is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

The illuminating essays in Lisa Lee Herrick’s Endangered Animals describe contemporary Hmong American culture and community with journalistic vigor and a keen sensitivity. With great authority, Herrick interrogates what is lost in personal, ancestral, and cosmic terms when a family leaves the homeland that holds their history, their forebears, their mythologies. Displaying a deeply felt sense for the customs, rituals, and folkways that re-evoke left-behind terrain, she conjures it anew amidst the unfamiliar realities of immigrant life. How do we maintain a diasporic culture? How can we uphold and bolster the spirit in the face of war, migration, and forced adaptation and erasure? These essays of startling range and vision provide new ways of thinking about these essential quandaries of our age.

This excerpt is adapted from an essay originally published by Emergence, which was included in Best American Essays 2021.

 

Days before California governor Gavin Newsom mandated the statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, 2020, which effectively paused all nonessential economic activity and travel for nearly forty million residents, a Facebook post from a publishing acquaintance popped up in my news feed. His collage of photos and videos were taken, he claimed, during a past trip to China years ago, and they caught my eye because they featured an array of skewers arranged in neat, vertical piles—including grubs and scorpions—heaping piles of brown foods garnished with chopped scallions, and a balding, middle-aged Chinese man, lips pursed, clearly enjoying his meal. Above it, my acquaintance wrote: A few photos/videos from a “live animal market.” Any questions? I held my breath, watching the flurry of gray ellipses begin to dance in the comments.

Excerpt from Endangered Animals
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Read Excerpts by the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing 2021 Finalists

The ethos of the modern world is defined by immigrants. Their stories have always been an essential component of our cultural consciousness, from Isaac Bashevis Singer to Isabel Allende, from Milan Kundera to Maxine Hong Kingston. In novels, short stories, memoirs, and works of journalism, immigrants have shown us what resilience and dedication we’re capable of, and have expanded our sense of what it means to be global citizens. In these times of intense xenophobia, it is more important than ever that these boundary-crossing stories reach the broadest possible audience.

Now in its sixth year, the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing supports the voices of immigrant writers whose works straddle cultural divides, embrace the multicultural makeup of our society, and interrogate questions of identity in a global society. This prize awards $10,000 and publication with Restless Books to a writer who has produced a work that addresses the effects of global migration on identity. This year’s judges, Francisco Cantú, Shuchi Saraswat, and Ilan Stavans, have selected the below four finalists. Click on the links in each section to read excerpts from their books.

 

Drifts by Natasha Burge

Headshot of Natasha Burge

A strikingly original exploration of autism and psychogeography, Natasha Burge’s Drifts takes us through the souks, caves, and sands of the Arabian Gulf to create a loving and sensorial meditation on place and transcultural identity. In gorgeous poetic prose, Burge probes her unfurling awareness of autism, connecting seemingly tangential thoughts and wanderings with the anchored histories of the Arabian Gulf. The scenic and descriptive power of Burge’s writing is remarkable, bringing to life vivid landscapes, city streets and markets, desert sunsets, and unseen waters flowing beneath the earth.

Read the excerpt.

 

By Its Right Name by Ani Gjika

Headshot of Ani Gjika

By Its Right Name is a courageous and profoundly intimate story of recognizing and reclaiming the power of one’s sexuality. Ani Gjika intricately reconstructs her personal history in America, Albania, and beyond, naming traumas that often remain unspoken. By Its Right Name is a different kind of immigrant story, one that demands that we consider the specific, insidious ways that patriarchy controls a woman’s relationship to desire and sex, as well as to her body, mind, and expression. With a poet’s ear, Gjika finds language for confronting patriarchy, misogyny, and the male gaze on the most intimate of terms, ultimately revealing the transformational power of self-discovery through the written word.

Read the excerpt.

 

Endangered Animals by Lisa Lee Herrick

Headshot of Lisa Lee Herrick

The illuminating essays in Lisa Lee Herrick’s Endangered Animals describe contemporary Hmong American culture and community with journalistic vigor and a keen sensitivity to the lack of literature by Hmong Americans. With great authority, Herrick interrogates what is lost in personal, ancestral, and cosmic terms when a family leaves the homeland that holds their history, their forebears, their mythologies. Displaying a deeply felt sense for the customs, rituals, and folkways that re-evoke left-behind terrain, she conjures it anew amidst the unfamiliar realities of immigrant life. How do we maintain a diasporic culture? How can we uphold and bolster the spirit in the face of war, migration, and forced adaptation and erasure? These essays of startling range and vision provide new ways of thinking about these essential quandaries of our age.

Read the excerpt.

 

Family Dictionary of the Twentieth Century by Nina Kossman

Headshot of Nina Kossman

Nina Kossman’s Family Dictionary of the Twentieth Century is a deeply lyrical, panoramic exploration of a family tree shaped by the cataclysms of history. In this assemblage of memories, Kossman exhumes displaced, forgotten, and buried family stories in order to make whole what has been scattered and destroyed by Nazism and Stalinism, while also attempting, through her devotion to her Russian émigré parents, to keep whole the family that still lives. In the tradition of W. S. Sebald, Nina Berberova, and Natalia Ginzburg, Kossman probes questions of “outsider”-ness within one’s own immigrant communities and friendships, plumbs the subconscious, and maps the incomprehensible scale of twentieth-century events and the intimate inheritance of its traumas. These vignettes in Family Dictionary of the Twentieth Century—these entries—build to an immensely moving conclusion about what it means to be the carrier and keeper of a family’s history.

Read the excerpt.

Read Excerpts by the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing 2021 Finalists
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Excerpt from Drifts

By NATASHA BURGE

Natasha Burge is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

A strikingly original exploration of autism and psychogeography, Natasha Burge’s Drifts takes us through the souks, caves, and sands of the Arabian Gulf to create a loving and sensorial meditation on place and transcultural identity. In gorgeous poetic prose, Burge probes her unfurling awareness of autism, connecting seemingly tangential thoughts and wanderings with the anchored histories of the Arabian Gulf. The scenic and descriptive power of Burge’s writing is remarkable, bringing to life vivid landscapes, city streets and markets, desert sunsets, and unseen waters flowing beneath the earth.

The following excerpt includes material originally published by The Smart Set.

 

Preface

An editor suggests I write about being an alien. This word I like, with its superabundance of meaning. It reminds me of visa stamps crowding an already full passport, of space shuttles and star dust and loneliness. It rings true.

Excerpt from Drifts
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Excerpt from By It’s Right Name

By ANI GJIKA

Ani Gjika is a finalist for the Restless Books Prize for New Immigrant Writing.

By Its Right Name is a courageous and profoundly intimate story of recognizing and reclaiming the power of one’s sexuality. Ani Gjika intricately reconstructs her personal history in America, Albania, and beyond, naming traumas that often remain unspoken. By Its Right Name is a different kind of immigrant story, one that demands that we consider the specific, insidious ways that patriarchy controls a woman’s relationship to desire and sex, as well as to her body, mind, and expression. With a poet’s ear, Gjika finds language for confronting patriarchy, misogyny, and the male gaze on the most intimate of terms, ultimately revealing the transformational power of self-discovery through the written word.

 

Sometimes there’s a father I wish I had. He picks me up at school high-fiving me just as I run out the door into the schoolyard.

“How was it?” he asks. “How’d you do in the exam?”

“I nailed it!” I say, all joy and pride around my father.

“Didn’t I tell you?” he says. “If you put in the work, you can do anything.”

Excerpt from By It’s Right Name
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Bat Season in Austin

BY SARAH GIRAGOSIAN

Bat

Austin, TX

The warm May evening fairly sizzled with bats. Out from under the crannies of Congress Avenue Bridge, Mexican free-tailed bats slipped out in threes, then tens, then hundreds, and flooded the Austin night, sipping from the skies tens of thousands of pounds of insects, as they did every spring and summer night. I felt at once the tickling of wings behind my ears and began shivering uncontrollably. No, fortunately not a bat—just the flick of a stranger’s ponytail at the back of my neck. But the shivery feeling remained; that contact with a stranger was a switch point in my mind. Any kind of creature, wonderful or mundane, slinked in the nooks and crannies of the city celebrated for its weirdness.

Bat Season in Austin
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Excerpt: The Abduction

By BASMA ABDEL AZIZ

Translated by JONATHAN WRIGHT

 

They came at four o’clock in the morning and I was too sleepy to get out of the way in time. They trampled on the big trash bin and planted their heavy boots on the mass of bodies. My hand was crushed under someone’s boot, along with Emad’s arm. I gasped silently. Then someone started lifting my leg, which was stuck under Youssef’s stomach, and then my body too. I clung on to Youssef’s clothes, but the hand lifting me was much too strong for me. I suddenly found my head swinging through the air. I stiffened my neck to try to control it, but it was no use. I couldn’t make out where the voice giving orders was coming from but it was definitely from above.

Excerpt: The Abduction
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