emma aylor

DANCING IN ODESSA by Ilya Kaminsky

When I finished Dancing in Odessa, having read it in one little gasping string of sheet, it was 3AM in August. I didn’t know what to do but stay awake and let the hunger seep honey-wise; wanted to keep that feeling in the night, as I’d read it, belly-bruising and behind my eyes. I wanted dawn to come before I had stopped whirring. It was being socked with love, socketed, electric, down my tailbone and knees over and over like gathered horsehair brushing. As he writes, “It feels like burning / and singing about burning.”

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THE GREAT FIRES by Jack Gilbert

I spent a week this November mourning a man I never met. My notebook, those days, reads seismographically with the pits and spikes of my underkept grief. November 13, afternoon in the coffee shop—Just learned that Jack Gilbert has died at 87 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I want to cry or scream or live him again, put him back in my body. And then I can’t breathe. The long black hair tangled in the dirt.

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ANAGRAMS by Lorrie Moore

It feels important that I read Anagrams in January. For me, seasonal-affective and hyper aware of holidays’ end, it was a month to contemplate possible lives. The month in retrospect feels made entirely of my commute to and from work. Something about that public transit experience—the tender walls each person made, the silence of a D.C. Metro car filled entirely with 9-to-5ers, the quiet cracking of ice under a thin film of snow. All the gray skies.

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NO OBJECT by Natalie Shapero

I drank No Object on the F train, going home from work after midnight—waiting in the swampy interior, shuffling onto the cold lit train, watching the eyes across from me slowly dropping in sleep. There is a violence, a wreck, to Shapero’s work that juxtaposed itself with the bobbing sleep of the car; it is a book that is fundamentally outside, one which felt more like the dark sway of my aboveground stop than the quiet breathing inside.

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PILGRIM AT TINKER CREEK by Annie Dillard

I’ve always shied away from writing my mother’s name as I speak it. Mama, I say in life; more Momma in the Blue Ridge Virginian way. But writing Mama in nonfiction carries a weight. Written it looks like a rote regionalism, a mistruth established to portray a place in the world. As a teenager I hardly said it at all in front of others, friends who used the suburb-preferred Mom. Now I am glad for it; a different name, a distinction.

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WHAT IS AMAZING by Heather Christle

Heather Christle’s poems are either a gathering or a leaving; either the tailored cotton skirt wrapped in paper or your aunt’s loosely-knit and moth-bitten blanket; either what is hummed or something claimed; her poems are all of these. Their contents are itemized, browsed-over—a curio cabinet with little drawers, a gridded wicker box filled with hollowed birds’ eggs.

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1996 by Sara Peters

This is what I wrote in my notebook as I read Sara Peters’ brilliant 1996. Somehow the notes I made, spaced and toothed like Peters’ own work, lean at a tweezered precision I can’t quite get at in prose. These chevrons pointing right up my arms, separated by Peters’ parts, cool metals on the corners of the insides of my elbows.

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