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Author Archive: "Chris Faatz"

Four Poetry Books You Can’t Live Without

It's been a while since I've had the pleasure — or the time — to write for the Powell's blog, so I thought I'd dip my toe into something I really love: a roundup of a few of the best poetry books I've read in the last year. This list, of course, is by no means exhaustive, and I'm sure that every reader will come up with a whole slew of different titles. If you know a book or an author I missed, by all means, let me know — I'll be eternally grateful.

Okay, here we go...

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The first book on my list came out at the end of last year and immediately stole my heart. You may know it already, but if you don't, you should definitely, by hook or by crook, pick it up. It is Patti Smith's Woolgathering (New Directions), a slim little volume that flawlessly weaves her melodic, hypnotic voice into a mesmerizing memoir.

Originally published as one of the legendary Hanuman Books (a series of tiny little books, mostly written by Beats and their hangers-on, that was inexpensively published ...

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: The Powells.com Interview

Jetsunma Tenzin PalmoJetsunma Tenzin Palmo is a remarkable human being. One of the first western women to be ordained into a Tibetan Buddhist monastic lineage (in the early 1960s), she's been a dedicated and inspiring practitioner ever since, even going so far as to spend 13 years in retreat in a cave in the Himalayas. Today, Tenzin Palmo lends her not inconsiderable moral authority to a burgeoning women's monastery in Nepal, touring the world to give teachings and spreading the Dharma far and wide. Powell's Chris Faatz caught up with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo in late May for the following interview.

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Chris Faatz: First of all, I'd like to ask you about your title, Jetsunma.

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: There's no real equivalent in English. It means something like "Venerable Master." It was conferred on me by His Holiness the 12th Gwalyang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa lineage, because he wanted to promote women. He himself is very involved in raising the status of women as much as he can. For example, he lives in his nunnery, not in his monastery. He therefore wanted to show his appreciation of the feminine.

Chris: That's wonderful.

Palmo: Yes, it ...

Horoscopes for the Dead: Poems

Billy Collins is America's poet. Funny, evocative, and subtly wise, he etches a new word in our hearts. Former Poet Laureate of the United States and frequent guest on National Public Radio, he may be our most prolific and energetic champion of poetry. Dana Gioia once famously asked, "Can Poetry Matter?" Collins, both in his own work and in the generosity he shows to others, proves that it can.

Donald Lopez: The Powells.com Interview

Donald Lopez is the Arthur E. Link Distinguished University Professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan. He currently serves as chair of the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures and as chair of the Michigan Society of Fellows. His books include Elaborations on Emptiness; Prisoners of Shangri-La; The Story of Buddhism; The Madman's Middle Way; Buddhism and Science; and In the Forest of Faded Wisdom. His edited volumes include Buddhist Hermeneutics; Buddhism in Practice; Religions of Tibet in Practice; Curators of the Buddha; Buddhist Scriptures; and Critical Terms for the Study of Buddhism. In 2000 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Chris Faatz: Professor Lopez, you've just written a book entitled The Tibetan Book of the Dead: A Biography as ...

PM Press Interview

Ramsey Kanaan is the co-founder of PM Press, one of the most interesting small publishers in the business today. Powell's Chris Faatz caught up with him this past month and asked him a few questions.

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Chris Faatz: Ramsey, what are the origins of PM Press? I understand you were one of the founders of AK Press. Could you speak a little about that experience, and how it influenced the founding of PM?

Ramsey Kanaan: For my sins, I am/was indeed the founder of AK. AK is actually named after my mother — Ann Kanaan — though I often used to tell folks me mother was named Kalashnikov. I spent the best part of three decades (I started young — 13) with AK, and when it became more than just me, we set it up as a workers' co-op in the U.K. So pretty much everything I've learned about publishing, distribution, propaganda, writing, editing, co-operative work, running a business, etc., etc., was all done through the rubric of AK.

Most of it was invented as we went along. I'm very proud of what we did with/at AK — and PM was started by me and another AKer, Craig O'Hara. We're now lucky to be able to do even more with PM. Same ends, similar means, just taking in a wider scope of formats, genres, and platforms, to get the ideas out there, and hopefully, folks interacting with them.

Faatz: It's pretty apparent from perusing your catalog and the books you've already published that you operate from a radical, left libertarian, even anarchist perspective. What kind of a market do you find for that kind of material?

Kanaan: Well, there's the market that already exists — largely what is left of "the movement" (however defined) from the '60s, and then the later generations of younger activists, who came up through punk, the alter-globalization movement, and suchlike. The challenge, I think, has always been not only to better inform 'the movement', but to figure out how to get the ideas across to everyone else. In effect, how do we actively contribute to building a movement (however defined) which is genuinely going to take on Capital and the state.

There's no one "correct" path. In terms of ideas, we're exploring all aspects of art, culture, genre fiction, music, video, academic texts, and inspirational manifestos to get the words and sounds and visuals across... and hopefully, to build an audience.

Faatz: Just briefly, how do you define anarchism or left libertarianism for those who are curious?

Kanaan: It'd depend on the audience, of course. To those not well versed in political theory (or practice), I'd define anarchism as the rather common-sense notion that folks are best able to organize their own lives, without the impediments of hierarchy, authority, the state, capitalism, et al. It's a particular form of horizontal, as opposed to vertical, social and economic organization. For the more sophisticated, the snappy response is that it's the self-emancipation of the working class.

Favorite Books of 2010 (So Far)

Two thousand nine was a banner year for good books, and 2010 is rapidly turning out the same way. Here are a few titles — and one series — that abundantly tickled my fancy in the first few months of this year.

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What do you get when you put Javier Marias, Tennessee Williams, Yukio Mishima, and Federico Garcia Lorca in a blender and shake 'em up? New Directions Pearls — it's a new series (which, in the interest of honesty, has to be admitted to incorporate some reissues of New Directions's Bibelot series, an earlier foray into small book publishing) that includes both new and tried and tested works by these great authors. Mishima's Patriotism is a gripping paean to the Japanese military tradition of honor. If you haven't read it, you should; it's a concise and achingly beautiful short course in the rigorous rights and wrongs of Mishima's thought and passion.

The Marias story, Bad Nature; or with Elvis in Mexico, is hands-down an incredible piece of writing. As with Patriotism, this little book is a startling and captivating introduction to this great writer's work. It offers the fictional story of an ill-fated foray by Elvis into the cantinas of Acapulco while there to make a film, and tells of his run-in with a motley crew of local mobsters with edge-of-your-seat results.

National Poetry Month: In Closing

National Poetry Month should be a festival, a time to rival Mardi Gras in the imaginations of the American people. Poems should be read on the radio daily — and not just by Garrison Keillor — be declaimed in bars and from street corners, and every time one connects to the Internet, one should be offered the arresting opportunity to engage with the muse.

But how to arrive at such an exalted state? In the words of Dana Gioia's famous book of criticism, Can Poetry Matter in our harried, twittering, dog-eared age?

I stand with my colleague Jae, who blogged on poetry earlier this month, on this issue. Poetry can matter, and it can come to play an important and irreplaceable role in our lives. The crux of the problem is to find the book, the author, even the poem that serves as a "good entryway" (in Jae's words) to the world of poetry. It is in that light that I offer up a few of my favorite books of poems of all time.

Karl Marlantes: The Powells.com Interview

Karl Marlantes War has always been a rich source for literary excavation. From The Iliad to War and Peace, from All Quiet on the Western Front to The Things They Carried, writers have drawn rich and universal insights from the depths of the most horrendous experiences that humanity has faced.

Vietnam is no different. Tim O'Brien, Bao Ninh, Larry Heinemann — the list of authors whose work is rooted in that conflict is long and illustrious. Now we can add Karl Marlantes to those rolls. Marlantes's debut novel, Matterhorn, is the epic story of young men pushed to the edge in the jungles of Vietnam, and of how they respond.

Even before its publication by Grove/Atlantic, the book has received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, as well as enthusiastic praise from booksellers around the country. Powells.com chose Matterhorn as the 17th volume of our Indiespensable subscription club. Galleys of the novel disappeared quickly from our offices, never to be seen or heard from again.

Clearly, Matterhorn is a debut novel to get excited about — and it only took Marlantes 30 years to write it.

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Chris Faatz Matterhorn is an exceedingly complex and visually rendered tale of young men at war. Does the story accurately reflect your own experience in Vietnam? Is it more or less autobiographical?

Karl Marlantes: Well, I'm not like any of the characters, really. If I had to chose the one most like me, I'd pick Cortell, who's more of a minor character. Like him, I'm more of the introverted, quiet type. I'm not a politician, like Mellas. If I were as good as he was, I'd be a lot richer and a lot more powerful. [Laughter] But what the characters see — almost all of it — I myself experienced. I was in firefights. I assaulted hills. I saw a guy, not in my company but in the same battalion, get eaten by a tiger. So, all of those things are pretty much true.

Of course, the dialogue is pure fiction. But a lot of what the characters see are things that I experienced or that were similar to my experiences as a second lieutenant — and those were similar to the experiences of thousands of soldiers that went over there. In that sense, we're all the same. So is that autobiographical? I don't know.

Faatz: Well, I'd say it's somewhat autobiographical, because it reflects your experiences, even if it's in a more general sense.

Marlantes: Oh, no doubt about it. I don't have that good of an imagination. [Laughter]

Faatz: How long did it take you to write the book?

Marlantes: I first started writing it about 1975.


Karl Marlantes's Matterhorn is visceral, raw, and gripping; an exceptionally moving and insightful novel of young men at war. If you love Bao Ninh and Tim O'Brien, you can't fail to be moved by this immensely compelling foray into the leech- and tiger-haunted jungles of Vietnam.

‘Tis the Season for Poetry

Well, it's that time of year again. Let's see if I can recommend a few books to make your shopping easier...

First of all, let me bring to your attention Margo Berdeshevsky's haunting and lyrical collection of short stories, Beautiful Soon Enough. This is a strange and wonderful book. It shares the stories of 23 women as they navigate the shores and shoals of their lives, their triumphs and failures. It whispers, really; there's nothing clarion about Beautiful Soon Enough. It's elegant and understated, richly textured and deeply hypnotic. It's no surprise, really, that it won FC2's American Book Review/Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize.

Really, I should let this book, which brushes close to the beauty of poetry, speak for itself. Just a taste now, pulled at random from the text:

What she sees at once is the hump. The very old woman. Then a woman with a cascade of hair, her face buried in her reddened hands. Then, again, the older one. Who is methodically shredding her newspaper whose huge headline is mostly visible. Russia's Day of Knowledge. We are a country in the dark.

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