Wednesday, March 20 @ 7pm (PT) / Powell’s City of Books
Award-winning poet Michael Dickman returns to his homeplace in the Pacific Northwest, where the neighborhood simmers with the chemical presence of human trouble and sparks of beauty coexist with danger. Dickman’s image-driven, sound-driven new collection, Pacific Power & Light (Knopf) carries us to the working-class Portland neighborhood of Lents, where Dickman was raised by a single mother. Here, as a skateboarding boy practices his kickflip on the street, enlightenment simmers under the surface of both the natural world and the human constructions that threaten it. The rivers shrinking to a trickle, the unaddressed crisis of homelessness, the drug use in a local park: these run side by side with the efforts and structures of families, created mostly by working mothers, with their jumbled bottomless purses and full-time jobs; Dickman’s own mother worked at the power company of the title, PP&L. His exquisite, ultrareal narratives take us down through these layers, illuminating the way we’ve treated and should treat one another, seeking integrity and understanding in the midst of a broken world.
In his first international release since the award-winning, bestselling The Boat, Nam Le delivers a shot across the bow with a book-length poem that honors every convention of diasporic literature — in a virtuosic array of forms and registers — before shattering the form itself. In line with the works of Claudia Rankine, Cathy Park Hong, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, 36 Ways of Writing a Vietnamese Poem (Knopf) is an urgent, unsettling reckoning with identity — and the violence of identity. For Le, a Vietnamese refugee in the West, this means the assumed violence of racism, oppression, and historical trauma. But it also means the violence of that assumption. Of being always assumed to be outside one's home, country, culture, or language. And the complex violence — for the diasporic writer who wants to address any of this — of language itself. Making use of multiple tones, moods, masks, and camouflages, Le's poetic debut moves with unpredictable and destabilizing energy between the personal and the political. As self-indicting as it is scathing, hilarious as it is desperately moving, this is a singular, breakthrough book.
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