Larissa Shmailo‘s newest collection of poetry is #specialcharacters (Unlikely Books). Larissa is the editor of the anthology Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry and founder of The Feminist Poets in Low-Cut Blouses. She translated Victory Over the Sun for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s landmark restaging of the multimedia opera and has been a translator on the Bible in Russia for the American Bible Society. Her other books of poetry are In Paran (BlazeVOX), the chapbook, A Cure for Suicide (Červená Barva Press), and the e-book, Fib Sequence (Argotist Ebooks); her poetry CDs are The No-Net World and Exorcism (SongCrew), for which she received the New Century Best Spoken Word Album award. Read her blog here.
My bedside books travel from bedside to satchel to New York City transit to work station and back to bed. Here are some of my favorites.
• You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay. Yes, you can! I say affirmations daily and always check Louise’s metaphysical cause for a bodily ill before popping a pill.
• Letters from Aldenderry by Philip Nikolayev. Nikolayev is at once an experimentalist and a formalist, and always a lyricist. His immured sonnets are vispo that engage the poet, the two constituent poems, and the reader in multiple levels of discourse simultaneously. Nikolayev inspires me, lets me know what is possible in poetry, and gives me permission to be better and bolder, something I seek in all my reading.
• Incompetent Translations and Inept Haiku by Bill Yarrow. OMG funny! If Mark Twain were thoroughly and expertly steeped in world poetry and set out to write rib-shatteringly hilarious parodies of these poems, you would approach this collection by Yarrow. Use this book to cure clinical depression (did I mention that it is really funny?).
• Ulysses by James Joyce. I came to Joyce late and despite my mature years, was completely blown away. THIS IS POSSIBLE, I kept thinking, YOU CAN DO THIS! I’ve written 18 found poems based on Ulysses (erasures of the 18 episodes), a sonnet based on Steven Dedalus’s theory of Hamlet, and numerous paeons to the Blooms. This isn’t a book, it’s a passport.
• Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I didn’t read Lolita for many years because I thought Nabokov elitist and cold and the topic of child incest repulsive. Then I read it. I had a day job at the time and I called in sick to keep reading. Characterizations, language, plotting, perfectly and powerfully wielded. I no longer care whether Nabokov is elitist or cold, I read to learn and enjoy the linguistic pyrotechnics.
• Ripple Effect by Elaine Equi. This new and selected collection is marked by the master poet’s grace and ease. Equi is a minimalist who can achieve koan profundity in few words. Cultures, haute popular, ancient, reside side by side in these wise and funny poems.
• King James Bible. I really loathe the new contemporary versions of the Bible, and resonate deeply to the beauty of the King James language, which is almost as good as the Church Slavonic in its music.
• Speaking of Siva translated by A. Ramanujan. I adore these beautiful free translations of the vacana of Akka Mahadevi, the legendary Dravidian poet who rejected the royal court, the teachings of wisemen, and the hand of a king to become a homeless wanderer singing homage to her Lord Siva. Like Joyce, Mahadevi sets my pen on fire, a gracious gift from this patroness of women and poets.
• Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous. The “Big Book” entitled Alcoholics Anonymous may be the guidebook for getting sober, but this work of AA founder Bill Wilson is the reason to live that way. There is something new in these pages in every reading, even after thirty years of dog-eared use.
Any “passport” books in your collection? To what exotic places do they take you?