Jennifer Perrine's Blog
August 1, 2020
Thanks to the team at Airlie Press for giving it a home, to Beth C. Ford for the design, to Vermont Studio Center for time and space to write, and to the folks at PGE who let me disappear from work for a month back in 2017 to go write. This book wouldn’t exist without all the people who took a chance on me in one way or another, and I’m so grateful for y'all. If you’d like to pre-order a copy of the book, check out the Airlie Press website.
January 26, 2020
In the Dream House – Carmen Maria Machado
Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life – Amber Scorah
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations – Mira Jacob
The Book of Delights – Ross Gay
The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work – Shawn Achor
The Starless Sea – Erin Morgenstern
A Song for a New Day – Sarah Pinsker
On the Come Up – Angie Thomas
The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead
Spinning Silver – Naomi Novik
Sooner or Later Everything Falls Into the Sea – Sarah Pinsker
Washington Black – Esi Edugyan
How Long 'til Black Future Month? – N.K. Jemisin
Monument: Poems New and Selected – Natasha Trethewey
I also decided to start something new this year, by tallying my book stats to delve a bit more into my reading habits. Here's what I found:
Books read: 35
*by women: 25 (71%)
*by BIWOC: 12 (34%)
*by men: 10 (29%)
*by BIMOC: 3 (9%)
*by BIPOC: 15 (43%)
Queer Literature: 9 (26%)
Latinx Literature: 2 (6%)
Native/Indigenous Literature: 1 (3%)
Asian/Pacific Islander Literature: 2 (6%)
Black Literature: 10 (29%)
Fiction: 17 (49%)
Nonfiction: 11 (31%)
Poetry: 6 (17%)
Genre is a Blurry Thing: 1 (3%)
I read a lot fewer books in 2019 than usual. (My average is typically somewhere between 50 and 80.) What happened? Life.
Also, I read way less poetry than usual. A lot of my 2019 books were on my e-reader (a new thing for me), which often doesn’t lend itself well to poetry.
Instead, I read more nonfiction. Some of my favorite books of 2019 were memoirs and essay collections.
I read quite a bit of queer lit and black lit this year! Hooray! But where were my genderqueer writers this year? Yeesh.
2020 reading goals
*More books in print. I miss turning pages.
*More books by BIPOC, especially Latinx, Native, and Asian authors.
*More books by non-binary and genderqueer writers.
(Thanks to Electric Lit, I’ve got some ideas for books that combine these last 2 goals.)
What did your 2019 reading look like? What are your reading goals for 2020?
July 27, 2019
Under the Midnight Sun by Keigo Higashino
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Journey Under the Midnight Sun is less of a whodunnit--that part is pretty clear right from the start--than a whydonnit or a howdunnit. Those questions were what made this book a page-turner, and they kept me guessing at the answers right up until the last 50 pages or so. While the motivations of the characters turned out to be fairly believable even while they came as a surprise, the plausibility of their ability to pull off heinous and technically complicated crimes--and to manipulate everyone around them in order to avoid capture--was questionable.
There's a byzantine cast of characters, which made untangling the mystery all that much more complex for me because I had a hard time keeping track of everyone. Admittedly, I think this is due just as much to my minimal familiarity with Japanese names as it is to the raft of new characters introduced throughout the book.
In fact, more than the plot or the psychology of the perpetrators or the plausibility of the crimes, what I discovered in the process of reading this novel is how much of a difference cultural familiarity--or ignorance--can make in my reading experience, as well as how flat-out limited my knowledge of Japanese culture is. For instance, because the book spans decades, Higashino signals the passage of time throughout the book by referencing different elements of Japanese culture--pop songs, baseball teams, TV shows, sumo wrestlers--that were having their heyday at the moment a chapter takes place. I was able to decipher the timing from other cues, but it took me a while to understand that this was even an intentionally crafted element of Higashino's storytelling because I was so oblivious to what these references signaled.
I'm certain I missed out on other nuances due to my cultural illiteracy, though I did my best to stay curious and research what I could about aspects I knew I didn't understand. Still, sometimes you don't know what you don't know. If I say I "liked" this book, rather than "loved" it, I'd chalk that up to my failure to bring enough to the table as a reader to see the full picture that Higashino paints.
View all my reviews
July 3, 2019
Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I crawled into bed last night around 11pm, thinking I'd read a few pages of Good Talk before I dozed off. The next thing I knew, it was 2am, and I had finished the book. I was a little bit teary-eyed and the dogs were finally back asleep after I'd woken them a handful of times by chuckling into the nighttime silence.
There was so much here that felt familiar, and that meant a great deal to me because I rarely see these experiences represented in books:
The strange, conflicting, unsolicited messages one gets as a writer of color. ("Ethnic sells." "Don't ghettoize yourself with ethnic writing." "God, if you can't get a job with the whole diversity thing, the rest of us are fucked.")
The excitement and near-wonder I felt in 2008, watching a multiracial presidential candidate talk candidly about race. ("We took bets on what would bring him down, which is what you do when you're trying to break your own heart before your country does it for you.")
The baffling, infuriating experience of being mistaken for "the help" and then having to explain to friends and family that you are not imagining that you've been mistaken for the help. ("Sometimes, you go along with it and pretend nothing happened. Sometimes, you hold your breath until the feeling of wanting to be believed passes. Sometimes, you weigh explaining against staying quiet and know they're both just different kinds of heavy.")
There was plenty here that was unfamiliar to my experience, too--particularly the expectations around marriage in some East Indian families, and the poignant, hilarious discussions that Mira and her son, Z, have about race. I appreciate those, too, for the windows they provide into conversations that I've never had to have.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the art, with its collage of drawings and photos. I loved how the photos situated me in particular places (in a way drawn backgrounds might not have). The way that Jacob cut out her figure drawings of the characters and overlaid these onto the background photos created a fitting tension--I was often aware that the characters were both part of the environment and separate from it, which is how I often feel as a person of color in the U.S.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the book is how Jacob uses the graphic memoir form to illustrate what we do and don't say to one another. In the dialogue, asterisks often point to footnotes that reveal unspoken truths underlying what's said outright. Sometimes, whole panels depict the difference between what we say and what we think but don't share. My favorite page in the whole book enacts this, and I leave you with that page, harrowing and honest in what it reveals and conceals:
View all my reviews
July 1, 2019
But now it's summer and in Portland, the sun's come out to stay, at least for a few months, and has made me want to turn back to this space and make it something new. So, I offer here some links to me chatting about the good changes in my life--a new job, an Oregon Literary Fellowship--and then turn us toward a review! I love reviewing books, and usually do so on Goodreads, but for some reason, it never occurred to me to share these on my blog. But what better account of my days could there be than a reckoning of my reading? So, without further introduction, may I present
Among the delights of this book--not counting Ross Gay's prose, which in many essayettes takes unforeseen turns into parentheticals that maneuver away from the ostensible subject, and that taught me to follow Gay's mind fluttering away and then back, like the brilliant hummingbird that spends its days at my feeder but nevertheless has time to swing through the ever-blooming camellias, making me realize that I am that bird's diversion, not the flowers--are these below, a few of the many that took me by surprise, and that spring up even now that the book is finished:
The moments that made me laugh aloud, like the dream of his mother, which does not sound like a delightful dream at all, but which offered delight in the relief of waking from it, and further, in the strange ways our brains make sense while we sleep, and further still, in callbacks in later essayettes, which made me laugh all over again.
The recognition that what one experiences as delight--napping in public, for instance--may not be a shared delight, or may in fact be a shared delight, but one that other folks, in other bodies, with other genders, might feel less safe partaking in, and so might be a delight limned with worry or fear, but a delight nevertheless.
Having heard Ross Gay read a few times, I then heard each essayette as if read aloud in his voice--not his writerly, on-the-page voice, but the voice that is made by his lungs and larynx, his teeth and tongue and lips and cheeks. If you have not had such luck as to attend a Ross Gay reading, may I recommend Commonplace and Code Switch, both of which are, in their entirety, not just in these episodes--you guessed it--delights.
Not least of which is Ross Gay's presence in the world, his ability to name the moments of his year with such wonder and honesty. During the same time that Gay was writing these Delights--August 2016 to August 2017--I was undertaking my own project of writing poems based on words overused and misused by Trump, and undertaking, though dramatic, sounds right. While Gay was carefully pulling sweet and strangely shaped carrots from the soil to feed us (and by this I mean, metaphorically, these essayettes, but also literal carrots--see the July 4th entry), I was digging a burial plot (and by this I mean, I saw the world as a place of mourning and had forgotten that, one day, grass and flowers might grow again atop that plot). So, delight to know how differently someone experienced that time, and delight to be reminded that I encountered delights then, too, for Gay has reminded me of them, for they are not so unlike his.
January 1, 2019
I won't go into all the ways that the last year has baffled and confounded me. Dear Reader, I'm sure you can already name at least half of them. Suffice it to say, the first poem I published this year was about gun violence, and so was the last.
Lest I start sounding like doom and gloom were my only companions these last few months, here's a reason for celebration: On my birthday, I heard that my new poetry manuscript, "Again," was accepted for publication by Airlie Press! This is the book that arose from the Inauguries project, and it's due out in Fall 2020, right in time for the next round of U.S. presidential elections.
What's more, Airlie is a collective, so when my manuscript was selected, I also became part of the press' editorial board. I'm delighted to be part of the collective, to have the opportunity to promote the work of other poets, and to select and edit future manuscripts. Airlie's emphasis is on poets from the Pacific Northwest, so I'm also looking forward to becoming more deeply engaged in the literary community in Oregon through my work with the press. This is what I'm most excited about for the year ahead.
It wouldn't be a proper New Year's blog post without turning my gaze back toward what I read in 2018. I spent time with many good books this year, but if I had to choose a few favorites, these would be the ones:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard
Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More, Janet Mock
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
No Time to Spare: Thinking About What Matters, Ursula K. Le Guin
Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches, John Hodgman
The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships, Suzanne Stabile
Exit West, Mohsin Hamid
An American Marriage, Tayari Jones
The Consuming Fire, John Scalzi
The Overstory, Richard Powers
Circe, Madeline Miller
There There, Tommy Orange
Friday Black, Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah
Good Stock Strange Blood, Dawn Lundy Martin
Don't Call Us Dead, Danez Smith
My Ariel, Sina Queyras
Silk Poems, Jen Bervin
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, Jill Twiss
With that, I bid adieu to 2018, and welcome 2019, with all the wonder and weirdness, the splendor and stupefaction it will undoubtedly bring!
May 30, 2018
But life carries on, and now the weather's cooled and the sun's down and I'm only astounded by the neighborhood flora intermittently, so I thought I'd hop online to say hello and do what I meant to do, before May turns to June.
About that story: In March 2016, I woke up in a hotel room in Oregon with a first line in my head. "First the baby died, then the dog died." It could have been the beginning of the worst country song ever, or it could have been my subconscious trying to make sense of a deep mourning that I had felt for months but couldn't explain to anyone else, no matter how I approached it. That sentence snuck up on me at dawn, and I curled up in a chair, looked out over the Columbia River, and wrote a draft of the story mostly in one go, with that line repeating as a refrain. It felt like the first time I was attentive to form in a story the way I am in a poem, and although the story isn't quite personal experience, it allowed me to speak to an emotion I couldn't name in any other way. Now it's out in the world. Thank you, Valparaiso Fiction Review, for giving it a home.
January 10, 2018
This last year also saw the publication of my first short story, "Out of Order", in Literal Latte. The story's protagonist wakes from an elective process he undertook in his forties to find himself now ninety, lonely and disoriented by his new world. Again, I wasn't conscious of the questions I was grappling with at the time I was writing--one month after I moved to Oregon--but rereading the story now, it's clear I was, well, lonely and disoriented, even while I loved (and continue to love) this place.
Those initial feelings have dissipated, I'm happy to say. I'm finally starting to get a feel for the writing communities in the area, and I've got two readings coming up in the next two months, with a few more in the works. It feels good to get my work back in front of people, and even better to be with kindred spirits: one reading is for Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, and the other is part of the Unchaste Readers series. Nasty and unchaste--that's exactly the kind of company I want to keep.
I've also got a new poem, "Now Is Not the Time to Talk About Gun Control," that will be released on the Broadsided website next week as part of their feature, "Bearing Arms: Responding to Guns in American Culture." The poem is paired with Kristen Woodward's startling, provocative "Female Target," and includes the word Oregunian. (Yes, living here has added to my vocabulary, for better or worse.) I'm excited to see our broadside and those of the other writers and artists vectorized, and I hope that the broadsides spark some conversations, since--if the irony wasn't clear--now is absolutely the time to talk about gun control. Let's hope that's one of the many changes 2018 brings.
As for 2017, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention all the amazing books I read. Without further ado, my favorite reads from 2017 were:
Spirit Boxing, Afaa Michael Weaver
When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities, Chen Chen
Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing, Charif Shanahan
Lena: Poems, Cassie Pruyn
Magdalene, Marie Howe
3arabi Song, Zeina Hashem Beck
Hands that Break and Scar, Sarah A. Chavez
Transformations, Anne Sexton
The Whetting Stone, Taylor Mali
Notes on a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World, Suzy Hansen
Catastrophic Happiness: Finding Joy in Childhood's Messy Years, Catherine Newman
We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood
Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi
Spoonbenders, Daryl Gregory
A Monster Calls, Patrick Ness
The Lathe of Heaven, Ursula K. Le Guin
Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng
Christmas Days: 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days, Jeanette Winterson
Here's to 2018--may the new year bring you clarity, community, and abundant good reads!
October 17, 2017
I love the idea of finding books in unexpected spots, and in honor of the tenth anniversary of Goodreads, the Book Fairies invited people around the world to hide books in public places. Since it's also been ten years since I joined this bookish online community, I chose ten books--five of my favorites, five of my partner's favorites--to share with unsuspecting passersby. I spent my birthday walking around the greater Portland area, leaving books in my wake. Here, you can see a few in their not-at-all-natural habitat:
(If you squint–and are equipped with magical CSI-style photo enhancement–you can probably make out the titles: World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, Jagged with Love, Written on the Body.)
I was also celebrating something else that day. After a hundred days of intense writing, followed by another hundred and sixty days of hemming and hawing, rearranging and revising, I put the finishing touches on a new poetry manuscript! "Again" began as the Inauguries project--my attempt at coming to terms with the Trump presidency and at stealing the language back from his mouth. While I was in Vermont, other writers encouraged me to see if there might be a book in that project, and as it turns out, there is. (Well, a manuscript, anyway. It'll be up to the fine folks who read for poetry presses to figure out if there's actually a book there.) In any case, I felt relieved and triumphant to see all those poems stacked together, to read them out loud over and over and feel the heft of the words in my mouth. Sometimes it's the mere making of the thing that matters.
And finally, one last celebration: Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse is in print! It arrived at my house a few days ago, and I spent hours absorbed in it. It's been quite some time since an anthology has caught me up like that. Of course, it doesn't hurt that it includes some of my favorite poets (too many to name), but there were also many poets whose names I didn't recognize, and their work floored me, too. Grace Bauer and Julie Kane did a marvelously nasty job of putting the anthology together, and their section titles' nods to singers and songwriters take after my own heart. Thanks to all the nasty poets out there for the song and swagger, the rhythm and resistance. You're a gift, too.
July 30, 2017
This was (is!) big news for me. I've been writing fiction for a while, but I've only been sending it out to magazines for the last year or so. In that year, a few editors have written back some kind notes, but all of them passed on publishing my stories. I was beginning to think I ought to throw in the towel, especially with stories like "Out of Order." It's science fiction and nearly 8,000 words long, both of which put it outside the scope of most literary journals. So, it was a surprise, a delight, and a confidence-boost to hear not only that Literal Latte was interested in publishing "Out of Order" but also that they'd chosen it for their fiction award. The story is due to come out in their Fall issue, when I'm sure I will babble about it on the blog all over again.
In other news... Rattle posted my poem, "I Tell Death, Eventually", as their poem of the day back on June 23. Although I've been reading Rattle for years, it wasn't until this last month that I realized what a supportive and extensive poetry community editor Tim Green has built, especially through the digital components of the journal. In the days following my poem's posting, I received more kind emails from readers than I had in the previous ten years. People were generous with their own stories about loss and grief and mortality, and I appreciated their candor and vulnerability. Beyond that, it was also heartening just to know that so many people were out there reading poetry on any given day. At a time when literary and arts programs are so often disparaged and subject to budget cuts, knowing there are so many other poetry-lovers out there gives me hope.
And speaking of budget cuts, I wanted to give a shout out to the editors at Crab Orchard Review , which is in the process of converting from a print to an online-only journal in the wake of spending restrictions and staffing reductions. Allison Joseph, Jon Tribble, and Carolyn Alessio have been putting together one of the best journals out there for years, and I'm honored to have my poem, "The Gauntlet," included in one of the final print issues. "The Gauntlet" is one of the few poems I've written where I directly address race--in particular, the unease I felt at being one of the few people of color in my old neighborhood in Iowa--and I'm grateful to the folks at Crab Orchard Review for publishing it. (I'm also grateful that now, for the first time in my life, I live in a racially and culturally diverse neighborhood. I still think a lot about race, and it would be foolish in the current political environment to say I feel unworried and entirely safe, but I don't feel the same kind of fear I did in places where I was the only person of color around. There's power--and peace--in numbers.)