Undoing Art by Mary Ann Caws and Michel Delville

This book is an exhilerating window into art and acts of undoing, covering topics like “not doing,” “disownings,” “refusals,” “obliterations and deviations,” “erasurism,” “pseudonyms,” “canceling (out),” “slashings and burnings,” “performative undoings,” “attacks,” and other processes that transform and elevate texts and artworks. With great care, Caws and Delville converse about the physical vulnerability of texts and art objects and give us an in-depth art history lesson about works that have undergone creative and destructive acts.

Andy Warhol: A Biography by Wayne Koestenbaum

Reading about Warhol’s art and life through the lens of Wayne Koestenbaum’s exceptional vocabulary, humor, and attention to the erotic is an unforgettable experience–his use of language continually teaches us how to combine research with poetic language in playful, incisive, generous ways. I love how this book sheds light on Warhol’s relationship to his body, “a ruptured thing, not his property,” especially after he was shot.

The Octopus Museum by Brenda Shaughnessy

It’s hard to believe that this book was written pre-pandemic. Schaunessy’s poems are timely, comforting, and gorgeous–they fearlessly address topics like racism, sexism, and politics with distinctly powerful images. Lines like “We must not accept that anything is precisely as it is. Except disco pants. Those are definitely themselves” bring humor into a collection that forces us to face the destruction of earth, whether or not women are people, and what we can realistically hope for future generations.

Grenade in Mouth by Miyó Vestrini

In the introduction to this book, translators Anne Boyer and Cassandra Gillig warn that reading Vesetrini’s poems can feel like running into an electric fence over and over again. Through her poems, Vestrini, a Venezuelen poet who eventually committed suicide, makes the case that is not the job of the poem to therapize or save others–instead, her poetry embraces death, which is somehow more comforting than poems that try to pacify us by insisting that everything will be okay.

Sun in Days by Meghan O’Rourke

I’m in awe of this expertly crafted poetry collection that tackles subjects like growing up, chronic illness, the longing for a child, mortality, and the power/fragility of the body. Her lyrical pyrotechnics and thorough attention to craft make this book unforgettable; a favorite line of mine is, “When I got sick, I did think, if I die now, I have spent way too much time listening to men talk.”

Madeleine Barnes is a poet, visual artist, Mellon Foundation Humanities Public Fellow, and PhD student at The Graduate Center, CUNY. Her debut poetry collection, You Do Not Have To Be Good, is forthcoming from Trio House Press. She is the author of three chapbooks, most recently Women’s Work, forthcoming from Tolsun Books. She serves as Poetry Editor at Cordella Magazine, a publication that showcases the work of women and non-binary writers and artists. She’s the recipient of two Academy of American Poets poetry prizes, the Princeton Poetry Prize, the Gertrude Gordon Journalism Prize, and the Three Rivers Review Poetry Prize. Visit her at madeleinebarnes.com.

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