For the October installment of Favorite Books, Sebastian invited Elaine Kahn to tell us about her top four reads. Elaine is the author of Romance or the End (Soft Skull, 2020), Women in Public (City Lights Publishers, 2015), as well as several chapbooks, including I Told You I Was Sick: A Romance (After Hours Ltd, 2017), A Voluptuous Dream During an Eclipse (Poor Claudia, 2012), and Customer (Ecstatic Peace Library, 2010). Her writing has appeared in Frieze, The Brooklyn Rail, jubilat, Poetry Foundation, Art Papers, and elsewhere. She received an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and teaches at Pomona College and the Poetry Field School. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
God With Revolver by Rene Ricard
I first heard of Rene Ricard in 2015. I was giving a reading for Cedar Sigo’s class at Saint Mary’s College and Cedar listed Ricard (along with Cookie Mueller and Alice Notley) as one of his “favorite queens of New York.” Needless to say, I was intrigued. Still, it wasn’t until 2018 that I finally got to read Ricard: his books are all criminally out of print (with the exception of Èditions Lutanie’s 2018 facsimile reprint of Rene Ricard 1979-1980) and can only be attained with the help of thousands of dollars or a friendly special collection’s librarian. I chose the librarian. God With Revolver is a book that threatens you with life, a strutting catwalk at the intersection of bleak romantics, full-throated despair, and divine comedy. It reminds me of New York, actually, or maybe my imagination of New York: how just living there, in its grim and open heart, seems to be a kind of optimism.
Solar Throat Slashed by Aimé Césaire
Aimé Césaire is the writer I return to again and again when I want to push myself to make poetry that is better than I am. He is one of the only poets whose work affects my body the same way as music, in the sense that I feel its rhythm so deep in me; my limbs twitch involuntarily. He writes with the force of the absolute and the crucial strangeness of the real. It is Césaire, in my opinion, who best exemplifies surrealism as a liberatory mode rather than a decorative one. One of the founding fathers of the Négritude movement, Césaire’s best-known work is probably the phenomenal book-length poem Notebook of a Return to the Native Land. However, Solar Throat Slashed was the first book of Césaire’s I ever read and it remains my favorite. Make sure you get a bilingual edition because, whether or not you understand French, reading the work in its original language is essential.
Idylls of The King by Alfred Lord Tennyson
Known as “the saddest of all the English poets”—Tennyson’s editing process was apparently so perverse and exacting that Robert Browning (who disliked the whole practice of revision) described it as “insane,” and surely the result of “mental infirmity.” Obviously, I love it. And while I understand it is sort of absurd to say that one of the most canonized poets in history should be read more, with lines like Stay with me, I am sick; my love is more / than many diamonds (full disclosure: I used this as the epigraph of my last book) and "Yea, lord," she said, / "Thy hopes are mine," and saying that, she choked, I do think a lot of people would probably be surprised by Tennyson’s writing. Furthermore, despite Tennyson’s dubious renown for relentless melodrama, I find much of his work quite funny!
Diana’s Tree by Alejandra Pizarnik
My friend Claire Grossman once referred to Alejandra Pizarnik as “the number one sad dyke” and she’s not wrong. I love all of Pizarnik’s work, but I think this book was particularly significant for me. It’s a cycle of thirty-eight poems, many no longer than a few lines. As a writer of shorter works, reading it felt like being given permission—permission to write short poems, and more critically, permission to use these shorter poems as building blocks out of which longer work might be composed. Regardless of the significance of Diana’s Tree to me personally, this book is, indisputably, a slim volume of bangers.
"Favorite Books with Sebastian Castillo" is our monthly column in which previous contributors and friends of Peach Mag are invited to share the works of literature that have made the biggest impacts on their reading and writing lives. Sebastian is the author of Not I and 49 Venezuelan Novels. Read previous installments of Favorite Books here.