For the July installment of Favorite Books, Sebastian invited poet and Peach contributor Ivanna Baranova to share her top five reads. Ivanna is the author of CONFIRMATION BIAS (Metatron Press). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in ATM Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, The Poetry Project, Newest York, and elsewhere. She first got involved with Peach during Season 3 when we published her poem "aloe" in our online journal and later in our Season 3 Yearbook. More recently, she participated in our first-ever virtual reading by performing at s04e04 on June 26. Ivanna currently lives between Brooklyn and Los Angeles. Below are her favorite books.
Lite Year by Tess Brown-Lavoie
The language in Lite Year reads like twirled gum stretched across fingertips. This is easily one of my favorite poetry books. Each page incants a subtle hypnosis that bubbles over time in my unconscious. Brown-Lavoie carefully documents the quiet shine of a single moment, like a metal detector over sand, catching each glint and jewel. These poems are intimate, immersive—a secret you want to Sharpie on your palm.
This book didn’t kill me, but it did completely annihilate my limited perceptions of how poetry can move. I bought Lite Year after watching Tess perform at a summer reading in Hudson. I was mesmerized by the kinetic syntax and intricate scaffolding over which these poems climb. I read this book with an intentional slowness, over several months, on busses and lawns, in bathtubs and train cars, across state lines. I recommend this book to everyone I love. It was recently returned to me by one of my best friends, slightly more faded and torn—perfect to me.
Violet Energy Ingots by Hoa Nguyen
Nguyen’s work re-emerges in my consciousness whenever I’m processing grief or am disoriented by love. Truly, Violet Energy Ingots is a salve. I first read it while soaking in a hot tub in Banff, Alberta, coming down from a psychotherapeutic MDMA trip. Nguyen’s language is precisely emotive, and I read it at a time when I needed it.
When Hoa and I met in the spring of 2018, her mentorship cultivated in me an understanding of poetry as a means of exactness. Nguyen brings lines sharply into focus and builds abundance from the ordinary. So many pages from this book are affixed to my memory—as I realized one day when, by coincidence, my friend Chariot and I simultaneously recited “I Am Too” by heart:
Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala by Stephen Schlesinger and Stephen Kinzer
Bitter Fruit documents the CIA-backed overthrow of Jacobo Árbenz, and the ongoing atrocities carried out by the United States, which the National Security Archives have named “the definitive deathblow to democracy in Guatemala.”
When I started researching the rampant legacy of imperialism that’s fractured viable sovereignty in Guatemala, as in so many other Central American countries, this book became key in reimagining sociopolitical strategy, cross-cultural reparations, ancestral acknowledgment, and equitable community engagement.
In the 1980s—during the peak of the civil war—my mom lost more than a dozen friends and family members, when mass disappearances and relentless genocide against predominantly poor and indigenous communities increased. As we center abolitionist frameworks in current anti-racist efforts to protect Black lives, abolish ICE, and resolve the immigration “crisis,” gaining deeper understandings around the breadth and specificity of global harm the US has engendered is key.
Through reading this book, I learned and became quickly obsessed with Spiritual Socialism, a political ideology developed by Juan José Arévalo, beloved philosophy professor and democratically elected president, who was crowdfunded back to Guate from Argentina to address urgent needs for social reform in the 1940s.
The movement was an unprecedented socialist iteration, aimed to collectivize and liberate Guatemalans—spiritually and psychologically—towards civil freedom and spiritual development. Of course, US intervention inevitably fractured the movement to total disrepair, but I’m interested in identifying how the philosophy might be viable and actionable through new political contexts as vital uprisings expose new portals to decolonization.
Bitter Fruit motivated my own research into familial and political lineages of resistance and survival. I’m ideating a project that will document and consolidate these histories through poetics.
Dark Pool Party by Hannah Black
“The significance of relationships is actually secretly inverted and the people you meet for ten minutes and under are the ones who determine your fate.”
Dark Pool Party is an experiment in continuums. Any conclusion Black offers becomes amorphous: shifts to yields to new beginnings and illusions. Reading this book feels like watching lights flicker on and off, through deliberate yet untraceable design. Black creates then waves away ideas like a hand clearing dust. Each time I re-encounter a line from this book somewhere on the internet, I recoup fascination.
The Performance of Becoming Human by Daniel Borzutzky
I’m continuously awed by Chilean poetics, how resiliency permeates its language with a kind of rigor, dureza. I left Santiago in 2016 inspired to write again, and looking for poetry that could encourage that impulse. Shortly after moving home to Vancouver, I became friends with a person whose life appeared to me as poetry.
I remember the exact day she bought this book. “Fuck, I spent too much money on poems again,” she said, smoothing the cover of Chilean-American poet Daniel Borzutzky’s book, as we walked out of The Paper Hound on Pender, high and ready to walk for hours across the city. I loved the title, and though I’d never heard of the author, her enthusiasm generated mine, and I was stoked, knowing she might lend it to me in the near future.
We walked for miles those summers, refusing to pay bus fare, electrified by night wind and mountain air, sometimes attending multiple readings a night, cackling in corner seats of small bars and book shops, conjuring inexplicable jokes through telepathy.
At some point, she did lend me the book, which I’ve kept ever since, as we somehow ended up with two copies, though neither one of us remembers buying the second. “It’s yours. No, it’s yours,” we each insisted, as I was packing to move to New York during our last summer together, living in a tiny, top-floor apartment, dizzy with the kind of forgetting born from heat and close quarters. Sometimes I think the book duplicated, so we could each have a piece.
Below are lines from the poem I’ve re-read most, “Memories of my Overdevelopment.”
"I have run out of all the imperialist shampoos
I only pay $6 for my shampoo when I used to pay $60
I look vulgar lately
I wear my wife’s lipstick as I put on my white shirt and tie and slick back my hair in the style of every other man in every other city in every other office in every other corner of this stupid fucking world
Natural beauty, I write on the mirror with your lipstick, is not nearly as good as artificial beauty
I slip on your pantyhose, love, I slip on your panties, I wear your lipstick as I put on my white shirt and grey tie and set out to destroy myself once more in this city that is like a staircase that winds up my body
I don’t know the right words for the things you put on your body
I slip your pantyhose over my face and stare at myself in the mirror, at my contorted nose and I am like the Golem of Prague only I live in the tropics which are in the middle of a crumbling Midwestern city where I will be buried under a mountain of ice
I have nothing to do except look into the eyes of people who do not love me
Love and loneliness fill you with different types of illusions
Loneliness fills you with the desire for people to tell you how to live your life
Love, on the other hand, fills you with the desire for everyone to see you living your life
We went to the store to buy coffee and there were so many types of coffee I wanted to beat the crap out of the guy who insisted on hearing the story of every type of coffee, where it was roasted, how it was roasted, was it locally roasted or was it roasted in Italy, what flavors was it infused with, so many stupid questions about the coffee that it was almost impossible to believe that just a few days before I had been in a city where there was no coffee
They had run out of coffee
No one knew when they would get more"
"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.