For the November installment of Favorite Books, Sebastian invites zach blackwood to tell us about his top six reads. zach is a poet and contemporary performance curator in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of SEXY UNIQUE HOLLOW POINT, out now from glo worm press, and his poems appear in occulum, bedfellows magazine, maudlin house, and elsewhere. We published his poem "gem water is real and it’s good for you" during Season 2 of Peach, and featured him at Season 4 Episode 4 earlier this year. Below are his favorite books.
Mercury by Ariana Reines
If you’ve read any of poems, I think it is probably very obvious that I treasure this book deeply. I’m not saying I’m a complete rip-off or anything, but I remember reading this collection of poems for the first time and feeling that I had a different permission in my own writing. I guess I’d felt obligated to stray away from any language that might be read as confessional or indulgent and then I read this work which is so deeply personal!!!!! So indulgent!!!!! But feels so important!!!!!!
It also contains my personal motto:
I am so lazy All I want to do is look good and write poems
Bouquet by Mariana Valencia
This is a book, but it’s also a dance, and I mean that literally. This book was created to accompany a performance of the same name by the dance artist Mariana Valencia. The book itself lives somewhere between memoir, choreographic score, and poetry, and I’ll note that you do not need to have interfaced with that performance or really any contemporary dance to have a deeply enjoyable experience with the work. Mariana has curated a group of disparate text objects that weave into one another to transmit broader questions about individualism and authorship. How do our influences and ancestors come together (like individual flowers) to form a communal and singular whole? To document live art is a very tricky thing. In many ways, it feels impossible to faithfully render the experience of being together in a room with a performer and an audience. This work somehow translates dance into language and then back into dance, etc.
We are made of two people; An infant comes out as one person. This equation works against the logic of simple math 1+1=2 not 1 Unless you have twins but that’s a whole other science.
Seagull (Thinking of you) by Kristina Satter
This is a whole entire romp. I read this play when I’m sad, which is often enough. Tina Satter is one of my greatest playwright heroes, primarily due to her extremely slippery relationship to interpersonal dialogue. I’ve taken a workshop with her, and she would make us perform this exercise wherein we write a set of dialogue for two characters and then have them perform it as though they are in two extremely different contexts or orientations. We would run the scenes again and again, flexing the text to react to what was impactful or interesting in different settings or scenarios. Seagull (Thinking of you) holds Chekhov’s frankly bizarre humor as its gravitational center, but it’s as much about unrequited love as it is anything else. It uses the failure of faithful translation as a broader metaphor for clumsy love and the futility of language. The performances of this piece are truly fantastic, but you can put on a Russian folk metal soundtrack at home for similar ambiance.
UNSUB by Divya Victor
It is no secret that I love Criminal Minds more than any other television show ever produced, and I dabble in true crime, but the politics of that deeply challenge me!!! This book distills all the intrigue of true crime’s controlled vocabulary to create something that’s equal parts terror and desire, which happens to be my second favorite theme cocktail after like… yearning and omens. Also I like poems about feeling beautiful and recognizing the impact of that.
Magical Negro by Morgan Parker
I debated on whether or not to include this work, because I’m sure y’all have already read it, but like…. GOOD! I don’t often laugh out loud while reading alone, and it’s even less often that I laugh out loud while I’m still tearstained from the poem a few pages back. I bought this book while I was traveling and feeling distinctly othered as a Black queer person somewhere in Europe. I sat up and read it in a hotel room, and was able to access a new feeling when I really needed it. A lot of people have written smarter things than I have about the quotidian pleasures and pangs of this work, but it is extremely profound as a Black person to know that there is a book I can crack open and read from on days when it feels like we’re losing.
Beauty Was the Case They Gave Me by Mark Leidner
I feel like this pick definitely outs me as a person who wasn’t an English major. I know some folks come upon this book first as poetry students, but it was recommended to me by a friend in 2017 when I was feeling particularly challenged by humor in my own work. Ultimately this book is just very pleasurable to read!! It’s cute and funny and little bit annoying, but so am I, and I appreciate a book of poems I can giggle at and read aloud to my partner sometimes.
I hope this list wasn’t disappointing to folks lmao. This is a lot of pressure and I do want to say that these are really just some books I’ve picked up again over the quarantine period rather than like… holdfast faves!! That’s too much choice fatigue for a triple air sign and I would never be able to write that~ lmao sorry!!
"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.