Annulet’s Year in Reading: 2023

Recommendations from contributors and contributing editors, including Alex Toy, Mildred Kiconco Barya, Bellee Jones-Pierce, Dot Devota, Jay Gao, Kelly Krumrie, Jonathan Gharraie, Toby Altman, and Alicia Wright that highlight selections from Annulet’s issues this past calendar year, alongside books and texts published, read, or found remarkable over these past twelve months of reading.

Alex Toy

“Midden” by Monroe Lawrence. This poem transports you to one of those lovers’ arguments that is simultaneously urgent and inconsequential. It’s passionate, epic—with magnetic snatches of the colloquial peeking out—yet powerless to resolve that sense of abandonment particular to misaligned partnership, lonelier than any solitude.

The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard. I got exactly the experience I always want from a novel, which is to be consumed and spit out by it, totally mangled. You float through the prose. No snags, just impact.

Lives of the Saints by Nancy Lemann. A little tragic, mostly hilarious. Lemann has a knack (like Didion) for ironies that go either grim or endearing at the last second. You laugh either way.

The Children’s Bach by Helen Garner. Roots out the bizarre in the conventions of family relationships—with an emphasis on the normalcy of parental ambivalence—to show the ways these relationships strain across, work around, and scar over the emotional fissures of daily life.  

August Blue by Deborah Levy. Set squarely in the COVID-19 pandemic without making the pandemic “the point” of the book. Like all of Levy’s work, it’s both fast and recursive, and speaks directly to the reward, malaise and occasional paralysis of living as an artist.

“Sex and Death in the World of Defense Intellectuals” by Carolyn Cohn (1987). The jargon of defense, it becomes clear, is designed to warp reality and eliminate the prospect of peace or disarmament. Cohn outlines the sexual subtext and high level of abstraction employed by strategists in discussing weapons and victims of nuclear war. Fluency is not just about being one of the boys, but demands a renunciation of rational thought. 

Kelly Krumrie

My Annulet pick is, of course, the Issue 5 Fiction Folio I put together. I kept in mind an Annulet eye, which is a poet's. I've described the pieces as buckyballs—they snapped together, have the push and pull of a pile of magnets.

We Monks & Soldiers by Lutz Bassmann (tr. Jordan Stump, University of Nebraska Press, 2012). This series of fictions is difficult to describe: It's dark, everything's a dream or it isn't, time is looped and static, there's resistance, prison, and everything echoes. ("Lutz Bassmann" is one of Antoine Volodine's pseudonyms.) A sentence: "As for the girls, they were inside the image, and they were going to die."

Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera (tr. Lisa Dillman, And Other Stories, 2015). This short novel about a young woman who must cross the border between Mexico and the U.S. is on the whole, on the section, and on the sentence torqued or, better yet, versed (see the translator's note for how this word comes into play)—by that I mean it keeps turning. (Both of these books, I realize now, spend much time underground—or at least the characters suspect they're traveling there.) A sentence: "It's not another way of saying things: these are new things."

Mildred Kiconco Barya

In the background of the poetry books I’ve loved reading this year is war: ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, Russia and Ukraine. For anyone who is awake, moments of private peace or joy aren’t enough if there are parts of the world in turmoil. I trust in poetry’s ability to reckon with truth. To make sense of what is beyond sense-making, and, therefore, beyond language as we know it. Below is a snapshot of poets whose recent books have showed me how to keep the faith amidst collective and individual suffering; how the natural world offers its consolation even when we humans are least deserving. Their works also reveal what’s possible when we open our hearts to experience love; when we pay attention to rituals, habits, and practices of making peace with one another and the world. May they touch you too.

The Heirless/Ghost Acres, Lightsey Darst (Coffee House Press)

“In this land they did wrong / and though it’s burned into the ground / so easy to follow their trace in the fields / we must not go the same way.”

Nocturne, Jodie Hollander (Liverpool University Press)

“Don’t they understand: / this is red center; this is no place / for people on a vacation. / This is where our pain / finally learns / to begin making its own / permanent formations.”

Dandelion, Heather Swan (Terrapin Books)

“Nothing scares me more / than being unhinged / but when a dove lands before me / I stop short, caught breathless, / breaking open…”

Above Ground, Clint Smith (Little, Brown and Company)

“We are not all left / standing after the war has ended. Some of us have / become ghosts by the time the dust has settled.”

Terre che piangono, Susan Nalugwa Kiguli (Interlinea)

“To us poetry does not / Happen by accident / It is the very heart / That shapes us / That drives us / That forces us to forge forward…”

Paradise Is Jagged, Anne Fisher-Wirth (Terrapin Books)

“…what forms of life will exist beyond apocalypse. / I cannot reconcile how the world is sweet, /
how the world is burning. Next door / in the trees a little bird is chipping at the night.”

Dot Devota

"A poem is not just words placed on a line. It is a cloth...I weave my poems with my veins," writes Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha. The ROLE of the poet is not to write poems.  Writers are "morally apathetic" (to use one of Baldwin's terms) who use the "archives of horror" (for which the US creates many) in ways disconnected from first-hand and lived experience, that refuse to take a moral stance, and instead dismiss the legacies of, and/or re-traumatize, survivors. Let us not be tricked by a writer's personal ethos; it is not an ethics and does not bear out into a coherent poetics.  Darwish said, "Poetry is the unshakable ally of the victim..."

The following celebrates poets and writers who create crossings at intersections where writing and living are the same crisis:


Mosab Abu Toha's Things You May Find Hidden In My Ear (City Lights)
Maya Abu Al-Hayyat, You Can Be The Last Leaf: Selected Poems, trans. Fady Joudah (Milkweed Editions)
Janice Lee's Separation Anxiety (Clash)
Jed Munson's Commentary On the Birds (Rescue Press)
Brandon Shimoda's Hydra Medusa (Nightboat)
Renee Gladman's Plans for Sentences (Wave Books)


Alicia Wright's Editor's Note (Issue 6)
Sophia Terazawa's Four Poems (Issue 5)
Jamila Hourani's review, “Reclaiming the non-performative being: Marwa Helal's Ante body (Issue 5)
Saretta Morgan's poem, The Zen Garden is Nice on the Weekends But the Door Will Lock Behind You (Issue 6)

Jonathan Gharraie

I struggled reading this year. I only managed to read books over the spring and summer and, yes, it felt like something of a loss. Of course, I don't think I'm actually thinking about literature when I think this. It isn't over. Nothing ever is. I compensated by devouring lots of old Hollywood movies—noir thrillers mostly. Have you ever seen Force of Evil written and directed by the soon-to-be-blacklisted Abraham Polonsky? Well, it's on YouTube and I struggled with it at first. Perhaps because of its relentlessly doomy atmosphere, its smoky, careworn fixation on how evil thinks, its politically inflected moralism, its sensitivity for how capitalism contorts relationships, robbing people of their dignity, even in death, and hiding from them their own souls. It reminded me of Ben Jonson's plays. Later, Polonsky was to say that 'all films that are about crime are about capitalism, because capitalism is about crime.'

When I found the Semiotexte reissue of Gary Indiana's masterpiece Do Everything in the Dark in a small but amazingly well-stocked bookshop just a street away from the beach in Hastings, I was initially excited but like everything I read this year, the novel took a while to lay its hold on me. Another novel in fragments—as sharply written as Renata Adler’s Speedboat but with characters one is almost expected to care about. I found it hard to make my mind up about whether I should. And then I had to travel for a while. But that helped. I had to drop everything which happens to most of the people in Indiana's novel and by the time I resumed it, I saw that this wasn't a novel in fragments, it was written in chapters and that the characters were bonded by the pain of thwarted careers or mangled relationships. These aren't crooks, like the denizens of Polonsky's post-war New York. They're creatives and they seem to be running on fumes.

But not only does Indiana's millenarian vision of the months leading up to 9/11 (the final scene takes place on September 8) share Polonsky's clarity about the cynicism that consumes people trapped in webs that they can see only too well, it anticipates some of the fatigue I've been feeling the last few years, and which I know many of my friends share, and which runs far deeper than any sense of mere cultural exhaustion. Although Indiana's narrator exclaims at one point 'I wanted to accept the world in its true condition, as it hurtled to its stony end,' just a few pages later he seems to have given up even that modest goal:

"I'm already devastated," I say. "Aren't you?" A recurring subject. " We have no dreams left. Nobody cares about equality, or any utopian anything. We're all just fucked. The guys who own the world won't let anything happen anymore."

Both Force of Evil and Do Everything in the Dark end with burial scenes on the edge of the East River. Polonsky's vision is utterly bereft. Indiana manages a faint pang of lyricism. I'll leave it at that. I'll just say that this is the kind of imaginative candour that I needed this year.

Bellee Jones-Pierce

David Berridge’s annulet “The Anatomy of Reading: Amalie Smith and Anna R. Winder” (Issue 6) considers the multilayered structures of reading and writing—the multiplicities of bodies in time and metaphor—and the relationships we build with texts, with readers, with other writers. I appreciate this. I feel it beneath my skin. Midway through the annulet, Berridge positions reading as “a post-trauma rehabilitation, as if Rembrandt’s dissected subject could sit up, pick six good books, and get themselves better.” What a year it has been. Here are my six good reads.

Allison Blevins, Cataloguing Pain (YesYes Books)

Beginning with an epigraph from Sonya Huber—"Pain is frustrated that it is trapped in a body that is ill-fitting for its unfolded shape”—Blevins allows pain to try new shapes: catalogues of prose poems, sparse free verse, and the best couplets I have read all year in “A Poem for When You Ask What’s Wrong.”

Travis Chi Wing Lau, Vagaries (Fork Tine Press)

While Vagaries was published in 2022, I read it in April of this year. I have not stopped thinking about it. Lau’s verse is careful, quick yet intimate, a powerful and material thinking-through language, pain, desire, and line.

Miller Oberman, “Theory,” Poetry (February 2023)

In “Theory,” Oberman writes himself reading Judith Butler—and rewrites himself, translates himself to himself—as the poem, the theory, unfolds. “When I wrote of this before,” Oberman writes, “I focused on the rocks / gave their scientific names       suggested I was becoming one // Naming things feels good        cataloging has great colonial power / and so distracting        A way of looking away” (lines 29-32).

Toby Altman, “On Trying to Recite Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73 To My Unborn Daughter” (Issue 5)

“To memorize a poem is to take the poem into your body,” Altman observes: “It becomes part of the library of your flesh, its experience of the world. Or it becomes one of the capacities your body contains—like jumping or breathing.” This gorgeous account of Altman’s trying and failing to memorize Sonnet 73 is both love letter and close reading.

Aimee Nezhukumatathil, World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments (Milkweed)

Nezhukumatathil’s World of Wonders has been a constant companion this year. Another catalogue, perhaps, with a different way of looking. I feel compelled to acknowledge the cheat here: Milkweed published the book in 2020, and I first read parts of some essays on The Toast

Susan Atefat-Peckham, with editing by Darius Atefat-Peckham, Deep Are These Distances Between Us (CavanKerry Press)

I was overjoyed to see Susan Atefat-Peckham’s name—to see this book of poems—this past October. Susie was my teacher when I was a graduate student in the MFA program at Georgia College, and she was working on these poems, recently recovered and edited by her son, at the time of her death in 2004. My favorite poem right now is “The Anatomy of Hands.”

                                                             If hands
are defined by what they carry, mine
are filled with your moonlight.

                                                    My hands fill
with your words.

(lines 8-11, 27-2)

Toby Altman

Mike Lala, The Unreal City (Tupelo Press) 

I do think there’s a good chance that, when the dust settles, “Work: a Poem” is regarded as one of the best long poems of our time.

Sawako Nakaysu, Pink Waves (Omnidawn)

Nakaysu improvises within the parameters of Adam Pendleton’s Becoming Imperceptible—creating a poem which is recursive, grief-stricken, immense; which gathers and travels like a wave, crest and trough, mobile and architectural.

Richard Meier, A Duration (Wave Books)

Melancholy, vast, surging, and strange—reading A Duration is like watching the ice on a stream in the early spring, then being carried away in the current.

Jennifer Soong, Suede Mantis // Soft Rage (Black Sun Lit)

Imagine if W. H. Auden and Leslie Scalapino went stargazing together. Or imagine if Four Quartets were, like, actually good. That I have to resort to such hypotheticals tells you something about how strange, how lyrical, and how new Jennifer Soong’s poems are.

Jay Gao

Ordinary Notes by Christina Sharpe (Daunt Books/FSG) 

More than once, this year, I have found myself drifting back towards this note by Sharpe:

‘My mother once wrote a heartbreaking letter on my behalf. I won’t reproduce it. But it exists. In me and in the world.’

In me and in the world. I love how Sharpe expresses this necessity for existence(s) that cannot be reproduced. Nor be reduced. Her extraordinary exploration of what it means to repair—to repair the ordinary—feels endlessly expansive. Here is Note 246: ‘What is required of us, now? In this long time of our undoing?’ Maybe a lexicon orientated towards modes of aliveness and translation, one for the future. What could be more necessary than that?

Pink Waves by Sawako Nakayasu (Omnidawn)

‘sitting on the banks of a new book i abolish your notion of beauty’. Each time I encounter Sawako’s work, I am always in awe of how her practice creates a radical space for different kinds of care. Bristling with this spirit of generosity and correspondence, Pink Waves is a radiant thing. There is an opacity and difficulty here—an ‘elegylight’—that will take me time to work through; but I can’t wait to re-read this performance-text, to let it lap against the limits of how I, myself, am beginning to envision that playful recursive space between poetry and performance, as Sawako does, as a ‘sliding between the heat of now and surrender.’

Alicia Wright

“Becoming Sensitive: Literary Study and Learning to Notice,” Elaine Auyoung (PMLA 138.1, 2023) 

That variations of what you notice in a text are particular to one’s own mind and its situation, regardless of your scholarly training, that scholarly arguments can have range and many interpretations can co-exist, and the idea of “knowing with,” are at the very heart of Annulet’s project. Auyoung’s interdisciplinary approach, an ode to expertise, the forms it takes, and its limits, draws out a crucial dissonance between modeling critical study (and hoping for the best) and explicitly teaching students how to do it. “‘Knowing with’” refers to how past knowledge and experience prepare learners to notice and interpret relevant information in the future,” she specifies, bringing expertise to land like a falcon. Auyoung’s argument for “intentional pedagogy” and reciprocity makes me genuinely excited and hopeful for the field.

Noah Warren’s review of Sara Nicholson’s April (Chicago Review)

When a review can cue its own style—that is, security—I know I’m reading the genre’s ideal form: the work and the work about the work both hold their weight. Warren expertly handles Nicholson’s poetics, outlining the particulars manifest in April (The Song Cave, 2023), and usefully traces her progression, reading rightly such depth that’s there into and out of her work. If you’ve been wondering how best to understand Sara Nicholson’s poetry, which is to say this corner of contemporary poetry, Warren’s intricate review-essay will show you how.

“The Makings of a Literary ‘It’ Girl” by Sophia June (Nylon Magazine)

Oh, I couldn’t help myself. If there were a piece that marks 2023’s literary culture’s cruel intersections with the market (trade publishing, in the main), the market’s favorite exploited terrain (women’s psyches), and history’s repetitions (but this isn’t the Jazz Age—more like the Juul Age)—it’s this one. I’m interested in this latest literary restaging of the ‘It’ girl phenomenon because it seems either a confused or canny reaction to autofiction’s theory of self—that writing a text makes an experience of you, which is a quite the shift from writing a text based upon your experience. That inversion nestles in nicely with other media forms, like the social, in which we broker our reputations through both images and words. See, there’s hope for the novel after all, but maybe not for novelists.

“The Function of Criticism in the Present Time,” Merve Emre’s Vinduet Lecture, held in the Hamsun Hall at Gyldendal Norsk Forlag in Oslo, September 4th 2023.

I’m here for any critical lineage, or “the germ of critical practice,” that begins with Margaret Cavendish. Part literary-intellectual history, part stake in the ground, this lecture was as useful to read this year as it will be to teach now and years from now.

A Month in the Country, J.L. Carr (NYRB Books)

I wish I had called my father to tell him how much I loved this book, which I finished two days before he suddenly died, as it was written around the same time that he spent hitchhiking in the English countryside. This slender British novel makes a month’s frame into a slow spell, which is an experiment in grades of attention, or layers of knowing, as Carr’s protagonist shifts between his experience of expertise gotten through passion or conscription. Knowledge holds back loss and much as knowing creates, or if in the case of shellshock, detonates it. That’s exquisitely contrasted with the act of gradually uncovering a medieval Christian church painting, or faces in the past’s dirt and dark. What you see is what you’ve drawn, in the end, marks whose making reveals more than intended meaning, the fact of the detail. Penelope Fitzgerald puts this revelation best:

“Carr is by no means a lavish writer, but he has the magic touch to re-enter the imagined past. Birkin notices, as he walks back down the road, how he first smelled, then saw, the swathes of hay lying in the dusk.

At the Sunday school outing, 'Afterwards, most of the men took off their jackets, exposing their braces and the tapes of their long woollen underpants, and astonished their children by larking around like great lads.' Those tapes! Who would have remembered them except Jim Carr?”

Who wouldn’t be compelled by a character who works silently up in a church’s dark eaves, and is mostly kind, especially to a little girl who comes to visit? The sentimentalist in me swooned at one final detail involving leaving behind a coat. A Month in the Country is a perfectly calibrated interplay between complexity and simplicity.