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Upsetting Brooklyn

by Eleanor J. Bader

When Zohra Saed was a child, her father frequently spoke about two things: Islam and Afghanistan, her family’s country of origin. She found his stories riveting. In fact, she loved them so much that she started writing stories and poems of her own.

“I’d go to the elementary school library and doodle poems into the books,” she begins, her smile widening with each spoken word. “The teachers thought I was defacing school property but what I was actually trying to do was put myself up on a library shelf.”

It’s now nearly three decades later and Saed’s goals have not so much changed, as expanded. As co-publisher of the Brooklyn-based UpSet Press, she and her business partner and close friend, Robert Booras, seek to print poetry and prose that takes readers out of their social and political comfort zones.

The collaboration has resulted in three first editions since 2004: Nicholas Powers’s Theater of War; Matthew Rotando’s The Comeback’s Exoskeleton; and Cihan Kaan’s Halal Pork and Other Stories. In the fall of 2010 they released a second edition of Suheir Hammad’s Born Palestinian, Born Black, an out-of-print book of poems that had originally been published in 1996.

Saed and Booras met at Brooklyn College in the late 1990s when both were pursuing Master of Fine Arts degrees in poetry. “I was doing a ’zine called SPAWN and Zohra was doing a ’zine called RIPE GUAVA. We met in a feminist theory class and said, ‘Gee, we have to link up and join forces,’” Booras begins. “At first we shared networks and I was publishing her in my ’zine and vice-versa. After a few years of being each other’s cheerleaders, we decided to merge efforts and become a non-profit press.”

Their first impulse, he continues, was to promote writing that was ideologically progressive. “We saw that political poetry was frowned upon,” he says. “Poets were dismissed if they had too much of a message or made too much of a statement.”

Saed—more bubbly and effusive than the quieter, more laid-back Booras—nods in agreement but adds that the impetus to form a press was also a direct descendant of a punk-inspired Do It Yourself—DIY—ethos that continues to motivate them. “If you don’t see what you want out there, make it yourself,” she says. “For me, it’s about creating a library of books that I want to read.”

And the name? “The name took at least three years of back-and-forth,” Booras laughs. “The word upset has two meanings. One is about upsetting the status quo, but the second is about championing the underdog. When the lesser team wins it’s called an upset. Jamaican reggae and dub musician Lee Perry, who is also known as ‘The Upsetter,’ further inspired us. This sense of being a rabble rouser had a lot of appeal when we were debating different names.”

While Booras and Saed acknowledge that their initial vision has shifted a bit since UpSet incorporated in 2000—a feat accomplished with help from Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts—the desire to publish or republish what Booras calls “left out voices, voices that go against the grain,” remains ironclad.

“We’re trying to be innovative and add to what’s already out there,” Saed says. “We’re bringing back writers whose work has either been forgotten or that has never been translated into English.”  One such writer, Nadia Tueni, a Lebanese poet who died in 1983, is on their wish list. They are currently working with Tueni’s granddaughter to obtain the rights to the poet’s work. Once that is accomplished, the work will be translated from French to English; it will subsequently be introduced into the U.S. marketplace.

Matthew Rotando reading at the launch of his book, The Comeback’s Exoskeleton.

For Booras and Saed, the process of recovering overlooked texts is exhilarating, and their enthusiasm for uncovering lost gems is obvious, even contagious. At the same time, they believe that it’s also important to stay contemporary. They call their most recent release, Cihan Kaan’s Halal Pork and Other Stories, a perfect fit for UpSet—a rhythmic, avant-garde look at North America through the eyes of a young, non-religious, Texas-born Muslim reared in the Borough of Churches.

The first fiction writer of Crimean Tatar descent to be published domestically, Kaan’s five-story collection defies categorization. His themes range from the treatment—and mistreatment—of Muslim Americans since 9/11, to the gentrification of Coney Island, to white racism in the punk music scene.

Perhaps surprisingly, Kaan wasn’t looking for a publisher when serendipity brought him into contact with Booras and Saed. Instead, the fledgling publishers found the fledgling writer at a screening of She’s Got an Atom Bomb, a film Kaan completed in 2004. Saed recognized Kaan from high school—they both graduated from Sheepshead Bay in 1993—and one thing led to another, the end result being the publication of Halal Pork in early 2011. Although readying the text for publication took several years, both publisher and author say they are thrilled with the result.

Publishing, however, is a constant process, with little down time between books. Indeed, despite ongoing efforts to promote the four titles they’ve published to date, Booras and Saed are working hard to map out their next four-to-five projects. Some, like a collection of poems by Jennifer Husk, are near completion and will be out later this spring. Next year’s books will include a novel by Champa Bilwakesh, whose work has appeared in the Kenyon Review and Monsoon Magazine. In addition, the first of several Tueni translations and a book of poems by Amir Parsa are in the pipeline for late 2012 or early 2013.

As for Booras and Saed personally, the two—published writers themselves—are hopeful that UpSet will take off in a big way, allowing them to quit their day jobs and focus their energies on bringing innovative, original writing to readers the world over.

“We’re always on the lookout for people who exercise the craft of writing in a way that’s smart,” Booras says.

Saed shakes her head vigorously and it is clear that she and Booras are of one literary mind. “We try not to be limited by style,” she says. “We’re looking for writing that feels beautiful and necessary and critical. Critical is important. Every one of our writers has a critique, an urgency. Cihan Kaan is a perfect example. His work has so much energy. It’s playful but offers a missing perspective on being here, in Brooklyn, and being turned upside down and into The Other by 9/11. It’s the post 9/11 experience without melancholy.”

And it has resonated.

Moustafa Bayoumi, author of How Does It Feel to be a Problem: Young and Arab in New York, calls Halal Pork “irreverent, urgent, funny, and refreshingly unpredictable.”

Suheir Hammad’s Born Palestinian, Born Black has been similarly lauded. Poet Naomi Shihab Nye calls Haddad’s collection “a brave flag over the dispossessed,” and E. Ethelbert Miller of the Institute for Policy Studies says that the poems “open a door to learning.”

It goes without saying that these comments please Booras and Saed. Nonetheless, they’re concerned about the future of the industry and are presently exploring e-publishing their future releases. That said, they’re optimistic about UpSet Press and are eager to see where this publishing venture will take them. Right now Booras says that they’re receiving two-to-three unsolicited manuscripts a week. While they don’t have the financial resources to publish a fraction of the talented writers who come their way, they can’t help grinning as they let their minds wander into the uncharted territory of what-ifs, whether it’s expanded sales or grants from foundations or individuals who champion cultural diversity.

“Edward Said once said something to the effect that he preferred a belligerent intelligence to conformity,” Booras quips. For him, Saed, and their small circle of authors, pushing the envelope of convention is a powerful reason for being.

Beautiful words, of course, are an added bonus.

Source: Brooklyn Rail

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Desire of the Moth by Champa Bilwakesh

Sneak peek at the cover... featuring art by Chitra Ganesh and designed by Wendy Lee

Sneak peek at the cover… featuring art by Chitra Ganesh and designed by Wendy Lee

Desire of the Moth: A Novel by Champa Bilwakesh

Set in a time of great conflicts and viagra super active painful consequences as India shakes off its colonial
chains, this novel traces the life of one woman as she discovers the meaning of her own liberation.

The worship the heart lifts above
    And the Heavens reject not,—
The desire of the moth for the star,
    Of the night for the morrow,
The devotion of something afar
    From the sphere of our sorrow
Percy Bysshe Shelley
A 15 year old widow runs across a bridge to catch a train bound for Trichi.  Sowmya is running away to make sense of the events that had seized her body and her mind, and had ripped apart her world.  She is determined to flee her destiny of numbing isolation within her community, the Brahmins of the Thanjavur district in South India.  Her plans pivot when she meets a devadasi – an aging dancer – in her compartment.  When the woman Mallika opens her drawstring bag and buys Sowmya her dinner, Sowmya recognizes what she needs to overcome her own condition –  that of a young woman in possession of a thin cotton sari, a head shorned clean, and little else.  She asks Mallika how she too can achieve that kind of power – the power to open a bag and pull out money.

Thus begins Sowmya’s transformation in the city by the sea, Madras, which is in the grip of its own political and social changes while India is struggling to seize its independence from the imperial British Raj. Here she learns the beauty of dance from Mallika, and the sweetness and agony of falling in love with a married man.

The cinema brings unimagined opportunities and all the power and riches that she could desire, but it also consumes her relentlessly.  When a letter arrives, Sowmya begins her quest to regain everything that had been lost when she once lived in that small village tucked into a little bend of the Kaveri river.


Cover Art: “Devika Rani” by Chitra Ganesh

Champa Bilwakesh

Champa Bilwakesh

Champa Bilwakesh was born in India.  She earned her MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. Her story “The Boston Globe Personal Line” was published by Kenyon Review, Fall 2005.  Nominated for the Ploughshares Emerging Writers issue, it won honorable mention in the Pushcart Prize XXXI. It has been translated into Italian for the online magazine, El Ghibli.  Her other works have won prizes in the Katha short story contest by India Current, San Jose, and published in the online journal, Monsoon Magazine. She lives in Andover, MA where she produces TV shows for the community channel.


Our readers have been submitting “selfies” with Champa’s book!


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A Nuclear Family by April Naoko Heck

April HeckNews From UpSet Press:

A Nuclear Family by April Naoko Heck

“Read these poems and trust this history.”— Kimiko Hahn

UpSet Press is pleased to announce the release of A Nuclear Family, April Naoko Heck’s debut book of poetry.

As we approach the 70-year anniversary of the dropping of the first atomic bomb, Heck’s timely collection explores the brink of creation and annihilation — the dawning of the nuclear age and the shaping of Japanese American identity within the shadows of WWII.

On August 6, 1945, in Hiroshima prefecture, Heck’s great-grandmother walked in a field 2.5 miles away from the blast’s epicenter. Meanwhile, 20 miles away, in the town of Otake, Heck’s mother was in the womb of her mother, presumably safe from the impending nuclear fallout.

Drawing from conversations with family members and historical research, Heck traces the footsteps of her great-grandmother, and then turns her attention westward to her literal nuclear family in poems about her Caucasian American father’s job at a nuclear power plant, as well as his later illness and passing.

As Kimiko Hahn discerns for us, “Plain horror courses beneath the surface of many of these poems — and that intensity issues from the history we know and the history we could not know because A Nuclear Family really is a poetry-memoir. And such a collection makes me realize how without art, we only have dry records. With April Naoko Heck’s poetry, we now have the burning horse, white light and black rain, a skull pulverized for medicine, a hundred Canada geese, the Ponce de Leon Motel, a frozen lake. And where horror subsides, there is a lovely tranquility. Read these poems and trust this history.”

A Nuclear Family (ISBN 978-1-937357-91-7 / $11.95 / March 1, 2014) is available for purchase on Amazon:


Born in Tokyo, April Naoko Heck moved with her family to the U.S. when she was seven. Her poems have garnered an AWP Intro Journals Award, Academy of American Poets Prize, and Allen Tate Memorial Award, among other honors. Her writing appears in publications including Alaska Quarterly Review, Artful Dodge, Asian American Literary Review, Cleveland Plain Dealer, The Collagist, Cream City Review, Poets & Writers, The Rumpus, and Shenandoah. A Kundiman Fellow, she has been awarded residencies at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Vermont Studio Center. She currently works for the NYU Creative Writing Program.


Please contact for review copies, interviews with the author, and to set up readings and/or classroom visits.


Nuclear Family

A Nuclear Family


The Los Angeles Review of Books 

From 1945 Japan, the book moves inward, examining Heck’s own nuclear family, experiences as a Japanese-American, and her father’s job at a nuclear power plant. The word “nuclear” is at once reminiscent of a family ravaged by war and the family as a social unit. Heck excels in juxtaposing horrific imagery with moments of simple language: “After years, she would still hold up her hands / and flutter her fingers to describe what she saw, / pale blue light dropped to the sky, / Kira-kira, she said. Twinkle, twinkle.” Bookended by violence—World War II and ten years after September 11, 2011—A Nuclear Family is a story of survival, what it means to be a daughter, and how to tell the stories we inherit. The book opens with the searing image of “fistfuls of silver / sewing needles fused / together eyeless,” and ends with the instruction to “Open your eyes.”

Review by Ansley Moon

Late Night Library Interviewed by Amanda McConnon

Here is an excerpt:

AM: Another the part of the book that deals with your father, your life together, and his death, accesses a tender side of the voice that isn’t as present throughout the rest of the book. How was writing about this subject matter different than writing the poems about Japan?

AH: Thank you for noticing that. I think the difference is in the magnitude and quality of grief I feel over these losses.  I didn’t know my great-grandmother except through stories, so I don’t feel the same kind of tenderness toward her as I feel toward my father. That emotional distance is helpful in being able to control language. I often feel I don’t have enough control when I’m writing about my father because the grief is so much closer to the surface. I think tenderness is probably both an asset and a liability in poems: you need just the right amount to court but not indulge in sentimentality.

AM: In the untitled poem after “The Bells” you write about your great-grandmother describing the blast from the atomic bomb by saying “’Kira, kira,’ she said, ‘Twinkle, twinkle.’” Not only did you have to toe the line of sentimentality, but also worry about making atrocities too beautiful. How did you approach your subject matter with this responsibility in mind?

AH: This is a great question because it gets to the heart of how powerful and essential, and yet problematic, poetry of witness can be.  Some people will argue that making atrocity that is beyond language somehow consumable, digestible through art, actually makes it all the more possible for atrocity to reoccur.

I can see that the poem includes beautiful language, but I think the primary drive and essence of the poem is really about the heartbreaking innocence of her phrasing, the way she must have told the story to herself. I think that may be the vocabulary she had, the language that was true to her personality and experience: to her, the bomb falling actually twinkled. And I trust readers to “get” that the poem is more about her unreplicable experience than about beautifying language for poetic effect.

Luna Luna Featuring Book Excerpt

What impressed me about this poetry collection was not only Heck’s use of imagery, but the way she gets to the heart of the matter. She shows the reader how pain is measured at different times in our life. Sometimes, pain surfaces as loss, as a strained father-daughter relationship. But, it is also a way to keep ourselves.

I admire the way Heck aligns past versions of herself and past versions of places; this collection surprised me as it is not only a collection rooted in family and history, but also one rooted in identity and the search for happiness.

In “The Leaf Book,” Heck discusses a third grade leaf-book project and in discussing school, and her father, she also delves into self-identifying.  I love that line, “I know the wrong kinds of love…”

Leah Umansky

Vida Conversation with Purvi Shah

PS [Purvi Shah]: I love this idea of fruition even in years to come, because when I think back to myTerrain Tracks book launch, one of my college poet friends, Gabrielle Civil, an amazing performance artist, read as well as Kundiman co-founder, Sarah Gambito. Similarly, you had an amazing book launch for A Nuclear Family with so many voices of people who had influenced you or whose writing you admired, and I love that sense that poetry is not just a home for us individually, but is a shared, collective home. And if we can see our writing as a small way of saying, “We have voice, we have stories to tell, we take up space in this world,” we can also feel how powerful it is to do so in camaraderie. I think about how our writing pulls in our ancestors, these lineages, and simultaneously we are creating the next lineages for people to branch off from.

ANH [April Naoko Heck]: That’s part of what Kundiman taught me – there’s a level of book-learning that is simply limited and you have to experience a creative life viscerally and exchange energy with people who are living their poetry in a way you realize you want to and can. Kundiman validated that for me. Any form of creative learning has always been inextricably connected to my identity, the hardships and triumphs of my community,  as someone of mixed race, a woman, descendent of war victims and survivors. And that’s not true for every Asian American female writer. That’s just my truth.




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Slippers for Elsewhere by Matthew J. Burgess

Matthew J. Burgess

Matthew J. Burgess


“Matthew Burgess has a sharp ear, a tender eye, no sympathy for humorlessness, and a swift hand with enjambment. He knows how to end a line–with a bang, or a tease, or a curve. Amid these swerves, an air of insouciant recklessness mingles with a wistful fondness for misfits, for errant paths, for the eroticism of everything that’s lost, faded, remote, and wrecked. Burgess holds his beguiling “I” in check by wit, dazzling splices, and flirtatious evasiveness.

A phrase like ‘a collage of phalluses / to squeegee before father returns’ sets my internal thermostat to a temperature resembling joy.”–Wayne Koestenbaum

“And I, you. And your little dog, too. Hello he. Dude. You know who. The music of direct interpellation, the shorthand speech that binds us–dares, avowals, threats, salutes, express permissions–is frequently the music of Matthew Burgess’s Slippers for Elsewhere, a book that promises from adulthood it gets better, kid. This is a Manhattan Bound Q Train. That fast and fleet, that communal, that public, with transfers often to the local. The city, and so the broader world, awakens, phototropic, in this poet’s running regard for it, bright, benedictory, dear, and keen.”–Brian Blanchfield

“These poems are possessed of a perfect heart, their measure always gushing forth to float the next incredible image, ‘before you make up your mind it drifts off to ascend the Alhambra’s turrets and finger pink Moorish reliefs.’ The colors rise to the utmost surface of the language. They sometimes harden to form a designer diorama or time machine. The poet and reader become trembling silhouettes let loose (in cahoots) darting out from under their respective stage lights. All of this action is tailored to a very lived in (to die for) tone of voice. The winds are lifted and love is a shelter.”–Cedar Sigo

Matthew J. Burgess

About the Author

Matthew Burgess teaches creative writing and composition at Brooklyn College. He has been a poet-in-residence in New York City elementary schools through Teachers & Writers Collaborative since 2001, and currently he is completing his PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center. His work has appeared in various magazines and journals, and he recently received an award from the Fund for Poetry.


Reviewed by Ryan Skrabalak

Giraffes Will Leap in the Season of Haircuts: Matthew J. Burgess’ ‘Slippers For Elsewhere’

Though his later years were marred with substance abuse, lackluster performances, and obesity, Jerry Garcia developed a seemingly strange favorite pastime: SCUBA diving. Archival footage shows “the fat man” floating serenely amongst Hawaiian corals and turtles; a September 1995 article described Garcia as “a part of [the underwater world]…completely relaxed.” Before his death in August of that year, Garcia remarked something to the tune of “If there was SCUBA in the sixties, we’d never have needed all those drugs!”Garcia’s tongue-in-cheek comment can be read as a small cry for help, perhaps even past the point of no return. If only he knew in 1965 what lay in store for him thirty years down the road, would he have ever been as daring to test those early psychedelic waters? Or, maybe even more conceivably, the comment is a wistful, longing memory of Day-Glo afternoons and those young, electric audiences. Many chunks of Matthew Burgess’ Slippers for Elsewhere are partly that: kaleidoscopic greatest hits of sounds, people, colors, and feelings. It is half retrospect and half Ouija board, half commemorative plaque and half crystal ball. Burgess uses language familiar and common—choppy, rhythmic phrases from text boxes and bubbles, shorthand stutters, exclamations, and tongue twisters—to convey scenes through keyholes, through Laundromat windows and through movie theaters. He guides a tender and wistful conga line through the brilliant shallows and radiant depths of his experiences, with lines that are ripe with linguistic, syntactical, and metaphorical biodiversity, ultimately reminding us how fantastic it is to simply speak, see, and listen.Burgess divides Slippers into four distinct realms. “Lift Off,” the first section of poems, is exactly that: a launch pad from which the reader is guided through a gallery of Burgess’ earlier days—childhood and adolescence. Titles of poems in this section prepare this nascent landscape. “Childish Things” is a sort of precocious shopping list of memory, recalling smaller moments whose profundity is at first not realized: “2. // Your preference for Sandra Dee before she goes leather / won’t last forever” and “5. // Silver crayons delight in the box but disappoint on paper” demonstrate Burgess’ ability to make the minute revelatory and grand (and assonant). “Closest Closets,” a sparse, quick-flicking reel recalling the author’s wrestle with sexuality and family, begins snappy and schoolyard-like (think rope-skipping) in its speed and rhyme (“we spun / for fun […] We shucked / our shirts // to run / sun”), yet quickly twists into darker territory and loses bits of its bubblegum couplet rhyme (“Dads clad / in plaid // seemed mad / or dead […] our moms / at home // who knew / the truth // but never / ever // said / a word”). “Lift Off” also reveals Burgess’ literary roots and beginnings, both oblique and blatant, laying out his proverbial cards for the reader. “Literacy Narrative” reveals frankly “A toss up I guess between Jesus / and Clifford the Dog […] What If They Knew, How / To Eat Fried Worms, Blubber. Slim / pink paperbacks about cliques […] plus a growing contempt for Dad’s / Louis L’Amour,” while “After the Matinee” stylistically hip-checks the ear-bending sprung rhythm of Gerard Manley Hopkins (“credits expel us into a sun-lashed lot / we feel flushed as squints adjust to garish / flashes off silver fender”) as well as Frank O’Hara’s penchant for all things Hollywood.As Slippers shuffles on through the succeeding sections, “Sensitive Machine,” “Observable Universe,” and “Yeah You,” the cards laid out in “Lift Off” snake in and around stanzas, like fish flitting in and out of cracks and crannies of a reef. “Sensitive Machine” finds Burgess at his most vulnerable and anxious: here, New York City makes its first empirical appearance, at once mystifying and delightful (“Plumes of shawarma waft from / the Grecian Corner”) as well as panoptic and tense (“We go on living on the G. // Quieter now, be not inhospitable / lest he be some strange angel.”) New York City, though, is where Burgess seems to find some missing puzzle piece. Poems and ideas become clearer, concrete, and more confident. Stated straight, “Don’t hate Brooklyn / if a flung chicken bone lands / at your feet […] Don’t hate sports bar roars or ever / the weather, even sideways rain. […] Make a little joke. Be nice.” New York City acts as a catalyst for Burgess—he grows up, he becomes himself—“Now we’re men / who love men—Amen,” he asserts in “Take Out Your Hymnals,” a poem that sees him return westward to “Santa-Ana-polished / twilight. Our motherland” as a changed human, still slightly riddled with Catholic heartache, yet buoyant, transformed, and poised, “those who point // and we are they.”

“Yeah You,” the final quarter of Slippers For Elsewhere, is as tender a comedown as mellifluous and fantastical a beginning “Lift Off” is. The section’s title is indicative of the poems within—an ending collection of personal proclamations and admissions. “We” and “you” appear most frequently in this ending quarter, often in the context of a lover. “And I You” turns the typical cloying love ballad into a softer, more tangible “portrait of me on a paper plate / With macaroni hair.” There is an air of calmness and finality among these last poems. “Sergeant Marsfield” unabashedly proclaims “We wear / capes sequined and furred // in the post-apocalypse,” and there is a palpable ‘At last!’ feeling to “In Mittens,” whose opening lines spout “I finally have a cracker to toss / into the mix, no longer a chick / atwitter in liquid shoot.” And so finally, “Yeah You” is not only the realized fully-grown tree that had been germinating throughout the book, but also the capstone to a sly little love story—the end of the arcing rainbow. These poems mark a sort of ‘spilling over’—where the previous sections of the book represent the myriad depths and shallows of a mountain lake, here is the spring runoff, the waterfall spilling forth, the realized kinetic energy.

If there is credence to be taken from the belief that one simultaneously creates one’s own current universe and one’s own ghost, where does that really leave one when talking about the poetic realm? It is an incredibly specific, small and tight universe, if you even call it a universe, wide and expansive as it may seem to both initiated and uninitiated onlookers and participants. Matthew Burgess’ Slippers For Elsewhere floats (Garcia, is that you, ghost?) in the pith of a Technicolor Venn diagram—the emblematic Krylon logo where a white center is completely surrounded by color. Is it New York City poetry? Gay poetry? Movie poetry? Language poetry? Is it the language of movies in gay New York City? What does Jerry Garcia have to do with any of this? Is it even important? If you have made it this far, you likely know the answer, and Burgess wants to celebrate it with you. There exist poems in the everyday and everywhere. We create our own verbal universes and interact with others, consciously and subconsciously. It is beautiful enough just to speak and to sit with ears unzipped, to hear the Pacific Ocean dip quietly into the Hudson River: “There’s no telling / what happens next. / ‘Night again.”

Ryan Skrabalak is a co-editor at Tottenville Review, poet, and cheesemonger currently living in Albany, New York. His work has been published in Slice, The Brooklyn Review, Stone Canoe, By The Overpass, The Krakow Post, and two Brooklyn zine series—Having A Whiskey Coke With You and The Post-Apocalyptic Poets of Deep Brooklyn. He blogs at The Cloud Merchant.

– See more at:

Lit Pub by Lara Mimosa Montes

I suggest Slippers for Elsewhere be read as a manifesto for queer optimism.


Matthew Burgess’s Slippers for Elsewhere is a buoyant and colorful debut. Much like the rainbow beach balls bouncing off of the book’s front cover (courtesy of an untitled Joe Brainard collage) Burgess’s poems cheerfully recall the unrepeatable summers of suburban childhood and Joan Collins crushes amidst “the shirtless huddle / of sexy extras.” Sustained by a boyish curiosity for American pop culture, and the ever-perplexing heteronormativities that frame the queer child’s experience of everyday life,Slippers for Elsewhere is a festive Technicolor romp punctuated with fisticuffs and red polka dots.

The imagery of the book’s first section, “Lift Off,” evokes the bizarre and deliriously exciting sense-making process characteristic of childhood. In the poem “Theme for a Pulse,” the speaker, as in so many of Burgess’s poems, is a precocious young boy; he writes:

when the red x in EXIT splits
and becomes Walt Whitman’s chopsticks,
I unfold the napkin and crease it
into a scorpion

which stings my ankle
then vanishes behind a golden
podium: Ladies and Gentlemen . . .

At what moment during the family outing does the poet-child “tune-out,” as it were, or begin to imagine the lively elsewhere beyond the dull, starched restaurant napkin? For the child, boredom may prompt bemusement, but for the poet, it is the familiar and its uncanny ties to the familial which cues the poet to begin making.

Stanza by stanza, in his short poems Burgess displays a keen sensitivity for the peculiar ways in which reading and recognition become inevitably intertwined with the queer world of touching feeling and writing being. In this way, Slippers for Elsewhere breezily treads across the lyric space foregrounded by Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick’s essay, “A Poem is Being Written” (which in turn looks back at Freud’s “A Child is Being Beaten”).

Lara Mimosa Montes

In Review: Best Books of 2014

Matthew Burgess and April Naoko Heck made this excellent list by brilliant LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs!

HUFFINGTON POST Small Press Books to Watch in 2014 (AWP Version)

Matthew Burgess, Slippers for Elsewhere (poems), UpSet Press, January 2014

Light, dashingly and deceptively casual poems on growing up gay, among other things. The book is short and conversational, but unravels in marvelous directions.

Valerie Stivers-Isakova


Aster(ix) Picks: Our Favorite Poetry 2014

Slippers for Elsewhere by Matthew J. Burgess

“These poems are play and pop and joy. Burgess makes plastic emote. You would think he learned language yesterday, he likes it so much. He twists words till they gleam new and makes the people in his poems shine too.”

– Sheila Maldonado author of One-Bedroom Solo


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a little history by Ammiel Alcalay

Photo by Kate Tarlow Morgan

Photo by Kate Tarlow Morgan

UpSet Press in collaboration with re:public presents: A Special Series edited by Fred Dewey

Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the war in Iraq, and 9/11, A Little History explores the deep politics of memory and imagination while proposing a new paradigm for American Studies.

With preface by editor Fred Dewey, Alcalay’s book places the work of major figures like Muriel Rukeyser, Charles Olson, Edward Dorn, Diane di Prima, and Amiri Baraka, in the realm of resistance and global decolonization to assert the power of poetry as a unique form of knowledge. Recognized by Edward Said as “that rare thing, a gifted prose writer and poet, and an accomplished intellectual,” Alcalay brings his blend of autobiographical and investigative scholarship to bear on this timely and important book of essays.

“A visionary writer and poet.”

—Wilson Harris

“His books are a tool for liberation.”

—Peter Lamborn Wilson

“from the warring factions is a book without questions; a book that answers itself and, in this way it is a useful and complete book for our time, a kind of text-book.”

—Fanny Howe

“There is no one better qualified to explore the meaning of today’s ‘culture wars’, locally and globally.”

—Amitav Ghosh

“Alcalay brings to any subject an acute sensitivity to writing and a sophisticated understanding of the way politics works to produce and maintain literature… Ammiel Alcalay is a unique and important figure in contemporary world literature.”

—Lynne Tillman

“It is Ammiel Alcalay’s consistent curiosity, his care concerning the world in which he lives, his determined, capable mind, that I value so much. Simply put, he is an indefatigable worker, and a brilliant one.”

—Robert Creeley

“There is in Ammiel Alcalay’s work an unabashed tenderness for the world as it is, and that makes him courageous, different.”

—Etel Adnan

Boston Review: “Strategic Interruptions: Notes on the Work of Ammiel Alcalay”


The scope of Alcalay’s writing is staggering. His most recent book, a little history(re:public/UpSet Press, 2013), places the life and work of Charles Olson against the backdrop of the Cold War and Alcalay’s personal reflections on the institutionalized production of knowledge, at once investigating the historical relationship between poetry and resistance and enacting the politics of memory and imagination. What sets Alcalay apart from so many artists, intellectuals, and activists working today is his insistence on the necessary interrelatedness of scholarly, political, and creative endeavors and the individual and collective human experiences from which they grow. This stance flies in the face of post-NAFTA America’s regime of isolation and deracination, in which consumer goods are stripped of the labor that produced them and voices from other cultures—when they are heard here at all—often arrive under the aegis of a sanitized, superficial internationalism that obscures their social and historical context.

What sets Alcalay apart from so many artists is his insistence on the interrelatedness of the scholarly, political, and creative and the human experiences from which they grow.

Cole Heinowitz

Video of Ammiel Alcalay's Lecture at SVA

Video of Ammiel Alcalay’s Lecture at SVA

Benjamin Hollander and Ammiel Alcalay Talk at Bard College, On Translation and Poetic Identity in the Age of Identity Politics, Nov. 18, 2013

More Press:

The most true quote (Below) about Ammiel Alcalay is from:

The Kids Are Reading Chaucer | Hortulus

Hero of Poets

Hero of Poets

and this excellent review of a little history

Review of a little history

Review of a little history

Ammiel Alcalay and the late Amiri Baraka (Rest in Love):

Amiri Baraka and Ammiel Alcalay Oct. 2013

Check this write-up out in Book Slut on Nov. 13, 2013:

Book Slut


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from the warring factions by Ammiel Alcalay

from the warring factions by Ammiel Alcalay

from the warring factions by Ammiel Alcalay


The long awaited 2nd edition of from the warring factions brings back into print Ammiel Alcalay’s book-length poem dedicated to the Bosnian town of Srebrenica, site of the massacre of some 7,000 Muslim men and boys in 1995. This daring blend of lyric and document remaps the world we inherit, from native New England to the Roman Empire, from the Gulf War to Palestine and the Balkans. The late Adrienne Rich has called from the warring factions the “kind of poem I’ve been waiting to read.” And in her new introduction, Diane di Prima writes “This book forced me to redefine my life.” Accompanied by an extensive discussion between Alcalay and poet Benjamin Hollander, as well as a new preface by the author, this edition brings an essential text of the post-9/11 world back into the conversation.

“from the warring factions is a book without questions; a book that answers itself and, in this way it is a useful and complete book for our time, a kind of text-book.”

—Fanny Howe

“There is no one better qualified to explore the meaning of today’s ‘culture wars’, locally and globally.”

—Amitav Ghosh

“Alcalay brings to any subject an acute sensitivity to writing and a sophisticated understanding of the way politics works to produce and maintain literature… Ammiel Alcalay is a unique and important figure in contemporary world literature.”

—Lynne Tillman

“It is Ammiel Alcalay’s consistent curiosity, his care concerning the world in which he lives, his determined, capable mind, that I value so much. Simply put, he is an indefatigable worker, and a brilliant one.”

—Robert Creeley

“There is in Ammiel Alcalay’s work an unabashed tenderness for the world as it is, and that makes him courageous, different.”

—Etel Adnan


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Book Release: Ground Below Zero

Essays by Nicholas Powers

Essays by Nicholas Powers

The Ground Below Zero combines on-the-ground reporting, memoir and magic realism into an accessible and elegant narrative that spans the high points of the first decade of the 21st Century. Nick Powers writes from racially charged post 9/11 New York to the wild festival Burning Man. He explores the intimate pain of family history, Darfur refugee camps in Africa to the protests against police killings of Black and Latino youth in New York.

“Nicholas Powers takes the most contemporary social issues and events of our generation and examines them from a very personal place seldom seen in media. He effectively captures the innocence of suffering, portrays the nobility of sacrifices and asks questions that are not answered by mainstream society. A must-read for those interested in political, psychological and social development.”

–Lee Mayjahs, The Philadelphia Experiment

“The Ground Below Zero introduces a new and important voice, one with a trajectory reaching from New York’s left and alternative cultures to the present world’s vistas of death. It is a voice partly urban-hip and partly epic-tragic. The story it tells is part journalism, part memoir, and part prophetic-apocalyptic vision.”

–Christopher Z. Hobson

Powers is at his best when recalling the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and his vivid descriptions of the first weeks following the World Trade Center’s destruction bring the period back with incredible force. He captures the scene perfectly, from young soldiers sporting heavy black machine guns as they patrolled city streets to the in-your-face expressions of anti-Muslim bigotry that became ubiquitous.

“Arab was the new black,” he writes. For a brief second this shift caused Powers to feel a sense of personal relief. After all, as a dark-skinned Latino, he had been on the receiving end of racist name-calling and worse. It was an awkward and horrible realization and Powers wondered how long it would take before the “eye swings its spotlight back on me…Under the question lingered guilt that the hate that drained away from me now filled Arab bodies, and we who were black not brown, Christian not Muslim, western not eastern, could wear the American flag like a new skin.”

Eleanor J. Bader “Powers Confronts Power and History in New Book”

About the Author

Nicholas Powers is a poet, journalist and professor. His first book, Theater of War, was published by Upset Press. He has written for The Indypendent, Alternet and The Village Voice. He teaches literature at SUNY Old Westbury and co-hosts the long running New York City College Poetry Slam at the Nuyorican Cafe.

Nicholas Powers

Nicholas Powers

Nicholas Powers

Nia Nottage: In the book, 9/11 provides the initial call to action for you to position yourself to shine a spotlight on tragedy. Why did 9/11 have this effect, when it could easily have caused you to shut down?

Nicholas Powers: 9/11 was the first time I experienced history in my face. I lived through all of the clichés, including washing my hair to get the smell of the Towers — which just saturated the air in the city for months — out of my dreads. So many things at that time changed the trajectory of my life — the anti-war protests, breaking up with my then-fiancé. Most of all, I felt like a failure because I never physically got a chance to help people at Ground Zero. When Hurricane Katrina came, I directed all of that pent-up energy towards New Orleans.

NN: In the book, after leaving New Orleans in the wake of Katrina there’s one point where you say that you “wanted to be free of caring for people [that you] could not help.” Can you explain what this feels like? After experiencing this, why continue to go back?

NP: I thought I was going to be this big fucking super hero — I went there and I accomplished nothing. Coming back in shame, I aimed to write the most beautiful, poetic, honest stuff I could to get people’s attention, but hardly anyone read it. I just got really angry at the world. I was isolated and ashamed, and that’s what it actually felt like.

Read more in The Indypendent

Book Launch

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Born Palestinian, Born Black & The Gaza Suite

Born Palestinian Born Black & The Gaza Suite by Suheir Hammad

Born Palestinian Born Black & The Gaza Suite by Suheir Hammad

The Gaza Suite, as well as a new publisher’s note byZohra Saed, an canadian online pharmacy cialis introduction by Marco Villalobos, and an afterword by Kazim Ali.

UpSet Press has restored to print Suheir Hammad’s first book of poems, Born Palestinian, Born Black, originally published by Harlem River Press in 1996. The new edition is augmented with a new author’s preface, and new poems, under the heading, “The Gaza Suite,” as well as a new publisher’s note by Zohra Saed, an introduction by Marco Villalobos, and an afterword by Kazim Ali.

“It’s lucky for us to have this new edition of Born Palestinian, Born Black, Suheir’s first book, published more than ten years ago. In the decade since, Hammad has achieved an international reputation as a poet. These poems are the groundswell from which her future work and political commitment springs. Like June Jordan, like Mahmoud Darwish, it is the passion and penchant for lyricism that is the true engine of these poems…”

–Kazim Ali, The Fortieth Day (BOA Editions)

Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad

Suheir Hammad’s books include breaking poems, ZaatarDiva and Drops of This Story. An original writer and performer in the TONY awarded Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry Jam on Broadway, Suheir appears in the Cannes Film Festival Official Selection, Salt of This Sea. She has delivered her poetry to folk around the world.


Suheir Hammad’s TED Talk:



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The Blond Texts & The Age of Embers by Nadia Tueni


Nadia Tueni (1935-1983) was a Lebanese Francophone poet who published numerous volumes of poetry in French. She received several prominent awards for her work including the Order of La Pléiade and the Prix Said Akl.

Throughout her writing career, Tueni remained fiercely independent and unattached to fashionable schools of thought. Her fondness for her native land is intertwined with her need to reflect upon the realities and conditions that surrounded her. The operations at work in her poetry–from the varied linguistic play to the jarring juxtapositions, from the ambiguity of certain passages to the playful manipulations of syntax–are intensely original and delightfully strange. Scenes from her own childhood accompany imagery drawn from Christian mythology and rituals, while tales of lovers scorned are juxtaposed with those of gods abandoned. Revelatory descriptions of springs, mountains and street-scenes accompany metaphysical contemplations, themselves masked by layers of striking imagery. Forceful and meditative, two books that present internal and emotional landscapes as well as a sensual if fragmented portrait of her urban and natural surroundings.

–Amir Parsa, Translator


Photo from Jesus & Mary School in Lebanon website

Francophone Arab poet, Nadia Tueni is known for her poetry on the Civil War in Lebanon.Is a collection of a poets’ work complete without her earlier work? This is the first time these two early poetry books have been translated into English. In it she explores the heart and the process of becoming. UpSet Press brings back her little known early work. Here are the poems of a young woman just as she is developing her own voice.

Poetry of body, of space, of identity, and of growth… this is an essential read for scholars, poets, and poetry lovers.

Zephyr, Amazon Review

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