Faculty Picks for Winter Break Reading

We asked faculty in UWM’s Creative Writing Program to tell us about books they are currently reading or have recently read that they would recommend to the UWM community as we head into winter break. Several faculty generously shared their thoughts:

cover of Each and Herimage of cover of the book "Count"BRENDA CÁRDENAS
I highly recommend Valerie Martinez’s book-length poem Count, a work of eco-poetics that through elegant parataxis and braided narratives, blends myth, science, performance and installation art, and the author’s keen insights stemming from her own communion with the rest of the natural world. Throughout, Martinez counts: steps down a mountain trail and along a 54-mile endangered river walk, rises in sea levels and Earth’s temperature, endangered and extinct species, millions of climate migrants, and the splendid wonders of the natural world. But as she counts down the days to our possible extinction, she invites us to walk with those who are learning “to live on the edge of great balance” and blaze trails to a sustainable future. I would also recommend Martinez’s 2010 book Each and Her regarding the murders of 450+ women in Juarez, Mexico, many who worked in the borderland factories that make products for export to the U.S. As Rigoberto Gonzalez writes, “Martinez instigates a whirlpool of critical thinking about the politics of gender and power, of relationship to history (personal and global) and of purpose and intent.” Martinez will visit UWM on March 10, 2022, to give a craft talk and poetry reading. All are welcome!

photo of Brenda CardenasBrenda Cárdenas is the author of Boomerang (Bilingual Press) and the chapbooks Bread of the Earth/The Last Colors with Roberto Harrison; Achiote Seeds/Semillas de Achiote with Cristina García, Emmy Pérez, and Gabriela Erandi Rico; and From the Tongues of Brick and Stone. She also co-edited Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance and Between the Heart and the Land: Latina Poets in the Midwest. Cárdenas’ poems and essays have also appeared in many anthologies and literary journals. She served as faculty for the 2021 writers’ retreat of CantoMundo, a national poetry organization that cultivates community for Latinx poets and as the 2010-2012 Milwaukee Poet Laureate. She currently teaches creative writing and U.S. Latinx literature at UWM.

cover of The Forager's HarvestCover of The Living Sea of Waking DreamsLANE HALL
I often have two or three books going at once. One of these right now is Sam Thayer’s Forager’s Harvest which is a deep study of edible plants in the Great Lakes Region. Something about the onset of winter makes me want to read about spring! I’m also halfway through the remarkable The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan. It is a story of loss on many levels, and is achingly beautiful in its word crafting, descriptions, and somewhat surreal plot that traces three siblings who are at their mother’s deathbed keeping her on life support while the world outside is on fire. Along with this is the mysterious disappearance of one of the character’s limbs, beginning with a finger and moving on from there. It isn’t bloody or violent, and few people even notice. It is just that things simply disappear. It is a stunning book, and I would highly recommend it, even though it at times makes me deeply melancholic. At which points, I pick up Sam Thayer’s books on foraging to learn about the life around us!

photo of Lane HallLane Hall is a multi-media artist, writer, professor and current chair of the Department of English at UWM, where he teaches courses on modernist avant-garde movements as well as workshops exploring image and text relationships within book and screen formats. His installations have been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, The Milwaukee Art Museum, the California Academy of Sciences, the Shanghai World Expo, The Science Gallery in Dublin, and Eyebeam in NYC. He is cofounder of the Overpass Light Brigade (OLB), a creative activism collaborative project that has grown into an international movement. He also gardens, sketches fungi, and keeps bees.

image of cover of book: Connotary

My students welcome me into their secret word-kitchens as they prepare what will eventually become books, each with its own flavors and aromas. I get to taste-test early creations, praise with soulful hums, and sometimes make a suggestion or two: Pinch of salt? A more lemony verb? Such was the case when Ae Hee Lee (UWM PhD 2021) was working on her dissertation, a portion of which became Connotary, winner of the 2021 Frost Place Chapbook Competition (Bull City Press). “Connotary” is the author’s playful neologism meaning “a dictionary of connotations.” Ae Hee’s path in life has been both global and local: she was born in Korea, raised in Perú, and has spent the last decade writing and studying in the U.S. Her poems wander through memories and various mother tongues:

Sijo :: Genealogy

My father liked to tease with an old pun,

saying he found me

under the dari, the arch

of my mother’s dari, her splayed legs–

I felt fortunate to be called

the daughter of a bridge.

This is a little book of just seventeen poems, but they have immense power: they can take you in an hour to Jangyu, Trujillo, Milwaukee, or the core of a pineapple.

photo of Mauricio Kilwein Guevara

Mauricio Kilwein Guevara is a poet, fiction writer, playwright, essayist, translator, performer, activist, and educator born in Boyacá, Colombia and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 2002 he was the first person of Latinx heritage elected as President of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs. He has won national and international awards for his writing, including the Contemporary Poetry Series Competition (Postmortem, 1992) and an International Latino Book Award (POEMA, 2010). He is a professor of English and former coordinator of the Creative Writing Program at UWM. His most recent short story, “Pachakutik,” appears in the current issue of The Georgia Review.