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Neighborhood matters

Local literary works focused on neighborhood and community

“Las casa fantasma,” a photograph by Michal Nowak. Photo courtesy of Frontera

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How do you find and connect with your community? Is it through a physical place, like your neighborhood or city, or perhaps through your connections to people with shared heritage and values? Chances are, it's a combination of both, with other factors peppered in. Reflecting on the importance of community is at the forefront of my thoughts right now, especially after reading two incredibly thought-provoking, regionally crafted books this month. Here are my recommended reads to get your brain whizzing and whirring.

Frontera vol. 2: barrios//neighborhoods

Based out of Portland and Madrid, this bilingual literary magazine is an artistic force to be reckoned with. Readers will find full-color photography, poetry, and prose presented in English and Spanish, all surrounding a central theme of "neighborhoods." Vol. 2 includes creative works by 28 artists and authors, none of whom apologize for, or even attempt to explain, their choice to write in either, or both English and Spanish.

A few of our favorite pieces in Frontera vol. 2 include color-saturated photographs "Guerrín" and "Alba" by Magalí Daich Varela, which capture an undeniable malaise, or better yet, mistrust towards authority; the short story "Feast & Famine" by T.S. Leonard, which offers a frank but tender account of illness, friendship and death; and detailed photographs of hanging, mixed-media visual art examining the problematic nature of a binary social systems, titled "dolls I" and "tube I" by Mollie Caffey.  

While I picked up my limited-run copy of Frontera vol. 2 in Portland, the small press also roots in Madrid, where the idea to start a small press that highlights diverse voices and high-quality art came together in 2016. Nora Beuke Salle and Michael J. Shymanski serve as the editors-in-chief at Frontera, with Shymanski also taking on the role of designer. With two volumes under their publishing belt and a dedication to presenting multilingual voices with differing viewpoints, Frontera is destined to make its mark on the Pacific Northwest literary scene. Since only 400 copies of this beauty were printed, we highly recommend snagging one before they run out.

Up South by Robert Lashley

Poetry geeks listen up: if you haven't read Up South by Robert Lashley, you're reading the wrong stuff. It's that simple. But don't worry, you can find Up South, a fiercely lyrical and honest collection of poetry by the Tacoma born-and-bred poet, Robert Lashley, at independent bookstores in the area. Published in 2017 by Small Doggies Press, Up South is Lashley's sophomore poetry collection. It speaks to the complexity and interconnectedness of his lived experiences in Hilltop, Tacoma, his identity as an African American male, and familial and community roots that influenced him over the years, for better or worse.

In a distinctively rhythmic, hip-hop inspired style (which has become synonymous with his overall body of work), Lashley immerses readers in "the theaters of his mind" in Up South. More plainly put, he builds vivid portraits of pivotal people and places from his life into his poems. He utilizes a rich array of classic mythology and modern slang in his metaphors, which often takeover the poems they inhabit and transform them into living, breathing works that hold their own. A few heavy-hitter poems in Up South include "New Jerk Dancer Funeral Procession," "When God Lets My Body Be," and "The Funeral Procession for Aunt Helen at Her Favorite Swap Meet."

My personal favorite, "Icarus Asks Me for Swisher Sweets at 7-11," delivers a haunting monologue reflecting on past vs. present "self" and the toll grief takes on us over the years. It also speaks to the trade-offs we make -- whether conscious or not -- between joy or pleasure and obligation. It left me questioning my own journeys in life, and what I've lost or discarded in life along the way, as the mythological figure Icarus did in his doomed flight over the water. If you're left wanting more once you finish Up South, pick up a copy of Lashley's debut poetry collection, The Homeboy Songs, to get your fix.You will not be disappointed.

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