Page street

Pub date December 21, 2010

Rebecca Solnit’s Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas (University of California Press, 158 pages, $24.95) is one of the best ideas a writer has come up with in a long time. By combining private and public support, Solnit was able to give away portions of the atlas in full-color, full-spread map handouts. (My favorite tracked both famous/infamous queer public spaces and the migration of butterflies throughout the city.). In the process, she also gave lectures in public spaces, providing a public service in the name of history and inclusion before dropping this tome on the book-buying masses. Gent Sturgeon’s version of a city-fied Rorschach alone is worth the price of the ticket. From insect habitats to serial killers, Zen Buddhist centers to the culture wars of the Fillmore and South of Market that some call redevelopment; Solnit and her cadre of artists, writers, cartographers, and researchers — Chris Carlsson, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, and Mona Caron among them — give us the infinite depths and limitless potential that can be found in 49 square miles. (D. Scot Miller)

A lot of good and even great books came from the Bay Area this year, but one stands out: a book of poetry, Cedar Sigo’s Stranger in Town (City Lights, 100 pages, $13.95). He is a young writer who improves dramatically each time I hear him read, and his poetry and critical writing are among the wonders of our age. And of the age before, since through him speak the dead poets David Rattray, John Wieners, Robert Creeley, Denton Welch, Philip Whalen, Salvador Dali, Jean Cocteau, Eartha Kitt, Raymond Roussel, Lorine Niedecker, and Cole Porter. When new writers come to San Francisco, they ask me if I’ve met Cedar Sigo. If they don’t know Sigo’s work, then I hand them a copy of the new collection. Don’t have to say much, I just step back a little to avoid the stars and diamonds and apples popping out of their eyes like toast from a toaster, because this crazy work is that crazy good. (Kevin Killian)

Compared with the prosaic grind of the inner city, the Sunset can seem like a — albeit foggy — vacation. Wide streets, surf breaks, dunes fit to get lost in: the neighborhood is just right for an offbeat bohemian getaway. But maybe those are just the reverberations of the past, which western neighborhood historian Woody LaBounty has dug up in Carville-by-the-Sea (Outside Lands Media, 144 pages, $35). This coffee table book illustrates the lives of the Sunset’s first modern-day inhabitants, who constructed a seaside village of retired street cars to inhabit back in the days before the N-Judah. Colorized at times for an Oz-like effect, the photos LaBounty digs up to illustrate “Cartown” reveal a community of artists, families, and enthusiasts — even a women’s cycling club — amid an untamed, oscillating sandscape. Those converted SoMa warehouse apartments suddenly don’t seem quite so rugged, do they now? (Caitlin Donohue)

In a city that boasts literally hundreds of theatrical world premieres per year, it’s astounding how few make it to the printed page. Bravo, then, to EXIT Press, new publishing arm of the venerable EXIT Theatre, for helping to ensure that at least some of our local play-writing talents will be preserved for posterity. And who better to inaugurate the series than Mark Jackson, whose professional development has been closely tied to the EXIT, and to the San Francisco Fringe Festival, which it produces? Far from being merely a collection of “Fringe-y” experimentation, Ten Plays (EXIT Press, 492 pages, $19.95) is a testament to the tenacity of vision. From reimagined Shakespearean classics (R&J, I Am Hamlet) to Jackson’s breakout hit The Death of Meyerhold, the bleakly comedic American $uicide, and the stirring Kurosawa-esque epic The Forest War, what these plays have in common is an audacious commitment to the illimitable possibilities of live theater. Of which, giving these works an opportunity to reach a wider audience is but one. (Nicole Gluckstern)

By any good political standard, John Lescroart’s Damage (Dutton, 416 pages, $26.95) is awful. It’s all about how a criminal uses the technicalities of law to get released (damn liberal judges) and how his family — newspaper publishers with ties to the (damn liberal) political establishment — protects him even as he continues to rape young women. Reminds me of that atrocious movie Pacific Heights, which is supposed to convince you that eviction protection and tenants rights are unfair to the poor landlords. But Lescroart writes about San Francisco, and does a pretty good job describing the city, and his characters are so real and well-crafted that I’m able to set aside the politics. In this case, Ro Curtlee, the rapist, is such an evil, evil bad guy — but a plausible, privileged evil bad guy — that he comes to life in a way that makes you want to kill him yourself. And makes you understand why a cop might feel the same way. And in the world of crime fiction, making you feel pain is half the game. It’ll be out in paper this spring. (Tim Redmond)

What Carl Rakosi was to Objectivism — a significant poet who dropped out of sight only to reemerge an old master — Richard O. Moore is to the SF Renaissance. The 90-year-old Moore was active in Kenneth Rexroth’s libertarian-anarchist circle in the 1940s, but abandoned poetry publishing for the more efficacious mass media of radio and TV, cofounding both KPFA and KQED in the process (and shooting the only footage of Frank O’Hara to boot). But Moore never stopped writing, and his debut volume Writing the Silences (University of California Press, $19.95) offers a brief but tantalizing introduction to more than 60 years of poetic activity. Moore’s diction is spare but memorable; a hawk’s wings, for example, “balance on the blind/ push of air.” Yet his low-key tones are wedded to an experimental sensibility; witness 1960’s “Ten Philosophical Asides,” which might be the first poem in English riffing on Wittgenstein, more than a decade before language poetry. Writing the Silences is thus belated yet ahead of its time. (Garrett Caples)

I commissioned three of the works in Veronica De Jesus’s Here Now From Everywhere (Allone Co. Editions, 130 pages, $26). Her portraits of Michael Jackson and Jay Reatard ran in the Guardian, while I paid out of pocket for her to render a tribute to the poet John Wieners for my boyfriend. Along with just-announced SECA Award winner Colter Jacobsen, who published this book, De Jesus is my favorite creator of drawings in the Bay Area. Like Jacobsen, she delves into memory — her memorial portraits can be seen for free on the windows of Dog Eared Books, where this book is for sale. The charm and value of Here Now From Everywhere is immediate, but the book reveals more of its multfaceted personality with each return visit. De Jesus’ illustrated dictionary of inspirational icons ranges from superstars to half-forgotten pop heroes, from cultural figures to obscure female athletes. It’s a gift. (Johnny Ray Huston)

“I told Micah last night that my new book would be a haunted house.” Berkeley-based poet Julian Poirier’s El Golpe Chileño (Ugly Duckling Presse, 128 pages, $15) is filled with the ghosts of past and present. Essentially a bildungsroman, it tracks Poirier’s protagonist’s growth from youthful journeyman into adulthood though a kind of mixed-genre Theatre of the Absurd. Vaudeville, comics, memoir, film pitch, epistolary, failed novel, poetry, the carnival, and travelogue are all wielded brilliantly in the hands of Poirier, making for a phantasmagoric reading experience where the whole emerges defiantly greater than the sum of its parts. Poirier writes, “I turned my whole brain into a city and wrote down everything I saw happening there.” And indeed it certainly feels that way — the book is ripe with the names of places, of friends living and dead; with lists of dates and years; and with drawings and photographs, making up what Poirier somewhat obliquely labels “The Stolen Universe.” El Golpe Chileño is truly a success of form and content, of the high and low, of pop and elegy. (John Sakkis)