By Hana Zittel
Published Issue 083, November 2020

Temporary by Hilary Leichter (2020)

Cast against the backdrop of the life of a temporary worker, Hilary Leichter has conjured up the kind of absurd novel that partly fills the huge holes left by the likes of early Thomas Pynchon. Her protagonist is a Temporary, condemned to the gig economy through matriarchal legacy, “I’m just filling in. You’re just filling in,” my mother explained.” This temporary work takes her on an Alice in Wonderland-like journey through life, ushered along by her temp agent Farren, “she activated her keycard and swiped herself into existence.”

She fills in as Chairman of the Board, and when he dies, wears his ashes as a necklace, so he can continue to be a “man about town,” and remains an apparition that appears throughout, just when you might have forgotten about him. She serves on a ruthless pirate ship, doing inventory on hostages and then as a barnacle among the likes of Barnacle Betty and Barnacle Toby. She too takes a spin as a murderer and a mother figure, adhering to the adage that “there’s nothing more personal than doing your job.” She keeps a bevy of boyfriends back home, each with particular skills that could not be fulfilled by one — a life coach boyfriend, a real estate boyfriend, tallest boyfriend — who end up all living together, keeping her lonely phone calls home more streamlined.

Hilary Leichter has found a perfect blend of the literal, campy, comedic and absurd. There is always an underlying message, but she does not let that steer her writing or drive the point home too forcefully without dashing in the absurd. Hers is a work that feels incredibly refreshing for 2020, escape without escaping, that tests the mind and feels truly original. Find it here.

Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry by John Murillo (2020)

John Murillo is an elegant story painter in his second collection of poetry, building tight narratives and full images of living neighborhoods, both past and present. Murillo bends back and forth, addressing the reader in his poems, which run with violence and pain. In the second section of this collection, he threads multiple sonnets together in A Refusal to Mourn the Deaths, By Gunfire, of Three Men in Brooklyn, writing:

some want us dead. Again this week, they killed
Another child who looked like me. A child
we’ll march about, who’ll grace our placards, say,
then be forgotten like a trampled pamphlet. What
I want, I’m not supposed to. Payback.

Though just a snippet from this section, the entirety burns with history, pain and present terror. Murillo notes that the title is in reference to a Dylan Thomas poem, but was written “in part as a reflection on police-community relations sign the 1992 unrisings, and partly as a response to the killing of two NYPD officers and subsequent suicide of twenty-eight year old Ishmael Brinsley.” Later explaining this incident reportedly motivated the police murdering of unarmed black people across the nation. John Murillo’s previous collection came out ten years ago, making Kontemporary Amerikan Poetry long anticipated and it stands out as one of the strongest and most important to be released in 2020. Find it here.

Hana Zittel is a librarian at the Denver Public Library in addition to being a librarian at the Denver Zine Librarian. She grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and pretty much just likes being outside with her pup when she has some free time, and reading, that might have been assumed though.