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New poetry from Sharon Tracey, a book about singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, and a publishing company based in Somerville that makes children’s books celebrating South Asian culture.

A 25th anniversary package of "Elliott Smith" includes a book of photographs by Cambridge native JJ Gonson.JJ GONSON (Custom credit)

Art in verse

In her new collection of poetry “Chroma” (Shanti), Sharon Tracey responds to 47 works of art by women artists whose work spans five centuries and 25 countries. In these ekphrastic poems, she is an astute and sensitive reader of paintings. She acts as a sort of visual translator, creating atmosphere and image, making us alert to the relationships at play: viewer with viewed, poet with painting with painter. Her language is fresh and lush. She writes of “paper-flat fields, pearled”; a waterfall is a “lithological myth-maker.” And it’s beautiful to the ear. Listen: “the shapes I love: / ligulate, spikelet, awn. / On the kitchen wall I hang / the sheath and blade.” The collection is broken into four “galleries” which move through time and place, with responses to Agnes Martin and Etel Adnan, and a number of lesser known artists, some of whom are still painting today. And there is wisdom here, too, about the act of not just of looking at a painting, but of looking: “upon entering / a painting: come look, let / something go.” Tracey, who lives in Western Mass, reminds us of the pleasure of pouring oneself into a painting, of what it is to commune with artist, art, and self.


Picturing Elliott Smith

Cambridge native JJ Gonson got her start in photography shooting punk and hardcore shows in Boston-area clubs in the late 1980s. She moved to Portland, Oregon, and kept making photographs of musicians, including Kurt Cobain, Black Flag, Jane’s Addiction, and Elliott Smith, who died by stab wounds in 2003. To mark the 25th anniversary of the release of “Elliott Smith,” the eponymous 1995 album, Kill Rock Stars has released a deluxe package, including a new remastering of the original record, a bonus disc with the earliest known recording of solo-act Smith, and a cloth-bound coffee table book of photographs by Gonson. Her images show Smith in candid off-stage moments, often with a warm smile and lively eyes, on a bunk bed peaking from behind a pillow, on a musty backstage couch against a dark green wall hunched over his guitar, at a birthday party with candle glow from a cake lighting up his face. Gonson captures quieter moments — Smith sitting in Cannon Beach, Oregon, swirls in the sand at his feet — ones that whisper at the darkness that lived in him. The book also includes remembrances from musicians, friends, family. “No matter how many pictures I take there is no way to capture all that happens in between them,” Gonson writes. “Looking at images provides a skeleton of time . . . most of experience slips and drops away.”


Culture for kids

In advance of the birth of her first child, Sailaja Joshi looked for books that featured Indian characters and culture and came up short: what little she was able to find was limited, and, in some cases, insensitive. So she made a decision to change that, to publish books that would represent the South Asian experience. The independent Somerville-based Mango & Marigold Press was founded in 2014, and has recently announced its 20th title. Sheetal Sheth’s “Bravo Anjali” tells the story of a young girl getting teased by the boys in her class for being good at playing the tabla. It’s a story of not letting anyone dim your light. The author, when she went to traditional publishers, was asked to tone down the cultural references. When she took it to Mango & Marigold, it was those cultural references that were emphasized and celebrated. Joshi understands the power of children seeing themselves represented in the books they read. As she writes, “When children see themselves in the ordinary and extraordinary, they realize that anything is possible.”


Coming Out

The Echoing Ida Collectionedited by Cynthia R. Greenlee, Kemi Alabi, Janna A. Zinzi (Feminist Press)

The World Turned Upside Down: A History of the Chinese Cultural Revolutionby Yang Jisheng, translated from the Chinese by Stacy Mosher and Guo Jian (FSG)

Useless Miracleby Barry Schechter (Melville House)

Pick of the Week

Josh Christie at Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine, recommends “Snacky Tunes: Music Is the Main Ingredient, Chefs and Their Music” by Darin and Greg Bresnitz, Khuong Phan, Jeff Gordimer (Phaidon): “In 2009, twin brothers Darin and Greg Bresnitz launched Snacky Tunes, the radio show celebrating the intersection of food and music. This book is a print companion to that project, collecting dozens of interviews, playlists, and recipes from chefs around the world. It provides endless kitchen inspiration, all tied together in a stunning package.”

Nina MacLaughlin is the author of “Wake, Siren.” She can be reached at