Peter Balakian’s new books Ozone Journal (poems) and Vise and Shadow: Essays on the Lyric Imagination, Poetry, Art, and Culture have just been published by the University of Chicago Press.
The long poem in Balakian’s new book is a sequel to his acclaimed “A-Train/Ziggurat/Elegy” (2010). While excavating the remains of Armenian Genocide survivors in the Syrian desert with a TV crew, the persona navigates his own memory of New York City in a decade (the 1980’s) of crisis—as AIDS and climate change make a context for his personal struggles and his pursuit of meaning in the face of loss and catastrophe. Whether his poems explore Native American villages of New Mexico, the slums of Nairobi, or the Armenian-Turkish borderland, Balakian’s poems continue to engage the harshness and beauty of contemporary life in a language that is layered, sensual, elliptical, and defined by wired phrases and shifting tempos. Ozone Journal creates inventive lyrical insight in a global age of danger and uncertainty.
“In his new book, Ozone Journal, Balakian masterfully does the thing nobody else does, which is to derange history into poetry, to make poetry painting, to make painting culture, to make culture living, and with a historical depth that finds the right experience in language,” writes the poet Bruce Smith.
In Vise and Shadow, Balakian brings together his most influential essays of the past 25 years. He argues that the force of the lyric imagination is able to hold experience under pressure like a vise, while it also shadows history. Precise, lyrical, and eloquent, Balakian’s essays explore the ways poetry engages disaster and ingests mass-violence without succumbing to the didactic.
He gives us new insights into the relationships between trauma, memory, and aesthetic form. His essays on major Armenian voices (Charents, Gorky, and Siamanto) and the aftermath of genocide are a fresh contribution to contemporary literature and art. Other essays engage painting, collage, song-lyrics, and film as forms of enduring lyric knowledge, and include T.S. Eliot, Joan Didion, Robert Rauschenberg, Adrienne Rich, Hart Crane, Theodore Roethke, Elia Kazan and Bob Dylan.
About Vise and Shadow, James Carroll writes, “With soaring critical erudition, Peter Balakian’s essays range across multiple genres—poetry, memoir, film, visual art, history, ‘literary rock’—to create a brilliant ‘collage’ of both American imagination and Armenian memory. An elegantly written seminal work of sweeping importance.” Askold Melncyczuk writes, “Vise and Shadow belongs on a shelf alongside the literary essays of J. M. Coetzee, Adrienne Rich, and Seamus Heaney.”
Peter Balakian is the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of the Humanities at Colgate University. He is the author of seven books of poems and four prose works, including The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, a New York Times best seller, and Black Dog of Fate, a memoir, winner of the PEN/Albrand Prize.