Armenian Culture, Science and Education Development Foundation

Peter Balakian’s new books published by University of Chicago Press


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 Armenian Weekly reports.

Peter Balakian is an Armenian American poet, writer and academic, the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of Humanities at Colgate University. Balakian was born in 1951, in Teaneck, New Jersey to an Armenian family and was raised in Teaneck and Tenafly, New Jersey. He is the author of five books of poems, including, most recently, June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000. His other books are Father Fisheye (1979), Sad Days of Light (1983), Reply From Wilderness Island (1988), Dyer’s Thistle (1996), and several fine limited editions.

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 alsoshadows 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.”

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