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For three decades, Peter Balakian's poetry has been praised widely in the United States and abroad. Writing in the Boston Globe, Marcie Hershman called Sad Days of Light "a piercingly elegant volume," and John Naughton in World Literature Today praised Dyer's Thistle as "a remarkable and profoundly visionary work." Now the poet whom James Dickey called "an extraordinary ta For three decades, Peter Balakian's poetry has been praised widely in the United States and abroad. Writing in the Boston Globe, Marcie Hershman called Sad Days of Light "a piercingly elegant volume," and John Naughton in World Literature Today praised Dyer's Thistle as "a remarkable and profoundly visionary work." Now the poet whom James Dickey called "an extraordinary talent" gives us June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000, a discriminating selection from his first four books, with a group of startling new poems. In book after book, Balakian has created a unique voice in American poetry -- one that is both personal and cosmopolitan. In sensuous, elliptical language, Balakian offers a textured poetry that is beautiful and haunting as it envelops an American grain, the reverberations of the Armenian Genocide, and the wired, discordant realities of contemporary life. In his explorations of history, Balakian often deals with the transmission of trauma across generations in ways that bring daily American life into play with the dark frequencies of the past. The evolution of Balakian's form from volume to volume encompasses an expansive imagination, one always able to engage reality in its starkness, difficulty, and moments of revelation. June-tree is a stunning body of work by an original poet.


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For three decades, Peter Balakian's poetry has been praised widely in the United States and abroad. Writing in the Boston Globe, Marcie Hershman called Sad Days of Light "a piercingly elegant volume," and John Naughton in World Literature Today praised Dyer's Thistle as "a remarkable and profoundly visionary work." Now the poet whom James Dickey called "an extraordinary ta For three decades, Peter Balakian's poetry has been praised widely in the United States and abroad. Writing in the Boston Globe, Marcie Hershman called Sad Days of Light "a piercingly elegant volume," and John Naughton in World Literature Today praised Dyer's Thistle as "a remarkable and profoundly visionary work." Now the poet whom James Dickey called "an extraordinary talent" gives us June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000, a discriminating selection from his first four books, with a group of startling new poems. In book after book, Balakian has created a unique voice in American poetry -- one that is both personal and cosmopolitan. In sensuous, elliptical language, Balakian offers a textured poetry that is beautiful and haunting as it envelops an American grain, the reverberations of the Armenian Genocide, and the wired, discordant realities of contemporary life. In his explorations of history, Balakian often deals with the transmission of trauma across generations in ways that bring daily American life into play with the dark frequencies of the past. The evolution of Balakian's form from volume to volume encompasses an expansive imagination, one always able to engage reality in its starkness, difficulty, and moments of revelation. June-tree is a stunning body of work by an original poet.

30 review for June-tree: New and Selected Poems, 1974-2000

  1. 5 out of 5

    Clinton Smith

    I re-read this book, Balakian’s selected poems from the first 26 years (1974-2000) plus some new poems, as preparation to dig into Ozone Journal, which I am about to read and contains probably one of my two or three favorite poems written by anyone in the English language (“Home”). I had the good fortune of hearing him read this poem when attending a summer workshop at Colgate. Hence, I returned to a book that I first read 4 years ago. What struck me is that the overall template of Balakian’s wo I re-read this book, Balakian’s selected poems from the first 26 years (1974-2000) plus some new poems, as preparation to dig into Ozone Journal, which I am about to read and contains probably one of my two or three favorite poems written by anyone in the English language (“Home”). I had the good fortune of hearing him read this poem when attending a summer workshop at Colgate. Hence, I returned to a book that I first read 4 years ago. What struck me is that the overall template of Balakian’s work—in short, poetry that’s built from intimate concern with the way that history and the past and present interconnect; uses probably a larger number of allusions to cultural and historical events and artifacts of significance as a larger part of its scaffolding than much of the poetry written after 1950; is rigorously structured if not usually rhyming; and which intensely draws connections between populations who have been the victim of genocide and war-time atrocities and the overall machinations of the natural world, and works with the memories and the fears of those who are marked forever by the horrific events of the 20th Century, some of which remain inadequately recognized (ie, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians)—has not radically changed from the beginning. In this way, Balakian is best read usually not as single poems (the exceptions being his best work, the aforementioned “Home” above; in “June-tree”, poems such as “Night Patio”, “For my grandmother, coming back”), but in large sets, so the unique code that he assembles is well understood. An apt poem to demonstrate how Balakian uses the description of nature as a parallel symbolic language to a more-directly dealt with (if taking up less actual real estate in a poem) is the opening poem of “June-tree”, “Photosynthesis”. In this, Balakian writes of different ways that nature transforms, shedding one skin and entering another, and the scars that are left behind: “The slips of the day-/lilies come off//The wind blows/in from Vermont,/blows the silk kimonos//off the delphiniums,/blows the satin cowls/off the jack-in-the pulpits” and then, a bit later: “Slide your tongue/into the green dark//so you can see the ultra-/violet scars on the goldfields/where the bees come in the day.” Balakian’s central transition in this natural imagery is to move from images of tactile objects to images of vapor/gas, as a way to prepare for another type of “shedding” of skin (or illusions, or time)… the entry into middle age. Most striking about this is his recognition that entering this time of life brings a new sense of what the nature of death is as well: “..you see nothing. Hear no voice. See no light.//Just yourself/staring back at you/in middle age” … “You see your life rise/and slide away like steam.” The overall theme of surviving genocide is treated in a wide range of literal and symbolic fashions, and it’s a great credit to Balakian that he makes all of them work, in spite of the different approaches he takes to literal versus symbolic representation—in a sense, the variety of representations truly demonstrate how complete a poet he is. Perhaps the best admixture of the literal and the figurative is the excellent poem “The History of Armenia”. The poem uses a fairly common device in Balakian’s poetry: the conflation of different times and different places called home into one compressed, “meta-textual” space, if you will, where settings and emotions are conflated and able to meet in the same place; memory wills itself from one place to another and be literally brought to life on the page. In the poem, the reader starts on Oraton Parkway in East Orange/Newark, New Jersey, but when the narrator returns from his paper route to tell his grandmother he is hungry, the poem’s landscape is transformed into a history that, while having some parallels with history in America (presumably the 1968 riots), is in truth the history of Armenia moved into the cities that surround his family, who has presumably emigrated from Armenia: “…she said,/in the grocery store/a man is standing/to his ankles in blood,/the babies in East Orange/have disappeared,/maybe eaten/by the machinery/on this long road.” Balakian’s poetry, to me, is something that merits careful exploration by those either very interested in the actual craft of poetry (for example, his lines are masterful in terms of their line breaks/use of enjambment; he creates very symmetrical structures that never seem confining; etc), and for those interested in his thematic material. The only minor challenge I’ve had in reading Balakian is that, sometimes, the drawing in of the natural world into the thematic material as a way of building metaphorical/symbolic representations feels a bit forced… a minor quibble, and in a sense (as a writer who has always been interested in other types of landscapes) it’s probably me who has the interpretive problem in some instances. On to Ozone Journal.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Greg Converse

    John Lennon can't sing Strawberry Fields Forever now. He's dead. What a rotten child. Or confused. Misunderstanding all he sees... John Lennon can't sing Strawberry Fields Forever now. He's dead. What a rotten child. Or confused. Misunderstanding all he sees...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Caren

  4. 5 out of 5

    Robert McManes

  5. 4 out of 5

    S

  6. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  7. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Villwock

  8. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  9. 4 out of 5

    Oren Tal

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patricia

  11. 5 out of 5

    D.A. Gray

  12. 4 out of 5

    Ani

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sydney Goggins

  14. 5 out of 5

    Allison

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey Parker

  16. 4 out of 5

    Matthew A. Hamilton

  17. 4 out of 5

    Linda Bryant

  18. 5 out of 5

    Alyson Zikmund

  19. 5 out of 5

    Katie Baehler

  20. 5 out of 5

    Trisha

  21. 4 out of 5

    Alicia Vogl Saenz

  22. 4 out of 5

    Katie Byrum

  23. 4 out of 5

    Johnnie Dun

  24. 4 out of 5

    Cathy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Gould

  26. 5 out of 5

    The Cats meow

  27. 5 out of 5

    Adam Lowy

  28. 5 out of 5

    Cat

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nivair

  30. 5 out of 5

    Justin

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