The Threatened Everything
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Paula Cisewski is also the author of Quitter, which co-won the 2016 Diode Editions Book Prize; Misplaced Sinister (Red Bird Chapbooks); Ghost Fargo, which was selected by Franz Wright for the Nightboat Poetry Prize; and Upon Arrival (Black Ocean).
“How can you question what is holy without terrifying everyone? ‘Who doesn’t yearn to crush / a dour economy of habit?’ Paula Cisewski poses these questions to selves in various states of duality: the mother losing her child to adulthood, the newlywed. This book is an everything of wolves and hate-rallies and baby boys and jokes. It asks: If everything is threatened, what can you care about? If life is a joke so sick you joke about it…would you? I love these questions. I question these loves. This is a great book of poems.”
“The poems in Paula Cisewski’s The Threatened Everything take on a teetering, siren-infused world in which ‘bullets rip through every modern poem,’ and the speaker, like the rest of us, is ‘always and forever / on a stairway to a stairway to,’ stuck between floors and phrases like an infinitely skipping record. This book is both urban and animal. It inhabits the political realm and a panicked interiority, the elegiac (‘This elegy / is for who one man / in a repeating // mirror of men might have been / before violence’) and a newlywed bliss that borders on the hysterical (‘happy / as a warehouse stuffed with // white umbrellas popped open!’). I am delighted by Cisewski’s formal virtuosity and her feverish humor, and I’m scared to death—as one should be—by the accuracy of her apocalypse. ‘We gravel-knee our motherland,’ she writes. ‘We are patriots, Sisters and Brothers, and our country’s flag is a gaping beak.’ This book’s arrival is imperative, urgent. It burns.”
“The Threatened Everything takes a heart-stoppingly honest look at the lies we tell ourselves in order to be functioning grown-ups. Writing poems both timely and marked by a deep, ancient wisdom born from the marriage of absurdity and grief, Paula Cisewski emerges as an American inheritor of the great Polish poets Zbigniew Herbert and Czeslaw Milosz. With a studious music and a sharp eye for laughter’s dual power to demand both complicity and joy in our separated, secular lives, her poems mark out space for us to gather our strength and see more clearly the things of the world that center and unhinge us, despite the distracting flotsam and jetsam of late capitalism, the war machine, the political circus. Cisewski is the comforting friend making art from the awful: ‘Even factoring in fiberglass / and waterslides, motor oil // and lurch,’ she writes, ‘every lonesome atom of / your body is a church.’ Poetry is, as these poems make evident, the only possible reaction to the absurd life.”
—Mary Austin Speaker