My Soviet Union


The speaker of the simultaneously funny and devastating poems in this remarkable first collection comes from a country that, like the Soviet Union, no longer exists, a place he treats with a mixture of nostalgia, disdain, and bewilderment as he strives to achieve a sense of order in his current disordered environment, a post-apocalyptic landscape with striking similarities to our own. He takes the reader through haunting and disjunctive childhood memories, on visits to Azerbaijan and West Des Moines, through the ravages of physical and spiritual illness, into and out of wars and ill-fated romantic escapades, as he carefully pieces together a complex narrative of self.This is a book of location and dis-location, intent and inaction, struggle and failure, restraint and mania, love and anger, savagery and healing, grief and merriment, elegy and ode. Technically, the poems-often litanies-are marked by syntactical variation, recurring imagery, paradoxical statement, cultural idioms, shifts between high and low diction, a carnivalesque sense of humor, and an elliptical approach to exposition. The speaker also takes on the identities of various personae in the book, including Joseph Cornell, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Pol Pot, a vaudevillian, a movie extra, minor dictators, vagrants, ambigendered lovers, and a lighthouse keeper on an uninhabited island.

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