Wednesday, March 7. 2018, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco
reading from his new poetry collection
The Body Ghost
from Coffee House Press
The Body Ghost is a collection of broken nursery rhymes, a kind of elegy or extended plea to remember kinder, gentler times, and a critique of the broken and harmful policies of the political present. Lease has an abiding interest in social justice as linked to Judaism, and here, always, is a plea for humanism and a tilt toward the mystical. The call-and-response of human relation finds its way onto the page, too―words and phrases echoing each other, blocks of text giving way to lines that trickle down the page.
Joseph Lease's critically acclaimed books of poetry include The Body Ghost (Coffee House Press, forthcoming in 2018), Testify (Coffee House Press, 2011), and Broken World (Coffee House Press, 2007). Lease has received The Academy of American Poets Prize and numerous grants and awards in poetry and poetics from Columbia University, Brown University, Harvard University, and California College of the Arts. He is a Professor of Writing and Literature at California College of the Arts and a member of the Advisory Board of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.
What has been said about The Body Ghost:
"I really don't know how Joseph Lease does this. Reaches such lyric heights with such delicacy. With skillful use of anaphora, and perfect, various, open-verse forms transformed page to page, Lease is a tour de force master of prosody, of the subtle music of words evoking, in this case, passionate feelings of caring, of grief, of sorrow for this broken world. These poems are unique; nothing I have read is like them." —Norman Fischer
“Currents of immediacy and intensity surge through Joseph Lease’s poems in The Body Ghost. Amid the flotsam of voices overheard in hospital rooms and snippets of media chatter repeating on TV and laptop screens, Lease traces a lyric as light as air, revealing gravities at the core of the ephemeral. This is a vision as palpable as the ghost body of our neoliberal society evanescing before us.” —John Keene
“The Body Ghost is part of a body of work that is significant and reveals Joseph Lease to be a major force in contemporary American literature.” —Sheila Murphy
“Joseph Lease’s is a singularly moving and devastatingly beautiful voice in contemporary poetry. The haunting iterations and luminous specificity of his powerful new collection The Body Ghost channel the sadness, rage, and desire of this fraught historical moment in a vibrant minor key. Lease’s musical repetition is a site of political awakening; a site of hope, demolition, and mourning: 'we made / this sky of drones to eat your voice,’ ‘lavender sky, sky like whiskey—the way, the way / we live in bodies.’ Flipping between one version of reality and its repetition evokes a gap of inequality within the lyric self which cleaves and doubles its singing: ‘you didn’t, you did.’ Lease’s stunning poetry is simultaneously a solid, a liquid, and a gas, its acrobatics and multivocal simultaneity offering models for examining everything from privilege and property to the poignant death of a family member. And at its center, always, is a beating heart.” —Trace Peterson
“When I was very young, my father, a ‘skin doctor,’ would show gleaming models of body parts at medical fairs. They frightened my sisters, but they were also illuminations of a whole world. Joseph’s poems are like these terrifying wholes/holes. They travel into us. Joseph has been making an American Buddhist poetry, and he is as maximalist as flesh and bone. He gives me the sensation that poetry is in gleaming hands, healing and grasping and letting go. He is the future of poetry.” —David Shapiro
“What is The Body Ghost? Who is The Body Ghost? I too became The Body Ghost from the minute I opened this book, where ‘the light that’s burning every second now—’ commanded an urgency, a charged presence. These incantatory poems are capacious and revelatory, allowing space for grief, for healing, and perhaps for an elegy to the music of poetry where ‘sound gives life—.’ Interrelationships are explored, an interconnectivity, where one is both participant and accountable. What a relief to be invited in, to feel alive and participate so presently in a collection that asks for this deep engagement, which burrows to locate ‘the / soul beneath the soul beneath the soul.’ We need The Body Ghost right now.” —Jennifer Firestone
“These poems, rife with music and sly, playful inquiries into the world, have some of Frank O’Hara’s metropolitan freshness and directness; they’re charming in their artful, lyrical gestures (‘the elegies / are taking off their clothes . . .’), but also plangent at key moments in their genuine moral and social critique (‘… tear up maps— / democracy is anyone’s eyes— feel / like you might have, might have / killed someone’). Yes, The Body Ghost is a spectral fan dance or a poetic striptease of sorts—its haunted, incremental engines, lavish white spaces, and agile floating lines (like tracks in amassed snow sometimes), its neo-Dickinson dashes leading the entranced reader toward revelatory clues, needling truths, and insistent joys.” —Cyrus Cassells