George Santayana wrote, “Spirit chills the flesh and is itself on fire.” If I understand that properly, it could be a way of summing up Garret Keizer’s aesthetic in his marvelous The World Pushes Back. But there are such a variety of attitudes in this book, I’ll just cite a few—moments like, “to see the garden through/to the stripped harvest,” and “the lies we tell in our right minds/and the truths we utter raving,” and “The only thing/that is never ironic/is the need for salvation.” Keizer is my favorite kind of moralist, assertive yet complicit. He takes us on a journey through mystery from travail toward understanding that leads us back to mystery. The world remains the world; it is he who pushes back.Stephen Dunn, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Leagues away from Johnny One-Note-ism, Garret Keizer provides a refreshing surprise in virtually every poem: having just read the tightest of sonnets, say, the reader may immediately encounter an extended meditation in free verse. But honed though the author’s technique may be, I am scarcely talking about the technical alone. Blithely, even righteously ignoring trends and theories, the poet unflaggingly considers what I can only call things that matter: love both as eros and agape; anger at social injustice combined with suspension of facile judgment; dead-on earnestness together with keen wit. The World Pushes Back is an extraordinary human document. A long time coming, the collection proves far more than worth the wait—a breathtaking poetic debut.Sydney Lea, Vermont Poet Laureate (2011-2015)
I have waited for a book of poems like The World Pushes Back, one that honors our “quiet laboring,” one that pays off on a promise of seeing deeper into the quotidian, of managing the human web. Keizer does more than catalogue the spells and bouquets of living now; he is a passionate witness to a remarkable life made holy by his spacious intellect and adventures into song.Major Jackson, author of Holding Company and Roll Deep
The poems in Garret Keizer’s The World Pushes Back embrace the world that leans against them with wit and charm, empathy and warmth. They are both political and religious without being shrill or self-righteous, and they engage life as we find it today with an equanimity and good will that seems all but lost in public discourse. This work prompts us to be fully awake in the moments we have, and when the poems look backward to the past, their speaker reminds us, “Like now, it was only the present.” Keizer’s poems are inclined toward form, but never feel formal—they offer their wisdom with wry humor, conversationally and often with an unexpected rhyme scheme or a play on words that makes them linger a little longer in the heart and in the mind.Jesse Graves, author of Basin Ghosts; judge for the 2018 X.J. Kennedy Poetry Prize
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