Keizer (Getting Schooled, 2014, etc.), a Guggenheim Fellow for general nonfiction, contributing editor for Harper’s, and the author of eight previous books, is best known as an accomplished prose stylist. However, during his decadeslong career, he’s also released a modest number of poems, some of which have appeared in such venues as the New Yorker, AGNI, and the Harvard Review. He collects many of them here in his first stand-alone volume of verse. Because the works cover a 40-year span, there’s no clear throughline, but the fact that they read as miscellany is no defect. Rather, it allows readers to observe a skilled writer and deep thinker as he roves far and wide with his insights. The passage of time is a recurring concern; in “Now and Then,” for example, he thinks back to the days before the oppressive white noise of electricity: “How quiet they must have been, / the days before power / became so literally a household word. / I think that sounds were sharper / against that stillness, / bird songs and piano chords, / the voice that called your name.” In this piece, Keizer renders the author’s purest dream; after all, what writer doesn’t hope that his words might ring out more piercingly? Later, in “My Daughter’s Singing,” he looks forward to a moment when his child will have moved out of the family home: “already I am talking— / a year to go before she goes / to college, and listen to me talking— / in the past tense as she sings.” It’s a poignant testament to a father’s love, couched in a deft exploration of the future anterior. In “My Daughter’s Singing,” time’s flow is lamentable, but it’s also given readers this fine accretion of years of work. As Keizer writes, “Eventually you find the rhyme / for every word.” Here, he has, and readers will be grateful.
Funny, touching, and addictively readable poems.Kirkus Reviews (starred)
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
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
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