‘How can language / as tainted as this / relieve the living / & revive the dead,’ Alissa Valles wonders in her breakthrough second collection, Hospitium,
which is a rarity in contemporary American poetry—a deeply serious, probing and meaningful book of historical questions and metaphysical concerns.
Here are poems of a ruthless lyric precision, of “intelligence/ quickened/ by vulnerability.” Such a vulnerability lies in the fact that, in some languages, the word for “host” and the word for “guest” have the same root, audible in this book’s title. In a postmodern world, host and guest are both “permanently temporary,” and therefore they must depend on each other, across countries, cultures and languages. The themes of flight, homelessness and care in [Hospitium
] play out in great cities (Amsterdam, Warsaw, New York) and on both the global and the personal level. Alissa Valles asks: “How does a guest/ summon up ghosts?” The answer is: by voracious experience, a sensitive ear, wide reading, and a sympathetic heart. In this book she provides an anatomy of our time and our condition.
In her new collection, Alissa Valles offers us a gallery of brilliantly defined silhouettes, in a world where all, host and guests, are strangers having to deal alone with their destiny, body, and dignity. She manages to bring them together as on a dark train journey that accentuates the accidental in human connections, the absurdity of circumstances. Whether it is a street in Amsterdam, an apartment in New York, or a surgery pavilion in a hospital—they all evoke our anxiety of existence, ancient as much as modern. They go on resonating in our memory long after reading.
[About Orphan Fire
Valles’s terse, learned, harsh collection is one of the standout first books of the year. The polyglot poet, who has lived in Amsterdam, Britain, Poland and Russia … adapts almost equally well to very long lines and to short ones, to Continental and to American scenes.… When she takes a longer view, adapting ancient myths or ancient authors, her lapidary talents are almost unequaled.
What I find unusual in Alissa Valles’ poems is a very strong expression of intellectual passion invested into the historical—or strictly personal—world.… exceptional promise in her work, in her spiritual energy. She’s interestingly different from her peers. I trust in her talent and I recommend her poems.
—Adam Zagajewski in Ploughshares
Paperback: 120 pages
Publisher: Madhat, Inc.
Product Dimensions: 6 x 9 inches