National Park, the debut collection of poems from Emily Sieu Liebowitz, is not just something to read ~ it’s something to hear. Liebowitz is sending fractured radio waves like letters or songs across the great expanses that exist between coasts, people, articulation, and meaning. These poems seem to hover just above us, forcing us to meet them on a higher plane of language. In the world of this work, feeling and knowledge become synonymous.
The lyric “I” of National Park shapes and makes meaning over, exploiting the English language’s wicked adaptability, as shaped by colonization and globalization. Time collapses into rhythm, and we find ourselves feeling our way through dismantling the American mythos’ demand for categories of definition.
One of the finest first books of recent years, Emily Sieu Liebowitz’s National Park exhibits the emergent, wide-open verbal music of America’s postmodern urban zones, those Yosemites and Yellowstones of second nature. Its collective, impersonal ways with voice and phrasing could be culled from the tattered margins of Ron Silliman’s In the American Tree, that legendary anthology of Language Writing to which her title pointedly alludes. Liebowitz fabricates an enigmatic, quasi-personal mode in this arcade of poems evocatively composed for the page. A collection whose streets are littered with singular, verbally dense expressions and recursive poetic talismans, National Park moves the scales of our expectations in a poem. Liebowitz sends a “radio wave of creative space” like a quasar from some original precinct of the poetic universe.
I seldom want to read contemporary poems aloud, much less an entire book, but this book—I hear it in my mind’s ear and want to say every word. National Park is a gorgeous discussion of the horrors of manifest destiny, plus ongoing everyday life (dancing, shopping) in the U.S. Step by carefully placed step, it brings us closer to gardens and buildings we feel like we’ve known forever but have already forgotten the names of. This is poetry for this century.
Emily Sieu Leibowitz’s National Park is a kind of poetic field guide to fields. The map of the map is the map, mapping. “This is about logic, benchmarks, people gathered and circled.” The ways we think in and of language become landscape, it’s a National Park after all. Liebowitz invites us to gather and circle, to meditate on the mediations, and find “the re-opened shacks in life.”
Emily Sieu Liebowitz’s National Park is the poetry of aspiration, and by aspiration, I mean breath, and by aspiration, I mean—to quote Nathaniel Mackey—“a wish, among others, to be we.” Liebowitz beautifully attends to the line as a unit of breath, breaking it, extending it; each aerated line is a horizon line that fades like a contrail. Liebowitz has written a haunting and mesmerizing series of eclogues to our vanishing west.
Cathy Park Hong