Winner of the New Measure Poetry Prize
Free Verse Editions
Edited by Jon Thompson
Information and Pricing
978-1-64317-118-0 (paperback, $14.00) 978-1-64317-119-7 (PDF, $9.99) © 2020 by Parlor Press. 85 pages.
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About This Book
Tracy Zeman’s first full-length collection of poems, Empire, examines the European settlement and ecological devastation of the North American prairie. Her ecology-based serial poems employ collage, borrowed text and fractured narrative to probe the connections of humans to the natural world through the lens of culture, history and personal experience. Zeman uses image, juxtaposition and fragment to tell the story of a savage and intricate landscape, once conquered and now imperiled by forces such as climate change, invasive species and contemporary agricultural and land practices. Empire is a journey through an endangered world where beauty is enshrined and the lost, human and animal, is elegized.
What People Are Saying
Unusually attuned to traces of habitats and traditions effaced by settler colonialism, Tracy Zeman takes readers into the field beyond the “weedy plutocracy of parceled plots” laid out by an expanding empire. Zeman insists on the persistent presence of grassland ecologies and indigenous cultures as a way of “fixing the outside within the frame,” a subversion of settler culture’s ecocidal and genocidal frameworks. Empire’s Objectivist method of splicing lyric language with research and quotation collapses past and present, archive and song, allowing us to see Manifest Destiny as a continuous project of violent erasure that depends upon perpetual forgetting for its continuation, “tied/to the place that made us,” Zeman refuses to forget. Her “way of knowing/brings the world forth as not,” restoring to our memory aspects of the world our culture has buried. Putting “a few hands on the common good,” these poems honor the “labor sedimented in land,” offering us the “living rock/to which the heart is given.” —Brian Teare, author of Doomstead Days
In language as beautiful and efficacious as the “eight spear-heads / within a mammoth rib-cage,” Tracy Zeman’s Empire returns us to our continent, both the deep-rooted complexity of her native prairies and the deep-rooted losses we inhabit so casually, in which “the sure-to-come is never close enough.” When I seek in these poems “the marker between / the human and all else,” I find it not in the grave goods and death-remembrance that punctuate an otherwise “natural” world, but in the poetic voice itself, its ecology of sensing and of knowing. “For the charnel house bows arrows tobacco / a bear paw a turtle effigy pipe / a fledgling sparrow rubbing its neck / on a hackberry branch.” Both deeply informed and ethically astute, this is an “I” so thoroughly of its elements that it rarely needs to surface amid the “fire licked grasses & rushes / [that] define the treeline we share / with the rest carrion cardinal compass-flower / bringing a way of being with / not against.” These are steady, unheroic acts of attention, seeking human survival not in some vain hope of historical rescue but as a clear-sighted consciousness already achieved by the poems, a “hope to graft the present to / the predicament to all my tenderness.” —Susan Tichy, author of The Avalanche Path in Summer.
Empire is a song for what’s lost, and all that remains. Zeman wanders the disappeared Great Plains and the Pacific Coast—the center and boundary of a culture that saw itself as destined to subdue a continent. With a naturalist’s eye and a poet’s ear, she gathers fragments of observation and memory, history, texts, names of disappeared and common species—all unmoored from their origins and rewoven into a haunting, lyrical whole. Like rocks, or rivers, distant pasts and futures flow through this work. It insists on the complexity of mourning and love that is the Anthropocene. “I measure every grief I meet” she writes, “in this broken unbroken place.” —Allison Cobb, author of Green-Wood
About the Author
Tracy Zeman’s poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Chicago Review, TYPO and other journals, and her book reviews have been published in Kenyon Review Online and Colorado Review. She has earned residencies from the Sitka Center for Art and Ecology, Ox-Bow, and The Wild. She lives outside Detroit, Michigan, with her husband and daughter. Empire is her first full-length collection.
GRASS FOR BONE | Grass for Bone | The Edge Effect | Solitary Branches & Small Leaves | | STAR OR PLOW | Star or Plow | Outliers & Blueprints | Broad Wings above Tall Grass | Simulacra | Large Stone on Body, Birch Branches Above | Pope County, Illinois | Plum Blossoms at Yellow Dusk | | EMPIRE OF GRASS | Grist | Taxonomic | Midewin | Empire of Grass | | Notes | Acknowledgments | About the Author
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