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Forbidden City

from “Mount Fuji”

A draughtsman’s draughtsman, Hokusai at 70
thought he’d begun to grasp the structures
of birds and beasts, insects and fish, of the way
plants grow, hoped that by 90 he’d have
penetrated to their essential nature.
And more, by 100, I will have reached the stage
where every dot, every mark I make will be
alive. You always loved that resolve, you’d repeat
joyfully—Hokusai’s utterance of faith
in work’s possibilities, its reward, that,
at 130, he’d perhaps have learned to draw.
Gail Mazur’s poems in Forbidden City  build an engaging meditative structure upon the elements of mortality and art, eloquently contemplating the relationship of art and life—and the dynamic possibilities of each in combination. At the collection’s heart is the poet’s long marriage to the artist Michael Mazur (1935–2009). A fascinating range of tone infuses the book—grieving, but clear-eyed rather than lugubrious, sometimes whimsical, even comical, and often exuberant. The note of pleasure, as in an old tradition enriched by transience, runs through the work, even in the final poem, “Grief,” where “our ravenous hold on the world” is a powerful central element.

72 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2016

Phoenix Poets



“Powerful. . . . Mazur’s poems register the constant tug between holding on and letting go that is an inescapable condition of her life: she is always bumping up against a glimmer from the past or the future, even as she goes through each day.”


“Mazur examines her response to desolation with unsparing meticulousness. The results are poems that expand our understanding of the consolation of nature, the miracles of art, and the power of imagination. . . . In its passion and invention, line by line, Forbidden City reveals Gail Mazur as an artist writing at the height of her powers.” 

On the Seawall

“No one—and I mean no one—writes poems as chock full of such nuanced feeling as Gail Mazur. She is as good as it gets. Has the elegiac ever seemed so vibrant and full of breathing space as it does here? The poems in Forbidden City run light and true under hard losses. They are heroic in the best possible way, fully open to sorrow and fear but keeping their wits about them at all times. I love them, and envy their generous powers.”

David Rivard

“With courageous disinterestedness, Mazur turns private particulars into universal images with a light poetic touch. We feel what she feels in the most ordinary objects and images that shine as human touchstones for our common longings and laments."

Harvard Review Online

Table of Contents


Forbidden City
Mount Fuji
Late at Night                                                                            
My Studio
Believe That Even in My Deliberateness I Was Not Deliberate
At Dusk, in the Yard
We Swam to an Island of Bees
Ou Sont Les Neiges D’Antan

Philip Guston
On Jane Cooper’s “The Green Notebook”

Instance of Me
Art History
The 70s
Living Treasure
Family Crucible

Elephant Memory
To the Charles River
July Saturday Night
The Self in Search of the Sublime
The Bay
Morning Letter


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