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Vexations

A mother and daughter journey together through a strange speculative world in this experimental book-length poem.
 
Annelyse Gelman’s book-length poem Vexations is a surreal, glitchy meditation on empathy, ecology, and precarity. Throughout the book winds a narrative about a mother and daughter as they move through a world of social and economic collapse in search of a post-capitalist safe haven. All the while, they also navigate a condition that affects the daughter’s empathic abilities, making her vulnerable to emotional contagion.
 
Vexations is titled and structured after Erik Satie’s composition of the same name, a piece that requires patience, endurance, and concentration from both its audience and its players. Similarly, Gelman’s Vexations employs repetition and variation to engage the reader’s attention. Hers is an ambient poetry, drawing on the aesthetic qualities of drone music and sampling voices and sounds to create a lush literary backdrop filled with pulsing psychedelic detail.
 

56 pages | 6 1/2 x 9 1/2 | © 2023

Phoenix Poets

Poetry

Reviews

Vexations is a brilliant, dizzying, necessarily unnerving take on the project of the state and the varied estrangements on which it feeds. Demanding and speculative, Gelman’s book-length poem names the absurd conditions out of which we (readers), and the text itself, emerge, awakening a rage. The world Gelman creates is a strange, slant rendering of our own, delivering shock after shock of recognition in our reading of its intimacies—clarity, threat, pleasure, dread. Part mother’s account of her life with her young daughter, part encounter with Erik Satie’s nineteenth-century score of the same name, Vexations is a poem, a performance, and a score of endurance. It is a book radiant and terrifying with our time. It is afire.”

Aracelis Girmay and Solmaz Sharif | James Laughlin Award judges' statement

"This experimental book-length poem traces a mother and daughter’s travels through a surreal landscape on the verge of ecological and social collapse."

Publishers Weekly

“Mesmerizing and propulsive, Vexations moves like a snake through the uncanny grass of a creeping dystopia where care blurs with surveillance, small disasters dovetail with large, and too-late leaks into still-to-come. Here, the epic veers eerie and antiheroic, immersing us in a consciousness—in a world—flooded by strange but all too familiar fears. This is an unsettling, flawlessly crafted book by a singular poet.”

Lisa Olstein, author of Climate

“With this stunning shapeshifter, Gelman manages to create a remarkable hybrid: a book-length poetic narrative of speculative fiction, an urgent account of a mother/daughter relationship, and a coruscating view of our ecological future. Vexations manages what many of us call literature to do: show us humanity subject to and transcendent of time.”

Douglas Kearney, Phoenix Poets consulting editor and author of Sho

Awards

Academy of American Poets: James Laughlin Award
Won

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