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In his first book of poems since his highly acclaimed June-tree, Peter Balakian continues to define himself as one of the most distinctive voices of his generation. Exploring history, self, and imagination, as well as his ongoing concerns with catastrophe and trauma, many of Balakian’s new poems wrestle with the aftermath and reverberations of 9/11.
            Whether reliving the building of the World Trade Towers in the inventive forty-three-section poem that anchors the book, walking the ruins of the Bosnian National Library in Sarajevo, meditating on Andy Warhol’s silk screens, or considering the confluence of music, language, and memory, Balakian continues his meditations on history, as well as on the harshness and beauty of contemporary life, that his readers have enjoyed over the years. In sensual, layered, and sometimes elliptical language, Balakian in Ziggurat explores absence, war, love, and art in a new age of American uncertainty.

88 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2010

Phoenix Poets



"Dark as Balakian’s poems sometimes are, Ziggurat shines with brilliant insight, courage, and exceptional artistry. This is an important, rewarding book."


"The power of the poems in Ziggurat is in the range of experiences and knowledge they respond to, the linguistic energies deployed and the skill with which the narrative is layered, so that it resonates not only as historical commentary, but with pertinence to the present moment."

Carol Rumens | The Guardian

“Balakian’s poems create a world sustained by the power of associations, in which borders get thinned out and lives that seem unconnected flow on each other. Even as he focuses on his relationship with the world, he avoids indulging in monolog, instead using reportorial diction to sketch flashes of scenes that seem as if they are taken by cameras with cracked lenses. VERDICT Aesthetically rich and engaging; recommended for all serious poetry readers."

Library Journal

“With characteristic originality, Balakian finds his echoing motif in the construction of the first great skyscraper, the Ziggurat at Ur, and this gives his epic poem, ‘A-Train/Ziggurat/Elegy,’ a historical depth I have found nowhere else in American poetry in recent years. What Balakian has achieved here is a brilliant assimilation of the historical, philosophical, political, and psychological.”

Carolyn Forché

“With a historical precision not often seen in contemporary American poetry, Ziggurat balances between the pain and strength that come with recollection.”

Carolina Quarterly

Ziggurat ingests calamity and dissolves it into an exhilarating rhythm and image, pushing the language until it feels like it’s breaking into something new. This is how idioms change, advance. Balakian renders scenes and at the same time enacts the sensibility being breached and affected—9/11 is just shorthand for our new magnitudes of violence and dissociation. The frames of contemporary life, and our recent history, fit together because they have been brought to account in the self of the poet. The work aims to reveal the human capacity to integrate and, after hard passage, transcend.”

Sven Birkerts

"This is very urban poetry, written in free verse but with an unbreakable sentence rhythm. . . . Though Balakian’s poems are quickly comprehensible, there is a deeper meaning which appears when we realize that they are about law disappearing, to be replaced by Chaos."

Times Literary Supplement

"Whether as a poet, historian, or memoirist, Balakian has consistently cast himself as the modern observer, the consummate ’witness,’ a New Jersey native of Armenian descent, straddling the line between cultures and ages, translating that experience into words. Ziggurat redefines that act of bearing witness as an act of retrospection in its deepest sense, a looking back that is as much about the experience of fractured consciousness as it is about what it observes."—Harvard Review

Harvard Review

“[Balakian] is a poet who lives to be ‘in the thick of the material,’ whether it’s the pile of frightening historical facts he excavates or the sound and texture of the phrases he lovingly chisels out. . . . [Ziggurat] has emotional depth, structural coherence, and historical range.”

John Foy | Contemporary Poetry Review

Table of Contents



Going to Zero

Warhol / Madison Ave. / 9-11

World Trade Center / Mail Runner / ’71

Warhol / Blue Jackie

World Trade Center / Mail Runner / ’73

Warhol / Electric Chair / ’63

World Trade Center / Black Holes / ’74

Warhol / Race Riot / ’63

Elevator, Midtown, ’74


A-Train / Ziggurat / Elegy


Three Decades

Reading Dickinson / Summer ’68

Grant’s Tomb

Self-Portrait with Bird

The Alley

Early Spring

Blue Room

9 /11, Emily Dickinson



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