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This review is taken from PN Review 228, Volume 42 Number 4, March - April 2016.

Cover of Vise and Shadow: Essays on the lyric imagination, poetry, art, and culture
Jamie Osborn‘Dangerous times / see clearly’ Peter Balakian Ozone Journal (University of Chicago Press)
Peter Balakian Vise and Shadow: Essays on the lyric imagination, poetry, art, and culture (UCP)

Peter Balakian’s new collection of poems, Ozone Journal, revisits concerns that have occupied his work in the past. The legacy and memory of the Armenian Genocide, coming of age in well-off New England in the sixties and seventies, the nature of the past itself, are framed within such events as the Vietnam War or Prince Charles’s visit to the ‘slum drummers’ of Nairobi. Like the flexible prosody, the style is elliptical and can at turns be tough, disorienting, or flash into moments of beauty, and Balakian deploys a characteristic historical sensitivity and well-moderated irony in splicing his materials together. The long title poem is plural, multi-layered, the past entering the present only as much as the present illuminates the past. If there is a single central impulse to ‘Ozone Journal’, it might lie in the quotation from Walter Benjamin, which occurs in the poem half as remembered words, half as sudden new thought: ‘To articulate the past historically does not to mean to recognize it the way it really was. It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a moment of danger.

Balakian interweaves Benjamin’s words with flickers of Boston after midnight, song lyrics, and a voice and body ‘crammed between two kids’. The result is a mix of intense sensory, even sensual, experience and cerebral force, the verse both meditative and urgent. Balakian’s long lines pick up and draw out thoughts, clauses, notes, in the rhythms of exploratory prose, then snap back at unexpected line-breaks, maintaining a gut-level ...

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