Black ecopoet observes the changing world from a high-rise window
Finalist for Griffin International Poetry Prize, given by The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry, 2022
Award-winning poet Ed Roberson confronts the realities of an era in which the fate of humanity and the very survival of our planet are uncertain. Departing from the traditional nature poem, Roberson's work reclaims a much older tradition, drawing into poetry's orbit what the physical and human sciences reveal about the state of a changing world. These poems test how far the lyric can go as an answer to our crisis, even calling into question poetic form itself. Reflections on the natural world and moments of personal interiority are interwoven with images of urbanscapes, environmental crises, and political instabilities. These poems speak life and truth to modernity in all its complexity. Throughout, Roberson takes up the ancient spiritual concern—the ephemerality of life—and gives us a new language to process the feeling of living in a century on the brink.
startled to hear the doctor say
this would be the last time he would see it,
a person used to keeping things alive
talking terminus — even more
startled when he returned
to hear him say it wasn't there
there were terrible rains
when late he arrived,
everything was gone.
his wife had a cold.
they bundled together in blankets.
he refilled my prescription to
restore my soul.
Title • Asked What Has Changed • A Drop of Water • After • First Person • The Way We Are • The Land • The Street Knows It's Changed • Speculation • Outlook • The Corner Unit • Documentation • Fall Open on the Statue's Lap • Alley, Here We Call Them "Way" • Deer Scare: Answer with Missing Riddle • Trace • The Insect Ephemera • Morello's Venice • The Empty of the Bottlenecks • The Child in Fellini's Satyricon Bacchanal Scene • The Hold of Extinction • The Listening • Millimeters of Corneal Tissue • Light on the Threshold • Sand • Wine-dark Sea • The Universal Ephemeral • Mutable Point of Axis • Mutable Point of Access • To Those Who Would Skate the Larger Surface • The Old Homology • Eye Ear Nose and Throat • Eco Echo Etude • loco moveri • Sense • Kingfisher • Swallows Are Making the Sky Crazy • Cascade • Color Change • Luxe • Luxe: coming issue • Once the Magnolia Has Blossomed • Falling Stars upon Which to Wish • Distant Nearness of Gravity • The Glorious Revolution of Bouquets • SurFace • Picture • Round • Wave Ravine • Levitations into Air • The Dot Flashes • Covenant • Closer • Runoff • Ice Man • Defer to Like • Moon Jar, Century Unclear • The Times
"Ed Roberson's Asked What Has Changed answers this question with characteristically keen observations and dancing syntax. From his current vantage point, twelve stories above Lake Michigan and eight decades into an African American life, Roberson's view encompasses what is both the mark of his apartment's 'luxury' status and the 'source of Chicago's smelly tap water.' Another breathtaking contribution to his inquiry into how black aesthetics can sharpen our understanding of local and global ecosystems, this work teaches us not simply to look, but to see."~Evie Shockley, author of Renegade Poetics: Black Aesthetics and Formal Innovation in African American Poetry
"Ed Roberson new book stands tall here as has his whole body of meditative, subtle poetry many years. Roberson is one of our great under-sung American poetic masters with a complex poetry of humanity, history, witness, playfully skewed syntax, ecological gnosis and a crystalline vison of evolutionary possibilities. We need this book always, and right now. Bravo."~Anne Waldman, author of Trickster Feminism
"In Asked What Has Changed, Ed Roberson sits by the window of his high-rise , knowing that "we might not be fast eno ugh/to out distance events ," and sees what was and 'wasn't here before the hurricane.' He is a witness to the terrible beauty of our irreversible changing world."~John Yau, Recipient of the 2018 Jackson Prize in Poetry
"Just as William Blake was able to descry an entire world in a kernel of sand, Roberson is ever alert to affinities between the small and the vast, the fleeting and the cosmic."~James Gibbons, Hyperallergic