The Body Ghost

Poetry by Joseph Lease

June 5, 2018 • 6 x 9 • 104 pages • 978-1-56689-511-8

Spare, airy, exacting poems whose quietness is often at an ironic counterpoint to their fiery leftist politics.

“Promise me the rich can’t sleep,” Joseph Lease begs in The Body Ghost, offering poems as light on the page as nursery rhymes, and as powerful as prayer. Here, verse conjures up the body in pain, the body politic in collapse, and the tensile strength of the filaments that connect us.

About the Author

Joseph Lease’s critically acclaimed books of poetry include Testify (Coffee House Press 2011) and Broken World (Coffee House Press 2007). Lease has received the Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize and numerous grants and awards in poetry and poetics from Columbia University, Brown University, Harvard University, and California College of the Arts. He is a professor of writing and literature at California College of the Arts and a member of the advisory board of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics.

Thanks to a 2013 ADA Access Improvement Grant administered by VSA Minnesota for the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, this title is also formatted for screen readers which make text accessible to the blind and visually impaired. To purchase this title for use with a screen reader please call (612) 338-0125 or email us at info@coffeehousepress.org.


“In The Body Ghost, Joseph Lease pares back the flesh of his verse until all that remains are the ethereal and essential bones.” —Arkansas International

“[Lease’s] lyricism is strong, stubborn, and won’t be diluted.” —Galatea Resurrects

“[A] mystical, transportational, and reconfiguring text.” —Interim

“[E]lectric and electrifying, spontaneous and illuminating.” —Tablet

“Currents of immediacy and intensity surge through Joseph Lease’s poems in The Body Ghost. Amid the flotsam of voices overheard in hospital rooms and snippets of media chatter repeating on TV and laptop screens, Lease traces a lyric as light as air, revealing gravities at the core of the ephemeral. This is a vision as palpable as the ghost body of our neoliberal society evanescing before us.” —John Keene

“When Joseph reads his poem, ‘Rent is Theft,’ its title becomes a chant that emphasizes the space between social constraints and economic instability; his poem ‘Night’ urges the necessity of speaking and being heard when caught up in a whirlwind of political and personal darkness; and ‘The Body Ghost,’ broken up into three separate poems, underlines the common thread weaved throughout his collection, the search for a silver lining amongst hardships.” —Fourteen Hills

“I really don’t know how Joseph Lease does this. Reaches such lyric heights with such delicacy. With skillful use of anaphora, and perfect, various, open-verse forms transformed page to page, Lease is a tour de force master of prosody, of the subtle music of words evoking, in this case, passionate feelings of caring, of grief, of sorrow for this broken world. These poems are unique; nothing I have read is like them.” —Norman Fischer

The Body Ghost is part of a body of work that is significant and reveals Joseph Lease to be a major force in contemporary American literature.” —Sheila Murphy

“Joseph Lease’s is a singularly moving and devastatingly beautiful voice in contemporary poetry. The haunting iterations and luminous specificity of his powerful new collection The Body Ghost channel the sadness, rage, and desire of this fraught historical moment in a vibrant minor key. Lease’s musical repetition is a site of political awakening; a site of hope, demolition, and mourning: ‘we made / this sky of drones to eat your voice,’ ‘lavender sky, sky like whiskey—the way, the way / we live in bodies.’ Flipping between one version of reality and its repetition evokes a gap of inequality within the lyric self which cleaves and doubles its singing: ‘you didn’t, you did.’ Lease’s stunning poetry is simultaneously a solid, a liquid, and a gas, its acrobatics and multivocal simultaneity offering models for examining everything from privilege and property to the poignant death of a family member. And at its center, always, is a beating heart.” —Trace Peterson

“When I was very young, my father, a ‘skin doctor,’ would show gleaming models of body parts at medical fairs. They frightened my sisters, but they were also illuminations of a whole world. Joseph’s poems are like these terrifying wholes/holes. They travel into us. Joseph has been making an American Buddhist poetry, and he is as maximalist as flesh and bone. He gives me the sensation that poetry is in gleaming hands, healing and grasping and letting go. He is the future of poetry.” —David Shapiro

“What is The Body Ghost? Who is The Body Ghost? I too became The Body Ghost from the minute I opened this book, where ‘the light that’s burning every second now—’ commanded an urgency, a charged presence. These incantatory poems are capacious and revelatory, allowing space for grief, for healing, and perhaps for an elegy to the music of poetry where ‘sound gives life—.’ Interrelationships are explored, an interconnectivity, where one is both participant and accountable. What a relief to be invited in, to feel alive and participate so presently in a collection that asks for this deep engagement, which burrows to locate ‘the / soul beneath the soul beneath the soul.’ We need The Body Ghost right now.” —Jennifer Firestone

“These poems, rife with music and sly, playful inquiries into the world, have some of Frank O’Hara’s metropolitan freshness and directness; they’re charming in their artful, lyrical gestures (‘the elegies / are taking off their clothes . . .’), but also plangent at key moments in their genuine moral and social critique (‘… tear up maps— / democracy is anyone’s eyes— feel / like you might have, might have / killed someone’). Yes, The Body Ghost is a spectral fan dance or a poetic striptease of sorts—its haunted, incremental engines, lavish white spaces, and agile floating lines (like tracks in amassed snow sometimes), its neo-Dickinson dashes leading the entranced reader toward revelatory clues, needling truths, and insistent joys.” —Cyrus Cassells

Praise for Joseph Lease:

“Joseph Lease is a major American poet of our time.” —Maria Damon

“I regard Joseph Lease as the best poet of his generation.” —David Shapiro

“The poems in Joseph Lease’s Broken World are as cool as they are passionate, as soft-spoken as they are indignant, and as fiercely Romantic as they are formally contained. Whether writing an elegy for a friend who died of aids or playing complex variations on Rilke’s Duino Elegies (‘If I cried out, / Who among the angelic orders would / Slap my face, who would steal my / Lunch money’), Lease has complete command of his poetic materials. His poems are spellbinding in their terse and ironic authority: Yes, the reader feels when s/he has finished, this is how it was—and how it is. An exquisite collection!” —Marjorie Perloff

“An incisive look at the downside of being an American today.” Santa Cruz Sentinel

“[T]hese are poems full of grace, exhilaration and wrenching tenderness .. . This is an important, innovative book that taps into jarring suspensions central to American experience.” Colorado Review

“The quiet politics of Joseph Lease’s Human Rights is nothing short of astonishing . . . Lease’s voice passes smoothly from tragedy to joy, from homelessness to mall life; his poems are amazing in their scope, subtlety, and in their movement from wide angle shots . . . to close-ups.” Boston Review

“One test of a book is how you feel about the writer and his or her work on completing the volume. In the case of Joseph Lease’s Broken World, I want to read everything he’s ever written, and for everything that’s written but not yet in print to get published as soon as possible. Broken World is a dazzling performance whose only weakness, to my eye and ear, is that it could have been much longer.” —Ron Silliman