Poetry by Joseph Lease
March 15, 2011 • 5.8 x 8.9 • 63 pages • 978-1-56689-258-2
A brilliant embodiment of America’s conflicted soul.
With singular grace and musicality, these accomplished poems summon the voices of a divided country. With a storyteller’s rhythm, Lease braids humor, political bite, psychological intensity, and lyric beauty, taking us to a place of warning, critique, and elegy.
About the Author
Joseph Lease is the author of three critically acclaimed books of poetry: Broken World, Human Rights, and The Room. His poems have also been featured on NPR and published in Bay Poetics, The AGNI 30th Anniversary Poetry Anthology, VQR, the Paris Review, and elsewhere. Lease’s poem “‘Broken World’ (For James Assatly)” appeared in The Best American Poetry, edited by Robert Creeley and David Lehman. His latest book Testify was published in 2011.
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“Testify . . . is as taut and thrilling, as full of urgency and humility as I’ve come to expect [Lease’s] work to be. . . . This is poetry that gathers in handfuls of the world and offers them up as crystalline images, smells and sounds. This is poetry not as an idea but as an experience—evocative of a vast multiplicity of ideas. . . . In the end, the most accurate, and perhaps the most useful, description of Lease’s work is it’s beautiful. Read it.” —The Rumpus
“[Testify] is a culmination of the poetic gestures and lyric voice he has been developing since The Room and it solidifies his position as one of the more striking voices of his generation. . . . Testify is, in a sense, Joseph Lease’s testimony of being an American in America at this precise moment in time. This is a document—a mantra even—which verges on the holy. . . . Invoking the language of what is at stake forces us to participate in the discourse surrounding it—and this book tells us that our testimony, like its own, is necessary.” —New Pages
“Testify’s beauties come from the tentativeness of its tone. . . . Lease offers no prescriptions and suffers no proposals. There is anger in Testify, and there is love. But unlike Whitman and Thoreau, Lease offers no whiff of redemption, and unlike Jeremiah before them, no consolation. Lease might be on to something. Perhaps we have too many aspiring prophets already. Lease is suggesting that discomfort—not certainty—might provide enough sanction for a prophetic stance today. Such a stance is confrontational but not in the regular way. It needs to say something different, something that you do not hear everywhere you go. In a world of 24/seven coverage, Testify is trying to do just that.” —Tablet
“What I also admire in Lease’s book is his attention to the textural shape of each poem. Words find their line as a dancer finds and fills her space. Like the master Danish poet Inger Christensen in her book alphabet, Lease crafts each poem with attention to the weight of each word. . . . I am struck by how each poem is an embodied utterance: the individual body of this speaker with his particular experience as well as the body politic, “torn and frayed.” . . . As many of the dreams of the 2008 election have perished, and as Britain burns with mass lootings brought on by lower to middle-class frustration, Lease’s testimony rings even more vividly.” —Midtown Review
“Testify, a great book, places itself at America’s street corner of Origin and Decay. A delicate, tentative lyricism arises full of want, and Lease is its astonished keeper.” —Gillian Conoley
“The magic of these poems lies in their careful and insistent repetitions, their powerful cadence, their delicate choosing, their brilliant clarity. Lease is one of only a few poets writing now who is brave enough and skilled enough to take on the biggest crises of our time while remaining absolutely dedicated to the art of the poem.” —Julie Carr
“Joseph Lease is the actual real and important deal. He’s Whitman. He’s Lincoln. He’s Lester Young before the world won. Which is to say, Container of Multitudes/Voice of the Epic. Melancholic Visionary. Cool Breeze Speaker of a new Vernacular. This is such important work, such consolation—personal and communal. I’ve just sent it to everyone I know.” —Janet Desaulniers
“Thoreau wrote, ‘All perception of truth is an analogy.’ Joseph Lease's Testify is an investigation and proof of this recognition. . . . All of a piece, the connections between the self and the society, the self and the world, the self and the self, have rarely been explored so bravely or presented so movingly.” —Denver Quarterly
“In Testify . . . I’m delighted to find that Lease has continued to write sincere, musical poems—poems which continue to resist smarmy irony.” —Drunken Boat
“A new volume by Joseph Lease is cause for celebration by the most discerning readers and writers of poetry. . . . Rarely does a book of poetry release universal truths so skillfully and passionately by pinpointing such surprising and specific images as ‘There’s a fist of meat in my solar plexus / and green light in my mouth and little chips of dream flake / off my skin.’ Lease carries the reader with him as he allows supreme vulnerability to be sung. . . . If you do not buy any other poetry book this year, buy Testify by Joseph Lease. Read it aloud to anyone you love. And read it carefully, specifically, reverently, while trying to keep your voice clear (your voice will break). The breakage will be real, beyond mere sentiment; it will be the ‘fist of meat in [the] solar plexus’ (11). You will experience word choice recovering the ingredient that found your pores. All of them.” —Jacket2
“These 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 (Summer 2012 Edition)
“[Testify] is filled with a clear eye towards our future by reading the tea leaves of our present. . . . Lease appears to be the singular talent able to absorb all of this and focus it into one 66-page beam of poetic truth and beauty. I would testify to that.” —H_NGM_N
“Lease’s poetry enacts the questioning, challenging plea of a speaker struggling to stay connected to his own judgement, his faith in humanity, in the power of the collective to feel, recognize itself and act. This work, among the best poetry of our time, is full of conflict, contradiction and the vitality of thinking. That is, thinking while feeling while thinking and trying to sift through it all, and back, finally, to some enduring shelter in a self-aware language.” —HTML Giant