What Dread

Zilka Joseph’s poems wear antennae, soft scales, pincers and curled tails. Like the creatures that fill this collection, Joseph’s forms are sinuous, elegant—and each poem, in its way, delivers a delicious jolt of venom. “You will get bitten,” she writes. “That is the nature of the beast.” Even the kitchen table, here, tastes blood. The lines between predator and prey, reader and poem, are compellingly blurred. Joseph writes: “if you choose to get close –/you’ll know what real respect means.” Get close to these fierce and artful poems. Disrespect at your own risk.

Diane Seuss

Winner of the 2009 Juniper Prize for Poetry, and author of Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, University of Massachusetts Press.

In this extraordinary new collection, Zilka Joseph writes a visionary poetry that looks deeply into the pain of this world but also explores the imagination and motivation of the poet herself. Her title is both a statement of the condition of the world and a question that doubts the dominance of dread. There are cliffs and caves hidden in the ocean of this art. By the end of the journey through these poems, this reader is convinced that the poet has arisen from the burning cities in the “countries of fear,” and he too can feel the exhilaration.

–Keith Taylor

Keith Taylor has published eleven volumes which include poetry, short fiction, edited volumes and translations. His most recent collections of poetry are If the World Becomes So Bright (Wayne State University Press) and Marginalia for a Natural History (Black Lawrence Press).

Part bestiary, part foray into mythical conflict and primal fear, Zilka Joseph’s What Dread probes different “degree(s) of deadliness.” Whether victim or devourer, master or voyeur, the speakers in these poems understand that no matter our choices, we will become prey. One must therefore “ handle the beautiful danger.” One pays attention, learns respect, self-control but most of all one appreciates the beauty. Joseph’s careful observations give us the elegance of the “wispy accordion” of a snake’s sloughed skin or “glowing amber babies” on a high-stepping scorpion’s back. I enjoy the witty blend of eros, charm and terror in these poems and the way survival, through her lively language, ultimately adds up to delight.

Terry Blackhawk

Blackhawk’s poetry collections include Body & Field (Michigan State University Press), Escape Artist (BkMk Press) selected by Molly Peacock for the John Ciardi Prize; and The Dropped Hand (Marick Press, 2007).

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Reviews for What Dread:

Los Angeles Review:





India: A Light Within

A Collaborative Project

A collaborative project involving photography, prose and poetry.

It is a magnificent collection of images by Charlee Brodsky, professor of photograpy at Carnegie Mellon University, accompanied by evocative writing by Neem Avashia and Zilka Joseph.

The book is available at: http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/2172109

To read more about this project see Collaborations Page 












Sharp Blue Search of Flame published by Wayne State University Press! Finalist for the Foreword Indies Book Award!


Michigan Public Radio: Bookmark Review


Review in World Literature Today

​Interview:Living Writers, WCBN FM 


Foreword Indie Book Award Finalist:



A cause for rejoicing among true lovers of poetry, Sharp Blue Search of Flame is a rich gathering by a genuinely gifted poet, blessed with a voice that is all at once ancient and modern and redolent with fabulous surprises.
– Lorna Goodison, poet

Rich with the scents and sounds and colors of her native Kolkata, Zilka Joseph’s poetry is also haunted: by the real and imagined violence of the world, by the losses entailed in migration, by the loved ones left behind. Deeply felt and lushly rendered, these poems weave a tapestry of sorrow and celebration, tenderness and outrage, bodily longing and bodily vulnerability. A book as searching as its title. And in flame.
– Linda Gregerson

Sharp Blue Search of Flame is a collection of poems that reminds us, with every syllable and every line, that both the spiritual and, dare I say, the carnal can reside together sublimely. In a world in which we have to ask, daily, ‘What do you want? To be God, man, or beast?’ Zilka Joseph teaches us that we find each inside every one of us, and they all hold some beauty, particularly in her masterful hands. She asks, ‘Can our whirring hearts hold steady?’ But how can we, faced with so much truth along this journey?
– A. Van Jordan

Zilka Joseph writes vivid, sensuous, eloquent poems from a world of dual cultures, India where she was born, and America where she now makes her home. Hindu festivals, epic heroes, the natural surroundings of Garuda, King of Birds and cosmic mythology mix in with airports, skycaps, Bob Dylan, Beatles on 45s, immigrant loneliness and a classic Christian night prayer. Her’s is a delicate eye tracing fish, birds and flowers, yet a sense of adventure prevails in her long lines as they leap across the page, giving us a sense of fearlessness that makes Joseph an especially enticing poet. I look forward to reading more of her zestful work.
– Colette Inez, author of The Luba Poems

























Zilka Joseph

Lands I Live In

Beginning with the purgatorial descent to America that unfolds with such grace in “Drinking Vodka at 35,000 ft.,” Zilka Joseph’s remarkable debut Lands I Live In is a book of arrivals, all difficult in their challenges to a poet’s identity. I think Joseph is able to create clarity out of that difficulty by being attentive to the existential and always peculiar pressures of a cultural experience so multitudinous and curious that its possibilities remain in constant flux. Somehow these poems that so honor their moment in time, suspend a little above it and shimmer there.–William Olsen

Olsen is the author of four collections of poetry, The Hand of God and a Few Bright Flowers (Illinois, 1988), Vision of a Storm Cloud (Triquarterly, 1996), Trouble Lights (Triquarterly, 2002), and Avenue of Vanishing (Triquarterly, 2007).

Zilka Joseph’s poems embrace the vivid passions of her childhood home in Calcutta and the complex hopes and fears implicit in her move to the Midwest. She entrances us with rich pleasures and naked truths, the snow and heat, implicit in such an upheaval, the past like old shoes we hold close, their “uneven, tiny stitches like footprints/in the dust.” This is a collection to savor.–Mary Jo Firth Gillet

Gillet award winning book is Soluble Fish, Crab Orchard Series, and her three chapbooks Tiger in a Hair Net, Not One, and Chandeliers of Fish have all won awards.

In richly detailed, exuberant poems marked by a sharp eye for specific language, Zilka Joseph reconciles themes of exile an arrival with tender and unerring portraits of a family whose voices are heard at the end of a phone line that “crackles and spits.” In America, the “echoing canyons of buildings,/the whine of the saxophone/scraping Saks rotating doors…” and the hot sun of her remembered Calcutta intermix with snow in Chicago’s Lake Shore Drive. “How come you speak such good English?” she is asked by women in the book club. Ironic, elegiac, sometimes humorous, her first chapbook gives us a chronicle of cultural confusion and growing comprehension of a poet’s new world. Lands I Live In makes an impressive debut and I salute it.–Collete Inez

Inez has won Guggenhiem, Rockerfeller, NEA and Pushcart awards. She has published over nine books of poetry including The Woman who Loved Worms and Clemency, and her memoir is entitled The Secret of M. Dulong.