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:
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My new book In Our Beautiful Bones is here! It has been nominated for a PEN America Award.
Poetry. 104 pages. 2017, ISBN: 978-1-952781-07-0
Contact me at email@example.com to purchase a copy.
Books are available for pre-order at Mayapple Press:
and at Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor:
AWP Bookshelf and bookstore: https://www.awpwriter.org/magazine_media/writers_chronicle_bookshelf
The Living Room Online Literary Series hosted by ML Liebler:
Sunday Sept 12m 2 pm. Reading with Kirun Kapur, Sumita Chakraborty and Indran Amirthanayagam.
Click here to watch a video recording:
Book launch at Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI. October 6, 7 pm.
Reading with Nawaaz Ahmed and NN Carlson.
Advance praise for In Our Beautiful Bones:
In this rich collection of poems, Zilka Joseph takes us on a voyage from her birthplace in India to her immigration to and life in the United States. Even as the airplane from India prepares to land, she thinks “of Dante’s Purgatorio— / the tiered stages, the tortured souls,” foreshadowing the coiling incidents of tokenism and racism, both virulent and “casual,” she will encounter in this new land, where “Garam masala is a buzzword,” and “Turmeric capsules are a rage.” Her poems remember their way back through India’s colonial history and the losses of culture, religion, and language which throb into her present tense. Joseph makes use of a number of approaches to form in this collection, ending with a collage of mythic, literary, musical, and historical influences which bring her worlds together into a vision of “dancing in the sun / in our own shining skin / in our beautiful bones.” These are brave and beautiful poems.
--Diane Seuss, author of frank: sonnets, Still Life with Two Dead Peacocks and a Girl, and Four-Legged Girl
Following the literary tradition of Carolyn Forshe and Claudia Rankine, poet Zilka Joseph spins the jarring, interpersonal experience of racism and colonialism into consciousness-exploding verse. In the process, the reader becomes the witness: a terrified, white child gawking at your brown face; a neighbor filing a complaint about the smell of your food cooking; the moment at a dinner party when you become the explainer for your people; encountering ignorance so blatant it leaves you speechless. You can’t pore over In Our Beautiful Bones and not be transformed by the powerful, emotional landscape of this collection.
--Desiree Cooper, Pulitzer-nominated journalist, and award-winning author of Know the Mother
In Our Beautiful Bones reckons with the violence of white supremacy and colonialism. In these poems, Zilka Joseph surveys the ecological, physical, emotional, and psychological traumas of that violence, with a central focus on the agonies of constant interpellation by whiteness’s gaze. “O even in Hades salvation is not free,” Joseph writes, and we, Joseph makes clear, are in Hades. What should we do? Do we sing songs of praise, even for that which hurts us? Do we smile, as we’ve been taught? What do we hold onto with our bruised-knuckle hands, especially when we’re held apart from each other by prejudice, by distance, by disease? These are the questions In Our Beautiful Bones inhabits and wrestles with, all the while hoping to make it through to some place where it would make sense to say “when I say love I mean you / when I say home I mean you.”
--Sumita Chakraborty, author of Arrow, and Grave Dangers: Poetics and the Ethics of Death in the Anthropocene (forthcoming)
In In Our Beautiful Bones the poet Zilka Joseph creates a powerful, stunning portrait of life and education in India followed by her journey to America and her effort to assimilate without losing so much that her own culture gave her. She recognizes herself always as a stranger slightly on the outside because her accent, her food, her beliefs are not quite acceptable in suburban America. This is a beautiful book about courage and survival.
--Maria Mazzioti Gillan, American Book Award winner
Zilka Joseph’s, In Our Beautiful Bones, samples a wide swath of cultural characters with their gods, heroes, literature, music, and politics as a way to reveal a coherent and poetic story of humanity in all its glorious goodness and heinousness. Let’s just say she sucks the marrow and spits it out, letting good and evil, joy and depression, peace and war fall wherever and however. With her mastery of various language rhythms and her clear immigrant eyes, we discover we are all one, no matter the differences of time and space, food, music or politics. Yes, food. We even find her cooking for John Lewis preparatory to making some “good trouble.” And this collection is absolutely solid, deep trouble, the kind that connects us in surprising, beautiful and powerful ways that gird us for a mighty fight.
--Lolita Hernandez, author of Autopsy of an Engine and Other Stories from the Cadillac Plant and Making Callaloo in Detroit
Anyone who has ever been asked, “but where are you really from,” will recognize themselves in Zilka Joseph’s In Our Beautiful Bones. Aggressions large and small—from colonial decrees and communal violence to sly slurs, innuendo and subtle gestures in a parking lot—populate the lines of these poems, leaving both speaker and reader to decode the languages of inclusion and exclusion spoken so fluently in our nation. What music can be made of otherness? And at what cost? Joseph’s gripping poems sing a melody of fury, tenderness and grief that arises from loving a country that doesn’t always love you back.
--Kirun Kapur, author of Women in the Waiting Room, finalist for the National Poetry Series
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
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.
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Sparrows and Dust
Poems by Zilka Joseph
To purchase copies please contact me at email@example.com
or Literati Bookstore https://www.literatibookstore.com
Books are also available at
Book Launch Reading at Literati, with poets Robert Fanning and John Freeman
Review/Interview in PULP, Ann Arbor District Library
Article/Interview in iGlobal News
iGlobal Radio announcement at minute 6:15
Lantern Review, An Asian American Poetry Companion: Must Read Titles for Summer 2021
Strength in the Midst of Change: Tiffany Marra, Director of CEW interviews Zilka Joseph
Center for the Education of Women, University of Michigan Podcast, May 2021
An interview about my life, my writing process, a brief reading from Sparrows and Dust and a discussion. (30 minutes)
The poems in Zilka Joseph’s Sparrows and Dust are separate skies—each a wrought song woven with a world of birds: mynah, grackle, swan, sparrow, hoopoe, heron, kingfisher, and dozens of others.From Mumbai and Kolkata in her native India to the yard outside her house in Michigan, this bird-crossed world is made smaller and more beautiful, as Joseph watches the skies and the breadth of her blue heart for the migration of the spirits of her parents and other ancestors. “Leave me a feather to dream on, a map to follow…” one poem sings. As I read and listened to these soaring, gorgeous poems, I felt the dust shake loose; I found myself more open, more buoyant, and more alive.”—Robert Fanning, author of Severance, Our Sudden Museum, American Prophet and The Seed Thieves.
Song and flight, which all poets aspire to achieve, are evident here, there, and everywhere, in this collection of Zilka Joseph’s poems. Her language sings. Between bird-beat and heart-beat, it’s an instrument exquisitely attuned to her love of depths and flitting surfaces. In poem after poem, we return with Zilka to who we are—a gift, a mystery, a wound seeking salve, light-bearers, dipping and swerving through passages of open air, sky and soul, in and out of memory and loss, anxiety and joy, arrival and parting, to settle and nest in the now.—Ralph Nazareth is the author of Ferrying Secrets; Between Us the Long Road; & Dropping Death. He is the Managing Editor of Yuganta Press and the President of GraceWorks, Inc., an international nonprofit.
When I look up from these poems, I agree with Zilka Joseph that “I have been somewhere else,” perhaps in the mind of a bird. In these remarkable pieces, she explores the dust baths of sparrows--indeed, the behavior of many “life-birds”-- as symbols for existence and wonder. Her words wing through family ancestry, migration, and the journey to a place called Michigan where the metaphors shift—hawks overhead, loss and death, but the dust still may, and finally does, shimmer. These are poems of memory and insight the color of saris and feathers, of meaning that rises from origins and resilience and high-flying beauty.
—Anne-Marie Oomen is author of Uncoded Woman, a tale in poems, and Love, Sex and 4-H, winner of the Next Generation Award for Memoir, among others. She teaches at Solstice MFA at Pine Manor College.
Sparrows and Dust is published by Ridgeway Press. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like me to sign and mail you a copy. Copies are available at Literati Bookstore https://www.literatibookstore.com , Bookbeat Bookstore, Oak Park, (Metro Detroit), MI, https://thebookbeat.com and at https://www.spdbooks.org/Products/9781564390769/sparrows-and-dust.aspx
Scroll down to see details of more books: Sharp Blue Search of Flame, Lands I Live In, What Dread, and India: A Light Within.
To order copies of any of these books please email email@example.com
or Wayne State University Press
Sharp Blue Search of Flame
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