This volume gathers poems from the author’s previous collections, which span the last quarter of the 20th century, and adds more than a dozen new ones. The backdrop to this body of work is the poet’s Armenian heritage as it comes into contact, and conflict, with his American upbringing. In many regards his is an experience typical for members of the first native-born generation. Much of the family history and lore imparted to him is only dimly or reluctantly recalled. It’s as though he’s being spared the truth. On the other hand, life in contemporary America is often irritatingly in one’s face. Yet, deftly, the poet manages to bridge the cultural gap. “In the glare of cell-phone light on the window, I saw hummingbirds in the mango blossoms.” Where other contemporary poets have simply tossed the fragments together or gone off on impossible-to-follow thought associations, Balakian tries to integrate these disparate ways of looking at the world. In “Lowlands,” for example, he weaves together several strands of past, present, and future events and never loses control over them. He also avoids the pitfall of sermonizing in dealing with historical injustices, seeing genocide as a crime humanity commits against itself. For him, “history is a man’s breath,” giving out what it takes in. Yet his seriousness does not preclude a finely developed sense of irony. In the poem “Ellis Island,” he states, “Here is everything you’ll never need.”
An impressive collection of solid work, in which the author’s voice is sure and sonorous.