The Latin root of perceive means “to seize entirely,” and that’s exactly what these poems do. Here there is “no door / just the edge of an infinite pour” into motherhood, cities old and new, and the histories that comprise us. The centerpiece of the book is a series of poems revolving around a new mother, a mix of peril and ecstasy that suffuses the entire book, whether the speaker is beholding her adopted baby, a President finishing supper before declaring war, or an ambulance that “dazzles like a cocktail ring.”
“All You Do Is Perceive”:
I was given a city, with coffee and sunlight. “The coin-purse smell of the
subway,” I wrote. In the mornings policemen would stand, lightstruck
and pleasured, over trays of danish. Mornings I wrote and workmen
raised up their nets. Hallelujah the brick, the debris! I was given a city!
The city got between me and God.
I was given a house. The curtains breathed over wide sills. There was a
leaf in the middle of the floor, I loved the crispness of the leaf. I loved
the privacy of sills. The sills sailed, I fell into the sills. The sills got
between me and God.
I was given a mud hut. The walls curved to meet the ceiling like
a tongue curves to make a word.
I was given God, with salt and sweet together. I was given a piece of
meat. I loved the flesh. I was given bread only. I was given only water.
I loved the coolness of the water. The water got between me and the
I had an empty plate and there was the color of it. I cannot even describe
the color of it.
I was given a cell with a window. There was a certain light at evening.
I was given nothing but air, and the air dazzled.
“All You Do Is Perceive starts out with a poem for an adopted son and itself adopts the wide-eyed linguistic playfulness that marks other mother-poets such as Bernadette Mayer and Lee Ann Brown. While Kant warned us that perceptions without concepts are empty, Katz takes up the problem by its other handle and asserts that our perceptions of the world around us create a foundation for empathy.” — Ange Mlinko
“Joy Katz is a receiver tuned to its highest possible sensitivity. Over and over, she brings in the faintest and most intimate signals–the ‘oiled sound of a dog’s dream,’ the ‘hurt growl’ of tape stripped from the roll, her baby’s ‘pah of little flame.’ ‘I will bind myself to the thinnest sounds,’ she says, ‘the feather coming out of its pillow,’ and with a hearing so acute that it is a kind of mindreading, she risks being swept away by talkers who just won’t stop, ‘laughter like breaking plates’ and the ‘the sky…getting louder.’ Katz is an empath with no defenses, as in the brilliant parable of obsession where she finds us a seat next to her, helpfully inquiring ‘Can you see out of my eyeholes? Are you comfortable?’ In Eliot’s words, she’s a ‘soul stretched tight across the skies,’ and in her own, tremulous and sharp and pointing where we might not have seen, ‘a needle afloat on plain water.’ There are all kinds of reasons for reading these poems– their deftness of movement, a whimsy that deepens into something like myth–but I am most grateful for the intensity and sheer intelligence of their feelings.” —James Richardson
“‘Happiness is on me like a scratch in a car door,’ writes Katz in her second full-length collection. Hovering between delight and danger, the poems exist in a place where ‘the ambulance dazzles like a cocktail ring’ and a ‘little holocaust kicks the kitchen chair.’ With her buoyant tone, Katz heartily welcomes the reader: ‘Are you going to sit there? Coincidently I am also going to sit there. Can you see out of my eyeholes? Are you comfortable?’ Katz’s poems muse over people on the F train, entertain violent fantasies toward a visiting poet, and other everyday thoughts and occurrences. There is joy in the poems and a linguistic playfulness underscored by the wide-eyed fears unique to a new mother and her child. ‘Mother’s Love,’ a nine-part poem that anchors the collection, is inspired by a friend who said that taking heroin felt like ‘mother’s love.’ The poem explores the all-consuming experience of a new mother from a fever-pitch of perception: ‘We are addicts, an old boyfriend would say/ This is not that. But it is/ I am helpless/ My hair fills with sparks.’ Mixing ecstasy with terror, the mother worries about her ability to protect her child, to keep ‘the woundable face of a boy’ safe from the many dangers he’ll encounter.” —Publishers Weekly (Oct.)
“All You Do Is Perceive operates mostly as a kind of constrained verse — not constrained formally, as the term is generally applied, but constrained by a rigorously limited perspective.” Read the full review.