January Machine is a book-length poem comprised of sonnets and sonnet sequences interrupted by static. Rooted in the modern American moment, this poem seeks to understand the intersection of Whitman’s plurality and Oppen’s “shipwreck of the singular.” In the midst of geographic dislocation, the lyric “I” becomes a place; “I am the I undone, immersed / in perspective,” Schlegel writes. “I am an American sigh, a limit / of language, a limit of privilege, / in this excess, a thousand exits.”
From January Machine:
Around those whose agendas
are national, I need to know
what national is. Its use seems limited
to the human condition,
but its condition seems fueled
by privilege. Providing a continent
“Rob Schlegel’s January Machine soberly engages and resits our era’s ecstasy of communication. The narrator in these poems speaks with a breathtaking clarity that cuts through the commerce of information that has inexorably shaped our national consciousness. Lucid, sincere, part discursive meditation and part stirring lyric, these poems search for an utterance that can be wakeful to despair and fear, an utterance that can sing through, yet simultaneously net, America’s distraction with the spectacle, and embody what Gertrude Stein calls ‘open feeling,’ a state of slowed, empathic receptivity. January Machine is a brilliant and moving collection.” – Cathy Park Hong
“By turns meditation and provocation, glancing sensually off unspoken myth, January Machine evokes a roadside America that stretches from the pastoral– ‘Let national be the sound of apples growing, / yellow salsify, opening and closing’– to ‘television / pipe-bomb[s]’ and that pervasive, ‘medium-sized American / fear.’ ‘A few problems are solved by talking,’ Schlegel maintains, ‘but the rest are folded into paper airplanes and launched / toward a smaller economy,’ namely the lyric and its discontents. January Machine is a difficult hymn to a national self in the tradition of Baudelaire, by way of Raul Zurita’s wounded populist astringency.” – G. C. Waldrep
“There are verse-diaries, sequences given to dailiness, modern attempts to capture the frustrations and the delights of experience lesser writers might consider too ordinary to name; there are, that is, other books of poetry remotely like January Machine, but none of them feel like Schlegel’s arresting, sometimes seductive, sometimes bitter, always intelligent set. Not at all: Schlegel’s work—mostly in untitled quatrains, sometimes in epigrammatic shorter forms—belongs only and always to him and to our time. Part description, part abstract, always intelligent, sometimes awesomely strange, Schlegel’s carefulness qualifies and even improves the texture of an absurd and yet familiar 21st century everyday, lived outdoors and inland, between bathroom mirrors and surveillance screens, where ‘at the corner of Front/ and Main… a man stands/ partly contained within a cage’ that is not quite his home, ‘when fear is a venue in states’; where patriotism is at once delusional and inescapable and comforting; where twentysomething anomie and adult responsibility show an uncanny ability to coexist; ‘where/ my fear of heroes somehow starts’; where ‘birds are holy/ because their bones fill with the same air/ into which they fall in order to fly.'” – Stephen Burt, 2014 Grub Street Poetry Prize
“Reading January Machine is overwhelming and emotional, cresting through the even rhythm of Schlegel’s three- and four-line stanzas before diving down into formal interruptions like the titled ‘Static’ sections. I got lost in the rhythm, my selfhood dissolving and becoming another reflective if fractured material in the landscape.” Read the full review.
“…the statements it emphasizes linger and fester, its tightly fitted lines (many in quatrains) giving voice to our current confusion and concern: ‘Saint Ice, Saint Anthony, / Saint Destruction, find for me / a water deep enough to drown / these straws of indifference.’ ” Read the full review.