paper • 80 pages • 15.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-935536-87-1

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Winner of the 2015 Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry, judged by Martha Collins.

Late in the Empire of Men

Christopher Kempf

Late in the Empire of Men, Kempf’s powerful debut collection, reads the author’s coming-of-age in Ohio and California against the westward trajectory of American history, a trajectory he simultaneously situates in the larger context of empire—both political and anthropocentric—by looking back to Rome and Carthage and by glancing forward to a time when, as he writes in the poem “Dominion,” “the idea of people/ is over.” Employing a baroque layering of image and allusion, patterned sonic texturing, and post-narrative self-consciousness, Kempf reveals how commonplace rhetorical practices—football’s valorization of a “warrior ethos,” for example—work to conscript young American men, in particular, into patterns of thought and behavior constitutive of an imperialist state.

“High School Graduation Party,” from Late in the Empire of Men:

They are all, of course, entirely too
cool to be here.  They have learned exactly
that look of certain, self-assured contempt
they will wear this summer, bound, most of them,
for some lush campus somewhere their parents’
parents, dead now, never saw.  For their small
dark rooms of Bacardi & sex. Envy
is not the word. Though I am old enough 
now to understand there is no pleasure 
more lasting than a Sunday afternoon in Ohio, in the sunlight, with cake & bunting, I admire, still, their studied turning away. Who wouldn’t? In a different century, we would send them to war.







About the Author

  • “In Late in the Empire of Men, Christopher Kempf manages the astonishing feat of filtering a journey to adulthood through the trajectory of American history, which he simultaneously places in a larger context of empire that takes us back to Troy and Rome and forward to a time when ‘the idea of people / is over.’ …The territory of Late in the Empire of Men can be as uncompromising as its title, but it also contains moments of celebration, many of them linguistic. In a poem that takes us back to the dinosaurs and into the future, line breaks make apocalyptic vision gorgeously resonant as Kempf imagines the trees that might outlive us: ‘The language- // less. In- / describable night.’”—Martha Collins, judge for the 2015 Four Way Books Levis Prize in Poetry
  • "...But the remarkable achievement here is that, while grounded by geography and class-specific experiences particular to Kempf’s life, the poems never mistake narrative as a vessel solely for personal memory. Like Philip Levine or Larry Levis before him (two poets who magnetized their personal histories through scope and tone, not plot points chopped into verse), Kempf knows how to be both intimate and sweeping simultaneously and across a wide-ranging formal inventiveness. ..." — The Kenyon Review Read the full review here.
  • "Kempf’s debut collection succeeds in familiar — if not quite traditional — ways: Long sentences and interwoven plots contrast the poet’s confined early life in blue-collar Ohio with the measure of freedom he found on the West Coast. Kempf’s neighbor died in uniform in Iraq; that loss becomes for Kempf an emblem of American, and Midwestern, bad faith: 'there is a logic / the economy of a small town tends / toward. War / & wreckage.'" — The New York Times Read the full review here.