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paper • 92 pages • 15.95
ISBN-13: 978-1-935536-56-7

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Pax Americana

Paul Otremba

 

The poems in Pax Americana are born out of the violent, fractious, and disillusioning opening to the 21st century. The decade of protracted wars and economic collapse—coupled with the polarizing of wealth and ideologies in this country—create the catalysts for this book. These are social poems that want to talk, and through talking hopefully make a space where people can meet and find meaning in each other.

 

“Auspices,” from Pax Americana:

I want to think of them as having been 
sent up ahead, the swift ones bearing news
of tides to follow, so we might get ready,
the dark swells and dips of starlings--or grackles--

being that impressive to watch in winter
gather nightly above the downtown square,
these grackles--or starlings--mostly unnoticed
until their purpose tips to overwhelming,

where surely some word has been given us. Mostly I find them unpleasant, a grimy congress of incomprehensible bathing in oil-stained puddles slowly cooking off parking lots, or at trash cans, their sharp heads stabbing after this soggy morsel of bun, now this corruption of meat. Mostly they are a nuisance. A tree unwise to walk nearby; a beam risky to leave your car beneath. And on the Internet--where my haphazard compulsive search for understanding leads me-- someone's posted a poorly captured and cut video of "a starling (or grackle, sorry)," he or she writes, who's just started digging into another bird on the lawn, while a bored looking rabbit and we look on this meal. The eating continued for hours, we're told, and the music the maker's spliced in portends that this "appetite is tremendous," warns, "keep your eye on the barrel, a sparrow."

 

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  • "Paul Otremba's Pax Americana, a book-length sequence of poems, has tremendous reach. From the tiniest evidence of civilization ('a whole way of life expressed by the way / you hold a fork') to the largest imaginable manifestation of the perceived world ('sometimes there's not even / the train or people at all / there, or even the city, the planet, / the wole swirling / mess of gasses and ice / and cosmic blind spots, gone'), Otremba presents an anti-hero's take on a fallen world that seems to be hurtling farther downward still with a Dantean insistence. The language struggles with the man until an entirely unanticipated surge of romantic feeling engenders the belief that 'we' (the lovers? all of us?) can found a 'new city'. Much is owed to the power of Otremba's writing, the physicality of which intensifies as the poems begin to turn away from the more abstract, ironic language ('so the end of history was beginning to look / a lot like history'; 'I survived because I remained totally dead'), making this unlikely shift toward hope credible, transforming even. And that this new feeling is so hard-won--it comes very late!--that gives the key turn force, distinguishing the book." -- Elizabeth Arnold
  • "In the disquieting America brought to life in Paul Otremba's poems, everyone is guilty. Public malaise and private conduct blur into each other, making both the empire and its citizens complicit in 'the continuous fattening / of the bubble.' But more than just sounding the alarm, Otremba upholds the poet's task of identifying meaning out of the glut and spectacle that would otherwise merely define our times. In a strange lyrical frequency that is all his own, full of irony and beauty, Otremba has written a book that we deserve and need." -- Rick Barot

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