A mother and daughter journey together through a strange speculative world in this experimental book-length poem.
Annelyse Gelman’s book-length poem Vexations is a surreal, glitchy meditation on empathy, ecology, and precarity. Throughout the book winds a narrative about a mother and daughter as they move through a world of social and economic collapse in search of a post-capitalist safe haven. All the while, they also navigate a condition that affects the daughter’s empathic abilities, making her vulnerable to emotional contagion.
Vexations is titled and structured after Erik Satie’s composition of the same name, a piece that requires patience, endurance, and concentration from both its audience and its players. Similarly, Gelman’s Vexations employs repetition and variation to engage the reader’s attention. Hers is an ambient poetry, drawing on the aesthetic qualities of drone music and sampling voices and sounds to create a lush literary backdrop filled with pulsing psychedelic detail.
About the Author
Annelyse Gelman’s work has been published in the New Yorker, BOMB Magazine, PEN Poetry Series, American Poetry Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of the poetry collection Everyone I Love Is a Stranger to Someone, the artist’s book POOL, and the EP About Repulsion. She also directs Midst, an experimental platform for capturing and sharing the writing processes of contemporary poets.
"Extraordinary . . . In this apocalyptic dream-vision of a poem, Gelman confronts head-on the question of what separates poetry from other uses of language, particularly the dystopian vernacular of corporate newspeak, pseudo-therapeutic jargon, PR hype, and the dolorous cant of bourgeois self-talk. . . . Surreal, often nightmarish, flecked with grim humor, Vexations is a litany of bizarre images and turns of phrase, head-spinning non sequiturs and flights of syntactical fancy." — New York Review of Books
"Gelman’s intriguingly readable Vexations is a brilliant new book-length poem composed of 220 sestets that subtly resist their form and function start to finish like well-oiled wheels. . . . The skeletal plot, polyvocal at times, proceeds not by logic but through the dislocations we all feel in a time of sociopolitical turmoil, and it is Gelman’s surreal touches and command of a highly nuanced language that propel us . . . Along with its marvelous tonal range, versatile use of language and imagination, what drives this work forward is its mysterious plot. . . Brava Annelyse Gelman, a poet who gives us a feminist epic, punchy and curiously inflected at just the right times . . . Vexations is nothing less than an astonishing, polytonal romp that vividly sustains and attempts to redeem our ecologically battered and high-tech world." — Los Angeles Review of Books
"Gelman’s Vexations moves in organized disjunction through a winding narrative that insists and compels." — Harriet Books
“Vexations is a brilliant, dizzying, necessarily unnerving take on the project of the state and the varied estrangements on which it feeds. Demanding and speculative, Gelman’s book-length poem names the absurd conditions out of which we (readers), and the text itself, emerge, awakening a rage. The world Gelman creates is a strange, slant rendering of our own, delivering shock after shock of recognition in our reading of its intimacies—clarity, threat, pleasure, dread. Part mother’s account of her life with her young daughter, part encounter with Erik Satie’s nineteenth-century score of the same name, Vexations is a poem, a performance, and a score of endurance. It is a book radiant and terrifying with our time. It is afire.” — Aracelis Girmay and Solmaz Sharif
"This experimental book-length poem traces a mother and daughter’s travels through a surreal landscape on the verge of ecological and social collapse." — Publishers Weekly
"Brilliant. . . Relentlessly and restlessly experimental. . . the book is also compulsively readable, a page-turner—a combination, honestly, I’ve seldom seen before." — Colorado Review
“Mesmerizing and propulsive, Vexations moves like a snake through the uncanny grass of a creeping dystopia where care blurs with surveillance, small disasters dovetail with large, and too-late leaks into still-to-come. Here, the epic veers eerie and antiheroic, immersing us in a consciousness—in a world—flooded by strange but all too familiar fears. This is an unsettling, flawlessly crafted book by a singular poet.” — Lisa Olstein, author of "Climate"
“With this stunning shapeshifter, Gelman manages to create a remarkable hybrid: a book-length poetic narrative of speculative fiction, an urgent account of a mother/daughter relationship, and a coruscating view of our ecological future. Vexations manages what many of us call literature to do: show us humanity subject to and transcendent of time.” — Douglas Kearney, Phoenix Poets consulting editor and author of "Sho"