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Into It Poems

Lawrence Joseph

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

80 Pages


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Into It, Lawrence Joseph's fourth book of poems, is as bold a book as any in American poetry today—an attempt to give voice to the extremes of American reality in the time since, as Joseph puts it, "the game changed."

Joseph's first three books dramatized the challenge of maintaining one's self in a world in the hold of dehumanizing forces. The new book finds him in a time and place where "the immense enlargement / of our perspectives is confronted / by a reduction of our powers of action"—where the word "wargame" is a verb and "the weight of violence / is unparalleled in the history / of the species." Along the New York waterfront, on a crowded street, at the site where the World Trade Center stood: Joseph enters into these places to capture the thoughts and images, the colors and feelings, and the language that give the present its pressured complexity. Few contemporary writers have been able to shape this material into poetry, but Joseph has done so masterfully—in poems that are daring, searching, and classically satisfying.


Praise for Into It

“For loss, bliss, and outrage met and endured, try Lawrence Joseph’s Into It. Joseph, who lives near Ground Zero and had to be evacuated in the aftermath of 9/11, gives us our urban world anew, pressing words till they sing of both justice and mercy. He rescues us from smudge.”—Marie Ponsot, Commonweal
"A poetry that can simultaneously think about and resist contemporary unreality . . . offering a kind of rigorous meditation on history and the self’s ability to thrive."—Lisa M. Steinman, Michigan Quarterly Review 
"Few poets work so intensely to provide a tapestry of how malevolent public forces work upon us."—Allan M. Jalon, San Francisco Chronicle  
"Though Joseph invokes Wallace Stevens, another lawyer, in his epigraph and elsewhere, the voice that dominates Into It . . . recalls the weary, edgy voices of T .S. Eliot's personae making their way to be writing ahead of actual events, and that makes him one of the scariest writers I know."—David Kirby, The New York Times Book Review
"As Lawrence Joseph notes, 'the technology to abolish truth is now available.' Fortunately, we have poets like him to respond to this challenge, which he does in poetry of great dignity, grace, and unrelenting persuasiveness. Sentences 'made of thought and of sound, of feelings seen' give the lie to the destructive element that wants to submerge us. Joseph gives us new hope for the resourcefulness of humanity, and of poetry."—John Ashbery
"Synthesizing the aesthetics of [William Carlos] Williams and [Wallace] Stevens with his own, . . . Joseph's vital and emotionally hard-won poetry suggests that each of us must discover his or her own tools of engagement with the world, forged in the crucible of personal experience, sociocultural context, and language."—Fred Muratori, American Book Review

"Joseph's own perceptions are shaped by his Christian Arab heritage and his Detroit childhood. When mass destruction arrives in Manhattan his imagination reverts to the destruction of the Byzantine Empire, to war-torn Lebanon, and to the racial battles and economic burnout of the Motor City . . . In his wrestling with these elements, a near epic tension mounts that renders the disparate section of Into It whole . . . Into It succeeds in placing what is almost beyond description under the lens of poetry and illuminating the darkness enough for us to make our way forward."—Phoebe Pettingell, The New Leader

"Joseph is more than an intricate stylist, more than an aesthete. He confronts us with history—here he differs from Stevens, who was rarely topical—and openly grapples with politics."—Tim Kindseth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Joseph's work becomes a refreshing document of the struggle for truth. This struggle makes Into It a very intimate book, one that counterintuitively and productively sidesteps confessionalism . . . The essential pleasure of reading Joseph is recognizing that, in this world, there's at least one other person trying to figure out hoe to live, what's true and what's right."—Nicholas Gilewicz, Bookslut

"Joseph has become the transparent eyeball that Emerson envisaged . . . [He] is a prophet without much honor in the land of the military-industrial complex. But unless we heed his message, we are lost."—Reagan Upshaw, The Bloomsbury Review

"How can a poet's style reflect the dislocations of New York after 9/11, the insensate wreck he sees in American politics and the particular gifts and difficulties of Arab-American heritage? Joseph answers those questions in this, his fourth and strongest book of verse, with a dizzying mix of abstractions, urban details and nuggets of historical fact. 'The two things that are interesting,' Lawrence muses, 'are history and grammar,' envisioning both as 'wild and fragile.' At times his verse focuses squarely on politics: 'What—let's say—twelve years from now,' he asks, 'will the zone of suffering that exists/ outside the established orders look like?' In another poem, 'The state of the physical world,' finally, 'depends on shifts in the delusional thinking/ of very small groups.' The same poem brings in images from 'Revelations' ('the seven-headed beast from the sea'), from Ground Zero, from factory life, from a photographic still life and from the hard life of the poet's immigrant father. Joseph's 'dream technique' of juxtapositions and exclamations derives from the late style of Robert Lowell, from whom he also takes one of his titles, updating Lowell's Vietnam-era frustrations for the era of smart bombs and globalization."—Publishers Weekly

Table of Contents
In It, Into It, Inside It, Down In
When One Is Feeling One's Way
The Bronze-Green Gold-Green Foreground
I Note in a Notebook
Inclined to Speak
The Pattern-Parallel Map or Graph
Woodward Avenue
On That Side
What Do You Mean, What?
August Abstract
Why Not Say What Happens?
Ina Mood
Unyieldingly Present
News Back Even Further Than That
Metamorphoses (After Ovid)
What Is There to Understand?
A Year Ago This June
In the Shape of Fate over My Father's Birth
The Single Necessity
History for Another Time
That Too
The Game Changed
Once Again

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

Lawrence Joseph's Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993 will be published in paperback in September. He lives in downtown Manhattan and is a professor of law at St. John's University School of Law.
Read the full excerpt


  • Lawrence Joseph

  • Lawrence Joseph's Codes, Precepts, Biases, and Taboos: Poems 1973-1993 will be published in paperback in September. He lives in downtown Manhattan and is a professor of law at St. John's University School of Law.
  • Lawrence Joseph Copyright Robert Buchta