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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
A Certain Clarity

A Certain Clarity

Selected Poems

Lawrence Joseph

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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A selection of poems from the celebrated poet and lawyer

Drawing from his first book, Shouting at No One, from 1983, and continuing through to his most recent, So Where Are We?, from 2017, A Certain Clarity provides a generous selection of Lawrence Joseph’s "poetry of great dignity, grace, and unrelenting persuasiveness” (John Ashbery), each poem “an inspired, made thing by a poet-advocate who has honed a timely song within an urgent testimony that embraces the complex density of truth” (Yusef Komunyakaa).

Joseph’s poems constitute one of the most essential and visionary bodies of work in contemporary American poetry. No other American poet covers the territory Joseph does. His ever-new interactions of thoughts, voices, and languages—influenced by his Lebanese and Syrian Catholic heritage, his professional life as a lawyer and legal scholar, and the economies of the world of working-class labor from which he comes—bear witness, on multilayered spatial and temporal planes, to the velocities of global and historical change, and to power structures embodied in endless wars, unleashed capital, racism, and ecological destruction, presenting an ongoing chronicle of what it means to write poetry in the turbulent times in which we live. But also integral to Joseph’s poetry is a sensual intimacy, passionately driven by an acute awareness of a deeper order in which beauty, love, and justice are indistinguishable.

Meticulously formed, emotionally fierce, intellectually challenging, Josep… More…

A selection of poems from the celebrated poet and lawyer

Drawing from his first book, Shouting at No One, from 1983, and continuing through to his most recent, So Where Are We?, from 2017, A Certain Clarity provides a generous selection of Lawrence Joseph’s "poetry of great dignity, grace, and unrelenting persuasiveness” (John Ashbery), each poem “an inspired, made thing by a poet-advocate who has honed a timely song within an urgent testimony that embraces the complex density of truth” (Yusef Komunyakaa).

Joseph’s poems constitute one of the most essential and visionary bodies of work in contemporary American poetry. No other American poet covers the territory Joseph does. His ever-new interactions of thoughts, voices, and languages—influenced by his Lebanese and Syrian Catholic heritage, his professional life as a lawyer and legal scholar, and the economies of the world of working-class labor from which he comes—bear witness, on multilayered spatial and temporal planes, to the velocities of global and historical change, and to power structures embodied in endless wars, unleashed capital, racism, and ecological destruction, presenting an ongoing chronicle of what it means to write poetry in the turbulent times in which we live. But also integral to Joseph’s poetry is a sensual intimacy, passionately driven by an acute awareness of a deeper order in which beauty, love, and justice are indistinguishable.

Meticulously formed, emotionally fierce, intellectually challenging, Joseph’s poems press back against the high-stakes pressures of our time with a moral and aesthetic intensity not easily forgotten.

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Praise for A Certain Clarity

Praise for Lawrence Joseph

“Throughout his career (he published his first book in 1983) Joseph has synthesized the unlikeliest lexicons—from legalese and street slang to overheard speech and jargon—and created a taut, sinuous medium capable of handling modern life without sacrificing his ability to sing. His is a poetry of the immediate present built to outlast ephemerality.”—Declan Ryan, Times Literary Supplement

“[O]ne of our most acute poetic chroniclers.”—David Orr, The New York Times Book Review

“I have just found another accomplished and erudite American poet: Lawrence Joseph… someone who has been toiling away impeccably for decades writing exactly the sort of thing I have so often proclaimed indispensable.”—Clive James, from Latest Readings

“For the past few years, like most of us, I’ve felt like the world is changing more rapidly than I can absorb the violence being done to it—not to mention the fabric of reality. . . Into this breach steps Lawrence Joseph . . . Here is a 21st century Virgil, a guide to the wreckage we’ve made of enlightenment . . . An Arab-American from the great labor city of Detroit, with its anguished history of racialized violence, one might say Joseph was made for this moment. What beauty and horror he wrenches from the degraded syntax of modern life.”—John Freeman, Lit Hub

“Joseph is a moralist, and the narrators of [his] poems . . . lash out at the violence of the contemporary world . . . But in his vision violen… More…

Praise for Lawrence Joseph

“Throughout his career (he published his first book in 1983) Joseph has synthesized the unlikeliest lexicons—from legalese and street slang to overheard speech and jargon—and created a taut, sinuous medium capable of handling modern life without sacrificing his ability to sing. His is a poetry of the immediate present built to outlast ephemerality.”—Declan Ryan, Times Literary Supplement

“[O]ne of our most acute poetic chroniclers.”—David Orr, The New York Times Book Review

“I have just found another accomplished and erudite American poet: Lawrence Joseph… someone who has been toiling away impeccably for decades writing exactly the sort of thing I have so often proclaimed indispensable.”—Clive James, from Latest Readings

“For the past few years, like most of us, I’ve felt like the world is changing more rapidly than I can absorb the violence being done to it—not to mention the fabric of reality. . . Into this breach steps Lawrence Joseph . . . Here is a 21st century Virgil, a guide to the wreckage we’ve made of enlightenment . . . An Arab-American from the great labor city of Detroit, with its anguished history of racialized violence, one might say Joseph was made for this moment. What beauty and horror he wrenches from the degraded syntax of modern life.”—John Freeman, Lit Hub

“Joseph is a moralist, and the narrators of [his] poems . . . lash out at the violence of the contemporary world . . . But in his vision violence coexists with, and is occasionally transformed by, beauty and love . . . to create a mosaic that melds seeming opposites—violence and transcendence, ancient and contemporary themes, the quotidian and the exalted—into poems both relevant and lasting.”—David Skeel, Wall Street Journal

“The compositional control—the varied and flexible syntax; the masterful control of line and stanza breaks, music and imagery, sound and sense—gives the poems their surplus of energy; their formed nature inspires their passionate, felt life . . . But they are just as concerned with thinking about our current moment—its politics, its economics, its nightmares, and its beauties… moving through different social spaces by moving through different kinds of language: the philosophical, the legal, the religious, the colloquial.”—Anthony Domestico, Commonweal

“This is a poetry that deplores fanaticism and presents structures that allow us to come closer to enacting in language aspects of contemporary experience to which we have yet to find a way otherwise to respond . . . In Joseph . . . the perception of the body’s vulnerability is as acute as any in contemporary literature . . . His poetry is squarely within his historical period, but it interrupts any temptation to allow complexities of history simply to wash over us . . . [H]e draws us into a deeper awareness of our need to be peculiarly active participants as we read, burrowing into language, coming closer to inhabiting words as sources of meaning that open up memory and imagination in ways that are culturally conditioned and yet hold the possibility of being intensely individual.”—Lee Upton, Jacket2

“His range of poetics and resources . . . is unique in American poetry: mythic-modernist, identity-poetic, and social/sacramental, each building on and looking back to the others into the mix of critical self-consciousness and sacred vision that Joseph, as no other American poet, seems able to supply.”—Eric Selinger, Jacket2

“Joseph seems 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

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Lawrence Joseph

Lawrence Joseph, the grandson of Lebanese and Syrian Catholic immigrants, was born and raised in Detroit. A graduate of the University of Michigan, University of Cambridge, and University of Michigan Law School, he is the author of several books of poetry, including So Where Are We?, and of the books of prose, Lawyerland, a non-fiction novel, and The Game Changed: Essays and Other Prose. He is the Tinnelly Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law and has also taught creative writing at Princeton. He is married to the painter Nancy Van Goethem and lives in New York City.

image of Lawrence Josepho
Ted Ely

Lawrence Joseph

Read Author Bio at Poetry Foundation.com

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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