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Ozone Journal, by Peter Balakian (University of Chicago Press)

Poems that bear witness to the old losses and tragedies that undergird a global age of danger and uncertainty.

from "Ozone Journal"

Bach’s cantata in B-flat minor in the cassette, we lounged under the greenhouse-sky, the UVBs hacking at the acids and oxides and then I could hear the difference

between an oboe and a bassoon at the river’s edge under cover— trees breathed in our respiration;

there was something on the other side of the river, something both of us were itching toward—

radical bonds were broken, history became science. We were never the same.

The title poem of Peter Balakian's Ozone Journal is a sequence of fifty-four short sections, each a poem in itself, recounting the speaker's memory of excavating the bones of Armenian genocide victims in the Syrian desert with a crew of television journalists in 2009. These memories spark others—the dissolution of his marriage, his life as a young single parent in Manhattan in the nineties, visits and conversations with a cousin dying of AIDS—creating a montage that has the feel of history as lived experience. Bookending this sequence are shorter lyrics that span times and locations, from Nairobi to the Native American villages of New Mexico. In the dynamic, sensual language of these poems, we are reminded that the history of atrocity, trauma, and forgetting is both global and ancient; but we are reminded, too, of the beauty and richness of culture and the resilience of love.

--from the publisher


Featured Interviews

September 7 (Monday) : PBS News Hour, poem of the week

September 11 (Saturday): Interview with Scott Simon, Weekend Edition

February 28, 2010: Peter Balakian on 60 Minutes Battle Over History
Watch Video

The Armenians call it their holocaust - the 1915 forced deportation and massacre of more than a million Armenians by the Turks. But the Turks and our own government have refused to call it genocide.


New Book "Ozone Journal"  
Ozone Journal (Poems)
The University of Chicago Press
Publish Date March 2015

The long poem “Ozone Journal” of Balakian’s new book is a sequel to his acclaimed “A Train-Ziggurat Elegy,” (2010). While excavating the remains of Armenian genocide survivors in the Syrian desert with a TV crew, the persona navigates his own memory of New York City in a decade (the 1980s) of crisis-- as AIDS and climate change make a context for his personal struggles and his pursuit of meaning in the face of loss and catastrophe. Whether his poems explore Native American villages of New Mexico, the slums of Nairobi, or the Armenian-Turkish borderland, Balakian’s poems continue to engage the harshness and beauty of contemporary life, in a language that is layered, sensual, elliptical and defined by wired phrases and shifting tempos. Ozone Journal creates inventive lyrical insight in a global age of danger and uncertainty. The long poem “Ozone Journal” in this new book by the same title, is the second part of Balakian’s impressive New York trilogy; Ozone Journal is the most accomplished book of a distinctive American voice.

Advance Praise for Ozone Journal

“In his new book, Ozone Journal, Balakian masterfully does the thing nobody else does which is to derange history into poetry, to make poetry painting, to make painting culture, to make culture living, and with a historical depth that finds the right experience in language.”

---Bruce Smith (The Devotions)


Praise for Zigguart (2010)

“a historical depth I have found nowhere else in American poetry in recent years. What Balakian has achieved here is a brilliant assimilation of the historical, philosophical, political, and psychological.”


a vivid journey through the rubble of ancient and modern civilizations, muscular, animated, precise. . . internal rhyme and subtle alliteration are typical of the poems in Ziggurat. This is an important and rewarding book.”

George Kovach—Consequence

Ziggurat redefines that act of bearing witness as an act of retrospection in its deepest sense, a looking back that is as much about the experience of fractured consciousness as it is about what it observes."— Hovig Chalian, Harvard Review

Praise for June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000

“[An] intense and soulful new collection of poetry. American pop culture references—to Bob Dylan songs, cell phones and T-shirts advertising Coca-Cola—mingle eloquently with his family history, the Armenian genocide and memories of his childhood in suburban New Jersey. . . . June-tree is political yet idiosyncratic.”

Susan Shapiro, New York Times Book Review

Praise for prize-winning memoir Black Dog of Fate

“A richly imagined memoir, carefully documented, and asks painful questions of us all,” Joyce Carol Oates The New Yorker

“Balakian, a gifted poet, knows exactly how to bring the pain of the past into the landscape of the present. Passionate and endearingly personal. . . An extraordinary book.”—Alfred Kazin

Peter Balakian is the Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor in Humanities and professor of English at Colgate University. He is the author of seven books of poems and four prose works, including The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response, a New York Times best seller; and Black Dog of Fate, a memoir, winner of the PEN/Albrand Prize.
New Book "Vice & Shadow"  
Vice & Shadow (Prose)
The University of Chicago Press
Publish Date March 2015

In Vise and Shadow, the critically acclaimed  poet and memoirist Peter Balakian brings

together his most influential essays of the past 25 years. He argues that the force of the lyric imagination is able to hold experience under pressure like a vise— while it also shadows history. Precise, lyrical, and eloquent —Balakian’s essays explore the ways poetry engages disaster and ingests mass-violence without succumbing to the didactic. He gives us new insights into the relationships between trauma, memory and aesthetic form; his essays on major Armenian voices and the aftermath of genocide are a fresh contribution to contemporary literature and art. Other essays engage painting, collage, song-lyrics, and film as forms of enduring lyric knowledge. With a range that includes W. B. Yeats, Yeghishe Charents, Joan Didion, Hart Crane, Primo Levi, Robert Rauschenberg, Bob Dylan, Elia Kazan, Arshile Gorky, and Adrienne Rich Vise and Shadow offers a cosmopolitan vision of the power and resilience of the human imagination.



"With soaring critical erudition, Peter Balakian’s essays range across multiple genres - poetry, memoir, film, visual art, history, 'literary rock' - to create a brilliant 'collage' of both American imagination and Armenian memory. An elegantly written seminal work of sweeping importance."      

---James Carroll (author of American Requium, and Christ, Actually)


“ Vise and Shadow belongs on a shelf alongside the literary essays of J. M. Coetzee, Adrienne Rich, and Seamus Heaney—all of whom are absorbed by the very same questions haunting and inspiring Balakian”     —Askold Melnyczuk  (author of What Is Told, Ambassador of the Dead)


Praise for Black Dog of Fate, A Memoir

“a richly imagined memoir, carefully documented,  asks painful questions of us all,” Joyce Carol Oates The New Yorker



“Balakian, a gifted poet, knows exactly how to bring the pain of the past into the landscape of the present. Passionate and endearingly personal. . . An extraordinary book.”—Alfred Kazin