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Peter Balakian is a poet and nonfiction writer who was born and raised in New Jersey, the son of Armenian parents. His works of nonfiction includes the memoir Black Dog of Fate as well as The Burning Tigris: The Armenian Genocide and America’s Response. His poetry collections include June-tree: New and Selected Poems 1974-2000 and, most recently, Ziggurat. The publisher’s dust jacket summary of the collection states:

“Exploring history, self, and imagination, as well as his ongoing concerns with catastrophe and trauma, many of Balakian’s new poems wrestle with the aftermath and reverberations of 9/11…

“Whether reliving the building of the World Trade Towers in the inventive forty-three-section poem that anchors the book, walking the ruins of the Bosnian National Library in Sarajevo, meditating on Andy Warhol’s silk screens, or considering the confluence of music, language, and memory, Balakian continues his meditations on history, as well as on the harshness and beauty of contemporary life, that his readers have enjoyed over the years. In sensual, layered, and sometimes elliptical language, Balakian in Ziggurat explores absence, war, love, and art in a new age of American uncertainty.”

Clearly, the thematic concerns of this collection parallel those of this class. Here, for example, is the second poem in the collection, “Warhol / Madison Ave. / 9-11”:

by Peter Balakian
When I left Eli Zabar the cut-out star on the window
was whirling in the animation of the rich and hungry
hunched over tables for a $30 sandwich and a Diet Coke.
It was raining and the blurred glass of the galleries
was the gold leaf of the Carrig Rhone frames—
Childe Hassam’s dabs of Connecticut trees
the diaphanous blue on the fleshy rocks,
the melting opal of the shoals.
Inside the Whitney the rain trailed down my face;
and I found myself in a quiet corner staring
at the pink face of Marilyn Monroe.
I could still smell the smoldering high-tech plastic
as it burned the air. In the whiteness of her teeth,
in the almost aahh of her mouth and the half-drugged eyes
under the lids of teal shadow, the air kept singeing my nose.
Against the pale walls Marilyn’s face dissolved
like a stretched mesh and litho ink
where plain form is a place of no desire
like the empty mirror of the Hudson at dawn.
In the fissures of her make-up, the planes of color
led back and back behind her teeth longing—
to the deception by the Falls on her honeymoon
(with Joseph Cotton in Niagara)—where we found her clothed
and alarmed, and later desperate for the affirmation,
of a President’s limp dick and the crisp sheets
the same color of these walls—as my t shirt dries to my skin
and the faintest scent of ground zero
sifts down on the walls
whiter than the wingtip vortices
of melting in the morning light.

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