American Samizdat, a full-length collection by Jehanne Dubrow
Imagine a United States in which the First Amendment no longer exists. What would we say? What kind of poems would we read and write? In her seventh collection of poetry, American Samizdat, Jehanne Dubrow contemplates this possibility. Composed as series of terrified fragments, the book replicates the urgency of the Cold War-era, dissident writings once known as “samizdat,” underground publications that were forbidden by the state.
American Samizdat opens with an epigraph from the exiled Polish writer, Witold Gombrowicz: “This singing would be magnificent if the singers were not terrified of it and if one did not sense the tremor in their voices, which arouses pity…In the immense silence, our unconfessed, mute and gagged reality takes shape.” In her lyrical sequence, Dubrow speaks from the same mute landscape, a place of foreboding where people feel the conflicting impulses to resist authoritarianism and to remain passive.
Throughout American Samizdat, an anonymous speaker agonizes over questions of freedom, truth, and the resilience of democracy; she is an American version of Pan Cogito, Zbigniew Herbert’s poetic alter ego, who once critiqued an oppressive regime through the coded language of myth, fable, and fairytale. “Let me pretend already,” Dubrow writes, “the poem must be hidden // in a paper cup. To read /what’s written is to drink.” Set in a world of 24-hour news coverage, social media, and alternative facts, American Samizdat wonders what we've become and where we're going.
Advance Praise for American Samizdat
“Numbness is another way / of turning off the news,” Jehanne Dubrow writes in her deeply moving, terrifying, and necessary new collection, American Samizdat. In this brilliant, book-length series, Dubrow somehow gets at the root of our collective anxiety in a disintegrating America where meaning is merely “the last pink light / that glows above a fence” and “[a]n alternative to fact is vertigo, / the floor rising up to strike my face.” American Samizdat will last as a marker of early 21st century America, a “nation terrified,” a nation fed by technology and led by a mad man. “I remember,” Dubrow writes, “when threats // were given colors, red severe, / orange that the risk was high. // Now there is no chart.”
— Allison Benis White, author of Please Bury Me in This
To say that Jehanne Dubrow's American Samizdat is a brilliant book would be to say the truth. But what does it mean? It means that we hold in our hands a book that combines lyricism with a sweep of a large historical vision. It means that strangeness of language here wakes us even if we put "stoppers in our ears" because even silence for this poet is a musical instrument. It means that in the couplets of this book clarity arises and the reader in America, the country that denies its own history, sees that "point of Cassandra / is we struggle to stare directly at the light, its naked blaze." Indeed. For me, Dubrow's brilliant book-long poem succeeds because it provides a myth for our time, a fable. How does she do it? "To make a fable of this time, / I will say we were governed by a bird / who pecked decrees in the ground. Our park was a chaos of squawking." Welcome to American Samizdat, dear reader. Behold the 21st century world.
— Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic
American Samizdat emerges slowly. It emerges like an animal emerging from a fog so absolute it could be mistaken for a wall. It emerges like that same animal erupting into consciousness as it clears the fog—an evolutionary leap!—only to discover that the fog was internal. The animal, a creature that already knows the world, must also discover the world: “For a time, I missed the sharing / as it’s known, the communal // passing around of news, small bites / I used to take of other lives.” In American Samizdat, we discover our world.
—Shane McCrae, author of In the Language of My Captor
Jehanne Dubrow is the author of six books of poetry, including most recently Dots & Dashes, winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award (Southern Illinois University Press, 2017). Her previous books are The Arranged Marriage (University of New Mexico Press, 2015), Red Army Red (Northwestern University Press, 2012), Stateside (Northwestern University Press, 2010), From the Fever-World (WWPH, 2010), and The Hardship Post (three candles press, 2009, Sundress Publications, 2013). She has co-edited two anthologies, The Book of Scented Things: 100 Contemporary Poems about Perfume (Literary House Press, 2016) and Still Life with Poem: Contemporary Natures Mortes in Verse (Literary House Press, 2014). Her first book of creative nonfiction, throughsmoke: an essay in notes, will be published by New Rivers Press in 2019. And her seventh poetry collection, American Samizdat, was one of the winners of the Diode Editions Book Contest and will be published in 2019.
Jehanne’s poetry, nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in Southern Review, Pleiades, The New York Times Magazine, Southwest Review, The New England Review, as well as on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry. She earned a B.A. in the “Great Books” from St. John’s College, an MFA from the University of Maryland, and a PhD from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She has been a recipient of the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, the Adrienne Rich Award for Poetry, the Towson University Prize for Literature, an Individual Artist’s Award from the Maryland State Arts Council, a Walter E. Dakin Fellowship and a Howard Nemerov from the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and a Sosland Foundation Fellowship from the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.
The daughter of American diplomats, Jehanne was born in Italy and grew up in Yugoslavia, Zaire, Poland, Belgium, Austria, and the United States. She lives in Denton with her Bedlington Terrier, Lola, and occasionally with her husband, Jeremy, who is a career military officer. Jehanne is an Associate Professor of creative writing at the University of North Texas.
Further Reading from American Samizdat
Jehanne’s poems have recently been published or are forthcoming in Beloit Poetry Journal, Bennington Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Cimarron Review, Evansville Review, Love’s Executive Order, North American Review, Shenandoah, and American Life in Poetry.