Agony is the first in a trilogy of long confessional poems. It uses semi-rigorous mathematical and logical constraints to view the author's life and body, telescopically, as little bits of time and space. Everything written here is as true as possible—that is to say, pretty true. The poem writes autobiography as a refutation of autobiography, and elevation of the self as a self-effacement. Love pops up as a theme quite a bit. So does self-mutilation, etc. And there are a lot of numbers.
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Praise for Agony:
“Steven Zultanski’s Agony is a guide to making millions with a startup that puts human faces (literally) on the windows of suburban homes. The key word here is ‘literally:’ the literal is Zultanski’s most important discovery, a reinvention of Shklovsky’s ‘making strange’ for a tertiary age, a time when the language of metaphor has been zombified (after first being deadened and then deconstructed). In a manner that parodies and surpasses the lunacy of American pundits, Zultanski leads us on a mathematical journey into the volume of humanity’s tears and saliva exchange in kisses, and the square-footage of breasts and pet-intestines to explore the Markson-esqe, Mobius sociality of the solipsistic self. This unabashed autobiography, told through a hyperbolic argot of tax-code and quantum physics, is a sacrifice that atones for the banality it is born of (QED). Using the body as a literal yard-stick—its intimate history of inspirations and exhalations, excretions and accretions, pressed flat against the world, as a face against a window—this book leads the advance attack on the insipid dehumanization performed by standards of measure, statistics, and self-help. Call it conceptualism, lyricism, the new literality, or agonic financial planning—whatever it is, Agony is not for the faint of heart.” — Matvei Yankelevich
“The best way to enjoy Steven Zultanski’s Agony is to remove your skin, including your facial skin, and spill into the mathematical calculations of how many cubic inches of human tears it takes to fill a fountain. When you put your skin back on and go outside for a walk, you’ll realize that the lyric poem has just endured a substantial 21st century upgrade.” — Robert Fitterman
“These poems are totally controlled and totally controlling—wholly unapologetic and brutally seductive” — BOMB Magazine
“These poems itemize the mundane and the profound with equal enthusiasm creating seemingly fantastic lists and formulae that may or may not be accurate—but lead us to a new understanding of the order of things. Zultanski is quite happy to rearrange the way you think.” — Michael Dennis
Steven Zultanski on paradoxes and the future of poetry at Jacket 2
Steven Zultanski is the also the author of Pad and Cop
Kisser. He co-curates the Segue Reading Series and occasionally
curates and edits other things too. He lives in NYC.