-Ellen Kaufman, New York
Sleigh follows two award-winning volumes of poetry (Space Walk and Army Cats) with another strong collection focused on mortality: “death’s in my face/ when I look at it at just the right angle.” The book’s title is a Nazi joke and an existential one; its impressive first poem superimposes the Scotch ballade “Mary Hamilton”—about the tragic beheading of a queen’s servant—on an impending car crash in contemporary Queens, NY. As an improbable stag suddenly appears through heavy snow, the speaker confronts his imagined demise: “I’m sitting behind the wheel/ of our mutual desire/ when the heel comes off her shoe/ on the Parliament stair/ and lang or she cam down again/ she was condemned to dee.” A Hunter College professor and self-professed thrill seeker who has served time as an apprentice war journalist, Sleigh anchors this collection with a war sequence modeled on the travel diaries of Basho, alternating poems with prose ruminations. In “Global Warming Fugue,” the poet resigns himself to watching the world as “Mr. Fussy,” who observes that “Cyclops eats his men,/ caught between the monster and his own self-image/ entrapped like greenhouse gasses/ that have no place to escape to.” VERDICT Driven, muscular poems that wrestle with violence, love, and the hybrid self; recommended for most collections.
Journal of the Academy of American Poets
Spring/Summer 2015, Volume 48
Station Zed by Tom Sleigh (Graywolf Press, January 2015)
An existential meditation in four sections and informed by journalistic sojourns in Lebanon, Libya, and Iraq, Sleigh's ninth collection is interested in complicating notions of time, war, justice, and spirituality. He interweaves an homage to Basho with an elegy for the devastation seen in Iraq and creates a surreal narrative about the tyranny of an emperor: "The AK wants to tell a different truth -- / a truth ungarbled that is so obvious / no one could possibly mistake its meaning." Sleigh's skepticism withholds easy conclusions regarding parenthood, political atrocities, and the self. Sonically, he amplifies the language of the everyday with startling turns of consonance and rhyme: "percussive as a run / on a nomad's flute of bone / while a car engine dangling from a hoist and chain / sways in a translucent gown of rain." Station Zed attempts to illuminate urban war zones, and in carefully chosen dispatches of news, it's not only Sleigh's eyes, but his heart that can't turn away.
By Elizabeth Lund
Tom Sleigh lures readers beyond familiar borders so deftly that most won’t recall how they entered various conflicts or major war zones. Instead, fans will notice Sleigh’s ability to craft compelling narratives with his pied-piper voice. Station Zed (Graywolf; paperback, $16), his eighth collection, begins with these engrossing lines in “Homage to Mary Hamilton”:
I’m driving past discarded tires,
”Barely Composed” by Alice Fulton. (W. W. Norton)
the all night carwash dreams
near Green-Wood Cemetery where
the otherworld of Queens
puts out trash — trash of Murder, Inc.,
trash of heartbeat
in recycled newspapers where
Romeo and Juliet meet.
From there, the speaker weaves childhood memories and family lore into poems that touch upon global issues without losing their freshness or appeal. He also dips into history, mythology and literature as the poems point, again and again, to the inescapable intersection of personal and political concerns. Sleigh’s work as a journalist shapes the heart of this collection as he travels to Lebanon, Iraq, Somalia and other war-torn countries to report on violence and suffering that most people don’t want to think about. In “Homage to Basho,” a moving vignette illustrates the humanity of a suicide bomber whose sister becomes one of Sleigh’s writing students. “Station Zed,” named after the execution site in a Nazi prison camp outside Berlin , pushes readers into the unknown time after time. Even benign situations, such as the speaker addressing his stepdaughter, feel gritty and challenging.
By Danielle Furfaro
He is a different kind of war reporter.
Acclaimed poet Tom Sleigh has penned a new collection of stories and poetry based on his observations from visiting war-torn areas of the world, including Syria, Lebanon, and Somalia. But the Boerum Hill resident, who will read from his book “Station Zed” at BookCourt on Feb. 19, said his goal in writing the tome was to concentrate on the day-to-day experience of living in conflict, rather than making any sort of overarching statements about war.
“Since I am not a real journalist and am an amateur, I do not have pressure to make sense of what is happening or make any sort of policy prescription,” said Sleigh, who has written six poetry books before this one. “I am interested in poems and prose to get the texture and feel of the place and what it is like every day.”
When Sleigh first visited Lebanon in 2007, someone set off a bomb in a downtown Beirut shopping district. He said he was surprised to see that the city’s fashionistas just continued going about their shopping and treated the bombing as little more than an inconvenience. He also observed the blast pattern, noting that the bomb had sucked all of the clothes out of the display window of an Armani store.
“That is the kind of detail I am interested in,” said Sleigh, who is a distinguished professor at Hunter College. “I am not much interested in what people would call their political convictions. I am interested in emotions, because they are hard to come to terms with and change a lot.”
Sleigh’s odyssey into conflict zones began with that first trip to Lebanon, which was a sort of diplomatic mission organized by an Arabic human rights organization. Sleigh said he was taken by the conditions that Palestinian refugees were living in, and that prompted many trips to other war-torn areas of the world. Over the years, he has sat in on interviews with hundreds of refugees from all over and talked to people who have lived the minutiae of the horrors of war every day.
“I try to be as truthful as I can be to what I am actually observing,” he said. “I do not want what I am thinking and feeling to get in the way.”
Poetry Daily Featured Poet
January 15, 2015
Station Zed is the terminal outpost beyond which is the unknown. It is also poet Tom Sleigh’s finest work. In this latest collection, Sleigh carries into these poems his experiences as a journalist on tours of Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya. But these are also dispatches from places of grief, history, and poetic traditions as varied as Scottish ballads and the journeys of Basho.
Issue: January 1, 2015
Station Zed: Poems.
Advanced Review – Uncorrected Proof
Sleigh, Tom (Author)
Jan 2015. 128 p. Graywolf, paperback, $16. (9781555976989). 811.
In his ninth book of poems, Sleigh’s poetry is more chiseled and solid, yet it also possesses emotional depth and lyrical freedom. War and the classics continue to be important presences in his work, as he digs into centuries of inquiry about the human condition. Sleigh doesn’t avoid vitriol or the hard questions but, instead, dives into the waters of contradiction to create, with patience and a deft, clean style, new approaches to old tales of wounds and recovery. The 29 poems gathered here in four sections are varied in theme and settings, from communism and the Cold War to overseas cafés and animals. The standout is “Homage to Basho,” which includes first-person prose in introductions to smaller, introspective, lightning- rod lyrics such as “Villanelle on Going to Baghdad.” As prose and poem flow together, all of it is good,
all of it is more than interesting. Sleigh has created a worldly collection, richly thematic and strikingly precise in word and thought.
A Year in Reading: Phil Klay
By PHIL KLAY posted at 3:00 pm on December 8, 2014
I read plenty of great poetry this year (Ted Kooser, Cynthia Huntington, Louise Gluck), but my favorite was Tom Sleigh’s Station Zed, a profound, sometimes uncomfortably incisive book. Sleigh’s essay for Poetry Magazine on the WWI writers Wilfred Owen and David Jones is brilliant, and this book is the proof that he lives up to theoretical challenges he poses in that essay for anybody daring to write about conflict zones. Just as good are the non-war poems. I just finished it, but have been carrying it around with me because I keep needing to go back to reread poems.
Tom Sleigh. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $16 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-55597-698-9
Poet, essayist, and dramatist Sleigh (Army Cats) seamlessly and imaginatively weaves together history, mythology, and autobiography to form a collection that feels personal and prophetic. Poems such as “KM4,” which finds the speaker in Somalia after a suicide bombing, question how to translate the trauma of war and explore ways in which the dead stay with us: “the body makes itself known before it becomes unknown.” The long poem “Homage to Basho¯” consists of a series of variations on haibun, with traditional Western forms following the prose blocks instead of haiku. In it Sleigh revisits both Iraq wars through his experience as a reporter, including interactions with a security contractor, a student whose brother was a suicide bomber, and even his own poetry. Although told through the filter of Sleigh’s perspective, these stories present complex accounts challenging both speaker and reader to question the moral lines of war. ...Sleigh never fails to produce beautiful lines: “though just by shutting my eyes I can make the sun fall.” Narrative and wandering, Sleigh’s poems welcome readers ready to venture into the unknown. (Jan.)
Reviewed on 11/14/2014 | Release date: 01/06/2015
From Josh Weiner's review of Tom Sleigh's Station Zed in On the Seawall:
Since the publication of his first book, After One (1983), Tom Sleigh has established himself as one of the preeminent poets of any generation... Sleigh’s poetry... argue[s] implicitly for poetry’s role in civic life and the imaginative health of the republic. Spacewalk (2008), Army Cats (2011), and now Station Zed (January 2015), make three points on a crowning achievement in progress, an art that represents those very interests that seek to destroy it, and even enacts those energies in language and form. Sleigh’s real experiences as a journalist have included time in the some of the toughest political hotspots on the planet: Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, and Libya. And he has written brilliant harrowing prose accounts of his travels in those areas. These journalistic tours present real existential dangers, but almost as fraught and certainly as taut is the ethical knot Sontag has called ‘regarding the pain of others.’ ...What is the role of poetry in such a world?... [Sleigh's poems] present moral problems that implicate the reader and the audience—the best example at hand in the novel is Bolaño’s 2666; in drama, Wallace Shawn’s The Designated Mourner. Sleigh’s poems...compete in this particular arena of art where the very idea of art, because of its suspect and parasitic relation to the host body of the actual world, is attacked by the art itself... Station Zed, Tom Sleigh’s ninth and best book to date...is one of the dialectics that poetry needs now if it’s to lay the ground for its future. Its vital presence in Sleigh’s work will make his new book one of the necessary publications of 2015.
December Exemplars: Poetry Reviews by Grace Cavalieri
December 16, 2014
Station Zed by Tom Sleigh. Graywolf Press. 106 pages.
Let us put Tom Sleigh’s book in a time capsule to be found another century by another species and then all those meta-androids will know what a poet was, and what we thought and felt “back then.”
Sleigh has not only traveled to the Middle Eastern war zones to live there and write of it (Iraq, Libya, Somalia, etc.) but he also goes where geography never reaches. In the poem ”Second Sight,” he begins: “In my fantasy of fatherhood, in which I / your real father, not just the almost dad / arriving through random channels of divorce, / you and I don’t lie to one another…” And he ends: "Will we both agree / that I love you, always no matter / my love’s flawed, aging partiality? / My occupation now is to help you be alone.”
Let’s buy the book for our classrooms because it’s instrumental for students to know how far a person can burrow so deeply to find, and surface, a poem. Here‘s a bit from “The Negative”:
“That was how it was in those days, back when my friend / hadn’t yet met the coroner who wrote down / his cause of death as ‘polysubstance abuse” / that brought on his heart attack while fucking…/ And regardless if I believed, whenever/we were together God shown clearly — / those were the days when every morning God woke up / in a blur of ecstasy and went to bed every night / in divine rage. Whoever loved him, / he loved. Whoever hated him, / he hated back: for who can doubt the vitality / of hate or the volatility of love.”
This is the same man who can define being a twin better than all the psych books. As a mother of twins myself, I should know — “The Twins”: “You know those twins hanging on the corner, / they look like me and my twin brother / when we were younger, in our twenties, / the paler one like me, sickly, more uptight, / but weirdly aristocratic, more distant / than the one like you, Tim, who if / you are him with would put his arm around me with that casualness and gentleness / I’ve always craved between us, which we / nearly lost in her twenties but got back / in our fifties now the death’s in my face / when I look at it just the right angle: / then your smile’s so open, Tim, that we go / back even further, to when we were / boys listening on the stairs to our older brother telling us about girls…”
Sleigh improves our knowing. We would be resource-starved if it were not for poets; and because Sleigh’s messages change all former presumptions, I call it Poetry of Integrity. His temporal life is made better by some search for the divine. The first section of the book holds the childhood poems, and in "The Parallel Cathedral," # 3: “All through childhood on eternal sick-day afternoons, / I lived true to my name, piling dominoes/into towers, fingering the white dots like the carpenter Thomas/putting fingertips into the nail holes of his master’s hands. / A builder and a doubter. Patron saint of all believers / in what’s really there every time you look: / black-scabbed cherry trees unleafed in winter, / the irrigation ditch that overflows at the back / of the house…”
The book is in four parts. In section 3, HOMAGE TO BASHO, Sleigh moves from the Gulf War and Iraq, back and forth with flashbacks to his writer workshops as he crosses time. We have much to learn about the wars as they turn into classroom discussions. To have done so much of interest, Sleigh stays up all night to write of it.
Section 4 is HOMAGE TO VALLEJO. #6 is “Insomnia Is The Only Prayer Left.” The second stanza says,”prayers prayed for the dying, for the confessions / going on between earthworms and earth, between / the way a man argues with his own shoulder bones…” The poem ends about the eye that never shuts,“and smarts in its sleeplessness staring / up into the dark shadow by stingrays, gas stations, / the slow flapping wing of a lottery ticket.”
It is not only what Sleigh writes but what he is that inspires us — brave — trippy — mixture of sun and thunderstorms — power in the pen.
I will give Sleigh a gift quote from Emerson — “To the poet to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.”
Songs for the End of the World
On the other side of praise
it’s time to chop down the tall tree in the ear —
enough enough with the starlit promontories —
a nervous condition traces itself
in lightning in the clouds,
a little requiem rattles among Coke cans
and old vegetable tins
and shifts into a minor key
blowing through the dying ailanthus,
grieving to the beat beginning to pour down
percussive as a run
on a nomad’s flute of bone
while car engine dangling from a hoist and chain
sways in a translucent gown of rain.