cover image Asylum: A Personal, Historical, Natural Inquiry in 103 Lyric Sections

Asylum: A Personal, Historical, Natural Inquiry in 103 Lyric Sections

Jill Bialosky. Knopf, $27 (144p) ISBN 978-0-525-65709-5

The elegiac fifth collection from Bialosky (The Players) transcends genre, weaving tragedy, language, and perception in a poignant work of personal and public exploration. Embracing repetition and allusion, Bialosky confronts the memory of her sister, who died by suicide at 21, offering a view of a girl with “blue eyes bright// with the burn of knowing & barely/ a fleck of gloom, because she was young// & brave.” In addition to personal vignettes of loss, Bialosky extends her bereavement to mourn the lives lost to pandemic, racism (she cites Eric Garner’s last words), and genocide (she relays sobering accounts of the Holocaust). Here she explores language as an all-encompassing source of longing, consolation, redemption, and preservation. She addresses internment camps and how one’s definition of asylum changes based on context: “some went mad from desperation—/ one we read took his life—asylum/ in which the mind seeks/ to keep itself from torture.” Bialosky assembles a collage of her alchemized projections and sobering disillusionments in a cohesive amalgamation of truth and spectacle: “in the battlefield/of time, regardless, like trees,/we all eventually fall.” Erudite and devastating, Bialosky’s timely collection reverberates with a rare empathy and resilience. (Aug.)