cover image Public Figures

Public Figures

Jena Osman. Wesleyan, $22.95 (87p) ISBN 978-0-8195-7311-7

The fourth volume from Osman (The Network) employs that newly prevalent form, the long lyric essay, with photographs and bits of verse put in: Osman considers the monuments and statues (most of them soldierly) in Philadelphia, where she lives, and imagines their points of view—how they see their city, their country, and the soldiers who are fighting our present-day wars. “These men without a home, without a site to call their own” both authorize and undercut the ongoing exercise of American power overseas. Brief transcripts from soldiers’ conversations in Afghanistan or Iraq appear as running footers for most of the book, until their form takes over, near the end, in a blaze of tough verse: “is it a plane, a camera, or a gun. no need to face/ your quarry.” As much as it objects to some wars far away, the essay keeps its heart in Osman’s Philly, whose streetscapes point both to the present and back to the U.S. Civil War. Osman’s terse juxtapositions, careful background, and her lightly used but deeply relevant quotations place her close to Claudia Rankine, or to Juliana Spahr (with whom Osman edited the influential avant-garde journal CHAIN); the Philadelphia setting, the focus on statues, and the care taken with diagrams, shapes on the page, the life of the eye in urban or national space, set Osman at least a bit apart. (Oct.)