cover image American Radiance

American Radiance

Luisa Muradyan. Univ. of Nebraska, $17.95 trade paper (78p) ISBN 978-1-4962-0775-3

Through generous associative leaps, Muradyan turns a narrative of assimilation into a debut collection that is as playful as it is wrenching. She writes, “I am not unlike/ the sad clown at the circus/ driving a miniature car,/ stopping dramatically in/ the center stage,/ opening the passenger door/ and waiting for something,/ anything.” The primary speaker here, like Muradyan herself, emigrated from Ukraine as a small child and observes America with an attentive yet wary eye, marveling at action movies, Walmart, and professional wrestling. Embarking on a new life elsewhere, Muradyan’s speaker stands in the airport, “Wailing/ the only words in English/ that I knew: Oh, God!/ Oh, Pepsi! Oh, Cheerios! Oh, America!” Many of the poems rely on dark humor for their magic, but just as they begin to venture into cuteness, they curl back into a protective position. Rasputin also figures here: erotic and irresponsible, protector and predator, his “old/ and tangled beard/ woven by spiders.” Though Muradyan’s poems are not formally daring, they feature imaginative enjambments and a whip-smart emotional logic. Occasionally, even the sobs and whispers of family members bubble up onto the page. Muradyan reveals herself to be a savvy and thoroughly modern poet, observing her subjects with a dispassionate, often droll eye. (Sept.)