My collection Heat Wake was published in 2016 by Saturnalia Books, cover design by the sculptor Jim Drain. I’m working on my second collection. As for more about Heat Wake, scroll on. Down below are links to my PennSound audio page, works online, and some videos to show the process by which I created the poem “Making Butter.” Lyric essays The Death of Robert Smithson” (published in the Seneca Review) and “Cute as a Button” can be read on this site as well as the recent multimedia lyric essay “Distance and Memory.”
On my poetics: Our becoming is made of language and languaged experience as is poetry, all interconnected through words like these, a tissue diffused and translated, each one of us with an unprecedented voice and mind. Poetry is a practice like yoga: as writers, as readers, we can enrich the self and stretch our imagination of the possible through engagement. There is nothing to fear but only enter to play, all levels of expertise, as if “expertise” applies. I believe in the expansion of poetry as the expansion of possibility in the fabric of society and self. Challenging, unfamiliar, queer arrangements of language may intimidate, so I try for music of love, joy, play, fun as part of the meticulous crafting. Poetry should not be for poets only. All should be made to feel welcome (welcome!) to the energy and spark of juxtaposed words across minds; there is too much at stake, The work I believe in is to simultaneously challenge (myself, readers) and, at the same time, extend a welcoming hand.
I’ve been dabbling in the the “language” of images that proliferate and make their curious appeals especially on social media and mass media…and a video I recently made will be shown in the fall of 2021 at an experimental film festival in Collingswood, NJ, More on that as details become The video contains images and sound found, made, and manipulated, and questionable. I just call it “some queer collage” (think of “some pig” from Charlotte’s Web as titular inspiration). YOU CAN WATCH IT HERE (just click!).
There’s a fine and insightful review of HEAT WAKE I recently found, posted by a reader at Goodreads,
Lemon writes, “…I love Heat Wake because of the many ways it loves…Heat Wake is filled with wondrous poems that speak directly about love/being love/the misfirings of love, but there is so much more adoration in this collection. These poems love language and verbal play, the panoramic intellect, humor, moments of doomsaying and this complex and fractured world that is slipping through our hands. I’ve spent hours with the many lenses through which we see Eros in Zuzga’s book: the speaker addressing Rimbaud in ‘Homage,”’the sensuality of cleaning someone’s ear in ‘Ear,’ or ‘I was angry at myself for being a teenage mermaid,’ the awesome beginning to the Tilt-A-Whirl movement of ‘Love Poem,’ or one of my favorite’s, the speaker alive beside a [queer] intimate inside the body of an extinct Stellar’s Sea Cow in ‘Extinction Narrative…’ Heat Wake is one of those rare books that works in manifold ways—it gives to the reader, on every level—it is energizing, alive and deeply layered with knowledge and sensuous. This collection thinks and breathes in ways that make impossible not to feel, impossible not to read a poem and smile or sense the start of something burning in the chest.”
It is such a pleasure to finally see a Jason Zuzga book in print. To say this book has been long-awaited by many, many poets is an under, understatement. I was in grad school with Jason in Tucson, 2001. I loved his work back then; everyone did. I don’t know why this collection took so long to bring into the world. Maybe Jason wasn’t submitting enough. Maybe presses couldn’t see what a wild, original, talented mind this guy has. Or maybe the book just took this long to come to its final form. I’m hardly one to talk about publishing slowly.
Anyway, it’s here now and it’s really good.
Heat Wake is everything I am excited about in poetry now. The poems feel odd as the spores on a fern plant at one moment and polished as a limousine the next. You just have no idea where he might go next in such a delightful way. And it always works because the poems are extensions of life and personality more than exercises in craft (though they are also very skillful). I guess what I’m trying to say is that they’re not trying to be something. They are that thing. That is Zuzga’s mind. There are fun, wild associative leaping and tender personal moments, history and science; and everything odd seems personal and everything personal odd. And there is a closeness and humanity to it all underneath. Quoting lines don’t do his work justice, so I’m just going to quote a whole poem here.
Your Age on Other Worlds
Greased surfers on the right,
oil pumping up the left – you drive down the crease
of California as the convexities of boys become
heightened on the waves.
I will guess your age on other worlds.
Stretched into sixteen on all of them. Mine.
When Neptune hurls back around to where it is now
these boys will be decaying
not tucked into their skins not tucked into their wetsuits
not sixteen not alive not riding the waves off California
rubbing itself the way a back shifts.
One night one boy is hurling through time to
the instant he will pass you in the supermarket.
His liverspotted hand a vortex shoves you through
gliding up the crest of time to California.
The pumpers suck sweet sip of time’s decay.
The car drives past you down the crease burning rubber.
The oncoming night glides open and closes and pulses.
Observers lightyears away longingly watch wave
lift you. Look back now to where we were before
this got started – star collapsing,
insane and greedy in the dark.
I mean who does this! Who connects time travel and the sleek bodies of surfers and drive down the coast in such a strange and beautiful way? This collection gets me really pumped about poetry again. Seriously, I would trade this one poem for a dozen other full collections I have read in the past year.
I could go on and on about all the poems in this collection, but this collection makes you want to write your own poems because it just humms with an infectious vitality. So, just use your internets and order it now. You must have it in your life and on your shelf.
In the window, in good company….
The first review of Heat Wake, from Publishers Weekly, is in…. read it here and below…
Zuzga’s debut collection grows out of the intersection of myth and nature, like a simmering volcano of animal intensity that occasionally erupts in expressions that alternate between euphoria and lament. He establishes this strange amalgam from the opening lines of the first poem: “All rocks are queer. By this I mean/ I’m gay.” In “Love Poem,” Zuzga recalls a melancholic youth in the dark shadow of an emerging queer identity (“I was angry at myself for being a teenaged mermaid”) and tinges of this same sadness appear at other moments in the collection. “I may have exceeded the number of allowable/ falls-in-love,” he sighs. Animals appear everywhere, including bats, sharks, “hot deer,” and an extinct Steller’s Sea Cow that munches “on sea lettuce the color/ of absinthe.” Zuzga also meditates on the distinctions between human and nonhuman animal as scientists observe an array of marine life. In the title poem, he gets futuristic, imagining the cyborg “not-yet elephants of Mars.” The book’s third section (of six), “Electric Clocks Don’t Tick,” revolves around Zuzga’s suburban New Jersey childhood and features Aunt Dottie’s “sun tea,” adventures with Encyclopedia Brown, and a surprisingly tender bathroom inventory. These gentle touches bloom all the more brightly under Zuzga’s zoological bell jar, placing a real human heartbeat in the menagerie. (Mar.)
From the back of the book:
“In their movement between animal, human, and mineral, Zuzga’s poems are metamorphic as the salamander who eats a California roll in a food court. A less moral Moore, Zuzga understands that the social and the natural relate in ways science alone cannot realize. Unboundaried, unanxious, his queer imagination finds backdoor correspondences that would make even Baudelaire blush. Heat Wake is not a hothouse gothic. It is a water sports park, full of liking, where one is encouraged to fondle the fauna. Let’s hope the poet has not surpassed “the number of allowable falls-in-love” and keeps exceeding lyrically.”—Christopher Schmidt, author of The Poetics of Waste and The Next In Line
“For the anatomical sensations he observes, in the tenderness of his sentences and white space, in his insatiate curiosity, his experience of surrealism, we might consider Jason Zuzga the Oliver Sacks of poetry. His new book Heat Wake is a miracle of pacing, reflection, action mixed together in scherzo form. I envy him his effects, things I could never get away with, nor even conceive of, and none more than his signature stroke, the noun pressed into service as verb (“One touch hurricanes you open,” “The sky veins with electricity,” et cetera). Heat Wake takes you in all the way to the hilt and returns you to earth a spent homunculus, a will of the wisp, a clown, and you will be thanking Jason Zuzga for your transformation for as long as you emotion your heart and brain.”—Kevin Killian, author of Tweaky Village and Argento Series
“Charming, witty, and science-y smart, these debut collection poems pop with volleys of youthful and wise acts, tactics, maneuvers, catastrophes, scenes, and did I mention love poems overrunning! And anthropomorphism at its finest—“The sounds flick off. Please. The desert would like to be alone.” Reader, you won’t be lonely in this lively tour of a refreshed world. Thank you, Jason Zuzga, for the language to imagine a benevolent universe.” —Jane Miller, author of Memory at These Speeds: New and Selected Poems and A Palace of Pearls
Oh, and my exboyfriend wrote this, wanting to get involved:
“Don’t expect to ‘come out’—Zuzga’s closet opens to a queer ocean, and try as we may to grasp at the skeletons we fleetingly see stacked, we fall with him into the unbiographing, inky depths. If he plays with L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, it’s merely an octopus floating by; if conceptualist crimes are committed, Encyclopedia Brown solves the case; whatever happens is what is happening, which happens to be what never happened. Not for sure. Heat Wake: the congregation of company this poet accrues in his many deaths, with each page sizzling as a new bolt of divinely mad lightning strikes him—leaving us with not so much a speaker but a folio record of the sensorial events and animalistic upheavals occasioning him. Impossible as a wave to finish, Heat Wake‘s magic will linger like sand between your toes.” — Andy Emitt, Journalist for Pitchfork
~ My PENNSOUND Page of audio recordings from various poetry readings during recent years.
And in electronic and/or paper print you can find:
- “Argonautica” in Verse Daily
- “Hoover Dam” in The Awl
- “Three Lucies” on E-Verse Radio
- “from 100 Clews” in Spork
- “Erotic Partial Burial” in Tupelo Quarterly
- “Your Age On Other Worlds” in Sixth Finch
- “Conjoined Drag Queens: Poetry of RuPaul’s Drag Race” in LunaLuna (with Andy Emitt)
- “Where I’m From” in Apiary
- “Thrift Shop” and “Bog Man” in Painted Bride Quarterly
- Document 5, Document 7, Document 8 in out of nothing
- “Scuba Song” in Forklift, Ohio with “Pasta with Anchovies” & “The Presidents”
- “Counting,” “Skins” and “Elegy” in EOAGH
- “Maritime,” “Invisible Friend,” and “Lullaby” in Maggy
- “Pizza Song,” “School,” and “Flower Show” in Coconut
- “Last Drop,” “Detraining,” “Blood Trouble,” and “An Arc” in PFSPOST
- “Extinction Narrative,” “Maritime Assemblage,” and “Three Lucies” in Elective Affinities
- “13 States Sue EPA to Lower Levels of Soot” in The Philadelphia Inquirer
- “Elegy” (translated into Turkish) in Gard
- (lyric essay) “Amarillo Ramp: The Death of Robert Smithson” in The Seneca Review
- (lyric essay) “Cute as a Button : On the Poetics of the Baby”
- “Mix Tape” in Supplement #1
- “My Parents’ Bathroom” in Dream Closet. Edited by Matthew Burgess. New York: Secretary Press, 2016.
- “excerpts from 100 Clews,” “Frequency” in FENCE
- “Elegy“ in Five Finger Review.
- “The Ground Sloths at Love Canal,” “You Utah” in Fulcrum
- “West” in Gulf Coast
- “Encyclopedia Brown Saves the Day” in Jubilat
- “A Wood” “The President in the Jungle” in Lit.
- “Liquid Courage” in The Paris Review
- “Counting,” “City Life” in VOLT
- “Open Pharynx: A Fantasia on the Development of Human Gills.” (with David Zuzga) in Predictions: ChainLinks 4. Edited by Cara Benson. Philadelphia: ChainLinks, 2009.
And, in video, two from a reading, followed below by raw footage from the makings of the poem “Making Butter.” The poem is composed of what was said by the participants during the event. Here, the video is silent.
First, from the reading…
Here’s the raw footage of Making Butter….
Making Butter (from HEAT WAKE)
(video transcript, 2002)
Is this too much?
I think it might be easier to shake if you don’t have too much.
We’re going to give a little bit to Eric here.
Now we’re going to make some butter.
We’re going to start shaking it.
Do we have any faster music?
We need faster music, faster music.
This is a workout.
I don’t feel anything anymore.
Now, no it’s not done yet.
It’s whipped cream.
Don’t do that.
Wait can we put on faster music.
It’s getting heavy.
Oh I got the trick now.
This feels really obscene.
Zero to nothing.
I’m starting to feel it.
Should we test it?
Oh my god
Oh my god.
Oh my god.
It’s not butter yet.
It’s still whipped cream.
Is it butter yet?
This is getting in the way.
There is water leaking out.
It hardened and the liquid is coming out.
Now it’s getting into a solid.
I need a plastic bag.
It’s like a solid that is flipping up and down.
Oh my god, weird.
This is what it actually.
Oh my god.
Oh my god.
We made butter.
Mine is really slippery.
You have to have this milky stuff.
We made butter.
I’ve saved the best for last: a video I made of my grandmother Victoria Stracquadanio making pasta, enjoy!