two poets, one in blue denim buttoned up shirt in a basement; one in low-neck sleeveless top, tattoo on left arm

Poetry Center Book Award Reading: Lynn Xu and Jacob Kahn

Thursday, May 02, 2024
Event Time 06:00 p.m. - 07:30 p.m. PT
Cost Free and open to the public
Location Online event
Contact Email


The Poetry Center presents poets Lynn Xu and Jacob Kahn, each reading their work then joining in conversation with one another and their audience. Xu's book, And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight (Wave Books, 2022), is selected by Kahn to receive The Poetry Center Book Award, given each year since 1980 to an outstanding book of poems. Join us for this online-only event.

Register here.

VIDEO for this program will be posted after editing at Poetry Center Digital Archive.

  • Lynn Xu’s And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight is both embodied meditation on and mythic labor through the exhausting multiplicities of birth, death, and the diaphanous channel rippling between. It evokes the brute physicality of coming into being (“Rippling in the ceosops / foreskin of wind / still surrounded by blood / poverty / and the uneven caresses”); toils in the flushed, pained ecstasies of gestating, birthing, mothering; flickers in and out of ancestral exchange (“The Unanimous Mother / When does she arrive?”); and cycles through dream and memory and mythos and memory and dream. Extrusion, excretion, involution, absorption, fever, resistance, the poverty of the living, the starkness of the organism: “This morning / standing over myself / as one does / a kind of poverty / to be born / from nothing.” Birth as memorial, and memorial as birth. These interstitial strands extrude and involute their way into a singularly charged poetic material weaving and dissolving the boundaries of being and time, self and (m)other, womb and space, before and after. The title—itself an irresolvable linguistic construct, a mesmerizingly dense invocation which supplies the elements yet evades the guidelines of sense—are the ashen heaps doing the cantilevering? Is a comma missing or a caesura implied?—is also the chorally haunting opening of the book, each word in all caps given is its own page, before the screen goes dark as it were, a black page offsetting our descent into the text. Xu is a stunning lyricist, spare and virtuosic, inventive, whose sense of syntactic rigor and paratactic surprise is ever-present across her poetry, even in a book as different from her first, the poetry collection Debts & Lessons, as the more experimental And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight. Less a book-length poem than a single operatic or staged entity, this book uses a set of structural, linguistic, and visual techniques that make reading it feel like sitting before a surrounding multichannel display. Or, an arthouse reimagining of the human development ur-film The Miracle of Life, eschewing the classic’s documentary empiricism for a kaleidoscopic oracularity, combining modes of elegy, libretto, hosanna, dream journaling, and visual poetics. The propulsive play of those visual poetics gives the book its transitive urgency: fonts are enlarged to unusual sizes, all caps and italics employed with figurative purpose, sections separated by pixelated black abstractions resembling the cloudy details of an ultrasound, single words or short lines absorb entire pages, and white text in English and Chinese and Spanish emanates out from pitch black pages. (Notably, And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight was adapted as a monumental text-based multimedia installation at Museum of Contemporary Art Tucson in 2022-23, an exhibition which, even from afar, seems a perfect distillation of this spectral work.) Altogether, the book’s formal experimentation and gripping vocality function to intervene on behalf of the living and dead, or function in the shadow of their intervention, to labor and mother and commune in body and spirit against a brutalist world whose violence and inhumanity would have us ripped from any and all lineage and scattered, unmemorialized, as ash. Its feminism refuses this denial by situating the book as a sacred site for the growing and feral, the wretched, the pregnant, the pro- and preceding: “DREAMING YOU, / FLOWING IN MY BODY, / BODY OF THE OTHER, / WRITING MYSELF, / with the illegibility of an / ALREADY that leads back to / nothing, / DON’T DIE.” 
    —judge's statement by Jacob Kahn

Born in Shanghai, Lynn Xu is the author of the full-length collections Debts & Lessons (Omnidawn, 2013) and And Those Ashen Heaps That Cantilevered Vase of Moonlight (Wave Books, 2022). The latter work was on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tucson as an exhibition of the same title, and the book was selected for The Poetry Center Book Award. Author as well of two chapbooks: June (Corollary Press, 2006) and Tournesol (Compline, 2021), Xu has performed cross-disciplinary works at the Guggenheim Museum, the Renaissance Society, Rising Time Projects, and 300 S. Kelly Street. She teaches at Columbia University, co-edits Canarium Books, and lives with her family in New York City and West Texas. Photo by Joshua Edwards.

Jacob Kahn is a poet, editor, and curator living in Oakland, CA. He is the author of the book Mine Eclogue (Roof Books, 2022) and several chapbooks, most recently A Is For Aegis (DoubleCross Press, 2021). With Sophia Dahlin, he runs the chapbook press, Eyelet Press, and the reading series, Islet. Previously, he was a managing editor, curator, and bookseller at Wolfman Books, a bookstore, small press, and community arts hub in downtown Oakland, and a 2018 fellow at Epicenter in Green River, UT, a rural design studio and community-based artist residency. He works as a librarian at Berkeley Public Library. Photo by Nikolai Hagen. 


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