Heaven Is All Goodbyes: Pocket Poets No. 61



Shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin International Poetry Prize

2018 American Book Award Winner

2018 PEN Oakland Award Winner

Winner of the 2018 California Book Award for Poetry

2018 NCIBA Poetry Book of the Year

"Eisen-Martin's impeccable collection is a crucial document of this time."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

This is truly revolutionary poetry. A vortex of images, observations, inspired leaps and free associations spills forth from a choir living in oppression and transience. Moments of political and spiritual convergence, surrealism and blunt materiality, gangsterism and its husk, revolution and perseverance, are captured in the music of metaphor and pure intention.

Praise for Heaven Is All Goodbyes

"The tesseraic language of Tongo Eisen Martin's Heaven Is All Goodbyes brings a new, shared articulation to the intricacies and interconnections of grief and life, speech and site, state and inhabitant, violence and landscape. Here, polyvocal assemblages gather and revolt against our 'porcelain epoch / succeeding for the most part / dying for the most part / married for the most part to its death.' This is resistance as sound."--Claudia Rankine

"I don't know that there is a living writer whose work loves Black people as much as Tongo Eisen-Martin's work loves us. In Heaven Is All Goodbyes, like all of Eisen-Martin's work, this Black love is not clumsy, easy, sentimental or reliant on spectacle. That Black love lives in the cracked history and ambient future of who we've been in dark, and what's been done to us in the light. These poems somehow watch and listen without intervening. And when they ask, they ask everything. Heaven Is All Goodbyes makes me want to live, and write, with us forever."--Kiese Laymon, author of Long Division

"What a wonderful feeling for life. If we are born--we will die. If we love--we will be rejected. If we are rejected--we will leave. The balance of these poems, one against another, gives us laughter, love and hope. Heaven isn't Goodbye--its only the next stop on our heart's journey."--Nikki Giovanni

"Yet again Tongo Eisen-Martin employs his blade sharp intellect, his wry and piercing wit and unflinching candor to make poems that matter. This collection demands that the reader sees more than themselves--both on the page and in the surrounding world. The poems beg to be read aloud, to be pronounced as spells and incantations, as report backs from communities both known and shrouded. Read this work. Then read it again. Again. Again."--Chinaka Hodge, author of Dated Emcees

"This striking new work from Tongo Eisen-Martin is a timely reminder of Amiri Baraka's call for poems that are useful, poems that breathe like wrestlers. At every turn, Heaven Is All Goodbyes demands that we engage the systemic violence woven into our daily living right alongside the persistent force that is black social life, the joy that everyday people cultivate against unthinkable odds. And even though Eisen-Martin grounds us, necessarily, in the material constraints of the modern world, he doesn't leave us there. He calls us elsewhere. He brings us with him into a robust, illuminating vision of the worlds that exist outside and underneath the one that seeks to curtail our liberation, contain our love. This is work that challenges as it lifts. These are the unabashed abolitionist lyrics of a writer who knows that stakes are high and so is the cost of conceding our most radical dreams. In a moment marked by cynicism and disenchantment, Eisen-Martin remains a believer: in the commons, in collective struggle, in our capacity to flourish in the midst of what we were never meant to survive."--Joshua Bennett, author of The Sobbing School

Product Details

$15.95  $14.67
City Lights Books
Publish Date
September 26, 2017
5.0 X 0.5 X 6.2 inches | 0.25 pounds
BISAC Categories:

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About the Author

Tongo Eisen-Martin is the author of Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights Books, 2017) and someone's dead already (Boostrap Press, 2015) and his poetry has been featured in Harper's and New York Times Magazine. Heaven Is All Goobyes was shortlisted for the Griffin International Poetry Prize and awarded the California Book Award for Poetry, an American Book Award, and a PEN Oakland Book Award. He is also a movement worker and educator whose work in Rikers Island was featured in the New York Times. He has been a faculty member at the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, and his curriculum on extrajudicial killing of Black people, "We Charge Genocide Again!" has been used as an educational and organizing tool throughout the country. He's from San Francisco.


Shortlisted for the 2018 Griffin International Poetry Prize

2018 American Book Award Winner

2018 PEN Oakland Award Winner

Winner of the 2018 California Book Award for Poetry

2018 NCIBA Poetry Book of the Year

"Tongo Eisen-Martin's Heaven Is All Goodbyes moves between trenchant political critique and dreamlike association, demonstrating how, in the right hands, one mode might energize the other--keeping alternative orders of meaning alive in the face of radical injustice. Eisen-Martin's voice is a chorus of other voices, many arising from prisons and landscapes of engineered poverty; his poems are places where discourses and vernaculars collide and recombine into new configurations capable of expressing outrage and sorrow and love. This unpredictable volume is equally a work of commitment and of wonder; no false consolation, no settling for despair. Its music makes a clearing in the dominant logic of the day. 'When a drummer is present, he or she is God // I am not an I. / I am a black commons.'"--Judges' Citation, Griffin International Poetry Prize

"Eisen-Martin responds to state violence, deindustrialization, police brutality, the prison industrial-complex, and more in this churning whirlpool that records the complicated experiences faced by members of the African diaspora in America. He looks to history, writing of 'the way condemned Africans fought their way back to the ocean only to find waves made of / 1920s burned up piano parts / European backdoor deals / and red flowers for widows who spend all day in the sun mumbling at San Francisco.' But as an educator and organizer, Eisen-Martin is also steeped in the current moment. The passion with which he writes calls the reader to join the masses in the streets: 'you are going to want/ to lose that job / before the revolution hits.' It's a slippery, complex collection; long poems of polyphonic voices slalom across the margins of the page while unattributed quotes pop in and out, like singular expressions in a protest crowd. 'We got plenty of pain/ to stay on this guitar/ for one hundred years, ' declares an anonymous voice in 'May Day' amid swirls of lament and celebration. Unabashedly a product of 21st-century America and fully attuned to its historical lineage, Eisen-Martin's impeccable collection is a crucial document of this time."--Publishers Weekly, starred review

"[T]he poems of [Eisen-Martin's] astonishing book Heaven Is All Goodbyes come together and read in a way that's similar to his speech ... he paints tragic pictures of death, oppressive systems and cigarettes dragged in order to breathe. ... The voices enter and exit without explanation and are part of what makes his poems at once urgent protests and jazz-like puzzles."--San Francisco Chronicle

"'Somewhere in america/ the prison bus is running on time, ' writes Tongo Eisen-Martin in Heaven Is All Goodbyes, the poetry collection I turned to most in 2018. (It came out in September 2017, but I got hip to it late -- this isn't science.) Eisen-Martin is singing in dark times about dark times. Every poem pops with rightly sad inscrutability: 'the city rain feels like clientele.' Nature itself: a customer database. Anna Akhmatova, waiting in line outside a Soviet prison to learn of her son's fate, was asked, 'Can you describe this?' 'Yes, ' she said, 'I can.' Eisen-Martin waits in line with the rest of us, describing: 'If it has a prison, it is a prison. Not a city.'"--Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune

"There is a sublime cadence in Eisen-Martin's work that is polyphonic, gritty, and unexpectedly fragile, like jazz. These poems yell, shriek, whisper, mumble in a mosaic of disenfranchised voices pondering police brutality, guns, the power of community, the terror of inherited addiction, and the cold nature of a city that blankets the poor and colored in oppression. . . . I don't know about you, but it's exactly the type of poetry I would want to be reading at the end of the world--the kind that holds a mirror to itself, then a mirror to that mirror."--KQED Arts

"Heaven Is All Goodbyes makes no promises ... Instead, it recites a prayer that doesn't expect to be answered ... The equanimity and confidence of these poems cut through catastrophe, reminding us to stay attuned to the present moment, sensitive to whatever circumstances we may end up in."--Mask Magazine

"Eisen-Martin's poetry presents a frank and unflinching portrait of the contemporary urban imagination unrelentingly ravaged by social injustice. He serves witness to how prevalent the imbalances of race and power in our society are."--American Poetry Review

"The 42 poems in this poet's second book are a volatile cocktail of surrealism, blunt images, raw observations and transcendent epiphanies. Eisen-Martin is a poetic Jimi Hendrix on the page and the stage."--Cultural Weekly

"More than grieving the dead and the ideology that normalizes their killing, poetry should encourage disinvestment in the state of affairs that normalizes death and suffering. It should encourage broad reimagining of social arrangement, and address itself to the forms of collective life that may emerge. Heaven Is All Goodbyes does just that, and offers a glimpse of what poetry might follow the dissolution of the current order."--Commune Magazine