To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness


Product Details

$35.00  $32.55
Knopf Publishing Group
Publish Date
7.2 X 9.3 X 1.3 inches | 2.8 pounds

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About the Author

ROBIN COSTE LEWIS is the author Voyage of the Sable Venus, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry and a finalist for the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. The book was named a best book of the year by The New Yorker and The New York Times, and a best book of the last twenty years by Literary Hub. Lewis is also the coauthor, with Kevin Young, of Robert Rauschenberg: Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante's Inferno. The former poet laureate of Los Angeles, she holds a PhD in Poetry and Visual Studies from the University of Southern California, an MFA in poetry from New York University, an MTS in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from Harvard's Divinity School, and a BA from Hampshire College. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Paris Review, Transition, and many other journals. Lewis, who has taught at Hampshire College, Hunter College, Wheaton College, and the NYU MFA in Paris, is writer-in-residence at the USC.


"The exquisite To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness, is a book about how the dead do not stay dead. Lewis's elegiac and haunted volume . . . is another voyage. But the view is different, as is the destination: what Lewis is resuscitating here is a community, a family she knew or wishes she'd known." --Hilton Als, The New Yorker

"Lewis weaves a documentary poetic work. Evident from the opening pages, one of the central interests of this exceptional collection is migration: "Signs and marks/ and nothing/ with which to apprentice them.// Evolution--/ the migration/ of imagination--// the image just/ illusion: a profound, prehistoric/ technology of leaving." The pairing of photographs and text expand existing notions of how any single artistic medium or form can capture the nuances of race, family, and history. Shining with Lewis's trademark lyricism and fueled by resonant and inspired juxtapositions, this exquisite book makes an impact worth sharing widely and rereading." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Lewis pushes the limits of language and image, composing lines alongside a cache of hundreds of photographs found under her late grandmother's bed only days before the house was slated to be razed. A sense of loss and near-loss pervades the book. The photopoem does more than preserve--it provokes, mourns, philosophizes, yearns, and celebrates, much like the jazz of Lewis's ancestral Louisiana . . . Its achievement is cosmic and sonic." --Kevin Young, The New Yorker

"To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness is a hybrid text concerned with the recent past and excavating what Lewis calls deep time--millennia of Black art-making, community-building and innovation. To accomplish this excavation, Lewis arranges photos she discovered 25 years ago in a suitcase at her grandmother's home so that they are in conversation with her own layered, lush poetry. The result is a book steeped in a particular history--Black migrants from Louisiana living in Los Angeles in the 20th century--yet buoyed by a feeling of boundlessness." --Angela Flournoy, The Los Angeles Times

"Juxtapositions of text and photograph spark unexpected electric arcs, illuminating the photographic subjects' inner lives . . . Lewis's language has a washed clarity . . . At once authoritative and piercingly human, To the Realization of Perfect Helplessness is an extraordinary atlas for an unmapped world." --Sylee Gore, The Poetry Foundation