As Mos Def would have it, “Hiphop is going where we going. So the next time you ask yourself, ‘Where’s hiphop going,’ ask yourself ‘Where am I going?’” The same is surely true of poetry. When I first encountered Jessica Laser’s poems, I was struck by both the unsparing intensity with which they speak their present moment—its anxieties, contradictions, absurdities, elisions—and by their ability to project an as-yet unheard speech, to envision a future, however fraught. “The human is the first impossible animal of the possible / Have you come to look,” Laser writes, with a less-than-innocent grasp of the power of caged creatures. Her poems are rigorously constructed for contemporary use, spiked with traditional echoes that give off a violent newness. Their lines pour forth and halt in rhythms that are part incantation, part polemic, each impulse undercutting the other. Their language belongs to the harsh and chastening domains of fact—the political, the social, the military, the economic—as (un)comfortably as it does to the glories and humiliations of subjectivity. These poems can be unwieldy and disarming beasts. In their dramatic speech, they trip themselves up on wordplay, catch themselves in the act of betraying themselves, confess vulnerability and take it back, hunger for power and embrace submission. I find their music to be thrilling and, like all rare original work, unassimilable—even, perhaps, a touch threatening. Yet even the alienations of the music ring true. “Into freedom I seek to ascend vibration,” Laser writes (twice) at the beginning of “Planet Drill,” her version of an ars poetica. I feel in her work a recovery of the impulse—embarrassing and necessary—to demand of poetry that it be a freedom-seeking activity, an always-compromised freedom-seeking missile. The vibration produced by Laser’s speech, in its blithe disregard for the managerial distinctions between fragmentation and continuity, partiality and completeness, stricture and release, is the sound of a new poetry of liberation. It never stops asking itself where it is going, never stops providing, in its leaps and collisions, a momentarily sufficient response.

—Mark Levine



Planet Drill

Into freedom I seek to ascend vibration
Into freedom I seek to ascend vibration
To ascend vibration, a glass wall long enough
Long enough we’ve waited, our heads under desks
Under desks the bombs will all but save us
But save us. But saved, the past is like a brick
Like a brick already I’m living in the house
Living in the house, I live under construction
Construction by those with their heads under desks
Under desks now chairs of the government running
The government running my front deck like a porch
Like a porch, the tomb. But what’s like a deck
A deck is evening, the evening chamber
The evening chamber as the evening draws back
The evening draws back to planet-original color
Planet-original color, a glass wall
A glass wall long enough to stand by
By then walking myself to glass
To glass the secrets don’t themselves opaque
But opaque an alignment of invisible forces
Forces then together that, forced to, commit
To commit martyrdom, or should have
Or should have martyrdom become its own martyr


Preventative Detention

The human is the first impossible animal of the possible
Have you come to look? They look
I warmed the field encroaching evil means
Then look, soon we’ll be finished. No awe
Preparing the wall that’s sacred. Leave him
Here for the night unless he ascends again. What
Did you want to be held down? A bell
To captivate the people called them
Yes to cast bells, I’ll partition
It’s impossible to pass on experience


Whited Sepulcher

There is a rapper. I don’t know him who keeps his word
in jail now, through no fault of my own
his beat came to me, tightly,
by any grasp I could have
it tethered, immaculately
and returned to the earth.

That all binds polarize, realize night cadences
out-whited white verse, supply lines on that breast,
supple, infested with hands with lines,
only that a small shovel, green with a green handle,
remains on the sun-face, tracking
its win through snow.

Imagine that one owns immediately, hears
the ground walk in, and at holding so much
fell to it weeping, “All on our knees weeping”
through no fault of my own
cries in the street come, tanks
I armored fall into the water

showing the French the Jewish
girl’s hair, among singularity
but not her own. Imagine
that it fall, all strands and flagellation,
for what I bent to were solitary, number
strokes, and I among them, restful on her back.



I’d like to maim my child Jessica.
A portrait does violence to nobody else.
I want her to be over, architect;
an arch we’re not through’s my youth.


The First Five Books

I have almost . . . I have almost . . . not all women
In the military embrace. Better I . . . ionosphere
No-sphere bright like here I’m not
Hitting on you, soft reflexive particles
But going to hurt the season wearing it

On the set of the movie . . . this doe just refuses to sit still
At a marble conference table
We’re thirty of fifty
In ’49 they promised me a wall
(I fixed the building) but then the field

Had heard sheep like a planet formalism
Imply another alien year spent gracing
When others conform to spirit in their husks
But xx sizes that flaunt their nation
In Continental colors but United

Arab I almost . . .
The technology turning it
And your hair the key
We dismiss the house
If the lock’s always on

Fire and the grass only salt
And the straw only suspect
A wave will correct the internet soon
And what will become of the American
Children? Who are not tourists


Changing Planes

The disappearance of the public reason
The disappearance of the Pacific Ocean
Wanting to mate disparate sounds he came unto his microphone
Not as the last planet but a latent surfeit
Hold me not from this childhood
That used to take the place of bridges in Berlin
Here it was another tarmac
And then the plane from Russialand
Then we held the plane American
And all before this was the world’s media
And verse came resolving more between posts
So like Icelandic music at the ends of each day
Distance is the duty and death of horses



There are two people in this
just about to hate each other
just so the fall models for me
broken density. Fuck ’em. All
I wanted, said I to the fly, I wanted
to hear. Now now, said he,
a well cursed sky don’t rain on me. Why?
Cuz rain’s not the sky’s for punishment
like maybe death’s not
so bad to the mosquito
so why guilt around.

Fritz the tailor and Saul the sailor—all
in their presence could no more wonder than
they. And so curiosity died,
died. Where I buried the stakes, I took
a walk, runners by, the tourist occasionally
snapping. And I, the only nonviolent
shard of society’s unbent will, took
away distraction, set the wind down,
out the cig, twang off, lay in my wanting
crumbless home, gates sturdy as I left
them locked, return unharmed
by the same weather and yet so
weathered I don’t fit inside.



Knowing you free most visual things
a channel more capable would slow itself to collect
but eternal persons, long the elementary way, alive in the way
piracy knows thought, thought it natural to be in a room leaving
guns where I drop them, most natural, for all your plants
for if I am holding their releases I should time
freedom’s withstanding vibration
live on me like a cave on the earth.
Privacy owed my plant an interior.