August Kleinzahler was born in Jersey City in 1949. He is the author of eleven books of poems and a memoir, Cutty, One Rock. His collection The Strange Hours Travelers Keep was awarded the 2004 Griffin Poetry Prize, and Sleeping It Off in Rapid City won the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award. That same year he received a Lannan Literary Award. He lives in San Francisco. (Author photo by Laura Wilson)
“His work is a modernist swirl of sex, surrealism, urban life and melancholy with a jazzy backbeat.” That praise appeared in the pages of The New York Times in 2005, but it applies no less to August Kleinzahler’s newest collection.
Kleinzahler’s poetry is, as ever, concerned with permeability: Voices, places, the real and the dreamed, the present and the past, all mingle together in verses that always ring true. Whether the poem is three lines long or spans several pages; whether the voice embodied is that of “an adult male of late middle age, // about to weep among the avocados and citrus fruits / in a vast, overlit room next to a bosomy Cuban grandma” as in “Whitney Houston,” or that of the title character in “Hootie Bill Do Polonius,” who is bidding “adios compadre // To a most galuptious scene Kid”—Kleinzahler finds the throbbing human heart at the core of experience.
“[August Kleinzahler] might be the best poet in America, I don't know—I can't trust my judgment after I finish one of his too infrequent collections, high on its cartoon-jazz fumes. It's been five years since the astonishment of Sleeping It Off in Rapid City, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry in 2008 (and should have won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer), and, well, he's back . . . If you’re unfamiliar with his work . . . start somewhere, for God’s sake—you’re missing out on one hell of a racket.”
—Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune
“Kleinzahler’s poetry, like his name, is verbally lush, veritably cornucopian and always promising more . . . If there’s a unifying characteristic to this ‘teeming,’ verbally high-octane poetry, it’s its ability to lean toward sentimentality without indulging in it. Memory, in August Kleinzahler’s poetry, becomes a resource for reveling in words and proper nouns that might otherwise seem lost—for revivifying the dead both within and without the poet. And the poetry itself delivers bouquet after bouquet of lovely phrases, ‘profusion(s) of violets, turtles, snakes and cranes,’ so that even if readers can't quite remember the lost world Kleinzahler is recovering, they can enjoy his skill, which is considerable.”
—Aaron Belz, San Francisco Chronicle
Farrar, Straus and Giroux