Asylum

A PERSONAL, HISTORICAL, NATURAL INQUIRY
IN 103 LYRIC SECTIONS

Forthcoming, Aug 04, 2020

This book-length sequence by the critically acclaimed poet is a seeker’s story, revealing personal and historical traumas and how we search for understanding and meaning in their wake.

In Asylum, poet Jill Bialosky embarks on a Virgilian journey, building a narrative sequence from 103 elegant poems and prose sections that cohere in their intensity and their need to explore darkness and sustenance both. Taken together, these piercing pieces–about her nascent calling as a writer; her sister’s suicide and its still unfolding aftermath; the horror unleashed by World War II; the life cycle of the Monarch butterfly; and the woods where she seeks asylum–form a moving story, powerfully braiding despair, survival, and hope. Bialosky considers the oppositions that govern us: our reason and unreason, our need to preserve and destruct. “What are words when they meet the action of what they attempt to modify?” she asks, exploring the possible salve of language in the face of pain and grief. What Asylum delivers is a form of hard-won grace and an awareness of the cost of extreme violence, inexplicable loss, and the miraculous cycles of life, in work that carries Bialosky’s art to a new level of urgency and achievement.




Asylum is a refuge; from grief, and from threat of extinction. Bialosky weaves together the big cosmic time of trees and the natural world, with the detailed, apparently ordinary time of one woman’s everyday life. The result is an exquisite contemplation of what it is to live after one has lost a sister to suicide; what it is to live in a post-holocaust world, and what it is to live among trees. The litany of memory, individual and collective, becomes fugue, becomes mantra. “Like trees, / we all eventually fall”, but we are richer with the quiet asylum of Bialosky’s poetry. Whether you are a yoga lover, a tree lover, a mother, a reader, a sister, you will find something to love in this luminous collection.”
—Sarah Ruhl

Asylum, Jill Bialosky's Asylum, is her strongest collection to date. Here she writes beautifully of a journey from despair through a dark wood, invoking Dante, Blake, and Paul Celan on the way. Memories of personal and worldly violence paradoxically enable her to see things in their luminous clarity: a fallen bird, a frail daffodil, butterflies mating, snow that tastes of rust and weighs on branches. So compelling is her vision, so urgent her perceptions, that her grief becomes our grief, her world ours. We are with her on every step of a search that ends in art, and in a language that can save us.”
—Grace Schulman

“Reading Jill Bialosky’s poems feels like taking a slow and lone journey into the depth of the human heart, yet all the while being accompanied and guided by an intimate voice. An urgent and expansive book, Asylum is a must-read for anyone who ponders over life and death and all that comes in between.”
—Yiyun Li

“Jill Bialosky’s Asylum is a collection of terse forms and psalms that add up to a powerful, full-throated deliverance. Each trope captures life and death matters—a singing, a keening, within each taut, well-made release. Rather than craving a physical space, asylum is sought in language, metaphor, meditation, yoga, query, and hope. And one of the joys of reading this collection is to feel its poignancy through verbal accretion. Asylum is experimental and, at times, nearly classical, but always intently alive with lyrical truths.”
—Yusef Komunyakaa