Photo by Phil Thomson
Winner of the Tupelo Press / Crazyhorse First Book Prize
Under the influence of broadcasts such as public radio’s "Marketplace" (a daily roundup of stock reports and business news), Daniel Khalastchi composed a series of character-driven poems whose recurrent narrator is physically and mentally manipulated while the world around him takes little notice. Through their chaos and horror, these poems ask a reader to question the ways in which our careening healthcare system, crumbling financial/housing/job markets, and war on multiple fronts are actually affecting us — both inside and out.
In Manoleria, the body, broken apart ‘in elegant stress,’ recongregates. Formally, the poet is taking us through the emotional work of picking up pieces. Despite the splintering, despite the hemorrhage, somehow ‘all is accounted for.’ A cardinal debut.…
—D. A. Powell
With composure so unflinching as to be unnerving, the speaker of this mysterious, deft collection explicates what would be, in other hands, unimaginable and unspeakable atrocity.… Khalastchi uses a steady, steady hand to reach into the quiver.
Part nightmare journal, part survivor’s narrative, this haunting volume recounts one soul’s journey through the selva oscura within.… [A] music emerges that bears ultimate promise, for ‘somewhere inside I hear calling a shepherd.’
Uncertain as to whether they are buried or planted, growing or dead, the poems in Manoleria know when they are pushed up out of the dirt by some unholy hand what they can claim is a world punctuated by gasps, loneliness, and shadows that may be nothing more than wreckage. These poems remind me of Beckett’s Lucky (slave, clown, stranger, preacher); they are as terrifying and beautiful. Like Lucky they bring with them an indecipherable hope. Like Lucky they know to be fully alive means to embrace the soft panic only language can bring.
—Sabrina Orah Mark
Tupelo Press is pleased to provide the Manoleria Reader’s Companion
in free, downloadable PDF format. Click the link to download. (144 K)
One Stone, Three Birds:
Because crowd loss. Because
empty. Because we heard it
working three counties
away. Because investors. Because
marketing plans. Because print ads,
interviews, because lights of all
colors. Because murmur. Because
talk. Because lines around
corners, because tickets sell
out. Because waiting. Because no
time for practice. Because opening
night crates arrive from the jungle. Because
chair. Because whip. Because tied to
the chair, because smothered with
meat. Because I wear the
mustache and tall leather boots. Because
nobody screams. Because children with
smiles they let out the lions.
A Series of Movements:
And with each step tile
lays out before me. It
pushes from the grass
clean without streaks. When
I change my path, the tile
keeps ahead. I walk it
over traps. Through the court-
yard. Around puddles and
manholes, straight into the
ocean where the water grabs
deep for the buoy line. After
every small movement, my
toes reel against the dry, caulk-
colored flooring. I stand still as
possible for what feels like many
minutes: terns and wrens picking
my side for red clams, the tide washing beach
up hard to my knees. Bent back from the
waist, the birds
fill me with shells until
my throat won’t close. I cough like
a night bell of Spanish maracas. A hall to dark
sea stays waiting below. My fingers are
boneless. I can’t scratch my neck.
The passive reception of torture in these poems presents an obvious and effective symbol for the dire effects of American mob mentality and its political/economic system on everyday people. These impossible situations also unify a collection otherwise driven more by music and lyrical leaps.
— Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum, Kenyon Review Online
He tackles the natural world and its forthcoming disintegration with a striking physically ill narrator, who leads his readers through wild and potentially destructive surroundings. His protagonist—distinctly masculine with eerily feminine echoes—struggles with babies, tails, rot and decay emanating from his sickly frame. The environment revolts and attacks our speaker with hysterical call girls, eroding sands, and torn limbs—both of the body and of the surrounding trees.
—Megan Fishmann, Algonquin Books Blog
Our personal decisions, despite what political discourse, or American values may try to teach us, inherently affect the communities we are a part of. Again and again in Manoleria, we encounter personal agonies made public, emotional agonies made physical; the speaker resigned to a punishment meted out by a community, often as seemingly routine entertainment [.]
— Adam Fell, H_NGM_N
Daniel Khalastchi’s first prize-winning book, Manoleria, might best be approached through a combination of folkloristic motif and Kafka, especially The Prisoner. The beauty of the book is that there is nothing, really, specifically political about it, and yet, like Kafka, it is entirely political. In contrast to Fabu’s Journey, there is likewise no specific setting or period. No specific reality, even, except the narrative I, which is not the author, not anyone, not even, much of the time, recognizably human—except in the fact of the identity’s continued use of, and enunciation through, language. And yet, in the cheery attempt to adapt to and cooperate with every horror that occurs in the confined landscape of his own constantly changing, tortured, suffering body, he is Everyman.
—Wendy Vardaman, Verse Wisconsin
The poems in this magnificent volume ask us to consider the nature of selfhood when the body becomes unrecognizable, a concern that is skillfully enacted in the style of the work as Khalastchi appropriates, revises, and dismantles received literary forms.
— Kristina Marie Darling, Colorado Review