Architecture of Dust
by Chike Nzerue
Published: April 2023
“The poems in Chike Nzerue’s Architecture of Dust attend to the senses in the ways only a physician-poet can: that is to say, they blur the boundaries between feeling and intellect, sensation and abstraction, and so forth. The result is a collection that resists the intelligence, as Wallace Stevens exhorts, ‘almost successfully,’ and in doing so, guides readers toward a space of underexplored experiential terrain. Moreover, though Nzerue is a Romantic at heart — nods to Keats abound — he never gives in to that mode’s troubling flourishes or indulgences. Rather, these poems bring us to the edge of reality full of pain, but rather than beautify it, or look away, they invite us to probe the intricacies of strong feeling, revealing its centrality to human feeling and human being.”
“The best of these poems sparkle with arresting images and recall Okigbo’s incantatory power. Nzerue displays versatility as he fashions memory, myth, and history into poems that evoke innocence, nostalgia, and loss.”
—Okey Ndibe, author of Foreign Gods, Inc.
“Chike Nzerue is a master smithy of pleasing sonic combinations. ‘. . . of a centurion in the salt wars of abstinence / that covered enough miles to make Pheidippides jealous,’ he writes. I find myself basking in the afterglow of assonant combinations. This book is a pleasure!”
—Kyle McCord, author of Reunion of the Good Weather Suicide Cult
“If there were ever a collection that captured so elegiacally one’s interactions with and responses to the intricacies of love, belonging, death, and acceptance, Chike Nzerue’s Architecture of Dust is just that book. Largely written from a physician’s perspective, Nzerue’s poems examine the fragility of our bodies, looking at the death of a sibling, the remorse that follows a misdiagnosis, the often predictable and debilitating effects of middle age, and the harsh realities of cancer. But Nzerue’s talent lies in his ability to move beyond the clinical lens, and whether traversing the speaker’s home continent of Africa, the U.S. Midwest, Las Vegas, or the mazes of the human heart, Architecture of Dust always focuses on what one can do to never let regret linger longer than it needs to. These poems are medicine for a wounded world. Here is our chance to heal.”
—Esteban Rodríguez, author of The Valley and Before the Earth Devours Us
“If the physical body—its processes, its pain, its generational wisdom—has a language of its own, nephrologist-poet Chike Nzerue is its translator. In ‘Stethoscope,’ the ubiquitous tool becomes a metaphor for listening to the soul of both patient and physician—‘When I lend you my ears, / you harvest rhapsodies / of wholeness / or glean blue songs / for the broken parts’—while in ‘Henrietta Lacks,’ the immortal Hela cell takes the place of Keats’s Grecian urn as an occasion for a meditation on art, death, and truth (indeed, Keats’ brief career as a surgeon’s assistant is not lost on Nzerue). In addition to his medical references, Nzerue’s artistic touchstones bridge past and present: here Tupac, Rihanna, and Nipsey Hussle take their places in the poetic pantheon alongside Keats, Dickinson, and Williams. Architecture of Dust is also a paean to Nzerue’s native Nigeria, as well as a lament for the years spent away from it: this collection embodies the ‘dueling seas’ of geography and culture that meet to create a storm in the heart.”
Architecture of Dust is a collection of poems that transport the reader on a literary journey of discovery through loss, love, family dispersion, and immigration. These poems offer an unflinching portrait of colonial violence, cultural disruptions, and racism, while making innovative leaps of faith with metaphor and language. Yet they are suffused with an alchemical admixture of tenderness, violence, despair, and hope, as testament to our resilience. Chike Nzerue brings a fresh, wild imagination to a chronicle of life’s joys and travails, nature’s beauty and treacheries, ushering the reader into worlds peopled with the triumphant, the wounded in their craters, and the healers who tend them with hope and love.
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