My Little Book Of Exiles

By Dan Alter

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The poems of My Little Book of Exiles sift through layers of diaspora and return, wrestling with the twin experiences of exile and separation. The diasporas of the collection take place in history, family, and the privacy of a mind as it navigates its daily work. In a set of “Labor Poems,” Alter captures moments of working in the snow of Wisconsin, under floodlights on the Kenai bay of Alaska, or in the
machine-roar of construction sites in the Bay Area, where he has worked for two decades as an electrician. Another set of poems confront the vision of the Jewish people's homecoming to their ancestral land. A philosopher of the "religion of labor"; and an assassinated Prime Minister are some of the figures which weave in with intimate histories of heartbreak and hope.
Coming from a home where the Hebrew Bible was a book of bedtime stories, Alter’s work is in conversation with texts as varied as the Hebrew Psalms, the poetry of John Keats and Ezra Pound and the songs of Bob Dylan and Bob Marley.


The collection concludes with poems exploring the homeland of family made through marriage and fatherhood, the strains and moments of grace that come with them. What can withstand the pressures of distance, the forces from outside and inside that want to pull us apart? The book’s strands weave a tapestry of hope even as the poems seek to discover finally what lasts.

Dan Alter has published poems widely in journals including Field, Fourteen Hills, Pank, and Zyzzyva. He has been a fellow of the Arad Arts Project, and a finalist for the Rosenberg Award for Poems on the Jewish Experience. He is a member of the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, and holds an MFA from Saint Mary’s College of California. He lives in Berkeley with his wife and daughter, and makes his living as an electrician.

 

 

"“Could I have come from nowhere,” asks this poet, who searches his irretrievable past and mysterious present for meaning. Through gorgeous, ambitious, impeccable lyrics, provisionally and with a deep reverence for mysteries, he finds it again and again. This smart, funny, sad, kind book is an act of salvage, and solidarity, a pleasure to read, a wonderful achievement and a gift to us all." - Matthew Zapruder, author of Why Poetry and Father’s Day


"In My Little Book of Exiles, Dan Alter “gathers all the departure in his arms,” and keeps “peeling layers off the future of his skin.” This debut collection sings in the form of sonnets, the “cant i”, free verse, and prose. Syntax enacts a search and return, performs in arrangement and rearrangement the compositions that scored the poet’s life. The close attention paid to prosody
creates a soundtrack that connects personal and communal narratives of the Jewish Diaspora, recounts travels across Europe and Israel, through familial stories that reflect on labor, the music of Bob Marley and Paul Simon, forefathers and fatherhood. My Little Book of Exiles will make you wonder where you are going, where you’ve been, and from where have you come--and is it possible to go back again." - Arisa White, author of Who's Your Daddy, Augury Books Home Is Where You Queer Your Heart, Foglifter Press Biddy Mason Speaks Up, Heyday Books arisawhite.com

"Dan Alter’s marvelous collection, Exiles, is a book about origins and ends, origins that recede as we approach them, and ends projected into a future out of the deprivations of the present. In this heart wrenching lover’s quarrel with personal and public legacies, Alter’s great achievement is his openness to complication and ambivalence, (see his politically fraught homage to Ezra
Pound), his willingness to admit emotional attachment to what he often intellectually distrusts, and the way the agitated music of his lines enact a sense of the present moment as an unsettled and unsettling effect of an even more unsettled past." - Alan R Shapiro