American Faith by Maya C. Popa
Maya Catherine Popa is a Romanian-American poet and author of two chapbooks, The Bees Have Been Cancelled, named a Poetry Book Society Choice in 2017, and You Always Wished the Animals Would Leave, published in 2018 (DIAGRAM chapbook series). She is the recipient of awards from the Poetry Foundation and the Hippocrates Society, and her writing has appeared in Poetry, Kenyon Review, Poetry London, and Tin House among others. She is the Poetry Reviews Editor at Publishers Weekly, and she directs the Creative Writing Program and teaches English literature at the Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City.
PRAISE FOR AMERICAN FAITH:
"These carefully tuned poems dramatize a classical sensibility shaken awake by the ceaseless shock waves of Trump’s America, where 'The season turns over/ with perfect indifference,' and even 'The Bees,' as the title of one prose poem claims, 'Have Been Cancelled.' How, the poems wonder, can one come to terms with the realities of this dark moment but through understated irony: 'The principle of the gun law is that anyone/ should have the right to buy what may kill/ a room full of people—this failure is freedom.// I’m sorry there can’t be more poetry in this.' . . . Popa’s questing and questioning lyric poems are kind company amid the uncertainty of the modern world."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“American Faith announces Popa as a debut poet whose compassion, intellect, febrile imagination, and sharp ingenuity set a new standard of literary radiance. It is wholly astonishing to read this artist (part heart-diviner, part brain surgeon) harkening her ancestors and making this poetry of witness, this powerful song of loss and rage and wonder and survival. That survival (‘memory, you crooked thing/I do to the page’) is musical, historical, epic and lyric (Popa’s work inhabits at least seven of the muses’ realms) and gives voice to what didn’t make it: a childhood tragedy, shadows of abuse and violence, the destruction of a child or a family or a species. The book is a world-traveling, time-leaping historical document, each poem a pin on the map of its self-interrogating, wildly hopeful journey to the center of a longed-for spiritual justice.”
—Brenda Shaughnessy, author of The Octopus Museum
“In these striking, memorable pages we are reminded that violence, both public and private, is part of what it means to live in America today: ‘A boy with a cricket rifle / kills his sister in Kentucky. / No teacher can show him / how to live with it.’ Another poem announces, ‘The government has been canceled.’ The dictator ‘drapes a medal over his shadow / then extradites the dead from purgatory.’ There are guns everywhere, in a variety of colors— ‘pink for girls to shoot squirrels.’ Even love misses ‘a shot for someone cute.’ At the same time, American Faith appeals to the senses with its strange and beautiful song. How does Popa do this? How does she find that that keyhole, through which the ordinary becomes poetry, becomes a terrifying and unsettling lyric hymn?”
—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
“Maya C. Popa’s clear-eyed lyrics register with steady power a spectrum of 21st century violences as ‘losses gracelessly accrue/without logic or pattern’ and ‘even the anchor/reading from a teleprompter/is surprised by what he has just had to say.’ In poems that take on the devastating pressure of climate change, gun violence, and our threatened democracy, Popa uses her gift ‘to anguish/and ascribe a language’ to what has been lost—to grieve and in grieving forge song. Revelatory yet emphatically unsentimental, Popa’s unflinching distillations illuminate the facets of our broken world; there is much wisdom here, and grace, and heart. American Faith is a fierce and brilliant debut.”
—Deborah Landau, author of Soft Targets
“Maya C. Popa’s poems move with a confident, quick-as-dread sweep toward an alarmingly clear articulation of what it is to be an American ‘under/ duress by a language, its failure to imagine the present world or next…’ Her lyrics address our huge unknowns, when ‘The government is cancelled/ but not the body,’ tides of unsorted information threaten to sink us, and in the poisoned sea ‘the shame is that the parrotfish/cannot be remade from scratch.’ American Faith marries a richly detailed music to this careening hour.”
—Mark Doty, author of Deep Lane