ISBN: 9798985662825 (2022)
There is a tradition of cerebral scholar-poets in which David Larsen is hard to place. As a translator, he performs sensitive work that preserves the alterity of medieval Arabic poetry without stooping to exoticism or hermetic dodges. His original poetry is an unconventional counterpart to this practice. It is profane, musical, and, as announced on the cover of Larsen’s 2005 debut The Thorn, “easy to read.” That book was archly described by Kevin Killian as “a book of anger, the fury that sweeps through the plain, the Abolitionist anger that made John Brown steal that ferry.” Seventeen years later comes Zeroes Were Hollow, a second book of poetry suffused with the wit of the gallows. “I was pleased as punch to let it lie,” says the first poem, “but then the bug bit me,” and indeed the book crawls with pests and vermin. By definition these are animals out of place, and ever-present familiars to the poet of Zeroes Were Hollow. Amid the laughter, it is a solemn revolt against nihilism, and a monument to civic animus and loss of life whose marble is still warm to the touch.
David Larsen teaches at NYU in Liberal Studies. His translation of the Arabic Names of the Lion (Wave Books, 2017) by the grammarian Ibn Khalawayh received the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets.