Set in the author’s native New England, Julie Agoos’s position in Property is less as a first-person lyric speaker than as an acute listener to the layered history of small and large violences that repeatedly ignite American life. The collection is structured as a progression of poems that invoke oral history, gossip, legal transcript, and diary writing, and arrive, in “Deposition,” at the story of a particular, explosive, and horrific local crime. Property‘s subject is historical as it is political: while Agoos explores how the past inscribes and disturbs the present, she interrogates our homegrown social and racial divides, and focuses on the ethics of living in a world of ubiquitous war. Her images of natural beauty join a plain style derived from the rhythms of vernacular speech to challenge the complacencies and consequences of American identity.
“Form, too, is an ethical choice. Forced speech, broken speech, mixed agendas, disrupted lines of thought and realms of discourse: these often have more to say about the dispositions of power and bad conscience among us than do any number of explicit revelations… The shadows of racial hatred, domestic dysfunction, and ostracism haunt the page [in Property]. The push and pull of forensic inquiry assumes its own kind of violence, depriving speakers of their natural refuge in silence and private sorrow. Reticence mingles with concealment, good faith with bad, ‘benefit of the doubt’ with hypocrisy. No one is exempt… The deep brilliance of this book is indistinguishable from its ethical subtlety. Agoos distills the simplest contours of human speech—fragile, imperfect, impeded—to render a complex portrait of human community. Her speakers are sometimes capable of startling penetration; they are often inarticulate: both states become in the hands of this remarkable poet a species of eloquence.” —Linda Gregerson
“Her language is simple, sensuous, and concrete, with a quiet lyricism that approaches radiance.” —Partisan Review