Your Face My Flag

Julian Gewirtz

Torn between intimacy and estrangement, eros and politics, history and futurity, Your Face My Flag is a riveting debut poetry collection. Gewirtz explores the place of poetry in a globalized era, shaped by escalating geopolitical tensions between China and “the West.” From the factories where iPhones are assembled to riverside idylls where men have long met for sex, these poems move restlessly across continents and through centuries. In a world that conspires to dull us against the particular, Gewirtz writes with sharp focus, recapturing memory and desire in stunning detail.

ISBN: 9781556596469

Format: Paperback


seven years inside no visitors and four hours traveling north for one
hour per month with him no more no
                                                                       phone calls four men watching always
just not the man you want      Last fall the fruit trees in the courtyard refuse
to ripen—In her verses there are no sounds none—spend a month between
chair and bed without sleep then

                                                                               two three four five catch
the infection from that skinny guard now it won’t shake—in my eyes
he has always been and will always be an awkward diligent poet—That summer of
crackdown nearly thirty years ago I

                                                                                     bought a bag of apples
one’s malformed tumorous a second head almost a second whole self
inside pushing out skin bulging near breaking—

                                                                        Travel four hours north

for one hour per month with him no more. Never. Four men watching always
just not the man you want.

About the Author

Julian Gewirtz’s poems have appeared in the Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Lambda Literary, The Nation, The New Republic, PEN America, Ploughshares, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. He is also the author of two books on the history of modern China, Never Turn Back: China and the Forbidden History of the 1980s and Unlikely Partners (“a gripping read” –The Economist). He co-edited an issue of Logic Magazine on China and technology and has written essays and reviews for publications including the New York Times, The Guardian, Harper’s, Foreign Affairs, Prac Crit, and Parnassus: Poetry in Review. He previously served …

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“Julian Gewirtz’s exquisite debut collection . . . [renders] desire and self-determination: from the ironically redundant evasions of Cupid’s arrival (‘when he is not / here, it is as if // he is not here’) to more adverse obliquities that gay westerners internalize (‘looking at you from across / the street in a crowd’) and that Chinese citizens must navigate as China descends into ever more dire forms of control and surveillance (‘To use a man for his shadow / is to make a thing of him’). In poems about the dissidents Liu Xiaobo, Liu Xia, and Xu Zhiyong, and about an iPhone assembler who committed suicide at a Chinese factory (‘When you place it in its box / do you imagine me’), Gewirtz, a specialist on China’s modern transformations, combats state-imposed alienation, imagining the inner lives of people that the authorities would erase. His poems on western culture make an aesthetic of indirection—a Vermeer’s interiority (‘that world outside where she isn’t’), a bog body’s ‘mute deserted face’—integral to his style of erudite disquiet. The effect is austere but beautifully illuminating.”—David Woo, Harriet Books, Poetry Foundation

“What underlies Gewirtz’s broad vision and imagination? Gewirtz the historian sees large without losing sight of turning points that could have turned otherwise. Gewirtz the poet sees small, limning his subjects’ constraints without sacrificing their freedom. As the historian searches for coherence, the poet weaves possible futures. The poet may be the better historian. The grace of the historian poet is to caution us that neither individual nor communal history is foreordained.”—Sabina Knight, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Wonderfully enough, Gewirtz’s collection is no epic, nor does it want to be. Instead, these poems revitalize an aspect of lyric poetry easily lost sight of—not that a poem must include history, but that a poem occurs within history and against it, too. . . . In this world where even the weather can be weaponized (see ‘Own Weather’), Gewirtz writes lyrics not to spite history, but despite it. His vision recalls Wallace Stevens’s definition of lyric work: ‘A violence within that protects us from a violence without.’ The hope here isn’t to resolve or absolve us of our human complexity, but the ethic is better: to keep it open.”—Dan Beachy-Quick, Colorado Review

“I am entranced by the erudition and imagination of Julian Gewirtz’s Your Face My Flag. In powerful short lyrics that compress feeling into something lapidary or in longer sequences that give us multiple perspectives on desire, history, war, and myth, Gewirtz strikes me with the scale of his thinking, drawing equally from autobiography and from his vast expertise on Chinese history and politics, but never foregoing pleasure, humanity, and the primacy of the senses.”—Richie Hoffman, Chicago Review of Books

“In a collection that’s vividly detailed and layered, Gewirtz proves to be a wonderful storyteller, covering a wide range of subjects and frequently addressing social justice issues. Recommended for all collections.” — Library Journal

“I absolutely loved the poetry collection Your Face My Flag from Julian Gewirtz. Beautiful, subtle poems about art, travel, love, and the distances we try to cross.”—Molly Dektar, BiblioLifestyle

The new world was my husband,” writes Julian Gewirtz, “…like a surgeon specializing in the removal of voice.” These poems are uneasy relations between superpowers, studies in diplomacy and international trade made personal. Their sweep is historical; tone, erotic; mind, vast. In a world of invasive policing and artificial intelligence, Gewirtz makes a passionate case for our fragile human selves. It is an enchanting and affirming sensibility at work. –D.A. Powell, author of Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys

“Gewirtz’s courageous collection of poems spans history, memory, and desire. It invents a language to describe the injustice and cruelty below the surface of the global economy and restore a humanity to its victims. These deep and allusive poems, in dialogue with Shakespeare and Whitman, are at the same time unflinchingly attentive to the present moment and what Gewirtz calls ‘history on the loose’. Ultimately, his poems express what it might mean to be a human and a citizen in a world driven by the forces of unchecked technological advancement.”—Xiaolu Guo, author of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Nine Continents

“There’s astonishing range to Julian Gewirtz’s Your Face My Flag, from technology’s dehumanizing fallout to the weaponizing of the weather itself, from the history of relations between China and the West to sexual cruising. The poems explore the blur of desire and politics, of intimacy and empire, and in so doing, they make not just a space for the erotic but an argument for the erotic as strange restive haven, as permission: ‘Everyone who loves me/begs me not to do/the dangerous thing.//Only you would let me.’ I’m grateful for that—grateful, too, for the risks and provocations to which Gewirtz invites us in this resonant debut.”—Carl Phillips, author of Then the War: And Selected Poems, 2007–2020

“Your Face My Flag is inflected with the inescapable desires that pulse through political urgencies, the contradictions in the laws of love, a self-aware lyric position. He writes “To use a man for his shadow/ is to make a thing of him,” a line that encapsulates the tender attention and thoughtfulness he brings to this complex subject.” –Carmen Gimenez Smith, author of Be Recorder

“Adviser to the Biden administration on China, international affairs specialist Julian Gewirtz portrays that country’s unacknowledged labor force in Your Face My Flag.” —Library Journal

“In a global moment dominated by geopolitics among nations and ceaseless technological change, we have an almost desperate need for poetry, to remind us of our shared inwardness. Your Face My Flag fulfills that deepest human need.” –John Delury, Global Asia