Basic Vocabulary

In a stirring collection of word-based poetry, Amy Uyematsu deconstructs human reasoning in war and the desire for power, leaving bare our most basic and intimate hope for love and safety. Both dissonant and honest, Basic Vocabulary welcomes peace in a time of uncertainty.


“Amy Uyematsu is an essential L.A. poet whose poems fly into advanced blue space. In palm tree twilight dusk, Amy’s poems reach me in spite of everything. Her figures of maths, her tropes of Zen compassion, the healing poetics of cancer survival and lived experience cut through the intersections of America’s apartheid imagination, the gentrification of every minute and every hour, the doom of lives lost for want of poetry.”—Seshu Foster

“Uyematsu begins with a list of the 35 most stable words found in human languages— each word begets a verse which stands in relationship to that other abiding reality—war. In this wise and gorgeous collection, she engages with language itself, entering deeply into seeing and hearing the ways that war shapes consciousness. Her work shows us once again that poetry is an enduring instrument for exploration of the depths. Basic Vocabulary both dazzles and devastates!”—Marsha de la O

“If you wonder what good poetry can do or if the revolutionary spirit of American poetry is alive and well, read this book. Amy Uyematsu is the answer. Uyematsu catalogues mortality and the human condition with bravery and grace. Whether she questions wars, explores our “human echo,” or stares down breast cancer and its aftermath, this is a fierce and crucial poet at the height of her poetic powers.”—Lee Herrick

“There’s a beat behind these poems, a rhythm that just won’t stop as one poetic invention after another screams or whispers itself across the page, revealing, once again, Amy Uyematsu’s love and fierce determination to never turn away, not from the gratuitous human stupidity of violence, racism, war, and injustice, and not from the insistent miracle life remains in all its beauty and wonder. We need poems like these to shake us up, and to nourish us at the root of what we are. Basic Vocabulary does all of that; it is spoken in a language we have known since before we were born.”—Peter Levitt

An orange sky and planes flying in front of it with black script that reads Basic Vocabulary poems by Amy Uyemastu.

Amy Uyematsu

Publication Date: October 1, 2016

Genre/Imprint: Poetry, Red Hen Press

$15.95 Tradepaper

Shop: Red Hen, Bookshop, Barnes & Noble

ISBN: 978-1-59709-728-4