At the heart of Joshua Rivkin’s debut collection Suitor is a profound wrestling with desire, history, and the big questions of how we make and perform a self in the world. In conversation with the confessional tradition, Suitor begins with a sequence of poems about a mother’s boyfriends and lovers, and how these relationships inform the speaker’s own understanding about eros and masculinity. At the center of the book is a lyric essay, “The Haber Problem,” that moves beyond the self and personal history to retell the story of the scientist Fritz Haber. Later sequences and poems reflect on the past with erotic directness, longing, and lyric intensity. With grace and honesty, the poems of Suitor ask what it means to be a suitor in the fullest sense—to follow, to pursue, to chase the inexplicable hunger at the heart of desire.
For opulence of imagination and spareness of language, for musical savvy and analytical rigor, for a frankness that is both tender and unnerving in its nakedness, Joshua Rivkin’s Suitor is one of the best books of poetry, let alone first books, that I’ve read in a very long time. His prose meditation about his father and the moral culpability of the scientist, his lyrics about sex as a blueprint of the psyche, and his nuanced understanding of how children and parents create the story under the story of our civilization, is mature, formally masterful, and refreshingly free of moralizing cant, blame, or the desire to shame. Best of all, for all its tough-minded skepticism, it’s a book replete with an undeluded hopefulness.—Tom Sleigh, author of House of Fact, House of Ruin and The Land Between Two Rivers: Writing in an Age of Refugees
In Suitor, Joshua Rivkin’s field of vision is lyrically sweeping, moving through a mother’s series of boyfriends, to the pursuit of revisitations with a father known ‘best by departures and arrivals,’ to revisionist history, the speaker’s own suitors—as well as the speaker as suitor, a word which comes ‘from the Latin secutor, to follow.’ Here is a tenderly quiet and rigorous study on human behavior in familial, historical, and domestic spaces—of the body, the house, of intimacy and legacy. Like a tinkerer with a delicate touch, Rivkin attempts to untangle the knots of a kite unspooled—’a kite / caught in a tree high above ground / and there’s no way to bring it down / without breaking it or the branches.’ Yet what is ruptured in these poems is also a site of connection: of rendering what is lost over time and regained in memory as a bridge between the self and the world around him; Rivkin’s presence and awareness are tremendous gifts. He does not ‘tal[k] around anything,’ rather, he moves and bears witness across time, in and though bodies, tender moments of love, lust, and disappointment. The ‘past is not forgotten’ and the ‘story doesn’t change,’ but Rivkin’s sightline is always honest, seeking, and true. His is an astonishing debut.—Diana Khoi Nguyen, author of Ghost Of and Finalist for the National Book Award
In this dreamlike, lifelike gem of a book, Joshua Rivkin opens us to our deepest humanity, which is to say our deepest desire and fallibility and want. Suitor is a book of so many selves, all wanting . . . what? Connection may be one word for it, but, it seems to me, the mystery of what we truly wish for is the beating heart and restless soul of this book. With critical rigor and rigorous heart, Joshua Rivkin holds the mirror to the whole burning trouble of what we’re willing to do to call the thing we most want ours. Sometimes the answer is nothing. Sometimes the answer is burn the world down. This book is a secret and a marvel. I think it’s what we mean by confession, if we’re really honest with ourselves. Which, this book seems to remind us, we so rarely are.”—Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of Rocket Fantastic and The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart