Winner of the Ottoline Prize, selected by Hoa Nguyen
Wendy Xu articulates the whole world by freezing it all at once, looking closely at its parts, and zeroing in on the one image or phrase or feeling that makes the day seem possibly beautiful under all the scaffolding, sirens, and other natural (analog and online) interruptions that make up daily living.
"Xu’s tendency toward abstraction is an attempt to protect (rather than obscure or erase) the personal, the sacred, and the private. In one fragment, the poet names her accumulation of poetic matter as “A catalogue then, of the present as it shifts into rose view.” To read this catalogue is to see the world transformed through Xu’s attentiveness to the possibilities of language in a surveillance-riddled landscape."
“Wendy Xu’s second full length book of poetry, Phrasis, is steeped in generosity and pain. It cuts through the page with language that boils and bubbles over.”
— Chicago Review of Books
"The poems in this collection play word against words, expression against frame. Is language a form of thought-bondage? How can poems escape and bring us closer to the personal and the possibility of intimacy? Phrasis might form an answer; Xu writes: “My source text was unresponsive and so varying methods, slashed it /pink instead”. Her poems provide a way out and in: they slide in the making, a kind of sleight of hand inside the mind of language, freeing us to imagine and slice or “likewise lurch/ and stutter”—marvelously so: “tenderly/ a finger set/ to music”."
"Wendy Xu's new book is interested in the fragment as the unit of composition to understand a world. With uncanny detail her images open and her diction blooms to build a complex psychology for the present moment. This is an interior work and high minded, full of daring and bravado."
"Wendy Xu’s new collection of poems sends a spiritual charge through the language we use in our everyday speech, and in so doing, illumines the various manners of our speaking, some hushed, some hesitant, and all of them as revelatory as snow that "proposes slowly to us an order.”"
"Each section opens with a short untitled poem, held almost as Greek chorus, setting the tone for what follows. Xu’s poems might, as the back cover suggests, revel in the fragment, but does as much in the small moment, composing less a fragment than a short burst that requires no further explanation. Her poems are wonderfully self-contained, yet interact in a way that the entire collection could be considered a lyric suite, composing a whole unit of smaller parts."
"My new favorite poet! Wendy Xu, through fragments and shattered (shattering) observations, reveals the violence and indifference of our culture normally concealed behind what we call the everyday."
-Chris Carosi, City Lights Bookstore
"Right now, I’m reading Wendy Xu’s incredible new book Phrasis alongside my revisiting of Dante’s Inferno. Xu’s meditations on political and personal ruptures, enacted through a dissociated tone while employing a sharp and searing gaze, amplifies the effects political oppression has on one’s language—among other things."
You Are Not Dead
(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013)
"That fluctuating space between the temporary and the infinite is an erogenous zone made all the more enticing when articulated so eloquently. ‘We have a lifespan and O how we live it out.’ Wendy Xu’s poems posit for us a future, a presence, a body resistant to the ravages of time. Mortality is a far planet. Here in Xu’s work, we are passionately, and gratefully, alive."
"In You Are Not Dead Wendy Xu breaks all the old rules that have never done us any favors anyway. She writes beautifully, noticing who we are, and letting us see ourselves with a little more humanity, a little more humor, a little more humility. I’m happy to have read this book."
"There's a wild and wondrous poet plundering through our lives, collecting the oddest and most significant things, turning our thoughts towards things we couldn't have known before she turned us toward them. You Are Not Dead is precisely how this book can get you to feel and that is an almost other-wordly power. The poet who imagines and builds these poems is irresistible."
"What I’m trying to say is that Wendy Xu has found the secret location where wisdom and the imagination connect, and she’s such a good friend that she’s giving you wisdom, invaluable wisdom, so that you can understand life as well as she does. And I don’t mean she writes an imaginative wisdom, I mean the wisdom she expresses to You, her good friend in every poem, is built out of a logic that could have only originated in an imagined world."
—Kent Shaw, for The Rumpus
"Xu’s poems deftly navigate the space between the often-obscured personal and the dominant external."
—Raena Shirali, for The Journal
"Bounding with energy, the poems in You Are Not Dead are like Jehovah’s Witnesses on amphetamines, beating down your door to tell you about The Word. Or a word. Or a whole bunch of words. Or maybe just to throw you a party that celebrates life and everyone’s eventual demise."
—Nick DePascal, for Colorado Review
"Rather than ridicule or even contempt, Xu’s speaker observes the event with a kind of wry wit and compassion, simultaneously. This is a work that never fails to celebrate its title cause–the act of being alive as itself an event worth marking and celebrating. The author has a compassionate way of giving the beauty and complexity she sees around her back to the reader."
—Melissa Leigh Gore
"The tremendous pleasure of following the vectors of Wendy Xu’s sharp and sparkling mind makes these poems transformative. ‘What if truly one builds an empire of doubt,’ she asks and so an uncanny world she builds that lives in opening, endless, glimmering opening. Elegant. Outright dangerous. She is leading my sight across our terrific landscape. No, she’s building it in me.”