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Because the Brain Can Be Talked Into Anything


Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets

64 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations


  Hardcover / 9780807119938 / February 1995
  Paperback / 9780807119945 / February 1995

In selecting Jan Richman’s dazzling first collection of poems as winner of the 1994 Walt Whitman Award, Robert Pinsky praised Richman for the “rowdy, restless intelligence” of her work, the “sense of purpose” in her poems, and her wit, which is “ready to question anything, including the poses of identity itself.” Indeed, these incisive poems, “attractive, flamboyant, and comic” on their surface, plunge into bitter experience—and survive it by means of an “ardent, sardonic skepticism,” a defiant sense of self, and pure art.

Richman arranges her poems in two sections. Part I, “Reasons,” describes her childhood, often harrowing family entanglements, the death of her mother, and her struggle to define herself in relation to her given world. Part II, “Excuses,” embraces the freedoms and terrors of adulthood. It explores love and sex, and rattles the boundaries between people in relationships. It questions philosophical ideals such as grace and personal autonomy, and sometimes overtly mocks them.

Ultimately, among the surprising turns of language, the hard edges and twisted aphorisms of an outspoken narrator, the sense of personal history re-emerges as haunting and essential. The book offers no formula for self-knowledge; it winnows and rummages and, finally, finds truth in irony. This satiric/sincere dualism comes brilliantly through in “Why I’m the Boss”:


Because the brain can be talked into anything.
Because I alone can forge my signature,
and my own hot tongue’s stamp of approval.

As in all Richman’s poems, the wise-cracking, urban-hip tone gives way to an extremely personal world view, and the raw emotional underpinnings are finally revealed. These poems announce a fresh and powerful new voice. 

Jan Richman 's poems have appeared in The Nation, Ploughshares, the Bloomsbury Review, and many other journals. She has received the Felix Pollack Poetry Prize, a Discovery/The Nation Award, and the Celia B. Wagner Award. She lives in San Francisco.

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