How Language Is Lost is Celisa Steele’s first chapbook of poems. It is available for purchase directly from the author (use the contact form on this site) or from Emrys Press ($12 plus $3 for shipping, in either case). If you want a signed copy, use the contact form on this site and note that you would like Celisa to sign your book.
The title poem from the chapbook is included below as a sample, and reviews of the chapbook are available online:
- Scott Owens’s “Review of Celisa Steele’s How Language Is Lost” in Wild Goose Poetry Review
- Ruth Moose’s “Steele’s Chapbook Is Definitely Out-of-the Ordinary” in The Pilot
Praise for How Language Is Lost
“Today a sparrow, doubtless / a Yeatsian” a poem begins, one of many delightful, unexpected turns in this first volume by Celisa Steele–poems with form, learning, clarity, and grace; a light touch and a dead-on, unsentimental seriousness. Loss, love, language, poetry, religion may be the usual poet’s fare, but there’s nothing usual about the way Steele’s poems go. Here’s a wholly original voice, a poet who questions received wisdom, who looks and listens afresh.
—Becky Gould Gibson, author of Need-Fire
Whether in form or free verse, these poems give the reader a bounty of wit, humor, and heart. How Language Is Lost confirms that Celisa Steele is one of the Carolinas’ finest poets.
—Ron Rash, author of Burning Bright
“Energy is eternal delight,” said William Blake, and what I love most about Celisa Steele’s How Language Is Lost is its energy. She writes in many different forms–ottava rima, villanelle, sonnet, prose poem, couplet, free verse–and in all these forms there is a delightful play of language, a sheer joy at how language is not lost, how language can take any experience and transform it into passion, into humor, into fresh and unusual insights into the seemingly ordinary experiences of life from going to the grocery store to eating out. In this lovely and fresh collection, we see the narrator remake in words her roles as teenager, daughter, wife, mother, and, most of all, writer. This is a collection to savor.
—Anthony S. Abbott, author of New and Selected Poems: 1989-2009
In How Language Is Lost, Celisa Steele proves herself a nimble metalinguist, exploring how language works, how puns are made (“Sin Tax on Syntax Passes House by Narrow Margin”), and how the plasticity of English allows an expression like “luculent encomium of labor” to coexist with “Al Considers the Fucking Holy Spirit” in a single book of poems. A poet’s poet, at ease with villanelles, prose poems, and invented forms, she investigates the nature of poetry itself, experimenting with metaphors like ping-pong and a baby “being worked out / in the woozy womb.” Despite her title, the English language is more than safe in Steele’s hands. In fact, this daring yet accomplished collection could be titled Linguistic Paradise Regained.
—Janice Moore Fuller, author of Séance
A poet’s first book is a glad awakening, not only in her life but in the lives of her readers. We discover in these twenty-four finely made poems so much wisdom and delight that the only way to celebrate is to read them again, and again. Each time the familiar (“something small and simple”) turns to mystery, “transformed into something we can swallow,” and we are made, for a time, whole. Next year, and the year after, more poems by Celisa Steele. This is only a beginning.
—Emily Herring Wilson, author of No One Gardens Alone: A Life of Elizabeth Lawrence
Sample Poem from How Language Is Lost
“How Language Is Lost” is the title poem from Celisa Steele’s first chapbook of poems. It was selected as one of ten winners in the 2010 Nâzım Hikmet Poetry Competition.
How Language Is Lost
The Abipón had a word for
everything, even the invisible
amphitrichous spirits that
swam the Argentine Gran Chaco.
Wrestling, riding, raiding the Spanish for horses—
tributes to unseen gods (rabbit-like, prone to disappearing)—
gave way to farming, kneeling in naves.
Their own shamans couldn’t shape-shift anymore,
forgot the prophesied destruction—a vast yellow snake
swallowing rivers, trees whole—and crouched silently in the dust
as a clerk counted them like animals, like cattle,
sent his report back to court: 5,000 in 1750.
When King Carlos expelled the Jesuits in 1768,
half the Abipón had died of small pox.
The cleavage between this life and the old was complete.
Fifty years later, when a shriveled woman
with spiraled palm leaves in her pierced ears
and blue tattoos around her elbows lies on a straw mat
in a hut corner in Resistancia,
————————————————the younger woman—no relation—
cooking over a smoky fire and soothing a baby to sleep
does not understand her dying words,
her articulation of the world to come,
the world lost.