I said that these are poems of violence, and that is true, and that these are poems of knowing, and that is true, and then there is a third truth, that these two truths are linked, that the poems propose this relation, and, more radically, propose that this fundamental truth is the terror firma of much of our existence. For we know violence and we don’t and we can’t and we will and won’t and there is a violence also in knowing and this not, as we insist on penetrating whatever remains of mystery, or, alternatively, lie back and think of god as our witness. But god is a shitty bystander, who rarely intervenes and never calls the cops. Leaving us to weep, again, and try to scrape some lesson from life’s horror, again, to go dumbly on, again. Which is how the pain of the beauty of Yusupova’s work comes in, properly dialectically, its brutal little feet palping our bruised and brutal hearts while its gorgeous little feet dance on the site of the victim, forever feminine.
The Los Angeles Review of Books, 1.03.2021.
Indeed, the insistent repetition of key phrases is one of Yusupova’s most common, and most effective, poetic devices. In spite of their formal looseness, her poems are tightly wrought artworks; they are poems first and documents second. The devastating impact of her montage technique is evident in a verdict-poem hinging on the interplay of harrowing facts presented in dry legal language (“he took a wooden stick and thrust it with force into her vagina,” “then he withdrew this stick on it were G.’s intestines”), and the judge’s finding that “the vagina is not a vital organ,” which informed his decision to convict the accused of “grievous bodily harm leading to death through negligence” rather than murder although his actions resulted in “the death of the victim.” Yusupova’s presentation makes the reader feel queasy in a way reading the court document would not, and queasiness is an appropriate response, toward the crime itself as well as to the verdict. Art is supposed to make us feel.
Josephine von Zitzewitz
Words without Borders, 2021, May
The bodies in this book have vaginas and penises, they suffer from dog bites and rape and mental illness and brutal murder, they deliver dead children and alive children that they don’t know what to do with; and they experience occasional bursts of joy, those, too, provoked by the physical bodily sensations: a touch, a look, a good fuck. The poet brings the dead close to us and allows us to grieve for the ways they died, no matter how far away and long ago. Yusupova frequently draws on the language of news reports and court summaries, transforming our relationship with the bureaucratese. In English, her translators juxtapose vocabulary from different registers and patterns of speech and incorporate Russian to insist that the reader looks closely at the subjects of these poems in both their familiarity and uniqueness.
Punctured Lines: Post-Soviet Literature in and outside the Former Soviet Union, 21.01.2021
The poems are a record of violence, but there is a bright line that shines through to happiness that is found in community. The interweaving of these opposite emotions is what makes the poems strong. They are records of lives lived and lives interrupted. They are histories that beg not to be repeated. They are scars that reveal the past but also beg to be avoided in the future.
Apofenie, February 24, 2021
The title of Yusupova’s The Scar We Know is taken from her poem “the scar we’ve known about from the very beginning,” about a friend who heard voices. Yusupova didn’t know until it was too late, and she blames herself for having failed to prevent his suicide. Not all scars are visible; sometimes the most important wounds are the ones that are hidden. Though Yusupova doesn’t go in for Twitter-style irony, in its frankness and sense of resilience, her poetry has something in common with Patricia Lockwood’s famous poem “Rape Joke,” in which she writes: “Time is different, becomes more horrible and more habitable, and accommodates your need to go deeper into it./Just like the body, which more than a concrete form is a capacity.” Stories, especially testimony, of sexual assault and harassment have unusual currency in our society at this moment. On several continents, writers are asking what happens when accounts of crimes are turned into poetry, and when the writer’s body is brought to the center of the story.
The New York Review of Books, April 29, 2021