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The Big Smoke (Penguin Poets) Paperback – May 28, 2013
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"Matejka's Jack Johnson is a deeply flawed hero of American history -- balanced between heroic success and human failure, between worldwide acclaim and personal evil, between black and white, right and wrong. The tension is so powerful that there's no putting this book down."--St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"[The Big Smoke] is a rich, sometimes disturbing portrait of a fascinating, flawed and complex man." --The Washington Post
"With the lean, long jab and agile step of a boxer, Adrian Matejka delivers this knockout dramatization of the larger-than-life life of heavyweight champion Jack Johnson. In dexterous interpolating voices, and in forms ranging from enveloping sonnets to prose letters and interviews, Johnson emerges as a scrappy, hard-edged hero--troubled by his own demons but determined to win the 'fight of the century,' a fight that underscored the bitter realities of racism in America. These poems don't pull no punches." --2013 National Book Award Citation
"[A]n imaginative work by a commanding poet who engages the history and mythology of larger-than-life boxer Jack Johnson." --2014 Pulitzer Prize Citation
Praise for The Big Smoke
“Just as we finally get a grip on the volatile Jack Johnson, Adrian Matejka, in his collection of poems, The Big Smoke, gives us a man wrestling with myth. He assays a figure bigger than life, and we see a legend shaped by American history—heroic and antiheroic—that is humanized by moments of poetic exhilaration as well as downfall. This poet’s Jack Johnson is made of sweat, blood, and vulnerability. Unadorned and honed, the poems in The Big Smoke are seasoned with easeful authority but jaunty as the Eagle Rock.” —Yusef Komunyakaa, author of The Chameleon Couch
“In this revelatory work, Adrian Matejka makes a chamber opera out of the highly mythologized and often deeply misunderstood life of Jack Johnson. Through the virtuosic interplay of voices, Matejka forces us to interrogate our own complicity in making histories that focus on the prize fights and the flashy cars while ignoring (and perhaps abetting) the intimate struggles and losses, the cruelties occurring in the places we call home, that make the rifts in our lives and our country deepen. This is a startlingly human book whose gorgeous language never keeps us from the harder truths and myths that make and unmake all of us.” —Gabrielle Calvocoressi, author of Apocalyptic Swing
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This is fifteen rounds of pure and powerful poetry. I'm eager to dig more deeply into Johnson's legend and Matejka's other works. As for "The Big Smoke?" Seek it out.