Irena Praitis is a professor of literature and creative writing at California State University, Fullerton. A Pushcart Prize nominee, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Vilnius, Lithuania and has previously published two collections of verse, Touch (Finishing Line Press) and Branches (D-N Publishing), and a book of biographical prose vignettes, One Woman’s Life (Diversion Press. She also co-wrote Still Life (Calder Wood Press), a collection of translated works by Lithuanian poet Sonata Paliulyte.

Rods and Koans

Using word play, wit, juxtaposition, and the koan riddling tradition as inspiration, these poems trace the intersection of body, mind, and everyday objects. Exploring the personal and the ideological, they delve into the many ways the scientific, the political, and the philosophical infiltrate private spaces and also offer the hope that we can shape the spirit of that mingling and send new possibilities into the scientific, political, and philosophical realms.

“This is an inspired—and important—arrangement of fundamentals in an intellectual tag, a quick and constant interlacing of ideas to things, moments to possibilities, science to other sciences of belief and esthetics and desire. ‘It’s not always pretty, what holds us together.’ As it turns out, in these pages, what holds us together is, if not pretty, worthy of our full consideration. From elemental odes to precise definitions, rather than each acting in a vacuum, it’s the imaginative connectivity bridging differences that pulses in the heart of this collection. Through these pieces, we are edged toward a better grasping of the great jigsaw that is this world.”—Alberto Ríos

“Irena Praitis in her latest startlingly lucid collection RODS AND KOANS proves herself again a visionary, a poetic seer, who takes the games and twists of language and poises them in sharp relief, in shock of light, to get at deep heart truth. She turns the most commonplace objects into vessels of transformation, a kitchen sink becomes a microcosm for American greed, where ‘Drains throat more than water’ but a ‘river of waste we launch / earthward.’ This collection is a myriad of voices, a multitude of forms and structures and the philosophies of those who’ve walked these paths before and perhaps failed where we try again and fail some more—all woven into a tight and compelling narrative where the speaker asks the knives and flyswatters and periodic elements what does it mean to be human? Of water, what does it mean to be alive? Of salt, what does it mean to be home?”—Jenn Givhan

“From narrative, to lyric, to koans; employing allusion, disconnection, indirection, epigraphs, paradox, and wordplay (even the title puns); these poems invite readers to sense or ferret out connections, to decide how far down the rabbit hole to go—rewarding at every level: emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, sensually, in considering topically urgent themes—power, inequality, harm, healing, division, compassion, and acceptance, through quotidian and cosmic lenses, with lovely music and imagery: ‘I sense violence / in convenience,’ and ‘a floating cone / scooping lumens / out of shadow.'”—April Ossmann

The Last Stone in the Circle

Based on eyewitness accounts, THE LAST STONE IN THE CIRCLE chronicles experiences of prisoners in a WWII German work re-education camp. Delving into the murkiness of human experience in the face of suffering, the poems consider the complicated choices people make in impossibly difficult circumstances and explore the sheer resilience of survival.

“In her extraordinary book THE LAST STONE IN THE CIRCLE, Irena Praitis examines the nature of evil as a central paradox of human experience. The Holocaust is the poet’s occasion for an appraisal of social destruction. This serious, substantive topic is an essential addition to the genre of tragic literature.”—Denise Low, author of Jackalope and ShadowLight, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-2009

“These poems report from the human edge and as their readers we are changed. That they are visually simple is what makes them shocking—so few words revealing so much… of sadness, regret, outrage, pain. Underneath [it] all music offers itself everywhere. This is a clearly important book, worthy in its humanly difficult work.”—Alberto Ríos, poet, memoirist, Arizona Poet Laureate 2013-2015

“This powerful debut sears itself in memory, not by its vivid descriptions making the unimaginable painfully real, but with its relentless focus on seemingly inescapable moral complicity. Such questioning—and her universal compassion—argue eloquently the importance of Praitis’s achievement.”—April Ossmann, poet and editor, author of Anxious Music