REVIEWS & COMMENTARY


Excerpts from Reviews of Visitations: Stories 


“Poignant, exquisite, and endlessly witty.”—Kirkus Reviews, Kirkus Star, Listed in “Best of the Indies 2017”


“Like George Saunders and Bojack creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Upton pairs her humor with stark emotional honesty… Upton is hard on her characters, but she is never mean-spirited or ungenerous…. Visitations suggests that monstrousness is the purest form of honesty, the bravest kind of intimacy. –Fiction Writers Review

Excerpts from Reviews of The Tao of Humiliation: Stories

“Readers will want to live inside this wonderful book — not just in its parties and wrecked gatherings and sophisticated conversations but in the sentences themselves, which are genuine shelters: long, erudite, warmhearted and capable, brimming with scholarship and knowledge. In its own way, each sentence is a container filled with something revelatory.” –New York Times Book Review


“Poet, essayist, and fiction writer Upton’s (The Guide to the Flying Island) stories are playful, full of clever allusions that are deftly presented. Often these references seem to be the inspirations for the stories themselves, or for entertaining riffs within them. … This is a smart and highly entertaining book.”—Publishers Weekly


“Upton specializes in ending her stories with epiphanies that can be searing in their poignancy. These 17 tales explore personal and familial relationships with both pathos and humor—and all are well worth reading.”—Kirkus, starred review


“She draws her unforgettable characters with decisiveness, using voice, point of view, and a variety of narrators. Many of the stories are very funny. Irony, satire, the gift of the apt phrase, and the occasional slapstick scene will delight readers. The strongest of her considerable talents is the ability to create emotional resonance with lightness of touch through changes of mood and in situations of loss, humiliation, insight, and betrayal. This entertaining collection will appeal to fans of a variety of literary authors, such as Grace Paley, Edith Pearlman, and Louis Nordan.”—Booklist


“Upton elicits tremendous sympathy for these and other characters facing existential crises…. These well-imagined stories bear the mark of the poet in the best sense, and the reader will not soon forget them. They proceed by indirection, with elements that cohere only after the fact and open up further surprises upon rereading.”—Library Journal, starred review


Selected Commentary on Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles


“‘What if I won’t find what I expect when I open this?’ is one of the first lines in Lee Upton’s excellent new book, BOTTLE THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES. It’s the perfect salutation for a book that deals out genuine surprise—in thought, image, and feeling —with the formal dexterity of a Vegas pit boss. This is without a doubt my new favorite book.”— Erin Belieu


“Lee Upton is a poet of rare intelligence and craft. She has a cold eye and a warm heart, and her poems are well-made, moving, intellectually stimulating. Among my favorites in BOTTLE THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES, her admirable new collection, are poems that resemble an unconventional verse essay on a subject disclosed in the poem’s title… These are poems to read, reread, and ponder.”—David Lehman


“These poems have tensile strength and pleasurable intelligence…. The poems interrogate ways we used to live versus what we’re in the grip of now. And they question what beauty is, in a voice both droll and fierce. They give off a dark gleam.”— Amy Gerstler


“Throughout the collection, Upton’s imagery showcases the hazards of containment, beginning with ‘Pandora,’ the collection’s first poem, which gives voice to the mythically curious character, who asks, ‘why expect me to open this?’ Upton invites smashing the lock and then having a staring contest with the revealed contents.” –American Microreviews & Interviews


“This is a further example of what Upton proves to do best: mimic and play with classics and the greats. The final poem ‘Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May’ is one of the best and most staunch examples of what Upton has figured out how to do over the course of the book. It weaves classic poetry and paintings together by turning phrases and contorting them for the modern age.”—NewPages


“[As hard as many of the poems in this collection may seem, there’s a sensitivity beneath them which makes them all the more enjoyable to read and re-read—and these are certainly poems that should be revisited. Though each poem is free with the emotion it inspires, there are layers of meaning to pick through before getting to the heart. And the heart of this collection is as red and full of life as a glass bottle full of blood.”—Amelia Fisher, The Literary Review: An International Journal of Contemporary Writing


“[Upton] displays a lilting voice broadened by a knack for nervy, snare-tight lines that double back… The collection’s longest poems allow Upton to exhibit her talents for narrative, cadence, and wit to collect in the various silent spaces that their fragmentary and episodic forms create. Whether she’s writing against men who only notice her when wearing a blouse—’What was it about the blouse// that wasn’t about me?’—or devoting a line to ‘My father who fell down a hay shaft,’ Upton breaks into pockets of fascinating outrage by way of brief, brutal lines that refuse to editorialize.”—Publishers Weekly


“For Upton, the poem is not simply a place for initiating dialogue with texts from other historical milieu. Rather, it is an excavation, a bringing to light of conversations that have over time been fragmented, muted, and buried in the detritus of culture. The poem affords a liminal space in which the various manifestations of a particular line of thinking may be brought back together, reassembled. With that in mind, each piece in this new collection offers a confluence of texts, narratives, and voices that have been slowly distanced from one another over time.”—Tupelo Quarterly


“Her new collection…is a literary porous membrane, jumpy and bristling with the force of experience. Its forms of address and attitude are variable but always immediate. She has pointed out the use of ‘distancing devices to dissolve the contours of my own life,’ thus privileging the life of the poem. The contours of the life dissolve like dye into the work.”–Ron Slate, On the Seawall


Commentary On Swallowing the Sea: On Writing & Ambition, Boredom, Purity & Secrecy


“Lee Upton has written a refreshingly honest, compact, ambitious, nuanced, anecdotal, and capacious book about writing. It will make you flinch with recognition. It may also steel your resolve and steady your hand. I find it exhilarating and even wise.” — Edward Hirsch, President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation


“Books on writing are seldom as entertaining as the one that Lee Upton has put together for us. Watching her muse about each of her chosen topics — ambition, boredom, purity, and secrecy — alerts us to the pleasures and mysteries of writing and reading. She’s sly, eclectic, and never at a loss for bulls-eye examples. Our memories and moods are roused and revisited. We’re reminded of writings we’ve enjoyed and alerted to ones we may not have encountered yet. There’s not a shred of pomposity or self-importance in this wonderful rumination on a writer’s life, world, and surprised delight.” — David Young


“Lee Upton announces at the beginning of her marvelous new book, ‘This is a book about ambition.’ This is true, and it’s also an ambitious book, but an ambitious book that wears its ambitions, and brilliance, lightly, endearingly. I can’t think of another book like it–at turns erudite, conversational, anecdotal, self-deprecating, commanding, personal and polemical. This is a book about why literature matters, but more than that it’s an example of why literature matters. The best, most remarkable book from one of our best, most remarkable writers.” — Brock Clarke


“Lee Upton advocates ‘writing across genres.’ Why shouldn’t the poet write novels or stories or history or essays? As if to prove the point, here comes Swallowing the Sea, this talented poet’s take on ambition, boredom, failure, and secrecy, the four points on any writer’s compass. Full of insight, a virtual chrestomathy of apt quotations, this book sails across a Sargasso Sea of modern culture, docking at this port and that, pausing to comment on such landmarks as The Wizard of Oz, the poetry of Dickinson and Plath, the novels of Alberto Moravia and Ivy Compton-Burnett, and the sight of Elizabeth Taylor emerging from her bathtub. It’s a grand voyage.” — David Lehman


“This is not a how-to manual, and it would be a mistake if only other writers or would-be writers were to read Swallowing the Sea. Readers will find themselves becoming more self-aware as readers, not to mention receiving many reading suggestions. Upton ponders emotions and experiences common to all humans—such as those named in the book’s subtitle. Her poetic gift shows in her often sparse prose, which at times can stop readers in their tracks. For example, in the chapter on secrets she writes: ‘In a totalitarian society, private life is official business. Our most treasured secrets belong to the state.’”—Christian Century


“It is tempting to quote every remarkable line about writing in this book (for example, the line from which the title is taken: ‘whoever imagines swallowing the sea imagines powerfully’), but to do so would overwhelm this essay; it is a book to be experienced for oneself. Upton reminds us that the act of being a reader—of gathering these writers’ words and thoughts and presenting them in her own way—gives us some sort of ownership. Swallowing the Sea, then, is just as much about being a reader as being a writer.”—New Pages


“[T]hrough its simultaneously scholarly, kinetic and musical journeys through Upton’s imaginative universe, the book is again and again satisfyingly accurate in its portrayal of an artist’s inner life, and defends and celebrates that life in a meaningful and enlivening way. We are treated to not only her relationship to these words and concepts, but also to her great love of writing, which ranges from Milton to detective fiction. The writing is at every moment charmingly irreverent and dead-sincere, a book, first and foremost, for writers.”—Jasmine V. Bailey, 32 Poems


Additional commentary on Lee Upton’s poetry


“[Upton’s] poems about dreams transform the often mundane quality of life in an overly materialistic America into something imaginative and spiritual.” —New York Times Book Review, in praise of No Mercy


“The commitment of desire and design to new thresholds …distinguishes the work of several poets of the newest generation. Among these, Lee Upton most strikingly continues the urgent attention and proliferation of intimacy commended by [Denise] Levertov…. Upton’s new collection, No Mercy, amplifies detail into incidents of vivid otherness which must themselves be taken for worlds in which grief, though transfigured, is still grief, and joy, though anatomized, is still joy.” –Donald Revell, Ohio Review, in praise of No Mercy


“Her poems remind one of Joseph Cornell’s boxes, and sometimes of paintings by Magritte, in which expectations of scale and proportion are always somewhat out of kilter, and in which the line between art and reality is crossed and recrossed…. Lee Upton is a poet with a transforming eye and an unusual facility for peeling away the rind of visual experience so that she, and her readers, can taste the fruit hidden within.”—Robert J. Levy, Denver Quarterly, in praise of No Mercy


“Upton’s voice is like no one else’s, sad and funny and eccentric all at once, not surreal, but poised on the shining brink of a logic so unexpected, spare and original that the reader is constantly aware of the exotic ‘perhaps’ lurking in familiar domestic scenes.”—Dorothy Barresi, in praise of No Mercy


“The poems are supremely playful, investing the furniture of the everyday with such peculiarly intimate insight that even her riskiest leaps of faith feel persuasive…. [T]he language seems an exact reflection of Upton’s startling, invigorating vision…. She’s a true original, and this is a book to be treasured.”—David Walker, Field, in praise of No Mercy


“[M]arginalization and exclusion to the specific experiences of childbirth; crafts; female iconography; women-as-writers; and the ways in which she answers and unifies these experiences in a bold, experimental and specifically female voice—make this book a remarkable feat.”—Martin Walls, Sycamore Review, in praise of Approximate Darling


“[W]hile she writes in the lyric tradition of Ophelia’s songs, her work is delicacy grounded in strength,…just as Shakespeare’s character, on stage, is a real woman. For Upton ‘curiosity is the mark // of our relentless experiment,’ and she uses language to test the reality of art.” —Virginia Quarterly Review, in praise of Approximate Darling


“This is the third collection from one of the most generous, intelligent, and trustworthy poets writing in America today…Upton is among those poets most capable of ensuring the safe passage of American poetry into the new millennium.”—Boston Review


“Upton manages to transcend time, and formative subject. She gives the reader the experience of travel at the hands of an accomplished pilot. It is a grand flight.”—Black Warrior Review, in praise of Approximate Darling


“Sensual, intelligent, and informed by a desire to embrace that which has been excluded, Upton’s Civilian Histories is a moving exploration that forces readers to realize how many censoring forces compel them into various captivities of history. …. Like Thoreau’s Walden, Pound’s ‘Canto XIII,’ Rukeyser’s The Life of Poetry, King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” the essays of Baldwin, and Oppen’s Of Being Numerous, …Upton’s Civilian Histories bridge poesis and techne—the making and the doing, art and action, aesthetics and ethics. Few collections of poetry evoke such a compelling urge to live in generous mutuality, to recognize and love otherness in the self and the self in others.”—Boston Review on Civilian Histories