The Daughter of Man (Miller Williams Poetry Prize) (Paperback)

The Daughter of Man (Miller Williams Poetry Prize) By L. J. Sysko Cover Image

The Daughter of Man (Miller Williams Poetry Prize) (Paperback)


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"This whip-smart collection is a playful celebration of feminine power.”
Publisher’s Weekly

"What a beautiful book.”
—Ross Gay

"With the verve of Alice Fulton and the panache of Gerald Stern, Sysko keens into the canon, a welcome voice. Sing, indeed, heavenly muse.”
—Alan Michael Parker

Finalist for the 2023 Miller Williams Poetry Prize

Selected by Patricia Smith

The Daughter of Man follows its unorthodox heroine as she transforms from maiden to warrior—then to queen, maven, and crone—against the backdrop of suburban America from the 1980s to today. In this bold reframing of the hero’s journey, L. J. Sysko serves up biting social commentary and humorous, unsparing self-critique while enlisting an eccentric cast that includes Betsy Ross as sex worker, Dolly Parton as raptor, and a bemused MILF who exchanges glances with a young man at a gas station. Sysko’s revisions of René Magritte’s modernist icon The Son of Man and the paintings of baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, whose extraordinary talent was nearly eclipsed after she took her rapist to trial, loom large in this multifaceted portrait of womanhood. With uncommon force, The Daughter of Man confronts misogyny and violence, even as it bursts with nostalgia, lust, and poignant humor.

L. J. Sysko is the author of the chapbook Battledore. Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She lives in Delaware.
Product Details ISBN: 9781682262306
ISBN-10: 1682262308
Publisher: University of Arkansas Press
Publication Date: April 3rd, 2023
Pages: 124
Language: English
Series: Miller Williams Poetry Prize
“L. J. Sysko’s The Daughter of Man is a marvel in so many ways: its chiseled, rambunctious music; its precise and haunting images; its unspooling, rhizomatic similes; its almost voracious but somehow also sort of playful learnedness; its searing critiques of power; in how goddamn funny it can be—I mean, it’s kind of a clinic in irony; in the biting observation (of self and other)—while also, always, tethered to heartbreak and longing and hurt and change. All of which is ultimately to say: what a beautiful book.”
—Ross Gay, author of Be Holding

“There’s a certain slant of Brain to the effervescent, scintillating poems of L. J. Sysko, a deep glee and playful seriousness that make this work among the most Original being written. Musically audacious, these poems rove through the lives of the poet, rethinking womanhood in One Day at a Time as adeptly as in Greek myth. With the verve of Alice Fulton and the panache of Gerald Stern, Sysko keens into the canon, a welcome voice. Sing, indeed, heavenly muse.”
—Alan Michael Parker, author of The Age of Discovery

“With electric nerve, L. J. Sysko’s savvy and often comic poems careen through American pop culture and the suburban world that infantilizes and traps women. Sysko fixes her gaze on adolescent girls and their trajectory into selfhood—a path that takes them through sexual shame and erasure, and then, as they age, into defiance. Is it too much to also ask for wisdom? Not for this poet. She wields her sharpened pen and dexterous music, swinging from irony to grief to knowledge. This is the voice of a fully embodied poet.”
—Anne Marie Macari, author of Heaven Beneath

“Subversive, flinty, tightly wound, these poems spring open to throttle shame. Sysko takes iconic references and tag lines from common culture, exposes them to her wily intelligence, and gives us all something new to shout about. Her characters spin through time, never needing to be saved—they’re excellent swimmers in the ocean of language at every age. This is a marvelous adventure of a book.”
—Lee Upton, author of The Day Every Day Is

“Sysko’s witty debut skewers the patriarchy in poems that explore and upend the various societal roles women are expected to play. In sections named after stages of the female life cycle, such as ‘The Maiden’ or ‘The Crone,’ Sysko uses her impressive observational gifts and knack for finding the humor in the absurd to deconstruct stereotypes and present more authentic ways of expressing womanhood. … This whip-smart collection is a playful celebration of feminine power.”
Publisher’s Weekly, February 2023

“L.J. Sysko’s Daughter of Man is an exquisite dance in which form, function, image, and metaphor shape a discernible allegory of embodied personae. And while these speakers delight the reader with a variety of references to pop culture, they also serve as reminders of our shared historical narratives, ones we cannot let slip from our cultural memories. In ‘Kristallnacht,’ Sysko notes that ‘female Jews who did not have ‘typically Jewish’ given names were forced to add ‘Sara’ to official identification cards.’ The body of the poem reverberates the beauty and tragedy of ‘Sara to Sara to Sara/ and their/ blazing/ vanishing/ point.’ L.J. Sysko weaves together Saras’ stories, Gentileschi’s heroines, bubble-gum popping teens, and sagacious crones in a masterful collection.”
—Amy Penne, Compulsive Reader, October 2023

“The varied jewels of Sysko’s hoard make this book worth reading. These poems have wonderfully glib titles like ‘What’s stupid’ and ‘The Yassification of Dolly Parton.’ (I have to admit that, upon reading the latter for the first time, I yelped with excitement.) They’re sometimes marked by subtle internal and end rhyme (‘. . . laughing so hard / only he can hear. Rings mark the years’). There’s a close reading and unpacking of the acronym ‘M.I.L.F.’: ‘The M’s self-explanatory. / The I / is a boy-man’s first-person perspective…’ It’s worth noting, though, that these sugary pleasures of sound and humor don’t preclude gravity; within the sweetness, Sysko addresses such topics of as her Jewish grandparents’ escape from Germany (as in ‘Kristallnacht’) and sexual assault (as in ‘Date Rape’). Power and control drive this book, and particularly the weight of misogyny looms over it all, providing a veil through which Sysko can pierce, giving readers something to root for.”
—Ellie Black, Colorado Review, November 2023