Winner of the 2022 Colorado Prize for Poetry, selected by Gillian Conoley
If we are always at war, is all poetry then war poetry? Adrian Lürssen’s Human Is to Wander is a book of dislocation, migration, and witness at a time of war—but whose war, fought where, and at what costs to whom? Born and raised in apartheid-era South Africa, Lürssen migrated to the U.S. as a teen in order to avoid military service at a time when the country’s authoritarian regime engaged in a protracted, largely unknown war in Angola. Years later, as a father of young children in his adopted country, echoes of everything his family thought they had left behind has returned: endless bloody conflicts on the horizon; an alarming rise of authoritarianism and nationalistic fervor; pervasive racism, inequality, and daily violence in a country whose mythic promise was once held as freedom, equality, opportunity.
In Human Is to Wander, Lürssen explores these echoes of his personal history within a landscape that is familiar and unfamiliar all at once. Neither the brutally oppressive South Africa of his childhood nor the precarious United States of today, Lürssen’s landscape emerges in the broken rhyme between “troop” and “troupe” where “our captions / are picture less” and “the plan to explain is absolute, but only an entrance.” His is an inner landscape as song no longer sung in a mother tongue, in which the human cost of war, climate crisis, and forced migration is “all part of the explanation.” Lürssen uses collage, constrained cut-up, Oulipean procedures, abecedarian, and other generative play to allow poems to emerge that respond to the turmoil and dislocation of this violent century, attempting to witness if not understand his—and our—place in it.
“What happens when the geopolitical collides with transnational migration in both actual and psychogeographical place? How would one write that, with what syntax, what music, what language? Adrian Lürssen’s Human Is to Wander more than depicts our complicated global condition; his book enacts it, word by word dug deep into sound and landscape, where ‘borders become / history or grammar.’ Continents mirror each other in continual instability rife with racism, terror, and war. And yet, a love for place abounds. How to write the human wander of a global non-citizen of no place, and thereby, place it so. An impressive achievement, a brilliant debut, both timely and timeless, this book recounts the ancient experience of leaving one continent to escape racism and terror only to find it in another. This is a poetry that recognizes that ‘to talk is to occupy’ while also reminding us that poetry is the oldest human ‘longing, to say.’ I could not admire it more. If you allow yourself only one book of poetry this season, make it this one.”
“The thoughtful, extraordinary poems in Adrian Lürssen’s Human Is to Wander actively engage the world in which we are attempting to live. In this realm are vexed questions of who is strongest, who exits, and who remains in place. Children are soldiers and ghosts, dying and caged. There is nationalism but also “landscape as song.” These humans not only wander but hum, have guns, nature, and success. They shine. This “unerringly gracious” work brings us to a place where “the supreme instrument becomes love.” In the final poem, it is suggested that “you understand.” Reading Human Is to Wander, you will find you do and you have.”
“‘Here is a map. Here, a spoonful of honey’: Adrian Lürssen’s astonishing book, Human Is to Wander, offers both. The poem is a map, lined by borders, overlaid by the armies, soldiers, and weapons that draw and redraw them. And the poem is the sweetness on and of the human tongue, the humming, singing, praying, laughing voice that both resists and is complicit with the violence of war, even as it wants to play and aches toward love. Poetic form, poetic strategy, discovers and recovers the aggression that lurks within human speech when human speech is tied, as it always is, to the nation: ‘to talk,’ Lürssen writes, ‘is to occupy.’”
“In Human Is to Wander, Adrian Lürssen has written an intriguing, urgent book that investigates history, not through history’s own tool (narrative) but through a series of “encounters” with objects, textures, language. At the center of this investigation is that elusive, powerful, seductive, often dangerous idea—home.”
Born and raised in Apartheid-era South Africa and then Washington, DC, Adrian Lürssen now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Fence, Posit, the Boston Review, Phoebe, American Letters & Commentary, Witness, 580 Split, and elsewhere. He is the author of the chapbook Neowise, from Trainwreck Press.