The Hearts of Vikings, Lesley Yalen’s debut poetry collection, articulates the ambivalence of our post-Romantic world. In which: our noblest act might be the result of a bad impulse and our best impulse might not amount to much. Heroes are cowards, epics are boring, and history is just a coincidence. The book’s raw materials are diverse–a twentieth century immigration story, a creation myth, and the writings of Helen Keller among them. But they are all examined under the same sensitive microscope, which magnifies inner conflict, makes it beautiful. Through Yalen’s lens, we are forced to question our own motives, face our individual responsibility to the collective, and own up to the limitations of our (granted, enormous) subjectivity.
“Lesley Yalen’s cities parse a prayer’s debris. We pick up bits of feeling, a name, dozens of wars, the felted night. Its vibrations are recorded in our bodies. We watch the shaking of hands and our own hands begin to shake. We wake into a tenseless century and our pupils adjust to the new light.”
“Lesley Yalen has eyes that look back into history, the origins of language, love, and violence. Lesley Yalen has eyes that look deep within the body, the family, eyes that look far into space. And having looked, she sets her hand to telling, in her long-awaited full-length debut. The heartbreak and humor of these poems–both products of Yalen’s great capacity for eerie honesty in the face of the confusing circumstances of human life–move me to all sorts of tears. How marvelous to be among her awestruck readers.”
“The Hearts of Vikings is a stunning book. These poems are intelligent, strong, and beautiful. These poems are populated by oceans and edges, numerations, notes, nouns, names, reflective humor, ideas of controversy, observations, reconsiderations, all kinds of actions, reactions, outer-space, the first people, texture, and dreams. Now I keep an eye on the break-down lane/For people who may need my help specifically/But the edge of the world is speeding, writes Yalen. Reading The Hearts of Vikings one will find its company expanding one’s capacity for feeling and that expansion is inspiring.”