Agony is the first in a trilogy of long confessional poems. It uses semi-rigorous mathematical and logical constraints to view the author's life and body, telescopically, as little bits of time and space. Everything written here is as true as possible - that is to say, pretty true. It attempts autobiography as a refutation of autobiography, and an elevation of the self as self-effacement. Love pops up as a theme quite a bit. So does self-mutilation, etc. There are a lot of numbers, but don't worry, it's more about politics and fantasy than numbers, even though, as usual, they show up everywhere. Just like pieces of your body after you've cut them off and scattered them all over the world, and then go out looking for them again, for some reason.
Praise for Agony:
Steven Zultanski’s Agony is a guide to making millions with a startup that puts human faces (literally) on the windows of suburban homes. The key word here is "literally:” the literal is Zultanski’s most important discovery, a reinvention of Shklovsky’s "making strange” for a tertiary age, a time when the language of metaphor has been zombified (after first being deadened and then deconstructed). In a manner that parodies and surpasses the lunacy of American pundits, Zultanski leads us on a mathematical journey into the volume of humanity’s tears and saliva exchange in kisses, and the square-footage of breasts and pet-intestines to explore the Markson-esqe, Mobius sociality of the solipsistic self. This unabashed autobiography, told through a hyperbolic argot of tax-code and quantum physics, is a sacrifice that atones for the banality it is born of (QED). Using the body as a literal yard-stick - its intimate history of inspirations and exhalations, excretions and accretions, pressed flat against the world, as a face against a window - this book leads the advance attack on the insipid dehumanization performed by standards of measure, statistics, and self-help. Call it conceptualism, lyricism, the new literality, or agonic financial planning - whatever it is, Agony is not for the faint of heart.
— Matvei Yankelevich
The best way to enjoy Steven Zultanski’s Agony is to remove your skin, including your facial skin, and spill into the mathematical calculations of how many cubic inches of human tears it takes to fill a fountain. When you put your skin back on and go outside for a walk, you'll realize that the lyric poem has just endured a substantial 21st century upgrade.
— Robert Fitterman
The third book in a trilogy that explores the limits of individual expression, Honestly is an intimate, quiet, and unresolved little book about talking and listening.
It begins with research into a forgotten relative who was kicked out of the author's family after he was jailed for conscientious objection to WWII, and who then moved to New York to become a composer. From there the poem swerves into a series of minor-key personal anecdotes, interlaced with conversations with friends about work and relationships. Throughout, communication is framed by the economics and psychology of the home. Dialogue takes place in close quarters—constrained by money, space, ego, and empathy.
Praise for Honestly:
"Steven Zultanski is a great raconteur. In Honestly, he loquaciously monologues about everything from municipal corruption to asparagus horticulture with charm and authority. But this prose-like poem isn't merely a filibuster. As it unfolds, Honestly spirals closer and closer to the silence behind speech.” —Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick and After Kathy Acker
"Steven Zultanski is in love. 'When I was a boy I compulsively told my parents I loved them,' he informs us, then adds: 'I still have that compulsion.' With Honestly, Zultanski has written a deft, side-winding love poem (a true love poem) to urban life, with its apartment banalities and moving days, worried friends and fresh cuddlefests, troubled family history and film lore. He loves, we learn, in fits and starts, through compulsions and diversions, with a wry eye on the plain, everyday things—those 'details in stories traversed with other details'—that shine when they are remembered and held close. Honestly gives us what we seem to need most: the real and the true." —Andrew Durbin, author of MacArthur Park and Mature Themes