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Roberto Harrison

April 3 @ 7:00 pm

City Lights celebrates No.23 in the Spotlight Poetry Series

Isthmus to Abya Yala

By Roberto Harrison

Published by City Lights Books

Roberto Harrison reads from his work. Introduction by Garrett Caples

A conjuration of ancient consciousness aimed at rehumanizing our contemporary cyborg condition.

“Abya Yala”–“land of life” or “land of vital blood”–is a Pre-Columbian term of the Guna people of Panamá and Colombia to refer to the American continent and more recently has signified the idea of a decolonized “New World” among various Indigenous movements. In Isthmus to Abya Yala, Panamanian American poet Roberto Harrison summons a mythic consciousness in response to this political and spiritual struggle.

In his poems, with mystic fervor, Harrison finds phonetic unities concealing conceptual oppositions he must transcend. Invoking “mobilian” as an ur-language against racism and toward an all-inclusive humanity–in opposition to the “mobile” of phone-mediated existence–the poems of Isthmus to Abya Yala burn with a visionary ardor that overpowers rationality through an intensive accumulation of imagery. They even sometimes manifest as visual poems in the form of drawings he calls “Tecs,” opposing the dominance of technology to the advocacy of pan-Indian nationhood by 19th century Shawnee leader Tecumseh. “Tecumseh Republic” is the poet’s name for a new post-racial, post-national, post-binary, post-colonial, holistic and earth-oriented society with no national borders, with Panamá, the isthmus, as its only entry and exit.

Roberto Harrison’s poetry books include Tropical Lung: exi(s)t(s) (Omnidawn, 2021), Tropical Lung: Mitologia Panameña (Nion Editions, 2020), Yaviza (Atelos, 2017), Bridge of the World (Litmus Press, 2017), culebra (Green Lantern Press, 2016), bicycle (Noemi Press, 2015), Counter Daemons (Litmus Press, 2006), Os (subpress, 2006), as well as many chapbooks. With Andrew Levy, Harrison edited the poetry journal Crayon from 1997 to 2008. He was also the editor of Bronze Skull Press which published over 20 chapbooks, including the work of many Midwestern poets. Most recently, Harrison served as a co-editor for the Resist Much/Obey Little: Inaugural Poems to the Resistance anthology. He was the Milwaukee Poet Laureate from 2017–2019 and is also a visual artist. He lives in Milwaukee with his wife, the poet Brenda Cárdenas.

Praise for Isthmus to Abya Yala:

“This astounding book works as both summation and revision of Roberto Harrison’s long-running hemispheric poetics, among the most beautiful and powerful of our time. Rooted in surrealism, the Latin American neo-baroque, and the geopoetics of the author’s native Panama, Isthmus to Abya Yalatheorizes its own mode of ‘Mobilian’ world-building, where the juxtaposition of words and visual art achieves a counter-ecology of ‘suprarational’ vision in light and shadows amid ‘the business cycle of terror.’”–Urayoán Noel, author of Transversal

“What Roberto Harrison accomplishes within these pages of Abya Yala is not some super-imposed current but fiery liquefaction that ignites transparency as alchemic kinetic.”–Will Alexander, author of Divine Blue Light (for John Coltrane)

“Harrison’s smoke of song somehow drifts above its own finite exchange of verbs, just as Abya Yala’s darkness undoes the isolation of original consciousness. . . . Harrison writes beyond the dis-appearance of poetics, where signs become therapeutic codes for experimental animals. The kindling of ash becomes something new and far from tears: we are the isthmus or what is left of it.”–Carlos Lara, author of Like Bismuth When I Enter

This event made possible by support from the City Lights Foundation.


April 3
7:00 pm


City Lights Bookstore
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261 Columbus Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94133 United States
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