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Quantum Lyrics

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Employing both narrative and cinematic structure, A. Van Jordan re-creates the lives of his subjects: Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, comic-book superheroes (The Green Lantern, The Atom), along with aspects of himself revealed in poems of recollection and loss. With lyric intensity he suggests that contemporary physicists are also metaphysical poets.

112 pages, Hardcover

First published July 30, 2007

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A. Van Jordan

11 books25 followers

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5 stars
67 (34%)
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68 (34%)
3 stars
40 (20%)
2 stars
19 (9%)
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3 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
Profile Image for James.
117 reviews49 followers
March 2, 2008
A. Van Jordan is a damn fine poet.
B. And I dare you to type his name at the beginning of a sentence and press return because due to the nature of Jordan’s name your word processor will most likely predict the formatting you see here.
C. Which is a little inappropriate and entirely wrong.
D. But there you have it, Van. Even Your Name has stirred a poetic form.

If Americans are getting dumber and not reading, then they’re certainly not reading poetry. And I can’t think of a medium more appropriate for American’s short attention span. In the hands of a good poet, a couple of lines, a few stanzas are all you need for a hell of a story.

I fucking love poetry. And I love A. Van Jordan’s. B. It’s good. He is the best kind of poet, distilling wisdom & observation into beautiful language. Another definition for poetry I know not.

In his perfectly titled most recent collection, Quantum Lyrics, Jordan is a great storyteller, combining Albert Einstein and physics, The Atom and comic book heroes, love and romance, and race and racism into poignant poems that are both personal and universal, concrete and abstract. Despite traversing such varied, disparate themes as science, racism, music, and love, Jordan achieves cohesion in his creative, imaginative prose; his poetry.

It is a joyous thrill to be along for the linguistic ride and daring formalistic adventure. Jordan uses the language of screenplays and films to inform his poems. He starts poems with smash cuts, using “CUT TO:”

“Everything we do in life comes down to experiments/with love and curiosities. Lives should be experienced as two children masquerading as adults. Although the public reads the work of scientists and poets, this they don’t understand.”

There are poems of dialogue and slug lines of description with dates and times setting the scenes of his work.

“How revolutionary an act - /for saying, simply, what’s complicated/about love and war. An elegant equation/can sum it up in a few factors,/but no one can do the math.”

“Working an equation is as tedious as a comedian/working a room, timing when to drop/the solution to our worries so profoundly we rear back/and laugh at them. Or, for those without/a sense of humor, math can be as simple as buttoning/a blouse, really: after you misfeed the first button,/though, every move of the hand, no matter how sincere,/becomes a lie.”

It’s all right here.

Life is long division and A. Van Jordan is doing the math with poetry, adding it all up on his fingers and his toes and everything else he needs.

And thank god.
Profile Image for Terry.
104 reviews5 followers
March 7, 2013
I will be honest, I was expecting a bunch of lyrical calisthenics. Pyrotechnics, flashes, episodic visions. But all be told, this collection was much more of a slow burner, more meditative and deliberate. Methodical. It was deeply affecting, and also many realize how much of a share contact with the author given I too am black and I too I'm almost 40. I am mostly a fan of the poet Rilke and his high vatic voice. But here, you find a poet trying to be no one but himself, resonating with his own set of demons and memories from his past. At times I found myself in my mind I watching a set of black-and-white newsreels from the post war or World War II era. I found myself in tears with the conversations between Einstein and his wife, both the first and the second. I usually hate plainspoken poetry but here I found someone who is very deliberate and also measured. Here's a man was found his place within his art. No, probably not the best set of poems ever written. Still it occupies a very substantial, and significant space within the the scope which the poet set forth. He has left me curious and wanting more...
Profile Image for Tara Betts.
Author 31 books83 followers
July 31, 2007
In QUANTUM LYRICS, Jordan is probably doing his most skillful blending of personal narrative, persona poem and historically-influenced poems. I really enjoyed this delicate balance in Natasha Trethewey's NATIVE GUARD, but it's really the poems like "Que Serra Serra," "The First Law of Motion" and the whole Einstein series. Apparently, the life of Einstein is just as interesting as his political stances. Not only did Einstein take vocal stances against racism, but his first wife Mileva Maric was a mathmatician in her own right who worked with him on experiments and was eventually given his Nobel Prize money as they had agreed upon before their divorce. The poems reflect this story in image & metaphor & irony, but it's also about the poet finding balance in his own world in other poems like "Black Light." He also has DC Comics superhero poems in the voice of Flash, Green Lantern and so fittingly Atom. Clearly, this was influenced by Jordan's reading of James Kakalios' THE PHYSICS OF SUPERHEROES along with several other books that he cites. I thought it was worth reading and revisiting, much like his two earlier collections RISE and M-A-C-N-O-L-I-A.
Profile Image for Kelli.
492 reviews6 followers
September 20, 2015
Superheroes? Feynman and Einstein? German cinema? Jazz and R&B? All of these and more are topics in Quantum Lyrics by A. Van Jordan. Jordan speaks about his awkward adolescence, racism, and random encounters at fast food joints. He also writes poems about scenes in comic books, exploring their implications and the inner monologue of the heroes. The works I found to be both brilliant and most interesting were his series of poems based on Einstein's life: his relationships and infidelity, his theorems, his political activism. I would recommend this to any lovers of poetry as well as any science or superhero-minded geeks.

Men behave as particles do
while being observed in light:
they respond differently in the
dark when you can't watch how they move.

Or this line from Thought Experiment #2: Toward a Unified Theory
Let's say a fist comes toward your lips and you can't lean away
fast enough, because you're carrying that placard for peace.
It's not the mass of the fist that will kill you,
but the speed at which it comes
upon seeing your Jewish hair or black face.
Profile Image for Janie.
44 reviews3 followers
February 18, 2008
loved the reach of Macnolia, and how there were so many stories that seemed to get told through Van Jordan's forms and characters. Quantum Lyrics has some splendid sections, but I feel like some sections are too held back, or sculpted. It's a wonderful book, and must be read ... the Einstein letters are amazing.
Profile Image for Trin.
1,841 reviews565 followers
December 12, 2009
Poetry. Jordan writes about science, superheros, and race in various combinations, some of which seem like they shouldn’t work but do, almost all of which are incredibly thinky and cool. As I’m writing this, I really wish I still had this book to look through and reread; it’s one I really wish I could have stolen from the library.
13 reviews3 followers
June 26, 2015
Wonderful book of poetry, especially his Einstein poems. Unlike most poetry books, which feel like books about trees and nothing much else, Van Jordan takes what is familiar to me and mine, comics, history, culture, and morphs that for his poems. Worth a read.
Profile Image for Michael Mann.
9 reviews1 follower
August 15, 2015
Fascinating book of poetry. Mixing reflections on the death of his father, the internal struggles of The Flash, The Green Lantern, and The Atom, and a long series of pieces about Einstein and his love life. It works brilliantly.
Profile Image for Mark.
15 reviews9 followers
December 17, 2007
Profile Image for Danielle.
22 reviews4 followers
January 5, 2009
Poetry derived from the influence of quantum physics and DC comics. How can you not love that?
Profile Image for Ava Butzu.
599 reviews23 followers
September 5, 2011
Holy zeus. This is a terrifically configured symphony of poems. Coolest concept for organizing life narratives.
Profile Image for Jade.
150 reviews
March 18, 2012
These poems were absolutely gorgeous. I'm so glad I read this book.

38 reviews
November 27, 2014
Exhilarating. I've never used that word to describe anything before, but it suits this book best.
Profile Image for Anna.
92 reviews25 followers
August 13, 2008
Quantum Lyrics in Flux

Quantum Lyrics explores the poetic in scientific polemics. Jordan writes in equations, including historical figures, comic book characters, the speaker’s family and acquaintances. Certain pieces, specifically “R&B” and “The Green Lantern Unlocks the Secrets of Black Body Theory,” stand out, capturing the simplicity, elegance, and austere beauty (and humor) of the scientific. Other poems seem pedantic in comparison, as if they were merely an exercise in completion.

As a volume of work, Quantum Lyrics feels poorly organized. In some sections, he moves chronologically through time. During others, he favors thematic grouping. To his credit, Jordan uses head notes to orient the reader. He even goes so far to include a notes section at the end of the volume, but omits the corresponding in-text references that would anchor their functionality. It is of note that many poems were published singularly and read well independently from the others. In some respects, the project seems like brainchild of a gifted poet in love or in mourning—the clarity of his vision circumstantially skewed.
Profile Image for Abraham.
Author 3 books15 followers
March 7, 2008
This book was pretty disappointing after the brilliance of MACNOLIA. Here AVJ completes a series of poems mostly about Einstein (also about some comic book characters) and does so using the schtick of involving language in mathematics or einsteinian physics in his descriptions (mostly persona poem monologues) of human situations - these overlays are obvious and uninteresting - relativity being used to explain how time seems to slow when you are with a beautiful woman, the simple forms of equations (a=b) being used to discuss how african americans and white people at princeton were not treated equally. The relationships between the two worlds are basic substitutions and involve none of the actual concepts of quantum physics or relativity or any real grappling with what these things mean in the world. Furthermore, the trope of talking about relativity and quantum physics this way is half a century old by now, and even less interesting.
21 reviews
September 29, 2014
I appreciated this book for it's clarity, Jordan's matter-of-fact way of writing, and the concepts he employed to do his work. Personally, the book is inspiring to me because the conceits he used for his superhero poems are things I've been wanting to do for years and felt I needed permission, precedent, or a blueprint.

For all of the good things this book did for me and the emotions it evoked, I don't recall being floored by too much in it. It was solid. I'm glad I read it. This copy was borrowed from a friend and I plan to buy my own copy. That said, it's not the best book of poetry I read this year.
Profile Image for Jamil.
638 reviews52 followers
August 7, 2007
great collection of poems about physicists -einstein, feynman, schrodinger- and science heroes -the flash, the green lantern, and the atom. the atom sequence of poems is amazing & has great titles like "The Superposition of the Atom" & "The Uncertainty of the Atom" & "The Atom and Hawkman Discuss Metaphysics". The notes & bibliographic sources in the back are really keen too.
Profile Image for Katey Schultz.
Author 10 books48 followers
March 18, 2013
Beautiful, lyrical, smart, and deeply imagined. Narrative after interwoven narrative fills this rich collection's pages, and it's impossible to appreciate all the richness with one reading. A. Van Jordan is a master and this book, perhaps his opus, invites readers into his layered and thought-provoking world.
Profile Image for Katarzyna Bartoszynska.
Author 10 books119 followers
September 3, 2016
I loved Macnolia, but this collection disappointed me. Perhaps because I have encountered the idea of physics as poetry many times, so I'm picky about its execution. To me, neither the scientists nor superheroes seemed all that successful as poetic devices. Although there were some very beautiful moments, the overall framework never quite did what it wanted to do, I think.
Profile Image for katie.
54 reviews
November 25, 2008
for some reason I was expecting the poems to be about physics equations. maybe that's why I was disappointed?
Profile Image for Antoine  McGrath.
19 reviews
June 1, 2018
Reminiscent of Einstein's Dreams in character, but with far less concepts and more attention to words themselves. A bridge between Einstein's dreams and Kenneth Koch's work.
Profile Image for Greg Bem.
Author 6 books16 followers
January 7, 2017
Sadly Mr. Jordan mistakes the essay for a lyric. Some great imagery and perspective here, but as poetry: terrorizing.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews

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