Hard Damage


Hard Damage

Aria Aber

Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry Series

126 pages


September 2019


$17.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

September 2019


$17.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)

(Requires Adobe Digital Editions)

September 2019


$17.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

Hard Damage works to relentlessly interrogate the self and its shortcomings. In lyric and documentary poems and essayistic fragments, Aria Aber explores the historical and personal implications of Afghan American relations. Drawing on material dating back to the 1950s, she considers the consequences of these relations—in particular the funding of the Afghan mujahedeen, which led to the Taliban and modern-day Islamic terrorism—for her family and the world at large.

Invested in and suspicious of the pain of family and the shame of selfhood, the speakers of these richly evocative and musical poems mourn the magnitude of citizenship as a state of place and a state of mind. While Hard Damage is framed by free-verse poetry, the middle sections comprise a lyric essay in fragments and a long documentary poem. Aber explores Rilke in the original German, the urban melancholia of city life, inherited trauma, and displacement on both linguistic and environmental levels, while employing surrealist and eerily domestic imagery.

Author Bio

Aria Aber is a Ron Wallace Poetry Fellow at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Her poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, the New Yorker, Poetry Magazine, Narrative, and other publications.


"Winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize, Aber's ruminative lyrical debut tracks the movements of a twice-emigrated poet in poems that are personal and confessional."—Publishers Weekly

"Aria Aber's first book of poetry, Hard Damage, does not consent to the simple narrative or the soundbite. It reminds readers that every displaced person, whether refugee, immigrant, or the child of one, carries with them a parcel of stories, stories that are often suppressed and mutated by the dominant culture, or lost to reductive media coverage. . . . Hard Damage allows the songs—and the lives that they contain—to unfurl."—Marie Scarles, Rumpus

“Revel in the rise of this searing, essential new voice. Aria Aber’s Hard Damage is an expansive debut that contends with the hard truth of how elusive belonging, and reckoning, is. . . . Every word, every phrase [of Hard Damage] is crafted to incise, with its electric currents of images that make up the lives of refugee mothers, fathers, and daughters, and the inherent homesickness of language, wars. This debut seduces, critiques, mourns, ruptures, replenishes—and not without humor and wit. By the end I found myself completely thrilled that poetry can have this many possibilities.”—Sally Wen Mao, author of Oculus

“With disarming ease, Aria Aber’s Hard Damage leaps from the personal to the political, from song to theory, from Rilke to ‘Afghan blow,’ from a German childhood back to an earlier Afghani family history, ending up in a richly vexed American life. These juxtapositions are electrifying, eloquent. . . . ‘What is it that we owe to each other?’ Aber asks, calling us into ‘history’s collateral light.’”—Catherine Barnett, author of Human Hours

“Aria Aber’s Hard Damage confronts the reader with both a masterful directness and lyrical clarity. Though the poet pays homage to tradition, these poems also realize a voice and experience—truth and sonority, spirit and grit—that are individual. Each turn in this narrative of dislocation dares a root-fed luminosity. Indeed, the speaker of Hard Damage transverses multiple way stations (Kabul, Berlin, Paris, New York City, and elsewhere), always carrying history and family through these migrations. This necessary collection possesses passion and wisdom.”—Yusef Komunyakaa, author of The Emperor of Water Clocks


“At turns scathing and tender, ironic and keening, Aber writes richly of warfare and Rilke, German and English alike. There is too much barbed beauty for my few sentences to contain, though Aber’s do—elegantly, dangerously. A tremendous debut we are lucky to behold.”—Solmaz Sharif, author of Look

“Aria Aber presses language until it yields up its secret meanings in this wide-ranging, cosmopolitan, remarkably Rilkean first book of poems. Hard Damage is haunted by questions of inheritance, of home and homelessness, of historical crisis, and it is suffused throughout with a dual feeling of Beauty and Terror. What a marvelous debut!”—Edward Hirsch, author of A Poet’s Glossary and How to Read a Poem

Table of Contents

Source Acknowledgments
Reading Rilke in Berlin
First Snow
Dream with Horse
Family Reunion
Can You Describe Your Years in Prison?
Azalea Azalea
Funeral in Paris
How to Pronounce John Frusciante Correctly
Blessed Are the Rich
Ode to My Hair
Smells Like Liberty
What Your Life Was Like
Mother of All Balms
Nostalgia Is Not the Right Word
Reading Rilke at Lake Mendota, Wisconsin
At the Hospital, My Language
I Wake Up Curled Up in a C. D. Wright Poem
The Ownership of Naming Things
Self-Portrait as Wounded Doe of Artemis
My Father Drives Me to Düsseldorf Airport
Foreign Policies
Rilke and I
ich / I
Lass / Let
dir / You
Alles / All
Geschehn / Happen
Schönheit / Beauty
Und / And
Schrecken / Terror
Covert United States Involvement in Regime Change, I
Operation Cyclone
I. Chaos
II. Blue Bottle Fly Condition
III. Hera
IV. Ex Nihilo
V. Hades
VI. Dionysus
VII. Ares
VIII. Cyclopes
IX. Cronus
X. Catalogue of Grief
XI. Interrogation Chamber
Covert United States Involvement in Regime Change, II
Operation Timber Sycamore
The First Toast
Fata Morgana, 1987
Your Whole Life Must Become a Sign and Witness to This Impulse
Operation Cyclone, Years Later
The Only Cab Service of Farmington, Maine
Inventory of Lost Conditionals

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