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Public Figures
Jena Osman

Wesleyan Poetry Series

2012 • 92 pp. 43 illus. 5 1/2 x 8 1/2"

$15.95 Paperback, 978-0-8195-7558-6
$24.95 Hardcover, 978-0-8195-7311-7

$12.99 Ebook, 978-0-8195-7312-4

Check your ebook retailer or local library for ebook availability.

Osman puts public memory back in the public memorials.”Rachel Trousdale, Rain Taxi

An investigation of the gap between sight and site

Public Figures is an essay-poem with photographs and text that begins with a playful thought experiment: statues of people in public spaces have eyes, but what are they looking at? To answer that question, Jena Osman sets up a camera to track the gaze of a number of statues in Philadelphia—mostly 19th century military figures carrying weapons. How does their point of view differ from our own? And how does it compare, say, to the point of view of other watchful military figures, such as drone pilots? In this book, Osman combines the histories behind these statues with poetic narratives that ask us to think about our own relational positions, and how our own everyday gaze may be complicit with the gun-sights of war. Public Figures illustrates how history is transformed, and even erased, by monuments and other public records of events. Through poetry, those histories can be made visible again. Check for the online reader’s companion at

Check for the online reader’s companion at

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“As much as it objects to some wars far away, the essay keeps its heart in Osman’s Philly, whose streetscapes point both to the present and back to the U.S. Civil War. Osman’s terse juxtapositions, careful background, and her lightly used but deeply relevant quotations place her close to Claudia Rankine, or to Juliana Sphar.”Publishers Weekly

“What Osman’s politically-engaged text does is force us to confront the alternating ugliness and meaninglessness of our historical sense, not to mention the travesties of language that that benighted sense often compels us to endorse. …Public Figures is a compelling read from every and any angle.”—Seth Abramson, Huffington Post

The essayistic concept at the heart of the book is brilliant. … Like the best documentary work, Public Figures answers the hand-wringing question of ‘how can art be political’ rather simply: you make it about the world. As in the passage quoted above, the playfully intent moments of Osman’s guidebook (there are some fantastic pages in which Osman diagrams the intersecting gazes of several martial statues) enliven one’s historical imagination, while also revealing a ‘you’ that moves in our shared present.”—Zach Savich, Kenyon Review

“…multi-award winner Jena Osman draws on a slide lecture to offer a mediation on public statuary in Philadelphia, particularly those bearing arms.”Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

“From public statues to photos of soldiers in Iraq, from physical object to recorded history, from what statues see to drone observation logs: Osman invites us, with George Oppen, to see the things we live among—and to know ourselves.”Rosmarie Waldrop, author of Curves to the Apple

“Between the legs of the stone soldiers’ continuous dérive, the dadaists imagined a monkey wrench, the surrealists a crystal cup, and Osman imagines you. You, the visitor, are the monument. You activate the idea. A true improvisatory device, Public Figures embodies the noblest kind of heat-seeking countermonument.”Rachel Zolf, author of Neighbour Procedure

“….writers such as Osman are a rarity, adding to the mix her own queries on what research claims is already known. …. An architect of complex maps, Osman’s exploration of the multiple point-of-view in Public Figures becomes the central point, and one that is questioned throughout. Through Osman’s explorations, we are reminded of the dangers of reducing history to a series of icons, and forgetting to ask certain questions.”—Rob McLennan

From the Book:

Story: Instructions come in a blue envelope carefully sealed and stamped with the word “government.” Use a letter opener and slide it inside the fold, cutting cleanly across as you’ve been taught to do. Your gloves leave no prints.

You kneel with knees in the mud.
As if a cloud were just a set of lines, manmade and fierce.
A thing, eyes to the sky and hands outstretched.
You see yourself as a cliché, just a body beneath the stars and open to the elements.

Caption: A couple arm in arm. Three pass. Two pass. Now three now one. Man in shirt sleeves. Man with bag slung over shoulder. Sad presentiments of what must come to pass.

JENA OSMAN is the author of three previous books, including The Network, winner of the 2009 National Poetry Series Award, and The Character, winner of the 1998 Barnard College New Women Poets Prize. She teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Temple University.

Click here for author's website.

Mon, 18 Jun 2018 12:03:10 -0500