Litmus Press
Original Language(s)
Additional Credits
Cover collage by Joan Retallack
Book design by HR Hegnauer
Edition, Year
First Edition, 2020
In Print

In [Bosch’s] enchanted garden no color line is drawn.
— Commentary 106, Art Treasures of the Prado, 1954

Joan Retallack’s BOSCH’D — “fables, moral tales & other awkward constructions” is passionate, transgressive and, albeit obliquely, optimistic that we can (but only with creative buoyancy) exhume a sense of viable futures for all species on this planet. The first of many BOSCH’D aphorisms states the opening condition this way: “Humor without gravitas passes through the mind with little effect; gravitas without humor is death.” With that, Retallack takes on the paradoxical, hence generative, dystopian logics she calls “our projectile legacies”— misogyny, racism, undaunted colonialism, and more. It’s where her playful and grave poetics of the poethical wager revs up. As the sun at noon illustrates all shadows, Hieronymus Bosch illuminated a beautiful and grotesque biosphere (see Fig. x) that, along with tender sensuality and ubiquitous love, was riddled with human follies and trespasses we’ve come to identify as the Anthropocene. “Bosch’d” (verb. trans.) does not yet appear in our lexicons. For some of its implications, we present this erudite, searching, and great-humored book.

Joan Retallack
Joan Retallack is a poet and essayist with a background in philosophy and visual arts. Poetry volumes include Errata 5uite (Edge Books) chosen by Robert Creeley for a Columbia Book Award; AFTERRIMAGES ... Read More

Retallack composes poems as a study of language, of Stein and Sappho, of science; writing the sparks and fragments of lyric. She writes big ideas and small details, exploring the connections across and through physical space, physics and theory, math and myth, philosophy and storytelling, and dreams of the impossible. BOSCH’D includes an array of some absolutely stunning lines in equally stunning poems… This is a wonderfully complex collection of poems of thinking that can’t help but spark further thinking; a poetry of inquiry as strong as I’ve ever seen…

— Rob McLennan


Joan Retallack’s BOSCH’D [is] a book which, inspired by that great painter of both ecstasy and struggle, Hieronymus Bosch, explores themes of reckoning, conflagration, and transformation… BOSCH’D reminds us of our fundamental entanglement, in joy and in grief, now and forever. By way of introduction Retallack explains that BOSCH’D is “a kind of secular liturgy, dedicated to the improbable idea of a poethical anthropocene. That aspiration…. means loving the improbable.”

— The Poetry Project, Introduction to the book launch on House Party


Praise for BOSCH’D

I’ve encountered few imaginations as consistently delightful and nourishing as Joan Retallack’s, even fewer that can match her range of exploration from book to book. In BOSCH’D, instructional notations lead to paradox, and mathematical sketches add up to koans, and yet throughout the book, the political and philosophical implications are absolutely exigent. In Retallack’s gnomic propositions, poetry becomes almost all that we could ask of it.

— Forrest Gander

This proliferation of angels, and angles, and spectra, and scenes, and singing is all but too beautifully blur to blurb. It defies its own collection. You have to ride, or hide, in an untied thought balloon to read it. It’s so beautiful, with so much thought inside, and so loco, so such a little crazy in all its other languages, so off and errant but also so on the spot and dug in and garden’d, so unalone and shared and redshifted, so non-solo’d and so alter’d, that it becomes an altar, its music of alterity holding a delightful cultivation of flown that we can ground in, though it’s also so nonlocal, so shar’d in the general speech, that even in the preparation of its table of contents, as if it were a piano on which bizarre things have been painted as the coming of froth, BOSCH’D blindsides despair. Who is Genre Tallique anyway? Bud Powell? An owl? Wow!

— Fred Moten

May language be always in motion, biomimetic, hers. Retallack’s radical intelligence is balm-like, in no small part for the restlessness and fluidity of its humor. Reading BOSCH’D I think of Stevens’ precept that “the poem must resist the intelligence almost successfully.” Must has gotten musty and, yet, out of the delirious entanglements of the poem and reason, Retallack’s verse emerges, always victorious: “We are not designed to perceive most of what surrounds us or to fully understand the rest.” Anthropocentric reason keeps leading us nowhere and very well may be the epitome of our foolhardiness. In their refusal to perpetuate “past-perfected-present-participling legacies,” Retallack’s poems invariably know better.

— Mónica de la Torre

By Joan Retallack
The Supposium
Edited by Joan Retallack
By Anne Tardos

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