History with its betrayals lurks behind Gene Tanta, lends his writing wisdom and gravity, but he’s also playful and wickedly humorous. Infused with a deft surrealism, these subtle yet startling poems are like parables, brief films, elegant dreams, baffling skirmishes or erotic near misses. They demand and reward repeated readings. — Linh Dinh
Gene Tanta’s Unusual Woods is at once shocking, lively, and oddly nurturing, imprinted as it is with the down-home authority of language’s deep hands. — Annie Finch
In the 50 demi-sonnets that make up Unusual Woods, as original a debut collection as I’ve ever read, Gene Tanta asks us to enter history in unusual ways: through the noose of a joke, the music of assassins, the slippery holes in the sidewalk of logic. This remarkable sequence reminds me that there is no music more beautiful and terrifying than an open mouth, breathing, singing, dreaming. How Tanta, a child of Romania and Chicago, became heir to so many rich traditions (Dickinson, Berryman, Simic, Popa, to name only a few) is our pleasure to discover as we chart the terrain of an important new voice in poetry. — Maurice Kilwein Guevara
Gene Tanta’s Unusual Woods is deceptively simple and candidly devious. Reading it is like looking in a funhouse mirror for the first time. — Mike Topp
Where are we, in Gene Tanta’s Unusual Woods? We’re where Charles Simic would live, if he’d been born a few decades later, under the signs of ellipsis and disjunction. These are woods with at least two borders running through them. The first of them divides the surreal anecdote from the elliptical meditation, and along this border we find deformed aphorisms, slippery allegories, cryptic personifications, and parables bent out of shape and away from meaning. This is a zone filled with almost-expressive artifacts like faceless dolls and faded photos. The second border runs between Tanta’s Romanian past and his American present. Both Eastern Europe and the United States appear in fragments of iconic figures: Stalin, fortune-tellers, gypsies, elders with samovars, spies, and Paul Celan; or Black Hawk Indians, Gulf War veterans, teenagers dancing the funky chicken, and Ernest Hemingway. No one but Tanta lives at these exact poetic co-ordinates. You’d be wrong not to visit. — Robert Archambeau
Gene Tanta’s poetry reads like documentation of the lost, just come to light after being hidden in an ammunition box buried at the site of some anonymous atrocity. It feels personal, ravaged and beautiful, hovering on the far bank of some inexplicably authentic nightmare, the first and last thoughts of a band of survivors. Distant light is intensifying but it’s not clear if dawn is on its way, or some further conflagration.
Unlike some of the leading-edge poetry of recent decades, Gene Tanta’s does not impersonate an explosion. There is no scattering of attention or resources. Instead, we are in a verbal landscape of aftermath and preparation. The work is careful and inclusive, each fragment of dream and vision brought back to the table for inspection and reassembly. We are invited to participate at this stage as if it mattered: as if the orchestration of meanings had to be collective because of ethical imperatives it is now too late to ignore.
Behind these poems range the ghosts of victims and the ghosts of poetic forms. None is banished. This generosity is a gift to the reader who (tired of the brash, cocky or complacent) may feel that here is a poetry adequate to our times: an art humming with political and aesthetic urgency, and with a resonance that feels at times mythic. — Peter Hughes
Pastoral Emergency has a hypnotic feeling of inevitability about it as it demonstrates the way in which language writes our poems and our minds. — John Koethe
Gene Tanta comes from a land where the place of words and even of letters was challenged one hundred years ago. Tristan Tzara, born and educated in a very small town of Eastern Romania, Moineşti, as Samuel Rosenstock, and Isidore Isou, pen name of Ioan-Isidor Goldstein, broke the new wood between mimetic language and language as material. Twisting together the spectral traces of the Romanian and North American avant-gardes via the “fronde” (Dada’s sling against illusionist art) and the formal concerns of the Language poets, Tanta continues the path blazed by Tzara and Isou. Pastoral Emergency asks how words or even letters still manage to coexist without colliding after such a cultural and universal “Big Bang”? – Radu Andriescu
Gene Tanta’s Pastoral Emergency is emergent alliteration as arrivalist’s dreamsphere molted in the fruit of rich anxiety and tensile love. We are getting there and writing the magic carpet simultaneously holding our coattails and devouring them. Yummy alphabetic alarums in the path of cultural littering; do read. – Lisa Samuels