Pages: 128 Size: 6.5x8
In her debut collection, allegiance , francine j. harris makes an instrument of each poem. Somehow both surgical and blunt, the poems sing.
— Gregory Pardlo
The full-length debut from francine j. harris, allegiance is about Detroit, sort of. Although many of the poems are inspired by and dwell in the spaces of the city, this collection does not revel in any of the cliché cultural tropes normally associated with Detroit. Instead, these poems artfully explore life in a city where order coexists with chaos and much is lost in social and physical breakdown. Narrative poems on the hazards, betrayals, and annoyances of city life mix with impressionistic poems that evoke the natural world, as harris grapples with issues of beauty and horror, loyalty and individuality, and memory and loss on Detroit's complicated canvas.
In twelve sections, harris introduces readers to loungers and bystanders, prisoners' wives, poets pictured on book jackets, Caravaggio's Jesus, and city priests. She leads readers past the lone house on the block that cannot be walked down, through layers of discarded objects in the high school yard, and into various classrooms, bars, and living rooms. Shorter poems highlight the persistence of nature-in water, weeds, orchids, begonias, insects, pigeons, and pheasants. Some poems convey a sense of the underbelly, desire, and disgust while others treat issues of religion, both in institutional settings and personal prayers. In her honest but unsentimental voice, harris layers personal history and rich details to explore how our surroundings shape our selves and what allegiance we owe them when they have turned almost everything to ashes.
Throughout allegiance, harris presents herself as an extraordinarily perceptive poet with a compelling and original voice. Poetry lovers will appreciate this exciting debut collection.
What grounds this collection more than anything is its problematic relationship with Detroit, a city undergoing bankruptcy and governmental restructuring. Detroit is like family to this poet, and only family members can talk this way about their own and still love them at the same time. Take for instance the poem "i live in detroit," which is a ghazal and echoes both the beauty and the ugly in Detroit, expressing the dualism in urban centers and in human relationships: "there are plenty of violets in flophouses. pistils broken open on forty-ounce mouth lids making honeybees bastards in detroit." Through end stops and clever enjambment the reader is kept on edge, waiting for the next epiphany.
– Randall Horton, LA Review of Books
In her debut collection, allegiance, francine j. harris makes an instrument of each poem. Somehow both surgical and blunt, the poems sing. That is, they will wake your neighbors. These poems highlight the limits of propriety, but what might appear to be irreverence is devotion cleansed of pretense. The object of Harris's devotion is often Detroit, and like the city she loves, the poems have little patience for sentimentality. They'll snatch you up by the collar, throw you in a chair and make you listen. And then, line by line, these poems will break your heart."
– Gregory Pardlo
Very strong and contrasting figures emerge in francine j. harris's memorable first collection of poems. There is an odd lyric telegraphing here just in the way strobe lighting carries movement, or serial narrative, in the dark. These are tropes of knowledge in a time of great ignorance. This is a wonderful book of poems."
– Norman Dubie
The poems in allegiance explore the intersection of terror and tenderness in imagery and music so original that there is a gasp of surprise/pleasure/recognition. As all great singers do, francine j. harris startles us with the intimacy of her voice, and also astonishes with the art of it. This collection brings us an important writer tackling crucial emotional events, but francine j. harris is truly a poet, doing much of her work below the surface of her words. There is not a forgettable poem on any of these pages."
– Laura Kasischke
2012 ForeWord Book of the Year Award - Result: finalist in the category of Poetry
2013 PEN American Center Open Book Award - Result: Shortlisted for grand prize
2013 Kate Tufts Discovery Award - Result: finalist