Srikanth Reddy’s previous book, Voyager, was named one of the best books of poetry in 2011 by The New Yorker, The Believer, and National Public Radio; his first collection, Facts for Visitors, received the 2005 Asian American Literary Award for Poetry. Reddy’s poetry and criticism have appeared in Harper’s, The Guardian, The New York Times, Poetry, and numerous other venues; his book of criticism, Changing Subjects: Digressions in Modern American Poetry, was published in 2012. A recipient of fellowships from the Creative Capital Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts, he is currently professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of Chicago.
Seldom a poetry book questions its limits in a way as intriguing and inventive as Underworld Lit by Srikanth Reddy.
Seldom a poetry book questions its limits in a way as intriguing and inventive as Underworld Lit by Srikanth Reddy. Seriousness and laughter, academic boredom and surreal tour de force, precision and playfulness, the living and the dead move in this book unusually close. A multiverse, a few novels packed in one poetry collection, a delightful and ironic autobiography of a university professor of literature, a book full of disturbingly poetic moments and ironic quizzes, a guided tour to hell. Beautifully balanced and elegantly wild, this prose epic takes us where we truly belong – to the unknown. Reddy – like Dante – knows: If we want to say anything relevant about our world, we have to embark first on a profound tour of the underworld.
by Srikanth Reddy
In the inky, dismal, and unprofitable research of a recent leave of absence from my life, I happened upon a historical prism of Assurbanipal that I found to be somewhat disquieting. Of an enemy whose remains he had abused in a manner that does not bear repeating here, this most scholarly of Mesopotamian kings professes:
I made him more dead than he was before.
(Prism A Beiträge zum Inschriftenwerk Assurbanipals ed. Borger [Harrassowitz 1996] 241)
Prisms of this sort were often buried in the foundations of government, to be read by gods but not men. Somewhere in the shifting labyrinth of movables stacks I could hear a low dial tone humming without end. In Assurbanipal’s library there is a poem, written on clay, that corrects various commonly held errors regarding the venerable realm of the dead. Contrary to the accounts of Mu Lian, Madame Blavatsky, and Kwasi Benefo, et al., it is not customarily permitted to visit the underworld. No, the underworld visits you.
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