Shortlisted for the Mary and Peter Biggs Award for Poetry at the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards 2020
In Lay Studies, Steven Toussaint conducts an impressive range of lyric inventions, pitching his poems to that precarious interval between love and rage. Beneath their formal dexterity and variety, these études sustain a continuous meditation on the concords and dissonances of worshipful life in an age dominated by spectacle, violence, and environmental devastation. With great skill and compassion, he depicts scenes of domestic life in his adopted home of New Zealand, a transient year of religious and artistic soul-searching in the United Kingdom, and a growing sense of dislocation from his native United States in the Trump era. These are poems of profound contemplative inwardness, conjuring and conversing with a vast tradition of literature, scholarship, and art. Lay Studies is a powerful collection and a welcome music.
'These are elegant poems. They have verve, they have wit and no little learning. They reveal a mind like a knife. An ear of the same quality. All of which = what's needed in a calamitous time that calls itself the Information Age.' —John Taggart
'Steven Toussaint writes with a formidable blend of intellectual toughness and technical command. These finely worked poems range over a wide territory, local and global, religious, social (a devastatingly intelligent piece, 'Yes or No', evoking the world of online pseudo-discourse), and offer many memorable images and phrases (a favourite is 'The furious pleasure / of a man being listened to'). This is an excellent collection of demanding and rewarding poetry.' —Rowan Williams
'Lay Studies is formidably but not inaccessibly brainy, and it’s as much a crash course in Thomist and neoplatonic philosophy as it is an interrogation of goodness, truth and religious faith – concepts that have lost intellectual currency in our neoliberal era but which Steven Toussaint treats with urgency and conviction.' —Judges' comments, Ockham NZ Book Awards
Steven Toussaint was born in Chicago in 1986. In 2011, he immigrated to New Zealand and now lives in Auckland. He has studied poetry at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and the International Institute of Modern Letters, and philosophical theology at the University of Cambridge. He is the author of a previous collection, The Bellfounder (2015), and a chapbook, Fiddlehead (2014).
Cover: Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, 'Bird', 1913–14 (circa). © Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge