Neil Aitken (Poetry, Translation) | Regina, SK
Neil Aitken is the author of two books of poetry: Babbage’s Dream (Sundress, 2017), semi-finalist for the Anthony Hecht Prize, and The Lost Country of Sight (Anhinga, 2008), winner of the 2007 Philip Levine Prize. He is the founding editor of Boxcar Poetry Review, administrator of Have Book, Will Travel, and co-director with Dao Strom of de-canon: A Visibility Project. Of Chinese, Scottish, and English descent, he was born in Vancouver, BC and raised in Saudi Arabia, Taiwan, and the western United States and Canada. His poems have appeared in American Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Ninth Letter, and elsewhere. A former computer games programmer, he has received fellowships from Kundiman and Idyllwild and holds both an MFA in Creative Writing from UC Riverside and a PhD in Literature & Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. His poetry chapbook Leviathan recently received the 2017 Elgin Award for Poetry Chapbook from the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association.
In collaboration with Chinese poet-translator Ming Di, he translated The Book of Cranes: Selected Poems of Zang Di (Vagabond 2015) as well as, Ming Di’s own first selected poems, River Merchant’s Wife. His co-translations of Jiang Hao, Jiang Li, Jiang Tao, Lü De’an, Lü Yue, Sun Wenbo, and Zang Di are also prominently featured in New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry, 1990-2012 (Tupelo 2013). He was awarded the 2011 DJS Translation Prize for his translations of contemporary Chinese poetry.
- Leviathan (Hyacinth Girl Press, 2016). Elgin Prize. Poetry.
Blurbs, Press, & Reviews
In stunningly elegant couplets, Neil Aitken transposes the dreams of machines and humans into musical, sonically deft lyrics that sing songs of creation, vision, possibility, futurity. These beautifully crafted poems—evoking the designs of nineteenth-century mathematician Charles Babbage, who conceptualized the first mechanical programmable computer—explore the tautologies between mathematics and song, science and lyric, the rational and the passionate, dystopia and hope. In the infinite tape loop of memory and imagination, Babbage’s Dream posits a Turing Test in which the reader circles both anxiously and gloriously through aspects of making, maker, and the made.
—Lee Ann Roripaugh
In Neil Aitken’s exquisite poems, Charles Babbage, inventor and thinker comes to life in an array of stunning images. The poems spark and leap in exhilarating assemblages as we piece together the narrative behind the concept of the programmable computer but further beyond, Aitken invites us to ask questions about consciousness, thought, and who we are in our daily lives. The jolt of the past comes back as “the bit of code we’ve let loose in the dark” and the fractals return as a heart in mourning. This is a transfixing book on memory, the human mind, and the possibility of rebirth in unexpected but musical planes.
—Oliver de la Paz
Through Aitken’s long lyrical lines and guided by narrative threads, I was pleased to make the acquaintance of the polymath Charles Babbage, his 19th century world and his language: the language of science and engineering, a language that at once halts and captivates. Come inside the Aitken’s Babbage’s Dream for new perceptions of the world.
Neil Aitken’s Leviathan offers to the extant literary conversation a new perspective of passion as it combines with the technological mind. While many contemporary essays tend to highlight the ways in which technology increases loneliness and separates us from one another, these poems manage to combine those elements in a way that brings us closer to Babbage and his loves, which in turn brings us closer to our own losses and loves.
—Julianna DeMicco, Agape Editions blog
The Lost Country of Sight
It’s difficult to believe that Neil Aitken’s The Lost Country of Sight is a first book, since there is mastery throughout the collection. His ear is finely tuned, and his capacity for lyricism seems almost boundless. What stands out everywhere in the poems is his imagery, which is not only visually precise but is also possessed of a pure depth. The poems never veer off into the sensational; they are built from pensiveness and quietude and an affection for the world. “Traveling Through the Prairies, I Think of My Father’s Voice” strikes me as a perfectly made poem, but poems of similar grace and power are to be found throughout the book. This is a debut to celebrate.
—C.G. Hanzlicek, 2007 Philip Levine Prize Final Judge
The voice in these poems is that of a sighted, awake heart discovering its home in language and its homelessness in the world. Steeped in longing, the imagination here is concrete, vivid, sensuous, and ultimately erotic, even as it perceives that meaning and beauty are evanescent.
Fueled by motion and emotion, Neil Aitken’s The Lost Country of Sight is literally and figuratively a moving collection. His winding roads and “ghost cars” move us over the landscapes of identity and personal history with stirring meditative grace. “There is a song at the beginning of every journey” Aitken tells us in one poem even as he says in another, “these are journeys we never take.” This poet is our both our wise, wide-eyed tour guide and our dazed, day-dreaming companion in The Lost Country of Sight. This is a rich, mature debut.
Neil Aitken is a true visionary poet. His instincts for the craft of poetry, its assemblage as verbal object, its locations in time and context, are startling. He is the kind of writer who makes readers want to read and poets remember why they write. He makes poetry feel young, as though the last three thousand years have passed as a single decade and there are still libraries of wonder to be written. Mr. Aitken is filling their shelves as we watch with our hands to our mouths, our cups of tea forgotten.