3 Sections

( 1 )


* Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry *

The long-awaited third poetry book by Vijay Seshadri, “one of the most respected poets working in America today” (Time Out New York)

Vijay Seshadri’s new poetry is assured and expert, his line as canny as ever. In an array of poetic forms from the rhyming lyric to the philosophical meditation to the prose essay, 3 Sections confronts perplexing divisions of contemporary life—a wayward history,...

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3 Sections: Poems

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* Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry *

The long-awaited third poetry book by Vijay Seshadri, “one of the most respected poets working in America today” (Time Out New York)

Vijay Seshadri’s new poetry is assured and expert, his line as canny as ever. In an array of poetic forms from the rhyming lyric to the philosophical meditation to the prose essay, 3 Sections confronts perplexing divisions of contemporary life—a wayward history, an indeterminate future, and a present condition of wanting to outthink time. This is an extraordinary book, witty and vivacious, by one of America’s best poets.

Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Deft yet direct, often funny and yet alert to existential quandaries, this third outing from regular New Yorker contributor Seshadri (The Long Meadow) could be the most versatile, as well as one of the most successful, volumes this year. The fluid, disarming short poems take in modern consumer culture and age-old angst, Seshadri’s South Asian heritage, his contemporary New York (“the more punishing blocks of Park Avenue”), and our surveillance society, in which nobody really knows anyone, yet anybody can find out where you are: “Why I wanted to escape experience is nobody’s business but my own,/ but I always believed I could.” Long chatty lines sit beside tight rhymed stanzas, bleakness beside wit (“Purgatory, the Sequel”), and all of it introduces the two long works that comprise the other two sections of this three-part work. One contains Seshadri’s expansive prose essay about an Alaskan fishing boat, at “the great intersection of sea and sky… in the gloom at the edge of the world.” Even more remarkable is the lengthy “Personal Essay” in verse, a meditation on what it could mean to be personal, to be one person and not another, in this crowded age: Seshadri imagines himself as “the image of/ nothing, a face astonished by itself in the mirror/ (that couldn’t be me, could it?).” Some readers will praise him for his light touch; others, for the depth, and the literary history, that he brings to his present-day task—but praise him they should. (Sept.)
From the Publisher
Praise for 3 Sections


"An extraordinarily naked modern consciousness, an intensely experienced dislocation, a beautiful intelligence: Seshadri's poetry is exhilarating." —Jonathan Franzen


"[A] compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless." —Pulitzer Prize Judges' Citation


"Confront[s] contemporary dilemmas with caustic humor." —The New Yorker


"Deft yet direct, often funny and yet alert to existential quandaries, this third outing . . . could be the most versatile, as well as one of the most successful, volumes this year." —Publishers Weekly, starred review


"[Seshadri] is so talented, so able, and writes with such panache." —Booklist


"Anyone concerned about the state of American poetry should put aside his or her thesis notes and pick up a copy of 3 Sections. . . . Mr.Seshadri is talented and assured enough to lay his self-consciousness bare on the page with a generous, fluid, avuncular wit reminiscent of W.H. Auden." —The American Reader


"Truly original. . . . [Seshadri] attempts the impossible and succeeds. . . . I read it twice; it was worth it." —Washington Independent Review of Books

From the Publisher

Praise for 3 Sections
"Confront[s] contemporary dilemmas with caustic humor." —The New Yorker
"Deft yet direct, often funny and yet alert to existential quandaries, this third outing . . . could be the most versatile, as well as one of the most successful, volumes this year." —Publishers Weekly, starred review
"[Seshadri] is so talented, so able, and writes with such panache." —Booklist
"An extraordinarily naked modern consciousness, an intensely experienced dislocation, a beautiful intelligence: Seshadri's poetry is exhilarating." —Jonathan Franzen

"Vijay Seshadri is a skeptic and a seeker, and the speaker, the philosophical hero, of these beautifully understated, intellectually ambitious poems is also one—wry, self-scrutinizing, keenly observant, abashed, bemused, conflicted, prone to melancholy questions, troubled by his own thoughts, susceptible to daydreaming, determined to figure things out, to sum them up, to find words for them. 3 Sections is a rare adventure in conciousness." —Edward Hirsch
Praise for Vijay Seshadri:
“Seshadri is a son of Frost by way of Ashbery: both the high-frequency channels of consciousness and the jazz of spoken language are audible in these poems.” —The New Yorker
“This is a strong, almost reckless voice turning dark experience into an unrelenting sense of possibility. From the rhyming stanzas to a long prose meditation, the power of casual declamation holds sway.” —Los Angeles Times Book Review

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555976620
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 9/3/2013
  • Pages: 64
  • Sales rank: 103,428
  • Product dimensions: 7.30 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Vijay Seshadri is the author of two previous poetry collections, Wild Kingdom and The Long Meadow, the winner of the James Laughlin Award. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Read an Excerpt



By Vijay Seshadri


Copyright © 2013 Vijay Seshadri
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55597-662-0


Imaginary Number

    The mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
    is not big and is not small.
    Big and small are

    comparative categories, and to what
    could the mountain that remains when the universe is destroyed
    be compared?

    Consciousness observes and is appeased.
    The soul scrambles across the screes.
    The soul,

    like the square root of minus 1,
    is an impossibility that has its uses.


    Remember that family who lived in a boat
    run aground and capsized
    by the creamy dunes where the plovers nest?
    Sea, sun, storm, and firmament
    kept their minds occupied.
    David Copperfield came and went,
    and their sympathy for him was such
    that they pitied him almost as much
    as he pitied himself. But their story
    is not like the easy one
    where you return to me and
    lift my scarred eyes to the sun
    and stroke my withered hand
    and marry me, distorted as I am.
    He was destined to dismantle their lives,
    David Copperfield, with his
    treacherous friend and insipid wives,
    his well-thought-out position
    on the Corn Laws and the constitution.
    They were stillness and
    he was all motion.
    They lived in a boat upside down on the strand,
    but he was of the kind who couldn't understand
    that land was not just land
    or ocean ocean.

    Trailing Clouds of Glory

    Even though I'm an immigrant,
    the angel with the flaming sword seems fine with me.
    He unhooks the velvet rope. He ushers me into the club.
    Some activity in the mosh pit, a banquet here, a panhandler there,
    a gray curtain drawn down over the infinitely curving lunette,
    Jupiter in its crescent phase, huge,
    a vista of a waterfall, with a rainbow in the spray,
    a few desultory orgies, a billboard
    of the snub-nosed electric car of the future—
    the inside is exactly the same as the outside,
    down to the m.c. in the yellow spats.
    So why the angel with the flaming sword
    bringing in the sheep and waving away the goats,
    and the men with the binoculars,
    elbows resting on the roll bars of jeeps,
    peering into the desert? There is a border,
    but it is not fixed, it wavers, it shimmies, it rises
    and plunges into the unimaginable seventh dimension
    before erupting in a field of Dakota corn. on the F train
    to Manhattan yesterday, I sat across
    from a family threesome Guatemalan by the look of them—
    delicate and archaic and Mayan—
    and obviously undocumented to the bone.
    They didn't seem anxious. The mother was
    laughing and squabbling with the daughter
    over a knockoff smart phone on which they were playing a
    video game together. The boy, maybe three,
    disdained their ruckus. I recognized the scowl on his face,
    the retrospective, maskless rage of inception.
    He looked just like my son when my son came out of his mother
    after thirty hours of labor—the head squashed,
    the lips swollen, the skin empurpled and hideous
    with blood and afterbirth. out of the inflamed tunnel
    and into the cold room of harsh sounds.
    He looked right at me with his bleared eyes.
    He had a voice like Richard Burton's.
    He had an impressive command of the major English texts.
    I will do such things, what they are yet I know not,
    but they shall be the terrors of the earth,
he said.
    The child, he said, is father of the man.

    The Dream I Didn't Have

    I woke up on the stainless-steel autopsy table.
    My chest was weighted down.
    Bodily fluids stained my paper hospital gown.
    My life readings were stable,

    though. They were, in fact, decisive—
    one round number and one simple line.
    A cop gave the coroner a form to sign,
    but he lingered undecided over me,

    murmuring to himself,
    "That must have been a dream, or was it a vision?"
    I felt along my length his long riverine incision.
    Outside it was chicago—

    city of world-class museums,
    handsome architecture, marvelous elevated trains—
    rising from the plains
    by the impossibly flat lake.


    Orwell says somewhere that no one ever writes the real story of their life.
    The real story of a life is the story of its humiliations.
    If I wrote that story now-
    radioactive to the end of time—
    people, I swear, your eyes would fall out, you couldn't peel
    the gloves fast enough
    from your hands scorched by the firestorms of that shame.
    Your poor hands. Your poor eyes
    to see me weeping in my room
    or boring the tall blonde to death.
    Once I accused the innocent.
    Once I bowed and prayed to the guilty.
    I still wince at what I once said to the devastated widow.
    And one October afternoon, under a locust tree
    whose blackened pods were falling and making
    illuminating patterns on the pathway,
    I was seized by joy,
    and someone saw me there,
    and that was the worst of all,
    lacerating and unforgettable.

    This Morning

    First I had three
    apocalyptic visions, each more terrible than the last.
    The graves open, and the sea rises to kill us all.
    Then the doorbell rang, and I went downstairs and signed for two packages—
    one just an envelope, but the other long and bulky, difficult to manage—
    both for my neighbor Gus. "You're never not at home,"
    the FedEx guy said appreciatively.
    It's true. I don't shave, or even wash. I keep the air-conditioners roaring.

    Though it's summer,
    one of the beautiful red-and-conifer-green Bayside Fuel Oil trucks
    that bed down in the depot by the canal
    was refreshing the subsurface tanks with black draughts
    wrung from the rock, blood of the rock
    sucked up from the crevices.
    The driver looked unconcerned. Leaning slightly on each other,
    Frank and Louise stepped over his hose and walked by slowly,
    on the way to their cardiologist.

    Surveillance Report

    The omni-directional mike and the video camera, both tiny,
    hidden in the bonsai cypress
    are picking up my sunrise self-help talk show,
    in the makeshift kitchen studio, in a bathrobe and bunny slippers.
    First the opening monologue,
    then the body banters with the mind, then queue up the callers.
    Caller X is unhappy with the latest dream interpretation.
    Caller X is cut off with a flick of the wrist.
    Caller Y wants to share that my fearless candor has given her permission
    to become utterly transparent herself.
    Thank you, Caller Y. Your inner light can be seen from here.
    Night-visiting revenants, clerks of the underworld,
    gnawing the half-buried roots of being,
    spirits of the burning trees, kiss me goodbye.
    The tape shows me checking my chronometer and exiting for work.
    Observers posted along my morning commute observe the usual detours,
    the purchase of potables and comestibles.
    Flash forward the digital feed.
    At ten hundred hours, the current workplace asset texts,
    "Subject agitated. Begging colleagues,
    'Please have the courtesy not to be conscious of me.'"
    Of the three or four scenarios employed
    to predict my next location, during the interminable lunch hour,
    when the terrible questions of where to go and what to eat
    among choices once enticing but now exposed in all their bitter banality
    assault even the most cheerful of our targets,
    today, which is a Tuesday, is burning-house-scenario day.
    Cloud after cloud of smoke and flames
    sweep through and over the turrets,
    the widow's walk, the pergolas, the port-cochere.
    Fire boiling through the leaded windowpanes immolates the gillyflowers.
    Though I haven't been located, for reasons I don't understand,
    in the crowd shots pirated from the Eyewitness News feed,
    what the crowd feels I would feel if I were there to feel it.
    But I'm not there to feel it,
    I'm not there at all, there at the next disaster,
    the last disaster but one but one but one ...
    The dormant listening posts activate.
    Windowless vans crammed with information technology
    park on the corners of all the streets.
    Oh, the wailing in the control room, the recriminations,
    the pointing of fingers, the blame game, the pleas
    of the pragmatic to move forward, not backward, and solve this problem,
    find me and put me back on the grid.
    Where will I be scanned for first? Maybe I'm in the trashed, padlocked
    public restroom in the park. The pipes are hissing.
    The concrete floor is littered with syringes and treacherous
    with pools of chill and fetid standing water.
    The mirrors are shattered, and the sinks and urinals are shattered.
    This is the restroom nobody ever visits
    in the park abandoned by humankind,
    the dead zone where the transducer and the infrared lens quail,
    where all the signals ricochet.
    Or, alternatively, I could be on a beach somewhere.


    You'd have to be as crazy as Dante to get those down,
    the infernal hatreds.
    Shoot them. Shoot them where they live
    and then skip town.

    Or stay and re-engineer
    the decrepit social contraption
    to distill the 200-proof
    elixir of fear

    and torture the ... the what
    from the what? And didn't I promise,
    under threat of self-intubation,
    not to envision this

    corridor, coal-tar black,
    that narrows down and in
    to a shattering claustrophobia attack
    before opening out

    to the lake of frozen shit
    where the gruesome figure is discerned?
    Turn around, go home.
    Just to look at it is to become it.

    Purgatory, the Film

    He was chronically out of work, why we don't know.
    She was the second born of a set
    of estranged identical twins. They met,
    hooked up, and moved in with her mother,
    who managed a motel on Skyline Drive.
    But always it was the other,
    the firstborn, the bad twin, the runaway,
    he imagined in the shadow
    of the "Vacancy" sign
    or watching through the window
    below the dripping eaves
    while they made love or slept.
    The body is relaxed and at rest,
    the mind is relaxed in its nest,
    so the self that is and is not
    itself rises and leaves
    to peek over the horizon, where it sees
    all its psychokinetic possibilities
    resolving into shapely fictions.
    She was brave, nurturing, kind.
    She was evil. She was out of her mind.
    She was a junkie trading sex for a fix,
    a chief executive, an aviatrix.
    She was an angel
    to the blinded and the lamed,
    the less-than-upright, the infra dig.
    And she was even a failure.
    She went to LA to make it big
    and crept back home injured and ashamed.

    Purgatory, the Sequel

    They put him in jail, why we don't know.
    They stamped him "Postponed."
    But he didn't mind.
    The screws were almost kind.
    He had leisure to get his muscles toned,

    mental space to regret his crimes,
    and when he wasn't fabricating license plates
    he was free
    to remember the beauty
    that not once but a thousand times

    escaped him forever, and escapes me, too:
    ghosts of a mist drifting
    across the face of the stars,
    Jupiter triangulating
    with the crescent moon and Mars,
    prismatic fracturings in a drop of dew ...


    There's drought on the mountain.
    Wildfires scour the hills.
    So the mammal crawls down the desiccated rills
    searching for the fountain,

    which it finds, believe it or not,
    or sort of finds. A thin silver sliver
    rises from an underground river
    and makes a few of the hot

    rocks steam and the pebbles hiss.
    Soon the mammal will drink,
    but it has first
    to stop and think
    its reflexive, impeccable thought:
    that thinking comes down to this—
    mystery, longing, thirst.

    Three Urdu Poems

    1. Mirza Ghalib

    No, I wasn't meant to love and be loved.
    If I'd lived longer, I would have waited longer.

    Knowing you are faithless keeps me alive and hungry.
    Knowing you faithful would kill me with joy.

    Delicate are you, and your vows are delicate, too,
    so easily do they break.

    You are a laconic marksman. You leave me
    not dead but perpetually dying.

    I want my friends to heal me, succor me.
    Instead, I get analysis.

    Conflagrations that would make stones drip blood
    are campfires compared to my anguish.

    Two-headed, inescapable anguish!—
    Love's anguish or the anguish of time.

    Another dark, severing, incommunicable night.
    Death would be fine, if I only died once.

    I would have liked a solitary death,
    not this lavish funeral, this grave anyone can visit.

    You are mystical, Ghalib, and, also, you speak beautifully.
    Are you a saint, or just drunk as usual?

    2. Momin Khan Mornin

    My cause doesn't affect her, and, even worse,
    the pain I feel doesn't cause pleasure.

    I'm not that far gone. I still prefer
    hearing she betrays me to her betraying me.

    The very cosmos is thwarted because
    in none of the ways you could be mine are you mine.

    I don't know why she still keeps my heart,
    as useless to her as an unpaired sandal.

    Fate abhors me and I abhor fate,
    and prayer can't reconcile us.

    It's as if you're with me when I'm alone.
    It's as if I'm alone when you're with me.

    Momin, you're really a piece of work.
    Is she God that you should kiss the hem of her garment?

    3. Mirza Gahalib

    How few, how paltry few, of all the beautiful apparitions pulverized to earth
    were resurrected as a tulip or a rose.

    How many of my glittering memories of the feast of love
    were warehoused in oblivion.

    The stars, bashful behind the veil of day,
    what possesses them to become scandalous by night?

    The father pining for the child sold to Pharaoh,
    his eyes have become the windows of the walls that immure him.

    I'm sorry, but I'm not like that woman who loved those who loved
    whom she loved. The opposite, in fact.

    The night is his who spends it coiled with you.

    O citizens, if Ghalib keeps weeping like this,
    his tears will sweep your cities away.

    Mixed-Media Botanical Drawing

    Contorted blossoms, slack,
    lascivious orchids,
    the tulip's petal so saturated with purple
    that it looks black,

    the ah-weary-of-time sunflower
    crazed by living like a weed
    next to the railroad spur,
    periwinkles, peonies—

    why them? Why them instead of
    nothing at all? Well, who cares, really?
    Only the feeling they excite counts.
    It might be love,

    it might not. The grafted rose bleeds
    clear liquid at the sutured places.
    It's a face, just one face,
    in the middle of all the faces.

    New Media

    Why I wanted to escape experience is nobody's business but my own,
    but I always believed I could if I could

    put experience into words
    Now I know better.
    Now I know words are experience.

    "But ah thought kills me that I am not thought"
    "2 People Searched for You"
    "in the beginning was the ..."
    "re: Miss Exotic World"
    "I Want Us To executed Transaction"

    It's not the thing,
    there is no thing,
    there's no thing in itself,
    there's nothing but what's said about the thing,
    there are no things but words

    about the things
    said over and over,
    perching, grooming their wings,
    on the subject lines.


Excerpted from 3 SECTIONS by Vijay Seshadri. Copyright © 2013 Vijay Seshadri. Excerpted by permission of GRAYWOLF PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


Imaginary Number, 3,
Rereading, 4,
Trailing Clouds of Glory, 5,
The Dream I Didn't Have, 7,
Memoir, 8,
This Morning, 9,
Surveillance Report, 10,
Hell, 12,
Purgatory, the Film, 13,
Purgatory, the Sequel, 14,
Heaven, 15,
Three Urdu Poems, 16,
Mixed-Media Botanical Drawing, 19,
New Media, 20,
Script Meeting, 21,
Secret Police, 23,
Guide for the Perplexed, 25,
Family Happiness, 26,
Elegy, 27,
As If, 28,
Nursing Home, 29,
Life of Savage, 32,
Thought Problem, 33,
Yet Another Scandal, 34,
Bright Copper Kettles, 35,
A School Day in October, 36,
Visiting Paris, 37,
Three Persons, 38,
The Descent of Man, 39,
Knowing, 40,
The People I Know, 41,
Pacific Fishes of Canada, 43,
Personal Essay, 56,
Light Verse, 72,

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2013

    For those already familiar with Mr. Seshadri as one of the leadi

    For those already familiar with Mr. Seshadri as one of the leading writers of poetry and prose poetry alive today, this book will announce in no uncertain terms that he has done it again. Following in the tradition he established in his earlier books such as The Long Meadow, Seshadri writes with precision, profundity, sorrow, and humor about the modern human condition in a way that will have the discerning reader laughing, weeping, and shaking his head in wonder. 
    Like all truly great poets, Seshadri has chosen every word in this volume because it is the exact word needed to express in a beautiful way the complex emotional and intellectual responses generated by his experiences dealing with aging parents, contemplating geopolitics, and reminiscing about his own colorful past, to name but a few of the subjects in this book. Time after time Seshadri's thoughts arrive in the reader's mind as a startling realization, having at the same time a feeling of relentless inevitability.
    If you don't have the book, I'd recommend that you stop what you are doing and order it now.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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