Small Hours

Ilyse Kusnetz


Winner of the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Awards Finalist

Small Hours is a poetry collection that interweaves the personal and the political, connecting family history to moments within a larger historical arc of injustice and oppression.

Reading on T. S. Eliot’s birthday

Podcast of Jennifer William’s interview with Ilyse

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By turns poignant and hopeful, raging and joyful, Small Hours interweaves the personal and the political, connecting family history to moments within a larger historical arc of injustice and oppression. The poems in this collection bear witness to those whose stories have fallen into the fractures of history and been lost, their “mouths opening / below earth, their bodies / burning like forbidden books,” about whom “we know almost nothing.” These poems ask us to recall the tyrants of the past as similar abuses of power repeat themselves in the present. Forgiveness and understanding vie with the memory of events that can never be redressed, only remembered, and sometimes redeemed.

Small Hours contains poetry of historic and global empathy, various in its subjects though not in its voice, which is clear, fierce, precise, and thoughtful.

—Dorianne Laux, 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize judge

Ilyse Kusnetz’s Small Hours has great range and lyrical precision. She moves from the historical to the surreal to the intensely personal with marvelous control, often blending the three. Even the darkest of her poems are illuminated by the vivacity of an imagination and the surprise of language that always seems to be in the act of discovering itself.

—Stephen Dunn

Drawing deftly from history, science, public and personal lives, these poems knock the wind out of me with their indelible imagery and music, their sense of shared humanity in our compassion and cruelty, ignorance and brilliance, rage and tenderness. They find the spiritual and cosmic in the quotidian, and somehow pack all the world’s love, yearning, pain, and beauty into one poem—poem after poem, not unlike the lovers who end the collection—”our fingers cupped the universe like water.”

April Ossmann, author of Anxious Music



Match Girls
Invisible Children
The War Years
Chopping an Onion in the Kitchen, I Think of My Parents
Röntgen’s Wife
My Father in the Coast Guard, 1946
White Herons
Small Hours
Perseids, New Smyrna Beach
Jack and the Beanstalk

The Eagle’s Nest
My Uncle as Erwin Schrödinger
Hitler’s Alarm Clock, 1945
Archival Footage
Aquarelle Vase with Roses, and Self-­Portrait, 1910 (A. Hitler)
Bridget Hitler’s Memoirs (Liverpool, 1912–13)
Hitler’s Mandrake
Enola Gay
The Birth of Godzilla
At the Yushukan War Memorial Museum, Tokyo

“Jesus Has Risen”
Letter to Scientists
Before I Am Downloaded into a Most Excellent Robot Body
Blue Amber
Hideyoshi Recalls for His Concubine the Origin of the Nose Tomb
The Emperor Commodus
The Sultan’s Dwarves
Marie Antoinette’s Beech Tree
A Tale of Two Cities, Redux

A Hampshire Field at Sunset
A Cure for Plague
Still Life
A Brief History of the Calendar
Buddha’s Garden
Love Poem
At the Capela dos Ossos
Swedenborg’s Skull
Ideal City, Dream Sequence
Woman in a Hammock, 1916
The Master of Busseto
Galileo’s Finger
Gift Horse
Holding Albert Einstein’s Hand


Poet and journalist Ilyse Kusnetz earned her MA in creative writing from Syracuse University and her PhD in contemporary feminist and post-colonial British literature from the University of Edinburgh. Her poetry has appeared in Crab Orchard ReviewThe Cincinnati ReviewCrazyhorseStone CanoeRattle, and other journals and anthologies. Her chapbook, The Gravity of Falling, was published in 2006. She teaches at Valencia College and is married to the poet Brian Turner.

Visit Ilyse's website

Other work by Ilyse Kusnetz receiving praise



Rosenberry Writers' Conference Profile

Words on a Wire: Ilyse Kusnetz

Connotation Press interview with Ilyse Kusnetz and Brian Turner

You will also discover why this book was awarded the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize for 2014...To paraphrase Anthony Burgess, do not only read, but buy this book. Do not only buy, but read this book. Read this book. You owe yourself the challenge, the horror, the delight.

-Dennis ClarkThe Provo Canyon ReviewWinter 2015

Review by Susan Rich, The Alchemist's Kitchen, December 2014

Winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, readers of Small Hours will love the history and science, transmuted through the personal, the ways Ilyse Kusnetz paints broadly, but etches fine detail, the detail being what is in those small, forgotten hours.

-Mead Magazine, Fall 2014

Every now and then I read poems that shock me into thinking, “I’ve been doing it all wrong. Here I’ve been playing mere word games while real poets are communicating thoughts, passions, experiences.” That’s how I felt while I was reading Small Hours, the winner of this year’s T.S. Eliot Prize...Many of the fifty-six poems in this volume disturb as much as affirm, cause outrage while they are provoking reflection, bring pleasure in the midst of atrocity. That’s what good poems can do. 

-Conrad Geller, Rattle, November 10, 2014


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