PubWest Book Design Awards gold award

Oni Buchanan explores the problem of violence against the undefended, elemental self through a variety of emotional and linguistic responses. The violation itself is unspecified but involves the forced transformation from an instinctual, animal self, housed in the body and in the senses, into a socialized, time-based “citizen,” familiar with death, decay, and systemic injustice.

This exploration plays out through the twin challenges of perception and compassion. Perception can bind us to the known world or cut us loose in dangerous, horrific territory. Compassion for other creatures (wild or domesticated, and sometimes both) is born of perception, of the hard limits and surprising insights encountered by attending to the bodies, gestures, and plights of others.

In Must a Violence, the tones and personalities vary widely but trust is always placed in the five senses. These poems gather and relay extraordinary sense data, from inaudible sounds to long-absent smells. These deeply musical poems demand the reader attend to their sounds: to the waveforms, repetitions, durations, and delicate interrelationships of words.

In sounding out the problem of how to respond to violence and to the betrayal and domestication of that which is wild, this book counters with aesthetic violence and disruption of its own, opening the self to the unexpected powers of the senses and to encounters between "wildness" and "domestication" within the self. Though never easy, this openness creates the possibility for an all-enveloping love that touches and joins all animals, both nonhuman and human.

"Oni Buchanan’s startling new collection stages the sacred, violent, and beautiful encounter between the human and the animal, each wild, domesticated, caged, terrified, and liberated. These wondrously inflamed poems recall the eerie worlds of early Plath, yet the pleading, enraged, but ultimately tender voice is entirely Buchanan’s."—Thomas Heise, associate professor of English, McGill University 
"There is a road that winds from Buchanan’s masterful, animal ear to her strange and magnificent heart that is unlike any road ever traveled. It is the road the most fragile creatures—Violence and Mourning—take to bring themselves home. They are the ones who must most be, because it is they who mark our cry to exist and our hide from extinction. Buchanan is my favorite species of poet: the rarest of the real."—Sabrina Orah Mark, author, The Babies
"Given the on-going, increasingly sensuous relationship between man and machine, Must a Violence has an ethical music beneath its desire, lines 'ricocheting from one elastic / possibility to the next.' These possibilities must be heard, as courageously as Oni Buchanan fiercely gives them to us here, today and now."—Major Jackson, Richard Dennis Green & Gold Professor, University of Vermont
"Must a Violence is a gorgeous ode to the infinitely unnoticed sounds and movements of the world. From hearing “the flank of a fish creak” to feeling the “presence underneath” a woman’s hair, this book gives us the world inside of the world, the sensory experience beneath and beyond even the deepest reaches of our days. No other poet writes like Oni Buchanan. And I don’t think anyone ever could."—Katie Ford, author, Colosseum

from “Must a Violence”


Must a violence be administered

Must a violence be enacted upon

Must a violence be had to oneself

Must a violence be endured

Must an unanticipated violence

Must a violence beyond one’s control

Must a modicum of violence

Must a dosage or capsule-full of violence

Must an irregularly dispensed occasional

vaccination of violence

Must a violence be inflicted upon

Must a violence first be undergone

2013 PubWest Book Design Gold Award

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Pages, art, trim size
130 pages