Mark Yakich

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Mark Yakich is an American poet, novelist, and the Gregory F. Curtin, S.J., Distinguished Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans.[1] Yakich co-founded and co-edits Airplane Reading,[2] a media venue dedicated to collecting travelers' stories about flight. He is also the editor of New Orleans Review.


Poet Mark Yakich, a creative writing professor at Loyola University, writes the very best kind of idiosyncratic, edgy poem. Seeing the world through his eyes makes the reader re-evaluate what a word can do, what a word can mean, even what history as we know it is all about.[3]

The idiosyncrasies that permeate Unrelated Individuals Forming a Group Waiting to Cross are provocative -- of gratitude. Postmodern abstractions of the "language" variety have but nominally infiltrated this first book by Oakland poet Mark Yakich. On the whole, Yakich's language experiments are playful, and the mood spills onto the book jacket decorated with whimsical pastel figures. Think '60s and '70s album covers, from the Beatles' Claes Oldenburg-designed "Revolver" to Cream's "Disraeli Gears" and beyond. Think Dylan's fractured stream of consciousness, especially in "Tarantula." [4]

Twenty-eight poems make up The Making of Collateral Beauty beginning with the introductory “A Note on the Notes” where promises are made that none of this “is necessary in order to be entertained, instructed, or mauled by the apodictic poems in Mr. Yakich’s [previous] book . . . unless you are a native speaker of German.” Yakich next compares German to French in its beauty, and further makes the claim that the “most beautiful word in German is actually Austrian: Zwetschkenknödel. It means plum dumpling. Plum dumpling would be the most beautiful word in English if it were not two words.” Here is this beautiful thing. The absurdity is all there. Two plus three is six, and if you can’t see that, try again. This book is full of beautiful intonations that allow the poems to rely less on what is being said as much as how it is being said.[5]

In poet Yakich’s fiction debut, a young widower returns with his toddler son, Owen, to his childhood hometown outside Chicago for a 20th high-school reunion. The author employs a lively, witty second-person voice to tell the story of this never-named young man thrust suddenly into grief, guilt (his wife has died of anaphylactic shock after eating a cashew that was lurking in takeout food he brought home) and new and frightening responsibilities. He leaves New Orleans, where he teaches high school online (a perfect indicator of his intriguing mix of engagement with the world and isolation from it), for what he hopes will be a restorative visit to his parents’ place; at the very least there will be free babysitting. His stay at home allows him the chance to regress pleasantly: sleep in his old room, eat comfort food, watch sports, toss the football around the backyard…and the opportunity to attend his reunion and perhaps piece together, from who he was back then, the makings of a new and workable identity, a way of coping with his horrific circumstances. The voice is nimble and sharp, and Yakich bravely resists the siren call of melodrama; the protagonist is an ironist, a loner, a laconic withholder of information, and that serves the narrative well...[6]

In his debut novel, poet Yakich (The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine) uses the second person to tell the story of a high school English teacher whose wife dies after ingesting a cashew, leaving him a single dad to his almost toddler son, Owen. Our unnamed narrator flies with Owen to his home town (Chicago) to spend a weekend with his parents (schizophrenic father, a bedroom reeking of cat urine, and refrigerators holding “moldy fruits” and “green meats”) and attend his 20th high school reunion. What starts off as a novel about grief and coping bogs down when the narrator meets up with his old high school friends. The scenes are filled with wistful remembrances of old crushes and small talk, and while the voice is delightfully strong and there is potential for comedy and drama, the shadow of the wife’s death kills the buzz. Yakich writes with a poetic economy and a matter-of-fact lyricism, and his masterful use of second person suggests that the narrator is witnessing his life from an outside perspective. But the book suffers from his inability to connect with other people and the reader has difficulty making an emotional connection to him. Brilliant in flashes and an auspicious first effort.[7]

Toward the end of the novel there is a gutsy shift in narrative tone that lends the ending a sense of closure. In recent years, women writers such as Joan Didion and Meghan O’Rourke have published nonfiction memoir accounts of grief. In his debut novel Mr. Yakich provides the male perspective. Recommended to anyone who has experienced loss.[8]


His collection of poems Unrelated Individuals Forming a Group Waiting to Cross was one of five winners of the National Poetry Series in 2003. Another collection, The Making of Collateral Beauty, won the Snowbound Chapbook Award and was published by Tupelo Press in 2006. Most recently, he published the collection The Importance of Peeling Potatoes in Ukraine (Penguin Poets, 2008) and the chapbook Green Zone New Orleans (Press Street, 2008). Yakich's first novel, A Meaning for Wife, was named by the National Book Critics Circle as the No. 1 Small Press Highlight for 2011.[9]

Yakich was a Fulbright Fellow (2011–12) and taught in the School of Letters at the University of Lisbon, Portugal.



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