The Skin of Meaning

Collected Literary Essays and Talks
Aaron Shurin


A volume in the Poets on Poetry series, which collects critical works by contemporary poets, gathering together the articles, interviews, and book reviews by which they have articulated the poetics of a new generation.

In The Skin of Meaning, Aaron Shurin has collected thirty years’ worth of his provocative essays. Fueled by gender and queer studies and combined with radical traditions in poetry, Shurin’s essays combine a highly personal and lyrical vision with a trenchant social analysis of poetry’s possibilities. Whether he’s examining innovations in poetic form, analyzing the gestures of drag queens, or dissecting the language of AIDS,  Shurin’s writing is evocative, his investigations rigorous, and his point of view unabashed.

Shurin’s poetic practice braids together many strands in contemporary, innovative writing, from the San Francisco Renaissance to Language Poetry and New Narrative Writing. His mentorships with Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov; his studies at New College of California, where he was the first graduate of the epochal Poetics Program; and his years of teaching writing provide a rich  background for these essays. San Francisco provides the color and context for formulations of “prosody now,” propositions of textual collage, and theories of radical narrativity, while the heart of the book searches through the dire years of the AIDS epidemic to uncover poetic meaning, and “make the heroes heroes.”

“Reading these essays I’m struck by how fully Aaron Shurin combines a personal history with a prophetic, conceptual, strongly non-personal vision. With masterful intelligence he has presided over, partaken of, and influenced through his analysis avant-gardes as varied as Language Poetry, New Narrative, and conceptual or procedural poetry, on each of which he has written near-definitive texts. His writing about AIDS, brilliantly gathered here—rich, fantastic, and steely-eyed—encompasses the functions of a great novel: total immersion into a mysterious eco-political world. The Skin of Meaning concludes with a bracing interview, in which one of the more profoundly original poets of our day insists on a ‘unity of semantic and phonemic density together’ as poetry’s bottom line, at which point one wants to stand up and cheer, book in hand—book flies into sky, into stars, into the ages.”
—Kevin Killian, California College of the Arts

Photo credit: Orpheus

Aaron Shurin is Professor Emeritus and former Director of the MFA program at the University of San Francisco. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including Citizen (2011), King of Shadows (2008), and Involuntary Lyrics (2005). His honors and awards include the Gertrude Stein Award, the Bay Area Art Award, and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council.

Praise / Awards

  • "Shurin wields a creative imagination that is consummately critical. That is, his criticism arrives steeped in an imaginative gloss deeply engaged with the subject at hand. Every piece of writing by Shurin begins and ends bounded within intimacy."
  • "So much living happens in his lines, even when a number of essays in the collection are about illness and death, because the binaries are an illusion, even when grappling with the pandemic of AIDS."
    --Aja Couchois Duncan, Full Stop

Look Inside

News, Reviews, Interviews

Read: Aaron Shurin reviewed in Jacket2 (Link) | 3/13/2017
Read: Aaron Shurin interviewed for the Poetry Foundation (Link) | 11/1/2016
Watch: Aaron Shurin speaks at an SVA NYC Art Writing Program event (Link) | 4/1/2016


Product Details

  • 192 pages.
  • 3 illustrations.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2016
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12156-4

  • PDF: Adobe Digital Editions e-book (DRM Protected)

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  • poetry
    literary essays
    gay poetry
    experimental poetry
    San Francisco poetry
    New Narrative
    gay poets
    AIDS writing