Robert Viscusi reads from Ellis Island (Bordighera Press, 2013)

Robert Viscusi’s epic poem is composed of 624 Italianate sonnets arranged in 52 groups of twelve, called “books.” The poet uses the literary device chiasmus: The last sonnet answers the first. But Ellis Island exists in two states: the printed volume, and an online version at that generates random sonnets using lines from the 624 sonnets. In this way, like an immigrant, the poem Ellis Island belongs to two epochs. The old, the print version, is in order every time a reader opens the book. The new-epoch poem on the Internet is different every time a reader visits the website.

“Viscusi has constructed a wonderful machine for generating sonnets, an effort that reproduces the equally demented project of Ellis Island itself.”

 — Mac Wellman, author of Murder of Crows