Selected by Tyrone Williams for the 2016 Colorado Prize for Poetry, Exit Theater casts classical elegy, with dazzling formal innovation, into a staggering work of contemporary, political polyphony. Through monologues, performance scripts, and poems of exquisite prosody, Mike Lala examines the human figure—as subject and object, enemy and ally—in the context of a progressively defigured and hostile world. Catullus, Shakespeare, Cy Twombly, and Lydia Delectorskaya echo across engagements with Israeli generals, accused terrorists, State Department employees, nuclear scientists, Saturday Night Live actors, war criminals, malware, and a host of mythic, literary, and half-extant spectral characters. Amid the cacophony, Lala implicates every actor, including himself, in a web of shared culpability vis-à-vis consumerism, representation, speaking, writing, and making art against the backdrop of the endless, open wars of a post–Cold War, post-2001 era. Exit Theater is a debut of and against its time—a book about war, art, and what it means to make art in a time of war.
In Exit Theater Mike Lala turns away, turns from, turns to his iPhone, to Cy Twombly, to Catallus, but there is no exit from the maze of the world that is in 'our time,' as Hemingway knew, a gun cabinet. And every gun is a life, standing at attention and loaded, as Dickinson knew. In these lyrical meditations crisscrossing the fields of personal, national, and international histories, strewn with bodies, Lala confronts, without flinching, the terrible beauties born of fin de siècle pessimism and optimism: we remain in the closet.
- Tyrone Williams, judge for the Colorado Prize
Michael Lala’s Exit Theater deals mystery and suspense. This poet is expert at revealing the personal alongside the public through a language that’s intimate, searching, and uniquely his. The reader becomes an apt detective, ready to sift through imagistic and verbal evidence where the everyday and fantastic coexist. Exit Theater is indeed a challenging and seductive journey into an inner sanctum of reveries.
- Yusef Komunyakaa
This is a remarkable first book - sprawling, generous, angry, delicate. Through borrowed language and staged dialogues, Exit Theater asks how individual experiences of violence combine with myth to create the collective present, where we peer out from the "gun cabinet." A gun cabinet is a scary place from which to act as friend, to act as lover, to talk to family ghosts. Lala's book tears open the velvet cushioning.
- Catherine Wagner
Lala merges verse, academic text, and lyric essay with writing for the stage in an elegiac debut collection meant to be beheld and enacted. This provocative book is designed as an immersive experience, featuring verse that can be classified as poetry only in that it announces itself as such: this is performance, myth creation, and rally cry. In his understated confrontations with forms of societal violence - militarism, climate change, economic collapse - Lala attends to the musicality of language, seductively contrasting the lush with the sparse. Throughout, visual disjunctions and negative space wield tremendous power. This is a dense and challenging yet rewarding read.
- Publishers Weekly
A book that challenges and resists the vague accumulations of knowledge upon which regimes depend. A marvel of genre-straining performances.
Through its movements from the elegy to Afghanistan by way of the gun cabinet, Lala’s book ultimately stages a new question, perhaps an inevitable question, for aesthetic work in these times of violence: what happens when Chekhov’s gun becomes a drone, a melting ice cap, a toxic algae bloom? Causality, expectation, inevitability, narrative and poetic pleasure, all must be recast when confronted with the multiple time scales and emergent agencies, whether human or object, executive order or weaponized technology, that constitute the present.
The Atlas Review Chapbook Series, 2016
Inventing, unnerving, and commanding...I can think of few collections more necessary or irreplaceable than this one. - The Rumpus
How can modernism be transformed from a tool of state power into a politically radical weapon against the state, its imperialism, its culture of violence? If the question is canonical, Lala’s answer swerves away from the tired, standard strategies of (to take an entirely innocent example) language writing. Rather than placing his faith in, say, syntactic disturbance or radical parataxis—that is, in an acceleration of modernism’s own aesthetic strategies—he uses those strategies to describe himself, to locate himself in an economy of violence. And vice versa: he uses his personal history as a mapping tool, which allows him to sketch the contours of contemporary violence. In this sense, his work stages a rapprochement between many modes of 20th century writing: mingling avant-garde difficulty with confessional directness, polemical energy with aesthetic depth and beauty. - Entropy
Present-Tense Pamphlets, 2016, in conjunction with the "Performed in the Present Tense" Symposium and "A Feast of Astonishments: Charlotte Moorman and the Avant-Garde, 1960s - 1980s," The Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art / Mellon Dance Studies, The Alice Kaplan Institute for the Humanities, Northwestern Univ. Dept. of Art History.
A brief closet drama documenting the covert war against Iran's nuclear program, the killing of an American family, and the people who made it possible.
Soft Sculpture Press (formerly [sic] Detroit), series 001, 2011
Second printing, 2013