Set in the urban Chicago landscape, Central Air explores the human challenge of living with strong desires, limited knowledge, and no saving direction. The voices in this mix of elegies and soft litanies negotiate lives within the strangeness and unpredictability of each moment. In every case, language is a swift prayer, ode, and lyric. Chicago is an intensely experienced, blue-collar homeplace where injustice is a given. The poems are stern, compressed, and unsentimental. But they are also empathic to human shortcomings and doubts, scored in unobtrusive consistency in both voice and language.
Puican’s focus on the city, its people and underbellied spaces, pays homage in the tradition of the great Chicago masters: Carl Sandburg, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Campbell McGrath. This contemporary Chicago son finds his own place with lyrical integrity.
“In Mike Puican’s striking debut, Central Air, poems not only question our surroundings but allow our surroundings to question us—Chicago becoming as central a character as any other. With vivid imagery and a fine control of rhetoric, Puican’s poems are as strong giving life to a bar joke as they are representing the challenges of addressing the divine.” —C. Dale Young, author of The Affliction: A Novel in Stories
"Mike Puican’s poems are stern, compressed, and unsentimental. But they are also big-hearted and empathic, even when their evocations of human failing are at their most acute. The poems succeed through an unobtrusive mastery of craft, surprising turns of imagery, narrative precision, and an unerring consistency of voice. The book is also a masterly evocation of contemporary Chicago, a worthy successor to collections such as Sandburg's Chicago Poems or Brook's A Street in Bronzeville. This is notable company indeed." —David Wojahn, author of Interrogation Palace: New and Selected Poems 1982-2004
"Mike Puican's Central Air is filled with vividly exuberant and deeply empathetic images of life. He has shaped the cheer and sorrows of hundreds of human moments into a bright constellation of poetic energy and inventiveness. His way of capturing spiritual as well as carnal intensities is striking and original. What a great debut! And a great Chicago book, as well." —Reginald Gibbons, author of How Poems Think
“When I read Mike Puican’s Central Air, I can feel Chicago in my bones like hot sidewalks and gridded streets. Here is a Midwest crooner with a river of Red Line in his blood. Here is a catechism of Father-prayers and tenement doorways. Reader, ‘Tonight the crack in the asphalt is speaking to me,’ and its voice is wonderment wandering from Mike’s town to yours. Wherever you are, open these pages to find a map back to a place where the wind is ruler of everything it touches, a place that ‘twists its way into our hearts.’” —Tyehimba Jess, author of Olio
“Here we have it—keenly addictive chronicles of the Chicago poet and his Chicago brethren, living their just-ain’t-no-livin’-like-this Chicago lives against that utterly iconic Chicago backdrop. Mike Puican’s homage to that most relentless of cities is nothing less than revelatory, and the poetic landscape will have to shift in appreciation.” —Patricia Smith, author of Incendiary Art (Northwestern, 2017)