The Human Scale: Murder, Mischief and Other Selected Mayhems. 2023
“Whether investigating a gruesome triple-murder, a fairy tale marriage gone horribly wrong, or a brilliant con artist, Michael Lista has proven himself one of the most gifted storytellers of his generation. In his belief that crime reporting thrives the closer it moves to “the human scale”–where every uncovered secret reveals the truth of our obligations to each other–Lista builds his compulsively readable narratives from details (fake flowers, a little girl’s necklace) others might pass over, details that provide a doorway into the extreme situations he is drawn to. The Human Scale not only includes Lista’s most celebrated magazine stories to date, but comes with postscripts that describe his process in writing each piece, and the fallout from publication. Here is long-form journalism in its most hallowed form: brilliant and bingeable.”
“Bloom is the electrifying debut collection from one of our best emerging poets. If a studio technician could “remix” poems by modern and contemporary poets so they retold the story of the Manhattan Project from the viewpoint of Louis Slotin, simultaneously putting Robert Lowell in whispered conversation with Ted Hughes, as vocalized by a Canadian physicist from Winnipeg, over the current state of literary utopian projects, we’d hear something nearly as captivating as Michael Lista’s Bloom. As it is, we also get “Lista” swimming ghostlike through this palimpsest-narrative, inhabiting Slotin and brashly “tickling the dragon’s tail” at the nucleus of untested notions of creation, stasis, and destruction. In Bloom, one of the most dangerous historical fulcrums of the last century is somehow made viscerally present again, and, more wondrously, made to radiate outward into very current crises.”
The Scarborough. 2014.
“The Scarborourgh takes place over three days in 1992: Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday—the weekend 15-year-old Kristin French was abducted and murdered by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka. In poems both opulent and stricken, ravishing and unflinching, Michael Lista—nine, at the time—revisits those dates, haunted by the horrifying facts he now possesses. Inspired, in part, by Dante’s Inferno, Virgil’s tale of Orpheus’ descent into the underworld for Eurydice, as well as the Bernardo trial itself—where the judge ruled that the gallery could hear the video tapes of the crimes, but not see them—Lista’s poems adhere to a single rule: you cannot gaze at the beloved you seek to rescue. The Scarborourgh is book about Bernardo that doesn’t show us Bernardo, a conceptual project that ignores its concept. Shiveringly bold, it is a major achievement.”
Strike Anywhere. 2016.
‘As Michael Lista is quick to point out, being a critic can be dangerous for your career. In his collection of essays, Strike Anywhere, he bravely takes on the inherently contradictory nature of artistic expression and tackles the moral and artistic implications of boob tube blockbusters, all while attempting to answer the age-old question: Why does poetry suck? “I’d like to think that I’m polarizing the way a battery is,” explains Michael Lista in his introduction to Strike Anywhere, “energizing the flashlight by which you read in the dark only because it has a negative and a positive side. Collected here, under one cover, are my cathodes and my anodes.”
In his self-described ‘arsons’, Lista assesses with equal fire our literary darlings (Anne Carson, Don McKay), talented veterans (Steven Heighton, David McGimpsey) and promising newcomers (Stevie Howell, Aisha Sasha John) of the poetic genre. He depicts a literary institution pathologically averse to the sustenance of a traditional repertoire and addicted to the empty calories of poetic experiments. Television, too, falls prey to his jaundiced eye, from the militant sincerity of The Bachelorette to the receptacle of American anxieties that is The Walking Dead. But beyond passing judgment on the contemporary Literary Industrial Complex, Strike Anywhere acknowledges the inherent contradiction of poetic expression—that its power lies in its uselessness—and recognizes that poets are, nonetheless, the happy few, the unacknowledged legislators of the world.
With thoughtfulness, wit and considerable humour, Michael Lista offers a refreshingly candid take on the moral and aesthetic implications of storytelling in all its forms, from boob-tube blockbusters to the latest volume of verse.’