In These Dark Skies, Zwartjes interweaves the experience of living in the southern Netherlands—with her wife, who is Russian—and the unfolding of both the refugee crisis across Europe and the uptick in terrorist acts in France, Greece, Austria, Germany, and the Balkans. She probes her own subjectivity, as a white American, as a queer woman in a transcultural marriage, as a writer, and as a witness.

Along the way, she explores a broad array of related topics, including drone strikes, tear gas, and military intervention; the sugar trade, the Dutch blackface celebration of Zwarte Piet, and constructions of whiteness in Europe and the U.S.; and visual arts of Russian avant-garde painters, an Iraqi choreographer living in Belgium, and German choreographer Pina Bausch.

This is a lyrical, timely book deeply salient to the political moment we continue to find ourselves in.

These Dark Skies is at once brilliant and humane, asking the despairing and urgent question: How shall I live? There is something incredibly moving and human in Zwartjes’s approach to the question. It reminds me of Abramovic’s The Artist is Present: I sit down opposite her. She lifts her head. And in her gaze I see all my doubts and fears and questions reflected. She erases the borders between self and other, empire and colony, center and periphery, and tries to make sense, with her heart and her mind, of the jumble that follows. This book is an incredible unflinching look at the great lie of our time: that there is an us and a them; that we in the empire are somehow innocent and uncontaminated by the blood and rage of the world; that we can in any way survive without upending that lie. It is a gift and a reckoning long overdue—and incredibly human. —Sunil Yapa, author of Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

What begins as a nuanced study and meditation on the origins, manifestations, and structures of violence soon develops into a profound exploration of the self, the self within a body, the self within a complicated and dangerous and beautiful world. In These Dark Skies, Arianne Zwartjes has woven a book of her travels and lived experiences across the globe, and in so doing Zwartjes engages the reader in a series of questions that delve into the very core of our existence as human beings. This is a remarkable, clear-eyed, necessary book, one that I will be sharing with those I love—as it will create doorways into conversations on whiteness, identity, trauma, activism, biopolitics, systemic kindness, and much, much more. —Brian Turner, author of My Life as a Foreign Country 

Is the world already broken into pieces? Then we must find new forms of prose, new writing, to encounter it. That is what happens in Arianne Zwartjes’s remarkable book that is, at turns and at once, memoir, essay, critical reflection, poetic musing. These Dark Skies travels continents in an inch of text, travels eternity in an hour. What might seem like coincidental choreography is a masterful arranging of life-in-print that heralds—or ought to anyhow—new modes of knowing experience in a rapturous yet dangerous present. —Kazim Ali, author of Northern Light: Power, Land, and the Memory of Water and founder and editor of Nightboat Books

Press coverage and reviews of These Dark SKies HERE.


In a series of linked lyric essays in the Medical Humanities, Detailing Trauma explores in vivid, sometimes graphic detail the many types of wounds from which the human body and spirit may suffer—and heal. Mapping the diseases and injuries that can afflict the body, the author asks how we can continue to live and love in the face of the great potential for suffering and loss. —University of Iowa Press

Featured in Poets & Writers “Page One: Where New and Noteworthy Books Begin” and Best American Essay Notable Essays

Zwartjes’ are lyrical essays, well-wrought meditations on anatomy and physiology, car accidents, wildfires, exposed nerves; meditations that border on poetry, even if their subjects are fractured and ruptured. Which is difficult territory. Not for the reader, but for the writer, who must not only dwell in suffering but render it readable. And, more importantly, without making it too readable. After all, trauma is the subject. Mercifully, Zwartjes’ essays often avoid “closure,” and the book will not repel readers who have found that closure is bullshit and that only scar tissue and slow time make any difference. They are wounds from which we may heal, the book’s back jacket emphasizes. But neither does Zwartjes’ Trauma offer easy platitudes. Recommended. —Christian Peet, editor of Tarpaulin Sky Press

Detailing Trauma examines language and laboratory and limb, probing for the metaphorical relationships between physiological processes and emotional ones. It asks: how can we understand life and death as experienced by our organs? Our nerves? Our lungs? Does that understanding make us better, make us safer? If anything, this book is a resounding response to fear, a robust cry for trust, for bravery. It is a healing, a knowing, a courageous acceptance of the inevitability of fracture. It is a body and a body of text, fragile and flawed and miraculous as anyone.   Essay Daily

 Arianne Zwartjes’s book-length essay Detailing Trauma: A Poetic Anatomy works at limits: of the mind and body, of poetics and narrative, of that thin split between order and its dis. In her world, everything inanimate has a body, too—vintage film rolls, the sky, and afternoon. The body serves as the vestige for all the living that preceded the now, and in this way, as Zwartjes puts it, “We haunt ourselves” (84). Whether through text or flesh, the haunted self persists in Zwartjes’s book, a project that re-members skin and page in constructing an archive ripe for study by bodies yet to come.   —Lindsey Drager   

Press coverage and reviews of Detailing Trauma here.


A series of interlocked prose poems exploring hyperbolic geometry, the mysteries of flight, and the thinking of Simone Weil, Ann Carson, Italo Calvino, Leonardo DaVinci, Plato, and Heidegger, The Surfacing of Excess won the 2009 Blue Lynx Prize from Eastern Washington University Press.

Arianne Zwartjes’s thoughtful, playful poems map the surfaces of language, image, flight, and architecture. Reading The Surfacing of Excess is like removing the boring part of your skull and letting the sky about your brain. Or like hanging around with the theoretical mathematicians’ guild, getting goofy, drinking wine by the jug, positing geometries, speaking Greek. Ambitious, fragmented, and thinky in ways most poetry doesn’t even attempt, triangulating by stars including Weil, Carson, Plato, Calvino, and Heidegger, Zwartjes is a new breed of bird in a sky filled with sameness. Part descent, part descant, always vector, in her words, herein you’ll find “here / we know there is a mystery greater than beauty.” —Ander Monson

I have often thought that in the limited perception of mortals, there are only rare moments where we’re capable of understanding how proofs and theories based in science can support faith in the divine. As methodical as St. Thomas Aquinas and as lyric as Rilke, Arianne Zwartjes provides truly plausible evidence of the existence of angels. Here is poetry that, to borrow a phrase from Rukeyser, walks in valvular air. There is no curve of the great void of space that is not now, for me, forever illuminated, thanks to this extraordinary new music of the spheres. —D. A. Powell

In quest of the shape of escape, seeing liberty in the potential shapes of space, Zwartjes’s elegant, intricate text poses frank questions: how can one reconcile Simone Weil and hyperbolic geometry, mathematical clarity, and personal history? And can a detailed and accurate understanding of flight compensate for our inability to fly? Zwartjes uses such questions to open an inquiry on relationship in its widest senses, employing marvelous phrasing and striking imagery to evoke our interlaced and ultimately unmappable trajectories. —Cole Swenson

These lively “eco-poems” take the marvelous, but endangered, species called language on a lively quest for sustenance. Arianne Zwartjes contemplates mysteries, politics, emotions, and aesthetics, indulging us with a feast of realities. The “surfacing of excess” turns out not to be a clever phrase, or a ruse, but the hard work that a beautiful mind accomplishes, thinking about life, in Zwartjes’s case, in an interlinked diction of science and religion, which resolves itself in a language of love. —Jane Miller

Press coverage and reviews of The Surfacing of Excess here.


These intricate essays use mathematics and poetry, the inter-section of language and thought, to interrogate and describe the world. The cast list includes Gauss, Euclid, Weil, Rumi, Heidegger, Eliot, Carson, and Calvino. Thinky and beautiful, Zwartjes’ essays are open, electrical explorations in space. Available here, at DIAGRAM/New Michigan Press.


Poems exploring body, gender transition, relationship, and otherness. A poetry chapbook from Dancing Girl Press, available here.