The Palace of Forty Pillars

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A San Francisco Chronicle and LitHub Best Book of Spring

A Most Anticipated Book of the Season at The Rumpus, Publishers Weekly, and Autostraddle

“Brilliant and deft and heartfelt.”―Richie Hofmann

Wry, tender, and formally innovative, Armen Davoudian’s debut poetry collection, The Palace of Forty Pillars, tells the story of a self estranged from the world around him as a gay adolescent, an Armenian in Iran, and an immigrant in America. It is a story darkened by the long shadow of global tragedies—the Armenian genocide, war in the Middle East, the specter of homophobia. With masterful attention to rhyme and meter, these poems also carefully witness the most intimate encounters: the awkward distance between mother and son getting ready in the morning, the delicate balance of power between lovers, a tense exchange with the morality police in Iran.

In Isfahan, Iran, the eponymous palace has only twenty pillars—but, reflected in its courtyard pool, they become forty. This is the gamble of Davoudian’s magical, ruminative poems: to recreate, in art’s reflection, a home for the speaker, who is unable to return to it in life.


  • Sonnet sequences frame this tight but adventurous volume. . . . frank in its cultivation of sensuousness, of beauty.

    —Poetry Society of America

  • Handsome. . . . resounds with assured formal attention. . . . the erotic and the everyday intersect.

    —LitHub, A Best Poetry Collection of March

  • Davoudian’s lyrical genius is on full display in this debut. . . . a live wire of deeply held emotion that makes every line crackle on the tongue.

    —Chicago Review of Books, A Best Book of March

  • Berkeley poet Armen Davoudian names his debut collection after a landmark in his birthplace of Isfahan, Iran. Dual identities and reflections emerge as a theme in these poems about migration, queerness and finding the meaning of home.

    —The San Francisco Chronicle, A Best Book of Spring

  • Shows for the first time in far too long what meters and rhymes and inherited forms, used deftly and clearly to speak of real lives, can do. . . . Davoudian—by comparison, within his generation—stands almost alone: not alone in using old forms but alone in how well he uses them, in what he does with them, in how far back into history he seems to see.

    —Cleveland Review of Books

  • Some of the best [poems]  I’ve read in quite some time. . . . there’s a sense of wanton pleasure in language.

    —The Telegraph

  • Impressive… the poems feel like meditative guides of wisdom.

    —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

  • Lyrically and formally deft, this debut collection by Armen Davoudian beautifully charts a queer and exilic coming of age.

    —Electric Literature

  • Introduces the arrival of a future star in modern poetry.

    —Bay Area Reporter

  • Armen Davoudian’s The Palace of Forty Pillars heralds a new but already accomplished voice in American poetry, and indeed of an evolving America. Davoudian, born in Iran and Armenian by heritage, is a young master of the English language who brings to mind the high-culture wit of James Merrill and the affecting reticence of Elizabeth Bishop. Davoudian is also irrepressibly contemporary, as in ‘Coming out of the Shower,’ which shows him negotiating his identity as a gay man in a family whose traditions involve both deep affection and a knowing silence. The dazzling title poem, a sequence of twenty fresh and surprising sonnets, begins with the epigraph ‘Isfahan is half the world.’ Halving and doubling, image and reality, the worlds of a bookish child in Iran and of an adult American poet, are all handled with an ease that embraces ambiguity and complication. There are twenty quite perfect poems here, if we count the sequence of twenty sonnets as a single poem; there are word-games, and worlds within words, and clever rhymes. Yet we feel the poet has spoken to us heart to heart, with a naturalness we trust. Our experience of this first book is more than double: we know we’ll return to read it again, and again and again.

    —Mary Jo Salter, author of Zoom Rooms, co-editor of The Norton Anthology of Poetry

  • A poem should make an argument about its making, and a collection of poems should make an argument about the making of poetry itself. In this formally radical debut, Armen Davoudian shows how rhyme enacts longing for a homeland left behind; how meter sings to a lost beloved; and how a combination of the two can map a self—or idea of the self—relinquished so that a new life, and all the happiness it deserves, can take shape. Such arguments are difficult to achieve, especially while investigating exile, queerness, and the histories we receive and rewrite with nuance. The Palace of Forty Pillars indeed, and astonishingly, achieves this.

    —Paul Tran, author of All the Flowers Kneeling

  • These are songs of adolescence and love, of migration and history, brilliant and deft and heartfelt. Under the tutelary gaze of ancestral poets, Davoudian honors his queer amalgam of sources and makes of English sonnets and Persian ghazals something musical, memorable, and new. A magisterial book—reading it, I felt enchanted and transformed.

    —Richie Hofmann, author of A Hundred Lovers

  • Armen Davoudian transforms his Iranian childhood with Proustian sensuality. His images embody a psychological web of forces that shape the self as it accrues the complexities of experience. His cosmopolitan voice spans time and space and literary traditions. The echo chamber of his language will stay with you.

    —Peter Balakian, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Ozone Journal