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Book Title

Urban Tumbleweed

Notes from a Tanka Diary
Author 1
Harryette Mullen
Poem Excerpt
Urban tumbleweed, some people call it,
discarded plastic bag we see in every city
blown down the street with vagrant wind.
            —from Urban Tumbleweed
Urban Tumbleweed is poet Harryette Mullen’s exploration of spaces where the city and the natural world collide. Written out of a daily practice of walking, Mullen’s stanzas adapt the traditional Japanese tanka, a poetic form suited for recording fleeting impressions, describing environmental transitions, and contemplating the human being’s place in the natural world. But, as she writes in her preface, “What is natural about being human? What to make of a city dweller taking a ‘nature walk’ in a public park while listening to a podcast with ear-bud headphones?”
Praise for Harryette Mullen:
“[Mullen’s poetry is] brilliant and enigmatic, familiar and subversive. Like jewels, her poems are multifaceted and shoot off lights. Mullen uses the techniques of sound association, innuendo, and signifying, and this way makes the reader alert to the cunning of the English language.”—Jackson Poetry Prize judges’ citation

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“Harryette Mullen is a magician of words, phrases, and songs. . . . No voice in contemporary poetry is quite as original, cosmopolitan, witty, and tragic.”—Susan Stewart, citation for the Academy of American Poets Fellowship

About the Author

Harryette  Mullen
Harryette Mullen is the author of eight books of poetry, including Urban Tumbleweed, Recyclopedia, and Sleeping with the Dictionary, which was a finalist for the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She is Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of California–Los Angeles.
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Upcoming Events

HYBRID: Harryette Mullen in conversation with Graywolf Press publisher Carmen Giménez and Director of Poetry Jeff Shotts to celebrate RAISED BY WOLVES: FIFTY POETS ON FIFTY POEMS

Poetry Foundation in Chicago, ILview map
This event is free and open to the public. Click here for more details and to register. The livestream link will be shared with registered guests on the day of the event. 


  • “Gorgeous. . . . Mullen brings her love of form and syntax to a rhetorical intersection with the transitory natural world in an exciting portrayal of postmodern ecology, an ambitious and subtle work.”—NPR
  • “Tanka after tanka, [Mullen] illustrates the landscape with brevity, humor and crisp detail. . . . Mullen is a magician. . . . The book is an instant classic."KCET "L.A. Letters"
  • “Taken together, [the poems] document the errant progression of a beginner’s mind as it seeks to revise its connection to the sensory world.”Boston Review
  • "[Urban Tumbleweed] makes us envy the opportunity for introspection that it delivers, and it has the power to reinvigorate our relationship with the world outside our windows."Coldfront
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