Lunch Portraits, by Debora Kuan

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Rejecting the purely lyrical mode and its attendant melancholia, the poems in Lunch Portraits attempt to beat back existential dread by reveling in the delightfully banal totems of mass American culture—hot dogs, cinema, cats, money, youth, selfies. They eat their way through exuberance and fear, richness and emptiness, belonging and alienation, locating in the everyday what is human and hopelessly hungry. Yet in this search for satiation, they also stumble upon the vexing paradoxes inherent in this desire, where no insecurity is entirely innocuous. These poems are alive with appetite and yearning, always hopeful to discover, as Kuan writes, “the ‘help’ button of the burning telephone.”

Lunch Portraits
by Debora Kuan

Pub Date: Dec 15, 2016
104 Pages

Order Paperback: $16

Order PDF: $9

Order Ebook: $9

“Debora Kuan’s Lunch Portraits is a journey into husbands, hoagies, mermaids, earthquakes, lounge singers, fertility, mammals, hot dogs, and oranges. It is a journey into what it means to be female in America today and the ways in which the landscape of the everyday can both subvert and enlarge our existence. It is a journey on a weird tilt of ekphrasis, where the very stuff we see and experience has its holy time in the world of a poemwhere language can be the thing to both save and destroy. Lunch Portraits is an awesome book and I know it will change your life for the better.”

Dorothea Lasky

“With an eye-shadowed wink to Saint O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, Debora Kuan in Lunch Portraits finds pleasure and pathos in the cracks of Americana’s kitschy veneer. In an age when ‘woman laughing and eating salad’ is used to sell just about anything, there’s something refreshing in this book’s sandwich-heavy feminism. I love these poems for their wry surprises and tasty, surreal details, but also for their wisdom and joie de vivre.”

Joanna Fuhrman

“Debora Kuan’s exhilarating new book, Lunch Portraits, is a pure delight for the hungry reader. Full of wit and surprise, this collection serves up the most savory bits. “Drop a coin in me./ I’ll give you a sandwich./ You speak burger./ I speak pie./ Our common tongue/ is lunchtime.” In Kuan’s remarkable poems, everything’s on the menu. Never timid, this book often blossoms into the surreal with notes of sublime, lyric magic, and play. Kuan’s poems give voice to our hunger, questioning what it takes to get through this life.”

Christopher Salerno

“When God closes one door, somewhere/ He opens a hoagie,” Debora Kuan writes in Lunch Portraits, and she might as well have written that God opens this book, because it’s as good as a hoagie, chock full of delicious surprises that make your “woes// slide easy off your plate.” It’s an “antidote to nothingness” in its celebration of the sensuous, and Kuan’s perfect, Proustian touch in her many evocations of lived, physical experience border on the spiritual. The extraordinary hymn to life that closes her book, “121 Memories of an American Childhood,” makes everything from Nutty Buddies to lunch money envelopes to the “baked potato with its perfect ice-cream scoop of butter on top” sing. This is a poet Frank O’Hara would be happy to have lunch with, and you will too.”

Jason Koo



Debora Kuan is the author of the poetry collection XING. Her writing has appeared in The Awl, The Baffler, Brooklyn Rail, Fence, The Iowa Review, Art in America, Artforum, Modern Painters, and other publications. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Princeton University, and the CUNY Writers’ Institute, she has been awarded residencies at Yaddo, Macdowell, and the Santa Fe Art Institute. She is currently Director of English Language Arts assessment design and development at the College Board and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.


“There really is no way around the fact that Lunch Portraits is hilarious.”


“Impressive and engaging, Kuan uses wit to reveal the essence of daily existence, fluctuating between the fantastical, the natural, and the commonplace.”

The Colorado Review

“Debora Kuan’s wonderful Lunch Portraits inverts and subverts this ideology of hunger, constructing poems that deploy tongue-in-cheek surrealist absurdity, biting social satire, and lyrical longing, revealing the psychological consequences of our pervasive “terror and loathing” of female hunger and sexuality.”

Heavy Feather Review

“One of the most invigorating aspects of Lunch Portraits is the quality of the voice present throughout. The speaker of these poems is forthright, brave, and unafraid of judgment. She is nimble, moving through space and time, juggling referents as varied as Wild Strawberries and ham hoagies, Super Bowl Sunday and Claes Oldenburg. This voice is one that can unite a wide register of experiences and perceptions.”

Publishers Weekly

“In her placidly absurdist second collection, Kuan nods to Frank O’Hara as she catalogues and exhibits the quotidian detritus that trails in the wake of a peculiarly American life, presenting them as details in a larger portrait.”

Stereo Embers

“Written with sophistication, wild invention and tremendous heart, Lunch Portraits is a sympathetic and decidedly moving look at the hungers of the modern world.”

Fjords Review

“The space of the cloud encompasses the gesture that Kuan appears to be making: creating space for potential is the only bastion of true being, of life. In that vein, her collection is not just poems working with center and periphery but an etiological suggestion for re-thinking how ontology organizes itself toward rote centering. Perhaps Western perception could benefit from loosening its hold on the center and, to paraphrase Martin Heidegger, allow being to approach one unformed and unobstructed by the past. To revel, in other words, in the infinite potential of the present moment in all its facets.”

Luna Luna, 5 Books that Should Be on Your Shelf

“These poems are raw and delicious, like an apple from an alien planet. Kuan writes poems about ordinary experiences, about the emptiness and culture of American life, through cats, selfies, and more.”


Interview with Black Nerd Problems