Jessy Randall. How to Tell If You Are Human. Pleiades Press Visual Poetry Series, October 2018. 80 pages. $20. ISBN 978-0807169841. Cover design by David Wojciechowski. Available from Pleiades, Louisiana State University Press, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. Maybe your local library will have a copy. If you're a teacher and would like to assign the book to your students, email me ( and I can send you a link where they can get it for half price.

How to Tell If You Are Human is a collection of 80 poems made from diagrams in withdrawn library books. In it, straightforward instructions for playground games become ambiguous descriptions of complex emotions. Illustrations of household objects used for German language-learning become melancholic feminist ruminations. A map of a museum now helps visitors find a good place to make out. The signifiers for identifying different types of beetles are removed and replaced with statements from a bunch of pervy skanks.

Sample diagram poems online in Poetry, Rattle, and elsewhere, and in print in Gargoyle, Jubilat, and The Best American Experimental Writing 2015.

Announcement from Pleiades Press.

Advance praise:

"Jessy Randall has create the ultimate user manual for human existence. Finally, it all makes sense! -- Charlie Jane Anders, author of All the Birds in the Sky

"If you're not sure you're human, Jessy Randall’s diagram poems might help. There is something true (truth = heartbreak + hilarity + humility) in how she charts our bizarre behaviors, diagrams our paranoid fantasies, and blueprints our vulnerable questions. In her poems, we're pixels and little, walking cosmoses all at once. This book kills me and whether I'm animated code or a bag of energy, I’m definitely coming back. -- Sommer Browning, author of Backup Singers

"A how-to book that is also a poetry book that is also a book of images that also interrogates the notion of poetic imagery itself. How To Tell If You Are Human is a playful and intriguing work. -- Amy Fusselman, author of Savage Park and Idiophone 

Jessy Randall maps her imagination onto the world—or, at least, onto the world’s ephemera. Lost charts, diagrams, and instruction booklets of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: in Randall’s hands, these are the fecund materials that compose our age. She writes onto/into these artifacts of the past in order to illuminate our confounding present. How To Tell If You Are Human is a deadpan triumph of poetic repurposing and Randall one of visual poetry’s most restlessly inventive practitioners. -- Johnny Damm, author of The Science of Things Familiar


"The impression I get is of someone who is desperate for answers and locked in an outdated library, grabbing book after book to see what truth reveals itself. In other words, the book enacts my exact feeling about the world most days. It’s inscrutable, and it comes without a clear answer manual..." -- Karen Craigo, Better View of the Moon

"Do you ever find yourself feeling out of sorts, unable to tell if you’re still human? Jessy Randall has considered this feeling and helps readers handle it with an instructional manual of sorts..." -- Katy Haas, NewPages

"...there is an appeal here for many sorts of readers: those who enjoy formal experimentation, those who dig the line-surprise, as well as those who turn to art so that they may say, 'yes, this is what my life is like.' The book displays a certain force of thought, one that causes appreciation and introspection. It also forces a reconsideration of why poets make poems the way they make them, and of the hilarious, infuriating chore of being human." -- Hayden Bergmann, The Literary Review

"Randall’s How to Tell If You Are Human splits the atom of consciousness; it challenges the reader aesthetically and it exudes intellectual comfort. In short, it fundamentally mirrors the growth of our inner beings. -- Judy Swann, The Mom Egg [Swann compares the work with that of Laurie Anderson, Miranda July, and Gertrude Stein, !!!]

Heavy Feather top pick for 2018; Sundress Publications feature at the Wardrobe, March 2020.

"... encompassing a dizzying range of personal experiences ... helps to raise our understanding of the bewildering set of interactions a person must navigate on a daily basis ..."  -- Paul David Adkins, The Bookends Review


Reading, April 16, 2019, Santa Monica CA

Book Party, November 1, 2018 5-7 pm, Wild Goose Meeting House, Colorado Springs

"Jessy Randall Publishes Book of Visual Poetry," Colorado College, September 2018

Non-humans respond to the book

Classroom use: contact the author ( for a possible student discount.