The Ada Poems

The Ada Poems

by Cynthia Zarin
     
 

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A dazzling story of obsessive love emerges in Cynthia Zarin’s luminous new book inspired and inhabited by the title character of Nabokov’s novel Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, who was the lifelong love of her half brother, Van.

These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and

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Overview

A dazzling story of obsessive love emerges in Cynthia Zarin’s luminous new book inspired and inhabited by the title character of Nabokov’s novel Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle, who was the lifelong love of her half brother, Van.

These electric poems are set in a Nabokovian landscape of memory in which real places, people, and things—the exploration of the Hudson River, Edwardian London, sunflowers, Chekhov, Harlem, decks of cards, the death of Solzhenitsyn, morpho butterflies—collide with the speaker’s own protean tale of desire and loss. With a string of brilliant contemporary sonnets as its spine, the book is a headlong display of mastery and sorrow: in the opening poem, “Birch,” the poet writes “Abide with me, arrive / at its skinned branches, its arms pulled / from the sapling . . . the birch all elbows, taking us in.” But Zarin does not “Destroy and forget” as Nabokov’s witty, tender Ada would have her do; rather, as she writes in “Fugue: Pilgrim Valley,” “The past’s / clear colors make the future dim, Lethe’s / swale lined with willow twigs.” Like all enduring love poetry, these poems are a gorgeous refusal to forget.

A riveting, high-stakes performance by one of our major poets, The Ada Poems
extends the reach of American poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Nothing is what it seems in Zarin's fourth collection of poetry (after The Watercourse). Loosely based on Nabokov's novel Ada, a story of incestuous love, Zarin's book fuses allusions to Nabokov with references to contemporary events. It also combines erotic images with those that seem childlike. Zarin, who is proficient in both free and formal verse, includes many exquisite contemporary sonnets. A Yale professor, contributor to The New Yorker, children's book author, and winner of the Lavan Younger Poets Award in 1994, Zarin begins the book in medias res. She draws the reader into the narrative line with arresting metaphors reminiscent of those by Theodore Roethke and with cliff-hanger endings. She weaves quotations from Ada into the poems; some serve as epigraphs, others as part of the text. VERDICT Although somewhat distracting, Zarin's technique adds resonance, helping the poems to work on several levels and giving the book a frenetic Alice in Wonderland atmosphere. With its deft wordplay and polished style, Zarin's collection offers a chilling poetry of double meanings that will appeal to sophisticated readers.—C. Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307272478
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/21/2010
Pages:
80
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Birch

Bone-spur, stirrup of veins-white colt a tree, sapling bone again, worn to a splinter,
a steeple, the birch aground

in its ravine of leaves. Abide with me, arrive at its skinned branches, its arms pulled from the sapling, your wrist taut,

each ganglion a gash in the tree's rent trunk, a child's hackwork, love plus love,
my palms in your fist, that

trio a trident splitting the birch, its bark papyrus, its scars calligraphy,
a ghost story written on

winding sheets, the trunk bowing, dead is
my father, the birch reading the news of the day aloud as if we hadn't

heard it, the root moss lit gas,
like the veins on your ink-stained hand-
the birch all elbows, taking us in.

Aubade Against Grief

Chaste sun who would not light your face pale as the fates who vanished

when we turned aside; recluse whom grace returned and by returning banished

all thought but: Love, late sleeper in the early hours, flesh of my bone,
centaur: Excuse

my faults—tardiness, obtuse remit of my own heart, unruly haste

to keep my mouth on yours, to wipe the slate clean, to atone—
what could I want but to wait

for that light to touch your face,
chaste as Eros in the first wishedon rush of wings?

Late Poem
. . . a matter of changing a slide in a magic lantern.”

I wish we were Indians and ate foie gras and drove a gas- guzzler and never wore seat belts

I’d have a baby, yours, cette fois,
and I’d smoke Parliaments and we’d drink our way through the winter

in spring the baby would laugh at the moon who is her father and her mother who is his pool and we’d walk backwards and forwards

in lizard- skin cowboy boots and read Gilgamesh and Tintin aloud
I’d wear only leather or feathers

plucked from endangered birds and silk from exploited silkworms we’d read The Economist

it would be before and after the internet
I’d send you letters by carrier pigeons who would only fly from one window

to another in our drafty, gigantic house with twenty- three uninsulated windows and the dog would be always be

off his leash and always find his way home as we will one day and we’d feed small children

peanut butter and coffee in their milk and I’d keep my hand glued under your belt even while driving and cooking

and no one would have our number except I would have yours where I’ve kept it carved on the sole of my stiletto

which I would always wear when we walked in the frozen and dusty wood and we would keep warm by bickering

and falling into bed perpetually and entirely unsafely as all the best things are
—your skin and my breath on it.

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Meet the Author

Cynthia Zarin was born in New York City and educated at Harvard and Columbia. She is the author of three previous books of poetry—The Watercourse, Fire Lyric, and The Swordfish Tooth—and several books for children. She is a longtime contributor to The New Yorker. The recipient of fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and winner of the Peter I. B. Lavan Younger Poets Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, she teaches at Yale and lives in New York City.

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