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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...
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The Ada Poems

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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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307814951
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/15/2012
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 80
  • File size: 2 MB

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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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Table of Contents

Birch 3

Aesop 4

Regime 5

First Dreamscape 6

Christmas I 7

Christmas (Night) II 8

Fog in Holyoke 9

Second Dreamscape (New Year's Night) 10

New Mexico/Sangre de Cristo Mountains/Epiphany 11

Letter 12

Letter Two 13

Anodyne 14

Monday Rhyme (Khartoum) 15

Greek Poem 16

Aubade Against Grief 18

Spring Thaw 19

April (Aboard the Half Moon) 21

Poem for a Printing Press 22

Electric Light 23

Third Dreamscape 24

Hermes, 1981 28

Poem 29

Late Poem 30

Old-Fashioned Poem 32

First Fly 33

Metaphysical Poem 34

Midnight in July 35

Fourth Dreamscape (Alexandrine: Roxane and Statiera) 36

Fugue: Pilgrim Valley 37

Hearing Voices 38

From The Book of Knowledge 39

Early August: Flycatcher Road 41

At Cow Hollow 42

Memento Mori 43

The Damselfly (Second Fly) 44

At Sunflower Farm 47

White Pansies, September 48

Columbus Day Poem 49

Oblique Strategies 50

Irish Poem 53

Coda 55

Notes 57

Acknowledgments 59

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