Bicentennial: Poems


From the acclaimed poet—a refreshing, singular collection of poems about boys and boyhood, historical cycles and personal history, memory and meaning.
Bicentennial summons the world of Chiasson’s seventies childhood in Vermont: early VCRs, snow, erections, pizza, snowmobiles, high-school cliques, and the Bicentennial celebration,  but his book is also an elegy for his father, whom he never knew and who died in 2009. In these poems, ...

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Bicentennial: Poems

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From the acclaimed poet—a refreshing, singular collection of poems about boys and boyhood, historical cycles and personal history, memory and meaning.
Bicentennial summons the world of Chiasson’s seventies childhood in Vermont: early VCRs, snow, erections, pizza, snowmobiles, high-school cliques, and the Bicentennial celebration,  but his book is also an elegy for his father, whom he never knew and who died in 2009. In these poems, Chiasson movingly revisits the kind of autobiographical poems he wrote as a young man, but with a new existential awareness that individuals are always vanishing in time, and throughout the collection he ponders time’s conundrums. “All of history, even the Romans, / they happen later, tonight sleep tight,” he tells his sons at bedtime. “You’ll learn this later. Tonight, goodnight.” In the topsy-turvy world of Bicentennial, history has both happened and is waiting to happen; boys grow up to be men; men never forget what it is to be boys; and fatherhood is the best answer to fatherlessness.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Daisy Fried
In his fourth book of poems…Dan Chiasson is after beauty of a kind, so his poems are often beautiful, odd and quite moving. He seldom resorts to lilting cadences or glow-in-the-dark imagery to achieve this, and complicates any move toward traditional lyric warmth; his poetry is genially brainy, jokey, casually formal, sometimes essayistic and humorously oracular. Yet Bicentennial is no mere intellectual pleasure. It's also a journey into a 1970s New England childhood haunted by a father Chiasson never knew.
Publishers Weekly
Chiasson (Where’s the Moon, There’s the Moon) delivers a fourth collection with his trademark poultice of wit, tightly honed formalism, and reimaginings of the world around him. In “Away We Go,” where his speaker sarcastically sobs, “O my collectible dinnerware,/ I’ve hunted everywhere for answers,” we find Chiasson addressing a bird as a member of the IRS auditing “the Spring’s enormous income/ while I piss my windfall zilch away.” “I turned the pain up/ In my poetry,” he writes in “Vital Signs,” and, true to his word, Chiasson explores a life lived without knowing his father through lenses of pop culture, history, and the raising of his own children. His more formally experimental writing, including two plays in verse and several poems that absorb echolalia, ventures into fascinating new territory, questioning the nature of existence and the creation of art with equal parts curiosity and dark resignation. “If you exist,” says a faerie in “The Ferris Wheel in Paris: A Play,” “you must use your existence to erase every earthly trace of yourself.” Such booming statements set the stage for the book’s eponymous closer, which moves via smash cuts through Chiasson’s youth in 1976, arriving at a place of startling clarity through a voice unencumbered by either literary decoration or expectation. Chiasson clears a new path towards “something enormous/ And potentially dangerous.” (Mar.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385349819
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Pages: 96
  • Sales rank: 797,017
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Dan Chiasson is the author of three previous collections of poetry, most recently Where’s the Moon, There's the Moon, and a book of criticism, One Kind of Everything: Poem and Person in Contemporary America. His essays on poetry appear widely. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Academy Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Whiting Writers Award, Chiasson teaches at Wellesley College.

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Read an Excerpt


In this alternate basketball nobody plays,
Both players try to tie the score:
That way, at the buzzer, the game isn’t over.
Look, a show of courtesy: the winning player
Is helping the loser score, the way
Our youths assist the cold, suffering elderly.
Or here, a boy is helped to understand
The exotica of his changing body:
When X turns to Y you do not die;
When Y turns to Z we call it joy;
This process crests until someday
You fall off the edge of the alphabet.
The players play even when they do not play;
See, in just this way, we grow old
Alongside the returned jays and fat magnolias;
The game goes on forever this way, the players
Suspended in infinite overtimes,
The score climbing in never-changing change—
Until the day the backboard shatters
And the blackboard blossoms
With arcane formulae and blackbird wings.
7. lullaby

Oh, all the stars, and the Big Dipper,
And their reflections in the ocean:
It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter;
And the creatures, their weird behaviors,
Some made to thrive, and some to die;
Part of their natures, part of their natures;
It doesn’t matter, it happens later:
All of creation, the seven days,
The famous storm, the rainbow after;
One day the cardinal, he wakes up red;
One day the jay realizes why
Of all the creatures, he got his color:
This happens later, tonight, good night.
When someone wins, somebody loses:
Something is ravaged, something is fed;
All of history, even the Romans,
They happen later, tonight sleep tight.
You’ll learn this later. Tonight, good night.
The Flume

Here we go up again, up again, the mountain
The men who have assembled it for years
Assembled yesterday, so that you and I
Headed who knows where together, but
Headed there together, will see
From the top the bottom, from the bottom the top,
Then feel the inside-outside-all-over-nowhere
My God I Am Going to Die, Not Someday, Now
Sensation that, once we plateau, feels silly,
Since when were we safer than when we sought
The danger that when it subsided returned
Us to the dangers it had blotted out?
There are no fears, here at the start:
This is when, the book just opened,
Knowing you will one day know the story
You don’t know yet changes the story
You are getting to know, the way we know
Before we know what anything means it means
Something: a fireworks display, the birthday
Of the Country; that’s me; my uncle and I
Are racing through the past on the Python,
Which men assembled absentmindedly that day
And, so you could visit it with me,
I assembled here again inside my memory;
Now, when you remember how things were
Today, you will also remember yourself
Looking forward to yourself looking back,
A looking back that, here in your past,
You do already, you already say
About what happened yesterday, remember when . . .?
—The future doing its usual loop-de-loop,
The sons all turning into fathers
Until the absentminded men take the ride down.

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