California Sorrow

California Sorrow

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by Mary Kinzie

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In this exceptional new collection, acclaimed poet Mary Kinzie opens her attention to the landscapes of the earth. Her poems of richly varied line lengths develop phrases at the syncopated pace of the observing mind: “Slag and synthesis and traveling fire / so many ways the groundwaves of distortion / pulse / through bedrock traffic and the carbon…  See more details below


In this exceptional new collection, acclaimed poet Mary Kinzie opens her attention to the landscapes of the earth. Her poems of richly varied line lengths develop phrases at the syncopated pace of the observing mind: “Slag and synthesis and traveling fire / so many ways the groundwaves of distortion / pulse / through bedrock traffic and the carbon chain” she writes in the opening poem, “The Water-brooks.” Here, and throughout, her reflection on the natural world embraces the damages of time to which we can bear only partial witness but to which the human memory is bound.

In the collection’s title poem, Kinzie goes on to explore her own romantic griefs alongside the adventures of T. S. Eliot, “inadvertently working on a suntan” as he tours the desert in the roadster of his American girlfriend, whose heart he will break. Kinzie’s conviction that sorrow, too, is a form of passion allows her to lift poems from shattered thoughts and long-ago losses, at times blending prose and verse in a combustible mixture.

Determined not to prettify but still expressing fresh wonder at the beauty we stumble across in spite of our shortcomings, Kinzie delivers her bravest work yet in these new poems.

O God invisible as air

My tears have been my meat

because no noxious thing runs with themonly
fragrant naïveté of the reflective midday when
bank herb and wood flower and water from the pool
can best be gathered
also the knowledge
that these gifts are tenuous and that the mouth
and the harp
might soon be strange to play

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Kinzie's strong opinions, fierce emotions and serious attention both to visual details and to philosophical claims have won attention both for her poetry (Drift) and ambitiously minatory literary criticism (The Judge Is Fury). Readers familiar with her devotion to poems as decisive wholes may be surprised by the ways her new poems look and feel like constellations of fragments, phrases and sentences scattered all over a big, wide, airy page. Yet, the mood can be grim: the titular sequence makes a star, and a tragic figure, out of Emily Hale, T.S. Eliot's friend and correspondent, who may, or may not, have waited decades for a marriage proposal from Ol' Possum that never came. Another sequence, "The Poems I Am Not Writing," incorporates some verse and lots of prose: "Poems have entered my being," Kinzie confesses, "only after a stupor of watching" a life imagined as a mineral ore, all "hard and serious." Crisp and harsh, full of self-accusation, remembering "wistful hours/ of self-righteous/ need," Kinzie's collection has few unambiguous joys; it offers, instead, the pleasures of attention, of a writer willing to smash her poems to smithereens and then rebuild them as she attempts to meet her own stringent demands. (Sept.)

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Library Journal

Part of the inspiration for Kinzie's seventh collection comes from poets like Howard Nemerov, Wallace Stevens, and Randall Jarrell, who are quoted or echoed here. The likes of e.e. cummings, William Carlos Williams, and A.R. Ammons can be seen in the shapes of about half of these poems, too-with the other half owing their form to the signature blocky paragraph style of prose poetry. With that as an overview, one can notice Kinzie's fondness for found poems, as she presents an object that-like Williams's red wheelbarrow-seems to resonate. A long poetry sequence ends, for example, with the image "a small ochre-yellow bulldozer with the brand VERMEER in black block letters shining in significance against the dirt." Kinzie also creates poems from dictionary definitions, calling the dictionary "a book that like a drug releases again the half-heard and the half understood." So that what had been dense is charged with a loosening light." At their best, these poems, basking in that light, provide a similar charge. Recommended for larger collections.
—Diane Scharper

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Random House
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ScattersiteRose of paperlattice of leafbranchwoodsy coated with sunfennel ashwheelrut deepeningmud turnsequinone quickroadway eddysecond growthlost thingslost growthsecond thingseddy sequin slide groundBright giftsilk wit liningoil of orangebicolor withthe sleeveWaft hoard liftlifewingrise intaketongueless lightuncover skyFirst PassionRunning there I am at fourteen I have been scoldedby my father for something I hadn't doneor hadn't not done who knows the dishes nothing serious like my smoking or ineptness with people and bad choices It was unjustand the almost irrelevant injustice grew so pure and tiny in its atmosphere of truth which rose like skythat I fell in love with it and it cut into me loosening the first tears (though these were not what frightened me at nightThen the griefs came loose beginning to run I was fourteen and wailed around the blocks more times than once my chest straining against the sobs in their delightful echoing back from the streets that suddenl were empty everyone having inched backward from the windows into the parts of rooms that are never chosen the side of the stairs the door to the water heater where they watched me amazed at this sourceless melodious grief eager to return to the normal dithering watchful golden gossip of the afternoonA ParakeetThere was my father's short sister rushing down the streetwith white light flying out her fingerendsfrom a kitchen towel with which she must have soughtto lure or drive or flutter space down upon(to calm ita chartreuse parakeetupright in grasshopper green againstthe thick tip of a tall poplar bare of leavesOne of the children ran after with the birdcageNothing tragic closes the anecdoteIt never became an anecdoteWhen I beganto tell itask it to the cousinsdid she scold down the parakeetthe grownups at the edges of the hour all seemedto turn their backsfrom the room with the noontime hellish kids' TV showand her children Joanand John Paul and Stephen and Bobbie Annwent blank and jumpyas they ate their pb and j and drank their milkas if I hadn't spokenor were no longer thereas if they had never had a parakeetas if the creaturenear the TV were newor never missing or wouldonly flee the house in somefar future after they'dmoved awaywhile I could notnot see it in all the time that would passthentill nowhereas it stood up like a woodpecker against the barkgreen as the green of sun on murky wateras she made her distant warble to the world(though she was more used to saying itto herselfThe aunt is deadand the youngestfemale cousin with the bones of a birdThey haven't spokenbut they know

From the Hardcover edition.

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Meet the Author

Mary Kinzie is the author of six previous collections of poetry. Her earlier volumes include Drift, Autumn Eros, and Summers of Vietnam. She is the literary executor of American poet Louise Bogan and the author of A Poet’s Guide to Poetry.

From the Hardcover edition.

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