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Determined Days: Poems

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Overview

The sights and sounds and smells of day in and day out, of back and forth to the field, the tracks, the work site, of twilight and the inevitable next morning, of days lived in weary anticipation of the same: these are the themes, motifs, and rhythms Philip Stephens captures in The Determined Days, a remarkable debut collection that illuminates the lives of working men and women inhabiting distinctively American settings. Stephens' natural voice and cadences transport us to far-ranging urban and rural locales in ...
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Overview

The sights and sounds and smells of day in and day out, of back and forth to the field, the tracks, the work site, of twilight and the inevitable next morning, of days lived in weary anticipation of the same: these are the themes, motifs, and rhythms Philip Stephens captures in The Determined Days, a remarkable debut collection that illuminates the lives of working men and women inhabiting distinctively American settings. Stephens' natural voice and cadences transport us to far-ranging urban and rural locales in the Midwest, the Ozarks, and northern California. Against often bleak landscapes, his poems introduce us to a host of memorable characters: a former gravedigger who believes ghosts stole his first-born; a young couple forced to stay the night at a motel run by a pornography-watching desk clerk; a woman haunted by a headless deer; a gang of railroad signalmen who get through their exhausting workdays by telling stories, arguing, and vying for what power they can gain in an indifferent world.

Throughout this volume of plainspoken narratives, Stephens captures the outer ruggedness and searching inner spirit of hardened but vulnerable men and women who tell tales tall and short, often reordering chaos and disappointment. Ironic, sometimes tragic, always provocative, The Determined Days is a startling poetic consideration of labor, life, and relationships that raises our hopes for contemporary American poetry.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Stephens's debut volume is a spooky and sly collection of dramatic monologues and dialogues in blank verse. The poems are set in grim, rain-sodden spots all across the western US: roadside motels, cemeteries, and claustrophobic bars create the mood. Several of the poems are ghost stories, while others trade on the difficulty of telling the truly ghostly from the merely coincidental. In "Vineyard," for example, three laborers sow vine cuttings and one is reminded of a grave he dug for his own baby; later on, he tells of an unearthed coffin whose occupant, "eyes wide as dollars," had tried to claw his way out. In the closing lines he mistakes a live vine cutting for a dead one and the reader, with some discomfort, must re-evaluate the fate of the baby: "I know that line / Between the dead and living's awful thin." In poems such as this, Stephens's writing is so fluid that one reads the piece several times, for the sheer pleasure of its voice, before attending to the hidden twists and ambiguities of the narrative. Stephens's technique is clearly indebted to Frost, but he swerves from Frost's woodsy subjects to a bleaker, more blue-collar world of "common grunts"—men who lose their days to meaningless, unremunerative labor: "[Ditch digging] isn't science, and it isn't art. / Quite senselessly, we pick the earth apart / And put it back, almost like before. / Nothing changes. Nothing." The humor of these poems is always harsh, mixed with a gallows reek, but it never detracts from the pleasures of reading. One of the more remarkable characteristics of the collection is its consistency: each poemdeftly evokes asetting and summons a precise, individual voice. These are all unambiguously desolate spaces and desperate speakers, but their words are made luminous by Stephens's careful and humane craft.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781585670147
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 6/5/2000
  • Series: Sewanee Writers' Series
  • Pages: 126
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 7.25 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Philip Stephens is the author of the poetry collection The Determined Days, which was a finalist for the PEN Center USA West Literary Award. His work as appeared in The Oxford American, Southwest Review, and Bomb, among other publications, as well as in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2004. He lives with his wife and sons in Kansas City, Missouri.

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Table of Contents

Ditch Digging 13
I.
Hangman 17
March 20
Blue Rose Motel 22
Vineyard 25
Public Relations 28
The Headless Deer 30
Visitor 33
The Ordered Life 36
Owl in the Snow 39
Salt of the Earth 44
II.
Stripper 49
Undertow 51
Paradise, Missouri 53
In the Neighborhood 55
Ornaments 57
Habit 59
Transfer 62
Human Resources 64
III.
Commute 69
True Story 72
Tunnel One 75
Solidarity 77
Seniority 80
The Signalmen 83
Human 85
God Shed His Grace 87
Climbing 91
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2000

    a powerful and moving collection of poems

    These are not poems to memorize for Sunday school or to recite in pitching woo. These are dark poems, written in voices that are weary, honest and distinctly American. The narratives are as complete as many short stories, but the dialogue and plot are laid out in graceful blank verse that transform the stories into a kind of music. This is a wonderful book of poems, a must for anyone who enjoys poetry or honest storytelling.

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