Draft of a Letter

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Draft of a Letter

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Overview

From Second Draft:

What other people learn
From birth,
Betrayal,
I learned late.

My soul perched
On an olive branch
Combing itself,
Waving its plumes.  I said

Being mortal,
I aspire to
Mortal things.

I need you,
Said my soul,
If you’re telling the truth.

Draft of a Letter is a book about belief—not belief in the unknowable but belief in what seems bewilderingly plain. Pondering the bodies we inhabit, the words we speak, these poems discover infinitude in the most familiar places. The revelation is disorienting and, as a result, these poems talk to themselves, revise themselves, fashioning a dialogue between self and soul that opens outward to include other voices, lovers, children, angels, and ghosts. For James Longenbach, great distance makes the messages we send sweeter. To be divided from ourselves is never to be alone. “If the kingdom is in the sky,” says the body to the soul, “Birds will get there before you.” “In time,” says the awakening soul, “I liked my second / Body better / Than the first.” To live, these poems insist, is to arise every day to the strange magnificence of the people and places we thought we knew best. Draft of a Letter is an unsettled and radiant paradiso, imagined in the death-shadowed, birth-haunted middle of a long life.

Praise for Fleet River

“A sensibility this cogent, this subtle and austere is rare; even rarer is its proof that poetry still flows through all things and transforms all things in the process.”—Carol Muske-Dukes, Los Angeles Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

Antioch Review - Benjamin S. Grossberg

"Complex and moving, Draft is also quiet, elusive. It asks patience and a willingness to dwell in its unresolved tensions."
American Poet

"This, James Longenbach's third collection of poetry, moves between pondering and declaration with such strange force that one can only believe the revelations within these poems."
Antioch Review

"Complex and moving, Draft is also quiet, elusive. It asks patience and a willingness to dwell in its unresolved tensions."

— Benjamin S. Grossberg

Publishers Weekly

This third book by noted critic and poet Longenbach is a collection of lyrics presenting conversations between an eternal soul and that soul's embodied, temporal self. When this idiosyncratic fragmentation of "the mind thinking" works, the results are lovely, intimate and distilled, as in the title poem, when the soul informs us, "If you say the word death/ In heaven,/ Nobody understands"; or in "Second Draft," when the embodied self explains, "...I said// Being mortal,/ I aspire to/ Mortal things.// I need you,/ Said my soul,/ If you're telling the truth." Throughout, Longenbach is drawn, romantically, to nature, though his natural descriptions and settings can feel dislocated or mythical, as if equal parts Wordsworth and Beckett; for example, "The flower didn't speak to me but/ I spoke back, I heard// My name." Sometimes Longenbach's romanticism gets overblown, however: "To that hidden place,/ ... No shepherds came, no goatherds./ Only nymphs and muses/ Joining together in song." Other times, the language feels merely flat, rather than distilled, compressed or charged. Nonetheless, at his best, Longenbach offers a moving directness and koanlike simplicity (or complexity): "First rule: no one/ Is speaking. The second is/ Follow the sound." (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226492681
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2007
  • Series: Phoenix Poets Series Series
  • Pages: 64
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author


James Longenbach is the Joseph Henry Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester. He is the author, most recently, of The Resistance to Poetry and Fleet River, both published by the University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments 

I
Ice Men
Death and Reason
Draft of a Letter
The Gift
Canzone
Joy and Reason
Buried Life
O Tourist
Self and Soul
The Gods in Exile
Ghost Pond
Swallowtail
 
II
Reason and Sorrow
Complaint
Second Draft
Abacus
Tenzone
Yard Work
Sparrow
Second Life
A Different Route
Self and Soul
Testament
After Petrarch

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