Except by Nature

Overview

"What I like best about Sandra Alcosser's poetry is that it always draws me back, in its beauty and mystery, for the pleasure of rereading and rereading it. The stitching that binds the elements within each of her poems is sure and subtle, as invisible and perfect as the stitching that creates a forest or the threads that link the stars. The poems in Except by Nature are full of the riches and the risks, the words and the contemplations of the earth, and the place of the human ...

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Overview

"What I like best about Sandra Alcosser's poetry is that it always draws me back, in its beauty and mystery, for the pleasure of rereading and rereading it. The stitching that binds the elements within each of her poems is sure and subtle, as invisible and perfect as the stitching that creates a forest or the threads that link the stars. The poems in Except by Nature are full of the riches and the risks, the words and the contemplations of the earth, and the place of the human within those realms." Pattiann Rogers

"Except by Nature is an exceptional collection: feisty, accomplished, and mature, its poems brim with serious delights." Eamon Grennan

"Sandra Alcosser's superbly sure-voiced poems possess intelligence and passion in equal measure, and they explore, question, surprise, and inform in utterly distinctive ways. Here is a poet who knows the fine-grained textures of thought, the precise distinctions of feeling, and the lush wisdom of language itself. Specific and grounded in the things of the world, yet winged with imaginative mind, Except by Nature is an extraordinary work." Jane Hirshfield

Sandra Alcosser's first book, A Fish to Feed All Hunger, was selected by James Tate as the AWP Award Series Winner in Poetry. Her work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Poetry, and the Pushcart Prize series. Alcosser lives in Montana, and teaches in the graduate writing program at San Diego State University.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"What I like best about Sandra Alcosser's poetry is that it always draws me back, in its beauty and mystery, for the pleasure of rereading and rereading it. The stitching that binds the elements within each of her poems is sure and subtle, as invisible and perfect as the stitching that creates a forest or the threads that link the stars. The poems in Except by Nature are full of the riches and the risks, the words and the contemplations of the earth, and the place of the human within those realms."—Pattiann Rogers

"Except by Nature is an exceptional collection: feisty, accomplished, and mature, its poems brim with serious delights."—Eamon Grennan

"Sandra Alcosser's superbly sure-voiced poems possess intelligence and passion in equal measure, and they explore, question, surprise, and inform in utterly distinctive ways. Here is a poet who knows the fine-grained textures of thought, the precise distinctions of feeling, and the lush wisdom of language itself. Specific and grounded in the things of the world, yet winged with imaginative mind, Except by Nature is an extraordinary work."—Jane Hirshfield

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"Like a marriage. Like a nation. Like a haunting, this story tells me." In lithe, muscular language, Alcosser's best poems inflect the pastoral with the political. The Atchafalaya swamp of Louisiana, the family autobody shop in the Midwest of her youth and the Bitterroot range of Montana where she now liveseach serve in turn as sites for multifaceted poems of place: "If you were born to a gooey/ bayou, two faithless fathers,/ a silent mother, sleazy clouds/ overhead for pillows,// you'd celebrate too." This second full-length collection, chosen by Eamon Grennan for the National Poetry Series, comes more than a decade after Alcosser's first, and moves among forms as well as locales: there are journalistic prose poems like "A Warrior's Tale," (which unflinchingly approaches extreme violence against women), and free-verse lyrics that dream after ecstatic encounters ("In Case of Rapture This Taxi Will Explode"). Throughout, the poet marvels at the grandeur of landscapesand the scratchings out of family and friends within them. Some of the poems veer precariously close to clichseveral set in Louisiana stop just short of voodoo and a funeral paradebut the blunt carnality of others ("his bolt of news unfurling, my face flushed red/ and red again by the hot inquiring tongues") gives them a welcome urgency. (June)
Library Journal
In her second full-length collection (after A Fish To Feed All Hunger, Ashahta, 1993), chosen as part of the "National Poetry" series, Alcosser describes an American South that is ripe to the point of decay, where the ooze of Louisiana's swampland insinuates itself into every corner of human life, sugary, erotic, and oppressive. "The way he pushes deeper/ into everything I hatethe heat rising/ like wet crepe from silk and much/ to fill our lungs with its rotten breath" begins the first poem of the first section of the book, "Sugary Heat," describing a pole boat moving through the bayou. Inscrutable except in context, the title signifies a simultaneous rebellion and oppression that is physical, social, and political: "Except by natureas a woman, I will be ungovernable." But in a much stronger poem, "In the Jittering World," Alcosser skillfully embodies this paradox in a chameleon's nature: "In a world jittering with possibility,/ how did I come to this sour basement/ in a southern city to grade rhetoric/ Perhaps we both are lost in our landscape,/ woman and chameleon always changing to save our skin." This is a rich, well-worked book that seems to thrive in the New Orleans swelter, but the intensity dissipates as the locale moves northward.Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York
George Packer
ôOf those poetry collections in the ecstatic genre, Sandra AlcosserÆs Except by Nature is one of the best, deserving of its recent selection for the National Poetry Series. Poets of the ecstatic often craft images and language around transformation, building mystery from the sensuality of experience. Their work is characterized by a lush physical responseà.These poems, set in both the lonely bayous and urban waters surrounding New Orleans, build momentum from a physical experience that assumes a larger-than-life quality. From the dark, jungle-like atmosphere in ôPole Boat on Honey Islandö to the lush dissonance of ôIn the Jittering World,ö Alcosser creates a literary tropics dripping with both mystery and the raw heat of the bodyà.Poetry readers who have enjoyed Patti Ann RogerÆs The Firekeepers and the darker elements of Billy CollinsÆ poetry will discover another pleasing voice in Except by Nature.ö
Kirkus Reviews
Selected by Eamon Grennan for the National Poetry Series, the second book by the San Diego State writing professor (A Fish to Feed All Hunger) resembles many recent volumes in its near-generic invocation of a white ethnic working-class background'with the obligatory reference to grandma's cooking'and its monotonously plain style and diction. Mostly autobiographical, Alcosser's simple poems digress from their Shaker aesthetic only in her descriptions of flora and fauna, especially in the dozen or so pieces set in Louisiana, where she apparently taught remedial writing, and suffered through the humid nights, obsessing about snakes and palmetto bugs while lying in sweaty sheets, inhaling the sickly sweet smells of the lush foliage. At Mardi Gras ('Burying the Carnival'), the poet panics in the crowd, even as she experiences a certain ecstasy, and news of an escaped convict from Angola finds her waiting in her sexiest lingerie at home ('Maximum Security'). In poems about growing up near her father's body shop, Alcosser breathes in some more ripe smells: 'the raunchy fume' of her father's workers, and, of course, the cooking by the Slavic and German immigrants. Out West, the poet contemplates nature: She tries to feed a domesticated duck ('Greenhand'); she ponders a spittle bug that 'resembles/a friend's identity crisis'; and she considers her own status as 'an animal who will love/and die.' The ten or so prose pieces better suit Alcosser's anecdotal imagination, her memory riffs on old boyfriends, her aunt who loved hats, and college. Prosey and pedestrian.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781555972738
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/1998
  • Series: National Poetry Series
  • Pages: 88
  • Lexile: 1160L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 7.05 (w) x 10.02 (h) x 0.21 (d)

Meet the Author

Sandra Alcosser's first book, A Fish to Feed All Hunger, was selected by James Tate as the AWP Award Series Winner in Poetry. Her work has appeared in the American Poetry Review, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, Poetry, and the Pushcart Prize series. Alcosser lives in Montana, and teaches in the graduate writing program at San Diego State University.

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Read an Excerpt

SWEAT

Friday night I entered a dark corridor rode to the upper floors with men who filledthe stainless elevator with their smell. Did you ever make a crystal garden, pour saltinto water, keep pouring until nothing more dissolved? A landscape will bloom in that saturation. My daddy’s body shop floats to the surface like a submarine. Men with nibblers and tin snipsbuffing skins, sanding curves under clamp lights. I grew up curled in the window of a 300 SLGullwing, while men glided on their backs through oily rainbows below me. They torqued lugnuts, flipped fag ends into gravel. Our torch song had one refrain— oh the pain of loving you. Friday nights they’d line the shop sink, naked to the waist, scour down with Ajax, spray wateracross their necks and up into their armpits. Babies have been conceived on sweat alone—the buttery scent of a woman’s breast, the cumin of a man. From the briny odor of black lunch boxes—cold cuts, pickles, waxed paper—my girl flesh grows. From the raunchy fume of strangers.

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Table of Contents

My Number 3
Pole Boat at Honey Island 7
Azaleas 9
Worms 10
Card Game Blind River 12
A Warrior's Tale 13
The Stray Sod 14
Taboo 15
He Paints the Kingdom of Decay: His Goddess Escapes 17
Rags 19
In the Jittering World 20
Possessions 21
The Bureau of Unclaimed Property 22
Maximum Security 24
In Case of Rapture This Taxi Will Explode 26
Burying the Carnival 27
Dancing the Tarentella at the County Farm 33
Artie 34
The Red Dress 35
Sweat 36
The Assembly Line 37
Hats 38
The Limits of Beauty 39
Because the Body Is Not a Weapon 40
Zulu Time 41
Salvation Army 42
Feeding the Babies 44
What Makes the Grizzlies Dance 47
Wildcat Path 48
Approaching August 50
Greenhand 51
Michael's Wine 53
Glory Monster 55
Thirst 56
Throughout the Duration of a Pulse a Heart Changes Form 57
The Anatomy of Air 58
Flame 59
Skiing by Moonlight 60
The Intricacy of the Song Inverse to the Dull Lores 61
Spittle Bug 63
By the Nape 64
Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel 65
To Touch with a Smoothing Iron 66
Trajectory 67
Woodpecker 69
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