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The Glass Age


The post-impressionist Pierre Bonnard painted, among other things, dozens of paintings of windows. Starting there, this extended poem—part art criticism, part history—considers the phenomenon of glass, revealing the strength and fragility of our age in the minimalist style that has won Cole Swensen such acclaim.

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The post-impressionist Pierre Bonnard painted, among other things, dozens of paintings of windows. Starting there, this extended poem—part art criticism, part history—considers the phenomenon of glass, revealing the strength and fragility of our age in the minimalist style that has won Cole Swensen such acclaim.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“One of the most assured voices in contemporary poetry.”—Library Journal

"Cole Swensen's The Glass Age is a masterwork . . . A remarkably adept, even facile craftsperson—I know of no poet who makes the most stunning verbal effects on the page look more effortless . . . Her critical assumptions, literary strategies and approach to the text clearly places her among the finest post-avant poets we now have."—Ron Silliman

"Seeing is believing sometimes, but believing is almost always seeing, at least according to Cole Swensen’s long meditation on glass, windows, vision, and various writers and artists who have used these in their work, especially Bonnard, Apollinaire, Wittgenstein, Hammershøi, Saki, and the Lumière brothers. Swensen provides us with an invaluable postmodern retrofit of Keats’s magic casements."—John Ashbery

Publishers Weekly
Swensen's recent thematic book-length sequences (on Christian art, archaic inventions and the human hand) combine scholarly meticulousness with a postmodern flair for dislocation, cementing Swensen's reputation as an important experimental writer. Her new collection explores the figurative possibilities of glass: as windows, subjects of paintings, and photographic and cinematic lenses. Three sections of mixed prose and verse poems trace the life and work of modernist painter Pierre Bonnard, whose "work implicitly asks what it is to see, and what it is to look through," interwoven with explorations of other artists and media. Swensen (Goest) makes the case that "a window acts as an inverse prism, gathering the intense pigments of the fractured world back into a clarity of unrestricted light"; by extension, she makes this point about language itself. The same and the opposite could be said of her poems. At times, there is too much history and not enough poetry to convince a reader that "A life-sized window is the size of a life." At her best, however, Swensen draws relationships between disparate elements across time, space and discipline with a magician's touch. Her work continues to meditate on the act, and art, of seeing and saying. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal

In this magisterial work, Swensen melds a discussion of glass, light, and painting into an acute study of the nature of perception. It's a relief to escape the ubiquitous "I" of contemporary poetry and encounter a collection that so deftly takes a larger view. (LJ9/15/06)

—Barbara Hoffert
Library Journal
In three long poems, National Book Award finalist Swensen (faculty, Iowa Writers' Workshop; Goest) describes glass, light, painting, and, most important, the nature of seeing from an artist's perspective. Inspired by postimpressionist painter Pierre Bonnard's quote that "the most beautiful things in museums are the windows," Swensen crafts poems that incorporate language play and collage. "The space in paintings is not paint; it is space," she writes, "utilizing the white space on the page in a similarly organic way. However, some poems have too didactic a quality, even to the point of introducing unplanned-for humor." Not that the carefully researched facts and biographical snippets scaffolding these poems aren't interesting. What could elicit more wonder then Swensen's description of why 19th-century Floridian Hullam Jones invented the glass-bottomed boat "to bring the/ sky full circle, to fill a light bulb with a sea?" It's just that she too often adheres too closely to the factual and dry, e.g., "When Leon Alberti published his De Pictura in 1435,/ he proposed the picture plane as an open window/ `through which I regard the scene.' " The scene, but alas, not the seeing. An interesting experiment but not totally effective. Recommended for larger libraries. Doris Lynch, Monroe Cty. P.L., Bloomington, IN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781882295609
  • Publisher: Alice James Books
  • Publication date: 1/1/2007
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Cole Swensen is the author of ten previous books of poetry including Goest, which was a National Book Award Finalist. She has also won the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, two Pushcart Prizes and a National Poetry Series selection, as well as grants for translating and writing. She is on the faculty of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
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Read an Excerpt

The Glass Age

By Cole Swensen

Alice James Books

Copyright © 2007 Cole Swensen
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781882295609

From "The Open Window”:

Photography replaced the river, which, due to
unexpected complications, resulted in the Great Age
of the Train. Bonnard started photographing just as
the snapshot became possible. Glass negatives gave
way to strips of film, and the river froze, intact. In
shadow and light, the Seine, said Marthe, standing in
the garden, frame after frame. We are multiplying the
things we can and do see through.


Excerpted from The Glass Age by Cole Swensen Copyright © 2007 by Cole Swensen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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