“The work of an American master.”—World Literature Today The lyric poems of In Beauty Bright, although marked by the same passion and swiftness as Gerald Stern’s previous work, move into an area of knowledge—even wisdom—that reflects a long life of writing, teaching, and activism. They are poems of grief and anger, but the music is delicate and moving. from "In Beauty Bright":In beauty-bright and such it was like Blake’s lily and though an ...
“The work of an American master.”—World Literature Today
The lyric poems of In Beauty Bright, although marked by the same passion and swiftness as Gerald Stern’s previous work, move into an area of knowledge—even wisdom—that reflects a long life of writing, teaching, and activism. They are poems of grief and anger, but the music is delicate and moving.
from "In Beauty Bright":In beauty-bright and such it was like Blake’s lily and though an angel he looked absurd dragging a lily out of a beauty-bright store wrapped in tissue with a petal drooping,
nor was it useless—you who know it know how useful it is—and how he would be dead in a minute if he were to lose it though how do you lose a lily?
“Gerald Stern takes his place at the head of our table as our grand Mensch of poetry.”
Frank Wilson - Philadelphia Inquirer
“[Stern’s] style insinuates itself into your consciousness like a catchy tune, so that you find your thoughts echoing its rhythms, bopping from one to another, back and forth, like thought and language doing a jitterbug.”
This late collection—Stern is 87—is an astonishing addition to the canon of a poet whose status as a major figure is already assured. Like the late poems of Wallace Stevens, the poems here display the poet’s gifts by taking another step into the empyrean of sheer mastery. One such gift is Stern’s syntactical momentum: lines propel themselves forward, phrases tumbling with sloppy grace: “In beauty bright and such it was like Blake’s/ lily and though an angel he looked absurd/ dragging a lily out of a beauty bright store/ wrapped in tissue.” Another is the way poems burst forth, borne on tiny prepositional capes: “In the way Ovid lectured,” “How God in three religions rode,” “Then, fifty dollars for a Hungarian.” A third is Stern’s command of a dozen registers—dream logic, contemplation, reference, remembrance—woven in endlessly surprising, undulating sentences. These poems contain multitudes, but a long memory is perhaps most conspicuously on display. Here are nostalgia poems on New York City, Robert Duncan, and Eleanor Roosevelt; Eddie Cantor, government cheese, and Jack Johnson all make appearances. These poems are as beautiful and bright as anything out there. (Sept.)
National Book Award winner Stern's newest collection is marked by an unmistakable vigor. Its distinguishing characteristic, momentum, is also its greatest accomplishment; most of these poems are driven forth nimbly by a single sentence, sometimes with several clauses linked by semicolons. For all the "lyric" lines that typify Stern's style, though, these poems exhibit a wonderful sense of linguistic play, as in "Spring" ("I am ashamed the crows too shiny their feathers/ too wet the cliff on my right too red the blood/ the blood of any animal"), and sense of humor, as seen in "Dumb," characterized by a speaker caught up in a judgmental moment of fury aimed at bicyclists ("they are so dumb and their bikes have so many dumb/ and useless gears like a dumb idiot box"). VERDICT What a pleasure it is to read not what happens but how the speaker's mind works through it. The tumbling lines of David Kirby come to mind but with a Sternian succinctness; Stern has pretty nearly perfected the vigorous one-sentence poem.—Stephen Morrow, Ohio Univ., Chillicothe
Gerald Stern is the author of the National Book Award-winning This Time, the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize-winning Early Selected Poems, and other books. He has also been awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, and the Wallace Stevens Award, among many other honors. He lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.