The Needleby Jennifer Grotz
Following her debut collection, Cusp, chosen by Yusef Komunyakaa to win the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize, the composed, observed quality of Jennifer Grotz’s The Needle will remind readers of the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and Ellen Bryant Voigt. Whether she is describing a town square in Kraków, where many of these poems are/i>
Following her debut collection, Cusp, chosen by Yusef Komunyakaa to win the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize, the composed, observed quality of Jennifer Grotz’s The Needle will remind readers of the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop and Ellen Bryant Voigt. Whether she is describing a town square in Kraków, where many of these poems are set, the ponies of Ocracoke Island, a boy playing a violin, or clouds, she finds the lyrical details that release an atmosphere of heightened, transcendent attention in which the things of the world become the World, what Zbigniew Herbert called “royal silence.”
"Despite the fraught subject matter, the mood of these poems remains calm, the rhythm of the lines not hurried by any dramatic enjambments or eccentric syntax. Grotz writes in whole sentences, with a prose logic. By the book's close, memory is not a stitching but "that museum... inventoried in opposition to the present." —Publishers Weekly
"Grotz, as ‘an apostle of the now,’ offers readers a phenomenology of the visible and the invisible hidden between the lines of the world and the cracks of the evening. A beautiful book, a book of experience and early wisdom, The Needle is a summing up of what has happened and a promise of things to come." —Adam Zagajewski, author of Without End
"Jennifer Grotz's poems have so many virtues—elegance, a disposition by turns philosophical and romantic, an existential maturity and intentness rare in a young poet—or an old one. The poems in The Needle practice a rare weighing and mulling of what human life is; and, in a manner almost European, they seem addressed to the world, at times quite critically, at others in passionate allegiance. This work dares largeness and tenderness, and it lifts us with it." —Tony Hoagland, author of Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty
"These eloquent poems of cities and childhoods are compelling from the first line. In lyrics which are always crafted and intense, a powerfully displaced speaker circles remembrance and grief, balancing detail upon detail until a vivid world appears, ready to topple at any moment into music and elegy. This is a wonderful second collection." —Eavan Boland, author of Domestic Violence
The Washington Post
- Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.80(d)
Read an Excerpt
Beginning with gold around the edges
and ending with the eyes’ sorrowful gaze,
the face of a Madonna with child
makes a dark mirror of what you are to feel:
the temporary but desperate way
a part of you is wounded
until the hurt becomes a lens. Inside you is a city
the mosaic spells out with tiny precious stones
across the ceiling and the walls.
And the city has its currency: every tessera is a coin
you must struggle to spend by looking,
the way rain slowly covers every cobblestone on a street.
A camera won’t work: the tourists’ feeble flashes
cannot ascend high enough, cannot take in
the Madonna’s head tilted in thought,
the baby happy and silent like a secret.
LANDSCAPE WITH TOWN SQUARE
One way to survive is to be a little piece of scenery
Among the mirabilia of the square, spending one’s time
In an outdoor café while a weather system of people
Drips ice cream on the ground. At day’s end you leave
Simply for the pleasure of the next morning’s return,
Of rounding the corner to see the jostled chessboard of tourists
Underneath the church’s towers.
Every day the breakdancers come with their pathetic boom box
To spin and convulse and do whatever gymnastics they can muster
Next to the requisite sad accordion-player, and even a gypsy
Who beseeches and curses bewildered passersby.
On one corner, a tiny ancient church keeps its doors open,
Letting a summer carnival enter the dark altar
While, just outside, the soap blowers wave wands long as fishing poles,
Gingerly releasing the huge trembling globes
Which rise fiery and iridescent like souls.
So stubbornly do we congregate that even in lightning and thunder
We sit strangely unalarmed, eating our chilling omelets
While canvas umbrellas flap and the rain sprays our tables in gusts.
And afterward, the wet and gleaming square seems slowly rubbed dry
By the bolt of blue-gray velvet the sky unspools above.
It is hard to know which view is really reality: the square itself, wiped clean
Of all the people, or the incomprehensible shuffling of the people
Who are incomprehensible and shuffling all over the world, all the time.
Either view scours the heart, keeps down its wild romantic notions.
All day the city went on being a city we traversed
as if it could be conquered by touch,
leaning against stone walls and wrapping our fingers
around rails overlooking the river.
And all through the city, the day went on being a day
blazing ruthlessly, even when it started to rain,
and the devil beat his daughter all afternoon
until sparrows stirred the cauldron of sky
and dusk doused the flames in greenish smoke.
That was more or less the recipe to make night,
when the city writes its unspendable wealth inside us.
When a pebble becomes a bright coin on the sidewalk,
where a black ermine scurries under a car
to replace motor oil rushing into the gutter.
And I become a bird squeezed in a boy’s dirty palms
while you digest an iron egg of dread,
the empirical result whenever moonlight
takes shadow to be her lawfully wedded husband.
One’s fate in this city is to come and become and be overcome.
In each of us a mad rabbit thrashes and a wolf pack howls.
Meet the Author
JENNIFER GROTZ's debut collection, Cusp, received the 2003 Bakeless Prize and the Best First Book of Poetry Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. She currently teaches at the University of Rochester and serves as the assistant director of the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
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