The Needle

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Overview

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...

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The Needle

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Overview

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.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the title poem of Grotz's second collection, "Memory meticulously stitches/ The market square." The square is in Krakow, a setting which dominates the book's first section, and the tone is a detached, patient recollection: "The city would begin as slowly as the old man in a brown fedora." There are storms, winds, summer days, "a weather system of people" as well as religious icons and street musicians. Childhood memories swirl through the book's second section, where several poems eulogize the poet's deceased brother, "something no one could tame." Here the languid summer of Krakow has become an ominous heat, as in "Landscape with Arson": "Invisible by day, fire's little shards, its quiet dissemination." The poet asks, "how/ do you set fire to the past?" and also "What is it to be human? To forge connection,/ to make interpretations of fire." 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." (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"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

Elizabeth Lund
…should establish [Grotz] as one of America's best young poets…Attentiveness brings her poems—and the world—alive…Her ability to balance artistry and emotion results in buoyant poetry.
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547444123
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/24/2011
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 1,437,464
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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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Read an Excerpt

THE ICON

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.

ALCHEMY

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.

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Table of Contents

Contents

The Needle 1

I
The Icon 5
Landscape with Town Square 6
Alchemy 8
The Pearl 9
The Sidewalk 11
Late Summer 12
The Nunnery 13
Boy Playing Violin 15
The Umbrella 17
Not Body 18
The Cigarette 19
The Staircase 21

II
The Window at Night 25
Silence 26
The Eldest 27
Landscape with Osprey and Salmon 28
He Who Made the Lamb Made Thee 29
The Ascension 30
Landscape with Parking Lot 31
Rescue 33
Landscape with Arson 35
The Woodstove 37
The Field 38
The Fly 39

III
The Mountain 43
Ghost 45
Aubade 46
The Ocracoke Ponies 47
The Clouds 48
The Jetty 49
Love Poem with Candle and Fire 51
The Record 52
Mistral 53
Pharos 55
Medusa 57
Most Persons Do Not See the Sun 59
Sunrise in Cassis 61

Acknowledgments 65

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