Night of the Republic

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Overview

An urgent and timely collection by one of America’s most inventive and accessible poets

In Night of the Republic, Alan Shapiro takes us on an unsettling night tour of America’s public places—a gas station restroom, shoe store, convention hall, and race track among others—and in stark Edward Hopper–like imagery reveals the surreal and dreamlike features of these familiar but empty night spaces. Shapiro finds in them not the expected alienation ...

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Night of the Republic

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Overview

An urgent and timely collection by one of America’s most inventive and accessible poets

In Night of the Republic, Alan Shapiro takes us on an unsettling night tour of America’s public places—a gas station restroom, shoe store, convention hall, and race track among others—and in stark Edward Hopper–like imagery reveals the surreal and dreamlike features of these familiar but empty night spaces. Shapiro finds in them not the expected alienation but rather an odd, companionable solitude rising up from the quiet emptiness.

In other poems, Shapiro writes movingly of his 1950s and 60s childhood in Brookline, Massachusetts, with special focus on the house he grew up in. These meditations, always inflected with Shapiro’s quick wit and humor, lead to recollections of tragic and haunting events such as the Cuban missile crisis and the assassination of JFK. While Night of the Republic is Shapiro’s most ambitious work to date, it is also his most timely and urgent for the acute way it illuminates the mingling of private obsessions with public space.

2012 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In his latest, the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award- and Los Angeles Times Book Prize-winning author of Happy Hour considers place and things. Characters, at first absent, emerge only from the speaker's close examination of spaces, from the seedy ("Downtown Strip Club") to the abstract ("Cigarette Smoke"). A pervasive sense of "lacking" inhabits this book, as in "Hospital Examination Room" where "The intercom is sleeping,/ flashing only the red light of a dream/ of no one entering/ to check on no one waiting." Essentially, Shapiro creates a fresh Republic of poetry where generic things are represented without ceremony yet somehow anew. The funeral home, for instance, is uncovered for what it really is: "an inn/ made to look like a home/ made to look like a mansion/ where no one lives." VERDICT Shapiro nicely balances the dual demands of contemporary poetry: free verse and organic rhythm. He's not afraid of the apt rhyme but never forces it. By stripping generic places to their core, he is able to make them, if not new, certainly interesting once again. [See Prepub Alert, 8/18/11.]—Stephen Morrow, Ohio Univ., Athens
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780547329703
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 1/17/2012
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 971,974
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Shapiro is the William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. He is the author of nine acclaimed books of poetry. He is a former recipient of the Kingsley Tufts Award and the Los Angeles Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He was recently elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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Read an Excerpt

Gas Station Restroom

The present tense is the body’s past tense here; hence the ghost sludge of hands on the now gray strip of towel hanging limp from the jammed dispenser;
hence the mirror squinting through grime at grime, and the worn—
to-a-sliver of soiled soap on the soiled sink.
The streaked bowl,
the sticky toilet seat, air claustral with stink—
all residues and traces of the ancestral spirit of body free of spirit—hence,
behind the station,
at the back end of the store,
hidden away and dimly lit this cramped and solitary carnival inversion—Paul becoming Saul becoming scents anonymous and animal; hence,
over the insides of the lockless stall the cave-like scribblings and glyphs declaring unto all who come to it in time: “heaven is here at hand and dark, and hell is odorless; hell is bright and clean.”

Car Dealership at 3 A.M.

Over the lot a sodium aura within which above the new cars sprays of denser many-colored brightnesses are rising and falling in a time lapse of a luminous and ghostly garden forever flourishing up out of its own decay.

The cars, meanwhile, modest as angels or like angelic hoplites, are arrayed in rows, obedient to orders they bear no trace of,
their bodies taintless, at attention,
serving the sheen they bear,
the glittering they are,
the sourceless dazzle that the showcase window that the showroom floor weeps for when it isn’t there—

like patent leather, even the black wheels shine.

Here is the intense amnesia of the just now at last no longer longing in a flowering of lights beyond which one by one, haphazardly the dented, the rusted through,
metallic Eves and Adams hurry past, as if ashamed,
their dull beams averted,
low in the historical dark they disappear into.

Supermarket

The one cashier is dozing—
head nodding, slack mouth open,
above the cover girl spread out before her on the counter smiling up with indiscriminate forgiveness and compassion for everyone who isn’t her.

Only the edge is visible of the tightly spooled white miles of what is soon to be the torn-off-
inch-by-inch receipts,
and the beam of green light in the black glass of the self-scanner drifts free in the space that is the sum of the cost of all the items that tonight won’t cross its path.

Registers of feeling too precise too intricate to feel except in the disintegrating traces of a dream—
panopticon of cameras cutting in timed procession from aisle to aisle to aisle on the overhead screens above the carts asleep inside each other—
above the darkened service desk, the pharmacy, the nursery,
so everywhere inside the store is everywhere at once no matter where—
eternal reruns of stray wisps of steam that rise from the brightly frozen,
of the canned goods and foodstuffs stacked in columns onto columns under columns pushed together into walls of shelves of aisles all celestially effacing any trace of bodies that have picked packed unpacked and placed them just so so as to draw bodies to the pyramid of plums,
the ziggurats of apples and peaches and in the bins the nearly infinite gradations and degrees of greens misted and sparkling.

A paradise of absence,
the dreamed-of freed from the dreamer, bodiless quenchings and consummations that tomorrow will draw the dreamer the way it draws the night tonight to press the giant black moth of itself against the windows of fluorescent blazing.

Park Bench

Behind the bench the drive,
before the bench the river.
Behind the bench, white lights approaching east and west become red lights receding west and east while before the bench,
there are paved and unpaved pathways and a grassy field,
the boathouse, and the playground, and the gardens of a park named for a man whom no one now remembers except in the forgetting that occurs whenever the park’s name is said.
Left of the bench there is a bridge that spans the river and beyond the bridge around a bend floodlights from the giant dry goods that replaced the bowling alley that replaced the slaughterhouse are dumping fire all night long into the river; but here where the bench is,
the river is black, the river is lava long past its cooling,
black as night with only a few lights from the upper story of the trapezoidal five-star hotel across the water glittering on the water like tiny crystals in a black geode.
Haunt of courtship,
haunt of illicit tryst; of laughter or muffled scream, what even now years later may be guttering elsewhere on the neural fringes of a dream, all this the bench is empty of,
between the mineral river that it faces and the lights behind it speeding white to red to white to red to white.

 

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Table of Contents

Contents

I. Night of the Republic
Gas Station Restroom 3
Car Dealership at 3 A.M. 5
Supermarket 7
Park Bench 10
Downtown Strip Club 12
Hotel Lobby 14
Race Track 15
Dry Cleaner 17
Shoe Store 18
Stone Church 20
Playground 23
Gym 25
Indoor Municipal Pool 26
Hospital Examination Room 27
Senior Center 28
Funeral Home 31

II. Galaxy Formation
Triumph 33
Forgiveness 34
Conductor 36
Edenic Simile 37
Close to You 39
Galaxy Formation 41

III. Night of the Republic
Amphitheater 43
Museum 44
Bookstore 45
Barbershop 48
Post Office 50
Convention Hall 51
Government Center 52
Courtroom 53
The Public 55

IV. At the Corner of
Coolidge and Clarence
Beloved 73
Flowerpot 74
The Family 75
Light Switch 76
Sickbed 77
Coffee Cup 78
Cigarette Smoke 79
Piano Bench 80
Dryer 81
Bathtub 82
Family Pictures 83
Color 84
Faucet 85
Bedroom Door 86
Solitaire 87
Cellar 88
White Gloves 89
Shed 90
Hallway 91
The Doorbell 92

Notes 95

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