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Valles's terse, learned, harsh collection is one of the standout first books of the year. The polyglot poet, who has lived in Amsterdam, Britain, Poland and Russia, stirred up controversy with her recent translation of Zbigniew Herbert's Collected Poems; her travels and his work inform her stark regard for the brutalities of European history, represented here by spare handfuls of images-"the North shaves and washes in its cold mirror." Valles adapts almost equally well to very long lines and to short ones, to Continental and to American scenes: in Chicago, "the trees by the lake are ripping a thousand plastic bags to shreds." When she takes a longer view, adapting ancient myths or ancient authors, her lapidary talents are almost unequaled: "Constant fire, passing into the created world," says the title poem, "loses track of its source and destroys its end." Like Pound before her, Valles constructs a fiery multipart poem of grief around a free adaptation of the Latin poet Propertius, which is suggestive not so much of recent American poetry as of classical models or of the best bits of Pound: "Fire frays, rain seeps, the years' heels beat all into the ground.... But the clear light of the mind knows no hours or years." (Oct.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from ORPHAN FIRE by ALISSA VALLES Copyright © 2008 by Alissa Valles. Excerpted by permission.
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