Shells

Overview

Winner of the 1998 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, Craig Arnold's Shells was acclaimed as "a gifted collection of daring writing" by the contest judge, the distinguished poet W. S. Merwin. The book is an intriguing set of variations on the theme of identity. Arnold plays on the idea of the shell as both the dazzling surface of the self and a hard case that protects the self against the assaults of the world. His poems narrate amatory and culinary misadventures. "Friendships based on food," Arnold ...
See more details below
Paperback (New Edition)
$18.00
BN.com price
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (9) from $6.70   
  • New (5) from $16.19   
  • Used (4) from $6.70   
Sending request ...

Overview

Winner of the 1998 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, Craig Arnold's Shells was acclaimed as "a gifted collection of daring writing" by the contest judge, the distinguished poet W. S. Merwin. The book is an intriguing set of variations on the theme of identity. Arnold plays on the idea of the shell as both the dazzling surface of the self and a hard case that protects the self against the assaults of the world. His poems narrate amatory and culinary misadventures. "Friendships based on food," Arnold writes, "are rarely stable"--this book is full of wildly unstable and bewitching friendships and other significant relations.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This extremely accomplished first volume presents difficult poems, both in form and subject matter. They revolve around the hardened, supposedly protective shell; instead of feeling safe, however, the living creature cowers within. "Freud thought/ the brain developed from the skin, not/ to admit sensation but to shut it out." Seamlessly, the focus turns to people. Flavors and recipes remind Arnold of specific friends and lovers. But then, "friendships based on food are rarely stable." "Shore" is a little masterpiece, depicting friends joining friends, hinting at the severity of their lives and friendship but never telling, titillating the reader just enough to think more about his or her own life. Long and rambling, given structure as they are shoved into tight two- or three-line stanzas reminiscent of a terrified clam or oyster, many poems teeter on the edge of loose rhyme. Shells is not an easy book to read. For those with the time and patience, it is not easily forgotten. Recommended for most poetry collections.--Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
W.S. Merwin's first selection for the Yale Series of Younger Poets bodes well for his tenure as judge: he admires Arnold for his simple ability to give enjoyment in poems about the pleasures of food and sex, which Arnold celebrates (often together) with all the indulgence of a pansexual gourmand. In graceful, fluent verse that's formal without drawing attention to its technical expertise, Arnold saves his transgressions for his subject matter: he memorializes a cook who masturbates into a dish returned by a customer ("For a cook"); he instructs in cunnilingus while eating raw shellfish; and advises on proper locker-room behavior at the gym, despite an interest in others' bodies ("Locker room etiquette"). If the body is like food, and vice versa, then enjoying both involves risks: the nausea of bad shellfish, for example, and AIDS, which are linked in "Hot," a long narrative about a friend who loves spicy food but who's lost his taste with illness. "Living with it" makes things more explicit: it's a short, bleak counterpoint of two men nursing each other till death. Food also serves as a way to avoid difficulties: lovers joke about artichokes rather than give voice to feelings ("Artichoke"); and, in the narrative "Transparent," during a painful Christmas dinner with his family, they gorge on seafood rather than confront the ghosts of the past. Throughout the volume the shellfish's exterior becomes the controlling metaphor for the armor we build around ourselves—a smooth exterior much like the expert meters that house Arnold's disturbing thoughts. A wit born of excess leads to some to negligible poems about merpersons (not maids) and eccentric collectors, but alsoto moving elegies. A piquant debut.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300079104
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1999
  • Series: Yale Series of Younger Poets
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 104
  • Sales rank: 1,181,521
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One

         Hermit crab


A drifter, or a permanent house-guest,
he scrabbles through the stones, and can even scale
the flaked palm-bark, towing along his latest
lodging, a cast-off periwinkle shell.
Isn't he weighed down? Does his house not pinch?
The sea urchin, a distant relative,
must haul his spiny armor each slow inch
by tooth only—sometimes, it's best to live
nowhere, and yet be anywhere at home.


That's the riddle of his weird housekeeping
—does he remember how he wears each welcome
out in its turn, and turns himself out creeping
unbodied through the sand, grinding and rude,
and does he feel a kind of gratitude?


         The Power Grip


Out of the blue he calls, to report our mutual friend
    has just dumped her lover of seven years,


and why? Because he hit her. More than once? She says
    it's gone on since they started going out.


She never breathed a word ... Maybe she was afraid
of what we'd think. Maybe she thought he'd stop.


Me, I suspect the worst of everyone—I bet
    the sex was great. I bet he gave good head.


This should make me upset, I know, but the receiver
    is warm and round and is an exactfit


to my ear, the voice that fills it—so easy to get used
    to the liberties he takes, the indiscretion


of age, skill, seasoning. Men don't talk enough
about fucking
, he told me once, and leaned


closer across our table in the bar's dark corner,
the tip of his middle finger wet, tracing


obscure designs in a pool of spilled beer. Think
of the slack we 'd pick up if we just sat down,


knocked back a few drinks and compared notes. His notes
    were by far the more exhaustive; he did all


the talking, the connoisseur's attachment to the part
spare of the whole—the way bodies may be


compounded, spread out and open, made explicit,
to grow loose, to spasm, the joints mapped,


the soft parts, their degrees of sympathy—putting
    fresh drinks into my hand, keeping up


the low murmur, seamless, fluid as Latin Mass,
its litany go down on her—go down


on her again—practice, in case of emergency,
    the Power Grip
. The what? He held his hands


to his face, index and little fingers thrust up, pressed
    together—this is the church, this is the steeple—


thumbs enticingly open. Pinkies tickle the ass,
    pointers spread the lips, thumbs for a chin rest ...


and then as now, not knowing what or if to say,
    struck dumb, made all into one open ear.


Someday I'll get a call, some time after the fact,
    a relative, a friend-perhaps the woman


whose last bruises are fading as we speak, who won't make
    the same mistake again—but more likely


someone who knows only my rank in his Rolodex:
    He passed away last week. When I ask how,


a silence, long enough to suggest in what poor taste
    the question is. Not knowing is worse


than what I can imagine: he died of eating raw
    mussels, the ones he freely harvested


from the black rocks on the cleaner stretch of coast
    upcurrent from the harbor. He'd been warned


again and again—by beachcombers, by stray marine
    biologists, by the diehard fishermen


whose poles he found wedged between the larger pebbles—
    been lectured on dioxin and red tide,


been sick two times already, the second nearly died.
    Perhaps, instead, tipping a scrubbed clipped shell


between his lips, he breathed the wrong way, stifled
    on fringed orange flesh. I watched him once


lie belly-down on the steep pitch of a boulder, boots
    locked between the rocks, freeing his arms


to plunge, now to the elbow, now up to the shoulder
    in a tide-pool, where he knew mussels grew


thickest, their fractal clusters dark as new bruises,
    shells liable to chip, and once chipped


their insides quick to rot—a blunt butter knife
    in his right hand, the left sounding blind


under the surface, contours of curve, crevice, valve—
    Perhaps he slipped in headlong, struck rock,


was dragged out of the brine too late, or not at all,
    his body left to slowly evanesce,


the blueprint for bouillabaisse, never trusted to paper
    in twenty generations, the thin layer


of man between the brain that held it, the salt broth
that stocked it, now dissolved. All that remains


is the Power Grip, a secret handshake, the device
    of an old cult, a rite not softened


by long use, by cultivation, a sacrament
    of which I've now been made receptacle.


    For a cook


What I remember most is what he did to the couple
who sent his best pasta back to the kitchen,


pronouncing it "too thin." Capers and kalamata
olives tossed with squid-ink angelhair


—salty, he used to say, as sweat on a black man's cock.
He said this often, not only to shock:


food should be made with love, and love to him was sweat,
saliva, tears. What do they want from me?


he muttered, adding an egg, more Parmesan, a pint
of heavy cream, and tossed it all together,


the straw-yellow sauce stringy with albumen,
thickened with semen as an afterthought.


Now he is dead. I write the recipe of all
of him that's still out there in circulation:


tips of fingers and knuckles, pared away to scars
by the big knives, carelessly julienned


together with the root vegetables, the stray chips
of thumbnail, here and there a curled black hair,


spit hissing in a skillet, a drop of blood in the sauce,
the oil of his hand glazing the dough.


    Scrubbing mussels


Easy at first to think they're all alike.
But in the time it takes your brush to scour
away the cement their beards secrete to stick
to the rock, to one another, you find the lure


of intimacy a temptation. Palm
cupping each shell, you learn a history
from what you scrape off—limpets, worm-
castings, their own brown crust—the company


they've kept, how many neighbors, on the fringes
or in the thick. This patriarchal shell
suffered a near-mortal crack—hinges
skewed by a scab, its valves will never seal


perfectly, ever. This one lost a chip
of its carapace—the nacre gleams, steel plate
in a war veteran's skull. Here is a couple
tangled by their beards—but do they mate?


You can't remember how they reproduce.
Now and then you'll find one open, startle,
fling it aside—your fingers come too close
to what you hoped would stay hidden, the veil


lining the shell, flushed pink, not orange,
no, not yet. Once they are cleaned, and more
or less alike, they're ready to arrange
in the skillet, large enough for a single layer,


with chopped onions and garlic, maybe a pinch
of tarragon—no salt, they will provide
the salt themselves—butter, a half-inch
or so of dry white wine. Replace the lid,


turn on and light the gas. Make sure the match
is thoroughly stubbed out. If you've been tempted
at any point to see in them an image
of yourself, you must make sure your mind is emptied


of all such madness. Mussels cannot mind
the slowly warming pan, the steam, or feel
real pain, which requires sympathy, a kind
of tenderness. The worst, most capable


monsters admit a feeling for the flesh
they brutalize—the inquisitors who cry
with the heretic they rack for a confession,
the kind cop who stops the third degree


to offer coffee, a smoke, the death camp
doctor who celebrates a patient's birthday,
slips him an extra piece of bread—all sympathetic
men. Think how delicious they


will be, the shells relaxing, giving up their humble
secrets, their self-possession. Your demands
are not so cruel. Don't follow their example.
Slice the lemon. Make sure to wash your hands.


    Artichoke


Baffling flower, barely edible
camouflaged in a GI's olive drab
—out loud you wonder
Who's it trying to fool?


It is a nymph that some god tries to grab
and have his way with, I explain. She scorns
his lust, and when he sees he's met his match,
he turns her into a flower, covered with thorns
to keep her other lovers out of reach.


You say You made that up. You say That's sick.
You say The things men think of are so cruel.


Under the bamboo steamer there's a slick
of emerald-green water. I watch you pull
the petals off, each with a warm knot
of paler flesh left hanging at the root.


A "loves me, loves me not" sort of endeavor,
I say, but you don't laugh. It hasn't been
so long since liking me for being clever
stopped being enough for you. Sly pangolin,
endearingly nearsighted, belly rolled
up in a spiky ball—that's how I keep
my wits about me. I notice how you've polled
the petal-points an inch, how you scrape
each leaf with your incisors, the two
small grooves they leave. It makes me sick to watch.


You're awfully quiet today. What's wrong with you?
I want to tell you what ... but there's a catch,
deep in my throat, that stops me, makes me choke
the words back, crack another pointless joke.


    Saffron


The recipe is written in your voice:
Sauté the rice to the color of a pearl
in oil flavored with pepper, cinnamon bark,


bay leaf and cardamom, the small green kind.
Simmer until the spices have all floated
up to the top—if you want to, pick them out
.


Just before it's done, stir in the saffron
crumbled and soaked in milk.
Such frail red threads,
odd how they bleed so yellow, so contrary


to what a purple flower's genitals
should look like. It was in a dirt-poor dive
somewhere in Spain that I had my first taste


of paella—how anything could cost
so much, I couldn't bring myself to believe
until you brought me out into the fields,


the ragged sweeps of autumn crocuses.
Not like the ones I've seen breaking the frost,
clumps of three or four, with the forced cheer


of things made to wake up too early
—these were a paler purple, less audacious.
The harvesters were children, mostly girls,


working their way in no special pattern
from bloom to bloom. One of them let me plunge
my hand up to the wrist in what she'd gathered
Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Foreword
Acknowledgments
Hermit crab 1
The Power Grip 2
For a cook 6
Scrubbing mussels 7
Artichoke 9
Saffron 11
The extravagance of zoos 14
Amateur 17
Boots 20
Ubi sunt ...? 22
Locker room etiquette 23
Great dark man 26
Little shrimp 27
Leader of men 30
Grace 32
Why I skip my high school reunions 36
Hot 37
Living with it 43
Roommates 44
Shore 47
Transparent 51
Merman 63
Watching for mermaids 67
Scheherazade 71
Snail Museum 76
Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(0)

4 Star

(0)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Lovely

    Beautiful poetry, often linking the relationships of people to a hermit crab's relation to his shell.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 9, 2004

    I dig it!

    I think Craig Arnold is a very cool guy with a very hip, modern poetic voice that has a tremendous talent for exploring human relationships in ways most overlook. I love the way he associates items with people, the way that he explores how nothing is trivial (especially in hindsight). He picks out the things that are truly human to recall. I really enjoy the rhythm of is poetry. To really appreciate this, I think, one must see him perform his work live--his intensity makes him remarkable to watch and hear. BUT, reading his work is a close second to that, and Craig Arnold is a poet I recommend to everyone.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)