Sono: Cantosby Sarah Arvio
Here is Sono, a new collection of bracingly original poems, from the prizewinning author of Visits from the Seventh. Composed during a long stay in Rome, these cantos look outward in order to look inward, transforming sights and stories into expressionistic explorations of the state of the heart. Playful, probing, philosophical, colorful, often funny, they describe a struggle to come to terms with loss and grief and to find a basis for renewal; they ask whether and how life is worth living, taking pleasure in the questions themselves. “It wasn’t the life I would have wanted, / had I known what sort of life I did want,” starts the poem entitled “Chagrin.” “I do believe I was never loved,” announces “Obelisk.” Riffing expertly, Sarah Arvio brings wit and exquisite formal discipline to her gorgeous meditations on the life lived. These are high-burning songs of the self— colloquial, sexy, unflinching, and unforgettable.
A colossal mess I made of my life,
in the flesh and also in the round;
this was the essence of colosseum,
the museum of my colossal shame,
where I mused on the blood sport of it all. . .
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Read an Excerpt
Though the home, we say, is where the heart is,
wonder if the heart is where the home is.
Had I found a heart for my home and did
I live there and love there: this was the point that all roads should lead to if I traveled.
This was the question that was romanesque,
or else something random or romantic;
this was the ancient question of amor,
was it Rome and home and could I live there.
Here was a hurrah and a holiday,
all the domes planting a star in the sky,
all the domes pointing upward and somewhere,
all the crypts sinking downward and nowhere;
but did they point and did they also pierce,
did they crack the shadow or the sunshine.
Chiaroscuro of the coffered heart,
or the yes and no of the offered heart.
Did I fit with it, did it fit with me,
was I its shadow or its positive,
was I its pentacle or palindrome.
The point was to see there was no point
or was the arrow pointing to the heart,
a road sign, a feather or a weapon.
There was a dome and a home, there was Rome,
and for every recto there was verso.
One lives to live and that's the best we know,
and then dies to die and then it's over.
Was I allowed to be alive, was I
allocated to life, was I alive,
was I a specimen of the species:
these were the questions I asked myself while the scirocco was thrashing the sky,
raining red leaves and raining orange sand.
Was I dust, dirt and sand, dare I be dust,
there in Africa where they swept me up off the orange drifts of shoulders and hips,
off the drifting dunes where bodies were heaped,
lying in sleep, shifting in sleep and dream,
where I dreamed I was a specimen
born to be special and specialized,
as all specimens of the species were,
while dusk flames and dawn flames climbed on the dunes
in an ambience of rage artistry or an arrangement of orange and red artfully arising; was I dead or
alive; was this my allowance of life,
my own modicum of become become,
my scirocco my barocco of rage.
There were candle flames, there were cigarettes,
amber whiskeys, amphoras of I am,
there were amulets of I am I am;
there were orange flames, red leaves, orange sand,
moons, mornings; there were moments still to burn back in Africa where they swept me up.
Did I have a genie or a daemon to usher me onstage or sweep me off,
my own dear harbinger or usherette.
Curtains! came a cry, and the curtains shook.
Here was a masquerade en abime,
a hidden histrion hamming my lines
deep in the jewel box of my drama,
angeloform, deiform or magic.
O angels ruffling your wings in the wings,
which of you is my own special angel?
Why not have the courage of Coleridge to say it was a dream or a vision;
it might be a wish or else an anguish,
it might be an image or a language.
Was it anecdotage or sabotage,
was it chanson or could it be chantage.
Historical or else hysterical or else ancestral or angelical.
Was this the character I often shunned,
so sultry and desperate and ravaged;
was this the character I often wished,
oh my little magus oh my cabbage;
was this verbiage or genius or madness.
No rehearsals: you get only this chance,
one call for this life, one cue for this love
(know how to bow in and how to bow out),
you did it or you didn't, that's the play.
From the Hardcover edition.
Meet the Author
SARAH ARVIO is the author of two previous books of poetry, Visits from the Seventh and Sono. She has won a number of awards and honors, including the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and Guggenheim and Bogliasco Fellowships. For many years a translator for the United Nations in New York and Switzerland, she has also taught poetry at Princeton.
From the Hardcover edition.
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