Subterranean

Subterranean

by Jill Bialosky
     
 

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Jill Bialosky follows her acclaimed debut collection, The End of Desire, with this powerful sequence of poems that probes the subterranean depths of eros. Gerald Stern has called Bialosky “the poet of the secret garden, the place, at once, of grace and sadness,” and here she enters that garden again, blending the classical with the contemporary in

Overview

Jill Bialosky follows her acclaimed debut collection, The End of Desire, with this powerful sequence of poems that probes the subterranean depths of eros. Gerald Stern has called Bialosky “the poet of the secret garden, the place, at once, of grace and sadness,” and here she enters that garden again, blending the classical with the contemporary in bold considerations of desire, fertility, virginity, and childbirth. Written against the idealizations of romantic love and motherhood, she tells of the loss of one child and the birth of another, the fierce passions of life before children, the seductions of suicide, and the comforts of art. Throughout, she braids and unbraids the distinct yet often inseparable themes of motherhood, love, and sexuality. “When he comes to me,” she writes,

half-filled glass
in his hand, wanting
me to touch him, I hear
you stir in your crib. I know what your body      
  feels like.
The soft skin of a flower, not bruised, not yet
  in torment . . .

Subterranean is the moving and intimate account of the emergence of a female psyche. Like the figures of Persephone and Demeter, who appear in various forms in these poems, Bialosky finds a strange beauty in grief, and emerges from the realms of temptation with insight and distinction.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

bn.com
This second powerful collection of poems from an emerging literary talent explores the myths, meaning, ideals, and demands of womanhood, blending classical mythology with contemporary themes as it plunges into some of the deepest, darkest corners of the female pysche. Like the mythical figures Persephone and Demeter (who appear throughout these poems), Bialosky manages to find beauty and insight in grief and pain.
Molly Peacock
Jill Bialosky slips Persephone's pomegranate seeds into her own poet's hand, then dives deep in Subterranean, locating fragments of girlhood and womanhood to assemble into a mythic underworld collage. If Beatrice herself were a suburban American girl who preceded Dante on his journey, these lyrics might be what she would tell us. You never get to heaven without the descent, as she, the Greek gods, and Jill Bialosky know very well—and we come to know through this alluring, surprising second volume of poems, where this poet comes into her own.
Eavan Boland
These wonderful poems call to us at first with their lyric surfaces. But the music of their language is really thin ice and not far underneath is the dark, chill power of the book's true themes: sexuality, regret, the loss of children, the tainting of childhood, the nature of erotic pain. It is rare that a reader can be enchanted and endangered at the same time. This is a book of splendid and disturbing ambition.
Publishers Weekly
This second collection follows 1997's well-received The End of Desire and comes bespangled with impressive encomia from the likes of Harold Bloom, Eavan Boland and Molly Peacock, praising Bialosky's voice, her "dark chill power" and the volume's "mythic underworld collage." The End of Desire touched many readers in the way that poets like Boland and Linda Pastan have, conjuring a modern-day woman trying to make empowering sense out her emotions in the face of mysterious world processes and dangerous, if desirable, others. The poems here, which alternate between long blank verse and skeins of short, dimeter tercets, follow a tried-and-true formula: a parade of natural phenomena weather, sun and moon, physical desire is sorted and measured until some perspective is achieved. The "she" of most of these poems (relieved on occasion by a fresh "I") ransacks a store of conventional emotions looking for wisdom, but finds mostly turbulence and weightlessness radiating from an "inner core" that nonetheless can crack cement and make the wind swoon. The poems work this ground with manic insistence, and, despite the fervid effort, harvest insights that are curiously banal: "The snow/ is wet/ like rain.// It will not/ stick/ or accumulate." Nonetheless, there is much here of topical interest losing one's virginity, miscarriages, first love, motherhood that will please the reader looking for candor about emotional frailty and conflicted love. (Dec.) Forecast: Bialosky is a highly regarded editor at W.W. Norton and the co-editor of Wanting a Child, an anthology of reflections on parenthood. With this book's impressive blurbs, arresting jacket (which sports an Edward Steichen portrait) and status as a finalist for the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets, it should generate plenty of attention. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"She did not know when it would happen/ or how it would overtake her/ or whether she would allow herself./ All I know is that she could not take it anymore/ lying day after day underneath the hollow tree, waiting,/ consumed by a kind of fire." These are the poems of a woman trying to come to terms with the idea, contradictions, curiosities, and demands of womanhood. She writes of her beginnings in Cleveland: "From the top of the tower when the sun set in the Cuyahoga's brown waters/ (the river that caught fire and made our city the laughing stock of a nation)/ it cast a dark shadow over the industrial sky." Desire, virginity, fertility and motherhood, the loss of one child and the birth of another, the passions of her life before children, the seductions of suicide, and the comforts of art these are at the core of Bialosky's poetry. With a tone and an integrity that are consistent and sure and an aesthetic that is varied and original, these poems touch on fragile moments and dark corners: "To stave off/ loneliness/ I took in two cats/ for the company/ not knowing/ the female/ was expecting./ I was in love/ with a man/ who lived/ with another/ woman." Using myth, particularly the story of Persephone and Demeter, as a touchstone, Bialosky (The End of Desire) finds the beauty in grief: "The sky weeps/ like Persephone released/ from the underworld/ to favor us with flowers." Recommended for poetry and women's studies collections. Louis McKee, Painted Bride Arts Ctr., Philadelphia Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780307491435
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/05/2012
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
96
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

A Child Banishes the Darkness

The child presides over our lives like the
Blinding presence of tall white pines. In the
Low room she hovers; she is the dark un-
tamed place, like a thicket in a neglect-
ed wood where I fall to after each new
loss, the unforgotten dream buried like
a small toy under layers of frozen
un-raked leaves. She is the hidden secret
we don’t talk about because there is noth-
ing left to say. So much snow on the roofs
of tall buildings, along the cobbled streets,
in the eaves, and on the narrow bridge and
in the quiet palm of the newborn trees.
Nothing left to fear. All the earth is calm.

Subterranean

She did not know when it would happen
or how it would overtake her
or whether she would allow herself.
All I know is that she could not take it anymore
lying day after day underneath the hollow tree, waiting,
consumed by a kind of fire,
wondering if there is a type of love
that saves us or whether there was more
to the world than the familiar paradise
of her mother's complicated and vivid garden.
She smelled nectar in the labored-over
chrysanthemum and amaryllis,
but could not taste it.
I know if it were a flower it would have bloomed
in the cumulus overhead
void of volition and sin,
translucent as the filmy underside of a leaf.
If it were an animal she would have followed it,
but it was amorphous as feeling, weightless as dust,
turbulent as an entire undisclosed universe
radiating from the inner core beneath the earth
and, still, she longed for it.
Restless, she wandered from the elm
to the school-yard to smother an intensity
she could not squelch or simmer.
The wind swooned. Cement cracked. Deep into the underbelly
light traveled, no one in sight but his immense shadow,
and then a figure appeared out of the imagined dream
and matched it. So powerful, not for who he was
but for how her mind had magnified him
like a bug underneath cool glass,
every antenna and tentacle aquiver.
No sign of where she had been
or who she came from. Only knowledge
that it would never be re-created
except by this: putting words down on a page
and that she had forever compromised
the joy of summer for a dismal, endless winter.
And as the field of force gathered,
raping every last silvery bough,
tantalizing each limb,
she forgot even the feel of herself.
When it was over she felt moisture. Rain.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Jill Bialosky was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She studied at Ohio University and received a Master of Arts from Johns Hopkins University and a Master of Fine Arts from the University of Iowa. Her first book, The End of Desire, was published by Knopf in 1997, and her poems appear regularly in journals such as Paris Review, American Poetry Review, Agni Review, and The New Republic. Bialosky is an editor at W. W. Norton and teaches at Columbia University; she lives in New York City with her husband and son.


From the Hardcover edition.

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