Publishers WeeklyThe latest from the prolific Swensen (Try; Noon; etc.) amounts to a very long, fragment-strewn, philosophically-minded sequence of short poems about landscape, architecture, time, visual art, gender and religious life in medieval France, based on the illuminated manuscript known in English as The Very Rich Hours of the Duke of Berry. Time stops, starts and repeats through scrambled, broken and repeated phrases: syntax breaks down and dissolves into single terms ("We one/ king and wielded, welded all our swan"), then regroups into neatly detachable sentences: "We'd wake up early and watch the sky rend." One set of verbs cascades to mimic a scythe; elsewhere, repetitions invoke church bells. Most poems are half a page long, and bear dates in their titles "May 30, 1427: Joan-not-yet-saint-with-sheep." Meditating on clocks and calendars and saints' days, on space and history, and on the organization and disorganization of consciousness, Swensen's lines work as explorations, even guesses, adorned by nouns from "vellum" to "plague," that best find their sense when read cumulatively. Though Swensen succeeds in conveying her medieval enthusiasms, her verse evinces more contemporary presences: the collage techniques of Susan Howe and Charles Olson, and the cinematic, stuttering lines of Jorie Graham's more recent work, influence some part of almost every poem. Some readers will wonder when the store of historical materials on which to base one's contemporary, abstract reflections will finally run out, but others will find Swensen's familiar methods create a luxurious space of repose. (Sept.) Forecast: Swensen's book, along with collections by Bin Ramke and Emily Wilson (Forecasts, June 18),inaugurates the Kuhl House Poets series from Iowa, edited by Jorie Graham and her one-time student Mark Levine. Such axes seem to be a trend for UPs that are publishing poetry, given last year's launch of the University of California's New California Poetry Series, edited by Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman and Calvin Bedient. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Read an Excerpt
Such Rich Hour POEMS
By COLE SWENSEN
University of Iowa Press Copyright © 2001 Cole Swensen
All right reserved.
Chapter One January 1: The Feast of the New Year Vows, a fête of, phalanx of, flagrant and sky all written on in snow: hommage The duke sits, waits what did you expect = feast did not mistake just what = eternity. (the soft brush) how long it can/can it aproche + aproche (scatter the century) last. January 1: Once Framed the walls break down never were sugar in a storm castle on a verge. are you ours? are you all? "aproche + aproche" We one king and wielded, welded all our swan (plural) (upper right) (against red was was once a sky) (The sky was once a red thing, once unreeled) (they say the face too is a wheel) (Read: We Turn back. Smile. My Anonymous cum-Angelus: My Saint Why- can-you-see-through-heaven of stars all afternoon do Shine. (Or 'shy'-I can't quite read the note, the faded ink, the quick break in the smile. "You could say we say we invented the sky as a blue could that we loved till we choked. So what are you doing sobbing through the feast, what with all the women dancing, the colors running, the men carving meat. January 3: The Feast of St. Genevieve; patron saint of Paris; 422-500 blew the candle out no devil knew not the name stopped them at the gates of the city stood Huns by the thousands and the candle Conflagrate: And thousands dust. The hosts sat down to dinner by candlelight her barley bread and beans and all the horror of (in flames) (will come again) riding out in battle to be embraced, a surfeit of white and shone stone by stone across these fields blows out the candle against the window, which catches fire: Her tongue alone can cure the plague. Her hair a single strand replace a river in a pinch of salt. A barge coming upstream laden down. Give me your city in a million little bones. Mine she says were removed without the slightest negative effect & the skin resewn with the blindman's stitch. The Painter Paints a Calendar Languor. Succor. Ardor. Such is the tenor of the entry. You open a little door. The door could be anywhere. And laid there a face. For instance, at certain points, no longer wishing or able to emulate Rome, they began the year at Christmas for example or the Annunciation or Easter in all its moving target and borrows from the inclination of passing suns, seasons, moons that may or may not occur again (we repeat) (because it seems) Begin: Here he put their faces which were all his. (I rise eye by eye; I fissure plains.) And repeat (again) (because it seems) Begin: and whose will linger whose wither what king might made of mine he said. A window is just a window looking out on a vast delicate brush catches the ear of the sun across the year, which, too, keeps slipping: errant prince, anchor in the wish, a wristful of deed: I've (paint therefore I see) always wanted he said and did. When Bells Were Named And wake up to The Hour of the Bells Each one and then rang "To name an object is "to event" and to yet that reaches out that must distill to ghost its want of all the almost lived. We'd wake up early and watch the sky rend. They say (cf. Huizinga Ch. 1) that people felt more deeply then, that people raged; they careened, shredding the sky into streamers the color of One bell for every hour. One name for every bell. One day it rained and sounded like a mouth had welded a tongue. What is soft is what remains strung up. What hung there when you stopped, drop-jawed. They say (then France had 1,700,000 bells) you spoke every language in the known world which back over its shoulder looked and did you recognize the source. Did you catch your breath and what wait? what worth? (once) the sky, gold, then red, then gold again and again the vein in the laboring hand raised the hand (is, they say, music at its most refined) the raised hand waved, it rang. January 5�5 = One. Need say we what was that you said it shrank to a point and the point reigned ever divisible unto beyond, and beyond the hour of the intimate, conjugate, annihilate, throned any number of other wherefore innumerable. Who said/equated/constructed The circle as the sweep that turns back before the arc: Look at what I found ("One day I saw you one (and how we could go on) (Father, Ghost, and half a million men) fused (like opposites do: When & when. And & and Snow. Fear. Year. Fury. Snow. January 6, 1400: The Founding of La Cour Amoureuse -a literary and legal association dedicated to poetic creation and the honor of women Cold, bored, and underfoot, thin ice (glance down and the face is reflected is unowned, today is all we can see is frost in the trees, étinceling, pricks the skin but still can't remember the old order crumbling the feudal piety of orchestrated certainties: "To pass the time more graciously in the raging midst of plague." Erect upon humility and loyalty specific offices including: the four "Concierges of the Gardens and Orchards of Love" and 32 recording secretaries "The early literary societies were modeled on the older orders of chivalry keenly acutely recognized love as representation within the highly organized life of the court of something missing Jean de Berry: "One must say the one and do the other of unconscionable red, who unasked, who, undeterred, said yes. Response: Christine de Pisan founds (inciting the "first literary quarrel in French history") The Order of the Rose; 1402: Jean de Meun has in his has Jean de Montreuil (be damned) Jean le Sénéchal, for example, asks Le no on his lips débat de deux amants i.e., once upon the mind a spring and a tongue (said what woman would, or ever, in the long run, did. (And by 'done' we mean who (what) came (is just now coming) in. January 6: St. Matthew's Day as the Magi stood before Herod and said further home, ask directions of none. "Turn left." and replied having hammered our fingers from gold, having honed and had themselves also heard: ecce Magi ab Oriente venerunt though not so sudden was arrival is after all a slow and on the ground, this (all over the ground) that stars fall sometimes and there you are up to your knees in light ab Oriente verdant mendicant and once I thought my horse would bolt, but, though blinded, he did not, but (and not a mark on him) stood calmly eating the burning grass. January 17: St. Antony's Day: Les Flammes "There's a disease that eats up the limbs that feels like ants are eating them" (St. Antoine! St. Antoine ... ) and there was a disease that dried up the heart from the inside out, and another that began as spots of light on the skin that grew and grew and then enormously died. Did you notice-all the saints died-sometimes in droves, and there was a disease that made the body soar and one that made it disappear slowly, grain by grain while you watched. (Fascinated. As in nailed to the spot.) (When you can see right through the skull, there's still time, but you can't (as in entranced affixed) There's a grave just large enough for the face. And a tendency incessantly to walk back and forth and another to arrive. In the peripheral field, an impression of light that, like all things, can't be named (all living takes place (just before the word was said was hidden (or slid, envelope-style) into fire or flood, but usually fire. January 28: St. Thomas This day a great theophany internaling an only shining face "Face the entire body in light" which is the book of his book this make of his all and Thomas Aquinas replied, "The earth is made of dirt." and he replied, "things which give pleasure when they are perceived are called beautiful. And herein lies the problem. Skin covers wrist, sea, dearth. I was caught counting and thus put to death. Meaning water, or lover of water, or both. January 29, 1408: The Great Flood Of To a life of moving water and a watermark on the water someone (a woman) watching (and move me have I told you how you much "River, river, on the Refuse to answer "I looked out my window and saw falling through the rain in sheets standing on the bank as the water rose and bridge after bridge (all three: Le Petit, Le Grand, and Le Neuf (now le Pont St. Michel) fell and what sound will atone. Atonish. Embellish/Embitter/Embark: To a moving life. She watched a cup and saucer spin for a moment on the surface. February 1: Winter Agriculture And here to our left we see ... the hand "of the unknown as it paints the unknown." A name held locked below the tongue does not unknot inside the grave. And said stave off (this polished and) with an endless bought from the silence of snow and then given back. The basic techniques of apiculture haven't changed since etc. and then we go into the anatomy of the bee-how its legs frangere in their private foray, splinter like the feathered bones inside the finger drifting. And how, and then how, the laces drawn through error and we hear, throughout the threaded hallways, their movements leadened into season and that bees were first domesticated by nomadic tribes on the Asian Steppes who used them initially as compasses, and then as maps, my lady, we live in a tiny, tiny world. February 1 bis "and the body between word and world fuses, frays" (overheard) no castle holds it's a world whose white wouldn't you have thought white trees white sun white blood that plummets from the skin, hunches in the heart has not been spared The ink has bled through from the back of the page to landscape, in this case, a man hauling wood asks directions She says Hand me your needle please mine pricks and makes my hearing acute: if Somewhere in the picture it's winter, bird- like and the birds are voracious A man is hauling wood up the slope, the click of the gate in the yard, the footsteps leading up to it all by themselves, hives. February 2: The Benediction of the Candles when the faithful go marked forehead in ashes washes the bones beneath the very and ground atone for scrubbing and in the future my body this body already dust to dust must to must break to stun that one already has borne all foreseen takes place one Tuesday morning when we at the local fountain washing and out of which came the molten stone that will be from now on something won (as in torn out of) and what a strange shape for paradise. I thought it would be more round. The Invention of Equal Hours Rare they and approximate who could tell the hour after star after star in a heaven of moving parts that do not break down to nonmoving parts (a night x candles long and tide go down and raptor home and wager then each candle three to four hours marked and sputters out as dawn threads a crack through the glaze and breaks the tiny jewels against the tiny gears of the barely here of the stars turn whole and a whole black sky of a clock thread and sand and count the leavened hours: now samed- they say something's gained in the equal beyond a simple immunity to weather "And not until the end of the Middle Ages and the advent of societies of commercial basis came the genesis of the equal hour and its mechanical registration" Before then bells had names. You'd wake up in the middle of the night and find you'd been counting in your sleep.
Excerpted from Such Rich Hour by COLE SWENSEN Copyright © 2001 by Cole Swensen. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews